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Savory & Sweet

Chili garlic noodles with shrimp; chicken manchurian and chal er payesh (rice kheer)

Chili garlic noodles with shrimp; chicken manchurian and chal er payesh (rice kheer)

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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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The sight and smell of fish make me happy!

 

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I walked into the bustling fish market armed with the quintessential striped thole (reusable nylon grocery bag). The fish scale strewn brick lane was glistening with a Bengali’s enthusiasm for fish.

The clock had 30 minutes to strike nine but the market was heaving with customers. They had resisted the temptation to laze around the house on a Sunday morning for their greater love of fish. Fish that will eventually end up on their lunch platter – fried and slathered in gravy.

Blood and guts everywhere. Severed fish heads. Gills, fins, roe and bloody scales. The smell hovering over both obnoxious and delectable. Delectable to my Bengali palate that will wither away sans fish.

Fishmongers lined both sides of the narrow lane. Seated on a concrete platform they flaunted their day’s catch, spread on fresh green banana leaves. The tarpaulin lined asbestos roof, held upright with bamboo props, provided shade. They were straining their voices to lure patrons. The sound both mellifluous and cacophonous.

“Bhalo bhetki hobe dada, niye jan,” assured one of the fishmongers.
( The bhetki [a freshwater fish] is real good brother, take it home.)

Rui, katla, ilish, bhetki, pabda, parshe, chitol, chingri, bata, khayra, magur — fish of varying shapes, sizes and tastes. A feast for the eyes and soul; never frozen, always fresh. Some dead and some merrily alive.

The fishmonger will swiftly scale and gut the fish for you. And if you fancy a special cut for your catch, he will readily cater to your taste. The whetted boti his paintbrush, the fish his canvas; enchanting customers with his dexterity.

[My Kolkata trip would have been incomplete without a visit to my neighborhood fish market.]


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Sandwich: Then and Now

Two slices of white bread, toasted atop a roti mesh or in a frying pan, crammed with lumps of refrigerated Amul butter. Granules of clear bead-like sugar, clinging on to the buttery mounds, adding a sugary crunch. This unevenly toasted, bumpy sandwich frequented my steel lunchbox during middle school years.

I have slowly graduated to grilled whole wheat sandwiches; grilled chicken sandwich with buttery avocado and sweet corn being one of my favorites. But a frying pan and a smear of butter still come in handy when it comes to toasting the sandwich.

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Grilled chicken sandwich with avocado and corn


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Tunisian stew to beat the winter blues

I needed some color to brighten up this cold, snowy day. Red, green, purple, yellow and crimson — I was craving Spring!

But for now I had to make do with yellow onions, red and green peppers, purple cabbage and crimson tomatoes. They worked their magical hues to transition into this warm concoction called Chakchouka or Shakshouka, a North African dish. I came across the recipe on the NYT website and had to give it a try.

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