Sunday, February 25, 2018

Dal Dhungar

Geets makes this dal for me. It is love at first smell. Taste comes in a close second. How do I describe this dal. Aromatic does not come close. It is intensely perfumed with a smoky quality, making my kitchen feel like a roadside dhaba. Smokiness from the dhungar or the burning coal that I've fired up over the stove. Which is the magic that pulls it all together.

Rasika is a restaurant in Washington DC with a fabulous cookbook to it's name. I use a dedicated dal recipe today. No alterations or substitutions, only a few suggestions.  Having eaten at the restaurant I know the quality of the food. I've made my version of their palak chaat. So here goes the dal..

Whole urad, chana and rajma dals are cooked till soft and mushy. Cumin seeds,onions, ginger, garlic, green chiles and chili powder are sauteed in oil. Chopped tomatoes cooked till soft in this fragrant melange, which is then added to the dals. Pats of butter melt in the dal. The finishing touches are cream and kasuri methi or dried fenugreek powder. But the piece-de-resistance is the dhungar or the dum. Dum is the technique where you place a charcoal briquette over a high flame till it starts smoking and turns ashy. Make sure the kitchen is well ventilated. A few cloves are placed on a foil square. The foil floats atop the dal. That smoking charcoal perches on the cloves. I drizzle a spoonful of ghee onto the coal. It immediately starts smoking. A lid is quickly placed over the dal to trap that smoke, which in turn gives the dal that smoky quality. We inhale and savor that aroma! Its only a matter of time before we eat the fruits of this labor.

adapted and adopted from Rasika cookbook
Serves 5-6

1/2 cup whole Urad Dal

1/4 cup Chana Dal
1/2 cup Rajma or Kidney Beans
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
1/2 teaspoon Cumin seeds
1 large Onion, chopped finely
2 tablespoons minced Garlic
2 tablespoons minced Ginger
3 Green Chiles, minced finely
1 teaspoon Chile powder
1 cup chopped Tomatoes
1/3 cup Tomato Paste
5 tablespoons Butter
1/2 cup Cream
2 tablespoons Kasuri Methi or dried Fenugreek
1 tablespoon Kosher Salt
6 Cloves
1 Charcoal Briquette
1 teaspoon Ghee

Soak urad, chana and rajma in 4 cups water overnight. Drain water. Add 6 cups fresh water and boil dal covered on a medium flame for 1 hour till soft and mushy. For a faster method, bring dals to a boil. Take them off the heat and keep for an hour. Drain water and proceed with 6 cups fresh water and cook as directed. When the dal is done, pour out 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

Let dal simmer over low heat while you make the masala that goes into the dal.

Heat oil in a saucepan. 

Splutter cumin seeds in hot oil for 10 seconds.

Add chopped onions, ginger, garlic and chopped green chiles. Saute for 3-4 minutes.

Add chile powder to onions and saute for a minute till the spices bloom.

Pour chopped tomatoes into onions and stir well. Saute till tomatoes are soft and pulpy.

Scrape tomatoes into the simmering dal.

Add cream, kasuri methi, tomato paste, butter and salt to dal.

Simmer on a low fire for 15 minutes, stirring often. Take the dal off the heat.

Start the dhungar by making a 4x4 square with aluminum foil. Float the square on top of the dal. 

Place cloves in the center of the square.

Heat the charcoal briquet over high heat, turning often, till ash grey and smoking.

Place the charcoal on top of the cloves.

Spoon ghee on top of charcoal and quickly cover saucepan with a lid. The smoke is trapped in the saucepan giving the dal its unique flavor. Keep dal covered for 10 minutes.

Uncover and serve hot with rice or naan.

The kitchen is perfumed with a tandoori aroma as my husband calls it. The dal thrills the tastebuds with its uniqueness. Thank you Geets for the introduction and thank you Rehan for the book!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tilapia with Lemon and Capers

Once again fish Fridays come around. Lenten fridays call for a pescatarian diet. Fish fillets are easiest to cook. They can be curried, grilled or pan fried, all very delectable especially if they are the fat used is butter!

I borrow from the classic sole meuniere, fillets lightly fried in lots of butter, lemon and capers. I'm not so keen on copious quantities of butter so my recipe will include butter in pats not sticks. Forgive me if I sacrifice a degree of flavor! My cholesterol thanks me.

Serves 4

4-6 Tilapia filets

2 tablespoons Flour
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
3 tablespoons Butter
2 Lemons, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons Capers
2-3 tablespoons minced Parsley

Pat fish dry.

Season with salt and pepper on both sides.

Dust filets lightly in flour.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large nonstick saucepan. Let butter foam and turn light brown.

Place fish in butter and fry till browned on both sides. You might have to do this in two batches.

Once the fish is all fried, return fish to the saucepan.

Add remaining butter to the pan, along with lemon zest, juice, capers and parsley. Stir gently. Gently because you might break the fish as I did. 

Serve piping hot.

Each mouthful is a delight. Abstaining from meat opens up a path to wellness in more ways than I can imagine.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Leek Onion and Fennel Soup

A thick hearty potage is just what the weather recommends. Ferreting in the fridge reveals fennel leftover from the last recipe. The freezer gives up sliced leeks. An onion gives the soup body. The trio together comprises of fresh flavors, hearty texture and delectable taste.

Sliced leeks, onions and fennel saute in butter. I add a smidgen of curry powder and seasonings. Curry powders go from mild to hot. Use one that your taste buds can tolerate. Veggies simmer in stock for a while. Pureed,  they go back into the saucepan and simmer again. Soon you have a thick, creamy soup with a hint of curry. 

Serves 4

1 cup sliced Leeks, white and green parts (fresh or frozen)
1 large white Onion
1 large Fennel bulb
3 tablespoons Butter
1/4 teaspoon medium strength Curry Powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
3 cups Chicken stock
Parsley to garnish

Slice onion and fennel thinly. Discard inner core of fennel.

Heat butter in a deep saucepan.

When it melts add onion and fennel slices. Sweat veggies for 4-5 minutes.

Add leeks to pan and saute for a few minutes.

Season with curry powder, salt and pepper.

Add chicken stock and bring to a boil.

Cover saucepan. Lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes.

Cool soup for 15 minutes.

Blend or puree soup till smooth.

Return soup to saucepan.

Adjust the creaminess of the soup by adding water or 2% milk if you prefer.

Heat and serve hot, garnished with parsley.

This is a winter winner for sure. These light veggies bulbs have just gone off!!!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sausage and Fennel Panfry

When you need a fast and simple accompaniment to pasta or a salad, and you have sausage and fennel at hand, try this easy stir fry. I grab a fennel and garlic swirl of sausage. Fresh fennel adds a distinct anise punch. Raw or cooked fennel has such a great mouthfeel, a refreshing in its own way.

I pan fry the entire sausage swirl, turning often till it gets a dark brown sear. The fennel is cored and thickly sliced. Saute the fennel in olive oil till golden. Add chopped sausage to fennel. Season with a coriander fennel powder combo and saute on high heat. Mound onto a platter and garnish with fennel fronds.

Serves 4

1 pound Fennel and Garlic Sausage or any Sausage of choice
1+1 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Fennel and fronds
1/2 teaspoon Fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon Coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Black Pepper coarsely ground

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in nonstick saucepan.

When the oil is hot add the entire sausage swirl into the pan. Fry on both sides till golden brown and well seared. If you are using any other sausage, fry the links or slices till golden brown on all sides. Take sausage out of the pan, cool and cut into bite size chunks.

Keep the saucepan with the oil for frying the fennel. 

Cut fennel in half. Remove the inner hard core. Slice thickly. 

Save fennel fronds for garnishing.

Place fennel and coriander seeds in a spice grinder. Grind then till you have a coarse powder. 

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil in the same saucepan.

Fry fennel slices over high heat till seared brown on both sides.

Add chopped sausage to fennel.

Sprinkle fennel and coriander powder, salt and pepper over sausage. 

Saute on high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring often.

Mound sausage onto a platter.

Garnish with reserved fennel fronds and serve.

Crusty sausage and thick wilted fennel certainly make an inadvertent but good marriage!!! 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Dak Bangla Chicken Curry

Dak bangla literally translates as post office. In actuality, it is a government rest house, originally built by the British. Today, they are found scattered across rural India. Spartan in decor, the cooks or bawarchis make up for the lack of furnishings. On our travels my family sometimes stumbled upon one such establishment, fortuitously at meal times. An order was issued for lunch and in a short span we sat down to a simple delicious hot meal. An main dish of chicken was accompanied by a couple of vegetables, a kachumbar or onion salad, piping hot dal, rice and roti. My inspiration comes from a recipe attributed to these cooks of yore.

Chicken is marinated overnight in malt vinegar, ginger garlic paste and spices. The next day I saute onions with whole spices like cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns. The chicken sautes as well, the aroma of spices cloaking the kitchen. Use the exhaust. This is a strong smelling aroma. It cooks with a little water, tightly  covered. In half hour you are rewarded with a stalwart relic of the British Raj.

Serve 4

8 Chicken legs and thighs, 
1 teaspoon Chile powder
2 teaspoons Cumin powder
2 tablespoons Black Pepper powder
1 tablespoon Mustard seeds, ground into powder
1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon powder
1/2 teaspoon Cardamom powder
1/4 teaspoon Clove powder
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg powder
2 tablespoons Garlic paste
2 tablespoons Ginger paste
4 tablespoons Malt Vinegar
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
2 Cinnamon Sticks 
4 Cloves
10 Peppercorns
2 Bay leaves
2 Black Cardamoms
2 Onions, sliced thinly
Cilantro to garnish

Keep chicken skin on. Trim all visible fat.

Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry. Place in a nonreactive bowl.

Add chile, cumin, mustard, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and nutmeg powder to chicken.

Add garlic and ginger pastes as well as malt vinegar and salt to chicken. 

Massage spices paste into chicken, making sure that some goes below the skin.

Cover and marinate 6-8 hours. For best results marinate the chicken overnight.

When you are ready to cook the chicken take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

Heat oil in a saucepan large enough to hold the chicken.

When oil shimmers drop cinnamon sticks, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves and black cardomom into oil.

Let spices bloom for 20 seconds and then add the sliced onions. Saute till onions are light brown.

Add chicken to saucepan and saute over medium high heat. Turn chicken often so it browns on both sides.

Add 1/2 cup of water. Cover with a tight fitting lid and let the chicken cook for 25-30 minutes. 

Check the saucepan as you might need to add more water. It depends on how much water is released from cooking the chicken.

Uncover and raise the flame. Saute chicken on high for 5 minutes.

Serve chicken hot garnished with fresh cilantro.

This old relic pleases the palate. Skin-on chicken cooks up soft and tender. I dont often use this method but once in a way is good enough.