Friday, 29 April 2011

Tangy-Sweet Yogurt

Actually, this is supposed to be whipped with cold water till frothy, then poured over crushed ice in tall glasses and served with an optional mint leaf. But, we had some excellent sheu-bhaja left, and since my mother *loves* the tangy, sweet, sheu-garnished yogurt sauce they serve dahi-vada in, I decided to make the sauce instead.

Yes, I made this for my mum. I am so adorable.

Sheu-bhaja, btw, is lightly-spiced fried flour sticks, only tiny. You'll see them in a minute. First, take a little dollop of tamarind (3/4th teaspoon paste). Pour tap water into it, and mash the tamarind up. Leave the pulp in while you flavour the yogurt -- it'll make for a much richer flavour. But take care not to break or nick the seeds, they're dead bitter.

The dairy: quality of unsweetended curd varies massively from sweet shop to sweet shop, and in some places it's downright inedible with the amount of daalda or vegetable shortening they use to make the curd 'set'. But we're lucky to have one a few neighbourhoods away that make excellent, creamy, thick curd that looks, feels, and tastes like sour cream. 

Not that you should use sour cream for this. Please stick to Greek yogurt. Thank you.

Sour cream. I mean, the other thing.

Two pinches of cumin, half a teaspoon aamchur (dried mango powder), pinch of salt, two level teaspoons granular sugar.

Tamarind water. Beat it all together. At this point, with a little minced coriander or mint, or even roasted and crushed garlic, this makes an incredible dip or chutney.

Sheu bhaja!

It's moment in the sun :-)

Monday, 25 April 2011

Mint Chutney

For some reason, the name 'mint chutney' always makes me smile. In my head, the word reads like this: 'mint chutney :-)'. I have no idea why this is, but I'm not about to dissect a source of impulsive joy and destroy it forever. However, my father -- who cannot leave a thing well alone and likes quoting rusty phrases for the sheer pleasure of seeing people wince -- tells me this is because mint chutney is a thing of beauty, and therefore a joy forever.

I know. I've had him around for twenty six summers, so believe me, I know.

But there's no getting around the fact that mint chutney is, in fact, one of my father's signature dishes, and the fact that he does, in fact, make it remarkably well. And since he just made a lovely, fragrant bowl of it this morning, I think we can forgive him. Just this once :-)

'Mint chutney :-)' . Here's how:

 First, green chilies. Do without them if you can't stand the heat, or use just one, with seeds scooped out.

 Second, washed mint leaves with the water shaken out of them (you'll need about between half and three-quarters this amount)

 Coriander, also washed and dried. Some people take the stalks off, we keep them in. You'll need this entire amount.

 Tamarind in water. This, by the way, is too much water. A couplr of tablespoons of water would suffice. Mash the tamarind in and then remove the seeds from the bowl, leaving a thick, pulpy gravy.

 A little sugar and salt.

 The pulpy tamarind-water.

All of it on a grindstone (the cylindrical stone pestle is missing here), to be ground into a fine paste.

Voila! The delicious tangy-minty-spicy chutney, yours to eat as you see fit :-)

We eat it as a dip for batter-fried vegetables, biryani, and some stuffed parathas.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Summer Fruits I

Paka pNepe. I used to HATE ripe papaya growing up, and although I've now made my peace with raw papaya, which we eat in light summer curries, I used to despise it with a passion too.

But my problem with the riper variety is not merely one of taste. Till a week back, in fact, I had never tasted paka pNepe. It was a matter of texture. I couldn't stand paka pNepe for the same reason I can't stand avocados. The oily, slimy, squishy, pulipness of it. It puts me in mind of rotten, oozy stuff. Overripe bananas slowly rotting in the sun, that is in fact the first image that flashed in my mind when I first touched the green inside of a halved avocado. Ew.

Then I visited a friend's aunt's house Just for a minute, she said, so she could pick something up. Which just goes to show how dumb some people are, because of course her aunt wouldn't let me back out again before the usual niceties of a 'first visit to our home' had been ritually observed. As part of the exchange -- I gave her details about my family, my education, my job, my 'hobbies', and my travels -- she instructed the live-in help to serve me a little bowl of sweets (we're back to sugar-sweetended desserts, I noticed, the short jaggery season being over) and a plate of peeled, chopped and frozen fruits. And there right at the centre were five large, unmistakble pieces of paka pNepe.

I said, of course, that I don't like ripe papaya, upon which I was solicitiously asked why. When I said it's because of the texture, the lady looked at me like my brain had become melted cheese with strange foreign ideas, and told me shortly that food was meant to be eaten, not felt up. Then she fixed me with a stern hawk-like stare till I slowly finished every single thing on my plate.

Not that I've ever seen a hawk's stare. I'm extrapolating.

And it was delicious. Not the hawk's stare, that nearly chilled the marrow in my spine. But the red pieces of raw papaya. In fact, and mango enthusiasts will probably burn me alive for this, it really tasted like a watered down Himshagor aam. Much enthused, I bought my own paka pNepe, which, owing to my unfortunate naivete in the area of pNepes, turned out to be golden yellow inside. Still, not bad. And a positive delight to look at. Take a dekkho :-)

 Paka pNepe with top and bottom lopped off.

Sliced through the middle.

 Cored of the seeds.

Each half cut into four (or more) slices, like tethered boats :-)

 Each slice cut through the centre, then diced breadthwise.

A bowlful of golden delight, frozen before serving.

Monday, 4 April 2011


As the new year approaches, my grandmother and greataunt start stocking shelves with quick munches to serve with sweets, for all the people who drop by for wishes and blessings. There's the buzz of a hive in the house, with each room being stripped bare, one per day, and everything from bedclothes to curtains to rugs to furniture having the dust and grime spanked off them with scrubs and polish and soap-water. After-lunch and after-dinner hours are full of kneading and rolling, and stuffing and frying, and dipping in thick sugar syrup.

Well, they did do all that, but in the last century. My great aunt is eighty-one this year, my grandmother is no more, and the once-bustling place now houses two souls with their bags packed. Most faces from my childhood have already crossed the great divide, and the rest are either scattered all over or prefer lunch at Kabab Factory to ring in the new year. I would prefer it too, for cooking a five-course meal for two people simply doesn't have that old world bustle and charm, except I always go over to see my great aunt on new year's. And this time, I'm taking her something she taught me to make.

Flour, sunflower/canola oil, sugar, salt, jowan/ajwain/carom seeds, mouri/fennel/saunf.

How to:

Make a nice, stretchy dough. First mix in a pinch of salt and sugar to your tastes. Add half a teaspoon of carom seeds (jowan) for ever 100 gm of flour, and the same f mouri (fennel seeds). Carom imparts a tangy flavour with a sharp aftertaste, while fennel provides a sweet subtext. So vary quantities depending on which flavour you want to dominate -- I use just a pinch less of fennel.

Then add oil, roughly two teaspoons of oil per 150gms of flour (this is called moyaan). After the oil has been unevenly mixed in, add the water.

Make little balls (lechi) from this big lump, smooth them in between the palm of your hand, and roll them out till they're reasonably circular, and just above the stage of being translucently thin. Take a knife and make one cut, from edge to the centre.

Now start rolling the rolled-out dough on itself, starting from the cut and going around in a circle till it comes back to the cut. It'll take a slightly queer, if pretty, shape.

I might as well mention here that this step is not strictly necessary in making nimki. But this is how you make layered (lachchha) paratha at our place, and since my mother was in the kitchen when I was making this, she showed me how to get the layers in the layered paratha.

Now, flatten that strange flour cone. It'll now look like a seashell.

Sprinkle a little flour on it or rub the rolling board with a little oil, and roll this seashell out into the closest approximation of a circle.

 My first try went well. Definitely round.

The second was a bit heart-shapey. Still, I could always claim I meant to do it this way. Fashionable shape, hearts.

Especially since, once the top half is fried, it begins to look like peninsular Africa.

You'll notice how mercilessly each piece of dough has been slashed. Zorro is in the house (with a rusted three-inch blade).

Anyway, what you now need to do is to heat two cups of oil (or more, depending), turn down the heat to medium or low when it's hot, and fry batches of those little diamonds made by your swashbucking kitchen-knifery. Drain carefully, either at the side of the wok with a chyanta (the perforated spatulas, I don't know the English word) or on kitchen towels, and serve with a cup of non-fruity, non-herbal, honest-to-goodness Indian or Sri Lankan tea :-)