Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

Admired from afar, close to my heart

“I went to Turkey,” a ponytailed seven-year-old proudly said in school. It was time for show and tell — how you spent your summer break — in Class 2B. Photographs were passed along the room with children gleefully pointing at gorgeous monuments such as the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, names of which I found out much later of course!  One photograph in particular stood out, for me that is.

“That’s the big river separating Asia and Europe,” my friend explained.
To a seven-year-old, still learning the nuances of geography, straits may seem like big rivers, but looking at that picture so many years ago, it stoked my curiosity. By the next three years, my mind had been made up. I needed to go to the country which was part of two continents. As a child I thought, “How cool! You can step into Asia if you don’t like Europe!”

As I grew older and accessing the internet became as easy as A-B-C, Turkey never left my thoughts. A possible reason for my fascination with the country could have been thanks to my numerous visits to historical monuments in India. Both countries have a rich history of tradition and culture and looking at books, I would often day dream about  a land called Turkey.

Having been bitten by wanderlust at a rather early age thanks to my parents, I started to read more about the country that has always intrigued me. The grand plan after turning of legal age was to take a gap year and travel the world. Sadly, the question of expenses back then seemed so trivial. I was sure I could manage something like waitressing or teaching in exotic locations to get me through the year. All I had to do was get there. But once college started, so did work. The desire to visit the exotic country was repressed but never lost.

Two friends went to Turkey on family holidays in my second year of college. Facebook was just beginning to get popular and certain pictures made my jaw drop. With a passion for food matching that of travel, my friend’s pictures at Misir Carsisi were imprinted on my mind. From turmeric to sumac, dried fruits to olives, I could just imagine the intoxicating smells coming from each shop, beckoning me, tantalizing me… I vowed to visit, one day.

A colleague was sent to Istanbul two years back on some assignment. Once the official part finished, he decided to travel a bit on his own. On his return and before he could put up pictures of the trip on social media, I stormed over to his desk wanting to see them. I wasn’t let down. Pamukkale to Ephesus, just the names transported me to the hot springs and the Temple of Artemis. I kid you not! I could visualise walking among the ruins, wishing I could time travel. The ceramic evil eye keychain he brought back for me hangs proudly on my bedroom wall among the the many bric-a-bracs collected throughout my travels.

A favourite uncle got married last year. A romantic at heart, he’s always wanted to take his new bride to Paris. But, when he chose Cappadocia I understood the reason, looking at his pictures. The fairytale land beckoned and the magical kiss in a hot air balloon overlooking the vast expanse of natural delightful formations can rival the Eiffel Tower anyday. He told me later, “I’ve been to Paris before, but Cappadocia was the right choice. It left my wife breathless!” Can you imagine feeling such way? Floating over a magical land?

In January, I came this close to booking air tickets for Istanbul. But then, my sister brainwashed me into booking tickets for Munich instead, saying ‘We’ll go there next year, I promise.’ In fact, Dan Brown’s Inferno mentions the Hagia Sophia, which I was reading before leaving for a summer of backpacking across western Europe. And while Botticelli’s Mappa dell’Inferno pulled me to Italy, a little part of me kept wishing I was visiting the wonders of Turkey instead. To see the vast blue, walk through the bylanes, bump into locals and learn more about the interesting history of the country sipping on Turkish coffee. But wishes have a way of coming true I realised when I bumped into a Turkish lady living in Barcelona, who called me home for coffee and gossip. Then, to my surprise, when I met two Turkish students spending their summer in Italy, I was touched by their hospitality. Without a second’s hesitation they made me promise to visit them as soon as possible!

And which football fan wouldn’t want to visit Turkey I ask? The atmosphere during the Galatasaray and Fenerbahce derbies must be electric. While Indian football fans have Mohun Bagan and East Bengal clashes, it must be quite interesting to view battles between two clubs from the same city but different continents! I can just imagine the chants, the calls and colour!

Orhan Pamuk’s book can be found in many homes and certainly on my bookshelves. And as I flip the pages of My Name is Red on a cold Delhi winter evening with a mug of hot coffee for company, I keep telling myself, ‘Very soon, very soon. Turkey awaits you.’

This post is an entry in the “Million Stories” Contest sponsored by the Turkish Embassy, India

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All for the love of pasta

There’s something about Italian cuisine which has gotten the world hooked on to it. Pasta is a regular dinner feature on every family menu while thanks to home delivery, pizza and its many versions have become party/game food. I mean have you watched any match at your home with crazy friends without beer and pizza? (Surprisingly I found more Italian restaurants in Paris than French!) Italian cuisine has a wide variety of foods of course, but you’ll come across pasta and pizza anywhere in the world.

Like every other family, I love pasta. Many a night after work I’m thankful to the Italians for having invented this delicious time saver. Boil water, put pasta in, cook and drain. Easy four steps with a sauce and some grated cheese! Takes me less than 15 minutes I swear!

I’m digressing again. I keep pasta in all forms and shapes. Macaroni, Fettuccine, Spaghetti, Penne, Linguine, Fusilli… Come and check out my pasta cupboard! In fact in a flea market in Florence, I kinda went nuts staring at the variety of pastas rather than buying jackets or shoes!

Anyway, when I have some time I prefer to make pasta with a lot of love and care instead like the ones during late night hunger pangs. Recently I made spaghetti using button mushrooms with cheese sauce and a side of apple salad. Try it and you won’t be disappointed.

Spaghetti with mushrooms and cheese sauce

Ingredients

Half packet spaghetti (for 2)
Handful button mushrooms (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped)
3 garlic cloves (chopped)
Half teaspoon chilli flakes (use the packets you get during pizza delivery)
500ml milk
1 tbp regular flour
Knob of butter
1 cube cheese (grated. I used regular processed but feel free)
Salt and pepper to taste
Nutmeg (grated, according to taste)
Parsley to garnish

For the salad

1 small apple (diced)
1 small cucumber (diced)
Handful of crushed pistachios
1 tbs mustard
1 tbs vinegar

Method

Boil the spaghetti as per instructions on the packets and when done, drain and keep aside.

In a pan add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and heat the onions first. Once translucent, add the garlic and chilli flakes. Then put in the mushrooms and let them cook through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be a little patient.

For the cheese sauce, start with the roux. Heat butter and flour in a pan until the mixture has browned. Add the milk while continuously stirring. Make sure no lumps form. When a thick bechamel sauce is made, grate in the nutmeg and add the cheese. Your cheese sauce is ready. Finally, mix the now cooked mushrooms to the sauce. Then, to make life simpler, add the spaghetti to the sauce. Coat well and garnish with parsley.

The salad takes five minutes to make. Add the diced apples, cucumber and pistachios in a bowl. Then for the dressing, mix the mustard and vinegar well and drizzle over the salad.

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There you have it, lunch is ready in a matter of 30 minutes or so! And it’s a great recipe for vegetarians!

A delightful frozen chocolate cake

When I was growing up, bars of chocolate could never act a bribe to get me to do something. Chocolate for cleaning your room or putting your toys away would never work because I despised milk chocolate. It was only the dark bitter ones I had a craving for, which in those days, were not easy to get your hands on.

But as I grew older, I started to understand why does chocolate drive everyone crazy. Thankfully the Incas, Aztecs and Mayans understood how important cocoa beans were! From making the ‘drink for the Gods’ to using cocoa beans as currency, the world today would have never had chocolate had it not been for the Mexican and Central American civilizations!

While I love to cook, the younger sister loves to bake. Her only request is to buy her an oven in Delhi. Back home, she had access to three but here, only a microwave. And she refuses to bake in the microwave. “Please Sharmi, a microwave? You’ve got to be kidding me,” she says every time I ask her to make brownies. Very fond of frozen cheesecakes, she decided to make a frozen chocolate cake. Believe you me, it only takes less than 15 minutes to make and after freezing for an hour, it’s time to devour! It’s a great option for vegetarians because it’ an eggless cake.

Ingredients

150 gm of dark cooking chocolate
1 cup cream
100 gm frozen butter (50gm for the base and 50gm for chocolate)
8 digestive biscuits (bashed with a rolling pin)
Extra chocolate for shavings to decorate
Cocoa powder to sprinkle on top

The process to chocolate goodness

First mix the frozen butter with the grounded biscuits till it forms a nice crumbly mixture. Do it with your fingers and not a food processor. Put it in a cake tin making sure it’s levelled before freezing it for five minutes. Not more because then it will become so hard, your teeth will fall out trying to bite into it.

While the base is freezing, melt the chocolate along with the remaining butter. In another bowl start whipping the cream. Once the chocolate has melted into a dark rich brown sauce, add it to the cream. Fold the mixture carefully, not whipping it, with a wooden spoon or spatula.

(At this point, you can add fruits, nuts, more chocolate in the form of chips, well it’s your call. Orange and dark chocolate is a heavenly combination, just saying)

Pour the melted goodness over the frozen base. Cover with cling film and put it in the fridge for about an hour. Not the deep freeze. Don’t be impatient just because you’ve already licked the wooden spoon and bowl clean! The wait will be worth it!
(Tip: I prefer to eat it the next day because I feel the taste is ever better if that’s even possible!)

Once the cake is ready, put some chocolate shavings and cocoa powder to decorate before inhaling the cake instead of eating it! But warning you guys, its a very very rich cake. So take your time to finish it.

I wanted it to look old fashioned thus the waves of chocolates instead of a levelled layer

I wanted it to look old fashioned thus the waves of chocolates instead of a levelled layer

A slice of rich and dark chocolate cake!

A slice of rich and dark chocolate cake!

Australian Love: The Sydney Edition

I had a dream. I dreamed of a great beach, the waves crashing against the rocks, surfers showing off their new stunts while I jogged along a six kilometer trail as the seagulls called out my name. The jogging bit never actually happened, but going to Bondi beach sure did!

A childhood friend lives in Bondi. We’ve literally grown up together. From school to boys, make up to careers, we’ve discussed everything over the last 24 years. It was only after her constant messages to join WhatsApp did I actually take the plunge! I probably had a jogging dream because she has become such a workout-a-holic!

At Bondi with Minnie!

At Bondi with Minnie!

Having visited Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast this summer on work, I took some days off to jet set to Sydney. And it just so happens that a favourite cousin lives there with his lovely wife. So pretty much my trip was all set really!

With Abhik dada and Atreyi. (Try the gelato in Brava Trattoria, really good)

With Abhik dada and Atreyi. (Try the gelato in Brava Trattoria, really good)

I landed in Sydney early morning and took the subway into the main city. Now, with all its wonderful qualities, I fail to understand why authorities would go out of their way to make it tourist unfriendly. There’s nothing called a daily or weekly pass with which you can travel the city. If you buy one of those passes, you would have to specify the distance and so, your ticket would not be valid if you decide to get down at the next stop. Nevertheless, it didn’t deter me. I was in Sydney for god’s sake!

This time I transformed into a complete tourist. Atreyi (my cousin’s wife) and I went for long walks on the Harbour Bridge but not before trying to walk on the cyclists’ path first! The Opera House is so much bigger than you imagine really. And the seagulls, they somehow don’t like us much. They attacked us as we were digging into our fish and chips! Get this, just us, not anyone else eating with gusto the same fish and chips!

The Harbour bridge

The Harbour bridge

The gorgeous Opera House

The gorgeous Opera House

Then, I visited Minnie at Bondi. Oh my god, I fell in love with the beach! Well, the eye candy isn’t so bad either, just saying! The beach is gorgeous. It was still cold when I visited so a swim was out of the question. But just walking along the sand, the jogging trail, sipping coffee looking over the beach… it’s a different experience altogether. You must visit Bondi if you ever find yourself in Sydney.

The famed fish and chips at Bondi

The famed fish and chips at Bondi

Oh Bondi!

Oh Bondi!

Now, I visited on the weekdays. We crib in Delhi how everything shuts by 11-12 and there’s no place you can go for a late night drink, but guess what. People are asleep by 10 there so shops shut at 6! The only place which caters to ‘late eater’ would be Darling Harbour which my friend Daniel took me to. Funny story how we met – on the train to Padua from Milan. He offered to help us with the backpacks and then, we spent the day together in Venice. He’s wonderful really.

Daniel is too tall!

Daniel is too tall!

Sexy salmon and prawns at Darling Harbour!

Sexy salmon and prawns at Darling Harbour!

Now let me warn you dieters, Australia is not a place to be in if losing weight is your goal. I love my meat but even for vegetarians, the food is so delicious that you end up eating more than your tummy can hold! The health conscious Aussies are really big on fresh produce and quality meat. If you like cooking, you won’t leave a grocers shop while your eyes light up looking at the fresh food for sale. No wonder television producers back home have suddenly gone big on Australian cooking shows. Matt, Gary and George have become household names while Boys’ Weekend, Masterchef Australia and My Kitchen Rules have thousands of Indian viewers. (No worries, I got to cook salmon, prawns in chilli-butter and a plum tomato salad for my cousins one evening)

Breakfast! I wish this was an everyday affair!

Breakfast! I wish this was an everyday affair!

It’ been a few months and I still haven’t managed to lose the extra pounds I packed on there, but I can’t wait to go back. Especially since Minnie and Atreyi have bonded and keeps sending me pictures on WhatsApp to make me jealous! Don’t worry Australia, I’ll be back soon, and that’s a promise.

Sydney, all lit up

Sydney, all lit up

PS: Don’t be under the impression that Australia is cheap. It’s not. It’s one of the most expensive continents I’ve been to. To give you an average idea, a fish and chips meal would be nothing short of A$12 while a Darling Harbour dinner would come to A$50 ahead. While transport in Sydney via subs is not very expensive, commuting to the airports will pinch your pockets by an extra A$10-12 dollars over the regular fare.

Why I love to couchsurf

A friend from Salzburg was recently in India. She stayed with me in Delhi but when she wanted to go up north, she said she was invited to stay with a family in Amritsar, if she chose to visit. Now, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. 

When you travel you meet wonderful strangers who become close friends, share their homes with you in a moment’s notice, tell you of the wonderful things their cities offer which no website shares. How many of you have visited Amsterdam and actually been to the place where Rembrandt painted the Night Watch? Have you gone off the beaten track in Milan just to sample a great pizza in a trattoria? Or how about experiencing the way Italians love to party in Padua thanks to a great host?

I backpacked in Europe this summer along with my younger sister. Our style of travel is similar. We love to get to know the people of the city and experience things which regular travellers often miss out on. Yes we would go to the Eiffel Tower but also meet locals over red wine and Camembert, pick up a crepe and eat it along the Sienne banks waving at the people on the boats. 

That’s why I prefer to couchsurf. (www.couchsurfing.orgIt’s a wonderful way to get to know the actual city or town, through the eyes of the local. And I’ve never come across such wonderful people. Our host in Salzburg recently came to India with a friend and we had the opportunity to show them the city how we knew it! By the way, it was another of his friend’s we met in Salzburg that I’m talking about in the beginning. See how you connect!

Don’t be a burden
However, there are certain etiquettes, which I feel, need to be followed when you plan to couchsurf. Always be respectful because it’s NOT YOUR HOME. Don’t be messy, make an effort to get to know your host, make them feel special by offering to cook/pay for dinner, carry a small gift to showcase where you’ve come from, clean up after lunch or dinner, use the bathroom without making a mess, and most importantly, don’t leave your things scattered.

In Europe…
In Amsterdam, meeting Dicky was an adventure. Having mis-read his instructions, I checked into a hostel. Then Dicky called and asked why we weren’t at his place. Well to cut a long story short, we met in the evening and bonded over French fries. Not only did he take us to off-beat sites in his city, the next morning cooked us two enormous breakfasts! Now, we have a tendency to reach our mode of transport just in the nick of time. Not that we were going to miss the bus to Paris but Dicky drove us to the station not before filling up the remaining space in our backpacks with food! “In case you guys get hungry,” he said! “Anytime you guys want to come back, you’re always welcome!” His gesture touched us so much. And even to this day, we are in touch! I can’t wait for him to come to India so I can show him Delhi!

Dicky the great!

Dicky the great!

Camille was a sweetheart beyond a shadow of doubt. Not only did she give us the keys to her apartment, she made sure we were looked after with lots of extra blankets! (Winter was retreating when we visited). From getting to know Mumu and Marie, her cat and best friend, we became friends over large servings of pizza and juice! Her welcome letter is still on my fridge, held there by a Champs Elysee magnet! Then, there was Elo who was so so wonderful. A photographer by profession and self-confessed India lover, she came over with wine and cheese. And our conversations ranged from politics to art, Starbucks to roadside chai, Mac and cheese to beef bourguignon! She let us in on Parisian secrets from where to go and what to do!

Camille and Marie!

Camille and Marie!

Having wanted to experience hostel life, we stayed in ones in Rome and Florence and let me tell you, it’s one of the best experiences. If you’re lucky, your first hostel will be more than a three-star hotel but sometimes they can be a dump. Just ask our roommates in Rome! The only good thing about that hostel near the Roma Termini was the four new friends we made. And the impromptu party after a long gelato sampling session in the room! In Florence too, we shared our room with two American girls studying in Ireland and we hit it off immediately. From gossip sessions till 2 am to sharing jokes over delicious coffees and tiramisus, they will always find a place in India if they choose to visit.

Thanks to Sri, Milan was a wonder. Not only did we share a common passion for history, but having lived in Italy for about two years and able to converse fluently in the language, Sri took us along for an Italian film, showed how the Milanese drink their beer and treated us to rajma chawal! It took me sometime to register that I was eating Delhi’s favourite lunch sitting miles away!

With Sri

With Sri

Leo showed us what it means to love your country. Originally from Lecce but living in Padua, the detective took time out from his busy schedule to pick us up and take us around the town. We met two other Danish couchsurfers at his place and soon we all headed for a night out! Wine after Spritz after vodka after (hic) which was followed by crazy dancing till 4am, well I know I nursed a headache! Passionate about his town, we loved how much he knew about Italian art and history.

Leo showing us Portia's Padua

Leo showing us Portia’s Padua

Stefan went out of his way to make us feel welcome in Salzburg. From morning to night, he decided to make our stay special. From taking us swimming in a lake to recounting Maria von Trapp’s steps in Do Re Mi, Stefan was a sweetheart. And, we were given the opportunity to host him in Delhi a month later! We met his parents for dinner. They didn’t have to invite us, but they did it just to spend time and understand a little bit about our country. They made us feel so welcome that I still ask Stefan about them whenever we chat!

In traditional attire!

In traditional attire!

Our initial host cancelled in Munich and thanks to a last minute request, Markus agreed to host us. He was nothing short of amazing. From taking us to a couchsurfers meeting on the river bank and introducing us to his friends, he also helped us in getting to know the city with Augustine!

I’m still in touch with most of them. Couchsurfing does that to you. You want to remain friends, tell them over and over again to visit you so you can repay their kindness. Take them around your city with pride; cook for them the authentic local cuisines… The list is endless. If you ever get the chance to couchsurf, do it! You won’t regret the experience. Not only will it help you understand people but will also make your life richer.

Lamb chops can cheer up any Sunday!

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more comforting than a hearty Sunday lunch. (It could translate into brunch really but this Sunday, it was restricted to the former!) It’s the one day in the week when the whole family comes together, to eat and share stories and also, the only lazy day before Monday blues kick in. When I was still living with my parents, Sunday would generally be celebrated as Good Food Day!
Living in Delhi with the younger sister now, we try to make every Sunday special. Trying out new eating joints, visiting historical monuments, meeting up with old friends… well the list in endless. The days we choose to stay at home, well, lunch/brunch is a grand affair. And this Sunday was no different…

Mustard lamb chops
(With parsley mash and boiled veggies with honey-yoghurt dressing)

Total time: 1.30 hours

Ingredients (It’s a long list so please bear with me!)
For the meat
4 lamb chops
3 tbs mustard (Of your choice. I used American today)
4 tbs olive oil
4 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Handful dried chilli flakes
Handful dried rosemary
Pinch of salt

For the vegetables
2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
250 g beans (chopped)
4 babycorns (chopped)

For the dressing
Half cup yoghurt
Juice of 1 lemon (add the zest if need be)
1 tbs honey
Pinch of salt and pepper
Handful of parsley

For the mash
4 boiled potatoes
Knob of butter
Hot milk (use according to the consistency you want)
Salt and pepper to taste
Handful of chopped parsley
For the sauce
Dash of soy
Dash of vinegar
2 tbs of red wine

The process to Sunday goodness
Ok, the ingredients list is long but it’s all about getting everything together before you begin. Once you do that, you won’t even notice the time you spend cooking I promise you!
Start with the marinade. In a zip pouch (thanks Nigella!) add the mustard, olive oil, crushed garlic, chilli flakes, rosemary, salt and mix together. Then add the lamb chops. Make sure they are all coated before setting it aside for an hour.
Start boiling a pot of water with a pinch of salt.
Now, begin with the mash. Peel the boiled potatoes. Add the salt, pepper and butter. Then with a potato masher, mash them with all your might! Add milk to it as you go along until you feel they are to your liking. Finally, throw in the chopped parsley and give it a final fold. Set aside.
The water will come to a boil by the time the mash is made. Add the vegetables. Cook for about 3-5 minutes then drain them in a strainer. Put under cold water immediately to stop them from cooking. Set aside.
While the veggies are cooking, mix the yoghurt, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper in a bowl. Add the parsley and check if more seasoning is required in the zingy dressing.
After an hour, start heating a nonstick pan. When hot, add the lamb chops and let them sear for about two minutes. Flip and cook for about four minutes till or until browned to perfection.
To deglaze the pan, add the remaining marinade, wine, soy and vinegar. Cook till the alcohol evaporates, leaving you with a thick sauce.

Plating up
Plate the parsley mash with an ice cream scoop (it’s Sunday after all!). Add the veggies on the side and drizzle with the dressing. Finally, place the delicious lamb chops and serve with the sauce. Eat with a warm bun as it soaks up all the flavours on the plate!

ImageIt’s the perfect combination to start a Sunday! Don’t you think?

Indulgence, a Tuesday treat

It’s Tuesday afternoon. A weekday neither here nor there. Too far away from Saturday while Sunday memories are still fresh. An extension of the Monday morning blues. Thanks to my job, I sometimes go to work at 9 in the morning and return the next day or leisurely stroll into office at 4 in the evening. Unpredictability seems to be the norm.

Well, this Tuesday as my grogginess wore off I realised I wasn’t in a rush. Once the daily chores finished, the dessert craving kicked in, overwhelming me. I needed something sweet, desperately! Italy came to mind. From tasting Tiramisus in Rome to a delectable Cannoli in Venice, I drew my Tuesday inspiration from a small pastry shop in Firenze. It was a simple dessert — vanilla custard and some frills in a dessert cup.  I felt I had died right there as the flavours exploded in my mouth.

So, for all you out there, here’s a little something you can whip up on the weekdays which bother you just that much. It’s a little time consuming but when you dip the spoon into the cup and taste the fruits of your labour, you won’t have a single regret!

Vanilla custard with a side of chocolate
Ingredients
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
1/3 cup castor sugar (or just break down regular sugar in the mixer)
1 vanilla bean
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon cornflour
100gm dark cooking chocolate
1 knob of butter
6 digestive biscuits
OR
Instant custard powder for the desert cravers with an eye on the clock

The process to sinful goodness
Custard
Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan but don’t let it boil. Cut open the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds and add to the mixture (Add the pod for more flavour). In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, egg yolks and cornflour.
Take the saucepan off the heat and pour into the bowl with the eggs, sugar and cornflour, remembering to remove the pod. Mix well and transfer back to the saucepan stirring constantly for 15-20 minutes over low heat. You’ll know the custard is done when it coats the spatula. Refrigerate for 30 minutes till cold.
For instant custard powder users, please follow the packet instructions.

Biscuit base
Bash the digestive biscuits in a plastic bag with a rolling pin till it forms a crumbly texture.

Side of chocolate
Melt the chocolate and butter over low heat till its forms a glorious gooey dark sauce. Keep a bit of the uncooked chocolate aside to make shavings.

Plating up
Take a glass of your choice and add the biscuit crumbs as layer one. Spoon over the cold custard for layer two. Finally, add the dark chocolate sauce to create layer three. For decorative purposes (how much of chocolate is enough anyway?) use a peeler to shave the dark chocolate on top. Add extra crumbs if you want too.

ImageTuesday blues? Try this. Once you scrape off the last remaining bits, you’ll know all’s right with the world!

Star anise in a curry!

My sister hates to cook. (Well, living with an older food enthusiast sibling has its benefits I guess!) She’s learnt how to live alone when I’m away with dozens of 2 minute instant noodles packets, salads with lemon and salt dressings, salami sandwiches with mayo and mustard… you get the drift. But the day when she suddenly called me at work to ask how much yogurt was needed to marinate chicken, I kid you not, I fell off the chair!
Enough was enough she claimed, ‘I need to eat healthy,’ she said. When you weight 50 kgs and stand 5’3″ tall, with the lean athletic figure everyone secretly wishes for… well, you realise the world could end tomorrow!
But jokes apart, the baby sister has discovered that it’s the chopping, dicing, slicing pre-cooking and the clean up post she dislikes. Not the part where she actually cooks (Thanks to Masterchef re-runs). So, with me away for most of the month, she’s been experimenting in the kitchen (otherwise called the food lab) with chicken recipes. Sometimes with curry leaves and coconut milk, sometimes with ‘bhuna’ masala (the paste derived after cooking through onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes with optional spices) or at times, simply grilled with a drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of dried herbs.
Having had the opportunity to taste some of the experiments, I’m left craving more. I tried my hand at one of her creations recently and it came out just great. A rather unlikely combination but a fantastic dinner party pleaser.

Yoghurt chicken with star anise

Ingredients
500g chicken with bones (tastes so much better!)
2 cups yoghurt
1 big tomato (finely chopped)
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon coriander poweder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon chilly powder
4 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
1 bay leaf
Half star anise
4 green cardamom
1 small cinnamon stick
salt to taste
Coriander (to garnish)

The process

Marinate the chicken with yogurt, dry powders and salt according to taste for an hour. Bash the ginger and 2 cloves of garlic. Add it to the marinade.

Heat 1 tablespoon of refined oil in a wok. Meanwhile, take the remaining cloves of garlic, cinnamon, star anise, cardamoms and bash them with all your might with a mortar and pestle. Add the brownish mixture to the hot oil till it sautes through. Then include the finely diced tomato and cook till it disintegrates. Then add the star – the marinated chicken – to the wok. Bring it to a boil, then cover it and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Once the chicken is tender and the gravy has become thick, strew coriander on top and serve hot, Rice or breads are good accompaniments.

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This is a great chicken recipe for the days you don’t have the inclination to cook a fancy meal. Marinate the meat in the morning before leaving for work (it takes exactly 5 minutes). Come back home and cook for 30 minutes while sipping a glass of chardonnay! Easy isn’t it!

PS What is star anise?

It’s the dried, star shaped fruit of Illicium verum indigenous to south eastern China. A signature flavour in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines, it’s one of the stars in Chinese five-spice powder. A little bit goes a long way in terms of its licorice flavour and heavenly smell in meat and vegetable dishes. It’s easily available in any spice shop.

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