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Parsi style prawns

This week I want to share a recipe for prawns cooked Parsi style.

This is an ancient recipe that has been passed down the generations by word of mouth.

In this particular recipe the prawns are fried in a masala which uses only five  ingredients (besides salt and oil) and the end result is the most amazing prawn dish!!

So, let’s get started.

Parsi style prawns

Ingredients:

1. 1 kg green prawns (with shell)

2. 2 1/2 tablespoons brown cumin seeds

3. 3 cloves of garlic, peeled

4. 1/2 cup brown vinegar or apple cider vinegar

5.1 teaspoon turmeric powder

6. 2 teaspoons chilli powder

7. 1 teaspoon salt

8. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: roasted cumin seeds, brown vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), garlic cloves, vegetable oil, turmeric, salt & chilli powder and prawns (centre)

Method:

1. Remove the shell from the prawns, devein and refrigerate.

shelled & deveined prawns

2. Roast the cumin seeds and let cool.

roasting cumin seeds

3. Grind the cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar to a fine paste.

cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar for the masala

masala ground to a fine paste

4. In a pan, add the oil and immediately add the masala (spice mix).

add masala to cold oil

5. Add the turmeric, chilli powder and salt to the masala.

add the turmeric, chilli powder & salt to the masala

6. Cook over moderate heat until the spice mix is cooked and the oil rises to the surface. (See no. 1 below.)

mix well and cook over moderate heat

the masala starts to change colour

the masala is ready when it starts to bubble and the oil leaves the sides of the pan

7. Add the prawns and fold in the masala till it coats the prawns.

add the prawns

prawns coated with ‘masala’

8. Increase the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 1 minute and then reduce heat to moderate-high.

prawns ready to be covered

cover with lid

8. When cooked, serve the prawns as an accompaniment with dhaan dal (rice and dal), or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course with Indian flat breads, or . . . well, the choices are endless!

serve on a bed of salad leaves

ready for the masala

drizzle some masala on the prawns

a serving of parsi style prawns

And finally, a few facts to remember when cooking this dish:

1. Start cooking the masala in cold oil. Heat the oil after the masala has been added. Adding the masala to the cold oil helps cook it till the flavours from the ground spices comes out without burning it!

2. If brown vinegar is not available, use apple cider vinegar instead.

3. This dish can also be made with fish, especially a dried fish called boomla (that’s also frequently known as Bombay Duck) and it can then be used as a pickle!

4. You can use any leftover spice mix to cook with slices of eggplant, or grated carrots, as you wish.

Let me know how you get on with this superb dish!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

Dhuyein ki machchi (smoked fish and tomato chutney)

sampling the wonderful dhuyein ki machchi smoked at home!

The dish I want to share this week is the easy-to-do-at-home, or on the barbie (great for the Aussies), dhuyein ki machchi!!

smoked fish and tomato chutney

ingredients for smoked fish from top, clockwise: ground garlic, ground ginger, chilli powder, turmeric powder, kebab garam masala (ground), oil, lemon wedges, salt; plate-sized NZ snapper (gutted and scaled); tea leaves for smoking

I like to serve this alongside a tomato chutney which you can prepare whilst your fish is smoking in the oven.

ingredients for tomato chutney, clockwise: kari leaves, chilli powder, oil, black mustard seeds, dry red chillies, chick pea lentils, white lentils, salt, asafoetida powder, lemon juice, turmeric, tamarind paste, tomato purée, fresh coriander leaves

step 1

the fish can be red snapper (pictured), baby barramundi, flathead, in fact use any whole fish that can comfortably fill a plate. It’s always a good idea to keep the fish on ice when out of the fridge

step 2

What’s smoking? To infuse the fish with a smokey flavour, you need something to smoke. Pictured is black tea with some of the ground spices that make up the kebab garam masala…… You don’t have to use tea! If you have time, use the fibre husks from sweet corn, dry in the sun for a couple of days. You can also use shaved hickory (available at all good BBQ stores)

step 3

If you’re smoking the fish on a stove you’ll need: heavy-based pan, glass lid, mixing bowl, whisk and a metal rack

step 4

If you’re smoking the fish in an oven you’ll need: baking tray, mixing bowl, whisk, metal rack

step 5

click kebab garam masala for the ingredients

step 6

grind until garam masala resembles course sand

step 7

your fish should be scaled and gutted – clean the insides thoroughly

step 8

on a chopping board, score the fish, three slashes on each side, about 1/2 cm deep

step 9

this is the right cutting depth

step 10

After you have scored all the fish, discard the ice.

pat fish dry with a paper towel or the marinade won’t stick

step 11

pat dry the insides of the fish as well

step 12

place fish in tray and cover with paper towelling whilst preparing the marinade

step 13: Preparing the marinade.

add 1 tbsp salt to mixing bowl

step 14

add 1 tbsp garlic paste to mixing bowl

step 15

add 1 tbsp  ginger paste to mixing bowl

step 16

fold salt, garlic and ginger paste together

step 17

add 1 tsp chilli powder and fold

step 18

add 1/2 tsp turmeric and fold

step 19

add 2 tbsp ground kebab garam masala and fold, add any remaining garam masala to the tea leaves

step 20

add polyunsaturated vegetable oil and fold

step 21

your marinade is now ready and should look (more or less!) like this

step 22

smear marinade over fish and into scored cuts

step 23

smear marinade into fish cavity as well

step 24

this is how much marinade should be on the fish (both sides)

step 25

folding in remaining garam masala to the tea leaves

step 26

if cooking on the stove, add tea leaf mixture to pan – the tea leaves should be laid about 1-cm thick, covering about 60% of the base

step 27

place fish on rack, add more marinade if necessary

step 28

cover pan with lid – a glass lid is ideal as you can see when the fish is ready without having to take off the lid (which you don’t want to do as the smoke will escape). As the fish cooks, the gills will open up and the dorsal fin will rise. The fish is cooked when the scored cuts ‘weep’ (fill with moisture).

step 29

scored cuts ‘weeping’ (moisture will bead there) means the fish is cooked

step 30

If using oven: turn on temp. to 180-200 C and also turn on the grill (if your oven is able to do both), to medium heat. Place tea leaves on aluminium foil in a tray on top shelf of the oven (closest to the grill). Tea leaves should be laid about 2 cm thick. Keep fish on the rack and place on tray. Then place on shelf underneath the tea-leaf tray, as shown above!

step 31

A close-up of the tea leaves in the oven – they will start to smoke

step 32

The fish is ready when the gills are fully open and scored cuts are weeping

step 33

Making the chutney that goes alongside the fish (prepare whilst the fish is being smoked).

add 2 tbsp polyunsaturated vegetable oil to a hot frying pan

step 34

when the oil is smoking, add 1 tsp black mustard seeds – if the oil is hot, they will immediately sizzle and pop

step 35

add whole chillies and fold

step 36

add 2 tbsp lentils and fold

step 37

add 2 tbsp white lentils and fold till caramelised

step 38

add 11/2 tsp salt and fold

step 39

add 1/2 tsp asafoetida powder and fold

step 40

add kari leaves and let crackle (this is pretty instantaneous)

step 41

add 1 tsp chilli powder and fold

step 42

add 1/2 tsp turmeric and fold

step 43

add 1 tbsp tamarind paste and fold

step 44

add 2 cups tomato purée and fold (or you may add chopped tomatoes or a combination of both), cook until the oil separates and appears on the surface

step 45

tear coriander, add to pan and fold

step 46

add 1 tbsp lemon juice, to taste, and fold

step 47

remove from stove – then serve chutney as it is, or if you prefer, blend it for a smoother texture

step 48

your chutney is now ready!

step 49

place fish and chutney on a serving dish and enjoy!

There are a few things I’d like you to remember when smoking fish:

1. Never add lemon juice to the marinade, this moistens the fish and will ‘break’ it up when smoked. Add lemon juice to the fish after it has been smoked and removed from the oven and whilst it is still hot.

2. Avoid small fillets of fish as they are too delicate, use whole fish, especially when the fish is ‘plate sized’.

3. If using fillets of a bigger fish, crust the skin side (making sure you do not skin the fish, dry the skin side and apply the marinade, the skin will get crisp after smoking) and cover the flesh side with aluminium foil to prevent the fillet from drying out.

4. You may use any wood chips as long as they are safe! Please check this before you use them. Also, try rose leaves mixed with tea leaves, it creates the most fabulous aroma and taste!!

5. Remember, never fry the fish before smoking it like they do on MasterChef, nothing is worse than this as the smokey flavour does not permeate through the fish.

So, happy cooking till the next one!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Mysore Chilli Chicken ….

This chilli chicken dish is simple yet skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced. So much intricacy in this dish!

Mysore chilli chicken dish

So, let’s get started and first make the masala:

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off, here are a few tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

Anna’s Mysore Chilli Chicken

Well, the name says it all.

But it might not be the name you expect.

Anyway, this is a chicken dish with, yes, you guessed it, chilli and it comes from the “royal” (well, I added the regal bit to it!!) kitchens of Mysore.

Anna’s Mysore chilli chicken

But what is not evident from the name, ‘Mysore chilli chicken’, is the process of creating this dish.

It is simple yet very skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced.

This dish is ‘Carnatic’ music at its best, that is, to the taste buds!!

The dish is a creation of Vardarajan, who out of respect (or fear!!) was called “Anna” which means “big brother”. See, some of you won’t have expected that name to belong to a bloke!

Anna was a chef at the Chola Hotel in Madras, way back in the 70s and 80s, and what a chef he was.

But don’t let me do all the talking, folks.

I have pulled out a page from the ‘diary’ of Raman Natrajan who was a trainee in that hotel around the same time as Anna and he describes brilliantly what it was like working in the kitchens of the Chola Hotel and then he describes the dish itself!!

So, without further ado, let’s see what he wrote:

My first job in a professional kitchen was at The Chola Sheraton in Madras. I took a part-time job to work on the weekends. On my first day Chef Ramesh Babu walked me over to the Main Kitchen. I was to work in the prep kitchen next to the Indian kitchen. This was where you served your indenture in order to become an apprentice worthy of working in the main kitchen.

There was a never-ending procession of goods requisitioned out on numerous trolleys from the main storeroom that came into the prep kitchen first, for initial processing. For 12 hours a day, I stood there with my hands red and sore, peeling onions by the bagful and slicing them. My feet and back ached constantly and I was unable to answer back to any one who wanted to test my patience during those first few days. After two weeks I was moved to the Indian Kitchen.

In this small world of the Indian section, there was a smaller god, Chef Varadarajan, who by now must be in the great white kitchen in the sky. Everyone called him Anna (brother). Anna was a ‘Tamizhkaaran’ from Mysore (which means a Tamil from Mysore). He had about ten cooks and five apprentices and yes, I was again at the mercy of the whole team. It was here that I watched in wonder as Anna prepared a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, all day long, for the restaurant and banquets.

No one told you, showed you, or gave you handouts; you learnt by sight, taste, and smell to become proficient by doing a task over and over again and getting better and faster every time. We had thousands of marinated tandoori chicken pieces to put on seekhs (skewers). After this we stood in front of four hot tandoori ovens, soaked in sweat and we handed over these seekhs to the tandoori cooks who were experts on the tandoor. This was my first experience of real heat. I was aware that in 99 percent of the iterations of tandoori chickens out there, the light or dark red color was supplied by food dye. I was curious and asked Anna if he used food color in all the food that has some color added to it. Anna told me that he was going to show me something later.

In the Indian kitchen they made different gravies in large pots big enough to have a bath in!  Still, as far as I was concerned, I was now being treated like a human being, at last, largely thanks to Anna who took me under his wing. When you work in the hotel you go to the staff kitchen for a meal, for you would not dare eat in the kitchen, at least not while the chef or sous-chefs were around. But most afternoons, after the meal service was done at around 2 p.m., the executive chef and his sous-chef would take a break. This is when the senior cooks make a special lunch for themselves. These were gems that one cannot find on any menu. The dishes were made with pure love and every day each chef outdid the other with his special dish.

One day Anna made a dish for the afternoon meal from his native Mysore. This was the day that Anna had said he’d show me something. And he did as promised; he showed me how to make a spectacular dish which he called “Mysore chilli chicken”. And what was even more amazing is that he was going to make it without adding any food color. Till today, I have searched online for this recipe and I have never found one that looked anything like his. It was bright orange/red and tasted divine. It came served with steamed rice. It was spicy, it was hot and it was pure Carnatic music on a plate!!

I will never forget Anna who showed me his mastery of cooking.

Food is like music. It should be relaxing, refreshing, and nourishing. Just like the music you love, it should inspire and move, exhilarate and excite. Flavors, colors, and smells should intermingle on your palate and raise the senses. For Anna the master, everything was easy, he was a smooth conductor and I learnt from him that cooking is like playing an instrument. It requires practice and respect; patience and a willingness to learn. You make mistakes, you try again, and you master your performance.

Thank you Anna for being one of my early Aachiriyars!!
VANAIKKAM ANNA!!!

Well folks, there you have it. Men after my own heart. Food cooked with skill, endless practise and passion.

So, what do we know about our friend Raman Natrajan?

 Raman Natrajan

Well, he started his career in Madras in the early 80s at the Chola Sheraton. I guess I was somewhere there around that time and that is how we met.

Time went by, as it tends to do . . . Raman joined the ITDC, I joined the Taj group of hotels.

Raman went to America to further his career in the hotel industry and I moved ‘Down Under’ to become a DESI cook. . .!

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Raman went on to work for the Sheraton Hotel as their Executive Chef in New Orleans, followed by a stint at the Renaissance Stanford in San Francisco, until 2004.

Today he heads the hotel operations of the Marriott Hotels in the US. This is no mean feat for someone who was groomed in the ‘hot’ kitchens of Madras under the tutelage of the great Anna!!

And without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, mouth-watering recipe itself.

Mysore Chilli Chicken

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off folks, here are a few of Anna’s tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

“Taraporee Prawn Patio”: Nergis’ 100-year-old prawn recipe!!

Mrs Nergis in Bangalore at home!

Don’t understand the title? Well then, keep reading . . . all will be explained!

No kidding, friends, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear a 90-year-old chef from Bangalore talk about this yummy prawn dish, and I mean literally ‘talk’!!

But before we do the talk, let’s answer a few questions that I’m sure you’ve got.

Firstly, who is Nergis?

Secondly, what’s so special about Tarapore?

And, thirdly, what in the world is Prawn patio?

Well, let’s answer these questions ‘back to front’, as it were, starting from the last.

Thirdly, Prawn patio aka kolmino patio is fried prawns (in a spice mix, or masala, which uses only five  ingredients besides the ubiquitous salt and oil) and the end result is the most amazing prawn dish that one can have as a side dish, or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course, or as a . . . well, you get the idea . . . or, as all of the above!!

nergis’ taraporee prawn patio

Secondly, Tarapore is a small town about 100 km north of Mumbai and this is where Nergis’ family hails from. (In fact, her family are Parsis who originally came from Iran but left that part of the world when the Islamasition of Iran started , a few hundred years ago.) Nergis’ surname, Tarapore, comes from the name of the town where her family settled!!

Today the town of Tarapore is a lonely one. Now there are only about five Parsis living there and they are all in aged-care centres.

Most other Tarapore residents have left and are now living in different parts of India – as well as the rest of the world!

Which brings us back to our first question about who Nergis is.

So, let me introduce you properly to this wonderful lady.

Nergis was born in Madras in 1922.

She moved to Bangalore when she was 29 years old. She married Mr Dalal and has seven children.

She also has, as you can imagine, lots and lots of grandchildren and even more great grandchildren!

When she was young, girls were not encouraged to study (which still makes her furious to this day) but that did not stop Nergis from becoming a nursing aide in St Martha’s hospital in Bangalore.

She was a very active social worker and she was also heavily involved in teaching English language to poor and destitute kids who would otherwise have never been taught.

Nergis has also helped many relatives and elderly people depart from this world with dignity who would otherwise have received no support whatsoever from society or the local government.

“My Mum is the most amazing person,” says her daughter, Ivy, with great pride. She then goes on to add that she is also an incredible cook!!

Well, you know me, folks. That grabs my attention even more. Someone I can admire and someone whose brains I can pick about food.

Well, there’s no doubt about it, Ivy. The dish I made last night following your mum’s recipe had my neighbours complaining about the kitchen exhaust not working!! No, that’s not a negative thing, it’s a positive thing as the aromas of the cooking were out of this world!

I think it’s so important to keep alive the oral tradition of cooking. It’s how family recipes were passed down from one generation to the other. I still remember my mother’s aunt would ‘talk’ the recipe of puda chi wadi as she cooked it.

I’d like to have all these wise people tell us about some dish that’s important to them in some way, whether it’s because a dish reminds them of their childhood, or because it reminds them of their village, or of a loved one, or because it reminds them of a particular incident , or whatever the reason.

We should share these testimonies and I hope you enjoy this dish as much as I do. Experience, like cooking from the heart, is not something you can ever put a price upon. No Dollar, no Rupee!!!

Nergis at the stove and very much ‘at home’!!

Well then, now that we have seen the video and heard all that Nergis has to say about this ancient prawn dish (kolmino patio), it is time to enter the kitchen.

Ingredients:
1. 1 kg green prawns (with shell)

2. 2 1/2 tablespoons brown cumin seeds

3. 3 cloves of garlic, peeled

4. 1/2 cup brown vinegar or apple cider vinegar

5.1 teaspoon turmeric powder

6. 2 teaspoons chilli powder

7. 1 teaspoon salt

8. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

clockwise from left to right: roasted cumin seeds, brown vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), garlic cloves, vegetable oil, turmeric, salt & chilli powder and prawns (centre)

Method:

1. Remove the shell from the prawns, devein and refrigerate.

shelled & deveined prawns

2. Roast the cumin seeds and let cool.

roasting cumin seeds

3. Grind the cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar to a fine paste.

cumin seeds, garlic cloves and brown vinegar for the ‘masala’

‘masala’ ground to a fine paste

4. In a pan, add the oil and immediately add the spice mix (masala).

add ‘masala’ to cold oil

5. Add the turmeric, chilli powder and salt to the masala.

add the turmeric, chilli powder & salt to the ‘masala’

6. Cook over moderate heat until the spice mix is cooked and the oil rises to the surface. (See no. 1 below.)

mix well and cook over moderate heat

the ‘masala’ starts to change colour

the ‘masala’ is ready when it starts to bubble and the oil leaves the sides of the pan

7. Add the prawns and fold in the spice mix (masala) till it coats the prawns.

add the prawns

prawns coated with ‘masala’

8. Increase the heat and cover the pan. Cook for 1 minute and then reduce heat to moderate-high.

prawns ready to be covered

cover with lid

8. When cooked, serve the prawns as an accompaniment with dhaan dal (rice and dal), or as a salad, or as a pickle, or as a main course with Indian flat breads, or . . . well, the choices are endless!

serve on a bed of salad leaves

ready for the ‘masala’

drizzle some ‘masala’ on the prawns

nergis’ taraporee prawn patio

And finally, a few facts to remember when cooking this dish:

1. Start cooking the spice mix (masala) in cold oil. Heat the oil after the spice mix has been added. Adding the spice mix to the cold oil helps cook it till the flavours from the ground spices comes out without burning it!

2. If brown vinegar is not available, don’t panic!, you can use apple cider vinegar instead.

3. This dish can also be made with fish, especially a dried fish called boomla (that’s known as ‘Bombay Duck’ to lots of you which is a fish inspite of its misleading name!) and it can then be used as a pickle!

4. You can use any leftover spice mix to cook with slices of eggplant, or grated carrots, and “don’t over do them” as Nergis suggests.

5. Nergis mentions “every day fire” which means whatever fuel you use whether it’s gas, electricity, or even cooking coal and not too high heat !!

6. Lastly, Nergis says, “Enjoy, eat well and be healthy.”

Well, if you didn’t hear Nergis say that, that’s fine, nor did I, but she means it from the bottom of her heart!!!

SHUKRIYA NERGIS!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!

A refined dish from a Michelin starred chef, and yes, he is Indian!!!!

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Baked black cod: perfect fusion of Indian and Japanese!

In 1988, when I was given the responsibility of running the kitchen of The Gateway Hotel in Bangalore, I was thrilled, I was excited, I was emotional but I was also very, very nervous!!

I had been given the task of starting up a new hotel kitchen which meant doing the menus (besides doing other daily tasks like staff training) for the restaurants, the coffee shop, the banquets, the room service, the bbq and, last but not least, the Karavalli seafood restaurant!!

Under normal circumstances this is a routine job performed by a team that includes the general manager, the food and beverage manager, the restaurant manager, the executive chef and the sous-chef.

But here I was all by myself.

I had no sous-chef, in fact I had no other chef who I could turn to.

Yes, we had Prabhakar, Bernadett, Piyush and Sriram who were all designated as ‘chefs’ but they were all acting under the umbrella term ‘training’.

This meant they had to prove themselves after undergoing a rigorous training program over a period of time. And ‘time’ is what was in short supply. The menus had to be completed ‘the day before yesterday’, the food trials had to be completed ‘yesterday’ and the menu had to be ready ‘today’!!

It’s non-stop pressure from the vice-president down to the last man in the hierarchy, who is generally the sous-chef.

However, since we had no sous-chef in the kitchen brigade Sriram put his hand up and took a big load off my shoulders by taking responsibility of running the kitchen when I was busy in “menu planning meetings” and what an amazing job he did!!

This was probably the initial stages of the making of a leader in him and he soon took over the job of executive chef of The Gateway Hotel after I left.

In 1998, Sriram was made executive chef of the world-renowned Quilon restaurant, in London, and he has taken this restaurant to another level with his leadership and innovation without compromising on the ‘ethnicity’ of the cuisine.

Quilon has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2008.

As Winston Churchill said (and I’m quoting loosely!), “With the price of greatness comes responsibility”!!

Friends, here is a very special dish from Quilon called . . . Well, let’s hear about this dish from the chef himself!

Sriram putting finishing touches to whole sea-bass cooked with chopped button onion, tomato, lime juice and chilli, served wrapped in banana leaf

“All art forms, be it dancing, music, painting or cuisine need to progress for their very own existence and relevance to time. Like all art forms, even cuisine has classic, modern, contemporary and many other forms which are also part of the evolution of cooking.

At the Quilon we do food from the south-west coast of India – we do food from Kerala, Mangalore, Karvar and Goa. Being coastal we do a large selection of fish, seafood and vegetables and a good selection of meat, chicken, game, etc.

Quilon does classical dishes like Allepy fish curry, Kerala chicken roast, Bibinca from Goa, Mangalorean Chicken. However, we have a large selection of dishes which we have created in our kitchen. Now, I call this part of the menu progressive cooking.”

This guy is great! He speaks my language, I had to butt in, folks, and this is what he means by ‘progressive cooking.’

That:

• “The perishable ingredient should be locally available.
• The spices, herbs and other non-perishable ingredients should be from the south-west coast of India.
• The technique of cooking could be from any part of the world and the most modern available. This is the way we use sous vide, thermo mix, combi oven, etc.

The method to this madness is because we would like our dishes to be part of the south-west coast cuisine. . . Hopefully one day some of these recipes will be done back home in India and accepted as if they existed forever.”

Me again. That’s exactly it! Modernising our cuisine, developing it, using contemporary equipment (and ingredients!) but always remaining true to our culinary heritage. Okay, so the dish Sriram chose to share with us is Baked Black Cod, and here he is again:

“The inspiration to this dish is the Japanese miso cod. It is so simple but yet so complex. The sourness and sharpness of the miso comes from tamarind and chillies. We have also given the flavour of fenugreek which is very much part of Indian cuisine. The sweetness comes from jaggery. All in all it tastes very south Indian, I believe, but it looks so Japanese. The greatest compliment we had was when a respected food critic said that Quilon’s cod gives run for the money to the best Japanese miso black cod he has eaten. I hope you enjoy this recipe like we do.”

And that, folks, is from the chef himself and here is his recipe. Let me know what you think! Let me know if you like this fusion of Indian and Japanese.

Baked Black Cod

Serves: 1

Ingredients

500 g Black Cod Fillet (cut into large chunks), I am using Barramundi fish fillet instead
30 g Tamarind Pulp
15 g Palm Jaggery
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tbs Honey
1 clove Garlic (crushed)
1 tsp Fenugreek
1 tsp Malt Vinegar
Salt to taste
Oil for frying

Method:

1. Clean, wash and dry the fish with a clean cloth and keep aside.

ingredients: starting from top clockwise, salt, malt vinegar, fenugreek, crushed garlic, chilli powder, tamarind concentrate, palm sugar, honey and the fillet of barra

2. In a clean saucepan, combine the tamarind pulp, jaggery, chilli powder, honey, crushed garlic, fenugreek, vinegar, salt and 1 cup of water.

pour water into a clean saucepan, add all the ingredients for the marinade

cook till the marinade reduces and looks like double (thick) cream

3. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook till it becomes thick. (Double cream consistency.) Strain and cool.

this is the marinade for the fish, strained.

now the marinade is ready for the fish

4. Marinate the fish with the mixture for at least 12 hours.

marinating the fish

wrap and keep the fish in marinade for 12 hours

marinated fish after 12 hours

5. Heat a pan, pour in a little oil and sear/seal the fish until it turns light brown, remove from the pan and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 210-30 C for 5-6 mins.

getting the pan/grill ready for the fish

sealing/searing the fish

sealing/searing the fish on the other side

seared/sealed fish, ready for the oven

placing the fish into the oven (temperature 210c-230c)

6. Heat the remaining marination in a pan and add some water to thin it down.

getting the sauce ready

straining the sauce

completed sauce for the fish

7. Place fish on a serving plate and spoon some of the sauce on top, serve hot.

fish ready from the oven

pouring the sauce on the fish, I am serving it with a salad!

voila, black fish!!

And I want to share just a few other facts about Chef Sriram.

Apparently he imports more fresh Indian spices than any other Indian restaurant in Britain which are ground and mixed carefully to create special recipes for his restaurant.

We know about his fusion of traditional and modern cooking, and here are some great juxtapositions of food his restaurant serves that I want to share: Spotted Grouper spiced with Chilli, Lemon, Mustard and Herbs, Lobster with Mango and Ginger and whole Sea-Bass cooked with chopped Button Onion, Tomato, Lime Juice and Chilli, served wrapped in Banana Leaf. More traditional dishes such as Avial, Chicken Korma and Malabar Lamb Biryani sit happily alongside Duck Breast, Pot Roasted with Red Chilli Paste, Onion, Aniseed and Tomato and Supreme of Guinea Fowl Braised with Onion, Green Chilli, Cardamom and Coconut.

And the history of Sriram?

Well, I’m giving you a potted version of his career but it was apparently his dad who inspired in him his passion for food. He went on to study at the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition in India. In 1989 he joined the Taj group of hotels, as you all know, and became the executive chef of the Gateway Hotel in Bangalore. Then, with the award-winning restaurant Karavalli he continued to rise and gain accolades, one of the best being that his restaurant is the only southern Indian restaurant in the world to have one Michelin star.

Well folks. There you have it! What more can I add to that except, I guess, that if you happen to be in central London, during the Olympics or the Ashes or to meet the Queen, go and try for yourself?!
Till then,

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

This dish is the crowning accomplishment in any Indian chef’s career!!

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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!

biryani garam masala: includes cassia, cardamom, clove, black cardamom, nutmeg, mace, bayleaf, peppercorn, fennel

On a recent visit to my ‘spiritual hometown’, Hyderabad, I was shocked to hear that there were only six gharana chefs (called khansamas) still alive who could cook the classic dish kachche gosht ki biryani!

This dish was considered to be the ultimate measure of a chef’s skill that would guarantee him the title of “Masterchef”, if he could create it.

These artistes were a breed apart, and in the 60s and 70s they were the only people invited to cook for the Nawab and the Nizam families.

So what became of these ustaads?

Speaking to some of the local residents of the old city, I was told that the fine art of making kachche gosht ki biryani was all but lost as it was becoming surpassed by poorer versions.

A classic kachche gosht ki biryani requires genuine patience and untold love, what we call fursat and mohabbat, and there were plenty of those virtues and emotions, alive and kicking, in the land of the Biryanis!! This Biryani is made with partially cooked rice being layered on top of marinated meat which is ‘raw’ and is then ‘dum cooked’ till the meat and rice come out perfectly cooked!!

However, as the years have passed, people seem to have lost their love for really good, slow food, that is cooked with genuine expertise, and with that they have also, sadly, lost the creators of the dishes along the way.

Most of these chefs ended up dying penniless. What a shame for us all, because not only did we lose the art of cooking this dish properly, we also lost a genuine knowledge base and mentoring.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as I was extremely lucky to meet one of the ‘survivors’ of this fine art a long time ago.

It was the way he cooked, and the narrative he gave whilst cooking this classic dish, when I had the privilege of working with him, that I’d like to share with you this week.

The ustaad starts by describing the dish as khuda ki daen, meaning G-d’s gift’, and says that it is all about technique and constant, constant practise. Furthermore, he adds, chewing his paan with great relish, the more you try the better you become and, of course, the closer you get to All-h!!

Friends, on the 15th anniversary of nilgiri’s, we salaam these ustaads for helping us preserve this ancient art!!

So, here is my version of the classic kachche gosht ki biryani. It is cooked with deep respect, with patience, with love, and home-made garam masala. What more could one want?!

The dish revolves around six basic techniques:

1. The caramelisation of the onions.
2. The making of garam masala (click here for its recipe).
3. The marination of the meat.
4. The cooking of the rice until it is ek kan or al dente.
5. The layering of the rice over the marinated meat.
6. The dum (baking) of the dish.

Ingredients

Ingredients for biryani, clockwise: caramelised onions, crushed ginger, crushed garlic, garam masala, ground chilli, turmeric, crushed chillies, salt, chopped coriander leaves, chopped mint leaves, yoghurt, saffron threads [soaked in milk]

saffron-infused milk

caramelised onions

To make caramelised onions, watch my caramelised onions video

1 kg goat meat [on the bone], soaked in water to remove any blood

Marinating the goat
Step 1

add half caramelised onions and fold

Step 2

add garlic and fold, then add ginger and fold

Step 3

next add garam masala and fold

For the garam masala recipe, click biryani garam masala recipe.

Step 4

add crushed chillies and fold

Step 5

add 1/2 of the chilli powder and fold

Step 6

add turmeric and fold

Step 7

add 1/2 each of the coriander and mint, and fold

Step 8

add yoghurt and fold

Step 9

add 2 tablespoons oil and fold

Step 10

add 1/2 saffron-infused milk and fold

Step 11

set aside marinated goat for about 1 1/2 hours

Preparing the pot

Step 1

place goat in a large pot so it occupies 1/3 of the pot and add the remaining chilli powder. Do not clean the mixing bowl previously used to marinade the meat

Step 2

add remaining chopped coriander and mint to create a layer

Step 3

add remaining caramelised onions to create a layer

Step 4

set pot aside

Preparing the rice

Step 1

place rice in mixing bowl then add enough water so rice is covered by 2cm of water

Step 2

the rice will absorb the water – when it touches the top of the water the rice is ready to go into boiling water

Step 3

place water in the empty bowl in which you marinated the goat, swill it around, and then pour it into a large saucepan an bring to a boil

Step 4

drain rice and add to boiling water

Step 5

stir rice, but gradually, so the grains don’t break

Step 6

cook rice until it rises to the surface and the water has returned to the boil

Step 7

Cooking the biryani

add drained rice to saucepan containing marinated goat

Step 2

add remaining saffron milk on top of the rice

Step 3

place damp tea-towel on top of the rice

Step 4

Make a soft dough with wholemeal flour, pinch of salt and water (you’ll find full quantities for this in the one-page recipe below).

place dough collar around rim of pot

Step 5

place a lid on top of the pot and seal the gap with the dough

Step 6

half fill saucepan with water and heat pot on moderate  heat

Step 7

when steam escapes from the dough collar the biryani is starting to cook

Step 8

reduce heat and place pot in pre-heated fan forced oven [160C]. When the dough is cooked the biryani is cooked as well after about 1hr !!

Step 9

remove pot and saucepan and break off dough

Step 10

remove tea-towel

Step 11

mix rice and goat together

Step 12

serve KGKB with a mirch ka saalan!

If the Biryani is called the king of Indian Food, then KGKB is called the king of Biryanis!!

Click biryani for a one-page recipe and also, click mirchi ka salaan for a one-page recipe of this delicious, tangy side dish.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

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