Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Paneer Makhmali

All I need to do is enjoy the rain beating an irregular tattoo on my windowsill, revel in my fever for which I took the day off from work and curl up with a mystery under a reading lamp, but here I am at my computer, under the glare of tubelights, trying to post something. It’s not even as if I badly want to post this or that I’m meeting some deadline I set for myself, but sleeplessness and a regularity with which I now gravitate towards the blogs that’s making me do this. Posting doesn’t feel like a chore, though – it’s quite a mixed-up feeling.

From the confusing to the simple: what I have for you today is a paneer/cottage cheese recipe. It’s taken from Nita Mehta’s book Still More Paneer, and the only change I made was to use mango ginger instead of the regular ginger.
That's mango ginger in the photo.

This gravy is a velvety affair (hence the name Makhmal, from the Persian), given that the ingredients are pressure cooked and ground, the base being coconut milk. It’s something of a shocker, essentially being paneer in tomato chaaru (rasam/soup South Indian style, with a dash of tempering), but it’s not as odd a match as it sounds. On to the recipe, then:

Paneer/cottage cheese – 200 gm, cubed

Pressure cook (2 whistles) with ½ a cup of water:
Tomatoes – 4, chopped roughly
Coconut milk – ½ cup
Mango ginger or ginger – 1-inch piece, chopped
Garlic – 8-10 cloves, skinned, chopped
Green chillies – 2, chopped roughly
Salt – to taste

Cool and puree in the mixer.

For the tempering:
Mustard seed – 1 tsp
Red chillies – 2, broken
Curry leaves – a sprig
Oil – 1 tsp

Transfer the puree back into the pressure cooker, bring to a boil.

Add the paneer and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Check for the consistency of your liking. Switch off the heat.

In a separate pan, heat the oil, pop the mustard, add the red chillies. Remove from fire, add the curry leaves, and add to the pressure cooker.

You can find a somewhat similar recipe here.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cuminy Cruciferae

It’s difficult to concentrate on a post when the TV is on full blast and the viewer claims he cannot but hear it at that volume. It’s even more difficult to ignore your blog when there’s an event going on but you just can’t summon the time or energy to look for a relevant dish or devise a new one.

I’ve slipped into this uncomfortable habit of being chief cheerleader when a new blog event is announced and not entering! So me tells me: Shall I take any dish and say it contains whichever ingredient is being celebrated? Switch the proportions when you write down the recipe, who’ll know? Then me tells me: “It’s dishonest, it’s dishonest” in an inner voice that grows and throbs louder and louder. Sigh! The next best option is to cook whatever you’re cooking that day, add an extra dose of the ingredient called for, eat it, test for taste and make an entry of it! Which is what I’ve done. As you can expect, a dish that was born out of such soul-searching can only be simple and straightforward, so here it is! It’s an as you like it dish as there aren’t too many ingredients and only cumin is allowed to dominate.

One small head of cauliflower, separated into florets
One small head of broccoli, separated into florets
Tomatoes – 2, chopped
Cumin powder – 1-1/2 – 2 tsp
Oil – 2 tsp
Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
Urad dal/hulled, split black gram – ½ tsp
Turmeric: ½ -1 tsp
Salt – to taste

Heat the oil in a pan, swirl to coat base.

Pop mustard, then add the urad dal.

Once the dal browns, add the broccoli and cauliflower and sauté on high flame for a minute or two.

Lower flame, add turmeric, mix, cover and let cook till the florets are softer. You can sprinkle a little water to hasten the process.

Now add the chopped tomato, cumin powder and salt, mix. Cover and cook till the tomato is cooked/skins start separating from the pulp.

Mix, remove from fire.

This is my entry for Sunita’s Think Spice event.

Friday, August 17, 2007

An Express Purpose

When Mallugirl thought aloud about an express cooking event, I cheered her on, and then sat pretty in contemplation (and blissful ignorance of the deadline) as it approached. Then Mallugirl extended it and I had to challenge myself to come up with a quick meal. Some of these I’ve made from scratch, some I’ve used leftovers, the meal in itself was quickly made with not too much energy spent, but if thinking about something could burn calories, this took the cake!

The first is an almost unbearably tangy Capsicum and Tomato Soup. It started life as a capsicum and tomato salad with lime and honey dressing, but sudden summons to a treat for a friend’s promotion saw me leave the house and forget about if for the next two days. This morning when I saw it stagnant in its juices, my conscience and I battled, and my conscience won.

0-5 mins

What you need:

Yellow Capsicum (Pepper), Red Capsicum, Tomato – 1 each
Lime juice – from 2 limes
Honey – 2 tsp
Pepper, cracked – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste
Water – ½ cup

1-2 mins: Chop vegetables roughly, add lime juice, honey and pepper. Add water.

Microwave veggies for three minutes.
(As they are microwaving, you can wash some rice, place it in the pressure cooker with twice the amount of water and cook it. Or, you can stack four leftover chapattis one on top of another, cut them into small pieces and keep aside.)

Add some salt to the microwaved veggies, puree in the mixer.

Garnish with coriander if you like.

5-8 minutes (next 3 minutes): Scrambled eggs

Oil – 1 tsp
Eggs – 2
Green chillies – 2, slit in half
Salt – to taste

Heat oil in a pan, swirl to let it coat the base.

Crack the eggs, let the whites set a little at the bottom. This takes upto a minute on low flame. Season with salt.

Now add the chillies, mix everything and switch off the flame.

8-20 minutes: Palak Dal and Fried Chapattis

Spinach/palak/palakoora – 1 bunch (about 200 gm)
Toor dal/Yellow lentils/Kandipappu – ¾ cup
Tomato – 1
Turmeric – ½-1 tsp
Chilli powder – ½ tsp
Mustard seeds – ½-1 tsp
Cumin seeds – ½ tsp
Dry, broken red chillies – 2
Garlic – 5 cloves, skinned, crushed
Salt – to taste
Curry leaves – 1 sprig

8-9 minutes: Wash the dal in two or three changes of water, soak (with just enough water to cover and then a little more) in the pressure cooker.

9-12 minutes: Wash the spinach in two to three changes of water, chop roughly, add to the dal.

12-12.5 minutes: Chop or squish the tomato with your hands into the pressure cooker.

12.5 – 17 minutes: Set the dal to cook on the stove. As you busy yourself with the tasks below, don't forget to switch it off when it's done.

Note: Now skin some garlic and crush it under your knife, wash the curry leaves and bring out the mustard, cumin and the red chillies.

Chop up an onion if you want to make the fried chapattis.

In a pan, heat a tsp or two of oil, pop mustard, cumin, red chillies and curry leaves. Add the garlic. Fry for a minute and add to the dal.

Fried Chapattis

This is an optional dish and may take slightly longer than the last three minutes of the 20 minutes I aimed for.

What you need:
Onion – 1, chopped
Oil – 2 tsp
Mustard seeds – ½ tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Chilli powder – ½ tsp
Green chillies – 2, chopped
Salt – to taste
Curry leaves – a sprig

Heat the oil in a pan, pop the mustard.

Add the onion, curry leaves and the green chillies, fry a bit.

Now add the chapatti bits, the turmeric, chillies/chilli powder and salt, and mix well.

Put them into your prettiest dishes, sweat over stray curry or soup spilling over internal or external borders, agonise over the symmetry of the arrangement, photograph it till your arms ache and your head hurts, eat up the portions that are likely to get squished by a lid, stash away in the fridge, ruminate on whether this blog addiction is getting out of hand, and then tell yourself not to think too much, it’s all good fun!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Painted Black

One of the most curious things I’ve ever eaten was a simple dessert from Myanmar (Burma) made with purple rice. My friend’s mother, one of the nicest local guardians I’ve ever had in my hostel life, was brought up in Burma. She would have a feast waiting for us as we came back from college Friday evening and for the meals the rest of the weekend. Very often, she would have at least one Burmese dish on the menu. The most frequent was san win makin, pronounced sen way mackay, a sweet made of semolina/sooji/rava, coconut milk and poppy seeds. She would also make khauk-swe, the noodle soup, and on one occasion, it was the purple rice.

It was really purple, served with sweetened coconut milk and quite an experience for someone like me who had not seen anything other than white rice and had never heard of purple rice. For me, who started out knowing nobody in that city, it was a really nice thing to have my friend invite me to her home and have her mother write to mine when I told her that my parents would have to approve of my spending the weekends with them.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Khadi Gramodyog outlet near my office for something specific. As usual, I ran my eye over the other shelves idly and when I saw this pack of ‘Original Burma Black Rice’ I had to pick it up for its exotica value, though what I’d do with it, I had no idea. I could only imagine the taste, and I didn’t dare fall back on the memory of that purple (not black) rice because it would have meant a big disappointment if mine hadn’t lived up to Aunty’s. Amidst guilty thoughts of my never-shrinking pantry, I quickly paid for it and scuttled out of there. Then Sharmi announced rice as the ingredient for Jihva, and thus began the frantic trawling of the Internet for various Burmese recipes. Putting two and two together, I later deduced that this is the Kavanarisi that one comes across in Chettinad cuisine – a legacy of the days many in the Chettiar community (among other Indians) lived in Burma for reasons of business and trade.
This rice is mostly used for sweet dishes (including one made in the same way as the purple rice dessert) but in a recipe I saw, neither salt nor sugar was mentioned, and except for rice and water, all the other ingredients were mentioned as ‘optional’! Well, this was my cue – I’d get to make the rice, it wouldn’t have any sugar in it, the coconut was optional and I had the rest of the stuff at home.
But as the night passed, I couldn’t bring myself to do without the coconut so this morning The Spouse was dispatched to fetch one, by which time I had assembled everything else.

This was the hardest dish to photograph so far – the rice didn’t fluff up (it didn’t look fluffy in others’ photos, if that’s any consolation) but I’m hoping it doesn’t look like a soggy mass either, because it wasn’t – it was chewy, sticky and grainy. If that sounds like it went wrong, it’s not meant to – that’s how it’s meant to be. But it was so bland, it had me running to the snacks box for something spicy – it takes a little getting used to. You can add some jaggery for added taste.

I'm not sure it comes from just one country in the Far East, because there are recipes that are claimed by more than one country. Here’s how you go about it:

Burma black rice: 1 cup, soaked overnight
(It will run colour)
Coconut: Shaved/shredded (I shaved off some with a peeler and put the rest in the fridge)
Sesame seeds: 1 tbsp
Peanuts, crushed: 1 tbsp
Salt: ½ tsp at least
Boiling water: Enough to just cover the rice

Drain the water from the rice, wash once.

In a pressure cooker, pour in two inches of water. Using a trivet, place the black rice in a bowl on top of the trivet.

Pour boiling water enough to just cover the rice.

Cook for 3-4 whistles.

Once the pressure drops naturally, put the rice in a bowl, add salt, the coconut, sesame seeds and peanuts and mix lightly.

Garnish with a few coconut shavings.

Here are a few other black rice recipes from the blogs:
From Sig's Live To Eat
From Mallugirl's Malabar Spice
From Freya & Paul's Writing at the Kitchen Table

And here are links to more recipes:
Xoi Nep Than
How to cook purple and black rice
Black Sticky Rice

And now, to spread the joy among everybody in the blog world and pay it forward, as Cynthia of Tastes Like Home so nicely put it, here’s whom I’m picking for the Rockin’ Girl Blogger awards (in alphabetical order)

Archana from Tried and Tested Recipes
Mallika from Quick Indian Cooking
Mallugirl from Malabar Spices
Sandeepa from Bong Mom’s Cookbook
Santhi from Writing on the Mirror
Paz from The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz
Prema of My Cookbook

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Palette in pastels

A few years ago, I met a chef who comes from a line of chefs that goes back a few centuries. Amidst talk of how his dad had been too unworldly to patent those recipes and techniques which are now attributed to five-star hotels and their research, I do remember mentioning secret recipes - you know, we always read about how proud family cooks and chefs always hold back revealing the crucial element that gives “that special touch” – and was taken aback by the intensity of his reaction.

“Oh c’mon, there’s a lot of s**t spread about secret recipes and ingredients and stuff – I’ve read interviews with chefs who claim they’ve made a marinade with 120 herbs and spices – what flavour will come through if that’s really so? They don’t know what they are talking about, these jackasses – you really shouldn’t have more than two or three spices, only that will allow the taste to register,” he said with an expression that was a mixture of weariness and impatience. I paraphrase (though I put it in quotes for effect) but I certainly remember jackasses, marinade, 120 herbs and spices, and the profanity could have been different. It was amusing to watch a suave, until-then-cool person say something so spontaneous but it was probably something he needed to get off his chest.

Chef will probably approve of the dish I’m presenting today. It has just three spices and salt, just a teaspoon of oil and uses three rather bland vegetables that amicably cooperate to let the flavours shine through. It’s an Oriya dish called Santula, and like Dalma, there are varieties of it. I also discovered the book, Healthy Oriya Cuisine, by Bijoylaxmi Hota and Kabita Pattanaik (Rupa, 2007) soon after I mentioned in my previous post that I’ve never come across a book on Oriya cuisine in India – I usually make a beeline for the cookery section in any bookshop and regretfully moon over all those books (I have most of them and can’t buy the rest either because the ingredients are hard to find here or I already own a book on the cuisine) but this time, I struck gold – this was the last copy on the shelf and I grabbed it and hung on to it for dear life!

This recipe is also a rediscovery of the bottlegourd – occasionally, I bring it home but end up giving it away because the thought of the insipid/watery fate it meets at my hands enervates me before I even try – it really came into its own and held its own against the sturdy potato and the sweet yellow pumpkin.

This is my second submission to RCI - Orissa being hosted by Swapna of Swad.

What you need:
Potatoes – 2, peeled, diced
Bottlegourd/Lauki/Sorakaya – 4-inch piece, peeled, diced
Pumpkin: 4-inch piece, peeled, diced
Garlic – 15 cloves, skinned
Green chillies – 2
Mustard seeds – ¾ tsp
Oil (preferably mustard oil) – 1 tsp
Salt – to taste

Pound the garlic and green chillies fine. (I took the easy way out and whizzed them in the mixer.)

In a pressure cooker, place the veggies and salt. Cover and simmer till the vegetables begin oozing water.

Now pressure cook the vegetables with just a little more water – for one whistle. Let the pressure drop naturally.

In a pan, heat the oil, pop the mustard. Once it begins to crackle, add the ground paste. Fry well.

Now add the vegetables, mix carefully, cook for 3-4 minutes and take them off the fire.

Your dream in pastel is ready!

Note: There was a little bit of water in the pressure-cooked vegetables but I didn’t bother draining it – you can choose to do so.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Going Regional

A good friend’s wedding at Berhampur, Sambhalpuri and Pasapalli weaves, Gopalpur-on-Sea, the priests at Puri, the irritating guide who insisted on explaining only the juicy bits of the Konark sculptures, a cruise on the Chilka lake to see the flying ducks and flamingoes, traditional Oriya meals in Bhubaneswar and Puri and an Oriya colleague’s grievance that Bengal appropriated much of the credit for what was originally Oriya – when RCI-Orissa was announced, I knew I had to participate for all these memories.

It seems to be such a modest State, one that doesn’t thump its chest despite a wealth of treasures. Till I met the two people I mentioned, I didn’t know much about Orissa, except a little bit about its natural resources from Geography text books, Emperor Ashoka and his repentance on realising the gravity of what he had done by waging the Kalinga War, and my mother’s childhood memory of frightening, baton-wielding pandas at the Jagannath temple in Puri. To date, I’ve not seen a single cookbook on Orissa cuisine available in English in India, and even on the Internet, there are just those few recipes circulating in various sources.

Thankfully, though, somebody did write about a restaurant called Dalma in Bhubaneswar and that’s where we went for an Oriya thali. What did we have – we had dalma, which looked nothing like mine, a lovely mustardy fish preparation or two, a raita of fresh curds and banana stem, a santula, which is a mild, vegetable preparation. At a resort near Puri, we had, among other things, a preparation of fried vadis with spring onion and garlic, almost Indo-Chinese in taste (!) and chena poda pitha, that lovely, sweet baked paneer preparation that we saw everywhere we visited in the State!

This is the first of the dalma dishes I am posting – I gather that the vegetables and the lentils can be varied; this version uses yellow lentils, the other uses toor dal!

Here we go, it’s adapted from this">source

Channa dal/chickpea lentils – 1 cup, pressure cooked till soft
Kala channa (black chickpea) – ½ cup, soaked overnight, pressure cooked for just two whistles
Potato – 1, medium, diced
Sweet potato – 3-4 pieces, each an inch long
(Yellow) Pumpkin – 10 pieces, each an inch long
Eggplant – 1-2, diced (I used the round, small, purple variety)
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt – to taste
Garlic – 1-2 pods
Oil – 2 tbsp

Pancha phutana – Cumin (jeera), black mustard, fennel (saunf), fenugreek (methi) and nigella (kala jeera) in the ratio of 4-4-2-2-1

Cumin powder, made from 1 tbsp of roasted cumin
Chilli powder – 1 tsp

In a pressure cooker, cook the cut vegetables, lentils and black chickpea for 5 minutes.

In a pan, heat oil, fry the garlic. Add the pancha phutana, let it pop and add to the vegetable-lentil mixture once the pressure cooker cools down.

Add the cumin and chilli powders, mix. Serve with rice.

RCI - Orissa is hosted by Swapna of Swad.