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. 


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Crepes Stuffed with Yellow Alu and Served with Sambhar


Masala 'Dosa' with Sambhar
We are so fortunate in North America to have foods from all over the world available to us in our local supermarkets. It's a delight to walk up and down the aisles to pick and choose what we'd like to have today or this week.

Melissa's French Crepes
These delicate, faintly sweet crepes come ten to a package, each separated from the next by wax paper which makes them very easy to roll with filling of my choice. They are versatile and sets my mind racing with ideas such as Crepes Suzette, a French dessert in which crepes are folded in triangles and doused in a sauce of caramelized sugar and butter, orange zest and Grand Marnier or orange Curacao liqueur, served flambé. Then there's Patishapta, a popular Bengali dessert of thin crepes stuffed with a delectable filling of coconut and gur or jaggery. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Eggplant & Pork in Oyster Sauce

Eggplant & Pork in Oyster Sauce
For a quick and easy main dish with an Asian flair, few dishes can beat this eggplant and pork stir-fry. A combination of oyster sauce, chili-garlic sauce, balsamic vinegar and fish sauce form the base for ground pork that is browned along with diced onions and garlic. Bite-sized pieces of Japanese eggplant are added at the tail end so that they retain their texture and don't disintegrate.

Chinese and Thai restaurants have a form of this recipe on their menus. My problem is that they always seem to over-salt the dish, so I prefer to replicate it at home so I can control the amount of salt that is added. In fact, no salt was added in this recipe because the different sauces are salty to begin with. Adjust the salt at the end of the cooking cycle to suit your taste.

A trick to break down the ground pork with little effort is to hand-mix it with 1/2 tsp. salt and 2 Tbsp. oil and set aside for 15 minutes. The oil acts to separate the nodules of ground meat which makes it easier to brown.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Faluda - Rose Syrup Flavoured Milky Beverage Topped with Jello

Faluda
Faluda is layered dessert in a glass that originated in Iran. It's a multi-textured summer drink which the Parsis, who migrated to India from Iran, introduced to the Indian people who in turn took it with them to Burma. It is an integral part of the menus at ice cream parlours and restaurants which serve variations of this sweet beverage. The closest comparison I can think of is milk shake pumped up with nuts, seeds and very thin spaghetti.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Burmese Stir-Fried Cabbage with Scrambled Eggs

Cabbage with Scrambled Eggs
Weekends were very special when we were growing up, made even more festive by Mum's cooking. She was a consummate cook of Indian, Burmese and Asian cuisines and passed on her love for cooking to all eight of us. We were curious and eager to try all kinds of food, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. 

Being a single mother of eight and a professor in a women's college meant that she was not able to spend as much time in the kitchen as she would have liked. Evenings and weekends were festive affairs because visitors dropped by unannounced, tea and snacks were constantly being served and meals were prepared by Mum with a lot of help from all of us and the hired help. There were occasions when her Thai students who lived at the hostel would arrive with all the necessary ingredients to prepare a feast for all of us. They were so happy to have a kitchen that was open to them so they could enjoy their cuisine, which they missed terribly.

This stir-fried cabbage dish is one that I associate with Mum's loving and nurturing nature. Cabbage is totally tasteless on its own, but is transformed when stir-fried until crisp, flavoured with the zing of black pepper powder and the umami of fish sauce. Add eggs into the mix and it assumes an unforgettable contrast in texture from the crispness of the cabbage to the creaminess of the scrambled eggs.

This is served as a side dish to accompany any Asian meal and is best suited to be had with hot, steamed long-grain rice.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Cucumber and Onion Salad with Dill

Cucumber and Onion Salad with Dill
Fresh herbs in the supermarket come in big bundles so I made a stir-fry using eggplant and potatoes and flavoured it with dill and used the rest of the bundle for this salad. 

My love for dill began in Toronto in the late 1970s at the home of a girl who was born and raised in Iran. She invited us over for a fabulous dinner, and the one item that stood out that I remember to this day was a pulao she made with steamed Basmati rice that she mixed, by hand, with salt, dill and olive oil.

Recently we went to a French-inspired Vietnamese restaurant and ordered grilled Tilapia flavoured with turmeric and dill. It's an outstanding dish unlike anything I've had before.

This salad can be paired with biryani, pulao or grilled meat, fish or seafood. It would also taste great in a sandwich. I found the recipe on the Epicurious website.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Chicken Biryani


Chicken Biryani
Biryani is a delicious and wholesome combination of rice, layered with meat or vegetables and potatoes, cooked with aromatic spices and garnished with deep fried onions. Making a traditional biryani is a long and complicated process which was beyond my comprehension until my brother who is a wonderful cook, allowed me to watch him produce outstanding results using a very simple process. I came back home after that weekend in Toronto and tried it without the same success.

Chicken Biryani Plated
My brother cooks the chicken on the stovetop, cooks the rice in a rice cooker and pours the chicken and all its juices over the rice and sets the biryani aside until dinnertime. His biryani tastes simply awesome, but I was not able to replicate it. 

My way is to cook chicken and potatoes in a big saucepan, cover the top with Greek yogurt, top it with rice that has been soaked and strained well, add chicken broth in proportion to the rice, bring it to a boil and then cover and simmer it over low heat for 25 minutes. It sounds complicated, but is really easy to do.






Varieties of Ready-Made Birista

Birista or deep fried onions are an essential garnish for both pulaos and biryanis. They're easy to make but is a tedious and long process. Much easier to pick up a bottle or package of birista at the oriental markets.
Shan Pilau Biryani Mix



Recipe on back of package
The recipe that follows was inspired by the recipe on the back of the spice mix with a few modifications which were made to simplify the process. 

Simple Salad
Serve this biryani with a simple salad of diced cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, green chilies, salt and lime juice. Or accompany the biryani with one of the following raitas.

   
Fuji Apple Raita
Tzatziki or Cucumber Raita


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tzatziki Meatloaf Rollup

Tzatziki
We  recently had gyros-in-a-kit which came with a serving of tzatziki. Just take a look at the nutrition facts for tzatziki...there isn't a better and more delicious condiment for those of us who are watching our carb intake! By making it at home, I was able to cut down the calories per serving to 18 calories, sodium to 20 mg., cholesterol to 2 mg., total carbs to 1.5 g and sugars to 0 g. This I did by using fat-free Chobani Greek yogurt.
Chobani Greek Yogurt

But what is tzatziki, you ask? It's a staple in Turkish, Greek and other Mediterranean cuisine, made simply by combining yogurt with garlic and cucumber, along with a few other seasonings. In Indian cuisine, it's called cucumber raita. The rich and creamy texture of tzatziki is perfect for dipping raw vegetables, to serve alongside biryani or pulao, grilled meats like kebabs or to use as a sandwich spread. 

Clockwise from top left:
Meatloaf
Tortilla layered with lettuce & tzatziki
Slice of meatloaf
Tzatziki Meatloaf Rollup
For lunch today we had meatloaf sandwiches for which flour tortillas were lined with lettuce, slathered with tzatziki and topped with a slice of meatloaf. It's the best sandwich I've had in a long, long time.



Sunday, May 22, 2016

Burmese Stewed Eggplant - Khayan Thee Hin


A form of sipyan, this eggplant dish is so much easier to prepare because everything is combined in a skillet and left to cook on its own.  Out of sheer habit, I scraped the bottom of the pan to make sure it wasn't sticking, but that was not necessary at all. Once the tomatoes cooked down, the cooking liquids covered the eggplant pieces which then stewed in the resulting juices. The bulk of the flavour and umami was imparted by a combination of peanuts, shrimp paste and dried shrimp powder.

Here are several options for vegans. To achieve umami flavour without using fish-/seafood-based sauces, would be to use mushroom sauce and dried shiitake mushrooms. Mushroom sauce is used by vegans to replace oyster sauce and the soaking liquid from dried shiitake mushrooms both impart strong umami flavour. More difficult to come by is dried konbu or kelp (seaweed) which is used to make konbu dashi. A third option would be to use Ajinomoto or MSG.

Serve this as a side over a mound of steamed rice, preferably coconut rice or Ohn Htamin.


Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Singapore Rice Noodles with Asparagus & Chicken

Singapore Noodles
This is one of my favourite dishes to order at a Chinese restaurant. It's made with thin rice noodles (Mei Fun) which are available in the international aisle of our local supermarket. 

Spiced Apple Cider

The Brew
After a festive meal is prepared, this is a wonderful brew to put on the stove to fill your home with the aroma of apples, oranges and spices. Have it hot on a cold wintry or rainy day, or chilled on a hot and humid day. 

Spiced Apple Cider
The recipe contains 5 simple ingredients, all of which are available in any supermarket. If oranges are not in season, replace them with slices of one lemon or lime. And make sure to set the spiced orange segments aside after draining the cider for dessert, topped with ice cream or brandy.

Spiced Orange Segments
The remnants after straining the cider can be simmered with water to serve as a potpouri to welcome your guests.

Potpouri 

Ingredients:
1/2 gallon apple cider
6 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup brown or coconut sugar
1 tsp. whole cloves
1 navel or 2 mandarin oranges, sliced

Directions:
  1.  Place all ingredients in a large stainless steel saucepan.
  2.  Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves.
  3.  Lower heat to medium and simmer for 10 minutes.
  4.  Strain spiced cider and serve hot or chilled overnight in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Stir-Fried Cabbage with Fish

Maach Diye Bandha Kopi
Cabbage cooked with fish bones and head is very tasty, but it takes some skill to safely remove the bones. In this case, I've taken pieces of filleted fish that flake too easily and fall apart when added to a gravy and used them to flavour the cabbage. Stir-frying cabbage until golden brown makes it much sweeter so that no sugar is needed. This side dish goes well with either steamed rice or any form of Indian bread.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

Alu Posto - Bengali Baby Potatoes in Poppy Seed Sauce

Alu Posto
A favourite at the Bengali table, Alu Posto is surprisingly easy to make. White poppy seeds are soaked in boiling water for an hour or as long as it takes to come to room temperature. This softens the seeds sufficiently to blend to a smooth paste. 
Variety of Baby Potatoes
Microwaved for a quick three minutes, these little potatoes cook just enough to be easy to peel. The dish comes together very quickly and is so delicious!

Stir-Fried Baby Potatoes

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Peppermint Kisses

Peppermint Kisses

It was my turn today to take goodies to our 52-member quilt guild meeting. I decided on these Peppermint Kisses that are the easiest, most refreshing and delicious cookie dessert made in under 10 minutes using just 5 ingredients. 

A Tray of Kisses Ready for Transporting
They made his eyes sparkle with surprise and delight, as my candid food critic at home gave his stamp of approval to these delicate morsels, comparing them to Bengali sandesh. A popular milk dessert on the Bengali table, sandesh is made from homemade cottage cheese following a lengthy and tedious process.

A Lone Kiss
In contrast, Peppermint Kisses need no cooking or baking. Four of the five ingredients are simply combined thoroughly, formed into balls the size of quarters and finished with Hershey's peppermint kisses. Just make sure all ingredients are brought to room temperature before assembling. What could be simpler!


Thursday, March 03, 2016

Chicken Razaila

Chicken Razaila
Mum's Razaila was always delectable. She made it with bone-in chicken pieces that were fried until golden brown and then marinated in whipped yogurt. Her chicken razaila was succulent and delicious! 

Mine is a lazy (wo)man's shortcut that still tastes very good. It involves massaging the yogurt marinade into the chicken and setting it aside for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. I prefer using Greek yogurt so that there is less chance that it will curdle during the cooking process. Adding a teaspoonful of cornstarch to the yogurt will thicken the gravy as the chicken simmers. Greek yogurt should be brought to room temperature before marinating.

A surprising twist to the traditional razaila recipe is to add ground white pepper. It adds a spicy heat and the white pepper keeps the gravy light-coloured and creamy.


Sunday, February 28, 2016

Chicken & Broccoli Lo Mein

Chicken & Broccoli Lo Mein
Any noodle dish, whether in the form of a soup or stir-fried is so comforting, especially during these cold winters. Today we had a lo mein with chicken & broccoli that was drenched in a garlic-soy sauce which was poured over and tossed with a package of Ajinomoto Vegetable Chow Mein. Delicious!

If you're making your own there's no need to add sauce to your noodles. Use this sauce instead.


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Tuna, Chickpeas & Potato Salad

Tuna, Chickpeas & Potato Salad
Tuna salad, potato salad and chickpeas/garbanzo beans individually are among my favourite foods. Here, all three were combined with red and orange rainbow peppers to produce a refreshing salad when it's chilled and served for lunch. The dressing is composed of yogurt, mixed with ranch dressing and the salad is garnished with green onions.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Maach er Malai Curry - Fish Cooked in Coconut Milk




Use any white fish steaks or pieces in this delicious coconut milk gravy which tastes best served on a bed of steamed Basmati rice. I've used catfish, rock cod and telapia fish, all with excellent results. 

Freshly grated coconut tied in muslin cloth and squeezed to extract the milk works the best, but in the Western hemisphere, canned coconut milk is most readily available and makes a good substitute for fresh coconut. If coconut milk is not available, unsweetened evaporated (not condensed) milk can be used as a substitute.

This same process can also be used with chicken legs and thighs for another variation of malai curry, which is also true for shrimp, which is especially delectable. 

The fish I used today came from a membership supermarket (Costco/Sam's Club) in a 3 lb. fresh pack. I sliced them up, divided them between 3 Ziploc bags, seasoned them with turmeric powder and salt and froze them for later use. Thawed in the sink, it makes life much easier when it comes time to cook. 




Saturday, February 06, 2016

Tomato Pulao or Tomato Fried Rice

Tomato Pulao
A pulao is usually made with uncooked rice, but I had a whole 2 cups of it sitting in the fridge so I used that instead. It came together very quickly and goes well as a side dish with Begun Bhaja and/or Fuji Apple Raita.

The curry leaves in this pulao give it a South Indian flair.

Crockpot Begun Bhartha - Slow-Cooked Eggplant

Slow-Cooked Begun Bhartha
I was first introduced to Baingan/Begun Bhartha while living in Defence Colony, a suburb of New Delhi in India. Around the corner from where we lived was a dhaba or roadside restaurant which are most often found on highways and the outskirts of cities, towns and villages. Dhabas serve Punjabi food and are frequented by truckers because the food is generally simple, rustic and cheap. My favourite dishes to order from our neghbourhood dhaba were Baingan Bhartha, Keema Mattar and Naan. 

Begun or baingan is eggplant and bhartha refers to any vegetable that is roasted and mashed. Begun bhartha is the most common dish prepared in this way. The big and round eggplants are usually roasted over an unoon or charcoal stove. The charred skin is then removed, the pulp mashed and cooked with tomatoes, onions along with other ingredients on the stovetop. It's a rustic dish that requires a labour-intensive and time-consuming process.

This is where the crockpot, once again, comes to the rescue. I like Japaness eggplant which is diced along with all the other vegetables, dumped into the crockpot and allowed to cook on low without manual intervention for 3-4 hours. The resulting bhartha comes out looking like baba-ghanoush and tasting delicious!



Friday, February 05, 2016

Parshey Maach-er Jhaal or Mullet in Mustard Gravy

Parshey Maach-er Jhaal

Fish is a staple in Bengali households. For those who can afford it, a Bengali has four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, tea & snacks and dinner. Lunch and dinner comprise at least 3 dishes consisting of vegetables, lentils and meat, poultry, fish, shrimp or seafood, accompanied by rice or rootis/chapatis. 

White mullet or parshey maach is a sweet and delicious fish that requires a light touch because it breaks apart easily. This preparation, therefore, is ideal because it doesn't require too much stirring. In fact, it is even easier if the fish is combined with the rest of the ingredients (except for the mustard oil and cilantro used for garnishing) and simply slid into hot oil which has been sputtered with nigella seeds, covered and simmered over medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes.

To add more heat to this fish dish, reserve a few slit green chilies to garnish before serving.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Crockpot Rogan Josh - Slow-Cooked Lamb Curry



Crockpot Rogan Josh
The crockpot is probably the most under-utilized appliance in my kitchen. It's ideal for these wintry days when temperatures plummet to single digits which makes it bone-chilling to open doors and windows so the house can be aired out. Today I dusted off the crockpot and boldly plugged it in. 

I've never used the crockpot (or slow-cooker as it's sometimes called) to cook Indian meat curries. My sister has, but I think she did a lot of the prep on the stovetop and then put it all in the crockpot to cook slowly. I decided to take the shortest shortcut possible, combined everything in the crockpot and allowed it to do its thing. The result was totally amazing. 

My Beli Mashi (Mum's sister) spent a few months with us when I was living in California and she taught me to make Kashmiri Rogan Josh. I marinated the meat with the rest of the ingredients for a couple of hours, then dumped all of it into the crockpot with sliced onions and set it on high for 2 hours. After giving everything a good mix, the crockpot was set to low, potatoes were added and cooked for 5 hours.

The meat just fell off the bones and the potatoes were cooked to perfection. I doubt meat curries in my house will ever be cooked on the stovetop again. Without the botheration of stirring and making sure it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan, it was completely stress-free cooking!

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Lamb & Potato Biryani

Lamb Biryani
Mum's Yakhni Pulao made with mutton or lamb was unforgettable. It was quite a complicated recipe, but unfortunately, there is no record it. I've tried to reproduce it to the best of my ability, and this attempt tasted quite delicious.

My pressure cooker came in handy to pre-cook the pieces of meat, but this step could also be done on the stove top. It would just take an hour or longer instead of 20 minutes in the pressure cooker. 

Shan pulao/biryani masala mix, available in Indian markets, contains a mix of spices that give biryani its distinctive taste and aroma. I used a tea strainer to sprinkle the spices over a plate. That leaves all the solid spices in the strainer which I use for tempering, remove from the oil and enclose them in a tea ball (or cheescloth tied with kitchen string is a good substitute) which is tossed into the saucepan to cook along with the biryani.
Packaged Birista

Bottled Birista
Birista or deep fried onions are an essential garnish for both pulaos and biryanis. They're easy to make but is a tedious and long process. Much easier to pick up a bottle or package of birista at the Asian markets.

Fuji Apple Raita

CucumberTomatoOnion Salad
Biryani is pretty filling as a main course, but is great paired with a raita or simple salad. The grated fuji apple raita on the left is dressed with yogurt and a tempering of raisins, mustard seeds and curry leaves. On the right, a simple salad of cucumber, tomatoes and onion is dressed very simply with salt and lime juice.


Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Stir-Fried Chicken On a Bed of Kale & Spinach

Chicken on Kale & Spinach
An interesting twist on our Indian Saag Chicken, I replaced the Indian ingredients with Chinese sauces to come up with this delicious dish. 

Taylor Farms Organic Kale Medley
This recipe is a great way to use the one pound packages of triple-washed baby spinach and kale that we get from the membership markets. 
Skinless and boneless chicken thighs come in 6 lb. packages at the membership stores. I chop the thighs into bite-sized pieces, hand-mix them with ginger-garlic paste, paprika (Kashmiri mirch), salt and oil, divide them among 4 Ziploc bags and freeze until ready to be cooked. Soaked in a bowl of tap water, the frozen bags thaw and come to room temperature within half an hour.

I've used this marinated chicken in Indian and Asian dishes with great results.