Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Kadala Curry: Kerala Style Black Chickpea Curry


Undecided Sun. Clouds Gathering.
Curry still resting. Over simmered.
Faint fragrance of spices in the air.
Hasty set of shots. Austere styling.
Stark, severe. Like life at this point.

It has been raining profusely here. So much so that lakes overflowed onto roads, their waters carrying the life within - fish swimming on streets; people catching them happily! Thankfully, the floods were quite some distance away from us and the only repercussions felt here were incessant rains at nights and a bout of cold and windy air.

It is not as if I have never seen floods. I come from a place where interconnected streams, water channels, rivers and lakes all flow abundantly; forming the life blood of lush, green agricultural fields. Till a few years ago, when the main road that connected the place to the nearest town was finally raised to such a height that the floods on either side of the paddy fields no longer engulfed the roads, the seamless, all enveloping authority of rain water was a familiar sight during each monsoon.

It doesn't normally rain like that in this city, which is why the floods were a surprise. (That the city is ill equipped to handle floods is another story.) But 'normal' is a term that is barely applicable to anything these days. We had one of the worst summers this year; so a season of torrential rains afterwards is poetic justice, I think. Or maybe the good earth is so fed up of our antics that it just is not going to be the same ever, no matter what.
Before moving onto the recipe, I just want to mention something. A few of you have been asking for access to the old blog (which is private now). Although I used to give access to most of those who requested till a few months ago, I am sorry that I will no longer be doing that. It is indeed annoying to see a ‘No Access’ message when you click through pinterest etc. So if you are looking for a specific recipe, just drop me a message here/mail me at the address mentioned here. I will either mail you back with the recipe or post it here if I have the pictures handy. I will try to post some of the more popular recipes here in the coming months. (This recipe is from 2012.) Once again, apologies for any inconvenience caused.

Kadala Curry: Kerala Style Black Chickpea Curry

Puttum Kadalayum (Steamed Rice Flour Cakes and Brown Chickpea Curry): A beloved combination and an everyday breakfast affair from Kerala. I have adjusted the amounts of ingredients over the years to suit our requirement of a lot of gravy. (Please do note that the gravy appears thick here as I unintentionally over reduced it. I didn’t loosen it up for the shots as I thought it shows everything more clearly.)
Serves 6

Ingredients:

The Chickpeas:
  1. Black Chick Peas - 1 cup (Soak overnight in water.)
The Gravy:
  1. Onions, sliced - 2 cups
  2. Tomatoes, finely diced - 1/2 to 3/4 cup
  3. Ginger Garlic Paste - 1 tbsp.
  4. Coriander Powder - 1 and a 1/2 tbsp.
  5. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - Generous 1/2 tbsp.
  6. Homemade Meat Masala Powder - 1 tsp. + About 1/2 tsp. to finish. (You can use store bought as well. See Notes.)
  7. Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp.
  8. Water
  9. Salt
  10. Coconut Oil
The Seasoning:
  1. Mustard Seeds - 1 tsp.
  2. Curry Leaves - Couple of stalks
  3. Dried Red Chillies - 2 (Optional)
  4. Coconut Oil
Directions:

The Chickpeas:

Pressure-cook the soaked chickpeas in enough water till they are about half done.

The Gravy:

Meanwhile, start preparing the masala. Heat up a pan and add some coconut oil, followed by the onions and some salt. Sauté till they turn dark brown in colour. Add the ginger garlic paste and sauté till the raw smell is gone.

Now add the spice powders and sauté the masala well. Sprinkle some water if needed so that you don’t burn the powders. Now add the tomatoes and cook till they get mashed up and incorporated well into the masala.

Once the chickpeas are ready and the pressure has fallen, open the pressure cooker, mix the masala well with them and continue pressure-cooking till the chickpeas get done.

Once cooked, check the curry for salt and adjust. Let the curry simmer uncovered for some time, during which you can add more water (or reduce the gravy) if required. (I crush a few chickpeas well and let them blend into the gravy while it is simmering – This thickens the gravy a bit and gives it more body. For some reason, this was slightly frowned upon at home.)

The Seasoning:

Heat up a small pan and add coconut oil. Once the oil is hot, add the mustard seeds and allow them to sputter. Now add the dried red chillies (if using) and the curry leaves. Stir for a few seconds and pour all of these, including the oil, into the prepared curry. Add the additional meat masala powder as well and stir to combine.
Rest the curry for a quarter of an hour at least.

Serve hot with Puttu (Steamed cakes made of rice flour).

Notes:
  1. You can use store bought Masala Powder in place of the home ground one. Look for one from Kerala and use a generous half tablespoon when you are sauteing the masala. Avoid adding more at the end.
  2. The gravy appears thick in the photos because I let it simmer in a clay pot and then inadvertently let it sit in the same pot till it went cold. This is not how we have it normally. The consistency is supposed to be somewhat thin.
  3. The curry appears a bit reddish here, but it will turn darker as it sits. Also, the store bought Chilli Powder seemed a bit too scarlet to me than my regular Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder. (I am not sure if it is caused by a difference in Chillies or if it is just pigmented additionally. This is one of the worst things that happen when we can't go home for months - I run out of my Mother in Law's local-mill-ground spice powders. Store bought ones just doesn’t stand a chance compared with hers.)

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Shadows and Profiles: Pears


"
A mask tells us more than a face.
"
Oscar Wilde
So does silence at times.
And so do shadows and profiles.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Railway Mutton Curry


There were trains of all kinds:

Some haughty and proud, enshrouded with the majestic air of cities they had passed through;
Some with the debonair air of those who have travelled much and take everything in their stride;
Some dark and mysterious, as though they held a myriad of tales they would never let go of;
Some with a withered look, as though the kaleidoscope of everyday views has stagnated;
Some impersonal, seeing no one, hearing no thing, talking to no one; they would just strut across;
And some that looked exceedingly commonplace, but with a friendly air that said ‘Step in’;

Neither day nor night halted them:

Some came disrupting the dark, monotonous stillness of night; waking the gentle of sleepers,
drowning the singsong of crickets and prodding the gentle rustle of leaves to a vigorous dance;
Some went agonizingly slow, as if they beheld no destination; no halt, no promise of a change -
they would plod on, as though they have been on this wearisome pace from when time began;
Some had no time for anyone; they roared and sped across, as if their very life depended on it;
The jovial ones would merrily pass, honking a glad horn or two, passengers waving hands.

But come what may,
They would traverse the lines,
Every day and one by one.
Trains were an integral part of our lives when we were young. We used to spend nearly every one of our vacations with our maternal grandparents and almost always travelled by trains to visit them. The journeys that took us to their warm, welcoming hands were always so eagerly awaited. Everything, from the early morning wake up call, to the crowded station and every passing scene that shuttled past the small windows of the train would be met with joyous approval, for each one of them was a step nearer to ‘Pappa and Ammachi’. 

Pappa and Ammachi had their beautiful home near the rail lines and trains were sort of always in the air. For us, this provided bountiful merriment - it was fun to count the number of bogies of the seemingly never ending goods trains, watch the express trains rush by, sending tremors to the ground and occasionally catch the waving hands of some cordial people from slower trains.
Despite this proximity to trains, we were never allowed to have food from trains or train stations – my grandfather was a stickler for hygiene and had brought up my mother along the same lines. A snack, let alone a meal would have been unthinkable – so the most we could expect in terms of food were the customary chocolates and biscuits that my Dad would buy for us from the station (One has to buy chocolates and biscuits from the station. And specifically, ‘Crackle’ and ‘Little Hearts’. Don't you think so?) It was much later in life, when I used to travel with friends or alone that I got to eat from trains. It was a bit of an adventure for me, specked with a touch of rebellion as I was almost always specifically reminded not to have anything from stations or trains. 

The only exception was My Dad’s sister KA, who is not the kind to dwell too much on the possible aftermaths of how the food is prepared in train or station kitchens and have occasionally bought me breakfasts and other stuff when we travelling together. (As for now, I’m married to a guy who has no wish to enter trains of any kind altogether. Talk about luck.)
Even with all this ‘No food allowed from trains’ regime that I was brought up in, the 'Railway Mutton Curry' still struck a chord when I saw it the first time in Sandeepa's blog. Not because I ever had it, but because it brought forth that spirit of train journeys – the happy journeys that took us to the people who we loved more than anyone, the moody,  tear struck ones that took us back home and to the rigorous school life, the merry ones that had my friends to keep company, the lonely ones that used to take me to the dreaded hostel, and finally, the one with my heart in a flutter that took me back home after The Techie and I decided to spend the rest of our lives together.
And so here is a recipe for you – one that holds the charm of a train journey, something you will relate to, if trains are or were once part of your life.

Railway Mutton Curry

I have adapted this recipe from how it appeared on Sandeepa’s Bong Mom’s Cookbook. The recipe was given to her by Pritha Sen and was originally penned by Basav Mukharjee. This is obviously Bengali in roots – and will be different from those that are prepared the Southern way. I have adapted the recipe (mostly reduced the chillies) to our tolerance level. You can find the original version at Sandeepa’s blog. Please go through the notes to see where I have changed quantities/ingredients. The recipe is slightly long. But you can do some things ahead like marinating the meat a day before. (You can even marinate the meat and keep in the freezer for later usage.) You can also make the spice paste ahead and refrigerate or freeze as will be appropriate.
Serves 4

Ingredients:

To Marinate Overnight:
  1. Mutton on the bone. Cut into cubes – 500 gm.
  2. Vinegar – 1 tsp.
  3. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder – 1/2 tsp.
  4. Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp.
  5. Ginger Paste – 1/2 tsp.
  6. Garlic Paste – 1/2 tsp.
  7. Mustard Oil – 1/2 tsp. (Optional. Avoid if you do not like the taste of Mustard Oil.)
  8. Salt
For the Masala Paste: (See Notes.)
  1. Coriander Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  2. Fennel Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  3. Cumin Seeds – 1/2 tsp.
  4. Black Pepper Corns – 1/4 tsp.
  5. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1/2 to 3/4 tbsp. (See Notes.)
  6. Ginger, chopped finely – 1/2 tbsp.
  7. Garlic, chopped finely – 1/2 tbsp.
  8. Mustard Oil – 1/4 tbsp. (Optional.)
  9. Sugar – 1/2 tsp.
To Season the Oil:
  1. Black cardamom – 1 small
  2. Green Cardamom – 2
  3. Cinnamon – 1/2 inch stick
  4. Cloves – 2
  5. Bay Leaves – 1
  6. Mace – 1 strand (Not the whole mace from one nutmeg – just one strand of that.) 
For the Gravy:
  1. Onions, sliced thinly – 1 cup, packed
  2. Tomatoes, pureed – 1/4 cup (I just grated them.)
  3. Potatoes, cut into cubes – 1 cup.
  4. Ginger Paste – 1/4 tbsp.
  5. Garlic Paste – 1/4 tbsp.
  6. Green Chillies, slit or broken – 1
  7. Bengali Garam Masala – 1/4 tsp.
  8. Water – 1 cup or more.
  9. Salt – To Taste
  10. Mustard/Vegetable Oil
Directions:

Heat up a heavy bottomed pan. (I use a ceramic lined cast iron stew pot. You can use a pressure cooker as well.) Add about a tablespoon of oil and when it gets hot (heat till the oil is smoking if you are using mustard oil), add the potatoes. Stir them occasionally and fry till they are specked with a few brown spots. Keep them aside.

To the same pan, add the whole spices and allow them to sizzle a bit. (Add more oil if needed.). Now add the ginger and garlic pastes and sauté till their raw smell is gone.

Add the sliced onions along with a pinch of salt and sauté till they turn brown. Now add the tomatoes and fry till they get blended well into the masala and are no longer raw.

Add the marinated pieces of mutton to the pan. Increase the heat to a high and sear the meat, stirring well and taking care not to burn the masala. Now reduce the heat to a medium and continue cooking the meat without the lid. The meat will release juices and later you will see a thin film of oil glistening on top of the pieces. This will smell incredibly good at this point!

Once it gets to this point, add the ground masala to the meat and mix well. Sauté for a few minutes and then add the water and some salt. Depending on how tender the meat is and how fast your potatoes generally cook, you can add the fried potatoes either at this point or once the meat is about three quarters done. (I do the latter.) Bring the gravy back to a boil and cook covered on a low flame till the meat and potatoes are done. (Check in between and add more water if needed.) Once done, switch the heat off, add the green chilli as well as the Garam Masala and stir to combine. Check for salt and then close the lid. Allow the curry to rest for at least an hour.
Serve with Rice. 

Notes: 
  1. I used the original measures for 4 pounds of meat and then used a quarter of that for this curry. So I took 2 tsp. each of coriander, fennel and cumin seeds, 1 tsp. of Black Peppercorns, 3 tbsp. of Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder, 2 tbsp. each of Ginger and Garlic, 1 tsbp. of Mustard oil and 1 tsp. of sugar. I kept the rest of the marinade in the freezer and used it for other meat dishes.
  2. Going by the original recipe, I used two Dried Red Chillies (One of which was substituted with a very mild chilly) and 1/2 tsp. of Kashmiri Chilli Powder in the Masala paste and it was still too hot for us when I made it the first time. So the second time around, I just used 3/4 tbsp of Kashmiri Chilli Powder and it was fine for us. Talking about Kashmiri Chilli Powder, I found that the store bought brands are slightly hotter than my Mother in Law’s home dried, small mill ground ones. So use only 1/2 tbsp. if what you have is store bought and you can’t stand spicy curries. Alternatively, you can try grinding the masala with the seeds removed from the dried red chillies.
  3. I hand pounded the masala paste which is why it has come out very thick. (Not recommended unless you are using gloves of some sort. My hands were on fire afterwards,) If you are using a grinder, you will get a smoother paste.
  4. The original recipe uses two dried red chillies in the seasoning also, which I have avoided.
  5. I get good lamb here and always slow cook it. You can use a pressure cooker if the meat that you get is very tough and takes a very long time to cook.
  6. I think this curry is better off with a ‘thin gravy consistency’; but that is just a personal preference.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Rusted Wheel


The old valve might have rusted, 
but it still decides whether water can flow down from the reservoir above. 

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Fish Cutlets


"
The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one's home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.
"
Barbara Pym, Excellent Women

So also were the small, kind gestures like boxes of fish cutlets that someone would send our way when we were dependent solely on the cooking of house helps.
I don't remember my mother making fish cutlets; hers were almost always beef or mixed vegetables or a combination of unripe plantain and cashews (an incredibly good one). So the earliest I remember of having had fish cutlets were from those sent to us by A Aunty (who also used to send us cut mango pickles in summer.) and then later a few times by S Aunty.
These are also one of the very few things that I used to cook while I was in college. Although a bit time consuming, they are indeed very good and goes well with rice. The recipe is quite forgiving and you can taste and adjust as you go – but you do have to remember a few things, especially if you will be starting with fresh mackerels as suggested. First and foremost, you have to make these when Mackerels are in season and taste good. If they are not good enough to fry or make into a curry, you definitely don’t want to make cutlets out of them. I find the taste and texture of out of season ones to be slightly off putting. Secondly, don’t mash the potatoes into a paste – doing so will make them gummy and it will ultimately change the texture of the cutlets. And lastly, make sure that you don’t leave any bones in the mix.

Fish Cutlets

Working with mackerels is not that easy. You have to remove all the bones carefully and the fish has a comparatively strong smell too. If you would rather choose an easier way, use a fish with fewer bones. Unfortunately, I have never weighed the meat after removing bones, but my best guess is that once the bones are removed from a 500 gm pack of Mackerels, the meat would approximately come to around 300 gms. A little more or less won't hurt as the patties are more or less forgiving.

Ingredients:

The Fish:
  1. Fresh Mackerels, cleaned – 500 gm.
  2. Crushed Ginger – 1 inch piece
  3. Garlic – 1/2 of a pod (Just slice across one pod and dump it in along with the fish. You will be removing it later.)
  4. Turmeric Powder – 1/4 tsp.
  5. Curry Leaves – 1 Sprig
  6. Water – Just enough to cook the fish – Approximately 1/4 cup will do.
  7. Salt
For making the Cutlets:
  1. Onions, finely chopped – 1 cup
  2. Potatoes, cooked and crumbled – About 1 and a 1/2 to 2 cups (Do not mash them into a smooth paste. Just finely crumble at this stage. See Notes.)
  3. Green Chillies, finely chopped – 2 (Remove seeds if needed.)
  4. Ginger, grated – 1 loosely packed tbsp.
  5. Garlic, minced - 1 loosely packed tbsp.
  6. Pepper Powder, freshly cracked – 1/2 tsp.
  7. Homemade Meat Masala Powder/Garam Masala Powder – 1/2 tsp., plus more to taste.
  8. Curry Leaves, finely chopped – About 1 tbsp.
  9. Salt
  10. Coconut Oil
For Draping the Cutlets:
  1. Egg, beaten – 1 large (You might need more.)
  2. Bread Crumbs – About 1 cup (You might not use all; You might need more; depending on how you are coating the patties.)
For Frying the Cutlets:
  1. Oil – Just enough to pan fry. (You don’t need to deep fry them.)
Directions:

The Fish:

Cook the fish along with all the ingredients listed under ‘The Fish’. As there is just enough water to steam cook the fish, do check once in a while and make sure that the fish is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add more water if needed.

Once the fish is cooked, switch off the heat and leave it to cool. Once cold, discard everything except the fish and any leftover stock. Carefully remove all the bones from the fishes and gently crumble the pieces. Keep aside.

Making the Cutlets:

Heat up a pan and add some oil. Sauté onions along with green chillies, curry leaves, ginger and garlic. If you are using the stock, you can add it to the pan once the onions turn translucent and reduce till the mix is barely wet. This will amplify the flavour of the cutlets. However, it is fine if you don’t want to do this.

Now add the flaked fish as well the mashed potatoes. You might need to adjust the quantity of potatoes so that the patties will come together. Mix well and keep the mixture on the heat for a couple of minutes. (Make sure that you are not turning the mix into a mash. Mix well enough, but gently. It is better to have flecks of fish and a few small of lumps of potato throughout rather than turning the whole thing into a homogeneous mash. That said, the potatoes must be able to hold the patties together.) Taste and adjust salt and spices if needed.

Allow the mixture to cool.

Shaping and Draping the Cutlets:

After the mixture has cooled down, you can use some sort of a measure to divide it into equal parts (I use a 1/8 cup to measure.) Roll them into balls with the palm of your hand and then flatten them into disks. If the mixture feels too difficult to handle (if you had properly dried out the mix on the pan, it shouldn’t really be tough to handle), keep it covered in the refrigerator for an hour or so and then shape. Coat each cutlet first with the egg and then immediately with the breadcrumbs. Fry as many as you want (No need to deep fry.) and keep the rest frozen in a container. (As you stack the cutlets in the container, make sure that you leave a parchment paper between rows so that they won’t stick to each other. To use the frozen ones, let them thaw in the fridge or on the counter top and then fry.
Serve with rice or with a dip.

Notes:
  1. You can add roasted and chopped Cashew Nuts into the mix for cutlets.
  2. You can also add a few leaves of coriander (finely chopped) into the mix when you add the fish and potatoes if you prefer.
  3. Finally, I have something up here from the old blog! This is a post back from 2012.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Colour Me Green!


PS: I am not reviving the old blog challenge. It just struck me as a suitable title for this bunch of raw bananas.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Couscous with Aubergines and Summer Savory


"
Hot Lauender, Mints, Sauory, Mariorum,
The Mary-gold, that goes to bed with' Sun,
And with him rises, weeping:
"
[A more modern rendition:

Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun,
and with him rise weeping.]


William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale, Act 4, Scene 4.
I get pesticide free vegetables home delivered once a week. While the farm doesn't produce all things I need in the kitchen, they do have a commendable array of herbs and greens that I like trying out once in a while.

I normally make some plans ahead as most of their herbs are on the pricier side and at least a part of them would go to waste if I am not careful enough - I should probably request them to consider selling a mixed bag of herbs. The Summer Savory however was bought mostly on a whim (and partly because I like saying ‘Summer Savory’ - slightly weird, I know.) Some of it did wilt and wither owing to my procrastination, but I was able to use most of the bunch. This Aubergine specked couscous was one of the first dishes that it went to, others being meatballs and a couple of dipping sauces.
Talking about this dish, I have to admit one thing. There was a time when I used to loathe Aubergines. How anyone could like Aubergines was beyond my imagination, though I did have a faint memory of the slender ones that used to come from my Mother's kitchen garden not being that repulsive. But as it turns out, I just was getting the wrong type. I normally buy the Japanese Nasu Violets these days from my produce people though I have used the larger Bottle Egg Plants from them here (which were also very good and not bitter at all, just like the Nasu Violets).

Confession time: This type of dishes rarely gets any applause here. So they make their way to the dinner table either when I have other leftovers for The Techie or when I am in a benevolent enough disposition to prepare dinner two ways. On the plus side, meals like this take about fifteen minutes from start to finish and half of that is waiting time. So there is that.

Couscous with Aubergine and Summer Savory 

As I mentioned above, I first made the dish mainly to utilize my stock of Summer Savory. I have since then made it without any herbs and even using pasta sauce when I ran out of tomato paste. (See Notes.)

Ingredients:

For the Aubergines:
  1. Aubergines, sliced into arcs - About 1 to 1 and a 1/2 cups. (Or leave them in rounds and cut them after frying them.)
  2. Salt
  3. Olive/A neutral tasting Oil
For the Couscous:
  1. Garlic, minced - 1 large clove
  2. Red Onion, sliced - 1/2 cup
  3. Tomato Paste - 1 generous tbsp. (I use mine, which is very thick. Use twice or thrice the amount if what you have is of a thinner consistency. Also see Notes.)
  4. Red Chilli Flakes - 1/2 tsp. (Optional)
  5. Couscous - 1 cup
  6. Vegetable Stock/Water - 1 cup
  7. Summer Savory, chopped - 2 tbsp., divided (More or less to taste. See Notes.)
Directions:

For the Aubergines:

You can use the same pot/pan for cooking the entire dish if it is a suitable one to saute as well as boil liquids. (However, if you want to get the meal done quicker, use separate pans for the aubergines and couscous and do them side by side.)

Lightly sprinkle the aubergines with some salt and toss well.

Heat up a pan and add some oil. Place the slices of aubergines on the hot pan and flip when one side gets done. (Remember that Aubergines are great oil drinkers. They will absorb as much oil as you put in and you need to add only enough oil to keep the slices from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Your basic intention here should be to just cook the aubergines and not to get a uniform tan on them.) Once done, keep them aside.

For the Couscous:

Either continue with the same pan or heat up a new one. Add some oil and toss the minced garlic into it. Let it sizzle. Once it smells good, add the sliced onions and saute till they turn translucent. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine.

Now add the liquid and bring to a boil. Switch off the heat, add the couscous, chilli flakes (if using) and about half of the chopped Summer Savory. Stir and close with a fairly heavy lid.

Let the mix rest for ten minutes, during which the couscous will get cooked. Open the lid, stir everything well (breaking any lumps by gently pressing with the back of a spoon) and mix in the aubergines and the rest of the herb (taste and adjust).
Serve with grilled meats or along with vegetarian options.

Notes:
  1. Please do note that Summer Savory tends to vary in sharpness. So taste and go while you are preparing the dish.
  2. You can even use pasta sauce in place of tomato paste. Use about a quarter of a cup and slightly reduce it before adding the stock/water.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Finally, it Rained!


Finally, it rained.

As I went to pick the clothes from the line, I moved as slowly as I could possibly do to soak in as much of the moment as possible. April was merciless with no rain at all and the temperatures had soared almost to forty. It was the worst summer since we had come here (and to think, there really was no great summer here, other than a mild rise in temperatures in March and April, till a few years back!)

It was hard to cook, let alone shoot or write and I let the season pass. Besides, the newspaper photos of the scorched, draught ridden areas from other states were disheartening. Most reports carried the faces - some hopeful and others a mere blank - of farmers fleeing their dried up lands in search of more promising prospects of labour work in cities.

What would you do without water.
What would you do if rain stops falling one year,
And the once rich ground beneath cries out 'no more!',
sheds the last drop of its life blood and lay parched.
What if there is no more water in pipes and reservoirs
And your animals and plants shrivel up and die?
What if there is no more water?

Notes:
  1. I am sorry about the dates. A few of these posts were drafted months before and some of them won't make any sense at all (this post for instance) at this time of the year. So I am just putting the final touches and publishing with the dates intact.  
  2. The photo is an old one taken at home.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Za'atar Spiced Quinoa with Sauteed Carrots and Pine Nuts


"
The range of ingredients available to home cooks has expanded dramatically. People are incorporating herbs and spices like lemon grass, smoked Mexican chile, sumac, and za'atar mix.
"
Yotam Ottolenghi

For a long time, I was not that terribly excited about Quinoa. Having a seed for a meal (and a tail sprouting one at that) didn't sound much appealing. I was sure I would hate it and held on to my unreasonable prejudice with a bull like perseverance for years. Though I was stirred enough by the half price sale tag on the store shelf to buy a box some time ago (after all, it is expensive and one shouldn't let a deal like that pass by!), that impulsive spark of interest died a quick death, almost as soon as I lugged it home. The box with the impersonal seeds was pushed to a far unseen corner of a top shelf and conveniently forgotten.

A few months later, mostly prompted by the silent judgemental stare of the still sealed pack and the fast approaching 'use by' date, I prepared it and found that I liked the weird seeds after all. Now, I almost always have a small stash of Quinoa in the pantry. 

"

My pantry is always changing, gradually, along with my taste, from season to season and from year to year: This evolution is what makes it distinctively mine.
"

Za'atar Spiced Quinoa with Sauteed Carrots and Pine Nuts

This is a recipe from the drafts and has been residing there for some time. It is simple and can be put together in a short time. I find the sourness of Sumac in Za'atar enough to balance the dish – you can however, add a touch of lime or lemon juice if needed at the end.

I'm sure most of you know that Za'atar is a Middle Eastern spice blend which is basically a blend of Dried Thyme, Sesame Seed, Sumac and Salt. The ingredients can vary a bit - My store bought version has Sumac, Sesame Seeds, Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme and Sea Salt. (You can easily make the mix on your own.)
Serves 3 to 4

Ingredients:

For the Quinoa:

  1. Quinoa - 1 cup
  2. Vegetable Stock/Water - 2 cups (See Notes.)
  3. Za'atar (Blend) - 1 and a 1/2 to 2 tbsp or to taste.
  4. Garlic, finely chopped - A scant tbsp. (Optional.)
  5. Olive Oil
  6. Salt - Only if needed.
For the Carrots:
  1. Carrots, thinly sliced - 2 cups
  2. Salt - A Pinch
  3. Olive Oil
To Finish:
  1. Pine Nuts - 5 to 6 tbsp.
  2. Parsley, chopped - 3 tbsp. or to taste.
Directions:

For the Quinoa:

First, you need to wash the quinoa very well. I put them in a fine meshed strainer (so the seeds won't escape), place the strainer on top of a bowl (just in case) and wash them in running water. While the water is running, I also rub the seeds with my fingers. It is important that you wash the seeds well or else they will taste bitter.

Once washed, allow them to drain well.

Heat up a pan and add some olive oil. Add the garlic (if using) and saute till it smells good. Now add the drained quinoa and toast it for a few minutes. Now add the vegetable broth or water and bring to a boil. Add a bit of salt as well if you are using water. But keep in mind that the Za'atar mix will have some salt. Cover with a tight fitting, heavy lid and cook till done - about 15 to 20 minutes.

Once the quinoa is cooked to your liking, check if there is any leftover cooking liquid. (I rarely have it.) If so, drain it and then add the za'atar. Fluff everything with a fork. Keep covered and let stand for about 15 to 30 minutes.

For the Carrots:

Meanwhile, add heat up a pan to saute the carrots. Add some oil and the sliced carrots along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring once in a while till the carrots are done to your liking.

You can alternatively roast the carrots in an oven. But keep an eye on them so that they won't burn, especially if you have sliced them fine.

To Finish:

If the pine nuts are not already toasted, toast them first. Heat up a pan and add the pine nuts. Toast them till they turn golden, stirring frequently.

Mix the quinoa, carrots, pine nuts and and chopped parsley together. Check for seasoning. Add more za'atar if needed.
Serve with Grilled Meats/Meatballs and (optionally) Pickled Onions. 

Notes:
  1. My instructions on my box of Quinoa tells to add about 1 and 3/4 cup of liquid for every cup of Quinoa to cook it. I personally find that this leaves the seeds a but too undone for my taste. I like mine well cooked. So feel free to experiment, especially if you have never cooked the seeds before.
  2. It is important that you leave the cooked Quinoa to rest for a while before serving.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Mr. Fish's Reveries


Mr. Fish was floating, basking in the glorious sun. It was a nice time of the day; early enough to catch the soothing warmth of the late morning sun, but not too late into the day for it to be too uncomfortable on the surface. One must get some sunshine, Mr. Fish has always said. The waters are pretty shadowed on most parts of the stream and it is cold and gloomy even at noon. That makes it necessary to come to the open spaces to catch the sun.

It was almost still, except for the occasional, gentle swaying caused by the ripples that a fallen leaf or another life in the stream brought about. Normally, the banks would be deserted at this time of the day, though (to Mr' Fish's dismay) today, there was that rather weak headed fluff ball of a dog and a bespectacled girl pottering on the steps that led to the channel.

He didn't mind the girl much. After all, she used to live in the old house that is right across and was generally better behaved, barring a deplorable habit of throwing stones into the water to see the ripples. Such a silly thing to do, but one can't have serenity all the time. It was the dog that worried Mr. Fish more. There was no telling when she would jump into the water and thrash about. Mr. Fish wanted to tell the dog that no one should expect to wear a fur coat and be comfortable in summer. And even if the fluff ball wanted to take a bath, it was beyond Mr. Fish's imagination why it cannot be done in a gentle manner. All this unladylike thrashing and whirling! It turned the waters murky. And it irritated Mr. Fish when the water turned murky.

It was all very calm and quiet still. Mr. Fish sighed and slipped into deeper reveries.

They have stopped cleaning up the channel now. It used to be a huge exercise back in the days. Workers removing water by a rope and drum arrangement, catching fish, clearing the stream bed, digging...People watching, excited...A noisy affair altogether. Moreover, there was always a chance of getting thrown into the land and dying a sad death or worse still, ending up in a glass jar. What a horrifying fate it would be! To be stared at and annoyed all the time... And they might feed you rice too. Blech! Why the humans cannot go and hunt some mosquitoes or some tiny creatures was beyond the fish's imagination. But all that is beside the point. The contingency, as they say, has ceased to exist. The downside was that the leaves that fell into the stream, which has long since become stagnant as the water way was blocked in some side, stayed there and rotted. It was fine as long as no one disturbed the waters. Unfortunately it is exactly what the resident fluff head does as did various dwellers of the kennel in the past.

Thrashes the water about! Mr. Fish was indignant even at the thought of this atrocity.

The sudden thrust of a white paw and the plop of a stone that fell too close for comfort roused Mr. Fish.

In a flash, he took a plunge into the deep.

There is always tomorrow.

Notes:
  1. This bronze bodied fish called Tiger Panchax (which goes by the name of 'Poonjan' where I come from) is stream/river/well water fish and can survive in fresh water and brackish environments. 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry



I tell a student that the most important class you can take is technique. A great chef is first a great technician. 'If you are a jeweller, or a surgeon or a cook, you have to know the trade in your hand. You have to learn the process. You learn it through endless repetition until it belongs to you. 
"
Jacques Pepin

Endless repetition!

Everyday cooking can become one – at least in some sense of the term I think. While we all experiment, there are some things that get repeated over and over again. Or rather, we hold on to and fine tune some basic techniques that get more or less ingrained in us.
For instance, there is a fixed combination of ingredients that I use whenever I want to make a curry. Onions, tomatoes, ginger and garlic paste, ground red chilli, coriander and turmeric, some meat masala powder and some curry leaves. The proportions might change; I might play around with some additional spices. There might be a splash of coconut milk. Or a tadka. Still, there is an underlying repetition – one of familiar comfort, based on my Kerala roots that I go back to over and over again.
Unless of course, I force myself to take a deviation and do something different like a North Indian gravy (something I cannot, I must confess, live on every day. I like my coconuts and my set combination of South Indian spices. There, I said it!). Or like in the present case, when bottles containing some of my spice mixes roll their eyes at me and remind me of when I used them last.

I have used this Coriander and Cumin Powder as well as Bengali Garam Masala in the curry, both of which are leftovers from my affair with Kosha Mangsho (Slow Cooked Bengali Lamb Roast). While I had used them afterwards in some dishes, they are not obviously my regular choice for gravies. Both of these make the curry take a different turn from my familiar routes, but the coconut milk (as well as the basic technique) still makes it sufficiently homey.

Butternut Squash, Chickpea and Spinach Curry 

I had a few butternut squashes with me that were on the miniature side. (They were about a 100 gm each. My produce people assured me this is usual for a butternut squash – may be because they are pesticide and inorganic fertilizer free.) The squashes were not enough to make a soup or something else on their own, which is why I settled on a mixed curry.

Also, I wanted the curry to be something mild and creamy and so have made this purposely low on spices. That, along with the sweetness from the coconut milk and butternut squash makes it a good alternative to pour over rice or couscous.
Serves 3 to 4

Ingredients: 
  1. Butternut Squash, seeds removed and cut into small cubes - 2 cups
  2. Chickpeas, boiled (or from a can) and drained - 1 and a 1/2 to 2 cups (If boiled, reserve the boiling water and use in the curry instead of water. Rinse and drain, if you are using canned chickpeas.)
  3. Baby Spinach - 2 cups, somewhat packed
  4. Onion, sliced - 1 cup
  5. Tomatoes, diced - 2/3 cup
  6. Ginger Garlic Paste - 1 generous tsp.
  7. Coriander and Cumin Powder - 2 tsp. (Or use 1 and 1/4 tsp. of ground Coriander and 3/4 tsp of Ground Cumin. You can change the ratio if you want to use less cumin.)
  8. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder - 1 and a 1/2 tsp.
  9. Turmeric Powder - 1/4 tsp.
  10. Garam Masala - 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. (I used a combination of this Garam Masala and this Homemade Meat Masala Powder. See Notes.)
  11. Thick Coconut Milk - 1/2 cup
  12. Coriander Leaves - A few (chopped) to garnish (Optional.)
  13. Salt
  14. Water - About 2 cups (Start with 1 cup and add more as needed.)
  15. Coconut Oil or a Neutral Tasting Oil
Directions:

Heat up a pan and add some oil. Tip in the onions and saute till they turn a light brown. Now add the ginger garlic paste and saute till the raw smell goes. Add coriander and cumin powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder and turmeric powder. Stir around for a minute, taking care not to burn the powders.

Now add the tomatoes and cook till they get well blended with everything else. Add the diced butternut squash, salt and a cup of water. Cook covered till the squash is done, but not falling to pieces. Check at intervals, stir and add more water as needed.

Now add the chickpeas and let it cook in the gravy for a couple of minutes at least. Add the spinach and let them wilt. Finally, add the coconut milk and switch off when it begins to simmer. Add the Meat Masala Powder and/or Garam Masala. Check for seasoning and adjust. Add more Garam Masala if needed.
Garnish with coriander leaves if you are using them. You can optionally add a touch of lime juice as well or serve the curry with a wedge of lime on the side, especially if the tomatoes were not at all sour.

Serve as a side with Couscous, Quinoa or Rice.

Notes:
  1. You can use a Garam Masala of your choice. Adjust the quantity to taste.
  2. If you are not using the Homemade Meat Masala, it would be good if you can add a little bit of powdered fennel.
  3. I retained the skin of the squash as they cook very well. However, you can remove them if you like.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The Spice Rack: Coriander Seeds


"
The house of Israel named the substance manna. It resembled coriander seed, was white, and tasted like wafers [made] with honey.
"
Exodus 16:31, CSB

Slightly reminiscent of the flavour profile of Sage, Coriander is one of the most commonly used spices in Indian Cuisine. The seeds are normally used crushed or powdered in dishes. They keep well in their ground form when stored in sir tight containers although like other spices, lose their potency and might form small, loosely held together clumps over time (especially if exposed to air). The seeds are usually dry roasted or sun dried before powdering.

Notes:
  1. The coriander plant is a small bushy herb and the each of its globular fruits is actually composed of two halves, each having a seed. (You can probably notice that in the second shot.)

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Ginger Sekanjabin: An Ancient Persian Drink


"
'Heat, ma'am!' I said; 'it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.
"

Well, it might as well have been me who said this. The heat is rising and some days are just plain intolerable. Anything cold is welcome. In fact, anything flowing is welcome.

So I guess a few drinks are in order and this Sekanjabin is a good start.
But before we go on, this quote by Rev. Sydney Smith (who was an English Clergyman and writer, known for his wit and humour) is part of a section in Lady Holland's Book where he was commenting on 'the want of perception of a joke in some minds'. Apparently, Mrs. Jackson called on him to talk about the oppressive heat of the past week and that was when Rev. Smith, in a jocular vein, is quoted as having made the statement to her. The rest of it is quite funny as well.

"
'Take off your flesh and sit in your bones, Sir! Oh, Mr. Smith! How could you do that?' she exclaimed, with the utmost gravity. 'Nothing more easy, Ma'am; come and see next time.' But she ordered her carriage, and evidently thought it a very unorthodox proceeding.
"
Sydney Smith, 
Memoir of the Rev. Sydney Smith: By his Daughter, Lady Holland, 
with a Selection from his Letters, Volume I 


I hope that brought a laugh in the midst of this dreadful weather.
The Sekanjabin is an ancient Persian drink and is said to have healing properties. The base recipe consists of just Sugar and Vinegar. The original recipe for the Syrup of Simple Sikanjabîn (Vinegar Syrup) can be found in an ancient Andalusian Cookbook, which is commonly titled as The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook today. (This was a collection of recipes (some of which in turn were copied from earlier collections of the 1200's) compiled in the early 1400's by a Scribe - the name of whom perished along with the first page of the original compilation.
"
Take a ratl of strong vinegar and mix it with two ratls of sugar, and cook all this until it takes the form of a syrup.
"
(1 ratl is 468gm, roughly a pound.)
The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook from the 13th Century 
(Main translation by Charles Perry. The above version has Candida Martinelli's edits.)
I have a plan to try out the ancient recipe as such one day. But for a start, I thought a bit of flavouring wouldn't hurt. Ginger Sekanjabin is a slightly modern version of the basic recipe and as the title obviously suggests, is flavoured with ginger. A combination of strawberry, ginger and mint also seems to be a popular version.

I wasn't particularly apprehensive of the outcome of this recipe (though it has Vinegar in it) as we have a similar Ginger-Lime concoction that everyone makes back home. The Sekenjabin (also spelled Sikanjabin Skanjubin or Sekanjamin) is really good, though I am a bit partial to the Ginger-Lime Juice.
I have a confession to make. I took these photos with a wall in the background and there was a pipe running across it which is what you see as a mid gradient in these shots. I thought I will edit it in post. However, I decided to leave it as such as it seemed harmless. I cannot make up my mind if it was a good idea now!

Ginger Sekanjabin: An Ancient Persian Drink

I have kept the recipe almost as it appears in Umm Maryam's A Kitchen in Persia: Classical and Unique Persian Recipes (in terms of ingredients and general method).

I had made two quarter batches (one exactly like this and one with a slightly different flavour.). The recipe works well with quarter as well as half batches.
Serves 20 to 25

Ingredients:
  1. Sugar - 4 cups
  2. Ginger, minced - 1/2 cup
  3. Red or White Wine Vinegar - 1 cup (I used Red Wine Vinegar.)
  4. Water - 2 and a 1/2 cups
Directions:

Take the sugar and water together in a large saucepan and boil them over a high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the vinegar and minced ginger.

Allow the mixture to cool to room temperature. I like to leave it for an extra hour or two. Now, strain out the minced ginger with a fine sieve.

Store at room temperature in sterile bottles.
Serve cold with ice or at room temperature with a syrup to water ratio of 1:4 to 1:5. (You can also use sparkling water.)

Notes:
  1. You can garnish the drink with Mint Leaves or Rosemary.
  2. A dash of this goes well with green tea and some herbal teas.
  3. The syrup will keep at room temperature for months (provided you use a clean and dry bottle for storing it.)
  4. The Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook from the 13th Century is a free pdf and can be downloaded from Candida Martinelli's Italophile site.

Friday, 1 April 2016

The Spice Rack: Black Mustard Seeds


The final touch...

The flames were slowly tickling the hard exterior of the small black skillet, gently heating it up. It was time to put the finishing touch to the Pazha Manga Curry (Ripe Mangoes in a Coconut Gravy) and with that, lunch would be served. A generous bit of coconut oil was poured and a practised hand let spill the ingredients one by one. Mustard seeds crackled, sliced shallots gracefully browned, bits of dried chillies sizzled and curry leaves protested.

The intense smell of heated coconut oil coupled with that of the tempered ingredients wafted through the house, putting various people in action.

Some took it as a sign to carry plates and cutlery to the corridor in which the long dining table has been residing since long.

Curries were poured into serving bowls, Fish and Roasts were placed into serving platters and a house-help sent the brown speckled rice, which till then was put to drain in a seemingly precarious arrangement, cascading onto a wide rimmed plate.

The ones who were on a game of chess or playing cards slowly got up.

Those who had their heads bent, searching the newspaper for any small bits of news that might have been missed earlier took it as a good time to put a pause to the intense perusal.

The younger generation, who till then thought it was a pity to be inside the house when there was the water channel and row boat outside (and of course fishes, tortoises and various other thriving elements of nature) only needed a gentle prodding now.

One by one they all came and occupied a seat at the grandfather table.

Once again, for a time of togetherness...
Notes:
  1. Mustard Seeds can be of three different types - White (Yellow), Brown or Black (in the increasing order of their pungency.)
  2. Black Mustard Seeds are used in dishes across India. They are used more commonly for tempering than as a base flavour in dishes from Kerala unlike say, Bengali Cuisine which uses Mustard Seed Paste (Shorshe Bata) quite extensively in curries.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Chicken Meatballs with Chilli-Cumin Sauce, Yoghurt and Cucumber


Heat induced lethargy and a stretch of particularly unimaginative days kept me from blogging. What used to normally keep me from posting when I had my previous blogs were not ever having passable shots for my recipes. At this stage, I find that I have the shots, but not the words. The set ups might be repetitive - but, oh well! One tends to develop a sort of inertia in everything, whether it is just being plain inactive, going at the same momentum or as in this case, making do with the same setting over and over again. I say this because a few more posts will have this blue board and wooden plank featured. After which I hope both will disintegrate by themselves or else there is a chance I will use them again.
While we are talking photography, this post is a painful reminder of how strenuous shooting a recipe can become, or rather how one can manage to transform photographing a seemingly uncomplicated (to shoot) recipe into a tiresome job. I had cooked and shot these meatballs a week ago. Despite feeling that something or the other was not working, I didn't pause my frantic dance to catch the fading sun. However, when I opened them for editing, it was only to find that the cucumber slices looked very odd the way they were placed. That is to say, odder than what you see here! I had to trash the whole set (except for the fourth shot in this post, which is a lone survivor from the first attempt.) and decided to re shoot - all for the sake of a few scattered pieces of cucumber. You might think this is taking it to extreme especially since I shoot with a toy camera. But I do re shoot often - in fact more often than I would care to admit.

"
If you fell down yesterday,
stand up today.
"
H.G. Wells, The Anatomy of Frustration

With that, we will skip to matters more pressing. For all its long list of ingredients and directions, this recipe is actually easy. You can make the Chilli-Cumin Sauce at least two days ahead. I have tried making the meat balls a day ahead (reheated when needed) and that is fine too. All that will remain is just a few minutes of work with the cucumbers, yoghurt and garnish.

Chicken Meatballs with Chilli-Cumin Sauce, Yoghurt and Cucumber

Adapted from Seamus Mullen via Bon Appetit.

The original recipe uses lamb. I opted for chicken as we buy lamb only once in a while. That said, the spices and herbs used in the recipe - cumin, coriander, fennel, sage, oregano and parsley - will go exceedingly well with lamb (especially the first four of the set) - so making it with lamb is a really good option.

I have altered the recipe a bit - the adaptation of meat balls is limited to slightly upping the spices and herbs and adding breadcrumbs to account for the use of chicken mince.

The Chilli-Cumin Sauce is altered much more, the primary change being using dried and crushed Pasilla Chillies (instead of fresh ones) and adding a touch of honey/brown sugar. I have also simplified the process of bringing the sauce together by using alternate ingredients.

I have noted these changes more specifically in the notes as well as how you can proceed with lamb mince (You can, of course, look into the original recipe.)

The recipe makes about 25 meat balls with 1 and a 1/2 tbsp measure.
Serves 4 to 5

Ingredients:

Meatballs:
  1. Chicken, boneless - 500 gm (Partly frozen works better for mincing without turning the chicken into a paste. But use what you have.)
  2. Onion, finely chopped - A scant 1/2 cup
  3. Garlic cloves, finely chopped - 1 tbsp.
  4. Green Chilli, seeds removed and chopped - 1 (Optional.)
  5. Fresh Parsley, chopped - 1 tbsp. 
  6. Fresh Oregano, chopped - 1 tsp. (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
  7. Fresh Sage, chopped - 1 tsp. (or 1/2 teaspoon of dried)
  8. Ground Fennel Seeds - 1/2 tsp. (See Notes.)
  9. Ground Coriander and Cumin Powder - 2 and a 1/2 tsp (I had this already made and so used it. You can alternatively use 1 and a 1/2 tsp. of Ground Coriander and 1 tsp. of Ground Cumin.) 
  10. Breadcrumbs - About 1/2 cup
  11. Egg, beaten - 1
  12. Salt - To Taste.
  13. Olive oil (Or a neutral tasting oil) - To fry
Chilli-Cumin Sauce:
  1. Dried and Crushed Pasilla Chillies - 1 tsp. (The original recipe uses 3 fresh Pasilla Chillies, seeds removed and chopped)
  2. Crushed Red Pepper Flakes - 1 and a 1/2 tsp.
  3. Cumin Seeds - 1 tbsp. (I have a stash of Roasted and Ground Cumin Powder always in the kitchen. So I used a scant tablespoon of that. I have noted how to start from dried cumin seeds in the Directions.)
  4. Red Wine Vinegar/ Sherry Vinegar - 1/4 cup
  5. Sweet Paprika - 1 tbsp. 
  6. Garlic Clove, minced - 1
  7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1/2 cup 
  8. Brown Sugar/Honey - 1 scant tsp. (Optional. Not in the original recipe.)
  9. Salt
Marinated Cucumbers:
  1. English Hothouse Cucumber, sliced into half moons - 2 cups
  2. Lime Juice - 1 tbsp.
  3. Red Pepper Flakes - 1/2 tsp.
  4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 1 tbsp.
  5. Salt 
Yoghurt:
  1. Yoghurt - 1/2 cup
  2. Salt - A pinch (Optional)
Garnish:
  1. Mint Leaves, chopped - 2 to 4 tbsp., depending on how you like it. 
  2. Parsley - A few Leaves.
Directions:

Meatballs:
Place the chicken along with onion, garlic, green chilli, parsley, sage, oregano, coriander, cumin and salt in a grinder and pulse a few times. Open the lid in between and scrape the sides as needed. Do not grind, lest you make a paste out of the mix. It is fine if a few small pieces of chicken remain not minced. All this said, it will be okay even if you accidentally let the grinder run and the mix turns somewhat to a paste.

Once done, add the egg and the bread crumbs to this mixture and mix well. Keep in the refrigerator for half an hour (optional) and make into balls (each with 1 and a 1/2 tbsp. of the mixture.)

Heat up a pan (preferably cast iron) and add 2 tbsp. oil to it. Fry the meat balls in two batches, turning occasionally and adding more oil if needed; until browned on all sides and cooked through. (Take care not to overcook if you had used chicken breasts.) Drain onto paper towels once done.

Chilli-Cumin Sauce:
If you are starting with cumin seeds (rather than roasted cumin powder), you need to roast and grind them first. (Otherwise, skip to the second paragraph.) Heap up a pan and add the cumin seeds. If you are using fresh Pasilla Chillies, add them as well. Dry roast them until the cumin seeds turn fragrant and darker. Transfer to a plate and allow to cool once done. Run this mix through a spice mill (along with the chilli flakes if you like to powder that as well) to finely grind and transfer to a bowl.

Combine everything except the oil and mix well with a fork. Add the oil in a slow drizzle, whisking constantly until incorporated. Transfer to a large bowl.

(You can do this in a blender. First combine everything except oil in the blender until smooth. Add the oil in a slow steady stream with the motor running and blend until combined.)

Marinated Cucumbers:

Combine everything under 'The Marinated Cucumbers' well and keep aside.

Yoghurt:

If your yoghurt is smooth, and you are not using salt, just set it aside in a bowl. If you are using salt, (or the yoghurt is lumpy) add it to the yoghurt and whisk till smooth.

Assembly:

Transfer the meatballs to the bowl containing Chilli-Cumin Sauce and toss to coat. 

Spoon the yoghurt into bowls. Divide meatballs among bowls, place the dressed cucumber slices and garnish with mint and parsley.
Serve with Quinoa or Flat breads.

Notes:
  1. I normally have ground fennel at hand and so used that in this recipe. If you don't have it already made, dry roast about three quarters of a teaspoon of fennel seeds and then power them either using a mortar and pestle or a spice mill. 
  2. If you want to try the recipe with lamb mince avoid putting the lamb mince along with onion etc. in the first step. (In fact, you can skip the blender altogether and just mix with your hands if everything is quite finely chopped already.) Also, omit the bread crumbs and add a tablespoon of flour instead. Rest of the process is the same. 
  3. The Chilli-Cumin Sauce is tangy with all that Red Wine Vinegar - but it will not be overpowering when you mix the meatballs into it.
  4. I used dried and crushed Pasilla Chillies for the sauce as I couldn't find fresh ones here. 
  5. The original recipe uses Smoked Sweet Paprika. I didn't have the smoked version and used Sweet Paprika.
  6. Though the recipe contains oregano and sage, these meatballs can be made into a simple curry with coconut milk. (I tried it with half of the lot the first time and it came out well.)
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