13
Jan
2014

Winter warmer

Spicy Punjabi Dal

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Maa Chole ki Daal 550

Happy New Year to you all!

Festive fever has well and truly ended. Not before we had 9 adults, 2 toddlers, 1 baby and 2 dogs for Christmas. And a dog splattered bodily fluids on mini Basu’s glitter party shoes.

Fittingly, this turn of the year’s celebrations have been low key. Where else to end the shenanigans of the year but a cottage on a sheep farm in the middle of nowhere? The kids were not convinced. I want to go in an earoplane, was followed quickly by, I want to go in a swimming pool.

The promise of a tractor did the trick. We hardened city dwellers would now embrace mud, yuck and woodlands with zeal. We bundled the kids, a nifty selection of toys, a bottle of Rose Taittinger, and my best country wear into the boot. If we were going to enjoy the delights of the country, we would do it well. A staycation in style.

Style is not what came to mind as we drove towards our destination. Tucked away at the top of a winding mud path was our cottage on a farm featuring not just sheep, but horses, chickens and trout. Through gritted teeth I agreed on  a walk through the woods. Who cares that the path was knee deep in mud, and a biting wind was about to deep freeze my bones.

At least we were dressed for the occasion. Or so I thought. The farmer came running towards us as I prepared to leap over a fence. I like your wellies, she said, pointing squarely at their wedge heels. [You think Wedge Wellies would be commonplace in these parts.] Before I could jump to my defence, she added, you won’t need your handbag in the woods dear.

A little more sheepish than we had started, we braved the fine outdoors getting cosy later with a warming, thick and vegan Spicy Punjabi Dal that caught my eye from Monica’s Spice Diary. This is the perfect dal for the Arctic blast, and ideal used as a dunking base for chunks of bread, ripped up pitta or warm rotis of course. And what better way to start a year of eating than a clear head and a warm heart?

Here’s to a fantastic year ahead.
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    02
    Dec
    2013

    Out of comfort zone

    Aloo Tikki Chole for festive fun

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    Aloo Tikki Chole 550

    As far as I am concerned, Durga Puja kicks off the festive season. The first big celebration before Diwali, Kali Puja and then the grand finale of Christmas.

    As a self-respecting NRI mother, I dust the cobwebs off my sarees, kit the kids out and make way to the nearest pujo pandal. But not before I have seized the moment to teach my errant toddlers the story of Ma Durga.

    I sit them down in their fake Shah Rukh Khan / Karisma Kapoor outfits and start the search. Thank mercy for YouTube, I smile. If there is one place for a suitable animation of the story of Goddess Durga and all her incarnations, this is it.

    YouTube, as it turns out, is not the go to place for suitable. I watched as the Goddess of Strength in my animation of choice partook in a blood bath, where splodges of tomato ketchup landed here, there and everywhere. With every raised spear and splodge of colour on the screen, I watched the bundles turn a paler shade of brown.

    When the asuras heads ended up in her grips along with the blood stained weaponry, I spotted that ominous “see you at night time look”. I finally dived forward and switched to a furry oversize puppet singing the ABC song. Next time I’ll just tell the story without the quasi horror visual gags.

    There is no better excuse to try something a little out of the comfort zone than during the festive season. For Durga Puja, I didn’t venture much further than the special Bhoger Khichuri of course. But for Diwali, I turned my attention to a slightly more tricky Aloo Tikki Chole, a spicy, tangy snack of potato cakes on a bed of chickpea curry doused with sweet and sour chutneys, topped with crunchy onions and crunchy gram flour noodles.

    I say tricky, because it involves the preparation of four different things, not forgetting the need for a number of specialist ingredients that require a focused trolley dash. This, in my life, is the almighty faff that only festivity can justify. Only just.

    The key here, as with most Indian cooking, is in timing. Cook the aloo tikkis under a hot grill, so that you can be getting on with preparing the other bits and bobs. And make the chutneys the day before, so that’s one less thing to think about.
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      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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