Friday, July 30, 2010

Mutton with Mushrooms

This week's recipe violates my maxim of not just reproducing recipes from standard cookbooks. There is a reason for this. This recipe appears in Madhur Jaffrey's first cookbook -- An invitation to Indian Cooking written in the late 70s for American readers, giving detailed instructions on how to cook Indian food as well as tips for substitution for Indian ingredients that weren't easily available in the US in those days. It was a god-send for us graduate students in the US, since most of us had only the vaguest notions of cooking. Moreover this book appears to be out of print, at least in India, which is a pity because it has/had some excellent recipes. I choose one which I have unleashed on perhaps every guest who has visited us, with phenomenal success. Moreover it is extremely simple and uses totally non-standard spices for a meat dish.

Mutton 500 gm
Mushroom packet 1 (about 150 gm)
One large onion
Jeera seeds (cumin) 1 tsp
Methi seeds (fenugreek) 1 tsp
Kalongi (onion seeds) 1 tsp
Saunf (fennel seeds) 1 tsp
Red pepper to taste
Oil 3-4 tbsp
Yogurt 1 large cup beaten smooth

1. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker or pressure pan. Add the whole spices, jeera, methi, saunf and kalonji. Wait till
they splutter, add the mutton and fry well till it is browned. (Ideally if you have the time, fry the mutton separately and add it to the spluttering spice mix). Add the red pepper powder, fry for a couple of minutes to take off the raw powdery taste. Add about a cup of water, and salt, cover with the lid and cook under pressure for about 15 minutes or whenever the mutton is almost cooked.

2. Let the cooker cool, in the meantime wash and chop the mushrooms. If they are small, dice them otherwise quarter. In this recipe you can be thrifty and chop the stems too.
Open the cooker lid, add the mushroom to the mutton, and let this mixture boil together (without pressure!) for a few minutes. The mushrooms will tend to give out a lot of water so you need to reduce this. Hence it is best not to have too much water in the mutton to start with.

3. Chop the onion in thin slices and fry in oil till translucent but not brown. Drain and set aside. Once the mushroom and mutton are cooked and excess water boiled off, let it cool and add the beaten yogurt slowly. This part needs to be done carefully otherwise the yogurt will split. Two simple tricks are to make sure the mutton is not too hot and secondly, to mix a bit of the gravy into the beaten yogurt so that both come to a similar temperature. After the yogurt has been added and mixed together, put this whole combo on a very slow simmer to reduce the gravy to a thick consistency. This is a gravy dish but it should not have a watery gravy.

4. Finally add the fried onions to the dish mix together and serve hot. It's best eaten with rice though I suppose you could eat it with chapati. It's an ideal dish for many Westerners as well as people who cannot handle spicy food.

Bengalis will have noticed that the recipe uses four out of the five spices of panch phoron which is usually a no-no for meat dishes. However this recipe uses it in a very innovative way.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Legendary Cheese Cake

I am not sure why this is legendary but the original author called it thus and in deference to him I have kept the name. I am inaugurating my Recipe site with this for a reason. In the years when the internet was in its infancy and there was no web, there was the usenet -- a worldwide internet discussion system for different topics, where like-minded people could, you guessed it, have a discussion. The usenet closed down recently and so in it's memory, here is a recipe from 1986, posted by a Rob Pike of the equally defunct Bell Labs. It works very well, but you need cream cheese which is not easily available in India (except in speciality stores at inflated prices), so as a somewhat imperfect substitute I suggest chakka -- hung curd drained of all water but not to the point of dryness.



2 cups Graham cracker crumbs (you can even use Marie biscuits)
6 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp white sugar (not if you are using Marie biscuits)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon


700 gm cream cheese
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp vanilla


1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Combine crust ingredients. Press crust on bottom and sides of buttered 10" springform pan and bake 5 minutes. Allow to cool.

2. Bring cheese to room temperature and beat till soft. Add sugar and blend. Add beaten eggs slowly. When well mixed, mix in very slowly (to prevent splitting) lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla. Pour into pre-baked crust and bake 35 minutes.

3. Take it out and allow to cool on a rack.

4. Add toppings to taste -- thinly sliced strawberries arranged in a fan, or kiwi fruit or other soft fruits that can be thinly sliced for decoration. (Hard fruits like apples are not suited for this). Refrigerate.

Note: Good cheesecake does not require gelatin. Restaurants use it to guarantee the process of setting but those are short cuts of inferior cooks. Gelatin also makes the cake harder, making it loose that soft melt in the mouth character. Needless to say gelatin is very popular with Chennai restaurants.

Eggless cheesecake: How do you set it -- I haven't a clue and I don't want to know.