Sunday, January 30, 2011

Things heat up!!

The Bhut Jalakia has reigned supreme as the hottest pepper on the planet with a rating of 1,041,427 Scoville heat units(the standard scale for measuring piquancy of a chili). Suddenly the North East of India had everyone's attention - never mind the fact that more than half the world depends on us for their morning "cuppa" or that we have the only game sanctuary in the world with the endangered one-horned Rhino in its untouched natural environment. The world sits up and takes notice of this remote area where the fiery pepper grows wild.
Gordon Ramsay is hugely entertaining in his series "The Great Escape" where he travels through India and dedicates an entire episode to Assam. He watches on with disbelief as local celebrity Anandita Tamuli stuffs her face with the peppers and appears positively aghast when she casually breaks them open and rubs them in her eyes. I was thrilled to bits watching it unfold- not only do we have the hottest peppers in the world but our women kick ass!

This pepper is versatile in its uses; not only is it an important component in a variety of condiments and spice powders but is an active ingredient in grenades used by the Indian army for mob control. This alone makes it a valuable commodity and sends prices sky rocketing. Processors export a large percentage of the products, leaving little for domestic markets. Unfortunately in a competitive world the Bhut Jalakia's glory days are numbered. It is about to be ousted from its hot seat by the Infinity chili a hybrid developed in Grantham, England. Eating an Infinity has been likened to "eating red-hot coals", scorching the mouth and stomach and causing burns and ulcers. Rating at 1,067,286 Scoville heat units, it is highly unlikely that it will be considered edible. That is, unless they come up with a clone of Anandita Tamuli!

Chocolate for Breakfast!?

Weekend breakfasts are big in our household. The range of possibilities wide and diverse. The kids usually get to pick what they want and so last weekend they decided on chocolate chip pancakes. I, (in an attempt to add something healthy to each meal) had thought of making them blueberry pancakes, so we called a truce and did both. I relented partly because I secretly wanted chocolate too and well...chocolate is supposed to be good for you!
I'm a sucker for freezing berries when in season, so I pulled out my stash of blueberries and went to work. This time of year berries are ugly, tasteless and and ridiculously pricey no matter where one goes, so I can't help but feel a little smug when I pour out a cupful of luscious, sweet, berries and toss some into each pancake along with some semi sweet chocolate chips. The pancakes are rarely a perfect circle but nobody cares... The spongy texture of the pancakes combined with gooey chocolate , soft ripe berries and sticky maple syrup makes the room go silent, if only briefly. Forks and knives are ignored and scraps are used to mop up the juices. I am rewarded with sticky kisses and those magic words" Mom you're the best!".

Recipe for Blueberry Chocolate chip Pancakes:
2 cups All purpose Flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk 4 eggs
1/2 stick butter melted
chocolate chips
1. Sift the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Combine all the wet ingredients in a food processor.
3. Pour the liquids into the bowl and stir steadily till the mixture is moist. Refrigerate until cook time.
4. Heat a skillet/ frying pan and spray with PAM or brush with butter. Pour in ladles full of batter with enough room for the pancakes to spread as they cook. When one side gets bubbly and the edges are sealed, throw in some berries and chocolate chips and flip over. Serve hot with warm maple syrup and a pat of butter or whipped cream.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A good Curry always hurts twice!!

The cold always makes me crave hot and spicy food and a Thai curry with a high Scoville score breaks out the sweat just the way I like it! A hot bowl of Red Thai Curry over Jasmine Rice is easily a personal favorite - throw fresh shrimp into the equation and there's no contest.
I tend to add random vegetables into a pot depending on my mood or on the contents of my fridge. An authentic Red Thai curry usually has slivers of Bamboo shoot, fresh lemon grass, Thai basil, birds eye chili peppers, miniature Thai eggplants , mushrooms and sliced red peppers, and much as I love it, my own versions can contain anything from red/ yellow/ green peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, peas and even baby pakchoy. I firmly believe that the flavor of the curry combined with the silky texture of the coconut milk create a base that can carry whatever you throw at it.
(Foot Note:) I would like to add that although I am disposed to cooking all curries from scratch, it is not always feasible ( hard to find ingredients and time constraints). In times like these I turn to my reliable tub of Maesri Curry paste. It's fool-proof and tastes like the real thing.

My easy recipe for Red Curry-
2-3 tbsp red curry paste ( the more you add the hotter it gets)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 can coconut milk ( Chaokoh is my favorite brand)
vegetables cut into bite sized pieces
Shrimp de-veined and rinsed
fresh Thai basil
1. Heat the oil in a wok and stir fry the curry paste till fragrant. Add in the shrimp and cook briefly.
2. Add in the coconut milk a little at a time and simmer on low till the oil separates and floats to the surface. Immediately add in the vegetables and cook for a couple of minutes.
3. Garnish with fresh basil and serve over hot fragrant Jasmine rice or brown rice.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pot Roast: the all American Comfort Food

I have always been a fan of Alice Waters and every time I cook up one of her recipes, it reaffirms my appreciation of her simplicity of style and complexity of flavors. A Pot Roast dinner is an American household staple - a comfort food that brings back childhood memories for many. For others like me- it creates new ones. A Pot Roast is the perfect antidote to frigid winter weather which boosts the appetite considerably; it satiates the hunger pangs, is a meal in a pot ( cleaning up is a breeze) and it tastes wonderful in spite of the cheap cut of meat. Slow braising in wine and broth makes the Chuck roast tender to the point of melt- in - the -mouth. Hearty vegetables are cooked and added to the roast to make it wholesome and hearty.

Alice Waters' Recipe for Pot Roast:
1.Sprinkle a 3 lb Chuck Roast with salt and freshly ground pepper.
2. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot and brown the meat on all sides. Add in 1 tbsp butter.
3. Sprinkle the meat on all sides with 1 tbsp dry flour and continue browning. Add 1 onion, 1 leek, 1 carrot. 2 stalks of celery and 3 cloves of garlic (chop all the veggies into pieces) into the pot along with 4 sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig of parsley and a bay leaf.
4. Add in 1/2 cup red wine and enough broth to almost cover the meat. Cover the pot and simmer for 2-3 hours till tender.
5. Slice the meat and place in a pot. Strain the gravy and pour over the meat taking care to mash the vegetables through the strainer to make a thick gravy.
6. In a separate pot cook green beans, chopped carrots, potatoes pieces and celery in batches and add to the pot roast. Serve hot with crusty French bread.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Don't Chicken Out!

Much as I love old favorites like Tangdi Kabab or Tandoori Chicken, it is always fun to hit upon something new. Fun but not necessarily easy. Is it worth the risk when you don't have the most adventurous audience? Most of us shy away from the new and stick to the tried and tested. I am compelled to try new things and sometimes it pays off. This recipe for Andhra Chili Chicken has been modified but the end results are crisp and flavorful. I want to put an end to the myth that only North Indians know how to cook a great chicken. Andhra Pradesh has a cuisine that is spicy and rich as evident in its Hyderabadi dishes and this Chili Chicken is no exception....

Recipe for Chili Chicken :
1 -2 lb Roasting Chicken
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
Grind to a paste:
10 dried chili peppers ( remove seeds to reduce heat)
2 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp garlic paste
1/2 cup plain yogurt
10 curry leaves

2 tbsp chopped cilantro
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour with 1/4 tsp salt

1. Cut the chicken into pieces ( keep them small so that they cook easily )and cut deep slits in the fleshiest part. Rub the pieces with the salt and lemon juice.
2. Add chopped cilantro to the spice paste. Marinate the chicken with the spice paste for as long as possible up to 12 hours.
3. Dip the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour, shaking off any excess flour.
4. Heat the oil. Pan fry the chicken over low heat till cooked thoroughly. Serve hot with a Asian slaw or a Kachumber( salad made with shredded vegetables, dressed with oil and lemon juice)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tamarind Pork - Singapore style...

Singapore may be a dot in the ocean in terms of size but when it comes to gastronomy it is no pushover. Locals claim that eating out is a national sport. A rich cultural heritage with influences from it's Chinese, Malay, Arab, Thai, Indian, Indonesian, British and European inhabitants are interwoven and ingrained in its food and suitably represent the very essence of Singapore as a nation. I visited Singapore more than 15 years ago and would like to go back to see old friends and revisit notable landmarks like the Raffles Hotel but above all to -EAT!!! There is no dearth of expensive and undoubtedly remarkable dining experiences but it is the hawkers and roadside restaurants that serve up the best local fare be it Chinese, Malay or Indian.
I confess that has changed my life drastically - I now am the proud owner of over 200 cookbooks. I often pull out a book, glance at the recipe and do the best I can with the ingredients I have. The original recipe for the tamarind pork from a Singapore Cookbook, calls for fermented soy bean paste and ginger buds so I took a few liberties...
My recipe for Tamarind glazed Pork :
1 lb Pork belly or loin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp tamarind soaked in a cup of boiling water and strained.
2 tbsp palm sugar
2 lemongrass stalks( tender inner parts) crushed
salt to taste
Spice paste: Grind all the ingredients to a smooth paste in a food processor.
1 large red onion
a handful of almonds soaked and skinned
1" galangal ( optional)
1 " ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic
2 red chili peppers
2 dried chili peppers ( remove seeds)
1/2 tsp shrimp paste
1 tsp turmeric

1. Heat the oil in a wok and saute the spice paste until fragrant over medium heat.
2. Add in the pork and the tamarind paste and stir fry till the meat is sealed and gets golden around the edges.
3. Cover and simmer till cooked through. Stir in the palm sugar, lemongrass and salt if required. Serve hot with rice.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Med Spread

I recently ate at a Mediterranean restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed the Falafel, which were soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. On closer examination I discovered that they had been rolled in sesame seeds which gives great flavor as well as texture. It was only expected that I would try and replicate them while the memory remained fresh, and so I made a batch and served it up in pita pockets with a salad and a dressing of yogurt flavored with a clove of minced garlic, salt and lots of mint.
The origins of Falafel remain a bit murky; the Egyptians claim to be the first to have made them and the Israelis claim it as their signature food and so the falafel has been the cause of much dispute. Either way it is popular throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East and for good reason. Usually made from ground chickpeas (garbanzo beans), Falafel is formed into balls, fried and filled into Pita bread pockets and served with various sides consisting of anything from pickles to salads. A popular street food and a substantial meal in itself, I personally think that it is a great substitute for meat and as hearty.
My recipe for Falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas soaked overnight or a 16oz can of chickpeas
1 large onion
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
salt to taste
2 tbsp. flour
a handful of fresh parsley
2 cloves of garlic
1 1/2 tbsp sesame seeds
1/2 cup oil for frying
1. Drain the chickpeas and give them a rinse. If using dried chickpeas, cook them till they are soft.
2. Combine all the ingredients except the sesame seeds and process to a coarse paste. Form into balls. Roll in sesame seeds and fry.
3. Fill into warm pita pockets and serve with a dip and salad.