Category Archives: Recipes

>The second easiest daal recipe in the world…pressure cooked moong daal

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I had earlier written about the microwave masoori daal which K makes inspired by mom and has now taught Banu and me. This is the easiest daal to make in the world.

Well, I discovered the second easiest daal to make today. This was inspired by something K cooked in the early years of our marriage when she shocked me by not roasting the moong daal before cooking it. I remember getting quite agitated then.

Today’s daal was so easy that I managed it with a bad back and when I was blind with hunger. I didn’t want to have the rotis and Bengali cabbage shobji which Banu made yesterday and which were in the fridge by themselves. It seemed to dry. I needed something to go with it.

So here’s what I did:

  • I soaked half a cup of moong daal in 3 times the water in a pressure cooker. I added half a teaspoon each of turmeric and sugar and some salt to this
  •  I broke two basic rules. I didn’t roast daal unlike in the Bong bhaaja (fried) moonger daal. Nor did I soak it for a while as other daals should be. I was hungry. I switched on the gas. Waited for 3 whistles of the cooker and another 2,3 minutes then on low flame. In an ideal world should have given it more time. Lifted the whistle of the cooker with a spoon to let out the steam and opened the cooker. I was in a hurry and ideally shouldn’t have been in the kitchen
  • I placed a pan on the gas and melted a teaspoon of ghee, added some shada jeere or cumin seeds
  • When it crackled I added a dry red chili and a split green chili, brought the daal to boil, added a pinch of red chilly powder and jeera or cumin powder to it
  • I let the daal in the pan to bubble on a high fame for 3,4 minutes and switched it off as the daal thickened
The result was fantastic and I am not even a big daal lover. It was warm, the ghee added just the right touch of indulgence and coquetishness with the latent heat of the chillies adding to the mystique. The touch of sugar added balance. The under spiced daal did bring alive a rather simple lunch of roti and cabbages. Credit goes to the ghee or clarified butter to a large extent if you ask me.

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Filed under Bengali food, Lazy cooking, Lonely Hearts cooking, Recipes, vegetarian stuff

>Banu takes a Master Class on Shammi Kebabs

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Those on the  Finely Chopped Facebook Page friends would have heard of‘Bunkin Banu’. As would people who read (‘follow’ is so egoistic) my tweets at @finelychopped.  Those who know me in real life and live at Mumbai might have eaten her shammi kebabs. Muslin-like melt in the mouth works of art which would give the most Nawabi of Gulauti kebabs an inferiority complex. These are the kebabs that guests in my house talk about well after a three or four course dinner cooked by me.
Banu came into our lives as a maid whom we inherited from the gentleman we bought our flat from. He had warned us that she bunks like mad. He was right. Many are the times that I wanted to sack her in the initial years when K stopped me. And as Banu pointed out the other day, she has been with us for eight years now. She even shifted with us when we moved houses down the lane.
I was quite pig headed about not keeping a cook in the early years of our marriage. Banu, and her predecessor Rani, would just clean and chop. I would cook. Occasionally K would. And so it went night after night for almost five years. Then I don’t know how it happened but between K, her mom and my mom’s machinations Banu started making rotis for us. And she makes excellent rotis. 
Soon we increased her job description and made Banu my ‘sous chef’. I would instruct her and she would cook. She calls me every day at work and has the memory of the grasshopper. I need to repeat recipes every time. Often in the middle of meetings.  I haven’t told her that the alu khus khus that she makes is alu posto, kanda wala machhi rui kaalia, mundi wala daal machher mudo diye daal, hara moong daal the daal torka of the dhabas of Calcutta. With her repertoire of Bong dishes her market value would be pretty high. 
For long we thought that Banu couldn’t cook to save her life. Then K had a brain wave and asked her to make kebabs. Muslims are supposed to be good at that. K was right. She had struck oil. For all her uneven and rough cooking skills, Banu’s kebabs like Bianca Castafiore’s emeralds were beyond compare.
Many have asked me for the recipe to Banu’s shammi kebab. So I asked her the other day. The thing about Banu is that she loves to chat. Whenever I am home and trying to write I will suddenly find Banu in the study with her litany of demands …rice is over, dish washing soap, flour too, potatoes are over, we need a new scrub, the newspapers needs to be sold… and then assorted clutter from across the house, ‘is ko feku’ or ‘should I throw this’. I try to ignore her and type away.
That day was different. A very little prodding and I found out that Banu’s father was from Kolhapur. A place where they add crushed peanuts into every dish according to her. She however was a Mumbaikar as she proudly said. Born in Bandra. Working from the age of 13 where she babysat children for Rs 20 a month. Her father used to earn Rs 100 (2 USD) a month. Banu is close to 40 now. Grandmother of two as far as I know. Living by herself. Raising a younger son. Supporting her daughter and grandchildren. One more of those incredible women of India.
“Where did you learn to make kebabs?” I asked her. “By observing others. Learning at people’s house. Just as I learn in yours”.  She smiled as I told her about how famous and sought after her kebabs were. And then we went into a long debate about how much rice should we make for the party at night. She was right. I had over- estimated.
Banu begun making her kebabs. I clicked. She said ‘saab my pictures turn out very bad. I saw them in a CD in a wedding I went to recently’. I explained to her the difference between photos take au naturalle versus posed ones. I explained that I would put these on the Internet. That the whole world would see her.  She knows that I write. The neighbours in our earlier building had told her that as she proudly told us once. 
I wish I could tell you the exact recipe for the kebabs but this is what I could figure out by talking to her and observing her. Try your luck or drop by at our place some day. We have an open kitchen.


Banu’s Shammi Kebabs…
  • Boil 500 g of minced meat and 2 sliced potatoes in a pressure cooker. Banu is used to mutton. We give her chicken mice. Traditionally they would add channe ke daal, chholar daal or Bengal Gram. K doesn’t like it. Hence only potato in our kebabs
  • Take out the boiled mix. Add chilli powder, regular packet garam masala, black pepper powder , salt– sab masala or all masalas – as she put it. Add chopped green chillies and coriander leaves to it. You are on your own here when it comes to the mix of spices
  • Put this mix into a food processor and blend it. I guess that the softness comes from this stage.
  • Dip the kebab into a mixture of a beaten egg. 1 egg is enough for a kilo of meat
  • Put the kebab balls into a pan of hot oil on a flame. After a few seconds turn the kebabs over. Then take these out. Put the next batch into the hot oil.
  • That’s it.

 

A great starter. Goes well with roti and green moong daal for dinner too. Tastes excellent even if you heat them in the micro a day later.
Most importantly, the only dish, I don’t need to give her instructions for. Now I hope and pray that banu doesn’t do her other thing this weekend. Bunking.

PS Banu told me that she went to a wedding to work yesterday. She learnt how to make new stuff like hara bhara kebab. I told her that she can keep the knowledge to herself as we will not eat veg food using loads of oil. She said that there is hardly any oil as you dip and take it out. She also said that they took many photos of her. btw she didn’t bunk the whole weekend. A record

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>Adhunik bhaapa ilish or ‘modern microwaved steamed Hilsa’ recipe

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I met Scarlett after ages for lunch. That’s when Bunkin Banu called me for instructions on what to cook. She seems programmed to call me when I sit to eat.
Scarlett couldn’t stop giggling as I instructed  Banu to make baigan ka bharta, which we recently learnt she knows how to make, cabbage, daal and roti. Scarlett was surprised to find out that we eat simple vegetarian food too. Plus she said that she thought that I cooked every day. I tried to tell her that it wasn’t so. She refused to believe me. And guess what, I did end up ‘cooking’ today. If you can call pressing two switches that.
I had some time to kill this evening as I returned early from work. So I decided to make a microwave steamed Hilsa inspired by a post Pree wrote recently.  I wasn’t too sure of putting curd in the beginning. Pree explained that this would be ok. Apparently curd curdles if you add it mid way. You should add it in the beginning of cooking or at the end when the dish cools down. She was, as I knew she would be, right.
It hardly required any work and I managed to fit in a low intensity gym session in between the marinating and cooking. It was a no oil dish. Turned out to be a tad dry. A bit of oil drizzled in the beginning might have helped. Pree’s recipe involved mustard oil Some more curd might have helped too.
So here’s the recipe for the adhunik bhaapa ilish or modern steamed hilsa.
Recipe
Marinate
  • Put a teaspoon of mustard seeds in a grinder and grind (Bengali tradition calls for more mustard but K can’t handle the pungency)
  •  Add 1.5 teaspoons of poppy/ posto/ khus khus seeds to this and grind
  •  Add 3 geen chillies, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon turmeric to this and grind
  • Add 4 tablespoons of curd to this and whip

 

Cook:
           
  • Pour marinate over 4 pieces of Hilsa
  •  Marinate for at least an hour. I went and did a mild leg routine at the gym and returned in  1.5 hours
  • Put the dish into the micro and cover with a micro dish, cling film. This helps the fish retain the moisture. I didn’t. Which explains the dryness. Though, as K came and told me right now, the taste was very good
  • Switch on the micro for five minutes
  • Switch off the micro and take out the dish. Gently turn the fish. Add a bit more curd to blend in the masala in case it seems a bit dry
  • Put it in and switch on the micro for 3 more minutes. Total of 8 minutes
  • The dish is ready. Best had with steamed rice
I was a bit lazy today too and took the pictures with the Blackberry. The idea of taking out the camera and clicking would have against the grain of quick and easy cooking after all.

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>Matters of the heart …. Machher tel bhaaja (fried fish flab)

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No, this is not a Valentine’s Day post.

It is to do with something very close to the hearts of most red blooded, card carrying Bengalis. And, as the doctors would say, something that would clog the arteries too.

But try this. Get hold of a biggish, 3 kg +, caatla or rohu (river trout). Ask your fish seller if the fish is of good quality. If it is, then ask your fish seller to give you the machher tel (fish oil or flab).

Get the ‘tel’ home. Wash it. Gently coat it with a bit of salt and cumin powder. Some would put a dash of flour to coat and chopped chillies and onions too. I prefer to keep it as uncomplicated and pure as possible.

Place the ‘tel’ on a pan and on a flame. You won’t need oil. Remember this is oil. Let it lightly fry. You will see an ocean of oil come out.

Take the solid parts out. There would be bits of cuddly white flab. Touches of dark sensuous meat. Could be bitter if this fish is not too good. Else the stuff which would set your heart a-flutter.

Have this with rice and daal. Ideally machher mudo diye bhaaja mooger daal   (fried moong dool with fish head). And a green chilli on the side.

As decadent, if not more, than pork fat. Possibly as lethal. But hey, you will be in paradise for a few minutes.

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>Bengali alu chhok recipe inspired by a Tweet

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We had reached an impasse for lunch yesterday. I wanted alu bhaaja (fried potatoes) to go with daal, rice and ilish bhaaja. K wanted alu posto (potatoes in poppy seeds) which I am bit tired off.

Then I saw a tweet from @madhumita whom I first met at the Koli Fish Festival recently. The tweet said “making aloo chokha. mashed potato with caramelised onions. perfect with muger daal bhat”.

I got my answer. Improvised a bit. Briefed Bunkin Banu who wasn’t bunkin for a change. And here you have, a very easy and tasty dish. As someone told me yesterday, potato is rich in vitamin C. And as I always say, God ran out of ideas in vegetables after he created potatoes. One of his best works.

So here’s my recipe for alu chhok:

Prep:

  • Boil 4 potatoes in a pressure cooker. Peel. Half and keep

 Cook:

  • Heat oil in a pan. 1 tablespoon will do
  • Add some Nigella Seeds or kaalo jeere
  • One the seeds crackle and the oil splutters, add a tablespoon of finely chopped onions
  • One this turns translucent add two split green chillies and one dry red chillies
  • Then add the potatoes and half a teaspoon of salt
  • Use a ladle and smash and mash the potatoes
  • See that the Nigella seeds and chillies spread into the potatoes
  • Switch of the flame once bits of the potato browns and becomes a tad crisp
  • Top with a bit of fresh chopped coriander leaves

That’s it. Made for a great Saturday afternoon lunch. Kainaz and I both loved it.

Nigella seeds and coriander make it Bengali. If you don’t have these then you can use whole mustard seeds and curry leaves to to give it a South or West Indian feel. Add the curry leaves to the oil in the beginning then

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Filed under Bengali food, Lazy cooking, Recipes, vegetarian stuff

>Creating good karma. Mediterranean Aubergine and Paneer vegetarian salads recipes

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Quickie Paneer Starter
Salad Cappadocia

There are times when I boldly go where no Bengali man has gone before. On a not so ‘starry trek’ to the vegetable shop.

My confidence and composure while at meat shops, childish joy at cheese shops and nostalgic glow in fish markets dessert me at the vegetable-wallah’s. I am left groping in the dark. I often pick up strange things from baskets and ask the vegetable sellers to identify these and to even tell me how to cut and cook them. At times I feel God ran out of ideas after he created potatoes.

We had a couple of vegetarians over for my ‘bringing in the birthday dinner’. Two lost souls who strayed. They were once good hearted meat and fish eaters. But you couldn’t ignore them could you? What would the guys who write Archies Friendship Day cards say?
So I did rustle up some stuff for them. One was a green curry. Without fish sauce and with shitake mushrooms, corn and broccoli. Some would call it ‘inspired by Thai curries’. And I created a Mediterranean aubergine salad inspired by the ‘baigan raita’ which a Malayali colleague’s mom sent for lunch recently. I made up this dish along the way and was really thrilled by how it turned out. I didn’t do it all by myself. Required some deep frying which I am pathologically not attuned to do. So Bunkin Banu fried it for me while I plated and created the dish. 
The net result? The non vegetarians pushed the vegetarians away and devoured it. I plan to call the dish ‘Salad Cappadocia’ in memory of the inn at Cappadocia where I first discovered the Mediterranean spice of sumac. Where the kind inn keeper poured sumac on the yogurt meatball and spaghetti dish which he tried to make Kainaz eat.

Here’s my recipe for it.

Salad Cappadocia
Prep: Hung curd – pour curd over a sieve or a fine cloth and put a vessel below this. Keep it overnight. The water will strain out. You will get hung curd the next morning.   Add sumac, zatarpita,  baharat (all Med spices) Mediterranean lemon powder to the hung curd and gently stir the spices in.  I was trying to think of a good Mediterranean herb when I remembered pudina or mint. I added a few chopped mint leaves on top. The hung curd recipe and the Mediterranean spices used here are courtesy Gia who very thoughtfully packed the spices and some honey into bottles, labelled them and got them for us.

If you do not have these spices then try adding chilli flakes and crushed pepper

Cook:
·     Slice Aubergines (baigan) into thin slices. Smear salt. Put them into a pan of hot oil and take them out in a few seconds. They will get fried. You will need to add quite a bit of oil but can do many rounds of frying in the remaining oil. Not for the faint hearted.
·    Place the fried aubergine slices in a shallow bowl
·    Fry some zucchini strips and then place these on the aubergines
·    Sauté some finely chopped tomato, onion, garlic and hot red or green chillies and place this over the zucchini
  •    Fry some baby corn split into half longitudinally and place them on the onion tomato mix
·    Fry some more aubergines and place theses on top the split baby corn. The idea is to go for layers. Let it cool.
·    Layer the hung curd mix on top of the aubergine. Gently part the aubergines on top to leave small gaps through which the curd can seep in. Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over this
·    Put the dish in the fridge.
·    The dish will be ready in an hour. We kept it for about 6-7 hours in the fridge.
·    Before serving add some mint leaves and toasted pine nuts on top. This will give a nice crunchy break to the texture of crisp yet squishy vegetables, fresh mint, heat of chillies and soothing curd. The magic lies in the array of textures

And here’s a recipe for a starter for vegetarians. Takes less than two minutes to prepare. Not that I am saying that that is all the time they deserve.

Key to this dish is good fresh quality paneer or Indian cheese. Thanks to the Sindhis we get really good paneer at Bandra and Khar at Mumbai. The dish got over in thirty seconds. 
Paneer Quickies
·     Take 250 g of fresh paneer. Chop them into cubes. Place them on a plate
·     Sprinkle some zatar pita and sumac on the paneer. In the absence of this red chilli flakes and crushed black pepper would do
·     Add some chopped green chillies and pudina or mint leaves and toasted pine nuts
·      Add a few drops of olive oil on the sides of the plate
·     Put the plate in the microwave and grill for thirty seconds
·     The dish is ready. Encourage people to take a cube of paneer with a toothpick and fish for some hot chillies and cool pudina to form a hot and creamy mouthful and then pop in a few pine nuts. The combination would make the sternest go weak in their knees


So there you are. My first, and possibly last, post with two vegetarian recipes. That’s enough good Karma created for a lifetime I hope

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>Blood, sweat and olive oil. Chorizo & feta aglio olio recipe

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In case you thought Italian food is always difficult to make, it is not. If you thought that pasta has to be heavy and cheesy, it does not. If you thought that you would rather stick to Chinese, then try this Italian dish for a transition towards the West.
Spaghetti aglio olio or spaghetti in olive oil is one of the simplest dishes to rustle up. Helps if you don’t chop your own finger as I did. OK, ‘chop’, is too a strong word but I did shed a lot of blood when I cut my finger while using a cleaver to finely chop chorizo. It took a while before I could find K’s make up removal pads which were the only cotton at home. In the process I learnt that turmeric can help stop the flow of blood. Not before the bedroom floor turned red. And then my friend Ranjit, @qtfan on twitter, patched me up though it was past 11. He offered to  come down but I drove to his place feeling like Bachchan in Agneepath or Don, driving with my bloodied palms, for 2 minutes (I love the drama). A tetanus jab followed, I had cut meat before with the same knife and us Bongs are hypochondriacs. Dressed and I was back. He dressed my finger the next day too, marinated with anti-biotic, I attacked the chorizo again. Feeling proud of my cooking scar. Now I can look Bourdain in the eye when I meet him. He had an entire chapter in ‘Kitchen Confidential’ on the violence in kitchens.

Day 1 after Ranjit patched it

Day 3, difficult to type without using a finger
The chorizo was a set of three fancy sausages that Soma, a junior at college and blog reader brought and sent to me all the way from the US, when she came to Calcutta recently. I couldn’t wait for K to come to open them. The meal took a day to cook with some bloodshed in between but it was all worth it. Some of us might find pastas, especially aglio olios, ‘bland’ for our Indian palates. That’s when strong meats such as chorizos and strong cheeses such as feta, which I used, help. I also used the Mediterranean spices of sumac and lemon powder, which Gia gave me, to flavour the dish. So, as you see, a number of my friends were a part of the making of this dish. 
 
Here’s the recipe for chorizo & feta aglio olio (my version, not authentic Italian Mama approved):

1.       Boil spaghetti and keep aside. Start with 100 g if it is for one person
2.       Heat 4,5 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. This is the base of the dish. You can even add some extra virgin over it once the dish is ready
3.       Add a tablespoon of finely chopped garlic
4.       Once the garlic turns yellowish, add a tablespoon of finely chopped tomato
5.       Stir. Once the tomatoes go soft, add about 3 tablespoons of chopped chorizo or any strong flavoured meat. Wash off any human blood which could Have smeared on if you were careless while chopping. This is not a fundamental step
6.       Once it cooks (1 minute) add the spaghetti, sprinkle salt and gently toss the spaghetti with a ladle  so that the sauce (meat and garlic seasoned oil) wraps around the spahghetti
7.       Add a few bits of feta or any strong cheese
8.       Season with sumac and lemon powder or ideally chilli flakes which is more authentic
9.       Photograph and eat.

Simple, right? Was incredibly well flavoured for a dish so delicate.


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