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    Tuesday, 16 February 2021

     


    It is intensely cold in Edmonton, as I write, and all I can think of is hot, comforting street food from India. I decided to put a call out on Facebook, asking people what they would like to see next on here, a spicy chilli paneer or beef biriyani and the winner was the chilli paneer. I'll get around to the biriyani, I promise, but it is the time for the chilli paneer to shine. 

     

    One of my favourite memories of chilli paneer are from a roadside stall in a tiny locality in Delhi called Ber Sarai. Right next to the border of IIT Delhi and JNU (my alma mater), this little self-contained strip mall had a bunch of internet cafes that we used to use... remember, my student days were well before the internet was commonplace in India, and internet cafes were a bit thing. Oh, and Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, remember them? I used to trudge to Ber Sarai almost every other day to check my email, and meet up with my community on Harlequin online (oh, man, I really am going down a memory rabbit hole here). Harlequin online was the online community chat devoted to Harlequin romances of which I had a pile, plus I used to read their online and weekly stories pretty much everyday (for longer than I care to admit, mind). Their online chat community was pretty active, and was a massive part of my life growing up, and I still have find memories of the ladies on it helping me through my teenage and early twenties angst.


    Back to chilli paneer, though, Ber Sarai was also where I went to cheap Chinese-style Indian food. There was a street vendor right outside the internet and the printing cafe who made the best noodles and chilli paneer, and it was to this taste I turned to when I was developing my recipe. I wanted to keep this recipe super simple, as roadside chilli paneer is not complicated. My version does not faff around with cornstarch and deep frying, instead relying on a simple combination of sauces and some high heat wok frying to keep the dish simple and uncomplicated. I use Maggi chilli sauce in this recipe, as that's what the Ber Sari chilli paneer man used to use, but you can substitute Sriracha instead (note, this will make it a little spicier, but you can add more ketchup to balance). If you do want to use Maggi, then you can find it at any Indian or Asian grocer. Just use the classic red version. I also use dark soy sauce, the darker the better for the depth of salty flavour to this paneer. The other difference in my version is I skip deep frying the paneer first, as I find it an unnecessary step. Using the paneer fresh will make it fray a bit, but if you use a high enough heat, it should caramelize the sauces and the paneer will absorb the sauces better than if you deep fried it. 


    So there you have it. My little ode to the heat of Delhi summers and the joy of eating fresh noodles and chilli paneer right there from the roadside dhaba.



    Easy Chilli Paneer 
     
    2 tablespoons neutral oil 
    2 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 inch piece of ginger, grated
    1 small hot green bird’s eye chili, chopped
    1 medium onion, chopped
    1 green pepper, chopped 
    400 g paneer (1 pack) cubed
    2 tablespoons chilli sauce (I use Maggi, use Sriracha if you don’t have this sauce)
    2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
    1 tablespoon ketchup (2 if you're using Sriracha)
    Small handful of fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish
     
    Method: 
     
    Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok, or a large frying pan. 
     
    Add the garlic, ginger, and bird's eye chili, and saute for a minute. 
     
    Add the green pepper and onion, and stir fry for a couple minutes. 
     
    Increase the heat to hot. Add the paneer and the sauces. 
     
    Stir and fry together on a high heat, for an additional 5 minutes, until the paneer is hot and soft and gently fraying around the edges, and the sauce has thickened and coats the paneer and vegetables. 

    Serve hot garnished with fresh cilantro. 

     
     

    Wednesday, 20 January 2021

     
    This is the only butter chicken recipe you'll need. Yes, I know that it is a strong claim to make, but seriously, I have been working on perfecting this recipe for over five years now, and I finally think I have nailed it. I used many references when working on this recipe. I started working with the Moti Mahal's tandoori chicken recipe as my base recipe to start with (from Monish Gujral's - the grandson of the founder of Moti Mahal, Kundan Lal Gujral - book 'On the Kebab Trail'). I played around with this recipe for a long time, perfecting a tandoori chicken spice mix that is now very close to my butter chicken spice mix.

    The Moti Mahal is where butter chicken originated. Cooks tossed leftover tandoori chicken marinade with butter and tomato to make a thick creamy sauce, which envelopes tender pieces of chicken that literally melt in your mouth. I visited the Moti Mahal as much as I could (I was a poor student, remember, and eating out all the time, or for that matter even visiting Daryaganj, was not always in my budget). The other place I went to a lot was a little dhaba-style cafe in my university called KC (Kamal Complex). Quraishi, the owner, made the best Mughlai food. JNU students will remember KC fondly, though, they will argue over which dhaba made the best butter chicken and naan. For me, it was Quraishi's KC's butter chicken, and I naturally turned to that taste for inspiration when I was developing this recipe. 
     
    Eagle eyes will have already noticed a butter chicken recipe on this website, and you're right, and that one is also a winner. But this one has a few elements different to it. One, I make a butter chicken spice mix, which once made, makes your life so much easier, and makes for the best butter chicken. Second, this recipe is actually a lot easier, as it utilises a few little shortcuts like using passata and cashew butter to add the authentic flavour without all the work. And finally, the older recipe was written while live blogging, so it can be a little confusing at times, but this one should be a lot more straightforward and easier to follow.

    Essentially this recipe is two recipes in one. First you'll be making a tandoori chicken, with the marinated chicken. Then you mix the grilled chicken with the butter sauce, and voila! Butter chicken. The key is getting the spicing of the butter sauce just right. It has to be deeply savoury, but with a hint of sweetness, fragrant with fresh spices, just a titch tangy, rich, with a full flavour from the cream and butter.
     
    Here's the thing, this recipe might look long and complicated to make, but in all honesty, once you make the spice mix, it literally takes less than 15 minutes to prep, and less than 45 minutes to make. It really is that simple. The best part is that it tastes even better the next day, gently warmed up with splashes of cream to loosen the thick sauce, so you can well make it in advance.
     
    PS - Here's a little cheat tip which will make your life and this recipe even easier. If you don't feel like making the butter chicken spice mix from scratch, then use shop bought tandoori masala. Just keep an eye on the salt levels, as shop bought masalas tend to be already salted. I recommend Everest Tandoori Masala, if you can find it. Just remember, it won't taste the same as this one (okay, promise, I'll stop guilting you).


     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
    Butter Chicken Spice Mix 
     
    8 mild long red Kashmiri chillies
    2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
    1 tablespoon whole cumin seed
    1 teaspoon whole black pepper
    1 teaspoon whole cloves
    ½ tablespoon whole cardamom pods (use half pod of black cardamom instead, if you wish for a smokier flavour)
    1 teaspoon whole fenugreek seeds
    3, 2 inch sticks of cinnamon or cassia bark
    1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
    1 teaspoon dried ground garlic
    ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
    ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
    3 - 4 tablespoons plain paprika (for colour)

    Toss together the first eight ingredients, one by one, in a hot, heavy pan, for between 30 seconds - 1 minute, until each of the spices smell fragrant. Remove to a bowl and let cool completely.

    Transfer to a powerful blender or a spice grinder, and add the remaining ground spices.

    Blend to a smooth powder. Transfer to an airtight spice jar, and store in a cool dark place.

     

    Butter Chicken 

     

    Chicken and Marinade:

    12 skinless, boneless, chicken thighs, cut into 2/3 pieces (about 1.5 kgs)
    3 tablespoons butter chicken spice mix
     
    1 teaspoon, or to taste, salt
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    2 teaspoons canola oil

    (Mix the spice mix, salt, lemon juice and oil, and marinate the chicken pieces in this for at least half hour, or overnight)

    Sauce:
    2 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
    1 tablespoon butter
    1 small onion, finely diced
    3 cloves garlic, crushed
    1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
    ¼  teaspoon ground cloves
    ¼  teaspoon ground cardamom
    ¼  teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 tablespoons of butter chicken spice mix
    1½ cups of tomato passata (or crushed tomatoes, that have been blended to a paste)
    ½ cup chicken stock
    ½ cup hot water, as requuired
    2 tablespoons cashew butter
    ½ cup whole milk
    ¾ teaspoon sugar
    1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)
    ¼ cup coffee cream (18% cream) or whipping/ heavy cream
    Salt to taste
    Small handful fresh cilantro, chopped, to garnish

    Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking tray or cookie sheet with aluminum foil and spray with oil. Place the chicken pieces in one layer on the sheet and bake for 20 minutes, turning once. You can also grill the chicken on a barbecue for extra depth of flavour, if you wish. Grill for 15 - 20 minutes, turning once. 

    To make the sauce, heat the oil and butter in a pot, and add the onion. Fry for 7 minutes on a medium high heat, then add the garlic and ginger paste. Fry for 1 minute, then add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and spice mix.

    Fry for 30 seconds, then add the tomato sauce. Season with a little salt, stir and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring, until the mixture is thick. Add the chicken stock, stir well, and turn the heat down to a low simmer. You might need to add the hot water as well, to loosen the sauce a bit.

    Whisk the cashew butter with the milk - you might have to heat it up in the microwave a little to loosen the paste. Add to the sauce and stir.

    Stir in the sugar. Taste and season with more salt and add the dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi).

    Add the grilled chicken pieces to the sauce, scraping any charred bits or juices into the sauce too. Stir, and season to taste again, if required.

    Simmer on a low heat, stirring every so often for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked and tender, and the sauce is thick and creamy.

    Add the cream and cilantro, stir and serve. 

    Monday, 30 November 2020


    There is nothing like the heat of a vindaloo to take you straight to the beaches of Goa. One of my favourite memories of Goa is heading down there with all my friends and eating deliciously spicy food right on the beach. The heat of the food, with spiced rum and port wines that Goa is known for, along with the cool breezes off the beaches were always a sensation to be savoured. Vindaloo is probably one of the more popular Indian dishes known in the West, but it can also be one of the more misunderstood ones. In the West, a vindaloo is pretty much known for straight heat and spice, but in truth, a vindaloo is probably one of the most nuanced Indian dishes that I know of. 

     


    Of Portuguese - Goan origin, just like me, I like to joke, a vindaloo is an Indian adaptation of the classic Portuguese 'Carne de Vinha d' Alhos' (meat with wine and garlic), and known as a traveller's dish. Traditionally made with pork, it has been adapted to be made with pretty much all kinds of meats. When Canadian Turkey (check out more of their fantastic recipes here) gave me the brief for this post, South Asian flavours, I knew almost immediately that I'd be making a turkey vindaloo. Turkey, after all, is a meat that absorbs flavours perfectly, and is just the right texture for this dish. 

    Wednesday, 19 August 2020


    Tehari Kofta biriyani
    Last week as I was browsing through Facebook, I came across my old school friend Heena's picture and post about this delicious Bangladeshi-style tehari biriyani. Being a biriyani fiend myself, I had to beg Heena for a recipe, and she shared a YouTube video on the making of the recipe, and I was intrigued, as well as suddenly very nostalgic and hungry. 
     
    Tehari style, in Bangladesh refers to rice and meat (mutton, beef, lamb, or chicken) cooked on a low heat, and them mixed together to make a flavourful rice dish. It's a cross between and pulao,  in which all ingredients are cooked together, and a biriyani, in which ingredients are cooked separately and then layered. In India and Pakistan, tehari refers pretty much to a spicy rice and meat dish. 

    I have called my dish a tehari-style dish, as I use the tehari technique of cooking the meat in a flavourful sauce (and this can be pretty much a separate dish in itself), and then layering half-cooked rice on top, and finishing in the oven. So strictly, this is an adaptation of the method. I also substituted cream for yogurt, as I didn't have any, and made a few tweaks, to adjust to my family's spice tolerance. i had homemade biriyani spice mix, so I didn't need any additional mixes, other than some extra nutmeg to give the dish its characteristic fragrance, but a traditional tehari style biriyani will have more spices. 
     

    Tuesday, 9 June 2020

    Before we get to the sharbat part, the stories need to be told.I've always spoken fondly about our summer vacations in our grandparents' home in the village. The village is about a couple hours give or take from my home town, and used to be a quiet, sleepy place that only came alive during it's annual church festival. Every summer though, after the report cards were delivered to the house, and the usual congratulations/ recriminations were doled out, mother packed us up that weekend, and off we went to the crowded, dusty bust stand. Various drivers and conductors added to the cacophony of the stand, yelling out destinations and times, and fares, honking their horns to indicate a determination to depart, whether or not you got on board. There is no rhyme or reason to the bus stand. You just have to catch a bus, and hope it takes you to where you want to go. My mom, of course, being the expert, bundled us into the best (and fastest, shudder) bus, and off we went, my sister and I fighting over who would get the window seat. An hour and half later, the bus screeched to an almost halt, dumping us off on the side of a deserted village road, from where we we found our way to our grandparents' home.

    It was about an hour's dusty, hot walk there, or joy of joys, we found an autorickshaw who would consent to taking us till the churchyard close to the house. On the non-rickshaw days, we trudged along the road, hot and annoyed and bugging my mom no end, covering ourselves in copious amounts of red dust along the way. If my mother was feeling generous, we cut our journey in half, as she led us through the cooler forest way, as opposed to the road.

    The forest way was certainly an adventure. You had to know the right place to leave the road and climb the hills that blanketed the side of the road. Then follow a faint trail, that led to a larger trail. once we hit the larger trail, a few minutes later, we had to find the right place to turn into the forest again, and this was always my favourite part. The trees were scrubby, but dense, cashew trees, mango and eucalyptus, playing in the faint breeze, canopied and so much cooler. We knew our way through the trees, following the right shaped ones though the forest floor.

    Every so often, if the time was right, there was a brilliant flowering tree, right at the edge of where we turned off to head into the path that would take us to the house. This tree, it had a veritable waterfall of bright yellow flowers. We gazed longingly at it, until my mom gave us permission to climb it, and gather handfuls of the flowers. I remember my mother one time, that cynically ruthless, practical woman, turning back to look wistfully at the tree. When I asked her why she looked back, her face softened, as she muttered, "it's such a beautiful tree"... this look of my mom's made her so much more human than the superhuman mother we were used to, that I still remember that moment, thirty odd years later.

    When we finally made it to the house, all hot and sweaty and so thirsty, we plopped down on the cool stone verandah, fans blowing air all around us, and listened for my grandmother, whose voice told us to get into the kitchen and drink the sharbat waiting for us. Oh that cold, tangy, sweet drink that soothed our parched throats and gave us the energy to start exploring.

    Now I am not going to handing out recipes for sharbat. Every Indian worth their garam masalas knows that sharbat is a form of long, cold, non-fizzy drink. Ideally, made with some sort of home made or shop bought concentrate, not fruit juice, mind - though, there have been mutterings about lime juice being a sharbat - but otherwise, anything goes. In our grandparents' house it was made with bindan concentrate. Bindan, a fruit similar to the rambutan, but without the spiky exterior, grew wild in the woods behind the house. Every so often, an enterprising cousin would knock down a load of fruit with a stick and a hook. We ate the creamy interior fruit, and kept the smooth, plum coloured shells. Grandmother would dry the shells with sugar, then boil them down to a thick, sweet/ tangy syrup, which then became bindan sharbat, when mixed with sugar and the cold spring water that fed the house. When the bindan syrup was not available, we had cold, sweet lime juice instead. Served in cold steel tumblers, every sharbat was a delight to all the senses, as we slowly got used to the cool, dark interior of the house we would spend summer in.

    Roohafza, on the other hand, is the more well known shop bought version of a sharbat, though, families had their own recipes for this drink, debates to be had on whether or not you should add lemon to it. My mom never did, but I have, and I find that the citrus cuts through the almost overwhelming floral nature of this syrup.

    The other popular addition to sharbat, was basil seeds. We had basil seeds growing wild on the roadsides, and every so often, we would go and shake out a bunch of dried seeds that we could plop into the sharbats, watchins, as they grew fat and fuzzy, similar to chia seeds. They were considered fairly cooling and healthy, so a handful was almost always kept on hand to add to cold drinks.

    I debated whether to add a recipe to this post, honestly, I did. I mean, how hard is it to add concentrate to water and make a sharbat? Not hard, right? So, sorry, no recipe, but more of instructions.

    Recipes: 

    Add lime juice to water. Sweeten with sugar and drink cold.
    If you can find it, add bindan syrup and sugar to water, to taste. Stir and drink cold.
    Add a teaspoon of Roohafza to cold water. Stir in a teaspoon of lime juice and drink chilled.
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