Taste Testing Tikkis [Saveur’s Fish and Potato croquettes and more]

This week’s recipe experiments and inspirations included: Comedian Aziz Ansari’s Mom’s Chicken Korma recipe posted on the Lucky Peach Magazine website, Saveur’s Fish and Potato Tikkis with Chile and lime (April Issue) and finally Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry Summer Cake.

First up, Saveur’s Fish and Potato Tikkis…

I had a pound of cod in my packet and just had to use it all instead of the 8oz portion the recipe calls for. So, the fish and potato pattie was closer to a fishcake with a dominant potato taste. My grocery store was completely out of cilantro. No regular, no organic, no little tiny herb packets with two springs that cost $3. The cilantro would’ve added a freshness. The dish was rescued by the cilantro chutney. I really liked the poached cod in cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns. The fish became gently infused with all these surprisingly warm flavors. I can imagine a simple summer dinner of poached spiced cod with a light lemony sauce. Works well as a snack or with a bowl of dal or salad on the side, hot or room temperature. Aside from including more fish, I also added a half of chopped shallot. The frying gives the patties a light savory crust. With a base of mashed potatoes, how could I go wrong!

3 whole cloves
2 green cardamom pods
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
8 oz. skinless cod or red snapper fillets
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
Kosher salt
12 cup whole-wheat bread crumbs
2 tbsp. fresh lime juice
2 tbsp. roughly chopped cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 small green Indian chile or serrano, stemmed, seeded, and minced (optional)
14 cup vegetable oil
Mint chutney, for serving
In a small saucepan, combine the cloves with the cardamom, bay leaf, cinnamon, and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add the fish, return to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and poach the fish until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer the fish to a bowl and let cool. Discard the spices and cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, cover the potatoes with generously salted water in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool completely.
Add the potatoes to the bowl with the fish along with the bread crumbs, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, and chile, season with salt, and lightly mash the potatoes with the other ingredients until evenly combined. Form the mixture into six 3-inch-wide, 34-inch-thick patties.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the patties and cook, flipping once, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer the fish patties to a serving platter and serve while hot with mint chutney on the side.

 Strawberry Summer Cake…

While my grocery store did not have cilantro it did have an abundance of bright red strawberries. We really didn’t need another cake ( we still have a few pieces of a chocolate chip bundt cake waiting to be eaten). But the market spoke, of course, I listened. The house smells sweet and fruity like strawberry jam, like summer even though it is gray and rainy outside in my little Indiana suburban cul-de-sac. I have hope for warm weather and juicy produce ahead.
I used buttermilk instead of whole milk (which I rarely have at home). Reduced the amount of sugar just a bit. Baked it about 10 minutes longer than the recipe suggests. The cake rises to hug the strawberries as it bakes while the strawberries release and caramelize into pools of fruity sweetness. Sigh… So sweet. Would be fantastic with whipped cream.


Strawberry Summer Cake
Adapted, only slightly, from Martha Stewart

I recently picked up some barley flour and fell in love with it. We tend to associate whole grain flours with heartiness and heaviness, but this is neither — it’s silky and delicate, like the best cake flour you’ve ever bought, and it has a subtle creamy, nuttiness to it that goes fantastically with berries. This cake works like a dream with 100% all-purpose flour but if you’ve got barley flour around, swapping it in for half the volume is beyond delicious, adding a real depth to a deceptively simple cake.

I am ever-so-slightly on the fence about the sweetness of this cake. I like it, but I wouldn’t hate the batter itself with 2 tablespoons less sugar (i.e. 7/8 cup sugar instead of a whole one). If that’s your inclination, go ahead and dial it back as well. Leave the sugar on top. It contributes to the berries turning into jam.

6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pie plate
1 1/2 cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour (can swap 3/4 cup or 94 grams all-purpose flour with 3/4 cup or 75 grams of barley flour, see Note)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (200 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (118 ml) milk
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1 pound (450 grams) strawberries, hulled and halved

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 10-inch pie pan or 9-inch deep-dish pie pan (what I used). I did not test this with a standard 9-inch pie plate but looking at the margin of space leftover in my deep-dish pan after baking the cake, I suspect you’d be safe. Updated 6/13/11: This cake does not work in a standard 9-inch pie pan; it will overflow. Big apologies to anyone who learned the hard way! This cake would work, however, in a 9- or 10-inch springform or cake pan. The 10-inch would make a thinner cake than pictured.

Whisk flour or flours, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 1 cup sugar until pale and fluffy with an electric mixer, about 3 minutes. Mix in egg, milk and vanilla until just combined. Add dry mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.

Pour into prepared pie plate. Arrange strawberries, cut side down, on top of batter, as closely as possible in a single layer (though I had to overlap a few to get them all in). Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over berries.

Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325°F and bake cake until golden brown and a tester comes out free of wet batter, about 50 minutes to 60 minutes. (Gooey strawberries on the tester are a given.) Let cool in pan on a rack. Cut into wedges. Serve with lightly whipped cream.

Do ahead: Cake can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 days, loosely covered, but good luck with that.

and finally,  Fatima Auntie’s Korma (a.k.a, Comedian Aziz Ansari’s Mom)

The ground cashews give this korma a special luxurious nutty creaminess. My family’s does not include cilantro, fennel seeds, nuts or tumeric but does include raisins. This was a really nice extra festive and rich version of a korma. My korma was on the spicy side because I used two red thai chilis giving the dish a hidden angry heat after the initial nutty sweetness. Due the cilantro shortage at my local grocery store, no cilantro was added. I imagine the cilantro would’ve added a brightness. Didn’t hurt the delicious dish at all. Gotta say… Fatima auntie, I’d cook with you anytime. And, deshi brother Aziz, good for you for celebrating your mom and all the yummy food she makes for you! Thank you both for sharing your story and recipe with Lucky Peach and us.

  • 2 lbs skinless chicken, preferably dark meat, cut into 2″ pieces
  • + salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 t turmeric powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, pounded into paste
  • 1/2 C yogurt
  • 1 1″ piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 T vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2–3 green chilies, seeded if desired
  • 1 t garam masala
  • 1 t ground coriander
  • 1 t ground fennel
  • 1/2 C cashews
  • 1/2 C cilantro leaves
  • + ghee rice or chapati, for serving
  1. In a large bowl or plastic bag, combine the chicken pieces, salt, pepper, turmeric powder, ginger, garlic paste, and yogurt. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
  2. When you are ready to cook, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion and chilies with the garam masala until fragrant and brown, about 10 minutes. Add the marinated chicken, and fry for about 10 minutes.
  3. In the meantime, grind the coriander and fennel with the cashews and cilantro leaves in a small food processor or mortar and pestle. Add this mixture to the chicken, and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes. You will see the oil rise to the top of the mixture and it will smell awesome with all of the spices. I usually cook some ghee rice to go with it, or some chapati.

Goan Fish Curry – Testing Saveur Recipe

Every region thinks that their cooking is the best. Despite being Bengali, I concede yesterday’s Saveur recipe of the day of Goan Fish Curry was…… excellent. Two things make it both satisfyingly hearty yet bright in flavor.

  • The recipe promised vinegar to be the magic ingredient. It was. I was skeptical about the coconut milk and vinegar combination. Now I want to add vinegar to everything!
  • The second trick that I’ll use in other fish dishes is marinating the fish in lemon juice and salt for a half an hour before cooking. It starts the cooking process and makes the fish taste fresh and “less fishy.”

I used catfish, instead of cod. Had about pound and a half instead of two. And, may have added more vinegar than the recipe called for.

Here is the recipe. Try it.





Bringing Bitter Back

The 2015 December issue of Saveur includes a Bitter Melon tofu stir-fry recipe. It reminded me of my grandmother who would, much to my childhood discontent, insist on starting every lunch with Bitter Melon Bhaji. Worse, she would offer the second course, usually a delicious light fish or chicken curry, only after evidence of a finished bitter melon plate. Bitter Melon was the unwelcomed gatekeeper of lunchtime deliciousness.

My grandmother was a staunch believer in bitterness, a Bengali version of the British stiff upper lip. For her, all sweetness came at the price of bitterness. “The more you laugh, the more you’ll cry,” all the cousins joke. Bitter Melon wasn’t a vegetable, it was a philosophy. I had misinterpreted the lesson as a prescription to avoid the sweet, in order to avoid the bitter. Instead, it should be: accept the bitter and the sweet, equally. It makes life full and robust, a meal savored and stretched between bitter, salty, spicy and sweet. An appreciation of bitterness maybe a taste that is acquired by diligent practice and age. My love of cooking is no small part due to my grandmother’s slow, methodical, everyday practice of cooking. Here’s to you, Bubu.

I’d like to bring bitter back as a taste to be savored along with others, instead of avoided or feared. This is my bittersweet New Year’s Resolution: To finally embrace the Bitter Melons of my life.

Recipe for Bitter Melon Bhaji (Serve 4-6)

  1. Wash two or three bitter melons depending on size.IMG_2372

  2. Slice length-wise and scoop out seeds (some leave seeds in if melons are young)IMG_2373IMG_2374

  3. Massage with salt and rinse with cold water for a few minutes. Rinse. Drain. Let dry.IMG_2375

  4. Put 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a hot pan.

  5. Fry a medium sliced onion until soft and starts to brown.

  6. Add 1/2 a teaspoon of turmeric and salt to taste.

  7. Add a julienned medium potato.

  8. Fry until coated with turmeric. Bright and yellow.

  9. Add the bitter melon. Fry over gentle heat. Cover.

  10. Simmer, covered until potatoes and melon are soft and edges start to brown and caramelize.

Serve with warm white rice and digest all the day’s bitterness away.