Sunday, October 25, 2015

Patatas Bravas

I came across this Spanish dish, Patatas Bravas, when I was watching something on youtube. It seemed complicated, but doable - in just the right proportion to capture my attention. I have since been wanting to try this out, and I finally made it today.

Salsa Bravas
Patatas Bravas, literally translated means "brave potatoes", but actually mean "fierce potatoes". It is a starter, and is a simple two fold process - salsa and the fries.

I watched and read a few recipes for this dish and found they have been customized mildly, but the core is the same - a tomato based spicy salsa. I used 3 red tomatoes, medium in size (medium as per Indian sizing), cut them into eights and dropped them into a blender cup. On a frying pan, with only a tsp or so of oil, fry chopped onions and garlic for a minute or so, turn off the flame and then add them to the tomatoes. Also add 2 green chilis, chopped (it doesn't matter much, we will be blending them soon) a couple of tsp of powdered red paprika / red chili powder. Add a pinch of sugar and a little bit of salt. Then, add two spoon-scoops of mayonnaise to it. Close the lid of the blender cup and blend the ingredients until you see a thick paste with no solid lumps. Taste the salsa and check if the heat is as per your taste. The salsa looks beautiful - the mayo lends a white shade to the red tomatoes and paprika, so the final result is a bit creamy looking; and the taste is spicy hot, you can see the heat. You can now refrigerate the salsa until you need it.

For the fries, it is intended to spice up the potatoes as early as possible. Take a sufficient water in a heating vessel to hold the potatoes you plan to use. Bring the water to simmering heat (but not a boil). Add red chili/paprika powder to the water and then put in the potatoes (unpeeled) and let them soak in the simmering water for 20 minute. Now, turn off the flame, remove the potatoes and peel them. I found this part tough, as I am used to peeling boiler potatoes - easy as. These are tough, be careful not to mash them if you are using a peeler. Cut the potatoes into bite size cubes. Take generous amount of oil in a fry pan and bring it to a med-high heat. Deep fry the potatoes in batches until they turn golden brown and are penetrable through a now crispy surface. Remove them from the oil onto paper towels to soak the excess oil. The outsides are crispy, slightly brownish and the insides are soft. If the cubes are very big, the insides come out hard. Sprinkle some salt over them once the oil wears off.

When all batches are done, transfer them on to a serving plate, hot. From what I have seen/read, the salsa is randomly poured over the plate of fries - just enough to top each potato fry in an imperfect manner, but not too much as to soak the potatoes in the salsa - and served to be eaten with the help of toothpicks. I served the salsa in a separate cup for each to pour in as much as s/he wishes. Patatas Bravas, ready.

You can feel the softness of the fries with the toothpick, the crunch is coated with the salsa dip which is spicy hot. It seems to be a nice party snack, a starter. It gets over in a jiffy, too. The heat also would bode well during the winter, I guess. Only 20 % of the salsa that I prepared got consumed today - I had used 4 medium sized (Indian) potatoes for the fries. The rest of it is back into the refrigerator and we plant to consume it along with the parathas, idlis and dosas during breakfast.

Notes: The sauce can be made well in advance and stocked, while you can make the fries when you want. So, in a way, you can make this in short notice (provided you have the salsa).
You can add the tomatoes to the pan while frying the onions/garlic, and saute for a short while before going to the blender.
Also, a couple of things that other recipes mentioned but I didn't have - vinegar, and tomato paste.
I ran out of garlic cloves, so I used a garlic-ginger paste instead. The ginger would be spicy, but will not lend to the heat.
Salsa Bravas might be a nice side to parathas, idlis, dosas because the spicy heat is kind of matches the purpose of chutneys that the mentioned Indian breakfasts go along well with. I have never had an idli with something that contains mayo, though. There is always a first time, like the first time I made Patatas Bravas.

Honey Chili Cauliflower

The single most favourite dish that I had tasted while in Punjab is the Honey Chilli Cauliflower, something that is very hard to find outside of the great land. Only recently though I have wanted to try and make it, and today I did. Of course, youtube ki jai for the lessons. This is how I made it:

This is a two-part procedure - one to fry the cauliflower and the second to make the gravy.

Cut the cauliflower into small flowerets, bite size. Take a few spoons of maida/all-purpose-flour in a bowl and add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to it. Also add a bit of oil. Mix the flour and add water to it as you do, to make a semi-thick batter that has no lumps in it. Now add the cauliflowerets to the batter and mix it well, but softly, so the batter covers them all but not break them into smaller portions while mixing. Now, deep batter-fry them on med-high flame until brownish in colour. Remove them from the oil and set them aside for use later.

Now, for the gravy. Add a tablespoon of cornflour to a cup of water, mix it well, and keep it aside. Take a few of tsp of oil in a frying pan, on med-high flame. Add to it garlic-ginger paste, chopped garlic, chopped ginger, chopped spring onions (and julienned capsicum if you have, I didn't). Let this fry for about a couple of minutes. (In my case, the home-made garlic-ginger paste started sticking to the pan floor, and I didn't know how to go around it, except stirring it clear.) The ingredients must be changing their colours a bit by now. Add the cornflower-water mix to this. Turn the flame to high. Add a tbsp of soy sauce, chili paste, tomato ketchup and ground black pepper to it. I didn't have chili paste, so I used chili powder/paprika, and some hot & sweet sauce. Add a spoonful of sesame seeds and a tbsp of honey. Keep stirring once in a while and allow the liquid to reduce to half, to a thick paste. Once it has, turn off the flame.

Wait for 5 minute after you turn off the flame and then mix the fried cauliflower to the paste and mix them well till the paste has coated all of the cauliflower. Transfer to your serving dish, sprinkle sesame seeds on top for aesthetics, and serve.

The dish should be crispy when prepared, with a sweet-spicy taste lent to courtesy the chili, the sauces and the honey. Soft onions and cabbage, julienned, marinated in lemon juice go well on top of this as a fine compliment in taste, texture and colour - that I know out of my dining experiences in Punjab.

Notes: I need to get better at batter frying (or as I later found out in the day, any kind of deep frying). I had some trouble finding the right thickness of the batter so that the cauliflower could hold on to it, I had to add a bit of cornflour to help thicken the batter. I need to hold myself back better in trying to not eat up the fried cauliflower and save them for the dish :-D . As of today, it's the best fried stuff.

There are two videos that I referred to while making this, and picked up steps from both:

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Roti/Paratha noodles

It's a weekday-holiday today, Happy Dussehra and all. I was served methi paratha for breakfast, but I wanted to try out something else, with a kitchen and time at my disposal for the morning. I decided to experiment, and try out "paratha noodles" inspired by this video (with whatever ingredients I could find):

This is how it went:
Stack up your parathas, or rotis (bonus points if lachha paratha) and then roll them up together. Now, cut through them, making thin strips out of them. You should get a plate full noodle-like strips of rotis at the end of this activity, and keep it aside. (refer the video)

Heat (medium) oil on a pan, ajwain/mustard seeds sprinkled into them. Just when they start spattering, add chopped garlic and onion to the heat. Allow them to turn into whatever shade you like them best. Add into them julienned carrots and diced capsicums if you have them (I didn't, sad trombone), and the diced tomatoes. Allow them to cook for a minute or so, so the oil works on them all. Lower the flame. Now, sprinkle some chilli powder and salt over them. Here, you may add garam masala and/or other spices too - each give the dish a unique end result. Add crushed black pepper and salt "as per taste". Also add chilli sauce, ketchup (or just the hot and sweet ketchup instead of both). Stir them up quickly.

Before the vegetables get cooked too much, add into them the rotis that you had shredded into strips earlier and mix them well with the vegetables. The rotis must be cool/cold after all the waiting by the side. So, the mixture should cook with the parathas such that the parathas are now hot on the pan but the vegetables don't get overcook to become too soft by the end. Garnish them with coriander leaves for the aesthetics. Serve hot.

Like all things Indian, this can also be customized as per taste and liking, or as was the case with me - as per availability, so try them out. (vegetables - cabbages work fine too, also beans, coloured bell peppers, peas; sauces - soy sauce can be added but not for breakfast; spices - as you like/want) This is a dish to get out of the boredom of the simple roti and paratha with dahi/achaar/ketchup routine, so make it fun.

PS: The South Indian variant - chilli parotta - is the boss of this division, something I hope to master some day (tummy approves).

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Tomato Balls

I have not required to make my own meal in nearly 3 years now, and the last I had to do so, it was only for a period of 4 months. I have just started trying out something out of boredom in the kitchen that is open to use on weekend, while the canteen/mess runs it on the other days.

Last week, I made tomato balls, which I watched on TV, no Carnival Eats on Nat Geo Travel (I think) in an episode that covered the Indiana State Fair.

Here is what is needed:

Onions (Onion:Tomato::1:2)
Mozzarella cheese
Black Pepper
Coriander leaves
Green chillies
A few cloves of garlic, as you please.
Maida/wheat flour/corn flour (as a binder)
Bread Crumbs (even better binder)
Any spices/masala (I used jeera, chilly powder, and a pinch of chaat masala)
Oil (for frying)


Dice the tomatoes small, drain them. If they are pulpy, squish them a bit and drain the juice away. (If you can combine this with another dish that can use this tomato juice, it would be brilliant!) Chop the onions fine. Grate the cheese, and fill half a cup with the gratings. Add the tomatoes, onions and cheese to a bowl and add a bit of flour to the mix. Grind and add the black pepper and jeera to this. Chop green chillies, garlic and the coriander leaves and them to the bowl. Also add the spices and salt.
Mix them together, add some fine granules of bread crumbs and continue to mix until the contents can be bound into a ball. Once it is thick enough, roll them into small balls 2" or so big. If you can multitask the frying and the ball-making, that is good. Else, have all the balls made before the oil is put on heat.
On a frying pan, or fryer, have enough amount of oil to submerge the balls. Once the oil is hot enough on med/high flame, drop in the balls carefully and deep fry them. The texture on the outside becomes dark brown with the tomatoes and onions frying. Once so on all sides, take them off the stove and place them on a paper napkin to drain off excess oil. Serve hot with ketchup or mayonnaise.

I enjoyed it when I watched it on TV, and I enjoyed the customised way I had prepared it (above) too. The cheese played some magic inside, the tomatoes and onions tasted well. It went well with mayo, too! This would be a nice evening snack. Do remember: the more wet and pulpy the cut tomatoes are, the more difficult it would be to bind them together. Using more dough would bring down the taste/flavour. Also, you can go innovative on the leaf used - coriander can be replaced with mint. Spices can be chosen as per taste.

Click here for the video of the original.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Kolkata, Digha, North Odisha

A colleague's wedding recently presented an opportunity to pack myself East to Bengal and Odisha. I say such, because I was always holding myself back in visiting Kolkata - I dislike crowded cities and find comfort in the smaller ones. I once was at Kharagpur for a week, and didn't visit Kolkata! Only recently I braved myself to Mumbai, and loved it.

The very moment I stepped out into the Kolkatan air, I could feel the humidity, on my palm, very much like Chennai. Airport is far away from the heart of the city, but the city has expanded well to touch and consume the airport into its arms. A long ride from the airport to Bhawanipore gave a glimpse of the city I had been shunning myself away from all these years. First, the long VIP road, which I think is the road that you can recognize from the sky as you descend to land - a long, wide road, with tall light masts, taking very few turns along its way as it drives you to the city. I noticed there were very few two-wheelers on these roads, which is quite different from Nagpur, where everybody drives approximately 1.3 two-wheelers on the road. We bade goodbye to the VIP and snaked our way towards Bhawanipore, probably touching Park Street on our way through. If I trace the same route, I can buy anything and everything I need to furnish my house, find schools and colleges for kids, places to work, shop, dine and bank the rest.

A friend of mine helped me with lodging, and met us when we arrived. We then dined at Jai Hind Dhaba, which started as a tea stall for truck drivers and is now a three-level restaurant at Bhawanipore, and has branches elsewhere. We helped ourselves to this and that, and more of that. I never thought alu-do-pyaaza could taste exotic. My friend confirmed we had space to spare in our tummy, and took us to Balwant Singh's for a dessert - doodh cola. Yes, cola milk. You never know how two things get together well. There is a lesson on Po - the art of fusing two ideas together and deriving answers, in Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I am sure this is what he intended to mean. Ohh, we also saw Netaji Bhawan, the residence of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, from where he escaped home arrest.

We woke up early next day to make our way to the railway station. I did know it was summer, and Kolkata is to the East, but I did not expect day break at 4.30 am! The time was 5.00, the roads were empty, the early morning light gave a clear, open look at another side of Kolkata - between the lawns, besides the Victoria Memorial, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Eden Gardens, Howrah Bridge and eventually, the loud and bustling, Howrah Railway Terminus.

The short journey to Digha ran alongside a very beautiful scenery by its sides. Once it was out of the city, it ran through vast greenery. I wanted to make up for the short sleep overnight, with some on the train. So, after I read Neville Cardus describing the most ideal match he ever saw, where Sir Don Bradman and his Australians overcame a hiccup to decimate the English, I fell asleep, dreaming that I am happily bashed to the boundary ropes by the Don as if it was an honour to be bowling to him. That lasted for only that short while as my very loud neighbour wanted to talk to his family seated behind him every 30 second, so loud that the most punk motorbike would be put to shame. Barely hearing my own thoughts clearly, I carried myself to Digha, and in all the excitement, forgot the book on the train. That train is now richer by a beautiful volume of Ramachandra Guha's Picador Book of Cricket.

Digha. Less humid than Kolkata, More windy than Kolkata. The sea breeze lured you to the seashore. We had to put aside our baggage before we did so. Digha has two beaches - the New and the Old, named so. New Digha is to the South of the railway station. It is sandy, longer area to play on the beach, and looks cleaner as you have to work very hard to mess up a very large area. The Old Digha beach is to the North of the railway station, near the heart of the city. It isn't a sandy beach, and has rock-cut steps leading into the waters. So, the waves hitting the rocks are more dramatic than at Old Digha, where the enjoyment is more in letting the waves hit you on the sea bed. The city is mainly lined with trinklet shops, and sea-food.
New Digha

Old Digha
Local transport looks very interesting, probably unique. The cycle rickshaws look like horse carts. There are autorickshaw vans. And, the most unique ones are the motor driven carts which look no more than vegetable carts, but carry people instead of vegetables, who tug a metal bar running through the middle of the cart while sitting around it, to prevent falling off it.

We made two trips to Odisha from Digha over the next couple of days. The density of greenery is beautiful. The one time I went to Bengal earlier, through what was then Orissa, I had seen the greenery alongside the tracks and made me wonder what the land was like inside. I had time to see. And this time, during wedding festivities. Unlike Baroda, where a Baraat would be a nuisance, in the village here, it was a festival for everyone. People enjoyed as the carriage went past their place, even thought it was touching midnight. It brought light to their places, which is at some places rare.

The light of the Baraat
Back to Kolkata on our way back, we had half a day to spare before we rode through traffic to the airport again. We visited Kalighat Mandir before it got crowded. It is a pity how commercial temples have become, the temple staff make it such that the darshan is so chaotic, you don't want to try a second time. You can't seek peace in such temples. Gods listen to prayers wherever you are.

With time to spare before a mini-tweetup, we ticked off Victoria Memorial, only the lawns. The architecture is so beautiful, everyone will find something to appreciate. It also seemed to match sculptures of others too, like the minarets. The humid heat was all forgotten in the neat beauty of the lawns and the majestic monument itself.
The Victoria Memorial

My friend then helped me start what I had been eagerly waiting to all trip long - eat sweets. I lost track of all the sweets I tried at Balram Mullick's. The Sondesh were so good, you wanted more of the same, but had to balance that with trying all other flavours. The dahi bora was filling and excellent! The rosagullas tasty! (duh!!) Mishti doi smooth! The thing that took the cake - kheer kadam. It has the ecstasy of rosagullas (or something equally woof!) and condensed milk rolled into one. Literally. Our breakfast, was at Sharma's, where we had a delicious serving of kachoris with alu ki sabji, the kachoris being as soft as a puri, but well flavoured. That was flushed down with a clay cup filled with chai, with saffron. Now, that is a rich tea!

This building is just at the mouth of Park Street - Old, with a Domino's.
A visit to the Park Street reminded me of South Bombay. The buildings were old, and looked like it had a splash of the new, with modern retail shops, eateries and libraries all lined side by side. It was spacious, unlike Bombay. It helped that people adhered to traffic rules, very well. Also, what I noticed right there at Park Street was a lady, a beggar, with a child who was tied to a railing. A stark reminder of the other side of the city, that I didn't see on this short visit.

Park Street

Also, Park Street
We went to Netaji Bhawan to see the house that is now converted as a museum, to display some photographs and belongings of the Netaji and his brother, Sarat Chandra Bose. I packed some lunch and also sweets from Balram Mullick's for the trip back.

Netaji Bhawan
It was a beautiful trip! I am left wondering if I should have planned a longer stay there, cover more of the city. For now, I will just flush my insides with the essence of the rosagullas, enjoying the Kolkata I could.