Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pistachio & Cranberry Biscotti

Pistachio & cranberry biscotti
Pistachio &cranberry biscotti
A bit of travel and I ended up cooking more and blogging less!:) Baking during this past week was more about simple cakes and quiches so my break lasted longer than intended. The thought of using  cranberries and  pistachios together seemed tempting. And I had them in stock. Before this I had baked a simple cake with these two ingredients. The burgundy and the green looked beautiful together and that was soon followed by these delightful twice-baked Italian biscuits. Teatime is always something light and with home made biscuits that can be dunked in tea, I need nothing else.

2 cups flour
80 grams caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
4 tbs butter at room temperature
2 large eggs
The grated zest of 1 orange
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup shelled and roughly chopped pistachios (I did not toast them)
Cream the butter and the sugar together.
Add the eggs and vanilla essence and whisk together till pale.
Sift the flour and the baking powder and then fold into the egg mixture.
Add the cranberries, the nuts and the orange zest.
The logs get ready to be baked.
Tip the bowl onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into two parts and shape them into logs about 9" long and 1.5 cm wide.
Transfer to a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 25 minutes. It should turn golden.
Then remove from the oven and cool for about 10 minutes or until firm.
About to be baked for the second time
Transfer the logs to a cutting board. With a serrated knife, cut the log into slices. The thickness of the slices should be about  half an inch.
Arrange the slices on the baking sheet and bake them for another 10-15 minutes turning them in between.
Remove from the oven and after about 5 minutes, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container. This made 30 pieces. Although biscotti can be stored for more than a week, mine never lasts that long.:-)

You might have noticed that the amount of sugar isn't much. It's just the way we like it. Not sweet. Although they don't look as good as the ones seen on Google images, they serve their purpose. Of being dunked in tea and enjoyed thoroughly!!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Chicken & Banana Stem Curry/Daono-hain jang laishu hon

Banana stem curry with chicken
Chicken & banana stem curry
In my younger days, one vegetable I didn't quite like preparing was, banana stem! Not because of the taste but the procedure it included and the fibre that needed to be removed after each circular piece had been chopped off with a sharp knife. It took so much longer than peeling or dicing other vegetables. And yet it often showed/shows up in our kitchens, as we are surrounded by banana plants.:) So once the bananas on the plant mature and the bunch cut and brought in to ripen, the tree is cut down. A banana plant bears fruit only once so the tree is cut down and the stem is used as a vegetable.
Banana stem
The stem of M.bulbisiana locally known as Athiya or Bhim kol
The harder greener outer layers are removed and the inner layers are cooked in various ways. It does get a little messy working with the stem or the flowers so I prefer to cut a fresh banana leaf and place it on my worktop. All the discarded matter is much easier to clean, there's no fear of stains and the leaf can be gathered up and dumped in the compost pit.
The outermost layers are dried and burnt and the ashes are gathered in a basket. A bit of water is added to the basket which filters down in a container placed below. This is the alkali or khari that I mention in my posts. It's also another essential ingredient in North-eastern cooking.
Peeling off the layers reminded me of the poem The Onion by Wyslawa Szymborska.
...inside it, there's a smaller one/ of undiminished worth/the second holds a third one/the third contains a fourth...
Banana stem 
As the stem is cut into roundels you see the thread-like fibre that needs to be removed by winding them on your index finger. The process always makes me think about my grandmother, aunts and my mother spinning thread by hand. Called thakri-lu ba in my mother tongue, most women would be busy after the usual chores were done.
Banana stems are a rich source of potassium and Vitamin B6. It is also said to keep high blood pressure under control. It is also a diuretic and helps detoxify the body. It is said to have cooling properties which is helpful in our kind of heat and humidity.
Banana stem

The pieces here are thicker than the ones that go into making chutney. It's always good to have chunkier pieces for meat curries. And talking about meat, they team up very well with pork and duck too. The stem I used belong to M.bulbisiana but the varieties that are relished in my home district of Dima Hasao are locally known as laidi and laishremdi.
I have read about soaking the stems after they are cut, either in salt water or as they do in the southern parts of our country, in buttermilk. But I usually cook them after a wash as they are never left for long after the initial prepping. They do turn into a darker shade because of the high iron content.

500 grams chicken with skin, cut into regular pieces
2 cups of banana stems (shown in the picture above)
3-4 Indian bay leaves
2 large onions, coarsely grated
1" piece fresh ginger, ground
7-8 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped fine
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
A quarter tsp freshly-ground black pepper
5-6 green chillies, scored lengthwise
1 tsp red chilli powder (this will add colour)
(The heat will be just right as the curry is thickened with rice flour).
1 tsp coriander powder
1tsp  cumin powder
3 heaped tbs rice flour
Salt to taste
3 tbs mustard oil
Serrated coriander for the garnish
(Using cumin and coriander powder is optional. The curry still works well without these ingredients. However I use the roasted and ground variety that I keep in small amounts for curried dishes).

Before cutting the chicken into pieces, it's best to use tongs and place it for a few minutes over an open flame. Keep turning so that all parts get the flame. This gets rid of the down and imparts a delicate smoky flavour to the curry. Then cut the meat into pieces and marinate with the ginger,garlic and the dry spices as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

*Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan.
*When it comes to smoking point, add the bay leaves, green chillies and the onions.
*Fry till the onions are translucent and then add the meat.
*Cook on high flame stirring in between and keeping the pan covered with a lid.
*Season with salt and continue to cook for about 20-25 minutes.
*Add the banana stem pieces and stir well. If the curry threatens to catch at the bottom, add about a quarter cup of water.
*Test to see if the chicken is cooked through. The stems do not need much time. Adjust the seasoning.
*Add about 3 cups of water. That does sound like a lot but the rice flour will be added and the gravy will be thickened. (And it will thicken further when it cools down).
*When the curry comes together, add a bit of water to the rice flour and make a paste. Add this to the curry stirring gently all the while so that no lumps remain.
*Remove from the flame and transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped serrated coriander.
This curry goes best with rice.
~With the rice flour I usually make a paste. But my mother lets the flour flow in a steady drizzle with one hand and the other hand stirs the ladle so that no lumpy floury bits remain. 
~The chutney that I make is with the addition of fermented fish. The stems can be eaten raw in chutney or in salad form.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Chard & Salami Quiche

Regular visitors to this blog will know that quiche is something that I love to bake. Any fresh greens that I have growing in my garden usually go into dal, paratha and bhaji. But now that I bake quite often, quiche is a wonderful option and you just need a handful of greens if you use a 7" or 8" tin like me. Now that my older son is home I make it more often than before. And sometimes I send them over to friends and relatives. Like yesterday I had sent one to a friend that was made of salami and spring onions (growing in my wooden container).

This morning I picked some chards from the three pots that I grow. Aren't they beautiful? I had never seen them before (only seen the pictures) so when my eyes fell on them at the horticultural show, that was one of the first plants that I grabbed! This is only the third time that I picked the leaves. Apart from being so visually appealing, chards are supposed to be full of nutrients. From now on, like tomatoes, they will be a part of my home-grown produce every year.

I  had the savoury pastry dough ready, left over from yesterday. I had used about two tbs grated cheddar, a quarter tsp pepper, 1 egg and 1 tbs of dried oregano to make the dough. I rolled it out and placed it on the lightly greased tin. The overhanging dough was folded inwards giving the crust a double edged border. Then I used a fork to prick all around the circle. A piece of foil was dutifully buttered and the buttered side was placed on the tin. I filled it up with baking beans and left it to rest in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile I chopped up an onion and the chards. Then I fried them up in a bit of olive oil. The seasoning was pepper and salt. Went easy on the salt because of the cheese that I would add later. The chilled pastry shell was taken out and baked in a preheated oven at 180C for 10 minutes. 

Then it was taken out and the foil/beans/were removed. The pastry was brushed with one beaten egg and it went back into the oven for another 12 minutes.

I let  it cool down a bit before adding the other elements. The salami which I had lightly fried earlier, was torn into pieces and placed in such a way that every wedge would get some of it. Then the fried onions and chard went in followed by the mix of two eggs and the one that was used for the egg wash with 150 ml of cream. More pepper was added here. Then I took four cheese slices and added them after tearing them up to bits. This was poured into the shell and baked for nearly 30 minutes at 180C. The little bit of egg/cream/cheese mixture that remained was poured into a greased ramekin and baked. It's like an inexperienced cook's souffle but I don't mind the taste. It didn't go to waste!

It came out looking like this and filling the house with the wonderful smells of baking. Looks like I'll be baking another one...soon!:)

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Pork Curry With Ash Gourd

Pork curry with ash gourd
Pork Curry With Ash Gourd
April already. It does feel like the months have gone in the blink of an eye. Before the heat is fully upon us I thought it would be good idea to cook pork. A pork dish has not been on this space for a while. Yesterday we had a family dinner and I added it to the list of dishes I was making. I like to team up meat with vegetables. Mostly it's with potatoes and any greens that might be growing in my pots or in stock in my kitchen. And during the bamboo shoot and mushroom season (which is coming) these vegetables are usually fried with pork. 
Ash gourd
I still had a couple of ash gourds lying around around so I chopped the smaller one and added it to the curry. Ash gourd goes very well with meat and we add it to duck, mutton, venison and to chicken as well.

1 kg pork cut into medium pieces
400 grams ash gourd
3 large onions, coarsely grated
10-12 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
Thumb-size ginger, grated
10 green chillies, scored lengthwise
1 tbs coriander powder, broiled and ground
A quarter tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp vegetable oil
Chopped coriander leaves for the garnish

Pork curry with ash gourd
Ready to be served!
Heat a heavy-bottomed karhai and add the oil.
Make sure that the pan is really hot then add the portions of pork with the fat.
Fry for a few minutes till you see the fat turn into more oil. 
Remove the pork/fat with a slotted spoon and discard the oil from the karhai leaving about a tsp to cook the dish. This is enough.
Put it back on heat and fry the onions for a few minutes. 
Add the rest of the meat. Stir well. Add the rest of the spices and continue to cook stirring from time to time. Keep it covered on high flame.
If it looks like it's going to catch at the bottom, sprinkle some water and stir.
Season with salt. By this time, the curry will come together. Reduce the flame.
Add the chopped tomatoes, stir well.
By this time (after about 30-35 minutes) the curry will look almost like how it is in the picture above.
Add about 1 1/2 cups of hot water. Continue to cook.
Let the water reduce a bit before you take the dish off the stove.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped coriander.
This dish goes best with rice.

If you look at the spices, there aren't many. But with a mix of meat and vegetables this is all that you need. Certain varieties of ash gourd are very fragrant. When you cook it the smell itself is mouth-watering. The heat was enough from the green chillies but I added the powdered chilli for the colour. The curry turned out very well.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Stinky Bean Chutney

Stinky bean chutney
Stinky bean chutney
Some of the tastiest foods in the world come with a tag- acquired taste. As the name suggests the smell is very strong but the taste is good and it is considered a delicacy in our region. Stinky beans are also found all across South-east Asia but I have yet to prepare the cuisine of other cultures. Hopefully, I'll get there. Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Laos, Myanmar are the countries where stinky beans grow. In our country, they flourish in our region, the North-East.
Stinky beans/Parkia speciosa
I had four stinky beans that weren't all that fresh. They were with mature seeds. We also like to have them when they are tender with the seeds in their nascent stage. In that case the outermost skin is scraped off and the beans are chopped into pieces before being cooked. Stinky beans grow in medium-sized trees. They are also known as twisted cluster beans. They belong to the genus Parkia in the Fabaceae family. This is what I got online about the benefits of stinky beans.
It is a good source of minerals and is especially high in calcium, phosphorous, potassium and iron. It is high in fibre and contains considerable amounts of Vitamin C and E as well as Vitamins A, B1, B2 and B3. Stinky beans have been used in folk medicine to traet diabetes, hypertension, liver disease, and kidney disorders. Source.
The roasted beans and the seeds
With the mature beans, they are roasted on an open flame till the outermost skin can be easily removed. The flesh and the seeds are separated. The seeds come in a casing that has to be removed with the help of a knife. Later the seeds can be left whole or chopped up as shown in the picture below. That takes a bit of time but the end result is definitely worth it.
Seeds chopped up
4 mature stinky beans
7-8 hot chillies (I used dried bird's eye chillies)
1 fermented fish/naphlam
A pinch of soda bicarbonate
Salt to taste
Chopped herbs for the garnish

Prepare the beans as described above.
Heat about 1 cup of water and boil the seeds till almost done.
Add the chillies after twisting and breaking them into smaller pieces.
After 10 minutes or so, the seeds will become softer.
Add the soda bicarb and lower the flame for a few minutes so that the chutney will not boil over and spill.
Add the salt and the fermented fish.
Then add the soft flesh of the beans that were set aside earlier.
Cook for a couple of minutes till the dish is almost dry.
Remove from the flame and mash with the back of a ladle.
Transfer to a serving bowl and scatter the chopped herbs.
Both coriander and serrated coriander work well here but today I used chopped spring onions.

Finely sliced onions can also be added to this dish. They can be added raw with the herbs or cooked. Another variation of making this dish is to boil the beans first till well cooked. The chillies and fermented fish can be roasted separately and everything can be mashed together with salt and a pinch of soda bicarbonate.
Dried seeds are black but they can be stored and used when the season of fresh beans is over.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes
Fried green tomatoes
Woke up to the sweetest music this morning, the sound of rain. It wasn't enough for everything to be drenched but the dust has settled down a bit. Too much rain is another story but the season's first shower is always welcome. With the temperature a little bit kinder today than most days, I longed for something crisp and fried and what could be better than fried green tomatoes?

Although tomatoes are a fixture in most of our dishes, the fried form isn't common. When I started blogging about six years ago, I saw plenty of posts on the same. Popular in the American South, I tried it a few years ago and absolutely loved it! And I have always made this with home-grown tomatoes. Green tomatoes do make an appearance in our markets but I think it's a headache to scour the markets looking for the same. Particularly when it's the ripe ones that are easily available. I chose three lovely green ones from my plants. At the rate they are going, they'll best be termed as vines.:) But one had started ripening although it still looked unsuspectingly green outside.
You can see a slight tinge of pink peeking through all that green!
This was made with my own twist added but the first time I tried it was a from Southern recipe.
3 green tomatoes
1 egg
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp ground pepper
Pinch of cumin powder
Milk for the batter
Some all-purpose flour
About 1 tbs rice flour for extra crispness
Oil to fry
I didn't really measure the ingredients here. It's like making pakodas.

Hull the tomatoes and cut into fairly thick slices.
Sprinkle some salt and set aside as you prepare the egg and the batter.
Heat the oil in a pan.
Break the egg in a bowl and give it a good whisk.
Make a batter with the all-purpose flour and rice flour adding some milk and seasoning.
Dust each tomato slice with flour and dip in the egg.
Then dip it in the batter and fry a few pieces at a time.
Turn over till both sides are golden.
Remove on a plate lined with kitchen paper. Continue with the rest till all the slices are fried.
Scatter some freshly chopped mint over the fried green tomatoes. Best eaten hot!

The cumin powder that I used was from my toast-grind-store container. So the aroma is better than cumin that has not been toasted.
This is a delicious snack even without a sauce of any kind. I haven't really gone into serving ideas with this dish. Happy to have it on its own. Till now.:)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Foccacia With Roasted Plum Tomatoes

Focaccia with roasted plum tomatoes
In my small garden, March to May is when I pick a handful of tomatoes  every other day. I usually sow the seeds in December but this year I'm growing the self-seeders. So many plants sprouted during the cooler season and I simply planted them in one patch. There are plenty of green tomatoes now and the picture below shows the first picking. The plum tomato plant was bought at the recent horticultural show and it has not disappointed. The pretty oval yellow ones have graced many a salad platter standing out amid the dark green of the spinach and the lettuce or the brilliant reds of other tomatoes or strawberries. 
With about 30 tomatoes in hand, focaccia was what came to mind. I am not much of a baker of breads but I do bake focaccia oftener than I bake other breads.
Today's pickings

3 cups wheat flour (I used Aashirvad atta)
1/2 tsp sugar 
1 tbs dried yeast (I used Bluebird)
1 tsp salt
About 300 ml lukewarm water
2 tbsp olive oil + extra for oiling
The Topping:
Plum tomatoes (I also used the other varieties in the picture: a total of 32 on the bread)
1 tbsp olive oil + extra for drizzling
salt and pepper

Pour the lukewarm water in a bowl and add the sugar and the yeast. Give it a gentle stir and leave aside for about 15 minutes till it froths up.
Transfer the flour to a large bowl. Add the oil, the salt and the yeast mixture.
Mix till it comes together then tip the dough on a floured surface. Knead for about ten minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic.
Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with clingfilm.
Leave in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in size.
Meanwhile, prepare the tomatoes. Place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle some oil, salt and pepper and bake in a preheated oven at 140C for about 25 minutes.
Remove the dough from the bowl and knead for a few minutes.
Shape into a rectangle and place in an oiled tin.
Make indentations in the dough using your fingers.
Drizzle with some oil.
Top with the tomatoes and sprinkle some salt.
Leave in a warm place for another 10 minutes.
Bake in a hot oven for about 20 minutes until golden.
Drizzle with some more olive oil and a few torn basil leaves.
This tastes best when served warm.