Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pizz-alu chaat

Chaats: that hallmark of the ultimate street food category have been around for longer than we can imagine. Coveted & reviled at the same time, I really cannot think of how life would have been without them. (search and replace 'internet' with 'chaat' & run it through your neural  thought processor and you'll get an idea of what I mean).
While chaats are a lifeline in cities such as New Delhi (gol guppa, alu tikki chaat, coal roasted sweet potato chaat to name a few signature dishes), Mumbai (Bhel poori, Ragda Patty, Paani Poori)& Kolkata (Jhaal Muri, Puchka), Madras never really had a chaat culture.  Vadai, idlies & dosas were after all stuff that you technically made at home regularly, then "why would you want to eat something made by that &^%^%^ fellow?'  GOD knows what oil that fellow uses, you'll get sick", was an oft heard reprimand the minute you raised the issue of eating out. Maybe it was because of the innate conservativeness of the culture down south, I can't really tell. but to this day, I've yet to find a decent chaat place in Chennai.

Its a mandatory outing for me to take off with my husband's nephews for a round of chaat ( & being typical teenagers, they're as well versed with the local food scene as the best), The last time we tried a place , the guy had slapped a tadka of mustard seeds into Bhel poori!! (EEW!!, Street food may not be high falutin' standards, but there are rules governing their creation!!), The cook was originally from Bihar & when I asked him in Hindi as to why he'd included the tadka, pat came the reply because apparently he got complaints that the dish had not been finished & somehow he was shortchanging the patrons by skipping on the tadka!!... I gave up at this point! The cardinal rules for Rasam were not meant to be applied to bhelpoori!!, needless to say, I'm soo not revisiting that restaurant!

Since the nineties, the western notion of fast foods has caught on in  a big way & Pizza is now considered part and parcel of the Indian food scene. Pizza hut in India even has traditional Tandoori variations on their menu.
and why not? Pizza is traditionally a peasant food, a simple bread adorned with a splash of fresh tomatoes & some cheese for a quick satisfying meal.
 While there are tow camps about how a Pizza should be topped ( everything but the kitchen sink, vs. minimalist, thick vs thin crust..) potatoes topping a pizza is not really well known. (carb on carb, a sinful combo), of late there have been some lovely recipes. an episode of 'The best thing I ever ate' featured Alex Guarnaschelli, raving about the Yukon gold potato pizza at Five points restaurant and since then, the urge to create a 'Panfusine' version of this has been nagging me. When someone sugeested I do a pizza, it really gave me a push to actually put my thoughts & notes into action. and the result:  a delicious lunch both healthy & fun to gorge on!

For this pizza you need:

Store bought pizza dough
Ricotta cheese (Part skim works fine!)
one medium  red potato
one peruvian blue potato ( This was purely for the color contrast)
1/4 cup sev or boondi
chaat masala
olive oil
mint coriander chutney
date-tamarind chutney
thinly sliced long hot peppers (the kind used to make mirchi pakoda!)
mint & cilantro for garnish.

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Roll out the pizza dough into a thin circle (thick crust is really not a good idea, all you end up tasting is the bread!). place on a greased baking sheet. I use the net part of the traditional Indian sieve (Chalni), works great!. Brush liberally with olive oil.
Add a dollop of ricotta cheese onto the dough & spread evenly . You could mix the ricotta with chaat masala & then apply to the dough, or else, simply sprinkle chaat masala liberally. (The pizza can really take on the spice, so don't be afraid!)

sprinkle the boondi evenly over the ricotta.
Using a vegetable peeler, slice the potatoes and arrange it on the dough. (I made a mistake in pre-slicing the potatoes & dropping them in water. well the slices were crisp but really not what is needed for something that is going to be baked. plus, the slices curl up, not what you need on a flat pizza!). Brush over the potatoes liberally with another coat of olive oil.

drizzle some sweet chutney over the potatoes and add thin slices of the hot pepper. (don't add any green chutney, you want it to taste fresh, not cooked!)
Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes till the edges are golden brown.

Remove from the oven, drizzle the green mint chutney and the finely chopped cilantro & mint. , cut into wedges & serve!

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Passover special: Matzo Lasagna

Growing up in a traditional Tambram household invariably means that one is subject to an array of stringent rules regarding food. 'ecchhil' (Jhoota or portion of plated food that has already been tasted by someone else), 'Patthu' (a complicated set of rules dictating the washing of hands after touching a particular cooked dish), 'theendal' (roughly translated as 'polluted', especially by women going through their monthly cycles). Beyond these basic set of 'kosher' rules, are others that are not so well known.. Like.. 'Did you know that it was taboo for an observant brahmin to eat anything that contained yogurt & urad dal' in the same dish.  In other words ( assuming the tone of the 'soup nazi' from Seinfeld): No Dahi vada/ Thayir vadai for you... EVER!!. The reason apparently is that Urad dal (& this is partially my extrapolation)  is said to have protein ( as in all the amino acids) that are similar to muscle tissue, and its taboo to drown an animal in its mothers milk.
 This rule about consuming milk & meat ( or rather abstain from) is one of the cardinal 'kosher' food rules in the Jewish faith. There a a number of similarities to be found with traditional Indian orthodoxy in the socio-cultural rules that people following this faith. There are even similarities to 2 of the 3 boldly highlighted rules that I listed above. Certain Orthodox Jewish communities bar women from the temple, touching money, or handling food while having their periods and some traditional homes even have 2 distinct kitchen areas for the preparation of Kosher & non kosher foods.
One of the most religiously significant festivals in Judaism is Passover. This week long festival commemorates the exodus of Jews from Egypt when they were  freed from slavery by the Pharaoh. Since this exodus was done in haste, there would have been no time to bake anything with leavened dough, hence any food prepared with leavening agents is forbidden. During this time, Supermarkets are stocked with boxes of cracker like unleavened bread known as 'Matzoh'

Matzoh crackers
The taste of these lightly salted crackers bears an uncanny resemblance to fresh 'phulka' roti, except that these are completely dry. & why not? the basic ingredients are the same: flour, water & salt & no leavening agent.
The phulka is cooked over a griddle while the matzoh is baked. Those of us who count roti as a daily staple, revel in the umpteen varieties of subzees & gravies that it complements. Give me 2 phulka rotis & a bowl of mutter paneer or saag paneer & that would be a meal to feel good about for the rest of the day!
As much as pasta dish such as lasagna is also made out of the same raw ingredients, what it CANNOT do in terms of familiar mouth feel is replicate the comfort of the humble roti & subzee. My crazy solution ( & I've been regularly making this for dinners which means that the photographs are really not worth posting, shot as they are under low lights) use Matzoh crackers in place of the lasagna strips & then feel free to use almost any Indian gravy dish that you eat with roti!. Since i could not decide between palak paneer & Saag paneer, I combined all three together. so here it is, my passover special, Matzoh lasagna with spinach, green peas & Ricotta filling.

For the Filling (a.k.a) the subzee, you need:
 (for the masala paste)
1 onion, roughly diced,
1 clove garlic
2" piece fresh ginger peeled & diced
2 dried red chillies
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons broken cashew nuts

Combine all these ingredients & blend into a thick, smooth paste, adding as little water as needed.

1 tbsp each Olive oil & Ghee
2 bunches fresh spinach leave, cooked & pureed
2 cup fresh green peas boiled
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp Turmeric
Salt to taste

Heat the oil & ghee in a skillet & add the masala paste, stir well & cook till the oil oozes out & the raw smell of the onion has disappeared. Add the crushed tomatoes, turmeric & salt. Cover & cook on medium heat till the tomato has incorporated into the masala to form a brown colored gravy. Stir in the garam masala & the sugar.
Add the spinach puree & peas, cover & allow to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes till the dish is well thickened.

For the Lasagna you need ( makes 2 servings when baked in a regular sized loaf tin)

5 squares matzoh crackers
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 a block of Paneer
The Spinach recipe.
a large shallow pan filled 1/4 way with water

Line a loaf tin with aluminum foil & brush well with ghee. dip the matzoh cracker square in the water till it softens slightly, tear into the size required for you baking dish. Place this at the bottom of the loaf pan.

Add about 1-2 tbsp of ricotta cheese & spread evenly over the wet matzoh
The next layer to be added is the spinach filling. Spoon the required amount & spread evenly.

Using a vegetable peeler, slice thin strips of paneer from the side of the block ( this ensures that the paneer does not dominate the dish). Arrange the strips over the green layer.

Add another matzoh cracker & repeat the layering till the pan is filled up. Finish with a layer of paneer.
Liberally brush the top Paneer layer with melted ghee.
Place the baking dish into an oven (preheated to 350 F) & bake till the Paneer on the top layer is golden brown.
Remove from the oven, allow to rest for 5-10 minutes, Cut & serve as a complete meal with a salad of your choice.
 Bon appetit!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Artichoke kofta makhani, A tribute to chef Sanjeev Kapoor

Phew... getting caught up in the excitement of the world cup was really something & the echoes of a hard fought & well deserved win for the boys in blue still reverberate up & down ones spine....anyways, passion is passion in any form & I had to get myself to post this long overdue recipe before the taste buds lost the thrill of sampling this experiment that has undoubtedly worked its way to my list of 'must make on a regular basis' recipes.
As is my practice, I usually test out a recipe (with my twist on it of course) whenever I review a book, because to me books on food constitute a  valuable literature survey that I sometimes draw inspirations from. My personal belief as far as creating recipes has not altered one bit from my academic approach to science. There are hypothesis that one may chose to validate from scratch or a touch of applied experimentation from known tried and tested existing work. Either way, in all fairness credit should be given to the source. It may not be rocket science, but food certainly fuels the intellect that creates a rocket scientist!
During the course of reading through Chef Sanjeev Kapoor's latest magnum opus 'How to cook Indian', I came across a couple of north Indian recipes that appeared to completely omit  a crucial ingredient, viz 'garam masala'.
Now as much as South Indians chafe under the assumption that the rest of India believes that Southie cuisine is all & only about idli/dosa, Sambhar/Rasam & the quintessential 'thayir saadham', a number of us in turn, tend to assume that North Indian cuisine is all Punjabi food & everything should have onion &  garam masala.. (Do I hear some low frequency grumbling & teeth gnashing here? ;-))

Back to the recipe: the gravy is a rich indulgent makhani, which as the name suggests is made with a lot of butter & cream, what is interesting about this dish is that there is no 'garam masala' at all... instead its just cardamom & mace.. when I asked Chef Kapoor about this, his simple reply was.. 'I was just trying out something new & it worked great!' which is absolutely in line with this foodie passion of mine. With this fabulous result as my literature review, I present yet another wonderful candidate for Indian food, the baby artichoke.

I did make my own variation on the makhni sauce, simply because it was hard for me to get myself to use the copious amounts of cream & butter needed in the original recipe, but the spices used were not changed in any way. This dish pairs wonderfully well with oat flour phulka rotis.

For the Makhani sauce you need:

1 large onion chopped
1/4 cup broken cashew nuts
2 clove garlic, minced fine
1 tablespoon each oil & ghee
4-5 pods cardamom
1/2 blade  mace ( the orange colored outer frill on a nutmeg)
1 cup crushed tomatoes
1-2 tsp red chilli powder (adjust as per personal taste)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup half & half
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons toasted 'kasoori' methi' (dessicated fenugreek leaves)

Combine the onion, chili powder & cashew nuts  & grind to a smooth paste.
Heat the oil & ghee in a frying pan & add the cardamom & mace, Saute till fragrant. Add the garlic & saute for ~ 1 minute.
Add the onion/ cashew paste & saute till the paste emits a fragrant aroma & the raw onion smell has disappeared.
Add the tomatoes & salt, cover & cook on a medium flame till cooked. Add 1/2 cup water if the mix appears dry.
Lower the heat, add the unsalted butter  to the tomato gravy, stirring well to evenly combine the ingredients. and let the flavors combine under a closed lid.

Add the toasted kasoori methi & honey. Combine & cook for 5 minutes.

 Finish by adding the half & half, cook briefly for ~ 2 minutes. Take off the heat & set aside.

For the Artichoke kofta:

1/2 cup chopped artichokes (for preparing the raw artichoke, I'll refer you to my previous artichoke recipe, you need about 6-7 baby artichokes for this)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 scallion finely chopped
1 tsp each coriander & cumin powder
1-2 deseeded minced green chilli
1 tablespoon cilantro finely chopped
1 tablespoon besan (garbanzo bean flour)
salt to taste.
oil for deep frying

Combine all the ingredients to form a thick mixture. using a cookie scoop (or a tablespoon), roll into a ball & flatten into discs.
Heat oil in a cast iron pan, when it gets hot, fry the koftas in batches on medium heat till golden brown on both sides (~ 2 minutes per side). Remove with a spider skimmer or slotted spoon & place on paper towels.
Add the koftas to the makhni gravy & gently cover completely in the gravy.
Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with chopped cilantro & a dash of cream, and serve hot with phulka oat flour rotis.

For the oat flour roti, simply make a chapati dough with equal quantities of  oat flour & whole wheat atta. Roll out as you would for regular rotis.These rotis do not quite have the stretchy texture of regular chapatis,  the best way I can describe them is a very mild version of the rustic bajra roti, with a characteristic earthy flavor!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Dhoni's daredevils in blue, my tricolor tribute to you!!!

Cricket... If there ever is a word that evokes passionate fanaticism unrivaled by any religious fervor in the Indian sub-continent, it is this, it is this, it is this!! Even for those who have crossed over to the other side of the Atlantic & have heartily embraced the NFL, NBA & baseball... every four years, these American sports are pushed to near oblivion the minute the cricket world cup rolls around! In the eyes of most sports loving Indians & Pakistanis, there is cricket... & then the rest of the other.. now what was that game??

Cricket has admirably caught up to the glitz of the NFL superbowl in terms of the advertising & appeal, and whats more, it truly involves teams from ALL over the world. There are official songs, not only from India but also extremely catchy numbers from Sri Lanka and this pepsi ad from Pakistan. Music & a nail biting finish for a final match. What more could one ask for?

If you're as crazy a foodie like me.. a dessert to celebrate India's victory. As someone put up on their FB status...a lad from Chandigarh, a Delhi boy, a captain from Jharkhand, all dedicating their victory to the uncrowned emperor or 'god' of Cricket, Sachin Tendulkar, a Mumbaikar. Wish our politicians could generate such a unified spirit!
The easiest dish that i could come up with to represent this immortal moment was a tricolor fruit, nut & cream pannacotta over a bed of sweetened fried string hoppers.. (& yes, I absolutely insist that it be called by this name.. dont even think about calling it fried sevai, ...nope, shh, zip..) hey I can gloat can't I,  over India's win over our neighbors down south!

Well, this is a pannacotta (my second in as many months, but I figured this was easy enough for everyone to try!) I tried to find inspirations from all parts of India, Alphonso mango from the west, pistachio from the north, cashew & cardamom from the south & a creamy dairy nod to the east in acknowledgment of their supremacy in milk based Indian desserts.  Yes, the green is a pastel shade, but it was not worth adding artificial colors (Try to avoid those as much as I can). The blueberries were the only blue fruit I could find here (I'd love to have gotten my paws on some jamun, but that is wishful thinking!

For this tricolor pannacotta you need: (makes the equivalent of a small loaf tin)
6 tablespoon agar flakes
1 cup water

For the Saffron layer: (Thanks to Manisha Pandit of Indian food rocks for the inspirational lead)
1/2 cup alphonso mango pulp
1/4 cup confectioners (icing) sugar
1/4 cup half & half
2-3 pods worth of cardamom crushed

Combine all the ingredients, & whisk together to ensure that the confectioners sugar  is evenly distributed & dissolved.

For the white layer:

2 tablespoons broken cashewnuts
1/4 cup condensed milk plus extra milk as needed

Combine the cashewnuts & condensed milk and blend till the cashew forms a smooth paste. Add the paste & sugar along with extra milk & bring to a gentle boil, till the cashew loses its raw aroma and the mixture is thickened slightly. set aside to cool (~ 3/4th cup)

For the green layer: (the kiwi fruit gives this layer just a hint of tartness that distinguishes it from the nutty white layer)
2 tablespoons unsalted, shelled pistachios, soaked in water for 1/2 hr
1 peeled kiwi fruit
1/2 cup half & half
1/4 cup icing sugar.

In a small blender jar, grind together the pistachio, icing sugar & kiwi fruit. Strain to remove the seeds of the fruit, & add the half & half. whisk well to get a pale green color. Set aside.

To assemble:

Line a small loaf pan with cling wrap. Alternatively you may use small  individual glass bowls that you can serve the dessert in.

Heat 6 tablespoons of agar flakes in ~ 1 cup water, bring to a boil till the agar completely dissolves. Strain about 1/4th cup into the mango mixture, (return the agar to the burner set on simmer, you do not want it solidifying on you)  stir well & pour into the loaf pan (or divide up into the cups). briefly chill the pan in the freezer for 5 min to jump start the setting.

Pour another 1/4 cup of the agar into the cashew mixture, stir well. Remove the loaf tin from the freezer. Using a toothpick, gently stab the surface of the mango this is to ensure that the cashew layer can lock  into the saffron colored layer instead of sliding right off! Pour the cashew layer gently over the mango layer. Gently shake the pan to ensure an even distribution. The white layer will have a rough surface due to the grainy cashew which helps in holding on to the final layer of pistachio.

Add 1/4th cup of the remaining agar mixture into the green layer, stir well & gently pour over the layer of cashew. Gently agitate to ensure an even distribution.. Gently fold over the overhanging plastic wrap over the dessert to cover it. Place in the refrigerator to chill and set for ~ 2 hrs.
To serve, un  mold by inverting on a plate, cut slices & serve with a warm melted blueberry jam & fresh blueberries.

That was one delicious yummy breakfast!


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