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.