Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sesame Chicken

Sesame chicken
Chicken with sesame seeds and spinach
Hello everyone! We got back from our Goan holiday but I was so caught up with my household chores and gardening that I was literally off the face of the internet. But since this is the last day of the year I thought it'd be better to end it with a request from a dear reader. The dish is sesame chicken.
Sesame is widely cultivated in our region and used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Around this time of the year and particularly during mid-January (Sankranti) til laddoos are made and consumed. In the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, sesame seeds are used in many dishes and as you drive past small towns and villages, the aroma of toasted sesame fills the air. It's a heady smell particularly when the weather is pleasant and you are peckish, you'd surely want to check out the source!!
In our cuisine we often use toasted sesame seeds to garnish, as well as add flavour, to the dish called mudru. The dried plant  (after the seeds are taken) are burnt and the ashes are used to make the alkali that is known as khari. Sesame seeds are known as shibling in my mother tongue.
900 grams chicken cut into regular pieces
3 medium onions, peeled and sliced
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and diced
6 dried bird's eye chillies
1 tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbs black pepper
3 tbs black sesame seeds
Salt to taste
2 bunches spinach
Coriander leaves for the garnish
3 tbs mustard oil
2-3 tejpatta 
Sesame chicken

  • Make a paste of the onions, ginger and dried chillies. (Fresh chillies will also do but I am drying bird's eye chillies at the moment and it was convenient to grab some to add to this curry. And we like the heat too).
  • Marinate the chicken pieces with this paste as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. I marinated the chicken for an hour.
  • Wash the spinach leaves under running water to remove sand and grit. Pick the leaves from the stalks. (The stalks can be added to another dish later). Grind the leaves and set aside.  
  • Toast the coriander and cumin seeds together. Add the pepper too and stir till they crackle a bit and let out their unique aroma.  Take care that the spices do not burn. Remove and grind the mix to powder.
  • Toast the sesame seeds till they emit a nutty smell. Care must be taken so that they do not burn or the taste will be bitter. Remove and grind. Set aside.
  • Heat the mustard oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the tejpatta and the marinated chicken. Cook on a high flame for about 15 minutes. Turn to medium heat and cook till the chicken is more than half done.
  • Season with salt and add the mix of coriander, cumin and pepper. Stir well. Add a bit of water so that the curry does not catch at the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the spinach paste and cook for a few minutes. Add water depending on the thickness of the gravy that you want.
  • Check the seasoning and make adjustments, if needed. When the gravy starts to thicken, add the toasted and ground sesame paste. Stir till the curry is homogeneous and remove a few minutes later.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
This curry goes best with steaming hot rice. The addition of spinach was an afterthought but I loved it as it added more depth to the gravy. The dark colour might not be the most tempting but the curry was delicious. No wonder this is such a popular dish in our region.:)
I wish all my regular and new visitors a wonderful 2016

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pithia Fish Curry

Pithia fish curry
Pithia fish curry
Fish is such an important part of our diet that fishmongers carry their fresh ware and go house to house selling the day's catch and usually the stock is sold out. Many households buy the freshest of supplies daily. I'm not a daily buyer but we do have fish twice or thrice a week. Today's curry is a local delicacy, the Golden mahseer/Himalayan or Putitor mahseer. This is a fish found in rapid streams and riverine pools and lakes in the Himalayan region ranging from Iran to Sri Lanka and east to Thailand. It's a popular gamefish and the largest species can reach up to 9 ft in length and 54 kgs in weight. As far as I remember this is a fish that tastes good during the winter months.
6 fish pieces
2 onions, roasted on an open flame
4 tbs poppy seeds, toasted till the nutty aroma fills the kitchen
2 tbs freshly-grated coconut
3 cloves of garlic, ground
1 small piece of ginger, grated
1 tsp chilli powder
A quarter tsp turmeric powder + extra to rub on the fish pieces
Salt to taste as well as to rub on the fish
Mustard oil as needed
Chopped herbs for the garnish
Pithia fish pices, rubbed with turmeric & salt and lightly fried
Remove ends of the onions, peel, wash and chop them. Blend till smooth.
Blitz the poppy seeds and keep aside. 
Rub the fish pieces with a touch of salt and turmeric.
Heat some mustard oil in  a pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the fish pieces. This can be done in two batches or else the oil will cool down and the fish will stick to the pan.
Fry lightly on both sides till they are golden. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
In the same oil (check to see if another tbs of oil might be needed) add the onion.
Add the ginger and garlic and cook till the onions turn paler in colour. 
Then add the rest of the spices along with the coconut and cook till the oil separates.
Season with salt. Pour some hot water in the curry. The quantity will depend on the amount of gravy you like.
Let the gravy come to a boil. Check the seasoning and make adjustments, if needed.
Gently put in the shallow-fried fish pieces.
Cook for another 4-5 minutes or till the fish is soft and the curry looks 'done'.
Remove from the flame and transfer to a serving dish. Scatter the chopped herbs on top.
This goes best with rice with. Maybe with another accompaniment. Some vegetables would be nice!:)

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mishagi Mudru/Stew Of Sarchochlamys pulcherrima

The leaves of Sarchochlamys pulcherrima known as mishagi in Dimasa
Sometimes I wish I lived closer to places where I could go a short distance and forage for some seasonal vegetables. Certain vegetables and fruits still taste best that way. But if wishes were horses...
However on our return from our recent trip we stopped at a place called Diyungmukh. It's midway between where I live and where I grew up. It's mostly agricultural land and the cultivation of sugar cane, sesame, and seasonal vegetables do extremely well there. It's also the place where two rivers, the Kopili and the Diyung (the longest river in my home district of Dima Hasao) meet. The confluence isn't far from the central area of this small town and as we went to check it out, I noticed these small trees growing on the banks.
It's been years since I have cooked/eaten the leaves of this plant. When we were young, we had a tree in our garden and my mother used to make a stew with the tender leaves, banana blossom and fish. Thinking of the dish, I plucked some leaves. A little foraging yielded enough for two meals.

The small trees grow near rivers and streams

The confluence: Diyung on the right and Kopili on the left

The stew is not photogenic.:) But the joy of cooking with an ingredient that is so important in our cuisine was enough for me. I had once planted it in my backyard but I think the soil was not suitable and it did not survive. This grows best in the wild. The Mising community of our state usually add the leaves to pork. The leaves are said to help in digestion and reduces the intestinal absorption of fat that generally exists in high proportion in pork.
A bunch of mishagi
1 tender banana blossom, the white variety that grows in hilly areas
A few pieces of fish, shallow fried with a dash of turmeric and salt (Any kind of fish will do but I used singhi or Asian stinging catfish)
2 chillies, scored lengthwise, seeds left on
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp slivered ginger 

Remove the outer leaves of the banana blossom. Keep the more matured blossoms aside for fritters or any other recipe and take out the tender ones.  
Take a small bunch of mishagi and rub with both hands. Then twist and tear the bunch of leaves. The leaves are not cut but torn in this manner.
Wash and drain them.
Pour some water in a pan and put it on the flame. There should be enough water to cook the vegetables and only a bit of liquid should remain.
Add the banana blossom. Put in the chillies and season with salt.
Cook till the banana blossom is 3/4 done then add the greens.
Cook till the leaves wilt and turn soft. Add the shallow fried fish pieces.
Let it cook for 4-5 minutes after adding the fish.
Scatter the ground pepper and give it a gentle stir.
Take the pan off the heat and transfer to a serving dish.
Garnish the stew with slivers of fresh ginger. 
This goes best with steaming hot rice!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Orange Cake With Raisins & Cranberries

Orange cake with raisins and cranberries
My cake sits on a tree stump on the way to visit my mother
I had gone on a short trip to visit my mother. Any trip home is accompanied by a few cakes that I bake and shared with near and dear ones. And instead of the usual table and the usual background, it's a wonderful change to photograph a cake or food, for that matter, against a different backdrop. And since the temperature has come down carrying food does not have the hazards that come with unbearable heat.
The road goes through small towns, villages and the wilderness. It's the last that I love and I'm always on the lookout for what ever is in bloom. But the view of the green hills was not clear for most of the journey as they were enveloped by fog. So I had to make do as soon as the fog cleared and a faint view of the hills came to sight.

Some parts of the jungle were ablaze with this vibrant colour of the Chinese hat plant.

Whereas other area had these pretty miniature blooms from a type of morning glory.
Orange cake with raisins and cranberries

When I leave the house for a few days (or weeks) I make sure to finish off whatever I have in stock. Cranberries were an afterthought but I added them and liked the slight sourness it brought in between bites. And there was less than a handful left.
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1 cup butter, softened
The juice of 1 large orange
1 tsp grated orange zest
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
3-4 tsp buttermilk
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm water
1/3 cup dried cranberries
For the topping: 
Finely sliced zest of 1 orange
The juice from the same orange
3 tbs sugar + extra for boiling the zest
Grease a bundt tin and dust it with flour.
Squeeze out the water from the raisins and set aside.
Sieve the flour and baking powder in a large bowl.
In another bowl, cream the butter and the sugar till pale.
Add the eggs one by one. Add the next egg after the previous one is fully incorporated in the mixture.
Add the orange juice and zest. 
Add the buttermilk and mix well. The amount depends on getting the right consistency in the batter.
Fold in the flour, almondmeal, and lastly the dried fruits.
Mix gently and pour the batter in the greased and flour-dusted tin.
Give the tin a good tapping on your work surface to remove any air bubbles.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 30 minutes or till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. 
Orange cake with raisins and cranberries

As the cake bakes, boil the sliced orange zest in 3-4 changes of water to remove the bitterness.
Then add sugar as per taste to a about 1/3 cup of water in a pan and let the water reduce. Then add the orange zest, give it a good stir and take the pan off the heat.
Transfer the sweetened zest to grease-proof paper and let it cool as the cake bakes.
Once the cake is out of the oven and is cooling, add the sugar to the juice of one orange.
Take the cake out of the tin when it is still warm.
Scatter the zest all across the surface and drizzle the juice/sugar mix across the circumference of the cake.
I love citrus-y cakes and the hint of orange and the zest made it so refreshing. I realized as I removed the cake from the tin that bundt tins require more than a regular greasing. They need a slathering of butter. Which is why there are some cracks at the bottom as I struggled to prise the cake out of the tin. But this was a cake made with love and the recipients, including my dear mother, had only praise for this cake.:)

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mini Banoffee Pies

With a tin of condensed milk in my pantry and the thought of a delicious muffin drizzled with dulce de leche, I had to do something about it. But in the process of creating the toffee (caramel), I changed my mind and opted for banoffee pie.The last time I made this pie was several years ago with a biscuit base. And the proportion of biscuit crumb to butter was not right. I remember how hard the crust was.
According to Wiki, credit for the pie's invention is claimed by Nigel Mackenzie and Ian Dowding, the owner and chef respectively of The Hungry Monk Restaurant in Jevington, East Sussex. The recipe was adopted by many restaurants across the world. The word "banoffee" entered the English language and became used to describe any food or product that tastes or smells of both banana and toffee. A recipe of the pie using a biscuit crumb base is often printed on tins of Nestle's condensed milk.
Nigel Mackenzie died on 29 may 2015 at the age of 71.

Boiling the tin for a few hours sounds tedious but with the weather turning cooler I'm back to lighting fires in our backyard. There was plenty of unsightly twigs and dead branches to be burnt. So I added some charcoal and had a fire going for a few hours. Meanwhile in a large pot with plenty of water the tin merrily boiled away. One point to be noted is that at all times the tin must remain submerged or else it might burst. After three hours and after the tin had cooled down somewhat this is what the content looked like. Exactly the way I wanted it to be. (After using the caramel for the pies, the remaining caramel was stored in a glass jar).
400 gram tin of condensed milk prepared as per the method described above
6 pastry shells that I had made the previous day 
3 bananas sliced thinly
2 tsp lemon juice
200 ml double cream, whipped
A bit of dark chocolate to grate on top of the cream

Peel and slice the bananas. Mix the slices with the lemon juice so that they do not turn brown.
Place some caramel in the pastry shells.
Layer the sliced bananas over the caramel.
Pipe the whipped cream on each pie.
Grate some chocolate on top of the cream.
Serve at room temperature.
If you prefer using more chocolate, you could scatter grated chocolate on top of the bananas too. And then again another generous scattering on top of the cream.
It was worth baking the pastry shells. They were light and crisp and it was such a pleasure to dig into this lovely dessert.:)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pumpkin & Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin & chocolate chip muffins
It's raining pumpkins again so instead of regular curries and bhajis, I am roasting them and adding them to cakes and muffins. Pumpkins usually come by way of gifts from relatives in our home district of Dima hasao. They are sweet and the perfect vegetable to be used in baking. I also add them to the dough that I make for our breakfast rotis.
2 cups flour
1 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup milk
2/3 cup fine sugar
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1 tsp ginger powder
1/2 cup chocolate chips
Left: the wet ingredients and right: after the dry ones are added
Line a 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.
Sieve the flour with the baking powder.
Stir in the sugar, the cinnamon powder and ginger powder.
In another bowl, beat the eggs, then add the pumpkin puree, milk and softened butter. Mix well.Fold in the flour.
Lastly, add the chocolate chips and mix well.
Divide the batter evenly between the 12 paper liners in the muffin tin. The batter should be two-thirds full.
Transfer to a preheated 180C oven and bake for 25 minutes or till risen and golden brown.
Remove the muffins from the oven. Place on a wire rack to cool.

This is another wonderful accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. I added less than a cup of sugar as I didn't the muffins to be overly sweet.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Stir-fried Smoked Pork

Stir-fried smoked pork with winged beans, spring onions & tomato
During the cooler months of the year I often smoke meat in my backyard. I haven't started yet but it won't be long before the wonderful smell of smoked meat will pervade the air in our vicinity. When I heard from my sister about an outlet that sold really good smoked meat I couldn't wait to try it out. So on our way to a floral exhibition yesterday, we dropped in at POP, initials for Purveyors Of Pork. But it isn't just pork that they sell. There's smoked chicken, sausages as well as fresh meat. And pickles.
And no prizes for guessing what the was included in our lunch menu today.:) I threw in a few other stuff and this dish was done. I also steamed some mustard greens with a tablespoon of bamboo shoot pickle. Preserved bamboo shoots add a unique taste to steamed greens. For some this could well be acquired taste rather than unique.
Stir-fried smoked pork and (right) steamed mustard leaves
300 grams smoked pork
1 large onion, chopped fine
A small piece of ginger ground to a paste
4-5 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 heaped tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tomato, sliced
7-8 tender winged beans
Spring onions, as per choice
Salt to taste
2 tbs oil
What I usually do with smoked meat is cut it into bite-size pieces and soak it for a few minutes in hot water. The meat is drained in a colander as I prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the onions, ginger and garlic. Fry till the onions are soft.
Add the meat and cook for about five minutes on a high flame.
Add the chilli flakes and season with salt. Add the black pepper.
Break the winged beans into similar sizes. Then add them to the meat.
Turn the flame to medium and add the tomato slices and the chopped spring onions.
As soon as the tomatoes start to wilt, take the pan off the heat.
Transfer the contents to a serving platter.
This goes best with steaming hot rice and some gravy from maybe another dish. 
I was very happy with the meat and it turned out to be delicious indeed!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Bok Phool/Agati Fritters

Bok phool
Bok phool fritters
There's nothing like a quick look-around in any bustling market to keep a food blogger ignited. And I checked into the one that's close to home and I was elated to see these blooms. During this season when the weather turns so much cooler there's much to look forward to. And edible blooms can be so fascinating. As I type this I can hear thunder. And rain! At this point we do not need rain after the battering we received during our l-o-n-g summer.
Bok phool

The white blooms of the agati /Sesbania grandiflora also known as West Indian pea are available during the cooler months of the year. Locally called bok phool, they are a delicacy and usually made into fritters with the addition of chick pea flour and a few spices. It's not only the blooms that are edible but the tender pods and leaves are also consumed. The lady who sold these blooms told me that she liked the fritters but her favourite way of having these blooms was adding them to scrambled eggs. Nothing like it, she tells me. I nod in agreement already visualizing myself rustling up the dish at home. But that will happen another day as fritters seem more tempting today...
Bok phool
To prepare the blooms the stamens need to be removed. Look for tiny insects that may be lodged inside. Wash gently as blooms can be so tender. I kept the stalks on much like how one might do with eggplants. The stalk is mean to be discarded.
15 agati blooms
1/3 cup chickpea flour
2 tsp rice flour (I used sticky rice flour)
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp soda bicarbonate
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
Dash of chilli powder
1 tsp poppy seeds
A quarter tsp fennel seeds
Enough oil to deep fry
Bok phool

Mix the chickpea flour and rice flour in a bowl.
Add the spices and mix well. Add some water to make a thickish batter.

Heat the oil in a pan.
Dip each bloom into the batter and fry in the hot oil.
This will cook very fast. Turn once so that both sides are golden and crisp.
Drain on kitchen paper. 
The fritters taste best when they are still hot.
These go well as a snack or as an accompaniment to rice/dal/sabji.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Paneer Quiche With Polenta

Paneer quiche with polenta
Sometimes, for a change, it's delightful to make a tart shell with polenta rather than spend time making short crust pastry. I wanted to finish off the stock that I had and a quiche was the first thing that came to mind. This is a very forgiving recipe and will take whatever you like to throw in/whatever you have in stock. I made do with a carrot, an onion and some paneer that I had in the fridge.

The stages of making the quiche
The polenta was cooked in chicken stock before it went to the tart tin. The lightly fried paneer and the onions/carrots were added with the usual (quiche) suspects. The result was one of the best that I made!
The crust:
2/3 cup quick-cook polenta
2 cups chicken stock
Butter for greasing the tart tin
Heat the stock in a pan and pour the polenta into the pan in a thin stream. Keep stirring until it cooks and thickens. The texture will be smooth.
Grease a tart tin with butter and transfer the cooked polenta in it.
When the polenta is cool enough to handle, pat it all across so that it takes the shape of the tin.
Bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 20 minutes.
Set aside to cool as you prepare the filling.
Lovely polenta crust

200 grams paneer
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 tbs vegetable oil + a little extra may be needed
1 grated carrot
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
1 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 cup grated cheese (I used a variety of herbed cheese)
Salt to taste

Cut the paneer into even shapes. Add a dash of salt and pepper and mix well. Heat the oil in a pan and lightly fry the paneer on both sides till they turn into pale gold.
Remove from the pan. Check to see if you need another teaspoon of oil.
Fry the onions till they turn translucent then add the grated carrots. Season with a pinch of salt. 
Take a bowl and break the eggs in it. Whisk well. Add the milk and some of the cheese. Add the remaining pepper and chilli flakes and beat till well combined.
Take the prepared tart tin. Line the base with the onion and carrot mixture.
Place the fried paneer in a circular pattern so that each wedge of quiche will have enough of it.
Pour the milk, cheese and egg mix taking care that it does not overflow. This quantity was just right for my 8" tart dish.

Scatter the remaining cheese on top and bake at 180C for 30 minutes or till a knife inserted in the quiche comes out clean.
Remove and cool in the tin.
This tastes good when it's still a little warm and is best eaten the day it's made.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Khurmani Kofta Curry/Meat balls stuffed with dried apricots

Khurmani kofta curry with peas pulao
When it comes to cooking meat I cannot imagine leaving out onions and garlic but going through a book on Kashmiri cooking in the Saraswat style I came across a recipe that I had to cook! I was actually wondering how to use the apricots I had in stock (from the Diwali hamper). I have had this book titled The Pleasures Of Kashmiri Cookery by Anu Wakhlu for nearly two decades and had tried out a few dishes years ago. Leafing through its pages I came across this recipe using dried apricots.
The recipe is the same except that there are minor changes in the measurements and the addition of one extra ingredient.
300 grams finely minced meat (I used goat meat)
10 apricots
A handful of blanched, peeled and roughly chopped almonds (optional)
1/2 cup curd
2 tbs chilli powder
2 tsp aniseed powder
1 tsp ginger powder
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 tbs mustard or refined oil
2-3 cloves
1 black cardamom, ground
A pinch of asafoetida
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
Shahjeera for garnishing (given in the book but I used coriander)
Apricots stuffed with almonds and the meat balls
  • In a large bowl put the minced meat, aniseed powder, ginger powder, salt, 1 tsp chilli powder, ground cardamom, 1 tsp curd, 1 tsp oil and mix well. Marinate for thirty minutes.
  • Soak the apricots in hot water and set aside for about 30 minutes till they are plumped up.
  • Remove the kernels and stuff that space with chopped almonds. 
  • Form the minced meat into balls. Put each almond-stuffed apricot inside each ball.
  • In a pan add 3 tbs oil. Add a pinch of asafoetida.
  • Add the chilli powder and sprinkle a bit of water so that the powder does not burn.
  • Add beaten curd and the rest of the spices except the garam masala and mix well.
  • Next add two cups of water and let it boil.
  • Gently add the stuffed balls and let them boil on a high flame for 5 minutes.
  • Simmer for 30 minutes till the koftas/meat balls are cooked through and the gravy thickens.
  • Add garam masala, and the garnish. 
  • The dish is ready to be served. 

The curry felt delightfully different. The koftas did not remain as photogenic as they looked before they were added to the gravy. But I didn't mind at all. Aniseed is a spice that I don't often use in my cooking. Teamed with the rest of the spices, our meal was a very aromatic one indeed!