07
Oct
2013

A big dill

Seven years of surprises

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Baingan dill bhaji 550

Seven years since this blog was born. Since then, I’ve created two children, a book and enough grey hairs to make a toddler’s Halloween wig. Readers have come, gone and then come back again. Comments have dried up, but the drivel I write shows no sign of abating. Let’s hope the visitor numbers aren’t being generated on a click farm in Dhaka.

I was gearing up to write a sentimental post. You know, the sort that would give away my ripe old age. About how times have changed, it’s all about short, sharp and snappy. Blogging is just not how it used to be… yada yada yada.

Just then, a vegan walked through my door. This, is a rare occurrence. (I liked to joke that I do not feed vegetarians, vegans and teetotalers. Until I used said joke on one, and it crash landed like a heavy bottomed tawa on my small toe.)

This vegan just happened to be staying the night at our friend’s place, who was coming over for dinner with his wife to learn to make dal. As if the combination of a vegan and dal virgin home cook could not get worse, I also had Boobie over: strict meatarian, white wine and fag fiend and general giver of much opinion.

It didn’t take long for the interrogation to start. So, why don’t you eat meat.

Unfazed by the two meat loving, Indian fishwives, he explained his fine stance against cruelty to animals.

So how about cruelty to mankind?

Again, a fairly robust defence. He was a University lecturer after all.

What about leather shoes/coats?

He doesn’t wear leather.

Conceding defeat, I topped up his Vegan wine while Boobie threw him a fag. Then we both declared Indian food would be our cuisine of choice if we ever decided to go vegan or vegetarian. So much variety, who would miss meat?

Like this recipe: Dill Baingan Bhaji. Nothing more than aubergines/brinjal sauteed with spices and dill leaves (sowa/soya/suva saag). I adore dill recipes, but something about its pungent grassy taste alongside the silky aubergines makes this recipe sublime.

Here’s to learning something new every day. Dodging the seven year itch and blogging my way through life’s every lesson. Wishing Sia, Sra, Jayashree and Mandira happy big seven. No mean feat ladies. And to Ganga, a proud vegetarian, for celebrating 17 years of blogging! Something to aspire to.
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    24
    Sep
    2013

    Bengali Tin Kona Porotha

    Bong Moms Banter

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    Paratha 550

    Mother arrived here three weeks ago. This year’s most unnecessary-kitchen-things-to-lug-all-the-way-to-England included a microwave idli maker and a sprout maker. I was saved by a stroke of luck. Namely, the miserly baggage allowance of Qatar Airways.

    This year’s trip is in honour of Mini Basu’s school start. The time my mother has in between school drop off and pick up, she spends dutifully cooking for her sprogs and grand sprogs. She has taken a brief respite from her life on set to do what come most naturally. After all, as a dear friend’s mother declared, Bengali (Bong) mothers are only truly interested in three things: education, food and their children. I can’t say I am escaping this fate either.

    What better time than now to transport my latest cookbook from the bedside table to the kitchen? I have been chuckling in bed reading this fantastic cookbook by Sandeepa of the very popular Bong Moms cookbook blog. A dear friend, her eponymous cookbook captures the food, spirit and innate humour of the culture we share in a very funny and seminal, contemporary Bengali cookbook.

    I set my sights on the Bengali Tin Kona Porotha recipe, the triangular paratha, of our childhood breakfasts and Sunday lunches that I pine for in London. Not one to attempt on a regular work day, it was now or never. Mother had already cooked Mangshor Jhol, a sublime slow cooked goat meat curry. Now I would pair it with a single minded focus on the step-by-step instructions of another Bong Mom.

    Except, mine doesn’t do silences.

    Back at home, we only make it with plain flour.”

    Don’t add too much ghee, the porotha will become crisp. Like papad.

    Keep kneading the dough. The secret is in the kneading. Knead more. Knead more.”

    At which point, I decided to give her a job: “Mother can you pour us some gin and tonic?” She was up in a flash.

    Aided by Bong Mom’s Cookbook, a gin (or two) and mother’s watchful eye, I made a stash of moreish parathas that we ate dipped in Mangshor Jhol. From one Bong Mom to another,  there’s always room for new exciting adventures. Bong Mom’s Cookbook will certainly keep me going on mine.
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      27
      Aug
      2013

      Feeling hot? Eat chilli curry

      Mirchi Ka Salan keeps it cool

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      Mirchi Ka Salan 550

      I knew something good was in the air. The weather folks predicted a few consecutive days of hot weather, then we got warnings of a heatwave. Britain was finally going to get hot weather in July. In most places, this is better known as summer.

      The nation went into a frenzy. Sales of swimwear and sandals went through the roof, while offices whacked up the air con to recreate mid-winter.

      I responded in the best Indo-Brit way I knew: stripped the kids down to their undies, gave them a mango each and pointed to the paddling pool in our shady garden. Then nosedived into the largest vat of Pimms I could find, surfacing from time to time to marvel at the wonders of pale Provencal Rose and Sipsmith Summer Cup.

      The only thing to cook, in hot weather, is kebabs in my humble opinion. Out came the barbeque and on went Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Chaanps, Seekh Kebabs and Paneer Shashliks, served with vegetable pulao and summery yellow dals.

      Also, chillies. Plenty of them. Because when its hot, chillies keep you cool. And even if they don’t, your tongue will burn so much, you won’t notice much other discomfort.

      For the opening gambit, I simply threaded a row of fat red chillies onto a skewer and drizzled lightly with oil before flash grilling. The second barbeque, I scooped out the inside of the chillies, stuffed them with mango pickle, dipped them in a Besan batter and shallow fried them.

      The third time, I went for a Hyderabadi Chilli Curry I have been meaning to try for yonks: Mirchi Ka Salan. This is a to-die for dish with the intense flavours of chillies smothered in a peanut, coconut masala. I was always put off by the long list of ingredients, but with a bit of quick thinking (and general laziness), it wasn’t too onerous and a fantastic side to grilled meats. Or even as the Sabzi on the side to a low-fuss yellow dal.

      Do wash your hands well before wiping your tears as you eat this. Don’t eat them all at once. And lets hope summer lasts forever!

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        02
        Jul
        2013

        Package treat

        Kashmiri paneer

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        Kashmiri paneer 550

        We’ve long avoided the family holiday. Someone said it was “the same shit, different location”. ‘Nuff said.

        It didn’t take long to flip. The tots are growing fast. My time with them is limited to say the least. Mad aunty Mags suggested a resort near her finca in Tenerife, threw in a few days/nights of babysitting, and we were in. Hook, line and sinker.

        Pretty quickly we knew this was not quite one of the lux holidays of our gilded past. The tattooed bald man who ran after his errant child shouting “oi” at the boarding gate kind of gave it away. The man and I looked at each other two shades paler than check-in. Package holiday here we come.

        The fun continued overseas. The spirited (read: hyper) toddlers slid in and out of sugar comas brought on by unlimited ice cream, day glo slush and blazing sunshine. That’s all 200 of them.

        In the meantime, parents loaded their plates with the free buffet and a generous helping of fries from the kids section. Who cares if there was a seafood salad bar, an endless selection of cured meats and cheese – a ripple went through the mainly British crowd at the rare sight of pie and mash.

        Still, it was fun. I discovered fine Cava, served in a bar conveniently located by a water feature/kids play area. The kids slept for long enough during the day for us to soak up the sunshine. And add two weeks without domestic chores, work deadlines and rubbish weather and life was definitely beautiful.

        All good things, sadly, must come to an end. The end came quickly in the shape of showery LOndon, 400 work emails and an empty fridge. What better time than now to be thankful for mother’s higgledly piggledy packages of suspect spices.

        Said suspect spices were, in fact, the basics needed for Kashmiri-style dishes. Soonth or Sonth is a delicate ground ginger, Saunf is fennel and Kashmiri Chilli Powder is like paprika, better loved for its colour and smokiness than its burn rate.

        So I made Kashmiri Paneer. Great with a defrosted portion of dal and some fresh and steaming hot Basmati rice. A gently way to creep back into life.

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          08
          May
          2013

          Surprise encounters

          Saving Saag Aloo

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          Saag aloo 550

          There are two things a long career in PR has given me: 1) thick skin and 2) a great shoe collection. But this scathing critique for my Saag Aloo recipe sent a stiletto piercing through my epidermis:

          “Can’t put into words how awful this recipe is!
          My diners referred to it as sediment dredged from the River Thames!
          Needless to say, as it wasn’t even edible for the dog, it went into the bin!!”

          Ouch.

          Saag Aloo is a British curry house favourite of the world’s two blandest vegetables combined in what can only just be rescued by the miracle of spices. The keyword here is just.

          I felt a weak moment approaching. So I went straight to the man for sympathy. The resident photographer and food taster.

          Serves you right“, came the pat response, “I can’t think of a worse combination of things to make a recipe of.”

          This, from a man brought up in the land where potatoes originated.

          I didn’t make it up. It’s an actual recipe. It’s also one of the most requested recipes on my blog, I persisted, and one of the most common keywords for people to get here.

          “Tell them they’re wrong. That’s what you do, isn’t it?!”

          Not content with totally missing the point of this blogging business, he proceeded to refuse to photograph the next effort. Not ready to be outsmarted, I dished up try 3 with a full meal and held the feast back until the photo was taken.

          If my gruesome intro and ghastly description hasn’t put you off, this recipe is actually quite lovely. The key is to cook the potato with the spices without parboiling and to use lots of salt, some green chilli and a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to lift the spinach. I always ate this back home with pureed spinach. But you could just use chopped, frozen spinach like I did here.

          And here it is. If this is what you get when you put the world’s two blandest ingredients together, I’ll have a 2nd helping with an extra serving of abuse, thanks.

          PS = That’s my lucky oven glove in the pic. Waiting for your verdict with bated breath…
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            30
            Apr
            2013

            Quest for Karma

            Mid-week Kofta Curry

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            Kofta curry 550

            The quest for karma continues, with yet another set of yoga classes. I snuck into the back of a heaving local class popular for using scented oils. All great, until someone fired up a sausage BBQ behind us.

            Yoga is always at the top of my list of after work exercise classes. After all, I did have about 12 years of relentless sun salutations under my belt.

            Back in Calcutta, my mother signed us up to the local yoga centre. A stern lady resembling the love child of Indira Gandhi and Maggie Thatcher (God rest their souls) would give us home lessons. All I remember are the gruelling stretches and her rising blood pressure as we pleaded through every extra count for mercy.

            On arriving in London, I discovered I was very much on trend. Years of yoga had already set me on the path to spiritual enlightenment. If I could do ujjayi breathing, I could pretty much do anything. Technically.

            So through life’s ups and downs, my various half-hearted attempts to regain yoga supremacy this is what I have discovered about the different types of yoga in the West. From an Indian’s perspective:

            • Hatha yoga: Proper yogi stuff. Wear white and be prepared to chant, stand still on one leg and sing in a strange language. Sanskrit, I think. More here
            • Ashtanga yoga: If the poses don’t stretch your limits, the breathing techniques will. Wear spandex and cancel your gym membership
            • Prana yoga: Not entirely sure, but I think its about meditation and controlled breathing. I did neither when I went thanks to the pounding house music straining through the exercise room’s double doors.
            • Bikram yoga: This is what happens when you do yoga in the heat of summer, during a Calcutta power cut. The brainchild of a Bengali. No surprise there.
            • Pregnancy yoga: Yoga to lull you into a false sense of security. It will hurt. Sorry.

            Of course, I am no stranger to taking something old and giving it a new spin.

            Like this mid-week Kofta Curry. I bought a pack of quality ready meatballs, sizzled up a curry sauce and let the meatballs simmer gently in them until they cooked. Not exactly the stuff from the courts of Mughal India but it tastes brilliant and is easy enough to knock up  after a busy day.

            Inner peace next. Om.

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