Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Stop Press! Fresh Fish!

Celebrating the twofold joys of living in Mumbai and working from home - in no specific order!

Munna Chauhan, the fish seller proudly displaying his wares.
Is there anywhere else in the world that one can buy fish at one's doorstep?

Every second day or so the watchman will buzz us on the intercom. Machii Chahiye? So, today while I am supposed to be finishing a story on the A-Z of Aphrodisiacs for BTW magazine, I am instead slacking off!

First to buy fish, then to decide how I want to cook it for lunch, then because I realise I need to order some vegetables because I do not have eveything I need to make the recipe I want to cook, and then to actually cook the damn thing.

Why do I need to cook fish now? Well; because there are no leftovers from dinner that I can rework into a meal for lunch, because although my son loves fish, my husband is not very fond of it so fish at dinner means making an entire third so we are all happy, a prospect too challenging with the many things I am already juggling at the moment due to the a new baby in the house, because JUST LOOK AT THE WHOPPER I BOUGHT!

I am pretty new to fish in my kitchen so at the moment I can't tell you more thant the fact that the above is a Halwa fish (I have not been able to figure out what it is called in English yet) and I paid Rs. 550 for it. Cleaned and cut into fillets, it gave me enough for 5 -6 meals.

I had been hankering after a dish I had eaten years on a work trip years ago in Aukland, New Zealand. I know it was a whole steamed fish in a thin watery soya sauce with los of spring onions on it, but I cant recall it's name or the name of the restaurant (this was before I became obsessed with food) but I recall the chinese restaurant we had it at was next door to the Air new Zealand office because they were the ones hosting us at the meal.

Well I googled Stemed fish + Kylie Kwong, figuring if there was any chance of me finding a dish such as this it would be a recipe of hers and right enough google did its thing and threw back -Steamed Fish Fillets with Ginger and Scallions.

I now knew what I wanted to do with my fish for lunch but scanning through the recipe I found I was missing a few ingredients.

The scallions were taken care of with a quick call to the corner vegetable seller, who had them delivered to me in minutes, but i was fresh out of rice vinegar/sherry, chinese cabbage and peanut oil. I only had some grape vinegar mom brought me from Turkey and an iceberg lettuce in the fridge.

I decided to wing it.

Steamed Fish Fillet with Ginger and Scallions

4 servings

I cut down the vinegar to 1 tbsp to be on the safe side and Kylie's technique of first steaming the fillets awhile, then adding the cabbage leaf sections to the same steamer basket actually worked out brilliantly with the iceberg because the outer leaves absorbed some of the juices from the fish and the inner leaves stayed crunchy. I also finished with gingelly, til or cold pressed sesame oil in place of thepeanut oil.

2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons shao hsing wine or dry sherry
Four 3 1/2-ounce firm white-fleshed fish fillets, such as King George whiting, cod, barramundi or mahi-mahi
2-inch piece peeled ginger root, cut into julienne (very thin strips)
1 Chinese cabbage leaf
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup scallions, white and tender green parts only, cut lengthwise into very thin strips
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/4 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, for garnish
Pinch white ground pepper, for garnish

Combine the soy sauce and sesame oil in a small bowl; set aside.

Combine the water and wine or sherry in a measuring cup.

Place the fish in a shallow heatproof bowl that will fit inside a steamer basket. Pour the water-wine/sherry mixture over the fish, then sprinkle the fillets with half of the ginger. Place the bowl inside the steamer and position over a deep saucepan or wok containing a few inches of boiling water. Cover and steam for 5 to 6 minutes.

Cut the cabbage leaf crosswise into 4 sections and slip them inside the steamer, around the edges of the bowl containing the fish. Cover and steam for 2 to 3 minutes or until the cabbage has warmed through and the fish is opaque. (If the fish is still translucent, cook for another minute or so.)

Arrange the hot cabbage leaf sections on a platter. Use a wide spatula to carefully place the fish on top of the cabbage. Pour any liquid left in the bowl over the fish, sprinkle with sugar and drizzle with the soy sauce mixture, then sprinkle with the remaining ginger and half the scallions.

Heat the peanut oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat until it is moderately hot, then carefully pour over the fish. Sprinkle the fish with the remaining scallions and the cilantro and pepper. Serve immediately.

We had the steamed fish over rice with greens sauteed in Garlic after which I resisted the call of my bed and got back to my computer to finish E - Z of the artile I had left to go. Unfortunately I did not get past F because I then got to writing up this blog entry!

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Monday, January 28, 2008

Prelude to a feast....Antipasti

With mostly continental finger food (coin pizzas, tarts, puffs, sandwiches, baby burgers) on the Kiddie menu for my son's 6th birthday party I planned an Italian spread for the adults to substaniate the leftovers from the kids party. While shopping for the party I came accoss some beautiful fleshy sweet peppers (or coloured capsicums as we call them in our part of the world). I quickly did a rethink of my menu and instead of the stir fry I had planned I decided to do an Antipasti platter.

In Italian cuisine Antipasti are dishes that literally mean “before the meal”. Though generally not part of a typical family meal, these dishes play a very important part in a formal dinner, or a celebration.

Antipasto need not be complicated; in fact it can be as simple as a bowl of olives, some bread, and good olive oil like Soler Romero for dipping or as elaborate as a platter of gourmet cold cuts, cheeses and the like. Antipasto platters look and taste spectacular and are simple to put together. Though they're traditionally served as a prelude to a meal, I've often turned them into the main event itself, either as a casual supper or a party tray with wine and beer. In fact they have become a regular on the menu as a casual meal option as well since the lack of cooking required (most of the stuff can be outsourced) makes them ideal for relaxed weekend fare. Just add good bread and a green salad.

I did an antipasti platter of mushrooms and peppers with garlic and sun dried bruchettas on the side. For this batch I cooked about 5 packets of mushrooms, and a dozen peppers. I would advise doing this in larger quantities because the slow cooking process yields much better results with larger quantities. (You'll know exactly what I mean when you soak up the juices left on the platter with a bit of bread once the antipasti is over.) And although the mushrooms require little time, if you are going to sit and peel peppers you might as well enjoy them for a while!

I did an antipasti platter of mushrooms and peppers with garlic and sun dried bruchettas on the side. For this batch I cooked about 5 packets of mushrooms, and a dozen peppers. I would advise doing this in larger quantities because the slow cooking process yields much better results with larger quantities. (You'll know exactly what I mean when you soak up the juices left on the platter with a bit of bread once the antipasti is over.) And although the mushrooms require little time, if you are going to sit and peel peppers you might as well enjoy them for a while!


For the Mushroom antipasti
1 kg (5 standard 200g pkts)
1/2 cup garlic peeled and chopped fine
1 tbsp freshly crushed black peppercorns
1 cup of the best Extra Virgin Olive oil you can afford (I use Soler Romero organic EVOO)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (when you squeeze lemon juice add a little salt to it so it does not get bitter on standing) OR Balsamic vinegar (I use some a friend got me from Modena where it is made)
1 tbsp salt or to taste

Rinse mushrooms quickly under running water. Trim stems and cut off any discoloured bits. layer in a baking dish as you go. In a bowl combine all the other ingredients, mix well and pour over mushrooms. Allow to stand for 1/2 an hour. At the end of that time place dish in oven and grill until mushrooms are cooked. I usually let them cook until the parts sticking out are dried out and slightly charred - don't worry about the charred bits, they are what will add flavour to the whole later. Once cooked allow to cool and transfer to an airtight container juices and all. Leave for a while so the dried bits have had a chance to soak up the juices again and they are ready to eat. Serve at room temperature, warm or cold depending on the weather. These mushrooms will last up to 10 days in the refrigerator (if you let them)

For the pepper antipasti
1 dozen large red yellow and orange peppers.
1/2 cup olive (again the best Extra Virgin Olive oil you can afford)

For the marinade
1/2 cup chopped garlic
1 tbsp freshly crushed black peppercorns
1 cup of the best Extra Virgin Olive oil you can afford (I use Soler Romero organic EVOO)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (when you squeeze lemon juice add a little salt to it so it does not get bitter on standing) OR Balsamic vinegar (I use some a friend got me from Modena where it is made)
1 tbsp salt or to taste

Wash peppers, cut vertically into four wedges and arrange on a cookie tray. Brush with olive oil, and place in the oven. Roast until the skin has blistered and blackened all over. When it does, remove, place in a plastic bag or air tight box and seal. (This allows the peppers to steam, so the skins are easily removed). When cool, remove from bag, peel away skins and put in a bowl as you go, split open, remove seeds and stem, cut into wedges. Season with olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper and set aside till serving time. , split open, remove seeds and stem, cut into wedges.

For the garlic bruchettas
2 french loaves
1/2 cup butter or olive oil
10 cloves of garlic
1 cup of grated cheese

Pound the garlic to a paste in a mortar and pestle, add butter or oil and mix well. Set aside. Slice the french loaves to your preference of thickness (thin slices will give you crisp bruchettas, thicker ones will be crisp on the outside and softer on the inside). Spread the garlic butter/oil mixture over each slice and arrange in a baking tray. Scatter with grated cheese. Grill in the oven till the edges of the bread and the top of the cheese has started to brown. Remove and serve.

If you are inclined to spicier fare add minced chillies to the garlic oil mix or top with chopped jalapenos before the cheese.

For the sun dried tomato bruchettas
2 french loaves
2 cups sundried tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic

Place garlic and tomatoes in a blender and blend to a paste adding oil in a thin stream as you go. Set aside. Slice the french loaves to your preference of thickness ( again, thin slices will give you crisp bruchettas, thicker ones will be crisp on the outside and softer on the inside). Spread the sun dried tomato mixture over each slice and arrange in a baking tray. Grill in the oven till the edges of the bread have browned well. Remove and serve.

It has been established in my family that I will go to great lengths to achieve a good meal but if you are not inclined to cooking you will find antipasti a great option as well. You will find basic things like olive and sun dried tomato tepanade, marinated olives, mushrooms and artichokes in the exotic food isles of your local supermarket and cold cuts and the like in the meats section.

With the cold cuts I used to be partial the offerings from Alf Farms and Prabhat untill I discovered the meats section at Hypercity this weekend. I was like a kid at a candy store!

Of course for more artisnal gourmet stuff you could also pop in to the Bombay Baking Company (BBC) at the JW Marriott at Juhu, the Deli & Pastry shop at the Renaissance in Powai, Grand Delicatessen at the Intercontinental the Grand, Moshe’s, Cuffe Parade, the Gourmet Shop, Grand Hyatt, Santacruz, Olive Market Cafe, Bandra but the best possible place to shop for an Antipasto platter is The Indigo Delicatessen, Colaba.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Dumpling Noodle Soup

This is a wonderful time to be in Bombay. The weather is just right… cool enough to encourage walks during the day and open air events in the evenings… to wave away that cold salad and give in to temptation “just this once” with that steaming bowl of cheesy pasta…

And after a marathon week of planning, cooking for and executing of my sons birthday party, with today being a sunday, I was hankering after one of my favourite meals, Chicken Dumpling soup. I like dishes that have lots of bites of goodness in them that come together into "A perfect bite" and this soup, steaming hot, with silky pasta, crunchy vegetables and tender dumplings, topped with fried shallots, chillies, chilli paste, chilli and sesame oil and shredded lettuce is a favourite.

I have many ways of making noodle soup. I do a chicken version of the vietnamese pho, a variation inspired by Kylie Kwongs White-cooked chicken with soy & ginger dressing, and even a maggi soup. The unifying factor in them all is that they start with a good stock as a base in which the noodles are cooked and are served with a variety of toppings.

Chicken Dumpling Soup

First prepare your vegetables

This time I used carrots, cauliflower, green beans, pak choy, chinese cabbage and snow peas. Layer them in that exact order (with stems from pak choy and cabbage going in before the leaves) in a large holed collander so the steam cooks the tougher stuff first.

Now get your stock base going
4 lts water or homemade stock
4 onions cut in six wedges each
12 garlic cloves, crushed
1 1/2 cups ginger slices
3 tbsp Massells chicken stock powder OR 4 cubes of any stock
Salt to taste
1/3 cup oil

Heat the oil in a large stockpot and add the onions, garlic and ginger. Stirfry briskly until the edges of everything is well browned. Add the water or the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse. Add stock powder if using water, stir well, give it a minute to dissolve. Leave on simmer. Place prearranged collander of vegetables on top of the stockpot and cover with a lid.

Now make the dumplings

500 gms minced meat ( I use chicken mince)
1 egg
2 tbsp garlic, chopped fine
2 tbsp chopped herbs (green coriander, garlic or onion)
1 tsp chilli paste (optional)
1 tbsp corn flour
salt to taste

Combine everything in a large bowl and mix well. Your vegetables should be nicely done by now. Set collander aside and bring soup to a boil again. When it is boiling briskly, start dropping spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture shaped into rough rounds in. Your dumplings will sink at first but rise up again as they get cooked. When you have gone through all the mixture, give the dumpling 2 - 3 mins more to cook and then strain out and reserve in a bowl.

Add 250 gms of noodles to the boiling stock. Allow to cook untill soft and silky and add dumplings back into pot. Serve into individual bowls ensuring a bit of everything goes into each bowl.

Place a platter of condiments on the table so diners can tweak their servings to taste.

Hot - Lee Kum Kee Chui Chow Chilli paste - a tongue twister of a name but what a kick! Just dole out a bowl full.

Also finely minced fresh red or green chillies

Sour - Pickled cucumbers - Peel two cucumbers and slice in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds and eat with a bit of salt, slice white parts up thinly, salt and leave to drain for 15 mins. Squeeze to remove juices and place in a bowl. Add 1 - 2 finely minced chillies if you want (I love a little heat), 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/2 cup of any natural vinegar (not synthetic). Adjust salt and chill untill eating time! TIP: if you have pickers around (those species that pick through everything while you are cooking so you have nothing left) then do 4 times as much. Heck do more anyway these are great in the summer.

Also Lemon

Salty - Chillies and fish sauce - This is a given with fried rice in Thailand, smash as many chillies as you can handle to a pulp in a mortar, add 1/2 cup fish sauce and allow to stand untill eating. You can also add fried onions to this and make it a chutney. I like it with my khichdi and dal rice. If you do not have fish sauce add dried jawla and salt and crush or just add salt.

Sweet - Honey Chilli sauce - the Thai one that is readily available.

Herby- finely minced fresh basil, mint and/or coriander.

Crunch - shredded iceberg lettuce, blanched shredded cabbage and or bean sprouts.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Chew on this - the etymology of food and the story of English

Its been an enlightening morning,

Did you know; that
a biscuit is called a biscuit because the word comes from the
Latin term for "twice-baked," which is how biscuits were made in Roman days, the
jalapeño chile is named after Xalapa - a city in Mexico, that the term "gourmand"
came from the Old French gormant, or glutton, And what makes a halibut a halibut,
is that the fish once was eaten on holy days, with the name derived from
the Middle English words hali (holy) and butte (flatfish).

I was scrolling through my google alerts this morning, when I came across a story
by Rebekah Denn, restaurant critic
for The story is on a new book
by Anu Garg whom some might know as the Wordsmith, from his daily e-mails -
discussing particular words and their origins - that he's been sending out to
upwards of 600,000 subscribers all over the world since 1994.

The article goes on to talk about his book, "The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado
or Two" (Plume, $13), and enlightens that he's devoted an entire chapter to 'chewing
over the etymology of culinary terms with noteworthy backgrounds. (The avocado of
the book's title, he wrote, "originated in the Aztec language Nahuatl, where it was
called ahuacatl, meaning 'testicle' because of its shape.")'
Denn's article goes on to quote Garg, "Food is so integral to our lives and cultures, Garg said last week before an appearance at the Ballard Library, it's no surprise that related words are steeped so deeply into our language.

"Language is a reflection of people," he said, and food terms seep deeply even into metaphors, such as a "juicy" plot.

And just as careful eaters read labels to find what's hidden in their meals, Garg delves into food words for "what's hiding in their etymologies.""

The full story is here. Of course I clicked over to the website ( and
found it fascinating, but can get overwhelming, however the daily email is great for
small doses of vocabulary to dip into. Especially the theme based collections in
which food makes an appearance often.
Scroll down the Oct 2007 archive for food
related words.

The story got me to thinking about something I had read a few years ago in a book called
The story of English

Here it is...

Quoting Shakespeare ~ Bernard Levin

If you cannot understand my argument and declare “It’s Greek to me” you are quoting
Shakespeare; if you claim to be more sinned again than sinning, you are quoting
Shakespeare; if you recall your salad days, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you
act more in sorrow than in anger, if your wish is father to the thought, if your
lost property has vanished into thin air, you are quoting Shakespeare; if you ever
refused to budge an inch or suffered from green eyed jealousy, if you played fast
and loose, if you have been tongue tied, a tower of strength, hoodwinked or in a
pickle, if you have knitted your brows, made a virtue of necessity, insisted on
fair play, slept not one wink, stood on ceremony, danced attendance (on your lord
and master), laughed yourself into stitches, had short shrift, cold comfort or too
much of a good thing, if you have seen better days or lived in a fools paradise –
why, be that as it may, the more fool you, for it is a forgone conclusion that you
are (as good luck would have it) quoting Shakespeare; if you think it is early days
and clear out bag and baggage, if you think it high time and that that is the long
and the short of it, if you believe that the game is up and the truth will out
even if it involves your own flesh and blood if you lie low till the crack of doom
because you suspect foul play, if you have your teeth set on edge (at one fell swoop)
without rhyme or reason, then – to the devil his due – if the truth were known
(for surely you have a tongue in your head) you are quoting Shakespeare; even if you
bid me good riddance and send me packing, if you wish I was dead as a doornail, if
you think I am an eyesore, a laughing stock, the devil incarnate a stony hearted
villain bloody minded or a blinking idiot then – by Jove! Oh lord! Tut Tut!
For goodness’ sake! What the dickens! But me no buts – it is all one to me,
you are quoting Shakespeare!!

From The Story Of English by Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert Macneil.
Published by Faber and Faber. Cover Price 7.99

How fascinating it is to delve into the origins of words! Food for the brain!


Monday, January 14, 2008

Sankranti chi Bhogi

The spread of vegetables for the Sankranti chi Bhogi

As far back as I can remember, 14 January has been a day looked forward to with great excitement in our family. 14 January is Uttarayan or Makar Sankranti is a harvest festival in many parts of India.

Sankrant is celebrated as Lohari in Punjab with huge bonfires being lit in the evening before Sankrant day. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown into them and friends and relatives gather together for Lohari parties. The actual Sankrant day is celebrated as Maghi. On this day Punjabis celebrate by dancing their vigorous colorful Bhangra dance until exhaustion sets in and the sit down to a sumptuous meal of Sarson Ka Saag and Makki Di Roti. In Maharashtra Sankrant is celebrated with Tilguds made from Til (sesame seeds) and sugar and Til-laddus made from Til and Jaggery. These are proffered to everyone with the words - "til-gul ghya, god god bola" meaning "accept these tilguls and speak sweet words", the exchange of these words and symbols signifies forgetting any past ill-feeling and resolving to speak sweetly and remain friends. In neigbouring Gujarat Sankrant is celebrated with brightly coloured kites fighting it out in the skies and in South India Sankrant is celebrated as Pongal. On the day of the festival women bathe early in the morning and cook new harvested rice in a big fresh earthen pot called Pongal. When the rice boils and overflows, they shout joyfully ‘Pongal-O-pongal!" After offering the cooked rice to God, by way of thanks, family and friends eat it.

Being Gujarati my family celebrates Sankrant the Gujarati way… by taking to the skies, literally! Ours being one of the tallest buildings in our lane, it becomes the congregation point for extended family, friends and friends of friends – basically an open house… And dozens of colorful kites take flight from our terrace to battle with those from neighboring terraces.

We still have an open house for Sankrant but things are a little different nowadays, the traditional Fada ni Khichdi and Sheero are rarely made since the weight conscious new revelers won’t touch it. And we who once ran about carefree on Sankrant have since grown up. We are also now parents of school going children and cannot make it to the festival at all since Sankrant is on a school day this year!

chandan bhuta (chakhwat)

In the past preparations for Sankrant began the very day Angadia the famous couriers of Ahemdabad delivered the humongous box overflowing with kites and ‘manja’ (kite string)! The older cousins would exclaim over the new crop of kites, the excellent manja that was rubbed with glass to make it war worthy enough (to sever other peoples kite strings) and claiming the best for themselves. Thereafter would ensue incomprehensible debates about whose prowess prevailed the year before. And before you knew it down come leftover kites from the previous year and preparation began in earnest!

Preparation meant a nightly ritual of the men in the family preparing the Kites for THE day while we, the runts of various litters, would watch in fascination – DON’T TOUCH – punctuating the quiet buzz of conversation liberally, as the older and wiser siblings applied themselves to the task of tying ‘kannis’ to the spines of the kites. If one of them felt benevolent, one of the previous years rejects would come our way and we would be allowed to try our hand at kanni tying as we gloated at our “knee high” peers! The industrious nights alternated with equally diligent days of practice; otherwise busy papas came home on the dot of six and rushed up to the terrace to join sundry neighborhood kids who had already rushed up straight from school. Some received first instructions in flying kites while others loosened up their flying arms.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the house, preparations of a more delicious kind would be underway. My grandmother would consult with Maharaj (the family cook) on quantities of milk required for endless cups of tea, or supervise her daughters – in – law as they measured out appropriate amounts of ingredients, required for sundry treats. If one was at the right place at the right time, one would get lucky as well. A lump of jaggery or some roasted peanuts would come one’s way from one of the ladies or Maharaj or even our stern faced, twinkly eyed Moti Mummy (Grandma).

On THE day, my older cousin Ashu bhai would always be the first on the terrace sometimes even before the sun. We’d wake up to his shrill Kaypyocheeeee (Ive cut your kite) … or Lapppeeeettttt (Your kite’s been cut, roll up your string). Our moms were extra vigilant that morning, grabbing us by collars and sleeves as we tried to run up in pyjamas. Unceremonious dunkings later, we’d finally burst onto an already populated terrace en masse to add our own bit of chaos!

Today was the day we came into our own because everyone wanted a minion to hold their firki (kite string). A chance at flying the kite was enough incentive but we knew there were lots more if we were wily enough and we got many a desperate kite flyer into buying us candy, ice creams on that day…. The blue of the sky would barely be visible behind the patchwork hues of soaring kites and shouts of ‘kapyoche’ and ‘lapet’ would ring through the air. We would be running around harvesting manja into little bundles, or chasing stray trailing ends of manja that might have a kite attached to the other end, our faces slowly roasting to a nutty brown under the sun as we feasted on Sesamme laddoos, Chikki, spicy Fada ni Khichadi, and ghee drenched Sheera.

Pauta - a local legume

With diabetes hanging on my head this year (I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes while I was pregnant with my daughter last year) I elected not to make the Fada ni Khichdi and Sheero either. I was also moping around about not celebrating Sankrant all of last week and my maids - perhaps out of pity or just to put a smile on my face - decided to make my day better. Shobha brought in homemade sesame laddus this morning and Anita brought in the makings of Sankranti chi Bhogi, something I had never eaten before.

Sankranti being a festival of harvest, it is celebrated to mark the arrival of new crops from the fields and some maharashtrian communities make a special dish called Sankranti chi Bogi or Bhogi palle. This is a hearty dish containing all the new food crops, leafy veges, tender green beans, oilseeds, pulses, fruit and vegetables.

Bhogi chi Bhaji with sesame studded Bajra Bhakris

Bhogi chi Bhaji

For the vegetables
3 carrots peeled and diced
2 big potatoes peeled and diced
3-4 medium sized brinjals diced
1 cup tender sugarcane cut into bite sized pieces
1 capsicum
1 bunch chandan bhuta (chakhwat)
½ cup each of fresh green gram called harbara or hara chana locally, fresh green peas, pauta, a local legume and field beans (ghevra or papadi) all removed from their pods.
1 capsicum
2 Tomatoes
1-1 ½ tsp green chilli paste (or crushed)
¼ tsp turmeric powder
salt as per taste

For the Masalla
5-6 Dry Red chillies,
4-5 cloves
½ cup dry coconut,
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp oil

To finish
½ tsp turmeric2 tsp roasted groundnut powder
2 tsp sesame
A handful of Bor/Bor (Indian Jujube)

Place all the above ingredients in the pressure cooker with a little water. Give it one whistle and then leave on a low flame for 10 mins. When you open your cooker the vegetables should be properly cooked and falling apart. While the vegetables are cooking grind all the ingredients for the masalla in the blender. Heat oil in a large pan and add masalla mixture to it. Cook until oil separates. Add the cooked vegetables, turmeric and the ber/bor. Bring to a boil. Add the sesame seed and groundnut and mix well. Cook uncovered for 1-2 minutes. This dish is traditionally served hot with bajra bhakris studded with sesame seeds but I found it great to eat out of a bowl as a hearty stew as well.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hot Chips!

Nobody makes chips anymore. Or at least that is what I thought until I found out about this innovative chain of stores that are opening up all over the country.

My son usually asks for packaged chips as a treat. An I can't help thinking of how different things were when I was a child. Just about everything we ate came out of the kitchen then, even snacks and chips. Afternoons, when the kitchen was not busy would be dedicated to snack making and we would often come home to delicious aromas of farsans (as snacks are called in Gujarati) being fried or roasted. My favourite days were the ones when potato chips were fried.

Once lunch was out of the way and babies had been put down for their afternoon naps, the ladies of the house, supervised by my grandmother would settle down to an afternoon of chip making, deliciously flavoured with gossip and washed down with hot sweet cups of masalla chai.

Mounds of potatoes would have been washed by the house help and left in readiness. These would be peeled and sliced by hand on a slicing gadget straight into a large container of boiling oil manned by the maharaj or family cook. (In retrospect his stoic silence through all that gossip was admirable!) As the chips got done they would be strained out and deposited on sheets of newspaper spread out next to him. Once cool liberal amounts of salt and chilli powder would be scattered over and everything would be mixed together by hand until each chip was coated.

Now the thing about these chips was that they had substance to them - they weren't the flimsy brittle things we get in shiny packets today. The gadget they were sliced on gave out slices that were 3 times thicker than the commercial chip. These fried into a crisp thick chip that was crisp and hard and yet soft and crunch when bitten and the dousing of salt and chilli powder left your mouth burning - and yet begging for more - and your lips tingling.

A few months ago I tasted Karela chips (no I am not kidding) at a friends home and found them addictive. (Especially with Curd rice). My friend gets them at a store called Hot Chips in Sakinaka and I had been wanting to visit it ever since but it was never convenient and I forgot about it after the baby came. And then fortuitously (or perhaps not for my waistline) I came across Hot Chips while running a few errands right in my proverbial backyard - Powai! Turns out Hot chips is an India wide chain.

Walk into Hot Chips and it's like being in the snack equivalent of a candy store! The are shelves full of chips; potato, tapioca, banana, soya, each in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavours. And not just chips, all sorts of Indian snacks - once the premise of home kitchens and the loving hands of grandmothers and mothers - are available for your delectation. And not only is everything fresh, you could luck out and buy a bag full straight from the pan! And you can buy as little (one lady bought 10 rupees worth) or as much as you like.

I hadn't really thought about chips for a long time and trying to make any at home had never crossed my mind. I mean even if I had the time, I rarely have the inclination to deep fry anything. But I often wished my son had had a chance to experience the variety of snacks of my childhood, instead of the generic packaged stuff he indulges in. The three packets of munchies we picked up today seem to be a good start and hopefully one of these days my son will see through the glamorous packaging and spend the 10 rupees he finagles out of me for his weekly junk food treat on straightforward quality and some amount of choice at a Hot Chips instead of on a packet of generic rubbish!

And me, I am glad for Hot Chips, partly because in an age of production line food and packaged goods it seems to be applying a formula that will perhaps work - filling in a gap that present day moms like me often can't. But mostly I am glad because the aroma of whatever is being freshly fried that assails me when I walk into Hot Chips will give me a chance to recall the happy, carefree days of my childhood when munching through a bowl of chips did not mean counting calories or carbohydrates followed by a guilt trip...

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Brine fever - published in Timeout Mumbai 22 March 2006

They occupy only a tiny area of real estate on your plate but explode with flavor on your palate. They can be blisteringly hot or fragrantly sweet or face-puckeringly sour. What would an Indian meal be without a pickle or three to round it out? With the Ides of March just past, preparations have begun across the country for the pickling season. An annual exercise that has taken place in the hot months for eons.

Pickling is the process of preparing food by soaking it in a brine of salt, acid, oil or all three to preserve otherwise perishable foods. The acid retards bacterial growth and oil acts as a preservative. Food historians trace the process of pickling to ancient Egypt, where fish and melons were pickled. The more common practice of pickling cucumbers dates back to about 3,000 years in India. Pickles have been a part of Indian cuisine as far back as the Harrappan era.

There is an astonishing range of pickles available in India, so astonishing that a mango pickle in the south will taste totally different from one made in northern style. Although there are as many varieties of pickles as there are dialects in this country (a result of the variation in the spices, oils, souring or sweetening agents and treatments), there is also uniformity in this diversity. This uniformity is in the liberal use of spices, not necessarily to add fiery heat but to contribute flavours.
Warmer south India uses cooling spices like mustard, curry leaves and asafetida in its pickles, while the colder north favors warming spices like cloves, pepper and nigella. Some spices are medicinal: for instance, ginger, asafetida, and turmeric are added for their digestive properties, raw garlic cures circulatory ailments and soothes jangled nerves, while clack pepper stimulates the appetite. The oil used as a base also varies according to region. sesame and gingelly oil are common in the south, while mustard oil is preferred in the North. There’s also a variation in the acidifying agent: The south uses lime juice, tamarind or curd, the north uses vinegar. Jaggery is the sweetener favored in the south, but the north uses sugar.

Pickle recipes have long been passed down from one generation of a family to the next and, with the exception of a few winter specials, the majority of pickles are made in the summer. Women get together and spend several weeks preparing pickles even in fast-paced Mumbai. Taking the tedium out of grating or chopping kilos of produce, enterprising vegetable vendors home deliver fruits and vegetables conveniently prepped to specification. These are then salted and laid out to dry wherever there is a bit of sun (on minuscule balconies or terraces) to concentrate their flavours and when ready these are mixed with the required ingredients and packed into large ceramic jars and left to mature.

No cuisine in the world can boast as huge a repertoire of pickles as India’s food. Luckily for us, Mumbai’s multi-regional population offers a huge sampling menu. While almost every community has its own variations of more common fruit and vegetable pickles like those made from mango, lime and mixed vegetables, each community also has its specialties. Those prized pickles that grace special occasions or celebrations or the visit of a special guest. All over the city, women entrepreneurs bottle their wares for the pantries of the world. Here’s our pick of some of the best pickles available in Mumbai.

North Indian achaars are the best know pickles of India. They’re usually done in mustard oil and their distinctive feature is the use of “akkhe masalle” or whole spices. They are very easily found in shops around the city as well as at Motilal Masallawala in Bhuleshwar (22426294), with Bala Manon Malad (min. order 5 kgs.)(2881 8676), Reena Peshawaria Lokhandwala complex Andheri(W)(2636 1322/ 2631 0909)and Kusum Kapoor Nepean Sea Road(2364 3737/ 2362 4577)
The Sindhis came to Mumbai from the Sind province - of what is now Pakistan in North India - bringing with them their spicy cuisine infused with the liberal use of oil and spices. They have an exciting collection of pickles made at home, some are adaptations of pickles from other communities, like the chunda, amb khatta, kat keri (tiny dices of green mangoes stewed in a cumin chilli flavoured syrup), but they also do some excellent pickles of their own like the bheendi khatti also called Kadukash which is an absolutely delicious pickle of grated mangoes redolent of spices like kalonji or nigella and chillies. Dhanika Jaggi makes Sindhi pickles in season 14 Prem Bhavan, (1st floor) opposite UCO bank, Colaba Bombay 5. (22831868 / 9869284293)

Rajasthani Pickles – Rajasthan being largely a dessert area, makes the best of what it can get, even in its cuisine. Their pickles are fiery and simple. One Rajasthani pickle that is distinctive because it is typical to the region is the kair sangri achar. Kair (capparis decidna) are the small green berries found in the dessert, that usually cooked as vegetable or pickled with Sangri, slender green pods that appear on the khejri (Prosopis cinararia) during the blazing months of June and July, (the root system of this plant go seventy feet deep, allowing it to withstand years of complete drought). The Rajasthani Mahila Mandal Griha Udyog stock ready packed Rajasthani style mango, lime, kathal (jackfruit,) chilli, leswa (a species of amaranthus greens that are pickled), panch mela (a mix of five vegetables) and chana pickles and also the typically Rajasthani kair and kair sangri Pickles.
Rajasthani Mahila mandal bhavan, 12 Krantiveer Vasantrao Niak Cross lane (Forgett St.) Near Sai Baba Mandir, Gowalia Tank Mumbai 36. (23873197)

Everyone knows about Gujarati athaanas (pickles). They include the or methia keri a mango pickle made with coarsely ground methi or fenugreek, chhundo - a grated mango pickle flavoured with chilli powder and sun cooked for a couple of weeks, gol keri - a sweet hot pickle made with chunks of green mango and spices cooked to a thick syrupy consistency and the fragrant, sweet murabbo but there are more exotic offerings as well; gunda or gumberry in which the berry is hollowed of its sticky innards, stuffed with a spicy masala and pickled in oil or green pepper, dala kerda or davra and the rare garmar (aspargus root) Pickles which are pickled in brine with mustard.

Both Motilal Masalawalla at Bhuleshwar 22426294 and M. Motilal Masallawala at Grant rd. (30916687) stock a wide variety of Gujarati pickles. Other sources for Gujerati pickles are Gogo Snacks at Chowpatty (23696966 / 23615292 / 23630532 / 23632093 /23699988, Indu Khetani & Surbhi Gandhi at Ghatkopar (2506 1713/ 2414 2008), Meenakshi Bhagat at Malabar Hill, (3092 3736), Umaiya Merchant at Andheri (2677 5115/ 9223226746) and Jyoti Mehta at Juhu 2614 9309/ 2613 6651/93222 63191

The Parsi community first settled in Gujarat and Parsi cuisine has evolved to include many elements of Gujarati cuisine, including pickles. There are Parsi versions the methia kairi and other Gujarati pickles but particular to the Parsi community are a few interesting pickles as well. Parsi pickles use vinegar (sarko) as their base and pickle all sorts of vegetables carrots, mangoes, bamboo shoots. Particularly well known are is the lagan nu achaar, a carrot and dry fruit pickle, that is served with crisp puffy fried sago papads at all weddings and is the first item served at the lagan-nu-bhonu or Parsi. Sweet with a back of the mouth heat that strikes later, the carrots are crunchy and the raisins burst between your teeth with sweetness. There is also the bafenu, a classic Parsi pickle made with a whole ripe Alphonso mango, and generous doses of the famed cane vinegar produced in Navsari by Kolah's, the pickle is sweet, slightly hot and resembles a concentrated mango curry more than a pickle. Parsis also do some unique non vegetarian pickles like the Tarapori prawn patio, dried Bombay Duck pickle and a fish roe pickle.

The Ratan Tata Institute or R.T.I (2380 2781) on Huges road (they have branches so call and check if there is one more accessible to you) is of course the best place to pick up Parsi pickles in season, but Motilal Masalawalla at Bhuleshwar (22426294) also stocks vegetarian Parsi style pickles including the bafenu and the lagan nu achar by E F Kolah. The other Masallawala at Grant rd. (30916687) also stocks Parsi pickles by the Kolahs and do a particularly good sweet onion and garlic pickle that they make themselves. Nargish Lala of MUMMY’S YUMMIES (2208 5198, 5607 9177, 9819002500) at Dhobi Talao, does a Tarapori patio, prawn patio, brinjal pickle, dried bombay duck pickle and lagan nu achar while Katy Bhaka (2416 6455) of Wadala does Tarapori prawn patio, dry bombay duck pickle and fish roe pickle in season.

Maharashtrian “lonchas” are fairly spicy for the most part and preserved in groundnut oil. There is a small street of shops called Achar Gali parallel to the Chivda gali at Lalbaug, (New Lalbaug Market, Shri Ganesh Nagar, Mumbai 400 022) where a large selection of Maharashtrian pickles are available; tender whole mango, garlic, chilli, dry mango and even an amla murabba and whole tender mangoes in brine called panikairi. Try Vijay Lakshmi Masalle where the owner Sopan was extremely helpful (2471 6992) or Jai Maharashtra Masalle (55830010). Other places you can source Maharashtrian pickles are the Annapurna Mahilla Mandal, Plot no. 13/14 Sector 19 E, opposite sector 76, Vashi, Navi Mumbai (27665617), Bhagyashree Ketkar, Chembur (25223930) and Vandana Randive, Gamdevi(2387 1875)

The East Indians community of Mumbai are the original inhabitants of Mumbai and have developed a cuisine of their very own. There is an East Indian version of the Bombay Duck pickle as well as a fish roe one in season. The heritage area of Khotachiwadi, at Girgaum is where you will find East Indian pickles but Marie of “Maries” at Bandra (2640 9371) does East Indian pickles in season as well.

Goan pickles - A typical Goan meal is considered incomplete without pickle on the side. Whether bought from the market or fished out of that huge antique pickle jar tucked away in a corner of the kitchen, any Goan pickle will add sizzle to your meal. The difference between a Goan and a Manglorean pickle is not obvious to an outsider, but you will find both Goan as well as Manglorean pickles at Manglorean stores around the city.

Other places that do pickles in Mumbai.

Aroona Reejhsinghani
502 B wing, Leela apts. opp Gulmohur garden, Yaari rd. Versova, Mumbai-61
(26360224) Oil Less Pickles, made with less salt and easy on the spices as well. Lemon, Spicy Lemon, Vegetable in Lime juice, Chilli, Beetroot and Onion. (Minimum orders 1 KG. Prices are dependant on the season)

85,Pitale Prasad, Ground Floor, Worli Sea face Mumbai-25
2494 7890/ 2493 6049, 9821090634
Ready stock Oil-free pickles – Mango, Lime, Sweet & Sour, Ginger Shredded and Sweet, Mango Pepper, Mixed Fruit and Hot Mango
Moment Khet Products Madhu Mehra
Bayview, 2nd Floor, Flat No.5 Ridge Rd, Malabar Hill, Mumbai-6 (23674014/ 56004892)
Garlic and other pickles. Prices are seasonal.

Roshan Mandal
Maker tower L ' ,112, Cuffe parade , Mumbai- 400 005. (2218 8037/ 2218 1063/ 9821367493)
Ready stock Oil free Pickles, Low oil pickles and Non veg Pickles Prawn, Chicken, Mutton. (upto Rs. 100)
Schroffs Organic Food
784/B Ready Money Building, 2nd Floor. M.Joshi Road, Dadar Parsi Colony(E) Mumbai-14 (24135650) Hand made Natural Pickles without preservatives and additives like color, essence etc. Prices are seasonal.

Women’s India Trust
WIT Shop, Shop 23, Bombay Market, Tardeo, Mumbai 400034 (24462506 / 23511753)
Seosonal Pickles in 500 gms. packaging - Tomato and Raisin Chutney, Mango Chutney Lime Hot, Sweet Brinjal hot and sweet Chunda Mago pickle (Prices range between Rs. 50 – Rs. 60)

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Chindian meal

There is no authentic version of the Chinese food we eat in India, so do not go to China expecting to eat Manchurian, Chilli chicken, Hot and sour soup or any of the dishes that we Indians love as Chinese food. However Indian Chinese or Chindian is a delicious addictive cuisine in itself. Here is a favourite meal of ours.
Mushrooms and Chicken in Black bean sauce


500 gms chicken breast - cut in 1/4" strips
2 tbsp rice bran oil (I use Tandul)
500 gms mushroom - Quatered
4 tbsp black bean garlic sauce (I like Lee Kum Kee Spicy blak bean sauce best)
2 teaspoons cornflour

For the Marinade
2 tbsp soy sauce + 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tsp sugar OR 3 Tbsp Chicken Marinade from Lee Kum Kee
1 garlic clove - minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger root - grated
2 red chiles - thinly sliced (optional)

For the Marinade
In a bowl, combine LKK Marinade or soy sauce, vinegar and sugar with the garlic, ginger and chillies, stir well and add chicken. Leave for 1 hour. Remove chicken from the bowl with a slotted spoon and to the marinade left behind add the stock or Maggi cube mix. Stir well. Set aside.

In a wok or large frying pan, heat sesame oil over high heat. Add chicken and stir fry till lightly browned (3 minutes). Add mushrooms, and allow to cook till they release juices. Continue to stirfry till juices from the mushrooms have evaporated and they are slightly brown in patches. Now add the black bean sauce and stock-marinade mix and let them warm through. In a small cup, stir the cornstarch together with a little cold water. Pour this into the pan and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened.

For a vegetarian option double mushrooms and substitute Chings secret all stir fry sauce for Chicken marinade.

Stirfry of Jullienned vegetables

2 tablespoons oil
1 ½ cups carrot juliennes
1 head Broccoli Florets (set florets aside and julienne stalks)
1 cup french bean juliennes

Method:Put Wok on the flame and let it get hot. Add oil, swirl once to oat the base and add in julienned carrot, beans and broccoli stalks - in that order - stirring briskly all the time. Cook for 2 minutes. Add Broccoli florets. Splash 2-3 tablespoons of water into the wok. (This should really steam up the kitchen if your wok is hot enough). Toss vegetables well. Salt just before you serve.

Celery and Spring Onion Sticky rice
2 cups short and fat grained rice ( I like Kolam)
5 – 6 cups water
2 tsp Massels stock owder (I imort this from Australia but you can use Maggi Chicken or vegetable stock cubes in a pinch)
1 tbsp oil
1-2 whole red fresh chillies or some Chilli oil (optional)
½ cup garlic, chopped fine
1 cup celery sliced fine
2 cups spring onion sliced fine

In a large deep pan place water, rice and stock cubes. Bring to a boil and simmer until rice swells, at this point take of ¼ cup of the cooking liquid and set aside. Let rice cook till all of the water is almost absorbed and switch of flame. Cover and keep till ready to serve. In a frying pan add 1 tbsp of oil and heat, add chopped garlic and sauté for a while until the edges start to get golden, add in the celery and stir well. Add the reserved cooking liquid from the rice and the spring onion and stir well. As soon as the spring onion starts turning bright green, take pan off flame and set aside and stir in salt to taste.

To serve pack rice tightly into a large 250 gm measuring cup and ease onto the plate, spook some of the Celery spring onion mix on top of the rice and top with a couple of chillies or a drizzle of chilli oil. Arrange the other two dishes around the rice and serve.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008


Celebrating the season of plenty!

Winter is the season of plenty all over the world and I thought I'd share kick start the refurbished version of my blog with a celebration of the great produce we have available to us in Mumbai these days.
Many parts of rural India are a celebration at this time with fields of ripening produce stretching endlessly into the horizon. Abundance is in the air as nature unleashes her bounty; of the freshest, most tender, sweetest produce. Oversized cauliflowers bloom off vegetable carts, jostling with a host of verdant leafy vegetables; spinach, fenugreek, coriander… flirting with your eyes, tempting you to pick up bunches worth and take them home – no matter that you have no idea what to do with them!
And almost in anticipation of the hectic harvest period to come, rural India enjoys relaxed, lazy winter days with an essential activity… that of sunning oneself in the fleeting hours of winter sunlight. Snacking on something at these occasions is de rigueur be it a nugget of fresh jaggery, sesame chikkis, or Paunk.
Paunk is a winter speciality of the Surat region in Gujarat. The tender version of Jowar (Sorghum millet) Paunk is harvested before it matures into fully grown grains. These tender jade colored kernels are husked and eaten raw and fresh, steamed or roasted under smouldering ashes. Come the winter and, Undhiyu and Paunk parties become Haute in Mumbai. I was hosted at one last year. (Thanks Asit uncle and Swati aunty for being so kind) and here are some pictures.

Tiny jade colored lentil-like grains of Paunk burst between the teeth with a subtly sweet flavour when eaten on their own.

But they are usually accompanied by spicy pepper or garlic sev (crunchy chickpea flour vermicelli like savouries ), chutney, and sugar balls. Their cool color belies it but Paunk is considered very warming to the body and is usually consumed with numerous glasses of thin chaas (buttermilk) to counteract the effect.


Paunk na Bhajiya or Paunk fritters are one of the ways in which Paunk is savoured.

Serves 6 Time 20 mins
2 c mung dal soaked
1 c Paunk, crushed slightly
2-3 green chillies chopped fine
1 inch piece ginger chopped fine
½ cup coriander chopped fine
salt to taste
¼ cup besan for binding

In a blender place ginger, coriander and chillies and whiz once.
Add soaked mung dal and process to coarse texture. Remove to a large bowl.
Add paunk, besan and salt and mix well.
Heat oil and fry in batches.
Serve with spicy green chutney

Buying guide – The current market rate for fresh Paunk is Rs 200 -250 fresh, and you will find it in the Bhuleshwar market of Mumbai. When buying ensure that Paunk kernels when squeezed exude a milky juice. Eat as soon as possible it has a very short shelf life.
Where to get it in Mumbai????
And for those of us who prefer things ready made, one of my favourite restaurants in Mumbai, Soam, kicks off it's winter festival today (10th of January). Besides Paunk their winter menu also offers tempting traditional treats like Undhiyu, including an oil free version (quite a feat that since the traditioanl recipe calls for oodles of oil) Dashmi and Vaal (Rice flour rotis with tender green field beans cooked in a green masala, Khajur Puran Polis and a host of strawberry desserts.

Ground Floor,Sadguru Sadan,Girgaon Chowpatty,Opposite Babulnath Mandir, Girgaon Chowpatty, Mumbai, 400007, India
+91 22 23698080
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