I did not grow up eating multiple course meals. We had a lot of food at our dinner tables and we ate it all together with rice or roti. The first time I ate a several course meal was when I first visited my husband’s home. He taught me how to eat the food that was served – first dal, then vegetarian, then fish and so on. That is how the Bongs eat and they pride themselves on being French-like in this matter. I like the idea sometimes because there are certain foods – certain flavors that is – which need to be enjoyed on their own with a starch. Even as a kid, I liked to eat aloo-mutter separately with rice because I didn’t want the taste of dal and aloo- mutter to mix. But in my book aloo-gobhi needs a dal to go with it. And may be some pickle too!
For our fourth wedding anniversary I decided to make a multi-cuisine, multi-course meal for the husband. This is the probably the only genuinely multi-course meal that I have cooked and so holds a special place in my memory. There is another reason it is special that will be revealed at the end of the post. So now you have to read the whole post. I am holding you hostage, so there! The first course was a tomato basil soup with breadsticks. Personally I didn’t enjoy the soup very much because it was too sweet and sour for my taste and had way too much basil. I now prefer my tomato soup with roasted tomatoes and the flavours mellowed down with fewer basil leaves and more heavy cream. The second course was bhaja moong-er dal with begun bhaja and any Bengali worth their salt knows how to make these two things. If you want to learn, head over to Sandeepa’s blog or this page. I actually prefer regular moong dal to the roasted one but I decided to make it the Bong way for hubby’s sake. I actually learned how to make begun bhaja from my mom who learned it from nani who apparently had Bong neighbours when she was younger and learned it from them. When the hubby visited Chennai to meet my grandparents before our wedding, nani made begun bhaja for him and he was suitable impressed. It never ceases to amaze me the way food travels. Of all the things, the humble begun bhaja passed around the world! But begun bhaja is universal comfort food – put it between a couple of slices of bread and you have a sandwich. Put it between a couple of slices of bread, add a slice of moz and grill it and you have a gourmet sandwich!
The next course had to be a fish course so I decided to go with my favorite – fish in mustard sauce, Bong style. This is one recipe that took me years to figure out. I asked the hubby’s grandma and she told me how to make it but somehow it never tasted the same. I experimented with the mustard sauce in every possible way – use yellow mustard, brown mustard, black mustard, add in poppy seeds, don’t add in poppy seeds. I messed with the proportion of yellow vs. brown, mustard vs. poppy seeds in every possible way. But it was never perfect. After coming to India and watching the masters cook I have learned the secret. There is no secret sauce (thank you Kung Fu Panda)! All you need to do is simply grind regular brown mustard seeds with a couple of green chillies as finely as possible. So that day too the fish wasn’t perfect but it was pretty good. But then in my book anything with mustard sauce is good. If I could, I would simply eat mustard sauce and rice. I have tried to make every possible veggie with mustard sauce, even chicken in fact though the results in that case were not pretty at all! I don’t think I have taken to any Bong flavor as much as my beloved shorshe.
The last course was ground turkey koftas or meatballs in a cashew cream sauce. Inspired by meatloaf, I created a recipe for koftas that I bake in the oven at 450F rather than fry which makes the process faster and healthier. They turn out slightly crispy and brown on the outside and soft on the inside. I am sure it can be made with ground chicken as well but the latter wasn’t available at our grocery store all the time so I used to make them out of turkey. I usually make the sauce out of ground onions, ginger, garlic and sour cream but that day I decided to do it from scratch and roasted all the spices and seeds whole along with the onions, ginger, garlic and cashews and then puree the whole thing and pour it over the koftas. That would have been a good idea except the seeds (cumin, coriander) and the whole garam masala didn’t puree well in the regular blender and so the flavor of the sauce was weird and out of proportion. Plus I wanted a smooth sauce and the seeds kept hitting your tongue. Not a successful experiment but again a major learning experience – what a change texture can bring to the taste of a dish and the difference between using whole and ground spices.
But I believe dessert made up for everything. I made this Persian love cake without the rose petals and the rose water and this is now hubby and my- and several of our friends too since I’ve made it many times again – favorite cake. I would love to make it again except saffron is so rare to find and expensive here. Oh how I miss Trader Joe’s $6.99 saffron – sigh! The cake itself is light and delicately flavored with lemon zest and cardomom. The filling and frosting is also a light whipped cream with the uplifting color, smell and taste of saffron. The pistachios add a beautiful contrast on the top of the cake both visually and in terms of crunch. It was yummy yummy. I will stop now. My computer is getting wet with drool.
Thus ended our fourth anniversary dinner. And the next day we found out I was pregnant.