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.

Spicy Tomato Chutney

It was a very special day. Two weeks ago, K, a very close friend, had a beautiful baby girl.

K & I have known each other since high school. Although we spent only 2 years together, the friendship that we shared was one that will be with us for a lifetime.

As little school girls, we would talk endlessly about anything and everything under the sun! I don’t know what inspired us to talk about so much, but we just did. We were always running out of time but never out of conversation.

We had so many things in common, including the guys we liked;-) But, nothing, not even that mattered.

When I left for Bangkok, K & I decided that we’d keep a diary & write about our new lives. This was the pre-internet boom era. Overseas phone calls were simply unaffordable!

Six months later, we exchanged our diaries. When we look back, we laugh about it. As a young girl embarking on a strange new world with no friends in a foreign land, that diary was the only friend I had for many months.

Two decades later, I am on the phone with her again. It is the night before she is due to be admitted in the hospital for her baby’s delivery. She is anxious about one of the most important milestones in her life – just how I was was on the night before V was born. Emotions flow. As we continue talking, I know that of all the conversations we have had since I have known her, this one will be etched in our memories forever. I know that tomorrow the moon will  be a little bigger, a little rounder, a little shinier, to welcome the most beautiful baby to this world…

Moving on to today’s recipe..

Spicy Tomato Chutney:

A flavorful Chutney made by roasting tomatoes, ginger and garlic together and spicing it up with chillies (fresh and dry) along with other spices.

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

For roasting:
450 gms tomatoes (roughly 5 medium – big tomatoes)
Garlic: 5 cloves
Ginger: thick 1 inch pc
Mustard oil: a drizzle for roasting

Other ingredients:
2 dried red chillies: roasted in a pan until the outside is dark (about 3-4 mins) – use only 1 if you don’t want it to be too spicy.
Fresh green chillies: 3 (use less if you don’t want it to be too spicy).
Coriander leaves: chopped 1 1/2 – 2 cups
Onion: 1 cup chopped (roughly 1 medium sized)
1 tsp of roasted cumin powder
Lemon juice: 1 tbsp
Mustard oil: 1 tbsp to add to the chutney
Black salt: ½ tsp
Regular Salt: to taste.

How I did it:

  • Pre-heat oven at 250 deg for 15 mins.
  • Roast the tomatoes, ginger and garlic with a drizzle of mustard oil in the oven at 250 deg or higher for 20 mins until the tomatoes start to turn brown-black.

  • Dry roast the dried red chillies on medium-low heat in a pan (3-4 mins), stirring continuously. It should get darker. Once it cools, roughly break the dry red chillies with your finger tips into smaller pcs.
  • When the tomatoes are done, remove the skin of the tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes and the garlic with the back of a spoon/fork. Chop the roasted ginger. Add to the mashed tomatoes & garlic.
  • Next, add all the remaining ingredients listed above including the dry red chillies prepared above.
  • Combine everything with a spoon. Spicy Tomato Chutney is ready.

Enjoy this Spicy Tomato Chutney as a side with Roti and Jungli Mutton or as a side with any other meal.

For a less spicy Chutney:
The green chillies & red chillies in the proportion used make it very spicy and I love it this way. If you don’t like spicy food, tone down the chillies or remove the seeds first before adding them. Use 1 dry red chilli and 1 green chilli.

To a refreshing 2012: Avocado Chutney

After a 3-month hiatus, I am back to the blogosphere with plenty of good wishes for a belated but very Happy & refreshing 2012 to all. I hope the year has been good so far and you are looking forward to the rest of the year.

In the beginning of the year, a friend said that 2012 is a year of change. I made fun of him then, but I get a feeling – he is going to be right.

For me, 2012 kicked off in a memorable way. V started school this year. Play school – but a school nevertheless. He was excited about going to school and that was a good sign. I really didn’t expect him to be shy. I was more worried about the other kids as my little one can be too friendly at times and this goes beyond the social norms of what is acceptable as friendly. How do you teach your little ones to behave in the most “adult” like ways. Shake hands (don’t hug someone you just met 5 minutes ago… because that’s socially frowned upon). At the same time, we hug our kids at every opportunity we get. I tell him not to give instructions to other kids (the poor guy is just doing what he is told) because we should let other people be & honestly because it’s not what is expected of a kid his age. Other kids have their own parents to instruct them! Ironical, isn’t it?

I often wonder about the true meaning of the word ‘parenting’. I wish it were as simple as providing the best environment for our kids to turn out to be the smartest in every sphere of life – it is not. Is it us trying to be good parents or is it our kids teaching us how to be good parents – instinctively through their innocence? They inspire us to introspect. They make us want to be a better person – someone they will feel proud to have as their Parent.

It goes beyond the relationship shared between our children and us. It is also a constant reminder of our parents’ journey to get us to where we are today…

Leaving you with that thought and looking forward to your views, it’s time to talk about the refreshing Avocado chutney.

This one doesn’t have a very long history. When we were growing up in India, Avocado was something I’d never seen or heard of. However, I am told that it is readily available now, at least in the metros. This version of the chutney originated in my big sis’ home in Vancouver & it’s traveled a long way since. It’s been shared with friends and has become a part of their daily meals as well.

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

Serves: 4-5

Ingredients:

Avocado: 2 (approx 300 gms)
Onion: ½ medium sized finely chopped
Ginger: 1 tsp (optional)
Garlic: 1/2 tsp (optional)
Green chillies: 2-3 finely chopped
Coriander leaves: 2 heaped tbsp chopped
Lime juice: 1 ½ tbsp
Roasted cumin powder: ½ tsp
Salt: to taste
Mustard oil: 1 tsp (can be replaced with Olive oil)

How I did it:

When you buy avocado from the market, you will most likely need to leave it outside the fridge for 2-3 days to ripen. This ensures that the avocado is soft and easy to mash. You can feel the softness by pressing on the outside. Once it is ripe, store it in the fridge. As a word of caution, do not leave it out for too long !

Now cut the avocado from the middle, as shown in the picture. Pull out the halves by twisting the 2 halves in opposite direction. Next, scoop the avocado out from the skin using a spoon. If the avocado is ripe, it will come off quite clean.

Using the back of a fork, mash the avocado in a bowl. I have used a blender to do this job but I prefer using the fork because the pulp is so soft that blending in makes it into a paste. I like its buttery and nutty texture and using a fork preserves that texture.

Now add the chopped onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, coriander leaves, roasted cumin powder and salt.

Finish it with lime juice and a drizzle of mustard oil for that extra zing! Mix all the ingredients with a spoon. Adjust the seasoning as per your taste.

Notes:

  • Avocado tends to brown very quickly and lime juice helps to maintain it’s vibrant color. Prepare this dish closer to the time when you want to eat it or the avocado may turn brown.
  • I like the taste of raw ginger and garlic in the above proportions. If you do not like the taste of raw ginger or garlic, you can skip it or alter the proportions.
  • If you do not like the flavor of mustard oil, use olive oil instead. I used olive oil for my little one when he was younger. Now he’s gotten used to the flavor of mustard oil too 😉

Enjoy it as a side with any meal!