Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet, eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider, who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Perhaps you have heard of this little childhood rhyme, and perhaps, like me at the ripe old age of three, you had no idea what sort of food “curds and whey” was. I recall asking one of my grammar-school teachers. Her reply? Cottage cheese… And ever since then I’ve felt compelled to check the air around me for dangling arachnids as I devour a bowlful. But, there is evidence that the dish referred to in the rhyme is the English sweet known as junket. Either way, milk is curdled. Curds, and whey…
Perhaps, like me, you are well-aware that there are many other curdled things made by adding a souring agent to milk or cream. Yoghurt, sour cream, kefir (the production of all three of these demand that edible bacterial cultures be introduced which devour lactose, producing an acid which forms curds) and all cheeses (made by compressing these curds or those formed by introducing an acid directly) would be impossible without this initial phase of “curds and whey”.
Perhaps, like me, you have decided to be a bit more self-reliant by producing some of these food-stuffs at home and wonder, when all is said and done, what to do with all of the leftover whey. Well, for one, it can be added to the sauce or gravy of many dishes. In the Punju dish mattar panir, for instance, it is often added to the tomato-laden gravy where it adds a subtle, sweet-sour sparkle. It can be used to thin saucy legume dishes during the final simmering (adding any acidic substance at an earlier stage of cooking inhibits the softening of legumes); certainly it can be added in small amounts to many soups. It is, after all, protein-rich, and often used as a nutrition-boosting additive in many pre-packaged foods.
But perhaps, like me, after a session of panir-making or yoghurt-straining, you have no immediate way of using all of this whey that sits there so pale, so golden, so lovely in a container on your counter-top. You hate to discard it, so you freeze it, thinking that you will find ways of using it in the near future. And then, over time, you realize that you have so many containers that are taking up so much room… but it’s too much of a shame to just let them all thaw to pour down the drain. Sacrilege, you think. You arrive at a cerebral sticking-point.
And then, maybe, a thought strikes you. You could save space, save energy and dehydrate it…
And, truly, it isn’t very difficult to turn all of that whey into a concentrated powder. Whey powder, to use at whim without thawing, to keep in a handy place in the kitchen, to add to gravies, soups, stews, sweet drinks, almost anything. And here is how to do that:
1)Take your saved quantity of whey and bring it to a boil, lower the heat a bit to maintain a gentle boil, and stir it occasionally as it reduces.
2)It will eventually become a thick, caramel-coloured goop, so be sure to stir more frequently as it nears this stage. I threw in a quick handful of salt while it was reducing; perhaps this is unnecessary, but by doing this I felt reassured that the resultant powder would be spoil-proof. When it is rather thick and deep-golden in colour, remove it from the heat and pour this onto a waxed-paper or parchment-paper-lined baking tray. Allow to cool and set.
3)I then broke this candy-like slab roughly into pieces about 1″-2″ wide, and allowed it to dry thoroughly for a few weeks. I forgot about these pieces for some time actually. The edges and surface of these pieces will become pale as it dries.
4)I then took these hard pieces, gently smashed them in a mortar-and-pestle, and then sifted the powder from this. The larger “pebbles” that remained in the sieve I then placed in an electric grinder and pulverised, then poured through the sieve. You could, instead, continue the pulverising in the mortar-and-pestle if you wish. The resultant near-fine powder I poured into a jar and screwed on the cap. Whey powder dissolves in water, so a good soaking makes the cleaning of any utensils used simple enough, and what was once many quarts now fits within my hands. Much easier to use now, perhaps…
[Miss Muffet illustration at introduction by William Wallace Denslow. Public domain, and used freely with that knowledge here]
Anita’s post for the Kashmiri dish, al yakhni, was, I believe, the first recipe of hers that I commented upon. I remember it well, as she was so kind to suggest this recipe after learning what a huge fan of karela I am, as, although her post made use of al (bottle gourd), the same gravy can be used to cook nadur(lotus stem/root/tubers) as well as karel…
So, because I had a sizable new batch of yoghurt at the ready, and locally-grown bitter melons from both the farmers’ market and my own vines, I decided that the time had finally come to try this dish and do it justice with these freshest of ingredients. (A stock of Lucknowi saunf helps too!)
I was not disappointed. Most delicious…fragrant with saunf, which goes so well with karela. (Bengali cooks would agree!) Rice is a must to accompany this very soothing, comforting dish and allow the aroma of the gravy to bloom. It will definitely be a regular item on my personal menu from now on. Thanks so much for sharing all that you do Anita. May your next year in food-blogging be just as spectacular!
750 gms karel/karela/bitter gourd/bitter melon, sliced into 1/3″ rounds**
Mustard oil as needed (highly recommended; use another oil if you absolutely must)
1 C dahi/yoghurt
3 t powdered saunf/fennel seeds
1/2 t saunth/dried, powdered ginger
1/4 t whole shah jheera/kala jheera/black cumin
1/4 t whole jheera/cumin/white cumin
green chiles (optional ingredient- not traditional? Anita uses 3 snapped in half; I used two sliced into rounds, retaining the seeds as well)
1)Deep-fry the slices of karela in oil until golden brown; drain well (You may also shallow/pan fry the slices in a few tablespoons of oil if you like- I did so this time, but next time I think I would prefer to deep-fry them as it would be quicker, really, and karela is not highly-absorbent of oil)
2)Place the yoghurt in a bowl; beat or whisk it until smooth; add the saunf and saunth powders; mix well, then add 1 cup of water; set aside. (This should be at room temperature to minimize separation of the yoghurt)
3)Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a pan over medium-low heat, add both black and white cumin seeds and fry for a few seconds until their aroma is released; turn heat to very low and add the yoghurt mixture.
4)Add the fried karela slices, green chiles, salt to taste, and, if necessary, a bit more water to just cover the vegetable. Bring slowly to a simmer, cover and cook until the chiles are tender. Serve warm with hot rice. Unforgettable!
*Uh…Anita? Why does yakhni change to yakhin in this title? Inquiring minds want to know! 😉
**The rule of thumb that I use for bitter gourd is this: if the interior seed-coatings are red, scrape out the seed cavity. If it is still green/white, slice it and the seeds along with the rind. Ingesting the seeds has been known since ancient times to remove intestinal worms. I’m safe! 🙂
If you’d like to remove some of the bitterness, soak in salt-water for an hour; rinse and drain, or sprinkle the slices with salt, let stand for an hour, place in a muslin or cheesecloth and squeeze out the liquid. I don’t de-bitter the vegetable anymore, as I would not like to compromise nutrients or lose any of the fine flavour.
NEW NOTE!!!! With the latest info: Kashmiris prefer the karela to be cut in half, or quarters if they are larger, and the seed-cavity removed before cooking in this dish. The seeds, with their protective jackets (if not yet red) are deep-fried until golden and crispy, then sprinkled with ground red chiles and salt and served as a side with the yakhin.
I thought I’d share a few photos with you, my readers, of the karela-vine progress…
Globe thistle; behind them, on either side, are trellises which the vines are quickly taking over.
This is a white, Chinese/Thai variety called Hybrid Beauty Winner. This one is still very young; they become paler as they mature and grow, but this one didn’t make it that far!
If you are fond of beets, you are in for a treat; if not, you may well be converted by this simple, summertime recipe. Of course, you probably won’t give it a whirl if you don’t like beets, therefore, pass this recipe on to someone who does! Then, if you’re feeling brave, you can take a spoonful…
I was one such person long ago…well, not that long ago I suppose…When I was in my early twenties I worked in a nursing home. Air-conditioning? Just near the nurse’s station at the centers of the long corridors. It was hardly noticeable at either end or in the rooms, where I did most of my work, and not at all in the basement, where the employee lounge was located. That was where a good friend and I would try to meet for lunch; you see, we both had the habit of bringing food with us (as opposed to the “snackers” who raided the vending machines), and, since we both had an inbuilt natural curiosity, seeing what the other had brought was a matter of course! And one warm summer day during our lunch-break, she talked me into a spoonful of this fuchsia-coloured stuff.
My friend was taken in, as a child, by foster parents, who happened to be Lithuanian. She was very proud of this fact, partly, I am sure, by the sheer exoticness of it all, but mostly, I think, because they were very kind people who cared very much for her, and that stability and unconditional love helped her become the person she is today: a registered nurse living in Austin, Texas…kind, caring, mature, self-confident, and still enthralled with life.
Unless she’s now dead; honestly I haven’t heard from her in quite a few years, nor she from me! Somewhere, sometime, between all the moves we have both made in our lives since those naive years, we lost track of each other. Perhaps someday fate will bring us together again for a quick “catching up” over something potable. Perhaps not.
The good news is that I managed to pry 3 recipes, this among them, from her and her recipe-hoarding foster-mom. [evil laugh] You see, her “mother” (perhaps I shouldn’t use the quote marks because this kind woman was everything a good mother could be) was quite old-fashioned in an Old-World way: most protective of her family’s gastronomic secrets. She had a thick, fascinating accent when speaking English, still…her use of it was good enough to politely evade my several requests for this and other recipes… until, finally, as the time drew closer to her daughter moving away for an irresistable job-offer, she loosened…just a bit.
Such a simple recipe too, to cause all this mischief! But, when you consider that it is delicious enough to convert a staunch beet-hater into a beet-worshipper, it’s simplicity becomes a part of its charm; simple, that is, in its original avatar. By now, if you know me even somewhat, you will note that I enjoy tinkering a bit. And tinker I have indeed with this little gem from the Baltic sea-coast. I present to you a soup to catch the eye, cool the body and soothe the mind- both my version and the original (er…..I think….[always wonders] ) for you to play with as well…
You might notice how very much it resembles an Indian raitha…
You might want me to stop babbling and just get on with it…
You might be right!
Lithuanian Summer Borscht- original as it was dictated to me
Take about equal parts of cooked, shredded beets, chopped cucumbers and sour cream. Mix these well, then add a good amount of fresh, minced dill and a few grinds of black pepper. Thin it with buttermilk (I don’t think she meant true buttermilk– rather the thinned yoghurt available and sold here labeled as “buttermilk”) to a soup-like consistency and salt it to taste. Refrigerate it for at least a few hours, but preferably for a day to allow the flavours to blend. Serve chilled, of course, with crusty home-made bread. (Can we say rye?) And… (I recently learned this) boiled or fried potatoes….also, traditionally this soup is decorated with slices of hard-boiled eggs (I am rarely in the mood for these, so I’m afraid, pretty as they would be, they do not grace my photo).
Lithuanian Summer Borscht- the Pel variation
1 1/2-2 lbs of fresh beets
2 lg cucumbers
1 C green onions- green part only, sliced into 1/4-1/8″ rounds
1 fresh hot green chile- such as serrano, seeded and minced very finely- like 1 mm dice
3-4 T fresh, minced dill-weed (not the flowers or tough stems)
several grinds of black pepper
3 C whole-milk yoghurt (or a mix of real sour cream and yoghurt, or low or non-fat yoghurt- whatever spins your wheels)
salt to taste
See? Nothing terribly foreign to the Lithuanian taste-buds…and I am sure that, besides having a few “chile-heads” there, it is probable that there are many in search of a lighter version of this recipe- hence my use of yoghurt in place of sour cream…but, the two can be mixed if you like; I sometimes do this.
1)Wash and trim both the stem-end and root-end of each beet, place in a saucepan and cover with enough water to be an inch or so above the beets. Bring to boil, lower to simmer and cook for 45 minutes- 1 hour until tender. Allow to cool in the cooking liquid.
2)Remove each beet and slip the skins off- they should slide off quite easily; discard the peels, but retain the cooking liquid; place the skinned beets in a separate dish. Allow the cooking liquid to sit undisturbed while you complete the next steps. (obsessive me will often strain this through a fine sieve into another bowl, but I didn’t want to admit that- ooops, I just did!)
3)Into a large mixing bowl, shred the beets using a medium-cut shredder (if too fine, they tend to form clumps I’ve found). You should have 2 1/2-3 C or so…
4)Peel the cucumbers (if using small, young cucumbers there is no need to peel) slice each in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.* Slice each hollow half into 1/3″ strips lengthwise, and then across into 1/3″ cubes. Again, aim for about 2 1/2-3 C… Add these to the bowl.
5)Add the sliced green onions, minced chile, minced dill and black pepper to the bowl. Add the yoghurt and/or sour cream and mix very well.
6)Thin the soup by carefully decanting the reserved beet-cooking liquid into the mixture until a desired consistency is reached. (Any missed dirt will sink to the bottom, so don’t use the final dregs of the bowl. If you’d like it thinner yet, use water or American “buttermilk”)
7)Here’s the part that your real skills as a cook are on display: salt this soup to taste. Try not to overdo it: add salt little by little and mix very well before adding more. Salting a cold mixture is tricky, because it doesn’t dissolve as quickly as adding salt to a hot liquid- therefore, it is very easy to over-salt- what tastes fine now can turn to saline-unpleasantness in 30 minutes. Thin it with more liquid if this happens. Those of you adept at raitha-making already know what I’m talking about.
8)Chill for at least 4 hours, but preferably for a day to allow the flavours to meld. Serve with bread, toast, a sandwich, as a first course for a light summer meal or as a snack to cool you off. Offer some to your neighbor with the all-white rooms and act drunk as you step inside the door, clumsily offering a bowlful. Hours of fun! [winks]
*Oh yeah, the cucumber seeds…why chuck ’em? They’re perfectly fine and delicious, but they tend to cause faster spoilage in cold soups… So…here are a few things I do with them: break the pulpy chunks into bite-size pieces and place in a bowl…then either 1)season them with salt and pepper 2)season them with Thai fish sauce, lime juice, and a sprinkling of ground chiles 3)season them with Indian chat masala and lime juice 4)make of them a paste, and smear it on your face- or other body-parts- as a cooling moisturizer! (rinse it off before you go somewhere, unless you need a new look)
And one more little tidbit for those of you who enjoy reading my verbal dribble so much that you got this far: I sometimes add a stalk of finely-sliced lemon-grass to the soup as well, if I have some handy, which I often do…adds a lovely lemony note that goes quite well with the tart yoghurt! (But don’t tell any Lithuanians that I snuck in a Thai ingredient)
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]