Saturday, 23 January 2010

Ease of access

This post is a short pictorial pointer to making cooking easy. Invest half an hour in chopping vegetables and putting them away in packets, so that when you want to cook, there shall be no nonsense about taking cutting and chopping and peeling and suchlike. All you have to do is wash the vegetables under a running tap, and it's ready to be cooked. The same applies to meats. Supermarket package their meats in a way that takes up quite a bit of space to store, and it's damaging to the rest of pork chops, say, when all you need is two out of a package of six. The unused chops get defrosted and refrozen over and over, hardly the best for meat you intend to eat one day. My choice of wrapping is sticky plastic wraps that come in several brands. I get whicever is closest to me at the shops.

Fruits are usually trickier, but the one time I bought pineapple I cut it into thin slices and stored them in a airtight tiffin box. Oranges and things can be peeled immediately and eaten, but peeling and chopping a pineapple or melon when one takes a fancy to it is tough. Much easier to clean them out and store them in neat, immediately-edible forms.

Broccoli, mushrooms, green beans. Pork chops.

Onions, ginger, green chillies, lemon. The sticky plastic wrap I use.


Monday, 4 January 2010

Pasta sauce redux

This takes about half an hour to make, from absolute scratch, but then you can store it for weeks, and eat off it. And it's delicious! It's cured me of my dislike for pasta and tomatoe-based sauces. Recipe courtesy the current squeeze.


A jar of meat flavoured pasta sauce OR tinned tomatoes OR fresh tomatoes.
Meatballs, or, failing which, scraps of leftover meat.
Oregano, basil (tushli--use the leaves fresh and chopped).
Salt, pepper.
Onions (red or green)--diced. Lots.
Garlic--at least five cloves, minced.
Ginger--peeled and minced (optional)
Red chillies/chillie flakes/chillie sauce.
Olive or canola/sunflower oil.

How to:

In a sauce pan, heat a little oil. Add half the minced garlic and all the ginger (if using). When they change colour, add half the chopped onions. When the onions start smelling fried, crush the meatballs and add them. Turn the flame down to medium and keep stirring, making sure the meat is well browned and softened. I add some chopped/ground red chillies at this point.

Chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Chopped/crushed meat and ground chillies.

Simultaneously, in another sauce pan, heat half or the entire bottle of pasta sauce. If using fresh or tinned tomatoes, chop them into tiny, itsy-bitsy pieces. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Add the chopped tomatoes and toss them insistently till they're fried and they know it. Now add about two cups of water and bring the tomato mixture to a bubbly boil. Give one final stir, cover the skillet and simmer till an even, thick consistancy is reached. Use this as a base.

When the sauce or base starts bubbling, add the remaining onions and garlic. If using chopped chillies or chillie flakes, add them too. Add some water, stir it in, cover and cook for a few minutes so the onions and garlic melt into the thick tomato sauce.

Now, add some sauce into the meat stir-fry. Cook them together, making a rich, thich meat-tomato sauce. Add basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Fold it in well and cook for five minutes. Keep the other sauce pan cooking, meanwhile. After five minutes, add the meat-tomato sauce to the other sauce pan of boiling tomato-sauce. Cover and cook on a low flame for between five and ten minutes. Give a final stir and take it off the flame. If you want to use chillie sauce (I use red chillie sauce), you can add it while eating or you can add a dash of it at this stage.

Adding tomato sauce to the meat stir-fry and vice-versa.

The parmesan. The plate. The meal.

Shorshe chingri

Shorshe chingri. One of the easiest Bengali delicacies, and hence a staple at sudden big dinners thrown for sudden contingent of guests. I cannot begin to say how simple this dish is to make, and how utterly delicious. So for everyone who thinks Indian dishes are difficult, muhahaha! Your saviour is here.

I mean me, not shorshe chingri. Just in case you didn't get it.


Mustard seeds.
Salt, sugar.
Mustard oil, no substitution.
White prawns (shrimps, in America), shelled and veined. NO pre-cooked nonsense, thank you.
Potatoes, peeled and sliced as shown in picture below.
Pumpkin (kumro), peeled and seeded. Sliced like potatoes.

Note: I don't use the pumpkin in the US because the supermarkets do not carry anything labelled 'pumpkins'. I am told 'squash' is an acceptable substitute (which is strange since I thought pumpkin was a kind of gourd), but since there are many different kinds of squash, I'd be grateful if someone let me know which one is closest in taste to the pumpkin.

How to:

Grind the mustard seeds into a granular paste with salt and a little water. It is vital to add the salt, because mustard seeds turn bitter when pasted. The salt, for some biochemic reason beyond me, prevent this. The paste can be made in a food processor, a ten-dollar coffee grinder (you can grind salt and mustard together and add water later) or by hand in a mortar-and-pestle. We also add a couple of green chilies to the paste, but it might be too hot for some.

The American variant:
When the paste is done, taste it to how salty it is. Now, in a large piece of aluminium foil, place prawns, potatoe and pumpkin slices. Pour mustard oil liberally over them. Now spoon in generous amounts of mustard paste and mix everything well with your hands. Don't be finicky, spoons and forks cannot do this job quarter as well. If the paste wasn't salty enough, add some salt. Add a little sugar. If you like your food with a small amount of heat, add a few sliced green chilies.

Uncooked prawns and potatoes in mustard oil and paste.

Wrap the aluminium foil into a tight pack. Put it on a baking tray. Pop it in a preheated oven. Broil at around 400F for twenty minutes. If cooking larger amounts, do it in a covered baking dish coated with mustard oil. Take out and check if potatoes and prawns are well done. A fork should be able to cut through a prawn like a warm knife through butter, not merely go in easily. If not, put it back for another 5-7 minutes. And that's it.

Baked prawns and potatoes. Served in a fish-shaped serving dish.

The Indian variant:

Grease a thich tawa with mustard oil. Arrange the prawns and vegetables, well mixed with mustard paste and oil and salt and sugar, on this tawa. Cover with another tawa, a suitable dish cover, anything that seals off all steam escape route. Now slow-cook over a low flame. Be sure to grease the tawa well, or the lower layer of prawns and potatoes will char. This can be pulled off in a cast-iron flat-bottomed saucepan, too. Don't use the teflon coated nonsense. They're too thin, and unless insanely expensive, tend to flake.

Bhaat, shorshe chingri, kNachalonka

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Dimer kosha (egg stir-fry in shallow gravy)

One of my favourite comfort food, even after I developed a distaste for the boiled egg white. Pics will follow when I cook this again.

Eggs--at least four, to make a proper, sizeable dish.
Potatoes--peeled and diced.
Red onions--diced lengthwise.
Ginger--peeled and minced.
Garlic--peeled and pasted (optional)
Tomatoes--chopped (optional)
Mustard oil, though canola/sunflower does too. NOT olive, the flavours conflict.
Jeera (cumin) and dhone (coriander)--preferably bought whole and ground fresh before cooking. I use a pharmaceutical mortar and pestle :-) But shop-bought powders will do too. Just not as well.
Garam masala (small cardamom, clove, cinnamon)--prepped the same way.
Turmeric powder.
Salt, sugar.

Potatoes, peeled and diced. Slices along the egg, all around.

Eggs, rubbed in turmeric and salt and fried in a wok.

How to:

Boil the eggs till the yolks are nice and solid. Should take about fifteen minutes. Leave them in cold water for a few minutes, then shell them under a running tap. This makes shelling easier and minimises damage to the eggs.

Using the tip of a knife, make several shallow lengthwise cuts on each egg. If you forget to do this, the eggs might explode while being cooked.

Rub the incised eggs with a little salt and turmeric powder. Heat mustard oil in a wok. Keep the flame medium-high till the oil turns colourless. Now turn the flame down, otherwise the dish will have a smoky taste that really doesn't go with it.

Add the eggs. Fry them well, till they're more or less evenly browned. This is tough to do on a flat-bottomed pan, hence a wok/korai. Now remove the golden-brown eggs from the wok. Add more oil if required and heat similarly (usually it won't. A well greased wok is good enough for the next step).

Saute the diced potatoes in the oil till they take on a slightly golden tinge all over, indicating a crisp outside. Keep aside.

Golden-brown fried eggs. Frying diced potatoes. Gravying.

Heat a little more oil. When it's hot, add the minced ginger. When you smell fried ginger, add garlic (if using) and fry it. Now, add diced onions. Keep the flame low, since a high flame will char the ginger/garlic while frying the onions.

When the onions become transparent, add tomatoes, if using them. Turn the flame up. Keep stirring the mixture to ensure the tomatoes disintegrate completely and are well fried. If not using tomatoes, make a thick paste with cumin powder and a smaller amount of coriander powder with a small amount of water. Add this paste to the onion/ginger/garlic/tomatoe mixture. Now, cook this mixture well till the oil separates out (the process is called kosha/bhuna).

When it does, add the potatoes and briefly fold it in well with the other mixture. Then add water, amount depending on how much gravy you want. Mix the water in well with the rest. Add salt, sugar. Bring to a bubbly boil. Boil for a couple of minutes, stirring gently. Then lower the flame, cover the wok, and let the flavours run into each other.

Lift the lid every few minutes to check if the poatoes are done (a fork should go through it easily). If the gravy seems to be drying out and the curry sticking to the sides of the wok, add more water and stir in gently before covering. When the potatoes seem almost done, add the eggs, stir, and cover again for a few minutes.

The gravy stri-fry is effectively done. But if there's too much gravy still, boil it off. Serve hot with rice, rooti, porotas.

With rice.

Leftovers for 'tiffin' :-)