Sunday, July 16, 2017

Olga's Jeera Meera Chicken

When we first set up home in New York, my kitchen was a bare bones affair. Then we visited Aunty Oreen. She lived with her sister in law Olga in a small Maryland town. Both of them made it their mission to find kitchen essentials for me. Their hunting grounds were local flea markets and garage sales. This was my first encounter with the great American pastime. Olga is the lady who bargained at a flea market for my first Tupperware container, badgering the poor lady to lower her price from $1 to 25 cents. Embarrassed, I stood at the outer edge of the flea market, cringing, while she picked up a bagful of products for me.

Not only was Olga a redoubtable bargain hunter, she was also had excellent culinary skills. Every time we visited we were treated to a plethora of homemade treats. Barbecued chicken, apple butter, cookies, chicken chops and the oft made jeera meera. Jeera Meera means cumin and pepper. It's what goes into the chicken. Every Goan I know makes  this traditional recipe, one that is simple and wholesome. It's to be eaten with rice or chapattis, either one complementing the chicken. I have vivid a mental image of Olga, dark glasses on, in the kitchen, sharp knife in hand, deboning chicken legs and thighs, cleaning every visible yellow globule of fat assiduously from every single piece. To this day, I do the same.

Serves 4

8 Chicken legs and thighs
3 tablespoons Canola Oil 
3 large Onions
1 tablespoon Cumin powder
1 tablespoon ground Black Pepper
A pinch of Clove powder
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1 tablespoon Garlic paste
4-5 Ginger slices
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
3 green Chiles
1 large Tomato
2 tablespoons Tamarind pulp

Remove skin and all visible fat from chicken legs and thighs. Wash pieces and pat dry.

Peel and chop onions finely.

Cut green chiles into half inch pieces.

Cut tomato into small chunks.

Heat oil in large Dutch oven or saucepan.

When oil shimmers, add chopped onion and saute till golden brown.

Add chicken to onions and continue frying for 7-8 minutes or till the chicken has browned a bit.

Sprinkle cumin and pepper powders, turmeric, clove powder, garlic paste, ginger slices, salt and tomato chunks. Stir well and saute for a few minutes.

Add chopped green chiles and enough water to come up to the level of thighs and legs. 

Cover pan and cook till chicken is done.

Uncover the pan and add tamarind pulp to gravy.

Let gravy simmer till thick.

Serve chicken with rice, chapattis or naan.

I still use those orange and mustard colored Tupperware containers. For me, Olga is still cooks that sunlit Reisterstown kitchen, calling me Baby, and effortlessly churning out tasty treats all day long. Every meal came laced with heaping tablespoons of well-meaning advice. I took that advice to heart and her recipes into my kitchen lore.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Sloppy Joe Baos

A pot of Asian bolognese sits in the fridge. I make way too much. Even after a generous helping over noodles, there's enough for lunch. I just have to figure how to to make it stretch. A search in the freezer reveals frozen baos. I usually stuff steamed baos with pork belly or roasted beef.  Now I'm going out on a limb by filling them with the meat sauce. 

My ready-to-heat meat sauce is easy to make. Some onions, garlic, ginger, ground beef or pork, kecap manis, chili garlic paste, Sriracha and tomato ketchup bubble and brew into one thick sauce. Steamed baos will make a messy receptacle. All it takes is a few adornments to morph into a delicious lunch.

Makes 12 baos

1 lb ground Beef or Pork
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1 Onion
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1 teaspoon Ginger paste
2 teaspoons Chile Garlic paste
1 tablespoon Kecap Manis
1 teaspoon Sriracha 
3 tablespoons Tomato Ketchup 
2 teaspoons Soy Sauce
12 frozen Baos 

Peel and chop onion finely.

Heat canola oil in a saucepan.

Add onion to hot oil and saute till golden brown.

Add garlic and ginger pastes and saute for 20 seconds.

Crumble ground meat into onto onions. Use a spoon to break up meat into small pieces. Saute for 5-7 minutes until meat turns dark brown. 

Add kecap manis, chile garlic paste, Sriracha, ketchup and soy sauce to meat. Stir well to let sauces mix. Cover saucepan and cook on low heat for 20 minutes.

While the meat cooks, steam the buns.

Pour water into a wide saucepan up to an inch. Bring water to a boil over a high flame.

Place a steamer basket in the pan. 

Line steamer with wax paper.

Arrange 5-6 baos on wax paper. Cover and steam for 15 minutes. Baos should be soft and springy to touch. Repeat with the rest of the baos.

Assemble by filling the bao with a heaping tablespoon of meat sauce. Sauce will spill out.

Tuck a few cilantro leaves into bao.

Squirt Sriracha as desired over meat.

Enjoy the flavors!

Both hands are needed and a napkin as well. It is downright messy eating. But so very gratifying. Mouths tingle with sweet, spicy and meaty sensations. Leftovers or fresh beginnings, the meat sauce and buns bring it on.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Kohlrabi and Peas

There are a bunch of vegetables that are not so popular in the growing season.  I come across pattypan squash, red spring onions, pak choy and a few knobs of kohlrabi. Part of someone's CSA, this week's basket is donated to our soup kitchen. As the vegetables are washed, we play a guessing game, trying to name the assorted bounty. The kitchen squad knows our veggies but the salad staff is flummoxed. 

Kohlrabi or knolkol as it is known in India, is rather bland. It takes on the flavor and spices it is cooked with. Part of the turnip family, it has the same crisp crunch as a turnip or radish. Unlike a radish, it cannot be eaten raw. I decide to use it two ways, as my knolkol is immense. The tough skin is discarded. The leaves are saved for soup. I cut it into big and small pieces. Big chunks go into a Kashmiri mutton curry. The small chunks leave me in a quandary. Since the curry has some, will a side of kohlrabi be too much?? Will I ever shrink from another veggie at my table? No. Never.

I make a coarse paste of garlic, ginger, green chiles and cilantro. Mustard seeds and curry leaves splutter in hot oil. The green paste is sauteed for a few minutes. In go the knolkol cubes, salt and water. Covered, they steam cook for ten minutes till almost done. A handful of frozen peas are added. A little lime juice and a smidgen of sugar enhance the veggies. And off to the table it goes. Sorry folks, no pictures. This post is an afterthought, penned once a delectable aroma envelops the kitchen.

Serves 4

2 medium Kohlrabi
1 cup frozen Peas
4 Garlic cloves
2 1/2 inch Ginger slices
2-3 Green Chiles
1 cup Cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
1/2 teaspoon Mustard seeds
5-6 Curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 tablespoons Lime juice
1 teaspoon Sugar

Chop off the root end of the kohlrabi. Cut away the tough rind of the kohlrabi. Chop it in half. Cut into thick slices and then into small half inch chunks. The smaller the chunks, the faster they will cook.

Peel the garlic clove and remove the skin from ginger slices. Cut chiles into small chunks. 

Place garlic, ginger, chiles and cilantro in a blender or processor. Or in a mortar and pestle. Do not add water. Grind or pound till you have a coarse paste. This happens very quickly in the machines. But pounding it gives you better feel for the texture. I prefer a mortar and pestle as it lets me have more control over the texture.

Heat oil in a saucepan. 

When hot, add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Let seeds pop and splutter a few seconds.

Add paste to oil and saute for a few minutes till you can get a fragrant aroma.

Drop kohlrabi chunks into saucepan.

Season with salt.

Add 3/4 cup water to pan and cover with a lid.

Let kohlrabi cook for 10-12 minutes till almost done. Add more water if needed.

Add peas to kohlrabi. Cover pan for a few minutes till peas have cooked.

Stir in lime juice and sugar.

Mix and serve hot as an accompaniment.

Life is stranger than fiction. Weird and wonderful veggies provide unexpected flavors. One family's lost bounty is another person's culinary fortune...yes friends..take my word for it...kohlrabi is the fortuitous treasure.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Mutton with Mint and Fenugreek

A profusion of mint literally leaves me with picking through recipes. Leaves goes into salad, in kababs, on pizza, in chutney....I've been busy!!!! Then I find a green masala mutton recipe that calls for an abundance of spinach. What if I replace spinach with fresh mint and fresh fenugreek leaves? I decide to give it a whirl. Picking mint leaves is easy. Picking fenugreek or methi leaves is arduous. Each leaf has to be snipped off the stems. It's one of those jobs where your mind  could be in two places at the same time!

Both mint and methi  leaves are washed and patted dry. Blended along with cilantro and chiles, the paste has a vivid green look. A few browned onions, ginger and garlic fry along with mutton. Mutton, as Indians call it, is essentially goat meat. Sold at halal butchers, goat meat is less fatty than lamb. I do substitute lamb shoulder often. And when I do I always, always skim the fatty oils off the top the stew or curry. Once the meat has lightly browned, add the paste and whisked yogurt. Stir the mutton well. As I am mostly pressed for time before dinner, I use the pressure cooker. It does the job in no time at all. You could very well use a slow cooker. Follow the recipe till you have whisked in the yogurt. Do not add any water and let the slow cooker do its magic. A caveat...your kitchen, maybe the house will be filled with pungent curry flavors!!! As is mine when I open the pressure cooker!! But then, these are comforting aromas....this is India in my kitchen.

Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds Goat or Lamb meat 
1 cup Mint Leaves 
2 cups Fenugreek or Methi leaves
1 cup Cilantro leaves
2-3 Green Chiles (more if you like it spicy)
3 tablespoons Canola Oil 
2 large Onions
8 Garlic cloves
5-6 large coins of Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1 cup whole or 2% Yogurt, whisked till smooth
1 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1 teaspoon Garam masala

Wash meat well and pat dry. Keep aside while you make the ground paste.

Put mint, fenugreek, cilantro and chiles in a blender. 

Add 5 tablespoons water and blend till you have a smooth paste. Add more water if needed.

Mix green masala and yogurt with meat. 

Marinate meat for 1 hour.

Peel, halve and thinly slice onions in half moons.

Lightly smash garlic cloves and ginger coins.

Heat oil in a pressure cooker.

Add onions to hot oil and let them cook till golden brown.

Drop smashed garlic and ginger into onions. Saute for 30 seconds.

Add meat to onions. Saute for 10 minutes till tinged brown.

Season with salt.

Cook according to your pressure cooker directions.

At this point you could place the mutton into a slow cooker as well. Follow those directions.

You could cook the meat stovetop as well. Cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Check water every 15 minutes. Add more if needed. Depending on the quality of the meat, it could take 40-50 minutes.

When meat is done, uncover and sprinkle garam masala. Let the gravy bubble and simmer for 3-5 minutes. You should have a thickish gravy.

Serve with rice or chapattis.

This is finger food...use your fingers to pry the meat away from the bones! Goat meat cooks up succulently. Leaves me asking for more. Thus ends my leafy story.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Leek and Cheese Frittata

Liquid sunshine pours through the patio umbrella. The late morning light and soft breeze impels me towards an outdoor lunch. Something simple, a light meal, letting me bask in this glorious sunlight. A quick vegetable soup materializes with odd pieces from the the larder. A little bit of bacon, a potato, two carrots and a few cherry tomatoes can make a hearty soup. If I add a light frittata to the meal, all will be pleased.

I break and whisk eggs lightly. A fat leek is sliced and sauteed in butter. Yes butter...sauteed leeks in butter taste heavenly! Eggs are poured over lightly browned leeks. I drop bits of Boursin into eggs. Use any soft cheese. Boursin adds enough tang to enhance the eggs. Thyme and basil are scattered over as well. Covered, the frittata cooks quickly. Once the eggs firm up in the center, we are ready for another al fresco meal.

Serves 2-3

6 Eggs
1 large Leek
1 tablespoon Butter
1/4 cup Boursin or any soft cheese (Goat, flavored Cream Cheese)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
2 sprigs Thyme
4-5 Basil leaves

Crack eggs into a bowl. Whisk well.

Trim green ends of leeks. Cut vertically in half. Wash well under running water to remove all grit. Pat dry.

Chop leeks into thin slices. 

Heat butter in a 6-7 inch nonstick saucepan.

Add leeks to melted butter and saute till light brown.

Season eggs with salt. Whisk to mix.

Pour eggs over leeks.

Dot eggs with small dabs of cheese.

Season with black pepper.

Take thyme leaves off stems and scatter over fritatta.

Sliver basil and scatter over frittata as well.

Cover and cook over a medium flame for 8-10 minutes till the center is cooked and not runny and the edges are firm. The bottom will be golden brown.

Slide fritatta onto a plate.

slice into wedges and serve.

Pair frittata with a green salad or some soup.

As al fresco lunches go, this one lives up to the hype! Each time we do so, it feels like we have captured a bit of the day on our plate. The frittata is just that. We cut the round into portions. Triangles of mellow yellow grace our plates... or should I say wedges of sunshine!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sausage Stuffed Peppers

I have just realized that sausage meat makes for a very tasty stuffing. For the first time I use a packaged sausage mix. Dubious at first, I cook the meat as I would ground beef. A little onion, garlic, a few choice spices, and the meat emanates a fragrant aroma. It also helps that the sausage is already flavored. We eat some with rice. Leftovers could be used in so many ways. This time they will be stuffing for peppers.

Grocery stores have been carrying bags of small colorful mini peppers for a few years now. They make a crunchy addition to salad, a delicious side sauteed with onions and now they are a vessel for my leftover sausage. It is a bit tricky to stuff them. I read an Ottolenghi recipe that tells me to first make a vee shaped cut. Then lift the flap and fill the pepper. The first one is experimental, but usable. I get better with each pepper I work on! Filled peppers roast in a hot oven and out they come looking mouthwatering.... temptation personified. 

Serves 4

12-15 small Peppers
8oz  ground Sausage meat (I used Jimmy Dean)
2 tablespoons Canola Oil 
1 small Onion
1/2 teaspoon Garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon Garam masala
2 tablespoons Yogurt 
2 tablespoons chopped Cilantro 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
Olive oil

Make the stuffing by chopping onion finely.

Heat canola oil in a saucepan.

Add chopped onion to hot oil and saute till golden brown.

Scatter chunks of sausage over onions. Break up chunks with a spoon. You should have very small pieces of sausage. Saute sausage till it changes color, a few minutes.

Add garlic paste, garam masala, yogurt, cilantro and salt to sausage. Stir vigorously to incorporate. Saute for a few minutes.

Add 1/2 cup water to sausage. Cover pan and cook for 10-15 minutes over a medium flame. Uncover pan and let all moisture dry up. Let meat cool for a short while before stuffing peppers.

Place a pepper on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife make a cut starting on the right side near the stem, going down about 3/4 of the pepper towards the narrow end. Make another cut starting on the left side. This cut should meet the right handed cut in a vee shape. With your knife lift the flap. The pepper is ready to be stuffed. Cut the peppers prior to stuffing for easier prep.

Stuff each pepper with about 2 tablespoons of meat. 

Heat oven to 375F.

Cover the bottom of an ovenproof dish with a little olive oil.

Lay stuffed peppers in the dish. 

Sprinkle a little kosher salt over peppers.

Bake uncovered for 18-25 minutes.

Take peppers out of the oven. 

Serve them with a salad or as part of the meal.

The peppers have roasted up soft and wrinkly. These little bites look so elegant and delicious. And as lunch progresses, the fact that they are, is depicted by the empty platter before me. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Chicken Burrah Kabab

My son graduates so we throw him a small backyard affair for his friends. The table is laden with foods that are Rehan's favorites. From childhood to present times, this child has remained faithful to certain meat-centric dishes, which he eats with gusto. Beef frankies have top billing. Kheema dogs are next, vying with chicken kababs for second place. The first two are easy to put together. Kababs are a longer story.

Having made these heavily spiced kababs before, I know it takes two marinades to develop that distinct taste. Shauna painstakingly cleans and cubes an enormous amount of boneless skinless chicken thighs. Thighs work best as they roast well, staying juicy and moist. Breasts tend to turn dry as they cook. Not my choice, but they might be yours, so go ahead. They are first coated with garlic and ginger paste, chile powder, lime juice, salt and mustard oil. They sit in the fridge for about an hour before I add more chile and cumin powder, garam masala, yogurt, dried fenugreek and more mustard oil. Two additions of mustard oil you might ask? Nothing else will suffice, as this oil has a taste all of its own. The first marinade allows the chicken to absorb the strong flavors and the second marinade stays long enough to impart flavor to the outer coating. Thoroughly mixed, I let the chicken sit in the fridge overnight. The longer it marinates, the more flavorful the kababs will be.

The morning of the lunch I soak a bunch of skewers in water. Metal skewers are the best choice as they hold up well on the grill. But we haven't enough, hence the wooden ones. Then comes the laborious task of skewering. Red onion and green peppers are cut into small chunks. The skewer begins with onion or green pepper, followed by chicken, pepper, chicken and ending with onion. I like to begin and end with the veggies. It's a personal choice. Do what suits you. There is no wrong way. The grill is fired up. Skewers are lightly sprayed with oil and laid on the grill. Cook them over a medium heat. Chicken takes a while to cook so take your time. Slow and low allows the kababs to develop an even char. Once they are done, squeeze some lime on them and partake of your labors.

Serves 4-6 or makes 8-10 skewers

2 pounds boneless skinless Chicken Thighs
3 teaspoons Garlic paste
3 teaspoons Ginger paste
1 teaspoon Chile powder
2 tablespoons Lime juice
3 tablespoons Mustard Oil
4 tablespoons Garam masala
1 teaspoon Cumin powder 
1/2-1 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 cup whole or 2% Yogurt 
2 teaspoons Dried Fenugreek or Kasuri Methi
2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
2 teaspoons Mustard Oil 
1 large Red Onion
2 Green Peppers 
Wooden or Metal Skewers
Lime slices

Chop thighs into 2 x 2 inch pieces. Wash and pat dry. Place thighs in a glass bowl.

Add garlic and ginger paste, chile powder, lime juice and 3 tablespoons of mustard oil to chicken. Rub spices into chicken. Cover and refrigerate for an hour.

Take thighs out of the fridge and add chile powder, garam masala, cumin powder, yogurt, kasuri methi, salt and additional mustard oil. Use your hands to massage spices into chicken. Or gloves.

Cover and return to the fridge. Let chicken sit overnight for best results.

Take chicken out of the fridge an hour before grilling so it comes to room temperature.

Soak wooden skewers for an hour in water. 

Chop onion and peppers into 2 inch chunks. Keep the chunks large as you want them to keep their shape as they grill.

Start by threading an onion chunk onto the skewer. Follow it up by two pieces of chicken, a green pepper piece, two pieces of chicken and end with onion. 

Heat a gas grill till it is about 500F. (See NOTES below for other ways to cook the chicken)

Spray skewers with oil before laying them spray side down on the grill. 

Cook chicken on a medium setting for about 8-10 minutes on one side. Spray chicken and then flip skewers and cook for another 7-8 minutes. 

Heap skewers on a platter and serve with lime slices.

For an easier serving style, pull chicken off the skewers and mound on a platter. Arrange lime slices around chicken.



Chicken skewers could be cooked on a charcoal grill, a tandoor or the oven.  The timing is the same for a charcoal grill and tandoor. Cook chicken skewers in a 400F oven for 20 minutes. You could finish the skewers by broiling them for a few minutes to get the charred look.

Mustard oil has a very distinctive flavor and is essential to the kababs. You could use olive or canola oil in place if you cannot find it, but the flavor will be different. It is available at Indian or specialty grocery stores.

Dried fenugreek or kasuri methi is another ingredient that gives these kababs an authentic taste. Extremely aromatic, this strong dried spice is an essential component. Most Indian groceries carry both mustard oil and dried fenugreek. It definitely is worth seeking them out.

Rehan's friends come to lunch and stay till dinner!! Frankies, kheema dogs, chicken kababs, lemon pasta, roasted fingerling potatoes, watermelon feta salad and tomato basil mozzarella skewers fill the table. The chocolate ganache cake disappears fast. Food stays on the table as the kids nibble throughout the day. I can picture Rehan at his kindergarten graduation, a ceremony rife with hilarious moments. Cap and gown is now put away, replaced with gravitas, briefcase and suit! Time has a funny way of creeping up on you, just like the hug I get at the end of this special evening. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Fried Fish with Soy and Chile Glaze

The Rodrigues' are visiting so I attempt to put my best culinary foot forward. It is a joy to cook for them as they truly relish whatever comes out of my kitchen. The theme is Asian. A vibrant soba noodle salad, replete with yellow and orange peppers, red radishes, slivers of green mango and a fistful of herbs from Geets' garden. A bowl of blistered Shishito peppers. A tentative stab at shrimp pajeon with a gochujang sauce. And a main course of tilapia with a dark soy glaze.

Tilapia filets are seasoned with salt and pepper and then dusted with arrowroot. Flash fried in a pan and finished in the oven, the filets are then drizzled with an aromatic soy sauce. Start with butter and olive oil. Add finely minced onions, ginger, garlic and green chiles. Saute till the air is perfumed with a heavenly aroma. Then add kecap manis, light soy, dark soy, sugar and pepper powder. The sauce is similar to another recipe I use with chicken. As the sauce sits, it intensifies in flavor. This deep brown glaze gets its character from dark soy sauce. Leave it out and you have a second tier glaze. Good, but not great.

Serve 4

8 Tilapia filets 
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt 
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper 
1-2 tablespoons Arrowroot or Cornstarch 
2 tablespoons Olive Oil 
3 tablespoons Butter
1 small Onion
1 tablespoon finely minced Ginger
1 tablespoon finely minced Garlic
2 tablespoons finely minced Green Chile
2 tablespoons Kecap Manis
1 tablespoon light or regular Soy Sauce 
2 tablespoons Dark Soy Sauce 
1 teaspoons Sugar
2-3 tablespoons Black Pepper powder 
Cilantro for garnishing

Wash and pat dry tilapia filets.

Heat oven to 300F.

Season filets with salt and pepper on both sides.

Dust with arrowroot lightly on both sides.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick saucepan.

Fry the filets for 2-3 minutes on each side till slightly colored. Place them in an ovenproof plate.

Bake filets for 10 minutes.

Make the sauce while filets bake.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and butter in a small pan.

When butter has melted, add onion, ginger, garlic and green chiles. Saute for 2-3 minutes till onion is translucent.

Add kecap manis, light and dark soy sauces and sugar. Bring sauce to simmer and let it bubble for 3-5 minutes stirring often.

Add pepper powder and take it off the flame. You could make the sauce earlier as the flavor intensifies as it sits.

Take filets out of the oven and arrange on a serving platter.

Drizzle glaze generously over filets.

Garnish with cilantro and enjoy!


Any fish filets could be used. Boneless fish works the best.

The sauce could be made up to 6 hours earlier. Reheat till warm before drizzling over fish.

There is no substitute for dark soy sauce. It has a strong flavor that cannot be recreated or substituted.

It has been a while since the four of us have sat down to dinner. Everything feels right. The wine, the food, but most of all our friendship. Thirty two years has a treasure trove of memories. Though we do not live a couple of towns away anymore, the distance apart brings us closer together. And for that we are blessed.