Monday, 30 May 2011

Dahi Vada

This dish is not indigenous to the coastal Bengali platter... or so I thought. Apparently, biulir daaler bora is pretty big in some parts of Bengal, and a precious ass I'd have looked had I not been enlightened at the nick of time.

Well, it's not my fault if my education has been left incomplete by parents who withheld this traditional snack from me. A girl learns what she eats, and I most certainly haven't eaten biulir daaler bora at home. Till last week, that is, when my mother celebrated the onset of her summer hols by making this lovely sweet n' tangy snack on a Sunday morning. And informed me condescendingly that of course biulir daaler bora is eaten in Bengali households. Just not in hers, because isn't biuli just so bland when compared to, say, the crunchy sweetness of mushur?

Hmph. Anyway, here's what you need:
For the vada -- biulir daal (split urad), hing (asafoetida), salt, chopped green chilies, onions if you like.
For the yogurt sauce:
Thick unsweetended yogurt.
Sugar, flavoured salt.
Tamarind -- whole or paste -- dissolved in a little water.
Whole jeera/cumin -- dry-roasted and ground into a powder.
Coriander leaves/cilantro -- washed and chopped.
Clove and cinnamon powder -- optional.
Aamchur powder -- optional.
Sheu/jhuri bhaja -- little sticks of fried spicy besan batter. Also optional, but highly recommended.

First, soak the biulir daal overnight in cold water. In the morning, drain the water, wash the daal a couple of times, then grind it, either manually or in a mixie with a little warm water. Some people bypass all this trouble and toil by buying powdered biulir daal and making a thick batter with it by mixing in warm water. Feel free if this suits you better.

After the daal has been ground (or the powder batter-ed), cover and keep in a warm place for at least three hours for the daal to foment. I should add here that my very impatient mother frequently forgoes this step, and she hasn't been arrested by the food police yet.

Now add the chopped onions, green chilies, a pinch of hing made crumbly by rolling between your thumb and forefinger, and salt. Substituting flavoured salt (locally, beet-noon) for white salt is a very good idea. I've also seen some people add other seasoning to this batter (a friend used to add chopped tomatoes, but she ate it without the yogurt sauce) because, as my mum contemptuously pointed out, biulir daal is rather bland.

Whisk the batter briskly for a few minutes, then drop teaspoonfuls of it in bubbling oil, making between one to four vadas at a go, depending on your expertise. And oh, always use a wok for this. Your batter will lie spinelessly at the bottom and drink oil if you use a flat skillet.

Drain the vadas, and soak them for at least an hour in salt water. This makes them soft and pliable. Also eases out oil.

Now, the yogurt sauce. Here are the notes and pictures from the last time I made it. Since that turned out really, really well, I've stuck to the recipe like leech to limb.

Disgusting, aren't I? :-)

Anyway, make a slightly thinner version of that tangy-sweet yogurt sauce, and pour it over the vadas. Garnish with dark green coriander leaves and bright yellow sheu/jhuri bhaja. Dahi vada, ready for gobbling! Enjoy it while this hideous summer lasts, folks.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Chilli Chicken

Finally! That quintessential Kolkata dish that finds pride of place under the city's Chinese menus, but that one would probably be hard-pressed to find in Chinese homes, much less in the Mainland. The Indian-Chinese/Calcutta-Chinese version of it can be summarised thus: Tangy marinated chicken, batter-dipped, deep-fried, and simmered in spicy gravy. Eaten with steaming plates of long-grained rice, cooked with toasted tiny-chopped carrots, shallots, onions and peas.

If *that* doesn't float your boat, I don't know what will.

Here's what you need:
Chicken, cleaned of fat, blood and gristle. Chopped in pieces not more than a couple of inches across.
Garlic, two small onions, one large tomato, green chilies.
Lemon, salt.
Flour -- a fistful.
Soya sauce, chilli sauce (latter optional)

Squeeze the lemon over the chicken, and rub with salt. Add a dash of pepper too, if no one's looking. After all, it's called chilli chicken -- consider your folks and guests warned. Now make a paste of as much garlic as you like, as many chilies as you can stand, and one quartered onion.

Pour this paste onto the chicken pieces and mix thoroughly. Let stand in shade for at least half an hour. Leave it for at least two hours for the maximum tenderness and flavour that can be coaxed into naturally bland chicken.

Then throw a fistful of flour in the bowl. Fold it in. You can break an egg over it before adding the flour, to make the it really stick to each piece of chicken. Now deep-fry the lot.

This, by the way, is too much flour.

It'll be damn near impossible not to pop a few in your mouth right after they've come off the wok, golden-crisp and wafting the fragrance of fried garlic. I have twice stopped cooking at this stage, made a cuppa, and eaten this with chili sauce on the side.

Just telling you where the trip-wires are.

Now -- in the same work, for better effect -- heat oil. Turn the flame completely down when hot, and add onions and chopped green chilies. When the onions turn translucent, add crushed or minced garlic. Let cook for a minute, then add the chopped tomato. Sprinkle a little salt on top. Stir like mad till it disintegrates. Then let it have the rawness cooked out of it in peace.

When the tomato is thoroughly fried, add two cups of water and turn the flame to medium. To balance the tang of the tomato, add half to one teaspoon of sugar. When the gravy begins to thickens, add the fried chicken that isn't already nestling comfortably inside your tummy.

Turn the flame down again, and add half a tablespoon of soya sauce. If you like chili sauce, stir it in now. Simmer, covered, till the gravy reaches the kind of consistency you prefer.

If you haven't the patience for fried rice after this, just serve over plain steamed rice. That's how I eat it :-) Though this also tastes amazing with plain parathas and rotis.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Summer Fruits II

Another fruit I've had for the first time this summer: watermelons. You don't believe me, yes? I wouldn't believe me either. But stretch credulity, my friends, because I hve just discovered why I didn't like the fruits I didn't.

All fruits I've only tried recently for the first time were fruits that were sold by street vendors all over the city. Ripe papayas, watermelons, cousins of watermelons, ripe yellow bananas, shobeda (I've no idea what its English name might be). Pushcarts would have a selection of slices displayed for immediate advertisement, and a thick swarm of flies would constantly battle with the vendor's flailing wrists to land on these slices. Plus, the sticky juices from the sliced-up fruits would leave stains on the wood and glass, drawing a lip-smacking path for the flies to follow.

It was disgusting. This is probably why, despite all the wonderfully healthy options available on the streets of Calcutta, I stick to the fried-in-front-of-my-eyes greasy stuff. At least they don't have fly-vomit on them.

But that was then. Last winter my mother found a young fruit seller who delivers at home if you call with your order. This makes life easy for my mother, who would otherwise have found an enormous watermelon impossible to drag home from the local market. And so I'm getting rid of my icky associations with a vengence! Today, it's chilled watermelon slices, cold watermelon juice, and frozen watermelon kulfi for dessert :-)

First, halve and slice a watermelon.

 Then peel the juicy red fruity bit from the tough green rind. If this is difficult, you can slice the fruity part while it's on the rind, and pull the pieces out by hand. The pieces will be triangular.

 Chop 'em up. And scoop out the seeds.

 Chill in the fridge and serve after lunch.

 OR. Put into a mixie.

Juice! Pour over crushed ice and serve on hot summer evenings. With all that pulp, this is a snack in itself.

Gratuitous second shot.

 Poured into a bowl and frozen.

Red and black.

Monday, 2 May 2011

French Fries

My friend P, resident kitchen goddess, is an unexpected mall-rat, for an Indian of her generation. She shops at malls, slugs Diet Coke, thinks Hershey's is awesome, and absolutely worships at the altar of McDonald's french fries.

I've no problem with the rest, since I dislike aerated drinks, get my clothes made by my tailor, and prefer Cadbury's India over every other kind, but I have a problem the size of an elephant with her adoration for McDonald's. To put it crisply, McDonald's is damp. Not their fries -- those, in fact, are on the burnt side of fried -- but their gastronomic appeal. That is about as appetising as a wet dishrag.

And, for wet dishrags, they cost the earth.

This is not to say I didn't help myself to her fries -- we used to call them finger-chips -- because I did, but that is because I will eat all unguarded fried potato in my vicinity. And she had carelessly dumped her takeaway bag on my lap. However, *this* is how one makes real, honest-to-goodness, utterly delicious, succulent-inside-crispy-mmm!-outside fried potatoes. And keeps the change for the piggy bank.

You need:
Potatoes, boiled till just soft.
Salt, pepper, seasoning of choice.

First, you put the boiled potatoes in the fridge. Yes. Let them firm up a bit before you land them in hot oil. Prevents disintegration. Then chop them in pieces about half a cm thick, because these should hold shape and not go gooey. Sprinkle a little salt and seasonings of your choice.

I used turmeric and red chili powder, because they were righ in front of me, and also because they go into traditional 'alubhaja' -- fried potatoes, our style. 

Then I heated about two cups of oil -- you need to deep-fry these -- and dropped the pieces in, ONE AT A TIME. And not more than twelve or fifteen pieces in each batch. Now, you could fry a great many more together if you used a broad-based skillet or frying pan instead of a wok, but the deep wok is the way to go. You can get the lovely deep-fried effect with a lot less oil, because a wok has considerably less square cms than a broad, flat frying pan. Go with the wok.


Result, with my father's mint chutney on the side.

Next, I'm taking on their spicy fried chicken burger. But only after I return from North Bengal. So long, folks!