Deepavali may have come and gone by in a flash this year but that doesn’t mean the celebrations must cease. The winter breeze, the gentle dance of the diya(traditional oil lamps) flames, the warm luminiscence emerging from the serial lights swinging in our balcony and the myriad avatars of sugar: I want to desperately hold on to these feelings. Lights must continue to shine bright and sweets must be devoured without restrain, Deepavali must continue. This festive season, I indulged in a fancy whim and created a ‘best of both worlds’ sort of dessert that I will share with you very soon. But today, allow me to share with you a traditional sweet treat that shines in simplicity and one that makes its presence in our kitchen every week. At the moment it is serving to treat post-festival blues, one ladoo at a time.
Many years ago, I first made this in my mother’s kitchen under her guidance. It was conjured as an offering to the Lord(Naivedyam), as part of our pooja(prayers). After the pooja, the ladoos vanished at the blink of an eye: we as a family are terribly impatient when it comes to desserts.
Now, the husband and me continue to make this in our kitchen every week and every Saturday at dawn, the air at home is fragrant with the aromas of jaggery, cardamom and gently roasted wheat flour. Even, Elaichi, our excited little puppy turns restless, yearning for a taste which he ensures he gets immediately after the offering.
These tambittus or ladoos are mildly sweetened with jaggery and flavoured with ghee and cardamom. It comes together oh so quickly, without any fuss. Also, they satiate those sudden sugar cravings and like I said post-festival/post-holiday blues. Perfect left plain but I sprinkled them with ground pistachios, dry coconut and rose petals to jazz them up just a tad. I really hope you try this one and like it as well.
RECIPE FOR GODI TAMBITTU Makes 13
1 cup Wheat flour
2/3 cup grated jaggery
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup milk
4 green cardamoms plus a pinch of sugar
2.5 tbsp Ghee plus more to roll the ladoos
-Using a mortar and pestle, pound the cardamom seeds and the sugar to achieve a powder. Keep aside.
-In a thick bottomed kadai/wok, add 1 tbsp of ghee and allow to melt over medium heat.
To this, the whole wheat flour and saute continuously until there is a nice aroma. This should take 3-4 minutes.
-Meanwhile in small sauce pan add the jaggery and water. Place on medium heat, let the jaggery melt and come to simmer, remove from heat. We are looking for a thin syrup. Also, in another pan, heat the milk separately and let it come to boil.
-Once the wheat flour is roasted, add the jaggery syrup, milk, ground cardamom and mix well until a dough like consistency is formed. Make sure there are no lumps.
-Remove from heat. Apply some ghee to your hands and immediately(but carefully) roll into ladoos .
(I used a measuring scale and each one was roughly 21 gms)
-Optional- can be sprinkled with pistachios, coconut and rose petals.
-Best served immediately but they are good for 2-3 days if stored in an air-tight container.
When in Paris or Quand à Paris in french. Early June, the husband and me flew to the City of Love, hearts heavy with desire to bring to life the titillating words that I had absorbed from a plethora of books , to bask in the romance of a French summer and attempt to satiate my ravenous longing for sugar in its many avatars. A week’s worth of vacation to make up for a decade’s worth of dreams. I attempt to share and narrate the magic that this darling city sprinkled on us, I hope you love it as much as we did.
-Apprehension has captivated me in the flight and no, it is not aviophobia. After devouring and gobbling books about this enchanting city the past few years, the desire isn’t only to navigate and strut down those winding, cobbled streets. It’s more than that. I’m inclined to fit in, ramble in french, splash on that red lipstick, strap on those stilettos and feel at home.
-The taxi ride from the airport to our Air Bnb appartement in Rue Humblot begins uneventfully. However, many zinc rooftop sightings and a handful of traffic violations later, we caught a fleeting glimpse of the Iron Lady, La Tour Eiffel, a glorious manifestation of my dreams, standing tall, proud and bewitchingly beautiful. What follows however, isn’t so pretty. I bawl like a baby, face buried in the husband’s old backpack while he quietly caresses me, fully in the know of these disobedient but happy tears. After I regain composure, I wonder if Parisian cabs are more equipped to handle emotional outbursts, the likes of the above, presuming the likelihood of their frequency!
-The appartement is quaint, tiny, possessing a tinier kitchen. I assume the owner to be an equestrian or an enthusiast . The walls proudly display paintings of horses. The remaining walls are stacked with books and other collectibles. A large window opens to a busy street, the Paris metro chugging frequently. Fingers crossed, I take a quick peek into the minuscule kitchen, smiling as I spot the baking oven.
I attempt to chat with the owners in french, unsure if months of classes will payoff. But, thanks to my teacher and the homework I so religiously abided by, the language flows without interruptions. Admittedly, the words are simple, the sentences are short and blemished grammatically but the components are glued correctly much like the compartments of a train. I’m now overcome by a rush of optimism, enthused to immerse myself in this verbal dance of words, en francais.
-The first stop: The street is enlivened by a Sunday farmer’s market spilling with colours and fresh smells. Chaos, cacophony and conversations reign along with nature’s bounty.Under a tarpaulin sheet, crimson hued cherries, miniature radishes shaded in fuchsia, delicate strawberries, plump peaches, grande et petit tomatoes are organised in mounds and crates. A sight for sore eyes, a plethora of inspiration for a food lover. I request the grocer to bag some fruits; a Galette is brewing in my mind.
-We promenade to the Champs Elysees; the walk is très long. Fortunately, not one minute under the blazing sun is tiring or boring, it is instead, unraveling mysteries and satiating the imaginative mind, one cobbled street at a time. Of course, I bid goodbye to my heels and I rely on my very dependable, flat, ballerina shoes.
The Pont Alexandre Bridge spanning the Siene is studded with ornate nymphs, cherubs and the quintessential Parisian lamps. Woody Allen has magnificently captured it in the final scene of Midnight in Paris, where Owen Wilson and Carla Bruni walk under the rain and I had always wondered if reality channels the same charm. Turns out , it does and more, even if at this moment, the earth is parched beneath the afternoon sun.
-The Champs Elysees is car-free since it is a Sunday mais siezed by throngs of people. The pavements house quaint patio-style restaurants, all flaunting red and cream woven chairs. We silently navigate through them all because I’m miserably sugar starved and nothing will appease this monster like French dessert. Lo and behold, shimmering in the sunshine is a soft green facade with gold gilded intricacies. C’est Laduree! Macarons, a passionfruit-chocolate bar and a raspberry-litchi-rose cream concoction are devoured with an intense fervor and a silent exchange of smiles between the husband and me. We are after all, at a temple, a temple where peity is reserved for macarons & its kin.
– Jardin des Tuleries near Place de la Concorde is peppered genrously with tall, boxed trees. Under the canopies of these trees are cafes enticing one with the luxuries of shade and respite from the sweltering heat. Glasses clink, plates clatter, wines flow. A little girl glowers at her mother’s cigarette, clearly unmasking her distaste towards smoking, a couple transforms menu cards into makeshift fans and we take pinched sips of iced drinks After traipsing around the city for 15 kms, we concur that sipping on iced drinks isn’t doing the needful. Fortunately, nestled within the jardin is a pond and at its hem are lawn chairs with low hanging backs. An hour later I realise, a nap did do the needful.
-We head back to the apartment meaning for it to be a quick stop only to discover that all water for the entire building has been shut off. A phone call with our owner informs us that a leak in the basement has resulted in the above and it being a Sunday, the plumbers aren’t showing up anytime soon.
But, one never sulks in Paris; her magic is too entrancing. One instead, scours for grocery stores and lugs back 10 litres of water in bottles to make do for the next 24 hours simultaneously hoping the universe is transmitting telepathic pleas to the plumbers. One smiles and forgivingly succumbs to the magnetic attraction because, C’est Paris! Oui?
-We are strolling by the greens in the confines of La Tour Eiffel, when delicious wafts engage our senses, shaking us off from our nonchalant walk. In a little concession stand, a man is making crepes. We stand in line and gaze at the sight like little children; he pours loose batter on a hot griddle and quickly using a spreader transforms it into delicate pancakes, then slathers them with generous spoonfuls of confiture de fraises. Dinner looks good.
-The evening light is gently masked by deeper hues. Dusk is working its way in signalling a time for the stars to shine and more importantly for the golden lights of the Eiffel Tower to shimmer by the Siene. And shimmer she does as if swarmed by a million fireflies. The city is crackling with magic and unfurling the sweetest dreams, trapping us into her cadences and we are not ones to be repelled. We let her sweep us…..We’re in Paris.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
-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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.