Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tomato Raita Hors D'oeuvres

I was always intrigued by the old ads for Monaco biscuits with their nicely decorated toppings. I, on the other hand, dipped my Monacos in my tea till my cup became a soggy, salty, inedible mess. I wasn't aware that Monaco was a salty cracker and didn't always have to be consumed with one's tea. (Of course, when you drink your tea on a two-wheeler parked under a tree, you dunk whatever is available in your tea.) In the ads the Monacos were usually decorated with strange, colourful toppings, although I had never really seen one pass by on a tray of hors d'oeuvres at a party. Not so long ago, I happened to be on the Parle Monaco website where they featured Monaco wallpapers for your computer. Why? I had to take a peek and I must share this ad / wallpaper with everyone. And as a professional in advertising I couldn't help but laugh at it. Considering the fact that no one outside of India would've even heard of Monaco, this ad must be for Indian audiences. It features a couple that have an Asian girl and a Caucasian boy in a house that has wood flooring, dry wall and a cast-iron heater in the background. All so very Indian. Of course, if you're from India you'll immediately know what the 'international' flavour of this ad means. I think it is a step back from the days of "Quick Gun Murugan" and "We're like this only".

Anyway, I recently had someone over for dinner and I realized that I hadn't made enough appetizers. Thankfully, I remembered the Monaco ads from the old days that would appear on the back of Filmfare. So I decided to repurpose the tomato raita at hand with some wheat crackers my girlfriend keeps around. The results were pretty good. I think pretty much any raita would've worked.

20 Wheat Crackers
2 ripe Tomatoes chopped
1 tsp finely chopped Coriander
1 cup Yogurt
4 tsp ground Peanuts
1/2 tsp Sugar
Salt to taste

Beat yogurt in a bowl till it is a thick liquid
Mix coriander, peanuts, sugar and salt into the yogurt
Gently add the chopped tomatoes into the bowl
Lay out the crackers and place a little dollop of the raita on the cracker

Monday, September 24, 2007

Shikran (Banana Dessert)

Keli chya baaga maama chya.
Pivlya ghaada ni vakaychya.

If you were in an English medium school and Marathi was a second language, you'd remember this poem from your Bal Bharati text book in Std II. It was a poem about the poet's uncle who apparently had some large banana plantations. The poem goes on to describe the how each member of the family tended to the banana plants and it all climaxed in a domestic orgy of Shikran. One may conclude that the uncle's family really, really loved their bananas. Had this poem come in at a slightly later year I am sure one of the pupils would have surely questioned such a banana centric lifestyle. Actually, it was a very sweet poem and whenever I think of Shikran, I cannot help but think of the nicely illustrated yet slightly exaggerated banana plants weighed down by large clusters of ripe yellow bananas. A well prepared bowl of Shikran never fails to transport me back to my mom's kitchen where she'd serve me Shikran and chapattis straight from the skillet brushed with ample amounts of ghee and love.

1 Banana cut into thin round slices
1 cup cooked Whole Milk
2 tsp sugar
4 seeds of Cardamom (Elaichi) crushed
1/4" Vanilla Bean
Pinch of Saffron

In a bowl mix the milk, vanilla bean, cardamom and sugar
Stir till the sugar dissolves
Stir in the bananas
Top with a little saffron if desired
Enjoy with hot chapatis brushed with ample ghee

Visit JFI Banana for more Banana recipes.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Veg Pattice (Spicy Vegetable Turnover)

At the far end of Apte Road lies a tin shed that looks like the aftermath of an eager pyromaniac's unsuccessful experiments. This is the legendary Santosh bakery and the last time I saw it, the walls inside were black from being baked all day, everyday for the last couple of decades. I have fond memories of Santosh Bakery growing up. I remember my dad on his way back from work would make a stop at Santosh Bakery to bring home some hot vegetable pattice. The evening batch would come out at exactly 5:00 p.m. and there would be a huge line to get your hands on a dozen of these bad boys. The veg pattice (not to be confused with meat patties) is a spicy vegetable mixture in a puff pastry. The one thing I absolutely loved about Santosh Bakery was that it appealed to all classes. It was really nice to see a bullock cart parked behind a Mercedes. And their respective drivers standing close to the furnace in the hot Indian sun, in a line where they are all the same. Santosh Bakery serves some really great products. Straight from the oven sourdough bread, cream rolls, cakes, nan-katai, rusk toast, brun butter (hard bread rolls) all wrapped in day old newspaper. I have been dying for a pattice for a while, but the thought of making the dough seemed like too much effort. Until I read on Spice and Rice that Pepperidge Farms makes puff pastry sheets. So here they are. And a quick shout out to my friend Gayatri for whom I made these.

1 Sheet Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry
2 boiled Potatoes
1/2 cup shredded Carrots
1/2 cup Peas
1/2 cup Cauliflower
1 Onion finely chopped
1 tsp Tomato paste
1 tsp crushed Garlic
1/4 cup oil
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 tsp Garam Masala
1/2 Tsp Salt

Heat oil in a pot
Add garlic and onion and stir till golden brown on edges
Add tomato paste and stir
Add carrots, peas cauliflower and stir
Add Salt, Turmeric, Chili and Garam Masala
Cook the ingredients adding little water at a time
When it's cooked, add potato and mash together into a coarse paste
Allow to cool
Cut pastry sheet into 3" squares and lay them on an ungreased cookie tray
Place a small ball of the filling in the centre of each square and fold over
Seal edges by pressing lightly
Pre-heat oven at 400º F
Place in oven and bake at 400º F for 15 min
Remove when the pastries turn golden
Serve with Chai and tamarind sauce

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Prawn Curry

If there's one thing the great city of Pune lacks, it's a beach and an abundance of fresh seafood. Sure there are a few fish markets and some scattered fish mongers, but the seafood is always expensive and unless you're really tight with the fish monger, not really that great. This would also explain the lack of good seafood restaurants in Pune. Growing up, I couldn't recall a single restaurant that was known for great fish. But in the last two years that I still lived in Pune, a restaurant by the name of Kalinga had just opened it's doors on the small road whose only claim to fame was a quick access to the Mhatre Bridge. A restaurant that tried too hard with a seating capacity of 500 and was decorated with baroquean excess. Hopefully they've toned down the decorations a bit. The only saving grace to this eyesore was the great food. And great seafood. During my limited number of visits to Kalinga I had the only acceptable prawn curry served to me in any restaurant in Pune. In Pune, the seafood is expensive and let's face it — the people are cheap. And I give Kalinga an A for effort for even trying to serve good seafood to picky, cheap bastards like myself who would cause a stink if it wasn't absolutely great. Of course, the best prawn curry I have ever had came out of my mother's kitchen and hopefully this recipe comes close.

1/2 cup oil
1 lb. Jumbo Prawns peeled and de-veined
1 large Onion chopped very fine
6 cloves of Garlic crushed
1 tsp Tomato Paste
3/4 tsp Turmeric
3/4 tsp Chili Powder
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 cup Coconut milk
1/2 tsp Tamarind paste
1/2 cup water
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a pot
Add garlic and onions and stir till onions are translucent and brown on the edges
Add tomato paste and stir
Add turmeric, garam masala and chili powder and stir
Add prawns and make sure they're mixed well with the onion tomato mixture
Add the water to make the mixture lose
Add tamarind paste and stir
Allow to cook for a minute or two
Add coconut milk and stir
Simmer on low heat for 5 min
Do not over cook Prawns
Serve with chapatti or rice.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Pavta Usal (Stir Fried Lima Bean)

In Maharashtra the word Pavta is slang for a village simpleton. Or more precisely a term used by city folk to describe a simple person from a village who has moved to the city. Someone who sticks out like a sore thumb. Much like the wonderful people in Times Square who are not locals. Moving at their own pace, always looking up in awe at the tall buildings. It is also the Marathi word for Lima Bean. The Lima Bean we get at home is much smaller than the one found here in the US. Each bean is no bigger than the nail on your little finger. It also packs more flavour. Probably because most of the vegetables available in our markets in India are locally grown. Pavta was a staple in my mother's kitchen and she'd always a maintain a bag of fresh beans in her fridge. Pavta usal (stir-fried Lima Bean) was something she cooked very often. It was a quick, easy and delicious meal and I found it in my tiffin almost every week. For some reason none of the restaurants I know served Lima Beans which is strange. This dish is very quick and easy and cheap, too. And goes well with chapati, bread or rice.

2 cups Lima Bean (Pavta)
3 tsp Oil
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Maharashtrian Goda Masala
6-8 Curry Leaves
1/4 tsp Mustard Seeds
Salt to taste

Heat oil in a wok and add mustard seeds and curry leaves
When they start to splatter, reduce heat and add Chili, Tumeric and Goda Masala
Stir the masala into the oil and allow it to cook for a minute
Add Lima Beans and Salt
Stir so that all the beans are coated with spices
Add 1/2 cup water, stir and cover with a lid
Stir occasionaly till beans are cooked
Serve with a hot chapati