Aug 28, 2017

Bibi's Tomato and Bell Pepper Chutney

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Get some tasty vegetables into your diet with this South Indian inspired bell pepper and tomato chutney! A savory vegan recipe that's so easy to make and a great way to enjoy Summer's bountiful produce. Pairs well with any rice or roti based meal and makes a great tortilla chip dip!

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We're still enjoying tomatoes from our garden here in Nepal. Vegetables usually get expensive during the Monsoon season so I planted tomatoes, chili peppers, bell peppers, and eggplant in the sheltered areas of our yard. Above you see a day's harvest from our sixteen tomato plants, about a kilogram or two full pounds. You must pick tomatoes when they're not quite ripe here as they'll ripen and rot quickly in the heat and humidity of the Monsoon weather.

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Here's about a day's harvest of bell peppers from our six bell pepper plants. Bell peppers are called capsicums or Shimla mirch in India and Nepal. What to do with all this vegetable largesse? Well, I made this recipe up! There aren't a lot of Indian or Nepali recipes for bell peppers aside from jalfrezi or tossing them into a veg omelet so I thought I'd try putting them into a South Indian inspired cooked chutney. And it worked beautifully! Now most South Indian chutneys require you to fry the vegetables first, cool them, grind them, and then fry the ground mixture again with spices. This double frying of vegetables goes on in a lot of Indian recipes. I'm not a fat-o-phobe nor a grease-o-phobe. But sometimes I think the goal of these Indian techniques is to get every pot in the kitchen dirty or to get as much grease flying around as possible! I thought about steaming the vegetables first but that's yet more gadgetry to clean. Recently, I suffered through watched a Jamie Oliver show where he made a tomato chutney by simmering the vegetables with a little water first and then frying the resulting mixture.

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 SHABASH! (wonderful!) So I just combined the vegetables with a little water and spices in a pot and let them simmer until tender on the back burner while I cooked the rest of the day's meal. Then I let the mixture cool, ground it in the mixie, and then fried it to gorgeous glossiness. The result was fantastic! You probably do use a few less tablespoons of oil too. The spices I used were Kashmiri mirch, turmeric, cumin seeds, and black mustard seeds. Kashmiri mirch gives this condiment a rich red chili flavor with just a hint of heat. If you'd like more heat try using cayenne powder/degi mirch. If you'd like less heat try a mild and smoky paprika powder. Cumin seeds add their earthy warmth also. Turmeric is in there for it's bright color and antioxidants. Black mustard seeds add a bit of nutty flavor and are traditionally used in many South Indian cooked chutneys. If you wanted to make this even more South Indian you could fry some fresh curry leaves in the oil with the mustard seeds. Anyway you choose to spice it this recipe cooks up to a delicious, flavorful, fresh, and healthy chutney!

Ingredients:
7 medium sized tomatoes, roughly chopped
8 cloves of garlic/lahsun or 2&1/2 TBS garlic paste
1 large bell pepper/capsicum, roughly chopped
1 tsp Kashmiri mirch (or 1/2 tsp cayenne plus 1/2 tsp paprika)
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1/2 tsp turmeric/haldi
3/4 C water
2 TBS cooking oil of choice
1 tsp black mustard seeds/rai
salt to taste

Here's what to do:
1) Combine tomatoes, garlic, bell pepper, Kashmiri mirch, cumin seeds, turmeric, 1/2 C water and 1 tsp salt in a deep pan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover and cook over a low heat for 15 minutes.

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2) Take the pan off the heat and leave to cool for about 15 to 20 minutes.

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3) Transfer the contents of the pan to a mixie or blender and grind the mixture to a paste.

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bell pepper and tomato chutney, recipe, south indian, capsicum, tomato, fried, garlic, spicy, easy, chutney, condiment, vegan, vegetarian, indian, simple,

4) Heat the cooking oil in the same pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, add ground tomato mixture. (Be careful when adding the tomato mixture to the hot oil as it may splatter.)

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5) Fry mixture over low/medium heat for 15–20 minutes until it becomes a thick paste and separates from the oil. Salt to taste and allow chutney to cool a little before serving. This chutney will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days

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Helpful hints:
Kashmiri mirch gives this condiment a rich red chili flavor with just a hint of heat. If you'd like more heat try using cayenne powder/degi mirch. If you'd like less heat try a smoky paprika powder.

If you wanted to make this even more South Indian you could fry some fresh curry leaves in the oil with the mustard seeds.

Aug 21, 2017

Ladies in red: Time for Teej!


Last Friday the Hindu festival of Teej began in Nepal! Teej is dedicated to the Goddess Parvati and commemorates her marriage to Lord Shiva. The three day long festival is primarily celebrated by women and involves feasting, fasting, dancing, singing, worship, prayers, and ritual bathing.


Lord Shiva and his wife the Goddess Parvati are deities in Hinduism. Lord Shiva is often pictured with a serpent around his neck, adorned with a crescent moon, the holy river Ganga flowing from his hair, and a third eye on his forehead. The Goddess Parvati is often pictured as beautiful, benevolent, and wearing a red sari. She is the Hindu deity of love, devotion, and fertility. Parvati is also the daughter of King Himavan, lord of the Himalayas, and thus has special importance in Nepal. 


Teej is said to be held upon the date of the marriage of Lord Shiva to the Goddess Parvati and is symbolic of the perfect union of male and female. Thus Parvati is the primary deity of Teej which celebrates married life and family ties. Above is a photo of a Shiva-Parvati temple in Nepal. See the images of the divine couple looking out the window of their temple in the above photo.


The red velvet mite (Trombidium) is called teej or rain bugs. This insect only appears during the monsoon season. It is thought that the mite is named after the festival, or possibly vice versa. Red, green, and gold are the auspicious colors of this festival.

Unfortunately I arrived at this Teej banquet a bit late, the ladies were already feasting so I didn't get a pic of the beautiful food.
The first day of Teej is called Dar Khane Din. It is a day of feasting. In Nepali, daro khana (दर्हो खाना) means heavy or rich food and din means day. Women work hard throughout the year but not have to do anything on this day. The feast is hosted by the menfolk. The women spend the day indulging themselves in sorha singaar - dressing up in their best clothing, adorning themselves with jewelry, eating delicious food, dancing, and singing. This is the only day of the year that allows women full freedom of expression here in Nepal. Consequently, women have traditionally used this occasion to commiserate and complain in the songs they sing while dancing. The celebration sometimes goes on till midnight, after which the 24-hour fast starts.


Often women are invited to multiple feasts. They try to dance off the rich and abundant food so they can eat more. This holiday is a very rare opportunity for married women from rural villages to go to their mother’s home. Parents will send an invitation or someone to bring their daughters to their home a day or two before the festival. The daughters help to prepare of the delicacies for the feast beforehand.


The second day of Teej is the fasting day. Some women fast completely not even taking a drop of water. Some women limit themselves to fruits and liquids. The fasting is to gain divine favor. The day is also devoted to poojas and prayers. Married women dress in their very finest outfits and jewelry to pray for the longevity, peace, and prosperity of their husband and family. Unmarried women dress in their finest and pray to be blessed with a good spouse. Men are not allowed to enter the most of Shiva Temples on this day.


Many women go to the nearest Shiva temple on the second day of Teej too. The holy Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu is thronged by women in red to offer prayers to Lord Shiva. Above is a photo of ladies cueing to enter Pashupatinath temple during Teej. Don't be surprised if these ladies bust out in song and dance while waiting!


Women gather in the temple and circumambulate the lingam (pillar-like symbol of Lord Shiva) propitiating it with flowers, sweets, milk, and coins. The saucer-like dish around the base of the lingam represents the Goddess Parvati.


If a temple is not nearby beautifully decorated idols of Shiva and Parvati are offered fruits, flowers, and poojas at home. Above you see a pooja or ritual prayer ceremony by women during Teej. 


The ritual prayers beseeching favor from Shiva and Parvati can also be solitary, simple, and heartfelt as shown in the above photo. The most important part of the pooja is the oil lamp. The lamp should remain burning throughout the night. An oil lamp which burns all night is believed to bring peace and prosperity to husband and family.

Last day of Teej, ladies bathing in the sacred Bagmati river with datiwan leaves
The third and final day of the festival is called Rishi Panchami. After the completion of the previous day's pooja, women pay homage to seven saints or sages or sapta rishi and offer further prayers to deities. A special bath is taken with the leaves and red mud found on the roots of the sacred datiwan bush. This act of purification is the final ritual of Teej. After this cleansing the women are considered absolved from all their misdeeds and transgressions for the year.


Teej celebrates a wife's love and devotion towards her husband as symbolized by the union of Shiva and Parvati. Teej ushers in the advent of the rainy Monsoon season too. Everyone takes a break from the sweltering heat of the Summer to enjoy the festivities and cooling rains. The backbreaking and muddy chore of weeding the rice paddies is done. It's also a rare occasion for married women to visit their parents and return with gifts for their in-laws and spouse. As with most festivals, Teej provides an opportunity to renew family bonds.

Hope all is well wherever you're at in the world! 
Any festivities going on where you're at? Do tell!

Bibi

Aug 14, 2017

Monsoon Misery: 49 dead, 17 missing


Yep, the Monsoon is in full swing here in Nepal. Forty nine dead and seventeen missing in floods and landslides since Friday. Heavy rains are pelting northeastern India and Nepal forcing the evacuations of more than 13,000 people and threatening to trigger unprecedented river flooding. Infectious waterborne nasties are soon to follow. The death toll is predicted to rise. 

Basically here's what happens every year during the Monsoon: it rains a lot from mid June and throughout August. As in everything from torrential downpours to constant drizzling. All the rain that falls in the Himalayas drains downwards onto India. The swampy delta-like areas along the south of the Himalayas where the water drains is called the Terai. On the map above you can see the areas of the Terai highlighted in bright green along the southernmost border of Nepal. There are very few dams, drainage projects, nor any sort of water management systems in place here. 

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And this is what happens every year: the Terai floods. Every. Single.Year.

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And thousands are displaced. And rescue and relief efforts are launched.

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And lives are lost. These are the bodies of three children whom were in their house when it collapsed in a flood on Saturday. This was in the Terai town of Nepalgunj. That debris you see is what's left of the house. 

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 And livelihoods destroyed. This is a cornfield destroyed by floods in Dang on the Inner Terai on Saturday. The Terai has the most perfect rich loamy soil for growing just about any crop you could want. Every Monsoon brings new, fresh topsoil down from the Himalayas.

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And livestock destroyed. This is what's left after the flood on Saturday at a chicken farm in Dang. Another livelihood destroyed. 

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This is a section of the East-West Highway that was flooded this weekend. This is the same road we drive to Kathmandu on. 


But here in Nepal we have a saying, "Athithi Devo Bhava", which means "the guest is God." Above you see tourists being rescued on elephants. This picture was taken at the popular jungle safari resort of Sauraha in Chitwan located on the Terai. Hotels were forced to shift their guests to higher floors as water rushed in.


Around 600 tourists were stranded due to flooding. Elephants were used to transport tourists to the nearest open highway and airport to help them return to the capital Kathmandu. How's that for hospitality, eh? Supposedly the Nepali government is sending rubber rafts to help evacuation efforts. I'll bet there are more elephants in Nepal than rubber rafts!

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Doesn't look like we'll be flying anywhere soon. This is the airport at Biratnagar. I think I'll wait for the elephants.


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This was the damage when a local river overflowed it's banks in our district last Wednesday. Twelve homes were destroyed. Fortunately there were no human casualties as the village had been evacuated. But four goats, one cow, and 225 chickens were swept away.

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And life goes on. Inevitably homes will be rebuilt in the flood zone. Crops will be replanted in the flood zone. Livestock will be raised again in the flood zone. And the same thing will happen again next year. As it has for generations. Last year 102 Nepalis perished in the first week of August from floods and landslides.

We're averaging about an inch a day of precipitation in our little valley this August.  I think I'm sprouting webs between my toes! ;)
How's your Summer going?
Hope you're high & dry wherever you are!

Bibi

Aug 7, 2017

Murgh Xacuti (Goan Spiced Chicken)

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Pronounced 'sha-koo-tee,' this spicy chicken recipe comes from the tropical shores of Goa. A truly classic dish that can be found in almost all restaurants dotting the beaches, towns, and villages. Featuring a savory blend of rich coconut milk, hot red chilis, and aromatic spices- it's best served with steamed rice and mango chutney. 

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This recipe is adapted from the book Recipes from an Indian Kitchen by Parragon Books Ltd. I bought this book in Delhi's IGIA duty-free shopping area on a bargain table for about $6. I've since seen it in Target stores in Florida as well as on Amazon. It's a great cookbook for the price with 100 recipes from all across India. Most of the recipes seem to be restaurant versions of regional dishes rather than from an Indian's home kitchen. It is very well written, easy enough for beginners, and all recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs.  

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I have made a few changes my adaption of this recipe. The original instructions called for 600g of boneless and skinless chicken pieces. I've upped the quantity of chicken to 1 kg/2.2lbs and use bone-in chicken as it's more authentic. Since I increased the quantity of chicken I increased the amount of spices accordingly. The amounts of coconut milk and water were generous to begin with so I left them the same. The recipe called for whole dried red chilis to be ground but of course I changed them to Kashmiri mirch as per my Kashmiri clan's preferences. The recipe also called for the whole spices to be dry roasted before grinding. I didn't do that. I don't think the dry roasting is a necessary step when then spices are going to be fried and then simmered with the chicken anyway. It is my understanding that dry roasting the spices is only necessary in humid climates to facilitate grinding. (You can read my diatribe on why I don't dry roasting spices here.) I think I added a bit of ginger paste to the base too. That's because ginger is good for you, I love it's lemony flavor,  and most other Xacuti recipes I've perused online include it too. Anyway, this is a really easy and really delicious South Indian style chicken curry. If you're new to making curries or a seasoned pro - I'm sure you'll enjoy this recipe as much as my family does!

Ingredients:
1kg/2lbs skinless chicken pieces
3 TBS cooking oil of choice or ghee
1/2 C onion, finely diced
1 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
1 TBS ginger/adrakh paste
400ml (1 can) or 14 oz coconut milk or coconut cream
1 C water
2 tsp tamarind paste
Grind to powder for masala:
1 TBS coriander seeds/dhania
1 TBS white poppy seeds/khus khus or ground cashews
1 TBS Kashmiri mirch (or 1&1/2 tsp cayenne plus 1&1/2 tsp paprika powder)
2 tsp fennel seeds/saunf
2 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1 tsp turmeric/hali
5 green cardamoms/elaichi
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch
5 cloves/laung
1 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini, broken into small pieces (or 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon)

Here's what to do:
1) Grind coriander seeds, poppy seeds, Kashmiri mirch, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric, green cardamoms, cloves, and cassia bark to fine powder. Set aside. (I use a coffee grinder dedicated solely to grinding spices.)

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2) Heat cooking oil or ghee with 2 teaspoonfuls salt in kadhai or deep heavy bottomed skillet for 5 minutes. Add diced onions and fry until beginning to brown. Add garlic paste and ginger paste and fry for about 2 minutes or until raw smell is gone from garlic.

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3) Add ground spices for masala to the fried onions, stir well, and fry for 2 minute. Add chicken pieces to fried onion mixture in pan. Cook chicken pieces for 2 minutes on each side. If mixture begins to stick or scorch add 1/4 C water to the pan, stir well, and reduce heat.

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4) Add coconut milk and water to pan. Stir well. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low/medium and allow to simmer gently for 20 minutes.

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5) Stir in the tamarind paste and cook for 5 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Salt to taste and serve immediately. 

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Helpful hints:
You can make the spice mixture ahead of time and store it in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Gorgeous Goan coastline.

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