Thursday, December 26, 2013

saathi ke chawal | a sweet and sticky variety of rice and a few recipes

There are so many rice varieties in India that talking about Basmati only is sacrilege. We have short grain fragrant varieties of rice found in the eastern part of India and katarani, jeera batti, kala namak, gobind bhog, badsha bhog etc are the preferred rice varieties with any light seasonal curries and daals that make staple food in this part of the world. We even make our pulaos and tahiris using these fragrant short grain rice. Basmati is used only for the biryanis and some pulaos and that is just for the looks of it. Fragrance of jeera batti and gobind bhog is way superior than basmati.

But today I am talking about the coarse rice varieties. These are not fragrant by any means but they do have a distinct aroma of their own. We have so many of the coarse rice varieties, each one different in it's taste and nutrient profile. The stickier the rice cooks, the more fragrant it is, and the nutrient profile is also better being richer in proteins, fiber and zinc apart from some other minerals and vitamins. I found two varieties of sticky rice from Meghalaya, one is a deep pink when cooked and another is deep purple when cooked and both taste so good I don't have words to explain. More on that later.

A rice variety called saathi has been making me curious for a long time as I had tasted laddus made with this in my childhood and my grandmother and father both used to say how good the taste is when saathi rice is cooked for hot meals. I had always wanted to have saathi ke chawal for a regular daal chawal meal so I can understand what they meant. 

And then I saw saathi rice in a small village shop when we visited our ancestral village 2 months back, and bought a couple of kilos immediately. Papa was so happy once again to see how interested I am in such forgotten grains. Later I wrote an article for Down to Earth magazine later which you can see here. The same article I am posting here without any edits.

There are many rice varieties which are on the verge of getting lost forever. Saathi rice is one of those varieties that is coarse, pink streaked rice with a mild sweet taste when cooked. The rice releases so much starch when cooked that the cooked rice looks like a pink lumpy porridge when the rice is new, aged rice cooks to more separate grains though.

I had my first tasting of saathi ke chawal with peeli daal and alu hare pyaz ki bhujia. Here is how it looks when cooked. I loved this simple meal absolutely, I feel blessed when I can eat what my ancestors might have eaten.

Saathi ke chawal was once a staple rice being cooked in many homes in eastern part of India. I am told that rich families could afford the fragrant short grain rice but still there were a few religious rituals around festivals when this saathi rice was used. How well our ancestors knew how to preserve such grains from being lost.

This rice variety gets ready in 60 days (saath din) and hence the name saathi. It is an early variety which can be sown on the onset of monsoons and gets ready till the heavy monsoons last in the plains, giving way to late rabi crops in the last leg of monsoons. Saathi is known to thrive in waterlogged lowlands, so the wastelands of villages where nothing can be grown due to water logging, sathi is the best option. This cultivar of rice is marked by short strong stems, ear (panicle) partially closed in the sheath and the grain husk dark coloured. It is a low yielding variety which is suitable for broadcast method of sowing. This cultivar of rice is mentioned in Ain-e-Akbari as a low class rice. I figure saathi rice brought lesser revenues for the state, being cheaper food for the poor.

Luckily, saathi is associated with some festive rituals and people grow and stock it for the same reason. Another example of how religious rituals help preserve a native variety. A kheer made with cane sugar and saathi, called Rasiya or Rasiayao (that means, cooked is ras or sugarcane juice), is used during chath pooja in Bihar. Saathi laddus are made during wedding rituals in Eastern UP and Bihar as well.

Saathi rice is considered to be easily digestible and nourishing in rural areas. Different preparations are made to make it suitable for different requirements. A dish called Maheri is made with overcooked saathi rice and buttermilk with salt, green chillies, ginger etc, almost like a thin curd rice, considered good for liver disorders and indigestion.
A laddu made along with ginger powder and fried edible gum and nuts is considered good for winter months, especially for joint related ailments.

Cooked saathi rice can be had with daal and subzi as a normal daal-rice meal, to take the benefits of low glycemic index of this coarse rice cultivar. Saathi is definitely rich in minerals, apart from several amino acids but there is no detailed study on its nutrient profile.

Recipe of saathi ke laddu

Saathi rice 250 gm
Almonds (preferably gurbandi variety) 200 gm
Flax seeds 100 gm
Grated fresh coconut 50 gm or to taste
Golden raisins 80 gm or to taste
Raw sugar or grated jaggery 250 gm or to taste
Ghee 200 gm

Rinse the rice well several times, drain and keep in a wide strainer for an hour or till the surface gets dry but the grain becomes a little soaked.

Powder the partially soaked rice in a mixie jar or coffee grinder. This powder is to be used immediately as it cannot be stored at room temperature.

Heat ghee in a wide pan and add the powdered rice and bhuno it on low flame till light brown and aromatic.

Powder the almonds and flax seeds coarsely, dry roast the grated coconut and chop the raisins. 

Mix everything to the roasted rice flour, mix well and make laddus of desired size while the mixture is still a little warm in winters, otherwise the ghee gets harder to bind.

I sometimes keep the laddu mixture loose and have it like a loose granola mix or mixed with hot milk to be had like a porridge. Makes complete sense in modern times.

We need to revive our ancient grains. Isn't it? 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

gatte ki subzi, one of my favourite besan preparations

I so love gatte ki subzi and had not shared it as yet. Gatte is a chickpea flour dumpling, cooked in a spicy yogurt based curry, sometimes in a tomato based curry too but the hot and sour flavors with robust spicing is unmistakable.

gatte ki subzi

More common in Rajasthan homes, gatte ki subzi is made in many versions by people outside Rajasthan. I remember we used to make a dry stir fry with a lot of onions and garam masala added, more like a finger food than a curry. I am tempted to make that version soon.

I have been cooking gatte ki subzi with different vegetables a lot as I feel it is a convenient meal for me most of the times but the traditional gatte was made rarely. I would always be tempted to add some vegetable and make it more value for my time :-)

This gatte ki subzi is also made with spinach from my garden so it is special. But this time I actually cooked the gatte ki subzi without any vegetables added for dinner one day and then added spinach to the leftover the next day. Could not resist you know. Here is the plain gatte ki subzi which is seen with a mutton liver curry on the side.

I make a version of gatte ki subzi without onion and garlic in the recipe too, but when someone posted a recipe on a facebook foodies group and then a friend Ushnish Ghosh tried the recipe, I wanted to have it just then. And I cooked it for dinner.

gatte ki subzi

The cooking of the gatta dumplings took about 30 minutes form scratch. The besan was kneaded, rolled out in sausages and then boiled in water like we boil pasta. The cooked rolls were cut in one inch pieces and were curried in a yogurt based gravy.

ingredients and method for the gatte 

2 cups of besan
1/2 cup of yogurt
chilly powder to taste
1 tsp fennel powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp mustard oil
salt to taste

Knead everything together and make a stiff dough. Roll out sausages with greased palms.

how to make gatte

Boil them all in a pot full of water. The sausages would float up once cooked.

how to make gatte

Drain the water and cut the gatte in one inch pieces or as you like. This recipe will be a lot of gatte so you can enjoy some of them as it is or with a green chutney.

ingredients and method for the gravy

3/4 cup chopped onion
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsp of everyday curry powder
red chillies to taste
1 tsp turmeric powder
3/4 tsp ginger powder or 2 tsp fresh ginger paste
a pinch of hing
3/4 cup yogurt
salt to taste
mustard oil 2 tbsp

Make a paste of everything put together, along with the yogurt.
Heat oil in a pan and tip in this paste.
Bhuno till the oil separates and the masala blend becomes aromatic.
Add the chopped gatte to the cooked masala, add about 2 cups of water and simmer till the oil separates again.
Add chopped spinach if required at the last moment, cover and let it rest till the spinach wilts. Serve hot with roti or rice or as it is. I like the spinach version as a one pot meal.

Green coriander leaves tastes really nice with the plain gatte ki subzi.

gatte ki subzi

I keep making the gatte with bottle gourds, sponge gourds and even with some green peas thrown in. This is such a convenient one pot meal sometimes when I want spicy warm food.

The gatte ki subzi is a part of an elaborate thali normally, served along with many greens, curries and many types of rotis and khichdi etc. For the lesser mortals, gatte ki subzi makes a meal.

food from the highways of north India | at Vivanta by Taj Surajkund

Highways in the north India are known for great food in small dhabas. Well, those dhabas have seen a sea change in the last 2 decades and have now become air conditioned food courts on the highway but most of them serve good food. But the best food comes from the actual roadside dhabas where you see more the truckers less the families on vacation. Those are the little nooks that need to be discovered, the food gets etched in the memory and you yearn to get a similar daal or mutton curry or baingan bharta somewhere again.

A five star hotel is the least likely place for such food and I would have all my doubts in one place if someone says there is good Punjab highway food at a swanky five start hotel. I know I had to chew my words when we had dinner at this dhaba at Claridges and I had to be more surprised again at Vivanta by Taj where we enjoyed a quite weekend lunch last week.

Paranda is the lobby level restaurant where you see a truck parked as you climb up the spiral stairs, the lift doors are painted green like the old homes of pind (villages in Punjab).

The experience started with a golgappa shot that set the mood right. We knew we were in for good times. Perfectly balanced flavours in the green khatta pani and a perfectly crisp and yummy gol gappa. Thoughtful amuse bouche that hits the right spot.

The palate craved for some more such flavours and the starters made appearance. We tried paya shorba and it was just like the one made at home with light spicing and slow cooking. We both loved it.

Gosht pudine ki seekh was a tender seekh kabab with potent notes of mint. Methi machhi tikka was a tender flaky fish tikka with an aromatic fenugreek flavour, I did not miss having a singhada (river fish) tikka in those flavours. Murgh sunehri tikka was as good with subtle flavours of dill and yogurt.

I liked the paneer tikka as well, perfectly soft, melt in the mouth and well seasoned. The broccoli kale chane ke kabab failed to impress and the kurkuri seekh was not at all my type. But then who said vegetarian kababs are good and as much as I know, they are never served at highway eateries. It is the fine dining five star 'dhaba' that has to take care of the vegetarians as well. I am not complaining :-)

The best things were yet to come. I loved the dhabe di daal as it was a mushed up light kaali daal with a few bits of rajma but so well cooked that I had 3 helpings. And that is a good complement from a daal snob, I love my daals and can't have anything inferior ever..

The tari wala meat was just awesome with well done meat on the shank rich with marrow, the way I like. Very punjabi homely flavors, robust spicing and tomato base. Perfect balance.

Chooza khaas makhni was a delicate take on the butter chicken and I found it good, nothing extra ordinary though. Palak kofta makhni was the same gravy with a nice and soft spinach and paneer kofta which was good.

The khumb matar wala was just the way we have been having at home since ages and the dhabas do it right too. I actually took another helping of this curry.

The namak mirch ka paratha was just out of this world. I normally do not eat rotis but I finished the big half that I picked up. Tandoor baked roti layered with red chilly powder and salt, brushed with butter when baked. You know dhaba food well if you know the tandoori rotis I feel. I found the Jeera pulav also nice. Cooked well and subtle, so it complements well the curries and meats.

All washed down with a nice chilled lime soda.

The dessert platter had Gulabjamun, Kesar pista kulfi falooda and Malai chop. While i liked the kulfi, the falooda was not right. Malai chop was exactly as it should be, soft, light and syrupy, this is more of a flavour from Bengal. I would reserve my opinion on Gulabjamun as I don't like it much. I would suggest to go for only kulfi if you decide to have a dessert at all.

The menu is a result of hard work and research by Chef Ganesh Joshi. His team has recreated the real flavours of Amritsar streets, the punjabi homes and the highway dhabas, the food from the land of five rivers, that is Punjab. We enjoyed the food quite a lot, the earthiness has been toned down a little, more refined gravies, subtler heat level and beautiful plating is what makes the food suitable for most urban foodies.

Well thought out, superbly designed interiors and elements of the rural India in all those nooks and corners just stole my heart as those old times utensils, ceramic and glass pickle jars, pots and pans set the mood just right. I liked the way one could see the rugged Aravalis from the windows.

I feel I would love to go there for the daal and tari wala meat for sure. The namak mirch ka paratha would definitely be ordered as I have been craving for those flavours since we had them.It would be a nice place to have an relaxed and elaborate punjabi dinner with friends I think.

I wish some lassi, chhachh, makki ki roti-sarson da saag and safed makkhan was also a part of the menu, the experience of a true pind da khana would multiply many times..

Thursday, December 12, 2013

banarasi kachori aur subzi : ras wale alu, palak paneer, kale chane aur kaddu ki subzi, alu baingan palak ki subzi

banarasi kachori

Someone asked me about the difference between a poori and kachori and I realised how diverse a kachori can be while answering. How much the kachori has evolved to be a sassy cousin of poori. While poori remained the plain jane, kachori took on to different fashions with different seasons and became matar ki kachori, daal ki kachori, hing kachori, alu ki kachori blah blah blah blah , most of them stuffed kachoris, some of them are softer inside and crisp outside while others are so crisp and dry that they keep well for days.

This banarasi kachori is more of a plain version of a pretentious kachori but packs the same punch when it comes to taste. All spices and the stuffing material is mixed in the dough itself and the kachori are often double fried to ensure a crisp crumbling kind of poori. These are the ones that stay puffed even when cold if you don't crush them. I have shared a recipe of banarasi kachoris here, with ras wale alu and a pumpkin subzi. Sharing a few more subzis again to go with the famous banarasi kachoris.

banarasi kachori subzi

Banarasi kachori recipe..

The kachori is made with a mix of coarse whole wheat flour and urad daal flour (skinned black bean flour), the dough is made using water that is infused with cumin, hing and ajwain. Just mix a cup of coarsely milled wheat flour with 1/3 cup of urad daal flour or 1/2 cup of soaked urad daal paste, add salt to taste and a tbsp of ghee and rub everything well. Boil 2 cups of water, add a tsp each or cumin and ajwain to it and let it simmer for a minute. Add a pinch of hing, dissolve and let the water cool down. Use this water to knead a firm dough. Use this dough to roll out pooris and fry them all in hot ghee or oil. Hot crisp banarasi kachoris are ready.

Add a bit of red chilly powder or black pepper powder and a little lime juice if you are planning to eat these kachoris without subzi, yes the slightly spiced up kachoris go well with our milky tea.

I served it here with ras wale aloo and a simple palak paneer. This palak paneer used to be more regular when Mithi was younger. It was her favourite subzi, very lightly spiced and creamy in texture.

banarasi kachori subzi

This version of palak paneer is easier, simpler to cook and less spicy than another version with more rustic spicing. That recipe will be shared some other time.

Palak paneer recipe..

To cook this simple palak paneer, you just have to choose tender spinach leaves with stems or mature spinach leaves only (mature fibrous stems to be discarded) so the resulting spinach puree is creamy and flavourful. Steam about 500 gm spinach either in microwave or in a pan with 2-3 tbsp of water at low flame and take off heat as soon as the leaves get limp and soft. Cool down and puree in the blender, without using any water. Now heat 1 tbsp ghee in a pan, add cumin seeds and wait till they splutter, and then dump the spinach puree in it. Add a pinch of nutmeg powder, 1 tsp black pepper powder and salt to taste and stir and cook the spinach puree till it starts bubbling and puffing. Add 200 gm paneer cubes to the bubbling spinach mix and simmer for about 5 minutes. Adjust consistency by adding a little water. Add 2-3 tbsp fresh cream to finish and serve hot.

The yellow coloured chutney seen in the above thali is the amla chutney I make every season and we love it with almost every meal.

Another very popular subzi with kachoris is the chane aur kaddu ki subzi. It is a simple black chickpeas and pumpkin curry that goes very well with crisp hot kachoris. We use mature orange coloured pumpkin for this subzi and the slightly sweet pumpkin balances well with kale chane lightly spiced up.

banarasi kachori kaddu chane ki subzi

Kale chane aur kaddu ki subzi recipe..

Soak 3/4 cup of black chickpeas overnight.

Peel the hard skin of mature pumpkin and cube the flesh in 2 cm dimensions. It should be about 400 gm cubed pumpkin.

Make a coarse paste of ginger, green chilly, whole dry red chilly and some garlic. About 1 tbsp or more ginger, chillies to taste and 2 cloves of garlic to be used.

Heat 1 tbsp of mustard oil in a pressure cooker pan and add a pinch of hing, about 10 grains of fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds nd 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, all together in one go. Let them all splutter and get aromatic, taking care not to burn them.

Add the ginger garlic chilly paste and a tsp of turmeric powder to the hot oil and let the mixture get fried. Take about 15 seconds on medium heat.

Now add the soaked and drained kale chane and mix well. Add salt to taste and the cubed pumpkin, about a cup of water and pressure cook the subzi for about 5 minutes after the first whistle. Cool down, mash the subzi a little, add amchoor powder to taste and serve immediately.
Chopped spinach can be added to the same subzi just before pressure cooking it. It makes the subzi more mushy and yummy.

banarasi kachori kaddu chane ki subzi

We enjoyed this kachori subzi meal with a bowl of grated mooli salad on the side. The mooli salad is just grated while radish, some grated ginger, some finely chopped green chillies, salt and lime juice to balance. One of the most frequent winter salad with any meal.

Another very popular subzi to go with the kachoris is this alu baingan aur palak ki subzi, a mushy curry cooked with new baby potatoes, black round brinjal and spinach. The subzi is called alu-bhanta-saag in local dialect and is a much revered subzi for pooris during pooja etc. I often cook this curry with the green aubergines that is growing in the garden right now, but the round ones are perfect for this.

You can make the subzi a bit dry or make it a little coated consistency type.

alu baingan palak ki subzi

Recipe of the alu baingan palak ki subzi..

Wash and clean 200 gm baby potatoes and quarter them.

Chop a small round brinjal in cubes. It should be about 200 gm.

Clean, wash and chop 300 gm spinach leaves and keep aside.

Mince or coarsely grind a tbsp of ginger, 4 cloves of garlic and 2 dry red chilies.

Heat 1 tbsp mustard oil in a deep iron or cast iron pan (kadhai) and tip in 1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds, 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp cumin seeds and a generous pinch of hing. Add the coarse paste of ginger etc and the potatoes immediately as the spices turn aromatic. Cook for a couple of minutes and then add a tsp of turmeric powder and the cubed brinjal. Toss and mix, let everything get coated well.

Add the chopped spinach, mix well, add 1/2 a cup of water and cook covered for about 20 minutes or so. Lightly mash the subzi after everything is cooked through. Serve immediately. Though the subzi keeps well in the fridge and can be served after reheating too.

alu baingan palak ki subzi

Here I cooked the alu bhanta saag using the round purple brinjals and some Amritsari vadi, the perfect taste of this curry. Yes, you can add about a tbsp of crushed Amritsari vadi along with ginger, garlic and red chilies and let it fry till fragrant and proceed to add other ingredients. This addition makes this curry irresistible.

But alu baingan palak can be made without the badiyan or vadi as well. 

alu baingan palak ki subzi and puri

A long post finally, I hope you find it useful when planning meals for the family. Such foods from the hinterland become exotic in urban life, but we do make  away to keep enjoying them frequently.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

hari tahiri : green rice pilaf with spinach and green peas

Tahiri or tehri is a vegetable pilaf that can accommodate any amount of vegetables, green peas, paneer and leafy greens to make the rice meals a perfect one pot meal. Tahiri is a popular one pot meal with singletons as it saves a lot of effort in the kitchen. Tahiris made in larger families can be elaborate and can accompany a variety of side dishes as well. Raita, chutney, kachumber salad, pickle and papad with a winter vegetables tahiri can be a festive weekend meal for some. It used to be for us in the past.

We grew up eating loads of greens every winter. Ours was a household where greens were considered gold (well, almost) and everyone liked it too. I don't remember shrinking nose for spinach or other greens that were cooked, throughout the year as we get different types of leafy greens in summers as well.  But it was winter time when our dining table was dominated by the colour green.

Heaps of spinach, fenugreek greens (methi), mustard greens , bathua will be brought home, sometimes we would contribute to the collective ritual of cleaning and packing the greens for refrigeration and mounds of saag would adorn the plates for each meal. Sometimes the saag was pureed and a curry like palak paneer, palak ka nimona or palak alu dum will be made, sometimes our rice would turn a deep shade of green. That was harey chawal for us if made plain, or hari tahiri when some green peas, paneer, lotus stem slices or soy nuggets were added to the rice pilaf. Raitas of different hues and kachumber salads (salsa like salads) would be made in large quantities as we all loved or salads too.

Grated radish salad with chopped green chillies, chopped coriander greens and grated ginger with a generous squeeze of lime used to be a staple along with a tomato salsa type salad with mustard oil dressing. I associate this salad with winters as the radish have this taste only in winters. There are more reasons to eat seasonal foods, taste is one of them. We used t call it mooli ka salaad.

This salad is a perfect foil to such tahiris, some spicier biryanis and most parathas that we make only during winters. Some raita or buttermilk rounds up the meal perfectly. I made a roasted beets raita this time with hari tahiri and it was such a soul satisfying meal for a Saturday brunch, sitting outside amongst greens and the sun.

ingredients for the hari tahiri
(2-3 large meal servings)
a generous 1/2 cup rice (roughly 100-120 gm)
green peas 200 gm
cubed paneer 100 gm or more if you like
steamed and pureed spinach (without any water) 600 gm
finely minced fenugreek greens (methi) 1/2 cup packed
finely minced dill leaves 1/2 cup packed (optional, if not using methi)
everyday curry powder 1 tbsp
special garam masala (or freshly powdered mix of cloves, cardamoms and cinnamon) 1/2 tsp
red chilly powder 1 tsp or to taste
turmeric powder 1 tsp
cumin seeds 2 tsp
finely minced ginger 1 tbsp
tejpatta 2-3
ghee 2 tbsp
salt to taste


Rinse the rice, drain and keep aside.

Heat the ghee in a large wide pan or kadhai (wider pan works better to cook the rice evenly) and tip in the cumin seeds and wait till the crackle. Add the minced ginger, green peas and tejpatta and methi leaves one after the other. Add salt, turmeric powder and the spice powders and cook covered for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the spinach puree and cook uncovered till the puree starts bubbling up like puffs. Add the cubed paneer, water (double the volume of rice being used, ie, one cup) and let it come to bubbles once again.

Add the washed rice, mix everything till you see very little trace of rice in the sea of green.

Cover the pan with a tight lid and let the tahiri cook at low flame for about 15 minutes. Check if the rice is done and then take the pan off the flame. Let it rest for about 5 minutes and then turn the rice using a flat spatula.

Serve immediately with the choice of accompaniments.

You can add shrimps or chicken instead of paneer if you want a non vegetarian version. But I like the plain version better as the freshness of winter spinach and green peas is something I wont like to compromise with fish or chicken flavours.

To make the roasted beets raita, or chukandar ka raita, I just roasted a large beetroot along with 3 fat cloves of garlic. Peeled them both after cooling and then liquidized in a blender. The puree was then mixed with whipped dahi along with salt and pepper. It made such a lovely meal with all the colours and flavours.

Healthy filling meals can be fun, easy and free from unnecessary grease and processed ingredients. Try this hari tahiri this winter and let me know if it becomes your winter favorite meal too.

Monday, November 25, 2013

purani Dilli Al Karam Kebab House : a piece of the walled city in the heart of Millennium city

We have been in love with the food from purani dilli already. That ishtoo from Al Jawahar is legendary, Korma from Karim's and those small hole in the wall shops that sell wonderful kababs, kheer, halwa and many such foods from the past. Matia Mahal in purani dilli is a place well preserved in time as the aromas, the sights and sounds remind you of older cities, the smaller towns and food from your grandmother's homes.

There are many old nuggets to find every time you are there and that is how Varun Veigas, a young pharmacist happened to be dining at Afsar's Al Karam and he struck a chord with the owner Umez bhai, who came across a friendly person and pointed him to other places of interest around Matia Mahal. Varun asked Umez bhai why he was not taking his food outside the walled city and that is when he felt that these people want to showcase their talent but lack of opportunities and may be a lack of business acumen too, is holding them back. He invited them to Gurgaon, Umez bhai and his team followed suit and the rest is making ripples in the food world of the millennium city, that is Gurgaon. Purani dilli Al Karam Kebab house is located at DLF phase 4 market amongst many nice eateries around, we found it jam packed when we arrived and this was just after a week of its existence. You know what I mean.

Very basic interiors, reminding of the eateries of purani Dilli, a kabab grill at the entrance completes the picture for you. I was there for a private tasting session and the array of kababs (or kebabs) and curries from the walled city was just perfect for the onset of winters. The grilling of kababs over charcoal is such a winter thing and one is awestruck by the way they painstakingly prepare the meat, tenderising it with raw papaya, spicing it right, wrapping it around the skewers and grilling them perfect before you dig in.

 We tasted the Seekh kababs, Kakori kababs, Gilafi kababs, Dhaga kabab and Shami kababs. You would find chicken tikka and malai tikka etc as well.

Seekh kababs are succulent and soft, meaty and robustly spiced. The green boorani chutney and onion rings that are served ont he side do absolute justice with these delicate textured kababs.

Kakori kababs are a bit milder in spicing with bits of  cashew nuts strewn in. These are the kababs you can have anytime. They would make a nice meal by itself wrapped in roomali rotis along with onion rings and that chutney.

Gilafi kabab came in a white creamy sauce. Buttery, creamy and delicious. Bits of vegetables and a rich sauce makes it suitable for all those who love milder spicing as all the fats tone down the spices.

Shami kababs were a bit more robust on spices than I like normally, but good taste nevertheless. This would be lovely with a ulte tawe ka paratha may be, or roomali roti. I can't eat much rotis or parathas, just a few bites and I feel full. But kababs I can eat on their own, the onion rings and chutney for company.

Dhaga kabab was a threaded seekh kabab, delicate meat sausage secured with a string. More of a drama than taste I think, taste wise all kababs were great.

And then there was this Achari biryani. I had never had a biryani made with pickling spices, this one was a good surprise. The good thing is, they serve biryani in a quarter portion as well, priced really affordable even for students. The biryani is served with a generous helping of fresh yogurt and makes a nice meal in itself.

Loved the Haleem with a generous layer of ghee floating on it. Rich with nut paste, the haleem doesn't miss the taste of lentils in it, the way I like it. I recommend the haleem strongly if you want another main dish after you order the kababs and Nihari.

Nihari is a slow cooked dish that originated in the walled city of old Delhi and at Al Karam kebab house, this will be another bestseller I feel. Well done.

The Ishtoo (mutton stew) was good but I like the Al Jawahar Ishtoo better. Korma was nice and well balanced, both of us loved it.

What surprised me after having these robustly spiced kormas and ishtoo, was a white chicken curry they named Kashmiri chicken.  The curry is milky, lot of cream and nut paste in it and raw khoya sprinkled on top along with ginger julienne and coriander greens. The flavors were not Kashmiri at all, but reminded me of the curries of my own Banaras. Khoya, milk and aromatic spices dominate the kormas and curries of Banaras and this one had a hint of that mildness. A yummy chicken curry with khameeri roti, just don't look for anything Kashmiri in it.

The chicken Badami was another surprise. I had never eaten anything made with just the gizzards and hearts of chicken and this curry was a milky creamy stir fry of sorts made just with those. Surprisingly good, I recommend if you like gizzards just like Arvind does.

We tasted everything in small bits and were full by this time. I requested Varun to get really tiny portions of Kulfi when he insisted we have to taste all 4 flavours. These are Kuremal ki kulfi sourced directly from purani Dilli so there was never a doubt about the goodness. Anjeer kulfi is yummy, kesar pista is not a favorite but still I loved it. But the best was Pan kulfi which had a whole betel leaf in it. The best paan I have ever had, in any form I must say. Orange kulfi is something I wont order when there are such good options to choose from. These kulfis are the best money can buy, a result of generations of kulfi making.

I have always loved the way our traditional khansamas cook, the almost religious faith they have in food and it's powers of winning hearts. The wisdom and knowledge that is passed on to generations, the cooking techniques that are perfected so much they don't need to check temperatures and cooking time, it becomes instinctive for them. I love it how they watch people eating their food with a great satisfaction, taking all the praise with a faint smile always. There is a hint of pride in the food they cook and we could see how the Al Karam team was glad to see we liked their food.

Enough to get smitten by the old world charm.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

methi wali machhli | fish curry with fenugreek greens

I have had methi wali machhli cooked by a friend's mother and had been planning to cook fish the same way since then. It is a mildly spiced fish curry in yogurt gravy and a lot of fresh fenugreek leaves. The fish suitable for this curry is large steaks with bones and skin and I decided to cook methi wali machhli as soon as I found good large fish steaks. This fish curry is similar to Machhli ka salan that doesn't use so much methi leaves o skips using them altogether.

methi wali machhli

Most people cook this recipe with a lot of oil in it but my recipe doesn't have oil floating on top. You can use oil generously to get more glaze (or roghan) in this curry.

Having fish at home has been an occasional treat lately, as we don't get good fish around our place. The skinned de-boned fillets don't count as fish which of course is available abundantly. I do cook some Basa sometimes but it doesn't feel like eating fish honestly. I want a fishy fish when I want fish, I know you understand what I mean. Although this methi wali machhli is not too fishy I must add. If you cook it with Basa fillet or large Pomfret fillets, it wont be even remotely fishy.

We have a few nice fish markets in Delhi and we do get our fish from those places whenever we are around. We generally get a large Rohu or Catla or a Betki nicely cut into steaks to be frozen in portions and sometimes we get some Mackerel or Bombil which we cook the same day. The steaks I cooked in this curry were from the belly part but any bony steaks will be suitable, just take care the pieces should be sturdy enough to handle in a curry.

This methi wali machhli is loosely based on a recipe I  saw here but my recipe has fresh fenugreek leaves as the star ingredient, exactly the way I had loved it. This is a slightly tart curry as the curds I use for this is a little sour, the way I prefer it, the flavors of fenugreek complements really well with the tartness of curds (dahi).

fish steaks (Rohu. Catla any firm fish, preferably river fish) 500 gm approximately
fresh yogurt 1 cup
roughly chopped onion 1/4 cup
garlic cloves 3-4
dry red chillies 2-3 or to taste (keep it more than you think enough as yogurt neutralises chilies)
coriander powder2 tsp
turmeric powder 1 tsp
finely chopped fenugreek leaves 1.5 cup packed (or lesser)
salt to taste
mustard oil 2-3 tbsp
fenugreek seeds about a dozen

methi wali machhli


Make a paste of the onion, garlic, red chillies and 1/4 cup of yogurt along with coriander powder and turmeric powder. Add salt to it and dump this paste over the fish steaks in a mixing bowl. Add the chopped fenugreek leaves to this mixture, mix well and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Blend the remaining 1/4 cup yogurt in the same mixie jar and keep aside.

Heat mustard oil in a pan and add the fenugreek seeds in it. Wait till they become fragrant but take care not to brown them. drain the fish steaks form the marinade and fry in this hot oil both sides lightly. Drain and keep in a plate.

In the remaining oil add all the marinade and bhuno till the oil separates. It takes about 4-5 minutes and the mixture get aromatic.

As you see the oil separating form this cooking mixture, add the remaining yogurt, mix well and add about 1.5 cups of water. Let it come to a soft boil before adding the fried fish steaks.

Cover and simmer for about 5-7 minutes or till the oil floats on top.

methi wali machhli

Serve hot with plain boiled rice.

These steak were large about 6 inches long with 2-3 long bones in it. The flesh acquires a nice yogurt and fenugreek taste while the gravy is absolutely yummy with all the flavors. I am planning to cook paneer exactly the same way next. Will let you know if I do.

Better you cook and let me know if you are a vegetarian..

Saturday, November 9, 2013

ajwaini arbi and a malabar spinach daal : a meal from your childhood

Ajwaini arbi lifts up a simple meal with it's burst of flavors. The bland arbi gets a nice spicy-tangy coating to be shallow fried till crisp. Goodness in a slimy bland vegetable believe me.

Arbi is colocasia rhizome and I rarely cook this vegetable as the husband doesn't like it much and I don't feel like working on a vegetable which is not green. I get the colocasia leaves whenever I spot them and make this layered rolls called patoda or patra but the rhizome get neglected though it is available throughout the year.

But then I have a habit of buying vegetables by the looks, the most fresh looking vegetables are bought instantly and when I saw these plump and long Arbi at our Mother Dairy outlet sometime back, I couldn't imagine ignoring them. Promptly bought four of those long and plump rhizomes and came back thinking of the ajwaini arbi as the large arbis would make nice steak like fries.

Ajawaini arbi is something you can have on the side if planning a daal-chawal meal. They provide a meaty flavorful tangy-spicy fulfilment to plain dal-chawal meals. This time I was making a nice arhar ki daal with malabar spinach (poi saag) with plain boiled rice and ajwaini arbi fitted in perfectly.

(2 servings as a side dish)
4 large colocasia rhizomes (large arbis)
1/2 cup besan (chickpeas flour)
1 tbsp rice flour
2 tsp amchoor powder
1 tsp ajwain seeds
red chilly powder to taste
salt to taste
mustard oil to shallow fry (about 2 tbsp but the arbi does not absorb all the oil)


Boil the arbis in pressure cooker till done. The cooking time will depend on the size of arbis and also on how mature they are so cook for 2-3 minutes under pressure first, check and then cook again if you find them raw. A knife prick will confirm if it is done.

Peel the arbi and keep aside.

Mix all the other ingredients except oil and spread in a shallow plate.

Press the peeled arbi over this dry mix so that the rhizomes get flattened. Coat well with the dry besan mix both sides and shallow fry in hot oil using a flat based frying pan.

Serve hot with daal-chawal meal. The dish takes just about 5 minutes once you have boiled arbis so shallow fry them when the daal and rice are cooked and ready to serve.

I had made this arhar ki daal with malabar spinach with a generous garlic tadka and we loved this meal. I am totally a daal loving person and spinach or any kind of greens in my daal is an absolute delight. I can live on daals and often crave my daals.

The recipe of this daal can be seen here at Down to Earth magazine where I did an article on Malabar spinach. Malabar spinach is a garden vine that many of us grow and keep using frequently. It has many health benefits and is a good substitute for spinach in some recipes. I will post a pumpkin subzi soon with malabar spinach. Stay tuned in.

chachi ki kachori subzi aur jalebi | subah-e-banaras aur banarasi nashta

Chachi ki dukan at Lanka was famous for the old lady who was fondly called Chachi (aunty). The shop was all about a small team of Chachi, mostly her family members who would churn out subzi and crisp kachoris on one side and hot crisp, syrup dripping jalebis on the other side of a small cramped shop. More of a hole in the wall actually.

Let me explain where exactly this shop is located. Lanka is the 'mall road' equivalent, situated in front of the BHU (Banaras Hindu University) gate and you would find all sorts of fancy restaurants, roadside stalls of samosa, chai, pao bhaji, burger, pakodas and bookshops or student utility shops all in one place. The end of this road branches into three roads leading to Saamne ghaat, Nagwa and Sankatmoachan temple road. When you walk towards Sankatmochan road you see twin shops of kachori and jalebi right at the start of the road. The one that has more people waiting is Chachi's I conclude. The husband confirms as he has grown up in BHU campus.

Another famous shop for kachoris in the morning is Pehelwan ki lassi shop that sells kachori subzi and jalebi in the morning and lassi and lavanglata throughout the day. This shop is located at the start of the road to Nagwa, to your right when you are coming from the university.

We enjoyed this banarasi nashta when we were in Banaras last time. Just wanted to have a taste of this famous kachori subzi aur jalebi made in front of my eyes. And there I was braving the smoke and burnt smell of refined oil, waiting for my kachoris. It was well worth it I would say. For the experience and for the taste as well, just the taste of burnt refined oil kills it for me. I am sure it was fried in dalda (hydrogenated vegetable oil) a couple of decade ago and in desi ghee before that. But ghee is history now for this shop at least. We have had ghee fired kachoris in other places and it makes a marked difference in taste and aroma.

Totally smoked walls, a rickety old table fan that blows air into the giant coal fired oven and a couple of men working in rhythm with a practiced ease. This guy was found rolling out kachoris fast, as if in tandem with the load of kachoris frying in the huge kadhai.

He quickly pinches off dough balls and arranges them on a wooden board, and then starts rolling kachoris fervently. He keeps dunking all the rolled kachoris into the huge kadhai with hot oil and another guy keeps frying the kachoris and arranging them all on a huge sieve.

And once the kachoris become a little colder, they are dunked again in the hot oil to fry them once again. This is the secret behind super crisp kachoris that break into pieces once punctured.

That doesn't mean I love those kachoris. I actually feel nauseous smelling this burning oil but I had to taste it once on the spot and photograph them making the famous kachoris of Banaras. I love kachoris and I hate refined oil that gets burnt in such kadhais and is never changed. Yes I asked them and they confirmed that they never ever change the oil. :-(

They ladle out heaps of kaddu ki subzi in dried leaf donas (disposable leaf bowls) and then arrange the kachoris on paper plates and hand out to the waiting people. Those white paper bags have jalebis in them, someone got them packed to take home.

And believe me there are always a dozen people waiting for these hot kachoris and kaddu ki subzi. I loved the subzi, the kachoris from such shops was never a favorite, but I can eat a couple of them. Hot and crisp and all that jazz.

Killer looks they certainly have. Did you see the jalebis too?

Spirals of jalebi were also being churned out on the other side of this hole in the wall shop. A thick slurry like fermented batter of maida with a hint of besan added is filled in an earthen pot and the batter is dropped in a constant stream in hot oil. Making circular patterns while it flows out. I love this part of making jalebis and was missing doing it myself. Been long time since I made jalebis.

The spirals are fried both sides till they turn golden. Being turned and picked up with the help of tongs.

And then being dunked into a thick sugar syrup. To be quickly weighed down with the help of that huge sieve, so the jalebis soak up the syrup instantly.

After a couple of minutes in the syrup and the juicy crisp jalebis are sieved out from the syrup, the sieves doubles up as the display shelf.

The jalebis fly off the 'shelf' quickly as people are already waiting to get their hands of garam garam jalebis (hot jalebis). Here it is, one portion of the jalebi for the dessert part of the banarasi nashta. Quite a calorie high, inflammatory fats high breakfast it is.

Interestingly, I had never seen this chachi as I would never pass that road in the wee hours when banarasi nashta was being devoured standing in a meditative trans facing this little shop by Chachi. Chachi is no more but I have heard stories about how people would ask her questions to tease her about bad kachoris or a soggy jalebi and she would shower them with choicest abuses in local dialect. It was more of a good breakfast with entertainment thrown in for good measure, as I have heard people saying.

The entertainment came to us in the form of curiosity some people had in our camera. You see we had a good time enjoying this nashta and then walked towards Sankatmochan temple to work out the damage.