Category Archives: sweet

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!










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Celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi with ‘Madhu Golakas’ (Modak)’

Ganesha, the Lord of auspicious beginnings is indubitably the most cheerful god in the Hindu Pantheon.Short, rotund and pot-bellied with an elephants head, he is regarded as the governing deity of intellect and wisdom. Hindus the world over celebrate his ‘birthday’ . I’m incapable of explaining the details of the significance of this delightful god, so I’m just going to direct you to this link from Dr. Devdutt Pattanaiks website.

Ganesha is depicted as holding a bowl of ‘modaks’ in his left hand. These sweet confections resemble little bags of money. These modaks are basically a sweet filling with either a fried wrapping made out of wheat flour or a steamed variety with a covering made of rice flour dough. The word modak is thought to be a corruption of the Sanskrit Madhu golaka (Madhu- sweet/ honey; golaka: sphere / ball).

Getting ready to make the steamed version always induced a low level anxiety in my mother every year. She used to say that the lord’s mood determined if the modaks (or kozhakattai, as they are known in Tamil) would emerge perfectly steamed or turned out to be a disintegrated mess. The solution: always make a tiny ‘Ganesha’ by pinching a bit of dough between the thumb, index and middle finger.

The toughest part of making the modak is getting the rice flour dough right. too much water and the dough does not wrap itself well around the filling, too little and the skin cracks up while steaming.
The modaks invariably are made in odd numbers, usually 11, 21 and usually the amount of rice flour made far exceeds the amount of filling. The remaining dough is then seasoned with  mustard, asafetida, chile and curry leaf. The mix is ‘pinched’ off into tiny bits and then steamed to make what are known as ‘ammini’ or ‘mani’ kozhakattai. These tiny morsels are highly addictive, don’t know why, they just are!

Modaks (Sweet & Savory)

Sweet Coconut and almond filling:

You need:
3/4 cup fresh frozen grated coconut, thawed
1/4 cup sliced almonds, crushed roughly
1/2 cup crumbled Jaggery (Gud / Panela)
1 teaspoon crushed cardamom seeds
1/4 cup water

Combine the water and the crushed jaggery in a glass bowl and microwave for one minute till the jaggery dissolves. Transfer into a skillet along with the coconut and almonds. Cook down until the moisture evaporates, but before the sugar hardens. Stir in the cardamom and remove from heat. Set aside to cool. Roll into small 1/2 inch spheres.


Savory Urad Dal filling

1/2 cup dehusked split urad dal
2 red arbol chilies
a pinch of asafetida
salt to taste,
5-6 torn curry leaves
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

Soak the Urad dal for an hour in hot water. Drain the water, combine the dal with the chile, asafetida, salt and curry leaves. Grind into a semi-smooth batter . Heat oil in a non stick skillet, add the mustard seeds. when they sputter, add the urad dal batter and over low heat, stir the mixture until the moisture evaporates and the dal resembles large crumbs. remove from heat and allow to cool. shape into oblongs about an inch long.

Rice flour dough for the covering:

1 1/2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup milk
pinch of salt.

Sift the rice flour with the salt into a large & deep mixing bowl. mixing the dough by hand is excruciatingly painful, not to mention the very high possibility of obtaining a lumpy ball of dough that is terrible to shape. I found this fool proof technique to eliminate lumps and the occasional dislocated shoulder. *Drumrolls*. A Kitchenaid Hand mixer.. , yes the kind you use to whip eggs for a cake  (except this operation uses the dough hooks).
Fit a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment. With the mixer set at a low speed, slowly add 1 cup of the boiling water into the rice flour mixing it simultaneously. Add the milk gradually. The mix should now come together into a pliable ball of dough. If its still crumbly, add the remaining water teaspoon by teaspoon with the mixer running until it comes together.

To assemble the modaks, grease your fingertips and your left palm liberally with oil. Pinch off a dollop of dough, roll into a sphere and gently  rub the dough with the oiled fingertips into forming  a thin 2 inch circle. place the filling in the center of the flattened dough, and gently fold the edges of the rice flour ‘skin’ to completely cover the filling. pinch the top of the modak to form a peak. remove any extra bits and mix with the remaining dough. Set aside and repeat until the filling is finished. For the urad dal fillings the dough is wrapped over the filling to obtain a semicircular shape. Pinch the circumference of the semicircle to seal.

 

 Heat about an 1/2 inch of water in a large pan (wide enough to fit a steamer).  Gently place the modaks on the steamer and steam them for 15 minutes.

Sweet modaks

Savory Modaks (yes, this one looked like a little white rhino!)

Remove from the steamer onto a plate, allow to cool slightly before tucking in.

Ammini (Mani) Kozhakattai:

Heat a tablespoon of oil, add a teaspoon of mustard seeds (allow to sputter), salt and your choice of seasonings ad add them into any remaing dough. Fold in to combine. pinch of teeny bits with your fingers and gently place them on the steaming tray. Steam for 10 minutes until the dough ‘firms up’.

Bon appetit! Here’s wishing everyone auspicious & lucky new beginnings in whatever you’re planning to do!

Out of Africa – Eggless Cherry Amarula Muffins

It was around this time 16 years ago that I had my most memorable swig of Amarula ever. I’d just obtained my F-1 Student visa from the American consulate at Cape Town. It was such a contrast to the marathon queue  sessions at the Mumbai consulate. I breezed in, handed my papers and was asked to come and collect the passport 3 days later. That night, It was a well deserved break from my crazy thesis work that I was trying to race against time to complete. A shot of ice cold Amarula Liqueuer and being toasted by friends at the Medical Residence to the tune of  Stings ‘I’m a legal alien’ playing on the radio (How perfectly apt was that, considering that I was headed to NYU a month later)

If there is one cream liqueur that I’m partial to over the others, its definitely Amarula. It fits the description of the stereotypical exotic liqueur and is made from the fruits of the wild Marula tree, which in itself is steeped in legends.
Maybe because it was the very first cream liqueur I had ever tasted.. or because Its etched in my memory as the harbinger of a new step into the future.. who knows?. I tried so hard to find some in New York in the nineties, but everywhere I asked, the reply was always “Oh you mean ‘Amaretto”? No , no & no..

Thankfully, times have changed and this superb cream liqueur is now easily available all over the North East. (although the bottles are much smaller than the ones from South Africa).

Using Amarula in a muffin wd probably not have popped up into my head if it had not been for a lovely surprise from Oxo. A new cherry pitter and a fabulous Ice cream scoop to test. I’d never tried any device for pitting cherries but this was pure love at first try. It was hard to put the tool down until the entire bowl of cherries had been pitted.

The tool is angled ever so slightly to ensure that it pushes out the pit perfectly and has a tiny cylindrical guard that protects against splatter.

This is a must have tool if you plan to use the fruits for baking. Which is exactly what I did. I’d been meaning to test Flax seed powder as a substitute for eggs, (there is a wonderful reference for how to do this on Chefinyou’s page. ) and this was the perfect opportunity. Except for the fact that I only had the sweet cherries on hand, rather than the tart variety, this was such  a fabulous breakfast muffin (albeit a grown up one, considering there’s about 6 oz of liqueur).

 

Cherry Amarula Muffins (Makes about 16 – 18 muffins)

 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temp
1.5 cups sugar
2 tbsp flaxmeal (finely powdered flax seeds)

6 tbsp warm water
3 tbsp baking powder
2 cup All Purpose Flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup amarula liqueur
1 cup pitted chopped cherries, quartered

Sugar glaze (optional)
1/2 cup Icing sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Sliced almonds for garnishing

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line 2 muffin tins with paper baking cups.
Sift the flour and baking powder.
 Mix the flax meal with the warm water in a bowl. Mix well & set aside.
Combine the butter and sugar and cream until fluffy, using a handheld mixer. Gradually add the viscous flaxseed mixture keeping the mixer running. Gradually add the vanilla, cream and Amarula liqueur.
Add the flour along with the cherries in small installments and fold in till combined.
Spoon the batter into  muffin tins lined with paper cups.
Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until the tops have turned a golden brown.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely on a cooling rack.

Mix the icing sugar and the milk and stir until completely mixed. Drizzle or brush the mixture over the muffins and garnish with sliced almonds.

Bon appetit!

Walking the Turmeric Trail

‘The Turmeric Trail’ by Raghavan Iyer is one cook book I’d love to get my hands on. except, its no longer in print & the only available copies are sold online at black market rates, which I will not pay(its not the price, its the principle!). But the title endures, in another avatar, as the brand name for a set of spices launched last month.

Turmeric Trail is the brainchild of Chef Raghavan Iyer and focuses on 4 spices representing 4 distinct regions of India. Garam Masala, the predominant spice blend used in the Northern states,  Madras Masala, A heady mix of toasted split  dal & spices, thats a mainstay of the signature South Indian stew ‘Sambhar’, Mumbai Masala, a vibrant mix with dried coconut & sesame, and Chai Masala, a blend of 5 spices, with a potential to sizzle up 50 different dishes, from tea, to hot chocolate to cookies. They’re packaged beautifully in natural looking brown boxes tied  with raffia grass and it is quite understandable if you want to keep the USPS package carton, it smells divine even after you’ve removed the contents!

Image Credit: Tom Sweeney, Star Tribune

 I ordered the Mumbai masala & the Chai masala  since I make my own blend of Sambhar powder (I can almost imagine my late mother scolding me if I were to even contemplate using a commercial variety, This is one spice blend which I can’t ever imagine using anything else other than my mothers recipe, no offense meant! ). As for the Garam Masala, I’m still working my way through the William Sonoma jar that Monica Bhide had sent me as part of the prize package for winning  the spicy cocktail contest. I’m not for keeping large quantities of ground spices around, they tend to  have a finite half life.

Mumbai Masala

The Mumbai Masala, you simply HAVE to try this. In addition to adding it traditional curries & stews, it makes for a great marinade seasoning for roasted squash, which I combined with plain basmati rice for a flavorful one pot meal. The Chai Masala, (of course I would not be blogging about it if I just made myself a cuppa tea).. a teaspoon of this went into a spiced shortbread which pairs wonderfully with a warm mug of …Cafe au lait.

To order your set of spices, simply follow this link.

Delicata squash is a winter variety of squash, unique in the sense that it has  a thin & perfectly edible skin (in contrast to other squashes such as the butter nut which require the use use of a cleaver to peel them!). When roasted or baked, the flesh is very sweet, almost raisin ‘ish’. I believe it’s also known as ‘sweet potato’ squash for this reason.

‘Mumbai masala’ spiced Roasted Delicata Squash with Basmati Rice.

You need:

1 medium sized Delicata squash
1 large onion.
1/4 cup Olive oil or Canola oil
1 Tablespoon  Turmeric Trail’s Mumbai Masala
Salt to taste.
2 cups cooked Basmati rice
Juice of 1 lime
Chopped cilantro for garnishing (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 F.
Cut the squash, remove the inner webbing and the seeds. Cut into 1/4 inch thick rings & then cut each ring into quarters. Cut the onions to a similar size.

Combine the vegetables in a large mixing bowl, along with the oil, salt and the Mumbai masala. toss & allow to rest for about 15-20 minutes.

Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with Aluminum foil. Place into oven & allow to roast for about 25 – 30 minutes, or until the squash turns golden with tiny brown spots and yields completely when pierced with a knife. Remove from the oven & allow to cool.

Return to the mixing bowl along with the cooked Basmati rice and the lime juice. Fold the rice into the roasted vegetables, taking care not to break the grains of cooked rice. Serve with a side of Raita.

Chai Masala spiced Shortbread:

You need:

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup fresh grated coconut
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Turmeric Trails Chai Masala

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a  baking sheet with Parchment paper.
Toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light reddish brown color and starts emitting a ‘coconutty’ aroma.

Set aside to cool, and combine with the toasted sesame seeds. Add these to the flour and combine to disperse the sesame & coconut uniformly.
Cream the sugar & butter till light & fluffy, Add the Chai Masala and combine well.
Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and work into a ball of dough, just until it all comes together. Wrap in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for ~ 1 hr
Remove the dough and roll it into a 1/4 in thick sheet.

That ancient rolling pin is probably over 80 yrs old!

Using either a pastry wheel or a cookie cutter, cut out shapes and place on the parchment paper lined baking sheets.

Bake for about 12-14 minutes till the edges begin to appear brown. Remove from the oven & allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container.

 Bon Appetit!

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