Thursday, October 27, 2016

Slovak Apple Cake at Last

Okay, I have a little story to tell. My background is from Slovak and Yugoslav roots. My maternal grandparents came to the US from what was Czechoslovakia in the very early 1900s sometime. Grandma Pramik used to make something she called "Apple Cake", though it was not a cake, and it was also not - quite - a pie. I absolutely loved this Apple Cake, even more than apple pie! One time in my early days of being married and homesick, I asked Mom if she had Grandma's recipe for Apple Cake and she gave it to me.

Okay, as a young kid just out of teenage (I married the first time at age 20, just barely), I was totally inexperienced in the kitchen. I made the Apple Cake once, felt it was nothing as good as Grandma's, and never tried it again. Somewhere along the way, I lost the recipe, so I was completely without any real idea of what was in it and how it was made. My first thought was to ask my sisters if they had the recipe. Grandma had passed way before I was married, so there was no going back to the source. None of my sisters had the recipe, nor did any of them know what might have happened to Mom's recipe box. Drat!

My first try at Apple Cake
My first try at Apple Cake
At this point in my thinking, just now as I write, I realize there are also cousins that I might have asked!

But back to the point. So this was a couple of years ago or so, and I started looking on the internet. Any result for Apple Cake or Slovak Apple Cake just gave me pictures and recipes for a cake with apples in it. And Grandma's recipe was so NOT a cake! 

So, what IS this Apple Cake?

My first try at Apple Cake
My first try at Apple Cake
I guess here would be a good place to describe what this Apple Cake was. It consisted of a bottom crust, similar to a pie dough, but not quite a pie dough. Grandma's crust was always set into a rectangular baking dish and the crust went up the sides of the pan about 1 to 2 inches or so. Into this crust went an apple mixture. What made it different from an apple pie mixture, I had no idea. And then the top part gets tricky, because my memory of this dessert is about 50 years old, with no intervening tastes or views. I "think" there might have been a lattice type crust on top. And I "think" there might have been a drizzle of icing. I know absolutely there was no full crust on top.

So now back to present day. I have been reworking some old "cookbooks" (not published - just recipes that are either family recipes, recipes I have tried elsewhere and liked and recipes I have created. I had made them for my sisters and my kids, quite a few years ago. My son recently divorced his wife (whom I love dearly) and took the cookbooks with him when he moved out. My daughter in law was devastated. So I immediately went to work updating and re-making the cookbooks for her. And then I got thinking it might be good to make a copy for myself, but when I got to the specific ethnic recipe chapters, I have a huge amount of Indian recipes amassed, and a whole lot of Guatemalan recipes. but ultimately, not all that many from my own ethnic background. Years ago I had searched for some of the names of recipes I knew and had eaten, such as my paternal Grandma Hromish's "Machanka," a sweet-sour tomato gravy. Nothing I searched came even close. A couple of days ago I went searching again and Eureka! I found it! With that little win, I felt it was time to search for Apple Cake once more and - once again, Eureka! I found it. 

That said, I am not at all sure how close to Grandma's the recipes I saw might be. Even though I can sort of still imagine eating that Apple Cake, 50-ish years is a really long time for a taste memory to hold up. But I found recipes, and that is a start. Yesterday I set about trying one recipe out. It comes from a site called When I went to make the crust I found that I had run out of all-purpose flour! So instead I used half white whole wheat flour and half cake flour. Because of the white whole wheat, which is "thirstier" than all purpose, I had to use 6 tablespoons of milk to get the dough to come together. The flavor of the crust is excellent. The apples in the recipe I found were grated and called for no thickening. I felt it might need some thickening so I added 2 tablespoons of flour, and since Grandma always used sliced apples, I did too. There are so many photos of this out there now, and the photos show  grated apples or sliced apples. There are photos with no top crust, a lattice top crust and full top crust, and some even used streusel. 

Because of looking up such things, I also encountered a wonderful blog site. A woman from Canada is living in Slovakia with her husband and 4 children. So interesting! Check it out at

Meanwhile, here is my first try at making Apple Cake, or Jablkový Koláč.

My Apple Cake
My Apple Cake

Apple Cake - Jablkový Koláč

Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan

4 cups all-purpose flour (or 2 cups white whole wheat + 2 cups cake flour)
1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks / 1/2 pound)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs 
2 tablespoons milk, or more as needed
2 pounds apples
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly spray a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.

Stir or whisk together in a  large bowl the flour(s) confectioners' sugar, salt and baking powder. Cut in, as for pie dough, the butter. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk, then pour into the flour mixture and toss with a fork. If the mixture does not come together, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together. Allowing the mixture to set for 15 minutes will make the dough more workable.

Peel, core and slice apples. Place in a bowl and add in the sugar, flour, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir well and set aside.

Divide dough in half. Dust a surface with flour and set one half of the dough onto the surface, and dust top with more flour. Roll out to fit the baking dish with edges of dough up to top of pan (both dough and filling are generous!). Pour in the apples and smooth into place. Roll out the remaining dough and cut into long strips about 1-inch wide. Set them diagonally onto the apples, spaced about an inch apart. Then set more crosswise to these first strips. Brush the top of the dough with more milk if desired. 

Bake the Apple Cake for about 45 to 55 minutes, or until the apples are bubbling and the crust is golden.  

Cool the Apple Cake before drizzling with a glaze made from mixing the half-cup confectioners' sugar and milk. Cut into squares for serving.

I tasted the Apple Cake and while my memory is poor, it seems to have some resemblance to Grandma's. I feel that the crust is far too generous. I may have to reduce it by about a third. More experimentation is needed. For now, I am well-pleased!  

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Monday, October 24, 2016

Interesting Dessert with Carrots

Some would immediately say "Ewww", yet we do eat carrot cake! With spices added, and a little sugar, lots of things become not only palatable, but downright delicious. And so it is with this, another Indian recipe for Gajar Burfi, or in other words, a carrot fudge.

Gajar Burfi or Carrot Fudge with Edible Silver Leaf
Gajar Burfi or Carrot Fudge with Edible Silver Leaf
I have encountered many interesting blogs with Indian recipes, and one of them is I have not made too much from this site, but it is a veritable treasure trove, if you love Indian food. Since I have an Indian Dinner scheduled next week, I was looking for a dessert - not Gulab Jamun, since I served that to two of the guests last time! The stricture of "no nuts" was a trifle limiting, since so many desserts and other Indian foods use nuts as a matter of course. And then I came upon this recipe for Gajar Burfi. As usual, I looked at a slew of other recipes for this same dessert, and settled with this one as it sounded easy enough. 

Before making it for guests, however, I thought it expedient to at least try it out and see if it was something that tasted good. My husband is a little sketchy on carrots. He will eat them if they are in something like a vegetable soup, or shredded into a stir fry, but not so much blatantly on their own! I am not sure if he will eat this or not, but I am going to hazard a guess that he just might, if he can get past the thought of eating CARROTS for dessert. ;-)

Gajar Burfi or Carrot Fudge
Gajar Burfi or Carrot Fudge
So with that in mind, I set about making half of the recipe - partly as I didn't have enough of the whole milk powder on hand to make the whole recipe, and partly because....what if we don't like it? So, the recipe is pretty much straight from this blog site mentioned above and I would encourage looking through that site.

The recipe is detailed in very large step by step photos on this website, so mine will be just enough to give the idea. Truly, it is a simple recipe. The whole milk powder is not available everywhere - certainly not in this town, to my knowledge. Amazon is my go-to place. The recipe uses a small amount of ground cardamom, but I do encourage you to invest in the whole cardamom seeds and grind them yourself rather than get pre-ground powder. I have tried both, and the powder, which is often the seeds ground along with the husks in the interest of cost, just barely has any flavor in comparison. And who would have known that carrots and cardamom would go so well together? 

One thing about Indian recipes: they rarely will tell you how much a thing makes, or what size of pan to use. When I started this recipe this morning, I greased a 7 x 7-inch pan, thinking this would work for half the recipe. As I got closer to the end of cooking I realized this was far too large a pan. I couldn't find anything else on short notice but a 6-inch diameter round cake pan. Even that is larger than I would have liked for this half recipe I made. So, I believe the 7 x 7-inch pan would accommodate the whole recipe (as written below) just fine, giving a slightly thicker final product. My burfi turned out rather flatter than I'd hoped, and with the round pan, I cut it into wedges rather than squares. All that said, the bit I ate was out-of-this-world good!

This is what to do:

Gajar Burfi or Carrot Fudge
Gajar Burfi or Carrot Fudge

Gajar Burfi (Carrot Fudge)

Makes one 6 x 6 or 7 x 7-inch square pan

2 tablespoons ghee
4 cups finely grated carrots
pinch of salt 
1 cup whole milk powder
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
pistachios (or raisins) for garnish

Grease a 6 x 6 or 7 x 7-inch square pan or tray and set aside.

In a saucepan with a heavy bottom, melt the ghee and add in the grated carrots and the pinch of salt. Use a silicone spatula to toss and stir the carrots over medium to medium low heat for 7 to 9 minutes. The carrots will cook and also dry out considerably in this time.

Take pan off heat and dump in the powdered milk, stirring quickly to combine with the carrots. Return to the heat and add the sugar and cardamom, stirring quickly and scraping the bottom often. There will be some sticking, but most can be avoided if you keep your attention on the mixture. The sugar as it melts will loosen the mixture somewhat, but it quickly dries out and the carrots will come together into one mass. Turn the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth it to the edges.
Step by step making Gajar Burfi
cooking carrots      |  whole milk powder added  |      sugar goes in      |      cooked to a ball      |     turned into pan to mold

Allow to cool, then cut into squares (or wedges if you've used a round pan). Garnish with chopped pistachios or with (white) raisins to serve. 

I believe that the half recipe I made would nicely serve 3 people, with two small, thin wedges constituting a serving. So this whole recipe as it stands above would serve 6. If you are more conservative in your serving portions (I have no willpower!), then the recipe might serve 12.

Then of course, in the interest of making a good thing better, since the main course for my dinner nest week is a Royal Biryani, I felt I should invest in some edible silver leaf (varq or vark) to adorn the dish, as is often shown in cookbooks. It so happens that I ordered it over the weekend and it arrived this morning! I got it out, believing (and rightfully so) that it might require a bit of a learning curve to set the silver leaf in place, I got out one of the sheets and experimented. The first photo above shows my very first time with silver leaf! (From Amazon, of course!)

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Another Indian Dinner and New Recipes to Try

I have another Indian dinner set for November 3rd. Two other couples will be joining my husband and me for this dinner, and it's been a while since I made a large dinner - probably last Thanksgiving. I know six people for dinner is not a "large" dinner party, but when it comes to Indian food with all the prep work involved, it can become onerous. 

I have been trying out new recipes, since one of the people who will be attending cannot eat nuts. So many Indian recipes use nuts in one way or other, even down to grinding them to use as thickeners instead of our method in the US, of thickening with flour or cornstarch. So I finally settled on making a Lamb biryani dish as the main course. I wrote about my biryani, which was heavenly, in my blog post of September 28th. I got all the kinks worked out of the recipe, and have things ordered in such a way as to make it as smooth flowing as possible. 

Mulligatawny, first try
Mulligatawny, first try
Then I thought of making a soup. The Indians really do not make what we know as "soup". They make "gravies." All their thin, either watery or slightly thickened recipes, that we would call soup are meant to pour over rice or be scooped up with a local form of bread. But still, being here in the US, I figured I would attempt one of the soups that we know as "Mulligatawny." In reality it is called Milagu-thanni and is translated as Pepper Water. I have read countless recipes and watched countless videos on this recipe. All of them are different. Some are so different it is hard to tell if it is the same kind of recipe. 

When I tried this out, I followed a recipe from a cookbook I found many years ago, called the Bombay Palace Cookbook. In this recipe, the soup calls for the use of 1/2 pound of besan. Besan is flour made from ground chickpeas. This soup was meant to serve 6 to 8. With that much of the chickpea flour, the whole pot of water seized up into such a thick mass that it became difficult to even stir, much less cook the little red lentils, also in this recipe, through to doneness. I don't know if this was a typo in the recipe, but I will be rectifying that when I recreate this soup. I think in all the myriad recipes I read or watched since, none of them have called for besan flour or even chickpeas. Most seem to use tiny amounts of toor dal (split dried pigeon peas) and/or gram dal, still leaving the finished soup very runny. Some few had a very slight thickening after pureeing, depending on the amount of these beans or lentils used. 

After all this, some use curry leaves, some don't. As the actual title is Pepper Water, some do use a fair amount of black peppercorns, but others use just a tiny bit. Some use a lot of chili peppers and some don't. This is another of those recipes that seem to have 100,000 different variations. 

My very thick soup was good in flavors, no doubt, but I will be making it differently when I make it for the dinner!

Allam Pachadi or Ginger Tamarind Pickle
Allam Pachadi or Ginger Tamarind Pickle
So then on to dessert: I have Gulab Jamun in the freezer from the last dinner. I can make a syrup and two of our guests would get a re-run. Or, I could try something else. I settled on trying out Gajar Burfi, basically a carrot fudge. Don't knock it - we do eat carrot cake, after all!  I will be testing that recipe this week to see how it goes. i always have the gulab jamun...

And then I started wondering about "Indian Pickles." I keep wondering what the Indians mean by "pickle," because their pickles have nothing in common with what I know (upper Midwest girl) as pickles. The recipe I chose to try today was made with ginger and tamarind. The recipe called for 6 tablespoons of hot red chili powder. This is powdered dried chilies, not the stuff that goes into chili con carne. This is HOT!  And 6 tablespoons? Okay, I chose to make half the recipe. I also chose to use 2 tablespoons of Spanish paprika and only 1 tablespoon of the Kashmiri red chili powder I have. I mostly followed the rest of the recipe called Allam Pachadi on a website called Indian healthy recipes. It came out very nicely and while it is hot, it is just tolerable for me. Which means my husband won't touch this with a 10-foot pole, but I know at least a couple of my guests do like hot spice. It looks really pretty, for sure. This is my translation (grams to ounce or tablespoons, sequence of events and so on. Do visit Swasthi's website by clicking on the title above.

Allam Pachadi, Americanized, or Ginger Tamarind Pickle

Allam Pachadi or Ginger Tamarind Pickle
Allam Pachadi or Ginger Tamarind Pickle
½ pound fresh, plump ginger root
6 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
100 grams of tamarind whole (about 8 pods) 

-   or compressed tamarind paste in a
    comparable amount
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons pure red chili powder
4 tablespoons Spanish paprika
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons palm sugar or brown sugar
1 tablespoon fenugreek powder
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
4 -6 cloves garlic, smashed
20 to 24 fresh curry leaves
2 dried red chilies, broken
1/8 teaspoon asafoetida

Soak the tamarind in 1 cup boiling water for about 20 minutes.

Peel the ginger and slice thinly, then rough chop. Heat a skillet and use about 1 tablespoon of the oil to fry the ginger until it starts to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Set aside to cool completely. Once cooled, place in the food processor and process very fine.

Set a sieve over a bowl. Lift out one of the soaked tamarind pods at a time. Using hands, roll and press the flesh from the seeds and fibers, pressing the puree into the bowl. If a little water is needed, add only enough to rinse down. You want tamarind puree, not a liquid. I got about 6 tablespoons of paste. Add this to the ginger in the processor, along with the paprika and chili powders, turmeric and salt. Process to combine. Add in the palm sugar (jaggery) or brown sugar and the fenugreek powder and process again to combine. Taste for flavor. It should be balanced between sour/sweet/hot/spicy. If not, adjust to taste.

Heat the remaining oil in a skillet. Once hot, add in the mustard seeds and  stir until they begin to pop. Add in the garlic, curry leaves and asafoetida and stir until the curry leaves are crisp. Remove the pan from the heat. Scrape in the ginger paste mixture and stir to combine all the ingredients. Use all the oil, as it will surface and preserve the mixture for longer. Store in a glass jar, not in plastic.

It will easily stay in the refrigerator for a year, according to Swasthi's recipe.

NOTE: in the original recipe, it is stated that if desired one can add in a teaspoon each of Urad Dal and Channa Dal when frying the mustard seeds. I happened to have both, so I did this. They are toasted in the oil, and supposedly soften in the mixture as it sets.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Open House with Great Appetizers

My culinary skills are occasionally called for when one of the realtors with ReMax Preferred Choice wants to make a real splash presentation to promote a higher end home for sale. Tetiana Althoff was holding such an open house a couple of weeks past, and she asked if I could make some of my tried and true Appetizers, making a lovely presentation for the home; the owners supplied wine to pair with the food. 

Tetiana Althoff Realtor with ReMax Preferred Choice
Tetiana Althoff Realtor with ReMax Preferred Choice
The home this time is at 2420 Pheasant Run Blvd, in Aberdeen, SD. The home has a lovely, spacious open-plan with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, radiant floor heat, maple cabinets, a lighted pantry and granite counters in the kitchen.The master bath has a jetted tub. There is an extra loft that can be customized. 

Andouille Coins in Puff Pastry
Andouille Coins in Puff Pastry
The appetizers she requested for this open house were Green Pea Pancakes with Smoked Salmon Mousse, Mini Sweet Peppers with Honey-Chevre Cream, Millard's Mini-Artichoke Quiches, Andouille Coins in Puff Pastry, Flank Steak Rolls with Gorgonzola Walnut Spread and Mini Pecan Tarts.  Some of these recipes were oldies but goodies (for me) and others were embellished as the muse struck. 

I love using the little mini sweet peppers, as they are colorful and add in a nice fresh note. This time I threw together a goat cheese and honey mixture that turned out absolutely delightful either used as I did here piped onto the peppers, or just used as a delicious spread for crackers. I used a large open star tip to pipe the mixture onto the peppers. At the open house, Neima Ali, the newest realtor to ReMax Preferred Choice, helped pipe the chevre cream onto the peppers. She was a very quick study with that piping bag, as seen in the photo here below, and a great help to me!

Chevre-Honey- Cream

Mini Sweet Peppers with Chevre-Honey Cream
Mini Sweet Peppers with Chevre-Honey Cream
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
8 ounces Chevre or Montrachet goat cheese
3 tablespoons cream cheese 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat together the olive oil and honey with the lemon zest. Allow to steep for at least 15 to 20 minutes, then strain the mixture. Aside, beat together the goat cheese with the cream cheese, then add in the strained honey-oil mixture and season with salt and pepper. Beat well to combine, then chill until needed.

If using as a dip or spread, the mixture may need to come to room temperature before using. If piping onto the peppers, use a large star tip to pipe one large star onto the pepper strip. This can be piped onto a cracker, a carrot strip, cucumber slice or any vegetable of your choosing. 

Green Pea Pancakes with Smoked Salmon Mousse
Green Pea Pancakes with Smoked Salmon Mousse
Whenever I go back to a recipe, no matter how wonderful, I cannot help but tweak. It seems to be a failing of mine - I can never leave well-enough alone. I tried adding things to the green pea pancakes, to enhance the flavor. Unfortunately in this case, I went too far. I scrapped the whole batch and started over, using the original recipe. They were absolutely delightful the first time. No need for more enhancement. For the recipe for these cute little appetizers, click on the title of the photo above or click here. If you serve these little appetizers, I can tell you, Prosecco is a fantastic pairing.

Flank Steak Rolls with Gorgonzola Walnut Spread
Flank Steak Rolls with Gorgonzola Walnut Spread
Another of the appetizers I am asked to make time and again, the Flank Steak Rolls with Gorgonzola Walnut Spread are unfailingly good. The combination just cries out for a nice bold dry red wine, which was what they were originally created to pair with. A really wonderful thing about this recipe for the flank steak is that it turns out perfect every time, and I have made it so many times now, for various events, I cannot even count anymore. The meat is fairly rare in the center, but this keeps it both moist and tender. Flank steak has little to no fat, so it can get very dry and tough, very quickly. A thing to note when slicing flank steak: slice it thinly and across the grain. Flank steak has a very strong one-way grain to the meat. Cutting along those lengths will result in a long and stringy meat with little hope of eating, much less eating gracefully. 

Millard's Mini Artichoke Quiches
Millard's Mini Artichoke Quiches
One of the appetizers I have been making, perhaps more often than most any other, is Millard's Mini Artichoke Quiches. "Millard" was a neighbor when we lived in Florida, and he shared this recipe in the development's newsletter. I read the recipe and thought, "How could this possibly work?" But it does, and beautifully. I have most often made them as mini quiches (Millard called them "Muffins"), though his recipe stated that they can also be made larger, about 6 per recipe, in regular muffin tins. I did this once. They were fantastic. But I tell you, for quick and easy appetizers, these just take the cake. (If you like hot sauce, Sriracha is amazingly good dotted on top of these little things!) Millard's recipe called for saltine crackers crumbled into the mixture, or they can be left out. I have made them both ways. While delicious either way, I find that leaving out the saltines left the outcome with an odd texture. They still taste great. So I got thinking. Being conversant with gluten free cooking and baking, I have on some occasions used psyllium husks to simulate the structure given by the often called for xanthan gum. I have found I just do not like the flavor xanthan gum gives to foods. Psyllium offers the structure with no taste. I used 2 tablespoons of psyllium husks in this batch of these mini quiches and the texture was perfect. I may just use this method from here on out!

For a little sweetness, Tetiana and I decided on some little Pecan Tartlets. Again, these were made in the mini-muffin tins, so they are just a bite or two. Surprisingly easy to make, though the fitting of the crusts into the mini tins is a little bit of a chore. I have found that my marble pestle, which has the thicker end for crushing spices in the mortar, and the narrower end that you hold, works fantastically to fit the tart pastry into the mini tins. The dough is made and rolled into little balls, then chilled. Placing one little ball into a mini tart well, and with the larger end of the pestle, I press the dough in, creating a large dip, the beginning of the fit. Then with the narrow end of the pestle, I roll that tip pressing the sides to the edges of each well. This has worked for me for many years.

Pecan Nut Tarts
Pecan Nut Tarts

Pecan Nut Tarts

Makes 28

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces cream cheese
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 egg
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecans, chopped

With a pastry cutter combine the first three ingredients until they come together as dough. Chill until firm.  Then, divide the dough into 28 evenly sized balls. Set one ball into each of the wells of mini muffin tins and fit the pastry into bottom and up the sides. Set the tins in the refrigerator until ready to bake. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, egg, salt, vanilla, melted butter and pecans. Fill the pastry lined mini tart shells about 3/4 full with this mixture and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. Do not over bake!

Holiday season is fast approaching (AGAIN!), so I hope maybe these recipes can provide easy party fare for whatever event you might be hosting. All these are excellent recipes. The hardest part is not overeating them!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lamb Biryani is a Royal Treat

I seem to be on an Indian trend of late. There are some few other things I have made, but outside of quick standards like chili, pizza or soup, Indian has been it. Part of this is just that we love Indian flavors. Part of this is that I have found some interesting recipes that intrigued me. Part of it is that we held an Indian dinner for some friends. And now, we are hosting another Indian dinner with the same friends and some new ones. This dinner will be November 3rd. 
Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani

With this in mind, and the strictures of no nuts and no mushrooms, I have been working to piece together a meal that makes some kind of sense - both from my standpoint as hostess and cook, as well as from the standpoint of how an Indian dinner might be served. I had originally thought to make Korma, chicken or lamb. However Kormas use nuts, almonds and or cashews, as a ground up thickener to the sauce. 

Most of my Indian meals have had a sauce, curry style. This has been mainly as my husband doesn't care for plain rice, nor does he care for runny foods. If I serve white rice, or saffron rice, something has to be poured over it to make it palatable for him. 

Still, he does like things like Chinese fried rice, with a lot of things added in, so in planning for this upcoming Indian meal, Biryani occurred to me. Biryani is most often a special-occasion dish, often a royal dish, kind of an all-in-one, where the meat and rice are combined in savory harmony with a lot of spices and fried onions and such. Saffron is a must. In photos from Indian cookbooks, it is often shown served with dots of silver leaf. Royal, indeed.

Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani
In doing research on just how to assemble this amazing dish, I came across a word I had not seen before. The name of the Lamb and Rice Biryani is "Gosht" (Lamb) Biryani. In front of the word Gosht was the word "Kachche". I wondered what this might mean, so I went looking and finally found out that this means that the dish is made with the meat still raw. The meat (usually marinated) is set into the bottom of a pot and the partially cooked rice is poured over top. Liquid is added and then the dish is cooked either stovetop or in the oven. I wondered how the dish would taste, and if the meat would be cooked through properly. I found that the flavor was excellent and it was certainly cooked through and tender.

The alternative is called "Pakki" Biryani and this means the meat cubes are fried before adding to the pot. It appears that the most authentic method is with the meat still raw. That answered my question and also gave me incentive to try the dish out and ascertain if it worked, if the flavors were good and if it cooked properly. I made the dish yesterday and found the answer to all three questions was a resounding "YES!"

That said, there are a lot of steps to the dish. It seemed unduly complicated, or maybe just clumsy in the directions. I looked up various recipes online, as well as in some cookbooks of my own. Comparing styles and ingredients, I made what I felt to be a good approximation, but all my own. I cannot know ahead of time if it will all work out or not, but once I work on a dish like this, I can see where any difficulties lie, and correct them or facilitate them. One thing in particular was getting the onions fried early enough to have them for use IN the dish and not just as a decoration for on top of the finished product. The recipe calls for 4 onions to be sliced and then sauteed until well-browned (not burnt!). To get that many onions to cook down to browned and caramelized takes a good half hour, stirring quite often. I was running the ragged edge on timing for the assembly and the onions were still nowhere near caramelized. I will keep that in mind for making it next time, possibly making this step earlier in the day rather than so close to assembly.

While there are a lot of steps and a lot of ingredients and different methods of prep work involved, this makes a large amount, suitable for quite a few people. The fact that it is baked for about 45 minutes frees one up for other last minute tasks. All in all, it is a supremely worthwhile dish and a total delight to eat.

Kachche Gosht Biryani
Kachche Gosht Biryani

Kachche Gosht Biryani

(Lamb Biryani Cooked with Raw Meat)

Serves 6 to 8

1½ pounds lamb, cut into 1-inch pieces
½ teaspoon minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 tablespoons oil or ghee
4 large onions sliced, quartered

½ cup sultanas
½ cup whole raw cashews

1½ cups basmati rice

3½ teaspoons salt, divided

1 tablespoon garam masala powder
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
1 cup yogurt
½ cup fresh mint, chopped
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tablespoons milk
½ teaspoon saffron 
¼ teaspoon kewra water, optional
¼ teaspoon rose water, optional

3 green cardamom slightly crushed
1 inch stick cinnamon
3 whole cloves
1 black cardamom, slightly crushed
1 large tej patta leaf ("Indian Bay Leaf")

½ teaspoon black cumin (shahi jeera) lightly ground
2 inch piece ginger cut into thin strips
3 tablespoons melted ghee
1 cup water
½ cup milk

Cilantro leaves for garnish

Early in the day, place the lamb in a deep bowl, add the minced ginger and garlic. Mix well so that all the lamb pieces are covered. Cover the bowl with cling film and place the bowl in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours.

Earlier in the afternoon, heat oil or ghee in a large skillet, add the onions and sprinkle on ½ teaspoon salt, then fry till well browned and caramelized. Drain on absorbent paper.

In the same skillet, still with some ghee or oil in it, sauté the sultanas and cashews for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the raisins puff and change color and the cashews begin to look golden. Turn out into a bowl and reserve for serving.

Set rice in large container with water to cover by at least 1 inch. Set aside for 30 minutes.

Take the lamb out of the refrigerator. Stir together 1½ teaspoons of salt, the garam masala, black pepper and turmeric, then add to the meat along with the yogurt, a third of the fried onions, half the fresh mint, half the cilantro and mix very well. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside to marinate for at least thirty minutes.

In a small bowl, dissolve saffron in warm milk. Add in the kewra water and rose water; set aside. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Drain the rice, then put it into a saucepan with plenty of water and ½ teaspoon salt. Bring to boil and cook till half done, about 6 minutes. Drain well, returning the rice to its pan. Stir in the saffron-milk mixture, then stir in the whole masala spices, another third of the fried onions and the remaining mint and cilantro.

Take a heavy duty pot such as enameled cast iron or a heavy braising pot with tight fitting lid and add in the melted ghee to cover the bottom. Spread the marinated lamb into the pot and top it with the rice mixture. Sprinkle the black cumin seeds and the ginger strips over the rice press in. Combine the water and milk and pour overall. Cover the pan with a lid. Set on a hot burner for a few minutes to take the chill off the mixture, then place the pot in the oven and time for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees and time for a further 20 to 25 minutes. Check that the liquids are all absorbed, then set the covered pot aside until ready to serve.

To serve, pour the rice and meat onto a large patter. Scatter over the top the remaining fried onions and the reserved fried sultanas and cashews. Garnish with a few sprigs of cilantro.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.