Navratri Vrat Thali

by Shivani Khanna

Navratri is a festival dedicated to the worship of the Hindu deity ‘Durga’. The word Navaratri means ‘nine nights’ in Sanskrit, nava meaning nine and ratri meaning nights. During these nine nights and ten days, nine forms of Shakti/Devi are worshiped.

Navratri is celebrated in the beginning of spring and the beginning of autumn which are considered to be important junctions of climatic and solar influences. These two periods are taken as sacred opportunities for the worship of the Divine Mother Durga. The dates of the festival are determined according to the lunar calendar.

The Navratri abstinence or Vrat is observed from the first day to the ninth day. Most people confine themselves to fruit during the nine days/nights. Other devotees take a single meal during the day/night, and non-vegetarian food is avoided. Also, the consumption of onion and garlic is avoided for the entire duration of Navaratri. ~ Wikipedia

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Ever since my childhood, I’ve looked forward to the festival of Navratri. As a child I was not aware of the significance of the festival. It was the delicious food prepared by my mother during the festival that was the main appeal. Till date I don’t know why its called fasting. Most dishes are deep fried. Other dishes which include fruit, sabudana and vegetables are tasteful and full of flavour. The dishes I prepare today are mostly what my mother cooks. A few dishes I have learnt from neighbours and the extended family.

In my family we eat the ‘falhar’ or fasting food for the first seven days. On ‘Ahstmi’ or the eighth day, we do the pooja and have Sooji Halwa, Kale Chane and Puris for ‘parsad’.

Here I share some of the recipes that I cook for the Navratri fast at home. My mother offers the first thali as ‘bhog’ or as food to the Gods. The one thing that I remember most is that she would always place one bowl of drinking water with leaves of Tulsi in it. Just as we drink water with our food, so do the Gods and that is what I do even today. I have posted enough dishes to see any one through the seven days.

Please click on the name of the dish you want to view to be taken to the recipe to that dish.

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~ Fruit Chaat 

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~ Imli Chutney with Fruits

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~ Makhana, Melon Seeds and Peanut Namkeen

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~ Sabudana Tikki

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~ Sabudana Khichri

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~ Kuttu & Singhara Atta Pakora

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~ Kuttu Paneer Pakora

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~ Raita

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~ Sukhi Arbi ki Sabji

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~ Kadoo ki Sabji

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~ Shinghare ki Sabji

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~ Khatte Aloo ki Sabji

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~ Khatti Arbi ki Sabji

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 ~ Samak ke Chaval

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 ~ Kuttu & Singhara Atta Roti

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~ Sabudana Kheer

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~ Makhane ki Kheer

Sabudana Khichri

by Shivani Khanna

Tapioca Sago is generally known as SABUDANA in Hindi.  Sago is a produce, prepared from the milk of Tapioca Root. It is a very nutritious product as it contains Carbohydrates and appreciable amount of Calcium and Vitamin-C.

The root, received from the farms is hygienically cleaned in water & after peeling the skin, it is crushed, allowed to pass the milk after retaining all fibre & impurities. The milk is settled in a tank for nearly 3 to 8 hours, thus all residual impurities float to the top of the tank & are drained out of the settled milk. From this settled Milk Cake, Globules are made by  a very simple indigenous machine. After sizing the globules by filtering through sieves, it is roasted on hot plates or heated in steam, depending upon the desired final product. Sago in globular shape is then dried under direct sunlight on big platforms. ~ Sabuindia

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As Sabudana is mainly starch which contains carbohydrates, it is great for a quick boost of energy, and is often served in India for breaking fasts during religious festivals. Sabudana  can be cooked in either savoury or sweet dishes. Sabudana are dried globules which need to be re-hydrated. This is the tricky part. The best way to re-hydrate them is to spread them out on a flat plate and sprinkle water over them. They will absorb the water. This process needs to be repeated till the sabudana pearls/globules are soft to touch.

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Peanuts used in the making of Sabudana Khichri are necessary as they keep the sabudana pearls from getting sticky and clumping up during the cooking. They also provide the crunch to the soft sabudana pearls.The potatoes need to be crisped before adding the rest of the ingredients, this helps them retain their texture.

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Sabudana Khichri

Ingredients ~

200 gms sabudana
1 medium potato
50 gms roasted peanuts
1 small green chilli, optional
1/3 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red chilli powder

Method ~

1. Re-hydrate the sabudana pearls by placing them on a flat plate and sprinkling water over them occasionally till the pearls feel soft to the touch.
2. Boil the potato. When cool, peel it and cut into small cubes.
3. Crush the peanuts coarsely and remove the skins that may separate from the peanut.
4. Chop the green chilli if using.
5. Heat vegetable oil in a wok and when saute the potatoes till crisp.
6. Add the peanuts and stir.
7. Gently mix in the sabudana pearls. Add the salt, red chilli powder and cook over slow fire till the the sadudana pearls turn translucent and are heated through.
9. Serve with Imli Chutney,Fruit Chaat, Raita, Khatte Aaloo ki Sabji, Khatti Arbi ki Sabji.

 

Sukhi Arbi ki Sabji

by Shivani Khanna

Arbi or Colocasia esculenta is thought to be native to Southern India and Southeast Asia. It is a perennial, tropical plant primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible starchy corm, and as a leaf vegetable.

Arbi is low in fats and the calorie value chiefly comes from complex carbohydrates. Their protein levels can be comparable to that of other tropical food sources like yam, cassava, potato, plantain, etc. The corms are free from gluten. They carry high-quality phyto-nutrition profile comprising of dietary fiber and antioxidants in addition to moderate proportions of minerals and vitamins.It also contains good levels of some of the valuable B-complex group of vitamins.

Further, the corms provide healthy amounts of some of important minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. In addition, the root has very good amounts of potassium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

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Arbi is one of the finest source dietary fibres. Together with slow digesting complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of fibre in the food help gradual rise in blood sugar levels and for this reason it is a good vegetable to have during fasting.

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The plant is inedible when raw and considered toxic due to the presence of calcium oxalate. The toxin is minimized by cooking. In this recipe the Arbi is boiled, then fried and finished with a tempering of spices.

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Sukhi Arbi ki Sabji

Ingredients ~

5 medium arbi
1/4 tsp ajwain seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground dried mango powder/amchur
vegetable oil for frying

Method ~

1. Boil the arbi.
2. Peel and cut the arbi into batons.
3. Heat the oil in a wok. Fry the arbi till golden and crisp.
4. Heat a frying pan on the stove. Add a tablespoon of oil.
5. In the hot oil temper the ajwain seeds.
6. Take the cut arbi and add them to the pan. Cook till coated in the oil.
7. Add the red chilli powder, salt and the amchur powder.
8. Cook till coated in the spices and crisp.
9. Serve hot with Kuttu Roti, Kuttu Puri, Khatte Aaloo ki Sabji, Khatti Arbi ki Sabji, Samak ke Chawal, Sabudana Khichri.

 

Kadoo ki Sabji

by Shivani Khanna

Kadoo or Pumpkin is a cultivar of the squash plant that is round, with smooth, slightly ribbed skin and deep yellow to orange coloration. The thick shell contains the seeds and pulp. The plant is a fast-growing vine that creeps along the ground surface in a similar fashion like that of other Cucurbitaceae family vegetables and fruits such as cucumber, squash, cantaloupes etc. It is one of the most popular field crops cultivated around the world for its fruit and seeds.

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Kadoo fruit is one of the most widely grown vegetables that is incredibly rich in vital antioxidants, and vitamins. It is one of the best-known sources of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant known to give orange vegetables and fruits their vibrant colour and which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Consuming foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, offer protection against asthma and heart disease and delay aging and body degeneration.

Pumpkins are very versatile in their uses for cooking. Most parts of the pumpkin are edible, including the fleshy shell, the seeds, the leaves, and even the flowers. ~ Wikipedia

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Kadoo ki Sabji

Ingredients ~

250 gms kadoo/pumpkin
1/4 tsp methi seeds
2 dried red chilli
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp amchur powder
1 tbsp oil

Method ~

1. Cut the kadoo into cubes.
2. In a wok heat the oil. Temper the methi seeds and the dried red chilli till they sputter.
3. Add the kadoo and stir to mix. Sprinkle the salt and cover to cook.
4. Once the kadoo is soft and almost cooked through, add the sugar and the amchur powder. The taste should be a balance of sweet, sour and chilli.
5. Serve hot with Kuttu & Singhara Roti, Samak ke Chaval, Sabudana Khichri.

 

Singhare ki Sabji

by Shivani Khanna

Singhara or Water Chestnut is a fruit therefore eaten during religious fasting in India. It can be eaten raw, boiled or as flour, after drying and grinding. Singhara is indigenous to India and used in Ayurveda to cure various diseases.

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Singhara is rich in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamin B, C, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iodine and contains no fat. It is a natural antioxidant, prevents wrinkles and protects from UV rays. It helps to prevent sugar,ulcer, gout and heart diseases and is used for treating diarrhoea, dysentery, thyroid problem, swelling and bronchitis. It contains iodine, manganese and other minerals that help in proper functioning of thyroid.

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Singhare ki Sabji

Ingredients ~

500 gms raw singhara/water chestnut
1 tbsp oil
1/4 tsp jeera
1/3 tsp salt, or to taste

Method ~

1. Shell the singhara/water chestnut.
2. Cut the singhara into two pieces each.
3. In a wok, heat the oil, add the jeera and cook till it sputters.
4. Add the singhara and stir. Sprinkle the salt and stir once again.
5. Add two tablespoons of water and cover the wok with a lid. Cook on slow heat.
6. Once the water has evapoated and the singhara is cooked through, yet has a crunch, remove from fire.
7. Serve hot or cold with Kuttu & Singhara Atta Roti, Samak ke Chaval, Sabudana Khichri.

 

Khatte Aaloo ki Sabji

by Shivani Khanna

Aaloo or Potato is one of the most important staple crops in the human diet around the world. Potatoes are not roots but specialized underground storage stems called tubers.  This nutrient-dense tuber is packed with a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that ward off disease and benefit human health.

Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like potatoes decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.

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Potatoes also contain a compound known as alpha-lipoic acid, which helps the body to convert glucose into energy. Thus, it is a good vegetable to eat during fasting.

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Khatte Aaloo ki Sabji

Ingredients ~

3 medium potatoes
2 tbsp curd/yogurt
1/4 tsp ajwain seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground dried mango powder/amchur
1 tbsp ghee

Method ~

1. Boil the potatoes.
2. Peel and roughly crush the boiled potatoes.
3. Heat a pan on the stove. Add a tablespoon of ghee.
4. In the hot ghee temper the ajwain seeds and red chilli powder.
5. Beat the curd and add it to the spices in the pan. Cook till thick.
6. Take the crushed potatoes and add them to the pan. Cook till coated in the spice mixture.
7. Add drinking water to cover the potato mixture and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to simmer and partially cover the pan with a lid.
8. Add the amchur powder to sour the gravy. Adjust the seasoning to make the gravy a blend of salty, chilli and sour.
9. Once the gravy is thick remove from the stove. Serve with Kuttu Roti, Kuttu Puri, Kuttu & Singhara Atta Pakora, Kuttu Paneer Pakora, Samak ke Chawal, Sabudana Khichri.

 

Khatti Arbi ki Sabji

by Shivani Khanna

Arbi or Colocasia esculenta is thought to be native to Southern India and Southeast Asia. It is a perennial, tropical plant primarily grown as a root vegetable for its edible starchy corm, and as a leaf vegetable.

Arbi is low in fats and the calorie value chiefly comes from complex carbohydrates. Their protein levels can be comparable to that of other tropical food sources like yam, cassava, potato, plantain, etc. The corms are free from gluten. They carry high-quality phyto-nutrition profile comprising of dietary fiber and antioxidants in addition to moderate proportions of minerals and vitamins.It also contains good levels of some of the valuable B-complex group of vitamins.

Further, the corms provide healthy amounts of some of important minerals like zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and manganese. In addition, the root has very good amounts of potassium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that help regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

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Arbi is one of the finest source dietary fibres. Together with slow digesting complex carbohydrates, moderate amounts of fibre in the food help gradual rise in blood sugar levels and for this reason it is a good vegetable to have during fasting.

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Khatti Arbi ki Sabji

Ingredients ~

5 medium arbi
2 tbsp curd/yogurt
1/4 tsp ajwain seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground dried mango powder/amchur
1 tbsp ghee

Method ~

1. Boil the arbi.
2. Peel and cut the boiled arbi into rounds.
3. Heat a pan on the stove. Add a tablespoon of ghee.
4. In the hot ghee temper the ajwain seeds and red chilli powder.
5. Beat the curd and add it to the spices in the pan. Cook till thick.
6. Take the cut arbi and add them to the pan. Cook till coated in the spice mixture.
7. Add drinking water to cover the arbi mixture and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a rolling boil, reduce the heat to simmer and partially cover the pan with a lid.
8. Add the amchur powder to sour the gravy. Adjust the seasoning to make the gravy a blend of salty, chilli and sour.
9. Once the gravy is thick remove from the stove. Serve with Kuttu Roti, Kuttu Puri, Kuttu & Singhara Atta Pakora, Kuttu Paneer Pakora, Samak ke Chawal, Sabudana Khichri.

 

Sarson ka Saag

by Taramani Kalra

Sarson ka Saag is a traditional Punjabi dish. Come winter and the fields of Punjab and its neighbouring states are golden yellow with the colour of the mustard flowers, gently blowing in the breeze. In every Punjabi household, and most restaurants, Sarson ka Saag is a popular dish and can be eaten at every meal accompanied with Makki ki Roti. The dish is made from Sarson/ Mustard leaves to which smaller quantities of Palak/Spinach and Bathua/Wild Spinach are added. Though each household has its own tempering method using ginger, garlic, onions, the main method of cooking the greens slowly with a lot of love, remains the same.

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Sarson or Mustard plant leaves or Brassica juncea, is a nutritious green leaf vegetable available in the winter months in North India and its leaves are most flavourful from November until March.  It has been cultivated for its leaves and oil seeds since ancient times. The young tender green leaves are gathered when the plant reaches about 2 feet in height and used as green leaf vegetable. If left to grow to 4-5 feet in height, it bears golden yellow coloured flowers which develop into mustard seed pods and are used as a spice as well as in oil production.

Mustard greens are the storehouse for many phyto-nutrients that promote health and have disease prevention properties.They are low in calories and fats. It’s dark green leaves carry ample amounts of phyto-nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. It contains a good amount of fiber that helps control cholesterol levels and aids in smooth bowel movements and hence offers protection from hemorrhoids, constipation as well as colon cancer diseases.

The greens are also a very good source of Vitamin K, which aids in the bone mass building function by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bone. It plays an important role in Alzheimer’s disease patients by limiting neuronal damage in their brain. They are also a rich source of anti-oxidants and have proven benefits against prostate, breast, colon and ovarian cancers by virtue of their cancer-cell growth inhibition.

Fresh Mustard leaves are also a moderate source of B-complex group of vitamins, an excellent source of vitamin-C and an incredible source of vitamin-A which is an essential nutrient required for good eye-sight. A source of several essential minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, and manganese. Regular consumption of mustard greens in the diet is known to prevent arthritis, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, anemia and believed to offer protection from cardiovascular diseases, asthma and colon and prostate cancers.

Bathua or Chenopodium album is a winter crop in North India. It is extensively cultivated and consumed as a food crop. Bathua leaves are high in fibre and  a very good source of high quality protein, nutrients, antioxidants and vitamins, particularly Vitamin C and Vitamin A, potassium, iron, calcium and zinc. Bathua leaves are good for the liver, spleen and gall bladder. It improves haemoglobin level and is considered a heart tonic. The juice of Bathua leaves also helps purify blood.

Palak or Spinach or Spinacia oleracea belongs to the Chenopodiaceae family. In India, Palak is available throughout the year and  is of the smooth, flat, dark-green variety.

Spinach is beneficial for weight loss as it is rich in fibre and aids in digestion, prevents constipation, maintains low blood sugar and curbs overeating. It is anti-Cancer and has proven to be effective in providing protection against the occurrence of aggressive prostate cancer. It is also effective in slowing down cell division in human stomach and skin cancer cells. It also contains vitamin A which is very important for eye health and contains antioxidants which protect the eye from cataracts. Spinach is rich in Vitamin K which is vital for maintaining bone health. It lowers hypertension, promotes gastrointestinal health, lowers blood pressure, maintains proper brain functioning specially during old age. Being rich in Vitamin K, spinach aids in calcification and also helps prevent anaemia as it is an excellent source of iron.

Loaded with useful vitamins like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Vitamin K as well as vital minerals, spinach plays an important role in skincare. It also promotes healthy hair as it is loaded with nutrients and antioxidants that promote hair growth and combat hair loss.

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Taramani is from a village in Jharkhand and has been staying in Delhi for 12 years. She got married 5 years ago. Her family is well established but the economic freedom is what drives her to keep working.  She loves talking on her mobile and keeps in touch with most of her community, who look up to her for guidance. Her husband indulges her love for new mobiles often. She has a special gift of flavouring the food and can organise parties very efficiently. Once she leaves full time employment, she is being encouraged to take up catering for parties, train girls in cooking or start a tiffin business as she is an able organiser and mobilises her fellow workers very efficiently.

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Taramani says the sweetness of Palak and Bathua leaves counteracts the peppery sharpness of the Sarson leaves. Though the combined weight of the leaves is about 2kgs, after the cleaning and chopping of the leaves, we are left with about 1kg 600gms. Cooking it with the bare minimum of accompaniments brings out the flavour of the greens.

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To pander to differing tastes she tempers the greens after cooking with onions and sometimes garlic, cooked in pure ghee. With her proportions, the Sarson ka Saag tastes exceptional and the tempering is optional and not a necessity. She also adds a tablespoon of makki flour to bind the greens as such.

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Sarson ka Saag

Ingredients ~

1 kg tender sarson/mustard leaves
700 gms palak/spinach
400 gms bathua/wild spinach
2-3 green chillies or to taste
50 gms ginger
50 gms jaggery
2 cups water
Salt to taste

Tempering ~

2 medium onions
2 tbsp pure ghee

 

Method ~

1. Wash and clean the sarson/mustard leaves, palak/spinach and bathua/wild spinach.
2. If the mustard leaves are mature, then peel the stringy part of the stem.
3. Pluck the bathua leaves and discard the woody stems.
4. Cut away the hard spinach stems.
5. Take all the greens and cut finely.
6. Chop the chillies and peel and dice the ginger.
7. Place in a pressure cooker with water and the knob of jaggery.
8. Pressure cook for 1 whistle and then simmer for 30 minutes.
9. Once the steam has reduced, open the pressure cooker and blend the greens with a hand mixer to a rough puree consistency.
10. In a small frying pan, heat the ghee and sauté the chopped onion till translucent and slightly pink.
11. Add to the puree in the pressure cooker along with a tablespoon of makki flour.
12. Cook open on a slow flame till the puree becomes thick.
13. Serve steaming hot with ghee or home-made butter and Makki ki Roti.

 

 

Tandoori Chicken

by Sabina Kapoor

Tandoori chicken originated in the Punjab before the independence of India and Pakistan. In India, tandoori cooking was traditionally associated with the State of Punjab and became popular in the mainstream after the 1947 partition when Punjabis resettled in places such as Delhi.

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Tandoori Chicken was popularized in post-independent India by the Moti Mahal Restaurant, owned by Kundan Lal Jaggi, Thakur Das Mago and Kundan Lal Gujaral, Delhi, when it was served to the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The tandoori chicken at Moti Mahal so impressed Nehru, that he made it a regular at official banquets. Visiting dignitaries who enjoyed tandoori chicken included American Presidents Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, Soviet leaders Nikolai Bulganin and Nikita Khrushchev, the King of Nepal, and the Shah of Iran. ~ Wikipedia

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Sabina Kapoor is a beautiful human being, through and through. Beauty is synonymous with her. Her home, her family, her entertaining, her work at her Beauty Spa, all carry her sense of beauty and style. Mother of two charming daughters and now grandmother to two energetic grandchildren, her home is always welcoming visitors from near and far.

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Staying in Punjab, a staple on her menu is Tandoori Chicken, a favourite of the Punjabis. Her recipe is a simple, fuss free and delicious version of the Tandoori Chicken made famous by the ‘Moti Mahal’ restaurant in Delhi. For the modern household, using a tandoor indoors and in apartments is not possible. Sabina Kapoor uses her kitchen counter top oven to get the same taste and texture as chicken cooked in a tandoor. This makes her recipe of Tandoori Chicken a must have for all of us.

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Her secret is that she buys a raw chicken and deep freezes it for about 24 hours before defrosting it to start the marination process. According to her this helps in softening the chicken and makes the flesh less stringy. For getting the right flavour she uses two marinades. It is also important to marinate the chicken for as long as she has suggested. In fact, for convenience sake she marinates portions of the chicken in food grade Ziploc bags and keeps them in the freezer. This makes it easy to have a party dish ready when unexpected visitors arrive.

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Tandoori Chicken

First Marinade

Ingredients ~

500 gms broiler chicken, cut into 6 pieces
3 inch piece ginger
6 garlic pods
1 tsp salt

Method ~

1. Weigh the chicken and cut into appropriate pieces.
2. With a knife, make deep gashes on both sides of the chicken pieces.
3. Make a paste of ginger and garlic and rub this thoroughly on the chicken pieces.
4. Leave in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours.

Second Marinade

Ingredients ~

½ inch piece nutmeg/jaifal,  ground
3-4 flakes mace/javetri, ground
1 tsp roasted cumin, ground
¼ tsp salt
6 tbsp hung yogurt
2 1/2 tbsp mustard oil
A pinch of dry powder orange colour, optional

Method ~

1. Heat the mustard oil to smoking point, cool.
2. Beat the hung yogurt.
3. Add the powdered masalas, nutmeg, mace, roasted cumin and salt to the yogurt.
4. Mix in the mustard oil and the powdered colour if using.
5. Apply the second marinate to the chicken pieces and refrigerate for minimum of 24 hours for best results.

Cooking Method ~

1. Heat the oven to 250*C, use the setting to heat both the upper and lower electric rods.
2. Place the chicken pieces on the oven wire rack. This will ensure the chicken pieces are heated from the top and the bottom.
3. Cook the chicken for 20 minutes.
4. Take out the wire rack from the oven and brush the chicken on both sides with cream.
5. Place the wire rack back in the oven and cook for another 10 minutes or until cooked through.
6. Once cooked through, take the wire rack out and sprinkle some roasted cumin powder/jeera and dry mango powder/amchoor on the chicken.
7. Squeeze some lemon juice over the chicken pieces.
8. Serve hot with green coriander and mint chutney, onion rings and roti or naan.

Bengali Mustard Fish Curry

by Kabita Mondal

Mustard Fish Curry is a traditional Bengali dish. In the Bengali cuisine there are numerous ways of cooking fish, depending on the texture, size, fat content and the bones. It could be fried, roasted, cooked in a simple spicy tomato or ginger based gravy (jhol), or mustard based with green chillies (shorshe batar jhaal), with posto, with seasonal vegetables, steamed, steamed inside of plantain or butternut squash leaves, cooked with doi (curd/yogurt), with sour sauce, with sweet sauce or even the fish made to taste sweet on one side, and savoury on the other.~ Wikipedia

The Kakar family has roots in the city of Amritsar but have been living in Kolkata for a long time. They have a reputed art gallery, Verandah Art, representing leading Indian artisits. The painting used as a backdrop for the Bengali Mustard Fish Curry dish is by the artist, Amiya Bhattacharya.

010Kabita Mondal  is from Bankura village in W.Bengal. Her husband joined the Kakar family in Kolkatta as a cook 20 years ago. He knew the guest-house kind of cookery, a mish mash of various dishes but the patriarch of the Kakar family trained him well. Mondal, as he’s known, taught his wife how to cook when she joined the family 2-3 years later. Now she has become an expert cook herself. They have two grown up sons and a daughter and four grand-children. She often cooks the Mustard Fish Curry for the family.

030Fish is the dominant protein in Bengali cuisine. Almost every part of the fish is eaten and the head is considered a delicacy. Other spare bits of the fish are usually used to flavour curries and daals. Bengalis also extensively use freshly ground mustard paste. A pungent mustard sauce called Kasundi is a staple sauce used for flavouring in most dishes. Mustard oil is the primary cooking medium in Bengali cuisine.

018The unique part of Bengali cooking is the addition of paanch phoron, a combination of whole spices including rai, jeera/kala jeera, kalonji, methi and sauf. It is used for tempering  at the start or finish of cooking as a flavouring special to each dish. The panch phoron is a general purpose spice mixture. This mixture is convenient for vegetarian dishes and fish preparations.

043Kabita adds long green eggplants to the mustard fish curry so as to incorporate some vegetables in the dish. Though the recipe asks for ground black rai, for convenience she uses ready made Kasundi mustard paste which is easily available.

Mustard Fish Curry is also called Sarson Maach or Maacher Jhaal. It is best eaten with boiled rice.

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Bengali Mustard Fish Curry

Ingredients ~

1 kg Fish ~ Rohu, Becti, any sea or fresh water fish
75g Black Rai, preferably ground to a paste by hand
50g Ginger, ground to a paste
6-8 Pods peeled Garlic ground to a paste
3 Tomatoes, medium size, chopped
2 Onions, medium size, sliced finely lengthwise
2 Green Eggplants
Red Chilli powder
Turmeric powder
1 tbsp Paanch Phoran made up of – rai, kala zeera/regular zeera, kalonji, saunf & methi seeds
1 bunch Coriander leaves
3-4 Green Chillies
Mustard Oil

Preparation ~

Cut the fish into rings and remove the centre bone.
Marinate the fish by rubbing turmeric and salt.
Make a paste with ginger-garlic paste.
Slice onions thin lengthwise.
Chop tomatoes fine.

Method ~

1. Fry fish in mustard oil lightly.
2. Remove excess oil from the pan.
3. Re-heat the oil and when it is smoking, add Paanch Phoran and slit whole green chillies.
4. When it splutters, add the onions and cook the onions till soft.
5. Add the ginger- garlic paste and stir till fragrant.
6. Stir in the chopped  tomatoes and cook till the mixture is blended well.
7. Add the chilli powder, turmeric and stir fry.
8. Strain the mustard paste and add to the mixture, fry for a minute then add water for the gravy. When the water comes to a boil, add the fish and the green eggplants. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
9. When the fish is cooked through add 1 tbsp raw mustard oil and garnish with fresh coriander leaves.