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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

Miriyala Pappu-Charu/Rasam (Low-Fat Peppery Lentil Soup)

Summer is clearly over, and as climate-change enthusiast Ed Stark has been known to say, ‘winter is coming’ (if you don’t get this reference, google ‘Game of Thrones’). In fact, I prefer the cold winter to these months of pre-winter anticipation otherwise known as fall; at least in the winter there is the hope of snow. And so, I woke up this morning feeling a bit peevish. It was a little chilly and I really didn’t want to leave the warm-coziness of my wonderful duvet.

Unfortunately, get up I had to, because a thesis does not write itself. I motivated myself with the prospect of a cup of rich Italian hot chocolate (the kind that is so viscous it takes about 10 minutes to empty a cup of it even when you are holding the cup completely upside down). But as I made my way downstairs to the kitchen, a new craving hit me: I wanted some spicy, garlicy steaming hot charu! Charu or Rasam, a famous South Indian creation, is best described in English as a spicy soup. One can make it with or without lentils, and various types of souring agents can be used in it, including tamarind and lemon juice. What I was craving was a particular type of charu that is a quite common in Andhra Pradesh: ‘Miriyala (pepper) Charu’. So I set about grinding some fresh spices and cooking up some hot (in every sense of the word) charu for lunch.

It turned out pretty well, and now I feel cheery, warm and ready to get to editing word-documents (otherwise known as thesis-writing) 🙂

Recipe for peppery low fat South-Indian lentil-soup

If you’d like to try making some, here’s what you will need:

Ingredients:

1/2 cup toor/tuvar dal (split pigeon peas) (for more on these lentils see this wikipedia entry)

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 large tomato, cubed

1 lime sized piece of dried tamarind soaked in a cup of water or 1.5 tsp tamarind paste

1 tsp brown sugar

10 curry leaves

Salt to taste

For Charu powder:

1 tsp toor dal

2 tsp pepper

2 tsp coriander seeds

1/4 tsp mustard seeds

3/4 tsp cumin seeds

1-2 dried red chillies

5-6 menthulu (fenugreek seeds)

For Popu/tadka/baghar:

1- 2 tbsp ghee (for more on ghee and my recipe, go here) or oil

4-6 cloves of garlic

2 twigs/sticks of curry leaves

2 pinches of asafoetida

1 tsp mustard seeds

4 dried red chillies

For garnish:

A handful of fresh cilantro or coriander leaves

Method:

The first step involves cooking the lentils (toor dal). If you have a pressure cooker cook the lentils in it; it’ll only take about 10 minutes. Otherwise, cook the lentils in a pot with 2 cups of water and a pinch of turmeric, until the lentils are completed cooked and soft.

Next, in a large pot bring 2 cups of water and the tomato, turmeric, tamarind (use only the water if you’re using dried tamarind), salt, curry leaves and sugar to boil.

While waiting for these ingredients to begin boiling, prepare the charu powder. Place all the ingredients for the powder in a dry grinder or blender and grind them to a coarse powder. You can also use a mortar and pestle, but this will require a little patience.

Once the ingredients in the pot are boiling, add the cooked lentils and charu powder, stir, cook for a few minutes, and then turn off the heat.

Now for the last step! In a small pot heat the ghee or oil and add the mustard seeds. As the seeds begin to splutter add the remaining popu/tadka/baghar ingredients. Fry until the chillies darken and the spices are fragrant. As soon as you think the spices are ready, pour the ghee and spices into the bigger pot (with the other ingredients) and immediately cover the pot with a lid. Your charu is ready! I must warn you though, this is a very spicy concoction.

You can eat it like soup:

Peppery low fat Indian lentil-soup

Drink it like a warm fall/winter drink:

Recipe for low-fat peppery lentil soup

Or eat it with hot rice and a peppery papad!