Archives for posts with tag: pakistani food

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I am a clean freak.  Honestly, I have a problem.  I cannot tolerate any dishes in the sink, any sort of mess.  I get grossed out way too easily.  It’s funny because as I’m getting older the less tolerance I have for uncleanliness.  The reason I mention this is because it is getting increasingly difficult for me to eat street food.  My husband and I went to Thailand and I couldn’t bring myself to eat ANY of the street food.  I look at photos of Thai street food and it looks so delicious.  But in the moment I failed myself!  This is such a pity because I love street food and hole in the wall places wherever they are in the world (as long as they are clean).

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In Toronto we have a small section of the city called Little India.  I have not been too much, because Pakistani or Indian food is something I can eat at home.  But there is a whole experience to going and sitting on a plastic chair or a picnic table and eating foods like papri chaat, gol guppay, tikkas, and naan.  My husband and I ventured to Little India to get some chaat a few years ago and I really think we went on a bad day because the places we found were not very good.  I’ve heard good things from friends about some places there so I don’t want to be a meanie and bash any place in particular.  :)

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After that trip, I decided to make chaat at home.  The ingredients are readily available and it’s actually quite easy to make.  I’ve also made chaat at my inlaws’ house many times when they have guests over and not to boast, but it’s always a hit. I like to make it fresh (otherwise it gets soggy) so I make it in batches and people have no patience to wait for me to finish the next tray of chaat.  While I am making a new batch they start reaching into the serving dish.  In situations like this I just zip my lips. But despite this slight annoyance I should take this as a compliment.  My chaat is just THAT delicious.  ;)

IMG_2804Papri Chaat

Ingredients

(this is a loose recipe and can be adapted to your taste)

Papri (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

Bhel Puri (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

1 cup cooked chickpeas

boiled potato, peeled and cut into small cubes, about 1 cup

Tamarind Chutney*

Green Chutney**

Yogurt***

Chaat Masala (can be found in South Asian grocery stores)

chopped red onions

chopped tomatoes, optional

chopped green chilies

chopped cilantro

chopped mint, optional

Method

*Tamarind Chutney is made by heating 3/4 cup of tamarind pulp, 6 pitted Medjool dates, 2 tablespoons chaat masala, 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder, 1 teaspoon red chilli powder (or to taste), 3/4 teaspoon, 1/4 cup sugar on medium heat for 15 minutes and then reducing the heat to low for 45 minutes.  Allow it to cool and then blend in a blender until the consistency is smooth.  Serve chilled.

**Green Chutney is made by placing 1 cup cilantro leaves and stems, 15 mint leaves, 1 long green chilli, 2 tablespoons water, salt, and black pepper in a blender until very finely chopped.  This should resemble a pesto.

***For the Yogurt, take 1 cup of plain yogurt and thin it out with 1/2 cup of water.  Add 1 teaspoon chaat masala and salt to taste.  Whisk until it looks like thick cream.

To assemble the chaat:  Place the papri (wafers) on a serving dish and top with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, tamarind chutney, green chutney, red onion, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, mint, green chilies, and sprinkle the dish with chaat masala.  Finally, top with some bhel puri.  It is best to serve this right away.  You can prepare everything in advance and assemble before serving.

Things are hectic lately.  We’re about to move, which is always a stressful time. Yes, finally, I am moving to a big city, Toronto. My husband used to live there, so it won’t be too hard adjusting.  Despite all my complaining about where I live now, I am going to miss it.  My apartment feels so homey, anyone who visits says the same thing.  I’m getting sentimental about leaving.  There are so many things I’m going to miss, which I will post about later.

This was the first city my husband and I lived in together, where we moved past the newlywed stage of marriage and have come into our own.  We have our own routine here, it’s not the most exciting life or in any way cosmopolitan, but we managed.  But there’s always a time to move on, I guess.  I don’t want to sound like a downer, I am very happy we’re moving.  I’m just the type of person who gets attached to places.  I lived in the same house until I was 21.

Anyhow, my main point was that things are hectic around here.  When things are hectic, shami kebabs are a lifesaver, emergency food, if you will. They freeze so well and last for months.  I must admit, the process of making them is somewhat grueling, but it’s not so bad.  I try to always have them on hand because it never hurts to serve an extra dish, especially for a last-minute gathering.

I am smiling right now, thinking about in Pakistan there are always unexpected guests, an occasion where shami kebabs come in very handy.  This concept would not really fly in North America, people showing up unannounced and expecting to be served something substantial to eat. Someone usually has to rush to the local bakery to get samosas, various biscuits, and puff pastry patties.  Then, all the food is placed on a special trolley for guests and then it is rolled out with a teapot covered in a tea cozy and all the bakery goodies.  Meanwhile, shami kebabs are frying up in the kitchen because they are ready in the freezer.

Whether or not you eat shami kebabs as an emergency food, they are delicious and one of my all-time favorites.  Since we’re going to be moving and there will be little time to cook, we’ll be eating a lot of shami kebabs.  All the hard work is worth it, trust me.

Chicken Shami Kebabs

Makes about 25-30 kebabs

Ingredients

for cooking the chicken:

water, as needed

2 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, in large chunks*

1 medium sized red onion, roughly sliced, no need to be precise, just in chunks

half a bulb of garlic, peeled

2 inch piece of ginger, roughly chopped

1 cup yellow split pea lentils (chanay ki dal) soaked overnight and washed

2 teaspoons coriander seeds

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole cloves

3 black cardamoms

5 green cardamoms

10-12 dried red chilies, use less for less spicy

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

2 bay leaves

salt, to taste

after cooking the chicken you will need:

1 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup chopped mint

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1/2 a red onion, chopped

4 scallions, white and light green parts, chopped

2 eggs

oil for frying

Method

First, cook the yellow lentils in plenty of boiling water until soft, after 30-45 minutes.  Set aside.

In a large pan, add the chicken, a little oil (if necessary), and all of the items listed (including spices) under the “for cooking the chicken” ingredients.   Also, add a little water, about 1/2 a cup.  Cook the chicken on medium heat for 15 minutes and then turn the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 45 more minutes, or until the chicken is very tender and all the water has evaporated.  You may need to add more water to the pot if it evaporates too quickly, just make sure you cook until the chicken is tender and the onion, garlic, and ginger are very soft.  Remove the cinnamon stick, black cardamom, and bay leaves, all the other spices will grind in the food processor.

Once the chicken is cooled, allow it to cool for 15-20 minutes.  After it has cooled slightly, transfer it to a large food processor with the cooked lentils and pulse until they are combined. Transfer the chicken and lentil mixture to a large bowl and add in the chopped cilantro, mint, scallions, green chilies, and red onion.  It’s time to get messy and crack in the 2 eggs and mix it all together with your hands.  Once everything is combined, form the chicken into round kebabs, about 3 inches in diameter.  You should end up with about 25-30 kebabs.

Next, in a frying pan heat some oil on medium heat and fry the kebabs until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Cook as many as you want and you can freeze the kebabs that are not fried for up to 3-4 months.

Variation: Instead of adding the egg inside the kebab mixture, before frying you can dip each kebab into beaten egg and fry the kebabs with an egg coating.  Another slight variation, is that you can grind all the spices that you cook with the chicken i.e. before adding them to the pot grind them all in a spice grinder and cook the chicken with the ground spices.  However,  I just grind them in the food processor with the chicken after it has cooked, removing the black cardamom, cinnamon stick, and, bay leaves.  I find that the other spices grind easily, as they have become soft after cooking.  It’s a personal preference.

To reheat frozen shami kebabs: leave frozen kebabs out at room temperature for 30 minutes and fry as usual.

You can serve the shami kebabs as a snack or a side dish with green chutney /chili garlic sauce or with dal and basmati rice.  I also like to eat them with parathas.  A popular street food in Pakistan is bun kebab, which is also made with shami kebabs.

*I usually use beef stewing meat, which you can use, just cook the yellow lentils with the beef rather than separately and adjust the cooking time and water according to the meat you use.  Beef will take longer.  I used chicken thighs here because I had some in my freezer.  I imagine you could also use chicken breast as well.  Some people also cook the meat and lentils in a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one so I can’t give instructions on that method.

Shami Kebab recipes on other sites:

Chachi’s Kitchen

Passionate About Baking

Journey Kitchen

Fauzia’s Pakistani Recipes

Epicurious

This is definitely not a Valentine’s Day dish.  It’s not special and it’s completely and utterly pedestrian, at least in Pakistani households.  Regardless, I wanted to share it with you today because it’s the first dish I ever cooked for my husband.  Way back when, five years ago, in April, I met my husband through my sister.  She met him and put him in touch with me, he was in grad school in Toronto and I was in grad school in Montreal and in my sister’s mind that was enough reason for us to get along.  We started talking and then one day on a whim he decided to visit me in Montreal.  As you can imagine, I was nervous.  In our conversations I told him I enjoyed cooking, though at the time I didn’t do much being a busy grad student.  So when he arrived and when we got over the initial awkwardness we both went grocery shopping together.

It’s not exactly the first date most of us imagine, but that is what happened with us.  The premise of the grocery shopping was that I would cook lunch for us.  I had no clue what to make, we were wandering through the aisles and I said that I would make keema (ground beef).  It was a dish I was comfortable making and my now husband was pretty laid back about the whole thing.  He told me he liked it with green bell peppers, in my mind I thought, “ew,” but I put some green bell peppers into our cart and also picked up some spinach to  make aloo palak, a dish I had never made before.  Back then, I was polite and didn’t say anything about the bell peppers, if it was today, it would be an entirely different story.

We got back to my apartment and I started cooking in my tiny kitchen with very little proper kitchen equipment.  We began talking and pretty soon we were more comfortable and it felt as though we knew each other for ages.  I made the keema, aloo palak (it turned out good), basmati rice, salad, and chutney.  My husband stuck with me after that meal and it’s safe to say he was a fan of my cooking.  After eating lunch we explored Montreal, which in of itself is a very romantic city, and then later had some late night bites at a restaurant, a “proper” date, if you will.

My husband’s favorite Pakistani dish besides channay is keema. I don’t know if he liked it before or if his love for it blossomed after I made it that first time.  He now requests it on a weekly basis.  He was just away for three weeks on medical residency interviews and whenever he would get a few days in the middle to come home, he would ask me to make aloo keema. Luckily for me it’s an easy dish and I also enjoy it.

I know this isn’t a gorgeous Valentine’s dessert of gooey chocolate, but it is one of “our” dishes.  Since my husband and I consider food a big part of what we have in common, it doesn’t matter if it’s simple Pakistani home cooking or some form of haute cuisine, we always enjoy it in each other’s company.  Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Aloo Keema

serves 3 as a main, 4 if served with a side dish

Ingredients

Canola oil, or any neutral vegetable oil

1 pound ground beef (chicken, lamb, goat) It’s also up to you if you want to use lean or not.  I like to wash and drain it in a colander.

1 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons

2 heaping tablespoons ginger-garlic paste (2 inch piece of ginger and 5-6 cloves of garlic blended together with a little water)

1 potato, peeled and cut into large chunks (you can also use peas, peppers, cauliflower, or any vegetable you choose, just adjust cooking times)

2 tomatoes, puréed (canned are alright, if they are out of season)

1 teaspoon roasted cumin powder

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon red chili powder/cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3-4 whole black peppercorns

2 cloves

2-3 green chilies, julienned, seeds removed if you like

nice handful of cilantro, chopped

3 scallions, chopped, optional

garam masala, optional

limes, for garnish, optional

Method

Heat a large saucepan on medium heat and add in some oil, to your taste.  Let the oil heat up and add the onions and fry them for a few minutes until they start to almost turn light golden brown.

Add in the meat and ginger-garlic paste and keep stirring it until the ground beef is all broken up and in very small pieces.  Once the meat is slightly browned add in all the spices except the garam masala and keep mixing until everything is combined and the rawness is cooked out the spices.

Next, add in the tomato purée and mix it into the meat.  I also add in half a cup of water at this point.  Lower the heat to medium low and cover the pan and allow it to cook for 15 minutes or so.

After fifteen minutes, check the meat and mix it.  Cover and let it cook for fifteen more minutes.  After fifteen minutes, add in the potatoes and mix everything together a few times.  You should no longer see individual pieces of onion (it should have melted into the “masala,” and the oil should start to separate from the meat.  If necessary, add a little water (1/4 cup) to help the potatoes cook.

Once the potatoes are cooked, add in the green chilies, cilantro, scallions, and a sprinkling of garam masala and cook for another few minutes.  Serve with rice, chapati/roti, or naan and green chutney, limes, spicy pickles (achaar), and salad.

*Leftovers taste even better!

“You just want me to be fat and making parathas in the kitchen all day,” my mother would exclaim when my sister and I got into a little fight with her.  You see, when my sister and I were teenagers my mother would often wear the same sort of clothes we wore and we would become incredibly annoyed.  Maybe she was right in a way.  We did want her to do more baking and wear ugly sweaters like everyone else’s moms.  My mother always had a young spirit and had a young outer façade to match it.  My sister and I have since gotten over our teenage qualms and are happy to have our mom raid our closet and vice versa.

She saw making parathas and rotis as the ultimate form of subservience, the sign of an unhappy woman.  I know that it was a silly thing for her to think, regardless I developed the same sort of picture in my mind.  When I got married, my mom said to me, “there’s no need to make roti everyday.”  That was certainly not in my plan and I only attempted to make them two years after marriage.  This was because I was inspired by of all the fabulous bakers and adventurous bloggers I came into contact with.

In stark contrast to my own mother is my mother-in-law.  I only hinted at the prospect of trying to make rotis and she was back the same day with a tawa.  She made sure to buy me atta and proceed on giving me a lesson in the art of making rotis.  For indeed it is an acquired art, you can not master it at one go.  When I went back to my own home, my mother-in-law would call and ask how the roti and paratha making was going.  I would fib and say I tried and that my roti were not coming out round.  These white lies were just to make her feel better, because she felt her son was being taken care of if he was receiving fresh roti and parathas.

One day, I bit the bullet and tried.  I got over my preconceived notions and complexes related to roti and paratha making.  My first few attempts were pathetic, a real blow to my self-esteem.  I consider myself a decent cook and to fail so miserably at something so simple was embarrassing.  My roti resembled and tasted like cardboard and I hadn’t even dived into the world of parathas yet.  Thankfully, slowly but surely I got there and now I can confidently say that I can make roti and paratha.

This is not going to be a daily routine in my household though, a special biannual treat, if you will.  After all, I am still my mother’s daughter and I am glad she raised me how she did.

Aloo Parathay

Makes 4

Ingredients

for the dough:

2 1/2 cups Durum wheat flour, roti or chapati flour (I use Golden Temple)

3/4-1 1/2 cup of lukewarm water

for the filling:

1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil

3 boiling potatoes, peeled and cubed into a medium dice

1/2 a red onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped cilantro

a few leaves of mint, chopped

green chilies, chopped (as many as you like, I used 2)

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds

pinch of ajwain (carom) seeds

red chili powder/cayenne pepper, to taste

crushed red chilies, to taste, optional

salt, to taste

canola or vegetable oil, for frying

Method

Prepare the dough by kneading the flour and water together.  Add the water a little at a time until the dough just comes together.  You may not need all of the water.  I knead by hand, but you can also do this in a food processor or stand mixer with the hook attachment.

Knead for about five minutes until the dough is firm yet elastic.  Place the dough in a bowl and dab on some water over the dough so it doesn’t form a skin and cover it with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rest for at least a few hours in the fridge or on the counter if you are using it the same day.

Once ready to make the parathas, let the dough sit at room temperature for a few hours if it was in the fridge.  The dough can be stored in the fridge for up to 3 days.

To make the potato filling boil the potatoes in some cold water in a pot on medium to medium high heat until the potatoes are fork tender and easily mashed, about 15-20 minutes.  Drain the water from the potatoes and mash them with a fork or potato masher.  While the potatoes are boiling, toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry fry pan on medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Transfer the spices to a mortar and pestle and coarsely grind them.

Next, add in the oil, onions, cilantro, green chilies, all the spices to the mashed potatoes and mix everything together. Set aside.

Now, you will have to roll out the dough.  Separate the dough into eight even-sized balls.  You will need two balls per one paratha.  Roll each ball out so that is is smooth with no seams.  Next, flatten out the ball with you hand so that it becomes a small circle.  Put your thumb at the center of the circle and press your fingers at the edges of the circle as to expand the circle.  Press your fingers all around and rotate the circle until it starts getting bigger.  At this point, use a rolling-pin to roll out a circle with a 6 inch diameter.  For each paratha you will need two 6 inch diameter circles.

Place 1/2 a cup of the potato filling over one 6 inch diameter circle, leaving an inch free all around.  Place the second dough circle on top and using your fingers pinch the edges shut.  Using your rolling pin, roll out the paratha until it approximately has a 10 inch diameter.

Heat your tawa, griddle, or frying pan to medium heat and place the paratha on the warm surface.  Let the paratha cook like this for a minute or two then flip it over and using a pastry brush, brush on about a tablespoon of oil on the top of the paratha.  Flip it again so that the oiled side is at the bottom.  Grease the top with another tablespoon of oil.  Once the bottom has turned golden brown, about 2-3 minutes flip it over and brown the other side.  Once both sides are golden brown remove from the heat and repeat the process until the dough is finished.

Serve with raita, achar, or green chutney.  I particularly like paratha with shami kebabs.

I know you all are probably sick of hearing, “here’s another unique zucchini recipe for you.”  I am.  I’ve had enough frittatas, galettes, and zucchini bread/muffins/cookies, you get the picture.  Maybe you are even tired of eating zucchini, it is after all September!  Despite all of this, I’m going to throw another zucchini recipe at you.  It’s super quick, easy, flavorful, and all of those other clichéd adjectives.

Plus, it is economical.  I feel as though I sound like a food personality full of gimmicks.  Trust me, I am not and I just want to share this dish with you all.  Sometimes, my mind goes out of the practical zone and dreams of buying caviar, foie gras, fine cheeses, truffles, and the like.  Then, I snap myself back to reality and remember that I am not working (yet!) and my husband is an overworked and underpaid medical student.

Pakistani food doesn’t break the bank for us.  When I’m trying to budget (which, is rarely successful) I proclaim that I am only cooking Pakistani food.  The spices are reasonable if you buy them at a Pakistani or Indian grocer and the other ingredients are basic pantry staples.  This dish would be even more economical if you have a garden and it grows copious amounts of zucchini.

I love how the zucchini in this dish gets almost caramelized with the onions and tomatoes, creating an almost chutney-like consistency.  You can use this recipe as a template for many other vegetables: eggplant, okra, potatoes, green beans.  I serve this dish with a huge spoonful of yogurt, the yogurt mellows out the spices and adds creaminess.  Whether or not you are sick of zucchini,  the spices in this dish will revive your passion for late summer produce.

Pakistani-Style Zucchini

Serves 3 as a main, 4 as a side

Ingredients

2-3 tablespoons canola oil, or any other neutral-flavored vegetable oil

4 medium-size zucchini, peeled and cut into thin half-moons

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 ripe and juicy tomatoes, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/4 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste

1/4-1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

juice of 1/2 a lime, optional

1-2 sliced green chilies, for garnish

10 springs of cilantro, chopped, for garnish

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan on medium heat, add the red onions and allow them to cook until they just begin to lightly turn brown, about 5-7 minutes.  At this point, add in the tomatoes and stir with the onions for 2 minutes.  Then, add in the spices and cook the rawness out of the spices.  Next, add in the zucchini and mix for 5 minutes.  Cover the pan and allow the zucchini to cook for an additional 20-25 minutes until the zucchini wilts down and the oil begins to separate from the zucchini.  Squeeze on the juice of the lime and garnish with the green chilies and cilantro.  Serve with roti, chapati, or naan.

Pakistani street-foods are the ultimate in sweet, salty, and sour deliciousness.  I am a huge fan of chaat and when I miss the taste of chaat I usually opt for this version with potatoes and chickpeas.  In these hot summer months, it’s the perfect light snack.  The temperature is scorching hot and I feel so very lethargic that I just want to  make something easy.  I no longer have the patience to stand in front of the stove and sweat, even in air conditioning.

I last went to Pakistan for my wedding shopping, I haven’t been back since due to schedules and the like.  But, the thing I miss most, besides family, of course, is the street food.  My mom, my aunt, and I went crazy during my wedding shopping, getting my bridal dresses, jewelry, and the various other outfits.  Despite all the rush and chaos, we could calm down with a bowl of chaat practically everyday.  Sitting on a rickety chair with an even ricketier table at a street vendor, we would just relax with our chaat.  The scorching sun in the market, the pollution from traffic and rickshaws, the fan that was blowing around hot air didn’t even phase us.  It was our time to unwind.  Let me tell you, wedding preparations are stressful.

Now that I’m way beyond my newlywed days and back to reality, I have the responsibility of making the chaat.  As we have established before my husband is good for nothing in the kitchen.  Thankfully, chaat is simple and pantry-friendly.  I always have potatoes and chickpeas on hand.  I don’t think my household would run without them.  The tamarind chutney adds the right amount of tang.  I love tamarind, I love tamarind candies coated in chaat masala.  I am salivating just thinking about them.  (You can get similar candies in Mexican/Latin American grocery stores).  My chutney recipe isn’t 100% authentic because I make mine in 5 minutes.  The real version is slowly simmered on a stove all day and I haven’t learned how to make it yet.  My shortcut chutney is just fine for the time being.  Chaat is a nice departure from usual summer fare and could also be considered a salad of sorts.  You don’t even need to go to Pakistan to try it, but I must admit, even though mine is pretty tasty, it is not even close to Pakistani chaat.

Potato and Chickpea “Chaat” with Tamarind Chutney

Serves 3

Ingredients

2 cups cooked chickpeas

1-2 medium-sized potatoes, boiled until tender and then peeled and cut into a small dice

1/2 a medium-sized red onion, finely chopped

1 long green chili, finely chopped (seeds and ribs removed for less spicy)

1 tomato, finely chopped, optional

1/4 bunch of cilantro chopped (use as much as you like)

a few mint leaves, optional

chaat masala, (as much as you like, I like to add a lot, about 1 tablespoon, you can find it in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores, I use Shan brand)

for the Tamarind Chutney:

2 heaping teaspoons of tamarind paste

juice of 1 lime

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1 teaspoon chaat masala

1/4 teaspoon red chili powder (as much as you like)

1 tablespoon raw sugar

Method

First, make the chutney by combining all the ingredients for the chutney in a small saucepan on medium heat and melt the tamarind until it becomes liquidy, about 5 minutes.  If your chutney is thick, thin it out with some water.  Chill for an hour.

Next, combine all the ingredients for the chaat; the chickpeas, potatoes, red onion, green chili, tomatoes (optional), cilantro,  mint (optional), and chaat masala.  Check for salt.  I don’t add salt because the chaat masala already has it in it.  I got ahead of myself and mixed in the tamarind chutney with the chickpeas, usually I just drizzle some on top of the chickpeas.  If you would like you can mix the chutney in with the chickpeas as I did here.  Chill the chaat for an hour in the refrigerator.  Some people like to drizzle on thinned out yogurt on top as well.  Garnish with cilantro leaves and a sprinkling of chaat masala.

Chickpeas

There are some foods that you always say you don’t like, and then when you haven’t had them for a while you really crave them.  I remember when I first moved to Montreal for Grad School, I had not eaten Pakistani food in over a month.  Luckily, I made a Pakistani friend who had done her research and knew of several Pakistani restaurants.  I did not cook at my apartment, simply because I was grossed out.  I did no prior research and just opted for Graduate Housing and thought it would be fine (at least the pictures online looked fine).  When I arrived, I was almost in tears, looking back it wasn’t thattt bad, but still.  When that lease was finished, I moved out of there and into a new place like it was no one’s business.

That is why I never cooked, and lived off of takeout or meals that did not require cooking.  So, when my friend asked if I wanted to go out for Pakistani, I was so incredibly excited.  Thank God, she took me for a buffet.  That was one time that I was in the mood for “all you can eat.”  I don’t even remember what exactly we ate, but I do remember we were both extremely satiated.

I think it was during that dinner, we started talking about our moms’ cooking.  Most Pakistani moms do cook quite well, or so their kids say.  Even though my mom doesn’t look like the typical Pakistani mom, her food is always great.  My friend and I started talking about when our moms throw big parties and what their cooking specialties were.  It turned out that both our moms thought their maash ki dal (white lentils) was something special.  It’s different than the more soupy dals out there, and is “party-worthy” food.  My friend and I laughed so much thinking about how our moms thought their dishes were something unique.  My friend was saying that her mom makes the maash ki dal because it is everyone’s request.  It was the same story with my mom.

I never really paid maash ki dal much attention before.  But, there are those few times that I crave it.  Luckily for me, it is a snap to prepare and my husband will eat just about anything without being overly picky, so he enjoys it as well.  It is a different dish to add to your repertoire and you can also make this dal soupy, if you chose to.  The recipe here is a dry version.

White Lentils with a Sizzling Oil (Tarka) Garnish

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 cup maash dal sometimes called Urad dal, available at Indian/Pakistani grocery stores (soak the dal in water for 1 hour and then rinse away the old water a few times)

2 cups water, scant

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1/8 teaspoon turmeric, optional

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder, or to taste

1/2 a tomato, chopped finely, optional (I just used one because I had half of one in the fridge)

for garnish:

3-4 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2  a small onion, sliced thinly

2 branches/stems of curry leaves (removed from stems), available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores

4-5 whole dried red chilies

handful chopped cilantro

a few mint leaves, chopped

2″ piece of ginger, julienned

1 green chili, sliced in half length-wise

Method

In a medium-sized saucepan bring the water to a boil on medium to medium-high heat.  Add in the maash ki dal, salt, turmeric, red chili powder, and tomato.  Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the water has evaporated and when you press on the dal with your finger it mashes easily.  The grains should be separate, not mushy.  Place the dal into your serving dish.  Next, in a frying pan, heat the oil on medium heat.  Add the onion and begin to fry it.  After 3 minutes add in the cumin seeds, curry leaves, whole dried red chilies and fry all of the items together until the onions turn golden brown.  You may want to run your exhaust fan during this process because it may cause you to cough a bit. When the onions are golden, pour the hot oil mixture over the lentils.  Then finish the garnish with the ginger, cilantro, mint leaves, and the green chili.  Serve with roti or naan.

A few days ago, I was thinking about things I have learned to make since I got married.  Getting married improved my cooking repertoire substantially.  I always loved cooking, but was too busy as a student to really dive in and explore a lot of new dishes.  My husband’s taste buds sometimes dictate what I cook as well.  I admit, I am more domineering in the food side of things, so usually what I say goes!  That’s the way it should be, right girls?  Also, my husband has not cooked a meal for me even once!  Can you believe that?  Shame on him!  If I do not want to cook we go out or order something.  Never once will he offer to make something.  Not that I mind it on a daily basis, but sometimes a girl does not want to see the kitchen.  Recently, he was away on electives and had to cook for himself.  Can you guess know what he made?  His infamous chicken breasts, baked with salt, pepper, and zucchini in a foil pouch.  Wow, how utterly creative!

Okay, enough with the husband bashing (he really does not deserve it), this was supposed to be another tribute to his taste buds but somehow I got sidetracked.  During the past two Ramadans (Islamic month of fasting) I have made Pakoras everyday, I never really made them before I got married.  My husband, being a creature of habit needs to have pakoras to open his fast.  We are not particularly religious, although we do try to do the basics, I more than him.  But, in Ramadan we try to fast as much as possible.  It is a spiritual cleansing and makes us remember all we have been given.

It is a spiritual cleansing, NOT a physical cleaning.  Us Pakistanis open our fasts with the most artery clogging dishes possible.  Pakoras, samosas, lentil fritters swimming in yogurt, puff pastry patties, fried potato cutlets are usually on the tables in most Pakistani households at the opening of the fast.  Yes, there are the afterthoughts of fruit salad and dates in the corner.  But, after fasting all day most people jump for the fried foods.  I try to steer away from this habit.  Give me the fruit and a date and then afterwards I’ll eat a normal healthy dinner.

Despite my eating habits, I still make Pakoras for my husband and maybe an occasional one for myself, shhhhhh.  I have perfected them and although he likes them dipped almost like vegetable tempura, I make them with everything in the batter.  It’s easier and in my opinion tastier.  My mother told me to add yogurt to the batter because it makes them fluffier, but that is entirely optional. Pakoras are not only reserved for Ramadan, that is why I felt like making them today, on some random April day.  I must admit they are delicious and I do devour them when I go to Pakistan, where I do not gain weight from eating all these fried foods, but that is a story for another day.  In Lahore, the best pakoras are available in Liberty Market.

Pakoras: Chickpea Flour Fritters with Spinach, Red Onion, and Potatoes

Makes about 12

Ingredients

3/4 cup chickpea/gram flour (besan)

water (enough to form a thick batter)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon chaat masala powder, available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores

1 heaping tablespoon of plain yogurt, optional

1 cup packed baby spinach, coarsely chopped

1 small potato, cut into thin matchstick pieces

1 small red onion, sliced as thin as possible

handful of cilantro, chopped

1 thin long green chili, minced finely

vegetable oil, for frying

Method

In a mortar and pestle crush together the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and carom seeds.  Leave them coarse.  In a bowl mix together the chickpea flour, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, carom seeds, red chili powder, chat masala, and salt.  Add in the water slowly until the ingredients form a batter, similar to a slightly thick pancake batter.  Add in the yogurt and mix.  Next toss in the spinach, onion, potato, cilantro, and green chili.  Heat a pan with oil, I like to shallow fry the Pakoras, if you wish, you can deep fry them.  Add heaping tablespoon-fulls of batter into the heated oil and cook on medium to medium low heat until they are golden brown on each side, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Make sure the batter and the vegetables inside are fully cooked before serving.  When cooked, drain on a plate lined with paper towel.  Sprinkle with some extra salt and chaat masala.  Eat them fresh, they do not taste as good if they are not hot.  You can serve the Pakoras with tamarind-date chutney, green chutney, or even chili garlic ketchup.

My mother-in-law is a star in the kitchen, especially when it comes to Pakistani cuisine.  You ask for it and she will make it, happily.  Some people do not bother with serving others food.  They are stingy or not gracious hosts.  These comments could never be associated with my mother-in-law.  She loves feeding her friends and family.  I always tell her, “Aunty, you should open up a restaurant.”  If it was not so tiring and such a big commitment, I think it would be ideal for her.

She goes all out with her preparations.  I love seeing this quality in people, the trait of being a great host.  Inviting someone to your house should not be seen as a hassle, but an occasion to share food and good times with others.  She makes very elaborate and time-consuming dishes when she is having a gathering.  She would rather not invite people over than make something simple that you would eat in your house on a daily basis.  I am like her in some ways.  I do take pride in inviting people over to my place.  In this day and age, I understand that people are busy and entertaining is the last thing on their minds.  But, there is something so appealing and welcoming about a good host.

I mention all of this, because my mother-in-law also makes her own fresh naans.  Most of the time, she lives in Dubai, but she also visits Toronto quite frequently.  Both of these places have no shortage of establishments that serve up fresh naans.  Yet, she takes great pride in her kitchen and would rather serve something fresh and home-made.  Making naan for 2-3 people, like I have made here is not that grueling.  However, she will make naans for 15-20 people with a smile on her face the whole time.

I hope you try this recipe, it is really worth it to put in the effort.  The recipe is not hard at all, just a little time-consuming.  The result is so worth it.  They are usually made in a tandoor or clay oven.  Most of us are not equipped with one in our kitchen, so the broiler is the next best option.  Hot, fresh, naans enhance any Pakistani or Indian dish as they serve the place of an extra utensil.  They are chewy and oh so delicious.  I am very lucky to have such a great mother-in-law who is able to teach me such recipes that I would have not tried making before.

Naan

Makes 8 naans

Ingredients

4 cups of all-purpose unbleached flour (organic)

1 1/2 tablespoons dry-active yeast

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup milk

3/4 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup of yogurt

sesame seeds, for garnish (optional)

kalonji seeds, for garnish (optional)

softened butter

extra water and flour, if necessary

Method

Proof the yeast with the warm water and sugar, for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to form bubbles.  Sift together the flour with the salt and baking powder.  Add in the yeast mixture, milk, and 1/2 cup of oil.  Knead the dough together until it forms a ball.  If the dough is too sticky add extra flour to the dough and likewise if it is too dry, add water.  Allow to rise in a bowl covered with a damp kitchen towel for 4 hours.  Keep the bowl in a warm place, like over the stove.

Meanwhile mix the yogurt with the remaining oil in a bowl and set aside.

After four hours knead the dough slightly.  Separate the dough into 8 equal balls.  Allow the balls to rise for 30 minutes.  Then, using a rolling-pin roll the balls into 8-9 inch rounds.  Use your fingertips to make indentations in the dough.

Preheat your broiler.  Heat a griddle or frying pan on the stove on medium heat.  Brush the yogurt/oil mixture on top of the naans and cover with sesame seeds.  You can add a few kalonji seeds, if you like.  Next cook the bottom of the naans on the griddle or frying pan for about 4 minutes.  Then transfer them as the bottoms are browned onto a baking tray underneath the broiler.  This will brown the top of the naans.  Keep each naan in the oven for about 4 minutes, or until the top is slightly golden.  If you wish you can dab a little butter on top of the hot naans.  Serve them right away, they taste best right from the oven.

Chicken tikka is ubiquitous with South Asian cuisine.  It is a popular takeout item, but is just as easily prepared at home.  Making this dish in a tandoori oven would be ideal but my apartment kitchen could not handle such advanced apparatus.  I actually prefer my homemade version to *some* restaurant versions because in many restaurants I have been to, the chicken is practically dyed an ungodly red color.  That food coloring or whatever it is that they use, really turned me off chicken tikka for a while.  To me, this look is as unappealing as an over peroxidized bleached blond.  (I do not have anything against bleached blondes, just a comparison in dying methods ;). )

Another issue I had with chicken tikka was that I became dependent on Shan Masalas in order to prepare it.  If you do not know of Shan masalas (there are many other brands that produce similar spice mixes) are prepared spice mixes for any Pakistani dish you could dream of.  When I say any, I MEAN any.  They are 99 cent wonders for some.  Throw in some onions, ginger, and garlic and your xyz Pakistani dish is made.  Though, there is a convenience factor to these masalas, there is the inevitable fact that everyone’s food started tasting the same.  The authenticity of the cuisine was gone.  For a while I couldn’t tell you what went into Biryani, it was all in the Shan Masala for me, why would I need to know?  Now, I steer clear of  these prepared masalas as much possible.

Oh no, I made them sound like the most evil thing on earth didn’t I?  They’re not that bad (though they are laden with sodium, but that’s another issue.) At least, they encourage people who wouldn’t normally cook, to actually go into the kitchen.  Also, I must admit, I do add just a bit of the prepared chicken tikka mix because of the nice color it adds.  (Not the unnatural mutated red color as previously mentioned.)

Chicken tikka is so easy to prepare and yields delicious results.  I freshly grind all my spices to produce even more flavor, but if you don’t have a spice grinder, powdered ones will work great.  Also, I have noticed that South Asian spices in regular markets can be exorbitantly expensive.  Do check out Indian/Pakistani groceries where the same spices will be of better quality and at lower prices.  South Asians have reached all corners of the globe, so I’m sure there will be an Indian/Pakistani grocer somewhere near you.  I’m originally from Rhode Island aka the smallest state, and we have at least 3 South Asian grocers there.  Enjoy this dish, it’s definitely a crowd pleaser and great for large gatherings!

Chicken Tikka

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

4 chicken leg quarters skin removed and separated into leg and thigh portions, and using your knife make 3 slits on each piece of chicken so that the marinade can penetrate into the meat, (if you get your chicken directly from a butcher ask him or her to remove the kidneys as well)

7-8 cloves of garlic mashed in a mortar and pestle with 1/4 cup of water

1/2 inch piece of ginger mashed on a mortar and pestle (mixed with the garlic)

juice of 1 lime

2 teaspoons laal mirch powder, I believe this is similar to cayenne pepper but in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores it is called red chili powder.  I do not like to say chili powder because some may get confused with Tex-Mex Chili.  I prefer using Mehran brand red chili powder.

1 tablespoon cumin powder

1 tablespoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 pinch of ajwain (carom) seeds

1 teaspoon Shan Chicken Tikka Masala

1 teaspoon salt

1 heaping tablespoon of yogurt

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil

sliced onions, limes, green chilies, and tomatoes, cilantro, for garnish

Method

Put the chicken into a large bowl.  Mix all the spices together and add the lime juice, ginger/garlic paste made in the mortar and pestle, oil, and, yogurt (I forgot to add my yogurt until the end that is why you can see it separately in my pictures, but it really does not make a difference.)  Combine these ingredients until they form a paste.  Slather this paste over the chicken and rub it into the slits.  Marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours, if you are pressed for time, at least 1 hour.  After marination place the chicken on an oiled baking tray and bake at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the chicken in cooked through.  Then, turn the oven to broil and allow to broil for about 5 minutes or until the chicken gets a little charred.  Serve with hot naan and the garnishes.

*This chicken is also wonderful on the grill in the summertime!

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