Monday, December 21, 2009

Mirchi ka salan

The first time I had 'Mirchi ka Salan' was at a restaurant near my office in Chennai with friends and absolutely loved it. I ordered it again the next time I went there. One day, my colleague in the US, Latha, brought it for lunch and I thought I'll make it at home, but that did not happen. I am in Chennai now at my mom's place. My mom had bell peppers which she wanted to cook the same day. She was going to cook drumstick leaves and she said she is going to add bell peppers to that. I love bell peppers and felt it would be a weird combination with drumstick leaves. So, I told her I'll make something with the bell peppers and the first thing that came to my mind was 'Mirchi ka salan'.

Mirchi ka salan is a Hyderabadi side dish that is served with rice and biriyani. It is prepared with mild varieties of peppers like Anaheim, Poblano, bell peppers, banana peppers and sometimes Jalapenos. In Chennai, it is generally prepared with 'Bajji molagai'. The original recipe uses a flat-bottomed copper vessel and is covered with dough while cooking over low heat to enrich the flavours. The roasted and ground spices makes it so aromatic and it has a wonderful nutty flavour from sesame seeds and peanuts.

Bell peppers - 1 lb cut into large cubes
Oil as required
Salt to taste
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Curry leaves - few
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Juice of a small (1/2 lime sized) piece of tamarid

To grind set 1:
Onion - 1 large diced
Tomato - 1 large diced
Ginger - 1 inch piece
Garlic - 4-5 cloves

To grind set 2:
Cumin seeds - 1/2 tsp
Coriander seeds - 1 tsp
Red Chilies (whole) - 5 - 6 or to taste
Sesame seeds - 1 tsp
Peanuts - 2 tbsp

Dry roast cumin, coriander and sesame seeds separately and grind all set 2 ingredients together. In little oil saute cubed bell peppers until slightly wilted, remove and set aside. In the same vessel heat some more oil and fry ginger, garlic, onion and tomato. Cool, grind and set aside. Heat little oil, add curry leaves and once the spluttering stops, add mustard seeds and allow it to crackle. Lower the heat and then add ground set1 paste and mix well. Next, add ground set2 powder, salt, turmeric powder and tamarind juice, mix well and bring it to boil. Now add the sauteed bell peppers and allow to boil for 30 seconds, remove from heat and enjoy hot with rice.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Mainland China in Chennai

Situated in Sterling Road, Nungambakkam, Chennai, 'Mainland China' kind of hides behind Quality Inn. It is an upscale restaurant, surely not an affordable place to eat very often, but a perfect place for special days and celebrations. I have dined there few times in the last five years with family and friends and was never disappointed. As the name clearly suggests, they serve Chinese cuisine. The names of the dishes in the menu and the food presentation are authentic Chinese, but the food is of course Indianised Chinese which makes it more delicious. The decor and lighting are really good too - perfect for a quiet little celebration. They have weekend lunch buffet with a great variety of Veg and Non-veg dishes (including steamed dumplings - which my mom loved a lot). It used to cost around Rs. 250 per person few years ago and I'm sure it is a lot more expensive now.

Recently, I took my parents, sister and my aunt and uncle who were visiting from Singapore, there for dinner. The food was really good and the service was exceptional as usual. My uncle was really impressed with their service. I was surprised to see that the restaurant was almost full on a regular Tuesday night, that too towards the end of the month. We ordered Pepper lemon vegetable soup, Sweet corn soup, Crispy chilli corn and Crunchy spinach (was not in the menu card - suggested by our waiter) for starters. The soups tasted amazing and was not loaded with corn starch as done in most Chinese restaurants. The starters were crunchy and had unique flavour. For main course, we ate Vegetable fried rice, Crispy noodles with sweet and sour vegetable, Exotic vegetable clay pot and Pepper lamb curry. All the dishes tasted great except the lamb. My uncle and aunt felt that the lamb was imported frozen lamb and hence was tough and not as tender as Indian mutton. We ordered Date pancake with Vanilla ice cream for dessert. It took really long to get our dessert to the table and we were getting a little restless at the end. As expected, the pancake was fantastic. We paid about Rs. 2300 for six people - which is expensive yes, but truly worth it. I would rate Mainland China with 4 1/2 stars out of 5 (1/2 star less because of the lamb and long wait for the dessert).

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Paneer Burji

We are in India right now and the first three weeks have been very busy with festivities. We have gotten out of jet lag, finished my dad's 60th birthday at Thirukadayur, went to Thirupathi, celebrated Karthigai deepam and have finally settled down. I have some breathing room before the preparations for my bil's wedding would start and decided to utilize that in my blog.

Paneer Burji is a very simple and easy dish and can be served as a side dish with roti or separately as a breakfast entree. It is very nutritious and high in protein. 'Pal curry' (Curried milk), as my mom would call it, is made when she has excess milk or when she suspected the milk would turn sour soon. She would boil the milk, curdle it using lemon juice or curd, separate out the curds from whey water by filtering through a 'veshti' (dhoti) cloth and hang it to drain the excess water. Then she would crumble the paneer with her fingers and use it in the curry. As a kid, I somehow never liked this dish and that thought stayed in my head. When I prepared it at home for the first time, I was apprehensive about the taste. I took the first spoon expecting it to taste bad. I was surprised by how much I liked it. I realized that our tastes grow with us and our horizons widen each day.

My version here uses store bought paneer for ease, and can be substituted with home-made paneer. I made this recently as a side dish when we had invited a couple of Murali's (husband) colleagues home, for dinner. We loved it so much that the four of us finished all the burji made from about a pound of paneer (apart from the other dishes). My little son liked it too - which was an additional plus.

Paneer - 400 gms pack grated
Onion - 2 finely chopped
Tomato - 3 finely chopped
Green chillies - 4-5 or to taste
Ginger paste - 1 tsp
Garlic paste - 1 tsp
Cumin seeds - 1 tsp
Garam masala powder - 1 tsp
Turmeric powder - 1/4 tsp
Cilantro - 2 tbsp finely chopped (optional)
Oil - 2 tsp
Salt - to taste

Heat oil over medium heat, add cumin seeds and fry until brown. Add onion and green chillies and fry for a minute. You can add little salt at this stage to bring out the sweetness of onion. Now add ginger paste and garlic paste and fry until the mixture turns light brown. Keep stirring to avoid burning. Now add tomatoes and fry for 2 minutes. Add salt (include salt for paneer too), garam masala powder, turmeric powder and add little water and cook covered for 5 minutes. Now add the grated paneer and mix well until heated through. Add cilantro mix well, remove from heat and enjoy hot.