Saturday, November 22, 2014

Phuchka na Fuchka -- street food in the house

The House usually lies empty at ten in the morning.
Except for the sounds that the house makes.


Creak of the wood frames.
Squeaks in the attic.
Hiss of the heating pipes that run unseen.
Rattle of the shingles.
Murmur of the wind across the glass window panes.

Ten is a time for the house to be by itself, to do as it pleases. Probably it soaks itself in the winter sun, stretches its limbs, relaxes and drinks a cup of tea in leisure.Maybe it turns on the TV and watches "Real Housewives of LA" in the glare of the sun.I don't know if it throws pakori and chai parties on days when the sky is grey and there is rain drumming on the windows but I have a hunch that on particularly cold days, when the sun is toasty and warm, it probably takes a nap.

As the sun shifts, throwing shadows from this room to that, circling the house, peeking in through one bedroom window and then another, the house dances, plays music and patiently waits.

And then the shadows get longer. The house shifts, wraps up the sun soaked throws, plumps up the cushions and gets ready. The creaks and the murmurs quieten. They know the house will no longer be by itself. With the yellow bus rolling to a stop at the curb, footsteps will run through the garage and voices will fill the house.

Today I was there with the house. It behaved very well, polite and well-mannered. No raucous parties. No tantrums. I soaked up the sun, took a nap, and  kept thinking how lucky the house was.


And then I made myself some Phuchka.

A very different ambiance to have Phuchka, I must say. I don't know how the "phuchka" felt in this ultra sterile and quiet environment. It probably missed the giggling young girls with their long and short plaits, their hearts yet to see disappointments, standing in a circle around the "phuckawallah", asking for more tamarind water, begging for a "fau". Sitting there, the phuchka probably gloated with pride and self-importance, its chest pumped high with all the attention.

Today I am sure it was bored, serving a middle aged woman , in a squeaky clean home with no sweat or dirt in site. It probably complained to the house. I couldn't hear them talk but I did hear them whisper.

It didn't bother me.I stood by the kitchen island, shoving my phuchka with the potato stuffing and then dunking it in tamarind water. Popping each ball in my mouth it crossed my mind that I will probably never stand in a circle around the phuchkawallah, with a posse of girls, begging for a fau again. Those days lie far behind. The burst of the sour "tentul jwol" in my mouth is something I will always enjoy though.

A few days ago I had made phuchka for Big Sis and few of her friends who had come over for a movie and pizza evening. They watched "The Fault in our Stars" and I hesitantly served them phuchka  to start off.  The girls were super excited at the mere mention of "golgappa". They weren't cynical enough to distinguish between phuchka, panipuri and Golgappa, so all was good. I had toned down the spices that day and some of them vouched that they can handle more "hot spice" than this.

Today for only myself, I upped the green chillies though. I have no measurements and I tasted and adjusted the spices. It is very simple so I am sure you can do the same. I used ready made puris but if you want to make your own KichuKhon has the recipe.

Tentul Jol or Tamarind Water

To make the tamarind water, soak a ball of seedless tamarind in about 2 cups of warm water for 15 minutes. After the tamarind softens, rub with your fingers to extract the tamarind pulp and mix it with the water.

Now strain this mixture into another bowl to get the tamarind water without any pulp

To the strained water add
Rock Salt/Kala Namak or Pink Salt
Bhaja Masla (Toast cumin seeds and red chilli and then grind to powder)
paste of 2 green chillies
little sugar
little lime juice
Chat masala
few coriander leaves finely chopped

Taste and adjust the above

Mix well and add about 1 cup more water.

For the Potatoes

Boil and mash Potatoes

Separately boil some yellow peas

To the potatoes add
Rock Salt/Kala Namak or Pink Salt
Bhaja Masla (Toast cumin seeds and red chilli and then grind to powder)
Chopped green chilli

Red chilli powder
few tsp of the tamarind water

Taste and adjust the spices in the mashed potatoes

Now add the yellow peas to the potatoes and mix well.

For the final Phuchka

Buy a packet of ready made panipuri

Toast them a little in the oven for you don't know how long they have been sitting at the grocers

Tap the puri at the center. Fill with potatoes. Dunk in tamarind water. Pop into your mouth

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Fish Batter Fry or Fish Orly -- Bengali Style

I think I have said a million times on my blog, that I have spent a big chunk of my growing up years outside Kolkata. And by outside, I do not mean merely the suburbs, the once quiet localities where now the city has encroached with malls et al. But I talk about  places still further, where if you boarded the express train at night after dinner, you would wake up just outside Kolkata with the morning sounds of "Cha-Gorom Cha-Cha Gorom" from the chaiwallahs. This is just to make clear that even though I have lived later in Calcutta later, I am not as familiar with the so-called institutions of Kolkata as many of you are.

For a large part of my childhood, Kolkata, remained the city of winter vacations,wrapped in embroidered Kashmiri shawls and smelling of rich brown fruit cakes. December was the only time of the year when we would be spending one whole month at my Dida's home, eating, lazing and generally having the kind of time which memories are made of. Somewhere nestled among the sun soaked winter afternoons in Alipore zoo, escalator rides at RBI and the Birla museum, there were also "biyebaris",  weddings of several removed cousins of my Mother's and the wedding feast catered during the occasion.

The menu at these biyebaris scored high above those in our mofussil towns and the one thing I liked most about them was the "fish fry" served with slivers of purple onion and mustard at the start of the meal. Fillet of fish, usually Bhetki, was rolled in a coating of eggs and breadcrumb and then deep fried, to make the brown, crunchy fish fry. This technique, I later learned, is called "breading". One bite in the the crunchy outer layer, revealed the sweet fish inside, taking you straight to food heaven.

"Fish Fry" was a rage in the late 70's and early eighties in Kolkata and a wedding feast was not complete without them. Other than the weddings, fish fry was also sold at some restaurants and my uncles would often bring them home, packed in a paper bag with tell tale signs of oil spots and an aura of fried food around them. This delicacy was not available in the town we lived and so after a year's wait, the breaded fish fry in Calcutta seemed as magical as a snowflake to the child in the tropics.

When I asked my readers on Facebook, to nominate a Bengali dish to represent "F" in "A-Z of Bengali cuisine", a huge number said Fish Fry. Totally after my heart. This delightful and delicious example of the Anglo-Indian influence on Bengali cooking definitely deserves to be featured in "F".

The Anglo-Bangla Fish Fry

However I noticed that a substantial number of votes in the same thread went for "Fish Orly" Some were more specific and said "Bijoli Grill's Fish Orly". Now Fish Orly, is a batter fried fish preparation which I had never been particularly fond of. I am not a Kolkata veteran and the few times I have tried the "Bijoli Grill Fish Orly" at Nandan, I have not been blown off my feet. Maybe it is just me but I found "fish orly" greasy and not a match to the crunchy breaded "fish fry".I am sure, I ate fish orly at the wrong places all the time, and that is the reason never really appreciated this masterpiece.

At that time I had no idea what an "orly" was supposed to be, but cooking makes you learn a lot of things and only last week I learned that -- "À l'Orly is a French cooking term used to describe a preparation method usually used with fish fillets. The fish is usually a white fish such as sole, perch or cod.The fillets are skinned, battered and deep fried."

By the early 90's "fish orly" and "fish butter fry" (probably a mispronounced "fish batter fry") had shoved "fish fry" off the Bengali wedding menus. Bijoli Grill caterers were primarily responsible for introducing Fish Orly to the Bengali palate and most people loved it . They raved about it. The only thing I liked was the rolling of the french sounding name on my tongue. It made me feel oddly Parisian without an ounce of idea that "orly" was a French cooking term. I was clearly the square peg.

After the Facebook comments however, I decided to look up the hoo-haa over "Fish Orly". The technique sounded pretty simple. I had some swai filet in the freezer waiting to go in the oven. All else looked good, so instead of the oven, the fish's fate were decided in the orly. "If the Universe conspires and so forth..." .

I marinated the fish almost same as in a Fish Fry, a tad simpler actually. Then for the batter, I used an amalgamation of recipes on the internet for "batter fried fish". Some suggested corn flour but I skipped it. Flour, eggs, water, baking soda was it. Maybe a little more of the baking soda would have made the coating more airy but I decided to stick to a pinch. On a cold winter evening, the hot fried fish tasted pretty good. The girls loved it to the hilt. I still found it oily and realized that it tastes best when had right off the fryer.

Maybe that is why I never liked it in all those years ?

Fish Batter Fry or Fish Orly

I had fillets of Swai cut in 10 pieces. Each piece was about a 3"x 2" piece or smaller. You can use fillet of fish like Bhetki if in India or Cod, Tilapia when Bhetki is not available.

Make a paste of
2-3 fat cloves of garlic,
1 tbsp of peeled & chopped ginger,
2 green chili
with little vinegar. This is the paste that will be used to marinate the fish.

Alternately marinate with
1 tbsp of ginger paste(homemade)
1 tbsp garlic paste

Put the fish pieces in one single layer in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste on them.

Marinade the fish pieces with
the paste from step 2,
1 tbsp of vinegar, 
squeeze of a quarter of lime
Make sure that all of the fish pieces are nicely coated with the marinade

Cover & refrigerate overnight. If in a hurry, half an hour to an hour is fine.

For the batter

In a bowl sift
1 Cup of All-Purpose Flour/Maida
a pinch of baking soda(approx. 1/4 tsp)
salt to taste
pepper powder to taste

To it add
1 egg beaten
1 Cup of  Water
1 tsp of vegetable oil

Whisk to make a smooth batter like you would for pancakes. Keep the batter aside for 10 minutes

Now heat enough oil for deep frying

Dip each piece of fish in the batter to coat and then deep fry in hot oil. Keep the heat to medium-high during frying. Fry each side for about 3 minutes each until the fish gets a golden coat.

Eat 'em hot.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Quick and Healthy Butter Chicken -- faux but easy

I have been planning to write about Fall, about Fall in New Hampshire, about Halloween but it seems I am seriously lagging. I will write about all of that when I get a little time but today let me do this post, only because this very easy and quick butter chicken is an absolute favorite with my daughters. Well, they actually like this Butter Paneer more but since this one has a similar gravy, they nod their head in unison and agree to put it on their favorite list.

Butter Chicken, quick and healthy

Now, I have said many times about Big Sis's aversion to eat chicken. Lately I have realized that her aversion is not because she is concerned about animal welfare neither because of any high moral grounds(don't ask me). She will eat chicken if I am using small pieces of chicken breast which have been made into a Chicken 65 or Chilli Chicken. Actually she will be more than glad to eat these dishes, at home or outside. She will also eat the chicken kababs I make for the egg roll. Yes, amazing. The bottomline is she will eat bite size pieces of chicken breast or tenderloin when cooked with enough spices.Honestly, who wouldn't?

After the dry chicken dishes, this butter paneer is another favorite of hers. With due respect to chefs of "Moti Mahal" who are held responsible for this calamity, that is loved so much across the globe that the face of Indian Cuisine in the West is the Butter Chicken, I post my recipe today. I usually balk when people take traditional recipes and turn it up side down or leave out important ingredients but I also practice the fact that  "In my kitchen, I will cook what works for me and what my daughters will like".

So here is my disclaimer.