Comforting Morukari and Kizhangu

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It is that time of the year when Kerala is in the news. Onam, our main harvest festival is celebrated with such pomp and fervor….TV channels beam happy pictures of the beautiful flower carpets in front of every home, golden banana chips frying in huge oil filled urulis in kitchens in preparation for the Onam feast, painted human tigers on roads jiggling their huge potbellies to the sound of drums. But this year no one is even thinking about the festival. As my beloved state struggles to come to terms with devastation wreaked by the recent deluge, our hearts and minds are with those who have suffered.

I have only read and heard stories about Pralayam ( the deluge)….stories in the Puranas that describe the horrors of it. Never in my life did I think that I am destined to witness it for real. When the monsoon started early this season, it refreshed and rejuvenated… filling the minds of one and all with the green shoots of optimism and vitality. But as days passed, the sight of dark and overcast skies no longer delighted us. It was on the 14th of August that the skies almost ripped open, firing pellets of heavy drops to the already rain saturated earth. Our Independence Day dawned with the merciless skies continuing its onslaught, but we willed our spirits to soar as we hoisted the tricolor in the pouring rain and sang Janaganamana at the top of our voice hoping to shut off the by now annoying sound of falling droplets. The dismal downpour continued without any let up and slowly the news of flooding started trickling in. Glued to our tv sets we watched in horror the untamed torrents of water gushing out of the numerous overflowing dams. The worst was yet to come. Already on edge, as the night progressed, sleep was beyond us. In the middle of the night it started….earth shattering sounds of sheets of rain battering from all sides accompanied by furious howling winds lashing the building made our windows and doors tremble and shake like leaves. I was thankful for the safety of the four walls of my apartment, but wondered how it would be for anyone unprotected and exposed to this grave danger. We waited for daybreak and in the faint light I could see vast expanse of water all around. The building was completely inundated on all sides. The only thing to do now was to stay put at home in my apartment till the flood waters receded.

It is at times of distress you seek comfort in basic food… the very food you have grown up on…the dishes with their familiar aromas that trigger memories of happy times spent in the midst of family. These very dishes bring with them flashes of images…of Achan making a giant Urula for us kids to bite on and fight with each other for the last morsel… of Amma squishing rice and curds making it just perfect to enjoy with the crispy Kizhangu upperi….and much later of me doing the same for my girl who would wait patiently with her little mouth open for that best tasting last morsel of the rice, upperi combo.

So here I am with the ultimate comfort food….the preparation of which would take hardly 15 mins…that something which strengthens your core, because it seems to say… you would live…live to cook and relish these tastes for years to come.

Ingredients

For the Morukari

Sour curds : 2 Cups.

Coconut grated : 3 tblesp.

Shallots : 5-6 small.

Jeera/ cumin: 1/2 tsp.

Garlic  ( optional) : 2 flakes.

Red chilli pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Turmeric pdr : 1/4 tsp.

Green chilli : 1.

Curry leaves: a few.

Salt to taste.

Coconut oil : 2 tblesp.

Mustard seeds : 1 tsp.

Fenugreek seeds : 1tsp.

Whole red chilli : 2 broken to bits.

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Method

  • Put grated coconut, shallots, garlic flakes, green chilli, jeera and redchilli pdr in a mixi jar and adding some water, grind to a fine paste.
  • Beat the curds well. Mix the grated mixture and beat well. Add salt and keep.
  • In a heavy bottomed sauce pan add oil and once hot put in the mustard and fenugreek seeds.
  • Once they start to splutter, add the broken chilli and the curry leaves.
  • Add the curd mixture and turmeric pdr and stir continuously.
  • When it just begin to come to a boil, take off gas.
  • Tasty Morukari is ready.

For the Kizhangu

Potatoes : 4-5 medium. Peel and cube them.

Onions : 2 medium, chopped big.

Curry leaves : a few.

Red chilli pdr : 1 tsp full.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Salt to taste 

Coconut oil : 2 tblesp.

Method

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  • In a heavy bottomed Kadhai on medium heat add oil.
  • When the oil gets hot add the cubed potatoes, onions, curry leaves, redchilli pdr, turmeric pdr and salt.
  • Keep frying for 4-5 mins. This is to lock in the starch of potatoes so that they do not become mushy upon cooking.
  • Now turn the gas to lowest/ minimum position. Cover the Kadhai with lid and allow to cook.
  • In between lightly stir the contents with a flat spoon.
  • The potatoes would cook in their own moisture. Keep the gas flame as low as possible so that they do not burn.
  • Cook for about 15-20 mins like this and you would see the bits of potatoes sticking to the bottom of the kadhai crisping up nicely. Lightly turning them occasionally will help more chunks of potatoes to get to the bottom and crisp up.

 

Palak Chicken

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For someone like me from the south, cooking with leafy greens does not throw up many options. It would always be the green with lentil dal or a dry Thoran with a liberal sprinkling of coconut. The very fact that healthy greens can be combined with meat to concoct a delectable curry was a revelation.

The Palak Chicken can surely be a dish to impress your guests. It goes well with Rotis, Naans/ Parathas and even Pulavs/ghee rice. The steps are easy with not many ingredients to prep. The chicken marinated in spices and yoghurt turns moist and flavourful when cooked and the addition of the boiled palak ground paste gives the curry, body and mildness. This makes it the favourite of kids who would otherwise turn their heads the other way to anything green on their plate.

Every time I cook my Palak Chicken I am flooded with memories of the many years spent in New Delhi. Plucked from the small town life of Thrissur after marriage and planted right in the very heart of a noisy, bustling metropolis I was thoroughly enchanted, to say the least. The mega fruit and vegetable markets filled with fresh produce, the little furniture shops in Panchkuian, The halwai shops at Karol Bagh, the ethnic jewellery street shopping at Janpath, the colourful emporiums at Connaught Place and of course the underground shopping hub Palika Bazaar, all became our regular haunts every weekend. With so many options to do up our little rented apartment my mind was  abuzz with ideas. One after the other little somethings trickled in…a tiny glass coffee table with carved metallic fishshaped legs, a rajasthani narrow couch with colourful cushions to relax with books, a terracotta chime dangling from the open window and so on. With every addition the little apartment looked more cozy and lived in. Only a large blank wall which remained undecorated posed a problem. Ideas to do it up were welling in my mind. So when a holiday came, we set off to Connaught Place. With the whole day at our disposal, we roamed about…sometimes entering a store to look up a decorative carpet or a framed picture or simply walk round the entire columned circus. Just about then I sighted an art gallery…a posh one at that. The husband who had been in Delhi for much longer than I, very well understood the folly of going into such places, but with much prodding and pushing decided to humour me. We went in…. it took a few minutes for our eyes and bodies to get adjusted to the dark and chilled interiors. I viewed in wonder at the pieces exhibited.. there were huge canvases of magnificent horses in motion, their bodies glistening, their hooves tucked underneath, almost as if they were suspended in air. As I stood riveted to the painting in front of me, a soft drone like sound came from behind….Madame, that would be 12 lakhs and if you fancy the smaller painting it would be 3. The skinny, dry looking man who was speaking had the most bored expression which soon was changing into a mocking one as he took in the shell shocked look on my face. I let out a bleat like call to the husband who to my astonishment had disappeared from the scene. As I sheepishly let myself out through the decorated door out into the open, there he was, the husband, with that know it all smile. Much later, seated at the window table of Kwality Restaurant at Connaught Place, enjoying Butter Naan and Saag Chicken we had our fill of laughter replaying the whole scene inside the art gallery frame by frame.

Ingredients

Chicken : 500 gms, cut into small pieces.

Chilli pdr : 1 tsp.

Coriander pdr : 1 tsp.

Garam masala pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Ginger garlic paste : 1 tblesp.

Yoghurt/ curds : 3 tblesp.

Salt : 1 tsp.

Onions : 2 medium, sliced.

Ginger garlic paste : made from 2″ pc of ginger and 6 garlic cloves.

Red chilli pder : 1 tsp.

Tomatoes : 2 medium , cut small. Select the red, ripe ones.

Palak/ spinach : 1/2 a bunch. When cleaned and cut big you must have 2 cups.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Fenugreek pdr : 1/4 tsp.

Jeera/ cumin pdr : 1/4 tsp.

Whole spices : 1 bayleaf, 1 cardamom, 1′ pc cinnamon, 2 cloves.

Whole jeera/ cumin : 1/2 tsp.

Salt to taste.

Oil : 3-4 tblesp.

Method

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  • Marinate the chicken in yoghurt, 1 sp chilli pdr, coriander pdr, garam masala, 1 tsp ginger garlic paste, salt and keep for atleast half an hr.
  • Keep a heavy bottomed kadhai on heat and pour 3 tablesp oil. Temper whole spices and jeera on low heat and let the oil infuse with the spice aroma.
  • Now add the sliced onions and saute till they turn brown at the edges.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste and saute till the raw smell goes.

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  • Now add the cut tomatoes and redchilli, turmeric pdr and salt and saute.
  • Allow the mixture to cook and come together with the tomatoes breaking down and absorbing the spices.
  • At this point add the marinated chicken and saute for 4-5 mts.
  • Pour a cup of warm water and cover and cook for about 6-7 mts.
  • Meanwhile boil the roughly chopped palak/spinach in water for 2-3 mts. Take out and grind to a smooth paste in a blender.
  • Add the ground greens to the curry and mix in and allow to cook for just a minute or two.
  • Before taking off gas add 1/4 sp jeera pdr and 1/4 tsp fenugreek pdr in the curry. Mix thouroughly in.
  • Finger licking Palak chicken is ready. Let the curry rest for 5 minutes before you serve.

 

 

 

Pidi and Naadan Kozhikkari

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If you are wondering what Rahul Gandhi’s pet dog is doing in my blog, let me correct you. Pidi is a north Malabar preparation of rice dumplings steamed and cooked again in a thick velvety mixture of rice powder, water and coconut milk. The Pidi along with the tongue tingling Naadan Chicken curry wins hands down when you vote for the food that could calm your senses. So even as an assortment of pies, soups and mashed potatoes and stuff jostle and push their way into the Indian cooking scene claiming themselves to be the ultimate comfort food, the throne has already been taken by our own authentic regional and local dishes like the Pidi-Kozhikkari, which not only satiate palates and minds but take us down memory lane and evoke nostalgic memories.

Keralites use powdered rice for so many things… puttu, pathiri, palappam, idiyappam… the list goes on.  The Pidi, though not a regular dish made at home, is easily doable. The addition of grated coconut and crushed shallots and jeera add a delicate flavour to it. The boiling water added to make the dough softens it and as you knead it, the dough becomes airy and light. The steamed pidi when dunked in the boiling concoction of powdered rice and coconut milk, becomes subtly sweet and moist….making it the perfect accompaniment to the thunder of a curry, the Naadan Kozhikkari.

The Pidi and Kozhikkari ….the sheer sight of the dish makes my mind sprout wings and fly back in time ….to my school, Sacred Heart Convent and to the 2nd standard classroom of my little sister. The routine those days was to head straight to her classroom along with my friend at the noon meal gong, sit there and finish our lunch and also see if little sis properly finishes hers. The kids there were a bit wary of us, seniors, and we too did nothing to ease them…rather,we threw our weight around acting as if we were assigned to monitor everyone in class as they ate. My little sis absolutely hated us both for this and sometimes would give us painful kicks on the shin, all the while pretending to do it involuntarily as she lazily chomped on her lunch. There was this chit of a girl in the class who we knew had the greatest fear of meal times. Reed thin, she would watch her maid arrive with a multi-layer tiffin carrier every day, spread out on her desk, to her absolute horror, a meal fit for a king. There would be rice, roti, gravies, fries and even papads and sweet…all exclusively prepared for her. The minute the food was spread out she would start oscillating back and forth, like a pendulum, and all the tricks up the sleeve of the maid would not make her eat. We knew when we would be needed and as the pleading eyes of the maid beckoned we would go and stand before the girl, flex our nonexistent muscles and threaten to report to her class teacher, upon which she would gulp down big morsels of food. Days went by and the same story repeated day after day. It was the last day of school before the summer break and as usual the maid breezed in to the classroom…only instead of the singular tiffin carrier, there were two.With a flourish she placed one tiffin carrier before us and stated…. “This is for you both from Kochamma (my mistress) …a big thank you for making her girl eat!” Reluctantly we opened the box and inside was the tastiest pidi and kozhikkari!

Ingredients

For the Pidi

Fine rice flour : 1 cup + 2 tblesp to make the glaze.

In a kadhai heat the 1 cup of flour over slow fire, stirring continuously till the flour changes to a light pinkish shade and give off aroma.

Shallots : 1/4 cup chopped fine.

Jeera : 1/2 tsp.

Grated coconut : 4 tblesp.

Salt to taste.

Thick coconut milk : 3 tblesp.

Boiling water to make dough.

Method

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  • Pulse the shallots and jeera in the mixie to get a coarse mix.
  • Mix together the rice flour, salt, the shallot – jeera mix and the coconut.
  • Add the boiling water and mix together with a wooden spoon to make a rough dough.
  • Wait till the mixture is cold enough to handle. Knead well to form a soft dough.
  • With the palms of your hand shape small oblong shapes.
  • Steam the pidi in an idly cooker till done.. takes 5-7 mts.
  • Meanwhile in a sauce pan take 2 tblesp rice powder and 1 cup water. Add salt and cook till it comes to a boil. Add the pidi and cook for a minute or two. Add the coconut milk and take off gas.

For the Kozhikkari

Chicken medium cut pieces : 500 gms.

Chilli pdr : 1 tsp, Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp. Ginger- garlic paste : 1 tsp. Salt. : marinate chicken in  a mix of all these ingredients and keep aside for half an hr.

Shallots : 1/4 cup sliced.

Onion : 1 small sliced.

Green chilli : 2 sliced.

Ginger : 2 ” pc, sliced thin.

Garlic : 5-6 sliced thin.

Curry leaves : a few.

Red chilli pdr : 2 tsp, Coriander pdr : 1 tsp, Garam masala : 1/2 tsp.. mix all these in 3 tblesp water and keep aside.

Thin coconut milk : 1 cup.

Thick coconut milk : 3 tblesp.

Fennel pdr : 1/4 tsp.

Vinegar : 1 tblesp.

Coconut oil.

Method

 

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  • Marinate the chicken in the spice powders and ginger garlic paste for 1/2 an hr.
  • In a kadhai pour coconut oil and saute the shallots, onion, green chilli, ginger and garlic and curry leaves on slow fire. Wait for the onions to soften and brown at the edges.
  • Add the chilli pdr, coriander pdr, garam masala and turmeric pdr mixed water in and saute till oil starts to ooze out.
  • Add the chicken and sute for 4-5 mts. 
  • Add the thin coconut milk and cover and cook for 10 mts.
  • Now add the thick coconut milk and once it start boiling add the fennel pdr and the vinegar.
  • Let the curry boil for 2 mts and take off gas.
  • Naadan kozhikkari is ready.

 

 

Mixture

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The most beautiful time of the year, the monsoon is here in Kerala. Every morning you wake up to the sight of misty rain drenched paths and mossy green grounds. The heady scent of rain soaked earth fills you with languor and very often you dive back into the bed to snuggle under the warmth of those slept in sheets.

It’s interesting how the entire options of food changes with the weather. The corner juice stalls which proudly exhibited arrays of multi-coloured cold concoctions now has tea makers pouring golden steaming tea from pitcher to pitcher with great acrobatic precision. The spicy tangy smells of frying vadas and bajjis emanating from the kitchen is enough to bring on a hungry crowd. Ask anyone how they would prefer to spend a rainy afternoon…pat comes the reply…a book, some mixture, a steaming cup of tea and an easy chair to relax in.

The Mixture has many components in it… the little biscuits that are flaky and flavourful and crumble with a bite, The Omapodi/ Sev that is so very crisp and light, the Boondhi which are little airfilled globules that pop in the mouth, the Murukku that brings the richness of butter and the aroma of Til/ Sesame and Jeera into your mouth and the different fried nuts which are, of course, yum. The combination of different textures, sizes and tastes of these different components gives the Mixture its punch and kick.

South Indian bakeries and teashops have an umpteen variety of Mixtures….some menacingly spicy, some sweet and sour and some bland and uninspiring. The mixture that came to our house in my younger days, I remember…was nothing fancy. It was an ocean of spicy red Boondhi with handfuls of fried nuts and curry leaves thrown in. I even suspected the heightened spiciness was intentional…maybe to ward off the prying fingers of children, because it was an item that had to keep in the pantry and come to the table when guests arrived without notice. But brats that we were, we would raid the pantry and pack off with huge portions tucked into our frock bottoms and head to the attic where we would be stretched out , each with a book munching on our share of Mixture.

I still remember how all of us kids were trooped to the theatre to watch the adventure movie Mackenna’s Gold. There is a scene in the movie where Omar Sharif sits down to eat a plate of food with his fork which interestingly looked like a plate of Mixture. So once back home, we headed straight to the pantry armed with little plates and spoons (there was no way we could get forks) and soon were huddled together in a circle, sitting exactly the way Omar Sharif sat directing little spoonfuls of mixture daintily into our mouths and talking utter nonsense with serious and grave expressions while the youngest of the lot was on a rampage with his toy guns aiming and going Chug…chug…chug at us with his eyes cocked.

Ingredients

For the Biscuit

Plain flour/Maida : 2 cups.

Oil : 4tblesp. 

Salt to taste.

Water to make atight dough.

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In a bowl take flour and mix in salt. Now pour the oil and rub in with your fingers. You should be able to make a ball with your flour after you rub in the oil. Now add water little by little and knead the mixture to form a tight dough.

Divide the dough into 2 equal portions and roll into a round 1/2 cm thick and with a knife cut into squares and 2’strips.

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In a kadhai add oil and on low heat fry the shapes till crisp.Be patient while frying these. Each batch would take about 10 to 12 mts to fry.

For the Omapodi

Besan/ Chick pea flour : 2 cups.

Dalda/Vanaspati : 1 tsp.

Salt to taste. 

Water to form dough.

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Mix the Besan, dalda and salt in a bowl and add enough water to form a dough. Transfer portions into a press with tiny holes and press straight into hot oil. Fry the Omapodi in batches.

For the Boondhi

Besan : 1 cup 

Boiling Dalda : 2 tsps.

Salt to taste.

Water to make the batter.

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In a bowl take besan and salt and add enough water to make a batter similar to Dosa batter consistency. Now heat dalda and once it starts boiling add it to the batter and immediately stir vigorously. In hot oil fry the boondi by allowing the batter to drop into oil through a big holed sieve. Fry till golden.

For the Murukku

FIne rice powder : 1and1/2 cup.

Fried and powdered udad dal pdr : 1/4 cup.

Butter : 3 tblesp.

Asafoetida/ Kayam pdr : a pinch

Jeera/ cumin : 1 tsp.

Til/Sesame seeds : 1 tsp.

Salt to taste.

Water to form dough

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In a bowl take the rice, udad powder, asafoetida and salt. Add butter and rub in to the flour. Add water to make a dough . Mix in the Til and Jeera. Put the dough into the press and make the murukku in hot oil.

Other ingredients

Cashewnuts : a handful.

Groundnuts : a handful.

Kismis : a few.

Curry leaves : a few.

Poha/ beaten rice or Corn flakes : a handful.

Fry all the the items in batches and keep aside.

To combine the Mixture

Chilli pdr : 2 tsps.

Asafoetida : 1/4 tsp.

Salt ; 1 tsp full.

Sugar : 3 tsps.

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Keep all fried components in a large bowl. Crush the Omapodi into small pieces. Now add the chilli pdr, asafoetida, salt and sugar and mixeverything in with your hands. Super tasty crisp Mixture is ready. Store in airtight containers.

 

 

 

 

 

Unniyappam

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Ideally Unniyappams are to be made in bulk. The sight of crisp appams with their delicious aroma of ghee roasted coconut bits, arranged in an Otturuli in the traditional way is a sight to behold. ….I still recall the humongous amounts of appams that would be made in our joint-family kitchen. Those days the doors to our household were always open and we would have at any given time close to a dozen guests…some arriving for a shopping spree in town, some for their hospital visits and some arriving from far off villages with their bag and baggage to stay a few days and have their fill of town life. Unniyappams were a regular for tea…so much so that we would steer clear of them even when ravenously hungry after school and would go to the kitchen and beg Amma for some butter toasted bread instead.

Unniyappam can easily be any toddler’s favourite snack…they relish the bite of its crispy exterior and the flaky softness of its sweet interior. Appam has all the goodness of jaggery, which is very good for digestion, til/ sesame seeds which are a good source of calcium and the rice and wheat which are the carbs that would chase away the hunger pangs for a while.

My Unniyappam stories are many, but the best of them all is this one….those days we had our own cows and there was a Gopalan Nair who would come to milk them. With his grotesquely bent body and gruff voice he was a terror to all kids who would run for the shelter of their mom’s saree pallu at the sight of him. Very often he would come straight at us, peer straight at our noses and say… ‘ Just ripe for cutting, this nose!’ We never ever went close to him. But one day curiosity got the better of us….we wanted to see the milking process. So gathering courage the entire kids party circled around in the shed and watched Gopalan Nair as he washed the cow’s udder, applied the blob of butter he had with him and started milking. All was quiet and the only noise was the sound of the milk jet hitting the empty container. My kid sister, all of 3, was perched on my lap and nibbling on a soft Appam. One instant …a rumbling growl from near the cow’s udder, two sharp and angry eyes inches away and a shout…murikkatte..mookku (can I cut off your nose?) and all hell breaks loose….my poor little baby sister slips off my lap to the floor in shock, the appam flies off like a projectile and the rising crescendo of wails from all kids gathered makes the cow bolt and land a mighty kick on Nair’s face.

Ingredients

Raw rice pdr : 2 and 1/2 cups heaped.

Wheat pdr: 1/2 cup, heaped.

Jaggery : 250 gms.

Salt : 1/2 tsp.

Til/ sesame seeds : 1 tsp.

Elaichi/ cardamom seeds : 6-8. Remove skins and powder.

Equal amounts of ghee, coconut oil and gingely oil for frying.

Method

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  • Mix the flours and salt.
  • Keep the jaggery and 1/2 cup water on heat in a sauce pan and boil till dissolved.
  • Take off gas and keep for about 10 mts and then when hot, pour into the flour mixture and mix well to get a mixture without lumps. The mixture should be thick as dosa batter.
  • Keep this mixture in a closed jar for a day. There is no need to keep in fridge. This makes the appams turn out super soft in the inside.

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  • In an appam/ paniyaram pan, pour equal amounts of coconut, gingely oil and ghee.
  • Carefully pour a ladleful of mixture into each depression and fry the appams.
  • Once one side is golden, which takes about 2 mts, turn each appam the other side with a pointed knife and once done, take out of oil.
  • Your  delicious appams are ready.They keep at room temperature for upto a day. For longer storage put them in closed containers and store in refridgerator.

Fish Roasted in Mustard Paste

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Think of mustard and the first sight of English farmlands from the airplane window as we approached Heathrow come to my mind. The spectacular view of the rolling hills covered in large rectangles of egg-yolk yellow mustard fields and bright green meadows, dotted with tiny toy houses and church steeples had made me catch my breath in wonder. And it was this emotion of awe and excitement that set the tone for our first trip to the UK….our bubbly spirits remaining intact throughout the length of our stay.

Mustard is an essential ingredient in Indian cooking. Most south Indian dishes need to have a Tadka (spluttering) of mustard either at the start or the end of the cooking process. But it was in Bengal that I came to realize how much important these tiny little seeds are to the people there. The cooking medium is mustard oil….anyone new to it would initially abhor its powerful pungent and prickly aroma and strong aftertaste but slowly but surely you develop a deep liking to it. The fish in mustard paste preparation is simple… with minimum ingredients and just a few steps to follow, you achieve superlative result in terms of taste. Ideally fresh water fish like Rohu/ Katla should be used, but here I have prepared the dish with Tilapia. I know my Bengali friends will never forgive me, but let me say this…if you are not a lover of mustard oil, please go ahead and fry your fish in any vegetable oil…you still shall have a cracker of a dish.

I had my first taste of Mustard paste roasted fish in Bolpur. The husband posted in Haldia, West Bengal had a tour to Bolpur and decided to take me along. It was a long cherished dream of mine to visit Rabindranath Tagore’s Shantiniketan in Bolpur. It was hard to contain the welling up excitement as the car sped leaving behind the bustle and noise of the city. Hours of driving through the dusty narrow roads brought us to the gates of the historic university. Walking through the calm and serene environs of the campus, my senses intoxicated by the placid, delicate fragrance of champa blooms all around, I could hear the soulful music of a Baul singer in the distance, strumming on his Ektara. Soaking in the ethereal ambience and mystic tranquility of Shantiniketan, we stood…unaware of the passing time. It was much later, way past lunch time that we reluctantly made our way back. It was our driver who decided to stop for lunch….maybe he knew the kind of effect Shantiniketan casts on visitors….an overwhelming quietness had descended on us, making us dreamy eyed and lost in our own poetic world. The driver politely opened our doors and we stepped into a tiny thatched roof eatery called Banaloki. Lunch time was past and preparations were already on for tea. But luckily for us they obliged to dish up some rice and Shorshe Mach (fish in mustard gravy). The aroma that wafted in from the kitchen as they cooked the fish was enough to snap us out of our Shantiniketan spell. Soon the bubbling hot curry came with fat slices of Rohu fish, fried golden, soaking in the rich greenish yellow mustard gravy. There is a unique pleasure in eating simple wholesome food…that no frills,  fish and rice lunch….. it was a meal to remember…a feast for the tongue and the soul!

Ingredients

Fish : 500 gms, cut into round pieces. River fish like Rohu/ Katla is ideal, but you may use other like Tilapia or Pomfret.

Mustard seeds : 3 tblesp.

Green chillies : 6 no:s.

Garlic : 10-12 flakes, lightly crushed.

Turmeric pdr : 1/2 tsp.

Salt to taste.

Oil for frying. You would need about 4 -5 tblesps of oil.

Method

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  • Clean the fish pieces and rub with 1 tsp of salt and turmeric.
  • In a mixer grinder, grind the mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp salt and green chillies to a fine paste.

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  • In a kadhai pour oil and fry the fish pieces in batches and keep aside.
  • Once all the fish is fried, put the crushed garlic into the same oil and saute for 1-2 mts.
  • Pour 1 – 1 and 1/2 cups of water into the ground masala and mix thoroghly. Add the masala to the frying garlic.

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  • Once the masala water starts bubbling put in the fish spreading the fish pieces in such a way that all pieces touch the surface of the kadhai.
  • Cook on high flame. As the water evaporates and the masala starts coating the fish very carefully turn the pieces with a flat spatula so that the mustard coating gets roasted evenly.
  • The mixture would turn dark as it gets roasted in the kadhai. Turn off gas and let stand for a few minutes. Transfer to a wide bowl and serve. More than the fish the roasted mustard masala is to die for and so try to scrape every bit of the masala into the bowl.

Light as air Orange Chiffon Cake

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Unlike in the western world, for us, Indians, baking a fancy cake other than the basic ones like the Victoria Sponge is a difficult task if you have had no formal training. A Malpua or Jangri might still manage to come out of a home-cook’s kitchen, but when it comes to making a Black forest or the Red Velvet Cake, we develop cold feet and head to the local bakery to satiate our cake cravings. I was no exception…a bit of cookery sessions here and there did not take away the fear of attempting a fancy cake at home. Even before starting I would have an eerie feeling that I would be on the course to waste a whole lot of costly butter, cocoa or sugar.

Back in the early 90’s we were at Rajkot, Gujarat. My little girl’s birthday was coming up. We scoured almost every bakery in town for the type of cake we wanted and drew a blank. Apart from the dreary round or square shaped cake with ghastly bright icing slathered on them, they had nothing else. The only option was to bake one on my own…. Out came my cookery books from the closet. Peering through them while fiercely trying to salvage the precious pages from vicious attempts at tearing by the naughty toddler by my side, I finally zeroed in on the Fairy Cottage Cake by none other than the famous Tarla Dalal. Time was short and soon I plunged headlong into the job at hand. The cakes came out of the oven all golden and puffed up. The stuff for the decoration was painstakingly procured by the husband. Come night time and with daughter safely tucked in bed, both of us began the exciting task of dressing up the cake. The husband cut up the rectangular shapes with engineering precision, while I got ready the butter icing. Slowly our very own fairy cottage started taking shape with the wafer biscuit roof and colourful jujubes stuck on them transforming it into an almost magic cottage. Little windows were stuck carefully, a chimney fitted to the roof and some remaining piece of cake became a well in the green cottage compound.

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Down the memory lane

To say the least, the birthday party was a roaring success with kids, big and small, stuffing their mouths with giant portions of cake and flashing cream coated smiles to cameras. Looking at those pics makes me all fuzzy and warm even today and the mind rewinds to those exhilarating experiences of producing a treat of a birthday cake that became the talk of the town for a while.

With the advent of the internet, baking at home has become much more fun and exciting. This Orange cake recipe is a find among many published recipes and has become a favourite because of its easy steps and feather light texture. The orange zest and juice give it a unique freshness and once combined with some chocolate ice-cream becomes the perfect dessert after a hearty meal…not so sweet and not so heavy. As an alternative you can soak the cake with fresh orange juice too and serve it chilled with just a blob of whipped cream and some slices of fruit.

There is ample joy in baking…right from the moment you weigh and measure your ingredients, watching the blender blades take in the yolks in that swift and powerful action, the liquid egg-whites slowly and miraculously becoming white and frothy and then as the cake mixture goes into the oven, the slow swell of it as it bakes, infusing the house with its sweetness and fragrance. Tea times are interesting with some cake on your plate and as you bite into its velvety goodness you say…to hell with my sugar levels!!

Ingredients

Eggs : 3, separate the yolks and whites. 

Flour : 85 gms.

Corn flour : 30 gms/ 2 tblesps.

Sugar : 150 gms, powdered. From this keep 2 tblesp sugar for beating with the egg whites.

Baking pdr : 1 and 1/2 tsps.

Salt : 1/4 tsp. 

Orange zest : 1 tblesp.

Orange juice : 90 ml.

Oil : 60 ml.

Vanilla essence : 1 tsp.

Method

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  • In a large bowl combine flour, cornflour, sugar, salt and orange zest.
  • Make a well in the centre and add the yolks, oil, orange juice and vanilla and beat well till light and creamy.

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  • In a separate dry bowl beat the eggwhites to soft peaks. 
  • Add the sugar and beat again to form stiff peaks.
  • Now gently fold in the eggwhites to the cake mixture.
  • Pour into a greased ring mould and bake at 180 degrees for 30 mins.

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  • The cake is ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Take out the ring mould and keep inverted over a small bowl so that the cake does not deflate. Keep for an hour till the cake is completely cool.
  • Enjoy your cake with fresh fruit, whipped cream or better still ice-cream.