Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Memories of a Malaysian holiday

Sunset in Melaka

As the summer drew to a close last year, I decided to take my mother on a little holiday to Malaysia. It was a natural choice of destination as we have family in Kuala Lumpur, the capital city. I asked my father to come along too, but was greeted with a "groan and grumble" attack (i.e. groaning about everything from aching joints and grey hair to an irritable stomach lining). So in the end, it was just my mother (who came with the excitement of a three year old) and me.

We had a great time in Malaysia as we travelled across KL, Melaka and made a short trip to the Perhentian islands. My mother and I both fell in love with Malaysian food. It was comfortably familiar to our Indian palate but also excitingly exotic in parts.

Our first taste of Malaysian food was a hurried meal of spicy mee goreng at a little joint at KL airport. It was a tasty introduction to the national cuisine. Eating out in Malaysia was surprisingly cheap, which we exploited as much as possible.

Pictures from my camera bring back memories of some of the interesting food that we encountered in Malaysia - skewered potato chips and yummy teriyaki chicken at a non-descript roadside restaurant on a rainy evening in Melaka.

The last leg of our journey was a short detour to the Perhentian islands - an excellent mix of serenity and natural beauty. I tried snorkelling for the first time and even managed to convince my mother to have a go at it. Seeing the richness of life underwater in all its magnificent hues is one of the most fantastic experiences I have ever had.
Can't wait to go back to Malaysia.
Potato chips on a stick

Teriyaki chicken

Perhentian islands

Top Class Chilli Chicken

My mummy's top class chilli chicken
Everyone loves their mother's cooking. In flashback anyway. I mean, I remember moaning and groaning about my mother's cooking as a kid. I was allergic to vegetables (a mild form of that old disease continues to haunt me) and so automatically shunned all the vegetarian dishes that her kitchen produced, I disliked her idli sambar breakfasts intensely and didn't have too many kind words for most of the other produce that her kitchen churned out.

Then, at 17, I moved to Bangalore for college and was treated to five years of hostel food by "Babu bhaiyya" (the girls' hostel's Mallu "chef"). Right after, I moved to London to start work as a corporate lawyer. Lunch was always in the office canteen - so lots of flavourless sandwiches, roast-chicken-that-tasted-like-cardboard and make believe Indian food (sagalooo, beef madras (that one still makes me laugh - I don't think anyone in Madras has ever come across the phenomenon that is beef madras) etc.). A combination of these experiences has made me an ardent devotee of my mother's cooking. Food-wise (and otherwise too I suppose), I have never been happier in London than I was when my parents visited me in the summer earlier this year.

My mother is a trickster of a cook. If she can use a shortcut and hoodwink her audience, oh yes, she will. But she is wise enough to desist from tricks for some recipes. Her chill chicken recipe is one of them. It is a sure winner in any dinner party. I am sure it would have been a sure winner at my place even if there were no guests, but this is the sort of recipe that involves a fair bit of effort (and quite a bit of oil) and was therefore usually reserved for external audiences.

These are pictures that I took of her critically acclaimed chilli chicken on one of my recent trips home. Enjoy!
Sauteed onion and green peppers/"capsicum" as it is called in India


The finished product bathed in Delhi's sunlight

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bread Poha Breakfast

Bread poha breakfast!

In the Syrian Christian Mallu home that I grew up in, we were accustomed to a few breakfast staples - idli-dosa (or dosha, which is how we pronounce it at home) with coconut chutney and sambar, puttu pazham (shockingly, there is a wiki link on puttu!) and so on. Bread poha was not on that list.

Many years later, when I hijacked a friend's apartment when I was apartment hunting in London, I was introduced to bread poha on a lazy Sunday morning. I fell in love with it instantly. There are many ways of making bread poha. Conversations with my north Indian friends suggest that each household has its own tried and tested method. Some throw in a tomato, other's don't. Some like the bread in the bread poha as crispy as possible, others like it soft.

I tend to make my bread poha in a south Indian inspired style with a tempering of mustard seeds, fenugreek/methi seeds and curry leaves. The aroma is delicious and although the base is bread, it brings back memories of more sophisticated south Indian cooking, all of which tends to use the same sort of tempering. 

Evergreen Chocolate Cake

We have a rare four day break here in the UK for Christmas. Though hectic in parts (owing mainly to last minute dinner party cooking and frantic online shopping), it gave me the time to visit this space that has been ignored since June!

After a long hiatus, I have had the time to potter around in my kitchen and cook up a storm. Cook up a storm is entirely accurate here - I am a seasoned mess maker and cannot whip up anything edible without making a complete mess of my kitchen. The first recipe I want to write about is a failsafe chocolate cake recipe, which I have written about before, the recipe is available here:'S%20%22PERFECTLY%20CHOCOLATE%22%20Chocolate%20Cake.aspx.

This time, I went for a classic chocolate frosting (adapted from the recipe on the Hershey's website:'S%20%22PERFECTLY%20CHOCOLATE%22%20Chocolate%20Cake.aspx) and used little handmade sugar rosettes to decorate the cake.

"Perfectly chocolate" chocolate cake!

Not long after, I attended a Christmas party at a friend's place. As usual, I volunteered to make dessert for the meal. On the day, I was torn between a lemon cake recipe which I had been itching to try out and my good ole chocolate cake recipe. In the end, chocolate won and I was whipping up another "perfectly chocolate" chocolate cake. This time, I decorated with some chopped pistachios and truffles that I had been gifted as a Christmas present. For the frosting, I substituted milk with chocolate liqueur for a more adult, alcohol inffused flavour. I also added a couple of teaspoons of concentrated black coffee as coffee tends to brings out the flavour of chocolate very well.

The coffee idea worked very well and ensured a very flavoursome frosting instead of a sugary sweet one. The chocolate liqueur flavour didn't come to the fore as strongly as I had hoped. Next time, I'll probably try with a stronger alcohol, whiskey maybe?

Dessert, Christmas eve 2011