Onion Pakoda / Pyaaji

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Remember those animals we had read about who hibernate during winter, what will I not give to be one of them! As much as I would love the splendor of wishing away the winter or sleep away this harsh weather in my cozy bed, it is not a realistic dream. This has been the coldest / longest winter till date, and though every time it snows it feels surreal and beautiful, I am getting a little tired of it. So … so… long to see the spring colors around me.

Like the weather, things are a little challenging these days and every time I get to my blog, words just don’t seem to flow at all. I do not know if this is what is so commonly referred to as a writer’s block. But then, I am no writer. I merely write about my recipes and my thoughts as and when it comes to my mind. However these days I am missing the fluidity of my thoughts. Life seems to be reaching a crossroad, yet again, the only difference being I can’t see where that cross road is, just have a feeling that it is around the corner. And till I reach that point I have basically put everything on hold. As with me, all I can do when this kind of a phase strikes me, is stop doing things that used to make me happy, and in turn keep sulking the whole day.

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I was on such a sulking mood when this mail came from my friend ‘A’. She had been visiting US a couple of days ago and we got some chance to catch up, have some good food and a good chat… She dropped me an email on her return to India referring to that wonderful day spent while we talked and talked as the sun set outside the window and it grew dark. It was much later that we realized our plates had dried up from the sumptious lunch and evening had set in. Such moments are not that frequent these days, so are much cherished.

As I was replying to that email and giving her some advice (which, am sure, was not needed, but had to be given considering my agewise-advanced-status) on taking charge of your life and keep enjoying whatever comes your way, I realized it was time I applied that to me too. So what if things are a little uncertain now, so what if I am not sure of what is ahead of us right now, isn’t that what is exciting about life? As Forrest Gump’s momma always said – “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”

So on that note I shrugged the slumber out of me and got going. I will continue doing what I love – read and read a lot, write, cook, explore my interests, stay active and most importantly stay positive. Put on some music and clicked on my blog which brings me to today’s recipe – Onion Pakoda or “Pyaanji” in bengali.

I usually do not make too much of fried food at home, but this is my friend A’s recipe or as she says – her mom’s recipe. The other day when she came to my place she made it for us with almost no help from me. I just clicked the pics and helped in finishing off the plate. Ideally, I would not post recipes / pics that are not prepared by me, but I am making this an exception. I know there are multiple variations of this recipe but this is the best I have had till now. Thank you ‘A’ and A’s mom!

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Ingredients: All ingredients are approximates, adjust according to your taste

  • Onions, sliced – 2 large onions
  • Fennel seeds – 1 tbsp, coarsely ground
  • Green chillies – 3-4 finely chopped or to taste
  • Fresh curry leaves – handful, finely chopped
  • Salt – to taste
  • Besan / Gram flour – 1 cup approx. adjust as required
  • Water – a couple of drops or as required.

Method:

  • Heat sufficient oil in a wok for deep frying.
  • In a big mixing bowl add the sliced onions, Ground fennel seeds, green chillies, chopped curry leaves and salt. Mix everything well. Keep it aside for 5 mins so that the salt releases the moisture from the onions,
  • Gradually add the besan/gram flour (as required), mix it and keep it aside for a 5- 10 mins. The moisture from the onions will help in binding everything together.
  • If required, gradually add a few drops of water while mixing so that everything comes together and forms a batter.
  • When the oil heats up sufficiently, drop small dumplings of the batter into the hot oil and fry them in medium heat till they start getting a nice golden brown color.
  • Flip on the other side and fry for another couple of minutes till they turn crispy and deep golden brown. The frying may take some time but do not put the flame on high or else they will get the brown color without getting completely cooked.
  • With a slotted spoon drain the pakodas onto a plate lined with tissue paper.
  • Repeat for the rest of the batter frying in batches of 5-6 pakodas at a time, or more depending on the size of the wok.

Serve immediately with some dip or chutney or simple ketchup and a cup of tea to go along.

My Notes: Adding a little bit of rice flour might make them even crispier. You can also add some chopped coriander if you want.

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Aloo Morich – Potatoes in Black pepper – for Saraswati Pujo

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Decades ago this day, the day of Saraswati Puja – the day of praying to the Goddess of Learning , was one of the best celebrations of the whole year. Not that we were too religious ever, but this was the day when we were officially banned from studying or reading and writing. Can you imagine what fun it was as a child?? All the books, copies, pens/pencils, musical instruments – for us it was the harmonium – anything that is related to knowledge and ‘vidya’ was not to be touched and were offered to the goddess for her to  shower loads of blessings on them and we in turn would be blessed. Having studied in a convent school in U.P., unlike my cousins in Kolkata, we did not have holidays for Saraswati Puja; so – and here comes the good part – for years, on our parents instructions we bunked school and had great fun the whole day. We would show off the ritually sanctioned abstinence from studies infront of our classmates who would be going to schools wearing the same old boring uniforms while we adorned new clothes in varying shades of yellow, representing the color of Basant Panchami which marks the onset of Spring Season.

My grandmother would ask me the same question every year – “who comes first( as in who is more important) : Ma Lakshmi or Ma Saraswati?” It was a question that would always puzzle me -” whom to choose?” The goddess who gives financial success and money which helps me to go to school or the goddess who gives us knowledge and enriches our brain which makes us successful enough to do good in life and become richer. It was as puzzling as the age-old dilemma of  ‘the chicken or the egg’. Had she been alive today, I might have answered her with a counter question of how life and the universe came into being. And that would have taught her a lesson to never bother me with such disturbing questions.

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Getting back to the celebration – The night before the puja, me and my mother would do all the preparations like decorating the goddess and her podium with flowers, paper cuttings, thermocol cuttings and painting the floors with traditional decorative art called ‘alpona‘, arranging the books next to the podium, filling up of ink pots with ‘kacha doodh’ (raw milk) and ‘khager kolom’ (bamboo quills) and washing all the fruits ready to be cut in the morning for presenting to the deity. Making ‘Alpona’ was something that I learned very early from my mother and grandmother. I would steal some chalk pieces from my class so that I could sketch the outline of the alpona on the floor before proceeding to finish it with soaked rice flour using cotton balls. My father would be the priest chanting the mantras  while we would wake up early, get showered, and decked up for Pushpanjali (empty stomach, mind it!).

This was also the time we were allowed to have the fruit ‘Kul‘ (‘Jujube’ in English and ‘Ber’ in Hindi). Year long me and my brother would crave for the forbidden fruit, as we were told for reasons unknown to me, it was only to be eaten during Saraswati Puja.  The next day morning, before school we would take flowers and ‘bel pata‘ from the goddess’s feet and tuck it inside each book, write some prayers on the Bel leaf with the bamboo quills dipped in raw milk and offer it to Ma Saraswati post which we would expect extremely good results in exams. And that marked the end of the celebrations.

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As we grew up the much enjoyed ban on studies were relaxed and in high school there was no option of not studying as this was the time for preparing for Board exams.

In college hostel Basant Panchami was celebrated with lot of fun and galore. After I moved to Kolkata for higher studies I realised that this day is also known as Bengali Valentine’s Day! The streets would be full with girls in yellow sarees and boys in kurta payjama roaming hand in hand as if this was the day of officially ignoring the Indian conservative mindset and giving open permission for romance.

During my MBAs in Kolkata when I was staying at our apartment with my brother and uncle I started the ritual of having Saraswati Puja at home, though my parents could never be with us as they were still in U.P. So I would invite my cousins, friends of mine and my brother’s and everyone would come to our place for Anjali. I had my friends stay over the night before so that they could help me with the decorations; the cook whom we had hired for our daily meals would prepare huge quantities of Khichudi, labra, tomato chutney for all of us. I feel good that by the time I got married my dad had retired and moved to our Kolkata apartment and my mom took over the Puja preparations. Though I am not present there now, they still manage to invite friends and relatives and make a big celebration out of it.

Well, for me – sitting in the US and lacking the motivation of having a Puja done here, I skyped with my family and my inlaws and tried not to feel sad at missing out on all the fun. It was pretty nostalgic to see the ‘P.K.De.Sarkar’ English Grammer book from our school days lying next to the deity just the way it used to be decades ago. I guess somethings never change….

So while there was no Pujo done we celebrated it with food as usual… :-). I made pure veg food (which means not only no non-veg but also no onions/garlic) for yesterday’s dinner- Porotha, Cholar Dal (sweet chana dal) and Aloo Morich (Potatoes with black pepper). Left over Aloo morich with luchi/poori for lunch today.

Here is the recipe for the Aloo Morich  which is my Ma-in-law’s recipe. I love it for its  simplicty in taste and preparation. You will understand it if you decide to make it.  In addition to her recipe I just added some fresh dill leaves that I had got the day before. This is the first time I used dill leaves and just loved the flavor. However it is completely optional.

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Ingredients: (Most of them are to taste so adjust accordingly)

  • Potatoes – 4-5 small to  medium sized, boiled and cubed
  • Ghee – 1-2 tbsp. (No cringing please!!! This recipe demands it so be generous, if required go for more)
  • Green chillies – 3-4 or to taste, slit lengthwise. If you dont want it too spicy reduce the amount as the black pepper will have a strong flavor.
  • Freshly ground black peppercorns – a little less than 1 tbsp or to taste. Note: For the right taste it is required that the pepper be freshly ground and not store bought.
  • Fresh Dill Leaves – a handful chopped (optional)
  • Salt – to taste
  • Water 1 tbsp, if required.

Method:

  • In a pot boil the potatoes really well so that they can be mashed up easily if required. You do not have to mash them just cube them.
  • Heat a wok and add ghee to it.
  • Once hot, add the green chillies and freshly crushed black peppercorns and give it a stir.
  • Add the boiled and cubed potatoes and chopped dill leaves, salt and mix well. Since the potatoes are well boiled some of them will mash up a little bit as you stir, or you can do that with the back of the spoon. That’s how you want it, not completely mashed but just a little.
  • If you want add 1 tbsp of water to it so that everything mixes well and does not stick to the bottom. However remember this is a dry dish. Additionally, if you want, you can add a drop of ghee at the end to garnish.

Serving suggestion – Serve it hot with paratha or puris. I usually make the paratha/puris and then prepare this dish as it dries up when left to cool. Once the potatoes are boiled it takes only couple of minutes to finish it so I prefer making it at the end.

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Sooji/Rava Dhokla

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A pending post, yet once again, from before I disappeared for more than a month. Not that I was doing anything significant. I was busy… just busy with something or the other and then came all the festivities and celebrations and of course the main reason – I was playing games on my iPad. Games which are silly but addictive like Candy Crush. And that doesn’t mean I had not been cooking. Infact I have cooked and clicked a lot in these few weeks, just never got around to write about them. And then yesterday when B left for a week long office trip and the lives on the Candy Crush game had expired and would not be active for 2-3 days (because of the date manipulations that I did … oh I really dont want to get into e) I realized I had blog which needed reviving badly. So here I am.. almost about to delete the games from the iPad and I find this draft lying unfinished from one afternoon. Here it goes.

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Dhokla is a snack from the Western parts of India, mainly Gujarat. It is usually made from fermented batter of rice and pulses, but we the Gen X folks have a quick and easy version for everything which does not take long hours of fermentation. My recipe here is made of Sooji/ Semolina/ Cream of wheat and I use fruit salt/ENO , though I have read that baking salt can also be used which is something that I still have to try out. Usually a dhokla steamer/stand comes very handy but I have a makeshift arrangement (explained below) for steaming the dhoklas that I have now got a hang of. Also you can make it in a microwave though I still have to try that out. Dhoklas are great for serving with evening tea or for breakfast and I usually serve it with a coconut chutney or a mint-coroander-tamarind chutney.

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Ingredients:

  • Sooji / Semolina – 1 cup
  • Ajwain / Carom Seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Yougurt, well beaten – 1/2 cup
  • Ginger – 1/2 tsp
  • Turmeric powder – a pinch
  • Salt – 1/2 tsp or to taste
  • Green Chillies – 2 or to taste, finely chopped
  • Water – 1/2 cup approx. or as required
  • Oil / Spray Oil
  • Eno fruit salt – 1 tsp

For Seasoning:

  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Mustard seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Sesame seeds or Cumin Seeds (optional) – 1/2 tsp
  • Curry leaves, roughly chopped – handful

For Garnishing: optional

  • Coriander Leaves, finely chopped
  • Coconut flakes or grated coconut

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Method:

  • Combine sooji, ajwain and oil in a mixing bowl till they are well mixed and there are no lumps.
  • In a separate bowl beat the yogurt well, add ginger, turmeric powder, salt and green chillies and mix well.
  • Mix the yogurt mixture with the sooji mixture and till everything is well mixed.
  • Gradually add sufficient water to make a thick batter (like idli batter). Let the batter rest for 20 mins.
  • Meanwhile prepare the dhokla stand by oiling the plates lightly. I do not have a dhokla stand so here is my makeshift arranegement. I use a steel tiffin box and spray oil the base and a normal pot with a lid where my tiffin box fits nicely. I place the lid of the steel tiffin box in the boiling water (top side facing up) and then place the box with the dhokla batter on top of the lid uncovered. You can use any plate or bowl instead of the lid and then place the steel box on top of it. Instead of the pot you can also use  a tall pressure cooker without the whistle.
  • Fill the steamer or pressure cooker or the pot with 1 to 1 1/2inch of water and Bring it to a boil.
  • Once the water comes to a boil add eno to the batter and mix well. Immediately pour the batter into the stands / tiffin box
  • Place the stand inside the steamer / pressure cooker /pot and cover the lid and steam for 12-15 mins approx. Test the ‘doneness’ by inserting a toothpick till it comes out clean.
  • Once done remove the stands or the tiffin box and let it cool for a couple of minutes.
  • Meanwhile prepare the seasoning by heat 1 tbsp of oil and tempering it with curry leaves, mustard and cumin seeds.
  • Taking a knife gently loosen up the edges of the dhokla and take the whole thing out on a plate.
  • Pour the seasoning on top of it and garnish with chooped coriander leaves and grated coconut.
  • Cut it into square pieces and serve it with any chutney of your choice. I use a coconut chutney or a mint-coroander-tamarind chutney.

Aloo Posto – Potatoes in poppy paste curry

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Bengali’s love for food is conspicuous and even more renowned is his love for ‘Aloo Posto’. Posto / Poppy seeds / Khus Khus is a must have in our kitchens and every Bengali household will have a frequent serving of aloo posto – potatoes in poppy paste curry with musur dal – red lentil soup (for the recipe click here) and rice for lunch before moving on to the other courses of the meal.

So it is no surprise that ours is a family of posto lovers. And my husband – well back at home, he always keeps aside a small portion from his serving to have it at the end of his meal after he has had chicken / fish / eggs (Can you believe it???). When it is just the two of us, we avoid the traditional four course meal (or maybe more). Its usually just one dish along with rice/roti and maybe dal.

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I guess it was high time I posted this recipe in my blog so today when lunch called for preparing it I got some shots of it quickly. The best part is it needs minimum preparation, the only that I can think of is the grinding of the seeds and the chopping of potatoes. Here is the recipe for the well known ‘Aloo Posto’.

Ingredients:

  • Potato, cut into small cubes – 3 medium sized
  • Posto/poppy seeds – 4 tbsp
  • Oil – 1 tbsp or adjust according to your preference.
  • Kalonji/Nigella seeds – 1/4 tsp
  • Green chillies – 4 to 5 slit lengthwise (or according to your taste)
  • Turmeric powder – 1/4 tsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Sugar, optional – a pinch or to taste
  • Water – as required

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Method:

  • Grind the poppy seeds to make a fine paste. I usually dry grind them first in my grinder, then add a few drops of water (just enough to make a fine paste) and continue grinding. Do not add too much of water. If you want you could grind some green chillies along with this for extra hotness.
  • Heat oil in the pan on a medium flame.
  • Once hot add the nigella seeds; as they splutter add the slit green chillies and the cubed potatoes.
  • Sprinkle some salt and turmeric mix well. Keep sautéing for a while.
  • Once the potatoes start getting a light golden color add the ground paste.
  • Mix well till the paste coats all the potatoes.
  • Add some water (as required) and cover and let it cook. I usually add 1 cup of water since I like the potatoes to be well cooked (almost mushy). You  may like to have the final dish a little dry or a little moist, so add water according to your preference. If the water is drying up and the potatoes are not yet done, you can add some more water to it.
  • Once the potatoes are well cooked, check for spices. Adjust salt / add more green chillies if required.
  • Add sugar if you want; usually many bengalis would add a pinch of sugar to it but I generally do not.
  • Serve it with plain musur dal and rice.

Green Beans Bharta – Mashed Green Beans

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As a child, have you ever been enamored by magic? I used to be. And I wanted to be special, to be different from others, to have uncommon abilities. I so ..so.. aspired to be a brilliant child and to be at the top of my class. Whenever I would get weary of studies my imagination would run wild. In that wild world I would be transformed into a person with a special photographic memory so that every thing that I read would be etched in my memory forever; that way i just needed to glance through the pages of my study-books and I would top all my exams. As I grew up, I secretly started hoping that maybe someday I would discover this extraordinary power of mine.  And when I traveled with J.K.Rowling to the world of Harry Potter, I found myself again nurturing that exotic dream.

In hindsight I am glad that I do not possess any such photographic memory because (a) some lessons are best learnt the hard way, so they go a long way; (b) forgetting is sometimes a bliss for only then can we move ahead in life; and (c) Being Normal is the best thing that can happen to you.

But that does not mean I totally deny the existence of magic.

“Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars? Anyone who has loved has been touched by magic. It is such a simple and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live.”
Nora Roberts

In perspective it just holds a different meaning. You have known magic if you have ever fallen in love, ever created a child, if any of your dreams have ever come true.. you have known magic if you have looked at the creation around you, the world around you, if you have witnessed the change of colors and seasons or the mesmerizing view of a sunrise or the sun setting across the ocean.

I have seen the impossible and the unimaginable happening, so I will never close my mind to such a magic.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Roald Dahl

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Today’s recipe is of Green French Beans. If you are like me who only cherishes the thought of beans in Fried Rice or Chowmein then I can assure that you will be pleasantly surprised with this. I had never known such a bharta to even exist till I came across BongMom’s Cookbook. According to her this Bharta – spelled as Bhorta with an ‘o’ – is made in Bangladeshi style with mashed beans and coconut. Now, I love coconut and anything with coconut in it and was very happy when it turned out to be so good. I have to confess that though I make it as a second side dish, I end up
having my whole meal with just this and whited steamed rice.

So if you love beans, you will love this dish too. And if you are not a beans lover, then for sure do try this once and let yourself be beguiled with this magical dish.

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  • French Beans, cut into 1′ length – 2 cups
  • Oil (preferrably mustard oil, but vegetable oil will do) – 1 to 2 tbsp or as required.
  • Onions, thinly sliced – 1 small
  • Garlic, chopped or grated – 1 tbsp
  • Green chillies, slit lengthwise – 5 to 6 or to taste, can use red chilli powder instead
  • Salt – to taste
  • Coconut, grated – 1/2 cup to 1 cup; I use it generously
  • Coconut, grated / Coconut flakes – for garnishing (optional)

Method:

  • Heat oil in a pan, once hot add the thinly sliced onions and saute.
  • Add garlic and green chillies and fry well.
  • Once the onions start getting translucent add the beans and salt. Mix well. Cover and cook till the beans are tender stirring in between.
  • Once cooked, transfer the fried beans mixture on a plate and allow it to cool completely.
  • Once cooled add it to a blender along with coconut and little water and blend to a thick wet paste.
  • Heat the same pan, add a few drops of oil to it and add the wet paste.
  • On medium flame cook the paste till most of the moisture is dried up.
  • Garnish with grated coconut and serve with hot rice.

Suggestion: Mix small portions of the paste and rice with your hands/fingers and enjoy!

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