Easy Moong-Masoor Dal

This hearty recipe is all you need to warm up during these cold, grey and drizzly evenings bringing a fuzzy feeling of warmth from the inside out.

Dal (lentil curry) forms an integral part of the staple Bengali diet and is present at most mealtimes in a every traditional household. Surprisingly simple, yet nutritiously satisfying, dal can also be enjoyed, guilt-free, as a protein-rich soup if you prefer a lower carb meal.

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cooking Time: 55 mins

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • ½ cup split moong dal
  • 1 cup masoor dal
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ ground cumin
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 4 cups of water
  • 2 green chillies, split lengthwise (optional)
  • 1 tbsp oil

For the tempering

  • 1-2 tbsp oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp panch phoron (Bengali five spice mix*)
  • 1 tsp crushed red chilli (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

Method

  1. Dry roast the moong dal over a gentle flame until the aromas are released, stirring constantly. This will take about 3-4 mins and the lentils will change colour very slightly. Set aside to cool.
  2. Combine the cooled moong dal with the masoor dal and rinse until the water runs clear.
  3. Place the lentils in a medium saucepan and add 3 cups water with the salt. Bring to boil, removing any foam which is formed.
  4. Add the onions, garlic and ginger paste, the dry spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin) and the oil. Stir well, cover and simmer on low until the lentils are cooked. This will take no more than 30 mins.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and run a whisk or hand blender through the cooked lentils to create a smooth, rich consistency.
  6. Return the pan to the heat and add the last cup of water. Add the green chilli (if using) and turn up the heat and bring back to boil. Lower the heat and cook on a medium flame for approximately 10 minutes, to achieve a less watery consistency. The dal should still be runny. Turn off the heat and cover the saucepan.
  7. For the tempering, place a small wok or frying pan over a medium flame. Heat the oil, then add the bay leaf and garlic. Cook off for 1-2 mins until the garlic begins to brown.
  8. Turn off the heat and stir in the five spices and red chilli flakes, if using.
  9. Remove the lid from thevsaucepan of cooked dal and pour in the tempered spices. Scoop a spoonful of the dal into the tempering vessel and then gently scrape the dal back into the saucepan again to capture all the flavours from the tempered spices.
  10. Place the lid back on the dal and allow the flavours to infuse through.

Your dal is now ready!

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Mackerel with Spinach (Macher Chorchori)

mackerel_with_spinach.jpg-pwrt3Based on the traditional Bengali dish known as ‘chorchori’ (medley) this is variation which I learnt to cook from my father, a master of culinary creativity. An easy to cook recipe bursting with flavour and goodness.

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
Serves: 2

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tin mackerel fillets in brine, drained
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • ½ tbsp garlic paste, or 1 fresh clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste or 1” piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-7 blocks of frozen spinach
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 green chilli, chopped (optional)
  • handful of fried fenugreek leaves (optional)

Method:

1. Heat the oil and add the bay leaf.

2. Add the onions and cook on medium heat until transparent.

3. Add the garlic and ginger and stir for 1-2 mins.

4. Add the dry spices and sauté for 2 mins with 2 tbsp water.

5. Add the mackerel and stir well to cover with spices, using a wooden spoon to break up the fillets.

6. Add the spinach and green chilli (if using), stir a little and cover; leave to cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

7. Stir the spinach well to blend in with the fish mixture. Cover and cook again, if necessary, until the spinach is cooked through.

8. Remove the lid and turn up heat to evaporate any excess liquid.

9. Continue stirring and remove from heat when the dish is completely dry and begins to come away from the sides of the pan as you stir.

10. Stir in the dried fenugreek leaves, if using, and remove from heat.

As published in the Wimbledon Guardian, 12 December 2013

Shobji Bhaji (Vegetable Stir Fry)

Sometimes there really is nothing like good old Bengali cooking.

This is a very simple, yet beautifully presentable recipe, representative of the staple ‘dry’ vegetable dish served with every Bangladeshi meal. The panch phoron seeds lend a wonderfully aromatic flavour that is so typical of Bengali cooking.

The key here is to stir fry the vegetables over a high heat, using little or no water. This will ensure that the vegetables do not stick together and become and mushy.

Cooking Time: 20 mins

Serves: 3-4  

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp panch phoron (bengali five spice mix)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ piece root ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp ground, roasted cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 250g mixed veg (fresh or frozen)
  • 2-3 small new potatoes, diced
  • salt to taste
  • fresh, chopped coriander to garnish each piece

How to cook

  1. Heat the oil in a large wok or karahi over a medium flame.
  2. Add the panch phoron and bay leaf. Wait for seeds to sizzle.
  3. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 2-3 mins.
  5. Add the dry spices and cook for another minute (adding a splash of water if the spices begin to stick to the pan).
  6. Add the vegetables with the salt. If using frozen vegetables use a wooden spoon to break any chunks.
  7. Stir fry for 10 mins on high heat ensuring they are evenly covered with the spices.
  8. Add a splash of water, stir, then turn down to heat and cover.
  9. Cook for another 5 mins or until the vegetables are just tender. DO NOT OVERCOOK!
  10. Remove from heat and garnish with chopped coriander before serving.

Tagine-Steamed White Fish

Steamed FishIn keeping with our Bengali traditional, but much to my parents’ disapproval of my aversion to eating fish, it was often a case of “Eat your fish!” at the dining table. More so than the proverbial peas.

Ironically, as a Mother of two teens, I now find myself cooking fish in a variety of ways. The versatility of cooking with fish, whether it’s a fishermen’s pie, a curry, a grill or even a biriyani (!) makes it quite effortless to get those all-essential Omega-3’s into our daily diet in the most natural way.

Last night I chose to steam these basa fillets, but not quite the conventional way. I seasoned the fillets and simply arranged them in a single layer in my glazed ceramic tagine. I then placed the tagine on the stove over a heat diffuser to ensure even cooking.

The build up of steam in the pot creates condensation and the resulting droplets ensure the fish is left beautifully moist with all the flavours sealed into the fish. Simply lushalicious :p. So here’s how it goes…

Cooking Time: 20 mins

Serves: 4  

Ingredients

  • 4 white fish fillets (such as cod, haddock or basa)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of a quarter lemon
  • 1 tsp crushed red chilies (or more if you dare!)
  • sprinkle of course black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • handful of chopped parsley
  • a lemon twist and sprig of fresh coriander to garnish each piece

How to cook

  1. Mix all the ingredients well and season the fish. Set aside for 10 mins.
  2. Gently heat a large wok, karahi or tagine placed in a heat diffuser (you can use a tava or frying pan for this purpose).
  3. Arrange the fish onto the vessel a single layer and place a tight fitting lid (or the tagine lid if using a tagine).
  4. Allow to cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
  5. Remove each piece carefully and garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of coriander.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with seasoned, steamed new potatoes and beans or spinach. Or for a touch of Indian, serve with a portion of boiled rice topped with a tadka-free lentil curry as shown here 🙂

Basa fillet with lentils and rice

Chicken Jalfrezi

Chicken Jalfrezi (or Jhal Frezi – ‘jhal’ meaning spicy in Bengali) is typically a ‘bhuna’ dish which means the sauce is thicker and drier than a usual curry. I often mention the word ‘bhuna’ during my classes as it is an essential state which needs to be achieved during the initial stages of cooking, where the ingredients are cooked in their own juices, in order to intensify the flavour of the final dish.

The focus on this recipe is therefore to produce this ‘bhuna’ sauce which can also be stored and used as a base for other curries. Nice 🙂 So you can see why this makes a great recipe for my upcoming demo at New Malden Farmers Market.

Cooking Time: 30-40 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

For the chicken marinade (OR just use precooked chicken tikka to toss into the sauce when its ready)

  • 2 medium chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 heaped tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp roasted, ground cumin

For the curry sauce

  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 large onion, very finely chopped + another 1/2 finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 inch piece ginger, finely minced
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 green pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 green chillies, sliced lengthwise & seeded
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp roasted, ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1-2 tsp salt or to taste
  • approx. 1/2 cup warm water

How to cook

  1. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and set aside while you prepare the sauce.
  2. Heat the oil over a medium flame and cook the onions until softened.
  3. Add the garlic and ginger and continue to cook until the mixture is lightly browned.
  4. Stir in the turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin and salt, adding a splash of water if needed. Fry for 2-3 mins until the oil has separated from the spices – this is known as the ‘bhuna’ stage.
  5. Stir in the tomato puree and continue to cook for another 30 secs.
  6. Add half the water and bring to a boil. Cover and allow to simmer for about 5-7 mins until the ‘bhuna’ state is achieved again.
  7. Add the marinated chicken and cook on a high flame until the chicken pieces are sealed and evenly covered with the spiced sauce.
    (If using pre-cooked chicken skip this step.)
  8. Stir in the onions, peppers and green chillies, then add the remaining water. Bring to boil; cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked and the gravy has thickened.
    (If using pre-cooked chicken, stir in the vegetables, then add the water. Cover and cook until tender. Add the chicken and cook uncovered until the gravy has thickened.
  9. Sprinkle the garam masala and add the tomatoes. Cook uncovered for another 2-3 mins, just until the tomatoes have softened and then remove from the heat.

Serve with basmati rice or naan.

 

My Chicken Curry

I used to love my Mum’s simple chicken curry with its distinctive flavour of green peppers and whole spices. Ironically though, when visiting my parents’ home, Mum would often ask me to make ‘my’ chicken curry to give her respite from her own cooking.

Now let’s get this right, my version of chicken curry is based on a combination of ingredients from two different cultures. As with many of my recipes, my Bengali roots call for the use of  ‘panch phoron’ (five spice mix), which (to me) lends the curry a nostalgic flavour, vaguely reminiscent of my grandma’s cooking. However, the use of fried onions and yoghurt is more akin to a Pakistani-style Korma, very much influenced by my mother-in-law’s cookery which I was introduced to more than some 20 years ago…

I have replaced the whole spices used in my Mum’s original recipe with my home ground garam masala (owing to the somewhat fussy eating habits in my household) and substituted the green peppers with red ones to lend the curry a subtle, yet natural sweetness. It is a simple recipe, surprisingly bursting with flavour, blog-worthy for it classic simplicity.

Ingredients

  • 1 large chicken breast, cut into chunky piecesMy Chicken Curry
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 red pepper, chopped
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic paste
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste
  • 1/3 cup fried onions (store bought or home made)
  • 1 tsp panch phoron
  • 1/2 tsp roasted ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp coriander powder
  • 3/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/4 tsp – 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp -3/4 tsp salt or to taste
  • 4 tbsp natural low fat Greek style yoghurt
  • 1/3 cup hot water

How to cook

  1. Heat the oil gently then add the panch phoron.
  2. Wait for the seeds to sizzle, then add the chicken.
  3. Stir the chicken over a medium heat until the pieces are all sealed.
  4. Stir in the garlic and ginger and continue to cook for 5 mins.
  5. Add the cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli and saute for another 5 minutes or until the oil separates from the spices (add a little water during this stage if the mixture becomes too dry).
  6. Add the tomatoes and peppers and turn up the heat a little. Allow to cook uncovered for another 2-3 mins.
  7. Meanwhile, pour the yoghurt into a small bowl, add the fried onions, salt and garam masala and whisk the yoghurt until smooth.
  8. Lower the heat and slowly stir in the yoghurt and onion mixture into the pan.
  9. Turn the heat up again and cook for another 2-3 mins.
  10. Stir in the tomato puree and cook for a minute.
  11. Add the water and bring to boil.
  12. Stir and cover and leave to cook for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is tender.

Serve with steamed rice or a fragrant Zeera Rice like I have here.

A True Calling

Paddy & Mustard fields

It wasn’t too long ago that I last visited Dhaka, a place where I spent several of my childhood years.

I grew up with my elder brother in our very comfortable Dhaka home situated opposite the Shongshod Bhobon – the Bangladesh Houses of Parliament. Accustomed to the luxurious living my father had provided for us, and much pampered by our loving mother, the dreaded announcement of our annual visit to my father’s village, Shailan, was always greeted with much objection.

During those days, the roads that led to the family home in the village were a far cry from what they are today. It was an hour long drive, the latter part of which was uncomfortably bumpy, and the subsequent hour of walking under the glaring midday sun, along uneven pathways interrupted only by the sodden paddy fields, was not an appealing thought to the young mind. Add to that the constant scrutiny of the gazing villagers, the sparse communal-style living with the most elementary sanitary facilities, it was a trip my brother and I simply did not look forward to.

That being said, the village offered a freedom which our urban lifestyle could not measure up to. I have fond memories of running through the bright yellow mustard fields under the blue skies, picking ripened kamranga (star fruit) off the trees and playfully teasing the Mimosa leaves with a curious fascination as they closed when touched. By night, we would chase the jonakis (fireflies) by the pukur (lake) close to our dwellings, intent on trapping the bright creatures in a jar! It was with much pride that we would display our accomplishment to the grown ups gathered around the open fire stoves preparing hot pithas (traditional Bengali cakes) in volumes large enough to feed the entire village population!

Ride-A-Nouka (boat)

Ride-A-Nouka (boat)

Such was village life, simple, innocent and carefree.

Much has changed since then with established schools, medical facilities and newly built roads that lead all the way to the family home. But the generosity of the locals and their sense of ‘oneness’ is always there. I hope to return soon to these soils where my mother has been laid to rest.

All images published here are copyright of the amazing photographer Mahbub Shaheed. More stunning photography of Dhaka can be found here.

All Things Chai…

Chai for me is to be enjoyed on its own. Simple. No food required. I often long for a ‘dhaba’ (roadside restaurant) style desi (with reference to all things South Asian) chai. The last time I enjoyed the authenticity of sitting by a roadside kiosk at dusk, sipping a hot, sweet masala chai, was during one of my rare visits to Bangladesh – a place where I spent a good part of my childhood. Sadly, most restaurants in London will not serve a tea without a meal…unlike our coffee shops. So whilst my day always starts with a desi cardamom chai, when out and about, like a bee to drawn to nectar, I find myself in my favourite coffee shop ordering a “Grande Soya Chai Tea Latte, extra chai, no water” – a bit of a mouthful but certainly worth the effort. Worth noting: The soya lends a creamy sweetness which I find lacking in the dairy version. However, during a recent visit to a well known curry house, I was blown away by the luscious Kashmiri Chai served, on request, BEFORE my meal. Now let me tell you a little about this beverage. Kashmiri Chai, otherwise know as Sheer Chai or Pink Tea is a traditional Kashmiri drink brewed from special tea leaves and served with cardamom, pistachios and almonds served as a warming beverage during the cold winter months in India and Pakistan; also enjoyed during festivities and celebrations. It’s characteristic pink colour is achieved by adding a pinch of baking soda. Not wanting to go out for a full blown meal, but longing to indulge in this very superior version of chai, I took to the stove with a zealous determination to recreate the magic of Kashmir in my South West London home kitchen, albeit a lower fat rendition.

Image Cooking Time: approx. 1-2 hours
Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbl kashmiri or green tea leaves
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup half fat milk
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup half fat evaporated milk (opional)
  • 10-12 cardamon pods, split and used whole or seeds crushed
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • pinch of ground pistachios (optional)
  • pinch of ground almonds (optional)

How to brew

  1. Bring 2 cup of water to boil.
  2. Add the tea leaves and bring to boil.
  3. Cover and simmer for 60-90 minutes until the liquid turns a reddish colour.
  4. Add the baking soda and shake, then bring back to boil.
  5. Add the another cup of water (preferably chilled), pouring it in from a height.
  6. Shift the liquid between the pan and another pan or jug, by pouring the liquid from a height from one to the other – this process enhances the flavour and pink colour.
  7. Return to boil.
  8. Strain the liquid and return to the pan.
  9. Bring back to boil and add the milk and sugar.
  10. Gently bring to boil and simmer for 5 mins.
  11. Pour in the evaporated milk (if using) and again bring to boil and simmer for 1-2 mins.
  12. Pour into your favourite chai mugs and top with crushed nuts if desired.