Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dried Fig Cake

Dried fig cake
When it comes to food there are images that remain etched in your mind. I had some dried figs and was wondering how to use them in a baked recipe when I came across the recipe and the images here. Needless to say that the recipe and the images occupied every crevice of my mind! But the flash floods that inundated our city a day ago brought such misery. Our ground floor was not spared and the day after went in a major cleaning operation. With most of the sorting and scrubbing done, I baked this cake today. It was such a good feeling. It felt as if I exorcised the invasion of dirt and filled the house with the most delightful heavenly smells...

My bunch of blooms in the pictures are teeny-weeny zinnias and self seeding Porter's weed blooms. Both attract a good number of butterflies.

70 grams plain flour
70 grams almond meal
1 tsp baking powder
110 grams butter, at room temperature
100 grams brown sugar
1 tbs muscat
2 eggs
8 dried figs cut into strips

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Grease a 9" cake tin and line it with baking paper.
Combine the flour, almond meal and baking powder and keep aside.
Cream the butter and the sugar.
Add the eggs one by one and whisk till fully incorporated.
Fold in the flour mix and transfer the batter to the baking tin.
With the help of a knife or spatula even out the batter.
Arrange the fig strips on the top of the cake.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes until the cake is golden brown. Test with a skewer.

This is indeed a lovely cake more in taste than in appearance.:) I made slight adaptations. The recipe also called for salt but I had to omit that out since I used salted Amul butter. Unsalted butter is not readily available in our area. I didn't have muscat so I used a teaspoon of vanilla extract. I thought the figs would sink a little into the batter but they didn't want to budge!! But otherwise no complaints. This is one cake I'll be baking again.
Thank you for stopping by today!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jamun Kulfi

Jamun kulfi
I made the simplest of kulfis yesterday. Since I was wondering what else to do with the fruit, my friend Smita had suggested kulfi. As it is I wanted to incorporate the jam that I had made recently into another recipe so kulfi it was! First I had to look for the moulds and finally found  four in a cupboard where I store most of my baking stuff. These Tupperware moulds have been around for years and when my boys were younger they would freeze their own concoctions. They were mostly made from soft drinks and fruit juice but kulfi as such was never made in these moulds. The reason being that both are not fond of milk-based sweets. The rest of the dessert was frozen in four muffin moulds.
Jamun kulfi made in a muffin mould
The ingredients:
About 500 ml milk
2 heaped tablespoons milk powder
200 ml sweetened condensed milk
3 tbs sugar
1 cup of jamun jam

Pour the milk into a pan and heat it. Add the next three ingredients, keep stirring at intervals till the mixture is somewhat reduced.
Let the mixture cool down completely.
Then add the jam and stir well.
Pour the mixture into the moulds and freeze.
Halfway during the freezing process, you can insert an ice cream stick in the kulfi. The sweet has to set a bit before the stick stays in place. 
After the kulfi is completely frozen, remove from the freezer. To remove from the mould, simply place the mould in a bowl of water. Gently tug the stick and it'll come out. Enjoy!

You might have noticed that I didn't use much sugar. That's because the jam had plenty of it. One regret was that I hadn't removed the skin of the berries although the recipe had stated so. Now I know better. Most kulfis are generally made creamier than mine. But for me it was actually about trying out something new from my garden faithful. Maybe next time!
Thank you for stopping by today.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Masur Dal With Amaranth Stems

Lentils cooked with amaranth stems
One of the most common leafy greens we consume is the amaranth. Although they grow throughout the year they are at their most prolific during this season. Even though my "growing space" is small, over the years I have left them in containers  and on the ground to reseed and proliferate. And I have been rewarded. They have sprung up like weeds and I have been using the leaves since the early part of this year. I left some untouched so that I could use the fleshy stems in dal and other curries, particularly with fish.
The collage shows the plants growing between the turmeric and the flowers. I had kept some soil in a cement bag to be mixed into other containers later but the amaranth grew the tallest here.:) The bag is on the terrace right outside our attic.

Getting the stems ready for cooking
There's a natural sweetness in the stems and they soften in no time at all. Apart from growing in weed-like proportions amaranth is also packed with a great deal of nutrients. Cooked amaranth leaves are a good source of  vitamin A, vitamin C and folate. According to Wiki, they are also a complementing source of other vitamins such as thiamine,niacin, and riboflavin plus some dietary minerals including calcium, iron,potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese. The most common varieties in our region are: A. spinosus (the dwarf variety), A. gangeticus (the red ones), and A. viridis (green amaranth). The last one is what I grow/use.

For this recipe I cut off two plants a little above the roots. You choose the point where the knife cuts through easily. The leaves were kept aside to be used for another dish. I peeled off the outermost layer from the stems and cut them into one and a half inch pieces. The dal was cooked in the usual way.  I fried the stems in a bit of oil with grated onions, coarsely ground chilli powder, grated ginger, turmeric, a bit of coriander powder and some salt. After the amaranth stems were done, I poured the cooked dal into the pan and let it cook for a few minutes. Then the contents were transferred to a serving bowl and garnished with chopped ginger leaves.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Jamun Jam

Indian blackberry/jamun/jambu
Summer is the only time of the year when I get to relish the fruits of my labour! It starts with the jamun/Indian blackberries in mid-June. The mangoes also start to ripen and after a short gap it's time for guavas! But an added bonus is that the bananas in my small patch is also ready to be cut and brought inside to ripen. My next few posts are likely to be about my harvests. Starting with the berries of course. These were picked yesterday and neat packets of the choicest, unblemished, and the darkest purples were sorted and sent to friends and relatives. Now I can try out my recipes for better or worse!
It's also due to of lack of space that I haven't planted trees that bear fruits in winter. Only huge gardens can boast of  tamarind or jujube trees.
Bubble and froth away....
I had kept one particular issue of BBC Good Food magazine aside since that one had a section on jamun and mulberries. The jam that I made is from the magazine. It's only in recent years that I have used this fruit in cooking. For years, right from childhood we had the fruit uncooked delighting in its purple-ness, comparing whose mouth was stained a shade richer or lighter, picking the darkest and ripest ones as the berries have an astringent quality and the ripest ones are the sweetest.
Nearly done here!
As you can see from the first picture the fruits are oblong. They are green at first then turn pink and finally to purple. In alternative healing, the seeds (dried and powdered) are believed to reduce blood sugar. According to Wiki, the leaves and bark are used for controlling blood pressure and gingivitis. Indian blackberry is a rich source of vitamin A and vitamin C.
Jamun jam is ready!
Recipe from BBC Good Food magazine, July 2013
250 grams ripe jamun
200 grams sugar
Vanilla pod or 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

  • Wash the jamun well and drain. Place the sugar and the fruit in a heavy-bottomed pan and heat on medium flame. Within a few minutes the sugar will melt and the fruit will release purple juices. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
  • Mash the fruit with a spoon for the seeds and the skin to separate well. At this stage you can choose to flavour the jam with a pod of vanilla or a stick of cinnamon. After boiling for 5-10 minutes it will turn into a thick syrup.
  • The mixture will continue to thicken after it cools down so do not boil it too long. Let the mixture cool a little and sieve it to get rid of the seeds and the skin. Pour the jam in a clean glass jar. It can be refrigerated for up to a year.

I'm not so much into jams but this is special.  I'm most likely to use this purple goodness in baking. The only thing where I did not stick to the recipe was that I did not remove the skin as I have a feeling it's not going to last long. Yes, I have plans!! As for the sugar, the next time I make it I'll have to reduce the quantity. It's true that cooking the fruit reduces its inherent astringency so I'm truly happy with my bottle of jamun jam.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Simple Mutton Curry

 I have written about this before that for most meat-eating Indians, mutton curry is comfort food. There's such a home-sweet-home feel about mutton and potato curry and steaming hot rice. Particularly as a Sunday lunch when most family members would be home and lunch would be more of a lazy laid-back affair with a siesta written somewhere at the bottom of the (mind's) menu. The recipe for the simplest curry follows...

500 grams mutton cut into regular pieces
4 large onions, finely sliced
4 green chillies, scored lengthwise (optional)
1 thumb-size piece ginger, ground
8 cloves of garlic, ground
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 quarter tsp turmeric powder+ extra for frying the potatoes
Half tsp coarsely grated pepper
1 tsp red chilli powder
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Garam masala paste made of 3 pods of cardamom, 3-4 cloves & 1 stick of cinnamon 
3-4 Indian bay leaves
4 tbs vegetable oil
4 medium potatoes, peeled and halved

  • Mix the ground ginger and garlic with the meat. Add the rest of the powdered spices and make sure the meat is coated with the spices. Keep aside for an hour.
  • Lightly dust the potatoes with turmeric powder and a dash of salt. Mix well.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and when it comes to smoking point, fry the potatoes in two batches. Fry till they are golden brown and almost half done. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.
  • In the same oil, add the bay leaves and green chillies (if using). Then add the sliced onions and fry till they turn translucent.
  • Add the marinated mutton and give it a good stir. Keep the pan covered and the heat on high.
  • Continue to stir at regular intervals.
  • Add the tomatoes and season with salt a little while later. 
  • Add about two cups of water. This will depend on the kind of gravy you like. I like my curry on the thick side.
  • When the curry looks almost done, add the fried potatoes. Continue to cook till the potatoes are done and the meat as soft as you like it to be.
  • Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with your choice of herbs.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Colocasia Shoots With Dried Fish

Colocasia is popular in our region because this vegetable is so abundant. The stalks, the tender leaves, the tubers and the shoots are all made into different dishes. When it's the season of the shoots, these are gathered in neat little bundles and sold in the markets. They can be cooked on their own with some spices or added to other vegetables and fish. In this recipe I have cooked the shoots with dried Bombay duck which happens to be the name of a kind of fish.
Going by the look of these vegetables you know that it's still summer. The shoots are on far right next to the vegetable ferns. Other vegetables are the water spinach, bamboo shoots and bitter gourds.
A shot of the shoots; the second picture shows the cleaned shoots with the outer skin peeled off. It's the same action that you use for preparing drumsticks for cooking. These are then blanched and the water discarded. Traditionally sour fruits are added so that the acidity takes care of the itching. This is because all parts of colocasia contain an irritant which causes not only itching but  intense discomfort to the lips, mouth and throat.  
The acridity is caused in part by microscopic needle-like raphides of calcium oxalate monohydrate and in part by another chemical probably a protease. The acridity helps to naturally deter herbivores from feeding on it.It must be processed by cooking, soaking, fermenting sometimes along with an acid like lime or tamarind before being eaten. Source.

1 bunch colocasia shoots, cleaned and cut into uniform lengths
6 dried fish cut into one and half inch pieces
2 onions, grated
3-4 tejpatta
5-6 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 tbs ground chilli powder (not finely ground)
A quarter tsp ground ginger
2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
Turmeric powder, as per liking + extra for frying the fish
Salt to taste
5-6 medium-size sour tomatoes, chopped 
3 tbs mustard oil
Serrated coriander for the garnish

  • Soak the dried fish in tepid water for a few minutes. This makes it easier to remove the sand and grit. Wash and drain in a colander. Sprinkle a bit of turmeric powder on the fish pieces and mix. Salt can be omitted here as the fish is salty.
  • Heat the oil in a pan and when it comes to smoking point shallow fry the fish, a few pieces at a time. They should be golden but not overdone. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep aside.

  • In another pan, heat about 3 cups of water. When it comes to the boil add the cleaned and cut colocasia shoots. Boil for about two minutes or so and then drain in a colander. They should be nearly done but not mushy.

  • Check to see if you need to add about another tablespoon of oil. Otherwise add the tejpatta and then the onions and cook till they change colour. Add the other spices and fry for a few minutes before adding the tomatoes. Stir gently then add the boiled shoots. Keep cooking till the vegetable is almost done.

  • Add about half a cup of hot water for the gravy. When it comes to the boil add the shallow-fried dried fish pieces. Cook for about five more minutes before removing from the flame. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the herbs.

On another note I thought I would add these photos from my collection. Living near marshy, colocasia-filled land I have observed nature from close quarters. In summer clouds of dragonflies hover/fly above that abundant growth. Kingfishers and bee-eaters have enough to feed on. If one drives through our region you will see that our low-lying areas have such a luxuriant growth of these plants particularly during the hot season. It's a whole cycle of life that you see in a colocasia 'jungle'. In winter the plants wither and that's when these places turn into favourite feeding ground for egrets. That's when I photographed a family of marsh mongoose otherwise barely seen in all that lushness.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Upside Down Cherry Cake

The cherries that I got yesterday were a shade redder than the ones I had bought in the past weeks. I had baked some mini pies and galettes but now I wanted to bake an upside down cake with cherries. Using a punnet of cherries and a small round cake tin, I used a tiny cup for the rest of the measurements. So the cup in this recipe isn't for the standard cup that is used in baking. But if the other ingredients work around that quantity, the cakes turn out fine. A few cherries were kept aside and kept whole for eye candy:)

1 punnet of red cherries, pitted and halved (I left the smaller ones whole after removing the seeds)
4 tbs regular sugar caramelized and I also added a dash of butter
One & a half cups of flour sieved with....
1 level tsp baking powder & 3 tbs cocoa powder & 1 cup fine sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
A quarter tsp of instant coffee mixed with two tbs water

Preheat the oven to 180*C.
Pour the caramel into the baking tin and turn it around so that the caramel covers every bit of space.
Layer the caramel with pitted cherries. Keep aside.
Whisk the eggs.
Cream the butter and the sugar.
Pour the eggs slowly and keep on whisking into the butter/sugar mixture.
Add the vanilla essence and the coffee.
Fold in the flour/baking powder/cocoa mixture.
Pour the batter into the tin layered with cherries. Tap the tin a few times on the work top to release air bubbles.
Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Take it out and let the tin cool down a bit before you invert the cake on a plate.

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Bharwan Bhindi/Stuffed Okra

One of my favourite summer vegetables happens to be okra. Cooked on its own or added to other veggies, they turn out so good. It's one vegetable that we have quite often in our house. The other day I stuffed them with spices. It's best to use similar-sized okras as they will cook better that way.

250 grams okra
4 green chillies, halved lengthwise with seeds intact
1 small onion, chopped
A quarter tsp cumin seeds
1 tomato, sliced
3 tbs oil

For the stuffing:
1 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
A quarter tsp coarsely grated pepper powder
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp dried mango powder
1 heaped tsp masala from store bought stuffed chilli pickle, optional
Salt to taste (go slow on the salt if you add spices from pickles)

  • Wash and dry the okra with a kitchen towel.
  • Cut off the two ends and score lengthwise but keep the vegetable joined at one end.
  • Mix the spices for the stuffing. Take one okra and rub and fill with a bit of the mixed spice.
  • Continue till all the vegetables are stuffed. Keep aside.
  • Heat the oil in a pan. When it comes to smoking point, fry the green chillies. Remove. These can be used for garnishing the dish later.
  • Add the cumin seeds. As soon as they crackle, add the onions. Fry till they turn translucent.
  • Now gently add the stuffed okras and cook on a medium flame.
  • Keep covered. Add the tomatoes when the vegetables are half done.
  • Stir just a few times as over-stirring might lead to the stuffing spilling out in the pan and spices burn easily.
  • Check at regular intervals keeping the flame low to ensure that the okras do not burn.
  • Remove from the flame to a serving platter and garnish with the fried green chillies or herbs.
With red chilli powder already included in the recipe, the idea of fried green chillies may not be all that appealing. But we love that extra heat and with fried dishes, particularly with fish, fried green chillies are a must!:) All those extra spices fill the kitchen and the house with an aroma that makes you want to go grab a plate!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fried Chickpeas/Chana Yaoyaba

Chickpeas or Bengal gram are known as chana and is widely consumed all over India. The whole dried seeds have many fried and curried forms with variations from region to region.
The same chickpeas are eaten in dal form by splitting the seeds and removing the husks. The flour that we get out of this chana dal is besan which is again indispensable in Indian cooking. Starting from our ubiquitous pakoras to kadhi, to laddoos....the list goes on.
This is the way we like to have our chana and it is also cooked on all important occasions, be it a joyous or a sad one. Fried chana also goes very well with judima, the Dimasa rice wine. We also like to have the dish with puris, rotis and sticky rice.
250 grams chana, washed and soaked overnight
3 onions, grated
Half a thumb-size ginger, ground
7-8 cloves of garlic, ground
1 tsp chilli powder
1&1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder 
2 large tomatoes, sliced fine
3-4 green chillies, scored lengthwise
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
3-4 tejpatta
2-3 cardamoms, bruised
1 stick cinnamon
2 tbs mustard oil
Coriander or serrated coriander for the garnish

Put the soaked chana in a pressure cooker along with the cardamoms and cinnamon. Add some water. The level should be nearly the same as the chana. This is a dry kind of dish. Cook till it's soft but not mushy. About two whistles will do. When it's ready to be removed from the cooker, remove and drain in a colander. Reserve the water.

Heat the mustard oil in a pan. When it comes to smoking point, add the tejpatta, and then the onions and the green chillies. Fry till the onions change colour and then add the rest of the ground and powdered spices.

When the spices look done, add the sliced tomatoes. Cook till they are mushy then add the boiled and drained chana. Fry till the oil separates. Pour a bit of the reserved water and continue to cook till the chana looks good enough to be served on a plate. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with chopped herbs. If you want, you can discard the cinnamon stick and the cardamom pods before serving.
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Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Dish Of Cluster Beans/Guar Ki Sabzi

Guar ki sabzi
It's the season of cluster beans or guar/gawar as they are known in Hindi. Although I have seen them before I have never cooked them. So today this is what I made as an accompaniment to the other dishes that we had for lunch. I did look up some sites but decided to cook it the way I usually cook my vegetables. The addition of amchur/dried mango powder or tamarind pulp for that little bit of tang was in most of the recipes. I decided to go for the latter as I had a packet of tamarind in stock.

Cluster beans grow well in the northern parts of our country as well as in the western states of  Gujarat and Maharashtra. It does well in arid areas, is drought-tolerant and sun-loving. It is an annual legume and the source of guar gum. According to Wiki, in several kinds of food and beverages, guar gum is used as an additive in order to change its viscosity or as fiber source.

250 grams cluster beans,  stringed and cut into similar lengths
2 onions grated
A quarter tsp of grated ginger
A quarter tsp of chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
Half a tsp cumin powder
A quarter tsp of coarsely grated pepper
A few green chillies scored lengthwise (optional) 
Salt to taste
2 tomatoes finely chopped
Turmeric powder, as per your preference
A teaspoon of tamarind pulp
2 tbs oil

Since the beans looked tough I blanched them in boiling water first. Then I drained them and kept the aside.

  • Heat the oil in a pan. As soon as it comes to smoking point, add the onions.
  • Cook till the onions change colour then add the rest of the spices.
  • Add the drained beans. Stir well and continue to cook till the oil separates.
  • Season with salt, then add the tomatoes.
  • Add half a cup of water to make the beans more tender.
  • Cook till done. Add the tamarind pulp, stir and remove from the flame.
  • Transfer to a serving bowl and garnish with freshly chopped coriander.
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