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Puree Magic

Photo courtesy: Shampa Das

I think of my kitchen these days more as a laboratory than a place where I slave away morning and evening.

Not only does this fulfill my deep-seated, unrealized dream of being a research scientist, it also helps me to take every botched cooking experiment as a learning experience and move on to other things without any guilt whatsoever about wasted time and resources.

I recently discovered, for instance, pureeing vegetables, especially the unpopular ones like the pumpkin and lauki, and adding other ingredients yields amazing results. The vegetables, when combined in this manner, get completely transformed beyond recognition into food items that your family enjoys eating! Isn’t that a great thing these days with sky-rocketing prices of vegetables?

Given below are some examples with pics.

Lauki Bharta

First assemble all the ingredients: chopped green onions, garlic, tomatoes, green coriander, soaked chana dal, boiled lauki, hing, whole jeera (cummin) seeds, mustard seeds.

Heat some oil in a karahi and add garlic, whole cummin, soaked chana dal, hing, and sarson.

Next, add onions.

Add green onions.

Add spices, roasted besan.

Now add tomatoes and green coriander.

Stir and add pureed lauki.

Add pao-bhaji masala. Stir and mix.

Keep stirring till oil separates and you get something like the pic on top..

Leftovers Bhaji

The pic on top is of bhaji made from leftovers, potato-beans-peas combination and pumpkin, lying idle in fridge. I mashed the combo in a karahi and treated it with tomato puree, chilli powder, and pau-bhaji masala…It tasted heavenly.ūüėä

Leftover Khichdi Pakoras

I pureed leftover Khichdi in the mixie and added besan, one chopped onion, one chopped potato, green coriander, and some spices along with salt to the batter. I added some water to adjust the consistency. I deep-fried spoonfuls of this batter and turned them into pakoras. They were amazing! See pic above.

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Jimikand Stew

Jimikand (Elephant Yam) is an ugly duckling among vegetables.

Pure vegetarians don’t like it much because of its meaty flavor while pure non-vegetarians don’t like to waste their time and energies on something that masquerades at being what it isn’t.

And those who love it don’t eat it very often either. In my complete life of 5 decades so far, I remember having eaten it only 4 times; first time as a child when Mom made it. Second time was when an office colleague brought it for lunch. I ate it with great relish on both the occasions. Third time, I tried to make it myself. It was during the Google-free era when recipes were not always readily available. Though I put in my best possible efforts, it turned out to be awful! I thought I would never cook it again.

But, as destiny would have it, in around October 2018, my husband bought some jimikand along with other vegetables at a local grocery store. It was because of one of their special offers. For several days, the jimikand sat in our fridge. Finally, when all the other veggies were over, I decided to make one more attempt at cooking it. I gathered a lot of ideas from Google.

To my great surprise, the dish turned out to be very tasty and it was made in a jiffy.

My husband said, “It tasted somewhat like the way my Mom used to make it.” I took that as a big complement as my mother-in-law was a highly-accomplished cook.

It gives me a lot of joy today as I share the recipe with you all in this post.

Process

1. Wear gloves while peeling jimikand as it causes itching on bare skin.

2. Soak the cut pieces in water and squeeze some lemon juice into it. Keep the vessel aside for about 15 minutes.

3. Take out the cut jimikand pieces and wash them well in water. Deep fry them in batches in a pressure cooker till they turn brown. Take them out out of oil once done.

4. Take out excess oil and leave just about two tablespoons of oil in the pressure cooker. Turn on the gas again. Put a half teaspoonful of whole cumin into the hot oil. Once they start crackling, add chopped onion. After they start turning pink, add chopped tomato. When the oil starts appearing on the sides, add the spices as per your taste (turmeric, chilli powder, coriander powder, jeera powder, etc). Stir a little bit. Then add the fried jimikand pieces followed by salt according to taste.

5. Add water as per required viscosity and some green coriander leaves.

6. When the water starts boiling, cover with the lid and place the whistle. After about 4 or 5 whistles, the jimikand stew would be ready.

7. Open the cooker once it cools down. Serve hot with rotis. Enjoy!‚ėļÔłŹ

Litti Kachoris

My introduction to the pleasures of Bihari cuisine happened recently in January 2018 through Litti Kachoris, thanks to Phulwanti, a tea-shop owner in Okhla.

A few days ago, as I walked briskly to my office, my gaze fell on this plateful of kachoris at a roadside stall (pic on the top). It was a chilly, wet morning of late December 2017 and the idea of munching them with a hot cup of tea felt irresistible…With great difficulty, however, I resisted the temptation and carried on…I couldn’t afford to fall sick, I reminded myself…Street food, especially the deep fried type, is a very risky thing.

But the sight of those kachoris refused to leave my mind. So, a couple of days later, I walked to that shop shortly after settling down in office. The utensils looked clean and the place had a quaintly pleasant, earthy feel to it, especially because of an adjoining huge tree spreading its protective branches over it. The woman at the counter looked up from the karahi she was busy with. She was stirring something and seemed to be enjoying what she was doing. The newspaper that the kachoris were sitting on, I noticed, was dry and not soggy with oil, which was quite intriguing…

I began by asking, “What kind of kachoris are these?”

She replied patiently, in a soft spoken manner, “These are litti kachoris. They are filled with sattu, onions, green pepper, and garlic.”

“How much are they for?”

“Two for Rs.10.”

That sounded quite reasonable.

“Today I will buy just one. If I like it, I will return for more.” Mentally, I added to myself, if my stomach remains okay, I might eat them again.”

She smiled and nodded her head. She quickly tore off a piece of newspaper and wrapped a kachori in it for me. I was again pleasantly surprised to see that it did not leave behind any oil stains on the newspaper.

Eating that kachori that morning made me feel sinfully fulfilled. My feel-good feeling continued the following week too, so I kept the promise that I had made to myself and treated myself to those kachoris again; this time it was two at one go, not just one…

I am now a frequent visitor to this shop. While talking to the lady the other day, I learnt that her name is Phulwanti. She hails from Gaya, Bihar, and she lives in a settlement in Okhla, Phase 1. The sabji, she said, she cooks everyday and it varies, depending on availabilty of ingredients. People who work in adjoining offices often order for it. That day, she was making aloo-tamatar. The smell of spices wafting outside from the karahi seemed quite familiar. Out of curiosity, I asked her in Hindi, “Kitne ki deti ho?” Meaning: How much is it for?

Her reply in a typical Bihari accent was, “Dus ki deta hoon, bees ki bhi deta hun.” Meaning: For Rs.10 and Rs.20.

Her way of mixing up the gender and her manner of stirring inside the karahi suddenly reminded me of my late mother-in-law…She always preferred the slow cooking of a karahi to a pressure cooker. That way, she insisted, the spices and the ingredients get a better chance to assimilate with each other. She always looked at cooking as an art and she was well-known in her family as a great cook. My relatives used to keep advising me to learn all I could from her regarding cooking at least!

Well, one of these days, I think, when I am unable to pack my lunch for office, I will try out her sabji.

See her pic below…Her shop is next to A-271, Okhla, Phase 1, opposite to Intex Service Center.

Birth Of A Beetroot Tikki

A few days ago, I made a beetroot chutney. It was meant to be an innovation dish. It had everything right when I began; the beetroot, green coriander leaves, green chillies, salt, jaggery (gur), and tamarind paste (imli). But when I checked the taste of the end-product, all the four main flavors, sweet, sour, hot, and salty turned out to be in excess! Even the maroon color from the beetroot had a darker shade than normal.

It was, I think, a day when I didn’t quite feel okay and my heart and mind were at loggerheads with each other. Things rarely ever work out when you are in this kind of a state of mind.

The chutney, to my great disappointment, got no takers and it sat in the fridge, unwanted and unloved. But I didn’t want to discard it. So, after much deliberation, I used it to make another dish, a plateful of beetroot and potatoes tikkis. This time, I was lucky. My family loved them and the tikkis vanished that very day itself!

Here are the step-by-step pics.

1. Add the beetroot chutney paste to mashed potatoes, chirwa (flattened rice), bread slices. I didn’t add any spices, not even salt, as the chutney already had far too much of everything. The dough that you see here has got all tastes balanced out.

 

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2. I made balls out of the dough and pressed them to make tikkis like the ones you see here.

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3. Shallow-fry the tikkis on a nonstick frying pan till they turn brown on both sides.

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4. Here is a pic of the first lot of tikkis. Enjoy!

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Arbi Leaves – A Miracle Of Nature

Last year, I planted a small piece of arbi (Colocassia) into a somewhat cracked flower pot that had been idle for several months. It was on an experimental basis and I didn’t expect anything to come out of it. 

A few days later, however, to my utter surprise, my labor bore its fruit.  A huge green leaf appeared. It was followed by a few more green leaves and my bare flower pot soon turned into a happy home occupied by a lovely family of arbi plants. I never thought planting arbi was so easy!

When the leaves began turning yellow, our gardener, who had been on long leave earlier, suggested that I keep plucking the leaves regularly and use them in my cooking.  I have been following his advice quite seriously ever since then because for a city dweller like me, being able to produce a food item sounds very exciting and gives a heady feeling of having a farm house without owning one.

Here is a simple recipe of arbi leaves (pakoras). You may not find arbi leaves in the market, so it’s best to grow your own. 

Arbi Leaves Pakora

Method: Wash the arbi leaves and chop them finely. Peel and cut two onions. Grate one potato. Mix these 3 items and add besan along with salt, ajwain, a pich of hing, and  spices as per your taste. No need to add water. Let this mixture stand for 5-10 minutes and you will see it getting wet. Mix this well and deep fry small portions of the mixture in hot refined oil. Keep turning them around till each piece turns brown all over. Take them out of oil when they are done and place them on tisssue paper to drain out excess oil. The pakoras are ready. Enjoy!

Here are the step-by-step pics.. 

The final product. Serve it with a chutney or dip of your choice.

Gavar Paratha

 

Last Sunday, during my weekly stock-taking in my kitchen, I noticed that my fridge contained a 4-day-old cooked Gavar Phali (Cluster Beans) dish. We had already had it several times already and none of my family members wanted to eat it any more. Gavar is not a very popular vegetable anyway. But I hate to waste food items, so I had to find a way out and turn it to into something else that could be eaten with great relish.

Another item sitting idle was¬†pudina (mint). I¬† had bought fresh pudina 3 days ago for making chutney. But the mixie conked out at the last minute, leaving me with a bowlful of pudina that couldn’t be stored in the fridge for too long. Its leaves turn black very soon. So I dried the leaves in the microwave oven. I used a little bit of this in a few dishes, but a lot of it was still remaining…

I decided to apply my Mom’s style of cooking that day and combined both of these items with atta, onions and spices. I kneaded the whole stuff into a dough and made parathas with it. They were delicious and all the items were over in a jiffy. Here are the pics…

  1. Mix atta (mixed grain preferable), cooked gavar vegetable (you can use boiled gavar also), chopped onions, dried pudina (you can use fresh pudina also), and spices (ajwain, salt, etc). I added only salt and ajwain, since my cooked gavar was already well-spiced.
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2. While kneading the dough, remove the gavar threads that you come across, since they might upset your stomach. This bowl that you see here contained the cooked gavar earlier, as you must have guessed from the oil and spices sticking to it. The idea of writing this post came to me only after the gavar and pudina had got mashed inside the dough…

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3. Take out rolls of dough.

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4. Roll each of these balls on a chakla like this.

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5. Shallow fry the paratha on a tawa and remove it after it turns brown on all sides.

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6. Serve the parathas with a chutney/dip of your choice.

Experiments with Oats – Part 2

Oats Upma:

 

Inspired by my recent success with Saffola Oats tikkis, I recently tried to make oats poha. Like I do with chirwa, I put the oats in a sieve and put it under running water. Unlike chirwa, however, it became too soft and when I put it on the sauted mixture of boiled potatoes, tomatoes, onions, curry leaves, green chillies, and spices, it turned into an upma! Well, something is always better than nothing,¬† isn’t it? To my pleasant surprise, not only was it quite edible, it was quite tasty.

Here are the step-by-step pics.

  1. Put oats under running water.
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2. Peel the potatoes.

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3. In a karahi, add some oil. When it gets hot, add turmeric, 1/4 teaspoonful sugar, some dry fruits,  chopped onions, curry leaves, sarson, and some green chillies.

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4. Stir a little bit and then add tomatoes and roughly mashed potatoes. You may also add some jeera powder and coriander powder.

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5. Then add the oats, stir the whole stuff well, and turn off the heat. Voila! Oats upma is ready!

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Oat Poories

A few days later, on a relaxed, leisurely Sunday, I made a second attempt at making oats poha.¬†This time, I put Saffola oats straightaway on the fried mixture without wetting them under running water. My daughter didn’t like it at all. She said it was too “dry” and felt like eating sand mixed with potatoes, onions, and tomatoes. I accepted her judgement gracefully with a smile, but I didn’t have the heart to discard it. So I quietly put it in a utensil and kept it in the fridge. While keeping the bowl there, I noticed that it had good company. It sat right next to a 2-day old black chana curry containing all the rich flavours of tomatoes, onions, and spices. An idea came to my head at that moment and I decided to use it at the earliest.

That night, I mixed the leftovers, oats poha and black chana curry, with some water in a mixie and turned the whole stuff into a paste. I mixed this paste with some atta and kneaded it all into a hard dough for making pooris. I added some salt and ajwain and kept this in the fridge.

Next morning, I made pooris out of this dough and served them hot with dry potato subzi and dahi.

Here are the pics.

The ill-fated Oats poha

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Dough of Oats poha and black chana curry

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Pooris, the end-product. (I took out little balls from the dough, dipped each one a little bit in hot oil in a karahi and flattened it with a rolling pin on a chakla. Then I deep fried each one of these and took them out after they turned brown on both sides).

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Accompaniments (dry potato subzi & curd)

Culinary Experiment No.2 – Dalia Tikki

About 5 years ago, I bought a packet of pre-roasted dalia (coarsely ground wheat) and made porridge with it. My family didn’t like it at all and the idea of making some other dalia dish, such as dalia khichdi, didn’t seem to be worth it. So the jarful of dalia remained un-utilized and its presence kept on tormenting me. Being a home-maker, I hate to see food items getting wasted. Every grain, after all, takes a lot of resources and efforts to create.

Yesterday, I checked this jar and to my utter amazement, I found the Dalia as fresh as it was 5 years ago! An idea then took shape in my mind. Inspired by my recent experiment with Murmure, I decided to make Dalia tikkis. As I had expected, they were a great hit! I had some pudina chutney in my fridge, which I had made the previous day. The two together made great company.

The best part of it, as far as I was concerned, was that I could turn an unused food item to something of great value. My jar of Dalia is empty now and I feel as though a great burden has been lifted off my shoulders.

Here are the step-by-step pics.

Step 1: Grind roasted dalia in the mixie and mix this powder with the boiled potatoes.

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Step 2: Add spices (salt, chilli powder, amchur, ginger-garlic paste), cut green chillies, green coriander leaves, chopped onion) and mix into a dough.

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Step 3: The dough is ready now.

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Step4: Take out balls from this dough and turn them into tikkis.

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Step 5: Deep fry the tikkis as I did. But if you wish, you may shallow-fry them on a non-stick pan.

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Step 6: Keep turning them over till they turn golden-brown on all sides and take them out.

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Step 7: Place the tikkis on tissue paper to drain out excess oil. Serve them with green chutney or any other dip of your choice.