Ma Po Doufu: a Truly-Divine, Vegan Version

March 17, 2008 at 5:00 PM (Arusuvai Friendship Chain, China, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fungi, legumes/pulses- whole or split, seeds, soy, Szechuan, various nuts like me, walnuts, pecans, and hickory-nuts)

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This is a lovely dish from the province of Szechuan, China, with an equally loverly story attached to its origin which may be read here. Only a handful of Chinese restaurants abroad ever offer this dish, for it isn’t a quick stir-fry: it is a simmered, stew-like dish with a bit of preliminary prep-work involved. Traditionally, a small quantity of ground pork (or beef) is included, and hitherto I have followed suit.

When I received an Arusuvai Friendship Chain gift of extremely-fresh, Szechuan peppercorns sent by the ever-talented Musical, I set to work almost immediately to prepare this long-time favorite which prominently features this tongue-numbing spice. I sat there, nibbling daintily away at a plateful with freshly-steamed rice, resisting an urge to shovel it in greedily (it is so delicious…) when a few thoughts struck me: truly, it is the finely-balanced sauce which dominates the flavour….the ground pork lends a gentle sweetness, but mostly the pieces serve as a textural counterpoint to the soft bean-curd…

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And then, within a span of a few days, two jolting pieces of information crossed my path: first, I discovered the PETA videos posted on Youtube.com (I won’t go into detail here, but it would be sufficient to say that I saw things which I will not soon forget); second, the family chiropractor sent us his usual monthly newsletter. Most often this contains useful tidbits that he gleans from his personal wanderings in Ayurveda-land, but this time he included a brief summary of the findings of recent research that linked the consumption of animal protein to inflammation, and specifically a link to various forms of arthritis. And then…Jai of Jugalbandi wrote this post– furthur cementing my new convictions. So, I decided to make my consumption of animal protein an even rarer occasion than it already is. And I began to think of a new way to make ma po tofu

Over the years, I’ve tried a few different recipes, but I really liked the one found in Irene Kuo’s The Key to Chinese Cooking. It’s so delicious. And I knew it would be delicious still without a half-pound of pork. But what to add in its place? TVP (textured vegetable protein) is an obvious choice; it closely replicates the chewy texture of meat, but… I don’t like to rely on a factory-made product too much, nor does it add a whole lot in flavour…

Mushrooms. I’ve sometimes added various types of mushrooms to this dish anyway… they’re somewhat chewy…they would add a subtle flavour… but how will I convert them into little pieces like that? The ways are endless… Walnuts. Coarsely-ground. Delicately-sweet, and they are also used frequently in China. Use both.

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But first, who will I pass on the Arusuvai “torch” to? Hmmm…good question. Truly, no-one answered my riddle correctly. However… two people were quite close:

Linda of Out of the Garden answered “tofu” correctly (but seasoned differently)…and

Zlamushka of her own Spicy Kitchen answered “Ma…” correctly (but named another Szechuanese dish).

Since these two were the closest, I invited them to be my recipients of a little suprise…and they have both accepted the offer. Congratulations to both of you!

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And now, Mushroom Meal!!!:

I took 1/2 pound (8 oz.) of plain old “button” mushrooms (they’re popular for a reason) and shredded them into a moist heap. But, not wanting shreddy-strands in my dish, I dehydrated this (I used an electric food-dehydrator, but an oven on a low-heat setting will work as well). Then, I took these dried shreds and smashed them into a coarse, granular powder in a mortar…the restrained use of an electric mixer/grinder or food processor will do the job just as nicely. We all end up with about 2-3 tablespoons. I suppose the same could be done to already-dried (stems removed) shiitake/Chinese black mushrooms- though I think their flavour would be too dominant here- but perhaps another milder-flavoured ‘shroom?…

Ma Po Doufu/Tofu

(Pel’s vegan version based on Mrs. Kuo’s)

3 blocks of firm tofu (original recipe calls for 4- 3″X3″ blocks…generally, American blocks are a bit larger)

hot water

2 T peanut (or other) oil 

4 slices of peeled, fresh ginger; minced

1/2 C coarsely-ground raw walnuts

2-3 T mushroom meal (dried, coarsely-ground mushrooms– see above)

Seasonings: 

1 T Chinese cooking-wine, or dry sherry

1 T hot bean paste (AKA Szechuan bean paste)

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

1 t or more, to taste, red chile oil* (optional)

 

1 C lightly-salted chana broth (liquid from cooking chickpeas/garbanzo beans) or other vegetable-stock

Binding sauce: 

2 t cornstarch dissolved in 1 T cold water

1 T dark/sweet soy sauce

2 t roasted sesame-seed oil

Finishing: 

2 whole spring onions (I used more cuz I like ’em: 6), thinly sliced

1/2 t (or more if you like) lightly dry-roasted and crushed Szechuan peppercorns

 

1)Cut the bean-curd into 1/2″ cubes; cover with hot water and drain just before adding.

2)Heat the peanut oil in a wok over med-low flame; add the ginger and fry until fragrant; add the walnuts and fry just until they begin to smell roasted.

3)Add 1 C of hot water and the mushroom meal; bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally at first and then more frequently, until the mixture is fairly dry and the mushrooms have reconstituted- about 20 minutes.

4)Add the seasonings and stir well; add the chana or vegetable broth.

5)Drain the bean-curd and scatter these into the pan; stir very gently to even these out; bring to a gentle boil, cover the pan and cook for 5 minutes over med-low heat, stirring once during this time.

6)Stir the binding sauce well, then pour in a spiral over the contents of the pan; stir gently until the sauce thickens; turn off heat.

7)Gently fold in the spring onions;

8)Turn onto a serving-platter and sprinkle the ground peppercorns over the top; serve with hot steamed rice. You will assuredly enjoy! (Did I mention this is delicious?)

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*Red chile oil can be bought, or simply made this way: heat 1 C oil until quite hot; remove from heat and add 6 T (3/8 C) ground red chiles (stand back, the fumes will irritate your breathing apparatus), stir gently for about a minute, then add 1 C more of oil to halt the frying. Allow to cool completely, strain through a musin cloth or several layers of cheesecloth and pour into a bottle. Besides being a useful cooking-sauce, it can also be used as an ingredient in dipping-sauces and salad-dressings… hotness yum!

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12 Days, 101 Almonds

January 1, 2008 at 3:04 PM (almonds, animals, birds, chicken, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, pheasant, various nuts like me)

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For those of you who read my post-Thanksgiving-Day post, you might have been left wondering what would happen with Christmas. Well…. (!) my sister had planned a dinner party for Christmas Eve (December 24th), and, on the night before, made it quite clear that D was again not invited. So, I made it quite clear, as pleasantly possible, that I, therefore, wouldn’t be attending. I hung up the phone with a sigh, and then marched promptly to the deep-freeze from which I extracted two pheasants and two pounds of ground lamb to thaw.

And then, the next afternoon, a miracle happened (praise jesus, hail mary, and that good-looking Magi): the Christmas spirit somehow got a hold of her shrunken, little heart. She called to say that she had thought things over and decided that she’d been wrong, and that she couldn’t imagine Christmas Eve without her only brother…so… D was now very welcome to join us for the festivities! Those special meats I then temporarily exiled to the refrigerator to cook later.

She made a simple, but very good meal of roasted ham, green beans with a German-style, sweet-sour bacon dressing, potatoes au gratin, and freshly-made bread. My mother brought a salad of mixed greens tossed with pears, pecans and Danish blue cheese. Dessert? Well…I usually fill the role of that final course, but, since notice was so short, we had to make do with cookies. Very nice cookies mind you that I loved so much that I procured the recipe, of course.

After dinner came egg nog and hot coffee, (or, as I did, a mixture of both. I truly believe that alcohol and coffee were made to go together, as one loosens the lips and the other keeps one alert-enough to enjoy the consequences), and the exchange of gifts. (I also have a theory that dinner comes before the gift-giving ceremony so that no-one is required to look directly into the eyes of someone whose gift didn’t exactly tittilate).  It is always great fun to watch suprised faces and hear sometimes-well-rehearsed exclamations as the wrapping-paper is stripped away: Thank you so much! It’s lovely! You shouldn’t have… How interesting! What is it? Oh…yes, I see…hmmmm. Thanks! The lit-and-decorated tree sits silently in the corner; if it had eyes, they would be rolling…

But let us not forget the ground lamb and the pheasants. Pheasants you say? Yes indeed. We were raised eating game meats because my father was an avid hunter. Beside pheasant, partridge, squirrel, deer, and rabbit made occasional appearances on our dining-table…but it was all chicken until we were old enough to figure out that some of these creatures didn’t have wings! Then came a late-childhood repulsion of these meats by my sister and I (with a similar sentiment toward beef by yours truly), followed by our father’s retirement from hunting. Years went by, until very recently when a hunting-friend of my mother’s made a holiday offering to the family of four frozen fillet’d pheasants (the alliteration is seriously not intended!) My sister wanted nothing to do with them, my mother wanted only one, and the remaining three were mine to do with as I pleased. I gave away one to a friend. And that would leave two that I thought should be cooked in a very special way.

In one of my old cookbooks is a recipe in the poultry chapter called 101 almond curry. I used to make it now and then- not often, because it tends to be time-consuming. At some point I had marked “4 hours” next to the recipe, but I think I managed to finish it sooner than that this time. It’d been several years since the last time I made this, because my ex, S, was quite fond of it, fond of any dish containing nuts in fact (like pista murgh or any korma), so I’d conveniently “forgotten” about this dish until recently. I never knew from what state of India this recipe might be from, but this time around I had a clue: so much like salan this seems, I thought. Not peanuts but almonds…with coconut and poppy-seeds…and that very regal touch of saffron at the end..could it possibly be from Hyderabad? I would guess that it is, and ask my readers to share their thoughts. (especially I’d like to know the “real” name: murghi ka salan of 101 almonds? 🙂   )

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What it definitely is, is rich…so, not a dish for everday dining- best left for a special event- and, as I’ve said, it is time-consuming. The onions alone will take about 30 minutes of constant stirring to brown nicely and evenly. If you are able to plan in advance and do the recipe in parts, well, all the better! The original recipe calls for making a paste of the raw, blanched almonds with the coconut and spices and then frying it in a large amount (10 T!) of ghee/oil, but as I’ve learned, this paste tends to stick to the pan. So, as other salan veterans will attest, it is much better to fry/roast the ingredients separately and then form a paste of these afterward. The flavour will be the same and you won’t pull your hair out trying to keep a raw nut-paste from sticking.

Chicken with 101 Almonds

(except that I used 2 young pheasants instead of chicken and except that title will only do until the real one makes an appearance)

One 3lb. chicken (2 young pheasants will work too)*

8 cloves of garlic

1/2″ piece of ginger

ghee/oil as needed (original recipe calls for 12 T; I used less)

4 large onions

101 raw almonds (yes, these must be counted- quite romantic)

2 T shredded coconut

1 T coriander seeds

2 1/2 t cumin seeds

3 t poppy seeds (preferably white, but I used black– hence, dots!)

1 or 2 red chiles

1/4 C tamarind paste/extract, or to taste

1 1/4 C thick coconut milk

2 pinches of saffron threads

salt

1)Remove the skin from the bird(s), rinse and pat dry; Cut into pieces roughly 1″X2″; make a paste of the garlic and ginger and smear this on the pieces; leave for at least one hour.

2)Mince the onions finely, then fry in 4-5 T ghee/oil, stirring constantly, until a rich medium brown; remove and set aside.

3)Cover the almonds with boiling water and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skins, pat dry and fry these in a tablespoon or two of fat over med-low heat until golden; remove and set aside.

4)Leave only a smear of ghee/oil in the pan and fry the coconut until fragrant and golden (coconut browns quickly so be careful); remove and set aside.

5)Fry/roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds and chiles separately in the now fairly-dry pan- not too darkly, just light to medium until fragrant; remove and set aside.

6)Soak the saffron in about 2 T of the coconut milk.

Now comes the fun part when all of these pieces come together!

7)Make a paste one of two ways: By hand using a mortar-and-pestle/sill-batta: grind the coriander, cumin, poppy-seeds, and chiles finely, add the coconut and grind, then the fried onions, and finally the almonds and form as smooth a paste as possible, using a spoon to turn when it stops flowing. By grinding machine/food processor: grind the almonds well, using a little coconut milk to keep the contents moving, then add the coconut, onions, and roasted spices which you have already ground to a powder; keep the machine running, stopping now and then to scrape the sides, until a smooth paste is achieved.

8)Fry the chicken (or pheasant) pieces in hot ghee/oil, turning occasionally, until nicely-browned in spots. Add 4 C water and the paste from above; bring to a boil and simmer until tender and the sauce is thick and clings to the meat, stirring occasionally; add the plain coconut milk and tamarind liquid and simmer 10 minutes more; add salt to taste, and, finally, remove from heat, pour the saffron-infused coconut-milk over the top and serve with plain steamed rice.

I imagine this could be garnished with a few sliced, roasted almonds and coriander leaves, though I’m only guessing.

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(pretty trees)

And that ground lamb? For quite awhile I had been dying of curiosity to know what Kashmiri mutsch tastes like, but found it difficult to procure goat-meat in my area. So, even though I used lamb, and Punjabi garam masala instead of Kashmiri (not a total sin; the recipe suggests it), I would still say it was quite successful! Yes, it was a double-batch, and it is mostly devoured now, but I still can’t pronounce it. It is very much like spicy, casingless sausage in a thin, but quite potent, sauce to have with rice. Very very nice, and great fun to make! Mine didn’t come out looking quite like Anita’s perfect little darlings, no…I don’t know how she does it really…mine came out looking more like..uh…tamarind pods. Yes. Well. [clears throat] A friend, J- fond of lamb, Greek, loved it…I think he stayed longer- another night in fact- thinking I was going to give him more. My mother? Not fond of lamb (she stated this over and over as she kept taking halves of mutschgand to make sure). D? Loved it, but, then again, he’s a bit like a baby bird waiting for worms as he’s been pretty much living on X-mas cookies the last few days. He says it’s all the rage. I’ll keep looking for goat (I have some ideas of where to look), but, if not found, then ground turkey is definitely in order! (I think I could make money selling this stuff, honestly). A big thanks to the Mad Tea Party!

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Happy Gregorian-calendar new year to you all!

*or 4-5 pigeons/squabs, or about 101 humingbirds…

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Beet or Carrot Cake

October 5, 2007 at 2:53 AM (beets, carrots, cheese, cream/Philly/hung yoghurt, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, grains and grain-like, milk and milk products, sugars-sweets, USA, various nuts like me, vegetables/ fruits, walnuts, pecans, and hickory-nuts, wheat)

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Shilpa of Aayi’s Recipes is continually making me envious by her beautiful parade of cakes, and no wonder: she has a keen interest in cakes and cake-decorating, and has greatly expanded her talents by studying the subject hands-on with local masters. Despite her self-criticism of the final outcomes, she manages to astound me- and the rest of her readers- with her exquisite attention to detail and gorgeous design. Each time I view the latest one, I find myself wide-eyed in disbelief that she has just begun this hobby!

Let me be honest with all of you: I have never attempted to develop any skills with complicated frosting/icing work; instead, I seem to prefer finding myself in awe at weddings, birthdays, and other occasions when one of these beauties stands before me- silent and breath-taking to behold- and for now, that’s fine with me!  I’m far more interested in churning out edible ladoos and burfis to tell you the truth… So, you’ll have to excuse this little attempt with its rather messy frosting, and slightly-off-center arrangement of nuts…

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This is a beet cake. Apparantly, any recipe for carrot cake can be made with beets instead (is it just me or are there other people contemplating gajar halvah at the moment?), and I do find myself wondering if turnips, rutabagas and radishes would work as well- maybe not. What I do know is that for several years I have been searching for the perfect carrot cake recipe: one that would recall the good old days before the low-fat revolution of the 1980’s took place, one that is like the many slices that I’ve purchased and didn’t regret spending $3-4 dollars on, one that is sinfully-rich, moist, and flavourful, one that screams out: “chilly nights are upon us in Wisconsin”, “mulled cider or wine is in order”, and “tonight would be a great night to sit near the burning hearth”… But really, despite these very subjective images that I tend to connect to a fork-ful, this cake is enjoyable at at any time of the year, and in any weather. And thus far, this particular recipe is the best I’ve found, and yes…I would pay $3.50 for a slice!

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I have changed a few things with the original recipe. Mostly the spicing. (I also reserve the nuts for the filling and exterior and I greatly-disliked the icing recipe that accompanied the original cake recipe and thus found a much better one elsewhere to use). There are some of you that dislike cinnamon-flavoured sweets, but I assure you: if I am able to acquire a taste for cinnamon-infused savories, then it stands to reason that… well….what can I say? I played with the original author/creator’s spicing, so you can too! (But Pel is still thinking that his formula beats all others!)

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Beet or Carrot Cake

(inspired by this one from Burt Wolf’s Menu Cookbook)

3 1/2-4 C shreds of peeled beets or carrots

1 C brown sugar,  firmly-packed

1 C ghee (hee-hee… ghee makes this cake most decadent with a rich, browned-butter flavour, but  vegetable oil (soybean, corn, canola, peanut) is the more usual choice. Don’t reduce it: this is divided by at least 20 slices of cake- so splurge a little!)

3 eggs

1 t vanilla extract

3 1/2 t ground cinnamon (I use a mix of true/Ceylon and cassia/Chinese cinnamon)

2 T chopped crystallized/candied”stem” ginger

1/4 t ground cardamom

1/8 t ground cloves

1/16 t ground nutmeg or mace

1 t baking soda

1 t baking powder

1 C raisins, soaked in hot water for awhile and then chopped*

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour/maida (I suppose half-ata would be just fine)

1 1/2 C raw walnuts, pecans or hickory-nuts halves (I used pecans this time, but walnuts are most traditional)

ghee/oil for roasting nuts and greasing pan(s)

Icing-frosting (recipe below)

0)Pre-heat oven to 350 F/175 C. Grease and line the bottoms of 2  8″-9″ round cake-pans, or one 9″ spring-form pan with parchment-paper (use the bottom of the pan as a guide and cut to fit). Grease the top of the paper as well. I’ve tried it without the use of the paper: the cake tends to stick!

1)Roast the nuts in ghee/oil over med-low flame, stirring constantly until nicely-roasted and fragrant. Remove and drain. Reserve intact halves for decorating. Coarsely-chop the remainder for filling.

2)Mix the beet or carrot shreds with the sugar in a large mixing bowl and set aside for 30 minutes.

3)Add the ghee and mix well.

4)Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.

5)Add the vanilla, spices, baking soda and powder and mix thoroughly. Add the raisins.

6)Add the flour in four parts, mixing just well-enough between each to blend. I try not to exceed 100 strokes of the spoon total.

7)Pour the batter into the pan or pans and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean. (about 30 minutes for two  9″ pans, or 40-45 minutes for one  9″). Place on a rack and allow to cool completely.

8)Meanwhile, prepare the cream-cheese frosting/icing:

1/2 C butter, at room temperature

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 t vanilla extract

1 pound of confectioner’s/powdered sugar (plus more if needed)

A)Cream (beat well until fluffy and pale) the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla; add sugar little-by-little until stiff enough to hold a peak. (If you add too much, a sprinkle of milk will cure it)

9)Remove the cake(s) from the pan(s) and paper. If you baked a single, thick cake: carefully remove it from the pan and paper; slice it horozontally in half to form two layers/rounds.

10)Place one layer on a cake plate. Spread about 1/3 of the icing over the top. Sprinkle the chopped nuts over this and gently press them into the icing.

11)Place the second layer over the first. Press this layer gently, but firmly atop the other. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the surface with the remaining nut-halves.

12)Chill for a few hours if you wish (I prefer it chilled), slice and serve with hot tea or coffee.

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*I’ve also seen and eaten cakes that contain fresh/canned pineapple and/or coconut- very good. Other dried fruits might be nice too- instead of raisins- like apricots, prunes, etc.)

**P.S. Today is my birthday. I’m really quite old now…  I would like to extend warm gratitude to my dear  friend, June, for not only allowing me to photograph parts of her kitchen, but for the wonderful time I had at a dinner recently had there.)

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Danish Almond Puff Pastry

June 12, 2007 at 3:36 AM (almonds, butter, Denmark, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, grains and grain-like, milk and milk products, sugars-sweets, various nuts like me, wheat)

    This pastry is a very standard recipe with little variation, and can be found in many places- online and tucked away in recipe files- to be brought out and utilized for something impressive, fairly-quick and easy, a few hours before company is expected. There is nothing healthy or nutritious about it- save the nuts; it is a total, melt-in-the-mouth carbohydrate and butter fest

    When my sister and I were young, my mother would make this -once in a great while. We always loved it, but it was my mother herself who would slowly nibble her way through most of it. Though it has been a few years since she has made this (that I know of),  she still has an unquenchable sweet-tooth, so I thought I would make this and set aside some just for her. She appreciated it very much! (though I am sure her waistline didn’t!) 😀

    This pastry is not made of French “puff-pastry” (pâte feuilletée) as the name would suggest(multiple layers of dough and butter)…I don’t even know if it truly is Danish in origin- it might be, but it is very common in my area of the U.S., and once in a while will show up on dessert trays of large gatherings. It is composed of three layers: 1) short-crust pastry (pate brisee), 2) choux pastry (pate a choux), and 3) butter-sugar icing or sometimes cream-cheese icing, plus almonds.

Danish Almond Puff Pastry

makes 16, 1″x 3″ pieces

1 C All-purpose flour

1/2 C unsalted butter, chilled and firm

2 T cold water

Step one: Pre-heat oven to 350 F. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry-blender or fork, until the largest “grains” are the size of peas. Dribble the water over the surface and, using your hands, gently press the water into the flour/butter mixture (most of it will come together, but by no means knead it!). Press this gently into two long rectangles- 3″ X 12″- on an ungreased baking-sheet. You can use a knife to gently tap the sides to straighten them.

1 C water

1/2 C unsalted butter

1 t almond extract

1 C flour

3 eggs

Step two: Bring the water and butter to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the almond extract and immediately turn off the heat. Add the flour all at once and stir quickly until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure each is well-blended until the next is added. Spread this mixture over the two short-crust rectangles. Bake for one hour- to one hour 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 2 hours or so.

2 T unsalted butter, softened- room temp

1 1/2 C confectioner’s (powdered) sugar

1 1/2 t vanilla extract

1-2 T water

2 handfuls of chopped or sliced roasted almonds

Step three: Cream the butter until fluffy. add 1/2 C of the sugar, mix well, then add remaining cup. Add the vanilla extract and enough water to make a spreadable consistency (be careful not to add too much, if you do, adjust with sugar). Spread over the top. Sprinkle with almonds and lightly press them into the surface. Allow an hour or two for the icing to set before cutting into 1″ X 3″ strips. Serve with coffee or tea.

    I think it would be interesting to experiment with this recipe, not only in various flavourings- I have made a peach version (slice carefully through the choux-pastry layer and spoon in peach preserves; replace the top)- but also to incorporate whole-wheat flour somewhere for added fiber and nutrients. The butter content can’t be fooled with: these are age-old formulas to achieve definite textures. In lieu of this, it is best made for special occasions or the bulk given away to neighbors…

 

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Chocolate shrikhand, almond pooris, and an answer to the baffling battiness…

June 7, 2007 at 4:44 AM (almonds, chiroli, chocolate, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, fusion, grains and grain-like, Gujerati, India, Maharashtra, Mexico, milk and milk products, seeds, singhara, sugars-sweets, various nuts like me, wheat, yoghurt)

    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

Chocolate Shrikhand

(4 servings) 

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.

Almond Pooris

2/3 C Ata (Indian whole-wheat flour) plus more for dusting

1/3 C ground raw almonds

tiny pinch of salt

water

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.

Makes 8

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]

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Behold, a quiz… !… !… !!… !!!… !!!!!… !!!!!!!!… !!!!!!!!!!!!!… !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!… !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

June 2, 2007 at 5:07 AM (nihil nahil, singhara, various nuts like me)

    I found these “things” several years ago at a small, local grocer that caters to Southeast Asian tastes. Actually, my 2nd ex-ago was with me, and we were astounded by their fearful, physical appearance, and delicious taste. We returned an hour later and bought a pound’s worth; I kept these 3 fairly intact as a later converation piece, which they undoubtedly manage quite well.

right-clicking-will-get-you-nowhere.jpg

    The man who sold them to me didn’t have a name for them to provide, but I have since uncovered their identity. Can anyone guess? I’ll provide answers on my next post, until then, correctnesses will be held temporarily in the moderation queue… 🙂 bon chance…

Hint: They are not mentioned in the Harry Potter books…

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