Friday, March 28, 2014

More images from Kashmir

One fascinating part of our visit to Kashmir was driving though saffron country. As far as the eye could see, the way we talk about rice fields in Assam, the saffron fields ended in the horizon.
How beautiful the fields must be when the  saffron crocus/Crocus sativus blooms. Miles of purple blooms. Maybe I'll plan an autumn trip to Kashmir just to see the blooming fields.

Signs like this one greeted us all along the saffron route. Everywhere the trees were devoid of leaves but the sights were breathtaking.

Shops sold spices like shah jeera, cardamoms, cinnamon, ready-made masala pastes, rajma, and all kinds of dried fruits. The pine nuts were from Afghanistan, pistachios from Iran, and many shops sold honey from Pakistan.

The haul with most of the walnuts finished. The red chilli powder, biryani masala, and the mint powder were bought in Srinagar.

I made some Kashmiri rajma today. The beans are smaller than the usual rajma. The dish cooked with onions, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and red chilli powder turned out to be delicious!
Puffed lotus seeds(left) and kheer made with it
And the saffron went into makhana kheer/sweet dish cooked with puffed lotus seeds and milk. Although I usually have saffron in my pantry, it is not a spice that I use on a regular basis. But dishes like pulao and kheer come alive with the addition of a pinch of this wonderful ingredient.

I can't resist ending my post with more images of the beautiful landscape of Kashmir. Thank you for stopping by today.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Mini Plum Cakes

With Kashmir so much on my mind I'll soon be posting more about some of the goodies I got from there. Back in Delhi my favourite haunts are the shops that deal in more kitchen ingredients. I got some delicious plums from the INA market and these went into the mini cakes I made today. Back home our plums are sweet when ripe but they are certainly not good for baking. I also picked up some figs and teamed them up with ricotta and honey to make tarts.

A sprinkle of sugar before hitting the oven

Although I had kept the plum halves right in the middle, they somehow managed to shift a wee bit.:) These must be the simplest cakes to make but the taste of the plums with their natural sweetness took the cakes to another level. There were no extra trimmings to go with them. They were good on their own.

200 grams flour
90 grams fine sugar
100 grams softened butter+ extra for greasing the tins
2 eggs
Milk (used only to make the batter a little thinner)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
2 plums, halved and seed removed
1 tsp of brown sugar to be sprinkled on the plums

Grease the cake tins (I used 5 small ramekins) and preheat the oven to 180 C.
Sieve the flour and the baking powder.
Cream the butter and the sugar in a bowl with a whisk.
Beat in the eggs one by one till fully incorporated.
Add the vanilla extract and the milk. The quantity of the latter will depend on how you usually like your batter.
With the help of a spoon, transfer the batter to the ramekins leaving some space for the cake to rise.
Gently push the plum halves (cut side up) in the middle of the batter. Give a little tap and bake the cakes for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the edges turn a golden brown.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Our Trip To Kashmir

View from our hotel in cotton tree and snow-capped ranges
Our trip to the state of Jammu and Kashmir happened because we wanted to visit one of the most revered temples in India, Vaishno Devi. The temple is near the town of Katra. From Delhi we flew to Jammu then took a taxi to Katra. The temple is one of the most revered shrines in India. The shrine is at an altitude of 5300 feet. It is said that about 8 million pilgrims visit the temple each year.
The road to Vaishno Devi
It took us a little more than three and a half hours to climb the hill on horseback and about the same time to descend. But what a journey it was! The route was beautiful and the mountain views took my breath away.

Front garden of the hotel where we stayed
From Katra we flew to Srinagar. March isn't snowfall season but Srinagar was covered in snow and it was such a beautiful sight from the plane particularly for us as we are not used to extreme cold or snow.
Srinagar was under a blanket of snow
A cold & rainy evening at Dal lake
We headed to the Dal lake and to "our" houseboat. The boat ride was no fun as it was cold and the drizzle made it worse. But the Kashmiri tea qawah seemed like a lifesaver. It was refreshing and the warmth of the drink cupped in our hands made us forget the cold for a few moments! The Dal lake is integral to tourism and recreation and is also referred to as Srinagar's Jewel. The lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and water plant harvesting. (From Wiki).
Life on the Lake. Clockwise: two ladies on a boat, a flower seller came selling seeds and narcissus blooms, the houseboat where we stayed &some of the many houseboats on the lake.
The food was incredibly delicious but too many mutton dishes for one meal is a little too much for us. Teaming some of the dishes with dal and plain rice works out well particularly if you aren't used to all that meat in one sitting. You might be interested in checking out details about Kashmiri food here.

From Srinagar we went to Gulmarg. It was picture perfect with views that we had only seen on Christmas cards!!:)

There was nothing we could do in Pahalgam because of the snowfall but it was good to see landscapes that our eyes are not used to. The mountains were so beautiful. Truly the state of Jammu and Kashmir is endowed with such natural beauty.
Spring bulbs bloom on the wayside

From right...kangri, roadside view and the bare branches of the chinar tree
Despite the weather (it snowed in March after a hundred years) the entire trip was good. There were no glitches whatsoever. I came back with a haul of spices and dried fruits, ingredients that the state is known for. We crossed the saffron fields at Pampore on the way to Pahalgam and bought the spice at one of the shops lining the saffron route. Returning home I feel blessed that one destination I had always dreamed has been done.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Khari With Smoked Meat

Khari with smoked meat, hyacinth beans & brinjal
Khari is a term that is synonymous with Dimasa food. Vegetables, fermented fish, some heat from chillies, and garnishes in the form of fresh herbs, crushed garlic or grated ginger come together to create a dish that only asks for a plate of rice. Well, maybe another accompaniment. The most-used herbs are bahanda from the basil family and bakhor which is serrated coriander. But khari with smoked meat or smoked fish can be one-pot wonders. The meat in this case enhances the taste of the dish so you don't need as much meat as you would use for regular meat curry.
A much-loved combo for khari
The combination of vegetables can be varied. The picture above shows hyacinth beans, brinjal, and green tomatoes. Our cooler months would be incomplete without such a dish on our tables. The picture below shows ash gourd and pumpkin. These two vegetables are good enough on their own but the addition of smoked meat takes this khari to another level.
Ash gourd & pumpkin (left) & smoked pork

Khari with black lentils and smoked pork

Khari with smoked pork, ash gourd, pumpkin, leafy greens & hyacinth beans
Smoked pork cut into bite-size pieces
Unripe pumpkin cut into 1" pieces (leave the skin on)
Ash gourd, peel and cut like pumpkin
8-10 chillies scored lengthwise, seeds left intact
A bunch of leafy greens (amaranth, lai or the tender leaves of pumpkin and bottle gourd)
A handful of hyacinth beans (string and cut/tear off into pieces not much bigger than the size of the meat)
Alkali, according to the quantity of the khari (1 tbsp is enough if you are cooking for 4-5 people)
3-4 green tomatoes (red tomatoes can also be used)
2-3 fermented fish
Salt to taste
Crushed garlic or herbs like bahanda/bakhor for the garnish

  • Heat some water in a pan and add the meat pieces.
  • Let it come to the boil before adding the chillies.
  • After ten minutes or so add the ash gourd as it takes the longest to cook compared to the other vegetables named in the ingredients.
  • When the ash gourd is nearly done, add the rest of the vegetables. The leaves can be added a little later.
  • Add the alkali and  cook till the khari looks almost done.
  • The fermented fish can go in now. Cook for a few more minutes.
  • Remove from the flame and garnish with the herbs of your choice or with crushed garlic.
About the measurements of the ingredients, it's a handful of everything. The meat here will a quarter of the entire amount of the combined ingredients. Foraging in the garden is one of the joys of making a dish like this. There needn't be just one type of leafy vegetable. When I was a child my mother tended a garden of abundance and it was always a treat to walk about with a basket picking the best and freshest produce. No wonder the food always tasted so good!!

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Monday, March 10, 2014

A Mixed Fruit Pie

 Yesterday was my sister's birthday and instead of a cake I baked a mixed fruit pie for the occasion. And my new pie dish had arrived from Zansaar. Hmm, did I really need a reason?? I have a fascination for pies particularly for lattice tops. It's such a joy to create them. Although I don't generally use sugar in the pastry dough, I made this a little sweet with the addition of icing sugar. The mix of fruits that went into the filling were four apples, two pears and seven strawberries. The pears and apples were cooked with a tablespoon of sugar till they were soft but not mushy. A teaspoon of vanilla extract, some grated nutmeg, brown sugar, cinnamon powder, grated lemon rind, some lemon juice, and a mix of powdered biscuits and cornflour  were added to the fruit mixture. The filling was dotted with butter before the lattice top was created. The pie was brushed with the yolk of one egg before it went into a 200C oven for 15 minutes. Then I brought it down to 180C and baked it for another 20 minutes. By that time it had turned an even golden brown. Before serving the pie it was given a generous dusting of icing sugar and we all had it with dollops of vanilla ice cream.

And with the bit of pastry dough that remained in the fridge my husband and I had strawberry pies for tea. Worth the effort. Totally!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mudru Shamlai/A Mixed Vegetable Stew

A mix of two or more vegetables come together in this dish called mudru. The word translates to bland in my mother tongue, Dimasa. Traditionally this is made with bottle gourd, beans, leafy greens and banana flowers. It is cooked either with the addition of fermented fish or with roasted and ground oil seeds like sesame and pirella. Compared to khari, this is a dish with subtle flavours and just a hint of garlic. This is eaten with rice and other accompaniments. The greens used in this stew can vary from lai to the tender shoots and leaves of bottle gourd, pumpkin, squash/chayote, vegetable fern, amaranth, purslane, Sarchochlamys pulcherrima/mishagi, spinach, tender radish leaves, white goosefoot/chenopodium album and many more varieties.

This mudru was made with a variety of clerodendrum known as mishimou in our language. The leaves have a slight pungent smell and the plant grows wild and in abundance in our region. Many believe that the consumption of the leaves is good for patients with high blood pressure. Most communities in our region use it in alternative healing. The other vegetables that were added were: banana flowers, peas and hyacinth beans. Although this is cooked in plain water, I used chicken stock to enhance the taste of the dish.
Mudru cooked with chicken stock, amaranth& banana flower

1 small banana flower with pistils removed
1 bunch of mishimou
A few hyacinth beans (string and cut into 2" pieces)
A bowl of peas

2 chillies scored lengthwise
Salt to taste
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup water
2 crushed garlic cloves
1 tbsp roasted and ground perilla seeds/snem 

Heat the water and stock in a pan. When it comes to the boil add the banana flowers as they take the longest to cook. With the pale longish varieties that are common in the hills, the water used for boiling them need not be discarded. The inner tender-most part of the vegetable can be kept whole as the pistils are not hard and that portion is actually the best part. When the banana flowers are half-done add the rest of the vegetables. These leafy greens take a little longer time to cook than regular greens like spinach or amaranth. Instead of chopping them, we usually twist the leaves and tear them apart.
Add the chillies and season with salt. Keep cooking till the dish becomes a homogenous mix. Then add the ground snem. Garnish with the crushed garlic cloves and remove from the flame.
 Mudru does not have a watery gravy but just enough liquid to mix with rice. Accompaniments like fried potatoes or fried fish work beautifully.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Green Tomato Chutney

 Although I knew about green tomato chutney I had never made it before. It was  partly because I didn't have the heart to pluck my precious crop (before their time) preferring to wait for them to take their own sweet time and ripen. But I'll soon be going on a ten-day holiday with my sister, nephew, and nieces and what better way to preserve the goodness of these fruits by making them into chutney. One that does not demand a long list of ingredients and a great amount of time. So on this sunny and slightly windy day it was the smell of a tomatoey chutney that wafted from my kitchen.
 I picked eighteen tomatoes this morning. Some were round and some were oblong. Seeds and plants are usually sold here without the names of the cultivar. The latest issue of BBC Good Food India has a lot of tomato details. According to the Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, India has over 7,500 varieties of tomatoes. Though the varieties differ, the appearance and taste of tomatoes grown in India remain largely uniform. Some of the commonly grown varieties are: Arka Abha, Arka Alok, Angurlata, Pant Bahar and Ratna.
Added to the fried onions (left) & the finished product.

500 grams green tomatoes, washed and chopped
2 tbsp mustard oil
2 medium onions finely chopped
10 green chillies, chopped
2 sticks cinnamon
5-6 Indian bay leaves
Salt to taste
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp mustard seeds
100ml apple cider vinegar
A pinch of grated nutmeg

Heat the mustard oil in a pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the mustard seeds. As soon as they sputter, add the bay leaves, the cinnamon, and the onions.
Fry the onions till they change colour then add the chillies and the chopped tomatoes.
Keep covered and cook till the liquid is reduced to half. Season with salt.
Check the consistency. When the natural juices are further reduced, add the brown sugar and the vinegar.
Add a pinch of grated nutmeg. Cook till the mixture thickens. Remove from the flame and let it cool.
Remove the bay leaves and the cinnamon sticks. When the chutney cools, transfer to a bottle and store in the fridge.
This chutney goes very well with Indian flatbreads and also with aloo tikkis.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Polenta Quiche

Polenta quiche & a green salad
Although I have used polenta in a few forms the idea of a quiche came from a blog post that I saw at The Daring Gourmet. I loved the idea as it saved me the time to make and chill the pastry dough. And what better than using left-overs that you have in the fridge. In this case I had two roasted tomatoes and some fried chicken. As for the polenta I cooked it with chicken stock stirring all the time so that there were no lumps. As soon as the mixture cooled down I placed it on the buttered pie dish and pressed it on all sides. It did end up looking like a rough-in-texture, egg-yolky yellow pastry dough. Then I baked it for about 20 minutes at 170C.

I love using all the greens that I have in my garden. Walking around with my blue colander I picked some tender spinach, a few leaves of a variety of brassica, rocket leaves, and amaranth. All of these were washed and cooked in very little water. Later the greens were chopped to bits.

I didn't measure the other ingredients either as it was a bit of this and a bit of that. Just the way home cooking is all about.:) The two roasted tomatoes were skinned and roughly chopped, a bit of cheese was grated, and two eggs were beaten with some milk. A touch of salt and some grated pepper went in as well. I was careful with the liquid ingredients as the tin I was using was small. A regular quiche would hold a little more milk or cream. After the baked polenta shell cooled down, I scattered the chicken pieces (after removing the bones) on it. Then the cheese and the chopped greens went in. Finally the seasoned wet ingredients went in. The quiche baked at 180C for 30 minutes.

More greens went into the salad that I teamed up for the quiche. Rocket, mint, baby spinach, chives, and pea shoots with blooms were added to this salad. The dressing was of grated pepper, sugar, salt, white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Nasturtiums, brassica blooms and oxalis flowers were scattered on this green salad.
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Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tomato Chutney

 I couldn't resist photographing these tomatoes that we got from a wayside market with a backdrop of my tomato plants. A harvest that anyone would be proud of! As I write this a tray of tomato discs are being dried in the sun and I made some chutney with about a dozen of them. Apart from adding to salads,dal and other curries, chutney is one thing that I usually make since we are so fond of the taste. It's timeless and most of us surely remember our mothers making the same from fresh produce from flourishing backyard kitchen gardens.

The spices used in the chutney. From left: cumin, chilli, coriander, turmeric, and panch phoran/puran a mix of five spices used to flavour dal, pickles and several kinds of curry. The mix consists of fennel, cumin, fenugreek, mustard and nigella seeds.

The other ingredients that went into the chutney are: jaggery, tejpatta, dates, dried chillies and apricots.

For a little more zing and tang I threw in some dried roselle as well. Sometimes I use tamarind too.

Finally the chuney, a mix of sweet, sour and a little spicy. Goes very well with Indian flatbreads.

1 dozen ripe and firm tomatoes
A few Indian bay leaves/tejpatta
2 dried red chillis,
Half a cup of grated jaggery (more if you want it sweeter)
Salt to taste
7-8 dates, seeds removed and roughly chopped
10 apricots, soaked and seeds removed
Half a teaspoon of panch puran
1 level tsp cumin powder
1 heaped tsp coriander powder
1 quarter tsp turmeric powder
Chilli powder (according to taste)
A few dried roselle (calyces/seedpods) or tamarind
2 tbsp mustard oil

  • Blanch the tomatoes and peel them. Remove eyes and chop them up. Keep aside.
  • Heat the mustard oil in a pan. When it comes to smoking point add the panch puran, the dried chillis, and the bay leaves.
  • Add the rest of the spices along with a bit of the liquid from the blanched tomatoes so that the spices do not burn.
  • Add the tomatoes and keep cooking till the juices are reduced. Then add the dates and the apricots. The apricots can be roughly chopped as well. A bit of salt can be added now.
  • When the mixture looks done, add the soaked roselle and the grated jaggery.
  • As soon as the jaggery melts, the dish can be removed from the fire. Check the seasoning and make the necessary adjustments, if needed.
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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mincemeat pies

Regular visitors to this blog know about my fascination for pies and tarts. The other day I had fried up some minced meat for another recipe. The left-overs went into these simple tiny pies. They were indeed delicious with the goodness of meat and a hint of spices in every bite!

There was nothing that I made exclusively for this recipe. The meat was already in the fridge and I also had some pastry dough from the tarts I had made earlier. Simply combined the two and the pies were born! They were brushed with egg-wash and baked till golden brown. The smells that filled the kitchen and the house had this baker drooling.;)

As I was photographing the pie I noticed that my potted strawberry plant had one fruit that was ripening! You can imagine my delight at such a wonderful sight!!

The imperfections of a home made pie can be seen in this picture. Alignment gone awry with the warp and the weft but as for the taste, nothing seemed wrong.:)
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