Sunday, February 15, 2015

Stir-Fried Red Swiss Chard with Shrimp and Eggplant

Chingri Begun Laal Shaak er Chochori

Luck was on my side when I went shopping for fresh vegetables a few days ago. There was a good looking bunch of red Swiss chard which immediately evoked images of a stir-fry with eggplant and shrimp. The stems and backs of the leaves were beet red and the surface of the leaves were green with red veins. 

When I looked up the definition of Laal (red) Shaak (spinach) on the Internet the English equivalent was Red Amaranth or Red Swiss Chard. 

All spinach or greens need to be thoroughly washed. Fill the sink or a large pan with cold water and drop the spinach into the water as it is being chopped. Dunk the chopped spinach in the water several times. The spinach rises to the top and any sediment present will sink to the bottom of the pan. Transfer the spinach to a colander to drain.

Vegetarians and Vegans can omit the shrimp for a tasty & nutritious meal. 

1 bunch red Swiss chard, chopped, rinsed thoroughly & drained
1 Oriental eggplant, cubed
8 oz. medium (26-30 count) shrimp, shelled & de-veined
1 large onion, diced
1 tsp. garlic paste
1 hot green chili, diced
1/4 tsp. turmeric
salt to taste
2 + 2 + 2 Tbsp. light olive oil
1/4 tsp. panch phoron (Bengali whole 5 spice)
1/4 tsp. toasted panch phoron powder
1 tsp. ghee
2 green chilies, slit

  1. Toss shrimp with salt & turmeric and set aside.
  2. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil over medium-high heat & stir-fry shrimp until pink.
  3. Remove shrimp from skillet and heat another 2 Tbsp. oil.
  4. Fry eggplant cubes until golden brown and set aside.
  5. Heat remaining oil in same skillet & sputter green chilies & panch phoron.
  6. Add onions, garlic, spinach & salt, cover & cook until stems are tender.
  7. Return eggplant & shrimp to skillet, add toasted panch phoron powder, stir & cook for another 5 minutes.
  8. Adjust salt to taste & garnish with ghee & slit green chilies.  
Serve with hot Basmati rice or chapatis/tortillas.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Begun Pora - Bengali Roasted Eggplant Salad

Eggplant is a favourite vegetable (or fruit?) among Bengali people who reside in West Bengal in India and Bangladesh. For this salad, the big, purple eggplant works best. The way I pick one is to look for a tight and blemish-free skin. I then weigh an eggplant in each hand and pick the lightest one. Tapping the eggplant with a finger should produce a hollow sound. Eggplants that are huge and heavy are full of seeds which are annoying to eat.

I find it easiest to cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, rub some oil over the surface and cut sides, lay them face down on a greased cookie sheet and bake them at a high temperature for 20-25 minutes. This cooks the core to a soft and silky pulp that should ideally be hand-mixed with the listed ingredients. The more traditional way is to place a flat cast-iron pan (tawa) on the stove and char the eggplant over a low flame, turning it over and around every now and then.

Mustard oil is a must & provides a lovely pungent flavour to this salad. It is readily available in Indian markets outside India. In our household, a dried red chili is held with tongs over an open flame to char all over and then mashed into the salad. This adds an unbeatable smoky flavour. A word of caution - make sure to turn it around, not allowing the chili to burn or catch fire because that will have everyone at home coughing and crying their eyes out! 

1 large eggplant, cut in half lengthwise
1 + 2 Tbsp. mustard oil
1 hot green chili, diced and/or 1 toasted dried red chili, crushed
1 small onion, diced
1 handful cilantro, chopped
salt to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 400*F, grease a cookie sheet and wash the eggplant.
  2. Cut eggplant lengthwise, prick skin with a fork & rub with 1 Tbsp. oil.
  3. Place eggplant, cut-side down, on greased cookie sheet.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes until peel appears wrinkled and charred.
  5. Remove eggplant halves from oven and set aside to cool.
  6. Scoop flesh away from peel and discard the peel.
  7. Coarsely chop eggplant and hand-mix with remaining ingredients.
Serve with hot, steamed Basmati rice.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

3 Bean Salad

3 Bean Salad
Somehow, I managed to hit just the right sweet and sour notes in this salad. The trick is to assemble all the ingredients, mix them all up and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. This releases the sweetness from the dried cranberries and the minty flavours to soak into the beans. The only cooking required is to steam the whole red lentils, chickpeas and red beans but I was fortunate enough to avail of a package of Melissa's steamed lentils and packages of chickpeas and red beans that were soaking in water and sea salt. Any combination of beans would work in this recipe.

1 (8 oz.) cup whole red lentils, steamed
1 (8 oz.) cup chickpeas, drained
1 (8 oz.) cup red beans, drained
1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries or raisins
2 stalks green onions, diced
1 serrano pepper, diced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 handfuls mint, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup cider vinegar
1 serrano pepper, sliced (for garnish)
salt & pepper to taste

  1. Whip together oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and set aside.
  2. Mix remaining ingredients except sliced peppers.
  3. Add oil & vinegar dressing.
  4. Refrigerate overnight & garnish with sliced peppers before serving.

Cheesy Fajita Open-Faced Sandwich

Cheesy Fajita Sandwich
Here's a lunch that can be prepared in under 5 minutes. We had fajitas for dinner the night before so I put away two little portions for lunch the next day. The chicken breast strips come already cooked with fajita spices and can be found in the frozen section of the supermarket. Combined with strips of colourful sliced onions and sweet & hot peppers, the chicken fajita strips are laid on top of a mixture of grated Mexican cheese, mayonnaise and red pepper flakes with a sprinkling of fresh herbs.. Once toasted in the toaster-oven, the cheese melts and forms a creamy base for the chicken fajita. These open-faced sandwiches taste great on crusty Italian bread or tortillas.

Serve with a fresh salad and/or fruit. This meal is served with a 3 Bean Salad.

1 cup chicken fajita strips, cooked & frozen
1 cup sweet multi-coloured peppers, sliced
1 serrano pepper, sliced
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. grated Mexican cheese
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 tsp. crushed dried red peppers
2 green onions, chopped
1 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped
2 flour tortillas or 4 slices of toasted bread

  1. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Toss chicken, peppers and onions in the hot oil until cooked but still crisp.
  3. Remove from heat and set aside.
  4. Mix grated cheese, mayonnaise and red peppers in a bowl.
  5. Spread on tortillas or bread, making sure to work all the way to the edges.
  6. Top with prepared fajita strips and sprinkle with green onions & cilantro.
  7. Toast in a toaster-oven just until cheese melts.
  8. Serve right away with a salad and/or fruit.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Chicken Do Pyaza

Chicken Braised with Two Types of Onions 
We had company for dinner tonight. This last week has been pretty busy so all the cooking was done starting early this morning. It's the middle of winter in Michigan (USA) with temperatures plunging into the single digits, making the task of cooking meat and fish rather difficult because all the windows need to be left open to air out the house.

I used all shortcuts possible while making this chicken dish. Do (two) Pyaza (onions) means a gravy made with two preparations of onions. The chicken was marinated overnight, brought to room temperature and then cooked with finely sliced onions and garnished with crispy, deep-fried red shallots. We're very fortunate that birista or deep-fried onions/shallots are now readily available in Indian and Oriental markets in North America. 

Besides using fresh tomatoes, tomato paste was also added to thicken and provide a rich, red colour to the gravy. Kashmiri mirch which is an aromatic paprika from India also adds to the rich, red colour. I was first introduced to this way of cooking meat and poultry by a friend in New Delhi close to 45 years ago. I was only just finding my way around my kitchen when this kind gentleman came over one day and taught me to make this. Although he has long since left this world, his kindness and patience remains a precious memory.

1 lb. chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces
3 large onions, sliced finely
1 medium tomato, diced
1 + 1 tsp. garlic paste
1 + 1 tsp. ginger paste
1 + 1 tsp. Kashmiri mirch/paprika
1/4 tsp. tandoori masala
1 tsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. Bengali garam masala powder (ground cinnamon, cardamon & cloves) 
1 + 6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 sticks cinnamon
2 black, large cardamom
1/2 tsp. shah jeera or cumin
2 cups simmering chicken broth
1 cup + 4 Tbsp. deep-fried red shallots
salt to taste

  1. Clean chicken and marinate in the fridge overnight (or minimum 2 hours) with 1 Tbsp. oil, 1 tsp. each ginger & garlic pastes, 1 tsp. Kashmiri mirch, tandoori masala and salt to taste. 
  2. Bring marinated chicken to room temperature before cooking.
  3. Blend diced tomatoes with 1 tsp. each ginger and garlic pastes.
  4. Heat oil over medium high heat, fry chicken until golden brown & set aside.
  5. In the same pan, sputter shah jeera, cinnamon and black cardamom.
  6. Add sliced onions and stir-fry until translucent.
  7. Stir in tomato paste and stir-fry until oil resurfaces.
  8. Add blended tomatoes, garam masala & remaining Kashmiri mirch.
  9. Stir well & simmer over medium heat until oil resurfaces again.
  10. Add browned chicken, 1 cup deep-fried red shallots and broth, lower heat to medium-low, cover & simmer for 30 minutes until gravy is thick and reduced by half.
  11. Adjust salt to taste, garnish with remaining deep-fried red shallots & transfer to serving dish.
Serve with hot Basmati rice, Indian bread or tortillas.