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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Banana Leaf Pan Fried Topse /Mango Fish

Topse Fish Pan-Fried n Steamed on a Banana leaf served with cucumber salsa

Welcome to the next level of pan-frying! Instead of simple pan-frying vegetables, fish n chicken we can fry them on a fresh sheet of banana leaf placed on the pan-and the result? The vegetables, fish or chicken embedded in the earthy beautiful flavor of the banana leaf, sometimes acquiring a charred surface depending on the heat and reflecting a taste of barbecue with the banana leaf flavor. Sounds complex enough? It is indeed, the flavors n textures developed in layers but amazingly simple technique of cooking things, just like the way I pan-fried the Topse fish on the banana leaf.

                               This technique right now may sound like a new way of cooking to you but the truth is far from it, in fact it comes right from history-the past. Across many civilizations around the globe similar technique of cooking has been discovered where the food ingredients are wrapped in leaves and then smoked, steamed, fried, poached. The cooked ingredients inside the leaf stay moist because the leaf protects them from direct exposure to heat, at times they get cooked in their own steam resulting well developed flavors plus the flavor of the leaf gets intimately coated with the inside things.

                                              The Topse Fish is small fish, they have a certain orange or saffron hue to them and they look beautiful. In English I think they are called Mango Fish and I’m not sure why they have such name, I would rather call them saffron fish. Perhaps the orange-ish hue reminds of the color of ripe mangoes. While some people say that on the web, some say the word ‘Topse’ derives from the Hindi/Bengali word ‘Tapaswi’ –meaning a wise man who meditates, they often wear clothing in orange shades, so again in the similarity of the color the fish perhaps acquired its name. Even though the fish is small, it is popular fish and well priced. Being a soft fish it takes literally minutes to cook and quite often they are marinated and then dipped in a batter and then deep fried, producing the crispy outside and soft fleshy inside. Another popular Bengali preparation involves partly frying the fish and then simmered in light gravy with aubergine/egg-plant slices.

                                                                                                       Today however we are gonna pan-fry them on banana leaves and they are gonna be just very good. Before frying the fish is coated in 2 basic spices, turmeric and red chili powder. When the leaf fried fish is prepared to be eaten with white rice, the amount of spices are increased more than needed because when combined with white rice the excess spice coating on the fish provided flavor for the neutral white rice, the white rice is mixed with the extra spice coating on the fish and served with the fish, thus the neutral rice gets balanced by the intense flavors from the spices.

                                                                                                       However when the fish is not intended to be served with rice, the spices are reduced almost by half but just to compliment the fish. Another source of flavor comes from the mustard oil; the deep golden mustard oil has slight pungency to it. the fish can be fried on the leaf to 2 different stages, one is just when the fish is done on both sides, soft, succulent  and the other stage is when the fish starts to get charred on the sides, being blackish in color, at this stage it is developing a charcoal like flavor because the leaf underneath has burned. So both the stages have their own flavors to be enjoyed.

       This technique of cooking vegetables, fish on banana leaves comes from the neighboring country of Bangladesh, perhaps. In many of the recipes fish, prawns, other sea food, hard boiled eggs and vegetables are cooked wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed or fried.

                        In this process two things are happening simultaneously, while the fish is being pan-friend on the leaves, they are covered with a lead, so the fish starts to get partly steamed in the water that comes out of it, so the process of pan-frying and steaming both at work.

Banana leaves are one of the many options, if you love the flavor of a certain leaf, go for it, you may surprise yourself!

So right now I will tell you about this unique recipe. In this recipe we are intending to serve fish with white rice, if you want to serve the fish on their own reduce the spices by almost half or even three quarters according to your taste.

For The Recipe:  You will need
For the Fish
250 gm Topse fish, scaled n washed
2 tbsp of red chili powder
2 tsp of turmeric powder
3-4 tbsp of mustard oil
3 rectangular slices of fresh banana leaf, about 12 inches in length and 9 inches in width
A heavy bottomed fry pan

For the Salsa
1 medium cucumber, chopped into 1 cm square slices
1 medium red tomato chopped similarly
1 medium red onion chopped finely
½ lime
1 tbsp of freshly chopped coriander leaves
1 green chili seeded and sliced length-ways
Salt to taste

1. For the salsa mix everything together, sprinkle the lime juice on them and add salt, give a mix and let it rest while we prepare the fish.

2. Let’s begin by washing the leaves carefully with soft hands or we will pierce them, even if they get pierced slightly nothing to worry, they can be overlapped with a piece of leaf underneath them so that the juices don’t leak into the pan. Wipe the leaves dry, we are gonna fry the fish on the opposite side of the surface that faces the sunlight.

3. Score the fish 1 time at each side, in a bowl sprinkle the spices n the salt on the fish, coat the fishes on both sides with the spices mixture, then add 1 tbsp of mustard oil and coat the fishes well in the oil. Take another tbsp of oil and smear the oil on the surface of the leaf where the fish is going to be fried. Then arrange the fish on the leaf side by side and add the rest of the spices that remains in the bowl, add 1 tbsp of water in the bowl and mix the remaining spices and pour the water on the fish.

4. Place the heavy bottomed pan on high heat initially, place one banana leaf on the pan and then on top of that place the leaf with fishes carefully, we will let the pan to get to a higher temperature initially. Cover the fish with a lead and Give about 4 minutes on high heat and soon we will begin to hear the sound of the leaf making sounds being heated, when the pan is well heated reduce the flame to low. Being covered give them another 5 minutes, lift the lead in between and you will see water has come out of the fishes. After about 8 minutes remove the lid and the water in the pan will soon dry out and the fishes will approach a fried stage. Rotate the top leaf on which the fish is getting fried so that all the fish is getting equally fried, rotate by holding their corners. After 10 minutes with spoon or spatula lift a fish to see if they have started to brown, if they have browned slightly give them 2 more minutes or if we are not aiming to brown them too much we can turn them over now.

5. So now it is time to turn the fishes over, for that take a fresh leaf and keep aside. Now holding one corner of the leaf in the pan drag it off the pan onto a plate carefully, put a fresh leaf on top of the fishes on the plate and turn the plate over by placing your hand on the back of the fresh leaf. So now the fish has been turned over like this all at the same time, place the fresh leaf back into the pan, sprinkle 1 tbsp of mustard oil across the pan and cover them for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes remove the lead and give them 4-5 more minutes, check to see by lifting the fish slightly if they have browned. Once there drag the leaf by its corner onto a plate. And we are done.

Serve the fried fish with the salsa and some white rice and experience the new taste! Bon Appetit!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Fresh Coconut-Banana pancakes with raisins for raising your smile

Decadent Indian Pancakes with whole-wheat flour, Banana, fresh Coconut

Sometimes when I look deep inside the culinary traditions of India, I often try to remember what I used to eat when I was a kid, back then some 15-20 years ago the food culture was different, at home and at restaurants. Things were changing as always has happened with time, this time it changed rapidly, specially the fast food scene changed drastically and it is still a very controversial change. So I remember as a kid what food was cooked in our kitchen at our homes by our moms, dads and now so many of them have faded in time, not that we have forgotten about them but they rarely appear.

               I am so surprised at times thinking about those dishes that faded but finding they were so healthy and tasty-a perfect blend. It is such a good balance, isn't it! Eating something tasty is important but eating healthy perhaps is more important, imagine eating something tasty but mostly harmful day after day and what it will do to our health! I know what you are thinking of? Fast-food, Right? So was I. Our body is a mirror reflection of what we eat and eating is supposed to be nutritious and fun. At times there is a gap and that’s where exactly these pancakes come in to fill that gap.

                                  When I made these pancakes recently I was so happy because of 3 reasons, it tasted scrumptious, it took me back to childhood n they are so healthy. It’s a complete win-win situation you see!

                                                                 For anyone who loves pancake and haven’t tried these banana-fresh coconut pancakes yet, this is your jewel pancake that will shine relentlessly. Made from sweet bananas, grated fresh coconut and whole-wheat durum flour, they thrive on the goodness of all these 3 star ingredients and you can’t eat just one. Unlike most pancakes that are made from flour which isn't a very healthy option, these ones are made from ‘ATTA’- the Indian whole-wheat durum flour. Atta is made from semi-hard wheat variety known as durum wheat. Since the whole-wheat contains the bran, the germ, it is much nutritious. 

                                                                                           The bananas add sweetness and flavor, so does the fresh coconut, so literally there is no need to add sugar in these pancakes, but then you can add it a little bit if you want to, since most of the sweetness comes from the banana n coconut in the form of natural sugar. 

 There is something pampering n fulfilling about these pancakes, easy to make, literally delicious to eat and a bundle of health. I mean when I made them and kept them on the plate, and within an hour they vanished! Perhaps the same thing will happen when you will make them, in fact I start eating even before I finish making all the pancakes which takes a little patience. As you fry them in the pan you will see how slowly the pancake will start to caramelize and get crispy slowly on a low heat, yummy.

                                     And all of this comes from old traditional cuisine! I can’t believe this was getting forgotten! Seriously! This pancake is the answer to the question ‘Can pancakes be healthy?’ So naturally this pancake has to be made n eaten very often in our kitchen and once you start it you won’t stop. And the old unhealthy pancakes need to be forgotten for all the good reasons. Hahah! May they rest in pancake-y peace.

                                                    I have added raisins in the pancakes, they are slightly sweet n sour and so when we bite into a raisin chunk in the sweet pancakes, they provide another depth of flavor.

So now I will tell you about the recipe. Here you go…

For The Recipe:  You will need
3-4 medium bananas, peeled and smashed with a fork to quite smooth
6-7 tbsp of freshly grated coconut
3 tbsp of rice flour
7-8 tbsp of whole-wheat flour/Atta
1-2 tsp of sugar
1 tbsp of raisins, chopped
2 Pinches of salt
180 ml of water, it will vary
Vegetable oil to fry the pancakes, about 1½ tbsp oil for each pancake
This will make about 7-8 pancakes.

Consistency- It is supposed to be fairly thick and not on the runny side or thinner side. Start adding the water in small amounts, first add half the water, mix, add some more water, there will come a point of time when the consistency is such that the batter just begins to pour from a spoon, at this point add 1-2 tbsp of water and the consistency will be such that the batter now starts to pour or fall relatively easily than the previous time. The batter will still be on the thicker side and in the pan when we will fry them we will be able to spread the batter with a ladle since it will be fairly thick. So to keep in mind the batter will be on the thicker side but still will pour easily from the ladle.

1. In a flat plate, smash the bananas with a fork smash them until no big chunky pieces are left.

2. In a bowl add the bananas with all the other ingredients excepting the water and mix everything with a whisk or spoon. Add half of the water and mix, then add some more and make the batter smooth, then add a little more until the batter reaches the aforementioned consistency, which is fairly thick and begins to pour fairly easily from a spoon.

3. Rest the batter for 30 minutes.

4. After 30 minutes heat 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan and add it to the batter, mix. Now heat the pan back on medium flame until the pan is quite hot, then add 1 tbsp of oil and let the oil get quite hot, then take a ladle-full of the batter, which is around 3 ½ tbsp, and pour it in the middle of the frying pan, bring the heat to low flame, then with the back of the ladle spread the batter in the pan into a circle of around 6 inch diameter. You will see as you begin to spread the batter with the ladle that the batter will try to stick a bit with the ladle if you try to spread the batter quickly, so work slowly as you spread the batter and you will see it will spread nicely. Once you have spread the batter, turn the heat up to medium for 1 minute, then put the heat back to low and give around 3 minutes on this side.

5. Sprinkle a little oil on the top surface of the pancake and smear it with a spoon. After 3 minutes with a spatula lift the pancake a little to see how much it has browned, if it is brown, give it 1 more minute and it will get a darker shade of brown, this will be crispy when cold, specially the sides. Lift the pancake slowly, if you find the pancake has stuck a little in the pan, with the spatula scratch that place in the pan carefully and it will come off. Turn the pancake to the other side and sprinkle some oil around the pan and give it 2-3 minutes until it starts to get brown. Once browned take it off the pan on a plate. The last side which got fried will have to less brown than the 1st side, keep that in mind.

6. Fry all the pancakes like this one by one, when done serve them with freshly grated coconut or honey or maple syrup or on their own. 

Now when you are biting into one, tell me aren't they really so delicious! I told you! Bon appétit.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Aloo ke Parathe ban ke taiyaar hein… Sound of everybody running………………………………………

Flavorful mashed potato stuffed fried flat-bread-the classic Aloo Paratha

Now if you haven’t tried this reader, yes I am talking to you, you have missed something amazing and until you try it you can’t even guess what you are missing! Once you make them or try them somewhere you will make them again n again or go back to them time n time again. Yes they are indeed so lovely.

                                                              Hearty potatoes treated in the healthiest way, boiled, flavored with herbs, onion and spices and stuffed inside flat bread which then shallow fried on a pan and they are a heavenly delight to eat. Eating them is such a fulfilling experience in it.

                                            A classic Indian staple dish that has stood the test of time and has made numerous men, women, children n dogs(;)) happy throughout hundreds of years and will keep on doing so. Aloo is potato in Hindi, Urdu n Bengali, in Marathi it is Batata. Undoubtedly one of the most popular breakfast or snack dishes served in homes across the western, central and the northern part of the Indian sub-continent. They are mostly served with yogurt or chutney of mango/radishes/mix-vegetables/tomato or with butter. To eat them hot while the blob of butter melts on their surface is a sight to watch and to eat! So often these flat-breads/parathas are fried in butter and then again served with butter! But also they are equally delicious fried in vegetable oil. Eating them with lots of butter day by day has its own effects on you…you can get fat! How will I forget to tell you they are simply amazing with tomato ketchup! Sometimes I add a touch of chaat masala in the tomato ketchup and it is mouth watering. The combination with yogurt is also to cherish, lovely creamy yogurt adds tang and so refreshing.  With chutneys it’s a beautiful moment. Now tell me that you are making them tomorrow.

                                                                                                      Potato is such a beautiful vegetable, healthy, nutritious and amazingly versatile! No wonder they are a staple food across many nations. We can have them in breakfast, lunch, dinner, in between meals and they are used both in savory and sweet dishes. Of all the stuffed fried breads found across the corners of India, I think aloo paratha is the most popular; the other popular ones will be mooli paratha, paneer paratha and recently cheese paratha.

                                                             If you are making them for the first time, which you must do, you can find them a bit challenging, like every new thing. Making the dough is easy, preparing the mashed potato is easy, when it comes to stuffing the mashed potato into the dough and rolling them out, it becomes challenging. All you need is soft hands, a bit of delicacy and a dose of confidence. That’s all n you are literally ready to roll.

                                                                                                                                                                         Once the mashed potato and the dough is done, you take a ball of dough , flatten it, make a dent in it and then stuff them with the mashed potato and then enclose the mashed potato with the dough, it will like a ball of dough with mashed potato inside it. All you need next is a soft hand when you roll them, because if you with heavy hand you will be spilling the potato mixture from the dough from everywhere. Remember that the mashed potato is very soft, so handle them softly.

Now I will tell you about the recipe, get ready with you rolling pin.

For The Recipe: You will need

For the Mashed Potato
4-5 medium potato in skin, halved and put a cross mark on top of both the halves with knife
Water to boil the potatoes
1 tbsp of salt
I medium onion, finely chopped
2 green chilies, finely chopped
1 tbsp of fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp of Cumin seeds
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1 tsp of oil

For the Dough
200 gm plain flour or 100 gm of whole-wheat flour+100 gm of plain flour
Pinch of salt
85-90 ml of water
1 tsp of vegetable oil

For Frying
Around 2 tbsp of oil for each paratha/flat bread

1. Let’s make the dough first, mix the 2 flours if using 2 flours, then add the salt, 1 tsp vegetable oil and rub it in the flour, make a well in the center and add half of the water in the well, then slowly incorporate the flour, add half of the remaining water and do the same, then add the rest of the water and make the whole dough come together.  Start kneading the dough from this point until the dough becomes smooth n elastic which will take about 6-8 minutes. The dough will be moderately tight, not very soft neither very stiff. When the dough is smooth, divide the dough in 4 balls, smooth them out , then place them in a bowl, sprinkle 1 tsp of vegetable oil on them, coat them in the oil n rest them for 30 minutes.

2. Wash the potatoes, then cut them in half across the length, then with the knife put shallow cross mark on the top of all the halves, then heat the water in pan, add salt in the water and add the potatoes. After about 10 minutes check with the knife, if the knife goes smoothly inside the potatoes, they are done. Drain the water, cool them in normal water, then peel the potatoes and then smash them with a fork.

3. Put a pan on low heat, add the whole cumin seeds and toss them in the pan for about 2 minutes, then put them in a mortal n pestle and grind them to a powder, put the black pepper corns in the heat for 1 minute and similarly grind them.

4. Add 1 tsp of vegetable oil in the pan and put it on medium heat, when the oil is hot add the chopped onion, the chopped green chilies and toss them for 2 minutes, reduce the flame to low, add the chopped coriander leaves, give them 1 minute, add a little salt to them, then add the mashed potato in the pan and mix everything well. Next add the crushed cumin powder, the crushed black pepper, salt to taste and mix well, give them 3 minutes in low heat in the pan, take them out in a bowl and let it cool.

5.  Now when the dough has rested for about half an hour, on a dry surface sprinkle some flour, then pick one ball of dough and sprinkle that ball with a little flour and cover it lightly with flour, then place it on the surface and press gently with your palm to flatten it slightly with your three tallest fingers. After that pick that flatten ball in your palm and start pushing the dough along the circumference to the center with your thumb while you go around doing that all across the circumference. What you are basically doing is creating a little dent in the middle region of the ball by pushing the dough and stretching the dough around the sides towards the center. This dent will be the space for the stuffing.

6. So pick about 1 tbsp of the mashed potato stuffing and place it in the dent, put such an amount that you still have about 1 inch side above it, now with your fingers stretch the sides slightly and put all the sides together so that the stuffing is covered, now twist the gathered edges lightly to seal them, then press the twisted edges on to the ball so that it again looks like a leveled flatten ball. Here the images will help you understand.

7. Now is the time for soft hands, a crucial point. Place the ball back on to the  floured surface and press lightly with your hands to flatten it even more, then with your rolling pin do the same, press on it gently to flatten it uniformly, then start rolling with a very light hand and give it a round shape. Don’t try to roll this ball very thin because in that case the stuffing will tend to leak from the sides. So roll it to a thickness when the stuffing is just about to come out, it will be around 1 cm thickness when this will begin to happen. Stop there and aloo parathas are always thick simple because they have stuffing. Do the same with the rest of the dough balls.

8. Put a pan on medium heat and let it get hot, don’t let it get very hot, when the pan is moderately hot, place on paratha on the pan and put I tbsp of vegetable oil on the surface and with the back of a spoon smear it, then flip that side over so that it begins to fry, take 1 tsp of butter and place on top of the paratha while the lower side is getting fried.  After about 2 minutes the lower side will be starting to brown. Keep the heat medium and let it develop some brown color, then flip it over and let this side also get light brown. Once done take it off the pan and do the same with the other parathas. Done!

Since they are very hot give them some minutes and then jump in, tear them off and eat them warm. Aren't they just amazingly yummy? I know, I know…..Bon appétit.