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!

Authentic Chhanar Dalna (Bengali Cottage Cheese Kofta Curry)

While cleaning my bookshelf a couple of days back, I stumbled upon this slightly mildewed Bengali cookbook ‘Randhan Shikkha‘ which translates to ‘cooking lesson’. The book is from the 1950s and belonged to my late mother-in-law who had given it to me knowing my love for cooking and vintage recipes 🙂

A treasure trove of earthy Bengali dishes long forgotten…..

That’s when I decided to dedicate this whole month to recreating uncelebrated heritage recipes from the regional kitchens of India that no longer enjoy the privilege of being talked about, written about or included in the menus of a typical Indian restaurant.

These culinary classics from our grandmothers’ times are slowly getting lost in the age of convenience and fusion food.

So what better way to start the new year than to share some of the most authentic regional recipes starting with what else but Bengali cuisine. After all, Indian food has so much more to offer than just butter chicken, chole bhature, masala dosa or mishti doi!

Recipe no: 1 from my #regionalkitchensofindia series.

Chhana/ Chana = cottage cheese; dalna = gravy/ curry.

Soft pillowy fried cottage cheese (chhana) balls simmered in a freshly made ginger-cumin-green chili based gravy, finished with a big dollop of ghee (clarified butter).

Chhana is not to be confused with paneer. Technically they are made in the same way but chhana is much softer and moister and is kneaded like a dough to make soft balls for kofta curries or the iconic rasgullas.

Looking back I recall my thakuma (grandma) cooking her signature cottage cheese and potato curry on special occasions when niramish (vegetarian) meals meant strictly no-onion and no-garlic. My maa still makes it every year during nabobarsho (Bengali new year) if she’s in town.

The dish probably has its origin back in the times when Bengali Hindu widows were prohibited from eating anything non-vegetarian including onion and garlic, so women prepared a lot of recipes with milk in order to get required protein in their food and since then the recipes have passed down several generations.

The quintessential ‘aada-jeere baata‘ (ginger-cumin paste) is the heart of his curry. The gorgeous aroma of this paste made in the mortar-pestle evokes a sense of comfort and transports me straight to my thakuma’s hneshel (grandma’s kitchen).

Bittersweet memories!

Try out this simple recipe the next time you want some protein-rich vegetarian dish. It is guaranteed to make your tastebuds dance!

Ingredients (9-10 medium sized koftas):

The original recipe calls for homemade chhana/ chhena (cottage cheese), but I used Nanak’s fresh paneer which tastes fantastic and is extremely soft, making it the perfect substitute. For those of you unsure of your chhana making skills or are pressed for time, I would highly advise to get very good quality fresh paneer made from full fat milk.

For the chhana/ cottage cheese koftas:

220 g fresh paneer, crumbled

1 tbsp all purpose flour/ maida

1 tsp sugar

Salt to taste

White oil to shallow fry

For the gravy:

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 large bay leaf

1 large cinnamon stick

4-5 green cardamom

3 cloves

A paste made of 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 green chili and 2 inch ginger chunk (preferably in a mortar-pestle)

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp kashmiri red chili powder

2 medium potatoes diced in cubes

1/2 chopped tomato

2 whole green chilies

1/2 tsp sugar

Salt to taste

11/2 tbsp white oil

1 tsp ghee (clarified butter)

1/2 tsp garam masala (preferably Bengali gorom moshla)

1 small cup warm water

Method:

In a bowl add the crumbled paneer, all purpose flour, salt, sugar and knead well like a dough for at least 6-7 minutes. Now divide the dough into slightly flattened balls/ koftas of equal size.

Heat oil in a frying pan and shallow fry the koftas on medium heat until golden brown on both sides. It takes about 2-21/2 minutes on each side. Remove from the pan and keep aside.

In the same frying pan (remove the excess oil, only keep about 2 tbsp), temper the oil with cumin seeds, bay leaf, cinnamon, cardamoms and cloves. Once the spices are fragrant, turn the heat into medium-low and add the ginger-cumin-green chili paste into the pan carefully as the oil may start spluttering a lot. Stir fry for 2 minutes.

This is the time to add the potatoes, red chili powder and turmeric. Keep frying for few more minutes until the potatoes are softer. Now throw in the chopped tomatoes and whole green chilies and continue to fry until the oil separates and the spices are well cooked.

Add some warm water (depending on how you want the gravy consistency to be), salt and sugar and let it come to a boil. Cover and cook for 5 more minutes.

Now add the koftas/ channa balls into the gravy, a dollop of ghee and a sprinkling of garam masala. Cover and let it simmer on low heat for 2-3 minutes.

Switch off the flame and keep it covered (standing time) for 5 more minutes. Serve hot with steaming white rice or ghee bhaat 🙂

Instant Rava (Semolina) Masala Uttapams with 2 Epic Chutneys

What do you do when you crave something spicy yet nothing unhealthy? Because the last few weeks were only about cookies, cakes and calorie rich food!

You quickly rustle up some masala uttapams😋

For the uninitiated, uttapams are thick savoury pancakes made of either rice and lentils or sooji/ semolina, topped with chopped veggies and traditionally served as a breakfast meal in southern India.

Instant uttapams are undoubtedly one of the easiest things to make and are very flavourful and delicious with some homemade peanut chutney. As the name suggests- instant uttapams don’t need to be fermented for a long time, making them the perfect option for a quick yet scrumptious weeknight dinner when you don’t want to toil in the kitchen after a long day. Phew!

I made some for dinner yesterday and also whipped up two lip smacking chutneys that go well with these uttapams. I also have a bonus spicy potatoes (dry) recipe for you, which you can use either as a filling for masala dosas, grilled sandwiches or as a side with these savoury pancakes. Go ahead and enjoy 😉

And yes! before I forget, here’s wishing all of you a wonderful 2021. May god bless you all with good health & happiness 🙂

Ingredients:

For the uttapams (4 medium sized):

1 cup rava/ sooji/ semolina

1/2 cup yogurt

1 cup (approx) water

1/2 tsp baking soda

Salt to taste

Finely chopped coriander, green chilies, tomatoes and onions for topping

Red chili powder/ paprika for topping

For spicy potatoes

6-7 medium potatoes boiled and chopped into 4 pieces

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

A large pinch of asafetida (Heeng)

2 dry red chilies

1 tsp black mustard seeds

10-12 curry leaves

1/2 tsp grated ginger

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 tsp red chili powder (I always use Kashmiri red chili powder as it’s very mild but rich in colour)

2 tbsp oil (any white oil)

Salt to taste

For peanut chutney

3/4 cup peanuts

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

3 dried red chilies

1 fat clove of garlic

1 small piece of tamarind

10-12 curry leaves

A pinch of asafetida (heeng)

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tbsp white oil

1 tsp black/ urad lentil seeds (I used ‘matar’/ yellow split pea lentil)

Salt to taste

For spicy tomato chutney

1 large dried red chili

2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped

1 medium onion, roughly chopped

2 inch ginger, roughly sliced

Method:

Peanut chutney

Heat a frying pan with a tbsp of oil and throw in the peanuts. Roast for a while until you get the lovely aroma. Now add 1 dried red chili and desiccated coconut and keep stir frying on medium flame for 3-4 minutes or until the coconut bits are lightly browned.

Add the garlic clove and mix everything for another 30 seconds to a minute. Transfer the mixture in a blending jar and keep it aside to let it cool down a bit. Now throw in the tamarind piece, little water, salt to taste and blend to a smooth paste.

For tempering, heat some oil in a small tempering pan/ tadka pan. When hot, add a pinch of asafetida and mustard seeds. When the seeds start spluttering, add the curry leaves, 2 dried red chilies and the lentil seeds. After 20-30 seconds, gently (carefully) pour the flavoured oil on the peanut paste. Mix well and serve.

Spicy tomato chutney

Heat a frying pan with oil and throw in all the ingredients listed under ‘tomato chutney’ and stir fry for 4-5 minutes. Now let it cool for a while and then transfer to a blender to be blitzed to a smooth paste. Voila! It’s that simple.

You can use both the chutneys in multiple ways- pakodas, fritters, chips, and fries.

Spicy dry potatoes

Heat the same frying pan with oil and temper it with asafetida, mustard seeds and dried red chilies. When the seeds start spluttering like before, add in the curry leaves, grated ginger and onion slices. Mix everything well and now throw in the boiled potatoes, red chili powder and turmeric powder. Stir fry for 3-4 minutes and then sprinkle some water and cover and cook on medium heat for another 2-3 minutes. It’s ready to be served!

Masala uttapams

In a bowl add the sooji/ semolina, yogurt, water, salt and baking soda. Combine everything well to form a batter & leave aside for 5 mins. Now heat a tava/ flat pan on high until smoking hot and add a tsp of oil. Turn the flame on medium now and pour a big ladle of the batter into the center of the tava and spread well using the back of the round-ish ladle.

Add some finely chopped onions, tomatoes, chilies & coriander on top & sprinkle red chilli powder/ paprika. After a minute or so, flip over the uttapam and cook on the other side until golden brownish.

You can even grate some paneer or cheese on top. Serve hot with the chutneys or even ketchup/ sauce if you wish!

Prawn Momo (Dumpling) with Chili Oil & Prawn Broth: A taste of the hills

For as long as I can remember, the last week of the year always meant holidays- waking up late without the alarm bell ringing, lazing around, reflecting on the year gone by and gorging on good food. Over the years the circumstances may have changed but what remained constant is food being part of all the year end celebrations.

‘Momos’ as they are popularly known in India/ Nepal, are these juicy succulent meat fillings wrapped in a thin moist crescent-shaped wrap resembling a dumpling.

I still remember the first time I had momos/ dumplings, I was probably 11 or 12 and quite intrigued but also repulsed by the idea of chomping down a weird looking dough ball that was steamed and not fried. But one bite and god was I hooked! What the neighbourhood street shack sold was more of an onion momo than chicken, which I later realised as I grew up 😀 Nevertheless, I was totally in love.

Since then I have come a long way and have had my share of lip-smacking dumplings from amazing joints in Calcutta, the hills of Darjeeling, Nepal and Bhutan. Nothing is as comforting as freshly steamed momos dipped in spicy chili oil with a bowl of steaming hot clear soup. Nomnomnom….

The Nepalese ones remain my favourite because of their simplicity and use of fresh ingredients. On monsoon afternoons or on cold winter nights like now in Toronto, when my heart cries out for something piping hot, I can only think of momos.

These are so delicate and bursting with flavour, that you would find it difficult to stop as the juices ooze out with every bite 🙂

Ingredients (15-16 medium sized momos):

For stuffing:

14 large prawns deveined & shell removed, finely chopped (not minced)

3 tbsp finely chopped coriander

3 tbsp finely chopped green onion/ spring onion

2 tbsp finely chopped red onion

2 finely chopped green chilies

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger

2 tbsp soy sauce

1 heaped tbsp butter

Salt & pepper to taste

For wrapper:

2 cups all purpose flour/ maida

1/2 tsp salt

Water to knead soft dough

For Chili Oil:

[The stunning chili oil recipe is by one of my favourite food bloggers Nambie. You can find this and more of her delicious recipes on YouTube under Eat Your Kappa]

3 tsp Chili flakes

3 tsp chilli powder/ paprika

1 tbsp white sesame seeds

1 cup olive oil (or any unflavoured oil)

3 large roughly chopped ginger pieces (about 1 inch each)

1 roughly chopped onion

Few sprigs of coriander leaves

2 roughly chopped spring onions

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp sichuan pepper

2 tbsp vinegar

1 tsp aniseed or fennel

1 large cinnamon

1 staranise

Salt & sugar to taste

For prawn broth:

2 tbsp oil

1/2 roughly chopped onion

2-3 large ginger chunks

1 fat garlic clove minced

1 roughly chopped carrot

1 tsp whole peppercorn

1 bay leaf

Prawn shells (of the 15 prawns)

1 chicken bullion

3 cups water

Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

Step 1

Start with the broth. Heat a deep bottomed pot with oil and add the bay leaf and peppercorns. Throw in the onion, ginger, minced garlic and carrots. Sauté for a while until fragrant. Now add the prawn shells and stir fry again until they release all the juices. Add 3 cups of water and a chicken bullion and let it simmer on low heat, uncovered and come to a boil. Keep removing the scum from time to time to keep the broth clear. Add salt and pepper and continue to simmer. In about 1-1.5 hours, the broth will be ready. Strain and serve in soup bowls, garnished with chopped green onions.

Step 2

Mix the chopped prawn with all the ingredients listed under ‘stuffing’ in a bowl and keep it marinated for at least 30 minutes.

Step 3

Mix the flour with salt and start kneading the dough by pouring water little at a time to ensure a soft dough. Keep it wrapped in a plastic for 15 mins.

Step 4

While we wait for the prawns and the dough ready to be used, let’s make the chili oil. In a bowl, add the chili flakes, chili powder, sesame seeds, salt and sugar and mix well.

Now heat a cup of oil in a wok until smoking hot and throw in roughly chopped veggies, bay leaves, sichuan pepper, fennel seeds, cinnamon and star anise. Let them fry well on medium heat. Once the veggies have browned and the spices cooked, strain the oil. Add the hot oil in the dry ingredients bowl and mix everything well with a spoon. Finally add some vinegar and viola! Your chili oil is ready.

This is such a life changing recipe by Nambie and you can store this oil for a couple of months.

Step 5

Time to make the momos/ dumplings!

Divide the dough into equal 15-16 portions and roll out very thinly. The wraps should be more thicker on the center but thinner on the outside. Take one wrap and place some prawn mix in the center with a spoon. To seal the momos securely, tap the edges of the wrap with some water on your finger. Start folding and pleating the wrap into your desired dumpling shape.

Line the momos in a bamboo steamer basket or on a steel stand in a deep bottom pan and steam for 15 minutes. You can even make them in your instant pot like I did. I placed a steel steamer basket inside the instant pot and used the steam function for 8 minutes to get the perfect dumplings.

Serve them hot with the chili oil and a side of prawn clear broth.

Step 6

Eat and get lost in the winding roads of the misty hills :))

Kari Ayam (Authentic Malaysian Chicken Curry)

Having lived in Malaysia for many years, I’ve grown to love the spices & herbs from this region. Laksa curry, Char kway teow, Kuih, Roti jala & the mighty Nasi lemak. Yummm🤍

One of my favourite comfort foods is rice with kari ayam- slightly spicy & a creamy chicken curry which I always keep going back to. The authentic ones are found in the ‘mamak’ shops, which are the street side eateries selling unpretentious authentic local delicacies.

Now there are few keys to a good chicken curry Malaysian style. For instance,

1. The meat curry powder– Malaysian meat curry powder is a spice blend which includes ground coriander, chili, fennel, cumin, star anise, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaf, turmeric, white pepper and black pepper. I always used Baba’s meat curry powder back in Kuala Lumpur & thankfully got few boxes packed with me in Toronto which would last me for a long time. You could make your own blend at home which is super easy, by just following the many videos available on YouTube.
2. Candlenut– this is added to thicken the curry & lend a beautiful texture. You can substitute it with macadamia nuts like I did.


Something about this dish is highly addictive, I can’t really explain what exactly! So for now I’ll leave you with this lovely recipe given to me by my next door makcik (aunty in Malay language)😀

Ingredients:

  • 500 g Boneless chicken thigh, cut into curry style pieces
  • 4 heaped tablespoon Malaysian meat curry powder (recipe easily available on internet)
  • 1 tbsp Soy sauce
  • 5 Shallots
  • 2½ Inch of fresh ginger
  • 5 Fat cloves of garlic
  • 4 Candlenuts (or 6-7 macadamia nuts)
  • 3 Dried red chilli
  • 1 Large cinnamon piece
  • 4 Cloves
  • 4 Cardamom (green)
  • 1 Star anise
  • 4 Sprigs of curry leaves
  • 3 Medium sized potatoes, halved
  • 1 Lemongrass stalk
  • 300 ml Coconut milk
  • 3 tbsps Olive oil (or any white oil)

Method:

Marinate chicken with 1 tbsp meat curry powder & 1 tbsp light soy sauce. Leave it aside for at least 15-20 mins.

Now for the aromatics, make a paste with the shallots, ginger, garlic, candlenuts, dried red chilies, remaining meat curry powder & little water. Heat 3 tbsps oil in a pot & sauté the whole spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, star anise & few curry leaves.

Once fragrant, add the spice blend & fry until red & the oil separates. Throw in the marinated chicken & cook well on high heat for at least 5-10 mins.

Now add hot water according to the gravy consistency you want, & let it come to a boil.

Toss in the potato cubes, remaining fresh curry leaves & lemongrass & then lower the heat, simmering for at least 30 mins.

Finally add the coconut milk, salt & sugar (optional) & let it cook for another 5 mins before serving.

Boozy Holiday Fruit Cake (Eggless) & a Christmas Nostalgia

Boozy holiday rich fruit cake (eggless) with dried cranberries, dates and raisins soaked in red wine for a month!

Christmas in Calcutta is an emotion. While it may ruffle some feathers, I have to admit that Calcutta is probably the most secular city in India which celebrates festivals like Christmas not out of any religious compulsion but because it’s a delightful celebration of life, something that lifts your spirits.

For those of us who grew up in Calcutta, the festival is synonymous with Nahoum’s rich fruit cake. Surprisingly in December the whole city gets busy in Christmas preps, and the Jewish bakeries and neighbourhood confectionaries start selling homemade plum cakes that are made with rum soaked raisins, dates and candied peels. All of a sudden, Ruma kakima’s sleepy bakery in the dusty bylanes of Free School Street is abuzz with activities.

Nahoum’s will remain my most favourite always- their dense and rich fruit cakes are so moist and loaded with dry fruits. This is my ode to their legendary cakes as i reminisce about the bygone Christmas days of my adolescence when I would patiently wait in a long queue outside the store with my mum just to get my share of treats. That was my Santa moment.

The authentic Christmas plum cake/ fruit cake in Calcutta is prepared with dried fruits soaked in rum for a prolonged period and most recipes are handed down through generations. I have used red wine instead and have also used greek yogurt instead of eggs which is honestly unthinkable in the original recipe. But then sometimes it’s okay to deviate from the original and tweak things here and there just for fun, doesn’t take away anything from the classic 🙂

Ingredients:

Chopped dried cranberries, black raisins, sultanas, pitted dates, candied ginger soaked in red wine (or dark rum) for at least 2-3 weeks (the longer the better)

11/2 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp each of ground cinnamon, clove and nutmeg

1 tbsp orange zest

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 cup olive oil (or any vegetable oil)

1 cup brown sugar (preferably) or raw cane sugar (no white sugar)

1 cup greek yogurt

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup of chopped mixed nuts like almonds, pistachios and cashews

Method:

In a mixing bowl, add 1/2 cup olive oil and 1 cup brown sugar. Whisk it well for a couple of minutes until well combined.

Now add the yogurt and vanilla extract and whisk again. It will take a couple of minutes to whisk everything to a smooth consistency.

In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients. Start with 11/2 cup of all purpose flour. Toss in the ground spices, orange zest (make sure to avoid grating the bitter white pith), baking soda, baking powder and mix everything well with the whisk.

Now throw in the flour mixture into the wet bowl and fold with a spatula. No whisking from this point anymore and also ensure that you don’t overmix the batter. The batter is supposed to be dense and heavy.

The last step is to add the chopped nuts and soaked dried fruits into the cake batter and fold again with the spatula. Reserve some of the soaked fruits for spooning on top of the cake.

Line a square baking pan with a parchment paper and pour in the batter. Sprinkle the remaining soaked dried fruits on top and bake in a pre heated oven at 160 degree C for around 60 minutes. Let it cool down completely before serving.

*Some tips*

Always pack the cake tightly in an aluminum foil to store it. This preserves its shape and moisture.

The cake tastes better with time. The longer it soaks all the goodness from the rum/ wine, the better it tastes.

‘Feed’ the cake with wine/ rum by poking holes all over it with a toothpick and then keep it tightly packed.

Could it get any boozier??

Down Memory Lane: Classic Shepherd’s Pie

Truth be told, there’s a lot of debate on the origins of the humble shepherd’s pie- whether it’s Irish or British! There are bits and pieces of history/ folklore surrounding this classic delicacy and there’s no one person or an event that gifted this hearty dish to the world.

Probably somewhere around the early 1800s, peasant housewives in Ireland and northern parts of England came up with the ingenious idea of putting the leftover meat from Sunday roasts to good use by making pies out of them. This clever practice avoided wastages, while families could enjoy something which is not only delicious and new but also filling and inexpensive.

Traditionally, shepherd’s pie uses minced lamb while cottage pie uses minced beef. The ground meat combined with veggies simmered in a rich gravy and topped with creamy mashed potato and grated parmesan results in a dish that is so comforting that it warms your soul.

Feel free to use ground turkey or chicken or even soy meat in case you want alternatives.

Ingredients (serves 2)

For the lamb gravy:

250g ground lamb

1 cup of mixed veggies like chopped celery, carrots and onions

2/3 cup frozen peas

3 fat garlic cloves minced

1/2 tsp dried rosemary leaves

1 tbsp dried thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 cup chicken/ meat stock

2 tbsp Olive oil (or any white oil)

For the mashed potato:

450 gram boiled and mashed potatoes (preferably russet potatoes)

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp sour cream

1 tsp dried parsley flakes

1/2 tsp garlic powder

4 tbsp grated parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

Heat olive oil in a pot and sauté the chopped carrot, celery, onions along with minced garlic. Once fragrant, add thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Mix everything well.

Now add the ground lamb and throw in some green peas. Stir and let the meat cook until it’s no longer pink.

This is the time to add the worcestershire sauce (key!), tomato puree and the meat/ chicken stock. Cook for a while on medium heat and then cover and let it simmer nicely on low heat until the sauce thickens. Take off the heat once done.

Meanwhile, chop and boil the large potatoes and mash them with a fork. Mix in butter, sour cream, dried parsley, salt and pepper.

To assemble the dish, layer the cooked meat in a baking dish and top it with the mashed potato. Sprinkle the grated parmesan on top and bake in a preheated oven for 20-25 mins at 200 degree C. Broil for another 3-4 mins for that beautiful golden colour on top 🙂

Wishing you all a merry Christmas & happy holidays!