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.

Tikka Masala Leftover Turkey

The Tikka Masala originated in the restaurant. Not a home kitchen. At the time of the last pandemic (1920’s), this iconic Indian dish was yet to be born. Usually made with chicken, the one here is a turkey (leftover) version. The result vied closely with the original centerpiece of Thanksgiving day. The technique is tediously multi-layered and time-consuming, but worth the effort. Enjoy!

Special tools:

Immersion blender.

Ingredients

  • Turkey Tikka: Marinade for at least 2 hrs.
    • 4 cups of 1-2 inch cubes of cooked Turkey (~1 lb)
    • Marinade mix: 1 cup yogurt + 6 tsp ginger-garlic minced (6 cloves garlic and grated ginger) + 6 tsp curry powder (OR 2 tsp garam masala+2 tsp coriander + 2tsp cumin + 1 tbsp paprika) + 4 tsps turmeric powder + salt to taste
  • Masala Gravy: 4 tbsp oil, salt to taste
    • A. Aromatics:
      • 1 large onion, sliced + minced ginger-garlic-jalapeno (2 tbsp ginger;4 cloves garlic;2 chilies) + 1 bay leaf + 6 cardamom pods, crushed
      • 1 tsp garam masala + 1 tsp paprika
    • B. Gravy-body
      • 2 tbsp tomato paste + 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
      • 2 cups half and half + 3/4 cup chopped cilantro
    • C. Brightness: Juice of 1 lemon
  • Garnish: cilantro or micro-greens

Method

Tikka: Place the marinated Turkey chunks in a single layer on a baking tray and broil for 8-10 minutes until lightly charred.

Masala gravy: This is done in layers. In a Le Creuset (or a thick-bottomed) pot, heat 4 tbsp oil.
Step A1. (8-10 mins) Add A. ingredients, except the powder. Cook until the onions are soft.
Step A2. (1-2 mins) Add the aromatic powder ingredients, stir and carefully watch over it till fragrant, but not burnt.
Step B1. (10-15 mins) Add B1. ingredients –tomatoes– and cook until almost dry.
Step B2. (35-40 mins) Add B2. ingredients –cream & cilantro– and cook covered till oil floats on top.
Step C. (Finish) Take off heat, remove the bay leaf, add C. (lemon juice) and run an immersion blender till sauce is smooth. Adjust salt to taste.

Mix in the Tikka and garnish with greens. Serve hot with roti, tortilla or rice.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. It is interesting that I adapted an A-list Indian dish from an American born Iranian chef, Samin Nosrat.
  2. The technique described here is what gives an Indian curry its pizzaz. What differentiates the tikka masala gravy is the use of large amount of tomatoes, and, cream.
  3. This is an over-the-top dish, so don’t plan on serving it every day 😉
  4. Kimchi Quinoa Leftover Chicken: A Korean inspired fried rice.
    • 1 cup quinoa (cooked in 2 cups water for 15 minutes)
    • Marinade chicken for a few hrs: 1 cup leftover pulled chicken + 2 tbsp soy sauce + 2 tbsp Sambol Oelek + 4-5 crushed garlic + 1 tbsp sesame seeds + 2 tsp sesame oil.
    • Aromatics: 1/2 cup thinly sliced onion + 6-7 garlic pods, crushed + 1/4 cup sliced fennel (optional) + 1/2 cup chopped Kale stems + 1/2 cup julienned carrot
    • 1 cup kimchi + 1 cup prepared chestnuts
    • Topping: 2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
    • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a wok. Add the aromatics. Stir-fry till soft. Move them to the outer edges of the wok and add the chicken. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the prepared chestnuts and kimchi and stir-fry for 1-2 mins. Fold in the cooked quinoa and let heat through. Sprinkle sesame seeds and serve.

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Ottolenghi’s Brussel Sprouts with Grapes & Chestnut

The pandemic Thanksgiving needs to be special; hence the miniature cruciferous veggie gets an Ottolenghi treatment. The sweetness of lightly cooked grapes pop in your mouth and is very refreshing. And, chestnuts never disappoint! This is a multi-thread recipe and takes some prepping and planning with a multitude of ingredients, but ends up stealing the show. Enjoy.

Special tools:

None.

Ingredients

  • Thread 1: 4 cups Brussel sprouts (trimmed & halved) + salt + EVOO
  • Thread 2: 7 tbsp oil + 5 peeled garlic pod, whole + 5 medium shallots peeled and halved
    + 1 tbsp maple syrup + 6 tbsp rice wine (Shaoxing) + 5 bay leaves
    + 2 cups cooked chestnuts + 2 cups seedless grapes
  • Thread 3 (topping) : 2 jalapeno peppers, finely sliced + 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar + 1 tsp sugar + 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Garnish: parsley leaves

Method

The three threads can be done in parallel. Thread 1: Roast the Brussel sprouts at 450 F for 20 mins or until cooked. Thread 2: Mix all the ingredients, except grapes, in a thick bottomed pot. Cover and cook on very low heat for 20 mins. Then mix in the grapes and cook for another 5 mins and turn off the heat. Thread 3: Mix all ingredients and let pickle for the duration of the roasting of Thread 1.

Mix all the results of Thread 1 and 2 and let the flavors develop for 30 minutes or more. Serve at room temperature topped with Thread 3 and garnish.

Notes, hints, tips:
  1. Ottolenghi’s recipes are elaborate but always turn out fantastic! I am a big fan. I adapted his recipe here splitting it into thread 1 and 2 and doing them in parallel.
  2. You can add Rice wine (1-2 tbsp) and soy sauce (1-2 tbsp) to the final mix.
  3. Chestnut is versatile. In Clermont-Ferrand (France) I was introduced to chestnut ice cream. The stores even sell chestnut cream in a tube (ala Italian tomato paste). But here it gets a savory application.
    There are many ways to prepare fresh chestnuts, but store bought prepared chestnuts work equally well in recipes.
    • Prepping: In every method, slit each chestnut on the flat side, with the tip of a sharf knife.
    • Boiling: Slit and soak the chestnuts overnight in plenty of water. Next day, simmer in plenty of water for 30-40 mins until cooked through. Drain and cool.
    • Steam-Toasting: I discovered this method that toasts the shells to give the heady aroma, redolent of the Holidays, while the steam softens the shells.
      1. Slit and soak the chestnuts overnight in plenty of water, to get a head start on the shell softening. But if you are in a rush, a few hours to none is OK– you may just need more iterations in Step 3 below.
      2. Heat a heavy bottomed iron skillet on medium-high. Add the nuts to the hot pan with 2 oz water.
      3. Every 10 mins, remove cover and splash 2 oz water and cover immediately. It sizzles and steams up. Iterate this 3-4 times (30-40 mins) until done. Use your timer in 10-min repeat mode for convenience.
    • Shelling: Press the nut vertically, between your thumb and forefinger until the shell cracks and gently retrieve the whole flesh.