Taro the terrible escapes again

Taro chaat

Taro chaat

…with some excellent results. I have before made note of taro root‘s scruffy appearance and its delectable nature. In this appetizer from my Sindhi childhood, taro shines with a few well-chosen accompaniments. This dish can go as a side with any Indian meal, or have it in the evening during a chaat and tea session.

Taro chaat


  • 2 or so medium-sized taro tubers
  • 4 tablespoons tamarind chutney
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced cilantro leaves
  • Quarter teaspoon salt
  • Quarter teaspoon red chili powder
  • Half a teaspoon cumin seeds


Rinse the taro and microwave it for about 5 minutes. Now it will be softened inside. When it cools, peel it to reveal the creamy white flesh. Cube it into quarter-inch wide cubes and save in a bowl.

Put in the cilantro and onion. And one is supposed to ‘layer the salt’ so go ahead, add enough salt for this amount of ingredients and stir. This will be about a quarter of a teaspoon but use your judgment.


Now put in the prepared tamarind chutney. Now. A slight digression about tamarind chutney is forthcoming.

You can make tamarind chutney the easy or hard way. The hard way uses the dried pods of tamarind, either peeled and made into a block, or the pods themselves. Either way this method requires a lot of soaking and squeezing with your fingers to get the pulp out. So I tend to use a shortcut method — tamarind paste is the one thing I do buy prepared from the store. I use tamarind paste, and this is a good recipe for tamarind chutney using the paste. If you want, you can add a couple dried dates, chopped fine.

Roast the cumin seeds in a hot, dry pan for a minute or two, till they turn a shade darker, and grind to a rough powder in a clean coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle.

Top the tamarind with the red chili powder, and the cumin powder, stir well, and you are done.

This makes enough for one person as a largish side, but is easily multiplied. Oh — and if you don’t possess tamarind or have a special hatred for it, you could substitute with a similar amount of lime juice.


The doofus

Somebody stop me I feel a thesis coming on. It is about this vegetable:



This is not the kind of vegetable that one expects paens to be written about. It is found anywhere that vegetables are sold in India; and being India, that could be a basket at a railway platform or a sheet laid out on the sidewalk:

vegetable market

vegetable market selling kaddoo and other things

A vendor sorts vegetables next to a railway track as a train passes by, in Dhaka on September 10, 2012. (Andrew Biraj/Reuters)

A vendor sorts vegetables next to a railway track as a train passes by, in Dhaka on September 10, 2012. (Andrew Biraj/Reuters)

Sidewalk vegetable seller from suvisworld.wordpress.com/

Sidewalk vegetable seller from suvisworld.wordpress.com

It is known to me and other Sindhis as ‘kaddoo’. It is so devoid of glamour that if you call someone a ‘kaddoo’ you may as well call them a doofus. But don’t underestimate it, because the kaddoo has mystique. For one thing, it is one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Humans have been eating it for ten thousand years. Recently some stands of wild kaddoo were discovered in Zimbabwe, which is probably where it originated. News of the cultivated kaddoo seems to have spread like wildfire, from Africa to Asia to the Americas; the kaddoo discovered America before Columbus.

Check out its pretty flower:

Kaddoo flower

Kaddoo flower

Like other plants from the Cucurbitacae family (squashes, melons and gourds), it is a vine and climbs by means of tendrils. Kaddoo flesh is pale, watery and very mild. Some would say boring. It cooks down to become squishy and somewhat gelatinous. The skin is thin and pale green, but one does have to peel it before cooking. The seeds of the young fruit are quite edible.



So where is the mystique? I knew that kaddoo is also known as lauki, bottle gourd, opo or dhoodhi, but I didn’t know that it also goes by the romantic name of Calabash. In India we mostly eat this as a young vegetable, when its peel and seeds are rather soft. But apparently when it ages, the peel hardens, the flesh dries up, leaving a sort of bottle behind; In this form, it is called a calabash. It has been used by old cultures as a vessel, or even as a musical instrument. Apparently the fact that the size of these gourds roughly matches the size of the human head gives it its resonant qualities.

Sitar parts

Sitar parts


Musical instruments, hmm…what kind? Some tribal folksy thing no doubt, that street performers play and bystanders throw change at? Sure…but also, think Ravi Shankar and the sitar. The calabash is used for the shell of the deeply buzzy and resonant sitar…the main resonating chamber of which is called…wait for it…the kaddoo.


Kaddoo koftas in gravy.

kaddoo koftas

kaddoo koftas


  • One large kaddoo, peeled, quartered and seeded
  • Quarter cup besan
  • Half a teaspoon coriander powder
  • Some sprinkles red chili powder
  • One teaspoon aamchur
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons oil
  • One recipe of browned onion tomato gravy


Grate the kaddoo quarters. Salt it with about a teaspoon of salt and mix it with your fingers. Leave the grated kaddoo aside for about half an hour; during this time the salt will draw out most of the moisture.

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Now you can do the rather tedious task of squeezing out the water from fistfuls of kaddoo my means of your hands. Save the water, it has some kaddoo-ness and we will use it later.
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Meanwhile start off the process of making the browned onion tomato gravy. When it calls for water (at the end) use the kaddoo water, would you please? Lets not waste it.

The volume of the grated kaddoo will have much reduced, and it will be dry. Put in the besan and the dry spices. You do not need more salt. Mix it with your oiled fingers; it should now be amenable to form patties. Form about 6 patties and leave them side by side on a plate.

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Panfrying them is next. Heat a non-stick pan with oil about an eighth of an inch deep. When nice and hot, put in the patties with liberal gaps around, and sort of flatten them. Let them cook for 5 – 7 minutes or until they brown at the bottom; flip them, some more oil perhaps, and cook for another 5 minutes.

The patties are ready, all that is needed is to slip them into a nicely simmering pot of the browned onion gravy.

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And you are done. This dish goes very well with rotis/chapatis.

Browned onion-tomato gravy — let’s get this over with

Browned onion tomato gravy

Browned onion tomato gravy

Sindhi food has a ton of recipes that start with first making a browned onion-tomato gravy, then putting in whatever edible goodies you find in the fridge that day.

Browned onion gravy can make anything taste good. Those left over hard-boiled eggs from a week ago? Throw them in. The unidentifiable pulpy vegetable with the brown spots? Cut out the brown spots, throw it in, heat it through, and gloat. Lentils, beans of all descriptions, chicken, dumplings that are fried, dumplings that are boiled, in they go. Call them meatballs or call them koftas, throw them in. You could make a giant batch of the gravy, freeze it in meal-sized portions, thaw and add stuff to it — there you go, your main meal for dinner.

In fact this gravy is such a magician that it is a bit of a cop-out for an aspiring master chef, and makes me reluctant to use it too often. Think about it — if you are a doctor, how respected would you be if your advice for every ailment is — ‘take two aspirin and call me in the morning’? It might work but it is too easy. But this is still an indispensable skill to have in your Indian cooking repertoire, so let us take our two aspirin and learn to do this right.

Browned Onion-tomato gravy

Start with reading this recipe — how to caramelize onions. That is going to be our first step. This recipe makes enough for a base for the main meal for 2 – 4 people.


  • One medium-large onion, chopped fine, or sliced thin.
  • One large or two small tomatoes, roughly chopped.
  • 3 – 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Half inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 1 – 4 serrano chilies to your heat tolerance, sliced
  • Half a teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • Half a teaspoon coriander powder
  • Quarter teaspoon turmeric
  • Half a teaspoon salt
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons oil


Heat oil in a wide thick-bottomed pan. When it shimmers put in the cumin seed; when that sizzles, the onion and caramelize it.

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At this point add the ginger, garlic, chili, and let them cook on medium heat for a couple minutes. Now put in the tomato. Sprinkle some salt over. The thing about the tomato is that is has to liquefy, then mostly dry up. First, the combination of the heat and the salt will make it release its liquid. Then, cook some more on that wide-open pan of yours, and the liquid will evaporate. The remains of the tomato will combine with the caramelized onion to create a rough paste.

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Browned onion tomato gravy

Browned onion tomato gravy

At this point the dry powders can go in. Give them a stir, and then put in some water; the amount depends on what you are trying to use the gravy for, anywhere from half a cup to a cup.

Bring the water to a boil, and let it simmer for about 5 – 7 minutes.

The gravy is basically done. But you can take it into multiple directions from here:

  • run it through a blender to get a smoother sauce
  • add some cream or milk to make it creamy
  • or add a cashew puree to make it creamy that way
  • add garam masala, extra chili in the form of red chili powder, cumin powder, or other spice mixture of your choice
  • or use it as is.

Introducing the Eggnach

Eggnach with roti

Eggnach with roti

My People — the Sindhis — have made a lot of contributions to world culture, but I must say this ranks as an important one. Sindhis discovered that spinach and eggplant, when cooked together, meld well, marry well, and make a tasty nutritious brew.

Not only is this technique explored in the very famous Sai Bhaji, but in this rather less well-known dish as well. It goes well with rotis, but would go on the side of rice very well too, if you have some plain yogurt on the side. A very nice accompaniment would be yellow rice — cooked with some garlic, salt and turmeric powder (recipe forthcoming).

I found this recipe in this book and as usual made some modifications.

The Eggnach — eggplant and spinach dish


  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 regular-sized eggplant
  • 1 medium tomato or 2 small ones
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • half and inch piece ginger
  • 2 serrano chilies or several smaller birds-eye chilies
  • half a teaspoon coriander powder
  • half a teaspoon cumin seeds
  • half a teaspoon red chili powder
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon ghee (optional)


Rinse and chop the vegetables.

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Chop the garlic, ginger and chili. Give them a pounding in a mortar and pestle after sprinkling a bit of salt on it to add a bit of roughage and to draw out moisture.

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A note about salt: it draws out moisture! This is an incredibly useful fact that helps out in various ways. In this case, I pound it with a bit of salt, so that the paste self-makes itself, without adding even a splash of water.

Salt also pre-cooks food as it draws out the moisture, at least that is how I think of it. If you mince garlic, and salt it, in 10 minutes you will see that it has turned mushy and wet, and by the way, the taste of the garlic will not be as aggressive as when it is raw.

So anyway, getting back to our job. Pound those guys to get them to paste up. You don’t need to go the extra mile, just a simple smashing will do.

Heat oil in a thick-bottomed pot. When it shimmers, throw in the cumin, red chili powder and coriander powder. Now enters the garlic/ginger/chili paste. Let it sizzle. Now in tumble all the vegetables, chopped. Salt them, stir them around, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes on medium first, then, when it comes to a boil, on medium-low.

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Everything you have in there is quite mashable by this point. So attack it with a potato masher or simply the back of your spoon.


Eggnach mashed

If you like, top it with a teaspoon of ghee, and possibly a sprinkle of lemon juice, and you are done.


Taro the terrible

Kachaalu took

Kachaalu took

Today more Sindhi food — a snack, this time, called kachaalu took.

Here is taro. It is a root or tuber, grown underground in the tropics all over the world. Also known as arbi, colocasia, kachaalu, dasheen.

Taro root

Taro root

This is one scruffy guy, as you can see. You are more likely to find it in a vegetable police lineup than in the vegetable swimsuit catalog. But I’m always happy to find it on my plate.

If you read the Wikipedia article I linked to, you might notice one thing — the countries where taro is eaten are all third world countries. This is telling. I don’t know what it is telling me, but perhaps that taro is not glamorous?

In reality this is a pretty healthy vegetable. Its leaves are large and heart-shaped, and can be eaten simply as greens or rolled around a filling. The tuber can be fried, boiled, mashed, sauted, roasted, baked, sauced, or microwaved (as we will see below) in endless variations. But whether you eat the leaves or the tuber, it must be cooked before eating, because it is somewhat toxic when raw.

The recipe below is eaten as snack either with dinner or before. Traditionally this recipe uses the double-fry method, but to make it somewhat healthier, I use the microwave and get quite comparable results. I also shallow, not deep, fry.

Kachaalu took


  • A few tubers of taro
  • some salt
  • some oil
  • red chili powder
  • dry mango powder, substitute with lime/lemon juice


Rinse the tubers to get the lose dirt and hair off. Set them in a plate and microwave for about 5-6 minutes or until softened. Wait for them to cool until you can handle them, then pull the peel off. Now slice the tubers into quarter inch thick slices.

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Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. When it shimmers it is time to lay the slices down. Sprinkle with salt as they are cooking. Also press down on each slice with a spatula to a) get it to be in full contact with the hot oil, and b) flatten out a bit to be in even more contact.

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Pretty soon a delicious aroma of browning will arise, most reminiscent of bacon cooking. When you detect browning on the underside (this will take about 3 minutes on high-ish heat) flip each slice over

Sprinkle this side with salt as well. Flatten each slice with a spatula once again. In three more minutes, they will be browned on both sides.

Remove the slices to a plate and sprinkle with red chili powder and dry mango powder (aamchur). The latter adds a very necessary tang to the dish, so if you don’t have it, use lemon or lime juice instead.

I challenge any greasy-spoon diner to compete with this in sheer sinfulness!

Kachaalu took

Kachaalu took

Cauliflou, cauliflower, cauliflowest

I adore cauliflower. I know, that is not a statement one is likely to hear often. But I do. That strong sulphuric smell when I steam and then roast cauliflower is enough to send me into a tizzy. I grew up on rice steamed with cauliflower for lunch every week day, and I tell you, you haven’t smelled white rice cooking until you’ve smelled it cooking with cauliflower.

All right, all you unsympathetic ears. I made this dish for a housemate once, and he said he had never, before then, actually enjoyed cauliflower. Plus there are the incredible cancer-fighting, DNA-repairing traits of cauliflower that it shares with its cruciferous brethren like broccoli, cabbage, kale, and so on.  So here is a simple way that can be included in any Indian meal, with chapatis or naan, with rice and dal; or with any Western meal that has strong flavors as the vegetable side. Or — what the heck — put it in a burrito.

Presenting Gobi Masala done in a Sindhi way.


Half a head of cauliflower, rinsed and chopped into thin florets, none wider than half an inch

Half a teaspoon whole cumin seed

Few sprinkles of asafetida

Half a teaspoon red chili powder

Half a teaspoon turmeric powder

One teaspoon coriander powder

One inch piece of ginger minced

One-two serrano chilies, sliced

One medium tomato, choopped

Salt to taste

Chopped cilantro to garnish


Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a thick-bottomed pan on medium-high. When it shimmers, put in the asafetida, the cumin seeds, and the red chili powder.

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Gobi masala : spices

They will sizzle presently. In go the ginger and serrano chili. They will start to look blistered.

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Gobi masala: ginger and chili looking sizzling

Now it is time for the cauliflower to go in. Stir to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with salt. Stir occasionally, while leaving the pan uncovered, on medium-high.

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Gobi masala: cauliflower coated with oil and spices

Fifteen minutes later, some of the florets will show some translucence on the stems, and some browning on the buds.

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Gobi masala: some browning on florets

Now, put in the coriander, turmeric, and tomatoes, some extra salt to taste, and stir to coat the florets once again.

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Gobi masala: tomatoes added

Cover, lower the temperature to medium, and let it cook for another ten minutes. At the end, garnish with cilantro.

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Gobi masala: complete with garnish

The lowly loli: an ancient Sindhi breakfast

During my mother’s childhood in Sindh, her breakfast every single morning was loli. It was the cornflakes of her day.

What is a loli? It is a whole wheat flat bread (roti) with spices, basically — but here is the interesting thing — it belongs more to the pie crust family than the bread family. The reason I say that is that it employs a twist in its mixing. Instead of adding water first and then fat, the fat is added in first; combined thoroughly with the flour to make sort of breadcrumb-sized balls, then just enough water is put in, just enough to combine. No kneading necessary, just a coming together.

No kneading — hence, not bread, in short. Gluten is not developed.

If you think of the way pie crust is made, it shares its basic method with the loli. Fat is cut into the dry flour, thereby creating pellets of floury fat, then water is added just enough to make it combine into a ball. Then it is rolled out, and the result is a rough, uneven circle, that cracks in various places, but holds together enough to lift carefully from place to place. This method results in a flaky pastry that does not exhibit the stretchy integrity of bread or roti, where the gluten does a lot of the work.

Lolis are similarly flaky, except of course they are spicy, not sweet. So let’s get started. This amount makes enough breakfast for two.

Step 1: Dry mixture

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Spices for loli: onion, chili, cilantro

Chop finely a third of a medium red or yellow onion; two serrano chilies; a third of a cup of cilantro. Add to this 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I use King  Arthur’s premium whole wheat) and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir with your fingers, taking care to break up the onion bits into its layers.

Step 2: Fat

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Loli flour with spices and oil rubbed in

In the old days, one added ghee; I have to admit I use pure olive oil or other cooking oil now. Add about two tablespoons oil to the flour and stir nicely with your fingers, until you get a breadcrumb texture.

Step 3: Water

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Loli dough, combined

Add two tablespoons of hot water (why hot? I don’t know. I do as I’m told). Combine it gently with the flour, not to knead (see above) but just to bring it into a ball.

Step 4: Roll

Take about a tennis ball sized amount: there should be about two tennis balls in the dough that you made. Flatten with your fingers into a circle, either by patting, or by rolling out. The circle will be about a quarter to an eighth inch thick and crack in various places, but try to hold it together. Make diagonal lines on it with a knife to get it to cook on the inside.

Step 5: Cook

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Cooking loli – first flip

Heat a griddle or tawa on medium high heat. When hot, slap the loli on. Wait one minute, then flip.

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Cooking loli – second flip

Wait another minute, and flip again. Wait another minute, spread some ghee and oil on the surface, and flip again.

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Cooking loli — third flip

Wait another minute or thirty seconds, spread another few drops of ghee or oil on the surface, and flip one last time. Thirty seconds or a minute more and you are done.

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My rough and rustic loli

Have it with some nice hot sweet tea.
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Sweet and sour pigeon peas — tuar dal

Here is one reason to relish your pigeon peas — it is the first legume to have its genome completely sequenced! Now isn’t that appetizing! Here is the other reason — they are delicious.

Pigeon peas are known as tuar dal or toor dal in India, where they are used from south to north, from east to west. When mature, the full lentil looks like a dried beige pea. But the way they are used normally is after having the outer husk removed, and split into halves, so they look like little yellow half-spheres. This, by they way, is how most dals (lentils) are commonly eaten — husk removed and split into halves.

In my family we had soupy tuar dal with rice at least once a week. Its deep musky flavor seems to take very well to some added sweetness and tang. Of course that means the holy pairing of jaggery and tamarind. I could go into a deep digression about each of those, but suffice it to say that you can use brown sugar instead of jaggery, and lemon instead of tamarind; let’s stay on our musky subject of the day, people — tuar dal. Eyes on the ball now.

Step 1: soak and boil.

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I started with 3/4 cup of the stuff. Work night dinner means I don’t have the luxury to allow it to soak for a couple hours; so I rinse, and soak in near-boiling water for just about fifteen minutes, and see the volume double. I learned this trick from Madhur Jaffrey and it has served me well.

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Now, time to boil it. Half a teaspoon of turmeric goes into a pressure cooker, the rinsed and drained tuar dal goes in next, and 3 cups of water. Cover the pressure cooker and let it come to a boil; turn it down and cook, pressurized, for twenty minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, a regular saucepan will do, but the time stretches to an hour and a half. Leave the lid open in this case, at first, because as it first comes to a boil, the lentils will spew like a volcano, and leave watery lava all over your burner.

Once this is done, add salt to taste, half a teaspoon of tamarind paste, and a small piece of jaggery. If you don’t have tamarind use lemon juice, and if you don’t have jaggery use a teaspoon of sugar. Leave the dal uncovered on a low simmer while you prepare the seasoning, stirring occasionally.

Step 2: Seasonings

For the fat in this dal, I used one tablespoon of ghee. There are a few dishes where I opt for ghee instead of oil because of the the lusciousness it gives the result. Butter is a substitute, but I have never tried it.

For the seasonings, I used asafetida, red chili powder, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds, in that order.

The seasoning of lentils, known in central India as vaghar, and in the north as tadka, takes some special sequencing. Use a small but thick-bottomed pan to heat the fat in. First, the asafetida can go in pretty quickly, as soon as the fat heats up a little. It will foam in seconds. Now put in half a teaspoon of red chili powder.

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Then, in a few seconds, a teaspoon of cumin seeds. They will also sizzle in seconds. Wait a few seconds and put in a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Now, wait.


Wait about 30 seconds. The seeds will first make sizzling sounds, then each little ball will pop and you will start to hear popping sounds.  At this point, put in one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds.

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A note on fenugreek seeds. If they saute long enough to turn dark brown, they will be hard and bitter. So to avoid that, they go in last and cook the least in the hot oil. Of course if they do turn bitter, some simmering in soupy stuff will resolve that problem, so no harm done; but we try to avoid them turning bitter at all.

Step 3: Aromatics

In a few seconds the fenugreek will sizzle as well; now put in and inch of ginger, minced thusly:

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…and 2 green chilies, stems removed, and sliced through (if you have curry leaves, use about 6 of them):

Wait till they sizzle, and the chilies show blisters, then empty the entire thing into the dal.

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Allow the dal to still simmer on for a few minutes for the flavors to meld.

Step 4: Garnish

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Garnish with a handful of chopped cilantro and stir. Have it mixed with rice and perhaps a fried or grilled vegetable on the side.

Sindhi party chicken

We hardly ever had chicken for dinner growing up in Bombay, but when guests were over for a dinner party, it was a must. While it doesn’t speak volumes for our creativity that  it was always the same recipe, it is certainly delicious. So here goes: the definitive Party Chicken.

This book about Sindhi cooking has something very similar in it under the heading of Seyal Chicken: The Essential Sindhi Cookbook.

Step 1: Purchase the chicken.

I usually buy thighs for this dish because they stand up better to stewing. Skinless; bone-in is better but you can go with boneless. Have the butcher cut each thigh in half. And do try to go to a meat store that sources from a farm that treats their animals with humanity. I went to Guerra Quality Meats in San Francisco, and they sell poultry from Mary’s Chickens from the Pittman family farm. Eight thighs should be good for 4 people.

Step 2: Aromatics:

Puree one large onion, 5 cloves of garlic, and an inch long piece of ginger together with a few tablespoons of water. There is no need to get a smooth puree, a fine mince is what one is looking for. If you’d rather chop by hand, be my guest.

Step 3: Oil and whole spices:

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Use a pressure cooker if you have one. Heat about 3 tablespoons of oil on medium-high heat and put in the whole spices: 2 black cardamoms, 6 whole cloves, one stick of Indian cinnamon. You can also choose to put in some of the following: bay leaf; green cardamom; allspice. These will all work but give you a slightly different character. In a minute, put in the onion mixture. It will be very wet at first, but will slowly dry and caramelize. If you are new to browning onions, please read this post before continuing. Sorry, brevity has never been one of my strengths. So be it.

Above, you can see how much I started out with, after browning the onions, I ended up with this:

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Step 4: In goes the chicken.

Put the chicken pieces in all at once, add some salt (more can come later), and 1 teaspoon turmeric. Stir to coat the chicken pieces with the spices and the oil mixture.

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Now. This is important. We are not trying to sear the chicken. We are trying to get it to sweat out most of the liquid. In Western cooking, the standard technique is to quickly subject the surface of the meat to high heat; which creates a sear, and seals in the moisture keeping the meat moist. Not so in Indian curries. My mom taught me that one wants all the ‘chickeny liquid’ to be gone — so the idea is to keep cooking, stirring, pushing the pieces around; they will first become opaque as the protein is denatured; then, they will start to sweat and shrink. A luscious gravy will start to form around the shrunken chicken pieces. Keep it going for at least 20 minutes on medium heat.

Above, you can see how big the thighs were to start with, below is what I ended up with. This is with no additions, just the cooking of chicken, uncovered, stirring, for 20 minutes.

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Isn’t the chicken going to be dry and leathery? No, because of the braising that is about to occur, which pulls moisture back in, but this time, it is Our liquid with Our spices, not the ‘chickeny liquid’.

Step 5: Liquid and stewing:

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One can use chopped tomatoes; one can use a mixture of water and some vinegar; but I used yogurt. Take about a cup and a half of yogurt and first whisk it to break the curds. Put that into the pressure cooker along with some whole green chilies, stems removed, and a cut through the middle; some red chili powder; half a tablespoon coriander powder; and, importantly, salt to taste. Stir to submerge the chicken pieces, like so:

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Cover and pressure cook for 15 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, cover tightly, bring to a boil, and simmer for about 45 minutes.

This is the braising process, during which the spiced liquid is both tenderizing and flavoring the meat. When you open the lid, you will see some of the oil separated, and the gravy is much darker:

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Step 6: De-fatting and garnishing.

De-fat the gravy by scooping some of the oil off, if you like; pull out the whole spices with tongs, if you like; sprinkle some garam masala on top; garnish with minced cilantro.

Seyal bread — the panzanella of Sindh

Bread usually goes stale before it starts to rot or mold. And therein lies a whole category of recipes.

When bread goes stale it becomes dry, leathery and unpalatable. Although it seems like the bread is losing water, apparently there is no net loss of water or intake of water from the outside air — it is just that some starch starts to crystallize, drawing water in from the surrounding bread substance. To some extent, this process can be reversed by warming the bread. This book — On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen — has a great explanation of the staling process.

Frugal housewives have always looked for ways to revive that unpalatable brick. Some methods take it all the way to dryness, like croutons and breadcrumbs. Others soak it in liquid. One famous example is panzanella, the Italian bread salad made out of stale bread chunks. Another from Sindh is seyal bread. This is a method of cooking bread with spicy liquid that is often eaten for breakfast.

To get started, cut your stale bread into chunks about and half an inch all around so you have an idea of how much substance you are trying to rescue. I love French bread in this recipe, or leftover rotis, but not enriched sliced breads that have some sugar in them — but that is a personal preference.

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For the amount of bread shown above,  I used:

half an onion, chopped but not too fine; 3 big cloves garlic, minced; one serrano chili, minced; and two medium tomatoes, chopped. For spices, about half a tablespoon of ground coriander, and half a teaspoon ground turmeric. Add some red chili powder to up the heat if you like. Some salt to taste. And for garnish, lots of fresh cilantro, chopped fine.

Heat about two tablespoons of oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Put in the onion, garlic and chili at once and stir. The idea is to not let the onions caramelize, because that sweetens them, and this recipe is all about the savory. In fact, that is a commonality in all seyal recipes (one can seyal fish, meat, etc.) — that the onion is cooked till translucent, but not browned.

This will happen quickly, in about 3 minutes on medium heat. Now put in the tomatoes. At first juicy, like this:

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they will start to dry out in the heat (crush them with the back of your spoon to get them to release their juices sooner).

When most of the liquid is gone, put in your dry spices, the coriander and the turmeric and stir.

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They just need to combine and roast a bit.

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Now goes in about a cup and a half of water, and the whole mixture is brought to a boil. Let it roil for a few minutes, until it goes from looking like this:

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To looking like this:

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At this point, the cubed bread can go in. The mixture should now be salted, because one has an idea of the size of the meal.

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Stir the bread into the liquid to get it to absorb, garnish it liberally with cilantro, and look like this:

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Have the oven ready at 300 F. Cover the pot, make sure the liquid is simmering, and stick it in the oven to cook for 15 minutes. The last step can also be done on the burner with low heat, and in addition a heat reducer between the burner and the pan. Either way, you end up with a steaming pile of this:

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Now, don’t be turned off by its rustic look. Rustic it is, and frugal, but it is delicious; and at least for me, brings back lazy Sunday morning breakfasts with hot tea along with seyal bread.