August 24, 2015

We Knead To Bake #30 : Mexican Cemita Buns

arly this month, a good friend who is also a food blogger messaged me asking if I had seen these Mexican Cemita Buns. I took a look at them and we got into discussing how good they looked and she said she felt the urge to bake them so she could make some burgers. 
One thing led to another, and the next thing we knew we were adapting the recipe to what ingredients we had on hand and kneading dough. 
The recipe produced some really good, mildly sweet and incredibly soft buns that make pretty good burgers and Cemitas (my recipe for a Cemita sandwich shall follow in the next few posts). So we just had to share Cemita Buns on our social media and we had a couple more food blogger friends who decided to bake them right away.

Then two members of the We Knead To Bake group also saw them and asked if we couldn’t bake Cemita Buns as our bread for this month and so here we are – our bread for this month are the Mexican Cemita Buns!

Mexican Cemita Buns are used to make a sandwich which is very popular in the Puebla region of the country. There they make the Cemitas Poblana, which is a sandwich is filled with sliced avocado, meat, Queso Oaxaca or Quesillo (a string cheese sold as balls) or Panela cheese (fresh cow’s milk cheese), onions, a strongly flavoured almost floral herb called pápalo (supposedly a cross between arugula and coriander in flavour) and a red Chipotle sauce.

These buns may look like regular sesame topped burger buns but they’re nothing like it. The Cemita, which is the name given to the bread and the sandwich made with it, is made with a brioche-like enriched dough that has a crunchy outside but is soft inside.
Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats whose recipe I adapted for my recipe, describes the Cemita as being “sweet and savoury in flavour with a dense-yet-light crumb that can stand up to stacks and stacks of toppings without disintegrating or losing its tenderness”.

It’s worth taking a look at the original recipe before you start baking these buns. The recipe given below is my adaptation of the original. These buns are usually made with lard or butter but Kenji Lopez-Alt uses heavy cream in his recipe since he feels it produces a softer and richer crumb.

I replaced the heavy cream with half 25% fat cream (Amul) and half milk so my Cemita Buns are a tad less richer than the original. 
I’ve made these with 2 eggs and once with just one egg because that’s all I had left. I didn’t feel a big difference in the texture thought. I also left out the egg wash and used milk instead to brush the tops of the dough before baking. 
I cut the sugar by half and left out the sprinkling of coarse sea salt. I also ended up using about 1/2 a cup more of flour than suggested because what we need to make Cemita buns is a sticky dough and not a wet dough which is what I had without that extra 1/2 cup of flour!

My friend baked the Buns replacing  the cream with milk and 1 tbsp of butter and another followed the original recipe exactly and we were all very happy with the way our Cemita Buns turned out.
Mexican Cemita Buns

(Adapted from Serious Eats)


2 1/2 to 3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cream (25% fat)

1/2 cup milk

1 egg

1 tsp instant yeast

3/4 tsp salt

1 1/2 tbsp sugar

A little more milk for brushing

1/3 to 1/2 cup sesame seeds

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling (optional)


You can knead the dough by hand or machine though machine is easier because of the sticky nature of the dough. Combine 2 1/2 cups of flour, the cream, milk, eggs, yeast, salt, and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a ball of dough that rides around the blade is formed, about 45 seconds. Dough will be very sticky. If the dough seems more batter like then add a little more flour until the desired consistency is achieved. Please resist the temptation to add too much flour because the dough must be sticky and a little difficult to handle.

Transfer dough to a large mixing bowl (the recipe suggests not oiling the bowl, but I did), cover and let it rise at room temperature for about 3 to 4 hours until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.

Flour your working surface and lightly flour the dough, then put it on your work surface. Lightly press down the dough and shape it into a thick “rope” like shape. Cut this into 6 equal portions with a scraper or knife.

Shape the balls into smooth rounds by stretching the tops to form a smooth “skin”  and place them on a parchment lined baking tray, leaving a little space between them for expanding as they proof. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour until they have risen a bit.

Brush the buns with milk and sprinkle the tops with a generous amount of sesame seeds. Very ightly press them down into the dough. Bake at 230C (450F) for about 15 minutes until they’re done and the tops are a deep golden brown.

Cool them completely on a wire rack before using. These buns can be stored in a plastic of paper bag in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Warm them slightly before using. This recipe makes 6 buns.

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August 18, 2015

Vegetarian Pastitsio - Baked Greek Style Lasagna With Cauliflower And Peas Ragu & Cheese Sauce (Egg-free Recipe)

owards the end of last month, Del Monte sent me a pack of Penne Rigate from their Gourmet Pasta line as part of their "Italian Escapades” - Blog Your Way To Italy campaign that’s being conducted in association with IndiBlogger.  
Del Monte’s Italian Escapades is a promotional campaign inviting Indian food bloggers to submit innovative recipes featuring Del Monte pasta. The main prize is a food blogger’s dream and it’s a 7-day food-centric trip to Italy. We love pasta here, and  blogging about food I love is always a great idea. 
Winning that trip to Italy could only sweeten the deal some more. If only wishes were NOT horses, we could all ride!

"Pasta with melted cheese is the one thing I could eat over and over again." ~ Yotam Ottolenghi

It was Del Monte’s Penne Rigate is slightly thinner than the average Penne that’s available in the stores around here and that prompted me to revisit the idea of making a vegetarian version of Pastitsio.
Yotam Ottolenghi got it right and I could eat Pastitsio again and again. What's not to like about layers of pasta blanketed in a delightfully spiced cauliflower ragu and covered with a creamy layer of white velvety sauce flavoured with nutmeg and just the right amount of cheese?

Greek and pasta? Shouldn't that be Italian?
Well, not really. Some people believe that pasta was never Italian in origin but actually from China, though this has been disproved by historians. It is the Arabs who are credited with bringing pasta to Italy and the Mediterranean during their invasions into Sicily as far back as the 9th century. 
Pastitsio may be known as a Greek dish but it has its origins in the Italian Pasticcio which is a baked savoury pie and the layering is much like the Lasagna except that the Pastitsio uses tubular pasta instead of pasta sheets of the Lasagna.

Pastitsio (pronounced as pa-STEE-tsee-oh) though a pasta dish is not Italian at all. It is a Greek baked pasta casserole, somewhat similar to the Italian Lasagna, layered with pasta, minced meat cooked with tomatoes and spices and topped with a white sauce and cheese. You could probably think of it as a Greek version of the Italian Lasagna.

It’s apparently a much loved comfort food in Greek homes and is also served in tavernas throughout the country. It’s so popular that I understand you’ll find a recipe for it in every Greek cookbook! Pastitsio is also usually cooked and served in particular on the Sunday before Lent in Greece, as one of the many meat dishes served before the period of fasting begins.

The name “Pastitsio” derives from the Italian “Pasticcio” (also sometimes called Lasagne al Forno which means oven baked Lasagna), whereas the flat sheet pasta used to make Lasagna actually has its origins in ancient Greece!

There are variations when it comes to making Pastitsio though one constant is the use of tubular pasta as the bottom most layer. Pastitsio can be made without meat and only with vegetables, with a ragù (meat with sauce) and Béchamel topping, without the Béchamel but an egg based custard, with a topping of Riccotta cheese, etc.  In fact, one can find versions of Pastitsio not just within Greece but throughout the Mediterranean. So in Cyprus it is Macaronia Tou Fournou, in Egypt it is Macaroni Béchamel, Timpana in Malta and Fırında Makarna in Turkey.

Generally, there are three layers to Pastitsio though some people would just mix up the bottom two layers to form a single layer. Others like to layer the pasta twice, once at the bottom and then again in the middle and how one does does come down to personal preferences.

The bottom most layer is generally a tubular pasta called “Bucatini” to which a mixture of cream and egg is added as a binder. One can substitute Ziti or Penne for Bucatini. The pasta is usually arranged lengthwise so that when the Pastitsio is cut for serving, the cross section of the pasta layer has a lovely pattern of “holes”.

The second layer is a usually ground meat and sauce with tomatoes and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice depending on which region the recipe comes from. This is topped with another layer of pasta by some while others go straight away to the white sauce.

The topmost layer is a thick creamy nutmeg flavoured Béchamel sauce or a Mornay sauce (Béchamel sauce with cheese, usually Greek cheese like Graviera or Myzithra or Kefalotyri in this case) and more of the cheese is grated and sprinkled on top of the white sauce layer before the Pastitsio is baked.

What do you do when you live in a part of the world where you cannot find all the ingredients to make a quintessential Greek dish? You make the best of what you have using ingredients that have flavours and textures that are reasonably close to the original, or else at least flavours that work together.

So I did some research, and put together a recipe for Pastitsio that is not authentic by any reach though I did to try to stick to the spirit of the dish.  It has the typical elements of a Patitsio (pasta, red sauce, and white sauce), and it is good! Obviously, my Pastitsio is vegetarian, and I chose to use cauliflower and some green peas. Then I decided to completely leave eggs out. Del Monte’s Penne Rigate worked perfectly instead of Bucatini.

Greek cheese was obviously out of question, and from what I’ve seen Parmesan seemed to be a reasonably good substitution. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t have any on hand and my local stores also seemed to have run out of it. I couldn’t even find any Cheddar, and the only cheese on the shelf that I thought might work well was Gruyere so that’s what I used in my Pastitsio. In case you're wondering, both Kodai Diary and Nilgiri brands make a good variety of vegetarian cheeses in India.

I also added a bit of lime zest to the Mornay sauce because it adds a nice flavour to it. I used allspice and oregano in my Ragu but you can use can use a spice/ spices of your preference like rosemary or cinnamon or a combination of any two. Use a light hand with the spices, as it is the nutmeg which should be the stronger note in Pastitsio (not too strong please).

The recipe for Pastitsio may look complicated but it is quite easy and doesn’t take all that much time.  All you have to do is make a Vegetable Ragu, a Mornay sauce, boil the pasta all of which shouldn’t take more than an hour at the most. Then layer them in a baking dish and let it bake for about 45 to 60 minutes, during which time you can put your feet up and enjoy a cup of tea. 

You can even make this ahead to serve later. Pastitsio can be served warm from the oven, or even the next day when the flavours come through better. Refrigerate leftovers and just warm it up in the oven before serving. 
It can be served on its own or with a light salad on the side.
Vegetarian Pastitsio  - Baked Greek Style Lasagna With  Cauliflower And Peas Ragu & Cheese Sauce


For the Pasta layer:

1/2 packet (250g) Del Monte Penne Rigate*

For the Vegetable-Red Sauce Layer:

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1/4 tbsp garlic paste (or 1/2 tsp minced garlic)

1 1/2 cups cauliflower florets**

1/2 cup green peas

1/8 cup dry white wine (optional)

1 bay leaf

1/4 tsp allspice (or rosemary or cinnamon)

1/2 tsp oregano

2 large peeled and chopped tomatoes

1 tbsp tomato paste

1/2 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Mornay Sauce Layer:

30gm butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 litre of milk

1/4 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese***

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp lime zest

Salt and pepper to taste

For the Topping:

1/4 cup finely grated Gruyere cheese***

* Use Bucatini pasta (long tubular pasta) if you can find it or Ziti, otherwise any other short thick tubular pasta works well here. I particularly liked the Del Monte Penne Rigate to make Pastitsio (I’m not saying this because this post features it) because it is a bit thinner than the average Penne available in the stores here.

**You could use other vegetables that would go well pasta or even cooked lentils or chickpeas instead of vegetables.

***If you can find Greek cheese, that's the best naturally. Otherwise Parmesan or Pecorino are good substitutes. Also remember to use a harder cheese that will melt while baking and grate it really fine to aid the melting.


Heat oil in a pan and add the onions and the garlic. Sauté till theonions till they’re soft and then add the cauliflower florets and the peas. Pan fry till the vegetables are cooked and the cauliflower starts caramelizing/ turning light brown.  If you’re using the wine, add it now and let it cook for a few minutes till most of it has evaporated.

Now add the bay leaf, allspice, oregano the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and pepper.  Stir well and bring the Vegetable Ragu to a boil. Turn down the heat and let it simmer until it is quite thick in consistency and there’s a little liquid in the pan. Take it off the heat and set aside.

Now prepare the Mornay Sauce. In another pan, melt the butter and add the flour to it while stirring quickly. Keep stirring and let it cook for a couple of minutes. Take the pan off the heat and add half the milk to it, and whick the mixture till smooth. Add the remaining milk and whisk again till smooth.

Put the pan back on the stove and keep stirring the mixture so no lumps form and it starts to thicken. Quickly add the cheese, pepper, and nutmeg and keep stirring till the cheese melts completely. Gruyere is quite salty so add salt to taste and stir well. Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly. Once the Mornay sauce has thickened well, take it off the heat and keep aside.

Now cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt to it and cook the pasta according to directions on the packet till quite “al dente”. It will a little more while baking. Drain and rinse the pasta in cold water so it is warm enough to handle easily.

Very lightly oil a baking dish 10”x 4-1/2”x 3”deep. I used a loaf tin because that was what I had. If you have a sqaure or rectangular baking dish of similar proportions you may use that. Take a couple of tablespoons of the Mornay sauce and toss the pasta in it so it is very lightly coated in the sauce (this will help to bind the pasta layer together). Then place the pasta in layers end to end (forming long parallel lines) packing it close together.

Pour the Vegetable Ragu sauce over this uniformly. Then carefully spread the Mornay sauce over this layer and smoothen it. Sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over the top and bake the Pastitsio at 180C (350F) for 45 minutes to an hour until the cheese melts and the top is a light golden brown.

Let it cool. Then gently loosen the sides of the Pasta Pie with a knife and cut into portions to serve. This recipe serves 4 to 5 people.

This Vegetarian Pastitsio recipe was created for the Del Monte: "Italian Escapades" -Blog your way to Italy contest.

You can find Del Monte on Facebook too.
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August 11, 2015

9 Tips For Better Food Photographs With a Phone Camera

oday, if you’re not on social media, preferably in more places than one, then you probably don’t exist! If you can connect with your audience there visually as well, it’s even better. People on social media today have even less time to spend on it than before simply because there’s so much matter there. So you’re likely to have their attention if you can tell your story in a couple of sentences or better still, with an image. 
Smartphone cameras and social media, especially Instagram were made for each other so now just about everyone can be a food photographer. 

I came to Instagram quite late simply because I refused to let go of my old push button “not-so-smart” phone till a year ago. It finally died on me and I buckled down and got myself a “smart” phone. Though it meant I had to get smarter to figure it out, I have come to appreciate my new phone camera.

While DSLRs are the way to go with serious food photography, it’s not always possible to lug around a camera and lenses everywhere one goes and that’s where the smartphone camera scores. Who goes anywhere these days without their phone, right?

The past one year has been a learning curve in terms of shooting food with my smartphone and here’s what I’ve learnt. Smartphone photography is not rocket science. Focus, shoot and a few minor edits later, you can share your images with the world. No shooting in RAW, converting to JPEG, worrying about ISO, aperture or shutter speed and all that stuff as the smartphone does all the work for you.

However, it’s a fact that your smartphone don’t know it all and needs your help and support to produce good images. So how do you get the best out of your smartphone camera? First, it helps if your smartphone comes with a decent camera.  If you have a fancy phone that’s really great but you don’t need a whole lot of megapixels on your phone camera to get the job done. In fact, beyond a point, more megapixels on your phone camera don’t give your images an edge.

No one expects images from a phone camera to compare with those from a DSLR but phone camera images are generally good enough for posting on the web.

Whether you shoot with a DSLR, a P&S, a camera phone or whatever, the rules of photography remain the same. There’s no magic in the smartphone camera or the editing software that can convert sloppy, tired and badly plated food into drool worthy fare. At least, there’s none that I know of. So it’s still important to make sure the food is decent looking and well plated, and also keep in mind all those food photography basics like light, angle, composition, propping and styling, etc.

1. Make sure there’s adequate light (natural light is the best, of course). Bounce/ reflect it as you would for conventional photography if you can (if you’re shooting at home for example). If you’re somewhere outside, like in a restaurant, then use whatever ambient light is available. If you need a little more light than you have, you could always try lighting up your food with the light from the screen of a friend's phone.

2. Let your camera meter the available light. Most mobile phone cameras these days will let you tap on the screen to fix and lock the focus/ choose an exposure point where you want it. This also ensures that there is enough light in the area around your focus point. As always, try to avoid using the flash on your phone.

3. Avoid using the “zoom” function on your phone camera as it will affect the clarity of your image. It would be better to go in as close to your subject as you can and photograph it. If you shoot one from a little further away and one from close up, you'll have two shots from different perspective. This way, you can pick the better one or use both if you like them.

4. Many smartphones cameras allow you some amount of control over ISO and White Balance. It’s a good idea to check this out on your phone and set them according to the available light situation as an “auto” setting might not always give you the best results.

5. Instagram in particular, accommodates only square format images so if you’re shooting portrait or landscape format you might find your composition getting messed up when you try cropping it into a square. So you need to keep that in mind if you’re shooting to post on Instagram. There are different ways of posting portrait or landscape format images on Instagram, and apps like Instasize (what I used for the Dragon Fruit & Pomegranate Salad below) and others are probably the easiest. 

6. Unlike the camera, it’s not easy to shoot with a shallow depth of field on the phone camera so everything in your composition will be more or less sharp with a deep depth of field. So you have to work your photograph around that. 
Some phones have a “depth of field” mode (it’s probably called something else on your phone) which helps you overcome this shortcoming somewhat, but you have little control over it. 
There’s also editing software than can help you somewhat to achieve a shallow depth of field. The Vietnamese Iced Coffee below was shot using the "depth of field" mode on my phone camera.

7. For the above stated reason, most of the time, you will find that the two best angles to shoot food with a phone camera is from the side (eye level or thereabouts) or from right above/ overhead.  Don’t limit yourself to these two angles though as other angles can work well depending on the food/ drink you’re photographing.

8. Do keep your phone (and hands naturally) as steady as you can. Look for something to prop your arm or elbows against to steady yourself, if possible. Do take more than one shot so that you can be sure that you have one clear photograph. 
Low light situations are more likely to create a blur from “shake”. Most smartphone cameras are not really well equipped to take good quality images (without noise/ grain) in low light situations, no matter what the manufacturers claim.

9. Consider converting your colour photographs into black and white. While this might not save a really bad image, it is likely to work well with an image that is perhaps not “popping” in terms of colour or has been taken in light of different temperatures. A black and white image will showcase contrast/shadows/highlights in your image instead of colour.
The image of "Navara rice" below was shot in colour. While the deep reddish brown colour of the rice is attractive, I felt the conversion to black and white brought out the coclour shades and texture in the grains.

10. You can shoot and edit photographs using freely available apps. Do a little research on the internet and you should be able to find one or two that suit your shooting preferences and phone. Use editing software and filters if you think it will help but go easy with the filters because food mostly looks it best when it is “au naturel”. 
An "oil painting" filter was applied to the image of fresh cherries below.

Editing software can help you adjust brightness, contrast, colour balance and White Balance. You can increase sharpness, crop your image, adjust shadows and highlights and much more. 
Most smartphones come loaded with editing software and a variety of filters. Experimenting with can be fun but it's easy to overboard with it. Filters can sometimes take away from photographs instead of adding to them, and all filters are not necessarily flattering to photographs. 
I personally find that Instagram filters tend to be a bit unflattering to food. VSCO Cam and Snapseed are two image editors that are reasonably with food photographs but it's really a matter of personal preference.

If you are willing to spend a little money, there are apps available for smartphones which give you a little more control over exposure by letting you manually adjust and set the ISO and aperture or shutter speed.

If you have any tips/ suggestions for taking and posting better photographs with a phone camera, I would love to hear them.

You can see more of my smartphone photography and follow me on Instagram
You can also findof my photography on Flickr and Facebook.

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August 8, 2015

Announcing "Does My Blog Look Good in This (DMBLGiT)?", August, 2015

’m happy to announce that I’m hosting the food blog photography event Does My Blog Look Good in This? (better known as DMBLGiT?) here this month. I’m sure most of you know about DMBLGiT? but just in case you’re new to it, this is a monthly food (and drink) photography event started in 2005 by Andrew of SpitoonExtra.

In 2014, Neel of Learn Food Photography took over the event and has given it a new lease of life. I have previously hosted two editions of DMBLGiT? and also been lucky enough to win it a couple of times. The nice thing about this photography event is that it showcases talent from food blog photography and is judged by peers from within the community.

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do" - Steve Jobs

"Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul." - Dorothy Day

Meet this Month’s Judges

Our three judges for this month are all food bloggers who are good food photographers as well. Not only do they post beautiful food on their blogs, they also pursue it professionally. My thanks go to them for finding the time and agreeing to be here, and I’m happy to introduce our judges to you.

Simi Jois

Simi Jois, who blogs at Turmeric & Spice  is a marketing and branding professional by training. She was raised in an art-emphasized home and subconsciously trained her mind to engage creatively with colour, texture, light, shadow and composition. Simi believes that her love for creating unique flavors is deeply connected to her love of food photography. 
Her work has been featured on MSN (food & drink), Fox News magazine, Better Homes, the Kitchn and Artful blogging. She is a frequent contributor on the Daily Meal. 
Her portfolio showcases her work with food photography.

Alessio Fangano

Born in sunny Sicily, Alessio’s journey with food began when he moved to Florence for his studies and had to cook for himself. He started writing Recipe Taster, his blog when to Bonn to study some more. His background in science and love for food paved the way to becoming a successful recipe developer. 
Today, he has found his calling as a freelance recipe developer, private chef, teacher and photographer. 
Please see Alessio’s portfolio for examples of his photography.

Simone van den Berg

Simone has been blogging since 2006 and has since moved from working in operations management for a large sporting company to being a full time food photographer for major publishing companies, restaurants, catering companies and brands. 
She currently blogs at Simone’s Kitchen, and you can see her photography at her portfolio.

Let me now explain how DMBLGiT works.

1. Judging Criteria:

The judges will review all the submitted photographs, and then score them based on the following criteria -

– Edibility: Does the photo make us want to dig in and eat the food?

– Aesthetics: composition, food styling, lighting, focus of the photo.

– Originality: Does the photograph catch our attention and make us say “wow!” by displaying something we might not have seen before.

The scores from all the judges for each photograph will be put together and the highest scoring photograph in each category will be declared the winner for that category. There will also be a first, second and third place overall winner (based on the highest score in all three categories combined).

2. How to participate:

All you have to do is select your best photograph from you blog posts for the previous month, that is between 1st July and 31st July, 2015.
Then e-mail it to aparna[DOT]bala[DOT]photography[AT]gmail[DOT]com and copy it to dmblgit[ATlearnfoodphotography[DOT]com 
Please add “Submission for DMBLGiT August 2015” in the title space of your e-mail.

Your e-mail should include the following information –

1) Your full name

2) Your blog name and URL

3) Title of your photograph

4) URL of the blog post where the submitted photo is posted

5) An agreement from you to let us display your photo on this blog, the Learn Food Photography website and the DMBLGiT contest gallery. We won’t use your photograph for any other purpose outside DMBLGiT.

3. General DMBLGiT Contest Rules:

– Your photograph must be in jpeg format with the longest size should be no longer than 500 pixels. This means it should be 500px wide whether your photograph is in horizontal or landscape format or vertical or portrait format.

– The photo must not have any text on it.

– Only one entry per person, so just one photograph and no diptychs please.

– The photo must have been taken and posted during the month of July 2015.

– This goes without saying but I’m saying it anyway – you must have taken the photograph yourself and must own the copyright to the photo.

– Your photograph and details should reach me by August 20th at midnight whenever that is in your part of the world.

Once I have received your e-mail, you will receive a confirmation within three days. If you don’t hear from me, please let me know. Do feel free to write to me if you have any questions about DMBLGiT?

I’m looking forward to seeing your photographs so do send them in. You can see all of this month’s submissions in the DMBLGiT Gallery.

I would also very much appreciate it if you could share this on your social media so that more food bloggers get to know about it. Thank you.

If you would like to host a future edition of DMBLGiT?, please see this post to contact Neel at Learn Food Photography for more details.

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August 3, 2015

An Easy Non-Alcoholic Or Virgin Mojito With Ginger (Mocktail)

e don’t drink alcohol so we don’t do cocktails. We do enjoy mocktails though and almost always order them when we eat out. In the past couple of years though, I have been exploring making them at home. One of my daughter’s all-time favourites is the non-alcoholic version of the Mojito and this post is dedicated to her love for it. Many people wouldn’t consider a Mojito authentic without the white rum, but this is as close as it gets for those of us who don’t use alcohol.

A Mojito is a cocktail of Cuban origin and traditionally consists of white rum, sugar (originally sugar cane juice which was available in plenty on the sugarcane plantations), lime juice, sparkling water, and mint.

Many believe the Mojito was born in Havana though it is the matter of its origins is not clear. According to one story, the Mojito is thought to be a version of “El Draque", a drink from the 16th century which was named after Sir Francis Drake. In the 1500s, Francis Drake’s ship crew was ill with scurvy and dysentery after fighting. 
They were sailing towards Havana, and a small group of sailors went ashore to Cuba and came back with some medicine from the native American Indians who were known for cures for tropical illnesses. The medicine was made of a form of crude rum called "aguardiente de caña" and lime juice, and the sugarcane juice and mint were added to make it more palatable. Of course, there was no ice or soda!

Others believe that it was the African slaves who worked in Cuba’s sugar cane fields in the 19th century who came up with the Mojito. A popular drink with them, they used the plentiful sugarcane juice to make it and lime juice wasn’t one of the ingredients in this drink.
As for the name, some say it comes from the Spanish word “mojadito” meaning “a little wet” while another attributes it to “mojo” which is a lime flavoured Cuban seasoning.

This non-alcoholic version of the Mojito is especially a good way to cool down during the hot summers. It is easy enough to make, but what’s important while making it is the “muddling” of the lime and mint. Muddling a process where the ingredients, in this case lime slices and mint leaves with a little sugar, are bruised gently with a muddler (a wooden pestle) to release the essential oils in them. It is important to just gently crush the lime and mint without murdering them. This imparts more flavour to the drink and one should be careful not to crush the rind of the lemon or bitterness will seep into the drink.

Even though, ideally, there should be no bitterness in a Mojito, I like a hint of bitterness in mine and I feel that works since there’s no alcohol here. The ginger syrup in this recipe, not usually found in a Mojito, adds an underlying warmth and adds flavour.

Simple flavours come together in the Mojito to make a great drink and it’s not surprising that it’s a favourite with a lot of people. Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was partial to a good drink or a few, and his choice was to drink a Mojito was at a bar in Old Havana called Bodeguita del Medio, though he preferred his Mojitos made with champagne instead of soda! His other favourite was Daiquiris at a place called La Floridita.

My Mojitos are clear without the muddled bits of mint and the lime because I strained them out. I know the authentic thing to do with a Mojito is to leave the muddled stuff in, but I personally like the flavours without the bits of leaf in my drink.

I’ll leave you with some tips to a better non-alcoholic Mojito and the recipe. Enjoy!

1. Crushed ice is better than ice cubes in Mojitos because it melts faster and dilutes the strong flavours in the drink. It also makes a more chilled drink than ice cubes.

2. Do not go heavy with the muddler/ muddling process and “murder” the lime and mint. More is definitely not better, and you’ll spoil the flavours in your drink.

3. Do not make your Mojito plain water with soda/ carbonated water, because then what you have is a mint flavoured lemonade! It’s not a Mojito.

4. A Mojito is a drink with well-balanced flavours (tangy, minty, a little sweet with a hint of bitter) and shouldn’t be sugary so go easy on the sugar.  It’s important to use fine sugar (or sugar syrup) as granulated sugar won’t dissolve well and give you a gritty Mojito.

5. Mojitos are best served in Collins glasses which are tall and narrow as these make "muddling" more convenient.
Non-Alcoholic Or Virgin Mojito With Ginger


4 tsp fine sugar

3 limes, cut into slices (reserve 1 lime for garnishing)

Some sprigs of mint (about 7 to 8 leaves per mojito and more for garnishing)

4 tsp ginger syrup*

3 to 4 cups of soda/ carbonated water

Crushed ice/ ice cubes for serving


*You can make the ginger syrup ahead, in larger quantity, and store it in the refrigerator for making cocktails or mocktails.

To make the ginger syrup, put 1 cup of chopped and crushed ginger (crushing helps to release the juice), 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water with a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Mix well, and bring it to a boil. Then turn down the heat and let it simmer until it becomes a little thick and syrupy. Turn of the heat and let it cool. Strain the syrup into a glass bottle and refrigerate.

Mojitos are generally served in Collins glasses but you can use slightly shorter and wider ones if you prefer, though that isn’t not considered authentic. It makes sense to use tall and narrow glasses as this makes “muddling” easier than in short glasses.

If you’re making multiple Mojitos at the same time and don’t want to spend a lot of time muddling and making them individually, you can put the ginger syrup, sugar, mint leaves and lime slices ( about half a lime per Mojito) in a glass jar and muddle them using a muddler. If you don’t have a muddler, then use the end of a wooden spoon or rolling pin and a small bowl. If you must use a mortar and pestle, then be very gentle with it. The idea is to release the juice in the limes and the essential oils.

Put some ice in each of the 4 glasses. Strain the muddled juice equally into the glasses. Otherwise just divide the mixture equally, muddled residue and all, into the 4 glasses. Top up with soda/ carbonated water

You can also do this individually in each glass. Put the lime slices, sugar, mint and ginger syrup in each glass, muddle this mixture. Do not remove or strain. Add crushed ice and top up with soda/ carbonated water.

Garnish with more mint leaves and slices of lime and serve with a stirrer and a straw. This recipe serves 4.
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