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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Kashmiri Yakhni for Eid

....and My First Work of Fiction :)....

''I want to have Yakhni tonight'',  spat Balwant. He sounded miserable and angry. He was being unbelievably selfish when he knew that there wasn't even a grain of rice at home to cook. Radhika sat and wept silently. She wished she could make at least something to feed her 5 year old boy who has cried himself to sleep. She wished she could run away from the constant nagging of her husband who has been redundant lately and was always at home. She wished there wasn't so much violence in her homeland, that once used to be known as the Heaven on Earth. 

She started cleaning the already cleaned house in order to forget about the hunger pangs. The old ancestral house is falling apart due to lack of repair and maintenance. The pantry has started stinking as if a rodent has died inside and rotten. So Radhika decided to investigate and clean the empty pantry at the same time. Taking a candle light inside she took out the empty jars and bottles one by one, scrutinizing with squinted eyes in the hope of finding something edible in them. She dipped the piece of cloth in a bucket of warm water and started wiping the shelves one by one. 

Slowly she emptied and wiped all the bottom shelves till her arms started aching and she felt light headed. But she did not give up. Finally she reached the top shelf. With great effort she stood erect with her petite frame's weight solely on her toes. She bit her lips to stop herself from screaming as she feared she might wake up her son who would start the monotonous sobbing again. She kept on going till her fingers reached the end of the shelf and they touched something soft. She shrieked and recoiled thinking it to be a spider or something equally deadly like that. After a few breaths she decided to try again, this time with a little bit more confidence. She dragged an old rickety iron bucket to the shelf and stood on it to get a better view. She was surprised to see a brown special delivery envelope instead of a dead rodent or a hairy creepy crawly!

With great anticipation she got off the bucket and sat on it. Wiping her sweaty hands on the sides of her saree she opened the envelope, praying to God for a miracle, a map to some hidden treasure, a few currency notes...anything! She wasn't prepared for what came out of the envelope. She didn't understand whether she should laugh or cry of the disappointment she felt because inside the envelope there wasn't money or a map. Out came an old, aged and browned photograph. 

Radhika hid the photograph under the drape of her saree and came out into the light. She sneaked inside the kitchen and stood next to the window and looked at the photograph once again. She looked at the little girl, the smiling lady and the young boy in the photo, each one looking as happy as the other. As she kept on looking at the photograph her mind and soul flew back to that day when the photo was taken. The boy in the photo was Balwant, the little girl his sister who was killed by one of the blasts while buying vegetables one day and the lady his mother who has lost the will to live ever since. They are all sitting in the kitchen while his mother-in-law had something cooking on the tandoor (stove). Looking at the glint in her husband's eyes Radhika could say that the things that was cooking was none other that ''Yakhni'', Balwant and Kusum's favourite dish. His smile made her wistful as she suddenly realised it's been ages since Balwant had smiled at her like that. 

Her eyes moistened as she remembered how beautiful Balwant had looked on the day of their wedding. And how ill and weak he looked now with dark circles around his eyes and the constant coughing. Slowly she took out the ragged velvet jewellery pouch she hides inside the jar of rice. She counts the few last coins she has kept for Balwant's medicine, the one that soothes his throat for a few hours at night when he sleeps. The money is enough to buy her some sheep meat and yogurt. She will borrow some spices from the neighbour. She hurries out of the door to reach the market before it closes for the day. Today she will see the smile on Balwant's face again. 

Yahni or Yakhni (Urdu: يخن, Hindi: यख़नी) is a class of foods found from Greece to the Indian subcontinent. In South Asian cuisine, it is a kind of soup or stock, often served over pilaf (Pulao). In Greek (γιαχνί), Turkish, and Persian cuisine, it is a stew of meat, fish or vegetables in a browned-onion base with tomatoes and olive oil. -Wiki

Ingredients : 

Sheep/Goat/Lamb Meat - 1 kg
Yogurt (Greek style or Hung) - 400 gms
Fennel - 1tsp
Cinnamon - 1 inch stick
Cloves - 4-5
Large Black Cardamoms - 3-4
Bay Leaves - 2
Saffron - a generous pinch
Turmeric Powder - 1/2 tsp
Kashmiri Chilli Powder - 1/2 tsp
Corriander Powder - 1tsp
Salt to taste
Sugar - 1/2 tsp
Mustard Oil - 2 tbsp
Milk - 2tbsp
Fresh Mint Leaves (optional) - a few leaves

Method : 

1. Put the meat along with 2-3 cups of water, bay leaves, cloves, cardamoms and salt in a pressure cooker and cook till the meat is tender(follow your pressure cooker manufacturer's guidebook). Take out the meat pieces and reserve the stock.

2. Dry roast the fennel and half of the cinnamon. Grind them to a fine powder. Soak the saffron in warm milk. 

3. Mix the yogurt with the meat stock with a whisk. Add the Fennel-Cinnamon powder, corriander powder, turmeric powder, chilli powder and sugar to it. Taste and season with salt if needed. 

4. Heat mustard oil in a pan/wok. Add rest of the cinnamon and cloves and fry for a few seconds. Add the meat pieces and cook on a high flame till they start browning. Remove from heat and slowly pour in the yogurt-stock mix(it tends to curdle on heat so make sure you remove the pan from heat before doing so).

5. Put the wok back on flame and cook on high. Bring it to boil. Add the saffron soaked milk. Lower the flame and simmer the soup for 5-10 minutes. Traditionally mint leaves are added at this point. Serve hot with freshly steamed/boiled rice.

This recipe is my Sister-In-Law's. She is married to a Kashmiri man and hence we all got introduced to this lovely dish. You can even use the stock to make a lovely warming drink for your kids during those wintry days. Just season with pepper and ground cinnamon! 

A belated Happy Eid and Ganesh Chaturthi to all my readers :).

Monday, 5 September 2011

kNacha Aamer Chutney - Green Mango Chutney

One of the few things I craved all my pregnancy was raw mangoes and especially the by products like Bengali style kNacha Aamer Chutney and Aam Panna. Unfortunately, being miles away from London finding mangoes/green mangoes even in the Asian stores was bit of a challenge. But now that we've moved down south, mangoes are in abundance everywhere. I'm not a mango eater but I am also not a freak to not like raw mango! I mean who doesn't like Amshi(Dried pickled mangoes) or Aamer Achar(Mango Pickle with Jaggery) or Aam Panna(Raw Mango Drink)....and the list goes on!  And I simply love the frozen packs of ready to use mango pieces as they make my life so much easier! 

And I love the expression of my daughter's face when she eats raw mangoes. With squinted eyes and a little shiver up her spine and goosebumps she is a sight! She will not give up though. I guess this proves that you can take the girl out of Kolkata but you cannot take Kolkata out of a girl! :)

kNacha Aamer Chutney


Lots of cubed, diced or sliced Raw Mangoes - the more the merrier!
Mustard Seeds - 1/2 tsp
Dried red chillies - 1-2 broken in 3 pieces each
Salt - 1/2tsp
Sugar - depending on your taste, amount of mangoes that have gone in and their sourness (I used roughly 1 small cup of sugar for 2 cups of Mangoes)
pNach Phoran (Bengali five spice) ,dry roasted and ground - 1tsp
Mustard Oil - 1tbsp

Method : 

1. Heat oil in a wok. Add the mustard seeds and chillies till they splutter. Add the mangoes and fry well. Add salt.

2. 4 cups of hot water(for 2 cups of mangoes) and bring to boil. Lower the heat cover and cook for 5 minutes till the mangoes are tender. Add the sugar and boil till the sugar is dissolved. 

3. Check the sweetness. It should not be too sweet neither it should be too sour. Enjoy it with any meal anytime of the day. 

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Chicken Biryani for the Soul

My house has become empty today. With all the people gone, toys been put back in the toy boxes, wardrobes emptied, the tranquility is back with a vengeance. It was heart breaking to see Little T so sad and plead ''Please don't go'' to her cousin brothers while seeing them off. I know she will be fine in a few hours and it's going to be back to school days soon. I know this as we have all been there done that isn't it? Summer vacation somehow always  means ''Mamarbari''(maternal uncle's house) and fun with cousins. All the afternoon play times in the scorching heat, mango pickles, Aari-Bhab(tiny tiffs and making ups) and the sudden end of all the fun. The promise of another vacation under the same roof. And the bye byes. The places have changed, people have changed, buses and taxis have been replaced by airplanes and fancy cars but the emotion, love and pain have remained the same.

DH wanted to cook something nice for his sister before she left. Since we have all binged on food and alcohol during their stay here he wanted to made something light but tasty and came up with this lighter and healthier version of Chicken Biryani. And it was his way of saying Adieu to his days of summer with his sister too. 

This is one of the easiest and quickest Biryani recipes I've come across and it tastes simply awesome! This recipe again goes to people who want easy and quick recipes for a lovely meal. :)


Basmati Rice - 2 small cups (will make enough for 3-4 persons)
2 medium boneless chicken breast - cubed
Onions - 2 large
Ginger Paste - 1tsp
Garlic Paste - 2tsp
Greek Yogurt or Natural Hung Yogurt - 150 gm
Turmeric Powder - 1/2 tsp
Kashmiri Chilli Powder - 1/2 tsp
Chicken Biryani Masala (We use Shaan) - 2tbsp (more if you want to make it a bit more spicy)
Salt to taste
Saffron - a pinch
Kewra Water - 3-4 tsp (you can use Rose Water instead)
Sunflower Oil - 4 tbsp

Method : 

1. Slice the onions. Heat oil in a wok and fry the onions till they are soft and translucent. Add the ginger and garlic paste and fry for 5 more minutes till oil separates. Strain the excess oil out in a strainer. Let it cool. 

2. Blend the fried onion, ginger and garlic with the yogurt in a blender to make a fine paste. Marinate the boneless chicken pieces with this paste for 1-2 hours. 

3. Soak the rice in warm salty water for 1 hr. Soak the saffron in 2tbsp of warm milk.

4. Heat half of the strained oil in the wok and fry the chicken pieces along with the marinade. Cook on high heat for the first 3-4minutes and then lower the heat. Add salt, turmeric, chilli powder and the Biryani Masala and cook well till the chicken pieces are cooked thoroughly. Dry up any excess liquid, if any.While cooking the chicken boil the rice with a tbsp of salt till they are just about cooked (make sure they are not over cooked). Strain and fluff the grains with a fork.

4. Take a deep bottomed pot. Add a layer of rice. Scatter 3tbsp of chicken evenly. Add another layer of rice and chicken. Add a tsp of Kewra water/Rose water and saffron milk each. Now repeat till all the rice and chicken are used up while adding Kewra water and Saffron after every 2nd layer. It should make upto 5 layers. 

6. Cover and put it on low flame for 2-3 minutes. Mix the layers roughly before serving. Serve with salad and raita.