Wholewheat Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Eggs Chermoula (My version of a Maghrebian Dinner)

Dear Cousins!

Happy New Year!! What a start to the year..Daibi…2 back-to-back posts from you??!!! Wow, that is indeed commendable!! :D.  Your post on the healthy aspects of street foods should have been written some 15-20 years back when mothers like ours totally prohibited us from eating these things…uufff the reasons she gave for not letting us gorge on Papri Chaat or Gol Gappa were so convincing!! “You will get a sore throat..or You will get a stomach upset”!! Ma’s commandments on street foods however led to my secret missions to the market, eating few platefuls of Chaat, coming home and then again eating a full dinner!! You guys can very well imagine my condition, right? 😀 Burping and praying that next morning everything stays fine (especially stomach and throat), I would quietly go to sleep 😀 Till date Ma doesn’t know about those secret missions :P.  Reading your post now am thinking, if only I had known these amazing facts about spices then, I would have combated Ma’s decisions with them instead of the secret missions!! But I must confess, the kick one gets in such secret missions was and continues to be awesome…heehhehehehe!!

The pics in your second post on Pushkar Mela look awesome Man!! I wish I was there too….considering what is going on in India today, it “seems” to be the worst place to be…but trust me in all the travels and stays around the world, I still feel ‘Go East or West, India is the Best!’….the stories, the rich culture, the melas, the food, the people….OH!! there are so many reasons always for me to go back to India!! I will…I will one day….

Wholewheat Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Eggs Chermoula (My version of a Maghrebian Dinner)

Wholewheat Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Eggs Chermoula (My version of a Maghrebian Dinner)

Anyways, today I am writing to share this amazing sauce I recently discovered which I think goes well with our chaat plates as well.  Its called the Chermoula, a Maghrebian (Egyptian/Algerian/Moroccan/Tunisian) marinade for fish, seafood and meats.  It looks like our simple mint chutney, but the blast of flavours you get with every spoonful, makes it awesome I think.  The day I saw this recipe, I only had eggs in the fridge and some veggies.  So I decided to make a Couscous Salad and Eggs Chermoula. Couscous is primarily a North African staple food made of semolina which serves as an accompaniment to the curries, tagines and meat/fish dishes.  One can make lovely salads as well with it. In keeping with the pact of being and eating healthy this year, I used Wholewheat Couscous instead of the plain one that’s made of white flour.

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Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok (Hilsa fish’s head in a Tamarind gravy) and Bengali Women

Dear Cousins,

Hope you both are doing well. I have been a bit out of action lately as I was attending a conference here in Melbourne on India and Australia Relations.  I didn’t get much time to cook at home during these days, but I can happily tell you this that I was part of a 2 member team catering for almost 40 people’s dinner!!! My contribution in this amazing food spread were making 2 dips for crackers that were served with drinks (mushroom pate and a yoghurt+garlic+mint+ ricotta dip).  I plated them so well that Mary, the head chef of the day was totally in awe with the results!! The second thing I made was Red Peppers stuffed with Spiced Chickpea and Lentils.  I must proudly inform you both that many guests (Indians and Australians) came and personally congratulated me for all the three!!! One gentleman said, “The aroma of the peppers was so intoxicating that I couldn’t wait till the vegetarians had had their share!! I quietly took one :).” The appreciation was heartening!

Considering that the conference left me intellectually bombarded with so many esteemed researchers and activists giving speeches, I have been thinking about a few things myself as well…and while cooking too such thoughts don’t leave me…like the other day I was making Ilish macher matha (Hilsa fish’s head) and a question popped up in my mind. As you guys know, the head of the fish is considered very auspicious and very healthy (they say if you eat fish’s head you would have a sharp brain).  Both men and women therefore must consume it.  So I asked Niloy how would he like me to cook it. He said, “I don’t eat this piece.”  Now this was expected. In many Bengali households it is eaten normally by the women because eating it can be time consuming as well as difficult. There are large bones in it which make it cumbersome. I have heard from many Bengali women that because of this reason they end up eating it as no one else wants to eat that piece.  I guess this trend is also a result of the old Indian tradition when women ate after everyone had eaten (mind you, in many parts of India, it still happens and that includes the urban cities as well).  So lets say there is a big pot of fish and first the men eat, then the children and then the women.  Since fish head and tail are two cumbersome pieces, they would sit in the pot till the end and invariably the women would eat it.  To avoid this, I think Bengali mothers and grandmothers invented the recipes like Mudi Ghonto (Rice and fish head mix), Macher matha diye muung daal (Fish head with Moong daal), and many others that mix fish head with some vegetable or rice and make it tasty so that everyone eats it.  Is it because Bengali women are more progressive? Any comments?

I too learned a recipe like this from Ma’s late aunty – my grandmother (Mami Dida).  I think grandmothers are a repository of awesome tips & recipes; and so was she, an accomplished cook who could even make a simple dish like daal, tasty!!  Her prawn curry (Chingdir Jhol) was totally out of this world!! I wasn’t lucky enough to taste much of her cooking as my trips to Chandernagore (her home) weren’t too often.  But whatever little I have eaten from her kitty, has left an indelible mark on my memory….so here is the recipe..

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Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok (Hilsa Fish’s head in a Tamarind gravy)

2 Hilsa fish head, cleaned and cut into halves

2 medium sized Onions

2 tsp Panchphoron dry roasted and powdered                                                                             (Bengali five spices – mix 1 tsp each of cumin seeds, nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds)

1 tsp Turmeric

A table-tennis ball sized Tamarind ball soaked in water

5 tbsp Mustard oil

Salt, sugar and red chilli powder to taste

Fresh Coriander leaves to garnish

Wash the heads well and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of salt and turmeric on it. Mix well and leave for 2-3 hours.  Then heat the mustard oil well in a deep pan and fry the heads (its best to deep fry them, but I didn’t do so as I don’t have a kadhai or wok). Don’t forget to cover the pan or else hot oil would splatter all over.  Fry till both sides are golden brown.  The Hilsa flavored oil left in the pan tastes wonderful with hot rice and bit of salt, but only a true blue Bengali can understand that taste and swoon over it 😛 So I set aside some of the oil for rice and in the rest I fried 2 onions that I had finely sliced.  When they were complete caramelised, I poured in the tamarind pulp, turmeric, sugar, salt and chilli powder.  Check the seasoning (I like it sweet, very sour and pretty hot!!).  Then add the fish heads and 1 tsp of the roasted and powdered panchphoron.  Simmer for 5-7 minutes on medium fire and then add another tsp of the spice powder.  Take off from the fire, garnish with freshly chopped coriander and serve with hot rice!!

Any other fish can be made the same way, but I think that the taste of Ilish Maacher Mudo’r Tok cannot be replicated!! What say?

Sending loads of love,

Dakhina

Masala Chai with Chili, Cumin and Basil Cookies

Dear Ramit

How have you been? I must tell you that your letter on Iftar was hugely enjoyed and enthused over…next time around you may find two extra gluttons on your hand! It reminded us both of the five hour food walk we took with you and Rinki, eating our way through the by-lanes of the historical Chandni Chowk, one winter evening some years back. This letter too may take you down another memory lane. Last Week a friend of Prasanta, from his Vadodara (or Baroda as it still remains in our minds) Art College days, came for a visit. This friend, a Gujarati, was visiting Bengal and wherever he went all he got was black Darjeeling tea, which wasn’t really his cup of tea…literally. So when he came here I made some flavored masala chai for him and a strong case of  nostalgia gripped us. Stories about the good old days flowed effortlessly into the night.( By that time obviously, it wasn’t chai that was keeping our spirits up!)   I recall almost a decade and a half ago, on a visit there, I found that Prasanta and his artist friends would spend hours drinking copious amounts of the thick milky sweet masala chai…what was it called…Ah yes, Golden Chai.  A half glass of the chai aptly named “cutting” was all that these perennially broke students could afford! Most of the “studying” was being accomplished at these road side tea stalls. Hot cups of spicy tea and heated discussions on art and aesthetics are synonymous with what Prasanta fondly terms his “Baroda Days”. You too spent a few years around the same time in Vadodara, and surprisingly our friend remembers you. It seems your enthusiasm for food is not easily forgotten.You would also remember the road opposite Kamati Baug in the evenings, lined by the “Lari” or food stalls on wheels that sold mouth watering snacks, pakoda or fritters and even fruit custard. It was the melting point of cheap gastronomic experience. How far back it seems…an era, before Facebook, when friendship still meant meeting up face to face and back slapping over greasy Chowmein or Pav Bhaji. When love affairs were conducted long distance, from vertical glass coffin like telephone booths and one didn’t break up with a line over Whatsapp and, ‘Moving On’ hadn’t become a youth anthem. Was life really less complicated or is this how every generation feels about their best years. And look at me talking like an old fogey….but I blame it on Food and its ability to turn even the best amongst us into sentimental mush. On an afterthought,the pace of the times change, but food, friends and fun remain same. So here is raising a toast of masala chai to carefree days and old friends!

Masala Chai with Chili,Cumin and Basil cookies

For The Chai Masala

25 gm Green Cardamom Pods

25gm Cinnamon

25gm Cloves

50gm Black Peppercorn

Dry Grind all the ingredients together to a fine powder. In this masala the spices are not dry roasted before grinding. Once ground this can be stored in an air tight container for up to six months. Use to flavor tea. A Tisane made by boiling a teaspoon of this spice mix in a large cup of plain water, piece of ginger and a few basil leaves and sweetened by adding a teaspoon of honey,is an excellent throat soother in case of cold and cough. There are numerous recipes of Chai Masala. In some dry ginger powder is added. You may also do so, but I feel that the fresh Ginger root adds a punch to the tea.

Making the Masala Chai

To Make the Chai (2 Cups)

2  tsp Assam Tea Leaves/1 tea bag (CTC/ground tea leaves NOT long leaf tea)

1 ½ Cups of full cream Milk

Sugar to taste

1 Inch Piece of fresh Ginger crushed

1/2 tsp Chai Masala

½ cup of water

Bring the milk and water to boil, add the crushed ginger piece, the tea leaves and the sugar and boil till the liquid turns a beautiful brown color. Add the chai masala and boil till aroma fills your senses. Tulsi or Indian Holy Basil may also be added for taste and its therapeutic qualities.

Enjoy a hot cuppa with my own recipe of savory cookies with an Indian twist.

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Chili, Cumin and Basil Savory Cookies (Makes about 25-30 bite sized cookies)

100gm plain Flour + little extra for rolling

100gm Butter/Margarine (at room temperature)

1-2 Dry Red Chili Deseeded and snipped into thin strips

Handful of Basil Leaves (oregano/Chives will also do)

1 tsp Cumin seeds

100gm Grated Cheese

3 tbsp Tomato Ketchup

Salt to taste

Mix the flour and the butter to a fine crumb. Add all other ingredients and knead softly. Everything will come together; there is no need to add any liquid like water/milk or egg. If using a food processor, just pulse the mixture. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Remove from fridge, lightly flour work surface and roll out to about 2 to 3mm thickness and cut into shapes. I use a peg measure to cut the rounds ! You can simply cut out squares in case you don’t have cutters. Prick each cookie with a fork to prevent puffing up. Lay them out on a greased baking tray about half an inch apart – it may take two lots of baking to use up the entire mixture. Bake in a pre heated oven at 200 degree centigrade for fifteen minutes or till a delicious aroma permeates your entire house. Remove and let cool on wire rack. Store in an air tight container. These cookies with their hot and tangy taste are a perfect foil to the sweet rich one of the masala chai.

Happy Tea Time

Didi

Murgh Biryani (Chicken Biryani)

Dearest Rinki,

On April 8, 1981, one of my mother’s great-aunts passed away. Two years after the incident on her second anniversary, her husband showed his regard for his partner of forty three years by doing something extraordinarily beautiful. Kings of yore may have built marble edifices, but he a simple ordinary man did what he could do best. He painstakingly collected and documented his wife’s recipes from over a period of 37 years and had each one typed and bound into a recipe book. He then proceeded to gift a copy of this book to all of his wife’s loved ones. The amazing fact is that, Madhusrava Das Gupta, a South Indian ‘non meat eating’ Brahmin, did not know how to cook when she got married and yet she left behind this impressive culinary legacy of almost five hundred recipes of which more than half are scrumptious meat dishes. She loved to cook and she cooked with love. She toiled in the kitchen to feed her friends, family and neighbors. Her book has such a vast array of recipes from snacks to jams, ice creams, sweet-meats ,fish and meat dishes from all over India, as well as what was then called continental food…or the sahib food of the British Raj like Bread and Butter Pudding, Roast chicken, Treacle tarts, and even a Baked Egg Custard for Baby! This much loved; dog eared book was passed on to me by my mother exactly a decade ago right after I got married. The action, may have been precipitated by the fact that, stuck in the middle of cooking something, I would call her long distance every day, from Santiniketan to Delhi to ask what I should do next. In recent times, the internet or apps on the phone may have become an easy source to access more exotic food. But when it comes to old favorites, Madhu didu’s (grandmother) book is still my bible. I met her only once when I was a small kid, yet her food has talked to me across decades. Some of her recipes like Mutton Biryani, I know by heart, and it has occupied a place of pride in my repertoire.  I had occasion to make it just a few days back, and felt that writing about it here was a befitting tribute to the umbilicus called food.

Chicken Biryani

Murgh Biryani

Biryani is found in different avatars all over the country. Although there is no single fixed recipe for it, there is a logic which runs as the thread. It is usually a meat, chicken or fish and rice dish, usually slow cooked in a Handi (metal or earthen-ware pot). And it is usually served with a side dish of Raita or other kebabs. The one shared here was initially learnt from the cookbook I have talked about above, yet over the years it has undergone several changes according to my own tastes and preferences…This is a chicken biryani, but this can easily be replaced by mutton(goats meat), lamb or beef.

Ingredients (for 8 servings)

Chicken                                                                      2kg

Rice (long grained basmati)                             1kg

Potatoes                                                                    1 per person

Sour curd (yoghurt)                                             500gms

Onions (halved and thinly sliced)                   600gms + 400gms

Ginger + Garlic paste                                            2tbsp+2tbsp

Garam Masala powder                                         4 tsp

Kashmiri chili powder                                          4 tsp

Cumin powder                                                          4tsp

Coriander powder                                                  4 tsp

Whole spices: Cardamom 4-5, Cloves 4-5, Cinnamon 2 sticks, Bay leaf 2

Green chilies deseeded and julienned           6-7

Ghee (clarified butter, melted)                      2tbsp (the more the better!)

Cashew nuts, fried in ghee                             50 gm

Raisins                                                                    50 gm

Coriander and Mint                                        1 bunch each

Sugar                                                                     1 tsp

Juice of 4-5 Lemons and 2-3 tbsp Rose Water

100 mg Saffron strands soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk

Salt to taste

White Oil to cook

Method

Wash and marinade the meat in the yoghurt. Add salt enough for the meat, half of all the Powder Masalas (spices), half of the ginger garlic paste. Marinate for 1 hour if chicken and 2-3 hours for other meats.

Fry the 400 gm of onions to a crisp golden brown, in small batches. Mix half of this with the marinated meat. Reserve the rest for garnish.

Cut the potatoes into half lengthwise. Deep fry to golden brown, keep aside.

In a large pot heat approx. 250ml oil, add the sugar and let it caramelize, add the cardamom and cloves, next add the 500gm finely chopped onions and fry till soft and golden. Add the remaining ginger garlic paste and the remaining chili powder, Coriander powder and the cumin powder. Fry the masala stirring often, till it changes color, reduces, and the oil separates from it. Add the marinated meat, stir and slow cook covered. (At this stage add a little more salt for the masala and the potatoes) Stir occasionally. Arrange the potatoes on the top of the meat and cover and cook on slow fire. After fifteen minutes check the potatoes, if done take them out and keep aside.  Cook till meat is tender and the gravy thickened and oil has risen to the top. Now take out the meats and keep in a dish, and reserve all the gravy.

Wash the rice delicately. Boil a pot full of water with salt, cinnamon stick and bay leaf. You must not let the rice cook completely. The rice has to be taken out while it is still undercooked. It will cook in its own steam. If the rice is cooked well, then finally it will become soft and soggy. Check the rice; it should still have a white core in the center. Pour it out into a colander to drain the water.

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Traditionally Biryani is arranged and served in a handi. If you have one, it’s good otherwise a deep large pot with a lid will do. Arrange in front of you all the following:

(a) The meat and the gravy

(b) Rest of the crispy fried onions, fried cashew, raisins, julienned chili, mint and coriander   leaves, melted ghee, rose water, lemon juice and the garam masala.

Layer the bottom of the pan with an inch of rice, over this sprinkle a little of all the (b) ingredients. Then arrange a few meat pieces and gravy. Layer with the rice. Then again ingredients (b), on top of this the meat and gravy, and again rice…till all your rice and meat is used up. The top layer is rice. Over this arrange the potatoes and a final sprinkling of (b).Cover and stand the pot on the very slow fire, or you can put it in the oven for further fifteens twenty minutes.

Serve hot with Raita.

 I hope you will make this wonderful flavorsome and hearty dish. Trust me, it is guaranteed to make your home a favorite destination of all your friends !

Love you

Didi

Exotic Indian Chutneys

1.  Hot and Spicy Shrimp Chutney

Shrimp                      100 gm, cleaned

Garlic                         2-3 pods(tweak according to taste)

Green Chili               2-3

Onion                         1

Cumin Seed              1/4 tsp

Lemon Juice and Salt to taste

Oil                                1 tsp

Method 

heat the oil,add the shrimps and fry on low heat till crisp and red. Grind together with all other ingredients adding just a few drops of water.It should be thick and smooth in texture. Add salt and lemon juice.

2.  Groundnut ( Peanut) Chutney

Groundnuts                                   100gm

Dry Red Chilli                               1-2

Garlic                                                1-2

Lemon juice and Salt to taste

Method

Grind the peanuts with garlic and chilies , adding very little water. Add lemon juice and salt.

3.  Coconut Chutney

Fresh coconut grated/small pieces                100gm

Dry-Roasted Chick Pea                                         a small fistful

Yogurt                                                                          3 tbsp

Ginger                                                                            1- 1 inch piece

Green chili                                                                    1

Black mustard seeds                                               1 tsp

Asafoetida                                                                    pinch

Curry leaves                                                                few

Dry red chili                                                                 1

Sesame oil/ white oil                                               1 tsp

Salt to taste

Method

Grind the coconut, ginger, chick pea, with the yogurt to fine paste. Do not add water. Take out into the serving bowl, add salt to taste.

To prepare the temper,In a small pan heat the oil, once it is smoking hot take off the heat and add the black mustard seeds, asafoetida, dry red chili and curry leaves. Once the mustard starts spluttering pour over the chutney.

4. Tangy Indian Salad Dressing (1/2 cup)

Lemon Juice                                                         2 tbsp (for an extra tang, add more)

Olive oil                                                                  5 tbsp

Mustard paste (homemade or ready made) 1-2 tbsp depending on the pungency

Ginger                                                                     1tbsp grated

Garlic                                                                       1 pod grated

Coriander Powder                                             1 tsp (optional)

Sugar                                                                       1 tsp

Yoghurt                                                                  2 tbsp

Salt and Pepper to taste

Method

Mix all in a quarter size bowl and beat well with a fork for 5 mins. Let is stand for 10 mins as it would allow the flavors to infuse well. This can be stored in the fridge for a week.

 

5.   Bengali Style Sweet Tomato Chutney

Tomatoes (blanched, peeled & chopped)              6-8

Sugar                                                                                     1-2 tbsp

Raisins                                                                                  a few

Dates                                                                                    a few (deseeded and chopped)

Ginger                                                                                  1 inch square, julienned

Black Mustard Seeds                                                      ½ tsp

Whole dry red chili                                                          1

Chili powder                                                                       pinch

Oil (vegetable)                                                                  2 tsp

Salt to taste

Method

In a wok/pan heat oil, add the mustard. Once it splutters, add the whole dry red chili and ginger. Fry for half a minute, add the chopped tomatoes, sugar, chili powder and salt to taste. Cover with a lid; simmer on low heat till the tomatoes are pulpy. Now add the raisins and dates. Simmer for a few more minutes and remove from heat. Serve hot or cold. This chutney should be a little syrupy.

6. Roasted Brinjal (Aubergine) Chutney

Brinjal (aubergine)                                                          1-2

Onion finely diced                                                           1

Garlic                                                                                     2-3 pods per brinjal

Coriander leaves (cilantro)                                           1 bunch finely chopped

Green chili                                                                          2(deseeded and finely chopped)

Ginger                                                                                  1/2 inch piece finely grated

Mustard Oil                                                                        1 tsp

Salt to taste

 

Method

Make gashes in the aubergine and insert the garlic pods. Coat with a little oil and roast on naked flame or in oven. Take out, remove the skin and grind to paste along with ginger. Add the finely diced onions, chopped coriander, oil, chili and salt. Serve with hot steamed rice. You may substitute Olive oil in place of Mustard oil.

 

 7. Quick Aam Kasundi (Raw Mango and Mustard Chutney)

Raw Mangoes                                                                   2-3, peeled, pitted and chopped

Black/White Mustard Seeds                                        2 tbsp

Mustard Oil                                                                        2 tbsp

Salt to taste

Method

Blend the mangoes to a paste, do not add water. Separately grind the mustard seeds to a thick paste. In a wok heat the oil, add the mango pulp, cook for a few minutes. Add the mustard paste, salt and simmer till thickened. Serve cooled.

Alternative Recipe

Ingredients same, except oil is increased to 1 cup and mustard seeds are dry ground.

Mix the blended mango paste and mustard paste. Add the oil and salt. Pour into a sterilized glass jar and keep in sun for a few weeks. Keeps well for a long time.

 

 8. Sweet and Sour Tamarind Chutney

Tamarind paste (Imli)                                                     3 tbsp

Sugar/ Jaggery (gur)                                                       2 tbsp

Red Chili Powder                                                              1 tsp

Dry Ginger Powder (Saunth)                                       1 tsp

Water                                                                                   ½ cup

Salt to taste

Method

To make tamarind paste, soak a large fistful of dry tamarind in a cup of hot water. Let it sit for ten minutes, Using your fingers squeeze it into a pulp. Strain.

Thin the Tamarind paste with the water, add the sugar or jagerry, red chili powder, dry ginger powder, salt. Boil till it becomes syrupy. The taste should be tangy, sweet and sour. The sourness depends a lot on the quality of tamarind, so adjust the sugar accordingly.

 

Hot and spicy Mint chutney

Mint 1 large bunch( the leaves picked from the stems)

1 Raw mango, stoned and cubed ( in case raw fresh mango is unavailable, you can use lemon juice/tamarind pulp/raw mango powder)

2-3 green chilies

salt to taste

Method

blend all the ingredients together to a fine paste, adding the minimum amount of water.

Store in a lidded container in the fridge. Stays for two to three days.

use with all Indian savory snacks