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Maa has made 31 paayeshs for me, one on each birthday.  And so yesterday was my 31st.  On the morning of every birthday, she patiently stirs the milk mixture forever (actually it’s probably around 45 mins but this is a very long time to stir continuously, although on a positive note it’s probably really great for toning the arms) to make the sweet and silky paayesh.  Obviously, as fitting for any special occasion, the paayesh does not touch my lips until a small portion of it has been offered to god ( in the form of Ganesh in the photo) and until I shower and say a little prayer myself.  I’m not religious at all but this little ritual provides comfort and balances out the other more hedonistic aspects of birthday festivities.  That minute in front of the offering is a quiet moment in which I can reflect on the past year, give thanks to all the good things in my life, and look forward to next year.  It puts everything in perspective.

Maa’s paayesh has that perfect consistency of being a little less thick than condensed milk.  I find it is so uninspiring and spirit-deflating when the paayesh limply spills over the spoon because it is so thin and watery.  Also importantly, Maa’s paayesh has NO RAISINS.  Nothing against raisins as such but we just don’t like them in the paayesh.  Instead she adds flaked almonds which gives it a lovely and different texture.

Ingredients

  • 2 pints full cream milk
  • 2 tbs rice (in UK, Maa uses Basmati but if back in India, she would have used gobindo bhog rice, which is a short-grained, glutinous rice that cooks quickly and has a creamy quality, perfect for paayesh)
  •  2 tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs palm jaggery
  • Handful of flaked almonds

Method

  1. Put the milk in a saucepan and bring to boil.  Stir continuously
  2. Once brought to the boil, add in the rice (wash it first).  Reduce heat a little and stir until the rice is cooked.  This should take about 20 minutes
  3. When the rice is cooked, include the sugar, jaggery and flaked almonds.  Stir until the water from the sugar and jaggery have evaporated and the milk has thickened to the consistency preferred.
  4. Grate a little nutmeg on top (optional)

Can be served warm or cold

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Lamb curry

You know the question about ‘what would be your last supper?’.  I don’t like this question.  I find it impossible to answer as I love all kinds of food.  How can I limit it to one type of dish?  However, if I could have a Top 5, then Ma’s lamb curry would definitely make the cut.  I love the taste of the soft, succulent lamb with the rich, smooth and aromatic gravy.  Oh and the potatoes.  They are a must.  They have to be soft and completely soaked in the gravy.  Mmm.  The recipe below has a Bengali/Kashmiri slant.  Ingredients such as the cashew paste, fennel, and the garam masala composition give the curry a more delicate, aromatic flavour versus the spicy lamb curries more commonly eaten.  Check out a great book which beautifully describes the history and differences of Indian regional cooking called ‘Eating India’ by Chitrita Banerji.  Ok back to the lamb curry.

Ingredients (for 4 people):

  • 1 kg lamb (shoulder or lamb) chunks
  • Potatoes (waxy), peeled and cut to similar size of the lamb pieces. Dima used to make small cuts in the potatoes for maximum gravy + flavour absorption!

Marinade:

  • 150g plain yoghurt
  • 1.5 inch ginger, grated
  • 1.5 onions, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 2 tbsp cashew paste

Other

  • 1/2 onion, finely sliced
  • 3 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp ground cumin (less than the coriander because it has a much stronger flavour)
  • 1.5 tsp ground fennel (this is a very Kashmiri touch)
  • Chilli powder
  • Kashmiri/Bengali garam masala (2 inch cinnamon, 4 green cardamom, 5 cloves, 0.5 tsp nutmeg – all powdered and mixed together)
  • 1/5 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oil

Pre-prep

– Soak about 15 cashew nuts in milk for approximately 2 hours.  When soft, grind them up in a grinder to make a smooth paste

Method

  1. Marinade the lamb in the yoghurt and the juices of the ginger and onions.  Ma only uses the juice so the gravy doesn’t become too chunky and overpowering.  Then add the cashew paste.  Let the marinade sit for at least 30 minutes.  Obviously longer the better and the marinade can be left overnight for more special occasions
  2. After the lamb has been marinated, add the coriander, cumin, fennel and chilli powder to the mixture
  3. Heat the oil in a pot
  4. Add sugar to lightly caramelise for colour and flavour
  5. Put in the chopped onion.  Saute until soft and lightly browned
  6. Put in the meat.  Toss around a couple of times so all the pieces get coated with the oil, onion and sugar
  7. After, 5-10 minutes, reduce heat and cover with lid.
  8. Keep checking the softness of the lamb but this should take approximately 1 hour
  9. Half-way through cooking, put in the potatoes and give it a good stir
  10. When the lamb is nearly cooked, add a little boiling water if the mixture needs more gravy
  11. Season and cook for another 15-20 minutes
  12. Add 2tsp of the gravy and ghee to the garam masala.  Mix together and pour over the curry.  Stir
  13. Serve with rice and sprinkle over some chopped coriander and flaked almonds for an added flourish

Bon apetit!

NB: For a low-fat version, make the curry the day before.  Leave to cool in the fridge.  The next day, the fat will have solidified on the top.  Just scoop out the layer of fat with a spoon and there you have it: a lower(ish) fat version of the curry to enjoy.

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Shukto is probably one of the less glamourous dishes in Bengali cuisine but I’ve always loved it.  It has such a distinctive flavour and I like how the spices used in the dish create a very gentle and subtle taste.  Now, there are a lot of purists out there who will tell you what vegetables should and should be in a Shukto (has to include bitter gourd) and when to eat it (lunch time only apparently).  There are some great recipes out there if interested about what a ‘typical shukto’ should be but this blog is about how my family rocks it.  Firstly, and most shockingly for the said purists, my mother doesn’t add kerela (bitter gourd) to her shukto because for her this dish is all about the spice combo.   The bitter gourd would overpower it all.  It’s also important how the shukto looks so she doesn’t cook the vegetables to death, she chops them in similar shapes and sizes and adds carrots to give it some colour.  The colour balance is also the reason why she doesn’t include plantain as when cooked, it becomes black.

Vegetables (chopped in similar shape and size)

Aubergine

Potatoes

White radish

Carrots

Flat beans

Cauliflower

Dried lentil dumplings (boris)

Spices

Tempering:

1 tsp celery seeds (radhuni)

1 bay leaf

1 green chilli

1 tsp mustard seeds

2.5 tsp ground aniseed

2 tsp mustard (my mother uses Colman’s mustard)

1 inch ginger, grated

2-3 tbsp milk or single cream

Instructions

  1. Parboil the potatoes, radish, and carrots.  At the same time shallow fry the aubergine to give it colour and flavour.
  2. After the aubergine is done, set aside in a dish and then in the same pan, quickly fry the dried lentil dumplings.  They’ll only need about 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Any longer, they’ll taste bitter.  Set aside.
  3. Once the potatoes, radish, and carrots are parboiled, blanche the cauliflower and flat beans for 5 mins.
  4. You can start the tempering now too.  In hot oil, first add the bayleaf, followed by the green chilli.  Next add the celery seeds and mustard seeds.  Stir around for 30 seconds while the seeds splutter
  5. Add the potatoes and radish to the tempering.  Sautee for 2-3 minutes until they get some colour
  6. When the cauliflower and beans are nicely al dente, add to the mixture.  After 2-3 minutes of frying, add the ground aniseed
  7. Add a medium size splash of boiled water to the pan and then add salt
  8. Next, add the aubergine and cover with lid.  Let it simmer for approximately 5-10 minutes or until the vegetables are ready.  Ideally they should still have a crunch!
  9. Mix together the mustard, grated ginger and milk.  Add to the vegetables and give it a good stir.  Shukto is unique because usually mustard and ginger are not mixed together in other Bengali dishes.
  10. Lastly, throw in the dumplings and as a final flourish, drizzle some ghee over the dish.

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