Sunday, 27 February 2011

Phulkopir Roast (Roasted Cauliflower)

My friend dea_chan recently posted about the delicate upsets of eating too much meat, and I really do empathise. Eating habits in perceptibly cold countries do rather revolve around animal proteins, frequently at the cost of a decent vegetarian cuisine. "The things she can do to a potato!", an astonished friend said, after tasting a perfectly simple niramish aloor dom (a potato curry with peas and tomatoes).

So I think it's time for more vegetarian recipes on this blog, and I mean weal twasty fwood, not just steamed and broiled greens (though I love steamed green beans in butter, myself. Mmm!). To begin with, and by request of my lovely friend D, let's have: phulkopir roast. This was a signature dish of my great-uncle, who left us recently. However, his recipe clashed with his sister my great-aunt's, who is just as wonderful a cook as (if not better than) her brother was. So I'll provide both recipes now, and add indiv. pictures later :-)

You'll need:
Cauliflower, one whole -- cut into large florets. An average-sized cauliflower in Calcutta should yield about five florets, in the US about nine or ten.
Ground cumin, half a teaspoon. The flavouring should be very light.
Whole-milk yogurt, not strained.
One onion -- my great-uncle added onions halved or quartered, but I prefer to mince or even coarsely paste them.
Quarter a small onion -- chopped small.
Two tomatoes, if you want a rich flavour, or one if you just want a light tang.
Garlic, minced (optional).
Ginger -- minced or pasted (optional but recommended)

Don't bother blanching the cauliflower first if you have a pressure cooker or thingy, wha'd'you call it... a crockpot.

Marinate the cauliflowers in yogurt, salt, a touch of turmeric, half a spoon of ground jeera, a little oil, and coarsely pasted onions. You can add other flavour-enhancing things of your choice: I'm never quite sure what kind of alcohol enhances the cauliflower's flavour the most (none, I suspect), but lemon juice always helps.

Let it stand for about an hour.

In a pressure-cooker (or a slow cooker), heat oil flavoured with a small dollop of ghee. Add the chopped onions, garlic and ginger. Fry on medium till the onions change colour and you can smell the frying garlic and ginger. Now add the roughly chopped tomatoes. Let them cook for about three to five minutes (though in most US stove-tops, it takes about seven or eight minutes to achieve the same effect).

When the tomatoes soften a bit and some of them take on a darker colour, carefully life the cauliflowers from the marinade and place them in the oil. Toss them a couple of times. Not strictly necessary, but I like doing it. Add the rest of the marinade. Toss a couple more times. Swirl out the marinating bowl with a cup or so of water and add this water to the pot. Add sugar if you like a slight sweet aftertaste (I do).

Put the lid on and cook on medium, reducing it to a simmer when you can hear the cooker wounding up for a whistle. The simmering will prolong the whistle by several minutes, and create enough pressue inside the pot to cook the cauliflower quite thoroughly in just one round. It will also preseve a thicker gravy.

My great-aunt loves this recipe, yes, but she makes a different roast with shorshe bata, freshly-ground mustard paste. She cuts cauliflowers into tiny florets, blanches them in hot salt-water for ten minutes, washes off the salt in cold water, then folds them in with mustard oil, mustard paste (with a green chilli), a little turmeric, a touch of sugar. No salt, because mustard is always ground with salt and water (or it turns bitter). Then she wraps it in kawla or kumro pata (banana or gourd leaves -- the latter is edible) and cooks them pretty much like this.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Murgir Jhol

Another variation here:

So I've recently had a couple of emails from my friends in different shores, which complain that although they follow the recipes here, the result is not quite like what they order in Indian restaurants. There's also the hint that perhaps, just perhaps, Indian cooking is a little elaborate.

Oh dear. Well, I suppose one could put it down to cultural orientation. I always thought all manner of baking and so forth were rather tricky business, what with their exact measurements and exact thicknessess and exact temperatures. And I've always been inclined to think Bengali cooking quite simple. And I've taken care to pick only those dishes that I made when I lived on my own, because I thought them remarkably easy and delicious.

But here's to making amends :-) This is a really simple one-pot chicken dish that goes remarkably well with hot rice or flatbreads of most kinds. It can either have a great deal of thin broth, or a lesser amount of thicker gravy, depening on your preference.

 Rub four chunks of chicken with turmeric, salt and lemon juice.

 Paste one tomato, couple of small onions, green chilies, garlic, plus whole/ground cumin, coriander and red chilli.

 Scoop the paste on the chicken. Let it stand for twety minutes (although my very impatient mother barely waits five, and it tastes just fine).

 Shallow-fry halved or quartered poatoes in mustard oil.

Add the marinated chicken to the pot.

  Fry it on medium till the oil separates (the process is called koshano/bhuna). When the oil separates, add water and pressure-cook or cover and simmer till chicken and potatoes are cooked.

 Finally! Perfectly tender chicken cooked in a steaming pot of lightly spiced broth. It's delicious!

Well, I hope that makes up for the wickedly difficult recipes I've been posting :-) And as for food you eat at Indian restaurants, I'll admit freely most of it is not cooked in our kitchen. I'd never before heard of chicken tikka masala, for example, and then was baffled to see whole chicken pieces in it, not tikkas (little mince patties), as advertised. But I just might give it a shot one of these days.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011


If winter's here, can puli-pitha be far behind?

Apparently, it can. Winter's all but disappearing round the bend in Calcutta, and apart from a couple of bowls of nolen gurer payesh (rice pudding flavoured with freshly-made jaggery), we've not made any puli-pithas. So before the winter waved its final goodbye, I decided to make roshopuli, for probably the first and last time this winter.

Despite my great-aunt's passionate proclamations to the contrary, roshopuli is a variation on the payesh theme, just minus the rice and plus the lovely pulis. I believe it's also called doodhpuli/dudhpuli,but the vital difference, I think, is that doodpuli requires a flour casing for the puli, thus making it rather like a dessert dumpling, whereas roshopuli has uncased pulis, fattening majestically in the jaggery-flavoured kheer.

Ingredients (for a bowl each for maybe four people):
Narkel kora (grated coconut) -- all or most of a small coconut.
Khejur gur, duto patali -- two regular-sized date-palm jaggery cakes.

My father's laughing his head off because I'm actually translating 'khejur gurer patali', but what's wrong with initiating the ignorant and sorely-deprived populace to the wonders of khejur gur, I'd like to know! I'm probably saving souls here. And now he's laughing harder.

Parents, eh?

Anyway, to continue:
semolina -- a little less than a 100 gms.
Whole milk -- about a litre.
Green cardamom and cinnamon (optional).

First, smash one patali into little pieces. I do this with our nora (no. ra), which is an excellent blunt instrument. But the patali does tend to scatter, so before bringing down the nora with the wrath of Olympus behind it, it's prudent to sandwich it between two sheets of newspapers. I suggest newspapers instead of kitchen towles et al because

a) you'll have to write off those sheets, since slightly melty jaggery will stick to them from now till kingdom come.
b) newspaper's in your house and need throwing away anyway. DON'T WASTE PAPER!


Now, wash the semolina with room temp. water. When it's clean of itsy bitsy particles, pour enough water to make the semolina appear like a thick grainy batter. Let it stand for at least twenty minutes. By the end of it, the semolina will have absorbed most of the water and actually become a granular mush.

Making the Puli:
Add the grated coconut and little patali bits to the semolina, and mix it all up. Don't worry about the size of the patali pieces, it'll all melt into nothingness right before your eyes once you turn the heat on.

NOTE: some people add ground cinamon and crushed green cardamoms to this. We don't, but feel free to. It can only make things better.

When you add the mixture to the pan/wok, be sure to keep the flame low. The mixture will immediately stick to the bottom and sides, and unless you take a spatula to it right away, start charring.  So be watchful and nimble, and keep the mixture moving, scraping up the sticky bits as you go. You'll have a slightly sore shoulder later, but it'll be worth it.

Unless you like your desserts smokey, of course.

(These and some later pictures are taken under the horrible white lighting we have in the kitchen, and therefore look like a little different from the rest. But it's the same stuff!)

 The semolina and coconut releasing water.

 As the water evaporates, the mixture cooks in its own oil and turns golden-brown.

Keep folding the mixture in the pan till it no longer sticks to the sides, but to itself. In other words, the slightly watery mixture has now become a well-oiled, clingy, sweet coconutty dough. DON'T EAT IT! We have miles to go before we eat.

Test readiness of dough by sliding the spatula under one edge, and flip it. When it's done, the dough will actually flip. Not like an omlette or a pizza-dough, but ponderously, like a thoughtful tortoise. But it will make a clean turn. Cook it a little more for a richer colour if you like, but at this point your dough is done. Spread it over the pan or on a dish, and let it cool.

When it's cool enough for you to handle, take a little in your palm, and roll it in to little balls or ovals. This is your puli. By the time you're done rolling a batch, your palm will be shiny and greased with coconut oil :-)

In a wide brimmed and thick-bottomed pan, for preference, pour milk and drop three or four crushed green cardamoms in it. Bring the milk to a slow boil. The milk is supposed to thicken and become creamier as it reduces. That's the entire point of a payesh. However, and this is my big problem with puddings, I don't like the feel of shor (that thin layer of cream that forms on top of hot milk) in my mouth. So I carefully collect the shor as it forms, and toss it down the sink.

This is why no one wants to eat the payesh I make :-(

Anyway, when the milk starts bubbling, lower the flame to medium and add the crushed bits of the second patali. Usually, half a patali is enough sweet for me, but some people have sweeter teeth. Stir gently as the patali melts and turns the milk a deliciously dark shade of cream. Once the patali dissolves, bring to a boil again, and drop the pulis by twos and threes. Keep stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn't char. If you spear a puli, don't worry, it'll only disintegrate and add to the flavour.

The pulis will sink as you drop them, but as you keep the milk boiling, they'll rise to the surface again. When this happens, you know your work is done. Ladle into bowls. Decorate, if you like, with pistachioes and chopped cashewnuts (I'm far too impatient to decorate my food). Serve :-)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Aloor Chochchori

This recipe is for my friend N, who posts here as therapy. She asked for a chochchori, and I had my heart set on kopir dNatar chochchori. It's a winter special, and winter in the tropics is already packing its going-away lunch. If I miss this window, I won't see a decent kopir dNatar chochchori for a whole year. Well, for about nine months, anyway. But life has been hectic, and one day I came home to find that all the juicy young dNatas had been cooked into a delicious bowl of chochchori in my absence. Now, I don't mind letting someone else do the cooking, and I am deeply grateful to our wonderful cook for all she does, but that is one photo-op that isn't coming back in a hurry.

So this afternoon, I made aloor chochchori. All you need for it is a potato, and half or quarter of a tomato. And you need some oil, salt, and a pinch of sugar. And you're all set. If you want to fancy it up, you can add sliced red onions and chopped green chilies. Sometimes we add leftover kucho chingri -- tiny little shrimps, fried till they're red before cooking them in. But today's version is minus all trimmings. Keep this template handy, it'll stand you in good stead. See if it doesn't :-)

 All you need.

 First cut the potato in thin slices, then halve those slices to get "nouka" aloo, potatoes chopped in boat-shapes.

Chop the tomato really small so they cook super-quick. Pulping them will be vital.

 Rub the potatoes with a little salt and turmeric and sauté them. I scooped some of the pulpy seeds inside the tomato and added it here for extra flavour. If using ickle shrimps, fry them after this.

Use the old trick to effectively pulp tomatoes while cooking them: add to hot oil and sprinkle salt on top. Then attack with a spatual while holding the wok steady. If using onions and chilies, they go before the tomatoes.

 When it's pulped and the oil just begins to spearate, add the sautéd potatoes (and shrimps). Fry the two for two to three minutes on low, with a little salt and sugar added.

Now add a little water. Just a little, mind! Chochchori is a dry curry. We need water to cook the potatoes, not make gravy.

 This is a killer with paratha and rooti, but feel free to eat this with steaming hot rice :-)

 And once more :-)

Monday, 7 February 2011

Daal Makhni

Daal makhni. That's daal is transformed into a thick, butter-based soup. I've had it often at dhabas, and I love it. Love it! But north-western cooking not being a part of my family's palate, we've never had it made at home. Now, I could go out and get it every time I wanted it, but my neighbourhood has a remarkable paucity of restaurants -- even hole-in-the-wall types so popular in this city -- and those that are nearby lack spectacularly in quality and taste. It's a sad plight for gobbly lip-smackers like me, but one has to make do with what one has. So I make do with my kitchen. Here's chef Sanjeev Kapoor's recipe for daal makhni, with a few adjustments of my own. Make it! It's brilliant for lunch, great for dinner, awesome for snacks, and particularly amazing for the awful winter you lot across the Atlantic seem to be having :-(

What you need:
A fistful of red kidney beans (I'm sure one can use black beans or that other bean so popular in the US. Pinto?)
A fistful of one kind of daal. I use toor/orohor daal, which makes a very good base. But one can use moong, biuli, even chholar daal. For local names of these daals, see this.
Tomatoes (one large, one small, or two large if you like the flavour) -- chopped.
Red onions and green chilies -- sliced.
Ginger and garlic -- minced or pasted (or crushed with a pestle).
Jeera/whole cumin.
Coriander leaves/cilantro -- chopped (optional)

My 'Valuable' Two Cents :-)
Feel free to use ground meat in the recipe if you like. Add it right after cooking the ginger, garlic, onion and tomatoes. Cook it right through till it's well-browned. Then carry on with the recipe.

Phase I: Prepping the Beans and Daal
Wash and soak the beans and daal for at least eight hours. At first, the beans will shrink, then swell again. After eight hours, drain the water, rinse the beans and daal briefly under a running tap, then pressure-cook it in about four cups of water with some minced ginger (and red chilli pasted with a little water, if you can stand it).

Soaked red kidney beans.

 Soaked toor/orohor daal

 The shrunked/crinkled looking beans

 In the pressure-cooker with four cups of water

 Plus the toor

It took seven whistles of the pressure cooker on medium-low to have the beans as mushy as we need it. If you don't have a pressure cooker, I think some overnight cooking in a slow-cooker/crockpot might be needed.

Phase II: The Actual Cooking
Heat a tablespoon of butter in a wok. You might want to use a strongly-flavoured oil instead, if you want to cut down on butter, because we will be using butter later to flavour the dish anyway. I used mustard oil. If you do the same, let the oil heat on medium till it just begins to smoke, then turn down the heat completely and let it cool before cooking in it. The rich golden yellow of mustard oil as-is will now be a much lighter shade.

Add the ginger, garlic, onions and tomato in batches, making sure the previous additions are fried halfway through before adding the next.

 Garlic, ginger, red onion, tomato.

 And now, chopped.

 First the ginger and garlic. The green stalks are from the garlic

 Now, here's an useful tip: Instead of frying the ginger and garlic in oil only, push them against the side of the wok after an initial dip in oil. The oil will make them stay there for a while, and in the meanwhile they'll, effectively, be roasted. Then put them back in the oil and fry :-)

 Add the red onions

 Wait till they're nicely translucent. Keep stirring.

 Add the chopped tomatoes to the wok.

After adding the tomatoes, sprinkle salt on the pieces. It'll help them soften. Give the salt a minute to sink in, then hold the wok still with a shNarashi or a mittened hand, and really attack the tomatoes with a spatula till they're quite pulped. Keep tossing on medium so the raw flavour is cooked quite out of it.

 Sprinkle salt on the tomatoes so it pulps easily

 Now, add a slice of butter. Go on, add it!

 When the butter mealts, drop the sliced chilies in it

 Keep cooking on low till the chilies darken

If using ground meat, here's where it goes in. The butter above will be a BIG help if adding meat. Slow-cook the meat, stirring frequently so all of it browns evenly and the tomatoes and onions don't char at the bottom. When the meat is nicely browned, scoop out the beans and add them. Most of the daal will be completely mushed into the liquid now. The liquid it the beans and daal were boiled in, that is.

 The beans and some liquid

Add the liquid from the pressure-cooker

Give the wok a few quick stirs so that the beans and liquid is mixed quite well with the flavoured tomtoes or tomatoey meat. This will be smelling SO incredibly good right now, you'll probably want to dip your head into the wok.

Don't do it. The thing'll be on a plate soon enough. 

Now hold the wok still again, then take that daal-crushing implement we used just recently to the beans. Crush 'em plain! Well, not too plain. You'll never see the end of it. Pound away till you get a rough granular paste, and leave it at that.

 That strange instrument

 That's how it'll look like when you're done with it

Well, confession time. I forgot to add a seasoning, again. I've had a memory problem for some time now, but it's getting worse by the day these days. Either that, or my inner master-chef put a lid on my memory because that part of the recipe seemed just so utterly wrong. "Add jeera, ginger and garlic", said the recipe. Which is ridiculous. 

See, there's a system to cooking, and if there isn't one for the hoi polloi, there certainly is one inside my head! Phoron -- the act of flavouring hot oil for cooking -- can be done in certain combinations. It could be spices, like the Indian five spice mix, or whole jeera, or fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds (mouri methi) and so on, or it could be ginger-garlic, or onions and chopped green chilies... but it cannot be both! It can't be jeera AND ginger-garlic. So I went ahead and boldly skipped the whole jeera, and added freshly-ground dry-roasted cumin along with the red chilies (powdered or pasted).

 Jeera powder

 Red chilli powder

 Turmeric powder

Normally, I don't bother with turmeric because it hasn't much flavour anyway, but today out of the blue I was thinking about my first friend in the grad dorms, Mona, who told me they always add some turmeric to food unless there has been a death in the family. So... I just added some turmeric. For luck. 

And at this point, you can serve it as a thick bean soup. It'll be a winner. Hands down. This is your out -- take it, because I'm about to get creative. Right now. The dish tastes great at this very moment, but it lacks a certain kick. So I took a small deshi tomato (that's a completely organic, no-chemical-fertiliser, no-genetic-alteration-at-all tomato for you), chopped it up, and added it to the wok.

 Then I topped it up with some chopped coriander. Coriander is definitely an acquired taste, but when you acquire it, boy do you acquire it! And it stays acquired. I add it to whatever I can, pretty much. And I *strongly* encourage you to do the same.

And then it's done. It's done! After all this boiling, chopping, dicing, slicing and frying, it's finally done. Pour it out in a serving bowl (mine is earthenware, a coarser cousin to porcelain). Put the remaining stalks of the coriander on top to garnish. And then, and I swear this is not my own addition... well, it is, as a matter of fact, so go right ahead and add two more dollops of butter. And let it slowly melt in the bowl.

And finally, when all the butter has melted, spoil the beauty of it all by mixing the melted butter thoroughly. Because, after all the gorgeous shots one might take of fresh vegetables in the spring sunlight, and garlic frying in melted butter, food is for eating.