Saturday, 30 September 2017

Sooji Halwa

It starts around the time we celebrate Raksha Bandhan when serendipitously the marigolds also arrive in the markets. And then every few days, a community is celebrating something in some corner of India. From Teej to Pateti to Janmashtami to Ganpati to Eid to Nuakhai to Onam to Navratri and so many more and it will go on till Diwali and beyond. And Indian food on social media simply explodes. Apart from the rituals, food is the mainstay of all our festivals and social media, for all its drawbacks, does a brilliant job at capturing the sheer diversity of it all. It takes you right into people's homes and kitchens and see for yourself the extensive preparations that is undertaken on such days.

As expected, most of the food cooked during these days is mostly done by the women and they simply outdo themselves. The effort and care taken to prepare these dishes is extensive and for someone like yours truly who enters the kitchen occasionally, it is even more impressive when you think of the other responsibilities and jobs they have to attend to whilst preparing the feasts that would make our grandmothers proud. And social media does its job in documenting it all. Little wonder that I have seen the '#vratkakhana' everywhere these past nine days, something I don't think anyone would have imagined a few years back.

You know me better than to expect anything too elaborate here. But, I did make some sooji ka halwa, one of the easiest things to make. Some of us might even have memories of it as an after school snack or a weekend breakfast.

There is not much that goes into it - semolina, ghee, water and sugar. Some make it with milk but my mother always makes it with water and so did I. It all about a whole of stirring for about 15-20 minutes and you're done. It has been embellished with some raisins, cashew nuts and cardamom. It is simple, warm, festive, pure and comforting all at once.

Happy Dasera everyone. May you emerge victorious against all the odds, challenges and obstacles that life throws your way. With love and happiness, from our home to yours..x!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Chocolate Babka / Orange And Chocolate Bread Pudding

Ever so often the food blogging world gets swept away by a certain trend or dish and everywhere you look, be it blog or on social media, you will find the aforementioned dish. When I first started blogging it was all about cupcakes and macarons. And over the years, everything from avacado on toast to smoothie bowls to I have lost count of all that has trended on the food blogging scene. And this is in addition to the annual calendar that is almost set in stone. January for clean eating and March for chocolate in time for Easter. Then there's berries for Summer and stone fruit for later and who can forget Pumpkin for October. And before you know it, it's pies for Thanksgiving and then all that Christmas baking in December before it starts all over again.

Now, if you know anything about this blog, despite my best attempts I have rarely been able to climb along with any trend. If you must know, the first year I put up my Christmas post in January. Little wonder then that my mother is the only dedicated reader of this blog. I'd like to proclaim that I'm above trends but the truth is somewhere between I don't have the requisite skills or I've just been lazy.

Anyhow, the point I'm leading to is that last year or was it the year before that, around this time of the year, babkas were all the rage. Everywhere I looked on blogs and social media, there would be a pic of this loaf of bread with a golden crust and all these chocolate swirls running through the loaf. I'm sure there are other babkas but all I saw were the chocolate ones. 

So, I read up on them and it was everything I liked. An egg and milk sweetened yeast dough that is then filled with a chocolate and nut filling and then rolled and twisted and baked to perfection. How could I not want to bake it. So, I chose the easiest recipe I could find and just about a year on, I finally mustered up the courage and baked one this weekend.

And it was everything it promised despite all my slip ups. I baked it in a tin smaller than the one specified so the top poofed up quite a bit during proving and something about the way I spread the filling, one half of the loaf had more filling than the other half. Ah well! And it took a whole day to prep and bake and I don't have a stand mixer so had to do most of the kneading by hand and let's not forget all those calories in every bite. But, notwithstanding all my dodgy photographs, it was all worth it.

The bread was soft and flavourful and that filling of chocolate and almond was equal proportion of texture and sin. Like I said this bread is not for the calorie conscious but live a little and bake this bread. You will not regret it. The recipe is Yossy Arefi's on Food52 and simple one to follow. I have given a recipe link below which comes with pictures to make life even simpler. 

Well, we had it for breakfast and we had it for tea and then, we realised we were still left with half a loaf and Navratri was fast approaching. For the nine days of Navratri, we are vegetarian at home. So, prodded on by the weather, we used the remaining half for a bread pudding. 

And as the skies rumbled and the rain lashed outside, we stayed indoors with a warm, comforting bowl of babka pudding. It is like any other bread pudding  with a crisp top and all warm and soft underneath but that chocolate and almond filling of the babka running through the pudding just takes it to another soul comforting level. Again, not for the calorie conscious. But, oh do live a little!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Dahi Vada

Despite having visited Delhi over the years, the visits have always been fleeting. Never enough time to explore the facets of a city that they say, has risen and fallen and then risen  again (seven or is it eight times), each time with the fortunes of a different empire and its rulers. And yet, over the past year, three books have taken me to the heart of Old Delhi, bringing it alive at three different points in time.

It all started with Pamela Timms' 'Korma, Kheer & Kismet'. Fed up by the set rules of an expat's life in Delhi, she embarks on a journey to experience the street food of Delhi with it's seasons as her backdrop. She braves Delhi's unbearable Summer for a plate of Ashok and Ashok's mutton korma that finishes within an hour of opening and endures the lashing Monsoon rains and scare of the infamous 'Delhi belly' to try the Mughlai food in the streets around Jama Masjid. The sight of a mound of shakarkhandi (sweet potatoes) atop a khomcha wallah signals the cooler days of early autumn and chilly Winter mornings are spent in the search for the ephemeral 'Daulat ki Chaat'. And in between she visits a whole plethora of small shops and eateries that dot the landscape of Old Delhi feeding the multitudes of residents, immigrant workers, shoppers and curious travellers alike. In her quests, she goes anywhere and everywhere. From Pt. Ved Prakash Lemon Wale's nimboo soda to Old and Famous's jalebis to Gopal Krishna Gupta's aloo tikki to Bade Mian's kheer to a whole host of other places that all sell that one unique dish that they have perfected over the generations, never to be replicated by another.

In her aimless rambles around the streets and bylanes of Old Delhi, she surrenders to the chaos and embraces the mayhem that is Old Delhi and in return, it's people open their homes, kitchens, hearts, lives, dreams and just about everything else except of course, that closely guarded family recipe. With her words, she brings alive the Purani Dilli of today with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, as the city continues to reveal itself to her through its street food and the people and families behind it.

The second book was Ahmed Ali's 'Twilight in Delhi' that I got to know of while reading another book on Delhi, a couple of years ago, 'City of Djinns' by William Dalrymple. Set in the early 1900s, the author sets out to describe in painstaking detail the days and lives of the people of Delhi at the time. Of women cloistered within the four walls of the zenana oblivious to the humdrum of life navigated by the men outside. Of days punctuated by the calls to prayer, cries of street vendors, whines of beggars, sounds of craftsmen at work, blessings of the fakirs and poetry on the lips of everyone when mere words would not suffice to convey the emotion of the moment. Of nights that belonged to courtesans whose beauty and allure hid a lifetime of heartbreak and denial. Of marriages arranged, festivals celebrated, epidemics battled and deaths mourned. 

But, this is all in the shadow of time when the Mughal Empire was defeated, its rulers exiled and its people looked on as a new colonial ruler sought to stamp its authority at the cost of the local culture. The flashes of despair and melancholy that you glimpse early on in the book grow to a vice like embrace by the time you reach the last pages. Partition's unfortunate legacy would mean that the author had to leave for Pakistan and the Oxford University Press would reduce the book to being described as 'a novel that describes.. ..a way of life in the predominantly Muslim areas of Delhi'. What it is, is a book that documents a time in the life of this city lost forever as it was on the cusp of being re-imagined by its new rulers from the ashes of the previous empire. 

And finally, the book that captivated me completely was Madhur Jaffrey's 'Climbing the Mango Trees', her childhood memoirs. Born into a Kayastha family, a community that were traditionally the record keepers of the Mughals and who would make the transition under the new colonial rulers. On a historic timeline, this books picks up where Ahmed Ali's book ends. Growing up in a large joint family in a house overlooking the Yamuna, she takes you into the world of her childhood. A world where Mughal, British and Hindu influences would intermingle while the country inexorably marched towards Independence. While she discusses the social milieu of the time, this is a book about her childhood. 

She introduces you to her large joint family over expansive family meals with its doses of bonhomie and humour and underlying currents of gossip and speculations. You accompany her on her summer holidays in the hills and her trips to the Yamuna river bed for the choicest pick of watermelons. You watch as her elder brothers and sisters grow up and embrace their lives and loves. She takes you to her school and you meet her teachers, friends and that comes with school life. And there's so much more she will reveal about her childhood and with such honesty and intimacy and with a language so descriptive that these recollections don't feel like those of a stranger but those of a grandmother or grand aunt by whose side you sit as she reminisces. 

Most of us today know Madhur Jaffery as a cook book author and you'd imagine her book to be about food and in that assumption, you won't be doing this book justice. Food weaves itself through the pages of this book as inextricably as it always does with our memories. But this book is so much more. It is about her growing years in all its intimate and innocent detail which you will remember long after you've read the book.

All this talk of Delhi had me pulling out a recipe for Dahi Vadas or as the Dilliwallas call it, 'Dahi Bhalle'. I would describe them here but Madhur Jaffrey does such a delicious job of it that why bother. She describes them as "fried split-pea patties spread with creamy yogurt, salt, a hot chili mixture and, finally, tamarind chutney “as thick as melted chocolate." And then she goes on to write that "the dahi baras would melt in our mouths with the minimum of resistance, the hot spices would bring tears to our eyes, the yogurt would cool us down, and the tamarind would perk up our taste buds as nothing else could. This to us was heaven.”

After such a description, there is really nothing more for me to say except that I've shared my mother's recipe but goes without saying that every home in India would have their own trusted one. It is a simple enough recipe that goes down a treat during tea time. 

For a city that keeps rising from the ashes ever so often in the history of time, I leave you with these words of Anupreeta Das, "Delhi now belonged to everyone who lived in it. But no one belonged to Delhi."

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Plum Torte

I love a recipe that comes with a story. It just makes things a little more interesting. Like last year, when I came across a New York Times' recipe for a plum torte. This is no ordinary cake, this is NYT's most requested and most loved recipe, in the history of the newspaper. 

In 1983, NYT food columnist, Marian Burros first published this recipe. It was a simple recipe that appeared without any fanfare, accompanying an article on the arrival of plums in the market. It was so popular with the readers that the recipe was printed every September from 1983 to 1987, to coincide with the plum season. In 1989, the newspaper tweaked the amount of sugar in the recipe and announced that this would be the last year they would be printing this recipe. To help matters along, the recipe that year, came with a broken line border to encourage people to cut it out and store it away.

But, the backlash was swift and at times, brutal. Readers couldn't understand why the newspaper was messing with their annual late Summer tradition that for some was as important as the 'Declaration of Independence' on the back page of the Fourth of July issue. Well, with such extreme emotions being evoked by a recipe, the newspaper had no choice but to  dutifully publish the recipe of their Plum Torte, every September. 

With such a back story, how could I not bake this cake. Last year, when they published it in September, the plums had long left the market. So, this year, am getting in on the game early. 


They couldn't be a simpler cake to bake. The ingredients are all pantry staples and the instructions are fuss free. It all comes together beautifully. As the batter rises, the plums sink into it, going all soft and jammy. As always, the slight tartness of the fruit, a lovely counter to a sweet cake. 

It's not as if I haven't made a plum cake before but none have been as simple and fuss-free as this one. You can play around with any soft fruit. Cherries, peaches or if your markets are bursting with berries, those would be perfect too. It is perfect for tea, breakfast or even that picnic in the park. This is a recipe you want to keep with you at all time, simply changing the fruit as the season changes. If there is one cake you make this season, let it be this one. 

Many years later when Marian Burros was asked about the recipe's enduring appeal, she said, "I love that something so simple took off. Of course, I think that’s why it did." I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Wine Soaked Peaches With Mint And Vanilla

Every year, I tell myself that when stone fruit season comes around, I'll make all the recipes that I've bookmarked through the year. It's no secret how much I enjoy baking and cooking with the fruit of the season and my cookbooks attest to that. These are usually cookbooks written by authors in the West, whose recipes are usually set in the Summer when their markets are crammed with berries and stone fruits.

Unfortunately, in India we have this really tiny window of opportunity when it comes to stone fruits. The first cherries appear in the last days of May when I frankly couldn't be bothered to do anything in that blistering heat but eat a bowl of chilled cherries every day as a snack. It's only when the rains come that you can think of making something with the fruits before you blink and they just vanish from the markets.

Well, I did try making a cherry cake last week and if you saw my post on Facebook or Instagram, you'd know that it was a disaster. Yes, I tried to pretty up the picture but honestly, that cake didn't have much going for it. Finally, because I hate wasting food, I had to make a batch of chocolate sauce, doused the cake in it to make it palatable so that we could quietly finish it off.

But, my confidence has taken a bit of a beating. So, instead I went with a no-bake dessert from Yossy's book before I get my bearings to bake another cake. This is a simple dessert where the peaches are soaked in white wine for two days along with some mint and vanilla and then served with some lightly whipped cream.

The reason I chose this dessert was because I have usually poached my fruits over heat, never just soaked them in wine. What you get is a simple, chilled, no-fuss dessert to enjoy the peaches in season. This is not a rainy day dessert. This is a dessert for the days when the rain takes a breather and the humidity and heat come back in full force. 

It's very important that you choose your peaches carefully. You are looking for firm peaches that have already ripened. If your peaches are still slightly unripe, they won't soften in the wine. You are then better off poaching them as that will soften them down. Neither will they be able to absorb the flavours of the mint and vanilla nor would the wine get infused with the scent of the peaches. I had a mixture of peaches that were ripe and some slightly under and I realised that while we really enjoyed the ripe slices, the slightly tougher ones needed some work.

I have served them with some lightly whipped cream but some vanilla ice cream will also work fine or you could just have the peaches with their wine syrup alone. But, it is important that you serve them chilled. That's what makes them so special on a hot day.

And here's the best part of the recipe. Once you've enjoyed the peaches, you are going to be left with some peach scented wine. Yossy recommends that you turn that wine into spritzers. Simply top up a glass of wine with some sparkling water (club soda), ice and a twist of lemon and it is just such a refreshing drink for a humid evening. 

Hope you are enjoying the weekend..x!

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Turkish Coffee Chocolate Creams

Oh Summer, you made it so difficult. I tried this year to handle you better. I really tried. I woke up earlier than the Sun, while the air was cool from the night gone by and I could hear the birds sing. And as the birds retreated deep within the trees to escape the day's heat, I too, fortunately enough stayed indoors. Only to step out in the evening when a breeze would carry the scent of the flowers - mogras, champas, madhumalati,  brave enough to bloom in the heat. I feasted on the season's bounty - watermelons, cantaloupes, mangoes, litchies, licking their juices off my fingers whilst watching the Gulmohar cover itself with fiery red blossoms. I cooled off with elixirs that are native to my land - aam panna, coconut water, bael sharbat, as I waited all Summer for the Amaltas to bloom with its trademark plumes of yellow flowers. 

And yet none of it was enough. As the days wore on, the sun got brighter, the heat more intense, the days more listless, the earth drier and fatigue set in with just about everything. Even the wind was tired, you could barely feel its presence. Everyone was preoccupied with only one thought, the first rain of the season. The wait was nothing but torturous and yet, the day arrives when the cast after many false starts, gets its act together. 

Dark clouds take over the sky, a cool breeze picks up pace, streaks of lightning light up the sky followed by rolls of thunder and then, the clouds let go. And you do nothing. You simply let your senses be overwhelmed as the rain hits the parched earth, the trees get washed and the earth is perfumed with the scent of wet mud. Because it is only that fragrance that has the power to drive away the frustration, anxiety and misery that Summer inflicts on us. In the euphoria of the first rains, you could almost be tempted to forgive Summer...almost

As I write this, the Monsoon has covered most of India and I retrace my steps back to the kitchen. And before the rains compel me to switch on the oven that's been lying idle all these months, a simple chocolate dessert to get us started. 

It takes the idea of chocolate and cream and infuses it with the flavours of Turkish coffee and cardamom. The mixture is lightened with an egg yolk and cooked like a custard and then set in the cold. Because it is a cream based dessert, a little goes a long way and that is why I set them in demitasse cups. I have mentioned Turkish coffee but for ease, any freshly ground coffee that you enjoy would do.

Depending on how long you steep the coffee and cardamom in the cream, will determine how prominently they reveal themselves in the final product. The cardamom lends a lovely, interesting touch to these little pots de creme that would make a lovely dessert after a heavy meal where you are not in the mood for anything elaborate. Admittedly, the presence of coffee does make these more suited to an adult palate. 

Twas a long Summer and I do hope you are enjoying the rains in your part of the world!

Monday, 20 March 2017

Strawberry Mojito Paletas

Am sure you all read the news where the Met Department has predicted an 'above normal' summer for the year with 'moderate to severe heat wave conditions'. I don't know about you but my mind just went blank as I read the news. Anyone who knows me will tell you of my zero tolerance of the Indian Summer. And I still haven't forgotten last year's Summer. It was brutal, long, unforgiving and there was no respite till June. And to make matters worse, Winter was such a mild one this year. February, that month of blooming flowers and pleasant weather was this year, uncomfortably warm. It is not an one-off event. Freaky weather is increasingly becoming frequent. Every year is turning out as the hottest year ever recorded.

This is just wrong. We need to start thinking more seriously about changing weather patterns. About how we've allowed the green cover of our cities to deplete as they made way for concrete roads and shiny malls or let our rivers dwindle to resemble sewer drains. Of how each one of us has contributed to this mess and needs to make amends personally, however small the effort may seem. We need to make the effort to adopt solar energy for our energy needs at home and take up the responsibility to personally grow more trees. To use less plastic especially those blasted, ugly plastic bags that mar our cities and countryside. To make intelligent food choices that reflect locally grown produce because I think, we all agree, climate change is happening right now and it isn't sparing any of us.

And for any loon out there, who thinks climate change is a hoax, I ask you to come and spend the next three months in India, without any access to any kind of air conditioning or cooling comfort. And once you are done, then we will talk!

While I despaired over the coming onslaught of Summer, I found a recipe for strawberry paletas in Yossy Arefi's 'Sweeter Off The Vine'. Paletas are ice pops made from fresh fruit and Yossy's are made with strawberries and campari. I, instead, took my inspiration from a strawberry mojito. So, in went mint, lime juice and rum to flavour these ice pops. 

You can leave out the rum, if you wish, you will still enjoy them. And for those, who love their rum, don't go overboard or else these pops won't freeze. Be open to experimenting with any other fruit of your choice. And yes, I could have called them ice pops but how much more exotic does paletas sound. Makes you wanna put on a sombrero for the occasion.

The absolute juvenile pleasure of enjoying an ice pop is ever intact. You may not be able to escape Summer but for a few minutes, these have the power to help you ignore it. Summer, Be kind! 

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