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.