Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dal Fry

Cousins visit from India and at the end of their trip meal requests comprise of the taste of home. So dal is on the menu. Having eaten dal since forever, I mull over my choices. Back home dal made an every day appearance. Toor is the popular choice, but moong, masoor and chana come on strong as well. Native to each state, dal is paramount to every meal. Each dal has a distinct taste, different cooking times, colors ranging from pale yellow, black and white to pinkish red. Walk down the lentil aisle in an ethnic grocery and be dazzled by the broad color spectrum. Leaving all this frippery aside, lentils really are a solid source of good, cheap protein. And so ends the leguminous talk. 

To get on with my choice, I opt for a blend of toor and chana dal, which I soak for a few hours. Both these dals cooked together, make a homogenous sturdy blend. Chana dal cooks up softer if it is soaked for a while before cooking. Pressure cooked dal is the easiest and fastest way to make dal. The alternative, stove top cooked, is much longer and tedious process. I am a PC fan and will use this device happily. Once the dal is cooked, I make the tarka or the tempered spice paste that lends much needed flavor to bland dal. Browned onions, tomatoes, curry leaves, chiles, garlic, ginger, a bunch of spice powders and lots of lime juice aids the transformation. This is not a thin, soupy dal, but a thick, scoopable mass of spiced lentils. One tempting dal fry coming to the table. 

Serves 4

1/2 cup Toor Dal or split Pigeon Peas
1/4 cup Chana Dal or yellow Split Peas
A pinch of Asefoetida
1 Onion
1 Green Chile
3 Garlic cloves 
1 tablespoon Ginger, finely chopped
10 Curry Leaves
1 Tomato 
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
3 tablespoons chopped Cilantro plus more to garnish 
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric 
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder 
1/2 teaspoon Garam masala 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 Lime, juiced

Wash both dals well. Cover dals with an inch of water and let them soak for 2-3 hours.

Pressure cook dals with asafoetida, for 20 minutes. Cool, whisk well and keep aside. Alternatively, bring dals to boil, cover and simmer for an hour or till mushy. Stir often. Add more water as needed.  

Chop onion and tomato finely.

Chop garlic and chile finely.

Heat oil in a pan.

Add onion. Saute till golden brown.

Drop garlic, ginger, chile, curry leaves and 3 tablespoons of cilantro and saute on a high flame for 5 minutes. 

Add tomato, turmeric, chile powder, garam masala and cooked dal to onions. Stir well.

Season with salt.

Lower flame and simmer dal for another 5 minutes. 

Pour lime juice over dal and stir to mix.

Garnish with remaining cilantro and pair with roti or rice.

Dal is comfort food, the essential component, for generations of Indians. A feisty aroma fills the kitchen as the pot bubbles. Everyone waits with anticipation for dinner. The Indians feast on homeland favorites...most popular being a bowl of lentils. Nothing wimpy about this dal..just asserting itself strongly amongst the other contenders.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Oklahoma Burgers

Until yesterday I am in the dark about an Oklahoma burger. An episode of Cooks Country on PBS enlightens me and I am intrigued. What distinguishes this burger from regular ones are the onions embedded into the patties. You start with salted sliced onions. Heaped in mounds, they serve as a base for the meat. They slide into hot butter and olive oil, resulting in a golden brown onion base and a perfectly cooked patty. Nothing much to it. Just onion and beef elevating a burger to new heights.

Makes 5-6

1 1/2 pounds ground Beef
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
2 medium Onions
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 + 2 tablespoon Butter
1 tablespoon Olive Oil 
Hamburger Buns
Cheese slices

Peel and cut onions into thin slices and place in a colander.

Salt onions with 1/2 teaspoon salt. Let onions sit for 30 minutes. Squeeze all water out and keep them on a plate.

Mound onions into 5-6 small heaps.

Place beef in a bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper. Mix well and shape into 5-6 balls.

Place one ball over onion mound and press down so beef adheres to onions. Do the same for the rest.

Heat butter and olive oil in a nonstick pan.

Gently slide each patty into the pan and cook on high heat for for 7-8 minutes. Flip burgers over and cook for a few minutes more.

Butter hamburger buns and brown them in a skillet.

Place a slice of cheese on lower half of the bun. 

Top with a beef patty.

Schmear the other half bun with mustard and/or ketchup and enjoy.

Caramelized onions give an enormous oomph to this burger. Buttered buns add more to the taste. A different take on a classic will make a simple burger a repeat performance.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Now that's a funny sounding title.  What does Yakamein rhyme with? Lo mein, chow mein..something Asian! Then again, This hybrid title elicits laughs. I experiment with a Chinese Cajun Creole noodle bowl. This Mother's Day Rehan gives me The Southerner's Cookbook. This is his way of saying my food does not venture in that direction too often. I take the hint and run with it. This elegantly clothbound book is a lovely compendium of Southern chefs repertoire.  Strangely, the one recipe that jumps out is Yakamein. It practically screams 'make me... make me.' So I do.

A roast is called for but I use chuck steak in it's place. Store bought Creole seasoning is replaced by spices from my kitchen. I use Shanghai noodles in place of spaghetti. Cilantro in place of scallions. Just some small amendments and the house is smelling like a Asian food bazaar!!

Serves 4

1  1-2lb Chuck Steak
1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder
2 teaspoons Paprika 
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
1 tablespoon Italian Seasoning 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1/2 teaspoon Onion powder 
1-2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
6 cups Water
3 tablespoons Soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Ketchup 
1 teaspoon Sriracha 
1-2 cup Cilantro leaves
2 hard-boiled Eggs, cut in half

Place the steak in a Dutch oven or a deep saucepan.

Sprinkle chile, paprika, garlic, Italian seasoning, pepper, onion powder and salt over steak. 

Add water to steak. 

Set the pan over a high flame and bring the water to a boil. Turn flame to low, cover and cook for 2 hours till a knife goes in easily into the meat. 

Take steak out of the liquid and shred into bite size pieces.

Return the liquid to a medium flame. Add soy  and Worcestershire sauces, ketchup and sriracha. Simmer broth for 5 minutes.

Boil noodles. Drain. 

Divide noodles between 4 bowls.

Top noodles with steak.

Pour broth over noodles.

Top with cilantro and half an egg.


The spicy broth has me reaching for water. Chile predominantly flavors the meat and broth. This bowl meal is cross pollination at its best. Chinese and Cajun puts 'me in' a great mood!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Paani Poori

Damini comes for the weekend. On asking, she unhesitatingly tells me what she craves. Living in a dorm, with home being on another continent, her food memories set off aches and longings that I try to quench. On the menu is mutton, chicken, dal bhaat and ghee laden phulkas. I add a drumstick bhaji and a simple cauliflower. We talk about life in Pune with nostalgia...after all she has been away from home for nine months! It also happens to be my sister, Prassy's birthday. She has Damini's mum Reena over for chaat, the all encompassing snack genre in India. Her menu has paani poori. Not to be left behind we replicate the meal across the seven seas!

Chaat is the eponymous term for small snacks, eaten throughout the the day. They  comprise of pooris, chickpea flour noodles, potatoes, onions, tamarind chutneys, green chile chutneys, yogurt, herbs and spices, put together in a multitude of combinations. Every region in India has some territorial form of chaat. Paani poori is one such item, often sold on streets. Vendors set up carts, punch holes in pooris, stuff them with potatoes and sprouted mung beans, dip them in cool spicy mint flavored water and serve them in bowls made out of leaves. 

My spiced water recipe is adapted from one given to my mum by an old family friend, Sarla Sanghvi.  It is a quick blend of mint, green chiles, cloves, ginger, salt and pepper. Making pooris from scratch is redoubtably an uphill task, so store bought is a convenient option. Boiled and cubed potatoes, cooked sprouted mung beans and boondi or tiny chickpea flour balls are piled into pooris.  A teaspoon of sweet and sour chutney and a dunk in the spicy mint water results in a savory explosion in your mouth. Fair warning ..they are extremely addictive.

Serves 4

Mint Water
20 Mint leaves
4 Green Chiles 
2 thin Ginger Slices
10 Peppercorns 
4 Cloves
1 heaped teaspoon Black Salt or Kosher Salt 
2 teaspoons Amchur or Dried Mango powder
4 teaspoons Tamarind Paste
3-4 cups cold Water

2 packages of store bought puffy Pooris (30-40 pooris in each package)
2 Potatoes
1 cup Sprouted Mung Beans (see notes)
A few pinches of Kosher Salt 
1 cup Boondi (see notes)
1/2 cup Tamarind Chutney ( see notes)

Put mint, green chiles, ginger, peppercorns, cloves and black salt in a blender. Add a few tablespoons of water and blend till smooth. Scrape paste into a bowl.

Add amchur, tamarind paste and water to mint mix. Stir well and refrigerate for an hour.

Boil, peel and cut potatoes into 1/4 inch chunks. Season with salt.

Steam sprouts for 10-15 minutes. Season with salt.

Soak boondi in water for 10 minutes, then squeeze the water out, doing this with fistfuls of boondi. It should be soft and dry.

Arrange potatoes, sprouts and boondi on a platter.

Start assembling the pooris by poking a hole in the top of the poori. Your thumb is the best instrument. 

Stuff each poori with a little of potato, sprouts and boondi. Start with 2 or 3 pooris. If you do them all, they will get soggy.

Drizzle 1/2 teaspoon of tamarind chutney into poori.

Dip poori in mint water till filled. Put the entire poori in your mouth. No small bites or else you will have a waterfall on your shirt. Alternately, you could put the mint water in a small bowl and spoon the water into the poori. Both ways lead to the same entire poori in your mouth!



Black Salt, amchur and tamarind paste are available at Indian grocery stores. You could use kosher salt if you cant find black salt.

You save yourself the effort of making the mint water and buy store bought paani poori mix. It comes in a jar or in powder form.

Paani poori are only found at Indian grocery stores. 

Sprouted mung beans are found in the refrigerated section in Indian grocery stores. These are not the huge, crisp Chinese mung beans but whole green beans with delicate sprouts. They can be sprouted at home by soaking them overnight, draining them in the morning and placing them in a container with a lid for 24-28 hours. They will develop small sprouts, depending on the warmth of the kitchen. The warmer the climate, the faster they sprout.

Boondi and tamarind chutney are also found in Indian grocery stores. Or make the recipe below.

Tamarind Chutney

1 cup Tamarind pulp
2 cups Water
1/2 cup Jaggery or Brown Sugar
A pinch of Kosher Salt.

Soak tamarind in water for 3 to 4 hours.
Squeeze pulp well and strain into a saucepan. You should have just the liquid. No pulp.
Add jaggery and salt and simmer on a medium flame for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
Store in a glass jar or plastic container in the fridge for up to a month.

Lunch is an industrious affair. The sounds of cracked pooris, the perfume of freshly ground mint and crunchy satisfaction fills the atmosphere. Everyone is intensely occupied, especially Damini, who silence echoes her penchant for chaat. Below lies the remnants of her lunch....

Friday, May 6, 2016

Chicken Braise with Winter Vegetables

Making recipes from chef authored cookbooks is a tall order! Their techniques range from using expensive cuts of meat and fish, often proclaiming a convoluted lengthy cooking process, to procuring obscure food items. It mostly stymies and mystifies the average housewife. That is me. Then I am gifted Flavorwalla, Floyd Cardoz's latest endeavor. And I am thrilled. The book is filled with anecdotes and insights...a glimpse into the chef's life. Then there are the recipes, easy everyday food with extraordinary flavors. They speak to me in tongues I understand. Contents read like a friend telling me what to cook. And I love love love that Floyd incorporates his family into his culinary story. It endears me to the book even more. Family and food are forever entrenched together, the butter to my bread, the yin and yang of kitchen love.

Having tasted Floyd Cardoz's wares at the now defunct Tabla and Bread Bar when it first opened, I savor his Indian leanings. His Mumbai bastion The Bombay Canteen is a convivial fun spot, where you wine and dine on his slightly corkscrewed take on traditional Indian fare. Some riffs are pleasantly surprising, others like Eggs Kejriwal are an intense flavor bomb. Then again I am a fan of One Spice Two Spice his first book venture. The coriander shrimp are scrumptiously easy. With these meager revelations, I have just scratched the surface that is the unassuming Master Chef Floyd Cardoz.

The cookbook, an avid and mouthwatering page turner, excites me into making chicken, my least favorite meat! The recipe calls for thighs but I plan to substitute chicken tenders instead.  I know the broth will not have that depth of flavor. But the braise sounds delicious. Miraculously, I have everything the recipe calls for to give it a whirl. 

Slightly modified from Flavorwalla by Floyd Cardoz
Serves 3-4

8 Chicken Tenderloins 
2 tablespoons Coriander Seeds
3 thin Ginger slices
2 Rosemary sprigs
2 large pinches of Kosher Salt 
2 + 2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
2 Bacon rashers 
5 Garlic cloves
1 large Onion
1 large Yukon Gold Potato 
2 Carrots
1 1/2 cups Chicken Stock
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
Several grinds of Black Pepper 
1/2 cup Cabbage chunks
1 small Apple
2 tablespoons grainy Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Chile Flakes

Place chicken in a bowl. 

Grind coriander seeds to a powder and add to chicken, along with ginger slices, rosemary, salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Mix so chicken is well coated. Marinate for at least 1 hour or best yet, overnight. Bring to room temperature before cooking.

Cut onion into 3/4 inch wedges.

Peel and cut potato and carrot into large chunks.

Heat oven to 375F.

Heat remaining olive oil in a cast iron Dutch oven or any ovenproof pan.

Brown chicken a few minutes on each side. Remove and place on a plate or bowl.

Chop bacon into small chunks and add to pan. Let bacon fat render for a few minutes. Bacon should start turning brown.

Peel and smash garlic and add to bacon. Give the cloves a few minutes to turn golden.

Then add the chopped vegetables and a small sprinkling of salt. Stir, place a tight fitting lid on pan. I put some foil over the pan and then placed the lid on top. This gave the pan a good seal. The vegetables need to cook in their steam hence the tight fitting lid. 

Put the pan in the oven for 20 minutes.

Take the pan out of the oven and add chicken tenders and stock to vegetables. Season with salt and pepper and return pan to oven uncovered, for 15 minutes.

Peel, core and chop apple into chunks.

Remove pan from the oven and place over a low flame.

Add cabbage, apple, mustard and chile flakes to chicken and simmer for 10 minutes before serving.

I plate a bowl of potato and apple thickened broth laden with vegetables, bacon bits and chicken flecked with grainy mustard. The clatter of fork, knife and spoon takes over. I pair the braise with fluffy basmati rice. This soupy broth of coriander, ginger, mustard, root vegetables and chicken is a bowl of comfort. My face is awash with Floyd's steamy pun intended! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Eggplant with Tamarind

I love eggplant, be it the thin Japanese one, a fat Italian or the small striped Thai. Every variety cooks up differently. Roasted, sauteed or fried, they turn into tasty accompaniments. Today I make a vegetable with the common Italian eggplant. The recipe calls for small diced pieces to be deep fried till crisp and brown. Fried eggplant soaks up oil too no...not going down that path! I cut thick slices, spray them with canola oil and let them brown in a nonstick skillet. The slices don't need to cook all the way through but just develop a crusty exterior. Cooled, they are cut into small chunks. I think this way is genius! No more deep frying! 

The eggplant goes into a spice mixture of onion seeds, cumin, red chiles, curry leaves, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried coconut, ketchup, spices and tamarind. It sounds like I have emptied the contents of my spice cupboard into the pan!!!  It is a long list but when you are done the eggplant takes on a sweet and sour bent...intriguing flavors that make this side come alive.

Serves 4

1 large Italian Eggplant 
Canola Oil Spray
2 tablespoons Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon Kalonji or Onion Seeds
2 dried Red Chiles
10-15 Curry Leaves
1/4 teaspoon Fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon Garlic Paste
3 slices of Ginger
1 tablespoon Sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon Poppy Seeds
2 teaspoons Dried Coconut Flakes
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric 
3 tablespoons Tomato Ketchup 
3  tablespoons dried Tamarind or 2 teaspoons Tamarind paste
1 teaspoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Fresh Cilantro 

Cut eggplant into 1/2 inch thick slices.

Heat a nonstick skillet on medium flame.

Spray slices with canola spray and lay them spray side down in skillet. Let slices brown for a few minutes. Spray the tops and flip and brown.  Finish all the slices in this manner.

Once slices are cool chop them into small chunks and keep aside.

If you are using dried tamarind, place tamarind in a microwave safe bowl and cover with water. Zap tamarind for a minute. Remove from microwave and strain so you are left with a thick sauce and no seeds or pulp.

Heat remaining canola oil in the same pan.

When oil is hot drop kalonji, cumin, red chiles, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds into oil. Let them sizzle for 30 seconds.

Lower flame and add garlic paste, ginger slices, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, coconut, chile powder, turmeric, ketchup, strained tamarind water or paste, sugar and salt. Bring sauce to a low boil.

Add eggplant chunks to sauce, cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes till eggplant is fully cooked.

Top with fresh chopped cilantro and serve with bread or roti.

The eggplant sits alongside meat, rice and dal. It turns into a luscious side, balancing the spicy flavors of meat. Kalonji, fenugreek and curry leaves impart a pickle-like piquancy, making it pair well with chappatti and rice. Either way this eggplant is a palate pleaser.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chicken Makhanwala

I am about to make Rehan's all time favorite. Makhanwala in restaurants is thickened with cashewnut paste, something my kids are deathly allergic to. As he cannot eat restaurant Makhanwala, I have been recreating this recipe often, fine tuning several versions over the years. This version is the most popular. His D&D buddies come over for a session. They make noise and I make dinner.

Chicken thighs marinate in tandoori masala, yogurt,  ginger, garlic and lime overnight. The overnight marinade imbibes essential flavor. My pet peeve is that chicken in the US is bland and tasteless. I have discovered that the longer you marinate the meat, the better it tastes. I sometimes grill the chicken, but for the most part it roasts in the oven. The sauce comes together easily. It is makhanwala so you have to begin with a a few dabs of butter or makhan. I sweat chopped onions, green chiles, garlic and then add tomato sauce, cream and spices. As it gently simmers, I add the cooked, shredded chicken. Looking pleasing to the eye, a mellow pinkish red, flecked with green,  I deliver an aromatic alternative to a curry house staple.

Serves 6

8 Chicken Thighs
1/2 cup Yogurt 
2 tablespoons store bought Tandoori Masala 
1 teaspoon Garlic Paste
1 teaspoon Ginger Paste
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
Juice of 1/2 Lime
2 tablespoons Butter
1 tablespoon Canola Oil 
1 large Onion
1/2 teaspoon Garlic Paste
2 Green Chiles
1/4 cup Tomato Sauce
1/4 cup Cilantro
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Chile Powder
1/2 teaspoon Roasted Cumin Powder 
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2-3/4 cup Cream
1/2 teaspoon Kasuri Methi (optional)

Marinate the chicken overnight for best result. Remove skin and fat from chicken thighs. Wash, dry and place in a nonreactive bowl.

Make marinade by mixing yogurt, garlic paste, ginger paste, tandoori masala, salt and lime juice. 

Use a knife to make small slits in chicken thighs. Pour marinade over chicken. Massage marinade into meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. If you are short on time, marinate meat for 4-6 hours.

Heat oven to 375F.

Place chicken on a foil lined sheetpan. Bake for 35-40 minutes. Check occasionally to see if chicken is done. Cooking time depends on the size of chicken thighs.

As chicken bakes, start the sauce.

Chop onions into small dice.

Slice green chiles into thin slivers.

Chop cilantro.

Heat butter and oil in a large saucepan.

Add onions and let them sweat for a few minutes till soft.

Drop chiles and garlic paste into onions. Saute for a few minutes.

Add tomato sauce.

Let sauce come to a simmer and then add cream. Start with 1/2 cup and add more if the sauce thickens too much. Stir slowly to mix cream in. 

Add cilantro, sugar, chile powder, cumin powder, Garam masala and salt to sauce. Stir slowly so powders dissolve into sauce.

Bring sauce to a simmer over low heat. Cook for 10 minutes and keep aside till its time to add the chicken.

Once chicken is done, take it out of the oven. Shred chicken into bite size pieces while it is warm.

Place sauce on a low flame and add chicken to sauce.  Let chicken hang out in sauce for 5-7 minutes for tandoori flavors to seep in.

If you are adding Kasuri methi, this would be the time to crumble it in. 

Serve chicken hot with naan or rice.

Rehan's friends enjoy the unadulterated flavors of the North Indian meal. Paneer, cauliflower, samosas, maa ki daal, rice and rotis round out the meal. My son thanks me effusively as their D&D meals usually consist of pizza and tacos. The next day I'm told that one friend is in tears because he wants to eat some more! Compliments come in many forms!