Saturday, April 30, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
Thinking of going italian for a dinner party this weekend . Trying simple dishes I take for granted when I summarily order them at cafes, fast food joints and bistros. The difference? I know exactly whats in them and they will (hopefully) and (probably psychologically) taste more flavourful and wholesome. Planning to try the tomato soup and garlic bread (on the cover of the May issue of Delicious), a vegetarian pizza with a healthy whole wheat base, a pesto prawn penne (Triple P) and some orange cakes for dessert.
Well, its always goood to plan. Lets see how the weekend unravels, or rather cooks up!!
Traditionally, this dish must have many names but "Kudumpulli Meen Vevichathu" is probably the most appropriate. That directly translates to "Cocum Fish Steamed/Boiled".
The mackerel should be sliced into one-inch thick pieces and if it is a big fish, you can halve or quarter each slice.
Next up, gather up the remaining ingredients. The following quantities are estimated for about 6-8 half-slices of a big mackerel.
You will need, a few tablespoons of chilly powder (pure chilly powder is preferred..i stay away from the more popular commercial brands because of coloring additives, try Nirrapara), and a pinch of turmeric powder. Also take a teaspoon of black mustard seeds, and a sprig of fresh curry leaves (these are usually available in any Indian family's garden (ask around!) or in a freezer at an Indian spice shop), and a teaspoon of fenugreek seeds.
You will also need three or four big pieces of black cocum. You can soak these in water but its not necessary.
Chop about two big red onions and mince up a few tablespoons of fresh ginger (i love adding lots of ginger!).
On to the process:
You will need to use a deep wide casserole pan (each slice of fish should sit in its own space in your pan and not atop one another).
Heat a few tablespoons oil in the pan and add the mustard seeds, curry leaves and fenugreek seeds. Use a splatter cover here because those little mustard seeds are angry little fellows when subjected to heat and will explode (which needs to happen to bring out their flavour). The curry leaves also react loudly to hot oil which is all part of the fun. I like to think of it as an indicator to the family that I am cooking in the kitchen!
When the fish pieces are cooked, switch off the fire and let the curry rest for about half an hour before serving. You can serve it immediately but the taste will differ.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The basic Nasi Lemak is one hardboiled egg, a handful of rice cooked in coconut milk and a few green pandan (screw pine) leaves, a spoonful of crispy dried anchovies, one or two thick fresh cucumber slices, a few roasted peanuts and probably the most definitive of the group is the sambal belacan (pronounced ‘bela-chan’).
Sambal belacan is not to be confused with what the Indian subcontinent refers to as sambhar (lentil curry) or sambal olek (an Indonesian chilli paste). Basic sambal belacan is the fiery result of grinding dried chillies, onions, garlic and the belacan or dried prawn paste and frying this with dried anchovies, sugar, salt and lemon juice.
The various components of the nasi lemak sit neatly around the rice on a plate (or hug each other when wrapped in pandan leaves and an old newspaper for the takeaway version). You the eater can decide how each mouthful will taste. Taking a morsel of sambal belacan with the rice gives you an initial burst of sugar which lulls into you a false sense of sweetness until the potent heat follows very soon after and lingers on your tongue throughout the meal. This is about the time you may want to take a bite into the cucumber slices or chew just the coconut rice alone for a break. Add into your spoonful salty anchovies and peanuts for the crunch factor. Mash the hardboiled egg into the rice for a meatier mouthful.
You can personalise your nasi lemak to suit your preferences. Have it with peanuts or without, with the cucumber slices or without, or choose to have with variations by adding squid sambal , a piece of fried chicken or even some beef rendang. My weakness is to have the egg sunny side up (my mother calls it ‘Bull’s Eye’) with the yolk not fully cooked so that lightly poking it with my fork makes the sunshine goo flow onto the bed of rice like squeezing a new tube of yellow paint onto a white canvas. Tastebuds are going slightly mad at this point.
Directly translated into English, Nasi Lemak is ‘Fat Rice’. A caloric filled meal well suited to the labour intensive lifestyle of Malayan people who traditionally lived and worked on plantations. I wonder if our sedentary lifestyles and the push to eat healthy will be the end of the road for nasi lemak.
I'm not too worried. For now, we Malaysians still get our nasi lemak fixes as an extremely early morning breakfast to accompany long conversations with friends at the local hawker stall and many glasses of coffee. Yes, eating ‘Fat Rice’ at 3 am is an unhealthy trait of Malaysian culture. We try though. I truly believe we threw in the green cucumber slices to justify it is a healthy breakfast!
The chatter accompanied us throughout the evening. The service is okay – not too fussy yet sufficiently ‘hand and foot’ for my liking. The waiter suggests some specials and we go for it. Our hunger is momentarily satisfied with a complimentary basket of pappadums served with yogurt and sweet tangy pickle.
To accompany your meal, one must have the Mango Lassi. The best Mango Lassi that I have had so far in all of Sydney I found here. It is a yogurt drink made with fresh mango pulp. Normally by the time I get through a mango lassi I have a cloying sense of wanting to put nothing else in my mouth. Abhi’s Mango Lassi is light, perfectly smooth and accurately hits the mango spot leaving you toying with the idea of a second one. Yogurt is a good coolant when subjecting your palette to the spicy notes of a South Indian meal. And mango pulp is well a real bonus.
Abhi’s has successfully combined a popular Australian favourite with core flavours of the subcontinent in the Chatpata Squid. A starter perfect for 3 people, it is your humble salt and pepper squid transformed with the use of tapioca flour and an accompanying ginger and tamarind sauce. The strong flavour of ginger makes for happiness with the crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside squid pieces.
When one thinks Indian food, one of course thinks - curry. The traditional way of eating a meal in India is on a green banana leaf (the only biodegradable disposable plate). No, Abhi’s does not use these but warmed plates instead. The trick is although all curries are served at once, you should try each curry separately with your rice. Our base for the evening is the Peas Pulao (yellow in colour and breathing cumin). The recently famed Madras Prawn Vendakai is served with four jumbo prawns swimming in a bed of coconut and tamarind based curry. The vendakai or ladies’ finger retained its crunch and was delightful (ladies finger can go soggy if cooked for too long).
We stick to seafood and also had Goan Fish Curry. Goa is a west coast state of South India famous for beautiful beaches, grand old churches as well as wild parties and is a melting pot of international tourists. The fish curry is flavoured with the traditional cumin-coriander-turmeric trio combined with a coconut milk base.
Popular Indian desserts complete our meal. And with most traditional Indian desserts, the words sweet and rich are understatements. We have Gulab Jamun, a fried milk dumpling soaked in sugar water and rose water. The chef must like rose flavours because we also try the Rose Pistachio Kulfi on the menu. Cooling, melting in your mouth, crunchy pistachio bits and it looked so pretty in pink. The smell and taste of a rose was a wonderful perfume to end the meal.
The owner and Chef’s name is Kumar Mahadevan and he hails from South India (I'm guessing from his name). Half way through our meal he visits the dining room and greets some of his guests. His guests congratulate him on his recent fame with Masterchef which he humbly accepts. He appears a man who surely knows his food and revels in the joyous faces of his guests.
The volume of chatter around the room gets louder and I found myself almost yelling across the table to have a conversation with my guests. It is clear that although the tables, waiters, wine glasses and napkins make Abhi’s a fine dining place (some of those places people would consider stuffy and uptight and where one needs to ‘mind’ others), the droves of people who ate here (including myself) were so relaxed and had no qualms of enjoying the company of their friends in loud volumes. Perhaps the enticing chilly, cumin, cardamom and tamarind flavours help us all along the way.
You will find this jewel on Concord Rd, North Strathfield just 14 km west of Sydney. On any night, a reservation is necessary to avoid disappointment.