Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: Punjabi Winter Warmth

[singlepic id=117 w=320 h=240 float=left]I’ve dabbled with different types of cooking, but never really paid a great deal of attention to my roots – Punjabi food. Perhaps I’d had enough of Punjabi food or maybe it was too much hard work, but most of my focus was on western and East Asian cooking. It isn’t that I don’t cook Punjabi food at all. Definitely do, but not enough I think. So, when Foodbuzz put out a call for it’s 24-24-24 event, I thought perhaps the time had come to give it it’s due and lay out a spread of true, honest-to-goodness Punjabi comfort food.

Other cultures have had their fair share of exposure to the Punjabi’s – some of the richer dishes, the clothes and so on. What hasn’t been covered, (I think) in international media, is the simple warmth and fun that is the centrestay of any Punjabi gathering. Of course, the food is an important part of this and so is the drink… alcohol is definitely loved by most Punjabis. The most common menu you would come across is the ubiquitous Butter Chicken, Tandoori Roti, Dal Makhani washed down with copious doses of scotch and soda.

When my proposal was approved, I had two things at the top of my list – first find the most red-blooded bunch of Punjabi’s amongst my friends and second, put together the most cliched Punjabi menu possible. Yes, I do call it cliched, but then aren’t those food the ones you identify with the most?

The guest list was quickly filled by Sameer & Navnita; Manish & Priyanka and their sons Moulick and Rishabh; Ashok, Swagata and their daugher Eisha; Rajesh; Nitesh & Dimple with Tisha and Karan and finally Dev and Khushnuma.

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The menu was a little tougher  and there was no way I could have cooked all of these on D-Day, considering the amount of preparation involved. Also, the good thing with spicy food, is that it actually improves over a day or so. Our shopping began on the 29th of December and what a spree that was. We marinated the Paneer Tikka, butter chicken and cooked the Dal Makhani, Cholley and Matar Paneer, Mutton Curry and prepared the potato pats for the Aloo Tikki. These were cling wrapped and cryogenically brought to a state of suspended deliciousness, ready to be brought to steaming life in 48 hours.

Aloo Tikki, “Potato Patties” [cooked at home]

These are a mixture of boiled, mashed potatoes, chopped coriander leaves, chopped deseeded green chillies, chopped onions and salt. We served the ‘cocktail’ version, in that they were smaller than the traditional variety. The mixture above is shaped into small, round patties and deep fried. They can also be shallow fried if required. They’re typically eaten with a topping of bhujia (deep fried, spiced flour sprinkles), green chutney (whizzed green chillies, mint leaves, coriander leaves, salt) and beaten yogurt. We stuffed ours with bhujia.

Paneer Tikka, “Grilled Cottage Cheese” [cooked at home]
Cubes of fresh cottage cheese are marinated in a mixture of hung yogurt, ginger, garlic, a little color, garam masala (a ground mixture of different spices), salt, chilli powder and lemon juice and kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves). These are later grilled on a griddle, on metal tapers or in an oven/grill along with sliced tomatoes and bell peppers and served hot with green chutney (coriander, mint, green chilli peppers and salt – a little yogurt is also added to the chutney at times.)

Seekh Kebabs
Essentially a mixture of ground meat, lentils and spices, wrapped around a metal skewer and roasted over coals, seekh kebabs require a fair amount of skill to make. A coarsely ground mixture of cooked dried split peas, turmeric powder, lamb, garlic, scallions, fresh coriander leaves, fresh ginger, salt, toasted cumin seeds, ground black pepper and red chilli powder is used. The split peas provide the binding required to keep the meat together on the skewers. After keeping the mixture aside for at least an hour, it is wrapped around metal skewers and roasted over coals, then served with onions and lemon wedges.

Malai Chicken Tikka (Creamy Roasted Boneless Chicken) [cooked at home]
This is a very tender, melt in the mouth chicken dish, that is usually eaten as a snack. Very popular in North India, it is especially loved by Punjabis. A mixture of yogurt, heavy cream, ginger paste, garlic paste, salt and fresh cilantro leaves are used to marinate cubed, boneless chicken. If you like your food a little spicy, add a little paste of deseeded green chilli peppers to the marinade. After marinating for at least 2 – 3 hours, the chicken can either be cooked in a pan, roastd in an over, or cooked over coals – which is the traditional method.

Sarson Ka Saag (Mustard Greens) [cooked at home]

Punjabis swear by this dish and since the fresh greens required for this dish are only available during the winter months, every household ensure this dish is cooked at least a few times every season. Basically a mixture of winter greens, Sarson ka saag is a mixture of washed, cleaned, blanched and pureed mustard and spinach greens along with bathua leaves (Fat Hen, Lambs Quarters – Goosefoot family), used in a ratio of 4:1:1. This is then cooked with hing (asafoetida),ginger, green chilli paste, salt and clarified butter (ghee). It is traditionally served with Makki Ki Roti (corn flour).

Dal Makhani (Butter Lentils) [cooked at home]
A typical Punjabi delicacy, dal makhani is a good source of proteins and fiber. A mixture of lentils and beans (usually Rajma (kidney beans) and Urad Sabat) is soaked overnight and then gently simmered on low heat for a very long time. Flavored with ginger, garlic, garam masala, onions, tomato puree, mango powder, dried pomogranate (anar dana), haldi and kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), Dal Makhani has a very distinctive flavor that cannot ever be mistaken. While it can be eaten with anything in the way of breads, tandoori roti is a popular choice along with the main dish itself, which is usually garnished with heavy cream. Interestingly, Dal Makhani, which has ‘butter’ in the name, doesn’t use any butter while cooking, only as a garnish, which too is optional.

Matar Paneer (Peas and Cottage Cheese in a Spicy Onion-Tomato Gravy) [cooked at home]
This dish is prepared by first making an onion and tomato based gravy, flavored with ginger, garlic, red chilli powder and ground turmeric. The peas and cottage cheese are then gently simmered in the prepared gravy. Finely chopped coriander leaves are used for the garnish.

Cholley (White Chick Peas in a Spicy Gravy) [cooked at home]
The Chick peas are soaked overnight to tenderise them and then cooked for either 2.5 hours in an open vessel or for 45 minutes in a pressure cooker. It is flavored with powdered coriander, toasted cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon, dried mango powder, powdered dried pomogranate seeds and aniseed among other spices. After cooking, it is tempered with juliennes of ginger in clarified butter (pure ghee), covered with onion rings and typically eaten with pooris (deep fried, unleavened flour bread) or bhatura (deep fried, leavened refined flour bread).

Mutton Curry with Potatoes [cooked at home]

The beginning of this curry is a fried, spicy mixture of browned onions, ginger-garlic paste, and a paste made with MDH Meat Masala, Salt, Kashmiri Chilli Powder, Turmeric powder and water. Plenty of chopped tomatoes follow. This mixture simmers for at least 30 minutes, or till the oil floats to the top of the spice mixture. The meat follows and after being stirred well, is cooked for about 2 or until the meat is tender. This is then garnished with chopped fresh coriander leaves, juliennes of ginger and eaten with Tandoori roti or Ulte Tave ki Roti.

Butter Chicken [cooked at home]
For this dish, the chicken is first marinated for 48 hours in a mixture of hung yogurt, garam masala, ginger, garlic, kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), orange food color, salt and lemon juice. After marination, the chicken is roasted in an oven. A tomato and cream based gravy is then prepared, using surprise surprise, tomatos and cream, flavored with powdered fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi). The roasted chicken is then simmered in the tomato gravy, garnished with a dollop of heavy cream and served with tandoori rotis.

Breads, Pickles, Salad, Yogurt, Drinks, Dessert

We tried to put in as many breads as practically possible. All were unleavened and griddle baked. The variations were in the number of layers (lachha parantha), no layers (roti), puffed up nature (phulka) and finally Makki Ki Roti (rotis made from whole grain corn). These are particularly difficult to make and they don’t hold their shape and need to be first laid out on a cling film and then transferred to the griddle. For the pickles, we choose the ‘Mothers’ brand, which we like in particular, though there are other brands as well. Pickles are made at home too, though it is a dying art. We had two mixed pickles, one mango and one green chilli pickle. The salads were a simple mixture of horse radish, onions, tomatoes and carrots. We also served Dahi Bhallas, where ‘Dahi’ refers to yogurt and ‘bhalla’ refers to fried gram flour dumplings, that are soaked in the curd. Dimple was kind enough to bring these. These are usually garnished with colorful, ground spices prior to serving, like chilli and ground dry coriander powder. Besides other conventional drinks, we served Jal Jeera, which is a very traditional, spicy, refreshing drink, the recipe for which includes mint, coriander, salt, aamchur and a bunch of other spices. Fortunately for us, it’s available in powder form too, though nothing beats the freshly prepared drink. Dessert comprised Gulab Jamun, which is a golden fried ball made from milk solids and stuffed with saffron and nuts, soaked in sugar syrup and served hot. This was served with Gajar ka Halva.

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By Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is a wellness coach who works with different aspects of lifestyle change towards the accomplishment of goals such as weight loss and blood sugar management among other health situations that require the presence of specialised, precise diets and lifestyle change. His methods address aspects of food, nutrition and the mind.