Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Do you know what daal is?

My exposure to South Asian food before I become a Muslim was limited to occasional family dinners at the local Star of India Palace type place. I knew NOTHING about South Asian food. I learnt a lot about South Asian cooking after marriage. I think when you are female and in an intermarriage, you get a lot of pressure to learn the cooking of your husband's background. Luckily, my husband eats a lot of different stuff from all over. And luckily I happen to love Pakistani food. So we eat a good variety of international dishes at home. But I have non-Pakistani girl friends married to desi guys who will ONLY eat Pakistani food, even when they go out to restaurants. Anyway, I wanted to learn South Asian cooking because I liked all of the foods I tasted after I accepted Islam and met a lot of desi Muslims, and also after I married a South Asian origin Muslim guy. So I learned to cook desi. Is this a big shock?

Somehow, I seem to have the same conversation with Pakistani Auntie-types. Often the line of questions starts out with "Do you like Pakistani food," or more often "Can you eat spicy food?" "Yes," is my answer. "Can you cook any Pakistani dishes?" "Yes." "What dishes can you cook?" "Hmmm, a lot of them." "Can you make biriani?" "Yes." Actually, I make several types of biriani. Sometimes I get a test question: "How do you make X?" So I have to give a quick recipe for kofta or whatever. I guess I should be more understanding as to why Auntie-types might be incredulous about my cooking skills. I mean, gori cooks desi? Not so common, I guess. I am no star chef, but I am not bad either. Yet it is really hard for them to believe that a gori can cook desi.

Once I was at this dinner party and I had gone through this line of questioning with the hostess. I told her I could cook a lot of desi food. I was using food name terms in Urdu and all. Then, minutes later, she asked me if I knew what daal was. "Do you know what daal is?" She said. After I just told her that I could cook most Pakistani dishes. Sigh. "Jee nahin, daal kya hoti hai?" I mean, "Yes, I know what daal is." She proceeded to tell me that something was wrong with her paalak daal. I asked her what was wrong. "I just don't know, I think I put too much salt." I advised her to add in some lemon juice, and she could perhaps add in some potatoes to suck up the salt, and then remove them before serving the dish. She just thought I was nuts. Later, I tasted her daal. Guess what was wrong with it? She had obviously burned the bottom of the pot, the daal had a strong burnt flavor with an attempt to veil it with a heavy dose of lemon juice. Yuck. How could she not realize that this was the problem? If I were her, I wouldn't have even served that burnt dish. She had lots of other dishes set out anyhow. Anyway, I am no expert, but I just wish people would believe it when I say I can cook a fair bit of Pakistani stuff.

Is it really that hard to believe that a gori can cook desi?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Birishta: Tali hui Pyaaz or reddish brown fried onions


Birishta---browned onions, or bhuni hui pyaaz/tali hui pyaaz, are a key ingredient in a lot of South Asian regional Muslim cooking. Frying them fresh for each dish is time consuming. As a time-saver, I fry a large batch about once per month, store them in the freezer, and use as needed. To do this, I finely slice a whole bunch of onions. I deep fry them on high heat, then lower the heat once they have gone translucent (about 8-10 minutes). They cook on medium-low heat for about 20-25 minutes, needing occasional stirring. After that, and they become crispy fried, reddish-brown squiggles. I strain them and let them cool on some old newspaper. Then I put them in a plastic container in the freezer. When I am ready to use them, I simply pull out a handful for whatever dish. The oil prevents them from being destroyed in the freezer. I usually give them a quick sizzle in hot oil , as if they had been fried up fresh, then continue cooking whatever dish. I also grind them to add to certain types of recipes, like kofta. I don't think it compromises flavor, either. There are bags of fried onions available at desi grocery stores, but they tend to have a bitter under-taste. I use them occasionally, but I prefer my home fried onions. I also keep ginger and garlic paste on hand to use as needed. Taking these shortcuts certainly makes South Asian cooking easier and saves time.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fish in tamarind sauce

I hardly ever cook fish but I like this recipe for when I do. It is a lot of ingredients but it takes 5 minutes to cook once u set out the ingredients. This should be cooked in a large non stick wok (karhai) if you have one:

3 hand sized fish filets, deboned and cut into large chunks. I use Arabic Grouper (hammour) but u can use any firm white fish that won't fall apart when you stir fry it. hmmm, i think striped bass would work for this in the USA.

Pour 1 tbs Shan fish masala on the fish and marinate for 1 hour or so.

For the stir fry:

4 cloves thinly sliced garlic
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1 tsp crushed garlic paste
1 tsp crushed ginger paste
mix together 1 tsp each powdered: cumin, coriander, shan fish masala, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp red chili for your spice mix
5 whole dried red chiles (less for less spicy)
3 green chiles chopped (less for less spicy)
5 fresh curry leaves (you can leave this out if you want)
A few leaves of mint chopped
A handful fresh cilantro chopped
1/2 cup tamarind water (soak 1 inch square of pulp in 1 cup hot water to get this, you've gotta squeeze the pulp, then strain it
Sprinkle of salt
Pinch garam masala
1/4 cup oil

Heat oil in wok, when hot add cumin seeds and whole dried red chilis, after few seconds add coriander seeds, curry leaves then thinly sliced garlic. allow to fry for 1 minute while garlic turns golden (don't burn it though), then throw in the salt and spice mix, let sizzle. then toss in the marinated fish. stir fry gently (don't break fish apart) fish will cook very quickly, maybe four minutes. When fish is done, pour in the tamarind water, let it heat up and bubble for a moment, then turn of flame. It is done. Now add the garam masala, chopped fresh cilantro, the chopped green chilis, and the chopped mint leaves. Stir once and serve immediately. Serve with rice or flat bread.

Korean Chicken Stew: Tak Jim

Here is a very simple Korean recipe that I make pretty frequently. I am addicted to Korean food, by the way.

1 tbs sugar
1 tsp Chinese/Korean sesame oil
1/4 cup Korean/Japanese soya sauce
1 tsp Blue Dragon brand Mirin (it is alcohol free)to substitute for rice wine
4 cloves garlic chopped
1 pinch black pepper
1 whole chicken, skinned and cut into medium pieces, bone-in
1 large onion, sliced into medium-thin slices
2 potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 carrot halved and cut into large longish chunks
5 Chinese black mushrooms, the dried kind that you have to soak in water to re-hydrate, soaked, de-stemmed, and cut in half. Reserve your soaking liquid.
3 tbs cooking oil
pinch of roasted sesame seeds
1 spring onion with the green part chopped in long strips

In a large bowl mix the first 6 ingredients and put in chicken. No need to marinade for long, just coat chicken well. Heat oil in large non-stick pot, add in chicken and marinade liquid, stir around on high heat until marinade separates from oil so that the chicken braises in the liquid (about 7-10 minutes). Toss in all your veggies, stir around to coat in sauce, then add in 1/4 cup mushroom soaking water. Cover and cook on low heat for about 25-30 minutes until your chicken and potatos are cooked but not falling apart. At first it will look like there is not enough water in the pot, but the chicken will release a lot of water. Also, due to the large amount of soy sauce there is no need to add salt.To serve, garnish with sesame seeds and spring onion. Serve with Korean steamed white rice, plus a selection of kimchee and ban chan (Korean side dishes).

Pasanda: Thin rump steaks stewed in seasoned yoghurt gravy

My mother in-law makes these a lot when she comes to visit because quite frankly they are so easy, and they taste good. My husband likes them a lot, too. These two pasanda recipes are adapted from her original recipes.

Garam Masala Pasanda

1 lb beef rump sliced into 1 cm thick steaks (ask the desi butcher for pasanda)
(I have also made this recipe successfully with pasanda sized slices of chicken breast)
1 cups yoghurt
1 tbs good garam masala
2 heaping tbs coriander powder (pisa hua dhania)
1 tsb red chili powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
2-3 tbs oil

Pound the meat slices, stab them with a fork, beat and abuse to tenderize. Whip the masalas with the yoghurt. Add in the meat and marinate over night, or at least for a few hours so the yoghurt can tenderize the beef. Heat oil, add the meat and marinade. Cook on high heat for about 10 minutes or so until gravy separates from oil. If you are using chicken breasts, lower heat and simmer for 10 more minutes and you're done. For beef, add in about 1/2 cup water, allow to boil briefly, lower heat and simmer for 1 hour or more until beef is nice and tender. You may need to add a little more water if it gets too dry. The gravy should be thick, velvety and separate from the oil at the end.

Pasanda in Ginger Garlic Gravy

1 pound pasanda beef slices
1 cup yoghurt
1 tbs garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
2 tbs crushed browned onion (bhuni hui pyaaz---I fry and freeze in large quantities, you will need to fry some up, say about 1 medium onion, if you don't have them on hand)
1 tsp red chili flakes
2-3 tbs oil

Mix the yoghurt and all the masalas except the browned onion. Add in the meat. Marinate overnight. Heat oil and add in the browned onion for one moment (don't blacken, just sizzle), then pour in the marinade. Braise on high heat for 10 minutes or so, add in 1/2 cup of water, bring to a boil, turn down heat, and simmer for one hour or until meat is tender.

I also like the Shan Masala pasanda recipe. Be careful of your beef slices being too thin because they should be tender but not falling apart, and shouldn't curl. Pasanda gravy should be fairly dry , but if you want more gravy, use 1/2 cup more yoghurt. If you want to make it dryer, use 3/4 cups yoghurt instead of 1 cups and add more water in the recipe, then just dry up the water at the end of cooking. Serve with naan or basmati rice.

Bin Masala Chicken: Chicken cooked without a heavy masala


Here is an extremely easy and delicious chicken "curry" recipe from Lucknow, UP. It was shown to me by my mother in-law. It is called Bin-Masala Chicken which means chicken cooked without spices--- although there are spices in the recipe, it doesn't have the usual garlic/ginger paste or caramelized onions that typify many "curries." You can do this recipe two ways: chicken is cut into pieces and cooked stove-top, or whole skinless chicken is cooked partially stove-top but finished off in the oven (pictured above). Here is what you need:

1 whole chicken, skinned and cut into medium pieces, OR one skinless whole chicken
1.5 cups real yoghurt (buy it from desi or Middle Eastern Market)
2 tbs of a good brand of "garam masala" which can be bought an Indo-Pak grocery store
small pinch each (1/4 tsp each) of nutmeg and mace (this is necessary to make it Lucknawi style)
1/2 tsp of Kashmiri chili powder or paprika if you don't like heat
2-3 tbs oil
salt to taste

Fully Stove-Top with Chicken Pieces: First whip the spices and salt into the yoghurt. Add chicken pieces and marinade at least one hour or up to 24 hours. Heat oil in pot, add chicken with marinade and stir on medium heat until the oil separates from the yoghurt (+/-10 mins). Turn heat down very low and cook until the chicken is fully cooked. (around 30-40 minutes depending on how fast chicken cooks where you live, where I am it is very tender and cooks very fast and will fall apart if cooked for more than 30 minutes) When finished, the gravy should be slightly thick. If it is not, remove chicken pieces from gravy, turn up heat and stir for a few minutes till it thickens, then return the chicken to the gravy and serve immediately. You must remove the chicken or it will break apart--the yoghurt marinade makes it extra tender and sensitive also.

Whole Skinned Chicken: Whip powdered spices, salt and yoghurt together in a large bowl. Add the whole skinless chicken to marinade. Allow to marinade from 1 hour up to 24 hours. Heat oil in pot. Add in chicken and marinade at medium heat and cook, stirring around gently until the yoghurt is cooked and the oil rises to the top of the gravy. Once the oil has risen to the top of the gravy, lay the chicken on one side, breast and thigh piece down, and cook covered at a simmer for 12 minutes. After 12 minutes, turn the chicken so that the other breast and leg are at the bottom of the pot and cook covered for another 12 minutes. Stir in a little bit of water if the gravy looks dry. After the 12 minutes is up, turn the chicken so that the breast side is down and cook off for a final 12 minutes, adding a tiny bit of water if necessary. This rotation method insures that the thigh-leg pieces stay in a good shape and don't flail out. Once this 12 minutes is up, transfer chicken and gravy breast side up into a baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes to brown the chicken and make sure that it is cooked through. Baste it with gravy once it is remove from the oven, then allow it to rest for 10 minutes or so. This whole chicken is nice to serve at a small dinner party so that you may cut it up in front of the guests and impress them. :-)

Best with naan or plain basmati rice.

Keema Qeema Queema: Spiced Ground meat

This queema recipe is from North India/Pakistan. It is spiced minced meat (could be beef or mutton) eaten with either plain boiled basmati rice or whole wheat flat bread (you could use whole wheat tortillas or pitas). It can be accompanied with plain yoghurt or raita if you like.

1 lbs ground beef
2 tbs oil
1 large onion chopped
1 heaping tsp finely chopped garlic
1 heaping tsp finely chopped ginger
1 tomato cut into small chunks
1-2 green chilies (optional)
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tbs coriander powder
1 tbs. cumin powder
1 heaping tsp garam masala powder
1 heaping tsp whole cumin seeds
½ cup water
Salt to taste
Fresh cilantro for garnish

First sautee onions in oil till transparent. Add in the whole cumin seeds while sautéing. Add in garlic/ginger allow to cook for a few moments (don’t burn). Toss in turmeric and red chili, stir for a moment and add the ground beef. Stir around until all the meat is browned and the juice has come out and dried up. Browning the meat well is a key step to achieve the correct desi flavor. Add salt, coriander powder and cumin powder, tomatoes, and green chilies. Stir a few times. Add ½ cup water and cover and cook on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and turn up heat, stirring for a few minutes to let it dry out just a bit. Add in the garam masala powder and stir again. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro, and if you like it hot, another chopped green chili.

You can vary this by adding in potatoes (cut into large wedges), peas, green bell peppers, or eggplants. Traditionally you would only add one type of veg., not all together. You would add the veg in at the same time as you add the powdered coriander and cumin and before you pour in the water.

Channa daal ka queema:

Another variation is to add in firmly cooked channa daal, and you will have channa daal ka queema. To do this, soak 1/2 cup of channa daal in water for one hour. Boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes until daal is fully cooked, but firm and not falling apart. Stir this into your queema during the last 5 minutes of cooking. You will have to add more salt to your recipe to balance out the salt that the daal soaks up so that you don't end up with bland queema.

Aloo Anday: Potato and Hard Boiled Egg Curry #1

Aloo anday or potato and hard boiled egg curry:

3 medium size potatoes- they should be a quick cooking variety as in will be ready in 20 minutes, not a hard variety. Chop into chunks that are the size of hard boiled eggs. you can peel or not peel at your discretion.

5 hard boiled eggs. Peel, and cut in half. Set aside.

1 1/2 tbs finely crushed garlic
1 tbs finely crushed ginger
1/4 tbs ground turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 heaping tsp ground cumin powder
2 heaping tsps ground coriander powder
1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
1-2 roughly chopped fresh green chilies
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 cup water
pinch of salt
3 tbs oil

Heat oil in pan. Add garlic, ginger and whole cumin seeds. Lower heat and cook this stirring frequently on very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Be sure not to burn it. But the garlic and ginger should caramelize like a Cuban mojo. This will cook all the bitter strong garlicky taste out of the garlic and leave you with the base of a delicious sauce. Okay, when you have cooked the garlic paste, turn up the heat and add in the turmeric, the red chili powder, and the cumin and coriander powder. Stir around once quickly. Do not allow to burn. Toss in your potatoes, stir once, then pour in the water. Allow to cook for 20 minutes or so until potatoes are ready and the oil has separated from the gravy. When it looks ready, add in the fresh chopped green chili cover the pan with the heat off for about five minutes just to steam the chilies. Serve immediately. When ready to serve, pour into a casserole type dish and add in the halved hard boiled eggs, spooning a bit of the sauce over them. Be gentle and don't stir the dish because you don't want the egg yolks to break up into the gravy. Garnish with chopped cilantro. The main trick in this dish is cooking the garlic/ginger paste until done perfectly so that the sauce tastes great. If you haven't done it right, it will taste bitter or like raw garlic. If you have done it well, it is heavenly.
Serve with basmati rice or wheat flour flat bread.

For a more traditional alu anday recipe, see here. 

Stuffed Grape Leaves Vine Leaves Waraq Ainab Dolmeh

I recommend trying to find fresh grape leaves or fresh grape leaves that have been vacuum sealed in a jar at a middle eastern grocery rather than using the ones preserved in brine. the taste of the non-brined ones is just far better. If you can get your hands on them, all you need to do is blanch them briefly in boiling water. Take out about half the jar and freeze the rest.
Here is my recipe. It is for the "hot" version, meaning it contains meat so it is served warm, as opposed to the vegetarian one which is eaten cold. You can dip them in yoghurt while you eat them:

For the stuffing mix together:
1 fresh diced tomato
1 handful of flat leaf parsley chopped finely
pinch salt
pinch of all spice
pinch of red chili flakes
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1 finely diced onion
1/2 lb ground mutton
1 cup short grain Arabic rice washed but not soaked (ask for Lebanese or "Egyptian" rice at the Mid East grocer---you must use this rice for the authentic version, long grain rice is not the right kind. This rice looks similar to sushi rice or risotto rice)
grape leaves: blanch and set aside

For the broth:
alot of chicken stock, enough to cover your layers of wara' ainab/dolmeh in the pot
about 1-2 tbs lemon juice depending on how much broth you use
3-4 cloves garlic cut into slivers
1/4 cup tomato paste
lots and lots of olive oil.

Line your pot with any torn grape leaves. Put your rolled stuffed grape leaves in the pot, stuff tighly, put slivers of garlic here and there between the grape leaves, cover with the broth, put a sheet of tin foil on top, a plate, and small but heavy jar of water (to weigh the plate down), allow to boil gently once, cover the pot, lower the flame to the lowest heat, and cook for one hour. The rice should be perfectly cooked, not mushy.

Channa Daal Tarka

For the daal

1 cup channa daal, pick out stones, wash, soak for one hour
3 cups water
1 inch chunk of ginger crushed
1/2 tsp turmeric
salt to taste
1 chopped tomato

Boil daal, skim off scum, lower heat, add in raw ginger and turmeric, and cook partially covered until daal is nicely tender and slightly mashed but not obliterated. This will take about 40 minutes. About 10 minutes before the daal is done, add in the chopped tomato. Adding the tomato at the end will cook it but prevent it from completely breaking up. I like to get a bite of chopped tomato in my daal.

For the tarka:
1 finely sliced onion
1 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 whole dried red chilies
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 to 1 tsp dried red chili powder
garlic cut into slivers
2-3 tbs to 1/4 cup oil

In the oil "bhuna" or brown the onion. This means put sliced onions in oil on high heat and then cook until they turn translucent, then lower heat and allow to caramelize, stirring occasionally for 25 minutes or so. When they are reddish and skinny, they are "bhuna hua." When the onions are almost fully bhuna-ed, they will be mostly brown, but still have a little bit of translucence, at this point, put the heat up to medium and add in the whole chilies, the garlic, and the cumin seeds. Allow to cook until the garlic is golden and crispy. If you time it right, the garlic and onion will finish at the same time. At the last minute, turn up the heat to high, put in the cumin and red chili powders, then quickly, before they burn, dump the whole tarka into the daal. Stir once to evenly distribute the onions and all, but leave some of the oil and onions on top, then garnish with cilantro.

Aloo Gobhi

Here is my recipe for aloo gobhi, or cauliflower and potato stir fry. The trick is not to add any water. It is a dry veg, not a wet one. This is easisest to cook in a non-stick wok shaped pot with a lid, but any deep non-stick pot with a lid will do.


1 small head phool gobhi--cauliflower, chopped into florets and washed

3 quick cooking potatoes, (they must be the kind that cook in 20 minutes, not the baking kind that take an hour) cut into small cubes and soaking in water

1 small onion sliced

4 garlic cloves cut into slivers

1 tsp crushed fresh ginger

1 tsp whole cumin seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/2-1 tsp red chili powder

1 heaping tsp ground cumin

1 stick cinnamon

3-4 cardamon pods

2 bayleaves

5 black pepper corns

5 cloves

(all of these whole spices come together in a packet of whole garam masala in small quantities to make it easy for you so you don't have to buy separate packets of each)

2-3 whole red dried chilies

2 fresh green chilies cut in bite sized chunks (de-seed if u like)

2 table spoons of roughly chopped fresh cilantro

1/2-1 tsp garam masala powder

2 tables spoons oil

salt to taste


Heat oil in wok until very hot. Add in the whole red chilies, the cumin seeds, the bay leaves, cloves, pepper corns, cardamon, cinnamon stick, and fry around for about 1 minute. Then add in the onions, garlic, ginger. Fry until onions look translucent and garlic looks crispy. Then add in the turmeric, red chili powder, and cumin powder. Let this sizzle for one moment, then add in the potato cubes. They must still be wet from soaking in water...this creates steam to help them cook. Stir around well for a few minutes, getting the masala color on them. Then lower heat to medium and cover. Leave for 10 minutes, stirring a couple of times to prevent bottom sticking. Then turn up the heat and add in the gobhi---it helps if you gobhi is a tad wet from being washed as well. Stir again coating in the masala oil. You should add your salt now, too. Then lower heat to medium again and cover for about 10-15 more minutes, stirring occasionally. By now the potato and cauliflower are both cooked, and it is done. They should be fully cooked, but slightly crisp. Definately not mushy and falling apart. Now add the pinch of ground garam masala and the chopped green chilies. With the heat off, cover again and allow the green chilies to steam a bit for a few minutes. Then uncover, add in the chopped cilantro garnish, and serve.

Paalak Chicken

Here is a recipe for paalak murghi. The end result will be the spinach makes a wet gravy clinging to the chicken pieces, not a curry drowning the chicken in spinach. Don't add water to this recipe because both the spinach and the chicken will throw off water into the gravy:

3 tbs oil
1 skinless, bone-in chicken cut into 12 pieces
2 tomatoes chopped
1 onion finely chopped
5 cloves garlic crushed into a paste
1 inch piece ginger crushed into a paste
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3-4 dried red chilies whole
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 heaping tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 packet frozen chopped spinach (it will be 2.5 cups or so)
1 tsp salt or more to taste
1 tbs qasoori methi
pinch of garam masala
1 pat of butter

garnish:
chopped green chiles, fresh cilantro


Heat oil, brown chicken pieces on high heat and remove from oil. Set aside. Heat oil again, add in the whole cumin and dried red chilies, then after about 30 seconds, the onions and saute, stirring frequently on high heat until they start to brown a bit and get soft (8 minutes or so). Add in garlic and ginger, stir for minute till garlic looks cooked, then toss in all the rest of the powdered spices except the garam masala, then after 30 seconds, add in the tomatoes and salt. Keep stirring on high heat for about 5 minutes and allow the tomatoes to melt down a bit. Then add the spinach in and when it is no longer in frozen chunks, add the chicken back in. Allow to bubble up once, then lower heat and cover. Keep covered for about 25 minutes on very low flame (or longer, my local chicken cooks very fast and will fall apart if I cook for longer), stirring occasionally. It is done when the chicken is cooked and the oil separates from the gravy. At this point add in the qasoori methi, garam masala, and butter. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Serve with basmati rice or some type of flat bread, plus plain Greek yoghurt on the side.

I love karela: Karela aloo

Karela is an acquired taste. It is supposedly good for diabetes and also removes toxins from the blood according to ayurvedic principles. Don't know if I believe that, but that's what they say. When you select your karela, you choose small, dark green, firm ones. Don't choose yellow ones (or with a lot of yellow spotting) or large sized ones. Here is karela aloo or bitter gourds with potato:

3 bitter gourds, slice into centimetre thin circles, poke out any hard yellow seeds from the circles, no need to remove the soft yellow seeds because they will soften, add 1 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp salt to a bowl of water, soak for 30 minutes, then drain and set aside
3 small quick cooking (not for baking) potatoes, slice into medium thin circles
1 heaping tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2-3 whole dried red Indian chilies (omit if you don't like heat)
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
1 inch chunk of tamarind pulp, seeds are okay---pick them out if you like or just pick them out when you eat your serving along with the bay leaf and cinnamon, break it up with your fingers into bits, do not soak, you will use it whole
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 to 1 tsp Indian red chili powder or cayanne
1 heaping tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
(if all of these powdered spices are too much trouble in terms of availability, you can just use 2 tbs of your preferred "curry powder" instead)
salt to taste (about 1 tsp)
2 tbs chopped cilantro
2 fresh green chilies cut into thin 1 inch strips, deseed if you want
2-3 tbs oil

You need a deep nonstick pot or wok with a lid for this.
Heat oil in wok or deep non-stick pot, when hot toss in cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, dried red chilies, cinnamon, bay leaf, and the bits of tamarind pulp. Stir around for a few moments to allow to sizzle, then stir in the turmeric and red chili powder. Quickly add in your potato and bitter gourd circles. Stir and coat with the spices, stir continously and add in the cumin and coriander powder. Lower heat and cover for about 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally until potatoes are tender and bitter gourd is cooked. Turn up the heat and toss for a few moments more at the end. The veggies should be lightly golden and crisp, not soggy. The spice paste should lightly cling to the veg. Do not add water during the cooking, or you will get a soggy result. Garnish with cilantro and green chilies. Serve with whole wheat flat bread and plain Greek style yoghurt on the side.
You will get a nice bitter, slightly sour from the tamarind, salty and spicy dish.

How to cook basmati rice

I cook and eat basmati rice almost everyday. Soaking time depends on the brand and the cooking method. For high quality aged brands, you must rinse and soak for about 30 minutes. For pre-parboiled varieties, ten minutes is fine. Then add to boiling water, cover, lower heat, and cook for 17-20 minutes. Soaking will ensure that the basmati grains become long and fluffy and beautiful. My daily rice is India Gate brand, which requires 10 minute soaking, then I do it in the rice cooker. Either way, for baasmati, double the water amount to the rice amount. A trick is that when it is finished, allow the rice to "rest" for 10 minutes before fluffing it. This will prevent the grains from breaking apart and result in a fluffier pot of rice. I also might add butter/ghee at this point. I feel the ghee perfume comes stronger if you add it at the end rather than boiling it with the rice.

For biryanis or "party" rice dishes, I do a par-boiling method which is like cooking pasta. This is actually the most refined way to do it because you will get beautiful, long, separated grains of rice. I am just lazy to do this everyday and I save the technique for weekend biryanis or parties. For this method, you MUST soak the rice, for Indian Gate, it would be 30 minutes or even up to an hour. While the rice is soaking, put a huge pot of water to boil. Add whole garam masala ingredients such as a couple of bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, some black pepper corns, some cloves, some black and green cardamom, whatever takes your fancy. Allow this to come to a rolling boil. Also, heavily salt this water, about double the salt you would use in a plain boiled method, because the rice will not absorb enough salt and will come out bland if you don't. If I don't want the whole garam masala in the rice afterwards, I sometimes strain the water and discard the whole spices, then return the water to a boil. This way the water has garam masala perfume without the spices that people hate to accidentally bite into. Anyway, add in the pre-soaked rice. When the water reaches a boil again, set your timer for 3-4 minutes, and allow it to boil. Have a colander set aside in your sink. When your timer goes off, strain the rice, allow the water to go down the drain. In the meanwhile, you will have painted a stove top pot or a baking casserole with butter or ghee. (If you want a tah-daig crust at the bottom, use lots of ghee or butter) Quickly put the rice in either the pot or casserole. If you are doing stove top, (you would add your biryani gravy or whatever at this point) you cover with a slim kitchen towel under the lid, put the flame on high for 1 minute to get things going, then lower the heat and leave covered for 20 minutes. Turn off heat allow to rest for 10 minutes, then fluff or transfer to the serving dish. For the casserole, add in rice, cover well, then cook at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, until the rice is cooked. This method results in a firmer grain, but it shouldn't be so firm as to seem undercooked.

Gujarati Style Hari Chutney (Green Chutney)

I have been using this green chutney for a while, it is a Gujarati style hari chutney, hence the sugar and peanuts. You could also add 1-2 tbs dried ground unsweetened coconut or fresh shredded coconut to this recipe. It is great with pakoras and of course dhoklas:

large bunch of cilantro, washed well, stems and all (like 2 cups)
1/2 bunch of fresh mint leaves (like 1 cup)
1/2 green bell pepper
1-3 green chilies or jalapenos
1-2 tbs of lemon juice
1 tbs sugar
1 tsp or so salt to taste
1/4 cup skinless peanuts

Pulverize in your blender. You may need to add a splash of water if it doesn't mix easily.
I keep portions of this frozen and defrost as needed with samosas or whatever.

A plain green chutney is just cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and green chili with a touch of water, perhaps some mint mixed in. But I think you will like the recipe above cuz of the peanuts.

Bhuna Gosht


Bhuna is fried, brown fried to a crisp sort of. For bhuna gosht, the gravy should be very well fried and dried up, or bhunofied in Hinglish.

Yet another goat meat Pakistani family favorite. The end result should be a rather dry and thick velvety gravy paste.

2-3 tbs oil
2 finely sliced onions, fried until reddish brown (bhuni hui pyaaz)
1 pound bone in goat meat in stew sized chunks
2 tbs yoghurt
1 tomato roughly pureed
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 heaping tsp good garam masala
2 tsp ground coriander powder
1 tsp or so salt or to taste
1/2 to 1 cup water for the "dam"
chopped cilantro and green chilies for garnish

*TIP*I fry up large quantities of browned onions and freeze for use about once per month. It is a huge time saver to not need to caramelize onions for every dish that requires them, since they are so widely used in Pakistani cooking. For this dish, I use pre-browned onions. Be sure when you add them in to the hot oil, you do it shortly before you add in a wet ingredient to prevent them from burning.

Brown the meat very well, add in the fried onions, garlic, ginger, and fry some more. Add in the tomatoes, garam masala, dried coriander powder, and salt, and continue to stir on high heat for a while until oil rises from the gravy. Add in the yoghurt and stir until the yoghurt separates from the oil. Add in the water, the goat should be about 1/2 covered in water. Allow to boil, cover the pot, and simmer on very low heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes or so until the goat is nicely tender. When the meat is tender, turn up the heat to high again and stir around for a few moments to thicken the gravy a bit more, until you have a dark brown paste. I often remove the goat from the gravy and stir the gravy to thicken on high heat to get a very thick paste. Then I add the goat in again. The results should be a brown, very well bhunofied gravy that is fairly dry and clinging to the meat. This is what is "bhuna" about it and why it is different from a saalan. Garnish with the "green masala" or cilantro and green chilies.

Mutton Curry

Here is my recipe for mutton curry. I use Shan Masala Curry Powder. Another Pakistani home favorite.

2-3 tbs oil
1 kg bone in goat in stew sized chunks
1 onion chopped finely(the big yellow American onions 1, but if you use desi purple onions, use 2-3)
1 tbs garlic crushed
1 tsp ginger crushed
1 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
5 black peppercorns
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
3 whole dried red chili pods
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 heaping tsps Shan Curry Powder
1/2 cup yoghurt
2-3 tomatoes chopped
2 cups water
2 tbs Qasoori Methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt or to taste
chopped cilantro and green chilies for garnish

First brown meat for a few moments and then remove from oil and set aside. On high heat, add in this sequence cumin seeds, whole dried red chilies, cinnamon, bay leaf, peppercorns, onions, stir around till onions become translucent and lose a lot of moisture...you may need to turn down the heat if they start to brown. They should just be sauteed, not browned in this dish. In the mean while, add in the ginger garlic. When the onions are sauteed and the ginger and garlic is cooked, add in this sequence the turmeric, red chili powder, cumin powder, and coriander powder. Allow to sizzle for one moment, then add in the tomatoes, stir to melt down for a few minutes, then add in the yoghurt and for a few moments, add your salt and Shan Curry Powder now. Then, add in the browned goat. Pour in the 2 cups water and then allow to boil briefly, then cover and simmer on very low heat for 1 hour and 15 minutes or so until the goat is very tender. Now turn up the heat, (if the curry looks dry for your taste, add up to 1/2 cup water) and add in the dry Qasoori methi, stir around for a moment. Add in the lemon juice, stir, turn off heat, and garnish with green chilies and cilantro. Serve with chapattis or basmati rice.

Alu Gosht

Alu gosht is meat and potatoes. It is a Pakistani home cooked standard.


You will need:
2-3 tbs oil
1 onion sliced finely
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 tbs crushed garlic
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chili powder (or use less for less heat)
1 tsp coriander powder
2 large tomatoes chopped
1 kg bone in goat meat cut into 2 inch chunks
3-4 potatoes cut into large wedges or even just halved
salt to taste, like about 1 heaping tsp
1/2 tsp ready made garam masala spice mix
chopped cilantro and chopped green chilies for garnish

First you have to brown the onions. Fry them in oil on very high heat, when they have lost a lot of moisture, turn down the heat and allow them to turn reddish brown, stirring occasionally. This will take maybe 1/2 cup of oil, so you can strain them from the oil, take out your oil for the rest of the dish, and set aside the remainder of the now onion flavored oil for something else.

Now, brown the meat well on high heat, when it looks nice and browned, add in the garlic, browned onions, ginger, garlic, turmeric, red chili powder, and coriander powder, stir around for a few moments just to sizzle and cook the garlic/ginger through. This should be a very quick step, do not burn the spices or the browned onions at this stage or your dish is ruined. Once you have given it a good sizzle, quickly add in your tomatoes, the moisture of the tomatoes will prevent anything from burning. Just stir as the tomatoes melt down---you can add your salt now, too. Keep stirring until everything is melted into a dark brown paste clinging to the meat, as for bhuna gosht. After a few minutes, add about 1 1/2 cup of water. Allow this to come to a boil, then turn down the heat to very low and simmer covered for about 1 hour. Stir occasionally to prevent the bottom from sticking. When an hour has passed, add in your potatoes. You may need to add a tiny bit more water, like 1/4 cup. Allow this to boil for a quick moment, then lower heat again and cook for about 20-30 mins more until potatoes are done. The goat should be very tender by now and you should have a wet 'shorba' (soupy) gravy. Turn off the heat and stir in the garam masala. Garnish with the chopped chilies and cilantro. Serve with some type of brown flatbread or basmati rice, and plain live yoghurt on the side.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Karhai chicken I

I love the combo of hot and sour. Luckily there are a lot of Pakistani dishes that hit the spot for me when it comes to chili hot and lemon sour layers of flavor. A karhai is a wok like pot with two handles on either side. You can use an authentic karhai, but it isn't absolutely necessary. I make karhai chicken in a deep non-stick pot, which I use for most of my "curry" type dishes. Karhai chicken is a very typical PK household standard. Originating from the Frontier region, it is made in many interpretations across Pakistan and also in India. You should serve this particular version with chapati (whole wheat flatbread), or naan. This is an adaptation of my mother-in-law's home recipe.

1 whole chicken skinned and cut into medium to small pieces (about 12 pieces), bone-in
1 tbs crushed ginger
2 inches worth of ginger chopped into match-stick sized slivers
1 tbs crushed garlic
3 large tomatoes chopped
1 tsp red chile powder
1 heaping tablespoon Shan brand Curry Powder
1/2 tsp amchoor (dried mango powder)
2 green chilies finely chopped
2 green chilies roughly chopped (large chunks)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp or so lime juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
2-3 tbs oil

Heat oil in pan. Add in crushed garlic and crushed ginger and stir on high heat until golden. Toss in tomatoes, Shan Curry Powder, red chile powder, finely chopped green chilies, and salt. Stir on high heat for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes melt down and you are left with a thick gravy paste. Toss in the chicken pieces and braise on high heat for a few minutes until all the chicken turns color. Add in the water---you may need more or less depending on how much water your locally available chicken releases when cooking. Allow to boil once, cover, and lower heat to the lowest setting to cook until chicken is done, stirring occasionally to prevent the bottom from sticking/burning. The chicken available to me here in Dubai takes about 30 minutes. *TIP*: Karhai chicken should have a fairly thick and dry gravy. When you are ready to serve, add in the aamchoor, lemon juice and mix it well into the gravy. The aamchoor and the lime juice both add sourness, but have very different flavor notes, and will add something special to the dish while achieving tartness in the gravy. Garnish with the roughly chopped green chilies, cilantro, and match stick sized ginger slices.

So simple, tangy, hot and delicious. You're gonna luv it!

Here's another *TIP*: You can easily turn this dish into karhai methi chicken. Methi is fenugreek. You need a box of Qasoori methi, which is dried fenugreek. Follow all of the steps and ingredients, but omit the match stick ginger garnish. When the chicken is cooked and the gravy looks good, stir in 2 table spoons of Qasoori methi. Cover the pot and allow the methi to mingle with the chicken for about 5 minutes. Then stir in the aamchoor, lime juice, and garnish with the roughly chopped chilies and cilantro.

Krazy for karhai?
For black peppercorn karhai see here.
For Landi Kotal Shinwari style karhai, see here.