Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Care Packages

Rava Ladoo

If you have ever lived outside your home, then you must have received atleast one care package, or atleast yearned for one. Home, in this context, could be just across town, in another city, or in a different country.

It seems just like yesterday, when a girl was yearning for something from her home barely two months after she had been away, far away. Something more tactile than the letters and phone calls. So she asked for a packet of bakarwadis, and a comb, and another small thing or two, to be sent via someone she knew who was travelling from India. The comb was something her mind had prototyped based on what she had used in India, but could not find one like it anywhere within her limited mobility and resources. And the bakarwadis, were just so out of question of being available anywhere around her, but one of her favorite things. So she waited for the things to arrive with great anxiety, and it was a happy day when they did. Just in case you were wondering whether she went around with uncombed hair until then, she did have other combs and brushes, but not the type she wanted.

She was to find out soon enough that the person who brought these for her had made some nakhras (in this context nakhra means fuss, but nakhra conveys it much better) about their bags being too full, and agreed to take only some of the things. When she found that out, she was disappointed, and even a little angry, and from then onwards decided to make the postal system her friend. Food items weren't suitable for getting by mail, but she made peace with that. Regardless, it was a long time before she ever asked anyone to get anything for her when they were travelling back, and even when she did, it was only if a certain thing was really important and unavailable, and only to people she knew well enough to know that they would not mind. Eventually, there were regular trips back home, with long lists of what was needed to be brought back, and there was no need to rely on anyone else.

I have realized that a lot of people are somewhat touchy about carrying things for people, and I understood it better after I had to turn down a package or two myself. Those were times when I was really going over the allowed baggage limit, and I felt bad about it, but I had no choice. Years later when I think about it, I concede that perhaps that person too really had no space in their luggage, or that there were closer relatives and friends that had to be obliged, and so perhaps it was not really a nakhara on their part.

One thing I know is that no matter how many years pass by, it is still as exciting and delightful to open a box that has come from home. Like it did recently, bearing lots of wonderful things, thanks to a close relative who happily brought them on her trip back from India, and promptly mailed it to me. In the box lined with styrofoam peanuts, lay several goodies, each wrapped neatly in white paper, telling me how much care was put into it, and for that, I really thank her.

care package

A peek into some of the things that were in the box, each of these exquisitely delicious.

Top: left - bAkarwaDi, right - phaNas sATh
Bottom: left - chocolate burfi, right - pedhA

The phaNas sATh is made out of jackfruit from the ancestral backyard. I might have seen it being made eons ago, but do not remember exactly - the flesh of the jackfruit is pureed and cooked down, then dried out into flat sheets and cut. I am not exaggerating when I say that it tasted just like the jackfruit I have eaten from that tree in the past.

The sATh and the burfi were made at home by my mother, and the other things were bought from appropriate sources.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A good basic eggless cake

One of the concerns I faced when I started this blog was what to do about recipes that I tried from other blogs. Just writing about recipes from some other blog seemed lame. Besides, not all recipes I try are superhits, so why write about something that did not turn out quite well. However, there are those things that I like a lot and sometimes make repeatedly, making them nearly my own. They surely deserve a mention, if only to spread the good word around. One of them is this simple cake from Shyamala's blog.

The first time I made it, it was perfect just the way it is in her recipe. The second time around, I did not have any lemon or lime around, so I used a tablespoon of yogurt instead, which is also acidic, and it was also lovely. Another time, I doubled the recipe, and used a 9-inch round pan, and used half candied cherries and half nuts. It was just as forgiving, and seen in the picture on the right. My most recent version had no nuts, but just some tutti fruiti that I had bought in India. In India, 'tutti fruiti' is synonymous with brilliantly multi-colored candied fruit pieces, of questionable ingredients but delightful taste. I wonder if it even has any fruit in it. It is also the name of an icecream that was very popular when I was growing up, but haven't heard much about recently. I sprinked these on top of the batter after it was poured into the pan. When it baked, the batter rose up around the chunks, which got embedded into it. I think this one has to be my most favorite version.

Since I know lots of people who do not eat eggs, this is a very good recipe to have on hand. And because it lends itself to such versatility, I am thinking of other variations too. Like orange zest and orange juice instead of lime, or cinnamon and raisins instead of vanilla and nuts, or tutti fruiti again, with rose instead of vanilla. Don't they sound good? I think honey could also be a subsitute for the maple syrup. I am also going to try to reduce the amount of leavening agents, and will update the blog with how that goes.

The best part about this cake is that it is really easy to make, and does not need any special equipment, other than a baking pan, and a whisk, which makes it great for novice bakers. It takes less than an hour from start to finish, but it is the time spent after that, waiting for it to cool that is the most difficult. So plan to go for a walk at that time, to avoid the temptation to dig in.

tutti fruiti cake

Here it is, for reference, with a few changes and notes.

Basic Eggless Cake


1-1/2 cups of cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Juice of 1/2 lemon or lime, about 1-1/2 tablespoons
1/2 cup milk
Confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)


Grease an 8" square baking pan. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pecans thoroughly.

Mix all the remaining wet ingredients together with a whisk or hand held mixer, and stir it into the dry mixture until there are no lumps.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes. Check by inserting a toothpick in the centre to see if it comes out clean. Loosen the edges slightly by moving a knife between the cake and pan.

Let it cool in the pan for about 15-20 minutes, and only then turn it out onto a wire rack.

Dust it with confectioners sugar if you wish.

Some notes:

It is slighter dry and not very sweet, unlike the sweet, moist cakes that are more common in America. It is however relatively low in fat content, considering that there is no frosting, and that the above cake easily makes about 16 medium servings. Cake flour is not always available easily, but look for it just before a major holiday. I suppose one could use all purpose flour too.

Finally, Shyamala, you don't know me, but thanks a lot!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dallmayr in Safeway

Dallmayr Coffee

'If it is from Europe, it gets my attention', is what the other half likes to say teasingly. While that is quite an exaggeration, there is perhaps some truth in it. I do unabashedly like many things European , even though I do not get to visit there as often, and do not speak any European language other than English.

While visiting Munich a few years ago, we stayed in a small hotel near Marionplatz where the highlight of the stay was the fabulous breakfast that they served in a beautiful dining room on the main floor. The food and presentation were both spectacular - everyday there was a large selection of various types of breads, cheeses, cold cuts, fruit, eggs, and other things that I don't even remember now. My beverage of choice in the morning is tea, and they served a Darjeeling tea that is easily the best one I have had so far. I checked the label on the teabag, and it said 'Dallmayr'. I knew this to be a fine food store that I wanted to go to when I was there, but as is usual when I travel, the number of things I wanted to do was far greater than the time available, and so had to pass on that, which I still regret.

Recently, I was cruising the aisles of the neighborhood Safeway, where I don't go very often, when I saw a section that had a smattering of products from several different countries, mostly from Europe, and imagine my surprise when I saw two packages with 'Dallmayr' written on it. One was a regular coffee and the other was a decaf. Even though I don't drink coffeee regularly, I do enjoy it every so often, and this carton went right into the shopping basket after I made sure that it was indeed what I thought it was. What a lovely find. The coffee is smooth and delicious and the aroma fills the kitchen everytime I brew it. I hope they keep carrying it and that this is not some sort of a trial run which will come to an abrupt end one day.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sabudana Khichadi, is it really?

This is something I would have never blogged about if it hadn't been for desiknitter, and it is definitely not something I would tell purists either, who are likely to turn up their noses at what they hear.


First of all, sabudana is made of sago, and Israeli Couscous which is also called pearl couscous is a toasted pasta. They are similar in appearance and size, but sabudana is white in color while the couscous is more of a light beige. Sabudana by itself does not have a strong taste, but it has a chewy texture that is very similar to that of cooked pearl couscous.

Sabudana khichadi in my book is on a pedestal. It is something I adore so much that I wouldn't mess with it, even for experiment's sake. But for a long time now it has been quite difficult for me to consistently find good quality sabudana that I know will not get powdery when soaked in water or get clumpy. In order to make khichadi, the grains have to absorb water and plump up, and stay separate. I suffered through several bad batches of sabudana, and in the quest to find the good stuff, I thought it may not be so bad to try out the couscous, and happily, the experiment worked! In fact, if I didn't tell someone what my key ingredient was, I am confident they would not be able to tell the difference. Having said that, I have found that the sabudana bought in India has worked the best for me so far.

Sabudana Khichadi

To cook the couscous:

1-1/4 th cup of water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ghee
1 cup of Israeli couscous

Heat the water in a small saucepan. When it comes to a boil, add the salt and ghee to it. Add the couscous, and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Then turn off the heat and cover the pan. When slightly cool, run a wooden spoon through the grains to separate them and spread them on a plate.

Once the couscous is cooked, I apply the classic, traditional sabudana khichadi formula to it.

For the khichadi:

1/2 cup of peanuts, coarsely powdered in a food processor
2 Tablespoons of grated coconut (optional)
salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
2 Tablespoons of ghee
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
2-4 small green chilies, chopped
1 small boiled potato (optional)
4 stalks of cilantro, finely chopped

Add the peanuts, coconut, salt and sugar to the couscous on the plate and mix evenly. If using the potato, chop it into small pieces.

Heat the ghee, and add the cumin seeds. When they start to sizzle, add the chilies and stir for a few seconds. Add the potato and stir it around till it gets coated with ghee. Add the couscous, and stir it until it get coated too. If needed, you can add a little more ghee at this point. Stir for just a few more minutes, and then add in the cilantro. It is best eaten right away, but leftovers heated in the microwave are fine too.

For the authentic version, check this post.
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