Saturday, March 28, 2015

Singapore Vermicelli Noodles

Singapore Vermicelli Noodles
This is one of my favourite dishes to order in a Chinese restaurant. It's usually made with very thin rice noodles (Mei Fun) but I decided to use toasted, golden-brown vermicelli (Sevai/Semiya) instead.

Creamy Coconut Milk Vermicelli: Shemai - Frying
Toasted Vermicelli
Toasted vermicelli is available at Indian markets and I like using the toasted variety to save having to toast it at home. the untoasted variety tends to turn to mush when cooked in water.

Curry Powder
Oriental Curry Powder
The main ingredient in Singapore noodles is curry powder & I prefer S&B brand because it is high in taste, flavour and aroma, but low in spicy heat. To beat the overpowering raw taste of curry powder, it's a good idea to boil it in chicken broth or water and to soak the vermicelli in this liquid. That way, the taste of the curry powder permeates into the pasta.

This is a one-dish meal that can be made in under 15 minutes and is a great lunch idea.

1 cup toasted vermicelli
8 oz. cooked shelled shrimp, shredded chicken or tofu for vegetarians
2 cups chicken broth or water
1 heaping tsp. curry powder
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 large onion, sliced
1 + 1 green chilies, diced
multi-coloured sweet peppers, cut in half lengthwise and sliced
1 carrot, julienned
1 beefsteak tomato, diced
1 cup mung bean sprouts, tails removed

  1. Simmer curry powder in broth for 3 minutes and remove from heat.
  2. Soak vermicelli in this liquid until water is absorbed doubles in volume. 
  3. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and saute garlic and 1 green chili.
  4. Add onions, peppers, carrots and tomatoes.
  5. Toss with salt to taste and saute for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Add vermicelli, along with soaking liquid, shrimp and adjust salt to taste.
  7. Turn heat down to medium, stir, cover skillet and simmer until liquid evaporates and vermicelli is cooked.
  8. Add bean sprouts and toss.
  9. Garnish with remaining diced chilies and serve immediately.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tangy Stir-Fried Spinach & Mushrooms

Faux Chin Baung Ywet
Food is such a nostalgic experience; this stir-fried dish brought back strong memories of our carefree childhood in Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon.

The True Roselle
In Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, we often had a naturally tangy spinach called Chin Baung Ywet or roselle leaves. The buds of the roselle shrub are sour and make a lovely chutney and jam/jelly.

Sorrel Herb
The closest taste to roselle that's available where I live in North America is sorrel, an herb, which looks like spinach but has a tangy edge to it. We're just now emerging from a frosty winter and sorrel is not in season, so I decided to use plain spinach and finished it off with the juice of one lime just before taking it off the stove. 

Sliced Mushrooms - 16 oz.
Sliced Mushrooms
This dish using roselle or sorrel is usually prepared with shrimp and it tastes exquisite, but I used a 16 oz. tub of sliced mushrooms instead. We also had some left-over french fries from our lunch, so I threw that in, too.

Stir-Fry the Mushrooms
Heated some extra-light tasting olive oil to a skillet and toasted a teaspoon of fennel seeds before added the sliced mushrooms. I like to stir-fry the mushrooms first to prevent them from releasing all their juices. 

Added Minced Garlic
When the mushrooms softened and began to brown, minced garlic was added to them.

Added Minced Onions
Minced onions, diced green chilies and salt were added to the mushrooms and garlic and stir-fried until onions turned translucent.

Tossed French Fries In
Tossed in the french fries and gave it another good stir.

Topped Off With Frozen Spinach
Added a 16 oz. package of frozen and chopped spinach and salt to taste, covered the skillet and allowed the spinach to cook over medium heat.

Garnished With The Juice Of One Lime
Once the spinach was browned around the edges, the juice of a whole lime was squeezed and stirred into it. Tasted wonderful with hot, steamed Basmati rice. Can also be served with any variety of Indian breads.

1 lb. frozen chopped spinach (do not thaw)
4 Tbsp. oil
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 green chilies, diced (optional or to taste)
1 (16 oz.) tub of sliced mushrooms
1 potato, peeled & cut in strips
1 lime, cut in half
salt to taste

  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat & toast fennel seeds until golden-brown.
  2. Add mushrooms & stir-fry until all moisture (if any) have been released.
  3. Add salt, garlic, onions and green chilies, & stir-fry until onions soften.
  4. Add potatoes, salt to taste and frozen spinach, cover and cook over medium heat until spinach thaws.
  5. Stir well after spinach thaws, cover & cook over medium heat until spinach cooks.
  6. Squeeze lime juice over contents of skillet and transfer to a serving dish.
Serve with hot Basmati rice or any Indian bread.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Stir-Fried Bitter Melon & Eggplant

Karola Begun Bhaja

My trip to the Asian market a couple of days ago proved fruitful because I found a tray of already sliced bitter melons.They were of the Chinese variety which have a smoother skin than their subcontinental counterparts.

Chinese Bitter Melons

Subcontinental Bitter Melon
Chinese bitter melons are also less bitter than the subcontinental variety. The long and slender Japanese eggplants go so well when they are stir-fried along with bitter melons.

This dish is a common side served as a first course of a Bengali meal. It's so simple to make and is considered to be beneficial in lowering blood sugar levels. It tastes perfect with any form of Indian bread or steamed Basmati rice.

3 bitter melons, cut in half, deseeded and sliced
2 Asian eggplants, cut in half and sliced
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. whole Bengali 5-spice (panch phoron = equal proportions of fennel, nigella, fenugreek, cumin and mustard seeds)
salt to taste

  1. Toss both vegetables with salt to taste.
  2. Heat oil over medium-high heat and sputter 5-spice.
  3. Stir-fry bitter melon and eggplant slices until golden brown.
  4. Adjust salt and transfer to a serving dish.
Serve with chapatis or Basmati rice.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Breakfast Scrambled Eggs & Potatoes

Alu Deem Bhaja
We were late getting up this morning so we had breakfast for lunch. This was really quick and easy to put together because I used frozen hash brown potatoes from the freezer. But it's just as easy to peel a large russet potato and dice it instead.

Beat Eggs Until Frothy
First, I beat 2 eggs with salt & pepper to taste & a pinch of turmeric powder until frothy. The turmeric gives the eggs a lovely flavour and is what makes it Bengali scrambled eggs.

Stir-Fried Potatoes
Then, 2 cups of diced potatoes were stir-fried with salt & pepper, 1/4 cup each diced tomatoes, green onions and 1 green chili.

Setting Eggs
When the potatoes were cooked, a well was made in the center of the potatoes and a little more butter was melted, the beaten eggs poured in the well and allowed to set around the edges.

Scrambled Eggs & Potatoes
The eggs were then scrambled and stirred with the potatoes...

and mounded on a toasted and split English muffin. Add to that a mug of steaming hot coffee for a deeply satisfying meal. 

Ingredients: (serves 2)
2 eggs, beaten until frothy with
   salt & pepper to taste
   a pinch of turmeric
1 onion, minced
1 tomato, diced
1 green chilli, diced (or to taste)
2 stalks green onions, sliced
handful cilantro, chopped
2 cups potatoes, peeled & diced
2 Tbsp. (1/4 stick) butter
2 English muffins, split and toasted
salt & pepper to taste


  1. Melt half the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Stir-fry onions, tomatoes, chilli, green onions & cilantro until oil resurfaces.
  3. Add potatoes along with salt & pepper and stir well.
  4. Sprinkle some water over potatoes and cover.
  5. Simmer potatoes, stirring occasionally until potatoes are cooked.
  6. Make a well in the center of the potatoes and melt remaining butter.
  7. Pour beaten egg over melted butter and allow edges to set.
  8. Stir and scramble egg into potatoes; turn heat off.
  9. Toast 2 split English muffins, mound scrambled eggs & potatoes over muffin halves and serve with beverage of choice.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Stir-Fried Red Swiss Chard with Shrimp and Eggplant

Chingri Begun Laal Shaak er Chochori

Luck was on my side when I went shopping for fresh vegetables a few days ago. There was a good looking bunch of red Swiss chard which immediately evoked images of a stir-fry with eggplant and shrimp. The stems and backs of the leaves were beet red and the surface of the leaves were green with red veins. 

When I looked up the definition of Laal (red) Shaak (spinach) on the Internet the English equivalent was Red Amaranth or Red Swiss Chard. 

All spinach or greens need to be thoroughly washed. Fill the sink or a large pan with cold water and drop the spinach into the water as it is being chopped. Dunk the chopped spinach in the water several times. The spinach rises to the top and any sediment present will sink to the bottom of the pan. Transfer the spinach to a colander to drain.

Vegetarians and Vegans can omit the shrimp for a tasty & nutritious meal. 

1 bunch red Swiss chard, chopped, rinsed thoroughly & drained
1 Oriental eggplant, cubed
8 oz. medium (26-30 count) shrimp, shelled & de-veined
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. garlic paste
1 hot green chili, diced
1/4 tsp. turmeric
salt to taste
2 + 2 + 2 Tbsp. light olive oil
1/4 tsp. panch phoron (Bengali whole 5 spice)
1/4 tsp. toasted panch phoron powder
1 tsp. ghee
2 green chilies, slit

  1. Toss shrimp with salt & turmeric and set aside.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat & stir-fry shrimp until pink.
  3. Remove shrimp from skillet and heat another 2 Tbsp. oil.
  4. Fry eggplant cubes until golden brown and set aside.
  5. Heat remaining oil in same skillet & sputter green chilies & panch phoron.
  6. Add onions, garlic, spinach & salt, cover & cook until stems are tender.
  7. Return eggplant & shrimp to skillet, add toasted panch phoron powder, stir & cook for another 5 minutes.
  8. Adjust salt to taste & garnish with ghee & slit green chilies.  
Serve with hot Basmati rice or chapatis/tortillas.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Begun Pora - Bengali Roasted Eggplant Salad

Eggplant is a favourite vegetable (or fruit?) among Bengali people who reside in West Bengal in India and Bangladesh. For this salad, the big, purple eggplant works best. The way I pick one is to look for a tight and blemish-free skin. I then weigh an eggplant in each hand and pick the lightest one. Tapping the eggplant with a finger should produce a hollow sound. Eggplants that are huge and heavy are full of seeds which are annoying to eat.

I find it easiest to cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, rub some oil over the surface and cut sides, lay them face down on a greased cookie sheet and bake them at a high temperature for 20-25 minutes. This cooks the core to a soft and silky pulp that should ideally be hand-mixed with the listed ingredients. The more traditional way is to place a flat cast-iron pan (tawa) on the stove and char the eggplant over a low flame, turning it over and around every now and then.

Mustard oil is a must & provides a lovely pungent flavour to this salad. It is readily available in Indian markets outside India. In our household, a dried red chili is held with tongs over an open flame to char all over and then mashed into the salad. This adds an unbeatable smoky flavour. A word of caution - make sure to turn it around, not allowing the chili to burn or catch fire because that will have everyone at home coughing and crying their eyes out! 

1 large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise
1 + 2 Tbsp. mustard oil
1 hot green chili, diced and/or 1 toasted dried red chili, crushed
1 small onion, diced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400*F, grease a cookie sheet and wash your hands.
  2. Cut eggplant lengthwise, prick skin with a fork & rub with 1 Tbsp. oil.
  3. Place eggplant, cut-side down, on greased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until peel appears wrinkled and charred.
  5. Remove eggplant halves from oven and set aside to cool.
  6. Scoop flesh away from peel and discard the peel.
  7. Coarsely chop eggplant and hand-mix with remaining ingredients.
Serve with hot, steamed Basmati rice.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

3 Bean Salad

3 Bean Salad
Somehow, I managed to hit just the right sweet and sour notes in this salad. The trick is to assemble all the ingredients, mix them all up and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. This releases the sweetness from the dried cranberries and the minty flavours to soak into the beans. The only cooking required is to steam the whole red lentils, chickpeas and red beans but I was fortunate enough to avail of a package of Melissa's steamed lentils and packages of chickpeas and red beans that were soaking in water and sea salt. Any combination of beans would work in this recipe.

1 (8 oz.) cup whole red lentils, steamed
1 (8 oz.) cup chickpeas, drained
1 (8 oz.) cup red beans, drained
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries or raisins
2 stalks green onions, diced
1 serrano pepper, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 handfuls mint, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup cider vinegar
1 serrano pepper, sliced (for garnish)
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Whip together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients except sliced peppers.
  3. Add oil & vinegar dressing.
  4. Refrigerate overnight & garnish with sliced peppers before serving.

Cheesy Fajita Open-Faced Sandwich

Cheesy Fajita Sandwich
Here's a lunch that can be prepared in under 5 minutes. We had fajitas for dinner the night before so I put away two little portions for lunch the next day. The chicken breast strips come already cooked with fajita spices and can be found in the frozen section of the supermarket. Combined with strips of colourful sliced onions and sweet & hot peppers, the chicken fajita strips are laid on top of a mixture of grated Mexican cheese, mayonnaise and red pepper flakes with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.. Once toasted in the toaster-oven, the cheese melts and forms a creamy base for the chicken fajita. These open-faced sandwiches taste great on crusty Italian bread or tortillas.

Serve with a fresh salad and/or fruit. This meal is served with a 3 Bean Salad.

1 cup chicken fajita strips, cooked & frozen
1 cup sweet multi-coloured peppers, sliced
1 serrano pepper, sliced
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. grated Mexican cheese
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. crushed dried red peppers
2 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
2 flour tortillas or 4 slices of toasted bread

  1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Toss chicken, peppers and onions in the hot oil until cooked but still crisp.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Mix grated cheese, mayonnaise and red peppers in a bowl.
  5. Spread on tortillas or bread, making sure to work all the way to the edges.
  6. Top with prepared fajita strips and sprinkle with green onions & cilantro.
  7. Toast in a toaster-oven just until cheese melts.
  8. Serve right away with a salad and/or fruit.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Chicken Do Pyaza

Chicken Braised with Two Types of Onions 
We had company for dinner tonight. This last week has been pretty busy so all the cooking was done starting early this morning. It's the middle of winter in Michigan (USA) with temperatures plunging into the single digits, making the task of cooking meat and fish rather difficult because all the windows need to be left open to air out the house.

I used all shortcuts possible while making this chicken dish. Do (two) Pyaza (onions) means a gravy made with two preparations of onions. The chicken was marinated overnight, brought to room temperature and then cooked with finely sliced onions and garnished with crispy, deep-fried red shallots. We're very fortunate that birista or deep-fried onions/shallots are now readily available in Indian and Oriental markets in North America. 

Besides using fresh tomatoes, tomato paste was also added to thicken and provide a rich, red colour to the gravy. Kashmiri mirch which is an aromatic paprika from India also adds to the rich, red colour. I was first introduced to this way of cooking meat and poultry by a friend in New Delhi close to 45 years ago. I was only just finding my way around my kitchen when this kind gentleman came over one day and taught me to make this. Although he has long since left this world, his kindness and patience remains a precious memory.

1 lb. chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces
3 large onions, sliced finely
1 medium tomato, diced
1 + 1 tsp. garlic paste
1 + 1 tsp. ginger paste
1 + 1 tsp. Kashmiri mirch/paprika
1/4 tsp. tandoori masala
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. Bengali garam masala powder (ground cinnamon, cardamon & cloves) 
1 + 6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 sticks cinnamon
2 black, large cardamom
1/2 tsp. shah jeera or cumin
2 cups simmering chicken broth
1 cup + 4 Tbsp. deep-fried red shallots
salt to taste

  1. Clean chicken and marinate in the fridge overnight (or minimum 2 hours) with 1 Tbsp. oil, 1 tsp. each ginger & garlic pastes, 1 tsp. Kashmiri mirch, tandoori masala and salt to taste. 
  2. Bring marinated chicken to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Blend diced tomatoes with 1 tsp. each ginger and garlic pastes.
  4. Heat oil over medium high heat, fry chicken until golden brown & set aside.
  5. In the same pan, sputter shah jeera, cinnamon and black cardamom.
  6. Add sliced onions and stir-fry until translucent.
  7. Stir in tomato paste and stir-fry until oil resurfaces.
  8. Add blended tomatoes, garam masala & remaining Kashmiri mirch.
  9. Stir well & simmer over medium heat until oil resurfaces again.
  10. Add browned chicken, 1 cup deep-fried red shallots and broth, lower heat to medium-low, cover & simmer for 30 minutes until gravy is thick and reduced by half.
  11. Adjust salt to taste, garnish with remaining deep-fried red shallots & transfer to serving dish.
Serve with hot Basmati rice, Indian bread or tortillas.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Stir-Fried Eggplant in Mustard Sauce

Begun-er Jhaal
Eggplant cooked this way is one of my favorite dishes for a number of reasons. First of all, it brings back memories of our idyllic childhood centered around Mum who managed to create the most delicious meals on a thrify budget. That one sentence describes two of life's most important lessons she taught us - to put money away for a rainy day and to be proficient in the kitchen. 

Secondly, we eat first with our eyes which is why the bright purple color of eggplant is so pleasing to our palates. And having eaten eggplant as very young children, this vegetable has grown to become a favorite over a lifetime.

Stir-fried with sliced onions and tomatoes and then wrapped in a pungent and creamy mustard sauce, it's hard to describe the intense satisfaction derived from combining this dish with hot & steamy Basmati rice or a fluffy chapati/tortilla.

Several varieties of eggplant are available in supermarkets, but for this dish I prefer to use Oriental or Japanese eggplant which have minimal seeds and a much sweeter taste than the large oval ones.

Shorshe Bata Begun

4 Japanese eggplant, cut lengthwise down the center & cubed
2 medium onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 tsp. garlic paste)
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 hot green chili, diced
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. shah jeera or cumin seeds
1 hot green chili, diced
2 Tbsp. black mustard seeds, soaked overnight in salted water with
   1 de-seeded dried red chili
1/4 tsp. sugar or to taste
1 hot green chili, diced (for garnish)
salt to taste

  1. Toss eggplant pieces with salt & set aside.
  2. Rinse mustard seeds (in a tea strainer) to remove excess salt.
  3. Blend mustard seeds with 1/2 cup water to a smooth paste.
  4. Heat oil in skillet on medium-high & sputter cumin seeds & 1 chili.
  5. Fry garlic & onions until onions turn translucent.
  6. Add eggplant, stir & fry until eggplant pieces are golden brown.
  7. Add tomatoes to skillet, followed by mustard paste and stir gently.
  8. Cover, simmer for 5 minutes & adjust salt & sugar to taste.
  9. Garnish with remaining diced chilies and serve as a side dish.