Longan Truffle

Be your own chocolatier –for 5 minutes– and celebrate the confluence of Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day this year. Dried longan, which already tastes like candy, gets a coat of your favorite dark chocolate. Using forgiving techniques that even a child can master, concoct this delicious truffle. You could pretty up the presentation, but who can wait. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:

A pair of chopsticks; wire-rack for drying.

INGREDIENTS

  • 100gm dark chocolate bar (or your favorite chocolate bar)
  • 1 cup dried Longan berries

METHOD

Break the bar into pieces and microwave on low power for 2-3 mins (you may have to adjust based on your appliance). Stir vigorously with a pair of chopsticks till smooth and fold in the berries. While still warm, place each truffle on parchment on a wire rack. You can smooth out the balls using your hand, as it begins to cool. Let dry on wire rack till set.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. Dried Longan can be bought in a Chinese grocery store or online. Indeed, you can use any other berry of your liking.
  2. You could quickly fold in a tbsp of milk , if the chocolate is not too malleable.
  3. I simply use a Pyrex cup which is microwave proof and easy to handle.
  4. Here are some truffle-in-the-rough, without smoothing and using the littlest of coating (35 gm chocolate bar –1/3 of the whole bar– and approx 1 cup dried longan).

8 Treasure Congee

I was introduced, in Wuhan, to the Laba porridge tradition some months before the infamous outbreak and lockdown. I have sweet memories of Wuhan and when the Laba Day rolled around this year, I marked my weekend for a quiet celebration. In a bizarre coincidence, 76 Days, a documentary on the 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, was made specially available on MTV for today –the anniversary of the start of Wuhan lockdown– in support of local theaters affected by the pandemic. Made for a heart-wrenching viewing.

Back to Laba. You will be surprised –as I was– to learn a possible India connection to this ancient tradition: the day commemorates the enlightenment of Siddhartha Gautam Budha. History is always so fascinating.

Here I adapt the 8-treasure congee, with some minor embellishments (hope my little transgressions from tradition will be pardoned). The result was unbelievably addictive. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:

Pressure cooker.

INGREDIENTS

  • Four grain-legumes treasures:
    • 1/2 cup glutinous (sticky) rice + 2 tbsp black rice + 1 tbsp mung + 1 tbsp red beans
  • Four fruit-nut treasures:
    • 5 dried red Chinese dates (jujubes) + 10 dried Longan berries + 1 tbsp peanuts + 1 tbsp walnuts
  • Serving embellishments (optional)
    • Creaming, per serving: some almond milk OR 1 tbsp sweet condensed milk
    • Topping: dusting of ginger-brown sugar+finely diced dried Longan berries

METHOD

Soak the rice and legumes overnight (or for at least 2 hours) and drain. Pressure cook, on high pressure, the 8 treasures in 5 cups water for 15 mins. Serve warm.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. All the ingredients can be bought in the Chinese grocery stores or online.
  2. The dried longans taste like candy!
  3. I had bought my ginger-brown sugar from Wuhan. But you can substitute with a mix of dry ginger powder and brown sugar (1/8 tsp ginger powder+ 3 tbsp brown sugar).
  4. Savory Scallop Congee: A delicious savory congee.
    • In a crockpot or slow cooker, add the following and cook on slow for 6-8 hrs
      • 1 cup long grain rice + 1 1/2 cup dried scallops (OR 2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs)
      • 1/2 cup diced tender Kale stems + 1/2 cup mushrooms
      • Aromatics: 3 scallions diced + 1 inch ginger, sliced + 4 garlic pods + 2 dried red chillies
      • Cooking liquid: 4 cups water + 4 cups light stock (OR just 8 cups of water)
    • Garnish: chopped scallions, coriander leaves, lime and crushed peanuts

Back to Laba Congee:

Barley Pudding: Surprisingly delicious and creamy! Yellow moong dal is unusual for a pudding and even without the usual sweetener (brown sugar), this will win over the hearts of even the ardentest pudding fans!

Pressure cook on high for 20 minutes:
3/4 cup pearl barley, dry toasted + 1/4 cup yellow split moong dal, soaked for at least 1 hr and drained
+ 1/2 cup chopped apricots + 1/2 cup cranberries
+ 1 tsp cinnamon powder + 1/2 tsp vanilla
+ 4 cups water
(optional) serve with maple syrup or topping (raisins)

Coconut Berry Rum Cake

On a snowy day, I chanced upon Bibikan, a Sri Lankan Coconut Cake, in one of my chat groups (of engineers, but endearingly eclectic). Snowbound, I quickly adapted the bibikan to my pantry ingredients- no, I did not have fresh coconut nor kithul treacle nor …
I deviate significantly, but the makeover is stunningly delicious. Topped with berries and rum, it’s a keeper. Enjoy!


SPECIAL TOOLS:

None.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 cups desiccated coconut + 4 tbsp coconut palm sugar (or, to taste)
  • Flour: 3/4 cup fine bulgur + 3/4 cup coconut flour (or almond flour)
  • 1 (13.5 oz) can coconut milk
  • Aromatics: 1/2 tsp each of cinnamon powder, cardamom powder; 1/4 tsp clove powder
  • Leavening: 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • Seasoning: dash salt + 1 tbsp White balsamic (optional)
  • Fruits & nuts (chopped, measuring 1 cup): dried figs + dried mulberries + walnuts + macadamia nuts
  • Topping: maple syrup, berries and black cherry rum

METHOD

Toast the desiccated coconut lightly, add about a quarter cup of coconut milk to moisten and then add the coconut palm sugar and mix thoroughly on low heat for 2-3 mins.

Toast the fine bulgur till fragrant, then gradually add a about a quarter cup coconut milk, cover and cook on low heat or a few minutes. Repeat this using up all the coconut milk till the bulgar is no longer gritty (taste it as you go). You may have to use additionally 1/4-1/2 cup water.

Mix in all the ingredients -except the toppings-, place in a baking pot, decorate with macadamia nuts, cover and bake for 40 mins at 350 F. Let cool on wire rack.

Serve cold with the toppings.

NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:

  1. Adjust the sweetening to your taste. Mine is on the low side, but I do kick it up with some maple syrup as topping.
  2. The coconut flour can be replaced by almond flour or any other interesting grain flour. The bulgur gives it softness and body.
  3. Bulgur is lightly pre-steamed cracked wheat. Sooji is a good substitute.
  4. Indeed, you can use any other dried fruits and nuts of your choice. I keep it to just one cup to avoid a very chewy texture.
  5. I used an oven-proof French Bean pot– so I did not have to line the pan. I bake this covered to keep it moist.
  6. With all the coconut, it is surprisingly not overwhelming. The berries and rum complement it well.
  7. Coconut Bulgur Breakfast Porridge: Yet another delicious incarnation.
    Toast the coconut and mix in the sweetner. Toast the bulgur till fragrant. Then directly in the baking pot, mix all the ingredients –except topping– with a wire whisk adding 12 oz water. The mixture will be thin– the bulgur thickens when cooked. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

Wild Mushroom Chicken Achari

Most Indian pickles (achar) are sour, salty and spicy. Salty ? Yes, like Feta, or preserved black olives, or even salty pretzels. While many find achar irresistible, it is undoubtedly an acquired taste. Even the most ardent Indophiles, if untrained, are known to have tapped out.

Driven by the need for a quick yet toothsome meal for a hungry, fussy bunch, I had cobbled this up which met with stunning success. But, it was so embarrassingly easy, that I had closeted it. Emboldened by the presence of an achari dish amongst “100 essential recipes” in The Flavor Equation (a book I received from secret Santa this year), I am having mine step out of the closet. I have added locally grown wild mushrooms and Fall carrots to elevate the humble chicken breasts. You don’t even have to be an Indophile to enjoy this spectacular briny-spicy dish. Enjoy!

Special tools:

Steaming baskets.

Ingredients

Makes two servings.

  • 1 lb chicken breasts, cut thin into 4-5 pieces (or, thin chicken cutlets)
  • veggies: 2 cups loosely packed Maitake mushrooms + 1 cup julienned carrots carrots
  • 1/3 cup store-bought Mango Pickles
  • Seasoning (optional): 1 tsp panch phutana, toasted and powdered
  • Garnish (optional): micro-greens

Method

Mix the chicken with the pickles; mix in the carrots and then gently the mushrooms. Portion out on two plates, add 1 tbsp water in each and sprinkle seasoning on top. Steam for 15-20 mins, till chicken is done.

Garnish and serve hot with grains or bread.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. I adapted the Chinese technique of steaming and I love their bamboo steaming baskets. You may wrap the chicken in aluminium or parchment packets and place directly in your steaming basket.
  2. You can increase the amount of pickles in this recipe to 1/2 cup or more for a more assertive flavor.
  3. Although rice is a friendly accompaniment, buckwheat groats (or even freshly baked rye bread) goes very well.
  4. Pancha phutana is a mix of whole spices. Equal parts by volume of fennel, nigella, cumin, mustard, fenugreek. My grandmother’s secret formula added 1/8 part of dried chilli seeds. I use this here to accentuate the achari-ness.

Figs in Maca Miso

I must have been on Santa’s “nice” list to have received a book on my favorite topic: equations.

This post is adapted from one of the chapters in The Flavor Equation. It was a little challenging to find fresh figs at this time of the year, but DeCicco’s came to the rescue. Instead of instant coffee in the original recipe, I took the roasted fruits on a trip to the high Andes with a Peruvian queen, maca. Her butterscotch notes result in an adult version of salted caramel!! Enjoy.

Special tools:

None.

Ingredients

  • 16 oz fresh figs, halved + 12 oz fresh blueberries
  • Dressing: 2 tbsp maple syrup + 2 tbsp lime juice + 1/8 tsp cracked black pepper + a pinch of salt
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • Drizzle sauce: 2 tbsp white miso + 2 tbsp maca powder + 1/4 cup maple syrup + 1/4 cup tahini + 1/4 cup water

Method

Heat oven to 375 F. Line a baking pan with parchment and lightly grease it with butter. Mix the fruits with dressing till well coated. Arrange in one layer on the lined pan and dot with butter. Roast for 25-30 minutes. Mix all the drizzle sauce ingredients with a wire whisk.

Drizzle the sauce on top and serve warm or cold.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. I used a French fluted tart pan (which happens to have a removable bottom) and placed it on a large baking pan for ease of handling. I cut the parchment a little larger than the circular base, so it runs up the sides and contains the running juices.
  2. Macca, a superfood, has peppery butterscotch notes that complement the miso beautifully. I can very rarely find a worthwhile recipe where maca is the star and this was it! With the addictive nuttiness of tahini, the savory-sweet sauce was lip-smacking delicious.
  3. I used the leftover drizzling sauce on parsnip cakes (Garde Manger Box from Blue Hill at Stone Barns) and also served with fresh fruits (grapes). Both were perfect.

Rasagola Minimalist (ରସଗୋଲା)

The pandemic has put the world into a strange spin. Many hoarded TP, while I stocked up on milk. Different shelf-lives!! That got me into a rhythm of making cheese and yogurt-cheese in alternate weeks.

I present an iconic dish, with iconoclastic techniques (microwave, food processor, just 2 ingredients!!). Yet, the minimalist rasagola is better than the best- I exaggerate not. Clean, wholesome, made-from-scratch. From milk to cheese to rasagola — the transformation is magical.

While social distancing, in a pricey pick-up Box from Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I rediscovered whey as a sophisticated, Cheffy drink. Never have I discarded the liquid from cheese making since then: it sits in mason jars in my refrigerator. Again, the whey was served with honey, verbena, …, but I like my homemade whey straight up (chilled).

Just recently Odisha settled the GI tag (Geographic Indication) battle over rasagola with its friendly neighbor, Bengal. While the latter attribute the birth of rasagola to the days of European colonialism in Calcutta; the Odias claim an 11th century origin, with offerings in temples. The Pahala Rasagola has a special place in my heart, as jeje (grandfather) never visited us without a box of those. These minimalist ones are a close rival. Enjoy!

Special tools:

Food Processor, cheesecloth.

Ingredients

yields 12-14 rasagollas and approx 5 cups whey

  • approx 20 oz homemade cheese (made from 2 quarts of milk)
  • Sugar syrup: 4 cups water + sugar to taste (can range from 6 tsps to 2 cups, based on your preference)

Method

Make the cheese as described in the Notes. Crumble it into a food processor (not a blender!) and run it at medium speed. The cheese will gather into a ball in a minute or so (see Notes for tips). Divine into 12-14 equal-sized portions and form into balls with the palm of your hands.

Meanwhile bring the sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat. Add the balls. Simmer on medium heat for 20-25 minutes till the balls have double in size and float on top.

Notes, hints, tips:
  • Homemade cheese (chena/paneer): I usually start the process a day in advance, so that it spaces out the effort.
    1. (6 mins + 6 mins + 3 mins) Bring 2 quarts of milk in a 8-cup Pyrex glass container to just about a boil in a microwave. The timing given here is what I see in my microwave- adjust with yours. It is better to do that in multiple steps, rather than one long shot.
      [– I use Skim Plus milk. But feel free to use whole milk or 1-2 % milk. But not just skim.
      — Why use microwave, many of you ask. Zero risk of milk scorching in the Pyrex cup. Not to mention the ease of use.]
    2. (5 mins) Curdling. Immediately, while the milk is very hot, add 2-3 tsps of acidifying agent (AA) and stir vigorously till the proteins coagulate and you can see the whey separating. Note that, there is no more heating or cooking at this point.
      AA can be lemon juice or distilled white vinegar.
    3. (1 hr) Cooling. Let the cheese separate from the whey by sinking to the bottom of the container and it comes to a room temperature, or comfortably warm to the touch.
    4. (overnight or at least 1-2 hrs) Draining. Unlike the yogurt-cheese, where gravity alone helps in draining, here it takes a little more coaxing. Hence, the three steps, but you could go straight to the Hang step below.
      • Pour. Gently pour out the whey, without disturbing the cheese at the bottom, into mason jars.
      • Drain. (30 mins) Line a metal sieve with cheese cloth and pour all the contents of the pyrex cup, gathering more of the whey either directly in a mason jar or in a convenient container with a spout.
      • Hang. Tightly squeeze the cheese cloth and and hang it out to drain: I have used the ubiquitous banana holder. Or, use a tofu-press (scroll down to see pictures).
        [For multi-use cheesecloth, I have been using a clean piece of cotton fabric . The humidity in the homes in the US Northeast varies by season- so the cheese may get harder in the drier seasons. You may have to peel out the hard shell and just snack on it. And, use the rest for the recipe. ]
    5. Remove the cheese from the cheese cloth.
  • Is the cheese of the right consistency to make the rasagola ? This is the million dollar question. I have a simple test– if the cheese does not gather into a ball in the food processor — it is not going to work.
    • If it is too sticky, you may have to add a little cream of wheat (semolina) at a time till it gathers into a ball.
    • If it is too powdery, you can add little whey at a time till it gathers into a ball.
  • Some use cardamom powder, pistachio bits and other garnishes, but you may like them nude, like I do.
  • I store the rasagolas in a mason jar, upside down when the level of syrup is not covering all the balls. This way when you retrieve your top rasgolas they are sufficiently steeped in syrup.

When I used a tofu press (“That Tofu Thing”) to drain the cheese, the cheese was drier, but I reconstituted with a little whey in the food processor, so that it gathered into a ball. The rasagolas were perfect. So, I would say, it is safer to be on the drier side than wet.

Pahala rasagola. For a caramel colored rasagola, caramelize the white sugar, before adding the water to make the syrup.