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.

The simple things in life: Mung Dal [no onion-no garlic]


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When life begins to feel complicated, I take a moment to reflect on the meaning of happiness and what it is for me. Is it really a bigger house, more money, an expensive bag or things like that? Yes, I would be lying if I said these things didn’t make me feel good at all. It does, but for that moment and may be a few days more. The only problem is if I continue to seek happiness in such things, my definition of happiness will keep getting complex.. and there’s really no end to it. There is always a want for more… and more. Nothing wrong with it but I find it important to take a moment, think back and put things in perspective.

It’s always the simple things in life that gives me true happiness. I am sure it’s the same for you too. In my quest for happiness, I listed a few things (not in any particular order) that make me truly happy:
A hug from my 4 year old child
Being a Mom
A good cup of ginger tea (chai) early in the morning
An unknown, probably insignificant, little flower my child picked up from the roadside. Just for me.
A conversation with my closest friends
A breath of fresh air
Soaking the sun rays
Companionship
Recalling childhood memories
A simple home made meal: Dal-Chawal

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Dal-Chawal or Lentils-Rice. A combination which is a staple in India. It may be in different variations depending on which part of India or which home it has been cooked, but essentially it is lentils or Dal and Rice.

Every time I travel, I immerse myself in the food and culture of that place. It’s an unspoken rule that we never order Indian food when traveling [outside of India]. However, when I come back home, the first meal cooked, without fail, is a very simple Dal-Chawal.

I wouldn’t even want to call this a recipe considering this is such a staple in Indian households. I still choose to write the method down as every home has their unique way of cooking lentils. Dal is cooked in a lot of Indian homes, almost every day. And that is also the reason, why one gets bored of eating it ever so often. In order to bring variety to Dal, I like to rotate the kind of lentils I cook. My pantry is stocked with some 7 different types of lentils/beans. I don’t cook Dal all 7 days a week but it definitely finds it’s way to our dining table at least 3 to 4 times a week in various forms.

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This preparation is quite simple – No onions, No garlic. A simple Dal flavoured with cumin seeds, asafetida and tomatoes. The cumin seeds, asafetida and tomato are the main players in this act. Asafetida gives it a pungent taste and tomatoes add a mild sour flavour to the Dal. It’s a little tough to tell which one is more dominating – the asafetida or the tomatoes, but together, they rule the otherwise modest Mung beans.

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The process of making this Dal is two fold. Part one involves roasting the Mung beans and then softening the beans while infusing it with some fresh ginger. Part two is the tadka or tempering that will add the flavours to the Mung. The tempering is done in ghee or clarified butter with cumin seeds, asafetida, finely chopped (or grated) tomatoes and some Kashmiri chilli powder for a mild spicy touch.

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I am also sending this recipe to Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen for the 61st edition of MLLA. My Legume Love Affair (MLLA) was started by Susan of the Well-Seasoned Cook and is now being carried forward by Lisa of Lisa’s Kitchen.

Mung Dal with Asafetida and Tomatoes (no onion-no garlic)
Serves: 3-4
Time: 30 mins

Ingredients:
Yellow Mung beans / dal / lentils: ¾ cup
Asafetida (hing): ½ tsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Tomatoes: 2 medium sized (about 1 + ¼ cup of finely chopped)
Kashmiri Chilli powder: ½ tsp
Ginger (grated): 1 tsp
Turmeric: 1/8 tsp or roughly a big pinch
Salt: to taste
Water: 2 cups
Ghee: 1 tbsp

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Method:

  1. Dry roast the Mung beans. I do this in a pressure cooker to avoid getting too many utensils dirty. Keep stirring the beans constantly to ensure they are evenly roasted. I did this on medium heat for about 5-6 mins. When roasted, take it off the heat. Rinse with water 2-3 times.
  2. In a pressure cooker, add the rinsed Mung beans, 2 cups of water, a pinch of turmeric, ginger and salt. Cook the beans until soft while still retaining their texture. If you are using a pressure cooker, let the steam build up on high flame. Then lower the flame and let it cook for another 5 minutes until done.
  3. While the Mung beans are getting cooked, heat ghee in a pan. Add cumin seeds. When they are done, add the asafetida and chilli powder. Let it cook for a few seconds. Then add the chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt. With the heat on high, cook the tomatoes constantly stirring it to ensure they are not burnt and until the raw smell no longer exists.
  4. When the tomatoes are cooked, reduce the flame. Add the Mung beans. Add water to a consistency you want and adjust the salt as per your taste. If you want to add chillies, add 2-3 slit chillies (a combination of green and red adds a nice colour.. You can add just green too and skip the drama). Let it come to a boil on high heat and then simmer for 3 minutes.
  5. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice and any vegetables of your choice.

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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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Black and White Wednesdays : Week 42


Corn on the cob

Submitting this image to Black and White Wednesdays #42 conceptualized by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook and hosted by Roma at Roma’s space.

Baking: Banana Raisin Bread

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” – B.B.King.

Learning is such an enriching experience. It never stops. The more you learn, the more you want to learn. I truly believe that it’s never too late to learn something new. What matters most is passion and an open mind!

Through the birth of this blog, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery. This became a platform for me to explore my love for food, photography, writing and travel. It has become a place for meeting other like-minded people who share the same passion. Be inspired. Learn from others, share knowledge and hopefully, inspire someone along the way. After all, everyone needs a little inspiration, a gentle push from time to time. It always feels inspiring to see or know others who have been in a similar situation and have dared to dream, the once impossible dream. They have achieved it. With the right attitude, so will you!

That’s just a little bit more about me.. Thank you for reading!:)

On the topic of learning, I must tell you that I am no avid baker. I am learning as I go along and would love to bake more and innovate in the near future. Perhaps, one day, I will. I am inspired by so many bloggers around me who bake some really interesting and beautiful cakes and cookies! I first tried baking a loaf when I saw this really interesting recipe of a Rosemary Walnut Loaf by Kankana of Sunshine and Smile.

After my first attempt with a simple walnut loaf, I got a little more confident to attempt a request from my husband – a raisin bread. The two men in my house love it! I, on the other hand, stay far from it. Well, most of the time 🙂 But, I love cooking for them! My go to book for baking is this book by Nigella Lawson. The Banana Bread recipe from Nigella has a good amount of raisins in it and that made it the perfect contender. As luck would have it, I also had some bananas that were very ripe and needed to be consumed immediately. And off I started baking, on a relaxing Sunday evening!

As the book says, this is a perfect recipe for anyone who is new to baking. The result was fabulous and loved by family and friends! The banana bread had a beautiful texture. It was moist and full of flavor at the same time. The alcohol in the raisin evaporates in the cooking and baking process. You will find a taste of rum but it isn’t alcoholic at all. In fact, in her book, Nigella says that this is safe for children to consume as the alcohol doesn’t pervade into the cake.

If you are anything like me in terms of baking, you should really try this recipe. It’s simple enough and totally worth the effort 🙂

Banana Raisin Bread:
For a printer-friendly version of the recipe, please click here.

Serves: about 10 slices

Ingredients:

Golden raisins: ½ cup
Dark rum: 6 tbsp
All-purpose flour: 1 cup + 2 tbsp
Baking powder: 2 tsp
Baking soda: ½ tsp
Salt: ½ tsp
Unsalted Butter: ½ cup
Sugar: ½ cup
Eggs: 2 big
Bananas: 4 Dole (small) very ripe and mashed
Walnuts: 1/4 heaped cup
Vanilla extract: 1 tsp
Loaf Pan: 9 x 5” lined with a paper insert or parchment paper

How I did it:

  1. In a pan, bring the raisins and rum to boil. Turn off and leave it for 1 hour to soak up the liquid. Strain the excess liquid.
  2. Pre-heat oven to 170 deg C.
  3. In a bowl, put the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sieve through once to ensure they are combined well.
  4. Warm up the butter enough to get it melting. Don’t overheat.
  5. Add the butter and sugar to a large steel mixing bowl. Beat this mixture well until it is thoroughly blended. The color will turn pale. I did this using an electric beater for about 15 mins. The time will vary, depending on the equipment used.
  6. Break the eggs and beat it in the sugar+butter mixing bowl above – one by one.
  7. Now beat in the mashed bananas.
  8. Using a wooden spoon, combine the raisins, walnuts and the vanilla extract.
  9. Next, add the flour mixture in 1/3rd portions, combining it well after every addition.
  10. Now pour this mixture into the prepared loaf pan.
  11. Place the loaf pan in the centre of the oven, with both heat sources on. I placed the loaf pan closer to the top heat source.
  12. Bake for 1 hour. The original recipe says it should take anywhere between 1 hour to 1 hour 15 mins. It depends on your oven. Mine took exactly 1 hour. It is advisable to check at the 50 min mark. If it is done, an inserted toothpick will come out clean.
  13. As soon as it is done, using your mittens, place the loaf pan out to cool. Do not take out the banana bread out of the pan until it has cooled down.
  14. Once cool, cut into slices and enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea, as you prefer.

Notes:

  1. Use eggs that are at room temperature and not straight out of the fridge.
  2. Same goes for butter, keep the butter out to come down to room temperature a couple of hours before baking.
  3. Place the loaf in the middle level, though, closer to the top heat source than the bottom heat source.
  4. The original recipe says that even though it rum is used, it is safe for kids to consume as the alcohol doesn’t pervade through.

Black and White Wednesdays: Week 40

Wine and company

Submitting these images to Black and White Wednesdays #40 conceptualized by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook and hosted by Anusha of Tomato Blues. She will be doing the roundup of BWW #40 on 11th July, 2012.