mohabhoj


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Cooking Doi Maach for a chef

Cooking for a restaurateur/chef is intimidating. Especially so when you are enlisted with the task of introducing a dish to his palate.

I met with Pushpir Bhetia — the owner of the Indian restaurant called Guru, in Somerville — in February this year for an interview, as part of my research work on Sikh immigrants in Boston.

Apart from talking about the prime issue — Sikhs being target of hate crimes in the US especially after 9/11— we talked a lot about food.

During one such conversation, we talked about fish. When you are talking about food and fish isn’t mentioned, a Bengali might quickly lose interest. Bhetia knew this. He asked me what kind of specialty fish dishes Bengalis dish out when it comes to entertaining guests.

Doi Maach, I said. Fish cooked in a yogurt-based gravy.

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Pungent mustard oil is tempered with bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and red chilies and as soon as the warm spicy flavor hits the nose the creamy ginger-garlic-onion and tomato paste is introduced. Turmeric, cumin powder, salt and sugar goes in next and the mixture is cooked till the oil separates from the gravy. Half a cup of well beaten yogurt is then added. After cooking the mixture for a couple of minutes half-cup water is introduced to the gravy and once it comes to a boil the lightly fried pieces of rui are added. The mixture is then cooked till the desired gravy consistency is achieved. A sprinkle of garam masala and the dish is ready to be enjoyed with warm fluffy white rice.

Bhetia seemed intrigued by the recipe and I promised to bring him some doi maach once my semester was over.

My semester was over by the last week of April. I got busy doing nothing.

But yesterday I decided to act on my promise. I cooked doi maach but the whole cooking process was a bit intimidating, like I said. The thought that I was cooking for a chef kept badgering me.

Once the dish was ready I packed it carefully inside a container. When I arrived at the restaurant, Bhetia was busy cooking baingan bharta.

I handed over the doi maach to him along with the recipe. I was planning to leave but he asked me to wait, as he scooped out a spoonful of rice, from the rice cooker, on a plate.

“This is going to be my lunch today,” he said, as he opened the container I brought him.

It was like a nightmare come true; my paper was being graded right in front of me!

I stood in the kitchen as I watched him eat. It took him around ten minutes to finish the six pieces of fish that I had carefully nestled in the container for him.

“So, what’s the verdict?” I asked timidly.

Pointing towards the empty, gravy stained container he said, “Need I say more?”

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Poppy seeds and a ‘high’ly joyful cook

I was reminded of this picture, I took last week, after I wrote the word ‘Zen’. The word evoked images of green tea and chopsticks.

I had once watched a documentary called “How to Cook your Life”. The person being documented —  Edward Espé Brown, a Zen cook and writer — had mentioned that “the food will taste better when the cook is joyful.”

And I strongly agree to that.

Brown had also talked about concentration — an important ingredient for cooking, according to him.

At one time the camera follows him while he preps the rice before cooking. He is seen diligently washing the rice, almost grain by grain.

Poppy seeds acquire a wet sand-like texture
after grinding them in a blender. No water was added during the process.

But I am the type of cook whose mind wanders [a lot] during cooking. The blazing burner reminds me of bonfires; the hot oven of a sauna; the variegated spices of the spring colors of Holi; and the list continues.

Today, for instance, while I was grinding poppy seeds, the star ingredient for the chicken dish I was preparing, my mind began to wander.

As I watched the blender grind the poppy seeds, the picture of a pristine sandy beach flashed across my mind. I could almost feel my feet pressing against the wet sand.

The thought of it made me [the cook] joyful and I was all set to prepare Chicken Posto.

Note: Posto is Bengali for poppy seeds. 

A rich and flavorful dish with a creamy texture.Recipe: Prepare the marinade with ground poppy seeds, yogurt, ground cashew nut, onion-garlic-ginger-green chilli paste, salt & sugar. Let the chicken pieces marinate for at least 30 mins before cooking. Add oil to a hot pan and a dried red chilli and add in the chicken along with the marinade. Add dried fenugreek leaves just before turning off the burner. 


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Shortcut to Haleem

Today I cooked haleem for the first time.

For those who are not familiar with haleem, it is an uber-flavorful dish made of meat, spices, lentils and cracked wheat and has a soup-like consistency.

“During the holy month of Ramzan, Muslim brethren go on fast from dawn to dusk and relish the steaming Haleem to break their fast during Iftaar (evenings).”

The dish originated in Iran and Afghanistan, and was brought to India during the Moghul regime. Haleem in Arabic means ‘patient’, and rightly so. When prepared the authentic way, it takes a minimum of six to eight hours to cook. You sure need a lot of patience for that!

You need to watch this video to understand how labor-intensive the authentic preparation can be. The video documents cooks preparing 220 lb. of haleem at a restaurant in Hyderabad, India.

I am the kind who wouldn’t labor for over six hours to prepare haleem or any other dish. I would rather invest that time in locating a restaurant who would do it for me. Here in Boston, Darul Kabab, a Bangladeshi restaurant satiates my love for haleem.

But today afternoon I decided to prepare haleem, my way and that means I didn’t look up recipes on the Internet. I used ingredients that were available in the pantry. I think the weather today played a huge role in fueling my desire to prepare the dish. It was raining, it still is, and I was craving for a warm and flavorful dish sporting a thick soupy consistency.

I didn’t have cracked wheat so it would just be a medley of lentils — masoor, moong,

A medley of masoor dal, moong dal, bengal gram dal & and urad dal

chana and urad dal — spices — coriander powder, cumin powder, turmeric, red chili powder, dried red chili, curry powder, bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, star anise and shah jeera — chunks of goat meat and a paste of ginger, garlic, green chili and onion. I also didn’t have tomato or tomato paste so I used ketchup instead. And lastly salt and sugar to taste.

The best part of coming up with your own recipe *** use whatever is available and substitute or leave out ingredients as you wish. Also you can just eyeball the measurements.***

It took me about an hour and half to cook the dish; the credit goes to my six-year-old pressure cooker.

After adding a mixture of olive oil and butter (generally ghee is used) I threw in the whole spices and then added the ginger-onion-garlic-green chili paste in the pressure cooker. The powdered spices and the goat meat went in next along with the Heinz ketchup. When the oil began to separate I added the pre-washed lentils and stirred it for a while before adding water, at least four to five cups.

After closing the lid of the pressure cooker, I let it simmer for about an hour. Then I cranked up the burner and after seven whistles turned it off.

I let it rest for a while and when I opened the lid of the pressure cooker, a waft of flavor that stirs in temptation began lurking in the kitchen.

I squeezed in juice from half a lemon, as a final touch, and there it was — my shortcut haleem. And I didn’t even have to compromise with the taste! If I had slow cooked it for six hours the only difference would have been that the meat would have fallen off the bones and melted like the lentils. But honestly, I don’t think my jaws would mind the extra workload for that comes with a prize — saving like five hours of cooking time.

++Note the single strand of cilantro leaf in this picture, well there’s a story behind it. I opened the refrigerator and pulled out the almost forgotten two-week old bunch of cilantro leaves. All but this single one had turned yellow.

 


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Rice Medley

photo-1 (1)Rice, chopped vegetables, meat of any kind, shrimp, scrambled eggs, some ginger, garlic, onion and Sriracha and soya sauce is all you need to dish out this rice medley.

The only requirement is that the rice needs to be cooked the day before.

The things I like most about this dish are it’s:

  • time-saving
  • healthy
  • you can play around with the ingredients; add anything you want to or leave out things you don’t like
  • if your refrigerator vegetable compartment needs a quick cleaning this helps out well
  • an easy recipe to use some left over meat
  • it tastes just like Chinese fried-rice


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A spicy start to the Bengali New Year!

It’s that time of the year again — eat, drink and be merry — for Bengalis. I decided to usher in the first day of the month of Baishak, the Bengali New Year, with a dish that Bengalis drool over — Chilli Chicken.

Chilli Chicken

Dishing out an Indo-Chinese speciality, instead of a traditional Bengali recipe, was solely done to pleasure my tastebuds. I had been craving Chilli Chicken for long and the thought of family and friends indulging in a variety of delectable dishes back in Kolkata today, acted as a spur.

Secondly, an authentic Bengali spread sounds no less than a luxury to me these days, for I lack in both time and energy to dish out an exquisite three to four course meal.

So here’s to a spicy start to the New Year!

Chilli Chicken with Garlic Noodles


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Start with Steak…really?!

Saw this Dunkin’ Donuts ad on train today.

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 I guess they forgot to add the note of caution:

…(may) end with a heart attack!

Nutrition facts per serving (one sandwich):

Calories
630
TotalFat
26 g
SaturatedFat
12 g
Cholesterol
255 mg
Sodium
1390mg


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Balachaung — a taste of Myanmar

Burmese cuisine holds a special place in my heart. Why? Well, my father was born in Myanmar (Burma). My grandfather was a doctor and he was posted in Myanmar for a few years. They moved back to India when my dad was eight.

So, my mother had picked up some Burmese recipes from my grandfather, and I remember a dish specially delectable to my palate – “komon cho”. It is a dish made of a variety of vegetables — carrots, cauliflower, beans, cabbage, spring onion — and mutton (goat meat).

Ma prepared this dish only during winter due to the availability of different kinds of vegetables.

I tried to Google the dish but it didn’t show up anywhere during the search. I am thinking it’s safe to assume that my grandfather got the name of the dish and/or pronunciation wrong.

Recently a friend of ours introduced us to a quaint little Burmese restaurant called Yoma in Allston. It serves up some great Burmese dishes, but the one I fell in love with is a Burmese condiment made of dried shrimp called balachaungwhich is generally served with rice dishes.

Just a couple of weeks back we were at Yoma for lunch and I made sure to order some extra to go.

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But next time I visit, I will try and unravel the “komon cho” mystery.