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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Sushi Rolls

All of us thoroughly enjoy eating sushi rolls. The first time I ate sushi was the grocery store vegetarian sushi rolls and I enjoyed the experience and the taste. For the longest time I used to go to a sushi restaurant or pick up the rolls from the grocery store. Then my friend told me that I could easily make these at home by buying a sushi rolling mat,  nori (seaweed) sheets and sushi sticky rice. So I got these and started making the rolls at home.  This was a few years ago and I had to go to a speciality store to pick up the ingredients but now these have become so popular that you can find it in most large grocery stores. Along with the rice and nori sheets, other must have ingredients are wasabi paste/sauce and pickled ginger. The very first time I rolled these out, it took a long time to create one perfect roll because I spent a lot of time cutting the vegetables into finely julienned pieces, and it took a while to roll a perfectly tight roll but after practice it has gotten really fast. So don't be disheartened if the first few times you don't get the perfect roll or if it takes a little while, because after a few times, you will get the hang of it and it will be just like making anything that you are an expert at.

2 cups of sushi rice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
thinly julienned vegetables that you want to fill in your sushi roll, carrots, avocado, cucumber, green onion, bell pepper etc. (you can use any filling like omelette, fish etc to make different types of rolls)
wasabi paste/sauce
nori seaweed sheets
pickled ginger
soy sauce
bowl of cold water

Cook the rice per package instructions or you can cook it in your pressure cooker or rice cooker. I use 2 cups water for 2 cups rice. I rinse it three times till the water starts to run a little clear and then cook it on rice mode in the Instant Pot. Once the pressure has released naturally. Add the salt and sugar to vinegar and stir to dissolve. If it doesn't dissolve, microwave it for 20-30 seconds till the salt and sugar dissolve.

Then drizzle the vinegar solution over the rice and using a rice spatula mix it gently into the warm rice, taking care not to crush the rice. Use a cutting motion to mix it in. Then let the rice cool down to room temperature.

Cover the bamboo sushi rolling mat with plastic wrap. Then place a nori sheet or half of a nori sheet onto the rolling mat. Take 1/4 cup of rice at a time and spread it in an even layer over the nori sheet. Leave about half an inch of nori sheet end that is away from you uncovered with rice. This is the end that will be the end of the overlapping nori as it gets rolled. If there is rice here, then it may get squished out.  The rice is sticky, so use the tip of your fingers to spread the rice. Keep dipping them in cold water so that the rice doesn't stick to your fingers.

Then place the julienned vegetables in a neat row on the side closest to you. Pile them onto each other making sure that it is not a very thick pile, else you will not be able to form a tight roll. If you use an entire nori sheet, you can add more fillings and if you use half a nori sheet you will have to reduce the amount of filling accordingly.  You can also spread some wasabi on to the rice along the length of the vegetable filling at this time.

Now using your thumbs,  lift up the rolling mat with the nori sheet and use your fingers to keep the stuffing in place as you roll the sheet over it, pressing the vegetables in to get a nice tight  first roll. (see the video above). Now keeping the pressure steady, continue to roll the nori sheet till a complete tight roll is formed. Keep lifting the rolling mat as the nori is rolled. The nori sheet end which was not covered with rice will become the end of the final roll and you can wet this with your finger (if the nori is dry) and press it onto the roll to seal it well.  Press down with the rolling mat to seal it well. Once well sealed, use a sharp knife to cut it into even pieces about 3/4th of an inch thick. Keep wiping the knife clean as it will be smudged with rice after a couple of slices. These will be rolls with the nori sheets outside and rice inside.

If you want to make rolls with the rice outside, then after you spread the rice on the nori sheet, flip it over and then add the fillings and continue as directed above to create the rolls.

If there are some vegetables peeking out of the ends, tuck them in to create a decorative look. Remember that presentation is important with Japanese cuisine, so arrange it in a pretty presentation. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi paste and pickled ginger.

The rice made using 2 cups of dry rice is enough to roll 5 to 6 rolls using the full square sheet. You can make smaller rolls by using half a nori sheet as shown in the video. If you use wasabi paste, remember that it is very pungent and inform the person eating the roll that it is spread inside the roll, so they are prepared for that kick to the tastebuds. I usually avoid it and let the person eating the roll decide if they are going to apply wasabi onto their roll.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Paneer - Pressure Cooker Version

Paneer is a fresh cheese made by splitting milk into milk solids and whey water. This is the same method used to make Ricotta cheese and essentially they are the same. The main difference is that the store bought paneer is usually packed tightly and is in the form of a nicely shaped brick and can be grated or cut like any other cheese. This can be easily cut into pieces and these pieces can be fried without them melting. Store bought ricotta cheese has water content in it and melts easily. So, the water content of the final paneer that you make at home depends largely on how you plan to use it.

When the water is drained completely, it can be kneaded and shaped into a compact shape which can be cut into cubes. These can then be directly added or pan fried and then added to gravies/curries and these will not melt. If however water content remains in the paneer and it is molded into cubes, these will eventually melt when you cook them and will not hold up as cubes in the curry.

I had thus far always made paneer by boiling milk in an open saucepan and once it started to get to a boil, I used to add lemon juice or diluted vinegar to it to split the milk into paneer and whey. This method is detailed here. I decided to try making paneer in the cooker. I used diluted white vinegar as the acidic agent mixed in with the milk.  And it was just perfect.

Milk doesn't spill over when heated in the Instant Pot and anyway by the time the milk comes to a boil, it is already split and so there is no chance of boiling over even in a stove top pressure cooker.  In fact when I heated just milk under pressure in my Instant Pot, it was just perfect when I opened it up, even though there was no agent to split it up. It had not risen up in the inner pot and there had been no spewing over the top. Of course I had filled it only half way.

whole milk (see method for quantities)
vinegar - 1/4 cup diluted with 3/4 cup water ( I use white vinegar)


Instant Pot (IP)
If using an IP, again, do not fill it more than 1/2 of the inner pot capacity. I use about 5 cups of milk. To this add the vinegar solution and close the lid. Close the vent and cook it in manual mode for 1 minutes on High Pressure. [I had earlier used the timing of 3 minutes but when I remade it, I set the timer to 1 minute and found that the paneer and whey had separated completely even with this lower timing. The paneer was softer too.]

Let the pressure release naturally and then open the lid. Or NPR for 10 minutes and then release the rest of the pressure by switching to vent. The paneer and whey will be separated.

Pressure cooker
If using a pressure cooker, make sure not to fill the cooker with more milk than 1/2 of the capacity of the cooker (this includes the volume of the added vinegar). It is preferable to keep it to 1/3rd at max to prevent any spraying from the top when the pressure is released (via the whistle mechanism). Add the vinegar water to this. You can also add lemon juice or yogurt (yogurt and lemon juice may not be as tart and could be ineffective if enough quantity is not added). I find vinegar to be the most reliable acidic agent. Heat it on medium high heat till it reaches pressure, then let it cook for a minute or two and  take it off the heat, let the pressure settle and open up to find the paneer and whey separated.

Molding the paneer
Drain the paneer using a linen cloth, rinse it with cold water, and then drain the water. Rinsing it in cold water helps to lessen the effect of vinegar and washed away any taste of the vinegar. Keep some weight on the paneer to drain all the water. Then knead it as it is usually granular to give it a smooth texture which will make it look like store bought paneer. If you know you are going to  use it to make savory dishes, you can add salt to the paneer at the kneading stage so that it is not bland. If you plan to use it to make sweets, do not add salt.
Then pat the kneaded paneer into a flat disc/flat rectangle and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours or more to firm up. You can also wrap it up in cling wrap.

Your paneer is ready. It can now be cut up into cubes or grated like cheese.

The whey water should be clear and has a greenish tinge. That is an indication that all the milk solids have separated out. If not, heat it up, and add a little more of the acidic agent to the milk. Make sure to use more quantity of yogurt or lemon juice (if using these as these are not as acidic or tart as vinegar. Do not dilute these).

I got about 180 gms/6.4 oz of paneer from 5.5 cups (approx 1/3 gallon) of whole milk (cow's).
You can use lower fat content milk to make paneer as well, but as the fat content reduces, the quantity of paneer extracted will reduce and the texture will also change and can be a slightly rubbery compared to the one extracted from whole milk. You can also use half and half to boost the fat content of the paneer.

Paneer is made the same way as Ricotta Cheese. When all the water is drained, then the paneer cubes will remain as cubes in gravies or curries. Before draining the water, you have ricotta cheese and this will melt. If water content remains in the molded paneer cubes, the paneer will disintegrate and melt into the gravy.

The longer you cook the milk solids in the whey water the tougher they get, so if you release the pressure after natural pressure release for a few minutes, you will get paneer with a softer texture.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

A Fabulous Hack - Use your pressure cooker to roast all kinds of flours!

If you use roasted/toasted flours or semolina to make things like rouxs, sheera, rava, laddoos etc, then you will love this hack. One of the most tedious steps in making dishes which need well roasted or browned flour (like laddoos, sheera, upma, etc) is the step of roasting the flour.  While roasting it in an open pan on the stove top, it needs to be done at medium low heat and stirred often. It becomes imperative to stir it continuously as it starts to cook and brown. And as it starts to turn golden brown, if  you get distracted even for a few seconds, the result is burnt flour. For larger quantities, it takes a long time to get to the aromatic toasted stage. However, this is one of those tedious steps that must be done and cannot be omitted. In fact the taste of raw flour in a sweet like mysore pak or besan laddoo can render it inedible.

Well, I decided to use my pressure cooker and see if I could make this process efficient. The first time I tried it out, I used a cup of semolina/rava and then tried the same with 1 cup chickpea flour/besan. And it worked amazingly well for both. I then proceeded to roast a pound of semolina flour using my Instant Pot which has a higher volume capacity. It is now stored in an airtight container, ready to use when needed.

I haven't used this to roast grain yet, but I am sure this can be extended to roast grains too for powders like "thalipeeth or chakali bhajani"

Note: The dessert pictured here is besan laddoo. It needs well roasted chickpea/besan flour. Even a bit of uncooked flour will make it taste terrible. These laddoos were made with the flour roasted using the method below. It usually takes me over an hour and a half,  to make these and I was able to make these from getting the ingredients out, roasting the flour, letting the flour cool, adding the rest of the ingredients and rolling it into balls in 25 minutes.

Flour that you want to roast/toast

Place the flour in a bowl that is pressure cooker safe (I usually use a stainless steel bowl). Now, close this with a tight lid as we want to ensure that water from condensation does not fall into the flour. Since we are going to cook this under pressure, the cooker will have water which will start to condense around the  bowl. If you don't have a lid, cover it tightly with foil.

Pressure cooker
Add 1 cup water, place the container into the cooker and close lid. Turn it on the high heat setting.  (between 8-9 on my electric stove top). The pressure cooker will come to full pressure in about 2-3 minutes. After that cook it for 5 minutes at this high temperature. You will get numerous whistles. The time I counted the whistles I got about 37 whistles. Since you have added a cup of water, there is enough there to prevent all the water from evaporating.
Take it off the heat. Now place a large pan which can contain the amount of flour that is being cooked onto your stovetop and start heating it. Then using a long wooden spoon, release the pressure by pushing the whistle up gently. Do not knock the whistle off, be careful with this step.

Remove the covered bowl, wipe it down making sure that water doesn't get into the bowl. Open up the lid and pour the hot flour into the pan that is being heated. Turn the heat under the pan to high, and stir the flour and roast till you start getting the roasted aroma. At this stage you can turn the heat off or continue till you brown it to the shade you desire. Finally, check that the flour is well roasted to suit your taste by actually tasting it a little. See Tips below for the timings I observed.

Instant Pot
Add one cup of water to the inner pot of the Instant Pot. Place the trivet and then place this bowl containing the flour. Cook it on manual mode, vent closed for 10 minutes.  Let it be on natural pressure release for 5 minutes. Before you release the pressure, place a large pan which can contain the amount of flour that is being cooked onto your stovetop and start heating it.  Then release the pressure by turning knob to vent. (see manual for directions)

Remove the covered bowl, wipe it down making sure that water doesn't get into the bowl. Open up the lid and pour the hot flour into the pan that is being heated. Turn the heat under the pan to high, and stir the flour and roast till you start getting the roasted aroma. At this stage you can turn the heat off or continue till you brown it to the shade you desire. Finally, check that the flour is well roasted to suit your taste by actually tasting it a little. See Tips below for the timings I observed.

Photos of 1 cup chickpea/besan flour roasting steps - done in pressure cooker.

1. Before placing in cooker

2. Covered with a lid (added parchment too as the seal was not airtight)

3. After cooking in the cooker

4. After roasting in the heated pan

5. Added ghee to the roasted flour and then added sugar to make laddoos pictured above

Photos of 1 pound of semolina/rava roasting steps - done in the Instant Pot (IP)

1. Before placing in IP

2. Covered tightly with foil

3. After cooking in IP

4. In the pan

5. After roasting in the heated pan

For 1 cup of chickpea/besan flour it took 1 min and 41 seconds for the roasted aroma and it started to brown at 2 mins 10 seconds. I took it off the heat and stirred it and it was a good shade of brown by the 3rd min. Then I poured it into a cool bowl to stop it from cooking further in the pan's retained heat.

For 1 lb of semolina/rava it took 3 minutes for the roasted aroma and it started to brown at 3 mins 10 seconds. It was lightly browned by the 5th minute. I took it off the heat and poured it into a cool bowl to stop it from cooking further in the pan's retained heat.

You can add ghee to the pan before pouring the flour into the pan which I did for the besan flour as I was going to use it to make besan laddoos.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Mango Kalakand - Pressure Cooker Version

This is a delicacy and usually requires several hours when made traditionally. You start with whole milk, separate it into whey and paneer, then add the paneer to whole milk and reduce this down till thickened and then add the sugar, stir it for a little longer till thick enough to set and then set it on a greased plate. There are several short cut recipes that I have seen by baking ricotta cheese or making it in the microwave, but I have always found that these fall short of the authentic taste, especially for me. I have a sensitive palate and am able to taste the ricotta cheese in these recipes which annoys me terribly. So, I end up spending long hours during Diwali time (the only time I make elaborate sweets) making this.

Since I have been on a pressure cooking experimentation spree, I broke down the basic components of the traditional recipe and decided substitute milk with milk powder and see if this would set in the cooker when cooked under pressure, similar to a caramel flan. Thus far, I have experimented with cake and waffle batter and they have cooked well under pressure in less than 20 minutes. So again with a motivation to simplify the recipe with respect to the length of time and effort, I set forth with my experiment. In addition, I decided to flavor it with mango as I hadn't made mango kalakand before. And the result was terrific! Absolutely delicious, soft and well set kalakand. I can now whip this up easily for any dinner party now and so can you.

1 cup freshly made crumbly paneer
1/2 cup milk powder
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp mango pulp, canned
1 tsp ghee plus more to grease the container
1 cup water for the cooker

Take the crumbly paneer in a bowl and mash it a little to make it slightly smoother. We still need a little granular structure to give kalakand the right texture. Then add the milk powder and sugar. Mix these well and then add the mango pulp. Add 1 tsp ghee and mix well. This mixture should be quite thick. If the pulp is very watery, then add some more milk powder to thicken it.

Grease a cooker safe container with ghee. Pour this mixture into the container. Cover this container with foil or a lid. This is to prevent water from condensation falling into the kalakand.

Pressure Cooker
Pour a cup of water into the cooker and place the covered container into the cooker. Cook this on medium low heat (4 setting on my stove) for 15 minutes (you can steam it or pressure cook it, it does not matter). Take it off the heat. Let the pressure fall and then open the lid.

Instant Pot
Cook it in manual mode for 15 minutes with vent closed. Let the pressure fall and then open the lid.

Now carefully remove the covered container making sure to not disturb the lid of the container. Then wipe it down nicely and once assured that there is no water, open the lid. Check that it is well set by inserting a toothpick or a paring knife into the kalakand and if it comes out clean, it is done.

Then let this cool down completely, cut this into squares. Refrigerate for a few hours. Then separate out the squares and serve them.

Paneer was made from whole milk and I had non-fat milk powder on hand.
If using fresh mango pulp, thicken it a little by cooking it a couple of minutes and add sugar if needed.  If this makes the mixture runny, add milk powder. The mixture must be like a thick cake or idli batter to set well.
To make normal kalakand, instead of mango pulp, add 1-2 tbsp of yogurt to bring the ingredients together in thick batter/paste form. Add cardamom powder for flavoring.
If you use a mango pulp that is too watery or if you haven't drained all the water from the paneer and it is too soft after refrigeration and you cannot make pieces out of it, pour the mixture into an open pan and heat it up for a couple of minutes till thickened and put it back in the greased plate to set it.

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