Thursday, 31 August 2017

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Thursday, 23 March 2017

A superb day in London with Pecan Pie

Photo taken at the Jamie Oliver's Union Jacks. This is a diner famous for its wood fired pizzas and grills. Debarshi and I took an Original tour in London which is a guided tour in a double decker bus! Yes! if you are going to London, I do recommend this tour. The bus takes you to all the famous places and landmarks in London. 

See the bus behind us? That’s the one. I must tell you, sitting in a double decker bus is so much fun! Our ticket said we could hop on - hop off which means go to a place, leave the bus, stroll for some time, explore the place and then take the bus for another place. I wanted to sit on the bottom deck because it seemed easier for the hopping. But Debarshi said that the best way to see London is from the top deck and that is indeed true. 

Photo taken at the Trafalgar Square, London.

I think if you really want to explore a place with everything in it, you should go to London. Of course there are perks of being such a big city, there is a diverse culture, food and you can see different types of people speaking different languages. But if I have to choose one thing which will be my reason to visit London again, I will say its beautiful architecture. Everywhere you go, you will see these beautiful carved buildings. The whole experience is so mesmerizing that you cannot take your eyes off them. You can see the time and labor put into each and every building and of course the rich history behind them all. 

Photo taken at the Buckingham Palace, London

So, our first day on the original bus tour, we went to the Trafalgar Square and the Buckingham Palace and on our way back, we went to Covent Garden. It was unusually cold at that time and we were tired and hungry after all that excursion and voila what we see? A diner! This seemed like the perfect place to sit for a while, warm up and recharge with some coffee and pie. Debarshi ordered this Bourbon Pecan Pie which came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Now for those who have never had a Pie before, let me tell you something about it. 

A pie is made by covering a sweet or savory filling with a rolled out pastry dough. Pies are usually named after their filling. So, a savory pie filled with chicken, vegetables and cream and covered with a flaky crust is known as a Chicken Pot Pie. For the Pecan Pie, the filling is prepared with eggs, corn syrup, sugar, butter and lot of Pecans. Unlike the Chicken Pot pie where the crust is added on the top of the pie, here the crust is first placed in the baking pan and then the filling is added on top of it. Bourbon Pecan Pie is just another variation done by many restaurants to add another flavor profile in the pie. 

Pecan pie is one of Debarshi’s favorite desserts. If there is a Pecan Pie on the menu we have to order it. It is one of those delicious desserts which reminds me of thanksgiving and my best friend – Vicki. A delectable homemade Pecan pie is a staple at her home on thanksgiving which I truly love. I wish I would have learnt a couple more recipes of cakes, pies and cookies from Vicki back when we were still in Tuscaloosa and I used to meet her every week. Well, hopefully next time when you will read about Pecan pie on my blog, it will be my tried and tested recipe. Till then eat good and stay healthy.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Shil Nora – stone spice grinder

My kitchen appliances range from old gadgets (used by my grandmother) like Mortar and Pestle to new appliances like the Food Chopper. I mean, isn’t it fascinating when a food chopper chops all the ingredients within a few seconds or when the Nutri Bullet makes a fine paste of poppy and mustard seeds for the Macher Jhal (fish curry)! However, whenever I have a food related discussion with my mom, I cannot help but wonder the types of kitchen gadgets we used to have a few decades ago. Last week while talking with mom about fish curry we started discussing about the old stone grinder – Shil Nora and I thought this interesting simple grinder should be on my blog because it’s possible many people don’t know about this. Shil Nora at least a couple years back was an important part of the Indian kitchen (also called as Batan Una in Hindi), however in many homes like mine it has been replaced with modern appliances.

Growing up, I have seen my mom devote at least 10- 15 minutes everyday for making different types of pastes like mustard and green chilies for the Macher Jhal or poppy seeds for the Alu Posto and she used to make all these different types of pastes using her Shil Nora. So now let me tell you how this simple grinder works.

Shil Nora consists of a flat stone which we Bengalis call Shil and a grinding stone called Nora. To make a paste we simply put the spices in the middle area of the flat stone and sprinkle some water on it. We then hold the ends of the grinding stone in each hand and press the spices with it. The grinding is done slowly in a rocking motion and every once in a while the grainier spices are pushed back in the center of the Shil so that they can be grinded again.

My mom is still so fond of using her Shil Nora, that she rarely connects the food processor for making the pastes. Her excuse is, Shil Nora gives her a better control over the consistency of the paste and I do agree with her on this point. I think Shil Nora is a handy and useful gadget. It doesn’t run on electricity and almost all types of pastes can be grinded on it. However, it is not something, which suits my needs. First, the Shil is very heavy and yes its fun to use it once in a while but when you are in a hurry, it gets quite tiresome. Second, Shil is quite bulky and difficult to clean every time we are using it. Third, I love cooking, but I like to do things efficiently and quickly and using any manual gadget slows down the preparation time. You really need a good practice to make smooth pastes using Shil Nora within a short time. Therefore, I use Nutri bullet, which does the same thing only more efficiently and quickly.

Talking about Shil Nora brings me back the memories of the flavorful fish curry which my mom prepares. She specially mixes some poppy seeds in the paste for me, as I like a lighter version of the curry. Although I am a good cook but there is nothing in the world like the food, cooked by my mom. 

“Nothing beats mom’s cooking”

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Friday, 17 March 2017

Bhindi Kalonji – Okra with Indian spices

Photo Courtesy: Dr. Debarshi Chatterji
Recipe Courtesy: Mamma

Bhindi Kalonji or Okra with Indian spices is one of the most common side dishes prepared in North Indian households. This simple torkari (fried vegetables) tastes best with plain Paratha but I also love it with some steamed rice and dal. The best part is, since this dish does not use any onion or garlic, it can be prepared with very less oil. Traditionally, to prepare Kalonji, a slit is made in the vegetables (like Okra or Eggplant) and the spices are filled in it. The vegetables are then fried till they are cooked. This approach works great with eggplants, as they are bigger in size hence filling the spices in them is much easier. Follow the same procedure with a slender okra and it turns into a time consuming process. I follow a much simpler method where instead of stuffing the okra with spices I just cut them in half lengthwise and fry them with the spices. This helps to cut down the preparation time and the dish still tastes amazing because the frying dries the sliminess of the okra.

Bhindi or Lady Finger as we call it in India is one of my favorite veggies. You will be surprised to know that no one in my family loves Bhindi like I do and it looks like, I inherited my love for this green vegetable from my Papa (my maternal grand father) who loved to have Bhindi Bhaja (deep fried Okra) in his lunch menu. It almost makes me nostalgic to remember our lunch at grand ma’s house. I was just a kid back then and I used to be so surprised with the elaborate lunch menu they used to plan for us. There would be bowls and bowls of different types of food involving several courses and although my Didubhai (maternal Grand ma) used to cook everything else, before we could compliment her for anything, Papa would jump in and he would start fishing for compliments about the goat curry he prepared. Everyone used to laugh and then we would all talk and eat and have a great time. It used to feel like Thanksgiving with all that food and family members all around and now whenever I cook Bhindi, I remember Papa and all those family meals we had together.

Anyway, coming back to the topic, for this recipe we will be using a spice mix which consists of 5 different spices – Methi (Fenugreek Seeds), Saunf (Fennel Seeds), Kalonji (Nigella Seeds), Dry Red Chilies, Amchur (Dry Mango Powder) and Salt. We will first dry roast the spices and then grind them coarsely. This will bring that fresh flavor and aroma in the dish. Also, we will be using Mustard oil to cook this torkari which will help to bring that rustic flavor in the dish.

Preparing okra dishes is tricky so read my tips carefully and enjoy this rustic torkari with some hot crispy Parathas.

Bon Appetit!

  • Okra: 1 small bag (about 20 Okras), do not use the pre-chopped frozen bags
  • Fenugreek Seeds – ½ teaspoon
  • Fennel Seeds – 2 tablespoons
  • Nigella Seeds – 1 and ½ teaspoons
  • Dry Red Chilli – 2 pieces 
  • Dry Mango Powder – 1 tablespoon
  • Salt – to taste (about ½ teaspoon)
  • Turmeric powder – ½ teaspoon 
  • Green chilies – 2 (optional), broken in half
  • Mustard Oil - 2 tablespoons

Lets Prep:
  • Wash the Okra and let the water drain out completely. Spread it on a plate and pat it dry. Leave it for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the heads and tails of Okras.
  • Now cut each Okra into half lengthwise. Also, keep an eye out for worms, they are not very common but better to be safe.

Let’s prepare the Kalonji Spice Mix:
  • Take a wide pan or skillet and heat it over medium heat.
  • Add all the whole spices (Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds, Nigella Seeds and Dry Red Chilies)
  • Dry roast the spices for 2-3 minutes, keep moving them in the skillet after every couple of seconds. 
  • You will see that the spices will start changing color, they will darken a bit and smell roasted. That means you can take them off the heat and transfer them to your grinder/ Nutri bullet and let them cool (about 5-10 minutes).
  • Grind the roasted spices until a course powder is formed. 
  • Kalonji Spice Mix is ready. You can now use it to prepare the dish. 
  • You can also prepare a little extra spice mix and store it in an airtight container to use it later on. Label the container clearly that the mix contains only the aforementioned spices.

Directions to prepare the Bhindi Kalonji:
  • Heat a wok on medium high heat.
  • Add the Mustard Oil in it. When the oil begins to smoke, reduce the heat to medium low so that it cools off a bit. This is done to remove the pungent taste and smell of the Mustard Oil.
  • Increase the heat to medium and if you are adding Green Chilies then this is the time to add them in the oil.
  • Add the Okra in it. Medium heat will ensure a longer cooking time and it will dry up the sliminess of the Okra pieces. Also, do not cover the pan while cooking, it will make the Okra slimier. 
  • Once the Okra looks a little fried add the Kalonji Spice Mix in it along with the Dry Mango Powder, Salt and Turmeric powder and mix well.
  • Reduce the heat to medium low and keep stirring occasionally. The torkari should be ready in about 10-12 minutes.
  • Turn off the heat and cover the wok for 2-3 minutes.
  • Serve hot with crisp plain Parathas or Rice and Dal.

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Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Alu Loshun er Bora (Mamma’s Potato with Garlic fritters)

Photo Courtesy: Dr. Debarshi Chatterji

Today I am going to share my favorite Bora (or Pakora) recipe – Alu Loshun er Bora. I got the recipe from my mom and hence it’s only fitting to name the recipe as Mamma’s Potato with Garlic Fritters.

So, what is a Fritter?
Before answering that question, let me ask you, what is your favorite ingredient? Is it meat or seafood? or perhaps you like vegetables. What if I tell you that you can enjoy your favorite ingredients as an appetizer or snack in a fun way at a party or a get together. Sounds interesting? Well all you need to do is follow some simple instructions, add some spices, a layer of batter (and sometimes breading) and fry it. The result? Crisp, beautiful golden colored fritters which taste like snacks sent straight from heaven. Yes! an absolute crowd pleaser too. Now before proceeding further let me clarify that the Bengali word for fritters is Bora and Hindi word is Pakora. 

What are the different types of Fritters?
Well, the list for this delicious appetizer is endless but to name a few American Fritters, I will say - Corn Fritters, Zucchini Fritters and Apple Fritters. I love savory Indian fritters with lots of spices and if you have already tried my recipes - Pyaz Ke Pakore (Onion Fritters) and French Chops, you will know that these fritters not only look amazing but taste divine too.

What’s special about Mamma’s Potato with Garlic Fritters?
I think I was in class 9th or 10th when a new snack vendor started his business near our home. He would open his shop everyday at 7 am and serve Bread Pakoras, Pyaz Pakoras, Mirchi Pakoras, Alu Pakoras (all different types of fritters prepared with Bread, onions, green chilies and potatoes), Jalebis (Indian version of pretzel, prepared with all purpose flour and dipped in a sugar syrup) with a hot steaming cup of Tea. Then he used to take a long lunch break during which he would work on the evening snacks. He used to reopen the shop at around 4pm and serve crispy Samosas, Namkeens (savory snacks), Laddus and Gulab Jamuns (different types of Indian sweets) with Tea. My mom loves to eat Jalebis and it is almost a weekend brunch tradition at our home to buy Jalebis and enjoy them with some Luchi and simple torkari (Puffed deep fried bread with some sautéed vegetables). It so happened that one day my dad went to buy some Jalebis from the shop and also bought a big packet of mixed Pakoras. I caught hold of one of these Alu Pakoras and was surprised with the aroma. There was a hint of garlic with the fresh fragrance of cilantro. Of course at that time I didn’t have all this knowledge but I knew that it was very different than the other Pakoras and tasted amazing. So I started bugging my dad to bring these boras every weekend and one day my mom surprised me by preparing these boras at home and presenting them as an evening snack. So, yes! this is just one of the many dishes which she prepares exclusively for me. 

Preparing the Bora:
The preparation is pretty straight forward, boil and mash the potatoes, mix the garlic and the spices with the cilantro, dip it in the batter and deep fry them. I have been making these boras myself for the last couple of years and let me tell you, preparing the filling is really easy. The catch is preparing a perfect batter which means it should have a thick consistency. I have wasted a lot of gram flour in this learning process. It would either turn out too thick or too thin. Gram flour absorbs water and hence it’s recommended to let the batter sit for at least 10-15 minutes. I found that the perfect batter ratio is 2:1, meaning 2 cups of gram flour and about 1 cup of water. I know it sounds very technical but believe me it’s these small steps which result in a great bora. Also, lumps are no good so mash the potatoes really good and use hands if required. The same goes for the batter, use a whisk to break all the lumps. Since we have to let the batter sit for some time, I recommend to prepare the batter first and then work on the filling.

When can I eat this delicious Bora?
These boras taste great when they are hot but you can always prepare them before hand and warm them up in the oven. Serve them with a cilantro chutney or ketchup.  Since they are easy to prepare, I often prepare them on demand (during the half time of a game or movie intermission). They are good for picnics and eat outs as well as they are easier to carry and can be served as finger foods. You can also serve them as appetizers and plan a nice entrée with it but my personal favorite combination is, with a cup of Tea. Eat it whenever you want, wherever you like, these bright, rustic and scrumptious boras will always make you happy.

Ingredients for the filling:
  • Potatoes – 3 medium sized, cut in halves
  • Garlic – 4-5 big cloves, grated
  • Green Chilies - 6, chopped
  • Cilantro – a handful, finely chopped 
  • Salt – to taste (about ½ teaspoon for the filling + 2 pinches – to be used while boiling the Potatoes)
  • Garam masala – ½ teaspoon 
  • Oil – 3 cups (for frying)

Ingredients for the batter:
  • Besan (Gram Flour) – 1 cup 
  • Salt –about ¼ teaspoon 
  • Red Chili powder - ½ teaspoon 
  • Baking Soda – ¼ teaspoon

Let’s do a little prep:
  • It’s time to take out the pressure cooker! Yes, wash the potatoes and put them in the pressure cooker with enough water to cover them.
  • Add 2 pinches of Salt in it.
  • Attach the rubber and the whistle on the lid and cover the cooker.
  • Heat the cooker on medium heat and wait for 2-3 whistles.
  • Turn off the heat and let it cool down.
  • Once the pressure drops and the lid opens, remove the potatoes from the cooker and place them in a bowl filled with ice.
  • Allow 5-10 minutes then touch cautiously to check if the potatoes are cool enough to handle.
  • Peel the potatoes (carefully certain spots may still be hot).

Let’s prepare the batter:
  • Mix together the batter ingredients (Besan, Salt, Red Chili Powder and Baking Soda) and gradually add about half a cup of water in it. Make a smooth batter and put it aside. To ensure that there are no lumps in the batter I whisk the batter continuously while adding water.

Let’s prepare the filling:
  • Drain all the water from the cooked potatoes and dry them completely.
  • Using a masher, mash the potatoes. Make sure there aren’t any lumps in it. 
  • Mix together the Garlic, Green Chilies, Cilantro, ½ teaspoon of Salt and Garam Masala into the mashed potatoes.

Finally let’s fry the Boras (fritters):
  • Heat the oil in a wok over medium high heat.
  • Make small balls of the filling. It will be sticky and spicy so use a spoon and dip them in the batter. If using hands, wash them before and after.
  • Coat the balls generously with the batter and carefully drop them in the wok. 
  • Add a couple of boras at a time and do not over crowd the wok. Keep an eye on the color and temperature.
  • Keep frying the boras till they are light golden brown in color. 
  • Remove from the wok using a spider spoon and place them on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • Serve hot with ketchup or Dhania chutney.

  • Skip the green chilies and the red chili powder if you don’t want the fritters taste hot. Always remember to improvise the recipe as per your palate.
  • I always use my chopper to finely cut the green chilies, garlic and cilantro.
  • Do not use any purple potatoes for this recipe. I always use russet potatoes.
  • I sometimes mash the potatoes with my hands as it’s the easiest way to remove lumps. However, before touching, make sure they are not hot.
  • Always use normal tap water to boil the potatoes, do not use hot water as it may result in uneven cooking.
  • Keeping the heat on medium ensures a longer frying time and helps cook the batter evenly. You should of course turn it up a bit if the boras are looking greasy or taking forever to cook. Now if the boras are changing color quickly you may want to turn down the heat a bit.
  • Do not skip the baking soda, it ensures that the boras turn up light and crisp. If you don’t have soda, try using double amount of baking powder.
  • Try to use the back burner to deep fry the boras. Always be careful when dealing with hot oil.
  • Debarshi likes a fried filling and it comes really handy if the potatoes are gooey. To fry the filling, heat a skillet on medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons of oil in it. Add the filling and fry till the potatoes dry up a bit. Allow it to cool down (10-15 minutes) and then proceed to fry the bora.

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