Kadai Paneer

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Kadai is a thick bottom circular cooking pan, similar to a wok, but with steeper sides, an essential in every Indian kitchen. This dish is traditionally cooked in one and hence the name Kadai Paneer. The combination of the the tangy tomato gravy balanced with a dash of sweetness from cream followed by a garnish of dried fenugreek leaves makes this dish. It’s rich texture and ease to cook makes it a perfect dish to cook when entertaining. So far I have never had leftovers and always find myself writing this recipe down for people.  img_6488

I am good at figuring things out and really enjoy the process of deconstructing a dish, understanding the various ingredients that went in it and building it all together. This dish is one of them, I had an idea of this dish and I modified it to be my own. Traditionally ginger, garlic and a few more whole spices are added to this dish. I prefer it without those.

I have made this dish for my vegan friends and its easy. For a vegan version, use Tofu instead of Paneer and cashews for the creamy sweet richness. Even my non-vegan friends love that variation.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 25 mins    Yield: 4-6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 10 oz Paneer
  • 1 onion, julienned
  • 1 small green bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 small red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 cup tomato puree
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2-3 dried red chilli
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne or red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 4 tbsp fresh cream or heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp dried fenugreek leaves (Kasoori Methi)

Process:

  1. In a heavy bottom pan, heat butter over medium heat. Add bay leaf, dried red chilli, cumin and caraway seeds.
  2. When the tempering starts spluttering and you can get the aroma, add onions. Saute for 4-5 mins, till they get a little caramalized.
  3. Add the red and green bell peppers, mix it in, then garam masala,cayenne, coriander powder, turmeric and salt. Mix everything in, sauté for 3-4 mins.
  4. Add the chopped tomato fold it in. Cover and cook, stirring on regular interval until it gets mushy or 4-5 mins.
  5. Add in tomato puree, cover and cook for another 5 mins, to take away the rawness.
  6. Add Paneer, fold it in and cook for 2-3 mins.
  7. Add cream, mix it in and turn of the flame. Do not cook after adding cream or it will curdle.
  8. Garnish with Kasoori Methi.

Serve with naan or chapatis.

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Chilli Chicken

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Indo-Chineese cuisine, food that has my heart and is the source of some of the fondest memories of family dinning growing up. Story goes that I was a problem child and the one bribe that worked like a charm was a weekend meal of my favorites – Chicken Corn soup, Prawn Pakora followed by Chilli Chicken with oodles of noodles at my favorite restaurant, Alex’s Kitchen. Always a Foodie. According to my mom I also preferred dining out because I loved the ambience of the restaurant. Yes that word became part of my vocabulary very early in life. Food is a sensory experience and the right ambience enhances that experience immensely, just like the mingled fragrance of chilli, garlic, ginger, scallion and soy at the restaurant.

The restaurant had a pretty big menu and the friendly host, Robert was always full of helpful and delicious recommendations. While we tried something new every now and then, Chilli Chicken was always part of our order. And I continue craving it every now and then. This recipe is probably not the real deal, but it is a recreation of the memory I cherish so much. Hopefully it will lead to some of your own.

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins     Yield: 6 servings     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • For the Chicken:
    • 2 lbs Boneless Chicken, cut in 1 inch cubes
    • 3 tbsp corn starch
    • 1 tbsp rice flour
    • 1 inch ginger, grated (or 1.5 tbsp ginger powder)
    • 1 tsp rice vinegar
    • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
    • 3 tsp black pepper powder
    • 1 tsp white pepper powder
    • 1 tsp red chilli powder
    • 1 tsp tomato sauce
    • 1 egg
  • For the Gravy:
    • 4 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 tsp rice vinegar
    • 1 tsp brown sugar
    • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 onion, cut in squares
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut in squares
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut in squares
  • 2-3 thai chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • Oil
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • salt to taste

Process:

  1. Make a paste with the ginger, garlic, white pepper powder, tomato sauce, red chilli powder, rice vinegar, corn starch, rice flour and egg. Marinate the chicken pieces in this paste for 3-4 hours.
  2. Heat oil for deep frying in a heavy bottomed vessel.
  3. Carefully fry the marinated chicken. Do not crowd the vessel. Reduce flame and deep fry till cooked and is golden brown. Remove onto absorbent paper and keep aside.
  4. Heat oil in a large wok add half of the soy sauce and sugar.
  5. Add the whites of scallions and sauté for a few seconds. Add the chilli pepper and ginger and stir fry on high for a few seconds.
  6. Add the fried chicken pieces, chopped bell peppers and onion and stir fry on high for 2-3 mins, constantly tossing them.
  7. Reduce to medium heat and add rest of the soy sauce, tomato ketchup and vinegar. Mix well and cook for 2-3 mins.
  8. Toss on high flame for 1-2 mins
  9. Mix a tbsp of cornflour in a little water, make a thin paste and keep aside.
  10. Add the chicken stock  and bring to a boil.
  11. Add the cornflour water slowly and keep stirring till it takes a thick gravy like consistency. Cook for 1-2 mts. Turn off heat.
  12.  Garnish with chopped spring onion greens and/or coriander leaves and serve.

Kumror (Pumpkin) Chokka

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Fall is my favorite time of the year the slight nip in the air, the smell of pine, festivities everywhere and fall vegetables, I love every one of them! Chokka in bangla means a spiced dish of vegetables cooked almost dry. Kumror Chokka is a traditional bengali dish that is made using Pumpkins, potatoes and chickpeas.While traditionally this dish is made during the summer months, I make this in fall, with fresh Pie Pumpkin or Butternut Squash from the local farmers market. Serve it with Porotha or Puri and its just perfect of cold evenings.

This dish was very popular in my maternal grandparents house. Story goes that when ever my grandparents argued about something, my granddad would step out and comeback home with a Pumpkin as peace offering. And my grandmother would make this, their favorite dish and they would laugh about their disagreements over a meal. Love Birds!

This and a few other bengali recipes will call for Paanch Phoron for tempering. It is a combination of Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds and Nigella Seeds in equal proportion. 

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 15-20 mins    Yield: 6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 Pie Pumpkin or Butternut Squash, cut into cubes
  • 1 medium sized potato, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup cooked chickpeas
  • 3-4 green chile pepper
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 inch ginger
  • 1/2 tbsp Paanch Phoron
  • 1-2 dried red chilli pepper
  • 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp roasted cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnishing
  • 1 tsp ghee (optional)
  • 1 tsp garam masala

Process:

  1. Heat oil in a Wok on medium heat, add paanch phoron and dried red chilli pepper. Sauté till aromatic.
  2. In the mean time muddle together ginger, garlic and fresh green chile pepper with a pestle
  3. Add the potatoes, muddle spices, turmeric and salt to the now aromatic temper. Sauté for 4-5 mins.
  4. Add butternut squash/pumpkin and chickpeas, mix them in. Cover and cook till vegetables are done (tender) around 10-12 mins.
  5. Let the vegetables char a little at the bottom.
  6. Remove from heat, fold in the thin charred crust.
  7. Garnish with ghee, garam masala and chopped cilantro.

 

Aloo Pyager Chorchuri (Potato-Onions Stir-Fry)

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Chorchuri is a char flavored bengali style stir fry, Chorchori being the noun and the vegetable used to make it, the adjectives. As a child I had asked my mom why this dish was called Chorchori, she said it is because when the vegetables are getting charred, they make a sizzling sound that sounds like ‘chor’ which is also an indicator that the dish is almost done. I am not sure if that’s accurate or not, but thats the story I go with.

Any number of vegetables can be used to make this, but in the Aloo loving Mukherjee household, potatoes have always been the main ingredient with others making a guest appearance or not. This particular dish was a breakfast favorite served with Luchi or Bashi Porotha (Stale Parathas made the night before). There is something about warm porotha, potatoes along with the smell and taste of mustard oil that makes it one of the most comforting dish for lazy mornings.

The charred part is the best part of the dish and my sister and I always called dibs on who gets to clean up (read lick) the wok, mom won most times, go figure!

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I like to cut the potatoes and onions in wedges, because thats how my mom did it, but its not a rule.

This and a few other bengali recipes will call for Paanch Phoron for tempering. It is a combination of Cumin Seeds, Mustard Seeds, Fenugreek Seeds, Fennel Seeds and Nigella Seeds in equal proportion. 

 

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 20-30 mins    Yield: 6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 medium size potatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 medium sized onion, cut into wedges
  • 3-4 green chile pepper, slit
  • 1 tbsp Paanch Phoron
  • 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnishing

Process:

  1. Heat oil in a Wok on medium heat, add paanch phoron. Sauté till aromatic.
  2. Add the potatoes, onions, green chili pepper,  turmeric and salt. Sauté, cover and cook till vegetables are done (tender) around 12-15 mins.
  3. Let the vegetables char a little at the bottom.
  4. Remove from heat, fold in the thin charred crust.
  5. Garnish and serve.

Note:

  • If you want to add some protein in to it, shrimp or scallops is the way to go.

Vegetable Manchurian

IMG_4267Indo- Chinese cuisine took birth in the streets of Kolkata by a small group of Chinese immigrants incorporating traditional Chinese cooking techniques and seasoning to create dishes catering to Indian tastes. A big part of it was providing a wide range of vegetarian options. Through years of evolution, this cuisine now bears very little resemblance to traditional Chinese food, except may be the use of soy sauce.

Good Indo-Chinese food is almost impossible to find in US, I have followed every lead I got (which includes my cousin driving an hour for a carry out!!) but the food never met expectations. So this became one of those pet projects of mine and I have finally managed the India wala taste. And the best part, this is MSG FREE!
IMG_4279This dish is one of the most popular street food in India, grated mixed vegetable dumplings are first fried and then sautéed in soy sauce (and more) and served hot as is or as a side dish with Hakka Noodles or Fried Rice. Dry version serves as a good appetizer and the gravy version is perfect with some Fried Rice or Steamed Rice. Restaurants add a whole bunch of MSG (may be thats why its so addictive?), I use a tbsp of butter instead to get similar flavor.

Here I am deep frying the fritters, but in the past I have tried to bake it too. Make the vegetables balls following steps listed below, on a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper place them around 1/2 inch apart from each other,  spray a little oil and baked for 20 mins in oven pre-heated to 400F/205C, then broiled for 5 mins, flipping them halfway. While it definitely is a lot healthier, it doesn’t taste the same.

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 20 mins     Yield: 16     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • Finely chopped vegetables
    • 1/4 cup carrots
    • 1/4 cup green bell pepper
    • 1/4 cup red bell pepper
    • 1/2 cup cauliflower
    • 1/2 cup cabbage
    • 1/2 cup scallions
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp corn starch
  • 1 tbsp rice flour
  • 2-3 thai chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 inch ginger, grated (or 1.5 tbsp ginger powder)
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
  • 1 tbsp chilli sauce or siracha
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tsp black pepper power
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

Process:

  1. Heat oil for deep frying in a heavy bottomed vessel.
  2. In a bowl, combine all the finely chopped vegetables. Add salt, mix it in and let it sit aside for 10-15 mins. vegetables (especially cauliflower) will release quite a bit of water.
  3. Add all-purpose flour, corn starch, rice flour, half of ginger, garlic and thai chilli pepper, black pepper, 2 tsp soy sauce. Mix them all in. Add water, if needed, little by little and use only as much water as required to form small balls. You should be able to make small balls as shown in the picture above. Be mindful while adding water and add only 1 tbsp at a time.
  4. Carefully place each ball into the hot oil. Do not crowd the vessel. Reduce flame and deep fry the vegetable balls till cooked and is golden brown. Remove onto absorbent paper and keep aside.
  5. Heat oil in a large wok, add the whites of scallions and garlic, sauté for a few seconds. Add the rest of chilli pepper and ginger and stir fry on high for a few seconds.
  6. Add the vegetable balls and stir fry on high for 2 mts, constantly tossing them.
  7. Reduce to medium heat and add the brown sugar, soya sauce, tomato ketchup, chilli sauce and vinegar. Mix well and cook for 2 mts.
  8. Toss on high flame for 1-2 mts. Turn off heat. Garnish with the chopped spring onion greens and/or coriander leaves.

Notes:

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To make Vegetable Manchurian with Gravy:

  • Mix a tbsp of cornflour in a little water. Keep aside.
  • After following step 5 above, add 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Reduce to medium heat and add the brown sugar, soya sauce, tomato ketchup, chilli sauce and vinegar.
  • Add the cornflour water slowly and keep stirring till it takes a thick gravy like consistency. Cook for 1-2 mts. Turn off heat.
  • Add the fried vegetable balls to the gravy at the time of serving. Garnish with chopped spring onion greens and/or coriander leaves.

Peas Pulao

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This past week marked the 42nd wedding anniversary of my parents, growing up we celebrated the day with a gathering of friends and family and my mom like always cooked up a feast. Peas Pulao or ghee bhaath, always played an award winning supporting role, complimenting the flavors of the side dishes. In my opinion this dish is the underdog of bengali cuisine and never gets its due credit. Long grained basmati rice flavored with aasto gorom moshala (whole spices), jeere (cumin) and ghee makes for perfectly light and aromatic companion to pretty much any side dish, or to be eaten as is.

Time for Prep: 5 mins     Time to Cook: 15 mins     Yield: 6 Servings     Level: easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of Basmati rice
  • 1/2 cup green peas (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 inch stick of cinnamon
  • 4-5 green cardamom
  • 1 black cardamom
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • 7-8 cloves
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp caraway seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 1 tbsp mint, chopped
  • 2 tbsp ghee or oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3.5 cup water or broth.
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 tsp sugar

Process:

  1. Rinse and soak rice for 30 mins. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan heat the ghee and add caraway seeds, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaf, cloves, black peppercorns. Sauté for till you begin getting the spice aroma around 2-3 mins.
  3. Add the drained rice, which should’ve gotten a little dry by now. Mix and sauté for around 2 mins or until the rice is well coated and starts to glisten.
  4. Add green peas, cilantro, mint and sauté for a minute before adding water, salt, sugar and lemon juice. Stir slightly.
  5. Cover and let cook for around 12-15 mins, when the rice is almost done and there is still a little bit of moisture remaining. Turn off the heat and let it sit for 20-30 mins.
  6. Using a fork, fluff up the rice a little. Serve with your favorite side dish or with just Raita.

Notes:

  • For rice that is fluffy and each grain of rice is separated drain and spread soaked rice on a paper towel or cotton towel to dry it out before cooking. While cooking fry/sauté the rice grains for a 2-3 mins before adding water. While doing so make sure that you don’t stir too vigorously, that will break the rice grain and you will not get those long grains of rice that are visually so appetizing.
  • If your using frozen green peas, thaw it before using.

Onion Fritters

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Last few days in California felt like the monsoon season in India. Peaks of sunshine in between rainy days, glorious rainbows and slight chill in the air. The only thing missing was the ‘geeli mitti ki saundhi saundhi khushboo’, the sweet aroma of the soil when it first gets wet after the hot dry summer days. The special smell of the soil back home!

I love rain. There is something so calming about walking in the rain, soaking it all in and jumping in the little puddles of water (yes, sometimes I am like a 5 year old and I love it). It transports me to childhood days when as soon as it rained, we would go out for a drive to Tank Bund (in Hyderabad) in search of a Bhutta Wala (street vendor selling corn on webs), watching greedily as he grilled a delicious corn on the cob on a bed of coal, once done he would dip a half a lime in salt and then rub it on the corn before handing it over to us.

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On other days my foodie dad would convince mom to make bhaja boda and cha (onion fritters and tea). Hard to find a Bhutta Wala in California, so I just made some fritters instead. When we lived in Connecticut, this was a favorite for snowy days.

Here I am deep frying the fritters, but in the past I have tried to bake it too. I dropped spoonful of batter on a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper around 1/2 inch apart from each other,  sprayed a little oil and baked for 20 mins in oven pre-heated to 400F/205C, then broiled for 5 mins, flipping them halfway. While it definitely is a lot healthier, it doesn’t taste the same.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 15-20 mins    Yield: 4-6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1 cup chickpea flour/gram flour/besan
  • 2 tbsp rice powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 tsp ajwain / carom seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 2-3 green chilli pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 inch ginger, grated
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, grated
  • water if required
  • oil for deep frying

Process:

  1. In a mixing bowl mix the sliced onions, ginger, garlic, ajwain, cumin, cayenne and salt. Let it sit aside for 20-25 mins. Onions will release quite a bit of water.
  2. Add in the chopped cilantro and green chilli pepper and fold it in.
  3. Heat oil for deep frying on medium heat.
  4. While oil is heating, add rice flour and chickpea flour, mix it in to form a thick batter. Add in water if needed.*
  5. Mix it in really well (I use hands at this point), all ingredients need to be evenly distributed or you will get pockets of intense flavor and pockets of bland batter.
  6. When the oil is hot enough* (around 375F) add spoonful of batter into it one by one. Depending on the size of the vessel your frying in, don’t over crowd. I was frying 5-6 spoonful at a time.
  7. When the fritters are slightly cooked, turn with a slotted spoon and continue frying.*
  8. When the fritters get an even golden brown coat and look crispy remove them with a slotted spoon. Place on kitchen paper towels to soak out the extra oil.

Serve hot.

Notes:

  • Be mindful while adding water and add only 1 tbsp at a time. The batter needs to be thick and just enough to coat all the onions to get a crispy fritters. If you add too much water you will get soggy /meaty fritters instead.
  • Also add a couple (2 or 3) teaspoon of hot oil in the batter and mix it in. This makes the fritters crispier and they tend to absorb less oil while frying.
  • To test if the oil is hot enough, take a tiny bit of the batter and drop it in the oil, if it floats up and begins to get brown, the oil is ready.
  • The oil should not be too hot, otherwise the fritters will get brown quickly but will remain uncooked inside.
  • You will probably need to turn the fritters a couple times to get it evenly fried.
  • If you are not comfortable frying and want to bake instead then. Drop spoonful of batter on a cookie sheet layered with parchment paper around 1/2 inch apart from each other. Spray a little oil and bake for 20 mins in oven pre-heated to 400F/205C, then broil for 5 mins, flipping them halfway.