Sunday, July 29, 2012

Dessert Boreks

Boreks are a Turkish cigarette pie – made with puff pastry and typically stuffed with something spicy, like spinach and feta, minced meat etc. For a dinenr party recently, I had a Middle Eastern menu with Falafel sandwiches and Moroccan 7 veg stew with couscous. I wanted something from the region for dessert but not a dish like semolina halwa which would taste too Indian, or anything else that required intensive labour – I’m quite lazy that way.

Suddenly, I remembered that we had puff pastry sheets at home and decided to try my hand at a dessert using puff pastry. Given my somewhat temperamental oven, I wanted a dish that could be cooked on the stovetop, so a fried puff-pastry would be the easiest, I figured. But what would I fill inside???

Date halwa, of course!!!

1.5 cups deseeded dates
½ liter warm milk
Jaggery to taste
½ cup almond shards, roasted in ghee

Soak the dates in the warm milk for half an hour. Then put into a saucepan and cook over a low flame until meltingly soft; add jaggery to taste, allowing for the fact that readymade puff pastry tends to be a bit salty, so the halwa has to compensate. Whizz in a blender until pureed. Mix the almonds in and set aside.

Roll out the puff pastry dough as thin as a chapatti. Cut into 2 inch squares. In the center, spoon out about one and a half teaspoons of the date halwa, then fold the square into a triangle. Use the tines of a fork to seal the edges and add a decorative crimp.
Fry in hot vegetable oil, or if you have a cooperative oven, bake for 10 minutes until golden.

Serve hot with pistachio icecream.

Santorini Tomatoes

Some years ago when we holidayed in Santorini, we heard about the special tomatoes available there. They were supposed to taste extra delicious because of the volcanic soil in Santorini – sweeter, juicier. Naturally, I had to make a beeline for the nearest market and pick up a bunch, and yes, they were everything they were slated to be. But of course, I had to try and tamper with perfection – and quite successfully, on that occasion at least.

Last week, I found some really big-sized cherry tomatoes that reminded me of the ones in Santorini, so I repeated the salad – with equally good results.

It’s incredibly simple – take some good quality extra virgin olive oil, preferably Italian, as I find Spanish ones heavier to the palate. Crush or mince a couple cloves of garlic and add to the olive oil. Pour over the tomatoes. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours, at room temperature. Serve with a spritz of lime juice, a sprinkling of salt added just before you bring it to the table, and toss a chiffonade of basil on the top.

If you need to refrigerate it for some time, make sure you bring it out and back down to room temperature before serving. Tastes great by itself or over garlic toast, as a bruschetta topping. I’m debating serving this over a bed of rocket leaves the next time, am sure it’ll taste fab!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Indian-style Laddoo Cake

Every year, Puddi spends ages visualizing the way she wants her birthday cake to look. The ideas and themes keep changing, and even though her birthday is in June, she’ll start in at any time of the year – Mamma, let’s have…a flower cake for my birthday next time, she’ll say in July. Around September, her thoughts may wander to a fairy. Cartoon characters like Winnie the Pooh or Tigger may make an appearance on the wishlist around January. By March, it’s turned to heart-shaped cakes. This year it was a cake like an Olympic torch, with the flames made out of mango slices – her invention and a good one. The problem is, the kids don’t actually like cake, and therefore rarely end up eating it. It’s the shapes and colours and creativity of it that they crave, but they don’t relish the taste of cake much, and given that the average shaped and decorated cake can’t be made to specific size in under 2 kilos, we always end up with tons of it on our hands.

This year we had two birthday parties for the Puds – one for her friends, for which we ordered said Olympic cake which was delicious and looked fab but of which we had a lot left over. And a second party was all family – the inlaws, the parents, uncles, aunts etc. So for that one, given Dad’s aversion to eggs and his habit of finding cakes smelling of eggs even when they are eggless and the fact that my kids actually prefer desi mithai to cake any day, I hit upon the idea of a laddoo cake.

It was made of motichoor laddoos!!!

I got a kilo of motichoor laddoos, heated them up slightly in the microwave so they would be extra-sticky and broke them apart while hot. I spread them around in a flower-shaped cake pan and stuck it in the fridge to set. For the icing, I used the normal barfi ( I would have preferred khoya but nobody makes it in summer) – heated up about half a kilo, spread some heated raspberry jam on the surface of the cake and spread the barfi out on top, much like marzipan, and popped the cake back into the fridge to set. Later, Puddi and I decorated the cake with readymade decorations I had picked up from Michael’s in the US, and voila! It took all of maybe 15 minutes to assemble, and was devoured with much enjoyment by our desi guests!

PS. I admit my cake decorating skills suck!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gnocchi with deconstructed Pesto and broccoli-leek mash

Once I got tired of the usual tomato-style pasta sauce and the typical pasta types, even at restaurants, I started looking around for other interesting Italian food to eat and to cook. Gnocchi was something I found fascinating, even though at restaurants I often found their version stodgy. In fact, I'm becoming more and more intrigued by the thought of making fresh pasta at home, if one day I can persuade myself that the investment will be worth it, not just an indulgence to be taken out once a year, like the waffle maker.

Anyway, gnocchi doesn't require any special equipment so it's the easiest thing to start with. The only thing was to decide what kind of sauce to make it with, since I was determined not to make yet another tomato sauce. I really enjoy pesto but the taste can be strong for kids so eventually I hit upon the idea of a deconstructed pesto, which would be lighter and yet flavourful. As usual improvising with other ingredients I had in the kitchen, since I wanted more veggies to form the meal, I decided to use the broccoli and leeks to create a mash which could be eaten along with the gnocchi, as a kind of sauce.

The gnocchi, as typically made with only potatoes and flour, didn't appeal to my need to add flavour, so I added a chiffonade of basil to the gnocchi dough, which turned out really well. Feeling unnecessarily chuffed at having turned out fresh gnocchi :)

Gnocchi ingredients:
6-8 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and drained
2 cups of plain flour
1 egg
15 large basil leaves, cut into long, thin strips

Use a potato ricer or a sieve to press the boiled potatoes through so you have a really fine potato mash. Add in the chiffonade of basil. Make a mound of the potatoes with a central well, into which add in the egg and mix well. Set a pan with 2.5 - 3 liters of salted water on to boil.On your worktop, spread a broad layer of 1 cup flour, then spread out the still warm potatoes over it. Sprinkle over 3/4ths of the remaining cup of flour, reserving the rest in case you need it - the less flour you use, the lighter the gnocchi.

Work the mixture until it forms a dough, adding in the rest of the flour if needed - it should be soft but not sticky. Make the dough into 5-6 balls.

Working with one ball of dough at a time, roll it into a long, thin sausage shape of about 3/4 inch diameter. Cut into 1 inch wide pieces. Using the back of a fork, press each piece up against the tines so ridges form on one side, while on the other side your thumb makes an indentation. Drop the pieces into the boiling water and let cook until they float up to the surface - about 2 minutes - and remove with a slotted spoon. Keep warm until all the pieces cook, then toss lightly in olive oil.

Deconstructed pesto:
Handful basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan cheese strips
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

I made the pesto sans garlic, since I was using garlic in the broccoli mash - but you can add 3-4 cloves of garlic roasted in olive oil ( roast them in plain olive oil, with skin on till the skin turns brown, then pop the skin off. It takes the pungency off the garlic while imparting  lovely sweetness).

Just top the gnocchi with these ingredients, then toss lightly to mix. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and fresh ground black pepper on the side.

Broccoli-leek mash:
One small head broccoli, 3 leeks, cut into slices and well-washed, 2-3 cloves garlic, 2 tsp olive oil
Steam one small head of broccoli. Cook leeks and the garlic in olive oil until tender. First puree the leeks and garlic, then add in the broccoli and pulse lightly so you get a slightly grainy texture of puree. Add salt to taste.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Moroccan Dinner

Given the super-sultry + roasty weather in Delhi currently, eating has become a chore. Thinking of something that will actually tantalise the tastebuds and coax everyone into eating a hearty meal is quite difficult. But the other day when rootling for snacks, I came across an unopened pack of couscous and immediately flashed back to some couscous dinners in summers past, which had been delicious and popular with the family (read kids, the husband stops counting after you have more than one kid  - at least in these matters!). I happened to lug Kid number three to the doctor, and the doctor’s office is in easy reach of my favourite sabzi mandi, so naturally I made a beeline for it, and picked up loads of veggies, including celery and parsley, feeling like seeing some flecks of green among the grains of couscous.

I wanted to make an accompaniment that had lots of veggies and remembered seeing a recipe for Moroccan 7 vegetable stew in my friend Lulu’s blog so went across and took a look at it. The recipe also called for harissa, one of my favourite condiments, so was a cinch.

Couscous ( for 2-3 people)

Easy-peasy. Boil ¼ liter of water with 1 tsp oil and salt to taste for 250 grams of couscous. When it comes to a rolling boil, drop in the couscous and turn off the heat. Wait for 2-3 minutes and turn heat on to the lowest. Add one or two knobs of butter ( hazelnut-sized) and fluff up the couscous with a fork until the butter has melted and the couscous is fluffy and dry. Add in your choice of mixed herbs – I added parsley, coriander leaves, mint and chives – and mix well. You can also add in a few pomegranate berries for a fresh, sweet pop.

10 dried chillies
5-6 pieces of garlic, peeled
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds ( shahjeera) – optional, I’ve never used them
3 tbsp roasted coriander seeds or 2 tbsp coriander powder
1 peeled tomato, chopped
Handful fresh coriander
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste
Chilli powder to taste

Soak dried red chillies in hot water for an hour, until they become soft. Use Kashmiri chillies or Karnataka Byadgi chillies for the least pungency and best colour – if experimenting with other chillies, add them slowly to the harissa, as they can be unexpectedly potent. My tongue is still blistered from yesterday’s first batch! Puree together with all the other ingredients except the olive oil. When purred to a smooth consistency, add the olive oil. It can be stored in a fridge for 3 weeks – if it lasts that long. I find it addictive and it never lasts more than a couple of days.

Moroccan stew
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 onions, julienned
3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ yellow bell pepper
½ red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
Half cup shelled peas
4-5 medium sized potatoes
2 carrots
200 gms pumpkin
28 oz tomato chunks ( I used a tin to make life easy)( approx 1 cup)
2.5 cups veg stock ( just add a stock cube to the water)
Half cup chick peas, boiled
Handful of raisins
1 bay leaf
2-3 saffron strands
2 tbsp olive oil ( not extra virgin!)
Salt to taste

Cut all the veggies into half inch dice. Saute the potatoes in the heated oil until golden brown and keep aside. To the same oil, add the celery, onions and garlic, green bell peppers and bay leaf and cook on medium heat until the onions soften. Add the tomatoes and the saffron as well as the carrots and the stock and let simmer for ten minutes. Then add in the rest of the veggies including the potatoes, and the salt and cook, covered, until the veggies are done. Add the boiled chickpeas and raisins just before serving.

Serve the couscous with the stew on the side, accompanied by harissa so everyone can add as much harissa as their spice-meter enjoys. You can also squeeze a bit of fresh lemon on the couscous to make it taste even more fresh and light, just before serving.

PS. You can add other veggies to the stew - cauliflower, broccoli, beans...