Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chicken Rezala -- a regal stew

September is close to an end. Pujo is upon us. And no has any time to breathe. I cannot believe that 8th grade and 3rd grade started in our home 3 weeks back. We are already done with "back to school" nights and summer seems to be a bygone affair.

This summer was special as my parents were here after almost 3 years. They are getting older and the visits less frequent. It is no longer easy for them to hop on a trans-atlantic flight and traverse continents. Both my girls goaded them into coming and once the flight part was put away, they were looking forward to their stay as much as us.
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We were lucky to do a lot of short trips around the home with them this summer. My father loves visiting places of interest and is comfortable with long walks, while my Mother has a bad knee which prevents her from walking more than a few yards at a stretch or standing for too long.



Thanks to my father, we re-discovered Philadelphia, surprisingly a city which we never thought of visiting unless it involved work or shows or passport office or such. But my Baba, wanted to visit Philadelphia this time and see the Liberty bell. So off we went on a Sunday morning. It was a gorgeous sunny day, one of those summer days when it is not too humid, and Philly treated us so well.

For me, the best part of Philly was the Reading Market. The covered market teeming with various food specialty shops, bakeries and people reminded us so much of New Market. I spent quiet sometime there, roaming around, not able to decide what to eat and then settled for guess what ? The Philly Cheese steak.


Another weekend we went to a beautiful sculpture garden, not too far from home. Again a place that we had always intended to visit but could never make it. The parents definitely enjoyed the sculpture garden with its unique pieces but the kids too had much fun.

Next up was the Dingman's water fall in the Delaware water gap area. Delaware water gap is beautiful with many natural jewels strewn across the area and Dingman's falls with its well constructed pathway was the ideal trail for my Ma. On our way back from the falls, we stopped by the Delaware river. The sky was overcast and soon a heavy shower rolled in. While everyone else ran back to the car, me, my Baba and Little Sis stood under the tree, breathing in the rain and gazing at the sheer curtain of rain falling on the Delaware river. It was a curious thing, how one person from each generation in our family stayed back in the rain and the other went back to the car like sensible beings.

This picture still takes me back to the day and I can hear the rain drumming on the river.



Next up was trip to the Great Wolf Lodge, a indoor water park, which had taken mythical proportions in our home by the dint of sheer marketing. I am glad we finally went and got it over with this summer.

In between we had guests, visits to the beach which is close by, movies and lots of cooking. Well honestly, my Ma was doing most of the cooking. One of the days, I made a Chicken Rezala for them. I usually make the Mutton Rezala as the goat meat packs in a lot of flavor to this otherwise light stew.



Rezala, is a very popular dish in Calcutta, a signature dish speaking volumes of Awadhi influence on Bengal's culinary history. It is a mildly spiced, yogurt-based stew with chunks of meat. To just call it a stew would be undermining this royal dish. It is not just any stew but a stew that is made regal by lightness of its gravy and the fragrance, which comes with use of Kewra and saffron. The best Rezala can be found in restaurants like Sabir's and Shiraz's in Kolkata. To have a plate of their rezala, the pale golden gravy with a thin layer of ghee floating on top and morsels of soft meat, and mopping it up with soft as mulmul roomali rotis is an experience that you would not want to miss.

I would like the add here Prtihs Sen's comments on Rezala here. She has a deeper knowledge on the subject than me and thinks the Rezala has its origin in the Afghani dish names Rasala.

"I would like to tell you my impressions about the Rezala. All muslim cuisine in Calcutta/Bengal is not Awadhi. It harks back many centuries -- from the 12th century onwards -- with the arrival of the Turks and Afghans in Bengal that established Muslim rule. and later ofcourse the Mughals. The Rezala I feel, the word probably originating from Rassala, is of Afghan origin, to be found only in two places in India actually -- Bengal and in the Rampur cuisine of central India, both very different recipes yet both Afghan strongholds at one time. Awadhi cuisine in Calcutta adapted it to fit into their offerings and while it is also found in Lucknow, its not a very popular dish there as it is in bengal. Awadhi rezalas add coconut milk or dessicated coconut." -- Pritha Sen

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Shosha'r Shukto -- Bengali Shukto with Cucumbers

This post was written way back sometime in July. That is when this dish was cooked and the recipe duly noted. Now when I look back on those long stretch of summer day, I want to throw a tantrum to get them back. But that is not happening. Never does.

So, while I try to brave my soul for fall, you guys take a trip back to summer...



Summer is always busy around home. The schools are over, the days are long and once I am back home, it is impossible to cook when there is so much to do outside. With my Mother here, it has been a slew of lazy days for me, as she is the one cooking up what the granddaughters fancy.

Meanwhile I am staying up late following the conventions and scouring articles about the preposterous things that one of the presidential candidates keeps on uttering. It beats stuff that even Zee TV saau ma's would mutter. If only he would have on 3 pound jhumkas and dazzling bindis, I would know for sure that it was a Ekta kapoor serial and not reality tv.



So anyway in between all this, my summer plants yielded fruits...I mean vegetables. This year we planted tomatoes, peppers , cucumber. Cucumbers mainly because LittleSis picked up a packet of cucumber seeds and wanted a cucumber plant. My dad did the brunt of the work on them but we were not able to build a trellis aka "maacha" for the cukes.. That didn't dither them though and the cuke yield was in plenty. By the time I realized there were so many of them hidden in the vines, they had already ripened and were not the best in a salad.



Ma made a shoshar shukto (cucumber shukto) with them as they were too ripe to eat raw. Why would anyone buy cucumber and make a shukto I wondered ? I mean cucumbers are good enough raw so why cook them ? Also the original Bengali Shukto has done enough to garner a following so why a contender ?

"Well, we had very limited choice of summer vegetables in our times and shukto made with the slightly ripened cucumbers was a welcome change from the daily grind of lau and potol," she said.

Valid point. The shoshar shukto tasted good too. It was creamy and slightly sweet with a faint bitterness of the uchhe. The crunchy boris added the necessary bite to a otherwise creamy dish. Maybe I won't make it often, but if you ever have a load of cucumbers to finish, this is a great way to go.



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Tel Sheem -- Hyacinth Beans from Soma

I was seriously waiting for something to get my blogging mojo back.

August had been surreal with a vacation to beautiful Banff and Jasper National parks(more on that later), short trips around the home state, a water park vacation to Great Wolf Lodge specifically for the kids, and lots of tea time with my parents while watching "Mahanayak" -- the Bengali serial people love to hate (yeah, yeah, I know!). I was getting used to vacations and summer.

Since my parents are visiting, the kitchen had also morphed largely into my Ma's domain and I rarely bothered to see how and why things were getting done. I even managed to watch a movie at the theaters with the husband-man, an event worth remembering simply because it is so rare in its occurrence.

You must understand that it is very easy to slip into a life of leisure, if you are already lazy like me. I could totally fit into the society of Roman Nobles in ancient Rome. It is very natural that I drifted.



But there was some magic that happened over the weekend, which triggered me back into the kitchen and back to the blog again. The magic would have never happened, if I did not have a blog in the first place. So the magic had a dependency on the blog and on you. Ok, so without going into the chicken and egg scenario, let me tell you what happened.



A blogger friend Soma, who blogs at Spices and Pisces and does a trillion other things, sent me a box of sheem and ucche, that is Hyacinth beans and bitter gourd for you, grown in her own garden. Soma has a very bright shade of green thumb and grows gorgeous vegetables. Her community garden pictures on Facebook, boasting of curvaceous laus(bottlegourd) and glistening sheem(flat beans) would make you love vegetables to the point of making you a vegetarian. She pours tons of love into her garden and the beautiful person that she is, she shared the love by sending me a box of her home-grown vegetables, by priority mail.

Once we got over the surprise part of seeing fresh vegetables from a box delivered by the USPS lady, the family spent next several minutes ogling at the vegetables. Little Sis was thrilled by the uniqueness of the whole act. "Mommy's friend sent her vegetables from Maryland," she told my Ma.

Then a discussion ensued as to what to cook with the sheem. Here, I must tell you, tender aka kochi sheem is not a given where I live. I don't even get sheem at the Indian grocery store and substitute all sheem dishes with sugar snap peas. My Ma, who is used to an abundance of sheem where she lives, proposed sheem bhaate or shorshe diye sheem or sheem er jhol. I didn't want to add shorshe(mustard) to this tender sheem as I feel the mustard sauce tends to overpower the natural taste of the vegetable.



The husband-man then proposed Tel-Sheem, without the mustard and with almost zero spices. Something that would be just fitting for a vegetable so fresh, tender, and grown with love.

So that is what I did

Tel Sheem

Lope off the tip of each Hyacinth bean(sheem) and then pull off the stringy part from the edges

Heat Mustard oil in a kadhai.

Now temper the oil with 1/4th tsp of Nigella seeds and 3 slit green chili.

Add the sheem to the kadhai and saute for a few minutes until each sheem glistens with oil.



Make a wet paste with
1/4 tsp of turmeric Powder
1 tsp of fresh ginger paste
1/2 tsp of red chili powder
1 tbsp of yogurt

Lower the heat and add add this to the veggies in the kadhai. Saute at low heat for few minutes.

Add a 1/2 cup of water, 3 more green chili slit through, salt to taste and let the gravy simmer to a boil. Cover the kadhai with a lid and check occasionally if sheem is cooked.

Once the vegetable is cooked and the oil has surfaced, the dish is done. Now for you to enjoy it with some steaming white rice.

This tasted so so good that I cannot thank Soma enough





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