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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Chicken tikka masala: the Indian hangover in Britain

DSC_0532I’ve heard that in ever-changing cosmopolitan London, Indian food is becoming more and more popular and acquiring a place next to the traditional English breakfast. But did you know that Dean Mahomet (probably born Deen Mohammad), an Indian soldier from the East India Company’s Bengal Regiment, established the oldest Indian restaurant in Britain (Hindostanee Coffee House) in 1809? Although it failed after two years, other people came up with restaurants like Veeraswamy’s, Koh-i-noor and Bombay Emporium to serve Indian food. Initially, the proprietors of these restaurants and cafes were mainly former Indian sailors settled in British ports. Often, these pioneering souls were poor and desperate, and tried to make a living by selling spices or working as servants, sweepers, hawkers or even street musicians.

DSC_0874 (3)In today’s London, you’ll find a Taj Mahal, Kohinoor or Curry House at every street corner serving “authentic Indian food”. However, as I’ve said many times before, fortunately or unfortunately, there is no one “Indian Food”. The size of the country is equivalent to Europe. The geographical variation is beyond description. The vast coastline, the massive mountain ranges, the myriad rivers have all contributed to a complex and varied cuisine. Eating habits are also determined by religion, caste and creed. North Indian Muslims eat Mughal-influenced food, the Parsees have developed a mixed cuisine combining their Persian and Indian heritage, the Bengali Hindus have a completely different cuisine than the Gujarati Hindus, the Jains will not eat anything which grows under the soil – the list of differences is endless. So, where did the British concept of “Indian cuisine” come from? If you look at the restaurants, they are mainly owned by either Punjabis (both Indian and Pakistani) or Bangladeshis who may or may not have been cooks in their native countries. At some point in the past, early Indian restaurateurs in the UK figured out high-selling combinations of Indian spices based on real-time feedback from the British public eating at their establishments, and these basic curries then spread like wildfire as being “Indian cuisine”. No matter where the chefs are from, the menu will always have a saag gosth, vindaloo and the British national dish Chicken Tikka Masala (fondly called CTM). CTM was invented in Glasgow but the origin of this dish has multiple urban legends. Except for the chicken, it has no mandatory ingredients and lacks a firm grounding in either the United Kingdom or India. Sort of like my husband, who has no roots – a British citizen born to Bengali parents from Assam who has lived in the USA for a decade. If you google CTM, there are hundreds of recipes with few common ingredients and the end result might vary largely.

My take on CTM is a mix-and-match of different recipes. I went with my instinct and it turned out to be very tasty. It’s a little too creamy and rich for my everyday tastes but who eats CTM everyday anyway. So, before you order your next CTM from a carryout place (probably loaded with orange food coloring and MSG), give this recipe a try. The real CTM might change for you forever.

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Recipe:

Ingredients:

For the tikkas:

Boneless chicken breasts (skins removed and cut into bite-sized pieces): 2-3 nos.

Plain yogurt: 2-3 tbsp.

Ginger-garlic paste: 2 tbsp. (if you grind it fresh and separate, then add 11/2 tbsp. of ginger paste and one tsp. garlic paste.)

Garam masala: Any kind/type: 1 tsp. (If you have tandoori masala handy, you can use that too)

Red chili powder: 2 tsp.

Turmeric: ½ tsp.

Salt to taste

Skewers (If you use wooden skewers, soak them in water for several minutes and then use them)

For the gravy:

Tomato: 1 big plum, juicy or 2 small ones. Make sure the tomatoes are ripe and juicy. Or else use canned tomato.

Onion: One medium, chopped very fine.

Ginger garlic paste: 2-3 tbsp.

Turmeric: a little less than one tsp.

Cumin powder: 2 tsp.

Coriander powder: 2 tsp.

Red chili powder/cayenne pepper: 2-3 tsp. (you can add more if you want. The cream will neutralize the heat, so you might have to add a little more to get the balance)

Kashmiri chili powder/Paprika: 2 tsp.

Heavy cream: 1/3 cup (you can adjust it according to your preference)

A handful of fresh cilantro/coriander leaves (optional)

Oil: 2 tbsp.

Salt to taste

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  • Put all the ingredients in a bowl for the tikkas and mix them well. You can add a little bit of oil too. Put them in a zip lock bag and let the meat marinate for several hours in the fridge (overnight will bring out the best flavors).
  • Het up the oven to its highest temp. I put it on broil (you can use your microwave grill too).
  • Take out the meat and let it come to room temperature. Thread them on the skewers. Do not overcrowd them.
  • Grill them for 5-7 minutes on each side or until the meat is cooked. I like them a little charred on the outside.
  • While the meat is in the oven, heat up the oil in a heavy bottom pot.
  • Add the onions and sauté them for a while. You do not have to brown them.
  • Add the ginger garlic paste, turmeric powder, red chili powder, Kashmiri chili powder and sauté them for 2-3 minutes.
  • Chop the tomato and add it to the spice paste. Add the cumin and coriander powder as well.
  • Cook the tomato-spice paste really well. Oil will start leaving the spice paste after a while and you will know that the spice is ready.
  • Add the cooked meat, coat them with the spice very well and then add luke warm water just enough to cover the meat.
  • Add the salt.
  • Let the whole thing come to a boil and then bring the flame to medium.
  • Reduce the sauce to your liking. Taste the seasoning.
  • Add the heavy cream and boil for few more minutes.

I like to have a clingy gravy. Remember, the next day the meat will absorb a bit of the gravy and thicken the sauce even more. I like to eat mine the next day as the meat absorbs the flavor and tastes better. If you cannot wait for a whole day, make it a few hours before and let it sit for a while.

  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve it with either white rice or naan and a salad.

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