Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Toffee Bananas

Toffee bananas
Toffee bananas
When I first saw this classic Chinese dessert on Food Safari, I couldn't wait to try it. But other recipes came in between and this one never got made. So when my sis-in-law sent me two bunches of beautiful bananas the other day, I thought I should do them justice by making this dessert. These bananas are locally known as Jahaji.
I only used one and a half.:) Receiving produce in that quantity, I have to gift some away as well. With three people in the house and one who does not have bananas, even one bunch is too much!
With bananas, the variation that is mashed and mixed with flour, sugar, cream/milk and made into fritters is a popular snack.
Coming back to the recipe, it's the one on the SBS website. The recipe is by Danny Yeum.

50 grams self-raising flour
25 grams cornflour+ extra for dusting
90 ml cold water
Vegetable oil for deep frying
2 bananas, peeled and cut into thick slices diagonally
120 grams white sugar
A bowl of iced water for 'setting' the caramel
Black and white sesame seeds for sprinkling
Ice cream to serve
I halved the recipe and left out the ice cream. Maybe another day. And since I do not usually use self-raising flour, I added a pinch of baking powder to the flour.

Whisk together the flour and the baking powder mix. Add the cornflour. Then add the water and whisk into a smooth batter. Add a teaspoon of vegetable oil in the mixture.
Heat a wok and add enough oil to fry the bananas.
Coat each banana slice in cornflour (you can toss them in the flour). Dip each banana slice in the batter and fry. The frying can be done in batches till they turn golden and crisp. Drain on a paper towel.
Place the sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat and cook till it turns into caramel. Shake the pan in between.
Remove from the heat and add one fried banana to the caramel. Turn so that all sides are coated.
Then plunge the caramel-covered banana to a bowl of iced water to harden the caramel. Drain immediately.
Remove. Repeat till all the bananas are used up.
Transfer the bananas to a serving platter and sprinkle the black and white sesame seeds on top.
The crunch of the caramel as you bite into a fried banana slice is wonderful. 
I couldn't make mine look as good as the one on that site but as for the taste, I'm happy! 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Curried Lentil Flour

Sometimes, when there is too much to be done, help comes in the form of Ali. When he comes I can sit back rest assured that the window panes need not be checked for specks of dirt or any weed in my small planting area is left unattended. He is so good at his work that he has been a godsend on several occasions. He is a daily wage earner and a father of five daughters and one son. Every time he goes home which is several hours away from our city, he brings back some fresh garden produce. In summer it's mangoes and in winter it's sweet potatoes and leafy greens. This time he brought more greens and a small packet of black lentil flour. My first thought was...fritters! But he told me that it's usually cooked into dal. 
Spiced black lentil flour
And he told me that it was spiced with chillies, turmeric, and other masalas. I took a whiff and it was aromatic in an earthy way. And the fact that it had been roasted before grinding made it even more fragrant. Since this was new to me I thought I would send this as an entry to MLLA (My Lentil Love Affair) an event being hosted for this month by one of my favourite bloggers, Rafeeda of The Big Sweet Tooth.

1/2 cup toasted and spiced black lentil flour
1 large onion, peeled and diced fine
1 medium onion peeled, sliced and fried in enough oil to a golden brown
A pinch of cumin seeds
A pinch of fenugreek seeds
1 tsp mix of garlic and ginger pastes
Salt to taste
2 green chillies, scored lengthwise
2 tejpatta
Coriander leaves for garnishing

Put the lentil flour in a bowl and add about a cup of water. Mix it till no lumps remain. Set it aside.
Heat a pan and add the oil. As soon as it comes to smoking point, add the tejpatta and the cumin and fenugreek seeds.
Add the chillies and the diced onions and the garlic/ginger paste.
Cook till the onions turn pale and then into a light brown.
Pour the flour and water mix. Add enough hot water as needed depending on the consistency that you like.
Cook for about 10-12 minutes on medium flame till it thickens slightly. It should be like a thick dal.
Switch off the flame and transfer the contents to a serving bowl.
Garnish with the coriander leaves and fried onions. 

This is excellent with both rice or rotis. I only needed another side dish. In this case it was the saag that came from Ali's garden. As you can see from the recipe that I did not use too many ingredients. But variations can always be made with this recipe too.

Linking this post to MLLA #103, conceptualized by Susan and hosted by Lisa.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Sikarni, A Nepalese Dessert

Sikarni, a Nepalese dessert
Inspiration for this dessert first came from a small book on Nepalese recipes. It was gifted to me by my sister-in-law several years ago. This picture was taken when I made it for the first time using whatever ingredients I had in my kitchen at that moment. Since then I have been experimenting quite a bit with the additions to the dessert.

Sikarni is a curd-based dessert. The time taken is in draining the whey by lining a colander with cheesecloth and leaving it to drain for 12 hours. Later it is taken out and mixed with cardamom powder, sugar or any sweetener and saffron added to warm milk. Then nuts like pistachios, almonds, and cashews are chopped and added to the mix. It goes back to the fridge and is served cold.
This goes very well with most fruits like grapes, apples, bananas, chikoos, kiwis and so on. Fruits like mangoes can be pureed and mixed to the dessert. And instead of ice cream or whipped cream, sikarni makes a nice change served as a topping with fruits.

I used 800 grams of plain store-bought yoghurt. After draining out the whey this was what I got. This weighed 369 grams.

To this, I added a bit of cardamom powder, 3 tablespoons of icing sugar and a pinch of saffron which was mixed/crushed in two tablespoons of warm milk.

This was added to the drained curd and mixed with the help of a beater. Then I used it with different pairings.

With pomegranates. 

With more oranges, seedless black grapes and nuts. 

The next day the curd took on an orange hue in some places from the saffron. I used some jamun syrup I had prepared earlier from frozen jamuns from my tree. This tasted absolutely delicious! 

I had some grated coconut left over from making pithas so I used it for a small tart shell with a coconut crust. With the similarity to labneh (till the point where the whey is drained) it made me think of how good it would be for a tart filling.:) I must say it wasn't the greatest of all pairings but I'm glad I tried it. My newest pansy to bloom took it a notch higher (looks-wise), don't you agree?

Monday, January 23, 2017

Curried French Bean Seeds

Although French beans are available throughout the year, the mature seeds are sold only in these cooler months. I picked up some the other day from the market and couldn't wait to cook this dish. The seeds that are sold are fresh and not dried. So they need not be soaked  before cooking. The dish tastes somewhat like rajma. Cooking with fresh seasonal produce is such a joy!
My backyard has been a hub of activity these past few weeks. Pickles basking in the sun, pumpkin seeds in a sieve, a tray of sesame seeds, orange peel, Indian jujube and chillies, all soaking up the sun. I feel that a little piece of my mother's backyard is surviving in mine.:) Coming back to the beans, I usually cook them like dal but this time I used some chicken stock that added much more flavour.

Ingredients: Serves 6-8
500 grams beans
500 ml chicken stock+the paste of 2 onions and 4 cloves of garlic (details given under "Method")
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 green chillies, scored lengthwise
2 large tomatoes, eyes removed and sliced
1 tbs toasted and ground coriander powder
1 tsp toasted and ground cumin powder
1 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
A quarter tsp turmeric powder
A quarter tsp grated ginger
2-3 tejpatta
1 stick cinnamon
2 bruised cardamom pods
Salt to taste
A pinch of cumin seeds
Chopped coriander leaves for the garnish
Vegetable oil, as needed
Wash the beans and transfer them to a pressure cooker. 
Pour some water. The level should be the same as the beans.
At this point I also added onion and garlic paste. Both were added to the stock earlier (I left the skin on) and these were taken out. Both were peeled and ground and the paste added to the beans.
Add the cinnamon stick and the bruised cardamoms. Add a bit of salt and cook for two whistles. The quantity of salt added at this point is not much as the stock was well seasoned.
Meanwhile heat a pan and add the vegetable oil.
Throw in the tejpatta and the cumin seeds. As soon as the seeds sputter, add the green chillies and the onions. Cook till the onions are translucent. Add the turmeric powder and cook till the raw smell goes off.
Add the tomatoes and the rest of the spices and cook till the mixture is done.
Pour the stock and add the cooked beans. Cook on a medium flame ill the mixture is homogeneous. This might take about 20 minutes.
Take out about two ladles of the cooked beans, mash them with the back of a ladle and put the mixture back to the dish. This will make the gravy thicker.
Cook till you get the consistency you desire. In my case, I needed some gravy for rice and rotis.
Switch off the flame and transfer the contents to a serving bowl. Scatter the chopped herbs on top.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Dal Jodhpuri

As in most Indian homes, dal is a staple in our house too. You just don't measure or think about the ingredients when you make regular everyday kind of food. On days I don't make dal it's usually khari or curry with enough gravy to mix with good old rice. The recipe I'm posting today is simple but delicious. A few ingredients and the addition of ghee makes it special.

And with the name Jodhpuri one can't help thinking about the amazing cuisine of Rajasthan as a whole. There aren't very many Rajasthani recipes I have made but sangri, gatte ki sabji, kadhi and laddoos have been tried, tasted and loved to bits. Writing this reminds me of our travels in Rajasthan when our boys were quite young. We did a road trip that covered 12 cities and till today that trip remains one of the most enjoyable ever!

Ingredients: Serves 3-4
1 cup chana dal
1/2 cup moong dal
A pinch of hing
3 dried chillies
Turmeric powder
Salt to taste
Cumin seeds
Coriander leaves
Dal Jodhpuri made on another occasion
Wash and soak the chana dal for about an hour. Then transfer the dal to a pressure cooker. Wash the moong dal and add it to the cooker. Add salt and turmeric powder. Add about 21/2 cups water.
Cook for a couple of whistles. Mine is a small cooker. Open the cooker after the steam goes off.
Heat the ghee in a kadhai. Add the hing, cumin seeds and dry chillies.
Pour the dal and cook for a couple of minutes. Remove from the flame and transfer contents to a serving bowl.
Garnish with coriander leaves.
This dal can be served with rice or roti. The addition of ghee makes it wonderful, flavourful and aromatic.
I didn't write the measurement for ghee as it is all about personal preferences. As for me I like to add generous dollops.:)

Monday, January 16, 2017

Beet-stained Egg Salad

Beet-stained egg salad with cucumber, home-grown greens and edible blooms
Magh Bihu, which is also known as Makar Sankranti, Lohri, and Pongal, in other parts of the country, came and went. This is a harvest festival and has agrarian roots. It's impossible not to think of the memories we grew up with associated with the festival. The preparation would start with the soaking and pounding of sticky rice for pithas. The smell of toasted sesame seeds and coconut with a hint of cardamom would fill the air. Luckily for me three of my siblings live in the same city and we often get to spend such occasions together. Over the years the number of dishes cooked have come down but fish like chital (clown knife fish) and duck is a must when we meet up. This year we feasted on two kinds of fish curries and duck with fragrant ash gourd. And there were pithas and other sweets. Pitha is the word for a sweet pancake made of rice flour and has a filling of either toasted sesame seeds sweetened with jaggery or with sweet coconut. They can also be made with all-purpose flour with a little variation in the making process.
And coming to today's recipe, I have been dying to try out these pickled eggs in beet juice. Not only do they look spectacular but the novelty of using eggs in another form was tempting enough for me to make this salad. A few days ago our temperature dipped a bit. All along we had been complaining how this winter didn't really feel like winter and it wasn't cold enough for bonfire nights. And this is also the season when edible seasonal flowers bloom and I couldn't pass up this chance of using the pansies blooming in my pots. Or the spinach plants that the sparrows have somehow spared.

I started with the beets first. They were washed and peeled and went into a pan with enough water to cover them. I put a bit of salt, a few cloves, one cinnamon stick and some peppercorns. I also added a bit of apple cider vinegar to the liquid. This was cooked until the beets were done and there was still enough liquid to 'stain' the eggs. This was cooled and went into a glass bowl. At the moment my jars are filled with Indian olive pickle which is why I used the bowl.
Four eggs were hard-boiled, cooled and shelled. Then they went into the beet mixture and into the fridge. It takes about 4-6 hours for the eggs to take on the beet hue but I thought it best to leave them overnight. The next day the other ingredients I used were:
4 beet-stained eggs, halved
1/3 cup pickled beets
1/3 cup pomegranate arils
A bunch of baby spinach
A bunch of micro-greens (I used a variety of brassica I'm growing)
1-2 sprigs of fresh basil
A few edible flowers (I used pansies)
1 small cucumber, sliced thin with the skin left on
With edible flowers, it's best to use home-grown organic ones as you don't know what pesticides might have been used in the ones available in the markets.

For the dressing:
2 tbs lemon juice
Sugar as per taste
Salt as per taste
1 tsp freshly-grated black pepper
A generous drizzle of olive oil
Mix the sugar and salt with the lemon juice in a small bowl or jar. As soon as the mixture dissolves, add the other ingredients and give it a good stir. Set aside as you prepare the salad.

Arrange the cucumber slices around the serving platter. Then do the same with the eggs. Scatter the rest of the ingredients but make sure the star ingredients are not hidden from view. Garnish with the flowers. Give the dressing another good stir and drizzle it on top of the salad. Enjoy!
I let the yolks remain as they were. If you want more elements of taste, you could take out the yolks, mix them with more salt/pepper/herbs. I liked the taste of the eggs. There was a bit of sweetness from the beets and the aromatics did their job very well!
Last year I used home-grown pansies to decorate this cake.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Stuffed Hyacinth Bean Fritters

Stuffed Hyacinth Bean Fritters

I came across this recipe sometime back and couldn't wait to try it. But I had to wait for this season when the markets are flooded with hyacinth beans in all kinds of shapes and colours. Some tend to be pale green and some come in darker shades. And there are some that have more of purple than green on them.
Like every new produce they go into fish curry, chutney, khari and into vegetable dishes. I felt there wasn't anything new I could try with them. So when I came across this recipe on Hamaree Rasoi, it made me wonder why I hadn't thought about such a recipe before.:)
Stuffed hyacinth bean fritters

A cousin brought this bunch of beans when he came over for dinner the other night. I chose the tender ones where the seeds weren't fully matured. For addition to curries, I love the mature seeds. And later, when the season ends, the seeds are sold in the markets. They can be cooked like other pulses with or without the addition of fish or meat.
For the fritters, I'm not adding the recipe in detail here. Please check the link given above. To serve 4-5 people you'll need 10-15 tender hyacinth beans. The beans were blanched till half done. Then they were drained  in a colander and then spread on a kitchen towel as I got the stuffing and the batter ready.
Different kinds of hyacinth beans & the pretty blooms
I had some left-over paste of mustard and poppy seeds for a fish curry I had made the day before. So it was convenient. I only added a tablespoon of grated coconut, a couple of green chillies and some salt and sugar for the balance. Mustard tends to be pungent if the proportion is not right.
The beans were gently prised open with the help of a knife and a bit of stuffing was placed in each. Then they were dipped in a batter of chickpea flour and rice flour to which I added some paprika, salt, and a sprinkling of nigella seeds.
Stuffed and ready to be dipped in batter and fried
The stuffed beans were dipped in the batter and fried on medium flame till golden brown on both sides. These went very well with dal, rice and a simple cucumber salad. The addition of rice flour to the batter gave it a lovely crunch as well.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Chicken Tagine With Pea Pulao

Chicken tagine with pea pulao
Chicken tagine with pea pulao and cucumber salad
Although I bought a tagine about two years ago, I had never used it. But with both boys home at the moment and New Year's celebratory feel very much in the air, I made chicken tagine today. And to go with it I preferred to team it with rice. I don't mind couscous but that's not the case with the rest of my family. The concept of cooking with minimal liquid rose out of necessity in areas where water supply is limited. The cone-shaped lid traps steam and and the condensed liquid falls back to the pot. According to Wiki, a tagine is a North African Berber dish which is named after the earthernware pot in which it is cooked. It is also called a Maraq/marqa in North Africa and the Middle East.

Since I used the tagine for the first time, I soaked it in water for several hours. The browning of the meat and the onions were done in another pot as I was a little wary of using it. But now that it's been used, I can do my entire cooking from start to finish without changing pots!:)
Clockwise, from top:The tagine, Ras-el-hanout, preserved lemons, chopped pumpkin.

I made a mix of Ras-el-hanout by adding a mix of paprika, ground pepper, cumin and coriander powder, all spice and cinnamon powder. I also used a teaspoon of chopped preserved lemon peel. This is the first time I am using preserved lemons which I bottled in salt and lemon juice about 6 weeks ago. I also added some peppercorns, cloves and a star anise to the lemons. Fragrant indeed!

550 grams chicken cut into regular pieces (I used local chicken)
3 onions, peeled and diced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed and diced
1" piece ginger, peeled and ground
2 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and sliced
3 tbs olive oil
2 tbs ras-el-hanout spice mix
A pinch of saffron
10 apricots, soaked in warm water
A handful of blanched and toasted almonds
About 2 cups of peeled and chopped pumpkin
A large bunch of chopped coriander leaves

50 minutes of cooking and this is what it looked like
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and brown the meat in batches.
Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
In the same oil, brown the onions and add the garlic and ginger. 
Fry for a few minutes till the onions turn pale.
Transfer contents to the tagine and put it on a low flame on the stove.
After five minutes, add 2 cups of hot water, give it a good stir and close the lid.
Cook for about 15 minutes then add the spices along with the saffron and the tomatoes.
Let it simmer away for about 45 minutes and then add the chopped pumpkin and the soaked apricots along with the water. 
Cook till the meat is tender and the pumpkin is soft.
Switch off the flame and scatter the chopped coriander leaves and the toasted almonds on top.
Cooking on a low flame it took almost two hours for the dish to be ready but it was well worth the effort.
Mattar pulao went very well with the chicken tagine

I loved the addition of the preserved lemon. The tang was balanced by the sweetness of the apricots. I should be moving away from curry more often and should be exploring more cuisines of the world!:)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sweet Coconut Rolls

Happy New Year, everyone! These past few days I have been scouring the internet for something coconut-ty and came across these amazing buns from Samoan cuisine. These are called Panipopo. Pani is the word for buns and popo means coconut.
I made good use of my can of coconut milk making two batches in two days. I wasn't surprised to see that the usual non-coconut-lovers in our house reach out for seconds. Which meant that I had to make another batch for my post!:)
I wonder if this happens to you as well. Some trial runs in the kitchen turn out much better than the measured-for-the-recipe types. Sigh. This is what happened to me. The first ones were softer and didn't take as long as these ones to rise. 
2 tsp yeast
1 cup coconut milk (I used the tinned variety)
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup sugar + extra to brush/sprinkle on the rolls
3 cups flour
1 egg, beaten
4 tsp melted butter + extra to grease your pan

Take a small bowl and place the yeast there. Add about 1/4 cup of lukewarm water and a pinch of sugar. Give it a gentle mix and set aside for about 10 minutes or till the froth forms on top. 
Transfer the yeast to a large bowl and add the rest of the sugar, melted butter, salt, and the beaten egg. At this point I also added half cup of coconut milk to the mixture. Use a wooden spatula to mix them all together. Add the flour, about a cup at a time. Add the rest of the flour and mix. 
The dough will be very sticky. Tip the contents on to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 7-8 minutes. Form the dough into a ball. 
Oil the bottom of the same bowl by scraping off bits and pieces of dough. Place the ball of dough in it. With the same oil, grease the top of the ball and cover with clingfilm. Set aside till the dough doubles in size. This could take about an hour.
Remove the clingfilm and gently form the risen dough into a ball. Then roll out into a strip and cut out similar sizes to form into rolls. Place each bun on a greased baking tin. Repeat till the dough is used up.
Cover the tin with a kitchen towel till the rolls double in size. This will take about 30 minutes.

Give your coconut milk a good stir and pour it over the buns. I first used a brush and sprinkled the sugar on top. Then I realised it was better to pour the milk on top and let it drizzle down too.
Bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 20 minutes or till the surface is golden brown.
The quantity of the ingredients given here made 9 rolls. The last one which did not fit in the pan went into a tiny pie dish.
You might not need the entire cup of milk as mentioned in this recipe. In my case I finished the remaining milk by pouring it in the small pie dish.
I couldn't wait to try them out the moment they cooled down a bit. They were fluffy and soft but not too sweet. The coconut milk made such a difference. And need I say that the aroma that filled the house was amazing??