Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Kalo jeera diye mach or Bengali-style salmon with black onion seeds

This is a really simple salmon recipe that my parents came up with aeons ago for cooking what was at the time a pretty unfamiliar British fish- so a true fusion dish! I'm sure it could be adapted for use with other oily fish, or indeed the more traditional Bengali rui mach. There isn't much jhol, or gravy, as such but what you do have is quite a delicately spiced dish which really compliments the rich flavour of salmon.

Recipe (enough for 2)

Around 300g of salmon, scaled and cut into large-ish chunks
A large thumb-sized piece of ginger, squashed to a paste
2 cloves of garlic, squashed to a paste
1 large dried bay leaf
1 whole green chilli, pricked a few times
Around 2 tsp black onion seeds (a.k.a. nigella, kalonji, or kalo jeera if you're Bengali)
Around 1.5 tsp turmeric
A small squirt of tomato purée
Around 1 tsp salt, or to taste
Around 1 tblsp plain oil
Couple of tbslp chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional)

Firstly marinate the fish in around 1 tsp of turmeric. Give it a good stir so it's all lightly coated, and leave it for around 30mins (or less if that's more convenient). In the meantime squish the the ginger and garlic, and mix into a paste. When you're ready to cook, heat the oil in a suitable pan (non-stick is pretty handy for this) and then put in the fish. Gently fry for a few minutes on each side to 'seal' it but not cook it fully. Take the fish out (leaving the oil in the pan) and put it the bay leaf, ginger and garlic, and chilli. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes and then add the black onion seeds, and continue to cook. After another couple of minutes, put the fish back in, sprinkle over the rest of the turmeric, and add the tomato purée with a couple of tablespoons of water. Gently mix everything together, season to taste and place over a low heat until the fish is cooked through. This will probably take 5 to 10 minutes depending on the size of your fish pieces.

Once cooked, take off the heat and stir in the coriander if you're using it. Serve with plain boiled rice, and maybe some vegetables, while contemplating the the brilliance of kalo jeera.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Ful kopi daata torkari or Bengali-style cauliflower stalks

The Bengalis have been chomping their way through fish bones and bits of indigestible vegetable for centuries now. Something I've never quite got my fussy head around #BengaliFail

But there are a few things which I have come round to, and this dish of cauliflower with its stalks is one of them. I guess it is the vegetable equivalent of nose-to-tail eating, as it uses the entire cauliflower with very little waste. In fact you can make it totally sans florets (and use those for something else), but I prefer to save about half of them and have it as a more mixed dish. You can also add in other vegetables- as peas or butternut squash which work particularly well.

This dish also uses the typical Bengali spice blend of panch phoron. This is a mixture of whole fenugreek, cumin, mustard, fennel, and black onion seeds, and is used in a range of vegetable dishes. I am reliably informed that this is available in Waitrose, (or any Indian grocery shop).

Recipe (plenty for 2):

2 dried bay leaves
Around 2-3 tsps panch phoron
1 tsp turmeric
Stalks from one medium cauliflower and around half the florets
Around a tblsp of fresh ginger, crushed into a paste
1 whole green chilli
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1-1.5 tblsp plain oil, such as sunflower.

Firstly prep your cauliflower by removing any outer leaves or stalks that look all shrivelled up and inedible, and then start cutting away at the inner stalks to reach the florets. Cut the florets away from the core and set aside any you're saving for later. Slice up the stalks into medium pieces that aren't too thick, and do the same with the core. The cauliflower florets should be cut into smaller pieces too, but nothing too tiny as you don't want them to disintegrate in the pan. Once you've got the ginger crushed and ready, you're ready to cook. Heat up the oil in a large pan, and when it's hot (but not smoking) put in the bay leaves and panch phoron seeds. Reduce the heat if needed so that nothing scorches. When the seeds start to pop a little, put in the ginger and then the cauliflower stalks and florets and chilli, and give everything a good stir. Add the salt and turmeric, turn the heat down, put  a lid on the pan, and allow to cook for around 15 minutes. Check on it during this time, and if it looks like anything is catching, add a little water and stir well. The torkari is done when the stalks and florets are both tender and fully cooked through. If you wanted to add some peas, wait until the cauliflower is cooked before putting them in. But if you were using squash, give this a head start and add it in first, allowing it to cook for around 10 minutes before putting in the cauliflower. Serve with rice, other Bengali things, or chapatis.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Cholar dal- Bengali-style lentils

Coming back from a trip to India always results in an immediate upsurge in the amount of Indian and Bengali food that I cook, so that's going to be reflected in the next few blog posts.

As I child I pretty much detested all forms of dal, and especially the patla, thin dals my mother made with giant pieces of ginger in them. Luckily for me I discovered cholar dal at some point. Cholar dal is somehow quite 'meaty' in taste, and rich with ghee and coconut. It's often a 'celebration dal' served at wedding meals, but is also great with plain rice and a papar/poppadom. Anyway, here's the sort of loose recipe that I use, but as ever with Indian food do feel to adjust the flavours (within reason) if you want.

Recipe (easily enough for 4-6 depending on what else you're eating):

Around 250g cholar dal lentils (Natco are a good brand for this)
Around 500ml water

1.5 tblsp ghee
1-2 small bay leaves
3-4 cardamom pods, split
2-3 small pieces Indian cinnamon/cassia bark
2 tblsp fresh coconut, chopped into small pieces
1-2 large, whole, dried Indian red chillis
0.5 tsp turmeric
0.5 tsp salt (or to taste)

Firstly, cook the dal with plenty of water until it is completely tender and cooked through. I do this on a very low simmer on the hob, and it takes around 30-40 minutes, starting with around double the volume of water to lentils. This should all be absorbed by the time the dal is cooked through, but keep an eye on it and make sure you top up the water if needed and give it the occasional stir to stop it sticking on the bottom of your pan. If you're proficient with pressure cookers, you'll probably be able to reduce this step to 10-15 minutes. Whichever way you do things, you should end up with quite a thick (but still  liquid) mixture, which you can leave to the side to cool.

To season the boiled lentils, warm the ghee in a small pan and add all the whole spices and pieces of coconut. Cook gently until the coconut is slightly browned. Once everything is lightly toasted, add in the turmeric and cook for another minute to coat everything in the yellow powder, and then tip it all into the pan of lentils. Add the salt, and stir the lentils and the flavourings together. If the dal is getting a bit too thick then add a bit of extra water, and check the seasoning, while you you warm it over a gentle heat. Serve with rice, saag, and something fried, or whatever else you fancy really.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Hello 2014!

I've been a little quiet on the blogging front recently- I attribute it to being in India last month, general hectic-ness around the Christmas break, and laziness.
Anyway here is a quick photo update on my recent eatings.

Kolkata involved a lot of family meals, a wedding, and copious visits to mishti dokans. This led to me experiencing the chocolate sandesh via Balaram Mullick for the first time- and I declare it to be surprisingly good.

Christmas dinner involved a highly indulgent Indian meal, with some Bengali and north Indian standards- saag, cholar dahl, prawn biriyani (which turned into more of a pilao rice really), tandoori-style salmon, and paneer tikka. New year went heavy on the seafood, and light on the crazy partying.

Anyway, here's to 2014 and whatever it might bring!

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Rice Boat, Cambridge, UK- A return visit

It's been a while since I've been to The Rice Boat, but rumours of increasingly dubious service and variations in food quality have been widespread. The last time we did go they had no parathas, dosas, uppams, chapattis, or utthappams available, and we encountered a rather unpleasantly (rather than comically) rude server. And despite my love of the masala dosa I've not made much effort to head to that side of Cambridge lately.

But the other week, the Male Companion Person and I were in the area, and decided that The Rice Boat would make an excellent venue for discussing the Werner Herzog film we'd just seen, as well as dinner. Not much has changed- the tables are looking increasingly scratched and careworn, the door still doesn't close properly (though the waiting staff were on the case with shutting it and minimising icy gales), service is still kind of sketchy (you're not allowed to have fresh cutlery between starters and main courses), but the food is still really good! Well most of it. The pepper fry squid starter was incredibly bland and didn't appear to have been seasoned with anything. It was sort of alright when eaten along with the fried, salted whitebait though. But the main courses were back on top form. I had my usual masala dosa, which was light and generously stuffed with gently spiced potato, and came with two coconut chutneys and sambar. And the MCP had his usual Kerela red fish curry, which was super-spicy as anticipated. We also shared a small green bean thoren and an aubergine theeyal. I was particularly taken with the latter, and it's combination of aubergine, tamarind and coconut.

Service that night was perfectly functional (apart from the weird cutlery rule), and our bill was around £50, including drinks but not service. So not a huge bargain, but perfectly reasonable considering the amount of food that was consumed. And despite everything, Rice Boat definitely do make the best masala dosa in Cambridge.

Rice Boat
37 Newnham Road
Cambridge CB3 9EY

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Courgette carbonara

I spotted several recipes for making 'spaghetti' with courgettes ages ago, but put them out of my mind due to the loss of my 'julienne-ing' device (basically a potato peeler but with a segmented blade). But when it miraculously reappeared in the drawer from which it had previously vanished, I took it as a sign. Of course courgette spaghetti is nothing like proper pasta, but it can be cut into long strips and doesn't fall apart once cooked. It's therefore ideal for gluten-free-ers, or anyone wanting a lighter alternative to a proper carbonara.
I don't eat meat, so actually I've never had a 'proper' carbonara, but this is my completely inauthentic pescatarian version.

Recipe (enough for two with leftovers):

3 medium courgettes
2-3 tblsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
Around 200g chestnut mushrooms, thickly sliced
1 50g tin anchovies in olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
300ml creme fraiche
Around 100g finely grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Firstly use the most appropriate instrument you have to hand eg food processor, sharp knife, julienne peeler, to make your courgette spaghetti. Dress the courgettes with a couple of spoons of olive oil to stop any discolouration, and put to one side. Mix the egg yolk thoroughly with the creme fraiche, and most of the cheese, and add plenty of black pepper and a little salt. Make sure you have your garlic and mushrooms, prepped and ready to go. Firstly cook the courgettes a little- put a tablespoon or so of oil in a large pan (non-stick works well for this) over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, add in the courgettes and cook for around 5 minutes. The courgettes should have softened but not be fully cooked through. Tip them out into a bowl and put the pan back on the heat. Next add the anchovies and all their oil into the pan, cook over a medium heat until the anchovies start breaking up, and then put in the garlic and mushrooms. Cook over a high-ish heat so that the mushrooms fry and take on some colour. Once they've done this, add the courgettes back in and continue to heat over a medium-high flame until they are cooked to your liking (they should hold together and not turn to pulp). When cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche mix. The residual heat from the pan should loosen this thick mixture, and coat the courgette strands. And that's it! Have a taste and add more salt and pepper if  needed, and then serve with a little extra Parmesan on the top.

You can make this dish properly vegetarian by omitting the anchovies, and using something like chopped fresh basil or thyme, or some dried herbs instead; and by using a veggie-friendly Italian-style hard cheese.

This would make a great non-stodgy summer dish, when there is often a glut of courgettes about. But I ate it last week in November, whilst wearing a jumper, and that seemed to work fine too.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Afternoon Tease, Cambridge, UK

Just a quick post for now, alerting folk to the opening of a new cafe in Cambridge. It still doesn't seem like that long ago that I was enjoying Jo Kruczynska's food as one half of the Plate Lickers supperclub team. And now she has her own cafe!

Located on King's Street in the centre of Cambridge, I popped into the eponymous Afternoon Tease when it had only been open for a week or so. However, everything was already working like a well-honed machine, and I was soon ensconced by a table with a cup of tea and a chocolate brownie. The cafe isn't huge inside, but makes the most of the available space, and most importantly (on the basis of my first visit) serves excellent hot drinks and cakes. I am full of admiration for Ms Afternoon Tease herself, for getting this project off the ground so quickly, and hope to be back for another visit soon.

Afternoon Tease
13 King Street
Cambridge CB1 1LH