People go to weddings for the korma. I don’t. I am straight up there for the Lahori Fried Fish and the dessert. For most of my life my “shadi” plate has been half a plate piled with hot naans and the other half with savory unctuous battered deep fried, but so damn good Lahori Fried Fish. My father would always warn me about the perils of eating seafood in the summer, but fish over korma any day.
So in my head Lahori fish always has a spiced chickpea batter and then. Well, and then, my brother got married. That was exciting and all, but there was this fish at his nikah (the Muslim wedding ceremony). This crunchy, spicy, punchy fish. It had all the flavors of a lahori fried fish, but the CRUNCH people, the crunch.
I was so excited that I immediately went into the hosts’ kitchen in my “chamak challo” (glitter and sparkle) dressed for a wedding state and enthusiastically began complimenting a confused catering staff who told me where I could leave my plate.
Leave my plate. Pffft. I had just started eating.
I ran a little Instagram poll the other day to see if this Baingan ka Raita was worth posting and apparently over 90% of you think so.
Was I surprised? Not really.
I remember calling my mother one chilly evening in Toronto, at some absurdly early time in Karachi because I had managed to mess it up. My mother did her usual “so easy, just namak-laal-mirch and lehsan (garlic)”. Aah garlic. The tiniest smidge was what my dahi was missing and suddenly all was right again. Incidentally, NamakLaalMirch – always said as one word – is a Pakistani recipe must have. Namak=Salt and Laal Mirch= Red Chilli Powder. It is probably for South Asian food what salt and pepper is for much of the world. But if anyone in my family is giving you a recipe then it is always said as one word because they are considered so inextricably linked. Making an omelette? Put in NamakLaalMirch. Aaloo ki Sabzi? NamakLaalMirch. It’s all NamakLaalMirch.
As followers of my blog know, I adore a good raita and already have a recipe for a Palak/Spinach Raita and for this killer Sabzi Raita (a total must try). This Baingan ka Raita is one I enjoy making and eating because it is such a simple way to make a meal delicious. I will happily have it with store bought Aalu Parathas. Yes, I said store bought, I am not industrious enough yet to make my own. It is also so yummy with a simple Matar Pulao (Pea Pilaf).
This Bhindi Masala is my copy of the one my Nanis cook makes. True Story. Nani, incidentally, is the word for maternal grandmother. My Nani has been Nanna to all of us and Nonni H (H for Hussain) to me. We are coming up on the 9th of Muharram, a poignant day for Shia Muslims, but when I think of the 9th of Muharram I inevitably think of my Nonni. In her prime my Nonni was feisty with a sense of humour and a naughty contained laugh that radiated from the centre of her grey green eyes to the gentle crinkles around the corners. The 9th of Muharram is a solemn night, one where people would stream in and out, soberly praying. The last time Nonni was well enough to be there for the night she mischievously regaled my sister and I with stories from her youth. Of a little girl who would break into the achar (pickles) when her mother wasn’t looking, of the summertime antics of women we knew as grandmothers. My sister and I would burst into giggles at inopportune moments causing our mother to sternly admonish us with her silent glare. It would take all of a second for Nanna to resume her storytelling. Suffice is to say my sister and I did not end the night in my mothers good books.
There are foods that I think of as seriously desi (south asian) in their flavors, the kind of foods I wouldn’t make for someone who was just trying out Pakistani food. Kharay Masalay ka Gosht is one of them. With it’s heady aromatic spices – the name Khara Masala literally means whole spices – this unassuming dish packs a punch! As those of you who cook regularly from the blog (thank you!) know, I am not a fan of the “garam masala” taste. I love using it in powder form as an accent, but usually keep the whole spices moderate. However, for kharay masalay ka gosht I am willing to make an exception! This aromatic dish goes best with some simple bread, although a little sheermal never hurt anyone 🙂
There are few things in life that are as soul satisfying as a masala-licious biryani. You know what I am talking about – the kind of biryani where you can see the gravy clinging to delicate long strands of rice, wrapping themselves around flavorful spuds and permeating the meat. At the end of long Ramadan fasts all I want is for someone to make it and for me to eat it. With lots of raita, of course. This beauty over here, right down below, is extra delicious. Want to know why (Hint: read the title). Because it is made with Canadian Turkey meat which cooks to tender delicious perfection in this gravy. This Turkey Biryani made its first appearance at our Ramadan table this year, but Turkey Biryani, my new friend, it shall not be your last.
I have biryani-ed here a few times before and I am pumped about it each and every time. When the opportunity to be part of this exciting campaign to discuss the benefits of Canadian Turkey came up I knew exactly what kind of biryani I wanted this to be. My usual biryanis rely on tomatoes for flavor, but this time I wanted to marinate the turkey in a yogurt mix and let caramelized onions bring their rich brothy flavor to the Turkey Biryani. I wound up adding a tomato, but should you not have one feel free to skip it. Rest assured that this Turkey Biryani will still turn out yummy.
There are certain Urdu words that I really enjoy saying, those that sound exactly like what they mean. Kurkuri, that delightful word for crunchy and crispy is one of them. The first time my daughter had this Kurkuri Bhindi she was 3 years old and we were visiting my parents in Karachi. Her Nano had made this bhindi and Zara upon trying them said “these sticks are yummy!” It then occurred to me that my daughter had never had Okra except for its cornmeal battered deep fried incarnation. As yummy as the Deep Fried Okra was that way it was far too much work (and oil) for my liking.
I once read that the essence of a culture is in the words that cannot be translated. Explained yes, but not directly translated. The example given by the author was of Urdu word “takalluf”. “Takalluf” is that polite first and often second time refusal of an offer that stems from good manners. Someone asks for tea and you politely refuse the first time, perhaps even the second even as your eyes are practically glued shut from exhaustion.”Khasta” is another such word for me – the perfect “Meethi Tikiyaan” (sweet fritters) should be “khasta”. The way to best explain it seems to be that the exterior of the tiki should have the sturdy flakiness of a sweet pie dough while it’s centre should have the lavish butteriness of a rich cake.
I often think about what it means to blog about food, about Pakistani food specifically. A part of me feels that I should keep recipes alive, carrying them forth in their unaltered state, preserving them for generations to come. The reality is that I cannot do that even if I wanted to. My culinary journey is very much shaped by my mother who if you ever meet her you would know is an immensely practical person. I cannot recall her ever saying she would spend hours slaving over a stove to get the onions browned just the way her grandmother did or that any recipe was sacrosanct because of who gave it to her. Adapt, make it easy, and make it work. That seems to be her approach to cooking and it is that philosophy that makes up my culinary DNA.
You know how you feel when you keep meaning to call someone back, someone you really want to see/speak to, but somehow it doesn’t happen and then you run into them somewhere and are awkward and embarrassed? Well that’s how I feel right about now! I have been around though – there is this fun craft the girls I did this winter and my equally fun chat with Devina of My Little Pudding. At least I come bearing gifts – there is this delicious quick Chicken Karahi Qeema, and for those of you who don’t know her, an introduction to the talented Pakistani blogger Fatima from Fatima Cooks. I have been an admirer of hers for quite some time and was browsing her blog for dinner inspiration when I saw her Chicken Karahi Qeema recipe and I was sold. Frankly she had me at the no chopping onions bit. FYI when in my forgetful state I have thrown in a little onion it hasn’t been as good. Just sayin’
There are these moments you have when you move to a new country; the little slips that embarrass you, that shatter your sense of confident cool. It is hunting for Coriander leaves only to be pointed to the powder or looking for Capsicum only to finally locate them next to the “Green Peppers” sign. Over time you retrain yourself to look for Cilantro and to put Green Peppers on your shopping list. In my head though I still call them Capsicum or think of them as ‘Shimla Mirch’. The word Mirch means chilli or in this case pepper, and the Shimla is a reference to where this imported vegetable first began to grow in India under the British. Since then Capsicum or Shimla Mirch or Green Peppers grow all over Pakistan and India, but the name has stuck.