Sunday, July 19, 2015

Celebrating Iftar at The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata

Celebrating Iftaari at The Lalit Great Eastern Kolkata 

Kolkata was once known as the city of Palaces and if you take a walk down the roads of the older part of the city you would know why it was called so. Most of these palatial buildings are now almost in ruins but when a heritage hotel restores its buildings to welcome you all over again it makes me confident that a part of the old erstwhile Calcutta  now Kolkata will live on.

The Great Eastern Hotel is now called The Lalit Greast Eastern Kolkata and all throughout Ramadan they had a beautiful celebration of this season's festivity every Friday with an array of dishes from different corners of the world to celebrate this festive season .

It was held every Friday throughout the holy month of Ramadan at their elegant restaurant, Alfresco.
Their motto is to spoil you with choice and once you are happily over fed you cannot but leave the restaurant with a smile on your face a satisfied heart and a reason to come back again.

The start to this lovely meal was very traditional. I have always been tempted by the range of fried fritters that are served just as roza is about to be broken and in keeping up with this tradition which I see in Kolkata our starters comprised of a range of assorted fritters from Bengal from poppy seed fritter to the humble potato chop which was very tasty by the way and some egg chop and meatball.

If the beef Moroccan salad tempted me in  one corner the the haleem simmering away on another end of this restaurant to draw my attention.

On Chef's insistence I tried the vegetarian haleem and I must say this was a revelation. As a puritan I have mostly scoffed at vegetarian versions of non veterinarian dishes but this comforting amalgamation of grains and spices was exactly what I needed on a rainy evening. There are very few haleem even the non vegetarian versions which can taste as good as what I had been served. Chef later told us that the haleem was made the Lucknawi style which makes it spicier than its Kolkatan version and I have to say that it was completely and utterly triumphant in its own right.

The fresh aroma of assorted middle eastern bread instantly drew us to the counter.

There were the usual dishes such as Nihari, Mutton Kosha and a host of other  dishes but what caught my attention was the Afghani meatballs and Khichda (the meaty version of Khichdi which is a dish made with assorted pulses , rice and meat) Though the consistency was more like Pulao than the creamy soft khichda I happily settled for it with some afghani meat balls as an accompaniment.

As I took a tour of the entire buffet spread all I could think was 'this spread is humongous'

What I also liked was how the chefs keep the customer's palate in mind when setting a menu. So the assorted European cheese platter is hands down a lovely combination with the Middle eastern breads along with some shorba to make it a fusion affair.

In case you want to enjoy a light bite there is a whole counter of salads to tempt you.

So impressed was I with many of the dishes that I hoped that they would include this in their regular menu but chef told us that if included in their regular fare it would lose its charm and somehow I could not but agree. I genuinely hope they put up this lovely spread for some other festival in the near future so that all of Kolkata might enjoy it.

I can never leave the dining table without something sweet and hence a visit to the dessert counter got me all excited. There was baked cheesecake and Baklava and then there was fig halwa 'anjeer halwa' , Sewain kheer , nutty tart and a host of other desserts which we did not have the guts to even look at so full were we by this time.

The baklava was excellent, rich inside with the pistachios with a thin crisp filo pastry covering it all up. What I liked was that it was less sweet than the traditional baklava. Somehow for me if a dessert is too sweet it becomes less enjoyable after the first bite . Then there is the nut tart with a perfectly crisp tart shell and nutty caramelized filling which I feel was again a revelation since I expected it to be much more sweet than it was.

To be fair the mild disappointment was the cheesecake which seemed a bit too compact after those desserts which took my heart away but then again who am I to complain when I had a fantastic phirni to enjoy.

In case you missed this event do try and drop in The Bakery for a lovely Sunday brunch.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Sewain Kheer

Sewain Kheer 

I believe that memories play a huge role in our lives. The memory of watching movies throughout the weekend with your cousin sister, the memory of that first kiss, the memory of romance and then there is memory of food.

I met Lubna at a culinary event and we both loved the Sewain kheer and that is when we got to talking and I requested for the recipe of Sewain kheer the way her family makes it at home. She was sweet enough to share it and basically the recipe is quite easy which is when I asked her where I might get the best sewain in town. She told me to go to Zakharia street during Ramazan and pick up good sewain.

From that day onward I knew that I had to make that trip to Zakharia street for the Sewain. I can be crazy that way. Anyway Pritha and I headed to the old neighbourhood of Nakhoda Masjid to get haleem, have kebabs and I knew I wanted to buy the sewain.

The man at the counter had 6 different kinds of vermicelli aka sewain and he was patient and kind enough to explain how the white ones need to be roasted at home and the brown ones are already roasted. I noticed the finest of fine  sewain and asked him the difference between that and the other thin variant.

The two variants of vermicelli
(The one on the right hand side is the super fine one and the one on the left hand side is thin but sturdier than the other one) 

He told me that the finest of fine sewain which I am calling 'thread sewain' needs a few seconds of cooking else it turns into 'halwa' a thick sweet dish which is not what you want to do with sewain. I picked up 500gm each of the 'thread sewain' and the normal thin sewain and we headed back home happy and content.

I made some sewain that night itself and as I took my first spoonful a memory took me back to that day when I had first fallen in love with sewain. The truth is I was not really a fan of Sewain kheer which my grandmother would make quite often. So instead they stopped making sewain kheer at home and switched over completely to rice kheer which we call 'payesh' . Anyway one day a friend of mine had got some nut filled dessert for lunch at school and a spoonful got me addicted to it. I made her promise that she would request her mother to make it again and the kind lady sent an entire bowlful of fantastic sewain kheer the next week. I guess its the ultra thin sewain which makes all the difference.

Anyway since the recipe given to me by Lubna and the sewain seller was exactly the same I guess this is the standard recipe for very good sewain.

I cannot call this recipe Sheer Khurma because Khurma means dates and if I do not use dates it does not make it sheer khurma which is why this is called Sewain kheer.

I love cooking with a lot of ingredients but saffron and pistachio happen to be my top favourite ingredients when I am making Indian desserts. I use it very frequently for a lot of dishes hence when I get the opportunity I use other flavouring and so I used 'Kewra water' Panadanas water. I did use a lot of pistachios though.

The timing for cooking vermicelli 'sewain' will largely depend on how thick it is. I had bought 2 variants one very thin yet not as thin as the one which hardly needs cooking. So while buying your vermicelli ask the shopkeeper how much it would take to cook the variant you are purchasing. I am sharing 2 methods.

Method 1 which needs minimum cooking time for the Vermicelli

The Variant of vermicelli which takes 20 seconds to cook on fire 

Makes 4 small servings or 2 large servings

500ml whole milk (full fat milk)
1/2 cup thinnest variant of Vermicelli aka Sewain {cup used holds 250ml liquid}
2.5 tbsp almonds
3.5 tbsp pistachios
2 tbsp raisins
1/2 tsp Kewra water 'Panadanas water'
2 tbsp sugar which you should adjust as per taste
1.5 to 2 tbsp melted pure desi ghee 'clarified butter'
1 green cardamom roasted peeled and pounded

Start by first bringing 1 cup of water to a roaring boil and blanch the nuts. Now reduce the milk with 1/4th tsp ghee {using the ghee helps keep it smooth and the milk does not burn easily} for 10 minutes. Keep stirring from time to time.

Skin the blanched nuts and chop them up. Slice the almonds and chop the pistachio and raisins.
Now take a heavy wok and heat the remaining ghee and add the chopped nuts on low heat and fry till golden and quickly add the milk and sugar and the pounded cardamom and Kewra water and simmer on low heat for another 5 minutes to 8 minutes.

Now here is the tricky part. When using the ultra thin variant of sewain it needs minimum amount of cooking.

So once you add the sewain count till 20 and switch off the gas else the sewain will stick together and become lumpy.

Let it stand for 10 minutes cool it chill it and then serve. Before serving make sure you mix it well. Clarified butter tends to solidify in cold temperature hence you need to stir it well before serving.

You may also have it warm or at room temperature but I find the taste to be better when served chilled.

Method 2 with a slightly thicker variant

The Variant used needs 5 minutes to 8 minutes cooking time 

500ml whole milk
3/4th cup vermicelli
3tbsp pistachios
2.5 tbsp almonds
2 tbsp 'ghee'clarified butter
2 tbsp, sugar
1/2 tsp Kewra water

Blanch and chop the nuts. Now heat the ghee and fry the nuts on low heat and keep aside. Fry the vermicelli and keep aside. Now add milk to the same pot and the nuts with sugar , kewra water and reduce the milk for 8 minutes. Add the vermicelli and cook on low flame for another 6 minutes to 8 minutes till you see the milk changing its colour to a beige shade and bubbling away . Once the colour changes immediately switch off the gas stove.
Cool, chill, serve.

Personally speaking I loved both of them because both were more or less thin but the ultra thin one simply melts in the mouth.


  1. This is a dessert and has calories so I would highly recommend that you do not lessen the amount of ghee. If you want a healthy dessert I suggest having some fresh plums, peaches for this season which I often have.
  2. In case the sewain you are using is slightly thicker you need to cook it for a longer time. I do have that variant so one of these days I shall make Sewain kheer with the thin yet slightly thicker variant and mention how much time that takes. 
  3. I used my favourite nuts. You can always add cashew nuts or repalce one of the nuts with cashew nuts. Please do not add peanuts.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Some new additions to the menu at The Bridge , The Park, Kolkata

Some New additions to the menu 

at The Bridge , The Park, Kolkata 

I love classics whether movies, music, food and while on the way to The Park I told myself that Park Street is indeed a classic road in Kolkata.

Most of my friends and I have a million memories associated with Park Street. If my childhood was spent holding my father's hand and walking into Kwality for one of the best ice-creams available during the early 90s and turn of this century the teenage years meant first dates at Oxford bookstore and Someplace else.

Later when The Street opened its doors when we were in college we were more than happy. It was affordability , chicness and a youthful vibe all mixed in one long space. Much later came the time to head over to Saffron with the first pay-cheque.

Anyway when the lovely and vivacious Supreeta called us over to taste a few  dishes which are being added to The Bridge's menu I could not say no to it. The Bridge is The Park hotel's 24 hour restaurant and the idea is to bring home cooked food on your plate. It may be the homely Rajma chawal or a rustic yet comforting pasta which is probably home cooked somewhere in the land of Parmesan and Olives.

You can be hungry and tired after landing in the city or you might just be walking along Park Street and feel hungry or plan a get-together with friends , whatever the reason might be the Calabrian Spaghetti is not worth missing. The emulsion created with fresh beautiful chicken stock and extra virgin olive oil is subtle yet delightful so much so that even after 2 days the taste is something I am craving at all hours of the day.

The chicken satoosh is a puff pinwheel which is spicy and juicy with flavours of green chili and red onion and bits of chicken to tickle your taste buds and goes perfectly well with a glass of red wine to compliment the robust taste. This is what I could call a lovely start to a meal.

If Indian food is what you crave the Chicken Kosha with flaky lachcha parata is a great choice. The spiciness is well balanced and to tear a bit of flaky paratha and eat that with a bite from the juicy spicy chicken curry is quite comforting and the taste would  remind you of the home cooked kosha chicken.

What is equally comforting is the lehsuni dal. If I were traveling all I would want is some home cooked pulse , chicken curry and rice at the end of a hard day's work and that is exactly what The Bridge is giving you.

Though it was delicious in its own right the molten lava cake served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream has probably been overdone by most good restaurants in town and personally speaking I would much rather go for that exotic and delicious Kiwi Cheesecake. Fluffy cheesy and baked it is just the dessert to indulge in. For a long time I was tired with the offering of desserts in Kolkata with the same old Truffle Chocolate cake and Tiramisu etc etc hence the sight of the Dobostorte makes me 10 folds more happy and I wholeheartedly recommend that you try it.

Other than the mentioned dishes there is a host of thin crust pizzas and a lot more to choose from. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

Sesame Chili Garlic Chicken

Sesame Chili Garlic Chicken 

These last 3 weeks have been absolutely crazy for me. I am overworked and that means on most days of the week I am working almost 10 hours to 12 hours. My workout and diet has gone for a toss , my sleep cycle has literally changed but in between all this the only silver lining is the fact that every 3 to 4 days I try and cook something nice and that energizes me and I get motivated to work again though work has no connection with cooking or with food for that matter.

The thing is even when I have a lot of work I always find time to cook. Sometimes when I cook something special even with a mountain load of work I share the photographs on social media but then it becomes impossible to write about the experience because after all those hours of work or a break in between work all I want to do is watch some episodes from my favourite soaps and relax.

So I am yet to share my experience of making this lovely Pork Roast and handmade pasta and then there are some dishes which I didn't even bother documenting.

Anyway finally there is a 2 to 3 day break between 2 projects and I have very little work to complete today and so I finally managed to visit the market in the morning.

When it comes to food I usually listen to what my heart wants. I have been wanting to make my favourite Oriental stir fry which I make quite often . Its extremely simple easy to make and with a simple trick you get juicy succulent chicken which I learnt from Rasamalysia's website. Basically this recipe is something I tossed up taking reference from Oriental cooking but Rasamalaysia's tip on getting juicy chicken is a foolproof method.

Serves 2 :-

200gm boneless chicken cut up in bite sized pieces

2 tsp chili garlic paste (I usually make mine by soaking  1 head of garlic, 70gm dried red chili in enough rice wine vinegar and salt for 2 hours and then blend it to a paste) This stays in the refrigerator for 6 months since it has no water in it and can be used for a variety of Oriental dishes
2 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1.5 tbsp peanut oil or refined oil
2 tsp Oyster sauce which can be repalced by Hoisin sauce
Salt as per taste (Usually I do not need salt because the sauces have salt in them)
1/2 tsp bi-carbonate of soda
1 tbsp cornflour

For garnishing :-

2 tbsp finely minced spring onion
1 tbsp sesame seeds

So chop the chicken in bite sized pieces and its important that its bite sized and marinate with the bi-carbonate of soda and leave it to marinate for 20 minutes and wash the chicken very well. Now pat the chicken dry and marinate with half of the rest of the ingredients  except the sesame oil and peanut oil and let it marinate for 45 minutes.

Dry roast the sesame seeds on low heat making sure it does not brown and leave aside

Heat the oil and stir fry the chicken on high heat for a minute and add the rest of the ingredients from the marinate and then toss for 2 minutes . You should ideally use a pan with a handle and keep tossing it. This comes with practice because toss it for too long and you get tough chicken, toss it for too little time and the chicken remains under cooked.

Garnish with the toasted sesame seeds and finely minced spring onion and let the chicken rest for 3 minutes and serve it as a snack or with hot sticky rice.

P.S. You can always make a version of your own but swapping the ingredients gives a different flavour if you omit some of the ingredients.