Rhapsody in Brew: Masala Chai

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Tea or Chai is the lifeblood of most Indians (except some parts of South India, where filter coffee is the preferred pick-me-up). Indians drink 30 percent of all tea produced globally and that is something considering that India is the 2nd largest producer and exporter of tea in the world :D

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Tea is so ingrained in the Indian culture that it has also crept into popular phraseology. Take ‘Chai-Pani’ for instance. Literally, it means ‘Tea & Water’. But when someone asks you for ‘Chai-Pani’, they are asking you for a small bribe or favor!

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Though tea is made in most households twice a day, tea stalls are also a very large part of the street culture. Little tea shacks (called ‘Tapri’  in Mumbai) dot most streets and offer tea and a few snacks to people on the move.

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It is a joy to see these chai-wallahs brew tea! Their deftness as they pour tea from one jar to another to froth it up, the little cloth used to strain the tea, the tea poured into little cups or glasses, the ‘half-serve’, called ‘cutting-chai’… it is one of those quintessential Indian experiences :D

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I remember a visit to this hilly factory town in north India for work and on the way, I stopped at one of these roadside stalls for tea, which was served in little clay pots. After the tea was drunk, the pots would be thrown into a basket, collected and recycled into pots that would quench some other weary travellers thirst :) So quaint, so delightful!

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About 90 percent of Indian households are tea drinkers and everyone loves their cuppa just so! Some like it extra strong, some like it more milky. And some like it with a little something extra, like Adrak Chai (Ginger Tea) or Masala Chai (Spiced Tea).

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My daily potion is Adrak Chai, but on special occasions, I love to brew a pot of wonderfully aromatic Masala Chai. Beautiful spices and strong black tea are a gorgeously potent combination.

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Instead of making a spice blend, I like to boil the tea with whole spices, just slightly crushed; the fresh spices impart a richness that is simply divine.

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So, do yourself a favour, ditch that coffee and make yourself a cup of this lovely concoction! You’ll love it, I promise ;) Oh and stop saying ‘Chai Tea’ anything. It’s like saying ‘Tea Tea’! Total nonsense!

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And while you are at it, remember,in India, tea time is not just about tea. There is always something to munch: something savory, something sweet, something to dunk in the tea… Try your hand at some crunchy Goli Baje, delectable Mawa Cakes, fabulous Kothimbir Vadi, gorgeous Vanilla Madeleines or super easy Khari biscuits :D

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Here’s the recipe.

Masala Chai

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 15 minutes
  • Print

Ingredients:

1 cup Water
2 teaspoons Black Tea Leaves or 2 Black Tea teabags
2 inch piece Ginger
2 Green Cardamom
1 Black Cardamom
1 Star Anise
2 inch piece Cinnamon
3-4 Black Peppercorns
3-4 Cloves
1 cup Milk
3-4 teaspoon Sugar (as per level of sweetness desired)

Directions:

In a saucepan, heat the water. Crush the ginger and the spices and add them to the water.
Bring the water to a boil and keep boiling for about 5 minutes, till the spices release their flavor.
Add the tea leaves (or tea bags) and sugar and simmer for another 5 minutes, till the water is dark red or brown in color..
Add milk and bring the concoction to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer the tea for 2-3 minutes.
Strain the tea right into tea cups.
Serve the hot masala chai with snacks (ideas in the post above).

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What I would Feed Elaine: Kerala Mixed Vegetable Ishtu

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So this week, I am playing host, albeit virtually, to a very special person. She is, I think, the healthiest eater I know! She is completely honest about her food journey and how it has now brought her to a place where she truly enjoys what she eats and how good it makes her feel.

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Isn’t that inspirational? Meet Elaine, who blogs at Foodbod :D She makes healthy look oh so good! Nut butters, fabulous dips, goodness bars, beautiful salads… and don’t even get me started on her sourdough breads!! Glorious!

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She loves and eats lots of vegetables, but no meat, no junk food and no refined sugars. She does love her spices though and that makes us soul-sisters, doesn’t it :D Elaine runs this series called ‘What would you feed me?’, where she challenges fellow food bloggers to come up with healthy dishes that they would serve her, if she came to dinner.

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When it comes to cooking for Elaine, I know it has to be something extremely flavorful and clean, a dish where you can taste and experience each ingredient that has gone into it. Something fresh, that also looks and tastes wonderful!

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I thought through a lot of vegetarian curries, many of which were prime candidates for the ‘What would I feed Elaine?’ challenge. But knowing Elaine’s love for vegetables, I wanted a dish where the spices don’t overpower the vegetables. Where the veggies shine through, still retain their crunch and are the real stars :D

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So, drumroll please… I present to you, Elaine, the divine Kerala Ishtu!! All the way from God’s Own Country! Talk about temple food :)

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Delicately spiced with whole cloves and cinnamon, freshly crushed peppercorns, with just a hint of turmeric thrown in to impart that golden hue, this ‘Ishtu’ or stew lets the vegetables do all the talking.

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They are quickly stir fried in coconut oil (another favorite of Elaine’s) and then simmered for a couple of minutes in coconut milk. Ginger and curry leaves provide the finishing touches. Clean eating at its best!

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This stew is generally made with only potatoes, but I’ve also eaten some with carrots and green beans in them. When I went to my supermarket yesterday, I found some gorgeous pink radishes, which I thought would work really well in the stew (and they did!)

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Instead of green beans, I added sugar snap peas, which tasted just brilliant here :) I really, really love the flavors in this gorgeous, delicate stew and I hope Elaine will too.

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Ishtu is traditionally served with Rice Appams (the kind that Angie made!), but I bet it will taste scrumptuous with a loaf of Elaine’s beautiful sourdough bread, to mop up all that fragrant sauce :)

Hurry on over to Elaine’s for the recipe!

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Red Revival: Mixed Berry Infused Lemonade

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Little Miss Munchkin is turning 4 tomorrow!! Seriously, where has all that time gone?? My little cooing, gurgling, drooling baby has blossomed into a gorgeous, self-assured chatter-box, who never stops surprising us with the new skills she seems to be sprouting each day <3

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I read somewhere that the average 4-year-old asks more than 400 questions each day. This little lady has probably passed that threshold a long time ago. Seriously, she takes Einstein’s quote (“the important thing is to not stop questioning”) at face value!

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So today, we held a little party at home with some of the kids from her ‘børnehave’ (kindergarten). A dozen kids descended here at 10:00 this morning, accompanied by 2 pædagogs (caretakers).

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The børnehave has a strict healthy eating and no sugar policy, so I skipped baking cakes and cookies this year and instead we had lots of fresh fruit, egg salad sandwiches, chicken rolls, bruschetta caprese and sweet corn chaat.

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The only thing I was allowed to add sugar in was the lemonade, but I was determined to make it as healthy as possible, with the addition of minimal sugar.

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I had read about berry-infused water, where you add a pack of frozen berries to water and it releases flavor slowly. The more time you leave it in, the more flavorful the water becomes.

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I decided to follow the same infusion principle for this lemonade. I simply left the berries in water overnight, in a large container and then added the usual lemonade ingredients to the water.

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This lemonade is super delicious with all gorgeous, summery berry flavors and isn’t it beautiful to look at? That crimson hue is completely natural, no colors added :) Plus think of all the antioxidants from the luscious berries.

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The kids loved the food and the lemonade and once satiated, made merry in the gorgeous morning sun in our backyard. The munchkin’s birthday parties have fortunately always enjoyed beautiful weather :)

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I am bringing over a gallon of this divine creation to the lovely bloggers at Angie’s Fiesta Friday! Today’s party is being co-hosted by two amazingly talented bloggers, Julianna @Foodie On Board and Hilda @Along The Grapevine. Come on over and bring your appetite with you ;)

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Here’s the recipe.

Mixed Berry Infused Lemonade

  • Servings: Makes approx. 5 litres
  • Time: 5 minutes + Infusing time
  • Print

Ingredients:

5 Litres Water
500 grams Frozen Mixed Berries (Strawberries, Blackberries, Blueberries, Red Currants, Raspberries)
1 teaspoon Salt
1 cup Sugar (or more if you like it sweeter)
Juice of 4 Lemons

Directions:

Take 4 litres water in a large bowl or pot and add the frozen berries to it. Leave to infuse for atleast 2 hours. The longer you infuse, the stronger the berry flavors will be.
In another bowl, add the salt, sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice to 1 litre fresh water. Mix till the sugar dissolves.
Mix the two solutions together and serve chilled.

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Some Like It Hot: Schezwan Sauce (Spicy Indo-Chinese Condiment)

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India, over the centuries, has been playing host to all sorts of overseas visitors. Some were friendly, some not so much. Some came and stayed and made India their home. Others came, plundered what they could and went back to where they came from.

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India, in its infinite wisdom though, has preserved a bit of each culture that passed through its borders. And very often assimilated it to such an extent that the end result is a mishmash, a mix of customs, traditions and flavors, sometimes quite unrecognizable from the original.

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Such is also the case with Chinese food in India. While there are a few restaurants famous for ‘authentic’ Chinese food, most of the oriental fare has been transmogrified (Calvin & Hobbes fan!) into something the Chinese wouldn’t recognise :D

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One very popular sauce or condiment in this mash-up cuisine is this Schezwan sauce. The name is a corrupted form of ‘Sichuan’ or ‘Szechwan’, the province in China famous for its pepper, spicy food and chili hotpots. Piquant, garlicky and lip-smackingly delicious, as a dip or a condiment, as well as in stir-fries.

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Unfortunately, most often, it is also full of ajinomoto or MSG. So easy, healthy, homemade Schezwan Sauce is such a great idea. You can control exactly what goes into it and most of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry. Honestly, nothing beats the taste of homemade sauces and this one in particular, is highly addictive ;)

Here’s the recipe.

Schezwan Sauce (Spicy Indo-Chinese Condiment)

  • Servings: Makes approx. 1/2 cup
  • Time: Approx 1 hour
  • Print

Ingredients:

8-10 Dry Red Chilies
2 tablespoons Peanut Oil
5 large cloves Garlic, finely chopped
2 inch piece Ginger, finely chopped
4-5 Spring Onions/ Scallions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Black Peppercorns, crushed to a coarse powder
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar
2 teaspoons Rice Vinegar (or White Vinegar)
Salt to taste

Directions:

Soak the dry red chilies in warm water for at least 30 minutes.
Grind them to a paste, in a food processor adding just a little bit of water.
Heat the oil in a small saucepan.
Add the ginger & garlic and cook till fragrant, about 1~2 minutes.
Next add the sliced scallions and cook till tender, about 2~3 minutes.
Next add the ground chili paste, crushed peppercorns and cook for 1~2 minutes or until the oil starts floating around the edges.
Add ½ cup of water and simmer for 1~2 minutes.
Stir in soy sauce, brown sugar and vinegar. Check for seasoning and add salt, as per taste.
Simmer for another 4~5 minutes or until the mixture thickens a little bit.
Let cool and use as needed. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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Easter Treats: Hot Cross Buns

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Right on cue for the long Easter weekend (five days, aren’t we lucky!), we have been experiencing some lovely weather. Bright days full of warm, golden sunshine!

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The munchkin went for the Good Friday Mass with her dad yesterday and had a wonderful time. She made her dad read 2 books to her during the mass (the church has a kids area), chatted to people around her, jumped up and down pews and came home, a very happy bunny <3

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She has been super excited about spending time at home for Easter and I have been planning various activities with her.There is an Easter Egg Hunt on the cards tomorrow, so I’m going to have a very hyper kid on my hands!

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The other thing that has her exhilarated about Easter is the idea of Hot Cross Buns. She’s been asking for them since she saw some while I was Pinteresting (that should be a word, shouldn’t it?)

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I guess Easter isn’t complete without a batch of these lovely, sticky, spiced delights, so this morning, I set about making them. I’ll admit it is a long process, but most of that time is spent waiting: waiting for the milk to be infused with spices, waiting for the dough to prove…

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But the end result is worth it. Gorgeous, soft, spongy buns with a hint of spice and a lovely crust, to be enjoyed slathered with honey and butter! Easter mornings don’t get better than this :D

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I need to work on those crosses though, I found that the trickiest part. The paste for piping the cross tends to go all over the place if you are not careful. Next year, I’ll try making the cross with some sweet pastry dough, should look much better.

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Also the initial kneading of the wet dough is a lot faster if you have a mixer with a dough hook. The dough is supposed to be very wet. Don’t be tempted to add a lot more flour, otherwise you will end up with ‘hot cross rocks’. A bit tricky, but homemade bread takes time and practice, as I am still learning :)

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I used this recipe from The Guardian, as it uses fresh yeast (that’s what I usually find here) and it also has some interesting tips and options from famous chefs. Plus it is a funny post, you should check it out!

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What about you guys? Have you ever made these? Do you have any special Easter traditions? I would love to hear from you! Hope you have a blessed Easter :D

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Here’s the recipe (adapted from The Guardian)

Hot Cross Buns

  • Servings: Makes 16
  • Time: Approx 4 hours in all; 1 hour active work
  • Print

Ingredients:

200 ml Milk, plus a little more for glazing
3 Cardamom Pods, bruised
1 Cinnamon stick
2 Cloves
¼ tsp grated Nutmeg
Pinch of Saffron
20 grams Fresh Yeast
50 grams Golden Caster sugar (I used regular granulated sugar)
450 grams strong White Flour
100 grams Butter
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon ground Ginger
3 Eggs
150 grams Currants (I used Raisins instead)
50 grams Mixed Peel (I skipped this, instead added 1 teaspoon Orange zest)
3 tablespoons Plain Flour
2 tablespoons Honey, for glazing

Directions:

Heat milk gently in a pan along with the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and saffron until just boiling, and then turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 1 hour.
Bring back up to blood temperature and then mix the strained milk with the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar.
Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and grate over the butter.
Rub in with your fingertips, or in a food mixer, until well mixed, and then add the rest of the sugar and the salt and ginger.
Beat together 2 of the eggs.
Make a well in the middle, and add the beaten eggs and the yeast mixture.
Stir in, adding enough milk to make a soft dough – it shouldn’t look at all dry or tough.
Knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic, then lightly grease another bowl, and put the dough into it.
Cover and leave in a warm place until it has doubled in size – this will probably take a couple of hours.
Tip it out on to a lightly greased work surface and knead for a minute or so, then flatten it out and scatter over the fruit and peel.
Knead again to spread the fruit around evenly, then divide into 16 equal pieces and roll these into bun shapes.
Put on lined baking trays and score a cross into the top of each, then cover and put in a warm place to prove until doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to 200 C and beat together the last egg with a little milk.
Mix the plain flour with a pinch of salt and enough cold water to make a stiff paste.
Paint the top of each bun with the egg wash, and then, using a piping bag or teaspoon, draw a thick cross on the top of each.
Put into the oven and bake for about 25 minutes until golden.
When the buns come out of the oven, brush them with honey before transferring to a rack to cool.
Eat with lots of butter.

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I Heart Lunch Time: Rajasthani Gatte Ki Sabzi

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Back in Mumbai, the company I worked for did not boast of a cafeteria, so all of us would either bring lunch packed from home, walk over to the nearest restaurant or ask for food to be delivered to the office.

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Lunch time was a noisy, boisterous affair and a bunch of us would get together every day with our dabba (lunch box) to unwind, gossip and share some good homemade food.

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Since I had colleagues from all over the country, the dabbas would be filled with all sorts of delicious dishes from different parts of the country: a great way to learn about and taste the gastronomic diversity of my country :)

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One of the colleagues I used to lunch with, was from the princely state of Rajasthan. His wife was a fantastic cook and she would fill his dabba with some of the most scrumptuous vegetarian fare I’ve ever eaten.

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My favorite among these was a sensational curry called Gatte ki Sabzi, the star attraction of this post. A curry sans meat or vegetables. Yes, you read that right! It is a curry of chickpeas flour dumpling cooked in a yogurt gravy, though that description does nothing to convey the rustic beauty of this dish.

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A large part of Rajasthan is sandy desert. Hence it is difficult to procure fresh vegetables all the time. The cuisine reflects this and accordingly chickpeas flour, wheat flour, lentils and milk products are predominantly used.

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But there is never any compromise on the taste; it is the land of royalty after all. So the humble chickpeas flour and yogurt become the starring ingredients in this beautiful dish.

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Oh, how I was crazy about this curry! My colleague used to love south Indian food a lot and on some days, the stars would align perfectly: I would bring soft fluffy Idli and Coconut Chutney and he would bring Gatte ki Subzi. We would simply exchange our dabbas and tuck in, making mmmmmm… noises :D

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This dish is quite easy to make. Chickpeas flour mixed with spices and yogurt is formed into rolls, which are boiled in water and then cut into bite-sized pieces, called gatta. These gattas are then cooked in a delicately spiced yogurt gravy.

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Simple ingredients, yet the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. Utterly delicious and quite healthy too with all the protein from the chickpeas flour. Hope you try it out!

Here’s the recipe.

Rajasthani Gatte Ki Sabzi

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: Approx 1 hour
  • Print

Ingredients:

For the Gatte
1 cup Chick Peas Flour
1/2 teaspoon Turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon Red Chilli powder
1 teaspoon Carom Seeds (Ajwain)
1/2 teaspoon Coriander powder
Salt – as per taste
1/4 cup Yogurt
2 tablespoons Cooking Oil

For the Curry
1 large Onion, finely chopped
1 inch piece Ginger, grated or minced
4 cloves Garlic, crushed
1 cup Yogurt
1 teaspoon Coriander powder
1 teaspoon Cumin powder
1 teaspoon Red Chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon Dry Mango Powder (Amchur)
1/2 teaspoon Garam Masala
1 teaspoon Mustard Seeds
1 teaspoon Cumin Seeds
Salt – as per taste
2 teaspoons Cooking Oil

Directions:

Make the Gatte
Mix all dry spices with the chickpeas flour.
Add oil to the flour and mix.
Slowly add yogurt and mix it. Remember not to add all the yogurt together as otherwise flour tends to get sticky.
You may not need to use all the yogurt.
Make it into a firm dough so it can be rolled into cylinders.
Now, take a small ball of the dough and roll it into 1/2 inch thick cylindrical shape (about 6 inches long).
Make similar cylinders with all of the dough.
Now take a pot and boil water in it. Take enough water to put all the above made rolled gatte in it.
Now, add the gatte in the boiling water. They should be fully immersed in water.
The gatte should take about 10-15 minutes to cook.
Check by inserting a knife in one of the gatte and make sure knife comes out clean.
Once they are done, drain the gatte rolls out of water. Do not throw water as we will use it for the gravy.
Cut the rolls into discs, about 1/2 – 1 inch thick.

Make the Curry
Add all dry spices (except salt, add salt at the end as needed) to the yogurt and mix it well till smooth.
Take a wide pan and heat oil in it.
Add mustard seeds and cumin seeds and let them splutter.
Now, add ginger and garlic and fry for a minute.
Add onion and fry till it is translucent.
Take off the heat and add the spiced yogurt, mixing well.
Return to heat on a medium flame and cook till the gravy starts separating oil.
Now, add the gatte pieces in it, cover and cook for 10 more minutes.
Add the water saved from boiling the gatte (and more) as needed.
The sabzi is ready. Serve with chapati.

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Sweet Springtime: Pineapple Kesari

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It’s funny how some memories stay with you, no matter how much time goes by. One of my most vivid memories is the of this vacation I took, the summer between school and college.

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My parents and I travelled south to Bangalore to visit my cousin and her family. This cousin is a lot of fun and she and her husband made sure we had a wonderful time in their lovely city.

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Bangalore is well-known as the silicon valley of India, but even before it got that sobriquet, it was a vibrant, exciting city (of gardens and pubs!) and a cultural and educational epicenter.

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One of the things I love about Bangaloreans is that they love to eat out just as much as Mumbaikars. So there is a plethora of options when it comes to restaurants and eateries.

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One of the most amusing things I experienced there, was driving up to a street vendor and the vendor affixing a tray to our car window, that would then serve as a table for us to eat off of. So ridiculously convenient! These guys sure knew their stuff :D

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Bangalore was also where I first tasted this divine dessert called Kesari. It is a Semolina pudding, laced with Saffron (Kesar=Saffron) and nuts, quite similar to Sheera. But lighter (as milk is replaced by water) and softer, melt-in-your-mouth!

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It is served frequently at breakfast in combination with Upma, which is a savoury semolina and vegetables porridge. The combination of savoury and sweet makes for some interesting fireworks in your mouth.

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I am not very fond of sweet stuff at breakfast (except pancakes, love pancakes any time of the day!), but I love Kesari as a dessert. Really easy to make and so comfortingly delicious on a cold rainy spring day.

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A wonderful variation to regular kesari is the addition of seasonal fruits. Apples, peaches and pineapples work beautifully in kesari, providing additional flavor and also helping to cut down on the sugar you would otherwise add.

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I had a beautiful pineapple on hand, that was going into a juice, before I rescued a large chunk of it, and set about making this luscious dessert. Now the kesari served in most restaurants in Bangalore will have a deep yellow or orange color in keeping with the saffron theme, thanks to food coloring; I decided to skip that and have a more rustic looking dish instead.

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It was heavenly and even won the munchkin’s approval, who ate a bowl of it without a fuss. Now that doesn’t happen every day <3 I am bringing this lovely dessert to Angie’s Fiesta Friday, being co-hosted by  Jess @Cooking Is My Sport! and Prudy @Butter, Basil and Breadcrumbs this week! See you there :D

Here’s the recipe.

Pineapple Kesari

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Print

Ingredients:

1/2 cup Semolina
1/2 cup Pineapple, finely chopped
1/2 cup Sugar
1 1/2 cups Water
3 tablespoons Ghee
12-15 Cashew Nuts, broken into pieces
Seeds from 2 Cardamom pods, crushed
A large pinch Saffron

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons of ghee in a pan.
Add and fry the cashew pieces until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set them aside.
In the same pan, add the semolina and roast on a low flame until light golden in color.
Transfer the roasted semolina to a plate and set aside.
Combine the chopped pineapple and water in a large pan and bring it to a boil.
Reduce the flame and let it simmer for 3 – 4 minutes.
Add the cardamom powder and saffron to the pineapple water.
Add the roasted semolina slowly, stirring continuously to avoid lumps.
Add the remaining ghee and mix well.
Cover the pan with a lid and let it cook on a low flame until the semolina is cooked.
Once the semolina is cooked, add the sugar and combine well.
Keep stirring for a few minutes until the mixture thickens and forms as a mass.
Add the fried cashew nuts and mix well.
Take off the heat and serve warm.

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