eggplants, for happily ever after

Well, good news. Spring is here. Officially. And about time too.

This calls for serious gearing-up for us food obsessed troglodytes. But before I start planning and promising anything, I must tackle eggplants. They’ve sat quietly on the couch watching – and waiting – as I batted my eyelashes at frivolous cakes and dallied with some serious potatoes. But there’s no denying that no matter who I’ve been with, I go home to eggplants every night.

I spent a good part of 2008 swooning over a certain Naval officer – a lot of which had to do with his crisp uniform – and devoting a large amount of time to vegetables. He was a staunch vegetarian and I wanted to impress. At the time I was a novice in the kitchen and had only recently graduated from burning water to under-cooking rice. My meals included leathery omelettes and whole tomatoes boiled in water with salt and garlic that was supposedly toh-mah-toh soup [cue eye-rolling]. And all this just so I could ask him about his mother’s South Indian fares, his squadron’s daily menu-plans and in general talk his ears off about food. We didn’t have much in common except for our affinity to Bollywood music and cringe-worthy wit, so I guess devoting more of my time and my all-consuming appetite to vegetarian food was my way of impressing him. And that’s the closest I got to making deep sacrifices for love.

But in all honesty, it wasn’t as bad as I’m trying to make it sound. Because I had eggplants.

My first memory of eggplants is obscure and I have decided not to bore you much today.  I’ve only ever heard my relatives tell me stories of how on being asked what I wanted for lunch I used to reply solemnly, “begun bhaja aar maachh bhaja.”
In English: fried eggplant and fried fish.

My priorities were pretty sorted back then.

Today I may snort and tear and chew meat off the bones like a blood-thirsty carnivore – I’m trying to make up for that whole year’s worth of meat that I missed out on – but a special place in my heart is reserved for eggplants. And okra too, but that’s for another day. I think it has a lot to do with the eggplant’s silky disposition and how they graciously host other flavours – whatever you may choose to marry them to. But their miracle is that they don’t get lost in all the chaos and can perfectly hold their body against your tongue.

My favourite way to consume an [almost] daily dose of eggplant is to pan-fry thick slices of them Bengali-style — on low heat, in a smidgen of oil, coated lightly with ground turmeric, salt and a thin thin film of flour — till they’re  soft and falling off their crispy skins. There are few things in life that can make you slam the table hard with your palm out of pleasure and a slice of eggplant prepared that way is one of those things.

But my latest discovery has been this sort of melange of eggplant cubes, tomatoes, garlic and onions. It’s a sabji basically, pretty quick to prepare and has a hint of dried mango powder and chili powder in it. The twang of the mango powder lifts the eggplant’s umami and the sabji goes well with a host of breads, flat-breads and rice. It’s a cross between my kind of comfort food, something you would whip up for Curry Night with the other couples and something you want to share with your significant other over a quiet romantic dinner.

Its a great start to spring and lately it also served me well when I had to feed a heartbroken friend. My adventures with men in uniforms may not have gone as smoothly as I had expected but when all else fails, there will always be eggplant.

Eggplant Sabji with Dried Mango Powder

Dried mango powder is easily available in any big supermarket or Indian food shops. So are turmeric, coriander and chili powder. Chili powder can also be substituted with 2 teaspoons of chili flakes.

2 tbsp of vegetable oil, either sunflower or olive
2 medium onions, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
2 large eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp of dried mango powder
2  tsp of ground coriander
1 tsp of red chili powder
1/4 tsp pinch of turmeric powder
2 tsp granulated sugar
Water, as needed
1/2 cup of coriander leaves, chopped
Salt, to taste

Heat oil in a skillet. Saute the onions on high heat till they’re soft and starting to slightly brown at the edges. Add in the garlic and saute for a minute. Add in the tomatoes, eggplant cubes, spices and sugar. Combine everything well. Lower to heat to medium-low and cover the skillet. Cook for 10-12 minutes. Check for moisture content. If the sabji looks too dry, add a tablespoon of water. Add more if needed but be miserly because you don’t want the mixture to be soupy. Cover and cook for another 8-10 minutes till the eggplants have softened. Check the biggest of the cubes and if it’s cooked all the way to the middle then the sabji’s ready. Season with salt, stir in the coriander and let them wilt in the heat for a minute.

Serve with rotis, on toasted baguette slices or bread. Or with rice. Or stuffed between the layers of a pita. The options are limitless really.

  

in praise of beets

Inherent glutton I may be, but as a kid I did push away a fair amount of food at the table.

I was never a picky-eater and my mother had strict rules about wasting food – hence my brother and I grew up eating almost everything that was served to us. Almost. There was a list of things that I found difficult to ingest happily. It was, however, a short list. And the list has grown considerably shorter over the years. There are only a couple of things left on it now – rice pudding and porridge.

I have tried in the past, believe me, to make friends with rice pudding. Its tradition to stir up vats of sweet milky rice pudding on every birthday in a typically Bengali household – a minor torture I have to undergo every birthday I spend at my parents’. I once even allowed Hana, one of my ex-housemates, to cook me a Vietnamese version of savoury rice porridge when I was down with the flu. I figured that its Asian heritage might make me warm up to it. Sadly, it didn’t. There’s just something about rice and milk together that’s off-putting. It is a marriage I do not support.

But I’m not here to talk about what’s on the list. I’m here to talk about something that made it out of the list quite successfully a long time ago. Beetroots.

I could quote Nigel Slater to Alice Waters on beets and their lust-inducing earthiness, but beets do not need anyone to speak for them. They know what they have and they know how to flaunt it. Beets are in the business of being sexy.

When steamed they bleed and stain everything with ruby red. When roasted they go all nutty and yet hold their own. They don’t disintegrate like potatoes do  and they don’t give into caramelisation as easily as parsnips do. To channel Tom Robins, “the beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot”.

If beetroots are still a part of your list, I have half a mind to push you out of the plane without a parachute. But fear not. Try these cupcakes for an introduction to them and I promise they’ll set your juices flowing. And I’m not in the habit of throwing around such promises carelessly.

It is by no means breaking news that chocolate and beetroot have always had a roaring affair. But so far, I’ve only been an eavesdropper trying to listen in on conversations involving the pair of them […and drooling over my keyboard at the same time].

Have you heard of Harry Eastwood? She, along with four other super-chic female chefs – including Gizzi Erskin [tattooed, punked-up & fabulous] – hosted Cook Yourself Thin on Channel 4, a while back. I used to hurry home from my classes to watch the girls whip up butter-less brownies made moist with mashed pumpkins and sugarless-butterless lemon cakes. The show was discontinued for a bit in the middle after which Gizzi Erskine came back to host a brand new version of it – alone, armed with recipes such as Beaconhill cookies and skinny Thai curry. That is when I first heard about how beets moisten up chocolate cakes and watching Harry Eastwood groan with pleasure at the end results was quite enough to convince me.

I know I could have come up with a salad or a spicy beet masala as means to convince you. But cake does a much better job. In fact, cake will always do a much better job than anything else.

But you didn’t think I was going to end it with a simple cake did you? This time I spooned the batter into home-made cups and studded the centres of each cupcake with chocolates. And I mean chocolates. Not chocolate. Molded, injected with fillings, wrapped in shiny bits of paper milk chocolates. That came out of a purple bag emblazoned with the words ‘Quality Street’. Remember those? My last trip to the market included a) grabbing an enormous bag of Nestlé’s Quality Street chocolates and b) consequently giving up hope of ever shedding a few kilos.

Anyway. With a bit of research, poring over Nigel Slater’s moist beetroot and chocolate cake in his book Tender and then flipping through a post on chocolate and beet cupcakes by 3191’s Stephanie, I stuck to Stephanie’s version because it used cocoa powder that I already had in hand – because as we all know, the chocolate keeps disappearing. Her recipe also uses plain water which, and I’m guessing here, adds extra moisture and workability to the batter. Nigel Slater’s recipe uses hot espresso. And that, trust me, is a winning substitution if you want to attempt it. That man should be voted King of the World.

After 50 painful minutes of working and waiting, I bit into deeply moist, earth-fragrant, still-warm-from-the-oven beet-chocolate cupcakes that were dark brown with red red edges and molten centres. And I am more than happy to confess that they were miles better than certain men I’ve kissed in my lifetime.

In-the-business-of-being-sexy beet & chocolate cupcakes
adapted from Stephanie and inspired by Tender by Nigel Slater

The recipe produces about 6 cupcakes and can easily be doubled for a 8-9″ cake.

Note on cocoa & chocolates: The original recipe calls for 6 tablespoons of cocoa powder which I used for my first batch. The cupcakes came out too chocolaty thereby diminishing the beet-flavour. In my second batch however, I halved the amount of cocoa powder and replaced the other half with flour.
Any kind of chocolates would do for these cupcakes. You could use the molded 1 oz (30g) chocolates that you get in gourmet chocolate shops or you could just chop your favourite candy bars into bite-sized pieces. I haven’t tried this, but now that I think of it, studding the unbaked batter with chocolate truffles may also be a great idea. If you do not have candy or chocolates at home, just break squares of a chocolate bar and use. Seriously, go crazy with this one.

Note on beets: For the beet puree, peel and trim 2 medium-sized beets and simmer them in a sauce pan, with the lid on, for about 45-50 minutes or till tender. I use a pressure cooker which takes only 15 minutes. The beets can then be cooled and pureed in a blender or processor.

Note on espresso: When making hot espresso, instead of using plain water try using the liquid that remains once you’ve cooked the beets.

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup hot espresso
1 cup + 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 tbsp unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup beet puree (see head note)

Pre-heat oven to 180 deg C and line 8 cupcake tins.
In a big bowl combine butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and espresso. In a smaller bowl sift in flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Mix well with a fork. Pour dry ingredients into wet and stir till just combined. Do not overwork the mixture. Gently fold in the beet puree. Fill the liners about 3/4 of the way and bake for 20-30 minutes till the tops are firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out slightly greasy. Cool the cupcakes in their tins before serving.

To serve, you could always dust the cupcakes with powdered sugar or add whipped cream or pipe some cream cheese frosting on top. But like I said earlier, these cupcakes don’t really need accompaniments and can hold their own very well, thank you.

  

with a bucket-load of mayonnaise

I feel like I’ve been lying to you all this while, dear readers.

I give you cake and beef stew, brownies and silky caramel. I give you smoky mushrooms and baked and caked coffee and then I make it seem as if that’s what and how I eat every single day of my life. Which is far from the truth really. I don’t cut thick slices of cake after every meal on weekends or even have a baking routine. I don’t make deep amber stews for lunch every day. Every other day my oven remains switched off even.

In fact, I’m one of those people who will quite happily settle down with a piece of toast slathered with store-bought mayonnaise and topped with thick-cut fries that came from the ‘Frozen’ section of the supermarket. There was also the time when I contentedly tucked into fake fake(!) crab. Also let me tell you that a suggestively fat keilbasa – the kind that comes vacuum packed – along with a whole bar of Lindt 70% and a tumbler of Diet Coke is a perfectly acceptable dinner. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.

I understand that this is the exact opposite of what I probably should promote as a food fanatic, and that too, one with a blog (how did that happen?!). Cooking from scratch is where all the action is and it is where I want to be – most of the time – if I can only get over my predilection for shortcuts and quick fixes. And besides, I spent the first two decades of my life pumping mayonnaise and two-minute noodles into my bloodstream every time I found myself alone and having to think about my next meal. Old habits, darling, die hard.

I spent most of 2009 working in small architectural firm in Mumbai. One of those cities that claim to never sleep. And every morning before leaving for work, I actually packed myself a wholly homemade lunch – something that I still find hard to believe! During the course of eight months, I had wrestled twenty recipes for chicken in my repertoire, along with two potato salads, a twangy mushroom pilaf and most importantly, a plethora of vegetarian concoctions (my soul sister and then-room-mate Fauri, was a staunch vegetarian and I didn’t want her to murder me in my sleep for all the birds that I seemed to be consuming).

 But every now and then I found myself – and find myself now – slipping back into the comforting arms of microwaveable chicken wings and canned tuna, which incidentally, tastes fantastic on savoury digestive biscuits. In my defense, I have no issues with £5 shoes, junk food or white lies as long as they look pretty, taste good and make everyone happy. It hasn’t changed much since then, but I’m trying, dear readers. And I’m telling you all about it. I’m laying it all out right here for you to see. Please, don’t judge.

Potato and Tuna salad for lazy-bones, with a bucket-load of mayonnaise

This salad obviously requires a minimal amount of cooking, is smothered in mayonnaise, or Ranch, if you have any lying around and canned tuna. Its so easy, that you might even feel ashamed of yourself while you eat it, but it will see you lovingly through to the bottom of the bowl.

Note on potatoes: The best potatoes to use here would be either Jersey Royal or King Edward. If these are difficult to find where you live then go with small new potatoes or red-skinned ones. Try not to use Yukons or Russets because they disintegrate pretty quickly on steaming.
Steaming/boiling time depends on the kind of potatoes you’re using, especially their sizes. For bigger potatoes like Jersey Royals, its best to scrub them, halve them and boil them in water for 20-25 minutes or till tender. The amount of water used should just be enough to cover all the halves and the pan should be covered while cooking. The cooked potatoes should be cooled before the skins are taken off and then chopped into bite-sized chunks. For smaller potatoes like new potatoes, you just need to scrub them and then boil till tender.

Note on cumin and fennel: The best way to go about using any spice is to dry-roast the seeds in a non-stick pan till they give off a faintly nutty smell. These seeds should then be ground up finely before use.

2 lbs (1 kg) Jersey Royal potatoes, quartered and steamed (see head note)
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
2 tbsp of honey
2 cans of tuna packed in brine or sunflower oil [the brine/oil needs to be drained off]
1 tbsp of ground cumin
1/2 tbsp of ground fennel seeds
1 cup of chopped coriander leaves
Salt and pepper, to taste

Steam/boil the potatoes (see head note). After they have been cooled and cut into bite-sized chunks, combine all the ingredients except for the fennel and toss them together. Sprinkle the fennel on top before serving. The salad is best eaten cold.

  

of massages and iced coffee

Sometimes a Sunday can start out bright and promising and then go horribly horribly wrong in the middle and then end on a magnificently wonderful high.
One of those days in which Karmathe eternal b**** – lies to you, teaches you a lesson and then decides compensate you for all your troubles.

It started with a craving for pie which, as you must know, is difficult and sacrilegious to ignore. And my mind wasn’t hovering around just any ordinary pie. I wanted a cheek-puckering lemon tart and for additional gratification a chocolate shortcrust. I deliberately won’t go into the details because promising a tart like that and then refusing to share the recipe is gastronomically painful. I wouldn’t do that to you, dear readers.

*Also, the photograph above is not really the Sunday I wanted you to see. It’s of the last time a little setting sunlight came in through my apartment window…and that was last summer.

All I would say is that the tart wasn’t worth it. The lime curd was disappointingly too sweet – usually that’s a good thing where I’m concerned, but not when it comes to lime tarts. And the pastry was disastrous. It was laid on uncharacteristically thick. It dried out within five minutes of spending time in the oven when I tried to blind bake it. And then it turned soggy as I filled it with curd and tried to bake it into settling. I then went a step further to spoil the damn thing – by adding cracked black pepper on top. Which, to be honest, would have tasted great if the curd hadn’t curdled.

There’s a lesson to be learnt here. More precisely, there’s a lesson that I learnt here. Don’t try baking with dry skin and a broken back. Two things I’ve been ignoring for the last couple of months.

Let me elaborate.

Unlike the versatile skin conditions of most Indians anywhere in the world, my skin has only one job to do. Be dry. Stretchy, pull-y, parched as ash, floor-of-the-Gobi-dessert type dry. As you can imagine, my mother wisely instilled in me the importance of moisturizer in my life from a very young age. And now a little less than half my monthly salary during the winter months go into buying the best skin rehydrating products there are.  As a result I adopt a heart-breaking yearly routine – eating frugally during winter. I may not sit here with a full stomach after a great meal, but I will have the most gorgeous skin you’ve ever seen.

And then comes my broken back – a by-product of my choice of profession. Hours spent bending over drafting boards and building models. Nights spent crammed onto a University-Issue single bed with four other girls trying to catch a few winks before a presentation. And now, days spent either sitting in front of a computer or traipsing around a construction site. Gives new meaning to the mostly American phrase “can’t catch a break”.

At times like these one needs closure from all this pie-baking-back-breaking-skin-scratching nonsense and take my word for it, a traditional Swedish massage does the trick.
One of my colleagues, a German girl with a crown of curly blonde hair and the gift of making mind-blowing Simnel cakes once gabbed about SPA London. And while she was all about their facial treatments, I decided on the massage and promptly made arrangements for Aru, Polia and myself. Needless to say, we were not disappointed. After walking into a serene waiting lobby we were each assigned a therapist and then whisked off to a shared parlor. A mere hour later we walked out of the spa shiny-skinned and overcome with bliss, fully functional backs and with considerably lighter wallets.

The day ended early in the evening with pizza and iced-coffee. I went to sleep with that coffee on my mind. And we all know how I feel about coffee.

Iced coffee is a fairly simple concept. Its deeply brewed coffee with sweetened milk over ice cubes. But this fairly simple concept isn’t always the success it promises to be. More often than not I’ve ended up with watery coffee with a few floating ice cubes. There are times when the milk is just too sweet or the coffee’s not strong enough. And the worst of them all comes in two vivid layers of milky coffee and icy water.

I knew that Ree Drummond has a recipe for iced coffee on her blog The Pioneer Woman. I’m sure you already know this but I have to say it – that woman has her game down pat. She talks of watery iced coffee and goes on to adopt a method covered by Imbibe magazine. The recipe uses ground coffee, steeped in room-temp water and strained over cheesecloth. The result can be dispensed as required, and in any amount required, over a glass stuffed with ice cubes. To be taken with sugar and milk or condensed milk ala Vietnamese ca phe sua da.

I knew I had a Vietnamese coffee filter somewhere in my utensils cupboard, a farewell gift from Hana, my ex-housemate, when I was leaving Nottingham for the last time. But the bag of ground coffee that had accompanied it had been dumped long ago past its expiration date. Given that I had just come back from a sleep-inducing experience like a Swedish massage I was going to need a lot of convincing to hunt for a coffee filter hidden behind years of accumulated kitchen junk. So instead, I settled for the stir-plain-instant-coffee-in-mug version. Its a hybrid really. The recipe uses room-temp water, a scant quantity compared to the amount of instant coffee granules, condensed milk or sugar and ice. Then, if you prefer, you may spoon some milk over the ice cubes.

I have a piece of advice for you readers: the next time you slip and trip on the kitchen front, just make iced coffee. Also get a Swedish massage, but that is optional really.

Pamper-Yourself Iced Coffee

The amounts of ingredients used in this recipe depends completely on your taste and preferences. Even though I have included measurements, you’d be better off using this as a guide rather than following it word to word. Condensed milk can easily be replaced by sugar. In which case, add about 2 tbsp of sugar and increase the amount of whole-milk to 5 tbsp. This recipe makes one small tumbler – single serving – and can easily be multiplied as much as you want.

1/4 cup of water, at room temperature
2 1/2 tbsp instant coffee , because I like it strong
2 tbsp of sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp of whole milk
Ice cubes

In the serving glass, stir water and coffee together till the mixture is smooth. Fill the glass to the brim with ice cubes. Spoon condensed milk and whole milk from the top. Give everything a stir with a straw or the back-end of a spoon and you’re done. The photograph above shows my undisturbed and unstirred pot of iced-coffee, so don’t panic – it won’t layer like that when you’ve stirred it.
  

learning to choose crème caramel

You can either be a tea person. Or a coffee person.

It is the sort of situation that we are born into. A Universal Rule, that the entire world be divided between important matters such as choosing dogs over cats, tea over coffee, milk chocolate over dark, summer over winter, soup over salad. Or vice versa. And so on and so forth. And against all my efforts to be an equal-opportunity cook – or eater really – I’ve failed miserably. But I try. I really do.

For example, there was the time when I lugged home a 3-pound sack of Brussels sprouts (that’s almost one and half kilos of sprouts, if you’ve been metricised like I have), seemingly adamant that for once I was going to try and eat more than just 3 or 4 of them. I wanted to like vegetables as much as I like pork. I wanted to give them equal-footing. I was going through the phase where I wanted to add a salad to every meal. Stuff dreams are made of.

The phase lasted about 12 hours – a personal best – and it did lead to two very good meals. Both meaty, glazed with fat and buried under mountains of sprouts. They will be forever remembered as The Two Meals That Would Make My Mother Proud. Two hours following that, I emptied the sack dividing its remaining contents among several small Tupperware boxes, and distributed them between my college-mates. Considering what a raging carnivore I am that was an honest effort. And that has to count for something. Right? RIGHT?

Believe me, dear reader, I have grown since. And the wisdom I have acquired over the last two years allow for a diet generous in vegetables. But a girl’s got to eat what a girl’s got to eat – I would always choose meat over veggies. And as a general rule endorsed by my family, I would choose winter over summer, salad over soup, pork over Brussels sprouts and dark chocolate over almost anything.

Also, I am a coffee person. Which is, for lack of better words, out-of-place in my world. This is a serious hitch. The tell-tale sign of a prospective black sheep. You see, I’ve spent all of my life within the expanses of two countries who don’t get out of bed without tea. Any sort of greeting from any citizen of either country is always followed by the inevitable question: Would you like a cup of tea?
Amidst all that, I sit traitorously nursing my morning latte.

But I have a crème caramel here with me today that transcends all favouritism. It overlooks all treachery and weirdness. It could kick any damn Universal Rule’s arse in a flash if it wanted to without even blinking its caramel-coated eyes. It is infused with tea. Darjeeling tea.

Its baked chai with a wobble and a silky texture and a melting robe of powerful, powerful caramel. It tears away at the slightest touch of a spoon and slithers down your throat leaving a trail of milky tea behind. Its a sexed-up housewife in fishnets. The tea infuses the eggy custard with a fragrance the way only Darjeeling’s finest can. And for a coffee-lover, that’s saying a lot.

Then there’s the ginger. It wouldn’t be chai without ginger now, would it? The ginger does not blare out loudly like it does in most ginger-infused goods. Its gentle and nurturing in this case. And the best bit is the high pleasure-to-effort ratio. The pudding is utter gorgeousness compared to the minimal effort I put in it. There is this deep satisfaction that courses through your body when you run a sharp knife along the edge of the ramekin and turn it upside-down over a plate. The pudding softly plops down onto a pool of burnt amber glaze – something that could easily make you want to bathe in it.

For this pudding I’ll choose tea over coffee any day. In fact, if I weren’t so close to my skinny jeans, I’d say this could easily replace my morning cuppa.

Crème Caramel for Non-believers, with Darjeeling tea and ginger

2 cups (500ml approx) of whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp good-quality Darjeeling tea leaves
4 eggs
2 tbsp ginger paste
2 tsp vanilla extract
For the caramel:
1 1/2 cup of granulated sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup of water

Pre-heat oven to 170 deg C. Grease the ramekins lightly. Set them on a deep baking pan.
In a bowl crack the eggs and whisk them lightly. Heat milk in pan and stir in the sugar till the sugar dissolves and the milk just starts bubbling. Take the pan off heat and add the tea leaves. Cover pan and set it aside to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the mixture and pour the milk into the bowl with the eggs. Keep whisking while pouring taking care that the eggs don’t scramble. Squeeze out the juices from the ginger paste through a sieve and into the custard. Discard the pulp. Add vanilla and stir to mix.

Set the custard aside and make the caramel. Stirring the sugar, lemon juice and water together in a pan over medium heat. Stop stirring the moment the mixture starts to bubble. Let the mixture foam, sputter and froth all it wants but make sure you don’t take your eyes off it. The caramel will become golden at first and then very quickly thicken into a slothy amber syrup. Take it off the heat immediately and carefully pour into the ramekins to coat their bottoms. Be careful – this is boiling sugar we’re talking about.

Pour the custard over the layers of caramel to fill the ramekins 2/3 of the way. Pour boiling water into the deep baking dish so that the water comes about half-way up to the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 30-40 minutes. To check if the puddings are done  give them a quick shake – the centres should still wobble a good deal. Touch the surface of a pudding lightly with the tip of your index finger and if it doesn’t break away, then they’re done. Cool the ramekins on a rack and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. To serve, just run a sharp knife along the edge to loosen the pudding and quickly turn over on a plate.

This crème caramel doesn’t really need adornments but you could add a few pieces of crystallized ginger if you want.

  

not your normal everyday snack

Two words. Lamb fritters.

They’re new to me but I can assure you that I will be keeping them around for a long time.

I have so far been slavishly devoted, as much as one can be, to lamb. Especially lamb curry. They conjure up memories of my childhood and of my grandmother who could easily make your toes curl with her version of lamb curry. And after a spell in the kitchen she used to smell of talcum powder, books and turmeric. She was a bespectacled professor of Organic Chemistry, a lover of all things chocolate and she used to cook lamb curry for me.

I never really learnt to regret anything. Blame it on my laziness. Unfortunately for me, my grandmother passed away only a couple of years before I even wanted to learn how to cook. I would have liked to learn about lamb curry from her. I think she would have liked that too.

But far from despair, I’m pleased to tell you that she taught it to my mother sometime after my parents got married. And that curry has shown up on my mother’s dining table every holiday and special occasion since. I feel silly saying this, but along with a priceless gold neck-piece and  a silver powder case, the recipe is almost an heirloom. It would be brutal of me not to share it would you.

Not today though. Don’t look at me like that…I promise to do so very soon in the near future. But I have here with me these fritters, which with a little effort could easily give lamb curry a run for its money.

I’m writing to you after recovering from a colour-soaked Holi, one of India’s many festivals in which the goal is to end up looking like the entire PANTONE colour library threw up on you. But it always ends with a feast, which, I don’t think you’d deny, is the best part. We showered and tried to scrub ourselves back to normal. And then we sat down to peas pilaf, a South Indian egg curry and crispy golden-on-the-outside-meaty-on-the-inside lamb fritters. They’re like nuggets really, that are shallow fried till golden. And they do very well when dunked in a sweet mint sauce.

Ideally they make fantastic starters, just something your friends can nibble on over swigs of beer and I discovered yesterday that they never actually last on the platter for more than 15 minutes. But these fritters are not normal everyday snacks. They display special powers one day later when you can just add them to a dal or a chana masala and they quickly turn into a gorgeous lunch. Their crispy coats soak up all the gravy and gives away under your teeth to reveal soft moist centres. It’s the kind of lunch you want to have after an especially tedious morning of chores that leave you hot and bothered. Be warned though, when mixed with curried lentils in gravy and an ever-rising humidity, the fritters can become potent sleep-inducers. You might just want to spent the rest of the afternoon lying spread-eagle on your back.

And while I was doing exactly that on the floor of my bedroom, I had visions of my grandmother – of both of us – pottering about in the kitchen exchanging notes on perfect lamb curry and shallow-frying skills. I’m pretty sure she would have downed a large portion of these nuggets and asked for more.

Lamb Fritters

You might be tempted, but I would strongly advise you against using cooked/canned chickpeas for this one. Using cooked chickpeas would only make the fritters soggy. Sunflower, canola, peanut/groundnut oil have higher smoking points than olive oil, and hence ideal for shallow or deep-frying. When heating the oil make sure it doesn’t start smoking though. If it does, then turn off the heat, wait till the smoke clears from the top of the skillet and turn the heat on again. Start frying immediately.

300 gm of chickpeas (about 10 oz), soaked in water overnight
500 gm of minced lamb or mutton (about 1/2 lb)
2 medium-sized green chilies
1 tbsp ginger paste
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 onion, chopped finely
Sunflower oil, to fry
Salt, to taste

Drain the chickpeas and discard the water. Blitz the chickpeas along with the lamb and chilies in a food processor till you have a coarse mixture that clumps together. You don’t want the chickpeas to turn into a paste. Put the ginger paste in a strainer and squeeze the juices out into the chickpea-lamb mixture. Discard the ginger pulp. Add garlic, onion and salt to the mixture. Use your hands to knead the mixture till everything is well-combined. Form into balls or nuggets. Heat oil in a non-stick skillet. The oil should come 2-inches up the walls of the skillet. To check if the oil is hot enough drop a pinch of the lamb mixture in and if it sizzles with a lot of noise then the oil is ready. Drop in the patties in batches and fry till golden brown. This takes about 6-8 minutes. Fish them out of the oil and onto a plate lined with paper napkins. Serve piping hot with dip. Dips with coriander or mint in them would go well with these fritters.

  

this week: olives for breakfast and superbly ruined eggs

All this time that I’ve been supposedly taking it easy in the heat, the truth is I’ve actually been holding out on you.

I have been eating. And eating quite a lot. By day I’m a glorified blue-print maker, design researcher, building material hunter and client pacifier. By night I’m too exhausted to even butter my own toast or air out my wet shoes. Or stow away my duvet, which is overdue. I have so far ended up with messed up eggs on toast, really wet shoes and a very dry throat courtesy of mild snoring habits.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few photographs from the last two days.

Oh, and I’ve also discovered that bowls of olives with spicy mayo make perfectly fantastic breakfasts. Honest.