Thursday, November 5, 2015

E for Elo-Jhelo

A crispy sweet bite for Diwali, a beautiful Indian Bengali sweet Pastry, crafted with love, a little Elo-Melo (Tangled) n a lot of Elo-Jhelo!

So as it turns out on this Durga Pooja, I was thousands of miles away from Bengal, I couldn’t absorb all the flavors, fragrance and sound that is all there in Bengal during the pooja, but perhaps so couldn’t some of you, who had to stay thousands of miles apart because life is like this or if you are someone who is not familiar with it-I will say get into it. For my dear reader who is reading me right now, I couldn’t give you something nice during the pooja, but now I can and Diwali/Deepawali is in the air and everywhere soon there are gonna lit a thousand lights, so I had to tell you about how to make Elo-Jhelo.

Think about this name ‘ELO-JHELO’, interesting name isn’t it? When I look at the word I feel as if it comes from the Aztecs, however it comes from Bengal, India. It is a sweet pastry, made out of all purpose flour, vegetable oil n ghee, sugar and some touch of aromatic spices. The dough is prepared, made into small balls, then they are rolled individually, cuts are splashed across the surface of the rolled thin dough, then folded over n over until it gets all tangled n overlapping, producing a beautiful spiral like shape which looks like flower petals or the shape of a flame from a lamp n the rest is on your imagination.

When I begin to wonder about the name, I try to connect the dots, like elo-melo in Bengali would suggest tangled, so on that line ‘Elo-jhelo’ may come from ‘Elo-melo’ because you see the dough strands are tangled in a way but never messy, they are beautifully elegant.

This pastry is deep-fried in flavorless vegetable oil, then a sugar syrup is prepared on the heat until it gets as thick like honey going towards one string consistency, the crispy fried pastry is dipped into the syrup to coat them, then taken out after 1-2 minutes and  they are ready. This is a kind of ‘Nimki’ which can be both sweet n savory, a nimki is a Bengali term for fried pastry.

Diwali or as we sometimes we say it Deepawali is just around this weekend, this is the time to prepare a lot of sweets- Gulab Jamun, Kaju katli, Motichur ke laddu n so many more, so make Elo-jhelo, the great thing about them is that they are not overly sweet, slightly sweet, they look great, they are versatile and it is so much fun making them with the whole family sitting around, the father making the dough, the mother rolling out, the little kids making the cuts- well it is a possibility…ha-ha. Most important is the bite-literally delicious n you always wanna have some more without eating a lot of sugar.

I flavored my elo-jhelo with white n black sesame seeds, and green cardamom n a touch of saffron, a traditional elo-jhelo is devoid of any such extra flavors and is still very delicious, so you can always go the traditional way or sometimes add flavors that you like. I incorporated the cardamom n saffron flavor in the sugar syrup itself. So this Deepawali I expect some Elo-jhelo in your home, have fun, share it with your friends, it is a labor of love.

So let me tell you now the secret, here we go.

For The Recipe: we will need

For the Dough
All purpose Flour-4 cups
Vegetable oil-1/2 cup (I used ½ tbsp of ghee n so I used less then ½ cup of oil)
Salt- a pinch
Water-slightly less than 1 cup

For the Syrup
Sugar-2 cups
Water 1 ½ cups
Green cardamom-2, crushed n slightly powdered
Saffron strands-2 pinches

For Frying
6-8 cups vegetable oil

1. Begin by adding the salt n the  ½ cup vegetable oil or a combination of ghee n vegetable oil like I did, if you are adding both like me then reduce the oil by the same amount so the total goes to ½ cup, rub the oil into the flour , do it well, make sure the fat is well distributed into the flour, rub the flour n oil together into your palm with a light hand, it will take 3 minutes, then start adding the water, add half the water at first, mix n then add half of the half, mix, see how the dough is coming, we will need slightly less than 1 cup water, so start to gather the dough as you add more water, when you feel the dough will come together you can stop adding the water, there will be around 2 tbsp of water left in the cup which you don’t need. So now knead the dough for about 5-6 minutes, the dough will become smooth, we want dough which is slightly firm, not on the softer side, so it will a little hard work kneading the firm dough. When the dough is smooth after 5-6 minutes, divide it in half, the roll each half into a cylindrical log, then with a knife cut the log at 1 ½ inch interval or tear off small portions from the log and make into balls of 1 ½ inch diameter. When all the balls are done, cover n rest for 20 minutes.

2. After 20 minutes pour a little vegetable oil into a bowl, take one ball and dip your finger into the oil and with that touch of oil roll the ball into a smooth ball again, oil the surface of the wooden board or marble slightly, oil the rolling pin, place the ball on the surface n with your palm press on it to make it into a flat uniform round disc. Start rolling the disc with the rolling pin into a uniform thin circle of about 4 inches in diameter, lift it up and sprinkle some white n black sesame seed on the surface, then place it lightly again on the surface, then with a sharp knife make a slit leaving about ½ inch space at the ends, after that make parallel cuts at about less then ½ inch gap. When the cuts are done start rolling the disc carefully at one end, hold the top n down portions of the disc and with light hands roll the disc onto itself, the slit strips will come overlapping and keep your hand at both the ends as you roll and with another finger help the dough to come up from the surface as you roll. At the end the strips will be overlapped and the top n down will be pointed holding the whole piece together.

3. Prepare all the balls like this, now place deep pot of kadai/wok on the heat, add the oil and let it become medium hot, we don’t want the oil to be very hot or the elo-jhelo will color quickly. When the oil is medium hot take one piece and dip is slightly into the oil, it should not start to bubble vigorously, if it is the oil is too hot, take it off the heat, let it cool slightly, now when you place the elo-jhelo it will start to bubble up a little or a moment after it goes in the oil, always keep the oil to low n medium low, add about 5-6 at one time, flip them every 2 minutes, when they attain a light brown to brown color you can take them off which will take about 5-6 minutes.

4. In another wok add the sugar n water on medium heat, let the sugar melt, then make the heat high and let it come to a boil,  give it around 10 minutes, check the syrup by dipping a spoon and place some drops on a plate and then touch it, when it begins to thick a little stay alert, add the crushed green cardamom n saffron strands, test the syrup again, when the syrup gets thick like honey or when you place a drop between your fingers and you can see one string forming between your fingers it is ready. Place the fried warm elo-jhelo into the syrup, coat it well , give them 1 minute in the syrup , then drip off the excess syrup and take them off. Prepare all the elo-jhelo like this.  Start making the syrup when you put the oil into the heat, this way when you first batch of elo-jhelo will be ready the syrup will also be ready and you can dip them right away.

Note: instead of placing the disc onto the sesame seeds, you can toast the sesame seeds on a pan and then coat the fried elo-jhelo as they just come out of the sugar syrup with the roasted sesame seeds, they will stick on the sugary elo-jhelo very well.

Hey, they are all ready now! They look amazing right, I told you n now bite into one and hear the sweet crunch n after that share the sweet crunch with all around you. Happy Diwali, Shubh Deepawali, Subho Kaali Pujo and guess what? Bon Appétit! May the light bless us.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A tribute to Radha n Lord Krishno on Janmashtomi- Sooji Caramel Halwa with Taal Kheer

Suji Makhdi Halwa with Taal-kheer-Semolina Caramel Halwa with Sugar Palm kheer- A Bhog for Radha Krishno

This post is going to be about a sweet recipe that brings together two sweet elements together n will capture your imagination-one is a Sooji/Semolina Halwa with Caramel and another is a beautiful Taal-Kheer, which is classic Bengali dish. The season of the festivities is catching up in India, just 6 weeks ago it was Janmashtami-the religious celebration on the occasion of the birth of Lord Krishno, it was during that time when I created this dish keeping Janmashtami in mind. I wanted to create something unique for Lord Krishno, so this dish is dedicated to him.

Now let me tell you about “Taal” tree, it is called as Asian Palmyra palm, toddy palm, sugar palm, the tree is native to India n Southeast Asia, it is the ripe fruits of this tree from which the taal-kheer is made, brilliant orange in color, it has that unique flavor to it with a touch of bitterness to it, the bitterness is balanced by adding scarped coconut to it, the sweetness of the coconut balances the bitterness of the ripe taal juice.

The fruit is called Taal in Bengali, Tala in Oriya, Nungu in Tamil, Tari in Hindi, Tadfali in Guajarati, Taati ningu in Kannada, Munjal in Urdu. Ton taan in Thai. When the fruit is unripe the top part is cut and from there 3 jelly like portions are obtained which looks like fruits themselves, they have mild flavor n translucent to look at and on the inside each of them has a watery fluid- sweet n absolutely wonderful, the jelly like flesh is itself slightly sweet.

When the fruits ripen the outer fibrous portion becomes all orange and from them comes out the orange colored juice which forms the base of the Taal-Kheer. It is a tedious process to get the juice out of the orange fibers, often they are done by rubbing each seed on another or on a traditional grater. I will give you the recipe of the taal-kheer also in this post, the collected juice is simmered with grated coconut, sometimes with milk n sometimes with a touch of sugar until it becomes slightly thick like double cream and it has a beautiful orange color n amazing flavor.

The sooji caramel halwa is filled with the flavor of caramel n semolina, and it’s not overly sweet, the caramel has a slight touch of bitterness to it which only a super-taster will be able to identify, every bite of this halwa gives a enriching satisfying filling, it is soft, melts in the mouth. The caramel gives it the dark brown color and I added roasted almonds to it to add a new flavor at some bites. 

If you are trying to make this dish I will suggest you make the taal-kheer a day before, it develops its flavor over time being in the fridge and also it makes the work easier for us, so after you make the halwa we are ready to serve and it will be a true labor of love, shared with family n close friends. So here is the recipe.

For The recipe: You will need

For the Semolina Halwa

For the Semolina Halwa

Semolina/Sooji-1 cup/100gm, soaked in water for 20 minutes
Vegetable oil- 1 cup/250 ml
Sugar-1 cup/200gm
Water-1 cup/250ml
Green cardamom-2/3, slightly roasted n powdered
Almonds-2 tsp, chopped

I used Taal flavored oil, previously I made Taal dumplings/taal er bora in oil, I used that oil to make the halwa, it gives a background flavor of Taal in the halwa itself.

For the Taal kheer

Taal juice- juice of 1 medium whole Taal fruit
Grated fresh coconut- 1 whole coconut
Milk full Fat- 1 cup (optional)
Sugar- ¼- ½ cup
Salt – a pinch

1. Heat the oil in cooking deep pan/wok/kadai to medium high, add sugar and wait until it caramelizes, when the sugar start to go brown reduce the heat to low, sometimes the caramel goes to dark brown stage very quickly, we don’t want that, we want the caramel to be nicely brown and not overly burnt brown, the more dark brown it will reach the more bitter it will get, so when the caramel is a good brown, add the water carefully, it splits slightly n mix it well. After that add the semolina and stir continuously for 15 minutes. The semolina will go some transformation in these 15 minutes, at first it will be white, then soon it will be a mix between brown n white, after 10 minutes it will start to look a little glossy n translucent as if and it will start to release oil. The mixing is a little painstaking process, check it every 1-2 minutes because it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, so scratch it and mix well. Add the roasted green cardamom powder n mix well, remove from the heat and add the almond slices.

2. Put the juice of the taal in a deep pot and make it come to a simmer, soon it will start foaming, with a ladle collect the foam and discard it, do it until the foaming almost stops, add the milk and keep simmering it, you can skip the milk too, add the grated coconut and keep simmering it for 20 minutes, check the sweetness, if the taal is still more bitter add some sugar to balance it, if you like the taal kheer to be more sweet you can add some sugar, the fresh coconut gives it a its own natural sweetness, add a pinch of salt in the kheer. After 30 minutes the kheer has thickened a bit, so take it off the heat and let it cool, then refrigerate.

3. Put the warm halwa in a plate, arrange the lightly roasted almond pieces on it then pour the cold Taal kheer around it and then dig in.

The warm halwa mixed with the cold Taal kheer, it is very hard to stop eating, in fact why do we have to stop? Gobble on. Bon appétit.