Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Chestnut Story



I first discovered chestnuts as they were roasting in a British christmas market on a cold, snowy day. The warm bag of chestnuts went all over with me over the next hour; a comforting feeling as we walked across aisles of Christmas trinkets, games arena and a meeting with Santa. It occurred to me then how strange it was that we never ate chestnuts back in India. Didn't we have all the chestnuts trees up in the Himalayas.

Back home, when Big Basket put chestnuts on their menu a couple of years back, I naturally assumed these were an imported variety. Turns out I was wrong. Chestnuts arrived early on Big Basket this year and they have clarified that these are the homegrown Himalayan chestnuts. The first time I bought them, I spent hours figuring out the right way to oven roast my stash. For this season's purchase though, I reckoned I will try a completely Indian manner of cooking and put them in a pressure cooker. Turns out it makes the chestnuts a pleasure to cook.

First off, wash your chestnuts and score each with an X on the flat side. Make sure you pierce the outer skin or you will have these bursting in the cook. Put the chestnuts in a pressure cooker and add enough water to cover. Bring the water up to boil (that's one whistle on the pressure cooker), then reduce the heat and cook for 7-8 minutes. Once the chestnuts cool down enough to handle but are still warmish, peel them. This is the hardest part of cooking with and eating chestnuts - you have a hard outer layer and an inner skin. If you scored them right and they are cooked through, putting some pressure on the X will make the skin pop and you can peel it off. Not all of them worked well for me though and depending on how each one behaved, I got a few intact and several that broke into tiny pieces as I peeled them. A couple still had the inner skin attached and rather than try to win them all, I gave these up as lost causes. Overall, out of my 250 grams of chestnuts, I ended up with about a cup of peeled, edible fruit.



You can now just eat them while warm, which is what I did with about half my batch. But the remaining half cup I then turned into this sublime chestnut butter. This is a shortcut and not much of a recipe but it was so good I figured I may as well tell you about it. So in went the 1/2 cup chestnuts into a blender. I had a jar of salted caramel sauce lying around and I put 2 tbsp of that in the blender, then whizzed the two together until the consistency was that of chunky peanut butter. That's it folks - a non recipe really but it's so good you may as well make it today.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Smoky Almonds



Every time I fly Indigo Airlines, I make it a point to buy a tin of their smoked almonds. Salted, roasted and with an intense smoky flavour, these are some of the best almonds I've tasted. Now, it does seem kinda silly to pick which flight to book based on what snacks they sell onboard, so I felt this was high time I made my own smoked almonds.

Smoking, if you haven't looked at it before, is a cool way to add charred flavour to everything from tea to meats. You do it by exposing food to smoke from burning wood, a technique favoured in most of US, Europe and Australia. India has its own smoking tradition - the whole school of dum cooking based on exposing food to smoke from red hot pieces of charcoal.

If getting access to wood and charcoal and burning stuff in a typical Bombay flat sounds complicated, fear not. This smoked almonds recipe is based not on any of the traditional smoking techniques but on smoke you can buy in a bottle. I use liquid smoke to give smoky flavour to everything from grilled mushrooms to kebabs so that's what makes for these smoky almonds. Armed with a spray can, this recipe is a breeze.

Heat your oven to 180C. Put 1 cup almonds in a bowl. Add 1 tsp salt and to up the ante on smokiness, 1/2 tsp chipotle powder. Add a tbsp of liquid smoke or if you have a spray can, enough to coat the almonds. Toss to mix; because of the liquid, the salt and chilli powders will stick to the almonds. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a nonstick baking tray and pop into the oven.

After 10 minutes, take out the tray and give the almonds a stir. Add another spray of smoke for good measure and pop the tray back into the oven until the nuts are roasted, another 10-15 minutes. Let cool, then store in an airtight jar.