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.

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.

Bisibelebath: food and emotion

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.
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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.

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Let there be Dal: Gujarati Dal with Green Pea and Coconut Dumplings

Rewinding to languid Bangalore afternoons, when I was younger in a younger city. The sun washing the sand splashed grounds of college. Amid the frenzied flutter that the final years of college demanded, the one constant was my stainless steel lunch dabba. Plain toor dal, rice, salt, jaggery  and unmeasured quantities of ghee tied together into an epitome of comfort. Tovve anna in Kannada or Dal rice in English. On rare occasions, it would be spiked with raw chilles, coriander and perhaps a splatter of mustard and hing tadka. Those few minutes of lunch break dwindled before I knew it, mostly plagued by a string of worrisome thoughts about the remaining day. But devouring this meal was my present moment, my moment of unfettered, happy calm. I’m as drawn to the simplicity of this dish as I am to the  uncomplicated memories that follow in its trail. Long story short, I love tovve-anna and have never shied away from celebrating Dal and its many avatars.

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A slip of sunshine: Blood Orange Galette

“Dear Mother Nature,
I’m entirely seduced by this shimmering blanket swathing the earth. Barren trees revealing gnarled branches, tangled and peppered with snow, they soar unbounded into grey clouds. Frozen icicles precariously cemented to ledges make for enough drama on mundane days and snow dusted church rooftops make for visions that for years, I’ve only vicariously lived through books. Playful mists of breath, tiny impressions of pigeon feet on unblemished snow, ripples of water vanishing into rock …..may the enthusiasm never temper, may the joy never recede,may the beauty never fade.
However, there are times when I find myself pining for a slip of sunshine, just a sliver. Wishful thinking, I know. Fortunately, that coerces me to navigate into other avenues. Therefore, at the moment, I will resort to the warm rhapsody of the blood orange. Blood Oranges are peeled are laid on a a sourdough galette base, slathered with blood orange marmalade,  baked warm and devoured fresh. This is our slip of sweet sunshine this cold, winter morning. Our golden gild.

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Khara Biscuits & My Love-Hate Relationship with Sugar

Rosy as it may seem, my relationship with sugar like any other is flawed. Sweet yet oddly imperfect.
I hail from a family that is ravenous for sugar and the clan has rightly  realized that its absence will only add to the existing pandemonium. Hence, we give in to its captivity. Be it the amber hued jaggery syrup that is made specially for dosas to diligently mop up or those surreptitious, midnight thefts of of chocolate or those weekend dessert projects bustling in the kitchen, such as Holige( Sweet Rotis)  and the likes or that generous chunk of jaggery stirred into every single savory dish, we love “the sweet life” and life without it is imagined to be listless, dark and sullen. I finally have a reason for my foray into the cozy, hygge-ligt world of baking. It is that “sweet”gene rampant in my cells that yells and throws unbearable tantrums until I give in.

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The ‘Stop to Smell the Roses’ Cake

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.

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