Meeta of What's for Lunch Honey has a great Monthly Mingle event for November, and what could be better than traditional indian food for that, eh?
We have become pretty slack about entertaining, with our busy schedules and busier weekends. But once a year we have an Eid party, on the weekend as close to Eid as possible, where we invite all our friends and family. This event has become something of a landmark because all our friends know they'll meet each other here. Our guest list has also expanded as we have gotten to know more neighbours and changed jobs. Last year it touched an all time high of 105 people, of which 92 showed up, which was incredible.
Over the years, the menu has also become more or less set. I'm vegetarian so we order in the Biryani and mutton kebabs from a place called Matka Pir. The veg stuff is all cooked at home. I usually cook up something like a spiced rice dish - pulao, puliyogare, bisibele bhath or something. We make vegetarian kebabs and every year try out something new. And the dessert has been Badaam halwa for the past 5 years since we started hosting the event. I made it the first year as something that was easy, and it became such a hit that I now get threatening phone calls from friends to not even think of skipping it.
This year we had the party a little late since I was travelling the weekend of Eid and we need a full weekend before the party to start the preparations. The task of soaking and then peeling 2 and a half kilos of badaams takes that kind of time with all the rest of the stuff we have to do. I remember one year my husband offered to help with the peeling. We both sat down after dinner and began. After about an hour at the task, he says, "Oh we must be all done" and lookds down at the pan. We hadn't finished more than a quarter of the badaams. that's when he realised how much goes into the halwa!
I try and make the bisibele powder a week ahead so that's out of the way. And our annual spring cleaning + hunt for things like strings of twinkling lights which we have usually stowed away so safely the previous year that they are now MIA keeps us busy. It's actually quite a lesson in organisation skills and management skills to pull it off, though now we have got our act down pat. We make things easy by using paper plates, spoons, glasses and cups though for the cocktails we keep out our best glassware. My philosophy is 'better enjoyed and broken than untouched'.
This year I came back to old favourite Bisi Bele Bhath ( which my father's side of the family refers to as RC - reinforced concrete - because it is so heavy). I find it pretty easy to make, as long as the spice mix is ready in advance. I find that most restaurants don't do a good job of this dish. Somehow it tastes more like plain huli-anna - sambar rice - which is not the idea. For vegetarians, I experimented with my own recipe for jimikand kebabs a month back and they turned out so well we served those. And I received the supreme compliment for the badaam halwa - one of my friends told me she dreamt about it two days back!
Of course, this year pre-party we had quite a few panic moments. The ice arrived late. We had power cuts all day. And the gardener had washed down our terrace really well so it was sparkling clean, but in the process emptied the overhead tank of water, so we literally had all the taps in the house running dry. Luckily since my parents stay a few houses away, we farmed out our bathing to their place! At the end of all the running aroung, our house was sparkling, the terrace looked magical, and everyone had a good time. What more can you ask for?
1 cup dry red chillies
1 cup coriander seeds
1 tsp jeera
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp chana dal
1/2 tbsp urad dal
1 tsp turmeric
1 stick cinnamon bark
Handful dessicated coconut, grated
Large pinch asafoetida ( heeng)
For the powder:
Dry roast the coriander seeds and the red chillies together, stirring constantly, with 2-3 drops of oil in the bandley (wok) until the red chillies turn shiny and the coriander seeds start giving off an aroma. Keep them aside to cool.
Dry roast the chana dal until it starts turning mildly brown, then add the urad dal and roast until both the dals are crisp and reddish. Keep aside to cool.
Dry roast the fenugreek and mustard seeds along with the cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon bark. When the fenugreek seeds turn slightly brown, add the dessicated coconut and roast until it too turns brown. By this time your kitchen will have a wonderfully warm, spicy aroma. Lastly, add the asafoetida, stir for a couple of seconds, and keep the misture aside to cool.
Powder the coriander seeds and red chillies together first. Then add the chana dal and urad dal and grind finely. Lastly add the spice mix and grind into a fine powder. Put the mixture into a glass jar and stir so that all the ingredients are well mixed. At this stage you can add the turmeric, which helps the keeping property of the powder. This powder can last up to 6 months if stored in a cool, dry place.
For the Bhaath:
1 cup arhar dal ( toovar dal)
1 cup rice
Lump of jaggery
1 lemon sized lump of tamarind soaked in warm water
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp Oil
bisibele powder - 2-3 tbsp
1 tbsp ghee (tuppa)
Half cup cut cashews
2 sprigs of curry leaves
2 tsp mustard seeds
Cook the arhar dal and rice together in a pressure cooker, with a tbsp of oil and a pinch of turmeric. I like my Bisibele bhaath to be liquid-ey rather than solid so I add extra water to the cooker.
Once the dal and rice are cooked, squeeze the tamarind ball into the warm water so it releases tamarind juice, and strain the juice into the cooker of rice + dal.
Stir and cook on a low flame until the sour tamarind smell goes.
Add the jaggery in small quantities, along with the salt and the bisibele bhaath powder, and a little oil. Stir to mix, and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Taste to check on salt and jaggery, and add more powder if you want it more spicy. Add more water if the mixture turns too thick, and cook for about 15 minutes.
For the garnish, put the ghee on to heat. I always use home made ghee which tastes and smells so much better. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to stop spluttering. Add the cashews and stir until they turn light brown. Add the curry leaves and switch off the heat.
Serve the Bisibele hot, topped with the garnish. You can serve a simple cucumber raita on the side, along with upperi ( plain potato chips) or sandige ( fried spiced puffed-rice balls) and Baalaka (fried spiced dried chillies). Bisi bele bhaath is one dish that improves with keeping, so you can actually make it a day ahead of a party, which saves a lot of bother as well. I'm just afraid to because of the bad electricity situation in our millennium city!
1 yam, peeled, cut into pieces and boiled
2 tsp aam chur ( dry mango powder)
1 cup hung curds
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tbsp cumin powder
2 red onions, chopped fine
4-5 garlic pods, crushed
Red chilli powder to taste
1 inch piece of ginger, crushed
Salt to taste
2-3 slices of bread, blitzed into powder
Half cup besan ( chickpea flour)
Mash the cooked yam pieces into a pasty mess. Add all the other ingredients to get the kebab dough ready, except the besan.
Heat oil in a frying pan. Make 25 equal-sized little balls of the dough and flatten them. Dip them into the besan to make sure they hold together well.
Shallow fry on both sides until nicely browned.
Serve hot with a tzatziki type dip, mint-coriander leaf chutney or ketchup.
Will blog about the halwa later as I have to rush now.
Updated to include Badaam Halwa
Badaam Halwa is a lovely and rich dessert, made only of sinful things like pure ghee, almonds and sugar. It tastes divine and anyone who has it once comes back for more despite his/ her best intentions.
1 cup almonds
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ghee ( clarified butter)
a little milk ( about 1/2 cup)
5-6 strings of saffron
Soak the badaam so the peel gets loosened and peel them. Puree them with as little of the milk as you can add to still get a very fine puree.
Soak the saffrom strands in 1 tsp hot milk until the orange colour infuses the milk.
Put the sugar into a pan and add 1/4 cup water. Let it cook on a medium flame until it gets a one-string consistency. ( You can test this by dipping your index finger into the syrup and then pressing your finger and thumb together and then pulling them apart. If you get one strand of sugar syrup between your thumb and finger that's it. But be careful - this syrup can burn the skin off your hand!)
Put in the almond paste, turning the heat to low and add the saffron. Cook, stirring frequently but slowly until the mixture starts sticking to the bottom of the pan.
At this juncture, add the ghee (clarified butter) little by little until the mixture takes on a halwa texture and stops sticking to the pan. Keep stirring throughout the process!
Serve hot or cold. This quantity would be enough for about 10 people ( it's very rich).