Indian Chicken Wings

Chicken wings were one of my favorite childhood snacks: baked, grilled, or fried, it didn’t matter. I’d gnaw on the wing tips until all the flavor and what little meat and skin were on ‘em was sucked off!

So when Monica Bhide asked me to cook her Indian chicken wings recipe from her new cookbook Modern Spice as part of a virtual bloggers dinner, I was happy to oblige!

indianchx2 by you.

Sprinkling chaat masala over the tasty wings

Now the recipe called for an optional garnish of chaat masala, a spice blend that is sprinkled onto snacks and used in aloo chaat. Unless you live near a South Asian market, it might be a little hard to find. So I devised a do-it-yourself version using whatever spices you can find.

Mix and Match Chaat Masala

Chaat masala is available as a ready mix at South Asian markets for about $1 but if you aren’t able to find it, make your own. It may seem like there are 101 ingredients and yes the ingredient list is lengthy, but if you’re a spice fiend like me, you might already have quite a few of the ingredients in your pantry. Aside from cumin seeds and coriander seeds which I always have on hand, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to put the dried mango powder, black salt, and asafetida powder I had received as gifts to good use! Of course, there are also 101 recipes for chaat masala but that’s the beauty of it—you can mix and match to your taste.

2 tablespoons dried mango powder (amchoor)
3 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 teaspoons black salt (kala namak)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

As many of the following ingredients you can find:
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon ajwain seeds (lovage or bishop’s weed)
1/4 teaspoon asafetida powder (hing)
1/4 teaspoon ground dried mint
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika

Toast the whole spices separately in a small dry cast iron skillet for 1 to 3 minutes, or until they are fragrant and turn a shade or two darker. Don’t let them burn! Grind them individually into a fine powder.

Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container.

Aloo Paratha, or the Perfect One-Dish Meal

About four years ago, I met Shelly Krishnamurthy. An amazing woman, Shelly has Parkinson’s disease but she is a fearless community activist, raising funds for Chaya, a non-profit organization serving South Asian women in times of crisis and need, and paying school visits to teach elementary students about Indian food and culture.

When Shelly heard about my book project, she introduced me to her 78-year-old mother, Champa Ramakrishna.

Champa Krishnamurthy by you.

Champa is already bustling around the kitchen when I arrive. She has soft, kindly features and wispy gray hair bundled into a single braid swishing down her back. As she prepares the ingredients to make aloo paratha, potato-stuffed flatbread, she floats around the spacious, modern kitchen decisively yet gracefully, her orange and burgundy sari rustling about her petite frame.

Aloo paratha is a great one-dish meal for the family that can be served anytime of the day, Champa tells me. It’s especially convenient when she tires of making the requisite three dishes per meal everyone is accustomed to.

Food, I have learned, is never territorial. Even though aloo paratha is a northern Indian dish and Champa’s roots are in the south, she has no qualms about calling this dish her own. However, most of her repertoire hails from the south. Not surprising since her parents are from Bangalore and three generations of her family lived in Bhopal, central India. This is the cuisine she picked up from her mother by watching and learning.

“Southern (Indian) cooking is simple, and uses less fat,” she explains. And in the south, almost all the Hindu sects don’t eat onion and garlic because of their pungent smell.

Aloo paratha doesn’t use onion or garlic, in fact, it comprises few ingredients with potatoes (aloo) making up the bulk of the dish. The potatoes are ready once they are tender “but not too soft,” Champa instructs me as she starts to peel them. She prefers the texture of Yukon gold potatoes and instead of mashing them she grates them. “So there are no lumps,” she explains, fingering a handful of lump-free grated potato.

Her face creased in concentration, Champa mixes onion, cilantro, cumin seeds, chili flakes and cilantro by hand into the potatoes. As her hands massage the mixture into a smooth filling, the gold bangles sparkling with emeralds around her left wrist clink sweetly. For a little pizzazz, she suggests adding grated cauliflower, paneer, lentils or green mung beans to the mixture as well. With the endless variety of fillings, Champa and her family–who as Hindus, are all vegetarian–can eat a balanced diet with just one dish!

As Champa works, she tells me that she moved to the U.S. when her husband got a job with the World Bank in 1979. They lived in Washington D.C. for 10 years before settling down in Austin, Texas. She recalls how difficult it was to find Indian spices 25 years ago. “Every time I went back to India, I would stock up on all kinds of things from all the different regions.” Her suitcase was always full coming back stateside!

When the potato filling is done, Champa sets it aside and starts preparing the dough. Adding water to Indian whole wheat flour, she kneads the dough until it is pliable but “not too loose.”

Champa divides the dough up into balls and deftly rolls each ball into a flat disc about 4 inches wide with a rolling pin. Holding the dough disc in the palm of her left hand, she places a good chunk of potato mixture in the middle and folds the dough over, fully enclosing the filling. Then she rolls it out again into a flat disc. Other than the occasional green speckle, you’d never guess the secret mouthwatering ingredients hiding within.

Champa folding the potato filling into the dough by you.

The griddle–yes, Champa uses a modern electric griddle!–is soon fired up. She lays the pancake-like parathas gently down on the hot surface one at a time. She sprinkles some oil over each disc and smears it all over the top. After a couple of minutes, she flips them to reveal lightly charred brown spots.

In no time, they are done.

Champa serves me my meal on a shiny stainless steel plate typical of a thali meal. She instructs me to scoop some yogurt into a small bowl and season it with a sprinkling of cumin, chili powder and salt.

I break off a portion of the flatbread and dip it into the yogurt. The paratha’s crisp outer layer gives way to soft shreds of bread spiked with cumin, cilantro and chili, which contrasted nicely with the cool yogurt.

Yes, it is confirmed. This is a one-dish meal I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Potato-Stuffed Flatbread (Aloo Paratha)

aloo paratha by you.

Whenever Champa Ramakrishna doesn’t feel like preparing the requisite three dishes per meal, she makes aloo paratha. Easy to make and nutritious, the one-dish Indian meal can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. While Champa can churn out perfect parathas in a matter of minutes, making them symmetrical takes some practice-so don’t be discouraged if your first few don’t turn out quite right. Instead of the yogurt dip, you can serve the flatbread with your favorite pickle or chutney.

Time: 1 1/2 hours
Makes: 10 parathas, 4 to 5 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

2 cups Indian whole wheat flour (atta), or a combination of 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour and 1 cup all-purpose white flour, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt
3/4 to 1 cup lukewarm water
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (3/4 cup)
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground red chili powder or crushed red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Yogurt Dip (recipe follows)

In a large mixing bowl, mix the flour, oil, and a pinch of salt. Add the water a little at a time and knead into a soft, pliable dough. Once the dough starts to pull easily away from the side of the bowl, knead it on a lightly floured surface until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the potatoes in a medium saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a fork can prick them easily. The potatoes should still be somewhat firm and not too soft. Let cool.
When the potatoes have reached room temperature, peel and grate them. You should have about 2 cups. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, onion, cilantro, chili powder, cumin seeds, cumin powder, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix thoroughly with your hands. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

Divide the dough into 10 equal 1½-inch balls (an easy way to do this is to divide the dough in half, then each half into 5 balls). Divide the potato filling into 10 equal portions. Prepare a plate with about 1 cup flour for dusting. Sprinkle flour liberally onto a work surface and roll a ball into a disk about 4 inches in diameter with a rolling pin. Place 1 portion of filling in the center and gather the edges up and around it, stretching the dough if necessary. Pinch to seal securely at the top so that the filling is entirely enclosed. It will look like a fat dumpling.

Gently flatten the dumpling into a thick patty, being careful not to let the filling escape. Dip both sides in the flour. Lay the patty seam side down and carefully roll it out into a circle 5 to 6 inches in diameter and about 1/8 inch thick. Don’t worry if a little filling pops out. Just pat it back inside the paratha as best as you can.

Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, dusting with flour as needed.

Place the parathas on a plate, layering them between parchment paper to prevent them from sticking together before cooking.

Preheat a heavy griddle or 8-inch nonstick skillet. Place 1 paratha on the ungreased griddle and cook over medium-high heat until the underside is speckled with golden brown spots, about 3 minutes. Flip and drizzle the top with oil (about ½ teaspoon). Smear the oil all over the surface with a spatula and press down to ensure even browning. Flip again, drizzle more oil on top, and repeat the smearing process. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, flipping every minute or so, until the paratha is evenly browned on both sides.

Slide onto a plate and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the remaining parathas. To eat, tear off bite-sized pieces of paratha and dip into the yogurt mixture.

Variations: Add any of the following cooked ingredients to, or in lieu of, the potato filling: grated cauliflower, mashed lentils or mung beans, and paneer.

Pat’s Notes: Atta (sometimes called chapati flour) is a very finely ground whole wheat flour made from hard wheat. With a high protein content and just enough bran to give it body without making it too coarse for soft pliable Indian breads, atta flour is also strong and dough made from it can be rolled out very thin. It is available at Indian grocers.

Parathas freeze well. Just cook them without oil and freeze, placing wax or parchment paper in between each paratha. When ready to use, defrost and reheat the paratha on the griddle with some oil.

Yogurt Dip

Make individual servings and have everyone tailor the dip to their personal taste.

Makes: 1 serving

1/2 cup homemade or Greek yogurt
Ground cumin
Ground dried red chilies
Salt

Spoon the yogurt into an individual dish. Sprinkle cumin powder, ground chilies, and salt to taste (I recommended pinches to start with). Mix well.

As grandma always says, please share!

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Paneer Magic

paneer cubes by you.

Paneer cut into cubes

Everyone has their day dreams.

Mine begins at dawn with me stirring a vat of creamy white milk. Sleep still heavy on my eyelids, my face is flushed from the delicate tendrils of warmth rising from the freshly-milked liquid which not so long ago still resided inside the goats bleating just outside the barnyard door …

…bzztt … it’s back to reality.

I have to admit that I’m not obsessed with making cheese, just with the romantic notion of being a farmstead fromagier–living on a farm, raising some goats, and not having to pay through my nose for some yummy chevre, minus the cleaning of kaka and all that good stuff of course.

However, a chance meeting–in the form of a gentle sari-wearing lady named Sangita Chawila–got me very excited about cheese-making. Sangita showed me how easy it was to make paneer, the mild, creamy Indian cheese that makes its way into everything from saag paneer to paneer-stuffed tikis (potato cutlets).

With Sangita’s simple method, everyday non-cheese-making people like you and me can make cheese in under an hour! If you can boil milk and squeeze limes, you’re already a natural paneer-making machine. How cool is that?

Homemade Paneer

Instead of lime juice, you can make paneer with lemon juice or vinegar. After draining, the paneer is crumbly like ricotta cheese and makes for a delicious snack with apples or bananas and sweetened with honey or sugar.

Makes: 5 ounces of paneer

1 quart whole milk

2 tablespoons lime juice (1 lime), or more as needed

In a large, nonreactive, wide-mouthed pot, bring milk to a gentle boil (the larger the pot the better so that the milk will not overflow). Stir often to prevent scorching at the bottom of the pot. If the pot starts to overflow, whisk it off the stove. Otherwise you’ll have a big, foaming mess and cleaning milk from inside your stove is no joke–I know!

As the milk starts to gurgle, watch diligently that it doesn’t overflow the pot!

Once the milk starts bubbling, add the lime juice and stir continuously for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the spongy white curds start to separate from the sea-green whey (just like magic!). If the curds don’t separate, or the whey isn’t clear, add more lime juice and keep stirring. It will happen eventually.

IMG_5484 by you.

Curdling milk–not always a welcome sight but in this case …

Turn off the heat and let it rest for ten minutes to complete the coagulation process.

IMG_5487 by you.

Paneer up close; can you see the sea-green whey in the background?

Pour the curds and whey into a colander lined with fine cheesecloth. Place a bowl beneath the colander if you’d like to collect the whey and save it for making roti, curry, or rice. (After this step, you can use the paneer in a recipe that uses crumbly cheese or eat it immediately.)

IMG_5500 by you.

Drained paneer curds

Gently wring out as much whey as possible. Tie up the opposite ends of the cheesecloth and hang the bundle around the faucet and drain into the sink for 1 hour. With the cheese still wrapped in cheesecloth, flatten it to about half-an-inch thick and shape it into a disc or a square. Sandwich the cheese between a chopping board and a heavy book and leave for another hour.

IMG_5504 by you.

Curds and whey or rather, whey and curds

Discard any remaining liquid and unwrap the cheese from the cheesecloth. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, cut it into 1-inch cubes and fry gently in oil, or use in your favorite recipe.

Pat’s notes:

To make creamier paneer, you can add heavy whipping cream to the milk to make up for the cream/fat lost during processing of milk sold in the U.S.

If you can get unpasteurized, unhomogenized (i.e. raw) milk, all the better.

As grandma always says, please share!

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Marbled Tea Eggs

Bri over at Figs with Bri kindly tested this recipe for me and blogged about it. Do check it out!

Tea eggs are a nutritious snack, can be served warm or cold and are pleasing to the eye for when guests pop by. By gently cracking the shells of cooked eggs and then simmering the eggs in an aromatic “tea,” the egg whites develop an attractive “crackle glaze” once peeled. The eggs themselves take on the delicate flavors of soy and star anise. Try them in a chef’s salad or even in an egg salad sandwich. Cook the eggs longer for a stronger flavor and deeper color. They can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 4 days.

Time: 15 minutes (active) plus 2 hours (cooking)
Makes: 8 eggs

8 eggs
water
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 star anise
3 black tea bags, strings removed (English Breakfast, Assam or for a smokier flavor, Lapsang Souchong)

In a (3-quart) saucepan, place the eggs in a single layer. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once water boils, remove pan from heat, cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Drain off water, cover eggs completely with fresh cold water and let stand.

Once eggs are cool enough to handle, tap each one gently with the back of a teaspoon to make fine cracks on the surface of the shell. Try to keep shell intact. Set eggs aside in a bowl.

In the same saucepan, bring 3 cups fresh water to boil over high heat. Add remaining ingredients. Carefully lower eggs one by one into the “tea” and reduce heat to medium-low. If eggs are not completely submerged, add more water. Cover and simmer for 2 hours. Remove from heat and let eggs sit in tea liquid on the stove for 1 hour. Then transfer to refrigerator to steep for at least 2 more hours or overnight.

Drain and peel. Serve halved or quartered.