Monday, July 20, 2015

A Short Trip To Meghalaya

A variety of ginger blooming in Umden
In my last post I had mentioned about our trip to Meghalaya. Today I'm sharing some of the pictures I had taken on that trip. Going to the "Abode Of The Clouds" for that is the meaning of the word, Meghalaya, it's apt that we are greeted by dense mist/fog on a rainy July morning. We had wanted to go to another location but it was booked till a certain date so we headed to Umden.

A tea garden on the way to our destination. Umden is a village that is about 55 kms from our city. We headed to the Eco Park that has two cottages with basic amenities. The owners, a Khasi couple, went out of their way to make our stay most comfortable. Food was simple and prepared with minimal ingredients, all put in a bamboo hollow and cooked on an open fire. The aroma was wonderful and reminded us of the chutneys and the steamed preparations using bamboo.

Our cottage in the woods.:)
Front view of the cottage
The cottages were very clean and comfortable. Food was served in the dining area and every dish was made with locally grown/sourced ingredients. Even the bamboo used for cooking was freshly cut. The flavour and the aroma was fantastic. Unfortunately, because of the low lighting, I couldn't get clear pictures in the dining area.
This collage shows mt brother-in-law having a go at angling. Later Ilias, the owner caught a fish. All the time spent turned out to be fruitful! Bird's eye chillies are widely grown and used in local cuisine.
The next day we headed to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.
A view of Shillong from Galeria restaurant at Centre Point hotel.

The hotel lobby had beautiful floral arrangements. Honestly I had never used mother-in-law's tongue/Sansevieria in decorating before. Love the idea!

Apart from the local cuisine, it's always Chinese food that we eat hog whenever we are there. Chicken and pork dumplings, two kinds of chicken, noodles and fried rice were what we had. Each dish was delicious!

Then we went to Ward's lake, another popular tourist destination. The hydrangeas must have have been a sight to behold a month or so earlier. I always enjoy walking around this lake and feeding the fishes from the bridge. But now the bridge is being repaired and it did look as if something was missing...
Water lilies, dahlias, rudbeckias and zinnias in bloom.

Ducks resting on the green slopes

Never seen fungi like this one before!
View from the restaurant where we stopped for coffee
On our return we stopped for a coffee break/long walk on the banks of this lake at Umiam also known as Barapani. The lake has boating and other water sports facilities.
Umiam lake
Soon it was time to head back home. And cook with the beautiful ingredients we had bought on this trip.:)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Roasted Beet & Plum Salad

I just got back from a two-day trip to the neighbouring state of Meghalaya. I went with my sister and her family to a place called Umden and then to Shillong. I might be posting about the trip later on but the fruits of Shillong and beautiful local produce from Umden came back with us. We gorged on peaches, pineapples and plums, sampled ethnic cuisine of the region, had some wonderful Chinese food and came back laden with produce. I couldn't wait to start.

Plums sold in Police Bazar, Shillong. Shillong is only about 3 hours away but the winding uphill road leads to a beautiful place where the climate is mild and the landscape is filled with pine trees. For us from the plains, it's the most popular getaway particularly from the heat and the humidity. One comes back rejuvenated!

Rather than use them in baking, I made a salad using two kinds of plums and some beets. The ingredients are given below:
3 small beets
4 plums (I used 2 of each...yellow and red)
A bunch of mint leaves
2 tbs toasted pine nuts
2tbs strained yoghurt
 
For the dressing:
1 quarter tsp freshly grated pepper+ extra for the yellow plums
Honey to taste
Salt, as per taste + extra to be added to the yellow plums
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
  1. Wash and wipe the beets. Wrap them in foil and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 45 minutes. Remove and let them cool. Top and tail them then peel off the skin. Cut in half vertically and chop them. Set aside.
  2. Cut the plums in the centre. Twist and remove the seeds. Cut them like the beets. I kept the yellow ones separately so that the yellow would stand out in the salad.
  3. Mix the ingredients for the dressing in a small bowl.
  4. Place the prepared beets and red plums in a large bowl. Add the mint leaves and pour the dressing on top. Mix well.
  5. Transfer the salad to a serving platter. Scatter the pine nuts all across. Season the yellow plums with a dash of salt and grated pepper. Add them to the salad by placing them in strategic points where the yellow stands out.
  6. Dot the salad with the strained yoghurt. Put a drop of the purple dressing juices on some of the white 'dots'. Your salad is now ready.
I think this is one of the best salads I have tasted. The natural sweetness of the beets complemented the sweet and-a-hint-of- sour plums. It wasn't just the taste....it looked very attractive too!


Monday, July 13, 2015

Jackfruit Seed Hummus

Jackfruit seed hummus
Jackfruit seed hummus
It's still the season of ripe jackfruit and that means using the seeds as well. In curries and mashed chutney. Or simply boiled and eaten as a snack. Although I'm not too fond of the ripe fruit, I like to use the seeds in several dishes. I had seen jackfruit seed hummus on the internet some time ago when the fruit was yet to make its appearance. But with the abundance of seeds now I thought I would give it a go.
For this recipe I did not measure. It was all by eye. If the main ingredient (usually chickpeas) measures two cups, the measurement for tahini will a little over half a cup. Here are the ingredients.
Jackfruit seeds
White sesame seeds for the tahini
A few cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped fine
Freshly-grated pepper as per taste
Salt
Paprika
Lemon juice
Toasted and ground cumin seeds
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped coriander leaves for the garnish
Jackfruit seed hummus
  1. Wash and boil the jackfruit seeds till done. They should be cooked through but not mushy.Drain in a colander and let them cool.
  2. Remove the seed casings with the help of a small knife. Roughly chop up the seeds. Keep a few whole/halved seeds aside for the garnish. Set aside as you prepare the tahini.
  3. Toast the sesame seeds in a hot pan till the nutty smell comes out and they start to crackle. Take care that the seeds do not burn so stir them all the time.
  4. Remove and cool. Transfer to the food processor and blitz. Pour some olive oil and blitz again. Remove and set aside.
  5. Transfer the  jackfruit seeds to the food processor. Grind by adding a bit of water. Add the garlic cloves, the lemon juice, salt, tahini, olive oil and blitz again. Check the taste and make adjustments. Maybe some more lemon juice. Or salt...
  6. To serve, take a wide-rimmed plate and drizzle the border with olive oil. Scatter the chopped coriander all along the edges. Transfer the hummus to the centre of the plate and leaven it with a spoon. Create a hollow in the middle and drizzle more olive oil. Add a few reserved seeds there along with a stem of coriander. Sprinkle a generous amount of toasted and ground cumin. Repeat the same process with a dash of paprika.
Jackfruit seed hummus

We had this with rotis made the usual way but with the addition of yeast. Before I made this hummus, I really didn't think that it would taste so good! But the loveable task of mixing cooked jackfruit seeds (or boiled chickpeas), garlic cloves, lemon juice, sesame seeds, olive oil, salt, and a few spices into creamy submission creates nothing less than magic. My boys licked the plate clean.:) There's still a packet of jackfruit seeds left. I think I'll need to forget about curried seeds for a while...

Adding a link to my earlier post of chickpea hummus:
http://blendingflavours.blogspot.in/2014/12/hummus.html

Monday, July 6, 2015

Cooking With Papaya Flowers

Papaya flowers We headed to the city's outskirts yesterday to buy vegetables. There is no dearth of markets within the city but once in a while it makes sense to head towards where the produce is more interesting. And fresh. And organic. So in this little wayside market almost every vendor had mounds of papaya buds and flowers. Next to vegetable fern, more edible flowers, bamboo shoots, jackfruit seeds, lasia spinosa, colocasia (shoots, leaves/stems and tubers) apart from the many varieties of gourds that abound during this season. I couldn't wait to try the papaya flowers as it's been years since I last cooked them. It reminded me of the time decades ago when I heard a conversation of the family elders taking about chopping down a papaya tree because it turned out to be male. It sounded strange to know that certain plants were male and therefore, could not bear fruit. To know more about this you might find this site interesting.
 Papaya flowers
Papaya flowers are bitter but there are quite a few vegetables that have the same taste and yet are so much a part of our diet. They are believed to be beneficial for our system.  Bitter gourd, neem leaves, leaves of the passion fruit plant are some of them. The flowers are removed from the stalks and blanched for a few minutes before cooking.
The first dish I made was a stir-fry with the addition of potatoes and water spinach/Ipomoea aquatica
Papaya flowers
Ingredients:
1/2 cup blanched papaya flowers
1 bunch water spinach (I used the the leafy bits from the top portion leaving the lower ends to be used later)
2 medium potatoes, boiled, peeled and diced
6-7 Bird's eye chillies, whole (the idea is to take/taste it or leave it)
1 large onion finely diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
Half-inch piece ginger, chopped fine
A quarter tsp mustard seeds
Salt to taste
A dash of paprika powder
Pinch of turmeric
2 tbs vegetable oil
Tear off the top tender ends of the water spinach and wash in several changes of water. Drain.
Heat the oil in a pan. When it becomes hot, add the mustard seeds.
As soon as they sputter, add the onions, ginger and garlic. Add the chillies and the turmeric powder.
Sprinkle a bit of water so that the turmeric powder does not burn.
Cook till the onions turn pale then add the potatoes and the blanched papaya flowers.
Cook on high heat for about 4-5 minutes. Season with salt. Then add the water spinach and continue to cook till the leaves wilt. This happens very fast as water spinach leaves are soft. As for the taste, it is mild.
Check for adjustments and remove from the flame. Transfer to a serving platter. 
This goes best with rice and dal. There is only a hint of bitterness in this dish. I loved it!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Fusilli With Cheesy Eggplant

Fusilli With Cheesy Eggplant
Fusilli with freshly-made tomato sauce and a cheesy eggplant dish
Lunch today was pasta with freshly-made tomato sauce and an eggplant dish as an accompaniment. Since we are rice-eaters other staples do not often show up on our table. My older son is home now so there is a taker for pasta. As for my husband, he will only stick to rice, dal, sabji, and fish/meat curry. I had made the same but with more accompaniments the other day when my beloved sisters, nieces and nephews spent some time with me over lunch.
My sisters (1st and 4th from left), nieces and nephews. My first-born is 3rd from right (with glasses).
I clicked this picture after lunch with almost everyone squinting in the hot afternoon sun. The menu had pasta with roast pork, cheesy eggplants, baked potatoes, and trifle pudding with mangoes that my mother had sent from her garden. With family elders it's best to stick to Indian and Dimasa cuisine.:D
Ingredients for the sauce:
6 large tomatoes (about 400 grams)
1 large onion, finely diced
8 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
Sugar and salt to taste
3 tbs olive oil
1 tbs freshly grated pepper
1 red chilli, chopped
3 tbs tomato puree(optional/I use it for making the colour more intense)

Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Take out one, peel, remove the "eye' and chop roughly. Repeat with the rest.
Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the onions till translucent, add the garlic and the chopped chilli, then add the chopped tomatoes. Cook till the tomatoes soften. Add the seasonings and the sugar for the balance. Check and make adjustments if needed. As soon as the mixture looks done, take it off the heat and let it cool. The time needed for this sauce is about 15-18 minutes.
After it cools down, blitz it but not too fine.
The sauce before being blitzed
Ingredients for the Cheesy Eggplant:
1 medium eggplant
4 cheese pieces (I used Go cheese triangles)
1 egg
3 tbs vegetable oil to fry the eggplant
Salt to taste
Basil for the garnish
2 tbs tomato sauce (above)
Chop off the top end of the eggplant. Use a mandolin slicer to make thin vertical slices.
Sprinkle a bit of salt on the slices and set aside.
Break one egg in a bowl and beat it.
Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. Dip the eggplant slices in the egg batter and fry till golden on both sides. Repeat with the rest till all the slices are used up.
Transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper. After the eggplants cool down, place one on a plate and scatter the grated cheese all across its length.
Roll up and repeat till all the fried eggplant slices are used up.
Heat a small pan and add the sauce to it. Place the rolled eggplants on the sauce. Scatter the remaining grated cheese all across. You can also pour a bit of water to the pan. Cover and let it remain on a low flame till the cheese melts. This will take about 10 minutes.
I used the sauce today as there was enough of it. On other days, I heat a pan with a bit of oil, add chopped garlic and finely chopped or grated tomatoes. This is cooked for about 5 minutes before the rolled eggplants are placed on top of the sauce. Then the grated cheese is scattered all across.The rest of the cooking remains the same.
Cheesy eggplants
The pasta:
200 grams fusilli
Grated pepper
Basil leaves
Salt
Heat water in a pan. Let it come to a rolling boil. Add 1 tsp salt and add the pasta. Boil till it's done. Check one by taking it out with a slotted spoon. Drain in a colander. (Reserve a bit of the pasta water. This comes in handy if you need to add some liquid to the sauce). 
Transfer the pasta to a serving bowl and pour the sauce over it. Mix well so that each is coated with the sauce. Add grated pepper and scatter fresh basil leaves over it.



Dig in!
A satisfying meal indeed. Eggplants team up so wonderfully well with cheese. And pasta. I tried the recipe after seeing James Martin's show but with my own adaptations. Whoever tastes it says the same. That it's delicious! The basil leaves are from my pots. The plants aren't doing too well but I'm glad I could still pick a few leaves on both (pasta) occasions.:)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Jackfruit Fritters


jackfruit fritters
I had been waiting for the rains to work on my plants. These past few days I was rather busy repotting my alocasias and anthuriums, and planting bahanda, a herb that we use in our cuisine. Which is why blogging took a backseat these past few days. And throughout, jamun juice has been a regular feature in my kitchen. There are just a handful left on the tree now but we've had our fill this year.
During the monsoon season, both sweet and savoury fritters are relished thoroughly. With the rain bringing down the temperature somewhat, it doesn't seem like a punishment to actually fry sweet somethings:) in hot oil. This is also the time of the year when jackfruits ripen. I used some of the flesh today to make these fritters. Ripe jackfruit has a strong and sweet smell. I love it! 
The flesh blitzed to a pulp
Ingredients:
20 'bulbs' of ripe jackfruit, seeds removed. This yielded one cup 
3 heaped tbs all-purpose flour
A quarter tsp baking powder
Sugar to taste
1 heaped tsp milk powder
Pinch of cardamom powder
Pinch of salt
Oil to fry
Blitz the jackfruit flesh to a pulp. Transfer to a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Heat enough oil in the pan to fry the fritters. When the oil turns hot reduce the flame or else the fritters will brown easily but the inside portion will remain half-done. Take a teaspoon of the batter and drop it in the oil. Fry 6-7 at one time. Turn over so that the other side also turns a golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with absorbent paper. Repeat with the rest of the batter till the last bit is used up. This batter produced 16 fritters.


I had added about 3 teaspoons of sugar when I blitzed the flesh. Adding the cream of milk (the thick layer after boiling milk) is another good option. These fritters were delicious, crunchy on the outside and soft inside with just the right amount of sweetness. These go really well as a tea time snack.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jamun Madeleines

Jamun madeleines

With the jamun ripening it seems most appropriate to incorporate the purple fruit into more recipes. I haven't baked in a while but I didn't want something that will take days to finish or will have to given away. So these little French cakes called madeleines seemed just right. They can be very addictive too! Don't you love the purple bits on them? The birds have also been very active on the jamun tree. None of the exotic ones but the common sparrows and mynas.

The recipe, by Rebecca Franklin, for these cakes are from my earlier post here but I made a few adjustments because of the fruit. Madeleines are small sponge cakes made in shell-shaped moulds. They are said to have originated in Commercy and Liverdun, two communes of the Lorraine region in north-eastern France. I have used jamun in cakes and muffins before but this is my first with madeleines.
Jamun has a slight acidic and astringent taste. So it's best to leave it to macerate with the addition of sugar and lemon juice. 

Ingredients for 12 madeleines:
(I made them in two batches as my tin has only six "shells")
1/2 cup butter, melted+extra for greasing the tin
2/3 cup fine sugar+ extra for adding to the fruit
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1tsp lemon juice
15 jamun
3 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tbs icing sugar
Jamun madeleines
Ready to be baked
Start with the fruit and choose the ripest ones as they are the sweetest.Remove the seeds by holding the ripe fruit between thumb and index finger. The flesh will separate from the seed easily.
Discard the seeds. Mash the fruit a bit using your fingers, add about a teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Mix well and leave to macerate in its juices for about an hour. The colour will turn more intense by then.
Sieve the flour with the baking powder and keep aside.
Cream the butter and fine sugar till the mixture becomes light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one by one till well-combined and the mixture looks lighter in colour. Add the vanilla paste and the zest of lemon.
Gently fold in the flour/baking powder into the egg mixture.
Add the macerated fruit and its juices. Fold in.
Once the batter is smooth, cover it and keep it in the refrigerator for two hours.
Grease the madeleine moulds really well so that you the cakes will come off easily from the tin.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Take the batter out of the fridge and spoon the mixture into the mould. Bake for about 15-20 minutes till they are puffed and golden brown.
Jamun madeleines

Remove and cool on a wire rack. Before serving, dust the cakes with icing sugar.
These cakes taste best the day they are made.