Monday, September 26, 2011

Street Foods of India - Kulle Ki Chaat (Delhi)

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The charm of being a true blue Delhi resident is the exposure one has to chaat ...different kinds of chaat. Chaat derives its name from the hindi word 'Chaatna', literally meaning licking ones fingers. Since most of the chaat items ensure you will end up licking your fingers, the name is very apt. Chaat has now spread its tentacles to various parts othe country and it is not uncommon to find chaat stalls in South India, where they hawk something called a Delhi Chaat. The key differentiators of all chaats boils down to the use of ingredients and their freshness. The freshness of yogurt used, the freshness of the spices, the crispness of the papdi, the freshness of the fruit ...the freshness.
I was in Old Delhi last to last Saturday to sample the chaat fare on offer and try out the kulle ki chaat which sadly is not commonly available, atleast, not in the area I'm in. I love my chaats and my better half more than me, but we had both never had a kulle ki chaat ever. So it was a pleasant experience and the glee on both our faces while we were sampling this was a moment to freeze.
Post my return back home, I knew this was one chaat I had to do for this blog. More than that, this was one for keeps as a great appetizer for parties. It's simple, fresh and so different. The first challenge was to source the variety of bengal gram used in the chaat. Since, it is not used in the chaats in my area, I had to request someone to get it from me from Khari Baoli. Next was the conceptualization. For kulle ki chaat, you need to make a kulla out of Potatoes, cucumber, chunk of watermelon, bananas,tomatoes and then fill them and spice them. Kulla is a scooped out vegetable or fruit. I used only three, Watermelon, Potato and Cucumber, despite protests from my better half to use bananas as she loved the banana ka kulla. The result was the same expression on both our face as we had our plate of watermelon, potato and cucumber ka kulla and enjoyed a wonderful Noida sunset from our rooftop.

Kulle Ki Chaat
(For 4 People)

Potatoes,big - 2
Watermelon, seedless (I didn't get one) - 1
Cucumber - 2
Cumin - 3 Tblsp
Black Salt - 2 Tblsp
Salt - To Taste
Lemon - 2
Bengal Gram, the zero size variety (soaked overnight and boiled) - 1/2 Cup
Pomegranate seeds - 1 Cup

For the Masala (alternately, use 3 Tblsp chaat masala)
Black Pepper Corns - 2 Tsp
Cloves - 4
Cinnamon Stick - 1
Mango Powder - 3 Tsp
Ginger Powder - 1 Tsp
Ajwain - 1/2 Tsp
Dry Mint Leaves - 1/2 Tsp

1. Parboil the potatoes and peel and cut them into half (breadthwise). Scoop out the middle to make a empty barrel.
2. Peel the cucumber and cut into 4 inch pieces. Hollow them out too.
3. Take a small chunk of watermelon and hollow it out.
4. Arrange them on a plate.
5. Dry roast the ingredients for the masala and powder them.
6. Dry roast the cumin seeds and powder them with a mortar and pestle.
7. Sprinkle half the salt, black salt, cumin powder, chaat masala on the hollowed cups.
8. Add the pomegranate and bengal grams and fill the cups till they are half full.
9. Sprinkle the rest of the salt, black salt, cumin powder, chaat masala.
10. Squeeze lemon juice on the cups.
11. The chaat is ready to go.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fried Onion Paste

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A lot of times, people find themselves stuck when it comes to adding specific pastes to Indian pastes, one of them being onion pastes. Just like a recipe calls for onions cut a specific way, so do some recipes when they call for a boiled onion paste or a brown onion paste (also called a Fried Onion Paste). The cut of the onion and the paste does make a difference to the dish, a very subtle difference but a difference surely.
This was a very important lesson that I received way back in 1997 while cooking in the management training kitchen at WMI (Welcomgroup Management Institute). Till then, I used to cut the onions any which way I felt like and mostly used onion pastes as I liked my gravies smoother. Else, sliced were much preferred, unless you were in the mood to finely chop the onions (believe me, when you have been chopping 20 odd kgs of onions everyday for a month, mood does come into play, when you have some leeway, like we had in the MT kitchen). Chef Manjeet Gill was visiting the WMI facility and dropped by the kitchen to see what my 3 other colleagues and I were upto. On seeing me slice onions for a specific dish, he walked me up to ask me what I will use it for. The dish in question called for chopped onions, and he promptly pointed it out and told me to correct it. I asked him as to what difference it will make to the dish and his reply was "plenty" atleast to the taste(summing it up. Can't remember the exact words).
Due to the huge respect for the man (his works are legendary and he's a fantastic man. Just met him a year back and I just go starry eyed meeting him), I promptly corrected the technique. But in a day or two, I tried the experiment of cooking up a dish three times, using chopped onions, sliced onions and fried onion paste. The difference was there ...the difference that makes one dish good and the other great.

Fried Onion Paste

Onions - 1 Kg.
Yogurt- 100 gm.
Oil - For frying

1. Slice the onions.
2. Heat oil in a wok and saute onions till they are golden brown.
3. Remove onions on an absorbent paper to drain excess oil.
4. After they have cooled down, blend them in a processor with yogurt to a fine paste consistency.
5. Your fried onion paste is ready to use or store. (can be stored in an air tight container for 10-15 days).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Chocolate Nankhatai

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It was a busy last weekend. After weeks of delay due to rains, and laziness, I finally managed to get to the Walled City (Chandni Chowk and around) to sample the foodie fare available. And I did it 2 days in a row. With 65 places marked for me to try out, it is going to take me a few more trips. And when I finally complete the list the post (or posts on Old Delhi food) is going to be one amazing read. You need to keep watching this space, so that you don't miss when it does appear. Now I knew the regular items (read chaat, kachori, kababs) that I will eat in the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, Nai Sarak etc., and some exotic food like Japani Samosas, Kullas that I will try out for the first time, what I wasn't expecting and came as a pleasant surprise was a vendor hawking Nankhatai's.

Now nankhatai's are Indian eggless cookies and the real easy ones at that. History points to Dutch colonizers of 16th Century with inventing the nankhatai and it was popularized by the Parsis who took over the bakeries started by the Dutch in Surat, Gujarat. Over time the nankhatai found their way to the streets in Delhi and from there to many a heart (and stomach). One early morning trip to eat the Nihari and I came across one of the hawkers preparing the nankhatai's on their very carts. Since it does not call for many ingredients, the hawker very easily makes the dough and cuts them into circles. He adds them to a round tray (which from far makes it look like a idli tray) and sets the tray in his oven made with hot coals. He covers the oven with his heavy skillet and waits for the nankhatai's to cook (or rather bake).

Going for Rs. 2.50 they are a steal and melt in your mouth. An ideal sweet after a heavy meal, when you crave for something sweet but not too heavy.
As I ate my nankhatai, I remembered my days in BTK (that is Basic Training Kitchen) in 1st Year Hotel Management, making my first batch of nankhatai's. It was almost 20 years and I had to get down making these lovely cookies. Though, I instinctively should have either reached for my 1st year recipe book (I have it somewhere in my pile of books) or gone the way the roadside hawkers do ( they use gramflour, flour, semolina, khoya, cardamom powder, sugar, soda bi-carb, baking powder and desi ghee), I decided to experiment a little. Since it is mandatory for all cookies to have chocolate in our house (my younger one insists), and my better half had tried the regular version a day earlier, I made Chocolate nankhatai's. I made them a little bigger (more appealing to a kid ...have one and don't come back for the second) and also used a little cinnamon (just a wee bit). The regular recipe and regular sized nankhatai will have to wait for another day ..and another post.

Chocolate Nankhatai
(Makes 16 cookies)

Flour - 155 gm
Ghee (Clarified Butter) - 130 gm
Sugar, powdered - 150 gm
Cocoa Powder - 5 gm
Semolina - 5 gm
Soda Bi-Carb - 1 Tsp.
Cinnamon - 1 Tsp

1. Cream the sugar and ghee until well blended.
2. Sift the flour with the Semolina, Cocoa Powder, Soda Bi-Carb and Cinnamon.
3. Add this dry mixture to the creamed ghee mixture.
4. Knead into a dough.
5. Divide into 16 balls.
6. Flatten each ball a little and place on a cookie sheet. Keep some distance between the cookies.
7. Bake the nankhatai's at 180 for 35 minutes.
8. Switch off the oven and let them cool in the oven for an hour.
9. Store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Cocktail Samosas with a twist

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I had a plan to visit Old Delhi this Saturday only to sample the food. The huge downpour on Thursday prompted me to postpone that trip by a week and not wanting to sit at home, I made a short trip to Central Market, Lajpat Nagar. After stuffing myself with chaat, samosas, bread pakoras and a lot more, I decided to do some of my own on Sunday. It was going to be samosas, but with a different filling.
Samosas are a very popular snack in India. I, for one have loved samosas since my childhood and some of my close friends know of this craving. It was fairly routine in my grandfather's house to have samosas and pakoras for evening tea every other day. I can't wait for winters to arrive so that me and my co-workers can walk across the office on foggy Delhi mornings to the local kiosk (more of a make shift shed) where the streetside vendor is busy frying fresh samosas and bread pakoras. You can find a crowd of people from various offices who have made this morning walk to bond over samosas, hot chai (tea) and discuss cricket (if not the office).
Simply put, Samosas are deep fried/baked stuffed pastry, mostly triangular in size, but other variations in shape do exist.
It's origins are widely debated and it is known by various names in various regions of India, Asia and Africa where it is widely eaten. Though some say say that it originated in Central Asia and was introduced to India in the 13th & 14th century by traders from Central Asia, renowned culinary historian K. T. Achaya differs (or maybe I misconstrued what he meant) while writing about Samosa in his 'A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food'. He quotes Amir Khusrao (1300 AD) describing the foods of the Muslim Aristocracy in India consisting of the 'samosa', which is prepared from meat, ghee, etc.Also, Ibn Batuta (14th Century traveler and explorer in the court of the Tughlaq dynasty in Delhi) during the same century describes the samosa ( which he calls a samusak), as a snack cooked with minced meat cooked with dry fruits such as almonds, pistachios alongwith onions and spices etc.(Per him it was served before the third course, the Pulao). Also, quoted is the Ain-i Akbari, which lists the samosa as the qutab (and states that the people of Hind call it sanbusa). Based on these historical inputs Achaya believes that the samosas were something that these travelers did not bring from their parent lands but indigenous to India. Apart from the historical works quoted by Achaya, the samosa is also listed by an Iranian historian Abolfazl Beyhaqi(10th Century) in the works called Tarikh-E-Beyhaghi. Irrespective of where it originated, the samosa has remained a popular snack. In North India,it consists of a filling of mashed potatoes and peas. As you travel to Pakistan you can find the version with meat filling. The samosa is also known as the Singhara in West Bengal (Eastern State of India) and in Hyderabad, India you can find a square shaped version called the Lukhmi.
For Samosa addicts, here is a great site which you have to see (unless you are faking it). It is called the Samosa Connection and has the history, origins, types and avatars listed. They even have a mail ID for you to contact them and submit your comments and suggestions. Now that is cool.

Thyme Cocktail Samosas with Cottage Cheese
(16 Samosas)

For the Samosas
Flour - 200 gm
Oil - 40 ml.  Replace with Ghee below
Ghee - 50 gm (I used Oil, but had a good suggestion from Sidharth Bakshi to replace oil with ghee. Helps to remove the blisters from the final product).
Salt - 1/2 tsp.
Thyme - 1 tsp.
Flour - To Dust
Oil - To Deep Fry
Water - 1 Cup ( You may not require more than 4-5 tblsp.)

For the Filling
Paneer (Cottage Cheese), grated - 200 gm
Corn Kernels, blanched - 200 gm
Olives, sliced or chopped - 7
Cheddar /Processed Cheese, cut into 0.5 cm cubes - 40 gms
Shallots, finely chopped - 1/2 Cup
Garlic, finely chopped - 6 cloves
Black Pepper, freshly ground - 1 Tsp.
Mixed Herbs - 1 Tsp
Salt - To Taste
Olive Oil - 1 Tblsp

Dough for the Samosas:
1. Sift the flour and salt together. Add in the thyme.
2. Make a well in the centre and pour oil into it.
3. Start mixing the flour mixture with the oil gradually.
4. Once the oil is fully mixed, add in the water and knead to form a semi-hard dough.
5. Cover with a moist cloth and rest for a minimum of 15 minutes.

The Filling:
1. Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan.
2. Add in the chopped shallots. Cook them till they turn translucent. Add in the chopped garlic and cook for a couple of minutes.
3. Add in the paneer, mix well and cook for 3 minutes.
4. Add in the corn kernels. Mix well and cook for 3 more minutes.
5. Add in the herbs, seasoning and olives. Mix well and cook for an additional minute.
6. Switch off the flame and add in the cheese cubes and stir the mixture.

Making the Samosa:
1. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions and make a ball.
2. Divide the mixture into 16 equal portions. (each ball of dough will yield 2 samosas, hence twice the filling to the balls).
3. Place a ball on a lightly floured surface. Keep a bowl of water nearby (You will use it later).
4. Flatten it with a rolling pin and roll it into a round shape (3" in diameter).
5. Cut the circle into half.
6. Take one half of the circle (semi-circle) and place it in your palm. Position the straight edge to align along the forefinger.
7. Dip the forefinger of your other hand in water and use the wet forefinger to line the straight edge.
8. Fold the semi circle into a cone.
9. Stuff the filling into the cone (Do not fill to the brim - leave a portion vacant on top).
10. Line the edges of the open side with a wet forefinger.
11. Seal the open portion together by pressing firmly.
12. Arrange on a lightly floured tray.
13. Repeat the procedure till all samosas are prepared.
14. Heat oil in a wok.
15. Deep fry the samosas on medium heat till they are golden brown.
16. Drain the excess oil on absorbent paper.
17. Serve hot with chutney.

Note: Traditionally Samosas are served with mint chutney. Since these were different in their filling, I made an orange chutney to accompany the samosas.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Butter Chicken Quesadillas

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Quesadillas is a dish which is mexican in origin and derives its name from the spanish word for cheese (Queso). Don't let the name fool you, its a simple corn or flour tortilla filled with cheese and other ingredients, which are generally savory in nature and then folded in half (into a half moon shape). This filled mixture is then toasted or fried until the cheese melts. It is then cut into wedges or slices and served.
Quesadillas have undergone a lot of changes throughout history and numerous variations exist not only in different parts of the world, but even in different parts of Mexico.

Purists differentiate between a quesadilla froma taco or burrito by stating that in a quesadilla, the ingredients are filled and then it is cooked, whereas for the taco or burrito the ingredients are cooked before and then added.

I just added my own twist to the variations by bringing in an Indian angle to the quesadilla, and though, my ingredients for the filling were cooked before, I still prefer to call it a Quesadilla. It is a little more time consuming to make, however, it is a very good recipe if you are out to impress and the look and compliments make up for the time spent preparing this. For starters, I have used Chilla (Indian chickpea flour pancake), instead of the flour or corn tortilla. Since you do not get Chillas in the marketplace of the shelves (as you would in the case of tortillas), this will require preparation. Also, you need to ensure the chillas prepared are thin, else they will break once filled and folded. The filling being used is the traditional butter chicken with a thick gravy and Monterrey Jack cheese. Butter Chicken requires grilling chicken first and then cooking in a tomato based gravy.

This requires both time and rolling up your sleeves, but then this is a show stealer and a damn good one at that.

Butter Chicken Quesadillas

4 Portions ( 9 wedges)


Chillas - 3 No.s (Check recipe here. make the chillas thin)

Butter Chicken - 250 gms

Cheese, grated - 2 Cups

Oil - 4 Tblsp


1. Prepare Butter Chicken as given here. The only variations to the preparation are as follows:

- After grilling the chicken pieces, cut them into small 2 cm pieces.

- Simmer sauce before addition of cream and kasoori methi, till sauce almost coats the chicken pieces. Reduce cream to quarter.

2. Take each chilla and lay it flat on the working surface.

3. Spread the thick butter chicken mixture on one semi circular side of the chilla.

4. Sprinkle grated cheese on that side on top of the butter chicken mixture.

5. Fold the other plain side to cover the fully and form a folded semi circle. Press lightly.

6. Heat a flat plate/tawa and add 2 teaspoons of oil.

7. Add the semi folded chilla with the stuffing and cook lightly. Flip it over to cook the other side.

8. The cheese will melt and bind the 2 halves of the chilla.

9. Take off the hot plate/tawa and cut into 3 wedges (or 2 as you desire).

10. Repeat with remaining chillas.

11. Serve hot with your choice of dip or sauce.

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