Thursday, July 28, 2016

An Indian Treat Called Gulab Jamun

It may seem strange that though these little fried milk balls are one of my favorite desserts (even outside of purely Indian cooking), today is only the second time, ever, I made them. One of the biggest reasons for this apparent lapse is in the word "fried". 

I absolutely despise frying things. I hate the mess, the hot oil, the drips all over the place to clean, and then what to do with the leftover oil. All that oil, wasted. Because guess what? I hate to fry things! Oh well. Today I made the exception, because I am having guests over next week for an Indian meal, and I am going all out. 
Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun

I am making things for this meal that I have made before, so there is no surprise anywhere. I am going to have Rogan Josh as the main entree with two side dishes: Indian Cabbage and Rice and Palak Paneer (creamed spinach with milk cheese). I will have three chutneys. Two of these are authentically Indian: Imli, or Tamarind Chutney, and Dhania Poodina, a fresh cilantro and mint chutney. The third is a Mango Chutney I make, and which my husband loves. For breads, I am making Naan and also Aloo Parathas, or Parathas filled with spiced potatoes. And for dessert? Gulab Jamun.

Gulab Jamun in tiny 4-inch bowl
Gulab Jamun in tiny 4-inch bowl

What are Gulab Jamun?

As already stated, these are little balls of a milk dough, which are fried and then soaked in a sugar syrup flavored with cardamom and rosewater. The word Gulab means rose, and this is because there is generally rose water flavoring the syrup these little balls are soaked in. Jamun is a reference to a fruit called a Java Plum, and may refer to the size of the little balls. 

In India, these milk balls are made using milk that is cooked down over a long slow period, leaving a very thick curd-like mixture, called khoya or mawa. To read more about this process, go to this site

Despite this being the traditional way to come to the dough for these treats, there are various other simpler methods to make them that do not require so much extra time. Many recipes I have seen say that khoya is sold in the freezer section of grocery stores, next to other Indian foods. All I can say is - not where I live! So then it comes down to the fact that it is a very thickened version of milk we are talking about, and so there are other recipes using various mixtures of milk powder, milk / cream, and / or flour. Some use ground nuts in the dough, or ghee, some add ground cardamom. As with most recipes, though the end product is similar, there are many ways to get there. 

The recipe I have used, sort of cobbled from various recipe techniques, is to make the dough with whole milk powder, flour and cream. The syrup is equal parts sugar and water, with a few saffron threads and cardamom pods thrown in. 

Size change from dough to fried to syrup
Size change from dough to fried to syrup
The totally shocking part of this recipe is the change in size in the Jamun from dough balls, to fried, to soaked in syrup. Look for at least a doubling in size (diameter) from start to end. The first time I made these, I was looking at a recipe that said to make the dough balls "golf-ball-sized." I tried a couple, fried them and found how much bigger they got and resized down to a walnut size. This still left me with very large Jamuns, and once soaked in the syrup, they seemed huge. In restaurants, the size of the Gulab Jamun served are approximately 1 1/4 to 1 1/2-inches in diameter. In this case, the dough balls to start should be about 3/4-inch in diameter, or slightly less. 

Knowing that I am making a very large meal next week, I opted this time to make my Jamun much smaller, about 5/8-inch. Once fried, then soaked in syrup, this left me with Gulab Jamun that were just over an inch wide. I like this size. I can fit 4 or 5 in a small dessert bowl and this should make them just right for after-dinner.

Making the balls this small left me with 95 of the little things. If I serve 5 of them in a little bowl as shown, that would serve 19! Luckily, before putting them in syrup, these can be frozen for a month or two, so they are available whenever you would want a few. I packaged them in little zip-top baggies in portions of 20. In the freezer they went. And all I have to do when I want more is make up the syrup, which takes no time at all. 

Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun
Gulab Jamun

Makes 50 to 90 balls, depending on size. 

1 1/2 cups dry whole milk powder
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 quart oil, for frying

SYRUP (For about 25 - 30 jamun. Double as needed.):
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
2 - 3 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
1 - strands saffron, optional
2 - 3 drops rose water

DOUGH: Sift together into a bowl the milk powder, flour and baking powder. Add in the heavy cream and stir just until the mixture comes together. Cover with plastic wrap and let set for 10 to 30 minutes, as needed.
The dough, the formed jamun, frying and draining
The dough, the formed jamun, frying and draining

Form the dough into balls about the size of a grape. You may need oil or ghee on your hands to roll the balls very smooth. While the rolling process takes place, heat the oil in a saucepan. It will need to be at about 320 to 325 degrees. A thermometer helps to keep tabs on the oil. Do not over heat.

Once the jamuns are all rolled, begin adding them carefully into the hot oil. Use a slotted spoon to move them around in the oil so they color evenly. They should get to a deep mahogany brown. This can take from 6 to 8 minutes, depending on how hot the oil. I fried mine in batches of 25 or so. Once browned, remove to a platter lined with paper toweling. 
The syrup, the jamun just added, the jamun after a few minutes of soaking
The syrup, the jamun just added, the jamun growing after a few minutes of soaking

SYRUP: If making all of these at one time in syrup, you may have to triple the syrup recipe. Mix the sugar and water together with the cardamom pods and saffron strands. Bring to boil, lower to a simmer and cook gently for about 10 minutes, to bring out the flavors.

When syrup is ready, add in the fried, drained jamun. Let them soak in the syrup for at least 3 hours, or overnight.  If refrigerated, bring them back to just tepid, either in microwave or in a pan on the stove. 

To serve, sprinkle on some crushed pistachios or organic rose petals, if available.

MAKE AHEAD:  If making these in advance (which I highly recommend, as they take some time and mess), once they are fried, but before making the syrup, either refrigerate them for up to 3 days, or pack in a tightly sealed container or zip-top bag and freeze for a month or two. When ready to use, prepare the syrup and add in the jamun to absorb the syrup. 

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, July 25, 2016

A Fermented Version of Curtido is the Best Ever

If anyone is familiar with Pupusas, those marvelous little antojitos (cravings) from El Salvador, then you also might be familiar with the Curtido that is generally served alongside.

I was first introduced to Pupusas in 1971, in Guatemala at the InterFair, an international fair that brought all sorts of things to exhibit from all sorts of countries. There were stands that had machinery to exhibit for sale, stands that had little handicraft items for sale. It was a study in contrasts. My understanding (as I was only in the country for a little over a year at that point) is that prior to then, where Pupusas were sold at a little stand at that fair, these treats were relatively little known as such. 
Fermented Curtido
Fermented Curtido

But let me tell you, once they were introduced, they spread everywhere like wildfire, soon popping up on many street corners, sold from someone's stand or even from a window in someone's house. They became a staple around our house. We all loved them, including the kids.

So what are Pupusas?

Interestingly, I have never made these, because I have not made tortillas from scratch. Pupusas are nixtamalized corn, ground to make tortillas, then filled with usually one of three things, either minced chicharrones, pureed black beans, or cheese. Once the ball of masa is opened up a bit, then filled, and then patted out to thicker than a tortilla, it is fried or cooked on a hot comal. As if this was not just goodness itself, there was always a condiment to go with them, called Curtido."

Okay, Curtido?

Curtido means "pickled". But this condiment was a lightly pickled mixture of cabbage (the main event) with onion and carrot, possibly garlic, and fresh cilantro and oregano. Salt and vinegar were the pickling ingredients and it would set together in a big jar for a few days. This was doled out along with the pupusas. And it was heavenly.

I love cabbage, just about any old way it comes around. I realize not everyone is as enamored of cabbage as am I, but still. I loved the pupusas, but the curtido positively MADE the flavor. 

Fermented Curtido
So last year I was introduced to fermenting foods, and I quickly went on to make sauerkraut, then a long series of other ferments, some more of a hit than others. I learned a lot over the last year, both about fermenting and what works. I continue to ferment foods on occasion, trying to eat something fermented at least once a day. There is a Red Cabbage and Beet Kraut that has been a real popular ferment with me. My husband won't touch them. If it is pickled in vinegar, look out. But the ferments? No, he doesn't seem to want to try them at all. Me? Oh, MAN, I love them. I am not so into pickled things though. My husband and I - we are a real case of Jack Sprat and his wife. 

Okay, so as I started thinking about Curtido, I wondered if it was possible to make the stuff fermented or not. Obviously, the vinegar would not be used. Fermented vegetables rely on salt to hold off any harmful bacteria while the vegetables themselves begin to ferment. So I set down a recipe and made a one-quart batch to try out. I let it ferment for about 6 weeks. 

The result? This Fermented Curtido is now my top of the list most favorite of ferments! I was concerned about the use of oregano in it. I don't mind some, but this was a little heavier than I generally go with the amount. But it was really delicious. While I have no pupusas to use it with, I sort of make a quickie quesadilla with two corn tortillas and some cheese melted in between. It is marvelous.
Fermenting Curtido
Fermenting Curtido

Fermented Curtido

makes about 1 quart

1 small cabbage, about 1 pound
1 onion, quartered
2 - 3 carrots, peeled and coarse shredded 
2 Serrano chilies, minced or sliced
1/4 cup fresh oregano leaves, chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup starter from a previous ferment, or whey 
water, if needed

Shred cabbage and place in a large bowl. Slice the onion quarters into thin quarter rings and add to the bowl with the Serranos, carrots oregano, cilantro and sugar. Sprinkle on the salt and toss the vegetables. Let stand for an hour. 

Add in the lime juice and starter liquid (mine was from a batch of fermented salsa) and begin squeezing the vegetables to break them down as much as possible. Alternately, use a meat tenderizer with a flat side to pound the vegetables. Either way, this reduces the volume to about half what was started. The vegetables should have created a lot of juice by this time.

Pack this mixture into one or two jars, preferably the bail and wire latch sort, and pack it down very tightly int he jar. Press very hard to get the vegetables very compact and submerged in their liquid. Leave at least 1/3 of the jar as headspace, because as the vegetables ferment they tend to lift and create an amazing amount of liquid. Cover the vegetables with a cabbage leaf, or even the bottom core end of the cabbage (cut off flat) to press down the vegetables. Use weights is needed to keep everything under the brine. Add water only if the vegetables do not have enough liquid to cover by a minimum of 1 inch. Stick on a piece of masking tape and mark what the ferment is, and what date it started, and what date to check it. 

Set on a counter and cover it with a towel to keep out light. Gently burp the jar daily, opening it only minimally to allow any gases to escape.

Check it in three weeks for flavor. I left mine for 6 weeks and it is absolutely perfect. So perfect that I now have another batch, doubled this time, fermenting away on the counter. I can hardly wait!

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.   

Friday, July 22, 2016

An Old Cake Recipe to Love

I have a recipe from a long time ago, more than 25 years ago in fact. I cannot say where it came from. Back then I copied down a recipe if it sounded good, with no concern for where it came from. This cake called my attention because it used pureed prunes in the recipe. I love prunes. It is a spice cake, which is also something I love, so this was a pure match made in heaven. 
Prune Spice Cake
Prune Spice Cake

It had been a really long time since last I made this cake. I was working on a cookbook for my daughter in law and this recipe was one going into the book for her. I now much prefer to take my own photos of foods I make, but back long ago that was the farthest from my mind. In fact, the recipe had no photo with it when I found it so long ago. I felt it might just be time to remedy these things: making the cake again, and getting photos for the first time.

The cake is a marvel of moistness, from the pureed prunes and ground nuts (a sure bet right there) to the extra sour cream I added in to the recipe. It is rich and dark and moist and spicy. I stopped right where I was with working on the cookbook and went downstairs to make the cake.  

When I thought about what kind of icing to use on this cake, I was just not in the mood for the traditional confectioners' sugar kind. I opted instead for the remake I made of my Grandma's icing recipe, which uses a cooked cornstarch & milk pudding as the base. For the cake I was making when I reworked Grandma's recipe, I called it Honey Butter Icing, and it can be found by clicking on that title. It was the perfect icing for a perfect spice cake. Creamy and smooth, it doesn't seem so sweet as some, though it has plenty of sweetness.

Prune Spice Cake
Prune Spice Cake

Prune Spice Cake

makes one (2-layer) 8 or 9-inch cake,
or one 9 x 13-inch cake

1 cup melted butter
1½ cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking Powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup cooked prunes, pureed
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup sour cream

Prepare pan(s): use either a 9 x 13-inch, sprayed with cooking spray, or two 8 or 9-inch round pans, sprayed with cooking spray, then lined with parchment and sprayed again. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat together melted butter and sugar in bowl of electric mixer until well blended. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the prune puree.

Sift together flour, baking powder, soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating well after each addition. Stir in pecans and the sour cream. Pour into prepared pan(s).

Bake for about 35 minutes or until cake tests done

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, July 13, 2016

Delicious Channa Masala or Chickpeas at Their Best

I just love Indian food. I might have mentioned this in past blogs. Once or twice. Maybe 20 times? Anyway, I make Indian food now and again and sometimes I get on a roll.Lucky for me, my husband also loves Indian food. Granted, I do not make it fiery hot. I love spices, in the sense of Masalas and all the great spice flavors that make Indian food so wonderful. I just leave out the majority of the chili pepper part. Otherwise my husband would not eat it at all. 
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas

So a few days back, I had been surfing the web, looking for something, when I came upon the recipe for the Chicken Seekh Kebabs I wrote about a few days back. And then I came upon some new spices I hadn't heard of before. And then one thing led to another and I was printing off recipes faster than I could keep track of. As for how I end up making a recipe, that is another story. I generally look up other people's ideas on a particular dish and then cull from that what I want to do. So it was with a Pork Curry, which I will write about later. Today I want to celebrate Chickpeas. Garbanzo Beans. 

One recipe for Channa Masala has been in my recipe collection for over 15 years. I made it once and my husband decided he didn't like it. I never made it again.
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas

Until a few days ago, as I was wading through a slew of delicious-sounding recipes and recognized the name of this dish. As anyone knows, each person who makes a dish, no matter how authentic, puts their own spin on it. So it is with me. I happen to have a pretty well stocked spice cabinet. I have an entire drawer full of only spices that go into Indian dishes. And then there are crossover ones, like green cardamom, for example, or mustard seeds. I have those elsewhere. But when it comes to exotic flavors, I just hunger for them, so with this dish, I ended up adding things to it that I had not before. I cannot even recall what the dish tasted like 15 years ago. All I know is that how it came out a few days ago was over the top. Mmmmmm.

Channa Masala is a wonderfully savory chickpea (garbanzo) dish that can be a vegetarian meal or a side dish, as one chooses. For me, I can do either. For the last two evenings I had only the Channa Masala with saffron rice for my dinner and I was more than happy. This is my version of Channa Masala. I used some spices that many people will not own, or possibly even have heard of. I used amchur (dried green mango powder), for a sour note instead of lemon juice. I added dried methi (dried fenugreek herb), because I saw it used in one of the many recipes I perused, and because I like the flavor. I also added Ajwain (Carom seed, which has a strong thymol component). These items can be left out, if not available. If so, do use a squeeze of lemon juice at the end of cooking.

Channa Masala

Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
Channa Masala - Savory Chickpeas
serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons cooking oil or ghee
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced 
1 jalapeno, minced
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon Garam Masala
1/2 teaspoon amchur powder
1 teaspoon kasoori methi (dried fenugreek herb) 
1/4 teaspoon ajwain / carom seed
2 cups water
2 cans chickpeas, well rinsed
2 Roma tomatoes, seeded, chopped
1 - 2 Indian bay leaves (tej patta)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
salt, to taste

 Heat the oil or ghee in a large skillet. Add the onions and slowly saute over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until nicely golden. Add in the garlic, ginger and jalapeno for another 5 minutes. Stir in the turmeric, Garam Masala, amchur, methi and ajwain. Cook, stirring to bring out the flavors of the spices. Add in the tomatoes, water and chickpeas and stir. Stir in the Indian Bay leaves and cilantro. Cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, to meld flavors. Serve with fresh cilantro sprigs to garnish. Wonderful along with saffron rice.

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.