Thursday, 30 October 2014

Fruit & Nut Baked Fish and a tryst with the paranormal

Did you know that Mary Todd Lincoln, the wife of Abraham Lincoln, and a bereaved mother who had lost her son, organised a series of sessions in the White House, where the gathered, tried to contact the world of spirits? These sessions were attended by President Lincoln himself! Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the world’s most rational detective, was obsessed with the other world too and often joined groups of people who together tried to contact the spirits of the dead, and this opened a rupture in Doyle’s friendship with celebrated magician and skeptic Houdini. Then there was Daniel Douglas Home, the Scottish medium who allegedly levitated during his recurrent stints with the spirit world.

I am intrigued by the paranormal. The dark secrets of the spirit world entice me. And I am crazy about horror stories, especially instances of real life paranormal experience. It is like an addiction. Some of you might laugh at me but I hesitate to dismiss something solely because I cannot comprehend it. And also because I have experienced things I have no explanation for, and God knows I did seek a logical explanation. So, on the eve of Halloween, I decided to tell you a particular story. Whether it is true or not I shall leave you to decide. 

October 2007. On my 21st birthday I took my first trip abroad, on my own, without my family that is. I accompanied my friend and her family on a tour of Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Our first stop was Pataya. The hotel we stayed in was quite upbeat. The rooms were huge and done in vintage style. Three of us, my friend, a cousin of hers and I, shared a room. The first thing that struck us all was a sense of unease that came over us the moment we entered the room. It was the kind of room that should have made us jump with joy, but we felt uncomfortable. 

That night, while we were chatting over mugs of steaming tea we heard strange noises in the bathroom. We were too engrossed in our conversation to pay heed. But later in the night, a few hours after we had retired to bed, my friend woke me up.She said she was too scared to enter the en suite bathroom, she said she felt like something was in there. I must mention here during the day it so happened, time and again, that we would keep something at a particular place, and then wouldn't be able to find it and later discover it somewhere else. I might have thought one of us was pulling a prank if I didn't know them the way I did. 

Day 2. We had spent the whole day on the Coral Island, jet skiing and para sailing and frolicking in the sea and returned to the hotel late in the evening.  We  were so tired that we decided to skip dinner. I settled down with a copy of The Kite Runner, the book I was reading on the trip, pulled on the covers and began to read. Soon I could hear my friend's soft sing-song snores. An hour or so passed, my friend's cousin was still awake, she stirred and shifted in her bed, it creaked ever so slightly. Suddenly she sat up with a jerk, called me and said. "I don't want to sleep here. I want to go to my parents' room." "Why?" I asked. "This room is strange." Before I could convince her to stay she put on her slippers, picked up her pillow and left the room. 

I sighed and returned to my book. At around 11 a noise in the bathroom startled the daylights out of me. A loud rasp. I could feel my heart somersault inside my rib cage. But I didn't dare move, I did not even consider investigating. This is not a film. And then the real trouble began. A few minutes later I was startled once again, I thought I heard the empty bed on my right creak again. My mind was playing games I told myself. But soon a sense of dread overcame me. The definite feeling that there was someone else in the room with us threatened to choke me. I had no doubt in my mind that someone was pacing about the space right next to me bed. I held my breath for as long as I could, my eyes fixed on the pages of my book, not a word registering in my mind. I wanted to call my friend, but couldn't. The movies have got this part right. The fear perhaps paralyses you. Now the entity was walking around the room. 

 Suddenly my friend turned around and asked me what time it was. I couldn't speak, she went back to sleep without waiting for my reply. I wished she hadn't. But now that feeling of dread was gone too. I quickly kept my book on the table beside the bed, pulled my covers to my face and willed myself to sleep. Though I least expected it to, sleep came easily. 

The next morning I was the first one to wake up. It was almost 9 and it was a bright sunny day. My body was taut from the previous day's exertion and I headed for the bathroom. I was brushing my teeth when I heard a loud knock on the door. I rushed to the door. I could hear my friend's father calling out our names. We were late, he was saying. But I screeched to a halt a couple of feet from the door. My book, yes the one I remembered keeping on the table next to my bed, was lying in front of the door, open. The door was a at least 10 feet away from the table and it seemed like someone had flung the book at the door. The knocks grew louder and I hurriedly picked up the book and opened the door. Half an hour later we checked out of the hotel and boarded our bus for Bangkok. 

By the way, we lost the book mysteriously during the trip. 

In case you are telling yourself that I simply have an active imagination let me tell you that I travel often and have stayed in many a hotel room, sometimes alone. But I have never faced anything like this again. 

Happy Halloween friends! 

And now about today'r recipe. No it is not a typical Halloween special, but it is special nonetheless. Post Diwali, like most homes in the country, we have truckloads of dried fruits and nuts - Cashew nuts, raisins, almonds and pistachio. Today I decided to put some of it to use. My father had got some fresh Bekti fillet and has asked me to make some crumb-crusted fried fish. I said I'll give you a crust alright but one with a difference. And hence was born my nuts and raisin crusted grilled fish. I served it with some sweet and spicy date sauce, you could serve it with any condiment you like. Enjoy them over a horror movie. My picks House of wax, The Exorcist or The Conjuring! 


Fish fillet - 6 
Cashew nuts - 50 g 
Almonds - 25 g 
Raisins (finely chopped, almost minced) - 15 g 
Vinegar - 1/2 cup
Garlic (finely minced) - 1/2 tsp 
Garlic (finely chopped) -  1 tbsp 
Cayenne pepper - 1 tsp 
Egg - 1 
Corn flour - 1 tsp 
Salt to taste


Take the cleaed fish fillet in a bowl, add a tbsp of salt and pour in the vinegar. Keep aside for an hour. 

Take the fish out pat dry, season with salt and rub in the minced garlic. Keep aside for another 15 minutes. 

Beat the egg and corn flour together with a pinch of salt and add it to the fish. Mix well ad reserve. 

In a food processor grind the almond and cashew nuts together to make a coarse powder. 

Tip into a tray and add finely chopped raisins, garlic, cayenne pepper and salt. Work the ingredients into a uniform mix with your fingers. 

Now take one fillet at a time and coat it with the nuts and raisins crumbs. 

Pre heat oven at 175 degree centigrade. 

Generously grease at baking tray and line the crumb coated fish fillets. Drizzle oil on them and bake them in the oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Mid way through the cooking turn them over carefully, first releasing any bits sticking to the tray with the blade of a  knife. Once the crumb is a deep golden bring it out. 

Serve hot with a spicy condiment of your choice or wrapped in pita with some slaw. This one's yum!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Egg Dal Curry : A spicy egg curry with lentil

The other day, when I refused an egg in front of my cousin who is visiting, she looked at me with utter disbelief. Who refuses an egg? she asked with bewilderment. I said I was full. She shook her head and her eyes rested on the egg for a few fleeting seconds before she jerked her eye away sensing I was looking. I said, "why don't you have my share, I don't want to put it back in the refrigerator." "Ummm Ok." she beamed.

My cousin's love for eggs is well known in the family. She calls herself an eggaddict. The only one who could give my father tough competition should there be one to determine who is the greatest lover of eggs. If this particular cousin is visiting eggs are a must on the menu, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. She has no real fascination for meats or fish, give her her daily quota of eggs and she is happy. Once when we were kids she almost broke her teeth trying to bite into clay eggs that were a part of a set of clay food items I had bought at a Rath Yatra fair. I had got a terrible scolding for telling her they tasted better than the regular eggs.

I on the contrary have never been 'into' eggs. No that is not to say I don't like them. I am moody when it comes to eggs. Yes I love the occasional Dim er Kalia, a typical Bengali style rich egg curry or Dim er jhaal a family specialty made with thick sliced onions, tomatoes and red and green chilies. And I have a soft spot for Eggs Benedict, though in this case I am more fond of the bacon and Hollandaise sauce. Oh and I love boiled eggs with rice, butter and mashed potatoes. We call the combination Sheddho Bhaat. The ultimate comfort food for a bona fide Bengali.

However, today was one of those days when I felt like eggs. And I wanted to try something different. Something spicy to go with plain boiled rice. I started off to make some sort of Masala eggs and then in a sudden twist of mood added some moong dal to the masala I was frying. Actually I quite like the eggs and lentil (dal) combination. Sometimes, I make a last-minute request for a fried egg or an omelette to have with rice and dal. What is the harm in cooking the two together. I realised later that I couldn't claim this to be an original, dal and eggs curried together is something that has been tried and tested. However, this recipe is mine and I am sure you will like it as much as I do.


Boiled eggs - 5
Yellow moong dal - 60 g
Sliced onions - 3 medium
Garlic - 6-8 large cloves
Grated ginger - 2 tbsp
Whole dry red chilies - 4-5
Coriander seeds - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Grated coconut - 1 cup
Vinegar - 60 ml
Mustard oil
Salt and sugar to taste
Chopped green chilies for garnish


Dry roast the whole dried red chilies, cumin, coriander and mustard seeds. Once fragrant keep aside. 

Dry roast the grated coconut until it is a nice golden brown. 

In a food processor grind together the dried roasted whole spices, coconut, garlic and ginger along with the vinegar. Do not add water, 

In a pan heat mustard oil. Add the sliced onion and fry until golden brown. Add the ground spice mix and fry until oil separates. 

Add the lentils which you have drained well in advance, and fry for a few minutes more. Add salt and sugar. 

Now add warm water and bring to a boil. Cook on medium heat until dal is nearly cooked. 

Add the eggs and cook until dal is cooked through, the liquids dry up and oil separates. 

Garnish with chopped green chilies and serve with rice or roti! 

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Pastitsio: Greek Lasagna with meat and Bechamel sauce

 Today is another special day. A day that celebrates most beautiful relationship on earth. That between a brother and a sister. Bhai Dwitiya. Traditional calls for certain rituals a sister must perform, wishing for her brother’s long and healthy life.  But it is the sentiment attached to the day that makes it so special.

Though I would never tell him so, the best day of my life was the day I held my little brother in my arms. I had never seen something so small and so wonderful. I was only seven, but I felt like a grown up. In fact, I grew up that day, for real. I knew on that day that I would care for this tiny human being and protect him from everything, ll my life. I was amazed at how tiny his feet were and quite distraught by the fact that he hardly had eye brows. And every time his little fingers curled around my finger my heart leapt in joy.

My brother is almost a man now, all of 21 and he hates mush in every form. Which means I can’t cuddle him or pull his cheeks or ruffle his hair, but to me he still is that weird looking tiny human I had held in my arms  so many years. However, our relationship hasn’t been as ideal as it might seem from what I have written so far. We can pull off the ugliest of fights, mostly violent. Nowadays we don’t beat each other up, we restrict ourselves to verbal assault, but there were times when our fight would end in him hanging by my ponytail while I screamed in pain or me sitting on him so he couldn’t move. He screamed louder. Breaking us up when we are fighing is a task steeped in danger. Many have got hurt!

That’s about my younger brother. Now about my elder brothers, cousins actually, but no less beloved. I grew up in a joint family under the constant vigil of my two elder brothers. A very very difficult life to say the least. If I was up to any mischief they were always the first ones to get to know. And they never knew how to keep a secret. A crush, coffee with friends, bunking tuitions, first shot of vodka, first puff of smoke, they always got to know. Sometimes I have had to bribe them to not tell on me. Mostly they didn’t accept bribes. Sigh.  But then they were also the ones who saved me from my mother’s wrath every time I did something to invoke it.

So yes I am blessed. Here’s raising a toast to my awesome threesome!

Anyway usually on Bhai Dwitiya we have a traditional feast. The whole family together. Other cousins come over too and so do my brother’s friends. But this time my elder brothers had a few unavoidable commitments and so the family get-together has been postponed. But my younger brother insisted on a special lunch. He loves pasta and I decided that it would be the best thing to make. Besides, I didn’t have the energy to cook him a multiple course meal as tradition demands. But then I wanted to make him something special. Not the usual pasta in Arrabiata or Alfredo sauce. So I made him Pastitsio. No it is not Italian. It is Greek. A layered pasta dish that has layers of feta laced pasta, delightful meat sauce topped with a thick, creamy leayer of Bechamel sauce and is baked to perfection. The golden crust is to die for. My recipe is inspired by the recipe here. 

Forgive me but I sort of destroyed the layers while plating for the pictures. However, the taste was crazy good.


For the pasta 

Penne: 400 g
Feta cheese - 100 g
Egg yolks - 2

For the meat sauce 

Minced lamb or chicken : 1 kg
Finely chopped onion - 2 large
Finely chopped garlic - 1 tbsp
Tomato puree - 100 ml
Red wine - 250 ml
Dried Oregano - 1 tsp
Finely chopped fresh parsley
Bay leaf - 2
Cloves - 2
Cinnamon stick - 3 inch broken into two
Salt to taste
Sugar - 1 tsp
Fresh cracked black pepper
Olive oil

For the Bechamel sauce 

All purpose flour - 100 g
Butter - 100 g
Warm milk - 500 ml
Egg yolks - 2
Salt to taste
Nutmeg powder - 1/4 tsp
Sugar to taste
Parmesan (grated) - 100 g


For the pasta

Boil water in a large pan, add salt (2 tbsp approximately) and a few table spoons of olive oil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente.  There should be a distinct bite to it. Drain.

Add crumbled pita and egg yolks to the pasta and mix well with a spatula or your hands.

For the meat sauce

In a pan, heat olive oil, add chopped onions and saute until soft. Add the chopped garlic ad fry until soft. Now add the minced meat, turn up heat and fry until browned.

Add the tomato puree and keep frying until oil begins to appear around the edges. De glaze the pan with red wine, bring to a boil.

Now add the oregano, parsley, bay leaf, cloves and cinnamon sticks and let it cook. Season with salt and pepper, add sugar and cook to a thick saucy consistency. Remove the cinnamon sticks, bay leaves and cloves.

For the Bechamel Sauce 

Heat butter in a pan. Add the flour and whisk to make a fine paste. Now stream in the milk whisking vigorously, making sure no lumps are formed. Keep whisking for a couple of minutes on low heat.

Remove from heat and whisk in the egg yolks. Be careful and whisk continuously so that eggs do not curdle. Blend well. Now add the salt, sugar, pepper, nutmeg powder and three quarters of the grated cheese, whisk to blend.

Putting it together 

Grease a baking dish with butter, spread the pasta in a neat layer at the bottom.

Top the pasta layer with meat sauce. Spread it out with a spatula to make a more or less uniform layer.

Pour in the thick Bechamel sauce, spread in out with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining grated Parmesan.

In a pre heated oven, bake at 180 degree centigrade for 40 minutes or until a beautiful golden crust is formed.

Serve hot, hot, hot.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Roast chicken sandwich with Tahini sauce, grilled bellpeppers and fried egg

Alright I will say it. It is my birthday today. I turn 28. And life has never been better. No really. These days I keep seeing these viral posts on "30 things to do before you turn 30", "10 things you should do in your 20s" etc, etc. These posts are fun, but freak me out at times. I haven't done 3,7, 8, 15, 17, and 19, I exclaim, and for a moment feel like a failure. I am merely 2 birthdays away from turning 30 and there is so much to do. But this post is not about things to do, it is about counting blessings, looking back at things I have done. In retrospect, my life looks pretty great to me, which in itself is a blessing. No regrets, no lingering disappointment. Hey that doesn't mean my life has been a smooth ride, it only means I remember the good, more than I mull over the bad. So I compiled my list of  5 mantras I learnt till date that I am taking forward with me. I am not claiming these are originals, but they are honest.

1. Laugh at yourself harder than anyone else can 
As a child I had an Aesop's fables compilation. There in was the story of a brave knight with strength unsurpassed. But the knight was bald and he always wore a wig. Once on a hunting expedition, his wig flew off his head. Every one roared in laughter. But soon they went quiet because the one laughing the hardest was the knight himself. Never did anyone make fun of the knight again. This story stayed with me. And when someone laughs at me, whatever the reason might be, I laugh harder. Trust me it helps. It doesn't mean you are demeaning yourself, it simply means you are at absolute ease and completely secure about whoever it is that you are.

2. If you wish for something, wish hard enough
This might sound like a passage from The Secret, but the truth is there is nothing as powerful as a wish wished hard enough. If you wish for something and keep wishing enough, you will be surprised how your wishes come true. Mine have, I know.

3. Love yourself more than you love anyone else 
Well some might cringe and say that's being selfish. But I do not think so. How you feel about yourself reflects on your feelings for others. For most of my adult life I have been obese, which means I have heard many a crude comment from people, loved ones, strangers alike. And all the while I have had to fight the strong urge to dismiss the world as a dark place and all human beings as insensitive *beep* But I always give myself a thousand reasons why I am awesome and why I love myself. And that alone helps me in seeing the good in others. That and the urge to be better.

4. You do not make compromises in relationships
Anything that comes from love can never involve compromise. Compromise is a bad word. It comes back to haunt you. Leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction. I wouldn't settle for it. If you do something out of love, even if it means giving up on something, it cannot be tagged a compromise. You should only give it up with the knowledge that you are doing so only to receive a greater joy. Or do not do it.

5. It is okay to be impulsive, in fact it is better 
The best decisions of my life have been taken on an impulse. Each and every one of them. I think thinking, weighing and calculating is overrated. It is great if you look before you leap, but then again I tell myself the leap you take without looking is a leap of faith and it almost always lands you right where you should be.

Ok Now about my Birthday celebration. My family, and it is one huge family, thank God, gave me a wonderful midnight surprise. I woke up to the phone ringing and it hasn't stopped yet, and lots of flowers, chocolates and more cake. And the good person I am, I decided to cook breakfast for the lovely people I have the pleasure of calling my family. Actually I had already made plans last night and marinated the chicken with a Middle Eastern inspired mix of spices. Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Open Sandwich topped with tahini and fried egg.

For the chicken filling 


Boneless chicken breast - 1 kg (cut is supreme-like strips)
Juice of 2 limes
Minced Garlic - 1 tbsp
Minced Ginger - 1 tbsp
Coriander powder 1 tbsp
Cumin powder - 1.25 tbsp
Nutmeg powder - a large pinch
Crushed cardamom seeds- 1/2 tsp
Cinnamon powder - 1/2 tsp
Red Chili powder - 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Finely chopped parsley - 4-5 tbsp
Olive oil

Marinate the chicken with all the ingredients and refrigerate overnight.

Grease a baking tray with butter. Spread out the chicken pieces, roast in a pre heated oven at 180 degree centigrade for 20-25 minutes.

For the vegetables

Red, green and yellow bell peppers - 1 large each
Onion cut in rings - 2-3 medium sized
Olive oil to drizzle
Salt and pepper
Dried parsley - 14 tsp


Toss the vegetables with  pepper, parsley and olive oil in a zip-locked bag. Grease a baking tray with butter, lay out the veggies and grill at 175 degree centigrade for 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle salt once out of the oven, toss well. Squeeze some lime juice and keep aside.

Tahini sauce 

Sesame seeds - 200 g
Olive oil - 1/2 cup
Salt and powdered sugar to taste.

In a food processor grind the sesame seeds to a smooth paste. Add a couple of tablespoons of water if absolutely necessary. Add salt and sugar and give a whiz again. Remove into a bowl and stream in the olive oil while whisking vigorously.

For assembling the sandwich 

Sandwich bread - 8-10 slices
Butter to spread on the bread.
Fried eggs

Lightly toast the bread and spread butter on one surface of each slice. Now spoon on veggies on each slice, on the buttered surface, followed by the roasted chicken shreds. Top it up with Tahini sauce and dried egg.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Southern style Mutton Fry

The other day I went out to eat with the family. After the customary protracted debate bordering on a heated argument, we decided that our eat-out destination for the evening would be Tamarind, a South India specialty restaurant in town. I insisted we go there and I usually get my way. I was craving some Southern flavours and I am crazy about their Kodi Amaravathi. My uncles, hardly an experimental diner, declared he had lost his appetite. He is one of those people who think South Indian cuisine is all about Idli, dosa and uttapam. He has had little exposure to the deliciousness that is Southern cuisines. I gritted my teeth and sat there in the backseat listening to his rant. The only consolation, I was sure he would convert by the end of the evening. 

At Tamarind we ordered for an obscene amount of food. As we kept on adding to the list, the waiter, after hesitating a couple of times, finally blurted out, "Are you sure? That's more than enough for 8 people" The manager, a rotund man with a grim face, glared at him. My father told the waiter that with this family there was nothing like enough food. Bring it on we said. 

The best part of dining at Tamarind is the spiced buttermilk they serve as a complement. I never stop at a single glass. This time was no exception. Anyway, for starters we ordered for Chicken 65, deep-fried chicken with a slight crunch and loads of spices, Kodi Amaravathi, succulent chicken supreme laced in a fiery mix of spices, Kuzhi Paniyaram, shallow fried dumplings made of a fermented rice and lentil batter and Coorg Mutton Fry. The Coorg Mutton Fry was a revelation. Chunks of juicy meat subtly spiced with cloves, coriander and peppercorns and tossed with curry leaves, which melt in your mouth literally. We ordered for second rounds of the Kodi Amaravathi and the Coorg Mutton Fry, much to our waiter's...ummm let's say horror. 

For the mains, we ordered for the classic Chettinad chicken, a chicken curry made wit special Chettinad spices, the mildly spicy Malabar chicken and Veinchina Mamsam, an Andhra style mutton curry. While I was placing the order, my father kept repeating that he wanted to have some thing really spicy for the mains. He said on one of his trips to Hyderabad, 20 years ago, he had this Andhra style chili chicken he still salivates over. He said it was a disappointment that Tamarind didn't serve the dish. So I granted him his wish and added to the order an Andhra specialty that came with not one, not two, but three chilies (yeah the tiny chili signs) on the menu card. Mirappakai Kodi. I have never had something as hot, except for that Ema Datshi (Bhutanese cheese chili curry). My uncle declared that this dish could be used as a mode of torture is high profile criminal investigations. My father kept eating quietly, wiping his nose and eyes every few seconds. 

Finally for dessert we had Double Ka Meetha!  finish,And though we throughly enjoyed the dinner, from start to fish, including the drama triggered by the Mirappakai Kodi,  the star of the evening was by far the Coorg Mutton Fry. I have still not gotten over those chunks of meat dripping juices. I have been thinking about the dish since morning, and then I decided to make some mutton fry myself. The recipe is inspired by southern cuisines, but done my way. It is downright delicious. 


Mutton - 500 g
Star anise - 3
Vinegar- 100 ml
Finely chopped garlic - 2 tbsp
Finely chopped ginger - 2 tbsp
Finely hopped onion - 1/2 cup
Curry leaves - 2 stalks
Cilantro leaves (chopped) - 1/2 cup
Chopped green chilies - 3 tbsp (or to taste)
Grated coconut - 1 cup (loosely packed)
Salt to taste
Mutton stock - 300 ml


Marinate the meat with vinegar, minced papaya and salt for 4-6 hours. 

Heat oil in a pan, add the meat, followed by star anise and the finely chopped garlic, ginger and onions. Fry on high heat for a few minutes. 

Now add the curry leaves, chopped green chilies and half the coriander leaves and continue to fry. Keep de-glazing the pan with meat stock, a ladle at a time, scraping off the caramelised bits sticking to the pan, and continue frying the meat on low heat. 

When the meat is almost tender add the grated coconut and the remaining coriander leaves and continue frying for another 15 minutes. 

Once the meat is tender, coconut has acquired colour and the juices dried, remove from heat and serve hot. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Junglee Murgh and Sonar Kella

Last evening I had the house to myself. My parents were out with friends and my brother was off to his friend's place for the night. Such evenings are a treat, not that I do not enjoy spending time with the family, but I savour every minute I get to spend with myself. Usually when alone at home, I make myself a cup of coffee or pour myself a glass of wine if there is a bottle lying around, crawl into bed with a book, pull on the covers, lose myself in the pages of a novel. Nowadays though, Buddy, my two-and-a-half year old dog (the love of my life really)fit makes sure I do not get too lost, with his occasional licks and mattress-digging fits. Anyway the plan last evening was a similar one. I am currently reading Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories and the city. I had begun reading the book last year before I went on my trip to Turkey, but somehow hadn;t managed past a few pages. I started right at the beginning and I must say reading the book after visiting the city inspires a more involved perspective. Anyway last evening too I crawled into bed and started reading but couldn't concentrate. I was restless and my mind was wandering at its own sweet will. So I turned on the television, aimlessly surfing channels until I screeched to a halt at one channel, one I have hardly ever watched. The music, that tune, was so familiar, a tune I associated with thrilling excitement.

And I was right. They were indeed showing Satyajit Ray's Sonar Kella (Golden Fortress), one of my favourite film. i have watched it a million times, and I will watch it a million times more. For the uninitiated Sonar Kella the film is a cinematic adaption of a book of the same name, which is one among his series of detective novels that trace the adventures of  private investigator Prodosh Chadra Mitter aka Feluda. The story has reincarnation and past life at the heart of the mystery. A little boy Mukul is haunted by memories of his past life and his distressed parents are at their wits end. Mukul would wake up in the middle of the night and draw pictures of forts, houses, wars etc which he claims to have seen with his own eyes. The pictures are clearly reminiscent of Rajasthan but Mukul has never been there. As the news spreads a journalist comes to interview him and Mukul mentions precious stones he has seen at home, of course in his previous life. In the meantime Dr Hemanga Hajra, a renowned parapsychologist convinces Mukul's parents to allow the boy to travel to Rajasthan with him, for the purpose of his research on matters like past life regression.

However, things take a nasty turn when another boy in the neighbourhood, whose name is also Mukul, is kidnapped by two men. The boy is later returned unconscious, and it clear that the kidnappers were looking for the other Mukul, now on his way to Rajasthan. It is also clear that they wouldn't stop before they can get their hands of the right Mukul. Bewildered Mukul's father approaches the invincible Feluda and pleads with him to ensure Mukul's safety. Feluda sets off in pursuit of adventure along with his cousin Topshe (their relation is something like that between Holmes and Watson, the inspiration behind the characters anyway).

My earliest memories of watching Sonar Kella goes back to my Kindergarten days. Back then during Summer holidays they would telecast a special programme for children every afternoon. The programme was titled Chhuti Chhuti. Usually they showed a film is episodes through the week, a new one every week, along with puppet shows, creative tutorials, story-telling sessions etc. Ray Sonar Kella, Joi Baba Felunath (another Feluda Novel) and Gupi Gayen Bagha Bayen were mandatory Chhuti Chhuti films. I would tell you all about my love for Feluda in another post, I must. For now it is enough to know that I adore him.

However, why I love Sonar Kella all the more is because it is while on this case Feluda meets Lal Mohan Ganguly, a crime fiction author who writes under the pen name Jatayu. Jatayu becomes a permanent partner is all of Feluda's adventures henceforth. Jatayu's idiosyncracies to me are the best part of all Feluda novels. And the late Santosh Dutta brings Jatayu to life like no one else can or have. (Ray in his lifetime turned two of his Feluda novels into films, Sonar Kella and Joi Baba Felunath, his son Sandip Ray has made a string of Feluda films with a different set of actors. And though Jatayu's ole has been essayed by Bengali cinema's comic greats like Rabi Ghosh, Santosh Dutta wholly owned that character). Anyway, the thing is everytime I watch Sonar Kella my desire to visit Rajasthan escalates. I haven't been there yet and I can't wait to. I was in Benaras in February this year, the setting for Joi Baba Felunath, and I was thrilled to walk the same lanes Feluda walked in the film, and sit on the stair of the Munshi Ghaat where Feluda brought villain Maganlal Meghraj and Machhli Baba to task. And now I can't stop thinking of a trip to Rajasthan. December might be a good time I am thinking. However, since there was no way I would find myself in Jaisalmer or Jaipur anytime soon, I compensated with some Rajasthani food.

I made myself some Junglee Murgh, a legendary Rajasthani delicacy. As the name suggests this dish is said to have been a staple on hunting expeditions among Rajasthan's royalty. Made with just three main ingredients, Ghee, Red Chilies and Garlic, this dish is perhaps the simplest dish you will make. Simple but delectable. And it is no secret how much cooking with fewer ingredients excite me. I have, however, added my own little touch to the recipe.Actually I had wanted to make Junglee Maas (mutton/lamb) but since there was none at home I made do with chicken All I can say the entire bowl of chicken,over a kilo, was polished off in the name of tasting, The Junglee Maas didn't make it to the lunch table, and we had to cook a quick fish curry for lunch.


Boneless chicken cut in small pieces - 1 kg
Coarsely minced garlic - 1.5 tbsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tsp
Peppercorns- 6-8
Ghee - 250 g
Whole Dried Red Chilies - 20-25
Salt to taste


Heat ghee in a deep bottomed pan.

Add the fenugreek and peppercorns.

Once they begin to flutter add the garlic and fry for a couple of minutes. We do not want it to catch colour.

Now toss in the red chilies followed by the chicken.

Fry the chicken for a few minutes in order to seal in the juices, add salt, reduce heat and keep frying chicken until tender and oil has separated.

Enjoy with piping hot parantahs or rotis. Or just on its own like people at my place did.

PS. It taste even better after it has rested for a while and the heat from the chilies has penetrated deep into the meat. So if you have time, let it rest for a while, and reheat before eating it.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Baked Bori Bekti

Ahhh! Finally back after a long break! But it was a much needed break, and such a fun break it was. I made a conscious effort to stay away from the kitchen these twelve days! I only feasted on food cooked by others. The four days of Durga Puja was madness, between pandal-hopping and eating and meeting friends and making merry in general, and the fun continued even after. Finally I have regained some composure, my mind is brimming with ideas and I haven't felt as rested in a long time. So, today I entered the kitchen with renewed vigour and tossed up another innovation. Super hit is the verdict at home!

Now I have made my love for bori (dried lentil dumplings Bengali style) amply clear when I posted about my grandmother's favourtie Borir Jhaal. Once again, Bori is the star of this recipe Baked Bori Bekti. Now traditional Bengali cuisine offers quite a few ways of cooking fish with bori. At home we make a Machher Jhol (a runny fish stew of sorts) with ginger and cumin paste, a host of vegetables like raw banana, brinjal, potatoes, etc to which we add fried whole boris. I remember during my childhood, this was the customary lunch the day after a feast/party at home. I ate it only for the bori. Besides we make a Pabda Jhaal  (cooked with mustard paste) with bori, and a sspicy Katla Kalia with cauliflower, potatoes and bori! There are numerous other examples, the point is fish and bori make for a delicious combination. I took this awesome twosome and gave it a delicious twist.

What we have here is thick fish fillets, baked, with a garlicky-mustard-y bori crust and smattering of deep crushed bori for an extra crunch. This dish is nothing like anything I have had, yet comfortingly familiar. The crunch from the bori, the fiery zing of the mustard and chilies and the aroma of garlic, together they give the Bekti a brilliant makeover. For this recipe I have used asafoetida flavoured bori, you could use any mildly flavoured bori, ideally a Bengali variety, since other regional versions of the bori are usually spicy and there might be a clash of flavours.


Thick fillets of Bekti (no skin) - 6
Bori - 100 g
Garlic - 12 cloves
Green chilies - 5-6
Mustard seeds - 1 tbsp
Salt to taste
Juice of 2-3 limes
Mustard oil - 2 tbsp + for greasing
Deep fried mini boris, onions, tomatoes and lime wedges for garnish.


Generously smear salt and lime juice on the fish fillets into which you have made three incisions so that the salt and lime juice would penetrate deep. Keep aside for 15 minutes.

Make a paste with the 3/4 of the bori/vadi, garlic cloves, green chilies and mustard, with a pinch of salt.

Lightly crush the remaining bori with a pestle, breaking them down into small grains, but not into powder.

Now on a baking tray greased with mustard oil, line the fish pieces, keeping a little space between each fillet.

With a spoon generously, but evenly, spread the bori-garlic-chili paste on each fillet, the sides too.

Sprinkle the crushed bori on top of each fillet. Drizzle mustard oil.

Bake in a pre heated oven at 180 degree centigrade for 35 minutes. Adjust oven settings so as to heat from above for the last 5 minutes.

The fish sould be cooked through with a crusty bori layer and the golden brown crushed bori for that irresistible crunch.

Serve with fresh and grilled tomatoes and onions, lime wedges and a smattering of deep fried mini boris.