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.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Beyond borders: Couscous from Morocco

As I was walking towards the computer ready to type this recipe out, I heard an enthusiastic cook on the TV saying over a bean salad "one of the best ways to enjoy cultures is through food". I can't agree more with that unknown cook, the ingredients used, the methods of cooking and the way in which the food is served all hint at unique cultural traits.

Couscous is a very versatile semolina product, made by coarsely grinding the semolina wheat and then coating it with fine wheat powder. This cereal is the staple food of North africa, and can be used in many ways, as a main dish served with meat or vegetable sauce or as a dessert. It goes back to the Berber people, and has been mentioned in a 13th century cookbook as a recipe known all over the world. I first came across this dish at a Moroccon friend's place. She served it with a full-flavored meat sauce on a beautiful large platter, and six of us gathered around the platter and ate from the same platter with our hands moving over the food in harmony.Even more than the fluffiness of the grain or the soft buttery vegetables in the sauce, it was that act of eating out of the same dish that fascinated me. Eating from a single plate is very common in the African and middle-eastern cultures irrespective of relegion even to this day, with the entire family gathering around the large platter for the main meals everyday. I was aware of this custom in islamic culture, and can recollect seeing old photos of wedding feasts, called supras, from back home in India where biriyani is served in large platters and groups of people sit around each dish and eat from it. In my country we have lost this tradition, and coming from a place where food touched by someone's hand is considered as unfit to be eaten, I did feel hesitant to dig into the food with all the hands moving around it. Midway through the meal, I noticed how all the butternut squash pieces in the sauce had silently walked over to my side of the dish after I mentioned that I loved its buttery taste, and that undid all my self-conciousness.

couscous served in a pretty Moroccon platter

Meat or chicken and vegetables are stewed in a large pot over which the couscous is placed to steam absorbing the flavour from the sauce. To get the grains fluffy , it is taken out of the steamer twice, cooled down, rubbed with oil and water and then placed back on the steamer. Precooked couscous which requires considerably less time is available in most of the middle eastern and meditteranean markets in the US. I used my keralawala steamer meant for adas and idiyappams, using the base which is meant to boil water in as the sauce pot.

Shall we try?

couscous: 3 cups
one whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
tomato: 5
carrot: 4
butternut squash: half of a squash
zucchini: 2
quarter of a cabbage
turnip : 2
parsley, chopped : 1 cup
cilantro, chopped : 1/2 cup
olive oil : 1/2 cup +2T
turmeric: 1/4 tsp
cinnamon powder: 1T
freshly ground black pepper: 2 tsp
ghee: 2T
grated fresh ginger: 2 tsp
Brown the chicken pieces in a pan and set aside. (Alternatively, you can omit this and broil the chicken in the end to give them that roasted look). Chop the onions into large pieces. Crush 4 tomatoes , and cut the remaining one into two halves. Cut the zucchini , squash, carrots and turnips into halves.

In the bottom part of the steamer, mix together the browned chicken pieces, onions, crushed tomatoes, grated ginger, parsley, cilantro, turmeric powder, pepper powder, cinnamon powder, salt, 1 table spoon ghee, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and salt. Place the pot on the stove and cook uncovered.Meanwhile , in a large tray mix couscous with half a cup of cold water and a table spoon of olive oil. Work up the moisture thoroughly into the couscous with your hand. Arrange the top part of the steamer on the sauce pot, and place all the couscous in the top part. Let it cook uncovered till you see a steady steam coming out through the couscous- about 15 to twenty minutes. Give the couscous a stir just once ir twice during the steaming.

Now remove the couscous into the tray and quickly sprinkle about half a cup of cold water and salt and mix well with your hand. Let it cool down for a few minutes. Add the rest of the vegetables to the sauce. Mix one table spoon of olive oil into the couscous and place it back over the sauce pot for the second steaming. Cook for another fifteen minutes.

In the serving platter, layer the couscous evenly.Then pour half of the liquid over it.Place the chicken pieces in the centre, and the vegetables around the chicken. Pour the remaning liquid from the sauce into a bowl and serve along with the couscous. This makes around four generous serving. Live, give and love!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Red-red pineapple chicken

I like to imagine the hot oil whispering to the red chilly powder " I would like to do to you what spring does to the cherry trees" and the chilly powder blushing to a deeper red while I cook this curry, well atleast on days I can afford the luxury of thinking of Neruda and all while trying to keep pace with a fast growing 10 month old. The rest of the days I make this curry because it is bold enough to make an appealing meal paired with roti or rice with no other sides, and also because it's just easy. There's a wee little too much oil used in this curry, and that's where it gets it lipsmacking taste.You can use fresh tomatos instead of the paste, but it's the tomato paste along with chilly powder sauteed in oil that gives the dish the deep red color.And with the tiny bursts of sweetness from pineapple bits every now and then in the fiery curry, you might be inspired to create poetry of your own.

chicken breast, cut into small pices: 1 lb
a quarter of an onion, sliced
ginger-garlic paste : 1 tsp
red chilly powder: 2 heaped tsp
tomato paste: 3 tsp
oil: around 5T
cilantro, chopped: 1/4 cup
pineapple cut into tiny pieces: 1T

Wash and drain the chicken. Heat oil , and add the red chilly powder and salt, and let the chilly powder cook until it gives out a deep red colour, this should take around 45 seconds to a minute. Keep stirring to prevent the powder from burning. Add the onion, ginger and garlic paste and saute till it is golden brown. Now add the tomato paste, cilantro and chicken , mix well, cover and cook on low heat until the chicken is done. Make sure you stir it now and then to avoid burning.Once the chicken is done, add the pineapple pieces , mix and serve.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tuna balls stuffed with cheddar cheese

Like tuna? Looking for an easy appetizer? Here's something that might work for you. Deep fried tuna balls with fresh herbs and a touch of golden cheddar cheese in the centre, and when arranged on your favourite platter with a dipping sauce, they are a visual treat too. Perfect to win over your guests right away. The hardest part of these tiny balls is in shaping and stuffing the balls so you can roll the balls a day or two ahead and dip and fry them on the day of the party. I use cheddar cheese because i love it, and also because i love it and so on. Actually, since very little cheese is used as stuffing a strong tasting cheese is needed to stand out amidst the taste of herbs. You can also choose to do away with the cheese stuffing and simply have tuna balls.

One six ounce can of tuna
green chilli: 2
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
an inch piece of ginger
1 egg white, lightly beaten
half a cup of bread crumbs or more.
1 slice of cheddar cheese
shape, stuff, roll, dip- having fun
Grind together all the ingredients except the tuna, and then add the tuna and pulse it three or four times. Now for the shaping and stuffing. Cutting the cheese into tiny cubes will make them easier to work with. Take a lime sized amount of tuna mix and shape into a small circle on your hand, place the cheese bits on the center and fold over from all sides covering the cheese completely. Gently shape into a ball, dip in the egg white and then coat the crumbs all over the ball. Deep fry and serve with your favourite dip. One can of tuna will give you roughly about 8 to 9 stuffed balls and 10 to 11 tuna balls without stuffing.

Tuna balls with rava coating

I replaced the bread crumbs with rava or sooji once just for the heck of it. The result was a very crisp coating. Rava doesn't do a good job of covering up the tuna balls well and oil swept into almost all of the balls. Not a pretty sight, the coating however was crisper and stayed so for a longer time than the bread crumbs coating. My favourite? If you plan to eat them within an hour or so definitely go for bread crumbs. If you want them to stay crisp for a longer time and don't mind the extra oil sweeping into the fish try the rava coating. Either way, these tiny balls are delightful.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Mango-avocado chutney

Avocado brings in its richness, while raw mango gives it its sourness, jalapeno and cilantro livens things up while small onion adds a zing.Guacamole with raw-mango in it or chutney with avocado in it- choose any label you want for this tangy mix of food cultures, you might find yourself making it often. Pair it with upma or crisp dosa and it becomes a creamy rich chutney, dip a chip into it and it turns into an interesting guacamole and to top it all it is just so easy to make.
Blend to a fine paste half of a firm raw mango after peeling off the skin , half of an avocado , half of an jalapeno pepper, an inch piece of ginger , one small onion , 1/4 cup chopped cilantro , a squeeze of lime and salt . Enjoy.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Semiya Biriyani

Thin strands of vermicelli delicately curling over tender chicken pieces and sending up wafts of spices- does that interest you? Try semiya biriyani as a snack or as a meal. This must be the most loved snack in our home, it marked all our special days, and turned many ordinary days into special ones.

Thin roasted vermicelli : 200 grams
Chicken breast halves, cut into fairly thin strips: 4
Onion, sliced: 1
Tomato, cubed : 1
Green chilli, crushed: 4 medium seized
Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tsp
Chilly powder: 1 tsp
corriander powder: 2 tsp
turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
garam masala powder: 1/2 tsp
cinnamon: 1 inch stick
clove: 3
cardamom: 1
cilantro, chopped: 2T
oil: 3T
ghee: 2 tsp W
Water : 1 cup

Heat oil in a large pot, add onions, crushed green chillies, ginger-garlic paste and saute till the onions are transparent.Add all the powdered spices, mix well and fry them up till they give you all their flavors. In goes the chopped tomato, chicken strips, and salt and cook till the chicken is done. Pour a little hot water if needed.

Meanwhile heat the ghee in a thick pan or kadai and add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves to it. Pour a cup of water and when it gets to boil add the vermicelli one handful at a time stirring carefully to prevent the vermicelli from getting too mushy. Once its cooked gently stir in the vermicelli to the chicken masala and garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

You can spread out the cooked vermicelli on a tray and let it cool for a while before adding to the masala. This helps them from getting too mashed up.