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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.

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 preparation is done the same way as Ricotta Cheese. When all the water is drained, then the paneer cubes will remain as cubes in gravies or curries. If water content remains, the paneer will disintegrate and melt into the gravy.

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.

Pav or White Dinner Rolls

There are certain Indian dishes which must be eaten with white dinner rolls rather than a flatbread like chapati/roti or naan. Specially dishes like Pav Bhaji or Vada Pav can only be enjoyed when served along with a this kind of a dinner roll called "pav". These dinner rolls are usually based as one sheet of rolls, so only the top and base of the bread are browned and the sides are soft. In Marathi such a sheet of rolls is called "ladi-pav" and is usually store bought.  The main difference between these rolls and the white dinner rolls that we get in the store here is that the ones found here have a slight sweet tinge.

I made batata vadas recently along with the garlic chutney and I wanted the authentic pav that goes along with it to give it the perfect taste. So, the store bought roll wouldn't do and I decided to make the bread. I used the Amish Country Loaf recipe on the Bob's Red Mill flour bag as a guideline and altered it a little to create rolls out of it rather than a bread loaf. It turned out great and it was fairly easy and quick. After having experienced this great taste after many years, and the fact that it was very easy, I have decided to stick with this recipe and make it whenever I make sure dishes.

3 cups bread flour/all purpose flour
1 cup water
3/4 tbsp yeast
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt

Warm up the water to a luke warm temperature, it should be less than 110F.  Add the water, sugar and yeast to it, stir and keep aside for 5 mins. If you are using a stand mixer or a food processor, you can add it to the bowl of the mixer. Once you see the yeast getting frothy, you will know that the yeast is active and will give a good rise. If the water doesn't turn frothy, and is fairly clear, the yeast is either too old and not active or the water temperature was too high and it has killed the yeast. Discard and start again.

Add salt and oil to the water, stir. Then add the flour about a cup at a time and knead it, till all the flour has been incorporated.  Knead it on low speed in the stand mixer. Use a steel blade if using the food processor.  Knead it till it comes together. Then turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead it till the dough is smooth.
If kneading by hand, you will have to knead this for about 10 minutes after the dough comes together.

Place it in an oiled bowl and turn it over in the oil to coat the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rise till doubled in size, which will take about an hour. If the weather is cold, if may take a little longer.

Then punch down the dough and knead it again for a couple of minutes. Divide the dough into equal parts and then divide each part into equal parts again till you have 12 pieces of dough. Shape each piece of dough into an oval shape (mine were a little rounder than traditional) and place them in a greased baking tin. The rolls should be spaced out at least about 1.5 inches from each other.  Then cover the tin with a loose plastic wrap and let these rise for 30 minutes. As they rise and expand they will start merging into each other to create a sheet of dinner rolls or ladi pav.

Pre-heat the oven to 450F and adjust the rack to the center of the oven.

After 30 mins, place the tin in the oven and bake these rolls till nicely browned on the top. This takes about 8-12 minutes based on your oven. Check at 8 minutes. Let the tin cool for 10 minutes and then place this sheet onto a cooling rack. Let the bread cool completely before serving. It will be very soft when warm. Pull apart to separate the dinner rolls.

Serve these as white dinner rolls or pav with pav bhaji or vada pav.

If the water temperature is too hot, it will kill the yeast. So, if you are not sure then use room temperature water. Kneading ensures that the gluten strands develop and this is what creates the structure of the bread as it rises. The bowl used for the rise should be big enough to hold the risen dough.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Batata Vada/Batata Wada - Pressure Cooked Version

I have embraced the concept of using a pressure cooker and trying to minimize effort without compromising on taste. I have made several dishes using the pressure cooker and will share my recipes here. Since we are on the theme of batata vada with the garlic coconut chutney post earlier, I thought this would be a great post to start with.

This post provides the traditional method of making authentic batata vadas, which works really well. Now, I wanted to reduce the time and the steps needed to make this as I was also planning to bake the pav/bread that I would serve along with it. I figured the way to make this process more efficient would be to make the mashed potato stuffing with the seasonings at one go instead of boiling the potatoes separately and then adding them to the cooked and seasoned onions.

So, I cut up raw potatoes into small pieces and using appropriate layering, made the seasoned potato stuffing in the pressure cooker. I released the pressure and let it cool down a little and mashed it to make the stuffing. I had made the batter while the potatoes were being cooked and let the oil heat up in the time the stuffing cooled down.

Then I made fist sized balls of the potato stuffing, dipped it in the batter and deep fried them. I cooked the remaining stuffing and batter the next day, in the appe pan (aebelskiver pan) which turned out great as well.

For the stuffing
1/2 onion, finely diced
2 large potatoes, diced into small pieces (about 1/2 inch by 1/4 inch) 
salt to taste
2 garlic pods, finely chopped or precooked garlic paste
1/2 inch ginger, finely chopped or precooked ginger paste
1 chilli, cut into pieces, or to taste 
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 lemon
2 tsp oil (or premade tadka/phodni/seasoning)
1/8 tsp mustard seeds
1/8 tsp cumin seeds
a pinch of asafoetida/hing
pinch of turmeric
3 tbsp plus 1 tsp of water

For the cover
1 cup besan/gram flour
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp oil, warm
1/4 tsp baking soda
salt to taste
1/8 tsp turmeric

Oil to deep fry the vadas - there should be about 2-3 inches of oil, so that the entire potato fritter can be fried easily. 

Pressure cooker (I have used a 3 liter cooker or the Instant Pot)

In the pressure cooker or Instant Pot layer the ingredients as follows:

Layer 1 - Add 3 tbsp+ 1 tsp of water and oil. Add the mustard and cumin seeds to this layer. Add the chilli pieces to this.
Layer 2 - Add the ginger and garlic (if using fresh) to the oil+water layer. Then add a layer of onions. If using cooked ginger and garlic, add them on top of the onions. 
Layer 3 - Spread out the potatoes in a the next layer without disturbing the previous layer. 
Layer 4 - hing, turmeric, salt and sugar.

If using the premade tadka, do not add the mustard, cumin and hing to the layers as stated above. Just add the tadka to the last layer along with the turmeric, salt and sugar (as show in the picture).

Do not mix any layers. Close the lid and cook as follows:

Pressure cooker - Cook this at high heat for 3 whistles.  I have an electric glasstop stove and I use the 8 setting. Let the cooker cool down and the pressure fall.  
Instant Pot - 4 minutes on manual mode. Let the pressure fall. 

Then open up the lid and mash the potatoes and mix well. Add the lemon juice and cilantro and mix well. Your stuffing is ready.

Take a fist full of this stuffing and roll out the potato mixture into small balls, about 1.5 - 2 inches in diameter. Keep aside.

In a mixing bowl, mix together the besan, chilli powder, salt and baking soda. Add some oil which has been warmed and then add some water. Add a little water at a time and mix to form a batter. The consistency of the batter should be thick so that when you dunk the potato balls the batter should coat it evenly. 

Deep Frying
Heat the oil. Then, dunk a potato ball into the batter and gently drop it into the oil. (be very careful not to splash any oil on you). Add about 3-4 vadas only at a time. Do not over crowd your frying pan. Fry the vadas till the cover is evenly brown. 

Shallow Frying in Appe/Aebelskiver Pan
Add a little oil to each of the appe pan disks. Then using the same process, dunk the potato ball into the batter and place it into each disk. After it is cooked on one side, turn it over and cook the vadas turning them over till the cover is well cooked on all side.

Serve with garlic coconut chutneyor spicy mint chutney

If the potatoes are directly touching the base of the cooker, there is a greater chance of burning. The water, oil provide a buffer to the onion layer and these three together protect the potatoes from burning. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Garlic Coconut Chutney

This is a chutney that is an absolute must with Batata Vada or Vada Pav to get the authentic taste of the dish.  It is a perfect side to any Indian meal and has a slight pungent taste from the garlic. This is made mainly with two ingredients, viz. garlic and coconut but with a couple of added spices, this packs a ton of flavor.

Whenever I eat batata vada with this chutney, it takes me to childhood memories. We used to take trips during summer vacations, and many of those used to be between Pune and Mumbai. We used to take the train and the highlight of the train journey for me was the delicacies we would be able to eat on the way. My parents did not encourage eating street food and used to prefer home made food. Since, this was  one of the rare times we got to eat these foods, I used to look forward to it eagerly. The train used to stop at Karjat station for just a few minutes. This was famous for the batata vadas that one could buy at the station and the taste was just amazing. During that brief halt, my dad used to get off the train and buy vada pav, which used to be served with a generous amount of this chutney mixed with bits of the fried vada batter. These few moments filled with excitement and thrill as the train stop was literally just a few minutes and many a times it used to start moving without my dad in sight. Every time my heart would be pounding with worry that he had been left behind. And I still remember the sense of relief when I used to see him walking with the packed of the vadas in his hand. At that age, I didn't like the vada pav combination and used to enjoy the vadas with this chutney.

It has been decades since I made that journey, but that taste lingers on and whenever I make batata vadas, whether there is pav or not, this chutney always accompanies it, helping me rejoice in my nostalgia.

1/4 cup garlic cloves
3/4-1 cup dessicated coconut, shredded/grated
salt to taste
red chilli powder to taste, I added 1/2 tsp
1/2 tsp sugar

Cut the garlic cloves into smaller pieces for ease of grinding. Then put all the ingredients in the blender and using the pulse function, grind this to make a finer consistency. Do not add water and do not make a paste. Open the mixer every few pulses and scrape it down and mix up the chutney. The coconut threads should still show a little and the garlic gets a pasty texture. You can over blend in the mixer, but it will still taste great.

The best texture or consistency is obtained by mixing it using a mortar and pestle, which is how I made it this time. I make it both ways depending on how much time I have.

Store this in an airtight container, in the fridge and it will last you over a month.

The garlic has a pungent smell, so be careful of how much chilli powder you add. You can always add more and mix it into the chutney after it has been ground. The scraping and mixing of the chutney while in the mixer, will prevent the coconut from getting pasty and releasing oil.

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