Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A foggy morning, Cup of Chai and Festival season roundup


The winter season is creeping in fast in this part of the country. Today when I woke up and looked out of the window I saw nothing, I mean just a white blur of nothingness. I rubbed my eyes assuming I was still dreaming. But yet I see the same. All the quaint pastel colored red roofed buildings, the perfectly manicured green lawns, the bright orange cosmos blossoms,  the neatly tarred path through our housing society even the huge open amphitheater that was there till last night till we went to bed had simply vanished. Poof! It took some time to register that a thick wall of mist was staring back at me which was so dense that the visibility was reduced to a few feet merely. I was pretty surprised realizing it since just two days back we had heavy rains in outskirts of Pune and till yesterday morning we didn’t have any trace of morning mist let alone this thick wall of blob. I went back to  my regular chores of cooking still thinking about the mist. Almost half an hour later I heard hubby call out my name from the bedroom and asking is this mist or something else. I saw him looking out of the window starry eyed - same effect as I had after waking up. We went out to the balcony to take snaps. My D90 was struggling to focus as it sensed the object in front too near due to the flowing mist. It was pretty chilly outside and felt like we were in Darjeeling where it’s very common to be kissed by the clouds and mist in the morning. A charming start to the day indeed!

A cup of Tea & the Foggy Morning

On such a cold morning whats more rewarding experience than a mug of freshly made warm, comforting and mildly sweet chai. So delicate and beautiful – the color of the tea looks like liquid amber. Tea is such an inevitable part of almost every India's life. There are people who can't start their day until they get their due cup of tea. My mom is a avid Tea drinker. From time I remember I have seen her drink tea at least thrice a day religiously - the calming one in the morning when no one woke up, a hurried one during the breakfast and one in the evening lazying around with a good book. As a kid I always dipped biscuit in her evening tea, which really irritate her because it became cold due to my constant biscuit stirring. So when I grew up a bit she used to give me a separate cup of tea in the evening. I was never fond of tea as a kid so that cup of tea was only to soak the pile of biscuits I would sit down with. Even now I am not a big fan of Tea but have a cup of raw tea during morning with a couple of cookies. Its a light snack that I have while cooking. We only have dinner at home and return very late from office so I prepare the dinner gravy in the morning itself.

For me tea always meant to be tea leaves brewed in milk and sugar. But chai with milk in it many a times resulted in heartburn. I am a bit intolerant to lactose as well. So this was one more reason I avoided tea. But strangely with coffee I didn't have this heartburn issue only felt too full. Post marriage I started to drink raw tea and like it too. It's a habit I picked up after seeing in my in-laws home. The raw tea never gave me any issues. Tea leaves brewed in hot water and a spoon of sugar and sometimes for a change I squeeze in a wedge of lemon to vary the taste.

When I was in Atlanta I saw Starbucks introducing Chai Latte / Chai Tea which became an instant hit among the people. Americans liked the taste which was very much like masala chai. Chai Tea is such a misnomer as Chai itself means Tea in Hindi, So when you translate Chai Tea it means "Tea Tea". But then that's how its marketed in US and no one really cares whether its Tea Tea or simply Tea. Much is talked about Masala Chai. Even when you search net you will only find recipes of Masala chai only. However I am repulsed by it totally. The strong smell of cinnamon, cardamom, clove and other spices totally overwhelms the original flavor of Tea. Maybe when the flavor of tea leaves is not that exceptional all these spices are required to make it richer. But in India any good quality expensive tea whether Darjeeling, Assam or simply CTC tea have such rich and flavorful texture and taste that its a sin to mess up with the original flavor  with all those spices. Maybe a bit of Ginger is fine as its very good when taken during a cold but that's that. Creamy milk, sugar and a tea spoon of the best quality tea leaves - the magic it weaves is only felt if you taste it. Water has also a major role to play in enhancing the inner flavors of a tea leaf. I remember when we had gone to Darjeeling, mom and all my relatives became very fond of the Darjeeling tea that the maid used to make everyday. So when they returned to the plains they got many packets of the same brand of Darjeeling tea. The exact same method was used to prepare the tea and yet there was a lot to be desired in the taste. Even after trying for several times with milk or no milk when the taste could not be recreated my grandpa concluded it might be the mountain water that resulted in the brilliant taste.

Here are the two simple ways I prepare my tea.

Raw Tea :-

Preparation Time: 5 minutes 
Serves : 2

Ingredients :

  • Tea Leaf - 2 tsp
  • Sugar - 1 tsp
  • Water - 2 1/2  cup


  In a Saucepan take the water and add sugar. Let the water boil, add the tea leaves. Let it simmer for 1 minute. Switch off heat and cover lid. Let it stand for couple of minutes. Strain and serve. If you let it stand for more time the color will darken and tea will become a bit strong. So depending upon the standing time the taste shall vary.

For ginger tea coarsely grind 2" ginger and let it boil along with water.
Raw Tea

Milk Tea :-

Preparation Time: 5 minutes 

Serves : 2
Ingredients :

  • Tea Leaf - 2 tsp
  • Sugar - 1 tsp
  • Milk - 1 1/2 cup
  • Water - 1  cup


 In a Saucepan take the milk, water and sugar. Let it boil, add the tea leaves. Let it simmer for 1 minute. Switch off heat and cover lid. Let it stand for couple of minutes. Strain and serve.

CTC tea leaves can be added right at the beginning and the whole  thing can be brought to boil and then served.

For more creamy tea use 2 1/2 cup full cream milk.
Milk Tea
Today is the last day of the extended holidays for Diwali - the end of all festivities for this year. Now again looking forward to the festival time in the coming year. A pictorial roundup of Durga Puja and Diwali this year.

Diwali Lights in our Patio

The Temple at home & Diwali Rangoli
Durga Puja @ Kali Bari Khadki
Durga Puja @ Matre Bridge

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Rajasthani Fiery Red Chicken Curry & a trip to Veer Dam (Satara)

July - September is the most beautiful time of the year in Maharashtra as it's monsoon season. The emerald greenery all around almost hurts the eye, its so beautiful. This year the monsoon have extended beyond September. So even around the Durga Puja we had rains. Even when we don't have rains the sky is overcast at times with mild breeze. It's on one such day that the idea of visiting the Veer Dam has loosely been discussed. Usually many such plans hatch during the weekday while we ride to the office and by the time its weekend the ideas fade into oblivion as by then hubby reasons weekends are more for lazying around than driving for hours. So this time also I didn't take the plan very seriously. But on a Friday night hubby declared to set the alarm early as next day we were going on a ride to Veer Dam.

 So next day we woke up early but got late getting ready. We left home around 8:15 AM.  With hubby's faithful Hero Glamour we got ready to face the morning air and the unknown that lay ahead. From Dhayari to Veer Dam it's 62 KM. From Pune we took the Satara road. About 40 kms from Pune take Pandharpur road on the left for Shirval village. This road goes along the veer dam.

The roads were pretty empty and we breezed through the ghat-like roads, small dark green rocky hills adored both sides of the road. The morning air was very cool and refreshing. Unfortunately I had not taken my helmet and the air was lashing against my face making my eyes teary. I was trying hard to look ahead instead of the strong gusty wind because I didn't want to skip any part of the landscape. 15 minutes into the road we stopped at a roadside restaurant to have breakfast. I had medu vada-chutney which was very crisp and yummy. I always found eating by the highway restaurants or dhabas very intriguing. The panoramic view of the highway, the vehicles zooming past, old movie songs playing in the small TV at the restaurant, the clanging of the utensils as the servers placed the food before the guests - everything makes you feel like you are in a time warp where everything is moving at a fervent pace except you. I enjoy that "you" moment a lot.

We started off after having breakfast. The scenery started to change slowly, green hills gave way to big blue mountains faraway.

The route from Dhayari to Veer Dam
As the city limits slowly faded away we were greeted by miles of golden orange carpet of Cosmos lazily placed over the rolling green terrain interspersed with sudden burst of bold fuchsia bougainvillea , shy white creepers and violet unknown flowers. Post monsoon many parts of Maharashtra  witnesses a heavy bloom of Cosmos, especially away from the city limits on the highways or some distant places which are not having much human habitation. I had never the faintest idea that Cosmos blossoms can look so pretty in a bunch. The Pune Satara road looked as beautiful as our drive to Panshet a few weeks before due to the presence of these Cosmos. Mostly orange at times we saw yellow smaller ones as well. The orange and yellow marigolds also gave a tough competition to the Cosmos throughout the entire stretch but then at the end the Cosmos won hands down due to their petite frame and the cascading effect that was created by ripples of wind along the mountains.

We took a left from the main highway at one point to go towards the Veer dam. As we proceeded the landscape became dotted with farm lands and farmers working in the fields. We  saw some small hut type houses which were probably some village. Soon we crossed the Nira river and from then on our left side the backwaters of Veer Dam started accompanying us. We could see the water through the thick foliage and the villages, but the distance from the road was much. As we drove further the condition of the road deteriorated and at one point of time there was no road but pebbles and dirt. Hubby said that the government had tried to construct good roads here but due to the local political influence on the villagers dispute happened and they never let the government complete the roads. We even saw unfinished bridges and worn out “men at work” signs all along the road indicating the truth of the fact. As we moved on the distance between the road and the backwaters decreased and slowly we were riding very next to it. The water was very calm and peaceful. The aquamarine waters had dark and light alternate ribbons of color due to the difference in depths at places.

Marine trees were seen in the water. We saw many birds on way – some of them very very beautiful and not the ones which are usually seen in city. Veer dam is known for migratory birds visiting it during the winters. A large number of birds are seen in this region every year and many bird watchers are present to witness them.

Such a beautiful place and yet it seemed unexplored and virgin. Maybe that’s one reason why the water of the dam was so clean. A couple of cars stopped for a quick snap but no one stayed for long. We moved further on till the gates of the dam. Few Eucalyptus trees were there along the bank, the minty pine scent with a touch of honey lingered in the air. A couple of village women sat under them washing clothes. We parked the bike outside the gate and walked inside. The lake looked very serene and deep. Veer is one of the largest dams of Maharastra. The slope of the dam was rocky and had tiny violet blossoms all over. We did not walk ahead but spent some quite time by the entry and took snaps. The sun was getting hotter and we decided to backtrack.
There are a couple of hotels by the side of the Veer dam, one of them Sai International was operational. As we were very thirsty from all the driving in the sun we decided to unwind for some time at the hotel. The property is strategically located overlooking the backwaters. It has a nice lawn with wrought iron tables. It has both lodging and fooding. The bar area is separate. We sat at the family restaurant and ordered some mixed bhajiyas and vanilla milkshake. The restaurant was clean enough though we were the only two people there. The bar had more people. The milkshakes arrived first in tall glasses and was one of the best vanilla milkshake I have ever tasted – creamy , frothy and delicately sweetened not more or less. The bhajiyas also arrived and we were left speechless by the sheer mountain sized quantity of it. Somehow we managed to finish half plate.

Well fed and happy we left the hotel and began our journey back. We stopped for an occasional picture or two. The return ride was more pleasant as by that time the sky had become overcast which brought down the temperature a bit. Also the flowers looked brighter against the green backdrop in the shade. The Pune Satara highway has a very large tunnel. This was the first time I was crossing a tunnel on a bike. The air rush with all the light and shadow play on the walls made me feel like we were in some Harry Potter video game navigating a dungeon on a broomstick :D.

We were home by 2.30 PM. We were tired but happy. After a year almost we did a long ride.

During the ride me and hubby discussed a lot about the Maharashtrian cuisine and spicy Kolhapuri chicken was also discussed.  The bold and super spicy dish from Kolhapur is well known for its heat content. If it's not spicy its not authentic Kolhapuri chicken. The next day being a Sunday was our usual day for Chicken. Since so much had been discussed about spicy chicken curry I decided to make something on similar lines. But hubby is totally intolerant to spicy dishes, so it had to be something with the rich flavours of regional chicken but at the same time be low on the heat. I had heard one of my colleagues at office who is from Rajasthan, talk about a particular dish famous in Rajasthan - Laal Maas or Fiery Red Mutton curry. The colour itself is something to talk about - mutton pieces cooked in a rich deep red coloured spicy sauce. What Kolhapuri Chicken is to Maharashtra , Laal Maas is to Rajasthan. I didn't have mutton in the pantry so it had to be tweaked to accommodate chicken in the same recipe.

I looked up on the net and found many recipes of Laal Maas. Among them one of my favorite blogger  Soma of eCurry's Rajasthani red chicken curry looked very delicious. She had a lot of garlic seasoning in her recipe but I tweaked the ingredient list according to my taste - I am not very fond of strong garlic smell in my Indian chicken curry. So I reduced the quantity of garlic and other masalas to keep the curry light on the stomach while keeping the color intact. I was a bit doubtful about the color that Soma had produced in her dish but finally I also managed the same hue. The recipe turned out soooo very good that hubby complimented me saying it was just like "Biyebarir Mangsho" or Mutton prepared during wedding dinners.

Marination Time: 4 hours or overnight

Preparation Time: 20 minutes 

Cooking Time: 30 minutes


Cuisine: Rajasthani

Ingredients :

  • Chicken - 500 gm
  • Lemon Juice- 1/2 lemon
  • Red Chilli Powder
  • Yoghurt - 3 tbsp
  • Salt
  • Dried Red Chilli (Deseeded)- 10-12
  •  Ginger Root - 3 inch
  • Garlic Clove - 4
  • Onion - 1/2 of a medium onion
  • Cumin Powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Corriander Powder - 1/4 tsp
  • Potato - 1 big
  • Onion - 1 1/2 (Sliced in thin half moons) 
  • Bay Leaves - 2
  • Cloves - 4
  • Cardamom - 3
  • Cinnamon - 3 inch
  • Tomato - 1 medium
  • Turmeric - 1/2 tsp
  • Garam Masala Powder - 3/4 tsp
  • Yoghurt - 1/2 cup
  • Refined Oil
  • Salt as per taste
  • Sugar as per taste

1. Clean the chicken and add all the ingredients mentioned under marinade, mix well. Let it sit overnight for better taste.
2. De-seed he Red chillies. Soak them in warm water for 10 minutes. Use good quality and more number of red chillies to get a better colour.
3. In a blender add the soaked red chillis and everything mentioned under paste and grind to a fine paste.
4. Dice the Potoes and fry them till brown edges are formed
5. Heat oil in a wok. When the oil is smoking add the onions, salt and sugar. Toss around till the onion becomes light brown in color. The sugar will caramelize and color the onion.
6. Add the Cinnamon, Cardamom, Clove and Bay leaf into the wok. Saute for a couple of minutes.

7. Add the Tomato and cook till they become slightly mushy.
8. Add the chicken and keep the marinade aside. Toss the chicken till it is coated well with the mixture in the wok. Fry till the chicken is lightly browned in the edges.

9. Now add the rest of the marinade and saute for 3 minutes.

10. Add the paste mentioned in step three. Saute till oil separates. Then add water according to the gravy desired. At least add 2 1/2 cups of water as we are going to pressure cook it, so enough water should be present to ensure the chicken doesn't get burnt.

11. Add the fried potatoes, garam masala powder and whisked yoghurt. Fold in everything and cook for 1 minute.

12. Transfer the content of the wok into a pressure cooker and cook it for one whistle
When you open the lid you will see red oil floating on the chicken and the gravy has also attained a red hue. 
Note: I am still perfecting this recipe until I reach the desired deep red hue.I have kept the spice level of the recipe very mild as neither me or hubby prefers overtly spicy dishes. And still I got the color near perfect and tasted pretty royal.

Serve it on a bed of steamed rice or with any Indian Rotis.

Today is Diwali so wish all my reader a very happy, joyous and safe Diwali. Celebrate the Festival of Lights with Light and avoid noisy crackers. Spare a thought for the animals also who get scared by the noise. Let's pledge for a greener Diwali this year.

This was one fire cracker of a recipe for this Diwali. Prepare the dish for your near and dear ones and Enjoy!

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