Showing posts with label Nuts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nuts. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Carrot Almond Halwa

Sometimes it is only a mental block that keeps me from trying recipe variations. For instance, I am so accustomed to dairy-based Indian desserts that wrapping my head around vegan Indian desserts can befuddle me. A few years ago, I cooked lunch for a group of vegan guests. The appetizers, main dishes, salads and sides all were a breeze but I tripped up while planning dessert and  resignedly served a platter of fruit.

Vaishali's posts are doing much to help me make vegan versions of Indian desserts- she makes delectable vegan halwas of every hue with no dairy in sight. Using her gajar halwa as my inspiration, I made this version yesterday. To mimic the gritty texture of cooked-down milk/khoya, I used some almond meal.

Gajar Halwa That Just Happens To Be Vegan

(serves 4)
  1. Shred 2 lbs. organic carrots using a hand grater or a food processor.
  2. In a heavy pan, heat 2 tbsp. Earth Balance buttery spread.
  3. Saute the carrots until bright red.
  4. Stir in 1 cup almond milk and 4 tbsp. almond meal (or finely ground almonds).
  5. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture reduces and the carrots are cooked.
  6. Stir in 1 tsp. cardamom and sugar to taste (I only needed a quarter cup or so).

The taste of the gajar halwa was wonderful. It is light and nutty and something I will be making again and again, whether or not I have vegan guests.
I shared this halwa at a cook-out last night with a group of St. Louis food bloggers. We met in the incredible teaching kitchen of the Kitchen Conservatory (candyland for foodies), and I'm so glad Alanna put in the time and effort to organize this event. St. Louis has many creative and clever food bloggers. They do all sorts of fun things like keep bees and grow garlic and match shelter dogs to families!
If you are a food blogger, have you met other food bloggers in your city?
On The Bookshelf

I read more than my fair share of novels and magazines, but one of my favorite genres will always be non-fiction. They say truth is stranger than fiction and I certainly believe that based on the non-fiction I've read.

When written with humor and expertise, non-fiction books can give us a crash course in a serious academic discipline and connect abstract concepts in maths and science and technology with real life. I recently read The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow and it was a most entertaining glimpse into the role of statistics in everyday life. Another highly fascinating and riveting read was The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, which is a great detective story of a physician chasing a microbe (and sparking off the science of epidemiology) even though he did not even know it at the time.

This morning I awoke at 4 AM to finish reading Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, the real story of a family in the days following Hurricane Katrina. Eggers is a talented writer. The story is written so simply but the narrative is gripping and you get deeply engaged with the characters as the story progresses. I highly recommend this book.

There are two non-fiction books that I read in recent months that had rich and meaningful content but where the writing was unfortunately very jagged and rambling, in my opinion, which took away from the reading experience. These were Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen about one man's struggle to build schools in remote regions of Central Asia and Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about the life and work of Paul Farmer in bringing healthcare to the most impoverished regions of Haiti. But these are the kinds of books that are worth reading, because they make me want to do something meaningful and with my life and stop making excuses already.

Next on the non-fiction list, I'm going to start with a  memoir called In Hanuman's Hands by Cheeni Rao; I read Kamini's stunning review of the book and checked it out from the library this weekend.

Have you read any interesting non-fiction lately?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

I Dream of Summer: Pistachio Kulfi

By the time mid-February rolls around, people around here get very fidgety. And by people, I mean me. It feels like winter has been around for years, and I am eager to bypass the next few weeks on the calendar and head straight for April or May, when the fresh produce finally hits the markets and when I can go for a walk without 10 minutes of coat-buttoning and scarf-wrapping.

When friends invited us for pizza night at their home yesterday,  I decided to stop whining about the weather and cheer myself up by making one of my favorite summer desserts, kulfi. Kulfi, an Indian frozen dessert, is traditionally made by evaporating the heck out of whole milk, constantly stirring it for hours, until it reduces to a thick slurry, then adding sugar and spices like cardamon and saffron, or nuts or fruits. Unlike custard-based ice creams, kulfi does not contain eggs. The taste is sublime, rich and creamy, closer to Italian gelato than to aerated ice cream.

My happiest kulfi memories are from Chowpatty beach in South Bombay, where my family loyally patronizes one tiny kulfi shop. Their malai kulfi, the most basic flavor, is sublime but I really enjoy the mixed kulfi, where you get to enjoy small slabs of different flavors- kesar pista (saffron pistachio), orange, strawberry and mango- all on one dish (like one of the plates in this pic).

The traditional method for making kulfi is very labor intensive, and certain short-cuts have been devised to make the process easier on the home cook. You can start off with evaporated milk, sold in cans in supermarkets all over the US, and also use cornflour (cornstarch) as a thickener to help the process along, like in the rose kulfi I posted before. In the US, people have come up with kulfi recipes that use supermarket ingredients and don't involve any cooking at all, and that's the method I used when I made this fig walnut kulfi.

Kulfi is usually just poured into molds and frozen, without using an ice cream maker, which is very lucky because I don't own one anyway. But I did blend it a few times during the freezing process to get rid of most of the ice crystals since my milk mixture was not as thick as it could have been.

PS: I am going through an unfortunate food phase where I want to add rose water to everything. That's why this particular kulfi has Persian flavors reminiscent of falooda. But add saffron for a more traditional version.

Pistachio Kulfi
(for about 6 servings)

1) In a heavy pan, combine
1 12 oz. can evaporated milk
2 cups milk (I used 2%)

2) Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture is reduced by a third or so. Be sure to scrape all the milk solids at the side of the pan into the mixture.

3) Dissolve 2 tsp. cornstarch (cornflour) in 2 tbsp. cold milk. Stir it into the boiling mixture and let it cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture thickens.

4) Turn off the heat. Stir in
23 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
13 cup pistachios, toasted lightly and ground to a fine powder
1 cup cream
1 tsp. cardamom powder
1 large pinch of saffron OR 2 tsp. rose water

5) Let the mixture cool. Pour it into a sturdy lidded container and place in the freezer. Let it chill for 2 hours, then remove it from the freezer every hour and churn it with a spatula to break up the ice crystals. Do this 4-5 times, then let the kulfi freeze until you serve it.

For a variation, set the kulfi in popsicle molds instead.

The homemade pizzas that our friends served were more delicious than anything I have eaten in a pizzeria- they made 3 delicious variations, including an unusual one with barbecue sauce and a topping of onions and peppers. The cool creamy kulfi was an enjoyable end to the meal.

***  ***  ***

I read this interesting article today that talks about something that's on my mind a lot- thinking of how much trash I generate while going about everyday life when so many things we touch are thrown away within minutes. The post mentions the "psychological hurdle" of doing things that are different from the norm and I found myself nodding in agreement. For myself, I believe that every single little thing does count. I am not naive enough to believe that I am saving the planet by mopping spills with a dishcloth instead of a paper towel. And I am not cynical enough to think that small everyday habits don't accumulate to make us more aware and more conscious of our actions.

I still can't get myself to bring containers everywhere. When I bought a cup of hot chocolate on Friday, it did come in a lidded cup that I tossed in the trash. I have a long way to go.

But here's one action that has become second nature for me- taking my own bags to the grocery store and to produce markets. My pet peeve used to be those thin plastic bags that you use for produce. I knitted myself a sleeve (pattern here) to organize all my produce bags, and now I reuse them. If a bag gets soiled after a few uses, it gets one final use, to pick up after the dog, and then ends up in the trash.
The picture below is stash of bags that I have finally learned to grab every single time I go to the store. I have learned to say, "Thank you, but I'll use my own bags" quickly before the cashier starts to bag my groceries. There have been a few times when the store clerk has glared at me and made me feel like a trouble maker. But more often, they are very accommodating. And other shoppers sometimes notice my bags and remark that they should try to remember to bring their own bags too. It is one small step.

Have you made any small change in your life to make it less wasteful? Share it in the comments- I'm always looking for new ideas.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sweet Comforts and Candied Treats

Last weekend, I made two desserts that are both extremely popular and simple to make, but that I had somehow never got around to making before.

It started with a conversation with a friend last month when the subject of Indian restaurant buffets came up and she confessed that she was in love with Indian-style rice pudding; enough to go back for second and third helpings whenever she found rice kheer served in the buffet line-up. When this friend made dinner for us this Sunday (a delicious meal where the centerpiece was tangy-spicy vegetarian Filipino adobo), I remembered the conversation and put together a big bowl of kheer to take over to her.


Kheer, soft and milky as baby food, comforting and sweet, is one of those desserts that features in a majority of Indian cuisines, often as the official dessert of festive occasions or a quick celebratory sweet to celebrate a birthday or a good report card.

The kheer I grew up eating and have made dozens of times is the one with seviyan/vermicelli, as in this recipe I have posted before. This was a good excuse to try something different and make some creamy kheer with rice instead of vermicelli. This is a quick stove-top dessert made with pantry ingredients.

I used the simple and straightforward recipe from Enjoy Indian Food as my guide (thank you, Meera!) and here's how I made the rice kheer. This made 4 servings (large rice kheer-fan portions, plus a tiny bit left over for a treat for my friend the next day).


1. Grease a heavy pot with a few drops of oil.

2. Add
4 cups 2% milk
13 cup Basmati rice (rinsed well and drained).
Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often until the rice is almost cooked through.

3. Add
12 heaped cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
a hefty pinch of saffron
1 tsp. cardamom powder

4. Cook for 10 min on medium-low heat, stirring often. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool down.

5. Stir in 2 tsp. rose water. Garnish with toasted pistachios. Chill and serve.

Ever since I bought a bottle of rose water a few weeks ago, I am in love with it! In this case, it added a wonderful exotic aroma to the dessert. The rice kheer was simply divine. We enjoyed every single spoonful.

I am sending this to this month's Sugar High Friday- the 61st edition has the theme of Sweet Comforts, hosted at A Merrier World.

Here's another quick and simple dessert I made last weekend to take to a trivia game and share with my team- strawberries in a dark chocolate shell. I rarely buy strawberries, least of all in the middle of winter, but bought these when I had guests expected for a brunch that never materialized because of the kitchen repair woes (yes, it is all fixed now and life is back to normal).


I used a bar of dark chocolate, melted it in a deep bowl in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring to melt the chocolate without scorching it. Then I dipped the strawberries (that had been washed and dried thoroughly beforehand) and placed them on parchment and then in the fridge for the chocolate shell to form. Because I was worried about the sweetness, I sprinkled a little granulated sugar on each strawberry. I wanted more chocolate per strawberry so I did not let the excess chocolate drip away, that's why my strawberries are stuck in dark chocolate puddles.


*** *** ***

As we go on with our normal lives, life in Haiti has been turned upside down by a devastating earthquake. Let's share a little and give what we can to help the rescue efforts. Click on the link to Doctors Without Borders on the right sidebar.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Standardized Granola

If you do something often enough, you end up being able to do it in your sleep. Here is a recipe for granola that I make very often and usually first thing in the morning, around 5:30 AM, so I can make it in my sleep, both literally and figuratively.

V chomps his way through so much granola that it would be criminal to buy the expensive packaged stuff. I started off with a fairly typical recipe years ago, and then discovered this oil-free recipe. We thought the oil-free version was so much crunchier and tastier than the other recipe- how often does that happen, right? I have recipes for chocolate granola, applesauce granola and peanut butter granola in my bookmarks folder, but this is the only one I make over and over again.

I wanted to note down my standardized version here for future reference. I photographed it right on my beat-up, blackened-with-use, much-loved sheet pan.


1. Preheat oven to 325 F and lightly grease a full sheet pan.

2. In a large bowl, mix
- 3 heaped cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 heaped cup chopped nuts (walnuts/cashews/pistachios/almonds/pecans)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon powder

3. In a glass measuring cup, mix
- scant ¼ cup sugar
- dollop of molasses
- ½ tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. water
Microwave for 30-50 seconds (keep an eye on it!) until the sugar dissolves into a syrup. Remove the syrup and stir in 1 tsp. vanilla extract (it might splatter so be very careful).

4. Add the sugar syrup to the oats/nuts mixture and stir well to coat them uniformly.

5. Spread the mixture on the sheet pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring 2-3 times in between.

6. Once the pan is out of the oven, immediately stir
- handful of dried berries
- handful of chopped candied orange peel
- 3 tbsp. wheat germ
- 1 cup store-bought cereal (I use honey nut O's...this addition of cereal is optional. I like it for the added crunch and texture).

7. Let the granola cool completely before storing it at room temperature in an airtight container.

Serve with cold milk in summer and warm milk in winter. I prefer drowning granola in chocolate almond milk myself.

By the way, the vegetable from the last post is called Zephyr Squash- it is a hybrid.


Garden Dreamer guessed it right! To everyone who played along, thank you.

Canine Update

As promised, an update on Dale- here you see him sitting in the back seat of our car, catching his breath, heading back home after a long Sunday evening walk in Forest Park.

With Dale, everything is a journey and a process. When we first got him home, he was traumatized by his neglect and abuse of his early life and terrified of anything new. Getting him into a car so we could take him places was an ordeal that involved kicking (from him), screaming (from me) and scratches all around- I'm trying to erase those episodes from my memory. Today, Dale is a changed dog. Now it has gotten to the point where he runs to the car and wants to be driven everywhere. He lords it over the back seat and sticks his head out of the window, ears flapping madly in the wind. Pets teach us so much, and Dale has definitely given us an important life lesson: sometimes, you need to give someone time and patience and after second, third, fourth chances, they will come around. Just because you are afraid of something at first does not mean you have to fear it forever.

If you are a dog lover, you simply have to read Dana Jennings' essay in the NYT about lessons from the family dog. But beware, his essays are so touching and beautifully written that you might start weeping helplessly wherever you are.

Currently reading...

The book right on top of the pile (29 gifts) is interesting in concept; the writing is just so-so. It is the story of a woman recovering from a debilitating illness whose spiritual adviser gives her an unusual "prescription" that comes from an African tradition. She is to give away a gift every day for 29 days with intention and thoughtfulness in order to see changes in her own life. This is a challenge I'd love to take on one of these days.

See you in a few!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Bookmark Project: Creamy Basil Pasta

Shopping for produce in the summer months is a highly rewarding activity. Instead of frowning at shrink-wrapped fruits, wrinkling my nose at limp sickly veggies and sighing at the far-away places that all the stuff is shipped from, in summer I am usually squealing with delight at the fresh local produce that always results in lucky "finds".

On one recent trip, we came home carrying an armload of basil, quite literally. It was bigger than most bouquets I have seen- I had no idea basil could grow that big or have stems that thick. I bought the bunch quite greedily and readily, and plunged it into a vase when I got home, and then bit my lip and said, uh oh. Now I had to think of something to make with all that basil. And I had to think fast, because the poor basil leaves were wilting by the minute in the merciless heat.

My bookmark folder came to the rescue- it contained a recipe involving fresh basil that came highly recommended. My dear friend Cathy told me about this recipe exactly one year ago and I dutifully bookmarked it. The weeks went by, basil went out of season and the bookmark waited patiently for the next summer to arrive. Now, by some propitious alignment of the celestial bodies, I finally had all the ingredients on hand- fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil, raw cashews and whole wheat linguini.

Once these few ingredients are sitting on the kitchen counter, you are only minutes away from a fantastic meal. The pasta boils away, the sauce take a spin in the food processor and a quick simmer with fried garlic, and that's that- dinner is served!


I followed the recipe closely, only adding an extra fresh tomato and 2 tablespoons of pasta sauce instead of the tomato paste because that's what I had on hand. I used white wine to thin down the sauce a little. I've been amazed by Lolo of Vegan Yum Yum before (remember the knit cupcakes?) but now I'm convinced of her brilliance. Her Super Quick Tomato Basil Cream Pasta is super in all kinds of other ways, being super rich and super creamy and super vegan, not to mention super duper yummy ;) Promise me you will try this recipe. Cathy, I owe you one!

I used a handful of fresh basil leaves for that pasta, and still had, oh, about an armful left! V and I spent the afternoon making pesto, filling it into little tubs and stacking them in the freezer. A bit of research led me to the Everyday Food site and this pesto recipe designed specially for the freezer. I liked the idea of blanching the basil very briefly in boiling water to preserve the color. It also wilted the basil and made it easier to pack into the food processor. Freezer pesto is made without parmesan- that can be added later after thawing, if desired. We followed the recipe as directed to make a big batch of pesto.

We did use pine nuts in this recipe, and they were fine, but these days, I seem to be reading of that weird pine nut mouth thing everywhere, so I'm going to think twice about eating them from now on.


I must say having my own stash of pesto in the freezer makes me feel very smug and domestic goddess-y! I simply thaw a tub overnight in the refrigerator and it is fresh and tasty even when thawed. We have been using it for pesto pasta salad, as a sandwich spread and simply slathered on good toast.

This celebration of fragrant basil is off to Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted by Haalo this week.

I'll leave you with a picture of our intrepid hiker Dale. This dog won't play in the dog run, looks annoyed if you ask him to "fetch" and naps the whole time he is at home, BUT he absolutely loves to walk. He can hike for hours and is surprisingly sure-footed (which, of course, is easier if you have four feet). On Saturday, we popped over next door to lllinois and Dale spent all morning leading us through Pere Marquette state park.

I'll be back with my first attempt at an Argentinean recipe (perhaps the only Argentinean thing a vegetarian can eat?!). See you then.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Shengdana Chutney

We have a snow day today! That can mean only one thing- I have time to log on and ramble on and write a post. This is an entry for My Legume Love Affair, an event hosted by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook. I have been indulging in a not-so-secret love affair with legumes for most of my life, and hardly could pass on an opportunity for this PDA :D

Often disparagingly called the Poor Man's Meat, the family of lentils, including peas, lentils and beans, are finally being recognized as the culinary gold that they are. Full of fiber, iron and protein, and low in fat- they are a tasty way to break away from a meat-guzzling diet ( as Mark Bittman calls it) and into one that places a high value on plant-based foods. Legumes are some very selfless and community-minded plants: as they grow, they convert atmospheric nitrogen into "fertilizer" and enrich the soil. Remember the nitrogen cycle from elementary school science class?

I never met a bean or a lentil that I did not love, but my heart belongs to peanuts! Well, those peanuts too, but mainly these:
Yes, although peanuts are classified as nuts in the kitchen, they are botanically part of the legume family- rather unusual members of this family because they grow under the ground. In fact, one of the common Marathi names for peanuts is bhui-moog which literally translates as earth-beans (am I right?); the other, more common name is shengdana.

I grew up in a peanut-growing region of Maharashtra (in fact, a region that grows all sorts of cash crops like sugarcane, cotton, peanuts, tobacco in abundance, and has the prosperity to show for it), so peanuts have always been a big part of my life. In season, when fresh newly-dug peanuts arrive on the market (with dark soil still caked over the shells), it is time for one of life's greatest edible pleasures: boiled peanuts! Peanut oil is the natural choice for a cooking medium. Even today, my mother buys peanut oil straight from a refinery- every few months, she hops in her car with two stainless steel jerry cans, drives to a tiny oil-pressing unit in the heart of town and waits as they fill the cans with still-warm peanut oil. It is sold by the kilogram. The peanut residue, which remains quite nutritious, is pressed into cakes and fed to cattle (who also live in the heart of town with their owners). Only in Kolhapur!

Recently, my love for peanuts was intensified even more when I heard a talk by a local doctor who is doing some incredible work in the African nation of Malawi- he has developed a peanut-based ready-to-eat paste that has shown impressive results in being to rescue severely malnourished children. I admire a lot of things about this Project Peanut Butter, including the fact that locally produced peanuts are being bought to make this nutritious paste, thus helping the local economy while saving tiny lives (the majority of food relief programs rely on surplus cheap grain being shipped in from far away).

Today, I am making a dry peanut chutney, one of a family of dry chutneys that are very popular in Maharashtrian homes. A scoop of flavorful chutney can liven up even the simplest of meals. It is actually very similar to a number of chutneys I have written about before, such as this garlicky one. This one is heavy on the peanuts, but also contains other flavors that I love, such as coconut and sesame and garlic and coriander, in a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fashion. I have tweaked the proportions over countless batches to get the taste that I happen to like the most. Use my proportions, or feel free to tweak them to your own taste. I often make this chutney to give as a small gift from my kitchen, and most people who taste it seem to like it.

Shengdana Chutney
(Dry Peanut Chutney)


1 C peanuts, roasted lightly and skinned
2 T sesame seeds
2 T unsweetened dry coconut flakes
4-5 dried red chillies (or to taste)
10-15 fresh curry leaves
2 garlic cloves (optional)
1 T coriander seeds
1 t cumin seeds
1-2 t tamarind pulp (not paste) (optional)
2 t sugar (or to taste)
1 t salt (or to taste)
1. Heat a heavy skillet (low-medium heat) and add the peanuts first. When they are lightly browned, add the sesame seeds, coconut, chillies, curry leaves, garlic, coriander and cumin. Keep stirring and roasting until all the ingredient are toasty and fragrant.
2. Let the mixture cool down completely (the curry leaves will be crispy and dry by then). Place in a food processor/ mixie bowl with the tamarind, sugar and salt. Process until the mixture is uniformly powdered. Keep processing until the oil starts to be extracted from the peanuts and the chutney starts to clump together (not until it becomes peanut butter, mind you). Taste for a balance of flavors and adjust them if necessary.
3. Store in an air-tight bottle at room temperature for 3-4 weeks or so. This recipe yields about a medium jar of chutney- perfect for a family of 2-4.

How do you enjoy this chutney? Let me count the ways...
1. Spread on little buttered crackers to make chutney toasts like in the picture above. They make great little snacks!
2. Stir into yogurt for an instant dip.
3. Sprinkle on hot buttered toast for a spicy breakfast treat.
4. Eat as a podi with ghee and rice.
5. Mix with untoasted sesame oil to make a chutney for idlis and dosas.
6. Serve in a little heap as an accompaniment to any home-style meal such as dal and rice, yogurt rice or chapati and vegetables. This is the way it is traditionally served.
And creative readers mentioned other ways of enjoying it
7. Sprinkle on pizza instead of red pepper flakes (Bee)
8. Sprinkle on buttered bread, then toast the bread on a tava (Shankari)
9. Add some yogurt to the chutney and enjoy with poli/chapati//fulkas (Anjali, Manasi)
10. Eat with hot poli/chapati and ghee (Musical)
10. Eat with vada pav (Pooja)
11. Eat with dhokla (Coffee)
12. Use as a masala over shallow fried green chillies (Roshni)

Enjoy your weekend!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tea-Tinged Truffles

I'm still in the midst of "eating down the pantry", as Lydia put it, although I did go shopping for some perishables like eggs and milk last night. Meanwhile, let me tell you about these chocolate truffles that I made as a contribution to the New Years Eve feast that our neighbor had invited us to.

Now that I have discovered how easy and fun it is to make confections at home, I can't seem to stop myself. But these truffles were a joy to put together, with a short ingredient list, and no fiddly techniques involved, but results that looked quite impressive. The only thing is to pay attention to the proportion of cream to chocolate: too much cream, and the truffles won't hold their shape; too little cream and the mixture will harden too much and be difficult to roll. A mixture of milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate works well because it has a good balance of sweetness and pure chocolate taste. I buy chocolate in 3.5 oz bars, and it was convenient for me to use a bar of each type of chocolate to make these truffles.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs- The Perfect Pantry. While Lydia flavored hers with coffee, I was loyal to my tea-loving self and flavored these truffles with tea and tea masala. I had half a mind to call them chai truffles or maybe even chai tea truffles but I wisely refrained! So here they are...

Tea-Tinged Truffles

(Adapted from Lydia's recipe; makes about 18 truffles)
1 3.5 oz bar fair-trade bittersweet chocolate
1 3.5 oz bar fair-trade milk chocolate
1/2 C heavy cream
2 t extra-strong black tea decoction (I used orange pekoe)
3-4 drops tea masala extract
1/3 C chopped toasted pistachios
1. Finely chop the chocolate bars and place together in a bowl.
2. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until it is almost boiling.
3. Pour onto the chocolate and let it stand for a couple of minutes to allow the chocolate to melt. Whisk well to blend the chocolate and the cream into a smooth glistening mixture. Stir in the tea and the tea masala (I dissolved the masala in the tea first).
4. Cover and chill the mixture for 1.5-2 hours.
5. Wash hands well before shaping the truffles (or wear gloves). Scrape up a small portion of the chilled chocolate mixture with a teaspoon and roll it gently in your palms to form a truffle. Roll truffles in pistachio bits to coat them.

All done!

Chocolate truffles are a blank canvas that can be filled, coated and flavored with an assortment of goodies that is only limited by the imagination of the cook. Take a look at these truffles laced with cardamom, balsamic vinegar, orange zest , cayenne pepper and green tea. There was a whole Sugar High Friday devoted to truffles; here is the incredible round-up of that event.

I'm sending these tasty morsels to Mansi Desai for her Game Night Event that showcases simple and tasty party recipes. The term Game Night evokes very conflicting emotions within me :D On one hand, sporting events make me weep with boredom, and those infernal game nights where people gather around a big screen TV and lustily cheer on a bunch of people running after some ball...they make want to run screaming into the woods. But I do enjoy those Game Nights that involve sedate board games like Pictionary and Taboo. Well, these bite-size portion-controlled treats are the perfect dessert for *any* gathering. They would also make a magical gift when packed into a pretty box.

What are you planning to do this weekend? Have a wonderful, relaxing time!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A first attempt at Peanut Chikki

Rich roasted peanuts trapped in a shell of complex (salty-sweet, caramel, smoky) notes- peanut brittle or peanut chikki is my all-time favorite candy. I first tried making chikki when I was still in middle school. I only remember that the episode was a messy one, and now, many many years later, it is time to give it another shot.

Although chikki can be made with refined white sugar, it is more commonly made with that flavorful brown sugar that Indians know as jaggery or gud or gool. Jyotsna's essay All About Gur Things is a beautiful look at the art of making jaggery- my favorite sugar in the whole wide world. In his book On Food And Cooking, Harold McGee explains that brown sugars are sucrose crystals that are coated with a layer of dark syrup from one of the stages of sugar refining. It is the syrup that gives brown sugar a more complex taste than the one-dimensional sweetness of sugar. The supermarket variety of brown sugar is simply ordinary refined sugar coated with a thin film of syrup. Once I knew this, I stopped stocking my pantry with brown sugar altogether. Now I simply mix regular sugar with molasses to make up brown sugar whenever it is called for in recipes. Unlike the fake supermarket brown sugar, jaggery is described by McGee as a whole sugar, crystalline sugar still enveloped in the cooked cane syrup that it emerged from.

Many of us from Western India probably associate chikki with a popular vacation destination called Lonavla. This hill-station is a cool refuge from the blistering heat of the plains and I remember taking many trips there with my family. I think it is almost illegal to visit Lonavla without trying one of the dozens of different kinds of chikki sold there; and if you want to maintain your social life, it is necessary to buy several little string-wrapped boxes for friends and neighbors and co-workers as well. Abodh's essay on Chikki at Lonavla tells you "everything you wanted to know about the Lonavala chikki and didn't know whom to ask"! (This blog has some great little essays and pictures about life in Bombay, like this one about Bhaji Galli or vegetable lane, plus Abodh rescues stray dogs from the streets of Bombay. What a great cause).

Looking through various recipes, I could see that chikki is a pretty minimalist food that calls for, basically, sugar and peanuts. The sugar can be white sugar or jaggery or a combination of the two. I chose all-jaggery. The peanuts can be roasted or not. They can be crushed or not. I chose to roast and skin the peanuts, and chopped half of them and left the others whole (or in halves, actually). Some recipes add some ghee, others don't. I did add some. Some recipes add cardamom and some don't. Again, I chose to add a little bit. The final variable is the ratio of peanuts to jaggery. For the first pass, I decided to go with a 1:1 ratio. The ratio would really depend on individual preference. For breaking up large lumps/slabs/mounds/dheps of jaggery, Anupama's tip is an excellent one. The recipe describes how I made chikki this time, followed by notes on what I would change the next time I make it.

Peanut Chikki


1. Roast 1.5 C peanuts in either a skillet or microwave. Skin the peanuts and coarsely chop half of them. Set the peanuts aside.
2. Lightly grease a baking sheet (or some other flat surface) and keep it ready.
3. In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, add 1.5 C chopped jaggery and 1 T ghee. Heat on medium-low heat until the jaggery starts to melt.
4. When the jaggery melts and the syrup starts to form threads that snap when cooled, take it off the heat. My idea was to heat the jaggery syrup to 300F (hard crack stage that is best for brittle). But around 250-260F, the syrup was getting too dark, clearly forming threads and had to be taken off the heat before it scorched. This is most likely due to the fact that jaggery has different caramelization properties as compared to pure sugar. I think.
5. Off the heat, add peanuts, a pinch of cardamom, mix well and pour onto the greased surface. Spread into a sheet using a spatula.
6. Break into pieces once it is cooled. Store in an air-tight container.

Lessons learnt:
1. I will coarsely chop all of the peanuts to meld the taste of nut and jaggery in every bite.
2. I will use more jaggery than peanut- about 2 C jaggery for every 1.5 C peanuts.
3. I have to standardize the temperature at which jaggery forms a brittle.
Perfect or not, this chikki was crunchy and thoroughly enjoyable!

Love your chikki? Adore that brittle? Here's more:
Peanut Chikki from Chachi's Kitchen
Peanut Chikki from Vindu
Coconut Chikki from A Whirl of Aromas
Dry-fruits Sesame Chikki from Cooking Pleasures
Til Wadi from A Cook @ Heart
Video: Peanut Brittle from Mark Bittman
Cashew Brittle from The Wednesday Chef
Popcorn Brittle from Culinary in the Country

I'm going to make another dessert tonight, and if it works out, I'll post about it. The two main ingredients are lemon juice and condensed milk. Care to guess what it is?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Candy is Dandy...

...especially when you make it with your own two hands! And if you manage to find a good recipe, it can be quicker than liquor ;) Some of my cooking projects turn out to be like governmental panchavarshik yojana (5-year plans)- grand plans that may or may not ever materialize. This whole idea of learning to make candy at home has been only two years in the making. 

It all started when Cathy came to tea bearing a box of toffee, the recipe for which she had learnt from David Lebovitz in a cooking class. Cathy claimed that this candy was very easy to make, but when Cathy says things like that, I don't believe her for a second. This is a person who makes adorable felted bunnies and spins tea towels from scratch. She recently finished baking her way through an entire cookbook, bringing a new cookie in to her workplace nearly every Monday for 3 years. In short, Cathy is not your average person...not by a long shot. Turns out that she was not kidding about the candy, however. 

Soon after I tasted Cathy's candy, in an incredible stroke of luck, David Lebovitz posted that candy recipe on his blog, with a wonderful detailed post for wannabe candy-makers (read it carefully-twice-before attempting this candy). Apart from ingredients like sugar, butter, nuts and chocolate, the only investment this recipe needs is a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the syrup and determine when it has been cooked to the right stage. 

What is candy? Cooked sugar, essentially. The simple things are always the most deceptive; candy-making is sheer physical chemistry, and pages 680-693 of Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking provide a fascinating glimpse into the science of candy (the number of pages giving an idea of how much technicality there is to discuss). 

Is a candy thermometer essential? No. The time-honored method of cooling the syrup quickly (in a bowl of cold water) and testing the stage (soft ball/hard ball/soft crack/hard I did not make these names up) works just fine. But a candy thermometer makes life a lot easier for the less experienced cook like me- having to judge the balls of syrup and making up your mind about the stage of the syrup while the rest of it is still boiling away can be stressful. I bought a sturdy-looking analog Pyrex candy thermometer for 8$ and it is well worth it.

(Note added in 2020: I am still using this very same candy thermometer and it is very useful for making yogurt at home, in addition to candy.)

Choco-Nut Buttercrunch Toffee

(adapted from David Lebovitz's recipe) 

1. Coarsely chop 2 C toasted nuts. I used pecans and almonds and chopped them in the food processor. For the next batch I will use 1.5 C nuts, use only almonds and chop them by hand; the food processor resulted in some nut powder and nut pieces that were quite uneven. 

 2. Lightly grease a 8x10 inch (or so) rectangle on a baking sheet. Spread half the chopped nuts on the sheet and leave the other half aside. 

 3. Chop 5 oz fair-trade bittersweet chocolate and set it aside. 

 4. Also place nearby coarse salt crystals (for sprinkling), 1/4 t baking soda and 1 t vanilla extract

5. In a medium heavy saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, combine 1 stick (1/2 C) butter cut into small pieces, 1 1/4 C sugar, a dollop of molasses, a hefty pinch of salt and 2 T water

Heat with minimum or no stirring until the temperature reads 300F (hard crack stage). This took perhaps 10-15 minutes, and the syrup was at a great boil by that time, although it thankfully did not boil over the sides of the pan. 

6. Once the temp is reached, take syrup off the heat, stir in vanilla and baking soda and pour it all over the nuts on the baking sheet. I was thrilled that the syrup flowed very well and spread itself quite nicely. 

 7. Scatter the chocolate bits all over the syrup. Let them melt for a couple of minutes and then spread the chocolate all over with a table knife or spatula. 

 8. Sprinkle with coarse salt and the remaining nuts. Press the nuts in gently so that they will set into the chocolate. Let it cool down. After 1.5 hours, the chocolate had still not set so I put the sheet in the refrigerator for 15 minutes to help it along. Refrigerating the candy to set the chocolate was a bad idea because it caused the chocolate to look dull and "bloom". Just let the candy set at room temperature for several hours, even overnight (cover it) until the chocolate sets. 

The sheet of toffee can now be broken into bite-size pieces quite easily. 

Verdict: What can I say? This is some drop-dead amazing candy. It tastes exactly like the stuff that you buy for exorbitant sums of money from glassed-in confection palaces. If you like butterscotch, and if you were a fan of Cadbury's "nutties" with that irresistible center, this candy is for you. This candy is addictive. You have been duly warned. I owe you, Mr. Lebovitz. 

Next stop in Candyland: peanut chikki as soon as I can hack the dhep (mound) of jaggery into manageable chunks. Stay tuned! 


Friday, November 02, 2007

Mirchi ka Salan

Ever since I wrapped up the Indian Vegetables series, I have been slacking off as far as trying new Indian vegetable recipes is concerned. This is such a pity, because one lifetime is already too short to learn all the recipes out there, and I really should not be wasting time! This week, I tried an iconic dish from the city of Hyderabad in India. Mirchi ka salan consists of bell pepper strips cooked in a tangy sesame seed sauce.

The recipe comes from a "new" cookbook I have acquired: Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India. I say "new" because although new to me, this book was first published in 1985 and is currently out of print! I read about this book on Anita's blog and knew right away that I wanted to read it and cook from it. Having no luck finding a copy in the local library, I used a gift card given by my darling friend Sujayita (yes, I am so spoiled!) and found a copy online. The recipe calls for green peppers (bell peppers/ capsicums). I used a mixture of green peppers and red peppers for this dish and was very pleased with the sweet and delicately smoky flavor contributed by the red peppers. It also made the dish quite colorful and festive. Of course, one could use any peppers that are available. Don't skip the lemon juice; from what I can tell, it really pulls the flavors of this dish together.

Mirchi ka Salan

(Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's A Taste of India, makes about 4 servings)
3 medium-large green peppers
2 medium-large red peppers
1/2 C sesame seeds
1 t desiccated coconut (unsweetened)
2 T oil (I use peanut oil)
1/2 t nigella seeds/ kalonji
1 t mustard seeds
1 t cumin seeds
2 medium onions, chopped fine
2 green chillies, chopped fine
1/2 t red chilli powder (or to taste)
salt to taste
1/2 lemon, freshly juiced
1. Grind the sesame seeds and desiccated coconut into a fine powder in a spice grinder.
2. Cut the peppers into thick slices.
3. Heat 1 T oil in a heavy pan. Fry the pepper strips on medium-high heat until charred at the edges and slightly wilted. Remove them and set them aside.
4. Heat 1 T oil in the same pan. Temper it with nigella seeds, mustard seeds and cumin.
5. Saute the onion and chillies until the onions are transluscent (but not browned).
6. Add the salt, red chilli powder and sesame-coconut powder and saute for a few minutes.
7. Add a cup of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, simmer for a couple of minutes more, then turn off the heat.
8. Stir in the lemon juice before serving.

This is a delicious way to eat those nutritious peppers! The sesame seed paste gives a very pleasantly bitter, rich, grown-up flavor to the vegetables; very enjoyable. For a well-known classic, this dish came together in minutes. I would love to experiment with this recipe- using other vegetables to make some non-classic variations. I imagine some fleshy (for lack of a more appetizing word!) veggies like ridge gourds and zucchini would be delicious in this sauce. Other chillies like poblano peppers would also work beautifully, I think.

I wanted to make some piping hot parathas to go with the vegetable dish. Putting together a use-it-or-lose-it bunch of wilting scallions (also called green onions and spring onions) from the refrigerator and this recipe for Chinese scallion hot cakes, I improvised a scallion paratha. I made some regular roti dough and minced the green and white parts of the scallion. Then, using Gattina's beautiful pictorial instructions, I made the scallion parathas: roll out the dough into a medium circle, sprinkle with scallions, roll into a tube, coil the tube up, flatten and roll again. It helps a great deal if the scallions are very finely minced. Once griddle-baked, these parathas were flaky and delicious, a nice change from the usual plain paratha that I make.

***** ***** *****
My October article for the Daily Tiffin: Gifts from the Heart. Have a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Good Life Pancakes

Originally uploaded by one hot stove.
On Saturday mornings I am in the mood for a proper breakfast, defined as anything non-toast/oatmeal/cereal.

Today I decided to make Banana Pecan Walnut Pancakes, all the better to use up a banana which was slowly turning to syrup in my fruit bowl.

HANDY TIP: Pancakes, muffins and smoothies are a great way to use up bananas that look too ripe to be eaten. In case you are pressed for time, an over-ripe banana can be easily peeled and frozen till you get around to using it. In short, there is no excuse for throwing bananas in the trash.

Banana Pecan Walnut Pancakes
1. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl: 
  • 12 cup whole wheat flour
  • 12 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • some chopped walnuts and pecans
  • dash of cinnamon or allspice
2. Mix wet ingredients in another bowl:
  • 1 mashed ripe banana
  • 1 cup soymilk/milk
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup.
3. Combine contents of the two bowls and stir to mix. Don't overmix or the pancakes will not be as fluffy.

4. Make pancakes in a non-stick pan. They cook very quickly.

Top with applesauce and enjoy your Saturday breakfast!