Sunday, 28 November 2010

Shada Torkari

There's something to be said for the Bengali Sunday breakfast. Several things, in fact. One, it's really a lunch substitute. It's astonishing that people who go through the week eating two rootis for breakfast and a quick sandwich for lunch manage to down two massive meals within hours of each other, but we manage to do it every single Sunday. Yay us.

Second, it usually involves deep-fried floury things, aided almost always by potatoes in various alluring guises. Occasionally, the cauliflower, green peas, brinjal, pumpkin, and seasoned minced fish or lentils (think machher kochuri, daalpuri) makes appearances, and all of them just as fried or heavily spiced.

What with all this oil and potatoes and spices, sometimes my mother (and great aunt, a great champion of this dish) puts her feet down, and refuses to serve anything but this curry with the customary deep-fried, lightly puffed luchis. It needs just two spices, is very light, prepped in ten minutes, and absolutely delicious.

Potatoes, peeled and diced.
Cauliflower, cut into small florets (optional).
Whole cumin/jeera.
Small green cardamom, lightly pounded to crack pod and break seeds.
Salt, sugar.

Breakfast variation: Heat sunflower/canola/vegetable oil in a wok. Turn flame completely down when hot, and add a teaspoon of whole cumin. Give it 30 seconds and add the cardamom. Stir and fry till you can smell the fried spices.

If using cauliflowers, add them now and fry them for a couple of minutes. Toss in the diced potatoes. Turn up flame to medium and stir really well, so the potatoes are completely coated with the cumin-seasoned oil.

Add salt and sugar. Add a 1.5 cups if water. Cover and simmer, checking every few mintes to see if the potatoes are done. Keep as much gravy as you like. Season with a tablespoon of ghee if you like (I strongly recommend it, of course).

Serve it with pearly-white luchi for breakfast.

Lunch Variation: Use kalo jeera (kalonji, nigella or caraway seeds) instead of whole jeera/cumin. Rub the vegetables with a touch of turmeric before adding to the wok. Repeat everything else.

Try it. You'll regret not trying something this delicious and this simple, AND this versatile.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Never a daal moment

I'm often foxed by the unfamiliar names of faminilar things in Indian shops abroad (well, the US northeast. I'm not a well travelled woman), and this is particularly odd to non-subcontinental friends accompanying me. For surely, as an 'Indian', I should know the 'Indian' names of things.

I would if I could, of course, but for the tiny glitch that there IS no such language as 'Indian'. Half the nation's 'diversity'-related 'issues' would probably have been solved if there was, and we would all have been reduced to a homogeneous unilingual country with delusions of difference. But while I laud difference and diversity and hold it's flag flying high, it does present some difficulties with food-shopping and even recipe-writing.

For example, I want to say, "Take a fistful of orohor daal". I say it, but I can't leave it at that. I have to then google to find out what is the commonest pan-Indian name for orohor daal, by what name it's best known in the English-speaking world, what vagaries of my own people should I remember to explain (eg: Bengalis call kaali daal tarka daal, and neither of those phrases mean anything to my friends abroad)...

It gets tedious.

So I'm going to make a list, right here, right now. I'm going to include the Bengali (and wherever possible, Hindi; my knowledge of Indian languages extends no further) names of spices and grams. Vegetables are fine -- I frequently use their English names anyway and they don't confuse me. But the spices and rich array of beans/grams need to be ordered. Now.

Daal is a funny word to translate, because not only does it refer to the dish, in Bengali it also refers to a whole host of things used to make daal. Most of these fall into the legume family -- standard source of non-animal protein -- but as children, we were to taught identify them separately. For example, mushur (masoor) daal is a lentil. Rajma is a bean. Urad daal is a gram (which Wikipedia tells me I should call a pulse). I'm going to list everything I can remember cooking, which falls under the local category of 'daal':

Mushur daal -- masoor. Red lentils (although really they are more orange).

Gota Moog (whole moog) -- moong. Mung beans. Green gram.
Moog daal (de-husked, split moog) -- moong daal. Golden gram. Golden yellow inside green husk.

Chhola or chaana -- channa. Bengal gram or Indian chickpea. Dark, small, rough-skinned. There's an European variety that is much drier/harder.
Kabuli chhola -- chhole. I don't know what this is called in English. White, larger, much softer kind of chickpea.
Chholar daal -- de-husked and split Kabuli chhola. Light yellow inside white husk.

See this for pictures of all three types of chhola (Bengal, European, Kabuli).

Kolai er daal -- whole urad. Black gram/ lentils (not to be confused with black turtle beans, the South American frijoles negro).
Biulir daal -- de-husked, split urad. No English name. It's split black gram, white inside black husk.

Orohor daal -- arhar, toor, tuvar. Red gram, split pigeon peas.

While raajma (rajma. Red kidney beans) is not considered a daal at all, it IS considered a popular bean by lots of people, so I'm adding it to the list.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Everything Stir-fry

So I was recently over at my friend Soumik's, happily chatting the night away and being predictably radical in thought and laid-back in action, when massive hunger pangs homed in. We had some leftover tarka daal (it's what Bengalis call kaali daal, though prepared slightly differently from up north), which is boiled grams/beans seasoned with spices. The tarka had congealed in the few hours between buying it from a local roti-daal place, and was quite inedible.

So this is what my friend Soumik did: (NOTE: minus the leftover lentils, this makes a GREAT hearty breakfast, especially on weekends, especially with hot buttered toast).

Leftover whole cooked beans (not mashed) or grams.
Sausages (we had small cocktail sausages), sliced.
Red onions, chopped.
Long green capsicum (long, thick-skinned Habanero look-alike), sliced.
Sharp cheddar.

Any number of sauces/seasonings you can think of. Soumik added:
Worcestor sauce.
Dark soya sauce.
Saunf/fennel seeds or mouri.
Large dark cardamoms, pod chopped, seeds cracked open with a pestle.
Pickled bamboo shoot from Sikkim.

How to:

Dead simple. As my dear friend T says, it's just heating oil and throwing shit together. That's precisely what Soumik did. First, he heated a lot of mustard oil (you can easily manage on less than half that). When the oil was hot, he tossed in the onion and capsicum/pepper and let them fry.

Then he microwaved the frozen sausages and sliced them up, sliced himself some thick pieces of the cheddar, and added both. This cheddar is mighty hard to soften. If you have more regular cheddar, save it for later. Just add the sausages and keep tossing the mixture over a high flame.

Add the sauces, the mouri (fennel) and the cardamom bits. Fold in well. If you can stand the heat, liberally sprinkle ground black pepper on this. Season with salt. Stir some more. As an afterthought, Soumik added a dollop of minced ginger (the yellow clump in pic below).

Now upend the leftover beans/lentils. Add water. Cover and simmer for about ten or fifteen minutes.

Life the cover. Move the contents about a bit, scrape up the pan droppings. Turn up the heat and break an egg a person on this. Scramble it.

Let the scrambled eggs cook over a low heat for about six minutes. When done, top with grated or diced cheese, put the lid back on, turn off the heat, and let it melt a little in the heat of the frying pan. Serve with rootis (heated and patted with ghee, in this case) or white rice. Yum yum! Soumik is definitely my favourite short-order cook now.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Ooh, biryani. Where do I begin to describe it? Let's try mediocrity.

The best inadequate description of biryani is that it is a dish of rice, meat and other (variable) ingredients, and that it is delicious. Regional variants and ethnic styles apart, biryani can also be classified by the cooking process. This yields broadly two categories, kachhi (raw/uncooked) and pakki (cooked/prepared).

Kachhi -- most famous variant: Dhaka, Bangladesh -- is prepared by layering marinated meat plus marinade at the bottom of a very well-greased, thick-bottomed dekchi, topping it with a layer of rice, sealing the lid and effectively, slow-roasting the meat, marinade and rice together till the meat is steamed tender, the rice cooked, and both thoroughly seasoned with the rich ghee+marinade.

Pakki is far easier. Cook the meat and rice separately. Mix. Eat.

Random shots of yogurt, sold in clay pots.

I started out trying to make pulao and chicken kosha, but changed my mind after marinating the meat. Consequently, I didn't have some of the spices I would usually put in biryani, notably mace and nutmeg (jayitri and jaiphal) and ghee, but since I do have health problems a mile long, this was probably a good thing.
So here's how you make a heart-friendly biryani [which, as any biryani-lover worth her salt will tell you, is either an oxymoron or a travesty].

NOTE: sometimes, the words and pictures in the recipe won't be at par (see 'health problem' clause above). In such cases, follow the words. Even those refer to a lighter, healthier biryani than traditional ones. ALSO, this recipe is easily adapted for vegetarians by cooking the potatoes like the meat, and leaving them out from the rice, or by cooking chunks of paneer/cottage cheese like the meat.

Ingredients (for two people):
Chicken/mutton -- people prefer it chunky and on the bone, like breast and leg pieces (or drumsticks, for chicken). But here I have de-boned diced meat because, as I said, I started out to make something else.
Long-grained rice.
Potatoes -- potatoes are a Calcutta-biryani speciality, one says added by poor Lucknow-expat Muslim families who could not always afford meat. A deliciously flaky chunk of potato is often the best part of the biryani for me.
Yogurt, two tablespoons per 100 gm of meat. Or really, just add about five. Yogurt's never a bad idea.
Bay leaf, one.
Garlic, lots.
Green chilies plus one or two large dry red chilies (leave out the chilies if you don't like heat. Add half for seasoning).
One medium-sized onion.
Whola garam masala -- cinnamon sticks, three or four. Green/small cardamom, five or six, crushed open. Cloves, a couple, lightly pounded.
Garam masala powder.
Whole cumin and coriander (1:2).
Ghee/sunflower or mustard oil.
Slivered almonds and whole sultanas(optional).
Grated nutmeg and powdered mace (optional).

How to:
Soak the rice for at least half an hour in warm water. Paste the cumin and coriander together, then paste the garlic, chilies, and onion, both with a little water. Skin, remove gristle+fat, and thoroughly clean the meat.

Marinate the meat in the pastes, along with the juice of a small lemon and yogurt (preferably strained off the whey). Leave it for at least two hours.

Peel and halve the potatoes. Rub them with a touch of turmeric and salt and shallow-fry them till they take on a light golden colour. Drain and keep aside.

Drain the water carefully from the rice and shake it dry. We spread the wet rice on three or four layers of newspaper next to the window for an hour or so to dry.

This drying is a bit pointless, because immediately after, we boil it. We can do this in two different ways:
  • heat four tablespoons of oil -- the rice should be moist and pleasantly greasy when cooked, not dry. If using sunflower oil, feel free to add a little ghee for flavour. Add the whole garam masala and toss till the sweet smell of frying cinnamon rises. The dry fruits should also be added and lightly fried now. Now slowly add the rice and mix it thoroughly with the oil. Add already-fried potatoes. Add water till it's an inch or two above the level of rice.
  • heat about six inches of water in a dekhchhi (which is a uniformly wide very large saucepan, with a lid). Now drop in the whole garam masala and bay leaf, and let the water come to boil. Boil for about three or four minutes or till the water changes colour. Now add the fried potatoes, then the rice. 

Let the water boil till the rice puffs up and starts jumping slightly. Put the lid on and simmer till the potato is completely tender (do the fork test). If using Method 1, one can pressure-cook the rice to reduce time.

 Fulminating rice.

If one likes pretty food, one can dissolve a few strands of saffron in a teaspoon of warm water, then add the water to the dekchi. The rice will take on a lovely light orangish-yellow tint, but not all over.

While the rice is cooking, heat three tablespoons of oil in a wok. When hot, turn the flame down. Carefully raise the meat out of the marinade, scrape some off if needed, and lower it into the oil.

Fry till nicely golden-brown. Now add the marinade, turn flame up to medium. If you have aamchur (powdered raw mango, quite tangy), mace and nutmeg powder, sprinkle half a teaspoon of the former and a couple of pinches of the latter two. Keep stirring and tossing the meat and spices till the oil separates.


The red above is me adding MORE red chilie powder. Anyway, now add either a cup of water, or a cup of whole milk/cream with a tablespoon of water. Cover and simmer, checking every five to see if the gravy is drying out.

Drain the cooked rice and potatoes, preferably using a net/cheesecloth tied around the mouth of the dekchi and upturning it). When the meat is tender and the gravy is reduced but not completely dry, take a large serving bowl and ladle the rice and potatoes into it. Sprinkle ground garam masala on top and mix thoroughly (this can be done in the dekchi too).


Then scoop the gravy and pour over the rice, and mix in very well. Put a piece of meat on each plate, and right on top of it, ladle the rice and potatoes. Serve, if you wish, with hard-boiled eggs that have then been rubbed with turmeric and salt and shallow-fried.


Tuck in :-)

Saturday, 20 November 2010


The temptation to somehow work in 'pride' in the title was almost irrestible, but I have managed to womanfully overcome it. Unstoppable force, immovable object. All in a days work.

Anyway, it is no secret that I am a women of considerable talent at irritability. I delight in my crabbiness and set, sarcastic ways, and contendedly contemplate a Betsy Trotwoodesque disposition in my riper years.

Therefore, predictably, I have found several things to be irked about in food and food writing. My irritation with genetically modified, picture-perfect, utterly-tasteless vegetables and the absence of Calcutta street-food everywhere in the world is well-documented [why doesn't the world have MY street food?]. But what's clawing at the top of my mind right now is the use of 'combining' in context of solid, unmixable ingredients. How on earth does one 'combine' diced chicken, minced ginger and crushed garlic? Does the author perhaps mean, 'marinate'? Or, in the case of a cooking process, 'add'? Or, 'fry together'? Or even 'toss in'?

One shall never know. It's destined to be one of those eternal mysteries.

And if that wasn't bad enough... what is this practise of adding fruit to main courses? I have been brought up to think of fruits as an after-lunch essert (no fruits after sundown, my ayah was very firm on that) or daytime snacks. The latter, especially when mixed with kashundi (hot mustard relish), black salt, and a dash of tamarind water or lemon juice. Oh, slurp!

So what's with baking green apples with ham and expecting me to eat it? 'Cause I'm saying it now and I'll say it forever, I'm not going to eat baked fruit with meat! Or with vegetables. That kind of anarchy is not allowed on my plate. Take your deviant tastes somewhere else!

*fire, brimstone, and flash-floods*

Okay, I admit. Most of my fury is really thwarted desire. I have a deep, aching crave for a light, puff-crusted pie, filled with succulent meat and tender vegetables in a thick, dark, savoury gravy. Sauteed in melted butter and simmered in a peppery, garlicky, stock. I can almost taste the smell, I'm craving it so much.

And so to twist the knife, because I'm fascinatingly masochistic that way, I decided to look up recipes online (Americans apparently call them pot-pies. What a lovely word. I might adopt it) and guess what I found? A call for 'combining' unskinned chicken legs, carrots and celery in a saucepan, pouring water on it, then boiling it.

Chicken with skin on, boiled without so much as a brief marinade or sauteing with garlic or onions. With carrots. And celery!

Anyway then, I am instructed to heat butter in a skillet, toss chopped onions in it, add the carrots, whole chicken legs--still with skin on, I presume--and celery, toss about for a minute with salt, then dump it into a pie crust WITH CHOPPED GREEN APPLES. Then it requires me to pour the reduced water that boiled the meat and two veg, ha ha, into the pie crust, seal it all in with the top-crust, and bake for 25 minutes at 400F.

The world is a travesty. And I shall soon commit metaphorical murder.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cheese Pakora

Which can be somewhat obscenely translated as cheese balls.

How I miss those days when every second syllable wasn't a sexual innuendo.

Anyway, so this is a midnight snack I made two days back with one leftover cube of cheese, half a tomato, a couple green chilies, and I nearly added a quarter red onion, but then I thought the better of it. But you totally could.

Here's a note on the cheese though, people. Our girl Rhea insists this is mild cheddar, but I'm not convinced. Even really mild cheddar. Still, it's the most inexpensive and widely availble cheese found in my neck of the woods, so I use it. But I'll tell you what, if you want make grilled-cheese toast with this, don't expect it to melt obligingly. It's a stubborn cheese. Doesn't soften till the toast is burned crisp.

This is the mysterious cheese. Marketed by Amul, labelled 'processed cheese'. It is first sliced off the small cube, then diced till it is in slivers.

Here is the cheese, in tiny slivers, mixed with sliced green chilies and chopped tomatoes. Feel free to add onions if that's your thing.

Then, because we are not scared of cholesterol at all, we break an egg on it. The egg has an annoying tendency to slither off to the sides.

Then we add salt, pepper, a dash of anything else you might like (sometimes I add a bit of Worcester sauce, because you haven't cooked till you've killed your tastebuds with hotness). We beat it once, then add a tablespoon of flour, fold it in, the add three tablespoons of milk. And beat till frothy. In the absence of a beater, a fork will suffice.

That's the first pakora. Look at how light and fluffy it is! It almost literally melted in my mouth. The downside was that it was f-a-a-a-r too insubstantial for my liking. Crunch, and gone.

These are considerably more bulky, because I went and added more flour and then realised we had no more eggs left to balance the effect out. BUT, the bulkiness makes the outer shell brown and crispy, while keeping the core a heaven of melted, gooey cheese. So next time, I will deliberately add more flour!

And now for something totally amazing. Take a look at this. Doesn't it look exactly like a perched stork (or egret or what-have-you)? It's like seeing Jesus in a cheese sandwich, only cooler, 'cause instead of feeling all reverential towards a cheese sandwich because it's Jesus, you can chomp this down with a giggle.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Begoon Powra (Fire-Roasted Brinjals)

Oh, begoon powra. So easy to make, such delightful flavours, and by gods have I missed you while I've been away!

Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to imply one doesn't get brinjals in the US, because one does. Eggplants, they call it. They're beautiful things, perfectly shaped and a lovely glistening purple (and therefore an amusing stand-in for the male genitalia). BUT, when you cook them, they are magically transformed into soggy newsprint. It's hopeless! An Italian classmate of mine used to make parmigiana for his roomie and department-buddies, but refused to eat it himself because "these are not real eggplants". I empathised with him. Tropical brinjals (or perhaps brinjals that have not been modified genetically) have an altogether different taste. 

And, as everyone knows, I'm spectacularly intolerant of diversity in vegetable-flavours. Our brinjal is the right brinjal! Bring on the jingoistic xenophobia!!!

Okay, so how does one make begoon powra? C'est bien simple.

Take a brinjal. Slice it through the middle, lengthwise. Rub it with olive/mustard oil (oils with a strong flavour).

Pop it into open flames. Show no mercy. Wait till one side is properly roasted, then hold the long stem to turn the brinjal.

Now it's fate has been sealed. Look at the charred skin. Resistance is futile.

Rub your palms with oil and peel the charred outer layers off. Actually, give it ten after roasting or you'll singe your fingers. The escaping steam is not kind. Then use a knife or a fork to make mincemeat -- well, minceveggie -- out of the rest.

Now pour more of the same oil (we use mustard), salt, sugar, chopped green chilies and diced red onions (we ran out of onions that day so it's missing here). Don't stint on the sugar, because the Bengali begoon powra has a definite sweet after-taste. Plus you need to offset the strong flavours of mustard oil, green chilies and onions (red onions in India don't taste sweet, just pungent). Add all those things, then mix the hell out of it with a big fork. Or knife. Or something.

Serve, if you can whip up the energy, with rooti. Or roti, depending on your linguistic preference. Or just get rooti from you local Indian resturant.

Please observe, by the way, the sheer magical skill by which I can make six rootis at the same time:

... okay, that was Shobhadi. But I totally could if I wanted to. Really. I could

Never mind. Enjoy your roasted brinjals :-)