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Monday, July 25, 2011

Cooking made easy-peasy: stock up your kitchen

Most of us frequent cooks while sharing recipes with people, don’t stop for a second and wonder whether the ingredients which we are reeling off to the novice cook, make any sense to them or not. So, after being asked by a number of people – at work and online – various questions on the nitty-gritties of preparing recipes, I decided to put together a laundry list of ingredients and masalas and pastes which you must have in your kitchen at all times. Have this bunch of stuff in your fridge and on your shelves, and you can whip up almost anything in a matter of minutes.

Garam masala (whole) – Every home has its own mix of garam masala. Ours is very simple. Usually comprises of cinnamon sticks, cloves, and green cardamom. If you’re cooking around 1 kg of chicken/meat, I’d suggest you use a two-inch stick of cinnamon, 3 green cardamoms (which I like to give a light bashing to so the pods open up) and around 4 cloves.

Panch phoran - This is a Bengali blend of spices containing equal parts of mustard seeds, kalonji (nigella seeds), cumin seeds, saunf (fennel) and methi (fenugreek) seeds. Make the mix and keep it in a jar, and heat up oil, and add a tsp of the mix and saute for it to release its fragrance before cooking vegetables or even fish with it.
Garam masala powder – The reason why certain people’s home food tastes better than others, is because they don’t use that hideous packaged garam masala powder which has no fragrance and no real taste to it. Nothing can change a dish’s flavour and fragrance as much as freshly ground garam masala powder. Take equal quantities, say 200 gms each of cinnamon, green cardamom and cloves and put into a grinder and grind to as fine a powder as possible. Finish off your meat/chicken dishes with a teaspoon of the powder. This will keep on your shelf in an air-tight container for a month at least. I even sprinkle some on my shepherd’s pie filling if I’m in the mood.

Ginger and garlic paste – This might seem a little tedious, but once again the difference in your cooking will be instant. And while the pastes in packets and bottles were a heaven send when I was in college or even when I’m feeling especially lazy today, I’d suggest you take out some time and get this ready. Get large garlic and peel the garlic cloves and skin the ginger. Take the peeled garlic, put into your mixer and just whiz to a paste. Do the same with the skinned ginger. Keep in air-tight containers in the fridge and use as you wish. Do NOT make onion paste and refrigerate it though, it tends to lsoe colour and texture.
Roasted jeera/ cumin – Take a dry frying pan, put it on a high flame. Add 8-9 spoons of whole cumin seeds and dry roast till the cumin changes colour. Hold the pan an inch above the flame, so it doesn’t get too hot. When the cumin changes colour, let it cool and either grind in a mortar-pestle or in a grinder. Store in a container on your kitchen shelf. Perfect  seasoning for a raita, or even in meat dishes if you run out of normal cumin powder. Just use ½ the amount you’d use otherwise.   

Freshly ground pepper – This I learnt the hard way. I always believed that you shouldn’t grind pepper before-hand and keep it in a jar as it will lose its taste. Rubbish. Take a bunch of whole peppercorns and put it in the grinder and make a powder. Keep in a jar on your shelf and use as you want. Much easier than grinding it fresh everytime.
Other must-haves in my kitchen:
  • Dried oregano and thyme. While I can get my hand on fresh parsley and rosemary, I really can’t find fresh oregano and thyme anywhere in Delhi – usually.
  • Castor sugar -- grind white sugar to a fine powder and keep in an air-tight jar. very good for raitas, dips and desserts
  • Cocoa powder (If you can’t get Hershey’s, get Cadburys)
  • Condensed milk
  • Mayonnaise.
Indian spices –
  • turmeric powder
  • coriander (whole and powder)
  • cumin (whole and powder)
  • fenugreek (seeds)
  • nigella seeds (perfect for vegetables)
  • Kasoori methi (fenugreek leaves)
  • nutmeg (whole and powder)
  • mace (whole and powder)
  • chili powder and chili flakes
  • dried whole red chilis
  • bay leaves
  • pomegranate seeds (perfect for meat dishes again)
  • poppy seeds/ posto (excellent for potatoes and fish and meat)
  • whole black cardamom
  • mustard – black and yellow
  • saffron
  • peppercorns (whole)
Pastes and purees –
  • Tomato puree (for when you don’t feel like blanching and chopping tomatoes)
  • coconut milk (I think the tetrapacks are the best)
  • cream (again tetrapacks)
  • curd (I prefer Nestle as it doesn’t split up when you cook it)
Sauces and oils
  • Honey
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • sesame oil
  • oyster sauce
  • tomato sauce
  • soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • vinegar – malt/plain
  • balsamic vinegar
  • red wine vinegar
  • mustard (whole grain and English/Dijon)
So, you spend this weekend stocking up your kitchen and I’ll spend it thinking of a nice recipe or two to share with all of you.     

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Assamese style beef in thick brinjal gravy

My little Man Friday at home broke his leg about a month back, which resulted in me having to walk my utterly wild dogs twice a day and then coming home to cook food for myself and limping boy in the wonderful Delhi heat. But then God sent me an angel in the form of the my chauffeur’s wife, who happened to be on leave from her job at some diplomat’s house because they’d fled the tropics for cooler climes. She made me a plethora of gastronomical delights – both continental as well as from her local cuisine for me. While her bolognaise and grilled chicken with celery was lovely, it was her home food which was divine. Chicken with snake gourd, fish with sour spinach, beef in a thick brinjal gravy – I’d never seen or tasted such unique combinations. Now that Limping Boy is Walking Boy again and she's left, in her memory I’ve cooked delicious beef in brinjal and have to say it’s turned out nearly as well as hers.

Beef in thick brinjal gravy

This is for a kg of beef.

Heat oil in a pressure cooker. Add around 3-4 sliced onions and 2 tbsps freshly made ginger-garlic paste. Saute and then add 4 chopped tomatoes, 1 tsp each of turmeric, chili powder, coriander and cumin powder and keep sautéing. This is all on high heat.

Now add the beef. Add salt to taste and turn the gas to simmer and keep stirring and ‘bhuno-ing’ for around 30 minutes. You’ll see the masalas take on a rich deep colour, and the tomatoes and onions will release enough liquid to make sure that the beef doesn’t stick to the bottom of the vessel. Then add the magic ingredient of one large round brinjal chopped into one inch pieces and sauté more. Once the brinjal is coated with the masalas, add enough water to cover the beef and then put the pressure on.

For really tender beef, let the pressure cooker be for at least 12 whistles and then open and stir in a spoon of freshly made garam masala powder. (Garam masala powder – equal portions of cinnamon, clove and cardamom, ground together. Just make a bottle of the powder and keep it handy. Beats that hideous packet garam masala any day). You’ll notice that the brinjal has totally broken down and formed the base of the gravy. Take your ladle and break down any remaining solid pieces of brinjal.

This tasted divine with some steamed rice and freshly squeezed lime.