April 25, 2015

Chembu/ Sepankizhangu/ Arbi Mezhukkuvaratti (Pan Roasted Spicy Colocasia)

T
hough this year has been quite good so far, quite a few things I had planned for just haven’t been happening quite in the way I expected. One of those things was getting back to blogging regularly. Unfortunately for me, two episodes of a very bad throat infection and all the stuff that comes with it have ensured that I haven’t even been able to clear out pending drafts on the blog!

So here I am, after an unintentional break from blogging, with a recipe that’s a traditional Palakkad Iyer favourite though it’s not one of mine. I’m a little different from some in my community in some of my food tastes in that I don’t like anything cooked with raw bananas, elephant yam and Colocasia, to mention a few community favourites. 
I’d go as far as saying the only tuber vegetables I like are the potato, carrots and the Daikon radish (only in Indian flatbreads called parathas, or this pickle) all of which are not traditionally endemic to Kerala or what is generally known there as “naadan”. Oh yes, I also like tapioca/ cassava which is a favourite in Kerala but that’s about it.




I dislike Colocasia because it has an almost sticky sliminess (for want of a better description) when cooked (though this disappears once it's been fried), I tend to avoid going anywhere near it when I’m at my local market. It’s a purely unintentional and almost unconscious habit but one that’s a fair one because my husband loves this dirty unappealing looking vegetable! So about once every couple of months, I make an effort to remember to buy Colocasia just for him.

There are more than a couple of ways to cook it, but my husband’s favourite dish with it is a simple “Mezhukkuvaratti/ Mezhukkupuratti” which is how we in Kerala, describe a dish that involves stir-frying certain vegetables in coconut oil so that they’re cooked soft inside but crisp outside with minimal use of spices. Mezhukkuvaratti or Mezhukkupuratti means just that – stir-frying or coating with oil usually with only salt, turmeric powder, chilli powder and curry leaves as seasoning.




This recipe is pretty much the same as this recipe for Vazhakkai/ Raw Plantain Mezhukkuvaratti except in the way in which the vegetable here is prepared before it is stir-fried. 
As I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog before, the Palakkad Iyer style of cooking (and language) is essentially rooted in its Tamil origins with heavy influences from Kerala. So Colocasia which is “Sepankizhangu” in Tamil, is pronounced as “Chepankizhangu” by most of us Palakkad Iyers who have adopted the Malayalam version. 
It is Arbi or Arvi for those who are more familiar with the Hindi name for it.
Chembu/ Sepankizhangu/ Arbi Mezhukkuvaratti (Pan Roasted Spicy Colocasia)



Ingredients:


1/2 kg Chembu/Seppankizhangu/ Arbi/ Colocasia

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder (or to taste)

Salt to taste

3 tbsp oil (preferably coconut oil)

1/8 tsp asafoetida

1 or 2 sprigs curry leaves



Method:


The first thing to do is to clean the caked mud/ soil from the Colocasia tubers if they are dirty. Either way, wash them well in water. If they have caked dirt then soak them in water for about 10 to 15 minutes to loosen it before washing them.

Then cook the Colocasia so that they’re done, but  are still firm and not mushy. I pressure cook them for a couple of “whistles” (short duration) like we usually do in India. Drain the water and peel off the skin like for boiled potatoes. Let them cool completely and then cut or slice them into even shaped pieces, but not too small.

Sprinkle the turmeric powder, the chilli powder and the salt over the Colocasia pieces and toss them lightly in a bowl so that they get coated with the spice.

Heat the oil in a wok or non-stick/ thick bottomed frying pan. Add the safetida and the curry leaves and stir a couple of times without letting the asafoetida burn. Now add the spiced Colocasia pieces and lightly toss them in the oil. 
Let them cook over medium heat for about 10 to 15 minutes, uncovered, until they crisp up. Toss the Colocasia a couple of times to redistribute and turn them, without breaking the pieces, so they’re evenly crisped.


When done, transfer to a serving bowl and serve warm on the side with rice and a curry with gravy like Sambhar, Pulissery or Rasam. This should serve about 4.


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April 7, 2015

Strawberries & Cream With An Oatmeal Crumble

T
hese are the last strawberries of this season and I must bid them goodbye with a slightly heavy heart. Mangoes are my favourite fruit and strawberries come a close second or third. There was a time when I used to envy all those food blogs that were written by people who lived in strawberry country because we couldn’t get them here. Strawberries have always been grown in the temperate regions of India but they never made it down to the more tropical parts of the country.

Thankfully, all that has changed now and when the season arrives, my local market is awash in the bright red, juicy berries that arrive fresh almost every morning after having travelled hours from the farms where they’re grown. I rarely some back from a visit to the market without at least 2 to 4 little boxes of strawberries and the first thing I do is make jam and then I freeze a huge batch of them for later use. Then I trawl the net and my cookbooks for things to make with them.





As good as the various things that I have made with them have tasted and that includes a couple of Strawberry Cakes, Strawberry Shortcakes, Strawberry Muffins, Mousse, Stracchiatella and Sorbet.   I have since discovered my favourite way to eat strawberries is the simplicity and deliciousness that is Strawberries and Cream.

I first discovered the combination of Strawberries and Cream years ago in the days when we used to watch tennis stalwarts like Martina Navratilova, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and Steffi Graf (you now know I'm ancient!) at Wimbledon, on television. 
The commentators would go on about how iconic Strawberries and Cream at Wimbledon was, and show us the spectators at the Games wholeheartedly enjoying them. This was so long before I ever saw a strawberry for real!

The tradition of strawberries at Wimbledon goes back to the first games in 1877 and there’s nothing behind this apart from the fact that both Wimbledon and the strawberry season happened at the beginning of summer. 
While it was considered fashionable to eat strawberries at Wimbledon, it seems vendors actually began selling punnets of strawberries to Wimbledon spectators in only 1953 and the practice of adding a little sugar and cream to them supposedly began in 1970 though no one knows for sure.




However, the pairing of strawberries and cream as a dessert is not a Wimbledon thing and that idea is apparently credited to Cardinal Wolsey though it actually belongs to the chefs in his kitchen who created the enduring combination. Cardinal Wolsey is said to have had the dessert served at Tudor feasts at Hampton Court in the 1500s. The Cardinal was a powerful man who became the Lord Chancellor in the court of King Henry VIII as well his right hand man.  The Cardinal built himself a huge palace and King Henry’s court is said to have spent a lot of time here. 

Home to the largest kitchens in Tudor England, the chefs at Hampton court were known to have fed 600 lords and ladies twice daily. The Tudors were known for their excessive lifestyle and it is suggested that the chefs In the Cardinal’s kitchens came up with the Strawberries and Cream combination in an answer to a dessert they could prepare in little time given the number of people they were feeding.
Apparently until someone in those kitchens came up with the bright idea of serving strawberries with cream, dairy products were considered to be peasant food by the upper classes!





A lot of detail goes into the strawberries at Wimbledon. The strawberries are picked the day before being served to ensure freshness, and they are delivered to Wimbledon at around 5:30 in the morning where they’re inspected and then hulled. Strawberries at Wimbledon must be served in punnets of not less than 10 berries with a little cream. Last year, in 2014, over 28,000kg of Strawberries and more than 7,000 litres of fresh cream were consumed by spectators at Wimbledon! That’s how popular the dessert is.

The English way of eating strawberries is to sprinkle a little sugar over them and then serve this with a little cream, usually of pouring consistency though you could use soft whipped or stiffly whipped cream as well.

I personally prefer to macerate my strawberries because it creates a lovely juicy mixture. So I first hull and chop them, sprinkle a little sugar over them, add some vanilla extract and mix everything. Then I leave this to sit in the fridge for a few hours. This year I discovered that fresh thyme adds an interesting flavour to strawberries so I added that too.

If I have it in stock r have the time make it, I also like one more addition to my Strawberries and Cream, and that’s a little crunch in the form of an Oat Crumble. The Oat Crumble is something one can make ahead and it’s easy enough to do. If you make a large batch, it can be stored in an airtight container for a couple of weeks and you can serve it with other desserts like ice-cream.







In the recipe below, the amounts of sugar in the strawberries and the cream are more a guideline than a rule. You may adjust the amounts depending on how sweet (or not) your fruit is and to suit your taste. I personally prefer my fruit to be slightly sweet and the cream to have just a hint of sweetness.

I also like my cream whipped somewhat stiff. Out here, we don’t get cream that has fat higher than 25% so that is what I use and it works well in this recipe. 
Recently, a good friend who also blogs about food had some cousins come visiting from abroad and they came bearing a lot of gifts of a foodie nature. She was nice enough to share some of it with me including sachets of cream stabilizer. 
I tried using it for the first time in this recipe and found that it makes the cream whip up really stiff and better still, it holds even after hours of refrigeration! I’m going to hoard the stash I have to use for cakes and other confectionery that really needs whipped cream to hold up.
Strawberries & Cream With An Oatmeal Crumble




Ingredients:



4 cups hulled and chopped strawberries

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp fresh thyme (optional)

200ml cream (I used 25% fat)

2 tbsp powdered sugar


For the Crumble:

80 gm unsalted butter, melted

4 tbsp Demerara sugar / dark brown sugar

3/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/3 cup quick cooking oats

1/3 cup all-purpose flour (plus a little more if needed)





Method:



First make the crumble as you can do this ahead. Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix well using your fingers. The mixture should be moist but dry and should be “clumpy” like the consistency of crumble you would normally put on top fruit crumbles.

Spread the mixture loosely and evenly on a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 180C (350F) for about 15 to 25 minutes till the Crumble looks dry and is a golden brown. Let it cool completely on the baking sheet. 
It may seem a little soft when it comes out of the oven, but it will crisp up once it cools. Then transfer it to an airtight container till needed. 
This recipe makes about 2 cups of crumble.



Put the chopped strawberries, sugar, vanilla extract and the thyme in a glass bowl. Mix well, then cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for about 3 to 4 hours.

When ready to serve divide the mixture equally between four dishes or glasses. Whip the cream with the sugar till soft or stiff peaks form, according to your preference. 
Divide this equally between the glasses by piling it onto the strawberries. Sprinkle some crumble over this and serve.
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April 1, 2015

Koulourakia Paschaliná – Greek Easter Sesame Cookies

I
t’s almost the Easter weekend and I thought it might be nice to post something Easter-ish even though we don’t celebrate the tradition. I hadn't really set out to make anything with Easter in mind and it was sheer coincidence that these cookies I baked last week turned out to be an Easter specialty.

It was one morning last week that I discovered that all my “snack” tins were empty and I needed to make something with coffee in the evening. I really couldn't decide on what to make so I asked my husband what he would like with his evening coffee. 
His first answer, typical of him, was “anything will do”! When I pushed him further for an answer he came up with “something with sesame seeds”. I’m not sure whether he really wanted something with sesame seeds or just randomly picked something to get me off his back.



Either way I decided to take up the challenge of baking a “sesame seed” something. I haven’t really been baking much since the daughter of the house left for college, and when I have it’s been mostly bread and the odd tea time cake so I decided that some baking was in order to give the old oven some much needed exercise.

I found a recipe that I had bookmarked a while back in one of my cookie books. This book, Cookies(Step-by-Step Techniques) from Sunset is my first baking book ever and was given to me by my aunt long before I even bought my first oven. The bookmarked recipe was for very pretty looking sesame topped Cookie twists called Koulourakia.

Koulourakia are traditional Greek cookies typically made at Easter to be eaten after Holy Saturday. These lightly sweet cookies are made with a dough that’s typically rich in butter and egg yolks with a hint of vanilla. 
They’re mostly shaped like small twisted ropes but small braids, braided or twisted circles, twists open at both ends, the figures “S” or an “8” are equally popular. There is a thought that the shaping of these cookies have come down from the Minoans who worshiped the snake because they believed it had healing powers.

Koulourakia though made for Easter, are also eaten throughout the year, and mostly with morning coffee or at tea time in the evening. They are excellent with tea or coffee (or even with cocoa or milk) because they’re not very sweet and quite crunchy. They’re easy enough to make though shaping them can take a little time until one gets the hang of it. It’s also a good idea to make a full or double batch of cookies while you’re at it because these cookies keep for about a month if stored in airtight containers.





These cookies are typically egg washed before they’re baked as this helps the sesame seeds stick and also give the cookies a beautiful shiny and golden appearance. We don’t like the smell and eggy taste that egg wash invariably leaves behind so I brushed my cookies with cream instead.  
This recipe also usually uses only egg yolks instead of whole eggs but for the reason I just mentioned, I chose to use whole eggs. Just the yolks alone will give you crunchier cookies.
I've also seen recipes that use orange juice instead of the milk and some orange zest as well and that’s something you might like to try.

Here’s a rather good demonstration of how to make and shape this cookies
If you have young children at home who would enjoy helping in the kitchen, this is a fun thing to do so long as you don’t mind oddly shaped cookies they turn out. 

So have fun and here’s wishing you a very Happy Easter, Greek style – Kalo Pasha Καλό Πάσχα! (I hope I got this one right)
Koulourakia Paschaliná – Greek Easter Sesame Cookies


Ingredients:


100 gm butter, soft at room temperature

1/3 cup sugar (1/2 cup if want them sweeter)

2 eggs

1/8 cup milk

1/8 cup cream (25% fat)

2 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (just a little more if you need it)

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

3 tbsp sesame seeds

A little cream ( or 1 egg yolk mixed with a tbsp of water) for brushing the cookies



Method:


Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand held beater, beat till creamy. Add the eggs one at time and beat till mixed well. Then add the milk, cream, and vanilla and beat again till mixed well.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add it to the mixing bowl in two lots. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the flour and then knead the dough using your fingers until you have dough that is soft and smooth. 
Add a little more flour (or a little less in the first place), if you need it. Remember the dough should be a little sticky to touch and too much of flour will not give the desired texture of cookies.

Let the dough rest, covered, at room temperature for about half an hour. To shape the cookies, pinch off 1-inch balls of dough for each cookie. Very lightly dust your working surface if you feel you need that to help you roll out the dough better. Ideally the consistency of the dough should be enough to easily roll it out into "ropes". 

Roll each into a 7 or 8-inch strand (should be thinner than a pencil). Bring ends together and twist 2 or 3 times. Place them slightly apart on parchment lined baking sheet. 
Lightly brush with cream or egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds over this.  

Bake the cookies at 180C (350F) for about 15 to 20 minutes until they’re golden. Cool them on wire racks and store in airtight containers. This recipe makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies depending on their size.


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March 24, 2015

We Knead To Bake #26 : Kummelweck (Kimmelweck) Rolls & A Vegetarian Weck Sandwich

T
his month we’re baking something savoury and simple. What makes these simple rolls rather special and different is the sprinkling of sea salt and caraway seeds on the top. These rolls are great for sandwiches and even burgers.

So what exactly is a Kimmelweck Roll? I didn’t know either but I discovered that it's a hard roll, much like a crusty Kaiser roll, but sprinkled with caraway and coarse salt instead of poppy seeds. 
They are German in origin and I understand that “Kummel” means caraway seeds while “Weck” from “wecken” which means roll (in southern Germany, “brötchen” in the north). It seems that in Buffalo (New York), these rolls are used to make a speciality sandwich called the "Beef on Weck", with thinly sliced rare roast beef and horseradish which is typically served with fries and a dill pickle.






According to a story, the origin of the Beef on Weck sandwich goes back to the 1800s. It seems a German immigrant ran a bar on the Buffalo waterfront and he was looking a way to increase his sales. He hit upon the idea of selling his hungry customers roast beef in the Kummelweck roll. The salt would make them thirstier and buy more beer in the bargain.  I have no idea if he sold more beer than before, but his sandwich become so popular that it became a food icon in Buffalo!

A Kummelweck roll is best eaten fresh when it is chewy and crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. The salt on top of it must be just so, as too much would make it unpleasantly salty and too little would mean it wasn’t enough.






If you can’t find caraway seeds, you can use “shahjeera/ black cumin” like I did. It’s not authentic but when one can’t find an ingredient then one makes the best of what is on hand. I personally found the taste of Shahjeera on the bread and the sandwich pretty much to my liking.  This recipe makes 8 burger bun sized large rolls, but half the recipe also works well if you would prefer to bake a smaller batch of rolls.

If you scroll down beyond the recipe for these rolls, there are instructions for a vegetarian “Weck” sandwich.
Here's a video demonstration of how to make these rolls.
Kummelweck (Kimmelweck)  Rolls

(Adapted from Jewish Food)



Ingredients:


2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water

1/2 cup warm milk

2 bsp oil

1 tbsp honey

1 egg white (optional)

1 1/2 tsp salt

3 to 3 1/4 cups bread flour*

Egg wash (optional)

Coarse sea salt and caraway seeds




Method:



*To substitute for bread flour add 1 tbsp of vital wheat gluten to 2 to 3 cups of all-purpose flour.


Mix together the warm water and the warm milk and stir in the yeast. Let it sit aside for about 5 minutes. Knead by hand or with the machine.

In the bowl of your machine, combine the yeast mixture, oil, honey, the egg white and stir.
Now add the salt and about 2 1/2 cups of flour and knead, adding as much more flour as required till you have a smooth and elastic  dough that is tacky but not sticky. Shape the dough into a ball, and place it in an oiled bowl. Cover loosely with cling film and let rise for about an hour, until it is almost double in volume.
Deflate the dough well (not kneading), shape into a round and and allow it to rise, covered, for 30 minutes more.

Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and shape each into a smooth ball, then slightly flatten it. Place them on lightly greased or parchment lined baking sheets. Spray or lightly brush with oil, loosely cover and let the dough rise for 30 more minutes. Brush with eggwash (or something else that will make sure the topping sticks when baking), then cut slits ( like an +) on the top using a sharp blade or scissors.

Sprinkle the top of the rolls with sea salt and caraway seeds, and then mist with water. Bake the rolls at 220C (425F) for 5 minutes and then quickly mist with water again making sure you don’t keep the oven door open for too long.
Bake for another 20 minutes or so until they’re brown and done. Cool on a wire rack. This recipe makes 8 large burger bun sized rolls.



For the Vegetarian Weck Sandwich


As mentioned earlier, a typical Weck sandwich is made with thinly sliced rare roast beef and horseradish. Then top half of the bun is dipped in a bit of beef au jus before you placing it on the beef. Otherwise the sandwich is just roast beef and served with hot horseradish and the au jus for dipping, along with the French fries and dill pickle.






My vegetarian version is much simpler. I decided to keep my “Weck” sandwich as healthy as I could so I used this delightful Roasted Red Pepper Hummus as a spread and then added some crunchy lettuce, thinly sliced cucumber, tomatoes and carrots. 
I topped it with a little more Hummus and some freshly crushed pepper and my sandwich was done. The salt and caraway (shahjeera in my case) was more than enough seasoning so I didn't add anything more.
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March 20, 2015

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

S
ome of you must be wondering whether there’s a need for one more Hummus recipe to add to the thousands out there, and I guess probably not. That’s not going to stop me from posting this because I love chickpeas and so I really like hummus. As we all know, it’s also a really good guilt-free dish to eat when the craving for something crunchy and savoury hits you.
And just in case you need convincing about how good Hummus can be for you, here's a list.

Hummus or houmous is a dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. Today, it is popular throughout the world where Middle Eastern cuisine is well known. Incidentally, Hummus in Arabic means chickpeas.
No one where Hummus originated but the earliest known mention of it is in 13th century Egypt. However, people across Israel, Palestine, Egypt, the Arab world, Greece, other Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries also claim hummus as their dish.





Apparently, in Israel, people are so emotional about Hummus that there have been huge arguments over where one could find the best Hummus. 
Yotam Ottolenghi writes in his Jerusalem : A Cookbook that “Jews in particular, and even more specifically Jewish men, never tire of arguments about the absolute, the one and only, the most fantastic hummusia…it is, like the English fish-and-chips shop, a savored local treasure”.

One of the nicest things about Hummus is how you can ‘customize’ it to suit your requirement or taste. Once you have the basic ingredients of chickpeas, tahini (this can be left out), salt, lime juice, a little olive oil and garlic you can add anything else you like to it. Typical additions include red chilli flakes (or even chillies – green or red) or paprika to spice it up, roasted and mashed eggplant or roasted red peppers for a smoky flavour and even grated carrots or mashed beets. It may not be authentic or traditional but the sky’s the limit when it comes to experimenting with flavours.





This version of mine does not use tahini so it’s great if you’re allergic to nuts and seeds, but you can always add some if you really want it in your Hummus. Hummus isn't quite Hummus without a good dose of olive oil, but if you’re watching your calories or need to cut down on fat (olive oil is fat, you know….), then you can cut down the oil in this recipe and I can promise you won’t even miss it.

The not so secret ingredient that makes a difference in this Hummus is the use of Pomegranate Molasses (you can make it at home if you have pomegranates and a little sugar). Of course, you can always leave it out.





The red peppers, the Pomegranate Molasses and the caramelized onions give this Hummus a hint of sweetness, so it would be good to up the lime and the spice a bit to balance it out. Feel free to tweak the amounts of the spices and other ingredients to reach the balance you're looking for in terms of balance of taste and flavours. 
My Hummus is also a little low on garlic because that's how we like it. Feel free to increase the quantity to your taste.
Roasted Red Pepper Hummus



Ingredients:


2 large red peppers, seeds removed and halved

1 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 tsp coarsely ground cumin

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas

1/4 to 1/2 tsp garlic paste

2 tsp lime/ lemon juice

1 tbsp pomegranate molasses (optional)

1/2 tsp red chilli flakes

Salt to taste



Method:


I prefer to roast the red pepper over the open flame. Remove the stem and seeds of the peppers and then lightly brush them all over with oil. Place them, one at a time, on the flame (medium) of your gas stove. Keep turning them so that they’re uniformly charred all over. Let them cool, then using your fingers, peel the charred skin off.
You can also roast them in the oven or under the grill, if you prefer.





Heat the olive oil in a small pan and sauté chopped onion over medium heat until it is soft and golden brown. Let it cool.  

Put the roasted red pepper, the sautéed onion and any oil that’s in the pan, the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, crushed cumin, chilli flakes and salt in the jar of your blender and run till smooth. Add a couple of teaspoons of water, if necessary, while blending.

Transfer to a serving dish and add a tablespoon of olive oil to garnish. Further garnish with finely chopped parsley, some chilli flakes and crushed cumin. Serve as a dip with vegetable crudités, thin toast, crackers or flatbreads, and as a spread in sandwiches.


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