Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Peachy Salsa



May is my favourite month of the year for fresh produce. That's when all my favourite fruits - cherries, lychees, peaches, apricots and green almonds - come into season at the same time. Which means that every time I make a trip out to the fruit store, I come back with way too much. I love eating these fruits as is, often times instead of meals. But today we are going to do something different and make a salsa out of peaches. It's pretty much like a tomato salsa except it's sweeter, which makes it a great combination for salted nacho chips. Plus, it's a breeze to put together, something I really appreciate in dinner ideas in summer.

Ingredients
1 large peach
1 small tomato
1 small onion
handful of cilantro leaves
1 lime
salt
smoked chipotle powder (or a fresh jalepeno)

Halve the peach and remove the pit. Peel each halve - if your peach is ripe enough, you can just pull the peel from one corner and it will come right out. You can also leave it unpeeled if it feels like too much trouble. Chop into small cubes. Also cut the tomato into similar sized cubes. Peel and chop the onion finely. Wash and finely chop the cilantro leaves as well. If you are using a fresh jalepeno, now would also be a good time to deseed and finely chop it.

Pop everything into a bowl. Add salt, chipotle powder and juice of a lime. Taste and adjust the seasoning and then, if you have any self control at all, put the whole thing in the fridge for a couple of hours for the flavours to mingle. Serve with nacho chips.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Misal on the Way



I discovered the joys of misal pao way too late in life. Maybe I didn't move in the right circles when I first came to Bombay, or I didn't have the right friends but it took me several years to find this little snack food delight that's native to Maharashtra. So what's misal, you ask? It's a curry made with sprouted lentils, which is then topped with fried savoury snacks called farsan and garnished with raw onions and cilantro. Pretty much always served with a dash of lemon juice and a side of soft buns native to Mumbai - the pao. It's a race against time eating your misal once it is assembled because you want to gobble it all down before the crispy farsan melts into the gravy and gets all soggy.

On a recent trip down the Konkan coast, I ordered misal at every stop on the way and discovered a range of flavours. Some misal paos were spicy, the others delightfully sour. I would caution though against ordering misal if you are headed to Kohlapur - I'm told they make it incredibly spicy out there. If you want to adjust the flavours just as you want it though, do what I did on my return and make the misal yourself. It's a really easy one to make too.

Ingredients
1 cup mixed lentil sprouts
2 tbsp peanut oil (can replace with olive oil)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp hing powder (asafoetida)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut
1 tsp tamarind paste
salt to taste
1/2 cup fried savouries (farsan or bombay namkeen)
1 small onion, chopped finely
handful of cilantro leaves
1 lime

Steam the lentils until cooked (you can also boil them in plenty of water but I find they retain their flavour better when steamed). In a pan, heat the oil and add cumin and mustard seeds. Wait a minute until they start to splutter than add the hing and turmeric powder. Stir to mix and wait another 30 seconds, then add the steamed lentils, salt and the red chilli powder. Stir to combine everything for about 2-3 minutes, then add the coconut. Cook on a medium heat, stirring all the while, for another minute.

Mix the tamarind paste with 1 cup water and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes for the flavours to mingle. Taste, then add more salt/chilli/tamarind according to your taste. Pour into two bowls, top with farsan, chopped onion and cilantro and serve immediately with a slice of lime and pao (or toasted bread/burger buns if you can't find pao)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Jackfruit Sheera



A few years back, I went on a Matunga food trail organised by the now shut MumbaiBoss. Among the flurry of dosas and filter coffee we had that day, the standout dish for me was Jackfruit Sheera at Ramashraya. Sheera, for the uninitiated, is a thick porridge like dessert made with semolina. It's one of the easiest Indian desserts to make, and a classic comfort food. At Ramashraya, they excel in making different variations each day. Their most popular variety seems to be pineapple sheera but on the day we visited, they had a jackfruit sheera on offer.

Now jackfruit, specially the sweet, ripe, variety used in the sheera, can be quite an acquired taste. I only tasted it for the first time a few years back and it took me a while getting used to its rather overwhelming smell. I enjoy it now and with jackfruit now in season, I decided to try making the sheera at home.

The first step in making the sheera is, of course, getting jackfruit pieces. It's a difficult fruit to handle and cut through but thankfully, Mumbai vendors sell it to you nicely cut and cleaned. If you can't find jackfruit, just go without or replace with pineapple. The recipe still works.

Ingredients
1/2 cup semolina
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup jackfruit, finely chopped
2 cups water
4 tbsp ghee
5-6 saffron strands or 2-3 drops yellow food coloring
almonds or cashews to garnish, optional

Heat the water in a saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Boil for another 2-3 minutes to get your mixture all syrupy. At this point, add the saffron strands, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

Pour the semolina in a dry nonstick pan and cook, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned and toasty. Remove to a plate. Put the pan back on the heat and add ghee. Now the thing about ghee in sheera is, you can use a lot more than the 4 tbsp. Some people would even use the same quantity as the semolina, so a 1/2 cup in this case. I personally find the 4 tbsp quantity to be optimum.

Okay, back to heating the ghee now. Once it melts, add jackfruit pieces and stir on a medium heat for a couple of minutes until they are coated with ghee and heated through. Add the semolina, give a stir to mix and immediately pour in the sugar syrup. Make sure to add the syrup slowly, stirring as you go, to avoid lumps. Keep the heat low, and keep stirring until the sheera is thick like a porridge and you can't see individual grains of semolina. Garnish with almond or cashew slivers, if you like.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Konkan Trail



A few weeks back, I got a call from JW Marriott in Mumbai Sahar. Their chefs were planning to go on an exploratory trip to the Konkan coast to discover the Konkanastha Brahmin cuisine, they said, and they wanted to take a few bloggers along. Was I interested? That is hardly a question, is it! I'd enjoyed my trip to Dapoli a few years back and the Marriott crew was now headed to nearby beach towns of Diveagar and Guhagar. Plus the Konkan Brahmin cuisine, with its completely vegetarian teetotaller bent so close to the coast, has always intrigued me.

The thing about driving down the Konkan coast is - you spend an awful amount of time on the road. Which is why it is important to have likeminded companions. We were all foodies on this trip so the food talk never really stopped. Once we got off the road, we spent a night at Guhagar and another at Diveagar, both times at homestays and within walking distance of some gorgeous beaches. And all three days, womenfolk who run dining halls in the town taught us how to cook traditional Konkanastha Brahmin dishes. There were some dishes I'd heard of and eaten before and others that were a revelation. There were modaks made with a skill that takes years to build and a vermicelli dish that an old lady came out specially to teach us (since she's the only one who knew how!). Overall, between sol kadhi and misal at rest stops and home cooked meals, we ate really, really well.

Of all the dishes we ate and cooked during the trip, I'm sharing with you my top 5. Keep an eye out for these if you make the trip or ask me nicely and I will share recipes.

1. Panchamrut: Hands down the best dish of our trip. This super flavourful coconut soup derives its name from the five flavours (savoury, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter) that go into its making. Think of this one as khowsuey on steroids.



2. Raw Jackfruit Stir Fry: Jackfruit, specially the fragrant ripe version, is an acquired taste. But cooking this raw stir fry in Mr. Bapat's kitchen was a revelation. Made with only 3-4 dry spices, coconut and tons of peanut oil, the jackfruit was subtly flavoursome without any of the ginger, garlic et al that goes in our curries.



3. Rice Flour Vermicelli: The special part of the vermicelli was the 'milk' they were served in. A combination of coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom, I can see this as a drink on its own.



4. Kaju Usal: With fresh green cashews in season, our Guhagar hosts made us a cashew usal (with usal being a generic name for lentil curries). The Konkan food is sweet and I would have liked it with a bit less jaggery but the curry was super nice and versatile enough to adapt for any legumes you want.



5. Misal Pao: My standard order every time we stopped for tea or lunch on the way. Misal is basically your mixed sprout usal, but it comes topped with fried savouries called farsan. Every misal I had was different, some spicy, some sour, but topped with crunchy onions and accompanied with the local bread (pao), it hit the right note every single time.



Tempting, isn't it! If you don't have a trip to Konkan coast planned yourself, you might get a chance to taste most of these dishes at JW Marriott Sahar itself. The chefs have taken the learnings from the trip and are putting up a Konkan Food Festival from 6-15 May. I'm surely going to head out there to check out how the village food fares in a 5-star hotel.