Okra/Bendekai Majjige PaLadya

Summer is at its peak, the afternoon light is flooding our apartment and we have been coveting the usual suspects: drippy icecreams with oodles of dulce de leche and peanuts, churned milkshakes and cold pressed juices. However, those are reserved for yearnings of the sweet tooth. We are appeasing our savory tooth as well and there are some unusual suspects that make their presence rather frequently during the warm weather. I’m referring to yogurt -laden dishes and drinks that are significant fragments of everyday cooking in a South Indian home. Like mustard-tempered Buttermilk spiced with cumin, black salt and mint, a drink so strong, it manages to resist the most sweltering of days. Of course, there are the Raitas. A class of foods that are as satiating on their own as they are when coupled with a spicy rice dish.  I personally favor ones that contain chilled curd and swarming with grated cucumber or perhaps sauteed spinach or ever blistered tomatoes sprinkled with just a hint of chilli. And we mustn’t forget the HuLinuch,  a curd and cream of rice based soup that is ideal for a summer dinner. It’s light and soothing demeanor makes it a favourite at home. Finally, we come to the Majjige Paladya or HuLi.
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In Kannada, Majjige refers to buttermilk or curd and huLi or paladya refers to a spiced gravy. The gravy is coconut based which is then blended with Sour Curd and simmered with a vegetable of choice. White pumpkin, cucumber, spinach are commonly used in this South Indian dish and so is BENDEKAI (or Okra) which as you know implores for attention in today’s recipe. This dish is a common occurrence during weddings and other occasions where they are traditionally served up on large banana leaves.
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I have had and continue to have a delicious affair with okra/lady’s finger. When they are stir fried with crispy lentils(Chana dal) and perhaps some thinly sliced onions, they jazz up a simple Rasam rice meal. When they are swimming in a tomato & cream based gravy, they make for the perfect marriage with chapatis. However, what truly has me weak in the knees is when tender benDekai are stuffed with a masala chickpea flour(kaDlehittu/besan) and then shallow fried with onions and tomatoes. The recipe comes from my grandmother and I shamelessly admit  to the fact that it is a dangerous prospect for the husband when I make these because I’m a ruthless snacker when I cook these and half the pan is gone by the time the meal lands on the table!
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That said, these green vegetables become further more delicious when chopped, gently pan-fried and poured into the Maggige huLi. Their mild flavour entwines wonderfully with the sour curd and fresh coconut. Pour this gravy over hot rice with a spoonful of ghee and one forgets all impending worries for the day. Add some Papad and fried chilles to the equation and heaven will have come down to earth for just a few morsel-moments.
We get to the recipe now, hope you try it and like it!

RECIPE FOR BENDEKAI MAGGIGE PALADYA

Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
2-2.5 cups of Okra/Lady’s finger or Bendekai- Washed, wiped dry, chopped into 1″ pieces
1.5 tbsp of Oil(I use sunflower)
1/2cup + 2 tbsp thick sour/regular curd(not hung curd) whisked with 1 cup of water
2.5 tbsp Chana Dal, soaked for 30 min
3/4 cup  fresh, grated coconut
1 tsp Cumin seeds/jeera
1.5 tbsp Coriander seeds/Dhaniya
1″ slice fresh ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
Salt to taste
1/4 cup of chopped coriander

For the tempering-
1tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
a handful of curry leaves(washed and dried)

3 -4 dried chillies (kindly see notes)
A pinch of hing or Asafoetida

METHOD
-In a large pan, add the oil and once it is heated, add the chopped benDekai/okra.
-Season with salt and let it cook. Resist the temptation to stir fry it too much as the okra can become very slimy.
-Remove from heat once softened. Keep aside.
-To make the gravy, in a blender or food processor, add fresh grated coconut, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ginger, chana dal and turmeric. Grind along with 1/2-3/4 cup of water until a coarse paste is achieved. 
-Add this blended mixture to medium sized pot along with 1 cup of water on medium low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir continuously to ensure that the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan
-When the mixture comes to a slight boil, add the curd mixture, coriander, salt and the Okra. Keep an eye, stir often and when you spot a boil, remove from heat. Too much time on the heat can cause the yogurt to curdle, hence it is important to not let it boil completely.

-To make the tempering, in a small pan/taDka pan, add the oil. Once the oil heats up, add the mustard seeds and let them splutter. Add the BaLaka chillies and fry them until they are darkened, then add a pinch of hing and finally the curry leaves.
-Pour the tempering into the majjige huLi.
-Serve hot over rice and some ghee.

Notes:
-Sour curd is generally preferred for this dish but if not posssible, regular curd works just fine.
-The Chillies I have used for tempering are called BaLaka chilies and are yogurt based dried chillies. Their flavours pairs incredibly well with the Majjige huLi. You can use regular dried chillies as well but it can be much spicier than these.

Summer Romance: Mango Curd Tart

Meals are always sweeter in the summer. Oui?  Many summers ago, my uncle would bring crates of farm-grown unripened Raspuri mangoes ensuing my room being transformed into a safe-place for their ripening. Days later, the mangoes metamorphosed into soft fruits, fit to perk up lazy holidays. Amma(my mother) gathered more than a few every evening to conjure up ShreekarNe, a golden puree of mangoes with a touch of milk, a smattering of cardamom and a sprinkle of saffron. Pooris or rotis were mandatorily involved. Flaky, ghee laden rotis or puffed pooris were torn into, then dunked unhingedly into a bowl of ShreekarNe and just like that, a  simple dinner experience turned a tad sweeter, a tad celebratory. Like I said, meals are always sweeter in the summer.

In my books, a ShreekarNe remains to be the very best way to devour mangoes. Of course, carelessly chomping on them thereby concocting a sticky, happy mess qualifies as sane too. There’s something to be said about devouring them with no abandon; their sweet syrup trickling down; their juicy pulp satiating sweet desires on a dull, lazy, sunshine deluged afternoon. It culminates in a summer romance like no other.
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That said, I’m also on a perpetual quest to bake with them whilst not losing their soul to excessive sugar; to capture that essence and ineffable joy and pour it all into a decadent cake or a cheesecake or perhaps a luscious, chilled kulfi speckled with saffron threads . Toronto lacks Bangalore’s pulpy Raspuri mangoes but answers with plumper and just as juicy Altaufo mangoes. Fortunately, they are stacked up tall in the China Market and needless to say, the shop is religiously paid a visit over weekends.
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A couple of summers ago, driven by a spot of enthusiasm and adventure, I made a rich mango custard and piped them into elaichi cupcakes resulting in a gooey goodness with every bite. Earlier this year, when the mangoes first started to make an appearance, I entwined their flavour with a touch of vanilla into a simple Bundt cake, then doused it with a sweet mango syrup. Today, I present to you a silky, sweet Mango Curd Tart.
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This Mango Curd Tart screams of mangoes but additionally screams of summer too. A graham cracker crust cradles a smooth and rich vegan mango puree, which after refrigeration transpires into a cold, velvety dessert with the most delicate crunch. It comes together very quickly and is a no-bake as well. Admittedly, I was tempted to infuse it with other flavors; perhaps some basil or a sprinkle of cardamom but I restrained myself in order for the mangoes to dominate the dessert. The colors of this dessert are akin to those of sunshine and it satiates the most delicious summer dreams. Hope you like it as much as we did:)

RECIPE FOR NO BAKE MANGO CURD TART
Makes 1 9 inch Tart

INGREDIENTS
For the Crust
220 grams of Graham Crackers
110 grams of melted butter

For the Filling
1.5 cups Mango Puree( To make this, I took the pulp from 2 mangoes, blended it until smooth and then strained it into a medium saucepan)
1/2 cup water
7 tbsp Corn Starch
1 cup almond milk
1 cup granulated sugar

Others
Fresh fruits to decorate

Method
For the Graham Cracker Crust
-In a food processor, powder the graham crackers till they are fine. Mix them with the melted butter until you achieve a wet sand like consistency.
-Transfer this to the greased tart pan and press on the base and the sides with the help of a flat bottomed cup, to ensure that the crust is uniformly layered on the pan.
-Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

For the Vegan Mango Curd
-In a large saucepan or pot, add the mango puree(see ingredients) and water. Mix and place on medium heat. Let it simmer and reduce for a few minutes(3-4 minutes).
-While it is simmering, in a bowl, mix together the almond milk and cornstarch making sure there are no lumps.
-To the simmering mango puree,  add the sugar and stir. Let the sugar dissolve completely.
Once the sugar has dissolved completely, add the almond milk-cornstarch mixture and whisk continuously with a wooden spoon or a silicone spatula. It is important to whisk continuously because otherwise there will be lumps. Do this for 4-5 minutes or until the mango curd thickens. Immediately take it away from the heat and transfer to the chilled graham cracker crust. Smooth top if necessary and chill overnight.
It is ready to be sliced and enjoyed the next morning.

SanDige HuLi/Steamed Lentil Sambar

My grandmother’s sister lovingly referred to as Shanta Ajji lived in the west coast of the US during the later part of her life. During our brief sojourn in New Jersey, I remember indulging in long conversations with her over the phone when she would discuss her week’s activities but, more significantly, I remember her keen interest in my love for cooking; patiently educating a novice with the intricacies of authentic South Indian recipes (mostly involving the Madhwa Cuisine) and breaking down the complexities that haunted my ignorant mind. My culinary knowledge those days hardly amounted to anything but I possessed an enthusiasm and fervor(fortunately I still do) that prompted the above mentioned phonecalls where we tackled a gamut of recipes.
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The next summer, we road tripped along the West Coast, allowing ourselves to be awed by the brilliant grandeur of Las Vegas, the opulent mansions of Beverly Hills and the magnanimity of the Grand Canyon. It also entailed a short halt at San Jose to visit Shanta Ajji when she affectionately handed to me a copy of a cookbook written by her. The book is brimming with details of food that she laboriously & lovingly prepared for her family. She is sadly no more, however and unstintingly, this tome occupies a cherished place in my heart and the kitchen. The recipe I share with you today is hers, has been adapted from her cookbook and has managed to spice up mundane weekdays in the most delicious and soul-satisfying ways.
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Sandige HuLi is essentially a sambar or a stew that has swimming in its rich, coconut-laden gravy, little spheres made of lentils. In Kannada, these steamed spheres are referred to as ‘Sandige’ and the gravy itself is referred to as the ‘huLi’. The Madhwa dish garners a celebrity status of sorts and it lies in the fact that it is traditionally conjured up on the day before a wedding takes place(a ceremony called the Devarasamaradhane) and is served as per custom on a banana leaf coupled with hot rice and ghee. Together with the flavours emanating from the leaf, they create a gastronomical experience that is nothing short of divine.
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Let’s move on to the recipe without further ado. Do try it and let me know how you like it.

RECIPE FOR SANDIGE HULI
Serves 4
Special equipment- An Idli cooker

INGREDIENTS

For the Sandige or the Lentil Spheres
1 cup Toor Dal/Dried Pigeon peas(flat, yellow coloured lentils)
1 tsp fresh, grated Ginger
4 Green Chillies(feel free to reduce the quantity if you think it is too spicy)
1/2 cup Cilantro/Coriander leaves, roughly chopped
A pinch of Hing or Asafoetida
1/4 cup fresh, grated coconut
Salt to taste
For the HuLi
1 tsp Oil
1 tsp Urad dal
1 tsp Chana Dal
1.5 tsp Cumin seeds/Jeera Seeds
8-9 Byadgi MeNsinkai(Dry and wrinkled red chillies, please see Note)
1 Green Chili
1/2 cup Cilantro/Coriander leaves
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
2 tbsp Toor Dal/Dried Pigeon peas(flat, yellow coloured lentils)
3 tsp Coriander Seeds/Dhaniya seeds
1/2 cup fresh, grated coconut
3/4-1 tsp thick tamarind paste
1 tsp Jaggery
Salt to taste
Water
For the tempering
1 tbsp sunflower/vegetable oil
1.5 tsp Mustard Seeds
A handful of Curry leaves
3 dried red chillies
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida

METHOD
To make the SanDige or Lentil Spheres, soak 1 cup of the toor dal for 3 hours atleast and drain the water.
-Keep aside 2 tablespoons of the soaked lentils and transfer the remaining into a blender/food processor along with the other ingredients:ginger, green chillies, cilantro, coconut and salt. Grind to a coarse paste using a tablespoon or two of water only if necessary.
-Make spheres from this coarsely grounded mixture, measuring the size of a lime. It can be shaped into spheres or elongated into an oval.
-Meanwhile get your Idli Cooker ready. Add enough water to the cooker, so that it doesn’t touch the idli stand and let it come to a boil. Grease the idli cavities with oil and place the sanDige in the cavities. Cover with the lid and steam for around 12 minutes.
-Once done, carefully remove from the cooker and let them cool.
-To make the huLi, in a small pan, heat 1 teaspoon of oil. To this add, urad dal, chana dal, byadgi chillies , a pinch of hing and cumin seeds. Fry them for a few minutes on low heat until the lentils turn golden brown. Once done, transfer to a plate and cool completely.
-Add the cooled mixture to a blender/food processor along with 1 Green Chili, Cilantro,
the 2 tbsp of soaked toor dal, Coriander Seeds/Dhaniya seeds and fresh, grated coconut. Blend into a smooth paste, adding approximately half a cup of water as well.
-Now, take a large, deep bottomed vessel and to this, add the paste along with 2 cups of water. Also add salt, tamarind paste and jaggery. Mix it all together and allow to come to a boil. Put off the stove and add the sanDige.
-For the tempering, add the oil in a small pan(tadka pan) and heat it. Once heated, add the mustard seeds, they wil splutter immediately. To this add the washed and dried curry leaves and dry red chillies. Fry till they’re crispy, around 20 seconds, and add to the sambar.
-Serve hot with rice and ghee.

Notes:
-Byadgi MeNsinkai is a long, dry red chilli that has a wrinkled appearance. They are not too spicy but feel free to alter the quantities as per your needs. The smoother dry red chilles, called as Guntoor can be very spicy so try to procure the Byadgi variety itself.
-The SanDige or steamed lentil spheres can be eaten as a snack as well, perhaps with a side of ghee and coconut chutney
-The dish tastes even better the next day(provided it is refrigerated) since the sanDige’s would have absorbed all the spices from the sambar.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls with Matcha Frosting

Imagine a morning when sweet, intoxicating wafts of cinnamon pervade your home, perhaps a pot of coffee brewing on the side, an instrumental rendition of La vie en rose gliding through the air and a flood of sunshine complete with floating specks of fairy dust. The magic I share with you today may not guarantee the full picture I’ve painted but promises to fulfill at least a portion of it, one that is most delicious. These are Sourdough Cinnamon Buns slathered with an earthy Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting. Before we head to the recipe, allow me share a little backstory.
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Little did I know that yeast, water, flour and salt can conjure magic; harmonize to create beautiful joys together. Bread and all its fluffier and denser cousins have been making their presence in my hardworking oven for a while now.The journey began a year and a half ago and the entailed learning has me bewitched in its charm. Baking bread lets me satiate the mad desire to bake; it tells me to revere & revel in the little things: watch that dough majestically rise, inhale evanescent aromas and listen in silence as the knife through a crackling crust; it indulges the insomniac in me and well, it brings the husband many smiles. More importantly, it slows me down.
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In the midst of this delicious journey, I stumbled upon a whole other dimension of bread that had forever piqued my curiosity: Sourdough. After umpteen patient trials, tear jerking failures and finally squeal worthy successes, I can safely say that nothing has challenged and enamored me more than the process of baking and finally slicing into a boule of sourdough bread.

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The ‘mother’ aka the sourdough starter

I’m only gracing the surface here but in technical terms sourdough bread is essentially bread that arises from naturally occurring yeast and bacteria as opposed to ones where we employ commercially occurring yeast products. While the latter works just fine, the benefits of sourdough are plenty including several that are health related since increased proofing times lead to better digestion of grains. The taste takes on a variation too and these breads possess a slight sour taste which again depends from starter to starter. However, the main ingredient this bread calls for is patience since the ‘mother’ aka the sourdough starter takes a couple of weeks to come to life and the bread itself takes anywhere between 12-24 hours to conjure. But, mind you, once she does(the starter),she won’t leave you unless you want her to. If you want to explore my journey in sourdough and other breads alike, please to stop by my page on Instagram, La Vie Of A Baker . I hope you will enjoy exploring through crumbs and crusts.
A fun side note, I have named my sourdough starter, Khaleesi and yes, it is inspired y Game of Thrones!
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Before I go any further, I have to mention that this recipe requires one to have a 100% hydration sourdough starter. (I hope to share the recipe for that too sometime in the near future). I would also like to recommend certain books that only helped introduce me to sourdough but also gave me an experience very similar to a private class. Sarah Owen’s ‘Sourdough’ is one such. The other one is Emilie Raffa’s, ‘Artisan Sourdough Made Simple’. Both these books assist in creating the Sourdough Starter and breads employing the starter.
Now, the recipe. Like I mentioned earlier, these buns will ensure a beautiful morning owing to the presence of cinnamon in the filling. The bread itself is soft and fluffy, perfect to tear away whilst indulging in pinched sips of coffee or tea. To jazz them up further, I paired them with a decadent Matcha Cream Cheese Frosting. The aromatic, sweet flavours of Matcha take these humble breakfast quintessentials to a whole new level but the frosting’s creamy nature shouldn’t be ignored either. Hope you like this one!

RECIPE FOR EGGFREE SOURDOUGH CINNAMON BUNS WITH A MATCHA FROSTING
Please note: This recipe requires 100% hydration sourdough starter

Makes 9 cinnamon rolls
Equipment needed- Food Scale
Stand Mixer
INGREDIENTS
For the Dough
100 gms active Sourdough Starter
160 gms Whole Milk
42 gms unsalted butter
1 tsp egg replacer plus 2tbsp water( I used Pane Riso, please see notes)
24 gms Sugar
300 gms Unbleached All purpose flour
3 gms sea salt
Oil for coating
For the Filling
1 cup light brown sugar
1.5 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp butter, softened at room temperature

METHOD
-First we prepare the sweet dough and this is best to make at night since it can rise overnight and be ready in the morning.
-Warm the milk and butter in a pan until butter has completely melted. Cool slightly.
-In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachement, add the sourdough starter along with the egg replacer and water. Whisk at low speed to ensure that it is mixed. Add the warm milk and butter mixture. Then add the flour and salt and mix just until the dough comes together and no dry bits are lift, approximately 1 minute.Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
-After the dough has rested, change to a hook attachment and continue to knead at medium speed for about 6 to 8 minutes until the dough is soft and smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
-Take another bowl, and grease it with a little olive oil and place the dough in it. Let it rise at room temperature for 8-10 hours.(the recommended room temperature is around 70F).
-Next morning, once it has doubled in size, carefully tip the dough onto a lightly oiled counter and let it rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the filling.
-In a bowl, mix together light brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and keep aside.
-On a large cookie sheet with edges, place a sheet of parchment.
-After the dough has rested, using a rolling pin, stretch the dough to a rectangle measuring 22inches x 16inches, taking care that the longer side is facing you.
-Spread the 4 tbsp of butter on the rectangle using an offset spatula ensuring that the about 1 inch of the border are not touched. Sprinkle the filling and spread evenly
-Next roll the rectangle into a cylinder, slowly and gently, making sure that it is taut. The tighter you roll, the more layers you’ll have.
-Place this log gently on the cookie sheet, cover with a damp cloth and refrigerate for 30 minutes.(If the weather gets a little warm, I also cover the cookie sheet completely in plastic wrap and freeze additionally for 5-7 minutes).
-Remove the chilled dough and cut off the edges .Then cut into 2 inch cylinders.
-Place these in a 3×3 fashion on the same cookie sheet and cover lightly with plastic wrap for 1-1.5 hours until the rolls are puffy.(Alternatively, they can be baked in a square or round cake pan).
-Meanwhile preheat your oven to 425F. Brush the rolls with some melted butter
and bake the cinnamon rolls for 25-30 minutes or until they turn a light golden brown.
-When they are getting baked, the frosting can be made. In a bowl, add the cream cheese and butter and beat with a hand mixer until fluffy. Add the icing sugar and incorporate it into the butter and cream cheese by whisking it for a few minutes. Then add the sour cream and matcha and mix again. Cover and refrigerate until use.
-Spread the matcha cream cheese frosting on the warm cinnamon rolls and enjoy!

Notes:
The egg replacer that I used(Pane Riso) demands 1tsp of it plus 2 tbsp of water. But, this can vary from brand to brand. Please see the directions on the product that you choose to use.

Spring laden Pasta in a Basil Pesto

Many of our Saturday mornings, winter or warmer, have adopted a little ritual. A sanctimonious one, demanding equal parts worship and sacrifice. The sacrifice involves rejecting the few extra precious hours of weekend sleep and beginning the morning a tad earlier than usual. The worship comprises a prayer to the Transit Gods of Toronto, hoping for a bus that arrives on schedule. And finally, the ritual in question implies a rejuvenating escape to the St.Lawrence Farmer’s Market.
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Thriving amid fresh,seasonal produce, strolling along the aisles encompassed by the profusion of vegetables and fruits, their vibrant skins dappled with shimmering droplets of water, is admittedly my kind of meditation, my panacea, my prayer. St. Lawrence Market offers just that and appeases my soul whilst simultaneously exciting and enthralling my creative side of the brain.
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The saturday market is huddled within a white tent and the vendors entice customers who are still warding off the sleep bug with, little cups of apple cider,swigs of fermented yogurt, fresh cut apple slices, trimmings of cheese and spoonfuls of olive tapenade. If that doesn’t entail enough enlivening, then rows of neatly lined herbs in a deep, verdant green, stacks of colour coded bell peppers, mountains of earthy potatoes, minuscule baskets heaped with tomatoes in a variety of sizes, each one more darling than the other, buckets plopped with lovely, seasonal flowers, these definitely do the trick.

Sticklers to our timetable, we headed there one spring morning. As suspected, the market was alive with its usual hustle-bustle, brimming with the bounty of spring. Tall stems of tulips, towering pyramids of asparagus, bunches of seasonal ramp, bouquets of rhubarb; it was verily a festival, one that pleased the soul, the eyes and the belly.
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As you can imagine, there is no dearth of inspiration here and we hauled back fresh basil, bunches of ramp, asparagus stalks, cherry tomatoes and a carton of pasta. I decided to pour this bounty into a dish, a new adventure considering I had never tasted ramp and asparagus, both harbingers of spring.
The culmination of that inspiration is what you see here: A Strozzapreti pasta slathered unrestrainedly with a Basil-Walnut Pesto mingling with peas and ramp leaves and a side of asparagus and cherry tomatoes. This is my  tribute to the languid breeze of spring, my gratitude to Mother Nature’s fresh bounty.
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Before we head to the recipe, a little more about the ingredients-
Ramp is essentially a wild onion, rather pungent and taste like a mixture of  onion and garlic. I employed all the leaves but only used a few of the bulbs in this pasta since their aroma was a little too strong for us.
Asparagus spears are described to have earthy undertones and they can be grilled, boiled or fried. Here, I’ve just stir fried them with some oil and salt.
Common to the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Marche, and Tuscany regions of Italy, the Strozzapreti is a hand-rolled pasta that is similar to cavatelli but it is slightly more elongated, and features a light twist. A little Italian store in the heart of St. Lawrence Market has a wall dedicated to pastas in all shapes and sizes. The owner always treats to a few drops of aged balsamic vinegar before fixing up our usual cup of joe. Bellissimo!

RECIPE FOR PASTA IN A BASIL PESTO AND SPRING VEGETABLES
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
250 gms Strozzapreti pasta or any other kind
2.5 litres water
2 tbsp of salt
For the Basil Walnut Pesto:-
2 cups loose basil
12 walnuts
1/3 cup oil 
Freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste
Other vegetables:
2 bunches ramp- 25 leaves
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 cup heaped cherry tomatoes
10 stems of asparagus
Salt to taste
2 tbsp oil

METHOD
-Place the water in a large vessel and bring to boil. Once it’s boiling, add the salt and pasta. Cook until al dente according to the directions on the carton. Then drain(Tip: keep about 1/3 cup of pasta water aside before draining) and pour cold water on the pasta to stop it from getting cooked any further.
-To make the pesto: In a blender/food processor, blend the fresh basil, walnuts, oil, salt and pepper until a coarse paste is achieved. Keep aside.
-Prepare the vegetables. Wash them all clean.
Cut off the bulbs from the ramp leaves. The bulbs can be chopped and used. (I used about 2-3 of them). Chop off the woody portion of the asparagus stems.
-Heat a large saucepan and add some oil. Once it is heated add the cleaned asparagus and sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until softened. Keep aside once cooked.
Do the same with the cherry tomatoes and keep aside.
-Heat a teaspoon of oil and add the chopped bulbs of the ramp, saute until they brown and then add the leaves, sprinkle some salt. Stir fry until they wilt an soften.
-To this, add the pesto, frozen peas and the drained pasta.Add the pasta water which had been kept aside if you feel the need to make a thinner sauce. Let the dish heat up for a few minutes.
-Serve hot with a the cherry tomatoes and asparagus on the side and perhaps a grating of parmesan.

Edible Flower Cookies

I reminisce the summer of 2017. It was a rather sultry one, the roaring flood of sunshine almost inciting in me a particularly intense pining for winter & it’s entourage. The sun blazed fiercely, as if compensating for its absence in the coming months. Walking, an activity that normally takes precedence for the husband & me, was shunned without second thought. We hopped into Toronto’s streetcars in temptations of the slightest respite.
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One such morning, I stood amid parallel seats,one hand desperately clasping the overhead strap, gazing out the window as scenes hurried by like a movie in fast forward. One scene however, stood still; a signpost reading , ‘Toronto Flower Market’. The duration of the halt hardly amounted to anything but  it was ample enough for me to peer out the window and spot happy Torontonians, each one gently clutching a bouquet of blooms and behind them, a sea of flowers.  I vowed to return the next day.
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And return we did  the next morning, spending a couple of hours strolling the bylanes of this little market, acquainting ourselves with unfamiliar flowers, chatting up with vendors and being stunned by the gamut of freshness. We carried wrapped bouquets of hydrangeas in a matte magenta, a gigantic bloom of Dahlia in ivory and wonder of wonders, mini pumpkins on a stick! Aside from this haul, we met a friendly and talented florist who introduced me to the Nasturtium, an edible flower in bright warm hues. She explained that they would blend brilliantly in salads. I  purchased them instantly and employed their vibrancy to decorate a salad and a simple Maple-Pecan cake. Thanks to the flower market and a kind florist, Allison, since then, I’ve always been on the lookout for edible flowers and Toronto’s farmers markets are kind enough to treat us to them especially when the weather turns warm. This time, instead of just plopping them on a cake, I’ve attempted to incorporate the magic of Nasturtium into cookies.


The cookies I’ve shared with you today are simplistic and highlight the presence of these beautiful edible blooms. Nasturtium literally means ‘nose twist’ and are known to have a peppery taste. The cookies are delicate, light, eggfree as always, savory and easy to put together. You can choose to add other herbs as well; I’ve added a sprinkle of thyme and lavender.
Let’s get to the recipe.
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RECIPE FOR EDIBLE FLOWER COOKIES(EGGFREE)
Makes 20 cookies

INGREDIENTS
1/4 th cup unsalted butter(softened at room temperature)

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt( extra tablespoon only if necessary)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
A large handful of organic Nasturtium flower petals or more(feel free to experiment with other organic flower petals as well)
A sprinkle of Thyme and Lavender

Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar using a hand whisk.

– Then add the flour, salt, thyme leaves, lavender & yogurt. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.(If the dough is dry add just a little more yogurt)
– Transfer the dough into a large sheet of plastic wrap and cover. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Remove the chilled dough from the plastic wrap and roll using a rolling pin to a thickness of a little more than 1/4th inch. Then place the flower petals on top and press very gently. Roll once again(gently) to a thickness of 1/4th inch. (Tip- I place plastic wrap on the dough and then roll to avoid sticking)
-Using a 2 inch cookie cutter, cut and place the individual cookies on a parchment.

-Repeat the process until all the cookie dough is used.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.(If much time is spent rolling and cutting cookies, and the dough has completely softened, place the cut and arranged cookies in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes before baking)

Sfogliatelle Ricci from Italy

Breaking fast during our short Italian holiday way back in 2016 always involved a plate of indulgent company: a Cornetto; heavy with custard, marmalade and morning cheer, causing us to ignorantly shun the magic that is Sfogliatelle. But, curiosity and intrigue can only be disobeyed for so long. Last week, as daunted as I was, I succumbed to its complex beauty.
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A late sunshine deluged morning(and afternoon) was spent cajoling my pasta maker into rolling sheets of dough, the lengths of a sari. The resulting paper-thin sheets were then coiled,molded and filled to the brim with a creamy ricotta mixture . The oven then executed its sorcery; the sfogliatelle baked and acquired a beautiful, sunshine golden. The orange zest and cinnamon suffused the kitchen momentarily transporting us to a perfumed garden; the fresh pastries finally received a gentle sprinkle of icing sugar.
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I then stared in silence at the aftermath of my own doing. Flour ransacked our kitchen and adjoining portions of our living room , tattered pieces of dough were strewn around the table. Like a make-up job gone horribly wrong, my nose and cheeks were painted in sticky flour. But, before I got to cleaning, broom and cloth in hand, hair pulled up into a bun, we slunk into our sofa and savored fresh-off-the-oven sfogliatelle; its crunchy, beautifully pleated exterior revealing gloriously the efforts of the day followed by a burst of creamy ricotta suffused with orange and just a hint of cinnamon. The broom and cloth had to wait….we were submerged in fond memories from Italy, caught in the thrall of a warm, delicious pastry.
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For The One Sweet World Project, from Italy, I present, the Sfogliatelle Ricci.
Sfogliatella in Italian means a composition of leaves and is a symbol of Napoli, Italy. It is 400 years old and legend has it that a nun in the kitchen had some leftovers of semolina cooked in milk. she nourished it with some candied dried fruit, sugar and ricotta, filled a puff pastry and then baked it. This version was then transformed into the pastry we see today by a baker named Pintuaro in Naples.
I hope you like this one:)

RECIPE FOR (EGGFREE) SFOGLIATELLE RICCI

Recipe has been adapted from Nonnas Box
Equipment needed: A pasta machine
Makes around 10

INGREDIENTS
For the Pastry
500
 gr flour
1 tbsp salt
175 ml water more if needed
25 gr honey
For the Filling
450 ml whole milk
100 gr white sugar
1 pinch salt
150 gr semolina flour
500 gr ricotta
1 tsp egg replacer plus 2 tbsp water
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch cinnamon
Zest from 1 orange
Others
150 gr unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
Icing Sugar to sprinkle

METHOD

-Gently whisk the the flour and salt together, then add water and honey, and mix to create a stiff dough. Knead the dough until it’s smooth and supple. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-After 30 minutes, divide the dough into 4 pieces. Start with one piece, and knead it again if necessary to soften it after refrigeration. Roll it through a pasta machine, using the widest setting, then fold in half and roll again. Repeat this process until you create a smooth sheet by gradually decreasing the width on each roll. I had to use some flour after every roll so the dough doesn’t stick to the machine. It is preferable to be doing this on a long, lightly floured table so that the pasta sheet can be be laid down in a single layer while rolling it and when done. Roll until the sheet is 1mm thick.
-Do the same on each dough.
-When the sheets are all rolled and laid on the table/counter,  apply a thin layer of butter making sure that the sheet doesn’t tear off. It is important that the butter be at room temperature.Use a brush to gently spread it.Do this for all the 4 sheets.
-Roll up the first thin sheet to create a tight sausage shape.
-Next, wrap the next thin dough sheets around the original sausage shape pastry dough, layering up to create one large cylinder. Cover with a saran wrap and chill for 1 to 2 hours for the pastry to firm up.
-Now, to make the filling.
Place the milk, sugar, and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Add the semolina flour and stir with a whisk until it thickens and becomes smooth. After it has cooled down, transfer to the bowl of your stand mixer or a large bowl.. Then, add the remaining ingredients and whisk for about 4-7 minutes(stopping to stir and scrape) until it is smooth and thick.Set aside, preferably inside the fridge.
-Preheat oven to 375°F.
-Bring out the pastry roll and cut them into 1 cm-thick circles. Use your fingers, greased with butter, to make an impression on the center to create a cone shape.
-Get the filling and scoop a big spoonful into the cone and just gently pat the edges close. (No need to close it firmly). Repeat these for the rest, and line up all pastries on the tray.
-When you’re done putting filling on all the dough pieces, bake the pastries for about 30 minutes.
-When done, allow to cool for only a couple of minutes before sprinkling them with confectioner’s sugar. Serve immediately.