Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Aam Panna - Raw Mango Cooler

I don't think it's only me but across urban India, I see a lot of us wanting to rediscover traditional foods and ingredients. It's as if there is a realisation that in an increasingly synthetic world, we need to reconnect with our roots and in most cases, that starts with our food. Fed up with an incredible amount of noise with regards to fad and celebrity diets, we've turned to the wisdom of our grandmothers. 
Turns out this traditional advice, largely based on Ayurveda, is completely in tune with the seasonal calendar for local produce. It stresses balance and moderation and tells us that the answers we seek today were known all along. We just never knew where to look! That the produce of every season is specifically designed to cope with the demands of that season. And just as the produce at the local markets change, so must the cooking techniques and ingredients that accompany it.
I was reminded of this last week when Summer announced its presence unequivocally. I usually rely on a daily dose of coconut water to get through the worst part of the day but when the going gets tough, I know that I need to raise the ante.
Last year, I introduced you to chaas and bael ka sharbat, this year it is aam panna. Panna is raw mango pulp that has been sweetened and flavoured and then topped off with chilled water and mint leaves.
Till date, the panna that I have been served, has been flavoured with cumin powder and black salt. But, this recipe by Tarla Dalal, uses cardamom and saffron and I think I am more partial to this version.
Ayurveda recommends both saffron and cardamom as spices to cool the body during Summer. As does the mint leaf garnish.
Ahem, please do notice how I have flavoured and frozen the ice cubes with mint leaves to top off the drinks. Oh, don't roll your eyes... I can do pretty and creative things too!
I speak from experience when I say that the drink has an instantaneous cooling effect on the body. But, what I enjoyed the most was the saffron. It lent a subtle, sophisticated edge to the drink.
For your next Sunday brunch, I'd definitely recommend it on the drinks menu! It will match up to the Sangria more than beautifully!!
Cin Cin my lovelies! Here's to a kind Summer!!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dahi Baingan - Aubergine Cooked in Yoghurt / Lemon Rice / Fried Spiced Bhindi (Okra)

Last weekend, Jamie Oliver threw his voice behind 'Meat Free Week', a campaign that is being launched in the UK, after its launch in Australia in 2013. Meat Free Week is an online campaign to not only make people think about the amount of meat they consume and the importance of a balanced diet. But, it also compels us to think about the origin of all the meat, including processed meat, we consume and its impact on the welfare of the animals and this planet. To cater to the enormous demand for meat around the world, a large part of the meat we consume is factory farmed and factory farming is the number one cause for animal cruelty in the world today.
So, this is not a debate about vegetarianism but a platform to educate ourselves and make ourselves aware and make informed choices about the origins of the meat we eat. Just as we should be informed and aware of where our vegetables, our fruits, our grain and our dairy products come from. That's something to think about!!

Coming back to today's post, if there is one cuisine that celebrates its vegetables, it has to be Indian cuisine. For the sheer variety of vegetables available in the market to the diversity of ways of cooking them, it is very easy to go without meat in India. Moreover, with Summer here, I, anyhow have a personal preference for less meat.
In this weather, I, like many other Indians, can't help but lean on yoghurt as a way to cool the system to take on the rising temps. So, I made 'dahi baingan', a dish from eastern India that cooks aubergine in a simple, yoghurt curry. The curry is light and creamy while being light on spice with a tinge of sweetness. As you can see, in this weather, I also prefer less spice.
I paired it with lemon rice where the rice is flavoured with curry leaves, some whole spices, lentils and lemon, of course. It does have some whole red chillies but more to add to the flavour profile, not so much for spice. It works well with creamy curries from down South. So, I saw no reason why it could not be paired with the 'dahi baingan' and I was right.
This is all about flavour that is subtle and light on the palate, perfect for the weather in mind. I added some okra fries in the mix and that is purely as an indulgence and to tease the palate with some crunch and spice.
Fried vegetables as an accompaniment is a weakness of mine that I have inherited from my mother's side of the family. The food from Odisha is light on spices and the emphasis is on the letting the taste of the produce shine through. Their one indulgence, amongst many, is to fry different vegetables as an irresistible accompaniment to the meal. Potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, pumpkin flowers and any other vegetable that can be fried usually makes it to the table and they are so addictive that they compel you to throw all caution when it comes to portion size. As for these, okra fries, make them once and you will know what a good thing you are onto!!
Each of these three components can be had together or made on their own and paired with different components. Pair the lemon rice with a coconut based curry or the dahi baingan with some plain rice and dal or even meat. As for the okra fries, I'll suggest that you can even serve them as a bar snack!!
I'll sign off saying that there is a great need for all of us to educate ourselves on where our food is being sourced from so that we can make informed choices that are kinder on the world we live in.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sacher Torte

If there is one movie I were to remember fondly from my childhood, it would have to be 'The Sound of Music'. I knew every scene, every dialogue and the best part of the movie, every song. Undeniably, the songs made this movie. As a little girl, I sang along with "Do Re Mi", yodelled unsuccessfully with "The Lonely Goatherd" and was completely captivated with Julie Andrews when she sang about her "Favourite Things". With an overly simplistic understanding of the world that is a child's prerogative, one was smitten by Maria, ambivalent towards the Colonel and absolutely detested the horrid Baroness.
And then one grew up. You observed the subtle nuances of the plot and appreciated what a good looking man Christopher Plummer was. Remember the scene at the Church where as a groom, he waits for his bride at the altar?! One would also understand the political milieu in which the movie was set and that would make the Colonel's soulful rendition of 'Edelweiss' towards the end, particularly poignant and memorable!

Lady Gaga's tribute to the movie at this year's Oscars would remind us that this month would mark fifty years since its release in 1965!!
Well, if lady Gaga can sing, I can bake! Never a better time to bake a Sacher Torte, Austria's most famous cake!
There are more than a couple of recipes on the Web. I relied on the ever dependable Mary Berry's version. There are three components to the Sacher Torte - the cake, the apricot jam that is used to glaze it and then the glossy chocolate glaze to finish it all of.
There is nothing complicated about any of it but do get your mise-en-place done. It just makes it all that much easier to get through all the steps.
As there is no baking powder used, this is a dense, chocolate cake, on the drier side. Despite being generous with the apricot jam and slathering it all over, the taste of it didn't really come through. Maybe, it would have helped to layer the cake in half and fill it with jam to accentuate the taste of the apricot jam.
But, if you ask me, the main component is that chocolate glaze. On its own, the cake layer does not impress out of the ordinary. It needs the chocolate glaze to correct all it lacks and make the Sacher Torte the delightful tea time treat it claims to be!! Although, the humidity did play a bit of a spoiler with the gloss, it was delightful all the same.
You might serve it with a dollop of whipped cream but for me, a cup of coffee was perfect to wash it down.
So, what do you remember most of the movie?? Have a great week ahead!!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Coq Au Vin

Just as I was getting ready to launch my annual rant on the Summers, the rain Gods obliged. Some unseasonal showers, the temperatures dipped and the world was set right again!
With my new found enthusiasm for savoury, dinner posts, I thought I make use of the good weather. I discovered this beautiful, rustic French stew, Coq au Vin, over the Winter. Made it on a particularly cold night and we were completely captivated with it and I rued the fact that I never managed any photos to make a post out of it. So, I thought I'd make it again and sneak a post because let's face it, we can't stave off Summer for much longer.
It is a stew where the chicken is braised in red wine with bacon, carrots, mushrooms and some herbs and garlic. They say every home in France has their own coq au vin recipe. I used this recipe by the 'Barefoot Contessa', Ina Garten. It is a very forgiving recipe and use the recipe as a broad guideline, varying the ingredients as per your preference.
Over the slow braise, all the flavours meld together to create a beautiful, hearty, rustic stew. The wine envelops the entire stew with a beautiful dark, sensuous hue although, you can't really discern the alcohol. Rather, it adds a certain complexity and richness to the stew.
I served it with some simple mashed potatoes, perfect to mop up all the gravy.  
Out here in India, these are the last few days of tolerable weather but for all those for whom Winter is not showing any signs of ending, I can't think of a better recipe for a cosy dinner!
Hope you had a lovely weekend!!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Shrikhand - Sweet Saffron and Cardamom Yoghurt

The different flowers of my mother's garden, each have their own story to tell. At the height of summer, the mogra, jasmine, 'raat ki rani' and frangipane flowers are in full bloom. Their sweet scent infusing the Summer evenings, providing that much needed succour. You know the monsoon is receding when the flowers of the 'harsingar' trees carpet the ground every morning. And in good time, as they are extensively used during the festive season of Navratri that coincides around the same time. The roses make the first of their bi-annual appearance to signal the onset of Winter. The red hibiscus flowers through the year, used for her daily puja.
And then there's Holi!! This is when all the seasonal flowers she has planted at the onset of Winter are now in full bloom, all in their myriad of colours. Some like the calendula, the phlox and the hollyhock are exotic to the Indian soil. And then there are  the marigolds, the roses and the hibiscus, native to India. Dried and then ground into a fine dust, these flowers provide the perfect palette of natural colours to play Holi with!!
It points to a symbiotic relationship between our festivals and nature and how over time, we have lost touch with it. It is time we look more closely to rediscover this connect with nature. So, I hope you used natural, herbal colours, devoid of chemicals, when you played Holi today!! It is a small step to a more sustainable planet!
And what's Holi without something sweet. I kept it simple today and made some Shrikhand. For those not familiar with it, it is similar to the Middle eastern labneh.
Incredibly easy to make. Once you have let the yoghurt drain through the night, it takes barely a few minutes to put together. I will insist that you use full fat yoghurt. It helps immensely with the final result. I have flavoured these with classic Indian flavours, saffron and cardamom.
I have always bought Shrikhand shop bought. But all that changed with the one time I made Shrikhand at home. It was fresher, creamier, lighter and best of all, did not leave a cloyingly sweet aftertaste. I urge you to make it at home once. Pretty sure you will be converted like me!
Holi is all about colours and may your days be filled with the most beautiful that life has to offer! Happy Holi!!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mushroom Quiches / Apple And Potato Salad With Garlic Vinaigrette

I keep saying that I want to do more savoury dishes on this blog. And it's not like I have not been trying my hand at different stuff. I have and with reasonable success, if I might add. My problem comes with the photography. More often than not, I try something new for dinner and by the time, the dishes are ready, all trace of natural light is gone. With the best of natural light, I struggle with my photography, so you can well imagine that my nascent photography skills are virtually non-existent when it comes to shooting at night.
And because of that, I have lost out on so many interesting and surprisingly easy, savoury posts. Since my photography skills are a long way off, I thought I'd just take the bull by its horn. So, here's the plan. I'll put up the savoury posts, you'll excuse the dodgy photography with even dodgier lighting, with the hope and prayer that somewhere down the line I get the hang of it. Till then, we promise not to judge each other!! Deal!
For all the theatrics, I did manage a few rays of natural light for this post but it didn't seem to help the photographs!! Indulge me, once again!!
So, for today's dinner, we have mushroom quiches and to go along with it, a simple apple and potato salad with a garlic vinaigrette.
The issue with a quiche for a week night is always the pastry. Make it ahead like I did over the weekend and then the quiche hardly takes any time. I roasted the mushrooms before making the filling as that helps release the juices in advance rather than when the quiche is being baked. Else, you will land up with soggy pastry and that's no fun! I have gone with smaller tartlets but you can make it as one big quiche
The salad is made with vegetables that you will almost always find in your kitchen. The garlic vinaigrette is a favourite here at home and if you are fond of garlic, I think you'll approve too!
The pastry, a regular on the blog, was beautifully flaky and the filling was creamy, herby and mushroomy. A lot of my friends do not necessarily like the overtly eggy flavour in quiches. None of that over here. I have used only one egg and been very generous with the filling.
The salad is the perfect accompaniment to these quiches. It is fresh and light and a beautiful counter to the quiche. To be fair to the quiches, they were not heavy and claggy at all but the salad does help freshen up things. The garlic vinaigrette provides the necessary zing that my Indian palate will always appreciate. As summer approaches, the salad would make a delightful meal all by itself.

What's cooking for dinner in your kitchen??

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