Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cardamom-Scented Roasted Peaches

The first crop of sweet and tender Georgia peaches are hitting the fruit stands now. I buy them by the armful, and their heady scent perfumes the whole kitchen for days. But when they ripen faster than you can eat them, I roast the excess fruit in the oven, and serve as a simple and elegant summer dessert.

The prep-work is hassle-free—top the peach halves with sugar, brown sugar, and butter, which caramelise with the fruit juices into a sticky sauce, and sprinkle with cardamom to enhance the luscious flowery notes of the ripe fruit. Serve straight out of the oven with a dollop of crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream—summer in a mouthful!

2 Peaches, cut in half lengthwise, with the pits removed.
¼ tsp ground Cardamom
Pinch of freshly ground Black Pepper
1 tbsp Butter, cut into four pieces
½ tsp Sugar
1 tsp Brown Sugar
  1. Pre-heat oven to 425º F (220ºC). 
  2. Arrange peaches in a parchment paper-lined baking dish with the cut-side up, and sprinkle with cardamom and black pepper. Place butter in the indents in the middle of the fruit, and sprinkle sugar and brown sugar. 
  3. Roast in the oven for 20 mins until the tops are golden and well caramelised. Serve warm topped with crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, and garnished with mint. 
TIP: This recipe works just as well with any other stone fruit like apricot, nectarine or plum. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Roasted Cumin Potatoes

This recipe is my take on a classic north Indian jeera aaloo—cumin potatoes. Unlike the traditional version, which is cooked stovetop, I use the customary ingredients called for, but roast the potatoes in the oven for a crisp and dry finish.

2 lbs [1 kg] Potatoes, washed and cut, skin-on, into 1-inch-thick pieces
1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 tsp whole Cumin
1 tsp Turmeric powder
½ tsp Chilli powder
1/4 tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
Sea Salt (to taste)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
  1. Pre-heat oven to 450º F (230ºC). Arrange potatoes in one layer in a baking dish. 
  2. Heat vegetable oil in a small skillet or frying pan over high heat. Add cumin and let sputter for about 1 min. Remove from heat and pour the spice and oil over the potatoes. 
  3. Sprinkle turmeric, chilli powder, black pepper, and sea salt, drizzle with olive oil, and using your hands, toss well to mix. 
  4. Roast in the oven for 30 mins, then stir the potatoes with a large spoon to ensure that they caramelise evenly. Continue roasting for another 15 mins. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Quick-Cooked Prawns with Three Chillies

This fragrant and fiery recipe is perfect for the summer—fast on prep time and a breeze to cook—so you don’t have to hover around a hot stove for long. It’s also a supremely noshable dish, so the biggest challenge is to prevent Tastey Boy from swiping half the platter before it even reaches the dining table!

3 tbsp Vegetable Oil
4–6 whole Dried Red Chillies
1 tsp Black Mustard seeds
4–6 fresh Green Chillies, cut into half lengthwise
2 Shallots, sliced
2-inch piece Ginger, peeled and cut into thin slivers
4 cloves Garlic, thinly sliced
2 lbs [1 kg] Prawns, peeled, de-veined, and washed
1 tbsp ground Coriander
½ tbsp ground Cumin
1 tsp Chilli powder
¼ tsp freshly ground Black Pepper
Salt (to taste)
1 tbsp Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
Juice of ½ lemon
  1. Heat 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a large skillet or frying pan over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add dried red chillies and sauté briskly for 1 min until they are blackened. Set aside chillies in a small bowl, crush half of them roughly into small pieces and leave the others whole. 
  2. Add remaining oil to pan and heat until it is smoking. Add black mustard seeds and sputter for a few seconds until they start to pop. Add green chillies, shallots, ginger and garlic, and cook for 2–3 mins, until lightly golden. 
  3. Add prawns, coriander, cumin, chilli powder, dried red chilli, black pepper, salt and fish sauce, and stir so the prawns are well coated with the spices. Continue stirring briskly for 4–5 mins, until the prawns are pink and cooked through. Remove from heat, sprinkle with lemon juice, and serve immediately.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tangy Arhar Daal with Tomato and Black Mustard

I’ve been obsessed with Arhar (Toor) daal of late. Its characteristically nutty flavour stands up to a lot of strong spices like black mustard and hing (asafoetida), and is lovely when balanced with a slight sweet-and-sour note. I experimented with sugar, tamarind, aamchur, and kokum in various permutations, and found that a combination of tomatoes and brown sugar, when used sparingly, does just the trick.

2 cups Arhar (Toor) daal
2½ quarts (10 cups) Water
Salt (to taste)
1 tbsp Turmeric
2½ tbsp ground Coriander
1 tsp ground Cumin
1 tsp Chilli powder
2 tsp Brown Sugar
2–inch piece fresh Ginger (peeled and ground to a paste)
2 small Tomatoes (chopped)
1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
2 tsp Black Mustard seeds
1 tsp whole Fenugreek
1 tsp Hing (Asafoetida)
4–6 fresh Green Chillis
  1. Wash daal thoroughly and let soak in a bowl, covered in water, for 30 mins. Drain water and set daal aside. 
  2. Bring 2½ quarts of water to a rolling boil in a large stockpot. Add daal and salt, and cook, covered, over medium-high heat, occasionally skimming the foam and scum that gathers on the top. When the daal is soft and the grains start to fall apart, about 30-35 mins, add turmeric, coriander, cumin, chilli powder, brown sugar, ginger and tomatoes. Continue simmering for another 25–30 mins, until the daal is cooked through. Turn heat to low and let daal simmer, covered, as the finishing spices are prepared. 
  3. Heat oil in a small frying pan or skillet over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add black mustard and allow to sputter until they start to pop, a matter of seconds. Add fenugreek, hing, and green chillies and fry for 1–2 mins, until lightly golden. Remove from heat. 
  4. Add fried spice mixture to cooked daal and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Serve hot with rice or naan.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fiery Everyday Fish Curry

Fish curry is sacrosanct to Bengali cuisine, and while every household has its own signature recipe that is prepared daily, most feature a spice grouping that I’ve dubbed the “holy Bong trifecta”—paanch phoron,* turmeric and chilli. There is an unparalleled chemical and olfactory magic that happens when paanch phoron meets turmeric and chilli in a watery curry. It is a supremely simple combination, but if used disproportionately, can result in a bitter aftertaste that ruins the dish.

Over the years, I’ve managed to replicate the aroma of the dish that I grew up eating, but I’ve had great difficulty with the texture of the curry base—I invariably end up with something that either is too runny and bland, or too thick and over-spiced. The key culprit is the hard water here in New York, which doesn’t allow the turmeric and chilli to meld into a light and silky curry. After much trial and error, I concluded that I had to use the minimum turmeric and chilli to get the desired flavour, and then boost the body of the curry with a third ingredient.

My secret, very unorthodox ingredient—concentrated tomato paste! Now, before the purists start to hyperventilate, let me assuage all fears with this disclaimer. Tomato paste is NOT traditional by any means. But what it does is to unobtrusively give weight and body to the curry without impeding the spice alchemy. And the sweetness of the tomato balances any potential bitterness from over-frying the paanch phoron.

If you are lucky to be able to cook without hard water, then by all means forego the tomato paste. But if, like me, you encounter curry drama due to an overzealous civic water authority, then call upon my secret weapon to come to the rescue!

2 lbs [1 kg] skin-on Halibut steaks cut into 3-inch-wide pieces
(I used halibut here, but you can substitute with any flaky white fish like sea bass, sole, or flounder.)
4 tbsp Turmeric
Salt, to taste
6 tbsp Vegetable Oil
1 tbsp Paanch Phoron
1 tbsp concentrated Tomato Paste
1½–2 tbsp Chilli powder (adjust to taste)
6–8 fresh whole Green Chillies
1 cup, plus 4 tbsp, Water
  1. Rub fish steaks with 3 tbsp turmeric and salt and set aside for at least 30 mins, and up to 4 hours. 
  2. Heat 4 tbsp oil in a large skillet or frying pan over high heat. Add fish and brown well on both sides. Remove fish and set aside on a platter. Discard oil in pan and wipe clean. 
  3. Heat remaining 2 tbsp oil in same pan over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add paanch phoron and let sputter for a few seconds. Add tomato paste, stir and fry for about 2 mins. 
  4. Mix remaining 1 tbsp turmeric and chilli powder with 4 tbsp water to make a paste, add to pan, and stir to incorporate. Turn heat to low, add green chillis, salt, and remaining water, and let simmer for about a minute.
  5. Transfer browned fish to the pan, and spoon sauce over the fish. Put a lid on the pan and let simmer for about 5–7 mins, until the fish is cooked-through and the oil has separated from the sauce. Turn off heat and let sit for 10 mins. Serve with rice. 
[*Paanch Phoron is a five-spice blend used extensively in Eastern India, especially in the cuisines of Bengal, Orissa and Assam. The five whole spices are blended in equal parts— Fenugreek seeds (methi), Nigella seeds (kalonji, or kaalo jirey), Fennel seeds (mouri), Carom (radhuni), Mustard seed (shorshey). In my family, the fifth spice, mustard, is not used, but the blend is still referred to as “five spice.”]


© Copyright 2012 Shubhani Sarkar