Month: December 2015

Fruit Of Knowledge: Fig (Part 2)

Figs are also considered a fruit of knowledge (continuing last week’s theme) that trace their origins to ancient cultures and mythology. Figs are a popular summer fruit, characterized by their smooth outer skins and textural fleshy insides filled with soft seeds. Fresh figs have a short shelf life, but because the fruits can be easily sun dried, they are available year-round. Good quality dried figs preserve all of the concentrated sweetness while also retaining the fruit’s moist chewy consistency. Fresh figs, like many other fruits, are not good for baking. Dried figs add sweetness, moisture, and fudgy density to cakes and Christmas pudding.

At a recent party, I was reminded of holiday traditions while singing the carol about “figgy pudding.” My mother used to make a steamed Christmas cake, heavy with chopped dried fruits and nuts. She would assemble the cake in November, and then dutifully tend to the cake over the next few weeks. The cake’s airtight container would be pulled out from the back of a cupboard every other day, and the many layers of foil surrounding the cake would be unwrapped. Brandy was drizzled over the golden brown cake, before it was re-wrapped and put back into the tin. The final rich dark cake was worth the wait!

Distracted by Thanksgiving, I never remember to start the cake’s process in November and neither do I have the patience to chop up so much dried fruit. Steamed fig pudding maintains many of the elements of the traditional Christmas pudding or cake, but requires much less effort. The dense cake keeps well for a week.

Steamed Fig Pudding

Milk – ½ cup

Dried Figs – 16oz, chopped into small pieces

Butter – ½ cup, melted

Eggs – 2

Molasses – ½ cup

Brown sugar – ¼ cup

Flour – 2 ½ cups, sifted well

Baking powder (double acting) – 2 tsp

Baking soda – ½ tsp

Preserved ginger – 3 tbsp, chopped

Nutmeg – 1 tsp, freshly grated

Cinnamon – ½ tsp

Brandy – 4 tbsp

Bundt pan

  • Heat the milk in a small pan.
  • Add the chopped up figs to the milk and poach gently for about 5 minutes. Strain the softened figs and keep aside.
  • Beat the butter and eggs together.
  • Add the sugar and molasses to the egg mixture and mix well.
  • Add the sifted flour and baking powder and soda to the mixture. Mix until all the flour has been folded into the mixture.
  • Fold the remaining ingredients to the flour mixture.
  • Spoon the mixture into a greased, non-stick Bundt pan.
  • Place the Bundt pan over a large pan with boiling water. (The base of the Bundt pan should just skim the boiling water.) Cover with aluminum foil, sealing the sides tightly. Put the lid over the foil, to prevent any steam from escaping. Cook for four hours, topping the water in the large pan as necessary. Remove pudding from pan and serve immediately. Otherwise, store in an airtight container.

Serve with ice cream or brandy sauce with orange zest and preserved ginger.

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Happy Holidays!



Fruit of Knowledge: Pomegranate

Chris Antemann’s sculpture, “Fruit of Knowledge,” stacks red and purple jewel-toned fruits into a towering porcelain tower. The three fruits used, pomegranate, apple, and fig, are gathered from cultural paradises around the globe. Inspired by the theatrical sculpture, and by the seasonal abundance of pomegranates, I decided to use their ruby-red seeds to add festive color to my favorite green coriander chutney. Pomegranate juice and molasses are also used in cooking in many cultures. However, it was the dried seeds that I ended up using for an Indian dish – called chole, a favorite of A. and N’s.

Dried pomegranate seeds, called anardana, are used as a spice in Indian, Iranian, and Pakistani dishes. Available in Indian and middle eastern stores, the dried seeds give food both a sour flavor and subtle depth. Chole (chickpeas curry) uses a variety of spices, but the dish is especially good when it ends with a final sour flavor. Lime juice usually does the trick, but without any at hand, I substituted freshly-ground, dried pomegranate seeds.

Chickpea Curry (Chole)

Chickpeas (Garbanzo) – 15oz. can

Onion –1 large, chopped finely

Ginger –1-inch piece, chopped finely

Garlic cloves – 2-3, chopped finely

Cumin seeds – ½ tsp

Garam masala – 1½ tsp

Chili powder – ½ tsp

Ground coriander – 1 tsp

Tomato paste –1 tbsp

Salt – ½ tsp

Pomegranate seeds – ½ – ¾ tbsp, freshly ground

Vegetable oil – 1½ tbsp

Coriander (Cilantro) leaves for garnish

  • Drain the chickpeas in a colander, reserving some of the liquid from the can. Rinse the chickpeas in fresh water.
  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add cumin seeds to the hot oil.
  • Once it starts to pop (a few seconds), add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onions become translucent.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for a minute, or until it starts to brown.
  • Add the spices (cumin, garam masala, chili, and coriander) and stir for a 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and chickpeas to the pan. Stir until the chickpeas are coated with the spices and tomato paste.
  • Add the reserved liquid and ½ cup of fresh water.
  • Turn the heat to low and cook for about 10-12 minutes.
  • Add the pomegranate seeds and salt. Cook for another 5 minutes.
  • Garnish with a few coriander leaves
  • Serve chickpeas curry hot with Indian bread, pita, or rice.

IMG_4580 IMG_4584

Note: Buy whole seeds, as they keep fresh for a long time. Grind them as needed.

Pomegranate seeds can be used in chutneys for the sour flavor, in stews for added depth, and dry roasted and tossed for a crunchy texture in hummus or salad.








Tackling Tradition: Winter Squash

At the start of Thanksgiving week, I sampled a holiday cocktail made of sweet potato pie at The Commoner bar. The mixologist piped sweet potato pie puree into the alcohol and played around with consistency and flavor. I sampled a near-final version, as she balanced the seasonings and sprinkled crushed nuts on top. A new drink was born!

The playfulness of taking a familiar dish and giving it new life appealed to me. For example, the roasted squash from a Thanksgiving meal can only be enjoyed so many times. However, when the squash is plated on a bed of semi-liquid beet topped with crunchy toasted coconut and crushed pistachio nuts, the savory side becomes a healthy dessert. Winter squash and beets have mellow flavors, which make them both versatile and boring. Squash can be sautéed with spices, absorbing the aromatics readily, but the mild taste never quite beckons for our attention. Combining roasted squash with beets repurposes a traditional dish with texture, and has the added bonus of showcasing colors of the season.