Thursday, October 30, 2014

Carrot and Manchego Salad


A couple of months back, I was watching Masterchef Australia. It was an immunity pin challenge, where a contestant fights off a big name chef. The theme was cheese and while this contestant was busy fiddling with souffl├ęs and what not, the chef announced he was making a salad. Rarely am I so impressed with a dish but the complexity of his carrot and manchego salad totally zapped me. So much so that I have been going back to the masterchef website and hoping they will put up a recipe. Which they didn't so I decided to recreate the salad all on my own.

Matt Stone's version was beautifully plated with carrot coins poached in whey, sweet carrot syrup, manchego cheese and burnt leeks. I got hold of some baby carrots so I created a slightly different spin on it. Here is a layer by layer description of my 'shot glass' salad.

A day before: To poach carrots in whey, you need to get some whey. So the night before or the morning of the day you are going to make this salad, take a carton of plain yogurt and stir a tsp of salt in. Take a strainer large enough to hold the yogurt, pop it on a glass or bowl and fill it with curd. Leave it in the fridge where the whey will drain into the glass, leaving creamy thick yogurt in the strainer.

Carrot Puree: Trim and peel a carrot. I only had baby carrots so I used 4 of those. In a saucepan, cover carrots with water and cook for 15-20 minutes until soft. Pop the carrots in a blender with 1/4 cup carrot juice, salt and fresh ground pepper. Whiz to a smooth puree and pour into a shot glass.

Yogurt: Take the thick, salty yogurt off the strainer and add a layer on top of the carrot puree. Be careful to not mix the two layers. I found it a bit hard to manage as the yogurt was heavier and kept sinking in the carrots. You might want to reverse the layers (yogurt first, then carrot) if you want cleaner layers.

Cheese and Herbs: Cover the yogurt with a layer of chopped basil and add some sliced manchego cheese, torn into small pieces to fit the shot glass.

Leeks: This is an interesting one. Apparently, when you burn leeks, they get bitter but still retain the onion flavour and are quite delicious. To make the leek soil, thinly slice a leek (just the green part) and spread on a dry baking sheet. Put it in an oven heated to 200C and let cook until completely charred and black. Let cook a bit, then crumble into a coarse powder. Sprinkle on the cheese.

Whey poached carrots: Pour your reserved whey into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Wash the baby carrots and trim the leaves and the ends. Add to the whey, reduce the heat and cook the carrots for 15-20 minutes until soft. Because of the whey, the carrots will get a bit tangy and be a great compliment to the sweet puree and the salty cheese.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Diwali Cheer


This year, for the very first time in my life, I decided to make homemade gifts for Diwali. I've baked cakes for friends' birthdays and stuff but never before have I made pretty looking packages of sweet goodies. And it truly made a difference, seeing how happy it made my friends to get something that wasn't store bought. I hope you are having a happy Diwali too and just in case I couldn't get one of these over to you, here are the recipes to help you make your Diwali a little bit sweeter.

Because it was my first time making a gift, I chose something super simple. Two bottles of sweet sauces - one salted caramel, one chocolate. I also used this as an excuse to make a trip to South Bombay's Crawford Market. What a place that is! Full of stores that sell all kinds of beautiful packaging and boxes. I asked for a place to buy glass jars and got guided down to another market, just opposite the bustling Crawford building, and into a store that had pretty much everything you could look for as a cook. A few doors down, I found another store selling only glass jars. I thought it was a quick trip but the place was so surreal and the winded streets so exciting, I ended up spending a couple of hours there.

Now on to the actual food in those jars. For chocolate, I considered and rejected all sorts of hot fudge sauces. I figured the simplest of all chocolate sauces - a ganache - will be ideal for my friends to dip fruits in or just eat straight out of the jar. To make the ganache, chop 400 grams dark chocolate into small pieces. If you are in India, make sure you buy real/coverture chocolate and not chocolate compound. In a saucepan, mix 1 cup of cream (I used Amul which has 25% fat) with 1/4 cup sugar and a tsp of vanilla extract. Set to heat on a low flame. When the cream has warmed up, add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate all melts and forms a shiny sauce.

Now for the slightly scary one - the salted caramel sauce. I have actually gone from being totally scared of caramel a few years ago to the other extreme - I completely enjoy making caramel now. To start off this sauce, I measured out a cup of cream (the same Amul 25%) and put it in small saucepan. Added 50 grams of butter, a tsp of vanilla extract and 1 tsp salt, then heated everything slowly until the butter melted. Took the cream off the heat and put it aside.

Next, I put two cups of caster sugar in a large pan. To this, I added 1/2 tbsp. vinegar (essential to keep sugar from crystallising) and 1/3 cup water. Mixed everything so the sugar looked like wet mortar. At this point, put your spoon away because there will be no more stirring. I put the sugar to heat and waited. That's it, simply wait while the sugar melts and bubbles. Swirl it occasionally if you like but otherwise, just stand there and stare at the pan until the sugar turns amber. It will take several minutes so be patient. Don't go anywhere, don't answer the phone and don't be tempted by a quick peek at what's going on in the next room.

Once the sugar has turned an amber colour, turn off the heat and pour the cream in. Step back and watch while the caramel bubbles like crazy and it's all fun for a few minutes. You will also see the caramel get much darker on account of some scientific phenomenon that I don't fully understand. When the bubbling looks under control, stir the sauce and put the caramel back on the heat to cook for 2-3 minutes until everything is mixed in. Pour both sauces in jars, wait for them to cool, then close the lids and put them in the sparkliest, prettiest bags and boxes you can find. After all, Diwali isn't a time for restraint!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Baba Ghanoush


I have an almost automatic reaction to the word eggplant. Blame it on mushy baingan curries I saw growing up, but ask me if I want to eat a dish with eggplant and I won't even think a minute before I say no. The only exception to this rule, thus far, is the baingan bhartha. The smoky mashed eggplant curry filled with fried onions and tomatoes and garam masala has always been the solitary eggplant favourite of mine.

Now, it is time to add a second. I think it has got to do with smoking the eggplant but I instantly fell in love with baba ghanoush. Well, not maybe not instantly - I can remember many a middle eastern mezze platters where I inhaled all the hummus and tzatziki and let my friends finish the baba ghanoush. But I tried making it at home for the first time last week and I totally loved it. I think it helps that the recipe, texture and flavours are so close to my other favourite dip: hummus.

So whether you are an old baba ghanoush fan or have never tried it before, here's the super easy recipe for you to make. Take a medium sized eggplant, wash it and stab it a few times with a knife. Then pop the eggplant directly on the open flame on the gas stove. Keep the flame medium to low and turn every few minutes until the eggplant is charred and black all over. Let it cool, then peel the eggplant. Cut off the top (the crown) of the eggplant, separate the quarters and remove any large chunks of seeds that you spot. I must tell you that this 'removing the seeds' step is completely optional and only comes from my years of making baingan bhartha. Stack a strainer over a bowl. Put the now peeled and deseeded eggplant on the strainer and let it stay there for an hour or so until all the moisture drains off.

Put the eggplant in a blender alongwith the following ingredients for the dip:
- Tahini: opinions differ on whether tahini belongs in a baba ghanoush but I like the hummus like quality it gives the dip. Use 2 tbsp. for each eggplant
- Garlic: 1-2 cloves per eggplant. Peel and mince the garlic before adding it to the blender
- Lime: Juice of one lime (about a tbsp.) per eggplant
- Salt: Add 1/4-1/2 tsp to begin with. You can always adjust this later.
- Olive Oil: I used about 1/2 tbsp. but even upto a tbsp. is fine,

You need the run the blender for just a few seconds until everything gets mixed in and becomes a smooth, fluffy paste. Check the flavour and add more tahini/lemon/salt if you need to. Move the dip to a bowl and top with a swirl of olive oil. If you want to add a dash of colour, you can sprinkle some chilli powder or sumac on top of the bowl too. Serve alongside toasted bread. I know pita is traditional but I don't have it always and I eat baba ghanoush (as well as hummus) with everything from baguettes to multigrain toasts.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Healthy Couscous Salad



For the past month, I have been forced to take a hard look at my lifestyle choices. It's not that I haven't been keeping an eye on my sugar and fat intake all these years. But being the foodie that I am, it is easy to get distracted by a new restaurant, or yet another fabulous dessert. Alas, those options are starting to look like a distant pipedream.

But instead of giving up on eating out and exciting foods, here's what I am doing - being sensible! Yes, I order fewer milkshakes and lots more glasses of sparkling water with lime. But I am also creating some exciting new salads and soups and healthy dishes. This is one of those new experiments that make me almost excited about eating healthy.

The base of this salad is pearl couscous (also called Israeli couscous). Now that I am counting calories, I measured out 2 tbsp. of dried pasta and cooked it as per package directions. To the cooked, drained and now fluffy couscous grains, I added a handful of cooked chickpeas. I usually have cooked chickpeas hanging out in the fridge because I make hummus so often but this is a flexible salad, so you can add any canned or cooked beans you have handy.

This is also a season when all kinds of heirloom tomato varieties show up and one of them - the black tomatoes - were perfect additions to this salad. For flavour pickup, I added leaves of thai basil. Then instead of an oil heavy dressing, I sprinkled sea salt, pepper and sumac on the salad, then doused the whole thing with balsamic vinegar.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Making of a Caramel Macchiato



Now that I have perfected the art of making an espresso at home, I've been dabbling in fancier drinks. Starting with the one drink I always order at Starbucks - a caramel macchiato. At Starbucks, this is a layered drink that starts with a shot of vanilla syrup. They then fill the mug with hot steamed milk, add a shot of espresso and top with a drizzle of caramel.

The starting point of making this drink at home is the caramel drizzle. I used to be scared of making caramel but with this super easy sauce, I can make caramel in my sleep, with no thermometer whatsoever. You can make the drizzle as much as a week in advance but if you are anything like me, you will go back and eat it all by the spoonful so make it the same day or the day before at the earliest. If you want a professional drizzle, put the caramel sauce in a squeeze bottle while it's still warm. You can also forget all of the above and buy a bottle of caramel if burning sugar at home scares you.

Next step is to make an espresso. At the same time as my espresso was brewing on the stove, I put a cup of milk in a saucepan and put it on the stove to warm. When the milk started to simmer, I turned off the heat and used my milk foamer to make foamy steamed milk (its like a stick blender and works like magic with warm milk). Finally, since I was lacking in vanilla syrup, I took a tsp of vanilla essence and added it to the milk.

First went the vanilla milk in the cup. Then I poured a shot of espresso into the cup, trying to keep as much of the foam intact as I could. You need this foam of course to hold the caramel drizzle. As you can see, I did not have the presence of mind to use a squeeze bottle and drizzled the sauce with a spoon. So not as pretty as a Starbucks drink but it tasted pretty much the same. Much better in fact, because I used my favourite coffee beans.