Category Archives: summer

So long Summer! – A recipe for Peach ‘Varatti’ (Peach Jam – South Indian style)

 I never fail to get a bit down & out when Sept 21st (the autumnal equinox) rolls out annually. Days officially (and from the planetary perspective) become shorter than nights, Coats get yanked out, the frantic search for a matching pair of warm socks from the sock drawer and before you knowing the Daylight saving weekend is upon you. You may gain an hour that day, but it seems to be a terrible compensation for the fact that it gets dark at 6.00 p.m and even that gets progressively earlier until Dec 22.

I’ve spent the summer playing with peaches, in fact, two Bushel’s worth. Smoothies, jams, salsa but the best of them went into making a preserve of a different kind – Varatti . You see, the inherent tropical weather in the Indian subcontinent, especially in Southern India, meant that fruits would spoil rapidly and canning was not a method of preservation employed in traditional cuisine. The preferred method was to cook the fruit down to evaporate the water content and preserve it with a liberal coating of ghee (which was added to the mashed fruit until it began oozing out of the thick pate). The most popular candidates for this kind of jamming were of course the native fruits, viz, Ripe mangoes and Jackfruit.

Given its ethereal aroma and the ‘custardy’ texture so reminiscent of mangoes, peaches were a perfect fruit for making traditional Indian style preserves. As with making jam in the traditional way, it is a labor of love and time, lots of it, but in the end, you’re left with a lot of perfectly portioned jars to  savor and/or gift (as I did, I carted about half a dozen bottles to India share with friends and family)

Yep, there are other fruits being jammed & canned here in the pics, to be blogged about in later posts!

Peach Varatti: (Makes about  six 8.0 oz  and three 4.0 oz jars)

You need:

25 – 30 peaches (really ripe ones), enough for 20 cups of puree
1/2 – 3/4 cups ghee
3.5 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon powdered cardamom
1/2 cup fresh extract of ginger

To prepare the ginger extract, puree about 1/2 a cup of peeled & chopped ginger root with as little water as needed. Squeeze and strain out the liquid in a cup and allow to stand for about 15 minutes.

Wash the peaches, and peel the skin off. Cut off the flesh and discard the pits. Puree the fruit.

In a heavy bottom pan ( an enamel coated 5 quart chicken fryer works great), add 1/4 cup of melted ghee and add the puree.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to little above a simmer (medium low). Cover with a spatter guard and allow the puree to cook down  to about 1/5 of its original volume. You can  add the puree in batches, if you prefer, instead of the whole  quantity all at once. It takes up to 3 hours to reduce, keep stirring occasionally just to make sure that the bottom does not get burnt, especially as the mixture thickens down.

Once the puree has reduced, stir in the sugar, the remaining ghee and the cardamom. Gently decant the ginger extract, discarding  the white starchy residue at the bottom of the cup, and add it to the peaches. cook down on a low flame until the ghee begins oozing out of the jam (which, by now has turned into a deep brown color, for a lighter color, feel free to use white sugar instead) . Transfer into sterilized glass jars and can the bottles using the standard technique applied for other jams.

 Store in a dark cool corner of your pantry at room temperature. I made my first batch in July, using the yellow peaches, and another batch last week using the milder white fleshed variety, my personal choice for flavor would be the yellow ones.

The varatti is divine when paired with a sharp cheese to make grilled paninis.

Using rustic Tuscan Pane bread, spread the varatti over one slice, layer with some sharp cheese (I used cheddar), add some fresh cracked black pepper,

Lightly brush some melted butter on the outside of the bread, grill the sandwich until the cheese melts and begins oozing out and the grill lines sear into the slices

and serve hot with a side of plantain chips!

Bon appetit!


Summer Grilling – Grilled Halloumi with herb/avocado spread and pineapple

Depending upon cultures, its interesting to see how people react to the advent of summer. In India, It was to confine yourself indoors for the fear of getting a dark tan, stepping out with an umbrella to shield oneself from the intense sun and a host of ‘cooling’ foods such as Yogurt rice, and chilled fruits. The very idea of grilling anything out in the blazing sun would send a shudder down the spine. Grilling over coals was confined to cooler months and the rainy season when vendors would stroll the streets with carts full of corn to be roasted in a ‘Sigri’ (a Coal oven made of sheet metal).

In sharp contrast, With the advent of Memorial Day in the US of A, there’s a scramble to get the grills and barbecues readied for cooking foods the way our   cave men ancestors used to. Meat, Meat & more Meat, with a tiny footnote for grilling veggie burgers and marinaded vegetables. 

Well, if you can’t beat ’em, Join ’em!

While that rallying cry is theoretically motivating, the practical limitations of not having an open outdoor set up manifest themselves once the Cast iron grilling pan is set on the biggest burner of the stove. (well , my kitchen isn’t exactly a designer one, more like the basic contractor set up), the hazy diffusion of smoke that filters out of the vent tends to make me reluctant to take to this method of cookin, but when I do grill, I tend to fully go all out. Lunch, a couple of weeks ago was a feast of grilled Quinoa & refried bean burgers redolent with a meaty aroma, with a creamy mint & roasted Jalapeno spread  made with avocadoes. For an added shot of flavor, I layered it with slices of grilled Halloumi cheese.

But it was the leftovers that completely bowled me. Sounds rather corny to scarf down on appetizers after a hearty dish of the burger washed down with a Ginger Pineapple Mojito, but that is exactly what I did, (nudged ever so gently by the fact that I froze the extra burgers for the family and had some extra grilled Halloumi that I didn’t want to toss out.)

OXO had sent me a set of fruit tools to test and I’m having a blast using them. Along with the fabulous  ratchet pineapple slicer that effortlessly cores and slices the fruit without a single cut to the tough outer peel, was a pair of fruit scoops that are meant to scoop out flesh from large fruits such as melons & smaller ones like Kiwi. Even before the scoop came face to face with a kiwifruit, it was the perfect implement to effortlessly scoop out avocadoes for the piquant, almost mayonnaise like herb and avocado spread that is the recipe du jour.

Grilled Halloumi with herby avocado spread and pineapple:

You need: 
1 1/2 lb block of Halloumi cheese, sliced 
1/2 cup olive oil (ideally, mint infused) 
tiny diced pieces of pineapple and slivers of tomato.
Smoked Ancho chile powder for dusting

(for the spread)
1 ripe avocado
1 bunch Cilantro (Leaves and tender stems)
1 packed cup mint leaves
1 roasted jalapenos, deseeded)
1/2 cup sour cream or Labneh (kefir cheese)
juice of 1 lime
1.5 tablespoon honey
2 cloves garlic, crushed
salt to taste

Combine the Cilantro, garlic and mint in  food processor and pulse about 6-8 times, until the leaves are coarsely minced. Add the Jalapeno, avocado, lime juice, honey, sour cream (in a pinch, use some plain greek yogurt).

Blend together and combine into a smooth spread with the consistency of mayonnaise

Cut the  Halloumi cheese into 1/4 inch thick slices and drizzle liberally with the Olive oil. Heat a grill pan until smoking and gently place the cheese on the surface. Allow to grill until the char marks form (about 3 minutes) and then flip over carefully to grill the other side. Cut into small squares. Arrange on a platter, spoon a 1/4 teaspoon of the Avocado spread onto the cheese. Top off with a sliver of pineapple and tomato and a sprinkling of ancho chile powder.

Bon Appetit!