Sunday, February 28, 2010

Somaas / Karanji (Baked Turnovers)

Spring is here!! Winter is almost done with, time to wrap up the woollies and get the T-shirts out....this is the first year I'm not doing war whoops and actually quite wistful about winter going away. Enjoying the cool mornings and the beautiful beautiful flowers which have sprung up all over the city - in roundabouts, parks and balconies.

And of course spring has to be heralded in with the fun colours of Holi!! I played Holi every year till I was 22 (in Mumbai) and then didn't play for 11 years after that(since I moved to Chennai. Now once again, I have been celebrating Holi for the past two years since we moved to Delhi.

This year Holi is on March 1st, Monday - so a long weekend for us. Which is a good thing since I had a really hectic week - overseas director visit, lots of number crunching and reports, a mini show as part of my jazz dancing class which meant last minute rehearsals and a visit from my best friend. So we have been chilling this weekend - a lazy Saturday with a huge lunch and a nap, a great jazz performance outdoors by a Norwegian band.

And then Sunday, my neighbour A, suggested breakfast at their place - who can refuse an offer of puri aloo sabzi? I decided to make some gujiyas - the traditional North Indian sweet which is made for Holi. These are basically rounds of dough, filled with evaporated milk and dry fruits, shaped into crescents and deep fried. But then when I woke up in the morning I realised that one needs khoya (evaporated milk) for the filling - so a quick change to somaas or karanjis - which are like gujiyas but have a coconut-jaggery filling.

And then a further change - decided to go the baked way (I'm such a wuz when it comes to deep frying! Just the thought of pouring that much oil into the kadai is enough to make me chicken out). I unearthed the Sanjeev Kapoor recipe I had filed away for just such an occasion, made a few changes and voila - baked karanjis in an hour!

I was a bit worried they wouldn't turn out as good as the fried ones we are used to eating - but really, they were good. Tasty and crisp but light on the stomach - especially after that deliciously huge puri sabzi breakfast we gorged on!! Thanks A - it was so good to chat and eat and chat and eat get the picture! ;)

Somaas / Karanji (Baked Turnovers)

1 1/4 cup flour
Ghee - 2 tbsp
Milk - 5 - 8 tbsp

salt - pinch

Freshly grated Coconut - 1 cup
Jaggery - 1/2 cup
Elaichi powder - 1 tsp

1. Mix the coconut and jaggery and heat over a low flame for 5-7 minutes till dry and flaky. Mix in the cardamom (elaichi) powder and set aside to cool.
2. Mix the flour, ghee, salt and milk and knead to smooth dough; cover and keep aside for about 5 minutes
3. Pre heat the oven to 180C. Make coin sized portions of the dough and roll out to thin circle - place 2 teaspoonfuls of the filling towards one side of the circle but not too near the edge - fold the circle over into a crescent shape.
4. Cut out the excess (leaving a little space all around the filling) with a pastry cutter or a sharp knife. Press down the edges with the tines of a fork to make a crimped edge.
5. Grease an oven proof tray and place the karanjis on it; Brush the tops of the karanjis with ghee and bake for 16-17 minutes.
6. The tops won't turn brown, but they will be cooked to a crisp and the base will have turned lightly brown.

The karanji is light and flaky and the filling too is just right - not cloyingly sweet and at the same time substantial enough not to make one feel like we are eating just a shell!

Holi itself was a perfect day weather wise; we went over to a back lane 200mts away from our house. Its maintained by the houses which overlook the back lane - one of our friends lives there so all us common friends usually go over and play along with the rest of them - about 30 people at any given time with friends dropping in and out. Besides the colours, the water dunkings and the balloon fights there are usually a potluck of snacks and drinks all laid out - its great fun!

My contribution was this masala baati from Tarla Dalal - apparently I made something similar in 2008 but for the life of me don't remember the recipe. This one wasn't as good as the other one -which I am told was only baked (not boiled and baked like this one) and also had a moong dal filling inside. But I do remember that it was also a Tarla Dalal one, so if someone has the recipe, do forward it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sugar Sugar....

I have been making bi-annual research trips to Kolhapur for the last two years and it has been a fascinating experience. The fact that I was born and brought up in Maharashtra (Mumbai) and am familiar with the culture and know the language, definitely helps. My brother also studied in Warana and I distinctly remember the hostel exploits he used to regale me with - seemed daring for my naive 12 year old self then, but actually quite tame as compared to the standards today's youth are setting.

Kolhapur is a town whose history can be traced back to the 9th century (and there have been excavations found which date to as far back as the First century BC). It is now quite prosperous - it reportedly is one of the towns with the highest sales of Mercedes cars in the country and we saw showrooms selling top end bikes costing more than a lakh of rupees (USD 2000) as also these "buggies" which are apparently bought for kids to drive around the "farmhouse" - price? another lakh of rupees. The wealth is mostly fuelled by the sugarcane industry - a co-operative industry (if you can call it that)which provides the cashflow as well as votes to many a successful politician from this region.

But other than the material wealth, there is also the richness of culture which this corner of south-west Maharashtra is steeped in. The Mahalakshmi temple is one of the famous landmarks - the legend goes that the Goddess vanquished the demon king Kolasur - and as his dying wish, the city was named after him. More than the temple, I love poking around those small shops around its periphery - the ones where you get those typical green bangles, the lovely vermillion powder (kumkum), small religious knick knacks -silver crowns for idols, tiny silk "sarees" in red, green and gold for the goddess in your home - , flowers and what not.

The people are warm and hospitable to a fault. Apart from the Kolhapuri chappals (hand stitched leather thongs) and Kolhapuri mirchi (chillies) which everyone usually hears of - Kolhapuri cuisine is quite distinct. Their tambda rassa (red curry with goat meat) and pandhra rassa (white mutton stock soup) are signature dishes of Kolhapur along with the sukka mutton (stir fried goat meat). Not being a fan of red meat (I find it far too difficult to digest) what I really enjoy in this part of the country is the simple Maharashtrian vegetarian fare - moogachi usal (whole green gram sauted with spices and coconut), amti, varan bhaat, bhakri (sorghum flour flat bread) and sol kadi (a tangy,mildly spiced drink made from coconut milk and kokum fruit extract). Then there's the snacks which beckon - wada pav, misal...

But what intrigued me most this trip is coming across huge green houses - 57 acres of horticultural operations run right next to a sugar mill by the second generation scion. They grow flowers for the export market as well as the domestic market and with huge investments and lot of technology have managed to make this a lucrative business while diversifying from the cyclical sugar industry. It also provides employment to the local population of women (who were traditonally restricted to ancilliary jobs in the sugar industry) who tend to the flowers with the requisite care and diligence. There were rows and rows of multi coloured gerberas, delicatedly shaded roses and the most exquisite orchids - the profusion of flowers dazzled our senses.

I marvelled at the sense of enterprise which fuels this part of the country - even the farmers here seem to be so much better informed than their counterparts in the North. While the cane production deficit is fuelling a steep rise in prices, it makes sense that the farmer should think of shifting to alternatives which will provide a better income to him - this is indeed a different way of thinking from the traditional mindset of cane being a "lazy" crop which requires hardly any tending and no need for marketing the produce which is all bought up by the co-operative at pre -fixed prices.

I will leave you with this picture of some wonderful strawberries which I found on the lane outside the Mahalakshmi temple while buying kandi peda (milk based sweet), bhadang (spiced puffed rice) and pohe chivda(spiced beaten rice) - sweets and snacks which are some of my childhood favourites!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Gajar ka Halwa (Carrot Pudding)

Gajar ka halwa is one of those famous Bollywood cliches of course, but is also undeniably one of the most popular dishes from Punjabi cuisine to seep into other parts of India.
It has always been a favourite with me - I remember eating it in my neighbour's house in Mumbai - their daughter and me were inseparable as kids; same age, same school, same everything - we would have to be puled apart at the end of the day howling and screaming when we were taken to our respective homes! They are Punjabis and Aunty A made the most amazing melt-in-your-mouth carrot halwa.

I made sure it was on the menu for my wedding - thats how much I love it! I guess its something about the lovely taste of almost caramelized carrots cooked into sweet nothingness in milk and sugar which makes me sigh with satisfaction. In Chennai I would have to wait for that fleeting month when the red carrots would make their appearance - here in Delhi they flood the markets from November to March.

No wonder then (especially when they are also cheap at this time) that the winter here sees me making this almost every other week. Its a great snack/dessert/breakfast - you name it :) I don't use khoya though and cook the carrots in the milk right down till it becomes khoya! I also don't add almonds or other nuts and nor do I serve it with ice cream - less is more.

Gajar ka Halwa

Peeled and grated carrots (preferable red, juicy carrots) - 2.5 cups
Milk - 6 cups
Sugar - 1 cup
Ghee - 3 tbsp
Cardamom powder - 1 tsp

1. Bring the milk to boil in heavy bottomed pan and continue to simmer till it reduces to half the quantity. Make sure you keep stirring once in a while, so it doesn't stick to the bottom.
2. Meanwhile, in another pan, heat the ghee and add the grated carrots.
3. Saute for about 5-8 minutes on a low flame till it loses its raw smell and softens.
4. Add the carrot to the reduced milk and continue cooking till the milk is completely absorbed and the carrot is just moist.
Once the carrot is cooked, add sugar and cook for 5 minutes, till the sugar dissolves.
5. Add the cardamom powder and remove from flame.
6. Serve warm

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Upside Down Pear Cake

I'm back after a week in Ahmedabad at a learning program at IIM related to the field I work in. It was absolutely fascinating to be back in the classroom with 13 other individuals from different sections of the agri-business industry. The faculty was amazing and we had an excellent guest speaker; thought provoking insights, stimulating discussions and some heated arguments on the social aspects of the agri-business industry in India.

The other great bit about this trip was that I got to catch up with a close friend (and now a fellow blogger!) - Arch from the The Yum Factor. She was, as always, so warm and welcoming! We shopped, ate and chatted and then ate some more, in the very brief bits of time we got to spend together. When you reconnect with old friends, you come away recharged - Arch is this complete dynamo of energy - she has managed to design a beautiful and tasteful home for her family in a new city singlehandedly! An amazingly patient person, she is such a wonderful mother to her sweet 4 year old boy. And the food - delicious is the word. She even made pathrode - that Gujarati delicacy- at the last minute, steamed it and gave it to me barely 5 minutes before I left - its waiting to be eaten as a snack this evening!

But as always, good to be home - daughter insisted on accompanying Appa to the airport to pick me up but promptly fell asleep two minutes into the ride :) But was so nice to see her angelic (while asleep!) face when I landed. Childhood is a magical journey and I love seeing it through her eyes. I love upside down cakes - appeals to the child in me I guess. I think the first upside down cake I ate was a pineapple upside down cake made by my best friend's mother when we were in college. I still remember how heavenly it was.... I have made some more after that including this strawberry one.

So, when I saw this upside down cake made with caramelized pears and walnuts on Sig's blog, I was quite taken with the lovely, molten brown goodness it seemed to ooze. I also wondered at her comment about the 14tbsp of butter and 2 cups of sugar the recipe had and how it was difficult to expect the whole wheat to compensate for it in health terms. I decided to have a crack at the recipe and see whether I could come up with something which had a little less butter and sugar. When I started baking I never used to mess with recipes - of course, I went back to my bad ways of substitution pretty soon ;). But I was still a little bit concerned about tweaking this recipe.

I cut out the caramelized walnuts first since I don't really like nuts. That reduced a bit of the sugar,butter and maple syrup. For the caramelized pears I cut the butter and sugar as well as a little of the maple syrup. In the cake recipe as well, I figured since the caramelized sugar syrup would be sweet enough, some of the sugar could be reduced. I did increase the milk a little bit though since the batter seemed a little bit too thick. I had two pears and so I reduced the flour to 1.5 cups instead of 2cups; I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and half a cup of all purpose flour. I used some ginger powder instead of the cardamom powder and substituted the maple syrup with golden syrup.

The cake turned out quite well and the pears were beautifully glazed. Next time I would probably use one more egg white or applesauce for some more moistness. Also I would bake it at 350 instead of 375C since the centre took some more time to be cooked though the rest of the cake was already done.

A beautiful cake and you can serve it warm in this season with some vanilla ice cream on the side.

Upside Down Pear Cake

Whole wheat flour (atta) - 1 cup
All purpose flour (maida) - 1/2 cup
Baking powder - 1 tsp
Ginger powder - 1 tsp
salt - pinch

1 egg (plus one egg white)
Butter - 150gm (or about 9 tbsp)
Sugar - 1/2 cup
vanilla essence - 1 tsp
Milk - 3/4 cup

For the caramelized pears:
Pears - 2, peeled, cored and sliced thin
Butter - 1 tbsp
Sugar - 4 tbsp
Golden Syrup - 6 tbsp

1. Heat the butter till just melted in a heavy pan, add the brown sugar and after 3-4 minutes, add the pear slices and saute till they turn brown - about 4 more minutes. Add the golden syrup and cook for another 4 minutes till the slices are soft but not falling apart. Cool.
2. Bring the butter to room temperature and beat in a large bowl along with the sugar on high(if using an electric mixer) till soft and shiny.
3. Add the egg, milk and vanilla essence and beat on low for 3-4 minutes till well combined.
4. Mix the flours, salt, ginger powder and baking powder and then add one third at a time, to the larger bowl and beat till just combined.
5. Grease a 8" pan and line with parchment paper 9or simply dust with flour). Grease the parchment paper too and the sides of the pan.
6. Arrange the slices starting from an inside circle and carrying on to the outside circle till the whole pan is covered. Pour the syrup on top.
7. Pour the batter (should be of dropping consistency) over the pear slices and smooth over with a wooden spatula, taking care not to press down too much.
8. Pre heat the oven to 350C and bake for 40-45 minutes till a skewer comes out clean. When completely cool, invert and serve.