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!