Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Mung Dal with Spinach

Split Mung Beans with Spinach
This simple preparation for lentils and spinach is a breeze to make and gets dinner on the table in a jiffy.   

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bori Diye Doodh Lau - Bottle Gourd/Chayote Squash Simmered in Milk

Bori Diye Doodh Lau

Doodh Lau (Milk Bottle-Gourd) is a simple way of cooking squash which is suitable for people suffering from stomach ailments. This dish uses no spices and the seeds from the peppers can be removed, if need be. Bottle-gourd is widely available in most parts of India whereas chayote squash is found in the hilly regions, namely Darjeeling, which is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan mountains.

Chayote Squash

Lau or Bottle Gourd

Chayote squash, sourced from Mexico (I think), is more readily available in North America and can be found in supermarkets across the US. Lau or bottle-gourd can only be found in the Indian markets and some Asian markets where I live. Both chayote squash and lau have no taste of their own and absorb the taste of the gravy in which they are cooked. Lau tends to break down more easily than chayote squash and reduces to practically nothing because of its high water content. I use chayote squash interchangeably with lau and have cooked it in all the ways that I've seen lau being cooked, most notably with shrimp, in a mustard sauce and in milk and bori.

Sona Mung Bori
Bori are lentil dumplings that are spiced heavily in North India, but more delicately in West Bengal. Made from mung beans, Bengali bori are small and round with a pointed crest. They are dry and hard because they are traditionally formed by hand and dried in the sun. I like to fry them to a golden brown and soak them in boiling hot water and left to soak until ready to use. I drain the bori and save the water for flavouring the lau or chayote squash. 
Plain milk can be used to make the gravy for doodh-lau, but I prefer to use the shelf-stable variety called evaporated milk, from which 60% of water has been removed from fresh milk. It differs from sweetened condensed milk which contains added sugar.

Squash Simmered in Milk

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mum's Green Beans & Potatoes

Mum's Green Beans
Over the Christmas holidays we lunched at Burger King once and returned home with french fries by the bucket full. Since it goes against all my principles to throw them away, I decided to use them in Mum's Green Beans. 

Mum's Original Recipe
I've made these green beans often because I love the flavour of black pepper in combination with an overabundance of sliced onions and tomatoes. The french fries were fully cooked, nice and crispy, so they were added towards the end of the cooking process. They are also liberally salted, so no salt was added to the green beans. The crispiness of the green beans and the eventual soft texture of the fries were an interesting combination that tasted really good.

Ready to Eat!
Mum's Green Beans serve as a side dish to a Bengali meal that usually consists of a meat/fish/seafood main dish, a vegetable side and lentils. Extras include a tomato chutney, something fried such as Begun Bhaja, a salad or raita and hot, steamed basmati rice served with a dollop of ghee, or chapatis (tortillas). A variety of desserts round out the meal, my favourite being Bhapa Doi or Steamed Yogurt.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Alu Potol Posto - Potatoes & Pointed Gourd in White Poppy Seed Gravy

Alu Potol Posto
Potol used to be available only on the Indian subcontinent but is now available year-round in the Indian markets of North America. I remember guests visiting us in Rangoon, Burma, from India would bring potol with them. It was such a treat for us!
Decades later in India, my son returned from a shopping trip with his paternal grandfather, and recounted his adventures at the open-air market. He proudly declared that they had brought back 'pot-holes' from the market. He giggled hysterically as he watched me figure out that he was talking about potols. His favourite pasttime is to twist Bengali words into English words, often times with hilarious results.

Alu Posto is a favourite side dish served with Bengali meals. Alu Potol Posto can be eaten with hot, steamed basmati rice or with chapatis or parathas.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Gajar (Carrot) Halwa

Gajar ka Halwa
Carrots are naturally sweet, so this dessert needs just a little added sugar. To get all the Indian flavours, Gits Kulfi Mix added at the end works wonders. I've also used Gits Rasmalai Mix with good results. Make your own at home by combining Carnation Instant Dry Milk with sugar to taste, cardamom powder, ground almonds and a few drops of Kewra Essence (extract from pandanus flowers) or 2 teaspoons of rose water.

Deem Ruti or Anda Pau or Egg Sandwiches

Deem Ruti 
Making breakfast for a crowd can be daunting. Over the holidays we had a full house which was a lot of fun. Even though I was well-prepared to make several breakfasts, lunches and dinners, the weather did not cooperate. Temperatures were frigid and windows were iced in place and we hate the smell of stale food in the house, so we ate out a lot - a whole lot!

The Stuffing Inside
King's Hawaiian Rolls are fluffy, portion-sized with a slight sweetness that we all love, but reserve for the holidays. These bite-sized sandwiches are sold as snacks by street vendors in all the metropolitan cities in India. We love our omelettes with minced onions and tomatoes and green chilies which makes a delightful filling for the sandwiches. I went a step further and added slices of provolone cheese and sliced chicken to the mix.

Topped and Fried
Once the bottoms of the buns are smothered with the eggs, cheese and chicken, the buns are covered with the top halves and fried in butter. The little snack-sized buns are then segmented and served with ketchup or a variety of chutneys like tamarind or mint chutney, or sweet chili sauce.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Salmon Maacher Pulao - Fish Pilaf

Fish Pilaf
A complete one-dish meal, this pilaf combines salmon, cauliflower and potatoes with rice for a flavour-filled dish. Fish pilaf needs a strong tasting fish such as ilish or salmon. Both kinds of fish are fatty, omega-3 rich varieties that impart the required flavour to the mild flavours of the rest of the ingredients. It's best to use bone-in fish to maximize on taste so fish heads would also work here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Mixed Berries Jam

Mixed Berries Jam
This was a great way to use up those frozen berries stashed in the deep interior of the freezer. They're supposed to be used in smoothies, so I have no idea how they got in the freezer because we're not 'smoothie types'. 
Frozen Berries (48 Oz./3 Lb.)
Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are what were listed on the package and all of them are rich in pectin so I decided to make jam. It turned out to be the easiest ever to make with the simple addition of some sugar to the package of berries.
No Additional Pectin Needed
Amazing how good just 2 ingredients can taste! It took about an hour to cook this jam and the test is simple to make sure it's reached jam consistency - a dollop of the berries on a little plate placed in the refrigerator to cool stays in place without running when it's tilted. It needs minimal baby/jam sitting, but must be stirred frequently to prevent scorching.

15 Oz. of Jam
Since it will be consumed in a short time, it was transferred to a clean salsa jar and refrigerated after it came to room temperature. Perfect on toast or English muffins, I've also had it on waffles, pancakes and as a condiment for Honeybaked ham.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saag Chicken

Saag Chicken
This dish was inspired by a post in Facebook that recommended that the chicken be cooked in the usual way and then simmered with spinach that is blanched and blended with tomatoes and green chilies. It worked out really well with minimal effort.

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes

Ice Cream Cone Cupcakes
The grand-boys were delighted with these ice cream cone cupcakes which were  inspired by an idea on the Betty Crocker website. A chocolate cake mix was used to fill each cone halfway. Most children like to show off their creativity, and allowing them to frost and decorate their own ice cream cupcake makes it fun for everyone. 

Baked Cones in a Muffin Pan
It's important to find flat-bottomed medium sized ice cream cones. A muffin pan makes a great baking pan and foil was used to fill the gaps in the muffin cups to keep the cones straight while baking. The fear of the cones burning was completely misplaced. It was so amazing that they didn't even deepen in colour.

The Cones Filled in Nicely
The cake reached all the way to the bottom. It's fool-proof and almost impossible to make a mistake with this dessert.

Topped with
Ice Cream & Sprinkles
One option is to top the cone with ice cream. Serving ice cream in this way is mess-free and holes poked in the cake allowed the ice cream to seep all the way through to the bottom, so it's good to the last crumb. Another option is to pipe icing on each cupcake. In that case I would pour more batter into the cones because icing would stay more firmly in place.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Maacher Muro Diye Bhaja Mooger Dal - Fish Head in Toasted Split Mung Bean Lentils

Maacher Muro Diye Bhaja Mooger Dal
Maacher muro or fish head adds an enormous amount of flavour, also known as umami, to anything to which it is added. Umami, in my opinion, is that robust taste that is tough to satisfy; it makes the epicure crave more of the same. There are a myriad ways to prepare fish head and since I have so many of them in my freezer, I plan to serve them up in all the known ways. 

I have blogged about a few of these ways - Fish Head Pilaf, Squash with Fish Head and Bottle Gourd with Fish Heads. Toasted mung bean lentils serves as a creamy base for fish heads. The whole head is pan-fried to a golden brown crisp before immersing in the lentils to finish cooking.

Served with a steaming bowl of Basmati rice, I need nothing more than some peace and quiet so I can focus on removing the bones before enjoying this dish.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Irish Oatmeal Pilaf

Steel-Cut Irish Oatmeal Pilaf
During a phone call to my sister-in-law about a month ago, she suggested I try this pilaf for lunch. Admittedly, it didn't sound very appealing because porridge is porridge and nothing like pilaf. It was a good thing I decided to try it anyway.

McCann's Steel-Cut Oatmeal
Steel-cut oatmeal is available in the British/UK section of the international aisle of the grocery store. Because of how long it takes to cook, this type of oats is given a wide berth, but after wrapping my mind around pilaf, I decided to treat it just like rice. This tactic worked well and the pilaf tasted amazingly good!

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Maacher Deem Bhaja - Fried Fish Roe

Maacher Deem Bhaja
Sometimes, I wake up in the morning with an incredible feeling of being blessed beyond imagination. This feeling persists as hot water pours out of the taps and I find a comfortable spot to enjoy my iced coffee with an almond biscotti. Our stress-free life in the most comfortable place in the world is just one of the ways in which we benefit from growing older. Going away on vacation is very exciting, but the best part is returning home. There is no place on earth I'd rather be than exactly where I am today.

In my recent blogs, I've mentioned Hubby's ex-colleague & fisherman who has been supplying us with fresh fish. His last batch included an enormous amount of fish roe which to a Bengali is as precious as gold. In its fried form fried roe is served as a starter but the fried nuggets are also cooked in mustard gravy or any fish gravy. They have to be pan-fried first in any case, so here is how fish roe is prepared, using just five simple ingredients.

Maacher Chop - Fish Cakes

Maacher Chop
Usually served as a first course in a Bengali meal, these fish patties can be made with any fish, such as salmon, tuna or tilapia. Mashed potatoes are most commonly used for binding, but bread crumbs work too. The shape varies from the long, cylindrical croquettes to these round patties. Filleted fish is the easiest to work with because most of the bones have been removed, but an effort should be made to remove any remaining bones by hand.

The process is quite simple. The fish needs to be poached, flaked and deboned. Russet or baking potatoes have to be boiled for 20 minutes, peeled and mashed. Aromatics made up of onions, garlic, ginger, green chilies, mint and cilantro need to be minced and stir-fried before adding the fish and further stir-frying, seasoned with salt and a pinch of pepper. This needs to be cooled to room temperature before combining with mashed potatoes and formed into patties.

The easiest way to pan-fry these is to dredge the patties in flour before frying or for a crispy coating, they can be dipped in beaten eggs and panko crumbs. Decorate the serving platter with sliced onions, tomatoes and wedges of lime, pile the patties on and serve with sweet chili sauce, ketchup, tamarind or mint chutney.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Egg-Topped Glass Noodles Soup

Egg-Topped Glass Noodles Soup
Fall is in the air which fits the bill for hot and soul-satisfying soups for lunch. All the left-over bits of vegetables and tofu from the fridge form the base for this meal in a bowl. 

Egg Adds More Protein
My preference for glass noodles over egg noodles lies in its make-up. Glass noodles are made from mung beans whereas egg noodles are made from wheat so there are less carbohydrates in the former. Tofu is high in protein and low in fat which makes it an excellent choice for this meal, but any form of protein works in the soup.

Fast & Easy Prep
The ingredients for the soup were previously chopped and left over, making it really easy to dump into some chicken broth. The glass noodles simply need to be soaked in boiling broth and cut with scissors into smaller lengths directly in the saucepan. I used triple-washed baby spinach, kale and other greens that came prepped from the store. To add some more flavour, the egg was beaten with a touch of chicken bouillon powder before topping the soup.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Chingri Maacher Malai Curry - Shrimp in Coconut Sauce

 Chingri Maacher Malai Curry
The perfect festive dish to take along to a potluck, this shrimp curry is a Bengali favourite at any gathering. Malai means cream, but instead of using whipping cream, cream from a can of coconut milk is used. Suppress the natural inclination to shake the can before opening, and remove the cream that collects on the inside of the can top and keep scooping out the coconut cream from the can until the thin coconut milk becomes visible.

Purchase the largest raw shrimp that is available. I was lucky enough to find peeled & deveined shrimp that tasted divine. My indication of success is when children like what I cook and had fun watching the littlest kids clamoring for 'fish!' last night at a Diwali potluck.

First Cooking of Shrimp

To keep the shrimp soft and succulent, I introduced them to the sauce at the start, removed them and reintroduced them at the end of the cooking process.
Knowing there were going to be children at this get-together, I kept away from the stronger spices and kept the sauce simple.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Scrambled Tofu & Eggs Akuri

Scrambled Tofu & Eggs Akuri
Eggs Akuri is a common Parsi breakfast dish that is served all over India.

Prepped Ingredients
Beaten eggs are combined with diced onions, tomatoes, green chilies and cilantro for a very tasty accompaniment to buttered toast. In Bengali households this style of scrambled eggs are given a bright golden colour with the addition of turmeric powder.

Extra-Firm Tofu
I figured tofu would taste great with the scrambled eggs because of its firm and silky texture. To give it an Indo-Chinese twist, the diced cubes of tofu were tossed in chicken bouillon powder to give the tasteless tofu some punch. After allowing them to sit for 10 minutes, the cubes of tofu were mashed with a fork and soaked in beaten eggs before scrambling.

Chicken Bouillon Powder
No salt was added because the bouillon powder was salty enough.

These scrambled eggs taste great with buttered toast or hot chapatis or even steamed long-grain rice. I can imagine them stuffed inside egg parathas or bread pakoras...the possibilities are endless!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Burmese Fish Ball Sipyan

Burmese Fish Ball Sipyan
Fish balls remind me of the time a group of co-workers and I went to lunch at a Chinese restaurant and I ordered fish ball and watercress soup. A Chinese lady and I were the only ones who had ever heard of fish balls, so it was the source of much amusement and glee for our meat-and-potatoes comrades. 

Fish balls can be made at home, but are readily available in Asian markets here in North America. When made from scratch, all the tastes that make them uniquely Burmese can be added to the fish mixture so that the flavors permeate from the inside out. Using generic fish balls from the market requires that they be simmered long and slow and, for this, the sipyan method works best. 'Sipyan' translates to 'oil returns' which requires a simmering process on medium-low heat that evaporates the liquid until all the oil rises to the surface.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Lau Chingri - Bottle Gourd/Chayote Squash with Shrimp

Lau Chingri
This is a Bengali recipe that traditionally uses bottle gourd, which I often replace with chayote squash because it's more readily available. Zucchini also works well in this recipe.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Burmese KyaukKyaw with Sliced Peaches - Coconut Jello with Peaches

KyaukKyaw with Sliced Peaches
I've spent most of my adult life trying to achieve the perfect Kyauk Kyaw that has two distinct layers, one translucent and the other opaque. Finally the secret was revealed to me when my sister posted a video of it on Facebook. So thanks to Dany Kao for her instructions for a perfect dessert. The secret is to make this with a 1:5.5 ratio of coconut milk to water. I've modified her recipe to include more specific measurements pertaining to the size of cans and amount of agar-agar.

Agar Agar is a popular dessert ingredient in South East Asian countries where it is used as a substitute for gelatin. Agar agar, a seaweed extract, is a good vegan substitute for gelatin which is derived from animal products. Agar agar comes in several different forms - flakes, strands and powdered.  The powdered form of agar agar is much more potent than the flakes or strands. It takes 1 tablespoon of flakes or strands to thicken 1 cup of water, whereas 1 teaspoon of the powder is sufficient to thicken 1 cup of water.

Serve on its own or with canned fruit cocktail or peaches.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tomato Chutney

Tomato Chutney
Our neighbours and friends grow beautiful blemish-free tomatoes during the summer and we are blessed with their bounty. The 6 yr-old boy next door with the help of his friend set up a little table by the curbside, giving away the cutest home-grown cherry tomatoes. They were free, we were told, with the only stipulation that only 8 tomatoes were allowed per person. They provided the ziploc bags and the two boys had the time of their lives, waving down passing cars and neighbours taking a walk.

Another friend invited me over for lunch and filled up a whole bag with plum tomatoes that looked like mini-roma tomatoes. Yet another friend grew regular-size roma tomatoes, so all this bounty resulted in a delicious chutney.

Mum made this chutney on festive occasions which is where the recipe is derived. I used a quarter pound of date jaggery (khejur-er gur in Bengali) which gave the chutney a depth of flavour that is almost impossible to achieve with plain sugar. The jaggery combined with very thin slivers of ginger, diced tomatoes and raisins were all that were needed to make this chutney. 

It was easy to make and basically cooked on medium-low heat with little intervention. Served as an accompaniment to any Indian meal, this chutney gives a festive air to a gathering of friends to celebrate the fall season.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Stir-Fried Spinach, Eggplant & Shrimp

Stir-Fried Spinach, Eggplant & Shrimp
Shrimp added to any vegetable dish ramps up the flavour a hundred fold. Here, spinach and eggplant are stir-fried and salad shrimp added just before taking off the stove. Very easy to make, using the simplest of readily available ingredients, this is a must-try recipe for shrimp lovers.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sujir Payesh with Dried Apricots - Semolina Pudding with Dried Apricots

Sujir Payesh with Dried Apricots
Soft and creamy, this adaptation of a childhood comfort food appeals to young and old alike. Semolina or cream of wheat or suji is a familiar food in the breakfast aisle of the grocery store. The breakfast cereal packages contain semolina in its instant form which is not what is used in this recipe because when it is cooked in this way, it turns to a mushy paste. So visit an Indian market and get unprocessed large grains of semolina in a bag. Kept in a cool, dark place, the bag will last several years if kept in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.

The semolina is first toasted in a skillet with butter until golden brown and fragrant. Meanwhile, milk is scalded with raisins & sugar in another pan and the two are combined to produce a smooth and creamy pudding. Just to be different, I decided to use coconut milk instead of regular milk and replaced the raisins with minced, dried apricots. 

One gentleman who loved to have this with heated tortillas for breakfast once told me that the semolina, sugar and butter should be used in a 1:1 ratio and the milk to semolina ratio should be 2:1. I admit this tastes heavenly, but not so good for diabetics or people with high cholestrerol levels, so I toned it down significantly. A hint of cardamom powder gives this pudding a decadent touch.

Phulkopi Diye Bhaja Mooger Dal - Toasted Mung Bean Lentils with Cauliflower

Toasted Mung Bean Lentils
With Cauliflower
Split mung bean lentils taste quite different when they are toasted in a dry pan until light brown. The lentils are cooked until soft and mashable, then combined with cauli-florets that are stir-fried separately. Tomatoes add a tangy note and green chilies add a tongue-tingling heat. This dal pairs well as a side dish with tortillas or hot rice.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Dim'er Korma - Eggs in Onion Gravy

Dim'er Korma
Taking the definition from Wikipedia, korma is a dish originating in the Indian subcontinent, consisting of meat or vegetables braised with yogurt/cream and spices to produce a thick sauce or glaze. I used evaporated milk instead of cream and cooked the eggs and potatoes long and slow over a low flame. Onions that are grated or blended into a paste tend to take a long time to cook enough to remove it's strong aroma. I read that blanching onions before blending takes care of this problem. A thick sauce is produced by adding simmering water when making the gravy. Somehow, cold water or broth added to simmering spices thins out the gravy, so make sure to keep a simmering cup or two of water/broth close at hand.

To make perfect hard-boiled eggs, bring the eggs to a rolling boil over medium heat, cover the saucepan and simmer for ten minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the eggs in the saucepan for another ten minutes. Drain the eggs and rinse under cold water then fill the saucepan with cold water and leave the eggs to cool down completely. They'll be easy to peel with no blemishes at all. Slit the eggs vertically four or five times to make sure the gravy penetrates to the core. Lightly fry the eggs until golden brown before releasing them into the gravy.