Suddenly, I’m longing for the fragrance of floral notes, pining for those bewitching perfumes pervading bounteous gardens. Hankerings for hot chocolate and cinnamon laced apple tarts are long gone replaced entirely by a reverie of Spring and all the floral joy it so mercifully brings with it. They implore me to suffuse my desserts with a hint of that flower-laden aroma. Perhaps it is an attempt to cheat myself, into believing that the season of wind and frost has made its journey south, leaving us, Northerners, with warm, languid breezes, the murmers of lush trees and sweet scented hugs. The musing doesn’t end there. The truth is, I also yearn for a luminous summer afternoon, drenched under a burgeon of sunshine, canopies of shade drifting in and out, biting into succulent segments of oranges, a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand, the air chiming with carefree laughter.
I’m drawn wildly to the scarlet hued blood oranges that have been gracing the hallowed aisles of the grocery this winter. Stowing them away endlessly and stacking the refrigerator to the brim; the result of an odd fear that soon they will be replaced by a bounty of summer fruits. Much like a moth is drawn to the flame, I’m too drawn to this rouge radiance; a flame too, just a tad different.
But, selfishly stocking them (read hiding them) without justifying their presence is much too foolish. My mind bubbles with ideas and concoctions, day or night(read deep into midnight). The very reason the past month or so have sped by in a flash. Fortunately, these citrus cousins blend as well with savory dishes as they do with sweet courses. My kitchen witnesses peels strewn around the counter and a deep hued juice gently trickling down edges of the cutting board fairly often and I find myself enticed every single time.
To list the sweet creations that my kitchen and my very trusted knife have witnessed-
–Blood Orange Galette: sliced blood oranges rest on blood orange marmalade and a walnut enriched pâte brisée(the recipe made its way into the blog as well)
–Blood Orange Sourdough Boule: The deep crimson from the oranges softened into a pale orange but the citrus aroma lingered all the way, right down to the last crumb! We devoured the slices with jam spilling on the sides and lots of herbal tea.
–Blood Orange and Raspberry Brownies(Vegan): Another homage to the magic that is the orange and chocolate. Admittedly, the pair transpires into a beautiful symphony but what I failed to recognize initially was the friendly cheer that the raspberries lent. Together, it was all an elegant soiree of flavours.
– Blood Orange Upside Down Cake(Eggfree): This one was too hard to ignore. The cake is flooded with orange juice and makes for a citrus-lover’s dream but it’s the mandala-like pattern of candied oranges that steal the show.
–Blood Orange Pavlova(Vegan) – Aquafaba. The result of every vegan and vegetarian’s ardent prayers. After my fiasco with the vegan macaron, I was possessed by a silly vexation towards this innocent ingredient. But all anger melted when I trotted out a magnificent pavlova the other night. It was slathered generously with a Praline and Mascarpone Cream(adapted from Ottolenghi’s ‘Sweet’), deluged with the darkest, deepest hued blood oranges and finally drizzled with a honey and pistachio syrup.( I yearn to share the recipe soon on the blog)
Rice and dal(lentils) mingling oh so gently with each other but emerging into a fiery romance of flavors when emboldened with a coarse crumb of roasted spices. The barrage of vegetables ensues a flawless texture. Oodles of melted ghee lends it a dash of oomph. Forgive me for this dramatization but this blessed dish has inadvertently transpired into an emotion and a delicious one at that. I humbly present to you, Karnataka’s pride and joy, the Bisibelebath.
The affair began years ago. Amid 3 inch candles, an ornate cake, a ceiling masked by balloons & a slightly untuned rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to you’ , my maternal aunt and her kin unfailingly ensured that their guests returned home content and happy. Cake hardly disappoints but this sweet treat was always trivial in comparison to the pièce de résistance of the said series of evenings aka, The Bisibelebath. Melted Ghee was poured over a sizzling plate housing the above dish and spicy potato chips tossed in chilli powder (that we bangaloreans fondly call ‘khara chips’) were nestled on the side.
I’m spooling the tape back to childhood. Do indulge me while I unfold a tiny snippet from the past. Sukh Sagar, the famed eatery’s italic lightbox glimmered under the city’s night sky. Serving meals to patrons parked outside the restaurant while they reclined in the comfort of their cars was quite à la mode in 90’s Bangalore. The 5 of us(the parents, the 2 brothers and me), huddled in our car outside the restaurant while the food was brought and stationed on the bumper. The tray wobbled precariously as it hosted glasses of water and other snacks. For the next hour or so, the brothers and me devoured 4-inch discs of dough studded with bell peppers, onions and smothered with a tomato sauce and topped with visible strands of cheese. This was our first pizza and it has tethered itself unrelentingly to fond childhood memories much like the way mozzarella cements itself unyieldingly to a pizza base.
We’ve come a long way since then. Simplicity has transpired into a labyrinthine experience and I say this bearing no complaints. The thin-crust, the thick crust, the cheese-burst, the white sauce, the red sauce, the neopolitan, the Italian version, the Chicago version, there’s also the Indian version that I bake by splashing the base with a spicy Paneer Tikka Masala. Suffice to say, the options have no end.
My affiliation to desserts hardly comes as a surprise. Early on, it may have to do with possessing a sweet tooth or perhaps being amid sugar devotees. However, with my culinary learnings, I’ve learnt also, that the desire to bake or create desserts bears no relation with my love for consuming sugar. Meaning, even on days when I’m sugar-starving(by choice), I find myself hankering for the rumbling sound of my stand mixer as it punches and mangles a robust babka dough, the perfume emanating from a slit vanilla bean pod and the disarrayed crackle top of an 8×8″ brownie. After a 10 day vacation traipsing around Croatia this summer, our home bound flight back seemed devoid of melancholy only because my restless mind conspired to bake a crostata with figs and sweet port-simmered onions. Although, I did christen it with a quirkier name, “It’s been 10 days since I’ve baked. I miss the oven” crostata. Jet lag was forced to take a back seat.
Not that a chocolate or an orange flavoured cake doesn’t entice me substantially, but that winter morning demanded a distraction from the familiar. I was fortunate Sumayya Usmani’s ‘Mountain Berries and Dessert Spices’ had sailed from it’s confines of the store and landed amid the cozy comforts of my living room. The author is driven by authenticity and her recipes are brimming with tradition. She paints the book with dishes showcasing the magic of rose petals, cardamom, berries, pistachios and other produce native to her homeland.
“My mother is my best friend”….the old chestnut holds true with me as well…
Admittedly, I can go on for ages about how her children received immense priority ultimately leading up to her sacrificing her best career years in order to render us all a warm home. With a husband whose job entails touring the country half the month & three children, two of whom are really hooligans disguised as chubby little boys, the cacophony & chaos can prove challenging and not just in terms of time. I can write about how her face beams with a blend of pride and satisfaction when people notice me as her mirror image and how the same face cringes when some mistakenly mention otherwise! I can write about how she thoughtfully scribes the sweetest( and longest!) messages that prompt me to effortlessly tear up 10,000 miles away and how she indefatigably listens to me blather for hours about the most inane topics. I can write about how she instilled the love of God in our hearts at a tender age thereby guiding us to live a life saturated with faith. I can also write about how she perpetually corrects our lapses and how she relentlessly eludes us from the poisons of revenge.
However, I won’t.
Today I want to share with you the lessons I am LEARNING from her….
To say she is the epitome of patience is practically an understatement and this can be vouched for by any soul that’s crossed paths with her. The worst of agitations don’t trigger her to bring the roof down. She is the icy water that douses fiery hot heads! As a teen, I learnt the rewards patience can bestow upon one….the learning continues…
Her calm demeanor culminates as her biggest strength. Recalling the pandemonium that joint families can be subjected to, it dawns on me that her serene silence and smile nonchalantly answered most circumstances. My learning continues….
Trying times bizarrely are directly proportional with her degrees of optimism. Needless to say, much needed. Hope is never a dearth at home and that’s saying something.
When life hands lemons, she musters up courage and emerges a winner. She protectively continues to stand up for us in our toughest times and is indubitably my pillar of strength. I continue to learn and if only I can soak in one drop in that ocean of optimism…..
Among the many feathers in a mother’s cap, she also transpires as a long distance constant cooking coach, guiding me gently and indulgently through the complications of it all, awaiting reviews from a hungry son in law. Although I picked up the the basics of Madhwa Cuisine under my mother in law’s unremitting tutelage, there are some recipes that I continue to learn from my mother….Sihi Kootu is one such. How can I possibly forget devouring bowl after bowl of Sihi Kootu with warm rice as I rushed back home from school? Or when I visited the same home with a husband by my side, 15 years later?
We now arrive at the kitchen of my mother’s home, wafting with aromas of a simmering Sihi Kootu!
The recipe has flawlessly been passed down the many generations: what my mom learnt from my great grandmother, I learn from my mom. While my great grandmother laboriously and painstakingly ground the spices and coconut in a mammoth stone mortar & pestle, we get away with a turn of a knob! “It doesn’t taste the same”, my mom says.
Sihi means sweet in Kannada & Kootu basically belongs to the sambar/stew family which means it is rich in dal, coconut & vegetables. I feel the need to clarify that it’s not necessarily sweet but mainly called so to ensure that it’s not confused with another Kootu, the ‘Kharaddu’ meaning Spicy.
The addition of pepper & dry chillies impart a subtle heat to the dish. Byadgi (mildly spicy but adds colour) & Guntoor (very spicy but doesn’t add much colour) are the two types of dry chillies used and together they create a balanced combination. There’s jaggery, which is a mandatory in Madhwa cuisine that lends a sweet note to the dish that when mixed with ghee(clarified butter) and rice can easily become a feast for the Gods! Dal i.e. Toor Dal is added in a slightly generous quantity than regular sambars to give a thicker, creamier consistency. With a whole lot of Dal(lentils), Veggies, & a medley of spices, this authentic South Indian Vegan dish is a bowl of warmth & comfort.
The learning continues….
I hope you try this recipe and I would love me a feedback:) Also, I’m trying my hand at food photography and styling these days….I do hope you like these pictures!
|RECIPE FOR SIHI KOOTU
3/4th cup Toor Dal
Roughly 3 cups of chopped vegetables like Beans, Carrots, Chayote, Potatoes & legumes like pigeon peas & Padpi lilva
1.5 tbsp jaggery
10 curry leaves
Salt to taste
For the masala paste –
1.5 tbsp urad dal
3 Guntoor dry red chilles(very spicy)
5 Byadgi Dry Red chillies( a little less spicy)
3/4 tsp peppercorns
1/2 cup fresh grated coconut
For tempering –
1 tsp of oil
1 tsp of mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
A good pinch of Hing/AsafoetidaMETHOD
1. Pressure cook toor dal with 2.5-3 times the water
2. Cook the veggies in boiling water & a little bit of salt. Alternatively, it can be pressure cooked along with the dal itself but there is a chance they may become a little mushy.
3. In the meanwhile, make the masala paste.In a kadai, take a teaspoon of oil and fry Urad dal, chillies, peppercorn in medium heat until the dal is golden brown in colour. Allow them to cool.
4. Once it’s cooled, grind it with fresh grated coconut and some water to get a paste of medium coarse consistency.
5. Add this to the cooked dal & veggies along with jaggery,curry leaves & salt. Let it come to a boil.
6. To temper, in a smaller kadai/tadka pan, add oil and once it heats up, add urad dal & mustard seeds. Let the mustard crackle and then add Hing.
7. Add this to the Kootu. Serve hot with rice & ghee