Month: November 2014

Cranberry: A Superfruit

Cranberry, the fall fruit, has much in common with the gooseberry. Both are tart, astringent, and contains phytochemical, a chemical compound that is said to have cancer-fighting properties. When my mother’s friend asked her to drink the juice of Indian gooseberry (amla) to build up her immune system after chemotherapy treatments, every meal thereafter also contained pickled or stewed version of the fruit. Cranberries are  just as versatile. As cranberry glaze, sauce, and bread grace Thanksgiving tables, I decided to experiment with new ways to embrace its tartness over this holiday season.

One of my favorite sweets is the classic English dessert called fool. Traditionally, a fool is made with stewed and pureed gooseberries that are folded into custard. The advantage to making fool is that the fruit and custard can be prepared ahead of time, a smarter and elegant way to end an elaborate meal. Modified versions of fool substitute gooseberries with strawberries or raspberries, and custard with whipped cream or yogurt. My version with cranberries embraces the customary cranberry and orange combination and homemade custard.

Cranberry Fool

Cranberries – ½ lb., washed and drained

Sugar – ¼ cup

Orange – 1, zest and juice

  • Add the cranberries, sugar, zest and juice to a pan.
  • Cook on low for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Puree the fruit when it is cool, setting aside some of the whole cooked berries for decoration.
  • Refrigerate the berries until ready to use.
  • Fold the berries into the custard.

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Pickled cranberries are a great addition to a Thanksgiving meal and can be used as relish. Borrowing some of the pickling ingredients (sesame oil and fenugreek) from Indian cooking, my version of pickled cranberries has a familiar texture of  relish – but with an added kick from mustard and chili spices.

Pickled Cranberries

Sesame oil – 3 tbsp

Cranberries – ½ lb., washed and drained

Mustard powder – ½ tsp

Chili powder – ½ tsp

Fenugreek seeds – ½ tbsp

Curry leaves – 4 (optional)

  • Heat the oil.
  • Add the fenugreek seeds.
  • Once the seeds start to sputter, add the mustard powder, chili powder and curry leaves.
  • Sauté for a few seconds, and then add the cranberries.
  • Cover and cook on low for about 10 minutes.
  • The cooked cranberries can be eaten immediately or they can be stored for two weeks.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Final Touches: Lattice, Herringbone, Rope, and Scallop edges

Food vendors in Latin America use different folds (crescent shape or rope edge) to seal off empanadas, creating a quick way to identify whether the filling is pork meat, beef, or vegetable. When making rope-edged empanadas, I realized that Indian vendors also use markers to identify whether the samosa pastry holds a vegetable filling (upright triangles) or meat (folded over triangles). The crimped dough of Cornish pasty started out for a more practical reason: The story goes that miners could hold the pasty by the thick crimped edges and eat right up to the meat-filled pasty. They would then discard the crust without worrying about having eaten with sooty fingers. A finishing seal, besides being practical, also adds a final flourish to a pastry dough. That dual purpose comes to mind given the start of pie-making season – think apple, pumpkin, pecan, meat, and fish. I decided to learn a few simple patterns to showcase pies with different fillings.

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For a Lattice Topping:

Cut ½-inch wide strips of dough, making sure that you have enough strips to cover the pie (~10 strips for a 6-inch pie dish). Lay half the strips across the filled pie in one direction, spacing them uniformly. Then lay the remaining strips uniformly at right angles over the first layer.

 

For a Rope Edge:

The simplest way is to cut two strips of pastry dough. Fold one over the other to form a rope pattern. Press it over the rim of the dough.

For empanada dough: Do not overstuff the empanada with filling. Leave enough dough around the sealed edge to make the rope edging. Use your thumb and index finger to pinch together a small amount of the dough. Pull it up and outwards before folding back over the sealed edge. Pinch a small amount of dough from where you ended before and repeat, overlapping slightly over the first fold. Repeat the pinching and folding pattern and a rope pattern emerges. If the folds are not tightly overlapped, you will get a crimped edge.

For a Scallop Edge:

Trim the dough to be level with the edge of the pan. Shape the dough to stand up against the rim. Pinch a piece of dough from outside of the raised edge between the left index finger and thumb (3/4-inch apart). Using the right thumb, push pastry from the inside toward the fold created by the left thumb and index finger to form a scallop.

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For Herringbone Edge:

Trim dough to be level with the edge of the pan. Dip a fork in flour and press the tines of the fork into the edges of the dough or pastry. Dipping the fork again into the flour, press into the dough, this time rotating the fork so that it faces the other way — creating a herringbone design.

 

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Enjoy finishing your pies!

Salt: Refined vs. Unrefined

When I made falooda, I also made mint chutney for pani puri, a customary pairing with falooda and a food cart staple. The tangy flavor in the mint chutney comes from an unusual source: black salt (kala namak). Black salt, mined from lakes in North India and from Himalayan salt mines, has a piquant flavor due to the presence of sulfur compounds. It is this pungency (sulfur has a rotten egg smell and savory taste) that gives many of the South Asian street snacks their inimitable salty and savory taste.

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Salt crystals come in multiple shades (grey, pink, and yellow) and commandeer shelf space in grocery aisles even though dietary guidelines limit our daily intake to 2400mg (about one teaspoon of salt). However, salt is a necessity at a basic cellular level, perhaps explaining our craving!

Black salt, sea salt, rock salt, and even the expensive fleur de sel are unrefined salts. Their unique flavors come from natural impurities found in areas from where they are mined (briny from oceans and seas, earthy from marshes and ponds, or volcanic). Unrefined salt is used for pickling, curing, and seasoning.

Table salt is a refined salt, stripped of all natural impurities. Iodine, which is a needed nutrient, and anti-caking agents are added back to it. Refined salt is used to season food, but cannot be used for pickling (discolors the briny solution) or curing (iodine stains food).

Kosher salt is de rigueur choice in kitchens. The large kosher salt crystals can be shaped to make a food parcel.The baked salt pack seals in the moisture, which  makes for a tender chicken, fish, or new potatoes dish.

Chicken cooked in a Salt Crusted Pack

Kosher salt – 2 ½ cups

Egg whites – 2, beaten

Chicken – 2, skinless legs

Tomato paste – 2 tbsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley or cilantro – 1 bunch

Parchment paper

Oven temperature 425°F

  • Wash and pat dry the chicken.
  • Mix the salt and egg whites together, until you get a wet sand texture.
  • Mix together the tomato paste and pepper.
  • Place half the salt mixture on a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Cover one side of the chicken with the tomato paste mixture and herbs. Lay it down on the salt mixture.
  • Add the remaining paste on the side facing up.
  • Pack the remaining salt over the chicken, burying it completely in a salt mound.
  • Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until the salt has hardened.
  • Remove from the oven. Carefully (I did this so I could use the crust for my second chicken leg) break the hardened salt crust. Brush away any salt that clings to the chicken.
  • The chicken should be moist and cooked.

A Gluten-Free Carbohydrate: Cassava Flour and Tapioca Pearls. Part 2

Last week while cooking my favorite root tuber, cassava, I learned that cassava flour (made from cassava starch) is gluten-free. The starch that is extracted from the cassava root is available in two forms – fine white flour or opaque tapioca pearls. When American families and friends with disparate tastes and food allergies gather around the Thanksgiving table, cassava flour and pearls can be incorporated in the meal to include those with gluten sensitivity to the table. The flour and pearls can be used to make cheese bread and dessert (tapioca pudding and falooda), offering simple substitutions to long-established menus.

Gluten is a protein found in grains that give dough its elasticity and bread its texture. Sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease prohibits foods made with many of the traditional grains, such as wheat and rye. Cassava flour is a good alternate for making bread, pancakes, or to thicken gravy. South Americans use cassava flour to make a cheese bread called Pao de Queijo and Chipa – deliciously cheesy with a pleasant chewy bite.

 

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Cheese Bread (Brazil)

Cassava flour – 2 cups

Whole milk – 1 cup

Vegetable oil – ½ cup

Salt – ¾ tsp

Egg – 2, beaten

Parmesan cheese – 1 ½ cup

  • Set the oven to 400°F.
  • Add all the ingredients, except for the cheese, in a large bowl.
  • Mix them together to form dough.
  • Fold in the cheese to the dough mixture.
  • Drop a tablespoon of the dough at a time on to a nonstick pan.
  • Cook the dough balls for 15-20 minutes.

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Tapioca Pudding and Falooda are two easy desserts that use tapioca pearls, the starch made from the cassava root. The pearls are available in a range of diameters (1mm to 6mm) and colors (brown, white, and black). Tapioca pearls need to be soaked in water or cooked in milk to rehydrate them. When cooked in milk, they give tapioca pudding a comforting creamy consistency. The water-soaked tapioca pearls in falooda add a chewy morsel in an otherwise rich and milky South Asian dessert.

 

Tapioca Pudding

Whole milk – 3 cups

Eggs – 2, beaten

Tapioca Pearls (white) – ½ cup

Sugar – ½ cup

Salt – ¼ tsp

Vanilla/rose/cinnamon essence – 1 tsp

  • Mix the whole milk, tapioca pearls and salt in a saucepan and bring it slowly to a boil. Stir continuously so tapioca mixes and thickens as it cooks.
  • When the milk starts to boil, turn the heat down. Add sugar slowly, while stirring continuously so it dissolves.
  • Remove from heat and let the thickened mixture cool for a minute.
  • Add the beaten egg into the mixture (watch it doesn’t curdle).
  • Bring the mixture back to a simmer and let it thicken, about five minutes.
  • Add the essence.
  • Dessert can be eaten warm or cold. Top with berries.

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Falooda

Milk – 1 cup

Translucent noodles (vermicelli) – 1 oz.

Tapioca pearls (black) – 2 tbsp.

Strawberry or raspberry jelly – 1 packet

Rose syrup – 1 tbsp

Vanilla ice cream –1 small tub

  • Make the jelly according to the instructions on the packet
  • Soak the tapioca pearls in water for half-hour to rehydrate them.
  • Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet or until soft.
  • Add the drained noodles to half a cup of milk and simmer for five minutes.
  • Have all the ingredients near at hand to assemble the dessert. Keep layers separate for a colorful display. In a tall glass, start with a layer of jelly, followed by the noodles and a tablespoon of milk, 1 tablespoon of tapioca pearls, and two scoops of ice cream. Finally, drizzle  the rose syrup over the ice cream. Serve immediately.

 

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