Monday, April 13, 2015

Chicken Tikka Masala


Britain's favorite dish isn't mine. But I persevere. I play around with spices. Sometimes it works and other times my capricious mood doesn't quite make it. This time the gravy takes on a shade of orange red. Maybe it's because I puree the tomatoes before they become pulp. The color looks good to me. My last effort resulted in a greenish gravy. And the time before that I made a delicious brown version. So much for color coordination. 

I always start with the basic Indian quartet of onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes. The four meld together to make a thick gravy. It goes like this..brown onions till golden, drop in chopped ginger garlic and lastly saute the three with chopped tomatoes. Every time! Then come the additions. Finely chopped spinach, cilantro or fenugreek leaves. All the above gets whirled in a blender. This thick puree is then diluted with cream and milk. Pan fried or grilled chicken pieces (tikka) are added to this rich gravy and have chicken tikka masala. 

Serves 4

1 pound boneless skinless Chicken Thighs 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam masala 
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon Ginger paste 
1/4 cup Yogurt
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
4 tablespoons Canola oil
2 big Onions
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1 teaspoon Ginger paste
2 Tomatoes 
1 teaspoon Chile powder 
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric 
1 teaspoon Coriander powder
1 teaspoon Garam masala 
1/2 cup Cilantro 
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 cup Cream
1/2 cup Milk

Wash, dry and trim chicken thighs of all visible fat. 

Marinate thighs in chile powder, cumin powder, garam masala, garlic and ginger paste, yogurt and salt. Massage thighs in this marinade so all pieces are well seasoned. Marinate for 4-5 hours or overnight for best flavor. Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Heat 2 tablespoons of Canola oil in a nonstick pan.

Add chicken thighs and pan fry pieces till they are golden brown. You might have to do this in two batches. Once the chicken has cooled, chop thighs into 1 inch pieces and keep aside.

Chop onions into small dice.

Chop tomatoes into small dice.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven. 

Add onion and saute till golden brown. 

Add garlic and ginger paste and stir for a minute.

The tomatoes, spices, seasonings and cilantro are added at this point. Let them saute and turn to mush.

Spoon the onion tomato mix into a blender. Puree till somewhat smooth. You might have to add a little water to facilitate blending.

Return puree to Dutch oven and saute over a low flame for a few minutes.

Add cream and milk and let gravy simmer over low flame for a few minutes.

Add chicken pieces to gravy and let them simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve chicken tikka masala with roti or rice.

Red orange works well. At least for today. Then again all those other shades taste delicious too!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Spiced Rack of Lamb

Spring and lamb go hand in glove. I make a spice coated rack of lamb that is a sure fire hit. Easy to put together, chockful of goodness, it makes for an aha moment when brought to the table. Rack of lamb is easily found at most grocery stores. A bit on the pricey side, this is a special day entree, a splurge to accomodate the occasion.

I unwrap two racks, pat them dry and set about making the marinade. I convert a shawarma recipe by Ottolenghi. Spices are roasted and powdered, perfuming the kitchen. Dry and wet ingredients are finely ground and massaged into the lamb. As I do this, the heady aroma of fresh ground spices and herbs intoxicates, leading to the realization that this is going to one damn good roasted rack.

Serves 4-6

2 Racks of Lamb
2 tablespoons Black Peppercorns 
4 Cloves 
1/4 Fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon Cumin seeds 
1 Star anise
1/2 teaspoon  Cardamon powder
1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg powder
1/2 teaspoon Cinammon powder 
2 tablespoons Paprika 
1 teaspoon Sumac
2 tablespoons Kosher Salt 
1 teaspoon Ginger paste
1 teaspoon Garlic paste 
1/2 cup Cilantro, cut finely
1/2 cup Lemon juice

Put peppercorns, cloves, fenugreek, cumin and star anise in a cast-iron pan and dry roast over medium heat for 2 minutes. Remove to a spice grinder and process till fine powder.

Mix powdered spices with cardamon, nutmeg, cinammon, paprika, sumac, salt, ginger, garlic, cilantro and lemon juice. Mix well.

Wash and dry racks.

Massage spice paste into lamb and marinate for a minimum of  4 hours or overnight for best results. Bring to room temperature before roasting.

Heat oven to 400F.

Place racks on a foil lined baking sheet.

Roast 25 minutes for medium rare and 35 minutes for well done meat.

Remove from oven and let meat rest for 5 minutes.

Slice rack into individual chops and serve.

Oohs and ahhs seem obligatory when I bring out a heaped plate of chops. We eat with gusto and give much praise to Ottolenghi for yet another stellar recipe!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ricotta Fritters

Should I fry or should I bake? Fritter or cake??  It's more a train of thought that a question. Even I think it I know I will fry. Why? It's the easier of the two choices. One bowl and one frypan vs mixing bowls, cups, beaters and's lazy Sunday. I have to make something to take to brunch. Nothing too complicated, hence this version of one-bowl fritters. I do love the way these puff up, all golden brown and soft. You think you are biting into a munchkin. Once you do, you know this is no heavy donut, but a much lighter, airier cousin. 

I throw together, eggs, sugar, flour, ricotta, and baking powder. A strong whisk yields a thick batter, enough to stand your spoon in! A pot of hot oil simmers as I drop tiny spoonfuls of batter in. Fritters brown evenly over medium heat. I watch amazed, as the balls of dough do jumping jacks by themselves in the hot oil. It's a carnival trick come to life! 

Makes 25-30 small balls 

1 cup Ricotta 
3 Eggs
1/4 cup Sugar
1 cup Flour
4 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 cups Canola Oil for frying
Icing Sugar

Put ricotta, eggs and sugar in a bowl and whisk till blended.

Add flour, baking powder and salt to the bowl and gently mix till you have a thick batter.

Heat canola oil in a wok over medium heat. 

Test oil by dropping a titbits of batter in. They should spring to the surface immediately. 

Using two teaspoons drop olive-sized balls of batter into hot oil. Fry 8-10 at a time. It is important to fry the balls over medium heat as they brown fast and you need a slow heat to cook the insides. The balls look shaggy as you drop them in. They will puff evenly as they brown.

Use a slotted spoon to turn balls so they cook on both sides. The balls have a tendency to turn by themselves. But if they do not, help them along with the slotted spoon.

Repeat till you finish the batter.

Drain balls on a cookie rack placed over a baking sheet.

When cool, dust liberally with icing sugar.

The first batch is eaten as it emerges!! Brunch is tomorrow. Sticky fingers beware!!! My effort is well camouflaged!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cabbage Okonomiyaki

It's a mouthful. Literally!!! And such a delightful mouthful it is. In essence, it really is a big cabbage fritter that is shallow fried very quickly into a palm sized crispy pancake. You shred the cabbage very fine, add carrot and kale slivers and mix in egg and flour. I find a simplified recipe on Smitten Kitchen and then I tweak it a tad bit. I add furikake sprinkles to the mix. It is a robust Japanese seasoning of bonito flakes, sesame seeds, seaweed and other things umami. Okonomiyaki usually calls for bonito flakes as a garnish. Why not add them to the cabbage?? Inside vs outside? Works for me.

The Smitten Kitchen recipe calls for a mandoline to shred cabbage. Having heard many real life ER stories, I give the mandoline a wide berth! It's my trusty knife and me. I can assure you it can be done. Or use a food processor!! Cabbage is shredded really fine. I shave thin pieces of carrot on to the pile of cruciferous veggies. I sliver some kale to add to the mix. Flour, seasoning and eggs bind the veggies together. And as I assemble the pancakes, G makes an excellent accompanying sauce. 

Makes 8 small pancakes

2 cups Cabbage, shredded very fine
1 Carrot
1/2 cup Kale
2 tablespoons Furikake (see pic below)
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
A few cracks of ground Black Pepper
1/2 cup Flour
3 Eggs
Canola oil for frying
Toasted Sesame Seeds

1/4 Tomato Ketchup
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
1 tablespoon Honey
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Rice wine Vinegar
A large pinch of toasted Sesame Seeds 

Mix ketchup, soy, honey, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar and sesame seeds in a bowl. Set aside.

Put shredded cabbage in a large bowl.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave thin slices of carrot over cabbage.

Slice kale into thin slivers and add to veggies.

Sprinkle flour, furikake and seasonings over veggies

Break eggs into the veggies and mix gently till everything looks a little gooey.

Heat oil in a large nonstick pan till it shimmers.

Drop a heaping of veggies one at a time into hot oil. You should have four 3 inch mounds. Flatten mounds gently with a spatula. 

Let pancakes fry for 3-5 minutes till the undersides are golden brown. Flip the pancake using a spatula and spoon. Let pancakes brown for a few minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels for a minute. 

Arrange pancakes on a platter, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and serve them with  dipping sauce.

These hefty pancakes are drizzled liberally with sauce and eaten quite cheerfully. We do love the much maligned cabbage in infinite forms. Though I know this one has found a permanent place in my kitchen. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Green Mango and Dal Salad

Every so often I celebrate some festival from the Hindu calendar. And by celebrate I mean I cook up a multi-course meal. This weekend is no different. Gudi Padva comes around again, marking the beginning of this year's calendar.  I resurrect my minuscule faux gudi, wish my sis much happiness and begin cooking. 

My thali comes together easily. I start with shrikhand. Yogurt needs a couple of hours to drain off wheybefore it is whipped together with sugar and saffron. I roast eggplants to make bhareet, a cold mash made with chilies and coconut milk. Butternut squash cubes are toasted with curry leaves and mustard seeds. Zucchini and patrel cook till they are mushy. Cauliflower simmers in coconut milk. Thinly slivered, generously spiced, okra are shallow-fried till crisp. Dal, flavored with cumin seeds and curry leaves, bubbles gently. Glenn becomes an expert poori fryer. The kitchen is filled with the enticing aroma of cooked basmati rice. The blender whirs noisily as I grind coconut and cilantro chutney. I rinse the blender and start a salad I used to make a long time ago. 

I first ate green mango salad when I was sixteen. A religious function at a friends house results in my lifelong romance with this deceptively simple salad. It is crunchy, tart, sweet and salty. All in one bite!  The bite comes from uncooked Bengal Gram lentils. Chana dal, as it is called, is usually boiled to make a creamy curry. In this recipe chana dal needs a long soak in water and a quick pulse in a blender or processor. Grated green mango, flaked coconut, cilantro and a bunch of spices give the salad a definite boost in flavor. A short stint in the fridge lets ingredients marry well.

Serves 4-6

3/4 cup Bengal Gram Dal
2 cups Water
1 raw Green Mango
1/4 cup fresh grated Coconut
1/4 cup Cilantro
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
3 Curry Leaves

Wash dal in several changes of water. Soak dal in water for 4 hours.

Drain water and pulse dal roughly in a blender or food processor for 30 seconds.

Scrape pulsed dal into a bowl. 

Grate mango, including the outer skin. Add mango to dal.

Add coconut to dal.

Chop cilantro finely and add to bowl.

Season salad with salt and sugar.

Sliver curry leaves.

Heat canola oil in a small cast iron pan.

When it shimmers, add mustard seeds and sliced curry leaves. Wait a few seconds as they splutter and then pour contents of pan onto dal. 

Mix well and chill the salad before serving.

Celebrations are auspicious occasions, perfect moments to gather friends at my table. Col, Keith, Roy, Mary Lou are familiar faces on thali days. Vimal and Noel grace my table for the first time. Assembling the thalis is a lengthy affair. Demolishing the contents are a snap. The meal proceeds convivially as my guests enjoy the repast. Everyone remarks on their favorites. Noel is the only person who has tasted the mango salad before. It takes him back to Belgaum days. A smattering of salad remains. All he needs is a gentle nudge.. And it's gone!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lemon Pudding

When you have a friendship that goes back 35-40 years you cherish it. You nurture it. You revel in its glory. The four of us have countless escapades to reflect and postulate. We started out as gangly teenagers, living in the moment, walking enthusiastically into our future. Lucky to have a lifetime of vivid memories, we reverently count our blessings.

Madeleine, Christine and Tuki come from three corners of the continent. The weekend is a blur of regurgitated memories, obsessive examination of old photographs, deep analysis or our collective neurosis and the resounding sound of infectious laughter. All this punctuated by long lunches, dinners and plenty of tongue lubricant! I pan fry blackened tilapia with corn pilaf. Crusty roasted pears are stuffed with Gorgonzola. Frankies are rolled in eggy tortillas. Baba Ghanoush forms a smoky spread on crackers. Madeleine quickly puts together a scrumptious shrimp and sausage paella. Meals consist of insane quantities of shrimp and grits, crab cakes and calamari, with a token side of salad! Christine and Tuki take over clean up duty. And every meal has to culminate in dessert. Sweet teeth override dietary restrictions. We nibble delicious pistachio pops. We divide mini sweet potato, key lime and buttermilk pies into equal portions. I make affogato. Madeleine brings an intriguing supari cake! Yes... A cake that's flavored with supari!!!! Delicious to the Indian palate. And I make my favorite lemon pudding.

My Mum found this recipe in her Better Homes & Garden Dessert Cookbook. I can still see the splattered page having used the book on many occasions. She made it in ramekins, in casseroles and in Pyrex. It was always a big hit every time she baked it. Not just with home folk, but everyone who took a spoonful. This pudding assembles in a jiffy. The result is a light, fluffy cake layer, that hides creamy lemon custard. Batter separates as it bakes,  creating a layered pudding. Run your spoon through the pudding and you are rewarded with a bite of moist lemon cake along with a schmear of lemon custard. Fresh tasting, light as a feather and seriously addictive.

Serves 4-6

3 Eggs
1 1/2 cups Milk
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
2 teaspoon Lemon zest
1/2 cup Lemon juice
1/4 cup Flour
1 cup Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt

Separate eggs. Beat yolks lightly. Keep whites aside.

Heat milk till it begins to boil. It should be scalding hot.

Add a little hot milk to yolks, beating vigorously so the yolks do not scramble. Slowly add the yolks to hot milk stirring well to incorporate.

Add canola oil to milk.

Mix sugar, flour, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt.

Pour hot milk into flour mixture and whisk well to mix.

Beat egg whites till stiff peaks form.

Gently fold egg whites into lemon batter. Use a rubber spatula to turn and fold. Do not over mix. 

Heat oven to 350F.

Scrape batter into a 6"x9" glass baking dish.

Place baking dish in a large pan. 

Pour up to an inch of hot water into the larger pan . 

Bake for 25-30 minutes. The top should be dotted with a few light brown spots.

Serve pudding warm.


The pudding could be made ahead of time and reheated just before serving. 

You could use ramekins to make individual portions. This recipe would make 8-10 portions.

We talk about lost loves over coffee. We laugh at our outrageous storied past eating banana chips. We drink snake juice aka vodka and peach schnapps till it becomes a truth serum. We eat copious amounts of food while lamenting our lack of willpower, carb overload and the state of our menopausal bodies. We eat spoonfuls of lemon air. Again and again. No plates needed. Satisfaction comes with sweetness and the desire to be, as Tuki calls us, bosom buddies.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chilli Chicken

Indian Chinese is always a favorite with the family. It's spicy, flavorful, going in the opposite direction of  its inspiration, traditional Chinese. Native to the Indian subcontinent, this cuisine absorbs and blends, resulting in a cross breed unlike any other. It has spoilt me for the American corner shop Chinese. Give me Schezhwan or Hunan Chinese to make my taste buds sing. 

It's chilli chicken tonight. As always, this cuisine involves a lot of prep. I mince garlic and ginger. Slice an insane amount of chilies. Small pieces of boneless chicken benefit from a marinade. Seasonings get thrown into a hot wok, filling my senses with memories of family meals at Chinese Room, Flora, Chopsticks and China Garden. Sadly, none of these Bombay restaurants exist anymore. Now the fusion of Indian and Chinese exists in some form all over India, from roadside cafes to myriads of restaurants. Menus feature Moghlai, South Indian and Indo-Chinese creations, all emerging from one kitchen!! 

What irks me about stir frying is that you have to make it just before you eat!! A problem when the meal has several components! I make sweet corn soup. Some cauliflower Manchurian and chicken. Soup is slurped while I finish the rest. 

Serves 4

1 pound skinless boneless Chicken Thighs
1 Egg
1/2 teaspoon Soy Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder
1 tablespoon Flour
2 tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
3-4 tablespoons Canola Oil
6 cloves Garlic
4-6 1 inch slices Ginger
1 Onion
1 Red Pepper
6 Green Chiles
1 cup Chicken Stock
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese Black Vinegar
2 teaspoons Cornstarch
1 tablespoon Water
3 Green Onions

Wash, trim and cut chicken into 1 inch pieces.

Add egg, soy sauce, chile powder, flour, cornstarch and black pepper to chicken. Mix well and keep aside for 1 hour.

Sliver garlic cloves vertically.

Peel and cut onion into broad slices.

Cut red pepper into small pieces.

Slice chiles on a bias into chunks.

Slice green onions on a bias into 1 inch pieces.

Mix chicken stock, soy sauce and vinegar.

Make a slurry of corn starch and water.

Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a nonstick saucepan.

Shallow fry chicken pieces till brown and crusty on one side, then flip and do the same on the other side. You might have to do the frying in two batches. Drain and keep fried chicken aside.

Heat remaining oil in a wok till it shimmers.

Add onion and peppers and stir fry for a few minutes.

Drop in garlic, ginger slices and sliced chiles. Saute.

Pour stock mixture and let it come to a boil.

Drizzle the cornstarch slurry slowly stirring all the time so it doesn't lump up.

Let the sauce boil for a minute and then add fried chicken.

Drop green onions into sauce, stir and serve chicken.

Dinner gets done in a flurry of woks and saucepans. Chopsticks clickety clack as we pick our way through the meal. I do not envy the one who is to wash up as there are mounds of pans and woks. No complaints though, just happy eaters!!