Archive for January 2008

Yogurt (Dahi)

January 30, 2008

Yogurt or dahi is a critical ingredient in daily Indian cooking and has been a staple for centuries. It is used in lassi, raita, kadhi (a yogurt chickpea flour soup) and sweets made out of yogurt cheese. Recently my son asked why I choose to make yogurt at home when I can easily buy a variety of yogurts at the supermarket. The simple answer is I like to make things difficult for me! While my son might think that’s actually true, the real answer is I first started making yogurt when it was difficult for me to travel a long distance just to get simple plain yogurt.

I thought I’d share this yogurt recipe today in part because a friend had recently asked for it, but also because it is a reminder of that fateful day 20 years ago that turned my life upside down. On January 30, 1988, I was involved in a traumatic car accident that left me partially paralyzed. Despite being in a coma, I can still vividly remember that sunny winter Saturday.

That Saturday I woke up at 4 AM, which was usual for me due to how hectic my weekends tended to be. Before the car accident, I operated a daycare business during the weekdays and also spent time volunteering for other organizations, which resulted in my weekends being filled with errands for my family and business. I had a lot of errands to take care of that day but one thing I did before running those errands was make dahi. After that, I went out and before I knew what happened I was in the hospital for two months. Upon awakening from my coma I began a twenty year journey where I’ve done my best to live with SCI (spinal cord injury). Given how precious life is, I thought today’s recipe would be a nice way to celebrate the fact that I made it through that accident with my life.

Yogurt
4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons plain yogurt or active yogurt culture

1) Bring the whole milk to a boil in a saucepan, stirring constantly. Keep a close watch at this point or you may risk boiling over the stove. Let the milk cool until it feels lukewarm (about 100-110 F). It is handy to have a candy thermometer here. Place the yogurt in a 2-quart bowl and whisk until fairly smooth.
2) Slowly add in the lukewarm milk and gently stir to mix. Cover the bowl and keep it in a draft free place overnight, preferably in the oven with the setting off. It is extremely important that the boiled milk is not too warm when you add the active yogurt culture to it. Otherwise it will just curdle and separate from whey (the result – loss of the live bacteria or friendly bacteria as it often happens when yeast is added to very warm water).

Note: Just make sure the brand of yogurt you buy as a starter contains “live” or “active” cultures. Once the yogurt is ready it must be chilled in refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours before serving. Save some yogurt to use as a starter for the next batch. Plain yogurt will keep in the refrigerator for 10-14 days.

Variation: Follow the same method until the milk is lukewarm. Add the starter culture or active yogurt culture to milk and lightly whisk to combine. Place a fine-mesh sieve set over a 2-quart bowl and strain milk mixture through it. Remove the foam from top. Cover the bowl and keep it in the warm place (or preferably in the oven – control off) for about 5 to 8 hours or until yogurt is set. Yield: 1 quart

Advertisements

Sesame Candy

January 14, 2008

Happy Makar Sankranti!

When I was growing up in northern India my mother used to make a variety of sesame candies (til ka gajak) in the winter. These candies were prepared by grinding toasted black and white sesame seeds. What readers may find interesting is that this distinct combination of black and white sesame seeds resulted in a smooth, rich texture more akin to fudge than sesame brittle. Aside from my mother’s kitchen, the only other place I’ve tasted that type of candy was sesame halwa at one of my friends from the Middle East. I thought I would recognize Makar Sankranti Day by sharing my mother’s sesame candy recipe with readers.

Coincidentally, last year’s Makar Sankranti Day is when I began this blog! I really didn’t even realize it until I looked back on the recipes I have shared on this blog. This was mostly because 2007 was a whirlwind year for me since I was busy working on details related to one of the most important milestones of my life. Now that things have settled down, I’m hoping to post more recipes in 2008. As always, feel free to comment or ask any questions in the comment section.

Sesame Candy
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1/4 cup sesame flour (black or white sesame seeds)

1) Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and generously grease the foil with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Set aside.
2) Put the granulated sugar, honey, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and water in a small preferably heavy-bottomed saucepan.
3) Melt the sugar over medium high heat, stirring constantly with a long-wooden handle spoon. Keep stirring until sugar has completely dissolved. Reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook until the mixture turns a light caramel color. (Candy thermometer is quite handy tool to have here).
4) Add all the ingredients except butter, stirring constantly, until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Add the remaining butter and stir to mix. Remove from the heat and mix thoroughly. At this point the mixture will be quite foamy.
5) Carefully pour the mixture onto the greased baking sheet and spread evenly as thin as possible with a heatproof rubber spatula before it hardens. Score in diamond or desired shapes while the mixture is still warm or when the candy is hard; break into pieces and transfer it to an airtight container and store at room temperature.

Rice Singal

January 6, 2008

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had a pleasant and restful holiday season and is off to a great start in 2008. I thought I would start off 2008 by presenting a recipe for one of my favorite comfort foods. Everyone has those special items that bring back childhood memories or serve as a reminder of a special event. Some of my favorite comfort foods include rice flour pudding (phirni), rice pudding (kheer), sweet potato halwa, sooji halwa and sesame-wheat halwa. Today I wanted to present the recipe for one of my special comfort foods – my nani’s rice singal.

The last time I had rice singal was in 1996, when my sister made it for me while I was visiting my mom in India before she passed away. Rice singal is a type of sweet fritter prepared by combining sooji (cream of wheat) and rice flour, somewhat resembling the texture of corn meal. To me, it’s the Indian version of a doughnut. The following recipe should give you a good walkthrough of preparing this special comfort food of mine. As always, if you have any questions feel free to send a comment.

1/2 cup coarse rice flour
1/2 cup sooji
1/4 teaspoon roughly crushed cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 cup granulated sugar or to taste
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup plain yogurt or as needed
1 tablespoon grated coconut, lightly toasted
Oil for deep-frying

1) In a mixing bowl, place first six ingredients and add 1/4 cup yogurt, a little at a time, until the mixture has turned into a thick paste, adding additional yogurt as needed to make a thick batter (resembling almost soft cookie dough). Cover and let it rest at least an hour at room temperature and set aside.
2) Or prepare the batter by combining the first eight ingredients in a mixing bowl. Cover and leave it at room temperature for about an hour. Set aside. Traditionally the batter was prepared by grinding the overnight soaked rice.
3) When ready to deep-fry the rice singals adjust the consistency of the batter by adding grated coconut and additional sooji if needed. Add a generous pinch of baking powder and stir to mix thoroughly.
4) Fill a pastry bag with the batter and test the batter to see if it flows easily through the pastry bag. Set aside. Again nani simply used her hands (the best tools) to shape these singals.
5) Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet or preferably a wok. To form the rice singals start at the center of each singal and, holding the pastry bag at a very slight angle, carefully work your way around the circle in a tight coil shape resembling a gigantic jalebi or pretzel. Being extremely careful, keep the pastry bag tip close to the oil and try not to leave too much space while squeezing the batter to form the singals. Or simply shape into 3-inch diameter circle resembling a doughnut.
6) Fry two or three rice singals at a time without crowding the skillet. Fry them until golden brown on both sides. Remove and drain on top of paper towel lined baking tray. Repeat the process until all the batter is used. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.