Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Chicken clear soup with vegetables .... perfect for a damp and dreary weather

This chicken soup is my saviour every time I am down with the flu or a strep throat.
There is not a single time when I did not find ease and or recover almost instantly after eating it.
And yet, to my surprise, I have never blogged about it.
Since the weather is playing havoc with everybody's health right now, and since I have been ill and weak for quite sometime now, all I am having is this light chicken soup these days.
Initially it was viral fever but then when I got a throat infection, on the first non vegetarian day, B got me some chicken and I put the pot on to boil.

I usually make it without vegetables and sip on it, hot, a number of times in a day, with a good dose of freshly ground black pepper and some butter.
And it works like magic.
This time, however, I have continued to have it for a longish time, so added some vegetables too.
Actually, since my taste buds have gone on vacation, I do not feel like eating anything at all right now. So while I do get up and cook for B, I do not feel like eating any part of the meals.
All I wanted to was to sip on the hot soup. Hence decided to add some vegetables to bring up the nutrition factor.

The monsoons had started bang on the first week of June in Pune this year.
And it has been raining ever since.
Barring a few days of dry spells and even fewer days of sunshine, we have not seen the sun nor a dry day ever since. While Pune does not usually see heavy downpours, this silent, light rain has been at work non stop foralmost  three months now.
And the cold weather ... how I dislike this damp, cold weather.
We have been snuggling under blankets and bringing out the jackets and the woolens as we watch the grey, sad outside with dismay.

The first few weeks of the monsoons are fun. And romantic. And adventurous.
And then the reality seeps in.
Sniffles start and then grow into full fledged flu.
Every other person is sneezing or coughing ... which makes going to public places and malls scary.
We celebrate the first few weeks with spicy, deep fried food and all sorts of junk food .... blaming it on the lovely weather.
And then give up ... after all there is a limit to the amount of pakoras or samosas you can eat.
I do have my stock of ilish / hilsa to fall back on but have been able to eat only two pieces from that 
one kilo of fish yet.

Right now, it is this chicken soup that is nurturing me and my soul.
Light, full of goodness, soothing and warming.
Like I mentioned before, I usually make it without vegetables.
Just lots of sliced onions, ginger and garlic with either tomatoes or lemon juice.
Of course there would be the black pepper and other whole garam masalas.
And butter or ghee .... you need them when your body needs strength and nourishment.
I recommend the country chicken since they are free of antibiotics and hormones; and hence good for health.

Need :

Chicken - on the bone
Onions - sliced
Garlic - sliced
Ginger - grated
Bay leaves
Whole black pepper
Ground black pepper
Vinegar or Lemon juice
Black cardamom
Butter - both for the soup and to add when serving
Vegetables - I used carrots, fresh green peas, fresh corn, raw papaya, potato and cabbage

How to :

Marinate the washed chicken pieces with some vinegar or lemon juice for half an hour.

Put everything into a pressure cooker with salt and sugar to taste.

Add enough water and cook for 4 or 5 whistles on low heat.

Serve hot with butter and freshly ground pepper on top.

This soup is a great decongestant too.
And will clear as well as soothe your troubled throat too.

If possible, do pot boil it.
But if you are short of time, you may use the pressure cooker or your instapot.
I over cook the chicken in this soup ... the meat becomes so soft that it comes off the bone very easily ... making it easier to mix with the soup .... you don't have to take it out to shred and mix in again.
Quick and flavourful.
Use vegetables that will be filling and you can have a no carb meal too.
But since I was on medication and needed carbs too, I used to have it with either toasted bread or some porridge like overcooked, rice.
I took a good amount of the soft lumpy rice, add the soup with the vegetables and shredded meat and doused it with my favourite green chilli sauce and some soy sauce.
Chopped in some green chillies and added a dash of vinegar and voila! .... a bowlful to pep up the taste buds was ready.

Here is a shot of my bowl.

Enjoy, take care and stay well.

With so many sad stories coming in from Kerala, my thoughts and prayers go out to the hapless people stuck in the floods and fury of nature.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Muga dali Pitha / Mug dal er pithe / Moong dal ke mithe cheele

During long vacations in my childhood, we would go over to Dadu's house and spend the days there.
But when there were short holidays, some part of the family would come over to our place.
Some part because fitting in the whole family together was possible only in Dadu's huge house.
We stayed an hour away, on the hills, where Bapi had his factory.
So at times, some cousins  and kakus and kakimas would come over to spend a few days with us.

The house would be filled with voices ... all talking, laughing, calling out to others ... all at the same time while we cousins did what we did best ...  creating our own ruckus and having a great time. 
The kitchen would be busy and while Ma looked into the meals all through the day, it would the kakimas or mashis (aunts) who would choose the job of rustling up their special snacks and sweets for us. It would be one of those times when we kids would to be perpetually hungry and after every hour or so we would walk into the kitchen with a "Khide peyeche" announcement.

While we were indulged on most times, it would be a no show if the time was closer to a meal time like lunch or dinner.
So my Mejo kakima came up with this potent medicine of "Dudh kola muri debo?".
The thought of a bowlful of soggy, puffed rice mashed with banana and milk would successfully douse those whimsical hunger pangs that the aromas from the kitchen had brought about.
And with a hasty "We will wait for lunch / dinner", we would disappear.

I remember one such time when Boro mashi, Ma's eldest sister, was visiting.
Mashi worked as a teacher in govt. schools and had just become Principal and was posted in a school at a nearby district. Since it was summer vacation, she and her daughter were spending a few days with us.

Mashi visiting us meant fun in all ways. She would hold quiz contests, grill us on general knowledge, give us math quizzes to solve, hold competitions complete with prizes ... and so on.
And the best part was getting to eat the food she cooked.
Boro Mashi had magic in her hands.

She could make a light, plain dal seem heavenly.
She could make a plain roti interesting.
She could make the fussiest kid eat up without a peep.
And she was a wizard at making achars.
A dash of this, a handful of that, a little chopping here, a quick beat of hands there ..... watching mashi in the kitchen was mesmerising.
Matronly, with a warm smile on and a solution to any problem always, she was one person I looked up to.
It was on that visit that Mashi had made this Muga dali pitha.
She had sat us kids down with a bunch of questions to solve and had disappeared into the kitchen.
We could hear her chatting with Ma and in a while,  this beautiful, warm, sweet aroma drifted out of the kitchen a spread all over the house .... making its way towards us in the drawing room.
We started getting fidgety but were warned against getting up and going to the kitchen.
Bapi had returned by then and the evening tea was just being served.
And Mashi walked in with a plate full of fragrant, hot pithas.

And what pithas they were!
Crisp on the sides, the sweetness of the jaggery mixed with the fragrance of coconut ... it smelt of something that can be only divine.
They were just fried and out of the pan and still very hot.
We savoured each bite, experiencing different flavours everytime ... the sting of black pepper, the bite of small pieces of coconut, the sweetness of a fennel seed .....

Jaggery and coconut are an integral part of Odia pithas.
And are usually paired with crushed black pepper and fennel seeds.
And the body is usually of dals / lentils or rice powder.
Fried, steamed, roasted ... made in different ways for different occasions.
Yesterday, a few of my friends had come over to visit and brought me a load of cooked food so that I could rest and not have to cook for a couple of days at least.
I was touched but not surprised.
All through the years, every time I have fallen ill .... and god knows when I fall ill it has always been a lengthy affair, sometimes stretching to almost a year .... it has been these friends who have been my rock; my support; my pillars.
I was so happy to see them that I wanted to make something for them that would be quick.

I had boiled moong dal in the fridge for dal tadka .... so decided to make this pitha for them.
I had grated coconut in the freezer too.
So all I had to do was to make a mix and fry them.
My friends joined in too and soon we were all in the kitchen .... chatting, laughing, frying the pithas and eating them right there ... straight off the pan .... breaking each one, blowing on the pieces to cool  and sharing with one another.
We made some ginger tea too and while it rained on outside, I basked in the warmth inside, feeling cozy and loved.

Now for the recipe of the Muga dali pitha or Moog daler pithe -

Need :

Whole green moong dal - 2 tea cups, boiled with a pinch of salt
Gur / Jaggery - according to your taste for sweetness (I used granules )
Maida / APF - 2 tbsp
Rice flour - 2 tbsp
Elaichi / Cardamom seeds - crushed
Black pepper - crushed
Mouri / Fennel seeds - crushed
Grated coconut - 1 tea cup
Water - a little to make the batter
Cooking oil - as you require
Ghee - half of the amount of cooking oil (optional)

There is no perfect measurement for the ingredients ... you will have to decide according to the thickness of the batter, the sweetness you want, whether you want to pan fry or deep fry ... etc. etc.

How to :

Mix everything except the oil and ghee and make a thick batter.

Heat a heavy pan or a tawa.

Add a oil + ghee in equal quantity.

When hot, pour in spoonfuls of the batter to make thick pancakes.

Fry the pithas, first covered and then uncovered, on both sides, till they turn brown.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Enjoy !!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Ilisher Mudo diye Shorshe jhal / Hilsa head cooked with Mustard paste

The phone came at sharp 12 o'clock in the noon.
That one phone call that I look forward to every year.
As soon as the monsoons start.
That one phone call that spells happiness for me.
Happiness that lasts me for almost a whole year.
"Madam, ek piece mila hai, 1 kg tak, anda bhi hai".... said my fishmonger.
"Le lo".... I croaked.

My fishmonger calls me from the main market as soon as he sees a good hilsa and calls me.
Only after I confirm I am in town and only if the fish matches my specifications does he buy it.
And I go and collect it from him.
This time, my bad throat and illness notwithstanding, I said yes.
But then the season was getting over and I still hadn't got my hands on a good Hilsa / Ilish.
And that was making me very restless.
Everytime I enquired I was told that getting a good sized hilsa has been very difficult this year since all the good sized Hilsa were being exported.

I am finicky about my ilish.
I have grown up not on the Padma's ilish but the best of Kolaghat Ilish ... and hence know a good ilish.
I would rather wait for the whole year and get one good ilish than fall prey to my greed and buy just any other faux ilish and show off.
No sir .... not me.
I know my ilish ... I can hear Bapi's voice describing how to know a good Ilish.
And the words are imprinted in my memory forever, along with his voice.

And when I think of this  Kolaghat ilish, my memories take me back home and the tumultuous monsoons in our small hilly town where Bapi had set up his factory. 
After an early lunch, on any given day, S Pishi (aunt) would call out to Bapi asking him to gather the drivers and get the cars ready.
And, with a twinkle in her eye, she would smile at us and ask us to get ready.
We would immediately catch on the excitement. 
Because it would mean only one thing ... a long drive and a picnic!!
And of course Kolaghat ... which means ... Ilish!!

Ma and Pishi would quickly rustle up a mix of muri/puffed rice and chanachur and all of us would pile into the cars and off we would go.
The drive would be filled with lots of singing, jokes and munching on the muri chanachur while the rain pelted the windows. At times, we would stop and get down for the elders to grab a cup of tea from a small stall on the roadside in the middle of nowhere.
On our return journey, Ma and Pishi would surely get down if they saw a haat / village market and that would mean loads of local, fresh vegetables.

Now that I look back, I realise that much of my love for travel and interest in the details and history of places, my love for the simple life of the countryside and villages, for nature and knowing every single local plant, fruit and leaves and their usage in our lives .... the credit goes to my S pishi.
And it were those picnics that were my classrooms.

Coming back to my Ilish, I did bring it home.
And since it was a weekday, indulged in some bhaja ilish with some hot rice for dinner.
I am often at my wits end as to what to make with the head ... it is after all only one head and there are so many ways to enjoy it.
After much thought, I decide on this jhaal with one half.
The other half will have to be the tauk / ambol ... my ever favourite.

Considering the dreaded bones of the ilish, this jhaal is not for the faint hearted.
Do try to be very careful while eating this or the fine bones may create trouble for you.
I suggest you use the front of the head ... the bones are bigger here and hence more manageable.

Need :

Ilish head - fried and broken into pieces
Potato - 1 medium, sliced
Onion - 1 medium, sliced
Mustard paste - around 2 tbsp
( I used two of my frozen cubes that was made by soaking both black and white mustard seeds, ground to a paste and strained )
Green chillies - 4 to 5
Kalo jeere / Nigella seeds - 1 tsp
Haldi powder - 1 tsp salt + haldi powder.
Mustard oil - 2 tbsp
Salt - to taste
Sugar - a pinch
Water - a little

How to :

Heat the oil in a kadahi / wok.

Add the nigella seeds and green chillies.

Add the sliced onions and fry for a while.

Now add the potatoes + turmeric powder + salt.

Cover and cook till the potatoes are done.

Remove cover and add the fish head pieces + mustard paste + a little water + sugar.

Check for salt and add if needed.

Cover and cook for a while.

Remove cover and mix everything together well.

Pour 1 tsp of mustard oil all over and add a few more green chillies.
Cover, remove from heat and let it stand for a few minutes.

Serve hot with rice.


Here are a few more Ilish recipes for you to enjoy in this monsoon.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Masala Bhindi / Okra cooked with spices

My love story with the rains and Pune's weather during the monsoons is now jinxed for ever.
Or so it seems.
For the past few years, all that I got was loss, during the monsoons.
Either I fall ill, or a close one passes away. Or both.
And in the process, instead of making new memories, all I get to dwell in is morbidity.
Neither can I cook good food, something we so love and relate to with the rains, nor do I get to go out and enjoy the weather.
And by going out, I not only mean going out of the house but also stepping out into the balcony.
The cold breeze and the light drizzle call me.
But I do not dare to go.
Not with this sniffling nose, high fever and a most painful throat.
B, on the other hand, is thoroughly enjoying our balcony now. With the swing completely free for him now ... we usually race to the swing and often come up with tricks and cheat to beat each other to it .... he is more than happy to spend time on it with a cup of tea, smiling at me smugly when I look out from behind the half closed door.
The plants are happy too.
Only I am the miserable one .... surviving on antibiotics and paracetamol and an odd antihistamine in between, while dreaming of  sinful, deep fried and comfort food.

Speaking of comfort food, I have been making the much loved khichdi a lot these days.
And sometimes B makes his own version too.
Just a few days back, I was craving the Bengali khichuri as I do not make it often ... B does not like the sweetness in it ... and decided to indulge.
Cooked it and posted on instagram too.
A good piece of Ilish / Hilsa fry would have been the perfect accompaniment but I still haven't got hold of a Hilsa yet this season.
And this fact is making me even more morbid.
Sharing a photo of my Bengali khichuri platter from that day.
But do stay with me on Instagram if you want recipes of my daily cooking that I often do not make a post on here.

Coming back to today's recipe, there is nothing morbid about this beautiful dish of Okra / Lady finger / Bhindi / Dharosh cooked with spices.
I often make this on the side for rotis but recently found that it is a great side dish for khichris too.
Slightly on the drier side, whatever moistness there is will be from the cooked bhindis , the spice of the masalas are the perfect foil to the sweetness of the vegetable.
I use the masalas that I usually use for the bharwa bhindi , but sometimes do add in some crushed peanuts both for texture as well as some dose of protien.

Here is how I made it.

Need :

Okra / Bhindi - ¼ kg ( some 12 to 15 pieces ) ,
 ( cut the head and tip of the tail off and make a slit in the middle to check for insects )
Dhania / Coriander powder - 1 tbsp
Haldi / Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp
Amchur / Dried mango powder - 1 tsp ( you can use lemon juice too )
Besan - 1 tsp ( optional )
Crushed peanuts - 2 tbsp
Salt - to taste
Cooking oil - 1 tbsp + 1 tbsp

How to :

Mix all the dry ingredients in a small bowl to make a masala.

Add 1 tbsp of the cooking oil and mix well.

Fill the slits of the okra with this masala.

Heat the rest of the oil in a flat, heavy pan.

Let in the okra and stir well.

Cover and cook till okra is done.
If the masala starts to burn, you can add very little sprinkles of water and cover.

Remove cover and fry till the okra loses the sliminess.


Other than rotis or parathas, you can pair this on the side of plain rice and dal too.

Enjoy !! .... till I come up with a happier post.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Burnt Garlic Butter Rice and Roasted vegetables with Boiled Corn on the cob


While the whole world goes crazy over roasted corn spiced with salt , red chilli powder and lemon juice, during the monsoons, I quietly boil mine and enjoy it steaming hot.
With a blob of butter.
And maybe some freshly cracked black pepper straight from the mill.
That's what my heart yearns for in the monsoons.
And that's what makes my heart sing.

I fell in love with this extraordinarily flavourful yet simple way of enjoying sweet corn on my first ever trip to Lonavla, a hill station near Pune.
I was a student then and was a part of this boisterous group of young students, from all over the country, much excited at the thought of a trip by a local train into the hills in the rains.
Monsoons turn Pune and its adjoining hilly places into something that dreams or travel brochure pictures are made of.
And the cold weather that comes with it is a bonus.
Soft rain, light drizzles, fog, clouds against the insanely fresh green sprawling landscape and the numerous thin waterfalls that dot the hills .... it seems as if the world has sprung into fresh life.
Every single blade of grass turns green. Every leaf on the trees shines.
Nature turns crazily beautiful.
And you can enjoy this weather in every way ... be it going out on picnics or snuggling in at home with a hot cuppa soup, ginger tea or coffee .... monsoons in Pune is sure to make you fall in love with life. 

And it was in this beautiful weather that I got to fall in love with the boiled corn on the cob.
As I was saying, I was with my friends in Lonavla , having a whale of a time laughing and joking, getting drenched in the light rain , walking the hilly roads as the clouds would pass by, drenching us with fresh droplets.
And in one of those walks, shivering in the windy cold, we stopped for some hot tea.
And near the small tea stall, there was this lady, with a blue plastic covering her from the rain ... in vain ... selling steaming hot boiled peanuts and sweet corn on the cob.
We hungrily bought some of each and that one bite into the sweet, juicy corn with some butter melting all around it and the steam burning my mouth, took me to another world altogether.
Standing  there in the rain with slush all around me,
oblivious to everything ... the people, the noise, the rush,
I closed my eyes and turned my face up to the cold rain and savoured the burst of flavours in my mouth.

And ever since, come monsoons, my grocery list always has sweet corn in it.

We have been eating a lot of steamed or roasted food recently due to the weather.
Barring the few bhajas with khichuri that is. 😃
And today this was for lunch , as it turned dark again outside ... after a brief spell of brightness.

My go to recipe is to cut up fresh vegetables, toss them with a good glug of olive oil, sprinkle some salt, chilli flakes, freshly crushed black pepper and sometimes crush in some Italian dry herbs too ... and bake at 150 degrees till the vegetables are done.

I had some leftover rice and decided to make something spicy to go with the light vegetables.
So made this burnt garlic butter rice.
Heated some butter ( never too hot ) in a heavy pan and 
added a good amount of chopped garlic.
When they started to turn brown, threw in a pinch of chilli flakes
and a couple of chopped green chillies.
Then added the rice, salt, a pinch of sugar and tossed everything together on high heat.

 Here is a closer look.

You can pair the roasted vegetables with toasted bread and soup too ... our usual dinner.
Or with boiled macaroni or noodles.
Or just roll them up in a roti or paratha and add some sauces of your choice to make a quick roll.
Any way ... this is one healthy yet very filling plate.

Enjoy !!
And stay healthy this monsoon.