Monday, November 1, 2010

Vietnamese Style Chicken with Rice Vermicelli Bun Ga Nuong

mixed thigh and breast, nuoc mam pha sauce on side
Vietnamese food has been a part of my life since I was very young because I had a lot of Vietnamese American friends growing up. I can actually speak a bit of passable Vietnamese that I learned when I was a girl; enough to hold simple conversations, at least. Like desis, Vietnamese people are often very food savvy,  and are raised to enjoy eating and be analytical about food. It is just part of the culture. Vietnamese also love to eat out. Vietnamese food feels like home to me, and it was one of the things I missed most when I was in the Middle East. We have great Vietnamese restaurants in my home town. Several friends' families owned Vietnamese and Chinese-Vietnamese restaurants, and I spent many many afternoons after school hanging out with them there, or going after hours to karaoke parties held in these restaurants. I have great memories of Saturday morning pots of noodle soups, craw fish boils, and huge dinner parties at friends' homes, but as I was an ignorant kid and teenager, I just ate and didn't ever bother learning how to make anything, something I regret. As an adult, I have taken an interest in learning how to make and not just eat Vietnamese cuisine. I don't cook Vietnamese food very often because it is easier to just get great Vietnamese food from a restaurant for me. But recently for about once per week, I have been making bun ga nuong for my family. This is my childhood best friend's mom's marinade recipe for thit nuong. Bac Men uses pork or chicken, but of course I don't eat pork, so this is for chicken, or thit ga. Don't be shocked by the amount of sugar or black pepper...this recipe has worked well for me many times. And don't be afraid of MSG unless you have a sensitivity. MSG is good stuff :-) I promise you that you will love the results with this recipe.

Ga Nuong marinade:

6-8 chicken breast pieces or boneless skinless thighs

12 garlic pieces
1/2 bunch green onions
chop together in food processor and place in marinade bowl

Stir in:
1 tsp salt
6 tbs sugar
3 tbs finely ground black pepper
6 tbs fish sauce
4 tbs olive oil
pinch of MSG

Mix well with garlic/green onion mixture. Add chicken pieces and marinade 24 hours. The chicken can also be portioned and frozen.

Ga means chicken and nuong means grill. You can grill this chicken. I recommend grilling only if you use thigh meat. Breast turns out too dry. Alternatively, you can pan cook it. Pan sear the chicken in a lightly oiled frying pan. Remove from pan and cut into bite sized strips. Return to pan and finish cooking. This method yields superior browning and flavor.

Squeeze 2 tbs fresh lime juice on top of finished chicken

To serve:
Bun (rice vermicelli) one packet, follow cooking instructions on package
1 bag mixed salad greens
2 tbs carrots julienned, 1/2 cup bean sprouts, 1 cucumber thinly sliced, 2 tbs cilantro, few jalapeno slices (optional)

To serve oneself: In a large deep soup bowl, add some of the fresh salad ingredients. Top with about 1 cup cooked bun. Add cooked chicken pieces. Season with nuoc mam (see below).

As an option you may make bun ga nuong cha gio, or grilled style chicken with Vietnamese style eggrolls. Cha gio are made with rice paper skins (though some restos cheat and use thin wheat flour skins) and contain hair fine cellophane vermicelli, carrots, jicama, Chinese mushroom, and usually a mix of pork and shrimp. However, there are vegetarian versions available. It is time consuming to make them at home. I buy vegetarian cha gio from a local Vietnamese restaurant when I make bun to embellish my ga nuong. Use scissors to slice cha gio into bite size pieces, then just add a top the bun with the chicken.

Each diner adds about 1/4 cup or more of mixed fish sauce (nuoc mam pha or nuoc cham) to her bowl.  I make my fish sauce mix without a recipe, it is about 1 part fish sauce, 1 part lime juice, 1 part water, a few spoons of sugar, and a spoonful of sambal oelek, I often add vinegar...I just mix stuff until it tastes right...but I have linked a recipe for you. One may also choose to add Rooster Brand Huy Fong Sriracha sauce or Huy Fong sambal Oelek for extra red-hot chile heat. Limes can also be added as a garnish so diners can add fresh lime juice to their individual bowls. Crushed peanuts are also a nice addition.

I serve myself only a small portion of bun noodles since I low-carb. I have eaten this dish at friends' homes as a child. Bun isn't traditionally set out in the same way I depict here. The ingredients are kept separately and assembled on the table, or individual bowls are filled with salad and bun, and diners add their own meat and fish sauce. I serve it my own way to my family because it just works out easier for us this way, and I like the way they meat juices soak into the bun.

For the table,  the ga nuong and cha gio a top the bun, diners serve themselves

For this meal I added some shrimp into the final chicken stir fry.

single serving, less vermicelli for low carbing

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Turkey Chili

Cooking desi has affected the way I cook many other cuisines. Particularly the desi concept of bhunofying---that is Hinglish or Urdu-lish for cooking down ingredients until all of the moisture has evaporated out of them and the cooking oil floats to the top of the contents of the pan---has influenced me. Take the American dish, chili. Chili is an appropriation of the Northern Mexican and South Western US chile con carne (or carne con chile :p). Traditional chile con carne is a sauce of ground rehydrated dried red chiles and cubed beef, slow cooked. It actually looks vaguely like a Pakistani saalan ("curry"). No ground beef. No beans. Certainly no turkey or tofu granules. Chile con carne is very much and American dish, as it belongs to the land of the South Western US states which were erstwhile a part of Mexico. But the dish has taken on a life of its own in the hands of the gringos and gabachos in those states and in the the rest of the US, with regional variations all across the country. And it has gone from chile con carne to chili con have to say chile as chili and carne as carni in true estilo gabacho. We have divergent chilis from New Mexico to Texas and even Wisconsin, bean-less ground beef chiles, bean only chilis, black bean chili, and tofu chili. Among die-hard connoisseurs, there are great debates on whether or not good chili contains tomatoes. There are artisanal chilis and chili cook offs. Then we have chili in a can, chili dogs, and chili cheese fries, and so on. Tried and true American appropriation and adaptation (I dare not say bastardization) is seen in so many foods from around the world, and the treatment of chile con carne is the same, making it uniquely estadounidense and regionalized. Here, I share with you my personal recipe for spicy hot low fat turkey chili. Preparation involves a few steps, but the results are excellent. I credit the delicious taste to the desi technique of bhunofying the base of the chili gravy. This recipe is non-traditional and there are a few surprise seasonings in it.

1 pound lean ground turkey
1/4 cup oil

Brown turkey well in the oil, mashing and breaking it into little granules as you fry it golden brown. When it is well browned, throw it in a colander. Strain the oil and wash the excess fat off with water. Don't worry, the browning will leave it flavorful and you won't miss the fat. Set this aside. I brown the turkey separately for a couple of reasons. Firstly, so that I may rinse off the fat. Second, I find that ground turkey throws off a lot of water and simply boils in its own juices and ruins the other ingredients if I cook it with the onions and other ingredients.

1/4 cup oil
1 yellow onion finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed
(I put my onion and garlic together in a food chopper and blitz them together)
3 tablespoons Goya Sofrito
1 7 oz can of chipotle in adobo sauce, (puree full can in food chopper)
2 12 oz cans Rotel Tomato and Green Chiles, pour into a strainer and strain off liquid
3 tbs chili powder (Tex-Mex style, do not use Indian red chile powder)
1 tbs chipotle chile powder
1 tbs Mexican oregano
1 tbs roasted cumin powder
1 tbs salt
1 12 oz bottle of non-alcoholic beer
1 can red kidney beans
1 can pinto beans
1/8 teaspoon liquid smoke
1.5 cups water
3 tbs masa harina or finely ground cornmeal

Heat oil in a deep pot. Add in garlic and onions and fry until golden. Add in Goya sofrito. Stir for a few moments to cook through. Sofrito is associated with Latin-Caribbean cuisines (originally it is Spanish), not Tex-Mex, but I like the savory flavor that it adds to many dishes and I use it in many other non-traditional ways. Add in chipotles in adobo sauce and stir for a few moments. Add in strained Rotel tomatoes and chiles. Stir on high heat until all the water has evaporated from the tomatoes and you have a thick paste. This is the desi style bhunofying step. I said this was a low fat recipe. Now you will turn off the heat. Cover the pot for a few minutes to allow all of the oil to come out of the paste. Now pour off all of the excess oil. You have defatted your chile base! You will have low fat, high flavor chili.

Return pan to stove, turn on medium heat and the salt, the roasted cumin, chili powder, and chipotle powder, and the Mexican oregano. Fry this for a few moments to release the flavor of the dried spices a bit.

At this point, add your browned turkey. Mix well, and add in the non-alcoholic beer. Next, add in your two cans of beans. I use pinto and kidney but you may use any beans you like. Stir in the liquid smoke, the masa harina, and the water. You may add more or less water depending on how you like the consistency of your chili, liquid or dry or in between. Adjust salt if necessary. Allow to boil, then lower heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.

You may serve this as you like, but I like to have it with corn chips, garnished with pico de gallo, or  instead chopped raw onions, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, and some shredded cheddar or Monterrey Jack cheese. You can also add a spoon of guacamole, chopped avocado, or a dash of sour cream. Very Tex-Mex, spicy, and yummy. This dish also goes great with corn bread.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

All about South Asian Qorma (or Korma, or Qormah)

Qorma is one of those dishes that I love to learn and read about and compare recipes. Qorma is also one of those dishes that was traditionally cooked by South Asian Muslims for special occasions and only several times per year, but like biryani, it is now made much more frequently in the homes of the affluent and also in the homes of diasporic desis. Since desi Muslims are the direct culinary inheritors of the Mughlai tradition, the dish is theirs, but it is also widely loved in many interpretations by people of all backgrounds and faiths, and many vegetarian friendly and widely divergent recipes have evolved. (I have seen jackfruit korma!) But traditional versions of qorma are prepared in all of the main former centers of Muslim rule in India and Pakistan.

The word qorma came to South Asia from Central Asia and means "roasted, baked, browned" in reference to meat in Turkic dialects (kavurma). The Persians have their gormeh, prudent Nafees Urdu speakers of duroost shin-qaaf must say it Qormah. In both India and Pakistan it is widely pronounced as korma with no attention given to the Urdu original gutteral /q/ sound, which is approximated as /k/. But in the best Urdu diction it is Qormah/ قورمہ. It is an indeed a dish of Mughal legacy in S. Asia.

At least in South Asia it is traditionally made with mutton although these days chicken, fish, and pure veg. qormas are made to suit different preferences. I make chicken qorma much more often than mutton qorma, just because it is easy and fast cooking. My husband loves mutton qorma, though.

If I happen to be talking to a foodie, I always ask her how she makes her qorma, or how it is made in her community. A Pashto speaking acquaintance (Northern Pakistani) makes a liquidy stew with mutton and vegetables as her qorma. I think for Pashtoons qorma is any stew type dish and this is more in line with the original Central Asian qorma. I had a housekeeper who was a Bangalorean (South Indian) Muslim from a pure Urdu speaking family and she told me that they make their qorma with coconut milk, not yoghurt, and that it is mostly served on holidays and at weddings. My in-laws family (Urdu speaking North Indian origin Pakistani) qorma recipe is more of a typical North Indian Muslim-Pakistani qorma recipe: meat must be browned or well braised, lots of crispy brown fried onions are used (often ground to a paste), yoghurt is the liquid, the seasonings are garam masalas (whole and ground), ginger and garlic paste (heavier ginger to garlic ratio) ground coriander, a pinch of red chile, and at the very end of cooking, a second pinch of garam masala and ground green cardamom, and a tiny dash of keora jal (pandanus flower extract water which you may know as biryani perfume) are added at the very end of cooking...without the dash of pandanus water it doesn't have that qorma perfume taste by their family standards. A layer of oil is floating on the top of the semi-liquidy gravy. It is eaten with naan and basmati rice, never chapati. There is also "white qorma" which doesn't contain browned onions, only onions which are cooked until the rawness is fully gone. Ground almond or ground cashew pastes can be added to make the qorma "shahi" or royal, and also to serve the function of thickening it. Hyderabadis (of India) are known for white qorma. In Kashmir greens and vegetables can be added to the qorma, so it is more like the Central Asian-Persian type concept of qorma.

In my laziness I often use Shan Masala Korma spice mix, just 2 teaspoons, plus homemade garam masala and ground coriander powder, and a dash of roasted ground poppy seeds, but otherwise prepare it as described on the back of the box. I only use very fresh yoghurt (so it won’t have any hint of sourness) and rarely add cream as is prescribed on the Shan box, but if I do, I will add 1 tbs at the very end of cooking just to thicken the gravy. I also make a qorma biryani by using the same qorma recipe, making a slightly thicker gravy (by boiling to dry up the liquid) and then using qorma gravy to layer between parboiled rice then, then close the pot and finish off the rice.

When I am not feeling lazy, I make a more classic Lucknowi qorma based on my mother in law's recipe.

In Indian restos you will get a lot of interpretations of korma. Based on being a dish associated with Muslims, it gets classified in the restaurant 'Mughlai' genre of foods and therefore you will find, in line with the restaurant interpretation of what Mughlai means, lots of cream, nuts and even raisins/sultanas since that is what is taken as 'Mughlai.' This can be a tasty dish, though it doesn't look much like a qorma made in North Indian Muslims-Pakistani homes. I wouldn’t say that's “the wrong way” to make qorma (or perhaps I should write korma here), because it IS made in India by Indians that way, and this type of korma is also what we know at UK and US faux-Mughlai/Punjabi restaurants. Who has the copyright on qorma, anyway? What I see as the “authentic” North Indian Muslim-Pakistani qorma isn't much like the original Central Asian qorma, either. I do have creamy qorma like that at restaurants sometimes, and it is yummy, too.

Here are links to three non-restaurantish, Muslim home style chicken qormas, including one Lucknawi and one from Indian Hyderabad from two good websites, just in case anyone wanted to see a sort of tradional Muslim desi non-resto/no-cream type recipe example. Boneless chicken breast can be used but as far as I know, whether it is chicken or mutton it is traditionally bone-in, and with chicken it would be whole skinless bone-in cut in 12 pieces (not specified in recipes).

The Zaiqa blog (a fave I learned about through Ambhi) is an excellent resource for Hyderabadi recipes...What to me stands out as Hyderabadi about this chicken qorma is that it includes coconut (Southern touch)and roasted peanuts (she used the term "ground nut"). It also has green chile in addition to powdered red chile, plus mint leaves. I don't think those would be in North Indian qormas.


Khana Khazana is a user-added recipe site, has loads of good Pakistani and Indian stuff. The first qorma is very tradional and Lucknawi with its white poppy seeds (khashkhaash) and extra nutmeg and mace in addition to the garam masalas. The picture doesn't look too yummy but the recipe looks very good IMHO. The other recipe is very similar but without the white poppy seeds. Both users' recipes calls for the kewra water I mentioned above---very traditional.

Note that in all recipes the onions are brown fried seperately and ground to be added to the gravy.

I was happy to see the qorma with -q-, too on the recipes :-) as an Urduphile.

Anyway, just fun to see some regional variation.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sarson da saag: Mustard Greens

In the US, most goras know saag paneer. However, most would also be surprised to eat a saag (greens) dish at a desi home because desi home cooked saag is very different than the creamy saag paneer one finds at the typical generic Star of India Palace Buffet Punjabi-Mughlai inspired Indian American restaurant. I actually really love the restaurant style saag paneer that I grew up eating at Star of India Palace Buffet. However, the authentic, homestyle saag preparation varieties are also delicious. Allow me to share a simple one:

Mustard greens cooked in the Punjabi style are a winter treat, and loved across the Land of the Five Rivers on both sides of the Indian and Pakistani border. It is July now, but I am not in the Punjab. At Sprouts, I found some beautiful mustard greens that inspired me to make sarson da saag te makki di roti...mustard greens in the Punjabi style, served with cornmeal flat bread. I used HEB brand corn tortillas heated in a pan on the stove as the makki di roti. The Mexican corn tortillas look different, and of course corn tortillas are prepared from corn treated with slaked lime and makki di roti is just a cornmeal roti. But somehow the taste ends up very similar and the tortillas worked well with the mustard greens.

This dish doesn't have a lot of spices and seasonings. It isn't meant to be nose-run inducing hot. The greens are the star of the show here.

2 lbs or so mustard greens, washed and chopped
1 lb spinach, washed and chopped
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
2 fresh tomatoes pureed
1 tsp red chile powder (or to taste)
2 tbs finely ground cornmeal/maize flour
4 tbs butter OR butter flavored low fat substitute (I use Olivio Spread)
2 tbs oil for frying
salt to taste

You boil the mustard and spinach together until it softens, then puree it with some of the cooking liquid. Reserve extra cooking liquid for later (so you don't pour away all of the vitamins, also). 
Now heat the oil and ginger/garlic pastes. When these turn golden, quickly add in the red chile powder, then before it burns, stir in the tomato puree. Cook the tomato puree on high heat for a few moments until the oil rises to the top of it. Now add the mustard green/spinach puree. Mix well, add in a your salt and the cornmeal. Mix well. You will need to add 1 to 1.5 cups or so of the cooking liquid. Then just lower heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it is done, stir in 3 tbs of your butter or low fat butter substitute. To serve, add shards of butter on top.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Chaat at home: Bhel Puri, Dahi Puri, Papri Chaat plus chutneys to explain what chaat is? It is a genre of hot and sour crunchy snack foods. How do you explain chaat to someone who has never had it before?

In Dubai, we have a lot of chaat places. Not all of it is fabulous. Stale crunchies, overly seasoned or flavorless chutneys, a chaat mixer who robotically throws ingredients together, not caring to balance the flavors---it all lends to bad chaat. But some chaat places are consistently amazing. You cannot pass them by without stopping for a plate of gol gappe or dahi puri even if you have just had a meal. Eating great chaat is like having an explosive festival of flavor and texture in your mouth. I adore chaat. If I hadn't married my Pakistani husband, my life might be void of chaat. I may never have heard of the yummy stuff. Perish the thought!

In the des, chaat can be one of those foods that poses a high risk to the tummy for non-locals. For sanitary reasons, or for reasons of ritual purity, there are many desis who prefer to make chaat at home as well. My Gujarati neighbors employ a Maharaj (Brahmin cook) who prepares fresh chaat or Gujarati farsaans for them on a daily basis. In a Western country, you may live somewhere that there is no chaat house, or where the chaat isn't that great. So, it is useful to know how to make chaat at home. I actually prepared these recipes and did a demo on home made chaat for my school. It went really well. I hope you have as much success with the recipes.

Here are some recipes and ideas:
*I use Shan Chaat Masala as my chaat masala blend.

In order to give the hot, sweet, and sour flavors to most chaat dishes, you have to use a green chutney and a sweet chutney. Many chaat dishes also require yoghurt, which you may choose to lightly season. Many English and American people think chutney means a fruit sauce, but chutney is really any kind of dipping sauce. Green chutney is mainly cilantro and can have mint. Sweet chutney is usually made of tamarind or dehydrated dates, or a combination of the two. My dear cooking teacher showed me a way to make sweet chutney with mango powder (amchoor), although this is not her exact recipe (she uses roasted cumin and red chile powder in addition to chaat masala). Before I got her recipe, I was soaking and straining tamarind and pitting dates and boiling and straining and boiling and straining. What a headache. Now, I just boil the mango powder, fuss free.

Green Chutney
1 bunch cilantro chopped  (about 2 loosely packed cups)
½ bunch mint leaves (about 1 loosely packed cup)
1-2 green chilies
½ piece bell pepper
½ small onion
3 tbs lemon juice
3 tsp sugar
Salt 1 heaping tsp or to Taste

How to make green chutney :
Blitz all ingredients thoroughly in a blender to make a paste. If you own a desi style grinder like this one, this is superior to a blender. Add a little water if required.

Sweet Chutney
In Dubai we get bags of gur cut into 100 gram chunks. They are about the size of a large American lemon. I hope these are available in the US, too. I don't want to deal with that giant block of gur. If that is all you have. Soften briefly in the microwave and cut off and weigh 200 grams.

200 grams (two large chunks) jaggery sugar (Gur)
1 tbs mango powder
1 cup water
1 tsp chaat masala or to taste (I use Shan brand)
¼ tsp salt or to taste

How to make sweet chutney:
Boil jaggery sugar and mango powder together in water until the sugar melts. Keep boiling for about 5 minutes or until it thickens, stirring in the salt and chaat masala. You can make a double batch of this chutney and keep it in the fridge for a month to use as needed. I serve this chutney with any kabaab, chaat, or dahi baray

*This chutney contains no tamarind. If you prefer the mild, smokey flavor of tamarind as opposed the the sharp tartness of mango powder, omit the tbs of mango powder and in place of that use 1 tbs tamarind concentrated pulp...the seedless brick in the clear plastic wrap, not the terrible one in the jar.

Yoghurt for Chaat
4 cups yoghurt
1 tsp salt or to taste
2 tsp sugar or to taste

Three Types of Chaat to Try at Home
I do not make my puris, bhel/murmura, sev, etc. at home. That is beyond my cooking skill level. All of this can be bought pre-packaged at any Indo-Pak grocer. Haldiram's and Bikanerwala are excellent brands. Bhel puri mixes usually come with chutneys, too. Throw those away. Those chutneys are terrible and full of preservatives. Use the fresh recipes provided above.

Bhel Puri
Pre-packaged Bhel Puri Mix – 3 cups
Potato-1/4 up boiled, peeled, and cubed
Whole green Mung beans- 2 tbs boiled
Chickpeas-1/4 cup cooked
Onion – 2 tbs, finely chopped
Sour green Mango – 2 tbs, finely chopped (optional, you can subsitute tart green apple for this, too)
Cilantro – 2 tbs, finely chopped
Green Chiles – 2-3 should suffice, use less for less heat
Sweet Chutney – 6 tbs or to taste
Green Chutney – 3 tbs or to taste

In a medium bowl, mix together bhel mix, onions, potato, chickpeas, mung beans. and sour green mango, cilantro and green chiles. Add sweet chutney and green chutney (you can adjust the amount suggested here according to your taste). Mix well and serve immediately. You just eat this stuff with a spoon. Yum!

Dahi Puri
Pani Puri shells– 1 bag from Indian store
Potato – 1 medium cut into cubes
Chick peas – 1/4 cup cooked
Whole mung beans – ¼ cup cooked
Onion – 2 tbs finely chopped
Cilantro – 5 sprigs (finely chopped)
Yogurt – 1/2 cup (well beaten)
Chaat Masala – to taste
Salt – to taste
Red Chile Powder – to taste
Fresh green chiles- 1-2 chopped finely
Green Chutney – 1 tbs or to taste
Sweet Chutney – 2 tbs or to taste
Fine (Thin) Sev – 1/2 cup

Punch a small hole on top of each of the pani puri shell and place them in a plate. Stuff the puri shells with a little bit of the following: Potato, chick peas, mung beans, and onion. Spoon a little (to taste) green chutney and sweet chutney into the puri shells. Spoon some yogurt into the puri shells and then all around them. Sprinkle with chaat masala, salt, red chile powder and cilantro. Garnish with more sev and some chopped green chile slices. Drizzle green and sweet chutney on top.

Papri Chaat
Paapri – 1 bag or 20-25 flat puris/paapri from Indian store
Potato – 1 small sized, boiled, peeled & cut into cubes
Chickpeas - 1/4 cup, cooked
Mung beans- 2 tbs cooked (soak for one hour then boil for 20 minutes and strain)
Onion – 2 tbs, finely chopped
Sour green mango- 2 tbs cut in cubes (optional, or substitute with tart green apple)
Fresh green chile- 1-2 chopped (or to taste)
Yoghurt – 3/4 cup, seasoned with salt and sugar and well beaten
Chaat Masala - to garnish
Green Chutney – 2 tbs or to taste
Sweet Chutney- 3 tbs or to taste
Thin Sev – 1/2 cup

Lay papri chips out on a plate. Sprinkle potatoes, onions, mung beans, chick peas, and green mango (optional) over the layer of papri. Drizzle yoghurt over the papri. Sprinkle a dash of chaat masala. Pour Green Chutney and Sweet Chutney on top to taste. Last, sprinkle thin sev and chopped green chiles as a garnish.

All chaats that contain crunchy ingredients should be served immediately to avoid going soggy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shan ki Shan: Sindhi Biriani

Some people will tell you that using Shan Masala is cheating. I say no way. Using Shan masala is perfectly fine if the end result tastes good. Shan is an auxiliary item. It doesn't create the 'maza' for you. Besides, no one just uses the packet of Shan Masala. Everyone always adds in their own medley of spices to a couple of spoonfuls of Shan for a dish. I have a post in mind about the rise in popularity  of Shan's connection to the birth of modern Pakistani cuisine. Shan has contributed to the homogenization of a diverse food culture in the young nation of Pakistan.  But in this post, I'd like to share with you my recipe (with a little help from Shan Uncle) for Sindhi biriani. Many people swear by Shan's Sindhi biriani mix. I use it, too as my favorite biriani. Here is my doctored up Shan masalay ki Sindhi biriani recipe. I add mango powder and extra dried plums (aloo bukharay) to the Shan masala to get a hot and sour taste in the finished biriani. Using Shan doesn't make it a bit easier, it is a complicated process. But it turns out great:

For the meat gravy you need:
1/2 cup of oil (which will be poured off of the gravy later, don't worry)
1 kg (2.2 lbs) of bone in mutton cut in large chunks (say 2/2 inch botees)
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 onions finely sliced and fried until crisp and brown (bhuni hui pyaaz)
1 tbs garlic paste
2-3 tomatoes roughly pureed
1 heaping tbs salt
1 tbs ginger paste
1 cup yoghurt
1.5 tbs Shan Sindhi Biriani Masala Mix
1 tsp coriander powder
1 heaping tsp ground mango powder (aamchoor)
1 tsp red chile powder
1 tsp garam masala
+/- 1 cup water
12 alu bukharay (dried plums/prunes available at Pakistani grocery)

Aloo Bukhara

Method: Mix the yoghurt with the powdered spices and the ginger paste and set aside. Heat oil in a pot and brown meat in two batches. Set the meat aside. Add cumin seeds, fried onions, and garlic paste to the oil.  Take care not to burn the onions. When the garlic is golden, stir in the tomato puree. Stir this for a while until the water has evaporated from the tomato puree and the oil is rising to the top of the gravy. Add in the salt. Stir in the meat and mix well. Turn down the heat and stir in the spiced yoghurt (lowering the heat will prevent the yoghurt from splitting). Mix well and turn up the heat again. Stir until oil rises to the top of the gravy. Add in the water and the aloo bukharay. Allow to boil, cover, simmer on low heat for about 1.5 hours until the meat is nicely tender. When it is done, remove the meat and aloo bukharay from the gravy with a slotted spoon. Turn up the heat and evaporate the remaining water from the gravy. You will have a thick biriani masala paste. Pour the oil that rises to the top of this paste off of the gravy to cut calories and to avoid a greasy biriani (yuck!). Add the meat and the aloo bukhary back to the dry gravy paste and keep ready for the rice. *You can add potatoes to this recipe. Peel and halve 3-4 potatoes and add in in the last 40 minutes of the gravy's cooking. Remove the potatoes at the same time you remove the meat for drying up the gravy.

For the rice:
3 cups of uncooked biriani grade basmati rice cooked according to these instructions: Lucky Delicious on How to Cook Basmati Rice  parboiling method. You will soak and parboil the rice according the specifications for biriani rice. Do this after the biriani gravy is done cooking. You will layer the rice with the biriani gravy in a pot soon after you have finished parboiling it. Take care to be gentle with the rice so as not to break the kernals.

Unmixed layered biriani before covering to fully cook (put on dam)

Perfuming the biriani:

16 fresh mint leaves
8 fresh whole green chiles, slit
1/2 tsp Kewra Water (available at the Pakistani grocery -keora jal-)
1/8 tsp of orange biriani food coloring added to 1/2 cup milk

mint and chiles

Bush brand biriani coloring, coloring mixed in milk, keora water

What to do: You have parboiled your rice. You have made a biriani gravy. Take a vessel and use a paper towel to grease it lightly with ghee. Add in a layer of meat and gravy. Distribut half of the mint leaves on top of this, and throw in half of the slit chiles. Now add in half of the rice. On top of this, add in another layer of meat gravy. Top this with the rest of the mint leaves and slit green chiles. Then add another layer of rice. Drizzle the rice with the keora water. Pour the orange colored milk into one area of the biriani rice. Now cover with a kitchen towel and close the lid. Put this on a high flame for 3-4 minutes to start some steam going in the pot. Then turn down the heat to the lowest setting and allow this to cook for about 18 minutes to finish off the rice and to allow the gravy and rice flavors to blend together. This step is called cooking on 'dam'.

biriani cooked on dam in a Sindhi sipri

When the biriani is cooked, turn off the flame and lift the lid to allow some steam to escape. Allow the biriani to rest for at least 10 minutes before mixing and serving it. This allows the rice to settle so that it won't break when you stir it. After the biriani has had a nice rest and you are read to serve, mix gently and set out on a serving dish. Garnish with finally chopped cilantro. Serve with plain yoghurt.

Freshly cooked and mixed biriani

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Shahi Kababs and the Dalda Cookbook

The Dalda Cookbook is probably the best known English language Pakistani cookbook. It was produced by the Dalda Cooking Oil company. It is available online (have a google) and as I frequent Pakistani and Indian food websites, I have seen many, many recipes plagiarized directly from that book (and also Zubeida Tariq's book From Zubeida Tariq's Kitchen...the other English language Pakistani cookbook, this one with a Hyderabad Dakkani twist). It seems that EVERYBODY has the Dalda Cookbook. The married women in my in-law's family make jokes about it. My mother in-law gave me a copy when I got married. I don't know much about the history of the cookbook or how it came to be so popular. The recipes are scant and simple, but often turn out very well. On the ground, what Pakistanis eat is a collection of regional cuisines based on the diverse regions of Pakistan, and the cuisines tied to history of immigration to the nation that became Pakistan after the partition of India. What is French cuisine? The cuisine of Paris is not the cuisine of Provence. What is American cuisine? We can give generalized answers for the sake of easy explanation. So what is Pakistani cuisine? The Dalda Cookbook exemplifies Pakistani cooking because it contains recipes for every one of Pakistan's iconic dishes, as well as some changed-up, experimental, or international dishes for good measure. Anyhow, I have cooked a lot based on the Dalda recipes. I would like to know more about this book. Who put it together? When was it first published? How many editions are there? Was there ever a show based on it? What is the backstory?

One of the "changed up, international" recipes in Dalda is for Afghani kababs on page 2 of my copy. It is a simple yet interesting recipe in which one makes pan fried minced meat patties, slices them into rectangular-ish kababs, and adds these kababs to a tomatoey (karhai type) gravy. The recipe has no dried spices in it besides black pepper. This makes me suspicious that it is not a true Afghan recipe. There is this myth among Southern Pakistanis and also Indians who know of Pashtoon and Afghan food that in the Afghan culinary belt, the people only use salt and pepper to season their food. I feel that I have read this in a Lonely Planet edition as well as somewhere in a Madhur Jaffrey book. My mother-in-law has told me this as well. However, all evidence I have of actual Afghan and Pashtoon cooking indicates that this is a complete myth. Pashtoon cooking is regional as well, but generally the entire belt uses a spice mix seasoning that is essentially the same thing as a simple garam masala. So they DO use masalas. I own an Afghan cookbook and two other pan-regional cookbooks that have Afghanistan sections. I also have some down-the-street neighbors who are Pashtoons. In the recipes of these books and of my neighbors, there are multiple garam masala type spices used. The food is just not as chile hot as Southern Pakistani cuisine. However, some Pashtoon recipes which I have seen online also contain a lot of chiles, green and red. So it seems that this whole "salt and pepper" Afghan cuisine thing is not true. I wondered to myself what this recipe would taste like if it were more highly seasoned it.

Anyhow, once a long time ago, I made this recipe. It is 'different' compared to the typical meat saalans (gravy or "curry" dishes) that I serve regularly, so it was fun to make and serve. Somehow, I kept coming back to this recipe as I thumbed through the Dalda Cookbook. I wanted to make it again. But I wanted to change it. So I took the idea, plagiarized it if you will, and changed it up completely. I added in "Mughlai" touches like poppy seeds, cashew nut paste, as well as red chiles.

So here is my totally changed up Dalda Afghani Kabab recipe. It is the same concept of making a seasoned meat patty, cutting it into strips for 'kabab' and then adding these kababs to a tomato gravy. Other than that, it is a totally different recipe:

Shahi Kabab*

The kababs: Combine in a mixing bowl the following ingredients

1 lbs minced beef or mutton
1/2 onion pureed
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1-2 green chiles ground to paste
1 slice of white bread soaked in milk, squeezed to drain the milk, added to the bowl
1 tbs of cashew paste (soak 10 cashew nuts in just enough warm water to cover, then puree to grind to a paste with the soaking water)
1 tbs ghee
1 tsp freshly ground anise powder (saunf)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbs white poppy seeds (khashkhaash)
1/2 to 1 tsp red chile powder
pinch of red chile flakes
1 tsp or so salt, or or to taste

Mix these ingredients together well, kneading them into the meat. Divide the meat into 3 portions and flatten these into large disc shapes about 1.5 inches thick. Heat oil in a frying pan and brown each meat disc on both sides. Don't worry about cooking the patties all of the way through because you will finish off their cooking in the gravy later. They should have a nicely browned outside, though. Allow the patties to cool, then cut into long strips. They will look kind of like rectangular-ish seekh kababs at this point. Set aside. TIP: before you fry all of the meat, take out a bite sized amount of meat, cook it in the pan, and taste it to check the salt and seasonings and adjust if necessary.

For the gravy:
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbs ginger-garlic-chile paste (just grind these together, 1:1:1 portions and use as needed for a week)
3 small-medium tomatoes, blanched and pureed
1.5 tbs crisp fried onions, crushed
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp red chile powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin powder
1/2 tsp ground coriander powder
2 tbs whipped yoghurt
1/2 cup water
1 tbs cashew paste (see above kabab recipe to know how to prepare)
1 tsp dried mango powder (aamchoor)
1/2 tsp freshly ground cardamom powder
3 tbs oil
1 tsp salt or to taste

Heat oil in pan. Add in cumin seeds. When they sizzle, add in ginger garlic chile paste. When the garlic and ginger turn golden, add in the tomato puree. Cook this for a few minutes until the oil rises to the top. Add in the ground fried onions, turmeric, red chile powder, garam masala, cumin powder, coriander powder, and cook for a few moments to cook off the spices. Lower heat and stir in the yoghurt. Stir for a few minutes until the oil rises to the top of the dish again. Pour in the water and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. Add in the dried mango powder and cashew paste, and salt. Add in the kabaabs now, and a dash of water if the gravy looks to dry. Cook covered, simmering on low heat for about 10 minutes, shaking the pan gently so that the bottom doesn't stick. When the kabaabs are cooked through and the gravy is semi-dry, it is done. Stir in the cardamom powder, mixing gently to distribute it in the gravy without breaking the kababs.

Serve with naan.

*Shahi means royal. Since these kababs are enrichened with Mughlai ingredients, I changed the name of the dish.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lahori Chargha Lahore Style Seasoned Fried Chicken

In Lahore there are many restaurants where you can get this delicious deep fried chicken. I believe chargha is another Urdu word for chicken (hen, like murghi), but for some reason I have also seen this dish called "chicken chargha," which means chicken chicken. Kind of like chai tea and naan bread. Usually it's the goras who say chai tea and naan bread, but I have seen desis saying or writing chicken chargha. I know chargh/chargha is used in Pashto. Maybe chargha as chicken is too obscure since murghi or English "chicken" are so widely used. So maybe it got stuck that way the same way some English speakers say "with au jus." Au jus really means "with juice" so they are saying "with with juice." Long tangent... Lahore you can also get this same dish made with quail (batair).

In this recipe, I make use of a pressure cooker to briefly cook the chicken through while causing the marinade gravy to cling nicely to the bird's flesh. The pressure cooker nicely tenderizes the bird as well, so you don't get dry, over-cooked chicken from the double cooking process.

For this recipe you need bone-in, skinless chicken pieces. You can use a whole or halved chicken if you feel brave and have a large vessel for deep frying. In my recipe I usually use a quartered chicken or sometimes just leg-thigh pieces (5-6).

1 cup yoghurt
1 tbs vinegar
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp ajwain seeds
1/2 tsp nigella seeds (kalonji)
1 tsp red chile powder
1 tbs red chile flakes
1 heaping tbs chaat masala (Shan brand is fine)
1 tsp salt or to taste
tiny pinch of orange food coloring (like biriani rangi)
Oil for deep frying

Lemon juice and chaat masala for final garnish

Make slits in the chicken so that marinade can penetrate. In a large deep bowl, whip the ingredients into the yoghurt. Add the chicken and slather it with the marinade. Marinate overnight in the refridgerator.

Place chicken pieces directly into the pressure cooker. There is no need to add water or oil. Cover the pressure cooker and cook on medium-low heat until you get one whistle (about 10 minutes). Lower the flame and continue to cook for five for minutes. Turn off the flame and release the pressure. When the lid opens, remove the chicken pieces and set out to cool down. The chicken should be just barely cooked. Notice the marinade is clinging so nicely to the chicken. These flavor bits will stick to the flesh even when you deep fry later.

When the chicken has completely cooled, heat oil in a deep pan (big enough to submerge the chicken pieces). When oil is hot, deep fry the chicken and remove from the oil. At this stage you are just giving the chicken a spice-crust, the chicken should be fully cooked so there is no need to fry for more than a few moments.Using a strainer or a slotted ladel, scoop out some deep fried bits of marinade and spread these on the chicken as well for extra tasty bits.

Drain chicken pieces and then set on a serving dish. Squeeze lemon juice and sprinkle chaat masala on top of the chicken.

If you have some roghni naan, serve with that, plus raita, tamarind chutney. Shauqeen log can serve this with white bread and ketchup.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Myths and Misconceptions That Americans Have about Desi Food

In the interest of promoting enjoyment of desi cuisines among my fellow Americans, I would like to discuss some misconceived ideas that some times crop up among non-desi Americans regarding desi food.

Indian food is healthy
Most non-desi Americans don't really even consider other desi nations in a culinary manner, they only focus on India. One of our stereotypes about Indian food is that it is very healthy (another reason that we goray log tend to have our racist, ridiculous, self-contradictory stereotypes about South Asians: we often think Indians are all skinny). Indian food IS healthy. Indian food is also unhealthy. There are too many factors at play in any cuisine to categorize it as healthy or unhealthy, especially the cuisines of India and the rest of South Asia. A home made stir fry type vegetable dish is healthy. A samosa or a gulab jaman, not so healthy. Rich, oily, meat and gravy dishes in desi cuisines are not so healthy. Neither is a dish in which all of the vegetables have been briefly deep fried before being added to a gravy. But considering that one may be eating a small ladel of such a dish with healthy boiled rice or whole-wheat flat bread, along with a stir-fried vegetable dish or a boiled lentil dish and some freshly cut vegetables, a balance exists. Many desis do eat too many carbs, especially deep fried carby foods. So do Americans. Carby, rich foods that sustained our ancestors through a day of manual work are not necessary any more. Although our lifestyles have become less active, we still eat as if we were working in a physical capacity all day. We don't burn off the calories we take in. Sound familiar? That a region has healthy as well as unhealthy foods should be obvious. Some non-desi people who are only familiar with desi cuisine through restaurant offerings may think that desi cuisine is filled with ghee, cream, and coconut milk. That is not true either. Home cooked desi 'main dishes' tend to be significantly lighter than what is found in South Asian restaurants. But I think that since Americans have our stereotype about these skinny, healthy Indians, we can even feel disappointed or duped to find that many desi foods are rich or prepared using unhealthy techniques and ingredients. Anyhow, desi food is not entirely healthy or unhealthy. We had our false notions of desi cuisine let down. But it was our own stereotypes that let us down, not the desi food itself.

India is a vegetarian country
This misconception is also related to the above two stereotypes. Vegetarian food is stereotyped as being healthy, so since Indian food is supposedly vegetarian, Indian food is healthy. Since Indian food is healthy, Indians are skinny. The dominoes of stereotypes fall down, clanging against one and other. Okay, there are many vegetarian Indians. However, most Indians are not vegetarians. Certain communities of Indians are associated with being vegetarian. For example, many Gujarati Hindus and especially Jains, Tamil Hindus of certain specific communities (like Iyers), and so on tend to be strict vegetarians. Non-Hindu Indians eat meat. There are a lot of them (+/-20% of the total population). Many, many Hindus eat meat. Some Hindus go through periods of being more religious, and give up meat for this, just like some Americans also go through phases of stronger religiosity. In some regions of India, even Brahmin food is non-vegetarian. Some regions are known for a broadly meat and fish based cuisine. Bengali food as well as the food of Kerala is mainly non-vegetarian. And on and on. Quite simply, India is a place with a wide variety of vegetarian foods, and some cuisines within India are largely vegetarian. However, India is not really a vegetarian country.

I would like to take a moment to address a common myth that I hear Indians or other non-Pakistanis repeat about Pakistani cuisine: Pakistanis only eat meat. This is so untrue. Most of the typical North Indian vegetable standards are eaten in Pakistan, too, with regional variation on exactly how they are prepared. A "proper" Pakistani meal would have a meat dish plus a daal and a vegetable served with rice and chapatti, plus some yoghurt, pickles, possibly a kasaundi (type of pickle) and some fresh salad vegetables layed out on a plate. The meat dish would be the "star" of the table, but the other dishes would be necessary to make the meal well-rounded and complete. Also, many of the "pure" veg dishes of North India are also iconic dishes of Pakistan: vegetarian chaats, dahi baray, karhi pakora, and so on. Although one does find dosai made by Pakistanis of South Indian origin, especially in Karachi, the dosa has not taken over Pakistan as a light meal or snack as it has in North India. But generally speaking, whatever meat and veg. dishes one finds North Indians eating, one will find Pakistanis eating. So it is totally untrue that Pakistanis don't consume vegetables.

South Asian food is spicy
South Asian food can be spicy. Chile heat levels vary again from region to region, family to family, and even between individuals. Non-desi Americans expect that all Indian food should be spicy and chile hot. They feel that milder Indian food is being served to them at restaurants as an adaptation of Indian food cooked to suit the American palate. This is partially true. Some non-desi Americans are grateful for this because they cannot tolerate spicy foods, so they appreciate the adaptation. However, many non-desi Americans do like to eat spicy food. They feel that being served mild food is an insult to their ability to stomach "authentic" desi atomic chile heat. They believe the restaurants are duping them. Okay, it is true that many Indian or Indo-Pak restos that cater to a non-desi clientele cook milder food. However, it is simply untrue that all desi food is fiery hot. Some foods are known to be hot. Some foods are commonly eaten mildly spiced or spiceless on purpose because that is how they are served (like a simple khichri or a daily daal). I recall reading recipe reviews from goras in which they complained that the original Indian recipe for a daily type daal was "bland" or "not spicy enough." Some particular daal dishes are cooked with a lot of chiles and spices. However, often a daily daal is very mild. It is simply boiled and has a light tempering that may include a few dried or fresh chiles, but the dish itself is not supposed to blow your head off. Some desis do like very hot foods and cannot stomach chile-less foods. However, many desis feel that a dish being overly spicy and hot (as well as oily) is a marker of it being poorly cooked. Low quality restaurants serve oily, fiery food for undiscerning customers. Being delicately seasoned is a sign of refinement. "Delicately seasoned" is a subjective description, as to an American person who cannot tolerate any chiles, a "delicately seasoned" desi dish may still be too hot and require copious glasses of water to quench the burning sensation caused by said dish.  Anyhow, my recipes on this blog are probably not spicy enough for chile-heads. The red chile powder and green chile amount can be increased to taste. But Americans shouldn't just assume that desi food has to burn off the tastebuds to be "authentic" or enjoyable.

A side note: I have read on food oriented forums and websites that American goras think that Pakistani food is chile-heat hotter than Indian food. This is not true. What I think is that many "Indian"-labeled  restaurants in the US are serving a less spicy, creamy restaurant genre of food loosely based on authentic Punjabi and Mughlai cuisine, particularly the non-regional-specialty restaurants that target a multi-ethnic (here meaning not just desi) clientele. Regional-specialty Indian restaurants, which mainly target an Indian clientele and are not widely popular among non-desi Americans, use a more "normal" chile heat level, and I am not referring to these types of Indian restaurants here. Pakistani restaurants may keep some of these restaurant-genre Indian items on their menu (jalfrezi, chicken tikka masala, etc). However, in the US I have noticed that restaurants that label themselves as "Pakistani"are often serving more homestyle desi type foods. "Indian" labeled restaurants are more widely popular in the US, and Pakistani restaurants are more likely targeting a Pakistani clientele. Be aware that any "Indian" restaurant can be owned by actual Indians, as well as Pakistanis, desi origin East Africans, Bangladeshis or whoever else. I mean restaurants that are promoted as Pakistani, and not "Indian"-labeled. Anyhow, since these restaurants are serving Southern Pakistani home style cuisine, they are using "normal" amounts of chiles and are not adapting the chile heat for the non-desi customers. So when goras are familliar with a typical generic Punjabi-Mughlai inspired Indian restaurant, which sets the parameters for what they know as Indian food, they must not compare this to the authentic, unadapted Pakistani food. In my hometown, many of the Indian origin people who I know joke that the only desi restaurant that serves "real Indian food" is the Pakistani restaurant. That is because the Pakistani restaurant is serving cream-less homestyle food which very much overlaps with what North Indians eat. So they feel it is much more like "real Indian food" than any of the creamy faux Punjabi-Mughlai "Indian" places. Anyhow, it is not true that "Pakistani food is spicier than Indian food." This is just a misconception based on what is available to us goras at restaurants.

South Asian food is oily
See, I told you the stereotypes we Americans have can co-exist even though they contradict each other. Among the gora's battery of stereotypes about desi food are that it is both healthy AND oily! Non-desi people who delve into authentic desi cooking and look at recipes made by and for desis and not oil-shy, Pam spraying Americans, are often wary of deep fried items, and shocked to find that traditional meat plus gravy recipes can call for 1/4 cup to even 1 cup of oil (like many 'Muslim' recipes). One has to look at it this way: the oil is not to be consumed by one person. The amount of oil is used for a dish meant to feed a large family. The cooking process in many desi cuisines requires some short and long term browning in oil, and reducing the moisture of ingredients by frying in oil. This requires a lot of oil to be done properly (although there are low-fat techniques to use as an alternative), and unlike frying techniques in which the foods are removed from the oil, the oil in these desi dishes is not removed and one adds more ingredients to this oil stage by stage. One can opt to pour off the oil at the end of cooking, or try to get less oil on the serving spoon when ladeling food from dish to plate. I have a friend who drops a dry paper towel on top of a finished dish to absorb some of the oil. One can opt to eat less of these oily meat dishes and go for more vegetables. There are ways to get around the oil. Some regional South Asian food is not particularly oily. However, foods from these regions are not widely available or known to Americans. So not ALL desi foods are oily.

Desi food is too salty
A desi "main dish" is rarely meant to be consumed without rice or bread. The desi dish is conceptualized as dish plus accompanying carb: wet dish with rice or flat bread, dryer dish with flat bread, fancy dish with special naan or kulcha, etc. Since the dish is meant to be mixed with a quantity of carbs, the dish must be highly salted or when it is combined with the carb it will taste under-seasoned. So yes, desi food is salty, but only if you are eating it the wrong way.

A common mistake in desi food consumption
Do not eat a rice dish with a piece of flatbread. Do not mix daal into your biriani. I recall reading a local review of a new restaurant in which the non-desi reviewer said that he mixed his daal into his biriani and mopped it up with his naan. He can eat it that way if he wants to, I guess. But biriani is meant to be eaten alone or with a bit of yoghurt...with some exceptions like a squeeze of lemon juice to lift a dull biriani, or a small bowl of mirch ka saalan in a Hyderabad resto, but I digress. Don't mix daal into your biriani at the Indian resto, O goray doston. It isn't mean to be eaten that way. And choose rice OR bread as your accompanyment. Ne'er the twain shall meet on the plate of the savvy.

I suggest interested readers also have a look at this post, which further discusses regionality among desi food and how that affects non-desis or non-cooking desis who are married to desi men and who would like to learn to cook their husband's regional cuisine.

A Vegetarian pullao - Channa Pullao: Yellow split lentil pullao

A pullao is rice which is cooked with broth, or yakhni in Urdu. This recipe is vegetarian, so the yakhni used here is made without meat. It is simply water perfumed with garam masala. And I cheat to make this yakhni: I do it in the microwave.

Channa daal pullao with a dollop of Hyderabadi tomato chutney.

I pre-fry my onions and keep them in the freezer. You should finely slice onions, put them in deep oil on high heat, and when they turn translucent, turn down the heat to very low and continue to fry, stirring occasionally until they have become brown-red and crispy (12 minutes for Indian onions, takes longer for yellow onions). They should not blacken, as this will yield a bitter taste. I prefer this method to quick frying because with quick frying the onions often blacken at the edges and the insides stay undercooked. You will need about 2 large-ish Indian onions for this recipe, or 1 large yellow (American type) onion, about 4 tbs fried. I recommend you use home fried even though pre-fried are available at the store, because store fried tend to be bitter.

You will also have to prepare the channa daal. Take 1/2 cup dry channa daal and soak for one hour. Put daal in water on stove and boil, turn heat to low, and cook on low heat for 20 minutes until lentils are tender. Strain from water and set aside. These should be fully cooked, but just barely. I also boil larger quantities of this and freeze to use in pullao, salads, queema, etc.  1/2 cup raw daal will yield 1 cup cooked. You need 1 cup cooked for the recipe.

Now the microwave garam masalon ki yakhni: take garam masala spices, say 2 bay leaves, 3 pieces of cinnamon, 10 cloves, 10 peppercorns, 10 green cardamom pods, 2 large black cardamom pods, 2 whole dried red chiles, a tsp of cumin and a tsp of fennel, a tsp of whole coriander seeds, and put this in water and microwave on high for 5 minutes. (I often just use a heaping spoon of whole spices from a bag of mixed whole garam masala.) Strain the spices from the water. You can toss them out because they have done their job. However, you can keep the larger sized spices "for looks" in your pullao if you like. Keep this yakhni aside. For 2.5 cups basmati rice, 5 cups of yakhni.

So you have prepared all of this stuff in advance. The actual pullao only takes 30 mins or so if you have your daal and fried onions ready.

Channa daal pullao ingredients all ready to go.

You need:

2.5 cups basmati rice, soaked for 10 mins
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1/2 quantity of pre-fried onions (about 2 tbs), crushed gently
1 tsp red chile powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tbs salt or to taste (the daal will soak up salt, too, so you need a lot)
1 cup pre-cooked channa daal
1 tsp lime juice
2-3 tbs oil
5 cups garam masalon ki yakhni

1 tsp or more ghee for finishing
2 tbs fried onions for finishing and garnish

Heat oil in pan. Add in cumin seeds and let sizzle. Add in garlic and ginger paste, allow it to turn golden, then quickly add in the pre-fried onions, cumin and chile powder, let sizzle for one short moment, then pour in the yakhni. (do not let the spices burn). Salt the water, add in the soaked rice and the pre-cooked daal, allow this to come to a rolling boil. At this point, stir in the lime juice. I always add lime juice to pullao rice at this point because I have been told that it prevents the rice from sticking together. Dunno if that's true, but that is what I do. Cover, lower heat to the lowest setting, and cook covered for about 18 mins. After you turn off the heat, lift lid to let steam escape, then cover again and allow rice to rest for 10 minutes more to finish steaming and so it won't break when you stir it.

Transfer to serving dish. Drizzle ghee or melted butter on the rice. Add on the remaining pre-fried onions, mixing some of them and the ghee to distribute in the rice, but some onions should remain on top as garnish.

Serve with plain yoghurt or a raita of your choice, such as eggplant raita or spinach raita. This also goes great with various types of chutney. Here is the recipe for the Hyderabadi chutney that I serve with the channa daal pullao (pictured above).

Tip: You can use the same recipe with pre-cooked or canned chickpeas (chhola pullao).

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Low Fat Gobhi Bhaja - Oven Roasted Cauliflower Desi Style

In Bengali cuisine, vegetables like eggplant, potato, and cauliflower are spiced and lightly doused in chickpea flour (besan) or perhaps rice flour, and then deep fried (bhaja means fry). These tasty morsels are served at the start of or as an accompaniment to a meal. Begun bhaja (eggplant) is most famous, but any vegetable that does well when roasted can make for a faux bhaja in the oven.

In the interest of health, I have devised this oven-roast bhaja recipe. You can do the same thing with potatoes or eggplant in place of cauliflower, but be sure to adjust the cooking time. Traditionally, the veg would be fried in mustard oil. You can use that if you like, but I have used olive oil.

First prepare the cauliflower: 1 head of cauliflower, washed cut into bite sized florets, and set in a colander to strain until comletely dry. You must completely dry the cauliflower because any moisture left on it will prevent your faux bhaja from becoming crispy.

Set oven on highest heat setting, and prepare a cookie sheet/baking tray with a layer of aluminium foil.

Since cauliflower varies in size, I suggest that you adjust the ingredients slightly for a large or small head to ensure adequate seasoning. The recipe below is for a medium-ish cauliflower:

1 heaping tsp or so sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp red chile powder
1 tsp turmeric
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs chickpea flour (besan)
1 pinch of chaat masala

In a large mixing bowl, pour oil onto dried cauliflower florets. Toss in all of the other ingredients except for the chickpea flour and the chaat masala. Mix well so that the florets are well coated in seasonings and oil. Now add the chickpea flour and mix again to coat. Transfer cauliflower florets to baking tray and put in oven for 25 minutes or so, until the cauliflower is cooked but still slightly crunchy, and it looks crispy and golden brown on the edges. The brown crispy bits are amazing!

Remove from oven, sprinkle with chaat masala, and serve hot.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Strained Yoghurt Delights

In desi English, strained yoghurt is called hung curd. It is another desi ingredient that you can do lots with. Use it in place of sour cream, or as a base ingredient for dips and spreads. What an amazing substance it is...and you don't have to strain yourself to make it :-P . But how ever do you make it? Start out with some yoghurt, a strainer, a dish to simultaneously hold the strainer and catch the water which separates from the yoghurt, and some kind of thin cloth. For the cloth you can use a very well worn cloth kitchen towel or even a thick, high quality paper kitchen towel, as pictured above. You just lay the cloth into the strainer, prop strainer on top of dish, and dump in some yoghurt. Place this in the fridge and let it strain for about 3 hours or overnight. Seeing the liquid accumulate beneath my strainer gives me a sense of self-satisfaction, though it is a completely effortless procedure to strain. You can make strained yoghurt with full fat or low fat yoghurt.

Now you've strained your yoghurt. What are you gonna do with it? How about...

Yummy Mint Dip

I got this idea from a lovely cooking class I attended. The instructor showed us several dip recipes for strained yoghurt, and after experimenting, I have decided to create my own.

1 cup strained yoghurt
1 heaping tbs dried mint
1 clove of garlic
1/2 tsp or so salt or to taste
1 tsp white vinegar
1 heaping tsp chile flakes (you can use chile powder but it will turn your dip pinkish)
1 tsp honey OR plain sugar OR Splenda
1 tbs sugar free peanut butter (crunchy or pasty is fine)

Take your garlic clove and put it in a small microwaveable bowl of water. Put in the microwave and nuke for 1 minute. Remove the garlic clove from the water and mash it into the strained yoghurt. (Microwaving the garlic reduces its strength and prevents your dip from having an overpowering raw garlic taste) Add in all of the other ingredients and mix very well. Serve as a dip for chips, celery sticks, carrot sticks, etc, or use it in place of mayonnaise on a sandwich.

Sri Khand

Sri Khand is a dessert. I usually associate it with Gujaratis, but I think these days it is widely enjoyed by people of many communities, and you can enjoy it, too because it is killer easy to make. It is silky and somehow light and rich at the same time.

2 cup strained yoghurt (make sure it is very fresh yoghurt and not sour)
2.5 tbs sugar
10 strands of saffron soaked in 1 tbs milk (just add to milk and allow to soak for a few minutes)
1/2 tsp cardamom powder

for garnish: Roasted almond slivers and pistachios, a few strands of saffron

Whip all of the ingredients into the strained yoghurt. Whip for a while to ensure that the sugar completely dissolves. Pour into a serving dish and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Before serving, garnish with the almonds and pistachios and a few more strands of saffron if you like. Dish out into small dessert bowls, or even eat it with hot puris.

In both recipes, low fat yoghurt and Splenda can be used.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Black Chickpeas Kalay Channay

Black chickpeas are just so hearty and tasty. They are best cooked in a pressure cooker. They also freeze well. To prepare, soak 1.5 cups of dried black chickpeas overnight. Strain. Put in pressure cooker, add 1 tbs salt, and cover with about 2 inches of fresh water. Cook on high heat for 3 whistles, then lower heat and cook on a low flame for about 5 more minutes.  Once the black chickpeas are done, strain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. The end result should be whole but tender black chickpeas that can be manipulated for cooking without breaking apart, but crush easily if you press between two fingers, so they will mash easily if pressed with a chappati while eating.

For the dressing:
3 tbs oil
5 dried red chiles
1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp fresh green chile paste
(the ginger, garlic, and green chiles can be ground together to make a paste, in which case use a heaping tbs)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
10 fresh curry leaves
salt to taste
cooked black chickpeas
1 cup of cooking liquid
1 tbs lime juice

Heat oil in pot. Add in dried red chiles, mustard seeds, and cumin seeds. When the mustard seeds start to pop, add in garlic, ginger, and chile pastes. When this turns golden, toss in the spice powders. Quickly stir in the curry leaves. Now add the cooked black chickpeas and stir around well to coat with the masala. Add in the reserved cooking liquid. Allow this to come to a boil. Turn off heat and add in a spinkle of salt---just a touch because the chickpeas have been salted in the pressure cooker and there is salt in the cooking liquid. Now add in the lime juice. Taste for salt and tanginess. Add more lime juice if needed. It should be very spicy and tangy.

Serve with hot chapattis or rice.

Matar Pullao Pea Pilaf

This recipe is for a delicious and mild tasting pea pullao. People of my husband's U.P. origin Pakistani background eat mild pullaos such as this for Sunday lunch with raita and pickles.

Rinse and soak 1.5 cups high quality basmati rice for ten minutes. In the meanwhile:

1.5 cups rinsed and soaked basmati rice
1.25 cups frozen peas
1 tbs ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp green chile paste (you can puree the ginger, garlic, and chiles together)
4-5 whole dried red chiles
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 pieces of cinnamon bark, about 1 inch each stick
7 cloves
2 big black cardamom (bari elaichi)
1 tsp lemon/lime juice
salt to taste, about 1 tbs
2 tbs oil
1 tbs ghee
3 cups water

Heat oil and ghee. On a high flame: Add in dried red chiles and stir them around for a moment. Toss in all of the whole spices. Once these sizzle, add in ginger, garlic, and green chile paste. Let the aromatic pastes turn golden (ensure it does not burn). Immediately pour in 2 cups of water. Remove the dried red chiles and set aside to use later as a garnish. Add in the lemon/lime juice and salt. Add in the soaked strained rice. Add in the remaining cup of water. Use this to ensure that all of the grains of soaked rice go into the pot during the transfer from their soaking vessel if you need to. Allow this to come to a boil. When it boils properly, add in the frozen peas. Allow it to boil again. Cover, then lower the heat to the lowest setting. Cook covered for 17-20 minutes. After this time, briefly open the pot to let excess steam escape, then recover and allow the rice to rest for 10 minutes with the flame off. After 10 minutes, fluff the rice gently with a fork.

Garnish with the fried dried red chiles, which people who want a little heat can eat along with the mild pullao. You should have a lightly seasoned, fluffy, emerald studded pea pullao. Serve with plain yoghurt or raita. Matar pullao can be eaten as a main dish, but also goes well with all types of curries.