Friday, October 28, 2016

2 quick dessert recipes for Diwali | quark cheese mousse with candied berries and lemon- vanilla paneer doughnuts


Winter starts with a promise of festivities. Everyone starts warming up for more and more shopping just as the nip in the air hits our skin. Yes, shopping for home, shopping for loved ones and shopping for more festive food. 

The shopping is at it's peak at Diwali time as all kind of products are launched or heavy discounts given to lure the consumer. While one can manufacture more cars, more mobile phones and more television sets I never understand how so much 'festive' food comes into the market overnight. All this festive food used to be mostly milk based in older times but even now the traditional festive food includes mithais and desserts of all types. 

Diwali festivities

I remember no one used to buy any milk products during Diwali back home, especially khoya even though a dedicated khoya gali in Banaras does brisk business, just because we always doubted where is all this khoya coming from. So we either made khoya at home or depended on mithais that don't need khoya like besan ka laddu and shakkarpara. Or we will make sondesh, kheer, rabdi and malpua etc. with the milk we used to get from the neighborhood milkman.

But we don't have the luxury of the neighborhood milkman now. Most city dairies procure milk from faraway corners of the country and have good quality control so we can trust them fairly. 

I asked Mr. Anant Choudhary, Director, Freshmen's Valley, a dairy brand based in Moradabad that distributes throughout Uttarakhand and western UP,  about how they ensure good quality milk. He said that their objective is to create an amalgam of traditional values and high-end technology. He informed how they are using robust procedure of quality checks and measures coupled with international testing standards at the reception (or milk) level. They source their milk from Terai region of Himalayas which has the best milk fat and SNF, ensuring good quality milk.

I think it is better to get milk and milk products from reputed dairy brands and make all the desserts and mithais using those. I am sharing two dessert recipes using yogurt (dahi) and paneer that we easily get without the concerns of adulteration.

The recipe using plain dahi (cultured yogurt) is the quark cheese mousse with candied berries.

 quark cheese mousse with candied berries

ingredients 
(serves 6 or more)

1 kilo dahi (plain yogurt)  
200 gm fresh cream 
75 gm candied mixed berries or try sun dried strawberries  
1/4 tsp of pure vanilla extract
fresh fruit for garnish (optional) 

procedure 

Whisk the dahi and fresh cream together and let it rest for an hour at room temperature (27-30C). 

Now line a strainer with cheesecloth and pour the dahi and cream mix into it. Let the whey drain keeping this apparatus in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight. Once the whey is drained completely the quark cheese is ready.

Now chop the candied or sun dried berries finely and fold into the quark cheese with a light hand. Spoon this mousse into serving glasses, pour some strawberry preserve over it and garnish with a slice of any fresh fruit in season.
 
 quark cheese mousse with candied berries

Chill well before serving. This quark mousse with candied berries stays well in the fridge for 2 days.

Gluten free lemon and vanilla doughnuts made with paneer.  

The round donuts made with paneer are very soft inside with a nice crisp crust that holds. I adapted this recipe loosely from here, replacing ricotta with paneer along with some more adjustments and the result was very encouraging. 

Lemon and vanilla being a favourite flavouring these gluten free donuts will be made frequently for sure. More because it responded well to shallow frying in a Paniyaram pan (or Ebelskiver pan), I used drizzle of ghee to make the crust brown while the crumb remained soft and melting even after the donut rising to almost double it's volume.

*You can deep fry these in hot ghee or oil too.


ingredients 
(makes about 25 round donuts)

for batter
150 gm paneer 
120 ml fresh cream 
5 tbsp besan (chickpea flour) 
2 tbsp sugar
zest and juice of one large lime 
1 tsp pure vanilla extract 
1/4 tsp soda bicarb 

for glaze 
2-3 tbsp powdered sugar  
juice of one lime 

about 2 tbsp ghee for shallow frying. *More if you want to deep fry.*

procedure 

Crumble the paneer with fingers and mix it with the ingredients listed for batter. Blend this mix in a mixie blender or your food processor till it becomes a smooth batter. The consistency has to be like a cake batter.

Now grease the paniyaram pan with ghee and heat it. Pour about a tablespoon batter into each depression and let it get crisp from one side while the donuts fluff up. Turn each one of them with the help of chopsticks or a thin stick. Even the tip of a knife works well for this purpose. Drizzle more ghee to cook the donuts nicely.

Fry more batches the same way. Keep the flame medium while frying the donuts.

Mix the powdered sugar with lemon juice in the meanwhile and whisk till it makes a thick glaze that can be poured.

Collect all the donuts in a serving bowl and drizzle the lemon glaze generously and uniformly all over the donuts. 

Serve warm or hot. These donuts tastes good enough even after they were cold at room temperature but it is the best when hot.


It is better to fry these donuts after finishing the meal if you are planning to serve as a dessert. Hot paneer donuts drizzled with lime glaze are really a delight. The firm and crisp crust gives way to a melt in your mouth crumb and that makes one addictive dessert. But since it is low on sugar and ghee and gluten free too, you can have a second helping without a feeling of guilt.

* If you are planning to deep fry these donuts, reduce the amount of fresh cream to half and drop spoonfuls of thick batter in hot ghee or oil to fry. Keep the flame medium to cook them thoroughly and serve hot.

Make this paneer donut if you want something hot and the quark mousse if you are the one who likes chilled desserts. These healthy options for Diwali desserts will be great even if you don't have much time left for making something nice for the family.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Stop gifting junk for festivals, care for the planet and gift organic food and ingredients | 11 organic food gifts you can source directly from farmers


The great Indian season of festivals is on. We have slayed one festival (ahh that was Ravan) already and gearing up for another, the one that celebrates the arrival of the God, wealth and knowledge, light and awakening, Diwali, when we decorate our homes and light lamps of all types.

Diwali gifts

For the last 2 decades Diwali has become a festival that makes the lives of asthmatics difficult and most of us feel sick of the pollution caused by the firecrackers. Our family has not been lighting any firecrackers since around 1989 when my younger brother came home one day saying we wont do any firecrackers since they cause air pollution. We were not into firecrackers even before that but a customary phuljhadi and anar (both sparklers) were brought to usher in Diwali every year, we realised the customs can be changed with changing times.

We can't afford to pollute our surroundings even more.

But it is not just the firecrackers that cause pollution, a lot of plastic waste and other types of solid waste is also generated during Diwali. One walk through the markets around Diwali and we can observe how the tradition of gift exchange during this festival has become more and more trashy, literally so. Carton packs of soft drinks, plastic bottles of artificially coloured and synthetically sweetened drinks, a sea of crackers and cookies in shiny plastic packages and more shiny wrapping keeps luring people to buy more and gift more.

gift ideas

All markets target more and more sales, cheap products and shiny packaging helps sometimes. As consumers we need to take stock of the situation. If it is food we need to be alert and aware all the more.

Deeply concerned about all such reasons I thought of asking a few of my farmer friends how they would revolutionize Diwali gifting if they had to offer their own produce as Diwali gifts. How wonderful it will be if we all started supporting the farmers directly by ordering our Diwali gifts also from them.

gift ideas
The suggestions by the farmers friends who grow organic food have been listed below. I think these produce are impressive as gifts, and support the farmers who are struggling to get market for small quantities they grow.
1. Cold pressed oils. Many farmers grow oil seeds and getting cold pressed oils directly from them for home consumption as well as gifting is a great idea. Good quality ghee is also difficult to get so if you know someone who makes it, better make good use of it.

cooking oils
    2. Single origin or wild honey, neem, mustard or multi-flora honey is also a great gift. Many farmers do beekeeping as it helps their crops in pollination too. Some farmers make their own jaggery too, we can find them if we try harder.

    alternative real sweeteners
    3. Some artisan quality healthy products like Malted ragi drink, fresh sattu (roasted chikpea flour) etc are some of the products that are not available easily in the markets but you can trust your farmer friends. For unpolished lentils, local rice varieties and pearl barley etc I find my farmer friends absolutely reliable.

    spices and healthy flours
    4. Millets of the season. Yes the fresh millets are a delight to cook. For ages we used to get dusty and rancid millets because they were stored poorly, the reason being millets were being marketed only as bird feed and few humans cared about them. Now more farmers are growing them and one can get fresh millets to know how good they are. Include some red or purple rice varieties grown in India and may be Amaranth, Buckwheat and pearl Barley to the mix.

    millets
    5. Spice blends and individual spices that the farmer is growing. I am just back from a coffee estate where pepper is grown as a secondary crop and the pepper is so good it is the best pepper I have ever had.

    spices
    6. Healthy processed foods like peanut butter, tahini, fruit preserves, sun dried tomatoes and vegetables etc can be sources from farmers you know. Try and find out more you will actually bump into many such organic farmers. I have seen Jimmy's kitchen in Chanakyapuri Organic Farmer's market and his nut butters are nice.

    nut butter and preserve

    You can get some jams, marmalades or preserves made by some home cook too. See this spiced amla jam that went for a gift hamper of Eat With India this season, along with the kanji. Eat with India is promoting regional cuisines and home cooks in several innovative ways.

    gift ideas
    7. Get your tea and coffee from plantation owners directly. Yes it is worth it for everyday consumption as well as for festive gifting.

    Once you start sourcing the non perishable ingredients directly from the farmers located in all corners of the country, you would know how we are shortchanged for the value of our hard earned money. The quality of good produce speaks for itself.

    brewed coffee in a dawra mug
    8. Dried herbs and flowers for making teas, tisanes and herb blends of your own. Like these Parijat flowers can be dried and made into a healing tisane.

    parijat tea/tisane

    One can get different flowers and spices mixed with green tea to make a new aromatic tea blend. All organic farmers grow a variety of flowers and fruits because maintaining a good diversity at the farms and plantation helps improve productivity in many ways. So you will find that a millet farmer can also send you good quality herbs, dried flowers and some fruits in season.

    herbs and tea blends

    We can just trust the farmer friends to send us whatever they grow in the season. This way we can get a unique blend every time and the flexibility to mix and match the flavours.

    herbs and tea blends
    9. Seeds and garden starter kits can be great gifts for the green thumbs you know. And of course kids can learn gardening if you gift them such novel, unusual and yet thoughtful gifts. Or you can gift potted plants and micro greens starter kit.

    gardening

    10. Seeds and nuts are the best Diwali gifts and one can buy them from source too most of the times. The power of the internet is admirable in such times when you search for farmers and orchard owners who grow nuts and fruits in the mountains or even peanuts and sesame somewhere in arid regions.

    hazelnuts

    Yes we get good Hazelnuts too grown in India. There are orchards and forests in the Himalayan region where you get to see such things.

    All we have to do is to look around we can find anything. And if we don't find it was not meant for us, yes that means it is no grown in the country.

    11. The best gift of the season is here. A friend Nina Sengupta has published a coloring book that illustrates edible weeds and flowers that will make a great gift for adults and kids alike. You can order the book from here.

    Now you have a good list of ingredients and resources, picking up gifts for healthy living will be easier now I am sure.

    I am listing the farmers and retailers and will share that soon on the blog. You can get in touch with them directly and order their specialty stuff either for gifting or for personal use.

    Don't forget to tell me if you really think that a compilation of organic food sources will help you here.

    Hope these gifting ides helps make better decisions when you buy food for yourself and for friends and family as gifts.


    Wednesday, October 26, 2016

    green (agasti leaves) kulcha bread and a wrap stuffed with egg avocado salad | egg salad recipe with avocado


    I have not been baking my sourdough loaf breads but the sourdough is being used nonetheless. With all my finger and wrist joints stiff and painful the usual breads are still not possible for me but I have found a help who can cook basic things. The first thing I taught her to make the sourdough kulchas and the nifty quinoa salads. I am happy with this for now.

    While I have been making breads and parathas with spinach, methi, bathua and even dill greens the discovery of Agasti or Agastya leaves (Sesbania grandiflora or Humming bird tree) as a fairly tasty greens led me to make sourdough kulcha with this unusual leafy green. The Agasti leaves smell a little bitter when being boiled but once kneaded in a dough one can make nice rotis and kulchas.

    green (agasti leaves) kulcha bread and a wrap stuffed with egg avocado salad

    Kulcha is a leavened flatbread. I make sourdough kulchas the old fashioned way. Adding Agasti leaves to the sourdough kulcha is convenient as you are saved from making an extra dish with the leaves if you want to incorporate them in your diet.

    My friend Sneh who runs Tijara Organic farm brought me some Agasti leaves when she came visiting saying it will be good for my joint pain and stiffness after Chikunguniya. It is fairly rich in Calcium and iron along with many other minerals, almost like Drumstick leaves.

    agasti leaves

    Agasti leaves can be boiled and pureed and be added to anything you wish. If you add a bit of this puree to regular palak paneer or black chickpeas curry or even some green soup it doesn't alter the taste of the food. I found huge bunches of the Agasti leaves being sold in vegetable markets when I visited Tamilnadu earlier this month.

    agasti leaves

    Back to the sourdough kulcha now, if you don't have sourdough starter you can make it with fresh or dry yeast. This green kulcha has a faint grassy taste but the nutty flavours of whole grains and the sourdough taste make it interesting.

    The filling of egg salad with avocado and mustard tasted really nice with it.

    green (agasti leaves) kulcha bread and a wrap stuffed with egg avocado salad

    ingredients
    1/2 cup sourdough starter
    1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    1/2 cup jowar flour
    1/4 cup agasti leaves puree (steamed without water and pureed when cold)
    2 tsp oil of choice 
    salt to taste

    preparation

    Mix everything together and knead a firm dough adding a little more water if needed. Kead with oil smeared on hands in the final couple of minutes. Let the dough rest in a warm place till doubled in size.

    Knead one more time, divide into 6-7 balles, smoothen and arrange on a plate. Brush with oil and let it rise while you heat the griddle.  Yes these are griddle baked but you can bake them in the oven too.

    Roll each ball into a pizza base like manner and slap on hot griddle. Let one side get cooked while the bread fluffs up and gets thicker. Flip and cook on the other side till done. Make all the kulchas like this and keep warm in a napkin.

    Arrange the egg salad or any other salad over the kulcha, fold and enjoy the flavours.

    Recipe of the egg salad with avocado
    --------------------------------------------------------------

    ingredients 
    (for 2 servings)
    4 hard boiled eggs
    1 cup cubed avocado
    one large ripe tomato cubed
    few baby mustard or radish leaves or any sharp flavoured leafy green 

    for dressing
    minced green chilli and garlic as per taste
    1 tsp mustard oil or extra virgin olive oil
    salt to taste
    lime juice to taste

    preparation

    Mix the dressing ingredients and whisk. Add everything else and toss to mix. Serve immediately.

    eggs and avocado salad

    The green kulcha or even plain kulcha tastes great with this beets and soy nuggets stir fry salad. Try is sometime to know how easy it is to make though it sounds complicated.

    green sourdough kulcha wrap

    For me the whole grain flat breads work better as I always make in small batches. These green kulchas can be used as a wrap or to soak up the stews and curries.

    Cut the green kulcha into wedges and toast them all till crisp. Use the kulcha crackers to scoop up some nice hummus, a lentil soup or even some chokha. Bread is just the base.



    Sunday, October 9, 2016

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitness | recipe of protein packed dates and nuts laddu


    Being skinny has become such an obsession that people get into the trap of anorexia and even depression if they can't get a body identical to a model or film star they follow. All the well rounded people are seen as uncool and any layer of visible fat is sacrilege.

    I see this extreme obsession with the body image is more common in women as they are constantly trying to prove their worth in every way and being well rounded means they haven't been good enough. I believe no one should stay in the trap of others' opinions about themselves, although all of us might have been into that phase at one point of time in our lives. Some of us get out of this phase very early and some of us need more time to realise our self worth.

    But why am I talking about body shape and self worth today? Because I have known a girl who defies this very norm every single day. She has been a swimmer all her life, goes for hiking, cycling tours and rappelling and is fit to the boot, she has a real strong body that doesn't fit into a skinny mould. And she gives two hoots to those who think differently.

    Oh and she has had her share of personal life struggles as well. Those she has kicked aside easily now.

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes

    Meet Pankaja Date from Bombay. I have known her for a few years now and am very fond of her. For years I have been thinking of featuring Pankaja on my blog so that you all can see how real food fuels an athlete and how an athlete can excel in her sport even though there are a few pounds extra on her body. 

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes

    When I got to know Pankaja has joined a new job and has started going to her office by cycle, I couldn't stop anymore and asked her to tell me how she manages it all. I mean going to your workplace in cycling gear might be a deterrent and you might feel that all the cycling would exhaust you for the whole working day ahead.

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes

    Pankaja has a more realistic story to tell. She feels more energetic when she cycles to work. Isn't tat amazing? Well, we would say it is the serotonins doing their work but the first step is not fired by serotonin. We have to take that first step and walk a bit to realise how it works.

    Read on how she found cycling in her childhood and how she manages cycling to work, in her own words.

    My grandmother had, in her garage in Pune, an old gents’ bicycle, which my mother and uncles had used, and when she saw me eyeing it, she was only too glad to have it sent over to us in Mumbai. It helped that we lived in institutional premises, where there were a lot of open spaces, and  I learned cycling the standard way: pedaling like my life depended on it, while my brother ran behind lightly holding the seat, yelling instructions. A bunch of crashes in the bushes, when I forgot the brakes, and I was ready to go.  
    In the third decade of my life, it was my vehicle of choice, when I had to travel some distance, working as a assistant swimming coach, at dawn, every alternate day. 
    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes
     In the last two years, I have come to enjoy two activities : running and cycling.  No sprints, but long distances. Running is possible because currently, there are places where I may run without  any four wheelers coming in my way.  
    I bought a gearless BTWIN bike  2 years ago,  when I kept getting a buzz in my head about long distance cycling.  I just went to the mall, looked at bikes, and brought one home in a auto, to the complete consternation of my parents.  
    This bike has gone places. Yes, it is a struggle on inclines, but gearless, makes you stronger. 
    I have done several 100 kms cycle trips, half way to Pune, some even along the western coast. A trip in Mumbai itself can cover as much s 70 kilometres over a round trip. 

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes

    Most of these trips are early morning dawn trips, and some are all night rides in Mumbai, to its southern trip, with stops at heritage places and all night food places. All these being done with a set of folks from the growing cycling groups in the suburbs of Mumbai.
    When I started work in Mumbais' most popular western suburb business district, I originally started with a bus and train commute, which was 2 hours each way. Not to mention, crowds, shoving, pushing and running to catch connecting buses and trains, and getting stuck in traffic. 
    I am part of a local bike group, that has people of all ages, from 18 to 56. There are some like a lawyer, who commutes to work daily on his bike, to the same area where my office is located and even further.  My inspiration to cycle-to-work was these folks. 

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes
     I decided to start.
    Biking involves specific type of clothes, and other paraphernalia. The ability to carry sufficient fluids on your bike. A helmet is compulsory;  don’t know if there is a law, but good sense decrees that you wear a helmet. I always carry a  reflective jacket of a bright yellow color and a pink rain jacket during monsoon times. The reflective yellow is mandatory at night, and my cycle too is fitted with blinking lights that alert other people on the road. 
    Most workplaces in Mumbai do not have a bath facility, but almost all have a clothes changing place available.  (The aforementioned lawyer works in a place with a bathing facility and is one of the few lucky folks) 
    I  ride with my paraphernalia in my backpack. My jackets, my  purse, my lunch dabba , and sometimes, my DSLR camera, though it is better to keep the load lighter. These days I carry a change of clothes /kurta/leggings/freshen-up stuff  too. 
    It takes me 50 minutes to cover the distance of 20 kilometres, which includes, all kinds of slopes, flyovers, highways, service roads and main roads.  
    While it is becoming commoner and commoner to see folks riding bikes, some folks on the road feel they need to react.  Things are clearly different when you ride in a group, and when you are doing a solo ride.
    Mostly, everyone stares.  
    It isn't everyday that you see a girl in cycling shorts, emblazoned top, reflective /ordinary jacket, and a funny helmet cycling by.  Nowadays, thanks to the Mumbai pollution , I even wear a good quality fancy mask, which attracts more stares.
    Then there are those on four wheels, who kind of pass by you at a closer distance than normal.    Some feel the need to communicate, and continuously honk as they overtake you.  It appears a law against honking is happening. I hope these types get pulled up.
    I  ignore all these folks, and concentrate on following traffic rules, road directions, signals, and weather indications. On dark monsoon days, the reflective/bright  jacket is very useful. 
    I park my bike in the two wheeler parking in the office building , and the lock it as well as tie it up with a lock to the parking railing.  The first time I landed up at work in my bike avatar, people were thunderstruck. They couldn’t believe I cycled the distance.  I quickly changed,  freshened up, and got down to work. 
    Come evening, I change back into my bike clothes, and the first time I started back, the top boss was alarmed that I was planning to use the Western Express Highway, and urged me to be careful. I have tried various routes. Some of the shorter ones, have so much traffic in the evenings, that even bikes like mine cannot sneak through. One has to very alert and attentive, and avoid any kind of bravado . 
    By and large, I think people are very appreciative that one is making this effort to reduce pollution,  most people leave you alone on the road,  and one has to learn to ignore those that think intimidating solo girl riders on bicycles is fun. 
    No doubt there is a lot of staring happening. But I don't have the time to react.  

    fitness inspirations : real life heroes, real life fitnes
     I feel very fresh after I reach work, and there is no sense of fatigue. 
    In case you want to know about food and fluid intake, I just have a good breakfast of toast and 2 eggs. I carry water /Electral sachets, and my mother makes dry fruit sugar free laddoos for me to munch after a successful ride. The lunch box has the usual roti subzi and my mom packs a treat some days that could be a delicious alu vadi or kothimbir vadi, everything is home cooked. 

    lunch box
    ____________________________________________________________________________________

    You see how Pankaja finds it utterly simple. Being cautious about our own health and the health of the planet comes from a deeper consciousness and I am glad I know a few such people who inspire others in this regard.

    By the way, I asked Suranga Date, her mother for a recipe of the mixed nuts and dates laddu she makes and she obliged. The recipe is quite similar to what I make at home but I am sure I would steal a laddu from Pankaja's lunch box if given a chance. Well, I am not so lucky so I made the laddus myself to share the recipe with you all.

    Recipe of dates and nuts laddu 

    dates and nuts refined sugar free laddu

    Ingredients
    100 gm almonds chopped
    100 gm cashews chopped
    100 gm walnuts chopped
    250 gm date paste
    50 gm poppy seeds
    25 gm ghee

    procedure 
    Heat the ghee and fry the chopped almonds and cashew. Let them become a little aromatic and crisp before adding walnuts.
    Fry at a low flame for a couple of minutes and add the date paste. Now keep stirring the mix at low flame till the mixture dehydrates a little and date paste get caramelized. Turn off the heat when the mixture gets dehydrated enough to make balls or laddus.
    Let the mixture get a little cold and then make the laddus pressing small portions in your palms and shaping dense balls.
    Roll the balls in poppy seeds and arrange on a plate. Repeat to make all the laddus and keep them in an airtight container. 

    These laddus stay good for a week at room temperature but since soft dates can get contaminated easily owing to their high moisture content, it is better to keep this refrigerated.
    One laddu as a protein snack is great after workout snack or any time of the day when you feel like eating something sweet.
    ___________________________________________________________________________________

    All pictures of Pankaja are provided by her. 

    Friday, October 7, 2016

    a tribute to Parmigiano-Reggiano at Sorrento, Shangri-La's Eros Hotel


    My soups are often laced with a smidgen of Parmesan rind. The Parmesan cheese rind or skin still holds some cheese and once cooked with a soup stock it lends wonderful flavour. So whenever I finish a wedge of good Parmesan I save the rind and add it to stock. You know this is partly for the love of the cheese, partly because my kitchen has a policy of minimal waste going out and partly because of my middle class Indian upbringing that believes in upturning the oil tins and bottles till the last drop is collected. We never waste food.

    And of course cheese is such a precious ingredient, a cheese like Parmesan is imported and it's wastage means disrespect for the cost we pay as our larger footprint. 

    So if I get to experience a meal that plays with Parmesan in all courses, I would definitely not be missing it. Chef Luigi and Chef Neeraj Tyagi at Sorrento (Shangri-La's Eros Hotel) designed a menu as a tribute to Parmigiano-Reggiano and I had to go as I heard Chef Luigi brought different aged Parmesan cheeses (12 months, 24 months and 36 months old) from Italy by himself. We don't get aged Parmesan here easily so this meal at Sorrento was a revealing experience as well.


    Our meal started with a salad of mixed variety tomatoes that had shavings of 24 month old Parmesan and foam of 12 month old Parmesan. Garnished with micro greens and balsamic jelly this salad was a delight. 

    This was followed by Culatello paired with 3 types of Parmesan aged 12 months, 24 months and 36 months along with sweet chili jam, sweet balsamic and mustard. The matured cheese evidently more strong and brittle, the combination was delicious.

    Among the pasta the Ravioli was my favourite, stuffed with 24 month old Parmesan creme brulee. It was garnished well with flavours to complement the ravioli wonderfully.

    Risotto with stewed duck leg was another delicious rendition of 36 month old Parmesan where the cheese was converted into gelato to top the risotto. This became the best risotto of my life easily.



    Another main course that was a chicken leg cooked sous vide and then in wood fired oven was a surprise package. It was stuffed with 24 month old Parmesan served with a delicious Saracena Moscato sauce and spinach. 

    We had picked a white Italian wine (Masi Levarie Soave Classico) with this meal that was dry and crisp, paired really well with the Parmesan loaded meal.

    Desserts were 12 month old Parmesan cheesecake with 24 month old Parmesan gelato, served with fruits. I had a bite and loved it despite my dislike for cheesecakes in general.


    The other dessert was Pizzo calabro tartufo with 24 month old Parmesan foam. Was nice for me but Arvind loved it and polished it off in a blink. 

    The meal finished off with a shot of Limoncello, the perfect end to a delectable experience.

    This promotion was on from 16th to 26th of September but Chef Luigi whips up wonderful food always at Sorrento. I love the fresh wood fired pizzas and Polenta dishes a lot at Sorrento.




    Wednesday, October 5, 2016

    organic food trends : The Earth menu at Fire, The Park, New Delhi



    It is always good to witness organic food being the center stage at a restaurant of a five star hotel.

    I know a few standalone restaurants across the country who are doing good business serving organic food or even millets as their core strength. It is very encouraging that such naturally grown seasonal foods are being recognized as a potential business idea too. It means there are people like me and you who are appreciating real food a little more than before.

    Although I believe organic food is just a small way we can save the environment, the way we consumers demand the kind of food is also very important so there is a harmony between what is being grown and what is being consumed. The organic farmers need to grow what grows best in their region without depending on too many natural resources and we as consumers must be aware of the local produce and their respective seasons and limitations in farming too.

    organic farm

    If we demand lettuce all year round it may force the farmers to depend on green houses, more consumption of electricity and fuel in order to water the lettuce and protect it from extreme heat. By the way Lettuce and other exotic salad greens are consumed mostly in the bigger cities and it is quite a task to bring it in special packaging because once it wilts it is useless. So much natural resources spent on growing the salad greens that need more fuel and electricity to maintain the freshness till it reaches the consumer and then if it wilts at the last step or in our own refrigerator it means a huge wastage of all the expenditure done to grow it. And the expenditure is not just in terms of money but the cost of a larger carbon footprint.

    Why not be aware of the season and consume the salad greens when they are in season?

    That is why I was quite pleased to see some fresh spinach leaves and the arugula that grow comparatively easily in this climate, on my plate at Fire, the iconic restaurant at The Park here in Delhi. Everything locally grown and sourced from organic farmers, the Burrata in this salad comes from Father Michael of Bangalore and the micro greens are grown in-house, at the terrace of the hotel indeed. 

    The Earth menu at Fire, The Park, New Delhi

    Well, the Burrata could have also been sourced locally but I see it as a positive beginning of the idea of locally grown organic food. Chef Abhishek Basu told me they have made a list of organic farmers and suppliers who are part of their regular supply chain now and they are receiving great response for the guests for this menu, which they have aptly named as The Earth menu.

    You will find really nice Prawns tossed in Bhoot jolokia sauce, plump tiger prawns from coastal Gujarat and the hot chillies form Assam, coming together to represent a truly Indian menu. There are a few things that are difficult to source organically grown and this menu doesn't claim to be 100% organic, the intention is to let the guests know about where the food comes from.

    The Earth menu at Fire, The Park, New Delhi

    I quite liked the mutton sukka that was made using free range goat meat. You can taste the difference between farmed and free range meat indeed. I had requested podi smeared idli and that was my favourite that day.

    The Earth menu at Fire, The Park, New Delhi

    The spicy pandi curry and a broccoli tikki etc are some of the things you might like to try, the tasting menu comes in multiple courses served in small portions so you can have the idea of the rich variety it packs in.

    It is in fact pleasant to see a menu that doesn't depend upon the coloured bell peppers, green and yellow zucchini and loads of lettuce for garnish. A crisp fried curry leaf can be a great garnish that lends taste too, something that is available throughout the year and can be used for a menu that has to maintain consistency.

    I wish great luck to Chef Basu and his team, it is a great effort and and I see it will restore our faith in real food being sustainable even for the luxury hotels.

    I am so glad local and seasonal, organically grown food is not just a trend that fizzles out on its own. It is here to stay and I already see a lot of hotels and restaurants finding their own ways of serving either a farm to table experience or going for organic produce mostly.

    PS: the food pictures are provided by The Park. I went to taste the menu at a time when I couldn't even handle the camera after the chikunguniya induced joint stiffness.

    Sunday, October 2, 2016

    Why turmeric latte? The best turmeric milk is more than that | How to make delicious turmeric milk, the golden milk from India


    I know turmeric latte has become a rage worldwide and all of us in India have been quite amused with this trend. The haldi wala doodh has been a tradition all over India to boost immunity and for pain relief. Whenever someone had an injury a glass of hot haldi wala doodh was brought by some or the other aunts after the initial dressing and stuff, those aunts and grandmothers knew that turmeric is anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antiseptic all at once.

    best turmeric milk recipe

    But most of the people I know have hated the taste of haldi wala doodh with all their might. I agree it can taste really awful if made wrongly.

    Made the right way the haldi wala doodh can earn fans instantly. Call it the turmeric latte and people might take interest in tasting it for the first time too. The health quotient of turmeric cannot be questioned of course.

    turmeric

    Most people just heat some turmeric powder with milk and have it hot or warm. That tastes awful and doesn't even help the cause much, even though turmeric is effective even in small doses. We Indians use turmeric everyday for our curries and the curry spices have been known to have therapeutic values.

    The curcumin in turmeric shows increased bio-avalability in the presence of piperine, one of the active compound of black pepper. Also, it works best if consumed at warm temperature. It is best to combine turmeric with a pinch of pepper because it is anti-carcinogenic too.

    best recipe of turmeric latte

    This combination of turmeric and pepper works even better with some cinnamon and nutmeg added to the turmeric milk. Do try if you need a mood enhancer, much like coffee but so much better, as curcumin's involvement with serotonin and dopamine system. Not just a mood enhancer but it works like a potent antidepressant if taken regularly. (see study)

    The Indian masala dabba is a store house of wonderful healing ingredients, knowing more about them is a blessing that we can acquire.

    recipe of haldi wala doodh for healing


    recipe of the haldi wala doodh, turmeric latte or golden milk, whatever you wish to call it...

    ingredients
    (2 servings)
    1 tsp turmeric 
    a generous pinch of pepper powder 
    pinch of cinnamon powder (optional but recommended)
    pinch of ginger powder or more if you like
    half a pinch of nutmeg powder (or grate a whole nutmeg lightly)
    1 tsp ghee 
    1 cup full fat milk
    1 cup water 
    sugar, jaggery or honey to taste 

    procedure
    Mix the milk and water together and bring to simmer. This is important as simmering milk when mixed with hot turmeric mix cooked in ghee makes a smooth emulsion with very little sedimentation of the turmeric solids.

    You can use 2 cups milk and omit water but I feel it gets a bit too heavy that way.

    Now heat the ghee in a pan and tip in the turmeric powder. Keep the flame low and let the turmeric powder get cooked for a couple of seconds, till it gets aromatic. Now take the pan off the heat and sprinkle the other spice powders, mix well by shaking the pan a little or using a spatula. 

    Pour the hot milk and water mix over this pan and bring to a light boil. Take off heat, add the sweetener of your choice and serve immediately.

    haldi wala doodh
      
    This haldi wala doodh or turmeric latte as the western world knows it, is the best nightcap during winter months. I have been having it regularly these days as I need to treat the chikunguniya related joint pain and stiffness. It has helped but the pain remains for some time as my doctor says. 

    haldi wala doodh

    I must admit that this helped me get out of the depression that had started setting I after 2 weeks of severe sickness, I had not been able to get up and and even sit for a while or read my books. I usually get depressed when I am sick as being a workaholic I am deprived of the things that charge me up. Thankfully this spiced turmeric milk helped.

    Coming back to the benefits of haldi wala doodh, the ghee in this recipe helps dissolve all the active compounds (curcuminoids) as we are using it to make an emulsion of milk, water and fat. Note that we add hot diluted milk to the hot ghee mixed with turmeric and other spices, this makes the ingredients emulsify better. 

    Sometimes I steep grated and dried turmeric in hot water along with crushed pepper and sip on it like tea. This turmeric 'tea' has a mild taste and makes a great pot of tea to keep by the work table. For this I grated fresh turmeric roots and sun dry it for a day or two, it keeps well in a glass mason jar.

    turmeric tea

    In this recipe the benefits of turmeric are limited though it still makes a healthy pot of tea to keep sipping on while working.

    Use turmeric the way you like it. Curries are the best to get multiple benefits of the spice blends but I realise we don't eat curries everyday now. The stir fries have become more common as those are quick and light.

    More the reason to replace one of your daily chai or coffee with turmeric milk.

    The mix of milk and ghee  make the perfect vehicle to get the curcumin bio-available. Why not take advantage of the ancient wisdom and heal ourselves?

    Do you like turmeric milk or turmeric latte? Has golden milk been your golden way of healing? Try this recipe if you have been wanting to make your own cuppa turmeric milk and the taste has been a deterrent.  You can come and thank me later.