Friday, 29 June 2012

Orange Liqueur

I used to think fruit (and other flavoured) liqueurs were those fancy, exotic things that were well beyond my tiny culinary reach.
And then, I discovered how to make them. And improvise on the base. Now, all I need is a steady supply of pretty bottles and labels hinting at a smoky, mysterious sensuality to run my own wildly successful label. Till that happy day, however -- and on Sue's request -- this is how you make orange liqueur, a la Rimi. (Well, it's probably how you've always made it, but humour me.)

Peel about four oranges. You are, of course, welcome to peel more. Total freedom in the area of peelage, is my motto.

Scrape off the white skin/stuff from the inside of the skin. I do this with a spoon. You can use whatever exotic implement takes your fancy. By the time you're done, you will (a) smell the sharp, citrusy smell of orange peel. It's divine for a headache. (Although, now that I say that, I remember that I once met a woman whose headaches were trigged by the citrusy scent. She was probably half-fairy). And (b), the peels will be semi-translucent, and if you hold them upto sunlight, you'll see the network of tiny orange-oil pores, glistening and plump.

Now, either toast the peels covered on the lowest possible flame, or heat an oven to 250-300C for twenty minutes, put the peels inside, and turn down heat to the lowest. /After another twenty minutes, turn off heat entirely. Let peels stay in the hot oven for about 2 to 2.5 hours. Or longer, if you forget. I frequently forget. Either way, let the peels cool -- outside the oven this time -- for about six or seven hours. Overnight works well.

Finally, here's the crux of the recipe. Heat enough water to dissolve 400gms of sugar and still remain liquid (and not become syrupy). Dissolve said sugar, with bits of crushed cinnamon and maybe two lightly pounded cloves. You can do without the spices, mind. It's just how I like my  orange liqueur. 
Now, if you want a strong liqueur, add vodka after the sugar-water is off the flame. If you don't, add half while it is still on the flames. Add the rest when it's off the flame. In an air-tight glass jar, put the peels and the scooped, deseeded pulp of half the oranges (didn't see that coming, did you? Hah!) in. Top with sugared cinnamony vodka.

Let the whole think soak each other up for a month or six weeks, snugly sealed and in a cool, dark nook. Strain the stuff. Store. Daydream about sensuous labels. Donne!

It may not be the steamier metaphysicals, but it's quite the sweet intoxication.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dimer Jhaal

It has been raining here lately. Has anybody noticed? :-p The traditional local fare for the season -- and when I say traditional local fare, I mean amongst people who can actually afford a choice of victuals; may their tribe increase -- is khichuri, with a variety of crisply-fried chasers. The favourite at my house is jhurjhure aloo bhaja. Wispy juliennes of peeled potato, marinated in turmeric and salt and deep fried in batches. At my grandparents' household, on the other hand, khichuri was practicable declared inedible without the accompaniment of dimer bora -- seasoned egg-and-flour batter, fried in little pieces -- and ilish machh bhaja, when good ilish graced the market. Our neighbours, on yet another hand, have an inexplicable attachment to potol bhaja. The English word for it escapes me at the moment, so you'll have to do your own research.

But khichuri is a cultural standard. It's a preference I share with my entire community. My family's attachment to dimer jhaal, on the other hand -- eggs in a dry, spicy, mustard gravy -- is a taste shared by few. Indeed, I've seldom heard of this dish being cooked or served at home, and from this I'm tempted to conclude it is something of a rarity.

So, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, I present to you: dimer jhaal!

Unlike the magician, my rabbits come out roasted.

The ingred. Hard-boiled eggs, shelled and halved. Whole wheat flour mixed with a tiny amount of water, to the left. Fresh coriander leaves/cilantro. Mustard seeds pasted with salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and three green chilies. 

Coat the halved eggs in the flour-paste. Just the side with the yolk, mind. 

Fry them -- both sides this time -- in a little mustard oil.

See how lovely they look?

In the same oil and wok, stir chopped onions till golden. Then add two teaspoons of the mustard paste.

Cook the mustard paste with the onions till it turns a rich shade of brownish-golden. Add two cups of water.

Gently slide in the fried eggs, one half at a time.

When all the eggs are in, cover the wok. Cook for ten minutes on low, letting the eggs absorb the gravy. Then taste the jhaal for a balance of flavours. Add salt or sugar, if required. 

Then garnish it with freshly-chopped cilantro. Give the wok a few stirs, and cover again. Let the coriander infuse.

The utterly delicious dimer jhaal...

Perfectly flavoured to bring this bland, morose weather to life.

Serve with boiled rice. Do it now!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Indian Chicken Dumpling Soup

 A savoury, simple chicken soup, with one-minute dumplings.

At my last visit, my doctor goggled so hard at my various test reports that I thought his eyeballs might pop out for a closer look. Then he clutched at his heart, and tried to roll his eyes at the back of his head.

A bit dramatic, my doctor.

Anyway. I've been quite clear on the point that I cannot give up rice and potatoes entirely. It's impossible to live in an average middle-class Bengali household -- especially in these white-hot produce-price times -- and forswear our favourite carbs. There's a reason one seldom sees a fed-and-clothed Bengali -- especially one brought up in the old homelands -- without a slight paunch. We're a curvy, soft-bodied people. Mostly. The subtraction of rice from our diets is absolutely brutal. And not just any rice. The absence of my beloved 'sheddho chaal' and gobindobhog/kaljeera rice plunged my first few months abroad into a deep funk. For proof that hunger is at least as much psychological as it is physiological, look no further.

Or perhaps I just love my food too much.

Which brings us back to tragedy that is my current cuisine-controlled life. I've decided to concede to the worry-lines on my family's brow, and go every now and then without rice and potatoes. And too much oil in my food. And sugar. And cream. And butter. And so on. And so forth. Hence, and as a tip of the hat to the monsoons, which have just floated in, I present: A deliciously savoury chicken dumpling soup! With Indian spices! Yum yum yum!

NOTE: The cooking was done in the middle of the afternoon, when the sun came out in all its blazing glory for half an hour. Please excuse the ridiculous colours.

Chicken-on-bone, breasts and legs. Rubbed with turmeric, salt, a little red chilli powder, and the juice of two lemons.

Mix them all up, especially the lemon juice. Make sure it goes everywhere. Leave the lot for twenty minutes (longer, if you can. About an hour).

For a crispy effect, sprinkle flour/constarch over the chicken (I use atta) and rub in over the surface of the chicken. If the juices that will have collected around the chicken made it lumpy, sprinkle some more atta. Undaunted!

Fry it. Deep fry, I'd say. Wait till the oil bubbles, drop it in, flip a couple of times, lift it out. It soaks a lot less oil that way. See how little oil has accumulated on the dish from deep-frying three chicken pieces.

Now you're back in word-land. 

If you have veggies at hand, dice them, saute lightly in the same oil you fried the chicken in, and drain them. Now, add half a tablespoon of the same oil -- if you have any left over -- to a pot, preferably a pressure cooker. If you haven't any leftover oil, fresh is fine too. 

Add minced garlic and ginger. When they're all nice and fried and aromatic, add chopped onions (and green chilies, if you like 'em). Saute away. When the onions turn translucent, add half a tomato, diced. The tomato should add to the flavour of the soup, but you shouldn't be able to taste it independently. When the tomatoes are well-mixed and completely disintegrated, add a level teaspoon of cumin and coriander powder. Fold in. Let it cook on a low flame, with occasional stirs, till the scant oil you used bubbles to the surface.

Add the fried chicken (and the vegetables). Stir for a minute, coat well with the spices, then pour either chicken stock, or water. Now cover, and let cook. When the meat and vegetables are tender, you can either leave the meat on the bone, or pick the meat apart, add them back to the pot, and chuck the bones.

While the soup's still cooking, make your dumpling batter: take semolina (shooji) and whole wheat flour (atta) in 2:1 ratio. Now, here's the flavour trick. Instead of adding water, add enough soup from the pot -- plus a little salt -- to make it into a thick, semi-solid paste. This batter goes into the happily bubbling soup, about half a teaspoon at a time, and you will see a purrrfect dumpling blossoming from the lumpy dough, right in front of your own eyes. 

It's beautiful. 

When all your dumplings are gently bobbing in the soup, simmer. Let the soup just gently cook for a few minutes, letting the dumplings soak up the flavour, and give your soup body. Then, dish them into individual bowls, squeeze the juice of a quarter lemon into each, and serve piping hot! You don't even need bread with this. It. is. perfect!

For all rain-drenched souls. Happy, happy eating.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Watermelon Dessert Cocktail

I made this sauce for noboborsho, which was nearly two months ago today. The watermelons were red and sweet and juicy back then, not anaemic and ridiculously watered-down like they're now. Complete waste of my meagre fruit-budget this week, I can tell you. So unless you can guarantee sweet watermelons (or, of course, unless you're happy to pour several cups of sugar into your fruit-sauce) you must resist all temptations -- and it will be tempting! -- of making this lovely cocktail/mocktail/dessert-condiment.

And with dire warnings thus disposed of... here comes the sauce, doo doo doo doo!

It's quite a bit of an all right, even if I say so myself.

Skin and dice the watermelon, and scoop out the white and brown seeds.

Put in a few ice cubes in the mixie/blender/hand-blending pot if you want to serve this immediately (to, primarily, yourself), and haven't the time or patience for freezing.

Add two cups of curd/yogurt, in my case, home-made from full-cream milk. If you must, add a tablespoon of sugar. Definitely add half a teaspoon of salt.

Now add the skinned, diced and deseeded watermelon. If you were making a smoothie, I'd say also add half a cup of water. However, watermelon is quite high on water-content itself, and you need this blended thick.

All blended!

Oh, and: this is very very good with a generous dash of your favourite liquer (vanilla liqueur is a good match for this one). "A yogurt-based fruity cocktail?", you're probably thinking. "No, thank you. Ew". But if you like lassis and milshakes and smoothies, and you're old enough to drink without putting me in prison for suggesting it, try this. And you'll never go back :-)  Especially since a milk or yogurt based cocktail gives you a lovely buzz, while minimising the less savoury effects of alcohol. It's true. A doctor told me so.

You can, of course, drink your watermelon cocktail/smoothie.

However, it was the New Year's, and we'd been gifted a whole box of 'diabetes shondesh' -- those sugar-free blocks of cottage-cheese garnished with split pistachios?

 So, what you do is, you pour a generous amount of this thick, hopefully alcoholic cocktail on the shondesh, garnish it with watermelon julienne, refridgerate for an hour, and serve. 

As you can probably see, however, I didn't bother with julienning. I hacked at my leftover watermelon till it was small enough to garnish with, and sprinkled it over. When faced with ease and aesthetics in food, always pick ease.

 Yum yum, everybody! Make the most of this summer's few delights :-)

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Leftover Dumplings

To make this short: Weather murderous. Heat, torturous. Laptop, hot and radiating. Fan: full-speed, ineffective. Self: baking, sweating, wishing for a pool. Will let pictures do the talking. Wouldn't have posted at all, except this is so wonderfully delicious, it's positively mean not to share :-)

Leftover chicken from a tikka butter masala, and home-made chicken curry. Leftover roast chicken works fine too. As does leftover paneer, for folks who prefer a vegetarian platter :-)

Mash them in a mixie/food processor with green chilies, 2 small/1 large onion(s), pieces of giner, salt, crushed black pepper, half a teaspoon of cumin and coriander powder, and a touch of sugar.

Mix it with about a tablespoon of soya sauce (a little more if you're working with more than a small bowl of chicken). Chopped scallions are very nice in this mix, too.

Now, make dumplings with the mixture above as directed here. This pic above is the last stage of dumpling-making: boiling them thrice in a deep wok of water.

 Steamed dumplings are delicious on their own, of course...

But I like some of mine deep-fried. Even in this heat, yes. So I deep-fry them in a small iron wok, which allows me to achieve the 'deep' in the fry with far less oil than I would need to use in a larger, more broad-based wok.

Tricks of the trade, children. Tricks of the trade.

And finally, crispy-fried leftover-chicken dumplings. So utterly yum, in any weather you can throw at it. Give it a shot, people. You're welcome :-)