Saturday, November 8, 2008
I love making Greek salad at home through out Delhi winters. You get a great supply of salad vegetables and these days any good grocery store will provide Danish feta cheese in cartons. It makes a good, filling appetiser which is great since I'm always looking for healthy and low-cal recipes. The kids love it too and it's a versatile style of salad since it can accommodate almost any salad veggies you'd like to use.
Last night we had one of my variations on the theme:
1 head of lettuce, washed in icy-cold water, dried and hand-torn into bite-sized pieces
2 green bell peppers, cut into thin strips
2 tomatoes, cubed
2 spring onions, chopped fine
Walnuts, half cup, broken into halves
Raisins, quarter cup
Italian extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon
Juice of half - 1 lemon ( to taste)
Feta cheese, a 4 inch by four inch slab, about hald cm thick, cut into small pieces
Assemble all the vegetables, nuts and raisins together. Mix the oil and lemon juice in a cup, whisking well to ensure it's well-blended and pour over the vegetables. Add the feta cheese and mix everything together. In case the feta is extra-melty, as Danish feta tends to be, you can mix it with the oil and lemon juice and whisk all three together to make a smooth dressing.
You can ring any number of changes on this theme - replace the walnuts with pine nuts, use grapes instead of raisins, walnut oil instead of olive oil, add baby corn, red and yellow bell peppers, fresh green peas, steamed asparagus spears, even steamed green beans...If you find the feta too salty, you can also blend it with a bit of yoghurt.
Monday, September 22, 2008
There's slow scrambled eggs, which are buttery and delicious, especially with some snipped chives, and maybe some cheddar grated in. I got the recipe from my friend Lulu's blog, and while it takes more time than the typical way one scrambles eggs, the buttery goodness is well worth the effort. I think I did post the recipe up on this blog as well at some point.
The other thing I love is a really well-made omelette. My brother-in-law in Toronto, who runs award-winning restaurant Amaya, treated us to his omelettes when we visited them 3 years ago, and I've never ever had omelettes that delicious. I copy his method now whenever I make omelettes and they turn out almost as well. Interestingly, the method for cooking these is also slow, unlike the typical French omelette which one is supposed to cook fast over a high flame and serve while it's somewhat runny. You basically take whatever's lying in your refrigerator and a few minutes of magic later - there you are with decadently tasty omelettes. Fluffy, light, not egg-smelling and creative all at once, they make an ordinary saturday breakfast into a festive brunch!
Eggs ( typically take 2-3 per person; these are not diet omelettes. Or you can take 3 eggs for 2 people and cut the omelette in halves)
Half glass of milk
Dollop of butter
Finely chopped vegetables of your choice - onions, red and yellow bell peppers, green bell peppers, tomatoes, asparagus tips, shredded spinach, spring onions, leeks...whatever you can scrounge for in the fridge as long as they are not watery veggies like tinda/ lauki
Cheese of your choice...the harder ones, ideally - cheddar, gloucester, edam. If using soft cheese like blue, camembert or brie, remember to toss them in just before you turn off the heat.
Meat of your choice ( though I'm not an expert on what meats you can add and when, being vegetarian)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Beat the eggs together with the milk until light and foamy. Meanwhile, put a nonstock frying pan on to heat at the lowest possible heat and add the butter.
Once the butter has melted, add the egg and milk mix and swirl the pan so the mixture covers the entire bottom of the pan.
Once the egg mixture just begins to solidify ( a slow process since you're cooking on low flame), sprinkle the vegetables and the cheese over the surface and cover the pan with a tightly fitting lid.
Let cook, still on low flame for 5-7 minutes and then check to see if done - the liquid egg mix should have turned opaque and almost entirely solid. If it hasn't yet cooked, cover the pan again and let it cook for a few more minutes until done but not brown.
Using a sharp-edged wooden spatula, run the spatula around the edges of the pan and turn one half of the omelette onto the other half.
Slide onto a plate and serve with hot buttered toast. If you want to divide the omelette up, cut the halved omelette in halves in the pan, before sliding them onto a plate.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
This dish also works as a great cold snack and I usually make plenty for a party so we have enough to dig out the next day. It's apparently a traditional recipe from the Nawab of Hyderabad( Jung)'s family.
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped roughly
1 liter dahi ( homemade and plain)
1 bunch coriander leaves
2-3 onions, chopped really fine
2 cups gram flour ( besan)
2-3 green chillies
salt and chilli powder to taste
1.5 cups water
Oil for frying
Handful curry leaves
2-3 dried red chillies
3-4 cloves garlic, slivered
Black mustard seeds
2 tsp oil
Grind together the dahi, garlic, green chillies, coriander and salt into a smooth paste and keep aside in the refrigerator.
Mix the besan with the onions, salt, chilli powder and water into a smooth paste the consistency of pancake batter - add the water sparingly while making the paste, which should be slightly runny, not thick.
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan - spread the oil across the pan - and pour out the besan batter into small, flat pancakes, about 2-3 inches in diameter. Shallow fry on both sides until crisp and then set aside on absorbent paper to cool. Finish all the besan batter this way.
Once the besan pancakes are cool to the touch, lay them out in a shallow but wide dish side by side and layer them until you have used up all the pancakes.
Pour 3/4ths of the dahi-mixture on top of the pancakes and then put the dish away to refrigerate further.
Just before serving, top the dish with the reserved 1/4th of dahi mixture.
Make the tempering and pour it on top of the dish. Serve cold.
Heat the oil in a small wok.
Pour in the black mustard seeds and wait for them to finish spluttering.
Add the garlic slivers and wait until they start turning brown.
Add the curry leaves and red chillies and take off the heat.
As usual, I have no pictures from the last time I made this!
Monday, August 4, 2008
Handful Sprouts - mung beans, garbanzo beans ( kala chana/ chholey)
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
Juice of 1/2 - 1 lime
Coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 tsp chaat masala ( available at Indian stores, for US readers)
Rock salt to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper
Just mix everything together, adjusting the seasoning and serve. If you want to serve it chilled, which makes it taste even better, skip the salt and lime juice until just before serving. You can also add a handful of soaked raw peanuts for extra sweet crunchiness!
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The first time I visited the restaurant, I wondered what a vegetarian would get and whether it would be worth the price ( Rs. 599 per veg setting), but I had no cause to worry. Their veg selection of kebabs including a veg Galauti made out of Yam is as delectable as their non-veg. How can I say this with good authority? Simply by virtue of the fact that I look forward to going to this restaurant as much as my very non-veggie husband.
The GKF, as we call it for short, later expanded into a franchised concept, with one outlet in Noida and one in Gurgaon with thankfully no let-up in the quality of food or service. The menu is a fixed one - you can order either the veg or non-veg meal, and within about fifteen minutes, with no sense of hurry, you will be stuffed to the gills with an array of fabulous kebabs and matching rotis. The rotis range from an ulta tava roti made with saffron to Bakarkhani and Sheermal, which here are made about the size of the palm, and less sweet than one would typically find at a Muslim wedding. The kebab selection varies, but the veg and non-veg Galautis are the signature dishes and always on the menu. They serve you one of each kebab on the menu at the outset and then you can keep calling for the ones which you preferred.
Last night, we went there with my cousin's family, visiting from the US, and my parents. Sadly, my cousin and her husband had had a rather filling lunch at IHC during the day, which they kept lamenting later on, as the GKF went to work. The meal started with a fruit salad served with a strawberry dressing. Then came the Galautis, served with the saffron rotis. Then a meltingly soft paneer kebab, served with a bun-like roti. The tandoori aloo was relished by my picky niece and nephew. I unfortunately had to eschew one of my favourite kebabs - the tandoori fruit. The spices add a brilliant touch to the sweet, tart pineapple and pear. Then came a shish-kebab which in my opinion did not live up to the high standards of the restaurant - too much ginger in the marinade, methinks. And finally a methi-corn kebab topped with a thin slice of orange as the perfect contrast. The roti and kebab combinations are well-chosen to create a harmonic counterpoint between the two.
As predicted, we were stuffed within about fifteen minutes but couldn't stop eating as the food was so good. The guys looked enviously at my dad who'd had the good sense to come dressed in a pajama kurta and thus able to comfortably let his waist expand, while they squirmed in their firangi trousers. Once the endless parade of kebabs was over, they brought us two kinds of dal, an aloo sabzi and biryani. The fragrance of the biryani was fabulous, and their dal makhani with its tinge of bitterness superb. I sated myself with only dal since I was really full and only had space for dessert :)! But my cousin and her husband did full justice to the entire meal.
The dessert course started with a delicious kulfi for everyone. Usually when you order Kulfi, it's either too frozen or too melty, but this one was at just the right temperature to be refreshingly cold but melt in the mouth without freezing one's teeth off. Dad went overboard on the moong dal ka halwa and had two bowls of it - and he's usually the most restrained of eaters, just at GKF that he goes overboard. Last time we had been here, he had had four bowls (!) of it, but then, that was in winter. My BIL started out trying to play it light by having only the rasmalai but we insisted he have a spoonful of the halwa, which then drove him on to finish off a full cup of it. I had a tiny bit of warm GJ but I prefer the way they make GJs in the South - very full of khoya, and less sweet. A relished the halwa as well, while mom had the chenna payesh - delicious again.
You can imagine what a good time we had, because not only did I forget to take photos of the food but we were supposed to take some family photographs as a memento but were so busy eating that we forgot all about it. The meal was capped off by meltingly soft meetha paans on the way out. The meal amounts to Rs. 1000 per head including taxes, but without drinks. A must-visit when anyone comes to Delhi. My cousin was relishing the memory of the food all over again the next day!
Monday, June 16, 2008
This Sunday opened on a beautifully rainy day - from early in the morning when we awoke, it was pouring and the sky was so leaden it didn't look like the rain would let up all day. My daughter and I sat out on our rooftop garden and enjoyed the spattering from the splashing rain and watched our plants preen themselves in the lush weather. Perfect weather for family favourite - Maida pakoras.
These pakoras are really simple to make and stay crisp for ages. Eaten fresh and crisp, they are unbeatable, served up with some cardamom tea.
1 cup plain flour
1/2 - 3/4 cups sour homemade yoghurt ( you can use store bought and non-sour but the taste is much better when the yoghurt is slightly sour)
I handful curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds, whole
Salt and red chilli powder to taste
1 cup vegetable oil for frying
Mix all the ingredients together into a flowy paste, adding the yoghurt slowly. Add more/ less yoghurt as needed, to get the consistency right - it should be like pancake batter. Heat the oil in a wok. Put in a drop of batter to see if the oil is hot enough - when it is, the drop of batter will float up quickly, turning brown.
Pour the batter into the oil, one tbsp at a time, and fry till goldern brown. take out of the oil, using a slotted spoon and resting the pakora against the side of the wok until oil stops running down from it.
Keep on absorbent tissue paper so the excess oil gets absorbed, while you fry up the rest of the batter. Serve hot with ketchup or green chutney, though if you ask me, this pakora tastes great by itself. Retire to window seat/ verandah, plate in hand and enjoy while soaking in the sight of the rain...
Saturday, May 17, 2008
We were there last night at an official dinner hosted by a client for us and his visitors from overseas HO. Honestly speaking the seating at Bukhara sucks. There are sofas with low backs and little room to move, and on the opposite side of the table, modahs - little round stools with no back support. It makes for a tiring evening, since meals at Bukhara tend to be long. The setting is nice otherwise, with stone-clad walls and a stone-type roof, copper glasses for water and so on. I didn't much care for the brown earthernware plates they had, though they might be traditional.
We were exhausted and hungry after a long day at work so made short work of the platters of roasted papds and mint-coriander chutney which kept appearing. Most of the papads, we realised after the edge had been taken off our hunger, were over-roasted, though the chutney was fab - zingy with lime and tongue-tinglingly right. Bukhara has a set menu of vegetarian or non-vegetarian dishes for Rs. 3500 per head + taxes (which run pretty high) or you can order a la carte. We opted for a la carte and ordered several starters. For some reason paneer was pretty prominent on the menu. Given this was meant to be frontier food, I don't know whether that was authentic or a bow to Delhi's Punjabi vegetarian cuisine.
The tandoori aloo ( potatoes) and the green, stuffed capsicum were great, though it was a little difficult to eat the capsicum sans cutlery which is verboten in this restaurant. I didn't have any of the paneer though others found it delicious. The non-vegetarian options were relished - the mutton jang ( thigh), the seekh kebabs...The main course was more of the same - along with the famous Dal Bukhara which has now been packaged by ITC Foods as Kitchens of India. The Dal comes floating with a lump of melting butter on top to testify to its richness, and tasted terrific as always. The tandoori phool ( cauliflower) was terrible - overcooked vegetable and so coated with batter that I couldn't figure out where the batter ended and the cauliflower began! Quite tasteless and disappointing. The main course meat dishes were also apparently delicious though not hugely different in taste to those that had gone before. We had the main course with pudina parathas and naans, which were both lovely - fresh and light.
We wound up with kulfi for dessert, mostly, though some people opted for gulab jamuns and the like. I find the selection of dessert very unexciting, after the supposed exoticity of a Frontier cuisine meal. I wish the restaurant could be more innovative. I'm sure there are tons of shirins and halwas which are authentically Frontier, rather than ras malai (!) and kulfi.
The meal for 17 people cost a whopping Rs. 70,000!!! As my colleague Vandy remarked later, that's a lot to pay for kebabs and dal. We hadn't even had much to drink - most people had stuck to colas or at best one glass of wine or beer. My husband recalled that he had once gone there for dinner with an office group of 11 people and the bill had come to a similar amount because they'd had a couple bottles of wine.
In my honest opinion, Bukhara is worth one visit - when someone else is paying - and then the novelty wears off. Frontier at the Ashok serves similar food including an awesome Dal that is stiff competition, and at a lot less. The Great Kebab Factory, for example is a terrific concept restaurant which is also VFM. I wish I had asked for a copy of the bill to frame and put up!
Sardar Patel Marg,
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Last night, A took me out to Olive Beach for my birthday. Olive was a restaurant first begun in Bombay and then it opened a branch in Delhi a couple of years later. AD Singh, the promoter has been a restaurant entrepreneur for years. He started with a lovely little place in Colaba, if I remember correctly, called Just Desserts - they used to serve desserts and have live jazz on weekend nights. The restaurant was hugely popular but had to shut down due to some zoning issues or some such. Then he had a Chinese restaurant on a boat anchored off Chowpatty beach, called Suzie Wong - all done up like a boudoir, with fire-engine red drapes and loungey seats.
Olive is relatively his newest baby, though rumour has it he has plans for more restaurants. AD Singh has always been good at coming up with concept restaurants. The other thing he manages to do successfully is to keep generating buzz about his restaurants, so they don't lose their popularity. At Olive, they have flea market sales by local designers, they have spa lunches on Wednesdays where women can combine healthy food with an indulgent therapy and lots of other events. Olive also started the Champagne brunch on Sundays trend at stand alone restaurants in Delhi - before that they had been the purview of select 5-star hotel restaurants or coffee shops.
The old Olive in Delhi was at a beautiful location in Mehrauli, near the Qutab Minar, and used to overlook the ravines of Mehrauli. It was located in a courtyard house and was so discreet that there was no signage outside, just a bright blue gate. The decor was simple - rough-plastered bare white walls, wicker furniture and some mediterranean-style cushions - stripey, aqua, yellow and chartreuse. The courtyard featured a lovely old Banyan tree which would cast dappled shadows over the diners. In summer, huge fans and mist sprays would cool the air in the courtyard, while you always had the option of eating indoors in AC comfort. The courtyard flooring was made up of white, smooth, river stones, with flat grey flagstones marking the path. The restaurant had a wonderful air of being a place out of time - one always lingered over a meal there, enjoying the atmosphere and coming out feeling thoroughly relaxed.
The last time we ate there was when my sister and brother-in-law were in Delhi for a visit. We went over for their champagne brunch one sunday and lazed for a good three or four hours over a gargantuan meal, starting with delicious salads and dips, then soups, eggs made to order, authentic Italian style thin crust pizzas and made-to-order pastas. The part of the restaurant where we were seated had one side made of glass and the other side was open to the courtyard, and the glass wall gave a wonderful view of the ravines and ruins of Mehrauli.It was winter, and the warm sun streamed in through the glass wall. We had such an incredible sense of well-being as we rolled out of there and fell asleep in the car going home...
Shortly after that, the Municipal authorities shut down the restaurant, claiming some code violations - which they have now rolled back a year later, so I don't understand what was the bloody point. Meanwhile, AD Singh had started an Olive catering service for a few months, which was very popular. Some months ago, he re-opened the restaurant in a little-known stand-alone hotel called Diplomat. A and I had been wanting to go there for a while now, so my birthday gave us the perfect excuse.
I'd never been to this hotel before - actually it's a house, set in a huge garden, all white and big-windowed, and looks more like a guest house or one of the old bungalows of Delhi. The restaurant has garden seating as well as an indoor area, and was rocking even on a weeknight - every table was full, with a sizeable sprinkling of locals and expats making up the numbers. The path to the restaurant was set up like a beachside, with white river stones all over and a few wicker and wood loungers under large white umbrellas, and a small little gazebo. The restaurant had lots of plants and flowers grouped together in steel buckets here and there, muted lighting and a tiny little pool at one corner. Large pedestal fans had been set up and were more than effective - it was such a pleasant night that one actually felt chilled by the breeze from the fans. The Olive decor had been repeated here - mostly white, with comfortable wicker chairs and a scattering of mediterranean coloured cushions.
We had a cheese platter as the appetizer, followed by a roast-vegetable pizza and tortelloni with ricotta. The cheese platter was fabulous, though only the bocconcini and the chunk of parmesan were Italian. They had an Emmental and another hard, dry cheese that I couldn't recognise. They also had a blue cheese on the platter that was new to me. The bocconcini was stuffed with a spicy green chilli which made a fiery contrast to the bland cheese. The cheese platter came with onion jam, chestnut honey, thin slivers of pear and some apricots, walnuts and prunes. Didn't much care for the dry fruit but the honey, pears and the onion jam were great accompaniments to the cheese.
The pizza was a new take - thincrust, Italian style, it had roast vegetables, including tomatoes, aubergines and broccoli, and was topped with an arugula salad complete with vinaigrette! When I ordered it, I thought the salad was a side dish - I hadn't conceived of it being an actual topping. It was fantastic - made the pizza taste so much lighter just because of the bite of the arugula and the tart vinaigrette. I'm going to have to think about this the next time I make pizzas at home.
The tortelloni came stuffed with ricotta, topped with diced tomatoes, with a parmesan-cream sauce. Sounded great but unfortunately was too tart for my liking - and I'm someone who loves sour flavours.
Oh, well, that left more space for dessert. We shared a chocolate fondant - essentially a molten chocolate cake, served with a fresh raspberry mousse. It was delicious, even though I thought the chocolate used in the recipe should have been a dark chocolate, ideally, and not a milk chocolate as appeared to be the case. There is a rich decadence to dark chocolate that milk chocolate just cannot come close to. But again, the pairing of the fresh, tart flavours of the raspberry with the warm heaviness of the molten chocolate cake was inspired.
I still miss the open feeling one got at the old Olive - here the other buildings loomed a bit too close and the garden was quite small, so one felt a little more crowded. But all in all, it was a terrific meal , with great service. The meal for two, with one drink, came to Rs. 3500, including the service. ( Though I must admit the taxes were over Rs. 600!)Definitely worth a re-visit!
Sardar Patel Marg,
I did take pics with my camera phone but my phone and computer aren;t talking to each other so will have to upload them later!
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Of course, I had a few other challenges during the process. For one, our electricity supply has been erratic, to put it mildly, so I'm never sure when it's ok to pop in a cake. As it turned out, over the long weekend, we had power long enough to bake a few potatoes, but about 10 minutes after I'd huffed and puffed and popped the party cake in, the power went off for over half an hour. I was in a real quandary because I didn't know whether I should re-mix the cake batter to get it airy again. Eventually I didn't, so I'm not sure if the cake turned out as light as it should have.
Then I needed to cover the layers with raspberry jam but I butter-fingerily dropped the jar and smashed it, so I had to use blueberry preserves, which were much thicker and full of whole blueberries - delicious but not very spreadable. I also forgot whether I needed egg whites or yolks for the icing and used up the whites by mistake, so I had to separate another bunch of eggs - we had a loof scrambled eggs last weekend as a result. Being really untalented at decorating cakes, I overdid the blue food colouring so I got a deep blue instead of the pale colour I had wanted.
The only mishap that I was anticipating but which didn't happen was that the butter cream icing didn't curdle. It came together beautifully, white and fluffy and was great fun to use.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
I love potatoes, they're my never-fail veg for almost any mood. There are a million ways in which I use them, including garlicky tikkis, comfort food veggie, on pizzas etc, but the way my grandmom makes them is something I can't aspire to, due to reasons of lack of time and patience, but oh...aren't they wonderful?
Grandma's potato veg is something all her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren really relish and it's a standing request from all of us any time we visit her. Only a grandma would have the love and strength to make this, IMHO, so be warned before you try it!
Ingredients:Potatoes ( count one per person and 2 for the pot) - peeled and cubed really, really, really small ( about 2 mm per side, and I'm not kidding) 1 tsp black mustard seeds 1 tsp urad dal Pinch turmeric Handful curry leaves ( torn into smaller pieces) 1-2 tsp chilli powder ( to taste) Salt to taste 1 tbsp vegetable oil Heat the oil in a wok. Add the mustard seeds and wait for them to stop spluttering. Add the turmeric, curry leaves and urad dal. Wait until the dal starts browning, turn the heat way down low and add the potatoes. Cook on a very low flame, stirring periodically ( pretty much till your arms fall off), until the potatoes are cooked through and crisp.
Turn off the heat and add the salt and chilli powder and stir to mix.
This veg tastes great with almost anything - curd rice, rasam and rice, chapattis, buttered toast, with plain yoghurt as a raita...it is so delicious that I'm contemplating serving it as one of the snacks for the next party we host, though for that I might have to kidnap my ajji and keep her here with me:)
This was for weekend herb blogging for this week.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
When I was a kid, my dad used to make caramel toast for me occasionally, as a treat. I still love that, by the way, but I wondered how it would be if I added a twist to the Caramel toast and layed it with khoya flavoured with saffron (khoya is thickened milk, thickened until it is the consistency of dough, and can be moulded). Once the thought got into my head, mostly prompted by the small quantity of khoya left over from my black carrot halwa, I had to give it a whirl.
It tasted rather good, actually, with the milky bland contrast of the khoya against the sugar injection of caramel toast. The saffron added a good richness to the mix, so I am contemplating making this the next time we entertain. It'll certainly be something I can whip up in a hurry if we have unexpected guests.
A few slices bread( white or brown, either will do)
Some dollops of ghee
1 tbsp sugar for each slice of bread
Heat some of the ghee in a frying pan. When it has melted, sprinkle half a tbsp of sugar all over, roughly about the size and shape of your slice of bread.
Once the sugar turns pale brown, pop in the bread slice and cook on a low flame, pressing down, until the caramel turns a bit darker.
Remove the bread slice, put some more ghee and sugar and put the slice of bread, uncoated side down, onto the pan and let that too get browned.
When all your slices are done ( and do remember not to stack them while hot - they'll all stick together), mix the saffron essence into the khoya and spread, like butter but only more thickly ( as thick as a slice of cheese) on top of half the bread slices. I had about 100 gms of khoya which was enough for 4 bread slices. Sandwich with the remaining caramel toasts and serve cut up into swuares, like a burfi.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
For the first time ever, we were together on her birthday so I wanted to have a party for her. But the catch was that she doesn't eat onions and garlic whereas I'm hardpressed to find savoury recipes without these ingredients. Luckily it occurred to me to dig out my trusty Gujaratai cookbook by Tarla Dalal and I found a recipe for ghughras - little kadubus stuffed with spiced peas. Sounded nice to me so I made them and they turned out incredibly well. Tried'em again last week as practice for Chubbocks' upcoming birthday party next week. Easy Peasy, and so pretty!
2 cups peas
2 tsp ginger-green chilli paste
Salt to taste
Handful freshly grated coconut
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp jeera ( cumin seeds)
Handful freshly chopped coriander leaves
Coarsely grind the peas with the ginger-green chilli paste until they are still grainy but mashed up.
Heat a bit of oil in a wok and add the jeera. When it turns toasty, add the asafoetida. Add the peas and a little water ( 1/2 cup) and cook, first covering up the wok and later uncovering it and letting the water boil away until the peas are well-cooked.
Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Ghughra Flour Case
2 cups flour
2 tbsp ghee
Water as needed
Mix the three and knead into a stiff dough, like for puris.
Break into 14 small balls and roll each one out into a thin circle about 5 cm in diameter. Heap the ghughra filling onto one half of the circle, taking care not to go too near the edge. Fold the other half of the circle over and pinch the ends of the circle together ( so it looks like a half moon) so that there is no opening from where oil can get in ( this is important, else the ghughras will taste dry).
Deep fry each ghughra on a medium heat until pale brown. Serve hot with a coriander or tomato chutney.
I also like the filling by itself, so we often make it as an accompaniment to rotis, without mashing the peas up.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
The base too, I made from scratch - and let me say at the outset that I'm really bad at working with yeast - those things never turn out quite right. But I was determined to try and to add a twist to the base too. So I soaked some dried yeast in hot water, and mixed it into the plain flour along with a pinch of salt and sugar, as well as some Italian herbs. For the toppings, we had a choice of four variants:
a. Potatoes, English Gloucester and feta cheese
b. Roast aubergines and tomatoes with mozzarella and parmesan
c. Pan-fried spinach and roast garlic with mozzarella; and
d. Pears with Danish Blue cheese and walnuts
I sliced the potatoes really thin and parboiled them for the first pizza. For the second, I pre-roasted the thinly sliced aubergines and tomatoes; for the third, the shredded spinach was shallow-fried in olive oil until a little crisp, while a bulb of garlic was roasted in the oven with a glug of olive oil poured on top, and for the last one, I just put everything together and popped it into the oven.
All the pizzas were delicious, though I do need to think of something to add a little more excitement to the potato-topped one. The roasted aubergines and plum tomatoes were caramelised by their time in the oven, and the little bits of Feta addded the right contrast of saltiness to create an absolutely heavenly mouthful. The spinach-garlic one also had a lovely intermingling of textures, and the sweet roasted garlic added just the right touch. The last one was the favourite, though. I had been thinking for a while that slightly caramelised pears would be a wonderful contrast to Blue cheese and that the two flavours would go really well together. And I always like walnuts with either camembert or blue cheese, so I popped them on top as a last minute inspiration. This pizza had a really hedonistic flavour and we loved the juxtaposition of the sweet pears with the intenseness of the blue cheese and the crunch of crisp walnuts.
This was a really fun kitchen experiment and I'm getting all excited about doing it again, either just for the family or when we have a small group of friends over. I'm sending this entry over to weekend herb blogging, hosted this week by Lia. It strikes me that this is a great way to get kids to eat up their veggies too - because pizza always entices kids, no matter what's on top! I will say, though, that next time, I'll let the pear and walnut pizza get half-done before adding on the blue cheese. Of course, next time around I also have to make sure we're not so hungry we don't wait for the camera and just click with the cellphone. Also - am seriously crap at geometry so my pizzas aren't any recognizeable shape...
(PS Pictures will be up shortly)
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup curd/ yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons chilli powder
1 tablespoon coriander powder
2 tablespoons oil
salt to taste
Thursday, February 7, 2008
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
What is interesting is the variants that abound, from chives to spring onions to leeks to half a dozen variants of onions that I know of, including plain white ones which I use to make this soup or red onions for the famous French Onion Soup or Hyderabadi Dahi Vadas which stars another favourite root veg - garlic. Each variant has a special use - from spring onions which we use for Jhunka to roast or baked leeks which taste fabulous with a cheesy sauce and a bread-crumb topping to sambar onions used for (you guessed it) sambar which taste fabulous with idlis. There are also some yummy onion chutneys around, notably the one served by Sagar Ratna, the South Indian fast-food chain in Delhi.
So when faced with the JFI theme for February, I was in a quandary as to what I could make that would be special enough, and then I remembered our winter special of Rajasthani Parathas. These are delicious parathas with onions as one of the key ingredients. You can make the stuffing and store it ahead of time and just pull it out whenever the mood strikes. We usually have these parathas with plain old dahi or Tzatziki, and that's more than enough to complement them.
1-2 cups besan (chickpea flour)
3-4 onions, chopped really fine
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander powder
2-3 tsp chilli powder ( to taste)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp veg oil
1 tbsp oil
Pinch of salt
Water for kneading
Oil for cooking the parathas
Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok. Add the cumin and coriander. When toasted, add in the onions and slowly fry them on mid-high heat until they are crisp. Keep aside. in the same wok, put in the besan and roast until it gives off that nice, warm smell. Mix the besan with the onions, chilli powder and salt and store it in a dry jar until you are making the parathas.
Knead the Paratha dough - it should be smooth and not stick to the fingers. Roll out a roughly 6-7 inch diameter paratha and put a heaped tbsp or two of the filling. Fold the paratha over the filling and roll it out again. The parathas should be about 2 mm thick.
Cook on a tawa/ cast iron griddle with a bit of oil until the parathas are a warm beige colour with brown spots on both sides. They will be crisp, like papad. Enjoy hot with dahi and retire for a well-earned nap!
(Photos will follow)
Sunday, January 27, 2008
I flipped through a couple of recipe books but nothing there appealed to me so I decided to whip up my own concoction. I wanted something with the essence of Thai flavour to it, but not necessarily a traditional Thai recipe, and wanted to use beans. We had bought these intriguing white beans from a trip last year to Himachal Pradesh, so I soaked a cupful overnight and then pressure-cooked them until soft the next morning.
I luckily had lemon-grass on hand, and have several flourishing basil plants in my roof garden as well as a lime tree so the basil and kaffir-lime flavours were taken care of. I didn't have galangal do decided to go ginger-free for the soup. I always like having lots of veggies in the soup, so I used whatever came to hand - a handful of podded peas, some broccoli, a carrot, one green pepper...The soup turned out brilliantly. It's one that I will definitely be repeating or ringing changes on. It was flavourful and aromatic, brothy yet light and a complete win with both A and my mom and the kids.
Thai-inspired Bean Soup
1 cup White beans, soaked overnight and pressure cooked until soft
2 red onions, chopped
3-4 pods garlic, peeled and chopped
Handful fresh basil leaves
4-5 kaffir lime leaves
1 stalk lemon grass, chopped into 1 inch pieces
Handful fresh grated coconut
2 cups mixed vegetables, diced and boiled
1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
1-2 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp sugar
Handful coriander leaves, chopped finely
Lime juice to taste
1/2 tbsp vegetable oil ( peanut)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 liter veg stock/ water
Heat the oil and put in the cumin seeds. When they get toasty, add the basil and lemon grass. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until brown. Puree the beans and the onion-garlic-lemon grass mixture together with the coconut.
In a saucepan, pour in the bean puree, the mixed vegetables and half a litre of water/ veg stock. add the salt, chilli powder and sugar and bring to a boil, storring occasionally. Blend with the whisk to ensure the bean puree hasn't clumped onto the bottom of the pan.
Serve hot, topped with coriander leaves and lime juice.
This was a simple recipe and fast to cook, which I always enjoy. The chilli powder, salt and sugar can all be adjusted to individual taste and the final dash of coriander and lime juice adds an amazing freshness to the taste.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
I have a favourite salad at Diva with Rocket and Parmesan so I decided to try and re-create that. I decided to keep the salad simple and pared down so I could truly savour the wondefrul taste of the rocket leaves. All I wanted to accompany the greens were a few cherry tomatoes, halved, and some sliced red onions. I was all out of Parmesan so settled for Edam shavings.
I mixed up a standard vinaigrette - olive oil, white wine vinegar, a dash of mustard and some powdered sugar and poured it over the salad leaves and vegetables. I topped that with thin shavings of the Edam - I still think Parmesan would have worked better because it's harder and saltier, but Edam was pretty good too. And then I thought the salad was missing a little something so I halved a few walnuts and added those to the mix.
The salad was - Rocking! The textures complimented each other beautifully, and the vinaigrette helped bring out the taste of the peppery, astringent rocket leaves even better. Definitely a salad I will be making any time I find rocket...
Monday, January 21, 2008
It all started when I bought Ismail Merchant's cookbook which had A salivating over the non-veg recipes. And A made a resolution this year that he would try and cook something. The thing is, his office has a tradition of one of the people bringing in a special dish on fridays. A being a muslim, they expected his lunch to be a lot more enticing to non-veg diners, with kebabs, biryanis and meat curries being ferried regularly. They turned their noses up in disgust when faced with day after day of tori, tinda and lauki, and his reputation ( and mine) were severely challenged until the day he took this and this with him. But that still didn't spare him from the stigma of being a muslim who never brought meat dishes to the office. Which is what eventually sparked off this burning chefly desire.
So on Sunday, with a little help from our cook in terms of chopping the onions etc, A embarked on his culinary adventure. It took a long time for the mutton to be cooked to his liking, and he made it according to a recipe I had made up. Thankfully, he didn't scorch either himself or the kitchen. And as he was finishing up, our picky-eater son came running into the kitchen to indignantly demand why he hadn't been offered whatever it was that was smelling so good along with his dinner. On getting a piece, Chubbocks's hand went up in the index-finger-meets-thumb universal sign of appreciation. Which is about the best compliment going, in our house.
A and colleagues had it for lunch yesterday and A received many compliments. So, hats off to the new chef in the house! ( pictures will follow).
1/2 kg mutton, cut into chunks
2 onions, chopped finely
1 inch ginger and 3 pods of garlic, minced together
15 gms almond paste
1 cup home made curds( yoghurt)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp aamchur( dry mango powder)
1 tsp cinnamon powder
3-4 whole black peppers
1-2 tsp chilli powder
Salt to taste
2 cups hot water
1 tbsp coconut powder
2 tbsp oil
Heat the oil in a thick-bottomed wok. Put in the turmeric, then the cumin and wait for it to turn toasty. Add the coriander powder and stir for 1-2 minutes. Pop in the cloves and peppers, add the onions and cook, stirring periodically until they turn brown. Then add the ginger-garlic paste and cook until it loses the raw smell. Add the almond paste, coconut powder, cinnamon powder, yoghurt and mutton and stir to mix well. Cook for a few minutes on low, then add the hot water, chilli powder and aamchur and salt and cover the dish. Let it cook covered for half hour and then remove the lid. Cook on a low flame until the mutton is tender - about 45 minutes or so. Serve hot with rotis or crusty bread, or with rice and a lentil dish.
Friday, January 18, 2008
I think that’s one of the reasons that on days when we are stressed or the world becomes too cacophonous, most of us reach into that cupboard where we store the recipes of the food our parents fed us. It reminds us of a time free from all responsibility, when we knew that someone else would be around to feed us and look after us, hurt could be healed by a simple kiss and hug and someone knew all the answers. No matter how sophisticated a palate we develop as adults, or how accomplished we become as cooks, we reproduce the food that our mothers put on the table, and for a few minutes, in the act of eating the familiar tastes of childhood, we can forget the ambiguity of life as an adult.
For me, as a South Indian, comfort food has to include rice. I grew up on it, and we ate rice everyday, at a time when no one thought carbs were the enemy. We did have rotis occasionally – the unleavened bread of India. Dad made the most exquisite rotis I have ever eaten, thin, soft and multilayered, a lovely caramel colour, with darker spots of brown which were crisp. The rotis were so delicious that we didn’t need much else by way of accompaniment, a cucumber kosambri( salad) or even just a piece of homemade lime pickle and a bowl of homemade yoghurt – curds, as we call it – was enough. There is something about food that is made with love and dedication that elevates it into balm not only for the body but the soul.
But every day food for us was rice, and a variety of lentil preparations – saaru, huli, kootu, a south-indian style salad of finely chopped or grated vegetables with a splash of lime juice, finely chopped chillies and coriander leaves and the oil seasoning – hot oil with exploded black mustard seeds and curry leaves, and a vegetable made with the same seasoning but topped with grated fresh coconut. We would occasionally have something North Indian – chholey or rajma – but this was very much the exception, indulged in only when dad was out of town, because like most South Indian men, dad is a creature of habit. A meal means rice with the lentil dish, followed by mosaru-anna – rice topped with yoghurt, had plain or with a dash of salt, with a spicy pickle on the side.
Whenever I am feeling stressed out, I reach for my repertoire of rice dishes, accompanied by a lentil gravy. That and potatoes, which are the great comfort food cutting across cultures. The potato dish that comforts me most is a crisp potato sabzi, made from chopped, boiled potatoes. In a 1 tbsp quantity of hot oil seasoning of cumin seeds, you pop in the potato pieces and cook them slowly until they turn brown and crisp on the outside. You then flavour them with salt and chilli powder, and that’s it. I find it interesting that comfort food in many cultures is about bland and soothing food – for us Indians, whatever be the emotion, food has to be spicy!
My favourite lentil gravy dish for comfort is saaru.
Saaru is topped with a seasoning made by heating fresh ghee ( clarified butter) – I always use homemade ghee which tastes and smells much better. You wait for the ghee to turn hot and then drop in a teaspoon of mustard seeds. Once they are done exploding, you pop in a pinch of asafetida-which I love the smell of – and curry leaves. The saaru is garnished with this and chopped coriander leaves which make a bright green contrast to the rust-red colour of the saaru. It is had with hot rice and in my opinion, best eaten by hand. You pour the hot saaru onto the rice which you have mashed slightly in your plate so it mixes better with the liquid. You quickly mix the two together, take a small quantity and make a ball of it, using just the tips of your fingers. You scoop up a morsel of the crisp potato vegetable ( or papad which is what is in the picture) alongside and pop the mouthful into your eager mouth. Aaah...bliss!
1 - 2 tbsp saarina pudi
1 lime-size ball of tamarind, soaked in hot water
1 lime-sized ball of jaggery ( use 1 tbsp brown sugar of jaggery is unavailable)
1 tsp chilli powder ( use kashmiri chilli powder to make it less spicy)
1/2 cup pigeon peas( toovar dal) and a tomato
Salt to taste
Handful curry leaves, washed and dried
1 tbsp home made ghee
1 tsp mustard seeds
Cook the pigeon peas along with a tomato in a pressure cooker or in a sauce pan with water until well cooked and mushy.
Squeeze the tamarind into the hot water and strain the brown liquid into a deep saucepan. Put it on to heat, with the pinch of turmeric, and heat for 3-4 minutes until the raw smell of the tamarind wears off. Then add the saarina pudi, chilli powder, salt, jaggery and half a cup of water and let it boil away for some time. Meanwhile, blend the cooked lentils and tomato together in a blender until mashed into a fine broth.
The fragrance of the saaru should be emanating from the tamarind-masala liquid by now. add the lentil-tomato broth and a cup and a half of water and let it come to a boil. Keep it boiling for 4-5 minutes before turning the heat off.
In a small pan, heat the ghee. Add the mustard seeds. Once they finish exploding, add the asafoetida and the curry leaves and turn off the heat. After a minute, add this to the saaru in the saucepan and top with coriander leaves.
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
There are several funny stories associated with Fondue for me. Years ago, in 1995, Ritu had opened her first restaurant, Mezza Luna in picturesque Hauz Khas village. The restaurant had an imaginative menu with unusual dishes like Basler Mehlsuppe, a lovely soup made of flour - which I didn't even find on the menu in Basle, by the way, as it's a highly seasonal dish - Roesti etc. I, A and BFF headed to Mezza Luna for dinner one Friday night, and the minute I saw Fondue on the menu, I begged them to order it, since I had read about it and was wildly curious. The salad came and then the Fondue. I dug into it eagerly, thoroughly enjoying my first encounter with it. A and BFF were approaching it somewhat gingerly, taking time over the salad and hesitantly dipping a few pieces of bread in. Then Ritu bustled up to us and asked how the meal was, especially the Fondue. A and BFF exchanged incredulous looks before turning to me - "This is it? Our main course? We thought it was some kind of dip, and were saving our appetites for the main course!" Anytime I ever mentioned Fondue after that - or made a menu selection, the two of them would start chortling.
Years later, when A and I were in France, our Swiss friend Roger invited a bunch of us to a Fondue dinner at his house. He has stirred up a large pot of it, complete with the garlic rubbed around the pot, the wine and the two kinds of Swiss cheese. Cubes of bread, cooked baby potatoes, tomato juliennes and pickled onions gleamed on the table alongside the bubbling cauldron of melting cheese. Roger served an eau de vie as well as some good Bordeaux and told us that we should have large quantities of the eau de vie to ensure the cheese stayed melted after we'd scoffed it down, as otherwise it was liable to form an indigestible lump in our stomachs and lay us out with a stomach ache the next day. Also, the penalty for losing your bit of bread or potato/ whatever in the fondue was to do a bottoms up of your eau de vie glass. The Fondue was delicious, and we were all pretty clutzy so a lot of EDV was washed down. The next morning, classes began at 8:30 am as usual, and there was a pallidly green and woozy group sitting at the fringes of the room, wishing the teachers wouldn't speak so loud.
Diva is a modern looking restaurant in GK II, which has come up as a market full of places to eat at various price ranges, from a Bengali Sweets type of place to Chinese to Nu Deli which is a new entrant. It has a vast fireplace on the ground floor and a pleasingly vibrant decor with white walls, coloured niches, dark wood accents and flooring and abstract paintings and prints. Ritu Dalmia, the owner, has earned her spurs first with Mezza Luna, then a restauirant in London before moving back and starting Diva several years ago. She has done a lot of research in Italian cuisine, and always has interesting dishes on the menu, apart from a small selection of Swiss-style food.
Diva used to have Fondue on the menu as either an appetizer or a main course. The quantity of the dish and the heavy, rich nature of it means that unless you're dining there in a large group, there's no way you can even treat the appetizer as anything but a main course. We usually order her Rocket salad with a deliciously zesty vinaigrette, but it was off the menu so we ordered Crostini topped with Gorgonzola and figs for starters. It was a rather small portion ( only 2 pieces) and therefore pretty expensive, though delicious.
The Fondue was heavenly as usual. It's not mentioned on the menu now, so while they do serve it, you have to know about it in advance. They serve it with cubed potatoes and bread, pickled onions and gherkins. We usually ask for cherry tomatoes which are not a traditional accompaniment, simply because they make such a fresh, tart contrast to the blandly rich cheese. Chubbocks got a Margherita pizza which was delicious too - the sauce was a fresh, young concoction of ripe tomatoes bursting with flavour. Though Tonino is my current favourite pizza place, this ran it a close second purely because of the sauce.
While we've been taking Chubbocks along with us for the past two years, we've never really thought of the restaurant as a child-friendly place. It's usually full of the chatterati and there's a cantilevered staircase and so on. This time, we had to take Puddi along as well, and just hoped it wouldn't mean that we had to take turns having our meal, because the pleasure of a Fondue is from its communalness.
We were seated upstairs, rather than downstairs, because we had the two kiddos with us. The restaurant did have a high-chair though it was rather light and therefore carries a risk of tipping over backwards. We placed the chair flush against a wall to prevent it from doing so. As soon as we were seated, the maitre d' bustled up and said hi to both the kids, and told them that is they didn't make noise, they would be rewarded with chocolate cake. Five minutes later, the chocolate tortes arrived at the table! We of course asked the serving staff to hold off and serve it later after the main course, but were bowled over by the gesture. Puddi had immediately spotted the dessert and plaintively kept calling for 'choccat' even as they were carting it away.
Chubbocks enjoyed his share of the Fondue and the pizza which he manfully struggled to finish. Puddi on the other hand didn't much care for the fondue or even the bread or potatoes by themselves - she's a home food kinda gal as of now, and created a fine pastiche of bread crumbs, mashed cherry tomato and potato and gherkins all over the floor surrounding her chair. She did enjoy her torte though, and finished most of it. The tortes, when we had the remnants after the kids were through, were delicious, with a crackly chocolate top, a crisp crust and a richly moist center with the taste of high quality dark chocolate.
When the bill came, we were pleasantly surprised and to find that the tortes had been complimentary. The meal came to about Rs. 2500 for three and was well worth the money as well as the hour-long drive from home.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
It was interesting to start thinking about terroir in the context of other cuisines, thanks to Anna's cool finds blog event, A Taste of Terroir. If any other country can lay claim to the concept of terroir, I should imagine it would be India. It is popularly said that every 100 kilometres in India, the language, customs and the food changes. The concept of terroir comes into place in countries in which agricultural production is large and uses mostly traditional methods, seeds and manure. In fact, in present-day France which employs barely 2% of the population in agriculture and has among the most industrialized and modern agricultural methods in use, it may be a throwback to the past to still hold by the concept of terroir, whereas in India it would hold true. Even now, the average Indian farm is a small-holding whose farmer works using the methods he has imbibed into his very veins over generations of working the land, and plants his crop seasonally and uses the manure that he knows has always worked on his land. The Indian farmer still relies on climactic conditions to decide his bounty for the year and the quality of the rain or sun play a huge role in turning out his crop the way that it does both in taste as well as quantity.
Each Indian state has multiple types of regional cuisine, based on centuries of understanding of the people, their way of life, the work they do and the agricultural produce available to them. The type of fish eaten in a Calcutta, for example, may be very different from that eaten by the West Bengal coast, and certainly from that enjoyed by the Malabar coast. Chef Ananda Solomon of the Taj finds that coconuts grown in Orissa do not work as well for Goan cuisine as those that grow in the West. My parents, who are from South India but settled in the north claim that certain native fruit and vegetables of the South, including curry leaves, smell and taste infinitely better in their native place. What is that, if not terroir?
In urban India, pockets of terroir still live on in the city-specific speciality cuisine or ingredients. Whether it is the rich, cow’s-milk based pedas from Mathura or the foamy, light-as-air dessert made by combining sugar, saffron and milk foam in Benaras, the Shrewsbury biscuits of a Pune, the MTR of a Bangalore versus the Ghantewala Mithai and Karim’s of a Delhi.
In the North of India, dairy food is almost a religion. Milk is widely considered food of the Gods across India but nowhere is it as worshipped as complete food as in the North. All kinds of milk products, from ‘desi ghee’ (clarified butter) to pure butter made from buffalo milk to paneer to lassi, thick and foaming and sweet, are had in vaster quantities than anywhere else in India. Paneer – a cottage cheese made by curdling plain milk and pressing it down into a solid form – is given a place of honour in Punjabi homes. Paneer per se has no taste of its own and looks a little like Styrofoam - and sometimes tastes like it too. It takes on the taste of whatever mélange of gravies and spices it is cooked with, and is variously mixed with peas and onions, a creamy tomato gravy or pureed spinach and spices to form a vegetable accompaniment to rotis, the unleavened bread of India. It is also served cooked in a clay oven or tandoor after being marinated with a spicy yoghurt-based marinade which gives the paneer a wonderfully smoky-spicy taste.
Delhi has a reputation for being a foodie, if conservative city. From ancient days, Delhi has been a capital city to a number of different types of rulers from different dynasties and cultures, and therefore offers a wide mix of cuisines and has what I call a large stomach – Delhi lives for its food. From Old Delhi, which has a whole street devoted to parathas – the stuffed unleavened breads fried in butter – to the varieties of chaat that it has, to Karim’s which is famous for Mughlai cuisine, every nook of the city has a food speciality. City natives know that there is a specific samose-wala who makes the best samosas, and one bhelpuri wala who makes the best bhel, one dahi wada seller who has the best and creamiest dahi wadas…
In keeping with its foodie tradition, Delhi also has a special shop selling paneer, which exemplifies the concept of terroir. While ordinary white paneer is available just about anywhere, this shopkeeper serves a unique type of paneer. He mixes finely chopped ginger, fenugreek laves, coriander seeds and leaves and other spices right into the curdled milk to produce an interestingly spicy and fragrant variety of paneer. He is famous for this one product and Delhi-ites in the know line up at the shop to take it away.
I had not heard of this until recently when BFF was visiting Delhi. I promptly sent off my driver and factotum to procure some of this paneer for us, while I pondered what to do with it. It would be a travesty to let this paneer hide its light under a bushel, so to speak, in a traditional gravy. Then inspiration struck, and I decided to serve it simply grilled in the oven, with a sprinkling of salt, along with Muhammara of which I had just whipped up a batch.
We raced through 250 grams of this in minutes, so tasty was it, and didn’t even end up using the Muhammara which otherwise is wolfed down with almost anything. I grilled this paneer lightly, so that it didn’t get that squeaky-rubbery taste which over-cooked paneer invariably gets, and the salt helped bring out the flavours of the embedded spices. It worked wonderfully as a starter and I can see myself regularly serving it when we entertain.
While still contemplating the concept of terroir some time ago, we visited my aunt-in-law for lunch and she fed us an unusual Halwa. Halwa is a dessert made using milk, sugar and the main ingredient which ranges from semolina to vermicelli to various vegetables. The halwa we had was made of black carrots and was a speciality of Allahabad. Now red carrot halwa is a seasonal dessert that is made quite regularly during winter when the red carrot crop comes into its own, but I had never seen this dish made of black carrots.
Black carrots are a winter vegetable only typically grown in North India, particularly Punjab and UP, and drunk, not eaten. That is, their juice is made into Kanji or carrot juice, topped with a sprinkling of rock salt and a spritz of lime juice, and considered both delicious and good for health. I have never enjoyed Kanji and therefore never bought black carrots for use at home. But this halwa sounded intriguing and I couldn’t wait to try it on my own. One thing that struck me was that this was much richer in taste than the typical carrot halwa. I usually make carrot halwa using barely ½ tbsp of ghee, which is only used to fry cashews for garnishing the dish, since I feel the fat from the fullcream milk is quite enough. But this recipe needed some tweaking and I thought about it during the week as I went about my official job. I figured that the black carrots needed to be sautéed in home made ghee first and only then cooked with milk and sugar. That would make them less likely to mush down and lose texture and add the rich, lush taste of the Halwa we had had.
The grated black carrots look more like a deep, deep purple – almost black but the purple shows through in the sunlight. Just looking at them gets me all excited. I drop the matt black mass of finely grated carrots into a wok and slowly cook them in the ghee. The wonderfully nutty, enticing aroma of ghee fills the house and I take in a deep breath. The grated carrots are glistening in the fat of the ghee and I figure it’s time to add in the full cream milk. I pour it into the wok and pause to marvel at the lovely lilac-mauve colour in the pan.
Red carrots turn the milk a pale, uninteresting red but this colour has promise and exoticity. I struggle to capture its beauty in the photographs, taking the pan off the stove and into the sun, but remain by and large defeated – not using the flash means the mixture just looks dark brown while using it means the richness of the ghee glitters into the lens and prevents the colour from coming through. Well, you’ll just have to take my word for it – it looks like something that should be served to royalty.
I add in sugar and watch the tiny crystal cubes shine on the surface of the violet liquid like diamonds on a crown and then slowly dissolve and lose themselves in the mad swirl of the inky mass. It is a slow-cooking process, and you can become completely tranquillized in the repetitive yet occasional movements of stirring the halwa and returning to a contemplative state. I wonder who the primal man was who discovered that these things were good to eat. Fruit one can well imagine attracted attention by their colour and because they were hitting people walking under the trees in their faces, but vegetables, especially those that grow below the ground like carrots? Black coloured vegetables?
It takes a long time for the simmering liquid to slowly evaporate, permeating its richness into the carrots. At long last it is finished, and I stare down at the black mass that promises a lush sensation for the senses. I roast some cashews in ghee and pour them on top of the caviar-ey halwa. They are a nice rust-red contrast to the dark colour which remains a rather inky violet even in the sunlight. The halwa colour reminds me of the tropical night, that magical, mysterious interplay of black and blue.
I have my usual struggle to take pictures that do justice to the dish and finally, finally, we pop some into our mouths. I have waited for this dish the way one waits for a treat – impatiently and yet, when the treat arrives, you approach hesitantly so you can savour the anticipation of its enjoyment for a few moments more. It doesn’t disappoint – the halwa is rich, with a full-bodied flavour that matches the intensity of its colour. I lose myself in the intense dark taste that lingers on my tongue long after the morsel has disappeared down my throat. The texture of the grated carrot which has softened but not melted jostles against the crunchy hardness cashews, and their cheesy sweetness offsets the fruity flavour of the carrots. The unctuous mellowness of the milk solids coats the mouth silkily. The sensation of the halwa on the tongue is luxurious…if Cabernet Sauvignon could be made into a dish, this would be it, I think and reach for another mouthful.