Thursday, December 31, 2009

Just "Beet" it, 2010 ... DAY 7

Considering, how much I enjoy to bake, it's odd that I have never posted a from-the-scratch-sweat-in-your-pants, kind-of-recipe. What better than the last day of the year to rectify the anomaly, though. Ah the beauty of Dec 31st!

So, I thought long and hard. After, browsing through folder after folder, going over countless bookmarked recipes, and generally littering the living room with cookbook-upon-cookbook, I finally had several halogen bulbs light up over my head. Much like a halo, I might add. A chocolate-beet-root cake! What could be better than to pump some betaine to get the good, ol' liver in shape? Besides, I rationalized, this is the time to start things on the right foot. Knowing me, I will be on the other foot, faster than New Year revelers, down Tequila shots (and yell TEQUILLLA ... burrrp ... hick-kee-ick), anyway.

Thusly, (Thanks Alton, only you can make archaic words sound cool), began the frantic search for a beet-root recipe. My criteria was simple: I wanted it to be chocolate-beet-root-so-good-you-forget-to-swoon-yummy; I'd heard realms about beetroot cakes being gooey, moist and orgasmic-good-in the mouth. A must; And, lastly, it had to be simple.

The procastinating czarina that I am, obviously, there was neither recipe, nor file on hand. After, much googling, and ogling I found Nigel Slater, who I had only passingly heard of, before. Why I didn't bother to research someone who writes like this -- "I have always felt that a recipe should be something to inspire, remind and lightly influence rather than a set of instructions to be followed, pedantically, to the letter. Here, I offer a few ideas for the season, the sort of simple everyday stuff I eat at home," -- I will never know! The British have such, a pro-pahhly, charming way with words. And oh, my! The photographs on his website have me in a tizzy! So, sensuous, earthy and b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l!

"There is something quietly civilizing about sharing a meal with other people. The simple act of making someone something to eat, even a bowl of soup or a loaf of bread, has a many-layered meaning. It suggests an act of protection and caring, of generosity and intimacy. It is in itself a sign of respect."


This is how the man describes spring and its flavors, "Clean, bright flavours - rhubarb, lemons, light, young goat's cheeses - are what appeal to me at this time of year. There is something uplifting about those first few meals out of doors, the first wild salmon at the market, the froth of white blossom against a clear blue sky. My cooking becomes lighter, fresher, sharper as soon as the sun starts shining."

Have dropped unconscious on the floor.

How, how, how? How does someone write so, so, so ... have no words.

So light. So fresh. So clean.

Ok. I realize you are probably waiting for me to snap out of it. Before, the husband comes with his smelly socks to do the needful, I think I ought to do so myself.

Sigh! So, long Nigel Slater. Even his name sounds sexy.

Needless, to say I jumped (no pun intended. Really. Giving wicked grin) on his chocolate-beetroot recipe, much like Scrat on nut. I know Scrat comes up a lot on Eats, but I just love that pre-historic squirrel. Maybe, it's that look in his eyes that I identify so much with. My sister thinks I look exactly like that when I go shopping (Need I say it? For shoes obviously, just in case you are new around here).

♣ Gone in 60 seconds!

I am too tongue-tied and lost for words, so I am going to let Nigel do the talking:

"The beetroot is subtle here, some might say elusive, but it is a lot cheaper than ground almonds and blends perfectly with chocolate. This is a seductive cake, deeply moist and tempting." (Between mouthfuls), Tefaw mwah abwa it, (tell me about it)!

“... It is true that I am rarely happier than when making chocolate cake."(Me toooo, Nigel, honey!) "I especially like baking those that manage to be cake-like on the outside and almost molten within. Keeping a cake’s heart on the verge of oozing is down partly to timing and partly to the ingredients – ground almonds and very good-quality chocolate will help enormously. But there are other ways to moisten a cake, such as introducing grated carrots or, in this case, crushed beetroot ...

"... The serving suggestion of crème fraîche is not just a nod to the soured cream so close to beetroot’s Eastern European heart, it is an important part of the cake."

mmmmm ... hmm ... hmmm!!!! That's all I gotta say.

Nigel's moist chocolate-beetroot cake

I am re-writing, and re-arranging some of the steps, as originally given, simply because AM found some of the instructions, confusing. (Rolling eyes.) Oh bother! Original recipe here. 

You need:

250g beetroot (I took about 2 medium-sized ones)
200g fine, dark chocolate (70 percent cocoa solids)
4 tbsp hot espresso
200g butter (happened to chance upon Grade AA butter, would have never thought butter has grades!)
135g plain flour
A heaped tsp baking powder
3 tbsp good-quality cocoa powder
5 eggs
190g golden caster sugar (I used Turbinado raw sugar)
creme fraiche and poppy seeds, to serve


"Lightly butter a 20cm (8-inch) loose-bottomed (spring-form) cake tin, and line the base with a disc of baking parchment. Set the oven to 180C/gas mark 4 (350F).

"Cook the beetroot, whole and un-peeled, in boiling unsalted water." (I had no patience to wait around for half-an-hour, so I pressure-cooked them for three whistles, instead). "Depending on their size, they will be knifepoint tender within 30-40 minutes. Young ones may take slightly less. Drain them, let them cool under running water, then peel them, slice out their stem and root, and blitz to a rough puree."

Now he gets a bit muddle-some. Or so says AM. So, let's re-arrange and re-word.

"Sift together the flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Separate the eggs; put the whites in a mixing bowl. Stir the yolks together."

"Cut the butter into small pieces -- the smaller the better," and set aside.

Nigel, asks to whisk the egg-whites later, but I found that hard in between other multi-tasking. So, "whisk the egg-whites until stiff, then fold in the sugar," and set aside.

"Snap the chocolate into pieces," and melt it, "in a small bowl, resting over a pot of simmering water. Don't stir. When the chocolate looks almost melted, pour the hot espresso over it, and stir once."

"Add the butter pieces to melted chocolate," pressing it down, "under the surface of the chocolate with a spoon, and leave to soften."

Once the butter has softened, "quickly but gently, remove the chocolate bowl from the heat, stirring until the butter has melted into the chocolate. Leave for a few minutes, then stir in the egg-yolks; mix firmly so the eggs blend into the mixture."

"Fold in the beetroot. Firmly, but tenderly, fold the whisked," egg-whites-sugar, "into the chocolate mixture. A large metal spoon is what you want; work in deep, figure-of-eight movements, but take care not to over-mix."

"Fold in the flour and cocoa."

"Transfer to the prepared cake tin," place in the oven, "and turn the "heat down immediately to 160C/gas mark 3/320F. Bake for 40 minutes." (It took me exactly that much time to bake), but ovens tend to vary. So, set the timer for 35 minutes, and check on the cake thereon.

Once done, "the rim of the cake will feel spongy, the inner part should still wobble a little, when gently shaken."

"Leave to cool (it will sink a tad in the centre), loosening it around with a palette knife after half-an-hour, or so. It is not a good idea to remove the cake from its tin, until it's completely cold." I kept it to cool overnight.

"Serve in thick slices, with creme fraiche and poppy seeds."

To reach nirvana, creme fraiche is a MUST on this cake. Talk later. Eat now.

Hapwwy Nwee Wuer (Happy New Year)!!! This is going as my final entry to Nupur's marathon at One Hot Stove.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mr. Prawn's salmon-pink mustachios ... DAY 6

Now that it's the dead of winter, I can't help but reminisce of the summers spent in India. They brought with them long visits to my maternal grandparents home, evenings spent with my aunt's, eating roasted peanuts from our favorite Bhaiya down-the-street; cricket with my uncles in the hallway between the balcony and living room; afternoons spent with my grandfather and his tales of King Cobras and tigers in the jungles of Matheran; and bushels of silvery Pomfret, fresh crab, delicate creek fish and my absolute favorite – the mustachioed, salmon-pink Mr. Prawn.

Baba Ajo, as I called my grandfather, hand-picked him from the fish market, every weekend. It was a custom at my grandparents – Ajo would wake up earlier than usual, dress up in a crisply ironed, cream-colored shirt, paired with his favorite tan-colored pants, and set off with his cloth bag, apropos the very color of fish curry.

As for me, I would wait.

By their fourth-floor window ledge overlooking the street, biding my time. As soon, as I saw my grandfather's familiar salt-and-pepper head emerge around the curve, I would run and open the main door. No sooner would he walk up the stairs, the tangerine bag would be whisked, and I would soon be chased around the house by my grandmother, Nanima, a very pale prawn hung on, meanwhile, by his whiskers in my hand.

We followed this tradition absolutely unfailingly. Every single summer holiday.

Finally, my grandmother would pretend to give up and I would be tricked into handing him over. Usually, Ajo got the delicately flavored Pomfret, pre-cut by the fish-monger into medium steaks. At other times there would be the meaty king fish, some cartilaginous Bombay-duck and the hearty Bangda, or Mackerel for company. Nanima, would then systematically divide the fish steaks for shallow frying, and steaming. The less-interesting bits, like the head and tail, would be reserved for curry or saar. She would then call her daughter's for shelling Mr. Prawn.

That was my least favorite part. To see him being skinned off his clothes, armor and whiskers.

He looked so much happier and handsom-er hanging by his thin, long bristles.

Amidst, gossiping women sitting on the kitchen floor, and chuckles of laughter, he would be disrobed, his tracts cleaned of lurking dark veins, then massaged in grainy salt, summery and fiery spices, a touch of green cilantro paste, coated with fine rice flour, and fried crisp to a beautiful titian with the rest of the sea-fish.

Soon after, we would all sit down to a very elaborate Sunday meal. I would always sit between Baba Ajo and my father, the others crammed around the corners of the modular table. My grandfather would cut the fried fish into little pieces, the bombay duck especially, with its tiny bones; while Dad would scoop them in between morsels of chappatis and feed me. Those lunches, were seriously sublime, and over before one could say holy mackerel! Then, I would curl-up on the skinny couch, or one of the armchairs in the living room. And, day-dream of my next sojourn with the salmon-pink mustachioed Mr. Prawn.

A little bit of this, a tad of that!

After getting married, I realized my in-laws preparation of sea-food was slightly different from how we made it at home. Here, the flavors were heavily influenced by Malwani food, and made use of coriander seeds, and coconut milk, which we did not. So, when I started preparing curries and fried fish at home in the US, it took me awhile to tweak and figure out the best of both worlds.

The following recipe for prawn curry is just that.

I am sending it over, on Day 6, to Nupur's wonderful marathon at One Hot Stove. I am already feeling sad, that it will be over soon. On the other hand, I am truly grateful to her for hosting this fabulous event, where I got to meet, and interact with so many wonderful fellow foodies -- their hearts, and blog-spots ever so warm, always open, and willing with their insightful posts, out-of-the-box recipes, and delicious home-cooked meals.

Cheers, everyone! To old friends and new, here's wishing we keep bumping into each other oftener than often; sharing a quick recipe, or two, between wassup! and how-do-you-do's. May the coming year bring to you and yours, happiness, and all that you desire

Prawn curry

You need:

1 cup of prawns
1 large tomato, finely chopped
4-5 kokum
1/2 tsp turmeric
4-6 tsp chili powder
2 garlic flakes, bruised and lightly smashed
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp oil
Coconut milk (from one coconut / one can of Thai coconut milk)

For masala:

2-4 tbsp coconut, grated
5-6 garlic flakes
1 tsp coriander seeds
4-5 peppercorn
2-3 coriander sprigs
1/4 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp chili powder


Shell and de-vein the crustaceans, liberally sprinkle a few tablespoons of salt over the prawns, gently toss around to coat well, and set aside in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, blitz together all the ingredients in the masala list, to a fine paste.

Under a thin, steady stream of water, gently wash the prawns. Sprinkle with turmeric, and a teaspoon of chili powder.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy-bottomed pot, once it's nice-and-hot, add in the prawns, and saute just until cooked. Remove, and set aside. Add the remaining oil, and quickly add bruised cloves of garlic, one-two kokum, and stir until garlic turns a pale golden.

Stir in the finely chopped tomato, and stir well until it becomes soft. To this, add the ground paste, remaining chili powder, and saute until it releases oil, and comes together in a ball. Add prawns, and a tiny bit of water, to loosen any stuck bits and spices. Mix in the coconut milk, and enough water to get a curry of pouring consistency. Simmer to a gentle boil, stirring continually. Season with salt, and plunk in four-five kokum. Simmer for about five-seven minutes, taste for salt, and remove from heat. Serve over hot, steamed rice, with a side of fried fish, or prawns, and some raw onion.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

All things fried and beautiful ... Day 5

Growing up, I have several, wonderful, memories of shopping with my paternal grandmother Aayi, at the crowded, and bustling vegetable market in Pune's, Deccan Gymkhana. First, a stop for white butter, which she later made into ghee; near, the butter-store, a narrow gully sold everything from roses, and fresh fenugreek to books, and trinkets; Sweet-smelling-tube-roses, a few rubicund roses, red Gladioli for my mother, Amar-chitra katha, fat tomatoes, and dewy cucumbers in basket later, we then set out to the fruit and vegetable market, across the gully.

Aayi would grab my hand, and walk quickly down a slim stairway, into a dingy, tiled-subway. Littered with newspaper, cellophane bags and hawkers selling cheap toys, balloons and flowers, where I always lingered on. Sometimes to watch the new-fangled, toy-boats whirling around hypnotically in a small tub of water. But, mostly at the woman who sold mogra and aboli gajras; Aayi as always complied to my demands of "just one." From there, it was on to the fruit and vegetable market, the way lit by bare and yellow bulbs, in the evenings. Seasonal fruit stacked high, greens interspersed with onion and potato carts; a special vendor who sold only curry leaves, chillies, ginger, and garlic. And a fruit-seller, who stocked the sweetest of grapes, around April.

Whenever I tagged along, my grandmother always bought plenty of two things -- okra and potatoes. My vegetables, of least resistance. But, what I remember most, is when she and I picked up purply-green colocassia or taro bunches, during the monsoons. These, were then transformed into either a peanut-dotted stew, which always made my nose crinkle all the way up to my forehead. Or each leaf would be slathered with a layer of bright, orange chick-pea paste, stacked one on top of the other, tightly-rolled, sliced into medallions, and steamed and shallow-fried, until they emerged beautiful and crispy-golden-brown. One bite, was all that was needed to get over yucky stews, or poor math scores.

Taro is more or less, widely available in Pune, throughout the year; but there would be times, when it was scarce. This was when my grandmother resorted to making cilantro (kothimbir) fritters or wadis. For this recipe, the cilantro was finely chopped, and mixed around with a generous helping of spices, chick-pea flour, some ginger-garlic-chili paste, chopped onion, and water for good measure, to form a thick batter. Served steamed, as a side to piping varan-bhaat topped with home-made ghee. Or fried to go with tea, Mawa cake, and Marie biscuits. I considered it as having hit the Bellagio jackpot, every which way.

A couple of days ago, while speaking to my mother, I happened to reminisce of our Deccan sojourns. As soon as I hung up, I suddenly had the most intense craving for my grandmother's wadis. Taro fritters were obviously out of question, but I was hopeful of discovering a hidden bunch of cilantro. Unfortunately, there was barely enough for garnishing a dal. As I peeked in, moving tomatoes, ginger, a head of cauliflower out of the way, I sighted upon the bunch of kale I'd bought for some chips. Hmmm ... sputter, sputter, said the brain.

... leafy, leafy. Green and leafy. Potential to shred or chop fine. Nah, I couldn't. Or could I? ... why not? why not? why not? shhhhhhhhh ... shooosh!! voice in head. Always so needy! Ok. Let's see. Far-fetched? No, not really. Besides, not like we are married to it. Done! Voice in head does the moon-walk.

Other than the minuscule amount of cilantro, there wasn't much by way of aromatics in the refrigerator drawer, either. But, I was determined to see this experiment, through:

Kale -- washed and dried. Individual leaves -- stripped of center veins. Stack and roll. stack and roll, a few leaves, at a time. Chop. Chop, (very fine). Sprinkle some salt. A quick rubba-dub-dub, turmeric, chili powder, a sprinkle of Bishop weed or ajwain, a few handfuls of besan (chickpea flour). Water (s-l-o-w-l-y) brings everything together. Pluck, pluck, pluck -- mini-sized-nuggety-balls. On to wax-paper spread over steamer, placed on a pot of boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Or, lets just say until nuggets, no longer sticky. Into hot oil, until golden-y crisp. Wire-rack. Two minute resting period. Bad, bad burn, not worth during marathon week. Taste. Burst of flavors! Smoky taste of ajwain outshines everything else! Makes kale-wadi's seem like fried Amritsari wadi's. Love it. Love it.

Not my Aayi's. But, a wadi to make new memories with. Certainly.

♣ "Bubbly Squeaky"

What squeaks while eating, is bubbly squeaky. Or Kale, dah-lings. So, says three-morsel-eaters, favorite little pig, Toot.

From the illustrious Brassica family, Kale shares its lineage with popular vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, collards, cauliflower and the (not so popular) brussel sprouts. "A descendent of the wild cabbage, thought to have originated in Asia Minor and brought to Europe around 600 B.C. by groups of Celtic wanderers; Curly kale played an important role in early European food-ways," as well. It was considered as "a significant crop during ancient Roman times and eaten by peasants in the Middle Ages. English settlers, are said to have brought kale to the United States in the 17th century."

Kale Wadi's

You need:

1 bunch of kale, leaves washed and very thoroughly dried
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp turmeric
Generous sprinkle of Bishops weed or ajwain
Salt to taste
Besan (enough to bring everything together)
Oil for frying/shallow-frying


Place leaves on top of each other, roll tightly and chop fine. Season with salt and mix around well. Spoon in the turmeric and chili powder, and sprinkle ajwain. Mix well with your hands, and introduce besan, mixing well every time. Now slowly add water, just enough that you can make nuggets out of the mixture.

Place wax paper over a steamer and carefully place the nuggets. Over a boiling pot of water, steam for about 10-15 minutes or until they are no longer sticky. While the nuggets steam, heat oil (if deep-frying). Let the nuggets cool briefly for five minutes.

Then, deep-fry until crisp and golden-brown. Pop in two (or four at a time) with sauce of your choice.

The kale wadis will be seen doing the Rumba at Nupur's marathon. Bring on your dancing shoes, everyone!


Monday, December 28, 2009

On the TexMex trail ... Day 4

In a previous birth I had to be Latino. Or most certainly a Spanish conqueror, who fell in love with avocados, chocolates, and a beautiful chica who made the most, exquisite corn tortillas. Then, I died and was re-born a Chinese farmer. That explains quite a bit about AM's dexterity with egg rolls.

And, that my friend, is probably why I love my fusion food so. Right next to the paneer chilly, and American Chopsuey, is everything TexMex. Much maligned among authentic Texas-Mexican restaurateurs of yore, presumably because it wasn't bona fide enough. "Yet this insult launched many a successful story. For the rest of the world, TexMex reflected the wilder, untamed parts of Texas ... evoking images of cantinas, cowboys and the Wild West." I for one, have always been with everyone else on this. Besides, I am all for the concept of food without borders. And, TexMex to me is just that, a happy cauldron of ingredients. Perhaps, it has something to do with seeing the neighborhood bhaiya, dish out Szechwan dosas with elan. And, loving every bite of Tandoori chicken pizza. Sure, a Manolo is a Manolo, is a Manolo. But, imagine if it came together with the Jimmy Choo in one perfect shoe! Now, that's the kind of world I want for my grand-babies. On second thoughts, if said dream ever materializes ... grand-babies-shan-babies ... I call shotgun!

Needless to say, I am not much of a food purist. Yes, I will not tinker with perfected recipes-passed-down-by-word-of-mouth -- contradiction, thy name is woman -- those are as scared as my Loboutins. But, I have no qualms about sheetal-izing everything else that walks. What does that entail? AM (snidely) suggests, it's probably sprinkling an entire cargo of chili powder and a freight of salt. What-evaa, dah-ling. I will admit, I am quite partial to my spice and (sometimes) a bit too free-handed (note: free NEVER heavy) with salt. But, it's all in the interest of food. Honestly. That said, my idea of leaving my stamp, is all about mixing and matching. Eclect-izing, if you will. Pairing the rustic with the modern, pop-in-the-mouth with something-barely-there, to create food extraordinaire.

In many ways, that's probably why TexMex speaks to me, as much as it does. With its yellow cheese, and flour tortillas; its flavor-laden chimichangas, nachos and tacos; a mixed bag of flavors, begged, borrowed, maybe even stolen -- that's probably how the chica got under my skin, anyway.

♣ iHola!

The following recipe for chicken fajitas, is loosely adapted from Wholesome Meals for Babies and Toddlers. Over my extensive search for the three-morsel-eater, I came upon this wonderful wrap. She obviously didn't take to it, but AM and I did. With the same gusto as three-year olds (for whom it is is intended). So, much so that it has become our go-to dinner when we are craving something TexMex, but don't want to eat out. It's delicious, healthy, and did I mention delicious? The real star though is, Bobby Flay's Guacamole, which I have tweaked just a tiny bit. Spread it on the inside of the tortilla wrap or serve alongside as a dip for tortilla chips. It will not disappoint. The fajitas and guacamole are making an appearance on Day 4 at Nupur's seven-day-seven-recipe marathon.

Chicken Fajitas with Guacamole

You need:

1 tsp cumin powder
1 1/4 tsp chili powder (my addition)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced fine
Juice of 1 lime
6-8 chicken strips
4 soft flour tortillas
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1/2 of a large red onion (I substituted this for the suggested green scallions)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tbsp + 1 or so tsp of vegetable oil


1 large, ripe avocado, halved and pitted, roughly mashed
1 green chili / Jalapeno, roughly chopped
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
3/4 tsp salt (my estimate)
1/2 tsp black pepper (me)
Juice from 3/4th of a lime
Handful of chopped cilantro

Blitz avocado, onion and green chili to a chunky paste. Season with lime juice, salt and pepper, mix well and stir in the cilantro.


Mix cumin, olive oil, garlic, and lime juice in a non-metallic bowl. Season chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then add to the bowl, and coat well to marinade. Cover with plastic wrap, and let marinade in the refrigerator for an hour at least.

Heat a pan on medium heat, adding in the vegetable oil. Place chicken strips, and cook for two-four minutes on each side, until the juices are sealed in. Test to see if chicken is cooked through and through. Remove on to a wire-rack.

Then in the same pan, stir in the onion, season with salt and pepper, and saute until slightly golden, and set aside. Add in the bell pepper, season with salt and pepper, and saute for barely two minutes -- the crunchier the better.

Slice the cooked chicken lengthwise.

Heat a griddle, and warm the tortillas on both sides. Liberally smear guacamole on tortillas, place onions, bell pepper, and sliced chicken. Roll into a wrap, and eat it already!


Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Toast ... DAY 3

While watching an episode of Man Vs. Wild, I couldn't help think what British adventurer, Bear Grylls would do, if he had to feed my toddler. Not that I think any less of his running-through-forest-fires-and-free-grappling-waterfall-ways. But, seriously, cooking for toddlers is right up there with the rest. Especially, if said toddler will have only three morsels, and then insist on feeding you. Thankfully, that is a thing of the past for us, and our three-morsel-eater, now eats more or less everything. Except for almost every vegetable there is. Excluding French Fries, obviously. So, what does that leave us with? All dairy, chicken (fried), rice, lentils, all fruits (other than bananas), flat-breads, and breads (off-late).

The path up has been nothing, but treacherous. Complete with landing on our heads and behinds. There were times when AM and I didn't know whether we should try new recipes. Or, simply give up, and pluck what was remaining of our hair. We tried everything -- mashed potatoes, un-mashed ones, juice of every kind, mac-and-cheese, just cheese. But the little ankle-biter wouldn't have any of it -- she was more than happy with her bowls of oatmeal, every single meal. How she didn't tire of it for one whole year, we will never know.

Then, somewhere in mid-August, the winds finally began to change. And, I think it has a little something to do with Alton Brown's double-fried plantains or Tostones. They looked so beautiful, and golden as Alton made them, that despite all odds, I knew I must make them. At the time, I remember saying to AM, if nothing else, it will make a nice post for the blog. Besides, I certainly never like thinking twice before attempting anything deep-fried and sinful.

Except for peeling the plantain (which took me a good 5-7 minutes), the recipe for Tostones is quite simple. Peel, cut, fry until slightly golden, flatten, soak in salted, warm water and deep-fry again. That's it! The final test of course, was whether three-morsel-eater would take the bait. She eyed me carefully, the wheels turning in that little head, I could tell ...
..."hmm, what's this? something new. Do I HAVE to?" "Like, really?" I imagined her thinking, as she picked the tiniest piece there was. A split-rolling-eyes-second-later. "Alright, if it will get you off my back, already." I can still see it. In slow motion, actually. Her eyes, the little hands turning the Tostone over. Then, ever so slowly IN THE MOUTH!! yaayy. Now, would she take another? Yep. Double yaaayy! And a third! You can imagine how hard it must have been for me not to break into an Egyptian dance at this point. But, now was no time to act Sphinx-y. This was the real test. Would she, or would she not take another bite? Typically, this was the point where she stubbornly refused to go on. But, change was in the air. It was a Christmas miracle in August. My little girl took another, and then another. And looked askingly for more.

This was what it felt like to free-fall down a waterfall. No two ways about it.

♣ Gimme More!

When I made this recipe a few months ago, it was without any dipping sauce. That, really was the least of my worries, back then. While, re-making it today though, I did some quick research online and found this recipe by Saveur magazine. I didn't have any Culantro, but the other ingredients -- garlic, cilantro and extra-virgin olive oil -- really complimented the twice-fried plantains, well. Also, do try to serve the Tostones with some orange juice -- the three are really dynamic together. This is my entry for Day 3 for Nupur's seven-day-seven-recipe-marathon at One Hot Stove.


You need:
1-2 green plantains
Oil for frying
Salt to taste


Choose firm, green plantains for a savory version. In case, you crave for a sweeter version, wait for the plantain to ripen well beyond a few dark spots.

Cut off the ends of the fruit, and give it a deep nick to make way to peel the skin. Now, slice into one-two inch medallions. Alton shallow-fries his plantains in the first stage, but I found deep-frying for a minute or two, worked as well. Heat enough oil (as much as you would for fritters) and gently slide in the medallions. Turn them over for a minute-and-a-half, and remove on to a rack.

At this stage, Alton dropped the medallions into warm, salted water, but I skipped this step. All, it does is to salt the Tostones evenly, and lend some softness.

Gently press down on the plantain medallions to flatten them (you can do this between a couple of plates, a bottle with a rounded bottom, or between your palms, even). Deep-fry them once again, until golden and crisp. Remove on to a rack, sprinkle with salt to taste, and serve hot with garlic-cilantro dipping sauce, and orange juice.


Saturday, December 26, 2009

Something Out of the Ordinary ... DAY 2

Last summer, my husband was hell-bent on inventing a new dish with watermelon and chicken. Expectedly, I was horrified at the idea, and cringed every time I thought how that might taste. I mean, sure, on paper it sounded do-able. And to be fair, far more frightening experiments have been successfully conducted in the name of food -- Pit-viper ice-cream, congealed blood soup, Kangaroo Tail soup, anyone?

When it comes to tasting the unknown, I am, what you would call a veritable chicken. Frankly, I'd rather be chicken, than be put off by food. Sure, I might miss out on wonderful, culinary experiences and such, with this attitude. But, cummon! I can just see myself keeling over with a spoonful of pit-viper. Of course, Andrew Zimmern also mentioned something about it tasting like bile. So, that was that.

That being said, I am not completely averse to experimentation (water-melon and chicken, not withstanding, obviously). For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I accidentally poured hot oil tempered with curry leaves, mustard seeds and asafoetida, into my idly batter. Dismayed, and not wanting to waste it, I decided to make pancakes. And, what do ya know? Not bad. Not bad in the least! The hot oil transformed the batter into crispy deliciousness, and the aromatics didn't seem out of place at all. I was so impressed with it, that I have bookmarked it for a later date. ... ooh, maybe I could make it on one of these days for the marathon. If I can only remember to soak the urad dal and rice, first.

You know, come to think of it, the idly pancakes aren't the only happy accident that I know of. My late, father-in-law, loved introducing the family to unique food, and is at the helm of many a cherished recipe. Amongst his many creations, two are outstanding. The first, involves serving phodnicha bhaath with sunny-side eggs. Phodnicha bhaath, the Maharashtrian version of fried rice, is typically made with left-over rice and is fantastic on a hurried morning, or on those days when there's precious little in the house. When AM told me, about his family's tradition of combining my beloved bhaath with eggs for the first time, I was as usual, skeptical. Besides, sunny-side eggs are not my thing. Unwilling to give in so easily, AM made the eggs well-done, (and knowing how I love my spice), seasoned them with lots of freshly, ground pepper. Now, of course I have happily consented to the match, and the fried-egg and rice will live happily, forever and ever in this house.

The other though, is a bigger favorite. And it just so happens, that it's something I would ordinarily scoff  at -- Vangi and pohe or egg-plant with beaten rice. But, does it work, or does it work! We use the smaller variety of eggplant for this dish; if you can get your hands on the ones that come with prickly thorns on its short, stubby stem, that's even better. It lends a wonderful, smoky taste to the beaten rice, and really brings forth the sharpness of the green chillies.

Perhaps, water-melon and chicken might not be that far-fetched, after-all. (Oh, dear what doors have I opened).

♣ Vangi + Pohe = Deliciousness!

My mother-in-law tells us that my father-in-law came up with vangi-pohe, out of the blue, one Sunday morning. She didn't think anything of it, as she'd tasted an even more unusual, and delicious version -- mutton and pohe -- made by her mother for visiting company. Apparently, this version had some ginger-garlic paste to compliment the mutton, and was greatly appreciated by the guests.

Vangi-pohe is relatively simple, that way. AM's mum doesn't add potatoes, but I cannot imagine my beaten rice without them. During my trip to India, earlier this year, my sister-in-law Vaishali Vaini, gave me a fantastic tip for crisp potatoes. Seeing, how I was searching for some crispy bits, she mentioned I could always deep-fry the potatoes before mixing them in the pohe. And truly, even though it's time-consuming, it lends a wonderful crunchiness; combined with the crisp eggplant, it's really something else.

This is recipe no. 2 for the seven-day-seven-recipe challenge, over at Nupur of One Hot Stove.

Vangi Pohe

You Need:

1 1/2 C poha (beaten rice)
1-2 small eggplant (preferably the thorny variety), one minced, while the other cut-lengthwise
2 potatoes, sliced into thin quarter-rounds
3/4 large, red onion, cut lengthwise (if using Indian onions, use 2-3)
3-4 small, Thai chillies, finely sliced on the bias
A few curry leaves
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste (I use scant 1 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp sugar
2-3 tbsp oil + oil for frying
1-2 lime(s), cut into quarters

For garnishing:

Handful of cilantro, finely chopped
Handful of fresh coconut, grated


Place the beaten rice in a sieve, and briefly run water to moisten it. Fluff with your hands, and set aside to drain. In about five-seven minutes, sprinkle over sugar and half the salt, and mix well.

Then, deep fry the potatoes and mix in with the resting beaten rice. Now, deep-fry the eggplant cut lengthwise and combine with rice and potatoes.

Heat a pan over medium-flame, and add 2-3 tablespoons of oil. Into it, add the minced eggplant, chillies and curry leaves. Stir until the eggplant begins to turn golden, and add in the onions. Saute, until onions are golden and start to crisp around the edges.

Turn the heat to very low, spoon in turmeric, and give it a quick stir or two. Now, add the beaten rice, fried potatoes and eggplant, and combine everything well. Squeeze juice of one lime, mix again and place a tight lid; steam for about five minutes.

Garnish with cilantro, freshly-grated coconut, and serve hot with a lime wedge each.


Friday, December 25, 2009

From the happy place ... DAY 1

Ever since I heard of Nupur's seven-recipe-seven-day-challenge, from my chum Manasi, my mind has been in a maniacal overdrive. Like a spoilt ATM machine that doesn't know what the bejesus to do with all that money. Imagine that! I know exactly what I would do ... Manolos, here I come! No, no ... need PB side-table first. Perhaps not. Cannot do without those fierce, fierce Loboutins, after all. Er ... maybe I spoke too soon. See, how easily I distract. Imagine what a fabulous challenge like this must do to my ADD brain!

To give you an idea. Really, I insist:

"Bake book-marked caramel cake! Nope nope. Feel like the insides need some goood coating of fat, butter and cheese. Pfffft calories! Cheese. Blue cheese, Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Mozzarella. Cheese. Cheese ... Cheese Enchiladas! Damn it! Don't have cheese!! Hmmm ... Ooooh I know! Italian feast of seven fishes in manner of latest Throwdown episode!! A sudden moment of clarity and visions of sweaty, cussy self yelling SHIIT-ake!! (when you have a toddler who bores through new words like caterpillars do apples ... hey, you take inspiration when it comes! Never mind if it's from animated penguins. Thank god she can't read yet).

Deep breath. Calm breath. Happy breath. No time for mushrooms and the like. Warm thoughts. Lit fire. Friends and family. Home. Cozy table of four, six, eight, ten or 20 ... lots of eats, loads of sweets. Soft music, loud banter. Diffused shadows, yellow candlelight. Twinkling white lights on soft, falling snow. Wine and cheese. Ahh ... more like it. Happy place. A recipe from my happy place. That wasn't difficult. Not at all.

One recipe that defines it all ... hmm ... you can see it coming can't you. No, no don't cringe. I won't be spoilt ATM-Y this time. For the time-being at least.

To me, my mother's preparation of rajma-chawal symbolizes all that is warm, golden, and right-in-the-world. Most of our Maharashtrian family give my sister and I quizzical looks, when we are all bated breath over a stew of kidney-beans and rice, rather than modaks, puran-polis and masale-bhaath. They shake their heads from side to side, all the while saying "shya-shya," (kind of the Marathi equivalent of shiit-ake), not comprehending this kind-of worship for something, that first of all, makes most of them flatulent. And second of all, makes them flatulent.

My sister and I are polar opposites, when it comes to most food. At least, that was the case when we were growing up. If she loved her "varan-bhaath" and spinach (sheesh, such kids give others such a bad name), I could eat fish-curry and rice all week, and 365 days of the year. Needless to say, mum got to hear a lot of "you only make what she likes!" But, on days she made rajma, there was absolute bonhomie between the two of us. Even if we'd pulled each others hair, just minutes ago. There was nothing better than kidney-beans and rice to bring us together. And we can sulk, believe me. For days at end. Somehow though, the sight of that silky, deep-red stew -- the kidney-beans, pressure-cooked just right, until some of them lent their inner goodness to the stew -- atop perfectly cooked basmati rice, spelt rainbows, home and everything wonderful.

I think nothing could describe the holidays better!

♣ Not Without My Kidney Bean

My mother got this spectacular rajma recipe from our wonderful Sikh neighbor, Mrs. Walia, while my father was posted in Pathankot. Ever since Mum learnt it, I don't think our family has spent a single week without it.

I have often experimented with it, adding and subtracting ingredients on whim and fancy. But, its hold on me is such that I always meander back to it. Always as home.

Mummy's Rajma

You need:

1 1/4 C rajma or red kidney beans, soaked overnight or pressure-cooked for a good 7-8 whistles (Mum swears by the deep-maroon, Jammu variety, which are smaller and definitely tastier; the canned variety work too, but be fore-warned. It's simply not the same)
1/2 a large red onion, cut into chunks
3 fat garlic cloves
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1- 1 1/2 tomatoes, chopped (vary depending on how much tartness you like)
Tiny pinch of turmeric
2-2 1/2 tsp chilli powder (2 1/2 makes it deliciously spicy. Stick to 1 1/2 - 2 if you prefer a balanced taste)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp garam masala (recipe follows)
2 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Handful of cilantro, chopped

Garam masala:

4-5 black cardamom (badi elaichi)
8-10 cloves
1 - 1 1/2 inches of cinnamon stick
4-5 fenugreek seeds
Dry roast on a low flame until the whole-spices are toasty and just a tiny bit smoky. Grind to a powder and store in an air-tight container.


Dump onion chunks, garlic and ginger into the blender, and grind to a smooth paste. Place the pressure-cooker to warm, while you chop the tomatoes. Then, pour oil and spoon in the onion paste, and sauté on a medium flame. Do so, until you see oil leave sides of the pan, and the paste is dry of moisture.

Stir in a pinch of turmeric, tomatoes and continue sautéing until it's one, nice, beautiful-mush. Now, spoon in the chilli powder, garam masala and half-the-salt (I use about half-a-teaspoon), and mix around well.

Depending on whether you remembered to soak the kidney beans, continue as follows:

For the disciplined and canned (beans) lot who always soak their beans, clear the dishwasher every day, dust their furniture, all the while -- not a hair out of place ...

... drain the soaked kidney beans and mix in with the onion-tomato-spice mush, add remaining salt and about half-to-a-cup of water and pressure cook for 5-6 whistles. Let the cooker lid open on it's own accord (no shoving it under cold water, please ... yep, been there. Done that. Not worth it), Your patience will be rewarded. Smell in the goodness, adjust water if you like your stew thinner, taste for salt, sprinkle a handful of chopped cilantro. Breathe in heaven one last time, before you devour it over steamed Basmati rice, or parathas even.

For you other kindred souls ... soaking be darned, dishwasher be double-darned and hair .. oh well .. damn that too.

... remove the onion-tomato paste, and pour in washed kidney beans in the cooker. Pour in about four to five cups of water and give it 6-7 whistles. After the lid opens, spoon in the paste, mix around, adjust water and check for seasoning. Pressure-cook for another two whistles if the beans have been sitting on the shelf for a year or more. Now, we can join those disciplined (losers) .. er, I honestly meant lot ... to breathe in and taste some well-deserved manna.

Other notable mentions: Here are two other recipes that always drop in like old friends for some gossip and a cup of hot-brewed coffee:

The first is from fellow blogger Anita. Her Kashmiri rajma is absolutely divine. And it tastes diviner with home-made ghee.

The other is a legend of sorts, from the acclaimed Gopium, both his writing and recipes are such an inspiration.