Thursday, 27 November 2014

Spicy and Tangy Chicken Stew

Come winters and I am on the look out for hot, soupy dishes. And this dish is one of my winter favourites, although it is quite suitable for the summers too considering how light and fresh it is. A stew with distinct Indian flavours, light on the stomach, but warms you up alright. I use hardly any spices other than a little turmeric and chili powder for the colour. You could eliminate that too as it would make no difference to the taste and flavour. 

I invented this dish during my initial days at my University in England. I had spent the first week or so on an exclusive diet of Masala Maggi and Cup-o-noodles that I had carried from back home. My mother had insisted on packing other victuals including some rice and lentils and few spices, but I had vehemently protested. It was so uncool. Of course, I regretted the decision. The thing is I was so depressed and homesick during the  first week or so that I hardly set food outside my room. During that period I mostly sat in my room trying to device ways in which I could convince my father that coming here was a wrong decision. The problem was, the decision was mine, the money his! When I was not planning and plotting I cried, sometimes howled. Yes, crazy! The next time I would cry so much would be on my last day in England. Huh.

Anyway, so one evening I cried so much and so loudly that my flatmates thought there was something terribly wrong. There was incessant knocking on the door, I didn't reply. By the time I was done crying, I was done for good this time, I was mortified. How am I going to show my stupid face to my flatmates. That evening I stepped out of my room, sneaked out, took a bus and went straight to Brighton and then to a supermarket in Hove. 

I had to get a grip of my life. First things first. And what could be first but food. I came back home with a few boxes of chicken thighs and breast fillets, potatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, baby carrots and some fresh cilantro and mint. I also picked up some rice, a carton of milk, which I later realised expired that very day, and some more coffee, an Italian variety at that. Life was getting more and more exciting by the minute. Did I mention the chocolate muffins I picked up after a long argument with myself? 

I was psyched, I would be cooking proper food in the kitchen of flat 60 East Slope for first time. Chicken Curry it would be. So out came the knife from the suitcase, yes I had carried a knife along! A tiny grater too! What do you think? So I chopped onions and garlic, grated the ginger. Oops no tomatoes. Never mind I said, I'll manage. I washed the chicken, set  my brand new non stick pan (this one I carried too) on the stove. 

Only to realise I had no oil! Brilliant. After much deliberation, I knocked on one  of my flatmates doors. "Would you have a little oil I could borrow?" "What kind of oil?" "Ummm any thing would do." "No, what do you want it for?" "Chicken curry," I mumbled. "Ok cooking oil" "What other kinds of oil did she have," I wondered. C accompanied me to the kitchen and showed me her  cabinet, there was a tiny bottle of olive oil, numerous boxes of tea and some honey. "I wondered what she ate." Anyway so I set out to to cook and then it occurred to me. I had no spices, nothing, no cumin, no coriander, no cloves, cardamom or cinnamon, not even turmeric...and I had no salt. I could get the salt from the Union Store of the university, although it would mean walking all the way down the slope and then up. But I wouldn't get any of the other stuff. For now salt would do I decided. So I ran back to the Union Store and grabbed a packet of salt and picked up a lemon too, I could add a squeeze for taste. 

The chicken stew I made that cold October evening in my little kitchen far from home, with whatever ingredients I had randomly picked up has over time metamorphosed into one of my favourite comfort dishes. I love ti have it with rice and sometimes with noodles too! 

Chicken - 1 kg 
Onions - 5 (medium)
Garlic - 15-18 cloves (small)
Grated ginger - 1 tbsp
Tomatoes (chopped) - 4 large
Chopped cilantro/coriander leaves - 1 cup
Chopped green chilies - 4 tbsp (or to taste, I like it hot)
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Red chili powder - 1 tsp
Dried Fenugreek leaves/ Kasuri methi - 1 tbsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1/4 tsp
Coriander seeds - 1/4tsp
Large potatoes - 3
Baby carrots - 6-8
Mustard oil
Salt to taste
Juice of 2 limes


Dice the onions and tomatoes into small cubes and keep. 

Cut the potatoes length wise to form four fat fingers.  Fry them with a pinch of salt until golden and almost done. Keep aside.

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the coriander and fenugreek seeds. Once they splutter and begin to exude their aroma, remove the seeds, leaving only a few and add the chicken. 

Add turmeric and fenugreek seeds and fry the chicken until opaque . Keep the heat on high. 

Add the onions, whole garlic cloves and grated ginger and fry until onions are translucent. 

Add warm water enough to completely submerge the chicken. 

Bring the water to boil and a few minutes later add the baby carrots, chopped tomatoes, green chilies and coriander leaves. Few minutes later, add the potatoes and salt to taste. 

Once water reduces by a quarter, and chicken is cooked through, add the the lime juice and the dried fenugreek leaves and remove from heat. Serve immediately garnished with coriander leaves and fresh chopped green chilies if you like. Have it on its own, or with rice. Or trust me and try it with noodles. 

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Brunch @ Aqua, The Park, Kolkata

        It is difficult to resist the temptation of lounging by the pool al fresco, on a cool morning, curled up on a plush lounge bed (though I can hardly curl up), comforted by the soft warmth from the Winter sun. A steaming cup of rich, creamy coffee to sip on and the company of a close friend can only make it better. Add to this a delicious brunch and you have described a recent morning in my humble life. 

I was at a revamped Aqua,  the al fresco 24-hour, poolside bar and dining destination at The Park, Kolkata and the morning looked promising. Aqua was recently relaunched in a spanking new avatar as the city's
latest wine and dine hot spot. Stylishly done, the setting is stunning, especially in the evening - the pristine pool, the wooden decks, the dining deck above, the private cabanas with comfy couches and glass ceilings makes it the perfect destination for a night out with friends, a quiet drink after work or to grab some late night grub post party. But I had dropped in to sample their brunch and drenched in winter sunshine, the place has a different charm in the morning. With my friend S for company this was set to be a very good morning with the potential to wander into a lovely afternoon.

It is difficult to concentrate on conversation when distraction comes in the form of a bowl of luscious hummus and a platter of Grilled Kalaj to scoop up the hummus with - the first course of what turned out to be a fantastic meal.The Kalaj, a delightful Middle Eastern stuffed bread is nothing but pita stuffed with the deliciously salty Halloumi cheese, a semi-hard unripened brined cheese of Cypriot origin, and finely chopped fresh mint, and then grilled. The ones served to me were soft with a hint of crispy relief and generously stuffed, a worthy companion to the luscious, superbly creamy hummus I couldn't have enough of.  

The memories of the hummus was still lingering in my mouth when the next course arrived - a motley Greek salad oozing freshness, topped with generous dollops of creamy Feta. The vegetables looked fresh and crunchy and the cheese fresh and delightful. But what surprised me was the perfect poached egg nestled on the side. As I cut into the delicate poach the yolk gushed out and meandered into the salad. The crunchy peppers and cucumbers, the soft, salty feta and the luscious egg yolk - bliss. I was told that I could also opt for smoked salmon or roast chicken in my Greek Salad. Another time perhaps, for how I was happy, err eggstatic! 

At this point I felt pretty full. "But there is so much more" the chef protested. I insisted on a break. Break it was, only a basket of fresh artisan bread and a bowl of rosemary and garlic-infused, balsamic vinegar spiked extra-virgin olive oil  to dip the bread in was set on the table. Well, let's that it made for my kind of break, which however was cut short by a steaming cup of thyme-infused broth soup. I love soup in a cup, I like to sip on soup. Sip on soup...has a certain ring to it! And this cup also had cappelletti pasta (literally little cap pasta) stuffed with minced chicken, on a stick dunked in the hot broth bursting with flavours. I would definitey recommend this for a cold winter evening, especially after a day's hard work! 

The grilled fish platter that arrived with minutes of draining that cup of soup down my gullet was one with a difference. Fresh basa, pan seared served with baked potato wedges and sun dried tomato, a smidgen of red pepper coulis and lemon butter sauce, some asparagus and a sprig of watercress. Fancy eh. But the difference really was brought by the lemon butter sauce. Sounds pretty regular you say? Well, you see, this lemon butter sauce had the fabled Gondhoraj lime and that is what made the difference. The fish flaked perfectly, the potatoes had a nice crust and the sauce was delightfully aromatic, with just the right degree of acidity, umm...let;s just say deliciousness.  

My stomach had begun protesting vehemently, my mind protested harder still, but the heart wants what the heart wants. So I welcomed the gorgeous platter of gourmet sliders that arrived next. There were two different kinds of mini burgers - one spatchcock chicken with mayo and French mustard relish and the other asparagus and watercress gallets - between soft mini buns. I wolfed down the sliders in no time, dipping them in the sweetish red pepper coulis that came along.

There is no denying that the meal was exhausting! But then again who has ever resisted a Mississippi mud pie. And the one which the chef sent out was a 'deconstructed' version, served with candied orange rind, sugar coated rose petals and sprig of mint. The dessert was pretty as a picture and delicious too albeit the gooey chocolate mud pie was very rich. It was a relief that it came in a petite portion. That and the slight acidity from the orange. This meal couldn't have ended on a sweeter note. And I am going by soon. This time perhaps in the evening to see the pool all lit up! Or may be for their champagne breakfasts for which you must book in advance!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Shahi Paneer from Jayati's kitchen

The other day one of my friends from school called me and yelled into the phone "How come there is nothing with paneer, on your blog?" I had only taken the first sip of my morning cuppa, my eyes were still heavy with sleep and my voice groggy. "Ummmm...there isn't," I mumbled. "No, nothing. What am I going to do now?" "I didn't realise..." I said, feeling guilty, though I was not sure how my culinary crime (I had begun to feel that my blog wasn't any good without paneer) had put my friend in a sticky spot. "My in-laws are dropping in, I had planned to smply open your blog and cook up a storm, the MIL loves paneer and there is no paneer. Now what?" By now my senses were wide awake. "Don;t worry, just get a pad and a pencil." I quickly gave her a quick paneer recipe, something I often cook at home. She was happy, I was relieved. But I couldn;t stop thinking about my blunder. 

So, this week when I had to cook something from my fellow blogger Jayati Saha's blog Jayati's Food Journey for the second week of Kolkata Food Bloggers event Know Your Blogger , I decided to try out one of her paneer dishes. Unlike my blog, Jayati's has an impressive assortment of Paneer Specials. Initially I was eyes Jayati's Dum Paneer Kali Mirch but finally settled for her Shahi Paneer, paneer cubes simmered in this creamy saffron infused, cashew nut-enriched curry sauce!

Jayati is the ideal modern Indian woman, effortlessly managing a thousand things - a mother, a professional 
Hey blog is the go-to destination if you are looking for traditional Bengali food. But that's not it, she effortlessly doles out delicacies from across the country, including rarer treats like Masor Tenga, an Assamese fish preparation to die for. In fact, if you love fish you have all the more a reason to check out Jayati's Food Journey for its rich repertoire of fishy delights (punned ya!) 

I followed Jayati's recipe mostly, adding a few personal touches here and there and it turned out great! Here's how I did it


Paneer (cut in cubes) - 500 g
Onion - 1 large
Minced garlic - 1 tbsp
Minced ginger - 1 tsp
Cashew nuts - 50 g
Sesame seeds - 1 tbsp (my addition)
Tomato puree - 4 tbsp
Yoghurt - 100 g
Fresh cream- 4 tbsp
Bay leaves - 2
Cardamom - 2-3
Cinnamon stick - 1 (2 inch)
Cloves - 2
Whole dry red chilies - 4
Salt and sugar to taste
A large pinch of saffron threads
Ghee - 4-5 tbsp
White oil


Make a fine paste with the cashew nuts and sesame seeds and keep aside.

Boil the onion in water and grind into a smooth paste.

Deep fry the paneer cubes until a perfect golden. In a bowl of warm water add a couple of teaspoons of salt and toss in the fried paneer cubes.

Heat ghee in a heavy bottomed pan. Add bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and dry red chilies. Once the spices release their aroma, add the boiled onion paste, followed by the garlic and ginger paste. Fry until oil separates.

Add the tomato puree and fry for another couple of minutes. Next add the cashew-sesame paste and the yoghurt which you must whip into a creamy texture. Add salt and sugar to taste.

Fry the masala until oil separates. Now stir in 2 cups warm water, scraping off the bits stuck to the pan. Bring to boil and a few minutes later add the paneer cubes. Reduce heat and let all simmer for 8-10 minutes.

Add the saffron strands and cream. Stir and mix. Remove from heat and serve hot with rotis or paranthas.

Find original Recipe here

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Chili Honey Fish Bites

 I have been sitting at my computer for an hour now wondering what I could share with you today - but words seem to be evading  me. May be because my brain is little too tired. I have been swamped with writing projects this past week and I feel exhausted. So today I'll get straight to the point and let the pictures speak! So here's presenting Chili Honey Fish Bites - Bekti fillet cubed laced in a sticky hot and sweet sauce. 
This dish, also the version with chicken instead of fish, is one of my favourites. I love the coquetry between honey and chili. I love it as a starter and even as main course with fried or steamed rice. 

By the way, this time next week I will be in Pune, Maharashtra raring to set off on a Konkan trail with my dear friend Angona. Just the thought of all the Malvani food I am going t wolf down is making me slobber. And I promise to bring back loads of food stories and a few smashing recipes! 

Bekti fillet cut in cubes - 700 g 
Juice of two limes 
Dry whole red chilies - 10
Finely chopped garlic - 1 tbsp 
Grated ginger - 1 tsp 
Chopped spring onions - 3 tbsp 
Soy sauce - 1 tbsp 
Honey - 100 ml 
Salt to taste 
Fresh cracked pepper to taste 
Sesame seeds to sprinkle as garnish
Vegetable Oil 


Marinate the fish with salt, lime juice and fresh cracked pepper for an hour.

De-seed 8 of the 10 dry whole red chilies. Simply cut one end and shake the seeds out. Then let all the chilies soak in warm water for half an hour. Grind it into a fine paste. Reserve.

Dredge the marinated fish cubes in flour and fry them to a crisp gold.

Work fast with the sauce.  Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a pan. Add chopped garlic, grated ginger and chopped spring onion. Fry until the garlic is golden.

Add the red chili paste and fry for another minute or two. Add the soy sauce and give it all a good swirl and stir. Deglaze the pan with the honey.

Now add the fish and give the wok a good toss to coat the fish in the sauce. Adjust seasoning. Once the honey begins to caramelize, add a large pinch or two of coarsely cracked pepper. Take it off heat

Sprinkle sesame seeds and some chopped spring onion leaves and serve hot, either as a starter or aromatic steamed rice.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Fusilli with Walnut Cilantro Pesto


A friend of the family brought back a big bag of chopped walnuts from his travels. The moment I saw those walnuts, I had made a list of gorgeous dishes I could make with them. I have been craving walnut brownies for a while and my brother's girl friend has been requesting some brownies for long. So I would start with the brownies I had decided. Besides, for months I have been planning to make a typical Swiss walnut pie, Engadiner Nusstorte.
       The bag of walnut arrived on Sunday. I was a little occupied on Monday and Tuesday what with a friend's wedding to attend. However, this morning when I set out to make my walnut brownies, all that was left in the jar that the walnuts had been transferred were a couple of measly tablespoon of walnut crumbs, Of course, I didn't wonder where it went because I knew exactly where it could go. It couldn't be a coincident that my father kept on repeating the health benefits of walnuts, first in the evening over tea and then at the dinner table the last couple of nights. "The ones Saheb has brought are particularly good," he said. We nodded, continues eating our food and talked about other things. 
      Little did we know that none of us save Dad would be able to benefit from the virtues of the superlative walnuts our friend had brought. I heard later, last evening, a couple of his buddies had dropped in,  the walnuts replaced the customary salted cashew nuts to go with the single malt. Blah. I was infuriated to say the least. My walnut brownies, no way! However, I had to cook something or my mood would go for a toss. Once I was done with my tirade I decided upon what to make. And those walnut crumbs would go into it. If my father thought in a fit of fury I would leave them alone he was wrong. So I decided to make Pasta with a Walnut Cilantro Pesto. One because my brother and I love it. Two because my father does not. Three, because there was some fresh cilantro lying on the kitchen counter. Buhahaaha
Now pesto sauce is traditionally made with basil, garlic and olive oil with some pine nuts thrown in. And of course there is Parmesan. Different regions of Italy have their own variations of pesto. And there is the pesto russo (red), I particularly like, which has sun dried tomatoes as a base instead of basil. But the term pesto is general means anything that is prepared by pounding. Modern gastronomy has used this linguistic freedom to innovate with the pesto and how. So now everything from mint and cilantro to rosemary and thyme goes into pesto. And not just pine nuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnut, pistachio and like in this recipe walnuts too are used to make innovative pesto. 
Here's how I made my pasta today.

Fusilli (or any pasta you prefer) - 250 g 
Garlic cloves - 3-4 large 
Chopped walnuts - 2 tbsp 
Chopped cilantro/coriander leaves - 1 cup packed 
Lime juice - 1 tbsp 
Salt and coarsely cracked black pepper to taste
Extra Virgin Olive oil 
Parmesan (grated)- 1/4 cup 

In a processor grind the cilantro, garlic, walnuts together. Stream in a little olive oil and give another whiz. 

Add salt, pepper and lime juice, mix well and keep aside. 

Boil water in a pan. Add a couple of table spoons of olive oil and some salt. Add the pasta and cook till al dente. Drain the pasta, reserve a few table spoons of the water you cooked the pasta in. 

Add the water to you pesto and mix well. Add it to the pasta, still hot and give it a good toss. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss well. Serve hot.

My Qurik: I squeezed a little more lime, Desi style, on the pasta while eating it.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Gobi Manchurian from Sarani's Kitchen

Last week has been nothing short of enervating and I had to stay away from the kitchen. Finally, I have returned to the kitchen, and boy am I cooking up a storm in there! My 'come back' post is a special one though. So, Kolkata Food Bloggers  is hosting a rather cool event here! Know Your Blogger. So every week, one blogger member of the KFB is nominated as the Star of the week, an the remaining members cook one dish from the weekly star's blog and of course blog about it. And this week, the star of the week is Sarani Tarafdar of Back to Basics @

Sarani's blog to me is like that snug corner in your house with that comfy sofa where you like to settle down with your favourite novel and a mug of piping hot chocolate. Yes, it is warm and comforting. Visiting her blog is like entering a home redolent with the divine aroma of fresh baked cookies.Literally. The blog has an impressive assortment of baked goodies I often drool over with a generous smattering of other delicacies, Indian and International.

Sarani lives in Mason, Ohio with her husband and five year old son, a very cute boy with a lovely smile. No wonder her blog has a number of recipes kids would love. Take for instance her One Minute Chocolate Chip Cookies in a Mug or the Easy Peasy Cake Balls. For her son's Monster Inc/Monster University themed birthday party a couple of months ago Sarani whipped up a delightful 'Surprise 5 Inside' cake. Sarani's little one definitely keeps mamma on her toes and in the kitchen.

I am not much of a baker. I lack the patience and perseverance necessary to bake on a regular basis. So, though I drooled over and craved Sarani baked sweet goodies, when it came to recreating her recipe chose a savoury dish. Choosing wasn't easy either because the options are many. Besides, it so happened twice that that someone else beat me to the dish I chose to make to celebrate Sarani's blog. Finally I decided upon her rather appetising Gobi Manchurian, quicky informed the other members of the KFB and sealed the deal.

 Gobi or Cauliflower Manchurian - Batter-fried cauliflower florets tossed with onions. garlic, cilantro leaves and a few sauces -  is the archetypal Indo-Chinese dish. I have always wanted to make it at home but never got around. Now that cauliflower is in season, and because my folks love the vegetable, I thought it would be a great dish to make and Sarani's recipe sounded promising. It was also a welcome break from the usual varieties of cauliflower curries and stir fries we make at home. Also many of my friends complain that my blog has very few vegetarian dishes. So here goes, staying off the meats and fish for ones. The best part -this dish is not only easy but hardly takes time to make if you have prepped in advance.

I have stuck to Sarani's recipe for the Gobi Manchurian with only a few minor changes here and there depending of personal preferences.. I added my touch only with these thin rice flour pancakes I served the spicy sauce laced batter fried cauliflower florets in. You can make a wrap out of it and chomp it down if you like.



Caulifower - 1 small
Finely chopped onions - 1 large
Finely chopped garlic - 1 tbsp
Grated ginger - 1.5 tsp
Finely chopped green chilies - 1 tbsp
Finely chopped cilantro leaves - 1/2 cup (and a little extra for garnish)
Soy sauce - 3 tbsp
Hot and Sweet tomato sauce   - 1.5 tbsp
A pinch of sugar
Salt to taste
Cornflour/starch - 1 tsp
Water - a couple of tablespoons

For the batter
All purpose flour - 1/2 cup
Cornflour/starch - 1/4 cup
Coarsely ground black pepper - 3/4 tsp
Water enough to make a thick batter

For the pancakes (makes 3-4)
Egg - 1
Milk - 1/4 cup
Rice flour - 3 tbsp
Corn flour - 1 tsp
Soy sauce - 1/2 tsp
Salt, fresh cracked pepper and sugar to taste
Finely chopped cilantro leaves - 1 tsp
Oil to fry


Cut the cauliflower into medium sized florets. Make sure you clean them well. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and keep aside.

In a bowl mix together the dry ingredients for the batter. Slowly whisk in water to make a lump free thick batter.

Heat oil in a pan. Dip the cauliflower florets in the batter, one by one, and deep fry.

Once done, reserve the batter fried cauliflower, while you make the sauce.

In another pan heat a couple of tablespoons of oil.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger and green chilies. Saute for a few minutes on high heat.

Add the soy sauce,a large pinch of sugar and the tomato sauce and give a good toss. Once it begins to caramelize, add the corn flour dissolved in a few table spoons of water.

It's take only minutes to reduce, toss in the cilantro leaves and the batter frried cauliflowers. Toss it on high heat for a while. Add the cracked pepper, adjust seasoning (be careful here, the sauces usually make for almost enough salt) and remove from heat.

For the pancakes. 

Mix all ingredients, except oil, together to make a lump free batter.

Heat a frying pan greased well with oil, add a ladle of battle and twirl the pan to spread it out into a thin disc. Wait for a minute or so that one side gets done. Slowly release the sides with the ends of your spatula before flipping it over. Cook on the other side for no more than 30 seconds.

Serve the Gobi Manchurian on a thin pancake or rolled into one.

And here's wishing Sarani and her blog all the best and many more delicious years ahead.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

A meal at The Square Novotel Kolkata

I had been stuck at the same traffic signal for over 10 minutes now. The traffic had been moving very slowly and the lights had turned green and back to red before I could drive through. Behind me a few cars were honking relentlessly. A throng of people and a few cows were crossing the road, the people seemed to be in great hurry, the cows were more relaxed.  The bus on my left billowed out a black cloud of toxic smoke. I rolled up my window glass. It was quieter inside the car. The parking lot of the mall on my right was full. On a weekday afternoon? 

I thought of a November afternoon 8 years ago. I had taken a drive on these Rajarhat roads to get a feel of the place for my first journalistic assignment, I was still in college then, and returned to write about the vast stretches of green, the marshes and the trees swaying in the breeze, extolling its bucolic beauty and reveling in the fact that the place did not betray its proximity to the city, it seemed far, far away from the madding crowd! 

In these eight years Rajarhat has changed beyond recognition - malls and multiplexes, posh housing projects, modern offices and Five Star hotels stud the landscape. And Novotel Kolkata Hotel and Residences, is one of the newest addition to the Rajarhat landscape and the city's luxury hotel brigade. That's where I was headed. The hotel's marketing and communications manager Aparna Banerjee Paul had invited me over to join her for lunch at the hotels signature all day dinning destination The Square, which came with the promise of food out of the box. 

I walked into The Square to bump into members of the Atletico de Kolkata squad, I had seen their bus parked outside. I do not follow football but I could always go back and make my brother, quite the football fanatic, feel a little jealous I thought. The Square, sprawling and bright, with its posh, contemporary interiors, the huge glass walls through which the autumn sunshine came pouring in, a mammoth mural of innumerable tiny butterflies, red and black and the live kitchen counter on the other end, made for an inviting setting for a lazy lunch.

The menu at The Square is an assortment of European and Asian favourites. A few French numbers on the menu had caught my fancy. I had been musing over the Coq au Vin when the first course arrived, and it was French! Salad Nicòise. A medley of soft colours and contrasting textures the salad turnout to be more than the eye candy it definitely was. Crunchy iceberg lettuce and fresh French beans, tangy bursts of pickled pearl onions, perfectly boiled baby potatoes, the juicy black olives, delicate quail eggs and generous amount of tuna chunks tossed together in a light, lemony vinigarette - the salad was a great way to start a meal I had begun to look forward to.

Next up was yet another French Classic - The French Onion soup. My fondest memory of the French Onion soup goes back to a freezing evening in England when my dear friend Lorna, a Britisher brought up in France, had made a huge bowl of it. The two of us had lapped up the entire bowl while we talked about our lives, so different from each others. There was something about the warm bowl of homemade soup the thought of which still makes me want it. Anyway, this time the soup came in a pretty red chausseur bowl with tiny handles ad a lid.A chunk of bread laced in melting Gruyere and topped with caramelised onions floated in the thick, brown, soup. The soup turned out to be flavourful, aromatic and comforting but not much of a surprise. But I would definitely settle for it on a cold winter evening. 

The soup was followed by a Spinach Mushroom Risotto. I am a big fan of a risotto done well and done right, so I was looking forward to this one. Porcini, parmesan and spinach seemed to me like a good combination. And the promised drizzle of balsamic vinegar should be interesting I thought. But when the risotto arrived I was a little disappointed. To me it appeared over-cooked. I could be wrong, may be I was being too finicky. I scooped up a spoonful and holding on to hope and put it in my mouth. And I was not happy.

It is difficult to forgive a risotto that is gluey or mushy, no matter how flavourful. Yes it should be moist and creamy, but never gluey. Each grain of rice should be able to act as a carrier of the flavours, mushy rice however dissipates the flavour, as was the case with this one. Yes  it was crammed with porcini and button mushrooms, yes the spinach lent a distinct earthy flavour, and the Parmesan shavings on top generously sprinkled, but the risotto was far from al dente. Naturally the flavours were muddled too.

 I thought it was necessary to bring this to the chef's notice. However, according to him, cooking the arborio beyond the al dente stage was hardly an accident. He said it was a conscious decision since most guests want it that way. Well, it is true that most Indians do not subscribe to the al dente club, and I do understand the chef's predicament, I have had guests at home complain my pasta was not properly cooked when I had served them my perfect Spaghetti Bolognese. However, I think it is time to educate the public by introducing them to the nuances of a particular cuisine. They can't continue to have ketchup with their pizza and ask for mushy risotto and pasta forever. It breaks my heart.

Moving on, the next dish on the day's menu was the pave of Salmon with skin. Fresh fish, crunchy vegetables and creamy mashed potatoes - no trimming or complex play of flavours, with each ingredient talking for itself. . Not much could go wrong with this one. I would have liked the fish to more flaky, but that's being a little too fastidious. This one was a hearty dish, simple and fresh.

But the one dish I was looking forward to all afternoon, disappointed me the most - Grilled Buffalo Tenderloins. When the generous chunk of meat accompanied by a medley of veggies and topped with a thyme utter enriched jus, arrived at our table, I was super happy. I couldn't wait to slice into the meat, see the juices ooze out and yes the lovely bright pink centre. But alas there was no pink, only a dreary brown, It was a well done steak.  I had wondered why I had not been asked how I would like my steak. I had assumed it would be the universal medium rare. What I was not expecting was a dry and stiff chunk of meat. The steak was a big let down! The jus was delicious though, and the vegetable nice and crunchy, if that's any consolation! 

The dessert platter inspired mixed feelings! I loved the pistachio flavoured macaron that came with the restaurant's signature Pista Dacquiose with Mango Raspberry Delight, which in turn left me confused.I liked the pista dacquiose. the mango mousse and the raspberry mousse as seperate elements but I didn't care much for the combination. It was unreasonably ambitious and failed to hit the mark 

Overall, the meal had a few highs, but there are things that need to be taken care of and as soon as possible. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Pop goes Saffron

It is not often that gourmet chefs seek the expertise of obscure housewives in their Five Star kitchens. When they do, they come up with winsome spreads that not only impresses your palette but also beguiles you with their familiar comfort.

I was surprised enough when I heard Saffron, Park Hotel Kolkata's Contemporary Indian restaurant was hosting a specialty Bengali cuisine pop-up. I was a tad skeptical initially. I have reservations against eating Bengali food in restaurants, albeit with exceptions. I eat authentic, and superlative, Bengali food with all the works 365 days a year at home (excuse the hyperbole) and the idea of going to a restaurant to eat the same stuff seems a little weird to me. Eating the same at a Five Star restaurant, outright ridiculous. But what intrigued me about this particular spread is the people behind crafting it. To craft the menu for this special pop-up the Park Hotel Kolkata had roped in two homemakers, Gopa Mitra and Santa Paul, both natives of erstwhile East Bengal and residents of West Bengal for decades. Naturally they are intimately acquainted with the cuisines of both East and West Bengal and they had brought their experience, expertise, heirloom recipes and kitchen secrets to the Saffron kitchen. Along with chefs Sharad Dewan and Arindam Jana, the two women crafted the menu, a pathwork of traditional specialties from both East and West Bengal.

Now the Ghoti (natives of West Bengal)-Bangal, (natives of East Bengal) divide is stuff of legends. And if they have flaunted their rivalry on the football field, there has been a culinary war in progress for the longest time. And here at Saffron the best of both world's was on the menu. And what made the spread as endearing as it was appetizing was the curious nomenclature of some of the dishes. On hand there were West Bengal specialties like Niharbalar Pabdar Jhol and Picimar thor chorchori (Aunt's , on the other were Ghosh Barir Kosha Mangsho (The Ghosh-family recipe for slow cooked spicy mutton curry) and Pabnar chalkumror jhaal, ash gourd curry as done in the Pabna district of erstwhile East Bengal. Even mundane comfort food like ol bhaate (elephant foot yam mash) and peyanj posto (onions and poppy-seed curry) enjoy glory spots on the menu.

If you are wondering what happened to the Ilish and Chingri, of course one cannot conceive Bengali cuisine without Hilsa and Prawns. So there are several preparations of Illish straight from River Padma - paka tentuler ombol (cooked in a runny tamarind sauce), Khulnar kaalo jeere baata (cooked with nigella paste as done in the Khula district of present Bangladesh) and Hilsa cooked in Pabna syle mustard gravy. Prawn lovers can opt for Daab chingri (prawns cooked in tender coconut shells), narkel shorshe chingri (prawns cooked in a coconut-mustard gravy) or the more common malaikari.

For those with a sweet tooth there are desserts like Didimar Dhani Pithe Payesh and Mung Puli. Fancy some ice cream instead? You can take your pick between Daab Malai ice cream and Nolen Gurer ice cream

Though I belong to a Ghoti family, I have a soft spot for Bangal cuisne. So I opted for the East Bengal Thali, a veritable assortment of dishes from Opar Bangla.  The spread included dishes like Bhetki Machher Borishali Jhol, a light home-style fish stew flavoured with cumin and ginger, Kochu Saag narkel diye, taro leaves cooked with coconut, a classic East Bengal delicacy, Narkel diye mocha, which is nothing butter stir fried banana flowers topped with grated coconut and shukto, a slightly bitter stew made with a host of summer vegetables. How my picks from the motley assortment of Bangal delights are - the fragrant but light Bsanti pulao and the Ghosh Barir kosha mangsho. The perfectly done tender chunks of meat laced in slightly caramelised medley of spices was to die for.

I was not particularly impressed with the vegetarian dishes, perhaps because these are dishes I have grown up eating and I subscribe to a particular taste. I cannot help but have a soft spot for the Narkel diye mocha my grandmother makes or the Kochu Saag my aunt doles out of her kitchen, and those are standards hard to meet. But for those seeking an experience and insight into authentic Bengali cuisine the spread at Saffron does justice indeed. This is the closest you can get to enjoying home-style cooking in a five star setting. The pop up is on till the 15th of November on popular demand!

All photographs provided by The Park Hotel Kolkata

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Strapatsada: Greek style scrambled eggs in tomato

I must has said this before and I am saying it again. I love Greek food - the fresh flavours, the creamy feta, the earthy notes of the dill and the spicy warmth of oregano, the coquetry between garlic and lemon.  A couple of years ago my brother and I had almost taken a trip to Greece. We had planned for months, chalked out an itinerary, made inquiries, informed our friends in Greece about our imminent trip, made them block dates, and finally when all was done, we decided to go to Italy instead. Why? That is another story. And though the trip to Italy was phenomenal I often wonder how our Greek holiday might have turned out.
It is heartbreaking to think that I was so close to chomping on a fat souvlaki role dripping tahini sauce and meaty juices while navigating the streets of Athens. Soon some day I hope. O

But we live in a world that is shrinking and how. So I do not need to be in Greece to eat Greek food. So this morning, and it was a beautiful morning, sunny and cheerful, I wanted to cook a special breakfast for the family. Sunday after all. But then I also wanted to catch up on some pending work and I didn't want to spend a long time in the kitchen.So, I decided to make eggs, scrambled eggs. But not just any. The other day while reading up on Greek Food. I came across this dish. Strapatsada. It is basically scrambled eggs in pureed tomato. seasoned with salt, pepper and a little oregano.

This was going to be awesome. This is one of the simplest dishes you will make. But the flavours are so fresh this and delicious. With a couple of slices of bread, some fruits and fruit juice, it made for a healthy, sumptuous.


Large eggs - 2
Tomatoes - 2 (large)
Salt and pepper to taste
Dried Oregano- 1/4 tsp
A pinch of dried parley.
Olive oil - 2 tbsp


Puree the tomatoes in a food processor. Heat olive oil in a pan and add the puree.

Once the liquids dry up and oil begins to appear around the edges. Add the whisked eggs.

Add salt and pepper followed by the oregano and parsley.

Cook on low heat until done. scrambling the eggs with a spoon or spatula. My touch a dollop of garlic butter on top!

PS. You can also add Feta if you like.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


The other day my friend Farah mentioned the dish while we were chatting online. I do not remember the context any more but the name of the dish stayed with me. It was something I have never tasted. I also remember her say that the dish is especially cooked during the month of Muharram. Before I could ask for the recipe she said she was stepping out and would catch up later.

I mulled over the idea for a while and then turned to Google. Google is so much like that uncle who knows everything about everything and is always there to help in your hour of need. Anyway, my research told me that Khichda is a richer version of khichdi, rice, lentils and meat cooked together with loads of herbs and spices. The dish is of Hyderabadi origin. Albeit there are regional variations.  But again there were versions which used broken wheat. I was all the more confused when I browsed through recipes, the images only made the confusion worse. Some looked mushy, others looked like a pilaf.

I decided to talk to Rehmaan bhai who is the manager at my cousin's garments factory. A young guy, very polite and a wonderful cook. Now he told me that the Calcutta version of the Khichda had no meat at all. It was like biryani with lentils sans meat. More confusion. I didn't like the sound of no meat, so I went ahead with his skeleton of a recipe (he was just giving me an idea) but decided to add meat anyway. Since, I am off red meat for a while it had to be chicken, though you could always make the dish with mutton (goat meat or lamb, or even beef if you like). Also my version is a a little mushy. But not soggy. And it is delicious. Spicy, meaty, warm - a one pot meal to die for.

I made it for the family yesterday and they polished off the entire pot.


Long Grain Rice: 300 g
Split and skinned Bengal gram (Chana Dal): 100g
Split and skinned pigeon peas (Arhad Dal): 100g
Chicken : 750 g
Finely chopped onions - 1 cup packed
Mince garlic -
Minced ginger -
Finely chopped Coriander/cilantro leaves - 1/2 cup
Finely chopped Mint leaves - 1/4 cup
Curd : 100 g
Juice of 1 lime
Turmeric powder - 1 tbsp
Red chili powder - 1 tbsp
Finely chopped green chilies - 2-3 tbsp
Cumin powder - 1.5 tsp
Coriander powder - 1.5 tbsp
Garam masala powder - 1.5 tsp (see recipe)
A pinch of saffron soaked in a few tablespoons of milk
Salt to taste
Mustard oil - 1/4 cup
Ghee - 1/4 cup
Birista (caramelised onions) and cilantro leaves for garnish

For the garam masala 

Ingredients (makes about 3 tbsp, you'll only need 1 tsp)

Green cardamom seeds- 1 tsp
Black cardamom  - 4 (only seeds)
Cloves - 6
Cinnamon sticks - 2-3 inches
Mace threads - 1 tbsp
Caraway seeds - 1 tsp
Black peppercorns - 1.5 tsp
Nutmeg powder - 1/4 tsp

Dry roast all the spices except nutmeg and grind to a fine powder. Stir in the nutmeg.


Soak the lentils in water overnight or for at least 3-4 hours .

Soak the rice in water for an hour. Drain the rice and lentils and spread them out to dry out for a while.

Cook the lentils and rice together in about 4 cups of water, until soft but not soggy. The lentils should remain whole.

In a heavy bottomed pan heat the mustard oil and ghee together. Add the onions and fry until deep golden.

Add the minced garlic and ginger and fry for a few more minutes.

Now add the chopped cilantro, mint and green chilies and fry.

Add the powdered spices and fry until oil separates. Add the chicken and fry till oil separates again. Add salt, cover and cook until chicken is almost tender.

Remove cover and cook for another few minutes that is until the liquids reduce.

Whisk the curd and lime juice together and add it to the meat. Also add the saffron soaked in milk. Mix well.

Now add the cooked rice and lentil mix to the meat and mix well. Once the rice and lentil soak up all the liquids, adjust seasoning, add the birista and a drizzle of ghee and remove from heat.

Serve hot with some onion salad and raita.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Rum-spiked Grilled Pomfret with Yemeni spice mix

Today is another special day. It is my Baba's birthday. Like every day, Baba woke up at six in the morning, had his tea, did his yoga, took a the time I woke up he had finished his bowl of cereals and fruits, He was his usual workaday self, moving about the house with the airs of the busiest man on earth. Between mouthfuls of cereals he checked his phone, time and again. Usually his phone begins to ring at 7 in the morning and rings almost non stop till midnight. He usually grumbles about it, today he was missing it. Finally he brought out his ironed shirt and trouser and then stopped. Thank God" I muttered. He had finally remembered that today was a holiday, he didn't have to go to work. 

Anyway since dad was going to be home, I decided to cook him a good meal for lunch. My Ma is away at her cousin's place. She had promised to be back by yesterday, but couldn't. We are a little angry with her, we missed her. Dad said it was ok, there have been times when he wasn't around on her birthday, not to mention the times he had forgotten to wish her, a hint of mischief in his eyes. Ma is still feeling guilty though, however she is happy the shirt he had bought him and had kept in my custody has fit him fine. Anyway, about the lunch. So, my father loves fish, and this isn't the first time I am mentioning his obsession with fish. I wonder if it's providential that my Mum is a Piscean..errhh.whatever. Anyway, I decided I am going to treat him to fish specialties only. I made him his favourite fish fry, fish marinated with garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, mint and a few spices, coated in breadcrumbs ad fried followed by a spicy prawn curry with a special spice, a recipe I shall share soon, and some grilled pomfret.


My father loves pomfret. And I often make him spiced and rilled pomfret. Today I wanted to make something special. Awhile ago I came across this  Yemeni spice mix called Hawayij. I had made some at home and was waiting to use it in a dish, So I decided to use it today. I marinated the fish with some garlic, mint and Hawaij. Then on a whim I spiked the arinade with some rum. And then grilled the fish to perfection. The result was delightful. Here's sharing the recipe with you. 


Pomfret - 2 whole (washed and cleaned)
Minced garlic - 1 tbsp
Minced mint leaves - 1 tsp
Cumin powder - 1/4 tsp
Hawaij - 1.5 tsp (see recipe)
Vinegar - 3 tbsp
Dark rum - 2 tbsp
Salt to taste
Onion rings and lemon wedges to serve


Take each fish and with a knife make three gashes on either side of the fish.

Sprinkle salt on either side, generously, and rub well.

In a bowl, take vinegar, minced garlic,  hawaij, cumin, mint paste and salt to taste and mix well. Add rum and oil to the mixture and whisk well

Add the fish o the marinade and with your hands lace each fsh with the marinade. Keep aside for an hour.

In a pre heated oven grill the fish for 30 minutes at 200 degree centigrade, basting with marinade a few time, and turning the fish over once mid way.

Serve with onion and mint salad and a squeeze of lemon.