Thursday, December 04, 2008

Recipe : Mince Cutlets/ Indian burger patties

This was something mom would make us when we came home with good marks or won a prize at something. They were a special treat because it meant mum had to individually shape these cutlets and the cooking process is a little lengthy. But they are so worth the effort!

1 kilo mince (beef/chicken or mutton)
1/2 kilo potatoes (you can increase this quantity if you want more cutlets or to stretch your budget)
some fresh corriander
stew powder or pepper powder for a strong taste
optional : 4 tablespoons channa dhal (split chickpeas) soaked for 4 hours at least - this gives a third texture to the cutlets.
egg for frying.

Put washed mince, skinned potatoes, dhal, salt, stew/pepper powder in the pressure cooker without any added water. Cook for 3 whistles (Hawkins).
Open cooker, if any liquid is remaining, keep cooking it with the top open until dry.
If you want smooth cutlets, grind the mince in the mixi/food procesor, else just mash and blend everything with a potato masher.
Add chopped corriander and mix well.

Beat one egg.

Shape into cutlets (any shape or size you like - burger/croquette/meat balls), dip in beaten egg and shallow fry on all sides.

Server with rice and curry for a meal.
Between slices of bread for breakfast/snack/journeys/picnics.
With chutney and sauce as a tea time snack.

This can be eaten anytime.

Optional : Roll in bread crumbs after dipping in egg and before frying.

Recipe : Green gram & Bamboo shoot

This is a traditional Manglorean recipe, normally made when bamboo shoot is in season which is for a month in the year.

With canned bamboo shoot, this favorite dish of mine can now be made year round.

1 can bamboo shoots drained and chopped
3/4 can green gram (sabut moong dhal with chilka) lentils
1/2 a coconut grated (you can substitute dessicated coconut, but it wont taste as good as fresh coconut)
1 large onion
3-4 cloves garlic
5-6 curry leaves
1/2 tsp mustard
vegetable powder
sol/ tamarind

Soak the green gram overnight. You can even sprout it if you choose to.
If the bamboo shoot is fresh, it needs to be soaked in water for a day or two (changing water every 4-6 hours) to take away the heatiness. (This is an Indian term that I cannot find the right english translation for)
If the bamboo shoot is tinned, you can just drain the water and rinse before using.

Cook the green gram and bamboo shoot with a little salt, a piece or 2 of sol (or substitute with tamarind - but this will blacken the color of the dish) and a little vegetable powder to your preference. I like it crisp while my siblings prefer it mushy.
(If you like your sprouts raw, then only cook the bamboo shoot)

Heat a teaspoon of oil.
Drop crushed garlic into it and roast till it turns dark brown, add mustard seeds, more vegetable powder and curry leaves. This is the seasoning.
Add chopped onion and coconut and cook till raw smell disappears.
Add the green gram, bamboo shoot mix and mix well on heat.

Serve hot with rice and dhal.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Obituary: Sabina Sehgal Saikia

Sabina Sehgal Saikia was a food writer who had been with the Times of India group for over 17 years who at the time of her untimely demise had risen to Consulting Editor at the publication. She died in the Terror attacks in Mumbai where she was staying on the 6th floor. She was in Mumbai for the wedding of Bachi Karkaria's son next week.

Sabina could make or break a Delhi restaurant based on her reviews. She initially wrote an extremely popular column called "Main Course" for the Saturday Times, which later moved to the Delhi Times.

I was first introduced to her, when I picked up the Times of India Restaurant Guide for Delhi, 8 years ago. My next 2 years in Delhi were made tolerable by this handy book. I tried out restaurants based on her recommendations and agreed with her judgment over 80% of the time. She was honest and direct.

The Times of India Restaurant Guides to Hyderabad and Bombay could never match up to the standard that Sabina had set. She had spoiled me against other guides with her perfection and accuracy.

I subscribed to the Times of India in Delhi, just to read her column, although the Hindustan Times gave much better news coverage in Delhi.

An excellent cook herself, she soon visited me in my living room on NDTV cooks demonstrating an especially fiery looking Green Chilli Pickle.

I never met her face-to-face, but I felt like I knew a part of her. The part of her that loved good food and in Saif Ali Khan's words "acha khaana khane ke liye, hum kahin pe bhi chalenge" (to eat good food, we will travel anywhere) and in a wierd way, I identified with this part of her.

Sabina will be sorely missed in the food writers world. Our sympathies go out to her husband Shantanu and her two young children who will feel her absence much more than her millions of devoted readers.

Sabina you brought joy into the lives of food lovers: May your Soul, Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jamón ibérico - The King of Hams!

I received this in the mail, a couple of days ago:

From swine raised like royalty, cured ham called jamon iberico is finally here.

This party has been two years in the making. At the home of Frank Cutitta, friends are beginning to gather. Cutitta, a media executive, is in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on pasta alla carbonara and veal saltimbocca. Outside on a stone patio overlooking a pond, people mill around the guest of honor.

It weighs 13 pounds, glistens with fat, and is capped by a dramatic black hoof.

It's a ham, but not just any ham. This is jamon iberico de bellota, the be-all-and-end-all, Rolls Royce, of ultra hams: one that positively demands a party. It comes from Spain, and it is among the first whole bellota hams to legally reach this country. Until now, to get a taste of this porcine holy grail, American foodies had to hop a plane.

The ham has arrived in the United States because the Spanish company Embutidos Fermin, located in the medieval village of La Alberca, spent much of the last decade working to meet USDA specifications. The company built a new slaughterhouse and formed a partnership with chef Jose Andres, host of the PBS series "Made in Spain," and Portland, Maine, importers the Rogers Collection. In 2008, they got the green light. The following year jamon iberico began to trickle into the country, first in the form of sausages, then paletas, or shoulders. But the actual hams, which take several years to cure, didn't start shipping to customers till recently.

The ham has arrived in Wayland because Cutitta's friend Victor Grillo, the man behind such ads as the famous Ginsu knife infomercial, heard about it long ago and decided to get his hands on one.

He found out he couldn't. "It was forbidden fruit," he says. "You want what you can't have." When he discovered a waiting list for jamon iberico (pronounced: ham-ON ee-BEAR-ee-ko) started by La Tienda, a website specializing in Spanish products, he put down his name and a
$199 deposit.

He was among about 400 people to do so, according to La Tienda owner Don Harris. That was two years ago. Some people have been on the waiting list for as long as six years. Very few of them are in the restaurant business. These are individuals, caught up in pure porky obsession.

"They are ham fanatics," Harris says. "One guy was postponing his wedding till he got one. He has a motorcycle club called the Patas Negras," or "black hooves," another name for the Iberian pigs from which the ham is made. "We had a customer who went and visited his ham in the mountain village where it was being cured."

Jamon iberico's cult following stems in part from its mystique: nearly nattainable, dearly expensive. It retails for $96 a pound and up.

Its provenance adds to that; the ham comes from pigs that are as coddled as the cattle that become Kobe beef. The pigs roam free, feasting on acorns ("bellotas" in Spanish). "They live in pig paradise," says Harris. "They grow up as a gang together for two years, then when it's time for them to meet their maker, they play them Mozart. After Mozart, they go to bed for the night. I don't know if they're tucked in. The next morning they get hot showers, then some mysterious carbon dioxide enters their atmosphere and they go off to piggy heaven." This is referred to not as slaughtering the pigs, but as sacrificing them. The hams then cure for up to four years in clean mountain air.

The piggy spa treatment takes place for a practical reason. "They want them very mellow," Harris says. "If they're scared, they produce epinephrine. If they're not stressed, the meat is fine. I'm not saying the ham people are pig lovers. They're meat lovers."

The main reason bellota ham is so coveted, of course, is its flavor.
"It's very meaty, rich, marbled with fat," writes Andres in an e-mail from Spain. "Jamon iberico is the finest ham in the world. It is a ham that will ruin you for other hams." He recommends serving it alone, or topped with caviar and rolled up like a cigar.

The meat is dark red, almost the shade of corned beef. It tastes like prosciutto in Technicolor, nuanced and blossoming in the mouth, with a lingering touch of iron. The fat has faintly fruity undertones; it dissolves on your tongue. Harris says the curing process converts much of the fat of acorn-fed hams into healthy monounsaturated fat, like olive oil that happens to taste like pork. According to the nutrition label on Fermin's website, a 1 ounce serving has 84.5 calories, 51.3 from fat; about a third of that is saturated. So it's not exactly health food, but it does taste extraordinary.

"The operative word for the bellota is 'meaty,' " says Harry Saltzman, the La Tienda customer who went to visit his ham in La Alberca. "Even the fat, which of course my wife assiduously cuts off and I love and I eat when she's not looking. I've been told the acorns give the ham and the fat this rich flavor. It's spectacular. Nobody believes it's as good as I say."

Back at the Cutitta home, the spread is on the table. Cutitta, who is famous among friends for his cooking, has created a feast based around Grillo's ham. There are slices of jamon iberico de bellota, unadorned; figs topped with the ham, manchego, and Italian honey; skewers of shrimp with ham; mushrooms with ham; the carbonara and the veal ("make sure you say it's from Waverly Market," Cutitta says).

"Isn't it great when food brings people together?" Grillo says. Then he takes his first bite of carbonara, topped with more slivers of jamon and Spanish cheese. "I'm gonna fall over," he says, practically swooning.
"Oh my God, this is awesome. This is better than sex."

And with that, it's time for a toast. "Here's to the pig!" Grillo says, raising a glass of Rioja. And together the friends salute the guest of honor.

"Here's to the pig!"

SOURCE: Devra First Globe Newspaper Company.

Wikipedia also has an entry on this ham that seems to support this article.

Interesting, isn't it?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Recipe : Nepali Style Chicken Biryani

This is another recipe from my friend who gave me the recipe for the Nepali Potato Kebabs

Its one of the easier Biryani recipes that I have come across and is pretty quick to prepare and cook as we will be using small pieces of boneless chicken and there is no masala to be ground.

2 cups basmati/biryani/long grained rice
1.5 cups boneless chunks of chicken (preferably breast meat)
3 tbsp ghee (You can use a little less if you prefer but don't substitute with oil, it will affect the flavor) / semna/clarified butter
1 cardamom pod
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion chopped
salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric/haldi
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 tsp ginger paste or freshly chopped ginger
1 tsp garam masala
2 cups water

Wash rice, soak in water for 10-20 minutes (while preparing the rest of the ingredients)
On medium flame, Heat the ghee, fry the cardamom, cloves and bay leaves until light brown.
Add chopped onion and cook until golden brown.
Add chicken, increase the heat and fry until the chicken is golden brown.
Add salt, turmeric, garlic, ginger and garam masala.
Cook for 15 minutes or till chicken is almost done.
Drain the water from the rice and add it to the chicken.
Fry until the rice is slightly browned.
Add the 2 cups water.

Tip:Always add hot water rather than water at room temperature to prevent the cold water from abruptly stopping the cooking process and to give your rice the right consistency in the end result.

Cover and cook for another 10 minutes.
Serve hot with Raita or pickles.

This preparation doesn't have any chillies added to it, if you would like to spice it up a bit, add a few chopped chillies when adding the turmeric powder.
This recipe can also be converted into a Vegetarian Biryani by substituting potatoes for the chicken.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Recipe : Warm (Mashed) Potato & Ham Salad

Potato and Ham salad is a dish I first tasted many years ago in a German restaurant.

The combination is interesting and the carbs in the potatoes make it quite a comfort dish.

This dish can be served as a salad (if you chop the potatoes rather than mash them, as a side dish or even as a base to assemble something fancy on top of. I can even eat it as a one dish meal. This is really fast to rustle up, especially if you keep a few cooked potatoes in your refrigerator as standby. Once the potatoes are cooked, the dish is ready in under 7 minutes.

You can also combine flavours to complement your main dish or the dish you build on top of this salad.

The following recipe can serve as a side dish for 2-3 people.

Cook 3 medium size potatoes till soft.
Mash potatoes with pepper, salt (use very little salt as your ham will have salt content too) and a bit of milk (you can add cream instead of milk if you aren't calorie conscious)
Cut 2 slabs of ham (tinned variety) and lightly fry on each side. Cut the slabs into reasonably sized cubes.
Fold the ham into the till warm mashed potatoes.
The dish is ready to serve.
If the mashed potatoes turn cold before you can serve it, feel free to zap it in a microwave.
Garnish with a bit of parsley.

There are tons of innovations that you can introduce in this dish during the stage when you are mashing the potatoes. These include
1. chopped herbs of your choice
2. chopped garlic lightly toasted in butter
3. spice powders
4. your favorite dipping sauce or flavored sauce (decrease the milk/cream so that you do not add too much liquid overall)

I wanted a bit of a bite the last time I made this, so I just added a bit of Nandos extra hot peri peri sauce.

If you had a bad experience at a Nando's restaurant don't be cynical. The sauces they sell are really good.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Recipe : Nepali Aloo/Potato Kebabs

Today was Dusshera and since we are in Egypt, we did not have a holiday. I still wanted to make the day special for my husband so he wouldn't feel too homesick for the delicious food his mom would have cooked for us.

So I fired up the deep frying pan and rustled up a bunch of ajwain puris, made some chole (which I had soaked last night) and in a bid to try something different, yet familiar and keep the menu vegetarian - I pulled out a recipe given to me by a Nepali friend for potato kebabs.
Potato dishes go very well with puris and it is comfort food for my husband. This dish was no exception.

6 medium potatoes
1 tbsp cumin powder
1 tbsp corriander powder
1/2 inch ginger paste (fresh is better)
5 cloves garlic ground to paste
1 cup yoghurt
1/2 tsp pepper powder
chilli powder to taste
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
4 small bay leaves
1/2 cup oil
1/2 inch ginger, chopped

Peel potatoes and cut into 4 to 6 equal sized pieces.
Mix all ingredients except potatoes, oil, chopped ginger and bay leaves into a smooth paste.
Marinate the potatoes in this mixture for at least 4 hours. Don't leave the potato pieces too large.

In a large pan, heat the oil, add chopped ginger and fry on high heat till it browns.
Add bay leaves and stir for awhile.
Drop the potatoes into the hot oil mixture and fry till the potatoes turn light brown while stirring occasionally.
Pour the marinade into the pan for some liquid quotient, lower the heat, cover the pan and cook potatoes for 10-15 minutes until soft.
Dry up the potatoes before serving. They should be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
Serve hot with rice, roti or puri.

Recipe : Kebabs - Simple to Shikampuri

I first had the good fortune of tasting shikampuri kebabs at Hyderabad House in (you guessed it) Hyderabad, India. This has been one of my favorite kebabs ever since and a must eat when I visit Hyderabad.

I recently came across a recipe for making them, sadly it wasn't exactly the taste I was craving, but they were pretty good never the less.

This is an easily adaptable recipe. You can try to make the shikampuri kebab which requires a little skill for the stuffing or just prepare it as regular cutlets/kebabs or turn them into deep fried meat balls or use it to make koftas for a mince kofta curry.

I use beef or mutton mince in my recipe but you can substitute with chicken mince if you prefer.

You can also lower the spice quotient by reducing the chilli powder.

This recipe is perfect for those who have trouble getting their cutlets/meat balls to the right consistency or end up breaking and splintering when frying.

250gms of mince
1/2 cup of bengal gram dhal (channa dhal/ split chickpeas)
1/2 inch ginger
3 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of cinnamon
2 tsp chilli powder (use less if you want it less spicy)
salt to taste
4 cloves

Clean the mince, don't squeeze out too much water when drying as we will not be adding any water in the cooking stage.
Soak the dhal as long as you can (I did not have time to do this today and it became difficult at the grinding stage, so you will see a lot of whole dhal in the pictures, which is tasty but spoils the texture) at least a couple of hours.
Mix all these ingredients in a pan and cook without adding any water until it is dry.

Once it is dry, turn the gas off and let it come down to room temperature.

Then grind the mixture to a fine paste adding
1 egg and
Juice of 1 lime
The finer you grind it, the better the kebabs will turn out.

1 onion finely chopped
1 green chilli finely chopped (I used red and many of them as you can see below)
a few drops of lemon juice
a little salt to taste
Mix thoroughly.
Take a lime size ball of the ground mince paste, hollow it out and stuff the filling into the hole. cover well and make a tight flattened cutlet.
Deep fry in hot oil.
Tip:Because of the egg in the mince, the oil will froth, don't worry too much, but remember to leave space in the pan for the frothing oil.
Serve hot with green chutney or sauce.
In this picture, you can see the effect of the filling in the stuffed cutlet. (kebab split in half) The crisp onion contrasts sharply against the smooth mince paste.
If you are not sure of your cutlets holding shape or you want mini appetisers, ignore the filling. roll the mince paste into little balls and deep fry.
You can even skip the deep frying step completely and drop the mince paste balls into a bubbling gravy of your choice for a kofta curry.

Shikampuri kebabs/meat balls can be served as appetisers or as sides with Indian bread/roti or even rice.

Kofta curries go well with rice.

(the picture above has shikampuri kebabs, meat balls and ajwain puris)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kombucha - Miracle Tea?

I just heard about this tea because an acquaintance was looking for the starter culture, so then I looked it up and researched it. It looks quite interesting and amazing if it helps half the ailments that it is supposed to.

wikipedia says Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a "kombucha colony," usually consisting principally of Acetobacter-species and yeast cultures. It has gained much popular support within many communities, mentioned by talk show hosts and celebrities. The increase in popularity can be seen by the many commercial brands coming onto the retail market.

The recorded history of this drink dates back to the Qin Dynasty in China (around 250 BC). The Chinese called it the "Immortal Health Elixir," because they believed Kombucha balanced the Middle Qi (Spleen and Stomach) and aided in digestion, allowing the body to focus on healing. Knowledge of kombucha eventually reached Russia and then Eastern Europe around the Early Modern Age, when tea first became affordable by the populace.

This is a 3 year old article on Kombucha in Egypt

The Kombucha culture looks like a white rubbery pancake. It is a symbiotic culture of yeast and other microorganisms. The culture is placed in sweetened black or green tea and turns the tea into a sea of health giving acids and nutrients. The Kombucha culture feeds on the sugar and, in exchange, produces other valuable substances which change into the drink: glucuronic acid, glucon acid, lactic acid, vitamins, amino acids, antibiotic substances, and other products. The Kombucha culture is, therefore, a real tiny biochemical factory.

This Web Site contains information on Kombucha's health benefits and tells you how to make it for free.

Looks like an interesting health drink to consider.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Recipe : Pepper Crusted Lamb Chops

This is a recipe you can make as spicy or as mild as you like.

Its very simple to make and just needs advance marination.

You can try this with other meats too and make it with bone-in or bone-less meat

Pepper is supposed to be a good spice to be eaten during the hot months in humid climates and is consumed in large quantities in Kerala and the Konkan coast to some extent.

1 kilo lamb/mutton/beef/pork chops
little less than half a liter of yoghurt/curd
salt to taste
as much whole black pepper as you can handle. I used a handful and a half

Run the whole black pepper in a coffee grinder or the powdering attachment of your food procesor/mixi
You don't want to powder the pepper. You just want it cracked, so it can release its flavour.
Mix this cracked pepper into the yoghurt and add salt to the mix.
If the yoghurt isn't sour at all, then add the juice of half a lemon to the marinade mix.

Tenderise the meat, using a meat mallet. Be careful not to splinter the bone.
Apply the marinade on the meat. Mix well, while keeping the meat chops intact.
Keep in the fridge for at least 8 hours. 24 hours or longer, gives a more robust flavour.

Pan grill the chops or barbeque them. If barbequeing them, be careful the peppers dont shoot up your nose :)

To pan grill them, put just a few drops of oil in the pan (lamb/mutton/pork chops will release a lot of fat)
When the oil is hot, you can (optionally) add a few strands of rosemary for a hint of a mixed flavour.
Immediately drop the chops into the pan and sear both sides before the meat starts releasing liquids. Then continue to cook till done to desired levels.

You can cook it closed, if you like your meat well done (it will cook faster closed) or open. Keep adding more marinade as it dries up.

Serve with pasta or garlic bread and veggies.

Tip: After taking out the meat from the pan, drain the oil as much as you can. There will be a lot of good tasty stuff (bits of marinade and pepper) stuck to the pan. Fry some cooked and dry rice(should not be freshly made rice that is sticky or moist)in these bits for a fantastic pilaf/pulao side dish. Or store the fried rice for another meal.

Option: You can use less salt in the marinade and dredge the marinated chops in a bit of sea salt (rock) before frying for salt and pepper crusted chops.
I wouldn't do this because my salt tolerance is low and I hate an explosion of salt in my mouth, but I know it tastes good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Recipe : Raita - Yoghurt Salad

Raita is served at a lot of Indian meals. Especially during the summer when the yoghurt helps lower body temperature and is supposed to be cooling for the human body.

Raita is much thicker than Lassi. A Lassi is drunk whereas a Raita is eaten with a spoon.

In some parts of India, you will be served a raita that is as thick as a custard, in some parts it may be more watery in nature.

There are as many methods of making raita as there are of making Biriyani :)

A simplest raita is just curd/yoghurt mixed with salt.

A slightly more flavorful raita is got by mixing yoghurt with salt and powder of roasted cumin or whole roasted cumin.
The roasted cumin is extremely good for digestion.

Other flavourings that can be used for Raita
-roasted cumin powder
-whole roasted cumin
- black salt
-chaat masala
- red chilli powder
- little fresh ginger root
- sliced green chillies
- tempering of red chillies and/or mustard
- ground mint leaves

for a more wholesome Raita, you can add the following
- fried boondi
- chopped onion
- chopped tomato
- chopped cucumber
- grated cucumber

Shredded corriander always adds an exciting taste to the raita.

My favourite raita is
Chop a small onion
Chop a small cucumber (after peeling, if it has a lot of larger seeds, then deseed it)
1 or 2 green chillies sliced fine
4-5 stalks of fresh corriander
a pinch of grated ginger
salt to taste
a pinch of sugar
2 pinches of roasted cumin powder
pinch of chaat masala powder
Mix 250 ml of yoghurt till smooth.
Then fold in the other ingredients.
Add a little water if it is too thick.

Garnish with some fresh coriander.

Raita is normally served a fridge temperature.
If making it and serving immediately, keep the yoghurt in the fridge till it is to be used.
Else make the raita, cover tightly and refrigerate.
Serve from the fridge.

Picture is of Biriyani and Raita

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Recipe : Chicken / Meat Biriyani

There are more biriyani recipes than there are Indian households. Each family has their own favorite and some, like mine, have more than one. The exact methodology and preparation changes from person to person. I keep changing my recipe depending on what I have at hand on home and what flavours I am in the mood for.

This is a basic recipe that you can experiment with according to the flavours that you enjoy.

Marinate chicken or meat in a yoghurt based marinade.
Add any spice powders that you like to the marinade.
Add salt to taste in the marinade.
You can even add semi fried onions to the marinade for a sharper flavour.
Ginger paste and garlic paste are other options in the marinade.
Marinate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
You can even marinate and refrigerate it upto a week before you use it in a biriyani as long as you haven't added onions in the marinade.

In a large pan, add a teaspoon of ghee. Give a tempering with cinnamon, cloves, biriyani flower and or cardamom.
Then add finely sliced onions to the mix and fry until crisp.
Reserve half the onions for garnishing. You can even lightly toast some nuts for the garnish. Keep this aside.
To the second half of the onions which remain in the pan, add some chopped onions and green chillies and stalks of coriander.
You can also add some ginger paste at this point, if you haven't added any in the marinade.
When the tomato is semi cooked, add the chicken with all the marinade to the pan. (Tip : Make sure the chicken and marinade have reached room temperature before adding it to the mix)
Cook until the meat is almost cooked.
You can add some boiled eggs at this stage.
When the meat has been semi cooked, add rice (washed and soaked for at least 15 minutes) to the pan.
Add enough hot water to cover the rice.
If you want the flavours evenly distributed, then stir well at this point.
If you prefer your biriyani to have chunks of masala mixed with lightly flavored rice, then do not stir the mixture.
Cover and let the rice and meat cook till almost done.
When almost done, open the pan, add the onions/nuts garnish.
If you have made a lightly flavored biriyani, it is a good idea to add saffron as a garnish.
Tip : The right way to add saffron is to warm a teaspoon of milk, drop a few strands of saffron into the milk. Mix well. Once the saffron starts dispersing, pour it over the rice.
Close and give it a final steam.

Serve biryani hot with Cold Raita.

Recipe : Beetroot Halwa

Similar to "Gajar ka Halwa"/Carrot Halwa, this is an easier dessert to prepare with lower added sugar and it cooks faster.

With my shortcuts, here is the general recipe.
Ingredients :
1 kilo beetroots
1 tin condensed milk
1/2 liter milk (full cream better)
Some cashewnuts or almond bits
A pinch of vanilla (optional)
sugar to taste (you can even avoid it all together)

Pressure cook a kilo of beetroots. Don't overcook it, we need the beetroots to retain their crunchiness. Then peel and grate them (not too fine)

In a large pan, saute a tablespoon of butter and roast some nuts.
Then add the grated beetroot, the milk and the vanilla essence.
Cook for a while, as the liquid from the beetroot and the milk start to evaporate, add the condensed milk (you can completely ignore the condensed milk and use more milk and sugar, the condensed milk just speeds up the process a bit)

Keep cooking on low flame with constant stirring until the mixture comes to a halwa like consistency.

Serve hot with vanilla ice cream or cold. You can garnish with more nuts if you like.
Tip : Cashewnuts and almonds go well with this halwa, pistas do not go as well.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Recipe : Dhal Palak : Lentils with Spinach

This is a healthy way to get more iron in a regular dish, rather than put spinach on the table as a dish that many kids (and some husbands) turn their nose up at.

Disclaimer : My husband eats spinach :)

Ingredients :
1/2 a cup Cleaned and chopped spinach (saag, methi bhaji or other variety will also be good)
1 cup yellow lentils - toovar / arhar dhal
1-2 tomatoes
1-2 onions
green chillies to taste
1 tsp ground ginger or finely chopped ginger
chopped garlic - 6-7 cloves
1/2 tsp each of chilli, cumin(jeera) and turmeric (haldi) powder
salt to taste
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon oil to cook + more for seasoning

Note : the quantities are approximations, adjust to your own taste

Rinse and soak the lentils in water. (5 minutes is good enough, longer soaking even for a couple of hours won't hurt and will speed up the cooking process)

In the pressure cooker, heat a teaspoon of oil. (ghee or butter will give you a better flavor)
Saute the garlic in this.
I like to add the tomatoes at this stage because I don't like pulpy bits of tomato in my food. So I saute it till the pulp melts off the skin and then go on to the rest of the recipe. If you aren't so particular, you can add all the following ingredients together.
Add the onions, some green chillies, the spinach and ginger and saute for 1/2 to 1 minute to get the flavours out.

Now add the soaked dhal, spice powders and salt.
Cover with water and shut the pressure cooker (amount of water depends on whether you want a thick or thin dhal. This recipe tastes good both ways)
In my hawkins cooker, I give it 3-4 whistles.
If the dhal was well soaked, then it will disintegrate on its own and save you the trouble of blending it.

When you open the cooker, add salt to taste and then add the lemon juice.

Tips :
Iron in spinach needs some kind of citrus/acetic acid to aid absorption in the body. So add lemon juice or vinegar for sure to a dish of greens.
Don't add the acid before the lentils are cooked, because this will slow down the cooking process.

You can serve the dhal as is with a dollop of ghee on top.

Or you can serve it with any of the following temperings
1. chopped garlic
2. cumin (jeera seeds)
3. jeera + garlic
4. red chillies
5. green chillies

Serve with hot rice or rotis.

The other item in this picture is Squid Chilli Fry

Variations :
If not tempered and slightly watered down, it can even be served as a lentil with spinach soup.

Feel free to add your own innovation.

Recipe : Squid / Calamari Chilly Fry

Don't get scared by the name. You can make this dish without the chillies too.

I had some squid in the refrigerator and was feeling very homesick and wanted to eat something that reminded me of home

Not the regular ubiquitous batter fried squid that is available in sea food restaurants in Egypt

So I searched online for some rough guidelines and liked the feel of the Kanava Thoran on NDTV cooks. As a Kerala speciality, I knew it would be very similar to food cooked in my home town.

The coconut in the recipe sealed the deal as I had some extra grated coconut that I had frozen from a few days ago and wanted to use up.

As usual, I modified the recipe to my own convenience.

I firmly believe that squid/calamari should not be cooked for more than 2-3 minutes, else it turns rubbery and tough.

A good squid recipe allows for the extra water that pours out of the squid to be absorbed (like this dish where the coconut absorbs the excess liquid) or it is deep fried (the sudden intense heat seals the liquid inside the squid pieces themselves) If you are trying to make a dry dish, then steam the squid first and then put the squid pieces into the cooked flavorings.

No such problem with this recipe. If you are looking for precise directions, follow this recipe

My version does not have exact amounts and I try to cook everything in one dish and make some shortcuts.

Ingredients :
About half kilo squid cleaned and cut into pieces of your shape and size
1 largish onion - chopped
Some curry leaves
some green chillies
a handful of grated coconut
some pureed tamarind
some dried red chillies
mustard seeds
little garlic
some ground ginger

Heat the oil, when it is hot, add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and dry chillies. this is the tempering. (If you prefer you can do this in a seperate vessel at the end and then pour it over the prepared squid. In the interest of less washing up, I have tempered it right in the beginning in the main vessel)
Add garlic, semi fry it a bit, then add the chopped onions, ground ginger and green chillies. Fry for a while, remember the onions need to be crunchy (not soft, not browned, but crunchy)to the taste at the end of the preparation.

Add the grated coconut and tamarind paste/puree and salt. You can use lemon juice instead of tamarind paste, but the tamarind paste is more authentic and earthy in this dish.

Let this cook for a while and dry up a bit. The add the squid pieces and quickly saute for 2-3 minutes.

If the squid was frozen, it may not absorb much flavour, so the rest of the ingredients need to soak into the coconut and compensate for the flavor.

You can top off with some fresh cilantro/corriander/dhaniya if you like.

Eat with hot rice and dhal.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I won, I won! :)

Remember the recipe I posted a short while ago for Prawn Pakodas for Rushina's pakoda contest?

Many of you loved the recipe, do let me know if you tried it and what changes you made or felt you needed to make (other than reducing the chillies that is) :)

I was one of the 3 winners of the contest. So I guess Rushina and her judges (family) liked it :)

Here's the link to the announcement and links to the recipes of other winners and participants.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The shortest way to a soldier’s heart

Vikram Doctor has written an extremely enlightening article on Army meals in India which was published in the Economic Times on the 19th. The article is definitely worth a read.

. . . I first became aware of armed force wives cuisine thanks to my mother’s aunt who was a Navy wife. She is an excellent cook, though she has always professed to find cooking a bore. She says her aim is always to do it quickly and economically, yet her food always tastes good and has a certain imagination and style. I was reminded of her food while eating at the houses of friends who had grown up as army kids, and I realised their mothers shared, not exactly a cuisine in terms of actual dishes, but one united by a similar approach to cooking. Talking to my friends and their mothers I realised how the style had been set by the shared experience of armed force life with all its expectations and restrictions. . .

Read the entire article here

Wadi Foods in Egypt

Wadi Foods is a local Egyptian Company which grows, bottles and sells organic products.

I have been extremely happy with their olive oil selection including the naturally flavored varieties (which come in attractive bottles that look very elegant on a dinner table and can be served as is)

Their olives come in multiple varieties (black, Kalamata & green) and with various pickling spices.
They have excellent capers and sun dried tomatoes too. (tart and firm, not soggy)

The pepper pickles are not as spicy as I (an Indian) would like them, but I have friends who aren't into extremely spicy food, who love these pickles.
Do remember that in a non Indian setting, pickles normally refer to something that has been preserved in brine (salt water with a little souring agent) The cornichons are good and the lime pickle is what we call in konkani -meetha udkache - which means preserved in brine. they also have vine leaves, if you are inspired to create your own stuffed vine leaves at home.

They say that, all Wadi Food pickles are handpicked and then processed naturally by curing them slowly without any chemical additives or preservatives. They do taste that way.

They have some excellent tapenades that go well on bruschettas for an impromptu snack or on toast for breakfast. I love the sun dried tomato tapenade the best

They sell ready made pestos (Basil, mixed herb and artichoke) and pasta sauces (Arabioatta, Alfredo, Mediterranea and Basilico) I haven't tried these as I prefer to make my sauces from scratch, so I can tweak the taste to our taste buds. But I did try an onion paste of theirs for marination when I was in a hurry one day and it tasted quite awesome. I don't remember the exact name on the bottle and I haven't seen it recently. Some of their products go off the shelves for a while depending on the seasonal availability of their fresh produce.

The Apple Cider Vinegar may not be the same as the one available in the US, but its quite good never the less and works out much more reasonable and healthy than the imported varieties. The balsamic vinegar is ok for marination, but if the balsamic is to be used as a dip or as the main top note flavor in a dish, then I prefer to use my bottle from Modena.

All measurements on bottles are in the drained weight.

These are the logos, you are looking for, when searching for Wadi Foods products

Most of their bottle produce is available in the Major Grocery Stores in Egypt You can also buy them from the dedicated Wadi Food Stores around Cairo

The other advantage of going to their dedicated stores is that you can also pick up organic chicken and organic vegetables grown on their farms along the Cairo Alex desert road.

They also have appropriate baskets for their bottles, which are very handy when you want to take some over as a gift for your dinner hostess. Or you can even carry one of their fancy jars. - My husband is convinced that I buy half the products because of their bottles :) which I love to re-use in different ways.

Feel free to use any of their spice/bottle racks and combine it with whichever bottles you think your hostess may appreciate and create a beautiful basket for yourself. If you fall in love with the arrangement yourslef, just buy 2. I speak from experience :)

Credit Note: Pictures have been taken from the Wadi Food Website.


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