Sunday, November 9, 2014

ILISH ...a love story

Having grown up in a Bengali neighbourhood, I have always found fascinating Bengal’s love for Chhana Mishti, its fish, and the inbuilt importance of fish and food in Bengali rituals, from pujas to marriages.
It’s said that Bengal has more fresh water fish than weeks in a year, and many customs and rituals revolve round these fish, like dressing up a pair of Rui carp in beautiful detail, like a bride and groom, and sending it to the girl’s house on the eve of the wedding or presenting a Joda ilish to Maa Saraswati post which only it comes to the house for consumption.
The fish that undoubtedly stands tall above all others and is my first and eternal Bengali love is Hilsa or Ilish, and that’s our conversation today.
Bengal has two distinct cooking styles the ‘Ghoti’ style represents West Bengal and the ‘Bangal’ style from East Bengal, which is more rustic and tastier in my opinion, and voicing this opinion has made me many enemies among my Ghoti friends. Among other heated arguments that ensue when Ghotis and Bengalis eat together, the most common one which I recently was a witness to is about the queen (ilish).
Sudipa n me at the Gariahat fish market
Sudipa Mukhopadhyay is a wonderful lady, who cooks the most amazing Bengali food and hosts the longest running cookery show in Bengal Rannaghar. She shared the most interesting Ilish recipes and stories this January on my visit to Kolkata. Her husband is a Bangal and they are a lovely couple except when it comes to the conversation on which ilish is better, the Ganga Ilish from West Bengal or the Padma Ilish imported from Bangladesh. This conversation lights up the dining table instantly like a haybarn on fire, and that fire is the spice to her marriage, she jokes. But there’s no difference of opinion over the fact that Hilsa is the Queen of Bengal and it rules both sides of the Padma. The fact that no fish can rival its exquisite flavour and tenderness, not even the giant prawn with its succulence and flavoursome coral-filled head.
All good stories have a message right? Even love stories. This story has a heartfelt message too. It’s painful to see the Ganga Ilish become a rare commodity due to river pollution and overfishing. The Padma Ilish is the only variety available in fish markets and the Ganga Ilish are only becoming rarer and smaller and skinnier because of the not so great water of today’s Ganges. If you are a fish lover, try out this recipe, fall in love with the ilish and then do drop a line to the Ganga pollution control unit giving them another reason to
keep up the good work.

Ilish Patori
l 1 inch Ilish Darne (locally known as the ring cut): 2 no.s
l Poppy seed paste with green chilly: ¼ cup
l Kasundi mustard: ¼ cup
l Mustard oil: 1 tbsp
l Curd: ½ cup
l Turmeric powder: 1 tsp
l Salt and lemon juice to taste
l Banana leaf to wrap
Marinate the fish with turmeric and salt, leave aside for five minutes. Mix all the other ingredients and apply
on fish. Wrap in banana leaf and steam, serve hot

Magic, even at 95

            Lucknow has its share of great food and some bewildering food fables. Stories of dal cooked with gold that bought an old dead tree to life or of ‘Parind Pooris’ that had small birds fly out of them when cracked, are just a few common ones that you would hear sitting in an erstwhile Nawab’s or Taluqedar’s house. 

             These are more than just stories and food folklore, they are the connect to Lucknow’s glorious cultural past. While tracing this past in parlance I met a gentleman, Rishad Rizwi, in his haveli in old Lucknow. He was a proud Lucknowite with his stash of secret recipes and family dishes, on requesting a taste of which he invited me over for lunch. I was more interested in the cooking process and so chose to start early morning with his chef Mubarak Ali. 
              But before that, here’s how old Nawabi kitchens were set up: each kitchen had a ‘daroga’, who was the administrative head and bawarchis, who would cook for the courts, hakims, who would identify what the royal family needed to eat as per the season (or their body needs) and the raqabdars, who were the highly paid cooks and would cook only for the Nawabs/Taluqdars. 
            The bawarchis were the famous lot, as they would be widely appreciated by virtue of their food being tasted by a lot more people. These chefs had their names printed on wedding invites, as they would be the real crowd pullers. A famous chef cooking for a wedding was sure to draw huge crowds.It’s the raqabdars though who were the masters of creativity and finesse, as they cooked for the most choosy, moody and the easily-bored class. These raqabdars are a lost tribe now, and the next morning when I learned that Mubarak Ali was a third generation raqabdar I felt honored to be working with him.
             When I arrived to meet him, I saw a frail, old and lazy man lying on his charpai and abusing the whole world.When he got up, he could hardly walk, had a very noticeable hunchback, and then the raw material arrived and the transformation happened.
           Suddenly there was a glow in his eyes, he was sprinting between his three wood-fired chulhas and talking to me like we were friends forever. He started cooking with his father when he was 12 and professed to being 95! Which meant he had cooked for eight decades!! A fact later verified by his knowledge of ingredients, his skills, and his never ending stories, and later by Rizwi saab himself. 
               His kitchen had only fire wood, itr and potlis of masalas not numbered, not named, and all I did was light the fire and follow him around trying to keep up. He cooked a meal for six people of six dishes in 45 minutes while I was just wondering what hit me. Then he yelled at the waiter to take the food and quietly lay back on his charpai and started abusing the whole world again. What I had witnessed was like a dream for a chef; pure magic of a raqabdar, a 95-year-old chef, who would probably never have his work or his name acknowledged outside of the royal family he cooks for. So Mubarak chacha, here’s a small chef trying to talk about a grand master chef... when he is still stunned and speechless.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


             We are in the middle of the festive season, when our fitness resolutions are put to test. Mine at least..... 
             Starting from the excellent food at the Ganapati pandals (GSB being my favourite) to the Durga Pujo pandals to Dussehra,Diwali, Christmas... Oh and I forgot Onam, my latest love after having an amazing Onasadya in Kochi. Sadyas are traditional banquets in Kerala. Food is cooked in Giant urlis and served on a banana leaf. 
                 Here are a few interesting protocols that I found out after eating a lot of sadya.The banana leaf is placed so that its narrow part always points to the left side. Sadya is served from the top left corner of the leaf, on which is placed in order, a small yellow banana, sarkara upperi (shakkar paras) and papad. Then the mango pickle, injipuli (a thick ginger tamarind curry), lime pickle, and the thoran, olan, avial, pachadi, kichadi, Erissery (a pumpkin chori bean combination like no other) and salt are placed in order. Here’s where I lose patience and focus and delve deep into awesome food!
               This Onasadya was special for two things that I learnt. One — payasam and crushed papad (Apallam) is an amazing combination because it gives you the sweet and salty balance that is so “in” (and it soaks up the milk so that you can eat payasam with your fingers just like the pros) and two Palada is the best dessert ever, hence I am sharing a must-try recipe with you. 
                 Well now that I am done expressing my immense new love for Sadya, allow me a few gyan lines on eating in the festive times. Almost all our festivals accompany change of seasons and hence a change of produce. All our traditional festive fare is based food being essential to how we feel and having a certain effect on our mind and body, whether it’s the gajak and til laddu in the chilly Lohri to warm our body or the Thandai in Holi to cool it down, food is meant to sync the change outside with what’s happening Inside us. To sum it up this gyan conversation — eat seasonal and local... and this festive season might initiate a very healthy phase in your life. Eat traditional because that’s what will sync with you. Try and remember what your grand-mother used to cook as special festive dishes, dig out these “well-being” recipes this festive season, cook them (and please share them with me). Wishing you a healthy happy eating!!!

figuring out the sadya kitchen

Palada Payasam
300 gms Unakkalari / uncooked rice
2 tsp coconut oil
4 litres milk
50 gms sugar
800 gms sugar
1. Wash the rice well and grind it with water. Add sugar and coconut oil to it, and mix it till it is becomes thinner than the dosa batter consistency, but thick enough to be spread on a leaf.
2. Tear the banana leaves into five portions and remove the fibers. Spread the batter on each leaf, flatten and smoothen it out, steam it.
3. Gently separate each ada from the leaf when it cools. Cut each of the adas into very small pieces.
4. Into an urli pour some milk and when it boils add the sugar and continue boiling until it thickens. 
5. Add the ada pieces into it when the solution is well reduced / thickened. Serve warm.

Saturday, August 16, 2014 history thing that has always entertained mankind. 

And elements of contrast in food are as fascinating today as they were always.They always leave food memories..whether it is the contrast of textures when you bite into pani-poori, or contrast of flavors when you appreciate the fashionable flavor of sea salt caramel or the contrast of temperatures when u finally hunt down that ice cream flavor that you were craving for ,on that hot summer afternoon.
                    Cold and sweet has been the human culinary endeavor from centuries. Around 2400years ago Persians figured out that ice tasted way better when it was sweetened and textured up with vermicelli. 200 years later the Chinese were freezing a thick mixture of rice and milk in the mountains up north and enjoying it with fruits. Chinese can also be credited with making the first ice cream /sorbet machines that use the principle of depressing the freezing point by adding salt petre. This technique as the story goes was Marco Polo’s “inspiration” that he transferred to the Italian gelato makers. It's from this point on that the hero of today’s story, “contrast” took over.
                     Sicily went under Arab rule and the Arabs got hooked to the chilled dessert that finally beat the heat for them. Arabs were perhaps the first to use milk as a major ingredient in the production of ice cream. They sweetened it with sugar rather than fruit juices, and perfected the means of commercial production. As early as the 10th century, ice cream was widespread among many of the Arab world's major cities, including Baghdad, Damascus, and Cairo. 
                     From here the cold confection found a way into Moghul hearts. Initially it was the boats full of ice and snow that landed in Lahore that created much folklore and later it was the mules in Jahangir’s service carrying snow from the Himalayas down to Delhi. It’s in Jahangir’s time that a Persian cook presented a faloodeh recipe that later got adapted to the Falooda!!

The ice cream that we know and crave for today had to wait till mid-1800s to be born!!
Oh and here’s a Persian Indian Freeze recipe
Subza-Faloodeh :

Ingredients :
1 cup hot water
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp rose water
¼ cups subza seeds (tulsi seeds) soaked in water
2 lime wedges or 1tsp lime juice

Method :
1. Dissolve the sugar in the water. 
2. Then add the rose water and let it cool in a freezer.
3. Soak the subza seeds for at least half an hour.
4. Blend/ crush the sweet ice to a sorbet texture, add the lemon and the subza.
Top with sour cherries....

The Toddy Trail …. Story of the deft and the experienced.. and more about uncle jack

Visiting Sri Lanka , kerala and Goa in a single trip makes you aware of the culinary common threads that cut across political boundaries and of a natural resource that has been sacredly utilized for centuries “coconut palm”, of the many bounties that it has to offer , one can write a book . Today we will just talk about toddy.
Unfortunately ,Outside of the regions where it is consumed toddy is a very misunderstood drink and ingredient associated with village drunkards and incidents of methanol poisoning .Yet seeing it up close and personal one realizes that its just a case of us humans overdrawing and misutilizing what nature has has given us .
The legend of toddy starts very early in the morning with toddy tappers deftly climbing trees to collect the sap that has been drawn overnight into earthen pots, shaving off the bud and sealing it with black clay all this is achieved in a minute and a half per tree, deftness and experience at its best . a toddy tapper tends to between 60 and a 100 trees every morning . “neera” or the sap that gets collected if drunk immediately has no Alcohol .It stays well in the refrigerator for a day if lemon Juice is added to prevent fermentation . From the trees it goes to the Toddy shops or the place where I am taking you, the kitchen!
Actually let’s take the toddy to Goa and into the Kitchens of Jack Pilerne , a 74 Year old Portugese Goan and yet another deft and experienced culinary artist . Jack has an amazing sense of precision and perfection when it comes to cooking and all things food. From making toddy fermented jaggery cakes to “sannas” the Goan morning bread Jack shows a keen dedication to following the recipes to the T. The reason ?, it’s the only way to make food “smile at you”  he says  , we cooked a lot of happy food together but what I really loved came last , the art of making toddy vinegar , in the typical “suraahi” like vessel where toddy is left to ferment for a day and then two “one inch” pieces of red hot brick tiles (not 1 mm bigger or smaller as per Jack ) are dropped into the vessel and its sealed and left for six months to get  premium Goan toddy Vinegar that is the base for almost  all Goan Portuguese Masalas .
Toddy was the wine of Ancient India and has been used in cooking forever, it means a lot of things to a lot of people, but after this trip, to me it means deftness, precision and love.. after all treating people nicely and the way they should be treated makes them smile at you ,why not treat food the same way . Thanks Jack
Next time you go to kerala grab the Non Alcoholic morning nectar and try this drink

“neer” Orangine
Toddy nectar (non Alcoholic) 100 ml
Orange Juice pulpy                   70 ml
Orange Pulp                                ½ cup
Sunza seeds soaked                            1tsp (optional)
Mix all ingredients and serve chilled
You could try this with watermelon juice and muddled watermelon for a perfect summer cooler

Sunday, July 20, 2014

1844... a love story. The story of Prashanta and Partho Nandy

India has numerous old cities and towns with food institutions that have passed down culinary heritage from generations. Lucknow is one such old city, hence growing up here and eating in these old food establishments I always heard conversations which were either about the miraculous inception of their really renowned dish or the stories of the glorious culinary scene of the past. So, when the owner of one such establishment running since 1844 starts his conversation with a description of the clear and bright future that he sees for his great product, you stop and take notice and I am so glad i did.

This was in North Kolkata at the 170-year-old “Girish Ch Dey & Nakur Ch. Nandy” sweet shop where I went to taste the famed golai pera, parijat, kasturi, ratabi sandesh that have survived over a century and continue to attract crowds. Here I met the owner Partha Nandy who was visibly happy to know that I was a chef set out to taste some food because he wanted feedback on the texture and mouth feel of his new experiments with sandesh, an unusual and a humbling request from a sixth generation sweet maker. I ended up tasting close to 50 sandesh varieties that were on the shelves, every sandesh tasting took its time as it came with a story, a passionate description and a future. I was so glad there were so many of them to taste allowing me the time to know more about this young proud gentlemen with a sound knowledge of sweets and a passion for his work that could belittle the greatest chefs.

I had to (and like how) know where Partho got it from, it was his “Mejo Kaka” Prashanta Nandy, his father's younger brother, who had spent all his life “at the shop for the shop”. Partha spoke about his uncle’s connect to Chhena so intensely for the next 10 minutes that Prashanta da’s life passed me by like I was living and feeling it. 
A proud traditional Bengali confectioner, “Mejo Kaka” started training with the chhena kaarigars after school at the age of 14 and by the time he was in college he was a deft player of this game. The true game changer in him surfaced a little later, when he felt that the fascination towards western confectionary was pulling people away from his passion, what is it that we cannot do he used to say and thus started a creative era of Nakur sweets, liquid centred chocolates faced the liquid gur filled Jolbhora sondesh, Liqueur-filled sandesh and the ganache centered chocolate chip sandesh then came the world’s first “sandesh cake” 
Prashanta da wouldn’t stop here, he went on to create more than 50 varieties of sandesh before he passed away at the age of 56 leaving behind a legacy of flavour and a well-trained heir, the 29-year-old Partho Nandy. "My story so far has been exactly the same" Partho says, mejo kaka had him start with the karigars early and “married” him to the shop after his Bcom “that’s where the similarity ends,” he adds.
“Mejo kaka has given Bengali sweets a modern future that I or nobody can dream of giving.” By virtue of my 18-year-old beautiful relationship to food I’d like to put this on record, Partho da — You will change this game again, soon

Celebrated cuisine of the Aam aadmi and Haji Zuber

                Lucknow has two distinct culinary styles, food for the commoner “Dastarkhwan-e-Aam” and food for the royals “Dastarkhwan-e-Khaas”. While it’s very common for the royal food to travel to the streets via stolen recipes or via cooks that have been thrown out by the royals after getting bored, It’s very rare to see the Dastarkhwan-e-Aam dishes to be glorified to a royal status. 
                There’s a story about Nawab Shuja-ud-daula who while walking his Sooba was stopped by an immensely sweet and balanced aroma of spices from a travellers' caravan, the source he saw was a handi all covered with coal and sealed. On going back, he instructed his cooks to recreate the aroma and thus the art of Dum pukht was born; this is how food from the streets came first to the palaces of Awadh. 
                The second example is the commoners' super rich breakfast stew “Nihari” that gave the 'aam aadmi' his share of warmth, carbs and protein that would keep him going till lunch, and it went to the Royal Palaces on days when the Nawabs had to sleep through this period between their breakfast and lunch. There is a lot of argument whether Nihari was soldier (sipahsalar) food from the by-lanes of Lal Quilla, that travelled to Lucknow or whether it’s a Lucknow original phenomenon. Being a Lucknowi I openly side with the Lucknow bandwagon and hence in my last visit to get a better insight on the origin of this dish, I met Haji Zuber who owns and runs the famous Rahim ki Nihari in Chowk. 
                 A sixty something gentleman, known as Haji Saab in the area, displaying an immense passion for life and food, "Of course Nihari is from Awadh...!” he yells back at the question. He talks at length about the fabled evenings of chowk as his great grandfather used to describe them to him. He is a graduate from the Lucknow University, which he thinks was quite a feat considering all he was doing was accompanying his grandfather to the markets and the kitchens and his culinary escapades to Delhi and Hyderabad. The only written will that is passed down in this family is the Ek Mann Nihari ka Nuskha, the recipe of 40 kgs Nihari and the same has already passed down to his sons. 
                On being asked about the changes that he has had to make in the recipe so it suits today’s taste and digestion (considering Nihari can be an immensely heavy dish to digest) he answers “None”, the taste and the sublime feeling of immense pleasure after eating good food has not changed and will never change; as for the richness aspect “apna apna haazma,” he jokingly concludes.

Jack D’Souza … and a story of passion and precision

Portuguese have had a definite influence on two major Port cities of India, Goa and Kochi. 
They have given a lot, visible in art architecture and above all the cuisine of these regions .Along with the chilly they have given us a taste and appreciation of all things nice in life (siesta included of course). In my last visit to Goa wanting to explore this Portuguese side more, I went to my very dear friend (and an authority on Goan food) Odette Mascarenhas who guided me to Jack D’souza in “Pilerne” a village abundant with old Portuguese style houses and Chapels.
Uncle Jack was sitting in his typical Portuguese verandah of the 200 year old ancestral house. An old man in his late seventies who would walk slowly and talk loudly yet in no time you understood that behind this frail smiling face was a man very aware and passionate about his food.

I asked him a lot of questions about Portuguese influence on Goan food and the origin of Portuguese Goan dishes; he had an answer and an anecdote for each question. Where and how did he learn so much, “I am not a chef, i have always smiled at food and food has always smiled back” he said. A philosophy that I would absorb well, soon. Uncle jacks grand mom was a super cook and a seasoned baker who used to also teach the nuns at times, sitting along with the nuns and noting down recipes was this young boy Jack , smiling in anticipation of the next awesome meal. 
“When I was young all my friends would call me for drinking parties, I smilingly went where I’d get the best food. I’d come home and granny and I would critique the dishes for hours, sometimes she would tweak her recipes if I felt a sorpotel or vindaloo had a balance better than ours”. Uncle Jack decided to share his grandmas Vindaloo recipe with me on one condition, I had to cook it with him. He wanted to make sure I got it. 

The recipe was in numbers and inches, not in grams and kilograms, reminding me of the “masha-Tola” recipes of Munir ustad .The Similarity between Munir Ustad and Uncle Jack didn't end here. Uncle was as unsatisfied with my choice of the sizes of onions and cloves and my understanding of one inch piece of cinnamon as Munir Ustad would have been if he were alive. I had to grind all masalas fresh on a mortar pestle (Ghonsono in Konkani) and it was never fine enough, I was living my apprenticeship all over again and loving it. 

By the time the masala was ready I realized that I was by now just being “Linguini”, the cook from the movie Ratatouille and uncle jack was “Remy “sitting on my head and pulling the strings, I was living the movie and loving it. After another 20 minutes of “Ratatouille“, Uncle finally told me I was a good cook and I could keep the recipe.
After having him sign the cherished recipe, I put a small footer on the page …“Haven’t yet learnt to properly smile at food, so much to learn”

Next write up is dedicated to another passionate perfectionist from Lucknow, “Haji Saab”.......


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The story of the less spoken and Understated.. The story of Satpura

                 Amritsar has been long established as the city of pilgrimage and trade. The area around the Golden temple is the oldest part of the city which makes it a great spot for photography and getting lost. This honeycomb of gullies ,houses many amazing gastronomic treats and interesting people that have upheld Amritsar’s” eating out” tradition for generations.  
                 Whether it’s the dhabas that were setup as Indian fast food solutions for the traveler or the small corner shops in the gullies of Amritsar that were a source of culinary novelty at the family dinner table , Amritsar has always celebrated its food and boasted of its punjabiyat.In this land of celebration, right behind the Golden temple is a small shop with no name ,yet the sea of colorful turbans swarming the old ten by ten structure and the 100 metre queue at the kadhai is a biilboard bigger than any other!!  
                    After waiting for sometime in the queue I got to a visible distance of the kadhai and saw a very old man “slapping” the kadhai incessantly; when he stopped, a sea of golden flaky dough envelopes floated on top and like somebody pushed the play button, everybody got animated and started yelling out a number, I guess the guy behind me was the winner.. “24 satpuras for me” he said. 
                  Satpura is a catchy name I must admit and on talking to Pammi ji, the owner of the shop, when he was a little free to talk of course, he mentioned that the recipe has been with his family for 4 generations now and the person at the kadhai “Bhagat ji” was frying them for 65 years .it just ends here for the satpura he says, my son is the” subway” kid who thinks deep frying food is a sin and Satpura doesn’t have a future. 

                   It doesn’t bother Pammi  though, who treasures this recipe that a Chittagong cook gave his great great grandfather and has given his family and his unnamed shop , reputation and wealth. "I will give free satpuras to all of Amritsar at my son’s wedding he says, and I'll fry them all", Bhagat ji, who’s 85 now jokingly adds. Pammi says the old recipe had seven poories layered and folded over seven times and that’s where the name comes from .Now the making, though still without machines is a lot more laborious with 12 feet dough sheets beaten and layered on wooden planks and cut and stuffed with a potato-pea filling.....a ritual that starts at 7 am and that Pammi has been supervising for 45 years, ever since he dropped out.  
The real kick in the dish is the sweet n sour potato curry that is served with the Satpura, and that works as a chutney as well. The next time you visit the Golden Temple, exit from the west gates and look for a sea of turbans and say hi to Bhagat ji and Pammi....Oh! and don’t forget to ask for extra subzi because it makes Pammi ji happy to know that there’s still a big multitude of people who love the Satpura.

 Next week we look at a 20 something “Chef's rockstar” who runs one of the biggest sweet shops in Kolkata...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Story of Monama …..the Inherent resourcefulness in Indian food

At Kweepees with Rakhi  Dasgupta

While eating at ‘Kewpie’, an iconic Bengali restaurant in Kolkata I came across a dish called ‘Monama’. A cauliflower “shorshe” preparation slow braised in local mustard and nothing else. Rakhi Dasgupta,  the owner and an authority on Bangla food demystified the unique name in our conversation later. To understand the importance of the name it is important to understand the contribution of the widows of Bengal to Bengali vegetarian cuisine. Living in out- houses and cooking with very limited ingredients, widows created a cuisine that is resourceful, highly nutritious and superbly creative. Most of their food was ‘shudho’ that is without any onion and garlic and used not more than 4 ingredients. The Dal badi that you cannot imagine the Shukto without is also a gift of the widows because lentils were the primary source of protein in their imposed vegetarian diet .Over many years , elements of this this creative food became mainstream and that is how the Bangla ranna (household kitchen) became vegetarian. Coming Back, ‘Monama’ was actually Rakhi’s great grand aunt, a widow.
What was surprising was that I got my next lesson in resourcefulness from another widow.  Shanti Devi from ‘Khejarli’, a Bishnoi village outside of Jodhpur. She Raised a family of four making rotis for the local ‘Anganwadi’. Shanti Devi’s kitchen and store had less than 10 ingredients between the millets, spices, dairy and sun dried guar, ker and sangri. I had two of the most resourceful and yet the tastiest dishes I’ve ever had. One was ‘Rabodi’ a simple sabji made out of sundried jowar papads and ‘Raab’ a buttermilk drink thickened with bajra flour. Between my understanding of her language and her understanding of Hindi I definitely managed to figure out that she could cook more that 50 dishes from these ingredients.
Actually being resourceful is being Indian and the same principle applies to our kitchens. All of us remember growing up in Families where our grand moms got upset at the slightest wastage and the sabzis of the oddest vegetable parts like the Cauliflower stems were a cherished delicacy .We have always celebrated resourcefulness and Monama Just bought it all back for me .
Rabodi Subzi
Broken Rabodi (dried corn and Jowar papads ) - 2cups
Curd - 1/2 cup
Sesame Oil - 2 table spoon
Jeera (cumin seeds) - 1/2 tea spoon
Red chili powder - 3/4 tea spoon
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tea spoon
Coriander powder - 1 tea spoon
Salt - according to taste

(Add 4 cups Hot  water to the rabodi, cover it and keep aside)
1.     Heat oil in a pan and add cumin seeds.
2.     Add red chili powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and salt in curd and water.
3.     Now add this mixture to the cumin pan and cook until the oil comes up.

4.     Mix boiled rabodi and water in a pan and cook it for 5 minutes

Friday, May 16, 2014

Digging out the Tapioca …

 Rediscovering India through its ingredients...
                “Shappu curry" or Toddy shops in kerala are known for their food as much as their toddy. A Shappu curry kitchen was the first kitchen I entered on my visit to Kottayam ,Kerala and was struck by an astoundingly huge wall of Tapioca stacked neatly .”Kappa” as it's called was the fastest moving starch in the Shop , faster than rice or “puttu” the steamed rice flour cakes.
                  This was my third meeting with manihot esculenta after Mexico and Assam and it was definitely a sign to dig further. It's clearly accepted that Tapioca is a 5000 year old south American tuber, however most Spanish colonies traded with India through Philippines and Burma and that explains the Assam connection which is around 200 years old, but how did tapioca get to Kerala? The answer is that it had multiple entries into India, it also came in and probably much earlier through the slaves of Spanish colonies in Africa .
                 Well here's another googly.. why has this tuber, no mention in recipes more than 120 years old? The answer is that it started getting used only in late 1800s. Thanks to the Ruler of Travancore in 1880 (Vaishakam Thirunal) who, after the great Famine spent a lot of time, money and energy researching alternate sources of starch and zeroed in on Tapioca, a tuber that could grow in the back yard and be kept in the ground until required. It's said that the ruler personally went out advocating the use of this starch and demonstrating how to get rid of the bitterness that comes in due to the Cyanogenic compounds. Tapioca is not a good source of protein though and therefore has been intelligently paired with fish curries in kerala . “KAPPA” , Remember this magic word to utter when in a Kerala restaurant, to get this magic dish which, besides all the “nice to know” things listed above is an “awesome to eat” dish with your fish curry.....

Kappa Kuzhachathu (Tapioca mix)
1/2 kg tapioca cleaned and roughly chopped into cubes
Salt to taste
For grinding
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp scraped coconut
4 cloves garlic
3 shallots
4 green chillies
For seasoning
2 tsp of coconut oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
5 shallots sliced
Curry leaves
Chopped coriander leaves

1) Cook the tapioca pieces in salted water and sieve out.
2) Grind the cumin, turmeric powder, coconut, garlic, green chilies, and shallots coarsely.
3) Mash the tapioca in a heavy bottomed pan and mix in the ground coconut on medium flame for about 3-4 minutes and then turn off the flame.
4) in a small pan, for seasoning, heat oil, pop mustard seeds, add in curry leaves and fry the shallots till they are golden brown in color.
5) mix the seasoning well into the cooked tapioca mix and garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

About artisan Breads … and the Poders of Goa

        There’s much talk about Artisan breads and about the premium label attached to the handmade wood fired breads .The Boulangerie has always been my favorite area of study and observation because of the science involved. One could spend a lifetime understanding the complex lactic and acidic flavors produced by fermentation and the effect of heat on these flavors.
             On one of my trips to Goa, I developed a much higher sense of respect for the Trade thanks to the “Poders” or the local bakers. Poders have been the Traditional “wake up calls” for Goa for the last 4 centuries, first with their clanking walking sticks and then with the air horns on their bicycles.
           Jim Gomes was one such kind poder who allowed me to spend a night in his Padaria (Portuguese for bakery) in Salcette. I was aware that earthen ovens had become scarce due to their substitution by their electric and gas counterparts, so the moment I saw the traditional earthen oven at Jim’s, I was overjoyed and shocked. Shocked as the oven was filled to the mouth with lit firewood and no space for baking. Later when the firewood was burnt to ash it was removed completely. 

             I asked Jim the design and composition of the oven to better understand what was going on and got my answers. The Oven has a very small opening (9 inches by 4 inches) and a very low roof (12 inches max at the center). Its walls are packed with all good conductors of heat inside like iron, glass and salt. So the oven is lit for 4 hours , and even after removing all fire wood it retains the heat for 4 hours of baking . So to sum it up ; the baking happens without any fuel and completely in the steam of the bread . For people from the trade like me this was surely a eureka moment. The variety  of breads (Ondo. katre, Poie and the bangle shaped Kakon) and the unique baking process place the 500 year old Goan Baking tradition amongst the most artisan in the world .
             Next time in Goa : stop the Poder , smile and buy a poie you would have done your share of humble service to Artisan bread making . Oh and if you get a chance ask him to show you his earthen oven because very soon we just might see them in Museums. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Balai .. The Lucknowi wonder

The streets of old Lucknow have many a story to tell.....Everytime I visit these narrow streets and get lost in them I discover something new. Balai is one such discovery made some time ago in the “gullies” of Chowk. It has the nuttiness of our clotted cream (malai ) along with a rich creaminess that comes from the reduction of milk.

Milk is slowly heated (never boiled) in thick- bottomed, flat and shallow kadhais on cowdung “uplas” and a layer of balai forms, the milk is allowed to reduce to a very thick consistency and the balai is removed and stacked on top of each other. These gateaux-like stacks are sold in the streets especially Victoria street in the mornings. In this street they have a specialty called Kashmiri chai being sold in the winters; its not the kehwa but a light pink colored very sweet milky tea, the nawabs called it Kashmiri because they felt the color and the sweetness was just like the people of Kashmir, royal comprehension does affect cuisine you see !! 
                      Here’s the interesting part though, this tea is ”eaten“ with a spoon and not sipped. Kagazi samosa, a light flaky puff is crumbled into a cup and this pink tea is poured into it and then its topped with a huge dollop of Balai.This rich and royal winter concoction  warms you up instantly.
         On my last visit I went to Banwali gali in Chowk, to the 200 year old Ram Asrey Mishtaan Bhandar and discovered this wonder all over again, this time in the form of a Gilori or a paan. “Nanhe”, their balai specialist guided me through the complete process of making the Balai and then filled it up with a inique mixture of nuts and “Kesari Misri” - a saffron flavored rock sugar. We rolled up the Giloris when the balai was still warm and I stole a moment to make one for myself!! The taste, the mouth-feel ,the contrast between the creaminess of Balai and the crunch of the rock sugar... created a perfect moment and gave me a food memory forever...

Here's an inspired recipe, dedicated to Nanhe, the Balai maker....
Bruleed Balai éclairs

Choux buns or éclair shells          3

Balai or half cream half malai       1 cup
Rock sugar                                   1 tbsp
Gulkand                                        ½ tsp
Chopped nuts                               1tbsp
Method :
1. Roll the gulkand and the nuts in the balai.
2. Cut and retain the tops of the éclairs
3. Fill the éclairs with balai mix and top with rock sugar and brulee with a torch.
4. Put the tops of the éclair back and serve immediately.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gulab Jamun .. rediscovered

Serendipity, a phenomenon of happy, accidental discoveries has given the humans a lot of scientific gifts. Serendipity in the kitchens is not uncommon either. It’s common parlance that chocolate chip cookies were an accidental discovery by Mrs Wakefield and so were ‘Saratoga’ potato chips by George Crum in Saratoga Springs NY. In fact, the good thing about the kitchen is the mini eureka moments you keep getting as a chef and the element of (personal) serendipity involved. 
I had such a mini eureka moment in Kolkata in late January while spending time at the fruit market intrigued by the similarity of the fruit from the Bengal and North East to the exotic Thai and South East Asian counterparts. Outside Garihat market, a proud gentleman was sitting with fruits from famed North Bengal and Sikkim region. With him were some Malay apples (Jamrul or wax apple as we better know them) and a strange looking green fruit with pink hues called Gulab Jamun. The moment I tasted the fruit it was a food memory forever. Not very sweet, but juicy and floral like no other, it was as if the fruit had been injected with rose water. The curious-cook-siren went off. What is the real name of the fruit? Where did it originate? What came first, the dessert or the fruit? After due diligence, here are the answers.
The fruit is Syzigium jambos, cultivated in South East Asia and Jamaica. It’s been called gulab jamun from times immemorial. Here’s the interesting part though, gulab jamun as a dessert is only recorded in culinary history after the Mughals. The fruit being much older and hence probably the inspiration for the dessert. 
Not convinced? Here’s another fact. The only other country where a similar dessert also called gulab jamun is found is Jamaica. Is it a coincidence the fruit is found here as well? 
Well, I lay no claims but if this write up has gotten you taking notice of this “our” exotic fruit, the job’s done.

Jamrul-watermelon and salad
l White jamrul, sliced: 1 no.s 
l Watermelon, diced: 100 gms 
l Arugula: 60-70 gms 
l Greek honey: 1 tsp 
l Salad oil: 2 tsp
l Mustard powder: a pinch 
l Lemon juice: 1 tsp
l Salt and pepper to taste 
Mix the lime juice, oil, honey and mustard, blend and season. Keep aside. Marinate the jamrul slices in a little dressing and spread at the bottom of the plate. Top with tossed watermelon and arugula and drizzle some dressing. The finished salad can be sprinkled over with some goat cheese and pinenuts as well.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Paprika:Travel of the chilly … Mathania and beyond

               Being a chef in hotels has a lot of perks, one of them being that the latest food trends and “in” ingredients come to your doorstep via keen purveyors. it helps the hotel chef keep abreast of the latest “power ingredients “ that are moving or will soon enough move the market . 
Of late various forms of paprika seems to be that power ingredient coming in various shades and spiciness. Hungarian Paprika has made good Inroads into a country that produces the most chilly in the world .The Rising Star Award however has to go to the “Spanish” Smoked paprika or pimenton , a sweet deep flavor that gets enhanced by the smokiness imparted during smoke drying as opposed to sun drying.
Yet this is not about Spain or Hungary , this is about a small village 30 Kms outside of Jodhpur on way to the Osian Desert, the village of Mathania . I was introduced to the beauty of the Mathania chilly by Mot Singh , a cook to the Royal Family of Jodhpur . While making Laal Maas he used Mathania chilly paste and bet with me that his laal maas would be redder and sweeter than mine (I was trying it with the Kashmiri degi mirch). Needless to say I lost the bet but gained a lot of respect for this small village. Mathania mirch is indeed the reddest  and the sweetest chilly that I have cooked with In India . One could easily replace the “Half sharp Hungarian “ paprika with this fleshy and low scoviile chilly from the desert.
Oh and here is another reason why you should only use Mathania red in your laal maas – According to a report by Central Arid Zone research Institute , Mathania chilly is on the verge of extinction . The best way to keep it alive is to use it, and trust me you will be amazed with the results.
Considering that Chilly came to India through the Portugese only in 1498 and either travelled upwards from Goa or Eastwards from the middle east to Reach Rajasthan ….. How dated does that make the laal maas ? .. another conversation for another time I guess
Here’s a really cool way to use the Mathania red
Mathania Chilly – strawberry - chocolate mousse
100g/3½oz milk chocolate, chopped
01 strawberry chopped
01 fresh Mathania red chilly deseeded and minced
300ml double cream, whipped to soft peak.
Chocolate glaze to coat
Place the chocolate into a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water and heat, until melted.
Stir in all of the chilli and strawberry. Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly.
Fold the melted chocolate into the cream in a large bowl, then spoon into a bombe . Chill until needed.