Wednesday, 31 March 2010

"Kedegree", Indeed!

I just found this ridiculous recipe for khichuri or khichri, and while the British may eat what they wish, I object to this being the dominant notion of what the utterly delicious khichuri (actually, khichuDi) is like. So, here you go: my most favourite version of the dish, the completely vegetarian bhuna khichuri. Served in Bengali homes usually on cold rainy evenings, and on Saraswati puja or Ashatami afternoons, this is decidedly not a breakfast dish. It's a main course, eaten usually with aloo-phoolkopir daalna (recipe later), a variety of deep-fried vegetables (with or without a plain batter-dip), or, on much rarer occasions, some kind of meat curry. Now, the ingredient list is long, but don't let that fool you. The process is completely and totally simple. You just add one thing after another, and it's done.

Note: At home we only make khichuri with kaljeera/gobindobhog rice, but neither of those are sold in the US, alas. So I make do with fake basmati.

Yellow split moo[n]g daal.
Potatoes--peeled and halved (or quartered, if large).
Cauliflower--cut in small flowers.
Green peas, preferably shelled (not frozen).
Tomatoes, diced.
Ginger, peeled and minced.
Whole cumin+dash of turmeric.
Ground cumin+coriander.
Bay leaf (optional)
Shredded red chillies (optional) and whole green chillies.
Salt, white sugar.
Ghee + mustard oil (oh all right, vegetable/canola/sunflower oil if you like).
Garam masala powder (cloves+cardamom+cinnamon at least).

How to:
In a warm tawa or saucepan or skillet, dry-roast the moog daal. Watch carefully and stir occasionally, because this daal has a tendency to turn brown and charred the moment you look away. After a minute of so, the lentils will start smelling of roasted moog. If you're not familiar with the smell, well, here's your chance :-) Wait till the yellow daal has turned golden-yellow and the aroma hangs thick over the stove. Now, if you're using a pressure cooker this will not be necessary, but otherwise the daal needs boiling in a saucepan with its lid on after roasting. This isn't ideal, but it's better than eating half-crunchy underdone lentils.

In the skillet in which you will eventually cook the khichuri, heat a little oil. Rub the potatoes and cauliflower florets with turmeric and salt, and fry them in this skillet, in separate batches if necessary. This is vital, unless you want the veggies to taste bland and boiled in the final dish. Keep the nicely goldened vegetables aside.

Now heat about two, two-anna-half tablespoons of ghee (or oil) in the skillet again. Mustard oil must lose the dark, rich colour and become golden yellow before anything can be cooked in it. Lower the flame (or the seasoning will burn) and add the whole cumin, minced ginger, red chillies (if using) and bay leaf and stir them in. When you can smell the seasoning, add tomatoes. Turn up the flame. Attack tomatoes till they disintegrate. Then add the sautéed vegetables, and mix it all up. 

After a minute or so of constantly stirring, add the boiled daal and stir that well. Reduce the flame to medium and keep cooking till the daal smells nicely fried. Then, add the rice. If the skillet starts steaming, add more ghee or vegetable/sunflower oil. Never add mustard oil in the middle of cooking, because unheated mustard oil imparts a raw, pungent flavour to the dish.

After about a minute, add a heaped teaspoon of ground cumin and about half that of ground coriander. Mix well. Add enough water to stand one inch above the rice-lentil-vegetable mixture. Add salt and sugar. Mix. Cover. There are no pictures of these later stages, sorry.

Now let the whole thing cook about forty minutes on an American stove (for some reason, cooking takes less time at home. I wonder if we have a different kind/system of gas). Check back occasionally after twenty minutes to make sure the water hasn't boiled off, the khicuri hasn't charred, the flame hasn't gone off, or other such mini-disasters.

The rice, lentils, cauliflowers and potatoes should be soft and tender at the end of forty minutes. If not, cook for a while longer. When it's done, boil off excess water by cooking without the lid. Just before taking off the flame, sprinkle generously with garam masala powder (ground at home, for preference). Now stir in on final tablespoon of ghee. Khichuri is ready to be served!

Note: I make it at home in a pressure cooker. In which case I don't have to boil the lentils beforehand. I simply follow all steps but that, till adding the salt and sugar. Then it cooks inside the pressure cooker on a medium flame till the second (for a lot of khichuri, the third) whistle.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Dinner-Date! OR, How to Make aThree Course Dinner in Sixty Minutes!

I have a friend who pines for romantic home-cooked dinner dates. He says he likes restaurants just fine, but they are a drain on his strained budget, and anyway there's nothing more fun (well, maybe some things...) than going food shopping together, hand-picking your meat and produce, getting home, rolling up your sleeves, pouring yourselves a glass of wine, putting on some music, and getting down to making a dinner from scratch. Now, I say there's far too many variables in his equation for perfect happiness, and while I can't provide the love, if I don't make a romance-starved buddy at least a decent home-cooked dinner (wine and music et al), what sort of a friend would I be?

So we went out and shopped ourselves silly--well, by end-of-the month standards, anyway--at Trader Joe's and the local friendly Foodmaster, just to show that we're not supermarket snobs. We planned on an antipasto platter, a non-tomato pasta dish, and a simple home-made dessert. As it turned out, however, he also wanted a salad, so I chucked the antipasto idea and put most of the cured meats we had bought into a basic garden salad. I'll do a lot for my friends, but I will not slave in a kitchen for more than sixty bloody minutes for a meal that'll be wolfed down in less than half that time [Why do Americans eat so quickly? What's the damn rush?] 

First, put water to boil on a saucepan. We needed a little less than half the entire pan, but you'll need to measure according to the amount of pasta being cooked. While the water's coming to a boil, make the salad.

So, salad:
Tomatoes, sliced.
Sweet red onion, sliced (optional)
Lettuce, torn by hand or chopped.
Proscuitto, ham ends, salami--cut into strips.
Sardines--de-boned (yuck. I picked mine out).
Cheese--cut in thick strips.

For the dressing:
Vinegar, water, oil.
Salt, pepper.
Crushed raw garlic, onion powder (optional).

Put all of the above in a glass bottle with a non-leaky, snug cap/top, liquids first. Put the top back on firmly, and shake the bottle vigorously to mix all ingredients together.

Note: this dressing is easy, light, delicious, and can be kept in the fridge for months in a well-sealed glass bottle. And it's *much* better than buying ready-made dressings with preservatives and what not, cheap though they might be. Make your own food, it's fun! And will likely save you some medical bills.

Pour the dresing liberally on the lettuce and tomatoes (and onions, if using). Mix it up. Now, ladle the basic salad into little wooden bowls (or any bowl, really), and top up with slices of cheese and meat. This can be done in the bigger wooden bowl, of course. I've no idea why we did this individually. Perhaps to make sure everyone gets enough meat and cheese, and not just lettuce and tomatoes. Top with a little oregano. 

Pasta Fiorenara:
The pasta should be done by now. Keep checking with a fork all the while you're making the salad. If it is, pour it off into a strainer and hold the strainer under a cold tap for a few seconds, before letting the paste drip dry.

While it's drying, take the anchovies out of their tins, and pour off their preserving oil in one glass or plastic bowl. Now, crush a clove of garlic for each person eating, and add it to the oil. Mix well with a fork. By this time you should have transferred the salads to small individual bowls, leaving the large salad-mixing bowl empty. Don't wash it.

Pour the dried pasta straight into this bowl. Pour the garlic-flavoured anchovy oil on top of the pasta. Open a small bag/bottle of pine nuts and add them too. Now, using whatever your use to mix pasta with sauce (I use a spatula and a large fork, 'cause what the hell. My tastebuds and digestive system ask no questions), mix the pasta with the anchovy oil and pine nuts. If the anchovy oil isn't sufficient, and it usually is, add a little olive oil. Now, lay out the anchovies on each plate. They, and the pine nuts, will give the required bite and kick to this otherwise bland dish. Now, top with grated parmesan, and since my friend likes it so much, a little more oregano. Serve.

This recipe, btw, is from the current flame, who says he ate it at a small restaurant on his tour of Italy, and it was so utterly delicious he begged the chef for the recipe, saying he would soon go back to America and never return. We're not sure if this is exactly the accurate recipe, but it does brilliantly for us.

And now, dessert:
Fresh fruit in a honey yougurt sauce. It's delicious, and one can use just about any fruit (except maybe melons). I used an orange a handful of strawberries bought off the sale at Trader Joe's. The fruit part is easy, you chop 'em up and put 'em in a bowl.

Now, for the sauce, you take some Greek yogurt (vanilla flavoured, in our case) and beat it till smooth. Take some yogurt water (whey?) along with it, since a tight, semi-solid sauce isn't on the menu. Now, add about a teaspoon of geraldine syrup. Beat it into the yogurt. Add a dash of honey. Fold it in. Pour the thick, creamy sauce over the fruits, and mix well. One can also add chopped walnuts as a garnish, but by the time I got to dessert I wanted to do NO extra work whatsoever.

Keep this in the fridge for a little while before serving. In fact, I made my dessert while I was making the salad, and cooled it in the fridge while we ate.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Fish'n Chips... and Steamed Asparagus

This dinner doesn't look very pretty, because I was starved and couldn't be bothered with taking pretty pictures. But boy, was it delicious!

Haddock (or other white fish)
Oil for frying.
Minced garlic + onion.
Salt, pepper, sugar.
About a cup of flour (maida, not atta).
Potatoes+greens of choice (string beans, broccoli, asparagus)

How to:
Peel the scaly skin off the fish and all the red/brown bits you may not want to eat. Back home we just get raw filleted fish, but since I don't know where or how to get that here, I just cut the cleaned fish right down the centre to make two pieces half as thick. Then I cut it any way I please, as long as they're not absolutely shredded. Marinate in minced garlic and onion with the juice of a lemon for an hour or so.

Now make the batter by mixing the flour with about a cap (the bottle's cap, that is) full of oil (of more, if you want the batter crispy), about quarter a level teaspoon of sugar, half a teaspoon of sugar, and liberal amounts of pepper. Now add milk, make a thick milk-and-flour mix, then break in one or two eggs. Beat them together till smooth and fluffy, and then beat it for another extre two minutes, just in case.

Heat oil in a small but slightly deep skillet/pan/wok. Dip each piece of fish in batter and fry them, giving each side about a minute (or till it turns a serious shade of golden-brown). Serve with alu bhaja and steamed asparagus swimming in butter :-)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Koraishutir Kochuri (or, The Best EVER Bengali Snack)

This is my absolutest favouritest snack ever, and I add 'Bengali' only out of political correctness. I'm absolutely sure -- completely bloody certain -- that nothing anywhere in this world (and probably beyond it) tops the deliciousness of this dish, which when added to a spicy, tangy potato curry, is often eaten as a meal. Sunday mornings in winter (when the peas are at their sweetest, succulent best) is not complete without koraishutir kochuri. And now my pleasure can be yours... except that, lacking an army of mothers, great aunts, great uncles, grandmothers and cooks who populate the kitchen and delight in feeding people upto the gills, you'll probably have to make this thing all by yourself. Poor you. But it will be so worth it.

[I cannot wait to get back home to my mum and our wonderful cook (and my great uncle, great aunt and father's occasional cooking). All this cooking by myself for myself business is making my soul droop like you wouldn't believe]

Peas, preferably from a pod but frozen works too.
Ghee or sunflower/canola/vegetable oil for cooking and frying.
Green chillies.
Salt, sugar.
All-purpose flour.
Cumin, coriander and garam masala powder (optional).

How to:
Put the peas and green chillies, with some salt and sugar, through the grinder/food processor. Some people like their pasted peas a little granular, some like it smooth. Pick your favourite.

Now, heat about a tablespoon of ghee. Spread it around the pan, because pea-paste will stick. Add the paste two tablespoons or so at a time, frying it well. By the time you've added more than half the paste, it will begin to stick and turn brownish at the bottom and sides of the pan. Scrape it up with a spatula and mix it with the rest of the paste. Add more oil/ghee as you are frying (this will be necessary, unless you want to eat a paste of raw peas--and trust me, you don't). If you want the paste a little spicy, you can add a dash each of cumin, coriander and garam masala and fold it in well.

Now, in a heap of flour, add some vegetable oil or two tablespoons of melted ghee. Drop some salt and a bit of sugar on top it, and mix the flour with this. Not all of the flour will be evenly mixed with the moyaan (ghee+salt+sugar), but that's okay. Now add warm water and make a nice, stretchy dough. The trick to making a lovely, springy dough is to add most of the required water at first (which makes the dough very sticky), and slowly keep kneading till the water mixes evenly and the stickiness reduces.

Make little balls from the dough. Flatten them between your palms. Now make cups of each ball as shown below, put some cooked paste in it, and pull up the sides to seal it at the top. Then flatten the sealed ball with your palm, and roll it out with a pin.


Heat at least four inches of oil in a wok (flat-bottomed ware will need a LOT more oil, so stick to a wok). When the oil bubbles, throw in a tiny piece of flour. If it floats up immedietly, the oil is hot enough. Lower the flame (or the kochuri will char) and slide in one rolled-out kochuri at a time. When the kochuri is in the il, turn the flame back on. It will -- or should -- puff up immediately, starting at the centre. Flip it when it's all puffed up so both sides are properly fried, then take it off the wok. Drain on a kitchen towel if need be. Serve with aloor dom (recipe later).