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)

xmas-scene-woodside.jpg 

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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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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8-cup Barfi (7-cup barfi- enlightened)

May 24, 2007 at 10:29 PM (almonds, channa/ gram, coconut, dishes by cuisine, dishes by main ingredient, India, legumes/pulses- whole or split, rice, seeds, sugars-sweets, various ground seeds, various nuts like me, wheat)

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    This is really a recipe for 7-cup barfi, a very popular Indian sweet with many different known formulas, all centering on the use of 7 cups of various ingredients. I like this one because every cup is a different thing, and I added another cup because I felt that the nuts, which are often included in the recipes, should be given their own cup; in short, I felt bad for them… 😦 

    Sort of… 🙂 the whole truth is that I was experimenting with my favorite 7-cup recipe and botched a batch that needed remedying: I had left out a cup of moong flour, not because I was out of stock- I wasn’t, but because I felt it a bit redundant to use two different bean-flours in one sweet. Plus, I wanted a nice, green-free colour…

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    So, to summarize: I had increased the nuts to one cup and omitted the moong flour. It didn’t work. Sue me. When the mixture was poured into a thali I had pools of unabsorbed ghee floating about. Ghee is far too precious of a substance to not be occupied somewhere… so, after staring into the pools for a while, looking at the room reflected in the depths, I thought of a possible solution: I roasted an eighth, non-legume ingredient (7th if the nuts aren’t counted- apparantly nuts don’t absorb ghee as well as starchy flours do!) and dumped the thali-contents back into the pan to re-heat and marry it to the new addition. Thankfully, it worked out splendidly, and I shall have no need now to keep searching for the best 7-cup barfi recipe out there, because the best one has 8 cups! 😉

    Here is an interesting excerpt from Wikipedia’s entry for the number 8 and its significance to Buddhist thought:

 The Dharmachakra, a Buddhist symbol, has eight spokes. The Buddha’s principal teaching — the Four Noble Truths — ramifies as the Eightfold Noble Path. In Mahayana Buddhism, the branches of the Eightfold Path are embodied by the Eight Great Bodhisattvas (Manjushri, Vajrapani, Avalokiteshvara, Maitreya, Kshitigarbha, Nivaranavishkambhi, Akashagarbha, and Samantabhadra). These are later (controversially) associated with the Eight Consciousnesses according to the Yogachara school of thought: consciousness in the five senses, thought-consciousness, self-consciousness and unconsciousness-‘consciousness’ (alaya-vijñana). The ‘irreversible’ state of enlightenment, at which point a Bodhisattva goes on ‘autopilot’, is the Eight Ground or bhūmi. In general, ‘eight’ seems to be an auspicious number for Buddhists, e.g., the ‘eight auspicious symbols’ (the jewel-encrusted parasol; the goldfish (always shown as a pair, e.g., the glyph of Pisces); the self-replenishing amphora; the white kamala lotus-flower; the white conch; the eternal (Celtic-style, infinitely looping) knot; the banner of imperial victory; the eight-spoked wheel that guides the ship of state, or that symbolizes the Buddha’s teaching). Similarly, Buddha’s birthday falls on the 8th day of the 4th month of the Chinese calendar.

    Also, an octopus has eight arms, a fallen 8 is a symbol for infinity, and 8 this will be after it is made and gone! 😀

8-cup Barfi

  • 1 C ghee (don’t you dare use anything else!)
  • 1 C sugar (I used white, but any dry sugar of your choice will work)
  • 1 C milk
  • 1 C raw almonds, skinned (soak almonds in hot water for an hour to easily remove the skin)
  • 1 C coconut, shredded (fresh, frozen or dried will work)
  • 1 C semolina
  • 1 C besan
  • 1 C brown rice flour (will white rice flour work you might ask? Possibly… probably. I like the added nutrition and fiber of brown rice, in certain cases.)
  • 1/2 t cardamom, whole seeds (elaichi)
  • a few strands of saffron, crushed
  • a pinch of salt

1)Blop two spoons of the ghee in a large cooking vessel (I used a wok) and set it over medium-low flame. Smear a bit of ghee on a thali and set aside.

2)Combine the sugar with the milk in a small sauce-pan and set it over low heat, stir occasionally until it just comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and sprinkled the crushed saffron threads and the salt over it and set aside.

3)Simultaneously, add the nuts to the hot ghee and fry, turning constantly, until fragrant and golden-brown. Remove to a bowl.

4)Fry/toast the coconut in the same pan, using the ghee that remains in the pan which was used for the almonds, turning constantly, until it is golden and fragrant (use caution when roasting coconut; it will go from tan to black quite quickly!). Remove to a separate bowl.

5)Roast the three flours separately in turn, using the same pan, until each is golden and fragrant. Remove these to rest in a bowl together (be sure to remove as much as you can from the pan before roasting the next).

6)Crush the cardamom seeds in a mortar, add the toasted coconut and crush this to a coarse paste.

7)Pick out a handful of the most beautiful, evenly-coloured roasted almond halves from the bowl and reserve these for decorating. Add the remainder to the coconut in the mortar and crush to a coarse paste.

8)Add the remaining ghee from the cup to the pan (as well as any ghee that clings to the bowls you used for the almonds and coconut)and set it over med-low heat; add the roasted flours and mix well. Add the milk-water mixture and continue heating and stirring until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and moves as one mass. Add the paste from the mortar and mix well.

9)Turn out onto the thali and pat it down well until quite smooth using a metal spatula. Score the surface into diamond shapes using a dull knife. Press an almond-half into the center of each diamond and allow to cool. (place any nuts that remain after decorating in a small bowl and hide it in a cabinet to secretly munch later)

10)When cool, use a sharp knife to cut all the way through the score-marks. Serve with tea, coffee or cooling drinks.

Amazingly, this melt-in-the-mouth sweet seems to be impervious to humidity… so try it now; don’t procrastin-8!

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