Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reliving old family traditons and not so new Panfusine recipes - Lehiyam truffles




Seems like like just yesterday, when I was on the phone with my cousin Uma from Ohio and this seemingly scatterbrained idea came to my head of making a 'different' set of Diwali goodies. and just as a semi tipsy individual is bound to let loose a string of nonsensical ideas, there I was, doing something similar, thanks to the giddy euphoria that only a newbie blogger can possess. 'Lavender Badam Halwa, Lehiyam, no wait, Let me make that Lehiyam truffles' shot off my motor mouthed brain,  with little thought given to whether it was even possible.. But then, those very random thoughts are the kernels of what have turned out to be some of my favorite recipes that have become a part of my annual Diwali Tradition.

Diwali is the jewel in the crown of all Indian Festivals, literally, the festival of lights, It signifies the return of Ram, the Prince of Ayodhya to claim his rightful place as king after defeating the demon King of Lanka, Ravana, who had abducted Sita, Rama's wife. Homes are scrubbed clean, (as mine was today), illuminated with Candles and strings of lights. The Goddess of wealth Lakshmi is welcomed into homes (which is why there is a tradition of gambling in Northern India, a way of winning over lady luck).

When the rest of the population was living it up at all night Diwali parties, we'd wake up @ 4.30 a.m, dutifully have the traditional oil bath, wear new clothes & march off to the temple as the first rays of the sun hit!. And upon returning with the Lords blessing, (or if you were a borderline heretic like me, 'scope out' & 'roll eyes' @ the prevailing sartorial trend amongst the faithful), tuck into a cornucopia of indulgent, decadent treats, made at home. (the store bought stuff was for those who did not have the 'culinary skills'!). 

No South Indian Tam Brahm Diwali is complete without the quintessential Lehiyam or 'Marundhu' (literally translates as medicine). A thick pasty tonic whipped up with essential spices powdered and cooked down to a paste with Jaggery (Panela) and a touch of ghee. The spices themselves are of the healing variety, Ginger, known for its tummy calming characteristics is the key ingredient. Families have their own recipes. My mother's recipe was one of the simpler ones, with just four spices, Cumin, Coriander, Pepper and its antiquated cousin, the long pepper (Thippili). 


AS much as it was meant to be an antidote for all those deep fried Diwali goodies, in reality, the Lehiyam was the first item to get polished off. Maybe because it was made in smaller quantities compared to the rest of the other goodies, the chaklies. murukku, Mixture / chivda and the sweets -  the halwas and burfees and Gulab Jamuns. These were made in industrial amounts to be shared with all the neighbors, friends & family.

My first attempt at making these lehiyam truffles was such a spot on hit, that I knew it would be a part of my Diwali traditions from that year onward. But even as it cemented its position on the cornucopia of Diwali treats, the composition gradually evolved. In 2010, I was content to pick up a bar of Ghirardelli and melt it down to dip the lehiyam, but now, 4 years later, I find myself poring over the shelves of specialty groceries to pick out chocolate with just the right percentage of cocoa. and none of that fake vanillin flavor and palm/coconut oil added. And yes, the effort is well worth it.

Here's wishing you, all my precious readers a wonderful festival of lights, and best wishes for a prosperous year ahead. May Lady Luck follow the lights at your front door and come home to roost.




Sinfully Divine Lehiyam Truffles:

You need:

For the Lehiyam:
1 tablespoon Coriander seeds1 teaspoon cumin seeds4-5 long pepper (piper longum)4-5 black peppercorns1/4 cup tender fresh ginger root, ground to a fine paste1/3 cup jaggery or sticky muscovado sugar1 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee)For the truffles:2 bar 64 % Guittard's semisweet chocolate (A full pack has 3 bars, I used 2)
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Guittards cocoa powder for dusting
crystals of sea salt  for decorating




Using a coffee grinder, make a fine powder of the coriander, cumin & the 2 varieties of pepper. Sift using a fine strainer to remove any gritty pieces of spice.


Add the spice powder to the ginger root paste & combine well. I'll emphasize the 'tender' part here. Mature ginger stems have a much sharper and stronger flavor and tend to be fibrous which does not work well with the texture needed for a truffle.

Crush the Jaggery into a powder, or into really tiny bits. (if the jaggery is soft enough, you could even grate it using a box grater). In a skillet, heat the jaggery or sugar over medium heat till it melts and forms a brown color syrup. Alternatively place in a pyrex measuring cup & 'nuke' in the microwave for ~ 30 s and then transfer into a pan. Heat it until it begins to bubble. Add the spice paste & the ghee. mix well.



Cook over low to medium heat till the moisture has evaporated & the mixture resembles a thick paste. ( the ghee begins to start oozing out of the paste). Just take care to ensure that the sugar or jaggery does not start caramelizing, which results in a toffee like consistency. Remove from stove & set aside to cool completely. Refrigerate till ready to use. (Of course ,you could just eat it all up at this point!). The 'lehiyam' keeps well for upto a month in a covered container.


Using a 1/2 tsp measuring spoon, scoop out the lehiyam and roll into smooth little marbles. Freeze to harden these.


Melt the chocolate & heavy cream in a double boiler till it forms a smooth mixture.


Keeping the chocolate mixture warm & flowing, dip the 'lehiyam' spheres into the chocolate to coat them evenly. Place on a piece of parchment paper to firm up (you could refrigerate them for about 15 minutes).

In a bowl sift in the cocoa powder, making sure that there are no lumps. 


Drop the chocolate covered lehiyam truffles into the cocoa and swirl around to coat evenly. remove and gently place into paper cups.



Place a pinch of a finishing salt on the top of the truffle, I find a  mild chili or citrus salt best complements the flavor of the ginger in the lehiyam. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days (They tend to disappear fast, so I've no long term data on their shelf life!)





Again, here's wishing every one of my readers a wonderful, prosperous year ahead.
Bon Appetit!




Friday, October 3, 2014

When Wisdom dawns, you bow to it! - The Last of the Nine nights.


I'm an ignoramus when it comes to the philosophical complexities of mythology, but the fact is that all these parables are completely applicable to social life as well as the laws of nature, provided you have the fortune of having it interpreted from various frames of reference. If not, all they will remain as, are tales to be amused by for an hour or two before dissipating from the cerebral cortex without ever having the fortune of getting registered as a memory. Even worse, if interpreted by someone with their own personal egoistic agenda, you're finished, what could have been a learning experience turns into a roiling puddle of fear that has the potential to turn into a cesspool of ignorance and hate.

And so it is with these nine days of 'Navratri'. To me it represents the spirit and valor of the feminine aspect of nature, the same force that drives a girl to defend herself tooth and nail against those who seek to strip her of her dignity, a mother who would go to any lengths to protect and nurture her offspring, a wife who willingly takes a back seat supporting her spouses career ambitions as well as those women who give it their all to 'lean in'.

As with every mission that ends in success (whether its a victory over demons, or simply a difficult Anatomy test ,  -- which was my Achilles heel, I just couldn't remember which muscle originated from / inserted into which bone, leave alone where it got its blood & nerve supply from! ), there needs to be a 'cooling off' to rest and recharge and the last day of Navratri represent just that. It is observed in Southern India as 'Saraswathy puja' where books and other 'tools of the trade' are worshiped and given a day of rest. As the saying goes.. 'Tomorrows another day', a day for new beginnings and endeavors that hopefully brings us success in whatever we're seeking.

Badam Kheer (Almond dessert soup with Saffron)

You need:

1 cup raw almonds
4 -5 cups reduced fat milk
3/4 -1 cup sugar
3 - 4 pods cardamom, seeds crushed
18 - 20 strands saffron
2 tablespoons pistachios crushed  (optional)

Blanch the almonds by dropping them in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Shock them by immersing in cold water and then proceed to squeeze out the loosened skin. Add 1/2 a cup of milk (or more, if you prefer)  to the almonds and blend them to a smooth puree. Warm up another 1/2 a cup of milk (until its acceptably warm to the finger tip) and soak the strands of saffron to release their color and flavor.


Whisk in the almond puree, the remaining milk, 3/4 cup sugar and the crushed cardamom together. In a large saucepan, heat the mixture on low heat until it begins to simmer, Add the saffron infused milk and taste it at this point to check if its sweet enough. If not add in as per your preference. If you prefer having s bit of crunchy texture, add in the crushed pistachios. They add a pleasant color contrast. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes until the pistachios have softened slightly. Ladle into glasses, or bowls or goblets or mugs and sip away!

Not sure if I should repeat the recipe for my 10th consecutive Stir fry, but here goes

Peanut Stir Fry

You need:

1 cup skinned raw peanuts
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 arbol chile, broken into 2 pieces
1 sprig curry leaves
Salt to taste,
1/4 teaspoon turmeric,
Lime juice for drizzling over


Boil the peanuts with the turmeric and salt until they soften and and have a yielding 'bite'. Drain and set aside. If you've added too much salt, rinse the peanuts and drain off the water thoroughly.
In a cast iron skillet, heat the oil (remember the peanut is oily, so cut down on the added stuff) and add the cumin, curry leaf and arbol chili pieces. Once the cumin pops and the arbol chile turns a deep reddish brown, add the peanuts and give it a good stir. Lower the heat and cover the skillet and allow the flavors to combine. Taste and adjust for seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish and add the lime juice just prior to serving. Serve warm.


Tomorrow is the day for new beginings, - Vijaya Dashami or the day of victory. Planning to serve up some Semolina pudding (Rava Kesari) and a Navy bean stir fry.







Bon Appetit!






Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Day 8 - The Penultimate stir fry


As the Festival of Navratri goes, this is the big day, the grand finale. Mythologically speaking, this was the day, the lascivious demons, Chanda, Munda & Mahishasura and the worlds first one man clone Raktabhija (from the sanskrit Rakta- blood, bija - seed. Legend has it that when each drop of his blood fell to the ground, an identical clone would rise. The goddess countered that by giving rise to Kali (the terrible one) who literally stuck her tongue out to drink every drop of Raktabija's blood before it hit the earth. Mahishasura put up quite a fight taking multiple forms before his final morph into a buffalo( Mahisha) at which point, the goddess pins him under the lion she is riding on and proceeds to eviscerate him. Who says Mythology is  dull?

The prasad (offering) that I'm posting today is an edamame sundal. Edamame, like fresh green chickpeas has a delicate buttery texture that makes it ideal for South Indian stir fries. Its unlikely that you will easily stumble upon fresh edamame, although I did see some in Union square market two weeks back selling for the price of an arm & a leg. No worries, the ones from the freezer section are perfect for this purpose.

Edamame (Green Soy beans) Sundal

You need:

1 pack (12 oz / 340 gms)  Frozen edamame, thawed
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1 serrano chile cut into 3-4 pieces
1 teaspoon finely julienned ginger root
1 sprig curry leaves, torn
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
salt to taste
2 tablespoons fresh shredded coconut
Wedges of lime for drizzling.


Heat the oil in  cast iron skillet and add the cumin once the oil begins to shimmer. when the cumin seeds 'split' add the chiles, ginger and the curry leaves and give the mixture a stir and allow the flavors to bloom. Add the edamame along with the turmeric and salt, stir to combine. Lower the heat, cover and allow to cook for ~ 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning and add the shredded coconut. Transfer to a serving dish and serve warm with wedges of lime on the side.

Tomorrow marks the last day of Navratri when all 'weapons' (euphemism that includes the tools of every trade) are laid down to be blessed by Saraswathy, the goddess of knowledge (As kids, this had to be an all time favorite day of the year when parents would not insist that we sit down to study, and in extreme cases actually dissuade us ever so gently!). So, even as I wonder if I should plonk my new set of Weck canning jars from Provisions at Food52, I'll sign off for today with a sneek peek at tomorrow's offerings.. Peanut sundal and an Almond payasam (kheer )





Bon appetit!
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