Zesty Orange Chicken

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Oranges taste great on their own; I hardly know anyone who doesn’t like them. They are a mind-blowing combination with chocolate, second only to mint, and are used extensively in desserts. But never in a million years had I expected to fall head-over-heals in love with oranges in an entrée. I’ve been obsessed with Orange Chicken ever since I tried it some four odd years ago at a Chinese Restaurant.

Like all recipes I’m obsessed with, I tried recreating this sweet and sour concoction with a hint (subjective) of spice last weekend. After some experimentation, I got the flavor profile I was looking for; in retrospect, I should have left out a few ingredients that gave the dish some outlandish undertones, a clashing after-taste, if you may. The recipe below doesn’t include those ingredients so you should be able to enjoy a mouth-watering Orange Chicken. I strongly recommend serving this gravy with Chinese Fried Rice (leave me a comment if you want me to post a recipe).

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Ingredients:

  • ½ kg chicken (cut into one-inch cubes)
  • ½ cup + ½ cup fresh orange juice (I used navel oranges)
  • ½ tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp fresh orange zest
  • 5 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1” cube of ginger (finely chopped)
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp chili sauce
  • 1 tbsp white vinegar
  • I tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp white pepper powder
  • ½ tsp chili flakes (optional)
  • ½ tsp black pepper powder
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp chicken powder
  • 1 tbsp corn flour
  • 5-7 dried red chilies (optional – I used African bird’s eye chili)
  • 1 tbsp peanuts (salted and roasted)
  • 2-3 spring onion stalks (one-inch pieces)
  • ½ green bell pepper (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • 1 onion (medium sized – cut into cubes)
  • ¼ tsp MSG (a.k.a. ajino moto)
  • 3 tbsp sesame oil
  • Pinch of salt (optional)
  • 2 tsp honey (optional)

Method:

  1. Mix chicken, black pepper and corn flour and set it aside
  2. Heat sesame oil in a pan and add in garlic and ginger
  3. After a minute or so, add chicken to the pan and cook for 3-4 minutes
  4. Mix in chili flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, MSG, and white pepper and let it sit for a minute
  5. Add in ½ cup orange juice and lemon juice and let it cook for 2 minutes
  6. Add soy sauce, chili sauce and vinegar to the chicken and cook on high flame
  7. Once the sauces have dried out a bit, add in peanuts, dried chilies and the remaining ½ cup orange juice to it
  8. When the juice evaporates again, add in Worcestershire sauce, chicken powder, green peppers, onions and the spring onion
  9. At this point, taste the chicken and see if you need salt (as the sauces used are already salty) or honey (if you feel the chicken is a bit on the sour side – mainly because of the oranges used)
  10. Give the chicken a good mix and turn off the flame
  11. Take out in a serving bowl and garnish with some fresh orange zest

Serve without waiting another second – make sure you have the Fried Rice ready beforehand. Any comments and suggestions are always welcome.

Enjoy!

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My Quest For Peri-fection: Your Guide To Perfect Home-made Nando’s-style Peri Bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando's style Peri-bites

Perfectly crunchy and crispy Nando’s style Peri-bites

Obsession is a dangerous thing to have and once you get something in your head, it is impossible to let go of. For me, recreating restaurant recipes at home is one such obsession and at times, it drives me to the edge of insanity.

Nando’s Peri-bites has been an OCD of mine ever since I first tried it some five years back. These are deep-fried green chilies stuffed with a succulent, cheesy chicken filling that just melts in your mouth (and sets it ablaze). A few years back, I successfully created a Peri-bites recipe that tasted much better than the original; there were two problems I consistently faced:

  • the coating kept falling off
  • the filling kept oozing out

Not all chilies were affected, though, but a sizeable percentage (around 60-70%) had one or both of these flaws. Therefore, I kept on going back to Nando’s for my Peri-bites fix – my fellow Peri-junkies should be able to relate to this. On one of my more recent visits to Nando’s, I found several issues with my appetizer:

  • lack of chicken in the filling
  • the taste was a bit ‘off’
  • the coating wasn’t as crisp as it should be

With a broken heart and a huge disappointment (that would put Mt. Everest to shame), I put my culinary skills to the test and gave the recipe one more try. This recipe that I’m about to share is an absolute 110% improvement on the Nando’s original. I promise you will not be disappointed with the results.

Prep Time: 30 mins

Serves: 3-4 people

Ingredients

  • 1 medium egg
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¾ tablespoon corn flour
  • ¾ tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups bread crumbs (for dry coat)
  • ½ chicken breast (1-inch strips)
  • 2 teaspoon peri-peri sauce for cooking (hot or wild flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon peri-peri sauce for mixing in
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoon grated mozzarella
  • 1 tablespoon grated cheddar
  • 1 tablespoon cream cheese
  • 8-10 green chilies (approx. 3-4 inches in length – use banana peppers for a milder flavor)
  • Canola oil (for deep-frying)

Method

  1. In a sauce pan, put a teaspoon of oil and add the chicken breast
  2. Mix in the peri-peri sauce once the chicken is tender and turn off the heat after cooking for a minute; let the chicken cool
  3. After the chicken has cooled, add in cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheddar, mozzarella, and peri-peri sauce; mix well
  4. To fill the chilies, make a T-shaped incision from the base of the chili (as shown in the picture below) and take out the seeds
  5. Take about 1-2 teaspoon of the chicken filling (make sure there are chicken chunks in each portion) and stuff it gently into the chili; do not over stuff as the incision may not close and the filling may come out during frying
  6. In a bowl, mix the egg, milk, corn flour and all-purpose flour
  7. Dip each stuffed chili into the egg mix and roll it into the bread-crumbs; repeat this step twice for each chili
  8. Put a pan with oil on medium heat for deep-frying
  9. Gently drop each chili into the oil; try not to touch them for a minute to let the coating stick to the chili
  10. Cook them for a few more minutes till the chilies are crisp and golden
  11. Serve them immediately with a peri-peri sauce of your liking!

So what are you waiting for? Get started on a batch right away; it’s sure to knock your socks off and set your head steamin’. I hope you enjoy this recipe; comments would be appreciated!

 

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The Incision – ‘T’ marks the spot

 

A Lemony Twist On Fresa Colada

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What a typical Londoner might call a bright sunny day, we, the residents of Dubai, call a well-deserved break from the blistering summer sun that beats (mercilessly) down upon us for a good six months each year (five-and-a-half if we’re lucky). I personally love the Dubai winter, especially because it brings with it, a plethora of fresh seasonal fruits from the Middle eastern region, the most noteworthy of which are the strawberries flown in daily from Egypt.

I couldn’t resist myself from buying a kilogram of these tantalizing berries when I last went grocery shopping. Needless to say, we got tired of eating all these strawberries pretty soon, so I thought of making a refreshing drink out of it. I added some coconut water and lemon syrup to compliment the sweet and sour berries and the drink turned out better than expected.

Here’s the recipe if you want to replicate it at home. It serves two people.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups fresh coconut water (I use yellow Srilankan coconuts as they are a bit on the sweet side)
  • 6-8 medium strawberries
  • 2 tablespoon lemon syrup (alternately, you can use 1 tsp lemon juice and 2 tsp honey)
  • For garnish:
    • 2 medium strawberries (coarsely chopped)
    • 3-4 mint leaves
    • 5-6 ice cubes

Method

  1. Wash the strawberries and remove the leafy part; add them to a blender
  2. Add coconut water and lemon syrup the blender and mix well
  3. Pour the juice into mason jars and add in some ice
  4. Top the jars with chopped strawberries and mint
  5. Serve immediately

Hope you enjoy this drink as much as I did making it. I’d appreciate your comments if you do try this at home!

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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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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.

Ramadan Treats: Watermelon Strawberry Coolers

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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!

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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
  • ¼ cup mozzarella cheese (grated)
  • ¼ 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!