Thursday, April 30, 2009

Srivalli’s Mithai Mela

Srivalli's lovely blog has its Mithai Mela on and I just scrolled through my archives to find my favourite dessert recipes, since I'm trying not to make any right now for weightloss and too-hot-weather reasons - a crisp slice of really cold watermelon is the perfect dessert for now. It turns out there are a couple of themes running through my archives: Indian being one, and crazy-about-chocolate being the other. It turned out this is a great way for me to collate my favourite dessert recipes in one place, too.

So here are links to the Indian ones:

There's our favourite
winter dessert - exotic, rich and completely unexpected...
(I realized when I scrolled through my archives that I haven't put down a specific recipe for this, so you'll just have to live through the experience…J)
Then there's the
annual feast standard - rich, exotic and favorited by all our friends. I've been known to get threatening phone calls before our annual Id party if I even think about not making this...

1 cup almonds
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup ghee ( clarified butter)
a little milk ( about 1/2 cup)
5-6 strings of saffron

Soak the badaam so the peel gets loosened and peel them. Puree them with as little of the milk as you can add to still get a very fine puree.
Soak the saffrom strands in 1 tsp hot milk until the orange colour infuses the milk.
Put the sugar into a pan and add 1/4 cup water. Let it cook on a medium flame until it gets a one-string consistency. ( You can test this by dipping your index finger into the syrup and then pressing your finger and thumb together and then pulling them apart. If you get one strand of sugar syrup between your thumb and finger that's it. But be careful - this syrup can burn the skin off your hand!)
Put in the almond paste, turning the heat to low and add the saffron. Cook, stirring frequently but slowly until the mixture starts sticking to the bottom of the pan.
At this juncture, add the ghee (clarified butter) little by little until the mixture takes on a halwa texture and stops sticking to the pan. Keep stirring throughout the process!

Serve hot or cold. This quantity would be enough for about 10 people (it's very rich).

And of course, festival times are synonymous with
this dish, which is a classic...


Fistful of dried, thin vermicelli
1 tablespoon of ghee
1 litre milk
1 and a quarter cups sugar
4-5 saffron strands soaked in hot milk
Handful raisins
Cashews broken up into quarters and fried in ghee until somewhat brown
2-3 cardamom pods, coarsely powdered with a rolling pin or in a mortar and pestle

Break the vermicelli into about 1 cm pieces by hand. Fry it on medium heat in the ghee until it starts turning a light brown and emanates a fragrance. Add the milk, ideally full cream, the sugar and the saffron and let it cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vermicelli is fully cooked – it'll look translucent. Add the raisins and cardamom and serve it hot or cold garnished with cashews.
I usually like it cold so I refrigerate it and sometimes serve it with vanilla icecream.You can also choose to serve this dish as dessert, garnished with a few pomegranate bits, halved green or puple grapes or almond slivers.

And this one's
perfect for every day, any day of the year...
And then there are my two favourite chocolate recipes. I'm always after recipes that have a big inflexion point - i.e. easy on effort but seemingly difficult and having maximum 'theater'.

This is a restaurant favourite - most restaurants love to show off their chops to unsuspecting customers who're impressed with
molten chocolate cakes, little knowing how easy they are to make...
350 grams best quality dark chocolate, softened
150 gms caster sugar
50 gms good butter ( try and get French butter if possible), softened
1 tsp vanilla - or Frangelico/ Godiva, maybe even Tia Maria - or Cointreau...Drambuie...ok, now I'm drooling all over again!
50 gms flour ( Nigella recommends Italian 00 which I don't know what it is – I just used plain maida)
4 eggs
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C ( if baking right away).
Grease 6 pudding cups ( I used aluminum muffin cups, not having any other kind to hand, but am immediately inspired to invest in ceramic ramekins, since I think the possibility of making these on a regular basis is quite high) and line the bottoms with baking sheet.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Add the eggs and the salt and beat together.
Add the vanilla and the flour and blend together well.
Scrape in the softened chocolate ( try not to be greedy enough to leave lots behind in the bowl so you can lick it off all by yourself!) and blend the batter well together.
Pour into the pudding pans and pop into the oven for 10 minutes.
If not baking these immediately, you can make the batter ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. In that case, keep the timer at 12 minutes for the baking process.
As soon as it's done – the tops will look done, but don't pop in a knife to check, the inside will be wet unlike a conventional cake – take out of the oven and invert onto individual dessert plates or shallow bowls.

And then there's the unexpectedness of a
cake with no flour...

435 grams chestnut puree
125 gms unsalted butter, softened
6 eggs, separated
250 gms best dark ( but sweetened) chocolate (softened)
50 gms caster sugar
20 gms light muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp dark rum
Pinch salt
As always, didn't have all the ingredients, so went along and improvised. Also, have done the best in terms of photography, what with my meagre camera skills and the morning light which is harsh as opposed to lambent - but do, please, do try making this cake. You'll never regret it!
In a deep bowl, mix together the butter and the chestnut puree until well mixed. Then add the vanilla, rum, the egg yolks and the chocolate and blend until well mixed.
In a separate bowl, beat the whites of the eggs with the salt until foamy. Add the caster sugar gradually, and continue beating until the peaks are stiff and glossy. Scatter the muscovado sugar on top and fold in until well mixed.

Working confidently, fold the egg whites into the chocolate-chestnut batter, one third at a time.

Pour the batter into a 22 cm Springform greased and lined tin. Bake at 180 degrees C for 45 minutes ( or thereabouts). The top of the cake will have cracks in it, but who cares - it's meant to look that way. Cool on the rack for 20 minutes. Before serving, dust icing sugar on top and make sure whoever you're sharing this with is already in the room. Otherwise, all you'll have to show for your efforts is a pile of crumbs and a tiny brown smear on your chin!

And oh, ok, for a while back there I'd joined the Daring Bakers and made this rather
hideous and decoratively challenged but amazing tasting cake...


Let 'em eat...

Well, I finally figured out what poor Marie Antoinette meant when she said, "Let them eat cake!" Doesn't say much about her kitchen sense but it's also not as ironic/ stupid as one would think, it turns out.

Our friends Jean Pierre and Marian invited us over for a party the other week and having finally put the elder two munsters to bed, we headed out with the youngest, since we thought two is enough for any babysitter to cope with at once. It was a lovely party, reminiscent of those we had enjoyed in France, with loads of wine including a very nice white from Luxembourg, and some truly delicious dips and bread. Dinner was amazing - a huge spread with a sizeable vegetarian section; and several loaves of 'cake'.

Cake, it turns out, is the colloquial French for party bread. They're kind of cake-ey in the rich, dense feeling, and look like bread. A cake as we would call it in English, is termed a gateau. And the cakes Marian had come up with were superb - very flavourful, rich and dense, and very inviting to cut-and-come-again. When I asked her for her recipe, she was a little vague about it, like the best cooks are - a little of this, a little of that...

I hunted it up on google, and found that this truly was the kind of recipe I could go for - easily stirred up and very customisable. I'm always a fan of recipes that let me tweak them and add my own touch. So I made one batch for breakfast. Of course, my loaf pans had gotten misplaced in last year's house-shift, so it wound up having to make this in an octagonal cake pan, so it looked more like cake than 'cake', and I had to bake it a lot longer too. But the end result was pretty much as I had hoped for, so I'm definitely going to be making this again. I have no photos since it got devoured too fast, but I promise I'll post one the next time.

200 gm plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
4 eggs
100 ml milk
100 ml olive oil/ 3 tbsp butter

You can mix in any flavourings you like into this. I added some sliced green olives, a tsp of cumin seeds, 1 tsp red cayenne pepper, 3 tbsp grated cheddar, 2 sliced tomatoes and 1 onion, julienned and browned in the olive oil.

You can also add a dash of cream to replace some of the milk.

Mix well and pour into two greased and papered loaf tins and bake in a preheated oven at 220 degrees C for 20 - 25 minutes - remove from oven when top is brown and fork comes out clean.

This tastes great spread with cream cheese, tzatziki, hummus, roasted bell peppers, butter...anything basically!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Bananas about it

We love bananas in our family and end up buying large quantities of them. The only catch – you guessed it – they have this awful tendency to get overripe fast. The same thing happened last week and then an old family recipe dashed to the rescue. This is a banana relish, which is delicious eaten with rotis, on bread as a spread, served with pancakes/ idlis/ dosais or even by itself for dessert. And it lends itself easily to being taken up or down a notch with minimal effort. Try it, the kids will love it and it's easy-peasy!

Banana Relish

2 slightly overripe bananas
Handful grated jaggery or brown sugar
Handful grated fresh coconut ( you can use dessicated coconut too, but in that case cut it into thin slivers)
To kick it up a notch: add a tsp cardamom, a bit of vanilla icecream, some slivered orange peel or if not serving to kids a peg of Malibu coconut liqueur, and a few roasted cashews

Mash the bananas roughly so they are still a little lumpy. Add the jaggery/ sugar and coconut and mix well. Garnish with cashews and serve to delirious applause from picky children!

This is one of my entries for Srivalli's Mithai Mela

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Garlicky Baby Spinach Salad

I love Spinach. My nickname used to be popeye in college, because like that sailor, I can have spinach five days a week, in any one of a myriad dishes. I did a little bit of research on spinach for Weekend Herb Blogging, which was started by Kalyn, and is being hosted by Prof Kitty this week. It turns out Spinach belongs to the amaranth family, and is indigenous to India/ Nepal. It comes highly recommended for inclusion in a healthy diet because of its iron and folic acid content, not to mention tons of vitamins and essential minerals and is especially recommended during pregnancy when women need more folic acid. It also adds to one's fibre intake and is low cal. Health benefits include prevention of osteoporosis, heart disease, colon cancer, arthritis, and other diseases. And it's supposed to help the digestion and improve brain power. What more could one want?

India abounds in spinach recipes, from a simple palak paneer – mashed spinach gravy with roast cottage cheese – to an inclusion in Huli which is one of my favourite lentil dishes, palak pakodas - in which spinach leaves are dipped in a batter made of chickpea flour and deepfried crisp, to raita –steamed, ribboned spinach in a yoghurt sauce. One of my favourite recipes, though, is for Baby Spinach salad. In India, baby spinach is low on availability since Indian dishes call for fully ripe spinach, so usually I'm reduced to buying two large bunches of spinach and pawing through them to find the small leaves to make this salad. However, recently I planted some spinach in a pot in my backyard ( which now qualifies this post for GYO too - yippee!) and last week we could harvest two handfuls of baby spinach – just right for my favourite salad. Serve with crusty bread to mop up the sauce, and watch even kids enjoy this green goody.

Ingredients: (for 4 people)
2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, well washed and dried
½ cup plump garlic cloves with skin on
½ tbsp olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon ( or to taste)
Salt to taste
½ cup roast pine nuts
Pepper if you really want

Chop off the last 1 cm or so of spinach stem and put the leaves in a bowl or a flat dish. Heat the olive oil (not extra virgin, by the way, as that doesn't take well to heating) and pop in the garlic cloves. Take off the heat once the garlic cloves are lightly browned on both sides and pour the oil and garlic over the spinach leaves. Add the lemon juice, salt and pine nuts. If you want, add some freshly ground pepper and serve immediately. Let the family – or guests – enjoy squeezing the garlic skin to burst the sweet pods out and combine with the salad. Pair with a bean soup for a wonderful summer meal!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Potato Salad

I love potatoes in almost any form ( except raw :)). One of my favourite dishes from childhood has been one for potato raita - a soft, creamy, gentle tasting one that serves as a poignant contrast to the often more robust taste of Indian food. It uses one of my favourite vegetables, tastes great and yet light, and goes well with anything, from rotis to bread - it makes a great sandwich filling - to saaru anna or a plain dal and rice. And as I discovered when I started cooking, it's easy and fast to make.

4 Boiled, peeled potatoes (I count 1 potato per head)
1 cup homemade plain yogurt
2-3 green chillies (to taste), cut into 1 cm segments
1 tsp oil
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp mustard seeds ( black)
Handful curry leaves
Handful minced coriander leaves for garnish
Salt to taste

Break the potatoes into irregular pieces by hand, but don't mash them. In a small wok, heat the oil. Pop in the mustard seeds and let them start spluttering. Add the green chillies and the urad dal. Wait till the urad dal starts browning a little and add the curry leaves. Take off the heat and pour over the potatoes. Add the yogurt and salt and mix. Top with the coriander leaves and cool in the refrigerator for half hour or more before serving.

To make this into a yummy sandwich spread, use Greek yogurt or hung yogurt instead of plain yogurt: hang a cup and a half of yogurt in a thin muslin cloth with a weight on top until all the liquid drains out. Eat within 4-5 hours or else it'll start tasting sour.

To experiment with this, you can add a small quantity of minced garlic, or to perk it up some chopped spring onions. A tiny amount of mustard can be added to give it a little kick, too.

This is my entry for this weekend's Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Chriese of Almond Corner.