Culinary Escapades: A Photo-blog

DSC_1547

Venue: Liwan and Shayan Resturants at Al-Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana. Enjoy! 🙂

Ramadan Recipes: Chicken Box Patties

DSC_1972-2

Ramadan is finally upon us, and with it, the culinary experiences we typically associate with this holy month. The activity in and around the kitchen increases significantly, owing to the maddening aromas emanating from the kitchen right around iftaar (time to break the fast). Family members who usually don’t even bother with the food-prep start hovering around to see what’s on the menu.

I belong to a family of food-lovers. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mother planning her iftaar menu weeks before Ramadan. I still remember how she wrote everything on a wall calendar; everything from appetizers to desserts. She made rainbow-colored jelly eggs and lip-smacking kukray (D-shaped samosas with mung daal and minced meat filling),  always on the hunt for new recipes to try. Watching her make those things was the highlight of my day and I have only her to thank for my culinary passion.

The Ramadan dastarkhwan (floor mats/carpets on which food is served) is empty without a selection of appetizers. I know of some families who absolutely positively need to have samosas and pakoras at iftaar, whereas others try different things. Luckily, I belong to the latter group. For me, an appetizer is the most important course, as it is the first thing you attack after breaking the fast. Thinking about first impressions, it can make or break your entire dining experience.

This Ramadan, I shall be sharing with you some appetizers handed down to me and others acquired along the way. The first entrant in this series is Box Patties. These perfect squares, created using samosa strips, are filled with a savory shredded chicken mixture that instantly satiates your spice cravings.

Prep time: 35 minutes for the filling and the box patties + 4 minutes for frying (per batch)

Yields: 18-20 patties

Serving size: 2 patties per person

Ingredients

  • 250 grams chicken breast
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1 tablespoon garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon green chili paste
  • 1 tsp salt (for chicken)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 medium potato (boiled and diced)
  • 1 medium green bell pepper (capsicum – diced)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon all-purpose flour (stirred in with 1 tablespoon water – for filling)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (for filling)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for paste)
  • 1 cup water
  • 40-50 samosa pastry strips

Method

  1. Add chicken, ginger paste, garlic paste, green chili paste, salt (for chicken) and water to a pot and cook it till the chicken is tender and the water has dried up
  2. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, shred it and keep it aside
  3. Heat butter in a pan and add the green bell peppers to it; stir-fry for 1 minute
  4. Add soy sauce, salt (for filling), black pepper and red chili flakes to the capsicum and stir for a minute
  5. Add potatoes and the shredded chicken and mix it well
  6. Finally, add the flour and water mixture to the chicken; mix it immediately to prevent the flour from turning the filling too sticky
  7. Cook for a minute before turning the stove off
  8. In a bowl, mix the flour (for paste) in water; microwave for 40-50 seconds to get a thick glue-like consistency
  9. Fold the box patties as instructed in the video
  10. Deep fry in hot oil till the patties are crisp and golden-brown
  11. Serve with your favorite dipping sauce and enjoy!

Note: Ramadan is an ideal time to get in touch with your spiritual self, but sometimes, we just get too fixated on food and what to make for iftaar. I prefer making these appetizers in a larger batch and freezing them; they can be used for up to 15 days. This will give you plenty of time to reflect on yourself and significantly lessen your kitchen workload.

Please remember me in your prayers!

DSC_1967-2

Ramadan Treats: Watermelon Strawberry Coolers

DSC_4491

With the heat-wave that’s causing abnormalities in the global seasonal patterns, we all knew what to expect this Ramadan, especially my fellow fast-ers (using this for lack of a better word) based in the Middle East. Just today, the weather in Dubai peaked at a whooping 47 degrees (Celsius, not Fahrenheit); I was soaking with sweat and completely parched by the time I got home from work. With still a good four hours to go before I could officially break my fast, it got increasingly difficult not to think about something cool and refreshing that would not only quench my thirst, but also give me the much-needed energy boost.

They say the best ideas come to you when you need something most. I came up with the Watermelon and Strawberry Cooler on a whim, without even giving the pairing of the ingredients a second thought; my hands automatically picked out the things from the refrigerator as they just ‘felt’ right.

The watermelon I had bought a few days back was slightly mushy (and I do not like mushy watermelon) so instead of throwing it out, I scooped out the flesh, placed it in a bowl, and mixed in a few ingredients instinctively. The result was a tasty sweet-and-tangy beverage perfect for Iftaar (breaking of the fast). Let me dive straight into the recipe so that you can try it out for yourself.

Ingredients:

  • 2 kg watermelon (with the skin on)
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4-5 tbsp strawberry syrup (the one you use as a base for carbonated drinks)

Method:

  1. Scoop out the red fleshy part of the watermelon and place it into a deep bowl
  2. Using a hand-blender, puree the watermelon, seeds and all
  3. Take a sieve with a super-fine mesh and remove the pulp from the juice
  4. Add the lemon juice and the strawberry syrup to the watermelon juice; stir well
  5. Keep it in the freezer for at least 1 hour before serving
  6. Garnish with mint leaves (optional)
  7. Enjoy the refreshing drink at Iftaar and remember me in your prayers

The quantity mentioned is good for SIX servings of roughly 225 ml each. You can adjust the quantities according to your serving requirement. For those of you who do try this, do let me know how you liked it.

Ramadan Kareem and stay hydrated!

DSC_4477

A Sumptuous Liwan-ese Iftaar At Al Ghurair Rayhaan: Photo-blog

For someone who’s fasting during Ramadan, Iftaar is a special moment, and what makes it more special is the company of some new-found friends over a spectacular culinary experience. I was graciously invited to a bloggers’ Iftaar at Liwan, one of several restaurants at Al Ghurair Rayhaan by Rotana, and I almost didn’t go before actually deciding to; turns out, it was a good decision.

Even though this is a photo-blog, not a restaurant review, I will not hesitate to mention that the tantalizing dessert selection is by far the best around.

Let the feast for the eyes begin!

Piri Piri Chicken Cutlets

IMG_20140704_192256896_HDR

Ever since I first tried Nando’s some ten years back, I have been obsessed with the global phenomenon that is peri-peri; just thinking about the tangy-spicy flavor gets my mouth watering. I have been searching far and wide for the secret behind the peri-peri sauce, the infamous ‘African Birds-eye Chilies’ (a.k.a. piri-piri), so that I can try making the sauce at home, but until I do, I’ll have to settle for some store-bought (read uber-expensive) Nando’s sauce.

Ramadan is a time to thank Allah for all the bounties he has bestowed upon us; it is also a time for specially prepared feasts and platters full of delicacies to be shared with everyone (especially those less fortunate). After not having anything to eat or drink for almost fifteen hours daily, your mind naturally tends to think about food (a lot) and you cannot help but obsess over what needs to be cooked for the iftar (breaking of the fast at sunset). While fasting a few days back, I started lusting for some peri-peri goodness and thought of trying something new using the sauce as a key ingredient. Here’s what I came up with and believe me, it turned out fantastic; easy to make, perfectly crunchy, spicy and cheesy. It’s everything you’d want in a dish to satiate your Ramadan cravings.

This recipe here serves THREE people.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts (cut horizontally into ½-inch thick fillets)
  • 3 tbsp + 2 tbsp Nando’s Hot peri peri sauce (you can choose to go for mild)
  • 1½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cup bread crumbs
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 4-5 slices of cheese (alternatively, you can go for a shredded mozzarella + cheddar combo instead for that rich thready texture)
  • 3-4 cups oil (for frying)

Method 

  1. Put the chicken fillets along with THREE tablespoons of peri-peri sauce into a bowl and mix well, ensuring that each piece is coated perfectly
  2. Set it up in the refrigerator for TWO to THREE hours to marinate; this step can be reduced to half-an-hour too but two to three hours gives the best results (taste-wise)
  3. Whisk eggs and milk in a bowl to make an egg-wash
  4. Take two plates and fill one with flour (add salt and pepper as seasoning to the flour) and the other with the bread crumbs
  5. Take a piece of chicken and coat it with the flour; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  6. Next, dip the chicken into the egg-wash; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  7. Finally, take the egg-washed chicken and drop it into the crumbs; ensure to coat properly and remove any excess
  8. Repeat steps 5, 6 and 7 till all pieces have been coated properly
  9. Set it aside for FIFTEEN minutes to air-dry
  10. Here you actually have a choice: you can either (a) pan sear the chicken using a few tablespoons of olive oil or (b) deep fry it on medium heat till the chicken is tender and has a crisp-golden coat on either side – I prefer the deep-fried version
  11. As soon as you take the chicken cutlet out of the pan, add a slice of cheese (or the shredded combo) on top to allow it to melt
  12. In a separate bowl, mix two tablespoons of peri-peri sauce with cream cheese and mayonnaise to make the sauce; add some milk if you want to adjust the consistency
  13. Spread some sauce at the base of a plate and put the chicken cutlet on top
  14. Other garnish options include jalapenos, olives, spiced feta cheese, and even some tomato ketchup (if you’re really that into it)
  15. On the side, you can choose to add french fries or Peri Bites

All my Muslim readers will agree with me that coming up with something tantalizing (and different) for iftar each day is something we all fret over. Hopefully, this recipe will give you a much-needed additional option and will earn you some praise from children and adults alike. Enjoy!

Spicin’ It Up This Eid

Eid-ul-Fitr, the first of two annual Muslim festivals, is a time to appreciate, share (with those less fortunate) and be thankful for what Allah has bestowed upon us. It marks the beginning of the month of Shawwal, the tenth month in the Muslim calendar, with Ramadan (the month of fasting) as its immediate predecessor. The months in the Muslim calendar are based on the appearance of the new moon, so the lunar month can either be 29 or 30 days and is mostly unpredictable until the eve of the 29th day. It’s this suspense, this element of surprise that makes this Eid extra special for me.

‘Mubarak ho. Chand ho Ggya. Ammi kal Eid hai. Yayyyyy!’

English: Congratulations. The moon has been sighted. Mom, it’s Eid tomorrow. Yayyyyy!

Eagerly awaited by adults and children alike, this Eid is also dubbed as the ‘Meethi Eid‘ (or ‘Sweet Eid’) as it is a sunnah (i.e. practice) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to start your Eid day by eating something sweet, like dates. For me, Eid is waking up to enticing aromas wafting from the kitchen, my mom deep-frying her amazing samosas and puris (deep-fried flat bread) to be served with the Sheer-Khurma (a milk-based sweet dish). That is pretty much all the sweet I can take on Eid day and I just hate being forced to eat desserts when I venture out to meet friends and family; savaiyaan (vermicelli), cakes, cookies, kheer (rice pudding), candies and mithai (sweet meats) are just some of the infamous items on this long list.

What I crave though is something spicy, something savory, that is fulfilling without being too overpowering. As a result, we make sure that the mehmaans (guests) who come to visit the Bawany household aren’t bombarded with sweets; instead, we serve them a platter of mouth-watering treats (appetizers, if you may) that are a refreshing change from all the ‘sweet madness’ in the air. Here are two cheesy recipes that will spice things up a bit and will leave your guests wanting more.

Cheese Balls

These mouthwatering treats are fun to look at and taste amazing. Don’t let the potato-ish texture of these balls fool you as these are perfectly round bread balls with a cheesy chicken filling that just melts in your mouth. Let me dive straight into the recipe without getting too much drool on my keyboard. This recipe makes about 30 to 35 cheese balls.

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken breast (make 1-inch cubes)
  • 1 cup water
  • 4-5 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp green chilies (finely chopped)
  • 1 tsp ginger paste
  • 1 tsp garlic paste
  • ½ tsp ajino-moto (a.k.a. MSG or Chinese salt)
  • Salt to taste
  • ÂĽ cup mozzarella cheese (grated)
  • ÂĽ cup cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 30-35 slices of large-sized bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups bread crumbs
  • Oil for frying

Method

  1. Take a pan, add water, chicken, black pepper, chilies, ginger paste, garlic paste, ajino-moto and salt, and put it on medium heat till the chicken is well-done and all the water dries out.
  2. Once the chicken mixture has cooled down, shred it with your hands.
  3. Add in both the mozzarella cheese and the cheddar cheese to the chicken and mix well.
  4. Take a slice of bread and place about a teaspoon of the chicken filling in the center.
  5. Apply a little water on all the edges of the bread slice and fold all four corners of the bread towards the center.
  6. Form the filled bread into a ball while applying pressure on it with both hands.
  7. Take a bowl and beat the eggs in it.
  8. Dip the cheese ball into the egg for about 3 seconds and roll it into the bread crumbs.
  9. Once all the balls are made, deep-fry in oil on low-medium heat for about 5 to 7 minutes or until the outside is nice and golden.
  10. Serve immediately with a side of ketchup, green chutney or nacho cheese sauce.

Smoked Rolls

Smoked rolls are the result of one of my wife’s culinary experiments so I can’t really take credit for this. The recipe itself is deceptively simple, but yields a wonderfully crispy cheese-based concoction with a rich smoky flavor; once you pop, you can’t stop (sorry Pringles). The quantities below will yield about 60-70 rolls.

Ingredients

  • I chicken breast (make 1-inch cubes)
  • 4-5 tbsp chicken tikka masala (I know its a cop-out but I had no time to deconstruct this)
  • 1 tbsp garlic paste
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 60-70 samosa pastry sheets (filo pastry works too)
  • ½ cup water
  • 2-3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • Oil for frying

Method

  1. Take a pan, add chicken, chicken tikka masala, yogurt, and garlic paste, put it on low-medium heat till the chicken is well-done and all the water from the yogurt dries out.
  2. Once the chicken has cooled down, mince it and add in the grated cheddar cheese.
  3. In a separate pan, take water and all-purpose flour, and mix it evenly on a slow flame until it turns into a thick smooth paste; add more flour if necessary.
  4. Take one rectangular samosa pastry sheet and lay it down vertically in front of you.
  5. Take about a half teaspoon of the chicken filling and spread it in a thin line across the top edge (see image below).
  6. Roll down the pastry sheet firmly all the way to the end and firmly seal the other edge using the flour paste.
  7. Once all the rolls are made, deep-fry in oil on low-medium heat for about 3 to 5 minutes or until the outside is crisp and golden.
  8. Serve immediately with a side of ketchup, green chutney or nacho cheese sauce.

As I mentioned earlier, Eid-ul-Fitr is all about sharing with those who cannot afford even the basic necessities of life. Please remember them when you wear new clothes or give your alms, and don’t forget to pray for me once your platters are licked clean.

Eid Mubarak to everyone!

Pakoras Galore: Let The Ramadan Feast Begin

The month of fasting (and over-eating) is finally upon us, and what makes this Ramadan more special is the fact that it is coinciding with monsoon, the clouds in Karachi ready to pour any moment now (Please, God, please?). Monsoon and Ramadan have nothing in common save for a piping hot (garma-garam) plate of Pakoras. This Pakistani staple dish is a must-have for Iftar and any dastar-khuwan is incomplete without a variation of this. The popularity of Pakoras lies not only in their unique flavor profile, but also in their affordability.

Pakoras (or Bhajiyas) are savory snacks deep-fried to a crisp and served with a dash of chaat masala with ketchup, tamarind chutney or chili sauce. Cultures across the world have their own adaptation of Pakoras. The English have Fritters, the Chinese, Dumplings, and the Japanese, Tempuras, but nothing beats the satisfaction of a crunchy Pakora at the time of Iftar. This notoriously popular snack is light on the taste, heavy on the waist, especially if it is deep-fried in ghee, so no matter how tempting it may look, do not, I REPEAT, DO NOT give into the temptation of finishing up the entire platter in one go.

Pakoras, and most of its other variations, are made using gram flour (baisan), but some adaptations include corn flour, pearl millet (bajra) flour and all-purpose flour. Also featured in the pakora is a mixture of edibles including potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, onions, cottage cheese, unripe mangoes, eggplant, and green chilies. These can be found in all shapes and sizes across the country with practically every street-vendor peddling them. As with any street food, it’s better to keep the hygiene factor in mind, what with all the parasitic and bacterial diseases out and about. So let me show you how we can make not one, but FIVE different variations of this phenomenal snack within the confines of your own kitchens:

(left) Chinese Pakoras and (right) No-Fuss Pakoras

No-Fuss (a.k.a. Jhat-pat) Pakoras: These pakoras (popularly known as bhajiyas) require very little time and effort and can be made in a jiffy, ergo the name Jhat-pat. Ideally, these are served with a side of yogurt mixed with some red chili powder and salt.

Ingredients:

  • 1 potato (thinly sliced) – you can also use sliced onions, whole green chilies, sliced eggplant, or spinach leaves
  • 1 cup gram flour (baisan)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • water as required
  • salt to taste
  • oil/ghee for frying

Method:

  1. Mix gram flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl with some water to form a thick batter (to the consistency of condensed milk)
  2. Heat oil in a wok, dip each slice of potato in the gram batter and drop it into the wok
  3. Deep fry on medium heat till golden brown

Chinese (a.k.a. Oriental) Pakoras: These pakoras are slightly different from the rest in taste as well as texture, mainly because the only spices and sauces used are traditional to Chinese cooking. You can also substitute chicken in the recipe with shrimps. Since it is originally my wife’s recipe, I dedicate this section of the write-up to her.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tomato (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 onions (coarsely chopped)
  • 2-3 green chilies (finely chopped)
  • 1 potato (coarsely chopped)
  • ÂĽ chicken breast (cut in small cubes), marinated with the following for 2-3 hours:
    • ÂĽ tsp ajino moto (MSG – optional)
    • ½ tsp black pepper
    • 2 tbsp soy sauce
    • 2 tbsp chili sauce
    • ½ tsp crushed red chilies
    • salt to taste
  • 6-7 tbsp corn flour
  • 2-3 tbsp gram flour (baisan)
  • 3-4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2-3 tbsp chili sauce
  • salt to taste

Method:

  1. Once the chicken is marinated, add all the vegetables, corn flour, gram flour, soy sauce, chili sauce and salt to the chicken and mix well
  2. Heat oil in a wok, take a teaspoonful of the mixture and drop it into the wok
  3. Deep fry on medium heat till slightly dark brown; note that these will take a slightly longer time to cook as you need to ensure the chicken is tender

Julienne Pakoras

Julienne Pakoras: These are essentially similar to the pakoras you get at the street vendors’, the only difference being the cutting style of the vegetables. Using a julienne cut for the vegetables ensures that the pakoras come out extra crunchy and extremely delicious, instead of just turning into a doughy mush. Do not forget to drizzle some chaat masala over them before serving.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium potato (julienne cut)
  • 1 medium onion (julienne cut)
  • 10-12 spinach leaves (thinly sliced)
  • 2 green chilies (finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp chaat masala
  • ½ tsp crushed red chilies
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds (dhania kay beej)
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds (zeera)
  • salt to taste
  • 3-4 tbsp gram flour (baisan)
  • water as required
  • oil/ghee for frying

Method:

  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix well; add enough water so that the resultant mixture becomes sticky
  2. Heat oil in a wok, take a tablespoonful of the mixture and drop it into the wok
  3. Deep fry on medium heat till golden brown

(left) Moong Dal Pakoras and (right) Chili Pakoras

Moong Dal Pakoras (a.k.a. Moongwadas): These are slightly unconventional pakoras in the sense that they do not use gram flour. Instead, these are made entirely using Mung beans (moong dal). This is one recipe that was carried over from India to Pakistan and has been in the family for many generations.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups mung beans with skin (chilkay waali moong dal)
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 pinch turmeric
  • salt to taste
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tomato (finely chopped)
  • 1 medium onion (finely chopped)
  • 2-3 green chilies (finely chopped)
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds (freshly crushed)
  • oil/ghee for frying

Method:

  1. Soak the mung beans overnight and remove all the green skin before grinding it in a blender with the garlic cloves (use the wet mill attachment so as to eliminate the use of water)
  2. Once the beans are blended, add all the vegetables and spices to them and mix well
  3. Take a teaspoonful of the mixture in your hands and flatten it into the shape of a patty
  4. Drop it into a pre-heated wok with oil and deep fry on medium heat till golden brown

Chili (a.k.a. Mirch) Pakoras: These pakoras use the chili as a container for an assortment of spices and are then deep fried with a crisp gram flour coating on top. The type of chili used is entirely up to how much heat you can take during Ramadan. This recipe uses banana peppers.

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 banana peppers
  • ½ tbsp cumin (zeera)
  • ½ tbsp coriander seeds (dhania kay beej)
  • 1 tbsp chaat masala
  • 1 lemon (juiced)
  • 1 cup gram flour (baisan)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • water as required
  • salt to taste
  • oil/ghee for frying

Method:

  1. In a frying pan, add the cumin and coriander seeds, and toast them till they are nice and crisp
  2. Take a mortar and pestle and coarsely crush the cumin and coriander seeds
  3. Now add the chaat masala and the lemon juice to the crushed seeds and form a thick spice paste
  4. Take each banana pepper, make a vertical slit using a knife, and stuff the spice paste into it
  5. Mix gram flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl with some water to form a thick batter (to the consistency of condensed milk)
  6. Heat oil in a wok, dip each pepper into the gram batter and drop it into the wok
  7. Deep fry on medium heat till golden brown

I hope you enjoy these pakoras at home but before I sign off, I’d like to add my two-bits about the essence of Ramadan. Never in my life have I ever heard anyone losing weight during Ramadan. Let’s see what the Qura’an has to say about this:

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” (Al-Baqarah, 183)

As the above ayat indicates, Ramadan is not just about giving up food and drink for a prescribed amount of time; it’s about moderation, preservation and self-control. Moreover, it teaches us the ever-important lesson of sharing what Allah has bestowed upon us with those who cannot afford it. So don’t forget to share with those in need, even if it’s some money, clothes, or something as insignificant as a platter of pakoras.