Back in the early 90’s, I came across this Gujju recipe* from Yamuna Devi’s Lord Krishna’s Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. (I don’t actually own this book, instead I have the “best of” abridged version that was published a few years later, but that big, out-of-print classic is still on my want list). I recall that I didn’t have any besan the first time I made this, so I used corn-meal as a substitute as the recipe suggested (it was still very good!), but if you have access to besan, do use it as the aroma of it roasting is pure heaven. Actually, this dish is pure heaven: greens and plantain (cooking banana) are steamed separately first, then combined with a lightly-sweetened, besan-infused masala to form a dry dish which is topped with roasted almonds and served with lime wedges to squeeze over at will. Using utensils for this dish is out of the question; only by eating out of hand is true justice served!
Kacha Kela Sak
(Unripe plantain vegetable dish)
2 lbs. fresh or frozen greens (the original recipe asks that one of these pounds be spinach, but truly any green of choice or mix of greens can be used successfully)
1 large unripe or semi-ripe plantain (2 firm, green bananas would probably work as well)
5 T ghee or oil (I was able to reduce this to about 3 T)
3 T besan
1 t black mustard seeds, coarsely-crushed
1 t cumin seeds, coarsely-crushed
1 t salt
1 t gur, jaggery
1/2 t turmeric
1/4 t (or more to taste) ground red chiles
3 T almonds, toasted and slivered or sliced
1 lime cut into wedges
1)Steam the greens just until tender- about 10-15 minutes; remove and allow to cool, then place in a piece of cloth (I used cheesecloth) and wring out as much liquid as you can. Save this liquid (it is rich in vitamins) to use as stock for another dish; chop the greens finely.
2)Peel the plantain, then shred coarsely or chop into 1/4″ dice. Steam these as well until soft- about 10 minutes.
3)Heat the oil in a kerai or wok over medium-low heat; add the besan, mustard-seeds and cumin; stir and fry until the mixture turns a few shades darker and is very fragrant.
4)Add the plantain and fry 2 more minutes.
5)Add the salt, sugar, turmeric and chiles; stir once, raise heat a bit and add the greens. Stir gently until fully heated.
6)Remove from heat and place the mixture into katoris or onto a serving platter. Sprinkle over this the almonds, and serve with lime-wedges on the side for each diner to sour as they please.
*Thanks for being my dictionary Mispa!
Some of my food-blogging friends and I have had discussions of yoghurt-cheeses and their appearance in several cuisines, including America’s- where cream cheese/Philadelphia cheese and “neufchatel” (though this does not resemble the true French cheese of the same name) are made in a very similar way… It is delectable when paired with fruit- there is no debate of that- but the “chocoholic” in me is continually searching for new ways to express itself, and I am certain that in no way could I be the first to dream up this concoction…
Chocolate, as a bitter drink, was well-known and used by the Aztecs back to antiquity, as was vanilla. The conquering Spaniards combined this with their passion for cinnamon-flavoured sweets (an assertion of the Moorish influence and Arab trade with India) and milk. It is not difficult to see how Mexican-style chocolate was born, and indeed, all other chocolate confections “born” afterward…
In this recipe, I have combined chocolate with a touch of vanilla, and the familiar combination of cardamom and cinnamon- prevalent in Indian coffee and tea preparations- with the milk-become-yoghurt-become-chatta sweet known as shrikhand in Gujju and Marathi -cinnamon being the tie that binds the hands across the world to create this delectable fusion. Mexican drinking chocolate often contains ground almonds as well, so… an appropriate accompaniment, to my mind, had to be freshly-fried almond pooris; I make a final bow to shrikhand’s origin by gracing the chocolate shrikhand with roasted chiroli-nuts…
Resist if you must!
I extend a big thank you to Madhuli of My Foodcourt for her assistance in helping me name the chocolate shrikhand.
Chocolate Shrikhand with Almond Pooris
4 C yoghurt (I used homemade 3%, but any richness may be used)
1/3 C sugar, more or less to taste (I used raw cane/ turbinado)
1 oz bittersweet chocolate
1/4 t ground true/Ceylon/soft cinnamon
the seeds of two cardamom pods, ground
1/2 t pure vanilla extract
1 T chiroli-nuts
1)Tie the yoghurt in a double-thickness of cheesecloth and suspend it somewhere, with a bowl underneath, to drain most of the whey for at least 3 hours; some, like me, prefer the texture be a little thicker and therefore let it hang longer 5, 8, 10 hours… I leave it up to you. This plain cheese is called chakka.
2)Empty the contents into a bowl, and add the sugar, mixing well. Allow it to stand for an hour or more to dissolve the sugar, then pass this mixture through a wire sieve for maximum smoothness.
3)Melt the chocolate in a small, metal dish over hot water, or use the microwave (keep a close eye on it to avoid scorching). Take a spoonful of the sweet-chakka and mix it with the chocolate, add this to the bowl. Take another spoonful and mix it with any chocolate that still clings and again add. Mix the chocolate with the sweet-chakka thoroughly. Taste for sweetness and adjust if necessary.
4)Add the final flavouring of ground spices and vanilla; combine well.
5)Chill this mixture well for at least an hour to allow the flavour of the spices to marry with the others.
6)Heat a little ghee/oil in a small pan and fry, stirring continuously, the chiroli, until lightly roasted (mine are a bit too dark) and fragrant. Remove to a cloth or paper towel to absorb excess oil and cool.
7)Serve the chocolate shrikhand in small bowls, sprinkled with chiroli, and freshly-made almond pooris (below) on the side.
2/3 C Ata (Indian whole-wheat flour) plus more for dusting
1/3 C ground raw almonds
tiny pinch of salt
oil for deep-frying
1)Mix the flour, almond-meal, and salt together well, then add enough enough water to form a soft, yet workable dough. Knead for 10 minutes, replace it to the bowl and cover with a damp towel to rest for an hour or so. (or place in a plastic bag)
2)Heat the oil over a medium-low flame. Divide the dough into into 8 equal portions, and taking each, roll into an ball and flatten into a patty, with your hand, onto a floured board. Sprinkle some more flour over the top and roll thinly into a 5″ round. Set each on a plate, overlapping the next, and keep covered with a damp dish-towel. Take each poori and gently set it on the surface of the hot oil (hold it with both hands loosely and rest the center, then release the sides. (if it sinks, the oil is not hot enough). Fry for a second or two, and using a pair of tongs or other utensil, push the edges gently under the oil until the top surface changes colour; it should puff up. Turn to the other side, fry until golden, turn back to the other side for a few seconds. Lift out the poori and place in a cloth or paper-lined bowl, leaning against the side to allow excess oil to drain and cover with a lid. Serve immediately.
NOTE: An Umrikan acquaintance just tasted this; although the pooris are now stale and should have been re-fried, still, she didn’t find it sweet enough…..so perhaps you may add more sugar than I did to the shrikhand, or shake sugar over the pooris as they come out of the oil…..I found the light sweetness quite refreshing however…and the whole crispy-soft combo addictive. Anyone who makes this, feel free to give me your input…
And what about those black, bat-like creatures? A nut! Known in Hindi as singhara, in Bengali as paniphal, in Sinhalese as ikiliya, in Chinese as ling or ling jiao, in German as singharanuss, in French as chataigne d’eau a deux cornes, in Japanese as hishi or tou bishi, in Nepalese as singadaa, and in English as water caltrop, bull-nut or singhara-nut; the latin botanical name is trapa bicornis, although other species of the genus are similar and are also known by these names. Hard to believe it’s vegetable eh? Nature is more fascinating than fiction…
The winners? Well… Richa (As Dear as Salt), Anita (a Mad Tea Party) and Linda (Out of the Garden)answered correctly the name of the nut. Congratulations! But, there is a hidden code in the exclamation marks in the title of the post. The marks follow what is known as the Fibonacci sequence. Each member of the sequence is formed by adding the two preceding it. And, also, each adjacent pair, as the sequence continues, approaches a particular relationship known as the golden ratio or divine proportion…this fascinating number is represented by the greek letter, phi; it appears all over nature- in the path of Venus across the heavens, in plants, animals- even in the human body! Using the measurement from our feet to the top of our heads, the golden ratio appears at our navel; also the wrist is at this marking point between our elbows and tips of our fingers…the list goes on! The Fibonacci sequence itself appears in nature as well. Good example? The spiral pattern of gobhi/cauliflower and the seeds at the center of sunflowers follows two such interlocking sequences. Also strands of DNA appear to form this pattern as well…
So, who noticed this cryptic code in the title? Two people…. The Cooker, and Anita (a Mad Tea Party)….great job both of you!!!
Obviously there is only one common element in both sets, and that is Anita…
Congratulations and a serious sashtaang pranam.. [bends down and touches her feet]
“…the leaves contain needle-shaped oxylate crystals that can cause a stinging sensation in the mouth and throat when not properly prepared… ” How nice….that makes me want to dive right in to a plateful….
The truth is, I’ve already eaten arbi leaves…
A few years ago, as I was wandering through the aisles of the nearest Indian grocer, I happened upon a can of them, already seasoned, rolled, cooked and sliced, and, as I had no idea what they were, I naturally placed the can in my basket. Upon arriving home, I tucked it away in a corner of the cabinet. When an inquisitive moment paired with a driving need to exoticly-impress a date finally came, I was pleasantly suprised to see whorls of green layered with gold! I removed them as carefully as I could, but as some of you may already know, it is inevitable that a fair portion of these canned goodies will break. However, whole or broken, the taste was unforgettable: rich, dark greens layered with besan, roasted and infused with an unfamiliar formula of spices, fragrant from re-heating in the microwave oven… for Umrikans this will more-than-suffice for exotic. The date? Well… I could tell by the way his mouth fearfully avoided the morsels as he chewed and swallowed that he was far from feeling fond affection; still, he inspected each piece carefully, turning them this way and that with his fork, his head cocked first one way and then the other in a not-so-subtle attempt to understand and unravel their mysterious aesthetic. I had no explanation to offer, just: “…more chutney?”.
Sometimes, that’s the only way to taste new things in Umrika-land… I looked for them on my next curry leaf run, but it appeared that there was a greater demand for bags of dry, crunchy chaat mixes as these now hung off the corners on clips, filling the entire section, obviously having overgrown their former territory like potted mint will try to do if left unchecked. I passed up the frozen parathas, the pathetic kerelas and left the store with my new stash of kari-patta. Instead of cash, I should have searched my trunk and produced a pair of pruning shears for trade…add another hefty item to my expanding list of “things that I must buy online…” (I grumble much more about the sudden, much-more-local loss of Jyoti karhi and dhal makhani, but I’m keeping my chin up, and mouth open for things to come).
Luckily, recipes for these exquisite, intricate-looking rolls abound in food-blog land. And it isn’t just besan finding its way between the leaves: rice, coconut, and Aunt Karisma’s undies show up in recipes that stretch like crackled elastic from Uttar to Andhra Pradesh. I, however, decided to start my tasting taut and twangy in the sweet-sour state of Gujerat, and collected nine different recipes of similar sort to contrast, compare, calculate and finally arrive at a recipe indicative of the Gujerati opus but without any particular credit in owe.
Unfortunately I was missing just one, perhaps important, ingredient for my recipe: the arbi leaves. I don’t expect to see them for sale anytime soon, or anywhere nearby. That very nice man from Delhi has a hard-enough time stocking usable tendli, let alone leaves that would never make the menu of the restaurant next door. This summer I’ll grow my own, and post the results if I’m able to speak after the first bite. Collard greens are plentiful here and make a fair substitute.
Oh, and just for trivial thrills, there are dishes made from the leaves which do not contain a souring agent; apparantly the taro plant(the accepted Umrikani apellation) is crucial to the cuisine of Hawaii, and other Pacific island cultures; for now though, I’d like to play it safe.* (A tip from Vee of Past, Present and Me: break the stem of an arbi leaf you intend to use, rub the juice on your inner wrist and count to ten; if it stings, the oxylate concentration is too high. Don’t use them. Take it as an omen that you’ve been cooking too much and take the afternoon off from the kitchen. Order out for pizza.)**
The multiple steps involved in preparing these may seem daunting, but actually it’s quite easy; you can even do as I did and start a day ahead of serving, casually doing each step when you have time.
18 arbi leaves
2 1/2 C besan
2 t ground dry red chiles (more or less to taste; I used more)
1 t turmeric
3 t sugar or gur
salt to taste
3 T oil
1/2 C tamarind paste/extract
3 t ginger paste
1 bunch of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1)Trim stems from arbi leaves, wash well and pat dry. Carefully slice off the thick center rib of each leaf, taking care that you don’t split them in the process (it happens though- hide these in the middle of the rolls; know one will be the wiser). Place each leaf on a board and gently roll it over with a rolling pin, again being careful not to split the leaves.
2)Divide the leaves by similar size into groups of three.
3)Mix the besan, ground chiles, turmeric, sugar and salt. Add the oil and mix well by hand until the mixture resembles crumbs.
4)Add the tamarind paste, ginger paste and enough water to form a thick, but easily spreadable paste (like peanut butter or yoghurt cheese). Add the coriander leaves and mix well. Check for salt.
5)Taking the groups of leaves in turn, ribbed sides facing up, spread the paste thinly( if you think of it more as an adhesive than a substantial filling, you’ll do fine…in fact, you should be able to adhere them securely to the walls of your kitchen, should you be so moved…) on each of them, placing the next leaf on top of the previous one before spreading the next layer of paste. So, you will have the following configuration: leaf, paste, leaf, paste, leaf, paste. When three have been layered and pasted, and with the tip of the leaves toward you, fold 1-2″ of the sides toward the center, and then roll firmly starting from the leaf tips to the stem end. Secure the rolls with cotton string (if you wish, or just place it seam-side down) and place in the container of a steaming apparatus. Steam for 40 minutes. Allow the rolls to cool before handling.
6)Now, take each roll, remove the string, and slice crossways carefully, using a sharp knife, into 1/3-1/2″ slices. These may be eaten just as they are with relishes, but most often they are finished with a tempering, such as the following, or deep-fried. I decided to take the middle road:
For the tempering:
3 T oil (if you would like to drizzle or toss them with oil, then use this amount, if you would like to shallow-fry them, use 5-6 T, adding more if necessary)
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t sesame seeds
2 pinches of asafoetida/ hing
1a)Heat oil over med-low heat, add mustard, cumin and sesame seeds; when the mustard seeds splutter, add the hing, swirl and then pour over the sliced rolls. Toss gently to coat if you wish.
1b)If you would like to shallow-fry these, then place a cover on the pan when the seeds begin to splutter and allow them to finish. Remove from heat, and then remove the fried seeds with a spoon. Set these aside. Return the oil to heat and fry the slices on each side until golden brown, adding a little more oil if necessary.
2)In either case, sprinkle them with 3-4 T grated coconut and serve.
If you decided to shallow fry them and still have the reserved fried spices, take them and follow me…
Pel’s Quick-and-easy Pistachio Pilaf
1/2 C grated coconut, fresh or frozen
the fried spices from the previous recipe
a handful of shelled, roasted pistachios (soaked and skinned as well, if desired)
2 C dry, pilaf-making rice, rinsed well and drained (I tried sona masoori- it worked)
3 1/2 C water
3/8 C coriander-mint chutney (coriander and mint leaves, lime juice, salt, ground roasted cumin)
salt to taste
1)Wipe the inner surface of the pan with oil and roast the coconut until very lightly golden over a low flame, add the fried spices, pistachios and a little oil and fry for about 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid any scorching; add the drained rice and mix very well- about 2 minutes more.
2)Add the water, chutney and salt to taste (I used 1/2 t, but it depends on the saltiness of the chutney); Bring to boil, cover with a tight-fitting lid, turn heat to low and steam for 20 min. Lift lid and fluff with form, re-cover and let stand for a few minutes.
I needed a dish made of pulses next, so, going with the green theme and the Gujerati flavour, I took this recipe straight out of Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking:
Moong Dhal Na Poora
1 C moong dhal (I used dhal with skin for extra colour and nutrients)
3/4″ piece of ginger, peeled, sliced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1-2 fresh green chiles, cut into 3 pieces
1 t salt, or to taste
1/4 t baking soda (optional…I didn’t use)
1/4 t turmeric
2 T coriander leaves, minced finely
1 small onion, peeled and minced finely
about 1/2 c oil/ghee (I used peanut oil)
1) Pick over the dhal and rinse well; soak in plenty of water for 5 hours; drain.
2)Make a paste or puree of the ginger, garlic and chiles. Grind it with the dhal, adding 1/2 c of water, the salt, baking soda, and turmeric until you have a thick batter. Stir in the onions and coriander leaves.
3)Heat a tava or griddle over medium-low heat; for each poora: drop a teaspoon of oil on the cooking surface, tilt to spread; place 1/3 c of the batter in the center, count to 4, and then with a small ladle or spoon spread the batter by swirling it outward from the center in a spiral, aiming for a 5-6″ circumference; drizzle 1/2 t of oil over the poora surface, and another 1/2 t at the edges; cover and allow to cook for about 2 minutes, or until the underside has a reddish tinge. Flip the poora to the other side, and allow to cook uncovered for about 1 1/2 minutes, until it develops reddish spots.
4)Make all of them this way, stacking them on top of each other. Be sure to stir the batter in the bowl well before each one is made.
Then, I really needed something special to moisten all of this dryness. Anita’s very delicious and very versatile Walnut and Mint Chutney(of A Mad Tea Party) seemed like the answer -and it was!…. except I used pistachios… which she said is just fine….
I know that you might have an urge to add a bit of garlic or ginger or temper-of-hing to this, but don’t! The Kashmiri Pandit Chutney Patrol (KPCP)will come after you if you do!!!!
If you are feeling really fancy, you can make little spoons of celery-sticks, like I did!! 😀
(Ooops! It looks like a Marathi specialty wanted to sneak into the post too… oh well!)
I had a few of the patra bajia left over a fter a few days, and as I was making sweet-cassava pakoras for some company and had hot oil at the ready, I decided to deep-fry some of them as well…. Although I was at first dismayed watching my hard-earned spirals unravel in the oil, the final effect is astoundingly beautiful: a bit like mini-galaxies….
(that’s a lousy photo… make them and see for yourself! They are very crispy… and remain crispy for a looooong time…)
This is my entry to Jihva for Ingredients- Greens, May 2007, hosted by Indira of Mahanandi, co-hosted by Nandita of Saffron Trail. This month’s JFI marks the one-year anniversary of this Indian food-blogging event. May it continue for a hundred more!
“Oxalic acid may be present in the corm and especially in the leaf, and these foods should be eaten with milk or other foods rich in calcium so as to remove the risks posed by ingesting the free oxalic radical especially for people with kidney disorders, gout, or rheumatoid arthritis. Calcium reacts with the oxalate to form calcium oxalate which is very insoluble.” (Wikipedia, the full entry can be read here)
**Pel may have added that last part… 🙂 But in consolation, a concisely-written page about taro may be found here.