Mug-mushurer daal/Mixed lentil soup with butternut squash

DSC_0293In between sessions of intense research, my nerdy husband often takes a break (from the experiments, not from the nerdiness) and Googles random stuff. Some of these things are so random that he comes up with results even more inconclusive than his scientific data. For example, he knew the words Sagina Mahato but had no clue about what they might mean (it’s a Bengali movie made in the 70s). Then he realized that he knows the word khagina but again had no clue about it. Isn’t it random? He will always say “Google is your friend” or sometimes if I ask him something and he is not in a mood to answer, he’ll say “GIYF”, which infuriates me. Anyway, from “sagina” his neurotic brain went to “khagina”, which he Googled and for a change came up with something beautiful, which was a recipe for anda/egg-bhurji aka khagina on Shayma Saadat’s blog spicespoon.com. He liked the recipe (and was blown away by the looks of the blogger) and sent the link to me.

DSC_0299It was love at first sight. I loved her blog and after reading couple of her stories and recipes, I loved it even more. A very funny thing happened when I saw the khagina recipe on her blog. A few months ago I had almost nothing at home to eat, only leftover daal in the fridge. Usually I fry an egg to eat with the daal, but this time I made a bhurji instead, and threw in a few random things to mix with the egg. To my surprise, it was almost the exact same recipe written on her blog. How could it be possible? I didn’t even know the name khagina, never Googled it and nor had I seen the egg-bhurji recipe on the internet. I am very surprised and have no clue how to explain it. Maybe it’s a true coincidence. The day I made the bhurji, my husband liked it very much and found it very unusual. I never made it again and had no plan to make it in near future. It was a makeshift recipe for no-food-in-the-fridge days. I didn’t anticipate that my husband’s random Google searches would link me to back to my haphazardly constructed anda-bhurji in this strange way. Life is full of surprises.

DSC_0311I was browsing around trying to find something easy and quick to try from her blog. Finally I found this daal and decided to try it. I love daal and try to cook it every possible way. I liked the recipe soon after I read it. I liked the story behind it even more. It’s beautiful and I can literally visualize the story. If you read the recipe, please read the story….it will make the daal taste even better.

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Recipe: (adapted from Shayma Saadat of Spicespoon and my mother’s recipe)

I have used both cumin and Bengali five spice as seasoning and both of them taste equally good. So, feel free to use any of them.

Ingredients:

Mushur daal/masoor daal//red lentils: ½ cup

Mug daal/yellow lentils: ½ cup

Onion:  2 tbsp. finely chopped

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Garlic: 2 cloves

Tomato: One medium, ripe and juicy, finely chopped

Cilantro: a handful, finely chopped

Jeera/whole cumin seeds/panchphoron/Bengali five spice: 11/2 tsp.

Butternut squash/pumpkin: 8-10 nos. cut into ¾-1 inch cubes (optional)

Green chilis: 2-3 nos., slit length wise (optional)

Dried red chilies: 2 nos.

Mustard or any other oil: 1 tbsp.

Salt to taste

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  • Wash the lentils with several changes of water and then drain.
  • Start boiling enough water to cook the lentils in a deep bottom pot.
  • Once the water starts boiling, add the lentils. Let the whole thing come to a boil again.
  • Turn the heat to medium.
  • While boiling the daal, spoon off any scum arising on the top of the lentils.
  • Add turmeric and let the lentils get almost cooked.
  • Mix the lentils with a whisk until they form a uniform consistency.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes. Let the tomatoes get cooked.
  • Add the butternut squash (if using) and boil for several more minutes until the squash is completely cooked and the soup reaches its desired consistency. Add water if the soup looks too thick by now. Add the green chillies too.
  • Add salt and mix well.
  • In a separate pan, heat up the oil. Once hot, turn the heat to low and add the garlic. Let the garlic infuse the oil.
  • Turn the heat to medium and then add the jeera/cumin/Bengali five spice next and let them sizzle a bit.
  • Follow with the dried chilies and let it go one shade darker.
  • Add the chopped onion and sauté it for few minutes. Once you get a nice aroma of all the sautéed spices, add the whole thing to the boiling daal.
  • Quickly cover the pot and turn the heat to low. Let it be like this for 5-10 more minutes.
  • Add lots of chopped cilantro and serve with plain rice.
  • Definitely sprinkle a generous amount of lemon juice while eating.
  • Goes well with a side salad.

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Falafels/Chickpea fritters

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A thought has been bugging me for a while, are we losing the balance? Losing balance to live a healthy yet happy life? Probably yes. As I write about food, I’ll keep it food related. After I came to this country (USA), it took me a while to adjust to the abundance and wastage and also the culture of fried chicken and humongous portions at restaurants. I wasn’t used to it. I have seen my Maa saving every last grain, not because we were poor, but because she thought it’s wrong to waste food. She didn’t pour a gallon of oil in her pot to cook something. She knew how to make food taste good without soaking it in oil. I couldn’t be like her. Rather to put in another way, I am not there yet. We Indians eat a lot of fried food, but when I was growing up, we were taught to live in moderation. It’s called ‘Bengali middle class culture’, rather ‘Indian middle class culture’. People were not super thin like the malnourished fashion models who have unfortunately become the stereotype of female beauty. Bengalis were proud of their ‘bhNuri’/potbellies and didn’t mind at all being a little on the heavier side of the weighing scale. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, may be neither right, nor wrong.

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Now things are rapidly changing. I can see two distinct mentalities, both being far from the reality. One section of society is willing to accept anorexia to achieve the Victoria’s Secret look while another is breaking the weighing scale. Some people freak out even if they hear the sound “deep frying”; others indulging with saturated fat almost in every bite they eat. I suppose both extremes have always existed but the number of people at either end seems to be increasing. I am seeing people going to such an extreme that they see everything unhealthy. They lose the fun of eating good food. Being suspicious of every grain they consume, or do not consume. On the other hand some people seem to have lost all semblance of self-control and are completely comfortable with their extreme obesity.

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Although I am nowhere close to my “ideal weight” (read model like), I do try to maintain a middle path. I don’t want stick thin legs and skinny arms. I also do not want to go XXXL. I believe in moderation. It’s ok to indulge yourself with deep fried food like these super delicious falafels if you crave them occasionally. Eating ice cream and skipping the gym once in a while is not going to kill you. The perfectly flat tummy you are trying to achieve is going to rob half of the happiness from your life. So, people, find the happy medium. Whole grains and bacon, gluten-free and artificially flavored, GMO and organic, fast food lovers and locavores, farm-raised or Wal-Mart bought can all be on the same plate…but just in the right amounts.

Recipe:

As I didn’t grow up eating falafel, I have no secret family recipe. I have adapted (rather followed it religiously) the recipe from here. I am copy-pasting the original recipe only with one or two minor changes. Go to the link if you want to see step by step pictures. It’s a no-fail recipe if you follow it carefully. It’s also a crowd pleaser and very easy to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound (about 2 cups) dry chickpeas/garbanzo beans
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3-5 cloves garlic (I prefer roasted)
  • 1” piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 green chili peppers
  • 1 1/2 tbsp flour
  • 1 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of ground cardamom
  • Vegetable oil for frying (grapeseed, canola, and peanut oil work well)

Falafel

  • Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl and cover them by about 3 inches of cold water. Let them soak overnight. They will double in size as they soak – you will have between 4 and 5 cups of beans after soaking.
  • Drain and rinse the garbanzo beans well. Pour them into your food processor along with the chopped onion, garlic cloves, ginger, green chilies, parsley, flour, salt, cumin, ground coriander, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cardamom.
  • Pulse all ingredients together until a rough, coarse meal forms. Scrape the sides of the processor periodically and push the mixture down the sides. Process till the mixture is somewhere between the texture of couscous and a paste. You want the mixture to hold together, and a more paste-like consistency will help with that… but don’t overprocess, you don’t want it turning into hummus!
  • Once the mixture reaches the desired consistency, pour it out into a bowl and use a fork to stir; this will make the texture more even throughout. Remove any large chickpea chunks that the processor missed.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  • Note: Some people like to add baking soda to the mix to lighten up the texture inside of the falafel balls. I don’t usually add it, since the falafel is generally pretty fluffy on its own. If you would like to add it, dissolve 2 tsp of baking soda in 1 tbsp of water and mix it into the falafel mixture after it has been refrigerated.
  • Fill a skillet with vegetable oil to a depth of 1 ½ inches. I prefer to use cooking oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed. Heat the oil slowly over medium heat. Meanwhile, form falafel mixture into round balls or slider-shaped patties using wet hands or a falafel scoop. I usually use about 2 tbsp of mixture per falafel. You can make them smaller or larger depending on your personal preference. The balls will stick together loosely at first, but will bind nicely once they begin to fry.

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Note: if the balls won’t hold together, place the mixture back in the processor again and continue processing to make it more paste-like. Keep in mind that the balls will be delicate at first; if you can get them into the hot oil, they will bind together and stick. If they still won’t hold together, you can try adding 2-3 tbsp of flour to the mixture. If they still won’t hold, add 1-2 eggs to the mix. This should fix any issues you are having.

  • Before frying my first batch of falafel, I like to fry a test one in the center of the pan. If the oil is at the right temperature, it will take 2-3 minutes per side to brown (5-6 minutes total). If it browns faster than that, your oil is too hot and your falafels will not be fully cooked in the center. Cool the oil down slightly and try again. When the oil is at the right temperature, fry the falafels in batches of 5-6 at a time till golden brown on both sides.
  • Once the falafels are fried, remove them from the oil using a slotted spoon.
  • Let them drain on paper towels. Serve the falafels fresh and hot; they go best with a plate of hummus and topped with creamy tahini sauce. You can also stuff them into a pita.

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Troubleshooting: If your falafel is too hard/too crunchy on the outside, there are two possible reasons– 1) you didn’t process the mixture enough– return the chickpea mixture to the processor to make it more paste-like. 2) the chickpeas you used were old. Try buying a fresher batch of dried chickpeas next time.

Curried (chick)peas/ghugni: Happy Diwali/Dipabolir shubhechcha and a journey down the memory lane

DSC_1340Being a small-town girl, I had to commute everyday to Calcutta for work. It might be a frightening thought to those who are not used to that kind of travel, but it was fun to many of us. We took the same train every day and became like friends and family. The hour-long train ride use to be really fun and exciting. Trust me, every morning I used to look forward to the morning commute. In the evening it wasn’t that enjoyable. Everybody was already tired from the day’s work, the Calcutta heat and traffic and sometimes if you were unfortunate enough, the added hassle of an aborodh (mass protest by blocking public transport, a Bengali specialty which can last for hours). But, if you were lucky, you got to catch the train you wanted, the heat wasn’t too bad and your daily passenger friends not once but twice a day.

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On the train, entertainment also came from itinerant vendors who sold everything starting from food to underwear. If you were a daily passenger, you could pay in installments, all on trust. Someone knew someone and that someone knew someone else who knew the vendor who then extended credit without question. Amazingly, it always worked out. Among the zillion vendors, some were my favorites. These were usually the ones who sold food, jewelry or clothes. There was one old man we called ‘ghugni dadu’ (elderly man who sells curried chickpeas) who used to board the returning train two stations before my town. He carried his daily batch of ghugni in a large aluminum hnari (pot) with a loose-fitting lid. It was freshly made every day and would still be hot when I was going home on the evening train. On the top of the lid, he would put all the accompaniments like chopped onion, cilantro, green chilis, tamarind water, black salt, roasted spices (bhaja moshla) and red chili powder. Even the thought of it still tickles my taste buds so many years later. As I had very little time left on the train and used to be starving, I looked for him eagerly and the moment I saw him, I would literally shout from the other side of the compartment to get the first serving.

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Till date, his ghugni was the best I ever had. It was really a mush, a clump of overcooked motor (yellow peas) dumped on a shaal-patar baati (bowls made from Shal leaves), but it was just delicious. Try as I might, I’ll probably never reproduce the same ghugni that dadu sold on that hot crowded train in my air-conditioned US kitchen, even with freshly ground spices and best ingredients available. I can only close my eyes while eating the ghugni below and pretend I’m on the 8.45pm Bandel local train with dadu about to climb on at Bhadreswar.

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Ghugni recipe (cooked by Maa):

Not in a mood for savory? Try this.

Ingredients:

Chickpeas/yellow peas: 1 cup

Onion: 1 large, half finely chopped and half paste

Ginge paste: 2 tbsp

Red chili powder: 1 tsp.

Coriander and cumin whole: 1 tbsp each (grind them to a paste)

You can use cumin and coriander powder as well. Just mix the powders along with the red chili powder with the ginger paste and leave them for few minutes.

Turmeric: ½ tsp

Tomato: 1 small

Oil: 1 ½ tbsp

Garam masala (clove-cinnamon-cardamom ground together): 1 tsp

Garnish:

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Green chili: 2-3 nos.

Cilantro: a handful chopped fine

Tamarind water/lemon juice: as needed (soak a lemon size tamarind in water for few minutes and them squeeze the juice out of it. Discard the pulp)

Chat masala/roasted coriander-cumin powder: as needed (dry roast 1 tbsp. each of whole coriander and cumin and one dry red chili. Cool and then grind them to a fine powder)

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  • Drain the chickpeas and wash them with two-three changes of water. Drain again.
  • If you are using dry yellow peas, soak them with three cups of water and leave them overnight. Drain the water and use it the next day
  • Mix the cumin-coriander-red chili powder together, add it to the ginger-garlic paste and mix together.
  • Finely chop the tomato and try to reserve the juice as much as possible.
  • Heat up the oil in a pan, add the chopped onion and the onion paste and sauté them until translucent.
  •  Add the ginger-coriander-cumin-red chili paste and sauté for few more minutes.
  • Add the tomato and turmeric powder and cook the paste for several minutes until oil leaves the side of the pan.
  • Add the yellow peas and cook in the spice paste for few more minutes. The masala/spice paste should get rid of the raw taste/smell.
  • Add around three cups of water and salt to taste.
  • Mix well and transfer the content to a pressure cooker.
  • Turn the heat to medium and let it whistle once. Turn off the heat and let the steam come out naturally. Uncover and check for seasoning. If the peas are not cooked yet, boil them until cooked.
  • If using a regular pot, let the whole thing come to a boil and then turn the heat to medium. Cover the pot until the peas are cooked.
  • If you are using canned chickpeas, do not add the chickpeas to the spice paste. Instead add water to the spice paste and let it come to a boil.
  • Boil it for several minutes until the raw taste of the spices are gone.
  • Add the chickpeas and stir gently.
  • Cook them for another 5-10 minutes.
  • Check for salt.
  • When done, add the garam masala powder and cover the pan.

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Serving suggestion: Top the chickpeas with little bit of chopped cilantro, finely chopped onion and few chopped green chili (skip it if you are not a fan of hot peppers). Drizzle a little bit of either lemon juice or tamarind water. Sprinkle a little bit of chat masala/roasted coriander-cumin powder and serve. The toppings serve an essential part of the dish, but if you do not have everything in hand, just sprinkle a dash of lemon juice and throw in a little bit of chopped cilantro and it will still taste great.

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