Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Baked Diamond Cuts (Whole Wheat Crackers)

I remember having this snack in my childhood, both at home and other people's homes. They seem to have taken a backseat with the introduction of packaged snacks, so much so I haven't seen them even on occasions like Diwali (why would I, when there are pre packaged hampers of Kurkure available! *roll eyes*). I used to especially like the sweet diamond cuts which is made by lightly dipping the fried pieces into a sugar syrup. Growing up in Mumbai, while we called them diamond cuts, they are called Shankarpale in Marathi and we used to gorge on them during Diwali.

So, when I had some kids coming over for a playdate, I thought of making these for them - lest they never know that something like this existed. Of course, the wuz that I am, couldn't think of deep frying them as per the traditional recipe and so I looked for a recipe where I could bake them. I found a simple recipe from one of my favourite chefs - Sanjeev Kapoor.

This one is made out of half whole wheat flour and half refined flour - not sure if that is the reason why the diamond cuts didn't puff up the way they usually do. I don't think its to do with the fact that they were baked instead of deep fried, so maybe next time I will experiment with the ratio of flours. Or maybe chill them the way you do for pastry dough.

The crackers were fine though - a nice, savoury snack which the kids and moms both enjoyed - crisp and light. My daughter really liked it so I will definitely be making them again. The flavour of the carom seeds was subtle but brought back some great memories. We had the crackers with a dip and paired it with some gooey chocolate brownies (which I will post later).

Baked Diamond Cuts (Whole Wheat Crackers)

3/4 cup whole wheat flour (atta)
3/4 cup refined flour (maida)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup ghee
salt to taste (1/2 tsp was enough for me)
Ajwain/omam (carom seeds)
1/2 cup chilled water

1. In a medium sized bowl, mix the refined flour and the whole wheat flour with the baking powder and salt.
2. Add the ghee and mix together till it resembled bread crumbs.
3. Add the carom seeds and then knead into a dough adding just as much water as is needed to make it pliable but not sticky or soft.
4. Cover with a cloth and keep aside for about half an hour.
5. Pre heat oven to 180 C. Divide the dough into 4 equal parts and roll out thinly on a lightly floured surface. I rolled it out to a little thicker than a roti (about 1/8th of an inch).
6. Prick all over with a fork; with a sharp knife or pastry cutter make diagonal lines at equal intervals on the rolled out dough and then once again cut again crosswise to give diamond shapes.
7. Place in batches on a lightly greased tray and bake for 15-16 minutes at 180C, checking to see that it doesn't over brown. Cool and store in air tight containers.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Moogachi Usal (Stir Fried Mung Sprouts) - Blog Bites #1

In India, the first loud sound that babies hear is probably the pressure cooker! I realised this when I saw the startled expression my daughter had when she was 9 months old and sitting in her high chair, when she heard the pressure cooker whistle (we had an open kitchen in that house). To make sure she didn't bawl in fear, we immediately laughed and said "cooker" - thats how one of the first words she spoke was "cookah".

The pressure cooker is also probably the first kitchen appliance we learn to cook with - rice and dal were the basics that I learnt when I was in college. On the days Mom was tired after a long day teaching at school, she would ask me to keep the rice and dal; she would then only have to complete the tempering and prepare a vegetable side dish, once she was rested.

Moong Dal and Rajma were the first non-South Indian dishes I learnt to cook (even before sambar and rasam!) - courtesy my Punjabi room mate when I was living on my own and doing my post-grad degree. It was so good that I used to polish off 2 bowls of dal even before dinner was ready. And this with our very limited kitchen facilities - we didn't even have a mixer/blender.

So, I just had to participate in Nupur's first edition of her new event Blog Bites which is dedicated to Cookers - Pressure cookers, Rice cookers and Slow cookers. There are so many of my own favourite recipes I make in the cooker that it was going to be even more difficult to pin down one from another of the many blogs I frequent.

Well I did and it was from one of my favourite browsing places when I am wracking my head for something to cook - Meera's Enjoy Indian Food - it is so evident that she does "Enjoy Indian Food"!. She is positively prolific in her posts and I love the wide variety of dishes she shared with us - especially the Maharashtrian and Gujarati dishes which I love and miss a lot.

So, I picked this recipe for Moogachi Usal - a traditional Maharashtrian stir fry made with sprouts - something I haven't made for a long time. I usually make sprouts into a salad - but since I tasted this recently on my trip to Kolhapur, I remembered that I really missed having this simple, nutritious dish. The only thing different from the recipe was that I used mixed sprouts - mung as well as moth beans (turkish gram).

Friday, March 19, 2010

Strawberry Chocolate Mousse

The strawberry season is on its way out and luckily this year I had some lovely strawberries come my way - at the same time that I brought some home from this trip to Maharashtra, my upstairs neighbour also got us some from his trip to Pune - thanks D!

Of course, with this surfeit of juicy,red strawberries I had to do *something* with them - especially since 4 year old has major issues with fruits which go "squish" in the mouth (which rules out most of them) and hubby is also not a great fan. I can't eat too much of raw fruit at one go and keeping them for too long would see them going bad. So, I looked about for some nice recipes - done the upside down cake (and I see others have been grappling with the same problem!).

Simply Recipes by Elise is one of my favourite go-to sites when I am looking for something in particular and I wasn't disappointed. She has this gorgeous recipe for Strawberry Mousse made with white chocolate. I didn't have white chocolate - but when has that ever stopped my from trying something! I used dark chocolate and adapted the recipe and it was fine - a slightly sweetish, tart dessert. I did this silly thing of pouring a layer of chocolate at the bottom of the glass - but of course since I didn't mix it with cream, it stuck to the bottom once it was cold. So after finishing the dessert I would pop it into the microwave for about 10 secs and then eat up the dark chocolate!

Strawberry Chocolate Mousse

Strawberries - 700gm
Dark chocolate - 200gms
200ml fresh cream (I used Amul fresh cream, but heavy cream, if available, is preferable)
2 tsp gelatine
2 tbsp powdered sugar

1. Soak the strawberries in water for 3-4 minutes and clean well. Dry, hull and chop up the strawberries, reserving about 5-6 strawberries for garnish and puree the rest in a blender. Slice the reserved strawberries and keep aside.
Pass through a sieve to filter the puree and keep aside.
2. Meanwhile, chop the chocolate and melt over a double boiler - put the chopped pieces into a small vessel which can fit into a bigger,shallow bowl which has water in it and keep the flame so that the water is barely simmering till the chocolate melts and is smooth. Pour into a large bowl.
3. Take about 1/4 cup of room temperature water and sprinkle the gelatine over the surface of the water - keep for about 5 minutes and stir lightly till mixed in.
4. Pour about 1/3 cup of the cream into a heavy sauce pan, mix in the powdered sugar and heat on a low flame. Add the gelatine water into the sauce pan and stir till dissolved - about 2-3 minutes.
5. Pour the cream and gelatine mixture into the melted chocolate, add the strawberry puree and mix well till completely combined.
6. Beat the remaining cream with a blender on high speed till it thickens and forms peaks ( Since I used fresh cream I whipped it over a bowl of ice). Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate-strawberry puree mixture till just combined. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
7. Pour the strawberry chocolate mousse into shot glasses and garnish each one with a couple of the reserved strawberry slices. Chill in the refrigerator overnight after covering each glass with clingfilm.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rapid Light Wholemeal Loaf - Sara Lewis

There's nothing better in my opinion, than a well made sandwich, to satisfy one's hunger - be it for breakfast or as a snack or even for lunch. The bread should be fresh and the fillings juicy - that's all that one needs! I especially love the toasted sandwich - no, not the grilled sandwich - the one you toast on those metal sandwich toasters over the gas flame.

Having grown up in Mumbai, I simply love those fresh sandwiches the streetside vendors make - white bread (yeah, yeah I hear ya), a choice of plain butter or Amul butter, mint chutney and then the fillings - onions rings, slices of boiled potaotes and beet, raw tomatoes - a sprinkle of salt and pepper, quick cutting into 8 square towers you had to struggle to fit into your mouth - Heaven! We practically lived on Subhash's Rs.5 sandwiches when we were in college - it was so cheap and filling.

Some guys also had toasted sandwiches - while we used to make them regularly at home (probably the first thing I "cooked" in the kitchen) I had them outside only when I was doing my CA - the guy opposite Eros theatre in Churchgate was very good but I'm sure everyone has their favourite one.
I still love to have toasted sandwiches for breakfast - tomato, boiled potatoes or even eggs, coriander mint chutney, half a cheese slice - perfect start to the day. Haven't had a nice sandwich outside for a very long time - the apologies which pass for sandwiches in places like Coffee Day should be banned. Sitting in the display rack for ages, filled with some truly shocking stuff (once I got a sandwich with grated carrots and mayonnaise!) they are not worth half the money being charged.

Its been a long time since I baked bread - pizza base is what I have been experimenting with for some time. The cold temps till now also didn't help - now that the weather is turning, I thought it would be a good time to have a home made loaf of bread.

Picked a recipe from Sara Lewis's The Bread Book - it has half whole wheat and half white flour and I thought it would be a good halfway bread to have. It turned out well, even though I had to up the flour quantity since, by mistake, I poured all the water into the flour originally measured out. The bread had a nice crumb and was soft with a great crust - it was also soo easy to make. I definitely recommend this for someone who is trying to bake wholemeal bread for the first time.

Rapid Light Wholemeal Loaf - Adapted from Sara Lewis's The Bread Book

2 1/4 cups wholewheat flour
1 3/4 cups strong white flour
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp active dried yeast
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup warm water

1. Heat the water till just hot and dissolve the sugar in it, wait for it to cool till just warm (shouldnt be cold or hot) and dissolve the yeast in it. Set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Mix the two flours, salt, oil - pour in the yeast mixture a little at a time and knead well for about 10 minutes till the dough comes together - smooth but not sticky.
3. Grease a loaf tin and put the dough into it. cover loosely with a lightly oiled cling film and leave in a warm place to rise - about an hour or till the dough reaches just above the top of the tin.
4. Slash with a sharp knife - the bread cooks well and looks good too.
5. Pre heat oven to 200c, remove the clingfilm and bake for 25-30 minutes - when tapped the loaf should sound hollow and the bread will be browned on top. The book recommends checking after 15 minutes and to cover with foil if it is overbrowning.
6. Loosen bread from the sides of the tin, transfer to wire rack and cool.

We had this for breakfast the next day - sauteed sausages, tomatoes, lettuce, vegetable patties, mint chutney, cheese, mustard - we mixed and matched. Whats your favourite way to have a sandwich?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Biryani - Big Fight!

I have been following Vir Sanghvi's discussion on the origins and evolution of biryani forthe past two years now (through his column Rude Food in Brunch and his show on television) and have been quite interested in all the opinions and theories he has managed to dig out from all over the country.

It is the theory in many quarters that, the biryani is descended from the Turkish pilaf (pulao) - a mildly spiced dish which is more reliant on the fragrance of the rice itself. The biryani on the other hand, Sanghvi argues, is more in keeping with Indian tastes and has a lot more spice in it. The other theory which some of the culinary experts he spoke to came up with (and one I tend to agree with) is that the difference between pucca biryani and kaccha biryani is actually the difference between pulao and a biryani. Pucca biryani being one where the meat is pre cooked and added to the rice when it is cooking and so essentially a pulao. Whereas a kachha biryani is the real biryani - where the meat is layered with the spice paste and cooked along with partially cooked rice.

The Lucknowi Biryani by this premise then, is basically a pulao - as is probably the one Vir Sanghvi ate in Delhi and came up with the same complaint I have - "The disappointment, however, was the biryani. We found it too dry and utterly lacking in subtlety of flavour." The Hyderabadi biryani, on the other hand, is often touted to be the true biryani since the meat is layered and cooked along with the rice - though going by Vir Sanghvi's experience in that city it seems very difficult to find the real Mc Coy.

But I think after all this research, Sanghvi seems to have reached a veritable mid point on the great biryani debate as evidenced by his latest column last week - which is actually a review of Pratibha Karan's new cookbook called - what else - Biryani! She says that Biryani is an Indian invention and most probably a one pot dish demanded by soldiers on the move - further, she says, it is most probably a South Indian dish.
"If you were to put together all the north Indian biryani recipes, you would end up with about four basic recipes and a few others with minor variations. If you go to the south however, the full richness of biryani dawns on you. It isn’t just the famous Hyderabadi biryanis, it is also the richly spiced biryanis of Kerala, the masaledar Andhra biryani (which is not the same as Hyderabadi biryani, but is a less refined, much earthier dish) and the biryanis of Tamil Nadu.The reason for this is simple enough.

The people of the north are essentially wheat eaters. It is the south that prefers rice and that is why south Indian biryanis frequently go beyond the north Indian obsession with basmati and use more interesting breeds of rice. In fact, wherever there is a community of rice-eaters, the biryani is likely to be more interesting. The biryanis of east Bengal (now Bangladesh) are delicious and unjustly ignored as is the mutton and potato biryani of Calcutta which delights everyone who eats in that city but which is hardly known outside of Bengal."

It gets more interesting with the conclusion that it is not so much the distinction between a biryani and pulao which is important as the many variations that lie between the two - even Sanghvi at this stage abandons the pucca vs kaccha debate! What interests Karan, Sanghvi says, is the regional variations we find in biryanis from all over India and that is what she has explored in her book. I have not seen any of Pratibha Karan's books before (nor have I been paid for this post!), but I am definitely interested in this book on biryanis - and encouraged by Sanghvi's words - "If you are interested in cooking, then this is the perfect book for you because unlike most cookbooks it is not written by a professional cook or a hotel chef. Pratibha does most of her cooking at home and therefore, her recipes are not difficult for the home cook to reproduce."

I guess this means this Coriander Chicken Biryani I made is actually a pulao :).

This recipe is very similar to this Brinji.
I didn't cook this in coconut milk though, the chicken was fried with the masala paste (coriander, mint, green chillies, ginger, garlic and whole spices) and then cooked with the rice. Perfect for a Sunday meal made in exactly one hour - served with a onion tomato raita on the side. (Edited to add - please mail me for exact recipes!)