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.

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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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A Bengali Brunch: Koraishootir kochuri [Pooris stuffed with a spicy peas masala]

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R and I had been dating for many years before we got married. Our conversations used to revolve around our families, our lives together, our cultural differences, amongst many other things which young dating couples from different cultural backgrounds talk about.

R’s family is from West Bengal, a state in the Eastern part of India that is often known for its politics, literary history, culture, a daily diet that MUST include fish, and people who are extremely fond of sweets! My family, on the other hand, comes from the neighbouring state of Bihar, a state that is often the subject of conversation for its politics, lawlessness and poverty. The harsh reality is that we live in a world of stereotypes. The only silver lining is that we also live in a world where travel has become a lot easier and internet ensures there is enough information for people who seek out for it. This is definitely helping people to see beyond these stereotypes.

Before I got married, I was only worried about how I was going to deal with the sweet palate of the Bengali family and relatives because I definitely didn’t have one. It would be rude to refuse a sweet offered so lovingly and generously. Fortunately, it wasn’t really as difficult as I had made it out to be. Word spread about my love for fish and my lack of appetite for sweets.  The rest is history. I have been fortunate to have some of the best food in many Bengali homes. No restaurant can match up to that taste, variety and depth of flavour that is created in these home kitchens.

My Mother-in-Law is one of the best cooks I know. I owe a lot of my understanding of Bengali food to her. There are also a couple of other relatives and friends who have wholeheartedly welcomed me in their kitchen and given me the opportunity to watch, ask questions and learn. That learning over the years has given me the confidence to cook a lot of traditional Bengali food at home.

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Today, I am sharing my recipe of a traditional Bengali Brunch – ‘Koraishootir Kochuri’ or Pooris stuffed with a spicy peas masala. Do not confuse them with “Kachori” from North India. The two are quite different in texture, appearance and taste.

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Koraishootir kochuri is a popular homemade breakfast especially in the winter months when peas are in season. I didn’t have to wait for winters as I used frozen peas which are fortunately available year round! 😉 Koraishootir Kochuri is almost always served with some Indian pickles (aachhaar / achaar) and a spicy semi-dry dish made with potatoes called aaloo dom in Bengali or aaloo dum in Hindi. I promise to share a recipe of aaloo dom / aaloo dum very soon!

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The filling used here is a spicy mixture of peas dominantly flavoured by asafetida. Asafetida or hing, is a very strong and pungent spice. It is used quite extensively in a lot of Indian vegetarian dishes, especially for cooking where no onions or garlic are used. Most commonly available in a powder form, when fried for a few seconds in oil, it releases a very pleasant aroma and enhances the flavour of a dish immediately. A little goes a long way is apt for this spice. It is also an essential ingredient for flavoring many Indian pickles / achaar / aachaar.

Traditionally, Maida or refined flour is used to make this dish. I prefer to use wholewheat flour instead.

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To print this recipe, click here.

Koraishootir Kochuri or Pooris with a spicy Peas Masala filling:

Yield: About 18-20 pcs
These are quite heavy as they are thicker than the usual pooris and they have filling inside.

Things I needed:

A Paraath or a huge plate which is common in most Indian homes. It is used to knead dough.
A deep bottomed kadhai or Indian style wok or a deep pot for deep frying.
A Chakla
A rolling pin

For more information on the essential utensils for an Indian kitchen, you should check out the blog written by my friend, Nisha. She blogs at Spusht and has done a brilliant job of making an inventory for any one new to Indian cooking. Check this and many other interesting recipes and ideas on her blog, Spusht.

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Ingredients for the Dough:

Wholewheat flour: 2 cups [I used Aashirvaad Wholewheat aata]
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Carom seeds or Ajwain: ½ tsp
Warm water: ¾ cup
Salt: a pinch or to taste
Oil for deep frying

In a paraath or a big flat deep plate used in most Indian homes for kneading dough, add the flour, carom seeds (ajwain) and salt. Using your hands mix all the dry ingredients so that they are uniformly spread. Now add ghee (at room temperature) to the flour and rub it in between your palms. Repeatedly rub the flour and ghee mixture in this manner for 3-4 minutes to have the smell and flavour of ghee spread across the flour.

Next, make a well and add 1/3 cup water in the middle. Knead the dough mixing the flour with the water, adding water a little at a time. You may not need to use all the water but Add another 1/3 cup warm water and continue kneading. If the dough is sticky, just add a little flour and knead it again until smooth. We are looking for a dough which is not too firm but not very soft either – somewhere in between!

Ingredients for the Peas filling:

Frozen peas: 2 cups
Regular vegetable oil: 2 tsp
Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
Grated ginger: 1 tsp
Asafetida powder (hing): approx. 1/8 tsp
Roasted cumin powder: ½ tsp
Garam Masala: ½ tsp
Aamchoor (Dry Mango) powder: ½ tsp
Salt to taste

Boil the peas in just enough water to wet the peas with a pinch of salt until they are soft. (About 5 mins).

Using a food processor, make a coarse paste of the peas.

Heat 2 tsp of oil in a small kadhai / wok / skillet. Add cumin seeds, reduce heat and let it change colour without burning or turning black. Add grated ginger. You have to be careful to not let the cumin seeds burn otherwise it can add a bitter taste. Reduce heat or remove the pan from heat if needed. Add the asafetida and stir for a couple of seconds. Add the coarse peas paste, chilli powder and salt to taste.

Increase heat to medium, and continue to stir in order to reduce the moisture content of this mixture. When the mixture is almost dry (about 5 mins), add the roasted cumin powder, garam masala powder and aamchoor powder. Taste and adjust the taste to your liking. Continue frying for another 2 minutes and remove from heat.
Spread mixture on a plate to allow it to cool completely. This step is important to help you roll the pooris and make sure the filling doesn’t come out when rolling.

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Assembling it all together:

Now divide the dough into about equal size pieces. You should be able to make around 18 – 20 pcs. These are rolled thicker than the usual pooris so each portion must be a little bigger than your usual Poori dough. To give you an idea, each pc weighed in between 20-25 gms.

Make a smooth ball with each pc of dough. Using your fingers and in a sort of pinching motion, press from the centre turning it around, creating a well to stuff the filling. Make sure you don’t spread it too thin as this needs to be rolled flat and the stuffing should not come out.

Stuff around 1 tbsp of the prepared filling as shown in the picture. Seal it well. Take out a tbsp of the oil in a small bowl. Put a few drops of oil on the surface of the rolling surface (Chakla) to ensure it doesn’t stick when rolling. We do not use flour to roll these as dry flour will burn very quickly [A tip I learned from my Mother-in-law].

Roll these into small but thick pooris about 10-12 cm in diameter, taking care not to let the filling come out. If the filling comes out, these will not fluff up as we want it to. This takes a little practice so don’t be disappointed if you miss a few. Keep trying:)

Test the oil by adding a tiny pinch of dough, it should sizzle immediately and float up in the oil. Remove the test piece or you’ll have a burnt piece of dough floating about.

Gently slide down the rolled koraishootir kochuri in to hot oil to deep fry them. With the back of the spatula, gently press these kochuris to help them fluff up. Once fluffed up, immediately turn them over so that both sides get cooked. Fry one piece at a time. You could roll a few and keep on standby while the oil is heating, but make sure you do not stack them. Instead, spread them on a plate separate from one another.

Keep adjusting the heat. If the oil becomes too hot, there are 2 things you can do:
– reduce the heat or remove from heat to gradually cool down the oil to bring to desired temperature.
– Add more oil. This will help to reduce the temperature of the oil.

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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.

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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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.

Khao Lak contd. | Thai Green Curry with Chicken and eggplants

As I begin to recollect my Khao Lak experience, reports of a strong earthquake and a Tsunami warning come flashing in all over the news media. A sense of panic struck. Considering I was there just over a week ago made matters worse. All I hoped for was the damage to be minimal and the tsunami averted.

I breathed a sigh of relief once the Tsunami warnings were lifted and reports confirmed that things were under control.

The joy of idling away an entire day by the beach knows no bounds. The clock stops ticking. Hunger takes a back seat. It almost feels like every part of your body is on that much needed vacation!

We continue our little party at the poolside bar. The poolside bar is one of the best places to hangout in this resort. The cocktails are inviting but the part I enjoyed most was sitting on the bar stools inside the pool. There is something so casual and refreshing about it.

Later that evening, we took a so-called taxi (songthaew in Thai) to explore the Khao Lak market. It’s a rather small market area with rows of individual shops. In particular, I was interested in a boutique shop named ‘Kanyarak’, after reading about it online. All the desperate attempts to find the shop were futile. Frustrated, we decided to stop for a drink. As luck would have it, the shop I was looking for was right opposite the restaurant where we stopped for a drink. ‘Kanyarak’ has an impressive collection of designer stainless steel cutlery and dining ware (no plates though!). Be sure to carry enough cash or a credit card if you intend to shop 🙂

On the last day, we spent the afternoon at the ‘White Sand beach’, a 20 min songthaew ride from our Resort. The beach holds true to its name. Although it has its share of tourists, it is still less crowded than the Resort. The shacks at the entrance of this beach where the songthaew dropped us, serves some really authentic and spicy Thai food. Undoubtedly, the best we had in our trip.

We concluded our vacation with the last few hours spent at the spa, bringing us to the end of an absolutely gastronomical and rejuvenating retreat.

As the old adage goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a snapshot of some of the heavenly food we had during our trip.

Green Curry Chicken or Keng Khiao Wan Gai Recipe

I wouldn’t shy before concluding that Green curry or Kaeng khiao wan is one of the most popular Thai Curries across the world. The main reason for such universal appeal, in my opinion, is the ever-so-faithful combination of all the different herbs and spices used to make the Green Curry paste as well as the fact that it is mostly a mild curry.

Be forewarned: My version is on the spicy side of the spectrum. Please tone it down by reducing the number of chillies or use less-hot chillies in your Green Curry Paste if you prefer a mild curry.

Some restaurants like to add carrots and potatoes in this curry. I am not too big a fan of that in this context. Mine is a simple version with baby eggplants and green round eggplants. You may want to add more vegetables as you like.

Serves: 4

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Green Curry Paste: 4 tblsp [To make it at home: Refer to my previous post : How to make Green Curry paste]
Boneless chicken: 300 gms (sliced into 2″ pcs)
Low fat Coconut milk: 2 1/2 cups (substituted by:  1 & 1/2 cups of coconut cream and 1/2 cup of water)
Kaffir lime leaves: 10 – each leaf roughly torn in two (tearing these leaves gives an  instantaneous aroma)
Galangal (Thai Ginger): 1″ pc, lightly crushed
Sweet Basil leaves: a big handful
Baby egg plants: 1/2 cup; Stem removed and washed.
Small round green egg plants: 5 (can be substituted with any other egg plant): Cut into quarters
Oil: 1 tbsp
Palm sugar: 2 tsp
Fish sauce: 1 tbsp or more depending on your preference

For Garnish:
1 big red Thai chilli (remove seeds and cut into thin strips)
3-4 tsp of coconut milk

How I did it:

Heat oil in a deep bottomed dish. Add the green curry paste and fry for 3 mins on medium-low heat.

Next, add 1/2 cup of coconut milk. Continue to cook until the coconut milk is almost assimilated into the green curry paste (5 mins).

Next add the chicken and fry for 2 mins until the chicken is nicely coated with the curry paste and begins to turn white. Now add the remaining 2 cups of coconut milk. Let it boil on medium heat for about 5 mins.

If using coconut cream, use 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk in all. Add 1 cup water. Coconut cream is thick in consistency so adding water helps to achieve the desired consistency.
Add the eggplants followed by palm sugar, torn lime leaves, galangal and 1 tbsp of fish sauce. Fish sauce is salty so make sure you taste the curry before adding more.

Note: the shrimp paste already has salt. So, if you have added shrimp paste in your green curry paste, do not add too much fish sauce at first. Let it cook for another 5 mins on medium heat. Stir in between. Do not overcook the eggplants as they become too mushy when overcooked.

Cooking Green Curry Chicken

When almost done, check the seasoning. Adjust palm sugar and fish sauce as per your liking.

Once done, turn off the heat. Add a handful of sweet basil leaves. Give it a good stir.

Garnish with a swirl of coconut milk and red chilli strips. Enjoy with steamed rice.

A beach vacation in Khao Lak | ..and Thai Green Curry paste

R & I are always looking for reasons to travel. Both of us love traveling but our motivations are different. Yet, one thing unites us : FOOD !

A well-planned but badly executed surprise holiday was in the making. It was R’s birthday last weekend.

At first, a dear friend spilled the beans – Phuket! I dodged that one somehow because we were going to Khao Lak, 1.5 hours drive from the Phuket airport. And then it was me – a terrible case of ‘slip of tongue’ 😦 So, just before the trip started, R knew exactly where we were going. And I cursed myself for it !

We landed very late that night. A prearranged car and driver was waiting for us at the Phuket airport. In my far-from-perfect-Thai, I explained to the driver that we were hungry! He took us to a small eatery nearby selling Khao Man Gai (Thai Chicken Rice). Khao Man Gai brought back memories of my university days in Bangkok. It was a standard meal for the times when I needed to have a quick lunch in between classes. Lost in nostalgia, I had an extra plate of chicken and two bowls of soup !

Our resort, Ramada Khao Lak, was a solitude by the beaches far from the madness of Phuket. The room was tastefully furnished with modern fixtures, a fancy jacuzzi indoors and sun-loungers in the balcony – perfect for a romantic vacation.

We were here to unwind and soak in every bit of sea, sand and sun.

The sun-loungers by the beach were highly sought after. We were almost always the last takers. As the boys played in the sun, I sat there listening to the sound of the sea. My mind drifting along with the whoosh-whash of the waves. I couldn’t help but imagine the plight of the many people who were here, just like us, more than 7 years ago when the giant Tsunami hit the Asian subcontinent. Khao Lak was one of the worst affected areas. I shuddered as images of those giant killer waves kept flashing in my mind…

After a couple of hours, we headed to the nearby shacks for lunch. What a treat that was! Tom Yam Prawns, Basil Chicken, Papaya salad, Spicy Noodles, and more – all phed phed (extra spicy). And some chilled Singha Beer to cool us down 🙂

As the sun went down, we strolled to the nearby local weekend market. What better way to experience a place than to shop and eat where the locals do ! One street dedicated to fresh spices and herbs, another to street food and yet another to the 199-Baht clothes and souvenir shops. The aroma of fresh basil, mint, coriander, lemon grass, galangal and lime leaves are enough to give anyone hunger pangs! As we just about managed to get past that, the most vibrant, innovative street food awaited us – Smoked pork balls, coconut pancakes, fried chicken, Stick noodles (Phad Thai) and much more! Needless to say, we kept sampling all the food as we walked along.

V chose an Angry Bird t-shirt for himself, which by the way he calls ‘bad birds’. Soon our little boy was getting cranky. It was dinner time. We were in the mood for something authentic, and not toned down for ‘foreigners’. A small Thai family restaurant down the road was the unanimous choice. They made a Stir Fried Prawn and Vegetable dish for V – Thai style but without chillies and he loved it! We had our share of everything spicy – fried fish, garlic chicken, stir fried prawns, stir fried vegetables and a yum load of sauces to go with it!

A little bit of pampering in the spa was exactly what we needed to end this long and tiring day.

More on the vacation in my next post for fear of exceeding the word count limit, if any!


To give myself a continued sense of that perfect beach vacation and to celebrate my love for Thai food,  I wanted to share one of my all time favorite curry recipes. I first made the curry paste and then used it to make a curry. I will share the curry recipe in the next post.

How to make Green Curry Paste:

To print this recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

Shallots: 8
Thai Garlic: 15 cloves
Lemon grass: 3 stalks
Galangal: 1 ½ “ pc
Fresh Green Peppercorns: 10 pc
Kaffir Lime rind: of ½ a lime
Thai Green chillies: 15
Sweet Basil leaves: 1 cup
Coriander seeds: 1 tbsp
Cumin seeds: 1 tsp
Shrimp paste: 3 tsp

How I did it:

Dry roast the cumin and coriander in a pan on low heat. This may take about 3-4 mins. Let it cool.

Finely slice the galangal (or Thai ginger) and shallots. Wash the Thai garlic thoroughly. If using Thai garlic, you can keep the skin. If using any other garlic, peel the skin first.

Smash the end of the lemon grass stalk with the back of a knife (white in color). Finely slice the white portion, discarding the green stalk.

Using a mortar and pestle, finely pound the dry roasted coriander and cumin seeds. Take it out and keep aside in a bowl.

Now pound the galangal and kaffir lime rind until smooth. Add the finely sliced lemon grass and green peppercorn and pound.

When done, add the green chillies, pound well until a smooth paste is formed. Next add the garlic and shallots and pound thoroughly. Finally, add the shrimp paste, sweet basil and pound until the mixture forms a fine paste.

Notes:

  • For a vegetarian version, skip the shrimp paste.
  • Alternatively, you could grind all the ingredients in a food processor instead of using the mortar and pestle. Though, I believe that the aromas and flavors that come out in pounding cannot be replicated by a food processor.

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.

Junglee Mutton: Holi special

Around this time of the year, every year, I am overwhelmed by nostalgia. It is Holi (the festival of colors).

I close my eyes as I travel back in time to the shelter of my parent’s home.

Life is beautiful.

It is the eve of Holi. I have been waiting for this day and so have my other little friends. Ma is busy preparing sweets and savories – ‘gujiya’ and ‘maalpua’ are a tradition. Papa has bought abeer (colors for Holi) and a pichkari (water gun) to be shared by the four kids in the house. The evening is spent in making the crucial decision: which clothes have we outgrown and are ready to discard this Holi?

As night falls, a bright day of color, food and pure bliss beckons.

Sunrise brings along with it great cheer. We’ve never been happier to wake up early and probably the only time in the year before Ma wants us to wake up. She has to finish cooking before the festivities begin. Ma is a little nervous. She needs to make sure that there is enough food for all visitors.

It is mandatory that the first thing to do before stepping out of the house is to give ourselves a good rub with generous amounts of oil to prevent our skin from getting stained with the colors of Holi. Though secretly I always wished the color stains remained, at least for the next day or two. It was the mark of a Holi, well played.

A knock on the door… and a world of color, water, fun, friends, food and madness begins!

A swarm of people knocking on every door, their faces daubed with bright colors. Red. Blue. Green. Yellow. Pink. Buckets of water splashed all over… and today, that only brings smiles to people’s faces. The crowd echoing in one voice “Holi Hai”!! (It is Holi). The gujiyas, maal puas and dahi vadas do the rounds as do namkeen and mithais (savories and sweets) from every home. Uncles and Aunties from around the neighborhood gather, all in festive spirits. They are an extended family. We smear their faces with color and they do the same along with countless blessings and much love. It is one day where happiness knows no bounds.

At some point in the day, the children and adults part ways for their own celebrations. We loved that part just as much as the adults did.

This day knew no squabbles. Only mended friendships, love and laughter..

As if customary, we almost always ended this colorful, hot day with a dip, a jump, a splash in the big reservoir in our neighborhood. We spend hours there. Basking in the glory of the day gone by. Almost in oblivion. Probably creating a memory which will last us a lifetime…

Junglee Mutton:

Ma always prepares mutton on this special day. It’s a tradition that has been followed in our family for as long as I can remember. I’ve tried to keep the tradition, though this is not the traditional family recipe. In due course, that shall be shared too.

Junglee Mutton, as the name suggests, is a recipe from the wild! A recipe predominantly in the kitchens of the royal families of India. As the name suggests, this dish was prepared in the wild by shikaris (hunters) when out in the wild, hunting. Originally, made with wild boar, these days it is prepared with mutton.

I thank Raja Shailendra Singh of Chandapur for introducing me to this wonderful preparation of mutton during my first trip to Lucknow. This is my humble attempt to recreate a dish that I absolutely fell in love with from the very first bite.

Do not go by the simplicity of this recipe and the lack of exotic ingredients. If you love mutton and like it hot & spicy, this dish is all yours!

To print this Recipe, click here.

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients:

Mutton: 600 gms
Dried hot red chillies: 15 – 20 pcs (yes, you got that right!)
Salt: as per taste
Mustard oil: 2 1/2 tbsp
Water

A heavy bottomed pot / or a kadhai

How I did it:

Wash the mutton. Make sure there are some bones as they add to the flavor of the dish. Add salt and a tbsp of mustard oil and leave it for an hour or so in room temperature.


In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the remaining mustard oil to a smoking hot temperature. Make sure you bring the oil to smoking point. Let the smoke come out. Remove from fire.

Add the marinated mutton into the pot. Cover and cook. Stirring in between every 5 mins on medium-high heat. After 15 minutes, add the dried red chillies.

Add water throughout the cooking process, a ladle at a time, making sure that the mutton remains moist – neither boiling nor dry. Adjust the heat, if necessary to achieve this. This is important to make sure the final dish is moist and well cooked.

Cover and continue cooking following the method above until mutton is soft. It took me almost 2 hours to cook this dish. Serve hot with Roti.

Note:

I used about 750 ml of water, adding a ladle at a time and cooking with the pot covered most of the time. You may need more or less, depending on the heat used.