Friday, August 30, 2013

Truck along the trunk | a dhaba at The Claridges...

Dhaba is a small highway eatery that serves freshly cooked meals to truckers and roadies of all ilk. The food is always local, freshly cooked and served on minimalist plates, seating is always rustic. Most of them are open air, although we see many air conditioned dhabas on the highways these days but none of them match to the local smoky whiff of real food the small dhabas serve.

Dhabas, however small, do roaring business in the north India and I know many many people who plan their road trips based on which dhaba to encounter on the way by mealtimes. And then there will be some dhabas popping up in the middle of nowhere while you drive. You settle down, have your tea, fill your water bottles and a delicious daal roti, baingan ka bharta, saag paneer  type meal will be ready on the sly. All smoky with freshly fired wood, the meals are done from scratch right in front of your eyes in most of those quaint dhabas. I am reminded of one past Lucknow on the way to Banaras where we had the best naturally smoked daal once, the taste is imprinted in my memory.

The recent experience of a dhaba was at The Claridges  where Truck along the Trunk is the ongoing festival of dhaba cuisine. The grand trunk road is the longest highway and numerous dhabas dot the entire length of it. You see a truck when you enter The Dhaba at The Claridges.

When a star hotel does dhaba cuisine, you trudge with caution and order a pineapple juice first to settle down. Pineapple juice makes me feel calmer after a hectic work day. Aishwarya and Sushmita were good company while others at CAL bloggers table missed this dhaba.

Warm, rustic interiors welcome you when you are ushered into the dhaba of The Cladridges. The first impression is that of a cramped space with worn out tables and charpoy type seats. A hand written menu on a black board, cane roofing, lanterns and all those detailings so perfectly done. Old Hindi songs playing in the background and you get transported to a new place in the heart of Delhi.

A bit of struggle to settle is, the seating isn't very comfortable but you would forget all discomfort once you start with the food. The pineapple juice that I ordered came out in the form of sweet lime juice, I don't mind as long as the food keeps promise.

Errr..but please folks, it should be either un-cushioned chairs just like dhaba or the cushions need to be comfy. I don't want to keep struggling with the cushion while I eat good food.

There is a radio perched on a wooden shelf, the menu looks like a number plate of a giant truck and there are pickle martbans and old copper utensils placed all over the walls. I loved these elements.

Some kitsch art, some more rural elements here and there..

You get the drift. I wont blame the uncomfortable seats. The food was great. Well, the most of it. I shall tell you what all to choose.

The chaamp tawa kabab is a large thin and crisp kabab that is made of mutton mince, and a breast bone is stuck into it to give it a chaamp look. Perfect textures, meatiness and spicing in a dhaba style kabab. I loved it.

The seekh kabab had coarser meat texture, perfectly succulent and redolent with coriander greens freshness. These are huge kababs so order judiciously and share the portions I would say.

The tawa fish (named Surjeet de dhabe di tali machhi) was ajwaini type fried fish with besan coating, this is not my favorite preparations of fish so I wont say much about it, the fish was flavorful and succulent though, well made and those who like amritsari fish would enjoy it to the core..

 What surprised me in the starters, was a Jalandhari paneer tikka that looked like any red paneer tikka. I have never liked paneer tikka much, but this one was huge and still made me finish the whole thing. Soft, succulent paneer, perfectly marinated and lightly charred.

Pudina akhrot ki tikki looked like just another tikki but packed nice walnut flavors, a good surprise. The pyaz aur makai ki seekh is just avoidable, it was doughy and flavorless. The chutneys provided with the starters are not something I liked, though I didn't need any chutney with all of these really good kababs and tikkas. The sliced onion sprinkled with chaat masala and lime was perfect accompaniment.

Among the main course, a few of my favorite dishes appeared to my delight. My all time favorite langar wali daal which was done right (though not the best I have had), the sookhi mung ki daal was just perfect. Dry but moist and delicately spiced, dhaniya patta et al.  Kesar de dhabe da baingan bharta and bheja curry would take you back to Punjab. Bheja curry is just like an egg scramble with mild flavorings of ginger, chilly and coriander greens, minimal spicing, great flavors. Nicely done I must say. The soya nuggets masala curry named rehdi wala soyabean masala was also good, more because I like soy nuggets with Indian spices.

The Dhaba team actually went to kesar da dhaba and other dhabas around Amritsar to taste the real dhaba food of north India to recreate the most authentic taste. They did a great job.

The balti meat was wonderfully soft, falling off the bone and definitely slow cooked in rustic spices. No oil floating on top, no cream or butter topping and yet the curry was so nicely rich and tasty.

Two types of flat breads were served, one was announced keema kulcha while it turned out to be aloo kulcha. Was nicely made. Another was a onion topped whole wheat missi roti. I don't dig much into breads so that was conveniently ignored.

Among the desserts we loved the rooh do kheer and pinni. Both were really really nice. Kheer rich and creamy, cooked in sugarcane juice and not refined sugar, a delight for me. The pinni was shaped like a cuboid burfi (usually pinni is round) topped with chopped nuts, I loved it. The chewiness of fried gond (gum Acacia), perfectly fried besan and mild sweet. I was reminded of how long it has been since I made any pinni. This was really really nostalgic having pinni though I was so full I just kept nibbling into a small piece for some 5 minutes.

The food was really really good, a nice wholesome meal that you would love to come back to. One odd dish that doesn't suit your taste would be forgotten quickly while you would relish the balti meat and the tikka and kababs here. Avoid the pyaz aur makki ki seekh and the missi roti may be and watch for the more dhaba style foods, you will be good. The desserts win hands down.

One thing I wanted to mention separately in this review, that is all the drinks and mocktails we loved so much. The Jeeratini, the coconut lassi, the pudina chhach and the thandai. All of them perfectly flavored, I was particularly floored by the coconut lassi.

I wish I could go to this dhaba just for these drinks. You know such drinks one can have anytime. I might make the coconut lassi very very soon.

This Dhaba cuisine festival is going on till September 15th at The Claridges.

Friday, August 23, 2013

hari mirch ka sarson wala achar | green chilly pickled with mustard ...

 Green chilly pickled with mustard seeds or hari mirch ka sarson wala achar is an easy recipe that needs just a couple of days to get pickled. Mustard is a traditional pickling agent in north India and we use it many ways and making the hot chilies milder is one of the benefits of pickling with mustard. It helps ferment the pickling chilies first, makes them a little sour after a few days and then the sourness just kills the heat of chilies after about a month or so. Some people like it a month old when all the heat of chilies is gone and the pickle has gone completely sour. I generally add the soured green chilly pickle to some salad dressing or blend it in some dip or hot green chutney.

If you are pickling green chilies this way, make smaller amounts so it is over in about 2-3 weeks, or wait till the required sourness is achieved and refrigerate the pickle after this point, if something is left till then.

Mild jalapeno peppers are used for this pickle, but you can go ahead and use the hot jalapeno as well. Depends upon how hot you like your pickled chilies.


8-10 mild jalapenos
1/2 cup yellow mustard powder
1 tbsp mustard oil
2 tbsp table salt


Wash and pat dry the chilies. Make a slit lengthwise and keep aside.

Powder the mustard and mix in the salt and mustard oil.

Mix the mustard powder and oil well to make a crumbly mixture.

Stuff lightly into the slit green chilies and bottle them. The chilies release their juice within 2-3 days and you would see a watery liquid in the bottom. Shake the jar once in a while so the pickling is evenly done.  The pickle is ready after 2-3 days of pickling but keeps maturing for 2-3 weeks before getting too sour.

Serve this pickle with any Indian meal as a condiment or chop it and add to the salad you toss that requires a hot mustard dressing. You would see how versatile it is.

 Some more chilies anyone?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

sookhi sevaiyyan made easy for a modern kitchen | baked version of sevaiyon ka muzaffar

baked sevaiyon ka muzaffar

This is a 'sookhi sevaiyyan' or 'sevaiyon ka muzaffar' baked to perfection. Yes baked.

Sevaiyyan is a very thin vermicelli dish that can be made like a thin milky porridge or like a crisp chewy kind of sweet pudding. Actually the taste and the texture is not at all comparable to any other dessert that I know. Sookhi sevaiyyan is known by those who have enjoyed it in real life.

I have remembered and missed the sookhi sevaiyyan that we used to have at our friend's places. It was never made at our home though the sheer khurma (the thin milky version) was very common. But as I understand, these recipes have been a common culture of our land even though these are made basically on religious festivals. So this sookhi sevaiyyan and pheni will be enjoyed in Muslim homes on Eid and Bakrid while it was made for festivals like Teej Hindu homes. How we have weaved food with our festivals. Caste and religion no bar when it comes to food, we keep waiting for all sorts of festivals just for the spread of different types of food we get to eat. So much so that we associate festivals with food only, not knowing the cultural details of a festival.

A friend's grandmother used to make gujhia stuffed with this kind of sookhi sevaiyyan, I still have that taste lingering somewhere in my memory. This was a Hindu version suited for teej festival that comes soon after Eid. The sookhi sevaiyyan made at Muslim friend's homes was decadent and I kept wondering how they get that dry caramelised texture with perfectly cooked khoya and lightly fried nuts. Probably my mother never learned how to cook it, and we remained deprived.

I tried replicating the same texture and taste using the pheni (or feni) sometimes and was pleased with the result, but making it from the thin vermicelli was difficult, it will either get too soft or too dry for my liking. Although, this sookhi sevaiyyan can be made in all variations of textures as I have tasted some really soggy ones too, and a few really really dry textured too. I wanted to make it to my liking, the way I remembered it from my friend's home.

baked sevaiyon ka muzaffar

I got a good quality pack of sevaiyyan (thin vermicelli) from Rupak stores, these are pre roasted vermicelli so there is no need to slow roast them in ghee. This got me thinking and I planned a baked sevaiyyan as this would result in slow caramelisation of the sugar added and the milk sugar both. This was a perfect decision as the result was very very close to what I had in my head all these years. And, the total preparation plus cooking time for about 4-5 servings was 20 minutes. I am thrilled.


thin vermicelli (patli sevaiyyan) 100 gm (pre roasted)
milk powder 1 cup to make home made khoya (or 100 gm khoya)
water 1/4 cup
sugar 2 tbsp
chopped almonds 1/2 cup
chopped raisins 2 tbsp or to taste
other nuts according to taste, adding chopped makhana will be great as I love the texture
fresh cream (amul- 25% fat) 1/2 cup , I used 1/4 cup milk and 1/4 cup fresh thick malai


Roast the vermicelli with minimal ghee if they are not pre roasted. Keep aside.

Place the milk powder and water in a glass or ceramic bowl, mix well and microwave for 2 minutes. Stir well again and microwave for a minute again. Repeat this once more. The milk solids become granular now and taste and smell like khoya. See this procedure of home made khoya in microwave to get a step wise idea of how to do it..

I did the khoya making in the baking tray I used for baking the sevaiyyan, it got a bit stained with all the stirring but lesser utensils used is a better idea.

Now break the sevaiyyan into this khoya, add everything else and mash using your fingers. Pour in the milk and malai (or fresh cream) slowly to incorporate and dampen the dry vermicelli.

Now press down everything in a thin layer, about 2.5 cm thick. Choosing a suitably sized baking pan or dish will be advisable. The sevaiyyan gets dehydrated, caramelised and becomes a bit thinner after baking.

baked sevaiyon ka muzaffar

Now slide the tray/dish into the oven and bake at 180 C for about 8 minutes. I had not preheated the oven and it took 8 minutes at 200 C.

baked sevaiyon ka muzaffar

This is served warm or at room temperature. The decadent flavors of caramelised milk around thin strands of vermicelli is awesome. The perfect chewy interiors and crisp crust makes it a perfect baked desserts if you are serving it at a party. Just mix everything, press down in the baking dish and refrigerate. Bake when required.

Cut in squares for the ease of serving..

baked sevaiyon ka muzaffar

Or just gnaw away from the baking dish.

It keeps well at room temperature for 3-4 days, 2 weeks when refrigerated. Can be cut into fudge like squares so it is easier to serve. But the crisp texture of the crust wouldn't be there when you keep it for long. This was the closest to the sevaiyyan I have had at my dear friend's homes. The ones I loved, I quickly forget the food I haven't liked so they don't exist for me. All bad versions of sookhi sevaiyyan were never given a chance by my memory.

Now this one would keep the memories alive, make more memories and some more happy meals with friends and family.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

murgh safaid qorma : a white stew with chicken and almond paste..

Safaid qorma or safed korma or chicken or murgh safeda as it is called in Banaras, this delicately flavored chicken stew is easy to make and creates a stir every time I cook it. Actually all the white curries we make are very curiosity inducing among the guests and extended family. While many light colored curries are popular in UP, all of them using some or the other kind of nut paste as a base, a pure white curry is something people keep coming back to. Second and third helpings are normal as the stew is not spicy as well. Very delicate flavors or spices used and a rich broth of chicken make this stew quite interesting. Although I would suggest to serve this stew along with some more spicy side dishes, at least a spicy raita or green chutney and raw onion slices if you are cooking it as a routine homely meal, we prefer this stew with just warm fluffy home baked naans.

for 8-10 servings

To simmer together..
8 -10 chicken thighs on bone cut into 3 pieces each
1.5 L water
ginger garlic paste 2 tbsp
4-5 black cardamoms crushed lightly
8 green cardamoms
20 cloves
2 large sticks of cinnamon (dalchini)
2 tsp lightly crushed pepper corns
salt to taste

200 gm almonds, soaked for 3 hours
a cup of full fat milk or a bit more
2 pinches of nutmeg powder
1 tsp of cinnamon powder

Yes, there is no additional oil used in this stew. All the fat me from the chicken, the nuts and the full fat milk used.


Put everything under the simmer together list in a deep wide pan or stock pot and simmer for about 1.5 hours. There will be a lot of scum during this, you can remove it if attending the simmering pot or let collect on the top. Keeping the pot half covered makes sense or just place a loosely fitting lid over it.

Mean while, peel all the almonds and make a nice smooth paste adding the milk if required. Add the nutmeg and cinnamon powders to this paste and blend once more to incorporate. Keep this paste aside.

Remove all the chicken pieces from the simmering broth and put them all into a kadhai, removing any scum if it get stuck to the pieces. Now strain the stock over the chicken pieces and discard all the scum and whole spices that collects into the strainer. This is a trick to get a clear smooth and pure white gravy for this stew.

Now add the almond paste and the milk, adjust seasoning by adding salt if required and simmer for 5-8 minutes more. Serve hot or warm with your choice of accompaniments.

We have served this stew with biryanis, with naans and with an elaborate meal many times and the chicken safaida was appreciated well by the guests every single time I cooked it. The stew is very lightly spiced but you can adjust the spiciness to your taste.

I make it a point to adjust the heat into this stew according the preference of people having it. Adding some white pepper powder, some yellow chilly powder and simmering a few slit green chilies in the first step helps getting some heat into this stew. But we like it the way I cooked this time.

Do let me know if you try this chicken safaida. I have posted a mutton safaida or gosht safaida as well and that is a frequently repeated recipe at my place too. Another whitish curry called chicken rezala is also a white chicken stew, another chicken stew mughlai style is whitish but way different from this one, and a chicken in a creamy white gravy. All these are favorites, but get made according to what we are planning on the side. Try all of these and see which one you like.

You can always cook these curries with vegetarian options too, paneer and lightly fried cauliflowers will be wonderful in this curry I feel.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

an Indian dinner at Varq, The Taj Mahal Hotel...

They say the desserts make the meals memorable and I always disagree. Desserts are not my thing though I indulge in them occasionally and enjoy them too. I am itching to tell you I had stopped eating jalebis for a few years as it always made me cough like an asthmatic and here is one meal which ended with a jalebi and I could eat the whole of that beautifully made jalebi. Sweet surprises? Who doesn't love them. Let it come in the form of a jalebi and then some more :-)

We at Bloggers table were at Varq restaurant of The Taj Mahal Hotel, and it was after a long long time when we were all attending it together. Ruchira had a hand in it as she made us cancel a farewell that was planned for her and made us all to come to Varq. She is someone who would orchestrate her own farewell so it is convenient to every single person attending. Yes she is moving to a new country and we are going to miss her badly.. And she made sure to make us all weak in the knees by her gestures and surprises that day. More about that later, we will talk about the interesting dinner we had at one of the best known contemporary Indian fine dining places.

A warm mystic decor greets you when you enter Varq with black, red and gold accents. We were seated in a private dining area and the service was very very good. The mocktails were served which followed by a 'hibiscus tea' and then the amuse-bouche. I loved the orange juice and tamarind drink and had a second glass, my drinks ended there as I was not in a mood for any alcoholic drink. Had a sip or two of the curry patta martini from Sid's drink but decided to stick to my own OJ-tamarind mocktail that kept me good company.

I tasted the pineapple and basil drink as well but it tasted like pineapple juice only, no herb flavors came through the drink. The 'hibiscus tea' that was served, was actually kokum extract, the infusions probably got mixed up in the kitchen owing to their similar colors. That could have been avoided. A place that is frequented by many foreigners can give a wrong notion regarding our native foods and drinks if such goof ups happen.

Amuse-bouche was a tiny portion of chaat flavors and nice textures. A really good idea in fact.

Varqui crab came as an appetizer which was layers of crab meat on crisp filo sheets topped with a tandoori shrimp. I quite liked this with it's presentation as well as taste. Succulent crab meat scramble which was mildly curry flavored and a plump grilled shrimp. Filo sheets did nothing to the taste but made a nice garnish. The vegetarian equivalent to it was Varqui khumb which had minced mushrooms instead of crab meat, topped with a morel.

Next came the haleem aur kabab platter which looked awesome and kept the promise too. I liked the melt in the mouth type galauti kabab, the creamy haleem rich with caramelized onions and a very interesting ganderi kabab.

Ganderi is a piece of sugarcane literally, this kabab was a seekh kabab wrapped on a thin but firm sliver of a sugarcane stick. This ganderi seekh kabab was dipped into a sweet and sour tamarind chutney served in a shot glass. A spectacular kabab that would leave you wanting for more just because of the chutney and the ganderi. An ordinary seekh kabab served spectacularly I would say.

The palak patta chaat was really interesting with crisp fried palak patta and miniature palak pakodis smeared in sweet and sour tamarind chutney. We did sneak a few of them from our vegetarian friends. Rekha and Sushmita are vegetarians in the group.

The next course was a lobster rassa for non vegetarians and a kala chana cappuccino for vegetarians. While kala chana cappuccino was outright awful, I quite liked the lobster rassa. A goan curry style broth that had potent flavors of seafood, that means a good stock was used. I liked the robust flavors and the warmth in this broth. Those who hate seafood smells should stay away from this, I would warn. This one is for those who love seafood.

A palate cleanser arrived with much drama. A ginger sorbet served over dry ice as we followed the trail of smoke. I am not sure if ginger is a good palate cleanser but I liked it.

Sea bass on spiced potato dauphinoise was the next course I had chosen. It looked good, I liked the pan seared fish but the potato dauphinoise didn't seem to go well with the mango and coconut milk curry. It felt like confused flavors struggling for attention, although it was a nice creamy curry. I knew Charis was loving it, probably Parul too as I know how much she loves fish in coconut milk curry.
This was the curry I felt was wrongly combined in terms of food elements. Sour mango, cream and coconut milk make opposite food groups, not very kind on our system.

Kali mirch ka murgh was also a dull flavored chicken as I tasted some from Deeba's plate. Sushmita decraled the jaitooni malai paneer a disaster, though it was a stunner on the plate, plated really creatively. Kali mirch ka asparagus was on the menu but I doubt it was served. I would have liked it probably.

I was full by now but a meat course was yet to be served.

It arrived with much anticipation as martaban ka meat was cooked in ceramic martabans (crock pots) and was being served right from the martban. I loved this idea. The meat curry was a regular curry though, nothing special of martaban cooking I could feel, may be I was too full by then.

I felt this course was too heavy for a last course. It was served with two vegetable accompaniments, a palak wadi and a urulai podimas. Both were good but a sheer wastage as by the fifth course no one was in a mood to enjoy them. I quite liked the jaitooni naan and another stuffed bread served with this course. Ah, there was a pulav served with it too. A kofta pulav that had generous sprinkling of black grapes (or was it craisins?), I found this pulav to be a medley of confused flavors too. But I know a few people who would love this pulav.

I was too full by now, almost repulsed with the last course but the dessert really made us all happy. Jalebi, apple kheer and a rolled malpua. While the malpua was meh, the jalebi made me smile as I could eat the whole jalebi after years. The apple kheer was wiped off quickly too and I got up as there was no more scope of stuffing myself with any more food.

The serving team brought another platter of a beautiful decorated chocolate dessert that looked like a globe with silver foil maps. It was flambeed on the table, we were all stuffed but few of us took a small spoonful of it before walking out.

Deeba had joined us all at the table after a long time. Himanshu and Mukta were also part of this table. Nachiketa joined us all at the last moment as she recently returned from her stint at Le Cordon Bleu, London. We caught up with everyone in the last as some of us were seated quite far away from each other and then quickly made an exit as it was quite late in the night by now and we were all returning alone.

I would recommend this place if you want a cozy private fine dining experience with family or guests and don't mind the expenses, otherwise there are nice Indian food restaurants in the city serving good value for money. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

easy paneer makhni recipe...

Paneer makhni, paneer butter masala or butter paneer masala is more of a restaurant style curry whose roots lie in the dhaba food. Many highway dhabas serve a nice and thick tomato gravy with large chunks of paneer with a generous slathering of butter, served with hot tandoori rotis this Punjabi staple has quenched our hunger many times while traveling. Most of us order paneer makhni and kaali daal or daal makhni on highway dhabas just because these are fast moving items on their menu and good quality and freshness is assured. Same goes with restaurants as well, most of them make nice makhni paneer and makhni daal even if other vegetarian curries are screwed up big time on their menu. 

easy and quick makhni paneer recipe

Makhni paneer is always great at highway dhabas more because they get very good quality raw milk from local sources and make their own paneer fresh. This makes a whole lot of difference to how the fat cubes of paneer behave in a rich curry. 

On second thoughts, the highway dhabas even have access to fresh local tomatoes too while we in the urban jungles depend on roma tomatoes and dry cardboard type tomato varieties most of the times. Good quality fresh tomatoes too would make a difference to the final flavor of this curry. 

Here is how I make this curry at home. This is the most convenient curry as one doesn't need to chop many things and saute or fry anything at all. Just pressure cook a few things together, puree using a hand blender and simmer with added spices and butter. Fresh home made paneer can be done on the other side of the gas stove if you wish. I always do that so it is a melt in your mouth type paneer makhni for us each time it is made. Although I feel the tartness or the creaminess of the gravy differs sometimes if I use different varieties of tomatoes. We get different varieties of tomatoes in different seasons but choose the freshest, deep red, fully ripe tomatoes to get the best flavors possible.


For pressure cooking..
fresh fully ripe tomatoes roughly chopped 300 gm
red onions sliced 100 gm
peeled garlic pods 3-4
ginger root roughly chopped 1 tbsp
dry red kashmiri chilies 5-6 or to taste (you can use kashmiri chilly powder too)
salt to taste

Other ingredients..
freshly home made paneer (or store bought if you wish) 200-250 gm
garam masala 1/2 tsp (special garam masala which doesn't have coriander, cumin and peppers)
dry kasoori methi crushed 1 tbsp or to taste
butter 50 gm or more to taste
fresh cream 50 ml (optional, I didn't use it this time)
sugar 1 tsp to balance the tartness sof tomatoes

I use a homemade tomato paste or sun dried tomatoes mostly to make the curry quicker, otherwise you need to reduce the gravy a bit on the gas stove. Works nicely either ways. Add about 2 tbsp tomato paste or sun dried tomato paste while pressure cooking if using.


Pressure cook everything in the first list. Cooking till the first whistle blows is enough. Cool down the pressure cooker and then blend the mixture with the help of an immersion blender or using your food processor. Sieve the liquid if required. I don't sieve it ever.

Return to the pressure cooker pan, the liquid will be cooked without the pressure lid now. Reduce the gravy to a desired consistency and then add the fresh paneer cubes, crushed kasoori methi and garam masala powder. Add cream if using and simmer for about 5 minutes. Adjust seasoning, add sugar if required, add the butter and transfer the curry in the serving bowl.

Serve hot with your choice of flat bread. Roti, naan, kulcha or roomali roti goes well with this curry.