Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Luck be a 'Laadi' tonight- Artisanal Laadi Pav.

Anyone from Mumbai (the city formerly known as Bombay), with a passion for its incomparable street food will relate to the following scenario. Standing in front of a vendors cart waiting for a fresh batch of Batata vadas (garlicky potatoes enrobed in a spiced chickpea flour batter) to be fished out of a huge wok of hot oil, there is an aroma that quietly stamps itself into your memory. Rustic, yeasty and downright comforting. The stacks of  country rolls piled up 2 feet high, in the corner. These are the native 'Ladi Pav', a Portuguese contribution to this vibrant culinary scenario.

The Pav is everything that the snooty slice of white bread is not -  tough, chewy, with a tang that is halfway to sourdough. Its usually partially sliced,  soaked in melted butter when served up with Pav bhaji or Usal. Alternatively, dusted liberally with garlic chutney with a golden orb of batata vada stuffed in between.

Lets not beat around the bush, the Pav has always been looked down upon as a 'country' cousin compared to the sliced loaves. For one, it never comes packaged. instead its delivered by teenagers on bicycles. bulk packaged directly in large plastic/ canvass duffel bags Although I have no way of verifying this, Pav is probably part of a small scale 'cottage' industry, unregulated by food authorities.
There is no clear way cut way of finding out what strain of wheat the flour comes from or what leavening yeast is added or  the status of the bakery it's made in.

As much as we love our streetside Khau galli vada pav & pav bhaji, how many have ever ever viewed the pav as an artisanal bread? I'm betting the term never crossed your minds and I don't blame you, Same here. We never seem to overtly pay attention and appreciate the very nuances that that make the pav  such a favorite comfort food, Its a nameless creation from anonymous corners of the city that we would rather not know about or find out.

Last Sunday was the Superbowl and due to a mix up about what my 10 year old wanted for the big day, I ended up with a bowl of no knead  Pizza dough (Jim Lahey's recipe from the New York Times) that somehow escaped its original purpose. So there I was, faced with a request for making Pav bhaji and absolutely no rolls of bread.

Version 1.0

The day old dough did not command my full attention at all, more of a hack job, I divided it into  8 rolls and threw them into a  9 x13 baking pan and let them proof a second time. They proofed all right more like a large cookie / whoopie pie shape. disheartened I set the oven to 350 and baked until the top turned golden. The resulting rolls were rather hard, but the resultant crumb was a revelation. I seemed to have nailed the tangy unique flavor of the pav and even some of the stretchy chewy texture.
Drawback: the amount of salt specified by Mark Bittman in the recipe was too little.

Version 2.0

Lesson learned from the earlier session - Use a smaller baking tray.
Mistakes made: I divided the dough into 16 rolls, and worse, I ended up disturbing the dough by trying to further divide it 5 minutes after it went into the oven. I also set the temperature to 400 F.
Net result: the crumb was chewy all right but unevenly baked, lumpy in places where I had cut through with a dough scraper And yes,  One tablespoon salt was too much.

Version 3.0: Third time's a charm!

Artisanal Ladi Pav

You need:

  •  3 cups Bread Flour (I used Bob's Red Mill Artisan Bread flour.)
  • 1 5/8 cups warm water
  • 1 teaspoon yeast,
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon Vital Gluten* (ONLY if using all purpose flour)
  • 2-3 tablespoons buttermilk, whisked yogurt or kefir for brushing.

 Bread flour tends to be higher in gluten compared to All purpose flour, and I believe that plays a major role in the resulting texture. If you don't have access to bread flour, then add gluten to all purpose flour and sift well to combine.

Add the salt, whisk to disperse and then add in the yeast.

Pour the water in the middle of the flour, fold in using  a silicone spatula until all the water is absorbed and there is no residual patches of flour at the bottom of the bowl.

Now place the bowl in a corner of the counter at room temperature and leave it undisturbed overnight (~ 18 hours)

This is what the dough will look like the next morning. Punch down the dough (it will resemble putty, slightly sticky but rather malleable).
Grease the bottom of a 9x9 inch square baking tray and dust with flour or . As I learned from Version 1.0, the size of the pan is crucial when it comes to shaping the rolls.
Oil your palms generously and divide up the dough into 9 equal portions . Use the weighing scale for accuracy. Roll the balls of dough to a 'somewhat' smooth consistency and place them seam side down, on the baking pan.

Allow the dough to proof in a warm place (I use my oven's proof setting for the purpose) for about an hour. In the meantime preheat the oven to 450 F.

The rolls should look similar to this when they're ready to be baked. However tempting it may be , do not, I repeat DO NOT try to score the lines between the balls of dough. In bread terms, that would be like slashing a major artery in a living animal. The bread will deflate to its death,
Brush the surface with the whisked yogurt / kefir.

Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the baking. The surface should be a golden brown and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped lightly.

Place the pan on a wire rack and let the bread cool in the pan for about 15 minutes. Then, tip the bread over from the pan and cool completely before even thinking about trying to sneak a roll.
ANd when you finally get to tear into the roll, the aroma that hits your nose will make you want to turn around and search for a vada pav cart that perhaps may be hiding in plain sight.


Cut along the side (like a burger roll) slather with the best butter you have and press down the roll on a hot griddle. This melts the butter into the nooks of the crumb. Serve up with Potato Vadas or Pav Bhaji (yes, I shudder at my own suggestion of using store bought saloio rolls) .

I opted to pair this with another classic lentil curry from Maharashtra,  Usal.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Unusual Ingredients and what to do with them - Buddha's Hand Chutney powder

There's a certain condiment I always make sure I stock up on when visiting India. Its almost practically unheard of outside the Southern states and in cities like Mumbai, you get it at the South Indian provision stores. Four little ping-pong shaped spheres wrapped in cellophane and bound with two mismatched rubber-bands. Vepillakatti - an oxymoron of a term akin to pineapple (neither pine nor apple & yet its called a pineapple ?) 

Vepillakatti when translated from its native Tamil / Malayalam basically consists of two terms -'Vepillai', a.k.a Neem leaf, and 'Katti' - lump. This condiment thankfully does not involve anything remotely related to Neem. As for the lumpy part, yes its initially measured and shaped out into little spheres, which is then crumbled at the first morsel you add to your food.

The key, and I mean absolutely critical ingredient in this condiment is fresh lime leaves, preferably fresh picked off the tree so that it retains all its wonderful aromatic citrussy essential oils. And you need a LOT of it, about 7 cups packed. The closest substitute that you may or may not find readily are Kaffir lime leaves that retail for about 5.00 $ for about 10-12 measly specimens.

To be honest, I had no clue about what I was going to make with a beautiful specimen of Buddha's hand citrus I picked up from Whole foods. I'd already let one such beauty go to waste this year and at 8.00 $ each, I wasn't going to make the same mistake again. Since I had pickled this citrus before , I was just slicing up my second citrus finger when the answer  stared at me in the face, and I mean literally.

I had my stock of store bought vepillakatti sitting right there on the the counter and from that point on, there was going to be no pickle, even if it meant I had no idea how I was going to use the fruit the same away as leaves. I even stripped my precious  hibernating tree for fresh curry leaves.

I followed the basic guidelines from Ammini Ramachandran's book 'Grains , Greens and Grated coconuts, but while the flavor may be the same as the original condiment, remember, leaves and fruits are very different and I had to tweak the method considerably to arrive at a similar end product.  Last but not least, faced with a barrage of queries about how I could call it by its original name when there were no lime leaves involved, I had to even tweak the name. 'Vepeelakatti'

So, the next time you spot one of these curvy fingered citrus beauties, give in and buy it!

Buddha's hand chutney powder (Vepeelakatti)

1 large Buddha's hand citrus
8-10 red arbol chillies
12 - 15 sprigs curry leaves
Salt to taste
1 large marble sized piece of tamarind pulp
1/4 teaspoon Asafetida powder
2 +  1 tablespoon sesame oil

After thoroughly washing and drying the fruit and the curry leaves, carefully peel off the yellow zest from the citrus fruit. A little bit of the pith attached (i.e you do not have to use the same care needed to get zest for cookies and cake batter, a vegetable peeler works beautifully) ) does not affect the flavor much but please don't cut up the pith into cubes and add it to the mix.

Heat one tablespoon of the sesame oil and toast the arbol chilies until they turn color to a deeper shade of red and sprinkle the asafetida to bloom. Remove from heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.

In a food processor, combine the citrus peel, curry leaves, toasted chillies, tamarind, salt. Let the processor run and drizzle the remaining sesame oil, just enough for the ingredients to get pulverized to a coarse paste.

Spread this mixture onto a parchment paper lined over a baking tray. Dry out the mixture for about 4-5 hours in an oven heated to 200 F. (unlike the citrus leaves, the peel still contains enough moisture that may invite spoilage, and hence this is rather necessary). Once the moisture has evaporated, you will be left with chunks of the chutney as seen above. Give the chunks a spin in the food processor (not in a dry grinder, you do not want a fine powder) and sift the contents in a coarse sieve to obtain the chutney powder.

The most common way to savor this chutney is to sprinkle it over yogurt rice, but it pairs fabulously with rice and rice noodles. but I'll save it for the next post.

Bon Appetit!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Here comes the Sun. Celebrating Sankranti the Maharashtrian way.

The New Year's here and that of course means that the festive finale of the previous year comes to a grinding halt. The Christmas tree is cleared of its ornaments, the ornaments are wrapped up, and stashed back into the big storage boxes, and said storage boxes are then dragged back down to the basement to hibernate until next December.

In most households this definitely means a lull in the happy mood that prevails, the sinking feeling of nothing to celebrate until the weather warms up, and of course, the snowstorms and  bitter cold weather that inevitably marks February. And no, a corporate invented festival like Valentine's day does not count.

In Indian homes, we just get ready to celebrate the next celestial event that makes its turn, In this case, the return of the sun to the northern Hemisphere, known as 'Uttarayan' in Sanskrit. every state and community has its own way of celebrating the impending arrival of spring / hot weather (for all practical purposes, the end of anything remotely related to a cold spell). In Punjab its 'Lohri', In Tamil Nadu - Pongal, and 'Makar Sankranti' (Makar - Capricorn) in various other states.

Sesame seems to be a common ingredient of note in the culinary aspect of Sankranti. Maybe because of its high caloric value, not sure , but a number of communities make dishes involving sesame. In Maharashtra, there is a beutiful tradition where friends and family feed each other little spheres of sesame brittle with the blessing ' Til Gul Ghya aani goad goad bola' (please accept this piece of sesame brittle and may you only have sweet things to say)

The recipe is uber simple, toasted sesame seeds enrobed in a molten unrefined sugar syrup that's been heated up to the beginning of a 'hard crack' stage. flavored with cardamom & rolled while still warm into little marble like spheres. Proportions depend upon personal taste.

There's been a spate of 'til gul' posts on social media, and I guess the season has begun. there are basically two categories of the confection, one is with whole toasted sesame seeds, the end result being a hard toffee like texture. and the other with a powdered version of the toasted seeds that resembles the Middle Eastern / Turkish 'Halvah' , except that its shaped into spheres.

My 'Panfusined' version falls into the latter category. a mix of just 2 ingredients: store bought Tahini and coconut sugar. (of course cardamom to flavor and more toasted sesame seed to garnish).
When choosing Tahini, make sure you look for organic brands and take a minute to look at the ingredient list. It should consist of one ingredient - toasted hulled sesame seeds

Tahini Til gul - (Makes 24 pieces)

You need:

  • 1/2 cup powdered Jaggery or coconut sugar
  • 1 cup Organic Tahini paste
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
  • 1 - 2 tablespoons water
  • toasted sesame seeds for finishing (~ 1/4 cup)
  • 24 small baking cups placed in a mini muffin tin for setting the 'guls'

* learning from my experience as I waded through two batches of the til gul to figure out the correct proportions: Mise en place - Have the baking cups ready and set right next to you, time, tide and molten hot til gul mix don't wait for anyone!

Set the miniature baking cups into the muffin tins.

Add the water to the powdered jaggery/coconut sugar in a non stick skillet and heat until the sugar dissolves, lower the heat and test to see if the syrup reaches just beyond the soft crack stage (If a blob of the molten sugar is dropped into water, it should immediately form a hard sphere). At this point, stir in the cardamom and the Tahini and fold until the ingredients are completely combined.

Using a small cookie scoop pour a teaspoon of the mix into the baking cups. Tap the bottom of the muffin tin to smooth the surface. Sprinkle liberally with the toasted sesame seeds and press lightly to ensure that the seeds get embedded on the surface.  You need to work fast at this step, the fudge tends to set rather quickly.

Place in the refrigerator to chill for about 10 minutes. This completely sets the fudge into a firm yet yielding confection to happily share with your near and dear ones.

'Til Gul Ghya aani goad goad bola' -

Wishing everyone who celebrates a happy Sankranti, May you only have happy words to utter!

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