Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tomato Soup

Before the ‘spectacular’ express highway, the cheapest and most convenient way to make a Bombay-Pune journey was with a ride on the Deccan Queen. A 180 km journey that took anywhere between 3½ - 4 hours on a good day. The journey would actually begin way before the day of actual travel by a trip to a little place known as the booking office. A small self-standing structure in the middle of nowhere, where you were served by indifferent civil servants from behind rusty windows. Some of the things you were never served, however, were proper information, prompt service or, heaven forbid, a smile. The chances of you actually getting a reservation instead of being wait-listed were pretty slim. Even as you enter Pune Station through parking, it looks like a haphazard mess. As you arrive inside you see that the rails and platforms thrown together by some eager engineer who made the mistake of believing himself. 6:30 a.m. is probably the most bearable time to be there, as people who fell asleep on the platform the night before aren't completely awake yet.

Once on the Deccan Queen, things are pretty smooth sailing, if you accept all things as they are. No sooner has the train crossed city limits, somewhere around Talegaon, the waiter comes by to take your breakfast order. One thing that has always impressed me about the railway food service on Indian Railways is the waiters. They manage to take down the order of an entire car of over 100 people without writing anything down and then bring you your entire order without screwing anything up. Of course it helps that there are only a couple of items on the menu. Omelet bread, which consists of two slices of bread and an omelet bathed in a stream of pure fat. A cheese toast (pronounced chis-toz), which strangely is neither cheese, nor toast and of course there was the usual tea or coffee. The other thing on the menu was the tomato soup; a thin, thimble-sized plastic cup of foaming brownish-red goodness. This was quite possibly the most vile tasting (and smelling) version of the soup and one can only conclude that it came out of one of those NestlĂ© machines. Not that it ever stopped anyone from ordering one. Coz’ nothing says good morning in the Sayadhris like instant soup and flirting with the langoors on monkey hill.

  • 6 Tomatoes (medium size)
  • 1 Beet
  • 1 tsp Butter
  • ½ tsp Black Pepper
  • ½ tsp Cumin Powder
  • 1 tsp Ginger Garlic Paste
  • 4 tsp Heavy Cream
  • Salt to taste
  • Boil tomatoes and beet in water for 15 min till tomatoes appear completely boiled.
  • Allow it to cool and then blend the tomatoes and beets together to a puree
  • Using a sieve strain the seeds and skin and place the juice aside
  • In a pot heat the butter and add ginger-garlic paste, cumin and pepper to it
  • Once the ginger-garlic paste sizzles, add the tomato juice and allow it to cook for 10 min
  • Serve hot and garnish with heavy cream and mint

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Boneless Butter Chicken

When I was in junior college, Pirangut (which is now almost in city limits) used to be a destination for day trips. En route, one could drive for miles of lush paddy fields and open land on both sides of the road, the monotony broken only by a lake, a river or the occasional small body of water. You would have to slow down sometimes as herds of sheep walked alongside the road, blocking most of it. Village folk sat under the shade of tamarind trees waiting for the greatest form of rural transportation—the S.T. bus, known to most of the junta as the Laal Dabba (red tin can). The road took you straight to the village of Mulshi, where the Mulshi dam is located. There is a village on the way named Disli. In Marathi, Disli means “I see it.” The reason it is so named is that as you take a turn to enter the limits of Disli, you can see the walls of the massive dam for the first time. Just before the village of Disli is the village of Pirangut and also the home of one my favourite joints, Buninda Dhaba. It had just opened up when we started visiting Buninda. It was essentially a poorly built structure with a huge swimming pool, a garden restaurant, a children’s playground that would require tetanus shots and for some reason, a large number of ducks just hanging out. It was a nice place to go to, especially when parents thought you were busy at college busy attending classes and getting a good education. The food there was always good. However, as college students, money was always in short supply and the newly liberated college students would prefer to allocate more funds to spirits than waste it on food. After a good afternoon of drinking when it’s time to eat, it is common practice to order a couple of pots of boneless butter chicken with a stack of rotis. Thankfully, the butter chicken at buninda was exceptional.

1 1/2lb whole boneless Chicken breast cubed
1 large Onions finely chopped.
2 Tomatoes finely chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 stick butter
1 tsp grated Ginger
1 tsp crushed Garlic
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 1/2 cup Chicken stock
Salt to taste

For marinade
1/2 cup Buttermilk
2 tsp Lemon Juice
2 tsp Ginger Garlic paste
1 tsp Chili powder
1 tsp Turmeric
1 tsp Garam Masala
Salt to taste

Mix all the items for the marinade and coat the chicken with it.
Allow it to marinate overnight.
Grill chicken till it is done and the marinade crisp.
Remove chicken in a bowl and place aside.

Heat 1/2 stick of butter in a pot and add ginger and garlic to it.
Add chopped onions and stir occasionally till onion is translucent brown on the edges.
Add tomato, stir and allow to cook for a few minutes
Add chili, turmeric, garam masala and salt, stir and allow to cook for a couple of minutes
Add chicken stock and bring to a boil and continue heating on low heat till tomato and onion have almost dissolved.
Remove sauce and blend it in a blender with heavy cream
Return sauce to the pot and gently fold in the grilled chicken and the remaining butter and allow it to cook on low heat for 10-15 min
Serve with rice and naan

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Green Mango Chutney

As a little boy growing up in Pune, I became aware of the fact that the raw green mango (kairi) and the deliciously sweet, ripe mango in spite of being the same fruit are completely different animals. I also understood that a mango stolen from someone else’s yard tastes infinitely better than a store bought mango. It is popular knowledge that the best green mangoes inevitably come from the trees that are in the yards of the meanest people in the neighbourhood. These trees are usually guarded by some of the house’s senior gentry, who will come after you with sticks—making stealing mangoes from the neighbourhood one of my favourite summer sports.

After the annual examinations in April one quickly discovers that two months of summer vacation is in fact really boring. During our vacation, the area kids would gather to pass their afternoons with a game of cricket, carrom or cards. A good afternoon’s cricket is really incomplete without a good snack and the raw mangoes that were in peak season spiced with salt and chili filled that void very well. Stealing mangoes is a group effort and confidence in a solitary attempt is a rookie mistake. Good bicycles with a carrier capable of going “double seat” are also an integral part of the mango stealing operation. Three is the perfect number of people needed to steal mangoes. One to climb the tree, one to stand under it, catch the loot and assist in the getaway and the third one near the compound wall to keep watch and relay information with fake coded animal sounds that don’t even come close to the real thing. The third one also keeps the getaway bicycles ready. Since there has rarely been an attempt where the owner of the property didn’t come after you, most operations yield varied results and thus require multiple attempts on various yards. Regardless, the mango stealing exercise is a large part of the summer vacation and one I miss dearly.

Here are some rules of successful mango stealing that can never be ignored:

  • Never climb so high that you won’t be able to directly jump to the ground if and when needed
  • Sticks, hooks, bags only get in the way, throw the mangoes directly to the person on the ground.
  • No matter how awesome the mango, don’t select the tree that is closer to the house than the fence
  • Before the operation begins, locate a spot in the barbed wire fence that is either easy to jump over or has a huge hole
  • Do not underestimate a bogan-villa plant that doubles as a fence
  • Angry, old people can run faster than you think
  • Always locate a compound where the owners may or may not know you, but they most definitely don’t know your parents

1 large Raw Mango (peeled and cubed)
1/2 cup shredded fresh Coconut
1/2 cup Cilantro
2 cloves Garlic
3 Green Chilies
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp sugar (Only if the mango isn’t sweet)
1/2 cup

Put the cilantro at the bottom of the blended and then add the rest of the ingredients on top
Blend to a smooth mixture

Mango Chutney Sandwich
Apply mango chutney to one slice of whole grain toast
Apply sour cream to another slice and create a sandwich
Serve as a snack.