Tuesday, January 29, 2013

bhuni khichri in winters : a makar sankranti special khichri ...


Makar sankranti (a winter harvest festival in North India) is called as khichri or khichdi too in Eastern UP, probably because all new crop lentils and rice is cooked into a khichri on this auspicious day. This khichri is served with many small tidbits like a bowl of ghee, fried or roasted papads, a few chutneys both savory and sweet kind, raita or some kind of dahi (yogurt) preparations like dahi vada, a few seasonal pickles etc etc. The number of dishes would be directly proportional to how much the lady of the house can cook or how much the other members are enthusiastic about the khichri. An array of sweetmeats made of khoya and sesame and other nuts adorn the table as well. Sesame and nuts sweetmeats called tilgud are so synonymous with Sankranti in the north.

Back into my childhood, we were all a bunch of foodies who loved pitching in to cook or prepare something or the other when such feasts were the order of the day. Makar sankranti being a holiday helped a lot. I am always reminded of my Daadi (grandmother) whenever I think about such traditional meals or cook them myself. She would have made a quick green chutney and a kachumber style salad if the same meal was served on the table in her presence. She always liked the meals to be pepped up with chutneys and raw salads even if the cooking has been basic.

I fall for basic coking and one dish meals whenever pressed for time or otherwise too. Khichri is an all time favorite and I would have cooked it more frequently if the husband was not so allergic to the sound of the word 'khichri'. He eats it alright when I cook it though, but rejects the idea of khichri every time I ask.

It so happened on the day of Makar sankranti this year too. We were just back from Goa the previous night and he had to join office in the morning. I wanted a home cooked comforting meal for myself and didn't want to cook separate things for both of us. His lunch box was also to be cooked to my despair, early in the morning. Such things feel like a pain when you are just back from a fun holiday. Anyways, I asked him if he would like to have khichri in his lunch box and he said no straight away. I asked what about a pulao with some daal in it, he said yes.

I know you would say I am manipulative. I agree I am.

I soaked the lentils in the night so a quick khichri would be ready for the day of makar sankranti. A comforting home cooked meal after 2 weeks of Goan food and a festival being celebrated in it's warm glory too. Both tasks duly accomplished. Call me manipulative but I cooked the khichri alright. Just like it was done in my mother's home.

Makar sankranti special khichri..

ingredients...
(2-3 servings as a stand alone meal)

black lentils split (urad daal split with skin) 1/2 cup
split chick peas (chana daal without skin) 1/2 cup
basmati rice 1/2 cup
fresh green peas 1 cup
dry red chilies broken to taste
cumin seeds 2 tsp
black cardamoms 2
green cardamoms 2
cloves 10
cinnamon sticks 2
minced ginger (not paste) 2 tbsp
black pepper powder 1 tsp
turmeric powder 1 tsp
ghee 2 tbsp
water 1 cup
salt to taste

procedure...

Soak the lentils well in time, at least 3 hours or overnight. Drain and keep aside.

Wash the rice, drain and keep aside till you do the other preparations.

Heat the ghee in a pressure cooker pan and tip in the dry red chilies and cumin seeds first. Let them crackle and then add the chopped ginger and whole spices and remove the pan from the burner for a while so the whole spices don't get charred.

Add the soaked and drained lentils, green peas and the powdered spices and toss them all so everything gets coated well with spices, and get aromatic in about 2-3 minutes. If cooking a larger quantity you would need to prolong this step till the aroma of spices is evident and the lentils look a little cooked.

Add the drained rice, add a cup of water and salt to taste, fix the lid of the pressure cooker and let the pressure build up. Wait till the first whistle and then lower the flame and cook for 2-3 minutes more.

Let the pressure release by itself, open the lid and let the steam out. Fluff up the khichdi with the help of a folk. Serve as required. This khichri tastes good at room temperature too.

I packed this for Arvind's office lunch with a separate box of sliced carrots. He got plain yogurt from his office canteen, while I made a carrots and onion raita for myself that day. The hare lasun ka achar was a good accompaniment to this lovely khichri too.

Some people like adding garlic to the khichri, some love a topping of fried onions on top and some wouldn't touch a khichri without a huge dollop of ghee glistening on a plate of khichri. Some would love it with a typical UP style chokha and some bhujia. Dress it up as you like, this winter special khichri with green peas and two types of lentils together is a delight to have for lunch.

Pickle, raita, chutney and papad ...all can make the khichri interesting in it's own way ...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Vietnamese food at Blue Ginger, The Taj Palace Hotel...


Traditional cuisines hold my attention like nothing else. All the food that has stood the test of time and has evolved into a fine array of taste around a certain culture and geography is fascinating to think about, to experience and to research if you want to delve deeper. Local ingredients, seasons of the land and various colonial influences have evolved into different cuisines of the world, some of them look similar to each other due to similar ingredients and herbs etc, but the finer details and resultant taste is very very different. All south east Asian countries seem to share the same composite culture and agricultural produce, rich seafood and herb diversity. But the finer nuances of each cuisine come from a composite culture of a particular country or state. I was very curious about Vietnamese cuisine when I had an opportunity to taste it recently. I had heard about the French influence as Vietnam has been a French colony in the past, imagining French flavors and south east Asian aromas melding together was something like a mystery for me.

The mystery unfolded amidst opulence of a french-colonial style aesthetics, they say it is inspired by the the Bao dai palace in Dalat.


 A huge round mother of pearl table impressed me as I settled down for lunch at this private dining hall at the blue Ginger, capital's contemporary Vietnamese restaurant at The Taj Palace Hotel. We at CAL blogger's table, were invited for a sampling of their business Bento box lunches. Bento boxes are a Japanese tradition that I love for it's neatly arranged food in compartments, being fresh and colorful essentially. At Blue Ginger they have designed these Bento lunches with Vietnamese cuisine which takes great influence from Japanese cuisine as well.


 Executive Chef Rajesh Wadhwa introduced Vietnamese cuisine and about the french influence on a basically Thai/Japanese/Chinese family of flavors and cooking techniques. We see that French have added finesse to this cuisine. The steaming, braising techniques and stewing the vegetables and meats so they retain their best textures. The Vietnamese menu at Blue Ginger is suited for an Indian taste as they serve all the meats and seafood liked by most Indians, vegetarian options have been worked upon diligently and we saw some really good things being dished out.

The sweet people at Blue Ginger decided to make us sample the whole array of Vietnamese food instead of just the Bento lunch. And that was a 7 course meal to devour. I chose to have a non vegetarian meal for myself. It was still having loads of fresh greens and vegetables, exactly the way I like my meals.


The starters were all delicately flavored lettuce wraps. A stir fried lamb mince served with lettuce. A fresh summer roll with shrimp and chicken and a really nice raw mango salad that was exploding with flavors. Sweet and tangy mango salad that had herb undertones, very refreshing. I liked the plump and juicy shrimps and chicken into the rice paper rolls as well. The dipping sauces served along were just perfect for these rolls.


Then this soup was smooth and flavorful with freshness of asparagus. Chicken and asparagus soup, with a hint of the seasoning sauces becomes just perfect for you. I liked it.

Next on our table were the grills. I ended up tasting all the vegetarian options too hereafter. So you get more information about the food here. Peppered prawns with sea salt and Grilled chicken with lime leaf and chilly for the non vegetarians and Tofu in lemongrass and chilly marinade and grilled okra, zucchini and mushroom He tien for the vegetarians. I tasted the veggies as well and found them utterly delicious. Very refreshing hint of basil and lime, lemon grass and peppers. I loved the interplay of flavors going on. The grills left a tingle on my tongue.


A palate cleanser was in order, a frozen tamarind bomb came our way (bottom left in the picture above). This was a complete surprise element. A sweet tamarind sorbet which just stole the show. We all loved it unanimously.


 The main course included Stir fried lobster with garlic salt and pepper. I just loved it, rightly cooked, succulent and rightly herb infused. Stir fried chicken supreme with lemongrass garlic chilly sauce was rightly flavorful. Among the vegetarian options, the crispy lotus root and vegetable delicacy served with a sticky tamarind sauce was a stunner. A very chaat like dish that leaves no option of not liking it. Wonderful I say. The Hue style edemame and broad beans with gingko nuts was a nice beans mix that I would like anyways, being a total beans and veggies lover that I am.


The Lemon grass scented braised lamb shanks in caramel chilly oyster sauce was a stunner as a good looking lamb shank well served always would be.


Rightly cooked, almost melting in the pot, falling off the bone and still holding on to it. Succulent well done meat and nice flavors I would say, but nothing that I would not miss having in an otherwise lovely lunch. I am not such a meat lover you know.

 I tasted the baguette with a bowl of red cari (curry) served on the side and was amazed to find this combination. It worked like a coconut milk based stew works with appam. The baguettes are true French influence and go well with the spicy vegetable cari they serve. This cari is more like a Thai red curry but not as robust.

We were all full to the brim. Still the desserts had to be tasted if not devoured. The Lemongrass ice cream was a nice change from regular fruity flavors that I prefer tasting. One of my favorite herbs, lemongrass surprises me more often with it's capability to get into a chilled or hot dish, spicy or sweet dish. The ice cream was good. Don't miss it if you are there.


The Ginger coconut caramel custard sounded really exotic and something that I would not miss otherwise, but it turned out to be a little too firm for my taste. Something that locks the flavors and doesn't allow them to come to my palate. Avoidable.

The chocolate bombe with coffee mousse and amaretto chocolate sauce was drama served in front of us. Chocolate sauce being poured in front of you can seduce chocolate lovers. I liked the coffee mouse part more. Not much of a chocolate person, but don't miss if you are.

This journey replete with spices and herbs was quite something to enjoy. I would definitely recommend going there if you love south east Asian cuisines.

The cost of this meal experience at Blue Ginger is INR 5500 +taxes per person 
and the Bento box business lunch is priced at INR 1500 + taxes

I would love to go for the Bento box lunch again. Great opulent ambience and refreshing healthy food would be my reasons to there again and again.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

alu-gobhhi wala matar ka nimona | green peas nimona recipe with potatoes and cauliflowers, an authentic eastern UP curry...


This alu-gobhi wala matar ka nimona is such a delight to cook. It always evokes memories of my grandmother who used to cook such curries with so much of love and affection thrown in for good measure. Such spicy curries were her favorites, I remember how she used to insist on grinding a fresh chutney for every meal and slicing neat wedges of tomatoes, onions and carrots or radishes for salads. Food cooked with love has so much warmth to it, we would know if we have seen our mothers and grandmothers enjoying what they did for us kids. There is no substitute of a loving touch in everyday cooking you would agree. All the measurements and accurate methods fail when the love is not poured through the ladle.

And the love was poured through the ladle in the form of ghee sometimes. Fragrant and freshly homemade. Such recipes when cooked in ghee have a very distinct flavor but many people cook it in mustard oil and serve the curry with a spoonful of melted ghee for that lovely aroma. I prefer cooking this alu gobhi wala matar ka nimona in mustard oil because stir frying the vegetables in mustard oil imparts a complex flavor into this curry along with a few robust spices used.

ingredients...
(4-5 servings)
fresh green peas (shelled) 2 cups
baby potatoes (new winter potatoes) boiled, peeled and halved 1.5 cup
cauliflower florets 1.5 cup
ginger-garlic-green chilly paste 2 tbsp
coriander powder 2 tsp
cumin powder 1tsp
black pepper powder 1.5 tsp
turmeric powder 1 tsp
whole cumin seeds 2 tsp
mustard oil 1/3 cup
salt to taste
chopped coriander greens and stems 1/2 cup

procedure...

Make a coarse paste of the green peas, some of them should remain whole so if your food processor makes a paste quickly it's better to keep some whole green peas separately.


Heat oil in a deep pan and tip in the cumin seeds. Tip in the small florets of cauliflowers and boiled potato halves and stir fry them on medium flame so it all gets pinkish brown in 5-6 minutes. Add salt while this step as it helps absorbing the flavors later.



Add the powdered spices and the ginger-garlic-green chilly paste to the cooking mixture. This paste is made freshly, using about 2-3 green chilies, an inch piece of ginger and about 6-7 garlic cloves. The quantities can be adjusted to taste as you might like the nimona more garlicky or more hot.


Mix everything up and keep bhunoing the mixture on medium flame again. It helps the masala paste become toasted well and get aromatic. The earthy toasted aroma of the masala paste will be an indication of it's doneness. In appearance the mixture looks shiny and a little brownish. Total time taken for this step wont be more than 6-7 minutes.


Now is the time to add the coarse paste of green peas. Mix it all well and bhuno again for a couple of minutes so the flavors get melded.


Do not brown the green pea paste, it should just mix well with the masala paste and get a little sticky to the pan.

Now is the time to add water to the cooking mixture. Two cups of water will be good enough, but go by your choice of how runny or thick you want your nimona. Add the chopped coriander greens and stems at this stage, cover and let the curry simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Keep the flame low just after it get a gentle boil. It helps to keep the aromas of spices within the curry mixture. On high flame the top notes evaporate. Take crae the cauliflower florets keep their shape and don't get too mushy.


A firm bite in the cauliflower will be good to have otherwise it just gets lost and affects the final flavor of the nimona as it then interferes with the fresh flavors of green peas and coriander greens.

Serve the nimona hot with plain boiled rice or plain chapatis/rotis. Some people like a dollop of ghee on top of the nimona, but we like it as it is. The plain nimona is essentially cooked in ghee and that has a different flavor altogether. This one with alu-gobi, uses only cumin, coriander and black pepper as spice powders that are robust flavors on spices. Garam masala (cloves, cardamom, cinnamon etc) is not used so the fresh flavors of the green peas, the new potatoes and coriander greens make the curry aromatic in a different way.


We love this meal of nimona-chawal with a thick creamy raita. Any raw vegetables can be used for a raita that goes with this hot comforting bowl of winters.

Someone had commented on another nimona post of mine about this alu-gobhi ka nimona that is cooked in UP homes and that made me crave for this winter treat. It was made almost the next day, took some time to come to the blog and now again it makes me crave again for a warm bowl of this alu-gobhi wala matar ka nimona. In cold weather, such meals are a bliss.

See a mungodi wala matar ka nimona here..
another plain matar ka nimona without onion garlic here
and here are some basics of matar ka nimona that I posted in my initial days of this blog.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

the Goan food we loved and enjoyed in Goa...


 We were in Goa for an adventure holiday in the first half of this month, enjoyed every moment there do I need to mention? We did a biking (cycling) expedition in the western ghats spanning 5 days and some 300 kms, it was a challenging task for me but absolutely worth all the pain we took. Yes, myself and Arvind both were a part of this expedition. Last time I was alone in an all women group for the Kullu to Khardung-la biking expedition, you would remember if you are a regular reader of BKK.

So Goa was enjoyed to the hilt, the greenery, the sea and the sun and all the seafood we could eat. After the expedition. We stayed back in Goa for 4 more days just to enjoy the local cuisine and to have walks around the markets and beaches. Fortunately, there was an art festival going on at the Kala Academy in Panjim where we found a nice Goan food stall run by a local women organisation. We tasted a few things and were hooked to it. So much so that we used to head for this stall after all the wandering during the daytime and get our dinner packed from this stall, go back to our guest house and enjoy a lavish meal of seafood and local breads. Even the desserts were local all this while. Let me introduce you all to a few foods we loved in Goa.

This a mussels curry with a coconut base and mild spices. I had seen fisher women selling these on the streets during my cycling expedition and had never imagined these would be so tasty. We had it everyday for dinner along with either chicken Cafreal or a crab curry.


This is a Squid stir fry with bell peppers they call squid pepper fry. The first time I ordered this dish from a menu there I thought a black peppercorn heavy stir fry is in order, it turned out to be bell peppers much to Arvind's dismay. He is intolerant to bell peppers but I just loved it. So when I saw it here on this stall by ladies, I got it packed for myself. It's a bit oily but really tasteful with the scallop rings soft and supple and not rubbery.


They had a traditional Goan/Maharashtrian flat bread made with rice flour called Bhakhri. This is an interesting soft bread that suits well with these curries.


They always have some Goan pao too. We loved Goan pao (bun) and this Bhakhri with this crab curry and mussels that we brought back to our guest house room one day.

I would tell you a secret, we used to bring the packed food to our room and not the dining hall of the guest house (NIO science center guest house) just  so we could suck the hell out of those crabs mercilessly in the privacy of our room :-) It was so so yummy believe me.


Look at the rich coconut based curry and the small crabs that were so soft and yet meaty. Very fresh flavors of the sea.



Other curries we loved were the Cafreal as we otherwise also love a coriander greens chicken I cook at home.

Another interesting curry we had at a spice farm was a coconut based (quite predictably) thin curry that had a very interesting vegetable in it. On asking the owner told me this vegetables was called Bimli in local language and was a little sour in taste. This thin curry was served for breakfast with a Pao baked in village bakery. I couldn't take a picture because we were all ready for our next ride of the expedition early in the day, all packed up. I tried to recreate that recipe with the same vegetable that I brought back and loved it all over again.

We enjoyed a few desert snacks as well. Here is a fried modak that is a stuffed pastry with a sweetened coconut mixture.


Here is a gujhia shaped stuffed pastry that they call karanji and this one is stuffed with a mix of chana dal and coconut.


Here is another fried cake like dessert snack that is again coconut based. Made of rice flour, coconut and sugar, this one can be stored for a few days.


Here is another stuffed pancake that used the same ingredients but the cooking technique is different. The name I forgot.


We tasted a halwa like dish cooked using broken wheat (daliya) and set into a mould and then cut into pieces like cake.


In this picture you can see some puran poli wrapped in a cellophane as well..


Here is another interesting take on the same set of ingredients with a bit different seasoning perhaps. Steamed into a leaf cone, this was stuffed with a coconut and jaggery mixture. Very rustic in taste but delicious. Note the serving pot that is shaped like cashew apple.


We found a nice bakery in Panjim fish market called P. Jackson's. This bakery is a very humble place but his bakes are really authentic and yummy. You would find Goan sausages and spice mixes at his shop and a few meat and seafood pickles also. We tried a sweet bun called Bolls which he said were a part of wedding gift from the bride's side to all the neighbors of the groom. Such lovely traditions. Here is the bun we enjoyed on it's own, sometimes with a dab of butter. It will make a nice breakfast bread with hot milk.


These Bolls (the sweet buns) are made of rice flour (I suspected some wheat flour as well), coconut jaggery, coconut meat and toddy to ferment. It had a very rich and complex taste to it, mildly sweet and dense. They say it keep well for 2 weeks and is discarded only when a layer of fungus is seen on the surface.

We also tasted the famous Dodol and Bebinca.

Here is the Dodol which is a custard pudding made using coconut milk, rice flour and eggs. Sweetened with coconut jaggery again. I am planning to cook this one as well.


Very tasty and addictive, mild sweetness that is complex with the use of coconut jaggery.

Bebinca is made using egg yolks, coconut milk and nutmeg powder and is a layered cake. Very rich flavors but a dense cake that fills you up quickly.


Interestingly, almost every single thing had coconut but such rich and varied flavors. The only thing we had there without coconut was the Sol kadi which is made using some coconut milk in North Konkan region as a friend told me. Goan Sol kadi is a deep pink drink that has some chopped green chilies, garlic and coriander greens floating on top. It was really very tasty with fried fish dishes we enjoyed at out guest house kitchen.

One more very interesting recipe was a salad with dried shrimps that was served at the guest house kitchen. The dry shrimps were stir fried and then mixed with raw onions and scraped fresh coconut  It was so yummy I decided to look out for dried shrimps in the local fish market, and finally found it. The recipe will definitely be shared here.

Goa was a flavorful experience. I would definitely try a few recipes myself, brought back a few ingredients and share the recipes here as well.

Hope you like this post with my foodie encounters in Goa. Wishing you all a tasteful and yummy year ahead...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

nimbu-khajur-adrak ka achar | pickled limes with dates and ginger...



 Limes-dates and ginger preserved into a sweet sour and hot pickle. I know this combination makes you salivate immediately. It does so to many of us. This one is a favorite pickle of many of my friends too. A must have condiment in your pantry.

Most Indian homes have a jar of some pickle on the dining table, be it a hot and spicy kind or a sweet and sour pickle. I have seen some families where the pickle jar on the dining table is refilled almost everyday. We don't eat much pickles but somehow I took fancy to making them and gifting them to my friends and family every now and then. Sometimes someone would just describe a pickle to me and ask me to make it and I would be tempted enough to recreate those flavors. This pickle happened when the husband was remembering a pickle that my research guide used to make and gift us. Now that she is no more and her gifted bottle was over a couple of years ago, I decided to make the pickle myself. After all, this was one of those favorite lime pickles we used to love with our poori subzi or paratha meals.

Recently, someone in the family was not well and her taste buds were feeling numb after having a course of antibiotics, I gave her this pickle to eat with her light khichdi. She was so happy to have this that I decided to pack a small jar for her. Then I was reminded of a few pictures I had taken while making it last year. And here is the recipe with a few recent pictures of the pickle. A sweet and sour pickle with a little hint of heat, it is one of those pickles you would lick the spoon for.

ingredients...
Indian limes cut into 8 parts or smaller bits 1 kilo (seeds removed)
sticky fresh dates chopped into bite size pieces 500 gm
golden raisins 100 gm
ginger chopped into thick julienne 500 gm
red chilly powder 50-60 gm or as per taste
black pepper powder 1 tsp (you can add about 20-30 whole peppercorns if you like)
salt 300 gm
kala namak (pink salt) 50 gm
sugar 100 gm
asafoetia powder 1 tsp (use lesser if using the pure resin)

procedure...
Chop the limes on a wooden chopping board and keep a draining tray beneath so the juices are not wasted. Collect the juice and let the asafoetida dissolve in it.

Meanwhile chop the dates too and mix everything in a wide container preferably glass but plastic would also work as this pickle would not require heating.


Keep the container covered on a kitchen shelf, no need to keep it in the sun everyday. Just make sure you give the pickle a good stir every week or so, using a clean spatula. Within a month the dates would soak the juices and the limes will be softer. Pectin will be released from the limes and the syrup will be thicker, looking like jelly.


Fill it into sterilised jars to last a long time. This pickle keeps well for 2 years or more, it will keep getting jelly like and flavors would become more like Indian digestive chooran goli or sonth chutney as the pickle ages.


Best served with fried snacks like kachoris, pakodas and pooris etc. since the pickle has undertones of a sonth chutney. Even khichdi meals would welcome this pickle if someone is feeling under the weather. This is a quick pick me up kinda pickle.

Try this on crackers served on a cheeseboard. You will be surprised to the instant popularity of this sweet sour and lightly hot pickle..almost like a spicy fruit preserve.


Now tell me how do you like this rubber seal jar. I have been using glass jars of Yera for a very long time but ordered these from Devnow online to try a better quality of pickle jars that are not available in markets normally. Although I am wary of the rubber seal not being sterilised properly. But these jars are good even without the rubber seal.

Talking of online shopping, I am more comfortable now than ever, there are so many options to choose from and so many deals you can avail. Try this site CupoNation for convenient online shopping. I know you would find something you like and something that you don't get in markets around your place.

Cheers...