Dal Makhani / Ma ki Dal / Creamy Black Lentils

Black Lentils, Ma ki Dal, Dal Makhani, Kaali Dal or Urad Dal with skin – This Dal as you can tell has so many different names and that probably only indicates how widely loved and popular it is!

Growing up, this Dal did not hold an important place in my Mother’s pantry. I am not sure why. It isn’t a commonly made Dal in Eastern Indian homes for that matter. It’s associated with “restaurant” food in most Eastern Indian homes. For a long time, I had Ma ki Dal in dhabas and restaurants only.

No surprises here but like many of you, it’s one of my favorite lentils. I almost always never missed an opportunity to have this Dal during my years in Delhi and every possible trip back there. The creamy texture combined with the buttery flavor is enough to make anyone crave for Dal Makhani. It is very sinful and equally desirable due to the generous amount of cream and/or butter that goes in it. I am, not by any means, a health freak but over the years I started getting put off by the amount of butter that was used in it. A number of restaurants put so much butter and cream that you’ll have a tough time tasting any Dal in it. I craved for Dal Makhani without the indulgence.

And so… few years ago, I started my quest to make my own Dal Makhani.

I can completely understand if a lot of you will frown at the lack of lots of butter or cream, but my thought process behind this recipe was the following:

– Make it in a way that my family can have it on a regular day without feeling guilty.
– Make it quick without too much advanced preparation. (Unfortunately, I don’t plan my meals in advance most of the time)
– Keep as much of the creamy texture and taste without going overboard with the cream / butter.

Dal Makhani or Ma ki Dal is usually cooked with a small portion of Rajma (kidney beans). I make both versions of Dal Makhani (with only Black Lentils as well as a combination of Kidney Beans or Rajma & Black Lentils). If you are adding Rajma, replace ¼ cup of the Black Lentils with ¼ cup of Rajma. It tastes great in either combination! However, the use of Rajma requires advance planning and preparation.

Ensure your Rajma is soaked for about 8 hours. Alternatively, soak Rajma for 2-3 hours in hot water and then boil it separately until soft. I used Chitra Rajma (the smaller pale orange colored Rajmas) for cooking as they cook much faster. I soaked them for 8 hours in hot water, then pressure cooked them together with pre-soaked Black Dal for 20 mins. Black Dal was pre-soaked in hot water for 15 mins.

I skipped the Rajma this time as I hadn’t planned it ahead and it was a weekday dinner.

Dal Makhani / Ma ki Dal / Creamy Black Lentils Recipe

To print this recipe, click here.

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

Whole Black Lentils / Whole Urad Dal (with skin): ¾ cup [Can be replaced by: ¼ cup Kidney Beans (Rajma) + ½ cup Whole Black Lentils]
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Ginger finely chopped: 1 tbsp
Garlic finely chopped: 1 tbsp
Tomato puree: 1 cup (see step 2 below)
Chilli powder: ¼ tsp (or as per taste)
Cooking cream: 2 tbsp for cooking + 1-2 tsp for Garnishing
Kasoori Methi: 1 ½ tsp loosely packed
Garam Masala powder: ¼ tsp
Butter: about 1 tbsp
Salt: to taste

How I did it:

  • Clean and wash the Dal. Soak it covered in hot water for 30 mins.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the Tomato Puree: Put 2 medium sized tomatoes in a pot with sufficient water to almost cover the tomatoes. Bring the water to boil until the skin of the tomatoes starts to break. Remove from water, put in another pot with tap water and a couple of cubes of ice. When the tomatoes cool down, remove the skin. Blend it in a paste without adding any water.  This gave me roughly 1 cup of tomato puree which I needed for this recipe.

  • When the Dal is soaked (i.e. 30 mins later), throw away the water. In a pressure cooker, add the Dal with ¼ tsp of salt and 3 cups water. When the first whistle blows (or steam builds up), cook on low heat for 15 mins. If you are not using a pressure cooker, cover and boil in a pot until the dal becomes soft.
  • Meanwhile, wash the kasoori methi with a little water.  Soak it in ½ cup of hot water for about 10 mins.
  • When the Dal is cooked, let the steam from the pressure cooker come out on its own. If a lot of the liquid has evaporated, add more water. I didn’t have to add any. Now on medium heat and without the lid on, boil the Dal by stirring it continuously and mashing it gently against the pressure cooker wall using the back of your ladle (see pictures below). Keep doing this vigorously for about 8 mins or until the Dal starts to have a creamy texture. This step is important to get a creamy consistency.

  • Heat a heavy bottomed pot or non-stick kadhai. On low heat, add butter. When the butter melts, add the cumin seeds. As they begin to sputter, add the chopped garlic. When it starts to turn brown (Note: this happens very quickly), add the tomato puree, ¼ tsp of salt and the chopped ginger.
  • On medium heat, cook the masala for 6-7 mins. When the masala becomes like a lump, add the chilli powder. Keep stirring to ensure masala doesn’t get burnt. The masala should be done in another 2-3 mins. You will notice the color of the masala become darker and shiny due to the oil that surfaces on it. If the masala starts to stick, sprinkle a little water and scrape it off using the spatula.

  • On low heat, add the above prepared Dal to the pot with the masala. Stir the Dal and the masala well so that there are no lumps of masala and it’s evenly combined.
  • Now add the cooking cream. The color of the Dal will become slightly lighter. Cover and simmer for 10 mins, stirring every 1-2 minutes, gently mashing it with the back of the ladle to help achieve the creamy consistency.
  • Next add the kasoori methi along with the soaked water. Continue to cook for another 5 mins on low heat, stirring in between. By now, the Dal should have become darker in color than what it was when you added the cream.

  • Check for salt. Adjust if needed. Add garam masala powder and give it a good stir. Cook for a further 2-3 mins before turning the heat off. Let it sit for 5 mins to help combine all the flavors. It’s now ready to serve.
  • Garnish with some fresh cream and enjoy with hot Rotis / Parathas / Rice or any bread of your choice and some onions and green chillies on the side.

Notes:

  1. Dal has a tendency to become thick as it is left to cool. You may need to add some hot water (about ¼ cup) and make it warm before serving.
  2. Optional: Add a tbsp of butter just after turning the heat off. Tastes heavenly! I don’t do that usually unless I am feeling particularly ecstatic on a given day! 😉

[UPDATE 7th July, 2012] Sending this Dal Makhani recipe to My Legume Love Affair #49, the popular, legume-centered event that is conceptualized by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. This month’s MLLA is hosted by Simona. Here’s the announcement for July’s MLLA. http://briciole.typepad.com/blog/2012/07/annuncio-legumi-che-passione-numero-49.html.

Black and White Wednesdays # 39

Cooking rice : the traditional way for a ceremony.

Sending these 2 images to Susan of the well seasoned cook who is hosting Black and White Wednesdays (#39) next week.

Street food: Ghugni [Spicy Dried Peas] and hawker memories

A bunch of tired and restless kids wait patiently. Or at least, appear to. After what seems like an endless wait, the moment arrives. School bells ring intensely thereby declaring the end of a long day. Silence gives way to the cacophony of ecstatic children. Like honey bees, we come out buzzing from every corner of the school. As we make our way out of the school gate, street food hawkers greet us with big smiles, some freshly prepared food and a lot of enthusiasm! Some call out to us by our first name. They are all set to make their daily sale and we are more than happy to oblige!

It is extremely difficult to resist such wide variety of street food. We were faced with a moral dilemma – to snack or not to snack. No amount of hygiene education on the part of our parents or teachers helped, ever! Undoubtedly, snacking on street food was the unanimous choice! When you have aromatic chaats, savory and spicy delights tempting you, you can’t possibly walk away from it! I couldn’t. Not then.

One such snack was ghugni (dried peas soaked in water, boiled and then cooked with spices, garnished with onions, green chillies, coriander leaves and a blend of spices). The combination of tangy and spicy is what makes it extremely desirable!

“Sankara” was THE man who introduced me to ghugni during my school days. A small-built, modest man, with a striking long moustache – that’s how he looked like as far as I can remember. He didn’t, by any means, sell the best ghugni but he was definitely one of the most popular ones probably because his ghugni was the most conveniently available! It was available at the right time and right place for street-food-starved children who were waiting to dive into all that junk as soon as we were out of school boundaries. I can confidently say that generations have grown up on his ghugni and will never be able to forget him for that experience. Sankara has become a legend in my eyes and probably in the eyes of most of most of my school mates.

Ghugni is a very popular snack from the Eastern part of India. It’s made in many different ways using dried green peas, dried yellow peas, chickpeas (chhole), black chickpeas (kala chana) and fresh peas. I have made it with dried green peas. Feel free to use any other type of peas but bear in mind that the soaking and cooking time for each of the above is different.

To print the recipe, click ghugni.

Ingredients for cooking the ghugni:

Dried Green Peas: 1 Cup
Red Onions: 1 large or 1 ½ medium sized, finely chopped. (about 1 ½ cups chopped onions)
Cinnamon stick (dalchini): a thin 2” stick
Dried Bay leaves (tejpatta): 2 small
Cooking oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Ginger paste: 1 tsp
Garlic paste: 1 tsp
Tamarind pulp: roughly equivalent to 1 tbsp dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water.
Garam Masala Powder: 1/4 tsp
Salt: to taste
Hot water: 2 cups for soaking the dried peas. More water may be needed depending on the consistency of your ghugni.

In a small bowl, make a spice paste with the following and keep aside:
Turmeric powder: ¼ tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Red Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing :

Red Onion: 1 small-medium sized, finely chopped
Coriander leaves: a bunch, finely chopped
Green chilies: 6, finely chopped
Black salt – to taste (optional)
Chaat Masala – can be bought from any Indian store
Roasted and powdered Cumin Powder (In a pan, on slow heat, dry roast cumin seeds until they become darker. Let it cool. Dry grind it to a powder. I usually make more (about 1/2 cup) and store it for future use).
Roasted and powdered Dry red Chilli (In a pan, on slow heat, dry roast about 10-15 dry red chillies until they turn dark and before they start to burn. Let it cool. Dry grind or pound to make chilli flakes or coarsely grounded red chilli powder. Again, this can be stored for future use).

How I did it:

  1. Wash the dried peas in tap water. Soak them in enough hot water to cover the dried peas. Cover and set aside. At the end of 2 hours, you will notice that the peas swell up in size.
  2. Boil the soaked peas in a pressure cooker with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt for 10 mins. Check if peas are done and boil uncovered, if needed. They should be soft but not mushy.
  3. In a kadhai or pan, heat the oil. Once hot, add the bay leaves and cinnamon stick. Fry for about 30 seconds when the aroma starts to come out
  4. Next add the chopped onions and 1/4 tsp of salt. Fry on medium-high heat until the onions are golden brownish. Keep stirring in between to make sure it does not burn. This may take 6-8 minutes.
  5. Add the ginger and garlic paste. Continue to fry for another minute.
  6. Add the spice paste made above (turmeric, chilli powder and cumin powder in water). Fry for another minute.
  7. Add the boiled peas along with the water left over from boiling into the cooking pot or kadhai. Using a strainer, strain the tamarind juice adding the juice and excluding any seeds or fibres. Rub the tamarind with your fingers to make sure you extract any left over pulp. Stir and check for salt, tangy and spicy flavors. Adjust to suit your liking.
  8. Boil on low heat, covered, for about 7-8 minutes or until the flavors have combined.
  9. Sprinkle garam masala powder and check for salt and spice. Adjust if needed. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the ghugni is done.

To serve:

Take about ¾ cup of hot ghugni in each serving bowl. Sprinkle about 1 tbsp of chopped onions, ¼ tsp green chillies and 1 tsp of chopped coriander leaves. Sprinkle a pinch each of black salt, roasted cumin powder and chaat masala. And it’s ready to eat.

The quantities mentioned in the serving suggestion above are just to give you a rough idea. The beauty of this snack is that you are able to adjust each ingredient to your liking.

Finish the ghugni experience with a hot cup of tea.

Notes:

  • The garnish is a very important part of this snack. So, do not skip or ignore any of the ingredients.
  • Dried Green peas cook very fast once they have been soaked. Do not pressure cook them for more than 10 minutes. Else, they may become really mushy! You can always boil them more later once you have checked.
  • The peas should be soft without losing it’s shape. It should not disintegrate. If you have soaked them for longer than 2 hours in hot water or for more than 4 hours in normal water, boil them for a shorter period in a pressure cooker or boil them in a pan instead of a pressure cooker to make sure it doesn’t get overcooked.
  • If you do not serve it immediately after cooking, you may need to add some hot water and give it a boil before serving to make sure the ghugni is not dry. The peas tend to absorb the curry when left for some time so you may need to add more water just before serving. Check for salt if you have added more water.
  • If you need to add more water once the ghugni is cooked, use hot water to speed up the cooking process.
  • Optional: Green chutney serves as an additional garnish on this dish!
  • Some people like to have it with a bit of yogurt or add tamarind chutney on top.

Sunday morning at Bedok Reservoir Park

It was a bright Sunday morning in the middle of May. We were deciding on the route for our morning walk ritual. The next thing I knew, we were on the way to Bedok Reservoir Park, a beautiful lush green park around a reservoir in the east part of Singapore. I had been there a couple of times before, usually too late in the evening or without my camera or both.

Fortunately, I had my camera this time. Now the choice was to go for a brisk walk of 4.5 kms or a stroll with my camera covering the same distance. Without a second thought, I chose the latter.

We ended up calling the rest of the family to the park and had a little picnic. To know more about Bedok Reservoir Park and the activities offered there, click here.

Later, we walked down to Wawawa, Bistro by the Reservoir for some Coffee. We had some snacks there though not enough to write about it. The food they serve is greatly influenced by German cooking. You can find out more about them at http://www.wawawa.com.sg

P.S: The morning walk ritual lasted all of May and quietly departed from our lives ever since. I secretly hope that this post will help me make an effort to revive it and bring it back to life in some form or the other.


Tai Chi in the Park


Contemplating..


Dragon Boats waiting


Water skier


Wawawa, Bistro by the Reservoir

Teesi – Indian Spiced Flax seeds Powder

Summer. A season not many appreciate or look forward to. Especially if it is anything like the summer one experiences in many parts of India. I, on the other hand, have a different story to tell.

For as far back as I can remember, I always looked forward to summer. The heat didn’t dampen my spirits. The train journey to my grandparents home, the love of mangoes and lychees, the day and night fun with cousins, the self-declared little or no studying just made it my favorite season of the year!

Every summer vacation started with a long train journey to visit my grandparents. A journey where getting the window seat was of utmost importance, almost like my life in the next 24 hours depended on it. Well, it almost was. With a constant gaze outside the window at surroundings that kept changing every kilometer or less, I soaked in the countryside of India. A journey where I could peek into the daily lives of many, often left wondering what their story was… Where little children played fearlessly beside the train tracks.. Where hawkers that came every few minutes made the journey seem worthwhile.

Mom always prepared meals for the train, so we never got to eat the meals sold onboard. I wasn’t too happy about it then. It was not until recently that I ate the meals served on the train. The verdict: A deep appreciation of my Mom’s efforts in preparing food for the entire family!

Summer vacation was synonymous to abundance of mangoes followed by lychees, all from my grandparents’ orchard. We would get boxes (or petis as they are called in the local dialect) of mangoes and lychees as they came in season – sheer bliss!

Apart from the freshest seasonal produce, we were privileged to have some of the best home cooked meals. My grandmother (or Mai as we called her) was one of the best cooks I have ever known. Her cooking philosophy involved using different types of spices but in the right balance. Every spice in her spice box came with a purpose and it was through the magic in her fingers that she would use them in the right place and the right proportion to transform something extremely simple to exemplary.

One of my favorite things that Mai prepared was “Teesi”. Teesi is traditionally had in Bihar. It is prepared by dry-roasting brown flax seeds together with some spices and stored as a powder. It is usually prepared and stored in airtight bottles to prevent moisture from coming in. We always packed Teesi on the way back home and enjoyed it for the next 2-3 months.


Indian Spiced Flaxseed Powder or Teesi
:

To Print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Flax seeds: 1 cup
Dried bay leaves: 3 small
Dry red chillies: 4 (Use more if you like)
Coriander seeds: 2 tablespoons
Salt: 1/3 tsp (adjust to taste)

How I Did it:

Heat a pan. On slow heat, Dry roast each of the ingredients above (except salt) separately. The ingredients should be roasted separately as the roasting time for each ingredient varies. In order to avoid any burning, make sure you stir continuously during the roasting process.

Flax seeds when done start to sputter. Be careful and make sure the heat is slow and the flax seeds don’t get burnt.

Once all the ingredients are roasted, allow them to cool.

When the ingredients have cooled off, combine all the ingredients together with the salt and dry grind it to a coarse powder using the dry grinder / miller attachment of your food processor.

Store in an air tight jar at room temperature. Teesi is usually had as a condiment with your regular meal or added to natural yoghurt (dahi) to make it more flavorful. You can simply add it to your regular Dal and Rice for adding flavor to an otherwise regular meal. The usual serving of Teesi is about 2 tablespoons. Having said that, food is a personal experience and has to be had in the way that one enjoys it. So, go on and enjoy this simple, healthy and flavorful condiment in the way you like it.

Happy Mother’s Day and Seabass Curry with Mustard and Tomatoes

Family reunions are a very special event and one that I always look forward to. And when we reunite, a sense of dé·jà vu sets in. No matter how old I grow, I become that little girl that my parents nurtured. I feel like I am ready to take on the world and pursue my dreams, knowing that if something goes wrong, I will always have their unconditional love and support to get me through it all.

That is perhaps the reason why the most secure place in this world is still in that warm and affectionate embrace of my Mother.

Many a times we have disagreed and quite vocally so.
She is a bad listener, I often complain.
Yet, she is my best friend. A soul mate.
She hears without listening. She speaks without speaking.
Her eyes tell a story. The story of her life.
A life of sacrifice. A life of giving.
A strong woman in the inside and so fragile outside.

I can never forget an incident from the time I was thirteen.

I waited outside my school for hours but Ma didn’t show up. Upset and angry, I mentally rehearsed the conversation I planned on having with her when we meet. Instead, my Uncle appeared. We were headed in a different direction. When I enquired about Ma, he quietly whispered ‘She is in the hospital’. My heart sank.

She had met with a very serious accident. The image of her lying on the hospital bed with one leg completely covered in plaster and tubes all around her haunts me to this day. She was in immense pain. She looked at me and all she said was “Don’t cry, I am fine. Remember to have your dinner. I will be home in 3 days.”

At one point, the doctors wanted to amputate her legs. She refused. She demanded to be transferred to another hospital. Thanks to the doctors, her will power and fighting spirit, she averted the amputation. For her family. And most importantly, for her children.

After a painful 3 months in the hospital, she finally returned home.

Like a baby, she had to learn to stand and walk all over again. At times she would break down saying she will never be able to stand on her feet. And the next moment, she would get up fumbling but trying harder than ever before.

Many months later, she walked. Slowly but surely. And she hasn’t stopped since.

It’s Mother’s day on the 13th of May. I dedicate this post to my Mom, who means the world to me and my family.

Today’s recipe is a family fish curry which was handed down from my grand-ma but every woman in our family has her own version of it. This is my Mom’s.

Seabass Curry with Mustard and Tomatoes

Serves: 6-8 (depending on your appetite 😉

To print the recipe, click here.

For frying the Fish:
Seabass: 1 kg cut in slices (Traditionally, Rohu is used to make this curry). I had about 8 pieces excluding the fish head. head. (Alternatively, you could use Rohu)
Mustard powder: 2 tablespoons
Garlic paste: 1 1/2 tsp
Turmeric: ½ tsp
Whole wheat flour (aata): 1 ½ tbsp
Salt: to taste
Mustard oil: 2 tbsp, for frying

For the curry:
Black mustard seeds (rai): ½ tsp
Dry red chillies: 2
Tomatoes: 1 big, ground to a paste. ½ a tomato chopped finely.
Garlic Paste: 1 ½ tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Red Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Mustard powder: 4 tbsp
Chopped tomato: 1 small
Green chillies: 2
Warm Water: 3 1/2 cups
Salt

1.     Take ¼ cup warm water to mix together 6 tbsp of mustard powder (2 for frying the fish and 4 for the curry). Leave aside for 5 mins.
2.     Rub 1/3 of this mustard paste along with garlic paste, turmeric, flour and salt (see ingredients under ‘for frying the fish’. Let it rest for 15 mins.
3.     Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a flat nonstick frying pan. Once the oil starts smoking, remove from heat. Let it cool for 30 seconds. Then add the fish pieces frying it on medium heat until it turns slightly brownish. The fish pieces will also cook in the curry later so do not overcook the fish.

4.     In a non-stick kadhai / deep bottomed pan, add 1 tbsp mustard oil. Once the oil starts smoking, let it cool off a bit before adding the black mustard seeds (rai) and the dry red chillies. (Note: I added the dry red chillies but took it out once it was done before moving to the next step as I was also making it for my little one. If not, leave the dry red chillies in and continue to the next step).
5.     Add garlic paste. Fry for a minute on low heat.
6.     Add tomato paste, turmeric, red chilli powder and salt. Fry on low-medium heat until the tomatoes are fully cooked and form one mass. (about 7-8 mins).
7.     Add the remaining mustard paste. Cook for about 2 mins. Do not overcook the mustard as it can turn bitter.
8.     Add 3 ½ cups of warm water. Bring it to a boil. Let the curry boil on low-medium heat, covered, for another 7-8 mins. Adjust salt if necessary.
9.     Gently slide in the fish pieces and the chopped tomatoes into the curry from the sides. The curry is supposed to be of thin consistency. Adjust water to your liking but always add hot water to make sure the cooking process doesn’t slow down.

10.  Continue cooking uncovered on low heat for 5 mins before turning it off. (I added the dry roasted red chillies at this point).
11.  Let it rest for about 10 mins before serving. This step will make sure that the fish pieces absorb the curry.
12.  Garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Notes:

  • I cooked this with ‘Sunrise’ mustard powder. It is quick and hassle free. The only downside is that it isn’t so easily available. I usually stock it up when I go back home. You can use other commercially available Mustard powders. If you have a powerful grinder, you can use that to make fresh mustard paste. Soak 3 tablespoon of yellow mustard seeds + 3 tablespoons of black mustard seeds for 30 mins in warm water. Add the mustard seeds, 2 green chillies and salt and grind to a paste.  Do not grind for too long as it can make the mustard paste bitter.
  • Back home, this is usually made with Rohu. I prefer to make this curry with Seabass as fresh Seabass is easily available here. It has less bones and tastes great!

Liebster Blog Award

A family reunion and my first Blog Award – that’s how May kicked off for me:)

I came across Steaming Pot, some weeks ago. And I have been a regular on her blog since my first visit. Her recipes are simple, unpretentious and connect me to my roots. A blog tells a lot about its author. It is like visiting someone’s home. This is one space where I felt at home, almost instantly. Thank you very much Steaming Pot for honoring me with the Liebster Blog award 🙂

With recognition comes responsibility. I am now tasked to select 5 blogs to pass on this award. The rules are:

  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  • Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  • Give your top 5 picks for the award.
  • Inform your top 5 by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Post the award on your blog.

Liebster means beautiful in German. I understand that the Liebster Blog Award is meant to showcase blogs with relatively smaller readership as of now. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs over the past few months and more so over the past week. It is amazing to see such beautiful and creative work by so many bloggers.

In random order, my top 5 picks are:

1) Naughty Curry : A new and wonderful discovery. Check out this space for recipes, travel and restaurant reviews.
2) A wandering ladle : Another wonderful discovery with beautiful food photos and styling.
3) the food dept : A new blog with the perfect mix of delectable recipes, food photography and styling. The specialized team behind this blog is doing such a brilliant job!
4) Cook Like Mom : A collection of delectable recipes with Mom’s tips included.
5) A leaf in Spring time : A beautiful blog by a beautiful person. Her space is full of calming thoughts.

Thank you once again Steaming Pot and Congratulations to all of you!:)

Cheers!

Spiced Yogurt with Eggplants [Baingan ka Raita]

Regional and authentic cuisine has been a subject of interest amongst historians and foodies alike. As much as I appreciate and treasure a traditional dish for it’s originality and authentic flavors, the next generation and perhaps, to some extent, many of us have contributed in blurring the lines between authentic and fusion food.

Having been exposed to various cultures, the food that we eat or cook today at home is influenced by these cultural differences. Over a period of time, these regional recipes have become internalized by families who have adopted it and in due course given it a place in their “family recipe book”. The other effect that is a result of this migration process is a certain loss of identity of the original recipe, other than those documented by historians or food enthusiasts.

The migration of food is not a new phenomenon by any means. However, as the world becomes smaller, recipes are now only about two-clicks away. The evolution and migration of recipes seems much more fast-paced than ever before. A traditional dish from Peru if made with ingredients which are easily available, would very likely make its way to the kitchen of a family living in a remote town in India. In all likelihood, they would have improvised an Indian version of that dish and perhaps that would be a favorite of the youngest member of the family !

Today’s recipe goes back to my roots and has a nostalgic feel to it. A simple yet delectable dish made mostly in this form in Odisha (Orissa) and Bihar : Spiced Yogurt with eggplants or Baingan ka Raita. Having grown up under the influence of both Oriya and Bihari cuisine, Baingan Raita was made at home often and has been one of my favorite ways of having yogurt.

A Raita [pronounced rahy-tuh] is a condiment made with Yogurt as the base with spices and some vegetables. It’s made all over the Indian sub-continent in many different combinations but most commonly with onions, tomatoes and/or cucumbers.

To print the recipe, click here.

Baingan ka Raita (Spiced Yogurt with Eggplants / Brinjals) :

Serves : 3

Ingredients for preparing the Eggplants :
Eggplants (Brinjals) : 1 long, cut into thick rounds and then quartered)
Turmeric: 1/4 tsp
Salt: 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves : about 10
Black mustard seeds : 1/2 tsp
Asofetida (hing) : a pinch
Dry red chillies : 2 (torn in halves)

Ingredients for preparing the Raita :
Natural unsweetened Yogurt (Home made Curd / Dahi) : 1 cup
Low fat Milk (cold or at room temperature) : 1/3 cup
Roasted Cumin powder : 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder : a pinch
Salt : 1/4 tsp (adjust to taste)
Black salt (kala namak) : a pinch (optional)

How I did it :

Wash the eggplants thoroughly. Add turmeric and 1/4 tsp salt and leave aside for 5 mins.
In a Kadhai or frying pan, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add hing, mustard seeds and dry red chillies. Wait till mustard seeds pop. Next, add curry leaves. Stir for about 10 seconds and add the Eggplants.

Cook uncovered on medium-low heat until the skin is roasted and the eggplants are cooked but not mushy or breaking. Once done, take it out in a serving bowl and let it cool (5 – 10 mins).

In a bowl, whisk the yogurt using an egg whisker or spoon into a creamy smooth consistency. Add the milk. Mix it together.

Add roasted Cumin powder, Chilli powder, salt (1/4 tsp) as well as Black salt. Mix it into the yogurt.

Once the fried eggplants have cooled off, pour the yogurt mix into the serving bowl. Combine everything together using a spoon (without mashing the eggplants).

Let it chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 mins (or more) before serving.

Enjoy as a side with any meal.

Maithan : the birth of Laksa leaves Pakoras with Spicy Coriander and Mint Chutney

A trip back home is synonymous to meeting relatives and a gastronomical treat that is limited only by your own will power. Our last trip home was essentially that.

While in Kolkata, we spent a weekend at Maithan (or Maithon). With an open mind and no expectations, we set out on a train journey to Kumardhobi, followed by a 25-minutes autorickshaw ride to Maithan. The first half of the auto ride was bumpy and gave you a quick glimpse of rural India.  It transformed almost seamlessly into one of the finer roads in India. Soon, we were on the Damodar Valley Dam which is built on the Barakar river, a tributary of the Damodar river.

We stayed in ‘Mazumdar Niwas’ a guest house for DVC (Damodar Valley Corp.) guests. The guest house is in a small island in the lake which is formed as a result of the dam. A short walkway connects the guest house to the mainland. The view from the guest house is nothing less than spectacular and undoubtedly the best in Maithan.

Maithan means (Mai-Than or Ma ka Than or Mother’s abode). It is in Jharkhand and borders West Bengal. It’s a very popular picnic spot for people living in nearby areas. One can spot them from a distance as you see and hear bus loads of people and blaring music from time to time. Unfortunately, the wastes that are left behind after these picnics, ruin the otherwise beautiful neighborhood. For more information on Maithan, you can visit here or here.

Maithan is a very small place and a weekend is sufficient to do any sight seeing here. I highly recommend a 2-hour boat ride in the lake. The best time to go is around 3pm in order to witness the brilliant colors of the sky as the sun sets over the lake.

Our daily meals were very simple, mostly at the guest house or at a nearby hotel. There isn’t much to mention in that respect, except of course, one place: the inspiration behind today’s post.

The pakoras or fritters (more about Pakora here) made by a small family-run shop, located at the main entrance of Mazumdar Niwas are simply sensational ! The place is run by a very humble gentleman, Mr. Chitto Ranjan Debnath, together with his wife and their son. You will find a variety of pakoras made with onions, cottage cheese and potatoes, amongst other things. I fell in love with these pakoras at the first bite – perfectly soft in the inside and crisp on the outside. Mrs. Debnath kneads the dough with her magical fingers and Mr. Debnath fries them into a golden crisp texture – creating something totally extraordinary! Their warm hospitality only contributes to making this experience a memorable one.

I was so inspired by it that ever since that trip, I have tried to make pakoras in many different ways at home. Of course, to have the best, you need to visit Mr. Debnath’s shop in Maithan 🙂

Pakoras with a unique blend of Indian and South-East Asian flavors – Pakoras flavored with laksa leaves (Daun Laksa or Rau Ram or Polygonum Odoratum).

Laksa leaves are used as garnish for Laksa, a very popular Singapore noodles. These herbs are also eaten fresh in some Vietnamese and Thai salads and used to flavour soups and stir fries. Laksa leaves have a penetrating smell with a citrus note and a refreshing, hot, biting, peppery after taste. In my opinion, fresh laksa leaves have an uncanny similarity in taste to Paan or betel leaves.

Laksa leaves and Spinach Pakoras Recipe:

Though the Debnath family shop served it with a garlic chutney, I enjoy these pakoras with a spicy Coriander & Mint chutney.

To print the Pakora recipe, click here.

Makes about 40 bite-sized pakoras.

Ingredients:

Besan (Gram flour): ¾ cup
Baking powder: 1/8th tsp
Turmeric: ¼ tsp
Chilli powder: ¼ tsp
Salt: ½ tsp regular salt
Black Salt: ¼ tsp
Aamchoor powder (Dried Mango Powder): 1 tsp (Available in Asian/Indian stores)
Water: 2 tbsp
Onion: 1 ½ medium sized, thinly sliced
Ginger: 2 tsp, grated
Garlic: 1 clove grated (equivalent to 1 tsp of grated garlic)
Green chillies: 2-3 finely chopped
Spinach leaves: 1 cup, finely shredded
Fresh Laksa Leaves: ½ cup, finely shredded
Mustard Oil: 1 tbsp for mixing with the batter
Regular oil for deep frying
Chat Masala for sprinkling once the pakoras are fried – a pinch for every batch of 10-15 pakoras (optional)

How I did it:

  • Sieve Besan and Baking powder together.
  • Add all the ingredients in a bowl except the oil for frying and chat masala.
  • Combine all the ingredients together using your fingers. The batter should be sticky enough so that it does not crumble while deep frying later.
  • Let the mixture sit for 15 mins to let the baking powder do it’s job.
  • Heat sufficient oil in a deep wok or kadhai.  Check if the oil is hot by dropping 1 tsp of the batter in the hot oil. If the batter starts sizzling instantly, the oil is hot and ready. Taste it to make sure the seasoning is adequate and per your liking.
  • Use approximately 1 tsp of batter to make the pakoras. Make them in batches of 10 or more depending on the size of the wok / kadhai used.

  • You can either use 2 tsps to give the batter a round shape or the tip of your fingers to drop the pakoras in the hot oil.  The point to remember is each pakora will use roughly 1 tsp of batter.
  • Fry on medium-low heat taking care that the batter is reddish brown but not burnt. Sprinkle a pinch of chat masala over a batch of 10-15 pakoras. (I forgot to do it) Serve immediately.
  • Best enjoyed on a rainy afternoon.. With coriander and mint chutney and a hot cup of tea.

Variations: You can also make these pakoras by omitting the laksa leaves, if you can’t find them and increase the shredded spinach to 1 ½ cups.

Alternatively, omit the Spinach completely by increasing the proportion of onions (use 2 medium sized) with the same proportion of Laksa leaves

Coriander and Mint Chutney Recipe:

To print this recipe, click here.

Makes 3/4 cup Chutney

Ingredients:

For blending:
Fresh Coriander: 1 and ½ cup of roughly chopped coriander leaves. Remove roots and stem.
Mint leaves: 1/2 cup. Pluck mint leaves from the stem. Discard stalk. Use the leaves only.
Ginger: 1” pc
Garlic: 1 clove
Green chillies: 2-3
Mustard oil: 1 ½ tbsp
Water: 2 tbsp

For seasoning:
Salt: ½ tsp
Black salt: ¼ tsp
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp

How I did it:

  • Blend all the ingredients listed above under heading “For blending” until a thick and uniform paste is formed.
  • Take it out in a bowl and add the “for seasoning” ingredients listed above.
  • Combine thoroughly with a spoon.
  • Check for salt / sour taste and adjust as per your liking.

This chutney tastes best when fresh or a maximum of 2-3 days. Make in small batches to always enjoy this chutney at it’s best.