Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Places to Eat in Bali


Bangladeshis - if you thought we had lots of rice fields, just wait till you see Bali

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Before you read further, please consider donating to the Red Cross Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami Appeal. The Red Cross is supporting rehabilitation efforts from the tsunami that struck the country in December 2018.


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I spent a large part of my childhood in Asia, living between Bangladesh, Hong Kong, Thailand and even briefly the Philippines. This time was perfect for seeing much of the continent, but somehow I never made it to Indonesia till late last year. For someone who spends his life meticulously planning every meal, it was a somewhat impromptu trip - aided by the fact that Bangladeshis no longer need visa to visit the country as a tourist. I think this is a relatively recent rule change, and I took full advantage of it while booking last minute flights and hotels. 

I had around 9 days in the country, courtesy of a break in between jobs and a relocation from Scotland to England. My friends and I kept the itinerary simple, visiting 3 different parts of Bali - Ubud, Sidemen and Nusa Dua. Bali felt like the perfect holiday destination for me, as the it had a whole range of things to do within driving distance: from mountains and jungles to beaches and watersports. But I digress - this is a food blog rather than a travel blog! And hence the below is a very short food guide, focussing mostly on Ubud and with a single entry in Sidemen. I will unashamedly admit to confining us to a luxury resort while in Nusa Dua. Unusually for me, I've also listed a couple of places I wouldn't necessarily recommend going - more as a cautionary tale as they're quite well known. 

The food in general around Bali was quite good, and you can't go far wrong if you're amenable to south and southeast Asian flavours. I found myself making regional comparisons a lot - the fried rice was served a little differently to Thailand, with many small portions of food surrounding a central mound of carbohydrates. More interestingly, so many of the curries reminded me of Bangladeshi dishes, with slight accents of lemongrass or peanut. But as ever on holiday posts, I can claim no expertise on the food - and the below is simply a list of places I recommend going (or not!). 


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Roast Stuffing "Innovations"

Lamb & Apricot Kofta



Our Christmas spread last year: roast, veg, gravy,
biriyani, mac & cheese among others.
Hasty, blurry photos were taken,
but you can still see I burned some of the kofta! 


Since moving to the UK, I've made it my mission to consume as many Christmas-style meals as possible during the month of December. I love cooking roasts and its accompaniments because I don't usually get to, and of course I love any kind of meal that brings people together. Last year I spent the holidays with friends, and we made a joint meal where I volunteered to do the roast and stuffing. The roast was a very simple affair - think normal Bangladeshi spicing on a chicken, marinaded overnight before going into the oven. The stuffing, however, was a little different - because basically it was this. 

I think stuffing is traditionally made from breadcrumbs pimped up with herbs, spices and (usually) pork sausage. Most of us at the meal last year didn't eat pork, so I initially considered replacing it with another fatty minced meat. This line of thought eventually led me to kofta - and finally I decided I'd just make lamb kofta with some breadcrumbs and pass it off as stuffing. I added the apricots as I've been served stuffing with apricot before in British households, and I really enjoy the lamb and apricot combo. Once I'd decided on the apricot, I thought why not also use up the jar of Moroccan spices languishing in my cupboard, hence the ras el hanout. If you don't have ras el hanout at home just swap for powdered cumin and coriander seed.

These koftas can be deep-fried or roasted in the oven - do whatever suits your routine.  Roasting makes them a bit drier, unless you do of course stuff them inside a roasting bird. I've given pan-frying instructions below to keep things simple. The breadcrumbs in the recipe below are definitely optional. As you'd expect, they give the koftas a heavier, drier feel. Without them, expect something meatier and bouncier. If you look at my recipe for beef kabab, you'll notice a lot similarities in both method and ingredients. Both dishes have the same roots, but the bread and beef creates a pate-like texture with bite, while the fatty lamb gives you a more squidgy, elastic end-result.   

The recipe below makes enough koftas to serve 4. Don't feel obligated to stuff them into a roast. 

Ingredients:
  • 500.00 g of lamb mince
  • 1.00 large onion
  • 1.00 tablespoon of garlic paste
  • 1.00 tablespoon of ginger paste
  • 75.00 g dried apricot
  • 2.00 tablespoons of supermarket ras el hanout (alternatively, use 1.00 tablespoon each of powdered cumin and coriander seed)
  • Fresh parsley, a small handful
  • Fresh coriander, a large handful
  • Fresh mint, a small handful
  • Breadcrumbs (optional), a small handful 

Method:
  • Grate the onion by hand or in a food processor
  • Thoroughly mix all of the ingredients together, making sure that the herbs and spices are distributed evenly within the meat
  • Form small sausage-like kofta shapes of the mixture, each about 4.00cm in length. Make sure they aren't too fat, or it will be difficult to get the middle to cook
  • Put a frying pan on medium heat. Pour in enough oil so that the liquid is deep enough to submerge about half a kofta
  • Once the oil is hot, add the koftas to the pan, being careful not to overcrowd the vessel. Unless the frying pan is massive, expect to cook the koftas in batches
  • Fry the koftas on medium heat for about 3-4 minutes, then flip them over and fry for another 3-4 minutes on the other side
  • When done, the koftas should be evenly browned. This can take practice - I've often cooked them too long and burned them black 
  • Also important - resist flipping them before 3-4 minutes have passed, as the meat won't have cooked and sealed, and the kofta could fall apart from the movement
  • Serve the koftas hot with flat breads like naan or pitta 

Additional Info
For easy variations, play around with the herbs and spices. And of course, omit the apricots if you don't like the sound of them! To cook these in the oven, pre-heat a fan oven to 200C, place on the middle shelf and cook for 25-30 minutes. 


Sunday, September 2, 2018

Family Food Fights

মুরগির কলিজা 

Curried Chicken Liver



Chicken liver and potato swimming in deliciously spicy jhol :) 


Organs and innards aren't everyone's cup of tea. While heart, lungs and offal are part of everyday Bangladeshi cooking, I know many people who pass on these options. Which is their loss, as far as I'm concerned. I was introduced to animal innards early in life, and I am a big proponent of cooking and consuming them. After all, as people who eat meat, we should make efficient use of the animals we (indirectly) kill. I eat everything from cow's intestines to chicken's feet and goat's lung, and in fact, intestines are a particular favourite in my family! 

The most common organs at my table, however, come from the humble chicken. While I was growing up, everything from the head and brain, to the heart, gizzard and other parts I have no English translations for, would be cooked into our everyday chicken dishes. And that would set off the fighting between siblings and cousins, as we tried to decide who would get to eat what. The head seemed to be most people's prime target, though for me, the prize was always the liver. And with no one else interested, I grew up stuffing my face with the liver from every chicken cooked at home. For me, chicken liver with its soft, fluffy texture is like an amazingly meaty, savoury cake. And I love it just as much as I love cake.  

Calamity struck when we moved abroad though, where supermarket chickens were sold without livers. The next few years of my life were spent devoid of chicken liver, except during the visits back home, or after the odd trip to particular butchers. However, it seems more and more supermarkets in Britain (where I currently live) stock liver as a standalone product. This has meant a return to cooking liver curry for me. The spicing I favour is similar to most other Bangladeshi curries, though the amounts of each spice is toned down in comparison. Chicken liver cooks easily, and doesn't need the super-charged treatment that cow or goat liver might warrant. The recipe below is for 400.00 g - the standard weight sold near me. This technically serves two generously as a main dish, but as liver is rather rich I'd recommend it as a side dish shared amongst a few more. 


Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Cooking on the Trail

সবজি ডাল  
Daal with Vegetables



Spiced daal with vegetables


I spent a weekend in Glen Affric earlier this summer, staying at an off-the-grid hostel while attempting to climb some local munros. The hostel itself was quite unique - 13 kilometres from the nearest road and powered solely by a wind turbine and solar panels. This is enough for lights and some heating, but not much else. Cooking is done on gas stoves - supplied by cylinders that are transported in using off-road vehicles. The remote location also makes it difficult to carry supplies onto site regularly, and guests are encouraged to bring food for their own trips. I was travelling with a group of friends, and we all pitched in to carry enough for 3 days. But this was 3 days without access to refrigeration, and we had to make sure everything we brought was non-perishable. 


Did I mention Glen Affric was beautiful?! 


I was in charge of dinner on day 2, and I had to think of ingredients that would cope well without a fridge. Hence I opted for daal with vegetables - but spiced up a little to make it work as a main event. I was a little worried about feeding a group of hungry hikers something like this, especially as at my family table daal would never be more than a side dish. So I decided this iteration needed to be richer, and I immediately knew I'd be using meat spices as a base. I've also always loved tart daals with jolpai and green mango - so I replicated that tartness here with tinned tomato. For the veg, I opted for carrots and courgettes because they were tough enough to survive the journey in our backpacks. The result was a spicy, tangy and thick daal: something I know I'll be cooking for years to come. The recipe below serves 6 generously. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Vegan Bangladeshi

নিরামিষ

Mixed Vegetables



Mixed vegetables with panch phoron


Don't worry about the title, I've not gone vegan. I'm just finally confident enough about my veggie cooking skills to share this recipe. I'm not sure quite why it took me so long to get here, but vegetables don't come to me as naturally as meat. I find it more difficult to get the flavours right, and the cooking times correct. However, I am trying to eat more of them, while at the same time cutting down on meat for health and environmental reasons. Right now I'm helping this process along with a bright and interesting recipe for mixed vegetables with panch phoron, a staple of most Bangladeshi kitchens. Aside from simple turmeric-and-chilli stir fries and hearty mashes, this is how I'd expect vegetables to be eaten in a Bangladeshi household. In our family, vegetables cooked this way could be served for breakfast, lunch or even dinner - though hopefully never all on the same day!

Panch phoron is a five-spice mix consisting of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, black mustard and nigella seeds. If you're not in Bangladesh, don't fret. The mix is commonly stocked in many Asian corner stores and supermarkets around the world. Of course, you can always make up your own mixture, using each component in equal amounts. My most vivid memories of panch phoron are from its use in pickle-making, along with cooking vegetables like this. In my mind, panch phoron is to cooking what colour-blocking is to the fashion world. In most dishes I make, the spices come together and create a unique new flavour - like a colour-coordinated school uniform. It's not so with panch phoron, where instead it feels like the different flavours all compliment and bounce off each other. If you're not Bangladeshi, this spice mix may feel like an acquired taste. 

The recipe below is quite long, but only because I've broken it down into simple, easy-to-follow steps. I would advise not using store-bought garlic and ginger pastes here. The short cooking time won't rid them of their vinegar-y smell. You wouldn't normally encounter chickpeas in this dish, but the eateries near my late nani's all make their shingara fillings this way. Inspired by them, I've included chickpea in my recipe too. It adds some protein, and helps me turn this into a one-dish dinner for weeknights.

Finally, a few notes on the cooking times. These will vary depending on the vegetables used. Fresh, younger plants will cook faster than the older and tougher. Equally, there will be differing opinions on what constitutes "cooked". Some people prefer everything in this dish to go soft and mushy, while others prefer their vegetables to retain a slight crunch. In our family, we opt for the crunchier version of this dish, unless we're serving it for breakfast. For breakfast, we cook this for longer than stipulated below, and with more water. The end result would be soft dollops of vegetable and a tiny bit of broth - ideal for scooping up with ruti! Do experiment with timings and combinations that suit your own preferences. The recipe below serves 4 as part of a larger Bangladeshi meal.