Friday, August 27, 2010

A Tomato Trick

Good local tomatoes are starting to come into the market now, and while the heirlooms and other colorful ones are excellent for using raw, the red ripe ones for me mean dishes that depend on the juicy tomato taste, such as gravy wallah sabjees, rajma, and many other things.

Tomatoes

I am quite a fan of silky smooth tomato puree in certain dishes, and even a bit finicky about large bits of tomato skin floating carelessly in some dishes. So naturally, I have to go the longer route to get the result. The best way to make a large batch of tomato puree is to bring a pot of water to boil, drop in the tomatoes for about a minute, then remove them with a slotted spoon. When they are cool enough to handle, they can be peeled off easily, then cored, chopped, and pureed in a food processor.

Sometimes, however, you don't need a lot of puree, perhaps just enough from a tomato or two, and so this process can get a bit cumbersome. For such times, turn to the wisdom of women like Madhur Jaffrey, Niloufer Ichaporia, and many knowledgeable home cooks. Just use a regular grater.

With a paring knife, make a small cross on the smooth end of the tomato. Hold the tomato at the stem end, and using the medium holes of the box grater, grate the tomato into a bowl. The skin will practically stay in your hand, and you will have fresh tomato puree in seconds, ready for use.

Illustrated below in pictures.

Tomato

Scoring an 'X' on the tomato before grating

Tomato puree

Resulting Tomato Puree after grating

This handy trick which I have been using for a long time now goes to the Back to Basics event. The event was started here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

It's Strawmisu

I have been making versions of this dessert for a long time now. It is a simple and classic combination of a cake or cookie base, strawberries, and a decadent and creamy topping, and I find it just perfect for summer. It is easy to make and doesn't even need much of a recipe. You can make one or two small servings, or make a huge batch for a crowd with equal ease. Sometimes I make individual sized servings in small bowls which looks very pretty too. As always, use this as a guideline and make your own fun variations on it; I have yet to see this ever going wrong.

Now finally, I have also given it a name. I am calling it 'Strawmisu'. I searched on it to be doubly sure, and no such word exists, so I can say I have coined it, and it works!

Strawberry dessert

Ingredients

10-15 strawberries
3-4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier
1/4 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
2-3 teaspoons sugar (optional)

4 oz mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup whipping cream
2-3 Tablespoons sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract

8-12 Savoiardi or Italian style ladyfingers (you will need more or less depending on their size)

Method

Rinse the strawberries quickly, and place on a kitchen towel. Slice enough strawberries so that you have about 1 an 1/2 cups of slices. Use the rest for garnishing.

In a medium bowl, place the sliced strawberries. Add the Grand Marnier, 2-3 teaspoons of sugar, and orange zest. Let it sit for about an hour so that the juices and sugar create some syrup.

Whip together the mascarpone cheese, whipping cream, the rest of the sugar (or to taste), and vanilla extract, for a few minutes until it forms soft peaks.

In a pan about 8 X 8 inches in size, arrange the ladyfingers close to each other to create the base layer. You might need to break up some of them to make them fit the entire pan. Spoon the strawberries evenly over it. Drizzle the syrup evenly so that all the ladyfingers are evenly moistened.

Spread the cream and cheese mixture evenly over the strawberries. Cover and keep in the fridge for 2 hours or more.

Garnish or serve with additional sliced or whole strawberries.

Note:

If you do not want to use Grand Marnier, you can use freshly squeezed orange juice.

In place of the ladyfingers, you can also use thin slices of pound cake or something similar.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

My Bombay Kitchen

and other stories, including eggs on eggs

There are a few women that I would like to adopt as my aunts have adopted as my aunts, but they just don't know about it. Madhur Jaffrey, Ina Garten, and now, Niloufer Ichaporia-King.

The common connection to all these women is quite obvious. I came to follow Ina through her TV shows, Jaffrey through her books, and with Niloufer, it was first her book that drew me in, and it was capped off by getting to know her in person. Yes, some serious name dropping can now happen! They all write beautifully about the subject close to their heart, and best of all, give you a wealth of recipes that work every single time.

The first time I heard about "My Bombay Kitchen" was when a friend sang praises about a new book she had stumbled upon in the library. So I decided to check it out, and just fell in love with it. The writing is beautiful and evocative, erudite, but not stodgy, unexpectedly humorous, full of great advice, and always informative. While reading through it, I have literally tugged at the person next to me saying "Just listen to this ...".

The book is sub-titled "Traditional and Modern Parsi Home Cooking", and is based primarily on Niloufer's Parsi heritage, from her experiences growing up in India, and her continued research after she started living in the US. So a lot of the recipes in the book include family favorites, but since she is a big advocate of farmers markets and adapting local ingredients, there are many interesting variations, along with her discoveries in foreign lands, and interpretations from her ΓΌber chef friends. With loads of wit and wisdom packed into its pages, and recipes that work perfectly, this soon became my favorite cookbook in recent years. Her husband David has done the most adorable illustrations throughout the book, which really pull everything together and complete the package. Over and above, the fact that Niloufer is such a charming person is just the jewel in the crown.

So far I have tried countless things from the book, each delicious, and many more are begging to be made. Her panir is quite a standout. I used her recipe to make regular paneer for cooking many times, but then I had the pleasure of having it served soft, with a warm flatbread with hints of ajwain and ever since I almost always have some fresh soft panir in the fridge. As Niloufer would say, we like to fool around with it.

Among other things that are on regular rotation in the Evolving kitchen are the Wafer Par Ida and Kasa Par Ida. The recipe is available on many sites, including here, so I will paraphrase just a bit.

Wafer per Ida (Eggs on Potato Chips)

Niloufer writes that for years she thought it was a joke recipe, a loony fantasy or a way of lampooning the Parsi love affair with eggs and potato chips, until she tried it and found it to be absolutely delicious. I agree about the deliciousness part! Very rarely do I buy potato chips, usually only when I have little kids around. Inevitably there are crushed up chips or pieces in the bottom of the bag, that no one eats, and the wafer par ida is the perfect use for them. I have used various different types of chips too, and it is always good.

Parsi Food: Wafer Par Ida

Ingredients

1 tablespoon ghee, clarified butter, or mixture of vegetable oil and butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ginger-garlic paste (optional)
2 to 3 hot green chiles, finely chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves
4 good handfuls of plain potato chips from a just-opened bag
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon (about) water

Method

Heat the ghee over medium heat in a sturdy medium skillet.

Add the onion and let it soften, stirring occasionally, a few minutes. Before it browns, add the paste if you like and the green chiles, and as soon as the mixture looks cooked, add the fresh coriander. Crumble in the potato chips, tossing the contents of the pan to combine them thoroughly.

Make nests in the surface of the mixture, and crack an egg into each. Pour a tablespoon or so of water around the edges of the pan to generate some steam, cover the skillet tightly, and let the eggs cook just long enough to set the whites without turning the chips soggy. This usually takes me just about 3-4 minutes on very low heat.


Kasa par ida (Eggs on Anything)

Wafer per eda is almost like a corollary of kasa par eeda. I have literally taken the idea of the 'kasa' (anything) to heart and tried it many ways. It always works for me as a quick, satisfying, and comforting meal when I have completely run out of ideas and strength for anything else. Niloufer says that sometimes it's a hastily improvised dish that appears as part of the evening meal and what goes under the eggs is left to the imagination. Like a giddy child I told her some of the things I have done, and she approved with a slight nod and her majestic smile.

So, what have I put this on and enjoyed? Here are some from my list:
  • Slightly dried out good bread chopped into small little cubes, or day old chappatis, torn into bits, given the same treatment as wafers
  • Onion, ripe tomatoes, haldi, and malvani masala (other masala of choice would be good as well)
  • Asparagus and cannellini beans stir-fry
  • Sauteed onions and potatoes, with green chilies and cilantro stir fried into it
  • Thin red pohe, barely sprinkled with some water, given the wafer treatment as well

What Others Say

Here is what some of my favorite bloggers have to say about the book:

The Cooker: I knew I had to have it
Mints: Niloufer's writing style is very casual but very informative
Manisha: Favorite Parsi cookbook author
Melissa: I've made not one, not two, but seven spectacular dishes

Here are some more:

The Kitchen I Wish I Had Grown up in
One of my favorite new cookbooks
Her Bombay Kitchen

If you have a good blurb on your blog about 'My Bombay Kitchen', and want to list it here, just let me know at evolvingtastes[at]gmail[dot]com
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