Balconies and Baked Yoghurts

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It’s the first night it’s been warm enough to sit out on the balcony. The city lights shimmer in the distance, a deceptively calm façade to the Friday night revelry within. To the right, the single red glow atop the harbour bridge winks in its rhythm, in conversation with its twin that adorns the tip of centre-point tower. To the left of the nightscape is the distinct neon green squiggle of the holiday inn, a fluorescent stairway to heaven that is another reference point. The lights merge into a softly shimmering veil on the water of the harbour, now still without even a moving boat to disturb its surface.

From across the road, a wall of jasmine sends tendrils of sweetness over the railing, a comforting reminder of spring.  Below, a couple enjoy an evening stroll, elderly dog pottering on a lead before them. Diffuse puddles of light created by street lamps briefly illuminate the tops of their heads as they make their way down the street. Somewhere in the distance, base notes of dance music are scattered into the neighbourhood breeze from a house party. It’s loud enough to remind me that someone, somewhere is on a dance floor, but far enough away to leave me glad that it isn’t me.

There are worse ways to spend a Friday evening.

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This dessert, if you get it right, is like scented silk.  The recipe’s simplicity is almost deceptive, and it almost seems unfair that something so divine can be so easy. It is an Indian dessert, but one I didn’t grow up with so when it was first made for me, I was in awe. While it is simple to make, it does take a little planning due to the hanging of the curd, baking, and chilling before it is ready to serve. Its’ texture is not unlike pannacotta if you get the baking time right. If you over-bake it, it will be a little coarser and more reminiscent of a cheesecake, and still lovely.

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Indian Sweet Baked Yoghurt with Cherry Vanilla Sauce

Makes 6

Get:
1 ½ cups full fat Greek yoghurt
1 tin sweetened condensed milk
¾ cup full-fat milk
Seeds of 6-8 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste
A few strands of saffron
Crushed nuts to serve

For the sauce:
200g pitted cherries, fresh or frozen
2 tbsp sugar
Squeeze of lemon juice
Seeds of ½ a vanilla bean or ½ tsp vanilla paste

Make:

Place the yoghurt in the centre of a piece of cheesecloth (for those in Australia, a clean Chux cloth works well). Tie the opposite corners together and suspend the curd from a low height where the whey can drip out. Try the faucet or a wooden spoon laid across the top of a bucket. Allow to hang for 1-2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 180 C.

If using saffron, warm a couple of tablespoons of the milk and add the saffron. Set aside for a few minutes. Place the thickened yoghurt, condensed milk, vanilla and cardamom in a large mixing bowl. Whisk or beat with an electric beater on low speed until combined. Add the milk and saffron milk (if using) and beat again until combined.

Divide the mixture between 6 ramekins or glasses. Place these in a deep oven dish and pour water into the dish and around the glasses so that the water level is ½ to ¾ to the level of yoghurt mixture. Place the dish in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the yoghurts are set but still wobbly. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

To make the cherry sauce, place the sauce ingredients into a thick-bottomed saucepan with the vanilla bean husk if you used a bean. Add a splash of water (about ¼ cup). Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer on low heat for about half an hour, or until the cherries are easy to break down. Allow to cool, then discard the vanilla bean and blitz the mixture in a food processor until it is a rough puree. Spoon the mixture into the glasses on top of the chilled baked yoghurt. Top with crushed nuts just before serving.

Cucumber Raita

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I’ve been dabbling in a spot of scuba diving. A surprise to myself as well as those who know me. Being painfully un-athletic and colossally uncoordinated (who put that wall there?!), I never saw myself in a wetsuit, 20-something metres underwater, breathing from a tank and incredibly, not freaking out!

Being a serial over-thinker is something I’ve had to push aside. Because really, if I allowed myself the luxury of thinking about it……………..I am underwater, people!! Breathing from a tank!! With compressed air in my lungs!! Air that can diffuse into my bloodstream and form painful bubbles if I come to the surface too quickly!! This is not natural!! Humans were not supposed to breathe underwater!! What was I thinking?? Why would I jump out of a perfectly good boat or walk off a perfectly good shore to breathe through a tank underwater?!?!

So as you can see, my usual over-thinking habit has no place here. Instead, I am learning to quiet my mind and enjoy the peace and beauty of the underwater world. The stillness and slowness and floatiness of it all makes it a beautiful, almost a meditative experience.

If I’m lucky, I’ll see something awesome to distract me when my mind wanders to unwanted places. A gorgeous school of fish, zebra-striped with fluorescent green dorsal fins, engaged in a perfectly coordinated dance. An underwater flash mob.  Or will it be a baby shark, hiding under a soft coral, biding its time until it is big enough to survive the big bad ocean?

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Raita has nothing to do with scuba diving. Nothing whatsoever. There is nothing unnatural about this refreshing yoghurt dish, a standard side in every Indian restaurant. It is the cooling element to any Indian meal. This is the way I like it, with a base of smooth yoghurt, sans cream and sugar which seem to feature in many restaurant versions.  Ginger and some light spices give it depth but keep it light and refreshing. Finally, tempered cumin seeds add a crunch that makes you want to interpose them between your front teeth just to enjoy it.

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Cucumber Raita

Get:

2 cups loose/watery plain yoghurt OR 1 1/2 cups yoghurt and 1/2 cup water
2-3 cm ginger, finely grated
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/4 tsp mild paprika (optional)
Salt to taste
1 telegraph cucumber or 2 small lebanese cucumbers, finely diced (peeled or unpeeled)
1/2 small red onion, finely diced (omit this if you dislike raw onion)

For the Tempering:

1 1/2 tsp vegetable/canola/sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
4 or 5 curry leaves
2 dried red chillies
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Make:

Place yoghurt (or yoghurt + water) in a large bowl with ginger, cumin powder, coriander powder, paprika and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir with a whisk until well combined and smooth. Taste and add more salt if needed- the mixture should only be salty enough to neutralise the tartness of the yoghurt.  The mixture should be no thicker than a pancake batter, so add a little more water and stir through if needed.

Add cucumber and onion and stir through gently.

In a small non-stick pan, heat the oil. Turn the heat down to low-medium and add the cumin seeds. Once they have popped, add curry leaves and dried chillies. Fry for a minute or two until the leaves are crisp. If using fresh leaves, you may need to step back or use a lid to protect yourself from oil splutter (see my post on tempering here).  Add the oil mixture to the Raita and stir through.

Garnish with coriander and serve as a side dish.

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A Giveaway! And Chocolate Cake for One (Vegan, Gluten-free).

It’s been almost a decade since I last lived on my own, in a poky little flat above a veterinary clinic in North-West London. It was furnished with mismatched, tired looking pieces, and in the kitchen was a washing machine which I initially thought was cactus.  One day, a couple of kicks and a few expletives later, it miraculously came back to life and worked surprisingly well from then onwards.

The flat shared an entry with the clinic’s waiting room, and so I would often find myself sidling past curious wet noses who would sniff eagerly at my bags of groceries on the way in or garbage on the way out. The bathroom was adorned in lustrous, cracked maroon tiles with gold accents that may have had its’ glory days in the 1970’s. Entertainment was provided intermittently by the patrons of the Irish pub next door and by another neighbour who would regularly and loudly assure the entire neighbourhood that ‘Jesus would save them!’ at convenient times such as four o’clock in the morning. The apartment was what the kinder of us would call ‘full of character’, an apt introduction to the colourful place that is London.

At the time, I bought myself a book called Live Alone and Like it by Marjorie Hillis, whose cover declared it to be ‘A 1935 Bestseller’. The quirk in me couldn’t resist as not only was it on the ‘3 for 2’ table at Borders, but it boasted chapters titled A Lady and Her Liquor, Pleasures of a Single Bed and the intriguing You’d Better Skip This One.

Ms Hillis’ advice, although many decades old, is strangely still relevant. She advises against self-pity at being alone, warning that “Not only will you soon actually be all alone; you will also be the outstanding example of the super-bore”.  She doles out practical advice on the merits of saving money, for example, and cautions that “…..eventually, if no husband has turned up and no obliging relative has died, there comes a horrid conviction that putting aside a little something for a rainy day is not such a bad idea.”  In a chapter delightfully headed When A Lady Needs a Friend, Marge gets straight to the point with “….the truth is that if you’re interesting, you’ll have plenty of friends and if you’re not, you won’t- unless you’re very, very rich”.  Truest of all are her words on furnishing and decor, “This is your house, and it’s probably the only place in the world where you can have things exactly as you please.”

And the discovery that I could do just what I wanted in my space was a delightfully liberating one. Bake cookies at midnight! Paint the wall bright blue! Accumulate framed art that I never hang! Walk around without pants on! (Close the blinds first!!)

Oh…..and chocolate cake for dinner!

I want to equip you with this recipe, for those times when nothing but chocolate cake will do. This is a recipe for chocolate cake for one, made in the Tefal Cook4Me electric pressure cooker (which I have gushed about previously in my last post), so that it’s nice and moist.  If you are interesting enough to have a friend or a chocolate-loving date over, then just double the recipe and divide it into two ramekins.  It is gluten free, can be easily made vegan, and is (gasp!) even nourishing, with its healthy fats and proteins.  Most importantly, it is quick to make and fuss free.

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Oh! Oh! Oh!! I also have some gorgeous Tefal 17cm Santoku knives to give away to you, my dear readers! To enter, drop me a comment here.  What I want to know is, what do you enjoy doing when you have the house to yourself?  Please keep it clean, obviously! I will pick a couple of my favourite revelations to send these gorgeous, soft-handled knives to.  I can only send to Australian addresses, and you can enter as many times as you want with separate comments.

So tell me, what is your favourite home-alone activity or indulgence?

*Cook4Me and Santoku knives were kindly provided by Tefal, however all opinions are my own.

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Pressure Cooker Chocolate Cake for One

Get:

1/3 cup almond meal
1 tbsp buckwheat flour
½ tsp baking powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder or raw cocoa
2-3 tsp brown sugar
¼ tsp vanilla paste or powder
Tiny pinch salt
2 tsp milk (use non-dairy milk for vegan option)
1 tsp coconut oil, melted
1 tsp full-fat youghurt or aquafaba (for vegan option)

1 1/2 cups water

Make:

Place all the ingredients apart from the water in a small mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Place in a ramekin.

Remove the steamer basket from the Tefal Cook4Me. Pour 1 1/2 cups of water in the bottom of the main pot. Place the ramekin in the main pot. The water should come up to about halfway up the outside of the ramekin.

Close and lock the lid of the Tefal Cook4Me. Choose recipes, then choose the ‘Chocolate Sponge Pudding’ setting.  Press enter through all the steps and then accept the cooking time.

When cooked, carefully remove the hot ramekin from the cooker and eat the cake straight out of the ramekin with a dollop of cream, ice-cream or Greek yoghurt. Feel free to enjoy for dinner without judgement or disapproving eyes.

Notes:
Aquafaba is the liquid from a can of chick peas or beans, or the cooking liquid from the same. It is full of protein and a great vegan egg replacer.

Tefal Cook4Me and Spiced Chickpeas with Coconut

I’m the first to admit that I have control issues in the kitchen. The stove is a ship and I, its captain.  This makes it near intolerable for anyone who dares to help me put together a meal.  It also makes it very difficult for any sophisticated appliances to be truly useful in my kitchen.  My need for control means that I must stir the pot myself, pottering between that and chopping of the next ingredient to be added, while simultaneously shooing out anyone who ventures in.

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When Tefal asked me to trial their Cook4Me Electric Pressure Cooker, I have to admit I was sceptical. I am a stovetop pressure cooker user from way back, refusing to be swayed even by an exploding-dhal-from prematurely-opened-cooker incident a few years ago.  Would I still be ‘hard core’ with an electric pressure cooker, I wondered?

I don’t know exactly when I officially joined the Tefal Cook4Me camp. Was it the heart-achingly moist, buttery fish fillets I made using the ‘Sweet Chilli Salmon’ recipe?  Or the realisation that I didn’t have to pay attention and count the whistles from a stovetop cooker in order to ensure my lentils were cooked but not pureed?  Whatever the trigger, the result is that I now use my Tefal Cook4Me almost every day.

You guys, this thing not only cooks things to perfection, retaining moisture and flavour, but it also tells you how to do it!! It is programmed with loads of gorgeous recipes that take you through the cooking process, step by step, for 2, 4 or 6 people. Even an intuitive cook like me is quite happy to minimise the firing of neurons at the end of the day and still end up with a delicious, healthy meal.  Also, this thing is one sexy looking machine! I know, I know……I saved the most important bit till last.

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A lot of things are supposed to change your life these days…..appliances, cars, cosmetics. The Tefal Cook4Me may not change your entire life, but it sure will transform the way you cook, especially if you like quick, healthy, simple meals that are easy to clean up afterwards and so, so good to eat.

Oosli, or Spiced Black Chickpeas with Coconut, is a traditional South Indian Dish, popular during festival times but made throughout the year. It is a protein rich dish, perfect for those who rely on non-meat sources of protein, but also delicious as a filling workday lunch.  The earthiness of the legume is offset by the freshness of coconut and a subtle-but-definitely-there hint of lemon.  If you can’t find black chick peas, you can also use regular chick peas.

Tefal Cook4Me was kindly provided by Tefal Australia, however all opinions are my own.  Cook4Me images are from Tefal.

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Spiced Chickpeas and Coconut (Oosli)

Serves 2-4 as a side dish

Get:

1 cup dried small black chick peas, soaked overnight
2 tsp coconut or vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch asafoetida
½ to 1 hot green chilli, split down the middle
2 dried red chillies broken into large pieces
8-10 curry leaves
3 tbsp fresh or fresh frozen (thawed) grated coconut
Salt
Lemon Juice
Small handful coriander, roughly chopped

Special Equipment:
Tefal Cook4Me Electric Pressure Cooker

Make:

Drain and rinse the soaked chickpeas. Place in the Cook4Me pot with plenty of the water (chick peas should be completely submerged with about 1 cm of water above them).  Choose manual on the Cook4Me panel and reduce the time using the dial to 2 minutes. Press ok to start.  Once your Cook4Me beeps to indicate that it is finished cooking, allow the pressure to dissipate (about 5-10 minutes).  Open the lid of the Cook4Me and remove the pot to drain the water from the chick peas.  The chick peas should be cooked through but firm.

Replace the empty pot into the Cook4Me and use the manual option to choose the ‘Browning’ setting. With the lid now left open, heat the oil in the Cook4Me pot.  Add the mustard seeds. Once they have popped, add turmeric, asafoetida, red chillies and green chilli.  Cook, stirring gently for 1-2 mins.  Add 4-5 curry leaves (they will splutter so step back or momentarily lower the lid).  Once the curry leaves have crisped, remove the green chilli and discard.

Drain the cooked chick peas and add to the pot. Add 1/2 tsp salt to start with.  Stir and leave to cook, with the lid lowered (but not latched), for a couple of minutes.  Add the coconut and remaining curry leaves, toss through.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Stir again.

Turn off the Cook4Me and add 1 tsp lemon juice. Toss through, taste and add a little more lemon juice to taste.  The dish should be a little lemony but this shouldn’t be a dominant flavour.

Sprinkle with coriander just before serving. Serve as a side dish or as a vegan protein-rich main dish with flatbreads.

Notes:

All the ingredients should be available in Indian grocery stores.

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Where I like to eat

With age comes wisdom, independence and a reduced tolerance for all things annoying. Also, a slower metabolism and a reduced ability to go out for big greasy meals without feeling like a garbage dump for the next few hours. More and more, I am favouring restaurant meals that leave me feeling light and nourished, not clogged up and overly full.

Asian food, especially Vietnamese fare is often a winner. I’m slightly obsessed with the quirky ambiance of the tiny corner establishment Madame Nhu. Their fresh tasting pho leaves me feeling positively angelic, that is until I find my legs taking me up the road to have the best gelato I’ve ever tasted at Gelato Rivareno. Other fabulous pics in the area are Xage, Yullis and Miss Chu, which serves a knockout frozen crushie besides the flavoursome food. If you go to Yullis, you really must leave room for dessert. Further into the city lights is Home Thai, which offers cheap, fast and no-nonsense Thai street-food.

If you don’t want to find that elusive empty parking spot in the city, Saigon Bowl offers good, authentic suburban Vietnamese fare.  I won’t order the dumplings anywhere except New Shanghai, where you can watch them being made and really taste the quality ingredients in the fillings. I have daydreams about their prawn wontons that are served in a divine peanut and sesame sauce.

Bamiyan, also suburban, offers Afghani cuisine, which feels a bit like a lighter version of Indian cuisine. As a bonus, you will probably be able to park right outside, a real luxury in Sydney.

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Being an Italophile, I seek my fix at La Disfida, also a suburban gem. Again, order dessert here or I will have to seriously reconsider our friendship. Sven Viking Pizza has been a pleasant surprise. I had no idea the Vikings made pizza but gosh they do it well! My most recent mouth-watering discovery is Soffrito, where they make handmade pastas that melt in the mouth. I dined here with two friends and each of our meals were flawless.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of indulgence however and the Chicken Institute will sort you out for all of your fried chicken needs. You’ve ruined the diet anyway so you may as well follow up by gorging on some Turkish ice cream at Hakiki.

For some more dining recommendations, have a peek at Stay.com’s new travel app.

This post was sponsored by the super clever people at Stay.com but all opinions and recommendations are my own.

 

 

True-Brown Aussie

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My first long haul flight was when I was just over the threshold of eight years of age.  I’m afraid my memories of it are scant, the strongest one being that I had the special job of carrying the mantapa, the small Hindu altar that my great-grandfather had carved out of rosewood.  A close second is the memory of the confusing emotions that each of us, myself and my parents, carried with us.  A healthy scoop of excitement stirred through a pinch of sadness and a heaped tablespoon of apprehension at the thought of starting a new chapter at our destination, Australia.

I had no appreciation of how brave my parents were then, leaping into a new life in a country they had never even visited.  Approaching with a few thousand rupees, a weak currency against the dollar even then, and a pocketful of hope, we were Sydney-bound with very little idea of what to expect.  As a family, we learnt our way around not only the Sydney streets, but also the Australian culture and vernacular.  We learnt fairly quickly that “How ya going?” invited an answer of “Good thanks!” or “Not bad!”, and not the reply “By bus!”.  It was a hard lesson when we realised that ‘Bring a plate’ meant a prepared dish, not what the phrase implies in a literal sense.

More than twenty-five years later, we are about as Australian as the average Australian.  We make pakoras on Christmas day, party on New Year’s Eve and go to the temple for Hindu new years.  When asked about our background we identify as Indian but while travelling outside Australia we are fiercely proud to declare ourselves Aussie.  We wear saris and bindis at Diwali to exchange gifts of new clothes, and gorge on chocolate eggs at Easter.  Rather than barbeques laden with meat and onions on Sunday afternoons, we spread dosa (south Indian rice crepes) onto hot pans and dunk them in chutney and sambhar.  On  Australia day, we have the added celebration of Indian Republic day, an interesting coincidence.  Some years, to be honest, it’s simply rest-day or spring-cleaning day!

The mantapa now inhabits my spare room, enclosing my small shrine.  It is where I pray before I go forth to conquer the day and before I sit down to a meal, whether Indian, Italian, Thai or Australian.  Like me, it is Indian-manufactured and Australian-developed, it’s wood as solid and un-weathered as my cultural identity.

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There are days when I feel not Indian enough and a few cents short of Aussie enough.  And other days when I know I am standing comfortably in the middle of the see-saw, perfectly balanced.  I am more a True-Brown Indian-Australian than a True-Blue Aussie, and this seems to work just fine.

Mangoes and coconuts are well-loved ingredients in both India and Australia and the Mango-Macadamia combination is a popular on in my adopted country.  These truffles pack all the flavour of mangoes, with the textural elements of coconut and macadamia butter.  They are vegan and free of refined sugar and gluten.

Happy Australia Day and Indian Republic day folks!

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MMC (Mango, Macadamia and Coconut) Truffles

Get:

100g dried mango, soaked in water for 1-2 hours
1/3 cup macadamia butter
2 tbsp coconut sugar
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
3 tbsp protein powder
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
2 tbsp quinoa flour (or another 2 tbsp protein powder)
1/4 cup shredded coconut + more for coating
Coconut oil (optional)

Make:

Drain the water from the soaked mango.  Pulse the mango with all the ingredients, except for the extra shredded coconut and the coconut oil, in a high-speed food processor, until a smooth mixture forms.  Roll into tbsp sized balls, adding a little coconut oil if the mixture is too firm. Toss the truffles in the extra shredded coconut and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours.

Sticky Tofu Achari

 

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“This is myyyyyy version of sticky tofu!” said my cousin Murali, brandishing a wooden spoon excitedly and channelling Kylie Kwong. Heart surgeon by day, cuisine clinician by night, his eyes light up equally brightly for a new way to bake bread as they do for a pioneering technique for salvaging failing heart muscle.

A pleasant side effect of starting my food blog was that it has prompted people in my life to share recipes or volunteer to teach me how to make things. As far as food blogger occupational perks go, this is a good one. From this has come great things like my cousin Chai’s Ivy Gourd and Coconut Stir Fry and my mum’s Green Mango Rice.

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So on a recent whirlwind trip to India, I managed to squeeze in an eight-and-a-half minute cooking lesson with another cousin in the enormous granite kitchen that I have known since before I was tall enough to see over the counter-tops. While Indian pickle and soy sauce mingled in the air and tofu sizzled in the pan, I tried to attribute measures to Murali’s “Little bit ” of this and “Put some” of that.

I have waxed lyrical here about the confusing, delightful and piquant experience that is Aachar (Indian pickle). Here, the gravy of it is in cahoots with soy and tomato sauces. Together they form a sticky, flavourful coating over plump cubes of tofu and whatever vegetables are chosen to assist in the operation.  I have added my own touches such as fresh ginger, garlic and chilli.  I assure you, they are not a make-or-break so not having them shouldn’t stop you from trying this dish.  The vegetables are interchangeable, amounts are approximate and depend on taste.  Snow peas, broccoli and just about anything else you like should work well.  Unlike heart surgery, this dish is anything but an exact science.

 

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Sticky Tofu Achari

Get:

2 tsp Olive Oil
A few drops Sesame Oil (optional)
1 medium clove garlic, crushed
2 cm ginger, finely grated
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
Pinch Asofoetida
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1 1/2 tsp uncooked urad dhal (white lentils)
1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
250g firm Tofu, cubed in 1-2 cm pieces
1/3 cup Tomato Sauce (I used sauce with no added sugar)
1 tbsp Lime Pickle Gravy
1 tbsp Soy Sauce, then more to taste
1/ tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp vinegar, then more to taste
8-10 spears of Baby Corn, fresh or tinned, sliced into 1cm pieces
Small red capsicum, chopped
1 1/2 cups Mushrooms (button, king or oyster), chopped

Make:

Heat the oils in a large wok, then add mustard seeds and dhal. Once the seeds have popped and dhal has slightly browned, turn the heat down to medium.  Add ginger, garlic and chilli, and fry for a minute or so.  Add asofoetida and turmeric and stir, then add tofu and toss until coated. If using fresh baby corn, add this at the same time.  Cover and lower heat, cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add cinnamon, pickle gravy and sauces, and about 1/4 cup water. Stir, cover and cook.  Check every 2 minutes or so, adding a little more water if needed, until the corn is cooked through.  Add the other vegetables, including the baby corn if you are using the tinned version.  Add a little water if needed, stir, cover and leave to cook for 2-4 minutes.

Add the vinegar and stir through. Taste and add more soy sauce or vinegar if needed.

Serve with rice or flatbreads, or toss through some noodles.

Sticky Tofu Achari (5 of 6)

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies (Gluten Free)

I spend an unnatural amount of time thinking about things like how exactly chick-pea water works as an alternative to eggs (it couldn’t….could it…??).  Or what the exact reaction is that happens when you whip butter and sugar together.  Or why 180 degrees celsius in two different ovens is never the same.  I guess it’s what comes with the territory when you are both a scientist and a food blogger.  A double occupational hazard of sorts.

Lately my neurons have been firing about incorporating vegetables and legumes into sweet baked goods like cake and brownies.  Throw stones at me if you will, but I have to say, I’m not convinced.

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From the point of view of adding moisture without adding fat, I suppose I get it. Sort of.  But for the purpose of ‘hiding’ veggies to boost one’s veggie intake? Unconvinced.  I for one would rather beetroot roasted and tossed with chunks of salty fetta and baby spinach, the whole thing doused with a squeeze of lemon juice, than lurking sneakily in a cookie.  If I soak a batch of white beans, it’ll be to toss them with parsley, chilly and olive oil, not conceal them cleverly in a mudcake.

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So here are my brownies. Gluten free and moist with coconut oil which will make your skin shine. They sing with cardamom notes and are brought gently down to earth with the richness of dark chocolate and pistachios.  Like most of the baked goods on this site, the sweetness is subdued so feel free to add a little more sugar if you like things a little sweeter.  And not a vegetable or legume in (or out of) sight .

BrowniesCardamomPistachioGF (3 of 3)

Dark Chocolate, Cardamom and Pistachio Brownies

Get:
2 eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
Seeds scraped from 1/2 a large vanilla bean, or 2 tsp vanilla paste
Seeds from 6 cardamom pods, roughly powdered
1/2 tsp cinnamon
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate, melted
3/4 cup coconut oil
2/3 cup almond meal
1/2 tsp gluten free baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup pistachios, roughly chopped

Make:

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees celsius.  Grease and line a shallow oven tray with grease-proof paper

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs.  Add sugar, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon and beat with an electric mixer until a smooth mixture forms.

In a separate bowl, melt the chocolate either in a bain marie or in 20 to 30 second bursts in the microwave. Stir through coconut oil, also melted.  Stir this mixture into the egg mixture until a smooth mixture forms.

Gently stir through the almond meal, salt and baking powder, followed by the pistachios.

Pour the mixture into the pan and bake on the top shelf for 18-22 mins.  Remove from the oven when the middle of the slab is still a bit undercooked, and leave in the tray to cool.  Slice and serve!

Better with time

Being away from this space for four months has been tough.  It’s not that I didn’t want to be here, that I just wandered off without a care.  I thought about it a lot, I did! But this here little world of mine was crowded out by a new challenge, a study related one which according to the experts in my life makes me a glutton for punishment.

channa masala (1 of 4)

You see, if I post here, I want to be all here, giving it all I have.  This space needs nurturing.  It needs balance, the right amount of everything.  It is a cocktail, to be balanced with the right dash of spirit, a touch of sweetness and a zip of acidity.  It is a curry, spices tempered before the star of the show enters.  Cold tomato puree meets sizzling oil and popping cumin seeds.  The temperature plunges, then climbs again, liquid spluttering as the fire under the pot catches up.  In goes the protein and enough moisture to engulf it, stewing it in heat and flavour.  This is when you step back a little, letting the good things happen.  Chick peas that are firm to begin with, left to simmer in a sea of flavour, to soften slowly until they are barely holding together.  And when they meet a spoon or a tooth? All bets are off.

Those slowly softening chickpeas don’t ask for much.  A bath that is voluptuous with flavour.  For the sharpness of the chilli to tingle the tip of the tongue, then let others shine before it leaves an impression that accumulates with every bite.  That the slightly sour acidity of the tomato sings its song to brighten the palate.  That the sweetness of the onion and tomato develops with time, but never becomes more than an undertone.  And the salt? It’s the last to join the cacophony, in careful increments, giving all the other elements the power to do what they do best.

The chick peas soften, greedily absorbing spicy, sour, sweet and fragrant.  And we wait.  We cover, we simmer, we stir.  We stir first lovingly, then impatiently.  Most importantly, we taste and we tweak and we wait.

channa masala (3 of 4)

Like so many things, the flavour gets better with time.  A nice long simmer, yes but if you manage to make a big enough batch to save some for the next day, a type of magic happens overnight in that pot.  The kind of magic that makes yesterday’s curry strike an even deeper chord than it did when you first made it.  You see, a night together allows all the ingredients to get to know each other, to understand each other’s strengths and limitations, to work out how to interact harmoniously.  To wind up so flavourful that you can’t help but “Oh!” when you come back to it a day later.

There are probably a hundred or more minute variations to this classic dish. This is how I like it.  Plump, yielding chick peas.  A full-bodied sauce.  Sliced onions, a little firm and prominent enough to partner the chick peas.  And time.

Love, patience and time.

channa masala (2 of 4)

Channa Masala (Chick Pea Curry)

Get:
1 1/2 cups dried chick peas, soaked overnight or 2 tins of chickpeas
2 tbsp vegetable, canola or sunflower oil
1 onion, halved then sliced in half-rings
1/2 onion finely diced (you will use the other half in the sauce)
2 tsp Channa Masala
2-3 Bay Leaves
4 Cloves
3 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp amchur powder
1/4 tsp chilli powder (optional)
Salt
Small handful fresh coriander, roughly chopped
Plain yoghurt (optional)

For the Sauce:
1 medium sized garlic clove, peeled
4cm fresh ginger, peeled
1/2 onion roughly chopped
1 tin tomato, or 4-5 ripe fresh tomatoes, quartered
2 hot green chillies
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp cumin seeds

Make:

If using soaked dry chick peas, they will need to be soaked overnight.  Once soaked, cook them in a pressure cooker or over a stove until they are cooked but still quite firm.  If done over the stove, they will take at least 30 minutes.  Drain once cooked and set aside.  If using tinned chick peas, drain and rinse in cold water.

Lightly toast 1/2 tsp coriander seeds with 1/2 tsp cumin seeds in a pan, until fragrant.  Grind these together to a rough powder with a mortar and pestle or electric grinder.

Add to all the other sauce ingredients and 1 cup water in the bowl of your food processer. Pulse a few times until a reasonably smooth consistency is reached.

For the tempering, gently heat the oil in a large saucepan.  Do not allow the oil to reach smoking stage, use a moderate heat.  Add the 3 tsp of cumin seeds and when they have sizzled for a few seconds, add the cloves and bay leaves.   Add the diced onion half.  Fry for a few minutes on low-medium heat, taking care not to burn the cumin seeds, until the onion is a little softened.  Add the channa masala and chilli powder (for a spicier curry). Fry on low heat for another minute or so.

Add the sauce to the pan.  Add about 1/2-1 cup water to the food processor, blitz a few times, then add this water, with the remains of the sauce, to the pan.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Taste and add a little more salt or chilli powder if required. Drain and rinse the chick peas.  Add these to the pan, stir and cover.  Bring to the boil again and simmer on low-medium heat for about 30 min, stirring intermittently. Cook until the chick peas are softened and just holding together (they should not be allowed to disintegrate).  Add the sliced onions, separating the layers with your fingers, a few minutes before the chick peas are at that stage. If the sauce becomes too reduced, add a little water along the way to maintain a gravy consistency.

Taste and ensure the flavour is balanced how you like it.  Add a little more salt, chilli powder or amchur if needed.  if adding more chilli powder, cook for a few more minutes, stirring intermittently.  If you find the curry is too spicy, stir through 1-2 tbsp of plain yoghurt just before turning off the stove.  For a vegan option, leave out the yoghurt or use a little coconut cream.

Garnish with fresh coriander and serve with your favourite Indian bread, with raita or plain yoghurt on the side.  Like all other curries, this one tastes better the next day.

Notes:

Dried chick peas, Channa masala and amchur (dried green mango) powder, along with the other spices are available in Indian grocery stores.  Channa masala is a spice mix made specifically for this dish.

To speed things up use 1/2 tsp each of cumin powder and coriander powder instead of grinding these from whole seeds.  However I steer clear of bottled minced ginger and garlic.

Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwiches for a Nespresso Challenge, and a Giveaway!

Decoction (noun)

A concentrated liquor resulting from heating or boiling a substance, especially a medicinal preparation made from a plant.

                                                                – Oxford Dictionary

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (2 of 6)

It’s a jarring sound, decoction.  A sudden awakening from slumber by the cries of the vegetable seller from the street, and the racket of steel on steel as the maids wash the morning dishes.  It is the clanging of the heavy temple bell as early worshippers wake the Gods, offerings of fruit and flowers balanced in the other hand.  It is the impatient tooting of the horns of scooters ridden by morning commuters, some with saree clad wives perched sideways on the passenger seat.

Di-caack-shun when pronounced by a mami (aunty), is a little softer.  It is what South Indians call their coffee, brewed strong and slow, through a filter.  It’s rich aroma floats from the kitchen with that of freshly ground coconut flesh that is to be blended into chutney.  It wafts across the courtyard of a traditional Tamilian home to mingle with the intoxicating scent of jasmine blossoms and delicate incense smoke.  It is an unmistakeable morning scent, the promise of piping hot coffee in tiny steel cups alongside fluffy idlis (steamed rice cakes) and fragrant chutney.  For many South Indians, it really is somewhat of a medicinal preparation, an essential start to the day.  Until the first dose is taken, the morning cacophony can wait.

mocha ice cream (1 of 1)

No European coffee, prepared by professionals using noisy steam-spurting machines comes close to South Indian philter kaapi, lovingly brewed by mami baristas.  Rich and deep without bitterness and creamy with full-cream milk, sipping dose after dose from those stainless steel cups is an experience that cannot be mimicked by western coffee in paper cups.  When Nespresso sent me their new, limited edition Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru capsules however, I was surprised at how much the aroma and taste reminded me of South Indian coffee.  It’s deep, warm tones lend themselves perfectly to dessert and I couldn’t wait to create a sweet treat that incorporated this gorgeous blend.  My Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwich uses a modification of a spiced Indian biscuit, known as nankhatai, with rich and creamy no-churn mocha ice cream.  Coffee is no stranger to spices, at least in the middle-east, and the sharpness of cardamom helps cut through the sweetness and warm coffee tones.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (4 of 6)

It takes a little planning, this one.  The ice-cream should be given at least 12-24 hours to freeze, and the biscuit dough can be made and refrigerated at the same time.  The next day, leave yourself a little time to roll out, cut and bake the biscuits, then allow them to cool before crumbly biscuit meets cold, luscious ice cream.  The result will be a pleasantly surprising combination of flavours and textures, a dessert that does full justice to the lovely Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (5 of 6)

Before we get too carried away with this intoxicating business of coffee, ice-cream and whatnot, I have a couple of important things to mention.  Firstly, I would be super grateful if you would please head over to the Nespresso Facebook page at the end of this week, like the page and vote for my Monsoon Mocha Ice-cream Sandwich Recipe in the blogger challenge.  Thank you in advance!

Secondly, and more excitingly, I have a giveaway!  It is a stunning cookbook by Chef Kumar Mahadevan and his wife Suba Mahadevan, who own two of the best Indian restaurants in Sydney. Chef Kumar has also appeared on Masterchef Australia as an expert Indian chef.  From a personal perspective, my family and I are frequent diners at both restaurants and long before this giveaway was even in the works, I placed both Abhi’s and Aki’s in the guide to my favourite Indian restaurants in Sydney on Stay.com.  Having indulged in Chef Kumar’s dishes at the restaurants as well as at various events, I know that the recipes will not only work but will be delectable.  What makes this book special in my opinion is it’s lean towards South Indian dishes, delicacies from my part of India, many of which are not available in the majority of Indian restaurants outside India.

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (1 of 6)

I have a copy of Chef Kumar’s cookbook, ‘From India: Food, Family & Tradition’  to give away to a lucky reader, along with a sleeve of the limited edition Nespresso Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru.  For a chance to win, tell me in the comments box at the end of this post, about your most memorable cup of coffee. What made it special? Was it the place? The person who was sitting across the table from you? Was it linked to an important event? Or was it just the taste of the coffee itself, good or bad?

The competition is open to those living in Australia only, and closes at midnight Sydney time on the 23rd of April.  Please leave me some way of contacting you- either a link to your blog or check in here for a reply in case you win! If I don’t hear back from you within 3 days of me contacting you, I will have to pick another winner.

I look forward to your entries and your memories.  Oh and I would be forever grateful for your votes (Click here, then vote for the recipe from One Small Pot)!

*This competition is based on skill and I will choose the answer based on my discretion.  Prizes have been kindly provided by Nespresso and Chef Kumar.  Monsoon Malabar Grand Cru capsules and a loan machine were also provided by Nespresso for creation of the recipe.  Words and opinions are my own.

**Update : the winner of the giveaway was Ilana Mendels with her gorgeous words about the coffee she sipped during her first visit to her home country. Congratulations Ilana!

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (3 of 6)

Monsoon Mocha Ice-Cream Sandwich

Makes 24-28

Ice-cream recipe modified from a Nigella Lawson recipe.

Get:

For the Mocha Ice-cream:

240g (just over 2/3 cup) sweetened condensed milk
320ml double cream
120g good quality 70% dark chocolate
2 freshly brewed espresso shots Nespresso Monsoon Malabar Coffee

For the Coffee Nankhatai Biscuits:

180g butter at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
Seeds from of 8 cardamom pods. roughly ground
2 tsp cinnamon powder
2 freshly brewed espresso shots of Nespresso Monsoon Malabar (about 3 tbsp brewed coffee)
1 1/4 cups besan (chickpea) flour
1/2 cup plain flour
1/4 cup coarse semolina
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Special Equipment:

Nespresso Machine

Make:

To make the ice-cream:

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave in 20 to 30 second bursts.

Brew the coffee and place in the freezer to cool.

Once the coffee and chocolate are cool, lightly whisk together the condensed milk and cream in a bowl, then add the coffee and chocolate.  Lightly whisk until combined.

Pour into a container and place in the freezer for 12-24 hours.

Be patient!!

To make the biscuits:

Brew the coffee and place in the freezer to cool.

In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugar and the cardamom and cinnamon powders. Whisk through the cooled coffee until combined.

In a separate bowl, sift all the flours, baking powder and salt together.

Add the flour mixture to the butter and sugar mixture and combine with a spatula.  You will then have to get your (clean) hands in there to form a dough. Knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is smooth.  If it is too sticky, put it in the fridge for about 10 mins. Knead again for a minute.

Wrap in cling wrap and chill for at least 2 hours.

Divide the dough into 3-4 parts. Flour the outside of the dough and place between 2 sheets of grease-proof paper. Roll out evenly into 5 mm thick sheets. using a round cookie cutter (about 7 cm diameter), cut the cookies out of the sheet. Leave the rest of the dough in the fridge and just take out sections as you are ready to roll them.  Repeat until all the dough is finished.

Lay the cookies out on baking trays lined with baking paper.  Leave 2-3 cm between cookies as they will spread a little.  Place the trays in the fridge for at least 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170 C.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 10-12 minutes mins.  The cookies are done when they have spread a little and are slightly browned at the top and bottom.  They will be soft initially but will firm up after they cool.  Allow to cool completely before assembling.

To assemble, scoop the ice-cream into a rough ball using an ice-cream scoop and a dinner spoon.  Place the ball of ice-cream in the centre of one biscuit and place another biscuit on top.  Apply gentle, even pressure to the top biscuit with the flat palm of your hand until the ice-cream spreads a little between biscuits.  The biscuits will break easily, so it is important to be gentle.

Serve immediately!

Monsoon malabar ice cream sandwich (6 of 6)