Exploring Puerto Rico

Exploring Puerto Rico
At Cafe Puerto Rico in Old San Juan

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A way to a man's heart may be just learning how to make a good damn "fuchka" :-)

While we were in Bangladesh this past winter for 3 weeks, Mus gladly used the pregnant wife excuse to spend more time at my place than his. The ulterior motive was to go out with my sister everyday and have multiple plates of "fuchka" and "chotpoti." (popular road side snacks made of chickpeas, potatoes boiled egg, green chillies, various spices and a tamarind sauce). Without any doubt, the second day we were in Dhaka, he fell sick to his stomach!! A quick call to my cousin doctor, a set of medication was recommended. So well geared with antibiotics in one hand, indulgence of street food continued on the other! 
One such fuchka stand by the Shilpakala Academy in Dhaka

The Famous Fuchka plate

Once back in DC, we were both quite struck by a large dose of homesickness. For Mus, the two things he missed the most are my 2,5 year old niece Ines and his fuchka escapades. I was definitely working on the former as I was pregnant myself, hoping that I would be able to give him my own version of Ines (found out later that it's actually a boy). Tackling the latter was no feat at all. I felt confident as during one of my outings, I observed the man at the cart closely and thought I had learned all the tricks of the trade :-) So here you go, my own version of fuchka minus the pollution of Dhaka, the sweat of the man making it, the snot and the dirty water.

-- 1 cup of yalow peas (sort of chickpeas but smaller. Available at Indian stores)
-- 2 russet potatoes
-- 1 egg
-- Tamarind concentrate
-- One small red onion sliced thinly
-- 6-7 green chillies sliced thinly
-- Spices: 1/2 tsp turmeric, pinch of baking soda. 3 dry red chili, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds, 8 peppercorns, 1/2 tsp kalojira seeds, 1 tsp saunf, 2 cloves, 1 tsp paanch foron.
-- 1/2 tsp sugar
-- Cilantro
-- Fuchka shells (can purchase at any Indian store. They are often called pani puri shells)

-- Overnight, soak the peas in water with a pinch of baking soda. The baking soda will help cook the peas much faster.
-- Next day, wash the peas well and set them in a pan covering them with enough water. Add the turmeric and set to boil. Cover and turn the heat to medium, checking from time to time if the peas need more water. The mixture will take 1-2 hours to get mushy depending on how old the peas are.
-- While the peas are cooking, you can do the next 3 steps. Peel the potatoes and cut them in big chunks and set them to boil along with the egg.
-- Roast all the spices indicated above except for the turmeric and baking soda and grind the spices.
-- Take a few spoons of the tamarind concentrate (if you don't have the concentrate, break pieces of tamarind paste into hot water and mix well discarding any seeds), add some water and some of the spice mixture to your liking and boil. Add salt and sugar to taste. The mixture will thicken a bit and the spices will fill the kitchen with an awesome smell.
-- Once the peas are done, take a potato masher and mash only half of the mixture. Pour in the spice mixture gradually to your liking and add some salt. You can also add a little of the tamarind mixture to give it a little sour note. Don't overdo it as the tamarind sauce has all the spices and will be added as you are ready to eat.
-- With a grater, grate in the boiled potatoes and mix well with your hands. Adjust spices and salt as needed.
-- Add in the sliced red onion and green chillies and mix well.
-- Put the pea mixture in a serving bowl and grate in the egg on top and throw in the chopped cilantro.
-- When ready to serve, I like to toast the fuchka shells in my oven for 1-2 min at 350F. It gives them a fresh taste.
-- Break the middle of the shells and add in the pea mixture. People can add the tamarind sauce as they are ready to bite into these small pieces of heaven!

I have to admit that Mus never thought I would be capable to reenact this dish at home, but ever since I made it, I felt his love for me definitely increased a notch. Or is it my pregnancy hormones turning me delusional? But I think my instincts are right. Tonight, I surprised him with a kick-ass chicken tehari. Recipe to follow...
My version of fuchka -- made in Sabs's kitchen :-)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Have I spoiled him beyond reason??

Just yesterday, I impressed myself by working like a whirlwind, doing groceries, cleaning the apartment, vaccuming, mopping, doing the weekly laundry, making Moroccan/Bangladeshi couscous and baking my weekly bread. And all this, without asking any help from the significant other. Today, I had a long day meeting at CGAP as part of a working group discussing policies around child finance. I was representing Grameen Foundation. Came home all tired and spent an hour on the phone with Star Peru rescheduling all of our internal Peru flights for next week, as for some ungodly reason, they decided to change all their flight itineraries for the season. Did not even care to let us know. Thank god for my friend Shannjit who called me to ask me to check my flight times. Now, have to redo all of our plans, airport pick-ups and hotel bookings. Will tackle that tomorrow as I feel too tired tonight.

So in all that frenzy, I get a call from my other half asking me: "Hey, should I grab something to eat or is there any food at home?" I thought to myself: "But what about that huge pot of couscous I made yesterday with all those veggies and meat?"
Of course, what was I thinking???? That mutt does not like anything that is not Bangladeshi!!!!!!!!!!!! So in order to save him some money, I replied: "Just come home. There's plenty of food for you!" Frantically ran to the kitchen and made him all his favorite: Aloo bhorta mashed with a boiled egg (mashed potatoes), grilled an eggplant to make eggplant bhorta, grilled some beefsteak tomatoes to make tomato bhorta, steamed some broccoli for yet another bhorta, and lastly made him some chana masala. 5 dishes in less than 45 min. There was some khichuri and chicken curry in the fridge. So he should be all set.


What to do?!?! We all have our vices... Which reminds me, I have yet another vice, a huge weakness: carbohydrates! I just realized that I just cannot do without rice, couscous or bread! I try to make it healthy using wheat bread, wheat couscous and in some occasion even brown rice. Just yesterday, I attempted making some rye bread. So here you go! All you need is a breadmaker!

Rye bread with fennel and sunflower seeds

-- 1-1/3 cup warm water
-- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
-- 1 egg
-- 1-1/2 tsp salt
-- 2 tsp sugar (I used agave nectar)
-- 1-1/2 cup rye flour
-- 3 cups while bread flour
--1/4 cup gluten
-- 1 Tbsp fennel seeds
-- 2 Tbsp sunflower seeds
-- 2 tsp active dry east

1. Place all ingredients into the breadmaker following the exact sequence. Form a small well in all the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast. Start the breadmaker according to instructions. Et voila!

When the going gets tough, the tough eat carbs :-)

Sunday, September 26, 2010


This weekend has been an interesting weekend. A hodgepodge of feelings and emotions. It started with a fight with Mustafa and among many things that were said, he used his condescending self and accusatory tone of my not being able to fully understand his real being and always being conscious about society and what others may think. His behavior sometimes drives me up the wall. I went to bed feeling all angry and mostly misunderstood. But I have to admit that a part of me finds fighting quite healthy as it lets us lash out at each other our true feelings which we would not have otherwise done when totally sober. Of course, the important part comes during the making up sessions (and no, I am not talking about sex here), but when we are able to talk things through with sincerity and honesty. I find these moments always helping us get closer to each other at the end of the day.
So while brooding most of Saturday, I decided to do the impossible: stay in bed all day and not care about a thing. And boy, I have to say it felt great! So from anger, total elation! Caught up on "Modern Family" and "Grey's Anatomy" premiere and watched 2 Hindi movies!!! The latter, although quite stupid, made me feel quite emotional and mush. So by now, feeling totally teary! So while the hero and heroine are in search of their love of their life, I realized that no matter what, the love of mine was sitting right there in the living room busy at work and not talking to me all day. And for the first time, ha ha, he did not dare to ask me to serve him either breakfast nor lunch! I would have definitely lashed out :-) Yes, he's not perfect. But then, who is!? A part of me cannot help but feel that if he were the goodie goodie predictable type, he would have been so boring. But yes, definitely lacking maturity. But there's hope. That's bound to happen some day with age. Hopefully, soon.
Today, feeling somewhat inspired by Bollywood, decided to get back to my quintessential self. So the doting wife makes him a full breakfast and allows him to continue his work. No nagging. No reminding him to help me with house chores. Took care of the week's groceries, laundry, cleaning the apartment, vacuuming and mopping and setting to make a hodgepodge meal. But amidst all, I am still awaiting the make-up session ;-)

And what better hodgepodge than Moroccan Couscous containing 8-9 vegetables and beef chunks to match all the different moods I have been feeling... And the end result is an AWESOME concoction. I hope by the age of 60, I can say the same about the Sabsmus partnership.

-- Combination of vegetables cut up in big chunks: 2 large tomatoes cut up in 8 wedges, 2 big carrots skinned and cut up at 3 inch lengths, 1 big zucchini, 1 small cabbage quartered, 1 small sized eggplant, 2 sweet potatoes quartered, 1 quarter pumpkin cut up in chunks.
-- 1 small can of chickpeas
-- A bunch of cilantro tied with a thread
-- 1lb of beef chunks
-- One onion diced and 2 cloves of garlic
-- Salt, pepper, saffron
-- Couscous (I used wheat couscous from Trader Jo's. Follow box directions to prepare)

1. In 3 Tbsp of olive oil in a large stock pot, fry the onions and garlic till the onion is translucent.
2. Throw in the beef chunks and brown. Add salt, pepper and saffron. (OK, my sister will kill me if she reads this as my couscous is not the real Moroccan type, but I make it a la Bangladeshi. I do throw in a little red chili, coriander and cumin along with some whole green chillies. Blush. It's blasphemous I know!!! The real Moroccan way only requires onions, salt, black pepper and saffron)
3. Add in all the vegetables except for the zucchini and chickpeas. On medium high heat, fry well for 2-3 min.
4. Add water to cover the vegetables. Taste the gravy for salt. Place the cilantro bunch on the very top. Bring to boil. Cover and set it on low heat.
5. After an hour or so, check on the vegetables and the meat. Add in the Zucchini and chickpeas. Partially put the lid on and let it cook for another half hour until the meat is nice and tender.
6. Cook the couscous following the box's directions. To serve, place the couscous forming a well in the middle. Place the vegetables and beef on top with a little gravy. Place the gravy in a separate dish and let people take as little or as much as gravy they want. Personally, I like mine dry. I know others like it with a lot of gravy almost forming an island! Enjoy!

Tastes even greater the next day!!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Obsessions.... good or bad?

So I decided to hit the gym today after a long long time. My friend Sharlene gave me the stare this morning indicating that I have been growing handles all over my upper body! Upon entering the gym, the instructor cried out: "Honey, I have not seen you in a while! And you were doing so well!!!!!!" Did I have "fat ass" suddenly written all over my face? I wanted to say: 'I was traveling for work' but that would be a lie. I only traveled for the past two weeks. How would I explain the hiatus from the gym for the past two months! Climbing those 3 flights of stairs to get to the weights room was not easy. I surprised myself by my huffing and puffing. And there, another instructor tells me the same thing! My only solace was seeing Sharlene give me a huge smile letting me know how proud she was of me. A part of her apparently thought that I would not come!!

Ok, reality check. 20 minutes into the body pump workout, and I knew I could not use the same weights I used before. My body was shaking in many places. Push-ups were brutal. But the instructor was super nice to suggest alternate moves so I do not hurt my ankle. My ankle is doing well but sometimes in an uneven surface, I still experience a sharp pain. My brace and ace bandage will accompany me to Machu Pichu!

My strongest critic is by far my husband! If I indulge in a bowl of ice cream or dessert or try to get a second serving of anything, he would invariably poke me in the waist or under my chin and sarcastically note "eat my sweets eat!" or would even make a snide remark that I would make a good sacrificial goat for the next Eid! Not only does it spoil my desire to eat, but makes me want to scream at his: "have you seen yourself in the mirror lately?!?!?!"

My worst reality check comes from visiting my favorite clothing store: Ann Taylor. I don't know why I keep shopping there, but it depresses me everytime. Most of the clothes are made for size 0! And on the occasion I do fit into something, it's after a lot of digging and feeling fat and ugly!

Oh well, the obsession I feel will continue... And just in case we do go to Bangladesh this December, it would do me good to shed some weight. Otherwise, in every household, the conversation would invariably start with: oh you have lost weight from the last time we saw you! or you have put on a lot of weight since we last saw you! It never fails. And the second question would invariably be: when are you two having a baby?!?! So people in the US talk about weather. In Bangladesh, it's one's weight or hair and of course procreation!

So my new plan (a-hem! only started tonight!) is to avoid poultry and red meat and go for fish! Don't know how long it will last as I will still have to cook chicken for hubby. But will try to stick to fish as much as I can! I have not taken any picture of the fish I made tonight. But it turned out sublime. Best of all, it took only 6 minutes!!!!

-- Fillet of flounder. You can use tilapia, cod, catfish, sole or anything you like.
-- Ajwain, Lemon juice, red chilli and salt to taste. Olive oil to fry.

1. Pat the fish with paper towel. Sprinkle fish with some ajwain, salt, red chilli and a squirt of lemon juice.
2. In a saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil, fry the fish for 3 min each side. When you flip the fish, sprinkle the other side with some ajwain, salt and some lemon juice.

I have never cooked fish with Ajwain, but watched my friend Shannjit's mother do so last weekend. In Panjabi cooking, apparently, Ajwain and fish go hand in hand. Trust me. It is REALLY yummy!

Will let you know how long I will keep on the new obsession...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Can you teach an old dog new tricks?

I know I have not written in ages. Been in CA two weeks ago and in Seattle last week. I was in LA for the first time in my life to meet with my scholarship donor and it proved to be a very successful trip. The donor who is currently supporting the education of 200 university girls in Bangladesh promised me funding for these 200 girls for both their undergrad and graduate studies if they wished to continue their schooling and noted that he would like to add on another 200 girls in Bangladesh. So inshallah, we will be able to educate 400 poor university girls in Bangladesh. He held my hand and said that he has full confidence that I would use his money wisely. I was thrilled for both my hard work and for his trust in me and I know I will make him proud. To celebrate, spent the weekend with my old buddy Shannjit in LA who diligently took me to downtown LA, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, the Observatory, Santa Monica and to the beach. Pictures have been posted on facebook if you are curious. During one of our chats, Shannjit suggested that I turn my blog into my life chronicles with Mus as we have some hilarious stories to share. I know our stories always end up the butt of all jokes among friends. Funny thing is neither of us seems to mind...

So last night, after being back after almost 2 weeks, Mus let out a VERY LOUD burp! I looked at him stupefied and asked: "do you mind?" He looked at me with a grin, quickly apologized and said: "Oops, having been gone for 2 weeks, I forgot that you were back" And then he went on to add that he enjoyed a great level of freedom to be able to fart as loud as he could, burp all he wanted, and most of all scratch his nuts at all times without being sneered at. And just when I thought that I had him finally trained!!! Hmmpphh!! Can you really teach an old dog new tricks? I have to admit that a part of me felt guilty. Am I really restraining his freedom? Or is this just normal decency or courtesy that one should expects in a relationship? Or are men really an extenstion of dogs?

On the brighter side of things, a new trick was definitely taught to this bitch, i.e. the author of this blog! While at Shannjit's, I watched his mother make parathas. And in my aversion of handling dough, she made the process look seamless. So feeling a strange wave of encouragement, I decided to make some naan for breakfast this morning to go with the navratan korma (an attempt to use up all the veggies in my fridge). I have to say the process was quite simple and the naans tasted WONDERFUL!!!!! I was so impressed, I kept eating and eating and eating them! Yikes, so much for trying to keep my carb intake at bay! But I have to say, they were just sooooooooooooo yummy!

-- 1/2 cup warm water (make sure the water is not too hot)
-- 2 tsp active dry yeast (I bought a bottle which I keep in my fridge when I would like to use.Or you can get single sachets)
-- 1 tsp sugar
-- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling (next time, I will experiment with wheat flour)
-- 1/2 tsp salt
-- 1/4 cup canola oil
-- 1/3 cup fat free yogurt
-- 1 egg
-- Olive oil for cooking (you can use ghee if you prefer)

1. Mix the water, yeast and sugar and let stand for 5 minutes until foamy. Do not stir.
2. Once the yeast mixture is foamy, throw in the flour, salt, oil, yogurt and egg.
3. Using your hands, knead the dough well until it reaches elasticity. About 5 min.
4. Cover LOOSELY with a towel and let it sit in a warm place for about an hour. The dough will rise almost double its size. (Once ready, when you punch it in the middle, you will hear a woosh sound. The dough is ready).
5. Putting some flour in your hands, divide the dough into 8 small pieces on a lightly floured surface. On a wooden board, roll out each piece into a thin oval. Make sure your board and rolling pin are well coated with flour. When rolling the dough, do sprinkle the dough with some flour to prevent sticking.
6. Cook each naan in a hot skillet drizzled with a little bit of oil until blistered and cooked, flipping as necessary. For some, I used olive oil, for others I used a little ghee. But I preferred the ones with the olive oil.

I served my naan with Navratan Korma. You get about 8 naans.

Mustafa woke up while I was preparing breakfast and knew right away that I was cooking with spices in the kitchen. With a grin, he asked: "What are you making?" Sniffing around, he added: "Boy, am I glad you are back!" I am a sucker for compliments and to get that kind of a response, I would do this every morning if I had to...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Not so traditional quiche

Oh followers far and near, I am so sorry to have let you down yesterday by not blogging :-) :-) I was at Best Buy's Geek Squad figuring out what was wrong with my computer (it would not turn on. but then let's see, duh, isn't that normal as I had accidentally dropped it from my bed the night before with a BIG thud) :-( :-(
What they did not tell me at the time they sold me the $300 some warranty was that they usually 14-20 days to fix a computer!!!! 20 days without a computer?!?!?!?! How can it beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee? How can I live?!?! I borrowed Mustafa's last night but did not like the feel of it. Hmmm, reminds me of the saying "beggars can't be choosers!" So today, I brought my work laptop home to check both my work email, facebook and keep you oh loved ones happy and well fed! :-)

So what's next on the agenda?

Spinach and Shrimp Quiche
Ok, full disclosure. It is not very traditional to mix spinach and shrimp in a quiche. But who cares?!?! It surely tasted good and in this blog, we are allowed to go a little racy ;-) So here goes to a real yummy quiche!

--Ok, so I cheated. I did not make the pie from scratch but bought a frozen wholeweat pie crust from Whole Foods. Any pie crust would do the trick.
-- 3 eggs
-- 3 tbsp cream (you can use lite cream if figure friendly)
-- 1/3 packet of frozen chopped spinach (about 100g)
-- 90g Pecorino Cheese, finely chopped and crumbled
-- 9-10 shrimps shelled, deveined and cut up in small pieces
-- Red chili flakes (this is the Bangladeshi in me surging)

1. Preheat over to 400F.
2. Make sure the spinach is defrosted and drained. You can dab it with paper towel or do as I did, bang the colander on the kitchen sink quite a few times.
3. In the mean time, in a small saucepan, heat up a tbsp of olive oil and fry the shrimp lighly for a minute. Throw in the spinach, red chilli flakes and fry for another minute.
4. In a bowl, beat the eggs and cream together and add in the spinach, shrimp and crumbled Pecorino. Mix well and pour into frozen pie (you do not need to defrost it) You can check for salt, but the Pecorino was quite salty. If you want, you can place cherry tomatoes all over the surface of the quiche.
5. Bake for 30 minutes. If you are using tomatoes on top, remove it from the oven and place it under the broiler for anoter 5 minutes if the tomatoes aren't roasted well enough.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dhakaiyya Boot Bhaji

Not having gone to the gym for over two months and suddenly hitting the old gym routine for the past two days, I am sore as shit! Even lying in bed with my laptop on top of me hurts. Sweet pains. Wincing, I am telling myself that I have to keep on blogging whether you are all actually reading my blog or not. Sadly, no one commented on my last two entries. Are they really that boring? :-(

I have to say I am quite enjoying my new office location. Office, home and gym are all within a block radius. But a part of me misses the 35 min walk to my old work place. It allowed me to catch up with my mom every morning and the walk would seem a breeze. I would call her as soon as I would enter the elevator in my building and hang up as I reached my office desk. So I guess no more excuses now. Need to hit the gym at least 4 times a week to make up for the sudden decrease of walking routine!

Ok, enough rambling. I will share with you my recipe of boot bhaji (fried black lentils). If given the choice, I like mine plain. But Mus on the other hand likes it with potatoes and tomatoes. So with a big bear in my household, potatoes are usually added to increase the enjoyment level. So here goes my boot bhaji recipe. The potatoes play a good trick when some of them melt and actually become the base of the gravy in the dish. YUMMY!

-- 1 cup Kala Chana (black lentils)
-- 1 onion thinly sliced
-- 3 cloves of garlic minced
-- 1 Tbsp minced ginger
-- 1 big potato diced
-- 2 tomatoes diced
-- 1/2 tsp each turmeric, red chilli, black salt, 1tsp each of coriander and cumin
-- Sprinkle of lemon juice
-- Salt to taste
-- 1/4 cup canola oil
-- Cilantro to decorate
1. Soak lentils overnight and add in a pinch of baking soda. This will make them cook faster.
2. Wash the lentils very well and add them to the pan where you will cook them.
3. Add in the onion, garlic, ginger, oil, potatoes, all spices and cover with enough water. Bring the mixture to a boil and lower the heat and put on a lid and let the lentils cook. It will take 2-3 hours. Check from time to time, stir, and add hot water if needed. Taste for salt as well.
4. When the lentils are getting tender, add the tomatoes and lemon juice and cook for another half hour.
5. Before taking the lentils out, sprinkle some cumin and black salt for flavor. Decorate with some cilantro.