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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

7 Cup Fudge - Saat Vati Barfi/Vadi

I made this recently for a get together and it was a big hit. I had doubled the recipe, and prepared a large quantity and by the end of the evening, the plate was almost empty. I also got a lot of compliments and requests for this recipe. So, I must conclude that this is indeed a lip smacking sweet and is liked by others just as much as my family and I do.  The best part is that this recipe is possibly the easiest Indian sweet one can ever make. It is one where you really can't go wrong.This recipe can be easily scaled up and you can be assured that it will wow your guests. So, if you are a beginner cook or looking for something easy but impressive, then this is it.

The reason why this is called 7 cup vadi/barfi is that the amount of ingredients total up to 7 cups, so it is also an easy recipe to remember.

1 cup besan/chickpea flour
1 cup ghee/clarified butter
1 cup grated fresh coconut
1 cup milk
3 cups sugar
1/4 tsp cardamom powder (optional)

Take a plate or tray in which you will pour out the barfi and set it and grease it well with ghee.

In a large deep pan, mix together all the ingredients. It really doesn't matter what order you put the ingredients in, however it is easier if you start off with ghee and milk and then add the dry ingredients and stir them in. Then place this pan on the stove and keep it on very low heat. Stir frequently. You don't want the ingredients at the base to burn.

The mixture will liqudefy when it gets hot as the sugar melts, however after sometime, it will start to thicken. At this stage, you will need to pay attention to check how thick it is getting. When the mixture thickens enough that when you stir it, the base of the pan can be easily viewed for a few seconds, then the mixture is ready to be poured into the greased plate. Alternately, you can take a  drop full of the mixture into a plate and as soon as it is cool enough to touch, try to roll it into a ball. If you are able to roll it, then the mixture is ready to be poured.

Use a bowl or measuring cup to spread the mixture out into the plate. Make sure to grease the base of the cup with ghee, so that the mixture doesn't stick. Use it to level the mixture and flatten it. Now, let the mixture cool. When it has cooled to a luke warm temperature, it will solidify a little. At this stage, you can easily cut it into squares. Once it has cooled down completely, you can easily separate out the vadis into individual pieces.
Make this as a sweet snack or for a special occasion.

Add the cardamom powder so that the aroma of the barfi is great. If you have the time, keep this mixture aside for about 30 mins. This will help in dissolving the sugar in the wet ingredients and the cooking time will reduce slightly. The color of the  mixture will darken as it cooks, but make sure to keep stirring it so that the ingredients at the base don't burn or stick to the pan. It maybe easier to use a non-stick pan.

If the mixture becomes too thick while cooking it, add a little more milk to thin it out and then cook it till the right consistency is reached. Also, if you remove the mixture from the heat a bit early and it doesn't set into solid individual pieces upon cooling, don't panic. Just put the mixture back into the pan and cook it for a few more minutes. It is a foolproof recipe and easy to correct if you do make a mistake.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Amla Supari (Awla Supari) - Sundried Indian Gooseberry

The "Indian" Gooseberry is one of my favorite fruits. I shall soon explain why I am highlighting the "Indian" part. This fruit is called "awla" in Marathi and "amla" in Hindi, and those are the names that I have known it by for most of my life. Now, of course sometime in my life I learnt that it is known as gooseberry in English and I filed it away in remote recesses of my memory. Also, before I go further with my story, I must explain that this fruit is found in two sizes in India, one is a larger version, about an inch in diameter, quite tart and used to make "amla supari" (sundried spiced amla) and a much smaller version, about 1-2 centimeter in diameter which are also tart but have a slightly sweeter taste and a much smaller seed. 

I had never seen the fruit in the US before and when I came across gooseberries in the store last year I got super excited. The gooseberry looked remarkably like the smaller one I had eaten in India, and I felt almost like I had hit the jackpot, my years of wait were over and I would soon be able to relish this delicious fruit again. So naturally, I picked up a couple of boxes and as soon as I came home, I dug in. And boy was I disappointed. The fruit was nowhere close to either variety that I had eaten before. The only likeliness was in the shape and color, but the taste was more like a blueberry except there wasn't a hint of sweetness. Overall it was rather flavorless. So, of course I spent the next couple of hours moping and then picked myself up and started my research. I figured with the world becoming so small, I would definitely be able to find this exotic fruit somewhere. I finally came across some trails online which finally led me to the frozen section of the Indian store and I was in luck. I found one packet of the frozen fruit with the words "Indian Gooseberry" blazened on it.  Hence, I highlight the "Indian" part of this fruit, so that when you go looking for it in the grocery aisle you pick up the correct fruit.

Now, I have found amla only in the frozen form here, which I haven't really relished eating raw. The defrosted version just doesn't satiate. So, I made the next best thing, which is amla supari. Basically it is partially cooked amla mixed with some spices, salt and then sundried for about a week or ten days. Of course, it is so delicious that none of the batches have made it all the way to the end of the week. They get devoured by family (mainly me) and friends within the first three to four days after preparation. However, if your batch does make it to the end of the drying process, expect very hard and dark supari which will taste salty, tart and delicious and will store in a dry container for a few months to a couple of years.

10 raw or frozen amla
1/8 tsp hing/asafoetida powder
1/4 tsp black salt (kala namak in Hindi)
1/4 tsp rock salt (sendhva namak in Hindi)
salt to taste (about 1/4-1/2 tsp)

It doesn't matter if you start out with fresh or frozen amlas, the process remains the same. Take the amlas, wash them, and then put them in a vessel that can be covered with a lid (pressure cooker safe). Do not pour any water in or around the fruit. Then place the vessel in your pressure cooker and following the instructions of your pressure cooker manual, pressure cook the amlas.  Pressure cook it for 2-3 whistles or in the Instant Pot for 5 minutes on manual mode, high pressure. Let pressure fall naturally (see tips). In the absence of a pressure cooker, you can also use a steamer to cook the amlas. Again the amlas should not be directly exposed to the water or steam.  At the end of the cooking process the amlas should be cooked through, but not so soft that they will become mushy. At this stage, the amla can easily be separated into its individual slices/flakes by just applying a little pressure. Each individual slice will easily peel off the seed but retain its shape and form. So, once the cooked amla cools down, using your fingers, separate out the slices of the amla.

Once you have separated the slices out, sprinkle the hing powder and gently coat the slices. Then add the black rock salt and the white rock salt (sendhva namak) and mix. Now taste the slice and then add regular salt as needed till it is slightly salty. Now, spread these slices out in a plate and leave it in an area exposed to air and if possible sunlight. If dried indoors, it takes about a week to ten days for the amla supari to start becoming hard, brown and dry. At the end of the process, the slices will be hard and will contain no moisture. The supari is ready. It is only at this stage that it will have a long shelf life and you can store the supari in a container for several months to a couple of years.

Generally it takes a couple of whistles in my pressure cooker when I start out with frozen amlas without defrosting them. The fruit has a very high water content and if you submerge or surround the amlas with water when you pressure cook them, them they will get overcooked and disintegrate easily. It is not easy to separate the slices of the amla and take it off the seed without cooking the fruit. But the best part is that after the cooking step, the slices can be separated in a jiffy. If the supari is not thoroughly dried before storing, it will spoil easily. The fastest way to dry the amla slices, is to cover it with a light muslin or cheesecloth and keep it outdoors in the sunlight. Now, the winter sun is quite mild, so it will definitely take longer than it would in the summer, but it will be much faster than doing it inside. However, if it is not convenient, try to keep the plate by a window where there are chances of it being exposed to the sunlight and warmth during part of the day.

The amla supari in the photos above was dried for about 5 days in the house and was still not completely hard when the photos were taken.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Til Gul Wadi/Vadi - Sesame Seed Fudge

The first week of January has passed by and we are inching towards 14th of January, when the first Indian festival of the year will be celebrated. This is "Sankrant" also known as Makar  Sankrant in India. It is a festival to celebrate the harvest season. This is one festival which almost always falls on the 14th of January (this year it was on the 15th) and is based on the movement of the Sun rather than the Moon. It is celebrated throughout India and is called by different names in different states. Some names that I am familiar with are Lohari (in Punjab), Uttarayan (in Gujarat), Makar Sankrant (in Maharashtra) and Pongal (in the southern states). In Gujarat, the entire day is spent on the terrace of the houses and in streets flying kites. It is one of the most colorful scenes I have ever seen. In Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated over a period of three days.

In Maharashtra, it is celebrated by distributing sweets made from sesame seeds and jaggery. These are called "til gul vadi" and the tradition is to say "til gul ghya ani goad goad bola" which translates to "please take this sweet and speak sweetly". There are multiple variations in how this sweet is made, some are really hard in texture, some are brittle and some are soft. Each family has it's own recipe and tradition of making this sweet.

The ones I make have a soft texture and are easy to bite into and extremely simple to prepare. You can roll it into a ball and make a "laddoo" or you can flatten it and cut it into "vadi/barfi" akin fudge pieces. This is my Mom's recipe and my favorite version of this sweet. I hope you will give it a try and enjoy it.

1 cup sesame seeds
1 cup peanuts (shelled and without the peel)
1 cup finely cut jaggery, cup should be packed
1 tbsp ghee/clarified butter
2 tbsp of grated dessicated coconut, for garnish
some ghee to grease the plate in which the sweet will be set.

Take a plate with an edge or a pan with a small edge and grease it with some ghee.
In a dry skillet, on low to medium heat, roast the sesame seeds till you get the aroma of the sesame seed.  Keep it aside and let it cool. In the same skillet roast the peanuts following the same method as for the sesame seeds. Be careful not to burn these ingredients. Once these cool down, coarsely grind them separately and then mix the two powders together.

In a pan, add the ghee and jaggery and keep it on a very low flame to cook. The jaggery will start melting. Be sure to keep it on very low heat.. Stir the jaggery so that it doesn't caramelize. Within a couple of minutes, the jaggery will start bubbling and foaming. At this stage, turn off the heat and add the powdered mixture of peanuts and sesame seeds and mix well together. Then pour this mixture (it will be quite thick) into the greased plate. Then using another bowl/measuring cup (grease the bottom), pat the this hot mixture and even it out into the plate. Make sure to level it properly. Then sprinkle the dessicated coconut all over the top and using the cup, pat it into the mixture. All this must be done while the mixture is hot.

Then, after the mixture cools a little, cut it into square pieces of about 1 inch sides. Let the mixture cool completely befor you take the individual pieces out of the plate.

You can roast the peanuts and the sesame seeds in the microwave. Initially you can do it for 1 minute intervals. Stir it after each minute and then you can reduce that to 30 second intervals. It takes about 2-3 minutes based on the power settings of your microwave. Let them cool completely and then grind.
If jaggery is kept on high heat, it will start caramelizing as soon as it melts, so be careful of the temperature. Also, it is necessary to turn off the heat as soon as the jaggery foams to get the soft consistency, the longer it is cooked, the harder the end product will be. If you feel that the jaggery syrup has become very thick, you can add some more ghee or alternately add a couple of tbsp of milk to the syrup to thin it out (if you add milk, this shortens the shelf life, so be sure to keep it refrigerated and eat it in a couple of days). If  after adding the sesame and peanut powder, the mixture becomes very dry and powdery, then sprinkle a teaspoon of warm milk and stir (while the mixture is hot). The mixture will immediately become moist (if it becomes too soft and moist, then re-heat it).  Then spoon the mixture into the greased plate.

If you forget to remove the pieces and then it gets difficult to take them out, heat the bottom of your plate or keep it in a warm oven for a couple of minutes and then it will be very easy to get the pieces out.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Nankhatai - Delicious Eggless Indian Shortbread Cookies

A very Happy New Year to all my blog readers. I hope you had  great first of January and are charged up to start the new year with good food. I thought what was better than to start the new year with a recipe of delicious Indian shortbread cookies, called Nankhatai. These are rather rustic and delicious and moreover eggless and extremely easy to prepare.

These heavenly cookies are rather hard to find. When I was growing up, one could never find them in regular grocery stores. These had to be bought from bakeries (which used to filled with the divine aroma of cookies and cakes). And then there were some door to door vendors who used to cart them in a big tin box on a bicycle and sell them. Of course, the easiest way to access them was when Mom baked them at home, but that not very frequent. And now, I find it is even more difficult to find these. So, when I really want to eat some, I need to order them online from Indian bakeries in other states. I finally decided to make them at home. My husband was quite insistent that these be the original, rustic cookies/biscuits without any nuts or additions and so, I kept it very simple. These turned out absolutely great.  The best part was that my toddler daughter was also involved throughout the making of this recipe and she thoroughly enjoyed it and then ate the cookies with relish.

1 cup maida/ all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/8 tsp cardamom powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

Sieve together the all purpose flour, salt, cardamom powder and baking powder and keep aside. Whip the butter till it is fluffy. Then add the powdered sugar to it and blend it well together. Then add the all purpose flour mixture, a little at a time till it is completely incorporated into the butter. At this stage, the mixture will come together in a dough like consistency. Knead it to form a smooth dough and then cover it with plastic wrap and keep aside for about 20-30 minutes. Then make small balls of dough, about 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Keep these on a cookie or baking sheet lined with parchment paper or grease the sheet with a little oil. Keep at least an inch between the dough balls, so that there is enough space for the cookies to spread out as they bake.

Preheat the oven to 300F. Bake these for about 20-25 minutes, till lightly browned. Let them cool on a cooling rack. Store in an airtight box.

You can substitute whole wheat flour (either pastry or the ones used to make rotis) for the all purpose flour. Keep the butter out of the fridge at room temperature for about an hour before you start baking, so that the butter and sugar whip well together. If you use salted butter, then skip the salt. Use powdered sugar, not icing sugar. You can blend regular sugar in the mixer and powder it very fine.