Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Allo Qeema - Potatoes & Minced meat curry

Ask any Pakistani about Allo Qeema and he/she will tell you with a delightful smile as how they have enjoyed eating allo qeema since their childhood either with flat bread, naan, rice, paratha or with toast. Everyone has their own preference as how to enjoy allo qeema. The delight allo qeema brings to the table can only be experienced on a Pakistani dinner table. Ammi always used minced goat meat to make this at home. Minced beef is used as well. The leftover qeema is stuffed between the layers of toasted bread and enjoyed in the lunchbox or as a snack or eaten with a paratha the next morning. 

I am happy to share this Pakistani recipe that usually has the highest approval rating from everyone at home. The other variations of this dish include pairing qeema with peas, fried bitter gourd, fried okra and French beans. I prefer to eat it with home made chappati - flat bread or Tandoori Naan. Here is the recipe.

Oil – 5 tbsp ( i use Sunflower oil)
Minced beef – 250 gms (you can use goat mince as well) Wash it in a sieve lined with chiffon cloth before use)
Potatoes – 2 medium sized (Medium diced)
Tomatoes – 1 cup pureed (fresh)
Onions – 1 cup (finely chopped)
Ginger Garlic Paste – 1 tbsp
Green chilies – 2 medium
Cumin seeds – 1 tsp
Mustard seeds – 1 tsp
Cinnamon stick – 2
Black Cardamom – 2
Cloves – 6-8
Whole Dried chili – 2-3
Chili powder – 1 tsp
Cumin powder – 1 tsp
Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp
Salt – ½ tsp (adjust according to taste)

  1. Heat the oil in a pan. Add onions and cook till they become translucent.
  2. Add ginger garlic paste, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, whole dried chili, cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamoms. Cook for a minute or so till the ginger garlic is cooked.
  3. Add minced beef and cook on high heat till it changes color and water dries up. It will take around 10 mins.
  4. Once the minced beef changes color, add tomato puree, chili powder, salt, turmeric powder and cumin powder. Mix thoroughly. Cook for 5 mins.
  5. Add diced potatoes and green chilies (whole green chili for less heat, chopped for more heat).
  6. Cook for 5 mins on high heat.
  7. Add a cup (250 ml) of water to this mixture. Let it boil once and then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the pan.
  8. The potatoes should take 20-25 mins to cook. The water should dry up with very little juice in the pan which will look like gravy. The oil should separate from the gravy indicating the food has been cooked.
  9. Dish out in a serving bowl and garnish with fresh coriander. I love eating it with freshly made flat bred/chappati/roti.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Potato Cutlets

Potato cutlets were one of the first few things I learnt to prepare as a young teenager growing up in Pakistan. Of course it was ammi’s recipe which now has my input as well. These cutlets used to be part of my school lunchbox for the longest of time. It didn’t end there. While studying at a university in London, coming home late kind of became a norm. And these cutlets became a life saver for this hungry student. What more can a starving student ask for when the temperature outside is minus 4 degrees, the feet ache due to unending walk, the nose is red & runny due to the bitter cold. A warm potato cutlet sandwich with hot vegetable garden soup would save me too often. 

Believe it or not that even today, this particular item (potato cutlet sandwich) is part of my lunchbox at work almost daily. So you can imagine my unending love for these potato cutlets. This one is a treasured recipe.  I would also share another version of potato cutlets at some point in time which are filled with winter vegetables and a very special ingredient. The dried Fenugreek leaf/ Kasuri Methi is the magic ingredient here that transforms the boring potatoes in to a super star! My freezer is always well stocked with these cutlets and are regularly served with Pulao rice or curry. I enjoy eating them with a homemade chapatti - Flat bread and mint chutney.

Potatoes – 1 ½ Kgs Boiled
Fresh Coriander – 1 ½ cup finely chopped
Fresh Mint – 1 cup finely chopped
Dried Fenugreek leaves /Kasuri Methi – 2 tsp heaped
Spring Onion – 1 Cup Finely Chopped 
Green Chilies – 3 medium sized (finally chopped)
Cumin seeds – 1 heaped tsp (partially crushed in Pestle & Mortar)
Whole Coriander seeds – 1heaped tsp (partially crushed in Pestle & Mortar)
Red Chilies – Crushed – 1 tsp
Salt – 1 tsp heaped (adjust after the first mixing)
Bread crumbs – I prefer Japanese Bread crumbs
Egg – 1 
Oil - 3-4 Tbsps for frying.

  1. Mash the warm potatoes either with hand or with a masher or in a stand mixer. I am using a stand mixer to mash the potatoes and to mix the ingredients. It saves time and dishes. Warm potatoes are mashed easily and well. Cold potatoes become jelly like hence hard to work with.
  2. Once the potatoes are mashed add all spices, Dried Fenugreek leaves (Kasuri Methi) and fresh ingredients one after another and mix thoroughly.
  3. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours before making the cutlets.
  4. After 4 hours, beat the egg lightly and spread the bread crumbs in a plate/bowl. Heat 4-5 tbsp of oil in a frying pan for shallow frying the cutlets.
  5. Once the mixture is chilled enough, make meatball sized balls and flatten it in to a cutlet. Make sure the edges are perfectly round like a burger Pattie.
  6. Dip it in egg first and then the bread crumbs. I love using panko breadcrumbs (Also called Japanese breadcrumbs) as they give the cutlets a crispy outside with the soft gooey potatoes inside. Shallow fry them in a medium hot frying pan on both sides till golden brown.
  7. Make one cutlet first and check for the salt and chili. If you are happy with it proceed further with more. Otherwise adjust the salt and spice according to your taste.

1 ½ kgs of potatoes will make around 30 cutlets. I make and freeze them in a covered box with layers of cling film in between. After 48 hours in the freezer, remove the cutlets from the box and seal them in a zip lock bag. Freeze again for future use.
The same potato mixture can be used to make allo walay parathay (Potato filled flat bread) or Potato filled Samosas.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Firni - Pakistani Rice Pudding

Rice puddings are part of quite a few cuisines around the world. Be it Thailand, UK, Iran, Bangladesh, Norway, Egypt, Puerto Rico or Pakistan. Everyone has their own versions of rice puddings prepared with the local ingredients. Thais make theirs with coconut milk and serve it with mango, Iranians make it with saffron infused milk, Danish add butter and cinnamon to their rice pudding and serve it on Christmas eve & the Egyptians make it with nutmeg and rosewater.

It seems all around the world including Pakistan, joyous occasions are celebrated with some version of rice pudding on the table. Pakistan has two variations of rice puddings. One is called Kheer which is heavy and creamy. The other one is called Firni which is lighter and thinner in texture. 

Both types of rice puddings are cooked for the wedding feasts or for the festivals of Eid. Kheer is usually cooked in winters while firni is cooked during long summers and served cold in small earthen bowls called thootis. I have a preference for Firni and love to make it on the festivals of Eid. 

Milk – 1 liter (full cream)
Evaporated milk – 250 ml
Basmati Rice – ¾ cup (Grounded to powder/fine granules)
Sugar – ½ cup
Green Cardamom – 4
Kewra water/Orris Water  - 2 tsp (also called screwpine essence or Pandan essence)
Slivered almonds –  50 gms
Pistachio – 50 gms (finally chopped, unsalted)

  1. Wash the basmati rice with cold water 3 times. Drain water and put the rice on a kitchen paper to dry. Leave them in sun for an hour or leave them overnight in the kitchen to dry completely. Then in a coffee or spice grinder, grind the rice along with 4 green cardamoms to tiny granules cum powder form.
  2. Boil the milk in a pan and add the powdered/granulated rice. Once it starts boiling lower the heat and let it cook for 6-7 mins.
  3. Now add evaporated milk and cook for another 5 mins. The objective here is to cook the rice thoroughly without drying too much liquid.
  4. Now add sugar and mix. Cook for another 10-15 minutes or till rice is completely cooked and the milk is 3/4th of the original quantity.
  5. The mixture should be thick like custard and should cover the back of the spoon. (See the photo)
  6. Remove the pan from the heat and let it rest for 10 mins.  Firni will start becoming thick as it cools down. Now add 2 tsp of kewra water and mix.
  7. Allow is to cool completely and refrigerate it in a plastic container.
  8. Once the firni is chilled, spoon it in to serving bowls. Top with slivered almonds and chopped pistachios. Serve chilled.

The evaporated milk can be replaced with condensed milk. In that case the sugar quantity needs to be reduced as condensed milk is far sweeter than evaporated milk.  
Also you can try using rose water if kewra water is not available. I would love to use edible silver for garnish if available.  
Firni can be made a day in advance. It can sit in the fridge for 2-3 days as well. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Pakistani Shami Kebabs

We Pakistanis love various types of kebabs in our food. Shami Kebabs being one example which is served with almost any main course on Pakistani dinner table. Be it with Daal Chawal, with paratha achaar, as Shami Kebab sandwich, with Peas or chicken Pulao or with afternoon tea. In some way directly or indirectly, Shami Kebabs have been an integral part of our favorite home cooked meals. 

These kebabs used to be part of my school lunchbox for the longest of time and was simply known as shami kebab sandwich.  Now, even when i prefer potato cutlets over shami kebabs any given day, I still love having shami kebabs with specific home cooked meals and there are rare days when my freezer is not stocked with them. My better half is a happy man the day his dinner comprises of a simple pea pulao and shami kebab or a plain old shami kebab sandwich.

Shami Kebabs take us back to our homes and kitchens where we grew up. I do agree these are labor intensive delectables that require a bit of time, but they are deeply satisfying and authentically Pakistani. Follow the pictures and it will be easy peasy!

Ingredients: Phase 1:
Beef Mince – 1 ½ kg
Chickpea lentil – ¾ cup (soaked overnight)
Onions – 2 Large (chopped)
Ginger – 2 Inches chopped
Garlic – 10-12 cloves
Cumin – 1 tsp heaped
Whole Coriander (crush in pastel Mortar) – 1 tsp heaped
Black Cardamom – 3-4
Whole Dry red chilies -6-8
Cinnamon - 4 sticks 1 inch each
Cloves – 10-12
Black Peppercorns – 15-20
Salt – 1 ½ tsp (adjust according to taste)
Water – 500 mil
Ingredients - Phase 2:
Eggs – 4 Large
Mint – 1 cup chopped
Fresh Coriander – 2 cups chopped
Green Chilies – 6-8 whole
Fresh Ginger - 2 inches

  1. In a large sieve/ colander put 3-4 layers of kitchen paper or a layer of Chiffon cloth and place minced beef in it. Put it under running water for 3-4 minutes to clean it up. I cannot cook minced meat without washing it and find it rather bothersome when old aunties and grannies cook minced meat without washing it. Let the mince sit for half an hour so the excess water drains out. The minced beef will have a slightly different color. Now it is ready to be cook. You will also need a food processor for making Shami Kebabs.
  2. In a large pan add the minced beef, chickpea lentil(soaked overnight),salt,  all dry spices, chopped onions, ginger, garlic, Whole red chilies along with 500 ml of water.
  3. Put it on high heat to boil. Once it boils for the first time, lower the heat to medium. The aim is to cook the lentils which will take about 40 minutes. Once lentils are cooked, increase the heat to dry up the water completely.
  4. Let this mixture cool completely in a large mixing bowl.
  5. In a food processor add half of the prepared minced meat mixture; add 2 eggs, 3 green chilies, half ginger, half of mint and half of chopped fresh coriander. Mix it till it becomes fine but you can still see small coriander and mint leaves.  Transfer it in to a large mix bowl.
  6. Now add the 2nd batch to the food processor along with 2 eggs, rest of the green chilies, mint, ginger and coriander. Mix it. Remove from the food processor once finely done and add to the rest of the mixture.
  7. Mix the two batches thoroughly with your (gloved) hand or spatula. Remove the cinnamon sticks and black cardamoms. They will still be chunky and easier to fish out of the mixture.
  8. It’s a good idea to shallow fry one small pattie to check the salt and chilies proportion. Once fried, let the pattie cool down and then taste it. Adjust as per need by adding more salt and red or green chopped chilies.
  9. Leave the mixture to sit in the fridge for 5-6 hours so it becomes firm to make kebab patties. 
  10. After 6 hours, make kebabs by making small meat balls in your hand. Oil your hands to make the kebabs. Press the meat balls in to the shape of a pattie. Ensure the corners are perfectly round by rolling them on a plate.
  11. Put them in a freezer safe box with a lid. Separate layers of kebabs with cling film. It will prevent them from sticking together. Freeze overnight or longer till the kebabs are rock solid. After 24-48 hours, remove the frozen kebabs from the box and put them in to a ziplock plastic bag.
  12. Fry them on medium heat as and when required. 1 ½ kg of minced beef will make around 30 shami kebabs.
  13. These kebabs don’t need a coat of egg before frying. The eggs and chickpea lentils in the mixture act as the binding agents.