Saturday, June 30, 2018

Fiesta Soup

The pantry gives up a few cans that have been in there for a while. The first one is a much loved fire roasted tomatoes. Canned corn and black beans perch next to the tomatoes. Looking at them makes me think of soup. And so it will be.

Mexican food starts with sofrito or chopped onions, garlic and peppers. No peppers in my pantry so I leave them out. Corn and black beans are rinsed thoroughly under running water. The fire roasted tomatoes go into the sauteed onions and garlic. All the corn and a handful of black beans go in as well. I add some homemade beef stock. Chicken stock or water would work just as well. A pinch of mexican oregano and red chile peppers add a layer of spice. Seasoned, the soup simmers for fifteen minutes. 

Serves 4

1 Onion
2 Garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Canola Oil
1 14 oz can Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 14 oz can Corn
1 14 oz can Black Beans
2 cups Beef Stock OR Chicken Stock OR Water
A large pinch of mexican Oregano
A large pinch of Chile peppers
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Fresh Cilantro OR Parsley
Lime wedges

Chop onion and garlic finely.

Heat canola oil in  deep saucepan.

Add onions and garlic to hot oil and saute for 5 minutes till soft and light brown.

Open can of corn and rinse in cold water thoroughly.

Open can of black beans. Measure 1/2 cup of beans and rinse them thoroughly. Keep the rest of the beans in their liquid, refrigerate and use within 3-4 days. 

Add fire roasted tomatoes to onion. Stir and let it come to a boil.

Add corn, black beans, oregano, chile pepper and salt. 

Let soup come to simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley.

Serve soup with lime wedges and some crusty bread.

The soup is aptly named because it is zesty and colorful, simply a party in my soup spoon.  I cannot be wrong.  I really should've called it 'can-do' soup. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Balti Chicken

The word balti literally translates from Hindi, as pail or bucket. The former usually comprises of plastic and the latter is made from galvanized metal. Both vessels are totally unsuitable to cook a masala chicken curry! Then why is this recipe called so? With Google to my rescue, I find that a balti utensil is more like a steel or iron pot, a deep vessel that sits over a gas or charcoal fire. Balti cuisine is a Northern Indian way of cooking meat and spices over a wok-like utensil. That explanation is much more plausible than my earlier ruminations. So I move into the kitchen with my new found wisdom.

This chicken curry starts and ends with the basics of Indian cuisine. Onions, tomatoes, ginger, garlic and traditional spices. I add greek yogurt for a tangy taste. Most of the time I use bone-in chicken thighs and legs. Sometimes I find it easier with boneless, skinless thighs, especially when we have company. It's a mood thing. Tightly sealed, the curry cooks in its own juices, no water added at all. The chicken and yogurt generate enough liquid to braise the meat. Uncovering the saucepan,  I find moist chicken thighs. Onions and tomatoes have melded to form a thick sauce. Lime juice is squeezed over the chicken. Then scattered with fresh cilantro, the chicken arrives at the dinner table, gleaming.

Serves 4

6 skinless Chicken Thighs Or a mix of Thighs and Legs
3 tablespoons Canola Oil
2 Cinnamon Sticks
5 Cloves
5 Curry Leaves
2 large white Onions
2 large Tomatoes
1 teaspoon Garlic paste
1 teaspoon Ginger paste
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Garam masala
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt, whisked smooth
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 Lime, juiced
fresh Cilantro

Cut visible fat off chicken. Wash well and pat dry.

Chop onions into 1/2 inch pieces.

Chop tomatoes roughly.

Heat oil in a deep saucepan.

When oil is hot drop cinnamon sticks, cloves and curry leaves into the oil. 

Let spices sizzle for 10 seconds, then add the chopped onions. Saute onions till golden brown, stirring often.

Add tomatoes, garlic and ginger pastes to the onions. Saute till tomatoes are pulpy. You could cover the saucepan with a lid at this point to hurry along the tomatoes.

When tomatoes are soft and pulpy, add turmeric and chile powder. Stir to mix. Let spices bloom for 50 seconds. 

Then add yogurt to the pan and stir vigorously to mix it in. 

Add chicken to the pan, stirring well so the chicken is coated with the masala.

Season with salt.

Sprinkle garam masala over chicken and stir well.

Cover saucepan tightly with a lid. If the lid isn't tight, cover the saucepan with aluminum foil, crimping the edges tightly. Place lid over foil.

Let the chicken braise undisturbed over a medium low flame for 30 minutes. Do not add water to the pan. The chicken and yogurt will exude enough liquid.

Uncover the pan and squeeze lime juice over chicken. Mix masala and chicken.

Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.

Balti cuisine is a hit. Hot chapatis accompany this chicken and it's thick gravy. Common Indian spices elevate humble chicken to a meal fit for a king. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Avocado Chaat

Summer means buttery Haas avocados at the grocery store. These knobbly dark green fruit have a host of monikers including alligator pears and butter fruit. However, what's in a name, as they are full of nutrients, vitamins, good fat and cholesterol lowering items. I just love their smooth, soft texture and distinctive taste. My father would bring heaps back from his business trips to Bangalore in the 1970's. To my knowledge, Bangalore was the only town they were then available. To me they were exotic, rare, a fruit that not many people had heard of or even knew how to eat. Cut in half, we squirted lime juice and salt on them, eating them plain. Other times, a dollop of mayonnaise added another element of flavor. The pits, planted in a pot, sprouted into leggy tall plants which I would watch obsessively hoping to find pear shaped fruit. I know now that they never fruit in pots, but as a idealistic teen, hope sprung eternal.

Cherished family comes to visit. Vic, Carla and Leah join us. I know Carla is an avocado aficionado so I buy more than a few to make this innovative take on chaat. Having eaten something similar at Rasika in Washington DC, I intend to change it up. Cubed avocado are sprinkled with bhelpuri mix. Bhelpuri mix could be bought as a packaged item. It has puffed rice, sev or chickpea noodles and fried pooris or wheat crisps. This is the easiest way to make bhelpuri, adding in the chutneys, potatoes and onions. The mix softens easily once the chutney is added, so you need to work fast. Scatter thinly sliced green chile on avocados. Drizzle a little sweet tamarind chutney over them. Squirt a little lime juice all over the plate. Garnish with fresh cilantro and dig in.

Serves 4-6

2 Haas Avocados
1/2 cup Bhelpuri Mix
1/2 Green Chile
a generous pinch of Kosher Salt 
2 teaspoons sweet Tamarind Chutney (Store bought or homemade[see recipe in NOTES]) 
1/2 Lime
Fresh Cilantro leaves

Cut avocados in half. Discard the pit. Score avocados with knife, going breadth wise and lengthwise. Scoop cubes with a spoon onto a platter.

Slice green chile thinly and scatter over avocados.

Season with kosher salt.

Scatter bhelpuri mix over avocados.

Drizzle sweet chutney over the bhelpuri mix.

Squeeze a little lime juice over avocados.

Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

Enjoy the chaat.


Store bought chutney is perfectly acceptable.

The recipe below lasts in the fridge for upto 2 months in a tightly sealed bottle.

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

If you are not using store bought tamarind chutney start by making it first. Soak tamarind in water for 3 to 4 hours.

Squeeze pulp well and strain into a saucepan. You should only use the liquid. No pulp.

Add jaggery and salt and simmer on a medium flame for 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Cool and place in a glass jar.

Unusual flavors make  a big impression. Carla loves the concept. The table is laden with biryani, raita, parathas, dal dhungar and chaat. Empty plates are my reward.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Pasta with Truffles

A trip to truffle country will make your heart beat faster if you are a fan. The last week was one big truffle explosion. Pasta, carpaccio to name a few, are smothered in this special boletus. Truffle country in Croatia lies close to Italy, but the product costs half of what you would pay there. We go to a charming town, Motovun, set high on a hilltop and step into truffle heaven. Posted signs and earthy aromas tempt you into small shops. Free wine and grappa tastings lead to extravagant purchases. The next thing I know is I am carefully wrapping jars of truffle paste. 

I want to create the magical pasta I eat in Restoran Pod Voltun. Perched on the edge of the mountain against a backdrop of verdant fields, overlooking lanes lined with apple and fig trees, I savor a small portion of pasta with tartufi. A mouthful is transcendental experience. And I so want to share it with the family.

We open a bottle of Croatian wine. I grill zucchini and corn and drizzle them with pesto vinaigrette. Zucchini blossoms abound in the garden. Some are stuffed with goat cheese and fried. I set to work trying to recreate the magic of Motovun.

A similar pasta is boiled in heavily salted water. Butter is melted. Creme fraiche is stirred into the butter. Generous spoonfuls of truffle paste are added to the cream. Pasta is quickly tossed and plated. That distinctive aroma fills the kitchen and we sit down to eat with much anticipation.

Serves 4

1 pound Cavatappi or Penne
1 + 2 tablespoons Butter
1 8oz package Creme Fraiche
2 tablespoon Truffle Paste
Fresh cracked Black Pepper

Heat 6 cups water in  large pan. Bring water to a boil.

Salt water generously with 2 teaspoon of Kosher salt.

Add pasta to boiling water and cook as per package directions. 

Save 1 cup of pasta water. 

Drain pasta and add 1 tablespoon of butter to pasta. Stir well.

Heat remaining butter in a saucepan. 

When it has melted add creme fraiche and stir. Creme fraiche will melt into a sauce.

Add pasta water to dilute the sauce.

Add truffle paste and saute for a minute.

Add pasta to sauce and stir so sauce coats pasta. 

Season with fresh black pepper and serve hot.

This is summer on the table. Cold white wine, grilled veggies, frito misto veggies and this heavenly pasta, which exactly mimics my memorable meal. We are all transported to that mountaintop.