Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Pakodi Kadhi -- dumplings in a yogurt gravy

Pakodi kadhi,  Kadhi
Pakodi Kadhi

e are on the 3rd week of school closures. It has now been 14 days since we are in quarantine though the official lockdown in our state started a bit later.

Cases in New York and NJ seems to be rising like crazy. Almost 0.4% of NY's population has tested positive while 0.2% of NJ's

I am just glad that we are safe home and I am absolutely clueless why people are complaining so much about staying indoors.

I am for one happy as I can sleep a little more in the morning, don't have the hour long commute each way each day, and now that the girls don't have any after school activity, my evenings are no longer rushed.

Instead of crazy Sundays, where I had to plan and cook ahead for the week, now I am cooking a dish almost every evening. I am also making rotis, albeit painstakingly, and not always great ones, but I am trying.

Today after a long time, I made this favorite dish of mine -- Pakodi Kadhi.

There was a time when I would pester my Mom to make this once a week at least. She would usually make it on a Friday, the day we ate vegetarian meals only. There were three favorite dishes earmarked for Fridays and she would always rotate the menu amongst these -- Chhanar Dalna, Aloo Posto and Pakodi Kadhi.

My Mother, having lived a lot of her life outside Bengal, had adapted a variety of non-Bengali Indian recipes in her kitchen and made them often. This was one of them. So at a time when most Bengalis, including the husband-man looked at me curiously when I mentioned that Kadhi was my favorite dish, in our home we were eating Kadhi like we were born into it.

I still remember, many years ago, an impromptu guest (the typical Calcuttan) who had arrived with one of my cousins around our Friday lunch time. Our Friday lunch was usually simple and involved rice, dal, aloo posto and then either Chhanar Dalna or Kadhi. That particular day it was kadhi. We had almost finished our lunch when they had arrived but my Ma I remember insisted they join us at the table. The typical Bengali guy had plowed through, rice, dal, aloo posto, kadhi and sat at the table food drying up on his hands. When finally asked if he was done, he had blatantly said, he was waiting for the fish!! I still cannot forget the look on his face, when we told him, that there was no fish curry that day!! He was unable to fathom what the "kadhi" was and kept saying that in their house there was always a fish curry that followed dal.

Now that I think of it, it seems incredibly rude of him, but at that time we were just plain flummoxed by his ignorance.

Pakodi Kadhi or dumplings made of besan/chickpea flour in a yogurt gravy is a very popular dish in Northern india and also Gujarat. There are little differences in the spices used in the two regions. I find the Punjabi Pakodi kadhi is a tad bit more richer with use of onion in the pakodis as our Punjabi nanny would insist. The Gujarati Pakodi kadhi is thinner and less spicy and I loved all the variety of Gujarati Kadhis that LS's Gujju babysitter would make for us. But that was 7 years ago. We haven't had anyone making anything for us since then!

This version of Kadhi is closer to the Gujarati version but I have stuck to the spices my Mother used which were minimal. The kadhi that LS's Gujarati nanny would make was more thinner and white in color, with no turmeric. However my Mother does uses turmeric and her kadhi is not runny so I have kept to that.

Pakodi Kadhi --  dumplings in a yogurt gravy

Make the Pakodi

Besan/Gram Flour -- 1 Cup
Green Chilies - 3 finely chopped
Salt - to taste
Mustard seeds -- 1/4 tsp
Baking soda - a pinch
Water -- 3/4th Cup

In a wide mouthed bowl, add the
Green Chili
Baking soda
With a fork mix the dry ingredients

Gradually add water, mixing the batter to a medium-thick consistency. Make sure the batter has no lumps.

Heat oil for frying in a Kadhai.

Once the oil is hot, take a tea spoonful of hot oil and add it to the batter and mix it in.

Now in hot oil, add 1 Tbsp of batter.
Depending on the size of your kadhai, you can add more. 1 Tbsp for each Pakodi.

Once the pakodi is cooked, flip with a slotted spoon and fry the other side. Do this a couple of times, turning and frying the dumpling in hot oil until the pakodi is crispy and golden brown.
When both sides are golden brown, take out with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

This amount of batter will make almost 12-15 pakodis.

Make the Kadhi

Yogurt - 1 Cup
Besan - 1/8th Cup
Red Chili Powder - 1/2 tsp
Yellow Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp
Water - 1 Cup

Spices for Tempering

Jeera/Whole Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Methi/Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Fennel seeds - 1/2 tsp
Dry Red Chili - 2
Hing/Asafoetida - a pinch

Green Chili - 2 chopped

Kasoori Methi -- 1 tsp
Ghee - 1 tsp
Salt - to taste
Sugar - 1/2 tsp

Vegetable Oil -- 1 Tbsp

In the same bowl that you had used to make the batter, add
1 Cup sour Yogurt
1/8th Cup Besan
1 Cup Water
Red chili Powder
Turmeric powder
Beat well

Now in a saucier/kadhai warm 1 Tbsp Vegetable oil

When the oil is hot, temper with the spices listed under Spices for Tempering.

Once the spices start popping, take the saucier/kadhai off direct heat. Wait for 1 minute and then slowly add the yogurt mix.

Put it back on low-medium heat mixing the gravy. Cook at medium heat for 2 minutes. Add some more water and mix well.

Now increase the heat to medium and bring the kadhi to a simmer. Add salt to taste. If the yogurt is very sour add little sugar. Simmer until there is no raw smell of besan/gram flour. If needed add more water. Remember, the pakodis will absorb some of the liquid.

Now add the pakodis and simmer for a couple more minutes. Remove from heat.

Add 1 tsp of Ghee and the Kasoori methi crushed between your palm. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes.
Serve hot with rice.

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Monday, March 30, 2020

ChurMur from Calcutta's Phuchkawala

Churmur | Kolkata Churmur
ChurMur from Calcutta's Phuchkawala

Churmur | Kolkata Phuchkawala

Churmur is a very popular road side snack in Bengal, served by the Phuchkawalas

We have been in official quarantine now for just over a week. The schools have been shut down for two weeks.

Online classes are going fine. For the high-schooler, it is more regimented with defined periods from 8AM to 1PM every weekday. She has online quizzes and loads of assignments to complete, keeping her busy during the day. Major plus for her is she doesn't have to wake up and catch the school bus at 6:30 in the morning. She gets a good nights sleep finally.

For the 6th grader, online classes are from 9AM to 1PM but it's bit flex and most days she finishes her assignments by noon. Every other day from 4pm to 5PM she joins her gymnastics team. On Sundays an hour long dance with the group.

In all, I see that they are getting little more time to relax and that is helping them. Hope the schools learn something from this and reduce the work load for the kids after the quarantine.

Food has not been a major issue at home yet. We are low on meat and fish but the girls are okay with that. For dinner, I am trying my hand at Rotis and Parathas these days. I am not good at making them but since evenings are no longer rushed, I am learning. Also I see that with Roti, it is easy to have a meal with just one more dish, which is a great advantage.

Lunch for me on a work day is usually light and quick. Of all the groceries I did before lockdown, there were 3 boxes of Golgappas I bought. Yes, what foresight :-D

So some days my lunch can be just this. This tangy, spicy, lip-smacking ChurMur!! For all others it doubles up as snack.

Churmur is a very popular road side snack in Bengal, served by the Phuchkawalas. For us, standing around our favorite Phuchkawala outside the College gates, it was usually the last stage of the Phuchka rounds, when we have had enough of phuchka and now wanted the phau phuckas (the free ones) crumbled into a ChurMur.

Chur-Mur if you say it aloud, rolling around your tongue is the sound of crunching of crispy golgappas. A plate of spiced and boiled potatoes, some boiled kala chana, raw onions, green chilies, green coriander leaves, spicy sweet and sour tamarind water and topping that some crumbled crispy Phuchkas. That's ChurMur for you. An explosion of tastes and flavors in your mouth.

I haven't had a street side Phuchka for years now, but I do pray that those favorite Phuchkawalas get back into business soon and serve their unique Churmur, dirt and grime be darned.


Friday, March 27, 2020

Baansh diye Dim Malaikari -- Egg Malaikari with Bamboo shoots

W are in the middle of a surreal time. 5 year later when I come back and read this post, I don't know how I will feel. In the beginning of February, when we were discussing Coronavirus, we discussed it lightly, never even fathoming how it would turn our life upside down in a few weeks.

We thought it we are careful, washed our hands, everything would be ok. Maybe a thousand people or so would get infected but they would recover. Surely the government had a plan. We were far from China, an entire ocean and many countries lay between us. The virus wouldn't travel here.

And then early February, we heard of the lockdown in Italy and it hit home a little closer. We were in beautiful Italy only two years back. I had a friend in Italy with two little kids who would update about how they were house bound and not allowed to go outside. We started worrying but still thought, this was Italy,  still far away from us.

Next it was Washington and California and a neighbor panicked as her son worked for Amazon in Seattle. We told her to calm down and that nothing will happen.

Then cases started happening in New Jersey around March 5th. SAT was canceled.

We had a Holi party in our neighborhood on March 7th, still unaware of the looming pandemic. The husband-man was still traveling the week of March 8th, though I panicked. Instead of flying, he drove to DC on March 10th for a meeting. Things were getting tense. There were many more cases, now in the low hundreds. I was still going to work, kids were still going to school. No masks could be found.
By March 11th things started getting crazy. Some people in my county had got infected from a Biogen workshop they attended in Boston. The school started sending Covid-19 regarding emails. On March 12th, many of us Moms decided to keep the kids home from school and asked the School Superintendent to take a step towards closing schools. They were still unsure. No word was there from the Governor about school closures. The administration was still waiting to hear from them.
on March 11th I did a grocery run of 2 stores -- Wal-Mart and ShopRite. I couldn't find Lysol Wipes or hand Sanitizer anywhere. It was as if our life depended on a bottle of Purell Hand Sanitizer. That was the solution to all problems. Some folks thought Toilet Paper was a solution to all problems and started hoarding those!! Later at night, I went to CVS, our pharmacy store and found 2 cans of Lysol spray.

On March 12th, I did a grocery run of 2 more stores  -- the Indian Patel and Costco. I needed Rice and Rusks and Maggi. I wasn't hoarding but we were hearing that things can go bad and we need food for at least a week. There was no chicken in Costco or Hand Sanitizers. The employees were ruffled and didn't answer questions. No one was wearing a mask. The atmosphere was borderline festive. One of the infected person in NJ wasn't doing well
After much coercing and panic calls, on March 12th, the husband-man told his co-workers that he was going home, and it was best everyone else did the same. Some people were unhappy. Some had flights to catch. He drove back home sometime around midnight.
On Friday, March 13th, the kids went to school. I went to work. Cases in NJ were rising. Around mid-afternoon, the schools sent an email declaring school closures for the next two weeks, until March 31st. Classes would start online. Our office said they would do a soft closure where we would still have to go to work 3 days a week but would rotate the WFH schedule so that too many people weren't together.

Om March 14th, Saturday, the kids were happy that schools will be closed next week. LS was still playing with her neighbor friend. they spent a lot of time together doing crafts and riding bikes. It was okay we thought.
On March 15th and 16th, I went to work. I wiped down all surfaces with Lysol. We all kept 6ft distances. Then we were told that offices will be closed until March 31st and we would be working from home. Most people complained. They didn't like the idea of WFH every day. I thought it was great!

It's been TEN days since and the end is nowhere near.
Cases In US have gone up like crazy upto 85K infected.
NJ alone has 6000+ cases.
I am afraid to step out. When BigSis had a cough for the last seven days, I worried so much.

There are lots of plus that is happening too. More in the next post.

I had no idea that Bamboo shoots were used in Bengali Cuisine until I saw Pritha Di's photos of a "Haansh diye Baansh" or Duck with Bamboo shoots. I knew they are popular in North-east India in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur but never knew about the Bengal part of it. Looks like bamboo shoots are a traditional food of the indigenous Jumma people, or the hill-people, in the Chittagong hill tracts of Bangladesh also.

Now, I had a can of Bamboo shoots at home, waiting for a Thai curry. But I thought what the heck let me make an egg curry with coconut milk and bamboo shoots instead, in true blue Bengali malaikari style, only this time with bamboo shoots added. 

So here is delicious Baansh diye Dim Malaikari aka Egg Malaikari with Bamboo shoots. If you don't have the bamboo shoots at home, don't step out to buy them, you can make this without them too.


Monday, March 16, 2020

Parsi style Mutton Curry with Apricots

Parsi style Mutton Curry with Apricots, Persian Mutton Curry
Parsi style Mutton Curry with Apricots

Last week I realized I know very little.

Like Toilet Paper plays a crucial role in times of Coronavirus.

Or like  a small country like South Korea is far more equipped to combat Covid-19 than US.

Or like dried apricot is used in a Mutton Curry!!

This last piece of info was shared with me by my friend Deepshikha, whose neighbor fed her a Parsi mutton curry with dried apricots. I honestly had no idea that dried apricots could be put in a mutton curry or else I would not have finished half the pack just eating them. Thankfully, I had half a pack left.

My friend didn't have the recipe but said it is just like or Mangshor Jhol but with Apricots. It's a bit sweet and sour. "Add more chilies", if you want it spicy is what she said. I was definitely intrigued and wanted to make this mutton curry.

Now the problem is, we eat red meat or goat meat only very rarely. And then when we do, the girls want a very Bengali Mangsho'r Jhol with potatoes. They don't like me experimenting.

Last Sunday, not paying heed to their protests, I went ahead and made this Mutton Curry. Initially, I had kept the heat from chillies low and the dish did face protests in my home as too sweet. Next day I added some more green chilies and simmered the gravy. It became  a major hit!! The recipe here has a fair amount of chili and is hot. If you want a milder dish, cut down the green chilli.

Apricot or "jardaloo" in Parsi is a very important ingredient of this dish which can be traced back to the use of meat and fruits in the Persian cuisine.
"In the 17th century, India’s Mughal emperor Shah Jahan – famed for his enormous appetite and love of food and luxury – insisted on importing expensive ingredients and an army of cooks from Persia. Its influence stuck for many centuries. The cuisine of Lucknow and also areas of Bombay  still draws heavily on Persian influences – sweet and sour, spice and dairy, meat and fruit – all mixed with savoury dishes" -- from The Guardian

In fact, Jardaloo Salli Boti, a dish of meat cooked with apricots and topped with "salli" (potato crisps), is a true Parsi Cuisine classic with strong Persian touches like dried apricot (jardaloo,) red vinegar and sugar along with a blend of mouthwatering Indian spices.

What I have made here is not exactly Jardaloo Salli Boti. We will call it Parsi style Mutton Curry with Apricots. I have taken some liberty and mixed up the spices a bit.
Instead of just cumin and coriander powder I have used a different spice blend which makes this dish more spicier as I wanted to cut through the sweetness that the apricots will bring. The recipe here has a fair amount of chili and is hot. If you want a milder dish, cut down the green chili.

At the end of the day, with sweetness of the apricots, the heat from the masalas and the tang from the yogurt and vinegar, this was a delicious mutton curry that we really enjoyed.


Monday, March 02, 2020

Dal Chawal Palidu -- from Bohri Kitchen

Belonging to a minority community in my adopted country and "God-alone-knows-what" community in my mother land, I stay away from discussing politics in this space. Also, I am not good at being a keyboard warrior.
However even as I type and share news about what I cooked and served for dinner in the backdrop of chaos, a part of me cringes at the selfishness of it all. But then that's life. That is what you do.
Bias as has always been a part of our countries. You peel away religion, there is region, then caste, then gender, then color -- there is always a minority community, whose voices are not loud enough to be heard. And it's always relative. If there is more of you, I am a minority.
Many a times, we are not even aware of the communities outside our own and often stick to the stereotypes. Like say, all Indians are vegetarians or all Indian parents get extremely upset if their kids get anything less than a A+ grade or Girls like pink or  South-east Asian Muslims serve Biryani on all important occasions.
To know a community, you have to break bread with them . It's best if you can share a meal but if not just expand your horizons and cook a meal. That way you learn a little and you find that your heart has space to share for more.
So that's what I thought I will try to do. I usually stick to my known cuisine of Bengali, global Indian, Italian, American etc.  This time, I went out of my comfort zone to find a Bohri Muslim recipe. I know no one from that community and I know very little about their eating habits. However Bohri Thal has recently become very popular in Mumbai and so there were plenty of articles on the internet. The more I read, the more I was intrigued.

"The Bohra community originated from a Muslim sect in Yemen and Egypt, later spreading to India and Pakistan. Hence, the food influences have been heavily adapted from the Middle East. The initial settlement of the Bohra’s in Surat, Gujarat have led to major Gujarati influence on the cuisine as well.This is why you will find that Bohri cuisine is much lighter and lower in spice than Mughlai or Pakistani food." -- Mumbai Foodie

I found a very, interesting and simple vegetarian dish that all those articles mentioned as the Bohri comfort food. So, I went out on a limb and made "Dal-Chawal-Palidu" for lunch today.

I followed the recipe from two sites -- Goya Journal and Farida's post in One Life To Eat

Did you know Dal-Chawal-Palidu and not Biriyani, is a dish for all celebratory occasions in the Bohri Muslim Community?

In the Bohri style of community dining, the family gathers around the thaal, eating the meal in courses that alternate between sweet and savoury.  One of the staples of the Bohri thaal is Dal Chawal Palidu – a dish with rice, lentils and moringa that is so beloved in the Bohri repertoire that no meal, no celebration, is complete without it. Gently boiled and spiced, the lentils are layered between freshly steamed rice, and cooked on dum, served with a side of tempered moringa - Goya Journal
It was so very different from the Dal-Chawal I have grown up with that I had to actually compare 4 recipes to make sure this was indeed a Dal-Chawal. The Palida on the other was more in our line of food habit and the taste was very akin to sambhar. We really loved the Palida.
Did we like Dal-Chawal-Palidu? Yes.
Will it be my comfort food? No.
But I did learn something and if I befriend someone from the Bohri community, I will look forward to taste their authentic version of "Dal-Chawal-Palida".