Thursday, October 17, 2013

Back From Himachal & Meetha Bhat Is On The Menu

Clockwise: 1)Ripe persimmon 2) The cut fruit...sweet & delicious
3)Nasturtiums tumble along the garden wall in Shimla
4) A wayside wild daisy has an interesting visitor
5) A roadside eatery on the way to Manali
6) View from our hotel window in Shimla
7) An Indian Tortoiseshell butterfly
8) A fallen leaf on the steps leading to Mall Road in Shimla
I just got back from a wonderful break in the beautiful and mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh. Although we were there only for four days it was absolutely worth it. Getting away from the heat of the plains was what we needed and the night before we reached the city of Manali, fresh snow had fallen on the mountains overlooking the city. The sight from our hotel room in Manali was breathtaking. The balcony overlooked an apple orchard with a meandering river and the snow-capped mountains in the horizon. We couldn't have asked for a better view.
View from our hotel room in Manali
Travelling from Shimla to Manali by road we drove through several apple orchards. Although cereals and vegetables are widely grown, huge tracts of land are suitable for fruit farming. Apple farming is said to yield the maximum income. Apricots, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, and peanuts are other important crops in certain areas like Kinnaur and Chamba. The last apples had already been picked so the orchards are devoid of fruit at this time of the year. After Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal is the second largest producer of apples in India. According to the National Horticulture Board the state's production in 2012-13 was 400 million tonnes. (From an article about Harmony Hall Orchards in Good Food magazine/India October 2013).
Meetha bhat with dried apples
I did get quite a haul of dry fruits at a shop in the market in Manali including locally grown pine nuts and hazel nuts. There were dried apples on sale too. The salesperson told me that these could be added to pies or to sweet rice aka meetha bhat.
Walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, hazel nuts (not seen),
cashew& dried apples sit pretty on my kitchen shelf
This recipe has been adapted from the book Classic Recipes From Himachal Pradesh by Bhawanee Singh. I made a few changes by adding more dry fruits and less sugar. I wanted to use most of the ingredients that I had bought in Himachal and I decided on this particular dish after going through this fascinating book. 

Ingredients:
250 grams Basmati rice
2 tablespoons soaked raisins
10-12 almonds soaked in water, skin removed and slivered
The same amount of cashew nuts
15-20 slices of dried apples
A few pieces of dry coconut cut fine
2 Indian bay leaves
3-4 cloves
2 sticks of cinnamon (1" pieces)
2 pods of cardamom
80 grams of sugar (Traditionally it's made much sweeter than the one I cooked. The recipe had half a kilogram of sugar for 500 grams of rice)
3 tablespoons of ghee
A few strands of saffron, soaked in a bit of warm milk
Water (double the amount of rice)

  • Wash and soak the rice for one hour.
  • Boil the rice in enough water so that it is cooked.
  • In a large plate spread the cooked rice, add the raisins, the coconut, cashew nuts, the dried apples, the sugar and half the ghee.
  • In another pan, heat the remaining ghee and then add the bay leaves and the other aromatics.
  • Put in the rice mixture and mix gently so that the grains do not break.
  • Keep the heat low and the rice covered. Stir occasionally. Add the saffron.
  • When fully done the rice will have a golden tinge and the sugar will have completely permeated the rice.
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