Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Pakistani Culinary Classic

It’s that time again. The time when I have to cook. Honestly if I had my way, everyone would just eat chocolates and take multivitamins to fulfill the rest of the human dietary requirements. This diet plan however isn't met with as much enthusiasm as I would have liked. People react by looking perplexed, then passionately debating about how we need our basic food requirements of Carbohydrates, Proteins and Fats, along with much needed fiber, vitamins and minerals that chocolates can't substitute. My own family looked confounded when I brought forth this brilliant idea after years of experience as a chocolate connoisseur. So until I find a research team of nutritionists who can research my ingenious idea which I can then patent, sell for millions and give the 'I told you so' look to all the doubters of chocolate only diet out there, I have no choice but to stick to old fashioned cooking for the time being. 

Despite all the groaning, moaning and procrastination towards cooking, I feel I am surprisingly quite a decent cook. I would like to share an old Pakistani recipe which I cooked a few days back. The recipe is Boneless Chicken Karahi. Not only will this hopefully be helpful to someone who wants to try out some yummy Pakistani dishes, it will also motivate me to get off the sofa and go start cooking today. The things you have to do for a healthy meal.

I took some pictures again to make the experience a bit more visual. Boneless Chicken Karahi is an old Pakistani favorite and I am sure almost all Pakistanis who have ventured into the world of culinary ‘delights’ have enjoyed making this recipe. Okay sarcasm aside, this is a pretty yum and easy to cook recipe. To start, you will need an onion, ginger, garlic, tomato paste, tomatoes, lemon, coriander, yogurt, baby green chili and of course boneless chicken.

Cut the chicken into medium sized dices. Take a bowl and mix 2 tablespoons of yogurt, red chili powder along with ginger and garlic paste. Marinate the chicken in it for at least an hour. Remember, if you are in a hurry, cut the chicken in to smaller pieces. This increases the surface area to volume ratio, ensuring the chicken is cooked quicker. I had ample of time so kept the chicken pieces medium sized.

Cut the onions into small pieces. Again the surface area to volume rule will apply here, so the smaller the pieces of onions, the faster will be the rate of cooking. Take some vegetable oil in a wok (known in Urdu as karahi, hence the name boneless Chicken Karahi), heat it, add whole cumin seeds and the chopped onion. Fry the onions, and whilst continuously stirring the contents of the wok, add a clove of chopped garlic, half a teaspoon of chopped ginger, a quarter of a teaspoon of turmeric powder, half a teaspoon of coriander powder, and salt according to taste. Continue stirring until the onions are a lovely light golden brown color.

Once the onions are done, add about a quarter of a can of tomato paste. This would give a lovely bright red color and tangy taste. Not only will this be a delight to look at, the mouthwatering aroma from all the added spices will like magic take over your kitchen.

Add the boneless chicken in the mixture and stir it around to fry it a bit. Do this for about five to ten minutes. Then take 4 tomatoes and chop them into small pieces. I like my gravy to be thick, so I kept the chopped sizes relatively big. If you like thin gravy, take the fresh chopped tomatoes, and grind them to form a paste. You can then add it to the rest of the contents in the wok. Add also a few drops of lemon juice for some tangy flavor and chopped baby green chili according to taste.

Stir the contents of the wok for a while to ensure the ingredients are mixed together properly. Cover the wok and let the mixture simmer for a while. After about twenty minutes, the time could vary, come and check on the mixture. The chicken should be soft and break easily, and the mixture should be giving off the oil drops in the karahi.

Chop some coriander and use it to garnish the boneless Chicken karahi. Enjoy with a roti the tangy flavors, the passionate red color and the assault on the senses from the yummy aroma due to all the herbs and spices in the recipe. Mmm...

This is one recipe that is definitely worth a try if you want to foray into the world of Pakistani cooking. I am now encouraged to start cooking again also, phew. God bless!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Still We Rise

There are times in every ones lives when one could use some hope and encouragement. Life seems bleak, the future seems uncertain and scary and you desperately want to see the light at the end of the seemingly never ending tunnel. We have all been there and the key to survival is persistence. I look at the situation of my country Pakistan now, and observe how the dark clouds of floods and dengue are enveloping our green and white flag. Then there are more personal examples also, of one of my two younger brothers who just had knee surgery two days back who could also use some hope that inshAllah all would eventually be well.

Keeping in mind how hope is needed both on a macroeconomic scale and a mircoeconomic one, I want to have the honor of sharing a beautiful poem full of hope and inspiration by one of my favorite poets Maya Angelou. The poem was written as a defiance against African American oppression, ferociously stating that no matter how much others would try to oppress the African Americans, they would still rise and overcome the obstacles placed in front of them. It showcases how proud Angelou is to declare herself as black and that they as a nation would rise to be free and won't let their color oppress them. Considering how America is now governed by an African American president, it suffices to say that these valiant words have loudly rung true. Bravo!

You may write me down in history,
With your bitter, twisted lies.
You may trod me in the very dirt,
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells,
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard.
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines,
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefullness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you? 
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds,
At the meeting of my thighs.

Out of the huts of history's shame,
I rise.
Up from a past that's rooted in pain,
I rise.
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear,
I rise.
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear,
I rise.
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise.
I rise. 
I rise.

We too shall rise again as a nation. Bumps on the road are there to make us stronger. God bless.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The first step towards domestication is cooking. I have never been a huge fan of cooking. My mother on the other hand used to passionately love cooking and could cook the most delightfully appetizing meals ranging from Chinese to Continental to of course Pakistani. It’s a miracle we weren’t fat kids while growing up, considering the yummy food at home. By the time I was done with my O Levels, mom was beginning to worry why her beloved daughter didn’t share her same passion for cooking. Certain that it was laying dormant under the surface, waiting for a spark to set it off, she enrolled me in cooking class at the age of 15 with one of the best cooking teachers in Lahore. I did enjoy the classes and learned how to make some yummy food, primarily focusing on baking. I tried out the recipes quite a few times at home. My Pizza recipe went viral, and all my cousins came home to learn and copy the recipe. Then my A Levels started, and I drifted away from the kitchen. The benefits of living in Pakistan happens to be that you can get your meals and snacks whenever you want courtesy of the cook, without stepping in the kitchen. So I drifted away from cooking until the fateful day I went abroad for my studies.

Eating out is fine once in a while. However when you’re on a student budget, it isn’t the most practical option. And it does get boring eventually when you try to strain your budget by opting for food on the go through cutting spending elsewhere. Long story short, through trial and error and some pretty hilarious anecdotes saved for later, I eventually started cooking again. This did not last long though, with work taking the toll and me opting for ready made food packs most of the time.

Having moved into a new place recently, I can hear once again the calling towards cooking. I decided it would be a good idea for me to share my experiments in the kitchen on my blog, making the whole cooking ordeal something to look forward to. I do not believe in following recipes. One should have an idea of what one is doing, but go with the flow while cooking. Be creative, enjoy the process, experiment and play with the tastes and colors that nature has to offer.

The first recipe I’d like to share is something I cooked earlier today. I cooked Achari Chicken the day before yesterday and wanted to cook something vegetarian for a change. I love Paneer (Cheese) so I decided to cook Paneer Sabzi or Paneer with Vegetables. The recipe is pretty simple, and I enjoyed cooking it due to its vibrant and colorful appearance and enticing aroma. I also took some pictures to make the whole experience more visual for you.

The ingredients used are shown in the picture below. You will need a bowl of chopped paneer, 2 chopped tomatoes, chopped baby potatoes, 1 chopped onion, sliced baby corn, 2 chopped capsicums, some peas, red chili according to taste and a can of chopped tomatoes.

To start, take a few drops of Olive oil and heat it on a pan. Place the paneer into the pan and fry it until it is light brown.

Once the Paneer is done, remove the pan from the stove. Take a karahi (wok) and place it on the stove. Add about 3 tablespoons of oil. Olive oil burns quickly so for desi cooking, it is advisable to use vegetable oil instead. Take some whole cumin seeds, and place them in the oil. Once the oil is heated, add the chopped onion. Fry until it is golden brown. In the process add a tablespoon of ginger and garlic paste, half a teaspoon of turmeric powder, half a teaspoon of coriander powder, along with salt and red chili powder according to taste. Make sure you are stirring the contents of the wok this whole time to ensure they don't burn. Add three quarters of the contents of the can of chopped tomatoes. Meanwhile put the baby potatoes to boil in another vessel. Slowly add all the other vegetables to the wok, starting with the peas, boiled baby potatoes, tomatoes, baby corn and capsicum.

Once the vegetables are added, add the fried paneer. Stir the contents of the wok properly to ensure mixing, and add the chopped red chili. After a few minutes, place the cover on top of the wok and let all the contents simmer for a while. Once you can see mixture give off oil or drops of oil on the handi, that means the Paneer Sabzi is ready.

Inspect the vegetables are all properly done by poking a piece of potato to ensure they break easily. I love this dish because it is so colorful and full of different textures and tastes. 

Once cooked, eat it hot preferably with a Roti. Enjoy!