one for mango chutney

I have a problem. Well, actually more like quite a few problems.

They either sit rather silently on my bookshelf, or stretch themselves lazily all over the center table in the living room. They have also, from time to time, made home on the window sill in my bathroom.

They’re cookbooks. And I’m pretty sure most of you would understand why they are, not small, but rather big problems.

I love them, yes. But they also irritate me a great deal. Mostly because their production rate is higher than that of rabbits. A free weekend now means three new cookbooks on my shelf and a considerably lighter wallet. Let me assure you that in retrospect, this is in no way fun.¬†I take them to bed, yes. But I’m likely to fall asleep before they’re done. They tempt me, entertain me, flex their muscles at me and make me fall in love them in the most cruel-est sort of way.

The biggest monster of them all is a cloth-covered jumbo-sized journal. That journal is a screamer. It makes itself heard, even if I don’t want to pay attention to it. Over the last year, that journal has gained plenty of weight, as I keep stuffing it with recipes – some handwritten, some printed off the internet, some that were once newspapers. And the journal keeps growing. It keeps eating, keeps gulping. It opens its mouth and a poor recipe disappears down its bottomless pit.

If we take a harder look, and if I was to be completely honest, then the problem actually lie not with the cookbooks or the journal itself. The problem lies with me. It’s my own inability to get over being intimidated by the recipes. It’s my very own disability – my laziness, that stops me from trying a recipe from any of my cookbooks. And its my impatience that clouds my thinking, the moment it comes to following instructions to a tee. And that, dear readers, is not healthy.

I gawk at the photographs. I read the ingredients list over and over again. I play out the techniques in my head. I imagine the situations that each dish demand. And yet, the naked truth is that I’ve never really tried a recipe word-to-word from any of the cookbooks.

I happily thought it was going to be different when I tried Alice Medrich’s chocolate wafers. I set out my pots and pans exactly the way she recommended. But I was sadly mistaken. I had to adjust something and do something else to get something slightly different. Whatever I make that’s out of a book, is never really out of a book, is it? Its always adapted from here and inspired from there. As I expect cooking should be.

Cooking to me has actually become a lot like that. I’m comfortable not having a cookbook in front of me while I cook. I’ve got into the habit of reading them and tucking the ideas and flavour profiles safely away in my mind until they make themselves heard suddenly while I’m on my way to the kitchen. I like having my mother’s recipe for mango chutney for these rotten hot summer afternoons written down safely in the journal and not have to look at it again. I like having a beer and blue cheese sauce recipe on my mind and then not have to follow exact quantities.

I don’t have a beer recipe here with me today. But I do have the one for mango chutney.

It’s been in the family for a long time, much before I was on the way. It’s tart with wedges of green mangoes, earthy with nigella seeds and spiked with red chili. And it’s a perfect companion if you want one, while you go through your cookbooks.

Bengali Green Mango Chutney

Bengalis like to use green-fleshed, super-tart mangoes for this chutney the kind that makes you pucker up and suck in your cheeks. But you could use other varieties, sweet or otherwise, if you want. In that case the amount of sugar obviously needs to be adjusted. This is traditionally a loose chutney, not the thick condiment-like versions you’re sure to find in restaurants, so try not to reduce the mixture too much. Also, it is highly advised that you leave in the seeds of the chili – the heat balances out the tartness beautifully.

1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 tsp nigella seeds [kalonji]
2 tsp of mustard seeds
1 dried red chili, split through the center
4-5 green mangoes
A pinch of turmeric powder
1/2 tsp of salt
2 cups water
1/2 cup of granulated sugar or as needed

Remove the mangoes from their skins and cut the flesh into wedges. Heat oil in a deep-bottomed pan. Add the nigella seeds, mustard seeds and red chili [ seeds and all]. Wait till the mustard seeds stop popping. Gently add in the mango wedges and saute them gently over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Don’t stir too much. Sprinkle turmeric and salt over the mangoes, and stir gently to coat the wedges. Add in water and half the sugar. Keep the pan uncovered and cook over low heat till the water is about to boil. Don’t let it boil though. Taste and add more sugar if needed and give the mixture a couple of stirs. Take it off heat and serve hot alongside steamed rice. ¬†Or serve cold, just as it is.

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a peanut butter milk tart that came to dinner

There are a few questions that when asked can make one deliriously happy.

“Will you bring dessert?” is one of them.

And if you’re anything like some of us over here, it is just one of those questions that grabs a handful of ants and shoves them into your pants.

Questions like these either send you running for the cookbooks or groping for your laptops. And I’m more than happy to oblige. They make you feel like life is going to be just great.

The weekend before last when I was dreaming of lemon tarts, my father’s friend, whose name could twist your tongue easily and hence will be known as Uncle D, expressed his excitement that I was going to be in Kolkata for our Bengali New Year’s celebrations. Yes, we Bengalis have our own Calendar. And yes, we celebrate our own New Year’s. With new clothes (!) and believe it or not, more food.

Now, by every standard in the book, Uncle D is an accomplished home cook, a lawyer, an aspiring guitarist, an expert celebrity impersonator and an incomparable biryani maker. He is another one of those people who make my parents’ social circle ten times cooler than mine.¬†And for him to ask me to bring dessert is nothing short of flattery really. He told me he’d made up his mind while digging into Meghna’s birthday cake and decided that a two-week notice for the New Year’s dessert was only fitting. I have a big grin on my face as I’m typing this. That’s how much I love taking dessert along with me for a party.

As a general rule, parties involving hardcore Bengalis always involve Indian sweets or ice-cream rather than full-on desserts. Cakes are called upon for birthdays and anniversaries. Tarts and puddings are not even considered. So naturally, I started off by holding an audition for cakes. Always a good place to begin.

First came the coffee cake that had made everyone coo. Then came thoughts of berry-infused cakes and upside-downs. Wizenberg’s banana bread looked promising for sometime. Under the pressure of all my kind-heartedness [and a secret desire to make boiled pastry again] I decided to give tarts and pies a chance too. A chocolate ganache tart popped into mind. It seemed like a safe bet. Gordon Ramsay’s Chef’s Secrets lay on my table offering up a suh-weeet looking orange and passion fruit something-something. I even resorted to my well-practised hobby — returning to the refrigerator at regular intervals, opening its door and staring into it, hoping that some interesting fruit or flavour would materialize out of sub-zero air. And it did. After about three or four failed attempts. Peanut butter.

Technically this is a tart with peanut butter in it. Even more technically, it’s a PB & J tart. PB & J is a reasonable sell as far as the best of us go, but I’m afraid that it might not sound as intriguing as it tastes. So let’s just be fancy and call this a Peanut Butter Milk Tart with a Blueberry Preserve Glaze. Oooooh.

It’s not your normal heat-peanut-butter-and-spread-it-onto-a pastry-base kind of simpleton. I wouldn’t do that to you. Instead, it starts with a peanut butter custard, made out of a hot milk-PB mixture that’s whisked into eggs and baked till set. Slap on a thin layer of your favourite jam, blueberry in this case, and huzzah!

But apart from normal tart behaviour, this one also teaches you something – hot peanut butter and milk do not taste good. And I don’t know about you, but in my world, that is a life lesson I learnt the hard way.

Peanut Butter Milk Tart with Blueberry Jam Glaze

I forked into the tart before it had a chance to cool completely and was immediately hit by disappointment. It was warm, of course, and tasteless. I could taste the peanut as if it were a ghost of itself. Faint and almost non-existent. I smeared a bit of jam on and took a second bite. It tasted only marginally better. Faced with such heartbreak and the need to hatch an emergency plan, I shoved the tart back into its tin and into the refrigerator and shuffled off to relieve my cranky mood. A couple of hours later I returned to the tart trying to think of a way to salvage it, which I was half-hearted about. But I was in for a surprise. The filling had set beautifully. It melted on my mouth like butter and delivered a well-placed punch of peanuttiness! All it had needed was some chill time.

Peanut Butter Milk Tart with Jam Glaze

Peanut Butter Milk Tart with Jam Glaze

This tart definitely definitely needs at least an hour of chill time in the refrigerator. Try to keep yourself away from digging in while the tart is warm.

For the tart crust I used this.

For the filling and glaze:
3/4 cup of smooth Peanut Butter
1 cup of whole milk
1 tbsp of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup of your favourite jam  or preserve [I used a Bonne Maman blueberry]

Pre-bake the tart crust and let it cool.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl. Keep aside. Heat peanut butter, milk and sugar in a saucepan till the peanut butter has melted and combined well with the milk and the mixture starts to bubble up. If it looks grainy, don’t worry, it’ll come together when mixed with the eggs.¬†Remove from heat and whisk the mixture into the eggs. Whisk continuously so the eggs don’t scramble. Let the mixture cool.

Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C. Pour the PB-milk mixture into the tart crust. Make sure to pop any bubbles that might appear on the surface. Bake for 15 minutes or till the filling is set. The centre won’t be too soft to the touch and the edges will have puffed up very slightly. Cool the tart completely in its tin.
Warm the jam/preserve slightly and spread over the filling.

Chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours before serving.

  

not your normal everyday snack

Two words. Lamb fritters.

They’re new to me but I can assure you that I will be keeping them around for a long time.

I have so far been slavishly devoted, as much as one can be, to lamb. Especially lamb curry. They conjure up memories of my childhood and of my grandmother who could easily make your toes curl with her version of lamb curry. And after a spell in the kitchen she used to smell of talcum powder, books and turmeric. She was a bespectacled professor of Organic Chemistry, a lover of all things chocolate and she used to cook lamb curry for me.

I never really learnt to regret anything. Blame it on my laziness. Unfortunately for me, my grandmother passed away only a couple of years before I even wanted to learn how to cook. I would have liked to learn about lamb curry from her. I think she would have liked that too.

But far from despair, I’m pleased to tell you that she taught it to my mother sometime after my parents got married. And that curry has shown up on my mother’s dining table every holiday and special occasion since. I feel silly saying this, but along with a priceless gold neck-piece and ¬†a silver powder case, the recipe is almost an heirloom.¬†It would be brutal of me not to share it would you.

Not today though. Don’t look at me like that…I promise to do so very soon in the near future. But I have here with me these fritters, which¬†with a little effort could easily give lamb curry a run for its money.

I’m writing to you after recovering from a colour-soaked¬†Holi, one of India’s many festivals in which the goal is to end up looking like the entire PANTONE colour library threw up on you. But it always ends with a feast, which, I don’t think you’d deny, is the best part. We showered and tried to scrub ourselves back to normal. And then we sat down to peas pilaf, a South Indian egg curry and crispy golden-on-the-outside-meaty-on-the-inside lamb fritters. They’re like nuggets really, that are shallow fried till golden. And they do very well when dunked in a sweet mint sauce.

Ideally they make fantastic starters, just something your friends can nibble on over swigs of beer and I discovered yesterday that they never actually last on the platter for more than 15 minutes. But these fritters are not normal everyday snacks. They display special powers one day later when you can just add them to a¬†dal¬†or a¬†chana masala and they quickly turn into a gorgeous lunch. Their crispy coats soak up all the gravy and gives away under your teeth to reveal soft moist centres. It’s the kind of lunch you want to have after an especially tedious morning of chores that leave you hot and bothered. Be warned though, when mixed with curried lentils in gravy and an ever-rising humidity, the fritters can become potent sleep-inducers. You might just want to spent the rest of the afternoon lying¬†spread-eagle¬†on your back.

And while I was doing exactly that on the floor of my bedroom, I had visions of my grandmother – of both of us – pottering about in the kitchen exchanging notes on perfect lamb curry and shallow-frying skills. I’m pretty sure she would have downed a large portion of these nuggets and asked for more.

Lamb Fritters

You might be tempted, but I would strongly advise you against using cooked/canned chickpeas for this one. Using cooked chickpeas would only make the fritters soggy. Sunflower, canola, peanut/groundnut oil have higher smoking points than olive oil, and hence ideal for shallow or deep-frying. When heating the oil make sure it doesn’t start smoking though. If it does, then turn off the heat, wait till the smoke clears from the top of the skillet and turn the heat on again. Start frying immediately.

300 gm of chickpeas (about 10 oz), soaked in water overnight
500 gm of minced lamb or mutton (about 1/2 lb)
2 medium-sized green chilies
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 onion, chopped finely
Sunflower oil, to fry
Salt, to taste

Drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Blitz the chickpeas along with the lamb and chilies in a food processor till you have a coarse mixture that clumps together. You don’t want the chickpeas to turn into a paste. Put the ginger paste in a strainer and squeeze the juices out into the chickpea-lamb mixture. Discard the ginger pulp. Add garlic, onion and salt to the mixture. Use your hands to knead the mixture till everything is well-combined. Form into balls or nuggets. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. The oil should come 2-inches up the walls of the skillet. To check if the oil is hot enough drop a pinch of the lamb mixture in and if it sizzles with a lot of noise then the oil is ready. Drop in the patties in batches and fry till golden brown. This takes about 6-8 minutes. Fish them out of the oil and onto a plate lined with paper napkins. Serve piping hot with dip. Dips with coriander or mint in them would go well with these fritters.