Monday, February 23, 2009

Sauteed Shrimp

Today I'm going to share something so simple and relatively healthy with you. This dish can be paired with or added to a number of things. You can have it on its own or add it to rice, pasta, fresh salsas, soup, salads, etc. I usually get frozen shrimp (peeled and de-veined) because I don't want to handle raw shrimp and have to de-vein it myself. I recently made this shrimp and served it with pasta and an asiago cheese sauce.

1lb frozen shrimp (thawed out per instructions on package)
1tbsp olive oil
1tbsp butter (salted or unsalted)
some chopped garlic (to taste)
salt (to taste)
crushed red pepper (to taste)
3 to 4 fresh basil leaves, chopped

In a non-stick skillet add your olive oil and butter. Heat on medium until the oil is hot but not burning (be careful because we don't want the garlic to burn). Add the garlic, red pepper and fresh basil. Keep stirring to release the aroma but do not burn your garlic. One you've heated the ingredients enough to release their flavor and aroma in to the oil, add the shrimp and lower the stove to medium-low. Add salt to taste. Let the shrimp cook on one side for about 3 min and then flip and cook on the other side for 3 to 4 min. Keep the skillet covered to allow steam. Shrimp, if over cooked, becomes very tough so be careful not to over cook. The steam will help to keep the shrimp juicy.

Once ready, you can add it to your sauce, have on its own with rice or couscous, have it on a salad or even bake it in a casserole. The options are endless but the method simple, quick and healthy because with the garlic and basil, we don't need to add too much salt. We also add in olive oil to reduce the amount of butter used for sauteing shrimp.

Good luck, be creative and eat smart!

Basic Masaala's

Think of this as something similar to Emeril's famous Essence or the famous Louisiana BBQ spice rubs. Only difference, the concoctions I'm going to share date back to the Mughal period, when dishes created for royalty became popular and eventually common among the Muslim households. Some of these masaala (spice) mixes are also a melding of the Muslim and Hindu cultures, which coincided in the Sub-continent (what is now South Asia). Certain spices are common in the Hindu way of cooking and some (mostly those for meat dishes) are particular to the Muslim style of cooking and an influence from the Persians and Turks.

I will share with you some common masaala's which you can use to create a number of different Desi dishes. Remember from my last post on basics, I explained the concept of bhagaar...well these spices are usually added to warm oil at the start of cooking, thus creating the base.

"Phorran" is an old term used to describe a certain spice mix, but the literal translation of the word is prescription or recipe (as relating to medicine). "Panch (#5) Phorran" is a spice mix of five spices, often used for certain types of vegetables and chicken, but can be adapted for cooking some meat curry's as well. The more common term for Panch Phorran is Achar ka Masaala (pickling spices); most Desi people today would know the term Achaar (pickle) since they use the condiment regularly with meals, eg. Aamn ka Achaar (mango pickle), Nimbo ka Achaar (lemon/lime pickle), etc. The five spices required for achaar ka masaala are:

Zeera (cumin seed) (do not confuse with caraway)
Sonph (fennel seed)
Kalonji (Nigella seed) (do not confuse with onion seed or black sesame)
Rai (Brown Mustard seed)
Mehthi Dana (Fenugreek)

When cooking with these spices, you would traditionally use equal parts of each spice. I often use more zeera and avoid the use of mehthi because of its bitter taste and side affects (you can smell it in your sweat and urine for a few days after). Also note, many of the spices (depending on the dish) are used either whole or ground. This particular spice mix is never used ground...always whole.

Garam Masaala is a very common spice mix in Desi cooking. Today you will find it available in some larger grocery stores in a ground form, not just in Indian stores. This mix can be used whole or ground and often times is also used as a garnish, not just a base. The word "Garam" means "hot" and this relates directly to the nature of the spices in this mix. All of the spices in this mix are by nature hot.
In traditional Desi cooking, there is a belief that all ingredients (fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, meats, etc.) have a certain "taseer" (genetic makeup or nature) to them. Some things are hot by nature, some are cold, some are soothing while others are acidic or indigestion inducing. There is a whole science and logic behind Desi cooking and a lot of it has to do with the nature of ingredients, thus what should be mixed with what and what should never be mixed with something, etc. The concepts are similar to the western logic of some vegetables being meant for summer consumption while others are meant for is based on their nature or the effect they have on our body once consumed. The spices required for garam masaala are:

Kali/Gol Mirch (whole black pepper)
Long (whole cloves)
Sabuth Dhaniya (corriander seed)
Barri Ilaychi (large black cardamom)
Daal Cheeni (cinnamon stick)

For every day cooking I will use this mix whole but without barri ilaychi and sometimes without the cinnamon (depending on what I'm making and the time of year). Many times I'll use it ground as a garnish, but again without the barri ilaychi since it has a very strong taste. In some dishes you can substitute the barri ilaychi for choti ilaychi which is green cardamom, for example when making pulao. Some people also like to add bay leaf into this mix which is nice for some rice dishes and curry's but not traditional in the garaam masaala you can pre-mix and keep for regular use.

Gosht ka Masaala, "Gosht" refers to red meats like beef, lamb and goat. This masaala is used to make traditional Muslim meat curry's (gosht ka salaan). Murghi (chicken) and Machli (fish) salaan's get different spices, so be careful as not to use this for white meats...the spices will be over powering. Salaan is usually made with onion and garlic, gosht ka salaan also gets ginger and either tomato or yogurt; plus the spices I'm about to list out. Gosht ka Masaala is:

Haldi (ground tumeric)
Laal Mirch (cayenne or red chili powder)
Kali/Gol Mirch
Pissa Dhaniya (ground or powder corriander seed)
Pissa Zeera (ground or powder cumin seed)
(some people like to add cinnamon but its not traditional)

Well I will leave you with these basic masaalas for now and write up some more traditional concoctions for you later. As always, if you have any questions/concerns don't hesitate to reach out.
Good luck and be creative!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sweets for My Sweetie

This past weekend was Valentines Day and I decided to do something cute but low cost for my hubby. Gifts, candy, stuffed toys...all the cheesy Valentines paraphernalia is nice but impractical. Those things are nice when you get them but by the next day you're over it, the candy rarely gets eaten and the stuffed toys become pet hair collectors! So I decided to be practical and do what I do best...

With the kitchen as my playground and pantry full of goodies, I went to work. Before I continue, I should clarify that we went to NYC for the long weekend so we (I) celebrated Valentines the night before. I decided to make a nice dinner to go with a themed dessert I already had semi-planned. My husband and I both looove cream cheese frosting and since it was kind of late in the day, I decided to do fudge brownies (from a box) with cream cheese frosting. I had heart shaped muffin trays (the planned part, since I picked them up a few days before) and I added food coloring to make the frosting pink! I'll share what I made for dinner in another post but give you my cream cheese frosting recipe here.

Now I don't like things very sweet, so I'm not a big fan of frosting and like to keep the cream cheese flavor pretty noticeable in this recipe. You can add coconut flakes, thin sliced almonds and a variety of other items to this frosting and use as a layering cream.

8oz cream cheese softened
1/4 cup unsalted butter room temp
3/4 cup to 1cup powdered/confectioners sugar (depending on taste)
1/2 tspn vanilla (optional)
1 drop food coloring (for festive occasions, otherwise leave plain)

Combine the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl, beat with electric mixer until well blended. Add the vanilla and then sugar (in two parts) and continue to mix with mixer until light and fluffy. Fold in additional ingredients (coconut, almonds, etc) if you choose. Spread and refrigerate until ready to serve. Frosting will spread easy when prepared but should be kept in the refrigerator otherwise it can turn sour. If you prepare it before hand, you can keep it in the fridge but then bring to room temp before spreading.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Basics II - Bhagaar

So the second thing I'd like to discuss as regards basics is "bhagaar". Most desi cooks know "bhagaar" to be the garnish for lentils and some curry's. The truth is bhagaar can be either the BASE or GARNISH for a number of different dishes. Any time you heat oil with various spices, herbs and/or onion it is called bhagaar.

The purpose behind bhagaar is to add flavor and also aroma to your dish. When cooking desi vegetables, one often uses different spices to prepare the bhagaar before adding the main vegetable. Most lentils get fried onion, red chili and/or cumin seeds as the garnish just before serving. Most spices release their flavor and aroma once they are heated, hence the heating in oil of spices to enhance a dishes flavor. One thing to note, often times people tend to over cook desi food because they feel they need to really heat/saute (bhuno) the sauce or spices. This merely burns or overcooks the sauce or food and doesn't enhance or add to the flavor. Here in lies the importance of using bhagaar as a base to your cooking. By doing this you avoid overcooking the rest of your ingredients, keeping them fresh and flavorful.

Finally I get around to taking a picture! Hope this helps...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Roast Beef - the type I had growin' up

A couple days ago I went to the grocery store and they had beef (bottom round) on sale. These were all packed in pretty large roast sizes (2lbs was the smallest) so I picked one up. I had made a delicious pot roast for Christmas and had a lot of the gravy/vegetables left over which I put in the freezer. Because this roast was so large, I decided to make roast beef which could be used with the pot roast gravy as well as for sandwiches and other things. Growing up, my mom would always make most of our lunch meats at home because there was limited access to "halal" meat stores and Hebrew National hadn't really expanded beyond hot dogs. One of my favorites was the roast beef she made, it was juicy and flavorful. Delicious sandwiches!

You wont believe how easy it is and you can make a large amount then keep half in the fridge and freeze the rest. It keeps well in the freezer for up to 3 months in an airtight container. Here is how you make it:

3lbs roasting beef
2 to 3 bay leaves
5 whole black peppercorns
2 pieces garlic, peeled and cut in half
1/3 cup vinegar
2 tbsp salt
3 to 4 cups water

In a deep stock pot, place the roast- fat side down and turn the stove on medium high. Let the fat melt/brown for about 5 to 7 minutes. I do this so that no additional oil needs to be added later when browning. Add all of the ingredients and cover. Once the water starts to boil, turn the stove down to medium low or low. Let the roast cook for 2.5 to 3 hours and turn the meat about every 30 minutes or so. Once the water starts to dry up, watch the meat and turn to lightly brown on all sides evenly. You should leave some water/stock/fat in the pot as you will need this to store the beef later. Let the meat cool completely then slice in to thin slices. To store, you can place slices in a plastic Tupperware container and pour the remaining liquid over it. This will keep the meat moist, otherwise it tends to get too dry very quickly. If you are going to freeze any of the meat, slice and freeze immediately, with or without the liquid.

I made this yesterday and today I cooked some of the slices in the pot roast vegetables/gravy and served it with garlic/basil mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Covering some basics

I was going to post the recipe for one of my favorite vegetables today, but as I sliced onions, I thought about when I first started cooking. You see, my father taught my mother how to cook after they got married. She was after-all only 16 years old and my father, an extremely picky eater. Growing up, he used to spend a lot of time with his Nani (maternal grandmother) and would see how his sisters were being "trained" to be good girls/wives. He of course learned the traditional methods to everything! Cooking, sewing, putting on henna, embroidery... you name it, he could do it (or figure it out pretty quick). So when my dad and his brothers landed up in this country with no sisters, mother, Nani or maids to cook for them; my dad took on that responsibility. If he could do it for so many years, how could his wife not jump right in! Thats how the daily kitchen battle in our house began... little did anyone know, it would never end!

Over time, and in our (the kids) humble opinion, my mother became the better cook. My father started to reserve his cooking to only delicacies and special events or mom did the every day cooking. When we moved to Pakistan, things changed a little. There was no need for either parent to cook, but they did have to train all the khansama's (cook's) that ever worked for us. No one could ever please my father, there was always something missing or overdone. When I started cooking, rather started dabbling in the kitchen now and then, it was always a nightmare.

If ever my father saw me in the kitchen, he would observe and then discipline. In his mind, EVERYTHING I did was wrong because it was not the way his grandmother or mother had done it. It wasn't the way he would've done it. There was always a battle and God forbid if I ever made something the way my mom taught me as opposed to his way. For the longest time, I stopped going in to the kitchen any time my father was around. But many years later, I realized how much I had learned through all that tension. In the following few posts, with a lot less stress and fuss, I will share with you some basics that will guide you through any type of cooking and help in honing your culinary skills.

First lesson: ONION BASICS

I'll spare you how I came to learn this fact but there is a "proper" way to slice onions. Most desi cooking, vegetables or meat curry's, require sliced onion. Rarely do you use chopped or diced onion in cooking. After peeling the onion and cutting it in half, its important to remover the "eye", which is the circle at the bottom of the onion where all the layers come together. Also, you slice the bulb in half through the top and bottom; not through the center (wide part) of the onion. Once you've removed the eye, slice across the onion to form semi-circle slices (see photo). Do NOT cut along the onion, meaning cutting the onion length-wise getting thick slices.

I don't know if its true or not, but my father would say that the onion doesn't dissolve nor brown properly if it isn't sliced right. He also insisted that if it didn't dissolve, the taste was different. This second tid-bit I have to agree with. Many times I've tasted vegetables or curry's prepared the way I would make them but the only difference is the onion... it really does taste different if it doesn't dissolve properly.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Easy Haleem

Not too long ago in one of my blogs, I mentioned making Haleem over inauguration weekend. A friend later asked me for my recipe/method and since I was writing it out for her, I figured I'd share with all of you as well! To make life simpler (and not have to buy 10 different types of grains) I buy the Shan Haleem mix, available at most Indian/Pakistani grocers. Make sure you buy the regular or Shahi Haleem Mix and not the Easy Haleem Mix (unless you prefer to have very slimy consistency). Also, the National Brand isn't so tasty... they don't have the right spices nor the right grains. In addition to the pulses in the box, I add a few grains which we usually have at home. It is up to you if you want to add all or some of these to your Haleem.

1 box Shan Haleem mix (packet of grains etc soaked for 1 hour)
1/2 cup channa daal (soaked for at least 2 hours)
1/2 cup brown basmati or long grain rice (soaked for 30 min to 1 hour)
1/4 cup oats (normal - not quick cook) or barley
1/4 Bulgar or cracked wheat (optional)
1lb beef (shank, without bone)
1lb beef with bone
ginger paste (about 1tbsp)
garlic paste (about 1.5 tbsp)

Make sure you soak everything that needs to be soaked well in advance so when it comes time to make your Haleem, all you do is add everything step by step. Heat some oil in a large stock pot or big dutch oven and add the washed meat, ginger and garlic paste. Saute until the meat is no longer bright red, then add 1/2 to 3/4 packet of the spice mix (depending on how spicy you want it)... I never add the whole packet because it's just too much. If you want, you can also add even less of the spice packet but put some fresh garam masala and cayenne pepper (laal mirch) on your own to add spice/flavor. Mix and saute for a few minutes on medium heat.

Now add all of your grains/pulses, 1tbsp salt and about 8 to 10 cups of water (do not use the water in which your grains were soaking). Stir, cover and turn heat up to high. Check occasionally and when the water/haleem starts to boil, turn the heat down to medium or medium high...depending on electric or gas respectively. Let the mix cook for a few hours, stirring on and off (maybe every 30 to 40 min). As the haleem is cooking, you will see the meat starting to fall off the bone (maybe after 2.5 to 3 hours). At that point turn your heat down to medium low or low. After another hour or so, you can turn off the heat and remove (pull out) all the pieces that have/had bone (making sure to remove all bone from the pot). You want to pull the meat off the bone and keep aside. You can also take out some more of the bone-less meat if you want your haleem more chunky (that's how I like it).

Then take a hand blender or a large masher and grind/mash the haleem. You want it to be a thick soupy consistency but not too watery. If it is too thick, you can add more water or if it is too watery, put it back on the heat to thicken. Add the rest of the meat back to your haleem and mix well. Break down any large pieces of meat with your spoon, turn the heat back on to medium and cook while on the side you brown some onion (one small to medium onion sliced fine) in about 3/4 cup of oil. You will want to add the browned onion with oil to the haleem as bhagaar/thurka. Before adding the onion, taste to make sure you have enough salt.

When browning the onion, you can cut and brown some extra to keep on the side as one of the garnishes. Additional garnishes, which are kept to the side, are chopped cilantro; finely chopped green chillies; fine sliced (julienned) ginger; lemon or lime and chaat masala.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Thought on Desi Food

It occurred to me this past week that more oft than not, I have friends and family asking me for Desi Recipes. The intention of this blog was originally to share all things -food related, as they occur in my life. However, with this growing interest in traditional Indian and Pakistani foods, I've decided to share some of my family secrets. I will continue to post other things, as I normally do, but will create a new label for Desi Recipe. I figure this will be easier than creating a separate blog for just Desi recipes and keep all recipes accessible from one spot.

Feel free to send me your suggestions and/or feedback about this topic. Any requests for specific items/recipes or share with me pictures of foods you prepared using my recipes! I hope to get a little better about providing you with pictures, so any help in that regard would be appreciated.