A timeless ritual: Ghugni

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During my childhood years, there were many practices that were religiously followed at home. As we grew up, moved places, these rituals kept evolving and eventually there were a few such rituals which stood the test of time. One such ritual was that of an evening snack called Ghugni. It is a ritual which is still in place and practiced at least once a week in my parents home.

You may find it strange that I call this Ghugni and the picture shows dried black chickpeas. This is Ghugni as it is known in Bihar. It is different from the Ghugni I have posted previously. The previous one is made using dried peas with tamarind as the souring agent. This one is  made using dried Black Chickpeas or Sookha Kaala Chana, simply known as kaala chana. Besides using different key ingredients, the two ghugnis are meant for the same purpose: snack / street food. However, they differ in their taste, texture as well as method of preparation.

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Ma prepares for this Ghugni the night before. She soaks a generous amount of the Kaala Chana in water. The next morning she pressure cooks these soaked dried chickpeas with some salt. These cooked chickpeas are then ready to be cooked in some spices to make it into what is known in Bihar as “Ghugni”. This version of ghugni is usually had with some “chooda ka bhuja” or roasted/fried and spiced flattened rice (poha / chooda / chidva).

The good news is that Kala Chana has a number of health benefits. They are high in dietary fibre. They serve as a good source of proteins for vegetarians. Therefore, this is one of those snacks where you can eat as much, almost guilt free.

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I find the Ghugni self sufficient as a snack. It definitely tastes much better the following day as the spices get sufficient time to infuse their flavours with the cooked chickpeas. It becomes a little dry with time so before serving, you will need to add some warm water and adjust the seasoning in order to suit your taste.

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Bihari Ghugni Recipe: To print the recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4
Preparation time: 8 hours soaking + 15 mins preparation [Mis en Place]
Cooking time: Up to 1.5 hours including boiling the chickpeas.
A healthy vegetarian snack though it does require a little bit of advance planning.

Ingredients:

Black dried Chickpeas [Sookha Kaala Chana]: 1 cup
Ginger: 1 medium slice for boiling and 1 tbsp finely chopped for the masala
Garlic: 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion: 1 cup finely chopped
Oil: 1 ½ tbsp. [I used Mustard oil as that is used traditionally and I like it’s pungent smell and taste. You can use your regular cooking oil if you prefer]
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon stick: 1 inch,
Bay leaf (dried): 1, medium sized
Dried red chilli: 1-2 (as per your tolerance).
Red onion: 1 cup, finely chopped
Dry Mango powder (Aamchoor): 2 ½ tsp

Ingredients for the spice paste:

Turmeric powder: 1/8 tsp or a generous pinch
Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Coriander powder: 1 tbsp
Cumin powder: 1 ½ tsp
Water: 2 tbsp

Ingredients for garnishing:

Onions: 1, finely chopped
Green chillies: 4-5, finely chopped
Lime: 1-2, cut anyway to squeeze the juice on the cooked ghugni.

How I did it:

  1. Wash and soak the Sookha Kaala Chana overnight or for about 8 hours in water.
  2. Wash it again. In a pressure cooker, add the Kaala chana, sufficient water making to cover the chickpeas as well as extra to make sure there is enough room for the chickpeas to expand in volume, a pinch of salt & a slice of ginger. Start the pressure cooker on high heat. After the steam builds up [first whistle], lower the heat to cook for another 15 mins. If using an open pot, make sure the chickpeas are cooked through – You should be able to crush them if you press them between two fingers. They should retain their shape and not be mushy at all. Allow the steam to release on it’s own. Discard the slice of ginger. Strain the mix, reserving the liquid for cooking.
  3. In a deep bottomed pot or a wok / Kadhai, heat 1 tbsp mustard oil. Bring it to a smoking point, and then let it cool down. If using regular oil, simply heat the oil and move on to the next additions. Add cumin seeds, dry red chilli, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. Let the aroma release in the oil. Reduce heat if necessary, making sure the spices do not burn.
  4. Next, add the finely chopped ginger and garlic. Fry for about 2 mins on low heat.
  5. Add the finely chopped onions and a pinch of salt to season the masala. Fry on low-medium heat stirring continuously for about 7-8 mins until almost done. This is also called bhuno, a term used in Indian cooking which means to cook the spices slowly to ensure the maximum flavours are released and the raw smell from the spices and ingredients no longer exists. Doing this step right is essential to maximise the flavour of any dish.
  6. While the onions are frying, mix together all the ingredients listed under ‘Spice Mix’ and add next.
  7. Continue to cook the masala for another 2-3 mins until there is no raw smell of any masala.
  8. Next add dry mango powder (aamchoor) & the drained and boiled Kaala Chana
  9. Increase heat to high and continue to stir making sure the masala sticks to the kaala chana.
  10. Keep adding 2-3 ladles of the reserved boiling liquid and continue cooking on low-medium heat until the liquid is absorbed by the Chana. The liquid additions should be enough to make sure the Chana has some extra liquid. The idea is to slowly infuse all the flavour from the liquid into the Chana while cooking the spices.
  11. Repeat this process until all or most of the liquid is used up. Remember that the cooking liquid already contains salt. Taste often to adjust the salt if needed.
  12. If serving later, heat up the chana, adding a little water to make it moist. We don’t want this to be too dry. If adding water, adjust the level of salt.
  13. Serve in bowls or a plate, garnished with chopped onions, green chillies and lime. Traditionally, this is served with chooda ka bhooja or lightly spiced and roasted beaten rice. I find this tastes great on it’s own too.

Black Chana Ghugni

Notes:

  • Chop the ingredients for garnishing just before serving. The freshness of the onions, green chilli and lime will elevate your snack to another level.
  • I spend a lot of time cooking this ghugni slowly. It helps to infuse flavours to these chickpeas and I find it totally worth the time and effort.

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Cooking in the backyard: Thai style Tuna Fried Rice

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Thailand, a country full of little family-owned café’s. These little café’s are usually set in a comforting, home-style environment. Here you’ll experience what I call ‘cooking in the backyard’. It is also how a lot of traditional homes are designed with a wet kitchen in the backyard. You’ll often see the young school going teenager lending a helping hand to his or her parents. During rush hour, the kids even help with the cooking. It’s inspiring to see these young chefs cook with such exuberating confidence.

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I stand there watching, as the man on my side of the counter passes a white slip over to the Cook. The Cook, a lady probably in her late 40s, has a very pleasant disposition. She smiles at me as she gently heats up the wok while taking a quick glance at the white slip of paper. She’s probably done it a thousand times over and over again. She looks like she could do this with her eyes closed.

As the wok heats up, she takes some garlic and chillies and gently pounds them using a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle is always by her side. She is extremely organised with each ingredient placed less than an arms distance away, just where it should be. She always has a big icebox next to her where all the chilled meat is kept. She opens it just a bit, takes out the required portion of the meat and closes it again until the next order comes in.

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An artist in her own right, she knows how to play with her tools – the mortar and pestle, the wok, the ladle and the fire. She uses the fish sauce, sugar, soya sauce, pepper and other herbs and spices to tell her story. She fires up the wok, turning and tossing the ingredients, adding them one after the other, all in good time, adjusting the heat as she deems appropriate. Within minutes, she creates food that is a treat to all your senses. A modest melamine plate in basic white, with or without patterns is placed right next to her. She plates her food and places a few slices of cucumber and a slice of lime, all in such an artistic manner.

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As the plate makes its journey from the wok to my table, my eyes see the color coordination including the Thai green chillies and the freshness of the lime. As it is placed in front of me, I get the smoky aroma that creates a suspense that I want to unfold, almost immediately. As I take the first bite, I know it has touched all my senses and a memory has just been formed.

 As the lady moves on to the next white slip where the orders are scribbled, a quick rinse and a scrub is all it takes to have her Wok ready to create the same brilliance all over again for the next waiting customer.

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Here is my version of a Thai style Tuna Fried Rice, a dish I had for many lunches during the years that I lived in Thailand.

For the printed recipe, click here.

Serves: 3

Ingredients:

Pre-cooked and cooled Thai Rice (preferably cooked the night before): 2 ½ cups
Red Onion: 1 Cup finely chopped
Thai Green chillies: 4-5, chopped fine (This makes it very spicy, adjust to your own tolerance)
Garlic, lightly pounded: 3 cloves
Olive Oil: 1 tbsp
Canned Tuna flakes in EVOO (use any other similar variety): 150 gms, oil drained.
Spring onions (Scallions), finely chopped (green parts): ¼ cup
Fish sauce: 1 Tbsp
Dark soya sauce: 1 tsp
Worcestershire sauce: 2 tsp
Black Pepper powder (coarsely powdered): ¼ tsp (or adjust to taste)
Salt: a pinch

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How I did it:

  1. The rice needs to be precooked and cold. This is important to ensure the grains of rice are separate and not lumpy when making the fried rice. When cooking the rice for fried rice, put a little less water than you would do normally.
  2. Heat a wok. When the wok is hot, add oil to it.
  3. Add the lightly pounded garlic. Reduce the fire and let the garlic cook for a few seconds without getting burnt. Add the chopped onions and green chillies. Let it soften while stirring continuously. Onions will change colour to a beautiful pink. Approx 3 mins on low heat.
  4. When the onions turn pink, add the cold and precooked rice and a tiny pinch of salt and increase the heat to high. Using the back of a ladle/spatula, push the rice towards the centre of the wok, removing any lumps while mixing it with the onions.
  5. Now add the tuna followed by all the sauces and the black pepper powder. Bring it together on high heat.
  6. Add the chopped spring onions. Give it one last good stir and serve it immediately with some sliced cucumbers and wedges of lime.

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Notes:

–        Fish sauce is quite salty. I would suggest that you add half the quantity of fish sauce first and adjust the taste as per your liking.
–        In my opinion, a fried rice cannot have the same texture and taste if it’s cooked with freshly cooked or hot rice. Therefore, try to cook the rice at least a few hours in advance.
–        If you don’t have spring onions, replace it with some finely chopped fresh coriander leaves or cilantro. That little bit of green is essential to provide a little freshness to this simple fried rice.
–        I had to cook for my 4 year old son, so I added the green chillies right in the end. If not, I would have added them together with the onions, or lightly pound them together with the garlic in the very beginning. Go ahead and do whatever suits your situation. If you are making this for kids, omit the green chillies.

Roasted Chicken with Rosemary

‘I don’t know what to cook tonight’ – a dilemma many of us face on a day-to-day basis. Every time, ok almost every time, you think of making dinner, you probably end up saying that to yourself. I do! A close friend has just initiated a group on Facebook by precisely that name – ‘I don’t know what to cook tonight’. She is a great cook herself and there are already some interesting recipes being shared there. Do hop on over there and join us:)

The first post in that group also happens to be a Rosemary Chicken. To see her recipe, check out the group. I promised to share to share my version as well, so here we go.

One warm, humid night in October last year, I made this absolutely juicy and flavourful chicken dish for the nth time. I took photos of the process, almost making the recipe dummy-proof. In case you are thinking how brilliant my memory is, just hold on to that thought. The reality is – it isn’t! The place where I live, is warm and humid practically most of the year 😉

Roasted Chicken with rosemary

So let’s rewind back to October 2012, I took out my [then brand new and now almost hammered phone], and clicked pictures of the making of this dish. Honestly, there are times when I really couldn’t be bothered with how the photograph turns out. And there are these other times, where I can go to any extent to get the photograph I want.

This Chicken is great for a weeknight meal, though you’ll need to do the marination before hand. 2 hours would be great but 1 hour will give you good results too. There’s no long list of spices for the marination. And other than the rosemary and the chicken, it’s ingredients which you’d most likely have in your pantry. The marination is an important step to give this dish that depth of flavour. The process of searing and then roasting at the right temperature is important to make the chicken juicy and packed with flavour.

For the printed recipe, click here.

Here’s how I did it :

Serves: 2-3
Marination time: 1-2 hours
Cooking time: 5 minutes for Searing + 20 minutes for roasting

Ingredients:

Chicken thigh (Boneless) : 230 gm each x 2 pcs (approx)
Dried rosemary herbs : 1 tbsp
Fresh rosemary stalk (optional) : You can skip this if you don’t have. I just added it while roasting because I had them this time : 2
Minced garlic : 1 tbsp
Olive oil : 1/2 tbsp to marinate + 1/2 tbsp for searing the marinated chicken.
Lime juice : 1 tsp
Coarsely ground black pepper powder : 1/4 tsp
Salt : to taste

Method:

1. Using a knife, make slits on the Chicken pieces. Marinate the Chicken for 1-2 hours with the above ingredients reserving 1/2 tbsp of oil for searing the Chicken. Make sure you rub the ingredients into the slits of the Chicken so that the flavours can go deep into the meat.

2. Preheat oven to 180 deg C.

3. In a skillet, heat 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. When the oil is hot and on high heat, sear the marinated chicken pieces on both sides for about 1-2 mins on each side. The idea is to give a golden brown colour to the chicken without completely cooking it.

4. Line a baking tray w aluminium foil. Place the seared chicken pieces on the aluminium foil and set it to roast for 20 minutes.

5. Remove from oven. Let it rest for 5 minutes before serving. We usually have this with some stir fried vegetables and a pasta or a pasta with vegetables in it.

Note: I have made this with Chicken breast meat as well and it tastes just as good. If using Chicken breast, roast for 15 minutes only or it will become very dry.

Step by Step

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Cranberry, Cauliflower and Peas Pulao

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Hello everyone,

Yes, it has been an awfully long time since I have been away. Thank you to those who have missed me, checked on me and encouraged me to come back. It means a lot and thank you for being there! I have missed sharing my thoughts and recipes on this platform.

I am looking forward to sharing some of the food that I have been eating and cooking. Let’s start with rice dish – a staple in my house.

Did I ever mention my dislike for raisins? I am not, I mean, really NOT fond of raisins. No, not even a bit. On the other hand, little V, who, by the way, is not that little any more, can survive on raisins alone. That is, if he had his way 🙂 He can have as many raisins as he can get his hands on.

I was cooking a quick + less effort lunch for us one week day when I thought of adding raisins in the pulao (pilaf) to please him. But to my surprise, he suggested dried cranberries instead. I immediately jumped with joy and happily took his suggestion. His love for cranberries comes a close second to raisins. So, there you go! We had a win-win situation.

When my rice was soaking and I had some time to think, I just happened to glance on the bottles of sunflower and pumpkin seeds which were kept on the kitchen counter and I normally add to oats for breakfast. I thought – why not?! So there we go, at the end of it, we had a beautiful and crunchy twist to the usual Pulao. I roasted them in a little bit of ghee together with half of the dried cranberries and added them as a garnish. It gave the Pulao a whole new dimension!

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For a printable recipe, click here. 

Serves: 2
Cooking time: 15 minutes + 5 minutes resting time
Preparation time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

Rice: ½ cup
Dried bay leaves: 1-2
Cloves: 4
Cumin seeds: ¼ tsp
Whole black pepper: 8 nos.
Star anise: 1
Cauliflower: 8-10 medium and evenly sized florets
Peas: ½ cup frozen or fresh (I used frozen)
Cranberries: 15 pcs approx. (adjust to your liking)
Sunflower seeds & Pumpkin seeds: In equal amounts ¼ cup in all
Cashew nuts: about 6 pcs, roughly broken in twoCinnamon stick: 1 thin stick
Ghee: ½ tsp for the rice and another ½ tsp for frying the garnish
Salt to taste
Boiling water: 1and ¼ cups

Method :

Rinse the rice with water at least twice. Soak the rice for 15 mins. At the end of 15 mins, set it aside to drain for 10 mins using a strainer. Put about 2-3 cups of water to boil which we will need later.

Final CPWhile my rice was soaking, I soaked 1/2 a cup of frozen peas in water for at least 10 mins.

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Now that the peas were taken care of, I quickly went on to cut / break cauliflower into about 8-10 pcs of of medium sized florets. I also roughly chopped the cashew nuts in halves. When these were done, I put my garam masalas aside to make sure I had everything ready when the pot went on!

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I heated half a tsp of ghee in a pot in which I was going to make the pulao. I added the cumin seeds and all the whole garam masalas.

At this point, I lowered the heat to make sure they don’t burn. When the garam masalas start to emit a nice aroma and before they burn, I added the cashew nuts and half of the cranberries. Make sure you stir it continuously and keep the heat to low. It’s really easy to burn them at this stage. When they get a nice color (1-2 mins on low heat), it’s time to add in the vegetables.

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Add the peas and the cauliflower florets with the heat on medium. Fry for another minute. Next, add the rice and mix it without breaking it to make sure the rice is coated with every bit of ghee there is in the pot.

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Now carefully add 1 and ¼ cup of the boiling water and salt. Gently mix and taste for salt. A pulao is never too salty, so go easy on the amount of salt you add. Quickly lower the heat to the lowest mark, cover with a tight lid to not allow any or minimum steam to escape during this process. Set your timer for 11 minutes.

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Meanwhile, heat a little ghee in a small frying pan. Have your sunflower seeds + pumpkin seeds + remaining dried cranberries ready by your side.

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As soon as the ghee melts, add these beauties and fry them on low heat until the seeds get a nice warm golden color. The cranberries just swell up a little and they look absolutely gorgeous.

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At the end of 11 minutes, turn off the heat from the pot of Pulao. Now, I know if you are like me, you’ll just want to open the lid to see what happened in there, but hold back for just  5 mins more.

Open the lid when it’s rested. Your Pulao is waiting to be garnished and served.

Garnish with the cranberry, pumpkin and sunflower seeds we fried earlier and serve immediately. This can be eaten as part of an elaborate meal with a spicy curry. It’s really that simple and you can include it very easily to make any regular weekday meal a little more exciting. Have it with some achaar (pickle) and yogurt / raita.

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Notes:
– Add the cashew nuts as a garnish and fry it together with the cranberries and seeds instead of adding it in the beginning. That helps to add more crunch.
– Now if you are like little V, you could have this entire dish with raisins in place of cranberries.
– In it’s simplest form, you can make the cauliflower and peas pulao without any cashewnuts, cranberries, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds. Follow the same instructions but skip these ingredients.