Turkish Sambali (Eggless Semolina Cake with Almonds)

Moist and decadent, the eggless semolina cake with almonds drenched in a lemon-sugar syrup is a popular Turkish dessert quite similar to basbousa and you can find them on the countless street side eateries in Turkey😋

Only 5 ingredients and 10 minutes of prep, it can’t get any simpler to make a delicious yet easy dessert on weekends when you don’t want to toil much in the kitchen.

The sugar syrup to glaze the sambali varies- sometimes it’s rose, sometimes lemon or even orange. I prefer lemon for it’s refreshing citrusy zing.

Try this easy recipe to make your tea time more delicious 🙂

Ingredients:

For the cake:

1 cup granulated sugar (I used brown)

2 cups semolina (preferably fine)

1 cup milk (preferably full fat)

1/2 tsp baking soda

Soaked and peeled almonds for garnish

For the syrup:

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup water

2 tbsp lemon juice (you can switch this with rose water or orange juice)

Method:

In a bowl, mix together the granulated sugar, semolina, baking soda and milk.

Now pour the batter into a baking dish lined with a parchment paper and let it rest for at least 30 minutes to an hour. This will help the semolina absorb all the milk.

Now make cuts on the set batter with a knife into your desired shape and garnish with peeled almonds (soak the almonds in hot water for 15-20 minutes to remove the skin easily).

Bake in a preheated oven for 35-40 minutes at 170 degree Celsius (or until a knife comes out clean, when inserted).

Prepare the sugar syrup in a pot by boiling 3/4 cup sugar and 1 cup water on medium heat. Squeeze 2 tbsp lemon juice in between and let the syrup cool down and all the sugar dissolves.

Now drizzle the syrup over the sambali making sure it glazes the whole cake. You can serve immediately but the best way would be to let it rest for at least 2 hours before serving (so that the cake soaks up the syrup nicely).

Enjoy with your evening tea 🤍

Easy Filipino Chicken Adobo

From crystal clear blue waters to some of the best white sand beaches in the world, the Philippines is abundant with natural beauty but its food is relatively less explored as compared to Thai or Vietnamese.

The classic Filipino chicken adobo is a foodie’s delight- sweet and tangy, braised in a sticky glossy sauce. Heaven on a plate 😋

Known as the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, all families have their own version and style of making chicken adobo. It’s surprisingly easy and a no fail recipe with the meat simmered in a fusion of vinegar, soy, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns.

Ingredients:

8-10 (bone-in) chicken pieces

1/3 cup cane sugar vinegar (or any other regular vinegar)

1/4 cup light soy sauce

2 tbsp palm sugar (or brown sugar)

1/4 tsp black pepper powder

1 tsp whole black pepper corns

2 large bay leaves, torn into smaller pieces

1 tsp grated ginger

6 fat cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 onion sliced

2/3 tsp cornflour mixed in water for a runny slurry

Salt to taste

Any white oil for frying

Method:

Marinate the chicken (bone-in) pieces in palm sugar, light soy sauce, vinegar, grated ginger, black pepper powder and some chopped garlic. Keep aside for at least 30 minutes.

Heat a wok with oil and lightly fry the chicken pieces (without the marinade) until they are golden brown. Remove them from the wok.

Add a little more oil in the same wok and throw in the chopped onion and garlic. Sauté until they are cooked. You could also add some chopped red chilies.


Now add peppercorns, bay leaves and the chicken pieces along with the marinade. Continue to stir fry for a couple of minutes on high heat.


Add little water, cover the wok and let it simmer on low heat for at least 30-35 minutes.

Now remove the lid and add the cornflour slurry if you want to thicken the sauce. It is supposed to be sticky and brown, not runny.

Cook for some more time until your desired consistency is reached or until the sauce has almost reduced to half.

Serve hot with rice 🤍

The Ultimate Chicken Phở (Phở Gà) ~ Lost in the lanes of Vietnam

Xin chào các bạn 🙂

Juicy succulent chicken pieces simmered in an aromatic broth served over rice noodles with an assortment of fresh herbs and condiments- the mighty phở (pronounced Fuh) is probably the most famous food export of Vietnam.

I don’t think there’s anybody who wouldn’t enjoy a fragrant bowl of warm phở on a cold winter night like today in Toronto. Although beef phở is more widely known, the chicken version is equally delicious and packed with complex yet delicate flavours.

I have always been fascinated by Vietnam and its culture, history, people and food. Ever since I read about the Vietnam War in my younger days, visiting the country was on my bucket list. This desire got stoked further on hearing stories from my dear Vietnamese friend Minh (my classmate from university days in Kuala Lumpur).

While visiting Hanoi, one of my favourite activities was to explore the local eateries and enjoy a bowl of phở. Other delicacies like bánh mì (savoury sandwich) or bún chả  (meatballs) were also sumptuous, but it was the humble phở which resonated with me the most.

Vietnamese food is all about simplicity and minimal use of spices. The fresh herbs really stand out in making each dish flavourful- whether it’s bún thịt nướng (cold rice-vermicelli noodles with grilled meat) , fresh spring rolls or bún bò xào (noodle salad).

The street-side stalls are often packed in the mornings with people sitting on plastic stools enjoying a comforting bowl of phở before work.

Although phở might look really simple, it’s a work of art in a bowl. Phở teaches you balance. The zing from lime, the piquant fish sauce, freshness of herbs, spicy kick from the red chilies and sriracha, everything is adjusted in the right proportion to create the perfectly balanced umami rich dish 🙂

Before I share the ultimate recipe of mouthwatering chicken phở, here are some precious snippets from my Hanoi and Halong Bay trip two years ago.

Dreamy lanes
Ho Van Văn Miếu ~ Confucian history and culture intrigues me, so I had to visit this ancient university built in 1070 which is dedicated to Confucius. So serene and picturesque!
Local artisanal craftwork
The stunning Hoàn Kiếm lake at night
It’s a busy day at work!
The famous book street
Sunset at the majestic Halong Bay
The gorgeous sunset view
Ethereal beauty
Maison Centrale ~ the prison for the Vietnamese revolutionaries and American POW during the Vietnam War
The sacrifices will never be forgotten
Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre ~ an evening to remember!
Sung Sot Cave ~ the biggest and most beautiful cave in Halong Bay
Such an enormous limestone structure!
Random roadside cafes ~ so Insta-worthy
Towering limestone pillars and gorgeous emerald waters- Halong Bay is breathtaking!
Room with a view at Alisa Premier Cruise
Fairy lights on winter nights at Ho Van-Văn Miếu
Vietnamese Women’s Museum ~ dedicated to heroic women for their contribution to Vietnamese history, politics and culture. The stories about women who made a mark in Vietnam War were particularly impressive.

Time for some food 😀

Fresh oysters and shrimp with onion sauce
Bánh Mì and phở
Fresh Grilled Fish
A local café
Spring Rolls and Fresh Salad
Best breakfast in Hanoi Meracus Hotel 2. Hundreds of great reviews made us choose this little gem 🙂
Traditional coffee
Some more phở

We all need a holiday after this Covid nightmare is over and hopefully we will all travel again soon. Till then keep planning and keep dreaming 🙂

Chicken Phở (Phở Gà) Recipe:

Ingredients (for 2 people):

Boiled rice noodles (for 2)

For the broth:

1 large onion, halved (unpeeled)

1 two-inch piece ginger (unpeeled)

1 large cinnamon stick

2 star anise

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

6 cloves

Few fresh coriander/ cilantro sprigs

3 tbsp fish sauce (you can add more if you like)

350-400g bone-in chicken

Salt to taste

Sugar to taste

For the topping/ garnish (the quantities are according to my preference, you can adjust as per your taste):

3 tbsp crispy fried shallots (or onions)

1 sliced Thai red chilli

Few sprigs of fresh coriander/ cilantro

8-10 fresh Thai basil leaves (or normal basil leaves if you don’t have Thai basil)

2 tbsp lime juice (or lemon like I used)

2-3 tbsp chopped spring onions

2 tbsp bean sprouts

Sriracha sauce according to taste

Few important tips:

Always use bone-in chicken for maximum flavour.

Char the veggies welly well.

Remove scum from time to time gently.

Adjust the quantities of herbs and condiments according to your taste. There is no fixed rule.

Let the broth simmer for at least 1.5 hours or more. Don’t cover the lid completely. Initially partially covered, later on simmer uncovered.

Method:

Heat a deep bottomed pot and roast the onion and ginger face down on medium heat. Make sure you don’t peel them. Continue to turn them with a tong for even charring.

When they get slightly charred, add the cinnamon, star anise, fennel and coriander seeds. Dry roast them for some more time until the spices become fragrant and the onion and ginger pieces are nicely charred.

Take out the ginger and onion. Peel the outer skin of the onion and roughly chop in 3-4 pieces to release more flavour into the broth. Also chop the ginger into smaller size as shown below. Add them back in the pot.

Throw in the chicken pieces and add enough water in the pot to make a good broth for two. Add salt, sugar, fish sauce and coriander sprigs and let the broth simmer on low heat (partially covered) for at least 1.5 hours. The longer the better!

Scoop out the scum that rises to the surface with a ladle gently without disturbing the simmering broth, from time to time.

Make sure that every time you scoop out some scum, you dip the ladle into a bowl of clear water before scooping out again. This will ensure your broth doesn’t become cloudy.

Meanwhile prepare your rice noodles according to package instructions, but don’t cook it too far ahead in time as they tend to get sticky if left out for a long time.

Also prepare the crispy shallots by frying 3 finely chopped shallots on low-medium heat in a wok. Drain and keep aside on a paper towel.

After 1.5 hours, you will notice that the broth is mostly clear.

Now remove the chicken and let the broth continue to simmer. Once slightly cool, tear the chicken pieces with your hand roughly instead of chopping, for that rustic street-side feel.

Strain the broth and adjust the seasoning. Remember to keep the broth slightly on the saltier side because it will eventually get diluted when noodles are added.

Time to assemble the phở !

In a bowl, take some of the boiled rice noodles, top it up with chicken and some chopped spring onions. Add enough broth so that it covers almost the entire bowl.

Throw in basil leaves, coriander leaves, chopped Thai red chilies, fried shallots, bean sprouts, a generous squeeze of lime and a squirt of sriracha*.

*Adding sriracha in the phở is often debated because it was never really used traditionally. But eateries now serve dollops of sriracha and hoisin sauce on a small flat dish to be used to flavour the meat and herbs for the phở. I personally don’t mind a small squirt of the hot sauce in my pho as it brings out all the flavours beautifully and elevates the taste but you may skip using it. Just keep some with you on a small plate and use as you please.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Nasi Goreng ~ From the streets of Indonesia

Nasi = Rice, Goreng = Fried, the dish literally translates to fried rice. Let’s explore the streets of South East Asia and its glorious cuisine this week 🙂

Day old rice tossed with kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), belacan (shrimp paste) and leftover veggies/ meat creates this beautiful umami rich fried rice topped with a fried egg.

One of the most talked about dishes of south east Asia (with several dubious recipes floating online!), the authentic nasi goreng is rather simple- with only stir-fried left over rice and a fried egg, as served in most local eateries across the length & breadth of Indonesia and Malaysia.

But if you want to make it into a complete wholesome meal like I did, just throw in any left over veggie, some protein and you are sorted! But what’s not optional is the kecap manis and fried egg on top😋

Don’t fret if you don’t have kecap manis. Simply reduce dark soy sauce (preferably low sodium) and brown sugar in a pan on low heat until it becomes darker & sticky. Ta-da!
You can add this sweet soy sauce to a host of Asian stir fries😉 Meanwhile you could also check out the Asian aisles of your supermarket or any Asian grocer and get a bottle of this dark and luscious velvety goodness.

Shrimp paste (belacan) gives the dish its umami flavour and elevates its taste to the next level! You can skip it if you don’t have, but do give it a try once. It does smell funky but believe me it really makes a difference in the taste and is actually much subtler in flavour once cooked.

Ingredients (for 2 servings):

200 g boneless chicken cubes

2 portions of cooked rice, a day old (if you don’t have overnight leftover rice, simply cook fresh rice and allow it to cool in refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours, don’t skip this!)

2-3 tbsp kecap manis

2 tsp chopped Thai red chilies

2 tbsp chopped garlic

1 finely chopped medium sized onion or 2-3 shallots

1 large cup veggies of your choice (I used chopped red bell pepper, beans and carrots)

1/2 tsp belacan/ shrimp paste (you can add slightly more or reduce based on your preference)

2 eggs

Salt to taste

White oil for frying

Method:

Marinate the boneless chicken cubes with 1/2 tbsp kecap manis. Keep aside.

Heat a wok; once smoking hot, add oil and throw in the chopped shallots (or onion), garlic and Thai red chilies. Sauté for a while.

Now add the chicken and spread it in the wok to ensure that it sears nicely. Stir fry for a while until the chicken is nicely browned. Next add your veggies and continue to stir fry on high heat. Adjust the salt according to your taste (remember soy sauce has salt, so go easy).

Add a bit of shrimp paste if you have and mix everything together so that the paste is evenly combined with the chicken and veggies.

Now add leftover rice (preferably short-grained) and the remaining kecap manis and stir fry for some more time. the rice and veggies should look glazed and nicely coated with the sauce.

Meanwhile prepare two fried eggs in a wok (no salt needed).

Serve hot with fried egg, cucumber slices and prawn crackers🤍 Makan time now!

Ayam Goreng Sambal (Malaysian style Spicy Sambal Chicken)

Crispy and tender boneless chicken thighs smothered in Malaysian style spicy sambal. So sedap (tasty) 🤍

Local Malay and Indonesian fares are so deliciously appetising and dangerously addictive that there’s no going back ever once you taste them at the countless mamak shops (street side restaurants)😋

I was craving sambal ayam goreng today, so quickly tossed up some fried chicken pieces in homemade sambal. Hello weekend bingeing !

Try this recipe and get transported to the enigmatic winding streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Ingredients:

For the fried chicken

300 g boneless chicken thigh

1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 tbsp kecap manis (dark sweet soy sauce)

1 tsp vinegar

1 egg beaten

2 tbsp cornflour

White oil for deep frying

For the spicy sambal

5-6 fat cloves of garlic crushed

5-6 shallots

1 lemongrass stalk finely sliced

1 inch piece of fresh turmeric (or 1 tsp turmeric powder)

2 inch piece of galangal (or fresh ginger)

2-3 dried red chilies soaked in hot water (you can add more or reduce depending on your heat tolerance)

1-2 fresh chilies (again add or reduce to your liking)

1 tsp fish sauce

2 tsp tamarind paste (without seeds)

2 tbsp brown sugar (or palm sugar)

Any white (neutral) oil

Method

Marinate the chicken thigh pieces with some salt, ginger-garlic paste, kecap manis, vinegar, 1 beaten egg and cornflour. Keep refrigerated for 30 mins.

Heat some oil in a wok for deep frying. Fry the chicken until nice and crunchy golden brown. Drain and keep aside on a plate.

Meanwhile prepare the sambal by grinding the garlic cloves, fresh turmeric, ginger (or galangal), soaked dried red chilies, fresh chilies, shallots and lemongrass stalk into a paste in a blender or a mortar-pestle if you have patience.

Now heat a wok with oil. Sauté the paste on low heat until the aromatics turn fragrant which may take 12-15 minutes. Now add little fish sauce, palm sugar (or brown sugar) and the tamarind paste (you can make it to your liking by adjusting the sugar and tamarind).


Once the oil releases from the spices, it’s time to add the fried chicken and toss them for a while. Serve hot with your favourite drinks or simple nasi putih (white rice) 🙂

Bhapa Doi (Baked Yogurt) Cheesecake: Eggless & No Cream Cheese

Say mishti doi once and most faces light up- from Bollywood celebrities to those far away from their homeland Bengal. It’s an emotion after all!

But its lesser known and equally delicious cousin Bhapa doi (steamed yogurt) deserves a mention too!
With a creamy and light pudding-like texture coupled with the earthy flavour of nolen gur (date palm jaggery), this cheesecake is a sure winner this winter ❄️

You could play around with different toppings like strawberry glaze or chocolate shavings or you may also mix fresh mango puree in the cake batter to make it even more sinful.

With minimal ingredients and a hassle-free baking technique, this cheesecake comes together in a snap! Try it once and feel the magic 🙂

Ingredients:

2 cups parle g/ good day or any digestive biscuit crumbs

1/2 cup melted butter

200 g plain yogurt

100 g hung yogurt

300 ml condensed milk

1 tsp vanilla essence

3 tbsp liquid nolen gur (date palm jaggery)

4-5 tbsp fresh milk (preferably full fat)

Chopped almonds and pistachios for garnishing

Method:

In a bowl, add 2 cups of Parle g/ Good day or any other digestive biscuit crumbs and the melted butter. Mix thoroughly until well combined. Now press the crumbs into an even layer at the bottom of an 8-9 inch spring foam pan. Keep refrigerated for at least 15-20 minutes.

In another bowl, gently fold with a spatula the following ingredients- plain yogurt, hung yogurt, condensed milk, vanilla essence, liquid nolen gur and fresh milk. Don’t use a whisk! Just mix the ingredients with a spatula without over mixing, else the cake may crack while baking.

The best thing about bhapa doi/ steamed yogurt is that there is no fixed measurement of ingredients unlike regular baking. You can add/ reduce the quantities depending on how sweet you want the cheesecake to be but just make sure that the batter is of slightly thicker consistency.

Pour the batter into the cake pan.

Put few drops of the liquid gur/ jaggery on top with a spoon and now spread them with a toothpick/ skewer to your liking and create any random design as seen the pictures below.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170 degree Celsius for 50 minutes. Don’t forget to pour some hot water on a baking tray and place the cake pan on top and then bake (water bath).


Refrigerate for at least 5 hours and serve chilled garnished with chopped almonds, pistachios and a drizzling of some warm nolen gur🤍

Authentic Kolkata Biryani- Tracing Roots & Bridging Cultures


The classic Kolkata chicken biryani with its juicy tender meat, mild & fragrant spices & succulent potatoes, is inspired heavily by the Awadhi style.

As I write this, fond memories of Arsalan, Shiraz & Aminia just keep coming back🤍 The city’s love for this stellar dish can be experienced through the countless biryani eateries strewn across its length and breadth.

Source: YouTube

The seeds were planted in the mid 1800s when the 10th Nawab of Awadh (or Oudh) was exiled from Lucknow and his properties were seized by the British. He moved with his entourage to Metiabruz in Calcutta, which soon became a cultural mecca thriving with musicians, courtesans, royal kitchen khansamas (cooks), skilled darzis (tailors), et al.

The Nawab was a man of taste and a well known connoisseur of food. He had his royal kitchen khansamas with him who were some of the best of those times- highly skilled, enterprising and always innovating to indulge and delight the Nawab’s tastebuds.

That’s how Awadhi biryani which is cooked in the dum-pukht style reached Calcutta. In dum-pukht style of cooking, the rice and the meat korma is cooked separately and then layered in the pot on which the lid is sealed tightly with dough so that the steam doesn’t dissipate and flavours remain intact.

This ingenious method results in the exotic aromatic juices from the meat to ooze into the rice and potatoes, creating a subtle yet exquisite flavour in the biryani.

All great so far!

But how did the humble (or not so humble) potato and egg come into the picture?

If you ask me, I would say the potato is my favourite thing about biryani. Only those who have tasted Kolkata biryani would truly understand what I’m saying! Undoubtedly, it is the humble soft potato that connects true blue Calcuttans across the globe and sparks debate (at the drop of a hat) about the best biryani joints in Kolkata.

There’s a lot of literature out there discussing the origin/ history of adding potatoes. On researching, most sources lean towards the theory that with the Nawab’s wealth depleting, the purse strings were tightened but being a gourmet, he always enjoyed having his royal meals. So his khansamas began innovating in the kitchen to find ways to satiate him, hence the inclusion of potatoes (and later on eggs) to stay within budget. Click here to read more.

But there’s another side to this claim which states that potato was actually considered an exotic vegetable. According to the great-great-grandson of the Nawab Shahanshah Mirza, as mentioned in an article published by Hindustan Times, potato cultivation was sparse in those days and hence not readily available, making it a luxury produce.

The khansamas simply experimented one day with potatoes in the biryani which the Nawab seemed to relish and approve of, and that’s how potatoes got introduced in Kolkata biryani 🙂 You can read the complete article here

For the chicken biryani, I blindly followed Manzilat Fatima’s brilliant recipe (she draws her lineage from Awadh’s royal family), noting down every single ingredient and technique that went into making this phenomenal dish, which she shared in a YouTube video by Delhi Food Walks🤍 Only exception being the eggs which I added, as I love eggs 😀

Manzilat Fatima’s famous Kolkata biryani recipe


I have tried her recipe for at least 7-8 times now and every single time the flavours simply knock your socks off! There’s no going back now. Watch the video to get her mind blowing recipe or you can continue to read below where I have broken down her recipe in 4 simple steps (for 3 servings):

Step 1

Peel 4 potatoes and fry them in mustard oil. Sprinkle salt, 1/3 tsp turmeric and a little red chilli powder while frying. Add little water, cover and continue to fry them. Keep aside when almost done.

Now heat some more mustard oil and fry 1 large red onion to make barista. Drain and keep aside on a paper towel.

Step 2

Heat mustard oil in a handi (or a deep bottomed pan). Add 4-5 cloves, 6 green cardamoms, 1 black cardamom and 2 cinnamon sticks. Fry for a while and add the fried barista again. Throw in 2 fat cloves of crushed garlic and fry for a few seconds.

Now add 2 tbsp hung yogurt and mix well. Add little red chilli powder, 2 tbsp biryani masala (I used Shan Pilau Biryani masala, it’s fantastic!) and mix well. Now add 2 inch grated ginger and fry everything for a while. Add 6 chicken thighs (bone-in) and cook on medium heat for 5-7 mins. Lower the flame, cover and keep cooking.

Step 3

Wash and soak 11/2 cup rice for 1 hour. Drain and keep in a colander. Now boil a pot of water and add 4 cloves, 4 cardamoms and 2 bay leaves while boiling.

Once it comes to a rolling boil, add 1 tbsp lemon juice, salt to taste and the drained rice.

Cook until the rice is about 90% done.

Step 4

In the korma handi/ pan, gently place the potatoes and sprinkle a tsp of kewra water. Next, assemble the rice and pour half a cup of milk mixed with 1 tsp biryani masala on top.

Mix 2 tsp kewra water with saffron strands and drizzle over rice. Drizzle some ghee (clarified butter) and place 2 boiled eggs. I had some extra onion barista which I sprinkled on top. Now place an aluminum foil on top of the handi and seal it properly.

Cover with a lid on top and cook on low heat for 30 mins. Keep a standing time of at least 5 mins.

Aloor Bora (Bengali style crispy potato fritters with chilies)

Recipe no: 4 from my #regionalkitchensofindia series

This has to be the easiest recipe among all that I’ve ever shared on my blog.

Maa used to make this quite often during my growing up years and I loved these fritters with some rice and lentils. Best comfort food ever🤍 I still remember coming back home from school, quickly changing and rushing to the kitchen to see what’s for supper. That really was the highlight of my day!

So I knew I had to include this simple dish in my #regionalkitchensofindia series. Most of us have the usual potato chips/ fries/ aloo bhaja at home all the time, but have you tried fritters with the potato skin unpeeled, Bengali style?

Bengal had faced several challenges in its long history which had adverse implications on its economy. As a result, women came up with several innovative ways to utilise everything they had in their kitchen and minimise wastage. No peels, skins, stems or fish head got thrown away 😅

You can enjoy this with either a simple meal like dal-chawal (lentil and rice) or with your evening cuppa. Simple pleasures of life 🙂

Ingredients (for about 10 small fritters):

9-10 small potatoes, boiled (don’t remove the skin)

1 tsp roasted cumin powder

3 finely chopped green chilies

1 tsp finely chopped coriander leaves

Salt to taste

3 tsp rice flour

Mustard oil to deep fry

Method:

Boil the potatoes & mash them without removing the skin. That’s the essence of this dish.

Add salt, roasted cumin powder, lots of chopped green chilies and coriander leaves. Throw in the rice flour for binding and mix everything well.

Make small balls and fry them on medium heat in very hot oil (preferably mustard oil).

Chicken Dak Bungalow- from the erstwhile British Raj in India

Recipe no: 3 from my #regionalkitchensofindia series

One of the most mystifying dishes from eastern India, chicken dak bungalow is a colonial recipe developed during the British era in India.

I first tasted this legendary chicken curry at a famous Bengali restaurant Bhojohori Manna back in my teens. Since then I have been quite fascinated by this unpretentious yet wholesome dish made with meat (mutton/ chicken), eggs, potatoes and freshly ground spices!

Dak = Post

Dakbangla or Dak Bungalows were government owned rest houses for the sahibs (British administrative officials) who were traveling for work and needed a place to spend the night. These bungalows were situated mostly along the postal routes in very remote areas and hence the name ‘Dak‘ bungalow.

Source: Wikipedia

Often the officers would arrive late at night or without any notice and the guest house caretakers/ khansamas (cook) had to prepare dinner within their modest means and with what was available locally or could be procured quickly.

There was nothing fancy about the curry but it was delicious and comforting, just what the tired and weary souls of the traveling British officials would be craving.

The dish was mostly prepared with fowl because it was cheap and readily available or maybe mutton sometimes if the budget permitted (or when a goat was hunted on a hunting trip by the guest). Basic spices from the pantry were used which were freshly grounded, some green chilies and potatoes (eggs were added much later) resulted in a mildly spiced curry that was simple and mouthwatering.

There are many resources online with different variations of the recipe, but unfortunately there is no one single authentic recipe of this glorious dish because each dak bungalow prepared this curry based on the availability of resources, time, guest requests and most importantly the skills and whims of the cooks who would sometimes skip an ingredient or add a new spice!

Sadly, due to lack of documentation, most of the dak bungalow recipes are now lost. Whatever little we have today are retrieved from the families of the skilled khansamas and caretakers.

An absolute must have with some hot steaming white rice, if you want to time travel and relish the flavours of yesteryears 🙂

Ingredients:

300 g chicken (bone-in)

4 medium potatoes, halved

2 hard boiled eggs

For the chicken marinade:

3 tbsp yogurt

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder (I used Kashmiri red chilli powder because it has no heat and gives a brilliant colour)

1/2 tsp cumin powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1 tbsp mustard oil

For the gravy:

3-4 tbsp mustard oil

1/2 tsp sugar

1 large bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

3-4 green cardamom

1 dried red chilli

1 medium onion roughly chopped

1 heaped tbsp grated ginger and garlic

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chilli powder

1/2 tsp coriander powder

1/2 tsp cumin powder

Salt to taste

2 whole green chilies

1 large cup warm water

Method:

Marinate the chicken with the ingredients listed under marinade in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt and turmeric powder on the potatoes and the boiled eggs. Poke some holes in the eggs so that they don’t splutter in hot oil while frying.

Heat a wok/ kadhai with mustard oil and fry the potatoes followed by the boiled eggs for 4-5 minutes each. In the same wok, add the whole spices like bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamom, dried red chilli and some sugar. Sugar helps in caramelising the gravy and lends a beautiful colour.

Now add the chopped onion and fry until golden brown on medium heat. Throw in the grated ginger and garlic and mix well for a couple of minutes until the raw smell disappears.

In a bowl, add the dry spice powders like turmeric, cumin, coriander, red chilli and salt. Mix with little water to form a paste and add it in the wok. Stir fry well for 5 minutes on medium heat.

This is the time to add the chicken to the gravy. Mix everything well and cook on medium heat for 7-8 minutes or until the oil separates. Cover the pan and cook for another 3-4 minutes on low heat. Now throw in the potato and add a cup of warm water and let it come to a boil.

Cover and cook for another 10-15 minutes on low heat. Now add the eggs, whole green chilies and adjust the salt/ sugar. Cover and cook for the last 5 minutes or until the chicken is absolutely tender and the gravy looks perfectly done.

Garnish with some chopped fresh coriander and serve hot.

Shoukheen Lau (Traditional bengali style bottle gourd/ lauki curry with grated coconut and mustard)

Recipe no: 2 from my #regionalkitchensofindia series

A legacy of lost flavours…

Durga pujo (most important festival for Bengalis) at my choto pishi’s (paternal aunt) in the suburbs of Calcutta dates back to the early 1960s. The huge imposing estate in Naihati close to the Ganges has witnessed many a grand celebration over the years when cousins far and near and members across generations would gather to participate in the festivities with much fervour.

Of the many pujo bhog (food offered to goddess Durga) recipes, the one that stayed with me is this bottle gourd dish with shorshe baata (mustard paste) and narkel kora (grated coconut).

The humble lau/ lauki/ bottle gourd with earthy flavours results in a hearty soulful dish reminiscent of glorious days gone by 🙂

Ingredients:

1 medium sized bottle gourd (lau), chopped in thin slices

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 slit green chilli

2 whole green chilies

4 tbsp grated coconut

1/2 tsp sugar

Salt to taste

2 tbsp mustard oil

For mustard paste:

1 tsp black mustard seeds

2 tsp yellow mustard seeds

Salt to taste

1 small green chilli

1/3 cup warm water

Method:

Take a medium sized bottle gourd/ lau and chop it up in thin slices as shown in the picture below.

Heat a frying pan with mustard oil until it’s smoking hot and then temper it with mustard seeds and a slit green chilli. Once fragrant, add the chopped bottle gourd/ lauki and continue to stir fry on medium-high heat for 5 minutes.

Now cover the pan and let it cook on low heat. Meanwhile for the mustard paste, throw in the two mustard seeds, green chilli and salt in a blender with some warm water and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Now blend few times to get a fine paste. The longer you soak the mustard seeds, the better.

Remove the cover from the pan and add the mustard paste and mix everything well and cook for 5 minutes. Add salt as per your taste.

Slowly add in the grated coconut and sugar and stir fry on medium heat for another 5-6 minutes. Throw in 2 green chilies and cover and cook for 10-15 more minutes or until the lau/ bottle gourd is well combined. There is no need to add any additional water.

Switch off the flame and give it a standing time for 5 minutes. Best served with some plain white rice 🙂

Did you know that the bottle gourd skin is actually very delicious when fried?!

Next time you prepare this or any other bottle gourd dish, don’t throw away the peels.

Chop them up in very fine slices along with some thinly sliced potatoes and stir fry them in oil (preferably mustard) tempered with nigella (kalonji) seeds and slit green chilies. Add in salt and turmeric powder and finish off with a sprinkling of some poppy (posto) seeds on top before taking it off from the stove.

Ta daa ! Your delicious lau khosha bhaja/ (fried bottle gourd skin) is ready!