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!