July 30, 2014

Recreating the Mexican fare ~ Mexican rice w/ Smokey Chicken fajitas & chunky guacamole~

When I think intently about that one cuisine that's closest to Indian flavors, my personal preference has always been Mexican. The spices, the intense flavors & the aroma that meld in together as a combination of several different spices are so reminiscent of our cuisine that it's really hard to pass it up. The remarkable similarities between Indian & Mexican dishes- be it the use of tomatoes, various chillies, or even the roasting of meat to develop flavors is sometimes very surprising, but when we come to think of it...it shouldn't really be. After all, almost all the essentials in an Indian curry like the tomato, potato & even the chillies have been New World exports to our subcontinent through the Portugese invaders. And there comes the connection!

Personally, I absolutely love the vibrancy - be it in the spread of dishes or the colorful serving plates...everything is so full with zest for life. The food is always as dynamic in the range & depth of flavors as is their spirited decor. One place that is responsible for making me a die-hard fan of Mexican cuisine has to be La-Taquiza in LA. Tucked away in a small strip mall-like area, don't be fooled by its humble existence. I have really lost count as to how many times I have pulled my friends to join me there and converted them into La Taquiza fans ;) The decor, the people & of course the taste of each of their dishes feels so authentic that I would imagine that this is exactly how food is cooked back in Mexico. So authentic and flavorful!

But after moving here to the Bay, I am yet to chance upon such an authentic Mexican place but I am sure it does exist somewhere. Now with being so far from La Taquiza, it is only wise for me learn the ropes of my favorite cuisine and try it out myself. Today's post is a product of that eventful Sunday morning when armed with a strong desire to replicate tastes of my favorite Mexican restaurant & with my go-to book "The Cuisines of Mexico - Diane Kennedy" for Mexican recipes, I set on this self satiating journey.

~Arroz a la Mexicana (Mexican Rice) ~

This Mexican rice is so subtly flavored with tomato & garlic sprinkled with a hint of cumin powder and jalapeno (for that much essential heat kick) that it's can shine either as a stand alone dish or a suited accompaniment to another spicy side dish.

Arroz a la Mexicana (Mexican Rice) - Adapted from Diane Kennedy's recipe

3 T Oil
1 C Arborio rice (Any other rice will be fine too)
1 Garlic clove Chopped
1 Jalapeno Chopped
2 C Chicken stock (You can use vegetable stock too)
1/4 tsp Salt

For 3/4 C paste
1 Medium sized tomato
1/2 Medium onion
1/2 tsp freshly roasted cumin powder.
1/2 tsp Red Chili flakes (Optional)

1. Wash the rice thoroughly in a colander till the water runs clear. This ensures that we wash off the starch so that the rice grains do not stick later. Then soak the rice for about 15-20 mins before you start cooking.
2. Make a smooth paste of tomato & onion. Reserve 3/4 C of the paste for the rice and keep aside the rest.
3. In a deep pan over medium heat, add in the oil and wait till it heats up. To check, drop a grain of rice and if it sizzles, then the oil is ready.
4. Saute the rice, garlic and jalapenos in the oil over medium heat for about 5-7 mins till the rice becomes pale golden color.
5. Then pour in the tomato-onion paste along with the cumin powder & red chili flakes and saute the rice till the mixture becomes dry (~ 2-3 mins).
6. Now heat the chicken stock and add in to the rice. Cook uncovered for ~ 10 mins till you can see holes on the surface. Cover & simmer for 5 mins more.
Tip: To avoid the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan, do not stir the rice after adding in the stock.

This rice tastes so good be it right out of the stove or the next morning left overs. Such a hit!

~Smokey Chicken Fajitas~

A quick & easy Mexican chicken dish is a harmonious amalgamation of chicken & fajitas. Chicken pieces marinated in smokey paprika and garlic powder with a generous squeeze of lemon are grilled and cut into strips. They are then tossed with thin strips of onions & bell peppers to make for a flavorfully spicy side dish.

~Smokey Chicken Fajitas~
1 lb Chicken thighs
1 T Smoked paprika
1 T Garlic powder (Unsalted)
2 T lemon juice
1/4 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp salt

2 Medium onions cut in thin strips
1 Bell pepper (I used mixed colored bell peppers) cut in thin strips

1. Marinate the whole chicken thighs with smoked paprika, garlic rub, lemon juice & salt. Keep aside for 30 mins - 1 hr.
2. In a grill pan (or a regular pan) over medium heat, grill the chicken pieces till browned on both sides (~ 4 mins). Take them out and set aside to cool slightly.
3. Once the chicken pieces are slightly cooled (~ 5 mins), cut the chicken pieces into strips & keep aside.
4. In the same pan in which you sauteed the chicken, add in the thinly cut onions & bell pepper & toss well. This makes sure that all the browned chicken bits on the pan are taken up by the onion-bell pepper mix.
5. After ~ 2 mins or till the onion-bell pepper mix starts softening, add in the grilled & thinly cut chicken pieces and toss well.
6. Adjust for salt & lemon juice. Serve hot off the stove with Mexican rice & guacomole.

~The accompaniment:  Chunky Guacomole~
Adapted from Alton Brown's recipe

4 Haas Avocados
2 T Lime juice
1 Clove garlic (Finely minced)
½ tsp Cumin
¾ tsp Smoked paprika
½ Medium Onion (chopped)
1 Jalapeno (chopped)
2 Small Tomatoes (Chopped)
2 T Chopped Cilantro
½ tsp Salt

Since I prefer my guacamole chunky, I chop it up in its skin and scoop it to a bowl. Add in the lime and all other ingredients. Taste to make sure it is to your liking and change likewise.

As I recreated my favorite dishes at home, it comforts me to know that though La Taquiza might not be close to me anymore..its taste lingers for ever :D So until I find my next favorite Mexican haunt I will keep recreating the magic here in my kitchen comforts.

So here's a question - How often do you get inspired by your favorite eating joints to create the same at home?


July 1, 2014

Who doesn't love a twist & that too a Sriracha one? ~ Garlic & red chilli Vegetable Manchurian (dry) ~

Garlic & red chilli manchurian (dry) served with a side of vegetable fried rice

In one of our numerous chat sessions, as my conversation with my Chinese friend/colleague veered towards Sino-Indian relationship, the cultural differences and similarities, we couldn't help but contemplate on the amalgamation of Indian intricacies into Chinese cooking. It veered towards a very interesting conversation about cooking styles, spices used, favorite dishes etc. etc. and she was extremely amused to know that there prevailed a very popular fusion cuisine known as "Indo-Chinese". She had never heard of it (of course..who has unless they are from India?), and seemed intrigued by the names of dishes I was hurling at her. Manchurian, Mixed chowmein...wait what? Manchurian...what's that?

As I pondered on it a bit more, I assumed that although it's never really surprising to find tastes transcending national/international boundaries to give rise to a melange of flavors, the popularity of Indo-Chinese cuisine in India is something you have to see, to believe. This cuisine which started out as an assimilation of Indian sensibilities and beliefs into everyday cooking of the Chinese immigrants, has now been taken to a whole new level. While it's almost natural for immigrants in any country to adapt to the new place they call home (who better than me to attest to the fact that that's a very effective way to transform a dish to make their own), this fusion cooking style has perpetrated almost every nook and corner of the country. Anyone captivated by the cuisine has their own special version and everybody is right.

While my parents had no such inclination towards this form of cooking, I would happily assume that the rise of the "Chowmein-Manchurian" culture took place sometime when we were growing up. I am so elated (& grateful) to belong to a generation that grew up with the oh-so-delicious Indo-Chinese. Although my Ma never had much exposure to this cuisine, I still swear by her mixed Chowmein, Chicken Manchurian and Vegetable Manchurian that she so enthusiastically made. This is my version of the much loved Manchurian with some of my favorite spice additions. Who said that good just cannot become better? Well, here it is:

~Garlic & Red Chilli Vegetable Manchurian (dry) ~
The plate to devour!

Veggie fritters spiced with Sriracha (red chilli sauce) & crispy garlic bits are tossed with cubes of red bell peppers, assorted sauces and some more crispy garlic. Served hot garnished with a generous sprinkling of finely sliced green onions. Perfect as an appetizer all by itself or a fabulous side dish with Roasted Garlic fried rice or the Chilli garlic chowmein.


¼ C Garlic – Chopped and crisped over medium heat. Used divided between fritters and sauce.

For the Garlic Veggie balls:

1 C Shredded Cabbage
½ C Carrots (shredded)
½ C Beans (Shredded)
1 tsp Chopped green chillies (Optional)
3 T Corn Flour
¼ C All Purpose Flour 
2 T Sriracha or Red Chilli Sauce
2 T Tomato Sauce
Pinch of salt
2 T Crispy garlic (mentioned above)

Oil for frying.

3 T Oil (in which you fried the garlic)
½ C Capsicum/Bell Pepper – In Cubes

Make a paste of the following:
1 T Dark Soy Sauce
1 T White vinegar
1 T Sriracha or Red Chilli Sauce
1 T Tomato Sauce
½ tsp Brown sugar
2 T Water

2 T Crispy garlic

1.     In a pan over medium heat, add 2 T of oil and sauté the garlic till its fragrant and light brown in color. Be vigilant since garlic burns really easily. Scoop out the garlic and set aside. They become crispy as they cool.
2.     In a wide-mouthed bowl, mix in all the ingredients for the garlicky veggie Manchurian balls. The batter should be thick so that you can make balls out of it. Add in a few drops of water if it’s too thick. I use the 1 T ice cream scoop to make similar sized balls. Make the balls and set aside.
3.     Heat up the oil over medium heat in a deep pan and fry the balls till they are golden brown in color. Keep it warm in an oven at 200oF.
4.     In the pan you fried the garlic, add in some more oil and sauté the chopped bell peppers (~30 secs).
5.     Make a paste of all the sauces along with water and add into the oil and peppers.
6.     After it boils, toss in the Manchurian balls till it soaks in all the goodness of the flavorful sauces. Adjust for salt if required.
7.     Serve hot with a generous sprinkle of green onions and some more crispy garlic.

A close look at the manchurian balls

While this dish tastes absolutely lip smackingly delicious just by itself, I served it with a side of vegetable fried rice. You could also try the Roasted Garlic fried rice or the Chilli garlic chowmein to up the garlic fest.

Till next time!