Friday, February 26, 2016

Shukto- I love you

I am in love. The head-over-heels kinda love. The mad-about-you kinda love. The where-were-you-all-these-years kinda love. Okay, you get the idea. It was sheer love at first bite! *dreamy eyed and drooling

Recently my good friend gave me some shukto to taste. One spoonful of it and I almost died..... in a good way, of course! ;) 

Now to be able to understand this intriguingly sexy dish and Bengali cuisine itself, we'd have to go read some real history. Here's a good paper about the Portuguese influence on Bengali Cuisine and there's also a book written by Chitrita Banerjee called, "Hour of the Goddess: Memories of Women, Food and Ritual in Bengal." I am definitely getting this book soon. 

For our purposes, shukto is a pure vegetarian dish made with a medley of vegetables, the prominent ones being sweet potato, green plantain, bitter gourd/melon, moringa (drumstick), white daikon radish and eggplant. Some variations include flat beans, pumpkin, bottle gourd etc. The final flavor is a wonderful blend of bitter, sweet, a good pungent, nutty and just overall goodness. The main ingredient used to give the dish its body is a paste made with poppy and mustard seeds. The spices include fennel, fenugreek and cumin seeds. Ginger is utilized to give the dish an extra bite. From what I hear from my friend, a traditional bengali meal begins with a little bit of warm shukto and hot bhath (cooked white rice). This is supposed to cleanse the palate and get it ready for the ensuing elaborate meal. Now I don't know about that, because this thing is so darn good that I could eat it as an entire meal itself. 

Let's talk recipe now, shall we? Quick note- once you have all the ingredients in order, it is going to be a breeze. So here goes: 

Yield: Enough for 2 adults- 1 cheery lovestruck adult female, 1 poker face adult male, and 2 apprehensive teenagers 

Ingredients: 

The Dry Spice Mix:

1. Fennel Seeds- 1 tsp

2. Cumin Seeds- 1 tsp

3. Fenugreek Seeds- 1 tsp

Pulse the above in a coffee grinder into a fine powder 

The Wet Spice Mix

1. Poppy Seeds- 3 tbs

2. Mustard Seeds- 1 tbs

Soak the above in some water enough to make a fine paste 

The Extras:

1. Ginger- 1-1.5 tsp, grated

Dear Shukto Purists- don't freak out. But I just can't not use a few thai green chilies in my food!! And so here, I'll just say it- 

2. Your favorite green chilies- 2-4

The Wet Spice Mix, ginger and chilies can be ground together into a fine paste

The Veggies

Note: 

*Equal quantities work best- so for instance 1 cup of every kind

*I read somewhere that 5 kinds of vegetables are used. Well, I like the number 7, so here's my list: 

1. Potato- 1, cubed

2. Green Plantain- 1, cubed or cut into long slices 

3. White Daikon Radish- 1 (you'll find nice, tender, small ones at the Indian store), cut into long slices

4. Indian Bitter gourd/melon- 2 (available in Indian or Asian store), chopped into little pieces

Note: If you are not too crazy about the bitterness, marinate the chopped bitter gourd/melon with a tsp of turmeric powder and a pinch of salt for 10-15 minutes. Then before cooking, squeeze to remove water (along with the bitterness). Me- I like the real deal! 

5. Japanese or Chinese Eggplant- 1 or 2, chopped into tiny pieces

6. Bottle gourd or Opo Squash- cubed, 1 cup

7. Flat beans- 1 cup

And finally:

1. Cooking oil- 3-4 tsp

2. Ghee (clarified butter)- 2-3 tsp plus an extra couple tsp in the end 

3. Panch Phoron- 5 spice mix of seeds of mustard, fenugreek, nigella, cumin and fennel 

4. Salt to taste

5. Sugar to taste

6. Water- just enough to cook the veggies



The Vegetables


The Spices, Ginger and Chilies

Dry Spice Mix, Wet Spice Mix ground and ready


Method: 

1. Take a pot, add oil and ghee and get the heat going. Temper with the 5 spice mix (panch phoron) and throw in the veggies, starting with the one that takes the longest to cook. So start with the potato, fry for a few minutes until almost done. Then throw in the green plantain, again fry for a bit and then finally add the remaining veggies. 


Vegetables Galore

2. Add water enough to barely cover the top layer of the veggies. Add salt to taste. Remember, the potato and green plantain are already cooked. We just want to cook the others. Bring to boil, cover, simmer for 10 minutes. 

3. At the end of 10 minutes, it'll all have cooked perfectly. Now add the Wet Spice Mix (the paste) and fold it in. Add a little bit of water to get a not-too-thick-not-too-thin consistency. Give it another quick boil and that's it. Turn the stove off. Add the Dry Spice Mix and stir it all. 

4. Finally heat a couple teaspoons of ghee, add a teaspoon (or two, if you like) of sugar and mix it into the vegetable medley.  Shukto is now ready to be served. 


Stirring in the Wet Spice Mix 

Mixing in the Dry Spice Mix

Shukto Ready! 


Shukto with Rice 

Shukto-Rice-Dal 

I love this dish because of the different flavor notes it has going on, the main ones being bitter and sweet, which I think is quite lovely. Also, every vegetable has its own bite to it, which I like. Then there's the heat from the mustard, the bite from the ginger and the kick from the green chilies that I like to sneak in. This is all cooled off by the fennel and fenugreek. The cumin helps keep everything in check. And here's a fun fact- after a good meal of shukto and rice, I just can't help but doze off. Guess love IS a drug after all! (Or perhaps it's those poppy seeds.....)

I hope you like this dish too. Do give it a shot. Approach it with an open mind. You never know, this just might be the one! ;)





Friday, February 19, 2016

Easy Baked Sea Bass

Here's a great baked sea bass recipe, with a lovely dry spice rub. This one doesn't incorporate too many spices and is very easy to whip up on any busy weeknight. You could use any white fish such as tilapia, halibut or haddock. On our last Costco trip (more like an expedition, really!) we found sea bass in the frozen section and so picked it up. 

Ingredients: 

Sea Bass boneless skinless filets- 1 per person

The following quantities for the spices are per filet: 

Mustard Powder- 2 tsp 

Cilantro Seeds Powder (coarsely ground)- 2 tsp

Red Chile Powder or Paprika- 2 tsp (adjust according to taste)

Salt to taste

Cooking oil- a few drizzles

Method:

1. The Spice Rub: In a bowl mix up mustard powder (I like Colman's Mustard), cilantro seeds powder (make your own by roasting some cilantro seeds and then pounding it into a coarse powder), paprika &/red chile powder and salt to taste. Give the mixture a taste to make sure you like it! Adjust spices, if needed. 


Mustard Powder


The Spice Rub


2. Thaw fish filets according to instructions on packet. Pat dry with paper towel, dip each filet into the above spice rub and coat evenly. Go ahead, use your hand and give that fish filet some love! 



Coat fish filet with spice rub


3. Meanwhile preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Arrange all fish filets on a greased baking pan. Drizzle some cooking oil on each filet. 


Sea Bass filets coated with delicious spice rub ready to go into the oven


4. Place the above in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 10-12 minutes. After the bake time, set the oven to hi-broil and broil for 2-3 minutes (these are pretty thick filets, so won't overcook). 



Delicious Baked Spicy Sea Bass


5. Beautiful, delicious, spicy baked fish, sea bass in this case, is ready to be served. Place a filet on some creamy risotto, garnish with Italian parsley and a squeeze of fresh lemon, and enjoy! 


Mm Mm Delicious!!