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Asma’s Bengali Supper

Asma Khan

Lesson time 40 min

Asma became famous worldwide for her Indian supper club in London. Now, for the first time ever, she has returned to Kolkata to cook an outdoor dinner party. She is joined by journalist and dear friend Kounteya Sinha to prepare a special menu cooked entirely on an open-fire grill. This wonderful meal includes something for everyone: skewered fish and cheese paneer marinated in a delectable yogurt sauce, smoky eggplant dip, sweet potato salad, and freshly made parathas.

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– Thank you. – [Kounteya] The fire’s nice. – [Asma] He’s an expert. – Yeah, he is. – Okay, so, it’s really strange, because we are in Calcutta, and I’m cooking for you, and the last time I cooked for you was in my house in London. – Correct. – Anyway, you are the Bengali expert on this, so I have to start by fish. – Right. – So, I’ve never fully understood, you know, what is the link? Because I go to a wedding, I go to someone’s birth, I go to someone’s marriage, and fish, fish, fish. – Right. – The fish is very important. So, what’s the real link, actually, between fish and any event in Bengal? – You have to understand, the entire culture of Calcutta is born from the river, because it runs through it, right? So, basically, it is just intrinsic to our DNA to have fish. I mean, from death, to birth, to any celebration, to any mourning, you will always have fish. They’ll figure out a way to put that in the menu, right? Fish is intrinsic to what we do here. What you’re gonna cook, today, is actually what you would do in an average Bengali family. – Okay, so I making two kinds of kebabs. I’m doing paneer, paneer tikka. And then, of course, I’m doing fish kebab. So, of course, let’s start with the fish. God, I’ve forgotten how wonderful the color is. So, I’m gonna add… I’m gonna do two marinades, because there’s a kind of two-stage process. – Right! – So, there’s a little bit of garlic goes in there, and then pepper. I need three of the lemons cut. How bad are you with the knife? – [Kounteya] I’m good. – Cut it, and then, first, I need to smell it. – Like this? – Yeah. This is what you miss. – Truly. – Ah! So you would pronounce it more correctly than me. So what is this lemon? – This is , in Bengali it means “the smell.” This is the only one which is like, intrinsic to Bengalese. You have it with dhal, or anything, in stuff that you use, this. – I yearn for this. – This is incredible. – I yearn for this, in London. This so hard to describe. It’s citrusy, but it’s sweet, the smell. – Yeah. – I… – One of the things we do Asma, is we just cut it with your nails, and then just smell it, and it just changes the way you feel. – Really? – Yeah. – Well, because you’re lucky enough to get it. – Yeah. – [Asma] Okay so… some salt. Okay. And now, I’m just going to add some lemon juice. Squeeze a little bit more. So, I’m just gonna mix it. So that combination of salt and lemon, pepper, little bit of garlic, is the, kind of, a lighter marinade. There, you can see some of this extra water that’s been released. – [Kounteya] Yeah. – [Asma] Look. – [Kounteya] Yeah. – [Asma] And there’s nothing wrong. I mean, a fishy smell is not a problem. – This is bhetki, right? – Yeah, bhetki. In case you can’t get bhetki, what is the kind of fish that you can use? – Sea-bass, kingfish, barramundi. Any kind of fish, which is, like, probably, white and full-bodied, and you can make filets out of it. Or cubes like you have made. That’s the best ones. – Okay, so, that’s the other thing, that you’ve gotta be very careful not to pick up a flaky fish. – Yeah, not like something which is, like, you know, very, very soft and wiggly. You just need something which is stronger. – Okay, great. This one will have yogurt going in it. Then, of course, mustard oil. – [Kounteya] Oh. – I just absolutely love the color. Mustard oil is so Bengali. – [Kounteya] Because it’s part of every recipe that Bengalis make. So it’s, absolutely, the DNA of Bengali and Calcutta food. – Yeah, because, actually, I’d be crazy not to use the best oil of Bengal, when you’re here. So I’m just gonna add the garlic. I’m also gonna add two other fresh ingredients. Okay, tell me, is this gonna be spicy, or not? – [Kounteya] This will be spicy. – Maybe, I’ll do two, because you’ve scared me. Ohhh, whoa! – Yeah. – Ah… I’m gonna use one. – Good idea! It’s tricky, yeah. – [Asma] But, that’s because I like you. I don’t want you to suffer tonight! Okay… This is why. This is why. It’s packed with seeds. Okay, I’m taking the seeds out. Bye-bye seeds! I’m gonna just take some coriander, and chop some coriander. I’m always surprised that so many people throw away the stem. That’s the most beautiful part of the coriander. – That’s the fragrance, right? – Yeah, that’s the fragrance! And, you know, people who use coriander, and then just use the leaves, you’re throwing away the best part of the coriander. So, you know, I tell this to all of my friends. They said, “Oh no, no, you’re not supposed to eat it.” I said, “Who told you this? You’re not supposed to eat it. You are supposed to eat it.” There are dishes in Hajaba that people make, which even have the coriander roots boiled. So that goes in there. And then this point is to make it look dry. – Okay. – As dry as possible, because it’s now going into a wet marinade. You squeeze it, and you know, there you can see all of this is now ready. It’s thirsty. It’s now gonna go and suck up all this marinade. So I’m going to add the rest. So here I’m mixing everything very gently because even though the, you know, bhekti is very firm and not gonna break, I’m just emphasizing the gently because not every fish that people are going to use is as firm bodied as bhekti. So, you know, you don’t want to start actually breaking it. But what is very important is, you know, take a bit of time to make sure that, you know, all the fish is coated everywhere. And also I think that’s very important; don’t pick a bowl that is too small when you stuff it. Because as you pile it high here, they’re not really sitting on each other, but you really don’t want more than one sitting on the other. Otherwise it’s going to actually break it up. – [Kounteya] But I have to say your marinade looks absolutely just spectacular. – Thank you. And the thing is that the yogurt, I really need to mention this. You cannot use low-fat yogurt. If you’re trying to diet, please diet some other time. This is full-fat yogurt. And you know, in the West you get full-fat yogurt, which is like 5% fat, 10% fat, what they call Greek or Turkish yogurt. Use 10% fat. If you do not find yogurt that is actually full fat, hang the yogurt for two hours. That drains out all the water. And then you have this. Because otherwise what’s gonna happen is that it’s not going to be clinging to the fish. It’s going to be– – It also has to be creamy, right? – Yeah. And it is creamy because this yogurt, I hung. You will never get this creamy structure unless you actually have all the water out. – Right. So you’ve got to really make sure that you get full fat yogurt or you hang it. Unless it’s 10%, don’t use it directly. Even 5% yogurt, hang it. This is, again, going to go back to the fridge, please. If you can cover it and put it in the fridge. – Sure. Sure. – Thank you. – So paneer is an interesting thing that you get in Calcutta. Because it’s not Bengali really, but it’s Bengali something. – So the paneer is very, very, very important for the Calcutta palette because, you know, you really have a changing Calcutta. You know, like Bengali is actually known for the art, and culture, and holding onto the traditions. The other communities have actually come in to Calcutta and actually expanded the scope of it. Everybody actually, they live here in complete harmony has been for ages. – [Asma] Yeah. – [Kounteya] It’s like a large cauldron. – Okay. I need that bowl, please. – Yeah. – So, we’ll cut this and then I’m going to… So you need to cut the onion into quarters, and then peel them, and they gotta be roughly the same size as this, because you’re going to, you know, skewer them in there. So kind of size does matter. I mean, it’s not a problem if you get it, you know, too big or too small, but it’s just nicer. If it looks prettier if it’s the same size. Pepper. So I’ve got all the bits together, which I’m gonna put in here, and I’m gonna start doing the marinade. Okay, so we start off by adding the yogurt in. And then the kasur methi. The . And this is cumin powder. If you ever confused between cumin and coriander powder, difference in color. So I mean, of course, you can smell the difference, but I’m just saying that other thing is that coriander powder is always lighter. Turmeric or haldi. And this one is very straightforward because everything is one teaspoon. So easy to remember. Maybe I put a bit extra in this of chiles. Very good. You can have it. So this is one spoon of garlic paste. Ginger paste. – Lot of color on the bowl. – Yes. – Like a sponge rainbow, isn’t it? – Also, this is like date whiteboard. – [Kounteya] Yeah, yeah. Mustard oil. So now I’m gonna add the chick pea flour. This is the last bit, and then I’m going to mix. You don’t want the chickpea flour to form lumps. – Right. – So this is quite important that, I mean, you can use a whisk, but I think a spoon for me works better. Also, it’s too thick to use a whisk. You want to incorporate the entire marinade. So it’s getting this lovely color. – Yeah. Looks like the palate of an artist, isn’t it? – Yeah, yeah. Take time over the marinade. This is the real cook because you are now leaving the paneer in this to actually absorb all the flavors. – Right. – So if you’re gonna rush the marinade, it’s not going to work. – Take time to start to put everything in layers. – Right. – Give it a little bit of love. – Yeah, yeah. – So now that the marinade is ready, I’m going to add all the paneer, and also the onions and the peppers. They also need to marinate. And again be gentle, because you don’t want to break up your paneer. So there, you know, it’s important to get all of this marinated. – Right. – Okay. So can you please put this in the fridge? – Absolutely. I have a few things to do. So I cannot wait for this feast. – Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you. – [Kounteya] If you actually know Asma, you’ll realize she has a very curious mind. And I think what she did was she merged the stories of her land, of her ancestry, in that food. And if you look at it, that is what makes her food special. That is the Calcutta in her. Asma is not about food. Asma is about stories on a plate. – So I’m going to make an aubergine dish, which is made in every part of India. In Bengal, this is traditionally made as well. The recipe I’m making is one that’s made on my father’s side of the family, which is in the North. You can do it in a oven, or you can actually do it on a naked fire, which is very messy, so not recommended. But of course the best kind of way to slowly get it to cook all the way in is to put it in embers. And that’s what we’re gonna do. I think aubergine is very common in this platform, and a lot of chefs make it, but this is gonna be the best one ever, okay? And once you make this one, you don’t make any of the other guys’. Or women, for that matter. First off, I’m going to rub a little bit of ghee on it, and then I’m actually going to give it to an amazing gentleman who’s gonna put it and roast it. So I’m gonna pierce it. It’s very, very important because this can explode. It’s critical. Take a fork, take a knife and stab it, okay? Because all that pent up heat and steam, this whole thing would blow. So not a good idea to forget that, all right? So I’m just gonna take a little bit of the ghee, and I’m gonna rub it. It’s a bit like putting sun cream. Because this poor thing is gonna be burnt in that fire. So this, the little bit of ghee gives it a bit of protection. It is important. Please don’t think that, you know, it’s an unnecessary step. It is because, you know, it gives it a bit of protection from the fire. Doesn’t burn completely. Only thing is that it’s, like right now, very, very slippery after the ghee has been put on it. It’s shiny and slippery, and I’ve gotta have to hold it like this. Otherwise it’s gonna just fall outta my hand. And I’m going to take it to the gentleman, Narmalda, who’s gonna put it. Next thing I’m making is something quite unusual. It’s a street food, but it is a fabulous, interesting way to use our sweet potatoes. And this goes back to this Ayurvedic concept of having all these different elements in your food, sweet, sour, savory, bitter. A perfect Indian meal would definitely have a sweet element in it in the meal. I’m not talking about the dessert. So these are all the zones in your pallet that need to be, you know, touched by the food you eat. You don’t just sit and have something salty, and the meal ends. This we’ll bury in the embers. This can also be done like you would roast potatoes in an oven, you know, just put it in, and then you can cook it more or less the same way that you would cook potatoes. I’ve seen people boiling them. Somehow there isn’t that magic, but if we really have three sweet potatoes sitting on your kitchen table, begging you to eat them, then boil them. So I’m gonna take this to Narmalda, as always, the fire man. And he’s going to put it in the embers. – [Asma] So now the aubergine, they’re ready. They don’t look that pretty. But then, you know, aubergine is not the prettiest thing, but my God it’s got so much flavor. So there’s, you know, many ways to do it. I prefer to kind of open it out. The easiest thing to do is to use a spoon and scoop it all out. We put it in the bowl. You can use a fork. I prefer to use a spoon ’cause then I can get all these bits out. So this way you get most of it out, and it’s not wasted. Other one. Again, just cut it, open it out. Of course, at this stage, if you find that you thought your aubergine was cooked, and it hasn’t cooked, it’s not a disaster. You can put it back on the grill, or just put it on a dry non-stick pan. Slowly, just get the heat through on low heat. You don’t wanna burn it. I’ve always seen people who are a bit fussy about the bits of peel coming in. I like it. I love it because it’s that slight smokiness. It also is a sign that you’re not a perfect cook. That you don’t bring your ego on the table. So this needs to be chopped down a bit. I’m doing it in the bowl. Also, this is gonna go on a fire and be cooked. So it’s gonna break down in any case, but just a little easier if you just chop it a bit in here, right? So then I’m going to add the bits that go in, and I’m gonna use two chiles. It’s a very rustic dish. It’s not meant to be pretty and delicate looking. So, it’s entirely up to you. Oh, I have to say one thing: Try and use red onions. They just look nicer because the aubergine is not a great color. It’s a bit boring, and a bit gray, and a bit dead looking. And if you’re using tomatoes, don’t use red chiles. You’re trying to get as much color in there as possible. So try and use green chilies, or yellow chilies if you have them. You wanna kind of bring some life into the aubergine. Also if you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can use tinned tomatoes, but make sure you don’t put too much juice in. Because this is, you know, the texture is a baba ghanoush. So, you know, if you’ve had it before, you know what you’re looking for. It’s not gonna be a kind of soupy, soggy wet thing. It’s pretty dry. Okay. And one thing about the chiles: I’m keeping the seeds on. Don’t chop it finely. Because I absolutely do not like green chiles. I find it too fiery. So this gives the person the option because they can visually see it. Unless you really hate your guests, and you mince it and you want to see them weep. That’s fine, do that. But, kind of, keep it chunky, so that they can see it. If it’s this size, unless you’re kind of extremely distracted, you’re gonna see it. So it’s better to do that when it comes to something like this. The other thing that you have here is kind of thin slivers of ginger. And actually we’ve got everything ready for the baingan bharta. So we just finished the Muslim call to prayer, and now we have the Hindu worship going on. So, of course, you’re in India. This is gonna happen all the time. So here I’m putting in a bit of oil. Then followed by the ginger. Then you just put everything in. The onions, the tomato, the chiles. Put in some salt. The salt is very important to put in at this stage, because you want the salt to actually release some of the water from the onions and the tomatoes. Because salt drags out liquid. Put in some of chili powder. And then of course, the last bit, which is the aubergine. Make sure that any juices that are there, you’ve gotta put all the aubergine in, ’cause you don’t wanna waste anything. And slowly you’ve gotta cook this down. Keep breaking up the aubergine pieces, the strips. Not everyone’s gonna be making it in this fancy way. So the way to do it, if you’re using a normal cooker, is on high heat. Once it goes in on high heat, put it on medium to low heat. So the way we eat this is it goes well with burratas. And you know, if you wanna be adventurous and serve something different as a canape, it’s great on bread, on pita. You just put it on anything, and it makes a great snack as well. Okay so you can leave this. It’s not gonna catch fire, and it’ll slowly cook down. You don’t want it to be colored. You don’t want it to catch. So you gotta watch it. You can’t go off and watch Netflix. Here you can see the water being released. That’s because the salt was there. So it’s gonna take time, because you want all of this water that’s coming out to evaporate. It’s not something that’s super quick. It takes time and you’ve gotta keep stirring it because you don’t want it to catch and become brown. But there’s enough liquid now for a while for it to come out. Obviously before you serve it, taste it. So now that the aubergine is kind of cooked down I’m getting it ready to serve for dinner. It looks so pale, and it looks bland. It’s not. It’s super spicy. It has a really nice smokey flavor to it. So you gotta try making it because it is quite wonderful. So I’m gonna put some mint on top. For coriander, you definitely need to have the stocks. For mint, you definitely don’t need to have stocks. So you’ll make sure that you take out only the leaves. Mint stock is not fun. You can leave it on whole, like little leaves, because it looks fancy. But I wanna bruise it a bit, because I want to some of the flavor to come through. So I’m ready to take it. Okay. So here the sweet potatoes. Very, very beautiful. Have cooked all the way through. Get the charred skin off, and then chop them up, and you mix them with the dressing. So you got to get all the charred skin off. Again, if you just leave a little bit, pieces here and there, it’s not the end of the world. And essentially you cut them into cubes. Oh, it’s got really nice texture! I would say don’t cut it too big because you want the marinade to kind of really go in. This is the kind of ideal size for it. It’s around one and a half centimeter square. So you start putting it into the bowl to get it ready for marinating. So now I’m going to dress the sweet potato with lemon juice. Some salt. Some rock salt. This is roasted cumin. Chili powder. Little bit of chiles. Actually, I would just put them in because I think this is spicy enough as it is. It’s very important to taste at this point, especially for seasoning. Mmmm. It’s very nice. I think I’m gonna add another chile. I’m going to regret this. Oh my God. I am gonna regret this. It’s got a lot of seeds in it. Nevermind. And now that I’ve added more chiles, I think wanna add some more lemon. The thing is that no recipe like this is perfect. You’ve gotta keep adjusting it, tasting it. This is because, you know, the sweet potato is different. So this sweet potato–not that sweet. Your sweet potato that you’re using might be very sweet. So taste it before you actually add more things to it. I think I’m happy with this now. So the last thing you need is a garnish of coriander. If you’re making the shakarkandi chaat in advance, hang on before you put the coriander on the top. Okay, so this is the paneer that we marinated. Because we added the chickpea flour, everything is clinging to the paneer. And the other advantage is that it is going to give it a slight crust. You don’t want to be very crusty. We’ll give a slight crust. So very important when you’re putting a skewer in, go through the middle. That’s quite important. Because this way it’ll cook evenly all the way through. Now, next goes an onion, then the pepper, the next piece of paneer, then you repeat it. Everything is covered in the marinade, so you gotta just kind of look for them. So that’s what it’s gonna look like. It’s very pretty. Now. It depends on the portion size and what you’re doing. I wouldn’t do more than two of these kind of big chunks, because the risk is that it’s gonna start falling in. And also it’s too much if you’re gonna do it portioned per person. And then so basically, you do a repeat. An onion, then the pepper, then the other piece of paneer, onion, looking for the pepper. That’s ready. So there. They’re ready to go on the grill. Very important thing when you’re cooking with a paneer is the temptation is to pour ghee on it, or butter, and kind of make it look like really sexy. It doesn’t work that way because what’s gonna happen is it’s gonna become soggy. So first you make sure it’s sealed and brown, all four sides. Because the thing is, it’s a square. So if you just cook one side, and then you don’t cook the other side, this bit is gonna stay raw. Which even though it’s not gonna harm you, it’s not gonna taste nice. So you’ve gotta make sure you start off this side, you cook this side, you cook that side. So you keep turning it round. Once it has this kind of nice brown sealed look, then you gotta baste it with a bit of ghee or butter. That’s just to kind of give it the finishing glaze. So please hold on, do not go in to do the ghee and the butter. It’s tempting, ’cause it looks very nice. We mix the fish a bit. And again, just have to be a little bit careful. Again, in the middle. And what is also important is to leave a bit of gap between the fish. Don’t stick it to each other because what’s gonna happen is those two, the bits, are not going to cook. Just a little bit of gap to let the heat through. This is quite important when you’re making fish or seafood or anything. Because if you actually skewer it very tight, there’s not gonna be space. So you’ve gotta have that little bit of space to allow it room. So this is all ready to go to the grill.

About the Instructor

Asma Khan, owner of famed London eatery Darjeeling Express and bestselling cookbook author of “Asma’s Indian Kitchen” teaches her favorite family recipes, inspired by her childhood in Kolkata, India. The chef, restaurateur, and activist is the first UK-based chef to be featured on Netflix’s Emmy-nominated Chef’s Table and, in 2019, was listed number 1 on Business Insider’s ranking of “100 Coolest People in Food and Drink”. Join Asma on a nostalgic culinary journey to explore the smells, flavors, and ingredients of her ancestral Bengali roots.

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