Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Lal Shak Bhaja - Red Amaranth Stir fry

Laal Shaak, Laal Shaak Bhaja, Laal Saag, Red Amaranth

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. These red amaranth leaves are a good source of Vit A and C. In some parts of India these red leafy veggies are called laal math,

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. Though as a child, I wasn't fond of green leafy vegetables, I liked "laal shaak" because of their magical power to turn boring white rice to a pretty pink!!

They are also 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 or Laal saag 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.

Laal Shaak, Laal Shaak Bhaja, Laal Saag, Red Amaranth

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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Easy Fresh Mango Cake

Today I got a big surprise. A DHL courier yellow truck pulled up in front of our house and dropped a package by the door. Every other day, it's only Amazon who delivers to our doorstep, so DHL threw us off!! After the mandatory 2 hrs quarantine-at-porch method, when I brought in the huge envelope, the sender's address read Harper Collins India.

Of course the kids were too excited, "Maybe your book", they said. Since the book release date has now been pushed to August due to lock-down in India, I wasn't too hopeful. Yet, I had this sick feeling in the stomach. I had not seen the book and cover in print yet and thought everything must have gone wrong at the printing press!!

I took deep breaths and acted calm while the girls lapsed into due criticism and lecture about excessive plastic waste and blah, blah. I mean seriously? Here your Mom is dying and there you are thinking of plastic!! Anyway they finally opened the packaging and the cover looked so beautiful. However instead of letting me savor the moment, they excitedly flipped the pages, looking for guess what -- The Acknowledgement section. Now, finally they have lost interest and handed it over to me.

I cannot dare to open and read it. Not now. But I feel a deep love for the book -- for all 260 pages of it, for the story that unfolds in those pages.Like I am its mother and if anyone criticizes it, I might just bite them, so be aware!

A cake looks like the right thing for today and since I don't have one, I might as well write about the cake we had last week!

I love simple cakes with chunks of real fruits and low on added sugar. Those are the only ones I can bake. Any cake recipe that starts with a sentence like "Separate the egg white and beat to a stiff peak" does not hold my attention. If you bake one of those for me, I will be too glad.

But ahem, if I have to bake them, Lordie help me and the family. This delicious mango cake is just the kind I love, a very easy and simple recipe with less sugar and lots of fresh mangoes. I loved it from the very beginning. The kids who are more fond of the fancy layered cakes, were a little suspicious but with the frosting done, they were eager to take more bites. Finally they too agreed that it was a delicious cake. This cake tastes even better the next day after a night in the refrigerator.

Original Recipe from Taste of Home

Monday, July 06, 2020

Chili Garlic Shrimp

Chili Garlic Shrimp, Chili Garlic Shrimp

Chili Garlic Shrimp

Shrimp tossed with lots of garlic, a hot chilli-garlic and soy sauce is the easiest dish to make. I added some of the Korean Gochujang sauce to the shrimp and it added a burst of flavors

Long back in elementary school, we had to routinely write essays in class, and I often wrote  one with an opening sentence like  "Man is a social animal". I don't think I understood what it meant. The heft of that sentence deluded my 10-11 year old mind. I had found it in some book and it seemed an important enough sentence to get the teacher's attention, and so  many of my school essays be it personal narratives like "My Best Friend" or autobiographical like " Life of a Bovine Creature", began with an opening of "Man is a social animal."

I understand that sentence now in my own way. Human beings seek company, even when it is not needed. Just for the heck of it.
Take me for instance. I was leading  a perfectly peaceful life during the quarantine period. I never felt the need to go out to party or meet people or have dinner together. Whenever I needed to talk, I did enough of that over Phone, texts, Whatsapp, Zoom, Facebook and what not. There was nothing more that I really needed to say to anyone face to face. But once the quarantine orders were lifted what happens ? We started planning on meeting people.

As Covid cases are decreasing in our state and seems to be under control, we have become more braver with meeting people. The fact that it is summer and we can mingle outside in the backyard has helped too. No knowing what the future holds though, who wins, the virus or humans need to socialize.

As Sandip Roy says in this article where he draws a metaphor between the pandemic and the Bengali's favorite "paashbaalish",  will the Bengalis side pillow outlast the pandemic, or will the virus be a steady factor in the life of humans as they go about socializing at less than 6 ft distance.

Now back to food, I have to sheepishly admit that I had no idea what Korean #Gochujang sauce was in the pre-Covid era.🙈
I heard a lot more about it during the lockdown as folks were creating dishes at home, that reminded them of their favorite restaurant joints. Or maybe they were always creating those but I had not paid attention.

Anyway I got a bottle of the Gochujang sauce last week at the grocery store. Since then I have been hooked and finished a bottle of it almost. I made this delicious Chili Garlic Shrimp using some of this sauce and our favorite Sichuan hot sauce. It was super easy and quick to make. Everyone agreed that it was delicious. It is the kind of dish that will help you ease into the "new normal" after blissful months pf "lyaad normal".

I have used Sichuan hot sauce and Gochujang sauce here. However if you don't have them, don't fret. You can use the Indian Chinese Red Chilli Sauce instead. You can also play around with the sauces to get the right note that hits your taste buds. Enjoy!

Chili Garlic Shrimp


Shrimp/Prawns -- about 30 raw shrimp
Salt - 1/2 tsp
Paprika - 1/2 tsp
AP Flour - 1 Tbsp
Cornstarch -- 1 Tbsp

Onion - 1 small chopped in thin slices
Garlic - 5-6 cloves minced
Ginger - 1 Tbsp grated
Vegetable Oil/Peanut Oil/Sesame Oil - 4-5 Tbsp

Scallion/Green onion - to garnish

Make the Sauce

Sichuan Hot sauce Or Chilli-Garlic Sauce - 4-5 Tbsp (If you don't have this, use the Indian Chinese Red Chilli Sauce)
Gochujang Sauce - 4 Tbsp (If you don't have this, use a mix of Maggi Hot and sweet + Green chilli sauce + little Vinegar)
Soy Sauce - 1 Tbsp
In a bowl add all of the above and make the sauce. Taste and adjust as per your taste

Start Cooking

Clean the shrimp. If you are using frozen shrimp then defrost by running in water at room temperature. Don't ever use hot water or defrost in microwave. Another option is to put shrimp in a ziploc bag and dunk it in a bowl of water at room temp.

Dry the shrimp. Sprinkle salt and paprika and mix. Dust with flour and cornstarch and coat the shrimp

Heat Oil in a skillet. We will just shallow fry the shrimp so maybe 3-4 Tbsp Oil.

Once the oil is hot, add the shrimp, in a single layer and saute until they turn reddish and cooked. Flip and cook the other side. Shrimp cooks fast, specially the frozen ones.
Remove the shrimp on a plate and keep aside.

If there is oil remaining in the pan, use that. Or else add a little oil.

Once the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic. Saute for 3-4 minutes.
When you get the aroma of garlic, add the grated ginger. Saute for a couple of minutes until onion is soft

Next goes in the sauce. Stir in everything in the pan together and cook the sauce for a minute or so. Sprinkle little water if necessary.

Now reduce heat and add the shrimp to the pan. Tossing it so that the shrimp is well coated with the sauce.

Switch off gas. Garnish with green onion and serve as main dish or even as appetizers.

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