Chow Down Some Chicken Chow Mein

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We all love Chinese food and more often than not, rely on restaurants to satisfy our cravings. If I talk about myself, my Chinese experience is never complete without a serving of Chicken Chow Mein; it’s a no-brainer that this is one of the first things I order. This is also one of those things that most restaurants don’t get right.

My wife makes a mean Chow Mein which is universally loved by everyone in our family. If you talk about authenticity, this is a Pakistan-ized version similar to what’s served in restaurants across the country. I often hear people complaining why they are unable to prepare restaurant-style Chow Mein at home; well, here’s her secret. She cooks everything separately and assembles the Chow Mein towards the end; this not only keeps everything from turning into mush, but also gives a distinct flavour profile in every bite.

On those lazy nights when you don’t feel like going out or ordering in, what more could you want than a plate of piping hot stir-fried noodles? So here’s how you can prepare some in the confines of your own kitchen.

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Prep Time: 35 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 300 grams egg noodles (or rice noodles, depending on your preference)
  • 150 grams boneless chicken (cut into 1 cm thin strips)
  • 2 medium-sized carrots (thin 1-inch julienne cut)
  • ½ green bell pepper (julienne cut – if red and yellow bell peppers aren’t available, use 1 green bell pepper)
  • ¼ red bell pepper (julienne cut)
  • ¼ yellow bell pepper (julienne cut)
  • 125 gm cabbage (thinly sliced)
  • 2 spring onions (one inch pieces)
  • 1 medium onion (thickly sliced)
  • 6-7 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 4 tablespoon sesame oil (use vegetable oil if sesame is not available)
  • 6 tablespoon soy sauce with honey-like consistency (if using the watery version, double the quantity)
  • 6-8 tablespoon chili sauce (to taste)
  • 2+1 teaspoon salt (2 teaspoon salt required while boiling noodles)
  • ¼ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • ¾ teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon chinese salt (Ajino Moto or MSG – optional)
  • A pinch of sesame seeds (for garnish)

Method

  1. Set aside all ingredients before starting to work on this recipe
  2. Boil noodles as per the instructions on the box; add two teaspoon salt during the process
  3. Drain the water and let the noodles cool
  4. In a wok, stir fry all the bell peppers in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; take it out in a bowl once done
  5. Next, stir fry the cabbage in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  6. Stir fry the thickly sliced onion in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  7. Stir fry the carrots in ½ teaspoon sesame oil for two minutes; set it aside once done
  8. In a sauce pan, add all the remaining sesame oil along with soy sauce, chili sauce, black pepper, chinese salt, salt, chili flakes, and half of the garlic; cook for 3 minutes till the consistency is thick
  9. Once all vegetables have been separately stir-fried, add half of the remaining sesame oil and the garlic in a wok
  10. After a minute, add the chicken and cook for 4-5 mins (or till the chicken is tender) with the lid on
  11. Add in the noodles to the chicken and stir-fry for 2 minutes
  12. Add in the stir fried vegetables one by one and mix well
  13. Add the sauce to the noodles and cook for 2 minutes
  14. Finally, add in the spring onions and turn the heat off
  15. Garnish with sesame seeds and serve immediately!

Ciao (or should I say, Chow?)!

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Mexican Fusion Pita Pockets

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Change is the only constant; people are always on the lookout for something fresh, something that enthralls them. Ordinary is now associated with boring. The same is true for food too; no wonder molecular gastronomy and fusion cuisine are such a rage these days.

As a self-proclaimed food aficionado, I’m always on the lookout for new culinary experiences. At times, I pick ingredients hallmark of a specific culinary tradition and mix them up with others; the results can be anywhere between disastrous and exemplary. Fortunately, the Middle-eastern Mexican Fusion recipe I’m about to share with you is towards the latter end of the spectrum.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Serves: 3-4 people

Hummus

  • 1 cup boiled chickpeas
  • ½ tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 green chili
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1½ cups yogurt

Method

  1. Add all hummus ingredients in a blender and mix till it forms a fine paste
  2. Pour the hummus out in a bowl

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Chicken Filling

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 3-4 mushrooms
  • ½ chicken breast cut into small cubes (1 cm2)
  • ¼ red bell pepper
  • ¼ yellow bell pepper
  • ¼ green bell pepper
  • 2 tablespoon sambal (use less for a milder flavor – if you can’t find sambal, you can use 1 tablespoon ground chili paste instead)
  • 4-5 tablespoon hummus
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (as sambal is already a bit salty)

Method

  1. Take a pan and heat the olive oil
  2. Add in the garlic and fry on medium for a minute
  3. Add the chicken to the pan and once it turns white, add in the mushrooms too
  4. Once the chicken is tender, add the red, green and yellow bell peppers to the pan
  5. Stir in the sambal, hummus and salt and cook for about 30 seconds
  6. Add in the tomatoes and take the pan off the heat

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Final Assembly

  • 10-12 mini pita breads (you can use regular pita bread too)
  • 10-12 leaves of Iceberg lettuce
  • Sambal
  • Hummus

Method

  1. Pull apart the two pita layers till it forms a pocket
  2. Spread some hummus on one layer, sambal on the other and a lettuce leaf in between
  1. Add in the chicken mix and serve immediately  

Shayan: Persian Hospitality With A Lebanese Twist

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Shayan, part of the Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, is famous for serving an authentic Persian dining experience in the heart of Dubai. It recently relaunched with a new menu, featuring a host of Lebanese introductions to its stellar Persian line-up and I was fortunate enough to be invited to this wonderful event. Food is perhaps one of the things I love photographing most and opportunities like these help awaken the photography beast within me. There’s no harm taking great photos while enjoying good food. right?

So without further ado, I’d let you feast your eyes on these mouth-watering temptations; if something does catch your fancy, head down to Shayan and try it out for yourself.

Pizza Pasta: Two Italian To Resist

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Italy may be famous for its fashion and architecture, but more so for its cuisine. There are two Italian experiences that food aficionados cannot seem to get enough of; Pizza and Pasta. The endless ways these two can be created with is what truly sets these two dishes apart. You may choose to create a Tandoori Pizza or a Mexican Pasta, adjusting the ingredients to suit you own palate, and no one would bat an eye. That’s one of the reasons why these are two of the most readily available food items across the globe. You may not find a single French restaurant to satiate your Ratatouille needs within your city, but you’ll certainly find many serving a variety of authentic (or adopted) Pizzas and Pastas.

Back when I was a kid, I used to hate vegetables; what’s more, I used to detest cheese (can you believe this?). Pizza changed my life. I started enjoying these then-outlandish ingredients including Mushrooms, Olives and Jalapeños; mine was an instant love affair with Oregano. One of the first memories I have of my kitchen adventures is making Pizza at home; luckily, it turned out to be a smash hit with friends and family. There was no turning back after that, and it wasn’t long before I started relishing the rich, cheesy goodness of Pasta too.

My kitchen is my sanctuary and I love trying out new recipes. I often step into the kitchen with a specific craving, but there are these rare moments of insanity when I attempt to create something new. I still remember that balmy July afternoon some two years back; I came home from work and headed straight to the kitchen, only to be greeted by empty pots and pans. As my wife hadn’t cooked anything, I told her I’d try something experimental, something that would satisfy my Pizza/Pasta (a.k.a. P&P) craving. That memorable culinary escapade resulted in the masterpiece you are about to drool all over starting… NOW!

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Servings: 3 persons

Ingredients

  • 4 cups boiled pasta (I used Penne but you can use whatever you prefer)
  • 150 grams chicken breasts (cut into ¼ inch thick strips)
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • ½ medium-sized onion (diced)
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 pinch of oregano
  • ½ teaspoon Ajino Moto (Mono Sodium Glutamate – optional)
  • 3-4 tablespoon chili sauce
  • 4 tablespoon pizza sauce
  • 4 mushrooms (sliced)
  • 6-8 slices of pickled jalapenos
  • 3-4 olives (pitted and sliced)
  • ½ cup sweet corn kernels
  • ½ capsicum (medium) – diced
  • 2 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • ½ cup mozzarella cheese (shredded)
  • ½ cup cheddar cheese (shredded)
  • 6-8 tomato dices for garnish
  • 6-8 slices of garlic bread to serve on the side

Method

  1. Put pan on a stove and turn it on to medium
  2. Add olive oil to the pan
  3. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions to the oil and cook for a minute
  4. Add chicken and mushrooms to the pan and cook till the chicken is tender
  5. Add salt, pepper, red chili flakes, oregano, Ajino moto, chili sauce, and pasta sauce to the chicken and cook for a minute
  6. Add, jalapenos, corn, capsicum, olives, mayonnaise, cheddar and mozzarella to the sauce and mix well
  7. Turn the stove off as soon as the cheese is melted and stringy, as you don’t want to overcook the vegetables
  8. Gently fold in the penne pasta so that it is coated evenly with the mixture; patience is essential as you don’t want to turn it into a pulp
  9. Serve with a garnish of cheese, a dash of oregano, tomatoes, and a few slices of garlic bread on the side; I prefer using a cooking torch to give a nice char to the cheese

If you’re on the lookout for a rustic, delectable and hearty meal, this recipe fits the bill perfectly and satisfies your P&P cravings. Needless to say, you can add as little or as much of anything listed above to suit your taste; moreover, you can add a host of pizza toppings into the pasta, like pepperoni, sausages, minced beef, pineapples, etc. I assure you that this creamy, cheesy, aromatic dish is a “party in your mouth” just waiting to happen, so why not get started right away?

Buon Appetito!

Published in The Express Tribune (International Herald Tribune) on 14 April, 2016.

Mong Chow: Karachi Gets A Taste of Burma

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Burma is a culture-rich country nestled between India, China, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. Their cuisine is as rich as their culture and I have had the pleasure of enjoying some staples and delicacies during my growing years, namely because my grandmother is Burmese. The key components of Burmese cuisine have been greatly influenced by the neighboring country’s eating habits, the most notable being India, China and Thailand. That being said, Burmese cuisine is notably different from any others you might have come across, be it the sublime taste or the rich colorful presentation. A single bite of Burmese can be hot and sweet, salty and sour, crunchy and chewy, all at the same time.

The fact that my grandmother is Burmese doesn’t make me an authority on Burmese cuisine; it does, however, give me a fair idea as to what authentic Burmese cuisine tastes like. I was recently invited to sample some food at Mong Chow, a fairly recent entrant, featuring a relatively obscure (albeit delicious) cuisine, on the Karachi food scene.

The Food

Since Mong Chow is set to open at Ocean Towers, Karachi later this year, the owner, Mrs. Fauzia Maung Khuhro, decided to open the restaurant as a ‘delivery/takeaway’ out of her own kitchen. Her daughter, Ayela Khuhro, is helping her set everything up. The mother-daughter duo invited me to their home last week for some Mong Chow and I was over the moon, as I hadn’t had good Burmese in a long time. As I stepped into the house, I was greeted by Ayela and her dog, which left me a little apprehensive, for obvious reasons. After a brief round of introductions, Ayela led me to a bright reading room of sorts with bookshelves containing priceless tomes by literary giants including Dumas, Wordsworth and Burton. The room greatly lifted my spirits and I was hoping the food would too.

We started off with a Burmese Green Papaya Salad featuring shredded raw papaya garnished with some deep fried onions and garlic, and a dash of finely chopped coriander. I was a bit hesitant to taste this salad mainly because I hate papayas, but I’m glad I tried some. Even though it was a little on the sour/tangy side, I liked it for the crunch and the freshness it had to offer. On the whole, it tasted phenomenal. I’d kill for a bottle of that dressing. I’d rate it a solid 9 on 10.

Burmese Green Papaya Salad

Burmese Green Papaya Salad

Next came the Tofu Salad featuring thin slices of garbanzo bean (besan) tofu with a light peanut-chili dressing topped off with a generous amount of sesame seeds, some fried garlic and chopped cilantro. My mom actually makes a variant of this tofu at home so I had a (tough) benchmark to compare the tofu against. The tofu on its own could have used some seasoning and still had a little bit of the floury smell typical of besan (that you need to burn off), but on the whole, it was a refreshing and filling cold salad. I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.

Tofu Salad

Tofu Salad

After what I had already been served, I was really looking forward to trying the main course, i.e. the Ohn No Khauk Suey. A variation of this dish has been passed on in my family from generation to generation and is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite dishes. Needless to say, I consider myself a bit of a Khauk Suey connoisseur and this was the perfect dish to pass my judgement on.

Ohn No Khauk Suey

Ohn No Khauk Suey

As seen in the image above, Khauk Suey can be a bit intimidating for someone trying it out for the first time, as there are a lot of ingredients that you need to combine to get a platter ideal for YOUR taste-buds. I started off with a generous amount of egg noodles and coconut-chicken curry, and garnished it with some coriander, some boiled egg, some wheat crisps, chili flakes, chili sauce, fish sauce and soy sauce. It took me a good two minutes to prepare the plate and after carefully re-evaluating my decisions, I dug in; the image below shows the final result.

The Final Khauk Suey Platter

The Final Khauk Suey Platter

The first bite transported me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. Everything sung in perfect unison and the effect it had on me cannot be put into words. Needless to say, I enjoyed every single crunchy bite of the dish and even though my stomach was full, my heart yearned for more. I couldn’t help but give this dish a 10 on 10.

The Pricing

A typical Khauk Suey serving with a Papaya salad on the side costs around 570 PKR, which is comparatively lower than what you’d be spending at a restaurant for lunch. The generous portion sizes ensure good value for money and the price is worth every single noodle, no pun intended. Below is a copy of their latest menu.

The Menu

The Menu

The Verdict

In recent years, Karachiites have developed a palette that is more tolerant to other-worldly (there; I said it!) cuisines. If you’ve never had Burmese food in your life, you’re in for a real treat. The dishes perfectly complement the Pakistani flavor profile and are ideal for lunch or dinner. If you feel like trying something different, do give Mong Chow a call and get some piping hot food delivered at your doorstep. This is one restaurant to watch out for and I know it will go places; this is just the beginning of a long and fruitful journey.

My advice to the restaurant owners is to stay consistent and keep serving mouth-watering delicacies; you’ll be living in people’s hearts (and stomachs) for years to come.