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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Champakali - A Diwali Delicacy

The "Plumeria" flower is called Champa/Chafa in Marathi. "Champakali" refers to the bud of this flower. As you may have guessed, the snack is supposed to be in the shape similar to the bud of the plumeria flower. It is a delicate snack and tricky to shape and fry, but looks very pretty and tastes similar to chirote or shankarpali covered with syrup. I have fond memories of making these with my Mom, for Diwali, as a child. The process of shaping a round dough disc into the bud of a flower was a lot of fun and it was a delight to see them being fried by Mom. This time around, I decided to make these with my daughter and I was transported back to those good old days from childhood. Both of us had a lot of fun making the Diwali snacks together and I hope that these memories stay with her forever.

1 cups all purpose flour/maida
2 tbsps oil
1/8 tsp salt
water, to knead the dough
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
oil to deep fry the champakali

Mix together the flour, salt and oil. Adding a little water at a time and mix the ingredients together to make the dough. Knead the dough till it is supple but firm and stiff.

In a deep pan, mix the sugar and water and heat it till you get a thick syrup. The syrup should be at the 2 thread consistency. This means that if you take a drop of syrup between the tips of your forefinger and thumb and stretch it out, you will see two strands of syrup. Test the syrup once you start to see it thicken. The syrup should be warm when you add the fried champakali to it. So make it just before you start the process of frying the champakali

Take a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball about an inch in diameter. Flatten it into a disc and roll it out into a small circle about 2 inches in diameter. The disc should be thin, about 2-3 mm in thickness. Now, make parallel cuts in this disc. These cuts should not be from edge to edge, but should end about 3/4 to 1 cm before you reach the edge. Now, holding this disc with both hands between your forefinger and thumb, and twist the disc such that the parallel cuts remain parallel and the disc gets shaped into a "flower bud". Make sure to pinch the two ends of the disc together, so that it will not unravel when frying. See the photos which illustrate this. You can make all of these before you start frying.

Make sure that the oil is hot. Then, add the molded champakali and deep fry it till it is nice and a deep golden brown. Remove it onto a paper towel to remove the excess oil. Dip each champakali in the warm syrup, to coat it entirely with syrup and set it onto a plate. Shake off excess syrup, so that you will get a thin layer. As the syrup cools, it will form an outer layer on the champakali.

Store these in an airtight container after completely cooled. Refrigeration is not needed. It will last for 2-3 weeks.

If you are rolling the dough and it ends up sticking onto the rolling surface and you need to use oil or flour to stop it from sticking, then the dough is not stiff enough. Add a little more all purpose flour and mix well. Knead till the dough is supple. The dough tends to relax and may soften when you let rest, so you may have to add a little flour and knead it again before rolling it out.
You can add a couple of drops of food color to the syrup. This will make the champakali colorful. I dipped a batch in plain syrup which got a white coating and the rest of the batch was dipped into the syrup, after adding a couple of drops of pink food color to it. These turned pink upon cooling down.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mango Barfi/ Mango Vadi

A very popular sweet in Maharashtra, it is a combination of two rich ingredients viz. mango pulp and mava. This was one of the first sweets that I had tried making at home once I figured out how to make mava. The result was so tasty, and my family loved it. The next year, I taught another friend how to make it and we made it together for her Diwali party. However, I didn't cook it to the right consistency and it turned out a little soft. It set into a semi-soft barfi in the fridge and I got several compliments on it. In fact, this softer version was compared to the one made by a famous Mithai house in Pune. Hence, this is a very forgiving recipe. Whether you cook it to the right consistency or make it a bit softer, the taste doesn't get affected, and is delicious.

2 cups mango pulp
1.5 cup mava/khoya/khava
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar (not icing sugar)

Mix the sugar and mango pulp in a microwave safe bowl, and cook it in the microwave for 10 minutes, till the mixture thickens and changes color and darkens. Cook it in 2 minute increments and stir.
In a separate bowl, heat the mava in the microwave for 1 minute and then add this sugar and mango pulp mixture to the mava. Mix this well.

Grease a pan with some clarified butter and keep aside. 

Now, transfer this mixture to a thick bottomed pan and reduce the mixture till it starts to thicken. Make sure you are doing this on low-medium heat, so that the mixture doesn't burn. Keep stirring often. Let the  mixture thicken, till it is so thick, that when you stir it, you can see the bottom of the pan and the mixture doesn't flow back to cover the base of the pan easily. You can also try and take a small drop of the mixture onto a plate, let it cool slightly, and try to roll it into a ball. If you can roll it into a soft ball without it being very sticky, then the mixture is at the right thickness.

Take this mixture off the heat and let it cool down a bit till it is easy to touch without burning your fingers, but still warm. Then add the powdered sugar to it and mix well.

Pour this into the greased pan and using the base of a measuring cup or a steel cup, flatten it out into the pan. The thickness of this should be about 1/2 -3/4 inch. Let the mixture cool down a little more till luke warm and then cut it into squares about 1X1 inch in size.

As you can see from the pictures, I prefer making the softer version. It is great, irrespective of the consistency. 

You can use any canned pulp. If you use fresh mango pulp, remember that it may be more watery than the canned one and you may need to use more pulp, else the taste of mango may not be very strong. Also, canned pulp already has some sugar added to it. If you use fresh pulp, you may need to increase the amount of sugar being used, based on how sweet the mango is.
If the mixture is too thick and you are unable to flatten it, add a little milk and cook it till it softens. If it is too soft, that you are unable to cut it without it sticking to the knife, then cook the mixture for a few more minutes. You can also let it set in the fridge over a couple of days. This easily lasts in the fridge for about 10 days to 2 weeks.
Don't use icing sugar, because it is a mixture of powdered sugar and cornstarch.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Multi-seed Crackerbread

This is a wonderful cracker bread to be server prior to dinner as an appetizer or as a snack with some drinks or tea. I visit an Italian restaurant nearby and one of the things that I enjoy most is the bread basket that the bring out once  you are seated. The bread basket comes with sourdough bread and multiseed crackebread which is sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, which is lightly browned. The crackerbread is absolutely delicious. I have searched in the bakery section of may stores, but unfortunately have never come across it. So, it made me very excited when I came across a multiseed cracker bread recipe in a King Arthur Flour cook book. This recipe came very close to the one I enjoy in the restaurant. The main difference is that the one in the restaurant is made of all purpose flour while this is made with whole grain flour. This is definitely the healthier version and was enjoyed by everyone at the last dinner party we had. Serve it with butter and it makes a perfect accompaniment to warm soup.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup ragi flour
1/2 cup whole yellow cornmeal
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup assorted seeds - like white sesame, black sesame, poppy, fennel, caraway, anise and cumin
(adjust the ratio based on your preference.)
2 tbsps assorted dried herbs like rosemary, basil, dill, taragon and thyme
(adjust the ratio based on your preference.)
1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

Mix the assorted seeds, herbs and cracked pepper in a bowl and keep aside.

Take a large mixing bowl, and add the flours, salt and olive oil to it. Adding a little water at a time, mix the ingredients till the dough is formed. The dough should be stiff and not crumbly. So make sure to add a liittle water at a time till you get the desired consistency. If the atmospheric conditions are humid, you may need less water versus making this recipe in dry weather. Knead the dough till it is well mixed and supple.

Divide the dough into small pieces (about 8-10) and cover this with a slightly damp cloth or plastic wrap.
Take one piece and flatten it into a disc. Sprinkle some of the seeds, herb and pepper mixture on to the rolling surface. Press the dough disc into the seeds and roll it out. If the dough starts to stick to the surface, pick it up, sprinkle a few more seeds and continue rolling. Roll the dough as thin as possible, about 2 mm in thickness. Try to roll it into a rectangle, which will make it easy to cut the dough into triangles. Cut this into small triangles about 4 inches in length and 2 inches in width at the largest side.

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Arrange the crackers on a baking sheet and place on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 7-10 minutes till the top is medium brown.

Store in airtight container after all the crackers are completely cool.

The original recipe called for pumpernickel or whole rye flour instead of ragi flour. However, I didn't have this, so I used ragi flour instead. The recipe also called for 1 tbsp of coarse salt to be added to the mixture of seeds, herbs and pepper. However, this made the crackers quite salty and so I skipped it in subsequent batches. If you do want to have a salty feel on the outside of the cracker, then reduce the salt that is added to the dough. You can grate and sprinkle some parmesan cheese on the crackers after they have been baking for about a couple of minutes. If you add the cheese at the beginning, it may burn. You can also add shredded cheddar cheese.
Alternately, you can add the cheese and toast the crackers in the oven just before serving, heating the crackers till the cheese has melted and turned a golden brown.
When baking, the initial few batches will take longer, but as the process continues, the subsequent batches will get baked faster. So keep an eye on the crackers and remove them as soon as they are medium brown.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Anarsa/Anarse - A Delicacy

Anarsa (plural- Anarse), is a sweet snack made during Diwali. It is a delicacy and is known to be one of the trickiest things to make. Anarse must be fried in pure ghee/clarified butter and not shortening to get the authentic taste. Commercial sweet shops have turned to making these in shortening, but you can make out the stark difference in taste and quality between the two. These are sweet, deep fried and have a lace like texture making and absolutely delicious. Well made anarse will melt in your mouth.

Anarse is considered difficult to make, mainly because if there are any missteps in the dough making or frying process, the anarsa will completely disintegrate into the ghee while being fried.  And, that can be very frustrating especially considering the amount of time and effort that going into preparation. However, the end result is so delicious that I would encourage you to give it a try.

Now, I made this using input from a lot of sources. My Mom gave me tips from her memories of my grandma making it. Then, my Mom-in-law gave me her process of making the dish and I also did a lot of searching online and in recipe books. The reason why I had to refer to so many sources was that while the basic recipe that was provided was similar, the tips that were provided by each source were invaluable.

1 cup rice (I used basmati)
1 cup jaggery, finely chopped/grated
2 tbsp white poppy seeds/khus khus
clarified butter, enough to fill your frying vessel to a depth of 2-3 inches
1 tsp cornflour
2 tsp ghee
1 tsp powdered sugar (not icing sugar)


Dough preparation
Soak the rice for 3 days, changing the water every 24 hours. At the end of 3 days, discard the water and spread the rice to dry on a clean cotton cloth. This can be your kitchen counter top or dining table. It is not to be dried in the sun. I ended up drying the rice till there was no trace of moisture, however I was later told that you are supposed to dry the rice only till it is damp.  Next, grind the rice to a fine powder and then sieve it with a fine sieve, so that any large particles are removed. This was another step that I missed, however the rice powder was fine enough to not cause any issues with the dough.
Once you have the fine rice powder, mix it thoroughly with the jaggery and 1 tsp of ghee, without adding any water. The moisture from the damp rice and the stickiness of the jaggery should be sufficient to bring the mixture together to a hard dough like consistency (it maybe a little powdery and not dough like, but that is okay). Keep this in an airtight box and set aside on the counter in a moisture free area, for a few days. Your mixture is ready to use after a week.

Now, when you are ready to fry the anarse, add the cornflour, 1 tsp ghee, and powdered sugar to the rice and jaggery mixture and knead it into a dough. If necessary, add 1-2 tsp milk to form it into a dough. The dough should be hard (puri consistency) and not soft and easily stretchable.

Frying process
Heat the ghee in a pan with a small diameter. There should be enough ghee to fry the anarsa, about 2-3 inches. Ghee will bubble when the anarsa is added to it. Hence, the pan must have high edges to prevent the ghee from spilling over. The smaller the diameter, the easier it will be to control the frying process. I used a 15 QT/1.4 L saucepan which has a diameter of about 6 inches and I could fry  only one anarsa in there at a time.

Spread some poppy seeds onto your rolling surface. Then, take a small piece of dough and roll it into a ball, about 1 inch in diameter. Then, flatten and roll it out on the poppy seeds, into a flat disc. This way the poppy seeds will be embedded into one side of the disc. The disc should be about 2 inches in diameter and 3-4 mm in thickness, like a thick puri.

When the ghee is hot enough, set the temperature to medium heat and slip the flat disc carefully into the ghee, with the poppy side on top. As the anarsa is cooked, it starts to spread in the ghee. Using a spoon lightly hold the anarsa against one side of the pan, so that it doesn't spread a lot and start breaking.

As, the anarsa gets fried, a lot of bubbling will occur and lots of froth will be formed, making it a bit difficult to check if the anarsa is cooked.  Keep pouring ghee on the top of the anarsa as it cooks, to cook the top side. Do no flip the anarsa over or the poppy seeds will burn.

As the bubbling subsides, you will be able to see the anarsa starting to brown. Remove it as soon as it is a light brown and let it rest on a paper towel. The excess ghee will get absorbed.

When the anarsa is taken out of the ghee, it is very soft. It will harden as it cools down.

Note: Since, I had very dry rice powder, my resultant mixture was also in a powder form. I kept it covered for 10 days hoping that some moisture from the jaggery would be released, but the weather was too dry and I had no luck with that. So, I finally was able to knead the dough only upon the addition of the ghee and other ingredients before I fried it and I also had to add a couple of tsps of milk to get it all together.

Use rice that is not sticky or glutinous for this recipe.
Do not dry the rice completely i.e. till it is completely free of moisture. The rice should be slightly damp when you grind it, so that when you mix it with the jaggery, a dough can be formed. Sieve the rice and discard any large rice pieces or grind the rice again till you get a fine powdered texture.
I checked on the rice, jaggery and ghee mixture every couple of days, to make sure that it wasn't getting spoiled.
Use enough ghee to fry the anarsa. Use a deep saucepan with a small diameter, just enough to fry one anarsa at a time and the depth of the pan should be sufficient so that the ghee doesn't spill over as it bubbles while the anarsa is being fried.
To check if the ghee is hot, add a pinch of anarsa dough into the ghee and if it starts bubbling and floats up, then the ghee is hot.
Do not flip the anarsa while frying, to prevent the poppy seeds from burning.