Skewered Veggies- A recipe for finger food

The craving for some salty, lip smacking bite sized food increases proportionately with each peg of alcohol. The food, in turn, adds fuel to the fire of desire for some more alcohol and by the time the drinkers realise that they have fallen prey to the “Do-loop”, the party is well set and looking good to continue till eternity.

I am a born foodie and love my food! A rule in my house therefore is that when friends come calling, the endeavour should be that the number of items of snacks should exceed the number of pegs that each of the visitor consumes. I am therefore continuously on the lookout for newer varieties of small, bite sized snacks that are tasty and also fulfil the requirements for hastening the setting in of the “Do-loop”.

In my quest to look for a vegetarian option for my vegetarian friends, I devised a scaled down, sober version of the more flamboyant grilled veggies. The recipe is simple and doesn’t need much preparation beforehand. It is therefore quick and easy to make while scoring high on the taste and style quotient.

Ingredients :

  • Button mushroom, diced into two
  • Capsicum/bell pepper (multicoloured ones lend a colourful appearance to the dish)—Cut into square cubes, roughly three-fourth inch long/wide
  • Tomato—Again cut into squares of roughly three-fourth inch size and de-seeded
  • Cheese—The block variety that can be cut cut into cubes of half-inch lengh/width
  • Aamsatto ( Strips of mango jelly)—This again needs to be cut into sizes roughly similar to that of the cheese.
  • Black Cumin seeds—to add flavour
  • Chaat masala—to add flavour
  • Olive oil

The vegetable ingredients for this dish can be changed to suit taste of the people keeping the two main ingredient, Cheese cube and mango chutney strip ( Aaamsotto in Bengali parlance), constant. Those who are sworn non-vegetarians, can also replace an ingredient/add a small variety shrimp.

The advantage of this dish is that the ingredients can be cooked individually, making it easier to cook them parallely. So on one side of the burner, you can put the mushrooms to boil in a bowl of salt water. As the salt water comes to boil, put the mushrooms in it and let them boil for roughly 10-15 minutes. As soon as the mushrooms change colour and soften, they can be removed and allowed to cool. Sprinkle chaat masala on them and a dash of extra virgin olive oil and leave aside.

On the other side of the flame put the flat pan to heat and sprinkle some olive oil on it. As the oil heats, add 2 teaspoon of black cumin seeds and wait till they begin to crackle. Then add the capsicum/bell pepper slices to the pan and saute them, turning them pieces from one side to another, till they get a shiny coat and are cooked without losing their crunchiness. Sprinkle some  chaat masala on the pieces and allow the masala to coat the pieces before removing them from the pan and keeping them aside.

Next comes the turn of the tomatoes to be sauteed. The process of sautéing the tomatoes is exactly similar to that followed in cooking the capsicum. Care needs to be taken that the pieces are not cooked to the point of losing all its firmness and crunch. Once done, the same should also be kept aside.

Before serving this food, one needs to skewer all the ingredients together using an wooden variety of toothpicks that can be bought from the local stores. One can also use the plastic ones, but if one is using the plastic variety, then one needs to ensure that the ingredients are cooled to room temperature before they are skewered. Otherwise, there is a danger of the plastic melting due to heat and letting off a foul odour.

For skewering of the ingredients there is no fixed schedule or order that one needs to follow and one can use one’s imagination and creativity to make the dish as tasty and colourful as they wish to.  The order that I follow is as follows- A green capsicum at the bottom to act as a resting bed for the piece of aamsatto ( Mango jelly strip). On top of this I add the crunchy piece of mushroom, followed by the cube of cheese. The piece of tomato comes last and makes up as a red coloured top cover.

The dish is small, only that many number of ingredients can be skewered as can fit on a length of a wooden toothpick. As one pops all the ingredients in the mouth, there seems to set in, a relay race of the different flavours .  So the crunchiness of the capsicum is taken up by the sweetness of the aamsatto, only to be diluted by the soft, flat taste of the mushroom and finally getting topped by the saltiness of the cheese and the tanginess of the tomato. As one bites into the ingredients they begin to merge and mix and emit a different flavour that sends a signal to the brain to extend the hand and reach out for another one of these skewers.

The “Do-loop” thus begins!

IMG_20190126_105115.jpg

The spiced brinjal… A recipe

The humble brinjal seems to have caught my fancy! Not because of its dark violet colour and smooth texture of its skin but primarily because it is a “come to the rescue vegetable” when I am in need to rustle up something real quick.
My previous recipe involving the humble brinjal was slightly on the unconventional side and was the cause of much debate because of its slightly un-appealing appearance. So this time I decided to stick to a conventional one drawing inspiration from a recipe that was passed on to me earlier, by a friend.
The ingredients I used were as follows :
1. A whole medium sized brinjal.. Diced into small cubes. I was lucky that our refrigerator threw up one with a green skin that added a bit of colour to the dish
2. Salt and turmeric…. In pinches, to coat the diced brinjal and leave aside for some time.
3. Cinnamon… One stick roughly 2 inches in length.
4. Dry Red chillies… 2-3 nos
5. Cardamom and clove… I used 1piece of small ones but 2 should also be fine.
6. Tejpatta… 1 piece
7. Coriander… Whole… A tablespoon is what I prefer
7. Raisins… A fistful.. For those who love the sudden pops of sweetness in bites of their food.
8. Onion… A medium one diced fine.
9. Garlic…. 3-4 pods. Shredded very fine.
10. Oil… White. Will be needed in two stages…once to fry the diced brinjals and thereafter for the final round of cooking.
11. Cumin powder… Can be varied as per one’s taste.
12. Salt
13. Sugar… A pinch, to lend that dark texture.

In the heated oil, I fried the diced cubes of brinjal to medium proportions and ensured that i removed them before they start getting a coat of black. Removing them from the deep bottom pan, I kept them aside.

Brinjal has this tendency to absorb oil during the process of getting fried. To avoid this dish from becoming too oily, I made a mental note to try out the same recipe by frying the cubes in an air drier some day. Meanwhile, onward with my current recipe! I added some more white oil into the deep bottom pan and turned on the volume of music of my FM radio, while waiting for the oil to start smoking. Once the oil had begun to smoke, I lowered the heat and quickly added the pinch of sugar. Within seconds the sugar had began to caramelize and change colour. It was now time to add the tejpatta, dry red chillies, cardamom, cloves and the cinnamon stick, all together. As the crackle of the chillies faded away and it’s burnt smell wafted up to me, it was time for me to go into an overdrive. Clutching at the fistful of raisins with one hand and the tablespoon of coriander with the other, I threw them quickly into the oil. Quickly retracing my steps now i picked up the garlic and the onion slices and threw them into the oil in one swoop, wondering whether it was worthwhile to visit a popular Calcutta restaurant sometime in the near future, to learn a trick or two from the teppanyaki chef there.

The hard work complete, it was time to relax and have a sip of the beer while the hot oil went about its work, encompassing all the ingredients and coaxing them to let out their respective aromas.
After having stirred and sifted the ingredients a couple of times, I put in the final ingredient of salt and cumin powder and ran the flat spoon through the mix a few more times to ensure everything have had a chance to mix properly. With no more interventions from my part being necessary, I began taking larger sips of my beer in quick succession and watched the oil in the pan, which had got soaked in, begin to re-appear slowly, at the edges first followed by a faint hint of glaze making an appearance on the top as well. It was time now to put the previously fried brinjals back into the wok.
That done, I ran my flat spoon through the mix briskly, a couple of times, to ensure the masala now had a chance to reunite with the long lost cubes of brinjal. Finally it was time to cover the wok with a lid and let the moisture inside cook the ingredients for a couple of minutes.

The dish tastes best when consumed with either rotis, parathas or Puri. However, it also goes equally well if consumed with the simple plain hot white rice.

Recipe… Tangy green tomatoes

Aaahh… Winter! It’s that time of the year when the foodie in me stirs up and begins salivating at the array of veggies available at the market-place. The avid non vegetarian me slinks into hibernation, there to stay till the leaves on the trees begin to receive a coat of fresh green paint.
The other day I was almost on the verge of breaking into a jig to see green unripe tomatoes at the marketplace. Brought back a few memories of childhood winters in Ranchi when Maa used to make a mish-mash chutney using the raw green tomatoes that had the tanginess of the tomatoes as well as the spiciness of mustard and spread like a warm coat inside to keep the Ranchi chill at bay.
So I bought half a kilo of the tomatoes and decided to experiment with the same checking out a few recipes on the net. While my aim is to ultimately make what Maa used to make, I decided to first try a recipe that took my fancy on the internet. So here it is, though, I have made my own alterations and changed the measurements to suit my taste buds.
Raw green tomatoes : 4, diced into small pieces.
Ginger : a small piece. I chose one not bigger in size and than top phalanx of my little finger.
Garlic : 3-4 pods, diced into little bits.
Green chilli : I love things spiced up and hence put 3 big ones, slit through the middle.
Onion : 1 small one, chopped fine so that it gets fried properly.
White mustard seeds : 1 teaspoon, barely full
Coriander seeds : I simply love their flavour and so never compromise on the quantity of coriander seeds.
Coriander leaves : a fistful, de-stemmed and kept ready for use at later stage.

Having raised the temperature of white oil ( 2-3 tablespoons of any variety would suffice) to smoking levels, I hurriedly threw the coriander seeds, white mustard and green chillies into the oil. As they crackled and the pungency of the chillies had been slightly neutralized by the hot oil, I added the chopped onions, ginger and garlic and picked up the metal flat spoon, which I have always had a fancy for ever since my childhood because of a very slight resemblance of it to that of the Durga’s trishul, albeit the jointed end.

Running the flat spoon briskly through all those ingredients bubbling in the hot oil, I tried to ensure that they do not stick to the bottom of the pan and get a chance to be fried evenly. When the onion had turned a lustrous shade of white, I added the salt before throwing in all the chopped green tomatoes into the deep bottom pan.
A few vigorous shake to all the ingredients in the pan ensured that the ingredients got mixed up thoroughly and the hot oil managed to reach all the ingredients in the pan fairly evenly. Within a few minutes, the green colour of the tomato had begun to wane and the juices from the tomato had begun to make its presence felt. It was time to add some water, cover the pan and let everything cook in the steam.
While the ingredients were subjected to the sauna in the pan, I plugged in the mixer and threw the fistful of coriander leaves into the mixer jar. Along with that I added a liberal dosage of liquid jaggery into the mixer jar. Jaggery is supposed to be healthier than sugar and so doesn’t make the heart heavy with guilt as you tuck into the food. Thereafter the cooked Mish mash goes into the mixer and we are ready for the final round.
A minute or two of pounding and stirring inside the mixer produced a chutney that was, quite eatable!
The chutney can be eaten as a side accompaniment with cutlets and fries but I have found it to go wonderfully well as a sauce for pasta! The quintessential Bengali in me, however, found the best pairing – as an accompaniment to hot koraishutir kochuri!

IMG_20180127_082647.jpg

Recipe – Grilled aubergine with a twist

IMG_20171107_215756.jpg

Quite a bit has been said about the health benefits of the fruit from the Mediterranean-olives. Olive oil, extracted by pressing of the fruit, is rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, which is supposed to be good for the heart and overall well being of an individual.
Well being though, be damned! After all, one shouldn’t eat to live. It should be on the contrary, as has been my mantra to happiness for years. So I keep searching, for newer things and objects-to devour! My search, in turn, often stirs the creative instincts inside me. That is when, with a spring in my steps, I approach the refrigerator.
Foraging the refrigerator a few days back, I came across half a piece of brinjal. Brinjal is a vegetable that is often accused to have no benefits ( be-gun or bereft of any benefits, as the Bengalis say). I have often wondered whether that’s the reason for the humble brinjal to be roasted on a fire and turned into a mish – mash spiced with dollops of raw mustard oil, raw onions and green chilly; the preparation often being used as an effective way to keep the chill of the winter nights in villages at bay.
The humble baigan ka bhartaa has breached and invaded all strata of the Indian society. It’s probably an item that gets served under various alibi on dining tables of scores of people, be it the rich or the poor, across India.
The piece of brinjal that I found in the refrigerator made me want to do a fusion, something that wouldn’t come with the pungency of the mustard or the – roasted brinjal with a smattering of virgin olive oil infused with burnt garlic and coriander leaves!
The recipe is actually quite simple and quick to conjure if someone wishes to.
Cut the brinjal into round slices. Take a metal plate or tawa and heat it till it is scalding hot. Place the round slices of brinjal on the hot plate and allow the heat to burn the brinjal slices slowly, taking care to turn them at short intervals to ensure the heat burns the slices equally. Meanwhile chop a few garlic pods finely and place it on the hot metal plate as well. Very soon the garlic would begin to burn and release its characteristic odour. Remove the garlic and add it into the bowl containing 5-6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Finely chop fresh coriander leaves and add same into the olive oil. The garlic dip is done and should be kept aside. Once the outer skin of the brinjal slices begin to get burnt and turn black, it’s time to remove them from the hot plate.
All that remains after that is to smatter and spread the olive oil dip, prepared earlier, on the brinjal and scream…. Bon Appétit!
Note- The brinjal can be used as a topping over toasted bread making it a good healthy breakfast option.
The sweet flavour of virgin olive oil hyphenated by the sudden pungency of the garlic makes the effort of creating this worthwhile.