Saturday, 30 September 2017

Sooji Halwa

It starts around the time we celebrate Raksha Bandhan when serendipitously the marigolds also arrive in the markets. And then every few days, a community is celebrating something in some corner of India. From Teej to Pateti to Janmashtami to Ganpati to Eid to Nuakhai to Onam to Navratri and so many more and it will go on till Diwali and beyond. And Indian food on social media simply explodes. Apart from the rituals, food is the mainstay of all our festivals and social media, for all its drawbacks, does a brilliant job at capturing the sheer diversity of it all. It takes you right into people's homes and kitchens and see for yourself the extensive preparations that is undertaken on such days.

As expected, most of the food cooked during these days is mostly done by the women and they simply outdo themselves. The effort and care taken to prepare these dishes is extensive and for someone like yours truly who enters the kitchen occasionally, it is even more impressive when you think of the other responsibilities and jobs they have to attend to whilst preparing the feasts that would make our grandmothers proud. And social media does its job in documenting it all. Little wonder that I have seen the '#vratkakhana' everywhere these past nine days, something I don't think anyone would have imagined a few years back.

You know me better than to expect anything too elaborate here. But, I did make some sooji ka halwa, one of the easiest things to make. Some of us might even have memories of it as an after school snack or a weekend breakfast.

There is not much that goes into it - semolina, ghee, water and sugar. Some make it with milk but my mother always makes it with water and so did I. It all about a whole of stirring for about 15-20 minutes and you're done. It has been embellished with some raisins, cashew nuts and cardamom. It is simple, warm, festive, pure and comforting all at once.

Happy Dasera everyone. May you emerge victorious against all the odds, challenges and obstacles that life throws your way. With love and happiness, from our home to yours..x!

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Chocolate Babka / Orange And Chocolate Bread Pudding

Ever so often the food blogging world gets swept away by a certain trend or dish and everywhere you look, be it blog or on social media, you will find the aforementioned dish. When I first started blogging it was all about cupcakes and macarons. And over the years, everything from avacado on toast to smoothie bowls to I have lost count of all that has trended on the food blogging scene. And this is in addition to the annual calendar that is almost set in stone. January for clean eating and March for chocolate in time for Easter. Then there's berries for Summer and stone fruit for later and who can forget Pumpkin for October. And before you know it, it's pies for Thanksgiving and then all that Christmas baking in December before it starts all over again.

Now, if you know anything about this blog, despite my best attempts I have rarely been able to climb along with any trend. If you must know, the first year I put up my Christmas post in January. Little wonder then that my mother is the only dedicated reader of this blog. I'd like to proclaim that I'm above trends but the truth is somewhere between I don't have the requisite skills or I've just been lazy.

Anyhow, the point I'm leading to is that last year or was it the year before that, around this time of the year, babkas were all the rage. Everywhere I looked on blogs and social media, there would be a pic of this loaf of bread with a golden crust and all these chocolate swirls running through the loaf. I'm sure there are other babkas but all I saw were the chocolate ones. 

So, I read up on them and it was everything I liked. An egg and milk sweetened yeast dough that is then filled with a chocolate and nut filling and then rolled and twisted and baked to perfection. How could I not want to bake it. So, I chose the easiest recipe I could find and just about a year on, I finally mustered up the courage and baked one this weekend.

And it was everything it promised despite all my slip ups. I baked it in a tin smaller than the one specified so the top poofed up quite a bit during proving and something about the way I spread the filling, one half of the loaf had more filling than the other half. Ah well! And it took a whole day to prep and bake and I don't have a stand mixer so had to do most of the kneading by hand and let's not forget all those calories in every bite. But, notwithstanding all my dodgy photographs, it was all worth it.

The bread was soft and flavourful and that filling of chocolate and almond was equal proportion of texture and sin. Like I said this bread is not for the calorie conscious but live a little and bake this bread. You will not regret it. The recipe is Yossy Arefi's on Food52 and simple one to follow. I have given a recipe link below which comes with pictures to make life even simpler. 

Well, we had it for breakfast and we had it for tea and then, we realised we were still left with half a loaf and Navratri was fast approaching. For the nine days of Navratri, we are vegetarian at home. So, prodded on by the weather, we used the remaining half for a bread pudding. 

And as the skies rumbled and the rain lashed outside, we stayed indoors with a warm, comforting bowl of babka pudding. It is like any other bread pudding  with a crisp top and all warm and soft underneath but that chocolate and almond filling of the babka running through the pudding just takes it to another soul comforting level. Again, not for the calorie conscious. But, oh do live a little!

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Dahi Vada

Despite having visited Delhi over the years, the visits have always been fleeting. Never enough time to explore the facets of a city that they say, has risen and fallen and then risen  again (seven or is it eight times), each time with the fortunes of a different empire and its rulers. And yet, over the past year, three books have taken me to the heart of Old Delhi, bringing it alive at three different points in time.

It all started with Pamela Timms' 'Korma, Kheer & Kismet'. Fed up by the set rules of an expat's life in Delhi, she embarks on a journey to experience the street food of Delhi with it's seasons as her backdrop. She braves Delhi's unbearable Summer for a plate of Ashok and Ashok's mutton korma that finishes within an hour of opening and endures the lashing Monsoon rains and scare of the infamous 'Delhi belly' to try the Mughlai food in the streets around Jama Masjid. The sight of a mound of shakarkhandi (sweet potatoes) atop a khomcha wallah signals the cooler days of early autumn and chilly Winter mornings are spent in the search for the ephemeral 'Daulat ki Chaat'. And in between she visits a whole plethora of small shops and eateries that dot the landscape of Old Delhi feeding the multitudes of residents, immigrant workers, shoppers and curious travellers alike. In her quests, she goes anywhere and everywhere. From Pt. Ved Prakash Lemon Wale's nimboo soda to Old and Famous's jalebis to Gopal Krishna Gupta's aloo tikki to Bade Mian's kheer to a whole host of other places that all sell that one unique dish that they have perfected over the generations, never to be replicated by another.

In her aimless rambles around the streets and bylanes of Old Delhi, she surrenders to the chaos and embraces the mayhem that is Old Delhi and in return, it's people open their homes, kitchens, hearts, lives, dreams and just about everything else except of course, that closely guarded family recipe. With her words, she brings alive the Purani Dilli of today with all its quirks and idiosyncrasies, as the city continues to reveal itself to her through its street food and the people and families behind it.

The second book was Ahmed Ali's 'Twilight in Delhi' that I got to know of while reading another book on Delhi, a couple of years ago, 'City of Djinns' by William Dalrymple. Set in the early 1900s, the author sets out to describe in painstaking detail the days and lives of the people of Delhi at the time. Of women cloistered within the four walls of the zenana oblivious to the humdrum of life navigated by the men outside. Of days punctuated by the calls to prayer, cries of street vendors, whines of beggars, sounds of craftsmen at work, blessings of the fakirs and poetry on the lips of everyone when mere words would not suffice to convey the emotion of the moment. Of nights that belonged to courtesans whose beauty and allure hid a lifetime of heartbreak and denial. Of marriages arranged, festivals celebrated, epidemics battled and deaths mourned. 

But, this is all in the shadow of time when the Mughal Empire was defeated, its rulers exiled and its people looked on as a new colonial ruler sought to stamp its authority at the cost of the local culture. The flashes of despair and melancholy that you glimpse early on in the book grow to a vice like embrace by the time you reach the last pages. Partition's unfortunate legacy would mean that the author had to leave for Pakistan and the Oxford University Press would reduce the book to being described as 'a novel that describes.. ..a way of life in the predominantly Muslim areas of Delhi'. What it is, is a book that documents a time in the life of this city lost forever as it was on the cusp of being re-imagined by its new rulers from the ashes of the previous empire. 

And finally, the book that captivated me completely was Madhur Jaffrey's 'Climbing the Mango Trees', her childhood memoirs. Born into a Kayastha family, a community that were traditionally the record keepers of the Mughals and who would make the transition under the new colonial rulers. On a historic timeline, this books picks up where Ahmed Ali's book ends. Growing up in a large joint family in a house overlooking the Yamuna, she takes you into the world of her childhood. A world where Mughal, British and Hindu influences would intermingle while the country inexorably marched towards Independence. While she discusses the social milieu of the time, this is a book about her childhood. 

She introduces you to her large joint family over expansive family meals with its doses of bonhomie and humour and underlying currents of gossip and speculations. You accompany her on her summer holidays in the hills and her trips to the Yamuna river bed for the choicest pick of watermelons. You watch as her elder brothers and sisters grow up and embrace their lives and loves. She takes you to her school and you meet her teachers, friends and that comes with school life. And there's so much more she will reveal about her childhood and with such honesty and intimacy and with a language so descriptive that these recollections don't feel like those of a stranger but those of a grandmother or grand aunt by whose side you sit as she reminisces. 

Most of us today know Madhur Jaffery as a cook book author and you'd imagine her book to be about food and in that assumption, you won't be doing this book justice. Food weaves itself through the pages of this book as inextricably as it always does with our memories. But this book is so much more. It is about her growing years in all its intimate and innocent detail which you will remember long after you've read the book.

All this talk of Delhi had me pulling out a recipe for Dahi Vadas or as the Dilliwallas call it, 'Dahi Bhalle'. I would describe them here but Madhur Jaffrey does such a delicious job of it that why bother. She describes them as "fried split-pea patties spread with creamy yogurt, salt, a hot chili mixture and, finally, tamarind chutney “as thick as melted chocolate." And then she goes on to write that "the dahi baras would melt in our mouths with the minimum of resistance, the hot spices would bring tears to our eyes, the yogurt would cool us down, and the tamarind would perk up our taste buds as nothing else could. This to us was heaven.”

After such a description, there is really nothing more for me to say except that I've shared my mother's recipe but goes without saying that every home in India would have their own trusted one. It is a simple enough recipe that goes down a treat during tea time. 

For a city that keeps rising from the ashes ever so often in the history of time, I leave you with these words of Anupreeta Das, "Delhi now belonged to everyone who lived in it. But no one belonged to Delhi."

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