Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tomato Shorba With Saffron Focaccia


East meets west in this simple meal. One is a hearty Indian soup referred to as shorba in the northern part of our country. And the other has its origins in Italy. This year my tomato plants took a beating as our garage floor had to be raised. I usually grow my plants next to the garage as there's any other space left. Work went on while I was away and many tomato plants were destroyed. I did get some green ones and a few ripe ones but that was about it. 
So when my husband's cousin turned up bearing a bagful of ripe home-grown tomatoes, I was over the moon! The first thing that I made was a tomato tart with left-over pastry dough. Several more went into butter chicken with store-bought tandoori chicken.:)
Tamatar ka shorba:
2 cups ripe tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
1 red chilli, scored lengthwise, seeds intact
Salt to taste
Sugar for the balance
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3-4 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
1 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp toasted and ground cinnamon powder
1 tejpatta
1 star anise
A few peppercorns
2 tbs vegetable oil
A quarter tsp cumin seeds

In a pressure cooker, add all the ingredients except the sugar, oil, and cumin seeds. Add a little more than a cup of water.
Let it cook for 4 whistles. I used a small pressure cooker.
After the steam goes off, open the lid. Discard the whole spices.
Blitz in a mixer. Check the seasoning and make adjustments.
Add the sugar, as per taste, and blitz again.
Transfer to a serving bowl.
Heat the vegetable oil in a pan.
Throw in the cumin seeds. Switch off the gas as soon as they sputter.
Pour this oil on the bowl of shorba.
Garnish with herbs. I used a bit of serrated coriander in this shorba.
There are quite a few variations in shorba recipes but I think this is also really good!


I came across this saffron focaccia recipe from a book by Martha Day. The dough is made in a food processor. But I knead with my hands for all the bread that I bake.
Ingredients:
Pinch of saffron strands
150 ml boiling water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp easy-blend yeast
1 tbsp olive oil

For the topping:
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 small onion cut into thin slices
rosemary sprigs
Some olives
1 tbsp olive oil
Infuse the saffron in the boiling water. Leave to cool till tepid.
Place the salt, yeast, flour and olive oil in a large bowl.
Make a well in the centre and add the saffron water.
Mix till the dough comes together then tilt the contents to a work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes.
Then place the dough in a bowl, cover and let it rise till double in size.
Punch down the risen dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it into a thick disc.
You could roll it in other shapes too. But I used a circular ceramic pie dish. This was lightly greased. The recipe had an oval bread.
Preheat the oven to 200 C.  Press indentations in the dough.
Set aside for 25-30 minutes. 
Cover with the topping ingredients, brush lightly with olive oil and bake for 25 minutes or till the loaf sounds hollow.
Leave to cool.

This was a lovely combination. And a first for me. In kitchen gardens it's the end of the season for tomatoes. They usually last till May but the rains came early this year . I can imagine a lot of households busy making use of the last tomatoes from their gardens. As for me I still have to make some sauce and some chutney.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Chicken Leg Quarters In Fried Onion Sauce


I made this about two weeks ago. It was simply cooked but full of flavour. I'm so stuck into curried versions that I don't really try to make other variations as often as I should. (Food blogger's point of view:)). 

Ingredients:
2 chicken leg quarters
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and ground
1 small piece of ginger, peeled and ground
Salt to taste
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp chilli powder
A dash of cumin (roasted and ground)
1/2 tsp roasted and ground coriander
2 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
Enough vegetable oil to deep-fry the onions
A bunch of cooked spinach to serve along with this dish

Marinate the chicken with the first four ingredients for an hour.
Meanwhile heat the oil in a pan and fry the onions till they are crisp and golden brown.
Remove with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper.
Let them cool then grind the lot into a paste.
In another pan, take about two tablespoons of the oil that the onions were fried in.
Add the marinated chicken and cook by turning at regular intervals for about 15-20 minutes.
Then add the pepper, chilli powder, coriander, cumin and the onion paste.
Pour a bit of water so that there's some sauce-like gravy. Cook for some more minutes till the chicken is done and the gravy is thick.
Transfer the chicken to a serving dish and pour the sauce on top.
Arrange the spinach on the sides. Decorate with herbs or edible flowers.

With the spinach, I removed the stems and used only the leaves. These were washed and cooked in a pan for a few minutes till they wilted. I added a pinch of salt and a dash of ground pepper.
The stems went into a dish of curried potatoes on another day. I also love to add the stems to dal.

I had intended to use the onions for another dish. But I changed my mind and ground them up. It worked like magic.This dish goes well with both rice or rotis.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Pie With Mulberry Jam Filling


The haul of goodies that came back with me from Kashmir included a bottle of mulberry jam. And pie was the first thing that came to my mind. What's new...you all must be thinking...A pie with the fresh fruit would have been ideal but we are talking about a fruit that spoils easily. And since I don't have them growing in my garden (although the seeds I sowed have sprouted and grown) jam isn't a bad choice.

I was happy to get this bottle of jam in a supermarket as I was looking for a particular brand of masala. It is mentioned on the label that this was introduced for the first time by JKAIDCL (Jammu & Kashmir State Agro Industries Development Corporation). Mulberry or shahtoot has medicinal properties the details, in case you are interested, can be found here.
Walnuts, sour cream and the mixture.

A saffron field in Pampore
I didn't want to fill up my pie with with the sweetness of jam so I scoured the internet and came across a recipe that I liked. Of course I didn't follow it down to the last detail. It included sour cream and pecans. But I used walnuts that I brought back with me. We got some lovely local produce from a shop near Pampore. The town is referred to as the Saffron Town of Kashmir because of the high-grade saffron grown here.

Ingredients:
For the pastry
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
100 grams butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg
Iced water to sprinkle if the egg isn't enough to bind the dough
( I did not add sugar to the dough as I didn't want the pie to be overly sweet). 
Method:
Beat the egg in a small bowl and set aside.
Place the flour in a large bowl and add the butter. Using the tips of your fingers, rub the butter into the flour till the mixture is crumbly.
Add the egg and bring the dough together.
Shape it into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.
If you plan this ahead, let the dough rest overnight.
Take out the dough and cut enough out to roll into a circle that's a little bigger than your pie dish.
Prick gently with a fork on the surface. Let this rest in the fridge as you get the filling ready.

The filling:
Mulberry jam (I used half from the 500 g bottle)
2 yolks + 1 yolk for the egg wash
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tbs almond extract
A pinch of cinnamon
A pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
1/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Beat the egg yolks and add the sour cream to it. Add the next four ingredients and give it a good whisk. Lastly, add the walnuts.
Take the rested pastry bottom and spread the jam on it.
Quickly roll out the other half of the dough and set it aside.
Pour the egg/sour cream mixture on top of the jam.
Cover the pastry with the other half. Cut off excess dough and tuck the sides inwards..
Create a pattern with a fork on the edges to make it more secure.
Cut out patterns with any left-over dough and paste on the surface by using the egg wash.
Prick with a fork on the surface for steam to escape while baking. I left this out as the dough tore in three places. Which is why these flower patterns are not symmetrically placed. Tearing is always asymmetrical.:)

Brush with egg and bake in a preheated 200 C oven for 20 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 180 C and bake till the pie is golden brown. This may require another 15-20 minutes. Before the pie went into the oven, it did feel that the filling was not enough. But as it baked it swelled up and did its bit of filling the kitchen with magical aromas. The addition of eggs/sour cream mixture and also not adding sugar to the pastry dough cut down the sweetness of the jam. I had a slice with a dollop of sour cream and fennel leaves. Better than a regular jam pie.:)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Back From Kashmir


I got back from a wonderful holiday in Kashmir. Though it was a short trip, it was so enjoyable that even now, going about my regular chores, I think I'm smiling most of the time because my head is filled with images of blossoms of every hue! Walking out of the airport in Srinagar, the sight of cherry and almond blossoms lifted our spirits. There was a slight drizzle and rain-bearing clouds in the distance.

The next morning was spent exploring the area surrounding our guest house. We stayed in the outskirts, near the railway station. But this was nowhere like any other station in India. Plum and peach orchards dotted the area and we had such a lovely time walking around with our cameras.

In the afternoon we headed to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Tulip Garden. Spread over 12 hectares this is the largest tulip garden in Asia. Two million tulip bulbs have been planted here in 48 colours. Apart from tulips many cooler climate flowers like hyacinths, primroses, cyclamens and others were blooming. The air was fragrant with all these blossoms and the colours were a sight to behold.
The Zabarwan range of hills in the background had clumps of blossoming fruit trees.


Other flowers that were blooming in the garden.

Although dinner was usually at the guest house, lunch was Kashmiri wazwan. Here's a sample from Shamiana restaurant near Dal lake. It consisted of rista/meat balls in red gravy, rogan josh/aromatic lamb curry, seekh kabab in gravy, nan and rice.
On the way to Pahalgam we stopped at a bakery and bought some local bread called baqerkhani. The baker was happy to have us drop by that he gave us a large coconut biscuit to taste. There are many bakeries all along the route and Kashmiris are known to be experts at baking bread.


The Lidder river in Pahalgam.

More Kashmiri wazwan. Chicken curry, gushtaba, Kashmiri pulao and seekh kabab. All very delicious! A description of wazwan from Wiki. Wazwan is a multi-course meal in Kashmiri cuisine, the preparation of which is an art and a point of pride in Kashmiri culture culture and identity. Almost all the dishes are meat-based.
My post isn't done but Blogger is imperative that I do not post any more photos. I wonder if others are facing the same issue. There's more to follow as we also went to Gulmarg and did some of the sights in Srinagar. My haul consisted of all kinds of nuts, dried berries, saffron, local honey and local mulberry jam. In fact I had baked a pie using the jam. Too bad I can't post the pictures. I'll try again later.



Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mast O Khiar/Iranian Cold Cucumber Soup


Despite the threat of rain it's beginning to feel humid. And it feels just right to have a bowl of this refreshing cold cucumber soup. The recipe is from the book Pomegranates & Roses by the noted Iranian chef,  Ariana Bundy. I often watch her shows on TV and love her recipes. The first recipe I tried from the book was again to do with yogurt...a yogurt cake.
The rose petals are from my garden. I am now growing a few rose plants in the colours shown below. Since I love edible flowers, I think I'll get a constant supply of roses from now on.:)
Although the idea came from the book, I made my own version. Some ingredients are not readily available. This recipe serves 4.

Ingredients:
400 grams full fat yogurt
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tbs raisins, soaked and chopped
3 tbs toasted walnuts, chopped
Spring onions, chopped
1/2 tsp dried mint
1 tbs chopped fresh mint
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
1 tbs dried rose petals to decorate (optional)

Method:
Whisk the yogurt with the salt. Then add all the ingredients except the rose petals. Just before serving in individual bowls, sprinkle the rose petals. When the weather gets very hot you can add some ice cubes.
This is a most refreshing soup and just right for our kind of weather. If you want, you could add a bit of powdered sugar or honey. But for me, the sweetness from the raisins was good enough.


I had ordered this book online and it arrived when I was drying some rose petals that had come in a bouquet the previous day, So I couldn't resist taking this picture!
The recipe in the book uses a mix of  Greek yogurt, full-fat natural yogurt and some sour cream. It also uses some finely chopped tarragon sprigs.
I came across a variation of this recipe in another book...The Moti Mahal Cookbook by Monish Gujral. Here it is named Iranian Raita (Iranian Relish) and made like our Indian raita with the addition of honey, salt, white pepper powder, chopped raisins, roasted and powdered cumin seeds and garnished with chopped coriander. Sounds delicious!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Prune & Custard Brioche Tart

Prune & custard brioche tart

Although I often bake tarts, I usually use shortcrust pastry. But a brioche tart had been on my mind for a while. I finally got around to making it the other day. It is still pleasant to work in the kitchen with the March showers making the weather a little cool. My only regret is that my mango tree has not bloomed this year. Not to see the blooms/tiny mangoes and the sparrows feeding on them/on the insects buzzing around them is certainly not a sight I am accustomed to. Not at this time of the year.

There's a recipe for brioche buns here. I left out the raisins and orange zest and used the rest of the ingredients. I had used half of the dough for a trial run, baking a small tart without the custard and adding prunes and walnuts only. It turned out a little dry.
With this one, the dough rested overnight and the next day I used a 10" ceramic pie dish. I didn't roll the dough to cover the dish like one would do with shortcrust pastry but used it for the rim it would create to hold the filling.

Then I folded the border and crimped it. You can see here that I need to work on my crimping.:)

I made a bit of custard with three egg yolks, 150 ml milk, some cream, vanilla extract, grated nutmeg and sugar. I forgot to add the grated lemon zest so I scattered them on top before the tart went into the oven.
After about 40 minutes, the dough had risen so I made dimples all across the base.

The quantity of the custard was not much. This was made so that the prunes would have a moist base as an earlier small tart I had made turned out to be too dry for my liking. First the custard was strained and poured on the base. Then I arranged a handful of prunes. This was followed by a scattering of walnuts that were coarsely broken. The last was a scattering of grated lemon zest. It looked quite nice although my camera didn't do justice to the dish.:(

Then it went into a preheated 180C oven for about 25 minutes. The browning happened soon so 15 minutes into the baking, I used a piece of foil to cover the tart.

This turned out to be one of the most delicious tarts ever! Now I'll be looking at other options with fruits. There's a whole brioche (tart) world out there waiting to be explored!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Savoury Pumpkin Muffins With Pea Shoot & Strawberry Salad


The other day I used a whole pumpkin to cook rice in it. The seeds and stringy bits were discarded and the shell made a lovely and fragrant 'rice pot'. Since some pieces were left over (after sharing with friends), two slices were mashed and made into chutney and the remaining slices went into these muffins.

These are the ingredients that went into the muffins:
A bunch of tender amaranth (picked from my pots)
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 tbs dried basil (from my potted garden)
1 cup pumpkin pureed with
1/3 cup milk
3 eggs (the picture shows 2 but I added one more)
11/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup crumbled Feta
A few rashers of bacon
2 chillies, one green and one red, chopped
1 tbs ground black pepper
Salt to taste
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra for frying the onions and the greens

Method:
Wash and chop up the greens. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the bacon for a few minutes. Remove and set aside. You can chop/break them up into smaller pieces.
In the same oil, add the onions and cook til they turn pale. Remove.
Add the greens in the same pan and cook till they are almost done. Remove and let it cool.
Add all the wet ingredients into a large bowl and mix well.Then add the dry ingredients and mix well. 
Fill the muffin moulds with the mix and bake in a preheated oven for about 25 minutes or till a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
I used a silicone mould for 6 and the rest of the batter went into a paper-lined muffin tin. Which is why I did not have to use extra oil/butter to grease the moulds.
The batter yielded 14 muffins. The ones baked in the muffin tin were smaller in size.

Since the muffins were savoury. I thought a salad would make a lovely accompaniment. I used pea shoots (again from my pots) and strawberries and a handful of spinach. The dressing had mustard, honey, apple cider vinegar, spring onions, salt and extra virgin olive oil. For a bit of crunch I added pumpkin seeds from the pumpkin I had used in cooking. It was indeed a good combination.