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.
IMG_9223
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 piece de resistance 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.

IMG_9232
My aunt, who I believe, possesses sorcery in her hands shared her wisdom with me when I was still at the brink of falling in love with cooking. It boasted of the perfect blend of spicy, tangy and sweet. I was a college-goer then and I spent weekends pampering the family with this dish. Years later, this delicacy continues to further boost festive occasions and spruce up mundane afternoons.
When my aunt first taught me how to make this dish, she didn’t measure ingredients with a measuring cup or a weighing scale. “3 hiDi’s of Dhaniya”, she explained. “HiDi in kannada translates to the amount of ingredient that one can grip within the fist. And that is exactly how I continue to measure the ingredients to this day. Of course, worry not,  below in the recipe, they’re measured with cups and teaspoons:)
IMG_9248

A little about the dish sans the above indulged dramatization. In the Kannada language, Bisi means Hot, Bele means dal(lentils) and bath refers to a rice based dish. Essentially,  it is rice and dal cooked together with a heaping medley of vegetables and with a spice powder mix (recipe for which I will share with you today ) and tempered with ghee, aromatic curry leaves & peanuts and mustard seeds. A medley of vegetables is mandatory and this can include beans, carrots, pumpkins, bell peppers, tomatoes and a melange of legumes.
Serve it with a cold Raita and/or crunchy sides such as Boondi or spicy potato chips!
Below I share the recipe for the Bisibelebath Powder(the spice mix) and the method to make the Bisibelebath as well. 

RECIPE FOR BISIBELEBATH

INGREDIENTS
For Bisibelebath Powder
Less than 1/4 cup of Urad Dal
Less than 1/2 cup Channa Dal
1/2 cup packed Dhaniya/Coriander Seeds
1 tsp Jeera/Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp heaped Methi seeds/Fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp heaped black Peppercorns
A pinch of Hing/Asafoetida
1 Marathi Moggu
2 Cloves
1″ Dalchini/Cinnamon
25 Byadgi Chillies
5 Guntoor Chillies
1/2 cup dry grated coconut
1 tsp oil

For Bisibelebath
3/4 cup Sona Masuri Rice(See Notes)
3/4 cup Toor Dal/Split pigeon peas
1 cup heaped beans, chopped to 1″ long pieces
1/2 cup carrot , peeled and chopped to 1″ long pieces
1 medium sized capsicum/bell pepper, chopped into cubes
1 tomato, chopped into cubes
3/4 cup of mixed avarekalu(val lilva) and pigeon peas(tuvar lilva)- fresh or frozen(optional ingredient)
1 cup of winter melon- peeled and chopped to 1″ cubes
4 cups water plus extra
A pinch of turmeric
3-4 tsp of oil
1/2 tbsp thick tamarind paste
2 tbsp heaped jaggery, chopped
Salt to taste

For tempering- 
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 tbsp groundnuts
1/2 tsp ghee
12-15 curry leaves

METHOD
 For the Bisibelebath powder-
-In a thick bottomed kadai/pan, add oil and once it’s heated add all the ingredients for the spice mix except the coconut. On a low flame, fry until the lentils turn golden brown. Pour onto a large plate.
-In the same kadai, fry the coconut until golden brown and put off the stove.
-Let the roasted ingredients cool in room temperature. (do not mix the coconut with the remaining ingredients)
-First, grind the lentil & spices mix into a coarse powder in a mixer. Add coconut into the mixie jar at this point and grind to a fine powder. Mix well with a spoon and the Bisibelebath powder is ready.

2. The first step is to cook the rice, lentils and vegetables. Since each vegetable takes a different amount of time to cook, we deal with differently.
Pressure cook rice, toor dal, beans, carrot, avarekaLu and togarikaLu(SEE NOTES), with a pinch of turmeric, a few drops of oil and approx. 4.5 cups of water. Put off the stove after 2 whistles.
3. In a large kadai/deep bottomed dish, add oil and once it’s heated, add the chopped capsicum. Season with salt. Once it’s almost done add the chopped tomatoes and cook till they are soft. For the pumpkin, heat some water in a vessel, add salt and cook the pumpkin until softened. It softens fairly quickly, so keep an eye.
4. In a bowl, mix  heaped 1/2 cup of Bisibelebath powder, tamarind, salt and jaggery with 1 cup of water and add this to the kadai with capsicum and tomato.
5. Next, add the cooked rice-dal-veggies, tamarind, jaggery and salt.Add another cup of water and mix everything together ensuring that the rice and dal is uniformly coated with the spices. On low heat, let the bisibelebath simmer for about 5 -7 minutes, then put off the stove(Add another half cup of water only if the bisibelebath becomes too thick)
6. Make the tempering by heating a tbsp of ghee/clarified butter (or oil) in a small pan /tadka pan. To this add groundnuts, mustard seeds, hing. Let the mustard seeds and groundnuts splutter, then add curry leaves and put off the stove.
7. Add the tempering to the Bisibelebath and mix well. Serve hot.

NOTE:
1.Store the remaining powder at room temperature in an airtight container.
2.Cashews can be used instead of groundnuts for the tempering. But, in this case, fry the cashews in ghee first, remove them from the kadai and then temper the mustard seeds, hing & curry leaves.
3. The consistency of the bisibelebath can vary. Some like this thick while some prefer it to be a little diluted.So the amount of water can vary.

IMG_9254.JPG

Mangia Mangia!…Submitting to Pizza Margherita

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.


We also bake our own pizza. When Little Brother #1 visited us  last month, he pampered us with a beautiful Deep-dish pizza(baked from scratch) outpouring and trickling with mozzarella and the works. I lazed on our sofa, unfurling the recipe, an explicit list of instructions from the book, all well accompanied by little extracts of my sage wisdom. Precisely what one would commonly expect from an elder sister. Lest I forget to mention, he cleaned up too. I basked in my proud-sister moment that night.

This week, Little Brother #2 embarked on his baking journey by making a Pizza Margherita.  We baked the fare together as we silently said a thankful prayer to technology(never have I been more grateful for video calling). Him in Bangalore, me in Toronto. 5pm for him, 6:30 am for me. Clearly, no lounging for me this time around! We kneaded our yeasty doughs together, watched as our tomatoes bubbled boisterously into a sauce and exactly 3 hours later, we revealed our pizzas together. He relished a dinner of earnest hardwork while the husband and me savored an unusual but very delicious breakfast.
I’m going to interrupt my proud-sister moments for now and move on to the the making of this cheese-laden indulgence.

The recipe for this authentic pizza has been adapted from Rachel Allen’s cooking show that I stumbled upon many years ago. The following evening, we had an enticing dinner. I’ve relied on this recipe many a time and continue to do so, sharing it with friends and family because of its unerring ways. Simple in make and always results in a contented smile. The length of time that any bread demands may be overwhelming at first but that is something one will get the habit of fairly soon. My suggestion : bake the pizza often; patience is directly proportional with frequency of make.
The original recipe uses all-purpose flour while I’m sharing the one with wholewheat flour owing to its health benefits. But, either way, there isn’t much of a difference make. The other  significant component is the sauce. Summertime farmer’s markets are brimming with San Marzano tomatoes and I haul back heavy bags splilling with these dainty, deep-red fruits. But other times, I depend on Roma tomatoes. Quite frankly, use whatever tomatoes you can get your hands on.
Moving on to the recipe:

RECIPE FOR WHOLEWHEAT PIZZA MARGHERITA (Makes 2 large pizzas)

INGREDIENTS- 
TOMATO SAUCE FOR THE PIZZA
4-5 tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
10 basil leaves
Salt
Ground Pepper
1-2 tsp sugar
Thyme and oregano can be added for flavoring as well
PIZZA DOUGH
250 ml warm water(a little extra if the dough feels too dry)
1/2 tsp castor sugar
1.5 tsp active dry yeast or 1 x 7 gms sachet of fast acting yeast
350 gms or 2.5 cups wholewheat flour plus extra for dusting(all purpose flour can be used too)
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil plus extra for dusting
Semolina for dusting
TOPPINGS
A few basil leavesGrated Mozarella – roughly 1-1.5 cups(I say roughly because I throw it on my base without restraint!)

METHOD TO MAKE THE PIZZA SAUCE
1. Boil water in a large vessel. Make an ‘X’ at the bottom of each tomato and add into the boiling water for a couple of min. Transfer to a bowl of ice water and peel them.
2.Heat oil in a pan, add onions and cook for 4-6 min, till browned. Add tomatoes, herbs, salt, pepper and sugar and bring to a boil.
3. Simmer till sauce thickens for about 45 minutes, or until the raw smell of tomatoes goes away (Add 1/4 cup of water while cooking if necessary).
4. Cool & blend into a smooth sauce.

METHOD TO MAKE THE PIZZA DOUGH AND THE PIZZA MARGHERITA
1. In a bowl, mix the warm water with the sugar & yeast & leave it to stand for 5 min or until looking frothy. (No need to do this if it’s fast acting yeast. Just add the yeast directly to the olive oil and sugar).
2. Add olive oil into the yeast mixture.
3. Add the wholewheat flour into a large bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the olive oil-yeast mixture into the well and mix by hand, until the dough is wet & sticky.(Add extra water if it is too dry).
4. Next, knead with your hands on a floured counter for about 10 min(5 min in the food mixer) or until smooth & springy to touch.
5. Grease the bowl with olive oil & place the dough back in. Cover with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours or until doubled in size. ( if you gently press the dough with your fingertip, the dent should stay, and that means it’s ready).
6. Preheat oven to 240C or 465 F.
7. Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and divide into 2 portions. Keep the one that you’re not using covered.
8. Roll out each disc to a 10″ inch circle.
9. Place the rolled out dough on a tray sprinkled with semolina. Alternatively, use a parchment paper.
10. Spread a good dollop of sauce on top of the base and spread it with a ladle.
11. Place the shredded cheese(toppings can be added too)
12. Bake at 465 F / 240 degree Celsius for 15 minutes.
13. Slice and serve hot.

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.
IMG_9124
Understandably, tovve-anna makes its divine presence fairly often. Aside from that. simple dals emboldened with cucumber or ridgegourd or capsicums are consisitent too. A North- Indian version with spices, onions and tomatoes and a seducing tadka is more a fortnighly scene. Dal Makhni with its protein rich lentils and oodles of butter is a rare visitor. My kitchen has also witnessed a Rajasthani Panchmel Dal albeit only in one instance. Another dish that has made a debut is Gujarati Dal Dhokli that I learnt from a friend and is conjured on similar lines as the one I’m about to share with you today. This week, I decided to broaden my horizon a little bit more. Perhaps indulge in something a little more audacious!
IMG_9094
 Anjum Anand’s wonderful creation,  ‘Indian Vegetarian Feast’ was just the the book that needed a break from its long hiatus in our bookshelf. Her book is brimming with curries and warm dishes that winter nights demand so fiercely. This beauty of a dal is no different. It is subtly sweet owing to jaggery  and awfully comforting. The dumplings are made with wholewheat and stuffed with peas and coconut, almost a melt-in-the-mouth experience when dunked in dal.
Poured over rice or daliya this dish can be thoroughly satisfying but it easily transforms into a hearty winter soup. Ladle into a big bowl and devour as is. 
Only a few changes in my version: fresh coconut replaced dry coconut and roasted peanuts were added without restraint. Also, the original recipe has included the addition of kokum, a fruit that lends a sour flavour but since I didn’t have any I’ve relied on my good friend, the tamarind.
Hope you like this dish as much as we did:)
IMG_9116

RECIPE FOR GUJARATI DAL WITH GREEN PEA AND COCONUT DUMPLINGS
INGREDIENTS
For the Dal:
1 cup split pigeon peas or Toor Dal, washed
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 large tomato, chopped
2 tbsp jaggery
3/4 inch of ginger, peeled and grated
a pinch of chilli powder(add more if you want the dish to have more heat)
2 tbsp roasted peanuts(or more), crushed coarsely
2 tbsp ghee
1/4 tsp asafoetida
4 cloves
2 tbsp ghee
8 dried kokum, soaked(optional)
1/2 ts p each of mustard and cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp ground coriander
10 curry leaves
1 tsp readymade tamarind paste or soak a tsp of tamarind in hot water and squeeze out the thick juice
Salt to taste

For the Dough
1/2 cup wholewheat or chapati flour
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ajwain or carom seeds
1 tbsp vegetable oil

For the Filling
1 cup frozen peas
1 tsp ghee
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tbsp fresh or dry coconut( I used fresh)
an inch of ginger- peeled and grated

METHOD
-First, the split pigeon peas or toor dal needs to be cooked soft. They can either be pressure cooked or boiled in a large vessel. Either way, add two times the water along with turmeric and a few drops of oil. Cook until completely mushy. Then, using a stick blender, puree until smooth.
(If using a vessel to cook it, cover it partially and keep an eye. Sometimes the water water may spill over)
-Next, make the dough by mixing together all the ingredients listed. Knead until soft and elastic. Keep aside by covering with a wet cloth.
-Thirdly, the filling is prepared. Boil the frozen peas in salted water until completely soft. Drain the water and mash either with a wooden spoon or cool completely and blend in a mixer. To the mashed peas, add grated ginger and fresh grated coconut. Then, in a little pan(tadka pan), heat ghee and add mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add it to the peas mixture and keep aside.
-To the pureed dal/lentils, add the chopped tomato, jaggery, peanuts, chilli powder, salt and tamarind and simmer for 10 minutes in low heat.
-Meanwhile, prepare the dumplings. Divide the dough into 9 or 10 portions. Take one, roll into a little ball and then roll into a thin 3 inch circle all the while. Use some extra wholewheat flour to keep it from sticking to the countertop or rolling pin.
Take 1 tablespoon of the filling, place on one half of the circle. Using your finger line the entire edge of the circle with a little water and fold one half over the other, tightly pressing on the seams and making sure the filling is well within the dumpling.
Make all the dumplings this way and keep aside.
-Add about 1 cup or 1.5 cups of water to the dal and thin it down. The amount of water may vary depending on how thick you like your dal. To this, add the dumplings and let them cook for about 5-7minutes or until done. Important to note that the dumplings should be added to the dal just before serving or else they may disintegrate and turn mushy.
Finally, add the tadka or tempering. In the same tadka pan used above, heat more ghee and add to it cloves and cinnamon. Also add cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Add curry leaves that have been washed and dried well with a cloth or tissue. Once the mustard seeds splatter and the curry leaves have crisped up, add the tempering to the dal and serve hot.

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.
O Mother, sprinkle our lives with a smattering of sunshine before I run out of ways to defeat the blues.”
IMG_8969

As you can see, I’m desperately scavenging warmth, sunshine and Vitamin D. And, my first-aid this season happens to be blood oranges. On the outside, these gorgeous fruits are disguised as the regular variety, donning a peel exactly like the latter and hence fairly easy to ignore whilst hurriedly hustling a grocery card(Tip:keep your eyes peeled for the name labels). It is only when they are sliced that one discovers how aptly they are christened. They bleed vivacious shades of crimson, sometimes a shimmering maroon, sometimes a rich saffron and at times, they’re adorned in sharp streaks with every shade mentioned above. Undeniably, they are a thing of beauty. A thing of joy.
I first discovered blood oranges in the dreary winter of 2016. I remember juicing them to witness a gleaming red glass of juice. This winter though, I hope to reveal their beauty in a language I’m most drawn to, baking.
IMG_5046.jpg

To make the galette, very simply, blood oranges are peeled, sliced, laid on a homemade walnut enriched Pâté brisée that is slathered with blood orange marmalade and baked until golden brown. It isn’t an overpoweringly sweet dish but promises to curb the cravings. If you ask me, this galette is best devoured warm. The flavours are fresh and strongly redolent of a warm, summer afternoon picnic. A picnic seems far from reality at the moment but a girl can dream….
IMG_8984

A little about the recipe-
The recipe for the Pâté brisée has been adapted from Sarah Owen’s wonderful book, ‘Sourdough’. It does call for a sourdough starter but not to worry because I have made it plenty of times without one and it works just fine. Additionally, the measurements are in grams and therefore demands a weighing machine.

Secondly, I opted for the blood orange marmalade because I stumbled upon a jar in the grocery but feel free to use any jam or spread that you might want to pair with the oranges. Moving on to the recipe….
RECIPE
INGREDIENTS
For the Walnut Pâté brisée
45 gms walnuts
45 gms whole wheat flour
65 gms all purpose flour
15 grams granulated sugar
Half a tsp salt
75 gms cold, unsalted butter chopped into cubes(taken out of the refrigerator just before use)
15-25 gms ice cold water

Other Ingredients –
4-5 medium sized blood oranges
Approximately 3 tsp of blood orange marmalade or any other jam/spread
1 tsp of maple syrup
1 tbsp of milk

METHOD
-To make the pastry, pulse together walnuts, whole-wheat flour, salt, sugar until the nuts are ground fine.
– Then transfer to a bowl and add the cold, cubed butter and bread it down with your hands it resembles a coarse crumb. Then add ice cold water to combine very gently. Do not over mix or knead. Once it comes together, place in a plastic wrap & refrigerate for 30 minutes.
-Meanwhile, peel your blood oranges and slice them evenly into app. 0.5cm thickness.
– Preheat oven to 375F. Remove the dough from the oven and allow to the dough to come to room temperature.
– The moment it is pliable, roll it out into a large circle( 10 inches).
To roll, I usually place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and then roll, so it doesn’t stick.  Place the rolled pastry on a parchment lined tray. Spread out your choice of jam/marmalade. Place the sliced oranges.
-Fold over the crust edges gently toward the centre. It can overlap as well, the more rustic the better:)
– The crust can then be brushed with milk and maple syrup (replaces an egg-wash) and baked for about 30-35 min until the crust is golden brown.

 NOTE:Optionally, a thick syrup or glaze can be made to spread onto the galette.
Ingredients –
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup water
a handful of blood orange slices
Method –
– Bring the sugar and water to a boil on medium high heat. Then turn down the heat and add the blood orange slices. Remove the fruit slices a few minutes after. Let the syrup thicken on low heat.
-Once cooled, it can be spread on the finished galette.

 

 

Sticky Toffee Pudding

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.

Having grown up relishing my grandmother’s Badam Halwa(Almond pudding), my mother’s Paayasa’s(kheer), my father’s secret stash of chocolate, desserts take precedence over other foods in my kitchen and if it demands an oven, then it only becomes that much better. In an ideal world, I would bake every single day, I would check off that unceasing bucket list like my 10th grade self checking-off roting her vast syllabus. However, at the moment I will appease myself with the current pace and make sweet ‘somethings’ as often as I can.
IMG_7593

This dessert was prompted after devouring a Martha Stewart Show, the only cooking series I watch, and sadly restricted to random sightings. I watched in awe the other murky afternoon as she conjured a coffee-laden, sticky date cake and a velvety amber sauce to complete the dessert. The chef’s composed demeanor propelled me to take my standard position by the kitchen counter, whisk and bowl in hand, oven at 325F. Unfortunately, the lack of a couple of of key ingredients demanded rescheduling.
A few mornings later though, after running our of patience, I took position once again(after sourcing all ingredients).  I wasn’t nearly as calm or collected as she was. In my defense, when one is basking in the caffeinated fragrance suffusing from a cake batter or witnessing chunks of butter melting seamlessly into bubbling cream, it is painstakingly hard to contain excitement.
IMG_2086+1

Francis Coulson of the Sharrow Bay Hotel is said to have created the dessert in 1970. The hotel claims that the original recipe is cloistered in the confines of a secret vault and the staff sign a non-disclosure agreement so as to preserve the secret. I’m ignorant as to how different the original recipe is from the one I’m about to share but I can safely say, disappointment is not a part of the equation.
IMG_2085

The recipe involves Medjool Dates; they are tremendously sticky and you will find your knives coated with their flesh as you chop them into tiny bits. But, the stickiness also means that they blend harmoniously into the batter and the resulting cake. Also, like I mentioned before, this batter is folded in with a cup of strong espresso and I for one become weak in the knees when it comes to coffee in desserts. This was no different. Like all my bakes, I adapted this into an eggless version as well, thanks to an Egg Replacer(the brand I used is Pane Riso Foods Egg Replacer)it should be easily available online if not in stores.
It is better to let the cake sit overnight or for a day as the cake succumbs to the warmth and liquidity of the toffee sauce. But, if you’re anything like me, rather than tolerate the wait, you will assemble a square chunk of cake flooded with sauce ready to go while it is still sizzling hot.
Hope you like this one!

RECIPE FOR EGGLESS STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING(ADAPTED FROM MARTHA STEWART’S RECIPE)
INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 8 ounces Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped (about 1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup hot and strong brewed coffee
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup lightly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 2 tsp egg replacer mixed with 4 tbsp of room temperature water (I use Pane Riso Foods Egg Replacer but different brands will probably have a different set of directions)

Sauce

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup lightly packed dark-brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour an 8×8 inch baking pan. Place dates in a bowl, pour hot coffee over dates, and let them soak in the coffee for about 15 minutes. Then stir in the baking soda.

In a bowl, whisk together, flour, baking soda and salt. Keep aside.
Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat together butter and sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Then add the egg replacer and incorporate it for a few seconds( it is allright if the mixture appears curdled).

Add the flour mixture in parts, again in medium-high speed and mix until a smooth batter is formed. Add date mixture and remaining flour mixture, and beat until just combined. (Do not overmix.) Transfer batter to dish, and bake until cake is puffed and springs back in center when gently pressed with a finger, about 35-40 minutes.( I used  a toothpick to check the done-ness)

Toffee Sauce:
To make the toffee sauce, bring together butter, sugar, and cream in a pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium (so sauce does not boil over) and boil, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and darkens slightly, about 4-7minutes.

Remove cake from oven and pierce holes at 1-inch intervals to bottom of cake with a wooden skewer. Pour half of the hot sauce over cake and let soak 20 minutes. Serve warm with remaining sauce. Cake soaked in sauce and remaining toffee sauce can be stored at room temperature up to 1 day. Before serving, warm cake in a 300 degrees oven 10 minutes, and sauce in a small saucepan over medium heat.

 

Kensington Market, Toronto

When asked about my favorite place in Toronto, I answered with a straight face & without a second thought , “Kensington Market!”. The thought that immediately followed this proclamation, was hardly nonchalant in character. It was one of surprise laced by curiosity. The answer, I had assumed, would be a tad different; Perhaps the speckless boardwalk paralleling the serene waters of Lake Ontario, maybe the hygge-ligt coffee shop that offers safe haven in the boisterous winter months, even possibly the grey-stoned castle, Casa Loma. Despite these choices,  I had chosen one of the most crowded, loudest markets on the fringes of Spadina Avenue as my favorite spot in the city.
Why? I write this as an answer to you and and to myself.

IMG_2894It was the early days of spring 2016 when the  husband and me first ambled along the streets of  Kensington Market. The said weekday morning was engulfed in grey and bereft of color. However, as we strolled along the narrow lanes for the next hour, all shades from the grey scale seemed to have evaporated into thin air. Walls flanking these alleys spoke their own arcane language, some in a mellow peach, some in an enchanting scarlet red, some in a fierce orange, others in a somber blue and most times in a jumbled jargon. Like a town submerged in colour, the color-wheel has been spun and every hue extracted, saturated & splashed in every nook. A wild, beautiful disarray, much like my watercolor palette.  I will confess, much of the art is indecipherable to me, mostly abstract but, that doesn’t mean the art doesn’t command attention & appreciation. This market has in its arsenal, a plethora of colors and a walk in these streets, in the midst of such rampant art was ostensibly all that gloomy morning demanded.
Blog.jpg

Kensington Market at its heart is a multicultural community with a littering of diverse shops. While an artist crafts modern, string jewelry on a little table plopped on the street , behind him, a front yard is ornate with traditional embroidered clothing from India; its entrance hosting a painting of our very own Elephant God. A little store houses Jamaican souvenirs, a quaint shop carries blocks of guava jelly from Brazil while another hosts a fragrant turmeric-coconut paste. I scoured the entire city for a Lebanese Pomegranate Molasses when all I had to do was spend a few seconds in one of the blessed stores here. Like all regulars, I too have a few that hold a special place in my heart.

First, the fromagerie. Oui! Blocks of artisanal cheese sit here in shared silence, some, works of art brimming with mystery. But more importantly, a far cry from my childhood’s concept of cheese: a little square block of Amul, hidden within the secure confines of a silver foil.( Unwrapped, grated and generously tucked into a sandwich. Always a pleasant, comforting sight in the lunch box). This on the other hand is akin to walking into a room full of unknown people. (Ironically, I’m mildly acquainted with creamy chunks of Goat Cheese, greasy melts of Mozzarella, soft spheres of bocconccini, salty shavings of parmesan, buttery cuts of brie). I am thoroughly buoyed by this find, but mostly overwhelmed, a tad intimidated. But the answer can be mindlessly simple, isn’t it? All I need is to foray into that unknown more often, ask more questions, haul back more loot, eat more cheese, eat lots of cheese. C’est Bon!
Blog1.jpg

And second, the book shop. Here, a sea of books are crammed and corralled in the an old hidden nook, almost clandestine. The nook itself, tiny, one that is discovered by curiosity alone & one, where night is same as day. The books, blanketed by dust and waiting to spill a million stories. The air more heavy with tumbling words than anything else.
A serendipitous tryst with ‘Vellichor'( meaning= the strange wistfulness of used bookshops).
IMG_3683

And thirdly, the vegetable and fruit market. Admittedly, the bounteous fresh produce flaunting water droplets shimmering from a recent spray, has a perpetual effect on my hunger. I hop around the serpentine store with a mind on overdrive and a mangle of recipes as I glean to possess the most vibrant of seasonal harvest. The five kinds of squashes showstopping in their fall themed hues and the table masked by the verdant leafy family only encouraging me to harness my greed and take more than what I need.
Blog2
Not that I don’t value a burgeoning diversity, although, it tends to become all the more special when it envelopes food. I do hope you’re hungry!
Few escape the charm that churros exude. Hardly a surprise. They unleash sweet, deep-fried, cinnamon-coated goodness. For the ones yearning a few more spoonfuls of sugar, the chocolate sauce and condensed milk do the needful.(I apologize for the lack of a picture. I’m so drawn by this sweet escape that it completely slips my mind.)

An organic curry and salad outlet with its sunshine soaked patio seats and an intent for simplicity allows us to guiltlessly give in to lazy summer weekends. A cardboard box carries in its enclosure: brown rice, a smattering of quinoa and ladles of chickpea-rajma curry. There is a certain comfort lent by stirring rice and its liquid accompaniment, then savoring a warm morsel, even under a blazing sun. I refrain from using my hands but only if I did, home would be a lot closer than I thought.
IMG_7242.jpg

If one favors steamed Indian modaks, the Japanese Mochi isn’t too different. They both generously lend similar textures and wholesome fillings. What does differ though is the bite of fresh summer fruits and a hint of sweet from the red bean paste in the mochi.  They parley into fun( to put it bluntly) summer foods, all the while heeding to that forever starved sweet tooth.
IMG_6792

We’re not ones to every deny a good gelato and while Kensington Market boasts of more than a handful of these summer essentials, a little something called a Mexican Paleta has rightfully taken its place in our lives. While essentially being fruit popsicles, their snazzy flavor profiles like Mango-chilli & Tamarind-chilli attract a strong temptation.
IMG_0305
Of course, waffles and popcorn and juice bars and peanut-butter-banana sandwiches and a motley crew of food can keep one company too.

Under the bonhomie summer sun, the warm air , ebullient colours and faces agleam with smiles, life appears a tad bit more cheerful. The poetic riot of colours, the hustle-bustle, the need to cleverly snake through berserk crowds, the high-pitched conversations: all oddly part of the joie de vivre moment. And you know where else that happens? The chaotic markets of Bangalore, the loud bazaars back home. Looks like I found my answer.

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.
IMG_7384
Until a few years ago….
For a year almost in 2014-2015, I gave up on sugar. Completely. The first couple of weeks were every bit as cringe-worthy as was suspected. A world painted in color turned gray. I felt myself at sea most times, dubious about my decision. Every smile, I found, was peppered with a sad note. The romance that had me exuberant and invigorated had come to an end(albeit temporarily) and I was heartbroken.
The good news: it lasted only a week or two. Once I swam the rough waters, the calm was an unexpected surprise. The cravings bid adieu and to put it very bluntly, I lost interest. Those hardworking sugar-coveting tastebuds were probably happier in hibernation and my body was thrilled to bits with the ongoing  detox. And, gray didn’t seem like such a bad colour.  Might I add, I still reveled in the bliss of baking and very often. I just didn’t eat those treats, nor was I tempted to give in. The powers of the mind and body  are magical, I learnt.
Admittedly, there are days when I’ll be caught binging unstintingly on sweet treats but most days I resort to portion control or zero intake.
IMG_7392
These cookies are devised precisely for those days. They are called Khara(spicy in Kannada) Biscuits and since Iyengar Bakeries are non-existent in my part of the world, I resort to overworking my battered oven quite often.
IMG_7378
The recipe has been adapted from the wonderful Chitra Agarwal’s ‘Vibrant India‘, the book brimming with memories and food, redolent of good times from Bangalore, a common home between us. For me, the collection occupies a special place for reasons aplenty but some take priority:
– While the traditional Palyas , gojjus & Chitra-annas make their presence, some are twisted beautifully, and yet strongly rooted to tradition. Like her Apple Pie Kadabu’s, where apple pie fillings fragrant with autumnal spices substitutes the coconut filling that is traditionally opted.

– I always assume(with the risk of my imagination running wild), that recipes for Congress Kadlekai(spiced peanuts) and Khara biscuits ( both quintessentials in a Bangalore Iyengar Bakery) lie scribbled in some old, tattered pages, cloistered into a crevice of the bakery’s walls. Lucky that the author includes recipes for these as well. Many miles away, my kitchen is alive with the scents of the streets of Bangalore.

-And finally, despite having grown up and well acquainted with a gamut of dishes from the book, it is the aura of Bangalore that it drapes so well, the manner it magically mirrors the culinary saga of my elders that, coerces me into lending this treasure trove of flavour-bound recipes a place in my kitchen nook.

The cookies you see here are bite sized and slightly softer unlike the original crispy variant, equally delicious nonetheless. They are richly fragrant with Mint, Curry Leaves and Lime leaves. They are heavily laden with nostalgic memories from Bangalore & a sharp, tangy cheddar cheese. I do hope you like this one!
IMG_7392
{Before we move on the recipe, I just want to add that I’m no health expert and my desire/disinterest in sugar is purely my personal choice. I do not suggest in any way that this recipe is a “health/healthy food” OR Diabetic friendly.}

RECIPE FOR CHEDDAR & HERB SHORTBREAD COOKIES (KHARA BISCUITS)
(Adapted from Chitra Agarwal’s, Vibrant India’)

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

1.5 tsp sugar
2 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 green chilli, finely chopped
10-12 curry leaves, finely chopped
1-2 dried lime leaves, finely chopped(optional)
1/4 cup mint leaves,finely chopped
1 cup all purpose flour/sifted whole wheat flour
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
Method
– In a bowl, cream the butter and sugar by hand. Add the salt, herbs, green chillies and yogurt and mix.

– Then add the flour, grated cheddar and milk. Very gently bring all the ingredients together into a dough.
– Roll this into a log and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for an hour.
– In the meantime, preheat oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
– Slice the dough into 1/4 inch thick slices and arrange them on the cookie sheet.
– Bake for around 18-22 minutes and cool completely.
Notes:
1) The author has included coriander leaves in these shortbread cookies which also lend a wonderful flavour.