mohabhoj


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Pretty Pumpkin Blossoms: Flowers to Fritters

Look what I found at the Davis Square farmers’ market, in Somerville, yesterday!

Pretty pumpkin blossoms

Pumpkin blossom bouquet

I was super excited to chance upon this pretty bunch. They were fresh, had a sweet smell, and were selling for 4$ a bunch. Back home, in Kolkata, we coat the blossoms in a batter made of a mixture of chickpea flour and rice flour before deep frying them. Tastes great with some dal and rice.

A Japanese lady was buying some fresh green beans from the same stall and she wanted to know what I would do with the blossoms. After I told her the recipe that we usually abide by, she said she prepares tempura batter for the blossoms and deep fries them. She suggested I could stuff the blossoms first, with stuffing of my choice, and then fry them.

“The vegetables you get here are good and fresh,” she said.

Then she whispered into my ears, “And cheap too, you know.”

See, this is one of the reasons I love visiting a farmers’ market. You not only get to interact with the farmers and know where your produce comes from but also get a chance to interact with your fellow buyers.

Before I left, I got a big glass of freshly squeezed lemonade with raspberry and mint at another stall and a maple bacon donut from the Union Square Donuts’ stall.

I got back home feeling happy.

I knew what we would be having for dinner: moong dal with vegetables, basmati rice and pumpkin blossom fritters. I decided on making fritters because that would give me the option to shallow fry them, instead of deep frying. I picked ten flowers from the bunch and washed them and let them dry. I followed this recipe, but used only two tablespoons of chickpea flour, half an onion and added one tablespoon of rice flour. Didn’t add the baking powder as well. They came out crisp on the outside and soft but perfectly cooked on the inside.

Pumpkin blossom fritters

Pumpkin blossom fritters

Another reason I love visiting  farmers’ markets is that they remind me so much of the sabzi (vegetable) bazaars back home.

A stall at a vegetable bazaar in Kolkata.

A stall at a vegetable bazaar in Kolkata. Spotted the pumpkin?


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#Duckface

Sometime in the early 90’s: Pleated navy blue skirt hitting an inch below the knees. White shirt with a slight tinge of blue from the overuse of Ujala fabric whitener. White ribbon on wedge-cut hair. A pair of white socks, its elastic garter slowly losing hold. Kiwi-polished Bata, black, ballerina shoes. Duckback school bag and Milton water bottle.

The best part of packing the school bag was undoubtedly putting the stainless steel tiffin box in its designated slot. The tiffin box representing a break from the otherwise interminable school hours.

One of the most frequent item in my tiffin box would be a duck-shaped sweetmeat. A white duck with black cardamom eyes and orange coloring to highlight its conical beak. The design was not intricate except for the feather-like lines etched on it, showcasing the confectioner’s dexterity. It had an overdose of sugar, but I liked it that way. I used to call it haansh mishti. Haansh is Bengali for duck and mishti for sweet. My father would buy this sweet for me from the local sweet shop, which was on our way to the bus-stop from where I boarded the school bus.

During lunch break I often bartered a part of this confection duck for other treats that my friends had brought along for the day.

Calcutta University

Sometime in April this year: I was at the main campus of Calcutta University, in College Street, to collect my transcripts. College Street is the intellectual hub of Kolkata; it houses Calcutta University and Presidency University. It is known as boi para (book lane) as the street is lined with book stores, one after another, on both sides. There are also a number of legendary local eateries, which have been around for decades like the Coffee House, Paramount and Putiram.

Putiram

Putiram

My sister and I had planned on visiting the famous Putiram Sweets. And once our work was done we headed toward the store. This confectionery shop has been in the area for over 150 years now and is an institution by itself.

There were rows of sweets, of myriad colors and shapes, displayed in the glass showcase. And to my surprise I found my favorite duck-shaped confection displayed on a silver plate. I was elated and promptly ordered a few pieces to take home. I quickly began to take pictures. A customer noticed this. “Haansh er ki shoubhagyo (The duck is really lucky)!” he said sarcastically.

After taking a bite I realized that many things have changed over the years. The duck was missing the cardamom eyes; it had red eyes painted on them. Instead of the whole beak painted orange, it was just a stroke of orange on top of the beak, the rest being white. On top of that the way it tasted didn’t bear any resemblance to the ones that I used to get at my local shop years ago. And not to mention the price had gone up by 500%!

Confection duck

Nevertheless it brought back some sweet memories.

 


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Cherry on Top: Chicken-Artichoke-Egg Sandwich Spread

cherryontop

The sandwich spread is jazzed up with the addition of garlic, scallions and a green chili, sauteed in olive oil with some Cajun spice.


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Invincible Cabbage: Potato, Peas and Cabbage Fry

A cabbage will continue to survive, even after being in the refrigerator for a week, while its peers have begun to show explicit signs of decay. I had half a head of cabbage, the other half was used in a noodle preparation, for almost two weeks now. I let it be, hoping that it will eventually lose its battle against time. I would then silently lay it to rest in the trash can.

Yesterday I realized that I was the one who was fighting a losing battle. The cabbage hardly showed any signs of withering, apart from a few black specks. So I chopped an oversized potato, which was on the verge of sprouting, defrosted some supposedly sweet green peas and stir fried them with the now shredded cabbage — an often cooked dish in Bengali households.

I added green chilies and cumin seeds to the smoky mustard oil, along with freshly grated ginger. When they began to crackle and splatter, I added the cubed potato pieces and fried them till they took on a faded brown shade. I introduced the crunchy cabbage shreds at this point along with the emerald stud-like green peas. The addition of cumin powder imparts a surprisingly mellow flavor to the dish and turmeric bestows it with the yellow hue. And as a final touch — a generous sprinkling of aromatic ghee and garam masala.


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Mushy but Spicy: Strawberry Anchar

strawberry-anchar

Made strawberry anchar, with leftover sugar syrup from store-bought gulab jamuns. Anchar is similar to chutney, only that it has a thicker and stickier consistency. I quartered the strawberries and then boiled them in the sugar syrup till it reached the desired consistency. Then I added few squirts of lemon juice. I dry roasted some cumin seeds, one whole dried red chili and paanch foron (a blend of five spices and adding this is totally optional) and used a coffee grinder to grind them. I added this to the thickened strawberry to give it a kick of spice.


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Home Alone: Murg Palak

I am home alone this holiday weekend, all thanks to JetBlue airlines. As flies to wanton boys, are we to the airline personnel.

I was supposed to fly to Tampa today to meet a friend after five years. I had booked myself on a direct JetBlue flight from Boston, a month back. But yesterday morning I received an email from JetBlue saying that my flight might get cancelled or delayed due to the impending hurricane, Arthur. I was given the option to reschedule at no additional cost. So I did. I re-booked myself on a flight with one stop, connecting in JFK, on the 2nd of July.

It was already noon and the flight was scheduled to leave from Boston at 2.43 p.m. I somehow managed to pack my bags and called a cab and reached Logan on time. I boarded the flight feeling happy and excited.

I had a 3.5 hours layover at JFK. The flight was scheduled to leave at 7.30 p.m. It got delayed first by an hour, then by another. I was getting impatient. So were the other passengers. Several JetBlue flights were delayed and some cancelled. I feared the worst. I was tired and hungry; all I wanted was to board flight 225 to Tampa. JetBlue officials announced the flight was coming in from Charlotte, NC and hence the delay. Passengers were assured the flight would leave as soon as it came in.

The flight arrived after midnight. We boarded at 12:45 a.m. The pilot announced that the aircraft would be taxiing for 30-60 minutes due to the backlog that was created. The aircraft taxied for 40 minutes, slowly. So slowly that it would put a snail to shame.

At 1.45 a.m. came the next announcement from the pilot: one of his colleagues on the flight had exceeded his 16-hour shift limit, which was against the federal regulations. He therefore would have to steer the plane back to the gate. And then came the bad news, the flight was cancelled. I am happy to know that JetBlue cares about their employees but what about their customers?

Acela Express

We deplaned. I was tired and angry like the others. We had to collect our baggage and had to re-book at JetBlue check-in counters. I stood in the serpentine line for three hours (2 a.m to 5 a.m.) The officials said that they couldn’t guarantee us a seat on the next flight to Tampa. I tried calling the customer service number several times, but to no avail.

The line wasn’t moving at all. I felt trapped and feared that I would never be able to leave the airport. I just wanted to get back home at that point. I hadn’t eaten for hours and had no more energy left to put up a fight. I took a cab to Penn station and bought a train ticket to Boston. I reached Boston today at 10.30 a.m. Cab + train fare = $245.

My husband is flying to Atlanta today to meet his friends. He had an evening Delta flight, which got delayed by few hours. He has now boarded the flight but there seems to be some kind of problem with the aircraft door and they are repairing it; that’s the latest update. I sincerely hope he doesn’t have to go through the same ordeal as I did.

On a lighter note, with all the time that I have now, I got to experiment in the kitchen today. I made chicken (murg) in a spinach (palak) gravy. I marinated the chicken pieces with ginger-garlic paste, cajun spice, tandoori masala, yogurt, oil, garam masala, salt & pepper. Then I pan fried it. For the gravy, I blanched a packet of baby spinach and stirred it in with some onion, tomato/tomato paste, ginger, garlic and green chilies that I was frying in a skillet and then pureed it in a blender. Then I added in the chicken pieces to the gravy.

murg palak

 


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Tandoori Chicken: For the butcher

A couple of months back I was buying two pounds of whole chicken legs at the local Whole Foods market when the butcher, donning a soiled apron, asked me what I was planning to make. Tandoori chicken, I said. The words had piqued his interest; I could tell from his glistening eyes and arching eyebrows. When he was not butchering animals, he was recreating recipes — he is a chef — he explained. His daughter shares his culinary passion, he said with a contented smile. He then queried about the tandoori recipe.

I explained how I would prepare an aromatic marinade — with a blend of ginger-garlic-onion-green chilies-cilantro-mint-yogurt-tandoori masala-salt & pepper-lemon juice-oil and a sprinkling of home-made garam masala — and let the chicken pieces steep in it, overnight. And my secret ingredient was the addition of a couple of teaspoons of Cajun spice to the blend, which imparts a smokey flavor to the dish! The next day I would bake it in the oven, then broil it for a few minutes to give the chicken the very coveted out-of-the-tandoor look.

He said it sounded wonderful and asked me if I would mind writing it down for him. So I did; I handed him over the recipe the next time I went grocery shopping. He was delighted and as a token of his appreciation didn’t charge me for the meat I was buying.

“No way,” I said.

“I am the boss here; it won’t be a problem,” he insisted.

“In that case I will have to leave without the meat,” I said.

I had successfully butchered the argument!

He looked forward to trying out my tandoori chicken recipe with his daughter, he said. I wished him all the luck.

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