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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Duo of Hot Chocolate

Quick and simple recipes to make really decadent White Hot Chocolate and regular Hot Chocolate! Follow along.

The past few months have been exceedingly busy – what with bringing this li’l guy into the world and everything – I haven’t had a whole lot of time to cook, let alone shoot and write up a post! We’ve been making lots of simple meals though, mostly of the hearty, one-pot variety, and given the constant time crunch, I’m learning so much about shortcuts and cooking in small bursts (hello, nap time!), I definitely have the desire to share more in this space.

So, I have made an executive decision to override pre-baby Zezoo, and from here on out, I’ll be sharing whatever I have! I may not have the prettiest pictures, or everything decked out in each one of my 11 identical pinch bowls, or the bandwidth to write cutesy backstories (who is reading those, anyway?), but I will allow myself to share less-than-perfect but still delicious fare!

Starting with these 2 hot chocolate recipes that I make around the holidays – I particularly love the white chocolate one because it is feels more festive to me than regular old hot chocolate. But don’t sleep on this regular hot chocolate below – the addition of cocoa powder and chopped bittersweet chocolate, especially with a pinch of sea salt, makes it totally drool-worthy! Bring on the marshmallows!

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Cinnamon Sugar and Chai Spice Khari (puff pastry twists)

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I ramble about tea, or something tea related, in most of my posts. Many of the things I make are tea accompaniments – this is simply because “teatime” is sacred around here. And it is sacred in many other parts of the world – something we’ve learned and experienced in our travels.

One of the most classic teatime accompaniments back home in India is “Khari”. In essence these are baked puff pastry rectangles, sometimes flavored with roasted cumin or caraway seeds. But the best kind of Khari is plain, buttery and delicious. Dipped into hot and spicy milk tea, it is one of the highest callings for butter and flour pounded together.

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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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Gingerbread Cake

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Gingerbread is one of them Christmastime/December rituals, something you make when you are invited to a holiday party, or throw one. It’s a purely seasonal event – both it’s making and consumption. And usually if someone asks me to make Gingerbread in any of the remaining 11 months of the year, I politely decline and make something else instead. I’m very much like Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper that way; he has a clear rule about these type of things, in that he only drinks Hot Cocoa in months that have “R” in them. Take a minute to see that it makes total sense.

Gingerbread is only for December, only when it’s cold out, and you are enjoying it with a hot cup of coffee or hot chocolate or mulled wine, doing absolutely nothing. The ultimate year end treat. Second only to Black Forest Cake, Gingerbread is one of the best things to come from Germany.

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Mushroom and Potato Pelmeni (Russian Dumplings)

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My obsession for dumplings is well-documented. Whether it’s chicken and dumplings, or potstickers, or Indian Chakolya (called Dal Dhokli or Varan Phal; these are mildly spiced whole wheat and gram flour dumplings cooked in a spicy lentil stew) or wontons, or Dhokle Papdi (bite-sized gram flour patties stewed in flat beans and spices) my love for all things doughy knows no bounds. It’s what I crave on Sunday nights, cold evenings, or after a long tiring day.

I first made pelmeni and pierogis couple years ago, after my husband visited Russia and simply could not shut up about them. He brought me back some cookbooks from Moscow and I got right to it, I was blown away by how simple and scrumptious they were! Pelmeni are a type of Russian/Ukrainian rustic, savory dumpling filled with meat or mushrooms or potatoes or cheese. I made the pelmeni with a potato and mushroom filling similar to what I’ve shown here, and a handful of pierogis with diced apples. As someone living in the United States for so many years, I felt like I needed to alert the authorities – the apples were NOT tossed in cinnamon, nor were they dusted with it. The serving recommendation was to just serve them piping hot with some butter. I resisted the urge to add cinnamon and was rewarded. Something happens to the apples inside the pierogis that we cannot explain.

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