Chorchori

While it is common knowledge that the Bengali cuisine is heavily reliant on the bounties of the river and the sea, many don’t identify vegetarian cooking as part of the Bengali fare. This is far from the truth really, and as my husband frequently loves to say, if it grows, Bengalis will eat!

I am no food historian, but as is common knowledge, two significant things contributed to the wide variety of Bengali vegetarian dishes. Firstly, prior to the Bengal renaissance, widows were treated pretty badly and had strict dietary restrictions. Non-vegetarian items were strictly prohibited, and so, a wide variety of vegetarian dishes were necessarily a part of the diet. Secondly, the Bengal famine together with the forced cash crop production during the British rule, resulted in the use of all scrap material. Stems, leaves, peels and skins were all tastefully incorporated in Bengali cooking to ensure zero wastage. The forced poppy seed production also led to the incorporation of poppy seed paste in Bengali food habits, which is now a delicacy.

While neither of these events were remotely happy, what emerged as a result of this bleak history, was a diverse cuisine, using ingredients and produce, that are not always commonly used in other Indian households. I have grown up eating (and loving) things that are unheard of, including stir fried potato skin with poppy seeds, bottle gourd/calabash skin and water lily stems, to name a few. My grandmothers, aunts and my mother excelled in these recipes and I try to use their methods and to keep the recipes as authentic as possible.

Chorchori is a mixed vegetable recipe, made with the discarded stems of the cauliflower or red amaranth or Malabar spinach. I used my mom’s recipe and slightly tweaked it by adding spinach and turnip. Avid the turnip if you hate it as much as my mom does. This is healthy, delicious and perfect for lunch!

You will need:

  • Cauliflower stems: About 150 gms (cut into three-inch-long sticks)
  • Pumpkin: 100 gms (cut into three-inch-long sticks)
  • Spinach: 250 gms (chopped roughly)
  • Pointed gourd: 100 gms (skin scraped and halved)
  • Turnip: 1 (medium) (peeled, halved and cut into thin wedges)
  • Potato: 1 (medium) (peeled, halved and cut into thin wedges)
  • Indian flat beans: 5-6 (halved)
  • Ridge gourd: 150 gms. (scraped, halved lengthwise and cut into three-inch-long pieces)
  • Panch phoron: ½ teaspoon*
  • Dried red chillies: 2
  • Mustard oil: 1 and ½ tablespoons
  • Sugar: 1 teaspoon
  • Salt: to taste

For the mustard paste:

  • Black mustard seeds (kalo shorshe): 1 and ½ tablespoon
  • Yellow mustard seeds (holud shorshe): 1 tablespoon
  • Green chillies: 1-2

Special appliances:

  • Small masala grinder
  • Medium non-stick wok

*Panch phoron is a Bengali five spice mix. It includes equal parts of fenugreek seeds (methi), nigella seeds (kalo jeera/kalonji), cumin seeds (jeera), trachyspermum roxburghianum (radhuni) and fennel seeds (mouri/saunf). Replace radhuni with black mustard seeds, if not easily available.  

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Grind the mustard seeds (black and yellow), green chillies and a pinch of salt with a couple of tablespoons of water. Add a little more water if the paste is too grainy. The paste should be smooth and thick. Keep aside.

Heat the mustard oil in the wok and add the panch phoron and dried red chillies until it splutters. Add all the vegetables, except the spinach. Stir gently, cover and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the spinach, sugar and salt to taste and cover and cook for another five minutes. Check if the vegetables are almost done at this point. They should be cooked through, and not al dente.

In a bowl, mix one tablespoon of the mustard paste with a tablespoon of water to make a slurry. Add the mustard slurry to the wok, stirring thoroughly and adjust the salt if required. Cook on medium heat for another two minutes and serve.

Serve hot with steamed rice.

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Shorshe Pabda

I have not written a blog post for almost a year. We moved back to Delhi earlier this year, change offices and houses (of course) and have been crazy busy as usual. I was pretty surprised to realise that I have come to really like this city and actually missed being in Delhi. So now, I call Calcutta, Bombay and Delhi my home. Weird.

Enough about me. About food now.

This recipe is about my love for Bengali food. This is the most common (and commonly loved) fish curry that you will find in any Bengali household. So, while this recipe is not unique, this is the first time I actually measured out the ingredients, since I usually always make this curry the way my mom taught me – instinct! Well, actually she is a fantastic cook and like all mothers, is fabulous at creating amazing food by just a pinch of this and a handful of that, but I know how difficult that is to follow.

So I hope you enjoy this quintessential Bengali fish curry that is both comforting and delicious.

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You will need:

  • Butter fish (pabda): 1/2 kg (medium size, cut into two pieces or whole) (You can substitute the butter fish with most types of fish.)
  • Black mustard seeds (kalo shorshe): 1 and ½ tablespoon
  • Yellow mustard seeds (holud shorshe): 1 tablespoon
  • Green chillies: 1-2
  • Nigella seeds (kalo jeera): 1/4 teaspoon
  • Mustard oil: 4 tablespoons (approx)
  • Turmeric: 1 + ½ teaspoon
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon + to taste
  • Water: 2 tablespoons + 1 and ½ cup
  • Coriander leaves and green chillies for garnish (optional)

Special appliances:

  • Small masala grinder
  • Non-stick wok – of at least 2.5 litre capacity

Grind the mustard seeds (black and yellow), green chillies and a pinch of salt with a couple of tablespoons of water. Add a little more water if the paste is too grainy. The paste should be smooth and thick. Keep aside.

Clean, wash and drain the excess water off the fish or dry with paper towels. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of salt and coat evenly.

Heat three tablespoons of mustard oil in the non-stick wok. Make sure that the oil is adequately hot (the colour should become slightly paler) but not smoky. Shallow fry the fish (one/two at a time, depending on the size of the fish) for about 30 seconds on each side, and keep aside.

In the same work, add the remaining mustard oil. Add the nigella seeds until they begin to splutter.

Mix the mustard paste and ½ teaspoon turmeric with 1 and ½ cups of water, and add to the wok. Gently add the fish and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat for approximately 12-15 minutes. Adjust the salt to taste.

Garnish with coriander leaves and green chillies (optional).

Serve hot with steamed rice.

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Quinoa Salad with Greens and Smoked Chicken

I don’t have a real excuse for not blogging. I have been terribly lazy of late, coupled with pretty busy work days. Of course, I’m moving cities soon, so that’s always a hassle! 

I have been cooking a lot lately, mostly for some house parties we hosted recently, so this recipe is a detox recipe, from all such. 

I have been experimenting with different grains and cereals lately and have been experimenting a lot. Many such experiments have ended up in the rubbish bin, but some (such as this one) survived. So here goes.

You will need:
Quinoa: 1 cup

Water: 2 cups

French beans: 200 gms.

Baby spinach: 200 gms.

Smoked chicken: 200 gms. (Optional)

Lemon juice: 1 teaspoon

Balsamic vinegar: 1 tablespoon

Olive oil: 1 teaspoon

Regular cooking oil: 1 tablespoon

Palm sugar: A pinch

Pepper: to taste 

Salt: to taste 

Wash the quinoa. In a pot, boil the quinoa in two cups of water for 7 minutes. Add salt and the olive oil. Turn off the heat, cover it, and forget about it for at least 10-15 minutes.
Trim the edges of the French beans and slice the smoked chicken. 

In a frying pan, heat the cooking oil and fry the French beans and smoked chicken for about two minutes. Add the sugar and the baby spinach. Once it wilts slightly, turn off the heat.

Toss this is balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Fluff the quinoa with a fork. The entire water should have been soaked up by the quinoa. 

Serve by tossing the quinoa with the greens and chicken or serve the greens and chicken on a bed of quinoa.

Happy eating!!

Eating through a thaali

What is a thaali? For the uninitiated, a ‘thaali’ means a ‘plate’ in Hindi and in Bengali (and I assume several other Indian languages and dialects). In the food world, a ‘thaali’ is several dishes, served on a large plate. 

Contrary to culinary styles of the West, traditionally, each Indian meal comprises several courses. A home cooked meal could be a simple roti subzi affair, or if you grew up in a home like mine, about 4-5 dishes on an average.

(Above: A home cooked Mizo meal – all cooked by my friend’s super amazing mom. Rice, lentils, ancham(mustard greens), squash and smoked pork)

Served on a large plate (usually metal or earthen), typically, a vegetarian thaali consists of staple carbohydrates (rice and/or roti/chapati), a dry vegetable dish, a gravy vegetable dish, daal (lentils), raita (yogurt with or with vegetables), papad, achar ( pickles) a dessert. Meat and fish dishes are also a part of a ‘thaali’, as non-vegetarian options. The number of dishes vary with the decadence of the meal. 

(Above: A raan (whole leg of lamb) thaali)

Every state in India boasts their own thaali. The concept of eating several courses for a meal has been disappearing from homes for several reasons including the shift to nuclear families and urbanisation. Thankfully, thaalis are always in vogue and easily available in restaurants, to give everyone a taste of traditional food. If you really want to experience the best thaali type, multi-course Indian meal, make Indian friends and make sure you are invited to a wedding or for some festival celebrated at home!! 

Thaali eating guide:

1. Divide up your rice for the number of dishes that you have been served. Very important, if you are a small eater.

2. Focus on eating the dishes, go slow on the carbohydrates.

3. Seconds are served at almost all restaurants, so don’t be afraid to ask for more. 

4. Eat up. 

5. The most important one: Skip breakfast.

Happy eating!! 

(Above: A vegetarian Malyali thaali. Mahabelly, New Delhi)

Back from my hiatus

I’ve been away for far too long. In the last year and a half, I quit my job, moved cities, started another job and got caught up in everything around me. Mumbai is a crazy busy mad city and has always been a city I love, and I am glad to be here; but I am surprised at how much I miss Delhi.

The last few months have been crazy hectic at work (the life of a corporate lawyer is unnecessarily complicated), and I have found myself increasingly missing this place where I had found some virtual friends, fellow food lovers, great photographers and spectacular cooks. So at last, I got off my (pardon my French) ass, and I am willing myself to stop working 18 hours a day, and try and get back to blogging some.

So here’s to another attempt at blogging about food and everything else that I love. I plan to make some changes around this virtual space that I (kind of) own (for free!).

It’s good to be back again. 🙂

Pumpkin Walnut Cake

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It is amazing how everyone has such lovely stories to share when they bake. But sometimes (well in my case almost every time), you just bake because you want to. Especially because there is something you are just dying to try out or mostly, because you have just the right stuff in your fridge and pantry. And sometimes, it just turns out perfect! This is the story of my pumpkin walnut cake. I made it because I just did. It is dense, moist and just scrumptious.

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For the cake:

  • Butter: 250 gms.
  • Flour: 200 gms.
  • Cornmeal: 150 gms.
  • Pumpkin puree: 400 gms.
  • Sugar: 350 gms.
  • Salt: 1 teaspoon
  • Baking powder: 1 ½ teaspoon
  • Eggs: 2
  • Vanilla extract: 1 teaspoon
  • Cinnamon powder: 2 tablespoon
  • Walnuts (chopped): 100 gms.
  • Milk: ½ cup
  • Quark /mascarpone: 200 gms.
  • Caster sugar: 100 gms.

For the ganache frosting:

  • Dark chocolate (70%): 200 gms.
  • Cream: 200 ml.

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Cake:

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius.

Line a 9 inch square baking dish with parchment paper.

Sieve the flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder and cinnamon powder in a bowl and set aside.

In a food processor, beat the butter and sugar until pale and creamy (about 8-10 minutes).

Add the eggs, one at a time and incorporate well.

Mix in the milk, followed by the pumpkin puree and vanilla extract and incorporate.

Add the sieved dry ingredients, about half a cup at a time, and mix well.

Fold in the walnuts in the batter.

In a separate bowl, mix the quark/mascarpone and sugar until smooth.

Gently pour the batter in the bowl and smooth the top with a spatula.

Pour the cheese on top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.

Remove from the baking dish and cool completely.

Ganache:

Break the chocolate in to small pieces.

Over low heat in a saucepan, heat the cream, making sure that it does not boil.

Remove from heat, add chocolate and mix with a whisk until smooth.

Cool to room temperature.

Pour the ganache on top of the cooled cake and smoothen the top.

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Voila!!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

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I have been super lazy for the last couple of months. It has been crazy cold in Delhi this winter, and all I can think about is slipping under the blanket with a hot cup of tea. Don’t get me wrong, I have been cooking and baking, just haven’t been writing about it!

My friend just celebrated her 30th birthday, and I wanted to bake something special for her big day. These cupcakes were just perfect, because after all, chocolate is her favourite! These super-moist gooey cupcakes were devoured at a pretty decent speed, and I was happy to see them go!

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You will need:

For the cupcakes:

  • Caster sugar: 1 cup
  • Plain yoghurt: 1 cup
  • Vegetable oil: ½ cup
  • Eggs: 2
  • Flour: 1 ½ cup
  • Cocoa: ½ cup
  • Baking powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Crushed peanuts: For sprinkling on top (optional)
  • Chocolate syrup (optional)

For the Nutella buttercream:

  • Nutella: 300 gms.
  • Butter: 150 gms.

For the cupcakes:

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius.

Line a regular 12 cupcake tin with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, sieve the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder together.

In a food processor or a large mixing bowl, whisk the oil and sugar together until creamy (about 5 – 10 minutes).

Whisk in the yoghurt until smooth and add the eggs, one at a time, while continuously whisking, until pale and smooth.

Add the sieved dry ingredients from the third step, about half a cup at a time, and mix in, until smooth.

Fill the cupcake liners halfway with the mix.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.

Cool to room temperature, on a wire rack.

Makes about 12.

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For the Nutella buttercream:

Ensure that the Nutella and butter are at room temperature.

In a food processor or a large mixing bowl, whip the Nutella and butter until smooth.

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To decorate:

Use piping bag with a large star nozzle to ice the cupcakes.

Top with some chocolate syrup and peanuts, if using.

Pumpkin with Sage and Butter

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This makes everything else better. Enough said.

You will need:

  • Pumpkin: 500 gms
  • Butter: 3 tablespoons
  • Sage: 8-10 leaves
  • Pepper: to taste
  • Salt: to taste

Cut the pumpkin into ½ inch cubes.

In a pan, over medium heat, melt the butter and add the sage. Remove the sage leaves as soon as it starts to crisp up.

Add the pumpkin cubes and cook for about 20 minutes, or until caramelized.

Add salt, pepper and crisp sage and serve.

Eat as a side with steak, grilled chicken, tossed with pasta with some olive oil or just about any way you want to.

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Dark Chocolate Brownies with Salted Caramel Sauce

I am finally back on my own two feet! The broken foot has (almost) healed and the backlog of office work somewhat cleared! I really missed being able to cook and post something for such a long time.

This post is about my favourite brownies. These are rich, dark and wonderfully decadent! I made this batch for a darling friend’s Diwali party last Saturday. Try these out, and I hope you love them as much as I do!

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You will need:

For the brownies:

  • Dark chocolate pieces (unsweetened/mildly sweetened): 225 gms.
  • Butter: 250 gms.
  • Flour: 1 and ½ cup
  • Baking powder: 1 teaspoon
  • Caster sugar: 250 gms.
  • Cocoa powder: 2 tablespoons + 3 tablespoons for dusting (optional)
  • Eggs: 4
  • Salt: ½ teaspoon

Preheat the oven to 150 degree Celcius. Line two 8×8 square tins with butter paper or grease well with butter.

Sift the flour, baking powder, sugar, cocoa powder and salt and set aside.

Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl over low heat, melt the butter and the chocolate and mix until smooth. Make sure to stir constantly to avoid burning it.

Take the chocolate off the heat and add the dry ingredients (from the first step) stirring constantly to get a smooth mixture.

Add the eggs and whip to get a silky smooth consistency.

Divide the batter into the two tins and bake for 25 minutes.

Once baked, cool the brownies in the tins and then carefully remove them.

For the salted caramel sauce:

  • Sugar: 1 cup
  • Water: ½ cup
  • Sea salt: 1 teaspoon
  • Cream (I used 20% fat): 200 ml.

In a pan over medium heat, add the water and sugar and allow it to caramelize. This may take about 15-20 minutes.

Once the sugar turns a golden brown colour (or slightly darker if you prefer that, like me), add the cream, whisking constantly with a wire whisk. (Use gloves or be extra careful, as the caramel tends to splutter and burn)

Stir in the salt and remove from the heat.

To assemble/serve:

Cut the brownies into 2 inch squares (or larger if you prefer) and dust liberally with cocoa powder, if using.

Drizzle salted caramel sauce generously.

Serve cold or warm in a microwave.

Eat several.

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A Post About Food

I have had a weird last couple of months. Most of June was spent in the US, holidaying, partying and having the time of my life. After a long long time we three sisters got together and the husbands and kids were considerate (although I am sure a tad bewildered) to let us be our wild young selves again! I came back to Delhi (upset) and promptly fell and broke my foot. Uggghhh. I’ve been in bed for three weeks now and I guess I have another couple of more weeks to go before I regain full mobility. Needless to say, I am bored out of my wits, unable to cook, clean or do anything fun or even mundane. I never thought I would say it, but I miss office so much!

Well, other than just wanting to whine a little, what I really wanted to do was to share a few pictures of some delicious food we chowed down in the US. We managed to take very few pictures (only when we remembered) since we all find it fairly difficult to wait for photo-ops when delicious plates of food wait right in front of our faces. I had to hold back some hungry (and slightly angry) wolves to get these few pictures!

So first up, Vegas, baby! In sin city, it is REALLY tough to choose which restaurant, café or buffet you really want to eat at. After walking almost the entire strip in Las Vegas, we were in desperate need of some good food and great alcohol! We finally picked Otto at the Venetian by celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Although it is really famous as a pizzeria, we didn’t end up eating any! The food was simply incredible, fresh and delicious! The service was fantastic too, and they were more than willing to accommodate our food restrictions and allergies! Bonus points for that! So for dinner that night, we ate:

Antipasti (Salami Cotto and Mortadella)

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Octopus Celery and Potato Salad

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Grilled Pork Chop (with scallion pesto and endive)

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Steak Tagliata (with arugula, parmigiano and aged balsamic)

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Grilled Swordfish (with tomato, olive and capers)

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Next up, dessert in New York! We stayed at a hotel which was literally across the Cake Boss Café by the very famous Buddy Valastro (yayy!!). This place is always stuffed with humans poring over their desserts and treats, and unable to do much else but stuff face. We decided to join in! We ate at the café, packed some for later and went back again for breakfast. Need I say more? We loved their treats and couldn’t get enough!

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Red Velvet Cupcake

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Carrot Cake

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Tiramisu

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Fruit Cheesecake

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Red Velvet Cake

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Chocolate Truffle Cake

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Chocolate Mousse Cheesecake

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Last, but definitely not the least, and my most favourite place evvvaaaahh (*drumroll*), Momofuku Noodle Bar by the eccentric food genius, David Chang.

Now this was a spectacular experience. This place truly feels like a bar and serves amazing food. The best part, you can sit in front of the kitchen at the ‘bar’ and watch the chefs make magic! The ramen girl was the fastest person I have ever seen in a kitchen! The chef preparing the scallops (I ordered one because they looked mighty impressive), meticulous and friendly. He managed to chat constantly while never stopping for a second!

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I wanted to order almost everything on the menu, but unfortunately couldn’t. If there is one place I want to go back to it will be this. Flavourful and wholesome, edgy and chic the food is everything you want and more. The warm bowls of ramen feel homely but are dressed up like fine-dining. It is beyond wonderful. This is what we tried, you should try everything.

Diver Scallop (with grapefruit, daikon and chervil)

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Sausage Buns (with mustard, cucumber and pickled red onion)

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Shrimp Buns (spicy mayo, pickled red onion with iceberg)

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Momofuku Ramen (pork belly, pork shoulder and poached egg)

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