Thursday, 27 September 2012

Less is more- more or less!

Matar Karanji

Whether you are hosting a party or attending one, why do only the most delicious snacks never seem enough to go around? Is it because they are tastier when made in smaller quantities when the maker can pay better attention to the quality and taste factor? Or is it that they are walloped by all and therefore disappear faster?

Whatever it is, it’s the sorriest sight to see hosts and organisers running around helter skelter when the cry of “We’re out of samosas, pooris, or rice, or gulaab jamuns!” goes out…

The guests also join in in the melee, not really to be of help, but to help themselves and stock (hoard?) whatever they can lay their hands on onto their plates!

One cardinal rule of entertaining, ingrained on my mind by a great and enthusiastic cook of a mother and a husband who is generous to a fault, is that food should be offered in sumptuous, “bharpoor” quantities. It’s all right even if you cook way more than is consumed, but the food should not run short. Even if it means we eat the left overs for a few days or even weeks depending on if the food can be frozen.

A more graceful option in this part of the world where you generally don’t have live in domestic help to clear and wash up and to share the spoils (pun intended), is to have all the guests happy to take home a box of something they have liked. 

So in that short window between finishing dinner and serving dessert, some furious activity that resembles a fishpond at feeding time takes place. The take-away plastic containers come out, guests pick and choose what they want and boxes are packed and stacked in plastic carry bags with labels or markers!

But then the main question doesn’t get answered. How much should one cook?

Is it OK to fall just a little short and wait and watch everyone even out and adjust within the spread laid out?

Or is it better to prepare more by way of abundant caution and then worry as to how to dispose of it?

Or is it smarter to make it just a little short, so everyone tantalised remembers how they loved your dish, but could have done with a little more?

I have experienced this with the matar karanjis prepared by some students one Diwali over 9 years ago. These delectable calzones were decimated in minutes by piranhaesque guests at the party!

I remembered their taste as if it was just yesterday - and recreated the magic recently at a dinner I hosted.

I ended up making enough and more and packing some for the guests!!  

Matar Karanji

For the pastry

1 cup plain flour
½ cup semolina
2 tbsp oil for shortening
Salt to taste

For the filling

1 cup frozen peas
1 small potato, boiled and mashed
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tsp (or more) finely chopped green chilly
1 tsp garlic and ginger paste
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp grated fresh coconut
Dry mango powder (amchur) to taste
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cumin-coriander powder
½ tsp haldi powder
1 tbsp chopped cashews
Salt to taste
1 tbsp oil
Oil to fry

Making the pastry

Mix the ingredients for the pastry into a smooth and firm dough. Keep covered for 30 minutes. Just before making it, give it a good knead- I use the age old technique of pounding it with a pestle or rolling pin! Make into equal sized balls and keep aisde.

Making the matar stuffing

Heat oil in pan and add the onion, garlic-ginger paste and chillies and sauté the mixture. Add the haldi powder and the green peas. Mash the peas while sautéing them. Now add all the spices and the coriander. Add the mashed potato and salt to taste and mix well. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Making the karanjis

Roll out the balls of dough into pooris and place a tablespoon of the matar mixture on it. Fold the poori to form a gujiya/karanji/calzone shape. Press the sides together and make impressions on the edge with a fork to crimp the sides. Make sure the stuffing sufficiently fills out karanji. Prepare all karanjis and fry them in medium hot oil until golden brown.

Serve with a chutney or sauce. I served it with a green tomato chutney.

My blogger and Facebook friend Suranga Date writes poems inspired by various sights and thoughts she comes across during the course of the day in her blog   Strewn Ashes. She often writes delightful and insightful poems in Marathi and English based on my posts (and those of other bloggers)! She has written this lovely poem titled The yin, the yang and the yum based on this recipe! Enjoy! 

Monday, 24 September 2012

I can do it better!

Varki Paratha

Mamak, a Malaysian street food eatery from Sydney has recently opened an outlet downstairs on Lonsdale Street. Right from day one they have been full, with patrons queuing up for hours to get in!

Intending to get a takeaway, we joined people lined up at the glass picture window – the queues will soon get longer than at the legendary Myer windows with their Christmas tableaux!

It’s mesmerising to see the young blokes skillfully flipping the Roti Canai (AKA Malabari Paratha) Roti Susu (Malbari Paratha with condensed milk) and Roti Telur…

Wow! This is the kind of response I would like when – er- I mean IF - I establish a restaurant!

The thought is very tempting- but the second thought foreboding!

Long hours, weekend work, backbreaking work, stringent food safety and occupational health and safety laws to be followed, work place regulations, human resource management, customer relations/service management, quality control marketing-NOOOOO!

We tuck into the flaky parathas and the tasty Curry Sayur, but the “ I can do a better job than this” syndrome rears its head!

This thought fleets across our minds every time we eat out or take out- and every time we make and eat a wonderful dish at home. Yesterday was one such occasion. Having eaten Mamak's wonderful rotis, I picked up the gauntlet yet again and was trawling the web researching Mamak style Roti Canai to go with the Gobhi Fry in Mustard oil that I was planning, when in some strange convoluted way I ended up looking at this recipe on Tarla Dalal’s website. Possibly the name caught my fancy, 'Varki' possibly refers to vark- foil. 

Parathas with layers as thin as foil! Hmmm... 

Mamak's Roti Canai was good. I can do it better...

The parathas turned out to be one of the simplest and tastiest ever! They were flaky, but retained the wholesome goodness of whole-wheat bread- unlike Mamak's roti!

Of course, I had made some modifications- added some spice and used oil instead of ghee…


2 cups plain flour
2 cups atta
Salt to taste
2 tsp crushed pepper, ajwain, zeera
2 tbsp rice flour
2 tbsp oil to mix with rice flour
Oil to cook the parathas
Water to knead

In a mixing bowl, add the flours, salt, crushed spices and water to make a soft but firm dough. Grease your hands with oil and knead well. Keep covered for 15-20 minutes.

Make equal sized large balls of the dough and roll out three large chapatis first. Mix the rice flour and oil (on second thoughts I feel ghee or butter would have been better to spread the mixture) and spread a thin layer on a chapati, place one more chapati on it and repeat the process.  You will now have a stack of three chapatis with the rice flour – oil mixture in between. Roll the stack firmly into a log and cut the log into inch and a half thick slices.

Repeat this process with all the balls of dough.

Heat a non-stick griddle or tava . Roll out each thick slice of dough with a very light hand, pressing on one side to let the layers fan out and separate on heating.
Cook the parathas on medium heat after dotting it with oil on both sides. Tease out the layers by pressing with a dishcloth, which will make the roti puff up and cause the layers to separate.

When cooked, remove from heat and fluff up the paratha with both the hands. This will break the layers, but open them up. 

Serve the rotis hot with any curry. We ate some just off the tava, by themselves!

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Revisiting resolves!

Gobhi fry in sarson ka teil

Some weeks ago I wrote a blog post titled “Time for oil change!” about breaking mental barriers and venturing out to use mustard oil with potatoes in a Nepali dish, which happily was a resounding success.

Then the bottle of MO went back to the pantry.

It would have probably gone rancid with disuse, but for a constant subliminal reminder by so many of my new found friends on Facebook culinary groups who wax eloquent about mustard oil in almost every second dish they make!

So I started thinking about more possibilities and latching on to a scrap of a memory (or was it a figment?), posed a question on FB last night whether gobhi with MO would taste good.

I had suggestions and comments- all encouraging and positive.

Emboldened, I went ahead in blind faith- hand-held by all the stalwarts who swear by mustard oil.

The resultant dish was another unqualified success, remarkable for its simplicity and singularity of taste. The spice mix complemented the fried florets and the only excess was the amount of oil!

3 cups gobhi florets, washed and drained
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garam masala
½  tsp ajwain, crushed
½  tsp cumin seeds, crushed
½ tsp pepper corns, crushed
Salt to taste
Mustard oil to fry

Heat about a cup of mustard oil in a kadhai to smoking point and add the gobhi florets batch by batch and deep fry them al dente and remove them onto kitchen paper. After the last batch is fried, remove all the oil except a about a teaspoon and sauté the ginger-garlic pastes and the masalas in it. When done, add back the fried gobhi florets and add salt to taste.

Serve with roti or paratha. I served it with varki parathas- in a meal fit for a king!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Ganpati - then and now...and how!

This year in Melbourne

Ganpati Bappa came to my brother’s home, exported over seven seas in sleek packaging, with bar coding and export quality stickers. He wore a jasmine garland that comes in a cardboard carton pack and was installed proudly amidst temperate fruit like apples and pears and a medley of flowers like orchids, gerberas and arum lilies. My nephews had decorated an altar with beautifully crafted bejewelled decorative pieces of rangoli and fairy lights from Singapore!

Lord Lambodar, a legendary foodie, was treated to modaks made by Nani, and a sumptuous and delicious lunch  kheer puri, saar, masaley bhat, tomato pudina chutney, pumpkin raita, sundal and alu sabji prepared by my sister-in-law Sharwari Rajurkar!

The whole family took time off work for the festivities and in the evening close friends of the family gathered for a fitting finale of festivities and made merry!

We sang the Sukh karta dukh harta’s arati- amidst the rhythmic clanging of the cymbals, the enthusiastic clapping and the sweet sound of the little silver pooja bell! Ah, the very familiar little pooja silver bell - a relic of my childhood, when we fought to take turns to sound the bell!

Dekho… who mandir ki ghanta… in a very filmi way, my mind went back 30-40 years, to my childhood …

In the India of my childhood

Every birthday, we would fetch Ganpati Bappa lovingly from the market- we knew exactly which idol was our Bappa the minute we looked at so many of them! It had to be the idol with a smiling face and twinkle in his eyes! I could never fathom the orientation of his trunk- didn’t matter to us! But the Gajanan’s countenance was most important.

He would arrive with fanfare in a shiny copper tamhan or platter and would be installed reverently and affectionately on his magnificent throne, decorated with banana leaves, flowers and all our child like craft endeavours with crepe paper and gilt paper!

Ganpati would get a new cotton sacred thread or yadnopavita, a little colourful garland made of silk fiber and a little malavastra made of cotton wool and stained with haldi and kumkum.  He loved red hibiscus and the white nandivardhan  or prajakta flowers. He preened around sporting the fragrant sandal paste and vermillion. Adorned thus, he would sit back and survey the family home in the beautiful light thrown by the lamps and the fragrance flowers, and dhoop or agarbatti.

The Ganpati bappa of our childhood relished rustic natural delights.  Bananas, custard apples, wood apples, dhatura (YES! Dhatura- the infamous poisonous fruit) and guava were his favourite fruit.   Occasionally he would chew on five kinds of leaves called patri and nibble at the 21 trident spears of tender grass called ‘durvankur’. He was partial to coconuts and had two whole grand globes with handlebar tails as sentinels.

Ganpati loved a little something by way of a piece of copra and a rock of jaggery nestled in it.  On the side, there was some panhakhadya in a silver bowl to tuck into. This delectable mix, distributed as khirapt or prasad comprised raisins, chopped dry dates, almonds and other nuts, copra, sugar crystals- all scented with cardamom and if we were feeling rich, saffron. These dry nibbles would be rounded off by the panchaamrut- a delicious concoction of yoghurt, milk, honey, sugar and ghee.

He would then indulge in little pedhas in the shape of modaks, till it was time for lunch after the aarti and naivedya.

For lunch, he preferred, of course the steamed modaks drenched in golden ghee. But he also loved the savoury chana dal sundal, the beans poriyal, koshimbir and batata bhaji. For some reason, a shevayachi kheer and poori also found favour with him, so the plate was loaded with it.  For some strange reason, as kids Dada and I didn’t like steamed modaks, so Aai made fried modaks for us- saying Bappa liked those as well! In case he missed rice, there was sadha varan bhaat and dahi bhaat! Ghee, ghee!

He would then nap for a while and get ready to receive visitors in the evening. He was unable to resist trunking a piece or two of barfi or laddu that was offered to the guests. But after this, he was happy with a supper of milk and sugar offered during the evening arati!

Each of the seven days he stayed with us was a celebration.  The peak of this revelry was on when his consorts arrived on the 5th  day, had a magnificent feast on the 6th day with  panchapakwanna or five sweets, 16 varieties of vegetables, pooris, rice, bhajjis, et al! When they left on the 7th day along with Ganpati Bappa, they were offered only some dahi-bhaat to keep them light during their journey!

Ganesh Maharaj ki Jai! Ganpati Bappa Morya! Mangal Murti Morya!
The choral singing ends on a most cheerful note. 

I am brought back to the now and the here! Time to dig into the delicious food!