Monday, 28 May 2012

Egg Fried Rice

When bored to death of daal-bhaat, drowned in work, and unable to even spare the time to take a walk to the closest take-away, fried rice is deliverance. If I have to wax eloquent about this simple, austere, yet utterly delightful dish, tastebuds are wasted on you.

This dish saved my life today, after a lizard scurried over my toe and made me spill the leftovers I was saving for brunch all over the floor. After the tedious, tedious clean-up in the thick, soupy mid-morning heat, I considered my sweat-blurred vision and the rivulets racing down my skin, and chucked all idea of a greasy, over-spiced take-away. The idea of cooking was not attractive either, but I love my rice, and if I had to endure ten minutes in the kitchen for divine, mildly-flavoured rice, by gods, I would do it!

And that is the genesis of this dish :-) Picturebook below:

Boil rice, chopped carrots and beans till tender -- but not mushy! -- in your usual vessel. Drain the starchy water.

If you're not an expert at draining pots of cooked rice, use this method: Scoop rice out onto the middle of a large piece of cheesecloth, or the sort of kitchen-net one covers the mouths of pots and pans with to keep crawlies out. Loosely tie the ends of the cloth/net together to make a potla/potli/tear-drop shaped satchel. Hold it under a running tap and rustle to get the starch out of the rice and vegetables. After a minute of this washing, tighten the knot and hang it like you would hang curd. Walk away and sit under the fan for twenty minutes while all the water drips out of the rice.

This is what properly-drained rice looks like.

Now, in a wok, add about three tablespoons of oil. Trust me on this. Beat together two eggs, a tablespoon of milk, and two pinches of salt. When fluffy, pour into the wok and attack with a spatula till the eggs scramble and are cooked thoroughly -- not a like a soft breakfast scramble, but all the way through. Keep this aside. 

Now, in a larger wok, heat about a tablespoon of oil, and grease the sides of it very well. When the oil starts bubbling, turn down the flame and add the now-drained rice and veggies into this. Give it a few quick stirs to make sure nothing sticks to the sides or the bottom of the work. Then sprinkle quarter teaspoon salt, half teaspoon sugar (yes, sugar), one teaspoon crushed black pepper. Keeping the flame low, hold the wok steady and stir continuously till the rice and veggies look and smell deliciously fried. If you want that 'restaurant flavour', you can add three pinches of ajinamoto/MSG crystals, but I advise against it. Try half a teaspoon of soya sauce instead.

Now, pour the scrambled eggs onto the rice.
Mix it up!

Serve :-)

Now that I'm done, I realised it took me longer to write the post than it took me to make the dish. Give it a try!

Thursday, 24 May 2012


I once had a buddy from temperate climes who frequently expressed appreciation of things by saying they put him in the mood for sex.This was all right while he spoke of music and rich, creamy desserts and, at some length, of beautiful women, but I had to put my foot down when, on a January evening, he said summer put him in the mood for sex. Summer. I ask you. Sweltering, sticky heat, unavoidable body odour, blistering sunshine, asphyxiating humidity... all that, and the old rock and roll? I'm living the tropical summer right now, and I don't think so.

Anyway. This little taste of my... eccentric social life has no bearing on the dish we're about to make, except that it too, apparently, sent the red alert to his man's libido. Unlike most of his favourite desserts, however, the malpoa is neither rich nor creamy. But then, few Bengali desserts are. This is a very, very simple dish, and the only bit about it that might conceivably be labelled difficult is the frying, and that's difficult to accomplish because it is tedious, not because it is in any way complex. Just give yourself some practice, and you will be fine.

Well then, let us jump in.

This is two fistfuls of sooji/shuji/semolina, soaked in half an inch of water at room temp.

After the semolina soaks up most of the water (say, in ten minutes), add two level tablespoons of flour.

This is kNacha mouri -- raw saunf/fennel seeds. Crush them lightly with a pestle, along with the seeds of two large cardamoms.

Add the crushed mouri and cardamom to the bowl, pour a tablespoon and a half of milk, and beat the batter together till smooth.

Heat oil till bubbly, then turn the flame down. Drop a teaspoonful of the batter, and watch it sputter and rise.

Make a whole batch of these malpoas.

Now, in the greasy wok, heat four tablespoons of sugar over a low flame till they just begin to caramelise. You will need to stir this constantly so that the bottom doesn't char.

There! All nicely and lightly caramelised. Now add four cups of water, scrape the bottom of the wok, and let the sugar and water come to a mild boil, reduce, and thicken into caramel-flavoured sugar syrup. This is your rosh.

When it does, drop in the malpoas. Let them soak up as much of the syrup as they can, and then, if you like your malpoas floating in some rosh, pour them into an earthenware bowl right away. If, however, if you like your malpoas sticky with deliciously caramelised, thick, drying syrup wrapped around it like a blanket in winter, let them simmer together till the rosh is almost all gone.

THEN pour them into an earthernware bowl, and serve :-)

For all of you with a sweet tooth but severe restrictions on desserts -- victims of cruel fate like me, in other words -- this is the perfect, perfect dessert. There's a little flour, and some sugar, but that's pretty much all there is. And it is absolutely delicious! Don't let this dish pass you by -- it'll be the best twenty minutes you've spent in a kitchen!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tita Chhechki

Hot on the heels on the rather exotic bitter gourd and cottage cheese, comes this very local, very Bengali, very daily summer delight, the tita chhechki. Well, I say Bengali. Most of my friends with ancestors from this side of the border, however, deny any knowledge of this dish. So provisionally, we'll say this is a Bangal dish, brought over in metaphorical potlis and tholis by people, crossing invisible lines between imagined nations.

It is perhaps poetic accuracy, then, that this dish is both bitter and sweet -- the slightly crispy, appetising bitterness of the korola/karela/uchhe complemented perfectly by the sweetness of the golden pumpkin. It's a beautiful dish -- cleansing and invigorating, yet mild, simple, and light. Reminiscent of endless sun-baked lunches after school, when nothing except tita chhechki and toker daal would make their way down the gullet and stay there.

An uchhe/karela/bitter gourd, sliced.

Then diced. If you're new to the flavour of Indian bitter gourd, soak this in salt-water for half an hour, then wash thoroughly under an open tap.

Heat a tablespoon of mustard oil in a wok till it loses its rich golden colour. Turn the flame down, let cool for ten seconds, and add the washed and drained uchhe. Stir very, very wel.

Now add the peeled and sliced pumpkins. Toss them about. Sprinkle a little sugar -- a quarter level teaspoon -- couple of pinches of salt and a large pinch of turmeric. Mix thoroughly and keep satuéing till the pumpkin take on a slight golden-brown fried tinge. Then, sprinkle a palmful of water on it, cover and simmer.

After the gourd and pumpkin have become tender enough for your tastes, serve with plain boiled rice, preferably white.

This above is nowhere close to the lovely green-and-golden deliciousness that is the wonderful tita chhechki, but don't let my shoddy camera and photographic abilities keep you from giving this a try. This summer, especially, if you let yourself be hooked in, you'll probably be eating this thrice every week.

And your body will thank you. Deeply.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Bitter Gourd and Cottage Cheese

This is one of those combinations that I never would have thought of, even if a mountain of bitter gourd lolled suggestively beside a lake of cottage cheese right in front of my eyes. I'm fond enough of my bitter gourd, the Bengali tastebuds saw to that, but I prefer them fried or in titaa chhechhki, eaten right at the beginning of a three-course meal to cleanse the palate and shock the tastebuds to life. Eating it in a main course had just never occured to me. Foreigners have the strangest ideas.

However, the first time I ate bitter gourd with tofu in black bean sauce, it was absolutely delightful. The gourd was not as bitter as our home-grown korola/karela, and I've long been a fan of the fermented black bean sauce one gets at Chinese/other East Asian grocery shops. Still, knowing my darling family's reaction to unfamiliar cuisines, I hadn't bothered replicating this at home, till our green-grocer delivered three orders of bitter gourd instead of one last week. Suddenly, we were scrambling up the aforementioned mountain of bitter gourd. And although black bean sauce and tofu were in short supply locally, the time for experimenting was ripe.

First, slice the uchhe/karela/bitter gourd and scoop the seeds out. Then leave them salt-water for half an hour to drain some of the bitterness out.

Is it me, or did the uchhe absord the water and grow plumper? o_O

Here's my tofu substitute: paneer. Cottage cheese. Made at home and diced into inch-thick cubes, then lightly sautéd.

In the same wok the paneer was sautéd in, heat a little more oil. When hot, turn the flame down completely, and fry half an inch of minced ginger and a couple of cloves of minced garlic in it. When the ginger and garlic smell fried, add the drained and washed gourd.

After stirring the gourd in with the ginger and garlic for a minute, throw in finely chopped red onions. Keep stirring, so everything is evenly fried.

When the gourd becomes a darker, fried green and the onions turn translucent, then slightly golden, add diced tomatoes. Sprinkle a little salt on them. Turn the flame up to medium. Holding the wok steady, toss them thoroughly till they begin to disintegrate and form the beginnings of a gravy.

Now, add the sautéd paneer. Right with it, add half a level teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch more salt.

Mix everything up furiously. Then add half a teacup of water (unless you want a more soupy effect, in which case add more water). Fold it in well, scraping up drippings from the sides and bottom of the wok. Cover and simmer for about seven minutes.

When you lift the cover, the paneer and gourd should be tender, easily sliced by the spatula, and there should be a light gravy in the wok (unless, that is, you added more water in hopes of a soup).

Serve this delicious concoction of tangy sweetness, balanced by an appetising bitterness, over boiled rice. I suppose this can also be eaten as a soup, but for me, if something can conceivably be eaten with rice, it must! Blame the Bengali genes.

For those still hesistant about this, my cuisine-conservative parents absolutely loved it. In fact, I -- the long-suffering cook, was only allowed one helping, because Themselves conquered the bowl and didn't let go till there was one desultory paneer and a few slices of gourd left.

So try it! Live a little. Give the foreigners a chance. It's a global world, after all :-)