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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Breakfast Egg Muffins

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Till recently breakfast has always been a ‘no-sweat’ effort for me. Even as a child going to a morning school that started from 7:45 and lasted till 1:45, almost all days me and my brother would either have a glass of milk and biscuits or cornflakes in the morning. And our ‘tiffin’ (lunch packs were then and even now called tiffin) would inevitably contain bread butter and sugar or bread butter with salt and pepper or bread and jam. We hardly ever complained; we were good kids to a working mom. There were some days when we would take Maggi, and later in high school my mom would also make some parathas with achar but those were rare. Of course weekends were special days when we would have puri sabji or noodles or idli etc but Bread was the most preferred snack. My friends would often bring different lunches and I would happily share my slices for some bites from someone else’s box. Now looking back I wonder how we never ever got bored of it.

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Breakfast was always the same all through my college and after that when I started working – Bread butter, milk and banana or any other fruit. It was always easy to prepare and quick to consume. When I got married and took over the kitchen duties I would cook a lot of variations for lunch and dinner but breakfast was something that I tried to keep simple. Work, here in US, starts pretty early (as compared to India) so I never really ventured into an elaborate morning meal. I would always tell myself that there was no point in elevating the expectation of my newly wedded husband. I replicated my earlier days and gave either bread butter with tea or cornflakes. Recently (since the last one and half years) I have tried to change the custom of “easy breakfast”. These days I consciously try to eat healthy food and adopt a healthy food habit. And I have realized that the first meal of the day needs to be the most significant one. So most of the days I try waking 15  minutes early to prepare both of us a filling breakfast and its one meal of the day that we religiously take on the dining table together. (Dinner is mostly on the couch in-front of the Television).

Usually I have a list of options that I choose from, depending on how much time I have in the morning. It could be either upma, poha, pancakes, stuffed omlettes  with butter toast or toast with scrambled eggs, all served with a warm cup of tea – and all prepared within the 15-20 mins timeframe. When I have even less time I go for toast and poached eggs or the age old option of butter toasts/cornflakes. Weekends will find me baking even for breakfasts or trying something new. Today’s post is on breakfast egg muffins that I made one Saturday morning just because I wanted to try something different. I had found this recipe and the pics looked so tempting that I had to try it out. The pictures sure did come out very nice.

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My honest feedback – Taste wise they were not as great as they looked. It was okay for something new or different but nothing that excited me. However I think its a great breakfast option for working people since you can prepare and freeze them. You can also use this as a ‘to-go’ snack and am sure the kids would love these variations.

I will really appreciate if anyone of you let me know your feedback if and when you prepare this.

There are a couple of ways to prepare this, and you can choose to add or reduce any no. of ingredients to this. I am providing a rough guideline – this is the way I made it, however feel free to be creative. Also I wanted to keep it healthy so avoided cheese but these will definitely taste much better if you can add some.

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Ingredients: (for 4 egg muffins) –

  • Bread slices – 4
  • Eggs – 4
  • Personalised toppings, cut into small pieces – Add any ingredient of your choice like onions, bell pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes, spinach, bacon, broccoli, cheese etc. I used only small pieces of onions, bell pepper and mushrooms.
  • Seasoning – Salt, Pepper powder, any other of your choice. I added some Cajun spice.
  • Butter or Oil – as required

Method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease the muffin pan / ramekins with some oil/butter; Alternatively use muffin liners or line it with a parchment paper (cut a circle slightly bigger than the diameter of the muffin cups and place it).
  • With a rolling pin flatten the bread slices slightly and with a cookie cutter (or use the rim of a glass) roughly cut the slices in rounds, almost 4-5 inches in diameter.
  • Cut each round in half, then press 2 halves into each muffin cup, overlapping slightly and making sure bread comes up to edge of cup. Use extra bread to patch any gaps. If you prefer brush the bread with some butter.
  • In a pan, add some oil or butter and lightly fry the onion, bell pepper and mushrooms (or any other topping of your choice) with salt, pepper and any other seasoning that you prefer. Once cooked distribute it equally onto the muffin cups lined with the bread slices.
  • Sprinkle some grated cheese of your choice. I skipped this step.
  • Next step is to add the eggs. You can do this in 3 different ways:

1. Crack the eggs into the muffin cups and sprinkle some salt,pepper, or any other seasoning of your choice. This is how it will look when done:

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2. Crack the eggs into the muffin cups, using a fork lightly break the yolk (inside the muffin cup) and let it spread.

3. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of milk in a separate bowl, sprinkle some seasoning and pour it into the muffin cups. This is how it will look when done:

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I made 4 muffins – 2 of option 1 and 2 of option 3.

  • Bake the muffins at 350 F for 7-10 mins or until the egg whites are set. Temperature and baking time may vary from oven to oven. Do not over cook the eggs or they will become rubbery. The muffins will continue to cook for sometime even when out of oven so keep that in mind. Mine took 7 mins to bake and then 5 more minutes to cool down. I prefer the yolk on the soft side than over cooked.
  • Once the muffins have cooled down, gently take them out by running a small knife around the cups. Serve immediately with tea/coffee/juice.

Storage:

You can make these muffins in batches and freeze them for later use. Let the muffins cool down completely and then wrap them and freeze in a zip-lock bag or a freezer bag. For reheating wrap in a paper towel and reheat in microwave.

Hara Bhara Kabab – Green Kabab

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2011 September – Dubai Airport  – I am traveling with my husband to India via Dubai… tired… excited and yearning to see my family, to celebrate the festive season and to be in my city. Another couple of hours for my connecting flight, have already seen enough of the airport (which is very very nice) and so am stretching out on one of the lounge chairs, my husband on my right and an unknown lady to my left. In no time the two of us are engrossed in a conversation with the lady. She is a Dutch, hailing from Holland and is going to visit a couple of friends in Kolkata for the Durga Pujas. We talk a lot about the countries and culture we belong to and I tell her about my city of joy. That amidst all the colors and the beauty of the place she may find it a little noisy and cluttered, and that I find those very traits make the city so much alive, specially at this time of the year. As we talk aimlessly the time for our connecting flight draws near and we bid good byes. The last glimpse I have of her is in Kolkata airport as each of us stand in the immigration line. Two people – from different parts of the world meet for a while and then carry on to their respective destinations.

She is forgotten… I do not recall her name any longer… just one of the many people we met on a long distance journey. The chances of us meeting again is null – zero. Holland is not a place I plan to visit very soon. And I do not expect her to be in Kolkata ever again.. well neither in US. So that is the end of our story.. the chance meeting with an interesting person … good conversation and time well spent.  One of the benefits of staying in different places and traveling is that you get to meet many kinds of people, you get to hear many kinds of stories, different experiences… different lives. And I am always enchanted by good stories. The stories make me think .. make me imagine… make me long.

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12 months later…

2012 (October) – Dubai airport – I am going to India for 4 weddings in the family, one of which is my own brother’s. All geared up for the major preparations… the only not-so-good part is that I am traveling alone. The husband will follow me a month later. I have my books and music to give me company but I was already missing him. I managed to chat with a couple of my co-passengers (all of them going to Kol). I am about to reach the specific Gate allotted for my next connection when something familiar crosses my eyes – or someone. I am not sure if my memory serves me right – but – I know I am right – It is her !

Not able to withstand any longer, I reach up to her… to check if I am correct, to check if she remembers me from a year ago. And voila – she is the very same lady from Holland and she remembers. For a couple of seconds I feel I am in a déjà vu. What was the probability of us meeting again, in the same airport, traveling on the same day and around the same time of the year ( just a 2-3 days left for Dushera as last year). I had thought  none and was gladly  mistaken. We hug each other as if long-lost friends. We click our pics, talk for some time, exchange mail ids. I am happy, so elated. I want to share this with BBC, the strangeness of the whole situation has affected me strongly. And as I hop onto my flight I am smiling.

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Life is, after all, so full of surprises; and the world around us is becoming smaller day by day. I now have a Dutch friend and a reason to plan for a trip to Holland someday. As Oprah says – “… chance encounters aren’t necessarily accidental; in fact, you can make your own luck by opening yourself to the world. ” I want to be receptive to new things in my life… new people, new places, new experiences. And one day I do hope to begin to understand the mysterious ways of this universe.

P.S. – As I posted this to the blog, I updated my Facebook browser and a birthday reminder pops up – its that of my Dutch friend. How strange that today is her birthday and unknowingly I dedicated today’s post to her. (Happy Birthday dear friend!)

Today’s post Hara Bhara Kabab is inspired from Tarla Dalal’s recipe. Hope you enjoy it.

Ingredients:

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  • Paneer (Indian Cottage cheese) – 1/2 cup
  • Spinach leaves – 1 cup tightly packed
  • Chana Dal – 2-3 tbsp
  • Ginger, finely chopped – 1 tbsp
  • Garlic, finely chopped – 1 tbsp
  • Green Chillies, chopped – 3-4
  • Green Peas, boiled – 1/4 cup
  • Water – 3/4 cup
  • Salt – to taste
  • Chaat Masala – to taste
  • Garam Masala – 1 tsp
  • Bread Crumbs – 2 tbsp
  • Oil/Oil Spray – as required

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Method:

  • Grate the paneer or process it in a food processor.
  • Clean, wash and blanch the spinach as mentioned. Blanching Spinach greens: On a high heat bring a large pot with water to boil. Add the spinach leaves to boiling water. Cover and let it cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove the leaves using a slotted spoon or drain using a colander. Wash the wilted leaves with ice cold water. Drain water and squeeze out any excess water from the leaves.
  • Pressure cook chana dal with ginger garlic and green chillies with 3/4 cup of water for 2-3 whistles or until the dal is cooked. Drain the dal and remove excess water.
  • Blend the cooked dal with boiled peas and blanched spinach leaves to a fine paste. If required use only 1-2 tsp of water.
  • Combine this paste with the grated paneer.
  • Add salt, garam masala and chat masala to the mixture.
  • Add bread crumbs and mix well.
  • Take a spoonful of the mixture and shape it into a round ball. Press the balls to get a round flattened shape like that of a cutlet. You can keep the round shape or form cylindrical shapes as well. However I find this shape easy to cook on stove top.
  • This is an optional step. If you want your kababs to be have a crunchy coating you can roll them onto some additional bread crumbs or else you can omit this step and fry the kababs as it is. I tried coating them with bread crumbs but did not appreciate the result. Additionally the bread crumbs were giving it a burnt look. You can try it both ways for the first time.

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Cooking the kababs:

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  1. Stove top: I used this method and it is definitely a healthier option. Heat a skillet on a medium flame and spray some oil. Place the kababs and cook them well turning around for even cooking. If required keep spraying oil or drizzling melted butter on each side as they get cooked.
  2. Deep frying: You can deep fry the kababs till they turn golden brown. You can also make a batter of flour/maida, dip the kababs, roll them on bread crumbs and deep fry them.
  3. In the oven – Preheat oven to 350 F and bake them on both the sides till they are cooked. This should take 15 – 20 mins (10 mins approx. on each side) depending on the oven size. Baste them with oil / melted butter on both the sides when you flip them.

Serve them with any chutney, tomato sauce or dip.

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Gobi (Cauliflower) Manchurian

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What do you say of a nice romantic date? I say maybe we go out to a fine place for a cozy candle light dinner… or I make you sandwiches and you carry a picnic hamper as we head out to the beach… lets go back to our teens and catch a nice movie in a theatre with a huge bag of popcorn and coke… if not then lets shut down all the gadgets and let me cook you a nice dinner that we will then have on bed, we can tuck our feet into the comforter, maybe share a glass of wine and chat aimlessly like those initial days. Will it bring a smile on your lips? Will that make you happy? I know it will…

To the good times then, now and forever…

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Ingredients:

  • Cauliflower – 1/2 medium, cut into small florets
  • Oil – for deep frying

For the batter:

  • All purpose flour – 5 tbsp
  • Cornstarch – 3 tbsp (flour:cornstarch will always be in 5:3 ratio)
  • Ginger Garlic paste – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – to taste (If you are adding Soy sauce which already is salty, add accordingly)
  • Black Pepper powder – to taste
  • Red chilli powder – to taste
  • Soy Sauce – 1 tbsp (optional but adding it gives a nice deep color)
  • Paprika – optional, to be used for extra red color
  • Water – to make a thick batter

For the sauce:

  • Oil – 1 tbsp
  • Onion – 1/2 medium, finely chopped
  • Garlic, finely chopped – 3-4 colves
  • Green chillies, finely chopped – to taste (since you are adding chilli sauce adjust accordingly)
  • Soy Sauce – 1 tbsp
  • Chilli Sauce – 2 tsp (adjust to taste)
  • Tomato Sauce – 1 tbsp
  • Salt – to taste (soy sauce has some salt in it so add accordingly)
  • Sugar (optional) use only if required – sometimes if the sauce becomes too tangy you might need to add little sugar, check the taste first and then decide if you need to add it.

Note: The quantities for the sauces mentioned are approximates since I never measure them while pouring. Just eye ball it, add little at first,  taste it and add more if required.

For Garnishing: (use any of these)

  • Chopped Cilantro
  • Chilli vinegar – optional but adds a great flavor. Follow instructions mentioned below on how to prepare this.
  • Chopped green chillies – for extra spice
  • Spring onions, roughly chopped – I did not use it this time

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Method:

Marinate and deep fry:

  • Soak the florets in hot (not boiling) water for 2-3 minutes. Drain completely and pat dry.
  • In a bowl add all the ingredients for the batter except water and mix well. Add little water at time and keep mixing with a whisk to get a thick batter of pouring consistency. Do a taste test and adjust the spices accordingly.
  • Add the florets and mix them so that they are well coated with the batter. You can add some extra flour if the batter is too thin or add extra water if it is too thick.

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  • Keep aside the marinated florets for almost an hour to a couple of hours, the longer the better.
  • Heat oil in a deep fryer / pan. Once hot add the florets in batches and fry them till they are cooked and turn golden. Do not over fry or they will turn mushy.

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Note: The first time I was making this, I got the proportions messed up so that batter was falling off when frying. Once the entire batch was done, I added the fried florets in the leftover batter again and re-fried them.

  • Drain the fried florets onto a paper towel.

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Prepare the sauce:

  • Heat up a pan and add 1 tbsp of oil. If using the same pan as used for deep frying the florets remove the oil leaving almost a tbsp of oil.
  • Add the chopped onions, garlic, green chillies and fry for a couple of minutes until the onions turn translucent.
  • Add all the other ingredients – sauces, salt and sugar (if needed) and mix well.
  • Sprinkle some water and cook for a couple of minutes so that it comes to a light boil. Check taste and adjust salt and the sauces accordingly.

Note: If you want you can prepare the sauce before hand. Fry the florets just before serving as they will loose the crispiness if kept for a while. You can assemble the dish just before eating.

Assemble the dish:

  • Reheat the sauce if made previously.
  • Add the florets to the sauce. Mix gently.
  • Garnish with any of these – chopped cilantro, green chillies, chilli vinegar or chopped spring onions.

How to make chilli vinegar:

You can use this for any Chinese / Indo-Chinese cooking. So if you need it very frequently make in large quantity or else if you are going to use it once in a while like it do make a smaller portion.

  • Take 3-4 tbsp of white vinegar.
  • Roughly or finely chop 2-3 green chillies and add them (along with the seeds) to the vinegar. Let it sit for 5 minutes.
  • Use it for garnishing.

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Serve it as a side or a starter.

Chilli Chicken

After a wonderful and sunny weekend, the rains and dark clouds have come back to pester my state of mind again. I realize how much dependent my mood has become on  the weather. So after days of being not in touch with my blog I decided to catch up on the pending recipes lying in the draft section.  Somehow I know working on my blog is going to cheer me up today in spite if the gloominess outside! Tomorrow will mark the completion of a year of my marital bliss and am suddenly feeling very happy and excited about it. One whole year of togetherness just flew by…. last year this time I was amidst houseful of relatives and festivities. Looking back it sure had been the most memorable year in my life. I plan to watch my wedding video today before BBC  joins me in the evening. But prior to that I need to share this wonderful recipe with you all.

Chilli Chicken, originally a Chinese ‘formula’ has undergone may different variations in different parts of the world. So I am not sure in which version my recipe might fall into. However, I am familiar with the way my mom cooks it and I followed suit. My husband also does a good job of this ‘sans’ the egg. Have it as a starter or a main course, it will remain a lip-smacking dish always!

Ingredients:

  • Chicken, cut into small bite size pieces – 500 gms
  • Vinegar – 2 tbsp
  • Salt – to taste
  • Egg – 1
  • Cornflour/Cornstarch – 2-3 tbsp
  • Oil – 2 tbsp for frying
  • Onions, sliced – 2 medium-sized
  • Bell peppers, cut into thick strips – 1
  • Ginger paste – 1 tsp
  • garlic paste or chopped – 8-10 cloves
  • green chilies, chopped – 5-6
  • Soya sauce -1.5 tbsp
  • Tomato sauce -2 tbsp
  • Chilli sauce -1 tbsp or to taste
  • Chicken stock – 1 cup (if not available, substitute with water)

Method:

  • Cut the chicken into small pieces and marinate with vinegar and salt for 10 minutes. (Boneless chicken is preferrable.)
  • Add 2 tbsp of  cornstarch to the chicken, break the eggs and mix well. keep it aside for another 10-15 mins.
  • Heat sufficient oil in a pan and fry the chicken pieces till golden brown. Drain and keep aside.
  • In the same pan (add 1 tbsp more oil if required), heat the oil and fry the onions.
  • Add bell pepper, chopped green chillies, ginger paste and garlic to it and saute for a while.
  • Add soya, tomato and chilli sauce to it as per taste and mix well.
  • Add the left over marinade and chicken stock or water and mix well.
  • Add the chicken pieces and cover and cook for a while.
  • Mix the remaining cornstarch with 2-3 tbsp of water and add to the mixture.
  • Mix well and let it simmer for a minute.
  • Garnish with spring onions and serve hot.

Note:

  • For starters or a dry preparation let the excess moisture evaporate to the desired consistency.
  • For main course or gravy add chicken stock or water and cook till the desired consistency.