Friday, July 29, 2016

Vietnam On My Mind & Ga Xao Xa Ot

ga xao xa ot
Ga xao xa ot/Vietnamese lemongrass chilli chicken
Since my younger son is touring Vietnam with an American band, New Fame, I have been on a virtual exploration of Vietnamese cuisine.  A book on the same that I had ordered online should soon be here and I can delve deeper. Today also happens to be his birthday.:) He has been sending me several images about this fascinating country that I would love to visit some day. Hope you enjoy going through these shots...
The area they are living in...Ho Chi Minh
Rain clouds over Ho Chi Minh

Just a few of the delicious food pictures

Lady Buddha in Da Nang, Central Vietnam

Another shot from Da Nang
I looked up a few older issues of  BBC Food/India magazine and came across this simple recipe of chilli chicken and lemongrass. The recipe was written by Tracy Lister, author of the book Koto: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam.

5 chicken thigh fillets
2 1/2  tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
1 tsp caster sugar
2tbsp vegetable oil
2 stems lemongrass, white part only, finely chopped
1 red chilli, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
90 ml water
10 spring onions, sliced
A handful of coriander sprigs, roughly chopped
  • Cut each chicken fillet into 6 cubes. Marinate the pieces for half an hour with the fish sauce, pepper and sugar.
  • Heat the oil in a wok (or a kadhai) over medium heat and fry the lemongrass, chilli and garlic. Stir for a few minutes till fragrant. Add the chicken and toss for 3-4 minutes till the chicken is lightly coloured.
  •  Add the water and turn the heat up to high to finish the cooking process. Check to see that the chicken is cooked through. Add the spring onions and coriander and give it a final toss.
Spring onions are not available in our parts during this season. So I left that out. I added five chillies instead of one. The lemon grass that I'm growing has very tender stalks so it didn't turn out as fragrant as I'd have liked it to be. Another cardinal sin I committed was using chicken breast pieces. Thigh fillets are best as chicken breasts dry out faster. But I had to make do with the latter as that was what I had in stock.
If you are interested in the lime, chilli and salt mix that is also served with this dish, here it is.
1 tsp sea salt
4-6 bird's eyes chillies or 2 tsp pepper, freshly grated
2 lime wedges, juiced
Place the salt in a mound in a dipping bowl. Add the chillies or pepper and then squeeze over the lime juice. Stir with a chopstick.

This is one dish I'd love to try out again. Despite the drawbacks in my dish, the taste was still great!
 I'm adding a link to a video where my son is doing what he loves best....drumming!
Whiplash (Movie Track) Drum Cover

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Pineapple & Starfruit Pie

Pineapple & starfruit pie
Pineapple & starfruit pie
Apart from baking with yeast, I have also been trying out leafy and floral pie crusts. Not all of them get blogged about as something (minor) goes wrong and I notice that a strip of lattice has somehow managed to play truant. And sometimes the pie gets a little too brown before I reach for the foil etc, etc! 
I had two sweet pineapples ready to be eaten and instead of using regular apples (Poor us! Do we have a choice when it comes to fruits for baking?!!) I decided to use the smaller pineapple. But since the quantity was not enough for my 8" pie pan, I decided to add a few starfruits from my small tree.
Pineapple & starfruit pie
Starfruits on my tree
My tree was planted in a large plastic drum and it hasn't disappointed. I often use the sweet fruits in baking, cooking as well as for gifting!
For the pastry:
200 grams flour, sieved
100 grams cold butter, cubed
1 large egg+1 egg yolk with a bit of milk for the eggwash
Iced water for sprinkling
1 tsp grated lemon zest
Rub the butter into the flour till the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
Break the egg into the mixture, add the lemon zest and bring the dough together.
At this point if you feel that the dough needs a little more moisture, sprinkle the iced water and let the dough come together.
Divide the dough into two separate balls. This makes it easier to work on the crust/base as the other half rests in the fridge untouched.
Flatten the balls, wrap them in clingfilm and let them rest for at least 40 minutes.
If I plan beforehand, I usually let the dough rest overnight.

The filling: 
1 medium pineapple
4 small starfruits
Sugar as per taste
A quarter tsp cinnamon powder
A dash of nutmeg
1/3 cup raisins
2 tbs all-purpose flour
Dots of butter to scatter on the filling + extra to grease the pan

Pineapple & starfruit pie
The filling: I use a similar sized pan for the measurement
  • Take the dough from the fridge and let it come to a 'workable' temperature. Cut off some for the bottom of the pastry and roll it out a little bigger than the pie tin.With the help of the rolling pin,roll the dough and unfurl it on the tin. Press all along the bottom of the tin and trim off the overhanging dough with the rolling pin.
  • Prick with a fork on the pastry surface and place it in the fridge to chill as you work on the filling.
  • Remove both ends of the pineapple and cut into half and into quarters. With a sharp knife, peel off the skin. Remove the hard core and remove all 'eyes'.
  • Chop into small pieces and transfer the pieces to a pan. I removed some of the juice as it would have been too much.
  • Add the sugar, cinnamon, and grated nutmeg and cook till the fruit turns a little softer but not mushy. Check sweetness and adjust accordingly.
  • Remove both ends of the starfruits and the hard edges where the fruit juts out. Slice into 'stars'. Add them to the cooled pineapple. These need not be cooked. Add the raisins as well.
  • Add the flour and mix well. This will soak the juices and the pie bottom will not be soggy. Set the filling aside.
  • Take the pastry bottom from the fridge and place the prepared filling in it.
  • Dot with butter.
Pineapple & starfruit pie
Working on the crust
For the crust, I made a half lattice and filled the edges with leaves.The other half was plain rolled out dough to which I added more leaves. With the remaining dough I made a few tendrils.
Pineapple & starfruit pie
Brushed with egg yolk/milk...ready for the oven

Then the crust was brushed with egg yolk/milk mixture and it went in a preheated oven at 220C for 10 minutes. I brought the temperature down to 190C and baked it for another 25 minutes. It had browned a little too soon...before I covered the top with foil. Things always do not go as smoothly as we'd like them to be!!
Pineapple & starfruit pie
Pineapple & starfruit pie is ready!!
Finally it was out. A little too brown, a little too 'done'. But pineapple pie with starfruits from my tree. I wasn't complaining. It was just a wee bit tangy but still good. The pastry dough had grated lemon zest in it and that also made a difference. A satisfying experience. And if I look back on this day I'll remember the joy I got in creating this pie...filling, crust and all. A quiet afternoon in my kitchen was never more rewarding!

Monday, July 25, 2016


Of late, I have been baking a lot with yeast. And the smell of bread being baked is so wonderful. A handful of ingredients and the house is filled with magical aromas....
The only thing that stopped me from making bagels earlier was the fact they needed to be poached in hot water. I thought the texture would be extremely dense. But when I tried out the recipe after checking out several sites online and a handy baking book, I was pretty happy with the way they turned out. Here's a bit of history on bagels from good ol' Wiki.

A bagel is a bread product originating in the Jewish communities of Poland. It is traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, which is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. The result is a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and sometimes crisp interior. Bagels are often topped with seeds on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy, sunflower, or sesame seeds. Some may have salt sprinkled on the surface and there are also a different number of dough types, such as whole-grain or rye.

350 grams all-purpose flour
A quarter tsp salt
7 gram easy-blend dried yeast
1 tbsp lightly beaten egg
200 ml lukewarm water
Vegetable oil for brushing
1 egg white
2 tsp water
Caraway seeds, about 1 tbsp

Method: (This makes 10 bagels).
~Sift the flour and the salt in a bowl. Stir in the yeast and make a well in the centre. Pour in the egg and the lukewarm water and make the dough. Tip contents onto a lightly flour-dusted surface and knead till smooth.
~ Brush a bowl with oil. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp tea-towel and leave to rise in a warm place for about an hour or till the dough doubles in size.
~Brush the baking tray with oil and dust with flour. Turn out the dough and knock back. Knead for a couple of minutes then divide the dough into ten pieces.
~Shape each piece into a ball and set aside for 5 minutes.
~Then flatten each ball and make a hole in the centre. Put on the tray, cover, and leave to rise for about 20 minutes or so.
~Boil some water in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to simmer and drop in two bagels. Poach each batch for a minute, turn over then poach for a little less than a minute on the other side. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.
~Transfer the bagels to the prepared baking tray. Add the water to the egg white and beat together. Brush the bagels with this.
~Sprinkle the caraway seeds and bake in a preheated oven at 200C for about 25-30 minutes or until the bagels turn golden brown. Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.
I'm so glad I made these bagels. What a treat! Crisp on the outside with a little chewy on the inside. My son loved them and so did his friend who happened to drop by. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fish & Purslane Fritters

The small variety of fish that I bought today reminded me of my mother's fish pakodas and I kept some aside for the same. I remember with such fondness some of the simple but delicious treats that we had as children. And although the taste of food that came from a wood-fire cannot be recreated, this version isn't bad either. 
Sometimes it's the leftovers that leads you to another dish. I had a bit of rice flour left and I needed to finish this batch off. This was the wet variety. I had soaked the rice and ground it for thickening a particular curry a day earlier. And who doesn't love the crunch that comes from rice flour?!
100 grams small river fish, cleaned 
1/3 cup rice flour
2 tbs all-purpose flour
A dash of baking soda bicarbonate
A pinch of turmeric powder
Salt to taste
2 hot chillies, chopped fine
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped fine
3-4 serrated coriander + extra for sprinkling on the dish later
One small piece of ginger, finely sliced
Mustard oil to deep fry

Transfer the rice flour to a bowl. Add the all-purpose flour.
Add very little water. The batter should be thick.
Add all the other ingredients other than oil and fish.
Give it a good mix.
Lastly add the fish. Mix well so that the fish is coated with the batter.
Heat the oil in a pan and let it come to smoking point.
Take spoonfuls of the batter and drop them in the hot oil.
Reduce the heat a bit so that the fritters are evenly cooked.
Turn once when it becomes golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon when the other side is done. Place them on kitchen paper.
Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle the chopped herbs.
Fish & purslane fritters
Common purslane/Portulaca oleracea
Purslane wasn't on my mind today.But with a bit of batter left over I hurried to my front-yard where these (edible) weeds are threatening to take over my small circular flower bed. I picked a bunch, washed them and plunged them in the batter. Oh, I did add another spoonful of flour and a bit of water to the batter. But nothing else! Since the stems, leaves, buds and flowers are edible, I simply dipped them one by one in the batter and fried them till they turned golden brown.
Fish and purslane fritters
A closer look at the purslane fritters
The Common Purslane/Portulaca Oleracea does well during this season. I had tried planting them in my backyard but I think these plants do best where they appear. So the best thing is to let them be and try to include them in our diet as often as possible. Purslane is said to contain more omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. It also contains vitamins and dietary minerals. The presence of oxalate in this vegetable makes the taste slightly acidic. But not in a bad way.
These fritters taste good on their own but we had them as an accompaniment to our lunch of rice, dal and another vegetable.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Mini Pies With Jamun Jam Filling

Mini pies with jamun jam
We have had a lot of rain in the past few days. An hour's shower and our city gets flooded. Earlier the flooding never affected us so badly but since last year it's been harrowing. Two rooms get flooded (the floors in the rest have been raised) and as I type this I can still get the smell that flood waters leave behind. Today's post is about these cute pies I made about a week ago.

One great way of using up left-over pastry dough is to make them into these cutie pies. Filled with jam made from home-grown jamun fruits these little treats are such a delight! But I found out as started working on the pastry that it's not so easy handling mini pies!
One needs to work very fast particularly in a climate as humid as ours. The dough warms up faster than you can handle it. But the thought of the finished pie and using up some of the jam kept me going.:)

After rolling out the dough with a bottle cap, I placed about a teaspoon of the purple jam on the tiny disc. Then I placed another disc on top of the jam. The edges were moistened with water and a fork did the rest. The tightening and the designing. And the little holes in the middle to let the steam out. These were then brushed with egg and baked in a preheated 180C oven for about 15 minutes.
After they had cooled down for about 15 minutes, they were dusted with icing sugar. These go so well with tea or even in between.
It's now the start of the guava season and looking out of my kitchen window this is what I found on my neighbour's guava tree.:)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Solanum gilo

Solanum gilo

As children we have wondered how grown-ups could possibly eat bitter food. Despite pushing it away from our plates we were told that it was good for us. Decades ago, a small bowl of neem leaves fried in home made ghee and dal that accompanied rice made me think about bitter food in a different light. I don't remember the other accompaniments but this taste was what made me think that bitter was also good! I have recreated it many times. It is occasional, but if Mother Nature has her fair share of bitter foods, we might as well get the benefits of the medicinal properties present in such foods.
Another variety of solanum that is extremely bitter
According to an article titled Bitter Is Better by Dr. Andrew Weil that I read in The Huffington Post, this is what it says:- 

Bitter foods challenge the liver. They make it work and help it to remain healthy just as muscles challenged by exercise function better than the ones that atrophy from under-use. A liver frequently challenged by bitters can efficiently process the occasional sweet treat but inverting the bitter-sweet intake ratio leads to fatty liver disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

In most cultures bitter foods are part of the occasional diet.  Among all the bitter foods, this is one that I really like. Known as phanthao khimkhathai in my mother tongue, it has a milder taste and a little bit of sweetness that you usually get in fresh vegetables.The common bitter foods  that we consume are: bitter gourd (both fruit and leaves), neem leaves, leaves of the passion fruit vine, papaya flowers, the flowers of Phlogacanthus curviflorus (known as alusho bubar in my mother tongue).
Solanum gilo

This variety of solanum is one such vegetable.  Summer is when they flood our markets. My mother had kept this ripe fruit for me so that I could dry the seeds and sow them. Because of its colour, the ripe fruit looks deceptively delicious. Like a juicy red tomatillo. The two pictures below are from my mother's garden.
Solanum gilo
The right time to be picked
Solanum gilo
The ripening: golden before turning red
They taste best when they are still tender and the seeds are not mature. We usually have them added to dal or steam the tender ones. We also make khari on its own or added to other vegetables. The other day, for a change, I made a simple sabji that went very well with rice. It had the usual curry ingredients and was garnished with serrated coriander.
Solanum gilo

On other occasions this vegetable is usually cooked with fermented fish and thickening agents like rice flour or dal are used. The picture below shows one such dish that is thickened with rice flour.
Solanum gilo
Khari  is not photogenic!:)
I wonder what kind of bitter vegetables you like to cook with. It would be interesting to know the popularity and the availability in the regions you live in.:)

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Teasel Gourd In A Green Curry

Summer means gourds and teasel gourd happens to be my favourite. Despite its spiny appearance (which gives it its other name...hedgehog gourd) the taste is mild. I usually buy this vegetable but the other day I was at my sister's in another part of our city and she picked some for me from her garden. I also got some tender leaves and shoots which I intended to use in another dish.
But since the leaves are mild and cook easily I used it like the way spinach is used in palak paneer. So the leaves were incorporated with the vegetable.

The picture below was taken in summer last year in a village market in Upper Assam. When we were growing up, almost every backyard garden had this plant making an appearance during the first rains of the year and them climbing up trellises or branches to bloom and bear. The monsoon season is when the gourds are at their peak. They are usually eaten fried, added to fish curries, cooked with other vegetables, made into chutney or made into fritters.

This recipe is not the usual kind that I make but I liked the creaminess that came from the tender leaves. And home-grown vegetables taste incredibly better!
8 medium-sized tender teasel gourds
Half cup boiled corn (I used fragrant multi-coloured corn)
1 bunch of teasel gourd leaves
1 medium onion, peeled and grated
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and ground
1 small piece of ginger, peeled and ground
5 dried red chillies, ground to a paste
A pinch of turmeric powder (optional...and for me it's out of sheer habit)
A quarter tsp coarsely grated black pepper
1 tsp coriander powder
A quarter tsp cumin powder
(Both the powdered spices were toasted and ground)
Oil as needed
Salt as per taste
Cumin seeds for tempering
The bloom and the tender gourd
Remove the ends of the gourd and scrape off the soft spines.
Wash, halve and quarter them.
Wash the leaves and drain in a colander.
Steam the leaves till they wilt completely. Cool and blitz in a blender. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a pan. As soon as it comes to smoking point, add the cumin seeds.
Add the grated onion and fry till it turns translucent. Then add the garlic and ginger. 
Add the cut vegetable and stir. The rest of the ingredients, except for the steamed leaves and corn, can go in now.
Cook till the gourds are soft and almost done. If the curry threatens to catch at the bottom, sprinkle some water and stir.
Add the corn and the leaf paste. Add about half a cup of hot water as the gravy needs to be thick. Adjust accordingly.
Cook for a few minutes till the curry comes together.
Remove from the flame and transfer to a serving dish.
This simple dish goes best with rice. We had two more accompaniments..dal and fried fish! 
Even if you do not remove the soft 'spines', it is all right. That makes a difference only in appearance but not in taste. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chocolate-dipped Madeleines

Madeleines dipped in white and dark chocolate and coated with toasted/sliced almonds
I have been spending time with some of the books I had bought ever since I started blogging about food. One of them is Richard Bertinet's Patisserie Maison. The other one is Pastry by the same author. The inspiration usually comes by looking at the beautiful images and I couldn't resist making these little French cakes, madeleines. I have made them a few times and there are two posts here and here.
World Chocolate Day went by and that reminded me of the chocolate I had recently bought and was yet to use...And these little French cakes were born.:) It's always easier to make the smaller versions of cakes or pies for that matter and it's a welcome treat for anyone who might drop by. After all home-made goodies are loved by all!
The recipe isn't much different from what I have made earlier but here are the ingredients for 24 madeleines. I halved the recipe and made 12 in my mould. My mould isn't one of those elongated ones you might see in French kitchens. It's more of a 'short and stout' shell.:)

4 eggs
50g honey
180g caster sugar
275g all-purpose flour
25g baking powder
250g butter and some extra for greasing the moulds
zest of half a lemon
For the decoration I used a bit of dark chocolate and some white chocolate. The recipe used crushed and roasted hazelnuts but I used some almonds. 
Put the sugar, eggs, flour and honey in a bowl. Whisk together and set aside in the fridge for about four hours or overnight. I chose the latter.
Beat the butter with the lemon zest till it softens. Take the mixture from the fridge and add it to the butter. Mix till well incorporated.
Grease the madeleine mould and with the help of a spoon, transfer the batter to the 'shells'.
I made mine in two batches as my mould only has six 'shells'. 
Bake in a preheated (at 190C) oven. Bring the temperature down to 170C and bake for 12-15 minutes. They should be well-risen and golden brown.
To decorate, toast whatever nuts you are using and cut/crush them. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and dip the rounded ends of the cakes in the melted chocolate. Immediately coat the chocolate end of the cake with the nuts. Place on a wire rack to set. 
These go so well with tea or coffee. And they taste the best the day they are made.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Pineapple Salad

Pineapple salad
Pineapple salad
Between my last post and now, much has happened. I went on a short visit to Delhi in June end. The reason was that my son Nishant will be leaving for Vietnam soon to play with an American band there. Recently, Lakme, the Indian cosmetics giant came to our region for the first ever auditions for their Winter Collection. And among 109 girls, only two were selected. One of them was my niece, Suzanne. Our entire family is so excited at the thought of seeing Sue on the ramp and modelling/wearing famous designers' creations. Can't wait for August.:) That's when it's due to take place in Mumbai.
A small pineapple farm near my hometown
We are right in the middle of pineapple season now. The other day friends stopped by for dinner and they brought a couple of sweet pineapples from Meghalaya. The fruit reminded me of a trip we had taken last year to a small village in Meghalaya. Apart from the usual additions in a salad, usually served as a snack, this was garnished with toasted and crushed black sesame seeds. The last ingredient took the simple dish to another level. Sesame seeds are widely used all over the region but I think the consumption in Meghalaya is more. So here is the dish.
1 medium pineapple
2 green chillies (I used one green and the other ripe for the visual appeal)
The juice from a quartered lemon
Salt to taste
Sugar as per taste (optional)
A few sprigs of mint leaves (you can chop them up)
1 tsp black sesame seeds toasted and lightly crushed
Using a sharp knife, remove the ends of the pineapple. Peel off the skin and remove 'eyes'. Halve the fruit and cut into slices. Remove the hard core and dice the fruit into bite-size pieces. Do the same with the other half.
Pour the lemon juice over the diced pieces. Season with salt. Chop the chillies and add them. Scatter the chopped mint leaves. 
Give the salad a good mix and transfer the contents to a serving bowl. 
Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and if you like, decorate with a few more sprigs of mint. 
This is a refreshing in-between snack. If the pineapple is sweet, you can leave out the sugar.