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Category Archives: vegetarian

Bhunaoed spinach

This week I want to share a dish made with spinach.

Spinach is so versatile whether it be palak paneer, or saag murgh, or saag gosht, or . . . and most chefs can cook these dishes and make them taste good (this comes with practice).

A few chefs can even cook these dishes and make them smell good, too (this comes with even more practice and some procedure).

However, it is only a fraction of chefs who are able to retain the color of the spinach (this comes with lots of practice, great process and deep knowledge about the ingredients which are being added)!!

So, even our simple spinach dish belies a lot of experience and knowledge to raise it from being an acceptable green side dish to something fresh tasting, vibrant and totally delicious!

In a good restaurant, great results are achieved by using a simple technique called bhunao which you do to the saag. [Bhunao means to cook, uncovered, over a constant heat to remove any excess moisture. Keeping it at the same temperature means the purée cooks without getting a ‘shock’, as it were, and thereby it cooks evenly and retains an ‘even’ colour.]

This is a simple, yet very effective process that keeps the colour of the puréed spinach so that it remains bright green for at least a week! (Yes, that’s right! It’ll keep its colour for that long, if it hasn’t already sold out because it’s so good and looks so fresh.)

Don’t worry about the bhunao, the taste and smell will always be good!!

So, let’s take a closer look at this simple, yet flavoursome, dish:

“bhunao palak”

Ingredients:

1. 2 bunches of English spinach, washed and stalks removed, approx. 400 gms

2. Plenty of water to cook the spinach (a.k.a blanching)

3. A pinch of Alleppey turmeric

4. Ice-cold water to cool the spinach (a.k.a arresting the cooking of the hot spinach)

clockwise from left to right: ice-cold water, turmeric & spinach

Method:

1. To blanch the spinach, in a large, wide pot bring water to a boil.

boiling water in a wide pot

2. Add a pinch of Alleppey turmeric (Alleppey turmeric has a bright yellow colour and helps bring out the colour of the spinach; it also acts as an anti-oxidant).

add a pinch of Alleppey turmeric

3. Add the washed spinach leaves and bring the water back to a boil.

add the spinach

4. In a strainer, drain the leaves immediately and plunge into the ice-cold water for a few seconds to cool the leaves. Do not rinse in running tap water as this will discolour the leaves.

plunge the spinach into ice-cold water for a few seconds

spinach leaves in ice-cold water

5. Remove from the iced water and lightly squeeze to remove any excess moisture.

remove the spinach from the iced water

squeeze well and lightly

the spinach is now ready for the food processor

6. Place in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.

blended spinach

7. Refrigerate immediately.

Bhunao:

1. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2. 1 teaspoon brown cumin seeds

3. 1 tablespoon crushed garlic

4. Salt, to taste

5. 1/2 teaspoon Madras turmeric (you may use Alleppey if Madras turmeric is not handy)

6. 1 fresh green chilli, chopped (retain the seeds)

clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, cumin seeds, crushed garlic, Madras turmeric, salt & fresh green chillies

To bhunao the pureed spinach:

1. In a pan, heat the oil until it is just about to smoke (this makes the oil light and helps it rise to the surface easily).

heat oil in a pan

2. Remove the pan from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.

add cumin seeds and let crackle

2. Add the crushed garlic, as soon as possible, and fold. Then add the salt (adding the salt helps to caramelise the garlic without burning it).

add garlic

add salt

3. Add the Madras turmeric (this has a very earthy smell and goes well with spinach).

fold quickly before adding the Madras turmeric

add the Madras turmeric

4. Now add the chopped chillies and fold.

add fresh chillies

5. Return the pan to the heat and add the puréed spinach to this ‘infusion’.

add the puréed spinach

6. Cook over moderate heat, folding regularly, and let the oil rise to the surface.

folding & cooking spinach

cooking the spinach, always over moderate heat

7. Once the oil has risen to the surface, remove the spinach from the pan. Let cool and then refrigerate.

the spinach is almost ready, just waiting for the oil to rise to the surface

yummm…the spinach is ready to go!!

portioning the spinach for a “rainy day”

refrigerate or have it now, this is pure “green gold”!!

A great and simple way to use your ‘bhunaoed’ spinach is palak paneer . . .

And remember to do all the little things right. Yes, that’s right. Every single little detail, no matter how tedious it might seem. If you get the small things right the big ones look after themselves. So, whether it’s cooking spinach, or boiling rice, or even frying pappads, follow every little rule.

And it is this that I call ‘consistency’!!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Perfect dal is all about tadka, baghar, vagharne, chonk, phodni or…..just call it tempering !!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

So, what is it that makes a good dal become an exceptional dal?

Well, the Gujaratis call it vagharne, the Punjabis call it tadka, the inhabitants of Uttar Bharat call it chonk, the Hyderabadis call it baghar, the Maharashtrians call it phodni and the . . . well, there are at least 25 other versions of this technique and in English we’d call it ‘tempering’.

ingredients used for adding the extra ‘oomph’

In India the actual process of tempering is the same in every state, although some of the ingredients may change because of their availability, or lack thereof, within each state, but the end result never changes which is to get a “wow” factor into the dish.

A simple dal dish is the best way to demonstrate how great tempering is.

The Southern Indians eat their dal with rice while in the north it is an excellent accompaniment with roti, or bread. You can, of course, eat yours with anything you want and as a vegetarian, if you have it with bread or rice it creates a perfect meal full of protein.

mung dal

A Northern dal dish is called mung dal tadka whereas the South Indians call it paruppu (well, that is what my wife calls it who hails from the south!). Today we are using paytham paruppu and giving it a talichu.

mung dal tadka

paytham paruppu with ‘talichu’

Ingredients:

2 cups moong dal (mung lentils)
8 cups cold water (tap water)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, mung dal, turmeric and water

step 1: Wash and drain lentils.

wash & drain lentils

step 2: Add turmeric and oil to the lentils along with 8 cups of water and bring water to the boil.

add turmeric and oil and cook the lentils

step 3: Cook lentils until soft, add the salt, turn off the heat and set aside.

mung dal should be soft to touch when cooked

mung dal, cooked, soft, salted and ready for the tempering!!

Now for the tadka or ‘tempering’:

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
1 teaspoon ground chilli
salt, to taste
juice of half a lemon
2-3 fresh coriander leaves

clockwise, from left to right: vegetable oil (centre), cumin seeds, asafoetida, chilli powder, salt, lemons & fresh coriander

Method:

step 1. For tadka, or ‘tempering’, heat oil in a pan and let it smoke, remove from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.

heat oil in a pan

add the cumin seeds

step 2. Add the asafoetida and then chilli powder.

add the asafoetida

step 4. Pour the hot oil (this is called the ‘tempering’) on top of the cooked lentils.

pour the tempering on the hot dal

step 5. Add lemon juice and the coriander leaves and serve immediately!!

add lemon juice & fresh coriander

For talichu or ‘tempering’:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon asafoetida powder
2-3 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
salt, to taste
juice of half a lemon

clockwise, from left to right: vegetable oil (centre), mustard seeds, asafoetida, fresh green chillies, fresh curry leaves, salt & lemons

Method:

step 1. In a pan, heat the oil and let it smoke. Remove from the heat.

heat oil

step 2. Crackle the black mustard seeds (by adding to the hot oil!).

crackle the mustard seeds

step 3. Add the asafoetida.

add the asafoetida

step 4. Then add the chopped/slit green chillies.

add chopped/slit chillies

step 5. Place curry leaves on top of cooked lentils and pour the hot oil over.

place fresh curry leaves on top of the hot dal

pour the hot tempering over the dal and curry leaves

step 6. Add lemon juice and serve immediately.

squeeze lemon juice on top and serve immediately

Remember the following when cooking lentils:
1. Never soak the lentils. Wash and cook them immediately.
2. Start cooking the lentils in cold water, this helps them cook from the inside, out. As the water comes to the boil the heat slowly penetrates through the lentils, thereby making them soft.
3. Add the turmeric and oil to the lentils as soon as the pot is placed on the heat. This makes any impurities rise to the surface and the oil prevents the froth from overflowing. Do not discard the froth if there are no impurities.
4. Add the salt after the lentils are cooked and soft. If added at the beginning, the salt, prolongs the cooking and may also prevent the lentils from getting soft.

Remember the following when tempering:

1. The oil must be smoking and away from the heat when adding the spices.
2. The spices must be added as soon as possible but, and this is essential, one after the other. Adding the spices alternately allows them to crackle and release their flavors into the oil.
3. Never add the curry leaves to the hot oil, they will turn black and may even cause the oil to splatter. Instead, place the leaves on the cooked lentils and then pour the hot oil on top of the leaves as shown in the picture in steps 4 & 5.
4. Add the lemon juice just before serving, this helps bring out the flavors and brightens the colour of the dal!!

Serve it accompanied with a roti for the northern version, or with some boiled rice if it is the southern version, or do what my son and I do, which is so simple and yet so delicious. We just have it as a ‘soup’ on its own. Superb!

father & son enjoying a big bowl of dal!!

Save the roti and the rice for kozhi milagu chettinad or murgh kali mirch!

And there we have it, folks!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

Dosai for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner … or anytime in between!!!!

It was a year ago, almost to the day, that I wrote how so many Indians love to eat it but very few can cook it.

Yes, you guessed it, or you might remember, dosai!

As some of you will know, and some of you won’t, we make fresh masala dosai in our open kitchen at nilgiri’s. Look, dosai take practice, I don’t want to deter you but usually by your third attempt your dosai will be good.

Please remember, making dosai isn’t like making pancakes that you make on a Sunday morning and then serve immediately. We let our dosai rest for a few days. Click this dosai recipe for full details.

“Practice makes perfect,” as the old adage says and on that note, may I wish you all the best for 2013!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

The ingredients: 1 part white lentil flour, 3 parts rice flour, a pinch of salt [to make the pancake golden)

adding salt to the rice flour and white lentil flour

mixing the ingredients with the best and most natural whisk otherwise known as fingers!

add water [approximately 3-3 1/2 parts

mixing

mix or whisk

more mixing

check texture, it should be a ‘dropping-like’ consistency

pour into pot to let it ferment and rise!!

the mixture will ferment

cover fermenting mixture with a moist cloth, set aside for a few hours or overnight

remove cover to see it rise like a soufflé

set aside a teaspoon of the risen batter to form a ‘starter’ for the next batch

keep ‘starter’ in the refrigerator covered in cling wrap

add water to prepare batter for dosai

mix, or as I say, ‘fold’

check consistency, it must be close to a ‘pouring-like’ consistency for making the pancake

get ready for the act!!

prepare cooktop, or a griddle plate, or a ‘tawa’ by heating it and putting salt on the cooktop

wipe away the salt thus leaving behind a teflon-like surface when the salt starts to ‘cook’

add mixture to the smooth cooktop, just a big drop, holding the steel cup with 3 fingers only!

pouring the mixture on top of hot plate/griddle plate

smoothing the mixture with a circular motion, moving outwards in a concentric ring-like motion

enlarging the circle

enlarging the dosai

enlarging the circle, at this stage you drizzle clarified butter and oil over the dosai, or, if you are vegan simply omit the butter and use oil only

clarified butter

adding oil to the butter stops it burning

drizzle butter in a circular pattern

gently spread butter with a spoon

the upper surface of the dosai will fry and start to turn golden

the dosai will fold

roll the dosai

the first dosai is never perfect so don’t worry!!

the second dosai is never perfect either!

the third dosai; well from now on it is perfect!

the beautiful circles left by the cooked dosai

add potato filling

gently lever under the dosai, working around its perimeter

lever the dosai upwards gently

fold over filling

roll over

serve masala dosai with classical accompaniments, sambhar and coconut chutney!!

A classic recipe from the land of the coconut……!

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

vegetable ishtew

Folks, this week we are making a dish that my ‘mallu’ friends call ‘ishtew’. Generally made with beef or chicken, here is my version with vegies and yes it is a ‘VEGAN‘ dish !!

ingredients clockwise starting in the 2 o’clock position: coconut oil, chopped red onions, sliced green chillies, broccoli and cauliflower florettes, diced tomatoes, kari leaves, ginger juliennes. outer ring: diced beans, cassia bark, green cardamom, cloves, mace blade, black peppercorn, star anise, caramelised onions, coriander leaves, coconut cream (or whole coconut if you are really keen; otherwise use coconut cream), diced potatoes, diced carrots

If you want instructions on how to caramelise onions (or even slice them), check out my techniques page.

Blanching the vegetables

Step 1

prepare mixing bowl of iced water

Step 2

add salt to boiling water in a large pot

Step 3

add diced potato to boiling water

Step 4

cook the potatoes until they are al dente

Step 5

to check of the potatoes are al dente, remove one from the pot and cut it with a knife – it should slide through like ‘cutting’ butter

Step 6

when the potatoes are al dente, scoop from the pot and place in iced water to stop the potato cooking any more

Step 7

Repeat this process for beans, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower – cook each vegetable separately when blanching.

Cooking the spices, onion, fresh chilli, kari leaves and tomato

Step 1

In a large frying pan, heat pan and add coconut oil. When the oil smokes, add spices separately, folding between each addition. Start with the cassia (cinnamon sticks), then green cardamoms, cloves,black peppercorns and mace blades.

Step 2

Look for signs that the spices have cooked. Initially the cassia will be furled. When it has cooked, it will be open.

cassia (cinnamon stick) not ready since it hasn’t unfurled

unfurled, now it is perfectly cooked

cooked cardamon pods will swell, like this

cooked mace will only slightly unfurl, like this

Step 3

now the spices are cooked, add chopped onions and keep folding whilst the onions caramelise. n.b. the coconut oil will froth

Step 4

add salt and fold

Step 5

when your onions have caramelised like this, it’s time to add the thinly sliced (julienned) ginger

Step 6

add the ginger and fold

Step 7

add fresh green chillies and fold

Step 8

add half the kari leaves and fold. repeat this process with the remaining half

Step 9

when your mixture looks like this, it’s time to add caramelised onions

add caramelised onions and fold

Step 10

when your onions look like this, it’s time to remove a cup of them to be used as a garnish

Step 10

setting aside some of the garnish

Step 11

add chopped tomatoes to the frying pan and fold until their skins have almost separated from the flesh (as above!)

Step 12

when the tomato skins have almost split, add coconut cream and fold

Step 13

turn down the heat so the coconut does’t boil as it will split if it boils. Small sporadic bubbles are fine!

Step 14

drain blanched vegetables and keep discarded water

Step 15

add vegetables to pot and fold

Step 16

keep folding until all the vegetables are covered by the creamy sauce

Step 17

cover pot for ten minutes, remove lid: your vegetables will (should!) look like this

Step 18

check that your sauce isn’t too runny – dip a spoon into the sauce and remove; the sauce shouldn’t run off the spoon but drip off. If the sauce runs off, keep reducing the sauce

if the sauce doesn’t drip off your spoon, add a little water (use the water from the blanched vegetables)

only add a little water (kept aside from the strained vegetables) at a time (if you need to)

Step 19

sample your dish – add salt to taste, if needed

Step 20 – Plate the dish

serve the meal – maybe on a banana leaf and red rice noodles a.k.a. Idiappam!

red rice noodles can be purchased from an Indian grocery store all ready to heat and serve!!

Step 21 Add garnishes and enjoy!

add chopped coriander

add caramelised onion/spice mixture you had set aside earlier

So folks, as promised, we are on a journey!! Not only am I ‘touring’ the vast land of India and showing you the great variety of its food, I’m also focusing on vegan dishes! Don’t, my dear meat-eating friends, be ‘put off’ by this. Make some of these as a side dish, if you want, with some kebabs (remember?) or lamb cutlets that take minutes to cook. And as for my vegan friends, well yes, I know, this is more than enough as a good meal in itself.

Until then, happy VEG(AN)TARIAN cooking and remember Indian food is NO DAMN CURRY IN…..!!! When I show this dish to people they say, “Is it Thai, Italian, Macrobiotic . . . etc. etc. etc.” and never bl–dy Indian. And on that merry note.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!!

An eggplant (aubergine) dish that’s fit for a vegan king!

the final product: stuffed baby eggplants, bursting with a delicious filling and covered in a rich sauce

Well folks, you didn’t think I’d leave you this week with complete silence did you?

I have been heartened, and touched and humbled by all your comments. Thank you one and all. The show will go on!

So, what I wanted to share with you was this eggplant dish that I wrote in January of this year. For recent followers of my blog, I hope you find it interesting and for those old stalwarts, well, enjoy the ride, again!

I chose this blog firstly because the simplicity of the dish belies its taste and second, because I am often hearing from vegans who want something that not only looks good but tastes damn’d good too. And third, because it uses that gem, garam masala.

You can find the garam masala that goes with vegetables here.

And then, I enjoy this recipe because it doesn’t have onions or garlic in it which surprises so many people!

Why no onions or garlic? Because, in keeping with the Jain tradition, onions and garlic are omitted. Plants that grow beneath the soil aren’t eaten. “Amazing!”, I hear you cry, “you can make a meal fit for a king without onions or garlic; but what about the flavour? what about….?” and on and on you’ll go, finishing off with the fact that you only ever cook using onions and garlic.

But before we start another challenge . . . it should have no dairy or milk products… instead of wondering what on earth to cook your son’s girlfriend who’s coming for dinner and who, your son absentmindedly tells you at the last minute, “Oh, and by the way mum, she’s vegan.” Try this dish!

People often think that vegetarian (not to mention vegan) meals are solely a plate of sad-looking vegetables served without  meat. How wrong they are!

Or people think vegan cuisine is some sort of faddish macrobiotic meal that you need to go to a wholefood store to buy all the ingredients you’ve never heard of, or used before, and probably never will again.

But there must be something to the vegan diet that the Jains have been eating for thousands of years! Come see.

So, here is my version of a dish called ‘stuffed eggplant’ that the French call aubergines farces and the Italians melanzane ripieni alla Calabrese. My dish is called bharleli vangi which hails from the coastal region of Maharashtra in Western India. I assure you that once you make this, and your friends eat it, the other two will become history!! Believe you me. For a single page version of this recipe, click stuffed eggplant recipe.

Step 1

What you’ll need for the filling, starting clockwise from the 12 o’clock position : salt, vegetable oil, bay leaf, ginger paste, ground turmeric, chilli powder, vegetarian garam masala, desiccated coconut, chopped tomatoes. Outside the ‘clock’: baby eggplants, chopped coriander and lemon juice”

step 2

vegetarian garam masala

step 3

set aside the bay leaves

step 4

grind all the spices (apart from the bay leaves) for approx. 15 seconds

step 5

the ground spices should have the texture of coarse sand

step 6

add 1 tablespoon salt to 1/2 litre of tepid water in a large bowl to immerse the deseeded eggplant

step 7

slice top off the eggplant

step 8

score the diameter of the circle using the tip of a sharp knife

step 9

scoop out the eggplant seeds [the scored circle will prevent the eggplant skin from tearing

step 10

scoop out the seeds until you can insert the teaspoon one inch into the eggplant’s length

step 11

in total, remove about 1 teaspoonful from each eggplant

step 12

this is how the eggplant should look after removing its seeds

step 13

place the scooped eggplants into the bowl of saltwater you prepared earlier – this will reduce the bitterness of the eggplant and prevent any discolouring of the inside

step 14, prepare the filling

add 1/2 cup of polyunsaturated vegetable oil to a hot frying pan

step 15

when the oil starts to smoke, add the two bay leaves

step 16

add 1 tablespoon of the ginger paste

step 17

fold in the ginger quickly

step 18

reduce the heat and add the turmeric and fold (note the vegetable oil base is becoming golden)

step 19

add 1 tablespoon chilli powder and fold

step 20

add the vegetarian garam masla and fold

step 21

add 11/2 cups desiccated coconut and fold

step 22

add 1 teaspoon  salt

step 23

remove 1/2 mixture and set aside in a small bowl for the filling. The rest will be used to make the sauce!

step 24

add chopped coriander to the small bowl for the filling and fold

step 25

dry each eggplant using a clean tea-towel

step 26

with a small spoon, scoop up some of the filling and insert into each eggplant

step 27

place the filling into each eggplant

step 28

press down the filling firmly with the teaspoon

step 29

once stuffed, set aside the eggplant and repeat for each remaining eggplant!

step 30, cooking the stuffed eggplants

add 3 tablespoons of polyunsaturated vegetable oil to a hot frying pan

step 31

when the oil is hot, place the eggplants in the frying pan

step 32

turn the eggplants frequently to ensure each side is evenly cooked

step 33

the eggplants’ skin will change colour when it is cooked and it will become crisper

step 34

pour hot oil over the eggplants

step 35

the eggplants will soon look like this

step 36, slow cook the eggplants so that they cook on the inside

cover the frying pan to cook the eggplants on the inside

step 37

cover the frying pan and cook over low heat for ten minutes

step 38

when you remove the lid, watch out for the steam!

step 39

your eggplants will now be cooked

step 40

a close-up of the cooked filling

step 41

check that each eggplant is cooked – a knife inserted should slide through like butter

step 42, prepare the sauce,

return the frying pan with the remaining mixture added onto a medium heat and add chopped tomatoes

step43

fold in the chopped tomatoes

step 44

add any remaining filling and fold

step 45

fold until the oil comes away easily from the sides of the pan

step 46

add 4 tablespoons of water, or vegetable stock, and fold [you want a sauce-like consistency

step 47

fold till  mixture comes to the boil

step 48

place a banana leaf on a plate

step 49

place sauce on the banana leaf

step 50

stand each eggplant in the sauce

step 51

add all the eggplants

step 52

add remaining sauce on top of the eggplants

step 53

add 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice to bring out the aroma of the dish

step 54

serve with a chappati or bread of your choice

You may also try this dish with baby cucumbers or baby courgettes instead of the baby eggplants!!

Trust me, cook it for a meat-eating friend who thinks vegan food is for rabbits. They will be amazed.

Happy cooking! And if any of you have any trouble, hints or anything you want to say about this dish, please let me know at the end of this blog! I’d particularly like to hear from our Jain cousins, or our vegan friends who’ve made either this, or any other, recipes and what they’ve found good about it. I’d also be amused to hear from you meat eaters out there who would usually baulk at a vegan meal and see what you think of it. So, get cooking and typing and let the feedback (no pun intended) begin!

There, it’s good to keep going, isn’t it? Happy cooking folks!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

A baby eggplant dish, you will love it !!

It is easy to cook, that means even a novice can make it!!

It has no onions, no garlic and no ginger, that means even the Jains can eat it!!

It has no dairy, that means it is great for vegans!! (I made another dish like this, so if you’re eager to try this recipe, you might also really like this one, too!)

It takes very little time to prepare [assuming that you already have your own garam masala ready]!!

It is an adaptation of Mumbai Maushi’s recipe of hirvya masalachi vangi [which literally means eggplant cooked in a green masala]!

And last, but not least, this is the first time my son has eaten an eggplant dish, and a vegan one to boot, and he just loved it. So, thank you Maushi !!

To celebrate the beginning of the festive season and the end of Navratri, which literally means nine nights, here is my little contribution to all those who believe in this biannual festival.

I hope you enjoy the last few days of Navratri. . .

So, here’s how we make hirvya masalachi vangi:

Ingredients:

1.  1 kg baby eggplants

2.  1/2 cup polyunsaturated vegetable oil

3.  1 tablespoon asafoetida

4.  salt, to taste

5.  1 tablespoon turmeric

6.  2 tablespoons garam masala (please see the recipe for garam masala for vegetables)

ingredients from left to right: vegetable oil, asafoetida, salt, turmeric, garam masala & baby eggplant (centre)

Green masala ingredients:

1.  1/2 fresh coconut grated, or 1/2 cup coconut powder

2.  1 bunch fresh coriander

3.  4-6 fresh green chillies

4.  1 teaspoon peppercorns

5.  2 cups of water

ingredients for green masala from left to right: grated fresh coconut, fresh coriander leaves, green chillies & peppercorns

Method:

1.  Preheat the oven to 150 C. Slit the eggplants into quarters but do not cut totally through.

slitting the eggplant

make the second slit

eggplant should look like this

do the same for all the eggplants

2.  In a thick bottom pot, heat the oil till it is about to smoke, reduce the heat and add the asafoetida.

heat oil

add the asafoetida

3.  Add the slit eggplants, and gently fold them till they are coated with the oil. Now add the salt.

add the eggplant

fold gently

the eggplant will start to colour lightly

it is ready for the salt when it starts to split open

add salt

fold gently

4.  Add the turmeric followed by half the garam masala. Fold gently.

add the turmeric

fold gently

add half the garam masala

fold gently

5.  Cover the pot and place it in the oven for about 20 minutes, or till the eggplants are soft.

cover & place pot in oven

cook till eggplant is soft

6.  In the meantime, prepare the green masala by placing the coconut, coriander, chillies and peppercorns in a blender, add 1 cup of water and blend to a fine chatni [paste].

add the ingredients for the green masala to the mixer

add water

grind green masala/chatni to a fine paste

7.  Remove pot from the oven and add the green chatni, and the remaining cup of water, to the pot. Fold gently and either place the pot on top of the stove or replace in the oven for about 30 minutes, or till the oil rises to the surface.

add green masala/chatni to the soft eggplant

add remaining water to the mixer bowl, mix well & add all the liquid to the eggplant

fold gently till the masala coats the eggplant

cover with lid & cook in the oven for about 30 minutes

the masala is cooked when the oil rises to the surface

8.  Sprinkle the remaining garam masala on top and serve with a hot roti, or chappati, or even moist boiled rice!!

sprinkle remaining garam masala

mumbai maushi’s hirvya masalachi vangi

Happy Navratri and now back to some serious meat eating from. . .!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

I don’t use ‘ghee’ but you certainly may….!!

In almost every class I am asked, why is it that I don’t use ghee in my cooking and my answer is and has always been, “Because, dear folks, I have never understood what happens to ghee when it melts.”

And I continue, “Nor have I understood how to get the best out of this extremely popular and ‘healthy cooking medium’. Simple!!”

And I can see that the person asking the question is surprised, because more often than not they’ve bought that nice, round tin of ghee and it’s sitting in their fridge, and they may have used it once, and then it’s languished there, never ‘going off’.

Because you see, it is always a ‘trial and error’ with ghee. You can ‘test’ and ‘flunk’ at home without anyone ‘twittering’ about how bad, or unfit, the dish was, but one small ‘mistake’ in my business and, well you know, we all live amidst a mightily chattering social media!

With oil, however, especially polyunsaturated vegetable oil it is easy. You just wait for the ‘ripples’ to disappear when heating it; you then wait for the oil to just start smoking and you are in business!!

But having said that, and even though I do hold strong views about it, I am never going to stop, or intercept, anyone from using it. I always like you experimenting and trying out anything.

So, go for it, by all means.

Simon Marnie from ABC Radio loves to cook using ghee, once said to me that it was difficult to find good ghee and he is so right.

Good ghee is not easy to buy because ‘good ghee’ is always made at home!! (There goes your tin!)

Aai, my mother, who is around 85 years old, still makes her own ghee because she believes that if the medium of cooking is not pure then the food that is cooked in it just cannot be holy.

Its a simple philosophy. And it produces superb results, time and time again.

But how, and where, does one find ‘pure’ ghee?

pure ghee

I did a blog on To ghee or not to ghee about a year ago, and so I am not going to talk about the benefits of using, or not using, ghee in your cooking as you can read it (or not) yourself.

But this time I want to focus on getting ‘pure’ ghee!! So, out with the notebook folks!

Pure ghee is made from pure makkhan [aka, home-made butter (unsalted)] which comes from fresh malai [aka, fresh cream].

And this is how it is made . . . but before we get onto the pure ghee, a small story, if I may be so bold!

In 1990, just before I started my own restaurant (with a business partner), I had the privilege of running a small restaurant in Newtown with my wife, Meera.

I was the ‘head chef’ and Meera was the ‘head waitress’. I had a chef named Mahadevan who specialised in tandoor cooking.

Mahadevan had come to Australia to buy and sell minerals. He was a miner as well as a partner in a mine near Madras. After he left Madras, his partners decided to sell off the mine and share the profits in his absence. So, the poor ‘MD’ lost all his investments whilst he was away hoping to crack a deal with the mines in NSW.

Little did he know that there was nothing for him to go back to. All was lost. Mahadevan, not surprisingly, ended up a wreck!!

He started drinking a lot, became an alcoholic and ended up in AA. Six months later he decided to gather himself together and make a fresh start. So, he started off by washing dishes in an Indian restaurant and when an opportunity came by for him to learn cooking, he made the most of it!

Mahadevan became a Tandooriya and a damn fine one too!!

His kebabs, especially the tandoori chicken ones, were to die for. He did something that made the chicken ‘sing’, something I had never seen before in all my cooking life.

Basically, Mahadevan ‘finished’ his tandoori chicken with a final touch, or sprinkling, of chat masala with lemon juice and ghee.

Yes, that’s right, ghee!!

Australia had no such product on the market so Mahadevan made his own ghee. From start to finish….!!

And this is how he made it and this is how I would also makes it…..

Well, the recipe is no ‘talk’, or should I say, no ‘write’ but all pictures:

Step 1: Keep the following tools & ingredients for home-made makkhan or butter & home-made ghee ready:

food processor with whisk attachment & fresh cream at room temperature

3 or 4 bowls of cold water with ice cubes

a thick-bottomed pan/pot, a strainer or two & a small pot for the ghee

Step 2: Making the makkhan [butter]

add 1 litre cream to the bowl & whisk gradually

the start of the whisking process

the next stage of whisking when the cream froths & bubbles

the next stage of whisking when the cream starts to thicken

more thickening of the cream

the cream is really thick & rising in volume constantly

at this stage the cream is now getting ready to split

continue whisking as the cream gets grainier & the solids start to separate from the ‘buttermilk’

the cream has split & the makkhan or butter & the ‘buttermilk’ are clearly visible separately. Stop whisking now!

Step 3: Washing the makkhan [butter] in ice water

strain the makkhan or butter through a strainer into an empty vessel. Reserve the ‘buttermilk’.

use a spatula or your fingers to scrape all the makkhan into the strainer

shape the makkhan into round balls while squeezing out the buttermilk at the same time

‘wash’ the balls of makkhan in the ice-cold water till no more buttermilk can be squeezed out. It is critical that the water is really cold, as the makkhan is then firm & easy to handle

continue this process for all the makkhan in the strainer. The home-made makkhan is ready & may be stored in the refrigerator!!

Step 4: Making the ghee

place the washed balls of makkhan in a thick-bottom pan or pot

keep on a low heat/flame

the makkhan starts to melt gradually

do not stir or disturb the makkhan as it continues to melt

there will be a layer of froth on the top & a layer of solids at the bottom of the pan

as the makkhan transforms into ghee, the froth on top will start to disappear & the solids at the bottom will start to caramelise

Voilà! The ghee is ready when the solids turn light golden & the froth on top also starts to turn golden

strain the ghee, but do not discard the solids

the ghee should be a perfectly clear & golden liquid

 

When making ghee it is important to remember the following:

1.  The cream must be fresh, even if it is from the supermarket. There is nothing better than getting the fresh cream on the day you’re going to make your ghee.

2.  You need to keep a constant supply of  ice-cold water as this is the best way to solidify your ‘pure butter’ as it is being made.

3.  The fresh cream must be churned gradually, this helps separate the fat from the buttermilk.

4.  The buttermilk can be used to make other dishes. . .

5.  The water usde to wash the makkhan is an excellent ‘feed’ for the herb garden, especially for the kari leaf plant !!

6. Pure ghee must be like ‘crystal clear’ glass and have a light golden ‘tinge’ to it.

precious liquid gold – GHEE!!

This is pure gold, also known as GHEE!!!

I think someday all the food in my restaurant will be cooked in this pure gold, but until then it will have to be polyunsaturated vegetable oil [except ‘canola’ because canola, in the state of NSW, is genetically…….!!]

Well, I hope you’re successful with making your own ghee. Let me know how you get on.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

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