Jalebi: A Sweet Confection

One way of finding out if your favorite foods are worth their calories is to make the dish at home – an eye opener in realizing how much oil, sugar, or salt goes into dishes that you crave. For Valentine’s Day, I planned on treating myself to a dessert that I had only ever bought. Similar to a churro or beignet (in that the fried dough is coated with sugar), a jalebi is a spiral-shaped sunset-colored Indian dessert that features a crispy outer shell harboring a juicy syrup within. The orange or yellow glow comes from the sugar syrup that is tinted and perfumed by aromatic saffron (or less expensive turmeric and sprinkles of cardamom powder).

There are two parts to making jalebi – the batter and syrup. The batter can be hurried along by adding yeast or baking soda, but just using yogurt will also give jalebi the desired tangy flavor. As expected, without a leavening agent and the cool temperature, my dough took two days to rise. But it was the sugar syrup that had me baffled. Simple syrup, ubiquitous in sweet lemonade and cocktails, is dissolved sugar and water that is heated for about 4-5 minutes. As the sugar solution starts to thicken into viscous syrup, it develops a glossy sheen before taking on a thread-like consistency. For jalebi, the syrup should have a half-thread consistency. Without a candy thermometer, this stage can be assessed by feel: Rub a little of the hot sugar solution between the thumb and forefinger, and then carefully lift the thumb away from the forefinger to see if a thin, transparent string forms. When this sugar thread is ¼-inch high, the syrup is ready. If the syrup is too thick, the fried dough will not absorb the syrup but instead be coated with sugar crystals.

Tips To Prevent Crystallization:

  • Use a clean pan. Any particles in the pan will allow sugar to crystallize on to it.
  • Don’t agitate the sugar solution. Let the sugar dissolve with minimal stirring.
  • Keep the heat on medium, and let the sugar come to a boil slowly.
  • While checking for the thread formation, remove the pot away from the flame so that the mixture doesn’t continue to cook.

Jalebi

Batter:

Flour – 1 cup, sieved

Yogurt – ½ cup

Syrup:

Sugar – 2 cups

Saffron strands – 4-5 (or 1/8th spoon turmeric for color)

Lime – 1, juice

Vegetable Oil – enough for 2-inch layer for frying

  • In a glass bowl, mix the yogurt and flour.
  • Add a little water to the flour and yogurt and mix. Remove all lumps for a smooth batter, by adding water in small increments.
  • Cover and keep aside for 1-2 days, depending on outside temperature.
  • The batter will not rise as one with a leavening agent, but will develop a shiny surface. You can add ½ tsp yeast for the batter to rise quicker.
  • When the batter is ready, spend 5-8 minutes working with the batter, Knead, gather, and stretch the batter, until the batter feels soft and silky. Add as little water as possible, just enough to get the batter to a thick, pouring consistency.
  • Spoon mixture into a piping bag. I often just cut a hole in a Ziploc bag or pour the batter into a mustard or ketchup container squeezing out the batter through the small hole in the cap.
  • Meanwhile, add the sugar and water to a very clean pan. Mix until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Heat the mixture, and once it has a shiny glossy appearance, add the limejuice. This helps gather the frothy scum, which can be discarded.
  • Add the saffron threads to the heated solution to give the sugar the characteristic orange tint.
  • Keep the sugar solution at medium heat and allow it to thicken to a half-thread consistency (makes a small thread between the forefinger and thumb as you slowly lift the sugar solution between the fingers). Keep at this temperature.
  • Heat the oil.
  • Pipe in the dough directly into the hot oil.
  • When the bubbles of hot oil around the dough become less agitated, turn the dough over. Let it lightly brown and then remove immediately. With one smooth motion, while tapping away the oil, dunk the fried dough immediately into the sugar solution. Let it soak for a minute before removing and plating it. Eat immediately for best flavor.

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Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Trending Now: Build Your Own Bowl

I must admit that the food bowl trend baffled me at first. The bowls used to “build your own meals” aren’t delicate porcelain bowls adorned with floral designs or made with colorful pressed glass, and the food inside is neither fancy nor combinations of the unusual. Instead, the bowls in question can be simple, everyday white bowls that are more commonly associated with eating hurried breakfast cereals. As I skeptically transferred my warmed-up leftovers (Indian food and some broiled vegetables) from a plate to a bowl, I realized that I was missing the point.

A simple white bowl plays up the color of food; The brown color of leftover chickpeas and green broiled Brussels’ sprouts boldly stood out amongst more colorful red cabbage and charred eggplant. Carbohydrates, such as my white jasmine rice or transparent mung noodles, pop amongst the riot of purples and oranges in a bowl filled with roasted vegetables. A white plate can provide the same trick, but the array of colors tightly juxtaposed in a bowl somehow tricks the eye into seeing a fuller, more delicious display.

Another reason for the success of this trend is the shape of the container. Wrapping your hands around a bowl forces a stronger connection to the food. Building up a bowl with your choice fixings is like being presented with all of your favorite comfort foods all at once, but with built-in portion control due to the limiting size of the bowl. The flexibility of prepping ahead, by using up leftovers or creating new groupings, and assembling balanced bowls will keep this trend going for a while.

Filling A Bowl:

  • Add color and nutrients: Fill half the bowl with fresh, steamed or roasted vegetables.
  • Add heft: Fill a quarter of the bowl with whole grain pasta, quinoa, or even leftover rice from the takeout carton.
  • Add protein: Fill a quarter with tofu, fish, or spare meatballs.
  • Add a flourish: Garnish with simple oil and vinegar dressing, curry sauce, or toasted cashews or almonds for a crunch.

Enjoy your personal masterpiece!

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Trending Now: Aquafaba (Liquid From Cooked Chickpeas)

My first attempt at making a chickpea curry was a disaster. At the end of the evening, my aunt gently reminded me to pre-soak the beans before cooking them. Ever since that rock-hard-chickpea incident, I’ve resorted to using canned cooked chickpeas, and generating a lot of discarded liquid in the process. Until now. Aquafaba, the residual liquor from cooking chickpeas, works perfectly as an egg substitute – a boon to those with an egg allergy or a vegan with a sweet tooth.

Aquafaba, from the Latin aqua (water) and faba (bean), is a more attractive name to give the liquid from a legume. This viscous amber-colored liquid is rich in starch and protein plant material that is drawn out from the legume during cooking. Aquafaba whisks into a binding agent for use in cakes or froths up as foam in drinks. Its neutral flavor doesn’t compete with other ingredients when substituted for eggs in mayonnaise or meringue. Goose Wohlt, an American software engineer, is widely recognized as the person responsible for both the name and making the first stable vegan meringue in 2015.

Aquafaba can be made from canned chickpeas. However, using dried chickpeas eliminates the added salt and preservatives found in the canned version.

Aquafaba

Dried chickpeas – 2 cups

Salt – 1 tsp

  • Wash the dried chickpeas with several changes of fresh water.
  • Drain in a colander.
  • In a fresh bowl, add the chickpeas, 6 cups of water, and salt. Leave it to soak overnight or for about 13-15 hours.
  • Pour the contents of the bowl into a cooking pan.
  • Boil the chickpeas for 1¼ – 1½ hours. Check the chickpeas halfway into cooking time for the frothy scum that rises to the top. Using a spoon and in one continuous motion, scoop out as much of the froth as possible.
  • Chickpeas are ready when they have no crunch but are firm to the touch.
  • Strain the chickpeas, reserving both the chickpeas and golden-colored liquid or aquafaba.

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One of my new favorite drinks is the Peruvian Pisco Sour – but the cocktail was hard to make for a large holiday party. It would have been a challenge to separate so many eggs and keep the egg whites at an optimal temperature. Substituting aquafaba for egg whites addresses these concerns, and is suitable to serve both vegans and worriers (regarding raw eggs) alike. Cheers!

Pisco Sour

Pisco – 3 oz

Aquafaba – 2 tbsp

Simple syrup – 2 ½ -3 tbsp (depending on taste)

Lime juice – 4 tbsp

Crushed ice – ¾ – 1 tbsp

Angostura Bitters – 2-3 drops (optional)

  • Pour all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker.
  • Add the crushed ice. Shake vigorously.
  • Pour in thirds (to create as much foam as possible) into a short glass. Serve immediately.

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Note: Use the cooked chickpeas to make a simple Italian appetizer with garlic and chili powder, chickpea curry, or process into a smooth hummus.

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Decadent Bubbles: Champagne And Caviar

After printing a successful issue, my first editor in London brought caviar to the office. The team was excited to enjoy this expensive gesture. The black bubbles of cured sturgeon roe glistened from a small glass container, sitting on top of a mound of crushed ice. A delicate mother-of-pearl spoon rested nearby. While everyone savored the refined treat, I seemed to be the only one who didn’t appreciate the caviar’s long aftertaste. However, I changed my mind about caviar this New Year’s Eve.

To ring in the New Year, my neighbor served a delicious appetizer of caviar, crumbled hardboiled egg, and onion on lightly buttered toast. The two additions provided a delicate balance to the texture and salty flavor of caviar, and for the first time, I enjoyed this extravagant food.

A few days later, I saw the holiday episode of The Great American Baking Show that featured champagne “caviar” as a dessert garnish. The “caviar” was easy to make; the golden champagne droplets were teased out from stock items in my pantry such as gelatin, sugar, and oil. I was inspired to create a whimsical twist on the champagne and caviar pairing. I topped the black sturgeon beads and orange salmon roe with the captured champagne “caviar” bubbles, which added a hint of sweetness to this festive and decadent treat.

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Champagne And Caviar Bubbles

Caviar – 1 container

Boiled eggs – 2-3

Champagne Caviar

To assemble:

  • Scoop out some of the yolk from the hard-boiled egg, and replace with caviar.
  • Sprinkle the champagne “caviar” on top of the caviar.

Another option: Combine the hard-boiled egg with caviar and serve on toasted bread. Top off with champagne caviar.

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Note: This luxurious treat can be made a little more affordable by replacing champagne with sparkling wine and /or using locally-farmed roe. Here’s to a year of celebratory meals that don’t break the bank!

Red Cabbage Soup: Accentuating Festivity

The berries on my overgrown holly bush sparkle against the snow, bringing in an intense red color as relief on cold grey days. Wanting some good cheer and festivity for the holidays, I looked to color to inspire and warm up this year’s traditional dishes.

My regular green cabbage soup is a hardy winter soup. Made with earthy turnip and drippings from bacon fat, the soup is both filling and rich. On the other hand, a soup made with red cabbage and tomatoes is much lighter. The cabbage picks up both the color and tartness of tomatoes, and lends the season’s ruby-red jewel tones to the soup.

Red Cabbage Soup

Red cabbage – 1

Oil – 3 tbsp

Onion – 1, roughly chopped

Garlic cloves – 8-10, roughly chopped

Chicken stock – 8-10 cups (enough to cover cabbage)

San Marzano (or any good quality) tomatoes – 28oz can

Salt and Pepper – to taste

Sour cream – ½ cup (optional)

  • Remove the outer old or tired looking leaves from the cabbage. Cut the base, and with a sharp knife pull apart the leaves. Remove the hard spine on the older leaves. Chop roughly. Wash the leaves and keep aside.
  • Heat a large pan with oil.
  • Add the onions and garlic. Sauté until the onions are translucent.
  • Add the cabbage and sauté them with the onions and garlic.
  • Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.
  • Add the tomatoes. Cook for 40 minutes.
  • Cool and blend in a blender or food processor which gives the soup thick consistency.
  • Decorate with a small dollop of sour cream, if desired.

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Enjoy the holidays. Wishing you a Happy New Year!

I look forward to your comments and suggestions in 2017.

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.