Achari Bhindi or Okra in Pickling Spices

Let’s talk about achar – it is that very subcontinental of condiments that includes a range of spices that give the achar it’s depth and fiery heat. You can make an achar out of many things but I suppose the most common ones are mango (the unripe kind), carrots, green chillies, lemon, and garlic. Me? I am not such a fan of the stuff. My husband? He probably secretly fantasizes about a day when we have no food in the house and he can just eat achar and roti (bread) – or achar and rice. I used to think of his fondness for achar as a cute quirk until Daddy Jafri pointed out that ‘that says a lot about what he thinks of your cooking’. Pfft.

So anyway, I have learnt to adapt and have added things like this dish to my repertoire. My favorite part? Thanks to the existence of frozen chopped Okra I just toss a bunch of stuff together and then let it cook. Eassssyyyy Peassssyyyyy.

As a disclaimer there is a family of ingredients that will give you that ‘achari’ taste and if you are missing some then you probably will not get the same flavour but it will still be quite delicious. The one element of this recipe that I skip quite frequently is the ‘kachri’ powder which I believe has the unique capability to hide when I need it.

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Kulfi – My Favorite Desi Treat

This kulfi makes me want to dance. Really. However, as I type this my tot is sitting next to me watching one of her quota of cartoons and she doesn’t tolerate distraction. In order to avoid getting kicked off the island I will just stay put and type.

First of all for those of you unfamiliar with this particular confection think of kulfi as a no-churn icecream that you get to freeze in popsicle molds. I have not tried to freeze it in a regular container, but I imagine that would work well too.

Growing up in Saudi, my mother used to make kulfi for us every now and then and I remember it as being velvety yet light tasting with mellow sweetness and a subtle distinctive flavour (powdered cardamom). Last year I attempted to make kulfi from ‘her’ recipe and ended up with an unpleasant icy confection that I chucked. Then two weeks ago I tried a recipe from a favourite blogger, but clearly did something wrong because my end product ended up tasting more like ‘kheer’ than kulfi. This time people I have got it. The best part? It is so EASY. All you need is a little patience. Generally patience isn’t my thing, but anything for a good cause 😉

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Fish Biryani

Do you guys ever think about food? As in ‘Id like to eat/make something with ____ that tastes ____’. Well I do, not very often mind you; I am usually a follow the recipe kinda girl. But I have been thinking about fish biryani lately. Now, we eat a lot of biryani in this house and historically my fish biryani recipe has been a variant of this one here. Since I usually buy whatever firm white fish is on sale (Basa this time around) I started to feel that my traditional masalas were too strong for a delicate fish. Plus it’s summer you know, time to lighten up – at least flavor wise. Far be it from me to suggest that white rice is diet food 🙂

On a serious note, it is easier on the oil than most biryanis  or curries and that actually contributes to the lightness and freshness of the flavors. Also, dill and fish equals yumminess. Trust me – or even better, try it for yourself and see!

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Murgh Chholay or Chicken and Chickpea Curry

There are some things I wish my mama had taught me how to cook – Murgh Chholay is one of them. Well, why didn’t she you may ask? As far as I know my mama has never made murgh chholay. You see, we are from Karachi, a boisterous city by the sea, whose 15 million inhabitants hail from all over Pakistan and pre partition India. Murgh Chholay is a very Lahori dish and one that I had only had in restaurants until I moved to Canada and concluded that if I wanted good murgh chholay on a regular basis then I better figure out how to make them. Folks, I think I have it now. Thanks to the combination of a little googling and a few past attempts I seem to have figured out how to get the subtle back of the mouth heat of this dish without losing the flavour of the ingredients. Phew. All that mediocrity was getting to be exhausting!

Turns out the problem I was having was that I was using similar ratios of spices for the murgh chholay that I would with a regular chicken curry and what that meant was that it would always end up tasting a little – well boring, for lack of better word. You see the chickpeas really soak up flavour and so you need to create a strong spice base otherwise there just is not enough to go around. So don’t be shy about the chilli powder and the green chillies at the end. Just remember when we cook the green chillies a lot of the aggressive heat of the chillies cooks out anyway.

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Aalu Shorba or Potato Curry

Guys it turns out that Google is not quite as reliable as I thought. When you google ‘Pakistani food blogs’ it seems like there are hardly any out there. However, thanks to the awesomely named My Ninja Naan I have discovered a whole slew of Pakistani food blogs. She was nice enough to pop by and when I checked her blog out (my way of saying read almost every entry) I discovered many others as well. I have bookmarked many of her recipes to try, but today’s potato curry comes from Ambreen at Simply Sweet ‘n Savory. When I saw this recipe it reminded me of something I had eaten at a relative’s place and really liked and so I thought I would try my hand at it. SO glad I did! It is yummy!!! My usual potato dish is very different from this one – a lot more tomato, curry leaves, etc but this will definitely come into regular rotation. I made some very minor changes to it, but have stayed true to it for the most of it.

By the way you know something has turned out well when half way into your write up about it you find yourself getting hungry and take a break to eat some more!

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Dahi Baray – Lentil Dumplings in a Spicy Tangy Yogurt

You know how you just take some things for granted and don’t think about them very much?

Well, for me Dahi Baras are one of those things. They have been there at every ‘tea’ that I have been to for just about my entire life and my mother makes a variation (Dahi Phulki/Dahi Boondi) but I never thought about how to make them or what goes in and not because I don’t like them. I can certainly polish off an immense amount of dahi baray, especially the savoury and spicy kind. So much so that I am now grateful that I am pregnant and don’t have to justify how much I eat. I just never thought about how to make them because someone else always did.

This summer I decided to be brave and make them for a potluck lunch and playdate a friend was hosting. Is it brave or foolish to try something a little tricky for the first time for a crowd? Let’s just pretend it is brave since that is the kind of thing I do with some regularity.

The good news is that all is well that ends well and to ensure that it was not some kind of fluke I made them again today for a friend who was visiting from out of town. The very empty dish speaks for itself 🙂

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Tomato Cut – a perfectly tangy side dish

I think I really like tomatoes. As in really. Yesterday I slow roasted a pint of cherry tomatoes with salt, pepper and thyme at 330 for about 40 minutes and then ate them like candy. The intent was to make a ‘tart’ with puff pastry, goat cheese and oven roasted tomatoes, but then my love for tomatoes clearly got in the way. There is a lesson to be learnt here folks – next time, I will roast two pints of cherry tomatoes.

One of my husband’s close friends is currently in town and when Ali asked him what he would like to eat all he asked for was Pakistani food because he has not had any since he was here back in November. With a free rein and my tomato obsession in mind I decided to make a simple pea pilaf ( cumin seeds, whole red chillies sautéed in minimal oil, equal amounts of peas and rice, half a chicken stock cube for every cup of rice) and with it my favourite Pakistani tomato dish, the oddly named Tomato Cut. This is my mother’s recipe and although I have tried several variations on it, I love it best as is. By which I mean I have made only minor changes. Sometimes that Mama Jafri is not so accurate in how she writes recipes down. Additionally, for the blog I try and keep the recipes in measuring spoon measurements and when my mother says a teaspoon she means the kind you would stir sugar into your tea with. Very different you see.

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Tomato Cut is a Hyderabadi dish and since I am pretty sure neither my mother nor her mother are from Hyderabad I cannot make any claims as to the authenticity of the dish. All I can say is this: it is tangily satisfying, equally good warm or cold (great do-ahead), and one of those dishes which somehow never makes it way to the realm of leftovers.

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Murghi ka Salan/ Chicken Curry Version 2 – Kalya

Spring is a tease. Every now and then you get a nice, sunny, warm, bring out the water table and sand box kinda day (can you tell I am a mom??) and then you get a whole bunch of cold-wet-cold-wet-overcast-humid-wet-cold. Pfft.

Don’t worry, I did resist the urge to drown my sorrows in sugar and butter. Not just because I was out of butter. So here is another dish, with considerable less fat and sugar, which I find pretty comforting. It is a version of chicken curry called kalia (kul-ya) that I had not had until I got married. It is very different from traditional chicken curries in that there is no yogurt or tomatoes and of the ‘garam masala’ quartet (cloves, whole black pepper, cardamom, and cinnamon) this one only features one. This makes for a light very clean tasting curry which we all enjoy and trust me pleasing a household of adults and a toddler with the same dish is no easy task!

Chicken Curry or Kalya/Kulya

As a quick note I only use boneless chicken breast meat in most of my chicken dishes because my FIL has a heart condition and should eat minimally fatty foods. This curry still turns out pretty well, but would be far more delicious if you used half a skinless chicken cut into pieces.

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Breakfast – Aalu, Chana, and Poori/Bhatura

So I don’t know about you guys, but we have seen a whole lot of rain in these parts. It has been either overcast or pouring for the better part of the last few days which is enough to make me wonder why on earth I was looking forward to spring! Anyway, on a day like today I thought a nice traditional breakfast is in order.

Halwa poori is the quintessential Pakistani breakfast, the kind that no one makes at home, but will pick up from the nearest ‘restaurant’ if you can call it that. Although it is called halwa poori it breaks down something like this. You get one large serving of aalu chana (potatoes and chickpea curry), several pooris (soft, thin fried bread), and a smaller portion of halwa (essentially dessert). Halwa shmalwa I say, it is all about the pooris and the aalu chana.

My friends and I were talking about it just the other day and I thought I would give it a shot at home. Brace yourself – this has been a three recipes kinda morning. For two of them I give credit to my friend Vaish whose blog you can find  here. She calls it chana bhatura. I used regular chickpeas instead of the black kind because that is all I had and am not entirely sure what amchur powder is so I skipped that. Below is my (slightly) modified recipe, for the concise version please check out her blog, I have included a little more detail in mine for those who, like me, are a little bit more challenged in the kitchen. Also traditionally Pakistani pooris do not have yogurt, but Vaish’ bhatura did and I wanted to try it as written. I am so glad I did because as a result the pooris stayed soft even when they cooled down a little.

What I loved about this breakfast was that although the flavors of the dishes were different they went so well together. The back of the mouth heat of the chanas along with the tangy sour flavor of the potatoes was so delicious. And the bhaturas? Those slightly crispy, but soft and fried, but not greasy things? Sigh. Love.

On a practical note this breakfast easily serves 4.

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Chana Daal or Gram Lentils

There is something about daal roti that gives me immense satisfaction. Not daal chawal (rice), but daal roti. Since I am not motivated enough to make fresh roti/bread I frequently buy the kind that comes in a pack of ten and then just heat it over an open flame on a gas stove. As you can see from the picture, I like it a little charred. Does it taste exactly like home? Nope. But it sure is a whole lot easier!

This recipe is one of those that I started making not that long ago. I find it is at its most delicious when I use fresh ginger – hence the grating. It is about a minute more of work – 10 seconds to grate, 50 to wash – but so worth it for the depth that it provides to this daal.

Also please note the super cute grown up measuring cup in the first shot, my friend Aalya gave that to me for my birthday last year, makes even daal seem fancy!

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