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).
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.
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.
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.
Think “Color Run 5K”. Now multiply by 50,000 and replace “run” with dancing, giggling and frolic. And that’s Holi in India for you! “Holi Hai!” translates to “It’s Holi!” and is the warcry of one of the funnest Indian festivals, usually around the beginning of March, to celebrate the arrival of spring and the triumph of good over evil. Part 1 of Holi is celebrated late in the evening with huge bonfires, where people burn statues of a demon princess. The only “ritual” on the following day (Part 2) is to have fun and lots of it: friends and family visit each other and throw colors on each other, hose each other down with colored water, and other such activities.
Music, dancing and good food is involved, as with most Indian festivals.
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!