Pati Shapta Pitha (Bengali Style Crepes)

Every year during the months of January through March the first crops of rice are harvested and readied in Bangladesh.  The first fresh rice harvest is used in making many different kinds of desserts called “Pitha”.  The tastes are delightful and the season is especially nice and cool.  I loved this time of year growing up, not only because the weather was great but because we got to eat all kinds of Pithas that we never got to enjoy at any other time of year.   Even though we have access to rice flour all year long, it’s especially nostalgic for me to make Pithas in the early part of the year, just because it reminds me of my childhood when things were simple, uncomplicated and filled with simple joys of being with family and friends.

This particular Pitha is called “Pati Shapta” which loosely translated means to make flat and roll.   Which is exactly what this is;  a Bengali crepe!

Pitha (Crepe part):

6 cups All Purpose flour

2 cups Rice Flour

½ cup sugar

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

2 eggs

10 cups water

Sift together all- purpose flour, rice flour, salt and baking powder together.  Add sugar to the mixture and mix well.  Add beaten eggs then slowly add the water whisking to prevent any lumps.  The mixture should be a rather thin batter.

Filling:

8 tablespoons of butter (1 stick)

2 Large Cinnamon sticks

5-6 Cardamom pods, crushed

1 ½ cup Sooji (Farina)

1 Cup Desiccated Coconut (just look for smaller flakes instead of long stringy flakes)

¾ cup brown sugar (or date palm sugar otherwise known as Jaggery, if you have that handy)

1 quart half and half

Let’s start with the filling.  In a heavy bottom 5-6 quart dutch oven heat butter until melted.  Add Cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks and stir fry until fragrant.  Add the Shooji (farina) and cook over medium high heat stirring constantly.

When the color reaches a light  toasty brown color and begins to smell nice and toasty (about 6-8 minutes), add the desiccated coconut flakes and stir fry another 3 minutes.  Slowly add in the half and half to the mixture and continue stirring.  Mixture should start thickening very quickly.

Slowly add brown sugar ¼ cup at a time and tasting as you go along to make sure the sweetness is not too much.  You can add more sugar to make it sweeter or less depending on taste.  Continue stirring until all the liquid is absorbed and the filling  becomes a soft paste like consistency.  Kind of like smooth peanut butter.  Take out the Cinnamon sticks, remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Heat a  5 inch non-stick frying pan over medium high heat, brush the bottom of the pan with a little bit of vegetable oil and pour ¼ cup of batter in the middle and quickly tilt the pan in a circular motion to coat the bottom of the pan and place on back on the heat.  Little bubbles should start appearing all over the batter.  Within  35 seconds or so, the crepe should be ready (do not flip it over).

Take off the heat and place about 2 tablespoons of filling on one edge of the crepe and roll it into a tube.

Lightly flatten.  You can enjoy it warm or at room temperature. Makes about 50 Pithas.  Since each person will at least eat two, it will serve about 20-25 people.

Bengali Style Green Beans

Panch Puran (pronounced “Phoron”) is one of the quintessential Bengali spice mixes. It is a mixture of five different spice seeds.  “Panch” means five and “Phoron” loosely translated means to put over high heat.  Each one of the spice seeds when toasted on a hot, dry skillet begins to jump and skip across the pan.  The flavor is fantastic.  In colloquial language that jumping and skipping of spices on a hot pan is also used to describe people in dicey situations!  A great visual don’t you think?  When life gets hot, we do tend to do a bit of jumping and skipping!

This is simple yet delicious recipe very common in everyday Bengali cuisine.  I hope you like it as much as I do!

Five seeds are: Mustard, Cumin, Fennel, Fenugreek and Kalonji

Serves 2-4

1 16oz package frozen French cut green beans

1 tsp salt

2 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp Panch Phoron (Bengali 5 spice)

4 tbsp oil

½ onion, chopped

1 serrano chili seeded and chopped

In a  frying pan heat oil and add panch phoron and salt and stir fry until the seeds begin crackling, jumping and skipping (you can enjoy the show for about 2 minutes).  Add onions and green Serrano chili and stir fry until onions are soft and translucent.  Add turmeric and stir fry a few more minutes so flavors meld together.  Add green beans and stir fry until beans look well coated.  Cover and let cook over medium heat stirring occasionally until green beans are tender.  Serve warm with rice.

North African Style Couscous

Couscous is a semolina pasta made out of durum wheat.  It is a staple food in pretty much most of North Africa (Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya).  It’s cooked plain or in a wonderful salad type dish and usually eaten with meat stews that are slow cooked.  This dish goes wonderfully with the Tajine style Moroccan Chicken or just by itself as a refreshing salad or side dish.

Start by boiling

2 cups chicken stock (because it gives it such a depth of flavor but if you’re trying to make it a completely vegetarian dish then use vegetable stock or plain water) and ½ tsp kosher salt together.

Add  1 1/4 cup of couscous and  take off the heat.  Cover and let sit for 5-6 minutes.  Fluff with fork.

In a large skillet heat  ¼ cup olive oil and add 1 small chopped onion and 2 cloves of garlic minced into small pieces.

Saute  for 3-4 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is very fragrant then add the couscous and toast for 8 minutes or so, couscous should get slightly brown.

Take it off the heat and pour into a large bowl and while still warm:

Add to couscous:

½ cup feta cheese

Chopped bell peppers

Chopped avocado

½ cup flat leafed parsley

Cucumber

Toasted almonds

Flat leaf Parsley, Curly leaf parsley and Cilantro

Dressing:

¼ cup oil

1 large lemon, zested

¼ tsp salt

Pepper (fresh cracked if you can)

Juice from lemon

Whisk to make dressing.  It will become a delicious opaque golden colored dressing. Pour over couscous and toss together.  Enjoy right away as a side dish or with any Moroccan style stew!

Preserved Lemons

You will need a quart sized Mason or canning jar along with lid and band.  Make sure you sterilize the jar by either boiling it in water for about 5 minutes or running it in the dishwasher.

8-10 large Lemons scrubbed and cleaned well and the visible stems cut off the ends

3/4 cup of Kosher Salt

Put about 2 tsp of kosher salt in the bottom of the mason jar.  Cut each lemon into fourths but don’t cut completely into quarters.

Rub each section of quartered lemon liberally with kosher salt and squeeze juice into a glass bowl.  Place salted lemons inside the mason jar and pack them in tightly.  Pour all juice into mason jar and add 2 tsp kosher salt on the top.  Screw lid and band on tightly and turn jar upside down a few times.  Leave jar on kitchen counter for about 3 days then refrigerate for 30 days before using.  Lemons will soften and become tender.  Preserved lemons can be stored for 6 months.  Make sure to rinse well before using.

Tajine Style Moroccan Chicken

Tajine is a clay pot that is used in North African cooking.  If you have a long clay pot make sure you use a heat diffuser so it doesn’t crack on the stove top.  If you don’t have a Tajine, don’t worry a nice big skillet with a lid will work just fine. You will need about  8-10 Chicken Thighs with skin. Please use bone in chicken thighs or even a whole chicken instead of boneless, skinless chicken breasts because you need the extra flavor of bone in chicken.  Wash and pat the chicken pieces dry.  Rub each piece with the spice marinade and put in a ziplock bag overnight in the refrigerator.

Marinade  for chicken (preferably overnight):

1 ½ tsp Cumin

1 ½ tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Cinnamon

2 tsp Paprika

4 chopped garlic cloves

Pulp from preserved lemon (recipe included)

1 tsp kosher salt

The next day, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large heavy bottom skillet and place the chicken skin side down.  Sear both sides of the chicken for about 5 minutes each to get a nice brown color.  You’re not cooking it all the way through just locking in flavor and color.

Set the chicken aside.  In the same pan add the following:

1 Spanish Onion, chopped

1 Preserved Lemon – rinse well and chop the lemon skin into small pieces

1 Red bell pepper chopped

Saute a few minutes and then add the following:

1 cup golden raisins

½ cup Kalamata and Moroccan Olives (use a combo)

Fresh garlic  about 5 cloves chopped

1 tsp grated ginger

½ cup each chopped Cilantro and flat leaf Parsley

Sauté a few more minutes and add chicken back into pan.  Cover and simmer about 10 minutes.  Add 1 cup water and cook an additional 20-25 minutes, covered.  Taste for salt and adjust.  Because preserved lemons and olives are salty be careful with how much additional salt you add. Serve with couscous.

Kitchuri

Kitchuri is a very Bengali dish.  Made with rice, lentils, vegetables and sometimes even some meat thrown in.  It’s  the South Asian version of a casserole.  The variety of “kitchuri” is as limitless as each cook’s imagination but two things remain a constant, rice and lentils.  Growing up in Bangladesh, eating Kitchuri was a delight because we usually ate it at picnics or outings, sometimes cooked over an open fire.  Often the kitchuri would have seasonal vegetables, or leftovers from the day before added to it.  I knew whenever I smelled Kitchuri cooking that good things were going to happen that day.

On a recent trip back to Bangladesh, Kitchuri took on a new meaning.  We visited Child Sponsorship Programs and villages where lives were literally being saved.  Children ate one meal a day during school, often it was their only meal.  The meal always consist of Kitchuri because of the high nutrient content and an additional source of protein such as eggs or chicken or fish.  Cooked in a giant pot, the humble Kitchuri had taken on a super hero role!

2 cups Basmati Rice

1 cup red lentils

1 whole spanish onion, chopped

3-4 serrano chillis, chopped

2 whole cinnamon sticks

3 bay leaves

4 cardamom pods, crushed

3 whole cloves

2 tsp turmeric

2 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp red chili peppers

4 fresh garlic cloves, finely minced

1/4 cup oil

salt to taste

4 cups water

1 1/2 cup Assorted chopped vegetables , such as zucchini, shredded carrots, English peas, yellow squash

Wash rice and lentils thoroughly until water runs clear and set aside.  Heat oil in a large 5-6 quart pan and add onions and Serrano chilis.  Saute 2-3 minutes.  Add cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and stir fry another 3 minutes or so until all the flavors are released.  Add 1 tsp of salt, turmeric, cumin and chili powder along with garlic and stir fry another 2 minutes.  Add all vegetables and 1/2 cup of water and stir fry for a minute or two before adding the rice and lentils and the rest of the water.  Bring mixture to boil, stir then turn down temperature to low and cover pan.  Let simmer and cook until all water is absorbed about 10-13 minutes.  When all water is absorbed, rice and lentils should be nice and tender if additional water is needed, add it at this point and cover pot for another 5-6 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Take out cinnamon sticks and bay leaves before serving.

Chicken Korma

Image

1 whole chicken or 8- 10 chicken thighs

3 bay leaves

4-5 whole cardamom pods, crushed

2 cinnamon sticks

5 whole cloves

1 medium onion chopped

1   8 oz can of tomato sauce

1/3 cup of vegetable oil

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp chili powder

2 tsp cumin

1 ½ tsp turmeric

2 tsp paprika

2 tablespoon Fresh garlic and ginger paste

2 tsp salt (or to taste)

2 whole Serrano chilis

4 dried plums (prunes) cut into halves

Cut whole chicken into smaller serving pieces and take all skin and visible fat off, wash thoroughly or if using chicken thighs, take skin off the thighs and cut the thighs in half.  This helps with getting spices more evenly incorporated into the meat.  Using chicken with bone in will always give greater flavor than boneless/skinless chicken.  If you are using boneless chicken, please use boneless chicken thighs and not chicken breast (again for better flavor)

Wash chicken thoroughly, place in a large heavy bottom pan.  Put all ingredients into pan and mix together well.  It will be a pinkish/ reddish color.  Put on medium heat keep stirring every 5-8 minutes and when mixture comes to a boil, cover and lower temperature to medium low and check every 10- 15 minutes and stir gently.  The chicken will naturally release water as it cooks, when the overall liquid goes down and the chicken is tender and the gravy looks fairly thick, add about 1 ½ cups of water and continue to simmer for an additional 8-10 minutes.  Turn off heat and keep covered until ready to serve hot with either plain rice or a rice pilau.

Spinach Pakora

16-20 fresh spinach leaves washed and dried well

1 cup of Besan (chick pea flour)

½ cup of rice flour

½ tsp  Hing or asafetida powder

1 tsp cumin powder

1 – 2 tsp chili powder (to taste)

½ tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp salt

¾ cup water

¼ tsp baking soda

Oil for deep frying

Mix together all dry ingredients and add water.  Batter should be the consistency of pancake batter with no lumps.

Heat a small pan with oil for deep frying.  Temperature should be about 350 degrees if you’re using a thermometer otherwise add a small drop of batter into the oil if it floats to the top fairly quickly, the oil is ready.  Use medium heat so oil does not start to smoke.  Dip spinach leaves one at a time into batter and scrape most of it off by dredging it along the side of the batter pan.  The leaf should be coated but not heavily covered.  Gently place into the hot oil.  Fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side until a nice golden brown color.  Take out of oil with a slotted spatula and place into a platter lined with paper towels to absorb extra oil.  Serve warm with tamarind or cilantro Chutney or even ranch dressing if desired.