Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi and inspired dinner

I have recently become addicted to three cookbooks I acquired from Amazon and our local library. They are, in order of favouritism,

1. Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2. Moro by Samuel and Samantha Clark

3. Ottolenghi also by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

Why the addiction – well these books respect vegetables like I have been taught to respect them as a life time vegetarian. Growing up in a South Indian household, my mother and grandma had endless ways of making vegetables exciting and I try and continue this tradition till today. However, I’m also a little more adventurous that mum and grandma and I cannot eat the same/similar things day in and day out. This is something I did quite gladly did when I was still dependent on my parents, but ever since I’ve moved out on my own, my kitchen has been a bit of a playground, as is this blog I host.

Jerusalem, Moro and Ottolenghi, while laden with meat-based recipes are also quite generous with their coverage of vegetable/vegetarian dishes from Eastern Mediterranean regions, Israel, Palestine with influences from Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Overall, these vegetables are prepared quite differently (most of the time) to how I’d prepare them as a person of South Indian upbringing and I find that really really exciting. Sometimes, I find some similarities and start thinking about the origins of certain food and how recipes might have travelled from one region to another in ancient time.

To summarize it is food, vegetarian food, exciting vegetarian food and I love it! Food to me is most satisfying when I’ve made it and others are enjoying it ūüôā An opportunity presented itself when we decided to host a dinner and board games evening at our place. While I usually cook Indian food, I decided that I’d try recipes from my recently acquired books instead. There was a deathly silence as everyone sat eating until one of our friends spoke up and said , “You know the food is good when everyone is too busy eating and cannot stop to speak”. I’m going to call it a successful experiment based on this !

My menu and links to the recipes are presented below. I managed to take a lot of pictures for the first few dishes and then ran out of time and my guests arrived so I couldn’t keep clicking any more. Hope you try some of the recipes and like them !

Menu for board games night

Menu for board games night

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Caponata – Italian sweet and sour eggplant

My very first real job was in a small student town in the North Island of New Zealand (NZ) called Palmerston North. The reason it is called Palmerston North is because there is a town called “Palmerston” in the South Island of New Zealand. Full marks for imagination I suppose.

If one wasn’t a student or had a partner/family/pet in this little town, it could get terribly boring. Given I was flush with cash for the first time in my life (not really, but it felt like it), I signed up to as many activities as I could after my work day. Running, swimming, salsa, ceramic painting and so on. Just so happened, 2 other friends of mine, finding themselves in a similar situation as I did, signed up to an “Italian cooking class”. I took cooking classes to be a slight on my ability as a self-made home chef so I shunned them. I could follow recipes well enough on my own!

As fate would have it, one of the two friends couldn’t take the small town politics any more and went back to BIG Auckland (population 1.5 million, largest town in NZ). One of her leaving gifts to me was her place in the cooking class. I smiled and accepted gracefully as that’s all I could do. I went to the first one with great apprehension but to my surprise, I loved it. Our cooking teacher would give us a list of ingredients for the following class. We bought them and then got given recipes for a 3-course meal. We had two hours to cook this 3-course meal and then we’d sit together and have dinner with the teacher. One of the evenings, we even had an olive-oil tasting session. After attending this class, my image of cooking classes changed completely. I’m going to a wine-tasting class soon and will report back.

The friend who remained in Palmerston North was from Germany and was on an exchange programme.  So before she went back, she scanned all the recipes from the class and mailed it to not just herself but to me too! I have the entire collection and I printed some of my favourites for my cooking album. The tiramisu recipe earlier on this blog is one of hers. This Caponata recipe is another.

Our teacher told us that Caponata is originally a Sicilian recipe but had spread throughout Italy taking many forms. While it is usually served as a “Contorno” or vegetable side dish, I have always eaten it as a main. It goes with pasta, with pita bread and more recently as I discovered, as a pizza topping.

Hope you try it and like it!

Caponata, ready to eat…

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Carrot halwa/halva or Gajar ka halwa/halva

WARNING!! This dish is not for the lactose-intolerant or those watching their waistlines. Once-a-year is about the right frequency for this dish. 

Halwa (or halva)¬†is a kind of dense dessert that takes many different forms and is consumed in many different countries around the world. Wikipedia says that the following countries produce and consume some kind of halwa – ¬†Albania, Argentina, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Croatia, Egypt, Greece and Cyprus, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria,, Libya and Tunisia, Lithuania, Palestine, Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Myanmar, Pakistan, Poland, Romania and Moldova, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Turkey and United States. This is pretty amazing given that for most of my life, I’d only met 2 types of halwa – carrot and beetroot. In Melbourne however, I met the Lebanese halwa made with tahini (sesame paste), ridiculous amounts of sugar and pistachios – yumm!

In most cases, halwa refers to a dense, sugar-rich and hence, calorie-rich dessert. My partner calls it “Diabetes-in-a-block” or “Heart-attack-in-a-bowl” but having grown up eating Indian halwa (amongst other sweets), I have a soft spot for halwa. When I was young, I remember mum making two kinds of halwa – one with carrot and one with beetroot. All I remember is that it would take her forever to make. ¬†Much of the process involved reducing the vegetable, sugar and milk down to a thick sweet paste. The end result, in my opinion, was delicious and totally worth the wait. Perhaps that also had something to do with the fact that mum only made it once or twice a year, given it was such an arduous process.

When I moved to Melbourne to do my PhD,  I lived in an apartment on my own for the first year and a bit. There, I spent many an evening experimenting in my studio kitchen. This kitchen was equipped with 2 electric plates and a convectional microwave (One that can perform the task of a microwave and an oven). My heart almost stopped when I first saw that there was no regular oven but the convectional microwave yielded many a tasty cake and tart. Hooray for technology!

It was in this microwave that I made my very first halwa – a microwave carrot halwa and the recipe is one I follow even today. It doesn’t take as long as mum’s used to on the stove and is practically a one-pot dessert. ¬†Given how rich it is, the serving sizes ought to be really small and hence this dessert can come in handy if you have a large number of guests. Hope you like it !

Carrot halwa

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Sanjeev Kapoor’s Navratan Korma or Nine-gem korma

As the name indicates, this recipe is from my North Indian food guru – Sanjeev Kapoor. It features in his book “How to Cook Indian”. This book is different from most of my cookbooks in that there are no pictures. It is nearly 600 pages of recipes – joy!

Before I give you the recipe for this korma, a little bit of background and history. “Navratan” is an amalgam of the words “Nav” meaning nine and “ratan” meaning gems or precious stones. My first introduction to this term was when we studied Indian history in school and we learnt about Mughal (Muslim) rulers. The Muslim rulers brought amazing architecture to India such as the Taj Mahal¬†, art and of course, some of the richest and decadent food that India is still known for. The most famous of the Mughal rulers was Akbar the Great (grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal). Despite being illeterate, ¬†Akbar liked to be surrounded by intelligent and talented people. He appointed 9 such people who were also his¬†advisers and friends and he called them “Navratan” or his nine gems.

This dish is named Navratan korma as it contains 9 different, pretty components. The gravy itself is pale so as to allow ¬†“9 gems” to stand out. I have given you the original recipe which serves 4. The pictures show you almost 3 times the quantity as I made this dish for a dinner party with nearly 40 people. This wasn’t the only dish at the party so the quantity was just right. In fact, I managed to keep a bowl of it at home which served us for lunch the next day.

Hope you like it as much as we did ! Also, check out my mum’s South Indian vegetable kurma. Can you tell the difference ?

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Carrot cake : Soft, moist, idiot-proof and almost vegan

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to Aunty K. She was the awesome-est neighbour ever. When we first moved to New Zealand, she was one of the first few people to befriend us. With 2 lovely kids and one more on the way, she welcomed us to the neighbourhood in more ways than one. She was an amazing cooking and of the ilk that everything should/can be made from scratch at home. From Malaysian chilli sauce to steam dumplings to cakes and cookies, we got to try them all.

I’ve always liked cooking and once I started baking, mum left it to me to do so. However, she didn’t like it very much when I spent hours in her kitchen baking a cake which I’d usually take into work as no one at home (but for me) really enjoyed cake that much. So, more often than not, all my baking adventures would move to Aunty K’s house. She was definitely my baking guru. Not only did I watch her and learn but she held my hand through many a disaster. I got a lot of recipes from her that I use 8 years on and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, they had to move so we no longer had them as neighbours.

This carrot cake recipe is Aunty K’s and every time I bake it, it gets eaten within a very very short interval of time, at work and at home. Most recently, my partner’s friend was having a birthday dinner to which we were invited. I decided to take a carrot cake along as a surprise. The original recipe calls for a lemon-cream cheese icing which is delicious but I was trying to be healthy. I used lemon yoghurt instead and served it with the cake. The birthday girl was very pleased and the 10 of us polished it off in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera to take pictures of the cake while we were eating it. I promise you it was good!

Do try it and tell me how it goes!

Three step carrot cake

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Everyone needs a bit of Herman

THIS RECIPE IS NOT MY OWN!!!

Have just been through the Jubilee Weekend here in England, I have come to realise that there is something else other than soccer that the English are crazy about. The craze for growing and making Herman doesn’t quite compare to the Jubilee Celebrations but there are enough starters around England being passed from friend to friend. Go Herman!

It was a sleepy Sunday evening when friends of ours dropped in to give me a box of Herman and instructions as to what to do. All this might sound a bit kinky but I promise you it was the starter for a harmless sourdough cake. The instructions had a website  and Herman the German friendship cake seemed quite a fun thing to do, it was right up my alley and so I got started right away. as can the recipe for the basic apple and cinnamon cake and several other cake recipes.

 

Source:  http://www.hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/

 

Changes:

The first Herman I made was a double-Herman and took it into work. My team has nearly 80 members and Herman sure got devoured. The changes I made to the recipe are as follows.

1. I used two portions of sourdough to bake it and baked in a large lasagne dish.

2. I used gluten-free flour instead of standard flour as one of my colleagues is gluten-intolerant. If using gluten-free flour in England, I recommend the Doves Farm brand and make sure you add an extra half cup of milk to make the cake more moist.

3. I didn’t melt butter and sugar and pour it over the top – given my silly oven, I thought it would guarantee a burnt top if I did so.

4. However, I did make a simple crumble topping using 1 and 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour, 100 gms cold butter and 3/4 cup of Demerera (coffee) sugar. To make the crumble, rub the butter into the flour with your fingers using a pinching action. The crumble is ready when the flour and butter resemble breadcrumbs. At this stage, add the sugar and mix it in.

5. I used 3 large Bramley apples instead of 4 and left the skins on for extra nutrition.

6. I used 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of nutmeg instead of cinnamon alone.

7. I cooked the double-Herman for 1 hour at 180¬ļC . The cake was rising like a volcano in the centre but still wobbly. At this point, I covered the cake with crumble and baked it for another hour. The crumble and cake were perfectly cooked by then.

8. I made a single Herman more recently and I really think one of us should take it into work lest we eat it all.

 

Tips:

1. The 45 minutes at 170-180¬ļ does not work if you have a dinky oven like I do. I placed the baking dish on one of the lower shelves of the oven and cooked it for nearly 2 hours. As the website says, if you find the top going a bit brown, cover it with silver foil and put it back in the oven.

2. If you don’t want your apples and raisins/sultanas to sink to the bottom, toss them in flour before adding them to the batter. The flour soaks up the moisture making the fruit lighter and more evenly distributed throughout the cake. Use the same trick for bits of chocolate or nuts.

3. If you are vegan, then use egg-substitute and leave the crumble out or use margarine instead of butter to make the crumble topping.

4. If you are really allergic to gluten, make Herman using gluten-free flour. My double-Herman was 1/7th gluten and 6/7th gluten-free flour.

 

Pictures:

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Kulich or Russian Easter sweet bread

THIS RECIPE IS NOT MY OWN !!

The long Easter weekend was a very busy one in my kitchen and I made this on Easter Monday as the grand finale dish. I found it on a blog that I follow that has some very interesting Russian recipes. The bread was more like a cake and was amazing as it came out of the oven. ¬†We ate it all up in the week to follow so I’d say it was as success.

Source: http://russianmomcooks.com/2012/03/30/russian-friday-kulich/

Notes:

1. It is a very nice recipe but be warned that it takes a while to make. I started at 9 in the morning and the cake was ready at 3:30pm.

2. There are 3 stages of rising so don’t rush it – it is worth the wait.

3. “Poolish” is the French name for a fermentation starter.

 

Changes:

1. I halved the recipe to get one standard loaf tin worth of cake.

2.  I used only 1/2 the recommended sugar in the recipe.

3. I didn’t have rum so used brandy instead.

4. I used sultanas and slivered almonds which went quite nicely in the cake.

5. I didn’t use any icing as neither my partner nor I care much for it.

 

Tips and Avoiding mishaps:

1. To make the batter rise on a cold English day, I used my old trick of keeping the oven at 50 degrees while mixing the ingredients and then turning it off just before placing the bowl in it. Worked like a charm (Pictures 9, 20 and 23).

2. The batter rises a LOT as I learnt the hard way (Picture 23). So do use a deep dish if you can. If not, build a strong baking paper and silver foil fortress in your baking dish before pouring the batter in it.

3. I found all the raisins settle in the bottom layer of the cake (Picture 27 – it is upside down so the raisins are on top). There were 2 reasons for this

(a) I forgot to add the raisins to the batter before pouring it into my loaf tin so don’t do that

(b) I’ve always dusted raisins/fruit in flour before mixing it into batter which I again forgot as I was following the recipe religiously.

So toss the fruit in half a cup of flour before adding them to the batter and this will make sure they are evenly spread through the cake/bread.

4. I put half a cup of brandy into the fruit and this made for a very boozy cake so don’t go overboard.

5. The cake got a bit dry after the first couple of days so store it in a really airtight container if you can.

Kulich ‚Äď Russian sweet bread
1. Heat milk and water until luke warm 2. Sprinkle dry, active yeast on top of the milk 3. Frothed up yeast after 20 minutes 4. Add a cup of flour to a large bowl 5&6. Soak sultanas and slivered almonds in brandy/rum 7 & 8. Add the yeast to the flour and mix well to make a thick batter 9. Let the poolish/starter rise for an hour in a warm place 10. Melt 125gms of butter 11. Separate 3 eggs into small bowls 12 & 13. Beat eggs yolks and ¬Ĺ cup of sugar until thick and creamy 14. Make sure the butter has melted completely 15. Beat the egg whites to a stiff peak 16. Add the remaining flour and egg yolk mix to the poolish and combine 17. Add the melted butter and combine 18 & 19. Finally incorporate the egg whites into the batter using a metal spoon 20. Let the batter rise in a warm place for 1.5 hrs 21 & 22. Mix in the sultanas/almonds and pour into a loaf tin lined really high with non-stick paper 23. The batter is allowed to rise again for an hour and the paper fortress fails to hold 24. Silver-foil reinforced loaf tin 25. Cake after baking for 45 minutes 26 & 27. Remove cake from loaf tin, peel off the baking paper and eat while warm.