Fried Rice

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My mom is the queen of the kitchen, which meant growing up I never cooked! Fast forward to 2005 standing in my kitchen in Connecticut I figured fried rice would be the easiest thing to pull off, right? Wrong! While it tasted good, the texture was completely off, more like awful, because of some obvious mistakes. What followed was a teary conversation with mom, mostly because I was really homesick and couldn’t even cook myself a decent warm meal. This post is more about the secret tips that mom shared with me that day, than about the actual recipe. This recipe is a basic one and can be modified to make your own. Add different vegetables, may be some protein…

The secret to a good fried rice is starting with cold cooked grains! Now that I think of it mom always cooked the rice the day before. The reason is simple, dehydration of the grains. Refrigeration makes the grains dry, and then when cooked it gets hydrated just right. Fresh cooked rice gets mushy! When in the moment spread fresh cooked rice in a baking sheet and chill it in the refrigerator for 15-20 mins. This will take care of any residual moisture and give your dish the fried texture.

Heat! High heat is important. As my mom’s lil helper I would love adding things to the pan but I wasn’t that patient. So I would go “Aikhon Di”(should I add now) and mom would roll her eyes and say “Daada, gorom hoi ni”(wait its not warm enough yet) because it was probably the 4th or 5th time! High heat ensures that whatever is added to the pan gets fried quickly, so the rawness goes but the crunchiness stays.

“Ghatish Na”(Don’t stir it too much) was what she screamed at me when this eager helper, kept stirring the rice. Constant stirring will cause the grains to break and get starchy, then mushy. Also it prevents the rice from getting that crunchy crusty texture. So spread the rice out in the pan, let it sit for a minute or so before flipping it.

So the secret to Jhojhore (fluffy), slightly crusty fried rice is – dehydrated cooked rice, cooking in high heat and no to constant stirring! To never again mushy fried rice… Happy cooking!!

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 10 mins     Yield: 4-5 Servings     Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice, cooked.
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup orange bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green peas
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp black pepper, ground
  • salt to taste

Process: 

  1. Heat oil in a wok, add the vegetables (except scallions) and sauté in high heat for 4-5 mins, just so that the rawness goes but they still retain the crunchiness.
  2. Add cooked rice, salt, ground black pepper and butter, stir it in and cook for another minute or so.
  3. Pour the soy sauce, around the edges of the wok and gently fold it in.
  4. Remove from heat, garnish with chopped scallions and serve.
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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.

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.

 

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.

Badhakopir Ghonto (Cabbage Ghonto)

IMG_4045Health benefits of Cabbage are endless and its a vegetable for which we should make space in our plates on a regular basis. I cook cabbage often and in various ways, but I have noticed that this is one preparation that has converted even cabbage haters to cabbage likers. Its a favorite among my Non-Bengali and Non-Indian friends. Every single time I have served this, it has been a hit. To me its special because it brings back memories of school days and sharing lunch boxes, especially one of my best friend who always claimed rights on this.

A few days after our wedding H and I were grocery shopping, I reached for the cabbage and immediately heard him say “I don’t like cabbage baby”. I just responded with ‘But I do’ and bought it nonetheless. Same evening I cooked this. He tasted some and since then he likes cabbage. I like eating it with rice/quinoa and Bhaja Moonger Dal with a squeeze  of lemon juice, H likes it with paratha. IMG_4057

Time for Prep: 20 mins     Time to Cook: 20-25 mins    Yield: 4-6 servings    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium sized cabbage, shredded
  • 1 large potato, cubed
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 4-5 fresh green chile pepper, slit
  • 2 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 1 inch ginger, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne or red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp ghee + 1 tsp for garnish
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/4 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnish

Process:

  1. In a heavy bottom pan, heat the ghee over medium heat. Add bay leaf, cumin and caraway seeds.
  2. When the tempering starts spluttering and you can get the aroma, add the potatoes. Saute for 2-3 mins, till they get a little fried.
  3. Add cabbage, mix it in, then add ginger, cayenne, coriander powder, turmeric and salt. Mix everything in, sauté for 3-4 mins.
  4. Add tomatoes and the green peas, fold them in. Cover and cook, stirring on regular intervals. Cabbage and tomatoes leave enough water to cook the vegetables, but if you think its not enough add a bit of water. Remember this is a dry dish, so if you add too much water, you will need cook longer.
  5. Check for doneness by cutting one of the pieces of potatoes. If the potatoes are fully cooked, turn of the heat. Add the ghee, garam masala and sugar. Mix it in. Garnish with Cilantro.

Serve with rice and dal or chapatis.

Mast-Mast Chorchori or Shaager Chorchori (Bengali Vegetable Stir-fry)

IMG_4035Bengali cuisine is known for its spread of confectionaries and sweet delight, but is not limited to it. According to Wikipedia it is the only cuisine in the Indian-Subcontinent which has been traditionally developed as a multi-course meal, quiet similar to the modern structure of continental food. I am not sure about the ‘only’ part, but it sure is a multi course meal. A typical meal is geared towards a balanced meal and incorporates a lot of vegetables. It starts with a dish made of something bitter to serve as a palette cleanser, followed by a Shaag (leafy green vegetables), then comes the Dal accompanied with a Bhaja (fried vegetable) or Chorchori (stir fry) or both, then Macher Jhol (Fish), chatney, Doi (yogurt) and finally a dessert. Served with rice. And within this nutrition packed diet lies the secret behind the good skin and good hair bengali women are famous for.

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I grew up in a nucleus family with two working parents, so every day meal was not this elaborate. However, a non-elaborate meal still included Dal, Shaag, Bhaja or Chorchori, Maacher Jhol and Doi. When I got married, my South-Indian husband thought (Still thinks) I was crazy to cook so much for a single meal. I changed my habits a little and now cook a minimalistic meal of Dal, Rice, Shaag and a side of vegetables. Yes, that is minimalistic in my book!

Making this takes care of my serving of vegetables and Leafy greens in one dish! Plus it is delicious. This is one of my very favorite side dishes and my entire life I have called it ‘Mast Mast Chorchori’. Traditionally Eggplant (Brinjal) is one of the main ingredients in this dish and if your not allergic to it (Like I am!) I recommend adding some, apparently it tastes better.

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

One important thing to keep in mind before you start prepping, this dish is a medley of hard and soft vegetables all cooked together, while chopping keep that in mind and adjust size accordingly. Also the green is added right at the end. 

Ingredients:

  • The vegetables
    • 1 medium size potato, chopped
    • 1 bunch red radish (10-12), chopped (keep the greens)
    • 1 medium sized carrot, chopped
    •  1/2 butternut squash chopped (traditionally pumpkin is used)
    • 1/2 acorn squash, chopped (optional)
    • 1 yellow beet, chopped (optional)
    • 1 cup cauliflower, chopped
  • 3-4 green chile pepper, slit
  • 2-3 cups of mixed greens, roughly chopped

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The picture above shows approximate quantity of greens, its a dinner plate heaped with greens. I used a combination of the greens from the radish, baby spinach, baby kale, collard greens and broccoli rabe. Traditionally only spinach  is used.

  • 1 tbsp Paanch Phoron
  • 1/2 tsp celery seeds
  • 1 tbsp oil (preferably mustard oil)
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ghee (optional)
  • salt to taste

Process:

  1. Heat oil in a Wok on medium heat, add paanch phoron and celery seeds. Sauté till aromatic.
  2. Add all vegetables (except the greens), turmeric and salt. Sauté, cover and cook till vegetables are done (tender) around 12-15 mins.
  3. Add the green and mix slightly. Cook till the greens wilt. Don’t overcook the greens, this dish is suppose to be dry, overcooking the green will make them release too much water. (Also its healthier)
  4. Remove from heat and add a spoon of ghee at this point if your using it.
  5. Serve with rice or enjoy it as is.

Note:

  • If you want to add some protein in to it, shrimp or scallops is the way to go. Cook the them separately and mix it in before you add the greens.
  • The biggest chunk of effort for this dish is the chopping. To save time use frozen chopped vegetables. I buy my produce from the local farmers market on Sunday Mornings (benefits of living in California). Once I am back I spend a couple hours chopping, bagging and freezing. I have high quality ziplock bags labelled that i rinse and re-use. That way during the week when I actually cook, it’s easy and I don’t have to clean up everyday.