Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lal Shak Bhaja - Red Amaranth Stir fry

Laal Shaak or Shaag Bhaja | Red Amaranth Leaves Stir Fry

Lal Shaak Bhaja is usually a stir fry made with the red amaranth leaves and some garlic and Chilli. A sprinkle of dry posto seeds or bori adds the crunch to this dish. Sometimes the red leaves are also stir fried with shrimp and finished off with a sprinkle of roasted poppy seeds.

I don't know why I am posting this recipe.I mean it is a simple dish.
"Shaak niye adikhyeta korche," as any nosy Bong aunty would proclaim while rolling their eyes. "Eto boyesh holo, ekhono laal shaak bhaja jaane na, ajkalkar meyeder shob dhong" as another Bong pishima would whisper to her neighbor across the street.

It could well be because it is a very easy recipe to post, so perfect for someone lazy like me.

It could also be because I am at that age when I should get excited with red mustangs but in absence of that I am excited seeing Laal Shaak (Red Amaranth leaves).

So the thing is, every year I grow some perfunctory vegetables, just to make sure that my kids know vegetables come from plants and not aisles of grocery stores. That a tomato actually grows on a tree and not in a box at Costco. yes, these are important parenting tips.

And then this year, one of my neighbors gave me a bunch of amaranth seeds and some saplings and said that Amaranth grows very quickly and easily. Now if anywhere in the Universe I hear the word "easy", I just latch on to it. So I quickly put the seeds in soil without even knowing what exactly Red Amaranth was. Turns out Red Amaranth leaves is what we call "laal shaak" in Bengali. They are packed with nutrition and several sources say "Amaranth leaves are nutritionally similar to beets, Swiss chard and spinach, but are genetically closer to their wild ancestors and offer a far superior source of carotene, iron, calcium, protein, vitamin C and trace elements."

Even after the chipmunks ate half of the amaranth seeds I planted, we got decent number of plants growing. So with the red amaranth leaves growing in my backyard, I made this simple stir fry. Usually this is how I cook spinach too.

Laal Shaak Bhaja is usually a stir fry made with the red amaranth leaves and some garlic and Chilli. A sprinkle of dry posto seeds or bori adds the crunch to this dish. Sometimes the red leaves are also stir fried with shrimp and finished off with a sprinkle of roasted poppy seeds.

I love my greens with soft, flesh eggplants and so have made this stir fry with eggplants and laal shaak.
You can use potatoes instead of eggplants in this recipe.

Begun diye Laal Shaak Bhaja | Red Amaranth leaves stir fried with eggplant


Wash the red leaves under running water. Finely chop the leaves including the stems and tips. About 2 cups of chopped amaranth leaves. Soak them in water.

Next chop 2 slender Japanese eggplant in small cubes. The idea is to have about 2 cups of cubed eggplant.

Mince 3 cloves of garlic.

Heat 1 Tbsp oil, fry the boris until they are brown and crunchy. Remove with slotted spoon and keep aside.
If you do not have bori, then saute a handful of peanuts till brown. Remove and keep aside.

Start Cooking

Heat mustard oil to smoking. Temper the oil with 1/2 tsp of Kalonji, 2 Dry Red Chili and 3 cloves of garlic minced.

Once the spices sizzle and you get the aroma of garlic, add the eggplant. Sprinkle 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder and saute until eggplant pieces are lightly browned.

Now add the laal shaak(red amaranth leaves) tossing it with the eggplant. Add salt to taste, 3 green chili slit and let the leaves cook.
As the leaves wilt as they cook, they will also release their juices. If you think the juice is not enough then add a little water. Now cover and cook.
Stir intermittently until the eggplant and greens are all cooked.

Once the veggies are cooked and the dish looks dry add just a tsp of kashundi if you have some. If not finish off with a little mustard oil.

Sprinkle the fried bori or the fried peanuts to garnish.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Goan Pork Vindaloo -- from the husband-man

There is this Netflix show called "the Indian Matchmaking" which has created quite a furore in the Indian community!! I am not aware of current match making scenarios in India but the show was entertaining reality TV. At first I couldn't believe some of the things I heard like the constant demand for "flxible, fair, slim" girls as a bride!!! This was the 21st century goddammit. but then I never believed in a virus stopping life either.
Many reviews and comments on FB felt the show was vile and cringeworthy but I feel that it is partly true of the Indian society. You might deny it and downplay it, but it is not far from the truth.

In India, the discussion, judgements and arguments over eating habits, veg or non-veg, pork and beef is as vehement as the show!!

Last year November when I was in Kolkata, I was on the Calcutta roads a fair amount of time. There was a particular driver whose car I would rent. I had a really good time chatting with him as we plied the roads of the city, from one corner to the other.

One day he asked me "Didi, apni pork khan?" (Didi do you eat pork?)

I ho-hummed and admitted that I did. "It tastes almost like chicken", I assured him.

"Kintu Didi beef? Beef o okhan America te?" (What about Beef? Do you eat beef also in America?)

I ho-hummed again. Well we do eat beef once in a while. I don't like steak because I find the meat too gamy to my taste but my kids love Italian meatballs and those are best with ground beef

"Haa khai majhe majhe," I admitted to eating beef occasionally.

The driver was alarmed and he admonished me, "Kintu Goru to Ma, Goru khaoa apnar thik noy." (but Cows are our Mother, you shouldn't eat them).

Probably his words came from the heavy hand of religion but I couldn't blame him. I did not eat beef or pork growing up in my home in India. Ours was a middle class Brahmin family, pretty conventional about the food that was cooked and eaten. So pork and beef were strictly beyond the realms of food that we could eat. In fact for a long time even chicken was not allowed in my grandmother's home, though we were allowed to cook it in the garden or eat outside. I never saw any of our family or friends eat pork sausages or steaks either, and I largely categorized them as meats that were popular only outside India. Only later did I learn that sausages and cold cuts were very popular among a certain section of Calcutta Bengalis even in the days when my Mother warned me never to eat such meat.

I desperately looked for a reasoning beyond that it tasted good. I mean eating meat, any meat itself is not the kindest thing as my daughter keeps reminding.

"But oita to America'r goru, ora amader Ma noy," I mumbled. (Those are American cows. They are not our mothers.)

The driver pondered over this, and reluctantly nodded his head. I breathed a sigh of relief.

A month later, my Mother calls me on the phone, "You eat beef? And you discussed that with the driver? He complained to me about your eating habits."

I stayed mum.

While I did broaden my eating habit, after coming to the US, only recently (in the last two years) have I started buying and cooking meat other than goat, lamb and chicken. We are still not great at cooking beef other than in meatballs or burger but pork is right up our alley.

During the lockdown when chicken was scarce, we bought pork loins a few times from Costco. The husband-man made a Pork Vindaloo, from his memory of pork curries that he ate in small eateries around his hostel in Kolkata. We asked a couple of our Goan neighbors for recipes and they shared a few which I duly forwarded to the husband-man on whatsapp. he combined teh recipes, did something and madea relaly mean pork Vindaloo.

Now I have never had a Pork Vindaloo back in Goa but his tastes so good with just the right balance of spices -   the curry is on the thinner side like a jhol but spicy hot, the tartness of vinegar balances the heat but still man it is hot. In all it tastes delicious with white rice and a salad on the side.

Do try it!

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Avial or Aviyal -- the BongMom version

Avial recipe, Kerala Avial

Kerala Avial Recipe

Avial is a traditional Kerala dish where a variety of different vegetables is cooked into a thick coconut based stew. There are some mythological references as per which, Bheema is said to have prepared Avial, when there were unexpected guests for King Virata and he needed to serve meals for them. There were no sufficient vegetables to cook any single recipe for a side dish, so Bheema used whatever available vegetables to make a new dish, which came to be known as Avial. However these might not be true

Every time I make a Shukto, someone tells me that it reminds them of Aviyal. I am not a Shukto fan so I never get riled up with the comparison. I mean at least Aviyal doesn't have bitter gourd (or maybe some version of it does but the most generic version of Avial doesn't have bitter gourd). Anyway I am not an Avial fan either. But the husband-man loves all kinds of vegetables, be it Shukto, Charchari or Aviyal and so we end up cooking and eating them once in a few weeks! (I won't admit how many weeks :-p)

Before I go into this post, let me tell you the Avial I made is not exactly the traditional Kerala or Tamil recipe. The traditional recipe has a list of 13 or 15 vegetables and cooked in coconut oil. I have also heard that depending on the region, the recipe of Avial varies a little. While I have followed the same base recipe and used coconut paste, I have taken some liberty with the vegetables used and the tempering of the dish. The end result was fantastic though your Tambram MIL or  Kerala ammachi might beg to differ.

So, last weekend, we had a couple of friends over for a backyard-social-distancing get together!That sounds so cool right?
Now that we are in the 2nd phase of reopening and outdoor meetups are allowed, we meet in small groups of friends in the backyard (For all in India and places where Covid cases are rising, stay safe and don't meetup yet, you will get there 🙏).
I am loving these backyard meetups more than the indoor one honestly!!! 🌳🏡
No compulsive cleaning needed...yaayy😛 and under the sky adda can be actually very relaxing in our summer evenings.
The husband-man made his killer pork-vindaloo for the party. To keep in theme with it I also made the Kerala Egg Roast from my blog. Then a Avial and a Goan Shrimp Curry. Only my Goan Shrimp Currry was a fusion and tasted more Chingri Malaikari than Goan!!!

So the Avial I made was based off 3 different recipes -- the base recipe was from here, the tadka/tempering was as suggested by a friend and the vegetables were as per my convenience. To understand the actual vegetables that go into an Aviyal please refer to this recipe. I had toned down the coconut a notch as I did not want a strong coconut flavor but I wanted the sweet creaminess that coconut brings, so I used only 1/2 cup of grated Coconut as opposed to 1 Cup. I did not have Coconut oil to cook the dish so I have used Vegetable oil and ghee. I will never claim this as the authentic Avial recipe but we loved this version.