Overloaded Dinner and an Introduction

There are those days when I just have to whip up lunch in a jiffy and stuff it into a box to carry to office…that’s almost everyday.

And then there are those days when you feel like taking time and concoct something wonderful and complicated and feel chef-like! Well, almost chef-like.

My current sous-chef, by the virtue of being half-vegetarian (I’ll come to the “half-vegetarian” part later) insisted on a mushrom and spinach risotto for dinner yesterday, whereas I felt like c-h-i-c-k-e-n.

Nothing new there.

So we settled on both, shared the chores and all the chopping and peeling went to her.

The risotto has white wine (but obvious) in it and turned out slightly spicy for my taste and totally-not-hot for my sous-chef.

The chicken has a poppy-seed crust, needs no egg or buttermilk or bread crumbs or flour……and is shallow fried.

That’s right, you heard me — shallow fried, in just a couple of tablespoons of veggie oil.
Spinach and Mushroom Risotto

What You Need:
– 1 cup of rice
– 3 tablespoons of olive oil
– 6 big garlic cloves, crushed
– 3 Spanish onions, chopped finely
– a sprig of rosemary
– 1 cup of portobello mushrooms, sliced (a nice and stronger-tasting alternative would be porcini)
– 1 cup of chopped spinach
– Half a teaspoon of dried basil
– 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes (epends on how hot you like your food)
– Half a cup of chopped black olives
– Half a cup of white wine
– Salt and pepper to taste

How to:
– Heat oil in a pan.
– Add the garlic, rosemary and onions and cook on medium heat till the onions turn glossy and translucent.
– Add in the spinach, mushrooms, olives, chilli flakes and dried basil. Cover and cook on low heat for two minutes or till the mushrooms are soaked through with oil.
– Add the rice and stir well to mix.
– Pour in the wine and cook till all of it absorbed by the rice.
– Add salt and pepper to taste.
– Pour water at regular intervals to cook the rice.
I added 1 cup of water and let it cook till it was absorbed by the rice, before adding the next cup. I needed two cps of water.

– Continue this process till the rice is cooked through and the risotto has a sticky (but not gummy) consistency.

– Do a taste check and adjust salt and pepper accordingly.
– Garnish with chopped cilantro or parsley leaves.

Poppy-seed Crusted Chicken

What you need:
– I cooked for two, so I used two chicken breasts
– Oil to shallow fry (I used about 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil)

for the marinade:

– 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
– 1 tablespoon of ginger-garlic paste

for the crust:

– Half cup of poppy seeds
– Half a tablespoon of cayenne pepper
– 1 teaspoon of dry mango powder
– 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
– 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
– salt and pepper to taste

How To:
– To prepare the chicken breasts, put them between plastic sheets/wraps (or cheesecloth works well too) and beat with a rolling pin to flatten them into 1/2 inch thick steaks.
– Marinate them in a mixture of apple cider vinegar and ginger-garlic paste for two hours n the refrigerator (if you don’t have two hours, fifteen minutes of marination will do just fine. The two hour marination just softens the chicken a little more)
– Mix the dry coating ingredients and spread evenly on a flat surface.
– Lay out the chicken fillets on this mixture. Drag through it to coat well on both sides.
– Heat oil in a frying pan. (You need super-hot oil in a super-hot pan)
– Turn the heat to low, and shallow fry the fillets, flipping them in intervals. It takes about 3-4 minutes for each side. (I kept flipping every minute and a half to prevent the crust from sticking to the surface of the pan).
– Fry till golden brown.
– Serve with a side of tomato-cucumber-dill salad, or a salsa dip….or better yet, just do what we did…eat it with the risotto….

Bon apetite!

I”ll leave you with a random snap of me and my “sous-chef”, in the lift. She also happens to be my room-mate, classmate from University, best friend for the last six years, super-efficient help in the kitchen, excellent in ruthlessly judging me, a kind soul who lets me borrow her T-shirts…and I repay her by stretching them out of shape.

She’s originally vegetarian. Has been all her life, till she met me.

She spent the first year of our friendship by getting accustomed to my non-veg habits. The second year was spent in tasting, I repeat…tasting, various preparations of chicken. Six years later and she can eat any chicken dish without batting an eyelash (though she says she prefers not to), but has managed to refrain herself from turning into a full-fledged carnivore.

Ladies and gentlemen…(drumroll)….Foram Vakani.

Spicy Stuffed Peppers

Stuffed peppers or stuffed capsicums as we call them, have always been a family favorite. I remember, as a kid I used to help out my grandmother with all the stuffing. This was not a “regular” preparation though, and were only made when guests were invited. My brother and I would hide outside the kitchen, around the corner waiting for the first batch to come out; when it did, we’d grab one each and run!!

We ended up with scalded fingers and tongues of course.

Grandma’s recipe asks for fish in a spicy turmeric and tomato sauce. The ones I made yesterday were stuffed with minced meat or more precisely, mutton. Now, mutton’s always usually goat out here, but minced lamb meat does more than well.

The meat’s prepared the way we prepare curry, keeping only a few points in mind:

– the onions have to be super-finely chopped, and

– the tomato is pureed

To make the stuffing, I used: (the quantities depend on how much you’re making, of course)

minced meat (kheema), about 250gms

– boiled and mashed potatoes

– pureed tomatoes

– finely chopped white onions

– turmeric powder

– red chili powder…I like a lot of this to make the dish super-spicy!

– cumin powder

– chopped green chilies

– garlic paste

– ginger paste

– salt and pepper to taste

Fry the onions in a pan along with the ginger and garlic pastes, until the edges turn brown. Add the green chilies, turmeric, red chili powder and cumin. Cook for about a minute. Add the kheema and the potatoes. Mix well to coat the meat. Add the tomato puree…I use little of this, since I don’t want the stuffing to be too watery or tomatoey ….uh, is that a word?

Cook covered, on medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

Cut the peppers in half and remove the tops, seeds and membranes. Wash ’em and pat ’em dry. Spoon the stuffing in and add grated cheddar on top. Brush the stuffed pepper with a little butter. Place on a baking dish lined with parchment paper, pop it in the oven and bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes. The peppers come out soft, perfectly cook with a slight crunch to them.