Unusual is Good: Aloo-Gobi (Potatoes and Cauliflower)

finishedSo WordPress tells me that it has been 6 months since I last published a post, and frankly that’s quite pathetic. Blogging lately, along with becoming fluent in French and working out more is something that I keep saying I want to do but can never fully commit to. Sure, I’ve been busy; I moved to the East Coast in August to start grad school, and it can be hard to both slay the role of an aspiring scientist and maintain an on point food and travel game, but I have had time to write here and there. I literally took these photos almost four months ago, but for some reason, it has been a struggle to bring myself on here and write about them. Why have I become such a bad father to my first born?

This is not a comeback so much as it is a desperate need within me to keep the creative spiritspiced up alive. I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, but writing on here has been the easiest way for me to commit to a change. Let’s hope we can get more of that moving forward.

I have been told that my aajibaa (maternal grandmother) was a fantastic cook, and while there were many dishes she was known for, the one that my mother always seemed to make for us growing up was humble aloo gobi. It’s almost too simple in some ways. Potatoes and spicescauliflower, stained yellow from a good dose of earthy turmeric, are quickly stir-fried with some whole spices and then finished off with plenty of fresh ginger, green chilies, and cilantro. The tempering of the hot oil with cloves at the start is an addition that many would find unusual, but it was my grandmother’s unique touch. I don’t know why she chose to add them, but these cloves are now a family tradition, one that I shall proudly keep alive.

Recipe: Aloo Gobicover

Ingredients

  • 2-3 tablespoons neutral-tasting oil
  • pinch of asafoetida (hing), optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 green chili (jalapeno, serrano, Thai), diced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced fine
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt, to taste

potatoesMethod

  1. In a large frying pan, skillet, or wok, heat the oil over high heat. Once hot, add the asafoetida, followed by the cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and cloves and allow the spices to toast in the oil until highly aromatic, about 1 minute.
  2. Proceed to add the potatoes, stirring and pan-frying in the oil until softened and golden-brown, about 1o minutes.
  3. Add the ground turmeric and coriander, and stir for a minute to coat the potatoes.
  4. Now add the cauliflower florets and stir the entire mixture around, making sure that the vegetables and spices have incorporated well with each other. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 15 more minutes, undisturbed, till the cauliflower and potatoes are tender.
  5. Gently toss the vegetables with the ginger, green chilies, and cilantro. Season to taste with salt.

Cooking Notes

  • Aloo Gobi can be served as a main dish with some chapati or naan, or as a hearty accompaniment to some dal and rice.
  • The biggest mistake people make when cooking aloo gobi is to continuously stir it after the cauliflower has been added. This will only cause the florets to break up and your dish to subsequently reassemble a mushy mess. After you have incorporated the vegetables and spices together (you’ll know you’ve achieved this because the turmeric will stain them yellow), LET THEM BE.
  • You might also notice that no water is added here. Aloo Gobi is supposed to be a dry dish. Any water needed to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the pan is created through the condensation generated under the lid when the vegetables are covered. It’s that simple!
  • As I have mentioned before, the cloves are a unique touch as is the addition of ginger and green chilies at the end rather than before. I feel, as does my mother, that keeping these pungent ingredients rather raw adds a vibrant pop of flavor to an otherwise, tame dish of sauteed potatoes. It may not be something practiced by some of your other Indian friends and family members, but variation is what truly keeps family recipes genuine!

 

 

 

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Sunday Salan: Classic Murgh Masala (Chicken Curry)

DSCN1540I have warm memories growing up of my mother preparing this sort of curry in some shape or form almost every Sunday. Back when we were younger and less adventurous, this was our non-veg meal of choice. Sometimes they would be potatoes, sometimes we would have it with bread, and sometimes we would have it for dinner. It’s the best meal for a lazy Sunday afternoon, one where all you want to do is eat, drink a few beers, binge on Netflix, and then fall asleep in front of the TV. Too bad I don’t have time for that in college because if I did, I’d assure you that not a lot of work would be getting done!

Enjoy this as next Sunday’s salan (gravy)!

Recipe: Classic Murgh Masala 

My take on a traditional North Indian chicken curry. 

Serves 4

DSCN1515Ingredients

  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 Serrano pepper, use Thai or bird’s-eye peppers for more heat
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, adjust to personal preferences
  • 6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 6 cloves
  • 2, inch-long, flat cinnamon sticks (desi cinnamon)
  • 6-9 whole black peppercorns
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 14 oz crushed tomatoes
  • salt, to taste
  • 1.5 pounds boneless and skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried fenugreek (kasuri methi) leaves, optional
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems, finely chopped
  • lime wedges, for garnish

Method

Place the onion, Serrano pepper, garlic, and ginger into a blender or food processor and grind until the mixture resembles a fine, but not liquidy, paste

Heat the oil in a, large heavy-bottom pot, such as a dutch oven or a Moroccan tagine, over medium-high heat. Once hot add the DSCN1522cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and peppercorns. Allow the whole spices to sizzle in the oil for minute before adding the blended onion, serrano pepper, and ginger-garlic mixture. Saute this wet masala mixture over medium-high heat for about 8-10 minutes, till the onions are starting to brown. 

Add the bay leaves, turmeric, cumin, coriander, and salt to the wet masala and cook out these spices for a minute before adding the crushed tomatoes to free any browned bits sticking to the pan. Continue cooking this mixture, stirring continuously and adding about 1/2 cup of water in intervals, for about another 10 minutes over high heat, till an oily sheen begins to appear on the surface.

DSCN1528Add the chicken pieces and mix vigourously to coat the pieces in the masala. Brown the chicken over high heat for another 10 minutes. Then add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of water (enough to create a sauce) and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the curry over low heat for another 20 minutes, till the chicken has cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly. Adjust the seasoning at this stage if needed.

Add the dried fenugreek leaves, if using, and cook for another five DSCN1535minutes. Garnish the curry with fresh cilantro leaves and serve with steamed rice or crusty baguette slices to mop up all of the delicious juices. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice on top. 

 

Feeling Cozy: Homestyle Salmon Curry

DSCN1145It’s very rare that I find the need to have an “occasion” in order to prepare something special. After all, how can we possibly show our love for others if we don’t find time to love ourselves? I decided to take a dish perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon and make at a whim on a stress-free Thursday night. Easy midweek gratification for an overworked college student.

I’d say that this curry only requires about 30 minutes to make, provided that you have all your mis en place in order. I chose to puree my onions, ginger, and garlic in the food processor, both to save time and to create a DSCN1125smooth base that would serve as the aromatic beginnings to this curry, enriched with dressings of coriander, turmeric, and a little curry powder for good measure. Do prep DSCN1115your salmon before you start. Cut it into chunks and let it marinate for a bit in turmeric, paprika, and salt. Revered cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey (whose daughter, Sakina, is excellent on House of Cards) says that turmeric helps to draw the fishiness out of fish and believe me it does, along with adding a wonderful smokiness to it all.

I added some potato into the mix, mostly to add some bulk because the salmon I was working with was particularly ratty. I guess that’s what happens when you buy your fish at a discount grocery store. However, a good piece of salmon can easily hold its own in this dish, so just add a little more if you want to omit the potato. Either way, this recipe will transport you to a balmy beachfront, where life is easy and the food is excellent.

Recipe: Homestyle Salmon CurryDSCN1150

Ingredients

For the Salmon

  • 3/4 pound salmon filet, cut into chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot paprika
  • salt and pepper, to taste

DSCN1139For the Curry:

  • 1 medium onion, coarsely pureed
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and pureed
  • 2 cloves of garlic, pureed
  • 1/2 of a Serrano, jalapeno, or Thai chili pepper
  • 1/4 cup diced tomatoes
  • 2 small-medium red potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or hot paprika
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk, adjust to your liking
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
  • salt to taste

Method

Begin by prepping the salmon. Remove the skin, if any, and cut into 1-2 inch chunks. Place the salmon pieces in a bowl and toss with the turmeric, cayenne/paprika, and salt. Allow the salmon to sit and marinate while you prepare the curry.

To make the curry, start by throwing the onion, ginger, garlic, and chili pepper into the food processor. Process until smooth but not completely liquefied (a little coarseness is fine).

DSCN1130Heat some oil (about 2-3 tablespoons) in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Once hot, add the mustard seeds (if using) and allow them sputter and crackle in the oil for a minute or two, being careful not to burn them. Then add the onion/ginger/garlic mixture and cook until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the turmeric, ground coriander, cayenne/paprika, and curry powder, cooking out the spices for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and some water to loosen any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan and cook out this wet masala until an oily sheen begins to appear along the edges, about 5 minutes. At this point, add the potatoes and enough water to cover them (about a 1/2 cup or so) and the coconut milk. Bring this mixture to a boil and reduce to a simmer, cooking for about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and knife tender. If the water has reduced substantially, add some more to regenerate a sauce. Add the salmon pieces and cook for another five minutes, till the fish is completely cooked through. Adjust to taste with salt and more coconut milk if needed. The essence is that you want the coconut flavor to be there, but you don’t want the curry to be overtly creamy. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve your salmon curry warm over steamed basmati rice.

Cooking Notes:

  • If you don’t have black mustard seeds on hand, that’s okay. I like the slight bitterness they add. Also, I feel that the DSCN1124combination of mustard seeds and coconut milk gives this curry a distinct South Indian note. However, the overall flavor of your curry won’t suffer if you omit them.
  • This curry could also work well with a firm-fleshed white fish, such as cod, or comparable pink-fleshed fishes such as Arctic char or trout.

Love (3rd edition): Sweet Potato and Chocolate Halwa

imageNormally, I try to make it a point to post some sort of romantic/cute/sexual/whatever you want to call it recipe around Valentine’s Day. Almost always, I’m late, as witnessed with the last two years’ posts, both variations on a baked ziti. This year I shall set an unprecedented delay of posting five days after the big event. Oh well, learn to deal with it because this recipe is equally delicious, and certainly deserves to be made, all winter long.

I have never been in love, don’t know much about it, and I am in no rush to find it either. It will come, if I must be cheesy, “when the time is right”, and that special someone is going to be hella lucky because I’ll be showering them with loads of food, causing them to subsequently gain a couple of pounds. Let’s hope they’re okay with that. Furthermore, my soulmate will know that my biggest infatuation will always remain around food because let’s get real, food will never betray you.

Sweet potatoes are bountiful in the fall and winter months and I do believe that they are very sexy indeed. I mean what DSCN1077food isn’t attractive when cooked down in butter and pureed into a velvety deliciousness? Just don’t do it all the time okay? I turned this lone, but fat sweet potato I had lying around into a halwa or eggless, Indian pudding using mostly ingredients I already had in my pantry, perfect for when an occasion, a sweetheart, or most importantly, yourself demands it.

The idea isn’t all mine, I stole it from Manjula’s Kitchenan online cooking series featuring an adorable Indian grandma cooking up the best of what India’s numerous vegetarian cuisines have to offer. Do watch the video because she provides a good demonstration of the technique involved. It’s mostly a process of constant stirring and DSCN1080mashing, but the good news is that this pudding can go from stove to table in a matter of twenty minutes, and when you bite into the warm and creamy mash, accented with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, and a generous helping of chocolate (that addition made by me because we could all use some its charms during these dreadful months), you’ll be loving yourself endlessly for hours after.

Recipe: Sweet Potato and Chocolate HalwaDSCN1081

Adapted just the very slightest from Manjulas Kitchen

I scaled down the recipe a bit to serve either 3 obnoxious or 4 normal people

Ingredients

  • 1 cup mashed sweet potato (obtained from about 1 large sweet potato)
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • a handful of bittersweet chocolate chips

Method

1. Cook the sweet potato by wrapping it in a moist paper towel and microwaving it for about 7-8 minutes, until soft and tender (a knife should be able to go through easily). Peel and mash the sweet potato. You should have about 1 cup of sweet potato puree.

2. Heat the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan over medium high heat. Add the mashed sweet potato, stirring constantly and pressing down frequently for about 10 minutes, until the sweet potato has darkened slightly in color.

3. Add the milk and sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the halwa, stirring constantly for another 10 minutes.

DSCN10844. Add the ground cardamom and cinnamon and stir for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and fold in the chocolate chips. Serve the halwa hot, right out of the pot.

Cooking Notes

  • I could imagine this halwa being just as delicious with butternut squash, yams, or pumpkin in place of the sweet potato.
  • To maintain a desired level of richness, use at least 2% milk
  • For a more traditional Indian flavor, omit the chocolate chips and garnish with lightly chopped cashews instead.
  • For a Southern-Spin, omit the ground cardamom and add slightly more cinnamon and along with a pinch of ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves. Garnish with crushed walnuts, pecans, or graham crackers (or all three). Serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream, or lightly sweetened marscapone cheese. Now you’ve got a fun twist on a sweet potato pie!
  • You may also serve the halwa with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

How Hyderabad Stole My Heart: Qubani ka Meetha (Dried Apricot Sweet)

Qubani ka Meetha with Vanilla Ice Cream

I spent the summer as a research intern working at a diagnostics lab in Hyderabad, a bustling metropolis in Southern India. I won’t bother sharing all the work-related details here because you can find them on another specially dedicated blog I wrote to document the experience, Andhra-Style: My Life in Hyderabad. Do give it a read if you want to know more about me! I think I was able to make some pretty gritty and introspective realizations about my life at the time. 

image
The cramped work area where I conducted my experiments

One thing worth sharing are the contradictory emotions. While I was in Hyderabad, I was faced with a culture that was familiar, yet so alien at the same time. There were many days were I felt lonely, bored, and just wanted to fly back home.

Is it weird though now, to say that I miss almost everything about Hyderabad? I miss those rain splattered walks through work along Abid Road, through the full blown sensory assault that would greet me everyday. The incessant sound of cars, trucks, busses, and motorcycles honking their horns, the endless flow of humanity spilling onto the streets, the smell of the frying oil wafting away in the mornings from little vada and dosa stalls, the uncomfortable splashes of mucky water, swept up from roadside puddles, seeping into my shoes. I miss the lab, all cramped up in that small and windowless space,  full of the incessant chitter-chatter of my coworkers in rapid Telugu. I miss my initially feeble, but eventually triumphant attempts at speaking Hindi and trying to be more “Indian”.

Hyderabad’s Finest: the Famed Chicken Biryani at Shadaab Restaurant

For obvious reasons, I miss the food the most: waking up to an arrangement of fried goodies and peppery hot masala chai, gulab jamuns and puffy-hot pooris every Tuesday at the workplace cafeteria, spending the weekends at Lakshmi Aunty’s house, where I was reacquainted with her simple, yet heavily satisfying cuisine after so many years, and the biryani, oh, oh, oh do I miss that biryani. Juicy chunks (or legs) of chicken or mutton (goat) layered between intensely aromatic basmati rice and served with a peanut and coconut gravy known as salan, I could probably go on for posts about its uniqueness and how I will never be able to replicate this true Hyderabadi delicacy in my home. That makes me sad because most biryanis found here in the States or really anywhere outside Hyderabad for that matter, just cannot compare. What’s Andhra stays Andhra.

Fortunately, there are some Hyderabadi treats which I can prepare within the confines of my small, apartment kitchen. Best of all, this little dish is chock full of one my all time favorite snack foods, dried apricots. Where my love affair with these bright orange gems began is not hard to trace. I would go through almost a bag a day back in Denmark, for they were both cheap and a good way to hold over the hunger until the next meal. When I learned that one of Hyderabad’s trademark sweets features dried apricots as the key ingredient, it became imperative that there was going to be no way that I would be leaving the city without having bowls aplenty, all to be licked down to the last bit of golden and sticky apricot goo.

Chowmalla Palace: Home to Hyderabad’s Nizams

Qubani ka Meetha, which translates to “apricot-sweet” in Urdu, the language of Hyderabad’s Muslim community, is a dessert straight out of the kitchens of the Nizams (old Muslim rulers) of Hyderabad, who would have most likely sourced the dried beauties from the eastern lands of Afghanistan and Iran. Today a staple at most Hyderabadi weddings, qubani ka meetha is enjoyed by all Indians alike, but if you want a truly authentic taste, you still have to venture into the old Muslim quarter of the city, across the dried up river bank, to grab a taste at famous eateries such as Shadaab, where I was able to grab a delicious mouthful.

Qubani ka Meetha in its original splendor, how I enjoyed it in Hyderabad

Simplicity is the essence of this dish for the simplest recipes only require a boiling down of dried apricots, water, and sugar, finished with apricot kernels and a spoon of malai (clotted cream). Thus the quality and more so type of product, specifically the apricot, really factors into the final taste of this dish. In India most, if not all dried apricots, are unsulphured, meaning that they are not treated with sulfur dioxide to give them that bright orange color. They have a different taste, one that is often sweeter and more earthy. Furthermore, the pits are left in, and the utilization of the kernels within, little seeds that resemble almonds, both in terms of taste and appearance, provide the element of crunch. As sweets in India are usually only reserved for special occasions, Indian cooks typically show no restraint with the sugar, so during both instances in which I had Qubani in Hyderabad, they were cloyingly sweet, a taste that was only tempered by stirring in some of the malai. 

While I loved the Qubani ka Meetha with all its realness at Shadaab, this became one of the few dishes were I felt that I could actually make it, dare I say better, with the usage of American ingredients back home. There were naturally some big changes I had to make. Firstly, that the dried apricots we get in the US are the more familiar brightly orange-tinted Turkish varieties, which for me, have oddly enough always bursted with a fruity reminiscence of the fresh fruit. Secondly, as these apricots come without the pits, I decided to substitute this textural element by stirring in some toasted almonds. Also, as making malai usually requires long hours spent over the stove, boiling milk down and  stirring it continuously, I opted for serving with vanilla ice cream instead because as a busy and overworked college student, I ain’t got time to replicate all of my ancestral ways. The change I am the most proud of though, is the addition of crushed cardamom seeds. 

A key flavor in almost all Indian desserts, cardamom is used as often in India as vanilla is in the US, but the two don’t taste anything the same, save for their floral aromas. Lusty, jammy, and full of the warm aromas of an Indian childhood (thanks to my buddy cardamom), the flavors of Qubani ka Meetha will have you missing it as soon as you finish your first bowl. Good thing, I made it again last weekend.

Recipe: Qubani ka Meetha

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried apricots, packed
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, adjust to taste
  • 6 crushed cardamom pods, optional
  • 1/4 cup whole almonds, toasted
  • vanilla ice cream, for serving

Method:

  1. Soak the apricots in warm water overnight, till they have plumped up fully.
  2. Pour the apricots with the water (it should have a nice orange color) into a heavy bottom sauce pan with the crushed cardamom pods. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. Simmer the mixture for 20-25 minutes, mashing intermittently, until the apricots are softened and falling apart.
  4. Stir in the sugar and toasted almonds, cook for another 5 minutes.
  5. Serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or dollop of whipped cream.

Cooking Notes:

  • If you want your Qubani to mimic both the taste and appearance of the Hyderabadi original, try using unsulphured apricots instead of the conventional Turkish kind. Also there are a good deal of Indian grocery stores that carry Indian apricots as well. These may be complete with the pits and will naturally lend you the most authentic flavor.
  • Qubani ka Meehta can also be served with a vanilla custard, creme anglaise, unsweetened whipped cream, or Greek yogurt.
  • My new favorite way to use Qubani ka Meetha is by featuring it as a cake filling. Use your favorite yellow cake recipe, place a thick layer of the Qubani between the layers, and frost with a cardamom whipped cream. It is guaranteed to blow the minds of your guests. It sure did for mine :)!

A Mumbai Masterpiece: Pav Bhaji

DSCN8019So I have told you all about Mumbai’s beautiful markets and hazy sunsets, but I think that it’s about time that I share a recipe for one of the city’s most beloved creations.

Pav Bhaji is a dish savored by both elders and youngsters alike. Translating literally to “bread and vegetables”, this dish consists of a pot of mashed, fried vegetables simmered away until browned in a hot blend of spices. It’s served with warm puffy, slightly sweet rolls, slathered in loads of butter. In fact, pav bhaji itself takes a departure from most Indian dishes 527587_3833813676757_242330799_nbecause even the vegetables are cooked in butter, so much so that if you visit certain street side stalls in Mumbai, such as the popular Sardar’s of Tardeo, you’re likely to find your pav bhaji floating in butter!

This unhealthy deluge is perfectly acceptable because pav bhaji is street-food after all. Popular all through out the year, be it in the hot and dry summers, crisp and cool winters, or wet and humid monsoons, pav bhaji satisfies the fast-food cravings of practically any Mumbai resident. It’s deeply satisfying, and no matter what condition you may be in, pav bhaji is sure to make your day or night.

Beyond the street, pav bhaji is also enjoyed greatly in the home. It’s the ultimate one pot meal, and whenever I’m in DSCN8009Mumbai, my favorite pav bhaji to savour is not the kind found on the streets, but the one made lovingly by my dadi (grandmother). While all of her food is pure exceptional, it is nearly impossible to resist her pav bhaji and it has almost become a tradition (at least in the last couple visits) to enjoy it as a final meal before leaving Mumbai.

The popularity of pav bhaji in the home can also probably be due to the fact that it is such a snap to make! While we traditionally make most of our masalas from scratch when preparing a dish, pav bhaji is one of those exceptions where practically every Indian will have a store-bought spice mix already sitting in the fridge. It’s one of those spice blends we simply take for granted and expect to be the same almost everywhere. Furthermore, as it is fast food, we want this to be on the table and in our bellies fast! However, in case you are wondering, common spices in a pav bhaji masala include coriander, cumin, green mango, cardamom, black pepper, dried ginger, mace, nutmeg, and lots and lots of chili powder. There of course some fresh flavors at play here too. Copious amounts of garlic do add a distinct hotness, and the final garnishing of minced red onion, chopped cilantro, and squeeze of lime juice adds notes of crunchiness, freshness, and that ubiquitous sourness that’s associated with almost all Indian street foods. Finally, I can’t forget the butter now, can I? Depending on how you make it, the butter in pav bhaji can either be in your face, or a more subtle yet lingering feeling of richness that sticks with you as the pav bhaji travels down your throat and leaves you feeling all warm and happy on the inside. That’s how I like it, and I hope you will too when you venture into the kitchen and create this beautiful bit of Mumbai within your home.

DSCN8013Recipe: Pav Bhaji

Ingredients (Bhaji):

  • 3 large or 6 medium potatoes
  • 1 cup peas
  • 1 large red onion, chopped fine
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 14 oz can of chopped tomatoes
  • 8 plump garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2-3 tablespoons pav bhaji masala (adjust depending on how much heat you want)
  • salt to taste
  • lots of butter! 🙂

For the Pav:

  • about 1 dozen rolls (In India special bread rolls are baked just for this dish, but in the US, I find that seedless hamburger buns work perfectly)
  • salted butter

For the Garnishings:

  • 1 small red onion, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 2 limes, chopped into about eight wedges each

Method:

In a medium pot, boil the potatoes until they are tender. You will know they are ready when a knife inserted into the DSCN7999middle goes through easily without much resistance. During the final 10 minutes of the cooking time, throw in the peas and allow them to cook with potatoes. Then drain these vegetables and peel the potatoes. Chop them up into small chunks.

In a large saucepan, heat a generous amount of butter (about 4 tablespoons) over medium-high heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion and saute for about 5 minutes, until the onion is softened and beginning to brown. Then add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add DSCN8011the bell pepper and jalapeno and cook for another 2-3 minutes. You can also add another couple pats of butter at this point if you’d like. Then add the turmeric and pav bhaji masala and stir around for about a minute, till the spices have begun to release their aromas. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook out the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently until the vegetables are browned and the butter has separated from the vegetables at the sides of the pan. Add the potatoes and peas and begin to mash the mixture vigorously with a potato masher until the potatoes have reached the consistency of mashed potatoes. Cook out the pav bhaji for about 5-10 minutes, allowing the flavors to mingle. Season to taste to salt. Bear in mind that most pav bhaji masalas already contain salt, so you may not need to add as much as you think.

For the pav, slather the rolls (and I really do me slather) with butter on both sides and toast them in a pan until golden brown.

To serve the dish, present the bhaji warm with plenty of minced red onion, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges for garnishing, along with the hot buttered rolls for scooping up the vegetables.

Cooking Notes:

  • Pav Bhaji Masala can be found in all Indian grocery stores as well as larger supermarkets.
  • It’s important that you use REAL butter in this recipe. It is one of the key ingredients, and it does in fact lend a distinct flavor note to the dish. Using margarine, a butter substitute, or oil will simply not give you the same result. Think of this recipe as a way to indulge once in a while.
  • Depending on how spicy you would like your Pav Bhaji to be, adjust the amount of Pav Bhaji masala you use accordingly. If you would like a more mild version, add about 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of the masala. If you want a spicy pav bhaji, put in 3 tablespoons of the masala.
  • The kinds of vegetables you put in Pav Bhaji is entirely up to you! The masala is quite versatile and as everything is mashed up in the end, this a great way to sneak in vegetables which your guests or children might not normally like. Standard ingredients in pav bhaji include potatoes, peas, onions, and tomatoes, but feel free to add cauliflower, green beans, squash, baby corn, mushrooms, etc. The sky’s the limit with this one. I just wouldn’t recommend adding any meat though. That wouldn’t be a good mix.

Ultimate Comfort Food: Murgh Makhani (Butter Chicken)

DSCN7220I seriously want to hug this dish, or maybe even myself for being able to make it. One month into living in Denmark, it’s obvious that serious Indian-food cravings have set in. While I certainly love trying out new cuisines (hey that’s what I practically live for), there are just those days where all you want is the food that your dear mother used to make. I had already made a handful of other Indian dishes in the past month, but none quite fulfilled the craving like this lusty pot of Murgh Makhani did.

Also known as butter chicken, Murgh Makhani is perhaps India’s best known dish. No other Indian dish has been able to enjoy such a notoriety around the world as this little curry has. It has even gone so far as to inspire a British version, chicken tikka masala, a dish that is practically the same, but identity-wise unique enough to proclaimed as “England’s true national dish”.

The immense popularity of butter chicken probably has to do with the fact that it has been able to win people over, DSCN7159Indian or not, in one bite. Char-grilled chicken is simmered away in a creamy tomato-based curry. Highly aromatic with the exotic smell of methi (fenugreek) leaves,  the taste of butter chicken is mysterious enough to have you captivated, yet still friendly enough for you to relate to if you are not familiar with Indian cuisine. 

DSCN7208Making Murgh Makhani is a two-step step process because well, this dish was originally created as a way to use left over tandoori chicken. Therefore, I give you two recipes in one! The first is for tandoori chicken, named after the clay-shaped ovens that the chicken is traditionally roasted in, but boy oh boy it will also be the juiciest you have ever had due to the copious amounts of yogurt used in the marination. The second recipe is for the actual makhani sauce, which besides chicken, can also serve as an excellent gravy for paneer (Indian cottage cheese), tofu, mushrooms, bell peppers, green beans, potatoes, and well practically any other vegetable you can thing of! It’s just that damn good! However, before we actually start, I must give a shout out to my mother for graciously providing the recipe. It’s one that truly has stood the test of time, winning the approval of even the pickiest of eaters and featuring as the centerpiece of office potlucks. I have only adapted the recipe the very slightest by adding whole green cardamom pods and a cinnamon stick to the makhani sauce in an effort to create a greater DSCN7217depth of flavor, and might I say, it sure did!

Finally, I need to address the name of the dish. Murgh in Hindi means chicken while makhani means buttery (coming from the word makhan, which means butter). Therefore, although it is not necessary, you should cook your butter chicken in butter, especially if you live in an area (as I currently do right now) that is known for its local butter! However, I must say that using oil is also fine because in the end, the true richness in this dish comes from adding cream. Let’s just say that murgh makhani may not be the most healthy of dishes, but it certainly is the ultimate comfort food.

DSCN7240Recipe: Murgh Makhani

Ingredients

For the Tandoori Chicken:

  • about 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (use whole or reduced-fat yogurt please)
  • 2 tablespoons of Tandoori Paste (I use the Patak’s brand)
  • 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
  • salt to taste

For the Makhani Sauce:

  • 398 grams tomato puree
  • 2-3 tablespoons fresh ginger, finely minced or ground into a paste
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced or ground into a paste
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground paprika, optional
  • 1 tablespoon Tandoori Paste
  • 1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • salt to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

Method:DSCN7198

For the Tandoori Chicken: In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, ginger, garlic, fenugreek leaves, tandoori paste, and salt. Stir the ingredients until well-combined and taste your marinade to make sure that the salt level is right. Then add the chicken thighs and then mix them around, making sure that they are well coated in the marinade. Cover the bowl and place the chicken in the fridge to marinate overnight.

On the next day, preheat the oven to about 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius). Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the chicken thighs on the sheet. Be sure to shake off any excess marinade that might be lying on the chicken. Discard the remaining marinade. Broil the chicken thighs on one side for 15 minutes, and then flip them over and broil the other side for another 15 minutes. Remove the chicken thighs from the oven and place them on a plate to cool. Once cooled, cut the chicken thighs into bite-size chunks. If you see that the chicken is not completely cooked, that’s completely okay. It will finish cooking in the sauce.

For the Makhani Sauce: In a large sauce pan, melt a couple of tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat. Once the butter is melted and hot, add the cardamom pods and the cinnamon stick. Allow them to toast in the butter for a minute or two before adding the ginger, garlic, jalapeno pepper, tandoori paste, and paprika, if using. Saute these ingredients for about 2-3 minutes. Then add the tomato puree, a sprinkle of salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 15 minutes over low heat. Then add the chicken pieces. At this point take a look and make sure that there is enough sauce to adequately cover the chicken. Butter chicken is a saucy dish, so you will need to add a little water to create a gravy. Do not add extra tomatoes, as this will make the dish unnecessarily sour. Bring the mixture to a boil again and simmer for 10-15 minutes. The simmering time at this point depends on the doneness of the chicken. If the chicken is already cooked, only simmer for about 10 minutes. If the chicken is not cooked completely then simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Whatever the case may be, make sure your chicken is COMPLETELY COOKED! You don’t want to poison your guests. After the simmering, add the fenugreek leaves and cream. Adjust for seasoning and simmer again for 5-10 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve warm with hot, buttery naans or steamed basmati rice.

Cooking Notes:

  • Fenugreek leaves are also known as Kasuri Methi and are available at most Indian grocery stores.
  • DSCN7154Tandoori Paste is available at all Indian grocery stores as well as in many larger supermarkets. You can also use Tandoori powder if that’s all you have on hand.
  • If you cannot find tandoori paste or powder, add some tomato paste, garam masala and turmeric to the marinade. To the sauce, add some ground cumin, ground coriander, garam masala, paprika, tomato paste, and a sprinkle of lime juice while you are sauteing the ginger, garlic, and jalapeno. Alternatively, you could also make your own Tandoori paste. There are numerous recipes for this on the internet.
  • Stay on the lookout because I plan on creating my own recipe for tandoori paste over the summer!