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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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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Tiranga Dhokla (Tricolor Savory Sponge Cake)

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Every year around January 26th and August 15th, depending on how many Indian people you know and follow, you may have noticed your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds bursting with the Indian tricolor of Saffron, White and Green, or  the “Tiranga” (“Tir” = three, “Ranga” = color). If you are not sure why, it’s because January 26th is India’s Republic Day and August 15th, it’s Independence Day! Flags are hoisted in every institution all over the country, and the tricolor waves proudly throughout the country in the hope of a more secular, open and better tomorrow for my motherland!

And, if you are obsessed with food as I am, you might see elaborate tricolor preparations all over your feed too – tricolor rice, desserts, parathas (flatbreads) and the like. I myself try to make something new each year; this past year I made Tricolor Dosas (rice and lentil crepes), and for 2019, I am applying the “Tricolor” filter to one of the India’s favorite snack, the Dhokla (pronounced Dhow-klaah).

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Easy and Wildly Inauthentic “Tilgul” (dairy-free, gluten-free sesame energy bites)

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Every other year or so I have attempted (and failed at) “Tilgul” – a sweet treat made with sesame seeds (“Til”), jaggery (“Gul”), coconut and a whiff of cardamom, sometimes rolled into balls (“Laddoos”), or formed into bars. There’s many different kinds too, with different levels of complexity (and corresponding failure rates). Some varieties are fudge-y and moist, while others are crunchy and almost brittle-like.

No matter the way, I find it tricky to make Tilgul at home especially with the variation in the jaggery available in the US. It seems to have a lower moisture content sometimes, and other times it liquifies too fast and hardens into a rock. It’s not that my Tilgul attempts have been complete disasters, but they haven’t been as perfect as they should be, or could be (unless you call dismantling it and eating it like granola with your cereal a success).

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