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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Qorma Lawand (braised Afghan chicken), the very best friend for your still-warm naan-e-Afghani

I was sitting teary-eyed in New Delhi Station, waiting for the Rajdhani Express, waiting to say goodbye to my brother and unsure when I would see him again. I was travelling alone and was sitting in the side lower berth, my favorite seat in Indian trains, because I love looking outside through the big side-windows.

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My brother and I few years ago

The rest of my compartment was full with a group of burly Afghan men of varied age. They were talking in a language which I couldn’t understand at all. Most of them were wearing the traditional afghan shirts and pants and all of them were wearing sneakers. They were piling up colorful area rugs and carpets on the floor. I realized that they must be businessmen taking the rugs from Delhi to Calcutta to sell.  Finally the train started rolling and tears streamed down my cheeks faster as well as I was leaving my little brother behind in Delhi. The Afghan men were looking at me…probably with curiosity but I started feeling a little uncomfortable. I had read enough horror stories and watched YouTube videos of men harassing women in Indian trains. To make myself comfortable, I spread the bedsheet on the seat, put the pillow on my back, leaned my back on it and stared outside through the dusty glass window…still missing my brother and crying uncontrollably.

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After a while, a middle-aged Afghan man came to me and said in broken English, “Sister, one of our brothers is in the next coupe, would you exchange your seat with him so he can travel with us?” Instantly, my heart melted for reasons that I still find hard to understand. There was something in his voice or maybe it was just the way he said it. Whatever might be the reason, I just could not refuse him his request. When I started gathering my stuff, the man immediately took everything from my hands very gently and said “sister, you go and sit there, I’ll bring all your stuff to you.” I was embarrassed but again humbled by his hospitality. He took most of my luggage while I walked behind with a couple of small things. He even spread the bed sheet for me and put everything the way it was in my previous seat. Although technically I was the one who had done him a favor, I was left touched by his genuine warmth and gratitude.

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I spent another twelve hours in that train and never once felt slightly threatened. It was something in that man’s behavior that made me feel secure. I even left my purse in my seat when I went to the bathroom, ignoring my mother’s rambling before I boarded the train, “take your valuables with you all the time, don’t talk to strangers and don’t eat anything from a fellow passenger.” A simple gesture can change our attitude so much. Being naturally curious, I was itching to walk up to them and start a conversation, but I failed to do so. As a Bengali, I was always fascinated with kabuliwalas (people from Kabul) and wanted to know about their lives and their food. But I hesitated to talk to them, I don’t know why. Anyhow, before I knew it, the train arrived at Howrah Station, which was the last stop and I lost my chance forever. I still regret my decision now, but my hope is that someday again, while tearing pieces from a freshly baked naan-e Afghani and dipping them in the bright green soupy gravy of qorma lawand, I’ll be able to listen to their stories. For now, I’ll keep my imaginations of Afghanistan going.

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Recipe:

Ingredients

Chicken: close to 3 lbs

Yogurt: ½ cup

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Cilantro, finely chopped: ½ cup

Bay leaves: 2

Cinnamon: 2 inches, broken into one inch pieces

Cloves: 3-4

Cardamom (green): 2

Green chili: 8-10

Mustard/vegetable oil: 2 tbsp.

Nutmeg powder: ¼ tsp.

Mace powder (optional): ¼ tsp.

White pepper powder: 1 tsp.

Ginger: 2 inch piece ground to a paste (preferably freshly ground)

Garlic: 4 fat cloves ground to a paste (you can grind the ginger and garlic together)

Onion very finely chopped: 1/2 cup

Salt to taste

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  • Wash the chicken pieces well and drain the water.
  • Heat up the oil and add the bay leaves, cinnamons, cardamoms and cloves. Turn the heat to medium and let the whole spices sizzle a little bit.
  • Once the spices leave a nice aroma, add the chopped onion (keep the heat to medium or else the onions will burn and make the gravy bitter). Sauté the onion for five minutes and then add the ginger-garlic paste.
  • Sauté everything for another five minutes or until the raw smell of the spices is almost gone.
  • Add the chicken and turmeric and mix everything well. Keep stirring the whole thing for several more minutes. The meat will release water. You can turn up the heat to medium high to dry out the water a little bit.
  • Either turn the heat very low or remove the container from the heat. Beat the yogurt very well to make it smooth/lump free and add it to the chicken. Mix everything well again and bring the pot back to the burner if you’ve removed it. Or, turn the heat back to medium. This is a very crucial step as high heat can curdle the yogurt and make the gravy grainy/lumpy.
  • Keep stirring the whole thing, coating the meat pieces well with the yogurt and the spice paste. After a few minutes, you’ll see oil oozing out from the sides.
  • Add half cup hot water, salt to taste and 4-6 green chilies, split halfway through (you’ve to alter the number of green chilies according to your taste). Give it one good mix and bring the flame to high.
  • Once the gravy comes to a boil, lower the heat to medium again and cover the pot.
  • Cook it until the chicken is almost done. (I said almost because you might have to adjust the gravy. If the chicken is already cooked and you boil it further, the chicken will fall apart and get messy).
  • If the gravy looks too thin, boil and adjust the amount. If it looks dry, add more hot water and boil it until it reaches the desired consistency.
  • Add the nutmeg+mace+pepper powders, chopped cilantro and few more green chili split halfway through.
  • Boil for another minute or two and let it sit for ten minutes. The chicken will soak more gravy and the flavor will be complete.
  • Serve it preferably with either Indian roti or naan. It doesn’t taste very well with rice; at least I like it more with rotis.
  • Also, I like the gravy to be on the thin side (not watery though) because I like to dip my rotis in it. You can make a thicker gravy if you want.
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The final outcome