Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Asparagus & Potato Quiche


Last week I wanted to use up the asparagus in the fridge and I thought a quiche would be nice. The asparagus was bought in Delhi (where I had spent some time recently) and was no longer fresh. I had seen some photos online and the idea of a quiche with asparagus was on my mind. Also I never thought about crimping the dough but as I was about to blind-bake it, the power went off!! Not really wanting to start with the clean-up before the quiche was actually in the oven, I crimped the edges. You can see in the collage below that I've also used a bit of grated pepper in the pastry dough.

I've never made a quiche without meat in some form or other. Bacon, salami, sausages, smoked meat, left-over chicken from curry-- all have gone into my quiches. Since I wanted to use up the Cheddar too, I combined all these ingredients together and it did turn out good!!


For the pastry:

2 cups of flour (maida), sieved
1 cup of butter, chilled and grated + a little extra for greasing the baking dish
1 egg
Iced water (about two teaspoons)
A quarter teaspoon of grated pepper

For the filling:

2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled, sliced and sauted in some butter
A bunch of asparagus, steamed
A hundred grams of Cheddar cheese, grated 
2 eggs and 1 yolk, beaten
1 cup of cream
A small bunch of chives, chopped fine
Freshly grated pepper
Salt to taste

Sieve the flour in a large bowl. Add the butter and mix till it resembles breadcrumbs. Then add the grated pepper. Break the egg into the mixture and bring it together. The iced water, about two teaspoons can be added now. With water I like to keep it to a bare minimum. As soon as it evaporates, the pastry shrinks. Once the dough comes together, make a ball, flatten it and wrap it in clingfilm. Chill for at least an hour.

Grease the baking dish then roll  out the pastry on a floured board, a little bigger than the size of the baking dish. Place the pastry on the dish and cut out any extra that hangs from the dish. You could also use a rolling pin to remove the extra dough. Prick all over with a fork.

Cut out some aluminium foil a little bigger than the size of the baking dish. Grease it and place the greased portion down on the pastry. Fill it with baking beans and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees C for fifteen minutes. Remove the foil and the beans and brush the pastry with egg so that the bottom does not turn soggy. (The eggs that are to be used for the filling can be kept aside till this point). Bake for another fifteen minutes or so till it turns golden brown.

Let the shell cool down a bit before you add the filling. Start with the potatoes and add a generous amount of pepper. Scatter some of the cheese on top of the potatoes. Beat the eggs and add cream to it. Then add the remaining cheese. The chopped chives can also go in now. Season with a dash of pepper and a pinch of salt. Pour the mixture on top of the potatoes. I usually pour half of the filling before putting the dish in the oven. There's less chance of spillage if the rest is poured after it's inside the oven. Place the asparagus on the top of the quiche and bake in a 180* C oven for thirty minutes. Serve at room temperature. I feel quiches taste so much better the next day. What do you say?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Life Would Be Bland Without Chutney!

Roselle chutney
Chutneys are so much part of our food that we seem to be able to make anything and everything into chutney!:) And they definitely do their part of what they were created for. For the punch and the zing, and that bit of extra that makes a meal so much better! The pictures of the roselle and tomato chutney were made some time ago. I'm glad I had the pictures and can share them today.

Several chutneys are made from raw ingredients, the most popular being the ones made from mint and coriander. A few spices are added to the herbs and blended/ground together. A little bit of tang is added and that comes from fruits like lemons, tamarind, or green unripe mangoes. And talking about mangoes, they can be peeled and grated. A bit of sugar, salt, chopped mint leaves, chopped green chillies with a dash of mustard oil is a popular during the mango season. I mean the season before the mangoes ripen. Pomelos and pineapples are also consumed the same way. With diced pineapples, the mustard oil can be omitted. Instead, freshly squeezed lemon juice works wonders!
Roselle/Hibiscus sabdariffa


Ingredients that go into making tomato chutney

Tomato chutney with raisins and dried apricots
Tomato chutney is very popular in our region. This is a combination of sweet and sour tastes. Most of the tomatoes here are acidic so sweeteners in the form of sugar or jaggery are added. The other spices that go into it are panch puran, coriander and cumin powder, red chilli powder and turmeric. A dash of salt and dried fruits like raisins, dates, and apricots completes the dish. The last two dried fruits are soaked and pitted before adding to the chutney. Panch puran means five spices and is a combination of equal parts of fennel, cumin, fenugreek, mustard, and nigella seeds. The roselle chutney in the first photo was made in the same way but without the addition of dried fruit.


Smoked meat (above) and teasle gourd with fermented fish(below)

Apart from all these, we are also very fond of the pungent chutneys that we Dimasas make. The most common one known as Naplam shapinyaba is made by roasting fermented fish and green chillies. These are mashed together with the addition of chopped onions, a pinch of soda bicarb, salt, and any fresh herb in season. Coriander, serrated coriander, basil, and the leaves of the chameleon plant are hot favourites. Sometimes steamed or boiled vegetables like egg-plants, banana flowers, hyacinth beans, or teasle gourds (shown in the collage) are added.Teasle gourd/Momordica dioica also known as Spiny gourd and hangathai in my mother tongue. 

The first photo in the collage shows smoked meat chutney. Smoked pork is lightly grilled and shredded into a bowl. Then finely sliced onions, roasted and diced chillies are added. A bit of salt and fresh herbs are all mixed together with a drizzle of mustard oil.
It so happens that some of the easiest things to make can also be the tastiest!!!






Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Egg Paratha/Ande Ka Paratha


When my boys were very young, one of the meals that they loved was Egg paratha/Ande ka paratha. It was a filling dish and I used to make a spicier version for myself. It was those days when Chef Sanjeev Kapoor's Khana Khazana was very popular on Indian television. The other food channels were in the pipeline then. There must have been many recipes that I liked but this one stays in mind because my boys loved the dish. I used to make a version with the egg on top of the paratha but this one was definitely better! I can't help  thinking about how many lives chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor must have touched. He definitely touched mine!


To make about six parathas, you'll need 400 grams of wholewheat flour. I like to add a little ghee in the dough. Add water and knead it. The dough shouldn't be sticky but should bind well so that you can roll it out beautifully. The resting time for the dough is the time that you need to prepare the filling. For the filling you'll need:

5-6 eggs, beaten
2 chopped green chillies,  (can be left out if you're making these for the young ones)
1 large chopped onion
1 bunch of coriander leaves
A bit of finely chopped ginger
Salt to taste
Oil to drizzle

Mix the above ingredients together.



  • In order to make the parathas, take some dough, make a ball and roll it out. Drizzle or brush with oil and a dusting of flour.
  • Fold and again brush with oil and another dusting of flour. 
  • Fold in a triangular shape. Roll it out and cook in a hot tawa. When those brown specks start to appear turn over. 
  • From one end of the triangle gently pull the "flap" open. Because of the oil and the flour, you'll be able to do it easily. 
  • Pour a bit of the egg mixture and put the "lid" back into place. Cook for a minute or two. Drizzle with oil on the sides. Flip and cook on the other side.
  • Press gently along the edges with a ladle. It won't get any messier than what's seen in the first picture in the first collage. The mix cooks so fast in that heat so runny eggs isn't an issue here.
  • Cook for two minutes or so and check the browning on both sides. The filling needs to be cooked too. See if you'll need to add a bit of oil at this stage. I usually add about a teaspoon.
  • When it's done, transfer to a plate.

Pickles are a good option with this dish but we also like to have it with any kind of thick and delicious dal. In the first collage, the pickles are both home-made. One is of Indian olives/star fruit and the other is of Indian jujube/ber.You can also add cheese to the mixture. I tend to go overboard with herbs which is why there's a lot of coriander in my filling. You can also add serrated coriander or chives. And to make the dough interesting and also nutritious, finely chopped spinach or fenugreek leaves can be added.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Kairi Tart (Tart Made Of Green Mangoes)


The idea of today's mango tart came from this month's issue of BBC Good Food magazine/India. Ever since I saw the pictures and the recipe I couldn't wait to try it. There were several other dishes using our much-loved summer fruit in its green form in the said issue. Kairi tart, kairi rice, kairi cooler and other delish ideas. The word kairi stands for raw mango in Marathi. 

Usually when you think of a mango tart, images of  finely sliced golden ripe mangoes come to mind but this one uses green unripe mangoes and has a bit of tang in it. I loved the idea! If lemon tarts are popular, then why not tarts made of unripe mangoes? And the fact that I could get them fresh off my tree made it all the better! I had also ordered tiny pie dishes from Urban Dazzle and my package arrived yesterday. These dishes are four inches wide and just right for individual pies/desserts. It had been raining all these days and it's wonderfully pleasant to work in the kitchen. Otherwise the summer humidity levels here in Assam can be sheer torture!




The recipe is adapted from BBC Good Food magazine, May 2013

The Mix

eggs    2

sugar   1/2 cup
cream  1/2 cup
raw mangoes 100 gram, peeled and grated

The Tart Shell


butter 2 1/2tsp, chilled and cubed

sugar 2 tbsp
flour 5 tbsp
egg 1/2, beaten
vanilla essence, a few drops
water 1 tbsp

For the pastry dough, mix the butter, sugar, and sugar till the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Add the beaten egg, vanilla essence, and water and bring it together. Make a ball, flatten it, and keep in in the fridge wrapped in clingfilm. Chill for an hour. (For the pastry dough, I included more of everything as I was planning to make about 12 tarts). The measurements for the shell(in the magazine) makes four tarts.


Roll out the pastry dough into 1/2 cm thick. Cut out and place them in loose-bottomed tart moulds about 8 inches in diameter. (I used the new dishes that I mentioned in the beginning of my post). Bake blind for 15 minutes at 180*C. Remove the beans, apply egg wash to the inside of the shells and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove and let the tart shells cool.

For the filling, mix the cream, sugar, eggs, and grated raw mangoes. Pour the mixture into the cooled shells and bake in a pre-heated oven at 140*C for 15 minutes. Bring the temperature down to 120 and continue to bake till the filling is set. This could take anything between 20-25 minutes. (Mine was done a little sooner).

Chill for a couple of hours before serving. An option here is that you can use a blowtorch to caramelize the top of the tart. We had it cold with some sugar dusting. I have to say that my tarts didn't look as good as the magazine's but the taste? Well, I have no complaints regarding that!:)




Having a mango tree in my front-yard, or any tree for that matter, makes you aware and observant of all the wildlife around you. Although these pictures show only a few of the creatures who love to visit, several birds make it a point to stop by its branches. Bulbuls, sparrows, the oriental magpie robins, the Asian pied starlings and occasionally, the tree kingfisher find a branch to rest before they go back to the business of living!

Happy Monday everyone!!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cherries!!

Chocolate cake with  chocolate ganache and  glazed cherries


I was away from home for nearly a month visiting my sons in Delhi. So cooking there wasn't the same as cooking at home with all my pots and pans, plates and platters, cake tins and ramekins in place.:) All my shopping trips there were to source the ingredients for my kitchen. They will be showing up in my future posts and dishes but I was really happy to get a kilo of cherries two days before I was to return home. I don't live in cherry-region so as much as I would like to, decorating or cooking with cherries is not always possible. 

I made this chocolate cake yesterday  and decorated with glazed cherries. The rest of the cherries are pitted and will soon go into making  a sweet pie. With fruits that are abundant in our region, the idea of using them in desserts aren't all that exciting. Cherries may be common for many of you reading this, but to me, it's to be celebrated! I hope I'll be able to get some more before the cherry season is over. My regular posts will resume soon. When I'm using cherries, how can I not blog about it?;) 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Vegetable Fern & A Simple Salad


We have vegetable vendors coming to our doorstep with the freshest veggies that they source from the outskirts of the city...from forests and the banks of streams. The beautiful green fern that's occupying most of the space in the basket is the Vegetable fern/Diplazium esculentum. In my mother tongue we call it Dauma-lai. Throughout summer this delicacy is a major part of our diet. The other vegetables in the picture are the stems of the colocasia and the ones wrapped in banana leaves are of the water spinach.

Vegetable fern is high in antioxidants and is found in India, south-east Asia, and Oceania. According to Wiki, it's probably the most commonly consumed fern in the world.

On another occasion, it's the water spinach that occupies more space in the basket. Banana flowers and stems from a variety of ginger (Alpinia nigra) are a part of the goodies. You must have noticed that leafy greens are wrapped in banana leaves or in another variety that resembles turmeric leaves, but they are much broader. I also keep my leafy greens in banana leaves so that they have a longer shelf life.
This fern goes into a lot of our dishes. It's fried on its own with a few cloves of crushed garlic, chopped chillies, and salt. The garnishing is done with thin slivers of fresh ginger. Potatoes can also be added to this vegetable. We also tear the fern into little pieces and add it to fish curry along with the regular spices that are used in fish curry. Traditionally, we Dimasas do not cut the fern, the leaves are torn till where it breaks off easily.

The taste of fried pork is enhanced by the addition of the vegetable fern. You can add it to both the fresh and the smoked varieties of meat. With salads there can be several variations. I'm including a recipe of the way I like it.


Vegetable Fern Salad

Ingredients:-

A generous bunch of vegetable fern
4 chillies, a mix of green and red
1 small onion, sliced fine
1 tablespoon of toasted and roughly crushed peanuts
1 teaspoon of lemon juice
Salt to taste
Freshly grated pepper
A bit of sugar

Method:-

  • Wash the ferns and break off the fronds till you come to the bottom part where it's hard and cannot be easily broken. Discard these parts.
  • Boil water and blanch the ferns for about two minutes. Take out with a slotted spoon and plunge them into chilled water. Remove and drain in a colander.
  • Roast the chillies on the gas flame till they are charred (just the skin) on all sides. Cool, remove the skin and chop into chunks. (We like to tear them rather than cut them. Goes with the look of the fern too.:)
  • Put all the ingredients in a bowl, including the veggies. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. You can add a bit more of the crushed peanuts as a garnish too.
This salad is a lovely accompaniment to rice, dal, and other accompaniments. When mangoes are in season, I like to add cubed mangoes (ripe, but slightly tart variety) to the salad. In that case you can leave out the lemon juice and simply add the juices that drip from the mango.

(I have used these pictures on one of my old blogs. Since I don't want long gaps between my posts, and since it's the season of these goodies,I'm using them here again).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Watermelon Granita

Watermelon granita served with cream
With the heat in Delhi soaring beyond bearable, cool, refreshing drinks with lemony and watermelon-y flavours are high on my list. Recently I made a coffee granita  and we had it topped with cream. But today I decided to make granita out of water melon. It was so refreshing and the fact that this recipe calls for  very few ingredients makes it a pleasure to create this on an afternoon like today.
Since I'm visiting my sons and cooking in a kitchen with just the basics, I used an old frying pan as a platter to freeze the fruit. The blender wasn't working so I used a fine grater. There were little bits and pieces of the fruit that wasn't grated but it all tasted good. The syrup was made with two tablespoons of sugar and some water. After it cooled down, the finely grated fruit was added to it. Then to the freezer it went.
Pink deliciousness!

After an hour or so, I scraped the mixture with a fork. Now this action reminds me of scraping gravel in a Zen garden. It's supposed to have a calming effect on the mind, and that's exactly how I felt. That delicious pink and the fine lines left by the fork reminded me of designs made by a garden rake on gravel I had seen years ago in a dog-eared National Geographic magazine. Surprising, coffee did not have that effect on me. I did that two more times after nearly another hour had elapsed. Soon it was time to take it out in a pretty glass bowl and pour some cream. Bliss!!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Egg and Potato Curry

Egg and potato curry
Egg curry, usually with potatoes, has been synonymous with comfort food in my part of the world. It's a meal that you  rustle up in a whiz, you feel that way because comparatively, fish or meat takes more time in prepping.
Eggs and potatoes ready for the hot pan
 A simple egg and potato curry was what we had for lunch today. I'm now in Delhi spending some time with my two college-going sons. In a kitchen with  minimum facilities, curries still work their magic.:) And four eggs for three people is because I'm not particularly fond of curried eggs although I love cooking them!!
Other accompaniments were: Arhar dal and fried okra with grated carrots
The dal was tempered in ghee with Indian bay leaves, cumin seeds, a few peppercorns, three slit green chillies, a diced onion, and one chopped tomato. Tender okra and plenty of summer vegetables are available in abundance now. There was one carrot left in the fridge which is why I added the grated carrot to the okra dish.
It's a joy to walk around the market in the locality and get the freshest stuff, usually after breakfast. Carts of snake gourds, cucumbers and different kinds of melons are the first sights that greet me as I make my way through more members of the gourd family.... The recipe for the egg and potato curry is given below.

Ingredients:-

4 eggs
4 medium potatoes
2 onions, grated
Half a teaspoon of ginger and garlic paste, I used fresh paste
A pinch of turmeric+ extra for rubbing on the boiled eggs
A quarter teaspoon of chilli powder
One level teaspoon of cumin powder
One level teaspoon of coriander powder
2 blanched, peeled, and chopped tomatoes
Half a teaspoon of garam masala
Salt to taste
About three tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 or 3 Indian bay leaves/tejpatta
Chopped coriander for the garnish
2 cups of hot water

Method:-

  • Boil the eggs and the potatoes till done. The potatoes must not be mushy and the eggs must be hard boiled. 
  • Let them cool, then peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters. Shell the eggs, make light slashes on them with a knife. I made vertical slashes before rubbing them with salt and turmeric powder. 
  • Heat the oil in a pan. As soon as it becomes hot, add the eggs. Turn them as you fry so that they turn golden brown on all sides. Remove.
  • In the same oil add the bay leaves and the grated onion. Cook till the onion changes colour.
  • Then add the spice pastes, the powdered spices, and the salt.
  • Then add the potatoes. Keep cooking till the potatoes start to "look good".:) The tomatoes can go in now.
  • Add the hot water. When it comes to the boil add the fried eggs. Cook for a few more minutes and add the garam masala before removing it from the flame.
  • Garnish with chopped coriander.
This curry has a thick gravy which is why we prefer to have dal on the side. Curried eggs are good on their own too, without the potatoes. Sometimes I make a variation with fresh peas. The boiled and fried eggs can also be served in halves. The halved ones actually look good sitting on a bed of peas!!

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Dimasa Khari


Khari made of eggplant, beans, tomatoes and a bunch of amaranth
The other day my brother dropped by on his way from home. Home is the town of Haflong where I grew up and where my mother and most of my family/relations live. It’s a good three hundred and fifty kms from where I live here in Guwahati. After so many years of being married and living away from  my hometown, my mother’s gifts of home-made pickles and garden-fresh vegetables are always more than welcome. However the 7-hour journey by car did not fare well for the mulberries picked the day before. Other things to look forward to when somebody comes from home is the produce available in small wayside markets near small villages. The bonus came in the form of tender banana flowers, the freshest of ash gourd, sweet, ripe bananas and tender drumsticks.
Smoked pork

But the star of the goodies was the smoked pork that my mom sent. I love using this ingredient in my cooking. Tastes great whether fried on its own or with vegetables, made into a curry or khari. So I made urud dal or split black lentils with smoked pork  Khari is made using fermented fish and alkali (the water that you get after filtration of ashes from a wood-fire).  In this case the "wood" happens to be dried banana stems, the dried plant of the black lentil after the pulses are removed, and different species of bamboo. 



In the above photo the basket on the right is used for the filtration of ashes. Known as "shingjor" or "khari-kho", it's a common backyard sight in Dimasa households particularly in the villages. Some ash is placed in the conical basket and very little water is poured in it. Because of the small opening at the end of the cone, only drops of filtered water come out. These droplets fall into a container which is later stored in bottles.
Filtered water from the ashes with alkaline properties and fermented fish
Fermented fish is available in the markets in our region. To make fermented fish, species like dried puthi/Puntius chola or Swamp barb is mixed with salt and kept in bamboo hollows sealed with dried banana leaf and mud. Another way of making this type of fermented fish is by adding torn and shredded lemon leaves, fish fat, freshly grated turmeric, and salt before sealing the mixture in bamboo. The sealed bamboo is kept in a cool and dry place. In both cases, the seal is removed after 30-45 days. The fermented fish is now ready to be used in our spicy and pungent chutneys, known in Dimasa as naplam shaphinyaba/brengyaba or in khari.

Naplam comes with a statutory warning...it's an acquired taste!!!










Known as Bahanda this herb is from the Basil family

Khari made of unripe papaya and colocasia
Bahanda/Ocimum basilicum is extensively used as a garnish in our dishes. The smell is pungent but without this herb, many of our khari dishes will not be complete.
Khlimbra, another plant from the Basil family
A little stronger than bahanda, this herb in the picture above is also used as a garnish and also made into chutney.

Gala hon/Khari made of bitter gourd and rice flour



                                              Dal Khari 
Although we love having lentils the regular way as in dal/chawal or dal/roti, we also love having dal in khari form.This is the basic dal khari. Dal is also a good substitute for hon which is ground rice flour, a key ingredient in many of our dishes. The taste is not similar but it produces the thickness that enhances the taste of the vegetables cooked in them. Bamboo shoot, okra, beans, bitter gourd (shown in the photo above), and leafy vegetables like lai/Brassica juncea can either be cooked in dal or with the addition of rice flour (hon). Smoked meat and dried fish like Bombay duck can also be added to this type of dish.

Ingredients:-
Masur dal, about 150 grams
Chillies, about 10 (slit but not de-seeded)
Fermented fish/Naplam  about 3
 Herbs for garnish
Soda bicarbonate OR khari (alkali)
Salt to taste

Method:- 
Wash the lentils and boil in a pan with water. When the dal is about half done, add the chillies and salt. Let it cook further. Add two tablespoons of alkali or a quarter teaspoon of soda bicarb, whichever you are using. Then add naplam.  When it becomes a homogenous mix remove from the fire. The dal should not be too watery.Garnish with the herbs of your choice or a few crushed cloves of garlic. No oil is used in this preparation.
Bahanda is the most popular herb for garnishing but serrated coriander or coriander leaves come close.
 
Shbai-hah khari with smoked pork

Urud dal or shbai-hah/Vigna mungo is  a heavier dish, so smoked meat and fish rather than vegetables taste better with it. Some families like to add drumstick leaves to this khari. Generally it’s cooked on its own but the taste can also be spiced up with smoked meat. The cooler months are when it’s a pleasure to work with fire and smoke to create and re-create these timeless dishes. And instead of khari, it can also be made the regular way with a tadka of onions, chillies, Indian bay leaves, and tomatoes. In this version also, chunks of smoked meat or fried pieces of dried fish can be added.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Shnem Seeds


 Fresh stock of these seeds known in my mother tongue as shnem are now available in the markets. They look like  mustard seeds except that the shade is a wee bit lighter. I don't know what these are called in English. Like all oil seeds they release a wonderful nutty flavour when toasted. We usually have them as a chutney by toasting and grinding them. The picture above shows the seeds, a cucumber salad, the ground seeds in the flower-shaped bowl, bird's eye chilli and garlic in mustard oil, green chillies, and chives from one of my pots.
This is a simple salad made with cucumber, almost ripe chillies, de-seeded and added just to create a contrast in colour. The oil that I added here is from the bottle of chilli pickle, just a few drops to add the right amount of heat and garnished with toasted shnem seeds. For those who love chillies, this pickle is a must in most meals. Whenever some oil is used, a bit more is poured in, the bottle is allowed to bask in the hot sun. Sometimes replenishment doesn't come with extra hard work!
The toasted and ground seeds can also be added to salads. We also love mixing it with diced onions, roasted and chopped green chillies, and herbs like coriander or serrated coriander. Onion and garlic leaves also go really well with this chutney.

Another way of having it is by adding to a Dimasa dish called mudru. It's a combination of two or more vegetables like beans, leafy greens, and bottle gourd seasoned with chillies, garlic, and salt. The dish is cooked with very little water. Just before the pan is taken off the flame, toasted and ground shnem or sesame seeds are added to the dish.