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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Pineapple Jam

Over the last two years (ever since I started blogging), I have collected many pictures of food. I cook everyday and enjoy trying out new recipes. So, it follows that I end up taking pictures at least a couple of days a week, of new food items and my photo collection keeps growing. The challenge is to keep up with the blog updates as I make new dishes. I was going through the various pictures and trying to decide which recipe to write up next, when I came across pictures of my homemade pineapple jam. It is an easy recipe, to make and to write up too, so it is the perfect choice for blogging on a rather busy day. I had used a method similar to my strawberry jam. It tastes delicious. It has a slightly tangy taste depending on how sour the pineapple is. It is a great accompaniment for bread or hot chapatis.

1 pineapple, finely chopped or grated or coarsely pureeed
sugar (about 1.5 to 2 cups) - quantity will depend on the cooked down quantity of the pineapple
1/8 tsp citric acid

Cook the pineapple on medium heat. You will know that the pineapple is cooked once the color starts to become darker and the puree starts to thicken. At this stage, measure the amount of the cooked puree. Measure out two times the sugar compared to the quantity of cooked puree. I had one cup of the cooked puree and so I took two cups of sugar. Mix the puree and the sugar and heat it on a low flame. The mixture will become watery as the sugar melts and then start to thicken. When this mixture is thick enough where your spoon leaves a slight path when its dragged through it, it is ready to be taken off the heat. Take a little mixture in a small bowl and add the citric acid to it, stir thoroughly so that the citric acid is completely dissolved. Add this back to the warm mixture. Let it cool.  Do not cover the jam as it cools down. Store it in the fridge upon cooling.

If you puree the pineapple, keep aside a slice of pineapple and cut it into fine pieces. The puree and pineapple pieces will provide the best texture for the jam. Store it in the fridge. Use only dry spoons when scooping the jam out of the container. Introduction of moisture will speed up the spoilage and it will not last for too long.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Rasgulla - A Cottage Cheese Dessert

Rasgulla or Rosogolla is possibly the most well known Bengali dessert. These are made from cottage cheese also known as paneer. Fresh paneer is kneaded into small balls and then cooked in syrup. The result is light dumplings which have a slightly sponge like texture. These absorb the syrup and are generally not overly sweet. In comparison to "gulab jamun", these are definitely much lighter and spongier in texture and not as sweet.

As a child, I refused to try this sweet. I tasted it for the first time when I was in the 7th grade and was delightfully surprised by the light, not too sweet, refreshing taste. In the last few years, I have only eaten the canned version found in the Indian store and those leave you with a tinny after taste. So, when my cousin requested that I make this when he visited me, I was more than happy to oblige. Oh and they turned out so good, that I haven't been able to eat the tinned ones ever since. I used my paneer recipe and then experimented with the method from my friend's blog. My conclusion was that the recipe is not too difficult and the returns on effort are truly worth it. Now, one of my friends is expecting her first child and has been craving this sweet for a while. I wish I were in the same city as hers to prepare it for her, but as that is not possible, giving her the recipe is the next best thing I can do. This one's for you M!

Freshly prepared paneer made from Whole milk - Refer to the paneer recipe post for the method of preparation and ingredients
2 cups of sugar
5 cups of water

After you have rinsed out the milk solids separated from the whey water and drained out excess water, you will then knead the paneer to bring all these milk solids together. At this stage, knead the paneer for a couple of minutes. At the end of the kneading process, the paneer should come together into a soft dough. At this stage you are ready to roll the paneer into small balls. Use a light hand to roll out the balls. Remember these balls will puff upto almost double the size upon cooking, so roll them out into balls about an inch in diameter. This will ensure that the rasgulla is not too big and can be eaten easily. 

Once all the balls are rolled out, dissolve the sugar in water to create a simple syrup. Use a deep vessel which can be covered with a lid. Heat the syrup till it starts boiling and then add these paneer balls into the syrup gently, one at a time. Now at this stage, if your paneer is not well kneaded or the balls have become too dry, they may start cracking or disintegrating. So add one or two balls and observe them for a minute before proceeding with the rest.  Then add the remaining balls to the syrup annd cook these in the open pan for 5 minutes. Then cover with a lid that has a vent. Use a lid with a vent, else the syrup may boil over (you need to release the steam generated while the paneer is being cooked). If you have a pressure cooker, remove the whistle from the lid and then use the pressure cooker to cook the paneer balls. Cook these covered for about 5-7 minutes (this is when they will double in size). Then, take off the lid. At this stage the paneer balls would have doubled in size. Then add about 1/4 cup of water and cook it uncovered for a five more minutes. Your paneer has now been converted into the delicacy that is "rasgulla". Rasgullas as accompanied by the syrup, so do not scoop them out of the syrup. Let them cool down in the syrup. Do not cover the pot before the rasgullas cool down. Keep it in the fridge for at least an hour before serving. Serve cold as dessert.

Squeeze out excess water, and it is ok to drain the water completely. Then as you start kneading the paneer, add a tsp or so of water at a time to get it together into a dough. A little moisture is needed to give the paneer it's dough like texture upon kneading. If while kneading it, it feels too crumbly, then add a tsp of water and knead. You know you have kneaded enough when the paneer gets a playdough or clay like texture. Hands will get slightly greasy upon kneading the paneer. Do not use low fat or skimmed milk. Fat content is needed, else you will not be able to form the paneer balls. Cover the rolled out paneer balls with a damp cloth (not wet), especially during summer and if you live in a dry climate. This will prevent the paneer balls from developing cracks.  

Monday, June 20, 2011

Veg Au Gratin - Baked Vegetables in White Sauce

This is the tastiest veg au gratin ever. A wonderful medley of fresh, crisp vegetables in a rich white sauce, with a delicious layer of browned cheese. My favorite version of this dish is the one I used to eat at a restaurant in Pune. It has always tasted the same, ever since the first day I ate it, some 15 years ago. They serve the same size portion,  accompanied by a piece of garlic toast. It is absolutely the yummiest version of this dish. I was remembering and craving a taste of this dish for the longest time. So, I finally decided to experiment and try it out. It did turn out quite close to the original, so this will do for now.

Note: For variation, instead of adding a layer of cheese and baking it, add some hot sauce and eat the vegetables cooked in white sauce.
1 tbsp butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour/maida
2 cups milk (use whole milk, definitely not skimmed milk)
salt to taste
white pepper to taste (can use black pepper if white pepper is not available)
1/4 cup onions, diced into small pieces
1/4 cup peas
1/4 cup potato, diced into small pieces
1/4 cup carrots, diced into small pieces
1 cup shredded cheese
1 tbsp oil

Cook the peas, potatoes and carrots partially. You can do this by cooking them in the  microwave for a couple of minutes. You can also cook them by either adding them to boiling water for a few minutes or steam cooking them for a few minutes. Heat oil in a pan and add the onions. Sautee the onions till they are transluscent. Then add all the vegetables and saute for a couple of minutes. Add salt to taste, turn off the heat and keep aside.

In another deep pan, add the butter and once it melts, add the flour. Cook the flour in the butter till it starts to look slightly pink. Generally at this stage, the raw flour smell disappears. Do not over cook the flour and do not let it turn brown. Then, turn the heat low and add the milk while stirring the mixture with a whisk. It is critical at this stage to keep mixing the milk and flour together so that no lumps are formed. Once the flour is dissolved in the milk, stir it often till it starts to thicken. Add salt and white pepper. As soon as it become thick and gets a sauce like consistency, turn off the heat and add half a cup of grated cheese. Mix thoroughly till the cheese is well incorporated. Add the sauteed vegetables and mix into the sauce. (At this stage all the components are cooked and you can eat the vegetables without baking it further, if you choose.)

Next, pour this mixture into an oven safe dish and layer the remaining cheese on top in an even layer. Bake this for 10-15 minutes at 350F or till the the chee.se has melted and starts to brown slightly.
Serve hot with some garlic bread.

All the vegetables should be cut to similar size about the size of the peas. If white pepper is available use it. It adds flavor to the white sauce and the specks of pepper cannot be seen in the sauce. If not possible, then add black pepper. If you are using frozen peas, rinse them with water and thaw them out. These will be soft enough and do not need to be cooked again prior to sauteeing. You may want to boil the potato first and then dice it.  You can also use the broil setting on your oven to melt and brown the cheese faster. Make sure you are using a pan that is broiler safe.

If you feel adventurous enough, try adding a few diced pieces of pineapples (canned) along with the rest of the vegetables. The original dish has a few  pineapples pieces in it. However, upon my family's preference,I didn't add it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dill and Split Mung Stir Fry/ Shepu Chi Bhaaji

This is a nutritious and delicious recipe. It is also one of the only recipes I know which uses dill as the main ingredients and not as a spice. Dill has a strong licorice like flavor and also a strong spicy fragrance. This is a Maharashtrian delicacy. For many  people it is an an acquired taste and there are some who find that dill tastes too sharp and spicy. I hadn't ever eaten it while in India, but when my husband asked me to make "shepu chi bhaaji (dill curry)", I called up my Mom and sure enough, got the recipe from her. I tasted it and to my surprise I liked it. I make it frequently now and it's a great addition to my green vegetable list.

1 tbsp oil
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
1/8 tsp cumin seeds
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1-2 dried red chillies (to taste)
a pinch of asafoetida powder/hing
1 medium red onion, diced (about half cup)
1 cup split mung/moong (yellow mung dal)
1 bunch of dill leaves (about 2 cups)
salt to taste

Soak the mung in water. The water should cover the mung completely. If the mung is peeled, soak for at least 15 minutes, if you are using mung with the peel, soak for about an hour. Drain the water before you begin the cooking process.

Heat the oil, add mustard and cumin seeds. Once the mustard seeds crackle, add the hing powder, red chillies and garlic. Add onions and fry them for a few mins. Add the soaked mung seeds in with about  one tablespoon of water. Stir and cover till the dal is cooked through. Stir every couple of minutes, so that the dal doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan. Next, add the dill leaves. Stir and let it cook for a couple of minutes till the dill wilts and is cooked through. Add salt to taste. Serve hot with chapati or as a side.

You can use the thin stalks of dill, and you do not have to separate the leaves which are very thin and pin like. Just cut off the thicker, fibrous stalks. The dill leaves will shrink in volume as they cook down, so be prepared for the overall volume to be around the same as the mung that you use.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Rainbow Chard Stir Fry

I made this in spring which now seems a long time ago, with the temperatures soaring. I had the radio switched on one morning while driving and I heard the most wonderful description of fresh green vegetables cropping up in spring. It signified the end of winter and beginning of spring. They ended the radio segment with a mouth watering commentary on a simple recipe made using greens like chard, collard greens and spinach. That five minute description of freshly harvested greens inspired me to visit the local farmer's market that very weekend. I foudn the most gorgeoud rainbow chard. The reason why it's called rainbow chard, is that the stems of the leaves are very colorful - a bright red and yellow with green leaves (the colors are so bright and pretty that I couldn't resist putting up all the different photos I took of the vegetable).

Now, this was the first time I was to prepare rainbow chard and my mother's words came back to me on the basic principles of preparing green vegetables. "Use red chillies and garlic and any green vegetable will taste wonderful". I was glad that I heeded her advice as the recipe turned out great. I now have another addition to my green vegetable list!

1 tbsp oil
2-3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 bunch of rainbow chard - about 3-4 leaves. Chop the green leafy part in chiffonade style, into thin ribbons. Cut the stems into small pieces and keep them aside
2-3 dried red chillies (adjust amount to taste)
salt to taste
1 lemon for garnish

Heat the oil and add the garlic. Once the garlic starts to turn a light golden, add the red chillies and the stems.  Stir well and let the stems cook for a few minutes till they look a little tender. You can cover the pan, so that the stems will cook faster. Next add the green leaf ribbons into the pan and stir. Let this cook till the leaves wilt. If the chard is tender, the leaves will cook pretty quickly. You can cover the pan if needed. Next, add salt and stir. Turn off the heat and squeeze a little lemon on top of the cooked vegetable. Serve as a side or eat with hot rotis.

Let the stems cook through paritally and become soft before adding the greens. The stems are fibrous and will take a longer time than the greens. If you add them both together, you will end up overcooking the green leafy party. The easiest method to detect if the stems and leaves are cooked to the desired level, is to taste it. If it is difficult to chew or too fibrous let it cook for a few more minutes. This preparation tastes good with a little bit of crunch rather than cooking it till mushy.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Lemon Rice - Tangy and Spicy

Rice is an integral part of every meal in India and there are many recipes to spice up the rice and make it more interesting. Right from the rich biryani preparations to the every day lemon rice, tamarind rice and tomato rice. These are just a few examples of the vast number of rice dishes that can be found in India. As one travels through India and moves south, one will notice that the prevalance of rice increases.  I really enjoy the tangy preparations of rice like lemon and tamarind rice. It was only after I tasted the lemon rice made by a friend that I realised that if the lemon juice is cooked prior to adding the rice, the end product is significantly better. So thanks to her, I now know how to make this recipe so that the end result has an authentic taste.

1/8 tsp mustard
pinch of hing/asafoetida
1/8 tsp turmeric
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp chana dal
5-7 curry leaves
2-3 tbsp peanuts
1-2 green chillies to taste, slit lengthwise (if you don't have green chillies, use dried red chillies - this is what I used in this recipe)
1/4 cup lemon juice
salt to taste
1 cup rice, cooked

Heat the oil and add the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds starts to crackle, add the hing, urad dal, chana dal. Cook the dals till lightly browned and then add the curry leaves, green chillies and peanuts. Stir and cook for a minute and then add the lemon juice. Add a little salt and cook this mixture till the lemon juice starts to boil and then turn off the heat. Add a little lemon mixture to the rice and mix well. Add more as needed till the rice gets the right amount of tanginess. Adjust the salt as needed.

You can cook the lemon mixture and store it in the fridge for upto two weeks, without it getting spoilt. This is a wonderful way to spice up leftover rice and make a quick meal. Add more lemon mix to the rice if you want a sour and tangy taste. Lemon rice is a preparation that will stay fresh for about a day or so without refrigeration and is a common food packed during travel. To cook the rice in the pressure cooker use twice the amount of water compared to the rice and cook for 1 whistle or if using the Instant Pot use the rice mode, or 5 minutes manual, high pressure mode and let the pressure fall naturally.