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.
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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.

Burrito Bowl

Hari and I love traveling, especially long road trips. There is something very energizing about open roads, music, us singing along, stopping at random places to explore and debate about random topics. Chipotle is our favorite fast food places to go when on these trips, its healthy and wholesome with a delicious vegetarian option which is not just salad. But then there are those days where we crave the goodness of a burrito bowl and live the memories of travel without really leaving the house, this is our fix for those days. Plus this easy to fix meal is actually faster than getting in the car and driving.

I use Cilantro Lime Rice and homemade Salsa (Recipes posted earlier)

This is a vegetarian version, but if you are a meat lover then just top it with cooked meat of your choice in assembly and your all set.

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

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cilantro lime rice
  • 1/2-3/4 cup beans and corn salsa
  • Chopped mixed vegetables:
    • 1/2 green pepper, Julienned (cut into thin strips)
    • 1/2 red pepper, Julienned
    • 1/2 yellow pepper, Julienned
    • 1 medium sized red onion, Julienned
    • 1 medium size tomato, Julienned
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped for garnishing

Process:

  1. Cooking the vegetables:
    • In a heavy bottom pan heat oil over medium high heat, add all the vegetables and sauté for another 2-3 mins.
    • Add the cumin powder, cayenne and salt. Mix and sauté until they are cooked, stirring as needed.
  2. Assembly:
    • In a bowl arrange 1/2 cup of Cilantro Lime Rice, top it with the Beans and Corn Salsa, then the sautéed vegetables.
    • Season with salt and pepper if needed, garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

Cilantro Lime Rice

IMG_4123The freshness of the flavors of cilantro and lime makes this a perfect alternative to plain rice. Since burrito chains, like Chipotle made this dish popular we always think of it as a side to a Mexican dish. But this goes really well with traditional Indian side dishes as well. Serve this with basic yellow dal and you can make every day food feel special. I like it best with Mutton Rogonjosh or Bengali Kosha Mangsho.

For rice that is fluffy and each grain of rice is separated or like we call it in bengali ‘Jhojhore’, soak rice for 30 mins, then drain and spread it 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 apetizing.

Time for Prep:5 mins     Time to Cook:20 mins    Yield:2-4 Servings    Level:Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1 cups of Basmati rice
  • 1.75 cup water or broth
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tbsp butter or oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (Juice of 1 lime)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped + 1 tbsp for garnish
  • zest of 1 lime for garnish

Process:

  1. Rinse and soak rice for 30 mins. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a heavy bottom pan over medium heat add butter/oil. Add garlic, cumin seeds and bay leaf, sauté till you begin getting the spice aroma around 1 min.
  3. Add the drain 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 water/broth, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Stir slightly.
  5. Cover and let cook for around 10-12 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. Garnish with the lime zest and cilantro, serve with your favorite side dish.

Salsa

IMG_4111Superbowl is round the corner and it calls for some easy crowd pleasing finger food that are guaranteed to score! This is one of my favorite game day recipe, a base that gives me flexibility to serve with some chips or a plate of Veggie Nachos or Veggie Quesadillas or as one of the toppings for a burrito bowl. Over the years this has become our favorite game day food for any big sports event… Cricket, Boxing, Tennis.. and MMA, provided the fight goes on for more than a few seconds. Essentially I always have a jar of Salsa in my refrigerator and it has always been a big score for me.IMG_4112I first had Salsa at a mexican restaurant in Mystic CT, the food in Margaritas is average but the salsa is a town favorite. Thats the taste that inspired this recipe and to me it feels like perfection, every bite brings back memories of Sangrias with girlfriends. Play around with the ingredients and find that perfect taste for you. This is also one of those recipes that I am asked about a lot! So here goes. 526102_373643059347155_950859651_nCouple things to keep in mind: First, I use plum tomatoes for this because they have low moisture content, robust flavor and mild acidity making it a perfect choice, but any other type of tomatoes works just as good. Secondly I don’t use a food processor to chop the vegetables because they loose their crunchiness, which I really like. But if thats something your not particular about then just throw all ingredients (except corn and beans) in a food processor and pulse away. Third, allow it to rest for a day before digging in. This helps with all the flavors to really blend in.IMG_4117The picture above shows how I chop the vegetables, they are almost finely chopped.

Time for Prep: 20 mins      Time to Cook: 5 mins     Yield: 16oz (2 cups)      Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3-4 cubanelles, chopped
  • 2-4 jalepenos, chopped
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 1 english cucumber, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Red Wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp chili paste or Tubasco sauce (optional)
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 cup sweet yellow corn, cooked (Optional)
  • 1 cup black beans, cooked (Optional)

Process:

  1. In a mixing bowl, mix in the chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, cubanelles, jalepenos, onion, cilantro and cucumber.
  2. Add tomato and chili paste, mix it in.
  3. Add yellow corn and black beans, mix in.
  4. Add salt, cumin, cayenne and red wine vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning based on preference. If you want a runnier Salsa, add more tomato paste and/or red wine vinegar.
  5. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Stays good for around 14-15 days.

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.

Bangali Tikona Porotha (Triangle Paratha)

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“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.” – James Beard 

This statement holds true for any kind of bread there is, especially Parathas. There is something deliciously satisfying about hot fresh off the griddle parathas on cold wintry evenings. All I need with it is some salt, a couple fresh green chile and fresh butter, Yum! Short-Cut Ranna (Cooking) in our house on lazy cold evenings usually meant Aloor Pyager Chorchori and Porotha, a few extra would always be made for my dads favorite breakfast of Baashi Porotha and Lonka (One day old paratha with fresh green chilli) the next morning. A ritual every time we were T-few hours away from a family vacations.

Parathas are very popular in India and pretty much every region has a version or two of it. I am calling this Bangali, because so far I have only eaten this shape of paratha in bengali households. Tikona in Bangla means triangle.

Time for Prep: 10 mins     Time to Cook: 15-20 mins    Yield: 10 parathas    Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cup whole wheat flour + more for dusting
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 tbsp ghee or oil as shortening + more for cooking
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Warm water as needed to make dough

Process:

  1. Making the dough:
    • In a wide mouth bowl/ food processor mix in the flour and ghee/oil.
    • Then gradually add in the warm water and work the flour to make dough.
    • Knead till the dough is soft, smooth, pliable and does not stick to your hands.
    • Cover with damp cloth/paper towel and let sit for 20-30 mins.
  2. Rolling the Paratha:
    • Take a golf ball size portion of the dough and roll it into a ball.
    • Dust it with flour and flatten it using your fingers to form a disc.
    • Place the disc on a flat surface and roll it out into a circle around 1/8 inch thick.
    • Brush the surface with a little bit of oil/ghee. This is just to make the parathas flaky, don’t use too much oil, just a drop or two and spread it out.
    • Fold into half to make a semi-circle
    • Brush surface with a little bit oil/ghee
    • Fold again to make a quarter of a circle.
    • Dust it with a little flour and roll it into a triangle shape (roughly) around 1/8 inch thick.
  3. Cooking the Paratha:
    • Heat griddle to medium-high heat (I usually test by waving my palm over the griddle to feel if its hot enough). If your using one of the electric griddle with temperature control, heat griddle to 375-400F.
    • Toss one of the rolled paratha on a heated griddle.
    • Flip when it begins to puff a little.
    • Press down the sides with a spatula to ensure they get cooked too. It will ballon up a little at this stage.
    • Brush a little oil/ghee and flip.
    • Again press down to ensure corners are cooked.
    • When you see a few dark spots forming here and there, on both sides, take it off the heat.

Notes:

  • My mom says that cooking the rolled side (top part touching the rolling pin) first results in better parathas.