September 27, 2006

Golden goodness - Frittata

Eggs are a favorite breakfast food in my family. So after the bhurji, egg rolls, omelet and egg toasts have all been made, eaten and pronounced boooring, I A frittata, that's what.

Frittatas are baked Italian omelets, that unlike their Indian counterparts aren't restricted to onions and chillies. This makes them the perfect brunch food in my opinion, the vegetables and cheese sustain you till the invariably late weekend lunch, and the herbs are a welcome change from Indian spices.

Most of the recipes I came across called for a lot of cream or extra egg yolks in order to help the frittata set well. So I came up with my own version after a couple of hits and misses. I think it works just fine (with the added flavor of a guilt free meal :-)).

My favorite combination is bell peppers and mushrooms; you can try using other vegetables (zucchini, broccoli, corn) and cheese (cheddar, monterey etc.) as well.

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FRITTATA (Italian style omelet)
(serves 3-4)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 green bell pepper
6-8 mushrooms
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tbsp fresh flat leaf parsley
5 tbsp goat cheese or shredded parmesan
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
olive oil

Pre heat oven to 400°F. Wash, core and cube the peppers. Clean and slice mushrooms. Peel and coarsely chop the garlic. Whisk eggs in a mixing bowl with salt, pepper and milk.

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and saute for a minute. Add mushrooms and saute on medium high heat until their moisture dries up. Next add peppers and saute for 1-2 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper. Add herbs and mix well. If you have an oven proof skillet, add eggs right into the vegetable mixture, cook on stove top till they firm up, then pop the skillet into the oven.
If not, spoon the vegetables into an 8" round cake pan. Pour the egg mixture on top, then bake at 400°F for 12-15 minutes, or until the top is golden.

Slice and serve the frittata with a good, crusty bread.

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Entry for - Weekend Breakfast Blogging at Saffron Trail

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September 21, 2006

Musical Cooking - Paneer Tawa Masala

Weddings in Bombay are a barometer of the city's love for food. On an average guests might commute for an hour after work to reach the venue, stay for about thirty minutes, then travel another hour or two to get back home; but they will still enjoy dinner to the hilt!
It's no wonder then that reception menus are often not only delicious but also creative.

At my cousin's wedding some five years back, the most popular dish was a mixed vegetable fry prepared entirely on the 'tawa' (griddle). A man stood in front of a huge griddle with vegetables laid along it's corners. He had a gravy sizzling on the tawa and then added to it the vegetables requested by the guest. After mashing and sauteing them all together in a noisy display, he swept the blend up with his spatula and plopped it on their plates with a flourish. Hardly surprising that the little nook drew all the crowds!

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The dish is called Taka Tak Bhaji, after the rhythmic sound the cook's spatula makes on the griddle; or (the less charming in my opinion) Tawa Bhaji. It can also be made with chicken, shrimp or my choice today, paneer.

PANEER TAWA MASALA/ TAKA TAK (Cheese in tomato gravy)
(adapted from the book 'Prashad' by Jiggs Kalra)
(serves 2)
1 cup paneer*
1-2 tbsp ghee
1/2 tsp ajwain
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
2-3 green chillies, chopped
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
3/4 cup tomato gravy*
1/2 tsp garam masala
finely chopped cilantro to garnish

Crumble paneer coarsely. Heat ghee in a pan and add ajwain. Saute on medium heat until they begin to crackle.

Add onion, ginger-garlic paste and chillies. Saute until the onion turns limp. Add the spice powders, stir and then add paneer. Mix well.

Finally add the gravy and saute until everything is well blended. Turn the heat up and saute (bhuno) till all moisture dries up (work those arms!).

Sprinkle garam masala and finely chopped cilantro. Serve hot with roti or naan.

paneertawa

Tomato Gravy -
My favorite recipe is from the book but it is a long and intimidating process, so I modify it for quick results -
In a stockpot add three tomatoes, 2-3 slit green chillies, 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste, red chilli powder, 3 cloves, 3 green cardamoms and 1-2 cups of water.
Simmer on low heat until reduced to pulp. Your kitchen will smell divine at this point :-)
Let cool, then discard skins, whole spices, chillies etc.
Mash pulp and strain into another pot. Bring to a boil. Add salt to taste, kasuri methi (dried fenugreek) and cream as desired. (If gravy is too sour adjust with honey.)
I find this gravy very versatile. So I make a large quantity, freeze it and use as required in dishes like matar paneer, vegetable korma, gobi ka kheema etc.

* The original recipe uses paneer cubes and also has more paneer to gravy ratio
** If you don't have time to make the gravy from scratch use canned tomato puree and flavor it with spices

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September 18, 2006

The Perfect Brownies

With a name like that, I certainly couldn't resist making them; but since the unspoken agreement in our home is that my husband and I can't be left alone with chocolate, I restrained until we had company :-)

The brownies courtesy Nic of Baking Sheet finally got made over the weekend. And the verdict? Yep, perfect to the last crumb. All because of the neat trick of popping the brownies into the freezer straight out of the oven. Since the baking process is arrested in this manner, the insides of the brownies retain their gooeyness (new word!) while the tops become crusty. Add to that a rich, chocolate-y taste and you have got yourself the perfect brownie indeed (sorry, can't say that enough!).

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To serve I made 'sizzling brownies'; an Indian interpretation of brownie a la mode. This was a very popular dessert in Bombay a couple of years back and probably still is. The brownies were served on sizzling hot tandoor plates (hence the name) with vanilla ice cream on the side and a drizzle of hot chocolate. I made do by microwaving the brownies instead.
Or you can always go with the classic, never fail pairing of milk.

CLASSIC BROWNIES
(makes 16)
8 tbsp unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
4 oz unsweetened chocolate
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 400°F and line an 8-inch square metal baking pan with foil. (I used the aluminium foil pan available in the market).

Chop chocolate coarsely. Melt butter and chocolate in the microwave using low settings (or in a double boiler). Stir until smooth.

Stir in sugar, vanilla and salt. Add eggs one at a time, followed by flour. Stir until well combined.

Add walnuts and mix again. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake for 22 - 24 minutes.

When brownies are done remove from oven and place immediately in the freezer. If you don't have space in your freezer, make an ice bath instead.

Allow to cool completely (ie. resist temptation to eat!!) then remove pan and cut brownies into squares. (I dusted mine with a little cocoa).

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September 14, 2006

Things To Eat Before You Die

Who would have thought a meme could be so difficult? When Meeta tagged me I was thrilled to add my bit to the growing list on Melissa's blog; specially because I found Indian cuisine woefully under represented there.

But whittling down my endless ideas to just five foods was really tough. So I looked at the original post afresh and the word that stood out was - DIE (forgive the morbidity, the interesting part is coming soon!). Things became less complicated when I thought about the foods I would want to, NEED to eat before I joined the great Foodie above!

In no particular order they are -
1) Chicken Cafreal on a beach in Goa
I have had a long love affair with the place and I'd return there for one more glorious meal. I'd start the day early and walk around the city marveling at the old houses and regal churches. Having worked up an appetite I'd then head out to the beach (not the touristy one). Feet in the sand, the sound of waves in my ears and Cafreal on my plate, with a rice bhakri and sol kadhi as accompaniments.

2) A festival (Ganesh Chaturthi) meal at my grandparents' house in the Konkan
Actually it could be just about any meal at my grandparents' house and I'd die happy! There are so many memories associated with that big, old house it's hard for me to think about the food. But here is what the menu generally is -
Varan -Bhaat - dal seasoned with cumin and rice, the nutty red kind available in the area
Vade - puris made of rice flour
Kandamool/ Khatkhate - a delicately flavored stew made with seasonal vegetables and greens
Patolya - turnovers stuffed with coconut and jaggery and steamed in turmeric leaves
Panchamrut - a relish made with five ingredients, usually peanuts, fenugreek seeds, sesame seeds, coconut and jaggery
And the accompanying beverage? - water drawn straight from the well.
I'd eat the meal sitting on the floor in the huge kitchen, with sunlight streaming in through the vents in the tiled roof and the smell of hay and mud stoves in the air.

3) My mother's shrimp curry
The one and only, I have raved about this before, the shrimp cooked just right, the perfect blend of spices and the creamy undertones of coconut milk are well, to die for!

4) Mishti doi or sondesh in Calcutta
The real thing, and I'd gladly go there to taste it again. These are desserts at their simplest and most sublime. Mishti doi is lightly sweetened yogurt served in earthern pots. Sondesh are sweets made from the soft cheese (chenna) that is obtained by souring milk. Bliss.

5) Dum biryani
Vegetarian, chicken, mutton...anything is fine as long as it's an authentic dum biryani, slow cooked with each layer distinct and aromatic - browned onions, potato chips, saffron rice, and then the spiced meat or vegetables. Heaven in a pot! If you have had a really, really good biryani, you will know why it figures on this list.

The international favorites that didn't make the cut were -
Pizza ai frutti di mare or seafood pizza in Venice
The perfect Lobster Bisque
Tiramisu
Freshly squeezed orange juice
Paella
Green Tea Ice cream

I am sure almost everyone has already been tagged so I will resist. It's open to anyone who wants to join in on the fun. Do check the interesting and truly exotic list over at the Traveler's Lunchbox (1285 entries at last count!!).

September 13, 2006

Going green - Mixed vegetable curry

Here is the vegetable curry I mentioned in my post on shrimp pulao a few days back. It uses the same green masala, give or take a few ingredients. This is one of the more uncommon dishes I know, because it uses fennel (a spice that is more popular as a mouth freshner in my kitchen!), is a refreshing green in color and doesn't have a tarka; nope, not even a tiny sizzle of cumin.

What it does have is an aromatic mix of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. I call the powder semi garam masala because it has 3 of the 6 spices used in garam masala! It works really well in milder gravies (green as opposed to red) and pulaos.

cloves

This curry is actually called 'kurma' in our home but I hesitate to use that word because it is so synonymous with greasy, overly spiced restaurant dishes. This is more like an aromatic stew in comparison.

mixedvegcurry

MIXED VEGETABLE CURRY (Vegetable Kurma)
(serves 2-3)
about 3 cups of mixed vegetables , fresh or frozen (beans, peas, corn, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes etc.)
2 medium size onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup of thin coconut milk (canned or freshly made from 1/3 cup of grated coconut)
salt to taste
1-2 tbsp oil
For the paste -
2 medium size onions, quartered
10-12 stalks of cilantro
3-4 green chillies
1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
For the powder -
2 sticks of cinnamon (about 1.5 - 2cms each)
2 black cardamoms (badi elaichi) or use green cardamom
3-4 cloves

Prepare the vegetables (thaw or cut them). Heat a griddle and lightly toast the cloves, cinnamon and cardamom on moderate heat until aromatic. Let cool then grind to a fine powder.

Blend onions, cilantro, chillies and fennel into a fine paste using a little water. Keep aside. Heat a pan with oil. When hot add sliced onions and saute till they turn golden brown. Next add cilantro paste. Stir for 2-3 minutes until it loses moisture.

Add vegetables and mix until they are well coated. Sprinkle spice powder and stir again. Season with salt then add 1 cup of water to get desired consistency.

Cover and let cook. When vegetables are done, add coconut milk and bring to a gentle boil. Serve hot with rotis.

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