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. 

 

Mother of Baingan: West African Peanut Stew

DSCN1360It’s fun to trace the journey of spices. Originating predominantly in India, these goodies must have reached East Africa through trade and eventually traversed the continent till they reached the west coast, where they inflected themselves into the flavors of the local cuisines. So many Indian standbys: coriander, fenugreek, cumin, cloves, black pepper, and more were found in this stew recipe that I just couldn’t help but think of the possible resemblance that it might have to a standard chicken curry. Well, I was wrong.

It is just a couple of changes that give this dish a visible and tastefullyDSCN1355 unique identity. It’s definitely more bulky than the curries we make. Eggplant or baingan is savored with the utmost relish in a multitude of ways across India, yet almost all of them are vegetarian preparations. Who would have known that an eggplant’s heartiness makes it the perfect partner for almost any kind of meat? Then there’s the addition of okra, a practice that perhaps traveled over with the slave trade to Louisiana, where it got incorporated into the famous gumbo. The vegetables in this stew are not petty. They are practically on the same level as the chunks of chicken, seared in the pan until brown and caramelized.

DSCN1353The peanut butter though, was a revelation. Lending a rich and nutty creaminess, it sets this stew off the edge, rounding out the flavor with its mellow tones and thickening it much like how cashew paste is used to thicken Mughal style curries in North India. Sure peanut butter is probably not what is used in West Africa. It’s far more likely that fresh nuts are ground laboriously with a mortar and pestle until they resemble a coarse paste. Therefore, do be sure to use a high quality, all natural peanut butter in this recipe. That means no corn syrup, oil, or any other synthetic material should be in the ingredient list! I happen to love the fresh, grind-it-yourself peanut butter available at Whole Foods. It maybe a bit more expensive, but the taste is far more superior, and buying just the amount you need will not set you back that far.

This stew has got heat, meat, bulk, grit, tang, and a little sweet. It’s undoubtedly a complete meal and one that will have your guests showering you with rounds of praise.

Recipe: West African Peanut StewDSCN1359

Recipe from Saveur

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup canola oil, adjust to your preferences, I may have used a bit less
  • 2 pounds skinless chicken thighs, bone-in
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 4 dried chiles de arbol (also known as japones or simply red chiles in the Indian market)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 3 cloves, whole
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1/4 pound okra, whole or cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 fresh red or green chile, sliced
  • roasted peanuts, for garnishing
  • lime wedges and lime juice, optional for serving

Method

Heat the oil in a dutch oven or heavy-bottomed casserole pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, season the chicken DSCN1345thighs liberally with salt and pepper and add to the pot, browning until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

DSCN1348Add the onions and arbol chilies to the residual oil in the pot, cooking for about 5 minutes until softened. Add the ginger and garlic and cook the mixture for another 3 minutes. Add the spices and cook for another minute until fragrant. At this point, add the tomato paste and caramelize it along with aromatics for three minutes. Stir in the peanut butter and tomatoes, and cook out this masala until the oil separates and begins to pool along the sides. This should happen within five minutes.

Return the chicken thighs to the pot along with 6 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes, until the chicken is about halfway done. Then add the eggplant and okra and cook for another 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender. Adjust the stew for seasoning and add a squeeze or two of lime juice if necessary. Stir in the chopped red/green chile and serve with steamed basmati rice, lime wedges, and crushed peanuts for garnishing.

Exercising Expertise: Green Tea Panna Cotta with Asian Pears

DSCN1384So I’m not trying to sound like a sassy masterchef or anything, but I feel like I can make better panna cotta than they do in Italy…

Now before we end up with an onslaught of hate here, I’m not trying to say that panna cottas in Italy are bad. (Dear me, it’s quite the opposite! I once had an exquisite buffalo milk variety in Bologna). They just tend to keep it simple there. The most common flavors are vanilla or caramel, and a popular topping is either chocolate or strawberry sauce. While there is absolutely not wrong with simplicity (heck, that’s probably what has made Italian Cuisine so lip-smacking good in the first place), sometimes a dessert as simple as “cooked cream” requires the need to dial up the flavor antics a bit, especially when you live in a household where panna cotta is a frequent request.

Delivering in the flavor department is something I’ve always excelled at, and I feel that is the true joy of being able to recreate classic desserts at home, giving them your own spin. From mango-passionfruit to spicy chocolate, sweet corn, buttermilk, and my personal favorite, lemon with homemade marmalade, I’ve barely even scratched the tip of possible flavor combinations, and that’s why I’ll be making panna cotta for a lifetime.

With this being my umpteenth time doing a panna cotta in the past five years (sometimes it baffles me to realize that I’ve only been cooking for that long), I decided that I would proceed for the first time without a recipe. What I think I’ve made as a result, is the perfect mix that can serve as a base for a whole realm of flavors. I did a blend of equal parts whole milk and heavy cream, two spoons of powdered gelatin, a spoon of vanilla, and a moderate measure of sugar. It’s a simple, yet foolproof recipe for a plain panna cotta.

The flavor today has hardly anything to do with Italy at all. The inspiration came from a green tea pannaDSCN1364 cotta I saw on the menu of a Vietnamese restaurant during a recent visit to New York. Due to the fact that I had a plane to catch, I had to leave lunch early and miss the latter dessert festivities. Thankfully, I didn’t really miss out because I just made it for myself a couple of days later. Green tea matcha powder stirred into my base (no infusing or steeping needed) provided the boost of exotic flavor I needed. It’s hard to exactly describe the taste of green tea. A bit grassy and bitter with distant notes of mint, its complexities play well with the sweet creaminess of this treat.

DSCN1379Asian pears, in this instance, do not refer to the varietal of pear I used, but rather the way I prepared them. Wafer-thin slices are stewed with some water, the slightest bit of sugar, and a pod of star anise, a major component of the Chinese five-spice blend. With its licorice and fennel flavor, the notes of star anise intensify with time, so making this component the night before will provide you with the perfect snap of freshness on top of this already refreshing dessert.

Now if they could only make green tea lattes like this…

Recipe: Green Tea Panna Cotta with Asian PearsDSCN1372

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons gelatin powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons water
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons matcha powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Asian Pears:

  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and thinly sliced (use any variety of your liking)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • a splash of water
  • 1 star anise pod, lightly crushed

Method:

Dissolve the gelatin in the water and allow it to sit while you prepare the panna cotta.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, cream, matcha powder, and sugar. Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until warm and scalding, about 5-10 minutes. Be careful not to boil or burn the milk. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the gelatin-water mixture and vanilla extract. Portion off the mixture into six, six ounce-sized ramekins. Place the panna cottas in the fridge and allow for them to set, about 6-8 hours or overnight.

For the Asian pears, combine the pears, sugar, water and star anise in a pan and simmer for about 5-10 minutes, until softened and syrupy. Remove the pears and place them in the fridge to cool.

Serve the chilled panna cottas either in their ramekins or inverted on a dish, with a spoon or two of the pears on top.

No Knowledge of Norwegian Required: Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus (Meatballs with Gravy)

So about a year ago, I was in one of the most idyllic settings in the world:

Majestic snow-capped peaks sliding down into pristine waters. Cool and crisp air, fresh and untainted by urban smog. Colorful village settings where traditional chants can still be heard. 

Yes, my friends, I was traversing through the fjords of Norway. A once in a lifetime experience (and I really do mean once, it’s dreadfully expensive) that brought me closer to nature than ever before.

I’m not sure if the same can be said about the food. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of delicious food in Norway, the only problem is that most of it is not that affordable on a student’s budget. Fortunately my brother and I were lucky enough on our first night to wander into a cozy little bar serving up some of the best beer I’ve ever had, along with a selection of traditional Norwegian fare. It was here, where we met the kjøttkaker. 

DSCN1441Translating roughly into meatballs or patties, kjøttkaker (prounounced “shyot-ka-kare”) are a member of a family of meatball delicacies that form the backbone of most Scandinavian diets. No matter where you travel within the Nordic states, you are bound to find them. Sweden has its köttbullar, perhaps the best known thanks to the kitchens of furniture megastore, Ikea, and who can forget my favorite place, Denmark, where my host mom prepared frikadeller on a weekly basis. Meatballs are loved in this part of globe, and one would not be able to get at the essence of these cuisines without them.

Most Nordic cooks prepare their meatballs with pork, veal, or a blend of both. Therefore, I was quite intrigued when I came across this recipe using lamb instead of the previous three. Having been eager to make my parents a traditional Scandinavian meal since my return from Denmark, I immediately jumped on this recipe because it’s the only one that my parents could eat (we don’t consume beef or pork at home).

If I must be honest, I’d have to say that Norwegian kjøttkaker taste better than their Swedish and Danish counterparts.DSCN1395 I think it has something to do with the spice profile. A generous dose of allspice along with ginger (I actually used fresh to increase its presence) gives a warm, earthy, and well-rounded flavor to these meatballs. Better yet, the gravy or brunsaus, is banging. Sweet and caramelly brown cheese, a product I have written more about here, is combined with tangy creme fraiche, your favorite meat or vegetable stock, the delicious left over lamb drippings from frying the meatballs, and a hefty spoon of cocoa powder. Yes, it’s a chef’s elevation of a traditional recipe, but this gravy will probably be one of the most interesting and unusual (in a good way) ones that you’ll try, and I know you will love it. My mother, with a strong spice-driven Indian palette, normally finds Scandinavian dishes to be a bit too “subtle” for her liking, but she adored these, so much so that she insisted I make them again and again. Not only does that make me happy, but it brings me more joy to be able to share this foolproof recipe with you all, one that does not require any knowledge of Norwegian to make.

Skål! (cheers),

Rahul

DSCN1434Recipe: Norwegian Meatballs with Brown Gravy

Recipe Adapted from Food and Wine

Serves around four people

Ingredients:  

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 slices of day-old bread
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground allspice
  • 1-2 teaspoons fresh ginger (adjust to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the gravy:

  • 2 cups lamb, beef, chicken, or vegetable stock
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy
  • 3/4 cups creme fraiche
  • 1/2 cup shredded brown cheese (gjetost)
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

For garnishing:

  • chopped chives or dill, to taste
  • lingonberry, black currant, or cloudberry jam

Method: 

Start out by soaking the bread in the milk for about 10-15 minutes, till it has become all soft and mushy.

In a small pan, saute the onions with the allspice and ginger over medium heat, until softened.

In a large bowl combine all of the meatball ingredients together until well incorporated. I find that one’s hands are the best tools for this process. Form into about 40-rounded, teaspoon-size meatballs.DSCN1404

In a large pan, heat up some oil (about 1 to 2 tablespoons will do) over medium high heat. Once hot, add the meatballs in batches and fry for about five minutes, till they’ve charred and formed a nice crust. If you find that the meatballs are not fully cooked at this point, that’s fine. They will finish cooking in the gravy.

After you have removed the meatballs from the pan, save the drippings and add the stock of your liking, whisking around to release any burnt meatball bits stuck to the pan. Bring the stock to a boil and allow it to reduce by half. Then add the brandy, creme fraiche, cocoa powder, brown cheese, and some salt, if needed. Whisk rapidly to combine and allow the brown cheese to melt into the gravy.

Bring the gravy to a simmer and add the meatballs, simmering and stirring occasionally over low heat for about 10 minutes, until the meatballs have cooked through and the gravy has thickened. Serve over mashed potatoes and lingonberry/currant/cloudberry jam, and garnish to your liking with chopped chives or dill.

DSCN1424Cooking Notes:

  • If ground lamb is not available in your area, feel free to substitute with ground mutton, beef, pork, or blend of any two.
  • If you don’t eat any of the aforementioned meats, I could imagine this dish working with ground chicken or turkey as well.
  • gjetost (brown cheese) can be found at specialty food stores, such as Whole Foods or at online retailers. If it’s unavailable in your area, you can easily substitute the gravy in this recipe with one used to dress Swedish meatballs instead.
  • This saucy recipe can also be served over pasta, gnocchi, or spaetzle
  • Meatballs in Scandinavia are eaten with a little jam because the tartness of the jam helps to cut through the richness of the meat. I have recommended flavors that are common in the region. If you can’t find any of them near you, cranberry sauce is naturally the next best option.
  • Recommended Pairing: A bitter and malty stout, with its notes of dark chocolate and coffee will complement these meatballs perfectly. Look for a Norwegian brew if you can find it!

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.

Food Orgy: A Voyage through Mumbai’s famous Ramzan Night-Market

My Dad’s family, particularly his brother and sister are fond of, if not fanatical about, all things non-vegetarian. Even though a vast majority of Indians do indeed eat meat, a veggie-based diet is common during most of the week, and meatDSCN0280 consumption is still seen as a luxury in many parts of the country. Therefore, longings transform into cravings of a magnitude as great as the ones we Americans (myself included) have for juicy burgers or succulent barbecue.

Upon completing my internship in Hyderabad over the summer, I flew to Mumbai to spend a week with relatives before heading back to the States. While on the taxi ride home, my uncle announced that he would be taking my brother and I on a “food orgy” of sorts to commemorate our “experience” abroad. Now, I know my uncle well, and while I know that he was trying to peak at my obsessions with food, he was also trying to satisfy his desires to feast upon the endless platters of meat that were bound to be available.

DSCN0269Our destination for the night was tucked within one of the Muslim quarters of the city, in the heart of Old Mumbai. The vast swabs of humanity that greeted us once we stepped out of the cab on Muhammad Ali Road were DSCN0296unimaginable. Located near a large mosque the small, narrow alleyway we were about to venture into was bursting to the seams for several reasons: it was during the holy month of Ramadan, it was past sunset, and there was the promise of food, lots of it.

This lane of food, an endless stretch of food stalls, is interestingly enough frequented not as much by Muslims anymore as it is by Hindus, Catholics, tourists, and everyone else trying to get their dose of unique foods that are only available during this time of the year and at this time of day (Ramadan permits worshipers to only consume food and water after sunset) as the food stalls along with the crowds that accompany them, disappear once Eid (the final day of Ramadan) has passed.

Navigating through the alleyway is not for the faint of heart. It’s beyond crowded (imagine the congestion on your local DSCN0271metro/bus times a thousand), very filthy (we narrowly missed stepping on a decaying rat carcass lying on the street), and blisteringly hot (enough to coat your clothes in a thick layer of sweat). However, if you can persist through these conditions, by all means please try, you shall be rewarded with some of the greatest street food I have ever had in this city.

Chicken and Mutton RollsWe started off with some fabulous chicken and mutton (goat) rolls. Think DSCN0276delicately spiced, reminiscent of tandoori, chunks of juicy meat wrapped in puff pastry and griddled to perfection. The kind of snack you crave with your evening glass of pilsner. Soon afterward, we moved, or better yet shall I say we were pushed, into the next stall serving up Chicken Soupspicy bowls of a chicken soup and juicy legs of tandoori chicken. While the soup bowls certainly warranted questions regarding their cleanliness, the chicken legs were totally worth it, every bite down to the bone.Tandoori Chicken

After these snacks we decided to sit down, in a cooler location thankfully, for some biryani and nalli nihari. If there is any dish to be Dinner Spreadmost seasonal on this street it’s definitely a nihari. A curry made with chunks of goat or beef marrow, this must have been the delicacy that my uncle made us venture here for. The fat will coatNalli Nihari your throat and you have to constantly stir the curry to keep it from separating, but let me tell you, you’ll awkwardly be craving some more. It’s a dish that taps into the evolutionary human need for fat. No matter how hard you Chicken Biryanitry not to, you will end up eating it. The biryani appeared hard to eat at first, not because it was bad or anything, but I had just returned from Hyderabad where I had eaten the best. The thought of any others comparing seemed slim. Fortunately, it wasn’t half bad. While this chicken biryani did lack its trusty salan (gravy) companion, the heavy-handed use of saffron in the rice was interesting and worth appreciating.

Now with only a fraction of space left in our stomachs, we elected to finish Phirnithe night with phirni, a cracked-rice pudding traditionally set in earthenware bowls. Several flavors including cardamom, saffron, and chickoo (a local, syrupy tasting fruit) were on offer and quite decent to boot. They would have just been a touch better if they were chilled to help combat the intense heat.

MalpuaFinally, there’s always that one item in markets or restaurants that looks insanely good, but you never manage to try it. That day it was the malpua, a deep-fried, pancake-like item that my uncle insisted I take pictures of, but strangely did not let us try it. Staring at the speedy craft-work of the cooks as they dipped the malpuas into the sizzling Malpua Fryingoil was mesmerizing. If I ever make it back to this market, I definitely want a taste.