Murgh-dopiaza

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Ask anyone around here who has taken a day off from their strict diet regimen what they would love to have…pat would come the reply…Moghlai! With its characteristic selection of fragrant spices and the richness of almonds and sultanas, Moghlai dishes are the ultimate in terms of luxury and sophistication…no wonder they are the ultimate in indulgence too.

The Murgh-dopiaza as the name suggests uses onions in two ways. Thinly sliced onions are deep fried to a golden colour and ground to a paste and when added to the curry adds an element of mildness and sweetness to it. The sharp punch of the spices added is mellowed down and the gravy becomes richer and thicker. To the end of the cooking process, onion rings are flash fried and added to the curry, enhancing the taste with their mild crispiness on the outside and locked in freshness inside.

New Delhi should be your destination if you want to experience the best of Moghlai cuisine. I had the first taste of it on one of our family vacations to the capital city where my aunt was, way back in the 80’s. We were a big group of cousins who went around the city every day …the rambling Mughal Forts, the spectacular red sandstone mausoleums, the colourful markets of Chandni chowk excited us no end. It was also the perfect time to bond between cousins. We filled our days  sightseeing and hogging on street food…the chaats of Bengali market, the kulfis of Karol Bagh…we had them all. An all out Moghlai dining experience, we saved it for our last day in Delhi. Seated in the fairly upscale restaurant for our meal,the menu selection was all too quick as we knew beforehand itself that the place was famous for their moghlai kebabs and dopiazas. The lively chatter and laughter was suddenly hushed by the arrival of the mouthwatering dishes and all hands went straight for the kill. It must have been just some magic (I don’t have any other explanation  for it) that happened the next instant…a whole leg of chicken beautifully laid out on the plate took to the sky and just flew over our heads, we tracked its trajectory as it swished over to fall at the feet of the waiter standing to the side of the manager’s table. After a few moments of utter shock, embarrassment and glaring accusing looks at each other, I saw my young cousin sheepishly stand up, head to the manager’s table to return with the wayward chicken leg. No words were spoken as she daintily sat on her seat and placed the chicken leg on her side plate….but soon the palpable silence was broken and there erupted a round of helpless giggles around the table.

Ingredients

Serves 4

Chicken : 500 gms. Cut into medium sized pieces and cleaned well.

C Kashmiri chilli pdr : 1 and 1/2 tsp.

Coriander pdr : 1 and 1/2 tsp.

Cumin/jeera pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Garam masala pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Kasoori methi/ dried fenugreek leaves : 2 tsp.

Ginger – garlic paste : 2 tsps.

Curds : 1/4 cup.

Onions : 1 big, sliced thin ( approx 1 cup sliced onion) + 1 small cut into rings.

Tomato : 1 small, cut into wedges.

Oil to fry.

Salt to taste.

Coriander leaves for garnish.

Method

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  • In a heavy bottomed vessel, pour oil and keep on high heat.
  • Fry the sliced onions crisp. Take care not to burn the onions or they would turn bitter. Fry to a golden colour. Keep aside and when cool, grind them with a little water to a smooth paste.

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  • Marinate the chicken in curds, salt and half the ginger-garlic paste. Allow the chicken to marinate for atleast half an hr. You can also marinate and keep the chicken in fridge the night before.
  • In the same oil that you fried onions, put in the remaining ginger garlic paste and start frying on mild heat.
  • As the paste start to get roasted, add the chilli pdr, coriander pdr, jeera, turmeric. Fry 1-2 mts. Frying masalas should be done carefully on mild heat  taking care not to burn.Now add the marinated chicken and saute for 5-6 mts on slow fire. 
  • Add the garam masala pdr and some salt. Go on frying till the masalas turn aromatic. Add a cup of warm water and close the pan and allow the chicken to cook.
  • When done, add the onion paste and kasoori methi. Cook for another 3-4 mts and take off gas.
  • In another pan pour some oil and bring to high heat. Fry the onion rings for 30 seconds and drain onto a plate. Fry the tomato wedges allowing the skins to blister. Drain onto a plate.
  • Garnish the curry with onion rings, tomatoes and some chopped coriander leaves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moist Carrot Cake

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Think of a dessert cake that is light and moist and this Carrot, Date and Almond cake comes to my mind. Perfect to pair with a thick shiny caramel sauce or a little mound of icecream, this cake is airy and soft. Dessert is, of course, the highlight of any dinner party and every time I have plated this cake up, there have been calls for second and third helpings. Not surprising at all….because the way that dessert spoon cuts ever so smoothly into the dark, airy and moist mass of the cake, the way those little pieces and crumbs mix with the accompanying ice-cream /caramel, you know it’s going to be a moment of heaven with all your taste buds going into a dance of deliciousness.

Way back in our childhood we had no idea whatsoever about the endless possibilities of baking. What we had, thanks to our progressive household was a round and hideous looking oven (many of our friends didn’t have one at home). Most Sundays, after lunch, when the elders leave the kitchen to us and go for their siesta, we would bake. The basics of baking, we learned the hard way…jack up the temperature and your cake would rise up all too soon and end up sinking in the middle, incorrectly measure your flour and your cake turns out dry. So it was after many a disaster that we triumphed and managed to bake a near perfect Victoria Sponge Cake and proudly served everyone for tea.

The opportunity to try different types of delicious cakes came with the visit to the UK. I tried every possible one…orange and coconut, lemon drizzle,Battenberg cake…the list goes on. The highlight of the cake experience though was at Granchester Orchard, Cambridge, where we had gone for a proper English breakfast. Ideal was the setting…lounge chairs to relax and take in the calm and serene atmosphere of the orchard, soft chirping of the birds perched on the tree branches weighed down by bunches of blushing pink apples. No wonder this was the chosen retreat for famous writers and poets like Virginia Woolf and D.H Lawrence.

The menu card was on the table and there popped out some items like scones, ginger buns and carrot cake which instantly transported me to Enid Blyton territory. Scones….I was all too eager to have them….never had I tasted one, though it was all too familiar through the umpteen books that I had read in my childhood. I must say the scones were a bitter disappointment…neither were they sweet nor soft as I had expected and a thick slather of clotted cream too couldn’t lift up the taste. But the carrot cake instead was light as air and ticked all boxes in the matter of taste. It was indeed one of the most memorable times spent, chatting with each other and just relaxing with cups of steaming tea, letting your mind wander and fill with happy thoughts. Much later, high on tea and cakes we left the orchard walking all the way back through the grassy path, enjoying the golden sun, the smiling buttercups and bluebells and the hovering butterflies.

Ingredients

Flour ; 1 cup.

Soda-bi-carb : 3/4 tsp.

Salt : a pinch.

Sugar : 1/2 cup, powdered + 1/4 cup for caramelising.

Dates, seeded : 100 gms, chopped.

Carrot : 1 cup, shredded.

Almonds : 50 gms. Mildly roast them in180 deg oven for 10 mts, tossing them once in between.

Eggs : 2.

Oil : 3/4 cup. 

Vanilla essence : 1 tsp.

Method

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  • In a heavy bottomed pan/ kadhai put 1/4 cup sugar and keep on medium heat.
  • The sugar would start caramelising. Shake the pan to ensure all the sugar start melting and caramelising. Wait for it to bubble up and become dark. Turn the gas off and carefully pour in 1/4 cup of water stirring with a metal spoon. You will get a thick dark golden coloured syrup. Keep to cool.
  • Sieve all dry ingredients, the flour, salt and soda-bi- carb together and keep aside.

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  • In a bowl cream the eggs and sugar. Beat till the mixture looks light and creamy and fluffed up.
  • Add the oil and vanilla and beat well.
  • Now add the caramelised syrup and mix well. 
  • Add the grated carot, chopped dates and almonds and mix well into the cake mixture.

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  • Line a 7″ cake tin with butter paper and pour cake mixture in.
  • Bake at 180 deg for 35 minutes, till a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Enjoy your cake with caramel/ ice-cream and a sprinkling of almond slices.

 

 

 

Lamb Sheekh Kebabs

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A random thumbing through a dog eared magazine at the dentist’s and there pops out before me these melt-in-the-mouth looking Sheekh kababs neatly arranged on a plate with the perfect accompaniments, a green raita and onion rings by the side. The resultant effects of that plate of food were predictable…a slight weakening of knees, a glint in the eye and a quick holding back of the welling up juices in the mouth. As the dentist was at work on my tooth, my brain was in an acceleration mode, mentally sifting through my recipe books in search of that kebab recipe which I had tucked in somewhere after attending a proper kebab making session by a professional chef.

Kebabs are everybody’s favourite…the smoky chunks of flavoursome meat grilled on a charcoal grill has the power to lure with its heady aroma. The succulent bits of meat dipped in the mild raita, when they hit your mouth make your taste buds sing. The appropriate spicing and the marinating process of the meat is the secret behind a delicious kebab. Though the experience of enjoying kebabs in famous and crowded kebab shops in busy markets is on another level, one can try doing a homemade version to the delight of friends and family. The meat marinade can be prepared a day before and stored in fridge as the marinade gets better with the time it rests. Shallow fry them and they hardly take a few minutes to get golden and crisp, just the time you need to prep your onions and Raita.

There are many kebab stories in my collection…and some funny ones do bring on a smile. The best one is of a Lucknow born neighbor that I had way back in Delhi. Totally naive and inexperienced that I was with the ways of the world, every time she would burst in with a demand for quick snacks or munchies to humour her surprise guests, I would happily fry vadas or bhajjis. And as a reward she would say..” I am going to teach you my best Kebab recipe one day…they are just out of this world”, blah- blah- blah. That time came and there I was in her kitchen watching closely as she cut onions and coriander, kneaded the meat mixture adding this spice and that…somewhere though, through the whole process, it was becoming clear that things were just not right. She would freeze as she worked, with an expression of intense concentration, fingers frantically scratching her head and suddenly jump up to reach some spice powder from her kitchen shelf and shake some big measure of it in and just as quickly claw out some of it into the sink. This was going on for some time and I was watching with my hands on my mouth, as with each addition of a new stuff the mixture was getting darker and darker. Finally the mixing was done and small roundels of what suspiciously looked like dog poo were spread to fry in the smoking hot oil in the fry pan. As soon as they hit the hot oil there were loud splutterings and a vicious jet of hot oil all around making us both run for cover. In a minute she gained her composure and made things safe by closing the LPG valve and I thanked my stars for sparing us both from turning into kebabs ourselves. Once my racing heart was subdued I heard her cursing loudly…”I knew it when I got the lamb mince…good for nothing stuff! Let me see that butcher again tomorrow…shall give him a piece of my mind.”

Ingredients

                                          Makes 12  Kebabs.

Lamb mince : 250 gms. Go for lean meat. Clean the mince and squeeze water out as much as possible. Spread the meat on a towel. and pat dry so that there is no water content in the meat. Run the meat in a mixi to a smooth paste. Keep aside.

Chilly pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Chilly flakes : 1/2 tsp.

Green chilly : 1 chopped fine. You may deseed the chilly if you wish.

Coriander pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Garam masala: 1/4 tsp.

Garlic pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Cheddar cheese grated : 25 gms.

Onion : 1 small. Slice thin and deep fry. crush into powder and keep. 

Coriander leaves : 2 tblesp, chopped.

Salt : 3/4 tsp.

Soda bi carb : 1/4 tsp. You may use grated green papaya instead. This is to tenderise meat.

Oil for frying.

Skewers : 12 no:s.

 

Method

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  • Take all ingredients. Mix into the meat and knead well to make a tight mixture.
  • Cover with cling film and keep overnight in fridge.

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  • Take skewers and shape a lime sized ball of the mixture into Sheekh around it.
  • Shallow fry the Kebabs in a pan on medium heat, turning them often so that all sides are fried and golden. The kebabs take around 5 minutes to get done.
  • Enjoy them with minty raita and onion salad.
  • For the minty raita grind 1/4 cup of coriander leaves,1/4 cup mint leaves,1 shallot, 2 flakes garlic,1/4 tsp roasted jeera/cumin pdr,Fffsalt and mix with 1/2 cup curd. Squeeze 1/2 a lemon into the raita.
  • For the onion salad take 2 medium sized onions and cut into thin rings. Add salt,1/2 tsproasted jeera/cumin pdr, 1/4 tsp Chat masala,1 tsp oil, 2 tsp vinegar. Mix well and keep for 10 mts.

 

 

 

 

 

Fish curry with Green Mango and Coconut Milk

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Come December and our apartment gets spruced and decked up for the arrival of our children…I call them so despite them  being all grown up (my daughter and her husband) because they come with that ravenous and childlike appetite for all those Kerala flavours they have been craving for a year, an eagerness and longing to meet up with almost every friend they know who live here and also pack in a holiday-in- holiday to just enjoy and take in the beauty of the land. Invariably things never go as planned…a sudden bout of sniffles or a surprise arrival of another batch of friends and family for a couple of days would throw the well planned itinerary out of the window.

The excitement of their coming home starts early for me…right from mid November my days would be busy sun drying kondattam( rice crisps) pickling lime and fish, roasting and frying things to prep and store for teatime snacks and little tasty accompaniments for the sumptuous lunch spread I would prepare for them. For the short family holiday together, the husband and I pored over the various short break  options and finally zeroed in on the exotic islands of Lakshadweep.

It was only after we were all belted in and up in the air that it started registering that we would soon be away from the hustle and the bustle of life and in the middle of nowhere in this tiny speck of an island for full 4 days. Soon after landing we were in a boat speeding through the swelling waters to the island of our stay. The mesmerizing colours of the sea has such an impact on you…it sets your mind free….free from the fear of water (only natural for someone who cannot swim for one’s life) and fills you with pure zest for life and an energy from within…so much so that I was soon browsing through the water sports chart upon reaching the resort. The water sports centre has a dedicated team of swimmers and divers. It was quite easy to believe that those hardy and fit guys would teach me how to snorkel. A long session of shore snorkeling and I was ready to hit the open sea. A quick plunge into the water from the boat, my life vest and snorkel in place and there I was seeing for real the beautiful, beautiful world underneath…a totally different world of sturdy coral clusters and schools of colourful, playful fish swimming in and out. It was the most peaceful and spellbinding experience for me.

Later at lunch, watching the video taken of me snorkeling, I couldn’t help thinking…is this for real? My girl,  with a quick pat on my back, quipped… yes, it’s you and you were doing just fine! Right at that moment came a huge bowl of steaming fish curry cooked with green mango….and the mouthwatering aroma set my priorities right. The thought of the sea, snorkel and stuff can wait…now is the time to dig in.

The fish curry with green mango goes very well with appams and rice. The sweet sourness of the mango complements the chilli spice in the curry and the nuttiness of powdered fenugreek gives it aroma and flavour. The coconut milk with its sweetness and depth mellows and thickens the curry. The curry keeps in the fridge for a week.  A sure hit at parties it can be paired with rice noodles or even Pita bread.

Ingredients :  (serves 6 persons)

Fish : 1/2 kg. Choose firm fleshed ones like snapper, cut into cubes.

Red chilly powder :1 and 1/2 tsp + 1/2 tsp for marinating. Choose kashmiri chilli pdr as it is mild and gives nice colour to the curry.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp + 1/4 tsp for marinade.

Salt : 1/2 tsp for marinating and add to taste in the curry.

Coconut oil : 4 tblesp full + 1 tsp for marinade.

Shallots : 1/4 cup, chopped.

Garlic flakes : 4-5 chopped.

Ginger : 2″ pc, chopped.

Green mango :  1 medium,peel the skin and chop the flesh.

Green chilli : 2, chopped. You may slit them and discard seeds before chopping to make the curry mild.

Curry leaves : a few.

Coconut milk : milk of half a coconut/ 4 tblesp coconut milk pdr dissolved in 1/2 cup lukewarm water.

Mustard seeds : 1 tblesp.

Fenugreek seeds : 1 tblesp.

Whole red chillies : 2.

Fenugreek pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Method

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  • Chop and keep ready the shallots, mango, chillies, garlic and ginger.
  • In a bowl take 1 and 1/2 tsp chilly pdr, 1/2 tsp turmeric pdr, 1/2 tsp fenugreek pdr and 1tsp salt and mix with 1/4 cup water to make a paste.
  • Marinate the fish in 1 tsp redchilli pdr, 1/2 tsp turmeric pdr, salt and 1 tsp coconut oil and keep aside for 10-15 mts.

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  • In a heavy bottomed vessel on medium heat (traditionally fish curry in Kerala is cooked in mud vessels which imparts a special flavour to it) pour 3 tblesp of coconut oil.
  • Splutter mustard and fenugreek seeds and once they begin spluttering add whole chillies broken into bits.
  • Now add the chopped onions, garlic, chillies, ginger and mango and saute for 3-4 mts.
  • Add the paste of chilli, turmeric, fenugreek and salt and saute till the raw smell goes.

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  • Now add the coconut milk and stir. Also add the marinated fish pieces.
  • Let the curry boil on mild heat and allow the fish to cook. The curry is done when the fish is cooked which takes about 6-8 mts.
  • Garnish with curry leaves and 1 tsp of coconut oil poured on top.

 

 

 

 

Pannacotta

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For someone like me who is more or less addicted to Masterchef Australia, the Pannacotta is one dessert which has always tempted. The sight of the white as snow, glossy mass, upturned on a plate jiggling all the way to the judges’ table has evoked huge interest, so too its critical appraisal by them to test its essential wobble. Even before I got to taste this dessert I knew just from the sight of it that it is a very delicate, sophisticated one…one that would probably be served with a flourish at fancy restaurants and produce dramatic effects like a sudden intake of breath, a quick little clap of hands in wonder at the dining table.

So enamored was I by the Pannacotta that I was determined to make it at home somehow. The odds of getting the dessert right was hugely stacked against me… I was in a place where it was close to impossible to get a decent supply of fresh cream, to get half and half was out of question (what is this half and half anyway?). But all those issues did not dissuade me and I went on relentlessly trying and after a dozen and more cooks and much of my time and money going down the drain I succeeded in mastering the elusive dessert.

Our Rome trip was indeed the once in a lifetime opportunity to bask in the lavish spread of Italian desserts…every restaurant, every tiny eating joint had an elongated list of them in the menu… Gelatos,  Tiramisu, Pannacottas, Semifreddo, Granita, Sfogliatella, Zabaione and on and on…and you wanted to try them all. With no thought of the calories consumed we did justice to them all and the only consolation was the thought that maybe the hours of walking each day would compensate for the heavy duty intake. Of all the desserts, the Pannacotta stood out. The sheer sophistication of it with the mild vanilla flavoured cloud of set cream sitting like an ethereal puff of white cloud against the stark contrast of beet-red strawberry/raspberry puree liberally splashed over is enough to make anyone salivate. Each spoonful transports you to heaven as the cooling velvety sweetness of the cream does a tango with the tartness of the fruit puree in your mouth.

Back home in Kerala it has now become a ritual to relive our time in Italy every other weekend. Lunch sometimes would be a confluence of Kerala and Italian cuisines. In true Kerala slang an adipoli (awesome) biryani is topped off with the luscious Pannacotta and the setting is made complete with film Roman Holiday DVD on TV playing in the background with the petite, very beautiful looking Audrey Hepburn and the dashing Gregory Peck walking hand in hand along the beautiful narrow lanes of Via Margutta . The movie has become our favourite of late, so much so that the husband has started answering phone calls with a long drawn ‘Pronto” instead of the usual Hello.

Ingredients :

Heavy cream : 2 cups ( i have tried almost all types of cream. The fresh cream that you get in the local diary is not dependable as it is usually not stored properly and by the time you buy it is already curdled. Now creams  in tetra packs with shelf life are available in supermarkets and you can try them. Make sure you buy the freshest lot. I have tried almost all brand of creams and trust the Amul brand more)

Full cream milk : 1 cup.

Gelatin : 1 tblesp. 

Sugar : 1/3 cup.

Cold water : 2 tblesp.

Vanilla : 1 stalk vanilla bean or 1 tsp vanilla essence.

Method :

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  • In a bowl take 2 tblesp cold water and sprinkle the gelatin on the water. Keep in mind that the amount of gelatin is crucial to get the right consistency of Pannacotta. Measure your gelatin and with the sharp edge of knife scrape off the excess so that you get a level tblesp of it. Too little gelatin and your Pannacotta won’t set, too much and it becomes heavy and stiff. 
  • Wait 1 minute for the gelatin to dissolve in water.
  • Transfer the mixture to a small saucepan and gently cook till the gelatin crystals have completely dissolved and you get a smooth clear liquid.
  • Measure your cream and full cream milk and transfer to another saucepan along with the sugar and the vanilla bean if you are using one.
  • Heat the mixture gently till it is just about to come to a boil. Take off gas as you see bubbles at the edges of the mixture. If you overheat there is the danger of the mixture curdling.

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  • Keep stirring  for another minute and then combine the gelatin mixture and cream mixture by pouring the cream mixture into the gelatin mixture. Stir well.
  • If using vanilla essence instead of vanilla bean, now is the time to mix it in.
  • Pour the mixture into little glass bowls. Cover with cling wrap and once cool store in refridgerator for atleast 5-6 hrs or overnight.

For the Srawberry puree

Fresh strawberries : 1 cup

Sugar : 4 tblesp.

Lime juice ; of 1 lemon.

In a mixi jar pulse the fresh straw berries to a pulp. (Reserve a few  strawberries for decoration.)Transfer the pulp along with the sugar and cook till you get a smooth liquid. Take off gas and add lemon juice. 

Assembling the Pannacotta…

Take a beautiful plate and spread some strawberry puree in the middle. Now take the Pannacotta from the fridge. Run a knife along the edges of the bowl. Cup your palm at the bottom of the bowl for a minute and carefully invert the bowl onto the plate allowing the Pannacotta to slip on to the centre of the plate. Drizzle some more puree over the top. Arrange a sprig of mint at the top and a beautifully cut strawberry at the edge. Delicious Pannacotta is ready.Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heavy

 

Baingan Achari

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From the bustling squares and the quaint foliage hanging lanes of the iconic city of Rome, my mind swings back to the Indian heartland with just a bite of a toasted fennel Italian sausage I am having at a roadside eatery. It’s magic, how just the whiff of a spice or the pungent bitterness of a little turmeric takes you to the warmth of your kitchen back home and there I am …all sweaty and excited transferring a never before tried dish, The Baingan Achari into a bowl.

If there is one dish which kind of fools you with its name, it is Baingan Achari. Going by its title ( Indian achar /pickle is packed with chilli) the dish should blow your socks off with its fire and heat….but let those unsure hands direct a spoonful to your mouth…and viola…there is this explosion of flavours…not at all intimidating, instead, enveloping you with its comforting creaminess. You almost sit up in surprise at the complexity of flavours. The curry has the essence of everything that is Indian in taste, with its heat doused by the mellow sweetness of cream and curds.The aromatic sweetness of the fennel seeds, the nuttiness of fenugreek, the pungency of nigella seeds..all come together in the curry to create a whirlwind of taste in your mouth and it’s not long before you lick your bowl clean.

My Baingan Achari is a tribute to the unrivalled queen of Indian kitchen.. the one and only Tarla Dalal. Right from my school days I had been her ardent follower…following her recipes to the T. Weekends were fun… cooking with her cook book wide open on the kitchen slab and an eager team of cousin sisters waiting to lap up the dish the instant it was ready. There were many hits which produced squeals of excited appreciation and some misses too which too were quickly gobbled up in the heat of our girlie talk.

I cooked this dish in my daughter’s tiny kitchen in Belgium this time when I was there. It was to be an Indian treat for her Belgian friends. I had gone to the Indian store to search for ingredients and found some shiny purple Indian brinjals. Indian brinjals are firmer in flesh and best suitable for frying as they do not have a lot of water content in them. I must say I would have made some of neighbors’ tummies rumble as the heavenly aroma of the brinjal curry wafted out from the kitchen.

Come evening and the table was laid…there was paneer, potatoes, pulav, rotis, raita and papads….but the hero of day was none other than the brinjal curry. With the last roti the bowl was swept clean with not a drop of the gravy allowed to go waste.

For all those back in Belgium who have asked for the recipe, here it is.

Ingredients

For the marinade :-

Brinjal pieces cubed : 2 cups full. Brinjals should be washed and dried with a towel and then cubed.

Ginger garlic paste : 1 tblesp.

Chilli pdr : 1 tsp. ( you can use milder kashmiri chilli pdr and this gives a beautiful colour to the curry too)

Vegetable oil : 1 tsp.

Turmeric pdr : 1/4 tsp.

Salt : 1/2 tsp.

Oil for frying.

For the gravy:-

Onions sliced : 1/2 cup.

Fenugreek seeds/Methi : 1/2 tsp full.

Mustard seeds : 1/2 tsp full.

Fennel seeds : 1/2 tsp.

Jeera/ cumin : 1/2 tsp.

Nigella seeds/ Kalonji : 1/2 tsp.

Asafoetida pdr/Hing : 1/2 tsp.

Ginger garlic paste : 1 tsp.

Green chilli : 1 chopped. You may remove seeds to make the curry mild.

Red chilli pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Garam masala pdr : 1 tsp.

Amchur pdr/ green mango pdr : 1 tsp.

Cream : 1/4 cup.

Curds : 1/2 cup.

Salt to taste.

Green coriander leaves for garnish

Oil : 2 tblesp.

Method :

 

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  • Combine all the ingredients and rub it all over the cut brinjal. 
  • Keep aside for about 15 mins.
  • in a heavy bottomed kadhai pour 3 -4 tblesp oil and shallow fry the brinjal pieces in batches.
  • Remove when the sides turn crisp and keep aside.

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  • In the same kadhai pour 2 tblep oil and on medium heat add the seeds and asafoetida. Wait for the seeds to crackle and release their aroma. Do not turn up the heat or the seeds will burn and turn bitter.
  • Now add the sliced onions and saute for 2 mins.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste and also the chopped green chillies.
  • Saute till the onions turn transparent.
  • Add the garam masala, chilli pdr, turmeric pdr, green mango pdr and salt and saute for 2 to 3 minutes on slow heat.
  • Now add the cream, the curds and stir. Add the fried  brinjal. Add salt to taste. If the curry looks very thick you may add 1/4 cup water. 
  • Allow the curry to simmer for 3-4 minutes till the vegetable and the gravy are nicely combined. 
  • Transfer to a bowl and garnish with fresh coriander.
  • Serve with rotis or rice.

 

Veg Lasagna

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The jumbo jet goes full throttle along the runway and in a few minutes we are aloft. Cutting through the dark starry night, the plane starts its journey towards its destination. The jittery feeling that naturally seizes one at the flight takeoff slowly passed as my body slipped into a sitting Savasana posture…muscles relaxing, eyes gently closing. Very soon we would be with our daughter in Belgium. My mind filled with sheer longing to see her and even the few hours of travel seemed hard to bear.

The next morning we are with her. After a round of tight hugs and smooches we are cozily settled on her sofa and then she springs a surprise. “You both are going to Rome.” As instant reactions in the form of… “How can we do that alone, with not even knowing a word of Italian? Will we be mugged? How do we see places if we are not taking a package tour”? started bombarding her…. she flipped a neatly compiled pamphlet towards us. As we leafed through it we find flight and accommodation bookings, guided tour bookings and a detailed itinerary of activities neatly charted out to the minutest detail with even restaurant reservations for the days we would be there. With such an elaborate plan drawn out we knew there would be no back tracking.

So the very next week of our arrival in Belgium we are on a plane again…this time to Rome. I must say our adventure started as soon as we boarded with the majority of co travellers communicating in sing song Italian complete with the quintessential hand flourish. The husband at the window seat let out a squeal of excitement as he sighted the snow clad peaks of Alps glistening in the bright sun, as we flew over.

The excitement of seeing an entire ancient city unravelling before us as our cab drove into the old parts of Rome made us crane our necks to take in the majestic fountains and ornate domes. Our accommodation was right in front of Piazza Barberini which was at the heart of the ancient city. The lady caretaker of the apartment suites under From Home to Rome was there at the building entrance with a warm welcoming smile. Soon after, she took us around the beautiful apartment, handed the keys and left us to unpack and unwind. But the colourful street below was beckoning and with our coolers and straw hats on we plunged into it and merged with the bustling touristy crowd everywhere.

A short walk to the Colosseum….and the first glimpse of those imperial arches was enough to make one break out in goose pimples. Here we were in the midst of ancient history…as we went through the imposing gateway, my mind flew to the past and in my mind’s eye I could see my father narrating the story of Androcles and the ferocious lion he helped in the forest coming face to face in this very Colosseum arena displaying their affection much to the surprise of the crowd waiting to see the kill. We walked into the lower tier of the Colosseum with our guide explaining how the then emperors would virtually create thick forests there with exotic birds like ostriches let to roam around and allowed the public to hunt and catch them with their bare hands. The bloody tales of gladiator fights were recounted which filled us with a sense of disbelief and enchantment.

The steep flight of steps to the upper tiers of the Colosseum had tired us out completely and we decided to have an early dinner and get back to the apartment. A cozy little restaurant decorated with strings of fairy lights at the door beckoned us and there was a table just at the window which was vacant. The Lasagna that came to the table was something to die for. There were no spoken words of admiration…our expressions said it all. With every morsel of the delicate dish I could taste the silky pasta, the well simmered meaty Bolognese sauce, the freshest mozzarella, the melt in the mouth ricotta and hints of parmesan. Looking at the husband I saw an expression which said … coming to Rome was not a bad idea after all!

Ingredients

For the pasta :-

Plain flour : 200 gms

Salt : 1/4 tsp.

Eggs : 2

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  • On a clean working surface put the flour and make a well in the centre.
  • Put the salt in the well.
  • Break the eggs into the well.
  • With a fork break the eggs and slowly combine the flour into the liquid. Continue working with the fork till a rough dough start to form.
  • Now with your hands bring all the flour into a dough, adding some water if you find it too dry.
  • Your dough should not be too wet. Work and knead the dough with your palm stretching and folding it. A good 10 mins of kneading would give you a good stretching dough. The texture should be a little bit harder than your normal chapathi dough. 
  • Cover with cling film and keep aside to rest for haf an hr.
  • Once the dough is rested enough flour your work surface and taking a half of the dough knead it to a long thick chapathi.
  • Insert the dough in the pasta machine and run ( So excited to use my new pasta machine which has come home with me from Italy). Tighten the slot to get 1/4cm thickness sheets. Cut long strips, dust with flour and lay on a floured surface to dry. Your pasta sheets are ready.
  • Without a pasta machine you can make your lasagna sheets by taking small balls of dough and rolling into thin flat strips.

 For the tomato sauce

Garlic flakes : 6-7 chopped.

Chilli flakes/crushed chilli : 3.

Canned tomatoes : 1 can/ 1 cup full.

Salt : to taste.

Sugar : 1 tsp.

Soup cube : 1.

Oregano : 1 tsp.

Paneer : 100 gms.

Olive oil : 3 tblesp

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  • In a kadhai add olive oil and once medium hot add the garlic and chilli.
  • When the garlic starts turning colour add the canned tomatoes. Add the salt and sugar and 1/4 cup water
  • Add the oregano and the soup cube. Stir well. Now cover and cook on slow fire for 1/2 an hr.
  • Add the paneer crumbled and cook for another 3-4 mins. Your sauce is ready.

For the white sauce

Milk : 1 and 1/2 cup.

Butter : 1 tsp.

Olive oil : 2 tblesp.

Flour : 2 tblesp.

Garlic pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Oregano : 1 tsp.

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  • In a heavy bottomed sucepan heat the oil and butter.
  • Add the flour and mix till it starts to change colour.
  • On very slow heat add the milk and stir vigourously so that no lumps are formed.
  • Add the garlic pdr, oregano and salt to taste and cook till the mixture has thickened. Your white sauce is ready.

Compiling the Lasagna

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  • Cook the lasagna sheets in batches for 2-3 mins. Drain and keep spread out.
  • Now line a baking casserole with some tomato mixture. Arrange the lasagna sheets on it. Spread white sauce on top. Sprinkle some cheddar cheese. Pour tomato mixture. Repeat till your sheets and mixture, sauce is over. Keep some tomato mixture to layer on top.Sprinkle mozzarella cheese liberally on top.
  • Bake in a 180 deg oven for 25 -30 mins till the cheese has nicely melted and golden. Take out of oven and let rest for 15 mins. Awesome homemade Lasagna is ready.