Sometimes I cook, without an available story for it. It is just a result of a gut feeling that creeps through my system for a consistent number of hours. I slowly sense “things” about the dish I want to make, trying to fill in vacuum places within my cells,muscles and brain. The look, the taste, the smell…its a unavoidable package. And almost in an animated form my eyes dilate, and I spring up from whatever I have been doing, perked with an irresistible rush of energy, and make a dash towards the kitchen, as if it is the last opportunity in my life to cook!
Although, I have to admit, these cravings to cook get spruced up when I have new cookbooks in my kitty. Or, when there is some subtle emotional blackmailing done by family, who haven’t seen me step into my kitchen for a while. I don’t cook everyday. Either, I select occasions, or weekends, or wait for “those” pangs of craving to arrive.
So, here is the (non-story) story of this dish.
Hari’s book had arrived a couple of weeks back. Almost when fall was in season in New York. Sadly, along with the parcel, my promised packet of fallen leaves, couldn’t make it to Bangalore. The strict US postal system carved a neat little hole, in the parcel and took out the zip-lock packet that had my four auburn leaves in it. It made me really sad. Even depressed for a few days. It had become almost an yearly affair by now. Last year, when my cousin had arrived from Boston, I had made her carry the fallen leaves for me. This year I nagged so much, that Hari finally agreed to handpick a few fallen leaves from his backyard and send it along with the book! But, all was in vain. The leaves couldn’t leave the Atlantic shore. Perhaps it was this depression that made me scorn at the beautiful book for a while(likewise, for no fault of its!). But, that scorn couldn’t last for long.
A few Sundays later, I picked up the book, sat on my favourite corner in the terrace, and flipped through the pages that seemed so familiar. Even while I was working on the book with Hari, some of them had become my personal favourites. So, once I decided the pairing options I started work on it. My version of the recipe has a few improvisations, something which Hari always encourages every home cook to explore. As far as my world of food is concerned, I trust him without any “fuss or fear.”
As for the recipes I tried out. Easy Indian Cooking-101 Fresh & Feisty Indian Recipes.
Proving you can make enticing Indian food in minutes, Hari presents 101 recipes to prepare for busy homemakers and owners of lifestyles who have very less time to afford in their kitchens. He uses lots of easy-to-measure spices but few ingredients that need chopping or other prepping (Except for a few of them, where the focus can shift from preparing to “impressing”). Still, follow his suggestions and food pairings to make one Indian dish plus a green salad and you’ll whip up aromatic, mostly-Indian meals with ease.
Recipes for poultry,meat, legumes and vegetables, and the chapter on salads, relishes, chutneys (accompaniments) and pickles are especially appealing. And after all these easy-to-believe pragmatic reasons, I am still biased. After all, I am part of book, and if I have helped in the content development, it’s glory and it’s stories of success are my stories too!
” Traditional Indian cuisine has its own charm, its own signature dishes and its own stories. When we add a twist of contemporary presentation, a touch of native sensibilities and a dash of global bounty, what you find before you is a kaleidoscope of delectable, modern,yet soul-stirring cuisine, I affectionately call Easy Indian Cooking.”- Hari Nayak
There are several favourites of mine in the book. A quick starter for the monsoon clad Wednesday dinner: Grilled Chicken Wings with Ginger & Lime; Curried Malabar Squids, for quenching that yearning of licking your fingers pretty and clean till the last morsel of rice and the yellow curry leave the plate; the Yellow Lentils with Baby Spinach and Garlic, when you have had an overdose of restaurant food, and want to detox over the weekend; and last but not the least, the quickest dessert, which can also leave you non-guilty- Sweet Yoghurt Sundae with Saffron & Pistachios.All of them can sensibly claim to be a culinary union of the East and West.
Mains: Mutton Chops with Mint & Lemon(Inspired by Roasted Rack of Lamb with a Mint Crust)
1 kilogram mutton chops, trimmed of excess fat
2 table spoons fresh lemon juice
1 table spoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced/sliced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly crush whole garam masala
1 slice of whole wheat bread, toasted on a medium heat
1/4th bunch chopped fresh coriander leaves
1/2 bunch fresh mint leaves
2-3 fresh green chillies
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
4 tablespoons olive oil to brown the mutton chops
4 table spoons mint-chutney mayonnaise
Pre-heat the oven to 230*C. In a large bowl combine lemon juice,ginger,garlic,garam masala and salt. Place the mutton chops in the bowl,mix and coat the marinade well, and refrigerate for about 1 hour. Place the toasted bread in a blender, add fresh mint leaves, coriander leaves, lemon juice,cumin seeds, green chillies and a little water to form a very coarse masala/paste. Take out the marinated mutton chops, and brown them in a heavy botton skillet, until both sides of the meat look sufficiently tempting! (About 5 mins for a batch). Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool. Take a generous dollop of the mint-chutney mayonnaise, smear the rounded and flat surfaces of the meat, and coat it with the ‘bread-masala’. Roast the meat in batches in the oven. For a medium-rare outcome, keep them inside for about 20-25 minutes. Keep them aside for a little bit of plate-art!
Vegetables:Sweet & Sour Asparagus and Yellow Zucchini with Cashews(This is verbatim from the book, except for the addition of the yellow zucchini)
500gms Asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 inch pieces
1 large yellow zucchini, cut in 2 inch strips
3 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black mustard
2 small onions-sliced thin
1 teaspoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
1/2 a green capsicum
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
1/2 cup yoghurt(which I replaced with a chilli-lime tahini sauce!)
1/2 cup toasted cashewnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4th spoon garam masala
Par-cook the asparagus in boiling water in a wide pan or microwave on high for about 3-4 minutes. Chill in ice-water, immediately to keep the green intact. Drain and set aside.Heat oil in a medium non-stick saucepan over medium-high heat, and then add the cumin and the black mustard seeds.Once they sizzle, add the onion,and cook till they and translucent and golden brown.Add the ginger,garlic and capsicum, and stir for about a minute. Add coriander, cumin and salt to taste.Add the zucchini, and then the asparagus and cook till all the flavours and mixed. Add the chilli-lime tahini sauce and give it a good rounded stir to marry all flavours. Add the toasted cashew nuts and take it off the pan. Keep aside for the plating.
Sides: Easy to make Microwave Herb Risotto(Not from the book!)
3 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
1 and 1/2 cups vegetable broth
Mixed peppers: green,yellow and red-thinly sliced
1 cup uncooked Arborio rice
3/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a microwave safe casserole dish combine butter, garlic and onion. Place dish in microwave and cook on high for 3 minutes.Place vegetable broth in a microwave safe dish. Heat on microwave until the broth is hot but not boiling (approximately 2 minutes). Add in the multi-coloured peppers. Stir the rice and broth into the casserole dish with the onion, butter and garlic mixture. Cover the dish tightly and cook on high for 6 minutes.Stir wine into the rice. Cook on high for 10 minutes more. Most of the liquid should boil off. Stir the cheese into the rice and serve.
Place the bed of vegetables of a broad plate. Rest 3-4 mutton chops on it. Heap in about 2-3 tablespoons of risotto, in one corner of the plate and with the back of a spoon, mash it with a gentle stroke, so that it can corm a fading curve on one side of the plate. That’s it. Simple and pretty.
Sambrita Basu is a food-fascinated travel writer and photographer based out of Bangalore India. A background and a degree in hospitality and restaurant management paved her interest in food. As the secretary of the institution’s editorial club, she contributed regularly and wrote about food in their annual magazine, A la Carte.
Sambrita has published interviews of celebrity authors and business veterans in international publications like Infineon. Her contributions also include photographs on foods and restaurants of Bangalore for DNA—a leading newspaper publication in Bangalore. Sambrita’s creative expressions transport readers to alleys, hotels, hide-outs, restaurants, attics, and spice markets in several cities across the world.
Sam (as she is popularly known by her friends and family) doesn’t write for a living, but she lives to write.