Wednesday, July 22, 2015

An Upma Cake with Leek, Tomato, Rosemary n Milk

Semolina Upma Porridge cake with sweet flavors from Leek, the fleshy tartness from Tomato, the crunch of Peanuts n herbal cool depth from Rosemary

As far as I can remember my first taste of upma took place about 15 years ago when one evening my elder sister got back home n cooked upma excitedly for the first time in our home n I watched her, she must have learned it from the mother of one or her friends I guess. And when everything came down on the plate it was like tasting a new island…you know that sorta feeling! And then we loved it n then it was prepared again n again with hundreds of variation…well almost.

Upma is a savory preparation using semolina n vegetables as the two main ingredients, semolina/sooji/rawa is almost at every home in India and so often in the morning breakfast table or evening snacks time the kitchen is filled up with the aroma of curry leaves n roasted sooji, sound of sizzling vegetables in oil, sound of sputtering of mustard seeds play across the kitchen. An Indian kitchen is dramatic n full of life, the popping mustard n cumin seeds in oil, the humming exhaust fan gushes out the flavored smoke across the road hitting the home coming people  n making them hungry as they reach home, their feet hurry up to reach even quicker.

If I have to describe the primary flavors of a traditional upma I will mention the curry leaves, the tomato, the chana dal, the semolina, the onion, the mustard seeds and lastly the ghee or the tomato sauce! Yeah when we serve upma we scatter a touch of ghee/clarified butter over it  which gives it a fuller rich yet  light flavor or tomato ketchup which gives u sweet n sour edge  n both are very delicious. As a kid I was a fan of tomato ketchup, so often my upma  looked red, you know why.

In this version of upma I have featured the mild flavor of the leeks which is like sweet onion in a way, the brilliant fresh aromatic astringent quality of rosemary, the satisfying rich n crunchy peanuts, the fleshy lovable tomato and the richness of milk. I have walked in a different path from the traditional upma, using milk as the liquid part, taking the mustard n the dal away but the structure remains the same, the result is a delicious smooth creamy upma with brand new flavors! How cool is that…new flavors are always welcome, new islands are to be ventured.

The origin of upma is in the southern part of India, a part from where came brilliant vegetarian preparation now enjoyed across the globe. May be it also came from Sri Lanka, the region of Tamil Nad n Sri Lanka are so close. Upma is known as ‘Uppuma’, ‘Uppittu’, ‘Uppindi’, ‘Uppumavu’, ‘Upeet’, ‘Rulanv’ across all the Sothern states of India, ‘Upma’ is a short term used in Hindi.

So now I’ll give you the recipe.

For The Recipe: You will need
Semolina/Rawa/Sooji- 1 cup
Milk-2 cups, skimmed or full fat- your choice
Water -½ cup
Leek- I medium stalk, washed n halved length-ways, chopped into ¼ inch half moons
Capsicum- quarter of a big, chopped into 1 inch pieces
Tomato- 1 medium, chopped
Rosemary- ½ tbsp
Green chili-1 medium, chopped
Dry ginger powder/Saunth- ½ tbsp
Red chili powder- ¼ tsp
Turmeric powder- 2 pinch
Freshly ground black pepper- to season
Butter- 1 tbsp
Ghee/Clarified butter-1 tbsp vegetable oil- 3tbsp
Peanut- 3-4 tbsp, roasted
Pink rock salt- 1 pinch
Sugar- ½ tsp

1. Put a frying pan on low heat, when the pan is hot pour the semolina over it and shake it to spread it out. Give it 5-6 minutes in low heat and shake n toss every 1 minute, then increase the heat to medium and give it 4 minutes tossing every 30 seconds, make sure nothing is going red or brown, don’t go anywhere, stay right there, we have to shake n toss the pan frequently this time so that no part of the semolina gets too roasted, we don’t want any reddish color to the semolina, the semolina should stay white,  so after 4 minutes take them off onto a plate. In case the semolina got reddish while you are away its okay, carry on, it will give a different flavor.
2. In the same pan add 3 tbsp of vegetable oil n the butter, as the butter sizzles n melts  in a low medium heat add the chopped garlic, stir, then add the green chili, don’t let the garlic brown, add the leeks and stir well, let the flame be on low heat now, give them 5 minutes n stir in between, then add the capsicum n the roasted peanut , add a pinch of sugar, stir, increase the heat to medium now, give them 3 minutes, add some salt now, then add the tomato, a pinch pink rock salt n ½ tbsp dry rosemary,  give it a mix, give them around 5 minutes, the tomato will almost melt and the leeks will start to brown a bit, add the  ground ginger powder, chili n turmeric powder with a dash of water so that the spices don’t burn, keep the heat to low now,  give them about 3 minutes, the tomatoes would have melted now. Now add the milk n water, a pinch of dry rosemary again, add salt to taste and the sugar, taste n keep the salt slightly higher than normal because the semolina will go in the pan and absorb the salt, so when the liquid comes to a simmer, lower the heat and start sprinkling the semolina in one hand  as you keep stirring with other hand, keep stirring constantly and if you spot any lumps, press it and break it away, the mixture will immediate thicken, 1 cup of semolina will absorb minimum 2 ½ cup liquid, so if the mixture still need a little more add a little more milk and work it in. Move the pan away from the heat and add 1 tbsp f ghee and mix it well. The consistency will be smooth, thick; always keep stirring to mix the ghee really well.  Take the mixture off in plate.
3. Serve it hot n warm, scatter some roasted peanuts on top, if you want some fresh chopped tomato, then submerge your spoon into the creamy thick smooth Upma and have your hungry bite.

It is even good when cold, one healthy recipe that you can have time n time again, for this time don’t delay your bite, dig in, Bon Appétit.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

A Fragrant Rice with Chicken, Saffron N Prawn-A Tale of Tantalizing Taste

Gobindobhog Rice cooked with Fresh water Prawn n Chicken with dry Red Chilies, Jalapenos, Saffron, Tomatoes- pure taste of delish

First I should tell you about this rice-Gobindobhog, a type of short grain rice from Bengal, the east of India. It smells amazing, how do I describe that smell, let me try- sweet, pleasant, fragrant, decent, subtle and full of promises. When you taste it, the depth of flavor coming from it takes you in a journey. So no wonder it is such a favorite rice to use when you are cooking something special, sweet or savory it handles both the sides extremely well. It has a sweet smooth buttery aromatic flavor, so often they are cooked with milk n sugar or jaggery to produce Payas/Rice Pudding/Chawal Kheer, sometimes they are cooked with chicken or fish or vegetables to produce fantastic pulao/pilaf, they are the base to make a fantastic “Murighonto- A savory rice dish with fish head n potatoes and whole garam masala”- it’s a never ending love story.

                          Now chances are if you live outside India, or even let’s say outside Bengal, you won’t get this rice easily, but still ask for this rice in Indian or Bangladeshi shops, it is every worth searching for. For this dish you can replace it with any short grain rice like risotto rice, Thai sticky rice, paella rice.

                                                                 I didn’t have a doubt when I combined this rice with prawns n chicken, what came out impressed me much more than what I imagined, the rice absorbs all the flavors so vividly, at the same time lifting the flavors up with its own flavor, in every bite I could taste the prawns, the tomatoes, the chicken, the garlic, the jalapenos, the saffron. It was like all the flavors were in harmony, n to top it all off it doesn’t take much time to cook, the rice takes 15 minutes to be done and all you have to do when the rice is cooking is to stir it in between.

Another layer of flavor comes from the aromatic spices that go in it, cloves, green cardamom, Indian Bay Leaf n Cinnamon sticks-as the broth simmers the spices release their flavor n blends into everything in the pan.

                     There are some recipes when you cook them it makes you a hero, people love you n the food that you cook-this is one such recipe. So next time there is a gathering of friends cook this and see them getting lost in the plate, which is actually a great sight to watch for a person who cooks with his/her heart.

                                    So now let me serve you the recipe, here we go…

For The Recipe: You will need

Govindobhog rice- 1 cup
Chicken breast-1 medium with bone, cut into 2 inch pieces, around 250 gm
Prawn- 4 big/ 6 medium, veined, washed but not peeled
Garlic – 3 medium cloves, chopped
Onion-1 medium, chopped
Tomato- 2 medium, chopped
Jalapenos- 2 tbsp
Green capsicum- 2-3 tbsp, chopped
Dry red chili- 1 medium, torn into pieces
Saffron- 2 pinch
Red chili powder- ½ tbsp
Turmeric- ¼ tsp
Cumin powder-1/4 tsp
Coriander powder-1/4 tsp
Bay leaf- 2
Green cardamom-1+1
Cinnamon stick- 2 inch
Soy sauce- a few drops like ½ tsp
Black pepper- 1 tbsp, freshly ground
Pink rock salt- few pinches
Brown fried onion- to serve, 1 medium onion-sliced n fried till brown in a pan, it’s optional
Water-3 -4 cups
Vegetable oil/olive oil-5-6 tbsp

1.     Soak the rice in water for half an hour, then drain the water. In a frying pan heat the oil, when the oil is moderately hot reduce the heat to low, add the dry red chili torn into pieces, chopped garlic n stir,  don’t let the garlic brown, add cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, give them around 20 seconds , then add the chopped onion. Give them about 2 minutes on medium high heat stirring often, then add the capsicum, give it 3 minutes, then add the chicken pieces, put the flame high and sauté them for about 5 minutes, stir in between. Add a pinch of sugar, mix, then add the rice to the pan and give it a good mix. Keep the flame on medium high and stir often; we are now frying the rice grains to some extent. Give them around 4-5 minutes on medium heat, then add some salt and mix well. After that add the tomatoes, jalapenos  and 2 pinch of pink rock salt and ½ tsp of freshly ground black pepper, give it a good mix n give them about 2-3 minutes. Mix the red chili powder, turmeric, cumin n coriander powder with little water to make a paste, add this to the pan and mix well. Add a splash more water so that the spices don’t burn.

         2.     Heat the water in a bowl; we will use this hot water to add to the pan. So back to the frying pan add the saffron strands, mix, now add 1 cup of the hot water n stir so that everything is uniformly mixed. Keep the flame high at this stage, add the prawns to the pan, very soon the water will be absorbed by the rice, then add another cup of water, reduce the flame to low, add salt according to taste and few drops of soy sauce, ½ tsp sugar and mix well. The water will be just simmering in the pan, when this water is again absorbed , add half cup of more water, this whole process will take about 15 minutes, at the final stage we want the rice to be not dry but with some liquid part in it. So the amount of water will vary slightly, if the rice is soft n fluffy n the consistency of it some a bit flow-y it is there, if the rice still needs to be soft add 1/2 cup water and give it a little time.

        3.     Now when the rice is soft, put the flame off, we will add the final touches. In a mortar n pestle crush one green cardamom pod and 1 inch stick cinnamon with 1 tsp of water,  when it becomes a coarse mixture add this to the rice, add some more black pepper n mix n cover the pan for 2 minutes.

So it is ready to be served, serve generously and sprinkle some brown onions over it or forget it, it tastes so very delish! Mmmmm…Bon Appétit.

Friday, July 3, 2015

A Tempting Tart with Note Saag-A New Emotional Bite

Amaranth Leaves/Note Saag Tart with Coconut, Almonds n Parmesan

This dish existed in my head long before it came into being finally this June and it tasted better than what I imagined it to be for all the good reasons in life. I remember the moment the tart formed in my head, the inspiration was a dry-fry saag preparation by Mom, Amaranth  leaves  known as ‘Note Saag’  fried with onion n green chilies in pungent mustard oil and that tastes simply gorgeous, the combination of that saag n white rice makes up happy moments of eating at home. Now exactly at that point of time I decided to extend that love to a tart, I wanted to translate all that beautiful flavor of Note Saag into the tart. This is how she is born.

Amaranth is a whole family of perennial plants, some of the plants are used as leafy vegetables, some cultivated for cereals while some as decorating plants. So when ill be referring to ‘Note Saag’ it will specify one particular species of the plant family that we use in India for saag preparations, more specifically in the eastern part of India. The pictures will guide you to identify the one I used.

Its monsoon in India now, it rains almost once in a day for an hour roughly, the air becomes saturated with moisture n heavy until the wind blows n it feels fantastic! After a period of tremendous summer as the monsoon comes, it touches the soil n inspires, the soil soon comes up with fresh leafy greens. So right now the amaranth leaves/note saag is that fresh leafy green available in the local market, a gift of the monsoon. The note saag is prepared in many different ways across the home kitchens, some are dry-fried with minimum spices to lift up their flavor while some are combined with a paste of poppy seeds or other vegetables to prepare a medley of vegetables often known as ‘Chorchori’, while some are combined with fresh shrimps n sautéed together.

In this creation I combined the flavor of the note saag with fresh coconut, the parmesan, almonds together. The crispy outer layer of the tart crumbles as we bite into it n mingles with the soft deep flavor of the saag, the parmesan, the coconut-it almost becomes like a song.

When I first bite into the tart while it was still hot simply because I just couldn’t wait anymore, it made me emotional, in the next day I felt the same energy as I took my bite into the tart. So I had to share this recipe with you, so you can make it n feel that.

So now I think we should go to the recipe.

For The Recipe: We will need

For The Saag Preparation
Note Saag/ Amaranth leaves n tender stems- about 500 gm, washed, chopped into 1 inch pieces
Red onion- 1big or 2 medium, halved n sliced
Fresh coconut – 2 tbsp, cut into strips then chopped into little pieces
Green chilies- 2, sliced along the length but still in 1 piece/partly sliced
Mustard oil- 4-5 tbsp
Sugar- ½ tsp
Pink rock salt – a pinch
Red chili powder – a pinch

For the Short crust Pastry
Plain flour- 250 gm
Butter- 50 gm at room temp.
Olive oil/vegetable oil-3 tbsp (I used onion flavored vegetable oil)
Water-3 tbsp approximately
Salt – a pinch

For the Filling
The prepared saag
Egg yolks- 2
Thick cream- 150 ml
Parmesan cheese- 100 gm (you can use Gruyere cheese, its cool)
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh coconut – 2 tbsp, cut into strips then chopped into little pieces
Almonds- 50 gm, sliced along the length

Pre-heat oven to 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit

1. Begin by preparing the pastry, for that in a flat vessel mix the flour with salt, then drop the oil n the butter n with a blunt knife cut the fat into the flour until it resembles  breadcrumbs, you can use your hand too, just rub the flour with the butter n oil between your fingertips, always work with a light hand, when the fat is well distributed n resembles coarse breadcrumbs add the water one tablespoon at a time and incorporating it with the knife into the mixture, then add one more n do the same. After 3 tbsp of water the dough should leave the bowl fairly clearly and should come together, try to make it come together with your hands, if this doesn’t happen nothing to worry, add one more tablespoon of water and try to do the same, if not add some more drops of water and try. Just as the dough comes together tip it on a wooden board and press down on the dough with your hands to make the whole thing come together, this is not kneading but bringing the dough together. With you both hands press on the dough and make it come together, then shape it into a flat round, cover in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. In a frying pan heat the mustard oil on a high flame, when the oil is hot reduce the flame to medium, add a pinch of sugar, let the sugar melt n go brown then add the onion n green chili, toss them around for about 2 minutes, reduce the flame to low n give them 2 more minutes, then add the coconut pieces and stir them, give them 2 minutes, then add the washed n chopped amaranth leaves, put the flame on high n mix everything well, stir fry them for 5 minutes on high heat, they will start to get a little brown, keep stirring, then reduce the flame to minimum n give 10 minutes like this, stirring often so they don’t burn, if the pan gets very dry at the end of the time add a splash of water. After that add the sugar n chili powder, mix well, then add pink rock salt, salt n taste. If there are brown bits sticking to the pan, sprinkle little water and incorporate all of that. Take them out of a plate and let them cool.

3. Roll out the pastry thinly between two cling films n line a tart tin, prick the base with a fork and bake blind in a moderate oven which is 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit  for 15 minutes. It should not brown. Now in a bowl mix 2 egg yolks, the thick cream, the grated parmesan with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper until well mixed. You can reduce the amount of parmesan if you wish; instead of 100gm you can use 70 gm.

4. Take the pastry out of the oven, arrange the note saag in the pastry case until the base is well covered, then pour the cream mixture over them. Sprinkle with the chopped almonds and the coconut pieces, then back in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top slightly starts to get color, for this often at the last 3 minutes I put the top grill on. Take it out of the oven and leave it for 5 minutes then place it carefully on a glass and let the tart tin drop down.

Here you are standing in front of the warm tart with a knife in your hands and anticipation in your heart. Go on, make one slice and bite into it. It is as good slightly warm or hot or room temperature. Bon Appétit.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hyderabadi Tootak Tales...what flavors it hides inside

Tootaks from Hyderabadi cuisine, a tale in crispy semolina pastry n herbal spicy vegetable filling

I first thought of making ‘Tootaks’  when I stumbled upon  them inside a book n they were all over the place. They had this unusual shape which reminded me of ‘Modaks’ which comes from the neighboring state of ‘Maharashtra’ which are sweet, still they were a bit different. The top part of them were rounded, unlike modak not pointed, the lower half were oval that made them look like a traditional water pot ‘Ghati’.  Their color was subdued with a slight touch of yellow ochre n it reminded me of the color of the beach. This is how I was seduced.

The name is quite interesting ‘Tootak’ , saying their name twice gets me to the famous Indian song ‘Tootak tootak tootiyan’ but they are far from the song.  Their name derives from the Indian Hindi phrase ‘Tu Takta Reh Jaye Ga’ which will mean ‘you will be left astounding or gaping’- look at the first two words of the Hindi phrase ‘Tu Tak-ta’, so casually we can imagine tu-tak or tootak will suggest ‘you astound’- cool  eh! So they belong to Hyderabadi cuisine/ Deccani cuisine in its origin, a signature dish of the local Hindu Kayastha community people.

By structure a tootak has two parts, the outside shell, crispy, still little soft inside-that is semolina pastry treated with ghee, milk n spices and the inside filling which is traditionally made from mutton mince flavored with onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, green chilies, lemon juice . In my version I create a spicy amazing vegetable filing with carrots, coriander, barbatti, onion, garlic, ginger, shahi jeera, black sesame seed, green capsicum, jalapenos, tomato, yogurt, coconut pieces, lime juice n mint leaves.

What I really like the most is how the semolina which is sooji or rawa in Indian terms is treated to make the dough which runs almost in similar lines of creating a short crust pastry but still uniquely different. The semolina is rubbed with chilled ghee n a spice mixture until it feels like wet sand and just hold together, this mixture is put to rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator, then it is kneaded with milk until it becomes a medium soft dough, which further rests for 15 minutes and then they are shaped with the filling inside.

I love the flavor of the  black sesame seeds, so in my version of tootaks I included them in the game both to give a depth of flavor and to create an interesting playful look for them and they looked so cool at the end of baking. Oh yes! These beauties are baked in the oven –not deep fried- so now there is one more reason for you to make them. So let’s get the hands dirty, shall we?

So now I will straightway take you to the recipe, let’s have a roll.

For The Recipe:  You will need

Makes 12-14 Tootaks

For the Semolina Shell:
Semolina/Sooji/Rawa- 2 cups
Ghee (clarified butter) - 4 tbsp, chilled
Salt- ¾ tsp
Sugar- 1 tsp, powdered
Milk- ½ cup approximately
Black pepper- 1 tsp, crushed n powdered
Black cumin seeds (Shahi Jeera) - ½ tsp- slightly roasted n powdered
Green cardamom- 2, lightly roasted n powdered
Clove- 1, slightly roasted n powdered

For the Filling:
Carrot- 1 medium, shredded
Barbatti/Yard long Bean- 2, finely sliced
Onion- 1 medium, finely chopped
Green chilies-3/4 – finely chopped
Green capsicum- 2 tbsp, finely chopped
Coriander leaves n stalks- 2-3tbsp, finely chopped
Jalapenos- 2 tbsp, chopped
Ginger- ½ inch, minced
Garlic- 2 medium cloves, minced
Mint leaves, fresh or dry-1 tbsp
Shahi jeera- ½ tsp
Black sesame seed- 1 tbsp
Fresh coconut- 2 tbsp, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
Yogurt- 1 tbsp, whisked
Tomato-1/2 of a medium tomato, chopped
Black pepper- ½ tsp, freshly crushed
Pink rock salt- a pinch
Sugar- 2 pinches
Red chili powder-1/4 tsp
Turmeric- 1 pinch
Vegetable oil- 2 tbsp

Pre-heat oven to 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit.

1. Let’s start by making the dough, for that put the ghee in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to chill it, then mix the semolina with salt, sugar, ground black pepper, the crushed spices n then add the chilled ghee n rub it in with soft hands using your fingertips, this will take about 5- 7minutes, and the mixture will resemble wet sand and the mixture will hold together when you press it lightly between your palms. If this doesn’t not happen nothing to worry, add a little more chilled ghee like ½ tsp and 1 tsp of water, rub it in with soft hands n you will see the mixture will just hold together when you press it lightly. At this point cover it with Clingfilm, rest it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Now for the filling, put a frying pan on medium heat and heat the oil moderately, add the shahi jeera and black sesame seeds, when they sputter, add the shredded carrot, chopped barbatti beans, green chilies, coriander stalks, toss them, give them 1 minute on medium high heat, then add the ginger n garlic mince, mix, give them 30 seconds, then add onion, green capsicum, tomato, coconut pieces, coriander leaves n mix it all in. Now on medium high flame stir-fry them, we want them to caramelize a bit, so keeping the flame on medium high is important and stir them every 30 seconds so they don’t burn, give them 5 minutes like this, stir often. After that reduce the heat to low, add a pinch of sugar, pink rock salt,  then add salt, red chili powder , turmeric, add a touch of water so that the spices don’t burn, mix it all in, on the lowest flame give them 5-6 minutes. Then take the pan away from the heat for a moment, add the whisked yogurt n mix well, put the pan back on low heat and add the jalapenos, mint leaves, give them about 3-5 minutes until the whole mixture dries up. There will a lot of brown bits in the bottom, they will add amazing flavor, so dash a little water on the bottom and scratch with the spatula to mix them all in, let the whole mixture dry again and we are almost done, lastly add the lime juice, adjust the seasoning n add the black pepper powder. Take the mixture off the pan on a plate, let it cool.

3. After 30 minutes take the semolina mixture out and add a little milk n knead to mix in it, then add some more n knead, then add the rest and start kneading the dough until you get a dough which leaves sides of the vessel n comes together, knead for about 5-7 minutes and you will have a medium soft dough. Test the dough by making a small ball and shaping it like tootak without any crack, if you can do that you are done. Cover n rest for 15 minutes.

4. Now take a big lime size ball of dough in your hands n roll it between your palms with a soft hand to make a smooth ball, then flatten the ball by pressing it between your palm, now put your thumb in the middle n make a depression, lightly make that depression into a round shape, then with soft hands press all around that as you give it the shape of a small bowl, pressing down to give an uniform thickness as you go around. Then fill the bowl with 1 tsp of filling, press it lightly, then fold the sides and the top to seal the filling n bring the both the sides to the top with light hand, give that part a conical shape, then with one finger press on it to give it rounded shape. Hold the tootak, roll it by keeping it on your palm to give a flat bottom, the middle will be oval rounded and at the top it will be conical rounded. That’s all. Prepare all the tootaks like this.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit,  brush all the tootaks lightly with vegetable oil with your fingers or a brush, now scatter black sesame seeds on a flat surface. Take one tootak and make it sit on the seeds pressing it lightly, the seeds will stick to the base, then tilt the tootak and roll it lightly on the seeds on its sides, now hold the tootak upside down and press the top lightly again on the seeds, then make it straight and place them on a baking sheet. So at the end the tootak will have a sesame seed base, a rim of black sesame seeds n the top with some seeds, prepare all like this.

6. Place them in the oven, bake them for 15-25 minutes until they looks dry and when you tap them with your nail it feels hard, not soft like before, now put the top grill on in your oven and give them around 5 minutes until they just start to get color. I increased the temperature to 180 Celsius/350 F while doing this. In this point you have to careful, watch them, as they get slightly brown they are ready. Take them out n give them 10 minutes to cool, then put them on a wire rack to cool further. Eat them while they are warm n even cold.

So now munch on and share it with everybody, spread the tootaks everywhere. Bon Appétit!

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Adventures on Floating Island Dessert- French-Indian touch

œufs à la neige or Floating Island Dessert with flavors from Fennel, Rosewater, lime n how to make islands floating light…

I love beating egg-whites until they fluff up and try to become one with air. As I beat in I trap billions of air bubbles into the whites. It is hard work n I love doing this hard work n I don’t even use an electric beater; my friend is a good old big hand whisk. Sometimes I feel there is a big traditionalist living within me with experimental hands.  There is a sense of magic in cooking where one thing transforms right into something else before your eyes, there is such a joy in observing that. Every time I beat the egg whites to quadruple in volume, becoming white as snow I sense that joy again n again. And that is at the heart of the floating island dessert.

The floating island dessert has another name- Snow Cream or œufs à la neige, French in origin. Egg whites are beaten with sugar as they fluff up, then they are quickly poached in vanilla milk, then placed in a vanilla custard known as crème anglaise which is made from the same vanilla milk. Some people treat the beaten egg whites with sugar or the meringue in a different way; they bake them in the oven. The poached egg white portions are so light that they float on this vanilla crème, n that’s how they become the floating islands.

They are so light to bite into, in fact there is almost nothing to bite into…almost air with touch of vanilla, sweetness, and the crème anglaise gives a smooth body that dissolves into my mouth. You have to close your eyes when you experience this sensation.

I interpreted the floating island dessert with touches of fennel seed known as ‘Saunf/ Mouri’, the citrus touch n fragrance from lime, the subtle touch of rosewater. And three of them lift the islands to a new height only to be enjoyed with your loved ones. After all it is a work of love. I dry roasted the fennel seeds ever so slightly to boost their flavor and then pound them to a fine powder, n I incorporated the powder at the final stages of beating the egg whites. As I made the crème anglaise or vanilla crème I flavor it with some whole fennel seeds just to give them a touch of that flavor, as it was cooling down I introduced the hint of rosewater n lime into it.

Caramel was coming into life in a pan, so when it the sugar transformed into dark caramel pour that over the chilled poached meringue floating in the crème anglaise.  Some of the caramel drops into the vanilla crème and it further gives it a depth of flavor.

 I completely transformed into a vanilla fennel guy as I went on with the islands, all over I smelled of vanilla n fennel, as if I live in those islands! Well I did live there for a while, you know.

Well now you must visit there, so here is the recipe. Bon voyage.

For The Recipe: You will need
Eggs-5 (4 whites n 5 yolks separated)
Caster sugar – around 80gms
Full fat milk- 800ml
Salt a pinch
Fennel seed- 1 tsp, roast slightly half of the seeds n pound into a fine powder
Lime- 1 medium
Rosewater- a few drops
Sugar-3 tbsp to make caramel
Vanilla flavor- 1-1 ½ tbsp

1. Begin by separating the egg-whites carefully , make sure no drops of egg yolks comes into the egg whites, yolks are fat , so their presence in the whites will reduce the rise of the whites by a quarter of a volume. So add about 7-10 drops of lime juice into the egg whites and then start beating them, the lime juice won’t let the egg whites go grainy.  Always beat them in a big bowl so there is enough space for air to circulate. Use either a hand whisk which will take about 20 minutes to make them reach stiff peaks or a electric hand beater which will take about 5-7 minutes. Start beating the egg whites, as the egg whites goes to soft peak stage start adding 1 tbsp of caster sugar as you whisk, the sugar will sweeten n stabilize the meringue. Add another tablespoon of caster sugar; in total add about 4 tbsp of caster sugar as you beat in. When the whites begin to hold peak i.e. when you lift some of the white with whisk it holds its shape with a stiff peak, sprinkle the powdered fennel powder over them n beat  them in for a final time.

2. Take the milk in pan with sides, add the vanilla extract, the rest of the fennel seeds and let the milk come to almost a simmering point, then with a tablespoon or ladle lift 1 tbsp or 1 ladle of meringue n place them over the milk lightly, they will float, don’t worry. In one go put about 5-6 portions, the milk should barely be simmering n not boiling. Now put a high lid on the pan and give them 2-3 minutes, then turn them over and give them the same amount of time. If you have dropped 1 tbsp of meringue, they will take about 2 minutes on each side and the ladle scoop portions will take about 4 minutes on each side. After that with a slotted spoon pick n drain them, put them a dish.

3. In a different bowl take 5 yolks and 60 gm caster sugar and beat them with whisk until well combined n smooth. Then take the hot milk in which the egg whites were poaching n pour a little milk into the yolk mixture whisking, then gradually add the milk while whisking all the time. After that place the mixture back into the pan and on a very low heat keep whisking the milk. Add a pinch of salt. Don’t increase the heat, the milk should not come to a boil or simmer. After about 5-7 minutes the milk will start to thicken and it will comfortably coat the back of a spoon. When the milk thickens slightly take them out of the heat and let it cool. Add 3-4 drops of rosewater and mix.  I just want a hint of rosewater, so add drop by drop n mix n taste, if added too much the rosewater flavor will prevail. When the mix is almost cooled add 1tbsp of lime juice, mix well. Taste, add more if you want.

4. Place the cooled vanilla crème n the meringue in the freeze for a couple of hours to chill. When you are about to serve make the caramel. In a pan take the sugar and add touch of water so that the sugar is just wet, then on a high heat let it go to light brown stage, the reduce heat and watch it as it reaches the dark brown stage,add a slight pinch of salt n a dash of lime juice, remove from heat. Pour the caramel over the floating meringue on the vanilla crème. Pour some caramel over the vanilla crème. And now either you can dig in or freeze it a little more. Scatter some lime zest over the islands as you serve them n it is a beautiful sight to watch.

So now you are on the island, venture and enjoy. Bon appétit.