Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Palak Paneer, Evolution.

There has been a blog about Palak Paneer 4 years back,
but, 4 years is a very very long time in this age of culinary evolution. I also felt that as an experimentalist, it is quite important to try out new variations to attain higher flavor profiles without destroying the base. Hence, this version of Palak Paneer is a bit modified than its predecessor.

What I offer here is home cooking, not fine dining. So it is very important to have a high power blender that can blend in your whole spices. Alternatively, one can use pre-blended spice mix and a normal blender to attain similar results. Since I believe in not wasting anything, the blended sauce is not sieved to obtain silkiness.

Moving on to the procedure - 

1. Make your own Paneer (fresh cheese from milk) - This is a very simple procedure. Boil 1ltr high fat content milk and just as it begins to rise, add few table spoons of lemon juice and simmer down the heat. The lemon juice will incorporate a mild tanginess to the Paneer and this will taste much better that using vinegar. Once the milk is split, immediately filter it through a fine cloth (muslin is the best, however fine cotton towels also work) and squeeze it dry. Bring the cheese together within the towel and wrap it inside. Place a heavy pan filled with water over the folded towel and let it rest for 2 hours. The Paneer will get pressed and it will be easier to cut it into cubes! Freeze for later use or refrigerate for immediate use.

2.  Blanch 1 kg fresh spinach - Oh yes, please use fresh spinach! Removes the leaves from the bunch and wash them well. Drop them for 4-5 minutes in boiling water and then transfer them immediately to cold water. Squeeze them to remove the water and set aside.

3. The sauce - Melt 25g of butter is a skillet and add the whole spices (3 pods cardamom without skin, 1 tsp regular cumin, 1/2 tsp black cumin, 3 cloves, half a finger size of cinnamon and half a star anise). Saute for a minute and add finely minced garlic and ginger (according to taste), 2 finely chopped onions (medium sized, just 1 if big) and a few green chilies. Add salt to taste and close skillet with a lid. Allow the onions to sweat in medium heat. When the onions are almost cooked, add 1 (big) finely chopped tomato and 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro. Stir and close the skilled and allow the mixture to get cooked well. Once the tomatoes are cooked, transfer the contents to a blender along with the blanched spinach and blend till smooth. Add 2 to 3 tsp of hot water during blending to get a good consistency and transfer to a serving bowl. Top it off with cubes of Paneer and mix it in!

4. To Note - Instead of whole spices, one can also use "garam masala". Replace chilies with black pepper pods if chilies seem very spicy. A little sugar can be used to balance the sauce if necessary. Cream is totally unnecessary! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

SAMOSA - Stuffed with memories of MADRAS

There are very few places in Madras where we used to get great Samosas. I have no idea if Samosas taste good in Chennai, for I have no intention of tarnishing my memory! Having lived in Mylapore for over 2 decades and also being an alumni of Vidya Mandir, Bombay Halwa house was the first place from where I tasted them. They always served samosa along with onions and mint-coriander chutney and this combination has no parallel anywhere in town! My next favorite place is Brijwasi sweets in T-Nagar. This is a very small shack opposite to the T-Nagar terminus and they fry them in front of your eyes and deliver them piping hot! The final place is Ritchie street. There is a shop on the entrance of this electronic street and he serves amazing samosas, but definitely a no no for a person with low immunity!

Living here in Germany, memories do no satisfy the craving! So I decided to make samosas drawing inspiration from all the best flavors I have experienced. Here is a detailed description of the method - 

All purpose flour (weizenmehl - type 405 or 450. I have used 450 here) - 2 cups
Salt - according to taste - make sure seasoning on the flour is right!
Carrom seeds (ajwain) or Thyme - 1 tablespoon
Sunflower oil - 8 tablespoons
Water - few milliliters

Take the flour in a kneading bowl and add salt and carrom seeds to it. Now add in 8 table spoons of sunflower oil and get your hands in to do the work! Mix the flour thoroughly with the oil. Make sure that every grain is well coated with the oil. This is very important to get the perfect crust for the samosa. Introduce water now, but in very small quantities (tablespoon by tablespoon) and keep kneading. It is very important not to add excess water since the dough can be repaired. Knead until you get a tough dough. The entire dough making process should take you at least 15-20 minutes. Cover it with a moist cloth and keep aside for 30 minutes. Make small balls from the dough, flatten them and roll them out into thin circles. DO NOT add any flour at this point! The dough will be oily and it will be easy to roll! Cut the circle along its diameter, add the potato stuffing in the semi circles and fold them to get cones. Press the edges so that they stick well and fry them in oil. Maintain your oil at a medium heat to get a well cooked and crisp crust.

The stuffing - 

Boiled and cubed potatoes
Sliced onions
Green peas
Cumin seeds - 1 teaspoon
Fennel seeds - 1 teaspoon
Red chili powder
Garam Masala powder

Temper the cumin and fennel seeds in hot oil and add the onions. Sprinkle the turmeric and red chili powder and allow the onions to get fried. Now add the green peas, salt and garam masala powder. Cook for a few minutes and them add the boiled potatoes. Mix well and cook at medium heat for 5-10 minutes. DO NOT allow the potatoes to get fried! I prefer not to smash the potatoes as well!

The sauce - 

Grind together some coriander, mint, green chillies, lime juice, salt and a little water into a nice paste. Mix this well with sliced red onions and then serve along with the hot samosas!

You can of course play around with the stuffing by adding cashew nuts, raisins and green chilies! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Question

Men are born to answer question. Questions posed by the self in search of "whatever you are in search of" are sometimes very easy to answer since you are the only judge of your answer. If the opinion changes, no one else needs to know what the answer was and you can still get good food on your plate the next day. But there are situations in life when the answer determines what happens next! The very first time as a boy, the questions is asked, is mine better or you prefer it grandma style? Well, if the answer is "yours", then safe. If the answer is grandma's and if grandma was the cook's mother, still safe. However, tip it towards the mother-in-law grandma, then begins the first red eyed look! A little over time, the comparison changes, "do you like it this style or how I make it at home?." Even if the restaurant you are dining in has a Michelin star, and unless you live alone, the answer is always "as in home." The real challenge begins after marriage! "So, how was it?!, better than my mother? better than yours?." As always there is just one right answer and we all know what it is!
Jokes apart, the issue on hand is understanding how to judge food. For a majority part of my life, I have had fireworks in my mouth, complex spices working synergistically to create flavor. The one stand out spice that I have enjoyed in singularity is the chili. Be it red, green or dried, chili has been the one stand out that could be enjoyed without the support of other spices. Almost throughout Indian cuisine, we seldom limit ourselves to the use of once spice. It was this factor which made me judge of European cuisine otherwise in the beginning. However, after 6 years of tongue conditioning in the EU, I have started to now pick up subtle flavors and appreciate the influence of individual spices.
So, how do we judge it then? Taste, visualization, texture, appeal, smell and probably mood. The factors are just innumerable. Sometimes, food tastes good just by a factor of nostalgia or by the understanding of how much the person has put themselves into cooking it. Passion is the answer. Passion in cooking it and passion in each bite. Great food should never put you in a spot where you have to think for an answer. The answer has to be spontaneous, whatever the consequence it might bring about!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Divine combinations I : Ladies finger and Rasam

There are several combinations when it comes to Indian food. We never cook just one dish alone. Every thing we cook needs to be accompanied by yet another and hence the terms, main dish and side dish. A "thali" consists of several items which are served together and usually they are good combinations. But one cannot have the luxury of cooking or eating the several items served in the thali, unless one wants to eat everyday at the restaurant! So, everyone finds their own divine combinations. Some are complex and some are simple and many are just out of the ordinary (trust me, there are combinations unbelievable!!). Here I present to you one of the most beloved combinations and voted favorite by so many of my friends, Ladies Finger (Okra) fry and Rasam. And the magic lies in keeping the dish as simple as possible to attain the closest mother made taste.

Lets start with the Rasam. Take a vessel and add 2-3 cups of water. Into this, drop some chopped tomatoes, crushed garlic (optional), a pinch of turmeric powder and hing, 2 table spoons of Rasam powder, salt to taste, curry leaves and chopped coriander. If using tamarind paste, then dissolve into this mixture little tamarind paste (depending on taste levels, optimum would be half of as much that goes on a toothbrush :P ), else extract the first juice from grape sized ball of fresh tamarind and add it to the vessel. Finally switch on the heat and let it boil for 5-6 minutes until all the mixture boils. It is essential that the tamarind loses its rawness. Some people would like to add a little cooked lentils into this mixture. Do so at this point, else just remove it from the heat and temper it with mustard and cumin seeds popped in hot melted butter or ghee. 

For the Ladies finger (Okra) fry, chop the okra after removing its crown, into half centimeter pieces or more finely if you prefer. Heat oil in a frying pan and pop some mustard seeds, cumin seeds and broken dry red chillies. Add some broken urad dhal, a pinch of turmeric and some hing. Do not let the red chillies or the urad dhal burn. So, immediately add the cut ladies finger (Okra), sprinkle the necessary salt and allow it to get cooked. If you close the pan, then you end up with cooked Okra. But then, keep if open and reduce the flame heat to medium and keep stirring carefully (from time to time) to obtain nicely fried vegetables.

Pour some hot Rasam over cooked white rice and serve with the fried ladies finger!

Pumpkin in coconut milk, Parangi Paal Kootu or Kurbis mit coconusmilch

The sweet pumpkin is a delicacy and there are several recipies from it. Western civilizations just carve it for decoration or make pumpkin soup but rarely use it in regular cooking. The only prominent time it is cooked is during the Halloween month. But true south Indian kitchen utilizes this magical sweet pumpkin (Parangikai in tamil) in various recipies. Let me start with the most fascinating one for me.

Essentially, to make a Paal Kootu, one would require an unripened sweet pumpkin. In India one can get it immediately but in Germany, it is easy to find this sweet pumpkin only as ripened "Kurbis". Still, when purchased with a thick flesh it is perfect for this cuisine.

Sweet pumpkin - coconut scrapping - coconut milk - green chillies - curry leaves - cumin - hing - mustard seeds - salt

Cut the sweet pumpkin into thick cubes (it gets cooked really fast). Pop some mustard seeds, cumin seeds, few green chillies cut length wise and some curry leaves over oil and saute the pumpkin in this. Add salt and a pinch of hing and close the vessel for 2 minutes. Check if the pumpkin is cooked and sprinkle a handful of fresh coconut scrapping and stir for a minute. Turn the hear off and add a cup of coconut milk and mix into the pumpkin. Close the lid on and leave on the switched off hot plate for a minute. Don't let the coconut milk boil too long or on too much heat as it would destroy the entire dish. Serve with hot plain rice.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Kathrika kara kuzhambu - Aubergine in Spicy Tamarind Sauce

The brinjal lover is back! The cloudy cozy days in Germany are at its peak and so is the craving for something hot and tangy and what better would be than good old brinjal with this effect?! This is one of the fastest and tastiest "kuzhambu" that one can make in spite of that panging hunger. Far from home, the mind often pushes you to be lazy and quick with food and this results in take outs which in turn results in an unsatisfied soul. So, to be in peace with the inner self and feast upon, here is a simple recipe.

Cut the Aubergine into 1 inch pieces. Heat oil in a pan and pop some mustard seeds. Add some channa dal, urad dhal and a pinch of hing and turmeric. Add a few curry leaves and immediately the cut pieces of brinjal. Once the brinjal hits the pan, it will soak up all the oil and this would result in charred lentils. So, a quick addition of the following is required. Sprinkle salt, chili powder and sambar powder and stir. Add a cup of tamarind juice (pre soak a lemon sized ball of tamarind in water and extract the juice or dissolve a spoon of tamarind paste in 250ml water). Reduce the heat to medium, cover the cooking pan and let the brinjals get cooked in the tamarind juice. It is essential that the mixture boils well to eliminate the rawness of the chili and tamarind. Chopped coriander is optional at this stage. Check for taste. In case of excess tanginess, dilute with water and let it boil for some more time.

One is always worried about the consistency during preparations like this. But since this preparation does not contain any cooked lentils, it will not be like a soup. However, the tamarind juice will thicken up with the sambar powder to provide a consistency denser than the rasam (minestrone soup) and ligher than a sambar (cream soup). Enjoy it with white rice!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Festival necessitates: Aviyal

Sometimes too much is still too less! Especially when it is Aviyal. A real long list of vegetables go into making this coconut confluence and it requires quite some skill to get it done without the vegetables losing their identity. But the patience and practice is worth. Almost every festival in South India is incomplete without Aviyal on the menu and the traditional marriage food on the banana leaf should include this too. 

Potatoes - 4 to 5 - washed (peeled if required) - cut into big pieces
Raw banana (vazhaikai) - 2 - peeled - cut into similar size as potatoes
Carrots - 2 to 3 - peeled - cut into thick and long strands
Colocasia (Sepankezhangu) - a few - cook separately - peel after cooking.
Beans - 200g - wash and break into 2-3 pieces per beans
Broad beans (Avaraikai) - 200g - wash and remove the tips. Retain as whole or just halve them.
Peas - half a cup
Aubergine - 2 or 3 - cut into big pieces
Pumpkin (Sweet) - 200g - remove thick skin, dice into big pieces

Yogurt - 1 cup
Green chillies, half a coconut, cumin, curry leaves and coconut oil.

Scrape half a fresh coconut and make a fine paste of it along with 4 or 5 big green chillies and 2 spoons of cumin seeds. Make sure the paste is really fine and homogenous!

These are some basic vegetables required to make Aviyal. It is very difficult to write the amount/weight of vegetables required. Cooking and flavor are tongue specific and the vegetable proportions can be varied according to personal interest. For example, I would always expect every vegetable in the Aviyal would magically transform into Colocasia! Other vegetables like cluster beans, banana stem, yam and drumstick can also be added. Strict NO-NO vegetables are ladysfinger (okra), bitter gourd, snake gourd and the likes.

First and foremost, the most important rule in cooking Aviyal is the right stacking of vegetables during the cooking process. Excepting colocasia, all the other vegetables have to be cooked together, but at the same time, they should not get over cooked! Aubergine and pumpkin cook really fast and the beans take more time. So one needs to follow the right order of adding the vegetables.

Fill 1/4th the level of the vessel with water and start to heat. Just before the water starts to boil, add the potatoes and carrots. After a minute, add the beans, broad beans, peas and the raw banana. Finally after a minute more, add the aubergine and pumpkin. Add the required salt around and shake the vessel carefully. DO NOT stir mix at this stage. Close the vessel for a few minutes until the aubergine and pumpkin is 70% cooked. Reduce the heat to medium. Now add the coconut-green chilli-cumin paste and stir it into the vessel. Also add a few curry leaves. Check for salt and add more if necessary. With the heat still in medium, close the vessel again and cook until the raw smell of coconut-cumin disappears. Add the pre cooked and peeled colacasia at this stage. Add 2 table spoons of coconut oil and stir well with the vegetables. Remove from heat. After 5 minutes of cooling down, add a cup of fresh yogurt and mix.

Just eat if fresh out of the cup or serve along with any type of rice (Sambar or coconut or lemon or tamarind)!