Easy Red Pepper Relish with Sun-Dried Tomatoes (a variation of Ajvar/Zacuscă)

Relishes or spreads are an amazing creation I think…they make simple bread taste wonderful or can help you polish off a plate of fresh carrot/cucumber sticks (a wonderful idea for a canapé menu too)!! So here is a simple recipe for a red pepper relish, but I must confess that it was inspired by the Romanian relish called Zacuscă.  The first time I had it was when my Romanian friend, Gabi’s mother sent her numerous bottles of freshly made and bottled batch of Zacuscă. Traditionally it is made by roasting tomatoes, red pepper, garlic, onions and sometimes aubergine (the Turkish version Ajvar usually has it) and then everything is cooked on slow fire for 2-3 hours till the veggies are reduced to a pulpy mash. In cold countries like Romania such preserves are made in summer for the winter time when it is difficult to get fresh vegetables.  My relish isn’t this complicated, but I can assure you it does taste satisfyingly divine!!

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomatoes Relish

Red Pepper and Sun-dried Tomatoes Relish

Red Pepper Relish

3 Red/Yellow Peppers (you can also use an aubergine)

3 large cloves of Garlic

2 Tbsp of Chopped Parsley

2 Tbsp of Sundried Tomatoes

Lemon Juice, Salt and Red Chilli Flakes to taste

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On a medium gas flame, roast the whole peppers one by one. If you don’t have a gas flame, grill them in the oven. When they are roasted and soft, put them in a plastic bag for about 5-7 mins to make them sweat…in this way you get the charred skin off easily! Add the peeled garlic, parsley, red chilli flakes, salt and sun-dried tomatoes. Blend well. Check for seasoning and add lemon juice to make it more tangy. Serve with some freshly baked bread or use it to spice up your sandwiches and burgers!!!

Quick & Easy Prawn Risotto with a Mushroom-Prawn Sauce

Part 2 of Easy Peasy Meals –

Matt Preston, one of the Masterchef Australia judges, calls risotto to be a ‘Death Dish’.  That’s because there are just too many elements to a classical risotto, like making a fresh broth from vegetables like garlic, onions, carrots, leeks & celery; bay leaves and cloves; parsley; and some meat. The rice (normally Arborio) must be fried in a chopped onion and butter mix till it is coated well and then cooked in some wine on medium heat. Then the broth is added slowly, one ladlefull at a time, till the rice is creamy and bitey soft (as Italians say ‘al dente’..as in the rice should be soft but should be a little hard and munchy for the teeth).  The total preparation time can be anything between 2-3 hours as the broth itself takes long to cook.  Now meat or fish or veggies can be added to this cooking process to add flavour..the result is a lovely creamy risotto. But wait; this is a shortcut risotto..so none of this is required! 😀

Easy Peasy Prawn Risotto with Mushroom and Prawn Sauce

Quick and Easy Prawn Risotto with Mushroom and Prawn Sauce

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Basa Fish Rolls stuffed with Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce

Dear Cousins!

How are you guys doing? I want to share a news with you! Hehehhee…no no..don’t guess, coz I am sure you guys don’t know (and trust me it not anything usual!).  Well actually I bought a Guitar!! yipppppeeeee!! Since I was in school where we had those music classes, I wanted to learn Guitar. But I was too shy to go up to the teacher and ask her to help learn this instrument…Sandra Banerjee, our western music teacher at Mater Dei Convent was truly one of the best music teacher I have ever had.  She was good with everything..the piano, the guitar, the drums!! Oh and her voice..I loved her powerful voice which would would remind many of Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act…..be it a hymn or a popular song, she was the best!! Every event, small or big ended with her singing the popular rock number of 90s What’s Up” by 4 Non Blondes.

I still remember her running heartily from one end of the hall to the stage, coolly picking up the Guitar, and striking those familiar chords which would make the whole crowd roar and clap in appreciation….with her guitar and her voice she would wake up the likes of me who would be sleeping during an inter-school debating competition!! 😀 All I did at that time was clap loudly and imagine myself singing like her one day….that never happened though coz you know how life is….I got caught up in the race to achieve goals….studies, exams, career…but now I have some time and thought, why not use it to fulfill my childhood dreams. Hence the GUITAR came into my life. Possibly I would never play like our teacher, but nevertheless her love for music would always inspire me!! My friends who have learned guitar themselves tell me that I need a lot of patience….so I just hope I don’t loose patience!! Wish me luck and then one fine day while you guys eat a lovely meal (like the one below), I will play the guitar for you!

Till then, I will continue with my recipes and today’s is one of them which would go very well with the music of the guitar in the background (I think). Its a recipe I saw in an old English style  book from 1980. With a few additional ingredients, I present to you a plateful of soft fish fillets stuffed with mushroom in a white wine sauce!

Fish Rolls stuffed with Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce

Basa Fish Rolls stuffed with Mushrooms in a White Wine Sauce

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Mushoor Daaler Boda’r Dalna (Masoor/Red Lentil Fritters in a spicy curry)

Dear Cousins!

Since you guys are busy with other things, lemme carry on my writing.  This is a dish that I learnt from Ma. Now one must note that she doesn’t like cooking, yet every time she cooks, she does create wonders falsifying the notion that only people who love to cook can cook good food!! Usually, she just throws in this and throws in that and !!VOILA!! a splendid dish emerges…one can rightly call her a good careless cook! She tells everyone that she can’t cook, apparently when compared to me, but Ma, you are my true inspiration to cook.  From childhood I saw you create amazing things out of nothing or with limited things…Baba used to say, ‘Anyone can cook well with a lot of oil, spices and expensive ingredients; but your mother cooks well even with limited resources, that’s why she is a good cook!’  I second my Dad in this….you rightly exemplify the funda of jugaad (we Indians are so adept in jugaad, that there is even a wiki page on it!!).  You were the one who taught us how to bake a Cake in a pressure cooker; grill an awesome Pizza on a pan, where even the dough is homemade without yeast; make a Egg & Crumbed Bread pizza (will surely write about that in another post); the gorgeous but delicate steamed Caramel Pudding; Mutton Rezala; 1/2 an hour Chicken Biryani; Fish Biryani and the entire fare of Bengali foods….shukto (a veggie dish with a bitter taste) to payesh (rice cooked in a sweetned milk thats been thickened through slow cooking)…I guess this is why I too have learned the art of using jugaad ingredients & less oil!! My mother – my inspiration, my strength and my friend!! This post is dedicated to you, Ma…

Mushoor daale'r Boda'r Dalna

Mushoor daale’r Boda’r Dalna

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Tomato and Basil Garden Bake

Dear cousins!

Its been quite long that we all have written letters to each other through this blog…but that doesn’t mean we haven’t been in touch with each other. My recent visit to India and the numerous messages exchanged via chat portals filled the time between my last post and this.  So someone will ask us now, why continue the silsila of letters again?? To that I would happily answer, I MISS MY FOOD TALK!!! Its not that we have stopped cooking, eating or travelling in the last 1.5 month; we just couldn’t catch up with our food blog.  Now I feel that I must apologise to our food and travel Blog for abandoning it like an orphan…Niloy has been making me feel guilty for quite some time now about this, but when last night I received a mail from Facebook saying, ‘You haven’t visited your Curry Cousins Page for some time’ the guilt reached another level…(I actually freaked out considering how much these sites and search engines know about us!! It reminded me of a discussion that I used to have with my friends like Chandni, Smaran, Ali and Mubbashira that in today’s world, someone is always watching….).

Anyways, coming back to my topic, let me start the writing again with a delicious yet very simple garden bake. One cold evening, when Niloy was away for an office party,  I suddenly had a craving for cheese…I ended up making this with whatever was left in the fridge!!!

Tomato and Basil Garden Bake

Tomato and Basil Garden Bake

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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

Chicken Involtini aka Roulade/Galantine/Ballotine/Braciola with Basil & Nuts filling

Dear Daibi and Didi,

Hope you two are doing well. I too haven’t been able to write much lately as we attended an Indian wedding here..was awesome to see a traditional wedding in Australia where mostly all rituals were followed to the letter.  The wedding reception was very European with tables marked, set menus that were served by waiters, speeches from family and close friends and dancing to a live band!! I felt like a tourist there awestruck with everything coz I have seen such weddings only on TV!!  heheeeehe…Then there was Janmashtami.  We celebrated it with pooris, potato curry and 6 types of home-made mithais (sweets)…I also learned how to make narkol nadu (coconut laddoo) with packaged dry desiccated coconut from Niloy’s sister who lives in Melbourne too.  One has to soak it in milk enough to cover the whole amount for 2-3 hrs and then cook it with sugar/brown sugar/jaggery and some milk powder till it becomes sticky.  For the first time I also tried to make the Bengali malpua but instead of putting them in a sugar syrup, I added some sugar in the batter itself…while frying them, I realised how much oil they absorb…out of shock, I turned the malpua batter into pancakes 😛 they tasted the same…next time am thinking I would drop them in sugar syrup and see what happens!! What say??!

Anyways, what I wanted to talk about today was this dish called Chicken Involtini.

Chicken Involtini (with basil) and Polenta with Tomato Veggies

Chicken Involtini (with basil) and Polenta with Tomato Veggies

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