Thought I could add some spice to your life...

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Let us now talk about some easy, easy snacks. These are largely my own simplified versions of what is otherwise pretty common roadside stuff.

Evanstonian Omlette

Required ingredients:
1. Mixed vegetables, cut into small pieces : frozen, packed stuff is fine – try to use the variety with lots of peas, carrots and cut green beans
2. Chicken or meat franks (for Hot Dogs)
3. Two eggs
4. Shredded cheese (optional)
5. Cilantro (Coriander leaves – optional)
6. Other, standard stuff
7. Usual fare : Oil, salt etc

Break the two eggs in a bowl. Add some salt and half a cup of milk. Mix thoroughly. Chop the cilanthro leaves and add to the mix. Cut one or two franks into small, thin disc-like pieces. Now heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and add the meat pieces. Fry them on medium high heat. After about 3 minutes, add the veggies and keep frying. Add half a teaspoon of salt while frying. After about 7-8 minutes, add a generous helping of cheese : stir thoroughly. Then, within a minute, add the egg mix. Spread it out in the frying pan like you do with an ordinary omlette. After 3-4 minutes, reduce the heat. Do not disturb the pan. Soon, the omlette will be a one-inch thick pizza-like thing with a soft top and semisolid crust at the bottom. Now you are done. Do not fold it : it is too thick to fold. Take care to ensure the bottom is not burnt.

Next, comes the chef’s trick. Slowly tilt the pan and let the omlette slide to a plate. It must not break. Sprinkle some powdered pepper on it. Add some ketchup on top : if you are skilful enough you can write your guest’s name on the omlette with the ketchup. She will remember, for sure.

Grad student Burrito

Once we had a whole plate of mutton Biriyani left over from a party. It was then that I conceived this Indo-Mexican, very grad-student Burrito. All I needed apart from it was some tortillas and mayonnaise. I was pretty surprised with my innovation. So here goes.

Cut up an onion and a green pepper into thin, long pieces and fry them in oil. Keep it separately. Now, take a tortilla and spread it out. Now you need to make the stuffing. First, lay on it some rice from the Biriyani in a stratight line along the middle (much like they make the filling for egg rolls in Kolkata). Then, cut up the mutton or chicken chunks into long pieces and put them on the rice. If you have some cooked rajma, you can add it too. Next, add some mixed veggies. If you use frozen vegetables, thaw them well before making the stuffing. Add the onion-capsicum fry to it. Finally, add a strand each of mayonnaise and ketchup in the form of a straight line on the stuffing. Now roll the tortilla into a cylindrical shape. Place the tortilla on a frying pan on medium high heat. Hold it with a spatula so that the rolling does not come off. But the heat will soon ensure that the tortiall retains its rolled shape. Turn it over very, very carefully and keep heating. Within 3-4 minutes, you are ready with a burrito. My suggestion would be to treat your Mexican friend with it: he will never have had a burrito that tastes like THIS.

Egg Roll

This is so simple that I wonder whether it is worth writing the recipe here. But the fact that so few people actually make it makes me feel that writing out may at least act as a reminder that one does not have to physically visit Kolkata to have an egg roll. You know the ingredients: half of an onion, a green chili, an egg, a tortilla, some lime juice and some ketchup. Cut the onion into long, thin pieces. Pare the chili too into very small pieces, and keep them. Break the egg and stir it with half a teaspoon of salt. Now heat some oil (be generous) in a frying pan and fry a tortilla, turning it over in the pan. Not too papery, not too soft. Keep it aside. Then, spread the egg mix out in the pan, and after 30 seconds, cover it with the tortilla. After a minute, take it off the pan and lay it out on a paper napkin with the tortilla facing down. Just like the burrito above, add the onion pieces in a line. Throw in the chili (only if you like). Add the ketchup in one strand along the onion. Sprinkle the lime juice all over. Then roll the paper with the tortilla-omlette inside. One suggestion : at every step, try mimicking the egg-roll wallah you ate it from the last time. With this, you create not only a very delicious dish, but a piece of Calcutta too.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Somehow, my craving for home was not lessened a bit by the spicy, oily stuff that I made everyday. I felt as if I was eating at a cheap hotel. It was the very plain daal that added a touch of home to my meals. Daal can be made in many, many ways, ranging from very bland to very spicy. Here are a few of them, going up the spice ladder.

The Homely Musur Daal

To make it my Mom’s way, you need one ingredient that is found only in West Bengal: it is called Randhuni. The spice is an element of Panch Foron (Paanch Puran), but there it is often replaced by black mustard. If you cannot get hold of Randhuni, you can use Paanch Foron, and I would give recipes for both.

With Randhuni, it is deceptively simple. Boil two fistfuls of daal in water with a pinch of salt. Ensure that it is thoroughly boiled. 30 minutes on high in the microwave in a large bowl (otherwise the froth will overflow) should be enough. (A little trick: whenever you boil something always add salt, that raises the boiling point of water and quickens the process of boiling.) Now, heat one tablespoon of oil in a pan, and add half a teaspoon of randhuni to the oil. (How do you know that the oil is heated? Simple. One indicator of the fact that the oil is hot and ready is that the bubbles that form in the oil will have died down. Another indicator is that the oil will be much more “mobile”: it will move more freely across the pan once it is hot. The first indicator works better with mustard oil, and the second one better with vegetable oils.) In about a minute, the randhuni will give out a nice aroma. Then add the boiled daal. Add half a tablespoon of salt, half a table spoon of turmeric powder. Do not add chili powder. Cut a few green chilies longitudinally (along the length) into two halves and add them to the daal. In about 8-10 minutes, you are through. If you have a “daaler kanta”, (a daal stirrer), try stirring the daal when it is hot so that the lentils mix through. You are ready. Amazing that you get so much taste with such little effort.

With Paanch foron, you can do it exactly the same way replacing randhuni with paanch foron, although IMHO, it tastes better with randhuni. However, you can embellish it better with paanch foron. Cut an onion into small pieces and fry it in oil till golden brown after you have added the paanch foron (remember to add it only after the spices are hot enough to give out an aroma). Then add the boiled lentils. Again, with onion or no oinion, you can add dhonepata (cilantro leaves) a minute before switching off the heat.

Moong Musallam

This can be a real party delicacy. The basic ingredient is unsheathed moong daal and green peas, in a ratio 2:1. First, take a frying paan or tawa, spread the daal on it, and heat it on medium high heat. Spread the daal out thinly, and keep churning it with a spatula so that the lentils do not burn. You can also keep shaking the frying pan to achieve the same end. Do it for 3-4 minutes, and the daal will change colour from yellow to orange-red. Take a pressure cooker and heat two tablespoons of oil, add jeera (cumin seeds), and three or four red dried chilies. Next, add the daal to it. Add a large cupful of water, and close the lid of the pressure cooker. Add salt, turmeric powder and if you want, a small amount of chili powder too.A touch of sugar often tastes good. After seven or eight whistles in the pressure cooker, switch off the heat. Relieve the pressure by releasing the valve or just holding it under cool running water. Open the lid, and check the consistency. If it is too thick, add some water. But do not make it too liquid, it does not taste good that way. Add the peas, and heat it for 5 more minutes. Add a tablespoonful each of ghee and garam masala powder. Mix it well and switch off the heat. If you want to do without this second round of heating, you can add the peas in the first round, but the ghee and garam masala have to be added at the end.

In case you do not have a pressure cooker, the process will take much longer: maybe an hour and a half on high heat. Remember to use a covered pan. You get the same taste though.

Try it, try it, try it. Only then you will know what I am talking about.