Monday, April 14, 2014

Bitter, Sweet,Sour, Spicy & Salty - Thats what life is all about!


One definite advantage of not being a W.A.S.P (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) and claiming origins from a former third world country is that you get to celebrate almost  everything twice. Two names, Two Birthdays (one on the official date you were born, the one that you register at school with, the other, your star birthday, which is calculated according to the Hindu Calendar ), and festivities of cultures from the mother land & adopted home. Who says life can't be a string of events to celebrate?

And so, today was New Years, the religious one. As with many of the different communities in India, New Years is celebrated in April, which was the case with the Western world until some pompous  Roman figurehead decided that the New Year should begin in the middle of the freezing winter. (and gave us April Fool's day as a rather lame substitute). This day is venerated as Bihu in Assam, Baisakhi in Punjab, Poila Baisakh / nabobarsho in Bengal, Vishu  in Kerala and Varsha pirappu in Tamil Nadu.

Among the Tamil Brahmin community, especially those who have a connection with Kerala, there is a beautiful tradition to kick off the day & consequently the year. It begins with setting out large trays of fruit, flowers (traditionally its flowers from the golden shower tree , but any bright yellow flower will do, its the color that matters, the golden hues), Rice, lentils, unrefined sugar,  Money, new clothes, Jewelry and in the midst of it all, a mirror.



Children are led to the display with their eyes closed and are asked to open them to view themselves in the mirror. The significance behind this is to literally open your eyes in the New Year to see yourself surrounded by wealth and prosperity.

AS with any other culture, such occasions are celebrated with food, and PLENTY of it. At home there is the classic three course South Indian Feast , here's a partial list:
plain dal,  Sambar with freshly blended spices,

 

 a light Rasam broth tempered with Neem blosssoms (more on that coming up),

 A vegetable (usually winter melon or pumpkin) stew spiced with coconut & cumin,



A stir fried vegetable dish


Deep fried Lentil fritters (aama vadai)


Salad of course;



The list goes on for about half a dozen more dishes, all freshly prepared , without any tasting in between. You had better remember to salt the dish & do it just right, there is no such thing as adjusting the seasoning!
 The signature dish for this feast however is not a main entree, but a condiment - 'Mango Pachadi'.  Its a sweet sauce made with raw green mango, spiked with smoky fried Arbol chile and finished with a tempering of mustard, curry leaves and Neem blossoms. I don't know how this genius of a dish came to be invented, but its significance is deep. Its a reminder of how life is a mix of all different kinds of experiences, sweet, sour, bitter, spicy & salty and that one must be prepared for whatever life tosses at you in the coming year. Needless to say, Its usually the first serving dish that gets polished off. Since Neem blossoms are not easy to come by in the US of A, I resort to toasted and crushed fenugreek seeds to supply the bitter component. This is a dish with 5 different tastes & one huge mother load of pure Umami!

Mango Pachadi: (Makes 1 cup)

You need:
1/2 a raw green mango
1 cup water
1/2 cup  Jaggery or dark brown sugar
1 fresh green (or ripe red) chili, slit lengthwise
Salt to taste

for the tempering
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 sprig curry leaves
1 red arbol chile, whole
1 pinch asafetida (optional)
10-12 fenugreek seeds 

Peel off the green skin of the mango. Cut off the 'Cheek' of the mango and run the peeler along the length of the piece of mango. This will yield thin strips. Alternatively you could dice the mango into small pieces. Add the water to the mango strips in a saucepan along with the split chile and bring to a boil. Cook down until the mango is completely mushed.


Now add the jaggery (powder it before hand so that it dissolves easily) and salt to taste. Continue cooking on low until the jaggery has completely dissolved. Fish out & discard the split fresh chile

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the fenugreek seeds until they turn a deep reddish brown, add it to a mortar and crush it coarsely.  Heat the oil in the same till it just begins to smoke and then toss in the mustard seeds, once they pop, add the curry leaves & the red arbol chile. Once the chile browns remove the skillet off the heat and add the asafetida and crushed  fenugreek. Pour over the mango and stir to combine. Serve as a condiment to any spicy rice dish.



Here's wishing everyone a wonderful year ahead (AGAIN), filled with all the delicious UMAMI enriched flavors that life offers!
Bon appetit!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Waiting, waiting for spring! Green garbanzo hummus



After this past bone chilling cold winter, I'd promised myself that I would not say a word or whine about the weather no matter how blazing hot the summer got. Now, I'm beginning to think that I may not have to worry about breaking that promise. The cold weather never seems to be ending!
This time of the year brings with it a slew of  some special produce produce. Blink & they're gone for the year. While I wait for the first bunches of ramps to make their appearance,  I'm enjoying the bountiful supply of fresh, tender green garbanzos.



There's no dearth of dishes that this delightful produce can be the star of.  Grilled and served up with a sprinkle of sea salt,


or, sauteed with fresh coconut & slivers of raw mango, spiced up with a fiery tempering of mustard & curry leaves.


The list could go on & on & on...

I'm addicted to Hummus, but often succumb to picking up a tub from the supermarket simply because when the craving strikes, I dont have time to soak and cook up the beans before whipping up some great home made dip. So, on the last trip to the Indian grocery store (where these green garbanzos are currently in season) , I resolved to dedicate the latest bag's worth to making hummus, (or at least trying to). The end result far exceeded my expectation.
Green garbanzos have a light buttery texture when steamed, and this confers a delicate creaminess to the hummus (as opposed to the hint of mealy starch that the hydrated dried garbanzo beans bring to the dish).

The flavor of the beans is quite delicate, so I went easy on the Tahini so that the flavor of the sesame did not take center stage. Since the beans have an inherent buttery texture, the amount of tahini can be minimized. The ice cold water added to the  hummus is a technique I learned from Chef Sami Tamimi's recipe from 'Jerusalem', the book he co authored with Yotam Ottolenghi.


Green Garbanzo Hummus: (Makes about 2 1/2 cups)

You need:
2 cups freshly shucked green garbanzo
2 heaped tablespoons Tahini Paste
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
1 green Serrano chili minced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Salt to taste
1/2 cup ice cold chilled water.


Steam the green garbanzos for about 7-10 minutes until its soft but not mushy . Allow it to cool slightly and add it into the bowl of a food processor along with the garlic and minced green chile. Pulse & run the processor until the garbanzos are almost pulverized.
Now add the Tahini along with the lemon juice and salt and run the processor until the ingredients combine.
Drizzle just enough of the ice cold water while the machine is running so that the hummus consistency turns creamy. Transfer the hummus into a container and allow to rest in the fridge for about an hour to let the flavors develop. ( the garlic needs this time to mellow down).


Serve at room temperature with Pita chips or pretzels or slather generously on a slice of good bread. I like to sprinkle the hummus with a pinch of Sumac or Aleppo pepper for an extra kick of flavor.

Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The 'We knead to bake' project 2014 - Japanese Melon Pan bread


Some of the most elegant breads I've come across seem to have Japanese origins. Take the Hokkaido milk bread for example, The pillowy softness that we only see in those mass manufactured monstrosities that have a laundry list of ingredients, of which half are synthetic man made preservatives - The Hokkaido milk bread has all the great qualities of 'Wonder bread' without any of the ghoulish preservatives.
This months bread, picked by Aparna Balasubramanian from 'My Diverse kitchen' is yet another wonder from the Japanese bread basket. The 'Melon Pan'. Lets first dissect the name  - Its a Japanese dish with no ingredient even remotely associated with melons of any kind, and its referred to by the Portuguese name for bread 'Pan' - Go figure!


The crackly rough looking surface of the bun was supposedly said to resemble the surface of a cantaloupe, hence the presence of the term Melon in the name. In reality, this crinkly surface is a cookie dough covering the surface of the bread. The end result is a crunchy exterior that encloses a soft yeasty bun. Some recipe variations call for chocolate chips in between the layers, but I opted to tuck in a little square of Valhrona dark chocolate in the center of the dough, just to give it an element of surprise.

I had initially planned to omit the eggs in the recipe in favor of yogurt, but eventually changed my mind and used one egg in the cookie dough. For the bread dough I substituted with 4 tablespoons of yogurt, and also used whey in place of water in the recipe where ever it was called for.

Japanese Melon Pan bread:
(Adapted from A Bread A Day  http://www.abreadaday.com/?p=1503)

You need:

For the Bread dough:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus extra as required)
2 tablespoon non fat milk powder
1 tsp instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup whey
4 tablespoons yogurt
1 tablespoon sugar
25gm butter, at room temperature

For the cookie dough:


1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
A large pinch of salt
60gm butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup castor sugar (increase to 1/3 cup for sweeter dough)
1 large egg                                           
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange  zest
Granulated sugar for sprinkling over the buns 



Whisk together the flour, powdered milk, yeast, and salt in the bowl (I opted to use a hand mixer fitted with dough hooks). In a smaller bowl, beat the yogurt and whey together with a fork till well blended. Add this to the flour mixture in the bowl.
Knead (on low speed in hand mixer) till it all comes together as a dough and then (on medium speed) until you have a somewhat stiff dough. Add the sugar and knead well. 
Next, add the butter and knead (first at slow speed and then on medium) until the butter is completely incorporated into the dough and the dough becomes smooth and elastic. The dough should well-kneaded to develop the gluten.
Shape the dough into a round, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let it rise till double in volume (about an hour or so).
 



WHile the dough rises, make the cookie dough. In a bowl, cream the soft butter and sugar till fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat till combined. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt and add this to the bowl. Also add the orange zest. Beat together until just combined.
 
Shape the dough into a cylinder (this will make the dough easy to divide and flatten out later), and wrap in cling film. Refrigerate the dough until required. This firms up the dough making it easier to work with.
 Once the bread dough has doubled in volume, place it on a lightly floured work surface. Lightly grease your baking sheet or line it with parchment. Deflate the dough gently and divide it into 8 equal portions. Wrap the pieces of dough around a piece of chocolate and shape each portion into a smooth ball like for bread rolls. Work with one portion and keep the others covered so they don’t dry out. 


 
Unwrap the cookie dough. It should be reasonably firm now and easy to work with. Slice the cylinder of cookie dough into 8 equal portions. Use two pieces of plastic sheets or cling film to flatten the cookie dough. Place one slice/ round of cookie dough on a piece of plastic sheet/ cling film. Cover with another piece, and using a flat bottomed pan, press down on the dough to flatten it, until it is reasonably thin but not very much so.



 



Carefully take on ball of bread dough (it will have puffed up a little so don’t deflate it), and place the circle of cookie dough on top of it. Gently press the cookie dough edge to the bread dough ball so that it covers the top and sides of the ball, but leaves the bottom open.



Gently, holding the covered bread dough by the underside, press it into some castor sugar. Then using a scraper, or the blunt side of a knife, mark the top of the cookie dough side of the bread roll with a cross hatch/ diamond pattern. The pattern should be deep enough (otherwise it will disappear when the bread rises and bakes) without cutting through the cookie dough layer into the bread.




Place this on the greased or parchment lined baking sheet. Repeat this with the remaining cookie dough and bread dough balls. Let them rise for an hour.
Bake them at 180C (350F) for about 25 minutes, until the tops of the Melon Pan just start turning brown. If you let them brown too much, the underside of the bread will burn. Transfer to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.
This recipe makes 8 medium to largish Melon Pan. Melon Pan are best eaten the day they are made. However warming them slightly before serving the next day is also fine.


This post is being Yeastspotted.
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