Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mixed Salad With Sponge Gourd Flowers

It was only recently  I learnt that the blooms of the sponge gourd are edible. I do have a fascination for edible blooms but in my part of the world they seem to be available in winter. Like nasturtiums and pansies. I'm growing this gourd now and if I had sowed the seeds earlier I would have been using the flowers from the beginning of summer. But better late than never.
The first batch of gourds I picked from the vine went into a simple fish curry. Since then they are being added to other dishes. The sweetness of vegetables that come from a fresh harvest makes meals so enjoyable. I made a simple salad today but the sunshine yellow blooms made a wonderful difference to that otherwise would have been an ordinary salad.

The sponge gourd has both female and male flowers. Whereas the latter drops off, the female flowers remain attached to the developing fruit. The young leaves and clusters of buds are also edible but I haven't tried them as yet. Let's move on to the salad.
1 small cucumber
1 medium apple
5 walnuts, lightly toasted
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tbs pomegranate arils
1 tomato, sliced, seeds discarded
A handful of micro greens (I used a variety of brassica that I am growing)
3-4 sponge gourd flowers
For the dressing:
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 roasted cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tsp honey
2 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, as per preference
Add all the above the ingredients in a small jar. Cover with a lid and give it a vigorous shake. Set aside till the salad ingredients are ready.

Peel off the skin of the cucumber. Use a peeler and create ribbons from the flesh.  Do that on all sides till you get to the seed area. Leave that portion.
Halve and core the apple. I left one side with the skin on and peeled the other half just because the skin looks good on a salad. Drizzle the lemon juice on the cut apples so that they do not turn brown.
Add the rest of the ingredients except the last two...micro greens and the blossoms. Add the dressing and mix well.
Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with the micro greens and the sponge gourd blooms. 

This was so good that my husband and I snacked on it. The flowers have a slightly peppery taste but they are much milder than nasturtiums. And what that yellow did to the rest of the ingredients was nothing short of amazing. I suppose if you are the colour of sunshine you are meant to spread cheer...:)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Lemon & Poppy Seed Cookies

All roads lead to Shillong now for what has been termed the Happiest (?) Music Festival! It's the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. After its spectacular success last year, Shillong is all geared up to host this year's festival too. It's my knee that's keeping me home. The line-up also includes my younger son with his band. He has been performing at this festival in different parts of the country for a few years now. Sadly, he'll get to stay home only for a day but I have already started baking. There's usually a stream of visitors and everybody loves to gorge on home-made stuff. So here's my first load of cookies...
Not the best looking but taste-wise, not bad at all! The recipe has been adapted from an old magazine.

Ingredients: Makes 24 cookies
1/4 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
200 grams table margarine (you could use butter)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 cup caster sugar
1 egg beaten
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp lemon zest, freshly grated
2 tbsp poppy seeds

Pour the lemon juice in a pan and bring it to a simmer. Let it reduce a bit.
Add half of the butter to the pan and let it melt. Set aside.
Mix the flour, baking powder and the salt in a bowl. Cream the rest of the butter with the sugar. I used my hand whisk. Mix in the egg and the lemon-butter. Mix till it is pale in colour.
Add the vanilla and the lemon zest. Add the flour mixture and the poppy seeds.
Mix well.
Take out bits of the dough to form walnut-sized balls.
Flatten the balls and place them on a lined baking tray, leaving a bit of space in between.
Flatten the cookie balls with the help of a glass bottom.
Bake in a 170C preheated oven for 15 minutes.
Remove and cool completely before storing
These will last for a week in an airtight container.

You could use more poppy seeds and lemon zest if you want to roll the cookies in before they go into the oven. More zest in them cookies!;)
The slight tang from the lemon and the crunch from the poppy seeds is a very good combination. I am sure they'll disappear very fast indeed.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Kala kaddoo/Pumpkin In Burnt Walnut Paste

Kala Kaddoo...image inspired by the one in BBC Good Food magazine
Of late, I have been reading up on Himachali cuisine. Walking around the mall in Shimla back in 2013,  I had bought a book on the same. Called Classic Recipes from Himachal Pradesh and written by Bhawanee Singh, it has many traditional recipes. The state  is known for its natural beauty. 'Hima' means snow in Sanskrit and the state's name translates to 'in the lap of the Himalayas'. The rest of the shopping consisted of excellent local fruit wine of which I liked the pear wine the best. I did make Meetha Bhaat from the book but the other day I was tidying up my study and came across an old magazine which featured cuisine from the Kangra Valley in Himachal. Setting whole walnuts  aflame and grinding them with mustard oil to a paste is unique to this region. And what better dish to try this out than the one featured below....
From the pumpkins pictured above, I chose the palest one. Although the recipe called for the regular reddish one, I used what I had in stock.
The recipe has been adapted from BBC Good Food Magazine/India, December 2013. The recipe is by Divya Sud Qureshi , the author of Flavours of the Kangra Valley.
1 kg pumpkin
1 bunch spinach  around 150 grams, washed
3/4 cup mustard oil
2 cups curd, beaten
Salt to taste
3/4 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
5 tsp ghee
A small bunch of coriander leaves for the garnish
For the walnut paste:
2 whole walnuts
6 tbsp mustard oil
The rest of the spices:
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fenugreek powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
A pinch of asafoetida

To make the walnut paste, dry roast the walnuts. Then place them directly on the fire using tongs. When the walnuts are on fire, remove them and place on a metal plate. The shell will disintegrate and the kernels will be a little charred and will have a smoky flavour. When they stop smouldering, lift them and place in a bowl and pour mustard oil over them. The oil will be the lubricant while grinding.
Pound the walnuts using a mortar and pestle till you get a smooth paste.
Cut and peel the pumpkin. Cut into 11/2 inch cubes. Keep aside.
Grind the spinach leaves and strain the juice.
Heat the oil in a kadhai. When it comes to smoking point, take it off the flame and add the cumin seeds and the remaining spices. Put the pan back on the fire and add the pumpkin pieces and the walnut masala. Season with salt. Fry for about 10-12 minutes.
At this point, add the strained spinach juice and cook till it blends well into the dish.
Remove the pan from the flame and add the curd. Put the pan back on high flame and stir the mixture continuously till it comes to a boil. Cover and cook for about 5 more minutes.
Now add the red chilli powder, garam masala and ghee.
Garnish with the chopped coriander leaves.
This goes best with dal and steamed rice.
Lunch...rice, kala kaddoo, arhar dal, banana fritters & cucumber slices
The taste of this dish is unique. The smokiness from the burnt walnut comes through. Paired with the aromatic spices, it is a delicious and fragrant dish. Getting the ingredients ready takes some time but the cooking doesn't take much time.
For grinding the walnuts, I used my trusted grinding stone. It's very handy particularly for smaller quantities of ingredients to be ground and is a feature of most Indian kitchens.
I reduced the quantity of almost all the ingredients as I used a smaller pumpkin. And I used chopped serrated coriander for the garnish. My husband and son are not fond of curries with curd. But as for me there is hardly anything that I do not like.:)
I couldn't find walnuts with shells intact in the markets near our house. My sister who happened to be in Lucknow recently for her daughter's counselling/admission got the best walnuts for me from there. I think a walnut chutney will be next...

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Stuffed Chilli Pickle

Pickle of red chillies stuffed with spices
The storm that brewed yesterday in the afternoon had a bark that was worse than its bite! Dark clouds, the roar of  thunder and a strong wind that made me almost run to get the washing inside...and my precious jars of red chilli pickle that were curing in the sun. Well it did rain but only for a short while and our temperature's back to where it was before the dark clouds loomed overhead. Despite complaining about the heat, you certainly don't want the rain. Not when you are pickling.
Apart from the strawberries, my husband had also brought some beautiful ripe red chillies. It's been ages since I had made pickles using such chillies and the weather was just right.
25 ripe red large chillies
Fenugreek seeds
Mustard seeds
Cumin seeds
Coriander seeds
Fennel seeds
Red chilli powder (optional)
Amchoor powder
Rock salt
Turmeric powder
A pinch of panch phoran (This is a mix of five spices and used in Eastern Indian cooking. The mixture consists of equal parts of fennel, cumin, fenugreek, mustard and nigella seeds).
A pinch of hing/asafoetida
A few tejpatta leaves
1/3 cup of vinegar
Mustard oil
I am not adding the exact amounts of the spices as I simply added what I felt to be right. One must remember that methi must be added in a quantity that is less in proportion to other ingredients.
One was different and I'm drying it for the seeds
To start with, wash the chillies and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Score all the way from the bottom till you get near the stalk. Let the stalks remain.
The chilli should remain intact. Remove the seeds and the white portions.
There aren't many seeds in this type of chilli. Gently shake each one so that all the seeds fall off.
Rub a mix of rock salt and turmeric and place the chillies in the sun. Turn once or twice depending on how long you leave them to bask in the sun. I put them out for almost three hours.
Meanwhile get the masala ready.
Toast the seeds separately and grind them. 
In the same pan, toast the chilli powder, if using. Care must be taken to keep the heat low as spice powders burn easily.
Heat the mustard oil in a kadhai. As soon as it comes to smoking point, add the hing, tejpatta and the panch phoran. Set aside to cool.
Take a plate and add all the powdered spices along with the amchoor and the chilli powder. Add a bit of the cooled oil and the vinegar.
Mix well. Then take one chilli and fill it with this mixture. Repeat till all the chillies and the spices are used up.
Take a clean/sterilised jar and place the stuffed chillies in it.

Pour some of the oil over the chillies. Unlike other pickles, the oil need not cover the chillies. This kind of stuffed chilli pickle does not drip oil.
Place the jars in the sun for about a week.
Because of the intense heat here, my chillies have softened down, the spices have married well and they are being eaten!!
We started the day with roti, curried chickpeas and this pickle. It was a good start, I must say!:)
These chillies only have a bit of heat in them which is why I added some chilli powder to the spice paste. I didn't have to use gloves while handling them. In fact there's a hint of sweetness in these beautiful red chillies. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Strawberry & Mascarpone Tartlets

Strawberry & mascarpone tartlet
Strawberry & mascarpone tartlet
I wasn't planning to post today but when my husband came back from a trip to Shillong he got some local produce. I wasn't expecting these berries. Well, as far as I know October isn't the season for picking strawberries. The dark purple fruits could easily be mistaken for grapes at first glance but there's a seed in the middle, rather like a plum. I immediately thought of the bit of mascarpone cheese left in the fridge. It wasn't enough as I had used most of it for the icing on a lemon cake I had baked for my sister. It was her birthday on 1 October.

I had baked a simple lemon cake and the frosting was made with a mix of mascarpone, whipped cream and icing sugar. The cake had a scattering of candied lemon peel that I had made a few days ago.
The pastry:
50 grams cold butter, cubed+extra to grease the tart tins
1 tbsp icing sugar
135 grams all-purpose flour
Chilled water
(I got 12 tartlets from this quantity of ingredients).
Because it is still so humid in our parts, I chill the flour in the mixing bowl for about an hour.
Add the cubed butter to the flour and mix till the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the chilled water and bring the dough together. Gently shape it into a ball and flatten it. Wrap it in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for a couple of hours.
Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out little circles to fill the greased mini tart tins. Chill again for another 15-20 minutes. Place buttered foil in each tin (buttered side down as this makes it easy to remove the foil/beans later), fill up with baking beans and bake in a preheated 180C oven for 10 minutes. 
Remove the foil and the beans and bake for another 8-10 minutes.
Let the shells cool down before you add the filling.

Strawberry & mascarpone tartlets
The filling:
For the filling I had to make do with whatever little bit of mascarpone left. I took a bit of condensed milk, added a teaspoon of vanilla extract and the mascarpone and mixed them all up with a fork. Then I filled a few tart shells with this filling, placed some strawberry slices on top and added a few sprigs of mint leaves.
The taste was delicious!! As for the remaining tart 'shells' I'm toying with ideas...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Methi Ki Launji/Chutney Made Of Fenugreek Seeds

Methi ki launji
This is a first for me. Making a chutney that is sweet and sour out of an ingredient that is known for its bitterness. So far I have only used it in tempering dal, curries and pickles. The sharp aroma as soon as a few of them hit the hot oil is reminiscent of the smells of childhood...of someone's dal being given the final touch or someone's sabji getting an aromatic start.:) Now that the cooler season is coming, I am looking forward to using a lot of methi leaves in my dishes.
The other day I was watching a chef (can't remember the name) rustle up a few Rajasthani dishes. One of them was Govind Gatta and the other was Methi Ki Launji. The latter reminded me of my old scrapbook from the 90s where I had kept weekend supplements from The Telegraph, the most widely circulated paper in our region. One of the front runners of hearty Indian cooking was Jiggs Kalra. I had kept a cutting of a dish titled Methi Kishmish in one of the supplements where the chef wrote a weekly column. So it gets made this way too was what I thought and never actually made it. But the thought remained...maybe one day. In a household that loves its potatoes and only a few more ingredients, it would have been foolish for me to make a chutney that I would surely have to give away. And giving away is easier now as my siblings are in the same city along with the nephews and the nieces.:)
100 grams methi seeds
A pinch of asafoetida/hing
A quarter tsp cumin seeds
A quarter tsp fennel seeds
3-4 dry red chillies
2-3 Indian bay leaves
Turmeric powder, as required
Red chilli powder, as per taste
1/2 cup grated jaggery 
Dash of salt
Toasted and ground cumin and coriander powder
7-8 dates, stoned and chopped into small pieces
3 tbs mustard oil
A handful of raisins
Tamarind water, as per taste

Methi ki launji

I started this a day earlier by soaking the fenugreek seeds . Leave overnight. If you want to remove the bitterness, you can change the water from time to time. The next morning, drain the seeds in a colander. After the water drains off you can place the colander inside the oven. This makes sprouting faster. I hadn't intended to sprout the seeds but while finishing off other things in the kitchen and not getting to make it straightaway, I noticed that the sprouting had already begun. So far so good. Bitterness quotient, reduced.
Cook the soaked seeds in a pressure cooker with about 11/2 cups water. I let it cook for one whistle. After the steam went off, the seeds were again drained in a colander.
Methi ki launji

Soak some tamarind in warm water. Set aside. You could also use amchoor powder instead of tamarind pulp.
Heat the oil in a kadhai. When it comes to smoking point, throw in the aromatics...hing, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, dry chillies, Indian bay leaves.
Then add the methi and stir well. Add the spices and cook till the mixture comes together. Add the chopped dates, raisins, salt and grated jaggery. Continue to took till the chutney thickens.
Squeeze out the pulp from the soaked tamarind and add it along with the water it's been soaked in.
Give the chutney a good stir and remove from the flame.
Once it cools down completely, transfer to a bottle and keep in the fridge.
I intend to finish this in a week's time, mainly with puris and roti.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Banana Flower Fritters

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

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

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