Saturday, November 30, 2013

Turkey Trot--Leek Parsnip and Carrot in Cream

Which is the most popular day of the year in our house?? More than Christmas, more than birthdays? Thanksgiving of course!! The joy of anticipating of roasted turkey, weeks planning the spread and it is always a spread, the shopping and of course the prep work. All these steps are moot to the general well being of a festive day! It's not just about the meal, but also tradition!  Of sitting around a communal table, of meaningful thanks for god-given gifts, but mostly about being together. Thirty years in the US  is enough time to make our traditions. And we love those dearly. Old photographs are reminders of past repasts, turkeys on platters, on thalis (how could I do that)  and one badly hacked version too! It brings on laughter when I see these incongruities. Tears when I envision my parents at my table. Turkey dinner was one of their favorite meals.  And happiness because I no longer have to carry the culinary burden, that I have an enthusiastic and very capable daughter by my side. 

Shauna and I make short shrift of lengthy tasks. She halves Brussels sprouts, while I peel sweet potatoes. She sautes veggies for dressing while I make a parsnip and carrot bake. She mashes potatoes while I make cranberry sauce. She rolls out pie crusts while I cut apples for the filling. In sync and on the ball. The turkey has been marinating and is well massaged for three days.. Yes I am the main masseuse. And I am reminded often to carry out my task. It is an enormous 14 pounder. Enough to feed the many invisible mouths at our table! Well... It will make for sumptuous leftovers!!! Which was the directive from the help!

The oven blazes. The turkey browns, blanketed with bacon rashers, giving new meaning to the words turkey bacon. It soon picked off. The roasters shuffle begins. Stuffing goes in first, followed by the foil-covered parsnip bake. Oven racks get rearranged for the turkey. The bottom rack is reserved for apple pie. 

We chug pumpkin beer and play cards as we wait for our vittles. The big bird, well bronzed, exits the oven. And the plethora of sides go in for a warm up. The table is laid with the largest plates we have. Turkey takes up the pride of place at the table. Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes ooze butter and creme fraiche. Sweet potatoes swim in butter, lemon and tons of black pepper. Corn and pearl onions are lightly coated in cream. Sausage and corn bread dressing gets a crusty topcoat. Roasted Brussels sprouts develop a crunchy patina. Tart cranberry sauce is riddled with orange zest. Gravy benefits from deep brown roasted onions. And the leek, parsnip and carrot bake bubbles away. An excellent Brunello gets uncorked. And the table groans!

Leek Parsnip and Carrots in Cream
Serves 6

2 Leeks
2 Parsnips
2 Carrots
1 tablespoon Butter
1/2 cup Cream
1 tablespoon Tarragon leaves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper

Trim and wash leeks. Slice vertically in half.

Using only white and light green parts, cut the leeks into 2 inch pieces. Separate

Trim the tops off parsnips and carrots. Peel and cut them on a bias into 1/4 inch slices.

Bring 4 cups of water to boil. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt.

Add parsnips to boiling water and cook for 6 to 8 minutes till done. Drain onto a paper towel.

Do the same to the carrots. 

In a nonstick pan heat the butter.

Add leeks and sauté till golden brown.

Mix cream, Dijon mustard and roughly chopped tarragon in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir to mix.

Heat oven to 350F.

Arrange leeks parsnips and carrots in an oven-proof dish.

Pour cream mixture over veggies. 

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Uncover and serve hot or warm.


This bake doesn't taste good at room temperature. It should be served hot or warm at best.

Thyme or sage is a good substitute for tarragon.

It is a great accompaniment for lamb or pork. 

And so the eating season begins! Turkey gets dwarfed by multiple sides on my plate. One helping is as much as I can muster. I leave room for pie... And I am truly thankful as it is the best version of apple pie to have graced our table. Shauna has done herself proud!

Another day another chapter in my kitchen. Leftovers tell another story. White bread, cranberry sauce, stuffing, turkey slices, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, leeks and parsnips, corn and gravy..... all the fixings in one big messy mile-high pile....The obligatory Thanksgiving sandwich is the way to go!!! 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Chicken Biryani

I take a sabbatical from the scene of my crime. And a three week hiatus from writing! But more importantly, days of not thinking about daily cooking. Every morning waking up to a surprise on my plate. And that is rejuvenating for my soul and stomach. But all good things come to an end and I am back where I belong, jet lagged but ready to don my apron. 

In the fridge  I find stray remnants of frozen meals. I unearth petrified veggies, sitting in their green soupy slime. I throw out meat covered in fuzz. Three weeks away from the fridge makes for a thorough clean. But the beer disappears. Rehan manages my absence with a liquid diet!!!

I choose to cook a biryani...Hyderabadi style. I am inspired when I sample one in at the Golconda Bowl. It comes in a small handi, oozing flavor. Accompanied by raita and a mirchi ka salan ??? Salan? That's a first for me. I am informed of this  coupling by the Hyderabadis at my table. The biryani is everything I want it to be. Fluffy long grain rice, speckled with saffron, smothered with fried onions, and a bottom layer of  masala-coated mutton. It has the right amount of spicy heat. I try some with raita. And then with the salan. The latter is an acquired taste. I'm not sure it is for me. I abandon the salan. I pick a nalli or marrow bone with my fingers. The mutton is cooked to perfection. It falls off the bone and into my mouth. There is a taste revelation in eating meat cooked on the bone. Especially a nalli. Your teeth and tongue make for the best utensils as you pick the bone clean. Every crevasse can be manipulated with your tongue and the marrow sucked out with a loud slurp! If this grosses you out, move on! If it reminds you of an enjoyable past memory, you know what I mean!

I first come across this recipe watching a Padma Lakshmi travel show on Hyderabad. She visits master biryani maker, Mehboob Alam Khan who prepares a immense handi or pot of biriyani. The meat is marinated, layered with partially boiled rice and saffron. The handi is then covered, the lid sealed with dough and placed on a charcoal fire to cook. The finished product is then scooped on to a large thali! Smellovision would be an appropriate feature on TV at this juncture!

Years ago we had a biriyani wallah, a cook who travelled to our house to make biryani. Mohammed Bhai, as we affectionately called him, always favored me with the first plateful. A slim red-bearded man, I can see him sitting by the sigri or charcoal fire, slicing and dicing, stirring the mutton in a handi almost as big as him! Over the years I have tried to replicate that flavor, that first taste, with little success. Then I give up and revel in the memory. Till I find the present recipe! It is almost the same. I rejoice, I recreate and regale the family with biriyani war stories.... Of being tormented by delicious smells wafting through the house, of watching the unsealing of handi, of waiting for that first plate. Glenn vaguely recollects Mohammed Bhai's creation, so this new one slides over easily. His biryani memory is more current..Geet's version!!!!

I adapt this present one. Mutton, sometimes chicken, depends on the people I make it for. Roshni comes for lunch so I veer towards chicken as she doesn't care for mutton. Onions, always onions. You couldn't make biryani without them. A friend in India, Ambereen, gave me some birista a while ago and now I find it invaluable. Birista is crisply fried golden brown onions. They have a long shelf life in the fridge. If you don't have any, then fry thinly sliced onions till they are golden brown. I feel for people in India right now as the price of onions skyrockets!! It is the talk of the town! But I digress....back to biryani. I do not cook on charcoal but adopt a stove top braise. I do not use dough. It is replaced by tight-fitting foil. A few changes and I'm ready to go! 

Serves 4 hearty appetites

2 pounds Chicken legs and thighs
6 tablespoons Yogurt
1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
2 teaspoons Chile powder
2 tablespoons Ginger paste
2 tablespoons Garlic paste
1 Green Chile, slit in half
1 cup Cilantro, roughly chopped
2 large Onions
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 lime
Canola oil for frying onions
1 Cinnamon stick
4 Cloves
2 Potatoes
3 cups Basmati Rice
6 cups Water
A large pinch of Saffron
2 teaspoon Milk
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt 
2 tablespoons Ghee
Fried Onions to garnish
Cilantro to garnish

Remove chicken skins and trim fatty tissue. Wash and drain. Place chicken in a large container.

Add yogurt, turmeric powder, chile powder, ginger and garlic paste, slit green chile, cilantro, juice of lime, cinnamon stick, cloves and kosher salt to the chicken. 

Peel and thinly slice onions.

Heat 1/2 cup of oil in a frying pan. Add onions to heated oil and fry till golden brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels. 

Keep 1/2 cup of fried onions aside. Crumble the rest into the chicken marinade.

Mix really well, cover and refrigerate for 8 hours, preferably overnight.

Let the chicken come to room temperature before you cook it. 

Meanwhile peel and cube potatoes. 

Heat oil in a kadhai or wok and deep fry potatoes till golden brown. Add them to chicken.

Place the chicken on a low flame. Leave the lid on and cook for 45 minutes or till chicken is cooked.

Wash the rice till water runs clear, about 3 rinses.

Add in the water, kosher salt and ghee. 

Bring to a boil, cover and turn the flame very low and leave undisturbed for 14 minutes. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork.

Place saffron threads in a tablespoon. Hold the tablespoon over an open flame to let saffron crisp up for 15 seconds. Leave to cool.

Heat the milk in the microwave-safe bowl for 15 seconds.

Crumble saffron into hot milk and let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350F.

Assemble the biryani in a deep casserole. Ladle the chicken and potatoes in the bottom of the dish.

Spread rice over chicken.

Dribble saffron milk over the rice.

Sprinkle fried onions over rice.

Take some non-stick foil and cover the casserole tightly and place in oven for 30 minutes.

Take care uncovering the foil. 

Arrange cilantro on rice and serve with raita.


This recipe can be made in the oven too. You have to parboil the rice for 6 minutes in boiling water. Drain and arrange atop the chicken. Place a lid on the pot and seal the edges with chapatti atta or dough or the easiest...aluminum foil. Place in 350F oven and cook for 50 minutes.

Mutton and lamb could be made the same way.

Adjust the heat index to your taste buds... At this point mine are overworked so I use mild spices.

I marinate overnight. It gives meat or chicken optimum flavor. If you are pressed for time, 4 to 6 hours should work. 

We have a leisurely Sunday lunch. The conversation covers a range of topics, from family escapades to impending holidays. Roshni says she can smell the biryani before she comes in to the house. A wild cold wind shrieks outside the windows. It's is warm and toasty in the kitchen. It smells heavenly as biriyani roasts. No Smellovision needed!!! Just hearty appetites! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bangkok interlude

Once again I write to stimulate and whip your appetite into a Thai frenzy...The city is a sensory overload. An assault on your nose, your ears, your eyes. Life come at you from all directions. And then I step into the calm of Sala Rattanakosin and I am transported to another world. Our glass fronted window looks out onto the scurrying river denizens. Ferry boats, klongs, river taxis, gaudily lit cruise boats, tugs make their way across our view. On the opposite bank Wat Arun mesmerizes us.

As the sun sets, the temple lights up in a colorful display. We are loathe to leave the brightly lit drama that unfolds outside our window but the rooftop bar plays it's siren song .... And what a song!! Bangkok by moonlight. A 360 view of gleaming gold temple roofs, a gurgling river and neon lights of distant highrises. A cool breeze and a caipiroska makes lounging on low slung divans memorable!!!! We take in the unforgettable atmosphere and then slowly make our way down for a riverside dinner! 

Fried fish cakes come with a complex dipping sauce. I try to taste fish sauce, peanuts, chile and then is time to enjoy , not analyze. So I dive into a soft shell crab tempura sitting on a mound of mango and peanut salad!!!! I break off a piece of crab, fork some mango slivers and sauce, put the fork into my mouth...a mouth-numbing burst of flavor!!! I take another and another. I cannot stop. Glenn offers me his khao soi... I take a desultory spoonful.#%!!!..I abandon my crab for his khao soi!!! it is so different from the one I make. Which one should I eat??? In which order should I finish the meal?? My mind says quit thinking and follow your taste buds.. So I do and soon all is gone!  We compliment Chef Tony and are flooded with tales of his trials and tribulations!!! It's déjà vu!!! Samir comes to mind!!!

The next night we venture to Maya for a multi-course tapas-style Thai dinner. Our hotel hasn't heard about it. They seem quite dubious. But Nancy Chandler, a trusted source on all things Bangkok, recommends it and we persevere. The restaurant is riverside and overlooks the cruise pier. River cruise dinners are very popular from the boats we see. My drink, Siam Surprise comes with a red chile almost as tall as the glass it comes in! The beautifully clad staff are loquacious, treating us to funny stories of life in Bangkok. And then the food parade starts. The first course is a prawn dip with rice crackers. The consistency is lumpy, not very attractive until you dip a piece of cracker and let the spices talk in in your mouth. Unusual and interesting.

Next comes a solitary fish cake, crusty,puffy and piping hot. It sits in a pool of tamarind sauce. Alongside is a mouth-pleasing cucumber case filled with onion and cucumber slivers with chilies and cilantro. Needless to say it is polished off. The crispy fish cake is light and crunchy, not a hint of the oil it has been fried in!

A little respite between courses... We are treated to Thai dancing! Quite enchanting. The  traditionally clad males make for good eye candy!!! 

The next course is pan fried shrimp on sautéed  eggplant. On one side is a boiled egg on eggplant. The entire dish sits in spicy green sauce. And the entire dish sets my mouth on fire!!!!! 

A martini glass is filled with shrimp in mildly spicy sauce and a mint and green onion slaw. It's goes down without the need for water!

A welcome break occurs with more animated folk dances. The music is lovely.

A large portion of mouth blistering beef salad is placed in front of me. I can smell the chiles. I quaver. The  flavor is mighty strong but I must forge ahead. Yes it is spicy, salty, sour and chewy. I savor and suffer!!!!

Thankfully I see a palate cleanser coming my way. A spoonful of icy orange ice cools my over spiced mouth adequately.

More dancing after which I eat a roasted prawn that sits on a bed of glass noodles. The noodles are sauced with tamarind and soy. Unusual and slurpily soft.

A steaming bowl of easily identifiable Tom kha or coconut chicken soup redolent with kaffir lime and lemongrass is tongue-pleasing! It's is also a soup I make in my kitchen. I'm pleased to note that my version is almost as good as this one.

A square of lightly fried fish sits atop a sweet and sour sauce. I am not so enamored. I think they might have taken a Chinese diversion???!!!

Penang style beef comes with a coating of cream. A New Age version maybe?? Some kind of fusion technique? The slice of toasted bread throws me off. Not very palatable.

A pyramid of pineapple Thai fried rice with chicken is quite unappetizing too. A dinner that started so promisingly, now slides down a slippery slope. 

Butthen dessert surprises. Fresh palm seed fruit or what I call tadgolas, are slivered along with fresh jackfruit. A sweet and light ending to a lovely meal. 

The dancing picks up to a frenetic pace. I am pulled in to cavort along with them. Glenn records my ridiculous maneuvers and I collapse laughing into my chair!! The genuine warmth makes up for the uninteresting last courses and leaves me happy, sated, like we have dinner at an old friend's house.

The next day calls for a long boat ride and a longer lunch. Thai beer, a cold salad of shrimp, squid, mussels and fish, tossed in lemongrass, kaffir leaves, peppers and a spicy, tangy dressing for me.

Spring rolls with spicy beef for Glenn. The spring rolls come with a delicately poured sauce, mayo with a topping of chile oil...a beautiful presentation.

We share a deconstructed sticky rice with mango... The perfect ending.

This multicultural city has the usual tourist traps. It's is noisy, odorous, crowded and full of con artists perpetuating scams. The gigantic shopping malls, a frenzied Chatuchak Market, the sleazy streets detract from some of its charm. Then again when you find hidden gems like the Temple of the Black Buddha and Loha Prasat, where 360 views of the Old City are mapped out on the four terrace corners. You wander into temples and gardens where you are far from the madding crowd. The food is incredible, most people are the will burn!!! But you will eat well...bargain like hell and enjoy the panorama that Bangkok is! 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Khmeritous time

I'm due for a much needed break..which transpires into a Near Eastern sojourn. So here I am, half way across the word, wandering the fabled temples of Angkor Wat. I am overwhelmed and astounded by a plethora of Indian myths encapsulated in stone, stoical survivors  through the vagaries of nature and war. And I am completely enamored by the wonderful people of Siem Reap. They are polite, friendly, courteous, eager to please and sooo slim!!! It must be the food cause I haven't had that overstuffed feeling after any meal!! Menus are encyclopedic. Some traditional and others give me slightly modern twist on Cambodian cuisine. Every meal has been memorable. And so this time I savor, I nibble and just lose myself in the Siem Reap kitchen.

After an exhausting morning walk around temples, we stop at a wayside nondescript restaurant. We choose the sanctity of the air conditioned inner room versus a crowded patio. The outside heat and humidity throws us for an uncomfortable loop. I start with a frothy, almost milky watermelon juice.....refreshing. Minuscule bowls of lightly fried peanuts, tempered with dried lemongrass, chilies, kaffir lime leaves and galangal are perfect nibbling foods. A plate of green mango and carrot strings, mounded on a plate, topped with a blizzard of roasted peanuts, chilies, basil, fried smoked fish and tossed in tart lime dressing makes a pretty picture and packs a spicy punch!

We share and slurp to our hearts content. The city sits on the edge on an immense lake, Tonle Sap, so there is an abundance of fish everywhere. We have flash-fried fish, doused in tamarind sauce. A bowl of rice completes the meal. Quite delicious. We leave feeling sated, not stuffed. Just as well .... We have miles to walk before we sleep!

Dinner finds us traversing the most rutted dirt road in the country. Thoroughly alarmed and concerned about the tuk-tuk's suspension, we ride in apprehension for the restaurant to appear or the tuk-tuk to break down!!!! A tense five minutes later we see lanterns in a quaint house. At Touich the traditional warm Cambodian welcome namaste waits for us and we are treated to delightful meal. Rice paper rolls filled with tamarind glazed beef, shrimp and crisp lettuce makes for a crunchy start. Amok, the staple fish and kale coconut curry is served in an beautiful ethnic earthenware bowl.


Beef filet coated with tamarind sauce is a perfect foil for the curry.  Once again the flavors amaze and entice us. 

Breakfasting at the Siddharta rooftop, cool morning breezes glide through the terrace. We eat exquisitely cut papaya, Asian pear, pineapple and the most delicious tiny finger bananas. Perfectly flaky croissants are lathered with watermelon jam! A first for me for sure! Tiny pots of yogurt and strong coffee are enough till the next pit stop. 

It's is a 360 degree view of green tops from the rooftop....a bubble top view of the greenery rampant in the city. None of the tourist gimmickry nearby. The hotel is away from the hubbub of Pub Street and I am VERY grateful for the quiet. 

Once again we climb aboard our trusty tuk-tuk and embark on another day of temple viewing. One temple is out in the countryside. Rice paddies, houses on stilts, small villages and the friendliest children wave to us everywhere. I pass women making palm sugar by the roadside. I see carts of spiced river clams sold like peanuts. Sliced mango and papaya vendors line the countryside roads. Cool breezes wash over us as the city falls away to a far less complicated way of life. I sip on fresh coconut juice, letting the enchanting Cambodian countryside whiz by. The charm of seeing the countryside without a tangible barrier between the eye and the land is a wholesome feeling. I am grateful of the open ride versus sitting cloistered in a bus or car.

A simple but tasty lunch of stir fried beef with fried basil and cucumber, keeps us going till dinner. 

We enter a old wooden house at the back of a driveway on a crowded street. As we ascend the staircase street noises segue to the clink of glass. Sugar Palm doesn't fail to please. A plate of shrimp and pork tempura fried spring rolls comes with a spicy peanut sauce. An unusual fried noodle salad comes next. It is a mass of soft fried noodles, bean sprouts and a spicy pork sauce on the side. It is a matter of mixing the three and then having a flavor explosion in your mouth. It's like nothing I have eaten before and yet it is familiar. We demolish the large plate. A Cambodian variation of a spicy beef noodle salad makes the tongue tingle with chile flavors. Sorry, no pictures as we are famished and fall on our food!!!

I cannot describe desserts as they seem virtually nonexistent on menus. And that to me is the secret to their slimness!!!

My mouth and mind are filled with flavors of mango and chile, tamarind and meat, coconut and kale. I see a humble people welcoming you with a smile on their face and little in their pockets. I leave you with no written recipe but a menu of options..... Go see Angkor Wat. Stay at small boutique hotels to experience true Cambodian hospitality. Go eat off the beaten path and there are many. Go feel the warmth and reap the rewards!!!!