The 189

189

Dear Ma,

I’ve reached safely. Sort of sorry that its taken me a whole of three weeks to let you know. This letter follows up with more.

The journey uptil Birmingham was comfortable and I made the mistake of imagining that every thing would go smoothly further on. Its me, Ma…can anything be right?

Nothing much went wrong though, except that I got lost.

Boarded the wrong bus, got off at the wrong bus stop and was almost heading towards the wrong city. I managed. You taught me well.

What I did learn from the incident though, was that bus drivers in the East Midlands are possibly the most helpful people on the face of the planet and people here in general are frightfully polite and impossibly patient. Can you imagine me starting and ending each and every utterable sentence with ‘thank you’s and generously scattering a few ‘please’s in between words? All those years you spent patiently correcting my tongue, has finally paid off. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I burst into colorful linguistics in the middle of a conversation. I’ll let you know when that happens.

I also learnt that its perfectly normal for a strange, balding 45-year old man in a fluorescent uniform to utter the words “Last stop, love!”, with me in his mind.

Rows of sloped-roofed brick houses, a chilly bite in the air, cheerful old ladies in cardigans with checked shopping carts and unmistakable accents.

After three tumultuous weeks, I have finally been able to settle down a wee bit. A wee bit.

Moving into the house had been easy, not without a slight hitch concerning the wrong code to the keyhold. I’m garaged in the 189 on Station Road.

Meeting my housemates was even easier and much more fun, considering the fact that we’re a group of four including a German, a Vietnamese, an Italian and me, of course. We’ve already been out on ‘pub-night’ and Guiness won the day. I’ve already done some cooking with it, by the way…a sumptious lamb stew, that left a characteristic bitter taste in my mouth — I think I still need to get used to the concepts surrounding slow-cooking and roasting. But I did oven up a batch of slightly-burned and juicy breasts of chicken, smothered in olive oil and herbs….they came out with extra-crispy, extra-dark and extra-salty skins. Not sure I’ll be making that anytime soon. I did try Alejandra’s chestnut-bacon-green apple soup too….bursting with flavor. Donata (German, if you please), has started swearing by it.

But what I will be making soon….at least, I’ve started  researching it, if you can believe that…is a pork and ham pie. Its spiffingly marvelous!

The all-covering pastry crust is wonderfully crunchy against the salty pork filling and jelly. And I like it cold. And yes, I’ve added a few inches to my hips too. What? Don’t look at me like that!

Pork and Ham PieThe first thing that grabbed me when I took the bus (the right one) to the University, was the size of the campus. You can walk yourself to death, honestly and you still won’t be able to cover the whole thing. And if you’re in heels (like I was) then don’t even try. Apart from that, Nottingham is downright beautiful. The cite centre reeks of party hubs, fish n chips and a large gong that chimes to the tune of the Big Ben. No doubt, the city’s much quieter than London…and more studious in a way.

We’ve already had a social trip to London, where we trailed behind Prof Lau….and no, I could’nt go down to Battersea, unfortunately (since we were busy loitering around the Bridge for quite a large part of the day).

me_barbican

I’ve made friends from 9 different countries, I’ve already worked with a group of them, I’ve been quick to discover the nearest Hindu temple, have found myself knee deep in post-grad shit (sorry) and haven’t been able to get myself a decent amount of Indian spices. Don’t give me that eye again, I plan to do that very soon.

And yes, you read that right….9 different countries, not many Indian spices in the kitchen yet.

More interestingly, I have come across a seafood pasta dish that I want to tell you about.

Its not utterly special or anything, but the simplicity of it made me wonder why I hadn’t tried it before. It comes from Hana, my surprisingly Vietnamese housemate, and the dish itself made Stefan, the oh-so-Italian, smile and slurp up every last morsel of it.

hana

sphagetti salmon

Spaghetti with stir-fried Salmon and Portobello Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 2 salmon fillets cut up into bite-sized chunks (no bones or skins please)
  • Half a cup of chopped portobello mushrooms (I prefer them quartered for a more robust flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
  • 2 smallish spring onions, chopped finely
  • 3 fat cloves of garlic, smashed
  • Spaghetti – 2 portions (the size of these may vary according to who would be eating)
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Olive oil to fry
  • Chopped parsley to garnish with

How-to:

  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, and save 2 tablespoons of the starch water the paste boils in, before draining teh rest of.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and onions and fry till translucent and soft.
  • Add the mushrooms and saute for three minutes on medium heat, before adding in the salmon and soy sauce.
  • Cook the salmon till the pices start losing the pink color. We want light pink though, not white.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste and pour in the starchy water along with the drained pasta. Toss everything toether for a minute.
  • Serve with sprinkles of parsley on top.

salmon spaghetti

I hope you and Dad enjoy this one. The salmon melts in your mouth really…oh, the Scottish salmon, rather. 🙂

I’ll leave you now to get back to my daily run to the Library.

Lots of love,

Amrita

P.S.:- Shreya’s invited me to Milan for Christmas and now I don’t know whether I’ll be spending it there or at Cardiff! Will let you know!

Quick with curry

fish_curry

I have a problem really.

I literally despise jotting down recipes (for myself or family and friends) for curries.

No curry cuts it. Writing recipes for a curry makes me want to bonk my head silly against the wall next to the computer console, or stick my foot into the toilet bowl, or poke my eyes with a fork. I keep telling myself, “Its a curry for f***’s sake! Why is any recipe necessary at all? Who doesn’t know how to cook curry?!”

The answers are, “not necessary” and “many”, respectively.

Before you read any further, this is going to be one long post. Its going to make me sleepy I’m sure, so do pardon any spelling mistakes that may appear as this goes on.

Many, hordes of people I come across are somehow or the other confused with curries or just plain pissed at them. The biggest reason being that they’re just lazy to go out and carefully get every ingredient on that goes-on-forever list. It scares them. But, they haven’t stopped loving curries or any other form of Indian food, and they never will.

Can curry be that lovable and yet irritatingly painful to cook?

You already know the answer to that one.

Curries, whether North or South Indian, are not tediously complex, they don’t always have to be spicy enough to make your crack burn, you don’t need to follow recipes strictly to produce a good curry, they don’t need a whole era of cooking time and they will always turn out tasty. Unless you forget to season them or manage to burn the whole thing altogether. Really.

My grandmother(s) advised me well, “Good spices maketh a good curry.” Nothing new there. Not exactly in those words, but a direct translation of it in Bengali. And the advise wasn’t even her own considering how hoarse her ancestors went yelling the same piece of wisdom from the rooftops while pots of curry bubbled away in their kitchens below.

Here’s what you need to know to have a pot of it bubbling in your own kitchen:

  1. Curries need a spice base. Spice-bases can be dry or wet. It can be added to the oil and cooked or used as a marinade. (Scroll below for more on spices.)
  2. Almost all curries start with oil and aromatics (onions, garlic, ginger, etc.) either whole, chopped or made into a paste.
  3. Curries are always a tad overcooked. Simmering or bubbling off a third of its water content, makes a curry richer.
marinated fish
Bhetki fillets marinated with turmeric and salt, to be sauteed

Basic components of a simple curry:

The oil- This can be anything really, but sunflower, groundnut or mustard oil works best, for the distinct taste they impart to any Indian dish. Ghee (clarified butter) and plain unsalted butter are also used extensively instead of oil.

The aromatics- which include onions, ginger and garlic, chopped or minced. Ginger or garlic powder is not usually preferred. These are fried in oil to release their aromas, or in some cases can be roasted dry before oil is added.

The spices-

turmeric

– red chili powder

– coriander powder

– cinnamon (whole or ground)

– cloves

– cardamoms (green or black or both, split open)

– dried bay leaves

– cumin (whole or ground)

– peppercorns (whole or ground, black or white)

– mustard seeds

– fenugreek seeds

– nigella seeds

– nutmeg (and mace)

– carom seeds

– aniseed

(There’s an extensive list right here!)

A basic spice mix for fish, poultry or meat, contains turmeric, chilli powder, coriander powder, cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms, bay leaves, cumin seeds and ground pepper. The rest of the spices can be used in any combination depending on the specific curry to be cooked, or the taste to be achieved.

The spice base along with the onion-garlic-ginger is cooked well in oil. The pieces of fish, poultry, meat or vegetables for that matter, are added and coated well with this mixture before adding water.

* Garam Masala – is a mixture of black and white peppercorns, cumin seeds, bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, coriander seeds, star anise, mace and nutmeg, in equal proportions. These are dry-roasted and ground into a powder. Garam masala’s available at any Indian food store or you could easily try making your own. There are a hundred variations according to regional cuisine of course, the details of which I’m not even trying to go into!

The “gravy” – Water makes the curry. The consistency obviously depends on the preference — thickening agents like cornflour or plain all-purpose flour mixed in cold water can be added. A paste made out of shallots and tomatoes combined with a little water may also form the gravy. Coconut milk, heavy cream and yogurt are very frequently used in Indian curries instead of water.

The last step is, of course, seasoning the curry with salt and pepper. Oh, and I have two recipes for you!

fish curry

The first one is a variation of fish curry with tomato puree with a subtle sweetness.

Fish Curry with Tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 6 medium-sized Bhetki fish pieces (or any freshwater fish)
  • 4 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 medium-sized onion, pureed
  • 2 tomatoes, pureed
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp aamchoor (dried mango powder)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Chopped coriander leaves, to garnish

How-to:

  • Marinate the fish in a teaspoon of salt and turmeric powder. Wrap the bowl with clingfilm and cool in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet. Fry the fish pieces till golden brown, crispy patches appear on the surface, turning them once. Each side would take about 2 minutes. Remove the fish from the skillet and scrape the bottom to dislodge the bits stuck to it. Let them remain in the oil.
  • Pour in the rest of the oil and heat. Add the garlic and fry till they start browning.
  • Add the onion puree and ginger paste and saute on high heat, till most of the moisture is lost.
  • Add red chili powder, coriander powder, garam masala, sugar and aamchoor and stir well till well-combined. Cook for a minute on medium heat.
  • Put the the pieces of fish back in the skillet and gently coat them with the onion-spice mixture.
  • Turn down the heat to low, pour in the tomato puree and ketchup, along with half a cup of water and stir well.
  • Cover and cook for ten minutes. Season according to taste and if necessary, boil off some of the moisture on high heat, to thicken the gravy.
  • Serve with steamed white rice or pilaf, garnished with coriander and sprinkle the juice of a lemon on top.

The second curry is that of chicken, and is a classic family number!

chicken curry

Chicken Curry:

Ingredients:

  • 750gms of chicken, on the bone
  • 2 small potatoes, halved
  • 2 tbsp of sunflower oil
  • 2 medium sized onions, sliced
  • 1 tbsp of ginger-garlic paste
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 green cardamoms, crushed
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp of garam masala
  • A pinch of red chili powder (this may vary according to taste)
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp of cornflour, dissolved in cold water (optional)
  • Chopped coriander to garnish

How-to:

  • Heat oil in a skillet. Add the sliced onions and saute till they’re soft and golden-brown.
  • Add the ginger-garlic paste, bay leaf, cloves and cardamoms,  and coat the onion well and cook on medium for a minute.
  • Add turmeric powder, chili powder and garam masala and stir well. Cook for another minute. At this point, if the mixture seems dry and sticks a little to the bottom of the skillet, lower the heat and add 2 tablespoons of water.
  • Add the potatoes and pieces of chicken. Add 2 cups of water or enough till all the pieces of potatoes and chicken are submerged. Stir well and reduce heat to low.
  • Cover and cook till the potatoes are done. Add seasoning of salt and pepper according to taste. Uncover and boil off the water on high heat, to thicken the mixture or optionally stir in a teaspoon of cornflour mixed in cold water.
  • Take the curry off the heat, garnish with coriander and serve with steamed white rice or rotis.

Fritters, and then Crab-Fritters

Sometimes you just feel like eating fritters all day.

And every time, I  promise myself not to have more than a couple of those deep-fried delights, and before I know it I’ve already downed eight and when someone makes the mistake of pointing that out, I immediately blame it on the delicious dip. Fritters come with a side of guilt. They grab you by the back of your collar with their crispy coating and then shake you with pleasure with the soft, creamy, hot and steaming fillings, and then they make your head hang in guilt and shame.

The best thing is that you can hardly go wrong with them. That is, unless you’re me and still going through that stage of life where you’re learning to keep the temperature of boiling oil steady.

They’re perfect on a rainy monsoon evening, for fancy finger-food at a party, its always easy to fry up a batch if you don’t mind getting a little messy and a most essential necessity when you have girlfriends over. In my case this time, it was one stormy evening.

rone stormy afternoon

They’re just plain good for you. For your soul, at least, if you’re OK with stretching your tube top out of shape.

And now I have to admit, I’m slightly prejudiced against deep-frying. But only slightly, considering the fact that I’m the last person to watch what I’m eating really. It’s not the fat content of deep-fried food that bothers me, it’s the heaviness of all that oil. A lot depends on the coating no doubt. An egg-n-flour batter or a heavily breaded coating is always mealier than buttermilk and crushed biscuits.

I’ve seriously gotten good at batters and coating food for frying, ever since I assisted my Mom for the first time in dredging 4-inch long fish fillets through egg and biscuit crumbs. That was about 14 years back and the ritual stuck and has remained in me as one of my favorite childhood memories. The coated fillets would be packed in cling film and stored for about 12 hours in the refrigerator, before she’d fry it for dinner or guests. It would serve as an appetizing first course for guests and would be accompanied by a simple concoction of steamed rice and dal for dinner at home. I would deliberately remove one or two fries from my plate, transfer them on a separate dish and pop them in the refrigerator. Why? So I could have them cold and smothered in mayonnaise, for breakfast the next morning!

Bengalis simply love their deep-fried goodies. They prefer it with their evening tea or coffee, between games of chess with their neighbors, over heated conversations about Central Government politics or football and even at posh wedding receptions. A Bengali evening is almost incomplete without vegetables wrapped lovingly in golden crispy coats and dripping with oil. And most often than not it’s a chickpea batter they use as “breading” and good old mustard oil with its distinct flavor, to fry the fritters in. Wafer thin slices of aubergine (eggplant), balls of boiled potato studded with chopped scallions and a heady spice mix, halved and de-seeded green or yellow bell peppers, salted slices of onions (the Indian version of “onion rings”) would be dipped and twisted in a semi-thick and light batter of chickpea flour, salt, pepper and water. Bengali evenings consist of these, either made at home, or bought from street-side vendors who’d wrap the fritters in flimsy bags made out of old newspapers along with a soggy cucumber-onion-beetroot salad. And our obsession with fried foods continue.

Crab-cakes or crab-fritters are not something you would generally expect to be served at any Indian household, if you’re looking for purely Indian cuisine, although crab meat does feature frequently on our seafood menu. Its just that, we were so busy grinding up spices to make curry paste for a delicious crab curry, that it didn’t even occur to any of us that maybe we could drag the crab meat through batter and fry them up.

The recipe I have here is a little bit Indian and a little bit borrowed. And I can’t tell you how well cumin goes with Worcestershire sauce!

crab_fritters

Easy Crab Fritters

What you need:

  • 150gms crab meat
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 green chilies, de-seeded and chopped (leave the sees in for more heat)
  • ½ tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil to shallow fry (I used groundnut oil)
  • 10-12 digestive biscuits
  • 1 egg, beaten lightly

How-to:

  • Mix the crab meat, onion, chilies, Worcestershire sauce, salt, cumin powder and coriander powder together.
  • Put the biscuits in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin (or something heavy) into powder.
  • Add as much amount of the egg you need to form the mixture into small patties. I needed only about half the amount of the lightly beaten egg. If the mixture gets dry and difficult to work with, add some more.
  • Roll and coat the patties in the biscuit.
  • Heat oil in a shallow pan, reduce the heat to medium and fry the patties for about 3 minutes, turning them over once, or until they’re nicely golden with bits of brown.
  • Serve with a mayo dip and cucumber or tomato salad.

Fish : a new one

 

I grew up Bengali.

Having fish for lunch and dinner, prefering rice over roti, fond of monsoon and very unlike a Bengali, running at the mention of sweets packed in khoya or paneer and deep-fried in ghee. Bengalis love their sweets. Period.

I’m still fond of monsoon…especially the extra-stormy ones. And I’d choose rice over roti anyday.

I still run at the mention of “ghee”.

And I’m still totally fishy.

Uh, ok….that didn’t come out right. What I mean is, I still slobber at the thought of fish (or any kind of seafood for that matter)…any kind. Salmon, Hilsa, Cod, Pomfret especially.

I reached the Sunday market early to get a load of fresh fish. Wasn’t disappointed.

Continue reading “Fish : a new one”

Sweet and Sour

feet

Our garden terrace is the prettiest part of our top-floor apartment. It has a tiled floor lined with marble seats (to sit with your legs propped up…as Fauri’s demonstrating above…) and beautiful potted plants.

And it never seems like a waste of time when I do absolutely no work (on my day off) and just laze around the terrace, instead of catching up with non-work related stuff. You can’t really blame me.

Sunday swung by quietly once more, with both me and Fauri wishing that we were with our Mothers to celebrate Mothers’ Day. The day didn’t show any signs of improving since an outing in the sun seemed scary literally. Instead, I cooked up a sweet and sour prawn concoction, considering that my mother absolutely adores prawns.

And oh, Happy Mothers’ Day to all!!

prawns2

Sweet-n-Sour Prawns

What You Need:

– 1 tablespoon of olive oil

250gms prawns, peeled and cleaned (and the black vein removed!)

– Half a cup of cherry tomatoes, halved

– 3 big garlic cloves, finely chopped

– 1 large spring onions, chopped

– Half a teaspoon of coriander powder (per 250gms)

– 1 teaspoon of ginger paste (or better yet, grab a medium-ish ginger and slice it finely into ultra-thin strips)

– 2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar

– 2 tablespoons of dark soy

– 2 tablespoons of honey

– Half a teaspoon of freshly ground pepper (if you like it hot, use more)

– Salt to taste

– Chopped coriander leaves to garnish with

tomatoes

How-To:

– Heat oil in a wok (yes, please invest in a good wok…its a kitchen essential)

– Saute the onions, garlic and ginger till they soften and start browning.

– Add the cherry tomatoes and cook on medium heat till soft.

– Pat dry the prawns with a clean piece of cloth and add them to the wok. Toss with the onions and tomatoes.

– Mix the vinegar, soy, coriander powder and honey in a small bowl. Add to the wok. Toss well again.

– Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 4-5 minutes.

– Season with salt and pepper.

– Serve hot along with steamed rice, topped with fresh cilantro leaves.

Tip: Adding julienned carrots makes the dish more colorful (and no doubt, more healthy)….just soften them along with the tomatoes.

prawns3

Mom, this one’s for you!