Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Thai Red Chicken and Bamboo Curry

Imagine you are married to this handsome young man for the past 18 years.  Not that he is young and handsome any more, but nonetheless, still the love of your life.  The paunch he has with the loads of beer he drinks every evening with his pals is huge, but you still love the way his eyes twinkle every time he smiles at you.  And then imagine one evening he gets home and informs you that the marriage is not working and he has met someone else and would like a divorce.  The tears you shed asking him to stay, to help you work this through, to think about the children if nothing else and the love you shared once.  All your pleas fall to deaf ears.  He packs his bags, wishes you well and off he goes in search of his new life albeit in the same city as you.

Days pass into weeks and you gather your life back together.  You learn to live with the gaping hole in your heart.  You learn to stop crying every time you see a picture of his or when someone mentions his name.  And then one day you learn you won the lottery – a 3 million euro lottery.  You had been buying the lottery every week for past few years and never won more than a couple of euros.  And now, all of a sudden your luck has changed.   You are a rich woman.  Single and rich – and you do not care anymore about the former.

And a few months after you have won the lottery and living a contented life in luxury, this story is being shared by a middle-aged man, unshaven and un-kept with a paunch that has grown even bigger over the past 6 months.  His pals laugh and joke about his rotten luck and in turn share it with their pals.  The pathetic story of the middle-aged man then reaches me and I share it with you, my readers.  It is not fantasy – it happened.  And then I ask myself – whom do I pity – the lady who loved and lost and was rewarded materially later or the man who did not value the love he had and walked out on it?

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Serves 4


4 cups coconut milk
450 grams boneless chicken breast portions, diced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
225 grams canned bamboo shots, rinsed and sliced
5 kaffir lime leaves
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon black pepper powder

For the garnish:
2 red chillies, chopped
10 fresh basil leaves
10 fresh mint leaves

For the curry paste:
12 fresh red chillies, seeded
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1”piece ginger
2 lemon grass stalks, tender portions chopped
3 kaffir lime leaves
4 coriander roots
10 black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground turmeric powder
½ teaspoon shrimp paste
2 tablespoons corn oil


For the curry paste 
Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a mixer.  Add salt and process till smooth.  Add oil to the paste and blend well.  Store this paste in a jar in the refrigerator until ready for use.

For the curry 
  1. Pour 2 cups of the coconut milk in a large pan.  Gently bring to a boil, stirring all the while until the milk separates.  Then reduce the heat.   
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of the curry paste previously prepared and stir it into the milk.  Cook for five minutes.   The sauce should begin to thicken and may need to be stirred frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. 
  3. Add the chicken pieces, fish sauce and sugar.  Stir for another three minutes until the chicken changes colour, stirring constantly. 
  4. Add the rest of the coconut milk with the bamboo shoots and the kaffir lime leaves.  Bring to a boil.  
  5. Stir in the salt and pepper.   
  6. Serve garnished with chopped chillies, basil and mint leaves. 

Tip:  Surplus curry paste can be stored in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 weeks.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rich and Creamy Saffron Chicken {Murg Nawabi}


Often I have come across single parents and it always gets me thinking, “How the hell do they manage?”  I am not a single parent.  On the contrary, I have a very loving and caring husband who shares all responsibilities of a father and helps in every way possible to bringing up our children.  Of course when either of us go away on business trips, that is when we have to step into the shoes of a single parent and realize what a difficult job it is to raise children on our own.  I think for me the worst is in the evenings when the children go to bed and you have no adult to talk to.  And the amount of patience you need to muster to deal with the 1000 questions that are all directed to just you in the absence of the other parent. 

I came to realize that single parents need a very strong support system they can rely on.  The immediate family would be paramount in making this support system work.  We do not have our immediate family here – so when the children got sick or had an unexpected holiday, one of us had to stay back at home with them.  I always envied those who could call on their parents or their sisters on such occasions.  I think in instances like this you realize how important family is – sometimes you find nuts too – but still a family.

Preparation Time: 50 minutes
Serves: 6


1 medium sized chicken
2 red onions
1” ginger
12 cloves garlic
1 dried red chilli
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
7 cloves
1” cinnamon
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
3 green cardamoms
2 bay leaves
4 tablespoons yoghurt
4 tablespoons cream
A pinch of saffron
1 tablespoon hot milk
1 tablespoon coriander leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup hot water
Salt to taste


  1. Cut the chicken into eight pieces and keep aside.  
  2. Soak  the saffron in hot milk and keep aside.
  3. Grind the ginger and garlic into a paste and keep aside.  
  4. Chop the onions finely and keep aside.  
  5. Lightly roast the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, poppy seeds, dried red chillies and cumin and grind to a powder along with the turmeric powder.  Keep aside.  
  6. Soak the saffron in the hot milk and keep aside.  
  7. Heat butter in a thick bottomed vessel.  
  8. When hot, add the chopped onions and fry till golden in colour.  
  9. Now add the ginger-garlic paste and fry for another two minutes.  
  10. Now add the bay leaves and the ground spices to the onions.  Fry for another five minutes on a low flame and then add the chicken pieces.  
  11. Fry till the chicken changes colour. 
  12. Add ¼ cup of hot water to the vessel and cover and cook on low flame for another 20 minutes or till the chicken is cooked. 
  13. Now add the salt and the yoghurt and mix well.  
  14. When it boils, add the cream, saffron milk and turn off the fire.  
  15. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot with rice or bread.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Cheese with butter & Vegetables {Paneer Makhanwala}


“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi.  I remember learning this quotation when we had to study about Gandhi in school.  Like everything else we learn, it stays somewhere back of your mind and reappears again in the most unexpected of circumstances.

Today I was reading the papers and came across this case in Iran where in 2004 a young boy blinded a girl by throwing acid on her face and disfiguring and blinding her.  After several hearings and trial, the courts decided that the lady could:
(a)    Forgive him
(b)   Retribution

The lady chose retribution – to blind and disfigure the perpetrator with acid.  She decided – an eye for an eye – literally.  The case has received international attention as many human rights organizations oppose this judgement.  What would you have done were you to be in the woman’s place had you only two options to choose from?  You would need an awfully large and kind heart to forgive or a really strong and cold heart to choose retribution. In the coming days we will see how Iran responds to this international and internal pressure and attention this case has drawn.  But I think the world would be better off having one less blind person in the world. 

As mentioned in my previous posts on paneer, it is a type of fresh cheese that is vegetarian based, i.e. lemon is used as the coagulation agent.  Hence this cheese is perfect for those vegetarians and vegans who would like to include cheese in their diet.

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Serves: 4


2 cups boiled beans, peas and carrots
75 grams paneer cubes
1 tablespoon clarified butter
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ginger paste
¼ teaspoon garlic paste
2 tablespoon tomato purée
¼ teaspoon red chilli powder
¼ teaspoon garam masala
2 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ teaspoon all purpose flour
2 tablespoon milk
¾ cup fresh cream
1 cup water
Salt to taste

  1. Heat butter in a thick bottomed vessel.  
  2. When hot, add the onions and fry till light brown.  
  3. Add the tomatoes and fry for 4 minutes on a medium flame.  
  4. Add the ginger-garlic paste, tomato purée, garam masala, red chilli powder and fry for a couple of minutes more.  
  5. Add the boiled vegetables along with the paneer cubes, water and sugar and stir for another minute.  
  6. Mix the milk and flour separately and add to the above gravy along with the fresh cream.  
  7. Cook for 5 minutes until the gravy is thick.  
  8. Add salt to taste and stir.  Serve hot with rotis, naan or rice.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spicy Prawns with Okra

 Bureaucracy – I have been affected by that recently so I wanted to write about it.  I have Indian nationality and in summer I have to fly 1 hour transit through Heathrow (London) on my way to India.  I know some countries require you to have a visa even for transit, which I respect.  And of course I have a permanent residence permit in Belgium, not to mention my husband and two children have British Nationality.  So, how difficult would it be for the British Consular section to issue a visa for me?

Things are not as easy as they seem.  There is no consular section of the British Embassy in Belgium.  This has been outsourced to Worldbridge which is based in an alley in Paris, France.   So, I board the train from Midi to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris.  Once I reach there, I take two other trains and one metro to reach the place where I am to make my visa application.  I have all my documents along and my appointment set.  When I approach the gates, I am greeted by a huge African guard who tells me I have to wait in the line – appointments do not count apparently.  So anyway, I was seated on the chair along with tens of others and after a good hour, I was summoned to this lady who checked my application and picture and then gave me a number and ushered me to another room with more chairs and even more people. 

Luckily I found some to chat with who was from INSEAD.  So at least there was my time-killer because it was another hour before I was summoned to another counter to submit my documents – my old and new passports, my birth and marriage certificates, passports of my husband and children and our pay slips – everything in original and copy.  The person behind the counter even advised me to fly Emirates next time so I do not need to use BA with its delays and visa problems.  After submitting all the documents, and another 30 minutes later, I was taken for the biometric data and informed that it would be 5 to 10 working days before I would hear from them.  If I wanted to call them, this would cost me 14 USD a minute.  So, I got back on the metro and the two trains and then back to Brussels in the Thalys hating the bureaucracy and the system even more.  I am from India remember – I am used to bureaucracy – but this was much worse than that…that too from a country like the United Kingdom.

Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 4

4 tablespoons corn oil
225 grams okra, washed, dried and left whole
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2” piece fresh root ginger, crushed
1 green chilli, cut diagonally
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
6 curry leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
450 grams king prawns, peeled and de veined
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Juice of two lemons
Salt to taste


  1. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook the okra on a fairly high heat until they are slightly crisp and browned on all sides.  Remove from the oil and keep aside on a piece on kitchen paper.  
  2. In the same oil, gently cook the garlic, ginger, chillies, turmeric, curry leaves and cumin seeds for 3 minutes.  
  3. Add the prawns and mix well.  Cook until the prawns are tender.  
  4. Add the salt, sugar, lemon juice and cooked okra.  
  5. Increase the heat for a further 5 minutes, stirring gently to prevent the okra from breaking.  Adjust the seasoning if necessary.  Serve hot.  

Tip:  Okra should be cooked rapidly to prevent the pods from breaking up and releasing distinctive thick, sticky liquid.  Try to buy firm brightly coloured pods – large pods may be tough or fibrous.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spinach Soup

If you had a son and a daughter, and enough money to educate only one of them, which one would you choose?  This is not a trick question – but something to think about.  Luckily for many of us, we are not faced with this dilemma.  But in many countries it is a decision parents have to make and in many cases the boy is chosen over the girl.  The reasoning behind this – he would be the future breadwinner of the household.  What about the girl who would be the first educator of the next generation.  She would be a mother some day and if she is educated would be able to impart the same education to her children.  Is this not a valid reason to choose the education of the girl over the boy in this instance?

I am not a women’s rights advocate or one of those feminists.  However, I do believe that both men and women are like the wings of a bird – for the bird to fly and rise high, both the wings need to be strong and equal.  When talking about equality of man and woman, many take this literally.    For example, men could be physically stronger and perhaps women emotionally more stable. So based on our physique and emotional capabilities as just one example to point out the differences, it is obvious that “equality” is not literal.

Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4 portions


Basic Bechamel Sauce (4 portions)
30 grams flour
30 grams butter
300 ml milk
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 medium onion
1 clove
1 bay leaf


  1. Steep onion stuck with the clove and bay leaf in milk.  Bring to boil.  
  2. Blend together flour and butter over low flame.  Take off fire.  
  3. Strain boiled milk and add little at a time to the flour-butter mixture.  
  4. When all the milk has been added, return to fire.  
  5. Add salt and pepper and cook over low fire till flour is well cooked and sauce is smooth and glossy.

Cream of Spinach Soup
Time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4


250 grams spinach
Salt to taste
750 ml stock
4 portions béchamel sauce

  1. Clean and wash spinach.  
  2. Cook in stock with salt.  Rub through sieve when cooked. 
  3. Blend béchamel sauce with spinach.  Reheat and serve.