Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The 'We Knead to Bake' Project 2013 # 9- Khaliat Nahal (honeycomb bread), Mumbai street food Ishtyle

 

I had hoped to bake 12 breads -- one for each month of the year but it appears that hopes of a perfect record are moot, I missed the bread from last month - Pretzels, since I was on holiday. The good part, I got to personally deliver my excuse to Aparna Balasubramanian while on holiday in India.
The only problem with Indian holidays is that you're left with a profound longing for the delicious foods that you indulge in, long after you get back to home base, i.e, The US of A. One of the dishes I missed out on this trip was authentic Vada Pav, the kind you buy from street vendors, not in restaurants.
When the time came to bake this months bread, It didn't take long to decide what I wanted to fill it with, and tradition took a LOOONG hike into the Arabian desert! This months bread was a middle eastern classic Khaliat al Nahal ,translated as Bees Hive in Arabic for its honeycomb structure. The traditional version is a sweet one, filled with plain cream cheese & drizzled liberally with sugar syrup flavored with rose, saffron or cardamom.





And of course as usual, I tend to deliberately go the opposite direction.

This was a perfect opportunity to indulge & give in to my Vada Pav craving AND test out yet another one of Aparna's fabulous bread selections & so, here is my bread creation # 9, for the month of September. The garlic chutney that coats the vadas in each of the little honeycomb buns is entirely optional, but here's the recipe if you're interested.

Note: As intimidating as 18 servings can be, they're small 2 bite versions of the real thing, & they tend to disappear quickly. all the better since they don't taste that good, (rather stale), the next day. Finish them off the same day by sharing with friends & Family!



For the Vadas:
4 large Idaho potatoes, boiled in their skins
2 tablespoons oil for the seasoning
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 green chiles chopped coarsely
1 large clove of garlic, finely minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated fine
1 sprig curry leaves, torn into small bits
1/8 teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 teaspoon Red Chile powder
1/2 teaspoon Baking powder
1 pinch turmeric powder
Plain seltzer water as needed
2 cups oil for deep frying
Peel the potatoes & crumble. Set aside

Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a skillet. when it gets hot, add the mustard & allow it to sputter.
Add the green chiles, ginger & garlic, Saute till the garlic emanates an aroma. Add the curry leaves, stir and add the turmeric & salt. Remove from fire, mix well and add to the crumbled potatoes.

Combine the seasoning until its well distributed in the potatoes. using melon baller, scoop out potato mixture, and shape into spheres about 1 inches in diameter. Cover with a plastic wrap & refrigerate till ready to fry.

Combine the chickpea flour, baking powder,salt, turmeric & chile powder. mix with a fork to distribute the spices. Add seltzer to make a batter the consistency of pancake batter.




Heat 2 cups of oil in a cast iron pan. when it just about begins to smoke, dip the potato spheres into the batter completely coating them & drop into the hot oil. Fry till golden brown. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels.

Set aside 18 of the best looking vadas to cool down to room temperature, and feel free to gobble down the  rest!


Khaliat Nahal Vada Pav:

You need: (for the dough)


1 cup lukewarm milk
1 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 teaspoon sea salt
40gm butter, melted
2 tablespoon milk for brushing the dough
2 tablespoon white sesame seeds for sprinkling on top (optional)

 Add 2 cups of the flour, salt,  and melted butter (make sure that its been cooled down, or else you run the risk of killing off the yeast) in the bowl of your stand mixer (fitted with a dough hook). Start the machine at the lowest setting couple of times to mix well.


Combine the milk, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and keep for 5 minutes. Add this to the stand mixer bowl and knead until you have a smooth and elastic dough which is not sticky. Add as much of the remaining 1/2 cup of flour as you need to get this consistency of bread dough. I used all of 2 1/2 cups of flour for mine.
Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a well-oiled bowl, turning it to coat completely with the oil. Cover and let it rise till double in volume, for about an hour.


Turn the dough out onto your work surface. You won’t really need to flour it as the dough is quite manageable as it is. Cut it into 2 halves. With your palms, roll out each half a “rope” about 9” long. Cut each rope into 1” pieces (each piece should weigh approximately between 35 -40 gms, if you're particular about it.


Take each piece and flatten it out a little and place half a teaspoon of  garlic chutney  in the center. Place a vada in the middle of the chutney.


 Pull up the sides and wrap the dough around the filling, pinching it closed at the top. Smoothen it into a round ball. Place this in a well-greased round 9” cake tin. Repeat with the remaining 17 pieces and the filling. Arrange the filled balls of dough in concentric circles, filling the base of the cake tin.
 




Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise for about 30 to 40 minutes. Brush the tops with milk and sprinkle the sesame seeds over this.  Bake the buns at 180 C (350 F) for about 25 minutes, until they’re done and a nice golden brown on top.


Let them cool in the tin for about 5 minutes and then on a wire rack.





Serve warm with a cup of Masala Chai.

This Bread is being Yeastspotted.

Bon appetit!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Product Review: Ninja Mega Kitchen system and a recipe for Masala Dosa



 One of the biggest reasons for attending conferences is the priceless experience of meeting fellow bloggers and get an invaluable exposure to all things  culinary. This includes vendors with new products to savor and get inspiration from.

I had no complaints about whatever appliances I had for making traditional Dosa (Traditional South Indian rice & lentil crepes) batter, a sturdy tabletop stone grinder that you could add the Urad dal, turn the timer on , and 30  minutes later, come back to a container full of fluffy, batter with the consistency of whipped egg whites. The
The cons of this is the cleaning up, of the various parts, the roller, the grinding bin, the multiple trays on which the rollers need to be placed while transferring the rice & lentil batter, the invariable drips of thick batter on the counter.... you get the point, It takes quite a bit of time.

I was pleasantly surprised when the appliance company, Ninja asked me if I'd like to try any of their appliances (the Ninja team at BlogHer Food '13 were real stars in terms of the delicious food samples they made on site). I accepted their offer and picked the  Mega Kitchen system. Unlike smaller passive gadgets such as scoops & knives, Electrical appliances cannot be verified with one successful try. I had to run the machine through multiple testing sessions before I could bring myself to vouch for it (even though , the delighted cook within me was already raving about the machine to anyone who listened).



In my opinion, Dosa batter is definitely one of the toughest tasks that any kitchen blending system can be tested with. First, soaked, hydrated rice turns to the consistency of concrete when blended and this puts quite some strain on the motor. The Urad lentils have a glutinous texture and grinding this to a smooth paste is non trivial, let alone eventually whipping the batter into a light airy texture.The aerating part seems to be tackled perfectly by the design if the blender has to survive for a number of years in a traditional Indian Kitchen. (we Indians lay a lot of emphasis & importance on the durability factor).
In Ninja's blender jar, 6 blades (which can be removed for cleaning easily)  stacked up over each other ensure that the lentils & rice are pulverized with out having to go through that whirlpool motion of the conventional models that draw the ingredient down. The Ninja system packs a punch in terms of power - 1500 watts of power.


The entire system consists of a Large blender jar (which I've been regularly using for making Dosa batter), a dough & food processor attachment, and a small single serve smoothie attachment which I find perfect for grinding masalas & dry spices such as the classic Milaga Podi (pictured above).


New York Times  had published an article last year about pairing Dosas with Champagne,  and of course, I simply HAD to test it for myself. The yummy  (and pleasantly tipsy) brunch that followed the photography session verified NYTimes claim to a T, with the emphasis that it paired best with  Dosas made with Ghee instead of sesame oil (as the regular day to day breakfast menu goes). While the recipe below describes the traditional way of dosais, I opted to make miniature versions of the dosas topped with a marble sized scoop of the Masala.


Masala Dosais:
  • 1.5 cups Jasmine rice
  • 1/2 cup Spilt dehusked Urad Dal
  • 1 teaspoon Salt.
  • Melted ghee (for drizzling over the dosai) and Sesame oil (for brushing over the griddle)
  1. Rinse & soak the rice & lentils separately in plenty of water for about 2 hours (preferably overnight).
  2. Grind the rice to a thick paste in a blender. Transfer to a large container. Repeat with the lentil, taking care to add sufficient water while blending to obtain a batter which is somewhat fluffy in consistency. (like beaten egg whites). Combine the rice & the urad batters with the salt taking care to mix well using your hands (yeah , its messy, & the batter isn't even worth licking!).
  3. Cover & place in the oven with the light switched on over night. Alternatively bloom a packet of yeast in warm water and add to the batter. Allow to rest for an hour. Mix well before making the dosai.
  4. Heat a cast iron griddle. Add a teaspoon of oil & wipe it using a paper towel. When the pan gets really hot, pour about 3 oz of the batter in the center & spread it around using the rounded side of the ladle. Drizzle with 1/2 a teaspoon of sesame oil. (the batter will bubble up leaving nooks & crannies on the surface. when the lower side begins to turn golden brown carefully flip the dosai over & cook till the other side turns a similar color. Serve with your choice of chutney, or jam, or even just a dollop of yogurt.

  1. For making dosais with the potato filling, spread the batter on the griddle & drizzle with the melted ghee. (Cover with a large lid & allow the top side to steam cook.). Remove the lid, and place a scoop (ice cream scoop ) of the potato masala in the center. Using the spatula, gently roll the dosai around the filling. (Like rolling a burrito, but without tucking the sides in, I guess like a cannoli). serve with your choice of chutney, or sambhar.


Potato masala:
  • 4 large idaho potatoes, boiled & peeled
  • 1 large onion, quartered & thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
  • 1 jalapeno, deseeded & finely chopped
  • 1 sprig curry leaves
  • 2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon Turmeric powder
  1. crumble the boiled & peeled potatoes. Set aside
  2. Heat the oil in a skillet, when it just begins to smoke, add the mustard & cumin seeds & allow to sputter. Add the curry leaves and the onion. saute till the onion turns translucent.
  3. Add the crumbled potatoes, salt and turmeric powder. Sprinkle with some water, stir, lower the heat, cover & cook till the flavors combine. remove from heat, add the lime juice.



The Ninja Mega Kitchen System is available online via their website , or Amazon.com ( Ninja Mega Kitchen System - Model BL771 )  or at any retailer in the United States or Canada.

A big Thank you to the folks, especially Sarah Knutson at Ninja Kitchen Systems for the opportunity to test this appliance!

Bon Appetit!


Friday, September 20, 2013

Somewhat Rare Treats - Banana Stem Stir Fry



The banana tree  has often been described as a perfect example of being totally useful from root to fruit. (well, considering that the 'tree'  is in reality a mutant, giant grass, the description begs for quite a bit of clarification). The banana 'plant grows from fat squat entities called corms which are the actual stems of the plant, the 'trunk' in reality is the base of the leaves which are tightly layered in concentric layers. In terms of its use, other than the fruit, the inflorescence (banana flower)  is often used as a vegetable in Asian cuisine, the leaves are used for wrapping food for steaming, as disposable plates and the occasional umbrella. The fibers from the exterior part of the stems are used for textiles as well as yarn.

The core (or the heart)  used for cooking consists of the central, compressed part of the stem, the part which cannot be peeled off in layers. Its been used as a folk remedy for kidney stones and thanks to its fiber rich nature, its a great vegetable to add to your diet for weight control. (Its another story that the stems are rarely seen even in the ethnic grocery stores here in the US of A).


The prepping process is not straight forward. The instant the stem is cut, it turns brown due to oxidation. For this purpose, the diced bits need to be immediately immersed in acidulated water ( for some reason, the medium of choice is water mixed with a ladle of diluted yogurt or buttermilk).

When the stem is sliced into coins, the immature fibers that stretch out need to be removed. Don't get grossed out, these are not slimy like Okra or sticky like spider webs.


They're more like strands of delicate cotton that are pretty strong enough to lift the slice of stem.


The optimal way to extract them is to gently twist the fibers out of the stem, using your index finger and discard.


The coins are then diced and added to the acidulated water, and left for about 1/2 an hour.



The banana stem by itself does not have a particular flavor, just a delicate vegetal, grassy aroma. This make it the perfect vehicle for adding your choice of spices as per your preference. The crunch of the vegetable even after cooking gives it a textural distinction that is rather delightful.

Banana Stem Stir Fry:



You need:

 12" banana stem core.
4 cups of water (whisked in with 1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 arbol chiles broken into bits
1 teaspoon split urad dal
1 pinch Asafetida powder
1/4 teaspoon Turmeric
1 sprig fresh curry leaves, torn

1/3 cup shredded coconut
salt to taste
Coconut oil for finishing




Prep the banana stem as per the instructions listed above.
 Drain the yogurt/water mix and transfer the diced stems to a pot containing water with the turmeric added. bring to a boil and cook the stems for about 15 minutes until they're pleasantly crunchy to the bite. Drain the water and reserve the stems.
Heat the olive oil in a  wok and add the mustard seeds & the urad dal, just as the mustard begins to sputter add the broken arbol chiles and the torn curry leaves along with the asafetida.
Toss in the cooked stems, stir to combine. Add the salt and stir fry on medium heat until any residual water has completely evaporated. Stir in the shredded coconut to evenly distribute it. and transfer to a serving dish.
Drizzle with the coconut oil prior to serving.

Serve warm with rice and traditional South Indian dishes such as Sambhar & kootu.




 Bon appetit!










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