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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Dark Chocolate

I love chocolates and all kinds of chocolate desserts. My favorite these days is a piece of really good quality dark chocolate. Just a small piece is enough as long as it is good quality. In my quest to try and make everything at home, I decided to try my hand at making chocolate at home. I first tried my hand at making milk chocolate using my Mom's recipe and it was a resounding success. The kids loved it. After that success, I decided to buy a packet of good quality cocoa butter and try out my hand at dark chocolate. I scoured the web for recipes and methods. My first try was with equal proportion of cocoa butter and cocoa powder and cold maple syrup. It tasted great but did not set well and remained soft even after keeping it in the fridge for a while.

So I went back to research the factors on which the texture of the chocolate depended. The main variables seem to be the proportion of cocoa powder to cocoa butter, and the temperature during the process of making chocolate and how quickly it is set. So with a better understanding of these factors, the tempering process (which makes the chocolate set in a crystalline pattern which provides the much needed snap), and the seeding process (by which the crystalline structure begins development), I decided to give it another go and this time the results were much better. The chocolate set beautifully and got the correct texture.  I also used chocolate molds and this gave the chocolate a gourmet look. The taste was also rich and I needed only 3 ingredients.

After this successful experiment, I plan on using a thermometer to better manage the tempering process and also trying different flavors. And of course I will post updated recipes with details to make it easier and foolproof for you to get the perfect dark chocolate.

1/4 cup raw cocoa butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder, dutch processed, unsweetened
4-5 tsp maple syrup

Sieve the cocoa powder to remove any lumps and set aside. Finely chop or grate the cocoa butter. Fill a small saucepan with about an inch of water. Heat it up till you can see bubbles on the surface and then reduce the heat to low. Place a glass or ceramic bowl, which is heat proof and can be used in the oven or microwave, on the saucepan. The bowl should be large enough to completely cover the saucepan opening. This set up is called a double boiler and is used to provide indirect heat to the chocolate so that it doesn't overheat. Add the cocoa butter to the bowl and once you see it start to melt, warm up the maple syrup for 15 seconds in the microwave. It should be at room temperature or lukewarm. Once the cocoa butter is completely melted, add the maple syrup and stir, so that it is well mixed and a homogenous liquid.

Take the bowl off the saucepan and wipe the base of the bowl which has a layer of the condensed water. Turn off the heat and move the saucepan off the stove top. Now add the cocoa powder and stir well till you get a beautifully dark glistening liquid which takes about a 20 seconds to a minute. Pour this into the chocolate mold and then keep it in the freezer for 10-20 minutes till completely set. Remove the chocolate from the mold by following the instructions on the mold package. Store in fridge.

Make sure that not even a drop of water falls into the mixture during the process, as this will cause the chocolate to seize and then the chocolate won't set and will become a mess. Use a glass or ceramic bowl rather than a steel bowl as it seems to help maintain the heat better. If you do not have a chocolate mold, you can use cup cake liners as molds to shape the chocolate. Else you can pour it in a pan and let it set as a chocolate slab and break it into pieces.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Jowar Bhakri - Bhakri made from Sorghum Flour

Jowar or Sorghum is a gluten free grain and is delicious. While growing up my mom made bhakris (tortillas) using jowar flour and we used to eat it with pithla and phodni. It was absolutely delicious! My mom has great bhakri making skills and kneads the dough as she goes along while making the bhakris.  She makes an individual dough ball, pats out the bhakri without it breaking and then cooks it. It puffs up beautifully and is a delicious treat.

I have been trying to make the perfect bhakri for almost the past decade and have finally succeeded. One reason I was told that it was difficult to make the bhakri here was that the flour available here is not fresh and since it is already gluten free, it is difficult for it to stay together as it is patted out.  I tried making bhakris using the technique I had seen my mom use for the the longest time but the bhakris were never that great.

I finally created this technique which is an absolute foolproof way to make bhakris. Each one will always turn out perfectly round and puff up while cooking and be soft and delicious. There is no longer reason to blame the flour or lack of practice or lament about the wonderful bhakris we once ate. Follow this easy foolproof method and make bhakris a part of your daily repertoire.

2 cups water
2 cups sorghum or jowar flour
1/2 tsp salt

Bring the water to a rolling boil. Add salt to the water. Add the flour to the water and turn off the heat. Take the pan off the heat and stir the flour in and cover the pan with a lid for a couple of minutes. Once the mixture is a little cooler and easier to touch, knead it into a smooth dough. Cover it with a damp towel as you make the bhakris, so that the dough doesn't dry.

Line a tortilla press with cling wrap or a plastic ziploc bag cutouts so that each surface is lined with the plastic. Now take a fistfull of dough and roll it into a smooth ball.  Place it on the tortilla press so that it is on top of the plastic covering the lower surface of the press. Then making sure that the upper surface of the tortilla press is also covered with plastic wrap, press it down onto the dough ball, flattening it into a round circle.

Heat a pan/tava/cast iron flat pan. When hot, place the flattened bhakri/tortilla onto the pan and let it cook on one side. Once it is cooked, you will be able to flip it over. While cooking, it sticks to the pan and if you try to flip it, you will break it. So wait for it to separate from the pan and flip it over and cook the other side. Then flip it again pressing the tortilla gently till it starts puffing up. Cook it so that it has some brown spots on both sides of the tortilla. Serve it hot with a gravy, pithla, jhunka or some butter.

If the dough seems to be cracking or getting dry, add a few drops of water and knead again till smooth. Make sure to keep all uncooked dough covered with a damp towel. If you don't have a tortilla  press, you can use a flat cutting board and then use a heavy flat bottomed pan/cooker to flatten the dough ball into a tortilla. Make sure to place the dough ball between two plastic sheets so that the tortilla doesn't stick to either surface.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cluster Beans with Carom Seasoning - Gavar Bhaji

I have come to the conclusion that distance (and time) makes the heart grow fonder. When I was a child, this was not a vegetable that I liked. I remember a frown on my face when I looked at this vegetable on my plate. Fast forward several years, after not having seen these beans for the longest time, I was surprised that I go so excited to see a packet of the frozen beans. I immediately wanted to cook it just like my Mom used to make it. I rushed home and all I could remember was the taste and the distinct smell of the caraway seeds. So, I let my memories of the taste guide me to make this and it turned out just the way Mom used to. 

These days this has become much more accessible and I can even find the fresh beans in the Indian grocery stores here. I still enjoy eating it though it is commonplace now, because whenever I make it, it takes me back to my childhood days.

2 tbsp oil 
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
pinch of hing/asafoetida
½ tsp carom/ajwain/owa seeds 
1-2 green chilies slit lengthwise
½ lb gavar/ cluster beans, diced
¼ tsp turmeric powder
salt to taste
½ tsp sugar (optional)
1 tsp goda masala (optional) – If goda masala is not available, substitute with ½ tsp cumin/jeera powder and ½ tsp coriander/dhania powder
1-2 tbsp water if needed

In a pan, heat the oil and then add the mustard seeds. Once they crackle, add the hing and ajwain. Then add the green chillies and let them cook a little. Then add the turmeric powder, stir and add the cut gavar. Stir to coat the gavar well. If using, add the goda masala or the cumin-corrianger powder and mix well. Add the salt. Cover the pan, switch to low heat and let the beans cook stirring frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn. Once the gavar is cooked, add the sugar, stir well. Serve hot with roti/chapati.

If the gavar is not tender, and fibrous, it takes longer to cook. In this case, you can add a tbsp. of water to increase the moisture content and to help cook the beans.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Ginger and Garlic Noodles

This is a beautiful and very flavorful version of the traditional chowmein. In this preparation, I have added lots of vegetables and these lend a hand in making the noodles even more flavorful. When I was a kid, I never liked ginger in my noodles and always protested when I detected ginger when my Mom made chowmein for me. But now I realize that garlic and ginger together give this a deeper flavor.

Recently when I made it for my kids and their friends, they loved it and polished off their plates. That was probably the best compliment I could ever get on how good these tasted. 

2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp finely grated ginger
2 tbsp finely minced garlic
1 tsp garlic red chilli paste
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp vinegar
1-2 chillies (optional)
1 onion, finely sliced
15 green beans, finely sliced
1 green bell pepper, finely sliced
2 carrots, grated/finely sliced
¼ cabbage, shredded finely
10 scallions/green onions, finely sliced (separate the white onion part and the leaves)
salt to taste
one packet of chowmein, boiled per directions on the packet

In a large pan or wok, heat up the oil. Once hot, add ginger and garlic and let it cook. Once slightly browned, add in the chillies, if using and then add the garlic red chilli paste. Let it cook for a couple of mins and then add the onions and the white part of the scallions. Fry the onions till cooked, then add the soy sauce and vinegar. Next add the green beans, stir fry and let it cook for a couple of minutes till adding the next vegetable. Add the bell pepper, then carrots and then the cabbage. Add half of the green scallion leaves. Cook the vegetables till they are cooked but still crispy. Don’t overcook these. Season the vegetables with a little salt and then add the noodles. Toss the noodles in till well mixed with the vegetables. Garnish with the remaining scallion greens. Serve hot. 

Add a little oil and salt to the water in which the noodles are boiled to prevent them from sticking. Also, after cooking, drain the water and toss the noodles in a teaspoon of oil. This will prevent them from sticking as they cool down.Taste the noodles and then adjust the salt when you finish off the dish. Since soy sauce is also salty, it is important to taste the noodles before adding more salt.
To make the garlic red chilli paste, soak 4-5 red chillies for a couple of hours. Then add 4-5 cloves of garlic to it and then grind these together. This can be stored in the fridge for a week to 10 days. You can also use sambal oelek paste which is a red chilli paste in vinegar instead of the garlic red chilli paste.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Mixed Vegetable Kurma - Coconut Based Curry

This is a delicious, vegetable rich curry with a coconut base which forms the gravy. I ate this for the first time in a South Indian style restaurant with Uttapam (thick rice pancakes). I absolutely loved it. I  then started making it at home whenever I would have grated coconut on hand. I believe this has its origins in Karnataka. It is very different from the mixed vegetable kurma which is found in North Indian style restaurants where the gravy base is onions and tomatoes.

This pairs very well with phulkas, uttapams and is worth being on a feast menu when served with puris. If is also a great gravy accompaniment with simple pulao. I love this preparation and hope you enjoy it too.

1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, cut into small cubes
15 green beans, finely diced
1 potato, cut into small cubes
¼ cauliflower, cut into small florets
½ cup peas
2 tbsp oil
¼ tsp cumin seeds/jeera
2 bay leaves/tej patta
salt to taste
water to form the gravy

For the gravy masala paste
1/2 onion, chopped
1 cup fresh coconut
4-5 garlic cloves
1 inch ginger
1-2 green chillies (to taste)
¼ cup cilantro/coriander leaves loosely filled (approximately leaves yielding from 10-15 stems)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp tamarind paste (soak tamarind in warm water and once it is softened, remove seeds and any fibers and extract the pulp from the tamarind)
1 tsp garam masala (optional)
water to grind the ingredients together to form a thick paste

Blend all the ingredients listed under the fresh coconut masala paste into a fine thick paste. Cut all the vegetables into approximately similar sized pieces. To reduce the overall cooking time, you can steam cook these or cook these in the microwave till partially cooked. Do not overcook them. It is not necessary to semi-cook the vegetables. It will just take a little longer for the kurma to cook if raw vegetables are added. If using frozen peas, just thaw them. Do not cook them with other vegetables as thawed peas cook really quickly.

Heat a pan. Add oil and then cumin seeds and bay leaves. Once the cumin seeds crackle, add the coconut paste and cook it till the raw smell of onion and garlic goes away and it starts to brown slightly. Next add the cut vegetables – the carrots, beans, peas, potato and cauliflower. Stir to coat these in the coconut masala and let these cook for a few minutes. Then add about ½-1 cup of water to create a gravy, based on your preference. Add salt to taste. Let the vegetables boil till completely cooked.

Serve hot with chapati, puri or uttapam.

Do not use cold or frozen coconut directly when making the masala paste. Thaw it and warm it a little. If it is very cold, the oil will separate out during the grinding process. Also, use warm water to grind the masala. You can also add 10-12 cashews (not roasted, raw) to the paste to give it a richer taste.

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