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

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Suddenly came across an old file I had stashed away in some deep recess in a directory called "et cetera". It has two chicken recipes. I feel I got them from someone while chatting. It has ym written all over it : the emoticons, the shortened words, the weblingo, the misspellings. I just do not remember who gave them to me. I took a quick account of the ids I knew – Rajkonya, Priya, jit, susd….drew blank. Sad feeling this – more than the guilt of publishing it without giving the right credits, it pains you because you feel that the file must have had some happy memories which you have let slip…

So I am publishing them almost verbatim, changing them somewhat, putting them together in coherent sentences to ensure readability:


cut 500 gm. of chicken intpo reasonable sized pcs. boil in water with a tsp of turmeric pdr. when pcs are tender seperate chicken from the stock and reserve seperately. heat oil in a pan. add 200 gm of onion paste , 50 gm. ginger paste, required amt of red chilli powder, salt, sugar, 50 gm. of beaten curd, 20 gm of cashew nut paste, 1 tbsp tomato sauce. saute all ingredients till brown. add chicken pieces and saute well. pour in the stock. add garam masala. remove from the pan when gravy thickens. Aint that B-)?


take 500 gm. Boneless Chicken wash and pat dry. take 1 tsp of red chilli powder, 1-1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, the paste of 5 cloves of garlic. break 2 eggs and seperate the yolks. beat the egg whites till smooth, add 1 gm of saffron colour, the masala paste referred earlier , 2 tsp of lemon juice, 25 ml of refined oil and salt to taste. mix very well and then marinate the chicken in it for at least 2 hours. heat oil in a pan and fry the chicken till golden in colour. garnish with lemon slices and serve hot. :):)

=d> my friend - whoever you are

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Payesh / Kheer

Payesh (or Kheer, as it is known in some parts of India, not to be confused with the Bengali kheer) is a great test of culinary craftsmanship. Unless you get the order, the timing and the proportions right, you end up with doodh-bhat.

BTW, the right way, as always, is the Bangal way.

You need about half a gallon (1.1 litre) of good milk, not the fatless tasteless milkless variety. You might also use half-and-half, about half the amount. With that, you take about half a fistful of rice (Gobindobhog / Basmati). You can use about the same amount of Cashew and raisins.

Keep boiling milk, and add some ghee to it the first time it fluffs up. Stir as often as you can. Add two or three pods of cardamom. Keep the basmati rice soaked with some ghee ready. Add it to the milk when the milk is somewhat dense. Add the rice little by little: do not drop it all in together. Keep stirring as you add the rice. The rice should be boiled, very boiled. The final idea is that the rice should be visible, but when you touch a grain it will sort of disintegrate. So the rice almost (not totally,but almost) melts in the milk. That is the reason why you need a high milk-to-rice ratio. Before the stuff is done, add sugar according to taste. Add kaju, raisins etc after that. Do not boil for more than 5-10 minutes after adding sugar. The whole process will take about 90 mins if you are working with half agallon of milk.

It is important to serve this chilled. If you want to have it for dinner, make it in the morning, let it cool and refrigerate it. In the refrigerator,the payesh "sets" into a semisolid consistency.

A little tip: Suppose you are a novice and you want to keep ensuring that the consistency is right and the sweetness is exactly that level you had had when your mom made it. So you keep tasting as you make the payesh. If you do this, remember that it will be much sweeter and thicker when it is cold than when it is hot.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

I admit, I had not read Soma's blog in some time. When I got to reading it, I discovered she has laid down some ground rules for complicated cooking and really complicated cooking. They are:

1) try sticking to only one kind of spice while cooking (eg. panch phoron/black cumin/ cumin seeds and not zerra dhaniya , garam masala all together..if you know what I mean).

The Mars-Venus rule applies here too. I have noticed that men generally tend to use 10,000 different masalas together - right from Mexican Chicken marinade to American lemon pepper (Trina tells me that you do not find lemon pepper on the other side of the Atlantic) to Bengali Panch foron - and create magic out of it. Although each experiment yields a different result, it is always novel. Every meal is a surprise when a man cooks, even for the cook himself. Women, on the other hand, are conservative by nature. So, they would make curry that tastes the same every day of their life. One's consistency is another's boredom.

2) do not use sugar in cooking excepting in making desserts.

Soma, you are a Bangal, and so am I. Just try telling this to edeshis. They use sugar in everything from shaak to machhbhaja. (Imagine the plight of a Bangal who has an edeshi partner). However, there is one exception to this rule. You can use sugar in the heavy curries to add colour. What you do is add half-a-spoonful as soon as the oil is hot. The caramel gives a crimson hue - even light curries look heavy.

Anyway, Soma is the greatest Biriyani artist that I have seen in my generation. So, she can talk about these issues with some authority. I just hope that she puts up some more of her really really complicated recipes on her blog. They are not that complicated though :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The wonders of the microwave

The microwave is a hugely underutilised gadget. Most people use it only for heating and thawing. It is really meant to be a cooking machine. It can be used to prepare food ab initio. Some ideas:

Boiling rice: Just heat the rice with sufficient water for 18-20 minutes. Ensure that there is excess water when it is done, and drain the water at the end. This ensures that the rice is neither runny, nor sticky. If one is adventurous but is short of time, one can try adding ghee (be generous here), salt (plenty) and sugar (plenty). This time, measure the water so that you do not have to drain it at the end. The ghee will ensure that there is no dryness. You can even add cut vegetables to the rice when it is about half done – and you get a quick Pulao substitute.

Boiling potatoes: The other thing that is not commonly done is boiling potatoes in the microwave. All that has to be done is putting the potato in and switching the machine on. A large potato takes about 6 minutes to be boiled, and you have to turn it over a couple of times in the meantime. This way, what would have taken 25 minutes on the oven can be done in a fifth of the time. Okay, to be technically correct, I should mention that this is closer to baking than boiling, and the potato turns out a little drier than it would have, if you had boiled it in water.

Caveat: Do not try to boil the potato with the rice in the microwave.

You can make a lot of fancy dishes too on the microwave. The only thing is that you need some pre-cooked or canned sauces.

Creamy Chicken Rice:

Ingredients: Rice, a pound of boneless chicken, two onions, one capsicum (green pepper), a can of creamy chicken soup, parsley leaves, salt pepper, chicken masala, garam masala and butter. It is good to have a flat casserole for preparing this.

Prepare the rice and keep it aside. As usual, chop the onion and capsicum, and snip the parsley. Cut the chickn into small quarter-inch pieces. Butter the inside of the tray well. Then add the onion and capsicum with another tablespoon of butter and heat it for about 4 minutes on high, turning them with a spoon after about two minutes. Then add the chicken. After about 6 minutes, the chicken pieces will change colour to white. Now add the creamy chicken soup along with salt, pepper, chicken masala and garam masala to taste. If you have lemon pepper, you can add that too. Heat it for 5 minutes, mixing it from time to time. Now, add the rice and parsley. Heat for another 5 minutes, and the chicken rice is ready.

This one is another taste-it-to-believe-it recipe.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Green Chicken:
(Madhuban Mitra)

I am quite fond of this colour Green in my food – and like green vegetables and non-vegetables. I would also like to bring to the reader’s attention that unlike what Delhiwallahs think, Palak is not the only way to turn food green.

You need: Chicken (in whatever quantity), coriander leaves (one bunch), green chillies (about five), Kasuri methi leaves – note that all of these are green.

Marinate the chicken with vinegar and salt for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, make a paste of the coriander leaves and the chillies – keep the water in the paste to a minimum. Heat oil and sauté the marinated chicken in it for, say, five minutes. Add the paste and cook the chicken in the paste. Add sugar and salt according to taste, cover and let it simmer. The more you cook, the thicker consistency you get. Add a little ghee and kasuri methi leaves before taking it off the oven.


It is heartening for someone in the sad margins of bloggerdom like me to be tagged.

To try a feeble translation of an old Bengali adage, he who cooks also reads books. And not just cookbooks.

Despite that, there is a disonnect between the chef me and the reading-writing me. So, the chef me will refer to the tagged me in the third person, and will lead the reader here.

Thanks, Ani and Runglee.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Chicago Chicken

There are these specific spices that work wonders with specific foods. You dont need anything else, and nothing else will work. Chicago chicken, a local recipe, is a classic illustration. All you need is lemon pepper, chicken pieces and olive oil. Chicken pieces should be thinly sliced, and cut into pieces about one inch square large. Marinate them for about 15 minutes with lemon pepper and maybe some Garam Masala powder - and nothing else. Heat up the olive oil, and just fry the pieces! Take care to ensure that the pieces turn white, but not brown - on either side.

This particular recipe is local, but not too old. It was conceived not so long back in a particular studio apartment in Evanston by a graduate student who writes blogs. He seems to derive all his sense of worth from cooking. He hopes that this Chicago Chicken recipe will bring him fame the world over.

Shaak and Spinach

Here is a beautiful article, titled "shAk and Spinach", by Amitabha Mukherjee. It is about food, language and memories and life elsewhere:

I quote a part here, but I suggest you read the whole:

Words fade in translation. It is futile trying to convey the richness of bugumbilia or shAk to the foreigner. Transcending words, one needs the direct experience, but even then it is a poor approximation to the totality of shared experience that shAk represents.

Going the other way, the same word is merged jostled in the crowd and merges with a host of other meanings. Its colour has bleached, its associations are frayed, and when you meet him in a distant land, part of you also seems lost with it. When you eat bhAt in America, you are eating rice. When you buy chAl, or the farmer grows dhAn, it is also rice. But rice comes in many more shades to the Bengali in me, each intertwined into delicate strands of memory. The feel of bhAt as I mix it with my fingers - the chAl as I sieve it through my hand directly from the jute sack - how can I relate this with the neatly pre-packaged grain that I eat directly from the rice-cooker? And the word itself - it means everything and therefore it means nothing to me. What of the process of serving and eating rice - bhAt bADA and bhAt bhAngA - which will never have an analog in English? What then of polAo, the festive mood of which is irrepairably lost in the colourless "fried rice" that degrades it to mere food, and worse, lumps it with a myriad dishes from far east and elsewhere. Then there is pAyes - rich, sweet, lush and creamy - off with your banal "rice pudding". There is "muri", and "khai", and "chiDe" - what a letdown it is to eat "puffed rice mixture" when what we are eating is muri-chAnAchur. The eskimo has twenty words for "hole in the ice", and I am sure he also feels the same sense of loss and devastation in a pagan land that knows only ice in the fridge. What of lankA and marich - both "chile": or when you say hot - is it jhhAl or is it garam? And then there is the untranslatable: what of the sondA gandha - how can "smell of the earth after the rain" tickle the nostrils the same way?

This difference in translation is, of course, also a difference in culture, and ultimately, a difference in identity. This is the gap that is so palpable between a second generation Indian and one who grew up in India. Communities in exile, like the Tamils of Singapore, or the Jewish diaspora with Hebrew, hold on to a purer form of the language, which mutates and may even be lost in the motherland. This is their fragile attempt to hold on to something that is uniquely theirs. Words define us; shared meanings define our identity. When we lose a word, we also lose little bits of ourselves. When we are in the same place, each loss is replaced with more new ones; but in a foreign land one can merely cling ever harder to what was there in the past.