Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “May, 2013”

The Kerala connection

Think of Kerala and vivid images come to mind. When a state advertises it self as ‘God’s own country’, you know they have something different to offer. The idyllic backwaters, the green coconuts, Ayurvedic massages… it gives you a feeling that you’re transported far away from modern spaces. And the food. Oh the glorious food. Meat, fish, seafood prepared with delicious coconut oil and tempered with curry leaves and mustard seeds. Sour from the tamarind paste and velvety from fresh coconut milk, Kerala cuisine has such fantastic variety that one can never get bored.

Personally, Kerala is still the only state in Southern India I’m yet to travel to. I seriously don’t understand how I’ve managed not to for so long. But I’ve tasted authentic food from the region from childhood days. And the taste has lingered for so many years. Majority of the population believe South Indian cuisine consists of Dosas, Idlis and Vadas along with Sambar. They couldn’t be more wrong. Different in dialect, the philosophy spills over to food. The spice base, taste, ingredients, style of cooking change from region to region.

A close friend’s mother cooks a fantastic beef fry. It’s so spicy, rich in oil and so delicious that the only accompaniment you need is fluffy white rice. In Delhi if you’re searching for a good meal from the southern state, look no further than the Kerala Staff Canteen near Jantar Mantar (I had mentioned this place in an earlier post ‘Affordable Eating in Delhi.’)

Buying beef in Delhi becomes difficult because you get buff. Buying fish is far easier. If you keep the basic ingredients at home like coconut milk, tamarind, mustard seeds and curry leaves, a quick and easy lunch/dinner option becomes a Kerala style fish curry. I make this dish quite often for friends and is always a crowd-pleaser.

Ingredients (For 2)

500g fish fillets. (I use Basa but for the best curry use King fish or Neymeen)
250ml coconut milk
100ml tamarind paste (Made by soaking tamarind in hot water)
2 small onions
2 inches of ginger
4 garlic cloves
2 green chillies
Handful of curry leaves (I always have dried leaves in stock)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Half teaspoon red chilly powder (Add more if you like it spicy)
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 small tomatoes
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons of vegetable oil (Use coconut oil if available)

The process

In a non-stick utensil heat the oil. At the same time blitz together the onions, garlic, ginger and chillies. Once the oil is heated through, add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. When the seeds begin to sputter, add the blitzed vegetables and brown.
In a small bowl make a thick spice paste with the turmeric, red chilly powder and a bit of water. Add the paste to the browned vegetables. Once the spice paste is cooked through, add the coconut milk and tamarind paste. (If you want the curry to be very watery, add about the same amount of water to the coconut milk). Dice the tomatoes and add at this point. Put in the fish which I dice to make it bite sized, bring the curry to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Add salt as per taste.

Some prefer to marinate the fish in salt and turmeric and then pan fry it before adding to the curry. I don’t like it personally because I prefer the melt in the mouth reaction.

With rice, curd and some prawn pickles as accompaniments, this fish curry will hit the sweet spot on a lazy summer afternoon.

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Summer salads

There’s something about summer. Isn’t it? As a child, summer meant lots of ice creams, trips to the swimming pool, refreshing watermelons and holidays with the parents to the much much cooler mountains.Everyone has a favourite ice cream and mine was (still is) the orange popsicle. Forget the vanilla, strawberry and chocolate, there is something so appealing about the about the tangy after taste and the orange tongue! The evidence of the crime!

But, this post is not about ice creams so let me not digress. The one food which summer is always associated with is a salad. Salads of various kinds, each with a different dressing. It can range from creamy to lemony; from sweet honey mustard to a Vietnamese style salty-chilly. The good thing is, you don’t have to be a Michelin star chef to create a good salad. All that is needed is creativity, the desire to experiment and simple ingredients. (Though if you have the budget, add any expensive item you want! Lobsters, foie gras, cavier, the works!)

Summer lunches at home generally comprise of a salad served with iced tea (homemade of course). It’s filling, tasty and doesn’t need a whole lot of time to prepare. And if you make a large bowl, it takes care of dinner too. I love experimenting with dressings. My store cupboard is stocked with various spices, the fridge with various condiments, the deep freeze with roast chicken, salami, pork and vegetable drawer with, well, vegetables and fruits. So, as I always let my mind wander in the kitchen, my friends end up as guinea pigs!

Roast chicken salad with a lemon dressing

200g of roast chicken, 1 big fat lettuce (can be substituted for iceberg), 1 cucumber, 1 tomato, 3 gherkins, handful of capers, 1 bunch coriander.  For the dressing: 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 lemon (zest and juice), a pinch of chilly flakes, salt to taste.

Dice all ingredients and throw into a big bowl. In a glass jam jar, add the ingredients for the dressing and shake shake shake!

In 10 minutes, you have a fabulous lunch ready!

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Chicken salad with wasabi mayonnaise

Ingredients: 200g roast chicken, 1 big boiled potato, 1 boiled egg, 1 cucumber, 4 gherkins, 5-6 jalapeno slices, handful of olives, some coriander. For the dressing: 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, a good squirt of wasabi paste, half a lemon (zest and juice).

Dice all ingredients in a big salad bowl. Shake the dressing ingredients in a jam jar well. Pour it over the salad and enjoy!

PS: Instead of homemade iced tea, a pint of beer and a side of dumplings go just as well with the summer salads!

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The Lebanese experiment

My first taste of Lebanon came at an early age. My parents had taken me to their foodie friend’s house when I was about 10 years old. Though dinner was late (by my standards), his table was a visual treat. Vibrant greens, red and yellow playing peek-a-boo while the aroma was unusual to my senses. I remember wanting to breathe in every smell and of course, take a mental picture.  Unaware of the names, I remember almost inhaling all the flavours and my mother scolding me, asking me to eat slowly.

After that scrumptious treat, images of Lebanese food slowly faded away, replaced by other exciting cuisines, till about my late teenage years. My sister’s best friend’s mother (yes, a long connection) invited us for dinner. And my taste buds were re-introduced to Hummus, Baba Ghanoush, Falafel and of course Baklava. From that moment on, it’s been a constant love affair.

I started researching, finding out about eating joints and of course tried my hand at making the world-famous dips at almost every party I threw. Lebanon’s geographical position and historical background makes its cuisine a perfect balance for all taste buds. The wide use of olive oil, lemon, garlic, fruits, vegetables and seafood gives Lebanese cuisine a global appeal and not to mention, is considered healthy by critics.

On a recent lazy Sunday afternoon I craved simple food. Something like hummus and a plate of raw vegetables. But, as I took out the trusty chopping board, things obviously didn’t go to plan. Further fridge hunting threw up a packet of flat bread I had bought the day before. Similar to Pita but found in local supermarkets packaged as ‘Lebanese bread’. (Maybe that’s why I had the craving?)

In the freezer I found about 250 grams of chicken which of course let my mind think of Shawarma. Without a grill, I decided to put a spin on it. And let me tell you, before I could even have a second helping, my sister had polished of the full plate!

Here goes the recipe (for 2):

Ingredients

250 grams of chicken (diced to bite sized pieces), 1 small onion, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 small tomato, 2 chillies, half a red bell pepper, 1 teaspoon cumin, salt and pepper to taste, 4 teaspoons of vegetable oil.

(A useful tip: When trying this recipe is if you like it spicy, add a dollop of the fiery hot momo sauce available with every dumpling vendor. I used some and that’s what gave the chicken a wonderful flavour)

First blitz the onion, garlic cloves and chillies. In a nonstick pan, heat the oil and add the mixture. Once it’s slightly browned, add the cumin and the pieces of chicken. Seal the meat. Then add the tomato (after blitzing it), sliced bell pepper, salt and pepper. At this stage I added the momo sauce which gave the chicken it’s wonderful deep red colour. Let it all cook with the lid on till the meat is perfectly tender. It shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes. Chopped coriander will act as a wonderful garnish but unfortunately, I didn’t have any that day.

So, my version of a mezze on the lazy Sunday included juicy bite-sized pieces of chicken, served with Lebanese bread and of course Hummus and mayonnaise as accompaniments.  Try it once and you’ll be hooked on.

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