Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Dahi Baingan - Aubergine Cooked in Yoghurt / Lemon Rice / Fried Spiced Bhindi (Okra)

Last weekend, Jamie Oliver threw his voice behind 'Meat Free Week', a campaign that is being launched in the UK, after its launch in Australia in 2013. Meat Free Week is an online campaign to not only make people think about the amount of meat they consume and the importance of a balanced diet. But, it also compels us to think about the origin of all the meat, including processed meat, we consume and its impact on the welfare of the animals and this planet. To cater to the enormous demand for meat around the world, a large part of the meat we consume is factory farmed and factory farming is the number one cause for animal cruelty in the world today.
So, this is not a debate about vegetarianism but a platform to educate ourselves and make ourselves aware and make informed choices about the origins of the meat we eat. Just as we should be informed and aware of where our vegetables, our fruits, our grain and our dairy products come from. That's something to think about!!

Coming back to today's post, if there is one cuisine that celebrates its vegetables, it has to be Indian cuisine. For the sheer variety of vegetables available in the market to the diversity of ways of cooking them, it is very easy to go without meat in India. Moreover, with Summer here, I, anyhow have a personal preference for less meat.
In this weather, I, like many other Indians, can't help but lean on yoghurt as a way to cool the system to take on the rising temps. So, I made 'dahi baingan', a dish from eastern India that cooks aubergine in a simple, yoghurt curry. The curry is light and creamy while being light on spice with a tinge of sweetness. As you can see, in this weather, I also prefer less spice.
I paired it with lemon rice where the rice is flavoured with curry leaves, some whole spices, lentils and lemon, of course. It does have some whole red chillies but more to add to the flavour profile, not so much for spice. It works well with creamy curries from down South. So, I saw no reason why it could not be paired with the 'dahi baingan' and I was right.
This is all about flavour that is subtle and light on the palate, perfect for the weather in mind. I added some okra fries in the mix and that is purely as an indulgence and to tease the palate with some crunch and spice.
Fried vegetables as an accompaniment is a weakness of mine that I have inherited from my mother's side of the family. The food from Odisha is light on spices and the emphasis is on the letting the taste of the produce shine through. Their one indulgence, amongst many, is to fry different vegetables as an irresistible accompaniment to the meal. Potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, pumpkin flowers and any other vegetable that can be fried usually makes it to the table and they are so addictive that they compel you to throw all caution when it comes to portion size. As for these, okra fries, make them once and you will know what a good thing you are onto!!
Each of these three components can be had together or made on their own and paired with different components. Pair the lemon rice with a coconut based curry or the dahi baingan with some plain rice and dal or even meat. As for the okra fries, I'll suggest that you can even serve them as a bar snack!!
I'll sign off saying that there is a great need for all of us to educate ourselves on where our food is being sourced from so that we can make informed choices that are kinder on the world we live in.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Sacher Torte

If there is one movie I were to remember fondly from my childhood, it would have to be 'The Sound of Music'. I knew every scene, every dialogue and the best part of the movie, every song. Undeniably, the songs made this movie. As a little girl, I sang along with "Do Re Mi", yodelled unsuccessfully with "The Lonely Goatherd" and was completely captivated with Julie Andrews when she sang about her "Favourite Things". With an overly simplistic understanding of the world that is a child's prerogative, one was smitten by Maria, ambivalent towards the Colonel and absolutely detested the horrid Baroness.
And then one grew up. You observed the subtle nuances of the plot and appreciated what a good looking man Christopher Plummer was. Remember the scene at the Church where as a groom, he waits for his bride at the altar?! One would also understand the political milieu in which the movie was set and that would make the Colonel's soulful rendition of 'Edelweiss' towards the end, particularly poignant and memorable!

Lady Gaga's tribute to the movie at this year's Oscars would remind us that this month would mark fifty years since its release in 1965!!
Well, if lady Gaga can sing, I can bake! Never a better time to bake a Sacher Torte, Austria's most famous cake!
There are more than a couple of recipes on the Web. I relied on the ever dependable Mary Berry's version. There are three components to the Sacher Torte - the cake, the apricot jam that is used to glaze it and then the glossy chocolate glaze to finish it all of.
There is nothing complicated about any of it but do get your mise-en-place done. It just makes it all that much easier to get through all the steps.
As there is no baking powder used, this is a dense, chocolate cake, on the drier side. Despite being generous with the apricot jam and slathering it all over, the taste of it didn't really come through. Maybe, it would have helped to layer the cake in half and fill it with jam to accentuate the taste of the apricot jam.
But, if you ask me, the main component is that chocolate glaze. On its own, the cake layer does not impress out of the ordinary. It needs the chocolate glaze to correct all it lacks and make the Sacher Torte the delightful tea time treat it claims to be!! Although, the humidity did play a bit of a spoiler with the gloss, it was delightful all the same.
You might serve it with a dollop of whipped cream but for me, a cup of coffee was perfect to wash it down.
So, what do you remember most of the movie?? Have a great week ahead!!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Coq Au Vin

Just as I was getting ready to launch my annual rant on the Summers, the rain Gods obliged. Some unseasonal showers, the temperatures dipped and the world was set right again!
With my new found enthusiasm for savoury, dinner posts, I thought I make use of the good weather. I discovered this beautiful, rustic French stew, Coq au Vin, over the Winter. Made it on a particularly cold night and we were completely captivated with it and I rued the fact that I never managed any photos to make a post out of it. So, I thought I'd make it again and sneak a post because let's face it, we can't stave off Summer for much longer.
It is a stew where the chicken is braised in red wine with bacon, carrots, mushrooms and some herbs and garlic. They say every home in France has their own coq au vin recipe. I used this recipe by the 'Barefoot Contessa', Ina Garten. It is a very forgiving recipe and use the recipe as a broad guideline, varying the ingredients as per your preference.
Over the slow braise, all the flavours meld together to create a beautiful, hearty, rustic stew. The wine envelops the entire stew with a beautiful dark, sensuous hue although, you can't really discern the alcohol. Rather, it adds a certain complexity and richness to the stew.
I served it with some simple mashed potatoes, perfect to mop up all the gravy.  
Out here in India, these are the last few days of tolerable weather but for all those for whom Winter is not showing any signs of ending, I can't think of a better recipe for a cosy dinner!
Hope you had a lovely weekend!!

Friday, 6 March 2015

Shrikhand - Sweet Saffron and Cardamom Yoghurt

The different flowers of my mother's garden, each have their own story to tell. At the height of summer, the mogra, jasmine, 'raat ki rani' and frangipane flowers are in full bloom. Their sweet scent infusing the Summer evenings, providing that much needed succour. You know the monsoon is receding when the flowers of the 'harsingar' trees carpet the ground every morning. And in good time, as they are extensively used during the festive season of Navratri that coincides around the same time. The roses make the first of their bi-annual appearance to signal the onset of Winter. The red hibiscus flowers through the year, used for her daily puja.
And then there's Holi!! This is when all the seasonal flowers she has planted at the onset of Winter are now in full bloom, all in their myriad of colours. Some like the calendula, the phlox and the hollyhock are exotic to the Indian soil. And then there are  the marigolds, the roses and the hibiscus, native to India. Dried and then ground into a fine dust, these flowers provide the perfect palette of natural colours to play Holi with!!
It points to a symbiotic relationship between our festivals and nature and how over time, we have lost touch with it. It is time we look more closely to rediscover this connect with nature. So, I hope you used natural, herbal colours, devoid of chemicals, when you played Holi today!! It is a small step to a more sustainable planet!
And what's Holi without something sweet. I kept it simple today and made some Shrikhand. For those not familiar with it, it is similar to the Middle eastern labneh.
Incredibly easy to make. Once you have let the yoghurt drain through the night, it takes barely a few minutes to put together. I will insist that you use full fat yoghurt. It helps immensely with the final result. I have flavoured these with classic Indian flavours, saffron and cardamom.
I have always bought Shrikhand shop bought. But all that changed with the one time I made Shrikhand at home. It was fresher, creamier, lighter and best of all, did not leave a cloyingly sweet aftertaste. I urge you to make it at home once. Pretty sure you will be converted like me!
Holi is all about colours and may your days be filled with the most beautiful that life has to offer! Happy Holi!!

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Mushroom Quiches / Apple And Potato Salad With Garlic Vinaigrette

I keep saying that I want to do more savoury dishes on this blog. And it's not like I have not been trying my hand at different stuff. I have and with reasonable success, if I might add. My problem comes with the photography. More often than not, I try something new for dinner and by the time, the dishes are ready, all trace of natural light is gone. With the best of natural light, I struggle with my photography, so you can well imagine that my nascent photography skills are virtually non-existent when it comes to shooting at night.
And because of that, I have lost out on so many interesting and surprisingly easy, savoury posts. Since my photography skills are a long way off, I thought I'd just take the bull by its horn. So, here's the plan. I'll put up the savoury posts, you'll excuse the dodgy photography with even dodgier lighting, with the hope and prayer that somewhere down the line I get the hang of it. Till then, we promise not to judge each other!! Deal!
For all the theatrics, I did manage a few rays of natural light for this post but it didn't seem to help the photographs!! Indulge me, once again!!
So, for today's dinner, we have mushroom quiches and to go along with it, a simple apple and potato salad with a garlic vinaigrette.
The issue with a quiche for a week night is always the pastry. Make it ahead like I did over the weekend and then the quiche hardly takes any time. I roasted the mushrooms before making the filling as that helps release the juices in advance rather than when the quiche is being baked. Else, you will land up with soggy pastry and that's no fun! I have gone with smaller tartlets but you can make it as one big quiche
The salad is made with vegetables that you will almost always find in your kitchen. The garlic vinaigrette is a favourite here at home and if you are fond of garlic, I think you'll approve too!
The pastry, a regular on the blog, was beautifully flaky and the filling was creamy, herby and mushroomy. A lot of my friends do not necessarily like the overtly eggy flavour in quiches. None of that over here. I have used only one egg and been very generous with the filling.
The salad is the perfect accompaniment to these quiches. It is fresh and light and a beautiful counter to the quiche. To be fair to the quiches, they were not heavy and claggy at all but the salad does help freshen up things. The garlic vinaigrette provides the necessary zing that my Indian palate will always appreciate. As summer approaches, the salad would make a delightful meal all by itself.

What's cooking for dinner in your kitchen??

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Dark Chocolate And Fig Biscuits

If you enjoy reading as much as I do, you will most likely identify with what I have to say. I buy new books at a much faster rate than I finish reading the books I already have. When I hear about a book or read a good review or listen to an author talk about their work or spend an hour or two at the bookshop, invariably I'd pick up a book or two. And for some reason, if I don't get the time to catch up with my reading, the pile of unread books just grows.
With the elections last year, much of my reading was political and non-fiction. So, at the beginning of the year, when I took stock of my books, I realised that pile of fiction had really, really grown. A few of my favourite authors from Kazuo Ishiguro to Alex Rutherford to Amitav Ghosh are releasing their new books this year. It makes sense that I should tackle some of my unread books before I buy any more new books. It's a different matter that the day after I made the resolution, I spent an hour at the book store and picked up two new books. I need help! Tell me, I am not the only one guilty of this??
And these biscuits are perfect to have nearby when you curl up with a good book on a lazy afternoon. Nothing extraordinary about them but there are comforting and cosy as only biscuits baked at home can be.
These are flavoured with dark chocolate chunks and chopped dried figs. I have used demerara sugar because I want to increasingly use raw and demerara sugar for my regular home baking. I rather leave the refined, white stuff for special occasions. For anyone in India wondering, FabIndia sells both raw and demerara sugar that can be used for baking.
The biscuits are just how I like them. Not too crunchy nor too soft and not too sweet. If you like, use any other dried fruit of your choice but don't let go of the dark chocolate. It's always nice to encounter a chunk of dark chocolate in your biscuit.
The biscuits taste better the next day and hold up very well for a week. I am sure you will enjoy them.
I have just started reading Richard Flanagan's 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'. It got itself recommended after it won the Booker. It's still early days to pass an opinion on the book. What's been occupying your bed side table these days??

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Eton Mess

And the cricket World Cup has begun! You have to be Indian to understand the passion and emotion the game brings out amongst us. Everything pales into insignificance when India is playing. Roads empty out, meetings are planned according to the game schedule, business news channels give way to sports channels and work.. well.. it gets done, almost, but with one eye always on the score!
So, this is where I make my confession. The only games I'll watch are the ones with India in them. When India is playing, I'll cheer every Indian boundary and cry out in horror when an Indian wicket falls. I'll cross all my fingers and toes and bite the skin round my nails when the game goes down to the last over. But, for all other matches, I couldn't be bothered. Because the truth of the matter is that after all these years, I haven't yet figured out how one judges a LBW or for that matter, what is the difference between a yorker and a full toss. And no, we won't even go near the Duckworth-Lewis rule!!!!
With that confession out of the way, let's get back to the point of this post. This time, the Cup is being played out in Australia and with the time difference, the games start in the morning and end somewhere near teatime. With the last two India matches being played on Sundays, most of us, I reckon, watched the games in our pyjamas and most likely, the friends also came over in their jammies.

I am no Martha Stewart and am a firm believer that take-aways are made for times like this. But, if you are in the mood for something sweet, then I have a super-easy dessert, that is perfect for the occasion.
The last of the strawberries are in the market and there is no easier dessert than eton mess. There are three components to the desserts - strawberries, whipped cream and meringue. Whether you layer the three components or toss them all together, that's for you to decide. 

You can use shop bought meringues or make them a day earlier as I did. Having never made meringues before, I decided on swirled meringue kisses. Read through the directions once and they are very simple to make and you have to admit, extremely appealing to the eye. With the meringues done, the rest hardly takes any time.

If there is one suggestion I could make is that be generous with the strawberries. The fruit keeps the dessert light, fruity and easy on the palate. Perfect for the weather of the moment!! Despite all attention being on the match, this dessert get its fair share of compliments!!

Back to the Cup, India are the World Champions and I don't see any reason whatsoever why that should change. Go India!!!

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