How to make Sichuan Chilli Oil

One of my favorite songs is from the movie Silsila. It is picturised on Amitabh Bachchan (who also narrates the song) playing a love lost poet is reminiscing about this lady love. The song goes  “Main aur meri tanhai, aksar yeh baatein karte hain, tum hoti to kaisa hota? tum hoti, toh aisa hota”. Which when roughly translated goes, In my lonelinessI often talk to myself, how wonderful it would be if you were here!.  A bit lengthy but at its peak, the song beautifully captures the emotions of a hopelessly lonely person. I think it is this loneliness that makes man step out of his realm to find love and fulfillment which make him complete.

Relationships are a difficult thing to manage. You have to give it your all. A little more or a little lesser is a sure formula for disaster. This philosophy can be applied to all relationships, be it a marriage, siblings or between friends. The trick is to find the right balance, between giving it your all and being able to stand your own. Yes, like i mentioned relationships take a lot to keep, but there is also no point in being in it if it is either emotionally or physically draining you.

So then, does this principle apply to food?  I’d say a yes, very confidently. Have you noticed how items on your plate seem incomplete if another item isn’t there. Take dal and chawal for instance. Its not that you can’t have them individually, but when had together they just make each other feel so complete. Or many times a simple spoonful of pickle can elevate a relatively boring meal to a soul satisfying one. Todays recipe is one such condiment that shows up on the dining table at every chinese restaurant. The piquant chilli oil which has the capacity to light up a meal just like Chinese fireworks light up the sky on the Chinese new year.

I have always loved Chinese or for that matter SouthEast Asian Cuisine. This to the extent that if I’ve found a dish or a concept worthy of emulating at home, I surely give it a try with a varying degree of results. The one thing I couldnt do is replicate the chilli oil. Honestly, the challenge was trying to come to a conclusion on what the flavour was. Sure it was spicy but it had that one ingredient which gave it that back of the palate flavour kick. Remember the chinese fireworks? Help came in the form of a friend who was posted in Beijing on a project and being a foodie made quite a few CHinese friends. She mentioned its a difficult recipe to formulate since each house had their own. But the secret was in the quantity of Sichuan peppercorns she reckoned. There was the answer I was looking for. In my head I formulated a rough recipe and thankfully the test experiment was successful in the first attempt. I was elated and proceeded to make a larger batch. This time, I was fairly confident of being able to post the recipe. Trust me, its a no fuss recipe and you can use your approximations to match your tolerance of heat and spice. Use Kashmir chillies for a bright red colour or the spicier chillies for the heat effect. Here is the recipe

Sichuan Chilli Oil

Ingredients

  • 500 ml unflavored oil (use canola, rice bran)
  • 10 chillies (I used equal amount of Kashmir and the spicier variety)
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice whole
  • 30 grams Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5-8 garlic cloves, roughly crushed
  • Salt – a small tablespoon

Procedure

  • In a flat bottomed pan, dry roast the red chili and Sichuan peppercorns on a low flame. Once they give out a toasted aroma, move of the heat and allow to cool for 5-8 minutes. Once cooled, pound it roughly with a mortar and pestle but not entirely powdered, add the salt and keep aside.
  • Now, heat the oil (preferably in a mud pot) along with the garlic and the Chinese 5 spice on the lowest flame. This will allow the oil to absorb all the flavours of the garlic and the spices. You need to give this step time approx an hour. DO NOT heat the oil on a high flame as the garlic may burn and render a bitter flavour to the oil.
  • After about an hour the oil will begin to sizzle. Heat up the flame a bit and let the oil just about reach a boiling point. When it does switch of the flame and allow the oil to cool down a bit. Roughly about 10-15 mins.
  • Once the oil is relatively cooler add the red chillies and sichuan peppercorns to the oil. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL, the oil is still quite hot. At this point, you will hear a sizzle and your house will be filled with an intoxicating aroma.
  • Let it remain in the vessel for a while and then transfer it to a sterilized bottle. Dont not strain the oil. The longer the spices remain in the oil, the tastier it gets.

Sichuan Chilli Oil

So now that you’ve made the oil, here is a quick recipe for you that i tried and was pretty pleased with. Unfortunately, I missed taking a picture, but i will upload it soon.

Heat the chilli oil in a pan and add few cloves of garlic. When garlic is fragrant. add a chopped spring onion and give it a stir. Next add 8-10 medium sized prawns and stir for a minute till the prawns are cooked. Add salt and half a teaspoon of vinegar while giving it a good toss. Serve

Alternatively, you could use it in your salad dressings, or to drizzle over fried rice, or soups or thai green gravies or simply as my friend Dhanya Samuel from The Spice Adventuress suggested simply fry fish in this oil.

All said and done, once you made it you would never want it to get over from the pantry. Just like you would want a good relationship to end.

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Red Snapper de-coded

Here is a recipe post after ages.

After beginning the year with a holiday, and attending quite a few family functions, I finally got the time and the breathing space to cook something. But after binge eating, it was time to go light so I did cook meals were comforting in nature and treated the tummy lightly.

Sometime back, I had a piece of red snapper sent to me by @Pescafresh cause i had won a twitter contest. What a wonderful piece of Fish that was. Perfectly skinned, deboned and no scales at all. I neatly packed it and refrigerated it waiting for the right moment to cook it. But there was a catch, I had never cooked with snapper before. I was apprehensive and didnt want such a piece to get wasted. I shared my apprehensions with a few foodie friends who chipped in their suggestions. But somewhere deep down, I wasn’t confident. Or may be I just letting apprehensions get the better of me. After playing on a sticky wicket I decided i needed to play on the front foot and go by my tried and tested method of keeping things simple. This way I could let the snapper speak for itself rather than the accompaniments beating the hell out of it. I did break my head over the exact formula for the recipe and from the looks of it, I seemed to have done a pretty good job.

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Here is the recipe for a

Nut Crusted Pan grilled Snapper with Herbed Sweet Potato chips and Strawberry Chutney

For the fish you will need

  • 2-3 large fillets of red snapper or any firm white fish.
  • 200 grams of mixed nuts, roasted and crushed ( I used almonds, pistachios, cashews and walnuts)
  • 100 ml Oil
  • 100 ml lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the potato chips

  • 1 or 2 medium sized sweet potatoes, parboiled
  • 2 tablespoons oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon, mixed herbs (I used thyme, oregano, rosemary and chilli flakes)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the strawberry, ginger and raisin chutney,

  • 2-3 Fresh Strawberrys
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger
  • 1 birds eye chilli
  • 8-10 raisins

For the salad

  • 1 large onion, roughly sliced
  • 1 large tomato, roughly sliced
  • 1 medium cucumber, sliced
  • few lettuce leaves
  • For the dressing Juice of 1/2 a lime, 2 teaspoons of olive oil, half teaspoon of honey, half teaspoon of mustard powder salt an pepper to taste.

To Assemble:

  • Its a good thing to make the chutney first, so in a blender add the strawberrys, ginger the chilli and give it a blitz. The texture of the chutney shouldn’t be entirely fine, but slightly chunky. Remove from the blender and keep aside.
  • For the potatoes: Once the potatoes are parboiled, cut into even sized roundels. Heat oil in a pan and gently fry on each side till a nice char appears. As the potatoes are frying, mix together the salt and the herbs. Once the potatoes are done, remove from flame and sprinkle with the salt and herb mixture. Once done arrange the potatoes as you like on the plate which you will use to serve.
  • Chop the ingredients for the salad and keep aside. DO NOT dress the salad now else will become soggy.
  • For the fish: Take two shallow plates. In one out the powdered nuts and in the other mix the oil, lime juice,salt and pepper. Parallely, heat some oil in a pan. Gently take a fillet of the snapper dip this into the oil emulsion and then on to the nuts mixture and coat it well. Place it on the pan and fry on medium heat till both sides are reddish brown. This should take approximately 5-7 minutes on each side. Once done, transfer to the serving plate; either over the potatoes or besides them.
  • For the salad dressing, mix other all the ingredients and give it a good whisk. Drizzle this over the salad and serve one portion of the salad on the plate.
  • Finally, serve a large helping of the chutney beside the fish.
  • Serve with love. 🙂

Rum Glazed Sticky Chicken and the Kitchen Ninja’s Challenge

Picture this. It is fast forward to the second week of June 2014. The summer heat shows no mercy and the rain gods have planned a delayed arrival. You pray for rain. Then one day suddenly, as you travel to work; you see a small black cloud strolling across the skies. ‘ I hope it rains’, you silently wish. As the day progress, you see heavier, almost pregnant clouds. May be your wish could come true. As you make your way back home, a drop of rain falls on your head. The drop slowly grows to a drizzle and then a downpour. Much before you’ve realised it, you’re drenched… Yes, its the seasons first rains. As you reach home drenched to the bone, you quickly freshen up and grab a shot of rum (or your favorite tipple) to warm you up with some spicy snack (or chaakna as it is called in my native Konkani). That is it.. Sanity restored and life can go on now.

Cut back to May 31, 2014. I’m sure you are wondering why the flash forward, then a cut back to today, what is Kitchen Ninjas and where does this connect to the Rum Glazed Sticky Chicken. Let me tell you.

The story goes back to the first week of May 2014. A group of food bloggers connected on watsapp decided to do something different than regular cooking, clicking and blogging. A monthly cooking challenge was decided upon. It would work like this. Each month someone among those participating would decide a challenge. The rest then share what they will be making so as to avoid duplication and the post to be up on the last saturday of every month. The challenge we decided was to be christened ‘Kitchen Ninjas’. This month’s challenge (or theme rather) is ‘A date with Mumbai rains‘. So you get the drift now.

For the challenge I chose to make ‘Rum Glazed Sticky Chicken’. Now sticky chicken or stick baby back ribs are not a new concept. What I did different was give it the additional dash of rum. Nice Spicy chicken, glazed with rum, rainy days will never be the same. When I tried a test batch, i found it was good but lacked a certain killer punch. I realised had had left out rum’s best friend ginger. With a dash of dry ginger powder. All was good. Try it.. My word….

But before that, here’s what the other made.

Shanti Padukone from Riot of flavors

Samina Patel of Cup Cake Confessions

Mohit Chotrani of Hungry Bawarchi

Pushpa Morjaani of Papad Chai

Jahan Bloch of Toxic Baker

Amrutha Langs of Amruthas Cookbook

Antara Ray Antara’s Zouq

And here’s the recipe

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Rum Glazed Sticky Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 350 grams chicken on the bone, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 teaspoon oil + some  more to sprikle on the chicken
  • 7-10 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons red chilli paste
  • 80 grams, brown sugar
  • 100 ml rum (or as much as you can take)
  • 1 teaspoon dry ginger powder
  • 2-3 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons, rice flour
  • 2 tablespoons, corn flour
  • 1 teaspoon red chilli powder
  • 1 teaspoon, turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon, Italian herbs (I used thyme, organo, sage)
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar
  • Salt – to taste

Procedure

  • Wash the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Then add red chilli powder, turmeric powder and re-frigerate for around 15-20 mins
  • Mix together the rice, corn flour, italian herbs, salt and pepper.
  • Coat the chicken pieces well with this mixture, sprinkle some oil and bake in a pre heated oven for 15 minutes at 180 C. One done, turn the chicken pieces over and cook for another 5-8 mins. So at this point you should have your chicken just slightly under cooked. Once done, remove from the  oven and let the pieces rest.
  • In a pan, heat oil and add the garlic. Saute till light brown.
  • Then add the chilli paste and cook till the raw smell is done away with.
  • Reduce flame to the lowest and add the sugar. Slowly let the sugar caramelise. Keep stirring continuously else the sugar will clump.
  • Once the sugar has melted, deglaze the pan with rum. Little by Little.
  • Once the rum has reduced, and the sauce is a thick consistency, add a bit more rum.
  • Add the chicken pieces, give it a nice stir making sure all the pieces are covered with the sauce.
  • Add salt, and the dry ginger powder and mix well.
  • Lastly add the vinegar and the parsley and give it one final mix an serve hot

A celebration of my fellow food bloggers!

I read somewhere that if it were not for the practice of sharing recipes, mankind may have long become extinct. Thank god then that someone thought of food-blogging; a forum where passionate home cooks could showcase themselves to the world at large.  In my journey as a food blogger, I have had the good fortune of interacting with you readers and cherishing the love you bestow on my blog. But today, I would like to bring to you a few of my fellow food bloggers who share my passion for food. You have probably already met a few of them in the ‘how to cook series’ and if you haven’t, I sincerely urge you, please take out time and savour each blog, feel the love for food as each of these will try and talk to you in his or her own inimitable way and experience the one thing that unites all of us- The love of food

Here they are:

Perinaaz Avari from Peris Spice Ladle: Each friday evening, as I am winding up my work for the week. I excitedly keep a watchful eye on my inbox. Why? Simply because every friday, I look forward to receiving a post from Perinaaz. Passionate about cooking Parsi food, there is enough on her site to keep you hooked. What I really like is Peri’s ability to take up a traditional Indian dish and give it a contemporary twist. I sincerely recommend the chicken farcha which i prepare almost every other week and yet cant have enough of 🙂

Stephane Gebart from My French Heaven: If French food is an art form, I must say Stephane is an artist.To call Stephane’s site only a recipe blog would be doing it gross injustice. This is a rare combination of superb pictography and truly rustic home style food.Through his blog, Stephane expresses his love for his native Bordeaux, France and the local produce from there. I cannot but help stare in amazement at the pictures he puts up and wishfully sigh. It may be difficult for me to pick one particular recipe but, I will want to try the Coq Aun Vin someday.

Namrata from My Food Tapestry: Receiving a post from Namrata is like receiving a call from a close friend. Her  relaxed writing style, coupled with tidbits from everyday and of course, backed with some eye catching food pictures make hers a blog to love. I have confessed to being a meat lover time and again on this blog, but Namrata has managed to getting me to try some of her recipes. Do try the Paneer Makhani, but don’t blame me if you’re addicted to it 🙂

Renita Mascarenhas from Culinary Zeal: You will remember I had introduced Renita as the Female Aamir Khan when she wrote the post on Food Blogging 101. Though she’s a passionate baker, I like the variety that shes maintained on her blog. So while you will see a post on baking the perfect red velvet, there is also a post on her Mangalore trip and another gadget review and my favorite how to bake the pavlova in 7 steps. If I am ever able to bake one 😦  is what remains to be seen.

Riddhi Sharma from Cook By Book: To me, the true test of a food blogger is when someone tries out the recipes and they turn out well. Despite being a hesitant baker myself, i have tried a few of her recipes and they came out well. It is amazing to watch her churn out cakes, cookies, brownies and breads with the ease similar to Rahul Dravid’s cover drive. And oh, the title of bake queen? Alas, she hasn’t accepted it as yet.

Vanya from Skinny Chef De Cuisine: Whenever someone says, home cooked or traditional flavours, it instantly piques my interest. Vanya manages to instill flavors that are robust and sturdy and yet manage to come in sync with each other like a marriage destined in the heavens. Check the post on Sayadiah or the Dry Shrimp and Okhra and you’ll know what I mean. Needless to say, once again, the pictures pack a punch too.

These my dear readers are my friends in the blogging world. Like I said before, they share my passion for food and from whom I learn so much. There are many others, who i would have liked to include. May be at another time, and another day. I’m sure you will enjoy the blogs I’ve shared. Do write back and tell me how you liked it.

Salt and Pepper Prawns

Sometimes, just out of nowhere comes a moment that makes you smile. A moment that makes you feel its all worth the effort. One such moment came in recently when Mina from The United States wrote me this wonderful email and i was delirious.

Dear Elson,

Greetings! 
My Name is Mina and I’m from the United States. I’ve been following your blog for a while now, silently hoping to be able to re-create the wonderful Indian dishes you post. But, I’m writing for an other reason. I had a few of my husbands Italian friends come over for dinner the other day and I decided to prepare the Sicilian Style Fish in White wine.. (I used tilapia fish though) and the Alio E Olio. I must say, my guest were very impressed with my Italian cooking. It all came together like the wonderful notes in a music sheet. But, all thanks to you.

Thank you so much for your wonderful posts and the wonderful stories you tell through them.. I have spoken about your blog to my friends at work and their hooked as well.. Much like the Pied Piper of Hamelin (or India) must I say..

Do keep writing more often

Reader emails like these, my dear friends, are food for the recipe bloggers soul. In blogging, what we usually consider a solitary affair; mails (or calls or texts) like these make you want to do more and keep challenging your limits. I wanted to celebrate this with a post on fish. But, over the past couple of days, for some strange reason; there was no fish in the market. I felt like what Sachin Tendulkar must have felt in the long wait between his 99th and 100th hundred. Each walk from the pavilion to the crease heightened expectations of his team-mates, media and scores of fans, each trip to the fish market result in a crestfallen return trip back home and whatever little was available, was not worth digging into your pockets. After many to and fro trips, I seen some fabulous looking prawns. Being unable to resist, I checked the price. My fears came true. Too steep an amount. This, I felt, was going to be another wasted market trip. I walked a few steps away, the fish monger called out and asked if I was willing to buy all she was willing to give it away. I fell for it. Within a blink, I marched back home with my prized catch with an expression of having won the world cup.

The prawns were medium sized, bit large to be dunked into a curry and small enough to stay away from a Asian stir fry. But what I knew for sure was that they just needed very simple flavours and that would be it. I decided to make the Vietnamese style Salt and Pepper. Don’t be surprised if you’ve seen them in Chinese restaurants. This salt and pepper style stir fry actually originated in Vietnam and moved northward to the Chinese Mainland. Simple flavors that make the prawns the hero of the dish.

I had with with two of my good friends, a Mumbai Indians, IPL cricket match and a chilled can of beer to beat the heat. Doesn’t get better right.

Salt and Pepper Prawns

Salt and Pepper Prawns

Ingredients:

  • 150 grams, medium sized prawns (Should be about 12-15)
  • 2 large tablespoons, cornflour
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 bird’s eye chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon, Chinese five spice powder
  • Oil – sufficient for frying the prawns + 2 teaspoons extra
  • 1 teaspoon, Chinese rice wine.
  • Few sprigs of cilantro, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper(crushed), generous helpings

Procedure:

  • Clean, shell and de-vein the prawns and keep aside.
  • Mix the salt, pepper powder and the Chinese five spice powder and keep aside.
  • Make a semi dry mixture, using the corn flour, 1 teaspoon oil and two teaspoons water. Coat each prawn well with this batter.
  • Heat sufficient oil in a pan till it is nice and hot. Fry the prawns in the oil, for a minute till the colour of the batter changes. Take out from oil and drain on a paper towel.
  • Take out the oil from the pan and just retain a teaspoon of the oil.
  • Add the garlic and chilli. Fry till the garlic changes colour.
  • Add the prawns and give it a quick stir.
  • Now, add the rice wine and stir. Parallely, sprinkle the spice mix and stir well.
  • Add the chopped cilantro and mix.
  • Serve hot with a sprinkling of the spice mix.

 

{How to cook} Perfect Pasta

Note: I wrote this post with a lot of input from my dear friend Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal (twitter:@RushinaMG). Rushina owns the uber cool A Perfect Bite Cook Studio in Mumbai and is an author as well. Rushina has written a post on cooking pasta on her blog which you can read here.
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The world of food today is fast moving and innovation is the name of the game and traditional dishes being given a contemporary look and feel hardly evokes a surprise. In this scenario, Italian is one cuisine that hasn’t lost its old world charm. Minimal ingredients,  oodles of love, a huge dash of EVOO and you’re done!! But, it is in this simplicity that the actual beauty of Italian food lies. Someone rightly said, “When you cook Italian food well, it sings”.  I thought of doing an entire post dedicated to Italian cooking, but I thought it would be nice to do a post on something that is Italy’s best culinary gift to the world. Pasta. Pasta. Along with Pesto and Pizza, Pasta forms the holy trinity of Italian cuisine. But it is extremely important to cook pasta perfectly else, you could end up with a mess. So lets begin 🙂
1. There are so many variants of Pasta available. Which one should I  buy?
I always prefer buying the Italian brands that are made from durum wheat flour or Durum wheat semolina. Durum is a extremely hard variety of wheat that retains shape on cooking. Since this is wheat, it also has more nutritional value. These are a bit more expensive than the local brands but are worth every penny.  And for heavens sake, don’t buy those multi coloured pastas.
2. So then, How do I cook pasta perfectly?
The best thing to do is cook pasta just before you’re ready to eat. So, plan your meal accordingly and get all the mise-en- place done. I usually begin by heating the water to cook the pasta and simultaneously I begin to work with my sauce, depending on what dish I’m making.. So here’s how to get done.
Water– Pasta needs to cook in enough water. So, use a large vessel that has space to accommodate both the pasta and the water. Make sure that the pasta don’t clump together. The thumb rule is to use 1 litre of water for every 100 grams of pasta is good enough. Only add the pasta little by little when the water comes to a nice boil. DO NOT add oil to the pasta as oil sticks to the pasta and prevents the sauces from sticking to it.
Salt- Pasta requires lots of salt while cooking. So add in a generous handful.
Cooking Time: Usually most packs will carry instructions on how long the pasta needs to cook. So read the pack carefully. A safer trick I use is to cook the pasta for a minute or two less than what is mentioned on the pack. e.g. If the pack mentions to cook pasta for say 10 minutes, you could cook it for say 8 or 9 minutes.
The term ‘Al- Dente’ (to the tooth) is used to describe that stage in the (pasta)  cooking process when the pasta is cooked but firm to the bite. It is when the pasta is about 75 % to 80 % done. Once the pasta reaches this stage, drain out the pasta on a colander. Retain a ladle or two of the water to use in the sauce if you like. Its flavourful 😛
Always remember that pasta absorbs sauces well when its hot. Drop the pasta into the simmering sauce, add a huge helping of EVOO and some cheese and enjoy.
Here are two of my favorite pasta recipes:
Spaghetti Alio E Olio
One the most traditional yet simplest of Italian Classics, this one is a year long favorite due to the easy availability of all ingredients. Simple chopped garlic in olive oil with red chilli flakes and some white wine. Traditionally, cheese is not added to the recipe. I had made this one for ‘The world on my plate series’ and have kept making this since then for almost every week. Simple food at its best.
PAsta
Pasta in Spicy Tomato Sauce
Another classic method of preparing pasta in pairing it with tomato. This one is so simple that you cannot get it wrong. I used the piquancy of red chillies, the delicate kick of white wine and generous helpings of EVOO and then that ever so Italian favorite, Pamesan Cheese.
 Ingredients:
  • 1 pack spiralli pasta (Or any pasta you like)
  • 10-12 garlic cloves, slivered
  •  Tomato concessae (Refer notes below)
  • 120 ml Extra Virgin olive oil (do not substitute with any other oil)
  • 1 tablespoon, butter
  • 1 teaspoon, red chilli flakes
  • 4-5 leaves of basil
  • 80 ml dry white wine
  • 60 grams Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon, dried Italian herbs (I used thyme, rosemary and oregano)
  • 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (2 to cook and 1 for garnishing)
  • Salt- use some more than your regular amount
  • Water- to cook the pasta (refer directions above)

Procedure:

  • Cook the pasta as instructed on the pack. Drain and keep aside.
  • Keep about 3 tablespoons of the olive aside and heat the rest along with the butter till you hear a sizzle.
  • When the oil is hot, add the garlic and allow it to cook till it is reddish brown. Add the basil, parsley, the red chillies and the herbs and stir well.
  • Add the tomato concessae and mix well. Now de-glaze your pan with the white wine.
  • Lastly add the pasta and mix well.
  • Serve in a plate, drizzle with the remaining olive oil over the pasta and then garnish with parsley and parmesan cheese.

To make the tomato concessae:

  • Make a horizontal and vertical slit on the tomatoes a
  • Bring water to a boil and add the tomatoes. Let them remain in water till you see the skin peeling off.
  • Take off the heat and add keep under cold running water for some time.
  • Remove the peel and seeds and chop finely.

{How to cook that Series} Asian Cuisine- Guest Post by Purabi Naha

Many years ago, an enterprising young man changed the way we Indians ate international food. He covered bite sized chicken nuggets in flour batter and deep fried them. Then, he dunked these nuggets in a sauce and called it Indo Chinese food. From then on, to this date, we never really have come out of that frenzy. Thankfully, with the coming of the internet and advancement in travel, home style Chinese or Thai or Japanese is becoming more accessible. But, seekers of the truth like me want to delve deeper. What exactly is the kind of food they eat across the Himalayas. What are the kitchen secrets a Japanese mother-in-law shares only with her daughter-in-law and not with her daughter so that secrets stay only in the family. Purabi Naha (twitter: @purabinaha), my friend and author of the blog Cosmopolitan CurryMania (http://cosmopolitancurrymania.com) will tell you. Purabi has spent some of her years in Hong Kong and is an expert in Asian cooking. I have personally diverted many of my queries regarding Asian cooking to her and come back feeling confident of being able to tackle the dish. I decided to request her to share her expertise so that you can recreate the same magic right back in the comfort of your kitchen. She will tell you about the basics of Asian cooking and how to ace it. There is also delish recipe to cover and awesome post. Enjoy the ride 🙂

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Sambal fishballs a2

Hi Tummy Tales readers! When my talented foodie friend Elson Sequiera asked me to write a post on Asian Cuisine, Indonesian Sambal Fish Balls were the first thing which came to my mind. Once you master the art of making Asian fish balls at home, you can create a number of Asian dishes using these. These are used in Hong Kong style curried fish balls, different kinds of Asian fishball soups, braised dishes and in noodles. Come with me to an enthralling journey to making a unique gastronomic Asian delight, smeared in spicy Indonesian Sambal sauce. This recipe is my personal favourite, as it has a medley of choicest vegetables, which adds freshness and colour to the whole dish! I hope you will like it. Thank you, Elson, for giving me an opportunity to write a guest post on your wonderful blog!

Indonesian Sambal Fish Balls with Vegetables

Asian fish balls are found in different flavours and cooked in different ways across Asia. Fish balls- on-a-stick and fish ball soup in different avatars are the quintessential street foods in many parts of Asia. I have to admit, making fish balls from scratch isn’t that easy, but it is not impossible either. It requires a little practice and lot of patience, but then, at the end of the day, you get authentic Asian fish balls right in your kitchen, sitting in India (or anywhere else in the world)! When we were living in Hong Kong, I rarely made these. Fish balls are available in Hong Kong wet markets in plenty and there are so many (Read more here) kinds to choose from. But here in India, these are rare. So it makes sense to make these if you are determined to surprise your guests with not-so-common Asian dishes. The right fish balls are those which spring back when pressed with a finger. I will tell you how to make springy fish balls from scratch!

Any white, firm fish works fine. The popular ones are mackerel, snapper or herring. In Hong Kong, they love to use cuttlefish, octopus and lobsters. Sometimes, these balls have gooey stuffing in them.

fish paste

We need to make the fish paste first, by removing the bones and the skin of the fish and then mincing the fish in the food processor, along with seasoning, egg white and little cornflour. Some people also add tapioca flour and potato starch to the balls, but cornflour works fine. After mincing, the real work begins. We have to beat this paste until it is sturdy, springy and easy to handle. This beating is best done by hand, so as to activate the fish protein in the fish, which in turn makes the balls bouncy. Authentically, the balls are made by throwing the paste multiple number of times on a plate or a bowl. At the end, the paste will incorporate a lot of air and is also much easier to handle. Chilling the paste at this stage (just for 30 min), before plunging them in boiling water, is a good idea to get round fish balls.

fishballs after boiling

Before I tell you the recipe, let me share with you some Asian cooking tips and tricks which I follow often in my kitchen:

1. If you are confused whether to use light or dark soy sauce in your Chinese recipes, this will help: use light soy sauce for seasoning and dark soy sauce to add a caramel colour to your dish.

2. I often prefer to use Chinese cooking wine and vinegar together in my Chinese dishes, especially when I am cooking seafood. It really gives a different kind of flavour to your dish and also helps in lessening the fishy smell. In Chinese cooking, three kinds of wines are used: Shaoxing wine (having the least alcohol content), rice wine and rose wine. When you cook with wine, be cautious to keep a check on the flame, as alcohol catches fire easily.

3. If you are making a slow-cooked Chinese soup with pork, beef or chicken, it is advisable to first blanch the meat in boiling water for a minute or so. This water should be discarded and the meat can be used for further cooking. This process helps in removing the musky taste, blood clots and grease from your final soup. You will also get less scum at the surface of your soup on doing so.

4. Use chicken bouillon powder to make your dishes more flavourful. Vegetarian can use vegetable stock in place of water, in any Asian savoury recipe.

5. A cast-iron kadhai (wok) is perfect for cooking Asian dishes on the gas stove. However, slow- cooked dishes (like soups) can be done in electric slow cooker as well. Another equipment I love is the clay pot. I use it when I want that rustic, charred taste in my Asian dishes. This works perfectly well for beef brisket and for making clay-pot rice!

6. Use Shiitake mushrooms in place of your regular button mushrooms, if available. These have tons of flavour! Also, unlike Indian cooking, in other Asian recipes, the vegetables are eaten best when these retain their crunch. So do not overcook the vegetables.

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Indonesian Sambal Fish Balls with Vegetables

Ingredients for fish balls:

  • Any white fish fillet (basa): 400 g
  • Shrimps (deveined): 400 g
  • Black pepper powder: ¾ tsp
  • Spring onion greens (very finely chopped): 1 tsp
  • Cornflour: 2 tbsp
  • Egg white: 1
  • Salt: ¾ tsp

Ingredients for the Stir-Fried Veggies:

  • Onions: 2 (chopped in cubes)
  • Red bell pepper(cubed): ¾ cup
  • Yellow bell pepper (cubed): ¾ cup
  • French beans (chopped): ½ cup
  • Garlic (minced): 1 tsp
  • Pumpkin cubes (blanched previously for five minutes): ¾ cup
  • Sesame oil: 5 tbsp
  • Dark soy sauce: 1 tbsp
  • Plum sauce: 1 tbsp
  • Fish sauce: 1.5 tbsp
  • Tomato ketchup: 2 tbsp
  • Chicken powder (dissolved in one cup of warm water): 1 tbsp
  • Indonesian Sambal Oleek paste: 2 tsp
  • Black pepper powder: 1 tsp
  • Salt: according to taste

Method:

Combine all the ingredients, except the corn flour, for the fish balls in a food processor and make a fine paste. It is sticky at this stage. Pulse once again with the cornflour. Now, transfer into a big bowl and take handfuls of this paste and slap it back into the bowl. Continue this process for around 20 min, or until you find that the paste is less sticky and full of bounce.

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Chill this paste for 30 min. After that, make small balls out of the paste and transfer them carefully to a wok of boiling water (to which 1 tsp salt has been added). Remove the balls after 10 min.

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Heat oil in the wok. Add the onions and garlic. Sauté on high heat for 3 min. Add the veggies, except the pumpkin. Let the veggies cook for 10 min. Add the sauces now. (I combine all the sauces together in a small bowl and then add this mix to the veggies.)Cook on high heat for 2 min. Add the pumpkin and the fish balls. Cook for another 5 min.

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Add the chicken stock. Adjust the seasoning. Add the black pepper powder and mix well. Cook for 5 min. Serve with steamed rice or boiled noodles.