Friday, 29 November 2013

Picture perfect food : Tjalf Sparnaay

Last night I was browsing through some writing on food photography when I chanced across the works of contemporary Dutch artist Tjalf Sparnaay, an exponent of what he himself calls mega realism (part of the global hyper-realist art movement) who, captures on his canvas, mundane odds and ends. Only in his works they no longer remain mundane. They are magnified, larger than life and the detail captured bowl you over.

I was quite taken by his works, especially his oil paintings of food items — sandwiches loaded with ham, boiled eggs and luscious tomatoes, a perfect sunny side up, French fries slathered with ketchup — his paintings are finger-licking good.

Like I have said before I am obsessed with everything related to food. Now I have another something to drool over. I read up some more about him, enough to whet my appetite…erh curiosity and with much thought I shot him a mail asking for an interview.

This blog is fast turning into a recipe blog, and this was just my chance to bring in more elements. I was sure you guys would lobe his work too and a relish the chance to get to know the man. I was hardly expecting a reply considering here was an artist considered one of the most important once working in this style. But fortunately I did receive a reply and unfortunately this is what it read

So I wrote back

And he did reply back and seemed quite impressed by "ethic" bit. Honesty pays. Now from what I have read, his cooks the food he paints, usually nothing gourmet or complicated, mostly sandwiches and the kind, photographs them and then converts then paints them on his canvas. Sometimes he also takes a bite or two of his subjects. But it turns out he is not a foodie. He says

"I am no foodie, I paint food because of its landscape like qualities and possibility to tell the story I want about ordinary popular things in a very special way: A painting isolates the subject from daily life and gives it a new reality. Food needs that and (I) can express my skills and love for details and abstract moments as well. "

Not much of an interview but it felt good to have that interaction. And the best part is he gave me permission to use these photographs on my blog and share them with you.

All photographs have been sourced from and the credit is solely theirs.

Thanks Tjalf for agreeing to share this

By the way his original works are priced anywhere between 15,000 and 85, 00 Dollars!!!! 

Tjalf at work 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Kaalo Jeere diye Murgi and a few memories

I have a soft spot for Nigella seeds, the good old Kaalo Jeere. My fascination with Kaalo Jeere started as a child. As a child I used to take dance lessons from a young girl in the neighbourhood. She was the first person who taught me to dance and everyday she had treats waiting for me. She was my favourite and I hated my mother for quite sometime when she decided to put me in Thankumuni Kutty's dance school. However, this particular woman had done a Bengali film, perhaps the only one, which also starred Danny Denzongpa in the role of a care taker. Naturally, it goes without saying I watched that film a hundred times. I had even forced my uncle to buy a VCD so that I could watch , such was my loyalty to my teacher. However, in a particular scene in the film, Danny's character was asked to get "Bhalo Cheerey" (good flat rice) from the grocers and he brought back Kaalo Jeere...and that's what triggered my fascination with the tiny, black grains.

I have other memories to associated to the Kaalo Jeere. It was used as the tempering in a particular soupy potato curry that was a Sunday custom at my place when I was a  child. All of us, my cousins and I,  would gather in the living room upstairs, around the television set, at 10 am to watch Mahabharat, with our Grandmother, and ten minutes later, breakfast comprising Luchi and this potato curry would be brought in. I never really cared what went on in Hastinapur those ten minutes, it was only when I had my plate in hand did I turn my attention to the television. I was always served first, I was the youngest in the house then (a privilege I lost soon enough).

Back in the day when I ruled this household.
The curry is still made at home sometimes, but not as often. It is very simple. Heat the oil, add Kalongi and a couple of dried red chilli, toss in diced potatoes, add salt and fry for sometime. Mix turmeric and red chilli powder in a little water and add it to the potatoes. Stir for a minute and then add enough water to cover the potatoes and a little more, put on a lid and cook on medium heat until potatoes are cooked. Serve with piping hot luchis.

I also love kaalo jeere in Kumror chenchki. My maternal grandmom makes it the best. Again, add kaalo jeere and a couple dried red chili to hot oil, toss in pumpkin cut in thin strips, somewhat like french fries but smaller and thinner. Add salt, sugar and cook on low heat until pumpkin is cooked and oil separates. It is the simplest and the best use of pumpkin to me.  Other than that I like it as tempering in the archetypal Shorshe bata macchh (Bengali style mustard fish) too.

But what I have been contemplating is using it in a meat dish. I do make a particular chicken dish which has nigella seeds but it is used in a mix of a host of spices. I wanted to make a chicken dish that rides solely on kaalo Jeere and that's exactly what I did today.

The ingredients are very simple, mostly the usual ones used in curries. I must mention here that sometimes, using mundane ingredients a little differently can make a huge difference to the dish. For instance onion. It's is used in almost all curries. But sometimes I make the same curry but use onions different. Sometimes I would caramelise the onion and add it at the end instead of frying it at the beginning, sometimes I would make a paste of the caramelised onion and then add it and sometimes I would boil the onions and make a paste of it and use it in the same recipe.

About the recipe. Here it goes


Chicken - 1 kg
Curd: 100 gms
Birista* - 1 cup
Ginger paste - 2 tbsp
Garlic paste - 2 tbsp
Tomato puree - 2-3 tbsp 
Whole green chillies (slit) - 6-7
Nigella Seeds (dry roasted and ground) - 4-5 tbsp
Whole peppercorns - 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Mustard oil
A pinch of sugar


  • Marinate the chicken pieces in curd and salt for an hour. 
  • Heat mustard oil in a pan and add the ginger and garlic paste. Fry for a few minutes, do not burn. Now add the green chillies, tomato puree and peppercorns. 
  • Toss in the marinated chicken pieces and the ground Nigella seeds. Stir well, cover and cook until the chicken is almost done. Take the lid off, add the birista and cook on medium heat until the juices dry up and oil separates from the masala. Adjust seasoning, add a pinch of sugar, stir and take off heat. 
  • Serve with plain rice.
*Thinly sliced, fried onions. Add a teaspoon of sugar to oil and add the onions just when the sugar is catching colour colour. You will get the brown without burning the onions.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Baked Bekti Bong style

         I am really tired today. And a little unwell too. But dad had brought fresh Bekti from New Market this morning and there was no way he was going to let me rest in peace until I made something with them. 
        So, I had to ….poor me!
        And then, though I had no plans of posting on the blog today, I just couldn’t wait to share the product of my labour today. 
        The recipe originally was my attempt at recreating a dish I have had at Bengali restaurant here in town but now this dish has evolved into something I can call my own, though the inspiration remains this particular restaurant.  So, I am not going to write much today, just share the recipe instead. 
  In this dish, creamy hung curd, the goodness of cashews and the zing of mustard comes together to give good old Bekti a mouthwatering makeover. 


Bekti fillet – 15 pieces
Hung curd – 150 gms 
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Cashew nut paste - 3 tbsp
Poppy seed paste (posto) – 2 tbsp
Mustard paste – 2 tbsp
Mustard oil – 6-8 tbsp
Salt to taste
Green chili paste – 1 tsp
Whole green chili – 7-8 


  • Blend together hung curd, cashew nut paste, poppy seed paste, mustard paste, green chili paste, salt and mustard oil, to make a creamy mix.  Add salt to taste. 

  • Pour the marinade on the fish and keep aside for half an hour.
  • Preheat oven at 180 degree centigrade.
  • Line the fish on a baking tray, placing the fish close together and finally pour the marinade over it. Now slit the whole green chilies placing one half on each piece of fish. 
  • Slip the tray into the oven and bake at 180 degree centigrade for 35-40 minutes. For the final 3-4 minutes turn up the heat to 200 degree centigrade for a lovely crust.
  • Serve hot with steamed rice.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Badami machchi tikka

I am still in the Kebab mode and while I have tasted some of the best kebabs in the last couple of weeks in Turkey, I love our Kebabs too. And I have a soft spot for Fish Tikka. Now I have this marginally irksome habit trying to give my twist to anything and everything. Some of them have been disasters. Some, I am proud of. So, about my fish Tikka, every time I make it at home I make a different version, I add something more, take something out. And over time I have developed my Badami Fish Tikka. Now this isn’t culinary ingenuity, but this dish is a winner. The cashew nut paste I add to the marinade gives the Tikka a whole new dimension. And a little Kasuri Methi does wonders to the flavour.
Here’s the recipe. A must try this winter…


Bekti fillet cut in  cubes - 500 gms
Grated Ginger - 3 tbsp 
Garlic paste - 2tbsp
Cashew nut paste- 3 tbsp
Green chili paste - 1 tbsp
Chaat Masala - 1 tsp  + for sprinkling at the end
Garam Masala - 1/2 tsp
Kashmiri Chili powder - 11/2 tbsp 
Kasuri methi- 1 tbsp 
Salt to taste
Oil - 5-6 tbsp 
Lemon wedges 


  • For a good 45 minutes keep the fish immersed in a large bowl of salted water which has a few lemon wedges tossed in.
  • Take the fish out and keep in a bowl, make sure there isn’t any excess water in the bowl.
  • Now mix together the grated ginger, garlic paste, cashew nut paste, chaat masala, Kashmiri red chili powder, green chili paste, kasuri methi and garam masala.
  • Add 4-5 tablespoons of oil into the marinade and combine well. Add the marinade to the fish and make sure the fillets are well coated in the marinade. Keep aside for about 1 hour.
  • In a preheated oven, grill the fish pieces for 25-minutes at 160 degree centigrade or till fish is done, the juices dry. Or if you have a charcoal grill, go for it. 
  • Serve piping hot with lemon wedges, a sprinkle of chaat masala and some onion salad. It can't get better on a wintry evening, with a glass of wine perhaps. 

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Turkish touch: Sumac flavoured chicken

          The myriad hues of shimmering Turkish lamps, the sheen of silk, the intricate embroideries on satin spreads, antique kilims and rare carpets, turquoise and gold, the heady whiff of Turkish coffee, pleading invitations of shopkeepers, the joy of striking a bargain, the excitement, the epiphanies – the Grand Bazaar is like a bewitched maze in a fairytale land. Easy to get lost, only you will be more than willing to lose yourself. I had reserved an entire day for the Grand Bazaar, the last day of my holiday, and I am glad I did. But the one thing that was on my mind all the while were the peaks and mounds and shelves-full of spices – paprika, Iranian saffron, cinnamon, mixed spices and my favourite Sumac. And that's where my heart was all the while as I browsed through souvenirs and ceramics and shoes and bags.
          I checked out quite a few spice shops and finally decided that the best sumac was available at the second shop I had tried. The next half an hour or so was spent in finding it out. Quite an ordeal figuring out when you have 4000 shops to navigate through. But I did and had my sumac wrapped and yes I bargained and did strike a deal. Trust me I have a way with words. And no I am not exactly known for modesty. But the way, talking about this particular charmer of a shopkeeper. If you thought the Italians were the flirts, visit Turkey. And they do not even discriminate.
          So, I had my sumac safe in my bag. Coming to what sumac is, it is a tangy, lemony spice, a deep red powder that smells heavenly, used in Middle Eastern cooking.  It basically comes from sumac berries which are dried and ground. And it is delicious. Commonly, it is used in salads and even sprinkled on dips. It’s used in meat too. And ever since I had put that plastic wrapped spicy goodness in my bag, I have been itching to cook with it.
          And I did. Now, I am probably expected to share traditional Turkish recipes which I have come back with. But come on you can get them on other sites, so before I share the ones I got back from the trip, I planned to share my very own recipe with a Turkish twist. I have used flavours essentially Turkish and I think You will love it.


Chicken (boneless) –   I kg
Garlic paste: 2 tbsp
Grated ginger – 4 tbsp
Chopped parsley – ½ cup  
Sumac – 2 tbsp
Red chili powder – 1tbsp 
Cumin powder – 1 tbsp
Cinnamon powder – ¾ tsp
Salt to taste
Oil – ¼ cup


Marinade the chicken pieces with grated ginger, garlic paste, sumac, red chili powder, cumin powder, cinnamon powder, parsley and salt. Keep for 2 hours.  
Heat oil and add the chicken pieces. On high heat sear the chicken pieces laced with the marinade. Remove and transfer into a baking tray.
Preheat oven at 200 degree centigrade.   Grill the chicken pieces for 30 minutes, turning over the pieces once mid way.
Once done, line the chicken pieces on a tray and pour the juices over.