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Monday, July 30, 2012

Celebrating British Summer with Bengali Fol-Ahar....

And so the Olympic 2012 finally began....living in London we all have been part of the preparations, the tube upgrades, the roads being poshed up, opening up of Westfield Stratford City and in the last week the dire warnings not to use public transport during the games. Finally Danny Boyle's extravaganza was unleashed, the Queen parachuted, a host of Mary Poppins floated down, Mr Beans did his usual antics and David Beckham looked like the latest James Bond, forging of the Olympic rings and that awesome cauldron.

We were in a friend's house from whose balcony the Olympic stadium can be seen. We all had our eyes glued to the television screen, when Red Arrows appeared in the sky, streaking it with red, blue and white smoke. My husband casually lifted his head up and the Arrows were directly flying past our friend's balcony. We all tumbled out to the balcony. From then on we watched the ceremony half and half, sometimes on the television screen and sometimes from the balcony. It was a fun evening with friends and good food. Some photographs that I wanted to share with you.

Olympic Torch on Saturday ie. 21.07.2012 on Dalston Kingsland Road, London
Red Arrows suddenly appearing on our slice of the sky...
Olympic Stadium, all ready and lighted for the ceremonies to begin...
The fireworks....
The concluding fireworks....
The week leading up to the Olympic games was a hot and sunny week. Summer had finally arrived in the UK. It was time for celebrations--- picnics, BBQs, walking along the Thames and watching the sun slowly dip down the horizon. Most days when the sun is out and shinning I do not feel like cooking. So I fall back on easy to cook assemble dishes. 

For this month's World On A Plate the theme was fruit dessert. I decided to make on of my favourite fruit dishes of all time. Remember a few weeks back I was telling you about hot Indian summers? Oh well in such heat one hardly feels like cooking or eating. One of the easy things we eat a lot is a yogurt, mango and flaked rice dessert of sorts, which we call Fol-Ahar (fol in Bengali means fruit and ahar means to eat, so put together it means eating fruits). This is eaten at any time of the day. It is easy to assemble and the yogurt helps in cooling down the body. I made it for breakfast over the weekend and we ate it in our little garden, savouring the sunshine.

Please refer to the recipe card for the ingredients and the assembling steps. This quantity serves two. This can also be made with condensed milk which we call kheer.


Now a pictorial assembly guide. In this one I did not add bananas, because my husband absolutely refuses to have anything with bananas. But you can add ripe bananas, it adds to the taste.


So in a jiffy your Fol-Ahar gets ready. Chill it for a little while and enjoy!


*****

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lets Relax with a Bowl of Pad Se Ew...

Lush green and elephants to boot err ride!

Please do not club me. I beg of you, yes you, the Thai mamas, papas, grandpas, grannies and all the rest of you down to the chubby little Thai baby (how I adore you, sweet baby, coochicoo). Ah yes not to be left out, the lovers of all things dinkum Thai. This recipe I am going to share with you is not authentically Thai (so I have read in some places).

My defence is weak and I feel wobbly. I blame it all on my gluttony. No actually on second thoughts, on the yummy taste of this hybrid noodle dish called Pad Se Ew. I have read that this dish does not even exist in Siam of yore, that it was developed by some bored Thai chef out to wow his Western clientèle. What can I say, take a bow bored chef.

The sea and those gorgeous colours!

On a serious note, cuisines do get distorted or shall we politely say influenced by the place where they are being served. Take the instance of Balti cuisine. I am sure by now non UK folks are frowning darkly thinking I am cracking odd jokes cos Balti means bucket in Hindi and Bengali. No sadly it is no joke, there is a whole cuisine under this Balti genre, which they pass off as Indian. And in one word the Balti food is HORRIBLE. Now if we, the Indians living in the UK can digest the unpalatable Balti cuisine, your Pad Se Ew is a million times better. No make that a trillion times. I am know at this stage you must be thinking 'but you have not yet tasted our authentic food'. I agree hundred percent, but you see beggars cannot be choosers and the yearnings of a gastronomic slut* have to be satisfied.



I love Thai food or whatever version of it we get here in the UK. I am sure that if and when I do visit this tropical paradise I will love Amazing Thailand too. But for now lets go back to the food, shall we? So in the  Thai restaurants in the UK we get this noodle dish called Pad Se Ew which I have read means noodles stir fried in Soya Sauce. I do not know how original it is, but we, i.e. my husband and me, we lurve it. Yes we lurve it, me a little less, he a little more. You see I lost my heart to Pad Thai long ago and remain ever faithful to it. So since whenever we visit Thai restaurants (which is often) I always order Pad Thai and my husband Pad Se Ew. Okay so he sometimes orders Thai Red Curry, Green Curry, Jade Curry (Jade curry? Yes I remember it was Jade Curry and no, it was not jade in colour), but that is besides the point. To get back to the Pad Se Ew, I err sneak away some of the noodles from his plate and I love what I sneak off. It was getting to the point where I was almost finishing off half of his plate, much to my husband's growing horror. Of course such a situation could not be allowed to continue and since I refuse to order anything other than  Pad Thai (hey I also go for variety, sometimes I order chicken and other times shrimp), I settled on the second best option. I decided to learn how to make Pad Se Ew at home. Went through several video demos in the youtube (may you live long), finally found this video by a young Thai American or will it be American Thai? Oh well whatever. He was precise, concise and knew what he was doing. Decided to follow him and now I can make Pad Se Ew at home and it is finger lickin' good.


Sadly the video is no longer on youtube, but I had the recipe jotted down, sharing it. The photographs I have shared here are of course  of authentic Thailand, taken by a friend on their trip.


Tribal Performance....





The photos are beautiful, aren't they? I especially love this last photo....what a space...a balcony is such a beautiful place. Back home, the balcony of my parents' house is my most favourite part of the house.

This place looks perfect for an al fresco meal, doesn't it? Why not sit back and relax with some Thai iced tea, while I quickly fix us some Pad Se Ew.

But I hate working in the kitchen alone, so I will keep the windows open and we can chat while I put the noodles together. What? Oh you want me to tell you about the ingredients that I need for this.




To make this noodle dish you need:


  • 300 gms of boiled, boneless chicken, shredded
  • Thai rice sticks around 250 gm, prepared as per instructions on the back of the packet
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Veggies-- carrots, bak choy, bean sprouts, kai-lan....whatever your heart fancies....
  • 1 fat chilli chopped
  • Juice of half a lime
  • 4 cloves of garlic pods
  • 2  tea spoons of dark soya sauce
  • 1 tea spoon of oyster sauce
  • 1 tea spoon fish sauce
  • 1 tea spoons of brown sugar
  • 2 tea spoons of vegetable/sunflower oil
  • Few drops of sesame oil
  • Crushed peanuts, cilantro, bean sprouts, lime wedge & chilli flakes for garnishing
Once you have assembled all of this, chopping all those veggies takes a wee bit of time. Time to switch on the gas.

Take a wok, heat the oil, add the garlic, once they sizzle, and & fry the shredded chicken pieces till light brown, move all of it to one side, add the beaten eggs and scramble them, now add the veggies, fry them for a couple of minutes, add the sauces and the sugar, mix well. Then add the noodles, a little at a time, mixing well as you add. Mix everything well, check the taste and adjust according to taste. Switch off the heat and add the lime juice, a final toss and the noodle is ready.

Garnish with cilantro, chilli flakes, cilantro and bean sprouts and serve hot.

* Borrowed the phrase from a friend!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Dil Wallon Ka Dilli Aur Daal Makhani

Delhi: The capital of India is a sprawling metropolis

  • of 16.7 million people;
  • sprawled over 1482 km of land;
  • continuously inhabited since the 6th century BC;
  • invaded, plundered, looted, fought over throughout history;
  • the invaders and the colonizers fell in love with, and rebuilt it, again and again for seven times;
  • of two parts, Delhi and New Delhi;
  • mediaeval yet modern with ancient parts tucked in here and there;
  • seething with power, yet  vulnerably mystic.
The old and the new merge here seamlessly....modern roads, swanky building suddenly give way to a crumbling ancient fort some two thousand years old. The pock marked, geriatric stone wall stand beside the new, smooth surfaced one, looking like a mismatched couple in uneasy harmony. 


Now for such a city one would think that there would be a hardcore bunch of Delhi-zens or Dilliwallas, a group of people passionate about their city, who cannot imagine living anywhere else in the world. Other metropolis of India like Kolkata and Mumbai proudly boast of such populations. But the Dilliwalla is a bit like a Dodo, written and talked about, discussed to death, but hardly ever seen. You see the city is made up of migrants, from all over the country and beyond the borders. These groups of people have tickled into the city sometimes in torrents, sometimes in dribbles, settled down and gone about their daily business. If you asked them, they would tell you that Delhi is their home, but they being passionate about the city? Hardly. Maybe it is the typical migrant mentality, while the physical home is the present anchor, the emotional home is always the one they had left behind, frozen in time and sentiment. 


So who are these dispassionate  Dilliwallas? Are they the political dynasties, the movers and shakers of national power, the traders in Chadni Chowk, the buffalo herds of Yamuna, the bus drivers of the infamous Delhi buses, the clerks who run the complicated bureaucratic machinery that is the Central Government of India, churiwallas (bangel sellers) next to the Hanuman Mandir, the mehendiwallis (women who apply mehendi) who visit wedding houses, the daily commuters from the suburbs, the lawyers in black and white flocking the various courts, the goldsmiths and the silversmiths who bend double over intricate pieces of jewellery, the teenagers shopping in the Sarojini Nagar Market or the UN worker eating lunch in the Lodhi Gardens, the vegetable sellers of Bhogal Market?

Thankfully there is no such confusion about the food of Delhi. The food of the long gone Mughals-- the kebabs (meats grilled with spices), the biriyanis (rice cooked with meat), the pulaos (rice cooked with saffron, nuts and raisins in clarified butter), the meat dishes in rich gravy and the food of the Punjabis-- the daals (lentils), various seasonal vegetables, rotis (Indian flat bread), paranthas (Indian fried breads) mostly dominate Delhi's food scene.


Today I am sharing with you a typical Punjabi staple the Daal Makhani--Split Black Gram cooked with spices, laden with clarified butter and eaten with soft, melt in your mouth, fresh from the tawa (hearth) rotis.  It is a daal grand enough to served to your guests, yet easy enough to be a regular on dinner tables. It is also easily available in the dhabas (roadside eateries) so that no Punjabi has to do without it for long.

I found this recipe in Nupur's UK Rasoi and realised that I had to make it. This is a much lighter version of the original clog-your-arteries one that is found in Delhi. This is an added bonus, now we can enjoy daal makhani without guilt. This is part of Blog Hop Wednesday, which is a great platform for trying out recipes of other bloggers.

So onto Nupur's recipe.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup Whole Black Urad Daal
  • 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, roughly sliced
  • 2 tbsp Ginger & Garlic paste
  • A pinch of Asafoetida & cinnamon each
  • 1 tsp Cumin seeds, Turmeric, Coriander powder each
  • 1 tsp Red Chili powder
  • A pinch of cardamom powder
  • 1 cup Whole Milk
  • 2 tbp Double cream (did not use any)
  • 1 tbsp Kasuri Methi ( Dried Fenugreek Leaves )
  • A Sprig of fresh coriander leaves
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp oil

Method:
  • Wash, drain and soak the daal in lukewarm water overnight or at least several couple of hours.
  • Next day, add 3 cups of water in the pressure cooker along with a tsp of salt and turmeric and pressure cook till 3 whistles. 
  • So, when you have taken the pressure cooker off the flame and waiting for the pressure to ease off.. lets make the tadka.
  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a pan, add chopped onion into it and cook on a medium flame stirring in between till it turns brown
  • Now, take the onions out and let them cool off a bit. Once it’s a little normal to touch, puree onions along with the tomatoes in a blender. Add Ginger garlic paste and give another pulse.
  • Now, heat another tbsp. of oil in the pan and splutter cumin seeds and Asafoetida for 10 sec. Add the paste into it and cook covered for next 12-15 min on medium flame. 
  • When its nearly done, add all the spices except Garam Masala and cook for next 5-6 minutes stirring in between. By the time this procedure is completed, the pressure in the cooker must be down and you could open and check if it requires some more time to get soft and mashed up.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Tales of Hot Indian Summers along with Kolai er Dal/Bengali Urad Dal

Summer in India is a season of extremes. As a kid I used to think that during the summer season, the Sun God Ra (got this idea from history lessons on ancient Egypt) looses his temper and becomes really angry with us. That is why he shines down on us so ferociously and relentlessly. The angry sun scorches the earth, wilts the plants, dries up the rivers and the ponds, evaporates every trace of water from the land, bakes humans and animals alive and makes them  feel thirsty, always. To the young me, the sun seemed a rather cruel God.  Sometimes I used to think that he should be sent for anger management classes, other times I used to ponder on how his God-ship could be cancelled. Musings of an over imaginative child! Even to this day this childhood image has stuck to my mind.Whenever I think of summer in India, the image of an extremely angry sun flashes in my mind.

Summer starts from early March, by April temperature shoots up to 40s and sometimes beyond (Celsius), then peaks in July before the monsoons hit the Indian subcontinent. While it rains its lovely, but the moment it stops raining, the heat comes back. Even though the rains bring down the temperatures slightly, humidity is added to the heat. This goes on till September/October when an autumn struggles to put a stop to the rains and bring down the temperatures.

This year the summer has been dreadful back home.Well it is every year, but Indians like to think that each summer they experience is the worst so far! Newspapers add fuel to the fire by touting every summer to be the worst one in last 30 years or so. Every time I call my folks they complain about the soaring temperatures, the heat and the humidity. Sometimes it rains for a brief respite and then back the temperature climbs into the 40s (degree Celsius). You must be wondering why sitting in London, am I talking about summer in India? It is because this Indian's heart is firmly lodged back home. Not that I am not thankful for missing the stifling heat which drains away all your energy and makes you want to sleep and have chilled drinks all the time. But I have too many fond memories of summer. So I just cannot hate summer time back home. And like we all know the heart grows fonder with distance. Mine certainly does. 

Summers meant long school holidays and playing to our hearts' content!
Also summer in India has some redeeming points as well. Apart from the oppressive heat and relentless sun, summer also means fruits-- all sorts. Ah the lovely juicy mangoes, first unripe and then ripe, one variety after another hitting the markets as the season progresses or if you are lucky growing in your orchard. Then there are the lychees for a brief couple of weeks (the best ones I have had came from my father's colleague's tea garden in Assam and they are nothing like the tinned ones we get here in the UK), the huge jack fruits, the strong smell and love it or hate it camps, the glorious yellow flesh....there are so many fruits and I do not even know the English names for most of them, nor do I have the patience to search them out. I guess it is nature's way of compensating  for the horrible weather. 

The summer flowers, sadly the only English name I know is jasmine. Mostly these flowers are white in colour and have heavenly smell. There are loads of varieties. Each house has/had some potted flower plants in their terrace (in India most roof tops are flat with access to it by stairs and used for various purposes by families, including terrace gardens). Once the sun goes down by early evening (6.30 at the most in Kolkata which is in the East) a light breeze used to blow in from the Hoogly riven a few kilometres away, carrying in the smell of these sweet flowers. Families would gather in their roof tops, laughter and cheer could be heard in the early evening, the people thankful for the soothing balm of the darkness. Of course I am painting a picture of Kolkata of some decades back. The Kolkata of my childhood memories.

Windows shuttered and curtains drawn for post lunch siesta
during the hot summer months!
Then the holidays, summers meant long school holidays. There used to be holiday homework like sixty pages of handwriting practice (a page a day I guess for the two month holidays, but no one, maybe except my conscientious brother did it that way, the rest of us all sat down to it the evening before the schools re-opened and somehow filled the pages with scribbles, some handwriting practice I tell you). Cousins would gather and since it was too hot too chase kids, we would be mostly left to our own devices. The fun we had, the terrace was our main play ground and since elders mostly did not venture up there in the heat, we played to our hearts' content. We never got heat stroke, but when I look back I think we must have been mad to be out in that scorching sun. But one time we were not permitted up on the terrace was post lunch when the sun rays were/are the strongest. Post lunch was siesta time. No amount of arguments, pleadings, reasoning worked with any of the adults. Post lunch windows would be shuttered and heavy curtains would be drawn to keep out the sun and everyone would be ready for a nap. This nap lasted for a couple of hours and  I remember as kids we hated going to sleep in the middle of day. We felt it was wasting good playing hours. So we pretended to go to sleep and would wait for the elders to fall asleep, so that we could tiptoe to freedom. Sadly such escapes were rare and far between. 

As we grew older, my mother could be cajoled to defer the siesta time. Instead of straight going to bed, post lunch, we would put on our favourite music and play a game or two or four of this board game called Chinese Checkers. Now I was/am a good player and my mother was and always will be a fierce competitor, we used to have roaring fights and some great laughs too during these games. My glee when I defeated my mother yet again, while her need to win the game at least once before she gave up!

Of course on such hot days Indians cook/eat ingredients which help keep the body cool. Bengalis have several summer special dishes which we cook and eat regularly during the hot season. One such combination is kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram lentil and aloo ar jhinge ba aloo ar potol posto/ potatoes along vegetables cooked with poppy seeds which is served with plain steamed rice for lunch. Today let me share the recipe of kolai er dal or Urad/Split Black Gram cooked the Bengali way. This dal/lentil is never served hot, this is always cooked at least a couple of hours before eating and cooled down before serving, it easily takes you to dal heaven with a squeeze of fresh lime juice.This dal is always white in colour, haldi/turmeric not being added to it. I am told that this dal is an acquired taste, but having grown up on it, all I can say is that to the Bengalis nothing is more appetising than this meal on a hot summer afternoon. 
Kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram lentil and aloo ar jhinge ba aloo ar potol posto/ potatoes along vegetables cooked with poppy seeds which is served with plain steamed rice for lunch on a hot summer day.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup kolai er dal/urad dal/split black gram
  • 2 tea spoons of fennel seeds, 1 tea spoon soaked in a little water and made into a coarse paste
  • 2 table spoons of sunflower/vegetable oil
  • One pinch of baking soda
  • 2 dried red chillies
  • One pinch of hing/asafoetida
  • 1 table spoon of ginger paste
  • Salt to taste

Method:

  • Soak the dal/lentil with one pinch of baking soda for a couple of hours
  • Boil the dal/lentil in water till soft, if using Indian pressure cooker, boil till 7/8 whistles
  • In a heavy bottomed pan add the oil, once it starts smoking, add the red chillies, the dry fennel seeds, the ginger paste and the boiled dal and mix well
  • Add 2 to 3 cups of water and let it come to a boil, if need add a bit more water
  • Add the hing/asafoetida in a little warm water and add that and the fennel seed paste at the very end along with the salt, mix well and switch off the gas
  • Let the dal cool down for at least a couple of hours before serving it....

This dal tastes best when served with aloo posto/potato cooked with poppy seeds or aloo bhaat ee/mashed potato tempered with dried red chillies....recipes, which I promise to share soon-ish. 

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