Blogging for a better today

I have been blogging regularly for a year now and its been one of the best experiences of my lifetime.  I had blogged before but the frequency of my posts then was a function of my mood now my mood is dependent on what I write. If you are looking for the usual post about food then this is not it.

If you look at WordPress stats alone, you’d find 70 million + blogs using it as a publishing platform. That is considerably more than the population of France! There are more people Web Logging than ever before. Its not just about writing about your life and what happens in it daily but reading what others have to say. We all have friends and families to surround ourselves with and yet there is an allure in writing to and for complete strangers. ( that’s what made pen pals popular ) There is so much joy in sharing our very personal lives with people sitting across the planet in different time zones, with totally unrelated cultures and lifestyles. I read a few blogs in Icelandic and Romanian using Google Translate, language too is no longer barrier for fellow bloggers to share their experiences.

So why do we so unreservedly indulge in this verbal exchange over fiber optics? Why take time out from a mostly unrelated job to type out a few words of perhaps little literary value but great expressive power? To me I think it is not for the pursuing of unfulfilled dreams or to showcase hobbies, but it is for human interaction. To meet like minded people, lovers of the art which you yourself practice and admire. Meet the kind of people who you seldom meet in real life. It is also to perhaps gain recognition which one’s non – blog existence is not able to provide. Appreciation from living souls without the judgement which generally accompanies it. Every like, reblog, comment stirs within even the most popular of bloggers a feeling of elation, of being recognized for one’s work, of feeling special.

I find it hard to stick to only one of my favorite topics, food while writing. I have so many more thoughts in my head and so much more to express. I thus came up with a few more blogs, varied in content perhaps not so much in style though. Let me make the introductions :

 

Potsoup Potsoup : This blog! The first of the franchise and the product of a ravenous mind in constant love with the edible world. I started this with the object of sharing food photographs from around the world and now post content from all the nations of the planet going about the business alphabetically.
Potsoup For the Soul Potsoup for the Soul : My 2nd venture to hold my ramblings about life. Movie reviews, book reviews, poetry, quotations , music that I like and points that I ponder while sipping something hot and dark. Its also been around for some time now but recently my creative writing has picked up pace.
Potsoup For the Eye Potsoup For the Eye: The youngest of the family this blog is literally a window into my world. It’s my photography blog as I experiment with my DSLR, mobile and other devices with image capturing abilities. Follow me on a journey of learning how to shoot and discovering new interesting subjects. This is the most frequently updated blog for I have little writing to do.
Potsoup For the Mind Potsoup for the Mind : Perhaps the most neglected of its siblings this one has hoped to voice my opinions on matters academic and knowledge driven. Being the most time consuming this one has received little attention from me and others, here’s hoping things will change.

So join me on a journey on any of these paths, hopefully all, as I write and read and click and listen.

Chicken Dum Biryani

Living in Hyderabad, the Biryani has become a way of my life. Every city has a dish which would represent it if there were ever an inter city convention of food, this is it for mine. You get it in the cheapest of hotels, most depressing of cafeterias and the most lavish buffets in five star hotels. As you may have read in my post on Andhra Pradesh, there are various kinds of Biryani that are made in the state. Here is the kind I make. I’d ask you to refer to this post on the Vegetable Biryani, cause quite a few of the steps are similar.

Ingredients

For the Marinade

Skinned Chicken mid sized pieces  ~ 1kg
Turmeric Powder – 2 Tsps
Red Chili Powder – 2 Tsps
Ginger Garlic Paste – 2Tsps
Curd – 1 Cup
Coriander Seeds’ powder 2-3 Tsps
Garam Masala – 1/2 Tsp
Chaat Masala – 1 Tsp
Black Pepper – A generous sprinkle
Vegetable Oil – 2-3 Tsps
Salt – To Taste

For the Biryani

Basmati Rice – 4-5 Cup Fulls ( Depends on How Much Chicken you use)
Mace – 1 small piece
Cardamom – 5-7 Cloves
Cinnamon – 1-2 Sticks
Cloves – 2 Tsps
Onions – 750gms
Salt
Ghee ( Clarified Butter) – 2-3 Tsps
Dried Mint Leaves – 2 Pinches
Red Chili Powder – 2 Tsps

Steps

  1. The first step to do in most Indian meat recipes is to marinate the meat. Clean the chicken, remove excessive fat but leave a little it adds to the flavor. In a bowl mix the ingredients for the marinade except the meat. Stir will till you get a medium thick paste. Add the chicken pieces and mix well with your hands. Press the marinade over the meat. Cover this and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. You should be left with you meat looking whiter and not as raw as before.
  2. About 3-4 hours before you want to cook the Biryani, take a large vessel add the rice,mace, cardamom, cinnamon and 2-3 cloves to it and a generous amount of water and two flat teaspoons of salt. Cook the rice uncovered, to a nearly done stage. You should have a lovely aroma filling your kitchen. Then take a large colander and immediately drain the water from the rice to stop it cooking. Let this cool and then store this a covered tight container. If you use hot, fresh prepared rice it will break, this way you get long grains.
  3. Of the onions, take about 70% and chop them finely lengthwise. This is to make the barishta , the true flavor of the Biryani comes from this. These onions are to be deep fried over a high- medium flame with constant monitoring. You are looking for a golden brown. Be sure to separate your chopped onions thoroughly to get individual caramelized strands when frying. Watery onions can be problem and take long so look for drier ones for this.
  4. For the Masala again we use the remaining onions. Chop these up roughly and in 2 tablespoons of oil, stir fry them till they reach a pinkish brown. Set this aside to cool, add the cloves to it. Once cooled you need to puree this along with the cloves to a fine paste.
    Brownish Pink Onions

    Grind into a fine paste
  5. Prep your oven for 10 mins at 200 degrees Celsius. In the mean time take a baking tray and cover the surface with aluminum foil. Take you marinated chicken and place it piece by piece onto the tray. Spread everything out to have maximum surface area exposed. Cover the meat with whatever marinade liquid remains. Pour a little Olive oil or Vegetable oil to add fat. Set this to Bake for 10 -15 Minutes on one side, take out, turn the meat and cook for another 10.
    Spread out the chicken on a baking tray

    Bake the chicken to about 2/3rds done.
  6. In a large vessel with a thick bottom, heat some oil. Once hot, add the masala paste we made. Keep continuously stirring and adding oil if needed. The color of the paste should darken to a grayish brown. Do this till it becomes a little dry and begins to gel together when you mix it. (Do all of this on a medium flame if you aren’t quick to move)
  7. The cooked chicken in the oven tray would have left a lot of juices and the curd would have added further water too. Add all of this to the vessel. Stir well and add the dried mint leaves and 2-3  Teaspoons of Red Chili Powder. It should all look like a curry good enough to eat by itself. Let this cook for a few minutes, There should remain enough liquid to half submerge the pieces.
    Let the curry simmer for a while before heaping on the rice.

    Leave enough space in the vessel for all the rice to fit in and then some.
  8. Bring the flame to the lowest, begin adding the rice by hand to the vessel. Cover the chicken with half the rice. Then add a layer of half of the Barishta. To the sides of the vessel spread a teaspoon or two of ghee so that it slithers downwards ( along the periphery). Again layer the rice and repeat. Then poke a few small halls with a skewer/knife to the bottom and add a few drop of ghee along each.
  9. The Dum : This is the phase where you cook the Biryani over a long period on low heat. The lid of the vessel is to be lined with wheat dough. See the Vegetable Biryani Post on how to do this, Using the dough seal all gaps between the lid and vessel. Using a large pressure cooker without the whistle shall also do. If the vessel doesn’t have too thick a bottom, place it on a thick Iron Tawa. Cook the Biryani for at least half an hour, the steam from the chicken should make the rice perfectly done.

    An old photograph of how you seal the vessel.

The Hyderabadi Biryani is renowned for its spiciness, adjusting the cloves and red chili will give you that. Enjoy this with a nice raita and you need nothing more, the complete meal followed of course by Ice Cream or any sweet cold dessert.

The Final Product

When at home, Eat!

So I have been busy, the busiest in a few months I’d say. Eating and digesting without moving a muscle is one of the toughest thing to do. I’ve been at home and my mother has been feeding me like there’s no tomorrow. There is nothing that can replace the food you get at home is there? I got a 50mm 1.8g and basically freaked out on clicking things. Some of the following are from the lens, the rest from the standard 18-55 mm kit lens.

Seviya Bhat : A south Indian breakfast made from vermicelli. Here topped with sev(chik pea flour deep fried spicy snacks)
Unlike one in a bachelor pad, the fridge at home is full of food! Besides being decorated with colorful magnets.
Sometimes when you are scrounging for cake you end up with strange things. Like this meteorite look alike. That’s a boiled beetroot by the way.
Then there was cake, apple, beetroot and cherry cake.
The simple Phulka, the humble roti is perhaps the greatest luxury of home. Hot steaming and thin with a nice sabzi.
As mum’s busy I chip in with a potato pea veg of my own.

Khandavi or Takatli Vadi is a snack dish made from fine ground chickpea flour cooked in buttermilk rolled out on a flat surface as shone above, add coriander, coconut, green chilies, curry leaves, mustard seeds all slight fried in oil. This makes for the perfect sour and spicy finger food served cold.

Soak pulses, crush to make a batter, ferment it then fry balls of it, soak in water and then cover with flavored curd, tamarind chutney and chili powder. That’s the Dahi Wada one of my favorite home made street foods

The sweets at a local festival, some home made some store bought, all tasty. Read the entire story here.

Some Ginger, cardamom, clove and lemon grass masala tea anyone?

Bati : Balls of wheat flour mixed with some other flours of different consistency, baked in a dung or wood fired oven and dipped for hours together in lip smackingly wonderful ghee,
Alu Gobi Matar: A spicy sabzi of Cauliflower, potato and peas.
Putting it all together in the Dal Bati Thali. The Bati is eaten with a garlic enriched split pea dal and multiple chutneys.
If you have any space left after dal bati ( which is a very great accomplishment) you move to basmati long grained Jeera Rice.
The end of one of the lunches gets marked with the succulent Rasmalai
As a treat I made some Suji ( Semolina) Halwa, needed a little sugar but otherwise spot on.

Doodh Chumchum, the most underrated of Bengali sweets and one which my father bought nearly every week when I stayed at home. Soft, tender, juicy goodness of freshly curdled milk.

These were a few photographs that I was able to squeeze in between hog till it hurts moments. Hope you enjoyed them and that they left you salivating as they shall me when I look at them away from home.

 

Coming Soon : Israel

In Israel in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles
– David Ben-Gurion

Ben-Gurion was the first Prime Minister of this predominantly Jewish state. A state which holds the roots of the worlds major monotheistic religions, a curse above which it shall find hard to rise. The result of a wave of sympathy and support by the world for the Jewish population of Europe who suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis, Israel is truly remarkable. It has achieved a great deal for a nation so young. This video while so similar to an advertisement showcases the faces that fill this land.

You can’t discuss this state without bringing up the question of Palestine, a question which I know little of and understand even less. For its all progress and culture and the beauty of Tel Aviv there is that familiar bullying dark side to this country which one usually sees with self proclaimed leading nations of the world. While the situation of Gaza remains far too complex, with my limited knowledge, to comment upon. Figures like the following don’t do well to hold up the image of this nation.

Source - http://www.vox.com/2014/7/11/5891599/crisis-israel-palestine-conflict
Source – http://www.vox.com/2014/7/11/5891599/crisis-israel-palestine-conflict

However, I’d like to  believe that every Israeli would live peacefully with a Palestine if it were not for devious men of religion and politics. In that hope we shall soon explore the food of this nation.

What the world eats : Iraq

Iraq, one of the oldest habitats of humans on Earth. The land of the once great and always fabled Babylon Empire, the area known as the Cradle of Civilization, one of the great centers of the Islamic World in the Middle Ages. And yet today, what do we know about Iraq? The clouds of dust rising from recent violence and warfare eclipse the glorious history and culture of this nation. The sight of most men is but limited to what picture they see painted of a place and its people where as it may be only a depiction of its politicians and powerful.

My first true peek into this land and its modern history was through the excellent TV series : The House of Saddam. A portrayal of the well known ex ruler of the state, his family, rise to power and daily dealings. It is honest in its depiction of the man without resorting to the exaggerated demonizing of the dictator by a Western Production house. The authenticity can of course be up for debate and with blemishes like The Devil’s Double having been churned out, who can blame the skeptics? The series will teach you one thing for sure, how to pronounce the country’s name properly.

History

Assyrian Empire
Assyrian Empire

The Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations remain the claim to fame in the Ancient ages of Iraq. We see various stages of these empires stretching from Cyprus to Egypt. Cyrus the Great put an end to these empires. The region eventually came under the yoke of the advancing armies of the Hellenistic Empire of Alexander the Great. The Muslim conquest of these regions and the growth of Islam in general would reshape the area entirely. The Middle ages saw only caliphates, Arabs and the Ottoman Turks. For five centuries, Baghdad remained one of the busiest and largest cities of the Islamic world. I remember the mention of this great metropolis even in Hindi and Indian texts of the time. Unfortunately this rich city was decimated by the grandson of Genghis Khan. Later on agriculture in the region declined with soil salination and other causes to blame. in the early 15th century, Tamer Lane (Ancestor to Babur – the first Indian Mughal Emperor) pillaged the city of Baghdad. He is said to have demanded of his men 2 heads of the enemy per soldier.  This bloody period was followed by the rule of the Mamuluks and the Ottoman Empire.

Modern History

After the 1st World War till 1932 Iraq remained under the British mandate with it having been declared The State of Iraq by the league of nations. Coups, military occupation and other acts of establishing political control followed till 1968 till the Baath party came to power. This eventually shifted control in 79 to Saddam Hussein. The First Persian Gulf War, cleansing of the Kurds, Iran – Iraq war and the Israeli bombing of Nuclear test facilities followed by the use of Chemical weapons by Iraq would become the legacy of the man. His true call to international attention however can be thought to be the First Gulf War with US involvement. The lavish lifestyle, dozens of body doubles, signature mustache and general flamboyance had made Saddam an internationally renowned  figure in the 90’s.  UN sanctions and no fly zones remained a constant for the state till 2003. In March the US Congress sanctioned military action against Iraq began under the pretext of its violation of UN treaties circling the issue of weapons of mass destruction. What would follow is perhaps one of the most controversial wars in Human history where in a time of relative peace and prosperity, an exercise of liberation was carried out with the world’s silence taken as approval. For the last decade or so this country has constantly been in news, nearly never for reasons which can be celebrated.

Hussein caricatured by Chunlong Sun
Hussein caricatured by Chunlong Sun

The Food

Iraqi cuisine is a blend of Turkish and Arabic food. The similarities with what we have already seen in Bahrain, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt and that of Syria, shall become obvious. There are the traditional appetizers, stress on lamb over other meat, chickpeas, rice, spices and fruits playing an important role.  Iraq is the world’s largest producer of dates. Its difficult to introduce you to new dishes but I shall try.

Sujuk - Dried spicy sausage
Sujuk – Dried spicy sausage

Sujuk : A dried spicy sausage popular in Balkan and Middle Eastern countries. This is primarily a Turkish dish but varies in the composition as per region. While beef is popular in Iraq, Syria and other Islamic nations, Kazakhstanis have been known to include horse meat. In countries of a different faith you might find pork sausages too. Cumin, garlic, red pepper and other spices are mixed with ground meat and slat and allowed to dry for weeks.
Source – AzulunaBrands

Sabich - the Israeli Iraqi Sandwich
Sabich – the Israeli Iraqi Sandwich

Sabich : An interesting creation from the region this is a pitta sandwich with fried egg plants and hard boiled eggs making the filling. The lack of meat may be surprising but even more so would be the presence of mango! It is believed that the Baghdadi Jews  from India in early times brought back mango chutney to the region. The migration of Jews from Iraq to Israel carried the dish to the land it is now considered native too. This of course is also debated by Israelis. The source blog post goes mental on Sabich in Tel Aviv in a way you can’t help but admire.
Source – MentalManna

Tepsi Baytinijan
Tepsi Baytinijan

Tepsi Baytinijan : It is hard to understand the middle Eastern love for the aubergine. They seem to be obsessed with it. This casserole like dish with meatballs, tomatoes and garlic with fried aubergine seems to be against the very core of my aversion of the various runny and wobbly vegetables out there. Yet it seems indulgently delicious. The stunning photograph comes from a stunning blog.
Source – Feeding Cravings

Shorbat Rumman
Shorbat Rumman

Shorbat Rumman : The food of my college cafeteria often centered around beetroots and to usually unappetizing ends, so the picture above is not as appealing tome as it might be otherwise. However this pomegranate stew is rather popular in Iraq. This colorful picture comes with a recipe from a great Vegan blog.
Source – VeganFeastKitchen

 Maqluba

Maqluba

Maqluba : This is a traditional dish of the Arab Levant, Persia, and Iraq.The dish includes meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot, which is then flipped upside down when served, hence the name maqluba, which translates literally as “upside-down”. Reminds you of pilaf. Look at the source for more on the dish and Lebanese origins.
Source – TheBeachHouseKitchen

Tzatziki
Tzatziki

Tzatziki : A Greek yogurt dip which has made its way to Iraq and gained popularity. It goes best with Kebabs and grilled meats. The Ottoman empire can be credited with bringing this to Iraq.

 

 

Hummus & Baba Ghanoush : These are definitely very well known players in Mediterranean and Arabic cuisine. Although their origin is not unique to Iraq, but ground chickpeas and aubergine mash can be mentioned for its popularity.
Source – ThreeManyCooks & SpiceJar Check these posts for some delightful step by step recipes.

Masgouf
Masgouf

Masgouf :  Carp grilled on wooden embers. A Mediterranean dish this is considered the national dish of Iraq. The fish is generally from the Tigris basin. One can just imagine the meat soft, moist and perfectly cooked.
Source – Wikimedia

Fattoush
Fattoush

Fattoush :  A Levantine bread salad made from toasted or fried pieces of pita bread (khubz ‘arabi) combined with mixed greens and other vegetables. This post outlines a wonderful step by step recipe with great colorful pictures.
Source – Nuts about Food

Kale Tabbouleh
Kale Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh : A Levantine vegetarian dish (sometimes considered a salad) traditionally made of tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, and onion, and seasoned with olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. Bulgur is often added to the dish. Find the recipe for this great looking salad.
Source – Taste Food Blog

Stuffed Peppers
Stuffed Peppers

Fil-Fil Mahshi : Rice, Mint, spice and meat are stuffed into colorful peppers. A generic Arabic dish. The source post outlines a wonderful recipe, the peppers look cooked perfectly.
Source – WanderingSpice

So ladies and gentlemen, that was Iraq in all its culinary splendor. I avoided the mention of the well known dolmas and kebabs  to hopefully introduce all of us to a new side of the country which is most certainly more than the international headline we have so gotten used to.

Coming Soon : Iraq

One of the world’s oldest lands is on my list next, its culture, people, food and lifestyle are more of a mystery than its politics and current affairs. Where history is so rich and human habitation so old, is it just a slump in a very old civilization that is ours to see? This is a land which has clearly seen much better times. A subject of controversy, even for those people who may other wise know so little about it. It seems odd to talk and even think of writing of the life and food of a land which has seen so much death and devastation and continues to do so, even today. But perhaps the best way to keep a culture and the lifestyle of a people alive is to discuss it, learn about it and appreciate it. I shall come to the food in a few posts, for now here is a glimpse by Al Jazeera Documentary of the Iraq of 2012, post war.

I’d like to have shown a travel documentary, but none was to be found.

Food Porn & other things

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