Thursday, August 27, 2015

Flapjacks with a side of Flavonoids - Lavender Idlies & Dosais

It never ceases to surprise me how the simplest of recipes I try on a whim get the maximum attention from my Instagram account  Panfusine Facebook page. I don't think I've ever seriously given a thought to blogging about Idlies, but  I did share the interesting trials when I  played around with using silicone Ice cube molds for steaming them. The response was fabulous, and I had 'desi' mothers from all around the world writing to tell me how their kids suddenly thought the previously 'boring & staid' idlies were 'cool' again. 

My 6 year old is in that phase when the silliest of things sets her off into peals of laughter. what started out as a discussion about carrots and the various colors they come in, she suddenly switched over to her favorite breakfast idlies and started giggling about how funny  idlies would be if I made them in the colors of the rainbow, starting with red. Her boy scout of an elder brother started  a lecture on how yucky it would be to add artificial food coloring, when the color moved eventually to violet, it hit me that I had once tried to make dosas  using purple forbidden (the results were rather dark -- literally, -- disappointing).

It turns out that  purple rice is a hand pounded rice that still retains its outer coating with all its healthy essential nutrients in addition to a healthy dose of  flavonoids & anthocyanins, the same purple compound found in blueberries. The presence of this outer coating renders it useless when used by itself in a dosa / idli batter (which relies on the amylopectin from parboiled rice to give it the gel like property that makes the steamed cake so sponge like and soft). I was prepared for some trial and error in the proportions of purple rice I should have used in the batter, but my first guess hit it right on the spot.I had perfect  idlies from a perfectly fermented batter on day 1 and gorgeous lacy dosais the next day.

It turns out that Purple rice used to be grown in South India (around the Tirunelveli/Kerala region) a couple of generations ago and was referred to as 'Mye kuru' arisi (Mye being the Tamil word for Ink)/ Unfortunately, it seems to have lost out in the race with the mongrel hybrid species that abound today. Apparently It is still cultivated on a small scale in the Eastern parts of India.
As for my supply of purple rice, Its either the Lotus Foods Brand (my first taste of this variety of rice) or the generic varieties from the local oriental grocery (much more economical).

Lavender Idlies:

You need:
2 1/2 cups parboiled 'Idli' rice (available at any Indian store, even organic varieties) 
1/2 cup purple forbidden rice
1 cup split dehusked Urad dal (Matpe beans)
1 tablespoon Fenugreek seeds

Combine the two varieties of rice, rinse well (you'll have no way of knowing if the water runs clear, because the purple color bleeds away, so rinse  away, changing the water about 3 - 4 times). submerge the rice in adequate water and allow to rest for 2 - 4 hours.

Combine the Urad and the fenugreek, rinse until the water runs clear and submerge in enough water an let the dal hydrate and plump up.
Grind the rice to a thick smooth paste in a blender. Transfer to a large container. Repeat with the Urad dal, 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!).

The rule to remember here is that the rice has to blended to a smooth consistency for  idlies, a coarse blend yields flat idlies. And the idli batter can be used to make dosas the next day, but the converse does not work.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 idli or dosai.

For directions to make idlies, please follow this link:

Idlies steamed in a Tovolo heart shaped ice cube mold

and this link for Masala dosas:

Purple rice goes way beyond just confering its gorgeous color to dishes. its ultra flavorful, and makes a kick ass candidate for creamy desserts like Payasam. you just need to be patient enough to cook it through!

A sure fire 4 ingredient rice pudding, that really doesn't even need a recipe!

 Bon appetit!

Saturday, August 1, 2015

From Spuds to Suds - A recipe for soap!

From Soup to soap, spuds to suds.. Just a few catch lines posted as a response to a photograph of home made soap I posted on my Instagram account.. Found it so appealing that I seriously started contemplating blogging about it. The decision was made when I got some fabulous feedback about the soap.

The idea of making soap crossed my mind during the time I dabbled in making Lip balm. A fellow Blogger friend, Nandita Iyer (Saffron Trail )had posted some ravishingly beautiful photographs of home made soap and it was sounded so fascinating that I immediately wanted to rush out and buy the ingredients right then and there.. Umm, not so fast - Inevitably the part about Caustic Lye and its corrosive properties followed and kind of slowed me down (actually stopped me). As a compromise I shopped for those bulk soap blocks from Michaels and tried to concoct my own 'flavors' and it was such a disappointing waste of time, money and effort. For one, those blocks have this long list of unpronounceable ingredients that immediately evokes the same disgust as reading a food label from prepackaged junk food.

And so, the idea got shelved until Caitlin Pike's tutorial on soapmaking from Food52, at which point any shred of resistance to lye dissolved (dare I say it?? like sudsy lather) and by the end of the week, I had already placed my orders for Lye, silicone soap molds, Almond oil, Shea butter (in lieu of Palm oil), as well as a base level immersion blender, Pyrex measuring cup, safety goggles and one of those supermarket bottom shelf enamel pots from the grocery store. 

Before you even begin, its absolutely essential to keep these soap making apparatus separate from anything you use in your kitchen. After you finish making a batch, rinse and keep these away in a corner out of reach and mind. Here's a list of the apparatus you need:

  • A big non reactive pot (5 quarts or more in size) - Avoid metals like aluminum and cast iron
  • A basic immersion blender (speeds up the mixing and saponification)
  • A pyrex measuring cup
  • A plastic bowl (Those take out plastic containers works well)
  • A silicone spatula
  • A knife or bench scraper for slicing
  • A spray container containing vinegar (to neutralize any lye spills)
  • Safety goggle & long rubber gloves (the ones you use for washing dishes)
  • A 9 x 5 loaf tin or silicone soap molds
  • Saran wrap or parchment paper for lining the loaf tin.
Instead of dedicating a weighing scale , I opted to wrap up my regular scale with plastic wrap prior to weighing the lye, and then carefully disposing of the plastic.

The chemical reaction is simple, The oils, aka fatty acids (also known as triglycerides) react with the lye to form a soap salt and glycerol (glycerin). In commercial soaps, much of the glycerol is extracted out, despite its moisturizing properties. Glycerin is a profitable by-product and the big industrial names are not going to waste it on moisturizing the hide of the general population!
Home made soaps tend to be uncomplicated. The moisturizing glycerin created by the saponification process stays in the soap and since the oils are known food grade ingredients you know what you're applying on your skin.

I made two batches of soap keeping the proportions from Caitlin's tutorial intact. Just played around with the proportions of the oils and the fragrances and the dried flowers added. The essential oils I had picked up from Mumbai Airport (T2) at the Forest Essentials outlet. If you get a chance do visit their store or website for some excellent High end skin care products, in particular the Madurai Jasmine range. Madurai is reputed for growing a unique strain of fragrant Sambac Jasmine that now commands its own geographical indication.

SO here goes, My first non edible recipe that smells delicious enough to eat!

Home made Soap:

Matcha & Madurai Jasmine Soap:

You need:

16 fl. oz Refined coconut oil
16 fl. oz shea butter
8 fl. oz almond oil
13 fl. oz Olive oil
19 fl. oz distilled water
201 grams Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) crystals 
1 tablespoon Japanese Matcha tea powder
15 ml Jasmine essential oil
1 cup dried jasmine blossoms crushed lightly (optional)

Lavender & Tuberose Soap.

You need:
201 grams Sodium Hydroxide (NaOH) crystals 
28 oz refined coconut oil
8 oz almond oil
17 oz Olive oil
19 oz distilled water
1 cup dried lavender blossoms
15 ml Tuberose essential oil
10 ml Rosemary essential oil (I find the rosemary accentuates the lavender very well)
15 ml Lavender essential oil

Combine the oils in the non reactive pot and heat it to about 100 F. keep the pot on a  low heat to maintain the temperature while you prepare the lye solution.
Wear the gloves and the safety goggles and an apron for good measure.
Measure out the NaOH crystals in a plastic container and the distilled water in the Pyrex container. Its preferable to do this outside on the deck or in the garage, you need a well ventilated space to mix these ingredients. 
Slowly add the NaOH to the distilled water (NEVER EVER the other way around) and stir it with the silicone spatula until it dissolves. Caution: the liquid will begin to steam (temperature of about 200 F) and emit acrid fumes so keep your nose out of the way. Let this mixture cool to about 100 F.

Assemble the other materials such as the lined loaf tin, the silicone soap molds,  the essential oils, the dried & crushed blossoms.
Plug in the immersion blender. Gently dribble the lye solution slowly into the oil (which will begin to cloud up immediately), keeping the blender running until the mixture begins to thicken up.

The mix will continue to thicken in a manner reminiscent of custard. When the mix begins to leaves a light ripple on the surface, add the dried blossoms / Matcha tea powder. 

Continue to run the immersion blender while adding these. Soon enough the mixture will turn thick enough to leave a 'trace'  (when some of the thick solution is allowed to drip across the mix. it retains a distinct pattern over the surface for a couple of seconds before vanishing.   At this point add the essential oils into the mix and blend thoroughly.

Pour (or rather scrape ) the mixture out onto the prepped loaf tin / soap molds and smoothen the surface using the spatula. Carefully place away from general household traffic ina  quiet corner of the house to cool down and set for about 24 - 36 hours.
Then remove the chunk of soap out of the mold and cut into 1 inch thick slices. place on a drying rack in an airy location and allow to 'cure' for 3 - 4 weeks until the saponification process is complete, the water from the soap has completely evaporated and the soap has mellowed.

Wrap the bars in little wax paper bags and store away or share with friends and family.
each prescribed batch yields about 22 bars.

A little shout out to Bangalore based Delara Damania, the founder of Common Oxen, an eco friendly brand that specializes in (among other things) cold process soaps like the ones I made. I got these bars as a gift from my friend Akhila Seetaraman in Bangalore. Looking forward to trying these soaps out.

 For once, I sign off without the usual 'Bon Appetit'!!


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