Monday, August 23, 2010

Mango Salsa

Most of us travel in a set manner - visit a place, take in the sights and return back home. Our travels are for a fixed time duration at the end of which we have that desire to go back home and sleep in our own beds.

There are a few people, however, who travel for years together, moving from one place to another. With no fixed address and with no fixed travel route, they seem to live the life of a nomad. Meet one such nomad - Rita Golden Gelman.

A woman who has travelled the world over the past 15 odd years moving from one country to another with no possessions other than those that she can carry in her backpack. A woman for who the end of a 23 year old marriage marked the beginning of an entirely new way of life.

Yes, this is about the book the book club read this month - Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman, a collection of essays detailing her travel experiences from around the world.

From staying in a Zapotec village, to studying orangutans deep in the jungles in Borneo, to finding spiritual enlightenment in Bali, to trekking in Irian Jaya, to seeking her roots in Israel, to simply living in New Zealand, her travel experiences are phenomenal and often, not something that many of us would be able to or willing to imitate.

She goes from feeling vulnerable at having to travel and eat alone to being supremely confident in the seeking company of fellow travellers on the road. She never lets an opportunity to savour newer experiences slip by her; often times, she employs absolute ingenuity in creating opportunities for herself.

However, the sense of wonder and awe that one normally has when visiting new places (and especially those that are often not accessible to many travellers) is not there in the book. That is because this is not really a travelogue. So, don't read it if what you are looking for is a travelogue in the classic sense. She doesn't really describe or wax eloquent about the places she has been to.

Travels of a Female Nomad is more about how Gelman made her way into people's homes and then their hearts, her interactions with people and her response to the diverse cultures she encountered.

But more than anything else, it is a testament to the fact that it is never to late to live the life that you truly want to lead. As you flip the pages, you start to share her conviction that most of the times, if you only open your heart and mind to people, place your trust in them and simply go with the flow, life's experiences can be very enjoyable.

For that and that alone, this is a book that is a must read.

For some reason, from the time I started reading about her trip to Mexico, I was hoping there'd be some mango salsa somewhere in the book. There was none, but toward the end of the book, there was this salad that she made in Thailand.

So this is what I made: A mango salsa with a hint of Thai flavours.

Just cut some mangoes into cubes and slice some shallots and red chillies as well. Toss them in a dressing made with a few tbsps of pineapple juice, lime juice, sugar and salt. Garnish with some fresh coriander leaves and thinly shredded basil leaves and kaffir limes. Chill for about 30 mins, taste to check the balance of flavours and chill again for 30 mins before serving.

Serve this alongside some grilled chicken; I loved having it with some curd rice.

Edited to add: I recently re-made this salsa with 1.5 cups mango cubes + zest of 1 lemon + juice of 1/2 a lime + a tsp of sugar +2 small shallots, sliced + 1/2 tsp of freshly cracked pepper + salt to taste + 1.5 tbsps of chopped coriander leaves.

This is my entry to Yameen's Health Nut Challenge 7 : Tropical Fruits.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vegetable Biryani

Simply put, biryani is nothing but rice layered alternately with meat or fish or even vegetables. The taste, however, is anything but simple to describe. Aromatic from the use of saffron and rose water, subtly flavoured from the sprinkling of spices, biryani is a one pot meal that is extremlely satiating.

True, making biryani is time-consuming. There are spices to be ground and onions to be fried; there are many small steps that make their way to a delicious biryani and absolutely no room for any short cuts. But one whiff of the cooked biryani and all the effort taken and the time spent in making it seem totally worth it.

Biryani is a crowd pleaser and this vegetable biryani is something that gets made very often, especially when we are entertaining. It has taken me numerous attempts and many a charred vessels to get finally get it right, here's how I make it.


Rice: 1 1/4 cup
Assorted Vegetables: 1 1/2 cups ( I use carrots, cauliflower, french beans and green peas)
Paneer: 1/2 cup

Tomato Puree: 2 tbsps

Yogurt: 1/3 cup
Cashewnut powder: 2 1/2 tbsps
Dry spices: Red chilli powder - 3/4 tsp, turmeric - 1/4 tsp, garam masala - 1 tbsp, salt to taste

Whole spices: bay leaf - 1, cloves - 6, cinnamon - 1" stick, black cardamom - 1

Raisins: 1 tbsp
Saffron: 1 pinch, soaked in 1 tsp rosewater and 1 tsp kewra water

Ghee: 2 - 3 tbsps
Oil: 2 tbsps + as required for deep frying

grind to a paste:

Onion: 2 medium sized
Mint leaves: 1/3 cup
Coriander leaves: 6 sprigs
Garlic: 6 cloves
Ginger: 1" piece

for garnishing:

Potato: 1 large
Onion: 1 large, sliced
a few mint leaves
green chillies



Peel and slice one onion. Toss the slices in a pinch of salt and 1/4 tsp sugar. Deep fry till golden brown.

Peel and cut the potato into 1/4" thick circles and fry till golden.

cook the rice:

Soak the rice in water for half an hour. Heat ghee in a vessel, add the black cardamom followed by the strained rice. Fry gently till the grains are all coated with the ghee. Add 2 cups boiling water and some salt and cook the rice.

Once cooked, fluff with a fork and spread it onto a plate to cool.

prepare the vegetable curry:

Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and steam till they are just cooked.

Grind the masala paste. Heat oil and add the whole garam masala. Let it sizzle for half a minute and then add the masala paste to the pan, fry till the raw smell disappears.

Add in the tomato puree and fry another 5 - 7 minutes. Sprinkle a few drops of water if the puree sticks to the pan. Whisk together the yogurt, cashewnut powder and the dry spices; fry till the oil separates.

Mix the steamed vegetables, the paneer cubes and the raisins into the fried masala paste and toss gently for about 3-5 minutes. Sprinkle a little water if the curry sticks to the bottom of the pan.

assemble the biryani

In a heavy bottomed vessel, melt some ghee.

Spread half the rice. On top of the rice, sprinkle a pinch of the garam masala followed by 1/4 of the fried onions. A few mint leaves and whole green chillies go next.

Then spread the cooked vegetable curry followed by the remaining rice.

Pour the saffron water over the rice. Layer the fried potatoes on the rice, sprinkle the remaining fried onions, some mint leaves and whole green chillies.

Seal the vessel with 2-3 layers of aluminium foil and cover with a tight fitting lid.

Place a frying pan on the gas and put the vessel that you just layered the biryani in on top of the pan. On the lowest possible heat setting, cook the biryani for about 25- 30 minutes. (Putting the vessel atop a pan and then heating the biryani ensures that the rice won't stick to the bottom and get charred).

Alternately, you could also layer the biryani in a similar fashion in a microwave proof bowl and microwave on high for about 10 mins. But the aroma of the stove-top method is something the microwave method simply cannot replicate.

I serve with the biryani with this eggplant raita and some papad. Finger licking good.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Announcing Back To Basics

There was a time when my kitchen was lined with bottles and jars containing fresh and homemade podis and masalas and pickles and yes, ghee.

But that was many years ago when we lived in Bombay and made monthly trips to Pune; with every trip, we'd return with the choicest of home-made goodies that my mother and MIL would gladly prepare for us.

Then, we moved overseas. And while I armed myself with all the recipes, I never used any of them. I have been purchasing most of my basic masalas and podis and the like for many years now.

I was, however, nudged to look up all those recipes when last month Jaya came up with an event called Back to Basics. One look at the round up and I realised that this was an event that could equip everyone (well, yes, I do have my own very selfish interest here) with many tips and tricks to make cooking and eating simpler, easier and healthier.

I was glad when Jaya decided to continue with the event and I am delighted to be hosting it this month.

Here's what this event encompasses (and this is from the original event announcement):

1. How to and tips on how you make your life easier in the kitchen, by grinding pastes or freezing seasonal fruits and vegetables.

2. Recipes for rubs, marinades and masalas: garam masala, goda masala, dhana jeera powder (corrainder cumin), etc.

3. Posts like Srivalli's 'cooking toor dal for the week and storing in the fridge'.

4. Recipes for concentrates like this lemon concentrate used to make lemonade.

5. A food recipe that goes with the above is totally optional but welcome.

6. All recipes need to be original; if yours is inspired by any other in the blogosphere, do provide a link for the same.

7. Link your post to Jaya's post and my event announcement and send me the URL of your post either by sending me a mail on aquadaze{at}rediffmail{dot}com or by leaving a comment at the end of this post.

8. Archived entries are welcome, please do update them with the links mentioned in point 7 above.

9. Don't have a blog but have lots of tips and tricks up your sleeve? Do mail them to me on the e-mail address mentioned above.

Last date for sending in your entries: Sept. 8.

Looking forward to your entries......

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Strawberry Mirror Cake

I am not one given to using superlatives like 'the best ever' about any recipe that I have blogged about. And I want to refrain from doing so even today.

However, when it comes to this Strawberry Mirror Cake, the superlative is difficult to avoid. But I don't want to hazard claiming that this is the best dessert ever and so I will just stop at saying that this is the best dessert that I can whip up. Not only is it gorgeous and elegant looking, it tastes better than it looks. Go on, drool over that slice.....

A few years ago, we were invited for dinner at a friend's place. Now, I am a dessert-first kind of person but I refused the dessert that day. Because for dessert was (a very delicious looking) strawberry mousse and mousse normally has raw eggs in it and I don't eat raw eggs.

"This doesn't have any eggs. In fact, it is made from - you won't believe it - ice cream and jelly!"

The mousse was fantastic and I just had to have the recipe. However, my recipe request was firmly turned down. "No sharing of recipes is going to happen," she said.

What friends don't share, Google happily does. I wasted no time in surfing the net, tried a few recipes; the one I stumbled upon at the OChef website tasted exactly like the one she had made.

A very easy dessert to make, the mock Strawberry Bavarian as it appears on OChef is very versatile too. I've made it in cherry and raspberry flavours with equally delicious results.

So, where does the Strawberry Mirror Cake fit into all this ramble, you might wonder. I am coming to it....

When I started blogging, I came across this group that calls itself 'the Daring Bakers'. One day, while browsing through one such intrepid blogger Sunita's blog, I came across the stunning Strawberry Mirror Cake and borrowed the basic presentation idea there to make mine.

My Strawberry Mirror Cake is a fusion of 3 different recipes. It might, by the look and sound of it, seem complicated but I can assure you that it is not so. And the end result is more than worth all the effort, both in terms of the way it looks and tastes.

I hope rather long recipe doesn't put you off - in any case, there are only 4 main steps; what you need to do is simply organise the steps.

Here's how I make it:

I start by baking the sponge cake.


Eggs: 4
Sugar: 120 gms
Cake flour: 100 gms
Vanilla essence: 1 tsp
Butter: 65 gms, melted


Pre-heat the oven to 175 deg C.

Cream together the eggs and sugar till they are pale, light and creamy and the mixture falls in ribbons, about 10 mins. Sprinkle the flour and fold it into the egg sugar mixture with the help of a spatula. I do this in 3 additions. Beat this egg-sugar-flour mixture till it falls in ribbons again, about 1o - 12 mins. Finally, fold in the melted butter.

Bake in a greased 8" round cake pan for about 30-35 minutes or till a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Leave on the wire rack till it cools completely. Once cool, slice into 2.

While the cake bakes, set about preparing the strawberry juice for the mirror and for moistening the cake.


Strawberries: 680 gms
Sugar: 1 cup
Water: 1 cup
Lime juice: 1/2 tsp


Wash and hull the strawberries. Mash them with your hands or with the back of a spoon; sprinkle sugar over them and drizzle the lime juice. Set aside for about 15-20 mins so that the juices start to flow.

Place over low heat, add the water and simmer for about 10 mins. Strain through a fine sieve or preferably a cheesecloth and let drain for about 15-20 mins.

Reserve 1.5 cups for the mirror and use the rest for moistening the cake.

Now that the pre-preparation is through, move on to making the mock strawberry bavarian


Strawberry-flavored gelatin: 7.5 ounces/225 gms
Boiling water: 2 1/2 cups
Sour cream: 1 1/4 cup
Vanilla ice cream : 600 ml (the original recipe uses strawberry ice cream)
Lemon juice: 1 1/4 tbsp
Strawberries: 250 gms, chopped

A large bowl of ice


Place the jelly in a bowl and add the boiling water to it. Stir till the crystals dissolve. To this, add the sour cream and whisk until smooth.

Next add in the ice cream and mix until the ice cream has melted. Squeeze in the lemon juice and add the chopped strawberries.

Place the vessel over a bowl of ice and stir till the mixture just starts to thicken. Once that happens, take the bowl off the ice (don't throw away the ice, you are going to need it for the mirror) and start to assemble the gateau:

In a 10" springform pan, place one half of the cake. Drizzle some strawberry juice to moisten the cake. Layer half of the bavarian on top of the cake and refrigerate for 15 mins.

Repeat with the other layer of the cake and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

This is the last step, making the strawberry mirror.


Strawberry juice: 1.5 cups (yes, the one we set aside earlier)
Lemon juice: 1 tsp
Kirsh: 1 tbsp (I omit this)
Water: 1 tbsp (I use 2 tbsps)
Unflavoured gelatin: 1 tbsp
A few drops red food colouring (I omit this)


Place the lemon juice and water in a bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over the mixture and aside till the gelatin becomes soft and spongy.

Meanwhile, bring the juice to a simmer and pour it over the gelatin mixture. Stir to dissolve the gelatin. Add the colouring, if using.

Now place the mixture over a bowl of ice and stir till the mixture is syrupy and starts to thicken. As soon as it starts to thicken, remove the bowl from the ice. Scoop off any bubbles that may have formed while stirring and pour it over the top layer of the bavarian.

Refrigerate until the jelly sets.

To unmold, blow your hairdryer (YES! ) on its lowest setting all around the outside of the springform pan (you could even use a warm towel and run that on the outside of the pan) Then, run a spatula around the edge of the jelly to gently separate it from the sides of the pan - this step is most critical as the mirror could tear if it is stuck to the pan when you unlatch it.

The Strawberry Mirror Cake is a fitting end to a dinner party and so I am taking it along to Nupur's Potluck Party (the theme for this month's BB6).

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

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