21 September 2009

Palak paneer (Cottage cheese/ricotta in creamy spinach gravy)

21 September 2009

They say that if you were force-fed spinach as a child, you probably wouldn't like it as an adult. Despite the force-feeding though, spinach is another vegetable -- like pumpkin -- I've started enjoying and appreciating more as an adult.
Palak paneer* is one of my favourite dishes, easy to cook and very easy on the stomach as well. For those who are weight conscious, it couldn't get better than this dish: Lots of green, cheese that doesn't make you feel guilty. For moms who find it hard to feed anything remotely leafy to their kids, this is a good option since they don't see the leaves in this dish and it's very creamy, which I'm told kids like.
(*Palak = spinach; paneer = Indian cottage cheese)

Like most Indian recipes, there are different ways to make palak paneer. Since most of those recipes involve frying the paneer and adding cream, I don't really enjoy them. I've also found that in the popular recipes, the spinach base can turn out to be bitter. Even if this sounds like blowing my own trumpet, I enjoy making and eating my version of palak paneer the best.

I use very little oil (1 TBS), don't fry the paneer and have found that my spinach base is much creamier -- without using any cream -- than the other versions on the net. Try it, you'll like it.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 15-20 minutes
Try this with: Bread or rice


Cottage cheese/ ricotta/tofu 300-500 gms
Spinach leaves 160-200 gms (I use baby/English spinach, works just as fine as the big-leafed variety found in India)
Garlic 4 cloves
Cloves 2-3
Cardamom 1
Black peppercorns 4 (optional)
Bay leaves 2
Onion 1 large, finely chopped
Ginger 1", grated
Salt to taste
Oil 1 TBS


It's imperative that you wash spinach and all leafy vegetables very thoroughly. There's often mud and insects hiding between the leaves. A good way to wash leafy greens is to soak them in enough water and let them sit for 10-15 minutes. This way the mud and dirt washes off the leaves and settles at the bottom of your washing bowl/bucket. Gently pull out the leaves, throw the dirty water and rinse the leaves again in running water.


  1. Cut your paneer, ricotta or tofu into small cubes, cover with a wet cloth and keep aside.
  2. Spinach gravy base: Put the washed spinach leaves, garlic, cloves, cardamom and peppercorns in a deep saucepan (with lid). Fill with just enough water to cover the spinach, put the lid on and cook the spinach for 15-20 minutes. Once done, drain the leaves and spices in a colander/sieve, keep the water aside and allow it to cool slightly. Blend the spinach leaves (with garlic and spices) in a blender to form a smooth paste. Your spinach gravy base is ready.
  3. Heat oil in a large saucepan. Once its hot, add the bay leaves and saute for a minute.
  4. Add onions and grated ginger and fry till onions are golden. (If you are not using onion, saute the grated ginger for a minute, taking care not to burn it)
  5. Add 1 TSP (heaped) salt, mix well and add the spinach paste. The paste could be thick, add about 1/2-1 cup of the spinach water that you've kept aside earlier.
  6. Mix well and cook, on high heat, stirring intermittently, till the gravy boils. (For those who like it spicy, you can add chilli powder.)
  7. Once spinach paste boils, reduce heat, add the paneer/ricotta/tofu, gently mix it in and cook uncovered for 10 minutes. Taste to see if it needs salt and add (or not) accordingly.

Your palak paneer is ready. You can garnish it with a teaspoon of cream or butter. Wasn't that simple? Try the dish and let me know if you like it.

13 September 2009

JB special: Butter chicken

14 September 2009
Now I've loved butter chicken for as long as I've loved chicken. But I've had two problems with the restaurant butter chicken -- whether in India or in Melbourne -- I've had. 1) It always leaves me feeling really bloated 2) all the ghee/butter and cream gives me nasty gas.
Forced by my gastronomic disabilities -- love butter chicken, don't want to fart (!) -- I experimented... successfully. Now there are at least five different ways of making butter chicken and a basic e-search will give you those recipes. After trying most of them, this is a version of the butter chicken I've come up with.
What's so special about it? It uses roughly 2 tablespoons of oil, has the authentic taste and does not use any milk products -- butter, cream or yoghurt -- in it. I can hear the puritans yelling, "That's not butter chicken." But hey, try my version, you won't regret it. However, I cannot call it completely fat-free since the cashew nut paste is somewhat fatty. But bloody tasty. :)

Serves: 4-6
Prep time: 20 minutes (includes marination)
Cooking time: 30 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice, bread or roti/ chapati


For marinade:
Breast or thigh fillets 500 g (cut into cubes)
Salt 1 TSP, heaped
Chilli powder 1 TSP
Ginger paste 1/2 TSP
Garlic paste 1/2 TSP
Vegetable/Canola oil 1 TSP (of 2 TBS)
Turmeric powder 1 TSP, heaped
Coriander powder 1 TSP, heaped

For the sauce:

Onions 2 medium or 1 large, blended
Tomatoes 2-3 medium, blended
Ginger paste 1/2 TSP
Garlic paste 1/2 TSP
Coriander powder 1/2 TSP
Turmeric 1/2 TSP
Fresh coriander 2 TBS, blended
Tomato ketchup 1 TBS
Cashew nuts 100 gms, blended
Water (if needed)


  1. The chilli powder is optional, the dish tastes just as good without it.
  2. The flavour of your butter chicken depends a lot on the tomatoes used: Select ripe tomatoes else the dish can turn out sour.
  3. Butter chicken is lightly salted and is somewhat sweetish; don't go adding too much salt.
  4. For those who like their butter chicken to taste extra buttery, add 1/4 cup cream with the cashew nut paste.
  5. You don't need to add any additional salt, cashew nuts release a natural sweetener that works just fine. However, if the tomatoes are too sour, chuck in a teaspoon of sugar or adjust according to taste.
  6. As always, before you put the pan on fire, prepare your indredients first... I've had a rather smokey kitchen because I'm looking for something while the oil burns in the pan.
  7. If you have one blender jar -- as I do -- and don't want to go washing after each session, follow this order: Puree cashew nuts first, followed by onions and lastly the tomatoes.
  8. While blending, do not add any extra water.


  1. Mix the teaspoon oil, turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder, salt and ginger-garlic paste together. Rub it on the chicken pieces -- should coat every piece -- and let the chicken sit for 20 minutes. (Use this to prepare the other ingredients)
  2. Blend the onions, tomatoes and cashew nuts -- separately please -- and keep aside.
  3. Heat remaining oil in a pan. Once its smoking hot, add the marinated chicken pieces and stir fry on high heat for 5 minutes or till all chicken pieces turn 'white'. Use a slotted spoon -- leaves the oil in the pan -- to pick out the chicken and keep aside on a plate.
  4. Reduce heat to medium and in the same pan, add the onion paste. Fry till it dries out and starts turning golden.
  5. Reduce heat to minimum and add the ginger and garlic pastes. Stir fry for 3 minutes.
  6. Raise the heat to medium -- sorry, all this heat up-down is only till this step, promise -- add the blended tomatoes and cook, stirring intermittently, till the sauce dries out a little.
  7. Reduce heat to minimum, mix in the tomato ketchup, stir fry for 2 minutes.
  8. Add the cashew nut paste and blended coriander; mix well.
  9. Add the pre-fried chicken pieces and mix so that all pieces coated with the sauce.
  10. Add sugar/salt according your taste IF needed.
  11. How does the gravy look? Depending on the tomatoes used -- ripe ones have more water content -- and how well you've followed the recipe, you shouldn't need to add any water. However, if the gravy looks too dry, add 1/2 - 1 cup water, mix in. Do remember that butter chicken gravy is never watery.
  12. Cover and allow to simmer for 10 minutes or till chicken pieces are tender.
  13. Garnish with fresh coriander leaves, roasted cashew nuts or cream 'squiggles' (as in pic) and serve hot with rice or roti.

Try it!!! And let me know how it turns out. :) If you have a different or better recipe for butter chicken, please do share. Will be happy to put it up here (attributed to you) or to link to your website. Share the love, share the recipes!

11 September 2009


Watch this space for more tried, tasted and digested yummies... starred items have videos to go with them as well:

Coming soon on Roti & Roast...
  • Lamb chops in pomegranate and red wine sauce
  • Potato gnocchi*
  • Palak paneer (home-made cottage cheese cooked in a lovely spinach gravy)
  • JB special: Beef-salsa wrap (minced beef in salsa, all wrapped up)*
  • JB special: Butter chicken
  • JB special: Matar-mince (beef/lamb mince cooked with green peas and spices)
  • Carrot cake
  • Ginger cookies

I'm trying to put up at least one post a week, so bear with me and do come back. :)

07 September 2009

Aloo poshto

7 September 2009

Poppy seeds* -- or poshto in Bengali and khus-khus in Hindi/Punjabi/Marathi -- have been used as an ingredient in cooking and herbal treatment for long. A little research revealed an interesting history behind the use, which you can read here.

For me, aloo-poshto has been part of the standard vegetarian meals that Ma served. Partnered with dhal/daal (from red lentils) served with slit green chillies and a dash of lime, and very tasty begun bhaaja (thick slices of eggplant, deep fried in mustard oil); this was usually a Sunday lunch. Given that the daal-aloo-poshto-bhaaja combo was usually followed by a tasty mutton dish -- Pa couldn't do without his meat -- aloo-poshto has always been a highlight for me.

The first time I made this dish in Australia, many wondered if, "Poppy seeds! Oh my god, opium...does this make you high?" The answer, (un)fortunately is, no it doesn't. Apparently it's only the 'natural' poppy seeds that give you a buzz if ingested. However, there are discussion threads on the Internet on how eating poppy seeds can give you a negative blood test (opiates found in the blood) and there have also been news reports on people getting addicted to poppy seed tea. Rest assured though, this dish does not give you a high -- only a gastronomical one -- and trust me on that, I've tried. ;)

My first experiment with cooking poshto was a disaster. Unless using on a bagel or in cakes/pastries, Indian cooking usually involves the poppy seeds to be finely grinded. And let me tell you the bloody things are very resistant to blenders/mixers. I learnt it the hard way when the first time I cooked aloo-poshto, it neither looked nor tasted anything like Ma's. No matter what the class or quality of your blender at home, keep a mortar-pestle ready to grind these seeds to get a perfect dish. The rest of it is fairly simple.

* Can be bought at any Indian specialty store, or most supermarkets also stock it
**The poppy seeds in India are white, while in Australia, I'm using the black ones; works the same way.

Serves: 4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes, on low heat, covered
Try this with: Steamed rice or hot chapatis

Poppy seeds 4 TBS
Green chillies 4-6, depending on how hot you want it; 2 should be slit lengthwise
Potatoes 5-6 medium sized, diced small
Kalonji or onion seeds 1/2 TSP
Mustard/vegetable oil 2 TBS
Sugar 1/2 TSP
Turmeric poweder 1/2 TSP
Salt to taste

  1. As mentioned, poppy seeds are tough to grind into a fine paste. Prior to grinding, soak the seeds in hot water for 30 minutes. Keep a couple tablespoons of the water aside, drain the rest. In your blender, grind the seeds along with four of the green chillies. Take the resulting paste out and hand-grind them again in the mortar-pestle. The paste should be as fine as possible and should be slightly frothy.
  2. In case you prefer to dice the potatoes earlier, place them in salted water to prevent them from blackening (happens due to oxidising). When cooking, drain them well before adding to the hot oil; water in hot oil splutters a lot.

  1. Heat the mustard oil in a wok/frying pan till it smokes.
  2. Add the onion seeds/kalaunji and fry for 2 minutes till the seeds pop.
  3. Add the diced potatoes and fry for 5-8 minutes. You need to stir intermittently to avoid the potatoes sticking to the sides of the pan. The spuds are ready once they are browned and somewhat softer.
  4. Now add the poppy seed-chilli paste with half a cup of water and mix well to coat all the potatoes with the paste.
  5. Add salt, sugar and turmeric, mix well and fry for another 3 minutes.
  6. Cover the wok/pan and cook over low heat till the potatoes are done (should be soft).
  7. While you cook the spuds, keep checking and scraping the paste off the sides as it can get somewhat sticky.
  8. Once the potatoes soften, cook uncovered to dry out any water and scrape off the paste from the sides.

Serve hot with the JB special daal/dhal and steamed rice. And yes, I do look forward to your comment and food stories, so please keep them coming. If you try this and like it, leave a testimonial...if something goes wrong, feel free to ask. If you have aloo-poshto stories, I'd love to hear them! Share people...

30 August 2009

JB Special: Sausage Surprise


You know, I should call this the 'good to throw on face' dish, there's a story behind it.... This recipe is filed under 'fast food' (see quick to cook label) and is really convenient when you're not in the mood to cook something spectacular. Like today, when I realised that I've been very lazy.

While I have been cooking, I've not really put anything up since March. Excuse 1 is that we were travelling from May-July. Excuse 2 is that uni, work and home stuff took precedence after that. Excuse 3, we lost the camera transfer cable and therefore there were no pictures and thus no impetus to cook. Till I realised that there are at least 12 people coming into the site daily and despite the laziness, Google is actually pointing people here. So here's to all who enjoy cooking and those who've been pulling me up for not updating this blog.

As for the 'good to throw on face' bit of the story, well, the year was 2006. I needed the money -- and friends said they loved the food -- so I decided to cater for friends' parties. This particular dish -- with mushrooms instead of the sausage -- was part of the catering order for a birthday party. Due to miscellaneous reasons, I was late to get the food to the party. After cooking the entire day and a fight just before the party, I land with the food and the host gets really nasty on me. Or so I thought. As I laid out this dish on to the table, the poor birthday boy, in his nice Versace suit, said something like, "Why's the food late?" I was pissed off and promptly threw the whole thing on his face and all over his suit. Sigh. Not proud of it but I was told it did taste good.

JB's SAUSAGE SURPRISE (sausage and eggs in tomato sauce)
Serves: 2-4
Cooked on: Stir-fried on high heat
Accompaniment: Drink of your choice
Try this with: Instant noodles, on bread or rolled in a chapati or parantha; makes great 'tiffin'
Sausages 6-8 (I used Woolworth's Sicilian-stlye spicy pork sausages)
Vegetable oil 2-3 TBS
Eggs 3-4, hard boiled
Capsicum 1, big, thinly sliced (I used a red one, you can use any colour you like!)
Onions 2 medium, thinly sliced
Tomato ketchup/Hot n sweet chilli sauce 2 TBS
Salt to taste
  1. If you don't have sausages in your freezer, you can use stir-fry strips of other meat as well.
  2. Just remember to brown the stir-fry strips in oil, it makes them tender.
  3. Boiling the eggs first is always a good idea.
  4. If you don't have Maggi Hot n Sweet chilli sauce, substitute with any ketchup and a 1/2 - 1 TSP of chilli powder.
  5. For vegetarians who eat eggs, substitute the sausage with tofu.
  6. Using tofu without the eggs or sausages works just as well.
  7. You can use as many vegetables as you like. Just remember if using 'harder' veggies like carrots and peas, blanch them first in boiling water for 5-8 minutes.
  8. Blanching: Boil water in a saucepan, put your chopped veggies in it for 5 minutes, take them out, put them in chilled water for another 3 minutes, drain on a strainer.
  1. Boil the eggs, cool and cut into small pieces or slices.
  2. Slice the onions and capsicum and set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a frying pan and once hot, fry the sausages till the outer skin is nicely browned and crispy. Take them out of the oil and place on paper napkins to drain any excess oil. Once cooled -- or if you can handle them hot -- cut into slim, round pieces.
  4. In the same oil, fry the sliced onions till nicely browned. Keep aside a table spoon to garnish the finished dish.
  5. Now add the capsicum (and other vegetables if using) and fry till vegetables are 'shiny'.
  6. Add the tomato ketchup/sauce, mix nicely and cook for 5 minutes.
  7. Add the sliced sausages and cook for 5 minutes or till sausages are coated with the sauce.
  8. Add the salt and the eggs and cook; don't be too hard as you don't want the eggs to crumble completely.
  9. Serve on top of toasted bread with salad, rolled in a parantha or chapati (pita bread goes as well) or with rice-daal and add an interesting twist to a mundane meal!
Bon appetit.
PS: If you do try this out and like it -- or not -- please do let me know.

25 March 2009

Stir-fry beef with snow peas

26. 3. 2009

“Chinese food in Beijing is quite different from what we get in Delhi,” was the recent, rather insightful comment made by a journalist friend living in Beijing. Unfortunately, friend was discovering what many already know. The fact that for most Indians, Chinese food usually means ‘Indian Chinese food’.

While now there are many really good, authentic Chinese restaurants in most cities – including award-winning, specialty restaurants in five stars – most Indian-Chinese experience involves eating ‘chicken chow mein’ from Chinese food vans. Quite literally, these are ‘vans’ that have been converted to have a mini kitchen and modified windows that serve as table tops.

The Indian version of chow mein served in mobile vans means egg noodles cooked with soy sauce, hot green chilli sauce and Ajinomoto (brand name popularly used in India to mean monosodium glutamate aka MSG) along with shreds of chicken and beans. More often than not – and if you’re unfortunate – Indian chow mein will also have turmeric. On most occasions, chopsticks are unheard of and plastic cutlery is a must. That said, the chow mein served in these vans is quite unauthentic, quite tasty and quite cheap. For Rs 10, you can have a plateful and be satisfied.

Fa Yian and Zen in New Delhi were two restaurants I regularly visited; the former for the best chicken corn soup (er, I was not into experimenting then) and the latter for the best bloody chilli chicken in the world (slight exaggeration possible). While the erstwhile Turquoise Cottage From the Orient (popularly known as TC) in Malviya Nagar was also famous for its food; the restaurant was more of a rockers-of-Delhi hang out. Now they have a new one in Basant Lok, but sadly, the old magic is lost.

Another recommendation for those interested in good Chinese in Delhi is the Mandarin Court in Katwaria Sarai. An unassuming restaurant that’s opposite the five-star Qutub Hotel, it serves really good food at a very good price. An additional plus is the extended happy hours and reasonable liquor rates. Unfortunately for me, I discovered Mandarin Court when my Delhi tenure was almost over. While Yo! China franchises were mushrooming all over Delhi when I left; I was not very happy with their food (or prices). The tastiest on-the-go dirty chow mein I’ve had in Delhi were from the van opposite Priya cinema (Basant Lok, New Delhi), the little joint in the South Extension (Part 2) market and from opposite Bikaner Sweets in Ber Sarai (near IIT Delhi).

This is the first of many tried-tasted, non-Indian recipes I'll be putting up. As mentioned earlier, when a recipe is from another source, it shall be duly credited. The recipe given below is from one of my favourite cookbooks, Charmaine Solomon’s ‘The Complete Asian Cookbook’. I use the 1978 version, though later republished versions are now available in the market.

HO LAN DAU CHOW NGAU YOOK (Beef with snow peas)
Serves: 2-4
Cooked on: Stir-fried on high heat
Accompaniment: Red wine
Try this with: Egg noodles


Rump steak 500 g
Light soy sauce[1] 2 TBS
Salt ½ TSP
Chinese mushrooms 6, dried
Snow peas[2]/ flat matar 250 g
Oil 3 TBS
Spring onions 4, cut into 1” length
Chinese wine or dry sherry 1 TBS
Sugar ½ TSP
Beef stock ½ CUP
Cornflour 3 TSP
Cold water 1 TBS


  1. For those who do not eat beef, substitute with pork, lamb or chicken. Vegetarians can skip the meat completely and use more mushrooms or tofu. With any meat – particularly beef or lamb – trim off excess fat; the recipe uses lean meat.
  2. The last time I checked, most Indian stores have dark soy sauce[3]. Since I was also lazy and preliminary searches yielded only dark soy; I used 1 tablespoon diluted with water. Strict chefs will tell you that my Chinese dish therefore, was a fraud. It was still very tasty.
  3. Most ingredients – Chinese wine, Chinese mushrooms (shiitake[4] mushrooms, pronounced see-ta-kay) – can be found at specialty food stores. I used fresh shitake mushrooms in the grocery store, dried ones work equally well. In case you don’t find shiitake mushrooms, use large sized button mushrooms or canned oyster mushrooms. Be warned though that the texture of all mushrooms are very different and might affect how the dish tastes. The shiitake has a beautiful, spongy texture, while the button mushrooms are more brittle.
  4. For dry shiitake mushrooms: Soak them in hot water for 30 minutes to soften them.
  5. Snow peas are your regular peas/matar, except that the pod is still very flat and the seeds (peas) are not mature yet. Since in India, the best, fresh peas are found in winter; you can substitute snow peas with regular snap peas (matar with the pod).
  6. Substitute chicken stock – Nestle/Maggi cubes work too – instead of beef stock.
  7. Always dissolve the cornflour – there should be no lumps – in cold water.
  8. Cooking egg noodles: These days, egg noodles are available at most local green grocers and come in pre-packaged bundles. Till I read Charmaine Solomon’s tip, I always overcooked the noodles. Charmaine suggests soaking the bundles in hot water (10 minutes) to allow the strands to separate and cook evenly. The noodles should be cooked immediately after softening. To avoid the water from boiling over, add a teaspoon of oil. Once the water boils, fine noodles should be cooked for 2-3 minutes, wide noodles 3-4 minutes. She adds, “Once cooked, drain noodles immediately in a large colander/ sieve and cold, then run cold water through the noodles to rinse off excess starch and cool the noodles so they don’t continue to cook in their own heat. Drain thoroughly. To reheat, pour boiling water through noodles in a colander.”
Other than the substitutes mentioned above – not suggested by Charmaine – I’ve followed Charmaine’s exact recipe.
  1. Cut the lean meat into fine shreds. Sprinkle with soy and salt, mix and marinate for 30 minutes.
  2. Trim the stems off the mushrooms and slice the caps into thin strips.
  3. String snow peas and blanch for 2 minutes in lightly salted boiling water.
  4. Heat 2 TBS oil in a wok; once the oil is very hot, add beef/meat and stir fry over high heat until the meat changes colour. Remove to a dish and wipe out the wok.
  5. Heat remaining 1 TBS oil, add mushrooms and spring onions; fry 1 minute.
  6. Add wine/sherry, sugar and stock. Bring to boil, add cornflour blended smoothly with cold water, stir until it clears and thickens.
  7. Return beef/meat and snow peas to wok, stir and heat through and serve immediately with rice or noodles.
Charmaine Solomon
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing (April 15, 2006)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0804837570
ISBN-13: 978-0804837576

[1] Light soy sauce: Lighter in color, and also sweeter than dark soy sauce.
[2] Snow peas: They are most used in stir fry dishes associated with American Chinese cuisine but less used in China.
[3] Ching’s Secret Dark Soy Sauce: This Indian-style soy sauce is made from a mixture of soya beans, chillies, sugar and water, which is then fermented.
[4] Shiitake mushrooms
*Pics taken from other websites/blogs are linked to those websites/blogs.

18 March 2009

JB Special: Daal/ Dhaal

19. 3. 2009

Update: This dish is an entry for the LiveSTRONG With A Taste of Yellow concept. Started by Barbara Harris as a way of supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Most people I know have at least two food items they hate with all their heart (or stomachs) and will only eat them intravenously, if they were unconscious. When friends tell me about their hate-foods, it’s usually goes back to their childhood and involves some form of force-feeding story. For some, it’s been a case of having mothers who were really adventurous in the kitchen… with disastrous results.

One friend hates spinach because her boarding school chef made spinach for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Another cannot stand beet root because his grandmother forced him to drink beet root juice – and soup and even eat beet root dessert – each time he visited her (that’s four times a week. Another refuses to eat pumpkin because she finds its Hindi (kaddu) and Bengali (kumdo) names offensive! While I don’t really understand that, I do remember my father scolding us by saying, “You bloody kaddu!”

Partner refuses to eat sultanas/raisins because his mom packed it in his school lunch. “Poor boy hates it because of me,” she now rues. He also cannot stand gherkin
[1] but refuses to tell me why. As for me, I cannot stand any form of small fish; whether as anchovies or fried like they do in Bengal. Firstly, it’s the smell and secondly it’s the taste. I also cannot eat Hilsa (ilish) – and this is Bengali blasphemy, most worship the fish – because I don’t like its skin.

Once upon a time, I also hated daal. It was more to do with having to eat the daal before I could eat the meat – and I love my meat – than hating daal per se. Thankfully, as I have grown up, I have also grown to love my daal.

It was only after I started living alone that I truly realised how much I enjoyed the simple dish. In fact daal was the first dish I ever cooked… I used less water, cooked in an open saucepan and the whole thing was burnt. I used to stay in a working women’s hostel that time (2000) and it was the hostel’s warden who took pity on me and told me the basics.

Over the years, I’ve come up with my own style of cooking daal and now that I am so far away from home, it is my favourite comfort food. Here’s how I do it.

JB’s Daal
Serves: 4
Cooked on: low heat, covered (20 minutes) or in a pressure cooker (2 whistles)
Accompaniment: a dash of lemon juice or a teaspoon of pickle oil
Try this with: as soup, with bread or with rice.


Red lentils/ Masoor[2] daal: 1 cup
Green chillies: 2, cut into slivers
Cardamom: 1 big, slightly crushed
Black peppercorns: 3-4
Cloves: 2
Garlic: 1-2 pods, depending on size
Turmeric ground: 1 TSP
Red chilli ground: 1 TSP
Coriander ground: 1 TSP
Salt: to taste
Water: 2 ½ cups

Tadka[3]/ tempering

Ghee[4]/oil/butter: 1 TSP
Cumin whole: 1 TSP
Whole red chilli: 1
Onion: 1 small, finely diced
Tomatoes: 1 medium sized, finely diced
Lemon juice: 1 TSP (optional)
Water: According to desired consistency[5]
Coriander: 1 TBS, finely chopped to garnish


  1. Making the daal in a pressure cooker is much faster than in a covered pan. If you’re using a pressure cooker, the ratio of lentils to water I use is, 1 cup lentils : 2 ½ cups water. Different lentils cook at different rates; for red lentils, two whistles of your pressure cooker should do it. If you’re cooking the lentils in a pan with lid, use 1 cup lentils : 3 cups water. You’ll need to cook for about 20 minutes, checking and stirring the lentils intermittently so that they don’t form a lump or stick to the bottom of the pan.
  2. While the daal is essentially done even without the tadka; the latter process imparts more flavour. However, feel free to skip the step and have your daal as is.
  3. For a really simple daal, you can skip all spices except for garlic, turmeric and salt and it will still taste good.
  4. For thicker daal, add less water when tempering; for thinner daal, add more.
  5. A Bengali home favourite – one of mine as well – is to have daal sheddo (thick, plain, cooked daal) with rice. Simply cook the daal with water and salt, reduce the water (on low heat) till most of it evaporates and the daal thickens and mix it with rice and eat.
  6. Home remedy 1: In fact if you have an upset stomach, red lentils cooked using only salt and a little turmeric (say ½ tsp or less) is really good.
  7. Home remedy 2: Red lentil soup is also the vegetarian answer to chicken soup! If you have a cold, a sore throat or are simply feeling blue; make the lentils with salt, turmeric and 1 TSP of ground pepper; temper with cumin seeds, add water according to the desired consistency.
  8. Tasty trick: Leftover daal that you don’t want to eat? Cook it in an open wok till all the water evaporates. What’s left tastes really good when mixed with rice and can also be stuffed into paranthas.
  1. Wash the lentils thoroughly in water and keep aside.
  2. In your pressure cooker/ pan, boil two cups of water (high heat) with all the spices. Once the water boils, add the washed lentils, stir well once and cover the pan/ close cooker lid.
    If in the pressure cooker, wait till two whistles and turn off the gas. If cooking in a pan, you’ll need to cook the lentils till they are soft; take some out on a spoon and press to check. While the lentils are cooking, remember to stir so that the lentils don’t form a lump and don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Just in case – should not happen but if – you find the water is evaporating from the pan and there’s not enough to cook the lentils, add another half cup water.
  3. Once the daal is cooked, take the pan/cooker off the stove and place another wok on the stove.
  4. If you notice that the daal once cooked is too thick, don’t panic; we shall fix it in the next step.

  1. In a separate wok/pan, heat the ghee/butter/oil on high heat. Once the ghee/butter/oil is really hot, add whole red chilli, cumin seeds, green chilli slivers and chopped onions. Fry the onions for 2-3 minutes till they turn pinkish.
  2. Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook, mixing well, for another 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the cooked daal – careful, the oil is hot and it will sizzle and splutter – and mix well.
  4. Add water depending on how thick you want your daal to be; more water for thinner daal, less for a thicker one.
  5. Bring it to a boil on high heat then reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
Your daal is done! Garnish with fresh, chopped coriander and serve with rice, roti or have it in a bowl. And don't forget to let me know if you like it.

[1] Cucumber type vegetable
[2] Indian glossary
[3] Tadka or tempering is a way of releasing essential oils in whole spices
[4] Clarified butter
[5] Degree of viscosity of liquid

12 March 2009

JB Special: Lamb curry

13. 3. 2009

As I had written in my earlier post – Love and the holi mess – Partner and I went for a dinner to this nice couple’s home last night. Partner had told me that the boys had decided it would be a curry-cook-off between the ladies. Our hostess had made really nice butter chicken and I had made the JB-special lamb curry. You can read about what happened at the dinner here.

Here’s the recipe for the lamb curry; it takes patience with this one, but the effort is bloody well worth it.

Serves: 4
Cooked on: Covered on low heat, 1 hour 30 minutes or till lamb is very tender
Accompaniment: Raita or fresh cucumber-onion salad with a dash of fresh lime
Try this with: Roti or naan


  1. How to puree tomatoes: Boil water in a saucepan; put the tomatoes in the boiling water and cook covered for 5 minutes. Remove from the gas and let the tomatoes sit in the water (still covered) for another 5 minutes. Remove the lid and you should see cracks on the tomato skins. Drain the hot water, hold tomatoes – careful, these will be hot – under running cold water/ in a bowl of cold water and peel off the skins. Put the skinless tomatoes in your mixer/blender and run the motor for 2 minutes or till tomatoes are pureed. Done!
  2. You can also try this with beef or goat meat. If your family/guests don’t mind bones, choose meat with bones; preferably from the hindquarters. Those who have better suggestions when buying meat, please do share.
  3. This recipe takes patience. While the cooking part is not tough, it tastes best when you let the lamb cook over low heat. The first stage involves allowing the juices of the lamb to dry out. The second stage involves adding water, covering the lamb and letting it cook till the water evaporates and the meat is tender.
  4. If you prefer a drier curry – tastes better with roti/naan/bread – cook for longer to let the water dry out completely. For those who prefer some gravy, let some water remain.
  5. The coriander is a must as I find it adds a particular flavour to the dish. The coriander needs to be added in two stages; majority of it while cooking and then just enough for garnishing before serving.
  6. It can be quite irritating biting into the cardamom when eating or worse, chewing on the whole red chilli. Therefore it is prudent to pick out the cardamoms and whole red chilli before laying the dish out on the table.
  7. Save yourself trouble and buy the roti/ naan from an Indian restaurant/ dhaba.


Lamb steak: 900 gm, with some fat, cut into small cubes
Mustard oil/ ghee/ vegetable oil: 3 TBS
Onions: 2 large, finely chopped
Tomatoes: 4 medium, pureed
Coriander: 4-5 TBS, washed and finely chopped
Bay leaves: 3
Big cardamom: 2, slightly crushed
Whole black pepper: 5
Fenugreek seeds: ½ TSP
Whole red chilli: 1-2
Garlic paste: 2 TSP
Ginger paste: 1 TSP
White vinegar: 2 TBS
Coriander ground: 2 TSP, heaped
Turmeric ground: 1 TSP, heaped
Cumin ground: 1 TSP, heaped
Garam masala: 1 TSP, heaped
Red chilli ground: 2 TSP, heaped
Salt: to taste
Water: 1-2 cups, as desired


  1. Heat the oil in a deep wok/pan on high heat. Once the oil smokes, reduce heat and add the bay leaves, cardamom, whole black pepper, whole red chilli and fenugreek seeds. Cook for 1 minute.
  2. Next add the finely chopped onions and fry them till the onions turn pinkish. Now add the ginger-garlic pastes and cook mixing well till the onions-ginger-garlic turn golden. Take care not to burn the onions.
  3. Add turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, red chilli powder, salt and the vinegar and cook, mixing the spices well. Cook for about 5-6 minutes till spice mixture gives off a ‘cooked’ aroma and the vinegar dries out. Keep stirring so that the spice mixture does not stick to the bottom of the pan/wok.
  4. Add the lamb pieces and mix well to cover all the pieces with the spice-in-vinegar mixture. Cook for about 10 minutes so that all lamb pieces are coated and start turning brown.
  5. Add the tomato puree, mix well with the lamb and spices, raise the heat to medium and allow the lamb to cook till it starts releasing water. This takes about 10-15 minutes and you will need to keep stirring the lamb so that it does not burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. Also keep in mind to scrape the spice mix off the sides of the pan while you stir.
  6. Reduce heat now and let the water – the tomato puree will also release water – to dry off. Remember to keep stirring and turning the lamb pieces in the pan so that all pieces get cooked evenly.
  7. Once the lamb-tomato-spice mix dries – the sign is when the liquid in the pan is visibly reduced, the masala/spice mix starts sticking to the pan and is not easily scraped off – add 2 cups of water and cover the pan.
  8. Add the coriander - keeping some for garnishing - and cook for half and hour or more – stirring and mixing intermittently – till the lamb is really tender and the water has almost dried out. If the water has evaporated and the lamb is still somewhat tough – should not happen but if it does – add another half cup water, cover and cook some more.
  9. The best way to check if the lamb is tender enough is to pick out a piece with a fork and bite into it! Vary the water amount depending on how much gravy you want: If you want more gravy, add another cup of water, mix well, raise the heat to medium, bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remember that the gravy should not be overly-watery.
  10. Once the meat is tender and you have your desired amount of gravy, turn off the gas, and transfer the lamb curry to a serving dish, garnish with chopped coriander.
Serve with roti / naan or even bread and you’re done!

09 March 2009

Fish cutlets with Russian salad

10. 3. 2009

One of the most daunting or boring aspects of cooking is when you have to do it daily. It's not as much the cooking that is tedious but the act of having to decide what to cook on a daily basis. With jobs, families, television serials and a zillion other things to do in a day; it is not always possible to prepare a lavish spread. Neither is it always possible - or feasible - to use a cookbook. Add to that the availability (or not) of ingredients and rising costs; cooking quickly loses its charm when faced with reality. Personally, I find nothing more unrewarding as an unappreciative partner/family. Sometimes it seems that the more you cook for others, the lesser they seem to recognise your efforts!

My mom was mostly unhappy about cooking because firstly, it was a pain to think about daily dishes and secondly, all of us never really bothered to tell her we appreciated her cooking for us. While I have quickly learnt to compliment anyone who cooks -- they/mothers can easily feed you pre-packaged food -- I am also learning (still) the art of cooking food with minimal effort.

My Partner for instance is a master of cooking things in 10-15 minutes. Anything that involves a can and a microwave, he can cook. I, on the other hand, have so far been quite disdainful about 'cooking' that does not involve fresh food or 'proper' preparation. It has led to some fights where despite really tasty food being made, Partner will say something like, "But you did not need to spend four hours cooking this!" and me getting very upset and calling him ungrateful.

However, human beings are supposedly the most superior species because we learn to adapt. To save myself cooking time -- and thinking time -- now I am happy enough to mix 'n' match. Meaning, I will use some ingredients that come out of a can/bottle and throw in other fresh stuff. Here's the dinner we had on Friday night that takes only 30 minutes from start to finish. The only lengthy period involved is an hour of refrigeration.

Fish cutlets and Russian salad with fresh bread
Serves: 2
Cooked on: High heat; involves refrigeration
Accompaniment: Dinner rolls or soft bread of your choice and hard-boiled eggs
Try this with: Any delicious white wine


  1. Make the Russian salad first since you need to allow it to chill for an hour or so before serving.
  2. To enable faster cooling, keep the salad vegies in the fridge for as long as you can. Pull them out for chopping just before you toss them in the salad.
  3. You can use fresh fish for the cutlets; however, canned fish is far quicker and saves you the effort of steaming the fish etc.
  4. You can use plain canned fish and add whatever herbs and spices of your choice; however, I prefer using flavoured canned fish as it is even faster! I used tuna with semi-dried tomatoes and olive oil.
  5. If using fresh fish or plain, canned fish, you can add basil, parsley, rosemary or chopped coriander to the fish for added flavour. For more zing, add a tablespoon of some sweet-chilli sauce as well.
  6. If you are using tuna in water, drain all the water and then squeeze the fish so that no water/liquid remains. Soggy fish will make it difficult to 'bind' the cutlets and cause them to break when frying.
  7. If using fresh fish: Steam the fish -- in covered saucepan or pressure cooker -- drain all the water and de-bone. Remove the skin and then mash the fish checking again that there are no bones. You don't want people choking on the cutlets!
  8. When peeling hot potatoes straight-off-the-stove, hold them under running cold water -- or in a bowl of cold water -- it won't burn your hands.
  9. While I have fried my cutlets -- deep fried is not healthy! -- you could also bake your cutlets. Just remember to bake on high heat (250 degree celcius) for 15-minutes, with both top and bottom oven rods turned on. While baking is the far healthier option, it also increases your cooking time. Frying is quicker, and though unhealthy, bloody tasty.

Tuna cans: 2, flavoured or plain
White potato: 2
Salt: to taste
Egg: 1, lightly beaten
Bread crumbs: 1 cup
Canola or other vegetable oil: 2-3 TBS

Optional ingredients:
Green chllies: 2-4 (optional)
Garlic: 2 cloves (optional)
Coriander, basil, rosemary, thyme: 1-2 TBS


White potatoes: 4-5, medium sized, boiled, peeled and diced small
Red capsicum: 1, large, diced small
Vegetable or chicken stock: 1 cup (can use 2 cubes dissolved in one cup hot water)
Green beans: 1 cup, diced small
Peas: 1 cup, fresh or frozen (thawed)
Grapes: 1 cup, washed (halved if the grapes are big; optional)
Mayonnaise: 2 TBS
Eggs: 2-4, hard-boiled and quartered (optional)
Carrots: 1 cup, peeled and diced small (optional)
Corn: 1/2 cup, steamed (optional)



  1. Take the chicken/vegetable stock in a deep saucepan with lid and bring to a boil (on high flame).
  2. Reduce the flame and put your diced potatoes (carrots and corn if using) in the boiling stock. Cover the pan and cook for 5-6 minutes.
  3. Remove the lid and add the beans, peas and capsicum to the cooking potatoes. Cook -- uncovered -- for another 5 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from heat, place the vegies on a big sieve and allow all the stock/ water to drain out. Once drained, place the vegies in a bowl/ resealable plastic bag and place in your freezer for 10 minutes.
  5. In a big serving bowl, place the (now cooled) vegies, grapes and two tablespoon mayonnaise. Mix them all well. You can add seasoning if you wish so. I prefer not to.
  6. Your Russian salad is ready! Place the bowl in the fridge and allow to chill thoroughly. Serve with cutlets and bread.


  1. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes in a saucepan with the lid closed. Alternately, you could also cook them in the microwave or your pressure cooker. For microwave: Place potatoes in a oven-proof bowl with 4 TBS water. Poke holes into the potatoes with a fork. Set the timer for 2 minutes 30 seconds and cook the potatoes. Turn the potatoes in the bowl (bottom side up now) and cook for another 2 minutes 30 seconds. For pressure cooker: Place potatoes in the cooker with 1 cup water, place the lid and cook on low heat. One whistle means the spuds are done.
  2. Peel potatoes and mash them with your fingers/ fork/ potato masher. Ensure that there are no lumps in the mashed potato.
  3. Add the canned fish to the mashed potatoes, salt according to taste and the herbs (if you're using them). Mix all of them properly and keep aside.
  4. Beat an egg in a medium sized bowl; keep aside.
  5. Spread the bread crumbs evenly on a big plate; keep aside.
  6. Make even-sized, round balls from the potato-fish mash. Once you've made balls from the mash, keep them aside.
  7. Heat the oil in a deep wok/ frying pan; make the oil smoking hot on high heat then reduce heat to low.
  8. Take two fish-potato balls; flatten them on your palm slightly (see picture of cutlets above). Dip the fish cakes in the beaten egg and coat all sides properly. Pick the cakes out of egg mix -- use soft hands else cakes will break -- and dip them in the bread crumbs.
  9. Delicately place them in the hot oil -- please don't burn yourself -- and raise the heat to medium. Do NOT poke fish cakes when frying. You will see when one side is fried, it turns brown. Gently, with a flat spatula, turn the fish to allow the other side to fry.
  10. Once both sides are fried, gently pick fried fish cakes out of the wok/pan and place them on a plate/tray lined with paper napkins/paper kitchen towels.
  11. Repeat steps 8-10 til all fish cakes are fried. Your fish cutlets are ready!
A nicely set table -- or at least a clean one -- adds so much to a meal. Place your table mats, perhaps some candles, set your wine glasses and cutlery. Buttered bread always tastes so much better, however, since mayonnaise is heavy on fat, I leave the butter to you. Either make a sandwich with the salad and the cutlets or eat it spoon-by-spoon. Enjoy!
PS: And lemme know if you do try this!

04 March 2009

Ghoogni/ ghugni (Sautéed green peas salad with Bengali five spices)

5. 3. 2009

This dish used to be a Thursday ‘fast’ special. Papa used to (still does) fast on Thursdays, which means he skipped breakfast and a proper lunch. Mamma used to make ghoogni for him and we joined in as well. I think most families from Bengal and Bihar – neighbouring states, they have a lot of food and cooking in common – have fond memories of ghoogni.

The other day a college mate in New York – we were ‘speaking’ after nearly eight years! – mentioned reading my post on sandwiches in Australia. I had mentioned the ghoogni in passing in that post. “I wanted you to know this,” she said and proceeded to tell me that reading the post reminded her how much she loved ghooghni. She had called her mom back in India for the recipe and has since made the dish a number of times. I was quite touched. Ghoogni in New York and now ghoogni in Melbourne. Hah, culinary conquests I say!

I was trying to get a nutritional value chart or figures on green peas when to my greatest surprise I came across an Indian government website. Imagine my shock to learn that the Food and Nutrition Board, Ministry of Women and Child Development (Govt of India, 2008) has a website with Indian recipes and nutritional values attached. I really did not expect an Indian government website to think like that. The site also has a ghoogni recipe. While the website is not very eye-pleasing and the recipes are rather swiftly dealt with, here’s to the Indian government at least trying out new things. Check out the website. (Green pea nutrition chart --->)

Ghoogni/ ghugni (Sautéed green peas salad with Bengali five spices)
Serves: 2
Cooked on: Low heat
Accompanimen: A dash of lime juice along with a steaming cup of tea or soup!
Try this with: Soft, white bread or puris


  1. This is a rather quick and very versatile dish that can be happily modified to suit your taste. With or without spices, the green peas make for healthy eating. There is a Bengali version of the recipe as well as one that comes from Bihar. Some also like making this with minced meat, but we are sticking to the vegetarian version. I shall be making my version!
  2. It can be made using either green peas (fresh or frozen) or chickpeas. If using frozen green peas, do thaw them (naturally or in the microwave); for using chickpeas it’s a good idea to soak them overnight. I prefer making ghooghni with green peas.
  3. Today’s recipe only uses green peas, you can add numerous other vegies as well. While technically it won’t be ghooghni; it will make for a darned tasty dish. Just remember that everything has to be finely chopped/diced.
  4. Vegies that go very well with this dish: Baby carrots, corn (steam them first), baby corn, button mushrooms and potatoes. If you wish to use other vegies, feel free; just remember not to overpower the flavour of the green peas.
  5. I prefer my ghooghni to be somewhat sweet-n-spicy; however, you can skip the garam masala and simply stick with salt and pepper. It still tastes good! Butter your bread and pile it up with ghooghni or have a bowlful with a steaming cup of chai or even your favourite soup.
  6. Also, chai in India means tea and not the just the full-of-spice tea that you get in jars in Australia.

Vegetable/canola/olive oil: 1 TBS
Peas: 2 cups, fresh or frozen (thawed)
Onion: 1 big, finely chopped
Ginger: 1 TBS, skin removed and finely grated
Tomato: 2 medium, finely diced
Fennel: 2 TSP (optional)
Red chilli ground: 1 TSP (optional)
Dry mango powder/ amchoor: ½ TSP (optional) OR
Sugar: 1 TSP
Salt: to taste
Black pepper: 1 TSP
Garam masala: 1 TSP (optional)
Lemon juice: 1 TBS (optional)


  1. Heat oil in a wok/pan with lid. Once the oil is hot, add the fennel seeds and allow to splutter. The fennel is optional; you can skip it.
  2. Once the fennel splutters, add the onions and fry them till they turn slightly pink. Now add the grated ginger and fry for 3 minutes.
  3. Next add the salt, pepper, red chilli powder and garam masala and fry for another 3 minutes till the onions are coated with the spice mixture.
  4. Add the tomatoes and fry till the tomatoes – mashing them with the spatula – till the tomatoes soften and are pulverised.
  5. Fry the mix for 3-4 minutes till the spices start sticking to the bottom of the wok/pan (but can be easily scraped off). This is your sign that the masala (spice mix) is cooked.
  6. Finally add the green peas and cook for another 3 minutes till the peas get a ‘shine’ on them.
  7. Sprinkle a little water, cover the wok/pan and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the lid, sprinkle the amchoor or sugar and fry for 3 minutes.

You’re done! Squeeze some lemon juice and you’re ready to go.
Want to know more about your peas? Here’s where you go.

24 February 2009

Shorsher maach (Fish in mustard-green chilli paste)

This is a dish that has been included in traditional Bengali birthday menus, when guests have been over, or as special Sunday lunches or any other occasion that demanded it. Once I started living away from my parents – since 2000 – this was also a MUST each time I visited home.

It was also the cause of much heartburn between my parents (and not due to the spices). Mamma had grown away from Nani and any cooking Mamma learnt was by trial and error after she was married. Now when my parents were married in 1978, they did not have a mixer (blenders were science fiction).
Mamma had to make the mustard-chilli paste on a sil-noda (stone grinder, called sil-batta in Hindi). It was tough work and at times the paste wouldn’t be as fine, which directly resulted in the flavour of the dish. Papa would end up comparing Mamma’s cooking to his mother’s cooking and well, comparisons with one’s mother-in-law is never a good thing in Indian households. Men!!

Funny though, the same man – as the husband – found faults and yet as the father thinks his daughter the most brilliant cook (smiles, shakes head). Men!!! Thankfully, my Partner is non-Indian (wicked grin) and anyway I leave most Australian cooking to him (wickeder grin). I still suck at salads though. Shrug.
As far as I am concerned, shorsher maach that is not jhaal (hot) is not the real thing. Then again, the jhaal has to be a right blend of the tanginess of the mustard and the zing of the green chillies. Neither should be overpowering and the idea is to give you “Ooof!” rather than make you cry. This is what we had for dinner last night and I hope you enjoy it too.
PS: Don’t have Coke with the meal, it makes your throat itchy. Discovered last night.
Did you know? The earlier Mexicans used something quite similar to the sil-noda, it was called a ‘metate y mano’. Check it out here.

Shorsher maach (Fish in mustard-green chilli paste)
Serves: 2-4
Cooked on: Deep fried then over low heat
Accompaniment: freshly cut onion slices, sprinkled with lemon juice and salt
Try this with: Steamed long-grain rice (Basmati works best)


  1. Mustard oil is a must as it adds to the flavour of the mustard. However, you can use canola or other vegetable oil.
  2. Try buying fish with an outer skin – Australian markets usually have skinless-fillets – as the crisp, fried fish skin adds to the flavour. If buying fillets, the thicker the fillet, the better. If you can get a whole, cleaned fish and cut it yourself, you’ll get the perfect pieces. Today we will cook this with fillets; perhaps will show how to cut the fish into ‘traditional’ pieces some other time.
  3. Rohu (greas carp, Labeas rohita) and hilsa/ilish (Hilsa shad, Tenualosa ilisha) are ideal for this. Since both types are predominant in the Indian subcontinent, I am using any fish with thick fillets; today’s choice are ling (Genypterus spp) skinned fillets.
  4. For those who cannot tolerate hot food; skip the green chillies completely. Be warned though, it’s not half as much fun without the chilli.
  5. Marinate the fish in the turmeric-salt mixture before you start preparing the mustard paste; the longer the fish soaks in the mixture, the better it tastes upon frying.
  6. While frying the fish, remember do NOT poke around with the fish, let it fry in peace. Basically, let one side fry thoroughly and only then turn it over to the other side. Fiddling with the fish when it’s not properly fried will lead to the fish breaking.
  7. Also mind your hand when frying the fish, the oil really splutters. Keep the oil really hot (keep on high flame). Do NOT chuck fish into the oil as (common sense tells you that) the hot oil will spill all over.
  8. Use a perforated spoon to pick fish out of oil so that extra oil drains back into the pan/wok.
  9. Use a different pan/wok to make the curry and not in the same one you’ve used for frying. Once you finish frying the fish and transfer the oil to a clean wok/pan; soak the frying pan/wok in water…it’s tough cleaning when dried out.
  10. Try not to eat the fried fish. Heh, I’ve done that many times. Also, the fried fish by itself – served with Maggi hot ‘n’ sweet sauce or any spicy chutney that you like – makes for a great party snack. Serve with onion slices sprinkled with lemon juice and some salt.

Ling skinned fillets: 980 gms (used here, change accordingly)Mustard seeds: 3-4 TBS
Green chili: 5 big; one finely sliced, four used in the paste
Turmeric ground: 2 TSP
Red chilli ground: 2 TSP
Salt: to marinate and according to taste
Nigella/kalaunji/black cumin: ½ TSP or a pinch

  1. Evenly sprinkle 1 TSP turmeric powder, 1 TSP red chilli powder and 1 TSP salt on all the fish fillets (I had eight) and rub them on the fish. Cover and keep aside. ---->
  2. In a blender, take ½ cup water, four green chillies, ½ TSP salt and all the mustard seeds and grind into a fine paste. (Run motor for 3 minutes or so). The end result should be a fine, frothy paste. Sieve through a muslin cloth/strainer into a bowl, discard the seeds, add ½ cup water to the mustard-paste-juice and keep aside.
  3. In another small bowl/cup, mix 1 TSP red chilli powder and 1 TSP turmeric powder with 3 TBS water. Keep aside.

4. Heat oil in a deep-bottomed pan/wok on high heat the oil starts to smoke. Reduce the heat and in batches – as many pieces fit into the pan/ wok without overcrowding – fry the fish pieces till each side is browned and crisp. Once all pieces are fried, cover them and keep aside.

  1. 5. Drain the oil – careful it’s going to be bloody hot – into another pan/wok and keep heat at medium. As the oil starts to smoke – should happen quickly as the oil’s still pretty hot -- add the nigella seeds.
    6. As soon as the nigella splutters, add the red chilli-turmeric paste and fry, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.
    7. Now add the fried fish pieces, one at a time and let each side of the fish cook for about 1-2 minutes before adding the next piece. The idea is to allow all the pieces to be coated with the chilli-turmeric paste.
    8. Once all pieces are coated as above, add the diluted mustard paste along with the thinly sliced green chillies, add another ½ cup water, turn the stove flame to high and bring to a boil.
    9. Once the broth boils, reduce heat to low/minimum and simmer till gravy thickens. Do not cover and remember to turn the fish – might be twice-thrice depending on how long it takes to dry out – while the gravy thickens.
    10. Serve hot with steamed basmati rice. You could squeeze some lemon juice on it as well. Best eaten with hands and licking your fingers is acceptable etiquette.

Confused about your fishes? Try this…

22 February 2009

Aloo-begun (Potatoes and eggplant with fennel)

23 February 2009
Someone once told me that eggplant/ brinjal is called begun in Bangla (baingan in Hindi) because it lacks any gun or good qualities. I don’t know if it’s an old wives tale or if there’s any truth to it. According to this website though, eggplants are recommended for those interested in losing weight! That’s a bit of a surprise because the two ways that I really like my eggplants – deep-fried or in lamb moussaka – are both loaded with fat. Then there’s this blog that suggests that perhaps the veggie loses its value when cooked. Whatever be the case, I quite enjoy my begun.

This dish was/is one of Papa’s favourites and one of the few times he enjoyed a parantha. Papa has always been more of a chapatti man. Mamma used to make this as Sunday brunch, usually along with thick-gravied chicken/meat as the non-vegetarian dish for the day. While growing up, the only way I liked my eggplant was as begun bhaaja (thick slices of eggplant, deep fried). I never appreciated the sheer magic of this simple dish. Surprisingly now, it’s one of my favourites.

I was quite surprised to discover that eggplant is quite a staple in Australia. Folks even have grilled eggplant in their sandwiches, though I daresay am not exactly partial to begun in my sandwich. You can call it a mental block or cultural difference.

I’ve shared this particular recipe with a lady here – Partner’s school friend’s wife – and she loved it. Recently she told me she cooked it for her in-laws and they loved it too. Being ever sceptical of compliments, I had politely smiled when she’d given me the feedback. However, I was duly chastised later when I happened to bump into her sister-in-law who mentioned that she had tasted one of my recipes and had completely loved it. Moral of the story: Cynicism is not healthy when cooking eggplants.

Note to self: Call Mamma and thank her… Thanks Mamma!

Aloo-begun (Potatoes and eggplant with fennel)
Serves: 2
Cooked on: Low heat in covered pan/wok
Accompaniment: Salad of your choice
Try this with: Paranthas

Mustard oil (preferred) or canola (any vegetable) oil: 1 TBS
Fennel seeds: 2 TBS
Potatoes, old*: 2 big, peeled and diced
Brinjal/ aubergine/ egg plant: 2 big (6-8 long ones), diced
Green chilli: 1-2, optional
Salt: to taste
Turmeric ground: 1 heaped TSP
Coriander ground: 1 heaped TSP
Red chilli ground: 1 level TSP (or as hot as you want)
Sugar: 1 TSP
Ginger: 1”, grated
Water: 2 TBS
Coriander: fresh, enough to garnish, optional

TBS = tablespoon; TSP = teaspoon

  1. Brinjal cooks faster than potatoes; therefore use older potatoes as they cook faster than tougher, new ones.
  2. Brinjal and potatoes turn black when left in open air. Cut vegies right before you start cooking. To prevent potatoes from turning black, keep diced potatoes soaked in a bowl of water with 1 TSP salt in it. Drain water when cooking.
  3. While both potatoes and brinjal are diced, the potatoes will be diced slightly smaller than the brinjal. The texture of both vegetables is different; therefore cooking times are different. In order to prevent either your brinjal overcooking or potatoes remaining undercooked, please ensure you cut them as mentioned.
  4. Always keep your spices, salt etc handy so that you’re not opening-closing cupboards to find them.
  5. The vegies in this dish are cooked mainly by steaming so you will need a wok/ deep frying pan with a tight-fitting lid.
  6. Please wear an apron! If you are anything like me, the potatoes will have a tendency of (in)frequently flying out of the pan and landing on your tee shirt. Turmeric splatters are tough to remove from clothes.


  1. Heat the (mustard) oil in the deep frying pan on low heat till it starts smoking (keep your exhaust on).
  2. Once oil smokes, add the fennel seeds; they should start spluttering in a minute.
  3. Now add the potatoes and sauté for 5-7 minutes. You’ll need to mix the potatoes and fennel so that the fennel does not burn (horrid taste) or the spuds don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  4. Once potatoes turn slightly golden, add the brinjal/eggplant. Mix well so that both potatoes and brinjal are coated with the fennel seeds. Again, ensure fennel does not turn black. Cook for 5-7 minutes, mixing intermittently.
  5. Once brinjal turns brown, add salt, turmeric, red chilli and ground coriander and mix well so that vegies are well-coated with spice mixture. Increase heat to medium and cook open for 3 minutes, mixing well. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook covered for another 5 minutes.
  6. Remove lid, mix vegies again, sprinkle the sugar and mix well for another 2 minutes. You will notice that spice mixture begins to start sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add 2 TBS water, grated ginger, mix well and cover the pan. Cook for 8 minutes.
  7. At the end of cooking time, the vegies should be giving off a brilliant spuddy-fennelly (oh well) aroma. Uncover the pan and check the potatoes with a fork. If they break/can be cut easily with a fork, your vegies are ready. If not, mix well, sprinkle a little more water – do not drown the vegies! – and cook covered for another 5 minutes or till done. Usually you don’t need the second round of covered cooking.
  8. Finally, remove lid and cook open for another 2 minutes, scraping off the caramelised spices at the bottom of the pan and mix well with the vegies.
  9. Turn off the gas and allow to cool slightly while covered. Transfer to serving dish, garnish with coriander and serve with paranthas/puris.

We’re done!
PS: If you do try this, please let me know how it turns out and if you liked the dish.

20 February 2009

Ingredients for a tummyful of love

20 February 2009
Pic = Jhoomur Bose
Have I ever told you -- am assuming some people are here from my other blog Eve Emancipation -- that I don't like cooking for myself? However, when it comes to feeding people, I can do it any time. It's a little surprising since of the three major cooking influences in my life, two do it (cooking) because they have to.

While growing up, I have completely loved the food that my Ma and my Nani (maternal grandma) have cooked. Both make different things -- Nani is more traditional, Ma is an expert in Chinese -- and both have very different cooking styles. Both these ladies cooked to feed their families and Ma has been known to declare that she quite hates cooking.

Ma's problem was having to think up of WHAT to cook on a daily basis. I guess it can get tedious when you have two growing kids, a husband who does not help in the kitchen and yet insists on a five course meal. And of course, home-delivery wasn't such a big thing then. However, despite her lack of enthusiasm, Ma was a true-blue Army wife from the older generation. She made Papa happy with her food and she could cook up some exotic things when they had brigade commanders and GOC (General Officer Commanding) coming over for dinner at our house.

However, the one person who has made the most impression on me -- both food-wise and as a person -- is my mother's aunt. We call her 'Pimmi'. That is not her name and in fact I don't even know her real name, but in the true tradition of Bengali nicknames, she is Pimmi to everyone. She was Pimmi to Ma, to me and I daresay those who will come after us. There was always a great level of enthusiasm whenever we went visiting her and family on Sundays. Pimmi made the MOST awesome mangshor jhol (mutton curry)... perfectly succulent meat, with big, chunky potatoes and really spicy! The highlight for me though was being hand-fed. My brother was too small and little shit never got to taste that, hah.

So either Pimmi or her daughter Pinkidiwould make me sit on the table and would make huge balls of the rice-mixed-with-curry and feed me. It was sheer, sheer bliss. I can still smell the mangsho. As I grew up, I took to standing in her kitchen, plate in hand, waiting to be the first one to eat. The last that I visited them in 2003 -- I was 24 -- and Pinkidi fed me again. There was so much love that went into the cooking and then the obvious pleasure in feeding others... I will never forget that. When I cook, I try to be the same.

I guess offering to feed people by hand will startle most -- especially here in Australia, they'd insist on gloves -- so I stick to pouring my heart out in my food. Most people who've had my food have liked it. I am grateful to my friends who came home because "Jhoomur is cooking." In my single days, I fed bands of boys. (smiles) They kept me sane.

The recipes I will share here will be tried and tested. Most will be Indian food and from recipes I've gleaned from my mother and others. There will also be recipes from world cuisine as well and from books and websites. Those will be duly credited. Some will have stories to go with them, others strictly recipes. We shall see as we grow along. So here we go...

Before I start posting any recipes, there are a few things you will need to cook food, JB-style. Some I know the Hindi names for, others I don't. Please feel free to correct or add. As long as you have a basic wok/ kadhai (with a lid) and a saucepan with a lid, we shall be fine. However, these are the ingredients I simply cannot cook without:

Whole spices
Cumin seeds: jeera
Coriander seeds: dhania
Mustard seeds: sarson
Fenugreek seeds: methi
Black cardamom: badi ilaichi
Cloves: laung
Black peppercorns: kali mirch
Bay leaves: tej patta
Dried, red chili: sabut lal mirch
Cinnamon stick: dal chini
Poppy seeds: khus-khus

Ground spices
Cumin ground/ powder
Coriander ground/ powder
Garam masala: mixed spices, available as ‘garam masala’ in stores
Red chilli powder
Turmeric ground/ powder
Black pepper ground
Salt: let’s not forget that!

Notes and other important things:

1. Have a standard teaspoon and tablespoon ready
2. Wooden spoon/ spatula for cooking in non-stick ware
3. Dish-cloths (4), one for wiping your cooking bench, one only for wiping your hand, one for wiping spoon(s) and another for drying dishes
4. Chopping board, whether plastic or wood, you need one
5. Knives, one for your veges and one only for meats; I have more for specific purposes; we shall add along as we cook
6. Plastic bags to throw in peels and other refuse
7. Dustpan and small broom; I am very messy and find it handy to have these ready when I manage to spill stuff (which is regularly)
8. Someone to do the cleaning up after you. Bwahahaha, kidding! But if you can, it's smart to have an arrangement where you cook and someone else cleans. (evil grin)