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Thursday, 14 September 2017

Korola Peyaj (Stir Fried Bitter Gourd with Onion)

Today we are going to talk about a vegetable which has many health benefits but is disliked for its acrid and sharp taste. I am talking about Korola (Bitter Gourd).  Of all the veggies, Korola is mostly at the top of ‘don’t want to eat this’ list of not only kids but also adults. However, if you are like me and do love Korola then I have a quick and easy recipe for you - Korola Peyaj (Stir Fried Bitter Gourd with Onion).

Growing up, this has been one of my favorite vegetables and many of our acquaintances used to wonder how and why I like it because their kids wont eat it. Let me tell you, Korola Bhaja (deep fried bitter gourd) goes very well with steamed rice and ghee and once you develop a flavor for it, you will be able to enjoy this vegetable with onion or potato. Also, the bitter taste of Korola is a very good tongue cleanser when you are suffering from cold and can’t taste anything. 

Korola has several other health benefits as well. It is said to be a friend of our immune system because of its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Consuming Korola on a regular basis can help to treat the skin problems and blood disorders of your body. Korola juice can clear the toxins from the blood and hence it is used to treat Diabetes and Heart Diseases. It can also improve your metabolism and digestive system, thus helping you to lose weight quickly.

Now if you do decide to try Korola, keep in mind to buy very small quantity (just one or two). Go for the deep frying option first and once you develop a palate for it, try some other recipes. Preparing Korola is easy, you do not have to peel it, just rinse it well to remove any dirt, remove the seeds and cut into small pieces or circles. Many people blanch it or dip it in salt water but I never go for those options. Remember, all our fingers are not alike and each have their own important function in our body. In the same way, not all vegetables and fruits are alike and we should not change the original flavor so much that it destroys its nutritious qualities.

When prepared properly Korola Peyaj becomes quite an appetizing dish, flavorful and palatable and can be enjoyed with plain roti or paired with rice and dal.

  • Korola – 2, washed, seeds removed and cut into rings
  • Onion – 1 big, cut into thick slices
  • Turmeric powder – ½ teaspoon
  • Green Chilli – 1, slit in half
  • Salt – as per taste (about ½ teaspoon)
  • Oil – 1 tablespoon

  • Heat a wok over medium high heat.
  • Add the Oil in it and wait for a few seconds so that it heats up.
  • Add the Korola pieces and fry for a minute.
  • Add the Onion with the Green Chilli and mix. Fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the Salt and Turmeric powder and mix well.
  • Reduce the heat to medium low and cover the pan with a lid. 
  • Cook for 10 minutes then stir.
  • Reduce the heat to low and cook for another 10 minutes or until the Korola and Onion is fully cooked and then turn off the heat.
  • Korola Peyaj is ready. Serve with plain roti and dal (if desired). Also goes great with rice and dal.

Photo features: Steamed rice with Kancha Posto, Korola Peyaj, Chicken Korma and Dal

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Friday, 8 September 2017

Kadhi (Gram Flour Fritters in Yogurt Sauce)

Today I am going to share a vegetarian dish with you and although it uses very few ingredients it is loaded with spice and flavor. The name of the recipe is Kadhi (Gram flour fritters in yogurt sauce). Now let me tell you, Kadhi is not a Bengali dish but my mom has always been an avid cook and we have always enjoyed different cuisines in our home. Be it Chinese, Punjabi, North Indian or South Indian dishes, all we had to do was request mom for it and she would try it for us and every once in a while she would surprise us by preparing this delicious dish.

As you know, I was in Delhi for more than seven years. I never thought that all those years of eating multi cuisines will actually help me while living alone. Punjabi food is very different than Bengali food and I just love it! Be it the heavy Parathas, Butter Chicken and Naan, Chole Bhature or Kadhi Chawal, I enjoy every bite of it.  I think it is important to know different cuisines because they make your life really easy. You have tons of foods to choose from and never have to eat the same meal everyday. I often used to get a plate of Kadhi Chawal from the office cafeteria and now I prepare it whenever I want. 

So, let me tell you more about this delicious dish. Kadhi is prepared in two phases. In phase one, we will prepare some gram flour fritters. Now if you have already tried my Pyaz Ke Pakore recipe, this is going to be really easy for you. In phase two, we will prepare a thick yogurt and gram flour based sauce. We will be using Asafoetida, Garam Masala, Cumin Seeds and Ghee to develop that delicious flavor and aroma in the sauce. Don’t worry about the list of ingredients, you should be able to find them in your local Indian store. 

When buying gram flour for this recipe, do check that it is not meant for preparing sweets. Gram flours are mostly of two varieties – fine and granular. The fine smooth flour is used for making the batters of fritters and Cheela while granular gram flour is used for making sweets like Besan ka Laddoo. Last time, I mistakenly got the granular gram flour packet and although it tasted the same, I could see that the fritters didn’t have that smooth texture. Before starting on the sauce, prepare the batter for the Pakoris and leave it for at least 15 minutes so that it absorbs water. You can also prepare some extra batter and use your favorite vegetables to prepare fritters. Store the gram flour in an airtight container away from heat and light.

Now let’s talk about Ghee (clarified butter). Although Ghee is higher in calories, it brings that aromatic flavor in a dish which cannot be substituted by anything else. However, if you are not planning to use it everyday, make sure to put it in fridge. When ready to use, keep it outside for a while so that the ghee softens. Do not heat the container in the microwave.

To prepare Kadhi, you will need a bowl, whisk, wok and spoon and a deep pan or wok for making the sauce. This recipe does not require any time consuming preparations like chopping a load of vegetables but the sauce is cooked on simmer so I suggest to start with the sauce then fry the Pakoris and then cook roti or rice.

While making the Pakoris do not add any baking soda in them. Kadhi Pakoris are dense unlike the Pyaz Ke Pakore which we want light and crispy. Dense Pakoris wont absorb the sauce thus retaining their shape and taste. If you are using the leftover Pyaz Ke Pakore in the Kadhi, add them in the sauce just before serving. Keep adding water and stirring the sauce till the gram flour added in it is all cooked. The stirring will also make sure there are no lumps in it. If you think the consistency is too thin, turn up the heat a bit so that it gets thicker.

Since Kadhi is prepared with yogurt it is considered a cool summer dish and is usually paired with steamed rice. However, I also love it with Rotis, onion rings and a green chili. Do not be afraid to add the red chili powder, it will bring a hint of heat in the mild dish.

Bon Appetit!

Ingredients (This recipe serves two):

For the sauce:
  • Plain Yoghurt - 1 cup 
  • Gram Flour – ¼ cup 
  • Turmeric – ¼ teaspoon
  • Chilli Powder - ¼ teaspoon
  • Salt - to taste (about ¼ teaspoon)
  • Garam Masala – ½ teaspoon
  • Water - 3 Cups 
  • Oil – 2 tablespoons
  • Asafoetida - ½ teaspoon
  • Cumin Seeds - 1 teaspoon
  • Whole Red Chili – 2 – 3

For tempering the sauce:
  • Ghee – ½ tablespoon
  • Red Chilli Powder - ½ teaspoon

For The Pakoris:
  • Gram Flour – 1 cup
  • Salt – to taste (about ½ teaspoon)
  • Oil – 1-2 cups

Let’s do a little preparation for the Pakoris:
  • Sift the Gram Flour to remove any lumps. 
  • Add the Salt in it and mix well.
  • Add about ½ cup of water in it. Mix well to form a smooth batter. It should have a thick consistency. 
  • Let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes. 

Directions to prepare the Sauce:
  • Sift the Gram Flour to remove any lumps. This also makes it light and easier to mix.
  • Mix the Gram Flour, Turmeric, Chilli Powder, Salt and Garam Masala in a big bowl.
  • Add the Yoghurt gradually to this mixture to form a smooth paste, when it becomes difficult to mix start adding the water.
  • Heat the Oil in a large wok over medium high heat.
  • Add the Asafoetida, Cumin Seeds and Whole Red Chilies.
  • When the Cumin Seeds begin to sizzle, add the mixture prepared above and mix.
  • Bring to a boil then turn the heat to low. Cover and cook.
  • Keep cooking till the Gram flour cooks properly (about 15-20 minutes) stirring occasionally.

Directions to prepare the Pakoris:
  • Heat a wok on medium high heat.
  • Beat the batter with a spoon. 
  • When you see small bubbles on the surface of the oil, carefully start dropping the batter in the oil using a small scoop or spoon. Do not add too many Pakoris in the oil all at once as it will drop the temperature of the oil and make the Pakoris greasy (Tip: Try to use a spoon with a long handle so that you can drop the batter closer to the oil, remember the farther you are the more it can spill making the oil jump).
  • Fry the Pakoris till they are light golden brown in color. 
  • Carefully remove with a spider spoon and place in a dish lined with kitchen paper.

Directions to temper the Kadhi:
Indian cooking often involves tempering hence my mom has given me a special temper pan. It’s a small pan about the size of a cup. It has a sturdy handle and a flat base which makes it easier to place on the stove top. Now, if you have even a slightest doubt that the pan will not stay put on the stove top, it will be best to hold the handle till it heats up and the spices sizzle. You can get the temper pan from using the keyword - Tadka pan.

  • Add the Ghee and Red Chili Powder in the pan and heat it over medium high heat.
  • Once the Chili powder melts in the ghee and you start getting an aroma, turn off the heat and carefully pour it over the Kadhi (cover immediately, sometimes the hot spices make the water in the dal or Kadhi jump).
  • Add the Pakoris in the Kadhi and mix well.
  • Serve hot with steamed rice or Roti.

  • If you don’t have a temper pan, use a small frying pan for this step.

We had a game viewing party and we cooked a couple of dishes. Debarshi prepared (from the top left) Tandoori Chicken, Coconut Lamb and Pulao. I prepared the Naan and Rajma.

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Thursday, 7 September 2017

Panch Bhaja (Crispy Deep Fried Vegetables)

Photo Courtesy: Dr. Debarshi Chatterji
Recipe Courtesy: Mamma

Bengali lunch menu is known for its multiple courses. You will have Ghee-Bhat (steamed rice with clarified butter) to start the meal, followed by the Panch Bhaja (crispy deep fried vegetables) and dal. But we don’t just stop there, these dishes are followed by the main course which is usually a delicious gourmet preparation of goat or fish curry. Then to end the meal on a sweet note, you will have Chatney, Mishti or Payesh. Now I wont lie to you by saying that I cook this elaborate meal every day. However, I do love going for that extra mile on special occasions to enjoy an authentic Bengali lunch. 

The plate you see above has been set for Debarshi on his birthday. I prepared the goat curry and the Payesh the previous day (and the rest of the dishes the next day) which helped me to serve his special birthday lunch on time. So, you see, a little planning and even you can cook this delicious four course gourmet meal for yourself and your loved ones.

Preparing Panch Bhaja is really easy and if you like eating fried foods, you will love it. You don’t have to go all the way with the Goat curry and Payesh, just Panch Bhaja with some steamed rice and dal is in itself a perfect simple lunch menu for any weekend. The best part is, once you get a hang of deep frying vegetables, you can fry any vegetable you like and pair it with your favorite foods. Debarshi loves Begun Bhaja (fried eggplant) with Parathas or Luchi. I love Korola Bhaja (fried Bitter Gourd) with rice and ghee. Don’t like cauliflower? Kopi Bhaja (fried cauliflower) sure tastes great! Growing up, my favorite meals were Alu and Bhindi Bhajas with some Ghee-Bhat or Luchi and I am sure these delicious Bhajas will be able to convince any picky eater to finish their meals.

Serve the Panch Bhaja, rice and dal to the kids with a boiled egg and Ghee-Bhat and to the adults with some onion slices, green chilies or your favorite pickle.

  • Eggplant – ½ cut into medium or large pieces, washed
  • Pumpkin – about 3 inches, cut into thin squares, washed
  • Potato – 1 large, peeled, washed and cut into round thin slices
  • Okra – a handful, washed, patted dry and cut into medium cubes (remove the head and tail)
  • Salt – to taste (about 1 teaspoon)
  • Turmeric – about 1 teaspoon
  • Red Chili Powder – about 1 teaspoon
  • Oil – to fry, about 2-3 cups

Some other vegetables you may also like to fry:
  • Cauliflower – a handful of small florets
  • Bitter Gourd – 2, cut the ends, remove the seeds and cut them in rounds or semicircles.

Let’s do a little preparation:
  • Take a bowl and put the Potato slices in it. 
  • Sprinkle some Salt, Turmeric and Red Chili Powder on them and mix well so that all the slices are evenly coated with the spices.
  • Repeat the same step with all the vegetables.

This time I was in a hurry to fry the vegetables so I marinated them all together with the spices in a large bowl. I fried them separately because the cooking time varies for all the vegetables but it was way easier to pick up the vegetables and drop them in the oil one by one without waiting.

Directions to fry the vegetables:
  • Heat a wok on medium- high heat.
  • Pour about 2 cups of oil in it.
  • When you see small bubbles on the surface of the oil, drop the vegetables in it one by one and do this carefully (Tip: Start with the Potatoes).
  • Fry till the Potatoes are golden red in color.
  • Transfer to a dish lined with a paper towel. 
  • Add the second load of vegetables (Eggplant or Pumpkin).
  • Follow the same steps for all the vegetables till they are all fried and cooked.
  • Serve hot with steamed rice and dal or Khichuri.

  • Cut the same type of vegetables in the same shape and fry them together. 
  • Make sure you are draining the vegetables well and patting them dry.
  • Use a big bowl to salt and spice the vegetables.
  • Fry the vegetables in a single layer.
  • There are many ways to cut the vegetables, for example you can cut the potatoes in thin round slices or thin wedges. Whatever shape you prefer make sure you are cooking it through. 
  • When I write Pumpkin, I mean the Indian pumpkin. Try looking for it at your local Indian or Chinese stores.
  • Make sure you are not reducing the heat to medium low that will make the vegetables greasy. If it’s too hot reduce it to medium. 
  • Fry in a single layer, do not over crowd the wok.
  • If the water from the vegetables make the oil jump, cover with a splatter screen.

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Wednesday, 6 September 2017

ABC CAFE (Chinese joint), Overland Park, Kansas

I think this is the perfect example of good food with good people. The staff is so hospitable and friendly and the food is quick and every bit delicious. When we went there the place was jam packed and every server was busy. It was really hot outside and we asked for a glass of water. The server got us water within a couple of minutes and seated us as fast as he could. We ordered the Singapore noodles, dumplings and chicken with peppers. Everything was delicious and the price we paid for all this food was really the best part. I would love to go there again and again.