Roasted Red Pepper Coulis (vegan), and my thoughts on MasterChef

roasted red pepper coulis

The one good thing that the US version of the reality TV show (yes, you read it right, REALITY TV show) Masterchef did do is allow me to get some ideas to combine my cooking skills to elevate my own cooking to more complex (read, served with a sauce), restaurant-style dishes, if not yet all restaurant-quality dishes. My first attempt at this was a roasted red pepper coulis (fancy word for French sauce).

Now that my mother is going in for a heart bypass surgery this week and I am almost 8,000 miles away I think about her, pottering around in our garden in Chennai during the year we lived there, communicating in sign language with our Tamil-speaking gardener about planting and growing peppers. A red pepper coulis is not something my mother would ever make, she wouldn’t know how, but if I made it for her she would like it and ask for the recipe. Then, she would make it. Because my mother is many things, but afraid of trying some new cooking technique just isn’t one of them.

pan-fried catfish with roasted red pepper coulis and Asian cabbage slaw

I spent over a month trying to decide whether or not I liked Masterchef. I have finally decided that I do not. It is not a show about cooking and creativity. It is a reality TV show created and produced by a chef (among others) to combine people’s love of cooking shows, drama and  competition into one disgusting Hunger Games-style contest, minus actually killing people. … 

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Baba Ghanoush — Roasted eggplant dip (vegan)

Baba Ghanoush

There has been eggplant in our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) every week for the last four weeks. Big, almost completely round, light purple eggplant. Small, curvy, deep purple eggplant. Miniature light purple eggplant with white streaks that look like they’re from a doll’s kitchen. I’ve grilled them with honey , added them to lentil soupssautéed them and even deep fried them. Then I spotted Baba Ghanoush on Tastespotting. And I thought, “That’s a fantastically healthy (and DELICIOUS!) way to cook eggplant! I should do that! The fire (or broiler) roasting gives the eggplant a beautifully rich, charred flavour that is just heavenly.

So I did! And I sent out samples to people I know that also appreciate a good vegetable. And they said I must put up the recipe. So here it is.

Oh, and although I never put in any effort into making a recipe vegan, this recipe just naturally is vegan. My vegan friend Kelly approves of it. … 

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Mexican-inspired Baked Eggs with Chorizo

Mexican-inspired Baked Eggs with Chorizo and Chives

I have spent a year searching for Mexican chorizo — the raw, uncured kind that I can cook and crumble into tacos or tuck inside a burrito once I figure out how Boca Grande makes its spicy green sauce.

I have gone to specialty meat stores such as Markys gourmet store and found cured Spanish and Portuguese chouriço; I have gone to Mexican grocery stores and the Hannaford’s in Waltham where all the local Spanish-speaking people shop…all in the hope of finding raw, chorizo that I would liberate from their casings and slow-fry in their own fat. But each time I have been thwarted. Each time I come home empty-handed or with yet another type of chorizo that I was not looking for.

I eat that new kind of chorizo just the same, but the next day I go to the Boca Grande underneath the giant Citgo sign in Kenmore Sq, Boston and stuff my face full of chorizo enchiladas sitting alone in a corner balancing my kindle in one hand and swooning over the sauce and the refried beans and the chorizo. … 

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Chicken Korma from the British Raj

Chicken korma

I found a recipe for korma (spelled “quorma” by the British during the days of the British Raj) in the Anglo-Indian cookbook, Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj while indulging my obsession for Anglo-Indian cooking. The recipe here is modified to make it come together faster with less fuss. This means substituting chicken for the lamb in the original recipe, which is more expensive and takes longer to cook, as well as using ginger and garlic pastes instead of fresh. I love fresh ingredients as much as any foodie, but for those who love to cook nice meals in addition to having a full time job, sometimes a simple shortcut can be all that is keeping us from ordering in a greasy pizza instead of making a hot meal from scratch. I have also omitted the ground almonds to make the final dish healthier, which is why using whole-fat yogurt is essential or there is nothing to lend the creaminess that is characteristic of a korma. If you choose, you could even spike in a little cream along with the yogurt. The original recipe had called for 1 cup of ground almonds and 6 oz of cream.

What I like about this recipe is that it can be made in a single pot. In a pinch, everything from the ginger paste to the yogurt can be added all at once to the pot after adding the cinnamon and bay leaf to the hot oil and frying the chicken slightly. I have done it this way too and it makes for an easy dinner for one of those nights when I don’t even manage to get home from work until 8:45.

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Chicken Korma

Yield: 6-8 servings

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

This is a delightful, creamy one-pot chicken curry that is not spicy

Ingredients:

3 lbs chicken legs and thighs, skinned
juice of half a lemon
2 tsp salt

1 large stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf
3 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
2 green chillies, deseeded and chopped finely
1.5 Tbsp ginger paste
1 Tbsp garlic paste
2 tsp ground turmeric
1.5 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
salt, to taste
1.5 tsp sugar
2 tsp garam masala
1 cup whole-milk yogurt (do not use low-fat for this)
freshly squeezed lime juice, about 2 tsps

Directions:

Marinate the chicken in the lemon juice and 2 tsp of salt and set aside for 30 minutes.

Set a heavy lidded pot over medium-high heat. Add the ghee and oil. Once hot, add the cinammon stick and bay leaf. Stir briefly until they release their aromas, about 30s.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions and a big pinch of salt. Fry the onions without letting them brown until they are translucent, about 7-10 minutes depending on the moisture in the onions. Now add the ginger and garlic pastes and the green chilli. Fry until the raw smell goes. Now add the turmeric, coriander and cumin powders and fry till their aromas are released, 2-3 minutes.Turn the heat down to low.

Remove the chicken from its marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Turn the heat back up to medium and add to the onion and spice mixture and fry, but do not allow the chicken to get browned, about 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from heat and allow it to cool slightly. While the pot is cooling, whisk the yogurt to make it smooth. Add this to the pot, slowly, in batches, so that the yogurt does not curdle. Mix to combine everything. Add the sugar and season with salt.

Bring the curry to a gentle boil and then cover the pot. Allow it to simmer on medium-low heat for 30 minutes, stirring often so it does not burn. At the end of the simmering, if you want to thicken the sauce, then turn the heat up slightly and evaporate some liquid; just remember to keep stirring so the bottom does not burn.

While the curry is simmering, make your rice, roti or naan to serve with the korma. In the final 10 minutes of the simmering, dry roast the garam masala powder in a hot pan. Once you can smell the aromas of the masala, add it to the curry, mixing to combine.

Once done, sprinkle with the lime juice and give one final stir to mix everything together.

Curries and Bugles: A Memoir and Cookbook of the British Raj

 

Bengali goat curry and Copley Square, Boston

goat curry

This year – 2013 – at ten minutes shy of 3:00 PM, two misguided, and, to the best of our knowledge right now, self-radicalized brothers set off a bomb each near the finish line of the Boston Marathon at Copley Square, with the obvious intention of hurting as many people as possible. They used pressure cookers to make their bombs, the high pressure amplifying the effects of the explosives inside when the bombs went off.

I will not insult the suffering of the victims by saying I was pained by the fact that pressure cookers – my favourite cookware and the namesake for my blog – were used, but I certainly was dismayed. Pressure cookers are not used much in American kitchens. Here people use their ovens for slow and long cooking. They are thought to be mysterious, complicated –elite even – and potentially dangerous. They can be, if not used correctly, but even hot oil in a pot can be dangerous, as can an oven. In India, where most houses do not have ovens, and cylinders of cooking gas are limited and rationed, cooks use pressure cookers to speed up those spicy curries and whip up beans and lentils without soaking overnight or resorting to cans of preservative-filled foods. I love the Indian whistling pressure cooker for its place in the culinary history and heritage of the country I left to come study in America. To Indians a pressure cooker is a kitchen icon, an heirloom, and is often the only thing that keeps the fledlging cook from starving or running herself into financial ruin. … 

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Whole-Wheat Ciabatta Bread

Whole-wheat ciabatta bread

After successfully executing Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread twice, I tried my hand at sandwich bread, which also turned out quite fabulous.

I decided it was time to give sourdough a try. Twice, I tried, using Mark Bittman’s sourdough starter and bread recipe from his famous book, How to cook Everything. Both times my sourdough bread turned into this dense, heavy ball of…of something… that was better suited to bludgeoning people to death with rather than eating. I was not dejected the first time — anyone can fail at following a recipe once. But when my second loaf of sourdough went south, I lost courage.

“I will leave bread baking to the professionals,” I said, ” From now on, I will  stick to just cooking.”

But K just would not let me! Any time I stop to look at artisan breads at the market, K reminds me that he loved the bread I baked at home. As I pick up a loaf and put it into my basket, he tells me that the store-bought stuff is so expensive, that I should bake my own bread again. Yesterday, he pointed out the cost of the lovely ciabatta loaf I had set my heart on. I felt so guilty that I put it back.

So today, here I am trying out a recipe for “Easy Homemade Ciabatta” from the blog Crepes of Wrath based on their lovely photo on Tastespotting, my favourite food porn site. I picked this bread because of (almost) instant gratification: No waiting until tomorrow. I make the dough, rest it for two hours and then bake. And I know whether it was a success or a failure.

And this one, baby, was a success!
… 

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Gobhi (cauliflower) Manchurian — Indo-Chinese food from the street-carts of South India

 

Gobhi (cauliflower) Manchurian

No, I have not fallen off the face of the planet.

Yes, yes, I still cook most nights.

So, why have I not been posting recipes to my blog? First I was giving the blog a face-lift, then I was waiting for everything to be perfect before I started posting again. But I got busy with my PhD research, then I switched labs and started from scratch with new research, then I went and got myself hit by a car and had to recover from that. By then we had moved and I no longer had a place at which I took photos, then…I could make excuses until the sun went down.

But I will stop with the excuses and just post my recipe.

In an effort to make K appreciate cauliflower more, I decided to have him try the South Indian street food specialty, “Gobhi (cauliflower) Manchurian”. … 

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Chicken Saltimbocca

 Chicken Saltimbocca

Tradionally Chicken Saltimbocca is made using sage and no cheese. The first time I made it, I didn’t have any sage on hand and stuck in some Port Salut cheese that needed using up. K loved it and moved my Chicken Saltimbocca to the top of his favourites… displacing even his long time favourite Tandoori Chicken. Chicken Saltimbocca is now one of our mainstay classy comfort foods. Since common knowledge dictates that one should not mess around with a successful formula, I have never altered my Chicken Saltimbocca recipe. If you wish to be more authentic, you could add some chopped sage with the garlic while making the pan sauce.

The proscuitto in this dish should be neither shaved, nor thickly sliced. Thick slices do not stick to the chicken and shaved slices will not cover the cheese. Just have the deli make thin slices for you.

Chicken Saltimbocca was my first foray into the realm of what is known as “fine cooking”. It holds a special place in my heart. And last night — at my recommendation — one of my best friends, Anu, who lives in Australia — made it for a surprise romantic dinner for her husband and he loved it too.

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Chicken Saltimbocca

Yield: 1 serving

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 40 minutes

Make-ahead note: The chicken can be prepped with the sage leaves and Proscuitto and refrigerated until ready for a few hours, while working on other parts of the meal.

This recipe is not difficult; the recipe looks long because I have included detailed instructions in technique so that the final dish comes out as you would see it on your plate at a fine Italian restaurant.

Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
Port Salut cheese
6 slices of Proscuitto, thinly sliced, cut into half through the middle
(6 sage leaves)
2 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
freshly cracked pepper to taste
2 clove garlic, chopped fine
1/2 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Cut the chicken breast at a diagonal into three pieces. This helps to keep the piece from the tapering part of the breast from being too small. Cover with a piece of cling wrap and using a meat mallet or the back of a heavy pan, meat the pieces to an equal thickness.

On the centre of the flatter side of each piece of chicken place (1 sage leaf and) a small bit of cheese -- enough to cover about a third of the piece on the chicken. Place two half-slices of Proscuitto over the cheese and press to stick on. Turn the chicken pieces over and sprinkle some freshly cracked pepper.

Heat a pan on medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add the olive oil and heat until the oil shimmers. Place the chicken in the pan, proscuitto-side down and turn the heat down to medium. Cook in two batches if all the chicken does not fit in your pan at once. Pan-fry for 3-4 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium-high and flip the chicken over. Turn the heat back down to medium and pan fry for another 3-4 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside on a plate. Do not worry if some of the cheese oozes out into the pan. It will get incorporated into the sauce and will make the sauce more flavourful.

Add a touch more of oil if the pan is dry followed by the chopped garlic. Stir for 30-45 seconds or until the garlic is aromatic. Now add the dry-vermouth and scrape up the browned bits. When most of the vermouth has evaporated and the liquid in the pan looks syrupy, add the chicken stock and any juices released by the fried chicken to the pan. Turn the heat up to high. Stir occasionally while allowing the stock to reduce to an almost sauce-like consistency.

Add the cold butter, one tablespoon at a time, swirling it to make an emulsion. The butter gives the sauce a nice sheen. Add the chopped parsley to the pan.

Return the chicken to the pan. Coat both sides of the chicken with the sauce.

 

Ginger Crab

Ginger Crab

During the years we spent in Calcutta, India, my parents would plan impromptu trips to Digha, a small fishing town along the Bay of Bengal coast, only a few hours’ drive from Calcutta. I would emerge out of the car in school uniform and backpack to find my mother’s sticking her head through the wrought iron grill of our balcony shouting out to our chauffeur.

“Don’t head back to the office,” she would scream out over the din of the city and street cricket matches,
“Saheb (Sir) is coming home in a different office car. You’re coming to Digha with us; so go grab some clothes, tank up the car and be back here in an hour!”

These trips were always my father’s idea and I never got an inkling of when one was coming until it was announced. He made his decision on the spur of the moment and we always sportingly went along. Nothing makes a Bengali happier than hot food and tickets to travel somewhere. We would spend the weekend at Digha, leaving Calcutta on a Friday evening and be back again by Monday morning, but always just too late to go to school – and without the required doctor’s note too! – much to the chagrin of my teachers.

By the time Digha’s famous “Matsyakanna” (Mermaid, or literally, fish-girl) statue greeted us,  the sun would be red and swollen and falling into the water. The beach would be flaming red from afar — inch-long red crabs littered all over the sand, basking in the setting sun. I would run out of the car hoping to catch one, but each time the sneaky little things would skutter off sideways into the safety of their holes. And the beach would turn into patches of golden brown skin with old, old acne scars where had agitated their slumber.

Digha is by no means a gorgeous sea resort town. The waves are not spectacular and neither is the sand some rare colour. But it is ocean in all its fishiness and Calcuttans are drawn to it like Tolkien’s elves to the Great Sea.

I have never seen small red crabs in America. They’re too small to eat anyway. But I always am reminded of the little red crabs taking in the last of the day’s sun when I see crabs in the market, even if the ones I am buying don’t actually turn red until I throw them into hot oil.

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Ginger Crab Recipe

Yield: 2 servings

This recipe is adapted from Rasa Malaysia’s Ginger Scallion Crab recipe. I did not have scallions on hand so I did not add them. I also replaced the white pepper powder with red pepper flakes.. I used smaller crabs so I needed 2. You want to have 1.5 - 2 lbs of whole crab. The dish will serve 2 quite easily when enjoyed with some steaming hot rice. The peanut oil can easily be replaced with corn oil or vegetable oil.

Ingredients:

2 crabs (about 1 1/2 lbs)
2 inches ginger, peeled and sliced into matchstick thin pieces
3 tablespoons cornstarch
oil for deep frying

For Sauce:
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon sesame seed oil
1 teaspoon sugar
5 tablespoons hot water
3/4 teaspoon corn starch
1 tablespoon cold water
1/8 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Directions:

Mix the corn starch for the sauce in 1 tablespoon of cold water. Set aside.

Mix the other sauce ingredients except the peanut oil together and set aside.

Clean the crab and cut into pieces. Dry well with paper towel and sprinkle the corn starch over it. Toss to evenly coat the crab pieces in the cornstarch.

Heat oil to 350F for deep frying. The oil should start form bubbles when a wooden spatula is inserted but should not froth over.

Take a handful of crab pieces, in a sieve and shake to remove any excess corn starch. Drop the crab pieces into the hot oil, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Do this in batches if necessary. Remove as soon as the crab turns red.

Heat a wok and add 1 tablespoon of peanut oil. When the oil is hot, add the ginger slices. Stir until the release their aroma, about 30 seconds to a minute. Remove the ginger and discard.

Add the crab slices to the wok and stir quickly for a few times. Now add the sauce ingredients and stir to coat the crab in the sauce.

Stir the cornstarch and water mixture so that there are no lumps and add it to the sauce. Stir to mix and keep on heat for 2 minutes.

Serve immediate with hot jasmine rice.

Pineapple Ginger Scones

Pineapple Scones

It’s not that I cannot bake; I just do not like to. Barring cooked tuna and sardines in any way, shape or form, I eat everything. I am allergic to eggplant, but that has never really quite stopped me from eating it anyway. I do my best to ignore the varying intensities of itchiness in my throat brought about by different varieties of eggplant. However, I do not have what is commonly understood as “an evergreen sweet tooth”, with just one exception – but I will save that for another day. Besides, to me, cake batter tastes better before baking than after, so I find it hard to see the point in even putting it into the oven. If it were not for the strong resistance to pollutants, toxins and probably common food contaminating bacteria that one invariably develops when they have spent years and years in India, eating all kinds of yumminess from street-food stalls, oblivious to the rush hour traffic puffing out sooty smoke like small, scaled-down factory chimneys, I would probably have died of Salmonella poisoning or Shiga toxins by now. I once ate an entire cake’s worth of cake batter with my Bosnian roommate in Rhode Island while the preheated oven and the cake pan remained waiting in the kitchen.

To make matters worse, I don’t eat chocolate. It’s not a diet thing, or a discipline issue. Nor is it a saddening, debilitating allergic handicap. I just hate – detest, would be a more apt word – chocolate. I always have. It is an unforgivable sin for a foodie and I understand that I am hell-bound for it. But there it is. So, most desserts, so cherished by the all the world, utterly fail to seduce me. I do like a plain crème brûlée or a crème caramel, but not enough that I would inconvenience myself to make it often unless that was the only thing I was setting out to make. So why choose to bake scones without any warning? I have not eaten a scone in over 5 years. I do not sit and reminisce about them, about how unfulfilling my life is without them all around me.

But I grew up reading too much British fiction: Enid Blyton and P. G. Wodehouse. Could the Famous Five or the Secret Seven ever have had the determination and courage to pursue the motley of crooks that they did without their tummies being fuelled by scones and Devonshire cream made by a bona fide English cook? Or would tea time at Blandings Castle have ever been successful if there were no jellied scones to accompany the tea and sandwiches?  Would Jeeves, the stiff upper-lipped butler, have permitted such a travesty to befall the table of Bertie Wooster? I have never, in person, been to the English countryside in the summer (or in the winter, for that matter). Nor have I had the pleasure of visiting London. Yet I have been to these places through these books. I have smelled Yorkshire pudding and Christmas plum cake through the pages of books. I would be decidedly shocked if someone were to try to convince me that a steak and kidney pie were not among the best ways to start one’s day – even though I have eaten one just once, and even then, not for breakfast. So also have I had scones and clotted cream at tea time, and a glass of port or sherry after dinner.

The original recipe was for ginger scones, but I did not find candied ginger either at the Asian supermarket nor at the regular supermarket so I substituted candied pineapple for the ginger instead adapting a recipe I found on the Epicurious website.

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Pineapple Ginger Scones

Yield: 8 scones

Ingredients:

2 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp powdered ginger
¼ tsp lemon zest
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1” cubes and frozen
2/3 cup candied pineapples, chopped into small pieces
2/3 cup heavy cream, plus a little more for brushing

Directions:

Adjust oven rack to middle, preheat the oven to 400⁰F.

In a food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt, baking powder. Pulse to incorporate.

Add the butter, lemon zest and the powdered ginger. Pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and reaches the consistency of fine meal. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the pineapple.

Make a well in the centre; add the heavy cream. Draw in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Do not overmix.

Dump the dough onto a clean work surface. Pat the dough into a ¾“ circle and cut out circles or just break off equal bits and place on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bring the trimmings together and cut out more circles.

Brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for about 20 minutes. Turn the baking tray once so that the heat is evenly distributed. The baking time depends on the oven so start checking after 14 minutes. The scones are done when their surfaces are light brown and start to crack.

Allow to cool completely. Enjoy!

Not particularly healthy, but good once in a while. :)

Epicurious