Kedgeree might be the best way to repurpose your leftovers

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Food and language are, in my opinion, more susceptible to changes than most other things (and India is probably the prime example when it comes to outside influences on both). Central Asian invaders brought with them the culture of kabobs and we added our spices to them. Sometimes we added gravy to the kabobs to suit our palate. The Portuguese brought a whole new collection of vegetables and we made them our own. They are now so ingrained in our cuisine that half of us don’t even realize that they were not native Indian vegetables. The British Raj left its footprint on quite a few things, some we still cherish while others have taken the backseat. Kedgeree is a delicious example from the latter category. While we still spend hours watching cricket, we hardly cook kedgeree, which was a staple in British kitchens.

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Back in the days when refrigeration was almost impossible, leftovers made it to the kitchen the next morning and got converted into something else for breakfast. Every country has recipes to make use of leftovers. The most common way of re-using leftover rice from dinner for Bengalis is to add water to it and let it ferment slightly overnight to make panta bhaat (fermented rice) which is fabulous with deep fried fritters on the side in the hellish heat of a Bengali summer. But the British had a different idea to use either the leftover rice and or fish from last night’s dinner. Kedgeree (which originally got its name from khichdi or khichuri) is far from the rice-and-lentils originally  eaten almost all over India. Although Indians prefer their khichdis to be vegetarian, the Bangladeshis spice it up with meat. But the British decided to give it a completely different twist. They omitted the lentils, added fish instead and anglicized the name to kedgeree. I’m not going to take a puritanical stand here – I have happily embraced the British take on khichdi, because it’s delicious.

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During one of our recent long drives, Dr. Sen and I had a long and extremely heated discussion about ‘authenticity.’ Until recently, I was more rigid when it came to food (or anything else under the sky) or cooking anything Bengali or even Indian. I followed recipes so militantly to the point that I brought a grinding stone from India to make my dishes taste as my mother’s. I’m still very proud of my decision. But like many of my viewpoints toward life, this has changed too and that too quite unknowingly. I started experimenting more but am still cautious not to let things go too far from what I knew was “authentic”. Gradually I pushed my boundaries and added this and taken out that, with more confidence. Although I’m still far from being an experimental cook like Dr. Sen, I’m more accepting to changes and variations. My kedgeree is no way authentic and is loosely based on a recipe from Jamie Oliver. Tell you what – since he’s a British chef, that alone probably makes my recipe authentic. There is a little difference, though – unlike the old days, my kedgeree was not made to use the leftovers, it was made to recreate a bit of history. I just love doing things like this.

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Recipe:

Cooked basmati rice: 3 cups (I went with my judgement and might have added a little more or less. You can play around with the quantity. The recipe is very flexible and you can change the proportion of any of the ingredients)

Curry powder (brand may vary): 1-2 tbsp. (will greatly depend on the brand. You’ll need less of it if the powder is strong. Start with less and then add later if you want more flavor)

Onion, finely chopped: 1 cup

Boiled eggs: 5

Chopped green chili: per taste

Ginger, fresh, finely chopped: 1 tbsp.

Cod fillet (or any white-flaky fish): 1lb

Oil: 2-3 tbsp.

Cilantro: 1/2 cup

Lemon: half/one whole, depending on the size and how tart you want your kedgeree to be

Salt to taste

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  1. Start by boiling enough water to cook the rice. When the water has boiled, add salt to it and then add the rice. Add generous amount of salt because the rice will swell and absorb a lot of salt. I usually don’t soak the rice for a long time because they tend to break. You can soak the rice if it works for you.
  2. Once the rice is cooked (but still has a bite), drain the water and spread the rice to let the steam escape. Fluff the rice periodically to avoid overcooking it. I usually cook the rice the day before and refrigerate it to make my life easy while cooking the kedgeree. A day old rice also holds up better and doesn’t break easily while cooking.
  3. Cut the fish fillet into 3-4-inch-long pieces and season with salt and pepper. Keep them aside for several minutes.
  4. In a large enough pot (don’t skimp on the container size because you don’t want to cramp everything there), add the oil and heat it up.
  5. Add the fish and cook it through. Don’t overcook the fish as it will get chewy. Once cooked, remove them from oil and keep them warm (if possible, wrap them in a foil).
  6. Add a little bit more oil to the pot if needed.
  7. Add the chopped onions to the oil and sauté them until translucent on medium-high heat.
  8. Add the curry powder and a little bit of water to avoid burning the spices. Lower the heat as you sauté the spices.
  9. Slice the eggs in four (lengthwise) and keep them aside.
  10. Add the cooked rice to the pot and gently toss and turn to evenly mix the spices with the rice. If you want it to look speckled, don’t mix it thoroughly. Check for salt. Add more if needed.
  11. Roughly break the fish with your hand into smaller pieces and add them to the rice. Add the eggs too. Gently fluff everything without mushing the rice.
  12. Add the finely chopped cilantro and chopped green chilies and sprinkle a generous amount of lemon juice on it. Cover the pot with a lid and very gently shake it to make everything mix evenly.
  13. Before serving, crack some freshly ground black peppers on it.

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Hooked on Haleem (or maybe Khichda)?

DSC_0349Almost around the time when the sun is preparing to call it a day, fires will be lit up and gigantic aluminum cauldrons will be placed on the flame. It’s an all-male business on the sidewalks of Park Circus, Calcutta during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Soon, the cauldrons will be filled with soaked wheat and three to four different kinds of lentils, to be cooked together for hours. Men of different ages with their sleeves rolled up will be seen for the next several hours engaging in variety of cooking acts that resemble workouts, from stirring the pots with huge ladles as tall as themselves to cutting up mountains of meat into bite-sized pieces. Every time I passed by those simmering cauldrons, my nostrils were filled with mixed aroma of meat, aromatic spices and lentils. In separate cauldrons, at least ten different spices could be seen being thrown in to cook a korma which would later that evening be mixed with the simmering wheat and lentil stew and then simmered overnight to prepare the final product called haleem.

DSC_0450Although Hyderabad is the most famous place for its haleem, Calcutta haleem has its own fan followers too (including my husband who traveled all over the city hunting down the best vendors). Different versions of haleem are eaten in Pakistan, the Middle East and in Bangladesh. The Bohras of Gujarat call it khichda, which although very similar version to haleem is less spicy. Another haleem derivative is harees, a meat-and-wheat stew cooked with aromatic spices eaten in Middle eastern countries. The Arabic word halem/halim means gentle, forbearing, patient and slow to anger. I have never seen a food named so correctly. It requires lots and lots of patience to cook. You cannot even pound the meat like an angry person; you have to be slow and patient. 

DSC_0321Haleem was traditionally eaten during the month of Ramadan (ninth month of Islamic calendar when Muslims meticulously fast from sunrise to sunset), but now you can buy it all winter long in many of the Muslim restaurants In Calcutta. It is believed that during the rule of the Nizams in Hyderabad, it was mainly a food for royals and their nobles. But over the centuries, haleem became a food for everybody and a symbol of sharing and community togetherness during the time of hardship and sacrifice. In hindsight, this trend towards culinary egalitarianism is not surprising, as even ordinary families could afford to buy the small amount of meat needed to cook haleem, compared to the extravagance of, say for example, sikandari raan.

HaleemAs this was the first time I made haleem, I took the traditional approach of mashing the wheat and lentil mixture with a ‘daal ghotni’(wooden stirrer) but if you have a hand blender, go right ahead and use it. But remember, preparing haleem needs time and patience (although the results are well worth the effort). It can be eaten both as a main meal or as breakfast; an added bonus is that it freezes very well.

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Goat meat or mutton: 1 lb/500grms. cut into bite sized pieces (with bones)

Haleem wheat (sold in the Indian/Pakistani groceries): ¾ cup

¼ cup each of mung (yellow lentils), masoor (orange/red lentils), chana (split Bengal gram lentil) and urad (split black gram lentil) daal.

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Tomato: One medium, chopped

Onion: one medium, finely chopped

Ginger: 2 inch piece, grated

Garlic: 3 big clove, mashed

Or,

Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp.

Red chili powder: one tbsp.. or more if you like your haleem to be spicy

Green chilies: 3-5 nos.

Turmeric: 3 tsp.

Oil: 2 tbsp.

Garam masala: 2 tsp.

Cumin powder: 1 tbsp.

Coriander powder: 1 tbsp.

Cumin seeds: ½ tbsp..

Clarified butter or ghee: 2 tbsp.

Water: 8 cups (more or less depending on the consistency you want)

Salt to taste

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To garnish:

Handful of cilantro finely chopped

Green chilies: few, finely chopped

Roasted cumin and coriander powder: few tbsp.

Beresta/fried onions: around a cup

Lemon wedges: one per person minimum

·         Wash the haleem wheat and soak them the previous night in ample water.

·         Soak the daal separately in enough water for 3-4 hours the next day.

·         Put a big stock pot on the stove top and fill it with around 4 cups of water. Cover it with a lid and let it come to a boil.

·         Add the haleem wheat (drain them before) and let it come to a boil again. Once it comes to a boil, put the flame on medium, add one teaspoon of turmeric and let the wheat get cooked.

·         Put a separate container with another 4 cups of water and let it come to a boil. Once boiling, add all the daal (drain them before adding). Let it come to a boil again. Once it comes to a boil, add one teaspoon of turmeric and put the flame on medium and let the daals get cooked.

OR,

·         Put the wheat and the daals with two tea spoons of turmeric and 6-8 cups of water in a pressure cooker and cook for two whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.

 

·         Heat up oil in a separate deep bottom kadai or wok. Once hot, add the onions and sauté them until translucent. Do not brown the onions.

·         Add the meat to the kadai and keep stirring them to get rid of the moisture in the meat.

·         Add the ginger-garlic, green chili, red chili powder, one teaspoon of turmeric and tomato and keep cooking. The entire thing will come together and the spice will coat the meat very well. Keep cooking until oil leaves the spice paste.

·         Add salt, garam masala and cumin coriander powder. Cook for 5-10 more minutes and then add around a cup of boiling water to the meat. If you know that your meat releases a lot of water, add ½ cup water.

·         Transfer the meat to a pressure cooker and cook it to one whistle. Let the steam come off naturally.

·         Open the lid and taste for seasoning and see if the meat is properly cooked or not.

·         Take the meats out of the gravy and let them cool down so that you can handle it. Pull the meat out of the bones and separate the muscles/threads with your fingers.

·         Discard the bones and put the meat back to the gravy.

·         If you do not have a pressure cooker, you can use the same pot and cook it covered until the meat is cooked. It will take longer.

·         Keep stirring the daals and the wheat with the wooden stirrer or a regular ladle. Keep mashing the daals. It will reach a creamy thick consistency.

·         Once the daal and the meat is ready, mix everything together. Let it cool down a little bit so that it’s safe to handle  and then with a hand held blender (or any blender you have), blend everything in small batches.

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Tadka (optional):

·         Once everything is nicely mixed and comes to a consistency you want, turn the heat to low and let it cook for 5-10 more minutes.

·         Heat up the ghee in a separate pot/pan and add the whole cumin seeds. Let it come to a shade darker and then add the ghee and the cumin seeds on the haleem and cover immediately with a lid. Let the spices infuse the haleem for few more minutes.

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Serving suggestion:

The haleem tastes incomplete without the garnish, so please don’t skip them.

While serving, add a little bit of the garnishing ingredients on the top of the haleem except the lemon. Sprinkle a generous amount of lemon and eat. Or, you can put the haleem with the garnishing ingredients on the side. People can add it according to their taste.

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 Beresta or fried onions:

  • Slice a red onion very finely in semi circles.
  • Heat up enough oil in a deep bottom pot to deep fry the onions.
  • Once the oil is hot, put the flame to medium high. Do not keep it smoking hot, the onions will burn immediately.
  • Separate the rings and put a small batch on onion in the hot oil.
  • Stir continuously and cook it until they are brown. Do not wait until they are deep brown. The onions will reach a shade darker after you pull them out of the oil.
  • Put them on an absorbent paper to soak the excess oil.
  • Fry the whole onion like this.
  • The fried onion stays well in an airtight container for several days to weeks.
  • If you are feeling lazy to fry them, buy them pre-fried or just add raw onions.

Bidding a fond goodbye to Calcutta’s Jewish community with Shakshuka

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Ezra Street, Zachariah Street, the Beth El synagogue and the Maghen David synagogue are all evidence of a once-glorious but quickly fading community – the Calcutta Jews. It’s like sitting next to the river and waiting for the sun to set. The only difference is that with a real sunset, the sun will rise again the next day. Once a thriving community of several thousand, I read yesterday that the community now numbers less than thirty. The founder was Shalom Cohen in 1798 and among the more recent members was David Nahoum, whose passing in 2013 removes what for many of us was the only direct contact with a member of this proud community. For generations of Calcuttans, David (or his brother Norman before him) were familiar sights behind the counter at Nahoum’s Bakery, that ancient temple dedicate to the gods of pastries, fudge and patties. Just as a martini is not a martini until it has an olive in it, no New Market shopping trip was complete unless it included a stop at Nahoum’s. It’s almost as if his passing is emblematic of the impending erasure of the formerly thriving Jewish community in Calcutta.

DSC_0102With less than ten adult male members remaining, the minyan quorum required for Jewish religious rituals is no longer possible, and the synagogues are effectively obsolete already (although see here for a happy exception). The Maghen David (Star of David) synagogue is guarded by a Muslim (who got his job from his father), Nahoum’s bakery is maintained by faithful Bengali employees and the Jewish Girls School has no Jewish students (indeed, most of them are Muslims). Although it sounds like a perfect harmony of religions, in reality the story is a little different – this is simply a void left by the Jewish community being filled by local inhabitants, and religion is completely secondary.

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I always wondered what made a community once so glorious shrivel and die out so rapidly. Like most mass emigrations, it was probably a combination of multiple factors, in addition to the obvious attraction Indian Jews must have felt when the State of Israel was founded in 1948. During the British period in Indian history, Jews were successful merchants dealing in ivory, indigo, jewels and opium. After WWII, the British Empire in India was almost on the verge of losing control and India was getting close to its independence. During partition, the Hindu-Muslim riots didn’t affect the Jews much because they didn’t belong to any side – but that seclusion also kept them from being recognized as our own too. In fact, the Jewish community in Calcutta never assimilated with the native Bengalis and whether by design or circumstance, remained always in the ‘grey zone’, socially and culturally neither British nor native Indian. While there was never any anti-Semitism in India, it does seem like the Jews maintained their own invisible fence. Perhaps the native Indians were also responsible in some way – unfortunately I have no one to ask and there is limited research material available on the Internet. Anyhow, absent the lack of any lasting roots in India beyond trade and commerce, and unsure how they would be treated after India’s independence, soon after 1948 thousands of Calcutta Jews emigrated to Israel and a few other countries.

DSC_0114Anyway, like a good perfume, the bottle may be empty but the fragrance lingers for a long time afterwards. The Jews of Calcutta will live for ages to come through their foods like cheese samosas, aloo makhallah, matzoh bread, tomato farci, and Nahoum’s famous fruit cake. Speaking of Jewish food, shakshouka is a popular breakfast served in Israel (although it is not common in Calcutta). It can be eaten at lunch or an early dinner as well. It is a true one-skillet meal, best eaten with soft flat bread like pita. An unusual example of culinary peace in a troubled part of the planet, it is widely enjoyed in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia (where its roots lie) and Morocco as well as in Israel. All the ingredients are kosher and it can be eaten during Passover.

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Do not forget the giveaway. It’s still on (until January 30th).

Recipe:

Ingredients:

Tomatoes (vine ripened if possible): 2 large, finely chopped

Red onion: One small finely chopped

One red or green bell pepper (I usually use red) finely chopped

Green chili/halapeno: 1 finely chopped

Garlic: 2 big cloves

Cumin powder: ½ tsp.

Coriander powder (optional): ½ tsp.

Turmeric powder: 1/3 tsp.

Red chili powder/cayenne powder: 1 tsp. (more or less if you prefer)

Cilantro: handful, finely chopped (if you want, you can use parsley instead)

Eggs: 4 nos.

Salt to taste

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  • Heat a heavy skillet on medium-high flame.
  • Add 1 tbsp. oil and let it get hot as well.
  • Add the garlic and let it sizzle. Do not let them turn dark brown.
  • Add the chopped onions and sauté them for few minutes. You don’t have to brown them.
  • Add the bell peppers and sauté again for a minute or two.
  • Add the tomatoes and the dry spices (cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt and turmeric).
  • Sauté the whole mixture for several minutes to get rid of the raw tomato taste. Do not make the mixture dry. It should be very wet and a gravy like consistency.
  • Break the eggs and drop in there one by one.
  • Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook on medium flame for few minutes. It will depend on personal preference. I like my yolks runny; my husband likes them a little set. What I do is, I drop one/two eggs a little earlier than mine and that helps to keep our choices.
  • Once done, sprinkle the chopped cilantro and green chilies and a little salt if needed.
  • Serve them hot with flat breads.
  • Traditionally it is eaten from the pot where it has been cooked but we serve it to individual plates.

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Sunshine happy hippie granola/Homemade granola

DSC_0506You could call them ‘freaks’, actually they preferred it, really.  You could label them followers of counter-culture, flower children or HIPPIES. They were the youth of the 60’s who wanted to break free from the ‘straight society’ of 50’s America. In Britain the movement started with anti-nuclear protests and also the growing culture of rock-n-roll music in colleges across the country. In the US they stayed clear of anti-nuclear weapon protest but came in thousands to the anti-Vietnam war protests. In their quest for world peace, drugs, marijuana and LSD were viewed not as dangerous addictive chemicals but as friendly substances which opened your mind to newer and more meditative dimensions.

To many Indians, the lasting association with hippies remains the Bollywood movie ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’ and more so the song Dum maro dum’, starring the very beautiful Zeenat Aman. Even I couldn’t resist listening to it while writing this post. For those who are not familiar with Hindi, this is basically what the song says “Let’s smoke marijuana and chill…we don’t care what the world says…we have nothing to do with the world”.

Hippies Picture courtesy indiamike.

Hippies
Picture courtesy indiamike.

Actually, that pretty much summarizes the hippie message. The hippie movement started in the late 60’s in the United States and then spread all over the world. There was even a ‘Hippie trail’, the overland route from the Europe to Asia through Istanbul, Turkey over which most of the hippies traveled to reach Central and Southern Asia. Kathmandu was a hippie hub (they even have a street called “Freak Street’). Carrying only a backpack, they traveled all over the Indian subcontinent seeking liberating religious (and chemical) experiences. They were very interested in Hinduism and Buddhism. Unburdened by trivial things such as extra clothes and soap, the true long-haired itinerant hippie was likely to be grimy and smelly. Until even a few years ago, my mother (a simple lady from a small Indian town) had the idea that white people smell because they are averse to baths. This completely incorrect idea, which she developed during her growing up years, in its own way serves to underline how pervasive the connection between Westerners and hippies was for a whole generation of Indians.

1970-hippie overland trailPicture courtesy indiamike

1970-hippie overland trail
Picture courtesy indiamike

Hippie trail route

Hippie trail route

Hippies were big on a diverse collection of topics (healthy eating, freedom, happiness, revolution, polygamy and promiscuous sex) in total forming a collective rejection of the mind-numbing sitcom-watching church-going strictly-conforming American society of the 50’s. Granola was a very popular ingredient in hippie culture, being healthy and wholesome, and became a staple to them. Even nowadays, compulsive generalizers continue to associate granola with tree-hugging, left-leaning liberals, kind of like the hippies without the drugs. Anyway, I am neither a hippie, nor left-leaning but I love granola. I got this recipe from the National Museum of American History FOOD exhibit, and it comes from an authentic hippie woman from 1969, just two years after the Summer of Love. Maybe she was there and the granola gave her energy throughout those frenetic days. All I can say is I hope she had loads of fun, for this is the most refreshing and tasty granola I’ve ever had and on top of that, it’s super easy to make.

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Recipe:

(Recipe courtesy: Donna Dorado http://www.woodstockpreservation.org/Gallery/TheFoodLine.htm)

Ingredients:

Rolled oats: 3 cups

Slivered almonds: 1 cup

Shredded coconut: ½ cup (optional)

Sunflower seeds: ¼ cup (optional)

Cashews/walnuts/pecans: 1 cup

Dark brown sugar: ¼ cup packed tight

Canola/vegetable oil: ¼ cup

Maple syrup: ¼ cup (very full)

Raisin (preferably golden raisin): 1 cup

Salt: 2 pinch

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  • Preheat the oven to 250 degrees
  • In a large bowl mix the ingredients up to dark brown sugar.
  • In a separate bowl mix the canola oil, maple syrup and the salt really well.
  • Add it to the oats mixture and mix well.
  • Spread it on a cookie/baking sheet and bake for around 70-80 minutes.
  • Stir every 15-20 minutes.
  • Transfer it to a bowl and add the raisin and mix once again.
  • Store it in an air tight container.

**Taste the granola after an hour or so. The actual time might vary from oven to oven. Keep an eye not to burn it. It comes out very crisp and tasty. Try to buy a good maple syrup without any additive in it; it makes a difference in the taste. You can eat it either as a snack or as a breakfast cereal. I didn’t add shredded coconut and sunflower seeds and it still tasted very good.

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*** Warning: It’s very addictive. 🙂