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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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.

Gokul Pithe (Fried Sweet Dumplings)

IMG_3995Poush Parbon, Pongal, Makar Sankranti are just different names for harvest festival celebrated through out India, it marks the beginning of the harvest season. Interesting trivia, this is the only Indian festival that is on the same calendar date every year! Its also known as the ‘Kite Festival’. Preparations would start days ahead as we would collect all types of broken glass to make Manja (abrasive thread used for kite fights) and paper to make personalised colorful Patang (Kites). Growing up I remember waking up to the smell of sweet pongal being cooked at my neighbors house and Koraishutir Kochuri at mine. Walking out to see the colorful display of art in the form of rangoli in front of very house in the neighborhood, flying kites till it was too hot or we were too exhausted, chasing kites and a gathering of all our friends in the evening hosted by my parents. IMG_3997It has always been party time at my house for this festival and my mom always whipped up a big variety delicious food, Gokul Pithe being one of them. My husband has the best description for this, he says this is Narkel Naru (coconut truffle) with Malpua (Indian crepe) wrapped around it.

The recipe below uses All-Purpose Flour and Milk. I also make a vegan and gluten free version of this and it is equally delicious. Just a little different in the final taste. Just replace the all-purpose flour with coconut flour, rice flour and almond flour mixed in equal proportion and use Almond Milk instead of milk for the batter.

Read notes for more info.

Time for Prep: 20 mins | Time to Cook: 15 mins | Yield: 22-25 pieces | Level: Easy

Ingredients:

  • For the filling:
    • 2 cups grated Coconut
    • 4 oz condensed milk*
    • 1/2 cup Jaggery or sugar
  • For the batter/outer layer:
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour*
    • 1 tsp ghee or oil
    • 1+1 cups whole milk*
  • For the syrup:
    • 1.5 cups sugar (3/4 cup sugar +3/4 cup jaggery)*
    • 1.5 cups water
    • 1/2 tsp cardamon powder
    • pinch of saffron
    • 1 tbsp rose water (optional)

Process:

  1. Making the stuffing:
    • In a heavy bottom pan over medium heat, combine the coconut and jaggery, let the jaggery dissolve completely. Add the condensed milk.
    • Cook open over medium heat. Stir occasionally to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan until you get a thick mixture. It should be light brown and slightly sticky but should be coming off from the side of the pan easily.
    • To check for doneness, take a little bit and shape and see, if it holds form and doesn’t stick to your hands, turn off the heat.
    • Once cool, divide into 22-25 equal portion, roll them into small balls and set aside.
  2. Making the outer layer/ batter:
    • In a wide mouthed bowl combine the flour and ghee/oil. Mix it up.
    • Add one cup of milk and mix scraping sides to form the batter. Slowly add the remaining milk a couple tablespoon at a time till you get a batter that is similar to that for pancake/fritters/pakodi.
  3. Making the syrup:
    • In a saucepan, combine sugar/ jaggery and water, add cardamon powder. Stir till the sugar/ jaggery is dissolved and boil till one string consistency, around 10 mins.
    • Add rose water and stir it in. This just adds to the fragrance and sweetness of the syrup.
  4. Cooking:
    • Heat oil in a frying pan for deep frying.
    • Dip a ball of stuffing in the batter, move it around till its well coated. Fry till golden brown (like fritters)
    • Remove with a slotted spoon and dunk into the syrup.

Let them soak in syrup for 8-10 mins. Serve Warm or Cold.

Notes:

  • For a lactose free (Vegan) version, skip the Condensed Milk in filling and use Almond milk for the outer layer/batter.
  •  For a gluten free delight instead of all purpose flour use a blend of coconut, almond and rice flour (1:1:1 ratio).
  • Traditionally this dish is made with 100% Khejurer gur, a special type of jaggery made with the sap of date palm trees. But its almost impossible to get some in US, so I make this with blend of date sugar and coconut sugar instead. It has the same flavor but easier to find (and a lot healthier).

Bengali Deemer Chop (Egg and Potato Cutlet)

Durga Puja is round the corner and this time of the year always makes me nostalgic about good ole days. Growing up in a Bengali family, this was by far the most important event of the year. I have been often asked by my non-Indian friends what is Durga Puja and why its so important to me. Here’s why – memories of  good food and good times shared with friends!

I am hazy about the details around the religious aspect of things. To me its always been the entire community coming together for a 5 day cultural celebration of the victory of good over evil. A celebration filled with food, color, music and festivities. People gathered in large festive tents called ‘Pandal’, laughing together, sharing the delicious spread of Bhog (food offering to goddess), the smell of Kichudi, flowers and incense, the sound of Dhak (Drum), the Adda (chit chat), song, dance and theatre….  the layers and layers of festivities.

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Some of my favorite memories growing up are of the days leading up to it, the shopping of new clothes, planning what I would wear on each day and the rehearsals at Hyderabad Bengali Samity of plays and dances to be performed. Kids rehearsals followed by parents, the fights over badminton rackets or a game of carroms, Patiently waiting for the resident director Goshwami Kaku (Who ran an IT company for his day job) to say ‘Cut’  so that the egg roll and egg chop from Utpal Kaku’s canteen would appear along with some ‘Cha’ (Tea). Its been years since my last visit to Bengali Samity, but every time I bite into an egg roll or an egg chop, I am transported right back.

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Time for Prep: 45 mins     Time to Cook: 10 mins     Yield: 4 Servings     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, hard boiled and cut in half
  • 4-5 small potatoes, boiled and skin removed
  • Salt to taste (I prefer Rock Salt)
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1/2 tsp chaat masala (optional)
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
  • 2-3 green chili pepper, chopped
  • 2 tbsp onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp corn flour
  • 2-3 tbsp water
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs, on a plate.
  • Oil for frying

Process:

  1. Making Potato Mixture:
    1. Mash the potatoes, be careful not to overdo it, or they will get starchy.
    2. Add the spices, chopped onions, cilantro and green chili pepper. Mix well
    3. Divide into 4 portions.
  2. Assembly:
    1. Take a portion of the potato mixture, flatten it and place one of the half egg in the center.
    2. Cover the entire egg with the potato mixture, make sure there are no gaps.
    3. Repeat with other 3 halves.
    4. Refrigerate for 20 mins
  3. Mix the corn flour with a pinch of salt, pinch of ground pepper and water. Blend into a smooth paste.
  4. Dip the chilled cutlets in the cornflour paste, then roll it the bread crumbs.
  5. Place on a plate and chill for another 10 mins.
  6. Heat oil in a wok or deep fryer and fry in medium heat till golden brown.
  7. Remove and place on paper towel to soak out excess oil.
  8. Serve warm.

Notes:

  • Instead of corn flour paste, the cutlet can also be dipped in beaten egg before rolling in bread crumbs.
  • If you want to avoid frying, Spray with cooking oil and  bake at 400F/200C for 30 mins. Make sure to flip once in between.
  • For a vegetarian/Vegan version, replace the egg with piece of tofu or paneer.

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Koraishutir Kochuri – Puri Stuffed with Green Peas

A few years back my husband and I took wine classes at the Devine Wine Emporium in Niantic CT. Ken, the wine educator started the 6 weekend long class saying (and I am paraphrasing here) “Good wine is like a trip down memory lane. Each layer of aroma and flavor is transcending, taking you back to a memory”. Good food has the exact same effect on me.

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Koraishutir Kochuri (Puri stuffed with green peas)

This dish brings back numerous good memories. My dad coming back from his evening walks with a bag of fresh green peas, all of us helping with peeling pea pods, eating half of it in the process, chit chat, laughter and so much more fun. And the fact that my husband absolutely loves this (Even learnt to say it like a bengali) is an added bonus.

Hope that you make some wonderful memories of your own while trying out this recipe.

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Traditionally this is made in winters (because fresh green peas are available in abundance in the season) for breakfast and served with Aloor Dom (potato curry). Husband likes to eat this as is, so I usually don’t make the potato curry, unless entertaining.

Time for Prep: 30 mins     Time to Cook: 30 mins    Yield: 10 Kochuri     Level: Medium

Ingredients:

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For the puri:

  • 1.5 cups All purpose flour or whole wheat flour or a combination of both.
  • 1/2 cup warm water (Plus more if needed)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp oil or clarified butter (I prefer using Clarified butter)

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For the stuffing:

  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp pepper corn
  • 4-5 dry red chili
  • 1/4 tsp asafetida
  • salt to taste

Process:

Poori dough if making by hand: (I make it in the food processor)

  1. Sieve the flour. Make a well in the center and add salt and oil/Ghee. Mix it together till it looks like crumbles
  2. Once again make a well in the center and pour warm water, little at a time to make a soft dough.
  3. Cover with damp cloth and let rest for 30 mins to an hour.

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Stuffing:

  1. Wash and clean green peas in water, if using frozen peas then thaw them first.
  2. Put the peas in a microwave safe bowl and cook for 5 – 6 mins or until cooked. This can be done on stovetop by adding the peas to a heated heavy bottom pan and steam it. Set it aside to cool.
  3. Heat a non-stick sauce pan and add the cumin, fennel, pepper corn and dry red chillies to it. Dry roast them for 3-4 mins. Set it aside to cool.
  4. Corse grind the spice mix in a coffee grinder.
  5. In a food processor add the green peas and pulse them. Mix in the spice mix, salt and asafetida.
  6. If the stuffing is wet, dry it out by cooking it a little in a non-stick pan

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Assembling or putting it all together:

  1. Make small balls from the dough
  2. Take one ball at a time, press gently with your thumb to make it bigger and flatter. Be careful not to make the center to thin. Make it bigger by gently streching at the edges.
  3. Add a ball of filling to each flattened ball, bring together the edges to seal the stuffing inside.
  4. Grease your work surface and roll out the stuffed balls. Be careful not make any cracks by over stretching the dough.

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Cooking:

  1. Deep fry each stuffed puri one at a time.
  2. Gently slide the rolled puri in hot oil. It will go to the bottom first and then slowly float up.
  3. Gently press the center with a spatula. Two things will happen at this stage: The puri will puff and will turn golden brown, flip and let the other side get some color too. Remove when it gets a golden brown color and place on paper towels to rid off the excess oil.

Serve them hot!

Note:

  • The stuffing needs to be dry or it will be really difficult to roll them out.