Monday, March 31, 2008

Baingan bartha pasta, why not?

Two weeks back I glanced upon Rachel Ray gleefully mashing up roasted eggplants and cherry tomatoes for a pasta dish. A few days back at the grocery store my little girl squealed with delight when she saw the shiny purple eggplants and I remembered Ray’s pasta. Yesterday after going through her recipe I was thinking of ways to sneak in some heat into the dish to satisfy our spice-craving tongues and it came to me, why not marry Italian to Indian and see what happens. So that’s how it all happened. This plus this and little tweaks here and there and you get this smoky, tangy, silky eggplant with pasta, simple as that.

Fettucine : half of a 12 0z pack
One large eggplant
One onion, thinly sliced
Four tomatoes, cubed
Two or three green chillies, sliced ( I used 1 jalapeno pepper as I had no green chillies, works great)
Two cloves of garlic, crushed
one inch piece of ginger crushed
chilly powder: 2 tsp
corriander powder: 3tsp
turmeric powder: ½ tsp
olive oil : 2 T
zest and juice of half of a lime

You are going to need just half of the cooked bartha as a sauce for the pasta, so you can store the other half for a later meal. The pasta dish yields four full servings.

Roast the eggplant. You can bake it in an oven at 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes or until the eggplant collapse, grill or roast it on a grill or gas flame . I roasted the eggplant over the gas flame. Make several piercing all over eggplant and place it directly on the gas or grill flame. Keep turning it around frequently and make sure it is roasted evenly. Halfway through the process you may want to make deep cuts length wise along the bulkier bottom part of the eggplant so that the insides gets cooked. Once roasted, keep aside. Peel off the skin once it has cooled off and mash well.

Heat oil in a large sauce pan, saute the garlic and ginger just until their flavors come out, add the onions and sauté till golden brown. Now add the chilly powder, turmeric powder and coriander powder and fry the masala till the raw smell is gone. Add tomatoes and let it cook till soft. Add the eggplant and cook on low heat stirring often. Once the bartha is done remember to keep aside half of it before mixing in the pasta .Bring a large pot of water to boil , add the pasta and cook to desired tenderness. Drain and add the pasta to the bartha immediately. Mix well. You can garnish it with minced fresh ginger or cilantro.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Veeshi pathiri with spicy chicken fry : a slice of Malabar

Pathiri is the common term for the myriad varieties of bread in mappila cuisine. Veeshuka means to sway, to swirl in Malayalam, veeshi is its past form, and veeshi pathiri is a pathiri made by swirling the pan. Isn’t food the most scrumptious way to learn a new language?

To make these delicate, melt-in-your-mouth pathiris, besides rice, salt and water, you need a good non-stick pan and a willingness to have fun. A fine grain variety of rice which is shorter than the basmati variety and generally called ‘biriyani rice’ is used to make these pathiris in kerala. In the US I use the readily available basmati rice and is pleased with the results. Making these pathiris is a breeze if you get used to it- pour, swirl, cover, lift up. I marvel at those cooks from pre-nonstick age who swirled heavy pots called urulis to make these pathiris. For breakfast these pathiris are generally paired with a sweet dressing made of ripe bananas, milk and sugar-mash the bananas , add stir in milk and sugar and pour over the pathiris. They go very well with any dry curry too.

Soak the rice in luke warm water for three hours, and then grind to a fine watery batter adding enough salt, and a pinch of cardamom powder for some extra flavor. This has to be a really diluted thin batter for the pathiris to be thin.

Pour a small ladle full of this batter on a heated non-stick pan and swirl the pan quickly so that the batter coats all over. Gaps in between are perfectly fine, so let go of the urge to fill up the gaps. Doing so will only do more harm and make the pathiris thicker. It is also important to use just enough batter to form a thin coating. Once the pan is coated with batter cover with a lid and let it cook for thirty seconds or so. Since the batter is so thin it takes just a few seconds to cook, and when you find the edges curling up it is time to remove the pathiri from the pan. You may use a spatula or spoon to remove them if you feel confident, but the easiest way to take them off without breaking them is with your hand. Lift up an edge carefully, and then gently fold it over twice so that you have a small triangle and place it on the serving dish. Folding them will also prevent them from sticking together.

Spicy chicken fry:

This is another lip-smacking recipe from my aunt Jiya and it goes really well with veeshi pathiri. This is not a very elegant dish to look at, but it more than makes up with its taste. Chicken pieces are boiled with spices and then shallow fried in the gravy, and after all this handling the chicken naturally falls apart into crisp bits and pieces smothered with spices, and that is the secret of its oomph.

Chicken, cut into serving size pieces, cleaned, and washed: 1lb
Onion, chopped: 1
Red chilly powder: 1/2T
Corriander powder: ½ T
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
Fennel powder: ½ tsp
Ginger-garlic paste: 1 tsp
Curry leaves , a few
Oil- 4 T
Fresh cilantro for garnishing

Pressure cook the chicken with all the ingredients except the onions and curry leaves for two whistles, or cover and cook on medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes until the chicken is just done. Try to use as little water as possible. Once done, take out the chicken pieces and keep the gravy aside. Heat oil in a kadai or a heavy pan, and shallow fry the chicken pieces until well browned. Remove them. Add the onions and curry leaves to the kadai or pan, and sauté till the onions start to turn golden brown. Now pour the gravy from boiling the chicken into the pan and simmer till it reduces into a thick paste, add the chicken pieces back into the pan and stir fry till all the gravy dries up and coats the chicken pieces. Serve hot.