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.