Kesar Pista (Saffron & Pistachio) Cake

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This cake came to be because a friend happened to order Kesar Pista Kulfi (Indian ice cream infused with saffron and ground pistachios, chilled in an earthen pot) without realizing the consequences of her actions. You see, I expressed my interest to bring dessert to a Diwali party and the Kesar Pista (Kesar = Saffron, Pista = Pistachio) ice cream had already been ordered. I figured I would bake something that’ll “go” with the ice cream, but one thing let to another after I saw this loaf, and a Kesar Pista cake was born for all future parties, Diwali and otherwise.

This is a saffron- and cardamom-infused riff on the Pistachio Cake by Smitten Kitchen. I used a saffron syrup that is easily available in India and likely some Indian/Middle-eastern grocery stores in the United States, but don’t fret if you can’t find it – just infuse the milk with regular saffron. You can do so by scalding the milk (warm it in a saucepan and turn off the heat before a simmer sets in), adding 2-3 big pinches of saffron to it, stirring it gently and letting it cool completely before using in the recipe below.

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Bhadang (savory rice snack)

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Please welcome Bhadang, the puffed up cousin of the Pohyacha Chivda! The process for both these “chivda” recipes is similar – toast the puffed or paper-thin flattened rice, fry up some salty goodies, make a tempering, toss everything together – but they have distinct flavor profiles. You might say that Pohyacha Chivda is the milder, well-behaved, buttoned-up cousin with a great balance of flavors, and Bhadang is wilder, spicier (uses red chili powder instead of chopped green chillies), bolder (fried garlic!) and more rustic.

The version shown here is mild, since I am making it for a crowd, but back in India I have seen Bhadang that is fiery red and irresistable!

Bhadang employs puffed rice, or murmura, or churmura, as opposed to the flattened rice flakes used in Pohyacha Chivda. Murmura is typically the base in Bhel Puri, a popular Indian street food item! This recipe also calls for Metkut, a very special, Maharashtrian roasted-lentil and spice mixture, which may be difficult to track down in the US, and in the worst case, can be skipped. Please do not substitute with Garam masala or Chaat masala, though!

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Besan Ladoo

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Besan Ladoo (gram flour fudge) is the quintessential Indian sweet, and very popular in Maharashtra where I come from. While it is typically made all year round in India, it is one of the signature Diwali Faraal (feast) items (one of the others being the Pohyacha Chivda) that is practically mandatory in Marathi households. I attempted it a few times over the years but failed and ended up converting it to Besan Kheer (porridge) or Halva just to salvage it. This year though, I think I finally understood it.

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Pohyacha Chivda (savory rice snack)

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Pohyacha Chivda, or, Chivda (savory mixture) made of Pohé (flattened rice), is a popular snack item in India. Light, customizable and a perfect accompaniment to a cup of steaming hot chai, it is the perfect “in between” to hold you over until dinner time. It is also heavily featured in Diwali “faraaL” (feast) along with other savory and sweet goodies. It is easy to make, keeps for weeks, and at least in our neck of the woods, we don’t wait for Diwali to whip some up!

It’s important to source the right ingredients for this recipe, most important of all being the Pohé. There are many kinds of flattened rice flakes available in Indian grocery stores, so be sure to choose the “thin”, “ultra thin” or “nylon” variety for this recipe! You could use thick Pohé but that’s a different recipe (mainly you would have to deep-fry the Pohé instead of just dry roasting them). The ingredient list may seem overwhelming but ingredients should be easily available, and you can also leave a couple things out if you can’t find them!

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Puran Poli

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When my husband suggested that I attempt Puran Poli for Gudi Padwa (Indian New Year) this year, I really thought he was kidding. It is one of those recipes tucked into the “Advanced Cookery” category that only moms or grandmas attempt. I was obviously not prepared to take this on, and this became even clearer when my mother, kind and encouraging as always, started suggesting alternative recipes that I can make with the Puran Poli prep!

I remained cautiously optimistic and I’m happy to report that it turned out really well for a first time! My 3 yo niece recognized it to be Puran Poli and said that she loved it, so I’m going to place this experiment in the “success” category.

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Beckoning Spring + Rainbow Chard Crepes!

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A few weeks ago, we drove up couple hours north of San Francisco to check out some new places, early-Spring scenery and eat some oysters. We came back inspired, relaxed, and rejuvenated, already drawing up the schedule for a summer visit.

We went all the way north up to Cazadero and drove our way back south, visiting Tomales Bay, Inverness, Pierce Point (hello Elks!), Point Reyes, Bolinas and Stinson Beach, taking in the beautiful pastures, crisp air and grazing cows, as Northern California showed itself off preparing for an early Spring.

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Pretties from the Inverness, Point Reyes Station and Bolinas areas

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Indian Winter Vegetable Stew (Bhogi Bhaji)

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When it comes to Indian Food, the term “Indian” is too generic. There are so many regions in India (and sub-regions, and sub- sub-regions, and so on), each with its own list of ingredients, spice palette and flavor profile, not even everyone in India knows what’s cooking elsewhere within India. Within Indian food, the cuisine I’m most comfortable with is Maharashtrian – the food from the western state of Maharashtra (that’s where the big cities like Mumbai [Bombay to some] and Pune [Poona to some] are located). Sometimes referred to as “Marathi” food (Marathi is the language spoken in  Maharashtra), it has many, many sub-types. Each region brings its own style, and each family adds a flavor of its own, to complicate matters further in the most delicious way possible.

Growing up, the various men and women in my family had different cooking styles and preferences, so I got to sample lots of different kinds of food and everything [Indian] that I cook today is influenced by my mom, dad, grandmother, aunts, and more recently, the sibling unit that makes its own spice mixes from scratch, just because. My husband’s and mother-in-law‘s cooking style has also influenced my cooking in the last couple of years since they are both amazing cooks, hailing from a different sub-region! When I make “Upma” (a semolina porridge with ginger, green chillies and green peas), I make it like my grandmother’s – I don’t like anything brown too much, and the end result is a soft, white, comforting bowl of heaven. I also copy her garnish, which, like most people who grew up in the coastal regions, is a generous heap of freshly grated coconut! Well, when I indulge, anyway. On a more regular basis I make Upma with quick cooking (1-minute) oatmeal or steel-cut oatmeal because its lighter and healthier. But when it comes to one of my Dad’s trademark preparations, even my mom, who’s the best cook I know, defers to him for instructions and so do I. I hope to post about his “Dal Fry” (spiced Lentil Stew) on the blog soon!

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