holidays

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!

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!

Salsa Criolla And Chimichurri: Fireworks And Spicy Condiments

I was caught off guard when two familiar flavors landed at my table through an unexpected intersection of food cultures. I was instantly transported to two of my mother’s Sunday specials – a lunch featuring fried rice with an accompaniment made of raw red onions, green chili, and vinegar and dosa (rice pancake) with cilantro (coriander leaves) chutney. However, this time, I wasn’t in India, but in Peru – eating the same onion salsa-like combination paired river trout ceviche and a creamy cilantro sauce with roasted chicken.

The connections made through ancient trade routes seemed to have culminated on my table: The exchange of ingredients and preparation styles link us together more than we might expect. In both countries, the condiments combine the crisp piquancy of red onions with the heat and color from the varieties of chilies, and rounded out by the herbal notes of cilantro in almost identical ways. In Peru, I also found a new twist on the classic chimichurri from neighboring Argentina. This parsley-based condiment is a welcome addition to my list of accompaniments for the upcoming holiday weekend. Instead of its usual topping for grilled flank steaks, chimichurri can double as a dipping sauce for chunky slices of bread – exactly how it was served in Peru.

These condiments can be made ahead, and are quick and easy accompaniments to barbecue dishes. Happy July 4th!

Salsa Criolla

Red onion – ½, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

Aji chili – 1, cut into rounds

Lime – 1, juice

Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Mix the oil, lime juice, chili, and salt together. Keep aside up to couple of hours ahead of when needed.
  • Just before serving, add the sliced onions to the mixture. Toss until the oil-lime juice mixture coats the onions well.

Note: Substitute aji with serrano or jalapeno, but use caution when handling chili. Remove the seeds to lessen the spicy heat.

Chimichurri

Parsley (fresh) – ¾ cup, chopped

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Serrano (jalapeno) – 1, finely sliced

Garlic cloves – 3, finely sliced

Red wine vinegar – ½ cup

Olive oil – ¼ cup

Oregano – ¼ tsp

Salt (kosher) – ¼ tsp

Pepper – ½ tsp

 

  • Mix together the chopped parsley, shallots, serrano chili, and garlic.
  • Shake the red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper well before adding to the parsley mixture.
  • Chimichurri can stay refrigerated for 1-2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Note: If you enjoy the flavor of cilantro, replace a ¼ cup of parsley with cilantro.

 

 

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Seder Dinner: Communal Meal

During this Passover season, I was invited to share the Seder dinner at my neighbor’s table. The traditional Passover meal is grounded in history, and all of the food components have symbolic meanings. The Seder plate comprises foods that serve as stand-ins to retell the story about the journey from slavery to freedom. One plate around which people gather together has the all the makings of a communal meal, which happens to be my favorite blog theme (fondue, shabu shabu, injera, and raclette)!

As the dinner progresses from past to present, I wanted my contribution to honor traditions. As grain and flour are absent at a Passover meal, and eggs, orange, nuts signify new beginnings; I combined as many of the ritual foods to end on the sweetness of hope.

Orange Tart

(Adapted from Mark Bittman’s Lemon-Almond Tart)

Eggs – 4

Ground almonds – ½ cup

Sliced almonds – ½ cup

Cream – ½ cup

Sugar – ¾ cup

Oranges – 1 ½, juice and zest

Butter – 2 tbsp

Powdered sugar – for decoration

Kosher Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Heat the oven to 375ºF.
  • Process the almonds in a food processor to a fine flour-like texture.
  • Juice the oranges and zest the skin.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl.
  • Add the almonds, cream, sugar and zest to the bowl. Mix well.
  • Add the orange juice and mix.
  • Melt the butter in an ovenproof skillet. When the butter has melted, add the egg-almond mixture. Cook until the sides of the egg mixture start to firm up.
  • Remove from the stove and transfer to the hot oven.
  • Cook for 10-12 minutes, until the mixture is lightly browned.
  • Remove and set it under the broiler for 30-40 seconds, for a caramelized brown.
  • Decorate with powdered sugar.

 

Happy Passover!

 

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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!

 

 

Trifle In October: National Dessert Month

Two of my friends recently shared memories of a dessert that both their mothers had made – a combination of Jell-O, Cool Whip, marshmallows, and canned fruit. They both acknowledged that they wouldn’t make the dessert because of the many processed ingredients, but they still savored the memory. Like most comfort food, the ingredients are a combination of all that is no longer popular, yet together comprise textures and flavors that stay with us forever. My friends’ conversation reminded me of another delicious dessert that had some of the aforementioned unfashionable ingredients.

As October 1 is designated as start of dessert season, it was the time to start with a classic. Trifle is my husband’s favorite pudding from the many years he spent in the U.K.. Without the traditional English ladyfingers and Bird’s Eye custard that are not readily available in the US, I had to tinker with the ingredients. Dessert, after all, should always take us to a happy place. Have an indulgent month!

Trifle

Pound cake – ½ loaf, cut to fit the base and sides of a bowl

Port (or sherry) – 4-5 tbsp. (enough to soak the cake)

Mixed fruit cocktail – 15 oz. can

Strawberries, Raspberries, grapes – 1 cup

Strawberry Jell-O – 6oz packet

Whole Milk – 1 pint

Egg yolks – 4

Sugar – 2 tbsp

Vanilla essence – ½ tsp

Whipping Cream – ½ pt, whipped until it forms firm peaks

  • Use the fruit syrup replacing some of the water needed to prepare the Jell-O according to the instructions on the packet.
  • Cut the fresh fruits into small chunks and mix in with the mixed fruit cocktail.
  • Layer the bottom and sides of the glass bowl with pieces of cake.
  • Pour the port over the cake, making sure all of the pieces are soaked through.
  • Add the fruits on top of the cake.
  • Pour the Jell-O over the fruits and cake. Once cool, refrigerate until the Jell-O is set.
  • Meanwhile, mix the eggs, sugar, and essence together in a bowl.
  • Heat the milk in a pan the milk to just before it starts to boil. Remove from heat.
  • Take a tablespoon of the hot milk and add it to the egg and sugar mixture. Mix. Keep adding a few tablespoons of milk at a time, until the egg-sugar mixture is warm (this is to avoid curdling). Add the egg and milk mixture back into the pan containing milk. On low heat, continue to cook (about 15-18 minutes). The custard is ready when it is thick and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Cool.
  • Pour over the set jelly.
  • Spoon the whipped cream over the custard.
  • Decorate with sliced fruits.

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Welsh Rarebit: A Becoming Fit between Grilled Cheese and Eggs Benedict

The week ending April 18th holds two perennial favorite comfort food days – April 12th, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and April 16th, Eggs Benedict Day. I could cover both food events with one delicious savory dish, Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit.

I used to picture Welsh rabbit as a dish with a small animal in a creamy sauce, and so using its other name, Welsh rarebit, sits better with me. The dish includes many of the food creations from the British Isles – tangy Guinness stout, tart Cheddar cheese, vinegary Worcestershire sauce, and pungent English mustard powder (in that familiar yellow tin). All of the ingredients are mixed with egg yolk, liberally slathered on a hunk of country bread, and broiled. The resulting creamy and substantial dish is a cinch to prepare, while combining in one swoop all of the major comfort foods: bread, cheese, butter, and eggs.

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Welsh Rarebit

Bread (sturdy country loaf) – four chunky slices

Butter – 1½ tbsp

Cheddar cheese (such as Welsh reserve) – ¾ – 1 cup, freshly grated

Mustard powder – ¾ tsp

Paprika – ¼ tsp

Stout (such as Guinness) – 2 tbsp

Worcestershire Sauce – ½ tbsp

Egg yolks – 2, beaten

  • Pre-heat the broiler.
  • Melt the butter in a pan on low heat.
  • Add the mustard powder and paprika to the melting butter. Stir and mix well.
  • Add the stout and the Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix.
  • Add the grated cheese to the pan, stirring continuously to incorporate into the mixture. Do not let it come to a boil.
  • Remove the pan from the fire and cool until just warm to the touch.
  • In the meanwhile, place the bread under the broiler and broil both sides. Remove.
  • Add the egg yolks to the warm pan and beat until you get a smooth, spreadable mixture.
  • Spread the mixture over the broiled bread and place the bread back under the broiler. Cook for a minute or until the cheese-egg mixture starts to brown and bubble.
  • Serve immediately. There should be enough egg-cheese mixture to top four slices.

 

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