India

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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Coffee With Chicory


I confess that I am a coffee addict, and I hold family genes responsible for my chicory-flavored coffee cravings. Chicory is a root that adds the noticeable tang to medium roasted South Indian coffee. A member of the dandelion-family, the root was once used to stretch coffee rations in Asia and Europe. South Indians continue to mix chicory with coffee beans for the distinctive peppery flavor that it provides, but I’ve also ordered a cup of the blend in cafes in New Orleans. When coffee and milk are frothed together, the foam brings to the forefront both the aroma and flavor of chicory.

Long before machines gurgled and hissed out steaming milk, a frothy cup of coffee was achieved simply. All that is required are two separate tumblers, one with fresh filtered coffee and another with hot milk (often mixed with sugar). The hot milk is directly poured into the brewed coffee, starting with the vessels two inches apart and deftly raising one of the tumblers up to and approximately an arms’ length height. This introduces aeration and forms the distinctive top layer of bubbles. This method of producing a foamy cup is still practiced in everyday tea and coffee houses all over India.

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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!

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.

 

 

 

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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A Good Carbohydrate: Cassava (Manioc or Yuca). Part 1

One of the advantages of visiting my foodie family is that I am treated to my favorite foods – and this time around I was lucky enough to enjoy fresh kappa and meen (tapioca and fish) not just once, but three times. Tapioca is technically the starch taken from the cassava root, but in Kerala, India, the root and its preparation are interchangeably called tapioca – a custom derived from its Portuguese origins. Originally from Brazil, cassava is a carbohydrate that is eaten throughout Asia, Africa, and South America. Aside from eating the fresh tuber, starch from cassava root is made into flour and tapioca pearls, the glistening “pearls” that are found in bubble tea, falooda, and tapioca pudding.

With the advent of low-carbohydrate/high-protein diets, complex starches like potato and cassava have come under unfair scrutiny. However, for a properly functioning system, we do need plant-based starches for energy. It is for this reason that I decided to post about a complex carbohydrate source. I chose to showcase cassava in a two-part blog – the first on cooking the root tuber, and the second, using the gluten-free tapioca flour and pearls, derivatives of the original root.

The taste of cooked cassava is similar to a potato – with maybe a little more of a fibrous texture. A fresh cassava root has a tough outer skin similar to winter squashes, and travels well thereby extending its shelf life. The hardest part of using fresh cassava is cutting and peeling the tough skin. Once that is done, cassava cooks as simply as boiling a potato. Cooked cassava has a mild taste and adds bulk to stews; it also makes an ideal pairing with fiery dishes.

Note: The root contains toxins that are removed when cassava is boiled. If you want to try out the raw taste, you can also buy the pre-cooked frozen cassava.

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How to prepare and cook fresh cassava:

  • Bring a pan of water to boil.
  • In the meantime, scrub the cassava root under running water.
  • Place it on a cutting board; use a sharp knife to cut through the root.
  • Hold the cut half upright, and peel back the tough outer layer and the purple skin. Repeat for the other half, cut off the ends, and you should be left with a white root.
  • Wash the root well. Cut into large cubes.
  • Add the root to boiling water. Let it cook for 30-50 minutes, depending on the freshness of the root. It is ready when you can pierce it easily with a fork.
  • Drain the cassava pieces in a colander. Rinse with fresh water.

Fu Fu: In Africa, the cooked cassava is mashed like potato. While it is still hot, add butter, salt and pepper. Serve Fu Fu (or Fufu) with a hardy stew.

In Sri Lanka and Kerala, the boiled cassava is served with a punchy chutney made with green chili, onion, and coconut oil.

Tapioca (Kerala style)

Cassava – 1 medium

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds – 1 tbsp

Cumin seeds – ½ tbsp

Shallot (or 1 small onion) – 2, chopped finely

Red chili – 3

Curry leaves (optional) – 1 sprig

Turmeric powder – ¼ tsp

Unsweetened shredded coconut – ½ cup

  • Cook the cassava (above).
  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add the mustard seeds. Wait until they pop before adding the cumin seeds.
  • As soon as the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add the onions.
  • Sauté until the onions start to brown.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and stir-fry for one minute.
  • Add the cooked tapioca and blend it with the mixture.

Enjoy with a spicy stew or as a savory snack.

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