Monday, March 30, 2020

Sour Cream Biscuits

The April edition of  Bon Appetit magazine thrills the taste buds. Recipes are pleasing, easy and tempting. I try the biscuits having plenty of sour cream. I change it a bit, adding less scallions.  Cheddar cheese a should add tang. It's really about the biscuit layers. I love the technique of folding the dough like an envelope, allowing a series of layers to form. As recommended, I do this twice before I divide the dough into individual pieces. In place of melted butter, I use softened butter and truffle salt scattered over the biscuits. Then the oven does its magic. And the kitchen smells heavenly. My reward is a tender flaky biscuit. Some of the biscuits keel over as they bake into flat scone like rounds. Who cares! They taste terrific!


Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit 
Makes 12

2 1/2 cups AP Flour

1 3/4 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking Soda
2 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Sugar
8 tablespoons Butter, chilled
1/2 cup chopped Scallions
1/2 cup grated Cheddar Cheese
1 1/4 cup Sour Cream
Softened Butter
Truffle Salt

Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to mix.

Cut chilled butter into 1/2 inch chunks. Add to flour. Pulse 10-15 times till butter is like small peas. 

Add chopped scallions and cheese to flour. Pulse a couple of times.

Add sour cream and pulse till dough comes together. 

Scrape the dough into a bowl. Gather it together with your hands into a ball.

Heat oven to 375F or 200C.

Lightly flour a surface. Place the ball on the flour and pat it into a 6x10 rectangle. 

Starting at the 10 inch side, fold a third portion of the dough. Cover that part with another third so you have three layers. Like an envelope.

Pat again into a 6x10 inch rectangle. Repeat the three fold process again. 

Use a sharp knife and divide dough into 8-10 pieces. 

Lay each piece 2 inches apart on a parchment or Silpat lined baking sheet. I had 13 pieces on one sheet.

Brush the top of each biscuit lightly with softened butter. 

Sprinkle the tops with truffle salt. 

Bake for 20 minutes till tops are slightly brown.

Take them out of the oven, cool slightly. They taste best warm.

Chowder and biscuits go hand in hand. The biscuits are in one hand and soup spoon in the other!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Muligatawney Soup

Does the name sound odd? If you are not from the Indian Subcontinent, it would be strange. If you have lived in or been to South India, you must've come across this spicy soup at some point. A throwback from British Colonial days, it is literally pepper or chile water, tempered by the addition of coconut milk. Served ladled over a mound of rice, this spice laden broth is redolent with cumin, coriander and fennel.

Make it with goat, lamb or chicken. Mine is meat free. The stock could be meat centric or plain water. I have meat stock in my freezer. Save time and use store bought meat stock or use water for a vegetarian version. Hot oil is flavored with dried red chiles and curry leaves. Onions, ginger and garlic are lightly fried. Cumin, coriander and fennel seed powders add oomph. Tomato cooks along with onions. Besan or chick pea flour is dry roasted till light brown, then blended with coconut milk. This will thicken the soup, giving it a nutty aroma and taste. Fish out the dried chiles and curry leaves if you desire. I leave them in for aesthetic purposes. I like to see bits of red and green. Ladled over cooked white rice, the soup churns up visions of bygone family outings.

Serves 4

2 dried Red Chiles
4-5 Curry leaves
2 teaspoon Canola Oil
2 small Onions
3 Garlic cloves
3 Ginger coins
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon Coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon Fennel powder
1/4 teaspoon Garam masala
1 Tomato
4 cups Meat Stock, Chicken Stock or Water
2 tablespoons Besan or Chick Pea Flour
1/2 cup Coconut Milk
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
OPTIONAL- 1/2 cup cooked Goat meat, Lamb chunks or shredded Chicken 
Hot Cooked White Rice

Chop onions, ginger and garlic finely.

Heat oil in deep saucepan.

Break dried chiles in half.

Drop them and curry leaves in hot oil. Splutter for a 10 seconds.

Then add onions, ginger and garlic to the pan. Saute till onions are translucent.

Sprinkle all powdered masalas over onions and sweat the masala for a bit.

Chop tomato and add to masala. Saute till tomato is soft and pulpy. 

Pour stock into the pan and bring to boil. 

Saute besan in a small pan over  high heat. Stir continuously till the besan turns light brown and emits a nutty aroma. Take it off the flame. 

Whisk coconut milk into besan till you have no lumps.

Dribble this blend into the hot stock, stirring vigorously. Boil for another 10 minutes, allowing the besan to cook through.

Season with salt.

At this point you could add the meat or chicken to the soup. Let the meat heat up for about 3-5 minutes before serving.

To serve, heap a tablespoon of rice in a bowl, ladle the soup over the rice. Pick up that spoon and savor your labor.

In the past we had relished this staple at the now defunct Kwality restaurants, so for me this is a happy saunter down memory lane. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Green Mango Chile Salad

We eat green mango salad in Hoi An. It lasts but minutes as we attack it with chopsticks. Our group has gotten very adept at their use! I try to make the delicious salad at home. My son's fiance, Tammie, gives me a cookbook on Vietnamese cuisine. Using one of those recipes as a guide I try, though  my take isnt the same. Close, but no cigar!

Peel and shred a hard green mango.  I bought a shredder in Hoi An, but it wasn't that effective. I find my Kuhn-Rikon peeler does a better job. You could shred the mango up to an hour before serving. Anymore time than that and the mango shreds will soften. You want the shreds to have a bite, not be limp. As I discovered. But in spite of being slightly limp, it still was refreshingly good.

Chop a red onion. Thinly slice a green chile. Make a dressing by pounding garlic and green chile together in a mortar. Add sugar, salt, fish sauce and lime zest and juice. Let it sit for fifteen minutes. Drizzle over the shredded mango. Eat it at room temperature.  Peanuts are essential to a traditional salad. Allergies restrain us from using any. If you could use them, they add a delicious crunch. 

Serves 4

1 large Green Mango
1/2 Red Onion
2 Garlic cloves
2 Green Chiles
1/2 teaspoon Sugar
1 teaspoon Fish Sauce
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon Lime Zest
3 tablespoons Lime Juice
10 Mint leaves

Peel and shred the mango. Pile the shreds into a bowl.

Hard to use.

Very easy shreds

Chop onion into small dice. Add to mango.

Slice 1 green chile thinly. Add to the mango.

Chop the other chile into small 1/2 inch chunks and place in a mortar.

Add garlic cloves to mortar and pound till you have a thick paste. Scrape paste into a small bowl.

Add sugar, salt, fish sauce, zest and juice into the paste. Whisk to mix. Keep aside for 15 minutes.

Drizzle dressing over mango.

Top with mint, cilantro and peanuts (if you are using)

Toss salad and dig in.

Not quite the salad we made short shrift of at Morning Glory Restaurant, but a close second. We relish it nevertheless.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Barley Mushroom Risotto

I come across a New York Times insert, a compendium of one pot meals. The barley risotto looks delicious, then again the stylized picture is meant to whet our appetites! Yes, that means my mouth is watering.

I have a handful of mushrooms. Some wilting broccolini. And lots of barley. Barley is the base. Use any stout veggies that will hold up to a fast braise.  Onion and garlic is sauteed till fragrant. Barley toasts along with mushrooms. Broccolini is the green.  I like the color contrasts. Chicken stock hydrates the barley. The risotto braises in a hot oven. Once uncovered, you can see how the barley has plumped up, the nutty aroma an open invitation to sit down to dinner asap! 

Adapted from NYT Kay Chun risotto recipe
Serves 4

3/4 cup Barley
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 large Onion
4 Garlic cloves
1 cup sliced Cremini Mushrooms (any mushrooms will do)
4 Broccolini stalks
2 cups Chicken Stock
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
Lots of Ground Black pepper
2 tablespoons Butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese

Chop onion into small dice.

Slice garlic cloves thinly.

Cut mushrooms into quarters.

Cut broccolini into 1 inch pieces.

Heat oven to 375F or 190C.

Heat olive oil in an oven proof skillet with a lid.

Add chopped onion and garlic to hot oil and saute till translucent. 

Add chopped mushroom and saute for a few minutes.

Drop broccolini into the pan and mix well.

Stir barley into the oil and saute well for 2 minutes till toasty.

Pour chicken stock into the pan and bring to a boil.

Cover the pan and braise in the oven for 30 minutes. 

Uncover and stir in butter.

Scatter parmesan cheese over the risotto. Enjoy. 

The mushrooms cook up soft and chewy. The addition of butter and cheese gives the risotto an appealing silky look. It is a forkful of divine taste. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Lamb Curry with Papdi or Papdi Ma Ghosht

Parsi food is always appreciated in our house. I try an easy version of mutton with papdi and eggplant from the Time & Talents cookbook. This compendium is treat to work with, a handbook with an array of cuisines. All recipes come from home chefs, their personal favorites for us to enjoy. 

My adaptation, a faux Parsi experiment, takes the easy way out. No grinding of masala, not too many ingredients. In place of the ground green masala I use bottled green chutney with a few spices added to it. I only use one vegetable, papdi, Indian flat beans shaped like half moons. You will find these at any well stocked Indian grocery store. Top and tail these beans as you would do green beans. Then unlike green beans, you pull them apart. A handful of beans should be enough. 

The meat and beans cook in a pressure cooker. You could very well use an InstaPot in the same fashion. Pressure cook the meat, wait for the whistle, lower the flame and in no time at all you should have a simple yet delicious meat curry.

Adapted from the Time & Talents Cookbook
Serves 4

1 pound Lamb or Goat shoulder, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons Green Chutney(store bought or home made)
1/2 teaspoon Garam masala
2 small Onions
4 Scallions
1 cup Papdi or Flat Romano Beans, trimmed and pulled apart
3/4 teaspoon Kosher Salt
2 tablespoons Canola Oil

Wash and dry meat. 

Marinate meat in green chutney and garam masala for 4-5 hours.

Chop onions and scallions into small dice. 

Heat oil in a pressure cooker pan. 

When it shimmers, add onions and saute till light brown.

Add chopped scallions and saute for 1 minute. 

Drop the marinated meat into the oil and saute on a high flame till meat sears and browns. 

Add papdi, kosher salt and enough water. The water level should be just below the level of the meat. 

Pressure cook for 16 minutes. 

Open cooker and allow meat to simmer for 10 minutes so the gravy thickens slightly.

Serve with chappatis or rice.

Easy meals satisfy that sweet spot. Life today is about keeping things simple. This meal fits that bill.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Orange Cake

Orange you glad I'm making cake? No need to answer as the cake is being made regardless!  I've eaten this cake when Prassy's friend Niloufer brings some over. It is delicious, so much so I actually can't help myself, eating several slices. She makes it after reading Atul Sikand's version on Sikandalous, a foodie group. His is good, so I look for the original by Cleobuttera. This page has detailed insights into the cake, gorgeous photographs. So version I will try is the original one. 

I make a huge mess zesting oranges and lemons, not sold for a penny, but more! Juicing oranges also turns out to be one sticky affair. The rest of it is easy. Beat butter and sugar. Add zests. Flavor with vanilla and sour cream. Add flour and leavening agents alternately with orange juice, Scrape the batter into a baking tin and into the oven. Its waiting time. The more I peek in the oven the longer it will take!


From the blog Cleobuttera
Serves 4

1 1/3 cup AP Flour

1/1/2 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/2 cup Butter, softened
3/4 cup +2 tablespoons Sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons Orange Zest
1/2 teaspoon Lemon Zest
2 Eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 cup Sour Cream
1/2 cup Orange Juice


1 tablespoon Orange Juice
1 teaspoon Sugar

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.

Butter or spray a 9x4 baking tin with canola spray.

Heat the oven to 350F or 180C.

You could use a stand mixer or a hand mixer. 

Beat butter on medium speed for a minute till soft. 

Gradually add sugar and zests. Beat on high speed for 3-4 minutes. Batter should be light and fluffy.

Lower speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add vanilla and sour cream. Mix well.

Add 1/3 of flour blend followed by half of the orange juice. Make sure the flour mixes in. Add the next 1/3 followed by the remaining juice. The last 1/3 portion of flour goes in last. Let the mixer go a few rounds just until the flour is incorporated. 

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking tin. 

Bake for 30 minutes till done. A skewer poked into the cake should come out clean. If it doesn't, bake for an additional 5 minutes. The top should be golden brown.

While cake bakes, gently heat the remaining orange juice and sugar till small bubbles appear. Keep aside.

Cool on wire rack for 15 minutes.

Pour glaze on the cake.

Unmold onto a plate. Slice and enjoy.

The recipe calls for a 40 minute wait to slice and savor the cake...don't think so!!! The aroma is just too inviting. Warm cake and a hot cup of tea...bliss!

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Eating The Vietnamese Way

Vietnam is charming, magical. It is a country of contrasts from white sand beaches and verdant rice paddies to odd-shaped moss green mountains. Rivers run muddy, coconut palms grow stunted and the people are welcoming. With many rivers in the country, we were transported in bamboo boats, sturdy punts, fast river canoes, always enjoying the lush countryside. It is a poor country, especially in rural areas. And yet the children smile enchantingly, the landscape pleases and the food, oh the food is ever so delicious! This post is a foodie's guide to some of the most delectable, palate pleasing meals we had. Let me whet your appetite with some of the classics. 

Lunch or dinner could begin with Summer Rolls, softened rice paper filled with rice vermicelli, carrots, greens and shrimp or fried fish. Freshness of ingredients is par for the course. The dipping sauce comprises of miso, fish sauce, green chiles, peanuts, sugar, salt and lime juice. Divine! Fried Spring Rolls are small cylinders tightly packed with pork, crab and rice noodles and spices. Extremely divine! 

Pho is omnipresent at breakfast, lunch and dinner. People slurp and spoon it on roadsides and in restaurants. The best, yes I mean the very best I've ever had, can be sampled at Pho Pasteur in Ho Chi Minh City. Served on communal tables, the hot bowl of broth is surrounded by a blizzard of bean sprouts. basil, shiso leaves, mint, and other unidentifiable herbs to add to the broth. Oblong donut like puffs accompany the pho as well. Then there are the chiles! Contrary to popular belief, the red chiles are not as spicy as the green ones! We learned that lesson very fast! A squeeze of lime, chopsticks in one hand and a spoon in the other, we slurp our way alongside the locals. Pho in Saigon is much more robust than the northern versions.

Banh Xeo (phonetically pronounced baan sayo) is a turmeric laced rice pancake, filled with sliced veggies, bean sprouts and shrimp. It should be eaten piping hot. We ate some in The Mekong Delta, but our favorite was a hole-in-the-wall in Da Nang. Banh Xeo Ba Duoung is a small restaurant at the end of a nondescript narrow lane. Looking at your surroundings, you might wonder if you are in the wrong/right place, so use Google Maps and you will get there. Once you are seated the meal appears magically without ordering! That's just the first plate! Crusty pancakes filled with small shell-on shrimp peeking out, steam and sizzle. A mound of herbs, salad, sliced cucumber and eggplant, green papaya slaw, chiles, a peanut and pork sauce to die for and rice paper are on the table. Peel off a rice paper, place the pancake on it, top it with a little of everything, roll it into a cylinder, dunk it in the sauce, take a bite. Experience the burst of flavor in your mouth! A warm crunch, softness, spice, freshness! We polish it off and start again! The trick is to add the fillings sparingly so the rice paper doesn't tear. It takes a little practise, but once you get the hang of it, you are off to the races. We went through five plates easily!! This is what they are famous for. They also had an intriguing beef stir fry and Nem Lui, minced meat on sticks. All of it was delicious. It was an industrious lunch! We licked the bowls of pork and peanut sauce clean!

And then there's bun or rice noodles. Vietnam is dotted with rice paddies, swathes of eye-pleasing emerald, shamrock and chartreuse.  Noodles made with rice, swim in some kind of broth. The Bun Bo, noodles with beef, we had at Bun Bo Nam Bo Bach Phuong  in Hanoi, was exceptional. They only serve this one dish. The noodles come in a large bowl, smothered with fried onions, garlic, lettuce, herbs, crushed peanuts, bean sprouts, thinly sliced raw papaya and beef. Chopsticks helped the mix the noodles as the broth at the bottom of the bowl is where the flavor lies. This bare bones restaurant only serves bun bo, and they do it masterfully.

The other noodle dish is Bun Cha, with an addition of grilled pork. Bun Cha Dac Kim, also in Hanoi, is another small establishment with trestle tables and wooden stools. You can follow your nose, smelling the barbeque. The owner looking in askance at five Indians at the table, agitatedly asked us if we eat pork! After an affirmative answer his relief was evident and the bun cha arrived. Broth ladled over grilled pork, sausage, pork belly and raw papaya... the aroma enough to drive us mad! Accompanied by rice vermicelli, herbs, salad and a pungent garlic sauce, we set about adding items to the broth. We order crab spring rolls, which are to be dunked in the broth, transforming crispy rolls into soft ones. It is like nothing I've tasted before! 

One night we ventured into another small place to eat another Hanoi delicacy, Banh Cuon. Soft, velvety rice paper rolls filled with barbecued pork and smothered with fried onions and basil, are made to perfection at Banh Cuon Gia Truyen Thant Van. The rice flour wrap is made on a thin muslin cloth stretched tight over steaming water. The wrap takes five seconds to form, after which it is quickly filled. Every roll is made fresh, so our order takes a while since everyone wants their own! They melt in your mouth, their slippery texture a challenge to pick up with chopsticks!

If you've indulged in too much meat and fish, then it is time to step inside Hum Cafe in HCMC. Be prepared for a flavor explosion. Our three meat lovers were drooling over the sweet potato salad, fried lotus stems dusted with spices, mushroom spring rolls and the tofu scallop curry. A must-do if you are in HCMC!

The scenic coast brings us to clams with ginger and lemongrass, oysters on half shell with wasabi, squid and grilled prawns. No sauce required! We sit at Ba Le, a beach cafe, dig our feet in the sand, enjoy the cool sea breeze, savor the peace and quiet and scarf down fresh seafood.

Street vendors churn sugarcane juice in super clean machines. We buy a ridiculously cheap glass every so often. Coconuts are ubiquitous, with sweet water and soft flesh. Sliced mango with chili and salt is mouth puckering. Dragon fruit, pomelo, jackfruit, passion fruit, custard apples, longans, oranges and guavas were part of our daily diet.

If you haven't had a Vietnamese cold coffee, you will have missed an essential taste of this country.

We come to the Banh Mi, the addictive sandwich of Vietnam, a crusty French bread loaf, filled with pate, roast meat, pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro and a fish sauce vinaigrette. Anthony Bourdain ate at a small sandwich shop in Hoi An, Banh Mi Phuong, and now the lines are out the door. Then there's Madam Khanh- the Banh Mi Queen. Both sandwiches were outstanding, Madam Khanh having a slight edge over Bourdain's preference. 

I have to mention Quan Banh Khoai Hanh in Hue, where we ate a plateful of shrimp and pork wrapped in a glutinous coating and then steamed in banana leaves. Banh Bot Loc is so much fun to eat, messy but delicious. Chopsticks help some!

We stumbled with dessert. There weren't too many choices. On many occasions it was a sizzling banana pancake from a roadside stand, drizzled with condensed milk. Or ice cream.

Then there was che. Little Bowl in Hanoi does a tender coconut, jackfruit, tapioca pearls, pandan jelly, coconut and condensed milk bowl, served with a side of ice. Refreshing and light, che was the perfect ending.

We did enjoy fine dining at Morning Glory, Nu Eatery and Hai Cafe in Hoi An. We reveled in our stay at the luxurious Ana Mandara in Hue. Highway 4 in Hanoi offered us an extensive menu in exotic meats. The only non-Vietnamese meal we relished was the excellent thin crust pizza at Pizza 4P.  

Vietnamese food is diverse enough not repeat a meal. We left with a gamut of dishes we had yet to try !You could eat like a king or a pauper and still be completely satisfied and replete.

Chopsticks are de rigueur. An adventurous appetite is a must. The Vientiane table awaits you!