Rule Britannia – The iconic Irani Cafe

Britania irani cafe, Mumbai
Britania irani cafe, Mumbai (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Old time Mumbaikars who used to go to work in Ballard Estate will remember with great fondness Britannia Cafe, the now iconic Irani restaurant famous for its Berry Pullao. So famous is this restaurant that today my family that is coming all the way from Pune has requested me to order from Cafe Britannia. So naturally I had to oblige .

Britannia Cafe is situated in the still leafy entrance to one of the broad lanes off Ballard Estate. It is dusty and almost dilapidated because, as last heard, the owners are threatening to shut it down. And if the shabby appearance is not a deterrent enough, the high rates are equally inhibiting but all that notwithstanding, diehard Parsi food lovers will still make the annual trek to this restaurant and you will always find lines chairs of people waiting to get a seat in – to savour the ambiance of a bye gone era, to experience the authentic taste of Parsi food and get a sip of the almost instinct pink raspberry drink that the owner serves only to Parsis ( I’m kidding but that’s what grandpa threatened the last time I visited the place) .

So after going through Just Dial, I found out the telephone number and placed my order with Diana (one of the family) who efficiently took my order for Chicken Berry Pulao and mutton salli boti our family favourites. The Berry pullao is actually a chicken rice dish made distinctive by the tiny red berries got specially from Iran. The Salli Boti is a sweetish gravy made with apricots, onion and tomato, spiced with ginger, garlic, and special spices in which is cooked either mutton or chicken and now according to Diana,  king sized prawn! This gorgeous thick gravy is garnished with fine potato crisps that give the dish an interesting crunch.

 

Britannia & Company Restaurant

 

Kerala Fried Chicken

“Why don’t you drop in for lunch ? ” V suggested one day, “Our food is really simple and you can easily go back to work.” This was in the good old days when I actually worked outside the house and worried about meeting friends outside the office. One day I did manage a quick lunch at V’s house and was amazed to find that it was exactly the same menu day in and day out. Breakfast consisted of toast, butter, jam and cheese with one half boiled egg, and a pot of tea. Lunch was clear bone soup with bread and butter, boiled peas, carrots and beans, with a little bit of mashed potato, a chicken cutlet with some gravy and a dessert of jelly and custard. And, she told me this never ever varied – unless they were entertaining people over a meal in which case they asked the cook to make Indian food or some spaghetti and caramel custard. Of course, if the guests were really important then they catered out and asked for an appropriately exotic menu.

I was shocked when I heard this story. There are so many different kinds of food out there in the world – so many different fruit, vegetable and meat which can be cooked in a zillion ways. Why would one torture oneself with the same food day in and day out? I suppose these are the people who only eat to live. I, unfortunately live to eat and look forward to each meal with the anticipation of an explorer.

Today I was fed up of the usual onion tomato chicken curry that I often rustle up and scoured the net for something different. I was pleasantly surprised to find this easy Kerala Fried Chicken . The original recipe asks you to marinade the chicken for a long time, preferably over night but I did not have this luxury as it was meant for lunch. So I took:

  • 2 chicken legs, skinned and cut into two
  • 1 tspn coriander powder
  • 1/2 tspn zeera powder
  • 1/2 lemon juice + 1 tspn vinegar
  • 1/2 tspn ground pepper
  • 1 tspn garam masala powder.

I made this into a paste and rubbed it onto the chicken pieces that I had slashed so that the spices could penetrate.

I left this to marinade for around half an hour.

In the meanwhile I heated 2 tbspns of oil to which I added 1/2 cup finely sliced onions with two green chillies. I browned them and then added a stalk of curry leaves .

After an hour, I put the chicken into a pressure cooker and allowed it to cook for two whistles. After the pressure dropped, I put the chicken into the browned onion mix and continued frying till all the water was used up and the chicken acquired a nice glossy look.

I took it off the heat and served it with hot chapati.

Unfortunately the chicken got over before I could take a photo for this blog!

  • 1/4 tspn red chilli powder
  • 1 tspn garlic ginger paste

Never Fail Simply Mutton Biryani

Biryani , a delicious rice and meat dish has arab origins but in my home it was one of our staple Sunday lunches. Coming from a houseful of foodies, my mother tried many variations of this dish so I’ve had every kind of biryani there is to be had – the original Arab recipe which we got from Uncle Aziz , an Arab gentleman whom we never saw but whose Biryani we ate for many an Eid, the Hyderabadi Biryani, Mrs. Balbir Singh’s Biryani, the Delhi Durbar Biryani, our own cook Banoo’s biryani.  Sometimes it was made with chicken, sometimes with meat; sometimes the biryani was made with raw meat, other times it was made with cooked. But every time it was simply delicious!

However, as I began cooking, I found that my Biryanis were hit and miss- sometimes the meat remained raw or sometimes the rice remained raw or sometimes it was just one big soggy mess. Of course the biryani was perfect when I was making it only for home – it was the moment that a guest was at my table that the biryani became a mess.

There had to be a better way of making this I thought and came upon this method purely by chance.

To make the Biryani you will need

  • 500g boneless mutton or 1 kg meat with bones
  • 1/2 cup curd
  • 1 tbspn garlic ginger paste
  • 1/4 tspn turmeric
  • 1/2 tspn red chilli powder
  • 1 tspn garam masala
  • 2-3 pepper corns
  • 2-3 green cardamoms
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 2-3 strands of saffron
  • salt to taste

Wash the mutton and pat dry and add the above ingredients and allow to marinade for at least half an hour

  • 3 medium onions finely sliced and fried
  • 5-6 almonds blanched and fried
  • 2 tomatoes cut lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped coriander
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 2-3 potatoes skinned, quartered and fried
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups rice
  • 1/2 cup of milk

Method :

1. Wash the rice well and keep aside for 10 minutes

2. Boil water in a pot to which you add 1 bay leaf, 2 pepper corns and 2 cloves and some salt. When the water comes to the boil add the washed rice and allow to cook till half done. Drain off the water and divide the rice into two, colouring one half with either some orange food colouring or with saffron water.

3. Add some fried onion and oil to the marinating mutton and mix well and keep aside.

4. In a deep aluminium/steel or glass pot put some oil and add the raw mutton pieces. Sprinkle some of the chopped coriander and mint on top. Layer with bits of potato and tomato, some fried almonds. Add a layer of rice, half white and half orange.

5. Add another layer of fried onions, potato and tomato , fried almonds and top again with a layer of rice.

6. Add the remaining coriander and mint, fried onion  and make six deep holes on the top. Pour oil into the these holes.

7. Sprinkle the milk and cover with a double layer of aluminium foil.

8. Put the sealed pot in an oven set at 180 degrees C

9. Allow to cook for at least 45 minutes to an hour.

Leave the pot in the oven till it is time to serve. The biryani will remain hot and the best way of making Biryani is that IT WILL NEVER BURN.

You could also use this method to make chicken biryani .

This is quite honestly a never fail recipe of the yummiest biryani ever.

This easily feeds 6 people and I always serve it with Dahi Raita and fried papad.

Easy Peasy Sindhi Tomato Curry

I often think I must have been a Sindhi in my last life because I simply love their food and feel most at home while eating it. But I feel equally at home eating Chinese food, Italian food, English food, French food, Punjabi food …….hey I can’t be remembering food memories from so many lifetimes so I think I’d better accept the fact that I simply LOVE FOOD.

Well, there are lots of people like me in this world (you included , dear reader or you won’t be reading this!) and I love trying out new recipes from old ingredients. By this I don’t mean re-cycling food but trying out new dishes from ingredients that have been around for centuries like drumstick and brinjal and cluster beans and yam and pumpkin etc etc. These vegetables are seen often enough in the market but I’ve always given them the go-by till one day I saw  Sindhi Curry Mix on the Big.Basket web site.

Now being a busy grandmother leaves me with very little time to actually do my weekly     vegetable shopping and grocery shopping with the horrendous traffic and even more torturous wait in the check out lines has me running to my computer in the middle of the night and all else is still to check out my supplies online. Local Banya, GreenCart and Big Basket are so far my most used sites though I am toying with the idea of going to Reliance and Nature’s Basket.

I know I’m digressing but the point being that something made me click on this photo especially when Pampa my cook at the time suggested making Sindhi Tomato Curry  as an alternative to our usual mixed vegetable curries.

Pampa has long since deserted me but the taste for this yummy curry hasn’t. So I had to scour the net for various recipes of this dish that is particularly great to have on a rainy Sunday afternoon. I finally amalgamated a few recipes and came up with this. To start with I collected all my vegetables together and kept on hand the following ingredients:

IMG_1618

 

For the tempering

  • 1 tbspn oil
  • 1/4 tspn methi seeds
  • 1/4 tspn mustard seeds
  • 1/4 tspn cumin seed
  • 1/2 tspn turmeric powder
  • pinch of asoefetida
  • 2-3 curry leaves
  • 1/2 inch piece of ginger finely chopped

For the curry

  • 3 tomatoes
  • 2 heaped tspns chick pea flour
  • 1 green chilli
  • salt to taste

1 packet of Sindhi curry mix failing which you can use

  • 1 drumstick
  • 1-2 baby brinjals
  • 1/2 cup cluster beans
  • 1/2 cup okra
  • 1/2 cup yam
  • 1/2 cup red pumpkin

 

Here’s what I did :

1. I coarsely chopped the tomato and put them with a little bit of water to cook in the pressure cooker for 2 whistles. I let this cool before pureeing it in the blender to a fine paste.

2. In the meanwhile, I washed the vegetables and lightly peeled the drumstick taking off the coarse outer layer. If you don’t use the ready Sindhi Curry mix, make sure the vegetables are cut into large bite sized chunks.

3. In a deep steel pot, I heated the oil and added the spices for the tempering.

4. I lowered the heat and added the drumstick and yam and stir fried before adding the chick pea flour.

5. Just before the flour began to burn I added some water so that the flour becomes a thick paste. To this I added the tomato puree and allowed the mixture to come to a boil.

6. I then added the rest of the vegetables, lowered the heat, covered the pot and allowed the vegetables to cook .

So this is how I made my Sindhi Mixed Vegetable Curry. I know traditionalists will balk at this easy recipe but I assure you that the taste is authentic.

IMG_1619

End Note :

Most of the recipes for this dish will have more oil and will advise the addition of tamarind pulp but since we like to use less oil and avoid the extra sour foods, I often give this a skip like today when the tomatoes were already sour. But if the tomatoes are ripe and sweet, you’d do well to introduce the sourness with tamarind pulp.


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How to make 12 lemons into a yummy pickle

 

My father always told me that every person thinks his mother is the greatest cook on earth because that is the first taste he’s been exposed to. Luckily for him, my own mother and his wife turned out to be as good a cook as his mother so he continued to have great food all his life, the way it tasted since he first tasted it! So spoilt was he for choice that he used to turn his nose up at pickles and chutneys, denouncing them as the crutch of the rotten cook. Having thus condemned pickles and chutneys so vehemently, my mother assiduously avoided making them leave alone keeping them on her table so I’ve grown up pickleless as a child.

However, when I got married, I found that my husband and his mother’s table not only had a pickle but an entire range of pickles and chutneys served for every meal in a tray with assorted bottles and spoons – a pickle for every taste and every mood. And the only time I ever enjoyed a pickle was when I was pregnant (my early pregnancy detection test actually) and it is only now that I eat the occasional pickle.

 

IMG_0724
My lemons finding their place in the sun!

 

Lemon Pickle is by far the easiest pickle to make and one that is particularly yummy when you are nursing a cold and indifferently eating soft khichdi or when you want to spice up some curd rice on a hot, summer day. This lemon pickle also goes well with sweet shira .

So when I found the market flooded with lemons ( they are freshest and cheapest this time of year) I immediately decided to make some lemon pickle.

Ingredients:

  • 12 lemons cut into 4 wedges
  • 1/2 cup of red chilli powder
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tspn turmeric powder
  • 1 tspn fenugreek (methi) seeds
  • 1 tspn asoefetida powder ( Hing)
  • 2 tspns oil

Method:

  1. Wash and dry the lemons and cut into quarters
  2. In a saucepan heat up the oil and add the fenugreek seeds and saute. Lower the heat and add the asoefetida powder and then the turmeric powder . Allow to cool and grind into a paste.
  3. In the meanwhile add the salt and redchilli powder to the lemons and mix them up well in a glass jar. Add the tempered turmeric, fenugreek and asoefetida paste and give it a good shake. Keep the bottle in the sun for around ten days till the lemons turn squishy and pickled!

Store in an airtight jar and enjoy on a rainy day!