Friday, March 29, 2013

Apple Pie & Thoughts On Making Pastry



Pastry was something I had not tried or I had kept putting off for a long time. I think I was more used to the dough of  our Indian flat-breads that needed to be rested only for a short while. So the process of chilling/resting and then baking blind, the baking beans, all seemed pretty tedious to me. But since all the major food channels made it seem like a breeze, I thought I’d give it a go. Once I did that I was hooked! No it wasn’t smooth sailing initially but the taste and the beauty of the end result (even if I say so myself) was worth every failure (with a small f) and effort. In our parts, not every household is into pastry making. I started with rustic pies, then proceeded to tartlets and quiches. I love the idea of using different fruits and vegetables in sweet and savoury pies much as we use them (the veggies) in our stuffed parathas.

Paratha stuffed with finely shredded cabbage, onions, and seasoning.
I love that rustic look to these mini pies, fresh out of the oven
I use a lot of fruit in baking. Unlike the bigger cities in our country, we don’t have speciality shops where everything is available. Even with fruit, our choices are limited. I'm talking about fruits that are generally used in baking. Most of the acidic fruits available in our region are more suited for pickling and for sweet and sour chutneys.But with Indian online stores that come up with the frozen ones, there’s a silver lining…The other day I made an apple pie. There were quite a few apples in the fridge. Apples come either from the states of Himachal or Kashmir but we don’t get cooking apples as such in our markets. So I use the regular ones from the local fruit market.

 This time I used orange juice instead of lemon, on the diced apples. The other ingredients that went in were: sugar, some cinnamon powder, a handful of raisins, and since I had some sweet purple grapes, in they went too. About a dozen of them. I love making the lattice, it's not the finest but love it anyway. Since there was a bit of dough left, I didn't end with just crimping the edges but I made a rope-like pattern on the border.
All set for the egg-wash and a hot oven

Oops, a bit too much of sugar dust!



The taste was lovely and although the sugar dusting seemed thick, it didn't matter because there wasn't much sweetness in the apple/grape mixture. Another reason not to feel so guilty after all. With age, the thought of cutting down on sugar simply hovers at the back of the mind. But as long as I don't indulge in food that isn't overly sweet, at least I am doing something about it.:) And as I type this the thought of purslane sprouting between the bricks in my front-yard brings to mind another recipe. Maybe teamed with spinach and other greens that I might be able to forage in the spinach patch itself might result in a delicious quiche!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chicken Curry, the Dimasa Way

There are some dishes that remain forever fresh and appealing. We all love to try out new tastes and new ingredients but we all come back to comfort food. For us Dimasas, one of our all-time favourite dishes/comfort food is this chicken curry cooked with a few spices, and thickened with rice flour. Called Douno-hain hon, the literal translation is "chicken cooked with rice flour". With our staple being rice, the cereal in powder or paste form is used as a thickening agent in our curries.

Douno-hain hon/Chicken curry thickened with rice flour

Ingredients:-

Chicken with skin     800grams

Onions                     3-4 medium

Ginger                      a one-inch piece

Garlic                       a quarter teaspoon

Green chillies            10-12

Turmeric                   nearly half a teaspoon 

Mustard oil                about 3 tablespoons

Salt to taste

Rice flour                 3 tablespoons

Ginger leaves            half a dozen


Method:-

  • Singe the chicken over the flame on all sides till evenly browned. This imparts a faint smoky smell and burns up some of the downy feathers that remain. Then cut it into regular pieces ( the way the pieces are generally used in curry). 
  • Rub salt and turmeric on the chicken pieces and keep aside.
  • Peel and grate the onions.
  • Wash and slit the green chillies. We don't discard the seeds as we love the heat.
  • Peel the ginger and grind it in a mortar and pestle. The paste need not be fine.
  • Peel the garlic (about 10 cloves) and make into a paste.
  • Heat the oil in a karhai. When it comes to smoking point, add the onions and fry for a few minutes. Add the chillies.
  • Then add the chicken pieces and the ginger/garlic pastes. Keep on frying till the oil separates. This will take about 25 minutes or so depending on the temperature of the flame you're working on.
  • Add about 4 cups of water. In curries that use a thickening agent the gravy should actually make you feel...did I make it too watery? It'll thicken once the flour is added. Keep it covered as it cooks....
  • Check to see if the meat is tender. Then make a paste of the rice flour by adding a little bit of water. This makes it easier to pour into the curry as you keep stirring making sure there are no lumps. Once the flour is added, the dish needs to be removed from the fire.
  • Wash and tear the ginger leaves and garnish.
This curry goes best with steaming hot rice. The use of spices like cumin and coriander is optional. The taste is best with these few spices that I've written about. The addition of red chilli powder makes the colour of the dish more attractive but again, that is also optional. Whenever I see shoots about to sprout from ginger that I get from the market, I promptly plant them in pots and this all important ingredient as a garnish is taken care of. Coriander leaves and serrated coriander can also be used. But we've always used ginger leaves, and for me, the dish would be incomplete without the subtle flavour that comes from the leaves as we dig into the chicken.
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A little thick here, but gravy isn't photogenic:)  
                                                                                                                                                                                           
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today. Happy Holi!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Black Rice Pudding


Rice pudding has always been a favourite for us Indians. Fragrant rice is used to create this dish. The short-grained Joha  is much loved in Assam. But ever since I came across the black rice of Manipur some years ago, rice pudding has taken on  a different hue, and a richer, nuttier flavour. Certain outlets in our city stock this variety of rice. I got mine from a restaurant that specializes in ethnic food for 120 rupees a kilo. Maihang, the restaurant I'm referring to, also stocks a few kinds of tea and spices. All organic, of course!
Black rice is glutinous and said to be rich in Vitamin E and full of antioxidants. When the rice is soaked, the water turns into a rich burgundy colour. Soaking is necessary because it takes a little longer than the usual varieties of rice. And the fragrance that fills the house is enough to rustle up some memories of childhood smells that somehow come back triggered by such aromatic moments.


Ingredients:-

Black rice  1 cup (about 100 grams)

Milk           1 litre

Condensed milk ( I nearly emptied the tin)

Raisins       about half a cup

Almonds     about 10 

Butter or ghee for frying the raisins and almonds


Method:-

Wash and soak the rice in a bowl of water for one hour. Since I don't discard the water, I don't add lots of it. There's about an inch of water above the rice. Put a heavy-bottomed pan on the stove and add the rice along with the water. Let it cook for about 10 minutes. Then add the milk and stir every 10 minutes or so. As for the condensed milk, it is optional. One can add sugar according to taste. I didn't empty the tin (I poured a little more than half the tin) as I don't like to have my pudding really sweet. Continue cooking till it becomes thick and the mixture is homogeneous. This will take between 45 to 50 minutes.

Meanwhile wash the raisins and remove the skin of the almonds by soaking them in hot water for ten minutes or so.Then slice them fine. Heat a tablespoon of ghee in a pan. Add the almonds and stir. Remove after a few minutes. Add the raisins in the ghee then turn off the flame as the raisins burn easily. Along with the ghee, add the raisins into the rice pudding. Stir. When the pudding cools down, serve in individual dishes and garnish with the slivers of almonds.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Cherry Tomato & Roasted Beet Salad


Salad was on the menu for lunch today. Since I'll be  including seasonal fruits and vegetables in my post, I thought it'd be great to share this today. I grow cherry tomatoes each year, but they are the ones that are bright red when ripe and they have a tangy taste. On offer in this year's local horticultural show was this particular variety, a healthy green plant and just beginning to bloom. It came in a plastic bag and all I needed to do was to transfer it to a larger pot. That was towards the fag end of January.

My plant actually looked happier after last night's wind and rain.

 By February it looked mighty pleased with itself, sitting cosy in a large earthen pot. Many more blooms followed and I simply couldn't wait to see and taste the fruit. All it asked for was a couple of bamboo stakes.  No fuss at all! By mid-March the  tomatoes started to ripen. I'd expected them to be red/orange but they turned out to be golden globes of melt-in-the-mouth deliciousness. Checked online for cherry tomatoes. Was promptly informed by Ms. Google that small oval tomatoes are called either plum or grape tomatoes. What's in a name?? As long as they are a good accompaniment to a meal or a snack, I'm happy. As I was today with this salad of tomatoes, baby spinach (from my small vegetable patch), roasted beetroot and cucumber.


Ingredients:-

Cherry tomatoes        about 15

Cucumber  (small)            1

Beetroot(medium)              2

Baby spinach              a handful

Nasturtium flowers        a few

Freshly grated pepper   about half teaspoon

Salt to taste

Extra virgin olive oil


Method :-

Wrap the beets in foil and roast in a moderate oven (190*C ) for about 45 minutes. Peel and slice the cucumber. I used a mandolin slicer. Wash the baby spinach and drain in a colander. As for the tomatoes there isn't much to do. To borrow a line from Nigella, (yes the one and only) where she uses peaches, it was simply the arduous task of halving them!!

When the beets are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool. Once cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and dice them. Put all the ingredients in a bowl, add freshly ground pepper, salt, and the extra virgin olive oil. Stir with a fork and throw in a few nasturtium blooms. Nasturtiums are blooming in my garden now which is why I use them whenever/wherever I can.  After all they are seasonal too!

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Here's hoping that you enjoyed going through my post today. Thank you so much for stopping by.




Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Starting a Food Blog

Judima, rice wine of the Dimasas

A Dimasa dish called Khari made of pumpkin and ash gourd

Fern salad

Buns fresh from the oven

Prune tart against a vase of snap dragons


Although I have been blogging on plants and nature for the past few years, my interest has turned increasingly towards food. I do a fair amount of cooking and of course a LOT of recipe browsing and viewing. My blog will be mostly about the kind of food that I generally cook. It's a blend of flavours right from Dimasa cooking (the community I belong to), Indian food, dishes of our region with its varied seasonal vegetables, as well as a bit of baking.
The photos above show 1. Judima-home-brewed rice wine of the Dimasas. I'll be including the recipe in a future post. 2. Khari is a dish that's made of vegetables with the addition of dried fish and alkali. 3. This edible fern known as Daomalai in Dimasa is popular in our region. The last two pictures are of what I love to bake occasionally.
I'm looking forward to this new journey, the learning experience, and the friendship(s) as I explore the fascinating world of food. Thank you for stopping by today.