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??

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Labneh Tart With Matcha Pastry Dough

Labneh tart
Labneh tart with a topping of ground pistachios, plums and pomegranates
Regular visitors to this page know about my weakness for pies and tarts. My latest obsession is to make them with one of my favourite milk products, labneh. The colours on the topping make it look so festive and the fact that this does not need to be baked makes it even better. This one was made with a matcha pastry shell.
Labneh needs to be strained for at least 12 hours before you can use it for filling a tart shell. I used store- bought plain curd. 400 grams of curd stained overnight is reduced to 200 grams. This is just right to fill a small tart shell that serves 3-4 people. Since I don't like having curd that is sweet, I did not mix any sweetening agent into the strained curd. The sweetness comes from the toppings and a drizzle of honey. I think for serving guests, some honey and also fruits used used for the topping could be placed in small bowls.
Although I have read about matcha and tasted it in restaurants, this is the first time I bought a packet. The first thing I did was to use a teaspoon of it in the pastry dough. I loved the colour and the fragrance.
Matcha tart shell

Matcha pastry dough:
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cubed + extra for greasing the tin(s)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp matcha powder
2 tbs fine sugar
Place the flour in a bowl and add the butter, sugar, and matcha powder.
Rub with the tips of your fingers till the mixture becomes crumbly.
Add the egg and bring the dough together. Do not knead.
Shape the dough into a ball, flatten it, and wrap it in clingfilm.
Chill in the refrigerator for at least 40 minutes.
With pastry, if I plan it ahead I usually chill the dough overnight.

Take out the dough from the fridge and let it thaw for a while. Meanwhile grease the tart tin. Then cut out half and roll out a little bigger than your tin. 
Place it on the tin and press all along the bottom. Gently press on the top portion too, all along the edges, before you use the rolling pin to even out the overhanging pastry. The extra bits of pastry can be gathered up, made into a ball and chilled again for later use.
Prick the bottom of the pastry shell so that the dough does not rise up during the baking process.
Chill the prepared shell for 30 minutes or so.
Line the shell with a greased foil (greased side down as this makes it easy to remove the beans). Fill with baking beans and bake in a preheated oven for ten minutes.
Remove foil and beans and bake again for another 10-12 minutes.
Remove and cool as you prepare the filling.

This 8" tin needed 350 grams of labneh. Take the labneh and mix any sweetener you like. Since I didn't want an overly sweet filling, I skipped this part and placed the plain labneh in the tart shell. Smoothen the surface. Layer with your choice of fruits and nuts. I wasn't planning to use plums but I found these that were really sweet. So they were sliced and drizzled with a bit of honey. Lightly toasted and ground pistachios and pomegranate arils were the rest of the embellishments.

The first time I used labneh in a tart was with left-over pastry dough. This was a square 4" tart pan. For the filling I used 200 grams of labneh. Pomegranate arils and toasted/sliced almonds did the rest. A teaspoon of honey was drizzled over the surface.
These tarts will not keep for long as the bottom will get soggy. I was lucky mine finished off fast!
Thank you for stopping by today. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Mini White Chocolate Tarts With Pomegranate

Hello everyone! I'm back after a pretty long gap. Although I have been cooking a lot, posting did not happen often. Year-endings usually tend to be like this. Meeting up with friends and family happens more during this season.
I made these tarts a few days ago. I had some left-over pastry dough and decided to use them up. I had seen pomegranate arils being used on dark chocolate tarts but I had never done so myself. Well, these bejewelled beauties do not disappoint. In fact the addition of pomegranate balances the sweetness of the white chocolate.
11/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chilled butter, cubed + extra for greasing the tins
The juice of 1 small orange, chilled
1 tsp freshly-grated orange zest
1 egg yolk
2 tsp ground sugar
Place the flour in a bowl. Add the butter and rub the mixture with your finger tips till the mixture is crumbly.
Sprinkle the sugar and the orange zest and mix.
Add the yolk and bring the dough together. At this point you'll need to sprinkle the orange juice. I did not use the entire lot.
As soon as the dough comes together, wrap it in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 40 minutes.
Grease the tins with butter. Take out the dough, cut out small pieces and roll out a little bigger than the tart tins.
Place it on the tin and press the bottom. Break off the overhanging dough by running the rolling pin around the edges. Repeat till all the tins are done.
This will depend on how many tins you are using. I made 7. Your left-over pastry dough can be used later for some other recipe.
Blind bake the tarts till they turn golden and are cooked through. This will take about 12-15 minutes.

The filling:
100 grams white chocolare, whacked into small pieces
1 tbs butter
About 120 ml thick cream (I didn't measure the exact quantity. I used a little more than half from a 200ml packet of Amul Fresh Cream)
Pomegranate seeds to decorate

Melt the chocolate in a bain marie. As soon as it gets melted, switch off the flame. Add the butter and give it a good mix. Add the cream and do the same.
Let the mixture cool down a bit till it can easily be poured into the tart shells.
Take a shell and pour the filling. Repeat till all the shells are filled.
With the pomegranate arils, you can form any pattern or simply scatter them on top. Chill for an hour or so for the filling to set.

These little bites are a wonderful way of using up left-over pastry dough. Pomegranates and chocolate is a beautiful combination. And that slight hint of orange makes the tarts taste even better! 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Cauliflower Baked Upside Down With A Fish Filling

Cauliflower baked upside down
One of my recent posts had a cauliflower that was baked in white sauce. With cauliflowers in season now, they are made so often. One thing about seasonal delights is that you want to make the most of them and team them up with everything possible in recipes. A cauliflower baked whole is a constant feature on my winter table. And when one mentions cauliflower, other winter vegetables that instantly spring to mind are: peas, hyacinth beans, radishes, lai (a variety of brassica) and broccoli. Elders often mention the fact that vegetables bathed in dew taste so much better.
Blanched and ready for the filling
For this recipe, I used a cauliflower that was on the smaller side. It weighed 360 grams. After the stalk and leaves were removed, I washed it and blanched it in a pan of boiling salted water. It remained there for about 5 minutes on one side and for a few more minutes on the other side. A knife inserted in the centre offered some resistance but that was all right as the baking would take  care of that.
Fish with bones and skin discarded
Instead of using just the white sauce, I used two fish fillets. I had some boal fish/helicopter catfish and it's easy to discard the bones from this kind of fish. Then they were lightly mashed. This was from a recipe I had seen in a cookery book years ago. The recipe had minced lamb but I thought fish would be a nice version. As it is, teaming up cauliflower with fish in a curry is a favourite recipe in our region. And using the same combination in a baked recipe should surely taste good!
Upside down and it's easy to fill it up!
The fish fillets were cooked in very little water. Just enough for the skin to come off easily and the bones to be discarded. The weight of the fillets was 160 grams. To this I added a large onion which was peeled, chopped and fried with a touch of salt and pepper. For the sauce, I made it the same way as in my other cauliflower post.
Sauce poured, cheese scattered. Dots of butter and she's ready to go...
Grease the baking pan with butter and pour a ladle-ful of the sauce. Put the blanched cauliflower upside down. Take spoonfuls of the fish/onion mixture in the spaces between the florets. Since the vegetable is upside down, there is more space for any kind of filling to 'cling' to. Gently prise open the space where two florets meet and add the filling. Then pour the sauce on top, add grated cheese and dot the vegetable with butter. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 30 minutes or till the cheese turns golden on top.

This is a lovely side dish that goes so well with either rice or rotis.