Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Randhuni diye Musuri'r Daal - Masoor Daal with Randhuni

The jar of randhuni (ajmod/ajmoda in Hindi) had been sitting in the pantry for many months. The contents had been refreshed a couple of times - old and stale randhuni thrown away and fresh stock emptied into the washed jar. I needed to break this cycle but I really had no idea what randhuni was used in apart from sukto. Not that I had got around to making even sukto, but then I don't particularly like sukto so I am sort of justified. But that randhuni was still there, waiting and watching.

The obvious thing to do was to look in the myriad cookbooks I own. Laziness coupled with the fact that though I read Bengali, I'm not all that proficient, ensured that I didn't look. Ultimately I turned to Google one day to see if I could find anything interesting. And that's where I found mention of randhuni diye musuri'r daal among a few other preparations. Bengalis love masoor daal and have a huge variety of recipes involving delicate tempering and this particular version was so incredibly frugal I was intrigued but not very confident about how it would turn out.

Around the same time my friend Bhavna was going to be visiting Mumbai from Australia and I would be meeting her for the first time. She expressed a desire to eat a Bengali meal and I promptly volunteered to cook it for her. I added randhuni diye musuri'r daal to my menu. Though I cooked a lot of other dishes for that meal, this fragrant and supremely delicate daal was my top pick of the meal.

Randhuni diye Musuri'r Daal

1 cup masoor daal, washed well
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp randhuni
1 generous tbsp ghee
2 green chillies, not a hot variety

Pressure cook the washed daal with turmeric and enough water. Don't cook it till the daal grains disintegrate completely - Bengalis like their daal to retain is shape and have texture. Lightly stir the cooked daal to integrate the water and daal grains (or flakes, since they look like flakes).

Heat ghee in a tempering pan if you have one, or just use a kadai. Once the ghee is hot drop in the green chillies and then the randhuni seeds. Once the seeds are sizzling uniformly chuck the whole lot into the daal. Add salt as required and bring it all to a nice boil.

Remove to a serving bowl and serve with plain hot rice. You can add a simple vegetable stir fry alongside, or a slice of fried fish too. Simple is the key here.

Traditionally the tempering is done in mustard oil though I used home made buffalo milk ghee instead. The use of randhuni is not restricted to just the Bengalis in India, but it is restricted to the eastern states of Bihar, Assam and U.P., as far as I know. This spice has a strong unique flavour and must be used in small quantities so it doesn't over power. Used correctly randhuni is quite magical!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

2016 A Year of Learning. Hands On.

I try to have a focus for every year from the point of view of food blogging and this year it's learning. Exciting or interesting food so far has been mostly about chance encounters - a meal at a restaurant, a meal at a friend's place, a meal at a wedding, a pot luck somewhere, goodies sampled at a food event, food explored while travelling, recipes recreated in my kitchen, recipes developed for Katy's Kitchen, etc. There has been a randomness attached to my food experiences and I have enjoyed it thoroughly. But as I encountered food in this random fashion I developed a thirst to look beyond the immediate experience of eating and subsequently finding out the recipes. The way I was looking at food was changing, my questions were changing. I discovered a need to delve beyond the obvious and a need to learn more than the superficial.

My visits to Kolkata were the usual trips to meet family, have fun with the cousins, eat out at the usual haunts, check out the new joints, and shop for a predictable few things. A few years ago out of sheer boredom I went to wander around in produce section of Gariahat market instead of the usual shops that sell clothes, jewellery, cosmetics, etc. It was an experience I will never forget. I saw vegetables, fruit, fresh meat, fresh fish, household paraphernalia, accessories used in pujas and rituals, and lots more. I was looking at it all differently because I went with a camera. I came home with innumerable terrible photographs but the experience was a revelation - I looked at produce differently. I paid attention to the names, I looked at the appearance of the ingredients with more attention, I literally saw things with a renewed eye. I hadn't realised it then but a new journey had just begun.

Of course I had been to Crawford market a zillion times before, especially to shop for the business, but I never really looked at things. Not properly. Not with this kind of interest. No questions popped into my head. I have, since that time in Gariahat market with my camera, found great joy in markets. I have been lucky enough to travel quite a bit in the subsequent years and I have trawled the markets in Cochin, Guwahati, Shillong, Goa, Old Delhi, Gurgaon, many villages in the Konkan, and of course, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Navi Mumbai.

But the point was not in wandering around and clicking photos. The point was to look and to learn. And I did. The sheer variety of produce available in this country is mind boggling and I can confidently say I have seen new things, stuff I'd never even heard of before, in almost every market I have visited. The next obvious step was finding out about the new things - what is it called, how is it eaten, what does it taste like, where does it grow, and so on.

The curiosity about Indian foods, ingredients, and cuisines meant I was also looking for reading material and so I started buying cookbooks that focused on regional cuisines of the country. In no time I had a huge pile of new cookbooks frowning at me from the book shelves. So this year I will move the learning from my comfortable chair where I read these books and drool over the photographs (and props!) to my kitchen. There's no better way to connect with a dish or a cuisine than cooking it yourself. When you do it all from scratch, follow the processes, handle the ingredients, and ultimately taste the results, your connection with it is stronger, your understanding is better.

This year it's time to cook. And learn.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The CKP Food Festival, Thane

Stall owners dancing to the catchy music while serving customers

Food festivals are becoming increasingly common in Mumbai and the ones I look forward to the most are those that showcase the cuisine of a particular community. I've been to numerous Koli food fests and even a couple organised by the Pathare Prabhus (in fact I missed their last event because I was away, holidaying in north India). I heard of the CKP festival from my friend Manisha and made a mental note to attend this one for sure.

The Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus are supposedly the descendants of a King Chandrasen of Kashmir. Commonly known as CKPs, the community is now concentrated mainly in Maharashtra and in parts of Gujarat and Central India. I have always known them to be a well entrenched Maharashtrian community and I was delighted to see their love for robust non vegetarian food at the CKP festival! 

The fest was at the CKP Hall in Thane and what I really loved was the welcome visitors received - a man in full costume blew a blast of his tutari as a ceremonial welcome. It just set the mood for the good time ahead!

Photo credit - Kurush Dalal

We had a quick browse through the business (non food) stalls where I chanced upon one selling the prettiest clutches, purses, and handbags covered in traditional Paithani saree fabric. Yes, I made the hubby buy me one.

We moved on to where the real action was - the two food courts spread across the entire first floor of the building. The blast of aromas that hit the nose as soon as we stepped out of the lift gave us an indication of the deliciousness that was to follow. We decided to move systematically from stall to stall instead of randomly roaming around and that was a great decision as we got to taste a whole lot of preparations without repeating stuff or missing out on anything. It also helped that we were four of us - we could taste that much more without feeling stuffed too soon! 

There was a mind boggling variety of food, most of which I had never eaten or even heard of before. Like the Kheemyache Modak - modaks stuffed with goat mince. And the Kaleji Dabeli - liver stuffed in pav - which I suspect was a smart innovation and not a traditional dish. It was delicious so it doesn't really matter! 

These are the mince stuffed modaks. The only modak I knew about was the traditional sweet filled one that's offered to Ganpati - not on my list of things I like to eat. But these! Oh yeah, bring them on!

The kaleji dabelis. These are prepped and ready to be toasted in a ton of butter on a hot griddle before serving. Lots of liver, crunchy onions and plenty of fresh coriander made these one of the best things we ate at the fest. As we waited for our dabelis to be toasted the music came on and the atmosphere in the hall changed completely - everyone around started to shake a leg and that included stall owners too. Our dabelis did taste so much better because the chefs had such a blast while making them :)

We moved on to the next stall where we had kolambi pattice and kolambi fry - Potato covered prawn patties, and masala fried prawns with a rawa coating. Both were simply superb. We resisted having seconds only because there was so much more food to explore as we went on.

See those tiny shrimp in there? Packed with flavour, perfectly cooked, these patties were great. The only fly in the ointment was a near absence of salt in the potato casing and in the filling. I could only imagine how awesome these would have been if they had been seasoned properly.

Prawns are tricky and if not properly fried they can turn into awful rubbery bullets. These were done to perfection and we wolfed them down in seconds. Finger licking good they were.

At the next stall we had some paya soup. It was a nice change from all the fried goodies and went down a treat.

Next up was some fried fish. We'd had a slice of Jitada fry earlier so now we opted for a slice of surmai, and another lot of prawns which looked quite different from the ones we'd had earlier. The surmai was lovely, soft, moist, and flaky - but once again there was a serious lack of salt and that did ruin the pleasure considerably. The prawns were seasoned better and were delicious.

Somewhere along the way we picked up a cup of dessert - Ninav Cheesecake. Ninav is a dessert made mainly with wheat and gram flour, jaggery, ghee, coconut milk, and some other ingredients. The ninav was made into a base topped with a cheesecake mix. Quite innovative, I thought, and the hubby liked it.

There was so much more to eat but we were already quite stuffed.

Assorted fried fish.

As we walked around the stalls I saw a sign advertising something called Shevala Kheema. It reminded me of a post Kurush had written about Raanachi Bhaji or forest greens that are popular in Maharashtra where he mentions shevaal, a seasonal plant that is relished in season. I tasted a tiny bit and immediately knew we had to pack some to enjoy later at home. Here was another dish I had never eaten before.

One of the last things we tried was this clam curry. It was the only thing we didn't like among all that we ate. It seemed bland and boring and appealed to none of us.

As we proceeded further among the stalls we packed a few things to take home and eat later. Unfortunately we had to also skip a lot of dishes - there was just so much! Here are a few photos of the other food on display.

Crab curry

Chicken. I just fell in love with this copper vessel! 

Bhakris and chapatis

Prawn Curry

 Mutton Sukke

Mutton Liver Masala
One of the few vegetarian dishes on offer - Vaalachi Khichadi

Prawn Bhajiyas

And that's us at the end of our eatathon at the CKP food fest! 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

A Haat in the Heart of the City- A Real Farmers' Market in Gurgaon

I was packing at the end of my holiday. Things were strewn all over the bed and my suitcase and rucksack were on the window-seat in my room. As I juggled clothes, packets of spices, a bunch of black carrots, and other miscellaneous bits of shopping, I happened to glance out of the window to the vast open ground across the busy road. I saw a temporary market coming up - tarps were being laid out, small pick up trucks and tempos were being unloaded, bright LED lights were being set up. I dug out the DSLR and zoomed in to have a look - the camera works very well as a binocular! It was a weekly bazaar - a haat. I couldn't wait to go check it out. If I could trudge across from Gurgaon to Khari Baoli in Old Delhi there was no way I wasn't going to hop across the road right here at home.

My cousin Atanu was happy to come along with me and we set off to take a look. I'd seen piles of cauliflower, carrots, onions, potatoes, and loads of fresh greens, and I was hoping to see some less familiar produce too.

The place was teeming with people - labourers, craftsmen, housemaids, rickshaw drivers, but no one from the many high rise towers that are just across the road. The sellers had set up their shops on the ground and there were piles of vegetables in front of them, just haphazardly placed. There was quite a cacophony of voices and we stood out like a pair of very sore thumbs! We went around 9pm and things were already dying down by then; the market started earlier in the evening around 6 o' clock. This is a weekly haat and seems to be quite a popular one because there were at least 30 to 40 vegetable sellers and a line up of snack sellers on one side catering to the crowd.

I ignored the snack stalls and jumped into the fray with the crowd, looking to see what vegetables were up for grabs. I was hoping I would find some more of those famous 'kaale gajar'. I'd bought a conservative 500gms at Khari Baoli and I yearned to buy more.Fingers crossed! At first glance it seemed like a sea of beautiful, juicy, red carrots, fresh white cauliflowers, and an array of glistening green leafy spinach, methi, mustard greens, etc.

As we wandered around among the vendors I saw huge beetroots, lotus stems, colocasia roots, little hillocks of green peas, and something called maati aloo which I have never seen before. I regret not buying any though I did take a photo.

There were huge flat 'papdi' beans, white turnips with a purple blush, mounds of garlic, onions, potatoes, cabbages, and many varieties of brinjal - one was big, round and purple, while another was like large green mottled eggs. And then my heart stopped - kaale gajar! There were just a few left - so I bought the lot.

We also came home with a bag full of tender finger-like red carrots, some arbi, a cauliflower, and some big fat gorgeously green papdi or 'seem' as we Bengalis call them.

There was too much frantic activity around so I couldn't ask much about the market but I can tell you it's in the field opposite Jalvayu Towers in Sector 56, Gurgaon. If you know the Tau Devi Lal Biodiversity Park, it's just behind. Follow the perimeter of the park and you will see the lights of the haat in the evening. The haat is on every Thursday in the evenings all through the year.

Ditch the air-conditoned aisles at Spencer's and come get your veggies from here next week. You'll find more at the haat. This is what a real farmers' market is, not those ones that are held on 5 star hotel grounds.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Breakfast at Chandni Chowk

What a way to begin a new year - a holiday in Delhi! So much to do, so much to see, so many people to meet and, most importantly, so much to eat! Quite at the top of my list was breakfast at Chandni Chowk and it was one of the first things to get ticked off my list.

We set off early on morning in search of bedmi pooris, aloo subzi, nagori halwa, parathas, nihari, and other legendary goodies. The idea was to try out whatever we could find as long as our appetites held out. Our taxi dropped us off at a corner right in front of a jalebi-wala. It was a good place to start. The area wasn't crowded at all, there was a light fog and a general sense of well being permeated the area.

Hot jalebis were being fried. Who could resist that?!

We asked for 100gms of jalebis and I was hugely amused when we got one whole jalebi! Of course, we asked for more and then eagerly tucked in to these hot fresh babies. These jalebis were fat and airy, not crisp and nearly hard like the thinner jalebis one sees in most sweet shops. There were slightly spongy bits and light crisp bits which together were simply magical. As soon as you bit into one syrup just flowed out. It was less sweet than I expected and I was delighted. The only reason we didn't have seconds was all the other food still waiting to be tried. As is evident, I forgot to take a photo of the jalebis after they were ready to eat.

We proceeded to the Fatehpuri Masjid at the end of the main thoroughfare and then doubled back in search of Shiv Mishtan Bhandar where we would get a taste of nagori halwa, bedmi pooris, and other delights.

Here we gorged on bedmi pooris with aloo subzi and chhole, and little crisp and delightful nagori pooris with halwa. Once again we had to hold ourselves back in anticipation of the other gastronomic attractions of this area. Given a choice I'd go back for another round of the nagori pooris for sure. Somewhere between a luchi and the poori for a pani poori in size, the nagori pooris were unique in flavour and texture - not so crisp as to be labelled hard, these were that imprecise level of crisp that is 'just right'! We expected the pooris to be served only with halwa but they were also accompanied by an aloo chhole which I suspect was a mix of the aloo and chhole subzis that came separately with the bedmi pooris. No complaints, it was delicious!

We decided to head towards the Jama Masjid for some nihari. I wanted to wander a bit so we decided to meet back at the jalebiwala, and I trotted off down the road looking at the old buildings, the hubbub of people ferrying goods, cycle rickshaws, pedestrians, honking cars, a huge Gurdwara, and finally reached the jalebi shop to find the hubby tucking into a bowl of the famed Daulat ki Chaat!

We hopped back into our cab and headed off to Al Jawahar in the lane right in front of Gate 1 of the Jama Masjid. The first sign that this would be an epic experience was the list of available foods - "paya, nihari aur roti" said our waiter. When it's so focused I guess there's a high probability of success. We ordered nihari with rotis and waited eagerly. The food arrived and there was a palpable aura of impatience around me - I had to take photos first before I would allow anyone to even touch the food! Finally we tucked in. There was a reverent silence and an occasional sigh of happiness. And that is all one needs to know about the nihari at Al Jawahar- just go there and eat it for yourself.

This was just the beginning and it was beautiful. Delhi, I am so looking forward to more from you.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake

I have become a little obsessed with citrus - every sort of citrus fruit seems to occupy my mind these days. And of course, the cosmos conspires to provide me with plenty of variety! Not only have I had top quality sweet limes or mosambis as we call them, from Luv Thy Farmer, which I used to make this amazing Mosambi Cake, I got Meyer lemons from Imtiaz and Sue which I used in these beautiful Lemon Cakes, and then Rushina gave me a couple of Pahadi Limbus that she'd got from her in laws' village in Garhwal! My cup of happiness was overflowing. Did I mention I have been haunting gourmet stores, making a beeline for their fresh veg sections and getting busy scratching and sniffing the lemons looking for the fresh and flavourful ones?!

Anyway, coming back to the pahadi limbus. They are huge. Bigger than your average apple, in fact. The skin is thin and must be zested carefully. But what a burst of freshness when you give it that light scrape against the microplane!

The limbus waited patiently for me to find a recipe worthy of them and I chanced upon this Hot Buttered Rum Pound Cake recipe. The recipe uses oranges but I thought the pahadi limbus would shine here, and oh they did!  A look in the drinks cabinet for something instead of rum, a hunt through the pantry cupboard for the rest of the ingredients, and I was set.

The recipe has three elements - the pound cake, the soaking syrup, and the hot buttered brandy. I'm going to give you the recipes in the order they are made so you're not going back and forth between ingredient lists and the methods, thereby giving you less room for error and confusion. Though I have largely followed the recipe above, I have made a few adjustments and replacements to make it more suited to what the hubby likes.

Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake

Brandy syrup for soaking cake

1/2 cup sugar
zest from one pahadi limbu
2 to 3 tbsp brandy

Mix the zest into the sugar with your fingers and help them release their oils. This gives more flavour.

In a small pan heat the sugar-zest mix with the brandy and a little water. Bring it to a boil stirring gently till all the sugar is dissolved. Boil the mix on a medium flame for another minute and then leave it to cool as you make the cake.

Pound cake

1 1/3 cups ground sugar
zest from one pahadi limbu
2 cups maida, sifted
1 tsp cinnamon powder
6 green cardamoms, seeds pounded
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups Amul butter
6 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract

Set the oven to preheat at 180C.

In a clean mixing bowl combine the flour, salt, cinnamon powder, and the crushed cardamom seeds with a whisk.

In a small bowl mix the zest into the granulated sugar till it starts getting clumpy. This step helps release the oils from the zest and extracts maximum flavour from it.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, or in a regular mixing bowl beat the butter on medium speed till it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar-zest mix to the butter and beat for a few minutes till it's all mixed and light. Beat at a high speed for a few minutes. Make sure you stop the beater and scrape the sides of the bowl and the paddle to mix everything properly at least once.

Now it's time to add the eggs. Add one egg at a time and beat well to mix completely before you add the next one. Once all the eggs are added in  pour in the vanilla extract. The original recipe has zest and a flavour extract - I opted not to use the flavour extract because I was sure it would mask the flavour from the zest completely. I'm glad I did because the cake was full of natural lemony flavour and didn't need any help at all.

Once the eggs and vanilla have been fully incorporated add the flour mix next. I do this a little at time with the help of my 1/4 or 1/3 cup measuring cup, whichever is clean and at hand. Keep adding a scoop of flour and continue beating till you have a smooth batter. This cake has a thick batter beautifully speckled with the crushed cardamom seeds and cinnamon powder.

Though the original recipe says a 9x4 loaf pan will do, I found it was not big enough. I used a disposable loaf case for the leftover batter and had two beautiful bars of pound cake. I think two medium loaf tins should work well. Line the tins with parchment or grease well and dust with flour before you pour the batter in. Level the top with a spatula and it's ready to be baked

Pop into the preheated oven and bake for roughly an hour at 180C, till the cake is a nice golden colour. It should ideally split along the middle too. If your cake is browning too fast reduce the temperature to 160C and bake it longer till it is cooked through. Test with a skewer to check for done-ness.

Leave the cake to cool in the tin for around 10 mins or so and only then remove to a wire rack to cool further. Place a tray under the rack to catch any drips, poke the surface of the cake with a thin skewer and then brush it with the brandy syrup you have left to cool. Be generous and keep slathering the cake - it will absorb a lot of that syrup. Do this while the cake is still quite warm. Let it cool on the wire rack.

Hot buttered brandy glaze

50 gms Amul butter
1/3 fine sugar, preferably brown
2-3 tbsp brandy

Heat the butter in a small pan till it begins to foam and turns brown. It will start to smell nutty. Stir with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula to brown the butter evenly. Take off the heat and let it cool for a minute. Now add the sugar (preferably brown) and then the brandy. Stir nicely to combine. Use a fine grain sugar for a smoother glaze.

Spread the glaze on top of the cake with a pastry brush. Slice and serve your Pahadi Limbu infused Hot Buttered Brandy Pound Cake immediately. Keep any leftover glaze in a covered jar and warm it slightly to serve with any remaining cake.

This is another beautifully flavoured tea cake that has the freshness of lemon and cardamom along with the warmth of cinnamon. Since the pahadi limbu is difficult to get, you can use regular oranges as in the original recipe. The cake has many sugary elements and therefore I have cut down the sugar slightly in the cake. You can adjust the sugar according to your preferences. Meyer lemons would also work very well in this recipe as would mosambis or sweet limes. Use more zest if you're using mosambis as they tend to be quite mild in flavour.

You might have noticed there's no baking powder or baking soda in this recipe. As in the classic old pound cake recipes, this one has none. Yet, I had a wonderfully light and well aerated cake. It's all in the slowly added ingredients and the many minutes of beating. In spite of a thick 'heavy' batter, the cake rises perfectly. The more recipes I explore, the more I learn :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Memories of a Another Flood - Mumbai, 26 July, 2005

Image from Mid-Day

The inundation of Chennai over the last so many days and the sheer magnitude of the ravagement that city faced has left many of us, safely far away, just watching in disbelief. Yes, we mobilised ourselves and did what we could - from simply sharing information on social media to actively getting involved in relief efforts.

It was only natural for me to remember how my own city ground to halt all those years ago on the 26th of July, brought to a standstill by incredibly heavy rains. We were brought to our knees for two days. No communication, no transport, and thousands trapped or stranded in cars, buses, on the roads, in offices, and all manner of random places. More than a thousand people lost their lives.

We were living at V.T., on the top floor of an old building, with my parents in law on the floor below us. A family gathering had been planned and we were gearing up to have a feast for dinner with all the family present. The parents were going to drive in from Lonavala that day. Some time that afternoon I noticed how strangely overcast it had suddenly become and some instinct urged me to check with the parents to see where they'd reached. They hadn't passed Panvel yet and I urged them to go back. I don't know why I felt it so strongly but after a bit of an argument with Dad, I managed to convince them to go back. It was drizzling already but the overcast sky had made me nervous for some reason. The parents drove back to Lonavala.

By the evening it was raining seriously and news trickled in from the suburbs that there was a lot of water logging, the local trains were severely late, and crowds had built up at the stations, packed with stranded passengers.

There was no Facebook or Twitter, but I was active on the Ryze Network. I saw posts there from various people about flooded roads, stranded vehicles, traffic jams, stalled trains, and worse. The city was in crisis and there were thousands and thousands stuck out there in the rains.

I called up a couple of my friends to check if they were okay. Mostly people were still trying to go back home and it hadn't quite registered to us in South Bombay just how much rain fell in the suburbs that day - a whopping 944 mm in 24 hours. I did urge them to feel free to come over and stay with us, just in case they couldn't get home.

I stayed online keeping track of my friends on Ryze. I remember chatting with one girl who was stuck in her office, till late in the night, just keeping her company. The Internet is an incredible thing and I was experiencing that incredible-ness right then.

As the evening progressed things only got worse. People were stuck, unable to get home as the trains had shut down, and there was severe water logging on most arterial roads so traffic wasn't moving either.

That night we had around 20 people staying over at our house. We knew just one person among them all, a friend. The rest were her office colleagues. Fortunately there was plenty of food (remember the family get together?) and space because the parents' house was empty. Between upstairs and downstairs we managed to fit everyone in.

Hundreds of people opened up their homes, kitchens and hearts to help people in need. That is the way we are - fundamentally good and willing to what little we can to make things better in a crisis. We do the same today too. But in those days of no social media, at least not in the form it is today, there was no tom-toming of Muslims helping Hindus, Hindus helping Sikhs, or any of that. It was just about people helping people. And that's the way it should be.

But we live in a world where politicians hijack relief materials and shamelessly delay the distribution to stick the face of their leader on the packets, and where the politics of religion is inescapable.   

Monday, December 7, 2015

Of Microplanes, Meyer Lemons and Lemon Cake

It's no secret that I love baking. It's no secret that I love kitchen gadgets. And it's no secret that I like playing with new ingredients either.

I had wanted to add a Microplane to my small tools drawer for a long time but somehow never actually got around to it. This year the hubby gave me a stash of money to spend on random things I wanted, as a birthday treat. I bought that Microplane finally! I'm not fond of fruit in general but I do love the citrus ones. I saw Meyer lemons at a gourmet food store and decided to indulge myself, their steep price-tag notwithstanding.

And there I was! Armed with the ultimate zesting tool in creation and a variety of lemons I'd been drooling over from a distance for a long, long time - it was time to bake!

I have spent many hours looking at lemon cake recipes and even bookmarked quite a few to try out once I had everything in place. But somehow, I couldn't settle on any recipe when I set out to bake. After hours of back-ing and forth-ing between recipes I decided to just wing it and do my own thing. After all, I'd been baking for as long as I could remember and how hard could it be?

Lemon Cake

1 cup Maida or APF
3/4 cup Sugar, powdered
3 Eggs, at room temperature
125 gms Butter, softened
1 tsp Baking powder
1 tsp Vanilla extract
1 Meyer lemon, zested, and juice extracted
1 -2 tsp Sugar for the drizzle
a little zest, reserved for the drizzle

Grease and flour an 8 inch cake tin. Set your oven to preheat at 180C.

In a clean bowl sift the maida with the baking powder.

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a mixing bowl using a hand held mixer cream the butter with the sugar till it's smooth and pale.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating. Add the vanilla extract too.

Once the mixture is smooth, chuck in the lemon zest. Mix till it is combined nicely.

Add the flour into the mix in small amounts. I use the 1/4 cup measuring cup from my set, and whisk well after each addition. Mix in all the flour to get a smooth batter.

Pour batter into the cake tin and bake at 180C for 35 to 40 minutes. Check with a cake tester in the centre and if the tester comes out clean your cake is done.

In the mean time make the lemon drizzle. Combine sugar into the lemon juice and mix well till the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the reserved zest. Taste and check for a good balance of sweet and lemony sourness.

Sprinkle the drizzle randomly on your cake while it's still warm. Let the cake cool completely before you unmould it. I didn't soak the entire cake with the drizzle but just randomly splashed it on the surface. This resulted in surprise lemony explosions of flavour while eating the cake, which I loved.

Serve this beautiful cake at tea time, add slices to lunch boxes or, like me, make them in disposable cases and distribute to your friends. Deliciousness, like happinesss, must be shared. So go on, get baking!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Boti ni Akuri

When you marry into a different culture you never stop learning about it and my curiosity about Parsi food is relentless. That's hardly surprising considering just how good their food is and how different it is from Bengali food, the food of my own background. 

We're constantly casting about for new things to try to make our mundane meals a little more exciting  without being too complicated to put together, and boti ni akuri fits the brief perfectly.

Boti ni Akuri is something I had vaguely heard of and it was on my long list of Must Try Parsi dishes. Akuri itself is one of my favourite breakfast dishes and the addition of boti or chunks of mutton took it to another level entirely! The easiest way is to reserve a few pieces from the mutton curry or any other mutton preparation that you've made for dinner, to be used for this akuri the next morning. A tiny bit of planning can get you awesome rewards!

Boti ni Akuri 

6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
6 chunks of mutton, cooked and deboned.
2 onions, sliced and fried till brown
1 small tomato, chopped fine
3 green chillies, chopped fine
2 tbsp fresh coriander, washed and chopped fine
1 tbsp fresh mint, washed and chopped fine
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp Dhansakh masala
1/2 tsp pepper powder

Prep all the ingredients and keep them ready. Chop the mutton pieces into really small cubes. If you're using mutton leftover from dinner wash off the gravy from the pieces or your akuri will taste strongly of dinner. 

In a nonstick pan heat the butter gently. Use a couple of tablespoons of butter at least. Once heated, add the chopped chillies, mint, tomato, coriander, and spices and fry for a couple of minutes. Add the cooked mutton chunks and then the fried onions.  Mix it all well and let it cook.

In a clean bowl beat the eggs with the milk and a little salt. 

Pour the beaten eggs slowly into the mutton mix and stir as you go. Keep stirring slowly allowing the eggs to cook and everything to mix nicely. Once the eggs are done to the consistency you like take them off the heat. Garnish with chopped coriander and fried onions if you like. 

Serve the Boti ni Akuri with hot chapatis, sliced bread or fresh pav from your local bakery. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Irish Barmbrack - A Tea Flavoured Sweet Fruit Bread

I haven't been able to bake the monthly breads on We Knead to Bake through most of 2015 much to my disappointment, and have only watched as others baked a variety of beautiful breads. Luckily I managed to do the October bread and I am so happy I did!

The Irish Barmbrack turned out to be one of the very best breads I've ever baked in my life. Not only was it quite easy, it also had enough unusual things going to make it quite different from any bread I've done before. But then, that's the beauty of the WKTB group - we bake breads from all over the world learning new recipes, new techniques, new flavours, and new breads, of course. The Barmbrack is full of fruit and is mildly sweet. Commonly made a Halloween, the bread is often filled with charms that are fun to find while eating the bread.

This is the recipe shared by Aparna for us to follow. However I did make a few changes according to the ingredients I had at hand. I followed the technique as given in the original, of course. Most of the kneading was done in my stand mixer but once I added the soaked fruit to the dough I hand kneaded only.

Here's what I did.

1 cup Tesco's Presoaked Mixed Fruit

1/4 cup sultanas

a scant handful cranberries

1 1/2 cups Tulsi Ginger tea

1/4 tsp dried ginger powder

1 tsp cinnamon powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 1/2 cups plus extra maida or APF

2 tsp instant yeast

2/3 cup powdered sugar

30 gms butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

1/2 cup milk

In advance soak the dried fruit in the hot tea in a bowl and let it steep for a couple of hours or more. I put the tea leaves in a fine mesh strainer and left the strainer in the bowl to steep so that the tea flavours could be absorbed to the maximum by the soaking fruit. Once the fruit becomes quite plump discard the tea dregs and drain the fruit carefully. Reserve the tea liquid. Put the fruit in a strainer and let them drain while you get the dough going.

In the bowl of your mixer mix in the flour, yeast, sugar, spice powders, and salt. Give it all a stir. Add the beaten egg and the butter and mix again.

In a measuring jug mix milk and the tea liquid to make up one cup. I had loads of the tea liquid so I used half milk and half tea liquid. If it's gone cold warm it a little in the microwave. We're going to use this liquid to make the dough so it should be just warm enough to help the yeast bloom, not too hot or the yeast will die.

Pour in the milky tea and start the mixer at a slow speed till dry and wet ingredients are mixed well. Increase the speed by one level and, using the dough hook, knead the mix till you have a sticky but smooth dough. Add dry flour if required.

On a floured surface turn out the dough and knead for a minute or two by hand. Flatten out the dough and scatter the drained fruit on it. Fold over the dough and knead to mix the fruit into the dough. I added the fruit in a couple of batches to distribute it better - add the initial lot, knead to mix, flatten dough again, add fruit and knead again to incorporate.

Oil a proofing bowl and place the dough ball in it. Cover with a damp napkin and leave it aside to double.

Once it has doubled remove again to your floured surface. Divide the dough into two and knead gently for a minute each. Place in greased loaf tins or shape into freestyle loaves and place on your baking sheet. Cover again with a damp towel and leave to rise for another hour or so. I used a well floured banetton for my loaf.

Bake the breads at 180C for 30 to 40 minutes till golden brown on top and hollow sounding when tapped. If your bread is browning too fast cover loosely with foil.

Cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. We had our Barmbrack for breakfast and tea, slathered with butter, jam and honey. This bread toasts well too.

*Use any dried fruit to make up that 1 cup of fruit - raisins, prunes, apricots, sultanas, cherries, cranberries - whatever mix you like. I had that bag of Tesco's fruit so I used some of it.

*Use regular strong tea. I didn't have any so I used the tulsi ginger tea a friend had sent a while back. How nice that some of it got used!

*The original recipe calls for allspice powder. I didn't have any so I used more cinnamon. A mix of clove and cinnamon with a star anise thrown in would work quite well too.

We Knead to Bake #32

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Comfort that is Daal Bhaat

It's been a tough year so far and the last few weeks have been quite high on the difficulty scale. Stretched nerves, eroded patience, a whole lot of stress and a big surgery later we brought Mom home from the hospital. I don't know who was the most exhausted by the time we got home. You know how it is... after endless days spent in hospital, those last few hours till you finally step over the threshold and out of the building seem to pass with excruciating slowness. And then when you finally pile into the car, the drive home seems to take another age.

And then you're home! Exhausted but exhilarated.

Soon the exhilaration evaporates and the tiredness hits. The mind wants to shut down and crawl into a deep dark corner but there are mundane jobs to be done, lunch to be made.

Today the hubby stepped in and whipped up the simplest meal in creation - Daal and Rice. I had rooted around in the veggie drawer in the fridge and I found a plump brinjal, ideal for a bhaja to go with the daal and rice. And so that's what we had - Bhaat, Daal, Begun Bhaja, and my homemade Ghee.

We ate in silence as the simple meal comforted and strengthened us, assured us that all would be well, embraced us in a blanket of familiarity, normalcy and peace. Daal and Bhaat. That's what it does.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Thousand Years of Fusion - My Article on Parsi Food Ancestry Published in the CaLDRON Magazine

I wrote a couple of articles and contributed some recipes for the Two Year Anniversary Bumper issue of CaLDRON Magazine. Here's the one I wrote about Parsi food as we know it today and its ancestry tracing influences from Iran and India that have all made it what it is today. 

Do check out the issue here and see my article up there in print on page 68!  

Parsi Food – the words evoke images of Dhansakh and Patra ni Machhi in most people’s minds. But there’s much more to the cuisine of this much beloved community epitomised by philanthropy and eccentricity in equal measure.

The Parsis arrived in India as refugees from Iran, a little more than a thousand years ago and first settled on the Gujarat coast. Legend has it that the leader of the earliest groups went to meet a local chieftain to seek asylum. The chieftain showed him a bowl brimming with milk and said his land was like that bowl, with no room for more. The leader of the refugees sprinkled sugar into the milk and said, like the sugar, he and his people would not only blend into the milk but would improve it too. And thus the Parsis remained in India, and not only did they blend in, they certainly added plenty of sweetness to the land.

In Iran their diet included plenty of meat and wheat, punctuated with a profusion of fruit which was also dried to last through the year, pulses, herbs, a few spices, saffron, onions and garlic. Bread was a big component of the meal and they were skilled bakers. In India they found an abundant variety of fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs, a wide range of spices, and coconuts. While fusion food has become a fashionable buzz word in the last few decades the Parsis were at it as soon as they arrived. Most of modern Parsi cuisine that we see in India is a result of a fusion of Persian with Gujarati and coastal dishes, with influences from British cuisine, along with a dash of Portuguese thrown in.

Thus were born classics like Patra ni Machhi that uses coriander and coconut, the vividly red Parsi curries that use coconut, dried red chillies and poppy seeds, the Patio which uses vinegar, red chillies, tomatoes, and is garnished with vegetables like drumsticks and baby brinjals, Lagan nu Custard which is a classic British egg and milk custard with cardamom and nutmeg added to the mix and topped with nuts and dried fruit, to name a few.
There was no Dhansakh in Persia, nor was there any Patra ni Machhi. However we see Persian ancestry in the Pullaos, and in various other preparations that use dried fruit like apricots, raisins, currants, and saffron. The fondness for lamb over other meats is another vestige of their Persian heritage. However, they avoided beef and pork in India because these were taboo to many locals.

The Parsis don’t have many festivals but the start of a new year is of marked importance. August is a month of celebration with three important days – there’s Pateti, Navroze, and Khordad Saal. Pateti is the last day of the year and is a relatively solemn occasion where one reflects on the deeds of the year gone by; taking stock of the good and bad one has done, and resolves on doing better in the forthcoming year. Navroze, the ‘new day’, is the first day of the New Year and brings with it hope for a new beginning, celebrated with feasting and family outings to plays and concerts. Khordad Saal is the day of the Prophet Zoroaster’s birth. All three days are marked with visits to the Agiary (fire temple) and plenty of good food.

An invitation to a Navjote (initiation) or Lagan (wedding) is quite coveted for the guest is guaranteed to be wined and dined in style. Here too, the Indian influence is seen in the meals being served on banana leaves. Of course, these days many people prefer to have a buffet spread but the sit down meals are as popular.

In the old days a wedding feast menu featured mutton dishes from start to finish. The goat being a large animal, it was only slaughtered at weddings where there would be a large crowd to feed. The menu featured Aleti Paleti (pan fried offal in a spicy gravy), Bhaji Dana ma Gos (mutton cooked in fresh greens and peas), Khattu Gos (mutton cooked in curd) and a sumptuous mutton pullao or plain rice accompanied by Masala ni Daar (spicy daal). Mhowdi, a liqueur made from the mahua flowers, would be served in little silver cups called ‘fuliyas’. 

The advent of poultry farms and broiler chicken has changed the Parsi diet considerably. Chicken was now easily available and one didn’t have to sacrifice a valuable layer that provided eggs. Eggs have always ruled the roost in Parsi kitchens and there is an endless variety of egg preparations, the most well-known being ‘Sali per Eeda’ or eggs on straw potatoes. Kasa per Eeda or eggs on something is an entire chapter in Parsi cuisine where eggs are steamed on top of a variety of bases. The base could be leftover vegetables, a simple mix of onions, tomatoes, and spices, a piquant kheema, or something as decadent as clotted cream! 

Fish also gained popularity and today, no Parsi feast is complete without Patra ni Machhi or Sahs ni Machhi made with pomfrets, the Parsi’s favourite fish.

While the Parsi loves proteins more, there is quite a variety of vegetarian recipes in the repertoire – much to most non Parsis’ surprise. Granted, most vegetable recipes have some meat added ‘to make it palatable’ but there are plenty of completely meatless vegetable preparations too, no doubt the result of intermingling with local communities and the sheer abundance of vegetables in India.

The cuisine today is a wonderful mix of original Persian preparations with strong local influences starting in Gujarat, going south along the western coast as they moved towards Bombay and beyond, right down till Goa. A thousand years of fusion has resulted in a unique cuisine that celebrates local produce and ingredients and yet holds on to the rich culinary heritage of the land of its origin.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Luv Thy Farmer and Mosambi Cake

Mosambi (Sweet Lime) Cake

I noticed a post on Facebook where a friend was making an effort to help a fruit farmer get a decent price for his produce (mosambis or sweet limes) by selling it via the social network. The usual route for farmers to the retail customers is through multiple middlemen which means the farmer gets paid a fraction of what you and me, the end users, actually pay for produce. In Mr Gaikwad's case he was getting roughly INR 12- 15 per kilo while we were paying around INR 70 per kilo. My friend Ranjit decided to try to bridge this enormous price gap and thus Luv Thy Farmer was born.

I bought a 5 kilo bag of mosambis for INR 300 - that's INR 60 per kilo for mosambis which turned out to be far better than the ones I'd bought from my online grocery store, and cheaper too. I did juice quite a few of them but these fruits were so fragrant I wanted to make something more than just juice. A cake was the most obvious thing that came to my mind and I set about looking at a few recipes to see what I could do.

I liked this recipe for Moist Lemon Bundt Cake on a blog called Amy Kay's Kitchen and I adapted it to include mosambis instead of lemons. I have also reduced the sweet elements that make up this cake. Here's what I did -

Mosambi Cake

2 1/4 cups maida, sifted
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups castor  sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of 2 large mosambis
1 1/4 milk
150 gms butter

Preheat the oven to 180C. Prepare a baking tin, either a Bundt pan or any regular shaped cake tin, by coating the inside with butter. I used a pastry brush to spread the butter evenly.

In a large bowl combine the sifted maida, salt and baking powder and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer crack the four eggs and mix on medium speed till thickened. The eggs should turn a pale lemon colour. Add the sugar in small amounts beating continuously.

Add the zest and the vanilla extract and continue to mix.

Slowly add the dry flour mix, a little at a time incorporating completely into the egg mix.

Heat the milk and add the butter to it. Stir to mix and let the butter melt. Remove from heat. The milk shouldn't get too hot or boil.

Slowly add the milk-butter mix into the batter and let it all combine. You will get a runny batter.

Pour batter into the prepared cake tin and set it in the oven to bake for 30 to 35 minutes. A cake skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean.

You can drizzle the cake with a mosambi juice and icing sugar glaze if you like. I didn't because we are now a house full of diabetics and this cake is stretching the limits as it is! I just sprinkled some extra mosambi zest on top of the cake. The fresh burst of flavour from that zest was just superb.