PINEAPPLE AND COCONUT INFUSED RUM

Rum aficionados around the world tend to look down upon the renowned Pina Colada. While I don’t consider myself a rum connoisseur I do subscribe to their views on the Pina Coloda. It’s probably the creamy texture that is to blame more than anything else as far as I am concerned. That being said, I cannot deny that I do love the combination of coconut and pineapple. The sweet and sour aromas and notes of the pineapple works like a charm with the sweet and nutty richness of the coconut. It’s just the creamy base of the cocktail that doesn’t cut ice with me. So I figured that I wanted to play with the tropical flavours of pineapple and coconut. Of course I ensured that the cream had absolutely no part to play in my drink. This is my second infusion experiment with Old Monk rum. If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous one yet you can find it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/pumpkin-and-spice-infused-dark-rum/.

A juicy pineapple and a big ripe coconut are not at all difficult to come by in a typical fruit seller’s stall and Old Monk rum does have a pride of presence in my bar cabinet more often than not. I cut the pineapple in half and chopped it up in rough bite sized pieces. It is important that you taste the pineapple before the next step. The pineapple I used was not as sweet as I would have liked but it did have a nice and tangy tartness to it. So I put the pineapple on a plate and sprinkled about one teaspoon of caster sugar on it, covered it and let it rest. After a few hours the pineapple got a bit mushier and browner than it was. At this point I tasted another small piece of the fruit and was happy to note that it met with my expected degree of sweetness.

Pineapple bathing in caster sugar. Be sure to check the sweetness before sprinkling the sugar.

I then cracked open the coconut and cut it’s beautiful flesh into long and narrow pieces. On a baking tray I placed the coconut pieces evenly atop a sheet of parchment paper. In an oven preheated to 180c or 350F, I roasted the coconut at 180c for 15 minutes. This should brown the coconut a bit around the edges tasted deliciously toasty. And now it was time for the real fun to begin.

Toasted coconut slices.

In my glass infusion bottle I poured in the rum and then gradually introduced the pineapple followed by the coconuts. I don’t think the order in which you put the fruits in matters to any extent as the rum will be left alone to take on the flavours of the pineapple and roasted coconut. Once I had all elements together in the bottle I sealed it shut and gave it a good shake for about half a minute.

The next day I gave it another shake and let it rest in my bar cabinet. This went on for three days. On the fourth day I decided to give the rum a taste. The rum had now taken on the aromas of both the pineapple and coconut. The latter however, was a bit faint in comparison to the former. Upon tasting my olfactory senses were proved right and the coconut did seem fainter in comparison to the pineapple. A good method of judging whether a flavour has been infused to its optimal point is to take a small piece of it out of the bottle and taste it. If the element still retains some of its original flavours then it still has a bit of a job to do but if it tastes of nothing but the spirit then its purpose has been served to the fullest. My taste test was in conjunction with my previous conclusions and I discovered that the pineapple had done its bit and the coconut could contribute some more to the drink. So I took out all the pineapple chunks from the bottle and left the coconut in, gave it a shake and left it to rest again. On the sixth day I found that the coconut had finally done its bit too. Now my Pina Colada inspired coconut and pineapple rum was ready. Glasses, ice cubes and good company were all that were required in order to enjoy the drink.

My infusion bottle. Infusion work in progress.

Ingredients:
1. Old Monk Very Old Vatted Rum 750 ml – 1 bottle.
2. Half a pineapple.
3. Medium sized ripe coconut – 1.
4. Caster sugar – 1 teaspoon or more. Whether or not the caster sugar will be needed will completely depend on how sweet you would like your end drink to be. If the pineapple itself is juicy and sweet then the sugar may not be needed at all. On the other hand if the pineapple is not too sweet then more than one teaspoon maybe required to sweeten your drink.
5. Freshly squeezed and strained pineapple juice of half a pineapple.
6. Green/ tender coconut water (preferably fresh) – 1 or 2 coconuts depending upon how much water each holds.
7. Glass bottle (preferably 1 l) – It is definitely advisable to use a glass bottle since it is one of the most non-reactive substances known.

Directions:
1. Chop up the pineapple into bit sized pieces. Check for sweetness.
2. If the pineapple is not very sweet sprinkle the caster sugar atop it. Otherwise, skip this step.
3. Break open the coconut and cut its flesh into long strips.
4. Preheat an oven to 180C or 350F. Place the chopped coconut on a parchment paper lined baking tray and roast it at 180C for 15 minutes.
5. Now pour the rum into the glass bottle. By now the pineapple would have become sweet and mushy. Gradually put the pineapple and coconut pieces into the rum filled bottle.
6. Once the bottle is sealed give it a good shake and let it rest in a cool and dark place.
7. Make sure that you taste the drink after at least three days. The rum might get saturated with the flavours of the pineapple within four days. Take out the pieces of pineapple to prevent the rum from getting oversaturated with the pineapple. The coconut might probably need a couple of days more to impart all its flavours into the rum. After about 5-6 days the rum should be ready.
8. Fill a highball glass with ice cubes to its halfway mark. Pour 2 fl. Oz or 60 ml rum and top up with two parts each of green/ tender coconut water and freshly squeezed and strained pineapple juice.

The sweetness of the rum, the tangy sweetness of the pineapple and the nuttiness of the coconut. All in one glass. Bliss!

Now you can put your feet up, let your hair down and enjoy your own Pina Colada inspired pineapple and coconut rum in the confines of your living room. Cheers!

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WHEN IN ROME – I

Before setting foot in Rome I had been to Europe a few times in the past. Before Rome happened to me, I had a much stigmatised memory of Europe, cool and windy scenic countryside, picturesque cities with cobblestone pathways and quaint cafes. So when I took the train from Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci Aeroporti to Roma Termini, Rome’s central station and finally walked out into the city, I was blown away. I was blown away by the sights, smells and energy of Rome.

We all know about Rome’s rich history, the Empire and its Roman Gods, the Republic and the advent of Christianity, much later there were the fascists and of course who can forget the infamous Silvio Berlusconi. And all that history that was made in between. I had for years had a soft corner for Roman history and architecture. It was always my dream to step on to the Foro di Roma (Roman Forum), the Pallatine Hill, the Pantheon, to see the Fontana di Trevi (the Trevi Fountain), to drink from fountain in front of the Spanish Steps and of course the brutal Coloseo (Colosseum). I had 4 days and 5 nights to soak in the sights and smells of Rome and with my dear wife I lived those few days in a state of mesmerised trance which would intermittently be broken by the odd Bangladeshi ‘dada’ trying to sell us selfie sticks which they pronounced as ‘shelphee ishtik’.

The magnificent Pantheon.
The Pantheon (side view).

Apart from all this of course, I was armed with a bucket list from which I intended to tick off five places that my idol the great Mr. Anthony Bourdain had graced on his many visits to the eternal city. I managed four. No mean feat, given the enormity of Rome.

Cacio e Pepe
My wife and I reached Rome on a sunny September afternoon and for me it was love at first sight. We found our hotel, dropped our bags in the room and stepped out to bask in the glory of Rome. At the turn of almost every corner there seemed to be some slice of history or the other. We walked without any particular destination in mind drinking in the sights, sounds and smells of Rome. The wide boulevards, the narrow little lanes and the cobblestone streets all had some sort of ancient structure or the other. Some were commissioned archaeological dig sites, some were in ruins and some had been morphed into a modern apartment or office building. The historical charm seemed to exist in every little nook and corner.

A drink of water from the fountain at the Spanish Steps.

I however, kept a keen eye on my watch noting that dinner time was rapidly approaching. By this point in time we had been walking aimlessly around the city for almost two hours but now I had a destination in mind and Google maps showed that it was 4.7 kms away from our then location, a good hour to hour and a half’s walk away. So along the ancient Tiber we walked leisurely enjoying the cool evening breeze. When we reached the family run trattoria which was in a residential neighbourhood, we were glad to observe that tourists were conspicuous in their absence. I knew, thanks to Mr. Bourdain of course, that the place shares its name with one of Rome’s favourite pasta dishes, the cacio e pepe.

The trattoria had very limited indoor seating arrangements so tables were arranged on the pavement under huge rectangular garden umbrellas. We seated ourselves and wasted no time in ordering half a litre of their house wine. It was a rustic fruity red wine but well balanced and not too tannic. I had to eat what Mr. Bourdain had and ordered the cacio e pepe. As I sipped on the wine and waited for the spaghetti to arrive on my table I watched the culinary life of the trattoria unfold in front of me. A huge and hearty Italian family meal was underway on one of the tables, a couple much like us seemed to quietly enjoy their pastas on another table, four men were having an animated discussion over their meals on another and waiters waited tables while sipping on some house wine.

Tony Bourdain at Cacio e Pepe, Rome.

When the waiter arrived at the table with the food my attention was totally diverted to what was put in front of me. Spaghetti tossed in some heated butter and olive oil with freshly cracked pepper and pecorino cheese, served warm. For those few moments during my dinner I felt as if I was in an otherworldly plane. It was undoubtedly the simplest pasta dish I had eaten in my life but the impression it made on me is almost indescribable, as Mr. Bourdain very aptly writes in one of his books – “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.” It was one of those rare occurrences when a meal devoid of any animal protein satiated my hunger completely and that simplest of simple dish of pasta not only filled me up but evoked a warm fuzzy happiness in me.

The simple but delicious Cacio e Pepe.

Italians love eating immense meals and usually order a main course after their pasta which is why our waiter was horrified when we asked for the cheque after the pasta. In reality though, not only was I too full I wanted the taste of that cacio e pepe to remain in my mouth for the rest of the evening. The bite of the al dente pasta, the creaminess of the pecorino Romano cheese and the subtlety of the pepper at the back of the throat had captured my soul. Or had the senses of my soul captured the essence of Rome’s cacio e pepe?

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TANDOORI PORK TENDERLOIN

The great Anthony Bourdain once said, “Good food and good eating are about risk.” Every once in a while I take risks and try my hand at cooking something that I haven’t cooked before. It obviously goes without saying that I only share with you all the risks that come off, the experiments that are successful. This is one such story that ended happily.

If there is one meat I simply adore that would undoubtedly be pork. One of the easiest cut to cook is the tenderloin. Unless you really overcook it to death it ends up in a delicious dish with the meat remaining moist and tender. This last Friday I got myself a couple of pork tenderloins and decided to cook something that I hadn’t done before.

The most tender cut of pork.

Usually I simply roast the tenderloins and have them with some sauce or the other, be it a barbeque sauce or a honey mustard sauce. We have all eaten and enjoyed the world renowned tandoori chicken, some of us have perhaps even had the often looked down upon tandoori aloo (potato) as well. However, I have often in the past fantasised about having nice and juicy tandoori pork. The beautiful and juicy pork-y goodness marinated with yogurt and spices and then cooked in skewers over a bed of charcoal. My mouth waters even as I write about it. These pretty little loins presented the apt opportunity to turn my fantasy into reality.

Reality?

Unfortunately, it was a depressingly wet day and firing up the charcoal grill meant taking on multiple risks. If I am honest to myself though, it was probably because I was simply being a lazy laggard. I decided to put to good use my oven’s grill mode. Although I am not a big fan of the mint and coriander dip that accompanies tandoori dishes when the beautiful wife requests one has to oblige. The only grave mistake I made was not clicking a photograph of the dip. But I am sure most of you know what it looks like, don’t you?
Here’s how it went.

Ingredients:
For the pork:

1. Pork tenderloin – Two pieces. 250 – 300 gms each.
2. Onion – One medium. Ground to a paste.
3. Ginger and garlic paste – One tablespoon.
4. Yogurt – 4 tablespoons.
5. Turmeric – A pinch.
6. Red chilli powder – 1 teaspoon.
7. Kashmiri chilli powder – 1 teaspoon.
8. Tandoori masala mix – 1 tablespoon. I never buy branded tandoori masala but get freshly mixed generic stuff from a particular shop in Kolkata’s New Market from a man who is known to everyone as Chacha (uncle).
9. Ghee – 4 teaspoons.
10. Salt – To taste.

For the dip:
1. Mint leaves – Half a bunch.
2. Coriander leaves – Half a bunch.
3. Yogurt – Two tablespoons.
4. Mustard oil – One teaspoon.
5. Salt – To taste.

Directions:
For the pork:

1. Mix all the dry spices together and keep in a bowl.
2. Rub in the onion, garlic and ginger paste over the pork.
3. Whisk the dry spices into the yogurt and beat it into a smooth mixture.
4. Massage the mixture evenly all over the pork.
5. Next put in the salt and mix it well.
6. Finally add three teaspoons of the ghee.
7. Let the pork marinade for at least a couple of hours. Ideally I would have liked to marinade it for 24 hours but time wasn’t on my side in this instance.
8. Preheat the oven to 250 c or 400 F. This should take something between 10 – 20 minutes depending on the size of your oven.
9. My oven has an indicator lamp that comes on when preheating concludes. Otherwise an oven thermometer may come in handy.
10. Rub a baking tray with the remaining teaspoon of ghee so that the pork doesn’t stick.
11. Place the pork on the rack and cook for 45 minutes at 200 c or 350 F.
12. Once the oven stops carefully bring out the tray and let the loins rest for ten minutes before slicing them into bite sized pieces.

Rest it for 10 minutes before slicing.

For the dip:
1. Grind the mint and coriander leaves smoothly with as little water as possible.
2. Whisk the yogurt, leaves, salt and mustard oil together into a smooth mixture.

Tandoori Pork Tenderloin with coriander and mint yogurt dip.

Now enjoy your juicy and succulent tandoori pork tenderloin with your yogurt dip.

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PUMPKIN AND SPICE INFUSED DARK RUM

Another weekend calls for another experiment. This time round I tried infusing dark rum with a bit of spices, a fruit and pumpkin. Now that fall has set in the countries in the west and it’s their season to celebrate the pumpkin the internet is flush with innumerable recipes of pumpkin spiced rum or pumpkin spiced bourbon. So I drew a bit of inspiration from some of those recipes and I decided that I would play around with the sweetness of the pumpkin but since just a bit of pumpkin might not be interesting enough I threw in some other elements to add a few more flavours.

The ingredients platter.

Due to India’s fairly large vegetarian population pumpkin has wide versatile culinary uses and most of them are devoid of all the spices people generally tend to associate it with in the west. But like in the USA pumpkin here is cooked as side dishes, mains and even desserts. I won’t say that I am a huge fan of it but I do eat pumpkin in the form of curries from time to time but I never thought I would ever turn it into my guinea pig and use it in booze.

Nutmeg is a really popular spice when making pumpkin spiced drinks. It is a really aromatic spice with a sweet flavour profile. Since I was already using other sweet elements I substituted the nutmeg with its derivative, the more subtle mace. I totally love the aroma of mace but I have messed up dishes in the past by using too much of mace and that same aroma can get really overwhelming and prevent your other senses from enjoying the meal. This time I ensured that I use just the right amount. Another spice that has a special place in my heart is cinnamon. It also is a sweet spice with a strong aroma so too much of it can easily ill-affect the end result of any dish.

I threw in a bit of apple for its flavour and sweetness. I thought it might bring in those fruity flavours and add another dimension to the rum. And who doesn’t like the kick of ginger? Much as the warmth that ginger brings to the table is loved around the world, it’s spiciness at the back of the throat can ruin any recipe if too much is used. No, that is a mistake I haven’t made in the past or at least not yet which is why the quantity of ginger was just right enough to be able to taste that ginger-y warmth.

The infusion bottle beckons the Monk.

All these elements needed a platform where they could all co-exist symbiotically. And as far as I am concerned only Old Monk dark rum could have brought them together in harmony. Old Monk has somewhat of a cult following in India. I know of people whose choice of poison remains Old Monk and nothing else. On the palate it tastes of caramel and of abundance of molasses and maybe a touch of spiciness. However, in my humble opinion the rum is best enjoyed as a mixer in cocktails.

The Monk with a cult following.

Ingredients:
1. Old Monk Very Old Vatted Rum 7 Years Old Blended.
2. Pumpkin- Washed, cleaned and chopped into cubes. 100gms.
3. Apple- Half of a medium sized apple.
4. Mace- 2 – 3 pods.
5. Cinnamon – 3 – 4 barks
6. Ginger- Roughly chopped into tiny bits, not more than a teaspoon.

The infusion bottle should be left in a cool and dark place for 3 – 5 days.

Method:
1. Pour the rum in a large bottle or container. I used a long bottle (1000ml in vol.) that I have reserved specifically for spirit infusions.
2. Put in the chopped pumpkins after crushing them lightly with the back of a knife along with all the other ingredients mentioned above.
3. Seal the bottle tightly and let it rest in a cool dark place for 3 – 5 days.
4. Try to shake and turn the bottle at least once daily. Also taste about half a teaspoon of the infusion to judge the intensity of the flavours.
5. Pour 60ml or 2 fl. oz. over a few ice cubes and top up with soda and enjoy your ‘pumpkin spice infused rum’.

Time to reap the benefits.

I enjoyed my drink with friends and family over the Diwali weekend and it seemed to be well received by all. Even my wife who isn’t a fan of spices like nutmeg and mace appreciated it. The success of this experiment has already planted some very interesting Old Monk infusion ideas and I am quite looking forward to trying my hands at those. But my first Old Monk experiment is fondly dedicated to one of the biggest lovers of the Monk that I have known in my life who now has to lead a life of Monk depravity. Cheers. Happy Diwali.

A Monk blessed Diwali.
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FLAX SEED PARATHAS

Parathas are supposed to be soft, rich and flaky, an indulgent flatbread. But if you’re a health nut like me who has a healthy diet parathas may not get to feature that often in your Indian bread basket except maybe on special occasions. However, you can enjoy these parathas like you would normal parathas with vegetables or meat curries or even daal and achaar (pickles) guilt free. All you need to ensure is that the ghee is not used very liberally and that you throw in some ground flax seeds into the dough mix.

Flax seeds are considered to be a wonder food and have quite a hefty reputation in the health community. Not only are they rich in healthy fats, namely essential Omega 3 fatty acids but also contain both soluble and insoluble fibers. I prefer to buy whole organic flax seeds and grind them as and when I need. Whole seeds are easier to store. They remain fresh and retain flavours longer than ground flax which if stored for too long tends to smell stale and taste rancid. It is also widely advised to consume ground flax seeds rather than whole as whole seeds have a very high chance of passing through our system completely undigested and unused. It has a nutty taste and is too dry to eat it by itself so I usually use freshly ground flax in yogurt, oatmeal, pancakes, rotis and parathas. Here’s how I make my flax seed parathas:

I buy organic whole flax seeds. Whole flax seeds are easier to store.

Ingredients:
1. Wholewheat flour (atta) – 1 cup
2. Flax seeds (ground)- 2 tablespoons
3. Ghee – 2 tablespoons
4. Salt – a pinch
5. Water – as needed
This will yield about 5 – 6 parathas.

It is advisable to use ground flax seed as opposed to whole.

Directions:
1. On a flat shallow container take the flour and start kneading it with 1 tablespoon of ghee and water. Once a dough starts to form add the freshly ground flax seeds and knead for a while longer so as to allow the seeds to spread evenly throughout the dough.
2. Cover and let it rest for about 25-30 mins.
3. From the larger dough pull out smaller spheres of dough (about the size of a toddler’s fist) and begin to flatten it out with a rolling pin. I like round shaped parathas as compared to triangular or square ones which are very popular shapes in a lot of Bengali households.
4. On a non-stick tawa (Indian frying/ dripping pan) add a few drops of ghee from the remaining ghee and start shallow frying the parathas. Make sure that the heat is not too high or the parathas will get burnt on the top surface and won’t cook through.
5. Enjoy the parathas with whatever you like; with yogurt and pickles or with home cooked veggies or daal or meat.

Flax seed parathas with pork curry.

So, now you don’t have to wait for that party or special occasion to enjoy your paratha. Not only do these parathas have a soft and flaky texture they also have a distinct nutty flavour thanks to the flax seeds. Now you can have your paratha and eat it too.

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MADE FOR EACH OTHER – II

If you have read my first post with the same title, by now you are aware that this post has nothing to do with corny things or love matches. In case you have missed out on that you may read it here: http://eatsiprepeat.com/made-for-each-other-i/. In my second post under this title I am going to write about another one of my favourite pairings.

Knob Creek Small Batch 100 Proof Bourbon Whiskey with Alluvia 100% dark chocolate
Although I simply chanced upon it, I later discovered that the combination I wrote about in my previous post was a tried and tested one. Blue cheese indeed pairs very well with heavily smoked Islay single malt whiskies. This one however, was a pairing based completely on my intuition, as a result of which the satisfaction derived this time round was much more.

Unfortunately American whiskies except Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 and Jim Beam are quite difficult to get hold of here in Kolkata which is why I seldom get my hands on quality Bourbon. Earlier this year, while on transit I picked up a bottle of Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey from a duty free store in the Bangkok airport. I had of course read about it before and it had featured on my must try list for quite some time. Thankfully, I wasn’t disappointed at all.

Knob Creek is produced by Beam Suntory in the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky, USA. It is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey which means that at least 51% of its mash must be made from corn. The Small Batch 100 Proof, the brand’s primary expression is bottled at 100 proof or 50% ABV or Alcohol by Volume which is higher than the requirement of at least 80 proof or 40% ABV. Of course, at 100 proof it does retain a lot of fieriness but make no mistake it does carry big, bold and traditional flavours and is surprisingly easy to sip. I sensed some nutty and woody aromas in this beautiful amber coloured whiskey. After taking a sip the rich sweetness hit me immediately followed by generous hit of oak and some spiciness. Despite its heat it has a long and smooth finish leaving a warm feeling down the back of the mouth.

Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Small Batch.

The 100% dark chocolate which goes by the brand name Alluvia originates in Vietnam and how could I not pick up a 100% dark when I spotted one. It is almost devoid of any creaminess and has an extremely rich earthy flavour profile.

Alluvia 100% flanked by the Alluvia 70%.

Having tasted both elements of my pairing on two separate evenings one evening I suddenly hit upon the idea of combining the two. So I invited my younger brother to join me and I poured ourselves a drink each of the Knob Creek and broke out a few chunks of the 100% dark Alluvia. As is the norm for any pairing, the drink must be sipped first. I sipped on the bourbon and slowly let the warmth recede and then I bit into a chunk of the chocolate. The flavours of Knob Creek do linger on your palate for quite some time after you have swallowed it and that completely changed the flavours of the chocolate. They added to the richness and earthy notes and brought out more notes of cocoa and whiff of bitter coffee. After a while when I went back to the whiskey I was pleasantly surprised to note an enriched sweetness to it. The heat and spiciness were definitely more muted than before. With each sip and bite the entire experience only got richer and richer. Thus I continued with the entire process of eating, sipping and repeating until there were no more eats and sips to be repeated and the memorable evening drew to a close.

Another pair that were made for each other!

I know the 100% dark chocolate is probably not everyone’s cup of tea or bite of chocolate but if paired right it can work very well with whiskies similar to Knob Creek Small Batch. One may even consider pairing it with some VSOP brandy or cognac. That reminds me, I do have some of that chocolate left. It is perhaps time to get myself a brandy. You are welcome to buy me one too.

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CHANA DAAL PORK GOSHT PESHAWARI

I committed another blasphemy this last weekend. After having cooked biryani and chaap with pork previously (which is a story for another time), this time it was a daal gosht recipe that I tried my hand at. The result however, was positively delectable.

Daal as we all know are lentils or split legumes and have a staple presence in South Asian cuisine. Daal can be really versatile and maybe cooked in numerous ways. Chana daal is split Bengal gram.

Chana Daal or split Bengal gram

Gosht usually refers to tender meat of an animal, mostly that of a goat. Most gosht recipes are cooked on a slow fire for a long time to achieve the desired consistency and flavour.

To be very frank, I am not sure if this recipe has its roots in Peshawar, Pakistan but I did take inspiration from a Pakistani website. For a long time now I have wanted to cook a meat and lentils dish and this last Sunday I fulfilled my long standing desire. But I did put in my own twist. On a whim I bought skinless lean pork without bones and decided that I would cook the Chana Daal Gosht Peshawari with it. So out went goat meat and in came pork. I will admit though, that darker meats like beef or mutton tend to add a bit more flavour and depth to the dish as compared to pork. However, I believe pork has its own nobility which is why I like experimenting with it and adapting it in different recipes and cuisines. This was another successful experiment.

Here is my recipe.

Ingredients:
1. Chana Daal (split Bengal gram) – 2 cups.
2. Lean Pork (skinless, boneless) – 1 kg.
3. Ghee – 2 tablespoons.
4. Onions – 2 medium pieces, roughly chopped.
5. Garlic and ginger paste – 1 tablespoon.
6. Turmeric powder – 1 ½ teaspoon.
7. Coriander powder – 1 teaspoon.
8. Roasted cumin powder – 1 teaspoon.
9. Red chilli powder – 1 teaspoon. You may of course add more if you prefer it to be hotter.
10. Garam masala – 1 teaspoon. I used freshly ground spice as it lends a completely different flavour to the entire dish.
11. Salt to taste.

Directions:
1. Soak the lentils in water for at least 60 mins.
2. In a wok take 2 tablespoons ghee. Once it is hot enough (make sure it isn’t smoking) add the onions.
3. As soon as the onions turn a translucent pink add the garlic and ginger paste.
4. After the condiments start releasing their aroma add in the pork and begin browning the meat.
5. Once it is brown enough add in the spices one by one except the garam masala. Mix them in well.
6. Until this point I cooked at a temperature of 1000 degrees celcius. Now reduce the heat to low (I lowered it to 300 degrees), add a bit of water, cover and sit tight.
7. After cooking on low heat for about 40 – 45 minutes remove the cover and check the meat for tenderness. It should feel soft to the touch but the centre would probably be a bit stiff still. Now add in the lentils, cover and cook for 30 minutes more.
8. By now the meat will have become tender and the lentils should be soft but firm enough to hold its own shape. You may choose to cook it to the consistency of a daal but I prefer it a bit firmer when cooking a meat dish.
9. Reduce the water and check for salt.
10. Garnish with coriander or slit green chillies or both.
11. Enjoy your Chana Daal Pork Gosht Peshawari with rice, roti or paratha.

My version of Chana Daal Pork Gosht Peshawari.
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A WEALTH OF MEMORIES

Yesterday, all over the world Bengalis celebrated ‘Lokkhi Pujo’. Lokkhi is regarded as the goddess of wealth. Since the time I was a small child I have been a witness to my home ‘Lokkhi Pujo’ the chief architect of which until five years ago, was my late grandmother. She would, with great vigour and enthusiasm, make all the preparations from a day before the pujo and then with a deep sense of piety see to the fact that the entire ceremony was conducted without a hiccup. Now the mantle has been more than ably taken over by her equally devoted son, my father.

As far as I am concerned, be it ‘Lokkhi Pujo’ or Christmas or Ramadan, it is always about the food. On the day of the pujo the entire household consumes vegetarian. For lunch there is ‘khichuri’ which is nothing but a porridge of rice and pulses cooked together with a bit of turmeric and maybe whole roasted cumin seeds accompanied by vegetables like potatoes and aubergines fried in a chickpea batter. And for dinner there is the classic Bengali combination of ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar daal’ (a thick daal made of Bengal gram garnished with bits of crispy coconut). The dough for the ‘luchi’ is usually kneaded with refined flour or maida. For the last few years I have been giving the vegetarian meals a skip primarily because I am not a ‘vegetarian’ person at all and also due to my fitness oriented lifestyle. This year however, I did have the ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar dal’ as a meal itself for a change and I have no qualms about admitting that I ended up enjoying myself. Since I do not consume refined carbs the dough for my ‘luchis’ was kneaded with multiple high fibre grains.

However, it is not the ‘khichuri’ or ‘luchi’ and ‘chholar daal’ that excites me. The offerings or ‘noibedyo‘ that are arranged and placed in front of the goddess’s idol are the things that have a very special place in my heart. Normally the edible noibedyo comprise of various sweets and fresh cut fruits and having a notoriously sweet-tooth it is the sweets that especially attract me. The sights and smells of these foods tend to give rise to a deep sense of nostalgia and memories within me.

Fruits are a must on the offering platter

As a kid when I could sense that the ceremony was nearing its end I would start pestering my grandmother for these treats. She was an extremely patient person but when it came to me and my brother her patience increased manifolds. Somehow she would hold us off till the end of the ceremony and the first people to get a plateful of the blessed offerings, known as ‘proshad’, were the two of us. She would of course ensure that there would be way more ‘proshad’ than needed so that the two of us could continue to devour those wickedly sweet treats for days on end even after the pujo was long over. The must haves for me were ‘batasha’, ‘kodma’ and ‘mot’. My father doesn’t get the latter two because I don’t eat them anymore but the ‘batashas’ are ubiquitous. All of these are Bengali style hard boiled confectionery. The ‘batasha’ is shaped somewhat like a big tablet and the ‘mot’ came in bizarre fluorescent colours shaped like a temple or a swan or peacock. The ‘kodma’ was usually like a flattened sphere and was undoubtedly the hardest of these to bite into.

Shada (white) and laal (red, more dark brown) batashas were once the loves of my life.

Next up on my list were ‘gnoojiya’ and ‘moondi sandesh’. The former has a distinct shape somewhat resembling a drop with a hollow middle, is made with reduced milk and a truckload of sugar. Although not as sweet as the ‘batashas’ these are still sweet enough to make an average person feel giddy. Lowest on the sweetness index is probably the ‘moondi sandesh’. It is nothing but a hard spherical sandesh. Sandesh as we all know is made with cottage cheese, reduced milk and sugar but the proportion of the cottage cheese in this one is probably lower than usual. Another hot favourite of mine was the ‘chandropooli’. Shaped like a half-moon (chandro means moon in Bengali) it is made with reduced milk, shaved coconut and sugar.

The eternal trio of ‘gnoojiya, ‘moondi sandesh’ and ‘chandropooli’.

There were a lot of other sweet things like dates, ‘aam shotto’ (mango pulp leather) and something called ‘moa’. The ‘moa’ is a roughly made sphere with derivatives of rice and jaggery. It came in three varieties, one made with ‘chire’ or flattened rice, one with ‘khoi’ or popped rice and one with ‘muri’ or puffed rice. Since all these items featured low on my pecking order now my father has almost cut these out of the noibedyo.

The aam shotto (mango pulp leather) makes an appearance in the background.

I don’t eat too many sweets now and my loving grandmother is not physically around anymore but emotions have a way of making themselves felt and last evening I devoured a ‘chandropooli’, ‘gnoojiya’ and ‘moondi sandesh’ each, barely managing to resist the ‘batashas’ for I knew the sense of guilt that I would feel after would be much deeper than the sense of nostaligia within me. Today morning while sipping my coffee I realized that last evening was probably a case of my sweet-tooth acting up more than anything else but thanks to my grandmother, whom I called ‘Amma’, I have a wealth of memories to live with.

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LEMONGRASS & BASIL INFUSED VODKA

If there is something that really gives me an adrenalin rush and makes me look forward to the end result it is undoubtedly experimenting with food and beverages. The experience in the end may not always be something to write home about but just the act of eating or drinking the mysterious looking food or bizarre-ly coloured drink really excites me. So, since this last weekend was a rather long one, not that I am complaining, I decided to conduct an experiment that has been on my mind for the past few weeks.

I am not the science nerd type so you can rest assured that you don’t need a laboratory to conduct this experiment. Anyone can do this at home, in your kitchen or even your living room for that matter. The only statutory warning I will issue is to be extremely careful with your liquor so that not a single drop of the precious liquid is wasted.

Here are the ingredients you need:
1. A bottle of good vodka. I bought a bottle of Absolut because I quite like its clean crispness on the palate and also because it’s a moderately priced good quality vodka. Cheaper booze will definitely compromise the end result. You may of course substitute vodka with any other clear spirit of your choice but I prefer vodka as it is easily available and has a neutral taste.

Absolut Vodka

2. Flavouring agents. I love growing my own herbs and using them in my recipes so I chose lemongrass and Thai basil. Lemongrass has a refreshing lemon-y aroma but is quite subtle. The Thai basil has its own distinct flavours and aromas somewhat resembling anise. The important thing to remember here is to use just the 4 – 5 leaves of basil as compared to 8 – 9 stems of lemongrass. You may use just the single flavouring agent or as many as you like but it is important to ensure that all the distinct flavours remain intact.

Infusion begins.

Directions:
1. Absolut comes with a fun stopper so I had to empty it out into another bottle.
2. Wash the Thai basil leaves well and let them dry. In the meanwhile peel the lemongrass to it inner most layer. With a sharp knife cut a few slits into the stem.
3. Now insert these into the bottle of vodka. Screw it tight and give it a good shake and let it rest as the label says on most food products, in a cool and dry place.
4. After a day or two taste the drink. Taste. Don’t drink. You may leave the flavouring agents in for a length of 2 – 5 days depending on how intense you would like the flavours to be. After that the leaves tend to give off a not so desirable flavour.

Now chill and enjoy your drink.

Now comes the best part. Take a highball glass. Fill it up with ice. Pour 2 fl oz (60 ml) of the vodka and top it up with soda. Garnish with a stem of lemongrass. And enjoy.

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