Thursday, March 5, 2015

Cucumber Raita

Cucumber raita
Cucumber raita. The vase holds begonia blooms from my pots
With the heat of summer looming over us it's time to become friends again with raita.:) But as I type this, I can hear the rustle of the March wind and last night it rained. Not in torrents but it was enough for the dust to settle and today I left most of our windows open without fear that clouds of dust would enter and settle on every surface possible!
But this season of transition from the pleasantest days of the year to the high heat of summer isn't without its delights.The landscape is ablaze with the red of the Coral tree that attract many birds throughout the day. I didn't venture out for the photos. This was taken in our neighbourhood. The mild fragrance of mango blossoms fill the air. The bees and the sparrows seem to love them. There's always a noisy flock of sparrows on the higher reaches of our neighbour's tree. Not too many blossoms on my tree this year, sadly.
Sparrows feast on the mango blooms and the Coral tree attracts many varieties of birds.
The raita I made accompanied a dish of vegetable biryani, pictured below. To serve 10-12 people you need:
1 kilo tender cucumber
500g thick plain curd
Rock salt to taste
Fine sugar as per taste
2 tsp roasted and ground cumin
1 tsp red chilli powder
Cut off the ends of the cucumbers and peel them. 
Grate them fine and leave to drain in a colander.
Transfer the curd to a large bowl and whisk it well. 
Add the sugar and the salt. Whisk again and adjust accordingly.
Press the grated cucumber against the colander to squeeze out as much of the juice as possible.
Add the drained cucumber to the curd and mix well.
Add the chilli powder and the roasted cumin by creating a design on the surface of the raita.
Chill till ready to use. Take it out at least 15 minutes before serving.

Vegetable biryani
Vegetable biryani
I did not really mix the spices in the curd. But a serving of it holds all the spices and you get a perfect blend. I did not add any mint or coriander in the raita as the biryani had a generous amount of dried mint. The potatoes were embellished with it!The other vegetable that I added were carrots cut into chunks. The biryani was decorated with boiled eggs, roasted almonds and walnuts. Apart from the raita, I had also made spicy chicken curry.
The juice from the cucumber makes such a refreshing drink. I usually add a dash of rock salt and finely chopped mint to it. A kilo sounds like a lot but with all the juice draining away, the amount is just right for the quantity of curd I mentioned.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bread & Butter Pudding With Oranges, Cardamom & Saffron

The other day, for a family dinner, I made this dessert. I had posted about a similar pudding before but this one is slightly different. And it's got oranges! That took this dish to another level. Both times I was inspired by the recipe of the two chefs, Tony Singh and Cyrus Todiwala from the show,The Incredible Spice Men. This has been adapted from the same.
16 slices bread (a day old)
90 grams butter, at room temperature+ a little extra to grease the baking pan
5 cups milk
1 cup caster sugar
8 eggs
2 oranges, the zest of one and the juice of the other
4 cardamom pods, remove seeds and grind to powder
A pinch of saffron
A handful of raisins, wash and pat dry
Orange marmalade for the glaze
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream to serve it with 

Put the milk on the boil and let it thicken a bit. Keep about 2 tbs aside to soak the saffron strands.
Add the sugar and stir well.
Beat the eggs in a bowl and pour the hot milk over it whisking all the time.
Add the cardamom powder and the orange zest.
Leave to infuse as you prepare the bread slices.
Remove the brown edges and butter each slice. Cut diagonally in half.
Grease the baking pan and arrange the bread slices with the buttered side up.
Remove the peel of the orange (the one with the zest removed). Follow the natural curves with a sharp knife. Remove any remaining white parts and arrange the segments in the pan.
Scatter the raisins across the pan. Strain the egg/milk mixture and pour it over the bread slices.
Leave to soak for about an hour. In between, use the back of a spoon to gently push the bread downwards so that more of the egg/milk mix is absorbed.
With a teaspoon, add the saffron/milk mix right on top.
Pour the oranges juice all over the top as well.
The little bit of butter that remains can also be added in little dots across the baking pan.
Preheat the oven to 180C . Place the baking pan on the tray. Pour hot water in the tray and bake for about 40 minutes till the top is golden.
Heat 3 tablespoons of marmalade with a teaspoon of water. Use a pastry brush and brush the glaze all across the golden surface.
I wanted it to brown a bit so I turned the knob to grill and ended up overdoing it.:(
But otherwise it was good and it did feel like a treat with the infusion of the orange zest and the spices. The bottom portion was creamier than the top. And getting the orange segments in bits and pieces was totally refreshing! This is one pudding I might be making again soon! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Spring Onion Flower Pakodas

Spring onion pakodas
Onion flower pakodas
I usually start my day with a cup of tea and then head outside to water my plants. Like all gardeners, I have never been able to stick to simply watering. There are leaves that need to be picked up, there's always a bit of weeding to be done and then there's the myriad garden wildlife whose moments one MUST capture as you might never get them again. So it's the trowel, the hose, the watering can, the phone, and the camera that make up my watering paraphernalia.:)
Spring onion blooms in a wooden container
I knew my spring onions were better this year than on other years. I had noticed earlier that they were about to bloom but this morning I some of them looking like this one in the picture. And suddenly I remembered my mother making pakodas out of the several blooms in our garden when my siblings and I were very young. That must have been in the 70s. It was THAT long ago. But I called up my mother and asked here because it did feel like it was in a dream. Cooking the onion blooms, I mean. She said, Goodness, you remember that? That was ages ago and I haven't made these pakodas since when... 
When you talk about instances from the past all the years come back in fleeting moments. But when you lose your loved ones, every memory comes with the faces of the dead and gone. Well I have been reliving many precious moments today....
The blooms are so pretty that I ended up taking more photos than required.
 Spring onion pakodas
Pakodas are fritters that are made with different kinds of vegetables. The simplest ones will have onions, chillies and a few spices. The batter is made from chickpea flour with a little bit of soda bicarbonate added to it. A mix of chopped vegetables are mixed into the batter and deep fried. Pakodas are crunchy on the outside and soft inside. It's usually eaten with tomato sauce or green chutney. This is the most common and versatile snack. And goes so well with a cup of tea!

To serve 2 you'll need:
10-12 spring onion flowers
2 green chillies, chopped fine
A quarter tsp mixed spice powder (curry powder will work fine)
3-4 heaped tbs besan/chickpea flour
1 tsp rice flour (for the extra crunch
A pinch of soda bicarbonate
Salt to taste
A quarter tsp chilli powder (optional)
A pinch of turmeric powder (if you want a richer colour)
Oil to fry
Water to mix the batter
Spring onion pakodas

Remove the stalks and the papery stuff at the base of the clusters. Wash and leave to drain.
In a bowl, add the chickpea flour and the rice flour.
Add the chillies, the spice powder, salt, soda bicarbonate, and chilli powder, if using.
Pour the water in very small amounts till you get a thickish batter.
Heat the oil in a pan. When it becomes hot, dip each flower in the batter and fry till golden brown.
It will take only 2-3 minutes for each one to be done. The whole lot can be fried in a couple of batches.
Drain on absorbent paper. Transfer to a serving platter and serve with tomato sauce or green chutney.
The remaining batter can be used for more pakodas. The stalks can be chopped up, added to the batter and fried. That is if you do not intend to use them for another recipe.
These were wonderful with a milder taste than what you would have got out of the bulb. But the best part was using the blooms from my garden. There are some things that you will not get until you them.:)
Pakodas are best eaten hot! The spices can always be changed along with the vegetables that you add to the batter. My favourite pakodas happen to be a mix of eggplant and cabbage chopped fine with plenty of onions added to the batter.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Orange Polenta Cake

orange polenta cake
Orange polenta cake
It's the last day of February and I am still left with some pictures from last month that I hadn't posted. Rather than feeling I-wish-I-had-posted-earlier, I might as well, now. When I go visiting, I usually bake a cake and carry it along. Nothing fancy. So when I went to my hometown I packed a bucketful of cakes for family and relatives. It made sense to pack them together in a confined space where they would stand the bumps of our hilly roads on a 7-8 hour drive. I had photographed a Dundee cake in a mustard field with the flowers in full bloom some time ago and it was a wish that I would take a picture of the scenic view with my cake in the foreground. But before we reached the place with better views, the sun started playing hide and seek. Worried about the light, I told my son to hold the cake and clicked this picture. The hills beyond aren't the prettiest but at least I had a picture! Without a wall in the background!:))
Dundee cake
The picture below, taken a few years ago on the same route would have made a better setting. Sigh. Anyway this is the first recipe that I made from Yotam Ottolenghi's book. I still had some polenta left over and oranges were (still is) in season. And what would be better than an orange/polenta cake?
On the way to my hometown, Haflong

50g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
3 eggs, lightly beaten
240g ground almonds
2 tsp orange blossom water
120g quick-cook polenta

Caramel topping:
90g caster sugar
2 tbs water
20g butter, diced
2 oranges, and maybe another extra one

Glaze (optional)
4tbsp orange marmalade
1 tbsp water
orange polenta cake

Grease a 20cm round baking tin and line the base and sides with baking parchment.
Put the sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the water. Let the sugar come to a boil. When it turns to a nice golden colour, remove the pan from the heat. Add the chunks of butter. Stir with a wooden spoon and pour the mix on the prepared cake tin. Tilt so that the caramel spreads evenly.
Grate the zest of two oranges and set it aside. Slice off 1 cm from the top and bottom of each orange. Standing each orange on a board, follow the natural curves of the orange with a knife and peel off the skin and the white pith.
Cut each horizontally into 6 slices. If the space in the tin is not filled up you might need to cut another one.
Heat the oven to 170C. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter with the sugar. Gradually add the eggs. Next the reserved orange zest can go in followed by the orange blossom water. Then add the almond flour, the polenta and sifted dry ingredients.
Transfer the batter to the prepared tin without disturbing the orange layer. Level the top with a palette knife. Then bake the cake for about 40-45 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes.
Place an inverted plate on top of the tin and turn over. Remove the lining paper and let the cake cool completely.
orange polenta cake

For the glaze, bring the water and the marmalade to a boil. Then pass the mixture through a sieve. Lightly brush the top of the cake while the mixture is still hot.
The only ingredient I didn't use was orange blossom water because I didn't have it. But since the ingredients are from the book, I felt I shouldn't leave it out. I still use a hand whisk for my cakes but the recipe in the book mentions an electric mixer. This a rather unusual-tasting cake but my nieces (for whom I had baked) loved it!!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Stuffed Bottle-gourd

Stuffed bottle gourd
Stuffed bottle gourd in a rich gravy garnished with roasted almonds and coriander
Some dishes, like this one, remain at the back of your mind and you never really get around to cooking them. But with my bottle gourd vine bearing fruit it is only fair that I make as many different dishes as possible before the gifting to family and friends start...
This was inspired by Chef Jiggs Kalra, one of the first food writers in our country whose articles and recipes (published in The Telegraph) I read voraciously. Some of the chef's recipes are here and here. I made a few adjustments with the recipe. Let's get on with it starting with the filling.
6-7 potatoes
2 onions, finely grated
1 tbs besan
1 bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped
2 green chillies, diced
A quarter tsp coriander powder
A pinch of cardamom powder
A quarter tsp ginger paste
Salt to taste
Oil to fry
Boil the potatoes tilled cooked through. Cool, peel and mash.
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onions and fry till the colour changes. Then add the besan and fry till the raw smell goes off and it gives out its unique aroma. The rest of the ingredients can go in now. Cook for a few more minutes till the spices are done then add the mashed potatoes. Mix well and keep the mixture on the heat for 4-5 minutes. Remove, cool, and check whether any adjustments need to be made with the seasoning.
The gourd:
1 bottle gourd, medium
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tbs lemon juice
1 tsp chilli powder
Oil to fry
Cut off the ends of the gourd and peel off the skin. Core the inside till you get a hollow as shown in the collage.
Mix the pastes, chilli powder and lemon juice. Rub the gourd, both inside and out with this mix. Leave aside for at least 15 minutes.
Heat oil in a pan and fry the gourd on all sides till almost done. Remove and set aside.

The Gravy:
30 g unsalted butter
2 tbs oil
1 tbs besan
2 tbs yogurt
Almond paste (with 10 almonds)
2 tbs fried onion paste
4 tomatoes
1 tsp coriander powder
Chilli powder
Salt to taste
A pinch of cardamom powder
A pinch of saffron soaked in warm water  
The garnish:
12 roasted almonds
Some coriander leaves
Remove eyes from the tomatoes, cut and boil in a cup of water. When the mixture becomes soft and mushy, force through a fine mesh and set aside.
Whisk the yogurt.
Heat the butter and oil in a pan, add the besan and fry till the raw smell goes off.
Stir in the yogurt, the onion paste and the almond paste. Fry for a couple of minutes and add the tomato puree.
Now the chilli and coriander powder and the saffron can go in. Season with salt.
If the gravy is too thick, add about half a cup of warm water and mix well. Let it thicken a bit.
Sprinkle the cardamom powder and remove from the flame.
The Final Cooking:
Stuff the fried gourd with the potato filling.
Grease a baking tray with oil and preheat the oven to 180C.
Place the stuffed gourd on the tray and bake for about 10 minutes.
Then take it out and coat it with part of the gravy and bake till it's done. This will take another 15 minutes or so.
Remove from the oven and transfer to a serving dish. Slice into similar sizes. Coat the roundels with the gravy. 
Chop the almonds and scatter them over the dish. Sprinkle the coriander leaves as a final garnish.
Stuffed bottle gourd goes very well with Indian flatbreads. The coriander powder I used was from broiled coriander seeds. I usually keep cumin and coriander in in powder form in small batches. So much easier to use and the aroma is heavenly!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Banana Jam Cake With Canola Oil

Banana jam & jam cake
On our recent trip to my hometown we came back with a lot of garden produce Among them were several bunches of bananas given by my husband's aunt. Although these were shared with others we still had about two more bunches that ripened at the same time. Not wanting to make another banana cake, I made a batch of banana jam. It made sense to bottle up memories of that trip in a concoction of sweetness and intense flavours. And not waste a single fruit even if all of them were blackened and looked more than ready to join their ever-rotting cousins in the compost pit. So with a bit of help from Ms. Google I settled for the easiest version. And that came to:
2 bunches of ripe bananas
Juice of 3 lemons
Cinnamon powder
Clove powder
Cardamom powder
Dark brown sugar
Banana jam
Banana jam
I got about 3 cups of mashed bananas to which I added a cup of sugar. This mix was put in a heavy-bottomed pan. The lemon juice and the spices were added and the mix was left to simmer for nearly 40 minutes. I kept stirring at regular intervals so that it wouldn't catch at the bottom. 
As for the spices, it was a quarter spoon of the clove and the cardamom and a heaped teaspoon of cinnamon. Once the mix looked "jammy" I put out the flame and left it to cool. Then it was transferred to a clean jar. Now that the jam was ready, I had to move on to the next step and that was baking a cake using the jam as a core ingredient. I decided on a cake and I wasn't disappointed. The best part was that all the ingredients were thrown in together in a large bowl and given a good mix. Then it was baked for about 45 minutes.

The jam cake:
1 cup canola oil
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 cup banana jam
2 large eggs
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbs milk, optional 
Butter for greasing the tin (I used a bundt tin)
banana jam cake

Take all the wet ingredients together and give it a good mix. With the eggs, add one at a time and whisk till fully incorporated in the batter. Sieve the flour with the baking powder and fold into the mixture. Add the milk if you think the batter is too dry.
Transfer the batter to the tin and level the surface with a spatula. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 40 minutes or until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Let it cool down a bit and then remove from the tin.

The caramel sauce: (this a Donna Hay recipe)
3/4 cup brown sugar
250 ml cream
Place the sugar and cream in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir till the sugar is completely dissolved. Increase the heat and simmer rapidly till the sauce thickens.
Remove, cool and drizzle over the cake.

As I type this not a crumb remains. I had gone to meet my mother (who is here for a health check-up), my sisters, nieces and nephew and they all loved the cake! It was soft and moist and delicious (their words) and I'm glad I baked it. No picture was taken of the sliced wedges but sometimes I think it doesn't matter at all!
The cake stand interestingly has the 60s Make love not war sign.  The stand is inscribed with these words---- Peace of cake!:) The beautiful yellow gerberas came from a friend's garden.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Broccoli & Chicken Quiche

Broccoli & chicken quiche
Broccoli & chicken quiche
My mini baking moulds are best suited for single servings and when I am alone in the house, a one-pot or one-dish meal is usually what I make. The boys aren't home and of late, my husband has been travelling with his band to perform within and outside the state. He isn't a full-time musician but at certain times of the year it feels like he is one.:)
Quiche can be very filling and fulfilling! The meat and the vegetables coupled with the cheese makes a delicious combination. And I teamed it up with a simple salad of lettuce that I had bought at the recent horticultural show. The lettuce plants are doing well in their respective containers now.
Broccoli & chicken quiche
The different stages...
I didn't make the pastry from scratch this time. There was some left over from a previous pie-baking day and in order to finish off the dough, I tucked in the overhanging pieces and made a double edged border on one of these two. Then I rested them in the fridge and baked them blind. As I waited for them to cool down, I prepared the filling.
The filling:
1/2 of a small broccoli head
1 cup boiled chicken pieces, no bones
1 onion, finely chopped
100 ml cream
3 small eggs
2 cubes of Amul cheese
1 tsp grated pepper
A dash of salt
2 tbs oil
Cut the broccoli into florets and plunge them into boiling water for a couple of minutes.
Drain and plunge into iced water. Drain again and set aside in a colander.
Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the onions till translucent.
Add the chicken pieces and the drained broccoli florets. Fry for a couple of minutes. 
Season with a dash of salt and grated pepper.
Remove and let it cool as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Grate the cheese and keep aside.
In a bowl, break the eggs and whisk along with the cream. Add the cheese and give it a good mix.
Divide the chicken/broccoli mix between the two shells.
Pour the egg/cream/cheese mix and bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes or till it turns a golden brown.
Remove, cool, and have it at room temperature with a green salad.
Broccoli & chicken quiche
Broccoli & chicken quiche with salad
The chicken was boiled with ginger, garlic, pepper and a touch of salt, so despite just a little bit of frying, it was good! The salad I made had lettuce and a few leaves/blooms of nasturtium. Nasturtium season doesn't last long and I make it a point to use them in my salads. The dressing had honey, grated pepper, salt, lemon juice, and extra virgin olive oil.