Rinku Bhattacharya – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 Lentils And Legumes For Good Luck In The New Year /world/lentils-and-legumes-for-good-luck-in-the-new-year/ /world/lentils-and-legumes-for-good-luck-in-the-new-year/#respond Sat, 30 Dec 2017 10:00:41 +0000 /?p=71649 Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

As the new year emerges, the world welcomes a fresh start, usually with hopes of a new beginning with some luck thrown into the mix. The practice of welcoming a new cycle in the calendar is probably one of the most universal holiday celebrations in the world, and it is often celebrated by eating legumes for luck. I love the idea of a new start as much as I love the seasons, and over the years I have relished the idea of welcoming the new year with simplicity and good, wholesome food.

Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are considered to be symbolic of money, and thus considered a harbinger of prosperity and good luck in the new year. Several of them resemble coins, and the fact that they swell up when soaked in water also extends the analogy that the prosperity grows with time.

Traditions vary in different parts of the world. In Italy there is a preference for sausages with green lentils eaten just after midnight. In a similar vein, in Germany they ring in the new year with split peas, while in Japan lucky foods eaten during the first three days of the year include sweet black beans. Closer to home in the southern United States, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas in a dish called Hopping John. When the dish is served with collard greens, the odds of prosperity are increased, because green symbolizes the color of money.

On an Indian table, legumes are a cornerstone ingredient, soul food actually, something that we celebrate on days good and bad, so the idea of a bowl of legumes served any which way easily translates to good luck for me.

The new year often comes with resolutions for eating healthy, and legumes are healthy and readily available during the winter months when other things are somewhat lean. The cornucopia of red, yellow, green and white lentils, along with the dozens of red, white and black beans, ensure we have plenty of options to pick from at the beginning of the year and beyond.

Legumes are rich in protein and high in fiber and are lower in calories than most meat-based sources of protein, offering a healthy and filling option for your plates and palates. While most legumes will cook down to soft and satisfying goodness, they have a whole variety of flavors, tastes and textures to ensure your palate is interesting and innovative.

Most beans and complex lentils can be cooked ahead of time in a slow cooker for four hours or for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker. Cook legumes with water and a little salt and use in your recipe as needed. Cooked beans and lentils can be stored in your refrigerator for up to five days or alternately place them in a zip-lock bag and freeze to use as needed.

The water the beans are cooked in is actually fairly tasty and good for you and can be added to soups and stews. On any given week, I have a few of these bags handy and ready to be added into flavorful dishes, assuring me full-flavored stews without the trappings of extra sodium and preservatives.

For your new year, I offer you two versions of classic dishes the way we enjoy them in my household and a recipe for collard greens to ensure we are in the green for the coming year.

Hopping John (Rice Cooked With Black-Eyed Peas)

Hoppin John. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Hoppin John. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

For my recipe for this Southern dish, I have actually ditched all meat-based products to create a dish that is flavorful and delicate. If served with love and affection, it will indeed convince you that this year you shall be lucky with or without money. My secret ingredient is that I do, in fact, cook my black-eyed peas from scratch and save some of the simmering liquid to use for cooking my rice dish. The dish resembles a pilaf, which probably takes it closer to the Senegalese roots of this traditional dish.

Of course, to maximize the green, I garnish my variation of Hopping John with finely chopped green onions. New Year’s or otherwise, add this dish to your table and you are bound to feel well-nourished on a cold day. For a quick visual of how to make this dish, watch this video.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium-sized onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped

1 or 2 carrots, diced

1 cup white rice (I used basmati rice, which will give this recipe a very delicate and elegant finish.)

2 1/2 cups stock or water

1 cup cooked black-eyed peas

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)

Chopped green onions for garnish

Directions

  1. In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens considerably and begins to turn pale golden.
  3. Add the celery and carrot and stir well.
  4. Stir in the rice and mix well. Add the stock or the water and cup of black-eyed peas.
  5. Add the salt and the pepper and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook the rice for 18 minutes. Note: This time works for basmati rice; for other rice varieties allow a few more minutes. Essentially the rice should be soft and all the water should be absorbed.
  6. Let the rice rest for about 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff. Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar if using and garnish with the green onions if using.

Note: If you are cooking the black-eyed peas yourself, save the cooking liquid and use it for the rice, in lieu of the stock or water.

Pasta With Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas

This southern Italian dish is often made with brown lentils and spicy Italian sausage and often enjoyed on New Year’s Day. I make this with chickpeas and add lots of fresh basil to provide a fresh touch of brightness. Since we like our flavors spicy, I use andouille chicken or turkey sausage and add in some freshly ground cumin and fennel. For a quick visual on how to make this dish, watch this video.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red onion, very finely diced

1 1/2 cup of crushed red tomatoes or tomato sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3/4 cup of cooked chickpeas

1 cup of chopped spicy sausage (Italian or andouille)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground fennel

1 1/2 cups pasta cooked until al dente (a small shape such as a pipette or ditalini)

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil

Freshly grated Parmesan to finish

Directions

  1. Heat the oil and add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic is pale golden. Add in the onions and sauté until soft and wilted (about 4 to 5 minutes).
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes and the sugar with about 1/2 cup of water.
  3. Stir in the salt and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the chickpeas, sausage cumin and fennel and cook through for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta and mix well.
  6. Turn off the heat, garnish with the chopped basil and Parmesan and serve.

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This dish is a beautiful medley of root vegetables, tossed with very finely chopped collard greens tossed in an assertive Asian-inspired marinade.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

For the roasted vegetables:

2 medium-sized turnips
3 medium-sized carrots
4 small to medium parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I have a strong preference for Crown Maple Syrup)
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

For the greens and the remaining dressing:
1 medium-sized bunch of collard greens
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Sesame seeds for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Peel the turnips, carrots, parsnips and julienne into thin strips.
  3. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan. In a small bowl mix the olive oil, ginger, maple syrup and the tamari, and drizzle the vegetables with the mixture.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, stack the collard leaves over each other and thinly slice the leaves, to create a chiffonade. Place in a large bowl.
  6. Add in the roasted vegetables, reserving the pan juices.
  7. Pour the pan juices into a mixing bowl, add in the sesame oil, cayenne pepper, olive oil and vinegar and mix well.
  8. Add the dressing to the collard and vegetable mixture and toss lightly. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

Main photo: Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

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No-Fuss Indian Food You’ll Want To Cook Every Day /world/no-fuss-indian-food-youll-want-to-cook-every-day/ /world/no-fuss-indian-food-youll-want-to-cook-every-day/#respond Sat, 25 Nov 2017 10:00:35 +0000 /?p=72798 Bengali Yogurt Fish Curry (Doi Maach). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Indian cooking gets a bad reputation for being daunting and almost too difficult to fit into your everyday repertoire. This misconception may be gradually changing, but not quite fast enough. But on the contrary, everyday Indian cooking is flavorful, practical and filled with all the health benefits from spices that we all want to incorporate into our lives.

A core component of the essential taste of Indian food is ensuring the flavors are fresh and bright and not bogged down by unnecessary reheating and refreshing, something often the trademark of the average restaurant fare. In addition to emphasizing the simplicity of preparation, I also am a big proponent of cooking with practical and readily found ingredients, minimizing the need for multiple visits to grocery store.

The key to Indian food is in the spices

If you are intimidated by Indian spices, a fair number of the typical seasonings are available in a well-stocked grocery store, and the rest can be kept stocked by an annual or every-six-months trip to an Indian specialty store. Shortcuts and practical cooking are not uncommon in the Indian home kitchen; after all, the Indian home cook is as time-strapped as anyone else.

Stocking a basic spice pantry can go a long way toward cooking your favorite Indian meals on short notice. The basics for me would be the essential Indian spice kit from my “Spices & Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors” cookbook: turmeric (sold in powdered form), red cayenne pepper, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, fresh cilantro, ginger and garlic.

To add to the basics, you can include dried fenugreek leaves, green cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, whole black peppercorns, whole mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves. It’s nothing terribly daunting if you give the list a fighting chance and open your horizons to a world of Indian flavors.

A note of advice and caution: While we can simplify the list of ingredients, it is important to use fresh spices.They are the soul of a flavor-based cuisine and cannot be substituted using a jar of ready-made curry, something that really is a misfit in most Indian kitchens.

The next step beyond stocking the spices is learning to use them. I personally use spices to create the foods of my childhood: simple, nourishing flavors that have sustained me every day. However, through teaching people how to cook Indian food, I have learned most people rush to the kitchen to replicate the flavors that have tantalized their taste buds in the last festive meal they savored. This is sometimes their first blush with the cuisine and often what captivates their imagination and what they want to re-create in their own kitchen.

Keeping this in mind, I offer you practical versions of three classic Indian dishes and suggestions for a few others. In these dishes, I have simplified the cooking techniques and used everyday ingredients to conjure up practical variations of dishes that will take you to three diverse parts of India.

Creamy, Well-Seasoned Black Beans

Creamy Well-seasoned Black Beans. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Creamy, Well-Seasoned Black Beans. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This recipe for black beans is inspired by the classic Indian black lentil recipe, found in restaurants called Dal Makhani. Other than using everyday black beans, I have lightened the recipe significantly and developed it for a slow cooker, where it happily cooks into perfection. If you do not have a slow cooker, you can do this on the stove top in a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Prep time: 2 to 3 hours (to soak the beans)

Cook time: 4 hours in a slow cooker

Total time: About 7 hours, mostly unattended.

Yield: Makes 8servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups dried black beans

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 4 cloves)

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 red onions, finely diced

1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon red cayenne powder, or to taste

4 tomatoes, diced, or 1 cup canned chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (optional)

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Diced or sliced red onions for serving

Directions

1. Place the black beans in plenty of water and soak for 2 to 3 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.

2. If your slow cooker has a saute function, turn it on and add the olive oil. Otherwise, you can do this in a skillet on the stove.

3. Add in the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, add in the ginger and the garlic and saute until the onions are soft and golden.

4. Add in the cumin, coriander, salt and red cayenne pepper and cook for a minute.

5. Add in the tomatoes and cook for 2 more minutes. If using a skillet, move the mixture to the slow cooker. Once the tomatoes are soft and pulpy, add this mixture to the slow cooker, add in the black beans with 3 cups of water and cook on low for 4 hours.

6. Remove the cover and stir in the fenugreek leaves, sour cream and cilantro before serving.

Note: You do want a fairly thick gravy for this dish. If your sauce is too thin, remove to the stove top and thicken for about a half hour before adding in the sour cream.

Bengali Yogurt Fish Curry (Doi Maach)

This signature fish curry is often a wedding dish, a beautiful meal reminiscent of a korma. The traditional version uses fish steaks deep-fried and immersed in a delicate yogurt sauce that is slow-cooked to perfection. My version uses salmon fillet, which offers a rich, dense flesh without the need for deep-frying. I use Greek yogurt to ensure a thick gravy without the precision and care of low and slow simmering in a heavy-bottomed copper pot, which is traditional for cooking Bengali food.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet (or any other firm-fleshed fish)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

3 green cardamoms

1-inch piece of cinnamon

6 to 8 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 cup Greek yogurt, beaten

1 tablespoon raisins

Whole red chilies and slivered almonds for garnish

Directions

1. Cut the salmon into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

2. Combine 1 teaspoon of the salt and the red cayenne pepper and sprinkle over the fish.

3. Combine the cardamoms, cinnamon and garlic cloves in a bowl and break a few times using a mortar.

4. Heat the oil and add in the broken spices and the onion. Cook the seasoned onion low and slow until wilted, soft and crispy. This should take about 10 minutes.

5. Add in the grated ginger, cumin and coriander and mix well. Stir in the remaining salt and sugar and mix in the yogurt with 1/2 cup of water.

6. Cook until the yogurt is well mixed and gets a pale ivory color.

7. Add in the fish pieces in a single layer and mix in the raisins.

8. Cook the mixture until the fish is cooked through (about 15 to 20 minutes).

9. Garnish with the chilies and slivered almonds and serve.

Kerala Chicken Stew

Kerala Chicken Stew. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Kerala Chicken Stew. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This delicate and subtly spiced stew is a signature dish on Sunday mornings, usually served with lacy and flavorful appams. The stew is usually cooked with layers of freshly made coconut milk and develops its flavor from local produce such as green plantains and taro root. In this recipe, I have used practical stewing vegetables such as fresh carrots, baby potatoes and corn to create a dish that is just as good for your cool Sunday table.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 to 3 tablespoons oil (You can use coconut oil)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

10 to 15 curry leaves

1 red onion, diced

2 to 3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 large cinnamon stick

2 to 3 pods green cardamom

2 pounds of chicken, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced

3 to 4 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 to 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Directions

1. Heat the oil and add in the mustard seeds, then wait until the seeds begin to crackle. Add in the curry leaves and red onion and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes, until the onions are soft and beginning to turn pale golden.

2. Add in the garlic and ginger and stir well, cooking for about 1 minute.

3. Stir in the black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick and cardamom and mix in the chicken with the salt. Stir and cook the chicken for about 10 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the chicken is well seared.

4. Add in the tomatoes and mix well.

5. Stir in the carrots and potatoes and the coconut milk and simmer the mixture for 25 minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are tender.

6. Add in the green peas and simmer for 2 minutes.

7. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

Main image: Bengali Yogurt Fish Curry (Doi Maach). Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

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Seasonal Hummus: Four Fresh Recipes /world-wrecipe/75835/ /world-wrecipe/75835/#respond Thu, 26 Oct 2017 09:00:43 +0000 /?p=75835 Cilantro and Jalapeño Hummus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

My first taste of hummus came years ago, at a potluck dinner I was organizing. Even before tasting the dip I was drawn to its elegant appearance, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with paprika.

From that first experience I could never have known hummus would become my claim to fame and salvation — in certain circles at least.

I liked hummus well enough before it took American tables by storm, but it was my son, then 3, who started my journey with this Levantine dip that originated in Egypt. When he declared he liked it and asked whether I could make it, I started experimenting and haven’t looked back.

At its most basic, hummus is a simple, six-ingredient dip made with chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, garlic, lemon and salt. Healthy, delicious and versatile, hummus in Arabic means “chickpeas,” which certainly sounds much cooler than their other name, garbanzo beans.

The everyday chickpeas that I use in stews and other assorted recipes found yet another purpose in my kitchen with hummus. When children ask for something healthy, it is a mom’s call to action, and I am no different.  If your youngsters positively love something good for them, you thank the heavens and give them what they want.

Through my experimentation making hummus, I’ve come to realize it is all about the chickpeas. A good hummus should be reasonably smooth, but not greasy; therefore, the softness of the chickpeas is essential.

When I make hummus, I do not skin the chickpeas. I’m told this is the everyday, authentic way, of course as with any cult food I’m sure there are people who would swear otherwise. However, as with all beans and legumes, there is a big difference between cooking your own chickpeas and using the canned variety.

Cooking them yourself adds a light, rich flavor without the trapping of extra salt. I soak chickpeas and cook them until they are extra soft, discarding any loose skins along the way.

As hummus has become a staple in our lives, gracing sandwiches (yes, my children prefer hummus to mayo on their sandwiches) at parties and playdates, I began to experiment with the flavors. Over time, I have created an assortment of variations, most of which have their own dedicated fans.

Like everything I cook, my hummus variations celebrate the seasons of life. Here are four variations that we enjoy at various times of year.

When the chives come in as the first harbinger of spring, I make a chive and black pepper hummus with a dose of parsley thrown in for good measure. The spring hummus brings with it memories of tiny green leaves, daffodils and birds in our backyard.

Then with the summer sun comes other herbs, including my favorite — hauntingly fragrant cilantro. During the hot months, I make a refreshing cilantro hummus, sometimes spiced up with a little jalapeño. The summer hummus reminds me of smoke and grilling, beach times and picnics by the sea.

Fall is all about peppers and brings to my table roasted red bell pepper hummus, reminding me of getting back to school because it is very often our lunchtime hummus.

Finally, as winter arrives, I make a ruby-red hummus colored and flavored by roasted carrots and beets and tinged with the natural sweetness of the roasted vegetables. This is a hummus for holiday entertaining and snowy winter days. I usually have it by my side as I write my holiday cards.

Chive and Cracked Black Pepper Hummus

Chive and Cracked Black Pepper Hummus. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Chive and Cracked Black Pepper Hummus. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This hummus is for people who like the dip drier and enjoy a touch of spice. The hint of parsley thrown into the hummus gives it a nice grassy freshness. Using the skins from the cooked chickpeas adds just the right touch of texture to this rich and creamy dip.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes

Yield: About 1 3/4 cups

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (reserve cooking liquid)

1 1/2 tablespoon chopped parsley

1/3 cup tahini

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

1 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped chives

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Directions

1. Place the chickpeas, with about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid , in a food processor or blender and pulse several times. You want to retain some of the texture.

2. Add the parsley, tahini, olive oil, garlic and salt and blend until smooth. Cut the lemon in half, squeeze in the juice and stir. Taste to ensure it is tart enough, adding more lemon juice as necessary.

3. Stir in the chives, leaving a little for garnish.

4. Add the black pepper and stir well.

5. Garnish with additional chives and black pepper and enjoy.

Cilantro and Jalapeño Hummus

This hummus is for people who like the dip spicy, flavorful and creamy.

Prep time: 10 to 15 minutes

Total time: 10 to 15 minutes

Yield: About 1 3/4 cups

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (reserve cooking liquid)

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus extra for garnish

1 jalapeño pepper, minced and chopped

2 cloves garlic

7 tablespoons tahini

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Salt to taste

1 lemon

Directions

1. Place the chickpeas, with about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid, into a food processor or blender and pulse several times. You want to retain some of the texture.

2. Add the cilantro, jalapeño, garlic, tahini, olive oil and salt and blend till smooth.

3. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice then stir. Taste to ensure it is tart enough, adding more lemon juice as necessary.

4. Garnish with the extra cilantro and serve.

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus With Mint

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus With Mint. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus With Mint. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This delicate hummus is flavorful and creamy with just a hint of sweetness from the roasted bell peppers. It is my favorite sandwich hummus, perfect with mozzarella and sliced tomatoes.

Cook time: 20 minutes

Prep time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: About 2 1/4 cups

Ingredients

1 medium-sized red bell pepper, quartered and seeded

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons (use a good, fruity variety, the kind you would use for dipping and enjoying in its most natural form)

2 cups cooked chickpeas (reserve cooking liquid)

2 bulbs of garlic

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/3 cup tahini

1 lemon

Sumac, pine nuts and chopped mint leaves for garnishing

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the bell pepper in a small casserole and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of oil and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the bell pepper from the oven and place it and the chickpeas in a food processor or blender with about 1/4 cup of cooking liquid from the chickpeas. Add 1/3 cup olive oil, garlic bulbs, chopped mint leaves, red cayenne pepper, sea salt and tahini and blend to a paste. Add more of the cooking liquid if necessary to get a smooth, soft consistency.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze in the juice then mix well. Place in a serving bowl or platter, gently swirl over the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with sumac, pine nuts and mint leaves to garnish.

Quick Roasted Root Vegetable Hummus

Quick Roasted Root Vegetable Hummus. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Quick Roasted Root Vegetable Hummus. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Cook time: 20 minutes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: About 1 1/4 cup

Ingredients

For the vegetables:

2 medium-sized beets, peeled and diced

2 medium-sized carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 or 2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for serving

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

For the hummus:

1 cup freshly cooked soft chickpeas (reserve cooking liquid)

2 tablespoons tahini

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 or 2 bulbs of garlic

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

4 tablespoons chopped mint

Optional garnish:

Sumac

Slivered almonds

Olive oil

Directions

1. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil, garlic and salt. Spread in a large, flat dish and microwave for 5 minutes. Mix well.

2. Place the chickpeas, 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid, vegetables with the juices, tahini, olive oil, garlic and lime juice in a food processor and process until puréed.

3. Remove from the food processor. Stir in the mint.

4. To plate, drizzle with the sumac, slivered almonds and extra olive oil and serve.

Main photo: Cilantro and Jalapeño Hummus. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

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Marinades Send Grilled Chicken Around The World /chicken-wrecipe/chicken/ /chicken-wrecipe/chicken/#respond Fri, 14 Jul 2017 09:00:50 +0000 /?p=74431 Grilled chicken and vegetables over rice. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

As the calendar starts to reach the other side of July, we are well into grilling season, enjoying the smoke and fire of the grill on longer relaxed evenings. Vegetables, red meat and seafood all work well with the sensuous kiss of fire, but when it comes to grilling, chicken is my personal workhorse.

I find chicken a way to showcase many flavors. A good, healthy marinade is all it needs to make it the star of the season. Add to it your favorite assortment of market veggies and you are in business.

To keep your chicken dishes interesting, you’ll need some serious flavor options up your sleeve. Keep in mind, though, that you do not necessarily need to restrict your options to chicken breasts. You can also try drumsticks, wings or even boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

Marinating at least four hours will ensure a well-seasoned piece of chicken that is perfect over a salad or with your favorite grain, and the leftovers can be added to a simple green salad.

Here are a dozen seasoning ideas and three recipes to get you started on a mix-and-match journey. These ideas fall into three basic categories: sweet and savory; yogurt-based; and olive oil, garlic and seasonal herbs. For vegetarians, these seasoning ideas and recipes will also work well with your favorite fleshy vegetable — think eggplant– or even tofu, so you can also enjoy the fire and smoke of the summer season.

A touch of sweetness

  • Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs: Sweet and spicy flavors come together in this dish. See recipe below.
  • Chutney Spiced Marinade: Combine 1 cup of your favorite chutney (such as tomato or tamarind) with 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 cup chopped mint or cilantro. Blend to a smooth paste and use as a marinade for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
  • Apricot Sage Marinade: Combine 3 tablespoons apricot preserves, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 or 2 jalapeños to taste and 1/4 cup chopped oregano. Blend into a puree and use as a marinade for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
  • Maple-Red Pepper Marinade: Combine 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 1/2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, salt to taste and 1/3 cup olive oil. This will marinate up to 2 pounds of chicken and would also work well for shrimp or tofu.
  • Soy, Ginger and Brown Sugar: Blend 3 tablespoons grated ginger, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1/3 cup olive oil to make a flavorful marinade. You can also use this as a basting sauce if you do not have time to marinade the chicken.

Yogurt-based marinades

  • Chicken Tikka Kebabs: Make a double batch to use in a salad. See  recipe below.
  • Garam Masala Marinade: Combine 3/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, 1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala and 1 tablespoon sugar and salt to taste for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
  • Mint and Cumin Marinade: Combine 3/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup mint leaves, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon powdered cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Marinate up to 2 pounds of chicken for at least two hours.
  • Ginger and Smoked Paprika:  Combine 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon ginger and 1 teaspoon pink salt. Marinate 6 to 8 drumsticks for at least three to four hours.
  • Malai Kebabs: Combine 1/4 cup sour cream, 1 tablespoon garam masala and 1/4 cup cashews and toss with chicken. Serve with freshly chopped mint.

Oil-based marinades

When in a hurry, seasonal herbs and olive oil combine for tasty marinades. Here are a few favorites.

  • Ginger and Lemongrass: For a touch of Thailand, whisk together 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sauce and 3/4 cup of chopped Thai or regular basil. You can also add 2 tablespoons sriracha and 1/4 cup coconut milk depending on your tastes.
  • Mint and Black Pepper: Blend together 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup of mint chutney and 1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper and salt to taste.
  • Mock Tandoori: This dairy-free version marinade is great if you want the flavors of tandoori without the yogurt. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons garam masala powder, 1 tablespoon ginger paste, 1 tablespoon powdered cumin, 1 tablespoon powdered coriander and salt to taste.
  • Herbs of Valhalla: This marinade highlights the profusion of summer herbs. Combine 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1 serrano pepper, stem removed (and seeded if you prefer a milder flavor); 2 cloves garlic; and 2 cups mixed herbs, such as chives, cilantro, basil and mint and blend into a paste.
  • Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs: Combining lemon juice, olive oil and a few basic spices is all you need to create a flavorful meal of chicken and squash. See recipe below.

Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs

Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 45 to 50 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1/3 cup sriracha

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon salt

2 pounds chicken, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 nectarine, stoned and cut into eighths

1 medium red onion, cut into eighths and separated

2 tablespoons olive or mustard oil

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Directions

1. Mix together the sriracha, mustard, ginger, maple syrup and salt and toss the chicken into the mixture. Let it rest for 30 minutes.

2. Skewer the chicken with the nectarine and red onion.

3. Brush well with the oil and grill for about 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently.

4. Remove from the grill. Sprinkle with the nigella seeds and cilantro.

5. Serve with rice or warm pita.

Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs

Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 1 to 2 hours (plus  time to marinate)

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin

1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)

3 to 4 zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch (1-centimeter) slices

1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus more for garnish

Lime or lemon wedges to garnish

Directions

1. Cut the chicken in 1 1/2 -inch chunks and place in a mixing bowl.

2. Add in the garlic, cumin, black pepper, red pepper and olive oil.

3. Stir in the lemon juice and salt and toss well to coat and mix the ingredients.

4. Stir in the zucchini and the oregano and the thyme and set the mixture aside for 1 or 2 hours at room temperature (up to 65 degrees) or refrigerate longer or overnight.

5. When you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and thread onto skewers.

6. Prepare a grill and place the skewers on the grill and cook for about 15 minutes, turning the skewers every 4 to 6 minutes, allowing the chicken to turn crisp at spots and cook through. The zucchini will also soften and turn darker at spots. Baste and brush the chicken with olive oil while cooking.

7. Remove the skewers from the grill. To serve, remove the chicken and zucchini from the skewers, garnish with additional herbs if desired and serve with the lime or lemon wedges.

Chicken Tikka Kebabs

Chicken Tikka Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Chicken Tikka Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

You can watch a  video for preparing this recipe.

Prep time: 4 to 6 hours, including marinating time

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: About 6 hours

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup low-fat yogurt

1-inch piece ginger

3 cloves garlic

2 to 3 green chilies

1 tomato (optional)

1 teaspoon dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi) (optional)

4 tablespoons tandoori masala

2 teaspoons salt

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

Cooking oil or spray

1 medium sized red onion, sliced

For garnish:

Sumac

Lemon or lime wedges

Directions

1. Place the yogurt, ginger, garlic, chilies, tomato, fenugreek, tandoori masala and salt in a blender and grind into a paste.

2. Mix the paste with the chicken and set aside at least two to three hours but optimally four to six hours.

3. Skewer the chicken onto bamboo skewers.

4. Place a grill pan on the stove (this is what I use on weeknights, a regular grill or broiling works well as well) and spray evenly with  cooking spray.

5. Place the chicken on the grill pan and cook 7 to 8 minutes and turn. (The chicken should have golden brown spots across the chicken.)

6. Cook another 5 to 7 minutes.

7. Add the sliced onion to the grill pan and toss for 2 to 3 minutes until they are slightly sautéed.

8. Sprinkle with sumac and serve with lemon or lime wedges.

Main photo: Grilled chicken and vegetables over rice. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

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8 Spicy Secrets For Cool Summer Meals /cooking/8-spicy-secrets-cool-summer-meals/ /cooking/8-spicy-secrets-cool-summer-meals/#comments Wed, 28 Jun 2017 09:00:54 +0000 /?p=66189 The heat of the chilies in this Chili Peanut Relish is nicely balanced by the creamy, crunchy peanuts. This quick dish -- you can make it in about 10 minutes -- is delicious with fish and vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Want a fresh way to spice up your summer grilling routine? Pair those grilled meats with Indian condiments.

While Indian foods are better known for their spicy heat, there are several Indian condiments that can cool off your summer table while appealing to a range of palates: sweet, spice, tart or savory.

Spices known for their cooling qualities include cumin, cayenne and black salt. The cooling spices are all part of the prescription for summer for Ayurveda: the thousands-years-old holistic approach to health and wellness.

Carrot and Cucumber Raita With Almonds

A raita is an Indian-style cucumber salad, paired with natural yogurt. In this version from my cookbook, “Spices & Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors,” I add freshly grated carrots and crunchy almonds.

This yogurt salad is colorful, refreshing and full of protein and vitamins. Serve it on crackers or grilled bread. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

This yogurt salad is colorful, refreshing and full of protein and vitamins. Serve it on crackers or grilled bread. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 medium cucumbers

1 medium carrot

2 tablespoons almonds, coarsely ground or sliced

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves, minced (optional)

3/4 cup low-fat plain yogurt

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground black pepper

A sprinkle of red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the cucumbers and grate into a mixing bowl, discarding any whole seeds.

2. Peel the carrot and grate into the same bowl. Add the almonds and mint, if using.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the yogurt, salt, sugar and black pepper until well mixed. Stir into the cucumber mixture.

4. Garnish with the red pepper flakes, if using.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney

Spicy, green and fresh, this classic condiment is found year-round on the Indian table and can be served with most any dish. Traditionally, it derives its tartness from unripe green mangoes. This recipe simplifies it by using lime juice instead.

Mint and Cilantro Chutney, a simple-to-make dish from the "Spices & Seasons" cookbook, is a classic condiment found year-round on the Indian table. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Mint and Cilantro Chutney, a simple-to-make dish from the “Spices & Seasons” cookbook, is a classic condiment found year-round on the Indian table. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 10 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

1 bunch cilantro (about 3 cups)

2 bunches mint leaves (about 1 1/2 cups)

2 green serrano chilies

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon black salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons oil (mustard or canola)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Directions

1. Place all of the ingredients into a blender.

2. Grind mixture until smooth. This chutney will keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, but the color will darken because of the lime.

 

Tamarind and Date Chutney

This tantalizing recipe is a superb alternative to barbecue sauce. It’s great on chicken wings or mixed with mayonnaise and drizzled over your favorite protein. 

Tamarind and Date Chutney is another classic Indian condiment; this version from "Spices & Seasons" is what I call the Indian barbecue sauce. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

Tamarind and Date Chutney is another classic Indian condiment; this version from “Spices & Seasons” is what I call the Indian barbecue sauce. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 25 minutes

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

1 jar tamarind paste (I prefer Swad or Laxmi brands)

1 cup chopped, pitted dates

1/2 cup brown sugar or jaggery

1/2 teaspoon black salt

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 dried red chilies

Directions

1. Place the tamarind paste, dates, brown sugar, black salt and 2 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer for 10 minutes. Cool slightly.

2. Meanwhile, place the fennel and cumin seeds in a heavy skillet and toast until the seeds darken and smell fragrant, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add the chilies and toast for a few more seconds.

3. Grind the seeds and chilies in a spice grinder until powdery.

4. Blend the tamarind mixture in a blender until smooth. Return to the pot, stir in the spice mixture and cook for another 5 minutes.

5. Cool and store in air-tight jars in the refrigerator for up to three months.

Indian Onion Relish

A popular feature in many Indian restaurants, this smoky, tangy condiment is a nice substitute for your usual relish on grilled hot dogs.

A popular feature in many Indian restaurants, this cumin-laced relish is a nice alternative to your usual relish on a hot dog. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

A popular feature in many Indian restaurants, this cumin-laced relish is a nice alternative to your usual relish on a hot dog. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 2 hours

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

2 large white onions, finely diced

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

½ tablespoon black peppercorns

1/3 cup tomato ketchup

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 1/2 teaspoons black salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons minced cilantro

Directions

1. Chill the diced onions in the refrigerator for an hour.

2. Lightly toast the cumin seeds and black peppercorns and grind to a powder.

3. In a mixing bowl, add powdered spices, ketchup, lime juice, black salt, sugar and the red cayenne pepper and mix well with the chopped onions.

4. Return to the refrigerator and chill for another hour (or up to 6 hours) before serving. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

Pear and Raisin Chutney

This chutney from my cookbook pairs well with grilled tofu, pork or fish — and is wonderful added to a burger. Or serve it alongside a basket of warm tortilla chips. 

This Pear and Raisin Chutney recipe from my cookbook pairs perfectly with grilled tofu, pork or fish -- or try it as a relish on a burger. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

This Pear and Raisin Chutney recipe from my cookbook pairs perfectly with grilled tofu, pork or fish — or try it as a relish on a burger. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 3/4 cup

Ingredients

4 to 6 medium red pears, cored and diced (not peeled)

1 lime

1 tablespoon oil

1 1/4 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons finely grated ginger

2 tablespoons malt or cider vinegar

1/3 cup sugar or brown sugar

1/3 cup mixed raisins

1 to 2 tablespoons chopped dried sweetened cranberries

2 long green chilies (young cayenne or Italian), minced

Directions

1. Place the pears in a colander and squeeze the lime juice over them.

2. Heat the oil on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the fennel seeds and wait until they sizzle and turn a few shades darker, about 20 to 30 seconds.

3. Add the red pepper flakes and stir.

4. Add the pears, ginger, vinegar, sugar, raisins and cranberries and stir. Let the sugar dissolve and bring the mixture to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes, until the raisins swell and the pears become soft — but not mushy.

5. Sprinkle with minced chilies before removing the heat.

6. Store and use as needed. This mixture will keep in the refrigerator for six to eight months.

Citrusy Roasted Beets With Tempered Spices

A cross between a salad and a light pickle, this healthy condiment adds a gentle tartness to tender young beets. This recipe is a lighter and healthier version of the traditional beetroot and cheese salad, and is dairy- and nut-free.

This healthy condiment, also from "Spices & Seasons," adds a gentle tartness to tender young beets, seasoning them with ginger, black pepper, Clementine juice and mustard seeds. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

This healthy condiment, also from “Spices & Seasons,” adds a gentle tartness to tender young beets, seasoning them with ginger, black pepper, Clementine juice and mustard seeds. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 medium red beets, greens removed

3 medium yellow beets, greens removed

2 to 3 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ginger paste

1/2 teaspoon black salt

1/2 lime

1 orange or Clementine, cut in half

Several grinds black pepper

1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Wrap the beets in foil and roast for 35 to 40 minutes. Allow beets to cool and then peel and cut into wedges.

3. Heat the oil in a wok or skillet. Add the fennel and mustard seeds. When they begin to crackle, add the garlic and ginger paste and sauté lightly until the mixture is fragrant.

4. Stir in the roasted beets and black salt and mix well.

5. Squeeze in the lime juice and orange or Clementine juice and mix well.

6. Stir in black pepper.

7. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

 

Slow Cooker Plum, Date and Rhubarb Chutney

This beautiful tangy ruby red chutney can be made with plums or any stone fruit of your choice. It takes a lot of cooking to obtain its deep jam-like consistency, which can be challenging during the summer, but I use the slow cooker in my recipe to keep my kitchen cool.

This tangy, ruby-red chutney can be made with plums or any stone fruit of your choice. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

This tangy, ruby-red chutney can be made with plums or any stone fruit of your choice. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 3 hours in a slow cooker

Total time: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients

1 pound of rhubarb, trimmed and cut into small pieces

4 pounds of purple plums, stoned and coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons minced ginger

3 to 4 star anise

1 large stick cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons red cayenne pepper

1 cup of chopped and seeded dates

1/2 cup chopped almonds (optional)

1/4 cup maple syrup

Directions

1. Place the rhubarb, plums, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, dates, almonds (if using) and the maple syrup in the slow cooker and cook on high setting for 3 hours.

2. Stir the mixture occasionally to help with the consistency.

3. After three hours you should have a fragrant, sticky and colorful medley.

4. Remove the whole spices and save the chutney in a clear jar and use as needed to perk up your meal.

Classic Cucumber Raita With Mint

Omnipresent on the summer table and year-round in India, this is the more traditional version of raita. I sometimes add dill instead of — or alongside — the mint and serve this as the perfect pair to salmon.

Omnipresent on Indian tables in the summer and all year round, this Cucumber and Mint Raita is perfect with almost any dish. Try it with dill to mix things up. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Omnipresent on Indian tables in the summer and all year round, this Cucumber and Mint Raita is perfect with almost any dish. Try it with dill to mix things up. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: 25 minutes, plus 1 hour for chilling if you prefer the raita chilled

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

2 medium-sized English or Persian cucumbers (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 1/2 cups of day-old natural yogurt

1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1/2 teaspoon black or Himalayan salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

1. Peel the cucumbers.

2. Grate about three-quarters of the cucumbers and finely chop the rest, keeping the chopped cucumbers separated from the grated cucumbers.

3. Place the grated cucumbers in a mixing bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, add the yogurt and beat well.

5. Mince the mint leaves and add to the yogurt.

6. Add the black salt, cumin, black pepper and sugar and beat well. Gently fold in the grated cucumbers.

7. Top with diced cucumbers and sprinkle with cayenne.

8. Chill up to an hour or serve immediately.
Main photo: The heat of the chilies in this Chili Peanut Relish is nicely balanced by the creamy, crunchy peanuts. This quick dish — you can make it in about 10 minutes — is delicious with fish and vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2014 Rinku Bhattacharya

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Bengali Fish Dishes Perfect For Family Or Friends /world/bengali-fish-dishes-perfect-for-family-or-friends/ /world/bengali-fish-dishes-perfect-for-family-or-friends/#respond Tue, 02 May 2017 09:00:41 +0000 /?p=73445 Fish dishes are a staple in Bengali cuisine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

This year, for Bengali New Year, I decided to do something very intrinsic to Bengali cuisine — explore the dimensions of cooking fish.

Shadowed by the rivers, fresh fish is essential and intrinsic to the culinary heritage of the food-obsessed Bengali community. What is most impressive is the sheer diversity of fish preparations that are different and distinct from almost any other part of India.

On the Bengali table, fish is cooked together with the assortment of regional specialties indigenous to the wet, fertile region replete with greens, citrus and coconuts. Coconuts are plentiful and a much-loved ingredient — and for Bengali people, almost anything tastes better with some coconut.

When cooking with fish, all parts of the fish are used — from the head to the tail. Different treatments and preparations are used for different parts, showcasing the various tastes and textures. Fastidious Bengali home cooks like to shop for fish daily, usually in the early morning, returning home proudly with the catch of the day and tales of how they managed to get it before it was all gone.

Fish can take diners from starters to the main course without any problem. A traditional meal often commences with an assortment of vegetables and small shrimp, and fish heads or tiny fish are usually added to regular vegetable dishes to add a touch of sweetness, boost the protein and transcend the ordinary into something festive or more formal.

Fish heads are a coveted part of the fish, because their rich omega-3 fatty acid content is associated with promoting intelligence. Although it’s not as popular as it once was, a true Bengali household will reserve the fish head for the children or a new son-in-law. Adding it to lentils elevates it to a celebratory dish.

Needless to say, a fish head cannot be savored without using your hands, so to this end Bengalis enjoy eating fish by gently separating the bones from the flesh.

Curries are, of course, the mainstay of the table, and these range from gentle, nigella-scented vegetable and fish stews to common fish curries enriched with pungent mustard, creamy coconut, rich yogurt and sometimes even lemon.

To showcase the diversity of cooking fish for the Bengali table, here are four traditional but simple recipes that are practical enough for everyday meals.

Gandhoraj Maach (Bengali Lemon Coconut Fish)

Gandhoraj Maach (Bengali Lemon Coconut Fish). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Gandhoraj Maach (Bengali Lemon Coconut Fish). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

This delicate fish dish is traditionally made with the Bengali lime, called Gandhoraj. I have adapted this recipe using lemons and Kaffir lime leaves, offering a delicate and simple dish perfect for spring and summer.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 cup freshly grated coconut (about 1/2 regular coconut)

1 cup hot water

1 piece fresh ginger, 1 1/2 inches long, peeled

1 or 2 green chilies

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

3 fresh lemons

2 Kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced

1/4 cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

2 to 3 dried red chilies

3 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon chopped coriander

2 pounds halibut or any other firm-fleshed fish

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Banana leaves (if available) for steaming

Directions

Place the freshly grated coconut in a blender with the hot water and blend until smooth.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.

Return the coconut mixture to the blender, with the liquid strained off. Add in the ginger, green chilies and turmeric and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl.

Zest 2 of the lemons and add the zest to the coconut mixture. Cut one of the zested lemons in half, remove the seeds and squeeze in the juice. Set aside the other zested lemon and thinly slice the third lemon for garnish.

Add the Kaffir lime leaves to the coconut milk and stir well.

Stir in the nigella seeds, red chilies and coriander leaves. You should end up with a pale yellow sauce flecked with nigella and coriander. Salt the fish, then add it to the coconut milk mixture and mix well.

Heat the oven to 300 F and prepare a large baking dish with about 2 inches of water.

Line a heat-proof casserole dish with banana leaves and pour in the fish mixture.

Cover with a piece of foil and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

Cool slightly, remove and taste the sauce. It should be smooth and gently tangy. Depending on your preference, add in a little more lime juice.

Garnish with the remaining coriander and the lemon slices and serve hot, ideally with steaming rice.

Macher Muro Diye Moong Dal (Yellow Split Lentils With Fish Head)

Macher Muro Diye Moong Dal (Yellow Split Lentils With Fish Head). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Macher Muro Diye Moong Dal (Yellow Split Lentils With Fish Head). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.”

This traditional recipe — a festive dish reserved for special lunches — is adapted from my mother’s culinary collection. I recently discovered my fish seller will cut fish heads into two or four parts for me, which is very helpful for a large fish head you only want to use part of. I realize the fish head is not for the uninitiated. If you want, you can add in sliced boiled eggs sautéed with spices instead of the fish head.

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Total time: 50 to 55 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable or mustard oil

1 medium fish head (preferably from a whitefish)

2 teaspoons turmeric

2 teaspoons salt

3/4 cup dried split yellow lentils (moong dal)

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1 teaspoon sugar

Juice of 1 lime (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Directions

Place 1/3 cup oil in a wok and heat over medium flame for about 2 minutes, until very hot and almost smoking. Rub the fish head with half the turmeric and half the salt and place in the oil and fry over a steady, medium-low flame until nice and crisp, turning once during cooking, about 10 minutes.

While the fish head is cooking, place the lentils in a heavy-bottomed pan and dry roast lightly until they turn very pale golden and are very aromatic.

In a separate saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil on medium-low and add the onion and ginger. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion wilts and begins to curl and crisp lightly on the sides.

Add the cayenne, cumin, coriander, sugar, roasted lentils, 3 cups of water, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and remaining 1 teaspoon turmeric. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, until the lentils are almost cooked through.

Break the fried fish head into 2 to 3 pieces (it should break quite easily if you have cooked the head right) and lower into the lentils. Simmer the lentils with the fish head for another 10 minutes, gently breaking the fish head further until the pieces are fairly small.

Squeeze in some lime juice, if using, and sprinkle with the cilantro before serving.

Chingri Badha Kopir Ghanto (Curried Cabbage With Potatoes and Shrimp)

Chingri Badha Kopir Ghanto (Curried Cabbage With Potatoes and Shrimp). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Chingri Badha Kopir Ghanto (Curried Cabbage With Potatoes and Shrimp). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.”

The first time my mother visited me after I had moved to the U.S. was when I was graduating from business school. Mom stayed with my lovely host family — the first Americans who made me feel like family. She wanted to thank them for their hospitality by cooking for them one evening, and one of the items she made was this cabbage. Noticing they liked coleslaw, my mother felt this would be a good transition. She was spot on. To keep this recipe completely vegetarian, you can use green peas instead of shrimp.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

For the shrimp:

1/2 pound medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup oil

For the cabbage:

1 red onion, thinly sliced

1 medium potato, peeled and cubed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1 or 2 bay leaves, broken into pieces

2 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tomato, finely chopped

3 cups finely shredded green cabbage

Directions

Toss the shrimp with the turmeric, red cayenne pepper and salt and set aside.

Heat the oil in a medium wok or skillet on medium heat for about 1 minute, until very hot. Add in the shrimp and cook in batches (if needed) for 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the shrimp from the oil and set aside.

In the same wok or pan, add the onion slices and sauté, stirring well, until they wilt and turn a very pale gold. Add the potato, salt and turmeric and lower the heat and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are almost done and a nice golden yellow color.

Add the ginger, cumin and coriander paste and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, cardamom pods and cayenne pepper and mix well. Then add the sugar and tomato and stir well.

Add the cabbage and the cooked shrimp and mix well. Cover and cook for about 7 minutes, until the cabbage is fairly soft. Mix well and cook till dry.

Taste and adjust seasonings before serving.

Chingri Bhuna (Shrimp in a Spicy Caramelized Onion and Tomato Sauce)

Chingri Bhuna (Shrimp in a Spicy Caramelized Onion and Tomato Sauce)

Chingri Bhuna (Shrimp in a Spicy Caramelized Onion and Tomato Sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.”

A bhuna is a preparation of fish or meat in a thick, dry tomato-based sauce. This style of cooking, particularly using shrimp, is a Bangladeshi or East Bengali tradition. As with other foods, in this style of cooking, the generous use of green chilies is essential. This recipe is for my cousin Sharmila, who enjoys this dish and often asks for it.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield:  4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds shrimp, shelled and deveined

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

3 tablespoons oil

1 large red onion or 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 or 3 bay leaves

1-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

2 green cardamom pods

2 cloves

1/2 teaspoon sugar

2 tomatoes, cut into eighths

1 tablespoon Greek yogurt

4 green chilies, coarsely chopped into small pieces

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Directions

In a bowl, mix the shrimp with the turmeric and 1 teaspoon of salt and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet on medium heat for about 30 seconds. Add the onions and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until softened and pale golden at the edges.

Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and cloves and stir and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the sugar and remaining ½ teaspoon salt and mix well. Add the tomatoes and cook for 4 minutes, until they soften and begin to turn pulpy.

Add the seasoned shrimp and continue to simmer until the sauce dries out and the oil resurfaces on the sides.

Stir in the yogurt and cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the green chilies and cook for 1 minute.

Serve garnished with cilantro.

Main image: Fish dishes are a staple in Bengali cuisine. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

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Hearty Indian Dumpling Stew Banishes Winter Blues /cooking/hearty-indian-dumpling-stew-banishes-winter-blues/ /cooking/hearty-indian-dumpling-stew-banishes-winter-blues/#respond Mon, 23 Jan 2017 10:00:51 +0000 /?p=76789 Kadhi Pakora. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

When the weather outside turns cold and chilly, I reach for chickpea flour to make Kadhi Pakora in all its comforting glory. Kadhi is a slow, simmered chickpea soup often made with chickpea fritters, called pakoras, that are simmered in the fragrant, saucy broth. The resulting meal is a comforting dish akin to a chicken stew with dumplings, except this version is vegetarian.

It is amazing how much nutrition can be packed into a few humble ingredients, but make no mistake — this is a comforting, nourishing dish that will help you chase away the winter blues. In Northern India, kadhi pakora is essentially a way to use up extra fritters or pakoras, which in itself is a mystery to me, as in my house we never have leftovers. We’ve never met a pakora we did not like, and we prefer to consume them hot and crisp. In fact, even when making the pakoras for this dish, at least a few get consumed as pick-me-ups by me or anyone who might be passing through the kitchen while I cook.

Being Bengali from eastern India, it has taken me some time to understand what the fuss over kadhi is all about. It took even more time to understand why and how to get the silky, smooth consistency my mother-in-law prides herself on and finally adapting the dish to make it my own. As with all heirloom Indian dishes, the heart and soul rests in the spicing, so I would never meddle with that. However, when making the fritters I add sweet potatoes and kale, giving them the necessary seasonal accent and completeness as a one-pot meal.

Comfort food to make all your own

Something about kadhi is simple and soulful, transporting me to a place where life is comforting and peaceful and time is not as rushed as our routines sometime demand. When I first saw kadhi being made, I did not understand the logic of adding so much water and slowly cooking it to thicken the sauce. Now I realize that a slow and gentle simmer gives the dish its silky, smooth consistency and taste. Gently simmering the chickpea flour-based sauce thickens it and removes any aftertaste.

Northern Indian kadhi is distinctly tart, because it is usually made with day-old natural yogurt. When I have time, I leave the yogurt out for at least 36 hours; if not, I work with a little sour cream to give the recipe its obligatory tart taste.

Many variations of this dish exist in different parts of India, and it is amazing how much difference can result just from varying the seasoning. My version notches up the turmeric, giving the dish a lovely bright yellow color. I finish my dish with cilantro, something I later learned my mother-in-law did differently than the traditional recipe because of my husband’s love for cilantro. We generally love cilantro in our household, so the cilantro stays. These simple nuances are what make a recipe personal and distinct.

Kadhi Pakora (Indian Chickpea Soup and Dumplings)

Kadhi Pakora is Indian comfort food. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

Kadhi Pakora is Indian comfort food. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

India’s vegetarian and gluten-free solution to chicken stew with dumplings, this dish served with steaming hot rice is comfort food in Northern India.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the pakora:

1 cup chickpea flour (besan)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup grated sweet potatoes

1 cup chopped kale leaves

1 medium-sized red onion, thinly sliced

Oil for frying

For the kadhi:

2 cups yogurt

4 cups water

1/4 cup chickpea flour

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoons oil

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons crushed coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon asafetida

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

15 to 20 curry leaves

For finishing:

1 teaspoon ghee

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves

Directions

1. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the chickpea flour, cumin seeds, cayenne pepper and salt. Mix well to remove any lumps.

2. Mix in the sweet potatoes, kale and red onion with about 1/2 cup of water to form a thick batter.

3. Heat the oil and drop in spoonfuls of the batter. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes on each side until the fritters are crisp. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels.

4. While the fritters are cooking, place the yogurt, water, chickpea flour, turmeric, salt and ginger in a large mixing bowl and mix well, preferably using a whisk. Set aside for 20 minutes.

5. Heat the oil for the kadhi in a large wok, add in the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, asafetida and fenugreek seeds. Cook until the seeds darken and get fragrant, about 30 seconds.

6. Add in the curry leaves, then add in the yogurt mixture.

7. At this point the mixture will be very thin, let it simmer low and slow for 20 minutes.

8. Add in the pakoras and simmer for 20 minutes. The sauce should still be thin, smooth and silky. It will thicken further when the heat is turned off, so make sure it is still relatively thin before turning off the heat.

9. In a small pan, heat the ghee and add in the remaining cumin seeds and cayenne pepper and cook for about 20 seconds.

10. Pour the hot ghee over the kadhi.

11. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

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Festive Christmas Feasts Unite Indian Families /world/festive-christmas-feasts-unite-indian-families/ /world/festive-christmas-feasts-unite-indian-families/#respond Thu, 10 Dec 2015 10:00:51 +0000 /?p=71255 Anglo–Indian Shepherd’s Pie is a traditional holiday dish for the author. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

I am always amused when I hear of Diwali or other such festivals being referred to as the Indian Christmas. After all, in my mind Christmas is the Indian Christmas.

As a child, I looked forward to being invited for Christmas with my friends for whom this was a family festival. So many distinct recipes are a part of the Indian Christmas tradition — rum-laced moist fruitcakes, rose cookies, a roasted rack of goat and many others. As with other traditions, holidays always have a regional twist and take the flavors of the regional origins of the family.

One of my fondest Christmases was one spent with my friend Ruth’s family, maybe now almost three decades ago. It was the first time I was allowed to spend two days without my parents at a friend’s house, and the spirit was nothing like I had ever seen. Their small house was filled with family from various parts of India, mostly from southern India, where the family had its roots. They all congregated in Ruth’s house, as her father was the oldest of the siblings and therefore had the honor of hosting the holiday. Tinsel and shiny wrappers were all around as everyone quickly and furiously set about decorating the house.

Fond memories of Christmas in the kitchen

My attention, of course, strayed to the kitchen. Even as a child, it was always about the kitchen for me. The sweet scents of coconut oil and citrusy curry leaves tantalized my spirits with aromas so amazing and yet so distinct from my mother’s kitchen. That is the magic of an Indian kitchen — every cook uses the same collection of spices so differently.

Ruth’s aunt, whom she called Appachi, was amused to see my interest in the food, and she started explaining some of her foods and techniques to me, and I was hooked.

The tiny kitchen was filled with an assortment of dishes, all neatly arranged in copper serving spots. She proudly lifted the lid of a pot that had been slow cooking for the whole afternoon to reveal a whole duck, and seeing the small, diminutive bird, I initially wondered what the fuss was about.

She fried an assortment of golden-spiced potatoes in coconut oil and carefully placed the duck in the center of large china serving plate, something she proudly told me was a wedding gift she had received more 20 years ago — something she often brought along for Christmas, for serving her signature duck. Around the duck went the crisp, golden potatoes, and she hoisted and brought in the gorgeous dish just in time to place at the center of the table.

She was greeted with huge sighs of appreciation by the living room crowd, who had completed their decor, filling the room with red and silver glitter. Lights twinkled and ornaments shone on a large faux Christmas tree.

Amid this magical spirit, we sat and feasted, listening to stories and talking the night away.

Over the years, I have carried memories of the duck and fried potatoes, later joined by another wholesome recipe, for an Indian version of shepherd’s pie. I have re-created them and share with you for a Christmas feast with an Indian touch.

Spicy Roast Garlic and Curry Leaf Duck

A platter of carved Spicy Roast Garlic and Curry Leaf Duck, with a side of roasted potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

A platter of carved Spicy Roast Garlic and Curry Leaf Duck, with a side of roasted potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Prep time: About 10 minutes, plus 24 to 48 hours to marinate

Cook time: 3 1/2 to 4 hours

Total time: About two days.

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

1 medium-sized red onion

30 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon freshly ground ginger

1 tablespoon black peppercorns

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon kosher salt

3 sprigs of curry leaves

1 medium-sized duck (about 3 to 4 pounds)

Directions

1. Place the onion, half the garlic, ginger, peppercorns, lime juice, salt and 2 springs of curry leaves in a blender and blend until smooth.

2. Carefully loosen the duck skin and spread the mixture all over, as well as into the cracks and crevices. Refrigerate the duck for 1 or 2 days.

3. Preheat oven to 325 F and cook the duck, breast side down, for about 1 hour. After cooking, the duck should have released a fair amount of fat.

4. Reserve about 3 tablespoons of the duck fat, turn the duck and baste thoroughly with the fat.

5. Cover the duck with foil and cook for 2 more hours.

6. Remove the foil, baste the duck again, then dot it with the remaining garlic and curry spring.

7. Increase the heat to 375 F and cook the duck for another 45 minutes, or until nice and crisp.

8. Carve the duck and serve with roasted potatoes.

Turmeric, Thyme and Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes

Turmeric, Thyme and Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Turmeric, Thyme and Bay Leaf Roasted Potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

A beautiful, simple and very flavorful rendition of roasted potatoes, this makes a perfect side dish for almost any meal. If you are making this with my roast duck recipe, add in the reserved duck fat; if not, simply add in another tablespoon of coconut oil.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes (mostly unattended)

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

15 to 20 small red-skinned baby organic potatoes (or use a multicolored medley)

2 tablespoon coconut oil

2 tablespoons reserved duck fat (from recipe above) or 1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus more to garnish

2 to 3 bay leaves

Fresh lime juice to finish

Directions

1. Cut the potatoes in half and toss with the coconut oil, duck fat, salt, ground black pepper, turmeric, thyme and bay leaves.

2. Place in a 350 F oven and cook for about 40 minutes.

3. Remove from the oven and garnish with extra thyme and sprinkle with fresh lime juice to finish.

Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie

Anglo–Indian Shepherd’s Pie. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

When I first tasted this dish, I was unaware of its more traditional cousin, the cottage or shepherd’s pie; it had simply been presented to me as pie. I fell in love with this deep, seductive version, which offers layers of pure indulgence and flavor. The flavorful mashed potato topping, scented with garlic and rosemary, adds to the magic of this deep and flavorful dish.

My filling has loads of vegetables and can very easily be transformed into a vegetarian dish by swapping the meat for finely diced shitake mushrooms.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

For the mashed potato topping:

4 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic

4 tablespoons sour cream or Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon freshly minced rosemary

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 cup broth or low-fat milk

Chopped chives

For the filling:

2 tablespoons oil

2 medium-sized onions, diced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 large stick cinnamon

6 to 8 cloves

3 to 4 pods cardamoms

1 medium-sized sweet potato, diced

2 medium-sized carrots, diced

1 or 2 golden beets, diced

1 cup ground turkey or lamb

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 cup tomato sauce

1 cup port wine

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

Directions

1. Cut the potatoes in half and boil in plenty of salted water until they are soft but not mushy. Cool and peel the potatoes and place in a mixing bowl.

2. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan and add in the minced garlic and cook until fragrant.

3. Pour the seasoned oil over the potatoes, then mash.

4. Mix in the sour cream or yogurt, rosemary, parmesan cheese and broth and mix in until smooth. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350 F.

6. Heat the oil for the filling and add in the onions and ginger and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until soft and wilted.

7. Place the cinnamon, cloves and cardamom in a spice bag if desired and combine with the sweet potato, beets, ground turkey or lamb and salt. Mix well and cook until the meat is no longer pink.

8. Add in the tomato sauce, port wine and cayenne pepper and cook for 15 minutes, or until the sauce is about half the original volume.

9. Stir in the all-purpose flour to thicken further.

10. Pour this mixture into a casserole dish (I find a loaf pan works well) and top with the mashed potatoes.

11. Bake for 30 minutes or until the topping is beginning to turn golden.

12. Remove from the oven, garnish with chives and serve.

Main image: Anglo-Indian Shepherd’s Pie is a traditional holiday dish for the author. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

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Sumptuous Bengali Feast For Wealth, Prosperity /world/sumptuous-bengali-feast-for-wealth-prosperity/ /world/sumptuous-bengali-feast-for-wealth-prosperity/#comments Mon, 26 Oct 2015 09:00:40 +0000 /?p=70249 Bengali Fried Eggplants, or Begun Bhaja. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

In the tradition of Bengali Hindus, the auspicious fortnight, or Debipaksha, ends on the full moon night with a prayer to Lakshmi, or Lokkhi in Bengali, the goddess of wealth, peace and prosperity.

In most parts of India, people pray to Lakshmi during Diwali. However, in Bengal, this is done during the festival of Kojagori Lokkhi Puja. This tradition dates back to an ancient king who had promised an artisan he would buy all his wares. The artisan had created an image of Alokkhi, or the anti-Lakshmi, and the king — not wanting to break his promise — bought the image, in turn bringing bad luck and financial distress to his kingdom. Finally, his queen kept a night vigil, fasting and praying to the goddess Lokkhi, who was pleased, and peace and prosperity were restored to his land.

The festival of Kojagori Lokkhi Puja has been one of my favorites, mostly because of the silent power of this very domestic goddess, possibly an ancient measure of preserving the status of the homemaker. The goddess is of a silent and fastidious temperament and is said to favor a calm and peaceful household where there is no waste or turmoil.

The focus of this Puja is, therefore, on the peace and calm of the home and is usually done by the women in the household. In Bengal, a new bride or homemaker is likened to Lokkhi, with a hope of ensuring that careless treatment of her will bring bad luck to the household.

Lokkhi Puja is sandwiched between the flashy Durga Puja, a four-day festival of elaborate fanfare, and Kali Puja, the invocation of the powerful goddess of the night. Somehow these goddesses, with their multiple hands, weapons and fierce aspirations, seem too dramatic for me. The gracious Lokkhi, who stood on an open lotus (a common flower in Bengal) with her pet owl, seems approachable and very real.

In preparation for the festival

Figurines of Lakshmi, called Lokkhi in Bengali, the goddess of wealth, peace and prosperity. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Figurines of Lakshmi, called Lokkhi in Bengali, the goddess of wealth, peace and prosperity. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

The first task for the festival, usually done the day before, begins with getting the Lokkhi figurines. However, unlike other figurines, the Lokkhi is never immersed in the Ganges. The morning of the puja begins with a scrupulous cleaning of the household, and I remember this being one of the days my grandmother woke me up early so as not to invoke the ire of the goddess, who is not partial to laziness.

The cleaned floors are decorated with alpona, or a traditional design made with rice flour paste that typically has a series of feet that enter the house and none leaving it. My grandmother would leave the rest of the design making to me (often shaking her head at my lack of symmetry in making these patterns), but made the decorations for the central prayer room herself.

Today, with my grandmother gone, none of the decoration happens, but I do have her silver Lokkhi, something she inherited from her mother-in-law.

The foods of the puja are slightly different from the traditional offerings of khichuri seen in other pujas. For Kojagori Lokkhi Puja, you typically see a repast of luchi, or puffed Bengali breads, and a variety of fried vegetables, most commonly potatoes and eggplants. While this may seem simple, eggplant wedges coated with salt, turmeric and cayenne and then deep fried to a soft and sensuous texture and enjoyed with crisp and puffy puris can indeed be something to appease a flighty goddess.

Other traditional offerings include coconut toffee balls, called narus, and various assortments of rice products, such as puffed rice, puffed rice coated with jaggery and, as in all occasions, rice pudding. In an agrarian economy where rice is the main product or crop, prosperity is indeed associated with rice, and it is considered unlucky to run out of rice in a household, probably accounting for my penchant for keeping at least one spare 10-pound bag around to this day.

The preferred flower for Kojagori Lokkhi Puja is the lotus, making it very difficult to procure unless you hit the flower shops first thing in the morning.

To help you bring some peace and happiness to your table, I share with you these recipes for coconut toffee balls, Bengali fried eggplant and potatoes, and my slow cooker rice pudding. As autumn turns into winter, may there be peace and prosperity in everyone’s life.

Narkoler Naru (Coconut Toffee Balls)

Narkoler Naru, or Coconut Toffee Balls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Narkoler Naru, or Coconut Toffee Balls. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 20 small balls

Ingredients

2 cups grated coconut (I use the frozen variety)

3/4 cup powdered jaggery (cane sugar)

1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder

Preparation

  1. In a wok or skillet over very low heat, cook the coconut, stirring frequently, for 15 to 20 minutes. The coconut should begin turning light brown and aromatic and begin releasing some oil.
  2. Add the jaggery and continue cooking on low, stirring frequently, until the jaggery is melted and the mixture is well browned and very fragrant and toffee-like. Plenty of coconut oil should be glistening in the mixture.
  3. Stir in the cardamom powder and mix well.
  4. Remove from heat and let cool until the mixture is able to be handled.
  5. Shape the mixture into small balls. These balls keep well for a couple of weeks at room temperatures of up to 70 F or refrigerated. If refrigerated, they should be brought the room temperature before serving.

Begun Bhaja (Bengali Fried Eggplants)

Begun Bhaja, or Bengali Fried Eggplants, with luchi, a puffed bread. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Begun Bhaja, or Bengali Fried Eggplants, with luchi, a puffed bread. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles.”

When choosing an eggplant, pick with care because a seedy eggplant is a recipe for disaster. Ideally, pick a smaller, smooth eggplant that feels light and has shiny, dark purple skin. This recipe can also be used to cook potato slices.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Ingredients

1 medium-sized eggplant, about 1 1/2 pounds

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons rice flour (optional, but it gives it a nice crisp texture)

Oil for deep frying

Directions

  1. Cut the eggplant into slices or wedges and place them in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add the turmeric, salt and red cayenne pepper to the bowl and toss the eggplant so it is well coated.
  3. Place the eggplant in a colander and let it drain for about 15 minutes.
  4. Spread the rice flour on a clean surface and lightly dip the outer flesh of the eggplant in the rice flour. The flour does not have to be even. It should be a light coating.
  5. Heat the oil in a wok. While the oil is heating, line a plate with plenty of paper towels.
  6. Carefully place a few of the eggplant pieces into the oil and fry for 3 to 4 minutes until very soft and golden.
  7. Drain the eggplant pieces carefully and place them on the paper towel-lined plate.
  8. Fry and drain the remaining pieces of eggplant.
  9. Serve hot with luchis (Bengali puffed bread) or rice and lentils.

Slow Cooker Saffron and Cardamom Rice Pudding

Slow Cooker Saffron and Cardamom Rice Pudding. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Slow Cooker Saffron and Cardamom Rice Pudding. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Recipe from “Spices and Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors”

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 5 hours (in a slow cooker)

Total time: About 5 hours

Ingredients

1/2 gallon half-and-half

3/4 cup short-grained rice, such as jasmine rice

6 green cardamoms, lightly bruised

3/4 cup raw turbinado or maple sugar (or more to taste)

1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pistachios or pecans (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine the half-and-half, rice and cardamoms in the slow cooker and set it to cook on high for five hours..
  2. After two hours, remove the slow cooker cover and give the mixture a good stir, ensuring the rice mixes well with the milk. Replace the lid.
  3. After another hour and a half, stir the mixture well. By this point, the rice should be fairly soft and meshing into the milk. Stir in the sugar and let the rice pudding continue cooking for another hour and a half.
  4. Stir well once it is done cooking. Discard the cardamoms if you wish. Let the pudding rest for at least 30 minutes and garnish with nuts before serving if you wish. Serve hot or cold, depending on your preference.

Main photo: Bengali Fried Eggplants, or Begun Bhaja. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

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10 Bright, Zesty Dishes To Bring Tomatoes Into Fall /world/10-bright-zesty-dishes-bring-tomatoes-fall/ /world/10-bright-zesty-dishes-bring-tomatoes-fall/#respond Wed, 23 Sep 2015 09:00:54 +0000 /?p=69499 Main photo: Shakshouka, a hearty meal that is great for breakfast and perfect for a family dinner. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

When tomato season arrives in August, we are so excited about our salads and tomato sandwiches that we often forget that the season happily continues well into fall. Tomatoes can be used in many ways beyond luscious salads. Here is a selection of unusual and interesting ways to use this vivacious favorite.

More from Zester Daily:

» Savor summer tomatoes all winter long

» Improv night! Family meals made easy

» 8 spicy secrets for cool summer meals

» What to do with tomatoes? Make pasta and sauce

Main photo: Shakshouka, a hearty meal that is great for breakfast and perfect for a family dinner. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya 

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