Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sugarcane Juice (Ganne ka Ras)

In my unequal struggle with Hindi during Std X I had an earth shattering 15 1/2 marks combined in my first unit test, terminals and prelimins. My father concerned at my progress or lack thereof did the only thing a responsible Indian parent can do — looked for Hindi coaching classes. After much begging the Hindi teacher at St. Loyola's agreed to let me and two of my friends join his class of Hindi challenged pupils. We were thrown out of class on the very first day on account of laughing at a logo on the teacher's polo shirt. It was laughing buddha styled monkey, so it was a no brainer. Getting thrown out of class was a very common thing for vagabond students such as myself and one desperately needed a place to park in such an event. In Model Colony at the edge of Shirke's Sugarcane Farm, they had cleared 10000 sq. ft. of land and put some tables and bamboo chairs. And at one end there was a shed with a sugarcane juice machine. One Rupee for a tall, cold one. In this case a tall glass of sugarcane juice were the cane was cut after the juice was ordered. A few hot samosas on the side, and you were golden. Cane House was to the Model Colony teenager what a local pub is to an Irishman. I passed by Cane House the last time I was in Pune and there was a rusty tin door with a lock on it. The shed and the chairs and tables were still all there—in a state of complete disrepair. The rusty cane juice machine looked like it hadn't moved for many a monsoon. And the rich, black soil floor was covered with 'congress grass'. Juice from Whole Foods' organic sugarcane can never compare to the experience of a roadside gannawala or ghural. But in case you wish to recreate the feeling while watching Seinfeld reruns, here goes...

1 large Sugarcane (the part closest to the root yields the tastiest juice)
2" piece of Ginger
1 tsp fresh Lemon Juice
Pinch of Salt and Pepper

Cut the Sugarcane and put through a strong juicer
Add ginger to the juicer, too
Collect in a jug / glass and add lemon, salt and pepper
Add ice cubes and enjoy cold

Click here for the Liquid Dreams page.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Tawa Prawns

Most of my friends through my twenties were big rum & coke drinkers. And great thing about having a solid 'pettad' as a friend is that whenever you go out, there are always great appetizers on the table. One of the more popular watering holes in Pune back in the early 90's was Pinnacle in Chandani Chowk. If one can remember that far back, Chandani Chowk was a place people went to get out of the city, stand at the pinnacle, enjoy some fresh air and a great view of the city from the top of the hill. At that point, Pinnacle was still trying to attract customers with low prices and a sit-as-long-as-you-want policy for drinkers. As a result, the average young drinker on a shoestring budget could manage to go beyond the masala peanuts for drinking snacks. Some drinking snacks like Chicken Manchurian Dry, Fish Koliwada and Masala Papad continue to be the favourites. My favourite was the Tawa Prawns. Fresh jumbo prawns spiced and stir-fried to perfection. Today, the city of Pune has grown in all directions, Chandani Chowk is pretty much in the middle of the city, the humble Pinnacle is called Banjara Hills and has gone from a humble restaurant to a resort with a restaurant that boasts a multi-cuisine menu. And although my coke still remains rumless I never fail to order the tawa prawns with my Thumbs Up when I visit the new Banjara Hills on my infrequent trips home.

1 lb Jumbo Prawns peeled and de-veined
1 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 Tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Lemon Juice
6 cloves of Garlic crushed
3 tbsp oil
Salt to taste

In a wok, heat the oil on medium heat
Add garlic, chili, turmeric and garam masala
Stil till oil and spice mixture starts to foam
Add prawns and stir till all prawns are coated with the spice mixture
Add lemon juice, salt and stir
Cover with a lid and allow prawns to cook in the steam
This should not take more than 3-4 minutes.
Garnish with Corainder (Cilantro)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chicken Finger Sandwiches

No trip to Pune is complete without a visit to Marzorin. It is situated on Main Street in Camp in a tiny little shop three steps above everyone else. Back in the 80s when I used to frequent Marzorin, they had a very short menu. 4 types of sandwiches. 5 types of drinks and a few pastries here and there. Today, Marzorin is a huge 2 story restaurant with a fairly complex menu. My favourite food at Marzorin is still by far the little triangular chicken sandwich. I have tried every possible combination of chicken, spreads and bread to make it taste like the Marzorin. I have come up with many recipes in the process, but the Marzorin combination still eludes me. Here's one of my favourites.

1 cup Grilled Chicken, very finely chopped
8 slices Whole Wheat Bread
1/2 cup Butter
1/4 cup Cream Cheese
1/4 tsp Black Pepper
Salt to taste

Saute grilled chicken with pepper and salt with little oil
Whisk cream cheese and butter till they are completely mixed
Apply mixture generously to two slices
Place some of the chicken mixture on one slice being careful not to put too much. Single layer is much better
Place second slice to make the sandwich.
Press slightly so that chicken is held in place by the butter and cheese
Trim edges and serve with hot chai

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Masala Chips (Masala French Fries)

By the time I was in the 7th standard, I along with a few neighbourhood kids had perfected the art of making a good potato chip. Known in this country as the French Fry or in the fly over states as Freedom Fries (sad, isn't it?). In India young boys are always discouraged from carrying experiments in the kitchen. As a children of parents who were busy and away from home most of the day, my friends and I found the kitchens at our disposal during the afternoons. We would have potato chip parties between games of 'galli' cricket. It involved everyone stealing 2 potatoes from home and maybe some oil. Stealing oil from the oil dispenser on the kitchen counter was a rookie mistake that would get caught. Only the seasoned potato chipper knew to steal directly from the 15 litre Postman dabba as a few missing cups wouldn't be detected. The loot would then be gathered at one of the kitchens where peeling and cutting began. As a measure to increase the number of chips per potato, we would cut the potato longitudinally as opposed to making them longer. Also, thinner strips meant more chips. This tended to make the chips crispier. A few experiments with seasonings and it was a delightful mid-afternoon snack. Afterwards everything was cleaned and the evidence destroyed. Every time I sit with a paper cup full of fries beneath the golden arches, I can't help but think of my memories of cricket and masala chips.

2 Large Idaho Russet Potatoes
3 cups Oil
1 tsp Chili
1/4 tsp Sugar
1/4 tsp Garam Masala

Julienne the potatoes and divide it into 3 portions.
Heat oil in a wok.
When the oil is hot put one portion in the oil
Stir occasionally
When the potatoes start browning on the edges remove from wok and place in a pot
Drizzle chilli, sugar, salt and garam masala
Mix thoroughly making sure all chips are coated with some seasoning
Serve with ketchup

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Varan Bhat (Dal and Rice)

Varan Bhat is to a Maharashtrian what rice and beans are to our Mexican friends. This is the one dish that for some reason never tastes as good in a restaurant as it does at home. More so for lunch than diner. And if you nail the combination of the dal, salt, lemon and ghee at the first helping, just stop. The second helping will never taste as good. A good batch of dal is probably the second yardstick for judgement that the mother-in-law uses against the new bride after the roundness of a chapati. Here's to a start to a good finger licking lunch.

1 cup Toor Dal (pigeon peas)
2 tsp Oil
1 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Cumin Powder
1/2 tsp Asafoetida
2 cups water
Salt to taste
Lemon, sliced
1 tsp Ghee

In a pressure cooker cook the pigeon peas till they are completely soft and almost dissolved. (If you don't have a pressure cooker, boil in a pot till cooked.)
Set aside.
In a pot, heat the oil.
Add cumin and asafoetida and allow to cook in the oil.
Add turmeric and then the dal.
Whisk the dal and add water to achieve desired consistency
Add salt according to taste

Cook rice with a little extra water so that it is softer than usual.
Serve dal over rice generously and top it with salt, a few drops of lemon juice and ghee.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Spicy Stir-fried Corn

I have always associated corn with the monsoon season. Before the weather patterns on the Deccan plateau shifted the first showers would show up by mid-May. It was just around the time when we would be busy putting brown paper covers on new text books for school and enjoying that new book smell. It also meant that summer vacation was in its last three weeks. As the rains started drenching the parched earth, children in my neighbourhood would run out to collect mangoes that would've fallen as a result of the rains. As the victorious returned with shirts full of muddy bounty, aayi would have hot cups of chai waiting for us. Along with Glucose biscuits and roasted corn or stir-fried corn. The 4'o clock chai on a rainy afternoon is something I miss dearly.

2 cups of Corn kernels
1/2 tsp Mustard Seeds
1/2 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Chili powder
1 tbsp Butter
Salt to taste

Heat butter in a pot and add mustard seeds
Add corn and saute
Add sugar, turmeric, chili and salt
Cover with a lid and allow to cook
Keep stirring as the corn tends to stick to the wok
Serve with hot chai

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Mutton Roast

Back in the early 90's, when my friends were at the peak of their drinking form, Green Park on Baner Road was a popular watering hole. Although it was designed and advertised as a family restaurant, most of it's patrons were young and middle-aged men who were used to drinking Old Monk by the quarter. Even though the food at Green Park was extremely delicious, it was always secondary as most of their customers weren't sober enough to appreciate the food or for that matter remember it the next day. Having been a non-drinker all my life, I had the pleasure of sampling almost everything on the Green Park menu and remembering it long enough to write about it. One of their lesser known dishes (and one of my favourites) was mutton roast. A succulent piece of lamb shank breaded and grilled to perfection in a tandoor oven and served with 3 wedges of roasted potatoes and a mint dipping sauce. From what I hear, Green Park has been completely renovated with a swimming pool, a kids playing area and everything that makes it a really family oriented restaurant. And although most of my friends have now sobered up, have kids and hold respectable positions in society, I am saddened to think that they may have missed out on a really fabulous mutton dish. The one other place that still serves it is Café Good Luck.

6 5" pieces of Lamb Shank
10 Garlic cloves crushed
1 tsp Ginger paste
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Chili powder
1/2 cup Oil
1 cup Bread Crumbs
Salt to taste

For the Marinade
Add ginger, garlic, chili, turmeric and garam masala to the cup of oil
Heat mixture in microwave for 30 sec or till oil starts boiling
Set aside

Remove the fat off the shanks and place in a bowl
Apply marinade generously to the shanks
Place in fridge for 4-6 hours
Pre-heat oven to 40 degrees
Dredge the shanks in bread crumbs
Place on a baking sheet and cook for 40 min or till shanks are fully cooked
Serve with tamarind or mint chutney and potato chips