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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Day 76: Celebrating পয়লা বৈশাখ/ নববর্ষ/Bengali New Year with Keema/Minced Lamb Curry




Today is the Bengali new year 'poila baishak'. According to the traditional Hindu calender today we start the year 1421. Am in a rather nostalgic mood today thinking about poila boishaks of my childhood. While the autumn festivals like Durga Pujo & Kali Pujo were grand, this was more a family affair. The schools were generally closed during this time, the offices were also closed, so everyone would be  home. By the time new year rolled around it used to get really hot in Kolkata. So the day was mostly spent indoors, while the evenings were reserved for social visits and a visit to the fair.
I remember the first thing that my parents used to say was that "on new year's day there can be no fights, no tantrums, no sulks, because if you behave badly today, you have to spend the rest of the year on a bad note". In retrospect it sounds like a foolish idea yet as kids we used to follow it so diligently. On poila baishak we would pray to God for long life, health & peace, drink milk like good children {a sore point for me since I hated milk} and be nice to everyone {including brother, no flying off the handle even if you kid brother does something  horrible to your prized toy, not that my brother was that kind} and behave properly {essentially listen to the elders}.
I remember getting up early, all excited because poila baishak was another occassion when we used to get new clothes apart from durga pujo. There used to be a pujo at home, and after that you seek blessings of all the elders. Lunch used to be grand. Ma used to cook some delicacy or the other like 'misti polao' (traditional bengali sweet rice) and 'kosha mangsho' (goat meat slow cooked over a long time with spices and big chunks of potato) or 'rui macher kalia' (rohu fish curry either in mustard sauce or with in a yogurt sauce), or keema (minced meat with potatoes and peas) and of course some kind of desert like 'payesh' (rice pudding made the Bengali way with jaggery).
In the evenings we used to go to the 'choroker mela' ( spring fair) which is held generally every year at this time. Now choroker mela was a very interesting & exciting event for us. My brother and me, we loved going there because dad always used to pamper us no end. I remember buying handfull of glass bangles, terracotta toys, my brother used to go for musical instruments which make an awful lot of noise. Usually some cousins allways used to accompany us. Oh what a lovely time we had getting on those merry-go-rounds, eating 'telebhaja' (pakodas/fritters).
Then we used to go visit some relatives or freinds and have nice dinner either their place or back at home.
Before long poila baishak used to be over. I remember that as a kid before going to bed we used to do a check whether we have been on our perfect behaviour. Otherwise there was that dread that whatever wrong we had done would get repeated throughout the year. And who likes to be scolded throughout the year?
Poila boishak always used to be the harbinger of mangoes. The mangoes before poila baishak never taste as good as those which come after the new year. That was another reason why we used to wait for poila baishak with so much excitement. Soon after the markets used to be flooded with sweet mangoes from all over Bengal and sometimes they would come all the way from Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Ah the taste of those mangoes. 
The recipe I am going to share today is a popular Bengali dish--minced lamb. Like everything else, we cook the minced meat with spices over a couple of hours. So this recipe is not for the faint hearted or the impatient sorts. But when you taste the dish, you will realise that all that effort has been totally worth it and then some.


Preparation time: 1 hour
Cooking time: 2 hours
Serves: 6 people generously
Ingredients:
1. 900 grams minced lamb
2. 3 large potatoes, peeled & chopped into little cubes
3. 1 cup of peas
4. 2 medium red onions finely sliced
5. 1 medium red onion paste
6. 3 heaped tea spoons of ginger & garlic paste
7. 4 tea spoons of tomato puree or 3 to 4 medium sized ripe tomatoes diced up
8. 2 to 4 green chillies, seeded or deeded, according to taste
9. Whole garam masalas-- 3 green cardamoms, 3 cloves, half an inch of cinnamon, 2 bay leaves
10. Dry masala powders:
i. 1 tea spoon of turmeric/haldi
ii. 1 tea spoon of red chilli powder
iii. 1 tea spoon of cumin powder {heaped}
iv. 1 tea spoon of coriander powder {heaped}
11. Flavourings:
i. Half a tea spoon of sugar
ii. Salt to taste
12. 4 table spoons of sunflower/vegetable or any odourless oil
13. Garnish:
i. Chopped cilantro
ii. One tea spoon of ghee heated {optional}
iii. Squeeze of lime juice

How to make Keema:
1. Finish all the peeling, chopping & dicing
2. In a heavy bottomed pan, add the oil, while the oil is heating up on medium heat, add the whole garam masalas. If you add the masalas at this stage, they will flavour the oil as it heats up.
3. Once the oil is hot, add the sliced onion and the sugar. The sugar will help caramelise the onions while they fry and also bring a balance to the taste of the dish. {Adding sugar to savoury dishes is a speciality of West Bengali cuisine}
4. Once the onion has turned light brown, add the dry masala powders {turmeric, chilli, cumin & coriander} and fry till the oil starts to separate and bubble on the sides. On medium heat should take about 5 minutes.
5. Once the oil starts to separate add the ginger, garlic and onion paste and the tomato puree. If adding diced tomato, do not add at this stage, cos tomato has a lot of juice/water and will dilute the frying process.
6. After 3 to 4 minutes of frying the oil will start separating again, add the minced meat. Mix well and continue frying on low medium heat. If it gets too dry add a few drop of water at a time. This process will need at least 20 to 30 mins. Yes browning the meat with Indian masalas is a matter of infinite patience. But overcome this and you have the best minced meat curry you have ever eaten.
7. In the next step add the cubed potato pieces and continue frying for 10 to 15 minutes more.
8. Add the peas and chopped tomatoes, mix well.
9. Next comes the green chillies and salt according to taste.
10. Add about 2 to 3 cups of water, cover the pot and let it come to a boil.
11. After 10 minutes or so, take off the cover, it must be bubbling by now, mix well and continue cooking for 5 minutes more. By now the dish will look semi dry and not a lot of moisture should be left in the pot. Switch off the heat now.
12. Let it rest for 10 minutes or so.
13. Garnish with cilantro, ghee and lime juice. Serve with rotis, naan, parathas or pulao rice or even pao (buns smeared with butter).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Day 75: Day: Marylebone Farmer's Market

How do you spend your Sunday guys? Do you wake up late, laze over breakfast, do your laundry, iron you shirts for the weekday, water your plants, curl up with a book and a cup of coffee or go for a jog or a run or have brunch with friends? We do all of this, err maybe not the jog/run bit and sometimes I drag husband to the various farmers' markets that take place around London. When we used to live in North London our favourite was the Alexandra Palace Farmers' Market. We absolutely loved going for a walk in the park and then roam around in the market, having lunch from the Moroccan stall and then potter around the market picking fresh produce, eggs, maybe buy some speciality olive oil.
Ever since we have shifted to Sutton we have not done much of this. Partly because I have not been able to figure out anything nearby which is easily accessible by public transport. So when BBPC {Bloggers' Buzz Photography Club} decided to go shoot one of the Sunday markets I was really excited. We decided to go to the Sunday farmers' market at Marylebone. Just a 5 minute walk away from the Baker Street tube station, this market is held in the local car park. As markets go this one is not very big or sprawled out. There are some 20 to 30 stalls of fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, jams & preserves and of course some of the bakeries sell fresh bread and sweet treats and then there are some stalls selling hot food. There was a guy in the corner selling dumplings and doing brisk business. A local of local people were shopping there. We spoke to some, they said they look forward to the market day every sunday.
Some photographs of the market:





Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 74: An Easy Peasy Shortcut Khichuri/Khichdi: One Pot Rice & Lentil Mishmash...


I was talking to a friend of mine who has recently got married and shifted to the West with her new husband. Of course while in India she never bothered to cook. But now away from home, she terribly misses home cooked food and of course Indian take-aways do not do the job. She is one of those people who hates cooking. When I asked her what is her main peeve against cooking, she said it was the chopping. She did not mind the stirring, or patiently frying the masalas. But she hates chopping with a vengeance. A couple of times her freshly manicured nails have been chopped of and one time her sweet smelling nails smelled of garlic. Horror of horrors! That put her off chopping for ever.
So I decided to share an easy recipe which with a little bit of judicious shopping involves almost no amount of chopping. Yes you heard me right. This recipe is for all those ladies out there who stay away from cooking because you are freaked out by the idea of damaging your precious manicured nails or nail art.
It is an easy peasy, shortcut khichdi recipe. In case you are wondering what khichuri/khichdi is, it is a rice and lentil preparation with a little spice thrown in. It is an one pot dish, popular all over India and each region has their own recipes and specialities. Not to be left behind we Bengalis also have our versions. One is made with moong daal and served as prasad to the Gods, while the masoor daal one is a particular favourite monsoon food.
This khichdi is not the Bengali version. It is a mix and match of the Bengali, Maharastrian and UP versions. When I used to live in Delhi, my friends and roomies often used to cook khichdi. Sometimes I crave their versions, since I am not going to get that here, I settled for the next best thing-- developed a recipe of my own to satisfy my cravings.



Ingredients:
1. One cup rice (any rice will do, I use Basmati rice)
2. One cup daal/lentil (you can use masoor or moong or a mixture of 3/4 varieties like I have used this time). But be sure and soak the daals at least for 2 to 4 hours or even overnight before cooking. Masoor daal cooks pretty quickly. So if you are using only masoor & kong daal no need to soak it extra long, but the other daals do need that extra soaking.
3. Half a cup of tinned tomatoes or 4 tea spoons of tomato puree
4. One tea spoon each of minced ginger and garlic (you can find jars of minced ginger and garlic in grocery stores)
5. 2 table spoons of vegetable or sunflower oil
6. 2 tea spoons of ghee, if you do not have ghee you can alternately use butter or vegetable or any other clear oil. But you won't get the flavour of ghee in your khichuri.
7. Half a cup of fried onions (yes fried onions, no peeling, no chopping, no crying. You will find these in South Asian grocery stores and they make cooking often very simple.)
8. Masalas:
i. One tea spoon of cumin seeds
ii. 2 to 3 whole red chillies
iii. 2 pinches of asafoetida
iv. 1 tea spoon of turmeric powder/haldi
v. 1 tea spoon of red chilli powder
vi. Salt to taste
9. Curry leaves {optional}
10. Two to three green chillies, snapped from the middle
11. Chopped cilantro for garnish at the very end {optional}

Method:
1. Soak one cup of rice and one cup of masoor daal or any other daal or even a mixture of different varieties /lentil for about 20 mins in cold water. Remember to wash the rice and daal at least a couple of times till the water runs clear, before soaking.
If using mixed daal, please soak those daals which take longer to cook for longer periods of time. Like this time round I used some remaining black urad daal, I soaked this daal for about 2 hours.
This is a good recipe to use up little leftover lentils.
2. Heat about 2 table spoons of vegetable/sunflower oil in a heavy bottomed pan.
3. Add a tea spoon of cumin seeds, 2/3 whole red chillies (seeded or deseeded according to taste, I prefer deseeded) and a pinch of asafoetida. Let the cumin seeds crackle and then add one tea spoon of turmeric powder and red chilli powder each. Keep the heat medium low and cook till the turmeric powder starts to smell cooked.
Then add the rice and daal and about 2 cups of water and salt according to taste (I generally add about one tea spoon of salt and taste it once the khichdi is cooked and adjust according to need), mix everything well together and let it cook. Keep the heat medium low and stir occasionally, so that the mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan.
After 10 mins or so add half a cup of fried onion and half a tin of tomatoes. Mix well, you may need to add about a cup or so of water around this time.
In a small frying pan heat about 2 table spoons of ghee (can use oil if you want, but will not get the taste/flavour you get from ghee), add one tea spoon of finely minced ginger and garlic each or if you do not want to go into the bother of chopping, just use ginger garlic paste. Also add a couple of green chillies (seeded or deseeded) and a pinch of asafoetida, cook till the ginger and garlic are well fried.  You can also add 5/6 curry leaves for some extra flavour. Add this to the rice and daal mixture and mix well. Let the mixture boil for 5 mins more, before checking the taste and also whether both the rice and the daal are cooked. Once you are satisfied, switch off the heat and garnish with some chopped cilantro. Let the rice sit for about 10 mins before serving with poppadoms/papads, pickle, fritters, Indian omelette, fish fry (a typical Bengali way of serving) and some even serve this with yogurt.
* I use up my left over lentils in this preparation.



Friday, April 11, 2014

Day 73: Rome, Coffee & Roman Pastries...

Day 73: Today I am taking you to Rome guys. Yes Rome with her wonderful history, classical buildings and the hustle & bustle which is so Italian. We were there for three days, we soaked up the history as much as we could, we shopped till we dropped and we ate. Oh the joys of Roman food. And the coffee, I can't even stop raving about the coffee in Italy. Not a coffee person at all, as most of you know by now, I can't stop drinking coffee when I am in Italy. The Italians know their coffee and how to make it. I can happily drink three cups and keep wanting more. But let's put the coffee aside for a second, I want to talk to you about something else. See those little pastries with a dab of icing?  Every time we had a coffee/tea halt we ordered those. They are generally pretty small in size, you can comfortably finish it in two bites. Inside it is filled with cream/custard, which gushes out when you bite it the first time round. Not overtly sweet these are perfect accompaniment for coffee, nicely balancing the bitterness of the coffee with it's creamy taste. From what I could find out these are the baked varieties. Another variety is the deep fried one which is sprinkled with icing sugar. That one is also filled with custard. So when you visit Rome, please don't forget to try these babies.

Let me quickly share some photos of Rome with you, before leaving you. Have a lovely weekend. xoxo

Let us start with the Sistine Chapel. This one is taken from the hop on and hop off bus. The more you approach this site, the grander it gets. Totally awe inducing.

The houses in Rome are so very beautiful. I think I have about a thousand photographs of just these houses. With their bright colours, shuttered windows and sometimes balconies they are pretty hard to resist. I was dying with curiosity to know what goes on inside those houses. Who lives there, how is it decorated, what kind of food do they eat, do they have family feasts? I am sure someone somewhere must have looked down on us from one of those windows and wondered who these tourists are and where have they come from, how are they liking Rome...

Rome abounds in statues. They are everywhere, in every nook and cranny. Sometimes they jut over your head, sometimes they are just beside you and sometimes you just come upon them.

Some of the buildings are so beautiful and orange, yet fit right into the modern world. If you are from Delhi or have been there, I think Delhi is the only city I have been to, which can give Rome a run for it's money in history and classical buildings.

Last but not the least a small section of the Colosseum. Yes the Coliseum in Rome.  Standing in front of this structure is a truly awe inspiring experience. You feel so small and insignificant by comparison. It has witnessed life go by for roughly 19/20 centuries. Sadly there were no lions or gladiators or crowds (just tourists with cameras), but my imagination filled the gap.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Day 72: British Pubs

Day 72: Food scene in the UK cannot be complete without a mention of the pubs/public houses. Almost all localities have their own  pubs. These pubs are the meeting point of local communities, colleagues hanging out after work, friends dropping in for a pint or just to watch a game of football.
The pubs mainly serve beers wines, spirits, soft drinks, and some specialise in  ales and ciders from the micro-breweries. In the UK the pubs have a culture of serving good quality food. There is a whole range of food called pub grub. Mostly under pub grub comes fish & chips, banger & mash, sandwiches, pies (steak and ale pie, shepherd's pie) and more traditional ones like toad in the hole, Welsh rarebit,  ploughman's lunch etc. Sunday roast is also a big thing in British pubs. In  multicultural UK Indian curries, Thai food, nachos, burgers & chips, lasagna, chilli con carne have also got into the menu. As a result the term gastropub has become popular, which means pubs serving high end beer and drinks.
I am fascinated with the names of these pubs and the billboards announcing the names. Here I have shared two from the Cotswolds with you.

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