Spiced Raw Banana or Plantain Kofta | ..and a cup of joy!

Hello World!

Last week, my post on Avocado Chutney got Freshly Pressed! I was overjoyed and anxious, all at the same time. For all of you who visited this space and liked what they read, a BIG Thank You and a warm welcome!:-)

Starbucks: a cup of joy & a hint of guilt

I am not employed by Starbucks nor related to them in any form, living or dead. These are the personal views of someone who has spent a lot of guilt $ here over the past decade.

I know there are lots of people out there who’ll probably stop reading this post right about now as they are about to realize: I  ♥ my latte! What’s the fuss about anyway? Could it be that extra buck I spend here vs. the not-so-glitzy local café? Or is it that bright smile from the lady over the counter at 9 am, when you wish you were in your pajamas snoozing but you’ve just about managed to drag yourself to work? Or that extra attention you get when they know exactly what you want from a mile away?  Perhaps, the warm and earthy ambiance draws me to itself, giving me a dreamy sense of ‘coffee in the woods’. Or their effort to more than make up for something they’ve grossly messed up! I don’t have the answer, but there’s something about that cozy space which gives me a cup of joy!

I am not all that naive. I do a reality check every now and then. The verdict is out. One latte a week. Two, if I’ve done a good deed during the week.

But, how do I avoid the other twenty seven times I see the twin-tailed mermaid looking back at me? Inviting me for my cup of joy? I am determined. But, as days go by, my determination fades. I miss the Siren and the warmth and joy she brings…

I give in.

And history repeats itself… 🙂

Today’s recipe is a traditional recipe made in many homes across India – mainly in the states of Bihar, Orissa and West Bengal. I have made a couple of versions of this curry at home but this is my favorite! Raw Bananas / Plantains are boiled, mixed with spices, and made into table-tennis ball like shapes which are then deep-fried (known as kofta). Alternatively, they can be made into patties for a less-oil version. The curry is made with a combination of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic and dry spices together with almond paste for a subtle sweetness. The koftas are then soaked in the curry and with a little garnish, this dish is all yours to enjoy.

Raw Bananas and Plantains are used interchangeably by many. Both belong to the Banana family, though plantains are generally tougher and therefore take a little longer (up to 10 mins extra) to boil. I have used both and both work just fine.

Spiced Raw Banana Kofta (Kache Kele ka Kofta / Kachkolar Kofta):

For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click  here.

There are 3 steps to this recipe –:

I – Raw Banana / Plantain balls (koftas) OR raw banana patties/tikkis – The choice is YOURS!
II – Preparing the Curry
III – Serving this dish

Serves: 4
(Makes about 10-12 koftas/tikkis/patties)

Step I – Raw Banana / Plantain Koftas / Patties:

Ingredients:

(Makes 10-12 pcs)

Raw banana or Plantain – 2 pcs
Potato – 1 small-medium sized
Onion: 3/4 cup, finely chopped
Ginger: Grated 1 tbsp
Green chillies: 2 – chopped fine (adjust to your own spice tolerance level)
Chilli powder: 1/4 tsp
Turmeric powder : 1/2 tsp
Aamchoor powder: 1 tsp (available in Indian stores)
Coriander powder: ½ tsp
Cumin powder: ½ tsp
Salt: to taste
Regular cooking oil: for deep frying koftas (a lot!) OR pan-frying patties/tikkis (2-3 tblsp in a non-stick pan)

How I did it:

  • Cut each raw banana or plantain into 3 pcs – roughly 1.5″ – 2″ per pc, with the skin intact. Throw away the edges.
  • Boil the raw bananas in a pot of water, almost covered with water. Add 1/4 tsp turmeric while boiling. Cover and let it boil on low-medium heat until done. Boil for approximately 25 mins and check. Pierce with a fork to check if it has softened. When it’s done, the fork should go through easily.

Plantain usually takes about 35-40 mins to boil as they are tougher whereas medium sized raw bananas should be done in 30 mins. They should be cooked soft but not mushy / overcooked.

  • When done, run it through tap water so that it cools down. Remove skin. It should come off very easily.
  • Meanwhile, boil 1 potato. Peel and keep it aside.
  • In a deep bowl, mash the raw bananas using your fingers or a spoon. Add the boiled potato and mash it too. Ensure it is mashed well.
  • Add all the remaining ingredients and combine together.

I love this dish and can’t wait for an occasion to have it! At the same time, the koftas are traditionally deep fried and that doesn’t suit my every day cooking. So, I make patties when I have it for regular meals. On special occasions, I make the deep fried koftas.

For Koftas:

  • To make the koftas, take table tennis ball sized portions of the above mixture in your palm. Give it an even round shape. Depending on the size of the bananas / plantains used, you can easily come up with 10-12 pcs.
  • Next, heat sufficient oil in a deep dish or kadhai to deep-fry the koftas.

Make sure the oil is hot before you start frying. You may need to heat the oil on medium heat for up to 2 mins. Put only 1 pc at first to make sure the koftas don’t break while frying. If you feel that the banana mixture is too mushy, you can add 1-2 tbsp of besan (chickpea flour) in the mixture to bind it. To avoid the koftas from sticking to one another, space out putting the koftas by 30 seconds so that they are a little fried before the next one comes in. Do not overcrowd the kadhai / frying pan.

For Patties (Tikkis):

  • To make raw banana patties, take the same portion of the banana mixture as for the kofta (a table tennis ball size). Make a nice round at first and flatten it. Use your palm and fingers to give it an even patty-like shape.
  • In a non-stick pan, heat 2-3 tblsp of oil. Add the patties and let it cook on low heat until cooked. Turn over to make sure it is cooked / browned on both sides

This can also be served as an appetizer along with some coriander & mint chutney. I’ll leave the chutney recipe for another day.

Step II – Preparing the Curry:

Ingredients:

Cinnamon : 1 thin stick
Bay leaves: 2 small
Cardamom: 2-3 (pods only)
Whole black pepper: 6
Any cooking oil: 2 tblsp
Almonds: 7-8 pcs soaked for at least 10 mins in hot water. Remove skin. Add a little bit of water to grind to a thick but smooth paste.
Onion: 1 cup – Finely  chopped (1 medium sized)
Ginger paste: 1 tblsp
Garlic paste: 1 tblsp
Tomatoes: 1 medium sized – Ground to a paste.
Green chillies – 2 whole (optional)
Salt: to taste

In a bowl, make a thick paste of the following dry spices by adding very little water:
Coriander powder: ½ tsp
Cumin powder: 1/2 tsp
Turmeric powder: 1/4 tsp
Chilli powder (optional): 1/4 tsp

How I did it :

  • Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan/kadhai. Add cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamom pods and whole black pepper. Fry for about 30-40 secs on low heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Add chopped onions. Fry on low-medium heat until brownish.
  • Add ginger and garlic paste. Fry for another 1-2 mins, until combined well. If it starts to stick on the bottom, sprinkle a little bit of water and scrape it off, blending it into the masala.
  • Add the thick spice paste prepared with coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric & chilli. Continue frying for another 2 mins.
  • Add the tomato paste and salt. Fry until the tomatoes are fully cooked and the masala becomes a lumpy mass, darker in color than how it started. It should also look glossy as the oil starts to surface on the masala. (approx 12 mins on low heat).
  • Add the almond paste and continue for another 5 mins. The almond paste should have combined well with the rest of the masalas and the favors integrated well to make our curry.
  • Once you have achieved that, add about 400 ml of water (preferably, boiling water as it speeds up the cooking process). Once the curry starts boiling, cover and let it boil on low-medium heat for another 10 mins, stirring occasionally. Check for salt and spices. At this point, you can add the whole green chillies, if you wish. The curry should be thicker in consistency at the end of this process.
  • Turn off the heat.

Step III – Serving this dish:

Ingredients for Garnishing:

Red chillies: 1. Remove seeds and cut in thin strips
Fresh cream: 2-3 tsp
OR
Coriander leaves chopped: a handful

How I did it:

    • Start preparing to serve this dish about 10-15 mins prior to actual serving. Use a serving dish that is flat so that the koftas can be placed without overcrowding.
    • In the serving dish, place the koftas/tikkis/patties.
    • Heat the curry prepared above to make sure it is piping hot! Turn off the heat.
    • Pour the hot curry over the kofta. Be careful not to spill over as the curry should be very hot at this point. Make sure that the koftas are almost submerged in the curry. Let the koftas soak for at least 10-15 mins, covered.
    • If you find the dish is not warm enough when you are ready to eat, microwave it for 1-2 mins immediately after soaking.
    • Once the soaking is complete, garnish with fresh cream and thin strips of de-seeded red chillies. Alternatively, you could garnish with chopped coriander leaves.
    • Enjoy the koftas with steamed rice.

Too little soaking and the curry doesn’t go inside the koftas. Too much soaking and you’ll have very crumbly koftas. Therefore, the process of serving this dish is very important to make sure you serve the the koftas that you’ve worked so hard to make!

If the bananas were boiled nice and soft, soak them for 10 mins before serving. If bananas feel hard after you’ve mashed and made your koftas, soak for up to 20 mins before serving.

Spicy Tofu / Paneer cubes with lime leaves (Tahu Goreng)

What I needed:

Garlic – few pods
Change of clothes – 1
Shower essentials (tap, soap, etc.)
A small stool
Mop – 1
Patience – in abundance

You may or may not need the above items – I did.

While I was preparing this dish, I had my 2 and a ½ year old inquisitive son (V) on my case. He seems to have already developed a strange affinity for the kitchen. He already narrates & demonstrates his own recipes and all of them end up seasoned with salt and pepper:)

At first, I struggled to find the right spot to photograph my ingredients. Just when I thought I sorted that one out, V dashed in super excited looking at all the food and equipment and wanted to help (they always want to help!). He was tasked to peel garlic. Instantly, he loved the task he was assigned. He felt like a grown up. He was proud to help me as if I had bestowed upon him, the biggest responsibility of his lifetime. He got on with the task which meant, I got on with mine. To my surprise, he did a pretty neat job with the garlic!

I made some progress with the tofu dish. I was satisfied.

If only, 2 and half year olds could sustain their happiness by peeling garlic! My happiness was short-lived. When we started cooking, little did I know that I was just going to witness a tantrum that will become worthy of an honorable post on my blog.

I washed my hands to start cooking. V saw me. Of course, he wanted to do it too! Under normal circumstances, I would carry him to ‘make him taller’ and let him wash his hands by himself. I really wanted to get on with the cooking, so I put a stool for him to stand on and wash his own hands with the expectation that he would be engaged in his own little venture for some time. Ten minutes later, he still wanted to wash his hands! I explained that we should not waste water (logic usually works!). I attempted to distract him. I tried to entice him with his bath toys and all the fun he could possibly have in the bath. Nothing worked! He was focused. Like most kids his age, he knew what he wanted! What followed was a 1-hour episode that resulted in leaking underpants and a pee trail that went from the living room to the bedroom. Thankfully, the kitchen was spared.

In the end, I lifted him up and took him to the shower. I thought that could help because honestly, nothing was helping. Instead, he got more agitated. His tantrums peaked. He was uncontrollable. I reminded myself constantly of that one single virtue every parent should have, patience.

I poured water on his head against his will in the hope that it will cool him down. Suddenly, there was silence as the water splashed on his head, straightening his hair, running through his eyes and face. He looked calm and he was not crying. What seemed like a never-ending ordeal had finally come to an end.

I could finally get back to making and clicking my Spicy Tofu cubes.

Our helper, D, makes this Indonesian/Malay recipe. This is my version of it. D usually deep fries the tofu and I have a natural aversion for anything deep fried in my regular cooking. In addition, it makes the tofu cubes lose all the moisture from inside. So, my version has stir fried Tofu / Paneer.

To print this recipe, click here.

(Serves 3 to 4)

Ingredients:

Firm Tofu: 250 gms
(Alternatively, you could use Paneer and follow the same recipe. I make it interchangeably and it works just fine).
Dried red chillies: 20 – 25 depending on the size of the chillies
Garlic: 3 pods
Galangal (or Thai Ginger): ½ inch pc
Kaffir lime leaves: 6, torn
Long / String beans: 6 cut into 2” long pcs
Sugar: ½ tsp
Salt: to taste
Oil: 3 tbsp

How I did it:

Cut the dried red chillies into 2. Shake it off so that the seeds come out. Throw the seeds away. Add hot water enough to soak the red chillies and microwave it for 15 seconds. You can also soak it in hot water for 10 minutes. This will soften the dried red chillies. Now wash the chillies under running water gently rubbing it and removing any seeds you can. This step is important to ensure that the chilli paste does not become overly spicy.

There are many varieties of Tofu available in the market. Use the “firm” tofu to make this dish. If you use tofu that is soft or silk tofu, the tofu will crumble. If you do not have tofu and assuming you have paneer (or Indian home made cheese), use that instead. Cut the tofu / paneer into 1” cubes. Rub some salt on this Tofu and keep aside.

Pound garlic using a mortar and pestle.

Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a non-stick pan. Add the tofu cubes and lightly fry it until gets a light brownish color. Keep aside.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the pound garlic. Stir fry for 30 seconds on low heat. Add the sliced onions and sugar. Soften the onions on medium heat stirring frequently (approx. 5 mins). Add the chilli paste (about 3 tbsp) and salt. Cook the chilli paste on slow heat until the oil separates. This may take up to 10 mins. Once done, add the Galangal to this mix. Stir for another 2 mins.

Add 1/3 cup water to moisten this paste. Next, add the long beans and cook it on medium heat stirring occasionally. If it is dry, add some more water (3 – 4 tbsp). Remember that the long beans should be crunchy and not overcooked.

Now add the pan fried tofu / paneer cubes along with the torn kaffir lime leaves.

Combine everything together to ensure that the tofu / paneer is uniformly coated with the chilli paste. Stir for another 5 minutes on low heat.

Serve with rice. As this dish is high on heat, I prefer to have something cooling along with it like mix vegetable clear soup and an everyday cucumber/tomato light salad.

Destination: Bangkok [Vegetarian Thai fried rice or Khao Pad Chae]

August 1996, New Delhi.

I had left Delhi under very chaotic circumstances. No, Delhi did not get more chaotic, but my life on that day most certainly was! The courier company had screwed up my package with the air tickets. Apparently, they had sent it to Bombay! My dad was in Bangkok at that time and I was to fly to Bangkok at midnight. I could see the world conspiring against me.. It would be meaningless to take the next flight as I was flying just a day before my Uni entrance exams. I retired into my room after a very stressful day of angry phone calls and a never ending wait…

Bang! Bang! Bang!

I woke up rubbing my eyes.. Some one was banging on the door! It’s only 10:30 pm for heaven’s sake! Let me sleep, I mumbled..

I opened the door somewhat pissed off. It was my uncle. He had just returned from work. The tickets had arrived! But, it was 10:30 pm. I hadn’t even packed! I was leaving the country!  This can’t be happening!!

In the next 10 minutes, my mother dumped my essentials into a bag and we were on the road. It was a good 30 minutes drive to the airport. I went in to the check-in counter while the rest of my family waited outside the airport. It was closed. I pleaded, I almost cried. It had worked in the past. And, it did, again! A staff came back, opened the counter for me. Before I knew, I was through immigration!

My family was waiting outside the airport not knowing whether I am flying or not.. And I was running inside the airport with no sense of what was going on. I was going where I was meant to go, worried that my family must be waiting outside. In those days, we didn’t have mobile phones. I was desperate to send a message across to my family, that I am flying off.. and a hug.. and a good bye.. In all the rush, I saw an airline staff just before boarding the flight. There was something about her which made me trust her.. or may be I did not have any other option. I asked her if she could page my uncle to let him know that I am flying off. She agreed. I came to know the next day that she did:)

That evening, as the flight took off, I was sad. I was leaving my country for a long long time without saying good bye to my family and close friends…

I was out of the airport in Bangkok, all alone, expecting to see my Dad. But, there was no one. Not for the next 10 minutes. Not for the next 30 minutes. I decided to call him using a public telephone. And suddenly it hit me! I had no money!!! Nothing at all. Not even a coin to make a phone call. In all the mad rush of last night, everyone forgot about money! I asked someone for help, all in sign language. This stranger gave me a coin and told me how to use the phone, all in gestures. I could not have asked for more!!

Thanks to the time difference and chaos, my Dad wasn’t aware that I had eventually boarded the flight last night! In the next 30 minutes, my Dad arrived and I was on the way to my new home…

And now.. for today’s recipe. This one is my mom’s favorite! She is a vegetarian and one that loves all her veges nice and crunchy! If you love your veges, you’ve gotta try this out!

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

String Beans: 2 to 3
Carrot: 1/3 of a medium sized carrot
Capsicum: 1/4th of a big capsicum
Cabbage: roughly 5 to 6 leaves
Thai / Chinese green leaves: 4 to 5 leaves. I used Xiao Ban Cye (you can use any other locally available greens)
Thai Garlic (or any other garlic) – 6pcs if using small Thai garlic. 3 if using the bigger garlic
Thai Chillies: 2 red and 2 green (tone this down if you don’t like it extra spicy)
Lime leaves: 3
A Bowl of cold pre-cooked rice
1/2 medium sized Onion (optional)
Vegetarian oyster sauce – 1 tbsp
Light Soya sauce – 1 tbsp
Oil – 1 1/2 tbsp
Wok
Sliced cucumber for garnishing
2 chopped chillies with 3 to 4 tbsp light soya sauce (in case the 4 chillies were not enough like they weren’t for me!)

How I did it:

Cut the long beans, capsicum and carrot into 2″ long pieces. Carrots should be cut into thin and long pieces. Roughly cut the cabbage and green leaves into big chunky leafy pieces. Pound the garlic and chillies together in a mortar and pestle.

In order to make fried rice, as far as possible, use left over rice from the fridge. When freshly cooked rice is used, it does not turn out the same way as freshly cooked rice tends to stick together into lumps.

Heat a wok. Once hot, add the oil. When it gets smoky, add the pounded garlic and chilli mix into the oil. Stir fry for 30 seconds. If using onions, add sliced onions at this point. Let it turn translucent. Next, add the carrots and beans. Continue to stir on high heat. Reduce heat for 1 min to let the beans and carrot cook.

Now add the cabbage, green leaves, capsicum and the torn kaffir lime leaves. Increase heat to high. Add the soya sauce. The smoke adds a nice flavor to this dish. It is important to stir this continuously to avoid the veges from getting burnt. This may take 30 seconds to a minute.

Once the veges are crunchy and cooked, add the bowl of cold rice, basil leaves and vegetarian oyster sauce. Stir continuously and on high heat. Check for salt and add more soya / vegetarian oyster sauce, if needed. Combine all the ingredients (on high heat). This may take up to 1 minute depending on the heat.

Serve with sliced cucumber and chopped chillies with soya sauce. The vegetables lose their crunchiness if kept cooked for long. So enjoy it immediately after cooking! 🙂

Prawns with coconut milk and spices (Prawn Malai Curry)

October 2003

A close friend ‘D’ had a sudden craving for Prawns. Not just any prawns. It had to be Prawn Malai Curry. I didn’t really know how to make it. But the sheer opportunity of making something new excited me. I was more than happy to cook, if only I knew how.

In less than 24 hours (from what I recall), I got the recipe from his mother straight into my inbox. This is D’s grand mother’s recipe. This is an authentic Bengali recipe and one that I have made many times now! Thank you aunty!

The part I enjoy most is the involvement & enthusiasm everyone has in making this curry. Talk about team effort! Over the years, this has become a ritual and I look forward to it..:)

D get’s the prawns. The biggest and freshest available (though to this day my husband ‘R’ argues that the prawns he gets sometimes are the same size..:P) D and R don’t sleep the night before. They drive down to a particular seafood wholesale market at 3am where one can find the freshest catch of the day. It is a wholesale market where the fresh catch comes in before it is sent to other shops / restaurants in the city. Some of the biggest King prawns I have ever seen! One needs to buy in wholesale.. So, most of the time this dish is cooked – it is a BIG feast ! The only exception to this festivity is when it’s a last minute plan or a feast is somehow not possible (a rare possibility!)

Step 2 is the cleaning up.. And that is R’s forte. After the prawns come home, R spends a good amount of time cleaning it up thoroughly! You do realize that when I wake up… lazy… all of this has already happened ! D & R really go all the way to make it happen. I see the fresh and clean prawns… waiting so eagerly to be soaked in the most amazing coconut cream curry ever!

This is one of my most treasured recipes simply because it is one recipe that has no age or spice boundaries… It has been loved by my 2-year old son as much as it has been appreciated by Indians and by non-Indian friends alike.

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

King Prawns: 500 gms – the bigger the better! (smaller prawns are also fine) – The prawns in this picture are from the local grocer.. which reminds me haven’t had a feast in a while!
Onion paste: 1 medium sized onion ground to a fine paste
Ginger paste: 1 tbsp
Garlic paste: 1/2 tsp (this is my personal preference and not part of the original recipe. you can ignore it if you like)
Coconut milk: 1/2 cup. I vary this depending on my guests’ spice tolerance level. If I want a more authentic and spicy taste, I stick to 1/2 cup. However, sometimes I add more coconut milk when I need to tone down the spice.
Turmeric Powder: 1/2 tsp
Chilli Powder: 1/4 tsp or more depending on your spice tolerance level
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Garam Masala Powder: 1/4 tsp
Cinamon stick: 1/2 inch
Dried Bay leaf: 2
Sugar: 1/4 tsp
Oil: Use a neutral oil (I use a blend of Canola and Sunflower oil)

How I did it:

  • Wash, de-vein, clean prawns. I like to remove the head and the vein but leave the tail behind. Put 1/4 tsp of turmeric powder and sprinkle a little bit of salt on the prawns. Mix this gently and keep it in the refrigerator until the Masala is ready.

  • Use a heavy bottomed pan to cook this curry. Add oil. Once hot, add the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, sugar and cumin seeds. Let the cumin seeds crackle for about 10-20 seconds. Add the onion paste. Fry this until it turns brownish and sticks together as lumps. Do this on low heat to avoid burning. This may take 10 to 15 mins.

  • To this fried onion paste, add the ginger paste, garlic paste, turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Fry this for 1-2 minutes until it is cooked and blends in with the masala.
  • Take out the pre-marinated Prawns and add it to the masala now. Stir this to ensure that the prawns are coated well with the spices and the prawns turn a nice pink/brownish color. (2 to 3 mins).

  • When the prawns turn pinkish, add the coconut milk. If you are using thick coconut milk like I did, you should add 1 cup of warm water along after adding the coconut milk. This curry is about your preference of coconut and spices. Remember that we have added sugar earlier, prawns are naturally sweet and coconut milk is also sweet. I strongly suggest you go slow on the coconut milk and taste it before adding more coconut milk. If the gravy is thick, add hot water into this to bring it to the right consistency. I alter the quantity of coconut milk and water to suit the palate of my guest.

  • Add some garam masala powder (a spice mix readily available in an indian grocery store) to this curry now. Let it cook on medium heat for another 7-8 mins until the coconut milk is cooked and comes together with the curry. Prawns cook really fast, so make sure you don’t overcook them.

Goes best with steamed white rice 🙂