Sunday, September 23, 2018

Parsi Mawa Cake

I was travelling the day before my husband's birthday this year, and at Mumbai airport, decided to pick up a Mawa cake from Theobroma as a birthday morning surprise. We had first come across Mawa cake at Sodabottleopenerwala which one year became our favourite restaurant - we went there 8 times in that year, a record for people who don't even eat out at restaurants that often! The warm Mawa cake was a real revelation - soft, moist and delicious without being super sweet.

It reminded me of the first time I had eaten pound cake, as a teenager back in Singapore. It was a Sara Lee frozen pound cake, eaten straight from the freezer, but managed to be so succulently soft and moist that I simply could not get enough. There was something so comfortably familiar and loving in the taste of it that I feel I've been looking at recreating that taste my whole life.

The Mawa cake at Sodabottle and at Theobroma are exactly like that taste of childhood nostalgia - moist, dense, familiar, sweet and untainted by any form of decorativeness that takes cake from being a comfortable friend to a formal acquaintance. It's quite like a pound cake, in its soft and moist taste - nothing sticks to the tongue or the palate in a claggy way, but just eases its way so smoothly down the gullet, you're left looking to the next bite and the next.

I was hit by a powerful urge to bake that from scratch today, having bought some mawa (khoya) from the neighbourhood market recently. I've got to say, I understand a phrase by one of my favourite authors - a cut-and-come-again-cake, after eating this one today. The kids piled on to it like they'd never had cake before, the elder ones putting away a cool three slices apiece. Having just baked it this evening, there is barely a fifth of it left! I'm not sure if I feel delighted everyone loved it or dismayed that it whooshed by so fast!!!

Oh well, at least it's not too complicated or time consuming to make!

1 cup plain flour
1.5 cups sugar
1/3 cup softened unsalted butter
200 gms mawa
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp baking powder

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees c.

Mix the dry ingredients and then all the wet, except the eggs. Beat together, then add the eggs one by one and beat to a smooth mixture. If it's clumpy, add a small portion of plain milk and beat until the mixture is smooth and dropping consistency.

Pour into an 8 inch greased and floured baking pan and bake for 45 minutes - if a knife comes out clean, it's done. It should have a lovely honey-gold colour.

If you insist on tarting it up - and I wouldn't - you can dredge some icing sugar in nice patterns over the smooth honey gold top. I did get a hankering for a smidgen of salted caramel icecream on the side - not the oversweet kind, but the kind that's genuinely a little salty.

It would probably be a great coffee time treat as well.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Weekend Cooking

Since our cook/ housekeeper is away, I'm having to cook on a more regular basis, though my parents have been stars, supplying food unasked for weeks on end. Sunday morning we had an idli beakfast, idlis and coconut chutney by mom while I dished up my froend Monika's mother in law's peanut chutney recipe. I'm one of those people who finds peanuts totally addictive, especially in savoury form, so I have pretty much cleaned out what was left of the chutney, pairing is variously with butter-toasted pao at dinner last night, with crackers for a snack and then cold out of the fridge with hot idlis again this morning.Would highly recommend you make it a pantry staple!

Here's the recipe link: Kickass peanut chutney

For those too lazy to follow yet another link, here it is:

  1. 1 cup roasted peanuts ( I used packaged, pre-roasted and salted peanuts out of laziness)
  2. 3-4 dry roasted dried red chillies
  3. 2-3 cloves garlic
  4. 1 small onion, chopped
  5. 1 lime sized ball of tamarind, soaked in 1/2 cup warm water
  6. 1/2 cup water

2 sprigs curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp hing
1 tbsp oil ( peanut oil for choice)

In a little oil, cook the garlic till its dark brown but not burnt. Remove from the oil and fry the onion in the same oil till soft.
Grind together the first six ingredients to the required consistency - you decide if you like chutney runnier or thicker. Add salt to taste.
Heat the remaining oil in a tadka kadhai. Add the mustard seeds. When they pop, add the cumin, hing and lastly, washed curry leaves. Take off the heat and pour over the chutney. Bliss out!


Then, for a late Sunday lunch as I just lost track of time, we had rajma by mom, with baked stuffed capsicum. The Capsicum could be a great meal by themselves, especially for anyone trying to go low-carb. I made the capsicum stuffings two ways. One was with a cabbage and potato stuffing from Monika's food blog. Another kind was a basic paneer bhurji, which actually worked out very well.

I love yellow and red capsicum but am not a big fan of the green ones, so this style of cooking actually made them delicious and the kids ate them up without a murmur. definitely going to repeat this...

10 medium sized capsicums, cut into half each

Stuffing 1
1/2 small cabbage, cut into fine ribbons and soaked in water
2 potatoes, boiled and mashed
1 onion, julienned
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 inch ginger, crushed
2-3 green chillies, chopped fine
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp coriander powder
salt to taste
1/2 tbsp oil

Heat the oil. Add the garlic and ginger and cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the spice powders and onion. Cook till the onion is translucent. Add the drained cabbage - the water clinging to the leaves will be enough to cook it, and stir to mix. Once the cabbage is cooked through, add the mashed potatoes and salt and mix well.

Stuffing 2
200 gms paneer, grated or crumbled
3 small tomatoes, chopped fine
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2-3 green chillies, chopped fine
Handful coriander leaves, cut into fine shreds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp turmeric if you like

Heat the oil in a pan. Add the cumin seeds and toast for a minute. Add the chillies and onion and cook till translucent. Add the tomatoes and cook until soft. Add the paneer and salt and cook for a couple more minutes. Turn off the heat, add the coriander leaves. If adding turmeric, add into the hot oil before putting in the cumin seeds.

For the Capsicum:
Prepare the capsicum by slicing each capsicum into half and clearing out the seeds. Pre-heat the oven at 180 degrees C. Rub the oven roasting pan with a thin slick of oil ( about half tbsp).
Fill half the capsicum halves with Stuffing 1 and the other half with Stuffing 2. Bake for 25 minutes and let rest for 5.

Enjoy with rice and a bean dish, and dahi, with rotis or just by themselves with a salad on the side!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Kulle ki Chaat

A couple of years ago, I worked on one of the most fun projects of my career, for a client. It involved mapping the food landscape of India – as broad a brushstroke as you’ll ever see. Essentially it involved, among other things, mapping the history of India’s culinary evolution, understanding regional cuisines across the four regions, decoding the philosophy, medical beliefs and social developments that shape India’s food behavior and, most importantly for us, getting to go on foodwalks across many cities, eating at some of the most interesting and experimentative restaurants ( Indian Accent, for example) and getting paid for it!

One of the most memorable outings was a food walk in Old Delhi with Sohail Hashmi. He is a history buff who really knows his Purani Dilli backwards, from how it looked in the time of Shah Jahan to its streets, architecture, the life of people, legends and the many nooks and crannies that guard its delicious food secrets. Among the more exotic things we got to taste – fruit sandwiches invented for the traditionally vegetarian bania families that visited Old Delhi to go wedding trousseau shopping, which consist of white bread layered with various fruit, a thin layer of paneer and a special secret chutney/ masala that brings it all together. Mithai and chocolates in virtuoso shapes or flavor combinations, which are now sent out to invitees along with wedding cards. The most exquisite double-ka-meetha I have ever had, behind Matia Mahal – crisp on the surface, soft and spongy underneath and the perfect level of sweetness, laced with saffron. Freshly baked nan khatai biscuits sold on a cart. In fact, it’s really difficult to pace yourself so you have enough appetite for all the goodies that you come across, and both times I’ve been there, I’ve missed out on the famous dahi vadas as I was too full.

Kulle ki chaat is a special chaat made up primarily of stuffed veggies and involving no frying so at first we were skeptical – how good could it be? But one bite and we were converts. It’s really simple to put together, crisp and cooling and so delicious one thinks of health benefits only later!

Tomatoes - 2
Cucumber - 2
Potatoes - 2
Papaya - 1
Pineapple – 1 (Optional)

Boiled chickpeas - handful
Boiled potatoes – 2, cubed tiny
Half a cup of pomegranate seeds
Chaat masala to taste
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped fine
Juice of 1.5-2 limes

Cut the cucumber vertically into halves, then into 1.5 inch chunks, hollowing out the seeds. You can also try cutting it into cylinders and hollow out most of the seed core, leaving a thin layer at one end as a base. Tomatoes – chop off a slice from the top and then scoop out the inside. With potatoes – boil some mid-sized potatoes until just soft but not too soft. Chop in half and scoop out some of the boiled potato from the center, leaving a bowl to be filled. Chop the papaya and pineapple into 1 inch thick slabs.

Mix the cubed potatoes, boiled chickpeas, coriander leaves, pomegranate seeds, chaat masala and lime juice in a separate bowl. Spoon in to the hollow veggies/ onto the fruit slabs.

Serve immediately - as a snack, pre-meal salad or drinks accompaniment -
and bask in a healthy halo!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Light summer meals

This summer has been kind to us so far. After a few days of 40 degree C + weather, storm clouds and aandhis have blown through the city, leaving it much cooler and more bearable. I wish it could be like this all year round. in fact, the weather has not only been conducive to morning and evening walks, but we've managed to go AC free for several nights, with a cool breeze and the fan enough to give us a good night's sleep. Always a pleasure, since I feel I wake up better rested without the AC.

But between my Hashimoto's crazy readings and the general feeling of warmth around, I felt the need to drum up a light dinner yesterday, something that would be fresh and healthy yet filling. And for me in particular, grain free if possible.

Reading through a few food blogs, the idea of bean salad - which fb memories had thrown up - hit my fancy. I decided to add cauliflower rice - which I had previously dismissed as a bit pretentious - to the mix. For the fam, on the side I had an emergency side of dahi chawal in case anyone felt the food was insubstantial. The meal turned out to be delicious and surprisingly filling, so much so that A who'd been the first to turn his nose up and say 'That's all we're having', sated himself with 2 helpings and the dahi chawal remained pristine!

Salad - really it's a matter of whatever your ingenuity suggests and what you have in the fridge

1/2 cup rajma ( red kidney beans), uncooked
1/2 each of red and yellow capsicum, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 teaspoon roast cumin powder
Juice of 1-2 limes ( depends how juicy they are. We're getting dried up ones here)
1/2 cup cooked corn
1 handful coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Rock salt to taste ( we're trying to switch to this as it's supposed to be healthier)

Soak the beans overnight and then pressure cook for 1-2 whistles until done. Or use the quick soak method I learned from Madhur Jaffrey - Soak for 1 hour, cook for 1 whistle in the pressure cooker. Leave to cool for an hour and pressure cook for 1-2 whistles again.

Leave the beans to cool - they should be at room temperature when you put together the salad, so it's best to get them done and out of the way much before your planned meal.
The rest is super simple - just mix all the ingredients together, including the beans and serve with a smile. I can think of endless changes to ring on this - adding radish, spring onions, peas, lettuce or baby spinach...replacing the cumin with chaat thing I am going to try soon is adding feta cheese to it.

Cauliflower Rice

1 cauliflower, grated fine
1 tsp oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Sprinkle of water

In a cast iron wok, put the oil on to heat. Toss in the cumin seeds and toast lightly. Add the cauliflower and sprinkle lightly with water. Cook, covered with a tightly fitting lid, for a 3-4 minutes and then check if its soft - should be al dente, not mushy. Uncover and cook for a minute and take off the heat. Add salt, if using, and mix gently.

We topped the bean salad with this and added chana masala from Haldirams - a spicy version of roast chana - for extra crunch. Super!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Threenut butter

I've been intrigued by the concept of almond butter for a while now but didn't know where to source it from. On a recent visit to New York, I spotted a Nut Butter which had peanuts and almonds and tasted great. But I sadly had to leave a less-than-quarter-finished jar behind, for fear of oil seeping into my suitcase.

Once I was back, I really wanted to experiment with making the same. Coincidentally, I kept getting ads from something called Butternut Company selling Nut butters but they seemed really expensive. Then I decided to just bite the bullet (nut), and try making it myself at home.

Turned out, it was really easy and as it was made at home, it met my new food goal of avoiding processed foods as far as possible. Tastes great and probably didn't cost as much as it would have if I'd bought it. This time, I cheated and used some organic peanut butter we had lying around at home, since the shop had screwed up and sent peanuts with the skin on. Next time, I shall try with all three nuts in the mix. Luckily, my Moulinex mixie didn't burn out in the process!

1/2 cup cashew nuts
1 cup almonds
1/2 cup organic peanut butter ( preferably peanuts)
1 tbsp ghee

Roast all three nuts slowly in a medium-hot kadhai with a little bit of homemade ghee until lightly brown. Keep aside until they cool down thoroughly. Mix the nuts. Add a little at a time into the mixie and pulse, pausing in between for the motor to cool down, until the mixture turns into a thick, dough-like consistency and you don't have any whole nuts left.

You can add 1 tbsp ghee little by little, during the pulsing process, to ensure the mixture stays moist and turns buttery, not powdery. If you like it chunky vs smooth, pulse  until you get the right texture. Enjoy with an apple, banana or mix into icecream!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Spanish Salsa Verde...or the dip that goes with anything

We love dips. All I need to do to get my kids to eat kore desi chutneys is to rebrand them dips and I think we'll be going through a few bowls of them a week. Thus I'm always on the lookout for new recipes for dips. Last year while we were visiting my friend Suniti on holiday, she served us this amazing green dip that went well with everything on the table - roasted baby potatoes, grilled broccoli, toasties and grilled shrimp. She has had it when she travelled to Spain on her first solo holiday and loved it so much she got the recipe and reproduced it back home.

With my forgetfulness, I'm sure I don't have the original recipe anymore. But what I do make is delicious, fresh and goes well with anything. The other night, when we had friends over for dinner, we served this with assorted grilled veggies - baby carrots, broccoli, mushroom and zucchini, and pita chips and it went down a treat! I bet it'd work great as a salad dressing too. I have no photos because it gets inhaled as soon as it is served...but just imagine a bowl of green, aromatic deliciousness...

1 bunch parsley
3-4 pods garlic, finely chopped - last week I had freshly grown garlic bulbs and leaves from the mandi so I used that instead
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

Heat the olive oil but not to smoking point. As soon as it gets hot, switch off the stove and toss in the garlic and salt. Stir gently and ensure the garlic gets cooked till translucent and soft but not browned ( which will turn it bitter). Toss in the parsley and leave aside to cool. I also added chilli flakes and sometimes I toss in a spritz of lime...

Monday, January 16, 2017

3 Bean Chili

We love to have meals replete with vegetables in the winter. That's the season in which we get the best veggies in Delhi, so salads, freshly made soups, baked and roast vegetables are very welcome. Yesterday was one of those meals since we had just harvested a great crop of Lollo Rosso lettuce from our garden and had many other veggies on hand.

The first time I had Chili - which I have blogged about earlier - was in Seattle years ago. Due to an unusual stroke of luck, dad and I were both working on a client project and had to travel to Seattle. While there, the client took the team on a walkabout of the city. After a couple of hours, dad was tiring out so the two of us decided to opt out of the rest of the walk and look for dinner. We found a tiny but cozy establishment near Pike's Place Market and spied vegetarian Chili on the menu. It was a fabulous intro to the dish, with complex flavours, a chunky texture and a topping of browned cheese. I have recreated it innumerable times since.

Yesterday's version was a little different. Beans are a family of edibles that have always fascinated me. Not the green kind but the dried ones. So any soup recipe that calls for beans is always tried out. Yesterday, since we happened to have three varieties of beans on hand, I decided to make an experimental Chili.

3 cans of cooked beans ( I used one of aduki, one of butter beans and one of black beans), rinsed and drained
2 onions, finely chopped
4-5 pieces of garlic, crushed
2 tomatoes, grated, with their juice
1 cup tomato puree
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp unsweetened chocolate powder
Salt to taste
2-3 chillies, chopped fine
1 green capsicum, 1 red capsicum, chopped
2 cups yellow pumpkin, diced
2 cups water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup grated Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs (optional)
Finely minced coriander leaves for garnish

Heat the oil; add the garlic and onions and stir until translucent. Add in the cumin and coriander powder and mix well. Add in the chillies, tomato puree and grated tomatoes, the capsicum and pumpkin and the 2 cups of water. Let it come to a boil and simmer for about 10-12 minutes until the pumpkin is half cooked.

Add the beans, chocolate powder and a touch more water if required, the chili powder and paprika and the salt. Mix well and taste to check seasoning - we like it spicier so I probably added more than 1 tsp chili powder. Then let simmer on medium flame for about 15-20 minutes more.

Ladle it out into oven-proof bowls and top with the grated cheese ( and breadcrumbs if using). Pop into a pre-heated oven at about 175 degrees for 5 minutes or till cheese is melted. Garnish with minced coriander.

Serve as is or with a dash of sour cream and Pico de gallo ( tomato salsa).

Our dinner yesterday consisted of a salad with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers and walnuts in a feta and olive oil dressing, a potato each baked in its jacket with a dash of Amul salted butter and the 3 bean Chili. Healthy and delicious!