Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tangy Green Sprout Salad

Normally, I despise salads. Minus the dressing, they're utterly pointless and better suited to moo-cows than bipeds. However, I recently realised that the deliciously dressed sprouted grams sold at street corners -- all the chhola and moog in tangy lime or lemon juice -- can quite easily be called a salad, and for once I'd have a salad I could actually stomach.

So, here's what you do: first, soak green gram (gota moog) or chhola (small, hard chickpeas) overnight, or at least for eight hours. Then wrap them in a thin muslin or cotton cloth -- a large handkerchief should do it -- and hang the cloth in the kitchen, or any other warm place. Maybe your bedroom on a winter's night? Anyway, leave it to sprout for a day.

Whole green gram, post-sprouting.

Add chopped green (and red) chilies.

Then add chopped tomatoes and onions.

At this point, step back. Admire your handiwork. Then squeeze a lime over it. If that isn't tangy enough for you, squeeze two. Then add a little salt. Then add a few drops of mustard oil. This is usually enough dressing for me. However, for that extra kick, you might want to add a little aamchur (dried and powdered green mango), a little red chilli powder, a little dry-roasted, dry-ground coriander and cumin. Maybe a little more oil, if you like.

Then, mix it all up! And if you're really hungry, add a handful of muri or puffed wheaties to the mix, and eat it as masala muri. Yum yum! Not even the pickiest of health-obsessed eaters could possibly complain :-)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Chicken Tikka Masala

A few years back, there was a tiny piece in The Telegraph about some Scottish chap attempting to trademark chicken tikka masala. It provoked some amused outrage hereabouts, but nobody particularly cared about the crazy caprices of strange foreigners, and the news sank without further trace. We had, of course, no idea how big chicken tikka masala was in the ethnic eating scene of the former Raj. This was probably helped by the fact that 'chicken tikka masala' is a postcolonial, Anglo collage of mangled culinary memories, and not a weal dish from ye olde Nawabi kitchens. People tend not to care about the ownership of things they don't know exists. As long as we had the succulent tandoori kababd and creamy butter-chicken, 'tikka masala' could hunt seals in a tutu in Iceland.

So when I first had tikka masala, it was at a Punjabi 'Indian' takeaway in Somerville, almost midway through my twenties. It was the perfect example of a disappointment. (Just chicken curry with extra tomatoes, in this instance). So, in the interest of humanity that is not native to these tropical parts, this is how one makes the traceable ancestor of 'tikka masala' -- chicken tikias or tikka-kababs in a thick gravy (I've kept the tomatoes because they're in season, but one can make a perfectly serviceable gravy without them):

Marinate the cleaned and washed pieces of de-boned chicken in salt and lemon juice.

Peel and slice ginger and a few cloves of garlic.

Put the garlic and ginger with half a small, peeled onion, cinnamon sticks, two large shelled cardamom, and a couple of cloves, in a mixie/grinder/mortar-and-pestle.

Scoop the mix onto the lemon-marinated chicken. Top with half a level teaspoon of cumin and coriander, ground red chilies, and just a pinch of sugar.

Then add a dollop of yogurt, and just for kicks, minced green chilies. Mix it all up. Let it stand for at least, at least, three hours.

In the absence of skewers (I couldn't find ours), grease a baking dish well with mustard oil. Put the chicken and the marinade in a tight cluster on the dish. Pour some more oil over it all. Be generous, you don't want dried little pieces of charred meat. Now, let them bake in a pre-heated oven for about twenty minutes at 230-240C (450F). Cooking time differs for different ovens, but at such high heat, anything beyond thirty minutes would end in dry, hard meat, esp. since the chicken we're using has no fat to buffer it.

For the gravy, chop a medium red onion, mince a quarter inch of ginger and about five cloves of garlic, grind a few red chilies, and purée two tomatoes.

Heat two teaspoons of mustard oil in a wok. Simmer when hot (but not smoking), and sauté the garlic, followed immediately by the red chilli paste (healthy-minded people can substitute chopped green chilies: Different flavour, but just as delicious). After half a minute of frying this mix, add the ginger, then the onions, and raise the flame to medium. Stir like mad (or the red chilli paste will char).

Then add the puréed tomatoes. Add a pinch of salt, half a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander, and keep stirring gently.

Till it looks lovely and cooked, like this. You should be able to make out the oil separating from the tomato. Taste for salt and spiciness. Add a tiny amount of sugar if the tomatoes taste too tangy.

Now add a cup of water to the gravy. Some prefer adding cream, or whole milk. My doctor tells me I should prefer water. Bring the gravy to a slight boil before simmering again and adding the kababs. Cover and let the flavours blend for a few minutes. Take off the flame, sprinkle a quarter teaspoon of garam masala powder on top, and mix well. Serve with rotis, naans, or parathas.

And there you go! A delicious dish, decoded. Despite the spices, it's healthy, hearty, and perfect for cold winter evenings. Make it! :-)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Aloo Matar Paneer

The first winter dish, people! Vegetables, colour, protein and warmth -- just what the doctor ordered. (In my case, literally).

Aloo matar paneer, or cottage cheese with pea and potatoes, in a tomato-flavoured gravy. Deeee-licious! And this is how you do it:
Cottage cheese -- home-made, for preference (tutorial soon)
Two small plum tomatoes.
A potato, peeled and diced.
Fresh green peas, popped from the pod.
Whole cumin. Dry-ground cumin and coriander, also preferably at home. Half an inch of ginger, peeled and minced. Salt, sugar. Chopped green chilies and dry-ground red chilies, if you can stand it.

Wash the peas, chilies and tomatoes. Cut the slab of cottage cheese into pieces roughly an inch thick and close to two inches in length. Smaller pieces than that will crumble while cooking. Not that this is a bad thing; it gives the gravy texture, as people pretentiously say these days. But if you're making cottage cheese-in-gravy, it helps to have some actual discernible cottage cheese in the serving bowl.

Chopped cheese.

Now grate tomatoes and mix it with the minced ginger. Let the juices flow into each other while you do other things.

Our ancient grater.

Grated tomatoes and minced ginger.

Like sauté diced potatoes and cottage cheese, for instance. Be sure to do them separately, for the potatoes can be carelessly done for five to ten minutes on a medium flame, with only an occasional toss, but the paneer needs low heat, one minute tops, and gentle handling.

Now, in a wok, heat two teaspoons of mustard (or sunflower, or rape seed/canola) oil. Never go above a medium flame, or the oil will smoke and char the wok. When the oil loses its rich yellow colour, add whole cumin, and after five seconds the grated tomatoes plus minced ginger. Stir like mad, but gently.

When you can smell the tomatoes frying, add half a teaspoon of ground cumin and coriander each. Toss the mixture for a minute. The oil might begin to separate at this point, but its fine if it doesn't, too. Now, add the peas, then after a couple of minutes, the sautéed potatoes and paneer cubes. Encourage free mixing with a few gentle stirs. Pour two and a half cups of water. Add chopped green chilies, salt and sugar, and let simmer till the potatoes are done.

Adding the spices.

Spicing peas.

Making new friends.

Splashing about.

Cottage cheese with potatoes and peas, in a light tomato gravy :-)

Eat this over steamed rice, or, preferable, with hot rooti or any kind of fried bread. I've even left it soupy and had it with unbuttered toast -- absolutely lip-smacking. Happy winter eating, folks!