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.)

Monday, 28 March 2016

Ah, Summer!


"
Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.
"

Russell Baker

Sometimes, I like you summer.
Not for the merciless tyrant you have become over the years -
but for those years past when you were more compassionate,
When the season was remembered more for its bounties than for its plain oppressive heat,
and warmer months just meant the ever welcoming hands of our grandparents were nearer.
When you were a mere prelude to - the delightful feel of new books and brown paper rolls,
the many walks across the town with our mother and of course, the spirited monsoon rains.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Chicken Lollipops


A Song to the Months

January, the sovereign of new beginnings,
Winter has still you clutched in its hands.
Fairer of months you are, frail February!
I see you pass with a melancholic glance.

March on March, your tenderness feigned,
A wicked snare beneath your sunny veil.
April! You scorch, you stab, you pierce -
The relentless heat of summer steadfast.

O to have weather that seethes no longer,
And the kinder warmth of mellowed May!
How anxiously anticipated you are, June
Your harshest downpours affably cheered.
July, O July! Your sorrows are my delight
Gentler you showers, a welcome respite!
August are your days August, befittingly;
You pass over with panache and dignity.

I will dance joyfully with you September,
Your charm reminiscent of days of spring.
Chaotic October, You know not whether -
to drizzle, to thunder or to just be grouchy

November you bestow produce abundant;
So cordial, so gentle and poised, you are!
Bleak, ruthless, dispassionate December,
One after the other, you slay all the years!
The weather has turned harsher and I just couldn't write anything except the set of the ragged lines above last night when I sat down to write this post. The more I'm reading, the less I'm liking it, I hope I didn't frighten you all away.

PS: The seasons are depicted as they parade where I live and will quite obviously be at variance with other regions.

Chicken Lollipops

This is a mild version of Chicken Lollipops. (The Chicken 65 like version has an entirely different marinade.) I get the chicken wings prepared this way from the store and find it easier to use that. You can of course, make Lollipops starting from the wings. (Cut each wing into three – that is, drumette, wingette and tip. Discard the tip. For the drumette, start with cutting through the meat at the thinner end with a small, sharp knife. Push the meat down (scraping if necessary with the small knife) towards the other end. Finish by pulling the meat over that end; taking care not to detach the meat altogether from the bone. The wingette can be done the same way – but you have to pull the smaller bone out first– pull it from the side at which the tip was attached and then push the meat towards the other end.) – It is a bit time consuming, though doable task.
(Serves 2 to 4)

Ingredients:
  1. Chicken Lollipops - 1/2 kg. I had 16 pieces.
  2. Garlic Paste - 3/4 tbsp.
  3. Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder – 2 heaped to 3 tsp.
  4. Black Pepper Powder - 1/2 to 1 tsp.
  5. Dark Soy Sauce - 3/4 tbsp. 
  6. Tomato Sauce - 3/4 tbsp.
  7. Red Chilli Sauce - 1 tsp.
  8. All Purpose Flour - 2 tbsp.
  9. Corn Starch - 2 tbsp.
  10. Salt - As needed
  11. Oil - To fry
Directions:

Marinate the lollipops with Garlic Paste, Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder, Black Pepper Powder, Dark Soy Sauce, Tomato Sauce, Red Chilli Sauce and a little salt. Keep aside for half an hour to a couple of hours in the refrigerator.

Once marinated, take out the lollipops and add the flours. Mix very well. (There should be no dry flour left.)

To fry the lollipops, heat up some oil in a pan. Once the oil gets sufficiently hot, carefully drop the pieces one by one. (Test by dropping a small bit of the marinade into the oil - It should begin to sizzle immediately. However, if it browns in a flash, the oil is too hot.) Fry over a medium-low heat till they get done and browned, but not burnt on the outside – about 7 to 8 minutes. (If the temperature of the oil is too hot, the outside will brown quickly and the meat will not cook properly.)
Drain off excess oil and serve immediately on its own or a sauce of your choice. (A lighter/thinner Soy-Chilli sauce would be better than the one in the shots. I used this one as I had it already on hand.)

Notes:
  1. You can add a teaspoon of ginger paste to the marinade - but I like the version without it.
  2. I find the sourness from the sauces enough for this recipe - but you can add a teaspoon of natural vinegar if needed. If you are using store bought tomato sauce and chilli sauce, you will hardly need the added vinegar as they have enough vinegar or other sour elements in them.
  3. Depending on how you used the pepper and chilli powders - there will be a mild sweetness from the caramelization of sugars involved in the sauces. If you would rather have the sweetness masked, add the ginger and use the higher ends for chilli and pepper powders. You can also take a mix of a hotter chilli powder and Kashmiri chilli powder if you want it spicy, I suppose. 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

An Old World Clock


"
I groped my way into the Turret which it occupies, and saw before me, in a kind of loft, what seemed to be a great, old oaken press with folding doors. These being thrown back by the attendant (who was sleeping when I came upon him, and looked a drowsy fellow, as though his close companionship with Time had made him quite indifferent to it), disclosed a complicated crowd of wheels and chains in iron and brass, — great, sturdy, rattling engines, — suggestive of breaking a finger put in here or there, and grinding the bone to powder, — and these were the Clock!  
Its very pulse, if I may use the word, was like no other clock. It did not mark the flight of every moment with a gentle second stroke, as though it would check old Time, and have him stay his pace in pity, but measured it with one sledge-hammer beat, as if its business were to crush the seconds as they came trooping on, and remorselessly to clear a path before the Day of Judgement.
"
Charles Dickens, Chapter 6, Master Humphrey's Clock.
In the early twentieth century there lived a man who went about reclaiming land from the Vembanad Lake, inventing propelling mechanisms and building clock towers.

All it remains of the clock tower that we had at home is a pen sketch of it by my mother and this brass plaque that was attached to it. (One had to climb the stairs to get to the winding mechanism that had to be wound every day.)
Notes:
  1. The shot has cut off the left hand side of the sketch which is why the tree is shown only half way up. I didn't notice the way the shots were cutting a portion of the sketch until I sat down to edit them months later - such a shame!
  2. The sketch seems slightly blotched in places as it is the photo of a framed picture and had some glares.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Coriander and Cumin Powder


"
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
"
Charles Dickens, Chapter LIV, Great Expectations

That is how it is with our rooms now. The dark and shady parts are cold and the ones exposed to direct sunlight are hot. Summer is yet to make its deadly clutch – at least inside our house, and I'm thankful for that.
Our older rented home was one that transformed itself to a furnace when February had barely passed, each year. Some of the windows were permanently stuck. Or rather, they were left closed for good as it was impossible to shut them properly if we pried them open at all. The house had humid spots as well in various rooms, surprisingly. None of this helped in abating the tormenting heat. It was as if the house didn't like being lived in and was doing its best to shove us out.

This is why I like our present home (it comes with its own set of handicaps – and most people can only see its faults) – it is reluctant to let go of winter and carries the last of the cold weather as long as it possibly can. (Of course, the winter here is more of a rather cold weather and not winter in its harshest sense.)
I had written a bare outline of this post a few days ago and it now seems funny. (The aftermath of procrastination.) Summer has officially arrived and the temperatures have gone up. 

"
Summer, as my friend (Samuel Taylor) Coleridge waggishly writes, has set in with its usual severity.
"
Charles Lamb’s letter to Vincent Novello (May 9, 1826)

However, our home is much on the amiable side still. The rooms have lost their winter hangover - but they are still bearable. 
Moreover, it is supposed to be roasting temperatures back at home. My Dad says it is impossible to take his walk in the evening and that he is contemplating getting up at five in the morning and doing it. 

So I still have nothing to complain.

Coriander and Cumin Powder

I made this for the Kosha Mangsho (Bengali Slow Cooked Mutton or Lamb Roast) sometime back and didn't have plans to publish this as a separate post. However, now that I have this mix at hand, I find myself using it in recipes and so thought it prudent to have a standalone post for the powder, rather than repeating the same steps in other recipe posts. 

Ingredients:
  1. Coriander Seeds - 1/4 cup
  2. Cumin Seeds - 1/8 to 1/4 cup (I use 1/8 cup. See Notes.)
Directions:

Heat up a pan and add the whole spices. Dry roast them till they are fragrant, but not burnt. 

Transfer the spices to a tray and spread them in a thin layer. Allow the spices to cool completely. Grind the mix to a fine powder and store in an airtight container.
Notes:
  1. As was mentioned above, the mix was made primarily for the Mangshor Kasha (Kosha Mangsho). I didn't make it with the same (1:1) proportion that was specified in the book as the one above is the ratio that I prefer. If you like a more prominent note of Cumin, you can make the powder with equal quantities of Cumin and Coriander and proceed as above. 
  2. You can make the powder just by mixing pre ground coriander and cumin in the same proportions. I would recommend making it from scratch through.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Light Unconquerable


"
All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.
"
Francis of Assissi

Monday, 7 March 2016

Couscous with Leeks and Yellow Cherry Tomatoes


I am a wide meshed sieve when it comes to remembering people's names and faces. It is as if my brain just skims through the essential details that get exchanged when one meets people for the first time and then dust them off. Needless to say, this lands me up in quite embarrassing situations. It is fine when we are back home as I normally will have someone or the other (like the Techie’s Mom) whom I can tactfully hide behind, unless it is one of those wily, insistent souls whose first question of ‘Do you know me’ (to which I would have said ‘Oh Yes, Of course!’) will always be followed by a heinous ‘Tell me who I am.’ 
Here of course, I don’t have much option other than to stare blankly at the face of those whom I must have met at least seven times before. There is a lady at church who talked to me for an hour when we met for the first time. I had to save her number as ‘HR’ (she was formerly working as an HRM) as her name totally escaped me; for two whole years. Afterwards, I lost her number.

I had to ask the Techie who it was when she and her husband met us a few months ago. (The Techie would of course remember everyone. The guy can point out other people’s childhood friends, even from a mile away. I have no idea how he does it.)
"
To forget is the great secret of strong creative natures; to forget is the way nature herself who knows no past and who at every hour begins the mysteries of her untiring labours afresh.
"
Honore de Balzac

Well there is that.

Although, I have a terrible suspicion that it is particularly vexing to those at the receiving end.

Couscous with Leeks and Yellow Cherry Tomatoes

This is another easy couscous recipe. (Remember, I have some ‘finish soon or trash’ boxes of various pantry staples – discovered on my cleaning and clearing spree.) I have made the dish vegetarian although you could easily toss some sautéed prawns into the dish when assembling it, rather than serving them on the side as suggested at the end. You can of course, use cherry tomatoes of any colour. I order in mine so I don't really have a choice on colours (and at times on quantity) and have to make do with whatever comes in the box.
(Serves 2)

Ingredients:

The Couscous

  1. Couscous - 1 cup
  2. Vegetable Stock - 1 cup
The Buttered Leeks:
  1. Leeks, cut in half and then sliced - 3/4 to 1 cup
  2. Black Pepper, freshly cracked - 1/4 tsp. or to taste.
  3. Butter - Just enough to sauté the leeks
  4. Salt
The Cherry Tomatoes
  1. Cherry Tomatoes - 1 cup
  2. Garlic, chopped - 2 tsp.
  3. Basil, chopped - 2 tsp.
  4. Salt
  5. Olive Oil
Directions:

The Couscous:


Place the couscous in a bowl. Bring the stock to a boil in a pan and add it to the bowl of couscous. Stir through and close the bowl with a lid. Allow to stand for ten minutes and then fluff with a fork.

The Buttered Leeks:

Heat up a pan and add some butter. When it melts, add the leeks, black pepper and salt to taste. Mix everything together and cook till the leeks are done. Stir once in a while.

The Cherry Tomatoes:

Heat up a pan and add some olive oil. Add the garlic and once it sizzles well and smells wonderful, add the cherry tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt. Stir to combine. After a while, the cherry tomatoes will start to burst (not violently though). I like to poke some and get some juices out – but it really is a personal choice. Once the tomatoes get done to your liking, add the basil, mix well and switch off the heat.
To Finish:

Just mix everything together. 

Serve with some garlic sautéed prawns or fish or on its own.

Note:
  1. If the cherry tomatoes are not that flavourful, you can add a dash of lemon juice or zest.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

A Well of Much Muchness


Do you remember the 'The Mad Tea Party' from Alice in Wonderland, where Dormouse, when pressed to tell a story makes up one about the three little sisters - Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie - who lived at the bottom of a treacle well? Apparently, they were learning to draw treacle from the well and the following portion is just too hilarious.

"   
Alice did not wish to offend the Dormouse again, so she began very cautiously: 'But I don't understand. Where did they draw the treacle from?' 
'You can draw water out of a water-well,' said the Hatter; `so I should think you could draw treacle out of a treacle-well - eh, stupid?' 
'But they were in the well,' Alice said to the Dormouse, not choosing to notice this last remark.
'Of course they were', said the Dormouse; ' - well in.' 
This answer so confused poor Alice, that she let the Dormouse go on for some time without interrupting it. 
'They were learning to draw,' the Dormouse went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; 'and they drew all manner of things - everything that begins with an M - ' 
'Why with an M?' said Alice. 
'Why not?' said the March Hare. 
The Dormouse had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Hatter, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: ' - that begins with an M, such as mouse-traps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness - you know you say things are "much of a muchness" - did you ever see such a thing as a drawing of a muchness?'
"
Lewis Carroll, Chapter VII: A Mad Tea Party, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Well, I have never seen a drawing of a muchness. Or have I? This photo in any case is one of muchness - a portion of a rather wide well back home.

Not a treacle well though.

Notes:
  1. For a long long time, we used to pump water from a pond in the grounds back home. As the water quality diminished over time, a well was dug. The wells in those parts need to be wide rather than deep if one needs to store a reasonable quantity of water, owing to the soil structure of the land.
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