March 28, 2012

Sinfully Indulgent - Ras Malai

The ecstasy of being able to whip up a dessert knows no bounds especially when it’s something that’s always been intriguing and delightful-both exactly at the same time. By now, all of you might have guessed that I am endowed with one big sweet tooth.I admit to this felony but well it’s a win-win situation for all of us over here. I get to decipher a fascinating dessert and eat it (!!!) while you get the recipe (and the secrets as well)! Works very very well ! 

To ease you into this, Ras malai is best described as light, spongy, cheese dumplings soaked in creamy,thick, sweetened and flavored milk. It tastes very similar to Tres Leche but well no real comparison, just an idea for those who like to imagine the taste before they try the recipe. Milk-based sweets are quite popular in the eastern state of Odissa. Ras Malai is one among the numerous such desserts that actually seems to me, as the love-child of rosugulla (sweetened cheese dumpling) and rabdi (thickened and flavored milk). This recipe came up during one of the several conversations with my ma, while going through recipes that would be interesting and challenging for me to try. She shared this classic recipe and I jumped straight into experimenting with it.

I used the traditional approach for making the “chenna” or the cheese at home and went from there. Nothing better than home-made ingredients for dishes that invoke a jumble of emotions. So without further delay, here it is:

 Ras Malai

Step 1: The cheese
2 lts whole  milk
2 whole lemons

Step 2: For Malai
1 lt whole milk
½ cup condensed milk
Sugar to taste
½ tsp rose water
Pinch of saffron
2 cardamom pods crushed.

Step 1: For the “chenna” or cheese

1.Bring the milk to a boil. When it starts boiling, add lemon juice. The cheese separates out almost immediately leaving behind a light green liquid.
Tip: This remaining liquid is very nutritious and I used it in my dal for dinner.

2.Reduce the heat and wait for 2 mins till larger lumps form.

3.Then pour the mixture through a cheese cloth.
Tip: Run the cheese under cold water to wash out the lemony taste and to stop cooking it any further since this recipe asks for very soft cheese.

4. Squeeze out water and let it sit and set aside.
This is a basic process for preparing cheese which can be used for various other purposes too.

Step 2: For the “chenna” or cheese dumplings

1. Process the chenna in a food processor (about 1-2 mins) to make a smooth paste.
Tip: This step ensures that the dumplings don’t crack while cooking.

2. Make round smooth balls according to the size you need.
Tip: Smoothen out the balls when rolling them and if flattening it out, ensure that its even on all sides.

3. Pour 5 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar into the pressure cooker and add in the cheese balls.
Tip: Sugar ensures that the density of the syrup is apt so that the balls don’t break apart.

4. Place the pressure cooker on the stove and wait for the first whistle.

5. Turn off the stove after the first whistle,wait for exactly 5 minutes and then place it under running water to release any steam.

6. At this stage, the balls should have almost become about 1 ½ times their original size.

7. Remove the cheese sponges using a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.

Step 3: For the malai

1. Reduce the milk to half its quantity over low heat. Keep stirring continuously.

2. Then add condensed milk, and sugar according to taste

3. When done, add rose water, crushed cardamom and saffron.

Now squeeze out any syrup from the dumplings and let it soak in this milk mixture for about 20 minutes before serving.

This has been one of my few challenging ventures but I realized that all it really takes is the desire to keep trying till you get it right. Now, put on your apron and delve into this decadent world of surprises well equipped with the trade secrets that I just passed onto you! 

Happy cooking!

P.S: This recipe is a submission for #IndianFoodPalooza for March 2012. Wish me luck! and also for "Showcase - Desserts" by Divya and to - Prathibha for "EP Series-Herbs and spices"-Basil and Cardamom.- "Lets celebrate-Indian sweets" hosted by UK Rasoi

March 21, 2012

Mood for some fish? – “Macha Besara” or Fish in spicy mustard gravy

In days when I crave for some fish, there’s this one tried and tested recipe that always comes to mind. To begin with, I am an ardent fish lover, so anything -in fish, with fish or even on fish and I am in for it, even in its raw form as sushi. Fish, I believe, is one of those delicate pieces of art in the culinary world which demands to be handled with the gentlest of hands. It could be ruined with even a slight overdose of those heavy spices. Every fish has its own unique taste and a best way to make it. Never been a fan of those heavily spiced fish gravies where the delicacy and the tenderness of the fish is lost. Handled beautifully with light spices is what makes any fish curry absolutely finger-licking delicious.
Odia cuisine, the one I have grown up with, is known for its simplicity and delicate treatment of food products. Cuttack being on the banks of the River Mahanadi, we always had an access to a lot of fresh riverine fish. Unlike the sea water salty fish, fresh water fish such as Rohu has this natural sweetness to it. The taste difference is quite subtle, but that is what that makes all the difference to any Odia fish delicacy. Another important component of Odia cuisine is mustard seeds. Mustard seeds and mustard oil is used very frequently in our cuisine. Mustard oil has a typical pungent smell similar to that of wasabi. It’s usually heated to its smoking point to decrease its pungency. At home, it is mostly used for frying fish and making fish curries since it imparts a very distinct taste to the subject at hand.
Macha Besara” is an Odia term meaning “Fish in mustard gravy”. Besara basically refers to the mustard gravy that also serves as a base for many vegetarian preparations. Ideally, Macha Besara is made with Illisi macha and is more popularly known as "Illisi Macha Besara".Tilapia or Cat fish seem to work best with the limited choices available here, and so I settle for Tilapia.
This delicacy is a very simple preparation in which the fish is marinated with mustard paste along with some other spices. It could then be steamed in a banana leaf over a steamer which is usually, a very traditional approach that keeps the fish soft, moist and tender along with infusing it with the goodness of the banana leaf. In a more modern approach, it’s cooked over a stove for a few minutes before finally being served with a mustard seed and curry leaf tempering. For those looking to make it easier, there’s a microwave method too which I will enlist at the end.
So here’s the recipe:
Macha Besara
For the marinade or the Besara:
· 1 ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
· 4 cloves garlic
· ¼ th Onion
· 2 Green Chilies
· 2 Tablespoons Yogurt
· ½ teaspoon of chili powder
· 1 teaspoon Turmeric powder
· Salt to taste
· Pinch of sugar
· 4 pieces of Tilapia (3 inch squares)
· 1 teaspoon Mustard oil or Canola oil
For the tempering:
· ½ teaspoon of mustard seeds
· 2 green chilies
· 5-6 Curry leaves
· 1 clove Garlic
· 2 teaspoons Mustard oil or Canola oil
1. Make a fine powder of the mustard seeds and then add garlic, onion, 2 green chillies and some water to make a fine paste.
2. Marinate the fish with the mustard paste, yogurt, turmeric powder, red chilli powder, a pinch of sugar and salt. Add 2 teaspoon of mustard oil preferably and keep it to marinate in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30mins (the more time,the better).
3. When ready to cook, pour the marinating mixture into the pan and let it simmer for 4-5 mins. Adjust the water content depending on the gravy consistency you want.
4. Tempering: Heat the oil, add the mustard seeds, curry leaves, finely minced garlic and add the tempering to the fish, once the mustard seeds start to pop. The oil starts to float once the fish is done.

Using a Microwave:
Marinate the fish as described above in a microwave safe bowl, then after the marination time, place it in the microwave for 5 mins on high.Then prepare the tempering separately and add it to the bowl.
Serve it piping hot with a side of rice or even rotis.

This is a very simple recipe with an intense taste of mustard seeds that meshes along with the soft, tender melt-in-the-mouth fish. It's just the right amount of tart and spice that let's the fish shine on the plate. A must try!

I am submitting this recipe to Sravs for "Mom's recipes" and Jiya for "Exhibit every bite". I am also submitting it to Priya and Srivalli  for "Microwave cooking".I am submitting this to Microwave event at Oh taste and see.. and to " Seafood feast" hosted by Usha.


March 17, 2012

One perfect brunch – Grilled Veggie Cheese Sandwich

How often do you wake up late on a Saturday morning wondering how awesome it would be,to have a perfect brunch in a jiffy? Many times right? My thoughts exactly!
Usually Saturday mornings denote that aptly perfect time where the whole weekend lies ahead of you and the hectic week seems to be a thing from the past. Lying in my warm, cozy bed without being in a hurry to rush out seems heavenly. So to match it up and satiate my by-now-growling tummy, I usually cook up these grilled veggie cheese sandwiches adapted from One Hot Stove. I absolutely adore this recipe for the variations that can be done with it. It’s delicious and a total breeze to make. Bread usually doubles up as a blank canvas that can be crafted as per one’s wish. The kind of bread also plays around with the overall taste and can be made with any kind of bread that’s available.
It also brings back memories of Sundays back home when Sunday morning breakfast used to be about coffee and bread dipped in Amul butter (Yes! Amul butter..yumm).Sundays were very very special since that would be the only day we were allowed to have coffee (instant coffee) as kids and who doesn’t like to indulge! Watching Disney Hour along with our favorite breakfast made it so special. I can still actually relive the excitement of those days as my brother and I would wait for the Disney hour. Ah! the simpler times.Those happy memories come rushing back to me when I munch on these delectably, cheesy, crisp veggie cheese sandwiches and yes, along with coffee..err..instant coffee of course..its absolute bliss. Well before I digress any further, here’s the recipe for these sandwiches.
Grilled Veggie Cheese Sandwich
(Adapted from One Hot Stove)
· 1 teaspoon of oil
· 2 cloves Garlic
· ½ Onion
· ¼ Red/Yellow/ Green Bell pepper
· 1/4th piece of Cabbage
· 5-6 Baby Carrots
· 5-6 Beans
· ½ Jalapeno Chilli
· 3 Medium sized Boiled Potatoes
· Dash of Lemon juice
· 1 tablespoon chopped Cilantro
· Salt and pepper for taste
· 2 Tablespoons of Swiss cheese (I personally prefer Swiss since its very creamy)
· 4 slices of bread.
· Amul butter (optional)
1. Place the potatoes to boil in the microwave while you chop up the vegetables.
2. Chop the onions, bell pepper, carrots, beans, chilies, cabbage and garlic very finely.
3. In a pan, heat some oil. Add garlic and sauté till fragrant.
Tip: Always add the garlic as you start heating up the oil, this ensures that it perfumes the oil. If added when the oil is hot, the garlic turns brown immediately and imparts a bitter taste.
4. Then add the onions. Soften it while stirring for approx. 2 mins.
5. Add all the veggies and sauté till slightly soft yet making sure that they do not lose their original crispiness.
6. Add the mashed potatoes, salt to taste and mix well.
7. Drizzle in 2-3 drops of lemon juice and mix in well with some chopped cilantro.
8. Apply the mixture to the bread pieces and sprinkle cheese on top.
9. Place the sandwiches on the grill pan with the cheese side up till crisp. Cover it to let the cheese melt only for a few minutes though.
Tip: After the sandwiches are crisped on the grill pan, they can be set under a broiler for 10 secs to get a charred, smoky feel to the cheese. Keep checking in between to see how much char you prefer.
There are several variations for these open-faced sandwiches. I usually substitute chicken for the veggies when I am in the mood for some protein. Add in dried basil leaves, oregano or even fresh parsley to the mix and see how it changes the taste. It actually feels very free to be able to tweak the recipe every time and being pleasantly surprised with the pop in your mouth. Now go ahead and work on your canvas and take in the beauty of a Saturday morning, while I prepare mine.
Happy weekend y'all!

P.S: I am submitting this recipe to -
 "Warm foods to beat the rain" hosted by The Pumpkin farm and Srivalli.
 - "30 minute meals" hosted by Srivalli
- "Breakfast Club" hosted by Farmersgirll Kitchen & Fuss free flavours
- Breakfast Recipes hosted by Nandoo's Kitchen and Priya's.
- " Kid friendly dishes" hosted by Vardhini of Cook's joy.

March 14, 2012

Of Gulab Jamuns and new beginnings

The advent of spring and the end of the winter season in India is heralded by the festival of colors, Holi. In my years of having lived here in the US I have longed and missed the bonhomie that trademarks this spring festival. Uncle, aunts, distant cousins and relatives come together to mark the beginning of spring and gorge on the delicious spread of the scrumptious dishes which would be incomplete without a wide range of sweets and snacks. I have missed all of that these years until this time when a group of friends came up with the idea of a potluck lunch that would then be followed by applying “tikkas”(What happened later is completely another story in itself! ).
While thinking of something to contribute, Gulab Jamun popped straight at me. Now, here goes the story! Gulab Jamuns have always always been one of my most favorite-“est” of desserts. A few months back one of my friends suggested to try making Gulab Jamuns. I was supremely excited to even know that it could be “prepared” at home. I wrote down the recipe, bought the ingredients but never quite got down to making it UNTIL that fine day.To tell you the truth, I was afraid of messing up the recipe and that had kept me from giving it a shot. It had never quite happened before but since there were emotional repercussions of failing at making my favorite dessert that kept bogging me down. Well, as the feeling of festivity lit up the heart and took the mind away from its rigmarole, I finally gave it a shot. All went well and my happiness knew no bounds as I bit into the soft, warm, brown balls of goodness and yumminess dripping with cardamom and rose water infused sugary syrup. I literally squealed in delight and danced about in joy at my victory. The gist is - it’s a very simple recipe that requires a lot of love and patience to get it right. Here’s my earnest attempt to make it easy and comprehensible to anyone looking to have fun and a great time making these for friends, family or just even from themselves.
Gulab Jamuns
Gulab Jamuns are the Indian version of donuts, fried to perfection and dipped in cardamom rose water flavored sugary syrup. It’s one of the few very well known desserts, unanimously loved, adored and savored in every part of the Indian subcontinent.
· 1 cup nonfat/whole milk powder
· 1/4 cup All Purpose flour (plain flour, maida)
· 3 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter
· 1/4 cup Reduced whole milk at room temperature.
· Pinch/1/8th teaspoon of baking soda
· 1 1/2 cup sugar
· 1 1/2 cup water
· 4 coarsely grounded cardamom seeds
· Oil for deep-frying
· 2 teaspoon of rose water / 2-3 strands of Saffron (Optional)
For the syrup, in a wide mouthed pan, boil water along with sugar and crushed cardamom seeds. Bring it to boil, let it boil for a minute and then turn off the stove. Set aside. Add rose water and let it sit. At this stage, the saffron strands can be added, it would impart a orange-ish hue to the syrup.
Gulab Jamuns:
1. Bring 1 ½ cups of whole milk to boil and keep stirring till the milk is reduced to half. Keep aside to cool.
Tip: Reducing the milk to a thicker consistency sort of makes up for the absence of “khoya” which is originally used. Regular room temperature whole milk would also work well, it would only have a different flavor.
2. In a mixing bowl, sieve in milk powder, flour and baking soda.Sieving ensures that all the three powders mix well and that there’s no lump.
Tip: Too much baking soda will cause the gulab jamuns to get too soft or they will break apart when frying.
3. Mix in the butter into the mixture. The mixture would now be grainy and coarse.
4. Then add in the room temperature reduced milk to the mixture. The dough should be soft and moist.
Tip: While rolling the dough balls, apply butter to both your hands. Notice that when the balls are kept on the plate, they deform on the side its placed indicating the dough is soft. In between frying, if the dough seems drier, it’s okay to add room temperature whole milk to make it moist.
5. Heat up the oil in a wok. The balls should be able to swim in the oil which is atleast 1 ½ inch of oil.
Tip: To test if the oil is at the right temperature, place a small piece of dough into the oil; it should take a minute to rise. If dough rises faster, oil is too hot; if dough just sits without rising, oil is not hot enough.
6. Place the Gulab Jamuns in the frying pan. Remember, gulab jamuns will expand to double the volume, so give them enough space. It should take about 7-10 minutes to fry the gulab jamuns depending upon their size. While frying keep rolling the gulab jamuns around so they are evenly browned. Fry until the gulab jamuns become dark brown.
Tip: If the gulab jamuns are fried on high heat, they don't cook thoroughly to the center.
7. Let the gulab jamuns cool off for a few minutes before placing them in the hot syrup.
Tip: When I add in the fried dough to the syrup, I placed the syrup vessel on very low heat so that eventually we get the syrupy consistency. If not, the syrup becomes very watery.
8. The gulab jamuns should sit in the hot syrup for at least 20 minutes prior to serving.Gulab jamuns can be kept at room temperature for about a week and up to one month when refrigerated. They can also be frozen for months.
9. Variations: Place a black cardamom (Badi elaichi) seed/ raisin at the center of the dough. It adds to the flavor.
It might sound daunting at first , but I promise that once you make them, the joy and elation would much surpass the fear of failure just like it did for me. Its been an enjoyable experience making these and hope you have had much of a great time going through this recipe and making these as well . Looking forward to your comments and inputs to this entry.
Much Love,

P.s: I am sending this recipe for 
- "Showcase - Desserts" by Divya.
- "Let's Party - "Desserts" by Reshmi and Surabhi.
- Prathibha for "EP Series-Herbs and spices"-Basil and Cardamom
- "Diwali Bash" by Vardhini
- "Lets celebrate-Indian sweets" hosted by UK Rasoi