Meen Kuzhambu

Meen Kuzhambu is TamilNadu’s pride. It is something we can safely call ours, originally conceived and prepared (and being prepared) in TamilNadu. No fusion-confusion here. I am recent convert. I wasn’t a Meen Kuzhambu fan earlier. In fact I am not a huge fan of Kuzhambu in general. But I have slowly started to appreciate the nuances of a well-made Meen Kuzhambu – soft, flaky perfectly cooked fish drenched in a wonderful medley of hot, tangy and spicy kuzhambu.  Meen Kuzhambu tastes best with hot steamed rice and hot pan fried fish fillets. It also goes splendidly well with Idli or Dosai. Making a good Meen kuzhambu they say is an art, not everybody can do it. I’d like to disagree. A good Meen Kuzhambu is a piece of art but I think if you can master the 3 important components of making the Meen Kuzhambu, you can make some beautiful art too. The first, most important component of it is the cleaning part. If you’ve cleaned the fish well, you’re kuzhambu will not smell fishy. Make sure to scale the fish thoroughly by scrubbing the fishes, skin side down on a coarse stone. Once scrubbed properly (you should see whitish scaly stuff run out), the skin side should be a wee bit coarse and not as slippery and smooth as before being scaled. Rinse well in 2 or 3 changes of water. The second component is extracting the tamarind juices. Now, this seems too trivial but it isn’t. The proof of the kuzhambu is in the puli (tamarind). Soaking the tamarind in water for about half an hour makes it easier to extract the juices. Once you’ve extracted the first juices, add water in small increments (half a cup at a time) squeeze and extract the juices and strain. Repeat till you have the strained tamarind juice which is roughly the same amount as the amount of Kuzhambu you’ll finally end up with. By adding small increments of water, you extract better without diluting too much. The third component is about getting the consistency right. Meen Kuzhambu is not a very thick kuzhambu, but it shouldn’t be too runny either. Usually when the kuzhambu boils, it is time to drop in the fishes. At this stage do the back of a ladle/karandi test to check if the kuzhambu lightly coats the back of the ladle/karandi. If it doesn’t, then...

Potato Masala/Potato Thokku – Traditional side dish

This potato thokku is a hot, spicy, pucca tamil (south-indian) masala curry that goes splendidly well with rice and sambar or rice and rasam. It is a thokku, meaning it is that wonderful glossy, concentrated, flavour bursting semi-gravy state that tastes so good with rice. This potato masala is terrific for a traditional banana leaf saapadu. But this is an easy dish to prepare, needs no great technique or expertise. You could add in green peas along with the potatoes to make a potato-peas masala. Did I tell you about my family’s sambar and potato thokku formula? I must have. It is our staple menu for special days, festivals and many other ordinary days in between. Like Senthil-Goundamani and Viswanathan-Ramamurthi, Sambar and potato thokku are inseparable. Sambar means potato thokku, potato thokku means Sambar, anything else and it would be a God-mistake (Deiva-kutham). Prep time: 10 minsCooking time: 25 mins:Serves: 4 Ingredients Potatoes – 1/4 kilo boiled and cubedOnion – 1 large chopped fineTomato – 1 large chopped fineGinger – 1 inch piece peeledGarlic – 6 cloves with peelGreen chillies – 1-2Red chilli powder – 1 tbspTurmeric powder – 1/4 tspCurry leaves – 1 stemCoriander leaves – a handful chopped for garnishingMustard seeds – 1/2 tspOil – 2 tbsp + 1 tspSalt to taste Method 1.      Boil potatoes in a pressure cooker till tender yet firm. Let cool, peel and cube them. Set aside. 2.      Grind ginger, un-peeled garlic and green chillies with a little water to a nearly smooth paste. Set aside. 3.      In a kadai/skillet heat 2tbsp oil. When hot, add mustard seeds and when they crackle add curry leaves. Throw in the chopped onions and sauté till translucent. Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes. 4.      Add the ground ginger-garlic-green chilli paste and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the turmeric powder and red chilli powder and mix well. 5.      Add one cup water and mix well. Add salt, taste and adjust seasoning. When the water comes to a boil, tip in the cubed potatoes. Cover and cook for 5-7 minutes till the potato and masala are well mixed and the potato masala has reduced to a thokku (thick gravy) consistency. 6.      Uncover and drizzle a tsp of oil along the edges of the kadai/skillet. Mix well and cook uncovered for 5-6 minutes till the oil separates and the potatoes have coloured. Garnish with chopped coriander...

Paneer Peas masala – Spicy side dish with Pooris or Rotis

Whenever we go to restaurants, there are certain dishes that we order almost involuntarily. Top one has to be biryani (my husband’s all-time favourite), second top would be paneer butter masala. He’d go through the entire menu, front to back, back to front and then order biryani. These are dishes that no matter how many times we’ve had, we order again. The paneer peas masala dish that I am posting today is not a restaurant style paneer peas masala. It tastes even better and is definitely restaurant grade. It is a smooth, zesty curry infused with freshly ground masala and is an excellent side with roti, poori or pulav. I have to thank my dear friend Priya and her mother, who so generously wrote down multiple copies of this recipe for me and my recipe crazy friends. Priya’s tiffen box is hugely popular at work especially for this trademark gravy. I served this Paneer peas masala with Pooris. You could easily substitute the peas and paneer with boiled potatoes or par-boiled cauliflower. This is a versatile gravy base that you can improvise and apply to your needs. Preparation time: 10 minsCooking time: 40 minsServes: 4 Ingredients Paneer – 250 gm cut into cubesPeas – 1-1/2 cupsCinnamon – 1 inch stick Kalpaasi (Seaweed) – ¼ tspCloves – 2 Chilli sauce – 1 tspSoy sauce – 1 tspTomato sauce – 1 tspChilli powder – 1 tbspTurmeric powder – ½ tspGaram Masala – ½ tspButter – 1 tbspSalt to tasteOil – 2 tbsp Masala Onion – 1 large, roughly chopped Tomatoes – 2 large, roughly choppedCashewnuts – 7Fennel seeds/Sombu – 1 tspCinnamon – 1 inch stickCloves – 2Cardamom – 2Ginger – 1 inch piece peeled and choppedGarlic – 6-7 podsGreen chilli – 1 chopped Method 1.      Grind together all the ingredients called for under “Masala” and set aside. 2.      Heat oil in a kadai/skillet and when hot, add cinnamon, cloves and kalpaasi and stir around for half a minute. Tip in the ground masala, and cook on high for 10 mins.   3.      Add chilli powder, turmeric powder, and salt and mix well. Cover and cook on high initially and then on low till the oil separates. This takes around 20-30 minutes. Use a non-stick skillet to quicken the process. 4.      Add chilli sauce, tomato sauce and soy sauce and mix well. Drop in the paneer and peas. Cover and cook till the peas...

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