Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Mom's Lime Pickle



Don't go by how ugly this bowl looks. You are in the presence of the tastiest pickle in the world. Second tastiest actually, since my mom's mango pickle is the tops. But this lime pickle comes quite close.

You need a kilo of limes to start with. Wash them well and pat dry with a dish towel. Now spread them out on a tray to dry completely.

In the meantime, make your stuffing. First you mix the whole spices and grind them. You need a tbsp of black peppercorns, 2 tbsp cumin seeds, 4-5 pods of black cardamom and 8-10 cloves. Once these spices are ground to a fine powder, mix in 100 grams salt, 3 tbsp granulated sugar, 2 tbsp rock salt and 1 tsp ground cinnamon. Finally, add in 4 tbsp of the most critical spice - ajwain (also called carom seeds or bishop's weed).

Slit each lime into four, keeping the base intact so the pieces still stay together. Fill with as much spice stuffing as you can fit in a lime (1-2 tsp usually does it). Arrange these limes in a glass or a ceramic jar. When you have only 3 limes left, pour any spices you have left in the jar. Juice the last 3 limes and add that juice to the jar.

Now cover your jar and put it out on the porch, or any place you get direct sunlight. Leave the jar in the sun for two days, then let it be for another 8-10 days.

At the end of two weeks, the spices and the lemons mingle into a delicious pickle. My mom then puts it in the fridge where it keeps for at least 6 months.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Salad Days



I've been bad, I know. Who knows what I was thinking baking all those tarts and cheesecakes one after the other. So it's a salad today instead. What I did last night was really put together odds and ends from my fridge to make dinner. But these do happen to be my favorite salad ingredients and the whole combination worked so well that you should totally know about it.

It started with steamed corn. I put corn in a microwave safe bowl, added a little water and cooked on high for 2 minutes. With the corn done steaming and now cooling, I looked into the fridge for other ideas.

To me, a salad needs a green leaf. I do salads without greens sometimes but nothing feels as fresh as a heap of lettuce. My favorite type is the iceberg and that's the one that goes in this salad. To washed lettuce torn into bite sized pieces, I added the corn, a chopped tomato and some cubed paneer.

Then I made vinaigrette. Now my salad dressing is very different from the traditional recipes. Most people will tell you to make it with three parts oil to one part vinegar. But I just like it tangier. So I poured a tablespoon each of olive oil and white wine vinegar in a bowl. Added a large pinch of sea salt and a sprinkle of pepper, then beat everything with a fork to emulsify the dressing.

Once I'd poured the dressing onto the salad and tossed everything, I felt that the salad needed another texture, maybe a bit of crunch. So what you see scattered around on top of salad is a small bag of mixed nuts. Add it after you toss the salad with the dressing, in fact just before eating, so it keeps crunchy to the end.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Paneer Lover's Guide to Eating Out in Bombay

Paneer, India's favorite fresh cheese, gets the most prominent place in all vegetarian menus. Faced with no meat and no fish, restaurant menu designers often fill a major chunk of their vegetarian sections with paneer dishes. Which ends up dividing the diners in two camps. There are those who order paneer at every opportunity, and there are some who can't stand the sight of a paneer dish. No points for guessing which camp I belong to. Give me some well cooked paneer and I rarely ask for anything more.

From my sampling of paneer dishes through the city, here's a list of what to eat as a vegetarian:

1. The fiery Paneer Tikka Masala and its milder cousin, Paneer Makhani should be your first point of call. And no one does it better than Copper Chimney. Or go to Kareem's and order their Lahori Paneer.

2. The Paneer Pizza: After eating my way through Indianized versions of Dominos and Pizza Hut and everything paneer-like on local pizzerias, I've found a clear winner. It's the Kadhai Paneer from Pizza Hut. A Mughlai-inspired spicy tomato sauce, paneer tikka pieces and paprika - its the best combination out there.

3. Chinese Connection: Here you need to look at the outlets selling Indo-Chinese. And while paneer schezwan is a universal favorite, I will suggest you look instead at China Gate's Crispy Spinach Paneer. It's some seriously delicious sauteed paneer and babycorn, with other half of the plate covered with crackling slightly sweetish spinach.

4. You've heard me say this before, but there ain't a better way to eat paneer than the Paneer Tikka Indi Sizzler at Pop Tates (or Jugheads as it is now called).

5. Street Food: Go for Tibbs, Mumbai's favorite frankie. A large parantha stuffed with paneer curry, onions and a special frankie spice usually perks me up.

And now for a list of things you are better off avoiding. Really, hard day-old paneer annoys me a lot. But there are other ways to mess it up, so stay away from:

1. The Mughlai Mess: When at a Kebab place, order paneer tikka. Everything else that mashes up paneer with other stuff - things like galouti kebab and malai kebab - are dishes you don't want to eat. And while we're at it, stay off seafood places like Mahesh Lunch Home or hardcore kebab joints like Bade Miyan. They might have a dish or two to please vegetarians but it's not really that good.

2. Dosa Diner and Dosa Plaza both offer a paneer dosa. But the light crisp dosas and the heavy cheese filling, they just don't go together.

3. Paneer Shawarma just doesn't cut it. Specially when Maroush slowly grills the paneer. It toughens up and is best avoided.

Is your list any different. Am I missing a paneer experience - do write in.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pastry Wars: Chocolate Ganache Tart



I don't know how to get a flaky tart with shortcrust pastry. I've tried a few times already and have been less than impressed with the results. So I'm resorting to other options. Like this molten butter tart from David Lebovitz. No frozen butter, no delicate mixing - yet the crust is light and flaky.

My recipe is for a mini 3 inch tart so do go over to David's for the full recipe. Also, I always use salted butter in my baking but this is one recipe where you want to go hunt for unsalted butter (a rarity in India but essential this time round).

First off, put 30 grams butter, a tsp of canola oil (or other neutral oil), a tsp of sugar and a tbsp of water in a small saucepan. Heat on a very low flame until the butter starts of brown. Quickly dump in 1/3rd cup of flour and mix until it forms a ball. Transfer the dough to a tart mold with a removable bottom and spread it a bit with a spatula. Once the dough is cool enough to handle, pat it into the shell and press it up the sides of the tart mold. Prick the tart all over with a fork and bake in an oven preheated to 210C for around 15 minutes or until it starts to turn a golden brown.

This is a very delicate crust when warm so cool it completely in the tin, then put it in the fridge for at least an hour while you make the filling. I chose to fill my tart with a chocolate ganache.

Now there are many ways to make chocolate ganache, and there are fancy recipes that add all sorts of ingredients. But really, ganache is just cream and chocolate. Traditional recipes call for heating the cream and pouring it on top of chopped chocolate but somehow it never works for me. I also like to use a lot more cream than most people do.

So here's my way of making smooth and lite ganache. Pour 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips in a microwave bowl (I use 70% chips). Pour 1/3 cup cream on top of the chocolate. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Stir until the chocolate melts completely to get a silken ganache. This quantity is enough to fill a now-chilled tart. Once filled, put it back in the fridge and let set for a few hours before unmolding.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pastry Wars: White Chocolate Cheesecake



Pastry Wars is my quest to find the ultimate recipe for every must-have in a pastry chef's repertoire. And this is really the only cheesecake recipe you will ever need.

I picked the recipe straight from The Family Kitchen but divided it by a third to give me 5 cupcakes. The recipe has a graham cracker crust but I used butter cookies (called Good Day out here). Put 6 of them in a ziploc bag and bashed them up with a rolling pin until I had crumbs. I melted 2 tbsp butter in the microwave, poured it on the crumbs and mixed it all. Lined 5 cupcake tins with liners and pressed the crust on the base of each.

The crust went into a 180C oven to bake for 10 minutes. In the meantime, I made the cheesecake layer. First, I melted 60 grams white chocolate chips and set them aside to cool. Beat 250 grams cream cheese with an electric mixer, then added 1/3 cup sugar and a tbsp of flour. Once it was blended and with the mixer still running, added an egg. Beat that well and finally added the chocolate.

While the crust was cooling, I turned the oven up to 210C. Poured the batter over the crust and popped it in the oven. 10 minutes later, I turned to oven down to 150C and cooked the cheesecake for another 25 minutes until it looked set. Cool it completely, but no need to put it in the fridge to chill right away.

The big advantage of making individual cheesecakes is that you dont need to wait a day to eat them. There's no cutting involved so go ahead and eat one right away. But save some for later; they do taste better after 24 hours.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The End is Nigh



No doomsday prediction this. But I start getting into a panic mode as the strawberry season draws to an end. Except for two weeks of overpriced blueberries, this is the only berry we get in India. And they go away before it's strawberry season elsewhere in world. In June, when bloggers in Europe and US put up their gorgeous strawberry creations, I have no color to top up my desserts.

Then two years back, other bloggers told me to try freezing strawberries. Which is what I am doing this weekend. Washing, hulling and prepping the red berries for their stay in the freezer. I freeze them two ways - sliced and pureed. I froze whole strawberries too last year, but they turn to a mush by the time they defrost so I ditched that version this year.

First off, I divided my strawberries into the perfect and not-so-perfect heaps. The not perfect heaps were washed thoroughly, then hulled and pureed in a blender. I put them in ice cube trays so I can take out as much puree as I need later.

The perfect ones go for the sliced version. Hull and thinly slice the strawberries. Then arrange them in a single layer in a large airtight container. Once this layer freezes, I cover them with parchment and add another layer. Right now, I have four layers in the freezer and this seems enough to top all cheesecakes and tarts I might want to bake in the next few months!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tender at the Bone

A few months back, our book club read the story of Ruth Reichl as the food critic of NY Times. In what's certainly one of the most influential food writing jobs in the world, Ruth set a benchmark for reviews that were insightful yet hugely entertaining. Even when reviewing that 100th burger joint, Ruth's personality would clearly shine through.

This month, the book club is reading another book by Ruth Reichl. And this one tells you how Ruth got to be what she is. Tender at the Bone starts from Ruth's school years. She comes from a family of story tellers. And everyone at her home from her manic-depressive mother to her three grandmothers (yes, three - you go figure!) seems to love food. Even though her over enthusiastic mother could have killed you with her moldy food.

Tender at the Bone then goes on to chronicle Ruth's school years, her time in Europe, her first job in a restaurant, and her writing assignments. Family, friends and lovers - everyone in Ruth's life comes with a distinct personality; every event seems to propel herself a bit more towards her love of good food and good writing.

While the book is enjoyable in itself, the recipes Ruth scatters all through it makes it extra special. I did try one of them, I promise! The recipe I chose was her fail proof brownies. But like all my past attempt at brownies, I ended up with a not-perfect batch. Delicious, but super extra fudgy. I think the brownies don't like me. But never mind, this book is compensation enough. Read it even if you are not a foodie. Ruth's eccentric life will charm you into becoming one.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Arusuvai : The Friendship Chain

I started my blog as a way to store my recipes. At that time, three years ago, I had no idea I was entering a close knit community of food bloggers. One of the first comments on my blog was from Srivalli. She asked me if I was blogging from India and if yes, whether I wanted to become a part of Arusuvai Friendship Chain. Of course I did! Who wouldn't like receiving a secret ingredient from another blogger and spend a happy afternoon guessing what it was. From there on, you cook something with that ingredient, post the recipe and send something to another blogger. And so goes the chain. Except they stopped it before it was my turn.

Looks like I wasn't the only one who thought it was a great idea. Sayantani restarted the Arusuvai chain in November. Four months later, the chain has reached Bombay Foodie. My link to the chain is Shalini. With her secret ingredient came a lovely hand written note and a cook book. Curious to know what Shalini sent?

It was dried ginger root. I was excited because I almost never cook with ginger and although I bookmark these recipes all the time, I've not managed to bake with ginger even once. The first thing that came to my mind was gingersnaps. Sugar encrusted, spicy sweet cookies - gingersnaps it is!



The recipe originally came from joy of baking. But I've managed to change it beyond recognition. First, I didn't have any molasses. I went through the options (maple syrup, corn syrup, honey) but then made my own molasses by stirring 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar into an equal quantity of warm water. And I did away with eggs, entirely! This is also 1/4th of the original recipe, in case the measurements all sound a little weird.

So what you do is let 40 grams of salted butter soften at room temperature. Add 1/4 cup or 55 grams of sugar - the recipe calls for half white, half dark but I used all white caster sugar. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add 2 tbsp of molasses and beat well to mix it in. In a separate bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup flour, 1/8th tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground ginger and a pinch of ground cloves. Add to the butter mixture, mix well and chill for half an hour.

In the meantime, heat your oven to 180C and line a baking sheet with parchment. Take a one inch ball of dough, dip it in caster sugar and place on the baking sheet. Flatten slightly. Place next cookie at some distance as they expand quite a lot. I think I might have made bigger cookies too as I got eight out of this dough rather than an even dozen.

I baked these for around 18 minutes, but the recipe calls for 12-15 minutes so just go by how they look. You want the top of the cookies to be firm when you take them out, and you should bake them a little longer if you like these to be crisp like I do.

Thanks Shalini for a great treat! My secret ingredients will soon make their way to Santosh and Nithya. And so the friendship chain continues!