Tomato Jam Tart

The husband and me are drawn intensely to late night shopping trips at the grocery. Not that we don’t enjoy a quiet summer night with a movie and pinched sips of of Merlot but, only after a stroll along the hallowed aisles of the supermarket from where we lug back back fresh and vibrant fruits and vegetables. There is something to be said about enjoying a few silents moments with food in the dead of the night, even while procuring them. One such night, we bagged large boxes of cherry tomatoes and I spent the walk home pondering their fate. Delicate & sweet, I realised that these would never withstand my procrastination. I quickly perused through my treasured recipe book, selecting amma’s Tomato Jam to seal their destiny.
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This tomato jam was the piéce de rèsistance during many childhood dinners. Tomato being a fruit is sweet on its own but when paired with jaggery , it effortlessly transforms into a comforting dessert-like accompaniment. Syrupy, luscious and delicious. When mundane vegetable curries failed to impress us lot, amma tempted us with this crimson concoction which we scooped up with ghee-smeared rotis.
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The first time I conjured this jam by myself was an experience I won’t forget. Luscious tomatoes bubbled as the jaggery melted into an amber syrup. They splashed & sploshed as I peered & registered every slight nuance. I apologize for the dramatization but this not-so- subtle sound was verily, music to my ears(very Hygge-ligt, might I add). After many phone calls to amma & a string of pictures later, a thick, glossy jam ensued.
The child in me still scoops them up with chapatis. But, the adult-me is forever concocting fancy ways to present this humble jam. Perhaps spoon it over vanilla icecream, or drench thick slices of sourdough toast, the syrupy juices from the tomato dribbling into a mess.
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This time, I’ve submitted to yet another fabrication of my overthinking mind by pouring this tomato jam into the confines of a buttery tart. 
The Tomato Jam Tart is a beautiful entwining of sweet tomatoes, cardamom and a flaky pate brisee. A warm slice by itself will do the needful but it is advisable to let some cold icecream melt on the side, possibly allow it to dance around with that deep crimson tomato syrup.
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While the tomatoes invariably steal the show here, there’s another silent ingredient contributing much flavour i.e. Jaggery.  Jaggery is an unrefined sugar, dark golden in colour and makes a large presence in Indian homes. Yes, it provides much sweetness to a variety of desserts and jams but if you’ve been a friend of this blog, you know that Madhwa Cuisine utilizes this ingredient extensively in most spicy and savory dishes as well. And, the tomato jam relies on the magic of jaggery as well for its distinctiveness.
The tomatoes I’ve employed are cherry tomatoes but this jam works perfectly well with any variety of tomatoes. You can even play around with the jaggery and sugar proportions depending on your sweet needs. The jam is not required to be hard set, its syrupy nature is what has enticed me always. I do hope you like this one!


RECIPE FOR TOMATO JAM TART
MAKES AN 8 INCH TART
INGREDIENTS
For the Tomato Jam
3 1/4th cup Cherry Tomatoes
1/4 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Jaggery
1/4 tsp Cardamom Powder

For the Crust/Pate Brisee
1 1/4th cup Unbleached All Purpose Flour
1/2 tsp Granulated Sugar
1/2 tsp Salt
113gms or 1 stick of cold Unsalted Butter
1/4 cup + 1 tsp Ice cold water
Others:
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp of the tomato jam syrup

METHOD
To make the Tomato Jam:(It can be made the previous day)
-In a medium sized thick bottomed pan, add the cherry tomatoes, sugar and jaggery. Mix them together and let them come together over medium heat. Cook for around 35 minutes, stirring every few minutes just to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
-Once done, the tomatoes will darken in colour , the jam will come to a bubble and gain a thicker consistency.
-Remove from heat and mix the cardamom powder. Let the jam cool completely.

To make the Crust and the Tart
-In a medium bowl, mix the dry ingredients: Flour, salt and sugar
-Chop the cold unsalted butter into cubes and add into the flour mixture. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, break the butter down until the entire mixture resembles a coarse meal. It is alright if there are some larger chunks of butter.
-To this add the ice cold water, little by little and mix only until the the dough comes together and there are no dry bits left. Do not overmix.
-Gather into a ball and wrap with a plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour or upto a day.
-Once chilled, let the dough soften at room temperature just until pliable. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a circle of about 12 inches. Turn dough one-eighth of a turn with every roll to make sure that the dough doesn’t stick to the counter.
-Gently place dough on the greased(brushed with a little butter) tart pan and fit it in, making sure that it is well-fitted at the lower edge as well. Trim the excess dough carefully using your fingers.
-With the remaining dough,roll into a an oblong shape and cut into strips(I used a pasta cutter to do this) and place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.
-Place this cookie sheet and the prepared tart pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up.
-Remove and add the jam, using a spatula to spread it uniformly around the tart.
-Place the strips in a criss-cross pattern whilst also taking care that they are well attached to the edges of the crust.
-Make a mixture of maple syrup, milk and the tomato jam syrup, brush generously on the pastry strips. Place the tart pan on the parchment lined cookie sheet.
-Bake at 400F for 15 min. Then reduce the temperature to 375F and bake for 40 minutes, or until the pate brisee is golden and the jam is bubbling. During the bake, another coat of the syrup may be applied on the strips.
-Enjoy warm

Layered Eggless Vanilla Cake with Vanilla Buttercream

We are all privy to the seduction of chocolate, its luscious character, those euphoric endorphin highs. Rose on the other hand draws one to drown in floral submission while cardamom and cinnamon allure one with their warming properties.
And Vanilla? Vanilla is like a snuggle in the cold of winter, it is like the softest breeze in the blaze of summer, it is brimming with comfort and all things pretty; perhaps lacking the flamboyance of the aforementioned flavors but attracting with an effortless, elegant simplicity. A quote by Meik Wiking from ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ comes to mind
“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.” Vanilla is like that. It’s an uncomplicated happiness and a delicious one at that!
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I remember the days when Oatmeal breakfasts became a common occurrence at home and my grandmother whipped up bowls of it in no time before we scurried off to school. This was circa 1991 when topping oatmeal with a delicate sprinklings of chia seeds, hemp seeds, berries and other fancy foods was a far fetched dream. She however always added a touch of vanilla which was admittedly her way of gilding the lily. It was fragrant, sweet and special. To this day, on those rare mornings when I make oatmeal, you will always find a hint of vanilla swirled into the porridge.
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In my blog, you will find a myriad flavours of cake: Chocolate, pumpkin, chai spice, rose and there’s even a matcha one brewing in the drafts. Although many of these recipes borrow the magic of vanilla it remains to be an enhancer and not to be one of the dominant flavors. When a fellow food blogger, Praneetha of Culinary Peace kindly requested me for a vanilla cake recipe, it dawned on me that there isn’t one here. Now, we can’t have that, can we?
43681349341_9d9eb5164f_o42778363185_4d2e6f2f35_oSo here it is,  an eggfree and fluffy Vanilla Cake, slathered with a Vanilla Buttercream and adorned with fresh fruits. I chanced upon the sweetest Champagne Grapes and White Currants at Kensington Market and couldn’t resist employing them here.  But, since it is summer, berries and mangoes would be a great option as well. There are directions for assembly included as well:) Hope you like this one.

RECIPE FOR VANILLA CAKE (EGGFREE)
This recipe makes a 2 layered 6″ Round Cake

INGREDIENTS
For the cake
1.5 cups Self raising flour + 1 tbsp + extra to flour the pan
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4th tsp salt
1 cup milk
1 tbsp + 1tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 tbsp oil
4 tbsp hot water
For the Simple Syrup
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the Vanilla Buttercream(hand mixer or stand mixer is necessary for this)
1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
5 tsp whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 1/4th cups Icing Sugar
Others
Fresh fruits for topping(optional)

METHOD
For the cake
-Preheat the oven to 350F. 
-Grease the cake pans(I used Springform pans) entirely with butter, then line the base with a 6″ round parchment paper. Dust the sides of the pan with flour.
-In a small cup, mix milk with 1tsp of white vinegar. Keep aside
-In a medium sized bowl, whisk the dry ingredients: Self Raising Flour, Salt, Sugar and Baking Soda. Keep aside
-In another bowl mix together Oil, Vanilla Extract and 1 tbsp of White Vinegar. To this add the buttermilk(the milk with the vinegar) and mix.
-In portions, add the wet ingredient mix to the dry and gently mix the batter making sure that there are no lumps.
-Add the hot water and fold it in. 
-Divide the batter equally between the two pans and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
-Once done, after 3 minutes, run a knife through the sides of the pan and remove the cake. Place on a parchment lined rack/board to cool completely.
-Next make the simple syrup by placing all the ingredients in a small pot. Place on medium heat and let the sugar dissolve. Remove from heat as soon as you spot a light simmer. Allow to cool.
-To make the buttercream, place the softened butter and vanilla extract in the bowl of your stand mixer OR a large bowl if you’re using a hand mixer. On medium speed, whisk until the butter is creamy. Then add the milk, whisk again. Add the sugar in 3 portions. Whisk until it is incorporated into the butter each time. Beat for 3-4 minutes once the last portion of sugar is added. It is now ready to use.

TO ASSEMBLE
-First,using a pastry brush, brush the top and sides of the cake with the simple syrup.
NOTE: Use the syrup sparingly, it is only used to keep the cake moist. The excess can be stored and used to sweeten teas etc.)
-Then place the cake board on your cake stand (or turntable).
-Place the first layer of the cake on the cake board with a little bit of buttercream so that the cake stays in place while you work on it.
-Place a good amount of buttercream on top and spread evenly. Now, place the second layer of cake on it. The flat side of the cake should face top.
-Next add buttercream in excess on the top of the second layer and using an offset spatula spread it all around the top of the cake and push it down to the sides. Using the same spatula, gently slather the sides of the cake with the buttercream(adding more if necessary) until the cake is completely masked.(if the buttercream is resisting the spreading, add a few drops of milk to thin it down)/
-Top with fresh fruits

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.

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.

Chickpeas in a Coconut Curry

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
-Rabindranath Tagore
It was a cloud-masked spring morning. The colour in question, a myriad of greys.  My favourite kind of morning. My hands cuddled a warm cup of peach and ginger infusion as I gazed out the window. Soft rain drenched the streets of Toronto, its people huddled under umbrellas. Unable to peel my eyes away from a nonchalant scene, I hoped the sun would stay on hiatus for the day.
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Normally, on days like these, I crave a hot chocolate and a couple of chocolate chip cookies on the side. But on this occasion, I found myself pining for a warm bowl of curry. Spicy, creamy and perhaps poured over some hot rice. Maybe a dash of ghee melting its way into the gravy. It was time to pause the bout of reverie and get working in the kitchen.
Chickpea Curry/Channa Masala is an old soul in the plethora of Indian Cuisine. It’s a classic, and has ubiquitous presence in India and outside. I remember the brothers and me delighting in this curry with hot pooris and a side of mango ShreekarNe(Mango pulp and milk) and imaginably, it was nothing short of a celebration.

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In today’s recipe, whilst retaining much love and respect to the classic and drawing inspiration from the original flavors, I also borrow the creamy richness of Coconut Milk. Coconut Milk, a luscious, velvety milk, is made by grinding coconut meat and water and is rich with the nutty, sweet flavors of coconut. It’s addition to the modest & much-loved chickpeas ensues an experience filled with comfort and indulgence and as predicted, just what that rainy afternoon demanded. As the imagined preview in that daydream, I poured it over warm rice with a spoonful of ghee. But, it pairs wonderfully with rotis/chapatis as well. Also, sans the ghee it works as a vegan dish too.  I hope this dish enamors you on rainy days and others!
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RECIPE FOR CHICKPEAS AND COCONUT CURRY
Serves 2

INGREDIENTS
1 1/3 cup of canned Chickpeas
1 large onion – chopped into large chunks
2 tomatoes- chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 green chilli – split into 2
1 tsp Ginger- finely chopped
12 whole Cashewnuts
1/2 tsp Turmeric
2 tsp Coriander Powder(Dhaniya powder)
1 tsp Cumin Powder(Jeera powder)
1/2 tsp red chilli powder(or more if you like it spicy)

3 tbsp Oil
2 Dried Bay leaves
1 Star Anise
3 Cardamom Pods(Elaichi)
1 inch piece of Cinammon
1/2 cup canned Coconut Milk
1/2 cup water
Salt to Taste
1 tbsp dried mint or dried fenugreek leaves

METHOD
-In a kadai, add the oil and once it’s heated, add the green chilli and ginger. Saute until the ginger is lightly browned and add the chopped onions with a sprinkle of salt.
-Once the onions turn soft and transluscent, add the tomatoes, cashewnuts and season once again. Saute for a few minutes until the tomatoes are cooked nicely and their raw smell is gone.
-Add the spices: Turmeric, Coriander Powder and Cumin Powder, red chilli powder, stir-fry the mixture for about 2-3 minutes. The, put off the heat and remove from the pan into a blender. Let it cool completely. Once cooled, blend into a paste, adding just enough water only if necessary. Keep aside.
-In the same kadai, add a teaspoon of oil and let it heat. To this add the whole spices: Star Anise, Cinammon, Cardamom and Bay leaves, saute until the cinnamon pops.
-To this add the ground onion-tomato paste along with half a cup of water(add more if you prefer a thinner gravy), canned chickpeas, salt and let it simmer. Finally add the coconut milk, dried mint/ dried fenugreek leaves & stir it well and allow to simmer once again. Keep stirring once in a while to ensure that it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Once it comes to a boil, put off the stove and garnish with coriander or other microgreens.
-Serve hot with rice/rotis , some ghee and a side of lemon & onions.