Saturday, May 31, 2008

A lunch is a lunch is a breakfast

Before we go to the recipe, an aside on Bombay Bais. A bai is a magical domestic help. She comes for a hour every day and does the dishes & laundry and cleans the house. And if you want (I do!), your bai would also cook your food. The arrangements vary, but in my case my bai shows up once in the morning, makes me breakfast, packs my lunch and usually leaves me something for dinner in the fridge. I know, I know - I have a food blog and I love to cook - but not every day, and not three times a day.

Wondering why we are discussing this? For this explains how I ended up eating my lunch for breakfast today. My bai has an easy time on weekends for I cook myself half the time. But today, I told her to make me arbi (those gnarly colacassia roots) for lunch. I don't know what the original plan for breakfast was, but it was something boring like fruit or toast. Half an hour later, I peeked in and saw this magical arbi fry cooking on the stove. Who wants fruit after that. So here's my breakfast : arbi fry and parantha.



To make Arbi fry, wash the colacassia pieces. Put them in the pressure cooker just as they are (unpeeled and whole) and parboil. I've noticed that 2-3 whistles in the cooker usually does it. Take care not to overcook at this stage. Let cool, then peel and cut into pieces.

Heat oil in a pan. Add turmeric powder, salt and ajwain. Let sizzle for a few seconds, then add arbi pieces. Let it cook unstirred on a very low heat. You need the underside to get crisp so resist the temptation to stir it too soon. After a few minutes, turn the pieces over and cook the other side.

While it finishes cooking, make the parantha. Or at least, I think that's what you do. For what I got was this plate nicely arranged already. What a nice way to start the weekend!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A slice of little Italy

What do you expect to find in the middle of a large electronics store. Surely not a gourmet Italian restaurant. And yet, if you walk past the home theatre systems and cameras displayed at Croma in Malad and take the escalator to the first floor, you will hit a sprawling restaurant complex. And nestled in this bunch of eateries, a gem called Little Italy.



I've eaten at three separate branches of Little Italy in Mumbai (one of which is now closed). And all these places dish out authentic Italian fare with a consistency that amazes me. Their specialty is thin crust stone-baked pizzas and an assortment of pastas and risottos. My favorite is the pizza called Bombay. Its spicy and comes topped with paneer and mushrooms. Yet another favorite (and the one featured here) is spinach and ricotta ravioli in a hearty tomato, mushroom and wine sauce.

They do have a decent bar but somehow the drinks always disappoint. As do their desserts. Stick to pizzas and pastas, for that's what they do best, and that's what provides you a taste of Italy anytime you need it, right here in Bombay.



And by the way, this lovely picture comes courtesy a friend who came to see me from Pune last weekend. Or should I say, came from Pune to have dinner at Little Italy. Trust me, they are that good!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Top five reasons to go to Mocha

  1. Great desserts - large portions (two can share a chocolate avalanche for dinner), innovative ideas (Sizzling Sundae)
  2. Comfortable setting - They restore ancient furniture so every table in Mocha is unique and everything is up for sale. My favorite blue sofa might get sold, but there's always something equally comfortable to replace it. For now, my top favorite is the table for two with a chessboard table top.
  3. They play catchy music from unknown artists
  4. Chocolate shakes. Who else will liquidize a whole bar of Toblerone and give it to you in a glass
  5. Best cottage cheese paninis in the world.

Why do they still insist their specialization is coffee?


PS: While you see Mocha outlets all over Bombay and several of them in other cities, all references to Mocha in my life are to the outlet in Juhu. Its the biggest, prettiest Mocha and I've been there so many times it feels like second home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Taste this Salad



This is my third time participating in Nicole's Taste & Create. Its a charming event where she randomly pairs you with another blog. And then you go find all about what your partner cooks, pick a recipe you fancy and recreate it.

My partner this month is Pam from Australia. She claims to be "not a great cook", but I was totally awed by her breads. Pam has been making lots of hearty dishes that I would have loved to try if it was less warm here. Then it struck me : its winter where she lives, and I need to go back a bit to find a summer recipe. So it was back in her January postings that I found this Pomegranate, feta, cucumber and mint salad.

It sounded like such a colorful idea that instead of going her tossed salad way, I layered the ingredients in a glass. So its pomegranate first, followed by cucumber, then coriander, feta, mint and finally some red onion.

For dressing, I combined 2 tbsp each of olive oil and vinegar. I didn't have the sumac that Pam suggested, so I added some chaat masala for the tangy flavor. And a pinch of salt.

There are two ways you can add the dressing to a layered salad. Either toss each ingredient in dressing separately, or pour some dressing over each layer before you add the next one (which is what I did).

Thanks Pam! Its so perfect for a summer lunch.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Hercule Poirot Mystery

Bhags over at Crazy Curry is celebrating the first anniversary of her blog with an event that's very dear to my heart. Its called This Books Makes me Cook and the idea is to create a dish inspired by a book or a movie.

It's a tough choice. Should I go back to the tea times of Jane Austen and P.G. Wodehouse. Or pick a dish from Vianne's fabulous final dinner in Chocolat. Maybe a recipe from Fannie Flagg's radio shows.

In the end, I decided to make something that would please my favorite detective - Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot. Order and method are everything to this smart old man with an egg shaped head and a huge moustache. He picked his flat because of its modern square design, and gets vexed even if a single book is out of line in his library.

Hercule Poirot's dream is to see a day when hens lay square eggs. And so many times in his books has he disapproved of a round crumpet or a misshaped loaf of bread. When they started making square crumpets by the time we get to his later novels, his faithful valet George will produce them with regularity for any guests coming to tea.

Square crumpets was what I decided to make in Poirot's honour. The idea was simple. Executing it, however, was akin to a Christie mystery.

Mystery #1 : What is a crumpet? I guess I could have found this out a long time ago, but somehow I didn't. So now I turned to my trusted Larousse and found that a crumpet is "a small spongy yeast cake with holes on the top surface, cooked on a griddle". My further enquiries on the net told me that crumpets are akin to an eggless pancake, usually served with butter at tea time.

Mystery #2 : How do you make it? Here my Larousse failed me as the recipe had egg (didn't everyone else say "eggless"). So I browsed and combined wisdom from some 20-odd recipes for the one below.

Mystery #3 : The equipment - you need a crumpet ring to make a crumpet. Wise cooks told me to substitute a cookie cutter. But who's heard of square cookie cutters. I called up my baking supplies store, and they magically came up with one that's just the right size (3 1/2 inches)

All mysteries solved, making crumpets was a breeze and sort of fun. They are slightly sweet and tasted delicious with butter and with Poirot's favorite hot chocolate instead of tea.



To make crumpets, you need:
50 ml warm milk
25 ml warm water
1/2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
60 gms plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

Mix milk and water. Stir in sugar and then sprinkle yeast. Wait for 10 minutes or until the yeast starts bubbling. Mix in the flour and salt. You should have a thick yet pourable batter. If its too thick, add some more warm water and set aside for around half an hour. In this time, it should swell to roughly double the size.

Heat the griddle and place two sqare cookie cutters on it (both the griddle and the cookie cutter should be well greased with oil). Now mix baking soda with 1 tsp boiling water and add to the batter. Pour roughly 3 tbsp of batter in each cookie cutter and cook on very low heat. As the batter cooks through, bubbles with rise to surface and burst leaving holes on top. When it looks done, carefully remove the cookie cutter and flip the crumpet to cook the other side.

This batter makes four crumpets. My first two burnt because the griddle was too hot, but the next two were perfect.

Thanks Bhags for such a lovely idea. I had so much fun I've decided to continue doing this - pick a book every month and make something inspired from it.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A wonderful bakery and a story

The father used to travel a lot, so it was just the mother and two daughters at home. They would skip dinner and bake some desserts instead. Years later, chocolate chip brownies; bread and butter pudding; pain aux raisins and many more choice dinners found way to this small bakery in Colaba.

The story is no longer on their swanky new menus but Theobroma (the name of the cocoa tree and literally, the food of the Gods) still has enough baked goodies to keep a dessert junkie happy. It's small; with just 4 tables and can get really crowded. But you don't really go to Theobroma to linger. You either go for quick, decent sandwiches and passable coffee. Or for their cakes, mousses and macaroons. Or, like me, you go in and buy their brownies and cinnamon rolls. And you go home and have desserts for dinner - just like the old times!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Chutney etc.

Is any cuisine complete without its sauces and dips. For what's this world without salsa and guacamole, or without ketchup and pesto. Indian cuisine has tens of these sauces (aka chutneys) and hundreds of recipes to go with them, passed down the generations. From this virtual rainbow of dips and sauces, I pick my top five:

1. Green Chutney : It always has coriander and/or mint. Something sour is a given, but the medium varies from dried pomegranate seeds (anardana) to raw mangoes and lemons.

2. Kebab Dip : This version of green chutney has coriander blended with yogurt to give a light green color and a subtly tangy flavor. It is usually served with kebabs, but i love it specially with dal makhani and naan. Or with only naan. Just bring it on...

3. Tamarind Chutney : Tamarind pulp cooked with raw sugar or dates. A must for chaats and bhel, the ubiquotous Bombay street food.

4. More than Ketchup : For our pakoras and samosas, ketchup is just not enough. So the ketchup makers have come up with the spicy Indian variations. My favorite is Tomato Pudina (with mint), but really - anything that's tomato, yet hot and spicy goes.

5. Podi : Simply speaking, it means powder. But the word almost always refers to a spicy red powder that's mixed with ghee to form a dip - a dip that makes your idlis come to life.

There are a lot more - the coconut chutney from South India, the spicy garlic paste that goes into Bombay's own Batata Vada. But while I can't recount the endless list, what I leave this post with is the recipe for my top favorite, the green chutney.



Two recipes, actually! The one featured above is made when raw mangoes are in season. Grind together 1/2 cup coriander leaves, 1/2 cup mint leaves, 1 small raw mango - peeled and sliced, 1 green chilli, salt and 1/2 tsp roasted cumin seeds until everything's turned into a deliciously smooth paste.

This is a very versatile chutney and can be served with rice & dal or with curries. But I like it best on a buttered toast for breakfast. Or in a vegetable sandwich. Since mango is the main ingredient here, this goes to Arundati who is hosting this month's Weekend Breakfast Blogging with the theme Mango Madness

Now for the second recipe. This is my mother's staple and can be made throughout the year. You need 1 cup mint leaves, 1 finely chopped onion, 1 green chilli, a tbsp of anardana and salt. Grind everything together until well blended. This one will have a coarser texture, but is just as delicious!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Chocolate Hearts



What does one say about a heart-shaped cookie that has tons of chocolate. That its pretty, delicious and simply irresistable.

I was having a bit of trouble shaping cookies after I incorporated the chocolate chips so I decided to make the dough and shape the cookies first, and then sprinke chocolate chips. The dough itself is simple. Soften 50 gms butter and cream it with 50 gms raw sugar. Now add a tbsp of milk and 1/4 tsp vanilla essence and beat until well mixed. Add another tbsp of milk and beat again until you get a smooth butter cream. Mix 80 gms plain flour with 2 pinches of baking soda. Add to the butter cream and mix with a light hand until you get a smooth dough.

Roll walnut sized balls of dough into cookies and flatten slightly with a fork. Or, if you like, make a flat ball slightly larger than your cookie cutter and cut into heart shapes. Any dough left over from cutting the cookie can go over to the next one. Lift with a spatula and place on a baking tray. Leave some space between cookies as they will expand a little. Sprinkle/arrange chocolate chips on the cookies, pressing slightly to attach them to the dough.

Preheat oven to 180C and bake the cookies for 12-15 minutes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Ready for the Red Carpet

Meeta at What's for Lunch Honey is hosting her Monthly Mingle and the theme for this month is Bollywood. Bollywood is so central to the life in Bombay that I just had to take part in this event.

That said, this turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought. Let me explain my dilemma. Indian food, despite being hard to cook, comes naturally to me. It's what I first started cooking; its my comfort food. But what Meeta asks for is a glamorous Indian dish. She's looking for a star to walk the the red carpet, when all I've ever known are the homely girls-next-door.

But I know it has to be a dish from the mughlai cuisine. I passed on their luxurious kebabs, their sumptuous butter naans and arrived at my personal favorite - the biryani. Biryani is a layered rice dish. Plain white and colored (usually saffron) rice is layered with the chosen meat, packed in eartherware dishes and left to slow cook for hours. Of course, my recipe is a little less time consuming and vegetarian. I could have replaced the meat with boiled mix veggies to make sabzi biryani. But I decided instead to recreate the oft-ordered, much-loved aloo chhole biryani of a local restaurant.



The preparation for this biryani starts the previous night. Soak 1/3 cup of black chane overnight. For the uninitiated, black chane are a smallish brown variety of chickpea grown in India. Boil until done the next morning and drain. Also boil 2 potatoes, peel and chop into small cubes.

You need two cups of long grain basmati rice, cooked one cup at a time. For the first cup, simply boil rice in 2 cups salted water until done. Cook the second cup of rice the same way, but also add 1/4 tsp turmeric powder to water. I dont like saffron myself, but you can always replace turmeric with a few strand of pure saffron.

Now we will make a spicy paste for our filling. This is a rather long list of ingredients, but feel free to add/substitute (I always do!). So you need:
3 medium onions, grated or chopped
1 tbsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp coriander seeds (or powder)
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp sesame seeds
3 pods garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp cinammon powder
4 cloves

Heat 1 tbsp ghee and roast all these ingredients until they start giving out a fragrant aroma. Cool and grind to a paste with a little water. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a pan and fry the paste till the ghee separates. Puree 3 tomatoes and add to the pan. Cook until the mixture starts looking fairly dry. Add the boiled chane and potatoes plus salt to taste and simmer for a few minutes.

Now we have all the parts of our biryani, so let's assemble it. Grease a shallow round dish with ghee. Spread yellow rice to fill 1/3rd of the dish. Next, add a layer of the chane/aloo mix and finally top with a layer of white rice. Press down and smoothen the surface, then place in an oven preheated to 180C for 5-10 minutes. Remove, unmould and garnish with fried onions. It's hot and spicy, so serving plain yogurt alongside the biryani is always a good idea.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Quick and Easy Chocolate Cupcakes

And a lesson on what do in a pinch when you don't have any butter. I didn't have any because I never buy butter. Or rather, never bought any until I started baking a few months back. And even now, I only buy enough for the next recipe I am going to bake. So I have none on the Saturday evening when I get a sudden impulse to try baking cupcakes. I thought I'd substitute butter with a neutral tasting vegetable oil. And I was sure I will fail. But I didn't. The cupcakes turned out to be rich, moist and splendid.



What you need to make these:
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil (or 60 gms butter)
60 gms caster sugar
50 gms plain flour
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp baking powder

This is only going to take 5 minutes, so once you are done collecting all the ingredients, switch on oven at 180C and leave to preheat. Beat together the first two (liquid) ingredients. Separately, mix together the next four dry ones and combine with the egg/oil mix. Beat everything until smooth and spoon into four cupcake moulds lined with paper.

Bake for 15 minutes, by which time the cakes would have risen. Remove the lining paper. Let cool, or don't - just eat!