The Sinful Malai Kofta, at last…

You know you have made some sort of a presence in the blogging world when you have your readers giving you a good earful for not posting regularly.

Now,it is one thing for my sister to bite my head off during one of our regular phone calls or send threatening emails for not posting the caramel pudding recipe yet. After all, peskiness and younger sisters tend to come as a package. Her, I just ignore out of sheer habit. I have been doing that to her all her life. No reason, you know, just because. It’s fun to see her get worked up (Plus, it is heart warming to keep hearing her say that she misses those cooking experiments we did together, but we are not going to tell her that).

However, it is quite something else when readers who know me only through my writings reprimand me for not posting enough. I mean, you actually go through the trouble of writing a comment just to nudge me to post. That is humbling and humble doesn’t come naturally to me. I am the kind of person who knows what works for me and what doesn’t and I don’t let modesty stop me from acknowledging it. So, chances are if you come to me and say, “You look nice today” or “you really worked hard on that project”, I would just say, “I know”. You can take it anyway to like. But, there is no “I know” regarding y’all missing my writings. I am all humbled and flustered and “Thank you” and all that. You know what I am saying. You Know.

One particular reader, though she doesn’t know it yet, managed to push all the right buttons to get me typing. She left a innocent comment chiding me for not posting, all in Konkani. Took me right back to my childhood. I could almost hear my Bapama (Paternal Grandmother)’s voice chiding me for whatever was my crime-of-the-moment. She always seemed to do that and it just might be my fault. :D We had been inured as kids to jump up to her bidding when she went into that mode. And we loved it when she went into that mode. When we moved to the US, I missed it so much that I would call her up and ask her to chide me just for the heck of it. Yeah, Crazy, I know. She is sorely missed.

From demanding readers to high-expectation level grandmas, temperamental seems to the word of the moment in the food world. First we had that British Chef from Hell’s Kitchen, spewing his anger at all and sundry in his restaurant. Then, Amitabh Bachchan in his chef-turn decided to go nuts about good ol’ Hyderabadi Zafarani Pulao. Now it is I-don’t-know-what-a-kitchen-is Catherine Zeta-Jones turn to go maniacal about some rare steak. Really. It used to be that chefs had this image of being these introverts who would stick themselves in the kitchen and create food magic. It used to be people would come to those restaurants, taste the food, close their eyes to savor it and smile and really that would be enough to get the message across. Now, we have chefs who have the “you better like what I put on the plate or else you have no taste” chip on their shoulder. I think all this came about when cooking became an “art” as opposed to a tasty way to shut up that growling stomach. It scares me because when a painter becomes an artist is when his paintings (oops sorry, art) stops making sense to me. I dread the day food stops making sense to me. Me, I cook because eating it is the only time my kids are quiet. :)

And Pel, if you read this long enough, you will get eight and more random facts about me. Talk about doing it all in one post, the meme plus a recipe. You guys are just lucky, lucky people, you know that??

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To the recipe at hand, I present the Malai Kofta. It became really popular in the late 80′s and early nineties on the restaurant menu. One would be hard pressed to walk into an Indian restaurant and not find it in the menu. I doubt there many, even now, that don’t feature it on the menu. When done right, it is an amazing journey into food texture and taste, what with a smooth gravy and koftas full of dry fruits and milk every which way, but the non-fat way. This is no every-day dish, of that you can be sure. You better have a very good reason to celebrate, when you are planning to make this dish.

Malai Kofta 2

Recipe :

To Make the kofta:

Mix together evenly

*1 Medium-sized Potato, boiled and mashed
*2 tbsp Paneer, mashed/grated
*2 tbsp Khoya, grated
OR
2 tbsp Whole Milk Powder
OR
2 tbsp Baked Ricotta Cheese
*1 tbsp Heavy Cream/ Malai
*8-10 Brown Raisins, chopped
*5-6 Cashewnuts, chopped
*2-3 Green Chillies, finely chopped
*1/8 tsp Garam Masala Powder
*Salt to taste

Shape into golf-size balls and deep-fry in hot

Peanut Oil

Add a tbsp or two of ghee to the oil used for deep frying. It adds a little something-something to the koftas. This is quick deep-frying in hot oil because there is nothing to cook here. All you are looking for is a crisp exterior. Alternatively, you can bake them in the oven or pan-fry them in oil. In my opinion, pan-frying often results in more oil-soaking than the actual deep-frying. I deep-fry them. This is the Sinful Malai Kofta, you know.

I have, on occasions, made the kofta upto a day in advance in without any issues. It’s always good when you are entertaining with this dish.

To make the gravy:

Blend to a paste

*2 medium onions,chopped
*3 garlic pods
*1″ ginger
*2 tsp powdered poppy seeds, dry-roasted

Fry this paste, on high flame, constantly stirring in

*3 tbsp of Peanut oil

with

*1 dry bay leaf

till the oil separates. The poppy seeds may result in some sticking at the bottom of the pan and hence constant stirring and attention is needed for this part. Once the oil separates, add

*3 large tomatoes,pureed
OR
6 tbsp of Tomato Puree + 6 tbsp Water

Stir and add,

*1 tsp red-chilli powder
*1/2 tsp garam masala powder
*1/2 tsp dhania(corainder) powder
*1/2 tsp cumin powder

Cook for 5 mins on a medium low flame till the tomatoes and the spices are cooked through. Meanwhile, ground into a fine paste

*1/2 tsp sugar
*1 1/2 tbsp Heavy Cream
*3-4 Cashewnuts, soaked in water for about 10 mins

To the cooking gravy, add the Cream-Cashewnut paste. Bring to a boil and remove from flame. When ready to serve, warm up the gravy,add the koftas, top with cilantro/dhaniya and serve immediately. Never heat the gravy with the koftas in it. This will cause the koftas to disintegrate. Serve with rice cooked with whole spices and Naan. Do not make any after-meals plans unless they are to have a nice siesta.

Making up with Mirchi ka Salan

The first weeks of November saw me go back to the world of 9 to 5 and my son going into deep disillusionment. He had believed that his mommy was going to be there ‘always, always’. Turns out mommy just goes out all day, comes back only in the evening and spends just a couple of hours a day with him. His solution, make for lost time on weekends. So, the last two weekends saw me juggling to do the things that need to be done around the house with a 2 year old attached to the hip, literally. All of this has , of course, taken a toll on the kitchen. It was feeling real neglected.As I entered into the world of planned meals and easy to cook recipes, the past two weeks had seen me sticking with the basic food and really not venturing too far from the roti-dal-sabzi menu. The kitchen was not happy. Yes, disillusionment was just around the corner. Having trouble dealing with one kid who had already decided it was time to force the issue, I decided that making up with my kitchen was the smart thing to do. So, when Aayush, finally trusted me enough to get a shut eye (I guess, he just thought, I would disappear again if he slept), I decided to venture into the world of Hyderabadi food with its much touted Mirchi ka Salan.

MirchiKaSalanNow, I dont claim to be a connosieur of andhra food. In fact, the first time I heard about Mirchi ka Salan was through an Andhra-ite friend of mine. When ‘M’ described it to me, I knew I was going to like it. I mean, fried peppers in a peanut sauce, How can you go wrong!!! It was time to give it a taste. So, armed with a recipe, I forged into the world of Hyderabadi Cuisine.

I went with jalapeno peppers for this dish, though, she had suggested using anaheim. Let me tell you, I should have gone with the Anaheim. Wowee!! Cleared up all our sinuses for sure! Leftovers a couple days later were just too hot for consumption. The next time I would probably remove the innards of the chillis if I decide to stick with jalapeno. Phew!! The gravy is simply fabulous. Not just simply fabulous, but simple and fabulous. My husband suggested putting chicken pieces in the gravy along with the peppers next time. I like the idea and will try it soon, though, ‘M’ thought it was blasphemy to meddle with the perfect Mirchi ka Salan. Sorry, Dear. :)

For those of you who haven’t tried this dish, I would certainly recommend it. Try it once. Go for the milder peppers before you venture into the more hots ones. The gravy is a keeper for sure!!

Here’s the recipe as I tried it and as ‘M’ makes it.

Ingredients

Deep/Shallow fry

4 Jalapenos/Anaheim Peppers (Deseeded, if you don’t like things too hot

in

Ghee/Peanut or Corn Oil

Keep aside. I removed the outer skin of the jalapenos even though ‘M’ doesn’t. Just a personal preference. Wrap the deep fried Jalapenos in a paper towel till cool enough to handle to completely cover. Then just wipe the skin off. The steam does most of the job that way.

Make the salan paste. Grind to a fine paste

¼ cup Roasted Peanuts
¼ cup Dessicated Coconut
1” Fresh Ginger, chopped
1 tsp Sesame Seeds

Add to the paste

1 tsp Asafoetida

Heat

2-3 tbsp Ghee/Peanut or Corn Oil

Add the salan paste and cook it till the oil leaves the paste. This takes quite a while and you need to keep stirring it as the peanuts have the tendency to stick. Very important to cook it that long to keep the peanuts from tasting raw. Take the time. Juggle the kid to the other hip(Of course, he is up by now). Sing him a song and take a few seconds away to keep stirring it.
Add a few drops of water, if it starts sticking too much. I did this in a cast iron skillet set on medium/medium-low heat, took about 15 minutes and 2 splashes of water.Once the paste starts leaving the oil (you will actually see the layer of oil separate and its quite gratifying), add

½ cup yogurt, whisked smooth
Tumeric/Haldi, a pinch
Salt, to taste

According to ‘M’, thats the proportion. The peanuts,coconut and yogurt go in a 1:1:2 ratio to make the ‘perfect’ salan. The rest can be eye balled. Keep stirring until the oil separated again. A lot quicker this time. Add

2 tbsp Tamarind paste
Water, enough to make it a sauce consistency

Cook for a couple of minutes till the water and tamarind blend with the paste to make a smooth sauce. Add the fried peppers. Bring to a boil and remove from flame. Garnish with

2 tsp coriander leaves, chopped finely

Mirchi ka salan is ready. I served it with hot chapatis and rice, though traditionally, it is served with Hyderabadi Biryani. That, though, is another post. :)

Mango Lassi/Milk Shake

IMG_0339
How can a chilling Mango-Yogurt concoction be wrong for you? It is not. Easy to make and definitely much better with fresh Mango Pulp rather than the canned ones, this is easily one of the more popular Indian Beverages. Substitute the yogurt with Milk for Milk Shake!!!…

1 Cup Mango Puree
2 Cups Yogurt
1/2 Cup Milk
Sugar to Taste

Blend everything in a blender along with some Icecubes…

Mango Pie…For JFI-Mango

Mango

When you have experienced the best, anything less is simply not acceptable. When you have grown up eating some of the best mangoes in the world, you just can't adjust to any other. That's the problem every Indian has in the US. We have been bred on the famous Alphonso Mangoes all our life and suddenly, we find ourselves in a place where we, for the life of us, can't find it. We will make all the other adjustments, you see. We will replace our full-fat buffalo milk, that we grew up on, with 2%. We will melt unsalted butter and pretend that it is asli desi ghee. Heck, we will even pretend that tofu is a vegetable. Eventually, we will get used to all of that and stop craving for the original. One thing we will never be able to replace or stop missing is the indian mango. Oh, you can go to the indian store now and pick up good mangoes. They are really good, especially when you compare it to the atrocities that we get at local grocery stores. But they are not the real thing. So, how do you know if its the real thing? Well, for one, if you have eaten mangoes and don't see what the big deal is, you have not eaten the real thing. One bite of a real alphonso mango or aapoos aamba as it is called in Bombay, you will know why it is called the king of fruits. The thought that our kids would grow up not knowing its taste was simply untolerable. Of course, things are changing. All things remaining the same, we might have the real thing in US markets next season. Fingers Crossed and all that.

There are about 1500 varieties of mango that are grown and harvested in India. Though I can't say I have tasted all of them or can list all of them, I will list the more popular ones. Ratnagiri Alphonso, Raspuri, Totapuri, Neelam, Kesar, Suvarnarekha, Choosa, Dasheri and Langra.

kalash

Mangoes are very important in hindu culture. Mango leaves are associated with prosperity and happiness. The residence of every Hindu famliy is decorated with festoons of mango leaves called as thorans. Mango leaves are also associated with purification.  Hanging fresh mango leaves outside the front door during Gudi padwa, Pongal, Uggadi, Dassera, Diwali is considered a blessing to the house and supposed to usher in prosperity and fortune. During weddings, clusters of mango leaves are also placed atop a silver or brass vessel filled with water which is then sprinkled on the couple to promote *ahem*… fertility. After all, an average mango tree will bear fruit for upto 40 years averaging upto 100 fruits per season. Talk about procreation.No pooja is complete without mango leaves. The pooja kalash(a clay/copper pot filled with water, topped with mango leaves and a coconut) uses the mango leaves to represent abundance and hospitality. Being such a prized fruit, the mango motif is used in indian textiles, paintings and jewellery as an everlasting symbol of desire and plenty.

Mangoes…Just saying it brings so many memories.

I have always associated mangoes with summer vacations. School's out and suddenly, everything's about mangoes. Summer vacations coincided with the mango season. There would be a boxes of mangoes in the house, in various stages of ripening. The ripe ones , you eat. The overripe one got converted into various mango flavored eats. There's Mango lassi, Mango Shakes, Mango Ice creams, Aamras, Mango Burfi etc. etc. The ones that weren’t ripe yet, would be kept in a corner on a pile of dry hay( to help with the ripening process). Then, there were the raw mangoes that would be pickled, or turned into chutneys or concentrated into drinks. I remember snacking on finely chopped raw mango seasoned with chilli powder and salt. Simply marvellous. And, of course, eating the fruit as is. Peel the skin, bite into the juicy flesh with all that juice dripping down your arm as you eat. There was also the aftermath of stains that would be left behind. See, Mangoes tend to be juicy and contain so much pigment, they will permanently stain your clothes. Yep, there were always a few clothes every year that would go the mango way and have to be bleached a mango orange/Yellow. Ahhhh..memories.

Back to the present and today’s Recipe

Mango Pie

When Indira of Mahanandi announced Mangoes as the ingredient for Jihva, a lot of options raced through my mind. There is the aambe saasam which is ripe mangoes and grapes in a coconut-mustard seed gravy, usually served at konkani weddings. There is aambe upkari mango curry made with a particular variety of ripe mangoes which is not available here. There is the raw mango chutney. However, due to an almost empty pantry thanks to a trip to india in 4 days, I had to settle for this recipe for Mango Pie. This is a no-bake pie, very easy to put together and light on the stomach. I got this recipe from a good friend of mine who is a vegetarian and doesn't eat eggs. I have tweaked the original recipe to increase the exotic quotient a bit since then and even tried once to add eggs and actually bake the pie. I have settled on this no-bake version as this was voted the family favorite.

Recipe

For the 9 inch Pie Crust

6 tbsp Butter

26 Graham Crackers

1/4 cup sugar

Melt the butter in the microwave. Pulverise the graham crackers in a food processor until finely crushed. Add the butter and the sugar and process till it mixes together.If you don't have a food processor, put the graham crackers into a ziploc bag and roll the rolling pin over them until finely crushed. Remove to a bowl. Add the butter and sugar and stir till it all blends together. Take a 9 inch pie plate and press the mixture into the bottom and the sides. Use the cup measure to press it into an even layer. Bake the pie crust in a 350 degrees F Oven for 8 to 10 minutes. Cool.

Alternatively, you can use a ready made pre-baked 9 inch graham cracker pie crusts available at most grocery stores. I confess to doing so whenever I am short of time.

For the filling

3 Mangoes Peeled, Deseeded and blended into smooth pulp

1 pkt Cream Cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup Heavy Cream

1 cup Milk

2 tbsp Honey

1 sachet unflavored Gelatin

Whip the Heavy Cream till it forms peaks. You can use the ready made frozen whipped cream. Find the one that is not sweetened. Whisk the cream cheese till smooth. Add the mango pulp and mix well. I use canned mango pulp when I don't get fresh ones in the market. However, the fresh ones just taste better. Boil the milk on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add the honey and the gelatin and stir till the gelatin melts. This will take some time, about 2-3 minutes.Add this to the cream cheese and mango mixture and stir till everything gets incorporated.  Fold the whipped cream into the mixture gently.

Pour the mixture into the pie crust and refrigerate for about 6 hours. Top with freshly chopped Mangoes or cherries.

This is my entry for JFI-Mango Event.

 

Naivedya…Malai Modak

 

Both my kids were born on Tuesdays. Now, in the US , they say that the tuesday kid is full of grace.The old and the wise (read that as the elders in our family) say that tuesday kids are stubborn and bull-headed. I dont know about the first but my son is definitely showing signs of the later. But, now that I think about it, he does have a certain grace about his stubborness. There is a 'certain grace' with which he will plop on the floor and throw his legs about when he wants something he is not supposed to have and there is a 'certain grace' with which his voice reaches tempos, that most opera singers can only dream about, within a nanosecond of something going against his wishes or if he is at his pediatricians'. Oh yes, my little dude does have 'grace'. I wonder ,though, why his pediatrician can't see it. :). My daughter is too young (2 months as I type this) to show signs of this. However, she observes everything that her brother does very intently, so that can't be far behind.

The point, you ask. In hindu mythology, tuesday is the day of Shri Ganesha. Yes, the elephant-headed god Himself. I have always had a special affinity towards this deity. You can't be part of Bombay and not feel so. Ganeshotsav is always a big part of Bombay. This festival celebrates the diety's birthday and it is done with great pomp and splendour. To have both my kids born on His day has only made it that much more special for me. Every Month, the fourth day of the second fortnight(Krishnapaksha) is considered Sankasthi chaturthi. Thats the day after the new moon. They (again, the old and wise) say that fasting on this day gets rid of all the sankat (hardships, troubles) coming your way. Fasting includes not eating regular food, eating only satvik foods till the moon rise. Pray to Shri Ganesha, pay homage to the moon, offer naivedya to both and only then eat regular food. Satvik food is pure and fresh vegetarian food that is prepared without the influence of onion and garlic, and with very little spices. The category is further shortened when your regular grains and cereals are also supposed to be avoided. So no rice or wheat. Basically, you are supposed to avoid food that generates too much heat in your body.  Naivedya is an offering to God (Niveda is sanskrit for offering hence Naivedya items).

I observe a fast on this day.

Don't ask me why. I am not gullible enough to believe that fasting for a day, every month would really make life all smooth and full of rose-tints. I do it, however, because it gives me a feeling of control with regards to something that I actually do not have any control over. It makes me feel that I am doing something to protect my family. Its all a part of being a parent, all part of trying to make life perfect for the kids. Deep within you, you know there is no such thing as a perfect world, you know that they are going to have to overcome their own share of hardships to make a good life for themselves, you know there are going to be pitfalls before they reach the peak of success and more importantly, you know that there is not a darn thing you can do about it except tend to their bruises and wounds. Thats where the prayers come in. Its funny how being a parent humbles you.

You would think that depriving youself of food for a whole day would be tough, but its not. There is an entire different set of recipes that are just so filling and delicious that you almost forget that you are fasting. Almost. There is an equally delicious set of recipes that are used as naivedya. Since I do this every month, I am now starting a series of monthly posts recording foods I prepare for fasts and naivedya.

So,  join me for delicious food , snippets on hindu mythology and a prayer.

I made Malai Modak as naivedya today. Modak is a steamed dumpling stuffed with coconut and jaggery and is supposedly Shri Ganesha's favorite. I decided to make these non-stuffed modaks the way I make malai pedas, just shaped like modaks. I make these with ricotta cheese. If you are one of those purists who consider that blasphemy, you are most welcome to make khoya in the time honored way of heating up a gallon of milk in a heavy bottomed vessel and then reducing it on low flame constantly stirring it. In about 3 to 4 hours, you should have khoya. Me, I have a pact with God. The only allowance I make, seeing that this is naivedya, is that I buy organic ricotta cheese with no preservatives.

The recipe…

16oz Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese

1 cup Heavy Cream

1/2 tsp Cardamom Powder

3-4 Strands Saffron

1/2 cup Sugar

2 tbsp Ghee (Clarified Butter)

 

Heat the ricotta cheese in a wide mouthed pan on medium heat for 6-7 mins. Stir quite frequently. The cheese would first melt and then regain its texture. Add the cream, saffron and cardamom powder and keep stirring all together till all the liquid dries up. Crush the saffron strands between your fingers before adding them, this way they will bring in more color and taste. Keep cooking till the mixture regains the texture of ricotta cheese, about 10-12 mins. Add the sugar and cook on high flame till the mixture forms a ball. Remove from flame, add the ghee and mix well. Allow to cool a little and shape into modaks or pedas.

To shape into modaks, take 1 tbsp of mixture and make a smooth ball. Now, using the all your fingers pull a little bit of a mixture ,elongating it. Press the other side of the ball on the counter or the plate. To shape into pedas, take a tsp of the mixture, shape into a ball and flatten it a little between your palms.

This recipe will make 21 modaks/pedas, exactly the number for the naivedya.