Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bobotie

Franschhoek is a beautiful, small and picture perfect town just a few kms away from Cape Town. In addition to being part of the South African wine country, Franschhoek is also the gourmet capital of the country; the main street that runs through the city centre is dotted with excellent and critically acclaimed restaurants on either side.



It was in a small restaurant in Franschhoek that I had bobotie for the first time.....and I have been hooked ever since.



It wasn't all love at first sight, though. Admittedly, the bobotie is not...er...very good looking. I mean, take a look at the picture below. Or, do an image search on your search engine and look at any bobotie picture. Not quite appealing....there is nothing there that is even remotely indicative of how it tastes!



And the description - curried minced topped with an egg custard - didn't exactly tickle my taste buds.



But the taste....oh, the taste! Delicately spiced with a slightly sweet taste and delightfully aromatic, the flavour of bobotie lingered on my tongue long after I'd scraped the last morsel from my plate.


Soon, I was ordering bobotie in every single restaurant that served it.



The bobotie owes its origins to Malaysia and Indonesia. The name "bobotie" is itself derived from the Indonesian word "bobotok".



Sometime in the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company, which had several ships sailing along the spice route to Asia, established a settlement around Cape Town so that the ships, on their way to and from Holland, could dock and replenish their supplies . Initially, the ships brought just spices from Java (Indonesia). After a while, the ships also brought in the Malays - to work as slaves for the whites settled around Cape Town.



It seems that the Malays would have roast meat on Sundays; the following day, leftovers would be mixed with some spices and fruits, an egg mixture would be poured over it and it would then be baked and served with rice and vegetables.



A rather simple origin for what is today the national dish of South Africa - Bobotie.








Once we were back home, I was craving bobotie. I just had to make it! I looked up quite a few recipes on the net, the ones at Cookie Not Cheffy and Cook Sister appealed to me.



I like the ingredients in the former and the method of cooking in the latter; my version therefore is a combination of the two, with minor modifications to suit our taste. This makes a hearty meal for about 4-5 people.



Ingredients:


Meat mince: 500 gms
Onion: 1, finely minced
Garlic: 2 cloves, minced
Ginger: 1 1/2 tsp, grated


Coriander seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cumin seeds: 1/2 tsp
Cloves: 4 nos


Curry powder: 3 tsps
Turmeric: powder: 1 tsp
Raisins: 2 tbsps
Apricot chutney/sweet mango chutney/chunda: 2 tbsps
Juice of half a lemon
Green chillies: 3-4 (optional - this is not there at all in the original bobotie, but we love to spice it up!)


Salt, to taste

A slice of crustless bread soaked in 150 ml milk
Bay leaves: 8 nos


Oil: 2 tbsps



for the custard:



eggs: 2
milk: 1 cup
pepper powder: 1 tsp
a pinch of salt


Method:


Dry roast the coriander seeds, cumin seeds and the cloves for a minute, then pound them to a coarse powder.


Heat oil and fry onion, ginger and garlic for about 2-3 mins, or till the onions turn soft.


Add the mince in 3 batches, frying after every addition so as to break up the lumps. Once the mince is evenly browned, add in the coarsely ground spices, curry powder, turmeric powder and salt. At this stage, you will notice that the mince has released some water; fry for another 7-10 minutes or till all the water has almost dried up. Turn off the gas.



Then, stir in the apricot chutney, raisins, the whole green chillies and the lemon juice.



Remember the slice of bread soaked in milk? Squeeze the milk out of the bread (retain this milk for the custard), mash the bread with your fingers or a a spoon and stir it into the mince. The bread binds the mince together and also keeps it moist.



At this point, adjust all the seasonings to your taste and transfer the mince into a baking casserole.




Beat the eggs along with salt and pepper. Add the milk to the beaten eggs - use the milk you soaked the bread in and add as much more as needed to make 1 cup - and beat again to mix the eggs and the milk well.




Pour this mixture over the mince. Arrange the bay leaves on top of the egg mixture and bake uncovered at 180 deg C for about 30-40 mins or until the egg mixture has set.



Cut into individual portions and serve with some steamed vegetables and yellow rice.


Yellow Rice:


Basmati rice: 1 cup
Water: 2 cups
Turmeric powder: 3/4 tsp
Salt
Peppercorns: 5-6nos
Bay leaves: 2 nos
Oil



Method:




Heat oil, toss in the bay leaves and the peppercorn. Wash the rice and add it to the pan; stir till coated with oil. Add the turmeric powder, a little at a time, till you get a vibrant shade of yellow.




Add the water and salt to the rice and cook on a gentle simmer for about 10-15 mins or until all the water has been absorbed. Once that happens, turn off the gas and cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and let the rice sit for about 10 mins. Fluff with a fork before serving.







Because I recreated the taste of the much loved bobotie in my kitchen inspired by recipes from other blogs, this makes its way to Nupur's Blog Bites - 2: The Copycat Edition.


Coincidentally, Meeta's theme for her Monthly Mingle this month happens to be South Africa - need I say anything more?


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Coconut Milk Payasam

Yesterday was Vishu. To all my friends who celebrate, a very happy new year. So what did we do? Well the previous night we, my daughter and I, arranged the vishukkani - bananas, flowers, coins, a small prayer book, rice, pulses and at her insistence, even a bar of chocolate- in a metal tray and placed it in front of a mirror.


In the morning, much to her bewilderment, we covered her eyes and led her to view the vishukkani.



Just as my mother in law had led me for my first Vishu. It has been 6 years, but the memories of my first Vishu are fresh in my mind, as if it were yesterday.


“Vishu is our new year,” she explained, leading me into the puja room. “We believe that if the vishukkani is the first thing we see on this day, it brings good luck. I hope you will observe all our festivals when you return home,” she concluded.


"That's right. Try and learn as much as you can so you can continue our tradition," chorused the relatives. Relatives who had come from all over to meet Anand who was visiting India after 4 years. But more than Anand, they had come to see his wife. Me. Kate.


Their voices filled the air as they chatted loudly and excitedly. I basked in their love; I was happy to have found a family that had welcomed me with open arms. I did know of some who were not so accepting. In fact, soon after viewing the vishukkani, the family (and much to my dismay, Anand as well), would be off for a puja where I, a foreigner and a believer of a different religion, was not welcome.



"I am sorry Kate that you had to face this. But we really cannot snub them, after all mom and dad have to live here," Anand reasoned with me. One by one, they said apologetic goodbyes to me and left.


They would be back in the afternoon, but the silence in the enormous house was overwhelming. Sunlight streamed in through the slats of the windows and I sunk into a wooden armchair, soaking in the warmth of the sun and inhaling the aroma of the sandalwood and camphor that permeated through the house.



I must have dozed off for a bit; when I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see an old woman sitting in front of me, staring and smiling, rather fondly, at me. But then I reasoned that she must be one of the many servants that worked around here and smiled back at her. The rays of the sun fell on her face and illuminated it in a soft glow; her face certainly looked very familiar though I couldn't quite place her.



Seeing me awake, she got me a cup of coffee and started talking to me. She knew I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying; likewise even I knew that she couldn’t follow me, but I was glad for her company in this empty house.


The clock chimed 10 O’clock and I realised that through gestures, we had been having a conversation of sorts for about an hour! The old lady looked at the time and motioned me to get up and follow her into the kitchen. Obviously, she wanted me to do something. “Watch and learn,” she seemed to say.


She cracked open a couple of coconuts and started scraping them. She was old and her movements were slow, but her hands steady as she worked on the scrapings to extract some coconut milk. When she mixed the thinnest of the coconut milk with some uncooked rice, I realised she was making – or rather, teaching me to make payasam, a sweet not quite unlike rice pudding. You see Anand had been tutoring me on the basics of Tamil cuisine for quite a while!


By the time the payasam was done, I was ravenous. She quickly made some dosas –thin rice crepes - for me. As I ate, she came and stood beside me. Her eyes were kind and full of love; occasionally, she would run her hand over my head.


It was past noon and I was tired. It was the heat that sapped me out even though I had done nothing since morning. Making my apologies to this old lady, I headed to the bedroom for a siesta.


I woke just up just as the family returned. “I see you made some coconut milk payasam,” beamed Anand as he fondly spooned it into bowls for everyone.


I felt almost like a child as I waited expectantly for their reaction but nothing could’ve prepared me for it. No sooner had they had the first spoonful, an excited chatter ensued. I understood nothing of it, but realised it had to do with the payasam. Tentatively, I tasted it – it was fantastic.



“Honey, it seems you accidentally put in cloves instead of cardamoms in the payasam,” said Anand.


"Is that what all this talk is all about? But no, I didn't put them in by mistake. The old lady who came in to work this morning told me to,” I replied.


Suddenly, the talk died down. “Kate, who are you talking about? What old woman? The only one who was supposed to come in today was Radha. The one who showed you to make kolam the other say,” said my MIL.


"Well, it wasn't Radha, but an old woman who came in the morning. Wonder where she is now."


“Maybe Radha sent in someone else in her place. Happens all the time,” said my FIL.


“What’s this (fuss) all about?” I wondered aloud.


“Oh honey, it is just those cloves in the payasam. Grandma – my mum’s mum – was rather fond of cloves. Always had a small pouch tucked into her sari. She was the only one who used cloves in payasam. This payasam you made tastes exactly like hers."


He continued, "Pity she didn't live long enough to meet you. She would have doted on you. Come, let me show you her pictures."



The sun was now setting and as we flipped the pages of the albums, the final rays of the sun streamed in and fell on Anand’s face and illuminated it in a soft glow. With a chill, I realised why the old lady had looked so familiar. “There she is, this is my grandma,” he said.




But I didn’t quite need to see her pictures for I had already met Anand's dead grandma that morning.


Six years have gone by but in all honesty, not a day goes by when I don't recall that strange encounter. And yes, every Vishu, I make the coconut milk payasam exactly the way she had taught me.




Completely fictional, this is my entry for Of Chalks and Chopsticks that I am hosting this month.









Coconut Milk Payasam


Ingredients:


Rice: 1/2 cup
Coconut milk: 500 ml
Palm Jaggery*: 80- 100 gms
Ghee: 1 tbsp
Cloves: 6 nos
Green Cardamom: 2 nos
Nutmeg, optional: a pinch
Salt: a pinch
Dates/raisins and sliced almonds: to your taste (I use 2 tbsps of sliced dates and 1 tbsp of chopped almonds)



Method:


Wash and soak the rice for 30 mins.


In a wok, heat the ghee and add the cloves and the green cardamom. Stir for a minute.


Drain the rice and add it into the wok, stir till the grains are coated with the ghee. Add in 1 cup of water and 3/4 cup of coconut milk. Cook the rice till it turns soft and mushy; I pressure cook the rice for 5 whistles.


In the meantime, add a couple of tbsps of water to the jaggery and melt it.


Strain the melted jaggery and add it to the cooked rice. Pour in the remaining coconut milk, nutmeg, salt and the dates and almonds, if using. Bring to a boil and simmer a further 2 mins on a very low flame.


Allow to rest a couple of hours before serving, the flavours in this payasam really develop after a couple of hours.


Notes:


Coconut milk spoils very easily, especially in tropical climates. As soon as the payasam cools down to room temperature, transfer it in the fridge.

If you find that the payasam is getting too thick, add in about 75 ml of plain milk.

The sweetness of jaggery keeps varying. So the amount of jaggery in this recipe is only a guideline, do a taste test to ascertain the amount of jaggery you need.


I use palm jaggery which has a lovely nutty taste, the original recipe uses cane jaggery.




Friday, April 9, 2010

Sweet Potato Focaccia

One morning....


TH: What's for breakfast?
Me: I made a focaccia yesterday. I'm thinking of topping it with some cherry tomatoes and cheese and grilling it in the oven.
TH: Sounds great!


The next morning....


TH: Can you make me the same thing you made yesterday? It was delicious!
Me: Sure.



The following day....


TH: What's for breakfast?
Me: Focaccia topped with an egg white omelette.
TH: Well, ok.



Later that evening....


TH: What's for dinner?
Me: Chicken stew with some...
TH: Let me guess. Focaccia.
Me: Spot on!
TH: Just how much focaccia did you make?

Me: (injured look)
TH: Now don't give me that look! The bread is delicious, but how many more days are we going to eat it?







Well, this recipe makes a lot of it! If you, like us, are a family of 2 and 1/2 that doesn't eat too much bread, you might want to halve the recipe.



I adapted this recipe from The Little Big Cook Book; the original recipe uses potatoes. However, I have been using sweet potatoes in place of potatoes for quite a while now and decided to try them in this recipe.





Turns out that sweet potatoes were indeed perfect in the focaccia. You really can't taste them and yet, the bread does taste a lot better with that slight hint of sweetness.


Plus, they up the nutrition content significantly. After all, sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene and vitamins A and C. And most importantly, they are an excellent source of carbohydrates with the additional benefit of having a low Glycemic Index.




Ingredients:

Active dry yeast: 1 package or 15 gms
Sugar: 1 .5 tsp
Water: 2 tbsps

Bread / All purpose Flour: 3 cups ( I used 2 and 1/4 cup bread flour; for the balance 3/4 cup, I used wholemeal bread flour)

Sweet Potatoes: 250 gms
Salt: 1.5 tsp
Olive oil: 3 tbsps
Warm water for kneading the dough

Herbs of your choice for the topping.


Method:

Mix together the yeast, sugar and 2 tbsps warm water. Set aside till the yeast becomes frothy, about 15-20 minutes.

(A very valuable lesson I learnt in bread making came from this book - HALVE THE YEAST, DOUBLE THE RISING TIME.

Accordingly, I always use half the yeast that a recipe calls for; in this case as well, I used half a package of yeast).


Boil the sweet potatoes; peel and mash while they are still hot.

Mix together the sweet potatoes (they need to be warm when you start making the bread), the flour, salt and 1 and 1/2 tbsp of the olive oil. Make a well in the centre of this mixture and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix to combine the yeast thoroughly.

Then add just enough warm water to make a shaggy dough, I needed 13 tbsps. The dough will be very sticky and clingy - which is how it should be. Knead for a couple of minutes with a wooden spoon and set aside to rise. My dough took about two hours to rise.


Knock out the air from the risen dough - about 3-4 punches should do it - and transfer to a well -oiled jam roll tray. Mine is 7" X 13". Spread the dough with your hands, cover and let it rise for about 45 mins.


Pre-heat the oven to 200 deg C for 10 mins. Meanwhile, dimple the surface with your knuckles, sprinkle the topping of your choice ( I used freshly ground pepper, dried basil leaves and dried garlic flakes ) and drizzle the remaining olive oil on top.


Bake for about 20-25 mins or until the top is a lovely golden brown and the aroma of freshly baked bread permeates through every nook and cranny of your house!

Sending this Sweet Potato Focaccia to Susan's Yeastspotting.










Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Healthy Muesli Bars

Being part of a book club is a great way of reading books I otherwise might not have. And therefore, I was very excited about the book club's choice this month, Sophie Kinsella's "Can You Keep a Secret ?".



Emma is a 25 year old assistant marketing executive in Panther Corporation who aspires to get a promotion soon so that she can prove herself to her parents. Sent to represent her company to finalise a promotional arrangement, she sees this opportunity as a turning point her career. However, the deal falls through and with that, her hope of securing a promotion also comes crashing down and she's left consoling herself with a couple of vodkas at the airport.


Already a little tipsy and terrified of flying, when the plane encounters mid-air turbulence, fearing the worst, she starts blabbering and ends up spilling out all her secrets to a handsome man sitting next to her.

"...put Math GCSE grade 'A' on my CV, when I really only got a 'C'."
"...always have a glass of sweet sherry before a date, to calm my nerves."
"...coffee at work is the most disgusting stuff you've ever drunk, absolute poison."

Basically harmless, but very embarrassing little details about herself. The plane lands safely and she's horrified at having revealed so much about herself, but then she tells herself that she is unlikely to run into that stranger again in her life.

Surprise, surprise - the handsome stranger turns out to be Jack Harper, the founder of the company she works for....who doesn't let her forget that he remembers every single thing she told him on the flight.





Emma's life will never be the same again.....





So what do I say about a book that I read in one sitting, in about 6 hours flat?!


Yes, it was a page turner. Yes, there are some funny moments in the book.

But, it was very reminiscent of Bridget Jones. And though the initial premise was engaging - that of spilling your secrets to a complete stranger, the real plot was extremely flimsy and frankly, quite unrealistic.


Food-wise, there wasn't really too much to be inspired about, but this caught my eye..."I've got some Panther bars for you," I say, nodding to my box. Grandpa is completely addicted to Panther energy bars...."

Now, I've wanted to make cereal bars forever, but somehow, never got into the kitchen armed with a recipe or for that matter, an intention of making them! Cooking for the book club read seemed like the perfect excuse to finally make some cereal bars.







Mixed n matched a lot of recipes that came up after a Google search to come up with this version of healthy cereal bars.


Ingredients:


Muesli: 1and 1/4 cup
Wholemeal flour: 1/2 cup
Plain flour: 1/4 cup

Dates: 1 cup, de-seeded and chopped
Apple: 1/2, chopped
Walnuts: 1/4 cup, chopped

Oil: 1/4 cup
Apple juice: 1/2 cup
Juice of half a lemon

Cinnamon: 1/2 tsp
Salt: 1/4 tsp
Grated ginger/lemon rind: 1/2 tsp, optional
Honey/brown sugar: 3 tbsps (I used only honey, but I think a combination of the two would be better)




Method:


Place the dates in a pan alongwith the honey/brown sugar, lemon juice and the apple juice. Simmer till the dates turn soft and mushy, about 5 minutes.


Once cool, combine with the muesli, plain and wholemeal flours. Toss in the chopped apple and walnuts, cinnamon, salt and grated ginger and mix well.


Finally, pour in the oil to get a crumbly mixture.


Grease and line a 8" square cake pan with baking paper. Transfer the mixture in to the pan, press down to get an even layer.


Pre-heat the oven for 10 mins at 180 deg C and bake till the top is golden brown and the sides start to pull away from the edges of the pan, about 35-40 minutes.


With a sharp knife, cut into bars. Allow to cool before separating the bars.






Crunchy but not crumbly, soft and not chewy or dense, these cereal bars are a high energy treat. Perfect for a grab and go breakfast or an energy boost before a workout. Something that I am certain I will make more often now!




Here's what the other members made:
Aparna made a 5 minute chocolate cake, Bhagyashri made Shortbread Triangles, Sweatha made Cheddar Cheese Crisps, PJ made Suralichi Wadi, Jayasri made Mango Smoothie and Simran made a Pink Pina Colada.





Our read month is Julie and Julia, write in to Simran - bombayfoodie(at)gmail(dot)com - if you want to join the book club.







Sunday, April 4, 2010

Of Chalks and Chopsticks

What an irony....I am having a tough time writing a post that is meant to announce an event that has to do with writing!


I have pondered over this post for the last 3 days, written and re-written it a few times - only to realise that sometimes the best way of saying something is to start at the beginning.


A couple of week's ago, I saw this post on Sandeepa's blog. Close on its heels came this post from Sra. Both these posts re-ignited my interest in the genre of 'Food Fiction'. I had myself dabbled in food fiction sometime back, but somehow, much as I wanted to, never managed make it a regular feature on my blog. However, after seeing their posts, I was inspired to take it up again.


A germ of an idea, a few mails exchanged with these two talented bloggers and 'Of Chalks and Chopsticks', a monthly event dedicated to food fiction was conceived. Sandeepa, Sra and I will co-host this event; I have the privilege of kicking it off.


If the concept interests and challenges you, this is what you need to do:


1. Spin us a yarn - an original one. It could either be based on a real incident or could be something competely imaginary. Explore any genre: humour, romance, mystery, paranormal etc.


2. The story you write has to be related to the food you will cook in that post.


3. There is no word limit on the story you write, but it has to be written in one single post.


4. Archived posts are accepted (though writing a new one for this event would be highly appreciated).


5. Posts written for this event CAN be shared with other events.


Post your story and the recipe between now and April 30 and mail it to me at: aquadaze(at)rediffmail(dot)com


Include the following details in your mail:

1. Name and URL of your blog

2. Title and URL of your post

3. A photo of your entry


Eagerly looking forward to your entries!


It is not just about the ingredients or the recipe, good food happens when it is served with love!!

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