Market Picks

Pawpaw Kulfi

Kulfi is a velvety-rich milk dessert, and I will always remember pista (pistachio) kulfi, sold at the 100-year-old Irani creamery in Mumbai, for its vivid green color and dense consistency. Churned ice cream has air pockets that create fluffy lightness; but in kulfi,  reduced milk produces an impenetrable creamy thickness. Plain milk (malai) or pistachio are the two most common flavors, but you’ll usually see mango kulfi during the short season of the prized Alphonso mango — as everybody tries to extend the flavor of this fast-ripening fruit. When I was given a pawpaw at Ferderber Farms in Pennsylvania, the farmer’s wife pointed out its similarity to two tropical fruits of my childhood, mango and custard apple. The pawpaw also shares a small window of time when the fruit is at its best, and I created a pawpaw kulfi to prolong this summer treat.

Native to Pennsylvania and the Eastern part of the country, pawpaw has floral notes and a green outer skin that is like that of a mango. The pale silk-colored flesh, complete with several large black seeds that neatly run through its middle, is similar to custard apple. Pawpaw is an ancient fruit tree, although it has been less popular for awhile. However, if you are in the Pennsylvania area, keep an eye out for this fruit.: Pawpaw is delicious on its own, and can also be substituted in any recipe that uses mango.

Pawpaw Kulfi

Whole milk – 2 cups

Evaporated milk – 1½ cup

Condensed milk – ¼ cup

Cardamom pods – 3

Pawpaw – 1, peeled, flesh mashed

Unsalted pistachio nuts – crushed for decoration

  • Add the milk and evaporated milk to a cast iron pan. Bring to a boil, and then immediately lower the heat to simmer. Stir continuously for the next five minutes. Fold in any milky film that forms on the surface.
  • Add the condensed milk and the cardamom pods. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring continuously. The milk will thicken as it reduces in volume.
  • Remove from heat.
  • While the milk is still hot, add the mashed pawpaw, stirring until well incorporated.
  • Discard the cardamom pods.
  • Let the kulfi cool to room temperature.
  • Once cooled, pour the kulfi into small individual glass cups or molds and cover with aluminum foil. Alternatively, pour into a large stainless steel container with a lid. Freeze for about eight hours.
  • When ready to serve, dip the individual moulds into hot water, allowing the hot water to come up the sides and loosen the kulfi from the mold. Serve immediately.
  • Decorate with pistachio slivers.

 

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Brussels Sprouts: Robust Flavor For Meatless Days

Usually by March, along with impending snowstorms, I am done with Brussels sprouts. They are one of the few green vegetables that are around all winter. While I was trying to not eat meat during Lent, I re-discovered their robust taste. All it took was to cut the tightly interwoven leafy capsules a little differently, and the flavor unfolded in a surprising new way.

Boiling Brussels sprouts releases their sulfur compounds, not always creating an enticing aroma in the kitchen. Roasting the vegetables brings out the flavor, but it can take up to 50 minutes for the leafy heart to soften. When the sprouts are sliced on the bias, just as you would cut an onion, both of the above issues are addressed. Peeling back the outermost leaf and then slicing through the sprouts eliminates having to discard each of the brown or yellowing leaves; they simply fall away and can be picked out. With a quick misting of oil and a flash under the broiler, the sliced Brussels sprouts become a mixture of charred leaves and a softened core with a crunchy, sweet taste.

Rich in vitamin C and K, the grilled sprouts can be combined with hardy mushrooms to add heft to a meatless meal.

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Brussels Sprouts And Mushrooms

Brussels sprouts – 1 lb

Oyster Mushrooms – ½ lb

Garlic cloves – 5-6, peeled and sliced

Dried red chili – 2-3

Olive Oil – 1 tbsp, plus misting

Salt and Pepper – to taste

Preheat the broiler

  • Chop the mushrooms roughly and keep aside.
  • Peel the first outer layer of the sprouts. Cut the sprouts thinly on the diagonal. Discard any outer leaf that looks old or brown.
  • Put the sliced sprouts on an aluminum foil. Mist them with olive oil, mixing them so that all the sprouts get coated with oil.
  • Add salt and pepper and mix.
  • Broil for five minutes, turning them frequently. Some of the individual leaves will char, but this adds a smoky flavor.
  • While the sprouts are under the broiler, heat oil in the pan.
  • Add garlic cloves and cook until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the dried red chilies and cook until they stop sizzling, a few seconds.
  • Add the mushroom and cook until soft.
  • Add the cooked Brussels sprout to the mushroom mixture. Mix and season according to taste.
  • Serve with grilled salmon or vegetable lasagna.

Watermelon Rinds – For Curry And Dessert In A Hurry

Melons, squash, and gourds add hearty consistency to vegetarian dishes over the different seasons. Summer melons have high water content, and therefore have a mild taste. Watermelon rinds are similar to summer melons: their spongy surfaces readily soak up spices or absorb milk and sugar to make two different kinds of dishes. I took advantage of this feature to make a quick and easy vegetable side dish with bold flavor and a dessert enhanced by the rind’s inherent sweetness.

For the vegetarian side dish, the nutrient-rich watermelon rinds received a boost of flavor from one of my favorite spice combinations called panch phoran (five-spice mixture). Panch phoran, which comes from the Eastern states of India, is a combination of whole (mustard, fenugreek, nigella, cumin, and fennel) seeds. Unlike ground spices, which become stale if not used quickly, these seeds keep fresh for a long time and are a good spice blend to stock in a kitchen. The whole seeds burst in hot oil, releasing aromatics to give the watermelon rinds an instant pop of nutty, peppery pungency, and anise flavors.

As for dessert, I borrowed from a tradition of cooking vegetables (most commonly bottle gourd and carrots) in milk and sugar to make halva. The texture and color of the peeled and cubed watermelon rinds were similar to the long green bottle gourd, which is also used in both savory and sweet dishes. The watermelon rinds when cooked in milk have a gooey consistency; similar to rice that has absorbed the milk in rice pudding. Halva is garnished with nuts for a crunch and perfumed by freshly ground cardamom.

Watermelon Rinds In A Curry

Watermelon rinds – 2 cups, cubed

Panch Phoran (whole spice mix) – 2 tbsp

Garlic cloves – 5, peeled and finely sliced

Ginger – 2-inch piece, peeled and grated

Chili – 2, sliced

Tomatoes – 2, chopped

Kosher salt – to season

Vegetable oil – 2 tbsp

  • Heat vegetable oil in a wok or pan with a lid.
  • Add the panch phoran spices to hot oil. In a few seconds, the seeds will start to explode.
  • Immediately add the garlic, ginger, and chilies and sauté for about 1-2 minutes, until they are lightly browned.
  • Add the watermelon rinds and stir-fry, until the rinds are coated with the spice mixture.
  • Lower the flame and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes or longer, until the rinds are soft. Stir occasionally during cooking. Add a ¼ cup of water to the mixture if the rinds are not ready and there is no water in the pan.
  • Serve warm.

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Watermelon Rind Halva

Watermelon rinds – 2 cups, cubed

Milk – 2¼ cups

Sugar – 8 tbsp

Cardamom – 4 whole pods

Butter or ghee – 3 tbsp

Toasted Nuts – 1 tbsp

  • Add the rinds and milk in a cast iron pan and cook on low, until the rinds become soft.
  • Continue to cook, stirring until the milk has evaporated. Mash the cooked rinds for a mashed potato-like texture.
  • Add the cardamom pods and sugar. Stir until sugar melts. Continue to cook for about five more minutes.
  • Remove from heat and while still hot, add butter.
  • Serve hot or cold. Garnish with toasted nuts.

 

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Heirloom Tomatoes: Tomato Chutney

Next to my home-grown, round, organic tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes look wild and crazily-shaped. Their sunset reds, dazzling yellows, and deep purple colors, along with striations and ridges, only accentuate their misshapen appearance. However, heirloom tomatoes’ strange form conceals a smooth texture and buttery sweetness. This combination of firmness and balanced acidity makes heirloom tomatoes a favorite in a Caprese salad – the bold flavors pair particularly well with basil vinaigrette. These same qualities make heirloom tomatoes good contenders in pickles and chutneys.

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The best time to eat heirloom tomatoes is when they are at their peak during summer. Their flavors are best conserved when the fruits are stored at room temperature. However, as spoilage is quick, cooking the tomatoes into a chutney (with spices, salt and sugar) preserves them. Heirloom tomatoes can now be enjoyed well into fall!

Tomato Chutney

Heirloom tomatoes – 2, chopped

Onion – 1, small, roughly chopped

Ginger – 4-5-inch piece, chopped

Chilies – 7-8, adjust depending on preferred chili heat

Vegetable oil – ½ cup

Salt – 1- 1½ tsp

Sugar – ¼ tsp

  • Process all the ingredients in a food processor or in batches in a blender, until you have a smooth mixture.
  • Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed cast iron pan.
  • Add all the blended ingredients into the pan and stir.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil, and then let the mixture simmer for about 30-40 minutes. The mixture should have boiled down and have a creamy texture. Remove from heat and let the chutney cool.
  • Once cooled, store the chutney in sterilized mason jars in the refrigerator or freeze.

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Tomato chutney, much like pickles, provides the zesty addition to an Indian meal of vegetables and meat served with rice or naan. Tomato chutney can also be used as a spread over cream/goat cheese in a sandwich or used as a dip with sliced, raw vegetables.

 

 

 

Pickling Summer: Watermelon Rinds

When September rolls around with its cool mornings, I start looking for ways to bottle up summer – to keep it around a little longer. Watermelon evokes summer; a slice of fruit with the red juice running down your forearms is the perfect dessert after a barbecue. When a friend recently brought pickled watermelon rinds to a party, I knew that the recipe would be another way to extend the season’s flavors (check out basil butter and oven dried sage and lavender).

Buying a whole watermelon is economical (see cocktail and granita), and now the whole fruit including the rind can be utilized. Pickling the rind creates instant gratification, as the pickled rinds are ready to eat in about 12 hours. The ingredients are commonplace items that are usually available in a well-stocked pantry. The process of combining the pickling spices (cloves, peppercorns, allspice, and cinnamon), aromatics (fresh ginger and lemon) with the pickling liquid of sugar-water-vinegar mix requires little effort. Pickling is more of an art form, and the ingredients can be varied according to your preferences. However, the pickling liquid has to be sufficiently acidic with enough of the liquid covering the rinds to prevent any mold growth.

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Serve the pickled rinds as an accompaniment to burgers and hot dogs or as a side dish alongside hummus and olives.

Pickled Watermelon Rinds

Watermelon – 4 cups (about half of a medium-sized watermelon)

Water – 4 cups

Vinegar (plain or apple cider vinegar) – 3½ cups

Salt – 1½ tbsp

Sugar – ¾ cup

Whole cloves – 4-5

Peppercorns – 4-5

Whole Allspice – 4-5

Whole cinnamon stick – 1

Ginger – 6-7 slices

Lemon – 1, sliced

  • Cut the red flesh away from the rind, leaving behind just ¼-inch of the flesh close to the rind. Use the fruit to make granita or salad.
  • Peel the hard dark green, striped rind with a good strong peeler. Once the striped green rind has been peeled away and discarded, the paler green rind below is easy to remove. Scrape down until you have 1½-inch layer of the pale green rind left.
  • Cut the peeled rind into smaller cubes or slivers. Keep aside.
  • Boil 3½ cups of water. Add the salt to the boiling water.
  • Add the cut rinds to the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, until the rinds have softened. Remove and drain. Rinse the rinds with fresh water. Place the rinds in a fresh metal pan.
  • Meanwhile, mix the sugar with the vinegar and ½ cup of water until the sugar has dissolved. Heat the mixture.
  • Add cloves, peppercorns, allspice, cinnamon, and lemon and ginger slices. Boil the mixture for about 8 minutes.
  • Pour the vinegar mixture over the watermelon rinds. Place a plate (or weights) on the rinds to keep all of the rinds submerged in the pickling liquid. Cover.
  • Once the mixture has cooled, keep the pan in the refrigerator.
  • The pickled watermelon rinds are ready after 12 hours.
  • Pour the rinds and vinegar solution into a sterilized mason jar to store, making sure the rinds are submerged in the pickling liquid. Pickled watermelon rinds keep in the refrigerator for a week and longer.

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Mango Shrikhand – Yogurt And Mango Dessert

In my experience when writing a regular food blog, often two disparate food-related events culminate in a new recipe or a twist on a memorable flavor. This time around, it was a case of overripe mangoes in addition to excess yogurt from experiments with a starter culture. Combining these two ingredients brought back memories from my childhood in Bombay of a wholesome, custardy dessert – shrikhand.

Shrikhand (pronounced shreek-ind), from the western states of India, combines the velvety richness of thickened yogurt with hints of warm floral notes from saffron and cardamom and a crunchy finish of pistachio nuts. Similar to ricotta, the creamy strained yogurt also complements pureed fruits, which gave me the idea to pair it with mango. When I was young, my father would bring home a small box of freshly-churned shrikhand made at a roadside stall. This unpretentious shop was exactly what today’s gourmet hopes to find, tucked in a market selling everything from vegetables to plumbing equipment. At that time, shrikhand was expensive as the ingredients were all top quality; which is why we only ever received a small box! Making shrikhand at home was much easier than I had expected, and perfectly recaptured the taste of my memory. The silky, thick consistency of the strained yogurt pairs well with mango’s natural sweetness.

Shrikhand

Yogurt (32 oz) – 1

Mango – 1, peeled and pureed

Superfine sugar – 2 tbsp + more if needed

Saffron strands – 3-4

Milk – 1 tbsp

Cardamom powder – ½- ¾ tsp

Pistachio nuts – 10, lightly crushed

Cheesecloth or muslin

  • Strain the yogurt through a cheesecloth. Tie the ends of the cheesecloth together to form a bag. Suspend the bag high over a bowl, such that the whey liquid can drain out without touching the bag.
  • Peel, slice, and puree the mango. Put the mango pulp in a colander, to drain any excess juice.
  • Warm the milk for 10 seconds, and add the saffron strands. The milk should turn a warm yellow color in about 5-7 minutes.
  • Combine the strained yogurt, mango, sugar, saffron milk, and cardamom powder. Whip them together with a fork or whisk, until smoothly combined.
  • Divide and serve in small, individual ramekin- sized bowls.
  • Garnish with a few pistachio pieces.

Note: Use the best quality saffron and cardamom that you can get, as these flavors are subtle. Try the original shrikhand recipe (which uses no fruit) if you don’t have mangoes, adjusting sugar according to your taste.

 

 

 

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Chard: Summer’s Crop

Growing chard for the first time in my pocket-sized yard was exciting, as the leaves came up came up quickly and without much effort. This leafy vegetable (also known as Swiss chard) has a prominent colorful red or yellow stalk that runs through its 6-inch leaves. Chard’s beet-like leaves are tender when it is in season in July and August. After the first few leaves appeared, I cut them off around 2-inches from the ground. I was pleasantly surprised by the rapid growths, which easily gave me enough chard for a meal within a few days.

As we are currently in season, chard tastes less bitter than it does later in the year. Chard has many antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients. The leaves retain a touch of earthy mineral flavor, much like its close relatives, spinach and beets.

Choosing And Using Chard

  • The stalk should be firm with no bruises.
  • The leaves should be crisp green with no brown or white marks or holes.
  • Just before cooking, rinse the leaves with fresh cool water.
  • Otherwise, store unwashed chard in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. The leaves wilt quickly in the heat.

Cooking With Chard

  • Using a sharp knife, cut away the stalks from the leaves.
  • Bring enough water to boil so as to completely cover the leaves.
  • Once the water starts to boil, put the chard into the water.
  • Cook for 2 ½ minutes, just enough time for the leaves to blanch.
  • Remove and drain in a colander.
  • Cooked chard can be substituted in recipes that use spinach or kale. My current favorite uses are adding the cooked leaves to an omelet, replacing spinach in the Indian–style spicy potatoes with spinach, and mixing chard with cooked pasta and shavings of Parmesan cheese.