Monday, April 23, 2012

Khandvi deconstructed.. Chickpea flour Spaghetti & Pappardelle Pasta

Khandvi may well be my all time favorite noshing 'tiffin' tea time snack & quite possibly  because it can be pretty intimidating at first sight. a beautiful, almost impossible vision to behold, gossamer thin, jellied strips of chickpea flour & sour yogurt, tiny miniature savory Swiss rolls that delightfully wobble in your mouth before delicately disintegrating & gliding  down your throat, making way for... the next little morsel!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Tramping for Ramps..Season 2, Paneer & Peas in a creamy Ramp sauce.

 Spring... you definitely know its here when you spy these beauties in a single basket on the supermarket grocery shelf.. accompanied by a gasp inducing price tag.. ~ $12.99 /lb.. Black Truffles, they ain't, but addictive & seductive enough to compulsively  buy some each time I make a visit.
I'm referring to Ramps, that all American wild onion that peeps out from swampy shaded land all the way from the south to Canada.
The term Ramps derives from the Old English word Ramson, the term used for another wild species of onion , the European bear leek. Resembling scallions with broad green leaves, the flavor has been described somewhat as similar to " fried green onions with a dash of funky feet".

Monday, April 9, 2012

Missing the Indian Mango season. Champagne Mango Custard Tart

Of all the memories of days past that involved mangoes, two incidents stand out in stark detail. The first harks back to the mid seventies when my dad had ordered 2 'tokris' (large baskets the size of tyres) of Ratnagiri Alphonso mangoes direct from the farm.  En route home from picking them up, the bus we were traveling in, collided with another vehicle, but luckily, no one got hurt. What I still remember was the explicit relief that the mangoes were safe and did not scatter away or get damaged. Talk about priorities when you're five years old!

The second was when a group of friends from Hostel 10 at the Indian Institute of Technology decided to pick a 10 gallon sized bucket's worth of the tartest, unripe mangoes from the trees that were practically sprouting branches through our room windows. At the end of the day there was a wingful of 20 year old girls with horribly zinging sensitive teeth and about 1/2 a pound of Salt/chili powder mix, not to mention the insane amount of raw mangoes wreaking havoc on our digestive system.
What I wouldn't to relive that incident all over again!

Well, those days of juggling a schedule of choosing from about a dozen mango cultivars making their sequential entrance at the market are long gone, and these days, its a choice between either those terrible excuses of a mongrel hybrid, the fibrous, tasteless  Tommy Atkins & Hadens, or the delicious golden Champagne or Ataulfo mango, imported from Mexico.

Old habits die hard and I still can never buy just  one or two mangoes. It always HAS to be by the box. The first box disappears in about three days, but then the time lag  increases. By the time the third box arrives on the kitchen counter, it takes about a  week to get polished off, & the mangoes start shriveling up. But, the level of sugars & the creamy texture in those late stragglers make them perfect for pies & tarts.

I've always been kind of weary when dealing with baked desserts, more so when the recipe involves a separate crust. This was  my first attempt at winging the recipe taking notes about what I added as I prepared the dish. Needless to add, I'll be making this many many more times before the mango season comes to an end! The Custard is egg free and relies on the addition of cornflour to thicken the cream & mango.

Champagne mango Custard tart: (makes one 11' diameter tart)

For the Tart shell , you need:
20-25 Ginger snap biscuits
4 honey flavored graham crackers
1/2 cup Almond meal
1 stick butter (4 oz / 8 tablespoons)

Add the ginger snap cookies and the graham crackers in a food processor. Pulse for about 5 - 10 seconds and then continuously for about 2 minutes till it turns into a coarse mealy consistency. Add the Almond meal and pulse till it combines evenly with the cookie crumbs & there are no lumps of almond meal in the mixture. Transfer into a mixing bowl and using your hands, make a depression in the center.

Melt the stick of butter and pour into the 'well' of the cookie mixture. Fold in the dry mixture into the melted butter, ensuring that the butter coats the entire amount.

Using the tips of your fingers, press down the mixture over the bottom & sides of a 11' tart pan (with a removable base. Bake in a 250 F oven for about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool & chill in the refrigerator till its ready to use.

For the filling, you need:

4 Champagne Mangoes
1 cup Alphonso Mango pulp
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
1.5 tablespoon corn flour
1/3-1/2 cup sugar
10-12 strands Saffron
10 - 12 pistachio nuts for 'microplaning' over the custard.

Peel and cut the 'cheeks' of the mango. Keeping the 'cheeks' cut side down, slice thinly.

Combine the heavy cream, mango pulp, sugar, cardamom and saffron along with the cornflour. Whisk to eliminate lumps. Heat the mix on a medium low flame, until the mixture attains a thick custard like consistency, whisking all the while to ensure that the texture is smooth. Remove from heat & cool slightly.

Arrange the mango slices on  the tart shell, covering the bottom as completely as possible.

Spoon the mango custard mixture over the mango slices and grate the pistachio nuts evenly over the tart.

Bake for 20 minutes at 300 F until the mango whipped cream mixture appears set.

Allow to cool completely before placing in the refrigerator  (covered with plastic wrap) to chill.

Cut into wedges and serve as is or with a dollop of whipped cream.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Comfort Food at its best..Sago & beluga Lentil stir fry

Thursdays were considered a 'fast' day in a lot of households in my neighborhood in Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai. With that typical ignorant cynicism that only a teenager can excel at, I often used to wonder why they called it a fast if they ate such 'filling' stuff like 'sabudana' khichdi. This truly was a dish that sank like a stone down your stomach & stayed there for the next 12 hours slowly digesting. One possibly could not contemplate eating a bite more after a generous portion of this absolutely delicious comfort food.
 Well, decades later, I have still yet to figure out an answer (not really, since this is the wikipedia era and almost any answer can be found there!), some traditions are just too sacred & beyond questioning, and if the associated food is delicious, then just sit back & enjoy the food. 

Sago pearls (often referred to as tapioca pearls, although the latter is derived from the roots of the cassava plant) are manufactured from the starch extracted from the pith of the sago palm, a native of south east Asia & New Guinea.

 Sabudana (as sago is referred to in several Indian languages) Khichdi is a classic breakfast dish ( or lunch, or dinner or an in between light meal, if you're like me) from the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Its a textural & flavor treat, considering sago by it self is nothing more than a flavorful pearl of gelled up starch. The cilantro, cumin & toasted peanuts and the tang of citrussy lemon juice make this a dish to die for. The cons - sago tends to clump up thanks to its gel quality & this makes the khichdi less than appealing in terms of left overs. the trick is to introduce non gelling ingredients as 'nearest neighbor' candidates to the sago pearls. not many candidates that would fit the bill in terms of similar size.

The answer: Beluga Lentils, ( Whole Foods sells organic beluga lentils under their 365 label) at first glance, they kind of resemble black mustard seeds on steroids. they're in fact the tiniest variety of lentils (of the 'masoor' family). Jet black in color, they turn a deep glistening dark  brown when cooked (resembling beluga caviar, hence the name). They hold their shape very well when cooked. and NO, they are NOT to be confused with whole urad dal (which is related to the mung bean rather than masoor).


This gorgeous variety of lentil was the perfect addition to sago to make a  healthy protein rich version of the sabudana khichdi. (the traditional version incorporates peanuts for the purpose, but not really enough to call this a protein rich dish, it still remains carb heavy). The best part I realized, was that the presence of the lentils interspersed between the sago pearls keeps the final dish from clumping and it tastes great when re heated & served as left overs. I like to add a pinch of Goda Masala to invoke the traditional Maharashtrian flavors, but unfortunately, I did not have any more of this magic potion when testing this recipe. Had to make do with a garam masala substitute :-(

Sabudana & Beluga Lentil khichdi.

You need:

  • 1 cup  sabudana (sago) pearls
  • 1/2 cup Beluga lentils
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 5 tablespoons olive, sesame or canola oil
  • 2 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 Idaho potatoes diced
  • 1 large onion, quartered and finely sliced (I prefer the white variety for this particular recipe, although the red ones work perfectly fine as well)
  • 1/2 cup roasted, skinned & finely crushed peanuts
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced fresh ginger
  • 1 green chile finely chopped OR 1/2 a jalapeno (deseeded)
  • 1 sprig curry leaves, torn to bits
  • 1 pinch asafetida
  • Salt to taste.
  • 1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala (or Goda Masala if you have it stocked up)
  • 1/3 -1/2 cup chopped cilantro for garnishing.
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Rinse the Sago pearls in plenty of warm water to get rid of excess starch. Cover the wet pearls (drain off any excess water) and allow to 'bloom' for about 2 hours.

Bring 1/5 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Wash the Beluga lentils and add to the water. Lower heat, cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Drain the residual water & reserve about 2/3 cup of the cooked lentils. (you want an optimal blend of the black & white and equal proportion of the sago & lentils does not exactly work too well)

 Rinse and pat dry the diced potatoes . Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a non stick skillet and add the potatoes. Allow to fry to a golden color, tossing them to evenly cook. remove onto kitchen towels & sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

 In a large skillet, heat the remaining oil, when it just starts to smoke, add the cumin and allow it to sputter & split. Add the curry leaves, ginger & green chili.

Stir to combine and then add the onions. Fry the onions until they turn translucent. Add the garam masala and salt. Mix well to combine. Add the Sago and the beluga lentils along with the potatoes & crushed peanuts. stir well to disperse all the ingredients evenly. Sprinkle water generously over the mixture, lower the heat and cover. Cook for about 7-10 minutes till the flavors combine well.

Once the pearls turn into translucent beads, drizzle with the lemon juice.  Transfer the khichdi onto a serving dish, and garnish with the chopped cilantro. Serve warm.

Bon Appetit!


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