nuts

Cashew Nuts: Cream, Butter, and Purée

I always stock a bag of raw unsalted cashew nuts for a spur-of-the-moment snack, toasting the nuts with spicy chaat masala or with a generous pinch of rock salt and fresh pepper. Cashew nuts provide the crunch in Asian cuisines’ sautéed dishes. The cashew nuts are processed into a paste that can be used to thicken a curry. This mildly-sweet nut’s versatility has been overlooked until recently in the West.

I have now noticed that restaurants are incorporating cashew nut paste as a ribbon-like swirl around braised meat. The combination of starch and unsaturated fats (the healthy kind) in the cashew nut purée gives the paste a creamy consistency akin to mashed potatoes. A dash of the cashew nut paste on a plate of roasted chicken or grilled ribs serves as both a side dish and as a decorative flourish.

There are several ways to incorporate cashew nut paste into any cooking style, especially because cashew nut is lactose- and gluten-free. The cashew nut paste has a richly-satisfying buttery flavor and a spreadable texture, and can be substituted for peanut butter for those with peanut allergies.The paste can also be diluted with water to create a cream-like consistency and substituted for cream and yogurt to thicken sauces or even diluted further and drunk as cashew milk.

Sold pre-shelled, economy-sized packets of raw cashew nuts are available in South American and Asian supermarkets.

Cashew Nut Paste

Cashew nuts (raw) – 1 cup

  • Cover the cashew nuts with water and soak them overnight.
  • Drain in a colander.
  • Process the softened nuts in a food processor or blender to get a fine paste. Keep the paste as granular (spreadable cashew butter) or smooth to mix with fresh water (cashew cream or milk).
  • The paste can be frozen for up to 2 months in an airtight container.

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One Cup of Semolina: Three Tastes Semolina Snack (uppamav)/ Couscous (Part 1), and Gnocchi (Part 2)

One of my favorite Indian breakfasts (although I could eat it at as a snack or dinner too) is a semolina dish called uppamav. Its creamy texture is my comfort food, with a hint of aromatic ginger and a nutty crunch. Uppamav, couscous (or couscous pearls), and gnocchi are all made from semolina, the inner yellow endosperm of a variety of protein-rich wheat grain called durum wheat. While gnocchi is made using semolina flour, uppamav and couscous are made with semolina granules. They have this silky consistency because the granules easily absorb water, causing the grain to swell and soften.

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This makes uppamav and couscous a filling meal – the same grain appears in various guises in the Middle East and Israel, North Africa, and the Asian subcontinent. The fluffy couscous is paired with meat stew (in Africa) and combined with dates and pistachios and perfumed with saffron (in Israel and the Middle East). In North Africa, couscous is steamed in a couscoussier. It is a specially designed pot, featuring a steamer perched above the main pan that slowly stews the meat and vegetables. The process can be replicated with a homemade steamer, but the process is time-intensive as the couscous cooks slowly in the steam.

Semolina grain cooks quickly in boiling water, allowing the couscous to plump up and soften. The couscous pearls, which are bigger semolina granules, look like orzo or rice. The flavors vary when water is substituted with broth, stock, or wine or by adding vegetables or meat. Semolina dishes make a versatile standalone dish bulked up with meat or vegetables or can be served plain as an accompaniment to a stew.

 

Semolina (Couscous Pearls) with Soprasetta

Semolina or couscous pearls – 1 cup

Oil – 3 tbsp

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Garlic – 3 cloves, finely chopped

Cooked meat  (soprasetta) or de-veined raw shrimp  – ½ cup

Saffron – 3-4 strands, soaked in 1 tbsp. warm milk

Salt and pepper – 1tsp

Water and white wine combined – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan with oil. Add the shallots and cook until golden brown.
  • Add the ginger and garlic for a about a minute.
  • Add the water and wine to the pan. Add the salt. Bring it to a boil.
  • Add the shrimp and cook it for two minutes.
  • Add the couscous in small batches, stirring vigorously as each new batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes for semolina and about 8 minutes for couscous pearls. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Add the cooked meat and fresh pepper.
  • Fluff the semolina. Add the soaked saffron and milk. Serve warm.

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In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. The following recipe combines previously cooked or frozen vegetables to serve either as a complete vegetarian meal or as a side dish for meat consommé.

 

Semolina With Mixed Vegetables

Semolina granules – 1 cup

Shallot – 1, finely chopped

Ginger – ½ -inch, finely grated

Serrano chili – 2, chopped

Oil – 3 tbsp

Mustard seeds –1 tbsp

Lentils – 2 tbsp. (any, as it is for the crunch)

Chopped mixed vegetables (frozen) – ½ cup

Cilantro – ½ bunch, washed and roughly chopped

Cashew nuts – 2 tbsp. (optional for garnish)

Salt – 1tsp

Water – 1¾ cup

  • Heat a pan. Add the semolina (no oil) and sauté for about 3 minutes, until it is heated through and has a war aroma. Keep aside.
  • Clean and heat the pan. Add oil to the pan.
  • When the oil is warm, add the mustard seeds.
  • Once it starts to pop, add the lentils and sauté until it changes color.
  • Add the chopped shallot and sauté until brown.
  • Add the ginger, chili, and cashew nuts and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the frozen vegetables or cooked fresh vegetables and sauté for a minute.
  • Add the water and salt and bring the water to a boil.
  • Add a third of the toasted semolina to the boiling water, stirring vigorously to prevent it from clumping. Add another batch and keep stirring, until the final batch is added. Cover and cook on a low heat for 3 minutes. The water should be fully absorbed.
  • Fluff the semolina. Serve warm. Garnish with cilantro.

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No-Sugar Indulgences for the Holiday Season

When A. and N. come home, the first thing that they do is check to see if there are desserts in the refrigerator or pantry. We all love our last course! For a month-long holiday celebration, I decided to substitute some sugary treats with healthier options. I drew my inspiration from two sources commonly used in Indian sweets: dried fruits and nuts. At this time of the year, most pantries have leftover nuts from making cranberry bread and pecan pie or dried fruits in preparation for the upcoming Christmas, Ramadan and Hanuka celebrations. It is easy to spare both to make a no-sugar indulgence.

Dried fruits are often combined with flour and sugar mixture, as is the case with fruitcakes. Nuts are normally mixed in with corn syrup or sugar – think peanut brittle. Both ingredients, independently, need sugar to bond them together. When the nuts and fruits are combined, the dried fruits replace sugar to give the confection its sweetness and the nuts give it heft. An added advantage of this recipe is that you can use any combination of nuts (walnuts, cashew nuts, or almonds) and dried fruits (figs, dates, raisins, cranberries), creating a good way at the end of the holidays to use up any spare ingredients.

Dried Fruits and Nuts Bark

Dried fruits (any combination of figs, dates, prunes) – 1 ¾ cup, chopped into small pieces

Dried cranberries or raisins – ½ cup

Nuts (any combination of walnuts, cashew nuts, almonds) – 1 cup

Butter – ½ tsp to grease a cookie sheet

  • Toast the nuts in an oven or on the stove. Chop them in a food processor.
  • Heat a pan and add the chopped up dried fruits and cranberries. Add 4-5 tbsp. of water. Cook them on a low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes).
  • Add the chopped nuts to them. Remove the pan from the stove.
  • Mix together the nuts and dried fruits until you can roll them into a ball.
  • On the greased cookie sheet, roll out the ball until you get a ½-inch thick rectangle. Cut into smaller squares.

 

Semolina is a wheat grain, which is ground into flour to make pasta dough. In Indian cooking, semolina granules are used to make both sweet and savory dishes. As a dessert, semolina granules are combined with molasses (jaggery) or sugar and bonded with nuts and dried fruits to make barfi. They are served at every auspicious function as ladoo. Cooked semolina has a mild taste, and its soft texture pairs well with nutty flavors and gooey dried fruit in the following recipe.

Semolina with Dried Fruits and Nuts

Semolina – 1 cup

Dried fruits – 1 cup, diced

Cashew nuts – 1 cup

Butter – 1 tbsp

Salt – ¼ tsp

  • Boil 2 ½ cups of water with the salt.
  • While waiting for the water to boil, heat a separate pan.
  • Add the semolina to the pan and stir continuously until it has a warm, toasted aroma. This step is to prevent the semolina from clumping together later. Keep aside in a plate.
  • Add butter to a clean pan. When the butter melts, add the cashew nuts. Brown them evenly by constantly stirring. Keep aside.
  • Cook the dried fruits with 4-5 tbsp. of water on low heat until they turn into a sticky mass (about 3-4 minutes). Keep them aside.
  • As soon as the water boils, add the toasted semolina in small amounts. Stir and mix continuously to prevent it from clumping together. When all the water is absorbed, continue to cook for a minute until the semolina looks fluffy.
  • Add the nuts and dried fruits and mix them in with the semolina.
  • When the mixture has cooled, make small balls. Top it with a cashew nut.

 

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