Winter,the mellow ones, experienced in Kolkata is warming to both the mind and heart. It is not only about colorful, fashionable trench coats,mufflers and ponchos, it is also not only about chapped lips and cracked heels, it is also of a palette full of colors encompassing our life. Colors in food, colors in the fair grounds,colors in life in essence.The foodscape and landscape of Kolkata is drenched in colors and gaiety.
The list of my favourites in cooking in winter is never-ending. When the vegetables look inviting,the prawns look fuller,the apples look flawless I thought of listing the simpler of them. My list would include a Carrot and Peas pot,Cauliflower and green peas Tehri, an Apple cake,Palak paneer,Dhania gosht,Chicken roast,Crepes with Nolen Gur or liquid Date palm Jaggery and coconut filling what is known as Patishapta and a Bread butter Pudding with some drizzle of brandy. This favourite list is not however static,it changes every winter.
Winters are also intrinsically linked with childhood…winter holidays,end of examinations,picnics and picnic hampers,oranges and it’s freshness,winter holidays by the sea, nolen gur payesh,pickle making by mom and grandma, fairs across the city and balls of colorful wools and images of my Pishi’s fingers moving swiftly with knitting needles.Lot of such nostalgia still remains,some muted,some in new avatars and some lost permanently with the loss of the persons associated with it.Winter holidays are still there but much rationed, examinations do end for kids but that does not anymore mean a month without books,picnics also happen but now they are catered by caterers,no chopping vegetables, no running around and no serving.Oranges are seen for a fortnight but the small oranges from Darjeeling hardly appear,fairs happen but has shifted to the new city,winter holidays are destination holidays,not a simple Puri or Digha. Nolen Gur payesh is now available at sweet shops,they are still made at home but the Nolen Gur is hardly pure.Pickles are hardly made at home now,images of glass and porcelain jars on window panes with pickles to be sun dried are lost.It is very difficult to find shops selling yarns of pure wool and handful of grand moms and moms knitting delicate paisleys on the cardigan.
Cooking is very pleasant during this time of the year.There are also a lot of options laid out by nature.Winter is synonymous with vegetables and among the wide spread available my favourites are carrots and tender peas in pods.Both are versatile and can be dishes in themselves.A thick carrot soup with croutons would be an ideal appetizer on a winter evening.And the ever popular Gajar ka Halwa is a perennial favourite winter desert. Carrots can be made into pickles too and for this choose the local orange variety and just dip them in brine.Tender peas in pods are my crush. Love everything associated with peas. Peas have an association with childhood afternoons. My Dida used to sit peeling the peas. And I never waited it to finish,picked up and popped the peeled peas straight amidst protests by my mom and dida. Karaishutir Kachuri,Karaishutier Ghugni has been my favourites over decades.Now I love the pea soup too.I also love carving out a simple peas and potato cutlet and sometimes simply saute peas with soft fried onions paired with a bowl of puffed rice is a must in winter evenings with a cup of full-body Assam brew with milk and sugar. But my list of favourites will feature a dish which will have both the carrot and thè peas together.
What entices me to the Carrot and peas curry is the symmetry of colors,its simplicity and the freshness.Its quite simple to go about it,one needs fresh carrots and peas.The carrots has to be diced in small cubes.If its winter comfort food desi ghee is a must.Add whole cumin or jeera into the hot ghee,wait to splutter,but be careful not to burn it.Add to it a paste of ginger,tomato and onion.Keep onion to a minimum.When the masala leaves the ghee, do add corriander powder,turmeric,red chilli powder, asfoetida or hing and salt.Once the masala is done,add the carrots and peas.Stir well to coat the vegetables and splash water as required. The pan has to be covered,let the steam do the magic. Once the vegetables become soft,do away with the lid, add fresh corriander leaves and some lime juice at the end.Enjoy the winter dinner with a roti of your choice.It even pairs well with a crisp slice of toasted bread.
One pot meals are sheer love. They are best when you feel lazy,they are your rescuers when you have sudden guests with whom you would love to share dinner but you have nothing much to offer. My mind races in those times and just about when my smile is on the verge of a frown the saviors are one pot meals. In winter it has to be a Cauliflower and peas Tehri cooked the simple way. Tehri a staple in Eastern Uttar Pradesh has many varieties in the region itself.There are also contradictory histories about its origin.Love cooking the Tehri in my own way though I do not deviate much from recipes of regional cuisines-the storehouses of authenticity.Forthe Tehri I soak long grained Basmati for half an hour,cut potatoes in small cubes and fry them light brown in mustard oil. For Tehri,there is no substitute for mustard oil,more pungent it is,the Tehri will be more tasty. I add bay leaves, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, cloves along with black and green cardamoms.Once the fragrance of the garam masala fills the air, chopped onion is added to it and I cook for a while.Slide in some ginger, garlic and green chillies and stir for about 2-3 minutes for the flavour to come out.To this masala paste I add cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder and red chilli powder, followed by hing water and salt.Vegetables like carrot, cauliflower, beans, peas and fried potatoes are added and stirred till the masala coats the vegetables. To this I add whisked curd, coriander leaves and the soaked rice.After frying the rice for a while I add double the amount of vegetable stock and let it cook till rice is done and the grain retains its shape. Some fresh coriander leaves for garnishing.Pair the Tehri with a bowl of Raita or a Coriander-mint Dum Aloo.
Kitchens are often are a reflection of the person who owns it,who makes the kitchen an intrinsic part of the home. Some kitchens are quite cosy,some has an air of unattachment. When I redid my kitchen I did it in warm shades of yellow and blue,for me the kitchen is an extension of my self.My kitchen becomes most happy during the winters for it gets me for a much longer duration than any other season.If its winter then my kitchen will witness an apple cake being baked besides the normal orange and rum filled ones.For my apple cake , I choose good apples which I peel and grate them soft and smooth.To the apple puree I mix some lime juice to retain the color as well as to give a tangy taste to the puree. For the standard pound cake I take 200 gm of refined flour, sugar and butter.After creaming the butter and sugar using the cut and fold to incorporate air, I add the flour and the baking powder.Then I add four whisked eggs and continue the cut and fold till the batter becomes light and bubbly. To this I add the grated apple and mix well. The flavor of cinnamon and winter afternoon warmth is synonymous to me.I add a generous spoonful of ground cinnamon. The apple cake needs to be baked for 30 min approximately at 190 degree centigrade in a preheated oven.I often bake my apple cake in the afternoons to be served warm with the evening cup of tea.
The very name Dhaniya Gosht is laced with memories about my Baba. It was during the 90’s when my Baba heading the marketing wing in India of a multinational pharmaceutical company had to travel around the country.He was a foodie and loved to cook as well. Both my Baba and Ma had very separate cooking favourites.Babas niche was Chinese,North Indian and roasts. Ma’s were a typical Bengali fare,cakes and continental. In every star hotel Baba used to put up, he used to befriend the chef and learn some new dish. He used to try them out at the kitchen without fail. One such dish was the Dhaniya Gosht which he replicated with finesse at the kitchen.And then it became his signature dish. Whenever guests were at home, be his Australian and British colleagues and my Russian students, apart from family and friends,Dhaniya Gosht was a regular at the table.
Dhaniya Gosht is one of my favourite ones to cook. Both because it smells of my Baba and I visualise Baba in the kitchen marinating the boneless mutton and grinding the fresh coriander leaves every time I get to do Dhaniya Gosht at my kitchen.
I marinate boneless mutton in curd,green chiili paste,coriander powder,ginger garlic paste overnight or for six hours.
I use desi ghee. To it I add whole garam masala, garlic chopped. When browned I add tomatoes and when mushy, slide in the marinated mutton and required salt. When the ghee separates and the mutton acquires a brownish colour,I add the coriander leaf and green chilli paste.
After sauteing for a while till the oil comes out,the mutton is transferred to a pressure cooker till done.
Once done I mix in garam masala powder,fried onion slices and a dash of lime juice just before serving. Remember not to reheat after adding in the lime juice. Every winter cooking Dhania Gosht is an express ride to the best of times of my life.
Paneer is not on my favourite list, however if its Palak Paneer I do not compromise. Palak Paneer made an appearance at my home a decade ago when my house help who was from Bihar used to make it often.During my days at Amritsar, Palak Paneer and Baingan Bharta became a favorite. Palak or Spinach is quite versatile,it can be used with ease in regional as well as international cuisines.Spinach is said to have originated in ancient Persia and came to Europe in the 11th century when the Moors introduced it in Spain.Spinach in England was known as Spanish vegetable .A favourite of Catherine de Medici , she took spinach to France when she married the King Of France.Dishes prepared and served on a bed of spinach puree began to be called “a la Florentine”.Spinach or Palak blends beautifully with all kinds of cheese.Be it a Palak wala Daal or a Palak Poori or a Spinach Poriyal or a Bengali home style Palong Saager Ghonto or a creamy Palak Soup or a Baked Spinach with Mushroom and White Sauce or a Spinach stuffing in a Chicken breast roast or the authentic Spinach pie called Spanakopita or a Spinach Cannelloni or a Ravioli or the Chinese Crispy Spinach.The list of what one can do with Spinach is never ending with a space for innovations,fusion and blending.Winters are replete with fresh spinach – baby leaves with a vibrant green color.Spinach is a regular during my biweekly market routines. Love making spinach and paneer kebabs and a spinach mish mash with carrots,green peas and pumpkin.
Palak Paneer is a favourite for dinners when I want something out of the ordinary fare.For Palak Paneer I blanch the palak leaves and when at room temperature make a puree out of it. I cut the paneer in long fat slices and season it with salt and red chilli powder and let it sit for some time.My recipe for this is very simple and often I do it without onions.Winters and desi ghee is synonymous,and since garlic does best with ghee,I use ghee as the cooking medium.To it I add whole garam masala,lots of crushed garlic and wait till it gets a brownish tinge.Add crushed green chillies as well to it. Some cumin,coriander powder ,salt and let it saute for a while.To it I add chunks of tomato sliced ,let it just sweat,I do not want the tomatoes mushy. Once the skin gets done, I add the palak puree and let it be for a few minutes.Once the raw smell is done away with I add the paneer ,which I do not fry before.The paneer should be soft enough to soak the flavour .Add salt and a bit of sugar. To retain the green color,I cover the pan and let it cook in slow flame.Once done I add garam masala powder,some ghee and a generous amount of lime juice at the end.Sometimes I garnish it with fried onions.Serve your palak paneer on a wintry night with plain paratha spiced with a bit of ajwain or a missi roti made healthy by the addition of some methi or fenugreek leaves.
What is Christmas without a Chicken Roast and some home made Mulled Wine.Over the years I prefer a quiet Christmas eve dinner where while marinating the whole chicken I thank the superpower above for all that he allowed me to do the year around. Chicken roast has had a long culinary history and tradition.Chicken roast has a diverse significance across disparate cultures and religious traditions.While there are very traditional Chicken roast recipes across Europe, the Middle Eastern world makes chicken roast using a different set of spices.The recipe for my chicken roast as well as the accompanying sauce are as diverse as possible. Sometimes I roast the chicken in the most simplest way using pink salt,lime juice, some paprika and mixed herbs stuffing it with boiled eggs and bacon rashes.For the sauce it is often a barbecue sauce mixed with some apple cider.Sometimes I marinate the chicken in orange juice and port wine and some garlic chives.For the sauce I use a caramelized orange sauce.If its winter and I want an Indian style roast chicken I marinate the chicken with mint and coriander leaves paste, crushed garlic and some olive oil.For the stuffing too there can be as many as variations as one may think.If I do boiled eggs sometimes, at times I pair pineapples with shreds of bacon,sometimes I put in cranberries and if I want it simple some whole onions do the trick.Whatever style I roast the chicken in, there are a few rules I always adhere to.I take a smaller chicken and always with skin.The fat in the skin melts making it crisper at the outside. I always marinate the chicken for over three hours and slash the chicken with fine gashes.I make it a point to roast the chicken in a grill over low temperature for the first thirty minutes.For the color and crispiness I put the chicken over high temperature at the end.
For the chicken roast I would like to point out that pre heating the oven is a necessity.
I rinse and pat dry the whole chicken with skin.
I combine olive oil, melted butter, white wine and lemon juice,salt and white pepper together, rubbing all over the chicken, under the skin and inside the cavity.
The chicken is seasoned outside and inside with salt, pepper and parsley.
The minced garlic is rubbed over the chicken and under the skin. I do this separately as the last step to maximise the garlic taste.
I stuff the garlic head into the chicken cavity along with the rosemary sprigs and the squeezed lemon halve. You can also use sprigs of Thyme or any other herb.
I put the chicken into marination for three hours and roast the chicken while I baste the chicken half way through cooking time, until cooked through.Adjust the oven temperature to the size of the chicken.I serve the chicken with sauted whole onions,baby potatoes sauted in butter and parsley and some lemon sauce broiled in white wine.
The mellow winters in Kolkata are made special by the availability of jaggery or gur in various forms – be it nolen gur (liquid form with a transparent golden hue) or Patali gur (the solidified date palm jaggery).Though it is mandatory to make a pitha or rice crepes during the Sankranti in the month of January in Bengali households as in other parts of the country,I often make patishapta (a thin crepe made of various kinds of flour ,stuffed with coconut and jaggery filling) the entire winter and make it a point to serve it with a bowlful of nolen gur.My love for nolen gur started when I joined a government college located in an area which was famous for its jaggery.Most of my students knew to collect and make the nolen gur to the right consistency. They taught me to source the gur on the second day of several sunny days and never to buy it after a foggy day.Now I have a discerning eye for nolen gur and can easily grade its quality by seeing and smelling it.The key to good nolen gur is that the consistency should be translucent and nothing should sit at the base of the jar of nolen gur.It stays well over a month if refrigerated.For my patishapta I use refined flour and some semolina which I soak in water for a while.I make the batter with the soaked semolina( the proportion of semolina should be 1/3 to the refined flour or maida),the refined flour and lukewarm milk.To it I add liquid date palm jaggery to give it a sweet hint.The nolen gur should be used for just a tinge of sweetness.For the filling I add Patali gur pieces and let it melt in a pan over slow flame.Then I add the desiccated coconut to the jaggery, some khoya and stir till its sticky and thick.I let it cool before I start the actual making of the Patishapta.For the crepes, I add a ladleful of batter which is not either thick or runny on a hot oiled pan,The batter should be of consistency which can spread by itself in an even round.The gas flame should be medium and once you see little pores on the crepe ,you can add the filling on one side and roll it like an omelette. After making every crepe, clean the pan with a wet tissue and brush some oil every time. You can also cover the pan for a while after sliding in the batter to get it well done. The crepes are done on one side only.Do not turn the crepes on the pan like a paratha.Serve the patishapta either with nolen gur or a bowl of kheer by the side.You can substitute the coconut jaggery filling with a khoya filling alone or make a savoury one by adding a mashed green peas filling or a fish filling to the rice crepe.If you do that don’t add the nolen gur to the batter, instead just add a pinch of salt.
Of all the deserts I cook during winter my favourite is a simple Bread and Butter Pudding.If I suddenly have a sweet craving and want something fancy, a bread and butter pudding is the easy fix.Bread pudding is all childhood and conjures up in my mind something brown and moist with mom’s love. I remember school tiffin bread pudding that tasted of nutmeg and dried fruits with a sprinkling of demerara on top. As a greedy child, I liked these bread puddings to the extent they made my heart sing.Childhood puddings were made from sliced bread, overlapping in a dish. Taking stale bread and turning it into something comforting and new was a skill my mom knew.Just because bread puddings were a product of thrift does not mean that they were made carelessly. The simplest of all bread puddings is also known as eggy bread: bread dipped in egg, fried in butter and sprinkled with sugar. The name comes from the French ‘pain perdue’, meaning lost bread. A 15th century recipe tells the reader to start with “fair bread” and “fair yolks” and to “fry him up” in “fair butter” before laying on sugar. And “serve it forth”.
Bread pudding has the most plebeian of origins, While bread pudding is still a way to use up leftover bread, it has gained a reputation as a comfort food and is a featured dessert item in fancy restaurants having shed its humble origins.Since very early times it was common practice to use stale bread in many different ways…including edible serving containers (Medieval sops, foccacia), stuffings (forcemeat), special dishes (French toast) and thickeners (puddings). In the 19th century, recipes for bread pudding were often included in cookbooks under the heading “Invalid cookery.”
” The likely history of the pudding can be traced to the medieval practice of using a hollowed-out loaf as the container for a sweet dish…variants of bread pudding could be eaten hot as pudding or cold as a cake…an Egyptian dessert which bears a marked similarity to bread and butter pudding, and which was originally a simple dish in rural areas…is called Om Ali and is made with bread…milk or cream, raisins, and almonds…Another Middle Eastern bread sweet, Eish es serny (palace bread), is made by drying large round slices cut horizontally through a big loaf to make enormous rusks, which are then simmered in sugar and honey syrup flavoured with rosewater and coloured with caramel. Traveling further east, an Indian dessert in the Moghul style, Shahi tukra, is made with bread fried in ghee, dipped in a syrup flavoured with saffron and rosewater, and covered with a creamy sauce in which decorative slices of almond are embedded.”
—The Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 103)
One of the oldest available Bread and Butter Pudding recipe is by Eliza Acton in 1845.
“Give a good flavour of lemon-rind and bitter almonds, or of cinnamon, ir preferred to a pinto of new milk, and when it has simmered a sufficient time for this, strain and mix it with a quarter of a pint of rich cream; sweeten it with four ounces of sugar in lumps, and stir it while still hot to five well-beaten eggs; throw in a few grains of salt, and move the mixture briskly with a spoon as a glass of brandy is added to it. Have ready a thickly-buttered dish three layers of think bread and butter cut from a half-quartern loaf, with four ounces of currants, and one and a half of finely shred candied peel, strewed between and over them; pour the eggs and milk on them by degrees, letting the bread absorb one portion before another is added; it should soak for a couple of hours before the pudding is taken to the oven, which should be a moderate one. Half an hour will bake it. It is very good when made with new milk only; and some persons use no more than a pint of liquid in all, but part of the whites of the eggs my then be omitted. Cream my be substituted for the entire quantity of milk at pleasure”.
—Modern Cookery for Private Families, Eliza Acton, 1845 facsimile reprint with an introduction by Elizabeth Ray [Southover Press:East Sussex] 1993 (p. 359)
I do the bread and butter pudding the simplest way.For one pound of bread cut into halves after removing the crusts I use 250 ml of milk and 200 ml of thick cream and 3 whole eggs and one egg yolks.I butter the bread slices both ways and arrange them in a greased pie dish.The arrangement has to be in layers but you can be as creative as you want.After each layer I add raisins and black currants.Once the breads are arranged, I warm the milk,cream,whisked egg and sugar mixture. Be careful not to boil it.The amount of sugar depends on your taste.I add vsnilla essence or vanilla from pods.I pour this mixture into the pie dish and allow the bread to soak for at least 30 min,For the brownish crust I add some brown sugar and dollop of butter at the top.In a preheated oven I bake it at 190 degree centigrade for 30 min.Serve it with a drizzle of brandy.Refrigerate it for a while and it tasted divine. Spoonfuls shared actually seals friendships for life.
You tend to love something more which is short lived,something which you crave for yet you get it for a while.Winters in Kolkata are that whiff of fleeting romance for me every year.Keep awaiting it in bated breath, enjoy its warmth while its there and when its gone be nostalgic about it. Just when the winters bade goodbye and it was time to put away the woolen clothes I thought of recollecting the favourites which I cooked this winter to keep the season etched in memory.Only this winter I did not have my Ma to pack boxes for her whatever I cooked .