Mar 30, 2016

If the Barn Needs Paintin'

Paint it!
So I've decided this blog needs to go from frumpy & dumpy to sleek & chic. 
In the new design Bibi will be giving a nod to her 1950's ideal of "glamour," her fascination with super saturated Bollywood colors, and her predilection for bold, spare, almost Japanese style graphics and composition. It has to be fun too, because everything's better when it's fun! So please pardon the lack of posts for two days while I'm doing a bit of primping and preening. My girlfriend Marilyn is getting ready to attend the premiere of "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" in New York City in 1955. She'll show you how it's done:


Getting those lovely locks to look terrifically tousled.


A little lipstick for that "va-voom" factor.


A bit of powder sets the "look" in place.


A dab of Chanel No. 5 makes her the finest thing alive!


Be back soon!

Tips & Tools: Of Rice & Rotis...

As you may or may not know carbohydrates are the main part of Desi meals. These staple carbohydrates usually take the form of rice or one of the multitudinous Desi flatbreads like rotis, chapattis, parathas, or naan. In general Desis fall into to two categories: rice eaters or roti eaters. Yes, there are regional as well as family preferences for taking meals with rice as their base or some sort of flatbread. Then you'll even see some families that take lunch with rice but dinner with rotis. Or any other combination or rice and flatbreads you can possibly think of. This can make planning a dinner party for Desi guests difficult.



The rice eating Desis like Kashmiris and Bengalis require soupier dishes. The soupy consistency is preferred because they squish the rice up with the sauce or broth to eat. This is not to say they forsake flatbreads entirely. Kashmiris eat a yeast risen tandoori cooked roti begotten at the local tandoori bakery for breakfast and with their afternoon tea. (Yes, they have tandoori bakeries in Kashmir, I will take pictures the next time I am there.) So if you are planning a meal for Bengali or Kashmiri guests you's better plan on serving rice and a few soupy or "rasedaar" (means juicy) dishes. If you are serving Kashmiris there better be some mutton or lamb on the table too or they'll be insulted.


Many roti eating Desis are from northern India. Punjabis and Biharis are largely roti eaters. They make take rice also but they probably eat rotis with at least one or two meals daily. Punjabis and Biharis generally eat one of the flatbreads like chapattis, parathas, or rotis that are quick to make at home.  Naan is made in a tandoori oven and is generally only eaten at a restaurant or take out. Roti eaters require thick gravies. No soupy sauces or broths for them. They wad up the rotis and scoop up the thick gravy with it. So if you are serving guests from Punjab or Bihar you'd better plan on serving rotis and dishes with thick gravies. 

As you can tell by the above photo Bibi's rotis are perfectly round and beautifully blistered with toasted speckles of loveliness. I'll have you know those perfectly round rotis are the mark of a Desi housewife "par exellence." What's Bibi's secret? These:


Yes, fresh from the freezer section at our local superstore Bibi buys her rotis prepared. After cooking 2 appetizers, 3-4 entrees, rice, 3 chutneys, and dessert for a dinner party I'll be darned if I'm going to roll out 30 rotis just as the guests are seated. Just heat up a dry nonstick pan for 5 minutes, pull these babies out of the freezer, lightly toast them on each side for 2 minutes- "et voila!" Bibi's the perfect hostess! Think that's cheating? Well, if you look closely this pack of prepared rotis is labelled for "restaurant use."  That's right, the pros use these too. And you know what, they are delicious!

This post on rice and rotis was brought about by some houseguests we had when we were first married. I noticed the rice was coming back untouched and the soupy Kashmiri dishes were left intact also. I asked my husband if our guests didn't like the food. My husband said, "Yes, they like the food but they eat rotis with dinner." Why did dear husband not tell me our guests were roti eaters?  I will never know. I have since learned the hard way to never ask husband specifically what dishes to serve for a meal. I now only ask where the guests are from, do they like rice, rotis, or both, and are they "veg" or "non veg."

Keep calm & curry on.
Bibi

Mar 29, 2016

Masala Scrambled Eggs (Ander Bhurji)

Just another simple everyday dish at our house. Nothing fancy, but oh so delicious. I've been telling you how great the eggs are here in Nepal so I thought I'd better show you how we enjoy them. "Ander" means eggs and a "bhurji" is any sort crumbled or scrambled ingredient. The richness of eggs lends itself perfectly to the "masala" or spicy South Asian treatment. Onions, tomatoes, and green chilis are the Desi "mirepoix" base in this dish, a dash of Kashmiri mirch adds brilliant crimson color and zesty chili flavor. Despite the double wallop of fresh green chilis and Kashmiri mirch this dish is not terribly hot, the richness of the eggs prevents that. We enjoy this scramble with steamed rice for lunch or dinner or in a kathi roll with a dollop of fresh chutney for breakfast or a tea time snack. 


Ander Bhurli eggs Desi easy

Eating scrambled eggs with rice never occurred to me before moving to South Asia, but it makes perfect sense. Rich and spicy eggs go together with rice just like the flour tortillas pair so well with the spicy egg fillings of the breakfast burritos I loved to eat in California.

Eggs Spicy easy recipe

Eggs are a recent addition to the South Asian diet so there really aren't a lot of traditional recipes for them. Hinduism considers eggs to be not suitable for vegetarians and the Mughals tended to only use eggs as a garnish for their lavish meat dishes. Desis don't care for the tender, fluffy, buttery omelets and scrambles of western cultures. They prefer their eggs the texture of neoprene, perhaps even a bit scorched. All I have to say is, it works! Think of spicy blackened Cajun dishes and you'll get the idea.


Ingredients:
3 eggs, lightly beaten with fork
3 TBS cooking oil
1 onion, chopped into a 1/2 inch dice
1 tomato, diced finely
2-3 green chilis, chopped finely (if you really don't want any heat use 1/4 C diced bell pepper/capsicum)
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1/2 tsp paprika + 1/2 tsp cayenne powder)
pinch of turmeric
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:
1) In a deep, heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai over medium heat fry onions with 1 tsp salt until translucent. Add diced tomato and chopped green chilis and fry for about 5 minutes or until tomatoes soften.


2) While the onion, tomato, and green chilis are frying beat eggs with fork until just mixed.


3) Add Kashmiri mirch, turmeric, and 1 tsp salt to the fried onion mixture. Allow to fry for 2 minutes.


4) Add beaten eggs to pan with fried onion and spice mixture. Stir well and allow to cook covered for 4 minutes.


5) After 4 minutes of cooking stir the egg mixture well. Continue cooking until eggs are completely done and possibly sticking to the pan a bit or even scorching a tad.


6) When the eggs are completely cooked your dish is done, salt to taste and serve.

Helpful Hints:

A pinch of turmeric helps cut down on the sulfur flavor in eggs. If you are one of those people like me who don't care for eggs due to their sulfur taste, you have to try this!


Happy chickens make good eggs!

Mar 28, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Coriander, Cilantro, or Dhania

Coriander, dhania, hsang tsai, kibara, Koriander, kothamilee, kottamalli, kothimbir, kothimli, coriandre, Chinese parsley, coriandolo, pak chee, whatever you wish to call it here 'tis:



The coriander (Coriandrum sativum) plant is an herbaceous hardy annual belonging to the parsley family. It's slender bright green branching stems grow to a height of around two foot tall. The flowers are pink or white assymetrical umbels. Coriander's fruit is usually mistaken for seeds and is a globular schizocarp. 


The plant requires moderately warm weather and well drained soil to thrive. Coriander's name is interestingly derived from Ariadne, the daughter of Minos in Greek mythology. Why coriander is associated with Ariadne I don't know. Evidently coriander has been used as a spice, herb, and perfume ingredient since the second millenium BC by the Greeks.


All parts of the coriander plant are edible. Coriander's leaves are rich in vitamins A, C, and K while it's seeds or fruits are rich in calcium, selenium, magnesium, manganese, and iron. Both the leaves and seeds/fruits of coriander have a definite citrus flavor due to their concentrations of the terpenes linalool and pinene. However, some people perceive the taste of coriander leaves as soapy or putrid. Studies seem to suggest this is a genetically determined sensitivity to the unsaturated aldehydes in coriander combined with an insensitivity to the aromatic chemicals that others find pleasant.


Coriander is called "dhania" in Hindi and Urdu. If you wish to refer to the leaves and stems of the coriander plant you would specify by saying "hari dhania" which means "green coriander." In Desi cooking the leaves, stems, and seeds of coriander/dhania are commonly used. The fresh leaves are pureed or minced into chutneys and relishes or stirred into curries and dals to impart their bold and bright green flavor. Ground coriander seeds/fruits provide a subtler flavor as well as bulk and body to numerous Desi dishes. Westerners are probably most familiar with flavor and appearance of coriander seeds seen floating in the brine of dill pickles or corned beef.


Ground coriander and cumin are a common flavor pairing in Desi cooking. The mild lemony notes of ground coriander provide a brilliant foil to the warm earthy flavor of cumin. Onions and ground coriander suspended in oil are the base of most Desi gravies and curry sauces. Ground coriander's fibrous husks lend themselves perfectly in this use as a thickener and emulsifier. The flavor of ground coriander isn't going to overwhelm you with it's mellow citrus aroma, you might not even realize it's there. In contrast to fresh coriander leaves' bold and assertive flavor the subtler notes of ground coriander remain in the background adding a just a bit of "je ne sais quoi" to the main attraction.

Helpful hints:
Whole coriander seeds will store nearly indefinitely. Once ground, coriander seeds are apt to lose flavor and aroma quickly resulting in a sawdust like flavor. That's why I only buy coriander seeds and grind them once a week for use as needed. I use an electric grinder but the seeds are delicate enough to be ground to whatever coarseness you desire with a mortar and pestle. Always store coriander in an opaque airtight container for freshness.

If you are cooking anything gamy like goat, lamb, caribou, elk, or venison try using some ground coriander with it. Ground coriander's light and warm lemony citrus flavor really brightens up gamy meat without the acidic tang of an actual lemon or citrus fruit.

Keep calm & curry on,
Bibi




Mar 27, 2016

Easter Babies!!!

Peter Cottontail won't be hopping down the bunny trail here in Nepal but here's our old friend Blackie! It looks like Blackie brought some Spring babies along with him this fine Easter morning.



Everybody's enjoying their banquet of table scraps and garden trimmings. I've never seen these youngsters before, Blackie just showed up with them Easter morn. If you look in the upper left hand corner you can see a brand new mom!


Here's mom with her new baby. Awwww so sweet. Mom is giving me the stinkeye saying "That's close enough lady!!!"


As you can see by the blurred hoof and flared nostrils in the upper right corner mom's really had enough of Bibi's nosiness. That's what zoom lenses are for!


Look at that sweet face, so precious. Spring babies on an Easter morning, that's better than chocolates and Easter eggs! Thank you, Blackie! (Mr. MacGregor ought to be glad this lot doesn't trespass in his garden.)

Hippity Hoppity Hippity Happy Easter Day!!!
(To all my readers who celebrate Easter.)

Calmly currying on, 
Bibi

Mar 24, 2016

I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch...

And all I do... is cry all day. 

Boo hoo. Boo hoo.

Actually, the onion patch already bolted in the Spring heat and has long since been replaced by a riot of petunias. As far as riots go, the floral variety is my favorite sort. So we'll just take a stroll around Bibi's garden and see what's blooming!


The lovely "tie dyed" effect on this flower is due to a benign viral infection. Evidently the virus only affects the segment of the chromosome that predicts color. Each blossom on this plant has different variegated markings displaying the random chromosomal damage inflicted by the infective virus.


This "pinwheel" particolored beauty is not a result of viral infection. Every flower has similarly patterned gorgeousness. Almost looks like someone stenciled them.


A modern style variegated beauty in with the newly developed upright branching habit. Rather than the sprawling habit of old fashioned petunias that resulted in flowers that would nod or face downward this modern hybrid holds it's blossoms up on spindly stems. Unfortunately in hybridization they seem to have lost the lush ruffles that make petunias so unique. The result is this asymmetrical weirdness that kind of looks like a snapdragon gone wrong. Why do this?


Here we have some more tie dyed beauties so you can see all the variations the virus causes. I thought the morning sun peeking through their delicate petals was an interesting effect.


Fantastic scalloped edges on pale gossamer pink petals with the early morning light diffusing through them. Almost watercolor in effect. (Don't even start with the Georgia O'Keefe references. Just don't, OK? Bibi paints huge florals too and does not infer any anatomical similarities human or otherwise in her artwork either. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know what I mean?)


I thought this was an interesting composition of color and form. All the flowers facing different ways displaying all the different viewpoints and details thereof. Colors from deep velvety purple to sheer and delicate pinks. It's all going on here!


I call this violet eyed and swoon worthy seductress the "Elizabeth Taylor" of petunias. This stunner is everything a petunia should be; gorgeously scalloped and satiny ruffles in brilliant fuchsia pink combined with deep blue violet eyes highlighted by bright green pupils. To top it all off this petunia has an incredibly robust habit that holds it's blossoms facing out and lots of beautiful deep blue green ovoid leaves. I recall when I bought the seeds for this petunia at Walmart in the US I looked at the photo on the packet and thought, "Yeah right, they always show these heavily enhanced photos on seed packets that rarely look like the actual plant." Wrong! This doll face looks even better in person and really performs. Now I wish I could remember what the name of it was so I can repurchase it for next year. I do recall the seeds were from Ferry Morse. This is a case of plant breeding done right!

Keep calm & curry on,
Bibi

Mar 23, 2016

Punjabi Dhaba Dum Aloo

Dum means steam and aloo means potato. Dum Aloo is a famous Kashmiri dish - but this is definitely the Punjabi version. Baby potatoes are first pan fried to give them a delicately caramelized coat. Then the potatoes are slowly simmered over low heat until sumptuously tender in a rich and spicy fenugreek laced gravy. This slow simmering technique is the Mughal's beloved dumpukht style. The mild earthy flavor of the potatoes is the perfect foil for the richly spiced yogurt and tomato gravy. 

Indian sloww cooked baby potatoes

I first tasted this dish at a Punjabi style dhaba on a miserably hot road trip. A dhaba is a small family owned type of restaurant you'll see along India's major roadways. I ordered the Kashmiri Dum Aloo on the menu and was served this gem. This Punjabi version of Dum Aloo is similar to the original Kashmiri dish in cooking style. However, Kashmiris certainly would not use the fenugreek/methi nor tomatoes in their version. There's quite a bit of dried fenugreek leaves/kasoori methi in this recipe, unabashedly so. Perhaps I should have named this dish "Methi Aloo." Somehow the dum technique of slow simmering really brings out the rich mellow maple syrup-like flavor in the dried fenugreek/ methi leaves. The "melt in your mouth" baby potatoes paired with the boldly spiced sauce works beautifully! The dumpukht style slow of simmering is what gives this dish it's unique flavor. Since I don't have the proper pot for dum style cooking (called a handi) I just allow this dish to do it's slow simmering in a covered, deep, heavy bottomed skillet over a low heat for 3 hours. If you have an slow cooker or crock pot this would be an excellent way to replicate dumpukht cooking. Just place the potatoes, masala gravy, and enough water to cover the potatoes by a half inch into the slow cooker and let it cook at the lowest setting for four to five hours or until the potatoes are tender.

Ingredients:
12-15 baby potatoes, peeled 
2 TBS cooking oil
2 TBS ghee
1 tsp salt
1C onions, diced finely
2 inch piece cassia bark/dalchini (or cinnamon stick)
2-3 tsp dried fenugreek leaves/kasoori methi
2 teaspoons lime juice or 1/2 tsp amchur/mango powder
Grind to smooth paste for masala (if you don't have a mixie or food processor just chop the tomatoes finely and mix the ingredints well):
1 C yogurt
1 C tomatoes, chopped roughly
1 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
1 TBS ginger/adrak paste
2 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1 tsp paprika + 1 tsp cayenne powder)
1 TBS ground coriander/dhania
1 TBS ground cumin/jeera
1 TBS garam masala
5 cloves/laung
5 green cardamoms/elaichi
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp flour/maida (this will keep the yogurt from splitting)
2 tsp salt

Here's what to do:


1) Peel potatoes and place in water to prevent discoloration. Grind all ingredients listed under masala paste until smooth in a mixie, food processor, or blender. and set aside.


2) Heat oil and ghee with 1 tsp salt in deep, heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai. Fry potatoes until deep golden brown and set aside on plate.


3) In same oil and pan as the potatoes were fried, fry diced onions until just beginning to brown. 


4) Add ground masala paste and cassia bark/dalchini to fried onions. Bring to simmer and saute for 5 minutes. Crumble dried fenugreek leaves/kasoori methi into fried masala mixture, stir well.  Stir lime juice or mango powder into masala mixture, stir well.


5) Transfer fried potatoes to pan with masala mixture. Make sure potatoes are all covered in masala mixture and are only a single layer deep. If using a crockpot or slow cooker place potatoes in a single layer on the bottom of cooker and pour masala mixture over them.


6) If using pan- add just enough water to pan or cooker so that potatoes and masala mixture are covered by 1 inch. Allow mixture to simmer covered over low heat for 3 to 4 hours or until potatoes are tender. If mixture begins to scorch add 1/4 cup water and reduce heat.
If using crockpot or slow cooker- add just enough water so that potatoes are cover by 1/2 inch of water, cover and allow to cook on the lowest setting for 4-5 hours or until potatoes are tender.

Helpful hints:
I've used baby potatoes as is traditional here but you could certainly use larger baking type potatoes cut into smaller pieces too. Baby potatoes do seem to hold their shape better in dum slow cooking though.

Traditionally the potatoes would be pricked all over with a toothpick or fork before frying to help them absorb the masala flavors. I don't think pricking the potatoes does very much (especially before you fry them) but you certainly may do so if you wish.

If you really want to replicate the dumpukht technique make a paste of 1/4 C flour/maida and 1&1/2 TBS water and use it to seal the lid of your pan or slow cooker airtight.

Pranjal Dhaba on Highway 76 near Allahabad
By Biswarup Ganguly, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36740032

Mar 22, 2016

Tips & Tools: Getting Handy with a Handi

Introducing the magnificent pot of Mughal fame: the handi!


Originally made of clay the handi is a round pot with no handles, a narrow neck, curved sides, and is usually thicker on the bottom to distribute heat evenly. The handi is the piece of cookware essential to the "dum" or "dumpukht" style of cooking so beloved by the Mughals. "Dum" means steam or breath and "puhkt" means to choke. In dumpukht cooking food would be partially cooked then placed in the handi with it's lid sealed airtight with a paste of flour and water. The sealed handi would then be placed on the dying embers of the cooking fire to slowly simmer overnight. Steam would form inside the handi which would then condense and drip down the curved sides. Thus the food contained within would basted in it's own juices. Dumpuhkt is the culinary method used in making such famed Mughal style dishes such as biryanis, tahari, and Mutton Lazeez. One of the most popular dishes of Kashmir called "Dum Aloo" consists of baby potatoes slow cooked dumpukht style with a spicy sauce.



This is a decorative clay handi available for sale at a tourist site in Agra. You can see the saucer-like lid on the narrow necked round pot that is typical of early handis.


Here is a modern day replication of dumpukht style cooking.  A biryani is being cooked in a clay handi atop a gas burner. The saucer-like lid has been sealed with a paste of water and flour to keep steam from escaping. As this sealed handi is not upon dying embers but rather a direct gas flame a metal tawa or plate has been placed under it to disperse the heat.


Nowadays you can even buy decorative handis to serve your meal in like this piece of gorgeous tableware. A small handi is called a "handiya."


You can also get pressure cookers in the shape of a handi. I doubt whether a pressure cooker could truly replicate slow cooking in an earthenware pot over coals, but there you go.


Now let's stroll on over to Delhi near the Jama Masjid mosque to see the handi in action. This is Karim's restaurant, it lies on one of the winding, narrow, and dimly lit paths in the souk-like markets around the Jama Masjid mosque. Karim's is quite famous and has been in business for over 100 years. Karim's owners are direct descendants of chefs of the Mughal court. The original Mughal cooking techniques and recipes have been passed down through the family here. At some point handis ceased being made in clay and nickel plated beaten copper became the preferred material of choice for manufacture.


This is how a Mughal chef would cook, sitting cross legged upon a flat platform surrounded by braziers topped with handis. The handis can be tilted to keep steam in and allow easy access to  the seated chef or servers. Typically foods would be first partially cooked like this in the handis, the lid would be then sealed with a flour and water paste, and the handi would be placed over low heat to simmer for hours.


Here you can see the delicious contents of the handis. There's a biryani on the right and some sort of mutton dish in the left. See how tilting the handis keeps allows the steam to condense and roll back down the side rather than just escaping.


Your meal at Karim's will be simply served on 1950's looking stoneware in a charmingly unpretentious manner. A complimentary relish plate of sliced raw onions, limes, and sliced raw daikon radish will always accompany your dining experience. A choice of different naan or rice areon offer too, in this case we've chosen those gorgeous fluffy naans. It's quite inexpensive and geared toward the working class despite the royal cuisine being served. I like that, the food is what the focus is on here. Surprisingly to me, the Mughal food served at the little restaurants owned by descendants of Mughal chefs isn't that highly spiced. The emphasis is on the meat- be it mutton cooked in it's own juices or a biryani cooked with meat stock. One dish we ordered once was quite unusual, I believe it was called "Shahi Tamur" which means "Royal Dates." It consisted of dates stewed in a creamy white savory sauce with a lot of ground coriander, a bit of cumin, and green chilis. Mixing sweet with savory would be typical of the early Mughal era.


Here is a gentleman in typical Islamic attire enjoying the view of the Jama Masjid mosque from a nearby restaurant. The mosque was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan of rosy red sandstone with carved white marble inlays and was completed in 1656. It can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, has two 130 foot high minarets, and three white marble domes. The inside is even more spectacularly ornamented with more inlaid marble and carved semi precious stones throughout.


I think the closest thing to a handi that would be practical for modern cooks would be an electric slow cooker or crock pot. You could certainly seal the lid with a flour and water paste to get the same dumpukht effect. If I lived someplace where I had twenty four hour electricity I'd certainly have one. I've never seen a slow cooker or crock pot in India or Nepal, but then twenty four electricity is a rarity in Nepal and India also.

That concludes my discussion of the handi and dumpukht cooking.
Calmly currying on,
Bibi

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