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Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

Spicy Fish Keema

I spent half of my childhood in a Southern Indian city called Hyderabad. What I love the most about this city is its food. Hyderabadi cuisine is spicy, complex, and flavourful, with a fascinating history. (I’ve already touched upon some of this, including the story of the origins of Hyderabadi food and its evolution (involving the Mughals and the Nizams) in a previous post.) On top of all this, several Hyderabadi dishes play an important role in my own personal history. For instance, I have memories of delicious Biryani lunches with my father at Nizam Club, during which we would have long chats about communism, god, black holes, and the senselessness of vegetarian Biryani (I maintained, and continue to maintain, that Biryani must be made with mutton, or, in an emergency, with chicken; my father, is more flexible in principle, but frankly, seems to agree with me in practice), amongst other things.

Another dish that I love and associate fond memories with is Kheema. Kheema is spicy minced meat, and it’s made in different parts of India in slightly different ways. Kheema reminds me of Hussein, an elderly, gentle, kind, funny, patient man, who was our chauffeur. I used to be driven to and from school by Hussein, whom I was really very fond of. As it turned out, Hussein’s wife made the most delicious kheema, and every time she made some, he would bring me left-overs the next morning, which I would eat for lunch in school. This was a special treat as my parents’ was a vegetarian household, and no meat was ever cooked or served in it. 

Of and on, over the past decade, I’ve craved kheema made just like that. But, I no longer eat meat, and in any case, I have no idea how to make kheema that tastes like Hussein’s wife’s recipe. Today, I decided that I was going to make some kheema, one way or another; I was gripped by a craving so powerful, that I set about crafting a recipe with a kind of single-minded determination that I only wish I could summon when I sit down to write a chapter of my thesis. Although I don’t eat meat, I do eat fish, so awful as this is likely to sound to a Hyderabadi, I decided to make fish kheema. Using a recipe for “Bhuna Kheema” and adapting it quite a bit (for instance, I used tomatoes, which isn’t common in Hyderabadi recipes, and of course, I was using fish instead of mutton/chicken), I arrived at this creation:

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It was delicious, even if it wasn’t quite authentic, and it still had a distinct flavour profile that resembled the kheema from my child hood! If you’d like to try it, here’s what you will need:

1 pound fish fillets (any white fish should do, used haddock)

2-3 tablespoons oil (the more you use, the better the kheema will taste, up to a point of course)

1/2 stick cinnamon

2 bay leaves

A handful of curry leaves

4 cardamom pods

3-4 cloves

1 large red onion, (dice 3 quarters and slice the remaining quarter)

1 teaspoon crushed garlic

1 teaspoon grated ginger

10 sprigs of coriander, chopped

5-8 mint leaves

6 green chillies, chopped

Salt to taste

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

2 teaspoons red chilli powder (I used 1 teaspoon Kashmiri mirch powder and 1 teaspoon extra hot red chilli powder that I bought at an Indian store)

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon garam masala powder

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

Juice of 1 lime

Method:

Boil the fish in a pot of water with 1 teaspoon of salt. Cool the fish and chop it into bite sized pieces.

Heat oil in a pan and fry the bay leaves, cinnamon, cardamom, curry leaves, and cloves. Once the spices become fragrant, add the onion and fry until golden brown. Now, add the grated ginger and crushed garlic, and fry for a few minutes.

Next, add the chopped chillies, followed by the mint, coriander, salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder, coriander powder and garam a masala. Fry for a bit, and then add the chopped tomatoes. Fry some more.

Finally, add the boiled fish with a little bit of water, and toss. Using a flat ladle, break up the fish into little pieces, whilst stirring everything on medium to high heat. Continue periodically stirring the mixture until the water dries up, and the fish begins to look like mince meat. At this point, take the fish off the heat, squeeze some lime juice on it, stir it, and serve it with some coriander and/or mint leaves garnished on top. You can eat kheema with naan, roti, chapati, parathas, or just by itself. I ate it with chapatis and dahi (Indian-style Yoghurt), and made a cup of lemon tea to wash it all down.

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Categories
Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

Buttery, Fiery Fish Kebabs, Inspired by Hyderabad

The wonderful weather we had over the Easter weekend had me excited about summer being around the corner. Then, as some of you know, the weather took a turn for the worse; it’s been rainy, grey and relatively unpleasant, on and off, since that weekend, and summer seems like a far away dream. This combined with the fact that I miss India, my parent’s home, the sun, my family and most importantly (:P) the ease with which I could get my hands on some delicious food, and the whole thing made me depressed.

But, instead of giving in to the grey, I decided that I was going to protest the gloom and the fact that I was not in India any more, by making some spicy, nay, fiery Indian food! And what combines Indian spices with the suggestion of summer in North America better than kababs (kebabs in this part of the world)?

Since I eat neither meat nor chicken, I decided that I was going to use fish instead. Also, since it was Hyderabad in particular, that I was missing, I wanted to make something with a Hyderabadi base (for more on Hyderabadi food, read this post). So I did some reading and thinking, and revisited memories of some of the more delicious kababs I’d eaten in my good old meat-eating days, and then went to work.

It took some experimenting, but I finally ended up with a literal and figurative mash-up: fish kababs that pay homage to Hyderabad. I won’t of course stake any claim to either originality or authenticity; all I will say is that these turned out to be spicy, soft, buttery and delicious fish kababs.

Spicy, buttery fish kebabs!

If you’d like to re-create this magic, read on for my instructions.

Ingredients:

1 pound white fish fillets

1 pound salmon fillets

1 tablespoon yoghurt

4 tablespoons butter

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons coriander leaves

2 tablespoons mint leaves

4 spring onions

4 Indian green chillies or two jalapeño peppers, coarsely chopped

Zest of 1 lime, finely grated

3 cloves of garlic, with their skins removed

1 teaspoon ginger, grated

2 egg whites

1 tablespoon red chili powder

Oil or ghee (indian clarified butter, go here for more information on this and a recipe for making it at home) for frying or grilling the kababs

Spices to be Dry Roasted:

1.5 teaspoons fennel seeds

1.5 teaspoons black peppercorns

1 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 tablespoons Chana dal

3 whole dried red chilies

2 cloves

Seeds from 1 black cardamom pod

Method:

Place the spices to be dry roasted in a pan, and roast them on low heat until fragrant. Take them off the heat and let them cool.

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In the meantime, place the coriander, mint, spring onions, chilis, lime zest, garlic and ginger in a food processor.

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Whizz the ingredients around until they are finely chopped up, like this:

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Remove (what I am going to elegantly refer to from now on as) the ‘green mixture’ into a bowl.

In the same food processor, process the fish fillets until they become an even paste, like this:

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While the fish is being processed, grind the dry roasted spices (with a mortar and pestle or in a dry grinder) to a powder.

Once the fish is processed  mix in the ‘green mixture’, chili powder, dry roasted and ground spices, and salt.

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Add the yoghurt, egg whites and butter, and process until smooth, like this:

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Your ‘kabab batter’, if you will, is now ready. You can refrigerate this. Whenever you’re ready to eat, take it out, and cook up your kababs.

I tried pan searing the kababs, and that worked out fine. However, the best way to cook them, in my opinion, is to grill them in the oven on a baking sheet, at a fairly high temperature. I went with 450 fahrenheit. Also, instead of oil, I used ghee to grease the tray, and halfway through the grilling (about 7 minutes in) I flipped the kababs and brushed some ghee on them with a basting brush.

And voilà, you have some delicious, buttery, spicy as hell kababs, right in the comfort of your home! I felt a wee bit less home sick after a few of these!

Spicy, buttery fish kebobs!

A great way to serve these kababs is with some green chutney. This is the recipe I used to make it. 

Spicy Indian fish kebab recipe!

Categories
Cooking Food General Indian Cooking Recipes

Heavenly, Healthy Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

I made some absolutely delicious truffles today, and I was all set to write a post about it. Then I looked at my blog home page and realized that my last post was also about truffles. (In fact, a LOT of my posts are about truffles.) Also, Easter was just the other day, so it occurred to me that some of you are probably feeling a little stuffed, maybe even a little ill from all the chocolate eating. In thinking about how guilty and sick you might be feeling, I began to feel somewhat stuffed myself. I’ve been eating loads of homemade, delicious but cheese covered pizza and of course, tonnes of chocolate. It was time, I decided, to eat something yummy but healthy. And so, I made myself the healthiest dinner that I am capable of eating. I have difficulty eating leafy vegetables you see, they literally make me feel unhappy and hopeless. But this particular magical recipe for spinach lentils that I am about to share with you is as spicy and flavourful, as it is good for you. I am no doctor or nutritionist, but I think you’ll all agree with me when you see the ingredient list.

Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils) with RiceOh and as you can see from the title, this is a Hyderabadi recipe. Hyderabad is the capital of a southern State in India: Andhra Pradesh. It was the seat of the Nizams, who ruled Hyderabad for about 2 centuries. The word Nizam or Nizam-ul-mulk means ‘administrator of the realm’ or ‘governor of the nation’ in Urdu. This is because the first Nizam was originally appointed by the Mughal emperor to oversee and govern Southern India on his behalf. As the Mughal empire began to crumble (for a brief overview of Mughal history go here), Asaf Jha who was a Mughal noble and a Nizam, declared independence from the Mughals and founded his own dynasty, the Asaf Jha dynasty, also known as the Nizams.

The history of the Nizams is of course more complex than this little paragraph intimates. It is full of battles, intrigue and all the other stuff that good history is made of. But this post is about food, also I am not a historian. I just wanted to give you this brief little background so you can understand Hyderabadi cuisine better. I would recommend reading more about the Nizams though, about their food, jewellery and architecture in particular.

Because the Nizams were essentially nobles from the Mughal court, their food was strongly influenced by Mughlai cuisine. But South Indian food, more precisely Andhra food, i.e. the food the locals ate (and continue to eat today) before the Nizams came to Hyderabad, is also delicious and distinctive. Typical Andhra foods include: spicy peppery Rasam; Chappala Pulusu (fish curry); and Erra Avakaya. So it isn’t surprising that Hyderabadi food blends Andhra and Mughlai styles. Andhra food itself can be broken down into several different types based on different regions of the State. There are also hints of Arab, Turkish, Parsi and other influences in Hyderabadi food. So you see, it is bastardized, pluralistic, and historically rich.

It is also amongst the most delicious cuisines on earth. I kid you not. It’s as spicy as South Indian Andhra food, its magnificence equals Mughlai food (like dal Makhani), and it’s as rich and flavourful as Italian food can be.

(And while I am not appointing myself final arbiter of the best food known to man, I think a woman who has a blog (mostly) about food, a woman who goes into raptures about food, a woman whose very mental stability depends on the availability of a delicious meal, in short a food-crazed woman, should be taken very seriously.)

Anyway, now that you’re sold on its deliciousness, here it is, a spicy palak dal- Hyderabadi style:

Ingredients:

1 cup of moong dal (a type of lentil, native to India)

1/2 teaspoon haldi/pasupu/turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon crushed garlic

About a medium sized bunch of spinach

1/2 tablespoon dried mango powder (Amchur)

5-6 green chilies cut in half lengthwise

2-3 sprigs of coriander/cilantro

Salt to taste

(The following are the ingredients for the tadka baghar or popu)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

5 dried red chilies

5-6 fresh curry leaves or about 10 dried ones

4 peeled whole garlic cloves

2-3 tablespoons of ghee (you can get ghee at an Indian store; if you want to make south Indian ghee, you can read my recipe here)

Method:

The first thing to do is to prepare the dal (lentils). I use moong dal for this recipe. You should be able to get these lentils at an Indian store, if you don’t live in India. I normally soak lentils for about 20 minutes before I cook them. If you don’t have the time to do this, you can skip this step. This is how the lentils look soaked:

Moong dal (lentils native to the Indian subcontinent)The easiest way to cook dal is to cook it in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have one, just boil the dal in water until its cooked. Add half a teaspoon of turmeric and some salt to the dal before you cook it. Once it’s cooked it should look like this: Cooked moong dalNext, heat one tablespoon of oil in a saucepan. When it’s hot add the ginger and garlic. Fry the ginger and garlic until cooked (slightly browned, but not burnt). Add the spinach to the ginger-garlic and let it cook, stirring occasionally. Once the spinach is tender, add the lentils.

Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

Let this cook for about 10 minutes. Then add half a tablespoon of dried Mango powder (Amchur), the green chillies and the coriander sprigs to the pot and again, let the dal cook. After about 5 minutes we’re ready to add the tadka or baghar (tempering of spices in oil).

The baghar:

Heat a tablespoon or two of ghee in a little saucepan like this:

Hot ghee

Let the ghee get hot. To test if it’s hot enough, throw a single cumin seed into the pan. If it begins to sizzle, add the rest of the cumin along with the mustard seeds and stir them about until they start to pop. When they start to pop, add the curry leaves, garlic cloves and red chilies.

BagharOnce the red chillies darken like this:

Baghar, tadka or popu

Add the baghar to the lentils.

Making Hyderabadi Palak Dal (Spinach Lentils)

and immediately cover the pot.

The dal is now ready! Serve it with some hot rice, yoghurt and a papad.