Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Creamy Tomato Soup

In the last week Calcutta suddenly had a message from Winter, saying that it would soon come knocking on the doors. The weather was perfectly cool, the kind which makes you want to take long walks. While coming back form my usual morning walk I made a stop at New market and the bring colours overwhelmed me. There were blood red bell peppers and beautiful round tomatoes. The smell of fresh basil intoxicated me and so I came back with my treasures.

It was a cool day and I was suddenly craving for some warmth and the idea of a creamy tomato soup was just irresistible. Making ti from scratch requires a little bit of time but the reward is too great. So off I went with 6 large sized plump tomatoes to be blanched. Some recipes require the tomatoes to not be blanched but for a greater amount of smoothness it is advisable that one blanches them.

I will admit to a ironic fact that even though I am born in a humid and hot country the summers somehow seem intolerable to me. So come winters and I am energized, happy and excited and could not stop humming in the kitchen.

I very well remember my first encounter with tomato soup long long long ago on one of the trains and what I still remember or perhaps I imagine that I remember is the impeccably dressed server on a train handing the cup of soup to me. It was a pure delight. Now that I know the taste of those packaged soups I have no idea why it caught my fancy but then I grew up and realized how easy it is to make a creamy delightful soup with the most basic ingredients.

So I went armed in the kitchen with :

6 Plump tomatoes
1 onion
1 carrot
8 cloves of garlic
Water for blanching
1 Bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
Butter / Olive oil
Chiken or vegetable stock

So you start off by blanching the tomatoes. Making a cross at the back of the tomatoes makes peeling off the skin very easy. Once cool peel them and chop them roughly.

Press the garlic with the flat of the knives and then saute your pressed garlic , add the onions , chopped carrots bay leaf and finally the tomatoes , salt , nutmeg and pepper and simmer them for about 20 minutes.

 Once cool blend away . Blending the piece sof carrot with a bit of water ensures better smoothness. Add about 200ml of stock or water but the stock has its added taste and bring top a boil and simmer for another 15 minutes or till creamy and thick as per your liking.

You can serve it with little squares of bread, but instead of frying them you can just stove  toast them by adding a bit of butter on a flat pan and keeping it on low flame till they are golden brown. Serve with chopped parsley.

Add the pieces right before serving else it becomes a soggy mass. Its so colourful that it would surely even cheer up the grumpy the Grinch who stole Christmas

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Versatile Muri

The versatile yet humble puffed up rice. Have it with milk and chopped fruits and you have your very Indian breakfast cereal, spice it up with an array of spices and you have the spiced muri known as the jhalmuri, have it spiced with sauces and spices and there is the bhel-puri. Well its talent is mainly constricted to the snacking area - you can have it plain with chops or fritters. 

With the seductive weather of Calcutta, today it was dry roasted puffed rice with a wee bit mustard oil , very finely chopped onions and chilies and fried potatoes along with Darjeeling tea. It is as healthy as it is tasty, one always has the option to omit the potatoes completely but well that would just murder its taste, so why not exercise so that we have the fun of indulging in these delicious evening snacks. This is an old favourite of mine. As a moderately fussy eater I refused Horlicks as a child which my family anyways has no affinity for and so this was a frequent evening snack for me P.S. Dry roasting the puffed up rice on slow heat is a must for the delightful warmth it provides .

For this muri what one need sis 

4 cups of puffed up rice 
1 onion chopped finely 
1 to 2 chilies chopped finely (as per the level of hotness your palate likes) 
Pinch of salt 
2 teaspoonful of mustard oil 
Potatoes chopped thinly and fried (It should not be too crispy else it does not give the perfect balance with the crunchy puffed up rice so it is best to fry the potatoes an hour or so before preparing the muri) 
Pinch of cumin powder 

Start off my dry roasting the puffed up rice on low flame. This is essential for giving it the warmth which makes it even more delicious and gives it a touch of freshness. One mixes everything together and enjoys it with a cup of black tea. I have seen that somehow this mix becomes a bit too hot for coffee or milk tea but then each one of us have an unique palate. 

If not using fried potatoes one can simply have the mix with fritters of any kind or make a mix with peanuts ,coconuts and chanachur (a typical  hot salted spicy mix from Bengal) 

Chicken Loaf

Quick Chicken Loaf Within 1 hour and 15 minutes 

It was one of those Sunday evenings in Calcutta when I knew that most of the neighbourhood shops would be closed and I had to make dinner with whatever was there in the pantry. I gathered some chicken mince meat, garlic, onions , dried basil and dried dill, chili flakes, olive oil, milk, whole wheat , pepper and salt and decided to make a loaf. Easy and delicious.

An hour later I was happily enjoying my dinner.

Easy Peasy ingredients

Minced chicken - 2 cups
Finely minced garlic and onions
Dried herbs (I used basil and dill)
Freshly ground pepper
Olive Oil
Chili flakes
Grated Parmesan
Whole wheat - half a cup

One starts off  by preheating the oven to 200 C and then while it preheats one simply mixes everything well and makes a loaf out of the mixture and butters the pan,(I used some olive oil) and bakes it for about 1 hour. If you see the crust having browned properly you know its done.

Poached fish

Poached fish 

Lets face it, nobody has lost weight or remained absolutely stunning while thriving on thin crusted pizzas, delightfully cheesy baked delicacies, patisseries, butter and all things tasty, but healthy low calorie food need not always be tasteless. In fact if you are a real connoisseur of food your taste buds would surely appreciate a wide variety of tastes and this mild yet full flavoured fish is truly healthy as it is tasty.


1 Pomfret
4 cloves of garlic
1 tiny onion
1 tsp dried dill
Salt and pepper as per taste
1 wedge of lemon

The olive oil is just brushed on the pan and the fish is put in it and it is cooked covered for half a minute on each side on low flame.

Now I started off by using freshly ground black pepper mixed with dried dill , salt , 1 wedge of lemon and water and slowly put it in the pan for the fish to delicately get cooked in all the flavours and something told me that some flavour is missing.

I shall be honest here. Today it is much more easy to be creative in your kitchen with the help of so many interactive platforms and I remembered somebody having mentioned making a no-oil fish with roasted garlic and onions. And that is what I exactly did. I flame roasted 4 pods of garlic and 1 small (tiny to be more precise) onion finely sliced and just added it to the simmering fish. After 10 minutes I was enjoying a delightfully healthy lunch.

I made the mistake of having a cucumber salad with balsamic dressing because the balsamic dressing would overpower the delicate flavour of the fish. So I guess some roasted pumpkin or zucchini or carrots are the ideal accompaniments to this fish.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Lemon Linguine Pasta

Lemon Linguine Pasta
Inspired from Sicily 

I do not like how or why our restaurants in India constrict the idea of pastas from the land which is a culinary lover's delight. I have been gathering recipes for different pasta recipes from blogs, chefs which seem very unheard of and are simple and would make such intense love to your taste buds that it , well it makes you feel happy.

Jamie Oliver mentions the fragrance of the Sicilian lemons which gives this dish its unique flavour. Of course I used the fresh lemons available in my local market since I don't have access to Sicilian Lemons and the pasta still turns out quite delicious.

The original recipe demands fresh rocket leaves which I could not procure in Calcutta, so I omitted it. Frozen food usually has no place in my pantry.

So I used the following ingredients

Serves 1 :-

80gm to 100gm Linguine pasta
A handful of Grated Parmesan
2 tsp juice from the freshest of lemons from the local market
1 tsp chopped Fresh basil leaves which are found in plenty in the vegetable section of New market or any other place you can procure it from.
1.5 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
lemon zest

This is what I did while rats and moles were playing volleyball in my stomach. Boiled and drained the pasta.
Whisk the lemon, olive oil and cheese reserving 2 tsp of the grated cheese and mix with the warm pasta and add the basil. Sprinkle some grated Parmesan on top

Variety from the Kitchens of Coastal Andhra

I firmly believe that variety is the spice of life. Even the best of recipes can become a monotonous affair. This theory was put to test by my father when I was quite young and would always want chocolates. He fed me chocolates for an entire day for all the meals and then immediately I started eating normal food again.

So bhendi , the ladyfinger which we might fry or use in a curry can be cooked in a greater number of ways than most of us can imagine. This time I got a bit creative. My in-laws are from a coastal state mostly famous for it's Nizami cuisine but there lies hidden these simple delicious food items.

They use 2 part sesame seeds, 1 part rice, 1/2 a part of mustard seeds and red chilies as per taste and soak them in rice and later make it into a paste. Then cucumber is chopped and soaked in this paste and it tastes delicious, mild and very unique. They of course temper the dish with mustard seeds, urad dal, chana dal and curry leaves fried in ground nut oil. And as far as I have seen the vegetables are almsot never sauteed but boiled and mixed with the paste , only in the case of cucumber does it require no cooking.

I decided to use the paste for my bhendi. I gave the recipe a twist by not tempering with the usual mustard seeds and urad pulse and chana pusle and curry leaves.

Instead my twist requires:

Bhendis cut in broad pieces
Cumin seeds
Cumin powder

For the paste :
2 tbsp of sesame seeds
1 tbsp of rice
1/2 tbsp of mustard seeds
2 whole red chili

So one starts off by first soaking the ingredients for the paste in water and letting it rest for 4 hours to 5 hours. One basically grinds it to a smooth paste.

One chops the bhendi and sautes it lightly with cumin seeds and cover sit to make sure it gets cooked well but retains its crispness but is not fried. Once cooked well set it aside.

Then one adds the paste and water as per one's decision and brings it to a boil and adds the vegetable and simmers it to a thick gravy. The gravy thickens very quickly and so one must keep an eye on it. It tastes delicious with steaming rice.

I shall share a small trick which not only ensures that you get the little traces of curry left behind in a  wok but helps clean the woks easily. Once done add very little water to the wok in which the dish is prepared and put the flame on high and stir continuously to get all the traces of the curry and add a slit chili and then when the wok looks clean drop the green chilies in the container in which the prepared item is kept. 

Fiery Poached fish

Puddings and pies and all things nice are the best things in life but soon enough you realize you have ballooned to an obscene weight and then suddenly you realize you would like to be eat good things with a happy mind and a happy heart.

So this girl started walking 4.6km every morning, started following a strict diet of no chocolates or harmful food for the weight but then again with all that exercise one does need to get some nutrition and fruits and salads alone cannot provide it because even if they do produce nutrition for someone who is a slave to her taste buds one needs to make everything tasty and lets face it with a nation headed towards 50% obesity we must take care of our health.

Here is an easy peasy recipe for lunch or dinner. the secret is in the sauce :)

One starts off with the fish. One has to make slits on each side of the fish to make sure that the marination penetrates the fish rendering a wonderful result.

Marinating the fish is extremely important and so here is where the sauce/marination comes along.
Long ago I had learnt that our Tibetan sisters soak red chili in vinegar along with garlic and ginger and makes it into a paste to make this hot sauce. some even add tomatoes. I make this sauce which is my kitchen staple.

To make marination:
Garlic (the number of cloves would vary greatly as per taste like I always stress on it we all have different taste buds so I used about 5 medium sized  garlic cloves , medium as compared to when is generally available here in Calcutta's fresh market )
Dried Red chilies (number varies as per how hot you can handle) I used 3 dried chilies :)
1 tsp Red wine vinegar
Black pepper as per taste
Very little olive oil I suggest 1 tsp
Salt as per taste

Soak the garlic , black pepper , salt and red chilies in red wine vinegar. Set this rest for at least 4 hours to 5 hours and then blend away adding a bit of oil to render it creamy. That one ingredient which gives it a nice twist is some cumin powder rubbed on the fish.

So the fish soaks up all the goodness for 1 hour to 2 hours

Meanwhile toss up your salad:

The ingredients are simple enough :
1 tiny sized cucumber
1 small sized boiled potato
1 Onions
1 tomato

The dressing is something I threw in:

Homemade mustard sauce 2  tsp
Honey 2 tsp
5 jalapeno chopped  pieces (had to use the ones from the jar) or 1 whole jalapeno
salt and pepper
3 tsp Extra virgin olive oil if you like it smooth or 2 tsp if you like the sharp taste of mustard :)

Blend everything away in a blender. The mustard gives it a sharp bite while honey mellows down the hotness of the fish.

Back to the fish:

Brush a flat pan with olive oil and place the fish and cover and cook for 1 minute and turn over and cook for another minute. use very little water just so that you get all the marination and use it on the fish else it would get stuck and let it get poached for 7 minutes on each side.

In the end you have a low calorie, healthy nutritious lunch and regular healthy lunches gives you the advantage of indulging sensibly once in a while in utterly butterly delicious goodies.

Victorian Sponge Cake

Tribute to Queen Victoria ,

 the humblest yet one of the best Cakes

Before you read this post I have to say that my Victorian Cake has remained the same over the years but what has changed is the quality of the photographs 

 The Classic Cake 

I have observed that in recent times there is a craze for artistically crafted cakes. So the rage is to be a Michelangelo in baking but I personally still fail to understand the charm of fondant coated cakes over so many delicious pastries. We all have our personal likes and dislikes. I believe this diversity ultimately unites us but for me the allure of  traditional baked goodies would always  win over artistic cakes which really need artistic hands but the taste , well is too sugary, for what is fondant or other cake decorative items but unhealthy masses of sugar, almonds and other ingredients.

I have gone back to the basics. This cake is said to be famous from Queen Victoria's times. Legend has it that the Queen herself would enjoy this delicious cake with rich whipped cream and tea every afternoon.          

 Rich, buttery and delicious , it is a perfect tea-time accompaniment. The smell is intoxicating and the ingredients are so basic that it is probably the first cake that an amateur should take a shot at. A very old baker once told me that a baker's quality can be best tested with the kind of Victorian sponge cake also known as pound cake one makes. Simple yet not to be unjustly not given due respect. The only thing to be kept in mind is that all the ingredients should be of an equal amount. You can make a loaf or the classic round cake.

I have seen that the quality of ingredients is the key to any good dish. It does not matter if one does not have access to some exotic ingredient but freshness and good quality are the only secrets which maketh or breaketh a dish. I have found that in Calcutta the unsalted butter from J.Johnson's is fresh and creamy and renders the best of cakes.

Serves 4 to 5

Pan size to be used - 6 inch to 7 inch pan

The basic ingredients are:

125 gm unsalted butter + 1.5 tsp for buttering the cake pan
125 gm all purpose flour + a 1 tbsp for using on the cake mould. (If you are using a cup which holds 250ml liquid then use 1 cup of the flour minus 1 tsp since a cup which holds 250ml liquid holds 128gm of flour)
125 gm castor sugar
Baking powder (Now for this please do read the package to know how much to use) I personally require half a tsp
2 large eggs

For the filling and topping for round cakes

250ml double cream (I would always recommend the dairy cream )
170gm strawberry
100gm castor sugar
1/4th of juice from a lemon

Start with the strawberry compote.

First mix the sugar and 120 gm (leaving 6 strawberries for decoration) strawberry together and let it sit for about 1 hour and then use the juice of lemon and bring to a boil and then simmer till ti reaches a soft sticky consistency. Whip you cream and keep it ready in the refrigerator.

The first thing to do is to butter the baking mould  ( 6 inch to 7 inch)  and dust it with flour. Timing is everything for baking. You should have your cake pan ready.

One should begin by sieving the all purpose flour and baking powder together. While one mixes the cake batter one should pre-heat the oven to 180 C. From my experience in the area of baking, the best cakes are the ones baked over a long period on medium heat. Too much heat would make the outer parts crispy and the inner parts uncooked.

Once you have started the process of preheating you need to be a bit quick because a  batter which sits out  for too long is a ruined batter. The Victorian sponge cake is one of my favourite cakes and so I have not only made it numerous times but have learnt to improve upon it overtime and only recently did I learn that using a wooden spatula yields the best result. So use the wooden spatula to soften the butter and then cream the butter by using the spatula against the wall of the bowl till its fluffy and add the sugar bit by bit to fluff it up to a point where all the sugar has melted and you are left with something which tastes light as air. Then add the eggs one by one and it is now that you should use your whisk to fluff up the batter and then reject the whisk again when you add the flour and switch to the wooden spoon and finally fold the flour and baking powder sifted from before by sifting it a second time . Your batter should be light and have a dropping consistency. (Remember that extra baking powder would invariably result in a cracked top and zinc like taste so be very careful about it)

 Seasoned bakers say that  the batter should never be over mixed.

Then all one needs to do is to pour the batter in the baking pan and bake it for  40 minutes to 50 minutes  in case one is using a convection oven or 30 minutes to 35 minutes for regular ovens. Do not open the door at any cost during this period. For a fool proof recipe (wrap a tea towel around the cake pan because when you use an aluminium pan the sides tend to heat up faster and as a result your sides often get overcooked, besides this might also lead to cracked tops so a tea towel ensures slow even baking)

Now patience is the key to success. So once done do insert a toothpick to check if its done. If the toothpick comes out clean your cake is ready but first it needs to sit in the pan once you take it out from the oven for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges and then flip it over a rack and flip that back and let it cool for another half an hour before slicing it in half for the whipped cream and strawberry compote to be applied. Apply a thick layer of whipped cream and strawberry compote and then place the other half of the cake on top and then apply a generous amount of whipped cream on top and decorate with strawberries. Enjoy this classic cake with a cup of steaming hot tea

Here are a few tips which might help in achieving that light firm yet airy Cake.

  1. Never over mix the batter 
  2. Creaming the butter and sugar to a fluffy airy consistency is a must 
  3. Once you start making your batter be as quick as possible 
  4. Once you have transferred the batter in the cake pan, wet your hands and gently press the batter. This helps in achieving an even top. 
  5. B every careful about the amount of baking powder since even a tiny pinch of  extra baking powder would lead to a cracked top. 
  6. If you double the recipe use 2 , 8 inch pans 

Ghee Bhat

The love affair with Clarified Butter 

Bengal is a food lover's delight. Once a huge state , it is currently quite a small one but its cuisine is diverse indeed. Go up north and you have the delightful taste of  the famous dumplings from the hills. East Bengal once a part of Bengal has a special style of cooking and from what I have heard or researched it is strictyl a fish based cuisine with many of the vegetarian dishes being cooked with fish parts adding to their deliciousness.

Now when you feel lazy and you have an old friend coming over, one who is never on a diet , it is quite easy to cook and have all the time on your hands for lots of chatting and that is what I exactly did. I decided on the good old 'Ghee Bhat' (rice cooked in clarified butter' Now a virtual glance cannot do justice to the aroma and taste of this delicate dish. It looks like pulao but what makes it special for your taste buds is the amount of clarified butter which is not only the taste bud's delight but the sense of smell as well. Perhaps it has only one enemy and that is the increased waistline after its consumption. Well throw caution to the wind once in a while and simply indulge in this sweet and mild flavoured delicacy.

Serves 5

2.5 cups basmati rice
1.5 cup ghee
Green Cardamom
3 to 4 cloves
1 large sized Bay leaf
Handful of sugar
handful of raisins
Handful of cashew nuts

Soak the rice for 15 minutes to 30 minutes.  What one needs to do is to drain the rice and take a bit of clarified butter and gently mix it with the rice. Now this is a trick which always helps in keeping each strand of rice separate. The water must be preserved for cooking. Heat the clarified butter and add bay leaf , cinnamon stick, green cardamom and cloves, add the rice and gently stir. Basmati being the delicate queen of rice easily breaks. Add cashew nuts and raisins. Add 5 cups of water and include the reserved water within these 5 cups. Bring everything to a  boil and add salt and sugar and then simmer covered but with a little gap left for about 12 minutes to 15 minutes depending on the quality of rice. Once done keep the lid on and let it remain that way for about  7 minutes to 10 minutes. Immediately transfer the rice to a colander else it will take the shape of the container you put it in and the rice wouldn't delicately remain separated from each other.  Enjoy it with the 'fish kalia' a rich gravy made with curd or 'chanar dlana' (Home-made paneer in a gravy from the kitchens of Bengal)

Fish in a gravy (Bhetki macher Kalia)

Serves 4 to 5

5 pieces of the fish Bhetki or any other fish which doesn't have bones
salt and turmeric
Mustard oil
Ginger garlic paste
Onion and green chili paste
Tomato puree
Bay leaf
Green Cardamom
1/3rd cup churned curd
less than a handful fo cashewnuts made into a smooth paste with milk
Clarified butter
Pinch of garam masala

Wash the fish and rub it with salt and turmeric and let it rest for about an hour. Fry the fish lightly in mustard oil making sure it is not browned or is even red because we want the fish to soak up all the goodness of the rich gravy. Set aside the fried pieces of fish in a bowl.

Decant the leftover oil from the fish and add 1 tsp to 2 tsp clarified butter and add the ginger garlic paste and fry it till it becomes golden and add the onion and chili paste and mix it well till it is cooked thoroughly and add the bay leaf and other spices. it is recommended that one gives the spices a mild pounding before adding them and then ad the tomato puree and stir continuously till it is well cooked and add salty and turmeric. Add the churned curd and mix well and enough water to make the desirable amount of gravy and keep stirring continuously while bringing this to a boil so that the curd doesn't separate. Simmer this and slowly add the cashew paste and once again bring everything to a boil while stirring continuously and add the fried pieces of fish. Let everything boil for half a minute and simmer and cover and let it cook for about 12 minutes to 15 minutes. Check from time to time to make sure the gravy isn't drying out and add extra water if necessary. When it is almost done add clarified butter and garam masala and let it simmer for another minute or so and serve it with rice or pulao.

P.S. Even though the taste is best enjoyed along with plain white rice, it is a nice accompaniment with the 'Ghee-Bhat' (rice cooked in clarified butter) or other pulaos.

This recipe is a part of the E-book Best kept Secrets an initiative to preserve heritage family recipes from across India by Parzen Patel of Bawi Bride

Monday, October 21, 2013

Savoury Oats

Savoury Oats 

While an idea of the ideal breakfast conjures images of eggs fried sunny side up with soft white bread which is buttered , grilled tomatoes , baked potato cakes ,  sausages and two rashers  or small golden brown kachoris with a potato curry made with hing , all these food items would contribute in the tyres around one's waist fit for a truck and so the healthy breakfast. Now most people would probably think of something tasteless non-filling when they think of healthy breakfasts or the same old boring muesli or wholewheat cornflakes.

Now here is the thing about oats , even though it is one of the healthiest food items, good for the heart, filling yet doesn't make one pile on the kilos, but eaten regularly with milk topped with fruit and nuts it can be a nightmare , at least for people who pay special tribute to their taste buds. Besides I find many a people preferring something salted for breakfast hence the idea of a salted oatmeal. There is something about the perfect yellow of a boiled egg which makes my mornings seem special and makes me happy.

The ingredients are simple (serves 2)

Oatmeal 1 cup
Vegetable stock or chicken stock 3 cups
Garlic cloves
1.5 Onion
Red wine vinegar/ Balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
chili flakes
Steamed vegetables chopped julienne style (optional)

So one takes 1 tsp oil and fries the finely chopped garlic. I learnt a trick of adding the garlic to cold oil and letting it get cooked along with the rising temperature which prevents browning and burning of the garlic. When the aroma fills the kitchen, one puts in the thinly sliced onions and lets it become golden and adds the vegetables, adds the oats and slowly adds the stock stirring the pan constantly making sure the oats get cooked and do not stick together and then add enough stock and bring everything to a boil and then simmer for 5 minutes making sure to add a bit of stock if it becomes too dry so that the final consistency is of a creamy one. If serving to someone who is all green add pre boiled soya chunks otherwise the boiled egg would be the best accompaniment. This is a low calorie , highly nutritious breakfast. With a fruit for pre-lunch snacking one is set for the day as a healthy person.

P.S. I recently I ran out of chicken stock but had a good amount of whey left-over after making homemade cottage cheese and boy did it make a creamy affair for breakfast . Just use 2 onions instead of one and the usual garlic, freshly crushed pepper and ah I did use balsamic vinegar for its awesome taste .Ah yes did add a bit of dried dill leaves, if used fresh then more power to you :)

Sunday, October 20, 2013



It is interesting how one food enthusiast has mentioned that even with the best of ingredients one can produce mediocre food if one's heart is not in what one is doing. It got me thinking about the years I have been in the kitchen and I suddenly realized I am passionate about cooking. Now I am no expert and if by any means some items do come out well it is mostly due to the blessings of many a food enthusiast.  I realized how, one person I know who has not made any mistakes in her kitchen has taught me the secret tricks of the world inside a kitchen.

Now, Malpua is a dish which is made in many a households across India, while some churn out soft, fluffy deliciously syrups ones some have something missing.

This got me thinking that had that one person not taught me the few secrets mine would have always been not upto the mark. So this I dedicate to my M. It is not my mother.

The trick is to reduce the milk till its thick and creamy and to get the creamiest of reduced milk the trick is to add a spoonful of clarified butter or plain butter and stir the pot from time to time.

The only way to get a grip of cooking is patience. Nothing which is delicious can be made quickly without love for the dish. This is mostly a common recipe across Bengal except that I use saffron for the flavouring and leave out any spice in the batter except a bit of green cardamom.

Makes 12 Malpuas :

So the ingredients are simple

1 litre of full cream milk reduced to 600ml
1 tablespoon of clarified butter / butter
1 cup of sifted all purpose flour
a little less than a cup of semolina/sooji
2 green cardamom finely ground minus the skin
2 tablespoonful of sugar (ground)
Chopped pistachios
Refined oil for frying

For the syrup
water to sugar ratio is 1:1
A few strands of saffron
In case one doesn't have saffron green cardamom along with a pinch of nutmeg makes a wonderful flavouring.

One needs to mix the flour and semolina  bit by bit to make a batter with the milk and sugar and let it rest for at least 5 hours or more.

When frying the Malpua if one adds a bit of ghee/clarified butter to the oil it gives out a delicious aroma.
Take it off the heat and immediately put it in the single thread syrup and soak it for 5 to 7 minutes. Sprinkle the pistachios on top.

For the syrup one mixes the water and sugar and adds the flavourings and brings it to a boil and then simmers it for about 5 minutes to 10 minutes. The syrup should never be too thick for Malpuas else it wouldn't penetrate the malpua deep within to render it delicious and syrupy.

The most important point to remember is that the heat must be adjusted from medium to high to low. High heat throughout frying would burn the Malpua and leave dark patches or a dark edge but at the same time you cannot keep the heat to a low throughout the process because if the heat is too less the Mapluas will not fluff up properly.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Kumror Chakka (Pumpkin Curry from Bengal)

Kumror Chakka

 (Pumpkin Curry from Bengal)

I am blessed to be born in a country with as many varieties of cuisines as India. Go North and you have the robust creamy taste, go South and there is a tangy ,light taste , the northeast holds forth a variety of delicious dishes but very few cuisines offer as many items on a daily basis as Bengal does.

Having married someone from outside Bengal and having eaten numerous times at kitchens of other states I know one thing for certainty and that is we Bengalis love a six course meal on a daily basis. So we always start with something bitter, go on to green leafy vegetables, move on to pulse and something fried to accompany it , then comes the vegetable curry and  on some days it actually goes on to be multiple  vegetables curries, then comes your fish and lastly the curd. (P.S. These days we do not have the sweet curd that most people relate Bengal with. These days we are health conscious and have delicious homemade unsweetened yogurt )

Nevertheless, coming to today's recipe I had to visit the market. We have municipal markets in most localities of Calcutta which is neatly organized with a section for vegetables, a section for fish , a section for red meat, a section for chicken, a section for dairy products, a section for baked items and packaged items etc. I had this particular hankering for 'Kumror Chakka' ( A delicious preparation of Potatoes, Pumpkins with boiled black gram {chana - Hindi word, chola - Bengali word} )

We Bengalis have this love affair with potatoes and in case you are from the Western half of Bengal then sugar added to vegetables is a must.

I have to mention the source of this recipe. Here in the City of Joy  Erstwhile Calcutta lives this graceful lady. Someone who has always whipped up perfect dishes from her kitchen. I have met many a good cooks but never have I met anyone else who will be as perfect to me when it comes to Bengali dishes as my mimi. She is not my mother. My mother  hardly cooks . This lady doles out  the same perfect 'phulko luchis' (A fried bread which must have this paper thin layer on top and most people don't achieve that paper thin top) Her presentation of food lures children into eating fruits , vegetables and even bitter gourds. Anyways she learnt her cooking from her own mother some 40 to 50 years ago and I am blessed enough to have written down her recipes.

This is my darling Mimi's 'Kumro Chakka'

What goes in : We Bengalis call it pronali

500gm Pumpkin chopped in chunks
2 small sized potatoes
Boiled black chickpeas
5 Spice from Bengal (We call it panch phoron) It basically has methi seeds, kalonji, jeera/cumin, mustard and saunf.
Aesetifoda also called hing
1 bay leaf
Ginger cumin green chili paste
1 dried red chili
Ghee also known as Clarified butter
pinch of garam masala or cumin powder
1 tsp tsp 2 tsp sugar
turmeric - So that its colourful :)
Mustard oil. It brings out the best flavours for Bengali cuisine.

So what what one does is boil chana from before and then chop pumpkins in larger chunks than potatoes. Mimi's essential tip is that since potatoes take a long time to get cooked it is best chopped in small sizes so that it cooks faster than the large chunks and it looks good.

Make a paste with ginger, cumin and 1 green chili. Heat mustard oil.  Saute the vegatbles and keep aside. Heat about 1 tsp of mustard oil  in the same wok and add hing aka asafoetida, 'panch phoron' (Bengali five spice) , 1 dried red chili, tej patta and then add the ginger cumin chili paste and fry it but please don't burn it . Add the potatoes and a wee bit of salt and mix it well with the spices. Add water and cover and relax for 2 minutes. The flame must always be on medium. Then add your Pumpkin and mix a bit and bring it all to a boil and add salt , sugar and turmeric and then lower the flames and relax with a puzzle or a book or music or work .

We want this dish to be a bit on the dry side One must cover and cook till the vegetables are cooked inside out and then take the cover off to dry the vegetable.

Once your vegetable dish is dried up but is still moist add ghee and cumin powder or garam masala and take it off the gas stove. Enjoy the subtle flavour of spices and sweetness with hot rice. I have heard of people having this with chapatis but believe me the best accompaniment with this is the fluffy white rice. After all we Bengalis never ask people if they have had their meals , we ask them if they have had rice which denotes the entire meal . Ah my health tip is that one can have salads, chapatis etc on other days and keep 1 or 2 days aside for rice and the tasty accompaniments.

This is how  Bengalis have their meals on any regular day. earlier it was bras utensils which were used but those are weighty and big so we moved on to steel plates because a standard sized dinner plate is never enough for all of this or well because of other reasons.