Friday, October 30, 2009


Here are the pumpkins we carved this year. Cinderella and her Prince - who has been cast under an evil spell. Thought we'd twist up the classic a bit. Happy Halloween!
I still have another pumpkin left to carve, but I'm battling a 5 year old about doing another cartoon character vs. something ghoulish.
And I appear to be losing...

I'm sending these "pumpgrins" off to DK's Chef In You - who is hosting a "Show Me Your Pumpgrins" event. (Thanks Jaya for letting me know such an event was on!).

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Review of "The Hindi-Bindi Club"

The October book choice for the Books That Make Us Cook club was The Hindi-Bindi Club , a novel with recipes, by Monica Pradhan.

I'll be honest that when I first saw the title, I half-rolled my eyes and thought "Oh great - Bollywood fiction, here we come", especially after seeing the jacket cover of the book which had a slightly voluptuous female in a come-hither pose and a barely there sari. That being said, maybe it wasn't my smartest choice to use Amazon's slightly seedy "Click to look inside" link here...

Nope, no Bollywood. No dancing around trees. And no gratuitous ...anything. Lets keep it PG here, folks.

The book trails the lives of three Indian women who emigrated to the US years ago as either trailing spouses, or in the pursuit of higher education. The book intertwines their lives and their constant sentimental pangs to go "home" with the lives of their adult daughters, who grew up in the USA and face the inevitable culture shock of being Indian, but also of not being Indian, but rather American. Standard fare for any second generation Indian who currently resides in the US. Its easy to become an American, but hard to erase the Indian within. To sound cliche, the book did strike me in ways as an Indian version of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club.

*Spoiler Alert*
All the characters in the book are fairly free of sterotypes and the reasons for who they are and the way they behave is handled well by the author. In particular, I loved the character of Uma Basu Mcguiness, the Bengali woman who moves to America to pursue a higher education, meets and falls in love with an American, and has to deal with being expelled and excommunicated from her family back in India purely for that reason. In addition, Uma has a sensitive past that she struggles to deal with, her mother committed suicide after bearing four daughters because of the ostracizing dealt to women who do not bear male heirs in their caste and community . The chapter that deals with this storyline was for me the most haunting and well-written in the book. The blessing "May you be a Mother of a Hundred Sons" inadvertently led to a curse on Uma's family that would carry through to the next generation.

I thought the author Monica Pradhan inter-weaved several different life lessons and histories through the story. For example, she painfully recounts the Partition phase of India, and there is a deep assimilation of facts and stories of India's past, where the country was essentially sliced into parts following Independence, and the grief and anguish it caused to families that were separated by new borders.

However, I was confused at how abruptly some stories were cut or edited. I would have liked to understand more about Saroj's infidelity and the need for her to essentially carry on a two-faced life. For this reason alone, she ended up being the least liked character for me.
Or for that matter, the chapter on Uma and her daughter travelling back to India to exhume her mother's journals and the consequent treatment of daughter Rani's character by a sage are choppily written and abruptly ended with no real conclusion or closure.

But lets get back to the food. Each chapter ends with a dish from the region of India that each character is originally from. There is a great representation of Bengali, Punjabi and Maharashtrian food within the novel. I liked how there were recipes for well known delicacies like Chicken Curry and Ghee Rice Pilafs, and then lesser known regional or modern specialities like Bebinca and Sandesh Truffles.

I chose to sample some Bengali food because I have never eaten anything from that region of India - check out my version (of Uma's version) of Shorshe Salmon Maachh .

For other Book Club members and their reviews - see Bombay Foodie, Aparna, Aquadaze and Jaya.
N.B - I took the book on a 3 hour flight to Chicago - kept me well-entertained! Thanks Book Club and Aparna for this choice.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bengali Grilled Salmon with Spicy Panch Phoron Sauce - Shorshe Salmon Maachh

I chose to make this dish after seeing a verion of it in the book "The Hindi-Bindi club" which was the October choice at Books That Make Us Cook, see my review of the book here.

Each chapter in the book had a recipe that resonated with the main character in the chapter. Since I have ZERO exposure to Bengali food, I wanted to try one of the recipes featured - which was a baked salmon with a mustard glaze.

I already had some panch phoron spice in stock - this is a Bengali five spice - essentially an equal mix of cumin seeds, brown mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds and nigella seeds.

After I started making the dish per the recipe in the book, I realised I was going to have to make some adjustments. First, the marinade as per the book's recipe seemed too watery, it just called for the panch phoron spice to be blended with water and salt. Well, I tried that and I ended up with a watery paste with some whole seeds floating in it. The panch phoron consists of whole spice seeds, not powder, and that may have been the root of the problem. Then I realised that the salmon would just be dry after grilling it, so I decided to make a gravy to go with it, but also using the panch phoron spice.
I ended up merging the recipe with one I had seen in Cooking Light magazine, where salmon was cooked in a panch phoron "sauce" and named Salmon Kalia. Bengali Food Authenticity Police out there - hopefully, I haven't offended any of you out there with my wrangling of the dish!
Bengali Grilled Salmon (my adaptation from recipe for Shorshe Salmon Maachh in Hindi-Bindi Club - A Novel with Recipes by Monica Pradhan)

3 Tbsp panch phoron spice mix
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 large salmon fillet cut into 8 pieces
1/2 chopped onion
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp mustard oil (I used olive oil)

1. In a blender, puree the panch phoron, onion, garlic, turmeric, salt and water to a paste.
2.Brush both sides of the salmon fillets with oil, and then rub both sides with the spice paste.
3.Refrigerate the salmon to marinate for a minimum of an hour, but use within 24 hours.
4.Spray a grill pan with non-stick spray. Heat to high. Sear each fillet on the grill until lightly browned on both sides.
5.Remove fillets from grill, and keep aside.

Panch Phoron Vegetable Gravy (slightly adapted from
Cooking Light)

1 tsp salt or to taste
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp Panch Phoron Blend
1 large onion thinly sliced
1 large peeled Yukon Gold potato, cut into 1/4-inch strips
2 large tomatoes
1 large zucchini cubed
1 cup water
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp plain low-fat yogurt
5 serrano chiles, halved and seeded
1 tsp Garam Masala
a handful chopped fresh cilantro

1. Combine oil and Panch Phoron Blend in pan; cover and cook for 30 seconds, shaking pan constantly.
2. Add onion, garlic and ginger, chilli powder and garam masala, stir fry till slightly cooked then add potato; stir-fry for 6 minutes or until potatoes begin to brown, stirring frequently.
3. Add tomatoes, salt and zucchini to pan; stir fry, then add water and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
4. Reduce heat or take off heat completely and stir in yogurt until well blended (take off heat to prevent curdling).
5. Return salmon fillets to the pan, carefully nestling them into the vegetable mixture.
6.Cover pan and cook 10-20 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Sprinkle with cilantro.
Serve with a simple rice dish, I chose peas pulao

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ecuadorian Chicken Fried Rice - Chaulafan de Pollo

I had to post about chaulafan de pollo that I made recently and which I found on Laylita's blog. Do check out her site, what an assortment of recipes and regional delicacies from South America!
This chicken fried rice is found commonly in Ecuador, and y'all know how I love me some of that innernationaw food. So, I was splitting my sides when I further read her post and discovered that this dish is commonly prepared in Chinese restaurants (known as chifas) in Ecuador!

But even Chinese food takes on regional differences, this fried rice was a generously spiced and flavored mix of vegetables, chicken, bacon and rice. The best part to boot was that I also got three cups of homemade chicken broth out of the recipe as well.
aji criollo (Ecuadorian hot sauce) using another of Laylita's recipes. The aji is a hot chilli, garlic and cilantro condiment. This completed the dish for me, but the jury is out on that. My mom, for example, loved the rice by itself and didn't want the aji on it as she felt it detracted from all the flavors already in the rice. Which is odd, because she is the type of person who douses her pasta with Tabasco.

There is quite a bit of work involved in getting this dish ready, but it is so worth it. I also made an

I really did not deviate at all from Laylita's original recipe so I am not re-posting it here. The only change I made was to use paprika because I could not get my hands on achiote, which is a South American spice that is called for in the recipe. I stared down the international aisle of my local grocery store, and despite enlisting the produce manager, the store manager, the lady from the bakery and a random guy in a blue shirt, none of us could find it. (Though I later found out that carries it, if anyone knows which brand is best, please drop me a line!)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers - Cheddar Corn Chowder

The Barefoot Bloggers are cooking soup this week - a cheddar corn chowder as chosen by Jill of My Next Life and which is featured in The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook on page 74.

So I skimmed through the recipe, and it seemed fairly straightforward - cheese, corn and potatoes (for the chowder part I presumed). This was going to be interesting because while those were flavors I enjoyed, technically, I'm not a soup person. I'm just saying...

But armed with the fairly simple list of ingredients I decided to make this soup today, and really read the recipe. And realized some pertinent things.
Like Ina likes to feed all of Long Island when she makes soup. Twelve cups of chicken stock and ten cups of corn kernels?
The potatoes go in unpeeled.
Ay carumba...
I just had regular potatoes so I peeled and diced them. What is a white boiling potato anyway? I need to do some more detective work on the potato aisle next time.
And the bacon. All of the bacon. It's FRIED (Hallelujah), and then it disappears from the recipe and reappears as the garnish. Errmmm....Bacon needs to give its agent a call I thought, what a waste. But then I realized that bacon was kind of sacrificial in this soup, it was for the greater good because the bacon fat that is rendered is then what makes the base of the soup.

Slightly alarmed, but a little wiser, I made the soup. And instead of halving the recipe, I fifth'ed it. And invented that new word in the process *beaming*.
And the husband licked the bowl clean and asked for more.
I'm so glad I took part in this challenge. This soup is not thick like New England seafood chowders and I'm HAPPY about that! The thickness of regular chowder is a slight put-off factor for me. The soup is simple, its flavors are succint, its warm and comforting, and perfect for the crisp months that lie ahead for us! On some personal notes, I further reduced the quantity of cheese and half-and-half regardless of my fifth'ing (there she goes again!) because I did not want to overpower the overall taste or make the soup too dense.
I have a new soup recipe in my arsenal. If I make the entire quantity, it would be great as a party starter in cooler months, or I can feed the troops before I wage war on the tony suburb next door. Oops, did I just say that out loud?
Cheddar Corn Chowder

8 ounces bacon, chopped
1/4 cup good olive oil
6 cups chopped yellow onions (4 large onions)
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
12 cups chicken stock
6 cups medium-diced white boiling potatoes, unpeeled (2 pounds)
10 cups corn kernels, fresh (10 ears) or frozen (3 pounds)
2 cups half-and-half
8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, cook the bacon and olive oil until the bacon is crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Reduce the heat to medium, add the onions and butter to the fat, and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent.

Stir in the flour, salt, pepper, and turmeric and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and potatoes, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. If using fresh corn, cut the kernels off the cob and blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain. (If using frozen corn you can skip this step.) Add the corn to the soup, then add the half-and-half and cheddar. Cook for 5 more minutes, until the cheese is melted. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve hot with a garnish of bacon.

Monday, October 5, 2009

When Life Gives You Sharks, Make Pickle!

Shark Pickle.
Not something I rustle up at the drop of a hat, but I thought I'd venture my blog into Anthony Bourdain territory.
Because I'm Bad Like That.

And why exactly do I have a shark lying around my kitchen? Well, the male species in my house decided to go for a deep sea fishing trip the past weekend, zing-bang in tow. And of course, not only did they haul fish back, they brought a shark home too.
Yes, a stupid lumbering oaf knuckle head shark.
And that consequently left me with sleepless nights pondering how to turn this potentially mercury laden meat into an appetizing entree.I ruined the dish right there with that visual.
But I was sleepless. Wouldn't you be, if effin' JAWS was in your freezer down the hall from you?
Insert '70s terror music here (din-dan-din-dan-din-dan SCREEEAAAAMMMMM)

OK, I exaggerate. Wildly. The shark had been filleted and parceled impeccably by the boat hands before they even got to shore. It looked like chicken, to be honest. Shark meat is not the best seafood out there. Scientifically, it's prone to have a mercury content higher than other types of seafood due to a sharks position in the food-chain. Like all types of food out there, you eat it at your own risk. Like wild mushrooms. Or fast food. Children and pregnant ladies, stay away. I rest my case.

Someone came up with the brilliant idea to use the fillets to make a Kerala pickle.
Kerala Pickle 101 - whilst traditionally pickle is made with vegetables and fruits like lime, lemons, mangoes and gourd vegetables, it can also be made with beef or firm fleshed white fish. The pickles range from tangy, hot and sour and are used sparingly as condiments or as an accompaniment to a traditional Kerala meal. Emphasis on the word S-P-A-R-I-N-G-L-Y.

So my first foray into pickle making. I used the brilliant "Flavors of Kerala" cookbook and adapted their fish pickle recipe. I was also pleasantly surprised to note that this type of pickle does not require aging or any period of fermentation. It's ready to go as soon as you are happy with how well the oils and spices have been absorbed by the meat. I deviated from the original recipe in the proportion of wet ingredients, we liked our pickle with a lot of "sauce", the original recipe resulted in a drier pickle.

Fish Pickle (prepared with shark fillet) (ever so slightly adapted from "Flavors of Kerala" - Hena Jacob and Salim Pushpanath)

500g Boneless fish/shark fillets, sliced into small cubes
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup sesame oil
2 heaped Tbsp red chilli powder
1 tsp pepper powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 Tbsp crushed ginger
1 large bulb garlic - chopped
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp asafoetida powder
1/2 cup white vinegar
2 stalks curry leaves
Salt - to taste

1. Clean and wash fish pieces, marinate with pepper, turmeric and salt to taste. Keep aside for about an hour.
2. Deep fry the fish pieces in coconut oil. Reserve on a plate lined with paper towels.
3. Heat the sesame oil, add fenugreek and mustard. When they splutter, add the ginger, garlic and curry leaves.
4. Remove the pan from heat, add chilli powder and asafoetida powder.
5. Add the fried fish pieces into this oil mixture and then add vinegar and give everything a big stir.
6. When cooled, transfer to a clean dry bottle with tight-fitting lid. Refrigerate.
7. Use as a condiment with rice-based dishes.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicken Mansaf - Cuisine of Jordan

I stumbled upon the Walima club, a group of food bloggers who have doggedly decided to blog their way through the Middle East, get this, one alphabet letter at a time. I LURV me some Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, so I thought I'd tag along, and hopped on board at the letter J - which meant September was the month for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Of course this is October, but hey, I guess that makes me a little Tardy for the Party.
Har, har, har.....
Petra - one of the Seven Wonders opf the World - is located in Jordan - (pic - source wikipedia)

There were two options, the savoury Mansaf dish, and the sweet Kunafa. I could not source the pastry needed for the Kunafa - it looks like a kind of vermicelli - so I went with making the Mansaf and used chicken instead of the more traditional lamb.
Mansaf is the de facto national dish of Jordan. It consists of meat stewed with spices in a fermented dried yoghurt called jameed.
Enter problem #1 - No jameed - so I subbed with yoghurt, strained to make it a little thicker because guess what people - I can never find Greek yoghurt in my local grocery store. Problem #2 - Greek Gods of Thick Yoghurt -where art thou in my neck of the woods?

The plating is apparently quite elaborate, first layers of traditional flatbread, followed by aromatic rice, finally topped with the meat, and garnished with pine nuts and almonds.

All in all, I liked my rendition (given I've never tasted the original dish!) - it has a fragrant thick and tangy sauce from the yoghurt, though I did go a little overboard with the bahaarat spice (Gulf Spice mix - which I sourced from the lovely ladies at Arabic Bites) and so my version had a little extra zing. After reading it up online, I chose to add the yoghurt after cooking the chicken in spice, which is the opposite of the original method. Chalk that up to an illogical fear of curdled yoghurt...I have issues, people....

Apologies for the appaling photo, it was late by the time I had the whole dish assembled and hungry hands were fast approaching....

Chicken Mansaf (sourced from Walima Arabia)

1lb chicken thighs - boneless, cut into bite sized pieces
1lb chicken breast - boneless, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
2-3 Tbsp EVOO
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups thick yoghurt
2 cups jasmine rice
1 Tbsp butter

slivered almonds and pine nuts - to garnish
3 pita bread - sliced in half and then cut into wedges

1. Mince garlic and onion, heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion and garlic to pan.
2. Add chicken pieces, gulf spice mix, turmeric and paprika and a little salt to taste.
3. Continue cooking till chicken is done, you may need to add water to allow for some gravy. Remove from heat. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
4. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat yoghurt, whilst stirring all the time. When yoghurt begins to boil, remove from heat.
5. Add yoghurt to the chicken and stir well till combined over low heat. Keep stirring to prevent yoghurt from curdling and reduce further till a thick gravy forms.
6. Fry washed and drained rice in butter in a separate pan, add water to cook.
7. Assemble in a platter - layer the wedges of pita bread, use some of the chicken gravy to "wet" the bread. Next add the rice, then the chicken. Finally, add some toasted pine nuts and almonds to garnish.