Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Plum Tomato & Lettuce Salad With Bandel Cheese

Bandel cheese
Plum tomato & lettuce salad topped with crumbly bandel cheese
The first time I heard about Bandel cheese was last year when I went to see The Great Food Show in Delhi in November. It was held at The Grand and the products on display were fantastic. I also had the opportunity to attend the cooking sessions by famous chefs. One of them was Chef Shaun Kenworthy who used an indigenous cheese from West Bengal in his dish. Till then I had thought we only had paneer.
Bandel cheese
Smoked bandel cheese
Here's what Wiki says about this cheese:
Bandel is an Asian cheese originated in an erstwhile Portuguese colony, in Bandel, eastern India. Today the production is concentrated in the towns of Tarakeshwar, Bishnupur, Bankura, near Kolkata in West Bengal. It is made by separating the curds from the whey with lemon juice. It is then moulded and drained in small baskets and smoked. Bandel is known for its dry, crumbly and smoky flavour. Bandel cheese is well-salted and can be stored.

My husband was in Kolkata recently on an official visit and the list of ingredients that I asked him to bring included this cheese. He got some of the smoked variety. (Although I had told him to get the other version too. The ones that were not smoked. He must have forgotten.) I did a lot of online reading on the cheese and decided that it would do well in a salad. It helped that I got a punnet of juicy sunset-yellow plum tomatoes from the supermarket. Hmm, yellow and the dark leaves of the lettuce in my pots would make a good combination.

Since the cheese is salty, it needs to be soaked overnight in water. I also scraped off the "rind". Inside the texture was like paneer but the smoky flavour is beautiful.
2 pieces of bandel cheese, soaked overnight
25 plum tomatoes, washed, patted dry and halved
6-7 dark lettuce leaves, washed and torn to bits
A tiny bunch of mint leaves

For the dressing:
1 tbs honey
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp coarsely ground pepper
Pinch of salt (the salt in the cheese!)
3 tbs sesame oil, heated and cooled
3 cloves of garlic, roasted on an open flame
Peel and coarsely chop up the garlic. Add the  rest of the dressing ingredients and stir well. Set aside.
In a serving bowl, place the tomatoes, the lettuce and the mint leaves. Toss. Pour the dressing and mix well with a spoon. Remove the outermost skin of the cheese and crumble on top of the salad. It's now ready to be served.
If you like an extra crunch in your salad, you can sprinkle some toasted pine nuts on top.
I loved the cheese! Its saltiness and smokiness complemented the slight sweetness of the tomatoes. This is certainly a salad I'd love to have again. And soon!! I'll also have them grilled and I think I'll crumble them over a dish of gnocchi. Yum!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Kairi Tart Again!

Kairi tart
Kairi tart/tart made of green tender mangoes
I didn't think I'd do a post about a tart so soon but when the wind came hooting and howling two days ago, a precious branch of my mango tree broke. This year the branches aren't really laden. So a loss of six isn't all that heart-breaking. But they needed to be used and the first one went into a mint/coriander chutney. The tang from the green mango was wonderful and it reminded me of the tarts I had made when my blog was new. Kairi tarts or tart made from green and tender mangoes.
When we were kids, the season's first mango tasting would be invariably mango chutney. It didn't need much effort. Peeled and grated mangoes, chopped green chillies, a touch of salt and sugar, chopped mint and a little drizzle of mustard oil. In the hot and languid afternoons the taste of this chutney shared with siblings and cousins was pure bliss!
This recipe is from my old post that I had made from Good Food magazine in 2013. I had baked them in mini tart tins but this time I made one in a 8" tin. And instead of vanilla extract I used powdered cardamoms. For the shell I used my usual measurements. I need to have some pastry dough at the ready because I bake so often.
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup chilled butter, cut into cubes+ extra for greasing the tin and the greaseproof paper
2 eggs (depending on the size, 1 large might do too)+ extra for brushing the pastry during blind-baking
(Nowadays I omit the sugar in the dough as the filling is sweet)
Break one egg in a small bowl and keep aside. The second one might not be needed.
Transfer the flour to a large bowl and add the cubed butter.
Rub till the mixture is crumbly.
Add the egg and let the dough come together.
Flatten the dough and wrap it in clingfilm. 
Chill for at least 40 minutes.

Take it out from the fridge. 
Lightly grease a tart tin with a loose bottom.
Cut off the amount of dough that you will need. Keep the rest back in the fridge for later use.
Roll the pastry out a little bigger than the tart tin. It should be about 1/2 cm thick.
With the help of your rolling pin, place the dough on the tin, unfurling it across the tin.
Press the edges at the bottom of the tin and trim off any excess dough.
Chill for another 40 minutes. If you're planning ahead, you can chill it overnight.
Take it out of the fridge. Rub a piece of butter on a circle of greaseproof paper and place the buttered side down on the pastry shell.
Place the baking beans and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for 10-12 minutes.
Remove the beans and the paper, brush with egg and bake again for another 10 minutes.
Remove and let it cool as you prepare the filling.
The filling:
2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup grated green and tender mangoes
Powdered cardamom from 3 cardamom pods
For the filling, mix the cream, sugar, eggs, and grated mangoes. Add the cardamom powder and give it a good mix. Pour the mixture into the cooled shell and bake in a preheated oven at 140C for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature down to 120C and continue to bake till the filling is set. This could take anything between 20-25 minutes.
Kairi tart
Let the tart cool and then chill it for an hour before serving. I added fresh mint sprigs and a few nasturtiums from one plant that looks like it'll go on for a while. With the rain, the others have already withered and died.
The taste of this tart was delicious. My son's friend dropped by and this was her verdict. How fortunate to have somebody drop by when there's something like this ready to be served. Food after all tastes so much better when shared!:)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pistachio & Cranberry Biscotti

Pistachio & cranberry biscotti
Pistachio &cranberry biscotti
A bit of travel and I ended up cooking more and blogging less!:) Baking during this past week was more about simple cakes and quiches so my break lasted longer than intended. The thought of using  cranberries and  pistachios together seemed tempting. And I had them in stock. Before this I had baked a simple cake with these two ingredients. The burgundy and the green looked beautiful together and that was soon followed by these delightful twice-baked Italian biscuits. Teatime is always something light and with home made biscuits that can be dunked in tea, I need nothing else.

2 cups flour
80 grams caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbs butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
The grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup shelled and roughly chopped pistachios (I did not toast them)
Cream the butter and the sugar together.
Add the eggs and vanilla essence and whisk together till pale.
Sift the flour and the baking powder and then fold into the egg mixture.
Add the cranberries, the nuts and the orange zest.
The logs get ready to be baked.
Tip the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two parts and shape them into logs about 9" long and 1.5 cm wide.
Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 25 minutes. It should turn golden.
Then remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes or until firm.
About to be baked for the second time
Transfer the logs to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut the log into slices. The thickness of the slices should be about  half an inch.
Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and bake them for another 10-15 minutes turning them in between.
Remove from the oven and after about 5 minutes, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. This made 30 pieces. Although biscotti can be stored for more than a week, mine never lasts that long.:-)

You might have noticed that the amount of sugar isn't much. It's just the way we like it. Not sweet. Although they don't look as good as the ones seen on Google images, they serve their purpose. Of being dunked in tea and enjoyed thoroughly!!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chicken & Banana Stem Curry/Daono-hain jang laishu hon

Banana stem curry with chicken
Chicken & banana stem curry
In my younger days, one vegetable I didn't quite like preparing was, banana stem! Not because of the taste but the procedure it included and the fibre that needed to be removed after each circular piece had been chopped off with a sharp knife. It took so much longer than peeling or dicing other vegetables. And yet it often showed/shows up in our kitchens, as we are surrounded by banana plants.:) So once the bananas on the plant mature and the bunch cut and brought in to ripen, the tree is cut down. A banana plant bears fruit only once so the tree is cut down and the stem is used as a vegetable.
Banana stem
The stem of M.bulbisiana locally known as Athiya or Bhim kol
The harder greener outer layers are removed and the inner layers are cooked in various ways. It does get a little messy working with the stem or the flowers so I prefer to cut a fresh banana leaf and place it on my worktop. All the discarded matter is much easier to clean, there's no fear of stains and the leaf can be gathered up and dumped in the compost pit.
The outermost layers are dried and burnt and the ashes are gathered in a basket. A bit of water is added to the basket which filters down in a container placed below. This is the alkali or khari that I mention in my posts. It's also another essential ingredient in North-eastern cooking.
Peeling off the layers reminded me of the poem The Onion by Wyslawa Szymborska.
...inside it, there's a smaller one/ of undiminished worth/the second holds a third one/the third contains a fourth...
Banana stem 
As the stem is cut into roundels you see the thread-like fibre that needs to be removed by winding them on your index finger. The process always makes me think about my grandmother, aunts and my mother spinning thread by hand. Called thakri-lu ba in my mother tongue, most women would be busy after the usual chores were done.
Banana stems are a rich source of potassium and Vitamin B6. It is also said to keep high blood pressure under control. It is also a diuretic and helps detoxify the body. It is said to have cooling properties which is helpful in our kind of heat and humidity.
Banana stem

The pieces here are thicker than the ones that go into making chutney. It's always good to have chunkier pieces for meat curries. And talking about meat, they team up very well with pork and duck too. The stem I used belong to M.bulbisiana but the varieties that are relished in my home district of Dima Hasao are locally known as laidi and laishremdi.
I have read about soaking the stems after they are cut, either in salt water or as they do in the southern parts of our country, in buttermilk. But I usually cook them after a wash as they are never left for long after the initial prepping. They do turn into a darker shade because of the high iron content.

500 grams chicken with skin, cut into regular pieces
2 cups of banana stems (shown in the picture above)
3-4 Indian bay leaves
2 large onions, coarsely grated
1" piece fresh ginger, ground
7-8 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
A quarter tsp freshly-ground black pepper
5-6 green chillies, scored lengthwise
1 tsp red chilli powder (this will add colour)
(The heat will be just right as the curry is thickened with rice flour).
1 tsp coriander powder
1tsp  cumin powder
3 heaped tbs rice flour
Salt to taste
3 tbs mustard oil
Serrated coriander for the garnish
(Using cumin and coriander powder is optional. The curry still works well without these ingredients. However I use the roasted and ground variety that I keep in small amounts for curried dishes).

Before cutting the chicken into pieces, it's best to use tongs and place it for a few minutes over an open flame. Keep turning so that all parts get the flame. This gets rid of the down and imparts a delicate smoky flavour to the curry. Then cut the meat into pieces and marinate with the ginger,garlic and the dry spices as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

*Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.
*When it comes to smoking point, add the bay leaves, green chillies and the onions.
*Fry till the onions are translucent and then add the meat.
*Cook on high flame stirring in between and keeping the pan covered with a lid.
*Season with salt and continue to cook for about 20-25 minutes.
*Add the banana stem pieces and stir well. If the curry threatens to catch at the bottom, add about a quarter cup of water.
*Test to see if the chicken is cooked through. The stems do not need much time. Adjust the seasoning.
*Add about 3 cups of water. That does sound like a lot but the rice flour will be added and the gravy will be thickened. (And it will thicken further when it cools down).
*When the curry comes together, add a bit of water to the rice flour and make a paste. Add this to the curry stirring gently all the while so that no lumps remain.
*Remove from the flame and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped serrated coriander.
This curry goes best with rice.
~With the rice flour I usually make a paste. But my mother lets the flour flow in a steady drizzle with one hand and the other hand stirs the ladle so that no lumpy floury bits remain. 
~The chutney that I make is with the addition of fermented fish. The stems can be eaten raw in chutney or in salad form.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chard & Salami Quiche

Regular visitors to this blog will know that quiche is something that I love to bake. Any fresh greens that I have growing in my garden usually go into dal, paratha and bhaji. But now that I bake quite often, quiche is a wonderful option and you just need a handful of greens if you use a 7" or 8" tin like me. Now that my older son is home I make it more often than before. And sometimes I send them over to friends and relatives. Like yesterday I had sent one to a friend that was made of salami and spring onions (growing in my wooden container).

This morning I picked some chards from the three pots that I grow. Aren't they beautiful? I had never seen them before (only seen the pictures) so when my eyes fell on them at the horticultural show, that was one of the first plants that I grabbed! This is only the third time that I picked the leaves. Apart from being so visually appealing, chards are supposed to be full of nutrients. From now on, like tomatoes, they will be a part of my home-grown produce every year.

I  had the savoury pastry dough ready, left over from yesterday. I had used about two tbs grated cheddar, a quarter tsp pepper, 1 egg and 1 tbs of dried oregano to make the dough. I rolled it out and placed it on the lightly greased tin. The overhanging dough was folded inwards giving the crust a double edged border. Then I used a fork to prick all around the circle. A piece of foil was dutifully buttered and the buttered side was placed on the tin. I filled it up with baking beans and left it to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile I chopped up an onion and the chards. Then I fried them up in a bit of olive oil. The seasoning was pepper and salt. Went easy on the salt because of the cheese that I would add later. The chilled pastry shell was taken out and baked in a preheated oven at 180C for 10 minutes. 

Then it was taken out and the foil/beans/were removed. The pastry was brushed with one beaten egg and it went back into the oven for another 12 minutes.

I let  it cool down a bit before adding the other elements. The salami which I had lightly fried earlier, was torn into pieces and placed in such a way that every wedge would get some of it. Then the fried onions and chard went in followed by the mix of two eggs and the one that was used for the egg wash with 150 ml of cream. More pepper was added here. Then I took four cheese slices and added them after tearing them up to bits. This was poured into the shell and baked for nearly 30 minutes at 180C. The little bit of egg/cream/cheese mixture that remained was poured into a greased ramekin and baked. It's like an inexperienced cook's souffle but I don't mind the taste. It didn't go to waste!

It came out looking like this and filling the house with the wonderful smells of baking. Looks like I'll be baking another one...soon!:)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Pork Curry With Ash Gourd

Pork curry with ash gourd
Pork Curry With Ash Gourd
April already. It does feel like the months have gone in the blink of an eye. Before the heat is fully upon us I thought it would be good idea to cook pork. A pork dish has not been on this space for a while. Yesterday we had a family dinner and I added it to the list of dishes I was making. I like to team up meat with vegetables. Mostly it's with potatoes and any greens that might be growing in my pots or in stock in my kitchen. And during the bamboo shoot and mushroom season (which is coming) these vegetables are usually fried with pork. 
Ash gourd
I still had a couple of ash gourds lying around around so I chopped the smaller one and added it to the curry. Ash gourd goes very well with meat and we add it to duck, mutton, venison and to chicken as well.

1 kg pork cut into medium pieces
400 grams ash gourd
3 large onions, coarsely grated
10-12 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
Thumb-size ginger, grated
10 green chillies, scored lengthwise
1 tbs coriander powder, broiled and ground
A quarter tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp vegetable oil
Chopped coriander leaves for the garnish

Pork curry with ash gourd
Ready to be served!
Heat a heavy-bottomed karhai and add the oil.
Make sure that the pan is really hot then add the portions of pork with the fat.
Fry for a few minutes till you see the fat turn into more oil. 
Remove the pork/fat with a slotted spoon and discard the oil from the karhai leaving about a tsp to cook the dish. This is enough.
Put it back on heat and fry the onions for a few minutes. 
Add the rest of the meat. Stir well. Add the rest of the spices and continue to cook stirring from time to time. Keep it covered on high flame.
If it looks like it's going to catch at the bottom, sprinkle some water and stir.
Season with salt. By this time, the curry will come together. Reduce the flame.
Add the chopped tomatoes, stir well.
By this time (after about 30-35 minutes) the curry will look almost like how it is in the picture above.
Add about 1 1/2 cups of hot water. Continue to cook.
Let the water reduce a bit before you take the dish off the stove.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander.
This dish goes best with rice.

If you look at the spices, there aren't many. But with a mix of meat and vegetables this is all that you need. Certain varieties of ash gourd are very fragrant. When you cook it the smell itself is mouth-watering. The heat was enough from the green chillies but I added the powdered chilli for the colour. The curry turned out very well.