Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Berries from the East and the West...in a Gelato !!

"I doubt whether the world holds for any one a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice-cream."

My last post was about my favourite summer fruit, which is nothing short of indulgence.
However not all fruits of this season are to be blamed to go straight to the hips. One such is the Indian Blackberry or Jaamun/Jaam as we call it here.
Although there is a riot of colours at the vendors’ cart, you can’t help but notice this raging crimson-purple oblong shaped berry.

Jamun (Sygium cumini L) also known as Myrtus cumini and Eugenia jambolanum is classified as a minor fruit since most of the trees have been planted accidentally by the ancestors of farmers, who are now happy to find a tree or two on their plots of land. They were grown mainly for shade along roads and highways and in coffee estates to provide shelter for the coffee plants. Cultivation has not been actively encouraged by the government and plantations do not exist. Sigh!

You can read more about the fruit here and here.

I remember my mother using this fruit to make red vinegar and soaking up baby onions in it for a week or two. Those onions then blushed in all their bright hue and decorated any platter with their mere presence (especially with a chicken dish). Ofcourse the tangy oniony taste was the talk of the meal !

Though indigenous to India, these fruits will remind you of the astringency of a good Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (Italian red wine). The same inadvertent ‘ch-tack’ and pursing of the lips after a sip (in this case ‘bite’) is inevitable. You develop a taste for it as with all good things. :)

The harvesting season lasts from the end of March to the beginning of June so, while they were still to be seen , I picked up quite a few to eat…I love nibbling in between meals and what better way than to pop these fruits (coated with some sea-salt) in my mouth and roll away, sucking the sweet-tart juice.
After eating quite a few; the insides of my mouth all purple black and when my tongue refused to take any more astringency of the fruit I decided to make something different out of it.
Thought …thought….and thought till it hit me why not use them (whatever little was left...chuckle!) along with some preserved blue berries to make a Gelato.

What a feast of colour it was right through the process! Talking about colour, I just wanted to share that purple coloured foods are full of antioxidants that prevent and some times reverse the ageing process. So ladies what are you waiting for…the elixir of youth lies in your own kitchen!

There is also a popular short story which features this fruit, and is related to kids during their primary schooling years, about a monkey and a crocodile. We once did a play to the effect, with some children of an orphanage. If interested you can find it here.

Blue berry and Indian Black berry Gelato-

approx. 30 gms of firm Jamun/Indian blackberries
1 cup granulated sugar (adjust sugar according to tartness of jamuns)
4 tbsp dried blueberries, (soaked in two tbsp of warm milk for five minutes)
1/2 lt. skimmed milk
1 tin condensed milk (400 gm)
1 1/4 tsp of strawberry/vanilla extract (your choice)
1 cup whipping cream (25% fat)

Clean the tart berries by washing them under running tap water.
In a heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat the berries with the sugar, till they become soft and pulpy.Mash and strain, thus removing all the seeds.Set aside.
At this point I would like to mention that the berries I used here were not very ripe, still very tart and I used a very small amount (since it was a tester) so I could not get the colour. But if using ripe berries/jamuns, you will get a lovely crimson hued pulp.
In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the milk. Mix in the condensed milk and stir continuously to avoid forming lumps. Bring to a boil.
Let cool. Add the whipping cream, extract and jamun pulp. Blend in a food processor.
Pour in a tin/tupperware container and freeze. After an hour, take out the half-set mixture and whip at medium speed. Add the soaked blue berries now.
Pour in ice-cream container and freeze, preferably overnight.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cardamom Laced Mango-Strawberry Heart Chiffon Cakes (Eggless)

"A compromise is the art of 'dividing a cake' in such a way that everyone believes that he has got the biggest piece."

Well that was something I did not have to bother with. Why? 'Cause I already had divided the cake into individual serve-size pieces. Smart me! ;p

If you ever visit me this time of the year (especially in these last couple of weeks) a whiff of an intoxicating perfume will hit you as you enter the door (and make you forget all your manners) while you helplessly follow it to the room where those juicy deep coloured yellow goblets lie on a ruck sack waiting to ripen to be devoured. Ahhh! yes the Alphonsos are the culprit.

There is an over haul of mangoes in my house. They always lure me into buying them as they longingly look at me in all their golden glory, from the vendor's cart. It would require a heart of stone for anyone to ignore this luscious stone fruit. I cannot help having atleast two in a day...I am smitten. But then its only in summers that I get to eat ( and sometimes drink) this fruit, fit for the kings. My weak resolve has lead to my diet being shown the door. Alas!

This mango cake was made in an effort to 'spread' the calories....(chuckle).
We were visiting a neighbour-cum-family friend of ours after a long time so I made these pretty little hearts to share with them.

This mango cake is elegant and light with a hint of cardamom giving it a rich aroma. The lite strawberry chantilly(frosting) and the sandwhiched jam just give it another dimension and depth in flavour. Being eggless and sans butter, its low fat and can be had as afternoon snack/hi-tea too.

While I was at it, I realized just how much treasure we have in the tropics in terms of fruits, and just how much we ignore it and try to kill ourselves scouting for fruits of the temperate regions to recreate all those gorgeous tarts, tortes, pies when we have perfectly valid and delicious substitutes growing in our own backyard! I understand that 'traditionally' a blueberry pie cannot be made into a guava pie...however I see no harm in giving it a shot.

There’s a fine line between tradition and caricature and I see no reason why a banana brownie can’t be transformed into a dragon fruit one, or why a strawberry cake can’t become a persimmon cake. Take a moment to rediscover the tropical fruits and vegetables you have on hand and you may be surprised at how much more they have to offer. Go local !!

Cardamom Laced Mango-Strawberry Heart Chiffon Cakes (Eggless)
For the mango cake:
1/2 cup semolina ( fine variety )
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp corn flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups ripe mango pulp (I used fresh pulp from three medium sized alphonso mangoes)
3/4 cup condensed milk
1/2 cup luke warm low-fat milk
3-4 tbsp canola oil/any odourless oil
1 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 cup powdered sugar (adjust according to ripeness of mangoes, mine were really ripe/sweet)

For the jam: See here.
For the strawberry chantilly frosting: Read the strawberry whipped cream recipe.

Pre heat your oven to 180 degrees C.
Seive the dry ingredients twice (except semolina and sugar).
In a large bowl, beat the condensed milk, warm milk, oil and sugar till the mixture is creamy and pale. Add the cardamom powder and mango pulp and beat again for a minute on low.
Now add the wet ingredients to the dry, slowly incorporating all the liquid mix. Take care not to lose the trapped air in the batter.

Tip: Always mix a cake batter ever so slightly, like forming the digit '8' with your spoon.

Pour into 6" round greased & lined cake tin. Consecutively you can bake in individual moulds of your choice. Bake at 170 degrees C for 15 minutes.
Cool on rack for about an hour or so, to let the mango flavour heighten.
Slice the individual cakes and layer with the strawberry jam. Frost lightly with the strawberry chantilly. Sprinkle decorations if desired.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Minty Green Apple Granita

"snow gives the most delicate flavor to creams, but ice is the most powerful congealer and lasts longer."
-Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third President of the United States.

At summer's height, few people crave heavy desserts, but dinner guests always enjoy something fresh and seasonal. Simple granitas, frozen desserts with an appealing icy texture and crunch, fill the bill.

The Chinese had discovered how to conserve naturally formed winter ice for summer use by building icehouses, which were kept cool by evaporation. The harvesting and storage of ice are recorded in a poem of circa 1100 B.C. in the Shih Ching, the famous collection of Food Canons.

However the granita—the precursor to ice-cream was introduced to the world by Italy. When Marco Polo returned to Venice, from China he brought with him ‘ice’; which the able Italian chefs later made into frozen desserts like granita.

Granita is a frozen dessert made with water and a syrup base, much like sorbet. It is popular in Italy, and closely associated with Sicily in particular. In Italy, granita may be served at breakfast, with Italian brioche, or at any other time of the day.

Like many other frozen desserts, granita is probably related to sherbet, a Middle Eastern drink made with syrup, water, and ice. According to legends, granita was invented accidentally by a sherbet seller who left her wares on ice too long, causing the sherbet to turn into a block of highly granular ice.

It should not, however, be confused with shaved ice. Shaved ice is made by drizzling syrup or a flavoring over a dish of ice which has been shaved from a block. When making granita, the flavoring is mixed into the ice, and even when it is shaved, granita has a crackling crystalline structure which is quite distinctive in the mouth.

I have been making this simple ‘drink’ dessert for a long time now using seasonal fruits. I have tried several versions with coffee, lemon, blood oranges etc. Imagination is your limit to the different flavours you can incorporate in your granita.

Here is one of my all time favourite— Green Apple Granita. Generally this granita contains a dark,apple flavoured brandy like Calvados. However, I made it without any alcohol. Just added a dash of flavoured soda instead, while serving.

Minty Green Apple Granita
½ cup water
1 cup sugar
¾ cup unsweetened apple juice
2 tart green apples
2 tsp lemon juice
a dash of flavoured soda (optional)
a sprig of mint,bruised

Peel, seed and slice apples. Place in a heavy saucepan with the apple juice, water and sugar. (I left some apple skin on, just for added crunch.)
Cover and cook over moderate heat until very tender (about 15minutes).
Process the apple mixture in a food processor and stir in lemon juice. Cool.
Add the bruised mint leaves.

Pour mixture into 13 x 9 in. baking pan and place in freezer.
Every twenty minutes, take the pan out and scrape the frozen mixture with a fork until all the frozen pieces are broken into small shavings and mixed well with the remaining liquid. Continue to freeze. Scrape every twenty minutes until no more liquid is in the granita.
Serve it in chilled glasses with a straw and a dash of lemon soda.
Drink your dessert!! :p

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

"To cook or not to cook".....with Sushi.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a girl who always had avoided her mother’s constant calls to help her in the kitchen. The girl would make it a point that she had her hands full so that she could skip entering the kitchen. (Although sometimes her mother was successful in pulling the reluctant soul into cooking; she will only later realize how helpful those sessions were.)
Now this girl of ours, hated the idea of standing in the kitchen for hours at length and cooking.
Our “i-hate-cooking” girl ended up falling in love with a guy, well traveled and ironically a food-lover, who appreciated the nuances of all cuisines.

So when she moved in with him after wedlock, she had to cook. No avoiding then…she loved her man, and wanted to please him by cooking for him.
Then began her calls to her mom to ask for recipes.
Here I would want to mention that although the girl said she hated cooking, she inevitably collected recipes of delicacies she liked. Loved cutlery, gourmet presentations, street food and was an avid food lover herself.

She only later realized that it wasn’t cooking she hated, but the idea of being monitored in the kitchen (her mom was too scared to let the poor girl alone in the kitchen, for something might go wrong…moms will be moms!)

Back to our protagonist, so she learned recipes from her mom and at times innovated upon a traditional dish. Read cookbooks alongwith her dose of fictional ones. She also loved following recipes on the web. Google searched for a particular recipe.
She enjoyed reading the write-ups preceding the recipe in question. Without realizing she fell in love with the blogosphere.

On one such occasion she was marveling at the pictures of a dish on a blog, when it struck her why doesn’t she keep a pictorial library of all the dishes she loves cooking. (mind you “loves cooking”)
Yes, with all the praises showered on her for her culinary skills at her in-laws place she beamed with confidence.

She was toying with this idea when one fine day while watching Travel & Living she stumbled upon a Sushi recipe.
Now she had tried sushi once only but loved it, more so as it was healthy and the dish was rather ‘cute looking’.

Anxiously she tried the recipe, while she was alone(just in case if it was a failure..none would know).
She made Sushi for the first time.
Excitedly clicked it. Proud that she didn’t have a sushi mat yet the rolls turned out perfect. She tasted one slice…and she was impressed with herself and secretly blessed the TV show.
Her husband too loved it and kissed her hands. He suggested she should start cataloguing her recipes with pictures for keepsake.

She almost instantly thought of “blogging”.

That was October of 2008 in Hong Kong. And the ‘girl’ as you must have guessed is none other than me. The dish I am to post today is the first ever to be clicked, with the idea of posting it on the web so that I could share my story with the world.
The birth of “Zaayeka”.

Although it was the first dish that led me to blogging …I only post it today, after about seven months. The picture may not be too great as the novice me made the dish in the evening and was way too excited at the outcome to have the patience of plating and clicking it. :)

Here is the crucial recipe …the reason behind Zaayeka.

Nori Maki-
1 cup cooked sticky or Thai short/medium grained rice (mktd as: Koshihikari rice/sushi rice)
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sugar
salt to taste
Nori wrappers- 4 nos.
a bowl of rice vinegar/water (for rinsing your fingers)
** The special rice and nori wrappers can be found at any of the asian groceries.

Filling I used-
(can be anything of your choice, vegetarian/vegan/chicken/fish etc...get imaginative!)

cooked omelette cut into long strips
carrots, cut into long strips
cucumber, cut into long strips
green bell pepper, cut into long strips
crab sticks/immitation crab meat
strips of shittake mushrooms cooked in teriyaki sauce
(or any sauce of your choice,I used teriyaki for its slight sweetness and to give body to the sushi)

First mix the rice vinegar, sugar and salt together.
In a wooden/ceramic bowl place the cooked rice while its still hot and using a wooden spoon,mix in the vinegar solution. Do this in a 'cutting' fashion, this is done so that your rice grains do not break. In other words mix the vinegar solution into the rice carefully.

On a flat surface/kitchen counter, place your bamboo mat. I used a thick zip lock bag which I slit open. The idea is that the mat/zip lock should be able to give enough support to the nori/sea weed wrappers, while rolling the sushi.
Atop the mat/plastic, place the nori/sea weed wrappers.

Wet your hands with water/rice vinegar, so that the rice doesn't stick to your fingers.
Now using your fingers, slightly spread the rice evenly all over the Nori wrappers. Take care not to press the rice so as to mish-mash it.
Leave a margin on one of the long ends of the nori (the farther end from you), for sealing the roll. Just like you would seal an envelope.

Place the fillings of your choice on the spread rice, in one single row (on the end that is closer to you). Using your fingers, smear the 'blank' margin on the nori with some water/rice vinegar.
Now, carefully lift the mat/zip lock alongwith the nori, and roll firmly. Remove the mat and you should have a sealed sushi roll.
Slice it and serve with wasabi/soy dipping sauce. We just ate it plain. ;p

** I understand that it may help if you actually 'saw' the rolling of sushi , so you can watch this video.

I enjoyed my sushi thoroughly. It had the little spicy sweetness of teriyaki, the myriad textures of the various veggies, the smoothness of the crab meat and mushrooms, coupled with the tang of the vinegared rice. A truly satiating experience---both visually and on the taste front.

Hope you can now avoid the long queues outside popular sushi bars and make your very own anytime at home. :)
Do let me know if you have any questions/ about your sushi endeavours!