Cauliflower and Apple Salad with Tamarind Dressing

When I was asked by the Australian Jewish Newspaper to contribute a recipe appropriate for the upcoming Jewish festival Rosh Hashanah, I got to thinking about food with respect to religion.  Food is so complexly linked to our culture which in turn influences the way we choose to celebrate important religious festivals.

From the universally known bread and wine of Christianity to the more complex dishes I was raised with that are linked to the multitude of Hindu festivals, I am fascinated by the basis for why certain foods are considered auspicious.

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This is a month that is heavily concentrated with important Hindu festivals.  Krishna Janmasthami, or Gokulashtami is next.  Traditionally, many sweet and savoury snacks are prepared as an offering to the cheeky Lord Krishna, known for his mischievous thieving of home-churned butter as a child.  It is easy to see why this festival was a childhood favourite of mine, and it wasn’t just because I was always quite fond of Lord Krishna.

Barely have our waistlines recovered from the excessive consumption during Gokulashtami before Ganesh Chathurthi arrives, a celebration of the elephant headed God.  Little steamed or deep fried pastry parcels with a coconut and jaggery filling are a traditional staple.  There are many stories associated with the auspiciousness of this dish, variations of which are called the modakam or kadabu.  The simplest explanation is that the sweets were a favourite of Lord Ganesha and he is often depicted with a plate of the delicacies at his feet.

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What especially strikes a chord with me is the significance of bevu bella, a mixture of bitter neem leaves and caramel-sweet jaggery.  A spoonful of bittersweet that is distributed during Ugadi, the Kannada New year.  It is a reminder that life brings with it both happiness and sorrow and one must begin each year prepared to handle both with equal grace.

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Rosh Hashanah falls in September and is the Jewish New year.  It is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, and a ‘day of judgement’ for those that follow Judaism.  Foods such as apples, honey and dates are offered and eaten to symbolise a sweet new year.  Pomegranates are another auspicious food with their many seeds representing a fruitful year ahead.

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I put together a salad that was inspired by one I had at a trendy Sydney cafe, Kepos Street Kitchen.  There, hubs and I hipster-watched as we devoured a large bowl of an incredible cauliflower and pomegranate salad.  I couldn’t source any pomegranate for this recipe so I’ve used apple but pomegranate would also work well.

This is a salad that combines the bite of cauliflower with the tartness of green apples and cranberries.   The dressing is tamarind based, sweetened with honey and perfectly balanced with the warmth of cumin and paprika.  It is a dressing that will collect at the bottom of the bowl but this is far from a problem because you will find yourself sipping spoonfuls of it long after the solid ingredients are gone.  Crunchy toasted pecans, tossed in right before serving lend a final textural surprise.

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Cauliflower and Apple Salad

Serves 2-3 as a side dish

Get:

For the dressing:

Small ball of dried tamarind (ping-pong ball sized)
1/2 cup boiling water
1  1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp olive oil

For the salad:

1/4 cup pearl barley
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1/2 cup pecans
1  1/2 cups cauliflower in tiny florets
1/2 a green apple diced or 1/3 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1 tbsp mint leaves, finely chopped
2 tbsp parsley (flat or curly), finely chopped

Make

Preheat the oven to 160 C.  When heated, place the pecans in the oven on a tray for 8-10 mins or until toasted.  Allow to cool and chop roughly.  You will not be needing the oven after this.

Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup boiling water for about 10 minutes.  Mash the tamarind in the water with a fork and drain, reserving the water.  You can discard the tamarind pulp.

Place the pearl barley, 1 1/2 cups boiling water and 1/4 tsp salt in a saucepan or pot.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 30-40mins until the barley is cooked but still a little chewy.  Drain and set aside.

In a small non-stick pan, toast the cumin until a little browned and fragrant.  You could probably also do this in the oven.  Using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind 1/2 tsp of the toasted cumin to a powder.

Chop the stems off the cauliflower just at the base of the florets and divide into tiny florets.  Wash well.  Blanch in boiling water (enough to completely cover the cauliflower) for 5 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Dice 1/2 a green apple into roughly 8-10 mm pieces.

To make the dressing, combine tamarind water and the rest of the dressing ingredients except for the whole cumin seeds in a large bowl.  Whisk to combine well.  Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if desired.

To the bowl add cauliflower, apple, barley, whole toasted cumin and herbs.  Toss well to coat in the dressing.  Just before serving, toss through the pecans.

Notes:

Dried tamarind is available at all Indian grocers.  You could also use tamarind paste- dissolve about 1/2 tsp in 1/2 cup boiling water.

Pomegranate seeds would also work really well in this salad either instead of or in addition to the apple.

Walnuts would also work well instead of pecans.

Want more salad? Try:

Quinoa Salad
Zucchini, Carrot and Fennel Salad
Warm Lentil Salad with Goats Cheese and Walnuts

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OSP @ ATFT Food Photography Workshop, Sydney

ATFT Class 1

Since I took the plunge into the world of blogging, I have been especially delighted by the supportive nature of the food blogging community both in Sydney and around the world.

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When I found myself sitting at a table with several other food bloggers at the A Table for Two food photography workshop last weekend, I felt at once totally comfortable and incredibly inspired.

The ATFT blog and workshops are the brainchild of Billy Law, a previous Masterchef Australia contestant, food photographer, cookbook author and self-confessed sweet-tooth.

ATFT Tomatoes

Over two days, Billy talked us through the technical aspects of food photography and what to do with that big hunk of metal and plastic that goes click when you press the button.

Then there was the personal advice and clever tricks he generously shared about the art of food styling.  Billy’s bubbly personality put us all at ease, regardless of how silly our questions were.

There were a few Ah-ha! moments for me and a few things in my brain went ‘click’ as my camera did the same.

ATFT Class 9     ATFT Class 6

The good people of Mumu Grill kept us all well fed with a delectable and nicely staggered four course meal that helped fuel our bodies while all the new ideas fuelled our minds.

Somehow sipping a glass of wine at 11 am seemed perfectly acceptable when it was all part of the quest for knowledge and self-improvement.

ATFT Class 3    ATFT Class 4

As a newborn in this world of food blogging, this workshop was exactly what I needed and I hope to put all the little tips I picked up into action very soon.

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Fructose-free Lemon Curd from a Lemony Bounty

I’ve set about the task of growing herbs in my balcony with a stubborn determination which is not entirely typical of me.  Mind you, gardening for me is an undertaking that requires nothing short of the stubbornest of determinations because despite my best efforts, I seem to fail miserably at growing anything.

Anything apart from mould in bowls of questionable things in my fridge, that is.

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Of course like all other products of my generation, I blame my mother entirely for this particular deficiency.  She once told me that when she was a child, she planted some seedlings and rushed out excitedly the next day to pull them out of the soil to check if the roots were growing.

Needless to say there was not much of anything growing after that.

Lemon Juice

As luck would have it, Dad is actually quite a competent gardener and I can almost forgive him for not passing on the gene as he keeps me adequately supplied with whatever is flourishing in their garden.

So while the basil languishes in our balcony and the dill shrivels pathetically next to it, my parents’ garden has a curry leaf tree that has reached alarming heights, chilli plants that frequently sprout their spicy red fruit and a lemon tree that produces impressive numbers of citrusy goodness every winter.

When my parents handed over a bag of the aforementioned lemons, it was immediately clear to me that I would not be able to use all of the fruit before they dried up to half of their juicy selves.

Lemon Curd 2

Following this was the thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to try my hand at making lemon curd.  That’s right, for the first time!  Surprising as I have always found the sweet, creamy tang of lemon curd at once delightful and refreshing.

I then decided that one first wasn’t enough for the day and decided to make a fructose-free version of said lemon curd.

This version uses dextrose, which is a glucose powder.  It is slightly less sweet than regular lemon curd but I found it sweet enough.  You could probably add a little more dextrose if you wanted to.  You can use lemon curd for lots of things- tarts, lemon meringue pie, cake.  Or just spread it on toast.  I am planning more lemon curd related posts in the future so stay with me fellow citrus-lovers.

So what are your favourite ways to use lemon or other fruit curds? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments section.

Lemon Curd 1

Fructose-free Lemon Curd

Makes just under a cup

Modified from Gifts from the Kitchen by Annie Riggs via The Patterned Plate

Get:

2 eggs

Juice and finely grated zest of 1 1/2 lemons

62g butter, cubed

110g dextrose

Make:

Beat the eggs and place in the heatproof top bowl of a double boiler or Bain Marie.  I used a large thick walled ceramic bowl.  Ensure the water in the lower vessel is not touching the bowl at the top.  Add the other ingredients and cook on moderate heat for 17-20mins, stirring every few mins.

Stop cooking when the mixture is the consistency of a thick custard.

Allow to cool for a few mins, then place in the fridge to speed up the cooling process.

Place into a sterilised jar and in the fridge.  Mine lasted a few days in the fridge.

Notes:

To sterilise glass jars, wash with soap and hot water and place the jars and lids upturned on a baking tray in a preheated oven at 160 C for 20 mins.

If  fructose-free is not your thing, replace the dextrose with the same amount of caster sugar.

Lemon Curd 3

Click the Month: July 2013

July has been all about clear blue skies and a sparkly sun while the chill remained in the Sydney air. We made sure to get out and about and soak in some Vitamin D, There has been a food truck epidemic in Sydney and we joined in, partaking in the offerings of the Masterchef food truck.

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We made our way to the Aroma Coffee Festival in Sydney Harbour. There we lunched while perched on a retaining wall looking out over a view of the Opera House.

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To make up for all the delicious fatty excess, I dabbled in kale by combining it with flaked coconut and a tahini based dressing, and toasting the whole thing in the oven. Topped with a poached egg it made a healthful lunch with a good hit of protein and fibre.  There was this healthy beetroot rice and my Dad’s pav bhaji. I explored sweet low-fructose possibilities with these full-of-goodness bonbons and coconut cake bars.  There are other fructose-free food projects in the works so watch this space.

How was your July? What were your memorable moments?

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A Bowl of Red

Beetroot Fried Rice 2

Beetroot does this thing where it colours everything around it crimson with its juices.

My fingers, the wooden spoon, the new(ish) tea towels……et al.

I can’t decide whether it’s very cool or very obnoxious.

Beetroot and peas

And rice…..well rice doesn’t stand a chance against beet juice, what with being white and all.

It’s a blank canvas for redness.

This is a super simple, quick weekday meal.  My solution to having nothing in the vegetable crisper drawer except a single lone beet, and a container of cooked rice that needed a good home.

Peas

I think we’ll keep this one on the dinner rotation.  The beets provide fibre and a touch of sweetness which is nicely contrasted by the chilli.  The rice makes it a filling weekday meal which is super quick to make.  Did I say that already?  Well it is……it took me longer to take photos of this dish than it did to make it.

Super quick.

Beetroot Fried Rice 3

Beetroot Fried rice

Feeds 2-3

Get:

500g beetroot, peeled and julienned
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2- 1 tsp chilli powder
1/8 tsp asafoetida
1/2 tsp urad dhal (uncooked)
1/2 tsp channa dhal (uncooked)
8-10 curry leaves
1-2 large hot fresh red chillies, finely chopped
Salt
3 cups cooked rice (I use basmati)
1 tsp lemon juice

Make:

If you do not have rice which is already cooked, cook the rice using your favourite method.  Spread the cooked rice out on a large tray to cool.

Peel the beetroot and julienne- I use a mandolin for this.

If using fresh peas, cook in boiling water for 5-10 minutes.  If using frozen peas, just soak in boiled water for a few mins.

Heat the oil in a non-stick wok or fry pan.  Turn the heat down and add the mustard seeds and cover while they pop.  Add the dhals and fry until they are slightly browned.  Add the spices and fry for 2-3 mins.  Then, add the chilli and curry leaves and fry until the leaves are browned.  Read more about tempering spices here.

Throw in the beetroot, 1 tsp salt and about 1/2 cup water. Stir through and cover the pan. Cook on low to moderate heat for 4-5 mins until the beetroot is tender but still firm.  Drain the peas and add to the pan, as well as the rice.  You may have to break up the rice with your fingers.  Continue to toss everything together until it is all coated in the spices and oil, and heated through.  Be gentle with the rice so it doesn’t go squishy.  Taste and add more salt if needed.  Squeeze about a tsp of lemon juice over the top.  Toss through again and serve sprinkled with chopped fresh coriander and yogurt on the side.

Notes:
The dhals are probably optional but they do add a nice crunch.

Beetroot Fried Rice 1

 

 

Quick Masala Soda Bread

There is a pot of soup bubbling away on the stove and you are just a little bit proud of yourself for coming up with a way of finishing off that crusty loaf that you bought a few days ago.

And you are just a tad excited about tearing off chunks of said loaf and dipping them into that incredible soup you’ve just made.

Then you open the bread bag and you pull out the remainder of the loaf. 

Is it just a bit harder than you remembered? No matter, it’s probably soft in the middle

Say, what are those teeny tiny bluish dots on the cut surface of said bread? You know the ones.

Now did you pick up this bread two days ago on the way home from work?  Or perhaps a week ago just after your gym session?

For a second you wonder if maybe you could just work with this here.  You contemplate slicing off the fungal colonies and acting like it ain’t no thing.

Don’t be judging now………..we’ve all been there.

Masala Soda Bread 1

Then the Voice of Reason (VOR) in that brain of yours (it turns out she’s still there) speaks up.  In one swift move the half loaf is in the bin and you are all souped up with no-where to go.

The shops are closed by now and it’s too cold to go out anyway.  ‘Proper’ bread-making with all that kneading and rising is out of the question- you are so hungry that you’re likely to eat the dough raw and give yourself bloat.

So now what?

VOR tries to make up for things by suggesting you try and make that Irish soda bread you’ve been meaning to try and make.  You take her advice but not being able to help yourself you throw in some spices and Indianise it a little. 

What you end up with is a super tasty and crusty loaf that takes less than an hour to make. 

Good one, VOR!

No yeast?
Don’t get your knickers in a knot…..this thing uses bi-carb soda which everyone has, right? Right.

This bread is the bomb.  It makes soup dinner when previously it was just soup.  And in the morning, you may just want to toast it and slather it with some good butter or cream cheese.

If an Irish person and an Indian person got together and had a baby, that baby would be this bread.  Actually the only Irish-Indian baby I know is way cuter than this bread but I’m sticking to my metaphor all the same.

Masala Soda Bread 2

Masala Soda Bread

Modified from BBC Food

 Get:

1 tbsp cumin
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp chilli powder (less if you prefer)
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
2 1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1 1/4 cups buttermilk

 Make:

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C.

Toast the cumin seeds in a small pan until fragrant.

Put all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix together.  Make a well in the centre and pour in the buttermilk.  Stir until just combined.  The dough should be quite moist but not sticky.  Add a little more buttermilk if it is too stiff. With clean hands, on a floured surface, bring the dough together kneading very lightly until it is a flat ball.  Place in a skillet or tray lined with grease-proof paper  Make 2 deep indentations in the dough in a cross shape.  Sprinkle a few more cumin seeds over the top if desired.

If you would like a softer exterior, cover loosely with foil.  For a crusty exterior, leave uncovered. Bake for 30-40 mins until baked through.  You can test this the way you would a cake- by passing a clean knife into the centre.

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Steamed Chai Puddings for my first SABH

The tea cupboard is straining at its hinges with boxes and boxes of tea bags.  That’s right, a tea cupboard because we surpassed the tea chest long ago.

A recent trip to India resulted in a tea frenzy which means that there are now enough herbal teas to feed an army of detox-ers.  Several types of Tulsi tea, a mint tea, a terribly sharp ginger tea and masala tea, plus an un-labelled one that I dubbed ‘mystery tea’.

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As well, I was given some incredibly good quality black loose leaf tea by a friend.  It was grown on his parents’ tea estate at a hill station in a beautiful part of south India. This friend grew up surrounded by rolling hills of a lush green carpet as far as the eye can see, at the top of a mountain with no mobile phone reception and little in the way of entertainment.  He tells tales of encountering wild animals in the front garden.  A tiger lurking among the bushes.  A leopard slinking along the rows of tea.

The wild bison he says, with mild annoyance, eat the roses that his mother painstakingly cultivates.

And we listen in awe, myself a city baby to the core (Mumbai, Sydney, London).  To me these stories are almost from another world, one where fresh mountain air is abundant, Wi-Fi is but a pipe dream and wildlife roams unhindered in the garden.

Chai

For weeks I have wanted to create something beautiful using that fragrant loose leaf black tea.  Something other than, well, tea.  When I stumbled across the Sweet Adventures Blog Hop event with its current theme of Sweet Surprise, I knew I had to come up with something that incorporated the tea and pushed my boundaries in the kitchen.

Chai Pud 4

It is no secret that I adore using chai spices in sweets (like here and here).  So it was that the idea of chai puddings came into being.  And since I have always been a little intrigued by the idea of steaming, instead of baking, puddings I decided give it a go.  This is a steamed English pudding recipe, delicately infused with the flavour of good tea and spiced up with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.  I used a bamboo steamer for these but you could easily fashion one using a colander and a pot lid.  I decided to make mini puddings, which I feel are the perfect serve of soft, warm, fragrant sponge.  And the surprise? Well, you might just have to keep reading…………

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Steamed Chai Puddings with a Caramel Surprise

Makes 4 or 5 mini puddings

Caramel Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Pudding recipe modified from Notebook Magazine, August 2009, via www.taste.com.au

Get:

Caramel:

1/4 cup sugar
2 tbsp unsalted butter in small pieces
1 1/2 tbsp heavy cream

 Pudding:

1/2 cup milk
6 cardamom pods
1/2 vanilla bean split with seeds scraped out
3 tsp good quality powdered loose leaf black tea
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
4cm ginger, grated
70g butter at room temperature
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup Self-Raising flour
1 tbsp rice malt syrup or golden syrup

Make:

For the Caramel:

In a small non-stick saucepan on low-moderate heat, melt the sugar.  Remember when melting sugar, you want to just agitate the saucepan rather than stirring the melting sugar as that will cause it to crystallise.

Take the saucepan off the heat and add the butter- stir until the butter melts and it is somewhat incorporated (it will not blend completely).  Then, add the cream and return to the heat.  Boil on low-moderate heat until it becomes a dark golden colour and reaches the soft-ball stage. To test this, drop a pit of the caramel into a cup of cold water.  If a soft ball forms that you can actually pick up, it is ready.

Pour the caramel onto a plate lined with grease-proof paper and place in the freezer for 20-30 mins. When set, form the caramel into little balls about the size of a large olive.

For the Puddings:

Grease the mini ramekins well.  Line them with grease-roof paper.  Boil about 1 1/2 L of water in a large saucepan or in the kettle.

In a medium saucepan, place the milk, tea, vanilla (seeds and shell), half of the ginger, 5 of the cardamom pods, crushed (seeds and pods) and the cinnamon.  Bring to the boil and simmer on low heat for about 10 mins.  Take off the heat and place in the fridge to cool and infuse.  Once cooled, strain into another cup.  You will be using 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp of this milky tea.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar using an electric beater or a whisk and a powerful arm.  Add the egg and beat until incorporated. Powder the seeds of the remaining cardamom pod and add this along with the other half of the grated ginger.  Add the milky tea (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp) and the flour in alternating batches, stirring in between.  Stir until all the ingredients are well incorporated.  You can use the electric beater for this.

Fill the ramekins with the mixture to about 1/2 cm from the top.  Place in the steamer and place the steamer on top of a large saucepan half filled with boiling water.  Try and ensure it is a fairly tight fit.  Put the lid on the steamer and cook on moderate heat.  After about 20 mins, remove the lid and push on one of the puddings with your finger- if it is cooked with a spongy consistency, push a caramel ball into the centre of each pudding so that is about 1/2 cm below the edge of the ramekin.  Cook a little longer before inserting the caramel if it is undercooked. The pudding would have risen well above the rims of the ramekins.  Put the steamer lid back on and steam for a further 5-8 mins.

Allow the puddings to cool slightly, then run a knife along the top of the ramekin to remove the overhang.  Eat the overhang immediately before anyone else gets wind of it.

Run the knife around the edge of the pudding to loosen.  Tip the puddings onto a plate or serve in the ramekin with some cream or vanilla ice cream.

Notes:

I used these little stainless steel cups I had that are 6 cm in diameter and 4 cm high.  Mini ramekins would also work well.  Or double the pudding recipe (the caramel amount should be adequate) and use normal sized ramekins, with larger caramel balls.

If using small cardamom pods, use two in the pudding mixture instead of one.Chai Pud 2

Nutty Bonbons for The Sweet Swap

I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny or the Tooth Fairy.  There was no leaving cookies and carrots out for Santa and his hungry reindeer on Christmas Eve. I didn’t awake at Easter anticipating the search for chocolate eggs that a big furry visitor had hidden.  As for the tooth fairy, she didn’t visit till I was at least eight when we migrated to Australia.  By then I was old enough to know better and while I happily accepted coins in return for the last of my baby teeth, I knew deep down that a fairy wasn’t the one providing the compensation.

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None of these things are anything to be sad about as these are western concepts that weren’t part of a typical Hindu Indian childhood.  We lived in Mumbai then, or Bombay as it was called at the time.  My parents made sure there was no shortage of wonder in my life and so there was no sense of deprivation.  I was an only child with a quirky imagination and they each had their unique ways of entertaining me.

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My mother was then a stay-at-home-mum, and as for many kids who have that luxury, she lost some of her authority come nightfall.  So it was my dad who would come home from the daily grind to his duty of coaxing me to eat the healthy dinner that my mum had prepared.

Luckily he too had quite the imagination and sitting at our Formica table in our little flat, he would find a way to transform the contents of my plate into something a fussy six-year-old would find fascinating.

Rice, yoghurt, curries and sambhar would be carefully piled into an exotic looking arrangement with an equally exotic name to pique my interest.  Dad’s skills as an engineer were never so challenged as they were when he constructed these elaborate creations that gave a new meaning to playing with one’s food. The whackily christened Auburi Biselari Kuselari was one such creation, made up of whatever was on my plate and with a name that was entirely conjured up in my dad’s mind.

I like to think it is more a testament to my dad’s creativity and not a reflection of my own gullibility that this was a tactic which worked very well indeed.

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Dad had another trick up his sleeve, and not just in a metaphorical sense.

Wanna see some magic? He would ask.

Now what child says no to that?

He would wave his hands around in the air, click his fingers, mumble some magicky sounding mumbo jumbo.  With spectacular pomp, dad would make a fist, wave his other hand over it and turn it over to reveal a treat as if materialised from the air.  And amazingly in his palm there would be a 5-star chocolate bar or a little pack of Gems (India’s answer to M & M’s) or a wedge of Amul cheese in its foil wrapping.

Dad knew just how to enthral and impress his little girl.

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The Sweet Swap wasn’t quite the same as my dad’s wizardry, but it still involved packages of sweets appearing, as if by magic, on my doorstep.  The inaugural event involved food bloggers from all of Australia and was put together by two lovely bloggers; Sara of Belly Rumbles and Amanda of Chewtown.  Not only did the event raise funds for the charity organisation Childfund Australia, but it served to connect food nerds from all over the country, a real bonus for a newbie blogger like yours truly.  The basic gist of it was that each blogger was matched with three other bloggers.  We were instructed to make three batches of the same sweet and post them off to our matches.  In turn, we received three surprise bundles of sweets from the bloggers that we were matched to.

Now what could be better than receiving homemade goodies in the mail?

Over the course of the week, I delightedly received firstly some scrumptious Irresistaballs by Tara from vegeTARAian, followed by the heavenly, goodbye-diet, Snickers Bars courtesy of Cassandra from Food Is My Friend.  The last package contained some cloud-like Green Tea and Lemon Sherbet Marshmallows from Ed at Yaya’s Yumyums.

Left to right: Marshmallows, Irresistaballs, Snickers Bar
Left to right: Marshmallows, Irresistaballs, Snickers Bar

As for me, I decided to try and dabble in some low-fructose treats.  A little while ago, one of my colleagues, Maria, gave me a recipe for some seriously addictive bonbons that she had brought in to share.  After a few tweaks, I came up with a version that had a fructose-free middle and a coating of dark chocolate.

These bonbons have an incredible texture, with ingredients that feel really substantial in the mouth.  The bitterness of the dark chocolate beautifully cuts through the sweet nuttiness of the filling.  Remember that almond butter we made a few weeks ago?  Well, you probably didn’t need a way of using it up, but if you did, this is one.  These beauties are super easy and no-bake, which means you could easily get the kiddies involved, as long as an adult is handling the molten chocolate.  They also make a great gift and evidently survive well in the postal system.

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These bonbons landed on the doorsteps of Emily of  Hold the Peas, Muppy of Muppys and as nervous as I was about sending chocolate treats that I made to a professional sweet-maker, John of Perfection Chocolates.

Nutty Bonbons

Makes 30-35 bonbons

Get:

1 1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsp almond butter
1/4 cup rice malt syrup
150g good quality dark chocolate
Desiccated coconut for sprinkling

Make:

Blitz the walnuts in a food processor until a very chunky meal is achieved.  Place in a large mixing bowl and add all the other ingredients apart from the chocolate. Start with 2 tbsp almond butter and add more later if the mixture is too dry.  Mix with a wooden spoon until it is a sticky, even mixture.  Oil your hands with a little coconut oil or a neutral oil.  Roll the mixture into balls that are a little smaller than a cherry tomato.  Spread out on a tray and place in the fridge for at least an hour.

Melt the chocolate using your preferred method- I like to use a Bain Marie.  Drop the balls into the molten chocolate two or three at a time.  Use two teaspoons to roll each ball in the chocolate until completely covered.  At this point, I sprinkled about half of them with desiccated coconut.  Place the balls on a grease-proof paper lined tray and return to the fridge. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Notes:

You can substitute any other nut butter for the almond butter.

To make these completely fructose-free, you could use fructose-free chocolate which is sweetened with glucose or Stevia, and vanilla powder instead of extract.

Of course, if you are happy to embrace the fructose, you can substitute golden syrup for rice syrup and use any chocolate you like.

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Dad’s Pav Bhaji- an Indian Street Food Favourite

If you are the type to like your food dainty, neatly arranged and delicately spiced, this recipe is probably not for you.  If elegance and order on the plate be your priority then under no circumstances should you even contemplate making and devouring this dish.  And if cutlery is your friend or you strive to maintain grace while eating your meals, well then I’m really baffled as to how you even ended up here.

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If you’re still here, I’m glad you are because if you are willing to overlook the complete and utter lack of prettyness of a dish and place something that looks like homogenous slop in your mouth, then this might just be for you.  And if you are game to tear off buttery, toasted bread with your fingers, scoop up some of the aforementioned slop, top it with zingy raw onions, a squeeze of lemon juice and fresh coriander and cram it into your mouth, you may just be glad that you did stick with me here.

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So if you manage to get that far, what you will probably experience is something akin to a Bollywood street party in your mouth.  You know the kind where boy and girl are walking down the street seemingly normally and all of a sudden everyone breaks into song and magically, strangers know all the steps to the dance? Yup, just like that but on your tongue.

And if you’re still tuned in, I promise you won’t regret it.

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Pav Bhaji is an Indian street food that originated in Mumbai and is now consumed by hungry folk on street corners all over India, as well as in restaurants the world over.  It is a kind of spiced stew, crammed full of vegetables bound together by mashed potato.  It is the mashing, the cooking, the stirring, followed by more cooking allows the vegetables to absorb the spices so beautifully.  When this smoothly spiced bhaji meets buttery toasted bread, it really feels like, at least in that moment, all is right with the world.

In our family home, although my dad can cook, it is my mum who does most of the day-to-day cooking, like this dish.  But pav bhaji? This is undoubtedly my dad’s domain.

A meticulous vegetable chopper, dad first chops all the vegetables in a perfectly even dice, then proceeds to combine it all together in a simmering pan while the spices develop their flavours, slowly but surely.

So we wait patiently, the aroma making it almost impossible for us to focus on our pre-dinner tasks, until finally dad dishes up the delicious bhaji along with pan-toasted bread as well as the accompanying chopped onion, coriander and wedges of lemon.

We normally use store bought bread rolls to pile the bhaji onto, but if you would like to try making your own, Sneh from Cook Republic has a recipe.

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Dad’s Pav Bhaji

Feeds 4-6

Get:

3 medium potatoes, quartered (Desiree or Pontiac work well)
2 medium carrots, finely diced
3 medium onions (you will need 4 in total), finely chopped
1 red capsicum, diced
1 green capsicum, diced
3 small tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup frozen peas, soaked in boiling water
More boiling water
50g butter + extra for bread (optional but recommended!)

For the Tempering:

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 1/2 tsp pav bhaji masala
1/2 tsp Garam masala
1/4 tsp chilli pdr
1 tsp amchur (dry mango powder)
2 chillies
1 1/2 -2 tsp salt

To serve:
8 Bread rolls- white bread tastes the best with the bhaji but grain or wholemeal also work
Butter
1 Lemon, cut into wedges
1/3 cup fresh coriander, roughly chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped

Make:

Place the potatoes in a pot with 1/2 salt and enough boiling water to completely cover them. Boil until just cooked through.  Drain and set aside to cool.

Chop all the vegetables as described and soak the frozen peas in boiling water.

In a large non-stick wok or fry-pan, heat the oil on moderate heat.  Add the cumin seeds and when most of them have popped, add the chillies.  Fry, adjusting heat to prevent the seeds from burning, for 1-2 mins.  Add the spices except for salt and amchur and cook, stirring for 3-4 mins.  Add both types of capsicum and fry for 5-6 mins.  Add the onions and fry until the onions are translucent.  At this point, add 1/2 cup water, cover and cook for 3-4 mins.

The capsicum should be just cooked through by now.  Add tomatoes, carrots and peas and another cup of water. Add 1 1/2 tsp salt and stir through.  Cover and allow to cook on low heat until carrots are cooked through and tomatoes are starting to go mushy.  While this is cooking, peel the cooked potatoes.

Much of the water may have evaporated by now.  Add the potatoes and another cup of water.  Use a potato masher to roughly mash the mixture in the pan.  Keep it fairly chunky- don’t aim for a mashed potato consistency, but enough of the potato should be mashed to homogenise the mixture.

Cook for 2-3 mins.  At this point, you should taste and add more chilli powder, salt or amchur (for sourness) according to taste.  Cover and cook for 15-20 min, on low-medium heat, stirring every few mins.  The mixture should be quite loose during this process, like a very thick soup.  Add water as you cook to maintain this consistency.

Finally, add 50 grams butter, cubed and stir through until melted and the mixture thickens a little.  Cook uncovered, stirring for a further 5 mins.  Take off the heat and allow to sit for a few mins before serving.

Slice the buns into half through the middle as you would for a burger.  Butter the bread generously and fry, cut side down in a non-stick fry-pan until toasted.  Use this method rather than using the toaster or grill- trust me on this one!

Serve bhaji with a sprinkle of raw chopped onion, coriander and a good squeeze of lemon juice, and bread on the side.

There are 2 ways of eating this- either pile the bhaji onto the bread and eat like a pizza or tear off pieces of bread and spoon/scoop the bhaji onto it.  Either way, ditch the knife and fork and use those fingers!

Notes:

Pav bhaji masala, garam masala and amchur powder are available at Indian grocery stores.  Garam masala is also available in mainstream supermarkets.

You could make this dish vegan by using vegan spread instead of butter, or by skipping the butter altogether.

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Fructose-free Baking: Coconut Cake Bars

Ok, it’s been just over a month since I finished the 8-week I Quit Sugar program (read about that here and here) and I have to say that I have slipped, like once…..or twice….or thrice.  I have had a couple of binge days where no amount of self cajoling has kept me away from the dark chocolate and nothing but a brownie will do.  And I have had those days where that gorgeous fudge that that client has brought in simply can’t be ignored.

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But you know what? I don’t actually feel that guilty. I guess firstly because I never intended to be completely sugar-free for life.  I always knew I’d re-introduce the S-word back into my life in the form of the (occasional) treat and while recently I seem to have stretched the definition of ‘occasional’, I have certainly noticed some changes in my attitude to sugar.

For one thing, my tastes when it comes to sugary treats has refined and while it seems nothing will cure me of my chocolate obsession, I seem to be able to resist the cheap, sugar-laden ‘confectionary’ type chocolate.  I previously would have crammed any cocoa-related substance indiscriminately into my mouth at break-neck speed, just in case all the chocolate factories in the world happened to burn down in the next five minutes.  But now, I seem to very partial to high quality dark chocolate……the good stuff, as any addict would say.

I can also quite happily walk past a bag of lollies or a pack of biscuits without turning into a human vacuum cleaner and have also been able to resist many cakes and such without too much drama.

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Then there was that weak moment, or succession of moments,  when I came home from a Saturday at work madly craving a chocolaty treat.

That evening, after discovering an Adriano Zumbo brownie packet mix in the cupboard, the mixture may or may not have met with a couple of eggs and some butter and made its way into the oven.

Thirty- five minutes later, about a quarter of the pan may or may not have disappeared.

It’s my word against the brownies’ so I guess we’ll never know how it all happened.

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Aside from struggling a little with the transition from ‘sugar-detox’ to ‘just treating myself to the good stuff every now and then’, the other thing I struggled with is not being able to bake while I was trying to detox.  So I’ve been playing around with some fructose-free recipes and hit up my stash of cookbooks to see if I could modify an existing recipe.

I dug out a squat, fat little book called ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone and found a recipe called ‘Coconut Wedges’.  I tweaked some things, added some saffron (it’s the Indian in me) and came up with something that I will call Fructose-free Coconut Cake bars.  If you don’t mind the fructose, you can of course use any other syrup such as honey, maple-syrup or golden syrup.

These little dudes are like the anti-brownie.  While brownies are the good stuff, these bars have the stuff that’s good for you.

These are dense, crumbly little numbers, somewhere between a cake and a bread, that you could totally get away with eating for breakfast.  They of course, also make a great healthy snack which I suspect is their original intention.

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Fructose-Free Coconut Cake Bars
Makes 12-15
Adapted from ‘500 Cookies’ by Phillipa Vanstone

Get:

1/4 tsp or generous pinch saffron strands
1 tbsp milk, warmed
3/4 cup plain (all-purpose) flour
1/2 cup wholemeal flour
1/2  tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bi-carb soda
1/2 cup rolled or quick oats
1 1/2 cup shredded or desiccated coconut + 1/4 cup extra
1/2 tsp all-spice
1 cup walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
3/4 to 1 cup rice malt syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

Make:

Preheat the oven to 175 C.

In a small bowl, add the saffron strands to the warm milk and stir until the milk is coloured. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the flours, baking powder and baking soda.  Add 1 1/2 cups coconut, the oats and all-spice and mix well.

In a separate bowl, whisk the oil with the syrup.  Whisk in the eggs, vanilla and milk with saffron.  Pour the wet mixture into the bowl with the dry mixture and stir through gently until just combined.

Pour the mixture into a 30cm x 20cm baking tin and smooth out evenly.  My mixture didn’t fill the entire tin and there was about 2 inches empty at one end.  Sprinkle extra coconut over the top.  If using desiccated coconut to sprinkle, do this about 5-7 mins into the baking process so it doesn’t burn.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 12-15 mins.  Test by inserting a clean knife or skewer into the centre of the cake- if it comes out clean, it’s done!
Allow to cool and slice into bars, about 7 cm x 4cm.

Notes:

Ok, so the saffron is a luxury and very nice but probably optional.

Vanilla extract has a little sugar in it.  If you need this to be completely fructose free, use vanilla powder or the seeds from 1/2 a vanilla bean.

If you don’t have coconut oil, a neutral oil such as vegetable oil should work.

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