Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ema Datsi & More Images From Bhutan

Ema Datsi and chillies at a market near Paro
My first trip to Bhutan was nearly fifteen years ago to the border town of Samdrup Jongkhar. I remember having Chinese food and it didn't occur to me to try out something local then. But this time was different. I had heard about Ema Datsi and that was the first local dish I tried as soon as we landed there. It was in a wayside restaurant in Paro where we had a good time chatting with the friendly owner. Ema means chilli, and Datsi is the word for cheese. It's a simple dish with several chillis cooked in a cheese sauce. It's hot! Although we are used to chillis, we are certainly not used to this! I had more of the cheese and left most of the chillis. But the taste is good and I'll soon be making my version with a great reduction in the chilli count!

For those of us in the north-eastern part of India, going to Bhutan does not feel like crossing an international border. If you leave aside the Buddhist traditions, many of us look the same and there's a sense of affinity with them.
Pork with beans served at the same restaurant

A shop in Paro
A little girl in Paro

A market on the way to Thimphu

Takin, the national animal photographed at the Thimphu zoo
In Bhutan, the takin are found in bamboo forests at altitudes of 1000 to 4,500 metres where they eat grass, buds, and leaves. Takin are diurnal animals sometimes resting in the heat on particularly sunny days. They gather in small herds in winter and herds of up to a hundred individuals in summer. In winter they move to lower elevations and split into smaller herds. Source.

Wildflowers at Dochula Pass

Punakha Dzong on the bank of the Mo Chhu river
The central tower of the Punakha dzong

Considered to be the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan, it was built in the 1600s. Punakha Dzong was the administrative centre and the seat of the government of Bhutan until 1955 when the capital was shifted to Thimphu.
Cottage type cheese (left), unsalted butter and yak cheese (right)
The most common cheese used in Bhutan is seen on the left. These are some of the dairy produce I brought back with me. A little more of Bhutan will be featured in my next post as well.
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Monday, August 26, 2013

Back From My Bhutan Trip

Holidaying in Bhutan was such a wonderful experience that even now the mountains and the dzongs, the fruits of the season, and the swift-flowing rivers keep coming to mind. The weather was beautiful. Although daytime temperatures were almost like what we experience at home, evenings had a wintery kind of chill and I was glad I had packed something warm.

Paro, the beautiful town/valley has the only active international airport in Bhutan

Rinpung Dzong in Paro
View from our hotel room in Thimphu
Apple vendors on the way to Punakha Valley
With all the apples and the pears that we brought back I decided to make apple chutney and apple galettes. At least with the chutney, we'll be enjoying the fruits for a longer period of time. Although the duration of the flight from Paro to Guwahati is only 35 minutes perishables never look their best after a journey. The pears will be used for a pie.
Apple chutney (left) and apple galettes
I used the tart apples for chutney and the sweeter ones for the galettes. Onions, ginger, some chilli powder (from Bhutan), a cup of vinegar, a bit of salt, a cup of sugar, another cup of vinegar all went into peeled, cored, and diced apples. It took nearly an hour for the chutney to be done. I also used the peel/core for the glaze to be used on the galettes. Boiled them up with some water and sugar for about half an hour. Then I strained the syrupy liquid. The glaze was brushed like heated jam on the galettes.

There's more...the Farmer's Market was a two-minute walk from our hotel and it was a delight to see the fresh produce on display. I also picked up some local cheese, butter, beans, more chillies, different varieties of rice, buckwheat flour, and sweet tomatoes. More on these in my future posts.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cake Donuts

More inspiration for baking came with a new donut pan from Zansaar. These are cakes that I made using the pan today. There's no time for making real donuts now as my husband and I are going on a short holiday to Bhutan and there are several things that need my attention. We're leaving tomorrow.
Fresh out of the oven
I used my usual mix of ingredients along with a bar of chocolate that I chopped up and mixed in the cake batter. I'm pretty happy with the outcome. Once they were out of the oven they  were dunked in melted butter and given a sugar bath.
These cake donuts (I made two dozen) will be packed off to Delhi for my boys. I won't be visiting/commenting for the next five days. Looking forward to sharing the sights of a fascinating country later when I return...

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Since I still had a small pineapple left ( after making the murabba in my last post) I thought about using it in a dessert cake. And what better than a pineapple upside down cake? A large cake would simply sit in the fridge so I decided to make a few small ones, just right for individual servings. I used the small tart moulds where the pineapple rings sat comfortably.

For the topping:

Caramelize 3 heaped tablespoons of sugar, add some dots of butter, then divide the brown deliciousness between the moulds. I used four of 4 inch moulds. Peel the fruit and remove the 'eyes'. Cut into rings, remove the inner core and place one pineapple ring on each mould. It's good to reserve some of the juice that flows when you cut/slice the fruit. It can always be added to the cake mix later. There were no cherries but I had some rum-soaked raisins and a few went in the middle where the hard core of the fruit had been removed. I also added a teaspoon of honey to each mould. If you love honey, you'll understand...

For the cake:

Sieve 130 grams of flour with a level teaspoon of baking powder. Beat two eggs with a teaspoon of vanilla essence. Cream 80 grams of butter (at room temperature) with the same amount of fine sugar. Gradually add the beaten eggs, then fold in the flour. At this point I added some of the juice of the pineapple that I had kept aside. Divide the mixture into the prepared moulds and bake at 175*C for 25 minutes or till a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Some of the mix was left over so it was divided between two muffin cases. Let the cakes cool down before you turn them out upside down on a serving plate.

The cakes were moist and tasted good. We had them with dollops of vanilla ice-cream.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Pineapple Murabba

Pineapple murabba
With pineapples in season, cooking with these sweet juicy fruits seems to be the most natural thing to do. I made murabba today. Murabba is an Arabian word that refers to sweet or savoury jam in parts of India, Pakistan, and Iran. It is traditionally sweet prepared with mangoes, plums, apricots, Indian gooseberry (amla) and resembles a fruit preserve. Other fruits and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, ash gourd, apples, wood apples, and the spice, ginger, are all used to make this preserve.
Getting cooked with the sugar, the cardamom seeds, and a stick of cinnamon
I cut up a medium-sized pineapple, removed the 'eyes' as well as the hard inner core. Then I chopped the fruit into tiny pieces. In they went to a pan where they simmered away on a medium flame. For 500 grams of pineapple, I added nearly 300 grams of sugar. It certainly wasn't the sweetest pineapple of the season. or else 250 grams of sugar would have been enough. Then I added a dash of ground cardamom seeds and a stick of cinnamon. It took about 45 minutes for the mixture to look translucent. I kept stirring every now and then. 
The finished product
Just before it was done, I added the juice of half a lemon into the mixture. This was cooled, transferred to a glass jar and kept in the fridge. From tomorrow (but not on a regular basis because it's sweet) it's going to accompany our parathas and toasts.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Garlic Curry

When I first read about this particular garlic curry, I found it pretty strange. Garlic as a vegetable and as the star ingredient in a dish didn't sound all that appealing to me. But that was more than thirty years ago. In 1980 I had ordered a book by Charmaine Solomon on Indian cooking and was very happy with it when it arrived after some ten days or so. I found this book recently as I was cleaning an old bookshelf. It was indeed a pleasure going through it and remembering the hiccups I had as I struggled with basic cooking back then. There are plenty of recipes I'll be trying out...again, but I had to start with this curry.
Sometimes finding the main ingredients in the kitchen leads to a dish that you hadn't really planned to cook. There was too much garlic in my kitchen basket and the coconuts from my mother's garden have been used again and again for more hand pies and curries. Today's freshly made coconut milk entirely went into this curry. The author says that if the amount of garlic sounds terrifying, you can tone down the content by substituting small new potatoes, halved or quartered, for some of the garlic.

Adapted from Indian Cooking For Pleasure by Charmaine Solomon
250 grams garlic
8-10 small onions
8 large fresh mild chillies
2 tablespoons coconut oil or other vegetable oil (I used the latter)
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
11/2 cups coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons tamarind pulp 
1/4 cup hot water

  • Peel the garlic and leave them whole. The garlic used for this curry has large individual cloves. Peel the onions and remove the stalks from the chillies but leave them whole.
  • Heat oil in a heavy saucepan and fry the garlic, onions, and chillies over gentle heat. They shouldn't turn too brown. Remove from pan.
  • In the same oil add the fenugreek seeds and stir over low heat till they are golden. Add the chilli powder and turmeric, fry for a few seconds, then add the coconut milk, salt, and stir while bringing slowly to simmering point.
  • Return the garlic, onions, and chillies, and allow to simmer, uncovered until garlic cloves are soft.
  • Dissolve tamarind in hot water, strain into curry for last ten minutes of cooking.
  • Serve with hot rice.
It was well worth the effort of peeling the garlic and making this curry. More so as the name of the dish had remained at the back of my mind all these years. It helped that all the other ingredients were in my kitchen today. As for the taste, it wasn't all that intimidating. I had also added one boiled potato, all diced up. Very good with rice and tomorrow we'll be having the same with parathas.

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Bombay Duck Curry With Cucumber & Potatoes

High on taste (though not on colour/looks here)!

Dried fish is popular in our region and one of the most-cooked happens to be Bombay Duck/bummalo. It's also known as Lotiya in our parts. The average length of the fish is about 25 cm. It's an acquired taste and you either LOVE it or HATE it! There are several ways of preparing it. The curried form is common but we also make a delicious chutney by grilling these over hot coals/fire, then we pound them before adding chopped onions, herbs, roasted and chopped chillies. A bit of mustard oil is drizzled over the chutney and lightly mixed before it is served.

Here's  a description from Wiki. 
The Bombay duck is not a duck but a lizardfish. It is native to the waters between Mumbai and Kutch in the Arabian Sea and also found in the Bay of Bengal in smaller numbers. The South China Sea is another area from where this variety of fish is found in large numbers. The fish is often dried and salted as the flesh does not have a distinctive taste of its own. After drying the odour of the fish is extremely powerful and it is usually transported in airtight containers. Fresh fish is usually fried and served as a starter. In Mumbai, Konkan, and the western coastal areas of India, this dish is known as Bombil fry

Bombay duck is also made into curry with the addition of vegetables, it's also mixed in khari or in dal. Potatoes, pumpkin, several varieties of gourd work very well in this type of curry. Usually I like having this with bottle gourd but today I cooked it with a not-so-fresh cucumber that had been languishing in the fridge. Well, at least I made good use of it.
Bombay duck with bottle gourd, made earlier


5 Bombay duck, cut into one and a half inch pieces
1 cucumber (or squash, ridge/snake/bottle gourd)
2 boiled potatoes, optional
1 large onion, grated
1 teaspoon of ginger and garlic paste
1 heaped teaspoon of coriander powder
1 level teaspoon of cumin powder
6-7 hot green chillies, finely chopped
Chopped tomatoes (optional)
Turmeric powder for the curry+ a bit to be used on the fish while shallow frying
Salt to taste
Mustard oil, about 3 tablespoons
Chopped herbs for the garnish


Wash the dried fish pieces in tepid water. This makes it easier to get rid of any grit or sand. Drain.

Peel and cut the cucumber. Remove the seeds and chop into small pieces.

Meanwhile heat a pan and pour the mustard oil in it. When it becomes hot, shallow fry the fish pieces in batches. There is no need to add salt as the fish is salty. I don't mix the turmeric powder either preferring to sprinkle it over the fish during the frying process. Since there's some moisture left from washing the fish, the turmeric does not burn. They'll soon turn golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

In the same oil, fry the onions till they change colour. Then add the rest of the spices. Fry for a few minutes then add the vegetable. The potatoes can go in later as they are boiled. Keep cooking till the oil separates. When the veggies are nearly done and the curry starts to look cooked, add some hot water. The veggies must not be totally submerged.

Let it cook till almost done, then add the fried fish pieces. Cook for another five minutes, stir once or twice. Remove from the fire and garnish with chopped herbs. In my case I used serrated coriander. This curry goes best with steaming hot rice. With dal and other accompaniments, this will be enough for three to four people.

Fermented fish pickle with Bombay duck and dried shrimp
I like to add chopped pieces of Bombay duck to fermented fish pickle along with dried shrimp. A post I had done earlier on the same is here. The good thing about this type of curry is that you can team up a wide variety of vegetables to go with the fish. Potato and eggplant is another delicious combination.

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Monday, August 5, 2013

Fish Baked In Turmeric Leaves

The other day I had written about using turmeric leaves in cooking. Asking my blog friends to tell me about how they use the leaves, I was happy with the feedback. This is what I cooked for lunch today. Fish baked in turmeric leaves with minimal use of spices.

I used three fish pieces from the carp family, locally known as rou. I marinated the fish with salt, freshly grated pepper, a bit of turmeric and a few green chillies ground to a paste. The fish pieces were kept aside as I got the leaves, washed and lightly rubbed off the water with a kitchen towel. Turmeric leaves can be folded easily and unlike banana leaves, they need not be put over the gas flame just to make them softer and easier to wrap the food that you are about to prepare.

Before the wrapping was done I sliced a large onion, added a mix of freshly ground garlic and ginger and mixed them with a tablespoon of vegetable oil. Then the onions were divided between the fish pieces and the wrapping was done. Only one end of the turmeric leaves were trimmed...the stalk end just to make the packet even. Bamboo twigs (only a little bigger than toothpicks) were yanked off the slender bamboo trees in my backyard and I used them for securing the packets.

Then they went into a 200* oven for a little more than twenty minutes. It was as easy as that. The smell (of the leaves) during the baking process is a little strong but all that disappears once it's cooked. Only a faint smell of the turmeric leaves remain. Which is well and good. I limited the use of spices as I didn't want the aroma of the leaves to be overpowered by other smells. But I was happy with the result! Next time I can add more spices and plenty of herbs for the garnish!

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Sunday, August 4, 2013

Upside Down Banana&Guava Caramel Cake

I usually look at plenty of food pictures during my spare time and one that I fell in love with (recently) was the picture of a banana caramel cake. I saw it on The Daring Gourmet and of course I had to bake it. But it isn't exactly the same since I tweaked the recipe a bit. Instead of using mashed bananas in the cake mix, I used guava paste. Banana and guava flavours blend beautifully as they did in this moist and delicious cake. I did not use any glaze on my cake either. 

The Topping
I took a 9/4" loaf tin and spread 6 teaspoons of sugar in it. Dotted the sugar with about 10 grams of butter. Then I popped it in the oven at 175 for about ten minutes. The sugar had by then turned to a golden brown. Took it out of the oven and let it cool before I added one large ripe banana, placing each slice next to the other on the caramel. Not too much sugar you must have noticed (for the caramel) as we (my husband and I) cannot have anything that is too sweet.

The Mix
100 grams of sugar
100 grams of butter at room temperature
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Half a cup of guava paste
130 grams of flour sieved with a teaspoon of baking powder

Beat the eggs well and keep aside. Cream the butter and the sugar then gradually add the beaten eggs and vanilla essence. Also add the guava paste blending it well into the mix. Then fold in the flour. Pour the whole mix into the tin on top of the banana roundels and the caramel. Bake at 180 for 40-45 minutes till a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let the cake cool for ten minutes or so before you take it out of the tin turning it upside down. Serve the cooled cake slices with whipped cream.

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Using Turmeric Leaves

My pot-grown turmeric (above & below) and the plants in my mother's garden
Turmeric is a spice that we use everyday. Most backyards in our region have huge clumps of the plant with the beautiful striking green leaves. When we were kids, it was a common chore in our house to wash, boil, and dry the spice in the sun. Bamboo mats of the yellow sliced turmeric were laid out till they were completely dry. Then the dried spice was pounded into powder for everyday use in the kitchen. The plant dries up in the winter months but new leaves start to sprout by late April. During the hottest months of the year, the turmeric plants look their best! Because of lack of space in my tiny garden I grow turmeric in large pots and wooden containers. It is enough for a family of four considering the fact that it's for the leaves that I grow them in containers.

I don't know how many of you reading this post use the leaves in cooking. It was only after I'd seen Malaysian chefs on Food Safari using the leaves in beef rendang that I started using them. In chicken, pork, lamb, fish, and now even in dal and vegetable dishes. Turmeric leaves have a refreshing smell and half a leaf is enough for curry cooked for eight! And in a dish like rendang the addition of lime leaves (kaffir) make the flavours even more tempting!
The leaves from my pots and the bloom

Looking up online I did find quite a few Indian and South-east Asian recipes using these leaves. Maybe I'll replicate them in a future post. First on the list will be fish wrapped in turmeric leaves and baked on hot coals. I'd love to read about how you use these leaves here in my comments section or on my Facebook page. Thank you for stopping by today.