How do you take paneer (homemade chena) up a notch? By grilling it with a surprise accent!
This one explodes with flavor at every bite, from a secret filling: spicy Indian-pickle brine. Make the pressed chena as here. To stuff: slit the cheese block into two flat halves and brush with Indian pickle brine on the two insides surfaces as shown in picture. Press the two halves back together into whole. Brush the outside surface lightly with EVOO and grill for 3-4 minutes on each side. Enjoy!
NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
- The pressed homemade cheese is perfect for this.
- Store bought Indian mango pickle was used here. You could marinade for a few hours or refrigerate overnight in a ziplock bag.
- Since the grilling is light, a stove top grill also works out well.
Recently when I saw the news of a drive to get Unesco recognition of borscht, I was reminded on my trips to Wrocław and Warszawa. I was particularly smitten by their sour soups.
Here is my version of the Polish barszcz. Although many suggest to simply use lemon juice or vinegar for the sourness, I just simply could not not sour the beets (kwas). I found the beet fermentation is not as daunting as one might think. Moreover, kwas is a refreshing drink as well, with all the goodness of fermentation.
The clear ruby soup is not just an eye candy but also a delectable delight. Enjoy!
Fermentation Crock, pressure cooker.
- Kwas: 2 lbs beet, peeled and sliced + 2 slices of rye bread
- Beet stock : 2 large beets + vegetables (1 medium celeriac root+ 1 large carrot + 1 large onion), peeled and sliced
- 1 oz dehydrated mushroom (lion’s mane) soaked in a cup of water for few hours
- Seasoning: 2 crushed garlic + 1 tbsp butter + salt & sugar to taste
Kwas: Place the beet in the crock. Boil plenty of water and let cool till lukewarm. Then add to the beets, so that it is 1 inch above the beets. Add the bread slice. Cover with cheese cloth and a lid and let ferment for at least three days. Then remove the bread with a spatula. Using a strainer lined with cheese cloth, strain the liquid and store in mason jars.
Beet stock: Pressure cook all the vegetables in 8 cups of water (or about 1/2 inch above the level of vegetables) till tender. Strain to extract the clear stock.
Soup: Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 mins: 7 cups of stock + 3 cups kwas + 1/2 cup hydrating mushroom liquid + 2 cloves of garlic. Mix in 1 tbsp butter and turn off heat. Serve with sauteed mushrooms.
NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
- I adapted from Fresh from Poland (by Michal Korkosz) and this online source.
- Kwas turned out to be a delicious drink, with a touch of sourness (think of it as a vegan chaas). If you don’t have a Fermentation Crock, you can use just a mason jar or a ceramic pot.
- You can use lemon juice (or vinegar) to taste, if you don’t want to go through the kwas fermenting process.
- You can also use parsnip, celery, leek etc. For the beet stock, as a rule of thumb use 2 lbs beet to 1 lb veggies.
- Instead of mushroom dumplings, I use simply sautéed mushrooms.
- The pressure cooker really softens the veggies, so the leftover pulp can be mashed with a masher. Mix with some chickpea flour (besan) to soak in the moisture + salt + spices (chilli powder, garlic powder and cumin) and press into a thin layer on a parchment lined tray. Score and bake for 25-30 mins. See picture below. Peel off the parchment and enjoy!
In my various trips to Eastern Europe, I had noted the fruit dumpling where a whole fruit forms the kernel of a tennis ball sized dumpling. Latvia to Croatia, each has its own unique take– sometimes served as a side dish and sometimes as a dessert.
Here is my take. You can slap this together without sweating- yet the taste is surprisingly decadent. Enjoy!
Potato masher, steamer.
- 2 medium sized sweet potatoes, nuked in their jackets (4-5 mins) till soft
- 3/4 cup almond flour + 1/2 tsp cinnamon powder + a dash of salt
- 1 pluot, pitted and quartered and dusted with sugar to taste
- To top: cinnamon sugar
Mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher and mix in the flavored flour and knead till very soft (1-2 mins). Let rest for 10 mins. Make four equal sized balls. Flatten the ball, place a quarter of fruit in the center and encase it in the flour mix and smoothen the ball. Steam for 7-8 minutes. Dust with cinnamon sugar.
NOTES, HINTS, TIPS:
- In fact, the balls can also be simply microwaved for 1-2 mins, instead of even steaming.
- You can use plums or any other fruit of your liking.
- Sweet potato sizes may vary– as a rule of thumb, use the same volume of flour as the mashed sweet potato.
- The traditional method is to poach the dumplings– but the casing usually has white flour, eggs etc which I am not using. Hence steaming or microwaving is a very effective, easy, and foolproof alternative.
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!
A pair of chopsticks; wire-rack for drying.
- 100gm dark chocolate bar (or your favorite chocolate bar)
- 1 cup dried Longan berries
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:
- Dried Longan can be bought in a Chinese grocery store or online. Indeed, you can use any other berry of your liking.
- You could quickly fold in a tbsp of milk , if the chocolate is not too malleable.
- I simply use a Pyrex cup which is microwave proof and easy to handle.
- 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).
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!
- 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
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:
- All the ingredients can be bought in the Chinese grocery stores or online.
- The dried longans taste like candy!
- 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).
- 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)
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!
- 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
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:
- Adjust the sweetening to your taste. Mine is on the low side, but I do kick it up with some maple syrup as topping.
- The coconut flour can be replaced by almond flour or any other interesting grain flour. The bulgur gives it softness and body.
- Bulgur is lightly pre-steamed cracked wheat. Sooji is a good substitute.
- 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.
- 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.
- With all the coconut, it is surprisingly not overwhelming. The berries and rum complement it well.
- 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.