Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Places to eat in Darjeeling | Keventers at Mall..


We were in Darjeeling for 4 days in the second leg of our recent holiday. First four days were spent in Gangtok and both the places were much loved. We wanted to taste local food and it was not much difficult to find our way through it. The stories of local food will be shared but today I wanted to introduce you all to this lovely old fashioned cafe called Keventers. It is a triangular old building situated at a Y shaped road turn where one road goes to upper road and the other going towards lower. This is how Keventers looked from our Hotel's dining hall glass panes one morning. The green board just behind the clock tower.


And here is how the capitol clock tower looks from the Keventers' roof top seating area.You would remember the roof top restaurant and the clock tower if you have seen the Hindi movie 'Burfi'. The hero climbs atop this clock tower and turns the clock back by 15 minutes so the girl can reconsider his proposal


This city is like a preserved specimen of old times, and I liked it as the old buildings and places are so charming. Just wish that the roads were taken care of.

Look how the stairs that go up the Keventers seating area look like. Much worn out wooden stairs tell a story. I liked that some of the planters were recycled plastic containers.


And here is how the roof top restaurant looks like. Always a few laid back tourists and locals would be seen chatting lazily, enjoying the sun if it is cold and safe in the shade of those beach style umbrellas if the sun is too harsh. The clouds are always company no matter if it is sunny or cloudy. The sky is clear blue unlike the cities we live in. This is the USP of this old world cafe in Darjeeling.


Good tea in old fashioned tea pots and some fried bacon, ham, chorizos and eggs or sandwiches for company..The menu is not very extensive but you would like a few things to order for quick snack or even a meal. And yes you get coffee as well. Cold or hot.


This platter is a treat. These are local spicy ham, sausages and bacon, fried till crisp on the edges and soft and succulent int eh middle. The eggs fry is very liquid and great to dip the hot bacon or ham. I liked them with a mustard sauce dip too.

To the one side of this al fresco cafe is a huge restaurant called Opium seen here across the wall, probably a hotel too, didn't inquire..


The other side is a restaurant that is boat shaped, called boathouse. Makes a nice picture of a boat floating in clouds...


We had a hot chocolate at Keventers the next day as we wanted to taste some of their milk shakes too. They said they were not making milkshakes and hot chocolate is available. It came in an old fashioned mug but quite insipid Cadbury's hot chocolate type drink. You love a hot drink anyways when in foggy hill stations, nothing extraordinary.


On the ground floor they have the sales counter, quite unpretentious and basic but they stock all these cured meats if you want to take them home. Some fish and prawn pickles and meat pickles too I spotted.  There is always a commotion of college students and young crowd here as they sell sandwiches and quick eats on the counter. There is a softy counter too. Arvind is one ice cream lover you see...


Keventers is a nice place to sit and laze in the mall road of Darjeeling, having sandwiches and tea in sun or inside the small hall on the first floor, just adjacent to the kitchen counter if you like. The sandwiches and cured meats are all tasty and enjoyable but don't expect good standards of hygiene there. We Indians have strong immune system so it's not a problem but if you think you have a tendency to pick up stomach infections, better have a look at this before deciding to dine at Keventers.


 Handling the food with naked hands is no big deal for most Indians, but if you live a sterilized life, be careful. Good taste of Indian food on the streets or old cafes can be had only if you have a acclimatized immune system.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

alu dum with chicken keema | keema alu dum..



Winter potatoes are something we relish for the texture and taste they have. The best time to make potato salads and alu paratha is her now. Arvind loves potatoes in all it's forms, it's me who keeps stuffing our plates with all possible kinds of greens. Not that potatoes are bad for us but hey do not let us eat other seasonal bounties of nature. Potatoes should be enjoyed only in winters in my opinion, no I am not forcing you to follow it :-)

The fact is, the new potatoes of winters are the best suited in Alu methi that I normally make like Kela methi, Alu saag and so many other winter subzis like alu sem and alu gobi. A bengali style Alur dom (aloo dum) is a favorite too and goes well with the motorshuttir kachuri (green peas kachori).

I make a keema wala gobi musallam too. It is a much loved recipe in my home.This keema aloo dum is another way to enjoy the wonderful taste and texture of winter potatoes with a spicy meat mince gravy. Very much a winter dinner when accompanied with hot chapatis.

ingredients...
boiled, cooled and peeled baby potatoes 12 (halved)
chicken mince 250 gm
chopped coriander greens 1/2 cup
mustard oil 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp
cumin seeds 1 tsp
salt to taste

to make a rough paste..
roughly chopped onion 1/4 cup
5 cloves of garlic
2 inch piece of ginger chopped


to make a smooth paste..
coriander seeds 1 tbsp
cumin seeds 2 tsp
black pepper corns 1 tsp
black cardamom 1
green cardamom 1
cinnamon stick broken 1 inch piece
cloves 3-4
scissor cut tejpatta 2
dry red chilies 3-4 or to taste
turmeric powder 1tsp

to make another rough paste ...
2 large tomatoes chopped roughly

procedure...

Heat the oil and tip in the cumin seeds and wait till they crackle. Slide in the halved potatoes, sprinkle a little salt, just for the potatoes, and stir fry them on medium heat. The potatoes being used should be boiled and cooled down as mentioned in the ingredients list, as these will be cooked for a long time, along with the mince meat too, and you don't want them to disintegrate. If you use them hot or warm, they would start breaking in this step itself. So be careful about this.

Low flame, added salt and frequent turning will ensure slow frying of the potato halves in a less quantity of oil.

While you stir fry the potatoes, making them golden brown from almost all sides, make the first paste.

Drain the fried potatoes from the oil and keep aside. Add the remaining oil into the same pan and pour the first paste into the hot oil. Add salt to taste and keep stirring till the paste starts getting pinkish. Make the second paste meanwhile and add at this stage. Now is the time to bhuno the mixture on medium flame by scraping the pan and mixing the masala various times. The masala paste gets brown in color, aromatic and shining in appearance when it is ready.

Now is the time to add the chicken mince (or mutton mince if using) and bhuno again. The mince starts getting white and cooked. Let it cook for about 5 minutes, stirring all this while  make the tomato paste alongside and add in the last. Bhuno again for about 45 minutes and add 2 cups of water and the fried potatoes.

Simmer on low flame, covered for about 20 minutes or till the desired consistency is reached.

Add the chopped coriander to finish and serve hot with hot chapatis or naan.

A deep spicy flavor with warmth of mustard oil, perfect winter baby potatoes and some mince is all one needs after a day's work. Coriander greens make it really refreshing.



Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sankatmochan wale besan ke laddoo and some festivity.......




Wishing you all a very happy Diwali, the festival of lights that brings with it a couple of more festivals,  Dhanteras that preludes Diwali and then Bhai dooj and Govardhan pooja to follow. Several sweetmeats are made in Indian homes and there is a round of worshiping several Gods in this season. I am not a religious person but like to soak in the festive mood by cooking something that has been a family tradition. Lighting the diyas and candles, spring cleaning the house and spending time with loved ones as it is a national holiday too. Some memories of childhood are revived and some new are formed. We generally stay away from crackers and pompous gifting traditions associated with this festival, enjoying the home made sweetmeats and homegrown happiness is much more worth.

Besan ka laddoo and Shakkarparey are the two things my MIL used to make on the day of Dhanteras, for the bhog of the evening's pooja. Surprisingly, I normally forget to make these on that day as there is no internal clock in my system to remember festivals and associated pooja rituals. Yes, I remember the foods but then I need to get a clue when to start. So this year too when I was leaving for a friend's place the husband gently reminded to make Besan ke laddoo for the pooja that he would do in the night. Did I tell you he is the one who performs festive rituals quite well, I am the one who just watches the pooja being performed, enjoying the scents and chants.

Talking of the scents and the chants, the Sankatmochan temple at Varanasi is one place if you love the scent of a temple. That ghee laden sweetmeats, a heavy waft of Tulsi leaves and some Ghee lamps burning, you are transported into a different world when you visit this place. The holy water that (Gangajal kept in a pot with Tulsi leaves in it,called Charanamrit) the Pandit offers has a distinct Tulsi taste and aroma that I can feel right now typing these lines. That was the reason I wanted some Tulsi leaves to be kept with these besan ke laddoo so the aroma gets infused in them. You are right, I am talking about he Sankatmochan waale besan ke laddoo. Those ghee laden laddoos with a crackling of crystalline sugar is kept in a palm leaf box along with Tulsi leaves and you get that taste of Tulsi when you have them reaching home.

I learned the trick of making that crackling sugar from my MIL. My mother used to make the besan ke laddoo with simple powdered sugar and that was good but nothing extraordinary. That crystalline sugar that is called Boora in North India can be made at home within 15 minutes or so, depending on the quantity you want. The process is pictured step wise later.

ingredients...
(to make about 20 large laddoo)

Chickpea flour or besan (the coarse variety preferably) 250 gm
sugar 250 gm (the whole quantity will not be used)
ghee 200 gm

procedure...

Heat ghee in a thick base kadhai and pour in the besan. Mix well and start roasting on low flame. The mixture looks crumbly in the beginning and goes on to become flowy. I took many pictures during the roasting process that took about 40 minutes, as the consistency and color of the besan went on changing. The aroma also changes and you would know when the besan is well roasted. See the pictures for more details, starting from the first to last..


After roasting the besan, start with making the syrup for making crystalline sugar. Since the sugar syrup needs to be whisked vigorously in the last lap, you would want your hands be free from roasting the besan at that time. I can handle both the things simultaneously as I have some practice, and I do switch off the besan side of the gas if required, you can do that too.

So for making the crystalline sugar you start with sugar and just enough water to submerge the sugar. The first picture in this collage is taken after a couple of minutes of adding the water so you see more water than it was, the sugar already had started melting. It will be good to know that there is no strict quantity of water added, as it just take a couple of minutes more to get the right consistency if you add a little more water.


The syrup first starts boiling, then frothing and when the frothing increases, and you see some sugar being crystallized on the sides of the pan, just take the pan off the flame and whisk vigorously with the help of a sturdy spatula (a wire whisk doesn't work as the sugar syrup starts resisting movements).

You would notice after the fourth picture the sugar looks crystalline and white, a few steps in between are missing as whisking and clicking pictures is not possible simultaneously. In the missing steps, the sugar syrup looks like honey first and then starts getting opaque, that is the time it will start crystallizing too. Just keep stirring to make smaller crystals otherwise it would result in a huge chunk of white sugar.  There will be some large crystals too, you might like to thrash them using a Pestle or just sieve the sugar so you get uniform sized sugar crystals. The large chunks can be used to sweeten anything you wish (I use them to make the syrup for shakkarparey, recipe next).

The sugar is then mixed with the roasted besan mixture. The two are mixed well to combine well. You can add some chopped nuts or cardamom etc, but they are not added in the Sankatmochan wale laddoo and you wont like to spoil the original taste if you are looking for that. The quantity of sugar can be tasted and adjusted at this step.


Allow the mixture to cool down so you can handle them to shape balls. The laddoo gets solidified after some time in winters, owing to the presence of ghee.

If you notice the mixture is too cold and does not bind well to form laddoo, you can heat the mixture on gas or in microwave so the ghee melts again to allow binding of laddoo well.


The large sugar crystals are visible in this picture. They provide a nice texture and the taste of the laddoo is transformed owing to this.

Did I tell you I made this laddoo and Shakkarparey at 8 Pm that day? That was after I returned from my friends  place. I kneaded the dough for shakkarparey when the laddoo mixture was cooling down and used the same leftover sugar in the pan to make the syrup for shakkarparey too.

ingredients for the shakkarparey...

whole wheat flour (you can use maida too) 2 cups
fennel seeds 2 tsp
ghee 1/3 cup for shortening
more ghee for deep frying

procedure..

Rub the shortening part of ghee into the dry flour till it resembled bread crumbs and then add the fennel seeds and water to knead a firm and strong dough.

Roll out the dough into a half centimeter thick circular roti and cut squares using a sharp knife. The squares can be like cookies or biscuits, any size you prefer.

Deep fry all of them in batches till they are pinkish brown and crisp. Low flame is helpful in making them crisp and cooked through.

Now add water to the sugar just like we made the sugar syrup in the laddoo recipe. I just added some more sugar and water to the same pan with leftover large chunks of sugar and proceeded to cook the syrup.

The same kind of frothing happens again and you can keep a bowl of cold water to check if the syrup is ready to crystallize  Just drop a tsp of syrup in the bowl of water, if the syrup immediately looks like a glass coin it is ready for coating the shakkarparey (Or crystallizing as required for the laddoo).

So as soon as you get the indication that the syrup is ready, tip in all the fried shakkarparey squares into the syrup and start stirring and mixing them quickly. The syrup will coat the squares and then become white in color. A uniform coating of sugar will be there on each of the fried square.


These are like glazed cookies.

Let them cool and store in an airtight container. Discard the remaining sugar or use it for sweetening anything else if you have a large quantity left.

I cooked a few more sweetmeats for diwali. There was some Gujhia made at my friends place. It was an opportunity to bond with her kids and see the contented happy smile when they eat a freshly fried Gujhia. I also made a raisin, almond and date syrup Sondesh on the day of Diwali. Will post the recipe very soon.

Wishing you all a great time, good food and family bonding this festive season.


There was silence on my blogs as I was away for a vacation in the mountains. We visited Gangtok and Darjeeling before Diwali and brought back great food memories. Those will be shared soon here on the blog. Loads of pictures and food storied to be shared with you all. Stay tuned.

Monday, November 5, 2012

tamatar waali macchli | fish in a tomato gravy...




Tomato based curries are very common in north Indian homes and probably the easiest to pull off as a tomato based curry is quite forgiving. Very very versatile as well. There can be a butter/makhni gravy with tomato base and there can be a spicy gravy too. And there can be a bong style tomato based curry that I learned from my friend Rita Sinha almost a decade ago. I had started eating fish recently and would ask for new ways to cook fish to each and everyone known. This one was one such fish curry I learned during the time that is repeated quite frequently till date. Especially when I have the best quality tomatoes and fresh green coriander leaves in the fridge. Slightly tangy and aromatic with fresh coriander greens, a thick gravy that is mildly hot. My addition to the curry is chopped stems of coriander greens during the final simmering, adding a really fresh dimension to the flavors.

This tomato gravy fish is best enjoyed with rice and tastes best when the fish steaks are big. A fatty fish with skin and bone is what you are looking for. Large fillet would also work.

ingredients...

fish steaks 3-4 (150-200 gm each)
quartered potatoes 1-2
coarse onion paste 3/4 cup
fine paste of ginger garlic and red chilies 2 tbsp
coarse paste of fresh red ripe tomatoes 1.5 cup
coriander powder 2 tsp
cumin powder 2 tsp
black pepper powder 2 tsp
turmeric powder 1 tsp
mustard oil 1/4 cup
chopped coriander greens 1/2 cup (stems and leaves separately cut)
salt to taste

procedure...

Heat the mustard oil in a large kadhai. Fry the fish steaks lightly in mustard oil and place the quartered potatoes on the side too so they get browned as the fish steaks get fried. Drain and transfer the fried fish and potatoes to a flat base frying pan, or another kadhai.

Pour the onion paste into the remaining oil first and fry for a while. Till the mixtures starts getting pinkish in color. Add the salt and ginger-garlic-chilly paste. Fry till the oil separates or the mixtures gets glazed.

Add the powdered spices and mix well. Cook (bhuno) tll the spices get lightly aromatic. Add the tomato paste and again bhuno till the tomatoes change color and get glazed again.

Pour this cooked spice paste over the fried fish steaks in the other pan. Sprinkle the chopped stem parts of the coriander greens.


Now pour a cup of water into the pan and keep it back to the burner...


Cover and let it simmer on low flame slowly for about 20-15 minutes. The oils will float atop the gravy and the coriander stems will be cooked and aromatic, lending the curry a nice flavor. This final simmer is the essence of this curry, all the flavors are evoked in the presence of this fresh coriander stems tha are added in this step. So don't skip it.

Garnish with coriander leaves when cooked and serve hot with plain boiled rice.


Boiled rice is the only accompaniment that this curry needs, that too in minimal amounts. The gravy is thick and rich with flavors of tomatoes and coriander greens. The spices are subdued and mild but he chilly and peppers shine through, complementing the tang of the tomatoes well.

This is the fish curry you would like with minimal rice, just the soupy gravy and the fish steaks make you meal filling and satiating. My kind of meals when rice or roti is incidental.

Tamatar waali machhli it is, but the coriander greens are as essential for the flavor of this particular curry. The same gravy works well for paneer and eggs as well. The fried wedges of potatoes are treated well in this curry too. Actually anything that cooks within 10 minutes when this curry simmers after bhunoeing the masala paste. Those 10 minutes of simmering give this curry all the flavor.

I am sure it will be one of the most frequented at your table too...

Cheers.