Thursday, January 28, 2016

Chindian Chili Flounder

Growing up in Mumbai, in the '80's, you went out to eat one of the following cuisines: Indian, Continental (all things European clubbed together), or Chinese. And all Chinese restaurants served mainstream food, targeted to the Indian palette— Chindian, or an Indo-Chinese cuisine. And it is absolutely delicious! Ingredients such as chilis were always used, onions were regular onions and not always spring onions, and cilantro was always abundant. Fried rice was always made with the long-grained Indian Basmati rice, and not the shorter-grained Asian Jasmine rice. It was simply delicious.

A commonality between Indian and Chinese foods is that it is often eaten with rice, and a sauce or gravy is needed to soak up the rice with. This is a great example of a dish to serve with rice! 

So, when Saira Malhotra had a class cooking some Chindian (also known as Indo-Chinese) foods, I was the first to sign up! She made Chili Paneer, Chili Shrimp, and Panfried Noodles with a Celery Sauce. This Chili Flounder is inspired from her Chili Paneer recipe. 

Paneer Marinade
2 cups cubed flounder (or any firm fish) / paneer / tofu / chicken / shrimp
2 teaspoons ginger garlic paste (preferably freshly ground paste)
1 tablespoon soy sauce 
1 tablespoon kecap manis
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Salt, to taste

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Sauté ingredients
1 tablespoon vegetable oil.
1 large red onion (or spring onions)
3/4 teaspoon black peppers
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
4 green chilis, chopped chunky (try and buy a variety for color)
1/2 teaspoon white sesame seeds
2 tablespoons ginger, chopped chunky
2 tablespoons garlic, chopped chunky

1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoons corn flour + 1/4 cup water (make a smooth paste)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Salt, to taste


  1. Marinade the fish. Set aside for 15 minutes. 
  2. Mix the sauce ingredients in a bowl, set aside.
  3. Heat a large wok over high heat, swirl 1 tablespoon vegetable oil into the wok. Lay the fish out on the wok, and let it cook for 1 minute untouched (this will help give it a good sear). Then gently stir fry it for another 30 seconds, until almost cooked through, but not entirely. Remove from the wok onto a plate. Set aside.
  4. Heat another tablespoon of oil in the hot wok. Sauté the onions, black pepper, chili flakes on high, for one minute. Return the fish to the wok, gently stir fry it, trying not to break the fish pieces. Add the sauce ingredients and allow it to thicken. Serve immediately.
Add some Sweet Corn Chicken Soup to your Chindian repertoire! 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Kadai Paneer

My first year of college was in the United States, far away from Bombay, where I grew up. As exciting as the experience of leaving home, discovering a new country and culture while studying art, was, I was terribly home sick. The walk to the Indian grocery store was long, so I would stock my pantry up with all the spices and my freezer up with as much as I could carry back home— especially paneer. Paneer is a fresh cheese, made in India, made by curdling heated milk and yogurt, with the help of an acid, such as lemon juice or vinegar. Once the fats of the dairy seperates, it is strained through a cheese cloth and left to set. It can be eaten plain, but is mostly cooked in different gravies or spices. Today it is easily available, even at Whole Foods. 

Kadai is the name of the pot in which the paneer is cooked in. It is similar to a wok, a deep round bottomed pan. Traditionally the kadai is made of cast iron, but I used my stainless steel Al Clad pot. 

One of the first, and most frequent paneer dishes I made in college, was Kadai Paneer— only because the Madhur Jaffrey cookbook I owned then had an easy recipe. Years later I broadened my paneer cooking skills and didn't make Kadai Paneer as often. But last night, that's all I craved. The kids went to bed, and I cooked this for dinner— filled with spices and heat. 

Tone down the heat level if that doesn't appeal to you, but do not skimp on the rest of the aromatics— such as the ginger and garlic, coriander seeds or even the dried fenukgreek (kasuri methi). 

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
7–8 cloves garlic, crushed
1/5-inch piece of ginger, half crushed, and half julienned
5–6 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds, roasted
5–6 Kashmiri red chilies
1 large green pepper, julienned
1–2 green chilies, chopped (or more, to taste)
Salt, to taste
250 grams paneer, cubed
1/2 teaspoon garam masala powder
2 teaspoons crushed kasuri methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

  1. In a kadai or round bottomed pan, heat the oil. Add the crushed garlic and ginger. Sauté until the raw smell disappears.
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes. Sauté till the tomatoes and oil separate, and the tomato thickens.
  3. In a mortar, pound the coriander seeds and red chili peppers to a powder. Add this to the tomato mixture.
  4. Add the green pepper and chopped green chillies, and cook for another 5–7 minutes.
  5. Follow by adding salt and garam masala powder. Mix these with the rest of the tomato mixture until well incorporated.
  6. Add the paneer in the masala and cook for 2–3 minutes. 
  7. Lastly, add the kasuri methi, julienned ginger, and cilantro leaves. Sauté for another 2–3 minutes. Serve hot. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups

I woke up this morning craving Chicken Sung, or Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups. A perfect and filling dinner, without the carbs. Flavor packed, with a kick! 

Grace Young, in her book, Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, says: There are countless versions of this elegant stir-fry, a favorite served at Chinese banquets. Interestingly, the original was made with minced squab. Over time the recipe has ‘modernized’ and now duck, chicken, and pork are often used in place of the squab. The dish is about the enjoyment of the ingredients playing off one another; every bite should burst of contrasting textures and flavors. All of the ingredients, from the mushrooms, to the chicken, have a slightly different level of sweetness and texture, each punctuated by the heat of fresh chili.

Serves 4 as part of a multi course meal. 

8 medium dried shiitake mushrooms

8 ounces ground chicken
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic 
1 teaspoon minced jalapeño chili, with seeds
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper

16 Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves
Hoisin sauce

  1. In a medium shallow bowl soak the mushrooms in 3/4 cup cold water for 30 minutes or until softened. Drain and squeeze dry, reserving the soaking liquid for stocks. Cut off the stems and chop the mushrooms to make about 1/2 cup.
  2. In a medium bowl combine the chicken, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the rice wine, cornstarch, and sugar. Stir to combine. Stir in the sesame oil.
  3. Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok over high heat until a beat of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil, carefully add the chicken, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the chicken begin to sear. Then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry the chicken, breaking it up, until slightly pink, about 30 seconds. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
  4. Swirl the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil into the wok. Add the garlic and chili and stir-fry 10 seconds or until the aromatics are fragrant. Add the mushrooms and stir-fry 1 minute or until well combined. Add the scallions, sprinkle on the salt, pepper, and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine, and stir-fry for 30 seconds or until the scallions are bright green. 
  5. Return the chicken with any juices that have accumulated to the wok and stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes or until the chicken is just cooked through. 
  6. Serve with the lettuce leaves: have diners put 2 or 3 tablespoons of the filling in a lettuce leaf, fold the leaf over, and eat like a taco. Some cooks serve the cups with a small dollop of hoisin sauce.