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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Holiday wish and history of ice cream with my Bourbon-walnut-vanilla ice cream

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Dr. Sen’s sole purpose in going to a Chinese restaurant is most often ordering a plate of extra spicy Singapore rice noodles or may be a bowl of tongue-numbing Sichuan beef tendon noodle soup. For most of us, the thought of Chinese food doesn’t revive memories of bowls of ice cream, more likely you’re thinking of stir fries or orange chicken. But, to my surprise, Chinese people have been eating ice cream far longer than you and I can imagine. The documented history of ice cream goes back to AD 618-907 during the reign of Emperor Cheng Tang, founder of the Shang dynasty. Among the army of 2,271 staff in his kitchen and winery, 94 were ‘ice men’. It was the ice men’s job to go and collect ice from the mountains, cut them in uniform sizes and then store them in ice houses made of stones. The ice was then used to freeze a milk-based dessert made from water buffalo, goat or cow’s milk. The milk was first fermented and then flavored with camphor (although I hate it, adding camphor to desserts is still practiced in India), thickened with flour and finally frozen into something very close to modern-day frozen yogurt. So basically, Tang was eating ‘tangy’ frozen desserts long before ‘froyo’ became popular. Caucasians (not “whites”, the original inhabitants of the Caucasus region) are known for drinking a fermented milk drink called “kumiss” made from mare’s milk for thousands of years. The Russians still drink something similar to it. The Mongolian equivalent is called “airag” or “tsegee”. This culture of fermented milk must have traveled to China and then Persia and to India.

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But this was all still using natural ice/snow to make frozen drinks or desserts. The real trick was to make ‘man made ice’ which in above-freezing climates needed an endothermic reaction to be created. Although Indians and Egyptians were making ice for a long time, the first documented evidence is found in a book written by Ibn Abu Usaybi’a (A.D 1230-1270), the famous Arab historian of medicine. Here, we find the first record of ice being made with cold water and saltpeter. Persians were known for making exotic and delicious frozen drinks made from fruits or fruit extracts. The Westerners got their taste of “sorbets’ from the Persian “sherbets” which are basically frozen fruit desserts in various forms.

Although making ice is pretty historic, it was not common to make it on an industrial scale even until the late 1600s and early 1700s. Ice was still being sourced naturally and stored in ice houses.  Harvesting and transporting ice became a great business model for the Americans. From United States, ice was travelling to Caribbean, South America and to India via large cargo ships in the 19th century. Making of artificial ice and then ice creams slowly started from the late 1600s in France and Italy. The ice cream back then was pretty much frozen creams with flavors added to them. There was no egg involved. The the French chef Vincent La Chapelle mentions for the first time in 1742 the addition of eggs, which became immensely popular as ice cream additives as it added a desirable texture and reduced the use of more expensive cream as an ingredient.

American started eating ice cream probably in the early 1700s when it traveled from Europe to New England. George Washington was so fond of this frozen treat that he bought a couple of pewter pot freezers from France and a “cream machine for making ice” to make ice cream at home (probably he lost all his teeth from eating an excess amount of his favorite flavor). His handwritten recipe for vanilla ice cream, preserved in the Library of Congress, is a burning testament to his passion.

Thank goodness making ice cream is not so tedious anymore and I do not have to climb mountains to harvest ice. While I standardize another flavor, go and make this ice cream, you’ll thank me later. And, wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful new year 2015. Let’s celebrate this festive season one (or maybe two or three) scoop(s) at a time!

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Recipe: (adapted from Food52)

Ingredients:

Vanilla-Bourbon Ice Cream

  • 1.5 cups whole milk
  • 1.5 cups cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon, divided
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 cup raw walnuts, lightly toasted and broken into smaller pieces

I have ‘almost’ copy-pasted the recipes as I haven’t changed anything in the recipe except making the walnut crumble. I just added toasted walnuts but if you have time, you can make the crumbles.

  1. In a medium pot, combine the milk, the cream, 1/4 cup of sugar, the salt, the vanilla bean (split it open first, and scrape it), and 1 tablespoon of the vanilla bourbon. Heat the liquid over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until it froths. Turn off the heat.
  2. In a separate small bowl, collect the egg yolks. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and whisk for about 2 minutes, or until the yolks look a lighter yellow.
  3. Take a tiny measure of the milk mixture, and whisk it into the egg yolks. Keep adding the milk, little by little, whisking without pause as you go. When you’re finished, run the custard base through a sieve, add then add it back to the pot.
  4. Turn the heat again to medium-low. Stir the custard almost constantly as it heats. You want it to coat the back of your spoon; after that, it’s done.
  5. Move the custard to an ice bath. If you give it the occasional stir, it should be good and cold in about 45 minutes-1 hour. (You can also chill overnight in the fridge.) When the custard is cold, I like to stir in another tablespoon of the vanilla bourbon.
  6. Pour the cold custard into an ice cream maker. Let it go for about 20-25 minutes, or until the ice cream reaches the consistency of soft-serve. (Don’t let it go too long, or you will start to make butter.) At the last minute, add the walnuts.
  7. Spoon the ice cream into a plastic container, leaving as little air between the ice cream and the lid as possible, and move it to the freezer for at least 2-4 hours.
  8. As it is as natural as it can get, it melts really fast, so you have to be quick while serving.

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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