Maple Glazed Salmon with Black Pepper and Ginger

I don't know why but I have been very hesitant to cook salmon. Until yesterday. I knew I had to do it soon or I'd go crazy thinking about it. My inspiration came from a delicious recipe for Maple Glazed Salmon that I found on Alanna's Kitchen Parade. It reminded me of the halibut my brother-in-law had made for us when we visited them a couple of months ago.

This is grilled halibut with ginger, citrus and watercress, a recipe from Williams-Sonoma's Fish, a book I highly recommend.

Like the halibut, I wanted to grill the salmon but the weather gods decreed otherwise. We had a major thunderstorm with lots of wind, hail, and bright bolts of lightning; so I decided to give in to the universe and baked it instead. What follows is my adaptation of Alanna's recipe, influenced by the halibut recipe from Fish.

  • Small filet of salmon, between 1lb and 1.5lb
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger (optional)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely crushed black pepper
  • oil to grease foil
  1. Heat your oven to 500F and place the rack in the top most position. (I love to use the convection bake feature of my oven so I heated my oven to 475F instead of 500F.)
  2. Mix the maple syrup, soy sauce and ginger in a large bowl.
  3. Put the salmon in this marinade and marinate for 20 minutes.
  4. Line a baking tray with foil and grease with oil of your choice.
  5. Place the salmon on the tray, reserving the marinade for a sauce.
  6. Press the coarsely ground black pepper onto the salmon and bake for about 6-8 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet. The rule of thumb is 10 minutes per inch of thickness. The salmon is done when it turns pale pink.
  7. Heat the marinade in a saucepan till it boils and simmer it until the salmon is ready to be pulled out of the oven. This ensures that any fishy leftovers in the sauce are thoroughly cooked.
  8. Pour this marinade over the salmon just before serving for an additional kick.

I can't tell you just how ecstatic I am. This was quick, easy and Alanna's right, it is miracle food!

Alanna recommends marinating the salmon for 4 to 48 hours in the refrigerator. I didn't have that much time on hand because, as usual, I was scrambling to get dinner on the table before everyone fainted due to starvation. Fish from Williams-Sonoma recommends marinating fish for only 20 minutes; after this, they say, the fish begins to cook in the acids in the marinade. I usually marinate my fish upto 24 hours in the refrigerator. I have done this with delicate fish like pomfret, too and the flavor only gets enhanced. I have never seen any 'cooking' but then again my marinades have not been overly acidic. Since I did not have much time on hand, I decided to forego the marination; also, I knew that I was going to pour the sauce over the fish so I didn't think marinating was critical. Isn't it funny how we manipulate things to suit the situation at hand?!

Medha helped me crush the black pepper in my mortar and pestle. Oooh! Can I do that? She started coughing shortly thereafter because "it smelt bad" and left the rest of the job to me! Since Alanna recommended overdoing the pepper, that's exactly what I did! However, I didn't coat about 1/4 of the filet with black pepper in deference to tender taste buds.

I served the maple glazed salmon with black pepper and ginger on a bed of organic romaine lettuce and peach tea. This recipe is a keeper! I am very thrilled!

Thank you, Alanna!

More maple glazed salmon recipes:
Maple-glazed salmon from Green Mountain at Fox Run, a women's retreat in Vermont. This recipe uses some ginger, not as much as I did, along with dijon mustard and scallions but no black pepper.
Pepper-Crusted Maple-Glazed Salmon from Food Network, which recommends an ideal marinating time of 24 hours.

My Mother

It’s been a very long time since we spoke
Even though I talk to you everyday
There are so many things I want to share with you
My husband, my daughter, my life.
I would call…
But there is no number at which I can reach you
I would visit…
But there is no place we could meet
So I hold on tightly to my memories
Your smile, your voice, your smell
The good times we shared
The tough times we battled
Many times against each other
But mostly together
We were a family, you and I
We still are and will always be.

There are so many things I miss about my mother; her cooking being the least of them all. She was a homemaker, though not by choice. She entered the kitchen only because she had to, not because she wanted to. She was a fierce spirit and stood her ground for her beliefs. She let us fly yet made sure we had our values in place. She took a great deal of criticism for the lives her daughters led. Her favorite retort was: When you point a finger at my daughters, take a look at your hand - for there are 3 fingers pointing right back at you.

She was an excellent chef, regaling us with new tastes as well as indulging us with comfort food. It was hard to believe that she didn’t like to cook but now I know exactly how she felt.

I was tagged for a meme about the 10 things I miss of my mother’s cooking by Mythili. I remember, I smell, I taste and I cherish as though it were just yesterday:

  • Her chicken biryani was to die for. No matter what I do, mine just does not taste the same. It was always the star at Bhau-bhij potluck.
  • Her layered fruit trifle, which we ate a lot of as she got used to the unreliable ‘gas mark’ on the oven (a lot of cake got burnt on the outside in the time it took for the inside to cook!)
  • Fish curry and rice for lunch on Sundays
  • Idli-chutney in my lunchbox on Wednesdays
  • Her delectable nankhataithe recipe for which is missing from her blue diary
  • My all-time favorite, her bhendichi bhaji (okra)
  • Her khath-khatha or ravath-ravath as we called it (you get the joke if you can read Marathi!)
  • Her homemade mayonnaise, light and fluffy, which spoiled all other mayos for me
  • Her patrani macchi which was certified as authentic by all my Parsi friends
  • Her chutneys – there was always one fresh chutney in the refrigerator and a dry chutney in the pantry
  • Her pickles, one of which I made for the first time and is ready much before I expected it to be!

I also miss:
- the dollops of love and devotion that were poured into each dish
- the look of expectation on her face as I tasted something she’d have made for the first time
- her irritation with me because I reached out for the salt shaker or at being told the yogurt is sour.

My mother died in January 1995 after a long and valiant battle with cancer. The last month was so difficult that I was grateful when her suffering finally came to an end. She slipped away slowly, breath by breath, till her body relaxed completely. She looked very beautiful and totally at peace. Despite the void it created for me, her passing was a relief – for her tortured body and soul, and for those of us who cared for her.

It’s been over 11 years now and time is supposed to heal; if that is the case, why do I hurt more now than before...Sometimes I experience sheer frustration, at not knowing what she meant by that sentence almost wiped out due to a spill in her recipe book. Sometimes it’s the smell of Dettol that my husband brought back with him on his last visit to India. Other times, just the thought that she’s not physically there anymore is enough to set me off. And a lot of times, it is not being able to share the joy of my own family with her.

To all those of you who have lost what I have lost, I feel your anguish and your pain.

To all those of you who still have the pleasure of their mother’s company in their journey through life, treasure her and cherish her. You only get her once. She is but human but she’s the only mother you will ever have. Call her and tell her what she means to you. I would if I could.

Father's Day

A hand made pinch pot, fired and painted.

A priceless Father's Day gift from Medha to her father, cracks and all.

Prawn Balchao in the Jungle

I know I sound like a broken record but really, life has only been exciting since we moved to Louisville, Colorado. The mountain lion sightings continue, with the latest one being near an underpass on South Boulder Road, west of Washington Street on Monday June 13 at about 7:30 a.m. I first heard of this from an excited Medha when I picked her up from a camp she's attending at her school. Sure enough, Daily Camera confirmed it but the animal was not found. There have been sightings in Lafayette, a city to the east of Louisville. One woman reported seeing a mountain lion stroll by her home when she reviewed the tapes on her security cameras.

We went for a bike ride yesterday and steered clear of mountain lion country! But this is not freaking me out as much as the other visitors we've recently encountered in our neighborhood.

A couple of weeks ago, there was a lot of banging on our front door, followed by squeals, lots of jumping and footsteps running here, there and everywhere. My neighbor's daughter had a run-in with a creature of the slithering variety in their driveway:

Fingers and toes curled, I stepped outside to see my neighbor lying prostrate on his driveway in an attempt to get as close to this reptile as possible. He petted it as did both the girls. So did my husband. None of us knew what kind of a snake it was nor did we know if it was venomous. Please do not do what these crazy animal and reptile lovers did. Stay as far away from a snake in the wild, especially if you don't know what kind it is.

This was a bullsnake. Though not venomous, they do bite!

This bullsnake proceeded to cross the street with the girls watching out for cars...

...and sought shelter from the crazy humans in some irises.

When I related this to another neighbor down the street, she told me she had not one but two bullsnakes living under her porch. I lost it when I heard that. That, to me, means there will be babies very soon. Her husband had caught one, put it in a sack and let it loose in the Open Space behind our homes. At the time, he didn't know that there was a fatter, second one still under his porch. We think that the bullsnake we encountered was the one he released into the Open Space and it was trying to make its way back to its nest under her porch. No-one seems perturbed by the presence of these snakes. They actually like them as they say it keeps the rodent menace at bay.

I am just so glad that our property does not back up to the Open Space. I haven't gone near my irises since then. I tap everything in the yard before I go near it or touch it. I freak out if something seems to move suddenly and very close to the ground. In short, I'm a wreck.

And yes, despite all this, I let the kids campout in my backyard last weekend. I am the only one who is disgusted and scared of snakes. None of the kids are. According to everyone around, the snakes are far more scared of us than we are of them. They rarely come out at night. Yes, there are rattlesnakes, but they are rare; we have more bullsnakes in our neighborhood. The kids were in good quality tents, well zipped up such that no critters could get into them.

You know, I grew up in Africa, but this here is the Jungle!

Food is my source of comfort. Especially when I have everyone from my 8 year old to my husband to my neighbors laughing at me. At such times I need protein and I need spice, lots and lots of spice. What better than prawn balchao?

Prawn Balchao

Prawn balchao, for me, conjures up the images of old Bandra in Bombay. Narrow streets, lined by all kinds of shops that spilled out onto the street. A guitar being strummed by an old man sitting in his verandah in striped shorts, his beer within reach. Chatter in Konkani all around me. Smell of fish being fried...look where you're going, men! Getting pushed off the street into a gutter by a young man on a bicycle...I'm almost there. Take that last left turn near Junta Clothing Store into a narrow alley, take the first left into an even narrower alley, and then follow my nose to my friend Hazel's home. I loved going to Hazel's home. Auntie, as I called her Mom, would always go behind one of the many curtains that were used as screens in the home and emerge with a jar of delicious something. On one such visit, she pulled out prawn balchao and I was hooked. This is my adaptation of her recipe.

  • 2lbs medium sized shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 medium size onion, chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1.5 inch piece of ginger
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 10 Kashmiri red chillies
  • 1/2 tsp jeera
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • salt to taste
  1. Warm about 3 cups of water and add the Kashmiri chillies to it. This softens the outer skin and allows the chillies to blend better with the rest of the masala.
  2. Heat oil in a saucepan and add the onions. Sweat them till they are soft and almost translucent.
  3. Put the turmeric powder, ginger, garlic, mustard seeds, chillies, sugar and vinegar in a blender and blend into a fine paste.
  4. Add this masala to the onions. Watch out! Don't inhale when you are doing this as the fumes from the spices are very strong!
  5. Stir continuously on low heat for about 10 minutes till the masala has cooked.
  6. Add the shrimp and salt and cook on high until the shrimp turns pink and is cooked. This usually takes about 5 minutes, less if you have smaller shrimp.
  7. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  8. Serve hot or cold, with rice, as a side. It's up to you!

Hazel's Mom made this with a lot more oil and she also used dried shrimp for added flavor. She blended the dried shrimp with the rest of the masala and her recipe did not need refrigeration. Hers is the original Goan recipe. My adaptation uses a lot less oil and I prefer to refrigerate my prawn balchao because I don't want to take any chances with it spoiling. I savor every bite! The picture above does it no justice. It looks like shrimp in a tomato sauce. But it's much more than that. It's a tangy spicy piece of heaven.

Hazel and her family don't live in old Bandra anymore. Their building was one of the many chawls that was torn down to make way for multi-storey multi-room apartment buildings. I remember visiting Hazel and her family on my last trip to India, over 3 years ago. Junta Clothing Store, which was my landmark in old Bandra, no longer exists. Gone were the old men with beers and guitars. The road was a tad wider and much dustier. And while I didn't get pushed off the street by a bicycle, I almost got run over by a motorbike.

Backyard Campout Party

We had nine 8 year old girls and the most chivalrous 10 year old boy camping out in my backyard yesterday...

...because we were bringing in...

If you're backtracking to check how many kids we had camping in our backyard, it was ten in all. And, we all survived!

Medha turns 8 today but we celebrated yesterday because an 8 year old's life is complicated. There is another birthday party today and if she had her party on the same day, most of the girls wouldn't be able to come because they had already said yes to the other party. (Um, yes, I was late in getting my act together for this.) Also, if she had her party the previous day, not only could she have a sleepover and a campout, but everyone gets to go to two parties! How cool is that?! Most of the parents thought, Not!

The party was unlike most birthday parties for kids as it was rather unstructured. We started off at 5:30 pm with the girls running through the sprinklers and demonstrating their prowess at sidewalk art with chalk. The Super Soaker added a lot more screaming and yelping to the mix. This was followed by dinner at 6:30 pm:For the adults, I supplemented some additional flavor with
We had one minor miscalculation - I had bought a little charcoal grill that needed to be set up. The birthday girl's father understood "set up" to mean get the charcoal going in the chimney and then throw the live coals into the grill. When he opened the box, he realized the full implications of set up and we were looking back and forth between 10 very hungry and very vocal mouths and at least a half hour with a screwdriver. Our neighbors came to our rescue and before we knew it, we had a large gas grill in our backyard and a satiated audience lying flat in the lawn. But not for long, because we had a hula hoop competition which I was hoping would tire the little terrors some more. But they got their last burst of energy from the sugar in the birthday cake!

If I could bake and decorate cakes like Archana, I might have considered putting in the effort but we went to Sam's Club and ordered a half sheet of chocolate cake with whipped frosting. I wish I was as enthusiastic as the kids were about the reds and the blues in the cake but since none of them was allergic to dyes in food coloring, I chose not to think about it anymore. The girls fought over the buds while the only young man got the flowers from one corner. He is such a trooper. Yesterday, he even ate some of the karela shaak I made for lunch and told me he thought it was good!

The tents were set up while we opened presents and took pictures. The girls were 3 to a tent and the young man brought his own personal tent across. They went into the tents with small flashlights and glow sticks. The giggling and the laughing continued in one tent till almost 11 pm. At one point the tent was just short of collapsing because one boisterous young girl rolled till she could go no further. I threatened them with the most dire of circumstances if the noise continued: the rest of the night would continue indoors for them. They would quieten down for about 10 minutes until something else tripped them off again. A flashlight trained on their tent periodically worked wonders till their weary bodies finally gave in to deep slumber. It was a beautiful night, in the low 60s with a cool breeze blowing from time to time.

You'd think they'd sleep in. Nope. They started traipsing in at 6:15 am. By 6:45 am, I had the griddle cranking out smiley face pancakes, some with chocolate chips for those that wanted them and for those that didn't care, and without for those that did care. These were further topped with whipped cream and syrup. In less than an hour, we were done with breakfast and the packing up process began, tent by tent. By 10:30 am, the last of our little guests left and my husband and I were finally able to collapse on the sofas. What a great party! All the kids had a blast and hopefully their parents got a quiet night together.

I must say though that I am not entirely sure how I allowed them to sleep outside given that we had a vistor last week that did not belong to the species homo sapien, but that is a story for my next post, so stay tuned!

...till the oil leaves...

After having been asked by many folks just what fry till the oil leaves the masala / mixture / pan means in Indian recipes that call for an onion-tomato base, I figured a primer is in order.

Well, to begin with, the oil is not going anywhere, so rest easy. It's just a literal translation and what it means is that you need to have sweated the onions (and/or tomatoes) until most of the water content has evaporated and you are left with a fibrous mass, and the oil in which it was being cooked separates and spreads out to the sides of the pan.

Start your onions in oil, as much as the recipe calls for.

Next, sweat the onions until there is next to no moisture left in them. If you do this on low to medium heat, it could take well up to half hour. On high heat, you are essentially sautéing the onions and you need to make sure that the onions don't burn.

Add your tomatoes. In the picture below, I have used tomato paste and some water to wash the tomato paste out of the can. No waste policy!

Continue cooking on low heat until..yes, you guessed it, the oil leaves the mixture...

Lemon Pickle Update

One week later, the juices in my lemon pickle sans oil have thickened.

lemon pickle

The lemon peel still shows a fair amount of 'white' in the middle and still sports a slightly bitter after-taste.
lemon pickle

We've had a couple of scorchers this past week and the pickle is really cooking in the heat. The juices have thickened even more. I can't wait to open it up in another week to see how far it's come! The taste thus far is divine.