Friday, October 5, 2012


After two restaurant meals (at Royal China and at Yautcha), we decided it’s time to bring Ladies Who Lunch back home. And what a comeback!! Deepa Navani and Maleeka Lala treated us to the most delicious and refreshing Spain-inspired meal. And showed us how a simple, restrained and classc menu, focussed on a few good quality ingredients, can be so satisfying and memorable. Deepa’s scrumptious tapas left just enough space to enjoy Maleeka’s generous, delicious paellas. All washed down with glasses of Maleeka's white wine sangria with an Indian twist: oranges, limes, amla, mint and tulsi! The grand finale - churros! Yum!!

It’s only later that I truly understood the amount of preparation it took, and most of all the careful and no-compromise selection of produce, responsible for the fresh, uplifting flavours we experienced. 

Maleeka and Deepa both vacationed in Spain this summer and came back armed with unforgettable gourmet experiences. “The Spanish drink and then they drink some more.  There's a tapa or two followed by more drinks. The big meal is served family style. The louder the better. The more the merrier.  Food (and drink moreover) is FUN,” remembered Deepa. “I also loved the fact that everyone's involved in the cooking process and of course, there's always some Rioja in hand. While in Spain, I was cooking alongside my sister, brother-in-law, brother, kids and whoever else was there.”

To Maleeka, “Spanish cuisine is one of my favourite cuisines in the world, for its depth
and ingenuity. My parents, Kanta and Rafiq Lala, my aunt, Bindu Mahtani, and their close friends, Marijke and Fudli Talyarkhan, cooked us authentic Spanish meals for as long as I can remember, in our beach house in Alibag and in Spain. Their constantly evolving tapas, paella and lethal sangrias are reminiscent of my happy childhood. We also visited Spain as children and teenagers. In July, I spent a week in Andalucia with some friends and met Deepa for lunch the day I reached Marbella. She and I enjoyed a fabulous meal and decided that we would team up to produce a tapas and paella meal for our group. This lunch is not only dedicated to fabulous Spanish food, but also to the warm and welcoming locals who made me feel more at home than I do in Mumbai!” 

But of course, great memories are not enough to replicate a local cuisine. It certainly helps that Maleeka and Deepa are both incredibly talented and passionate home cooks. I have still not forgotten Deepa’s baked camembert and mango dish that she brought at Aisha’s mango inspired lunch, and after tasting her tapas and seeing her incredible high-tech kitchen, I can’t wait for her to feed us some more. 

Maleeka’s home dinners are legendary. She cooks everything herself, even if the guest list runs for more than two pages, beautifully setting the table in her vintage china-lined dining room. Most recently, she converted the most boring vegetable - zuccini, into a gourmet treat, pairing it with roasted almonds. And yes, dessert was several flavours of panacotta set in beautiful wine glasses. The only grouse I have with her? She gets so engrossed in the cooking and plating process, that she has no time to join her guests and we rarely enjoy her undivided attention and company. 

But let’s not deviate and get back to our Spanish lunch! 

It was hosted at Deepa’s brand new home, and she had managed pretty well to create an atmosphere with Spanish music, lots of flowers and a dress code of polka dots and frills. We were greeted with a huge glass jug full of refreshing sangria (an instant mood lift) and bright red carnations to put in our hair. One look at the menu and we knew we are in for a treat:

Gambas Pil Pil 
Chorizo a la Plancha
Patatas Bravas

Paella del Mar
Paella de Verduras
Ensalada Tres Colores

Dulce de Leche
Cafe con Leche

Gambas Pil Pil, in all their oily glory, were served in a fondue dish, accompanied by Indian pav bread. You eat, and then you dip. And dip some more. And more. The oil was sinfully delicious, infused with the flavour of the prawns. “While I was in Spain, gambas pil-pil was by far the summer fav,” explained Deepa. “The bread was very very different from anything that we get here in Mumbai.” But we all found the Indian buns to be the perfect substitute!

The chorizo (brought over from Spain and frozen) was a hit of flavour, spicy, glistening and crunchy. Softened down with the perfectly cooked potatoes (patatas bravas). And I can tell you, these patatas bravas were hundred times better than the ones I have tasted in restaurants in Bombay. 

Maleeka, being the free spirit that she is, did not serve us paella from a recipe. Instead, we did a Ladies Who Lunch first - we had a cooking demo. As we all gathered in the kitchen, my attention was immediately drawn to the beautifully prepped fresh vegetables, the sparkling bowls of raw seafood, the containers of sweet paprika and saffron, and the perfect green herbs. 

A huge pot of stock was bubbling on the stove (apparently it was simmering there for the last few hours), containing the chicken carcasses and the prawn shells, filling the kitchen with the most incredible aroma. Onions, avocados, tomatoes and mozzarella were being cut and arranged, spices were being sauteed in huge iron skillets, rice was being boiled. Heaven!!

Maleeka assembled the paellas by first pan frying the rice and onions, adding the herbs and spices, then gradually stirring in the stock. The delicate fresh vegetables and seafood were added last. 

The final result:

Lovely, generous, beautifully plated paellas. We were so ready to dig in!! And we chatted and laughed so much, without a doubt aided by the generously flowing sangria. 

Dessert, served in the TV room, were beautiful crunchy churros with chocolate sauce and Dulce de Leche ice cream. “The cinnamon sugar churros are more common in the summer heat and the plain churros with thick warm chocolate in the North (or colder months),” said Deepa. “The batter is very very thick and I could not find a piping bag strong enough to make long winding churros. A makeshift press worked nicely and I think we all got the idea. Especially lovely were the three attempts made by my daughter to perfect the batter and then get the piping strategy sorted out! Lots of churros were consumed during the experimentation stage!”

I asked Deepa and Maleeka to share some of their insider tips and tricks of eating in Spain and hosting a Spanish meal:

--> On the coast, the best restaurants are the beachside (water side) ones that serve family style seafood dishes. Tikitano outside Puerto Banus was by far the best.
--> That they really do eat every part of the gamba / fish.  In general, they waste nothing.  Even dried up bread has some use the day after.  
--> Using the best possible olive oil is essential in Spanish cooking.
--> As a rule, when travelling, Maleeka studies the cuisine and best restaurants of the region in depth, “so that in my short time there, I am able to enjoy the best  meals available. This year I studied 'Culinaria Espana', an encyclopaedia of Spanish. I also spoke to family and friends who live there, have lived there or had recetly visited. The Lonely Planet on Spain was another superb guide to restaurants. I chanced upon scrumptious meals wherever I went as, my years in food related industries has fine tuned my instinct to smell the most authentic restaurants in any area. The trick in Spain is to ask for tthe tapas and raciones menu. Some of my best meals were in Ronda, a beautifully quaint white town; the paella at my aunt Mira Kripalani's home in Toremolinos; a funky tapas bar in the heart of Madrid; all my meals in Sevilla in the Santa Maria district around the stunning catedral."

--> The vegetables (including the avocados and white onions) were hand-picked by Maleeka from Pick Point in Colaba Market, a vendor who has been supplying her family for the last 20 years. “I find the quality of their vegetable far superior to those anywhere else.”
--> The seafood was ordered from Pesca Fresh ( “They will give you the peels, head etc. to make the seafood broth but pickup is always best because their delivery is unreliable if time-pressed,” recommends Deepa.
--> You can substitute Spanish saffron with Kashmiri, widely available in Bombay. 
--> The arborio rice, port wine vinegar and paprika wehere from Uncle's Shop at Crawford market



olive oil
1/2 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp smoked paprika
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 large tomato, halved, seeded and roasted until soft
few dashes of Tobasco hot pepper sauce
a splash of aged sherry vinegar
salt and freshly ground pepper
4 large potatoes, parboiled, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
flat leaf parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 375F. Place a baking sheet inside.
Heat a tbsp of oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 5 min. Add paprika, cook for 30 sec. Let cool slightly.
Combine the onion mixture, mayonnaise, tomato, pepper sauce and vinegar in a food processor. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the mixture inside a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 min to allow the flavours to meld.
Heat 2 inches of pure olive or canola oil in a large, high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet until it begins to simmer. Add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and cook until golden brown on all sides. Remove the potatoes into a towel-lined plate for a moment to drain the excess oil. Carefully remove the hot baking sheet from the oven, put the potatoes on the pan in an even layer and bake until crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan and season the potatoes with a bit more salt. Transfer to a platter and drizzle with some of the aioli. Garnish with parsley leaves. Serve hot.


1 kg raw medium shrimp
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp butter
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 tsp dried chili flakes
1/2 tsp paprika

Shell, devein shrimp, keeping the tails intact. Mix with the salt in a large bowl, cover and refrigerate for 30 min. Heat butter and oil in a flameproof dish over medium heat. When foaming, add garlic and chili and cook for 3-6 min, or until they curl up and change colour. Sprinkle paprika and serve sizzling hot with plenty of bread for dipping.


1 cup water
2 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 cup all purpose flour
2 quarts of oil for frying
1/2 cup white sugar, or to taste
1 tsp ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine water, 2 1/2 tbsp sugar, salt and 2 tbsps vegetable oil. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Dtir in flour until a ball is formed. Heat oil for frying in a deep fryer or a deep skillet to 375 F. Pipe strips of dough into the hot oil using a pastry bag. Fry until golden. Drain on paper towels. Combine 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon. Roll churros in the cinnamon and sugar mixture. Enjoy with ice cream and chocolate dipping sauce (optional).

Monday, April 16, 2012

Dubai delights

While browsing the souk at Medinat Jumeirah, I came across Vivel, a tiny gourmet boutique, selling the most beautiful arrangements of Turkish delight, stuffed dates, cookies and marzipan... Purchases are packed in luxurious boxes, and you can choose your ribbon(s).

LADIES WHO LUNCH: Aisha's mango creations

This post is long overdue! Apologise for that to all the Ladies and especially to Aisha, who dared to host our second lunch, and set the bar even higher, creating several amazing starters, drinks and dishes around a single fruit - the mango! She also had almost 100% attendance (except our two overseas members, and two Bombay-based members, EVERYONE was there!).

Me and everyone else thought that her idea was amazing, as the mango season was just starting, and who doesn't like mango?? But I NEVER thought Aisha would manage to create such an amazing spread, and that the dishes would taste so distinctly different, despite boasting of the same core ingredient.

I arrived a bit early to help out, and found Aisha completely composed in the kitchen, with her two helpers. They were doing some prep work, and several other dishes that she had started working on the previous day, were coming together. Scattered around the kitchen counter were ingredients as diverse as mint leaves, seaweed sushi wraps, chicken and mozzarella. A quick glance at her menu and recipe printouts revealed that she had planned several starters and drinks, a whole array of dishes, and a deliciously sounding dessert, all made from scratch by her. Wow! I was ready to eat, but not before we spent the next couple of hours rolling sushi (my first ever attempt!), mixing, decorating, chopping, and even barbecuing:

.... a very rare experience in the midst of a city as cramped and as chaotic as Bombay!

Gosh, I was already starving by the time the chicken was ready... But it was worth the wait.


Mango Mint Iced Tea
Spicy Mango Champagne Cocktail

Mango Salsa with organic blue corn tortillas
Crab, Mango & Mint Nori Rolls
Mango Baked Brie (courtesy Deepa Navani)

Mango-Radicchio Caprese with Basil Vinaigrette
Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango
Jerk Rubbed Chicken with Homemade Mango Hot Sauce
Prawn and Raw Mango Curry with rice (courtesy our new member Shireen Vanderwala - her grandmother's recipe!)

Mango Ice with Tequila and Lime

Why Aisha chose to do a mango lunch, in her own words:

I look forward to mango season every year, as I am sure many of you do.  There is nothing like the Indian mangos and I used to love getting to come to Bombay in the summer just before the season ended to gobble up as many as possible.  My great-grandfather used to eat nothing but mangos during the season, consuming several at each meal and making an art out of sucking skin and stone to leave nothing wasted. I was instructed from an early age in the science of cutting, eating and sucking a mango and take great pleasure in teaching my daughter how to get the last drops.

However, cooking with mangos is something I have hardly done. So I thought, why not experiment with you!  I have tried to combine some sweet, spicy and savory preparations to avoid overdoing the mango, but forgive me you need to take a break from mangos after today!  Thank you to Shireen for providing the raw mango and prawn curry for something a bit different! One thing I have learned is that our Alphonso mangos tend to be soft and luscious which is great for devouring, but not so easy for cutting into clean slices and cubes, so I have adapted the textures a bit from the intentions of the recipes.

Here are some things I have learned about mangos:

* More than 1/3 of the world’s mangos are cultivated in India, however India only accounts for 1% of world trade… we consume our own mangos.
* Mangos can make you feel better! Mangos contain an enzyme with stomach soothing properties similar to papain found in papayas. These comforting enzymes act as a digestive aid and can be held partially responsible for that feeling of contentment we experience during and after eating mangos.
* Mango, both in its green and ripe form is a very good tenderizing agent due to these same enzymes, therefore ideal to include in any marinade.
* An average sized mango can contain up to 40% of your daily fiber requirement.
* Mangos are an excellent source of Vitamins A and C, as well as a good source of Potassium and contain Beta-carotene.
* Mangos are high in fiber, but low in calories (approx. 110 per average sized mango), fat (only 1 gram) and sodium.


Well, reading all the above probably alleviated the guilt of attacking such an amazing lunch and cleaning out our plates. But what was totally amazing about this meal was that everything tasted so fresh and light, I really didn't feel heavy and lethargic afterwards. On the contrary, I was happy and energetic. Without a doubt, what is said above about the properties of mangos, is entirely true!

The mix of flavours was incredible - the freshness, sweetness and acidity of the mangos cut through the heavier tasting ingredients, to create an amazing combination of hot and cool sensations. And I can't stress enough on the fact how generous and varied the spread was, yet the "food coma" feeling that pins you down after a heavy meal, never reared it's ugly head.

The gorgeous decor of Aisha's home created a unique ambience, and wow - it really was our second lunch together as a club - I really hope we will persist.


Mango Mint Iced Tea
(serves 4-6)
2 liters cold water
8 high quality black tea bags
2 cups mango nectar or juice
¼ cup fresh mint leaves
Mango slices or mint sprigs
Bring the water to a boil, then pour over the tea bags in a large heatproof pitcher.  Steep until the tea is dark, about 5 minutes.  Remove the tea bags and add the mango nectar.  Add sugar to taste and stir until it is dissolved.  Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 8 hours. Just before serving, stir in the mint leaves.  Pour over ice and garnish with mango slice or mint sprig.  Serve immediately.

Spicy Mango Champagne Cocktail
(the whiff of spices hits you right in the nose, and the very first sip fills you with a warm, comforting feeling, while the bubbles keep it fresh) 
(serves 8)
1 (12-ounce) can mango nectar
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
12 black peppercorns
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 bottle Champagne or sparkling wine
Bring the nectar to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add all of the spices. Let the mixture cool, then strain and refrigerate.
Spoon 2 tablespoons of the spicy mango mixture into a Champagne flute and top with chilled Champagne.

Potent, without a doubt, as proven by the topics discussed two flutes later, during lunch:
- living together before marriage
- to have or not to have a common bathroom with your husband
- whose kids still sneak into their parents' bed during the night
- a possible Vodoo themed lunch in the future, with unpredictable consequences
- the totally bizarre double life of a member's cousin's husband

Crab, Mango & Mint Nori Rolls
(60 small portions)
1 firm-ripe mango
½ kg jumbo lump crab meat
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons wasabi powder or wasabi paste
ten 8 x 7½-inch sheets toasted nori
1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
Cut skin from mango and cut flesh into julienne strips. Pick over crab meat to remove any bits of cartilage and shell and in a bowl stir together with lime juice, brown sugar, and salt to taste.
If using wasabi powder, in a small bowl stir together with 2 teaspoons water and let stand, covered, 10 minutes to make wasabi paste. Cut nori sheets in half lengthwise. On a work surface put a sushi mat with bamboo strips of mat parallel to front of work surface. (Alternatively, use a 9-inch square of heavy-duty foil as a mat.) Put 1 nori piece on mat with a short side lined up with edge of mat that is closest to you. Spread ¼ teaspoon wasabi paste across bottom edge of nori and top with 5 or 6 mint leaves so that some stick out on each side. Top mint leaves evenly with a heaping tablespoon crab mixture and 2 or 3 mango strips. Beginning with a short side and using mat as a guide, roll up nori tightly (use mat to help tighten roll). Seal seam with a little water and with a sharp knife cut roll crosswise into 3 pieces. Make more rolls in same manner. Nori rolls may be made 3 hours ahead and chilled, covered.

Chutney Baked Brie
A wheel of brie dusted with curry powder, then spread with a mango chutney, studded with chopped cashews, and baked until the cheese inside the rind is melted. The sweet/savory combination is creamy and delicious!
For the chutney:
2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 large mangoes, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup sugar
small finely chopped onion
handful raisins (optional)
1/4 cup white vinegar
small piece finely chopped peeled gingerroot
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Salt to taste
Combine apples, mangoes, sugar, onion, raisins, vinegar, and gingerroot in a large stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat, and boil gently, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until fruit is tender and mixture is thickened, stirring occasionally. Add lemon juice, curry powder, cinnamon, and salt; boil gently for 5 minutes.

1 (2.2 pound) wheel Brie cheese
2 teaspoons ground curry powder
1 to 1 ½ cup mango chutney (thickened)
1 cup chopped cashews
1 French baguette, cut into 1/2 inch slices
Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C).
Sprinkle curry powder over top and sides of Brie; rub the curry powder into the rind to thoroughly coat the surface. Place the Brie wheel in a large pie plate or oven proof dish. Spread a generous layer of chutney over the top, and evenly sprinkle with cashews.
Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cashews are slightly golden and cheese inside the rind is melted. Serve with slices of baguette or crackers.
Deepa’s version:  wrap the cashew/chutney crusted brie in a layer of puff pastry and bake. I brushed an even layer of egg white onto the unbaked dough just before popping it into the oven for that nice crusty golden brown color.  Also, I baked 3 small-sized brie wheels rather than the large 1 kilo one for ease of serving.

Along with the mango sushi rolls, this was one of the most innovative and delicious starters I had ever tasted in my life. It was hard to believe that Deepa had made this at home - it looked so professional and tasted divine - we kept reaching out for seconds, despite this being one of the heavier preparations. The dish started an entire discussion where to get puff pastry in Bombay and for how much. So our lovely Mauritian member Rubeena Vaid shared her little secret address:

278, Dr C.H. Street, Our Lady of Dolours Church Lane, Dhobi Talao, Mumbai 400002
Tel: 2208 6619
(you have to call them in the morning to order the pastry, and collect it at 5 pm. Supremely well made, and it does not burn a hole in your wallet!)

Mango Salsa
(serves 4)
2 ripe mangos, peeled, pitted, and diced (about 1 1/2 cup)
1 red pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
1 Jalapeño chile, minced (include ribs and seeds for a hotter taste if desired)
1 small cucumber, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
3 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the salsa ends up being a little too hot or acidic for your taste, you can temper it by adding some diced avocado.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes for flavors to mingle.

During her research, Aisha realised that mango can replace tomatoes in many recipes. Like in the salsa, and this absolutely stunning caprese:

Mango-Radicchio Caprese with Basil Vinaigrette

(Serves 4)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil plus 8 whole large basil leaves
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
8 radicchio leaves, thick ends trimmed
2 large mangoes, peeled, halved, thinly sliced
8 ¼ -inch-thick slices fresh mozzarella cheese (from one 8-ounce ball)
Blend chopped basil, oil, and vinegar in mini processor until most of basil is pureed. Season with salt and pepper. Overlap radicchio, mangoes, cheese, and basil leaves on plates. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Serve, passing remaining vinaigrette.

Curried Quinoa Salad with Mango
(Serves 4)
1 cup quinoa (about 6 ounces)
¼ cup canola oil
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoon mango chutney, chopped if chunky
3 teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon dry mustard (or 1½ tsp normal mustard)
1 cup chopped peeled mango plus mango spears for garnish
½ red pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped cucumber
5 tablespoons chopped green onions, divided
2 cups (packed) young spinach
Wash quinoa until the water runs clear (at least 3 washes).  Cook quinoa in medium pot of boiling salted water over medium heat until almost tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Drain in sieve, then set sieve over same pot with 1 inch of simmering water (water should not touch the bottom of the sieve).  Cover with a kitchen towel and steam until tender, fluffy and dry (about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Uncover and cool. Transfer to medium bowl.
Meanwhile, whisk oil and next 4 ingredients in small bowl to blend. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper. Add chopped mango, red pepper, cucumber, 4 tablespoons green onions, and 1/4 cup dressing to quinoa; toss to coat. Divide spinach between plates. Spoon quinoa salad over spinach. Garnish with mango spears and 1 tablespoon green onions. Drizzle with remaining dressing; serve.

Jerk Rubbed Chicken with Homemade Mango Hot Sauce
(serves 4)
For the Sauce:
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil (e.g. canola)
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 ripe large mangos (or 3-4 small), peeled, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 habanero or Serrano chiles, seeded and chopped (can substitute normal chiles)
1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste
1 cup white wine vinegar, or more to taste
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft, about 8 minutes; do not brown.  Add the mangos and chiles and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often.  Add the honey and vinegar and simmer until slightly thickened, 15 to 20 minutes.
Transfer mixture to a blender and blend until smooth.  Strain into a bowl.  If the mixture is too thick to pour, add a few tablespoons of warm water.  Season to taste with salt, vinegar and honey.
(The sauce can be made up to a day in advance, covered and kept refrigerated.  Bring to room temperature and mix well before serving.)
For the Jerk Rub:
2 tablespoons ground coriander
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons habanero chile powder (or cayenne)
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Combine all ingredients in a bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid and mix well.
(The rub keeps well for months stored at room temperature in a jar with a tight-fitting lid)
For the Chicken:
8-10 skin-on chicken thighs (or other parts)
½ cup jerk rub
Mild vegetable oil (e.g. canola)
Mango slices
Fresh cilantro leaves

Heat grill to high.
Season chicken all over with salt. Rub the skin of the chicken with plenty of spice rub.  Drizzle with oil and place the chicken skin side down on the grate.  Grill until the skin is golden brown and crusty, 4-5 minutes.  Turn the chicken over, reduce heat to medium (or move to a cooler part of the grill), close the grill hood, and cook until just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes more.
Remove to a platter, garnish with mango and cilantro, and serve immediately.  Pass the sauce separately.

Prawn and Raw Mango Curry
Serves 4-6
½ kilo raw de-shelled prawns (or 1kg prawns with shells)
10 dried red chilis, de-seeded
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (optional)
1 large raw mango cut into six pieces
10 Curry leaves (optional)
4 cups thick coconut milk plus water to thin the curry as needed
Salt to taste
Blend/grind chilis, coriander,cumin, garlic, turmeric, onion with about 2 cups water till smooth.
Add coconut milk to curry paste and bring to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes.
Add raw mango, salt, curry leaves and simmer till mango is soft but not falling apart.
Add prawns and simmer till cooked.
Serve with plain white rice, lime wedges and sliced onions.

This recipe passed the husband test, as a few days later Rasna made it at home and her hubby had 3 helpings, stating that it's the best prawn curry he has ever had! No wonder Shireen has such a happy marriage!

Mango Ice with Tequila and Lime
(serves 4)
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons tequila
2 tablespoons sugar
2 large ripe mangoes. peeled, pitted (or 3-4 small)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Combine first 3 ingredients in heavy small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture boils. Cool syrup slightly.
Puree mangoes, syrup and lime juice in processor until smooth. Transfer mixture to pie plate.
Freeze, stirring occasionally until slushy, about 2 hours. Continue freezing until firm.
Let stand 10 minutes at room temperature. Break up into chunks. Return mixture to processor and process until smooth. Serve.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bohra Thaal

Recently, at a friend's birthday, I experienced something completely new and exciting: the bohra thaal or thali. I have always loved the concept of thali - having a complete, several courses meal, on one dish. It is served on a big round tray, which can be made of steel, silver or copper, and several small bowls arranged in a circle inside hold a different variety of dishes (depending on which part of India the thali is from) but traditionally a dal (lentils), one or two vegetables, one non-vegetarian curry, rice and/or bread, curd, chopped onions and lemon, and a sweet dish. I love Gujarati and South Indian vegetarian thalis - the ultimate comfort food!! But never knew that the Bohra muslim community also boasted a sinful version of the thali, of course hardcore non vegetarian, until that evening...

I did not know this was going to be a completely non-traditional dinner until the huge thaals were brought into the living room and laid out at three different locations (the thaal is a communal meal and up to seven people can share one):

At first, the thaal was brought with some starters in it - an assortiment of kababs, mutton mince samosas and chicken skewers deep friend in batter. An intriguing potato dish also came along, almost like a pickle.

Then there was the good part. A chicken curry (made with an entire chicken) was served with fresh, soft loaves of bread:

Kept dipping bread in the curry and it tasted heavenly (severe cramps in my stomach the next day suggested it may not have been the best choice for my firang stomach but I just couldn't stop)!!! Copious amounts of beer were the perfect fit!!!

Then, as if this was not enough, a mutton biryani was brought for us to share and knock us out in an almost irreversible food coma. I did not try the soup on the side.

The next day, I did some research on the bohra thaal and here is what I found out:

Excerpts from,,

In the Dawoodi Bohra community, the surest sign that dinner is imminent is when family members start passing the salt. They pass a little pot to each other around the thaal, or community platter, and each person dips their finger into it to taste a few grains. This ritual is supposed to stimulate the digestive juices, cleanse the body and signify togetherness. This is followed by dessert, probably ice cream. A savoury dish follows and then sweet and savoury alternate until the biryani and bread are served. The meal ends with fruit.

The traditional Bohra thaal came from the belief that a family that dines together stays together. A large plate, enough to serve eight to ten people, is filled with each course and each diner eats from the part closest to him or her...

... Alavi Bohras eat collectively in a group of 7 persons at social functions or with family members at home in a traditional big round plate known as a thaal while sitting on the floor.  Eating with spoon and fork is not permissible i.e. one has to eat with his right hand fingers and not by using left hand. Also one cannot sit and eat on table or chair with exception that one has any health problem. This is a tradition (sunnat) of the Prophet Mohammad (saws) who sat with his household i.e. Ali, Faatimah, Hasan and Husain (panjatan paak) in a big round plate and used to eat the holy dishes of the Paradise send from the Heavens.  Every year during the New Year’s Eve, every Bohra’s house witnesses a specially decorated thaal with a variety of dishes made from cereals (popularly called as lachko), vegetables, fish and meat.  It is considered a good omen for a house to sit together in this thaal and begin the feast with the name of Allaah by taking salt, sugar, milk, honey etc. Manners and etiquettes are maintained strictly while eating and sharing the dishes. Salt is tasted first by reciting Bismillaah after which the eldest member in the thaal eats the serving first. The thaal must be clean and free from any remaining food after eating. Each member takes the amount of serving which is sufficient for him. Wastage and excess of food is not permitted. Every member again tastes the salt at the end.   One has to sit with his legs folded backward and see that nothing falls down while taking morsels on the plastic sheet (sifrah) kept below the thaal...

A typical "menu" would be:

First Course:  Salt - there will be a small bowl with salt in it which everyone tastes before starting
Second Course: Some rice which has been sweetened with sugar in a really tiny plate. This is considered to be auspicious
Third Course: Ice Cream (this is the most common beginning, if not ice cream, then something sweet)
Fourth Course: Chicken. normally a Chicken Starter, Chicken Baked Dish or something that's like a starter. Seekh Kebabs, Miscellaneous Kebabs and Fried Chicken are the favourites
Fifth Course: Another Sweet dish. Now in the fancy weddings you get brownies, cheesecakes and other such delectable sweets. Mithais or Indian sweets are also common to have here
Sixth Course: Mutton. Either a whole leg of Lamb, or some lamb gravy with parathas are served
Seventh Course: Rice and Soup. Biriyani is the most common, but there is a variety of fancy rice pulavs that are served
Eighth and Ninth Course: If that isn't enough, normally the meal ends with dry fruits and fresh fruits. Sometimes they even have a fruit Sorbet
Tenth Course: Paan

Wow!!! Thank you, R & L for a great new experience!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Gourmet Gifts

I have always loved receiving food gifts. There is nothing more personal than someone bringing over something they have baked at home from scratch, or something impossibly sinful from a gourmet store. Brownies seem to be a big hit, and the chocolate dense cake from Theobroma is a favourite with my Cuffe Parade / Colaba friends. Moshe's also started making a chocolate dense cake recently - and it's a close call. Wine, of course, is a classic, and... easy...

My recent visit to two gourmet stores gave me tons of ideas of ready made food gifts (since I am not much of a baker), a refreshing change from the customary bottle of booze...

Like for example...

... wouldn't these beautiful bottles and pots of artisanal vinegar and mustard be the perfect housewarming gift and look incredibly appetising in a brand new kitchen?

Them, here is something totally out of the box:

English fruits for cheese?? Well here is something that I didn't even know existed! Imagine this little nifty container in a hamper with a selection of fine cheeses and a crusty French baguette? I almost gifted it to myself!

The following, however, is what really got my attention:

An absolutely beautiful jar of honey and nuts aptly called "Turkish Delight". I can't even start to fathom how the nuts were arranged so artistically inside the honey, without floating and staying in perfect order. Now, wouldn't you really feel special if someone showed up with THAT on your doorstep?

If the fiend you are visiting loves experimenting with exotic cuisines, a selection of these Moroccan sauces, spice mixes and rubs, would be a great choice. This was the first time I was seeing such a large variety of Moroccan flavours on a shelf and I was seriously tempted too!

Or in a more corporate environment, wouldn't you love to have this on your desk? Little incentives make a big difference...

All the above items can be found at the Westside food store in Kala Ghoda, Bombay

However, the absolute star of my recent discoveries are the gifts in a jar offered at Country of Origin on Napeansea Road. Imagine if, like me, you sometimes love to bake, but only truly enjoy the result and not the process. And someone gives you this: 

A perfectly layered in a beautiful jar, pre-measured dessert ready for you to mix up and stick in the oven. And just consider the flavours you get: Cookie Dough, Caramel & Cream, Cookie Dough & Hazelnut Crème, Red Velvet, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Oh-my-God! And you can say, "I baked it all by myself!"

And last but not least, if your friend is the hands-on, crafty type, yo can gift her a selection of seeds, pots and soil to plant her own window sil herbs garden.

The Ratanshi store in Byculla is famous and it offers anything a budding or an experienced gardener could ever need, including a huge variety of seeds.