Tiranga Shrikhand Bars (frozen yogurt bars)

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Ever since my friend Shruti told me how to make shortcut Shrikhand (a sweet and creamy dessert from my home state of Maharashtra in India, made with hung yogurt, sugar, ground cardamom and saffron) using Labneh, I must have made it dozens of times. It comes together in no time – whisk together Labneh (extra thick middle-eastern yogurt cheese aka yogurt that is the consistency of cream cheese) and sugar with a pinch of ground cardamom and saffron, and chill in the fridge for a bit. That’s it!

I make it quite frequently to go with elaborate Indian meals – meals that have 7 or 8 other components as it is. So making the shortcut version is an easy win, especially if you make the mango version of it, called Amrakhand (Aam = mango), with mango pureé subbing for half the sugar. I’ve had this idea of converting Shrikhand to a bite-size, easy to freeze format, so that its easy to get a quick taste of it occasionally without investing any time/effort. I thought it would be a great idea to try a “Tiranga” (Indian tricolor) version of it to celebrate the upcoming Indian Republic Day (January 26th).

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[for young chefs] Kheer in a jiffy

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Kheer is a classic Indian sweet pudding, made with all sorts of things, from vermicelli to rice, to wheat berries, to tapioca pearls – the flavors are as diverse as the different states of India that make it!

Vermicelli Kheer (shevai or semiya kheer) is one of those quick desserts that we make to celebrate things big and small: the traditional recipe involves cooking vermicelli (previously sautéed low and slow in ghee, or clarified butter) in warm milk, perfumed with cardamom, until the milk reduces to about half its original volume. Raisins are plumped up in more ghee, cashews fried in some more, and finally the entire saga of it all is topped with saffron (bloomed in a teaspoon or so of warm milk).

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Sweet Pongal (Sakkarai Pongal)

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Sakkarai Pongal is a rice and lentil pudding sweetened with jaggery, spiced with ground cardamom and tempered with cashews and raisins, a Tamil delicacy made for its eponymous festival, Pongal! This is the sweet variation of Ven Pongal, which is savory (tempered with cashews and black peppercorns), and usually made all year round.

It’s a warm, sweet and comforting pudding, and can be made as simple or as decadent as you prefer, simply by adding more ghee (clarified butter) and dry fruits and nuts. A friend of mine made this for Makar Sankrant/Pongal over a decade ago, and it still remains one of my favorite Indian desserts of all time!

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Chai-spiced Applesauce cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

A perfect recipe for the Fall when you have way too many apples and way too much applesauce! Can also be made with pears/pear sauce for a twist. The chai spice (recipe below) is a nice change of pace from the typical pie spice that’s floating in the air – try it in place of pie spice or pumpkin pie spice in Fall/Winter baking for variety, or add it to your latte!

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Ukad (rice flour and buttermilk porridge)

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This recipe is very close to my heart, almost family heirloom status. It’s one of my mom’s favorite recipes, a modified version of which she happily fed my sister and I since we were 7 or 8 months old. Something my grandmother fed my mom since she was a baby herself! It is quick, comforting and resembles a warm hug in food form. Not that I’m biased or anything.

A mixture of rice flour-buttermilk (or yogurt thinned out with water), flavored with finely chopped ginger, green chilies, asafetida (hing) and salt, is cooked in a quick tempering of mustard seeds, sliced garlic and curry leaves (sometimes with turmeric, sometimes without), until its a soft, smooth and tangy pillow. The porridge is served with a drizzle of raw oil, and is to be enjoyed in complete peace and quiet – at least the one you can control, in your head. If peace is eluding you, this Ukad will help you get there. And that’s all there is to it.

Shall we?

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Savory Tea Biscuits (shortbread cookies with carom seeds)

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It’s not often that the world changes so dramatically in a span of just a few weeks. When I started this tea pairing challenge a few weeks ago, none of us had any idea what was coming our way. In most parts of the world at this point in time, life as we know it is upended. In some parts of the world, people are fighting for a chance to live in the resources their hospitals can afford them, while elsewhere, others are separated from their families, far far away. Such stories are normally reserved for third world countries, but it is heartening to see it happen in US and Europe. This pandemic has brought the world to its knees, and we don’t know how life will be in its wake.

Whoa, not something you would expect to read if you were browsing for a nice teatime biscuit recipe, huh? Well, it is rather uncomfortable – talking about tea and biscuits like everything is alright in the world. I’ve written myself into a corner here – there are no elegant segues from this topic to tea pairing, so I’m just going to put a pin in it for now (as we are all trying to do by self-isolating…here I go again!), and talk about my favorite thing in these bleak times: tea.

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