Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Green Chicken

Love the fragrant, sweet and spicy depth of this simple dish! It's a favorite.

1 bunch spinach (roughly chopped)- you can also substitute with any other green of your choice or a mix.
1 lb chicken 
3 large tomatoes
1 large onion (thinly sliced)
1 inch pc ginger (roughly chopped)
5 garlic cloves (roughly chopped)
3-4 green chillies (slit)
4 tbsp. yogurt

3 cardamoms
2 bay leaves
2 cinnamon pcs 

2 tsp. ground coriander
1.5 tsp ground garam masala

salt and back pepper to taste

Add oil to a pre-heated pan. Add the cardamom and bay leaves and lightly fry. Add the cinnamon, green chillies and onion and fry till caramelized. Separately, blend the ginger, garlic and the tomatoes. Add to the pan. Cook on medium heat for another 3-5 minutes till smoothly mixed. Add the chicken, coriander powder, garam masala, pepper and salt. Cook till the mixture reduces and oil starts separating. At this point, add yogurt and spinach. Simmer covered on low heat for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 15 minutes till a thick sauce remains. Serve with basmati rice.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Simple Lentil Stew 2 - Lal Masoor Daal

Wash 1 cup red lentils in several changes of water. Combine with 1 cup water and bring to boil over medium high heat. When boiling, add 2 medium peeled tomatoes, 1/2 tsp. turmeric and 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, reduce heat to low and cook covered for 20-30 minutes. Check to see if the lentils and tomatoes have softened. If so, mash well with a slotted spoon, add salt and cover to cook again. At this point, you can also add some more water (1/2 cup) to thin out if needed (end consistency should be between stew and soup but not runny). Keep mashing frequently to ensure all the ingredients are well blended. Once done, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. In a separate heated pan, add 2 tbsp. oil, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds and 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds and allow to sizzle for 10 seconds. Then add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 3-4 curry leaves and 3 dried red chillies (split in half) and cook till then garlic starts to brown. Pour this oil mixture over the daal and cover quickly to let it smoke and flavor. Mix well and serve with steamed rice and achaar.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Karachi Food Diaries Day 30 - 31 (Sauteed greens, saag)

January 5 2011 Wednesday, Day 30- My sister left to go back to London today and I am also heading back in two days. Feeling a little gloomy and sad to be at the end of this lovely trip, my mother and I stepped out for lunch. Koel is an eatery tucked away in the leafy, luminous garden of an art gallery. Languid frangipani trees lead into an oasis of south Asian regional food.

Appetizer was dhokla; a Gujrati snack made from fermented chickpea flour. Delicate and fluffy topped with a piquant chutney, it hit the spot. For lunch, I ordered a kulcha sandwich. This is a modern take on an old Punjabi specialty. The bread dough is traditionally flavored with onions and potatoes and various herbs and spices and then baked. Mine had a hint of tarragon. For the filling, I went simple and chose tomato, paneer (mild desi cheese) and basil. It came with spicy tomato chutney. Being greedy, I also asked for a side spinach chutney. It was lovely!
I spent my last night in Karachi with some friends. It seemed that I was generating some good culinary karma, my friend had ordered Captain Saleem's crabs!

When in high school or on vacation from college, crabbing used to be a wildly popular Karachi pasttime. We would be rowed out in a rental boat by fishermen, away from the Kaemari harbor and into the moonlit sea, drop line, catch crabs and eat onboard. The food was cooked over an open fire. I have not had more delicious crabs anywhere else. The spice rub recipe was deeply guarded. One of the pioneers in the industry was Captain Saleem. His crabs were the most delectable. As his fame grew, it assumed mythical proportions. Every fisherman would answer to his name when called and no-one really knew what he looked like. The only way you could distinguish the man from the impostors was the higher price he charged, not a very good method. Saleem, ever the smart entrepreneur, decided to distinguish his business and make his mark directly in the homes of his customers. He started a catering business where his team would come and cook in your kitchen. So, that is how I found myself enjoying this treasured delicacy from my childhood in a wonderful and comfortable setting and I can truly attest that the Captain has not lost his magic touch!

January 6 2011 Thursday, Day 31- My last day in Karachi. I am going to miss this precious city and my friends and family immensely. As a befitting farewell meal, I had the loveliest home-cooked lunch. It was simple as can be; khichri, saag (a sauteed spinach and mustard greens dish) and lots of shaljam ka achaar. Heavenly. Eaten in the veranda in the company of my loved ones, I could not have asked for more. Farewell my beautiful, sad city. Till the next time.

Saag is a quintessential and rustic Punjabi dish. It makes the most divine combination with makki ki roti (indian cornbread). Chop up 1 bunch of spinach and 1 bunch mustard greens. Combine with 2 chopped green chillies, 1 tbsp. ground ginger and 1 tbsp. ground garlic. Heat some salted water in a pot (about a cup as the vegetables will also release water), add the greens and cook till wilted. Remove and cool. Roughly mash. In a separate pan, heat oil and add 1/2 tsp. fenugreek seeds. As they sizzle, add one medium chopped onion and fry till golden. To this add, 1 tsp. coriander powder, 1 tsp. cumin powder, 1 tsp. garam masala and 1 tbsp. chickpea flour. Keep frying till nicely mixed. When the oil starts to separate from the spices, add the greens and cook till all the liquid evaporates. Squeeze the juice on 1 lemon, mix and serve.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Karachi Food Diaries Day 27 - 29 (Desi omelette, khagina)

January 2, 2011 Sunday, Day 27
My sister, who ended up spending the night at my cousin's place, arrived at noon and woke me up. She was wired on very little sleep and wanted company. We carried on from the night before over brunch, chatting, laughing and generally being silly. It was a bittersweet throwback to the days before college, marriage or emigration had entered our lives, when we shared a room and our secrets. Brunch was a khagina with paratha. Khagina is a delicious egg and vegetable concoction. In the late afternoon, as my sister took a nap, I accompanied my mother to a majlis. The hisa was heavy taftan and reshmi kabab. Taftan is a thick, bulbous rice flour bread. I ate in moderation and skipped dinner.

January 3, 2011 Monday, Day 28
At night,  my parents had a dinner at their place. The food was catered by a company that my mother has frequently ordered from over the years. I always enjoy their food. On the menu tonight was fried fish, kababs, khatti daal, pulao and mixed vegetable .

However, the star of the menu was Kuna. This is a slow-cooked mutton curry originating from a small place in Punjab called Chiniot. The meat is marinated and cooked in an earth-ware pot, buried underground in a pit over coals. The idea is for it to cook in it's own fat for 2-3 days. The result is succulent, falling-off-the-bones, melting-in-your-mouth delicious!

January 4, 2011 Tuesday, Day 29
The food for the day was leftovers from the night before with freshly made daal and turnip sabzi at night; cleansing and mercifully meat-free.
This most tasty brunch item is a cross between an omelette and scrambled eggs. It is very easy to make and delicious. Melt 1 tbsp. butter in a non-stick frying pan. Once hot, add a chopped medium onion. Fry till it turns transparent. Add to this, 1 chopped and deseeded medium tomato, a pinch of crushed red pepper, 2 deseeded and chopped green chillies, a handful of chopped coriander leaves and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on medium heat till the tomatoes soften. Add 4 eggs to the pan and scramble to mix in well with the ingredients. Keep breaking the egg mixture and cooking till well browned (the eggs are cooked longer than in western recipes). Remove from heat and serve immediately with roti or paratha.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Karachi Food Diaries Day 25 - 26 (Seviyan, sweet saffron vermicelli)

December 31 Friday- Day 25
New Year's Eve!

January 1 2011 Saturday- Day 26

Hurting from the previous night, I stumbled out of bed around 1pm. Lunch was simple; daal, potato cauliflower medley, keema with roti and rice. To usher in the new year on a fitting note, we decided to go out for dinner. So, my mother, her sister, my sister and three female cousins, with a couple of bottles of wine in tow, headed to Okra again. My original response to this restaurant on this trip had been lukewarm. I was ready to give it another chance.. and it didn't disappoint! The food was delicious. Starters were duck pate, calamari and escargot. The calamari was perfectly grilled, smoky and tender with a light lemony dressing, the pate was cleverly presented and the escargot was out of this world! Juicy and large, served on little toasted bread rounds to soak up the buttery goodness. I could have eaten the whole plate by myself! Good start to the meal. The round of entree was also as satisfying.
My two favorite dishes were filet mignon in a morel sauce and tilapia with green chillies. The sauce in the former was rich and creamy with a generous use of morels. The filet was topped with fried slivers of beets. It was utterly original and very tasty. The tilapia was crispy and tender, if a tad bit burnt, with a delicious green chilli sauce that definitely had a bite. The dish was served on a bed of greens with a side of grilled onions and garnished with lemon and cilantro. I am hungry again just writing about it! We ate, drank, laughed over shared stories from the night before and more. With a rich, delicious dark chocolate molten cake to go, we moved our party to my aunt's place and continued well into the night.  
I decided to share the recipe for seviyan (sweet saffron vermicelli) here. The reason being that it is a treat that is prepared on festive, celebratory occasions and is a delicious, easy dessert. Prepare a simple syrup by dissolving 2 cups of sugar in a pot of water over medium-high heat. Separately, prepare 1 lb. vermicelli by breaking it into small, equal length pieces (about 1 inch). In a preheated frying pan, add 2 tbsp. ghee (clarified butter) add to this the vermicelli, 3 whole cloves, 5-6 cardamom pods and some raisins and cook till a deep brown color. Transfer this to the syrup pot along with a generous portion of chopped peeled almonds and pistachios (about a cup). Also, add to this a mixture saffron (a pinch) soaked in warm milk for about 2-3 minutes. Stir the ingredients well and cook till the vermicelli softens and all the water dries up. Serve warm with a generous dollop of cream.

Happy 2011!

Friday, December 31, 2010

Karachi Food Diaries Day 21 - 24 (Potato-cauliflower medley, aloo gobi)

December 27, 2010 Monday- Day 21
I have accepted my defeat in the battle against the curry and the meat. There is no getting away from it. It is the way things roll here. I can prepare my own meals but that is not an option in this land of  domestic help. So, I submit and savor. Time enough to revisit the ideal in the new year. Four days left till the end of the year,  social life is whirling and swirling. Parties and dinners all round. Lunch at home is usually a curry, a dry vegetable dish, sometimes kababs, rice and bread with lots of raw vegetables and pickles on the side. Dinner is either out or, if home, then the same. Trying to keep it as simple as possible.

December 28 Tuesday- Day 22
Dinner was at Cafe Flo. It is the most popular French restaurant in the city. I have always enjoyed the food here. The meal started off well with complimentary vol-au-vent for the table. Yummy. Wish I could say the same for the rest of the meal. We ordered carpaccio, crab salad special and escargot as appetizers. The carpaccio was closer to the classic recipe than Okra's but still lacking for me. It was too thin, plastered flat to the plate while the parmesan was too thickly cut. The arugula or rocket as it is called here, was mixed with mushrooms and dressed a little heavily. The lemon wedge was much needed. Also, the plate was cold as if it had been preprepared and refrigerated. Escargot was delicious in their buttery, salty, and garlicky perfection; enjoyed sopping up the excess juice with my bread. The crab salad was not right; watery, not enough meat and actually tasting a little off. For the main entree, I ordered red snapper with shrimp and calamari. The seafood was fresh but overdressed again with too many ingredients. The saving grace in the meal my friend's entree, baked red snapper marinated in soya sauce, ginger and wasabi; delicate and delectable. Live and learn another day!
December 29 Wednesday- Day 23
The night was double-booked; two dinners and lots of drinks. Food was served again at the tail-end of the night at which point my taste buds were comfortably numb and not too discerning.
December 30 Thursday- Day 24
Had lunch at my aunt's place. It was a feast. On the menu was achari bhindi (okra cooked in pickling spices), saag gosht (spinach with meat), daal, khata murghi salan (hot and sour chicken curry), sauteed zucchini, alu gobi and shrimp biryani, beans and hot roti. Delicious. Tomorrow is New Year's Eve. I will be back with a final recap as soon as I can emerge from my indulgent haze. Wishing all an early safe and happy new year!
Alu Gobi
This is a colorful, nutritious vegetable delight. It a combination of potato and cauliflower with either peas or carrots. This recipe is with carrots. Add 1/2 cup oil to a preheated pan and then1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. black mustard seeds and 1/2 tsp. minced garlic. When they start to sizzle, add 1 cup cauliflower (florets separated and cut up), 1 cup carrots (diced) and 1 medium potato (cubed). Season well with salt and black, saute uncovered for a little while, add a little water and cover to cook in the steam. When vegetables are cooked half way, approx. 15-20 mins, I add 1/2 a cup of balsamic vinegar. This is unusual preparation but does add a delicious piquant flavor to the dish. At this point, add more water if necessary and cover to cook till vegetables are soft. Garnish with a handful of chopped cilantro. Enjoy with daal and rice or roti.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Karachi Food Diary Day 18-20 (Minced meat patties, shami kabab)

Bangles in every hue
December 24, 2010 Friday- Day 18
At night was my niece's bismillah; a ceremony which marks the start of the religious education of a child, usually at the age of 4 years. A throwback to the days when generations of a family lived together and used every occasion as a reason to celebrate, feast and mingle, it is now a custom that is slowly fading from our busy, solitary lives. My sister's in-laws, however, keep it alive and celebrate with much gusto. The child is dressed in traditional regalia. If it is a girl, she is dressed in an outfit of bright colors heavily hand-worked in silver and gold. The outfit is completed by the donning of full jewelry including tikka (jeweled head piece that falls like a pendant in the center of the forehead), necklaces and bangles. A little princess. Excitement was building in our house the whole day and my niece was besides herself with excitement. During the day, the meal was simple; khichri, daal and kofta salan (meatball curry). In the evening, we headed to my sister's in-laws' house for the ceremony. The upstairs terrace was completely covered in a red and silver awning; the atmosphere was festive and warm. We settled down for the ceremony. My niece was to repeat some lines after her grandfather who was leading the ceremony. When she got on stage and looked around at the amateur photographers (who isn't these days?) crowding around her, flashbulbs clicking, she froze. No amount of coaxing, cajoling could bring her to repeat the lines. I think I would have done the same! It was intimidating. Anyway, she managed to mumble something towards the end and the ceremony was safely concluded. Now, for the feasting. The food was laid out. The menu was chicken salan, kabab, pulao and naan. It was regular catered food; heavy on oil and spice.
Fareed Ayaz Qawwals
After the food was the qawwali. This was the highlight of the night for the adults. Qawwali is Sufi devotional music that has found it's way out of the shrines and into the homes of devotees. The qawwals were the wildly popular Fareed Ayaz qawwals. The are globally revered for their music. I sat mesmerized and deeply moved by their performance which went on into the wee hours. At about 3 pm, a second feast was laid out. This was much more tempting than the earlier one; Baghare Timatar (Hyderabadi stewed tomatoes), kachori (pastry-like bread filled with a filling of meat) and kababs. Night went on after this with more music, drinks and paan (betel leaf concoctions). Returned home, exhausted and satiated.
Potato Dauphinoise
December 25, 2010 Saturday- Day 19
The day dawned late and lazy. Savored a home-cooked meal of timatar gosht (meat stewed in tomatoes) and saag (sauteed spinach). In the evening, some friends had booked one of the most popular restaurant in Karachi, Cafe Flo for a drinks and dinner fiesta of about 60 people. It was good to see familiar faces and share stories over some wine. Small quantity of the alcohol that comes into this city is legal, i.e., for diplomats, ex-pats, etc. but majority is smuggled in from Dubai by bootleggers and is sold at criminally exorbitant mark-ups. In wine, the choice is limited to whatever is available. Most of the time it comes down to just white or red. Further, alot of the stock is tampered with and unreliable. For the party, there was a crate of sparkling wine that turned out to be completely flat. Even with these problems, wine market is thriving and it is the drink of choice. Dinner, on the other hand, was delicious, if a little rich. Cafe Flo is the best French food in Karachi and the restaurant doesn't disappoint. The menu was fish in a creamy sauce (rich and succulent), lamb with mint chutney, potato dauphinoise and crispy carrot and beans side. It was fresh, creamy but light and delicately seasoned; so refreshing after the days of kababs and meat dishes.
December 26, 2010 Sunday- Day 20
Luncheon of comforting egg and potato curry, shami kabab and raita with piping hot naan. My favorite pickle shaljam ka achaar had been prepared on request and was now ready to eat. It was the perfect accompaniment to the meal.  At night, we ate at my aunt's house. She ordered the quintessential Karachi indulgence; nihari. This time I caved in and had it. It was delicious but sat heavy in the stomach.
Shami Kabab
Soak half cup split peas in water for an hour and drain. Combine with 1lb. finely ground beef and move the mixture to a heavy saucepan. Now add 1 finely chopped large onion, 1 tbsp. minced ginger, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. black pepper, 1/2 tsp. ground clove, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander and salt to taste. Add a cup water and mix well. Simmer for 30 minutes on medium heat. Stir frequently to avoid sticking until moisture has more or less evaporated and the mixture is dry. set aside and allow to cool. 
Once at room temperature, add 1 chopped onion, 2 small minced green chillies, chopped mint leaves, chopped coriander leaves, 2 tbsp. chickpea flour. Knead by hand or give a quick whir in the food processor, taking care to not let it become too pasty. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm.
Remove from fridge and mix in 1 lightly beaten egg and 1 tbsp. whipped yogurt. Knead well. 
Divide the meat into palm-sized portion, probably around 10-12. Keep a bowl of water handy for moistening hands if mixture gets too dry. Form into balls and then flatten into patties.  Shallow fry these patties in a preheated pan over medium heat, making sure to evenly brown both sides. Serve piping hot.
Note: although cumin, coriander and clove powders are all easily available in the market, it is advisable to ground the whole spices at home. This can be done by using a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder. The flavor is more intense and fragrant.