Sunday, November 29, 2015

In praise of ID



You will rarely hear me talking about specific food brands on this page. But this one brand in particular needs to be talked about. Because unlike Zomato or Tiny Owl, ID hasn't pulled in zillions of dollars in investment funds. Nor do you see them roping in Shahrukh Khans of the world and advertising on TV.

Quietly, simply, one day the packs of ID idli-dosa batter showed up on the racks of my neighbourhood supermarket. Bombay's used to buying packs of dosa batter already so let me tell you what ID does better. The batter is sealed in a thick, ziplock bag that you can pop in the fridge. It's also already salted, so you can pour ladlefuls of batter out directly onto idli moulds or the dosa tavaa. The batter is also perfectly fermented every single time.

ID batter works equally well for idlis and dosas. Also, on the days you are feeling fanciful or have sudden guests, you can drop spoonfuls of batter into hot oil and deep fry into the vadas you see above. Then a few months back, ID added another product range that has made many a weekend for me. It's their malabar parotha, packaged half cooked, so you can pop it on a pan and get a crispy, flaky parantha in 2-3 minutes. I've had fresh malabar paranthas at restaurants and believe it or not, this packaged version is better than most. Since the parantha launch, ID has also launched things like whole wheat parantha and rotis but I can't say I love those.

For me, the perfect dosa batter and the malabar parantha I eat with pickle or chutney on weekend afternoons are the new constants in life. And that's what good brands do - they become part of who you are.

PS: Contrary to the food blogging trends nowadays, this post is not sponsored by ID. I don't even know who those guys are. I simply love their product!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Bread



India does not have a Thanksgiving tradition. But then, tradition or not, what's the point in ignoring a festival devoted almost entirely to eating and shopping. As a vegetarian, the turkey meal at thanksgiving is not of much interest to me. But there are so many sides to pick from and so many variations on the pumpkin. So for today's thanksgiving special, I bring you a bread roll that's not only shaped like a tiny, squat pumpkin but is also chock full of pumpkin puree and flavour.

The pumpkin bread was the bread of the month at my bread baking group 'We Knead to Bake'. Every recipe I have baked with this group has been a winner and this is no exception. The rolls that come out of the oven are super soft and amazing with a pat a butter. Plus the house smells of cinnamon and ginger and nutmeg for hours. The original recipe makes 8 rolls but I halved it so the one below makes 4 tiny pumpkins, just enough for 1-2 people.

Ingredients3 tbsp. warm milk
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
1/3 cup pureed pumpkin
20 grams butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp powdered dry ginger
2-3 walnuts or pecans sliced into thin sections

If you are using whole pumpkin rather than store bought puree, peel the pumkin, halve and remove all the seeds in the middle. Cut into cubes and steam until soft. Cool, then puree until smooth in a blender. You will get far more puree than you need for this bread even with a tiny pumpkin but you can freeze anything extra for more rolls or pies or countless other pumpkin dishes you can make.

I use my kitchenaid dough hook to make bread doughs but this is also doable by hand. First off, warm the milk to slightly higher than lukewarm. Put in the mixer bowl alongwith honey and yeast and set it aside for 5 minutes for the yeast to bloom. In the meantime, melt your butter and mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Fix the dough hook and pop everything (dry ingredients, pumpkin puree, melted butter) on top of the yeast. Knead until you get a soft, sticky dough. If you started with 1 1/4 cup of flour, you might need to add a bit more if the dough is too wet.

With wet hands, remove the dough to a bowl, cover loosely and set aside for about an hour until doubled. Divide the dough into four equal portions, taking care not to deflate it too much. Shape each portion into a ball and flatten it a little. With a scissor, make 8 cuts at equal distance from the edge towards the centre of the ball, leaving the centre uncut so you have something looking like a flower.

Place the flowers on a parchment lined baking sheet, leaving enough space between them to expand. Let them rise for about 30-40 minutes. Add the walnut or pecan sliver in the centre to make the stem and brush the rolls with milk. Bake in an oven heated to 180C for 20-25 minutes until the rolls are well risen and golden. Let cool on a wire rack for 10-15 minutes before digging in.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Soul of Punjab



The moment you mention to someone that you are a Punjabi and a foodie, you are likely to hear one of the two things in the sentence that follows: 'Butter Chicken' or 'Sarson ka Saag'. Of these two iconic dishes, butter chicken is a year round phenomenon and of little interest to me as a vegetarian. But let's talk of sarson ka saag or mustard greens that are just coming into season and will be a staple diet in Punjab for the next three months.

Before I get to the recipe, I need to add a little preface about the food in Punjab. We are an agrarian state, which means that most of our traditional dishes are peasant food - simple to make and hearty enough to help the men and women brave a hard day of work on the fields. Even though most folks I know no longer sweat it out on the fields, not much has changed food wise. Dainty dishes, small portions and fancy food doesn't really go down well in my hometown and literally everything gets served with a large dollop of homemade butter. Which means that first timers get surprised by how simple in flavour and yet how rich this dish tends to be.

What you won't be surprised by is the process of making saag, since this is my mom's version of recipe, using food processor instead of the tools my grandmother used. Her two favourite aids to making saag, now rusted, still hold a prized place in our kitchen - a daatri or an arc like chopper used to cut the greens and a ghotna, something like a potato masher used to mash the cooked greens later in the process.

One final note before I get to the recipe. Although the name suggests the dish is cooked mustard greens, saag is in fact a mixture of at least three different leaves since mustard is too bitter on its own. Spinach is of course widely available, but the third one - bathua - is harder to get hold of outside north India. Mom says it's ok to leave it to out or add a bit extra spinach if you can't find it.

Ingredients
1 kg mustard greens
1/2 kg spinach
250 grams bathua (optional)
2 green chillies
2 1-inch pieces of ginger
2-3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 medium onion
3 tbsp ghee
salt to taste

Cut off any hard stalks off your mustard greens, leaving only the leaves and small tender stems. Wash all the greens to remove any dirt and cut into thin ribbons. You can also chop them roughly in a food processor to speed up the process.

In a large pan, put the chopped greens along with 4 cups water, green chillies, 1-inch piece of ginger (peeled) and peeled garlic cloves. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let cook until the greens are tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool a bit, then pop the whole mix into your food processor and grind to a smooth puree.

Pop the puree back into a pan and add cornmeal, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until most of the excess water has dried out. You can now temper the saag if you plan to eat immediately, or pop it in the fridge for upto a week.

Just before serving, finely chop the onion and the remaining piece of ginger. Heat ghee in a pan, add onion and ginger and saute until the onions are lightly browned. Add the cooked greens and saute for 5-7 minutes.

The saag is almost always served with a hearty dollop of homemade sweet butter and a cornmeal flatbread called makki ki roti. I really did try to get you the roti recipe as well but mom's description of the process involves specific hand movements and other touchy feely stuff that doesn't quite translate into English. So until I find a way to get you her video making makki ki roti, you might have to make do with your regular rotis. Or plan a trip to Punjab this winter.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Happy Diwali



The last few days, my drive back from work has been brighter than usual with buildings and malls all lit up. The markets are all full of people scrambling for last minute gifts. And any minute now, the air will get thick with smoke of firecrackers, the sky will light up with shooting stars. No wonder then, that Diwali is my favourite time of the year.

Our family has always bought rather than cooked diwali sweets so we don't really have a tradition of any special diwali dishes. This year though, I wanted to create a special dessert. I chose to take on my favourite jalebi. Typically, jalebi spirals are deep fried and then immediately dunked into sugar syrup, making them way too sweet. When I fried my jalebis though, I added a tiny bit of sugar into the dough itself so they were crisp and lightly sweet. And then I spooned over an orange caramel sauce, adding some citrusy goodness. There is more sauce to dunk your jalebis in if you want them sweeter. To round off the hot jalebi with something cold, there is rabdi ice cream in the middle.

Have a sweet, fun filled, happy diwali everyone!

Ingredients
For Jalebis
1 cup plain flour
2 tbsp cornflour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 cup curd
oil for deep frying

For orange caramel sauce
1 cup caster sugar
1 tsp white vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice

For rabdi ice cream
1 litre full fat milk
50 grams sugar
8-10 pistachio nuts
5-6 almonds

Start your jalebi dough the night before you want to make them. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients (except oil of course) and whisk well until you have a thick batter. You might need to add a tbsp or so of water if your batter is too thick but make sure it's of dropping consistency like a pancake batter and not runny. Cover the bowl and set it aside to ferment. The next morning, you will see bubbles all over your batter. If you are not ready to make jalebis immediately, put the batter in the fridge so it doesn't over-ferment. It can also take longer, unto 24 hours in fact, depending on your weather, so be guided by how your batter looks and if there are bubbles to show it is fermented.

Let's get on to the ice cream now. Rabdi is nothing more than thickened milk and that's exactly how we have made this one. Pour the milk into a large, thick bottomed pan. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, then cook until the milk is reduced to half, stirring frequently. At this stage, add the sugar and coarsely ground pistachios and almonds. Keep cooking until the milk is reduced to 1/3rd of its original quantity and is quite thick. Chill, then churn in your ice cream maker as you usually do. Pop the rabdi ice cream back in the freezer until ready to eat.

To make the caramel sauce, put sugar and vinegar in a saucepan along with 1/4 cup water. On a medium heat, stir until the sugar dissolves then leave it alone. Watch the pan closely as the sugar bubbles and gets to a deep amber color. At this point, turn off the heat and immediately pour in the orange juice. Step back as the sugar will bubble over and it can splatter. Once the drama dies down, stir your caramel to make sure there are no lumps.

Heat oil in a pan. Put your jalebi batter in a piping bag, snip off the end and pipe rounds directly into hot oil. Fry until golden on both sides and serve immediately with a scoop of rabdi ice cream and a drizzle of caramel sauce, with more sauce on the side.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Winter Panacotta



We are at that time of the year that's the cusp between summer and winter. It never really gets too cold in Mumbai but the air will start getting a little nippy in the evenings soon. Even when everyone is starting to talk about pumpkins and gingerbread, right now it feels too early to let go of the bright fruits and vegetables of the summer. Which is why this panacotta is a perfect dessert.

The panacotta itself is the 'warm' and wintery element in the dessert, full of cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger. To complement the creamy panacotta, I have added two more components. Well, three if you count the fresh pomegranate seeds. In addition to the pomegranate seeds, there is a pomegranate syrup, made fresh at home and tangy enough to cut through the panacotta's sweetness. The final element - the chocolate soil - provides the much needed textural contrast.

If you have never made panacotta before, let me assure you that this is the easiest dessert to whip together. No good panacotta recipe takes more than 5 minutes of effort but always looks fancy and elegant. And the chocolate soil might be my biggest discovery this year. I first saw the recipe as part of one of the Heston Blumenthal desserts. His version is too sweet so I've tweaked it to make it crunchier. The recipe makes more than you need for your panacotta but I dare you to stop munching on the soil; it's that addictive.

Ingredients
For Panacotta
200 ml cream (I used Amul 25%)
2 sheets or 1 tsp gelatin
30 grams white chocolate
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of dry ginger powder
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For pomegranate syrup
Seeds of 1 large pomegranate (About 1 1/2 cups)
1 tsp lime juice

For chocolate soil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar
80 grams dark chocolate (I used Callebaut 72%)
1 tbsp cocoa nibs (optional)

Take a bowl of water and soak your gelatin sheets in it. If using gelatine powder, add the gelatin to 1 tbsp water and set it aside. Heat the cream on a low heat until it's hot (but do not let it get to boiling point). Add the chocolate and the spices and stir until the chocolate melts. Take the cream off the heat and add the powdered gelatin, water and all to the mix. If using sheets, squeeze out the water and add the sheets to the cream. Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved in the warm cream. Pour the panacotta mixture into three small ramekins or silicon moulds. Let cool, then put in the fridge for 1-2 hours to set.

While your panacotta is setting, make the other elements of the dessert. Keep a handful of pomegranate seeds aside and put the rest in the blender. Blitz for a few seconds to partly crush the seeds, then pass through a fine mesh sieve to get pomegranate juice. Put the juice in a pan along with the lime juice. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let the juice cook until it is reduced to half.

For chocolate soil, chop the chocolate into tiny pieces. Combine water and sugar in a non stick frying pan. Put on a medium heat. Stir for the first minute until the sugar dissolves, then leave the boiling syrup on its own until you start to see the start of the caramel color on the edges of the pan. This can take a few minutes so be patient and stay close to the pan. As soon as the sugar starts to color, turn off the heat and add all the chocolate. Keep stirring - at first the chocolate will melt and it will all be one pool of liquid chocolate. But as the mixture cools, it will turn into soil-like crystallised chocolate. Let cool completely and then, if you can find them, add cocoa nibs for some extra crunch.

Invert your set panacotta on a plate. Pour over pomegranate syrup, add a tbsp or so of chocolate soil to the side and sprinkle some of the reserved fresh pomegranate seeds to finish.