Monday, December 28, 2009

Making burfi at home

is possible!

These days, it is fairly easy to find almost any kind of Indian food here in the United States - a lot of Indian vegetables, spices, condiments and snacks are available. However one thing that is nearly impossible to get is good mithai, the kind you get in India. In terms of quality, variety, freshness, and accessibility, what we have here is light years apart from what one would find 'back home'.

So it was only natural that some of us were driven to try and recreate some things at home. One thing I tried many times and failed miserably at was burfis, and that is because one of the main ingredients for it is often fresh khoya (also called mawa or khawa), which is made by evaporating milk to a point where all liquid has evaporated and only the milk solids remain behind. In India, one can practically walk to a corner sweet store to purchase some freshly made khoya as needed. Things have improved ever so gradually over the years here, and we can now buy khoya in the refrigerated section, though the date of manufacture is usually unknown, and the origin could be several hundred miles away. Despite all that, I went ahead and bought a block of khoya recently because I really wanted to try Tartlette's Cardamom Mava Cakes, but didn't want to go through the trouble of making the mava. The cakes are lovely and I made them twice, but I had a lot of remaining khoya.

I went in search of recipes to use it up, and zoomed in on a Badam Burfi, in a Marathi book called "DiwALI ANI saNAsudiche padArth", written by Mangala Barve. The recipe sounded a bit simplistic to be true, but it actually worked quite well. It tasted delicious, creamy and rich. Here is the adapted version of the original recipe.

With this post I end the year on a sweet note, and also wish my little space a rather belated third bloggiversary!

Badam (Almond) Burfi

Almond Burfi / Badam Burfi


25 grams almonds
250 grams khoya/mawa/khawa
1 teaspoon ghee
1/2-3/4 cup of sugar
5-6 pods of green cardamom
a few strands of saffron (optional)
a few slivered almonds (optional)


Soak the almonds in a bowl of water for 2-6 hours. Peel them, and process them finely in a food processor.

Peel the cardamom pods and powder them in a mortar and pestle.

Process the khoya in a food processor until it has completely crumbled.

In a wide pan or wok heat half the ghee just until it melts, and add the khoya to it until it starts to soften. Do not let it get brown. Add in the almond powder and sugar and stir everything together for a few minutes on low heat. Add the cardamom powder and saffron strands. The mixture will have the consistency of a thick paste.

Grease a small pan (about 6 inch square in size) with the remaining ghee, and pour the khoya mixture in it. Using an offset spatula, spread it in to one even layer. Top with additional slivered almonds, and press them firmly. Let it set and then chill it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours till it gets firm. Cut it into shapes of your choice and remove from the pan.

You can bring the burfi to room temperature before eating.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Apple Cake "Tatin"

Slightly Light Version

Ina Garten's recipe for Apple Cake "Tatin" is just perfection. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side doesn't hurt a bit. I really don't need to say anything more, but I'll add a few small notes:

1. Pull the caramel off the heat as soon as it hits warm amber, even if it isn't at 360 degrees, because even a few seconds can make a difference.

2. Make sure the caramel layer is completely cool before adding the batter on top.

Mine was just shy of getting bitter because of these two reasons, but the overall taste was a winner regardless.

Apple Cake "Tatin"

I halved the recipe and it still served 6 decent sized slices. I also used slightly drained yogurt instead of sour cream. Hence, light. See?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Shevayachi Kheer

Vermicelli Pudding

During a recent pantry raid, I found a small jar of shevaya, also called semiya or sevia (in Hindi, Gujarati). These are labled as "vermicelli", but these are the Indian type, and much better suited to using in sevia pulao, upma, and of course kheer. Incidentally, vermicelli pasta works well too, if crumbled into small bits.

Made by toasting shevaya in a bit of ghee, and cooking them in milk, shevayachi kheer was never really considered a dessert when I grew up, but it always appeared during certain occasions that demanded a more formal meal, usually served on the left side of the plate in a small amount. Typically, we did not have the course style eating where dessert was served as the last course anyway, so I don't ever recall sitting with a bowl of it after a meal, but on a cold night recently, I did exactly that, and wondered aloud why I didn't make this more often. It is so easy and quick, and so good to eat.

Every once in a while, when one needs a comforting homey dessert, this one fits the bill perfectly.

Vermicelli Kheer

Shevayachi Kheer

Serves 2-3 small dessert portions


1/2 teaspoon ghee
1/2 cup shevaya (or broken vermicelli)
2-3 cups milk (see Note at end)
2-3 pods of green cardamom
5-6 Tablespoons sugar
2 Tablespoons golden raisins
2 Tablespoons slivered almonds


In a medium sized pan heat the ghee, just enough until it forms a thin film on the bottom of the pan. Add the shevaya and stir them until they start to get golden brown. Add the milk, and when it comes to a boil, bring the heat down so that the milk simmers and reduces for about 15-20 minute.

In the meanwhile, powder the cardamom pods in a mortar and pestle.

Add the sugar and continue to cook for a few minutes more. Add the cardamom powder towards the end, along with the raisins and almonds.


If you intend to serve or eat the kheer soon after it is made, then use 2 cups of milk, but if making ahead by several hours, then increase the quantity of milk, as the shevaya will continue to absorb the milk and thicken the kheer. Ask me how I know.

You can add a bit of saffron if you like, but I prefer the singular flavor of cardamom in this kheer.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chickpeas and Avocado Salad

We bonded over blogs online, and vicinity brought us together, but it was because of their dispositions that I enjoyed being with them, meeting after meeting. I am referring to a group of immensely talented, strong, independent women, who are also really fun to hang out with, and who I am happy to now call friends.

Food isn't always the focus of our conversations, but it is certainly wonderful to be able to discuss a certain cookbook, or a variation on a grandmother's recipe, or the source for an arcane ingredient.

So when I had them over for a casual lunch, the pressure was on. While on one hand I know they will politely eat anything I offer, I definitely wanted to make something that will win their approval.

As I mentally planned the menu, considering what was abundant in the market then and their dietary restrictions, one thing that I was very eager for them to try was this simple chickpeas and avocado salad. It was inspired by a side dish I ate at a lovely urban restaurant a long time ago. It was an explosion of flavors and textures, and it was one of those things that makes me wonder how something so simple can taste so voluptuous.

I tried to recreate it at home, and loved it as much as I had enjoyed it in the restaurant, and it quickly made its way into my regular repertoire. Of course I didn't have a recipe for it to begin with, so I had to go based on the quick analysis I had done of the main flavors - a bit of onion, lemon-oil vinaigrette, some finely chopped herbs, most likely parsley. The restaurant is firmly focused on seasonal, organic and local produce, and a few first rate ingredients had made all the difference.

The recipe is flexible, so adjust to suit your taste.

Chickpeas and Avocado Salad

Chickpeas and Avocado Salad


1/3 cup of dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
2 Tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 firm ripe avocado

2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/8th teaspoon red chili powder (or to taste)
salt to taste
2-3 Tablespoons of chopped cilantro (or parsley)
a bit of bold paprika (optional)


Soak the garbanzo beans for 6-10 hours in plenty of water. Drain the soaking water and cook the beans until tender. (I use about 4 times water by volume, and cook the beans in a pressure cooker with my usual 3 whistle regulation.) Drain the beans completely and let them cool.

To make the dressing, whisk the lemon juice and oil till they emulsify. Add the salt, chili powder, and whisk some more. Add the cilantro.

Chop the avocado into small bite size pieces.

In a large bowl, gently toss together the chickpeas, avocado, onion, and the dressing. Sprinkle a bit of paprika on top.

Here is an amped up version with mangoes and bell peppers.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Deliciousness has no name

Just a little dal, and some spices

For over a year now, I had been working on a project that kept me more busy that ever, with little time to spare for anything else. It used to be one crazy day after another, always racing against time. The good news is that even while I was extremely busy, I did manage to cook regularly. Perhaps more regularly than I did before, because sometimes even going out to eat was out of question.

As time was scarce, most of the cooking was simple fare that did not need me to look through recipes. There were everyday sabjis, dals, common sense pastas, rice dishes, eggs, and so on, where I could play with things on hand without having to worry about botching it up. Plenty of produce focused food, salads for lunch, fruit for dessert. Simple without skimping on flavor was always the goal. Occasional treats, recipes to try, and experiments were left for the weekend, if at all.

During this period, I also lost ten pounds, went to India, gained the ten pounds back (yes, in that order), and went to India again, but with no weight changes this time around.

I managed to make a post every few months, but when it came to reading my favorite blogs, checking feeds, or participating in events, I was hopelessly out of synch. Now I am waking up from a Rip Van Vinkle-ish sleep in the blog world. And wait, what's this I find - I have followers? Wow, who knew!

With this post I commemorate a recipe that has become a favorite in the last year or two. It just came together one day when I needed a quick and satisfying solo meal, but all I had was a scant cup of leftover plain waran, one solitary roti, and very little time or energy to do much. It was so out of this world that it got made again and again, and again, to the point where I made it my own.

The starting point is the Cooker's super duper Chincha Gulaachi Aamti, which is a very typical sweet sour dal from Maharashtra. While dals of all kinds are a common part of most Indian meals, they only rarely take center stage, and even more rarely are they paired with something other than rice.

Perhaps that is why the last part of her post caught my eye
"As children, we'd also eat amti with poli. Crumble a couple of polis in a bowl, a ladle full of amti and some toop."

That is exactly what I did, for a meal that kept me going all day. Naturally, with protein from the dal, and hardly any starch, it was the perfect lunch for a working day.

Using her original recipe, I usually add a dried red chili for a kick, and some cumin seeds to the phodni. Sometimes I replace tamarind with aamsul (dried kokum) if I don't have time to soak tamarind to make the paste.

This could be considered as a shortcut version of chakolya or waran phale, in which strips of dough are cooked in dal, similar to Dal Dhokli, for those familiar with it. Or a pasta in split pea sauce deal if you must. However, at this point, I don't have a real name for it, other than 'that dal dhokli like thing with aamti and polis, which is unbelievably comforting and tasty'.

Can two plain leftovers combine to produce something that delicious? Try it for yourself and decide. I had someone declare that they could eat this every day.


Everyday Aamti with Poli

Serves 2


2 cups waran, or cooked toor dal
1 Tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
pinch of asafetida powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek (methi) seeds
4-7 curry leaves
1-2 dried red chilies, broken into pieces
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons tamarind paste or 2 pieces of aamsul
1-1/2 tsp goda masala
1 Tablespoon jaggery

2-3 polis (or rotis, chappatis, phulkas), leftover are fine

2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)
1 teaspoon of ghee (optional, but highly recommended)


Whisk the cooked dal with a fork or whisk.

Cut the polis into 2 semicircles, stack them, and cut into 1/2 inch wide strips with kitchen scissors.

In a large wide pan, heat the oil. When hot, add the mustard seeds, and as they pop, follow with methi seeds, asafetida, turmeric, curry leaves, chili, and cumin seeds.

Add the cooked daal, tamarind paste, goda masala, jaggery, and salt.

Add a little water if necessary, and bring to a boil. It needs to be somewhat liquid-y at that this point, as the dal will thicken as it cooks. Turn off the heat after boiling for a couple of minutes when it starts to thicken.

Add in the pieces of poli and cilantro and stir gently.

Serve within minutes in wide bowls, with a swirl of homemade ghee on top. The ghee is not necessary, but makes a difference!

Sending this over to the fabulous Sra, who is hosting the Legume Love Affair. Here's how the affair carries on.


I realized that I take a lot of terms in this post for granted, but might need explanation for some, so I decided to add this reference guide.

waran: plain toor dal, usually cooked with about 3-4 times water by volume and a pinch of turmeric. 1/2 cup of dried toor dal yields about 2 cups waran.

poLI: thinly rolled out chappatis, a standard component of every marathi meals, akin to whole wheat flour tortillas.

toop: ghee (in Hindi), clarified butter.

phoDNI: tempering of dry spices in hot oil.

goDA masAlA: a marathi spice blend that is usually made at home with scores of ingredients. These days it is even available in Indian stores in the US.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Flour, Butter, Sugar

and chocolate!

It had been a while since I baked. Even longer since I baked a cake. Truth be told, I couldn't even recall how many months ago I baked a cake. But when a certain special occasion came around, it couldn't be anything else. My list of recipes to try is long, but I had certain criteria for zooming in. It had to be round (go figure!), and the ingredients and equipment had to be all at home.

A simple classic chocolate cake made the cut. As a bonus, it comes from Ina Garten (you know I am a fan), and I had watched the show when she made it. She said she practically begged her friend Michael to give her the recipe, which is originally his grandmother's. Then she went on to make it as a surprise for him. How wonderful.

Chocolate Cake


I am so glad I chose it. The texture alone makes this cake recipe a keeper, and the taste is pretty darn good too. Of course, I had to make changes. This wasn't a big party, so I cut the recipe by half, and went for a single layer cake. And that frosting? Oh gosh. I cut it down to a fourth, and went for a thin spread to cut down on the fat. Still very good.

All I am saying is I have to make it again. Soon.

Chocolate Cake: Slice


I do not have an electric stand mixer, so here is the adapted recipe using a hand mixer.

Chocolate Cake


Butter, for greasing the pan
3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 cup (scant) sugar
3/8 cups cocoa powder
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup freshly brewed coffee (warm)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pan.

Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Mix on low speed until combined. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet. With mixer still on low, add the coffee and stir just to combine, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool in the pan for atleast 30 minutes, and then turn it out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

Spread the frosting (recipe below) evenly on the cake.

For a richer, thicker coating, double the recipe. I don't think you will regret it.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting


1.5 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 2 Tablespoons sifted confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee powder


Chop the chocolate and place it in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Stir until just melted and set aside until cooled to room temperature.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a hand mixer), beat the butter on medium-high speed until light yellow and fluffy. Add the vanilla and continue beating for 3 minutes. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, then beat at medium speed, scraping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy. Dissolve the coffee powder in a few drops of hot tap water. Add the chocolate and coffee to the butter mixture and mix until blended. Don't whip. Spread immediately on the cooled cake.

Here is a review of the same recipe from one of my favorite baker bloggers, which gave me further impetus to go for it.

Note to all who have commented on past posts. Thank you all. I have been reading them, and I appreciate each and every one of them and I do hope to respond to you. Probably soon, but don't hold me to it. I have been madly busy.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The lau of Bengali food

They came, they wrote, they vanished. That is the story of many a blogger. Understandably so, as most of us don't blog for a living, but do it as a creative outlet during our spare time. In my case too, as other things took over, the blog had to take a back seat, putting me dangerously into that vanishing zone, even though I have thought about hauling myself back several times.

Recently, a blogger who often writes lovely comments here said that the squash with Bengali seasoning is now her most favorite way to cook butternut squash, and that she particularly loves the flavor of kalonji. That reminded me of this bottle gourd sabji I make, which has kalonji (also called Nigella) as the predominant flavor.

The other ingredient that is predominant here is mustard oil, which is an essential flavor of several Indian regional cuisines. Although it is not one I grew up with, I have taken to it over the last few years, and really enjoy it in some dishes. Mustard oil is not a wimpy sort of oil and holds its own particularly well. Naturally, it has no substitutes. I even know of mustard oil devotees who can compare and discuss brands, types, and their qualities in great depth. I usually use half mustard and half light olive oil in this dish, but feel free to use all mustard oil.

Bottle gourd is called dudhi in Marathi, lauki in Hindi, and lau in Bengali, which explains the cheesy post title. I find it in my local farmers' markets from spring through late summer, but I have seen it in Indian grocery stores almost all year round. This recipe comes via a full Bengali friend, and I am transcribing it here with his permission. I prefer to have it with soft rotis but it is equally wonderful with plain rice and dal. It also fits into my on going theme of favoring dishes that use only a few ingredients, and in this case they all just pull together, almost unexpectedly. For lack of a better title, I am calling it "Bengali Lau".

Lauki/Bottle Gourd with kalonji (Nigella)

Bengali Lau


1 medium sized bottle-gourd, usually 400-500gm
2 Tablespoons mustard oil (or a mix of mustard and olive oil)
1 teaspoon kalonji (nigella)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1-2 small green chilies, chopped fine
salt to taste
a small handful of grated fresh coconut
a few sprigs of cilantro, chopped fine


Peel and de-seed the bottle gourd, and chop it into thin strips about an inch long, roughly like short and thick matchsticks.

In a large kadhai or wok, heat the oil, and add the kalonji. Unlike mustard or cumin seeds, these do not pop, but they release a wonderful aroma when heated, usually in a few seconds. As soon as that happens, add the chopped bottle gourd, turmeric, and green chili. Saute everything quickly, then turn down the heat. Add a little salt, and let the bottle gourd cook until tender, on medium high heat. Place a lid on the pan if required. This usually takes me 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of the slices, and total quantity. When done, the gourd should be fully cooked, and there will be some oil at the bottom of the pan as a result of the released moisture.

Add a little salt at the end, the coconut, and chopped cilantro, and stir once together.

Lauki/Bottle Gourd with kalonji, rotis
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