Friday, July 25, 2014

Peaches and Cream



June is my favourite month to live in Bombay. That's when all the stone fruits show up at the same time. So whether you like eating fruits as is or baking them into pies and crumbles, you are spoilt for choice with plums, peaches, cherries, litchis and apricots. This year, with the monsoons getting delayed, we are getting all the goodies right into July. And the weather's just perfect to turn them into warm crumbles.

One trouble I've had with baking crumbles in the past has been all the liquid in the fruit that seeps up and makes the crust soggy. So I decided to try this new experiment. I baked the fruit and the crumble layers separately.

For the peach layer, select 2 ripe peaches. Heat half a saucepan of water until it is boiling. Pop the peaches in water for about 15-20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and use a knife to peel the skin. It should slip off nicely. Cut the peeled peaches into half, remove the stone and dice into small cubes. Put the peaches in an ovenproof dish and add 2 tbsp sugar, 1/4 cup orange juice and 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon.

In another bowl, mix 1/2 cup oats, 1/3 cup plain flour, 1/3 cup sugar and a dash of cinnamon. Cut 40 grams butter into small pieces and rub into the flour until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the crumble topping on the tray in a thin, even layer.

Heat the oven to 180C. Bake both the peaches and the crumble topping in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble topping is a golden brown in colour. You may have to stir the crumble topping once midway to ensure even browning. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

To serve, fill 1/3rd a glass or ramekin with peaches. Sprinkle crumble topping to come upto 2/3rd of the glass. You can then top off with whipped cream but I was in a healthy mood and went with a dollop of greek yogurt instead.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Beetroot Risotto


I often take cooking inspiration from restaurant dishes. Sometimes I eat a great dish and instantly find a way to recreate it at home. Other times, the memory stays at the back of my head for months until I find the right way to cook that meal again. One such memory was a beetroot risotto I ate at Heston's The Fat Duck. In true mad science way, Heston's risotto is covered with a radish carpaccio and topped with beet chips and frozen sour cream pellets. I knew I would never replicate that, but I wanted to bring the deep pink of a beet to my risotto.

For my take on the beet risotto, I first peeled a small beet and roughly chopped it in cubes. Boiled it until it was cooked through. This cooked beet went into a blender alongwith a cup of water, a hearty pinch of salt and a handful of fresh thyme leaves. Once everything was combined into a thick puree, I added another 1 1/2 cups of water to create a thin beet stock. Since the stock needs to be warm while you are cooking risotto, I poured the stock into a saucepan and set it to simmer.

In another pan, I heated a tbsp. of olive oil. In went half a cup of Arborio rice, which I stirred around until the rice was coated with oil. A couple of minutes later, I added a glug of red wine and when this evaporated, enough beet stock to cover the rice. From here on, you add stock gradually whenever the earlier addition looks like it's about to evaporate. Keep adding more stock until the rice is cooked but still has a bite to it. At this point, take the risotto off the heat and stir in a tbsp. of butter and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.

I topped the risotto with some crumbled goat's cheese. At this point, I felt that my dish needed some crunch. Roasted walnuts would have been great but I didn't have any on hand. What I did have were some roasted fava beans and I crushed and sprinkled them on for effect. Which turned out to be a brilliant move, the crisp beans forming a perfect pairing with the creamy risotto and cheese.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Food Challenge from Home




One of the most fun things about the blogging world is all the contests and challenges that only blogging insiders know about and participate in. Back when I was a more enthusiastic blogger, I’ve participated in everything from microwave cooking challenges to the very scary daring bakers. For a while, I even ran a challenge of my own. But somewhere along the line, I got lazy and it’s been more than a few months that I have cooked for a challenge, let alone hosted one.

One of my favourites, back when I used to do these events, was the Indian Cooking Challenge run by my oldest friend in the blogging world – Srivalli. I’ve contributed my mum’s recipes for a couple of challenges in the past. Then, last month, Srivalli decided to throw a challenge of her own that comes all the way from home. It was Amritsari Kulcha and lazy or not, this is one challenge I was determined to participate in. So even though it’s a month late, I did create the Amritsari Kulchas.

Kulchas are stuffed flatbreads made with plain flour rather than the whole wheat flour that goes into other Indian breads. They come stuffed with potatoes and loaded with tons of butter, and are cooked in our version of the oven – the tandoor – rather than on a flat griddle. In Amritsar, kulchas are both a mealtime favourite and a much loved tradition so I was quite curious to try out Srivalli’s version of the recipe.

Srivalli’s recipe for the dough, with both baking powder and baking soda, felt unfamiliar but she said this gives a really soft dough so I went along with it. For the filling though, I stuck to my mom’s potato stuffing as that’s the one recipe I’ve seen her make all my life and that's the only one that works for me. I cooked the kulcha, just like Srivalli did, in a pan rather than a tandoor. And just as promised, the kulchas were real soft and puffed beautifully.

So were they as good as the kulchas sold in Amritsar. Hard to say – they were softer and the ones I am used to are crisp and crackly. And I find myself favoring the tastes and textures I grew up with in such instances. They made for a wonderful lunch though!



Thursday, April 3, 2014

Greek Goddess Dip



One of my favourite pastimes is walking down supermarket aisles, just exploring the foods and flavours you can cook with. A special favourite of mine is recently opened Foodhall in Lower Parel's Pheonix Mills. The name is clearly borrowed from Harrods and just like its London counterpart, Foodhall boasts of hard to find, delicious goodies from around the world.

They also have in house chefs who bake and cook stuff you can take away. I always try the new things they have out to taste. On last trip, I encountered something called the greek goddess dip. I instantly liked the tangy, salty blend of flavours. The chef, who was standing right there with his creations, listed out some of the ingredients that went into the dip. It's taken me a couple of weeks and a few tries but I finally have something fairly close to what they make at Foodhall.

You need Greek yogurt for this (hence the name) but since you can't find it easily in India, put a cup of normal curd in a cheescloth and hang over a bowl until the water drains off. Scrape out the thick yogurt into a bowl. Add 100 grams of feta cheese and with a fork, mix the two together until you have a smooth mix. Add juice of half a lime to up the tanginess. Take a large handful of cilantro leaves and chop finely, then mix those in as well. There is no need to add any salt since feta has enough of it already but some freshly ground pepper will be a nice addition.

I love this with crunchy lavash but you can also go for healthier options and serve this alongside carrots and cucumber sticks.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Perfect Hummus




One of the first posts I wrote on this blog was on how to make hummus. Six years on, nothing much has changed. Hummus paired with pita bread or with crispy lavash remains my favourite snack. Add a salad or a couple of falafels and we're talking about a regular dinnertime occurence.

One thing has changed though. Tahini, the sesame seed paste essential to hummus recipes, was impossible to find in India then so I wrote of a makeshift recipe. Middle Eastern foods have since become much easier to source so it's high time we talked about a proper hummus recipe.

At least 12 hours before you make hummus (usually the night before), soak 1/3 cup chickpeas in 2 cups of water. The next morning, boil chickpeas in a pressure cooker until they are very soft. You should have around a cup of cooked chickpeas. Put them in a blender alongwith 3 cloves of peeled and minced garlic, 2 tbsp tahini paste, 1 tsp lime juice (half a lime should do), 2 tbsp olive oil and a hearty pinch of salt. Blend into a smooth paste. Taste and add more olive oil or lemon or salt until you get a perfect tasting hummus.

Scrape into a bowl, pour some more olive oil on top and if you like, sprinkle with sumac.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chips and Dips




The other day, I was making a list of my favourite comfort foods. It surprised me to see how many of those involved a crunchy carb paired with something soft and gooey. In short, a chip and a dip. So in this brand new series, let's talk about my favourite chip and dip pairings.

The top of this list will always be guacamole. In London, I made many a meal of nachos and guacamole, on other days it was potato chips and guac. I even had this farmer in borough market who would sell a whole basket of avocados for a pound, thus ensuring a whole week of guacamole meals.

Good avocados are harder to find in mumbai but I never pass one by. So whether you are an old fan or someone who is yet to be converted, go look for ripe avocados and make yourself a batch.

The only secret to good guacamole is good avocados. When shopping, look for the ones that are soft when pressed. The hard ones take weeks to ripen and some never do.
Before you cut open your avocado, get all your ingredients ready. For each avocado, finely chop a small onion. Tear leafs off 4-5 sprigs of cilantro and chop those too. Juice half a lemon. I don't eat chilli but it's traditional to add finely minced jalepeno chilli to guacamole and you should probably do that.

Now back to the avocado. Split it in half, remove the seed and scoop out the flesh. Pour lemon juice immediately to prevent any darkening. Mash the avocado roughly, then add all the other ingredients plus a pinch of salt and mix well. I prefer to leave it chunky but you can mash it even finer if that's your preference.

All done now, so grab that bag of nachos. A word of warning - guacamole will get dark if you leave it lying around so only make as much as you are likely to eat in the next hour or so.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

On Things That Get Imported


I sometimes marvel at the people who make purchasing decisions for supermarkets. Really, just walk down the aisles of any large grocery store in Mumbai, specially the imported food sections, and so much of it will make no logical sense. Take this elderflower cordial. Syrups and mixers fall in two categories in Indian markets. There is the Roohafza and all the local flavours my mom and aunties buy every summer. And there are the high priced Monin flavours of Irish Cream and Blue Curacao and such like made popular by the drinks served at cafes and pubs.

Elderflower cordial is neither. It's not a flower that's either grown or traditionally made into a drink in India. And I am yet to find a Mumbai pub selling elderflower drinks. In short, selling elderflower cordial in India completely defies logic. And yet there are rows of these bottles sitting pretty in the imported food aisles of hypercity.

And I was so glad they are there, I wasted no time bringing one home and fixing myself a drink. For these iconic green bottles define summer in a distant city that's almost a second home to me. Elderflower to me is a short lived summer, a basement pub and lots of smiling friends. So whoever you are Mr. Hypercity buyer, thank you for the memories!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bircher for One


Joy the Baker raised a crucial point about breakfast a few years ago. Most breakfast recipes out there can't be scaled to feed just one. Even if you add just one egg, you will end up with way too much batter for crepes or pancakes. Joy solved the problem with pancakes, and possibly waffles with her iconic post titled The Single Lady Pancake.

I've now encountered a similar problem with birchermuesli. A Swiss breakfast staple, bircher is a delicious combination of uncooked oats left to soak overnight, apples, nuts and dried fruits. The issue here is the apple. Even the smallest apple will be too much for one serving and you can't leave these apples lying around, they brown too quickly.

So here's my solution. The night before, measure out 3 tbsp oats in a large bowl. Add enough apple juice to cover the oats. This will impart the traditional apple flavour to your bircher without you grating a real apple. The next morning, pick a fruit that goes with oats. It has to be something sweet, not tart and preferably small enough to scale down. Ideal, as you can see, will be grapes. Or berries. Add that to your oats and then anything else that catches your fancy. I like the bite of nuts so I added almonds and then some cranberries to make it an indulgent breakfast. Mix it all in and if you find the muesli to be too thick, you can add a bit more apple juice or even some yogurt.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Magic Library

Every year on my birthday, the most important decision is on where to eat. Last year, it was the excellent spuntino in London's soho for lunch followed by an equally spectacular hix for dinner. So when the day rolled in a couple of weeks back, I wanted to pick another restaurant with a wow factor.

Jiggs Kalra's masala library has been on my wish list ever since it opened a few months back. But turns out it's super popular and you can't call them up a couple of days in advance and expect a reservation. Thankfully, a last minute table did open up and masala library is where I found myself for my birthday dinner.

The 9 course chef's tasting menu starts with an amuse bouche of sev puri shot and a cheddar cheese pao. Loved the bun, while the sev puri was more show than flavour.

The meal then started with a mushroom chai. A bit of mad Heston like touch here - the servers bring in tea cups where they add dried mushrooms (tea) and white truffle oil powder (looks like creamer). The mushroom consommé is then poured over to complete the soup. I didn't much care for the dried mushrooms but the consommé had an intense flavour that made it one of my favourites for the day.

Then come in a succession of starters - all presented well and delicious but hardly memorable. What's truly memorable is the mishti doi sorbet that comes as a palate cleanser before the mains. It shows up in a tiny box as a lollipop that's truly delicious.

I frankly didn't like the mains. The dal is your signature Kalra and quite near perfect but the veggies were a bit meh and the kulchas overwhelmed by their stuffing. The desserts are presented creatively - jalebi shaped like caviar and gajar halwa pyramids surrounded by gajar halwa icecream. Fun, but not something I'd go back for.

What I will go back for are all the sides and all the little touches like the pan candy floss and the churan box. Masala Library may not be perfect but it certainly makes for a delightful evening.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Traditions

Today is a day of many festivals. Maghi in the north, makar sankranti in Western India and pongal in southern regions, the day variously marks harvest, new year and start of an auspicious time. My favourite festival though happens a day before January 14. On lohri day, my state of Punjab celebrates winter solstice with bonfires and much signing and dancing.

As with all festivals, food forms a major part of lohri. It's traditional to eat peanuts, sesame brittle called rewri and for some strange reason, popcorn, on the day. The same foods are also thrown into the bonfire, an offering to bring in good luck.

There are also sweets, of course. The more popular one is bhugga, made of condensed milk and sesame seeds, bringing in warmth in the cold months. But it's this lesser known sweet that I wanted to tell you about.




This sweet springs up at all sweet shops in Amritsar the first week of January. It's called khajoor, the same name as dates. And yet, the sinful treat has nothing healthy or date like going for it. This is instead, a dough ball made of sugar and flour and ghee. Then deep fried in more ghee so the outside becomes crisp and crumbly while the inside is soft, white and truly rich and delicious. I have memories of khajoors eaten just a short while out of the frying pan, still warm and oozing ghee. Then, just like magic, they vanish a day later, not to be seen for another year.