Monday, February 20, 2017

Mung Bean Lentils with Peas

Koraishuti Diye Kacha Mooger Dal
Lentils are an essential part of any Bengali meal. They're kind of boring on their own, so adding a simple vegetable like green peas to mung bean lentils takes it out of the ordinary into the extraordinary, especially when accompanied by chopped tomatoes and ginger. On a cold winter's day when everything outside is blanketed in snow, there is no other comfort food like a bowl of steaming lentils over a mound of rice.

I generally cook red and mung bean lentils on the back burner over a low flame while the burners in front are being used to cook the rest of the meal. It's easier to cook lentils in a pressure cooker, but they tend to turn to mush whereas stovetop cooking produces a more al dente texture with more of a bite. 

These mung bean lentils have not been toasted which is my preferred way of cooking them with vegetables. When fish heads are added to mung beans, I like to toast them to give the lentils more body. Split mung bean lentils are cooked at a ratio of 1:4 cups of lentils to water. They're brought to a boil with turmeric and salt and the cooked vegetables are added after the lentils reach the desired consistency. While the lentils are cooking, the peas are stir-fried with tomatoes and ginger paste in a tempering of hot oil, cumin seeds, star anise and bay leaves and then added to the cooked lentils. Lentils are best served over hot rice or chapatis/tortillas.

Ingredients
1 cup split mung bean lentils, washed and drained
4 cups water
1/4 tsp. turmeric
salt to taste

4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 star anise
2 green chilies, diced
1 large tomato, diced
1 tsp. ginger paste
1 cup frozen peas
salt to taste
1 tsp. ghee

Directions
  1. Bring lentils and water to boil in a saucepan, skim off all the scum that rises to the top and add turmeric and salt.
  2. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for about 30 minutes until lentils reach the desired consistency.
  3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a separate skillet and sputter cumin seeds, chilies, bay leaves and star anise.
  4. Add ginger paste, tomatoes and peas and stir-fry until oil resurfaces.
  5. Add cooked lentils and simmer for 2 minutes.
  6. Adjust salt to taste and garnish with ghee before serving over a mound of hot rice or with chapatis.


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Stir-Fried Kale Medley with Red Radishes

Stir-Fried Kale Medley with Red Radishes
Kale Medley
The box of kale medley is triple-washed so it can be used straight away without washing. The mixture of young greens are tender and full of flavour. Dried red chilies are deseeded by splitting in half and shaking out the seeds. This reduces the spiciness. Watch them closely while they're sizzling so they don't burn which could reduce you and your audience into a coughing frenzy.

Greens are an essential part of the Indian table. In Bengal they are prepared in a variety of ways of which this stir-fry is the simplest. More exotic forms include meat, poultry, fish heads or homemade cheese (chana/paneer). The general rule is that if you can eat the fruit off the vine, the leaves are also edible.

However, I have first-hand knowledge of how dangerous it is to take this too literally. A member of my extended family watched his wife make a strawberry-rhubarb pie and noticed she was discarding the lovely greens, she had no idea why. He asked her to chop them up and prepare them the same way she would stir-fry spinach. The 'spinach' was relished at dinner that night. Not much later they both developed severe stomach aches and diarrhea which sent them to the emergency room of the closest hospital. After receiving treatment and armed with drugs, they returned home totally famished. They raided the fridge and ate more rhubarb greens before taking to their beds. Lo and behold, they took ill again and headed to the emergency room once more. This time they were grilled by the doctor of all that they had eaten in the last 24 hours. He and his staff were horrified to hear about the rhubarb greens which are extremely poisonous to human beings. Yes, the stalks can be eaten, but never the greens!

This side dish goes perfectly with hot rice or any type of Indian bread.

Ingredients:
1 lb. organic kale medley, (baby kale, baby spinach, baby chard & shredded carrots)
1 lb. red radishes, quartered
1 russet potato, diced
1/4 tsp. whole Bengali 5 spice/panch phoron (nigella, fennel, fenugreek, cumin & mustard seeds)
2 whole dried red chilies, deseeded
1 large onion, minced
3 green chilies, minced
1 large tomato, minced
2 tsp. ginger paste
1 tsp. roasted Bengali 5 spice/panch phoron powder
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
salt to taste

Directions:
  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat and temper with panch phoron and red chilies.
  2. Add green chilies and onions, followed by ginger paste and tomatoes.
  3. Add red radishes and potatoes, stir, cover and cook until vegetables are al-dente.
  4. Add all the greens, cover and allow to reduce to half the quantity.
  5. Give it a good stir and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  6. Make a well in the center and move all the greens to the edges of the skillet.
  7. The juices will pool in the center and evaporate in a few minutes.
  8. Adjust salt to taste, stir well and garnish with roasted panch phoron powder.
Serve as a side dish with hot rice or chapatis.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Chickpea Lentils Cooked in Coconut Milk - Narkol Diye Cholar Dal

Narkol Dudh diye Channa'r Dal
Split chickpea lentils cooked this way evokes memories of Mum who loved to entertain. These were not everyday lentils because back in the day in Darjeeling, it was not easy to separate the fresh coconut meat from the shell. The coconut meat had to be painstakingly sliced and browned before putting them in the lentils. That's how Mum prepared lentils flavoured with coconut on festive occasions or when friends were invited to dine with us. 

This recipe uses coconut milk which makes a very creamy lentil dish especially delicious because of the chauk/phoron/tarka at the very end, of black cardamom seeds, star anise, cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds and bay leaves. A final garnish of ghee, slit greet chilies and cilantro makes this dish outstanding!


Friday, December 09, 2016

Veggie Pizza

Veggie Pizza
Our quilt guild has a luncheon twice a year in December and June. Usually members are expected to contribute their favourite dish as part of a potluck. Wow! What a spread there was to pick from. 

I'd come across a recipe on the Internet and thank heavens I experimented with it at home well before the day of the potluck. The base was made with Pillsbury Crescent Rolls, the spread from cream cheese combined with sour cream and ranch dressing mix with a topping of cucumber, grated carrots and slivered rainbow peppers. I found it to be too salty, so decided to tone things down by replacing the sour cream and ranch dressing mix with a tub of vanilla yogurt. This tasted so much better! You can substitute any flavour of yogurt or use plain yogurt flavoured as you please.




Top the 'pizza' with vegetables or protein of your choice. This is the ideal thing to take to a potluck because it can be made in a disposable baking pan, refrigerated until ready to be served and served cold or at room temperature.


Sunday, December 04, 2016

Jhal Moori - Kolkata Street Food

Kolkata Jhal Moori
Jhal Moori is a snack that is most commonly found on the streets of Calcutta or Kolkata as it is now known. It consists of a mishmash of crispy puffed rice or muri and sev (thin, skinny strands of fried besan/chickpea flour), boiled and diced potatoes and a few other ingredients. 



I guess what makes this a Bengali snack is that it's dressed with mustard oil. There are similar street food in other parts of India that are called Bhel or Bhel Puri.


Diced potatoes give a nice texture to this snack. A can of diced new potatoes lends a helping hand in saving time from boiling, peeling and dicing a russet potato.


Tamarind Chutney imparts a sweet and sour taste to Jhal Moori. Or you can make your own by mixing tamarind paste, chili powder, brown sugar and salt.

Sev

There are no substitutes for Sev which is a popular Indian snack that look like crunchy noodles. Sev, made from chickpea flour paste and seasoned with salt, turmeric and cayenne pepper, are deep fried in vegetable oil. Sev can be purchased at Indian markets. 

Moori or Puffed Rice

Moori can also be purchased at Indian markets. 


Grilled Eggplant - Begun Bhaja

George Foreman Grill-ed Eggplant
A favourite side dish on the Bengali table, Begun Bhaja (Eggplant Fried) gets a new twist and healthy makeover with the use of a George Foreman Grill (GFG).


The eggplant slices are cut, making sure they are of even thickness, and smeared with olive oil, salt and turmeric powder. 


They are then grilled for 2 minutes on each side and voila! you have Begun Bhaja for lunch!


Begun Bhaja is generally made by tossing them with salt and turmeric, pan-frying on the stovetop and draining on paper towels. Grilling them requires very little oil and the eggplant slices could even be sprayed with something like Pam spray. In fact, spraying the GF Grill with Pam makes it easier to clean. 

Contrary to common belief, the GFG is really easy to clean by wetting a paper towel, placing it on the grill, closing the cover and turning the grill on for a few minute. The steam that is released cleans the debris and a quick swipe removes the rest. 


Monday, November 28, 2016

Chicken Rezala - Boneless Chicken in Yogurt Sauce

Chicken Rezala
Mum made her rezala with bone-in, golden browned chicken which I've replaced with boneless, skinless chicken thighs to cater to the taste of people in my household. There are umpteen different recipes on the internet for this dish, some more complicated than others. I'm all for easy cooking, so please excuse me if you don't consider this the authentic way to make rezala.

In keeping with the white and creamy appearance of the gravy, the chicken pieces are not browned and white pepper powder adds a tinge of spiciness without darkening the look. If you prefer to use bone-in chicken, double the amount of chicken and increase the cooking time.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Stuffed Rava Idlis


Stuffed Rava Idlis
Cream of wheat is known as rava in Hindi and suji in Bengali. Idlis are steamed cakes made from rice or cream of wheat. The batter is generally soaked the night before to allow it to set up. In this instant recipe, cream of wheat is combined with yogurt and spices and set aside for 30 minutes. I have to admit that instant idlis are not as soft and plump as the overnight recipe. So if time is not a constraint, it's better to prepare the batter the night before and leave at room temperature overnight.

Idli Stand
This recipe for idlis makes 8 idlis, so I used only 2 trays of the idli stand. Each tray can be removed from the stand by unscrewing the black knob on top, and separating each tray from the spindle in the center. They can then be reassembled by reversing the process.  I used my wok to hold the idli tray to steam the idlis, but a pressure cooker can also be used.

Yellow Alu

Here's another recipe that uses Yellow Alu or diced russet potatoes prepared the South Indian way

Ingredients:
1 cup cream of wheat, toasted
1 cup Greek yogurt, whipped
1/4 cup water, or more to make a thick batter
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Pam olive oil spray
2 cups Yellow Alu

Directions:

  1. Combine first 5 ingredients, set aside 30 minutes or overnight and stir well.
  2. Spray 2 idli steamer trays with Pam spray.
  3. Separate yellow alu into 8 portions, flattening each a little.
  4. Pour 1 tablespoon idli batter into each of 8 idli depressions, top with a portion of potatoes and pour another tablespoon over the top.
  5. Steam for 12-15 minutes, remove the two trays from wok and set aside for a few minutes before plating the idlis.
  6. Serve with coconut chutney, more yellow alu and sambar.



Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sweet-Lime Salad

Sweet-Lime Salad
Chinese Seasoning Salt for Fruits

The perfect pick-me-up between meals, the sweet-lime this morning was not sweet enough for my palate, which prompted me to turn it into a salad. A friend from Taiwan brought me these tiny packages of seasoning salt for fruits which are sweet, sour and salty. I added a diced serrano pepper and minced mint which took it over the top! Let it sit for a few minutes after prepping to allow the flavours to meld.

To make your own seasoning salt, stir together the juice of 1/2 lime along with salt and sugar to taste.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Mung Bean Lentils - Kacha Mooger Dal

Kacha Mooger Dal

  
Split Mung Beans
Rarely do I cook lentils without adding vegetables, but these split mung beans taste really good just the way they are, without embellishments. The traditional way to prepare split mung beans is to toast them to a golden brown before cooking them in water. Kacha means raw, i.e. not toasted. I generally put lentils on the boil first, before cooking a side of vegetables or the main meat/fish/seafood dish, so that by the time the rest of dinner is ready, the lentils are done and simply need to be tempered.

There isn't a simpler way to cook lentils than what I made today.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Koi Maacher Jhaal - Climbing Perch in a Hot Sauce

Koi Maacher Jhaal
Maacher Jhaal comes in two varieties. There is Sorshe Batar Jhaal or fish in mustard sauce and there is Maacher Jhaal which simply means it is hot and spicy. This dish is of the second variety. It usually is made with only 5 ingredients: fish, nigella seeds, diced green chilies, turmeric powder and chili powder or Kashmiri mirch. Loving tomatoes as much as I do, a beefsteak tomato went into the mix.

Climbing Perch or Koi Maach, available in the Asian markets, are flash-frozen before being packaged for export from places like Vietnam. Flash-freezing is an accelerated process in which fish are individually frozen solid at extremely low temperatures immediately after being harvested. This allows fish to be caught, processed and frozen solid in hours rather than days. Flash-freezing prevents fish from getting freezer burn so that we, the consumers, are able to enjoy fish at its peak of perfection. Of course there is no comparison to fresh-caught fish from local Indian markets, but we are grateful that the varieties of fish we grew up with, are available to us at all!

This dish generally has a layer of oil (usually mustard oil) floating on the top, but I scaled it down to a mere 4 tablespoons.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cauliflower in Yogurt Sauce - Doi Phoolkopi

Doi Phoolkopi
It's hard to keep cauliflower from turning to mush when it's cooked in a gravy base. Today I learned a new trick from the internet food blogs, to microwave the florets for 3 minutes and allow them to soak for 15 minutes in the hot water. The texture remains firm after cooking in the yogurt sauce. Another trick I learned today was to add a teaspoon of besan (chickpea flour) to the Greek yogurt while whipping it, which prevents the curds separating from the whey when it's heated.

To save some cooking time, a can of Del Monte's sliced potatoes came in handy in place of the russet potatoes I would have otherwise used.  

To give this dish a taste of Kashmir, the ground spices consist of Kashmiri mirch (paprika) along with powdered ginger and fennel seed powder.


Monday, November 14, 2016

Pumpkin Angel Food Cake

Pumpkin Cake A La Mode

The easiest dessert ever! We had this for Thanksgiving dinner this year and I preferred it to the pumpkin pie of past Thanksgiving dinners. 


3 Ingredients Only
Using just 3 ingredients and a cup of water, this cake was surprisingly simple and quick to make. The angel food cake mix gives it a lovely airy yet dense texture.


Pumpkin Angel Food Cake 
And it tastes just as good without ice cream.



Saturday, November 12, 2016

Banana Walnut Friendship Bread

Banana Walnut Friendship Bread

This is a nostalgic bread/cake that goes back to the days when we first arrived in Toronto, Canada in the late 1970s. My then-brother-in-law worked at Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and brought home a recipe book featuring Crisco Oil. This Banana Nut Loaf recipe, modified by me many times over, originated from that P&G recipe book. 

Some of the changes I made were to replace granulated sugar with dark brown sugar to improve the colour of the bread, to add sour cream to improve the moistness of the bread and most recently, to add Amish Friendship Bread Starter to the batter to give a yeasty aroma and taste to this banana nut loaf. The Amish Friendship Bread Starter can be omitted for a denser, cake-like banana nut loaf. Using the starter gave it a more bread-like texture.

Use the darkest brown sugar you can find, the darker the better. I had only light brown sugar on hand, which accounts for the lightness in the center of the bread. And if you skimp on the Crisco oil, your bread will be dry and horrible. I'm sure substituting another vegetable oil for Crisco will work just fine but, some forty years later, I continue to use Crisco oil.


Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Prawns in Mint Sauce

Bhapa Pudina Chingri
Inspired by Mahesh Khole's recipe on Facebook, this prawn dish was quick and easy to prepare and took just a few minutes to simmer on the stovetop. 

If it was on hand, I would have added cilantro stalks to the paste for more flavour. But it was delicious with mint and green chilies. Prawns take so little time to cook that it's ideal to prepare when there's not much time to spare. It's such a pity that prawns in the supermarket are sold headless. The heads of the prawns add so much flavour to the sauce.

To rid the onions of their strong smell, I blanched onion chunks in boiling water along with garlic before blending to a paste.


Red Lentils with Cauliflower Stalks


Musuri Dal r Phool Kopi'r Danta

This was one of Mum's favourite ways of preparing red lentils. It tastes great garnished with cilantro and a touch of ghee or butter.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Astho Dim-er Malai Curry - Whole Eggs in Coconut Sauce

Astho Dim-er Malai Curry
Fried Whole Eggs
Fried Eggs

Malai Curry is a favourite sauce made with coconut milk that is most commonly combined with shrimpfish or chicken. Today I decided to cook eggs in coconut milk. I've made this before with eggs cut in half, but today they were left whole. The hard-boiled eggs and chunks of potatoes are fried (separately) to a golden-brown colour, then simmered in the coconut sauce. The eggs are shelled and scored across the circumference 4-5 times through the egg white to the egg yolk, so that the sauce can penetrate them to the core.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Alu Gobi Mattar - Potatoes, Cauliflower and Peas Curry

Alu Gobi
There are so many ways to prepare this all-time favourite Indian dish. It's vegetarian, vegan if ghee is omitted and is the perfect side dish to accompany lentils and a non-vegetarian main dish. Alu gobi is versatile enough to be served with either steamed rice or any Indian bread.

In this preparation, I've saved time by dicing onions instead of making a paste and used a whole can of pureed tomatoes to create the gravy. By parboiling the vegetables beforehand, the gravy permeates throughout the dish to tie in all the flavours. A handful of shredded cilantro gives a fresh and aromatic finish to this vegetable side.



Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Easy Chicken Salad

2 lbs. of Chicken Salad

Chicken Salad Crescent Sandwiches


Chicken Salad Meal

It's best to use fresh chicken breasts for a pure white color, but canned or shredded rotisserie chicken also works. To poach fresh chicken breasts, place them in a saucepan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Add cold water so it just covers the chicken. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium-low heat until chicken is cooked, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and allow to cool before dicing.

Water chestnuts add extra crunch to this salad and can be found in Meijer's Chinese section of the International aisle. They come sliced in 8 ounces (226 gm.) cans.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Mohinga Thoke - Burmese Cold Noodle Salad

Mohinga Thoke 
Prepped Ingredients
An Internet recipe served as the basis for this salad but I made many adjustments to suit my taste. The addition of dark sesame oil (toasted), fried legumes (pei kyaw) and minced green chilies pumped up the heat along with added crunch and flavour. Blanching the shredded cabbage is how I prefer to use it in Burmese salads. My husband and fiercest food critic ate every last crumb on his plate while his eyes watered and his scalp perspired. It was made with just me in mind so the peppers were diced with the seeds intact, but he asked to try it and loved it!

The recipe called for rice vermicelli, but all I had was tapioca vermicelli that had no instructions on the package. My first attempt at cooking these noodles turned to mush, so I soaked the noodles in hot tap water and microwaved on high power at 30 second intervals for a total of 2 minutes with excellent results.

Note: There's no need to add salt because the fish sauce is salty enough.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ground Chicken and Eggplant Stew

Ground Chicken & Eggplant Stew

I came across a picture of this dish on Facebook, but the recipe had not been added at the time, so this is my take on the dish. Eggplant is a favourite vegetable and combining it with ground chicken sounded too good to pass up. I added diced potatoes because that's what Bengalis do...add potatoes to everything!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Kale & Spinach with Sweet Potatoes

Kale & Spinach with Sweet Potatoes
Frozen cut kale and spinach are stir-fried with diced sweet potatoes. Make sure to soak the sweet potato as soon as the first cut is made to keep it from discoloring. There's no need to add sugar because the diced sweet potatoes impart enough sweetness. Serve as a side dish to an Indian meal accompanied by chapatis or rice. The use of ghee is optional for vegans.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Burmese Kyauk Kyaw - Perfected Technique

Kyauk Kyaw or Coconut Jelly
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 in 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.


Friday, July 01, 2016

Bread & Yellow Alu (Potato) Croquettes

Potato Croquettes
In what now seems to be a distant and past life, I was fortunate to be mentored by a gourmet cook who taught me a lot of what I know today about feeding my family. Mum was a huge influence throughout my life but when I left home, the coaching continued as I grew up and had a family of my own.

Yellow Alu
The basis for this appetizer is the leftover Yellow Alu I made yesterday.  Replacing the potatoes with spiced ground lamb creates a delicious non-vegetarian croquette. I like to use Japanese panko crumbs to roll these in because they remain crisp and absorb little to no oil.