Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Spinach with mixed vegetables

Am very very overdue on my blogging...I was away on a short but very happy trip to Kolkata. 9 days, where I did all the things one does going back to one's home turf. But really, food reigned supreme. Consuming food that is. I got Ma, R and our cook to make all the stuff that a) missed b) couldn't cook as wonderfully as they can. So here is the recipe for one of them: Palong sager ghanto. Or Spinach with mixed vegetables. This is not a new recipe. There are variations to it. My recipe is the way we eat at "chez parents" in Calcutta. Its wonderful. More than that actually. Comfort food.

(Unlike the common perception that Indian cooking is very spicy...a lot of bengali recipes do not involve many spices. Spices are added to enhance the subtle flavors of the ingredients. Not over power it). This is a classic example. The vegetables, fresher the better combine to give a delightful flavour.

Spinach with mixed vegetables
You will need:

1 kilo spinach
2 medium potatoes cubed (not too small)
2 beet
5 or 6 broad beans halved
handful of peas (a handful after shelling)
2 or 3 carrots
1 medium eggplant / brinjal cubed
1 tsp five spice (made of equal parts of cumin seeds, black cumin seeds -- also called nigella, fenugreek seed, aniseed and black mustard grains)

This recipe can be cooked using a few or all of the above veggies, with spinach. More the better.

How to:
1. Wash, de-stem and chop the spinach well. You can de-stem and wash if you prefer. Either way works.

2. Cut all the veggies into cubes...not too small or large. Important thing is to have the veggie in more or less similar sized cubes.

3. Heat oil (3 tbsp) in a pan. Kadai or wok is better than a flat pan.

4. Add one red dried chillie. Then add the five spice (panch-phoron).

5. When they start crackling /popping /sizzling, add the veggies. Stir well and cover. Lower flame and let the veggies cook. You can sprinkle a little water. I really mean sprinkle. Using your fingers.

6. When the veggies are softened, but not soggy, add the spinach. Since spinach is when raw, voluminous, put a little bit a time. Mix with veggie and wait for it to subside a bit, which happens more or less within half a minute or so, and repeat till all the spinach is in the pan.

7. Season with salt. We also like to add a little bit of sugar. Fraction of the quantity of salt. The idea here is not to make the dish sweet, this salt-sugar combo somehow, enhances the flavour more than only salt.

8. K, our cook, sometimes, adds half tsp each of coriander powder, cumin powder, chillie powder and turmeric. But she told me, turmeric alone is OK. Chillie powder is really optional, as is green chillie.

9. Cover and keep on low flame. The spinach is cooked usually in about 5 to 10 minutes max. Stir vigorously so that the veggies don't stick to the pan and they are well mixed with the spinach. some people like to leave a little bit of gravy. I like mine without. The dish is not dry. The veggies are soft and puply.

10. Each of the veggies contribute their individual flavours and together combine to make this dish, well, comforting, at the least!! Serve with rice and dal. Bon appetit!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Potatoes in Poppy seed paste

Posto (dried poppy seeds) is such an essential ingredient in Bengali kitchens. These are dried poppy seeds. Must have been introduced to us by Afghan traders because weak as my knowledge is on flora, I don’t thing the poppy is native to Bengal.

It is used in a variety of dishes but the most common is probably aloo posto. I remember when I was staying in the Middle East, the entire Bengali (Indian and Bangladeshi) community got their veggies, fish and spice shopping from a Bangladeshi store. And the store stocked everything including betel nut and leaves. One thing that they didn’t stock was posto. It was illegal to import Posto since poppy is also the source for Opium! Till some one from either the Indian or Bangladeshi embassy intervened and requested the relevant authorities in the emirate to allow posto imports. Posto as used in Bengali dishes is not narcotic! And though the source is the same, it is far removed from Opium!

Much later on, in France, I tried Aloo posto on my own. The dish took about 15 minutes and I followed the simple instructions and to my amazement, found it tasting just like Ma made!

(For two)
What you need:

3-4 medium potatoes
1 tsp Black Cumin seeds
1 tbsp posto seeds
Salt to taste
2 Tbsp cooking oil

How to:
1. Peel and dice the potatoes into little cubes. Wash well and drain.

2. Grind the posto into a paste using a little bit of water. (I didn’t have a wet grinder and so I used a rolling pin and ground them on the kitchen counter). Needn’t be a fine paste.

3. Heat oil in a pan and add the black cumin seeds.

4. You can add in 2 green chilies (sliced). This is optional. But the green chilies do add a nice flavour. You can take the chilies out after a while.

5. When the cumin seeds crackle, add the potatoes. Stir well.

6. Sprinkle a little water (about ¼ cup). The idea is to cook the potatoes faster and not to have a gravy.

7. Lower flame and cover.

8. When the potatoes are nearly cooked and soft, add the posto paste, stir.

9. Cook for a couple of minutes further and remove from flame.

This dish is usually eaten with rice and dal (any sort). Dal, for those who don’t know is lentil soup and we have varieties of dal.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The swooning Mullah

Mullah Gash Kardeh (The swooning Priest / mullah or that which makes the mullah swoon).

I got this one out of an Irani cook book. Can't vouch for the authenticity of either the recipe or the book. (I mean I HAVE seen scores of Indian cook books written by non-Indians and the recipes are so different from the original that most Indians would find them funny)!!

But I have to say, authentic or not, it is very easy to make and quite tasty. It is a vegetarian recipe.

I was at that point hunting around for vegetarian recipes with Brinjals or eggplants (A's favorite) to coax him away from red meat(Cholesterol problems).

A ofcourse thought that it could be improved by adding vast quantities of "mouton" and when I refused, he made me make the vegetarian bit and then added his own meat variation.

So here is the recipe in two parts: The original vegetaraian swooning priest. And then A's meaty variation. Bon Appetit!

(For two)
You will need:
2 small eggplant or one large plump one
3-4 tomatoes
2 onions
(The above three should be sliced into roundels / rings)
3-4 cloves of garlic
salt, pepper
Lots of coriander leaves, chopped finely
1/2 cup hot water
1 tsp oil

How to:
1. Slice eggplant, tomatoes and onions into roundels / rings. The eggplant should be 1/4 inch thick
2. Slice tomatoes into roundels
3. Slice onions into roundels
4. Grease the bottom of a dish (which has a tight lid) with a little oil. About 1 tsp.
5. Place in order, eggplant, tomato and onion (eggplant at the bottom, tomato above it and then the onion ring). When one layer is formed, place again in order eggplant, tomato and onion.
Between each veggie, sprinkle salt, pepper and coriander leaves finely sliced.
6. Grate the garlic and sprinkle over the layered veggies.
7. Pour half a cup of hot water into the dish. (It will fill only a little bit, but that will do. The veggies need not be immersed in water. Infact, they shouldnot be immersed in water).
8. Now, tightly close the lid. (If the lid does not close tightly, cover the top of the dish with a sheet of foil and then put the lid).
9. Cook over low flame for 40-45 minutes.
10. The veggies will release their juices and should be soft and pulply but you can (requires some finesse, lift the layers out...tastes fine even if they are reduced to a pulp, it looks better intact, when served).

You can eat them with bread I guess. Rice works for me.

Now, the non-vegetarian bit.
You will need (in addition to the above):
1/2 kg of mince meat (beef or lamb)
3-4 garlic cloves finely grated
1" piece ginger finely grated
salt to taste
Cooking oil

1. Heat oil in a wok / frying pan
2. Add garlic and stir so that they don't stick to the pan.
3. Add the meat and stir well.
4. Add the ginger.
5. Fry for 10 minutes (or a little bit more), over medium to high flame.
6. Add the cooked veggies (step 10 of above recipe)
7. Season with salt (check first, since the veggies already have salt in them).
8. Remove from fire and well...enjoy!

1. If you are an irani or know about Iran and happen to read this recipe and find it a far cry from the original recipe, please donot get angry with me and please be kind enough to let me have the correct recipe. I will appreciate it highly.

2. We Indians prefer loads of onions, garlic and ginger. Please add as much or as little as you prefer. But remember, while cooking the meat, do add the ginger. Donot omit it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

La Belle Meunière

The first time I tried this dish was at Mocambo in Calcutta. That was in the late 80's. Since then, I have gone back several times to Mocambo. And I am extremely glad to report that this dish remains as delicious as ever. (Restaurants do have a way of deteriorting over time...both in quality of service and food).

Literally, its means the Beautiful Miller. I have no idea how it this dish got its name.

Once when I was feeling very intrepid, I asked the chef for the recipe. He very obliginging told it to me. And I, duly reported it back to R. (Whatever I could remember of it). R, ofcourse added her own variation - her special touch. And I must say, that too was very delicious. I haven't tried it myself. But I vouch for the delicious ness of R's version of La Belle Meunière.

You will need
Bekti fillet or slivers of moderate thickness (somewhere between a normal slab and over thin sliver).
Salt to taste
Ajinomoto (yes MSG)
A sprig of parsely finely chopped for garnish

Here's how:
1. Wash the fillet, pat them dry with kitchen towel.

2. Mix a bit of cornflour with white pepper and salt.

3. Sprinkle this on the fillet.

4. Heat oil or butter (either one works, though butter is definitely more delicious) in a flat pan and lightly fry the fillet

5. Arrange the fried fillet in succession on a plate. Pour sauce (recipe given below) over them and serve immediately.

The Sauce:

1. Heat 50g of butter in a non stick pan over low flame.
2. Add a pinch of salt (be careful, we dont want to make the sauce salty), pepper, a pinch of ajinomoto.
3. Pour half cup cream.
4. Add the chopped parsley.
5. Remove from fire.
The whole procedure should take about 2-3 minutes.

Those of you who reside in Calcutta or are going there (I am next week), do go to Mocambo and try it out. And those of you who can't, here is the recipe, R's variation. Bon Appetit!

NOte: Any white fish will do, if you can't get Bekti

Monday, December 05, 2005

Potatoes with Black Pepper

The very first of the handwritten recipes given to me by R is one I never tried till much later, by when I had already gotten a hang of the basics. And a very basic recipe it was. Its certainly not one R came up with herself. She had chosen this one because she was sure, even a novice like me couldn't go wrong with it: Potatoes with Black pepper. And why didn't I ever try it. Well it's not that I didn't. Everytime I decided to try this one and opened the book and read the first line, I had to give up. For the very first line says: "Before cooking this dish, boil the potatoes (in their skin) few hours in advance and then cool and de-Skin". In those early days, my day would be a mad rush to finish the house work (never ending it seemed) and then with a few hours left for A to return from office, I would go to the kitchen and cook the three dishes which was all I could manage in a day. And so never having planned the boiling of potatoes a few hours in advance, I would sigh and turn over to other recipes!

But now I am wiser. I know, that I can boil the potatoes (in their skin, mind you) whenever I want to and not few hours in advance and cool them by holding them under the tap! Hey presto!

So, just for the sake of those days when I didn't know any better here is

"Potatoes with Black Pepper"
You will need:
A few potatoes (600g in the original recipe)
4 tbsp vegetable oil (if you are a begginner and want specific measurements), less or more according to your preference, if not a begginner (but then you wouldn't be reading this basic recipe, would you???)
3/4 tsp salt or like they say "to taste
1 & 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped coriander or parsley

How to
1. Before cooking this dish boil potatoes still in their skins, a few hours in advance or boil them when you'd like to cook and just plunge them in cold water.

2. De-skin and cut into small cubes

3. Heat oil in a non-stick or any other frying pan and set over minimum flame.

4. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and stir gently or you will end up with mashed potatotes.

5. Stir for a minute. Sprinkle salt.

6. Lower flame, cover and cook for 5 minutes. In between, dont forget to stir. (Otherwise, non-stick or not, the potatoes will stick to the pan and cook unevenly).

7. Now sprinkle black pepper.

8. Uncover and cook for 1-2 minutes over medium heat, stirring every now or then, allowing them to brown. (You can also, shake the pan by the handle in a to-and-fro motion. This results in the potatoes rolling around nicely).

(Note: I have NEVER managed to get them evenly browned all over. But they taste good all the same).

9. Sprinkle the leafy garnish of your choice and Viola!

10. Instead of the pepper and coriander and parsley, you can alternatively sprinkle the potatoes with salt and mixed herbs of your choice (thyme, oregano or rosemary).

There is a trick to boiling the potatoes. They shouldn't be over boiled that they collapse while you try to de-skin them. Nor should they be so firm that despite the salt and pepper and herbs, they taste like boile potatoes alone! That is something, this timid cook is still perfecting!!

R's expert comments: This extremely simple and modest recipe can be a great soother when one is ailing from cough and colds and the taste buds in our tongue become quite quite inactive making everything tasteless. Its quick, simple and strangely during those times, very tasty and comforting; So its a must for a new learner, a new kitchen entrant and especially when one is down with COLD. It certainly ends up warming you and the tastebuds.!!!!! The black pepper shouldnt be powdered one from a packet but right out of a pepper mill and never mind if the greens are not there, just pepper itself can be a wonderful flavour.

The Timid Cook

Well here goes! My own blog about food, eating,cooking with a lot of trepidation, hesitation and loads of help from R!

Infact, I had started my other blog Notes from France as a blog to note my cooking experiments. But somewhere three posts down, it became what it was to be : Notes from France and then became Notes from wherever life would take me.

I have always enjoyed food. Preferring quality over quantity. And have been fairly open about sampling different cuisines. But it has only been in the past 5 years (since I have got married), that I have taken up cooking. Or rather forced to. Not that I don't enjoy cooking. But somehow, lack that something which differentiates good cooks from mediocre ones. Even today, 5 years later, my cooking is erratic. I myself don't know how that same old recipe will turn out - Good, great or horrible.

And yet, my ma, my sis R are great cooks. R is ofcourse more than a great cook. She is a FABULOUS cook. And she has been a constant guide over phone and email, helping to transform me from a non-cook to a cook, albeit a TIMID one.

Infact, the 30 odd basic recipes that she wrote for me, in between doing a million things that one has to do in bong weddings, was and is my bible. A bit tattered, dog eared and smeared by turmeric and spices, I am lost without it. Dear sweet R, in her fabulously neat handwriting, managed to find time to write them down.

That gift was the most valuable one for me and I clung onto it. I was so dependent on it that when in one recipe I found salt wasn't
mentioned in it, I rang up R to ask why she hadn't written it.

"Oof oh! I must have forgotten to write it. And anyhow everyone knows that except for desserts, one has to put in salt. So go ahead and add salt". Relieved, I put down the phone and added salt. She must have been amazed at my lack of such basic knowledge, but really, at that point of time, if she had added an instruction to stand on one leg and cook, I would have done exactly that.

I have been bugging R for a very long time, as have been others to collate all her recipes and get them published. But she has been for whatever reason, loathe to go about it. So here I am with my stories and her recipes. If nothing else, I will have another
collection of recipes to pour over while eating lunch. (That's one more quirky passion of mine. I have to, simply have to go through a cook book while eating my lunch / dinner. No matter if the plain rice and dal I am eating is a far cry from the exotic recipes in the cook book I am reading)!

Bon Appetit! (Recipes from the next post onwards)!