Sunday, June 29, 2008

This Book makes me Cook : Chocolat

Joanne Harris’ Chocolat is a book about alchemy of sin, about life’s temptations, about choices that make us what we are. Chocolat is also the book Bhags and I have picked as book of the month for our brand new book club "This Book makes me Cook". When Bhags ran her event with the same name last month, I told her I enjoyed getting inspiration for my cooking from fiction and will continue posting recipes inspired from books. She then suggested that we do it together. And so the idea was born. We are going to pick a book every month, read it and tell you about the book and the recipe our reading inspired.

First the book : The vividly colorful story of a gypsy mother and daughter who make their home in a sleepy french village. The relationships they form, their friends, their rivals, the memories that come back to haunt them - all of these come alive in Harris' telling.

And what lovely descriptions is this book full of. Chocolat should come with “Warning : Don’t open unless you have loads of chocolate at hand." And another, more serious instruction. Don’t read this book if you want to get over it quickly. For Chocolat will tease you, test you, and haunt you for a long, long time.

When I put the book down and started thinking what I would like to make, the choices were many. Vianne, the book's lead character, the keeper of the chocolate shop, makes her hot chocolate from pure cocoa liquor before they add fat to set the chocolate. How I wish I could get hold of it. Or how about making the fondue she serves at Armande's birthday dinner with a multitude of cakes.

Another image stood out. Of the young Anouk eating pain au chocolat for breakfast. And a pain au chocolat in Roux' plate much later in the book, the bread that reignited his friendship with Vianne. So pain au chocolat it is!

This is my first time making puff pastry and it seemed like a lot of hard work. But its really the long time it takes (for you have to wait between stages) and not as much effort as it seems to be. To make pain au chocolat, mix 1/4 tsp caster sugar in 1/4 cup warm water. Sprinkle 1/3 tsp active dry yeast, stir well and keep it aside for 10 minutes until the yeast is bubbling. Mix 1 cup plain flour and a pinch of salt. Rub in 1/2 tbsp butter. Stir in the yeast, water and 1/2 a beaten egg and mix to a soft dough. Knead until you get a smooth dough. While you are doing all this (or actually before you start), divide 40 gms butter into 3 parts and leave it out of fridge to soften.

Roll the dough to a rectangle and mark it vertically into thirds. Dot one portion of the butter over 2/3rds of the rectangle, leaving a small border around the edges. Fold the plain part over the butter and then fold over the other side to seal. Give the dough a quarter turn, roll out the dough into a rectangle and repeat the folding but without any butter this time. Wrap the dough in a plastic sheet and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill.

Repeat this whole rolling and folding two more times, with a 30 minute gap each time. Yes, I told you its tedious, specially when you want the bread NOW! The fourth time, roll and fold it without any more butter and chill for another 30 minutes. Roll the dough to a rectangle roughly 9 X 6 inches and cut into 3 pieces (3 X 6 inches each). Take out the remaining beaten egg now and brush over the rectangles. Place a dark chocolate sqaure at one end of the rectangle and roll up. Press the ends down and put the roll on a greased baking sheet. Do the same for the other two. Cover and let rise for 30-40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and bake the rolls for around 30 minutes until they turn golden.

Yes, it was hard work but it was bliss getting the choclatey puff pastry out of the oven.

I picked Chocolat this month, and Bhags tells me she thoroughly enjoyed it. Bhags has picked "Three Men in a Boat" for July. It's a classic I've never read before, and I look forward to reading it. If you would like to come join the club, do let me or Bhags know.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Pop goes the Sizzler

Tucked away in a small corner of Malad's Evershine Nagar is an Unrestaurant called Pop Tates. What first draws attention to the place is its unconventional menu based on Archies characters and the chirpy quips on the placemats. What takes you back several times is the excellent food or rather the excellent sizzlers. Sizzlers are what almost everyone orders there.

It is very easy for me to picture those sizzlers. Not because I've had them many times (I've had!). But because irrespective of which one you order, they are basically all the same. On one side of the sizzling plate is a mound of rice. In the middle, the vegetable or meat you ordered. The other corner of the sizzler plate is split between boiled veggies and fries. Tucked somewhere in this melange are sautéed button onions, a stuffed capsicum and sweet corn in white sauce. There's uniformity here, but there's also attention to detail.

The biggest plus, and something I’ve never seen at another sizzler place, is the big bowl of sauce that comes along with you platter. Paneer Tikka Indi is excellent (and it’s the Indi sauce that makes it so). The Peri Peri sizzler isn’t bad either.

Once you’re done sampling the sizzlers, try their great pizzas. All mocktails and shakes are average, but Black Widow stands out. I’m also told they do beer and wines at great prices.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Indo Chinese Kitsch...and my first award

Chinese food is probably the most common take-out, order in, eat out food in India. Call it indo-Chinese, Punjabi-Chinese or (my favorite term) dhaba Chinese – it is fusion food at its best.

The dhaba Chinese that I grew up on had vegetarian chowmein and some sort of Manchurian as its central dishes. Chowmein is, of course, some noodles with vegetables. And its spicy - very Indianized spicy.

Manchurian is a story in itself. You will never find Manchurian in any Chinese menu outside India, for the obvious reason that it’s an Indian invention. Legend has it that a Chinese chef, who lived in India all his life, wanted to pep up the menu of his newly opened restaurant in Bombay with something customized to Indian palate. So he combined two Indian favorites – deep fried and spicy food to create something that’s symbolized Chinese food to generations of Indians ever since. Its essentially some batter fried vegetable/meat (close to but not exactly a ‘pakora’) dunked in a basic spicy sauce.

Then there are stir fried veggies. Dunk any vegetable in a mixture of soy sauce, tomato sauce, some chilli, corn flour and you are there. I've never been able to replicate this dhaba chinese flavor at home, but decided to give it one last try for this month's AWED.

Before we get to our recipe for Beans and Tofu Stir Fry, some good news. Swati from Chatkhor has passed on Bombay Foodie's first ever award. Thanks a ton, Swati - you truly made my day.

I would like to pass on "you make my day award" to:

Bhags of Crazy Curry, the book lover foodie I love to chat with

Aparna of My Diverse Kitchen, who was the first one to write a comment on my blog

Sunshinemom, my fellow Bombay blogger

And now back to the dish for AWED. This isn't true Indo-Chinese (if there is such a thing). My biggest problem with cooking Chinese at home is the over-salty overbearing flavor of soy sauce. The recipe I learnt many years back called for vinegar to balance that and some sugar, but I replaced the two with naturally sweet balsamic vinegar.

To make beans and tofu stir fry, cut 100 gms tofu into squares. Cut 100 gms beans into small pieces and parboil until half cooked. Peel and finely chop 2 garlic cloves. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a non-stick pan. Add beans and stir for a minute. Then add tofu and stir fry for 2-3 minutes on high heat. Mix 1/2 tbsp each of dark soy sauce and balsamic vinegar. Add to the pan and reduce heat to a simmer. In a bowl, mix 1/2 tsp cornflour and 2 tbsp water. After a couple of minutes, add cornflour to the pan and cook on high for 1-2 minutes. I didn't add any salt, but do add some now if you like. Done!

Beans and Tofu Stir Fry goes to DK for this month's AWED.

Friday, June 20, 2008

From out Guest Chef : Dhokla

Dhokla is an all time favorite. But I can never get it to look or taste like this.

This dhokla comes my way every couple of weeks our guest chef makes it. You will notice this is less like the traditional dhokla, and probably closer to the idli/dosa batters but our guest chef says this is guaranteed to dish out perfect, fluffy dhoklas every time.

To make dhokla:
Grind 1/2 cup urad dal and 1 1/2 cups rice to a powder. Mix with 1 cup yogurt - you might need more or less, just make sure you have a runny batter. Leave overnight to ferment.

In the morning, grind 1 tbsp corinader, 1/2 tsp ginger, 2 cloves garlic and 2 green chillies to a paste. Add this paste, 1/2 tsp turmeric powder and salt to the batter. Mix well. Finally, add 1 tsp Eno and steam in a dhokla maker for 20 minutes. Let it cool slightly and cut into squares.

For the tempering, heat 1 tbsp oil. Add mustard seeds (rai) and curry leaves, saute for a few seconds, then pour over the dhokla squares. Garnish with coriander.

If you do not have a dhokla maker, you can steam your dhokla by heating some water in a pressure cooker, and placing the dhokla batter in a smaller dish on a mesh/stand so that it does not touch the water (cook it without the pressure whistle). You can even use your idli maker.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Celebrating the spirit of Bombay

We are celebrating Bombay Foodie's 50th post with a dinner at Prithvi Cafe. Placed in the courtyard of Prithvi Theatre, this is not just another eatery. Prithvi cafe is an institution, serving its famous non-alcoholic Irish Coffee for eons. Every evening, the outdoor stone tables see a colorful variety of people. Well dressed yuppies, struggling artists, an occassional star : this is a place to sit, relax and gawk. Even the indifferent and callous service is a part of the setting.

The food at Prithvi cafe was never something to write home about. Not until last year. Then Prithvi went for a makeover. And what a change! Instead of coming up with their own menu, Prithvi Cafe went to look for the best street food of Bombay. The new menu at Prithvi is a journey through Bombay's culinary history, an ode to everything and everyone that makes Bombay food what it is today.

Let's start with the breakfast. Prithvi has bun maska (buns and butter) from South Bombay's irani cafes. And then a section on its menu that says "baida lao" - bring on the eggs. For your lunch or dinner, they have sandwiches from American Express Bakery and kebabs from Noor Mohammadi. There's khari biscuit for tea time, and Bombay's very own pao bhaji and vada pao. Chaats come from Sharma Chaat in Juhu.

To end it all, Bombay's much-loved desserts. Icecreams from Bohri Mulla, cakes from Brownie Point and choice selections from Mocha. This is street food and more, as never seen before.

Round it up with Irish Coffee, Prithvi's contribution to Bombay's culinary heritage. I'm glad it's one thing that has not changed.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Southern Adventure in DC

I so love Nicole's Taste & Create. Every month, she pairs me with another blog so I can get to know someone very well. All she asks in return is that I create something from my partner's blog.

My partner this month is Shaw Girl, a southern belle now living in Washington DC. As coindence has it, both of us started blogging in February. And she's already a daring baker. Where do you get the courage, girl!

Adventures in Shaw has lots of easy, healthy recipes - just the kind I dig so I did not have to look far. In fact, I decided to make the first recipe I saw on the blog : Mama's Mayonnaise Biscuits. Shaw Girl has adapted this super-quick and delicious recipe from her currently favorite cookbook “Bon Appetit, Y’all”.

I followed her recipe to a T, except that I halved all quantities and used a "lite" mayonnaise. It's simple enough. Just mix together 1 cup plain flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1 1/2 tbsp mayonnaise, 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 tsp sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. Shaw Girl put heaped tablespoons of this dough into greased muffin tins and baked them for 20 minutes until golden. I did the same, except that I dropped dough directly on the baking sheet so my biscuits were more free form.

I had them when still warm and they were yummy. Just like my favorite rolls.

My one liner : Super-easy biscuits that are also super-yummy. This is something I'd make more than once.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Over to Roti Mela

When Srivalli announced her Roti Mela, I was at a loss to find a special roti to send her way. While my friends think of aloo paranthas and mooli paranthas as special meals, I grew up thinking them commonplace breakfasts in Punjab.

So I had to think what my mom will call special. For she does have those occasional treats, some things so sinful that she will only make them every once in a while. The obvious answer was chana dal parantha.

To make the parantha, boil 1/2 cup split yellow lentils until al dente. In a bowl, mix the lentils, one small onion chopped finely, a tbsp of chopped coriander, salt, garam masala, red chilli powder, cumin seeds and anardana (dried pomegranate seeds). Mix well to make your filling.

Knead one cup whole wheat flour with enough water to make a firm yet pliable dough. Let it rest for a while.

Take a small ball of dough (roughly the size of tennis ball) and roll out to a thick disc. Place 2 tablespoon of the filling in the middle of this disc. Gather the side and bring them together to form a filling-stuffed ball. Toss the ball in dry flour to prevent it sticking and roll it out to a thin parantha.

Heat a griddle and place the stuffed parantha on it. Cook for around half a minute, then flip over. Spread ghee over the parantha, flip back again and apply ghee on the other side. Cook the parantha on both sides until its golden in color. You will notice that chana dal will absorb a lot more ghee than any other parantha, making it sinfully rich yet delicious.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Life's a peach

Or a cherry. Or a litchi.

Usually, by the time June rolls in, I've had my fill of mangoes and melons and am eagerly awaiting winter pears and lush oranges. But not this year.

For the past three weeks, I've been spoilt silly by the sheer mindboggling variety of fruits available in the markets. All of them my favorites. A single trip yesterday yielded bunches of perfectly sweet litchis, bright red cherries rarely seen in Bombay and fresh just-ripe apricots. If I'd wanted any more fruits, they had lovely peaches and plums. Bags full of green almonds have been around for more than a month now.

As my pal Bertie Wooster will say, this has been a rum summer for fruits. For once, I'm not complaining.

Friday, June 6, 2008

An encounter with Mondy's

“We used to hang out at Mondy’s every Friday”; “It’s the place we had most fun during college”; “You simply must go there once” – it seems like everyone in Bombay has a fond recollection of Café Mondegar. Intrigued, I followed my friend’s directions and walked down from Regal towards Colaba Causeway. At first, I saw this signboard hanging over a corner jewellery shack. A closer scrutiny revealed a door to an ancient looking café.

Café Mondegar is crowded, to put it mildly. Most guests were tourists; a significant number looked like aged hippies. The café itself looks like it has seen better days. But the Mario Miranda caricatures on the walls are still funny; and they play good music. The menu below the glass top on the table has plenty of variety – Chinese, Continental and Indian. But almost everyone in Mondy's was drinking beer. I stayed clear of the universal favorite (can’t stand the smell or the bitter taste!) and ordered myself an average garlic bread and a heavenly hazelnut cappuccino.

Don’t go to Mondy’s looking for great food. Go there for the ambience, for music, for the colorful mélange of people. Or as any Bombay-wallah will say “Go there for the old times’ sake”.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

And the twain shall never meet

When I first came to Bombay, I thought Ragda Patties (aka pattice) are just another name for aloo tikki. A couple of tastes later, I knew these two were not even from the same planet. If you are ever confused like me, here's a guide to ragda patties for dummies.

Aloo Tikki: A flat potato cutlet shallow fried on a griddle. Served topped with green mint chutney, sweet tamarind chutney, yogurt and onions. Occasionally, a chickpea curry is served alongside the aloo tikkis instead of these toppings.

How Ragda Patties are different:
1. The potatoes in the aloo tikkis are white and bland. The ragda patties potatoes are a spicy yellow (they always add turmeric to fried potatoes in Bombay, even in batata vada).

2. Aloo tikkis have a spicy split pea filling (which is why the potatoes are bland). Ragda patties don't

3. Ragda patties come topped with a curry made from dried yellow peas (also called vatana) and with the chutneys. Its a heady combination.

One thing remains common though. Both are quintessential street food, something you eat at a roadside stall and almost never think of making at home. I know I won't. But my neighbourhood auntie did. This recipe (and my dinner) comes courtesy this super sweet auntie from Bombay. Its imprecise, but aren't all recipes when they come from our mothers and aunts.

The preperation for ragda patties starts the previous night if its lunch (or morning of the day its your dinner). Soak dried yellow peas overnight. Boil with salt and turmeric. Heat oil in a pan, add cumin seeds and let splutter. Now add the boiled yellow peas and some garam masala. Add enough water to cover and simmer for a few minutes. Your ragda is done.

To make patties, boil potatoes and mash well. Soak a slice of white bread (crust removed) in water, mash well and add to the potatoes. Add salt, turmeric, red chilli powder, finely chopped ginger and chopped coriander. Shape into patties and fry on a griddle until brown on both sides.

To assemble, place two patties in a plate. Pour enough ragda to cover them. Add a tablespoon each of green chutney and tamarind chutney (she makes her own, but I would go and buy an Imli Sauce). Sprinke some chopped onions and top with some thin sev. This is the final yummy look.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chocolate Chip Oaties

There's something awfully nice about making oaties. You get that wonderful "Its really healthy; I'm doing my heart a favour" feeling. All while eating copious amounts of butter and sugar. And oaties combined with chocolate...let's just stop talking and start eating.

Cream 50 gms butter with 50 gms raw sugar. Add 1 tbsp lukewarm milk and 1/2 tsp vanilla essense. Beat until everything is well blended. Separately, mix 70 gms flour, 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder and a pinch of baking powder. Add the flour to the butter/sugar alongwith 50 gms oats. Mix well to make a smooth dough. Now add in 50 gms chocolate chips. My dough was quite runny (probably due to Bombay heat), so I left it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes.

While the dough is resting, set oven to preheat at 180C. Make balls of dough and plonk on the baking sheet. Press to flatten and bake for 15 minutes. Eat.