Monday, September 26, 2016

Banana Flower Fritters

After a pretty long gap it's fritters again but with banana blossoms. I had wanted to post about mini apple pies but they didn't turn out photogenic. Nevertheless they were consumed with vanilla ice-cream. And I'm glad I made just a few with left-over pastry dough I had in the fridge. So when my husband came back from a trip to the ol' hometown I was delighted with the haul of pumpkin, ash gourd, eggplants, green papayas, bamboo shoots and chillies!
Apart from our pungent chutneys, another popular way of using banana flowers is making them into fritters. This is time-consuming as you have to clean each floret by removing the pistil and the papery calyx. You can see the process of cleaning in the pictures below. But the result is absolutely worth it. First the red bracts are removed. Not all banana flowers have red bracts. Some, depending on the variety, have cream-coloured (with a tinge of green) bracts.
Fresh flowers have bracts that are tightly enclosed. To make this job easier, take the banana flower and turn it upside down. Give the tip a hard thwack on your chopping board/counter top. This will loosen the bracts and it will be easy to remove them.
From each bract, remove the florets. Take each floret and remove the pistil and the papery calyx. Set the cleaned ones aside.
When you get to the bracts where the pistil is still tender, you can use the entire 'heart' without discarding anything. It's unpleasant to have to remove a hard pistil from a cooked dish but with tender ones, one can't tell.

1 banana flower (cleaning process described above)
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 large onion
A few chopped chillies
1 piece of ginger
Salt to taste
About a quarter tsp  baking powder
Oil to fry
If you want you could place the florets in a bowl of acidic water so that that they do not turn dark. In my case I didn't do this as the frying would brown them anyway. For this recipe I used a single blossom. The 'heart' was halved and boiled with the rest of the florets.
Heat enough water in a pan and let it come to a boil. Add the cleaned florets and the 'heart' if using.
Boil for a few minutes and remove. Drain in a colander.
After the florets are drained, transfer them to a plate. Use a potato masher and mash into a rough mix. Set aside. I got 11/4 cup of mashed florets.
Peel and finely chop one onion. Chop a few green/red chillies and a thumb-sized piece of ginger. 
Add some chopped herbs. I used a small bunch of serrated coriander and set some aside for the garnish.
Add all the above to the mashed florets.
Add 1/2 cup of besan/chickpea flour. There is no need to add any water as there is enough moisture in the mix.
Add the baking powder and season with salt. Mix well.
Make small balls of the mixture. If you like you can flatten them too.
Heat enough oil in a kadhai to fry the fritters.
Add a few at a time on a medium flame turning twice/thrice so that the fritters are evenly cooked. A high flame will brown them easily and the centre might remain raw.
Remove the cooked fritters with a slotted spoon and place them on a paper-lined plate.
Garnish with chopped herbs.
There are only a few additions in these fritters but the taste from the onions and ginger, the herbs and chillies is enough. The ginger which was freshly harvested had a zing that seemed better than other times.:)

We like to have these fritters with rice, dal and another vegetable dish. Which is why a sauce is not necessary. However if you want to serve this as a snack, a dhania/pudina chutney tastes goes really well.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Falafel Scotch Eggs

Falafel Scotch eggs
Falafel Scotch eggs with tahini sauce
I am hooked to falafels now. It's so much about the eating as in the making. My son loves Middle Eastern dishes and not a crumb goes to waste! One good thing is that chickpeas are so often used in my kitchen that any dish with this ingredient gets made. A few years ago I'd have given it a miss and would have settled down to good old pakodas...Ready-made chickpea flour with additions that are always ready in every Indian kitchen.:) But I'm so glad that blogging has created this interest to learn more and in the process even find out similarities in cuisines that's half a world away.
Coming back to this recipe, the ones with eggs were something I hadn't tried before.

The eggs:

6 eggs
Place the eggs in a pan of water. Let it come to a boil. After 5 minutes, switch off the flame and transfer the eggs to a bowl of iced water in order to stop the cooking process. Shell and set them aside.
250 grams chickpeas/Kabuli chana (soaked overnight)
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
Freshly grated black pepper, as per taste
1 tsp baking powder
Salt to taste
3 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 bunch of coriander leaves and stems, chopped
3 green chillies (optional)
Vegetable oil to fry
Drain the chickpeas and coarsely grind them in the mixer. I added the salt, garlic, chillies and pepper as well.
Remove and transfer contents to a bowl.  
Season with salt and add the baking powder, all-purpose flour and the chopped leaves and stems of coriander. Throw in the chopped onions and mix well.
Take a walnut-sized ball of this doughy batter and place one egg in the centre and cover with the mixture until no white bit is seen.
Heat enough oil in a kadhai. Gently drop a teaspoon of the mix in the oil to test whether it holds its shape or breaks. 
Tested one in the hot oil. It remains intact and I'm good to go...
Add one falafel egg ball and fry on a medium flame so that it is evenly cooked, turning once or twice for even browning.
Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper.
Repeat till all the falafel egg balls are fried.
Snack on these when still warm dipping them into a sauce.

There are other additions in falafel Scotch egg recipes. You could use breadcrumbs and an egg in the mix. But since the batter held and did not give away, I went ahead as I did with the regular falafel recipe. The balls remained intact without showing any signs of disintegrating in the kadhhai.
Whereas the eggs are supposed to be runny I somehow couldn't achieve this despite checking the time while cooking them.:( 
Not all of the batter was used. I'll finish it off by making the regular ones.

I made tahini sauce that goes very well with these falafel Scotch eggs.
100 grams white sesame seeds
Salt to taste
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
In a tawa, toast the sesame seeds till they give out a nutty flavour. Make sure the seeds do not burn as this makes them acrid.
Set aside to cool.
Blitz all the ingredients in a grinder. Adjust the oil to the  consistency that you prefer.
Before serving, you could scatter chopped herbs on top of the sauce.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Roasted Beetroot Raita

Roasted Beet Raita
Roasted Beet Raita
This raita was on my mind for a while. But it so happens that beetroot does not feature that often in my kitchen. On the occasions that I cook it, it's usually in roasted form and in salads. The other day I made a simple soup and the two remaining beets were used for this dish.

2 small beetroots, roasted in the oven
11/2 cups thick yogurt
Rock salt to taste
A pinch of fine sugar
A dash of cumin powder, toasted and ground
1 small green chilli, chopped fine
Some chopped mint leaves and a couple of sprigs for the garnish

While baking bread, I tossed in two small beets in the oven for about 25 minutes. After the beets cooled down I removed the skin, cut them up and blitzed them.  I did leave a few pieces for the garnish.
Beat the yogurt till creamy.
Add the blitzed beets, rock salt, chilli, cumin and the sugar. Whisk again.
Chill for about 20-30 minutes.
Before serving, decorate with the remaining pieces of sliced beets and mint leaves. 
This raita goes very well with pulao, biryani and Indian flat breads.

Other beet recipes on my blog:
Roasted Beet & Plum Salad
Beetroot Brownies  
Cherry Tomato & Roasted Beet Salad

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eggplant Chutney/Phanthao Shaphinyaba

Shongdima, Dimasa food, phanthao naphlam, bakhor
Eggplant chutney with fermented fish & serrated coriander

Every year around this time, our newspapers include pictures of grass blooms that herald the onset of autumn. The grass, Saccharum spontaneum, is known as kohua in Assamese and kans in Hindi. It won't be too long before our planting season starts, the soil will no longer be soggy, and we'll wake up to misty and dewy mornings. Looking forward to tomatoes and leafy greens from my small gardening space. Comforting thoughts...
On the front page of The Assam Tribune this morning
Across the world there are recipes of mashed eggplants in some form or the other. It’s the additions that make them unique to that particular cuisine. Baingan bharta and baba ganoush come to mind. In our region the simple mash of roasted eggplant with the usual seasonings and a drizzle of mustard oil tops the list. Another way that I often make is a chutney of roasted and mashed eggplants with the addition of fermented fish. I know this post should have come with a warning...acquired taste!!

Ingredients: This serves 4
450 grams tender medium-sized eggplants
1 onion, peeled and sliced thin
6-7 green chillies
2 whole large-sized fermented fish
4-5 serrated coriander leaves, chopped fine
1/2 tsp alkali 
Salt to taste
The mashed vegetable, onions, roasted chillies /fish& serrated coriander

Cut off the tops of the eggplants. Prick with a fork in a few places and rub oil on them.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 30 minutes or till a skewer inserted offers no resistance.
Remove and cool so that the skin can be easily removed from the vegetable.
Mash with the back of a ladle or a potato masher.
Heat a tawa and place the chillies on it. Make a slit in each chilli or else they will burst in the heat. Cook till they are done and turn them around a couple of times during the cooking process. The skin should be charred in places.
Remove them and set aside to cool. In the same tawa, place the fermented fish.
Roast on both sides till done. This will take a couple of minutes. Set aside.
Transfer the cooked fish to a bowl and add the alkali. This will enable you to mix the roasted fish well. Mix with the back of a tablespoon. Season with salt.
Add the mashed eggplant and the sliced onions. Chop the chillies and add them too.
Lastly add the chopped herbs and mix again. You can scatter more herbs on top before serving.
This is best with rice. Other servings could well include dal, alu sabji and fried fish.:)
Alkali is made from the ash of certain plants like banana, sesame or black lentils
The eggplants looked tender but as soon as I handled them I saw that the seeds were already mature. So I blitzed the flesh for a minute just to make it smooth and creamy. For tender ones, the back of a ladle is a tool that is good enough.
Traditionally, eggplants are steamed in a colander or roasted on hot coals. The latter has a smoky flavour that takes the dish to another level. But since I use my oven so often, I like baking them before they are made into this chutney.
As for the garnish, coriander leaves as well as the leaves of bahanda, a variety of basil that goes so well with dishes that include fermented fish.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Braided Bread, Pesto & Labneh

Braided bread, pesto & labneh
September means the beginning of the end of summer. And it's a thought that brings joy! This month it's going to be mostly about bread and apples. I have been on a pinning spree and came across the most fabulous breads on Pinterest. Since our cuisine includes only flat breads that are easier and take less time to make, it's only in recent years that I have discovered the joys of baking bread. Like pies, I find the lattices and the braids so fascinating that I think bread will occupy most of this space in September.
To go with the bread I had made a chickpea, lentil and quinoa soup but it didn't look photogenic at all so I haven't included it here. But I had also made pesto and labneh as I love both as an accompaniment to freshly-baked bread.

3 cups all-purpose flour+ extra for dusting
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant yeast
1 cup warm water
1 tsp fine sugar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil+ extra for greasing the bowl and the ball of dough
A mix of seeds like white and black sesame, flax seeds and melon seeds for the topping
1 egg yolk, beaten, for the egg wash
Butter to grease the loaf tin
The stages of making this braided bread
  • Pour the warm water in a bowl. The water must not be too hot or else it will kill the yeast. Add the sugar and the yeast. Give a mix and set aside for about 10 minutes. It will be ready when the yeast froths up. 
  • Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture. Add the oil.
  • Mix well. Tip the contents on a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes till the dough is smooth and elastic.
  • Scrape off the bits of dough from the large bowl, pour about a tsp of oil and spread it on bottom surface of the bowl.
  • Take the kneaded dough and place it in the bowl. Rub the oil in your hand on the surface of the ball.
  • Cover with a kitchen towel and keep in a warm place for the dough to double in size. This may take about 45 minutes to an hour.
  • I usually place the dough near my kitchen window where it's warmed by the morning sunlight streaming in. 
  • Tip the dough on to a floured surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes.
  •  With your hands, roll out the dough in an elongated shape on your work surface and cut into 3 equal parts. 
  • Again with your hands roll out the three parts into long strips. The length should be a little longer than your loaf tin as plaiting the strips will shorten it a bit. But it will snugly fit into the tin.
  • Join one end of the strips and plait. When you come to the end, do the same, that is, join the ends.
  • Lift the plait and place it on your greased loaf tin.
  • Cover it (I used the same large bowl for this purpose) and let it prove for another 20 minutes or so.
  • Brush with beaten egg yolk and scatter your choice of seeds on the surface of the loaf.
  • Bake at 180C in a preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or till the loaf is golden. Tap it to see whether it sounds hollow.
  • Remove. After 10 minutes or so take it out from the tin and place on a cooling rack. 
A generous slathering of labneh on the bread
I had this when it was still warm with a generous slathering of labneh (recipe here) topped with fresh mint from my overgrown container and ruby-red pomegranate arils. Another slice was with freshly-made pesto. The recipe in my pesto post uses almonds and no cheese. This time I used pine nuts rather than almonds. My basil plants are still going strong and I have also dried the leaves for future use. The soup was all right in taste except that it didn't look photograph-worthy.;)