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Coconut Malai Kababs In Bangalore

me in temple, 1.jpg

Bangalore will always be home for me. It doesn't matter how many years ago I left - having grown up and studied in the city, returning there always feels like homecoming. I try and visit Bangalore at least once a year to reconnect with family and friends.  Bangalore has a distinct perfume, redolent of blossoms, spices and cooking, that sweeps over me in a wave of nostalgia as soon as I step off the plane. The beautiful gardens, the blossoming flowers and the lush greenery on the drive home from the airport reminds me why this gracious city has always been known as the garden city of India.

The biggest attraction for me in visiting Bangalore is seeing my mother. Age has not slowed her down, she retains all her zest for life with the energy to match. Together we paint the town red! We visit relatives, eat in all our favourite restaurants, shop in every mall, watch her favourite soaps on TV at night and gossip non stop. It is the best two weeks of my life and I look forward to repeating it every year!

Like all of India, Bangalore is a deeply religious city and we pass many colourful temples and religious statues on our trips through the city. Some are small, little more than a statue of a deity placed in a niche at the base of a large spreading tree while some temples are huge, famous and very popular, with long lines of worshipers waiting patiently.

One of the charms of Bangalore is that it still retains a small town feel even though it has transformed into a big bustling city. So if you happen to get stuck in one of its many traffic jams, you can hop out and have refreshing green coconut water from a roadside vendor or buy some fresh fruit and vegetables for dinner from an open air stall. And if you are not in the mood for any of that, you can have freshly brewed tea or coffee from the thatched shop by the side of the road. It will even be brought right up to your car!

Bangalore cuisine has come a long way from the days when I lived there as a student, when the only restaurants in town served vegetarian South Indian food. Today you can find virtually any cuisine - not only North Indian restaurants serving kababs, naan, biryani and dal,  but also restaurants specializing in Lebanese, Chinese, Persian, Italian and Mexican food.

One recent addition to the North Indian restaurant scene is the hugely popular Punjab Grill. Their food is exceptional and their lamb seekh kababs amongst the best I've ever eaten. Their chef Bipin Kumar Saklani was kind enough to share his recipe with me and walk me through the steps involved in its preparation. I have adapted it here for Western kitchens.

Coconut Malia Kebab.jpg

In my recipe, I have substituted coconut cream for the heavy whipping cream called for in the original version (with apologies to chef Bipin!). Not only does it make the dish lighter tasting, it also displays a perfect fusion of North and South Indian flavours, just like Bangalore itself! If you don't like coconut cream, use regular whipping cream instead.

Coconut Malai Kababs

For Kababs:

1 lb lean ground lamb

2 cups packed fresh mint leaves

1 cup fresh coriander, with tender upper stems

2 green chilies

4 cloves garlic

1 inch piece ginger

2 tbsp each: ground almonds or cashews, browned onions*, coconut cream* (see note below) or whipping (heavy) cream

1 egg

Salt to taste

1 tsp each: garam masala, ground cumin, ground coriander, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi)

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, ground cinnamon, ground black pepper

For Basting Sauce:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 tbsp coconut cream or whipping (heavy) cream

1/4 tsp saffron strands

For Sauce:

2 tbsp unsalted butter

6 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1 plum tomato, seeded and finely chopped

1/4 cup chopped mint leaves

1/4 cup coconut cream or whipping  (heavy) cream

1/4 tsp saffron strands

Salt to taste

1/2 lemon

Combine all kabab ingredients in food processor. Process several times until well blended and very finely minced. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate 1 hour or longer.

Heat outdoor barbecue to medium or heat oven at 400F.

Divide lamb mixture into 8 equal portions. Shape each into a log about 4 inches long and 1 inch thick or shape into round burger style patties, about 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch in thickness. Grill on barbecue until half done, about 7-8 min per side, turning once. If baking in oven, place patties on parchment lined baking tray and bake for 7-8 min per side, turning once

Meanwhile, combine basting ingredients in small bowl. Microwave for 30 sec until melted and combined.

Brush patties on both sides with basting sauce. Continue grilling or baking for another 10 min, until they are cooked through and just done. Reserve .

To make sauce, melt butter in non stick frying pan set over medium heat. Add green onions, saute 1 min. Add remaining ingredients, except lemon half and cook 1 min for flavours to blend. Add reserved kababs and toss gently until they are coated with the sauce. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.

Serves four

*Coconut cream is available in most grocery stores. It can also be easily obtained by skimming it off the top of a chilled can of premium full fat coconut milk.

*Saute 1 sliced cooking onion in 2 tbsp oil over medium heat for about 15 min,  until browned. This should yield about 2 tbsp browned onions called for in the recipe.