Monday, September 28, 2009

Eggplants: Tickled Pickle

Whenever I see or taste something tickling to my tastebuds, I have this urge to go back home and recreate it. The eggplant pickle featured below was the outcome of tasting a gorgeous pickle made of eggplants (or brinjal or aubergine) at a dinner. Eggplants are great vegetables. They can be served simply just by frying them with a little salt, or made into any amount of elaborate dish by roasting, stuffing, baking. They just absorb spices so beautifully that its no wonder that all over Asia there are thousands of recipes with them. Their sizes also make them amenable to lot of different creations. For this recipe I picked small eggplants, about two to three inches long, rotund or leggy, only they must be bright, shiny purple without any bruise. On each eggplant I make a deep cross, extending upto a centimetre or so to stem. I like to salt them for half an hour just in case some of them are a little on the bitter side. This also allows a lot of water to drain out, which I am told makes the eggplants absorb less oil while frying. The salted eggplants are drained of their water by tissue papers, patted dry and then deep fried. In fact, the drawing out of the water considerably reduces the frying procedure since the eggplants soften much faster. The whole procedure of frying both sides takes just about ten minutes. Drain the eggplants on an absorbent paper but keep the oil. The next step is making the spice mix. I started with about 750gm eggplants, so the measure is for that amount.

For 750 gm small sized eggplant
4 Tablespoon salt for salting the eggplants

5 inch ginger, peeled
6 garlic cloves, peeled
3 dried chilli pods, deseeded
0.7 cup vinegar
Make a paste of the ginger, garlic, dried chilli and vinegar. I did this with the blender.

1/2 Tablespoon turmeric, usually comes as powder
1 Tablespoon black mustard
3/4 Tablespoon fenugreek
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Roast all the spices in a kadai/wok over medium heat without oil until the aroma comes off, about 2 minutes. Cool them. Grind them in a spice grinder. Mix them with the ginger-garlic-vinegar paste.

0.5 cup sugar
3/4 cup Kasundi or Indian prepared mustard
3/4 Tablespoon tamarind paste
Mix the kasundi, tamarind and sugar with a whisk.

Keep about 2 Tablespoon of oil left over from frying the eggplants in the kadai. Heat it. Put the ginger-garlic , spice and vinegar mix and saute for about 5-7 minutes. The oil should separate out. At this stage, add the kasundi-tamarind-sugar. Stir continously to dissolve the sugar. This takes about another 10 minutes. Cool the mixture completely. In the meantime, in sterilised bottle arrange the cooled, drained, fried eggplants so that their stems stick out at the mouth of the bottle. Pour the cooled spice paste. If the spice doesn't completely cover the eggplants add some oil from the kadai. Before putting on the lid the bottle must be allowed to come to room temperature. Close, upturn it once so that the stems see some of the spice! Store it at room temperature. I usually find it keeps longer in the refrigerator once I have opened it. The finished product does not look great, but it taste heavenly!
I love it with rice!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cinnamon bun

My brain always goes into an over-drive when somebody invites me to a special dinner. What should I take along? Shall I ask them so that it fits in with their menu? This was to be a Id celebration. So Yusra, who hails from Hyderabad would be sure to have a spread on. Morever, her mother-in-law had arrived recently, so it would be a dinner to rival all dinner!
So I settled on buns. An odd choice you think for bringing along to Id?
These buns have two types of fillings; one a classic cinnamon-sugar and the other a more
desi dates-coconut-ginger. The fondant in both cases was flavoured with apricot kernel.
The buns are made of a rich dough; eggs, butter, milk and raised with yeast. I love working with yeast. It sort of comes alive with time and it appeals to the biologist in me enormously!

I use live yeast which we are lucky to get at the Nilgiris Department Supermarkets in Chennai. Nothing wrong with dry yeast, only I am always anxious they won't rise!
I mix the warm milk, a pinch of sugar and crumble a teaspoon of yeast and leave it to rise for fifteen minutes or so. In the meantime, the rest of the sugar, softened butter, eggs are creamed together sequentially. Once they come together to form a creamy concoction (about 10 minutes at low beating speeds), I add the milk-yeast and whizz briefly. The liquids are then mixed into the dry ingredients, in this case measured flour and salt. I do all this with hand, but of course a food processor can be used too. The liquid is incoporated slowly while beating the batter continuously, until the whole of it is absorbed into the flour. Then comes the kneading part. This takes about ten minutes, so I tend to move out of my hot kitchen, stand under a fan to do this. This is a great dough to work with since the butter and eggs makes it quite oily. The dough is left to its own devices for about two hours (longer doesn't harm either). At this stage, I popped it nto the refrigerator. Of course, the dough needs to be warmed for a couple of hours for the next stage in that case.
This time I made two fillings for the buns so after the dough had doubled in bulk, I divided it into two balls. I also incorporated the some of the chopped dates into one half of the dough at this stage. While the dough had been rising, I had made the fillings; the recipes are given below. I take each dough and roll it out on a flour-sprinkled surface into a rectangle. The size really doesn't matter so much as long as the thickness is around half inch. The rectangular shape is important though. Let the rolled out dough rest for about five minutes. Spread the fillings upto the edge. Roll up into a log shape. The fillings will appear as a spiral. With the seam side down, I cut the logs, each into one and half inch pieces. And rest the pieces for five minutes or so.
The butterpaper on the oven tray was oiled and then carefully each piece was transfered. Its important to make sure that the seam is firmly closed at this stage, otherwise the spiral tends to unwind during its second rising. From each log I had got eight buns. This was perfect for my small 16 litre oven. Just enough space to between each bun to let them expand in girth. Between each there must be about half inch gap.
The waiting part now is always tedious. I always want the buns to hurry up! Another two hours or so and they are ready to be popped into the oven. 180 degrees for 25 minutes is what these buns got. Half-way through the process I turn the tray around so as to allow for equal exposure to heat.
Only the fondant now remained. The sugar and milk with the apricot kernel were melted to prepare the fondant while the buns were being browned. In about ten minutes after the buns came out I drizzled with the whisk I had been using to dissolve the sugar-milk, some drops of the fondant. I let the drops coagulate and cool completely before serving.

Yeast Buns
Adapted from "Hot Cross Buns", The New Complete Book of Breads
Makes 16 small buns

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup softened butter
2 eggs at room temperature
1 cup warm milk
3 -4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon live yeast
1 teaspoon salt

1/2 Tablespoon chopped dates for half the dough

Cinnanon Sugar filling
3 and half Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Just mix them together thoroughly.

Coconut-ginger-date filling
3 Tablespoon finely shredded coconut
3 Tablespoon finely chopped dates
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger
Mix them up thoroughly. I use my fingers to make sure that everything is well mixed. You can use a grinder too.

1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon milk
Ground flour from 4 apricot kernels
Melt the sugar in the milk completely. Mix in the apricot kernel flour to make it into a thick cream.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Of Peppers and Spice

One of my friends had been to China recently. On hearing that food stores do have some things written in English I asked him to get some Sechuan pepper. He put in tenacious effort in tracking down the real Sechuan pepper, " huajiao fen". That's what culminated in today's Chinese style dinner. Thanks, Nadeem! I may be blogging about it, but the real foodie is the one who went to multiple supermarkets and squinted at any number of condiments in his effort to bring the right spice! The Chinese five spice powder used in the Veggie dish was powdered in a mortar and pestle minutes before being added to the dish. The mixed vegetables were accompanied by another first for me, dimsums filled with chicken filling. They came out rather well, so I have included their picture though dumpling images on the internet are dime a dozen. The images were taken by my husband, Sitabhra.
The dimsum recipe was from Chinese steamed dumplings in Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads. I use this book a lot. The recipes work for me everytime!
Below is the Five spice powder mix composition. It works with a lot of dishes, but I like it particularly with mixed vegetables and rubbed on fish fillet.

2 star anise
1 Tb spoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon Sechuan paper
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon cloves

Dry roast the ingredients until they give out a whiff of their aromatic oils.
Grind into powder. Cool and store.
Incidentally, I later on found that Sechuan pepper is used in Indian cooking quite frequently and goes under the name of "Triphal" on the Konkan coast where it is frequently paired with fish! So next time I run out of this spice I know now where to approach!