Thursday, February 11, 2016

Almond & Basil Pesto

Ever since the horticultural shows in our city got bigger, more herbs and vegetables that were available only in the metros came our way. Earlier, no nursery stocked basil and oregano and other herbs used in Western cooking. I could use these only on my trips to Delhi to visit my sons. It's only been two years that I'm growing basil but there were never enough leaves to make pesto! My three plants are doing well and today I made pesto for the first time with home-grown basil leaves.
For the uninitiated here's a description from Wiki.
Pesto or pesto alla genovese is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria in Northern Italy. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, European pine nuts, coarse salt, basil, Parmesan cheese and pecorino sardo (cheese made from sheep's milk), all blended with olive oil.

There are several variations online with so many other additions. I checked out some sites to find the easiest ones. I had actually checked almond pesto as I usually have a good stock of almonds and pine nuts are frightfully expensive. So here's the very simple dairy-free recipe which will be enough for 3-4 people.
11/2 cups basil
40 almonds
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
(I didn't measure the oil as I kept adding it till I felt the consistency was right).

Wash the basil leaves and drain them in a colander.
Toast the almonds in a pan till they let out a nutty and fragrant aroma. Set aside.
Blitz the almonds in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients till you get to the consistency you like. I made it almost fine.
This must be the easiest pesto recipe and it was so delicious with the pasta we had for lunch today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Drumstick Flowers With Eggs

Drumstick flowers fried with eggs
The days simply flew by...I should have been my most active but the reconstruction of our ground floor and the shifting of furniture upstairs and cooking in my kitchenette upstairs has taken its toll. It's only now that the tiles have been laid and the walls are getting readied to be painted that the whirring of machines has stopped. When the house turns upside down, the motivation to take food pictures becomes greatly reduced. This dish was made about a week ago when I bought the drumstick flowers on our return journey.
Drumstick flowers
The season of the blooms will soon be over and the flowers will soon turn to seed pods that we recognise as drumsticks. Our landscape is filled with these creamy blooms that the birds and the bees love to feed on. This picture was taken a few years ago when a crimson sunbird was feeding on the blossoms. The blooms also signify the end of our short winters and the beginning of our hot and punishing summers.
Drumstick flowers
In our cuisine edible flowers are usually mixed with eggs. It's the most simple form of cooking but tastes delicious too. The flowers are slightly bitter but is said to be loaded with vitamins.
2 bunches drumstick flowers 
2 medium onions, peeled and diced
3 green chillies, chopped fine
2 tbs mustard oil (or vegetable oil)
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp ground black pepper
4 eggs, beaten
Some coriander leaves for the garnish 

Separate the flowers from the stems. Wash and set aside.
Heat about 2 cups of water in a pan. Blanch the washed flowers for a couple of minutes. Remove and drain in a colander.
When the blanched flowers get cool enough to be handled, take a handful and gently squeeze out the moisture. Repeat with the rest of the flowers in the colander.
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onions and let them sweat a bit till they turn a little pale.
Add the chopped green chillies, stir, and throw in the flowers. 
Cook for a few minutes till the flowers wilt. Season with salt and pepper.
Add the beaten eggs and stir briskly till the eggs are done.
Transfer the contents of the pan to a serving dish and garnish with coriander leaves.
This preparation goes well as an accompaniment to rice and dal. This is usually one of the side dishes of a meal and will serve 3-4 people.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Judima Festival & My Book Release

A year-old judima served with fried chickpeas
It's been a while since I last posted.The reason is that with the Judima Festival coming up in my hometown, Haflong on 23 & 24 January, the organizers suggested that the book on Dimasa cuisine that I had been working on could be released there. Thankful for a platform like that I hurried to finish the book. It is about food that I grew up with and what I know best. Titled Shong Dima: Recipes From A Dimasa Kitchen some of the recipes are on my blog too. I had started writing the recipes a few years ago but it looked like I would never be able to finish it. This was the push I needed to finally get it to the publisher. We are leaving tomorrow morning to attend the festival and for my book release. 
Judima is the rice wine brewed by Dimasas. There will also be a workshop on several aspects of the brew including making it commercially viable. It will be interesting to see and to listen to inputs by knowledgeable people attending the festival. 
 And the other reason is that there's major construction work going on in our house. With the flooding in summer, we are raising the floor of our ground floor by a several inches. I'm using our upstairs kitchenette and it is a little difficult with all the downstairs stuff shifted upstairs. The tiles are now being laid and  one room should be ready by next week. And if one is ready the rest will soon follow.
Hopefully, I'll be able to dedicate more time for blogging in the coming month. And if I haven't been blog hopping like before, I'll surely be back at it again soon.:)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Honthai/Steamed Rice Balls

Honthai/Steamed rice balls
Honthai/Steamed rice balls (with a chocolate filling)
Checking my pantry to see what I had that needed to be used up, I came across a container of rice flour that my mother had sent a while ago. I had used a major portion of it as a thickener for curry. Made from reddish sticky rice the flour was a pretty shade of pinkish/purplish. Since there was only about a cup left, I decided to make steamed rice balls.
Traditionally this is made with a filling of grated jaggery.  Or with grated coconut, fried and sweetened with jaggery.  And steamed in a colander placed on a pan of hot water. Sometimes you want the easy way out.Since I wanted to do it in a jiffy and not go through the process of grating coconuts, I checked my fridge for the filling.I found the answer in a small bar of chocolate. But first I had to toast the rice flour in a pan as it was almost past its shelf life and it was about to go off. 
1 cup rice flour (made from reddish sticky rice)
1 small bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk
Hot water to mix
This amount was enough for 9 balls

Break the chocolate into squares. Since the pattern was imprinted in the chocolate, it made sense to break them that way. Set aside.
Place the flour in a bowl. Add a bit of hot water and let it cool down enough to be handled.
Mix into a soft dough. Take enough dough to make a walnut-sized ball. Press in the middle and place the chocolate. Seal the dough till the chocolate is covered. Repeat till the dough and the chocolate is used up.
Grease a colander and place it in a pan containing hot water. Seal the sides where the colander meets the pan with a wet strip of cloth. This ensures that the steam does not escape.
Put the balls in the colander and keep it covered. Let it steam for about 15-20 minutes on a medium flame.
Remove and transfer to a serving bowl.
This is a wonderful accompaniment with tea or coffee.
With the usual white rice, the steamed balls remain white. But with reddish sticky rice, steaming turns the rice flour into a darker shade. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Goan Holiday

Cottage No.9 was where we stayed for four days
Ala Goa..that's where we stayed on our first ever visit to this former Portuguese colony. 18 kms from Dabolim airport, the resort is in the village of Betalbatim in south Goa. Set amid lush coconut and banana groves, it's the ideal place to get away from the daily grind. We woke up to bird song, walked to our heart's content on the beach which was 10 minutes away, did the sights in both the north and the south of Goa and returned to this haven. It was bliss. The resort had a pool, a multi-cuisine restaurant, spa and ayurvedic massage centre, and plenty of books.

For the natural look in the rock  borders, more of mud and a bit of cement was used. I loved this pairing of flax lilies and ginger. I grow both and had never thought that this combination could look so good!

More cottages in the property.

There are fruit trees all across the property. Papayas, chickoo, pineapple, guava, ivy gourds, and of course the innumerable coconut and banana trees.

The bar area next to the swimming pool. I enjoyed having a drink of feni, the local brew made from cashew nuts.

In the lake area adjacent to the property, water birds abound. And the lantana blossoms under the coconut trees attract myriad butterflies. Seen in this collage: the gray pansy and the common sailer.

Father Christmas has a rollicking good time in this holiday season. Travelling the Goan roads, it was a joy to see them at regular intervals.

Nativity scenes were beautiful particularly with the lighting at night.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus which holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier and is  a UNESCO World Heritage site. The church is located in Old Goa which was the capital during the days of Portuguese rule. This is one of the oldest churches in India. Construction work began in 1594 and the church was consecrated in May 1605 by the Archbishop, Dom Fr. Aleixo de Menezes.

Se Cathedral is the cathedral of the Latin Rite roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa and Daman and the seat of the Patriarch of the East Indies. This stands opposite to the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Part of an old house, Casa Araujo Alvares in Goa. Built by a Portuguese family in the 1700s, it is maintained by the descendants of the same family and draws a large number of visitors.

A corridor in the house.

A room overlooking the garden.

When it came to food, I was happy to feast on the seafood platters with clams, mussels, squid and prawns. And sea fish! I wanted nothing else! The shots of the red berries (gulab jamun in Hindi) and the nutmeg were taken at Sahakari Spice Farm.

Views from a river cruise on the Mandovi river. This river is the biggest in Goa and divides the Union Territory into north and south.

Some  of my buys. Goan sausages are spicy and do not need refrigeration. Seen in this picture are some of the packaged masalas like Recheado and Xacuti, and packets of prawn pickle. Also in the picture  are vanilla beans, dried lemon grass, allspice and Goa's famous layered cake, bebinca. The cashew nut packets to be given to family and friends are not included in this photo.
Outside the basilica with my husband...windy morning.
The best part was that my husband played the harmonica in two restaurants. Goa has a wonderful music scene and the musicians are excellent in their chosen fields. My husband's Facebook friend, Dilip Naik, a harmonica player himself made it all possible. He sent a clip of my husband's playing (in a restaurant the previous evening) to a well-known bass guitarist, Colin D'cruz and that's how the harp in this track happened. I hope you enjoy listening to the number by clicking on the link above. The singer is Ernest Flanagan who writes his own lyrics and has been doing so from a young age. 

We returned feeling refreshed after this break. The owner of the resort and the man behind the wonderful garden was kind enough to give me five banana plants. He also packed some small and sweet bananas locally known as elaichi bananas to have on our long flight home. The first thing I did after getting home was to plant them in cement bags so that I can take them to agricultural land that we have in another town. That will have to wait for the rainy season. Until then they can take root in their little temporary homes.:)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Sesame Chicken

Sesame chicken
Chicken with sesame seeds and spinach
Hello everyone! We got back from our Goan holiday but I was so caught up with my household chores and gardening that I was literally off the face of the internet. But since this is the last day of the year I thought it'd be better to end it with a request from a dear reader. The dish is sesame chicken.
Sesame is widely cultivated in our region and used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Around this time of the year and particularly during mid-January (Sankranti) til laddoos are made and consumed. In the neighbouring state of Meghalaya, sesame seeds are used in many dishes and as you drive past small towns and villages, the aroma of toasted sesame fills the air. It's a heady smell particularly when the weather is pleasant and you are peckish, you'd surely want to check out the source!!
In our cuisine we often use toasted sesame seeds to garnish, as well as add flavour, to the dish called mudru. The dried plant  (after the seeds are taken) are burnt and the ashes are used to make the alkali that is known as khari. Sesame seeds are known as shibling in my mother tongue.
900 grams chicken cut into regular pieces
3 medium onions, peeled and sliced
1 inch piece ginger, peeled and diced
6 dried bird's eye chillies
1 tbs coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbs black pepper
3 tbs black sesame seeds
Salt to taste
2 bunches spinach
Coriander leaves for the garnish
3 tbs mustard oil
2-3 tejpatta 
Sesame chicken

  • Make a paste of the onions, ginger and dried chillies. (Fresh chillies will also do but I am drying bird's eye chillies at the moment and it was convenient to grab some to add to this curry. And we like the heat too).
  • Marinate the chicken pieces with this paste as you prepare the rest of the ingredients. I marinated the chicken for an hour.
  • Wash the spinach leaves under running water to remove sand and grit. Pick the leaves from the stalks. (The stalks can be added to another dish later). Grind the leaves and set aside.  
  • Toast the coriander and cumin seeds together. Add the pepper too and stir till they crackle a bit and let out their unique aroma.  Take care that the spices do not burn. Remove and grind the mix to powder.
  • Toast the sesame seeds till they emit a nutty smell. Care must be taken so that they do not burn or the taste will be bitter. Remove and grind. Set aside.
  • Heat the mustard oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the tejpatta and the marinated chicken. Cook on a high flame for about 15 minutes. Turn to medium heat and cook till the chicken is more than half done.
  • Season with salt and add the mix of coriander, cumin and pepper. Stir well. Add a bit of water so that the curry does not catch at the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the spinach paste and cook for a few minutes. Add water depending on the thickness of the gravy that you want.
  • Check the seasoning and make adjustments, if needed. When the gravy starts to thicken, add the toasted and ground sesame paste. Stir till the curry is homogeneous and remove a few minutes later.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.
This curry goes best with steaming hot rice. The addition of spinach was an afterthought but I loved it as it added more depth to the gravy. The dark colour might not be the most tempting but the curry was delicious. No wonder this is such a popular dish in our region.:)
I wish all my regular and new visitors a wonderful 2016

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Pithia Fish Curry

Pithia fish curry
Pithia fish curry
Fish is such an important part of our diet that fishmongers carry their fresh ware and go house to house selling the day's catch and usually the stock is sold out. Many households buy the freshest of supplies daily. I'm not a daily buyer but we do have fish twice or thrice a week. Today's curry is a local delicacy, the Golden mahseer/Himalayan or Putitor mahseer. This is a fish found in rapid streams and riverine pools and lakes in the Himalayan region ranging from Iran to Sri Lanka and east to Thailand. It's a popular gamefish and the largest species can reach up to 9 ft in length and 54 kgs in weight. As far as I remember this is a fish that tastes good during the winter months.
6 fish pieces
2 onions, roasted on an open flame
4 tbs poppy seeds, toasted till the nutty aroma fills the kitchen
2 tbs freshly-grated coconut
3 cloves of garlic, ground
1 small piece of ginger, grated
1 tsp chilli powder
A quarter tsp turmeric powder + extra to rub on the fish pieces
Salt to taste as well as to rub on the fish
Mustard oil as needed
Chopped herbs for the garnish
Pithia fish pices, rubbed with turmeric & salt and lightly fried
Remove ends of the onions, peel, wash and chop them. Blend till smooth.
Blitz the poppy seeds and keep aside. 
Rub the fish pieces with a touch of salt and turmeric.
Heat some mustard oil in  a pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the fish pieces. This can be done in two batches or else the oil will cool down and the fish will stick to the pan.
Fry lightly on both sides till they are golden. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
In the same oil (check to see if another tbs of oil might be needed) add the onion.
Add the ginger and garlic and cook till the onions turn paler in colour. 
Then add the rest of the spices along with the coconut and cook till the oil separates.
Season with salt. Pour some hot water in the curry. The quantity will depend on the amount of gravy you like.
Let the gravy come to a boil. Check the seasoning and make adjustments, if needed.
Gently put in the shallow-fried fish pieces.
Cook for another 4-5 minutes or till the fish is soft and the curry looks 'done'.
Remove from the flame and transfer to a serving dish. Scatter the chopped herbs on top.
This goes best with rice with. Maybe with another accompaniment. Some vegetables would be nice!:)