Friday, April 25, 2014

Nucchina Unde - Steamed Lentil Dumplings

It doesn't take a six course meal to please me. Just mentioning in case I am invited to break bread with you :D  Simple, satisfying comfort food is what I crave most for. I find that much against my will, my tummy growls louder and earlier than usual  when its one of these dishes on my dining table. Soppina Palya and steaming Tomato Rasam, Spicy, vegetable loaded Bisi Bele Bhat and Sandige, piping hot rice with Menasinakyi Raitha, Stuffed Brinjals and chapatis to name a few. Another all time favorite, filling and easy meal I love is Majjige Huli (a kind of yogurt gravy) simmered with Nucchina Unde.

Ingredient wise, Nucchina Unde is similar to the more popular, deep fried Masala Vadas of South India. Bengal gram dal, fresh coconut, green chillies, hing, turmeric are ground to a coarse paste and made into dumplings and steamed. Sometimes even a mixture of lentils like Bengal gram dal, moong dal and toor dal are used in different proportions. I like to use coriander, dill / mint and onion are also used. You could shape them into flat discs or into oblong shapes as you please.

You can eat these as a snack as is or with coconut chutney. Or crumble them into steamed rice and melted ghee. Even better, simmer them for a few minutes in Majjige Huli and serve with rice. That's my favorite way of eating these dumplings. Deep fried chickpea bondas in yogurt gravy is delicious too, but these lighter steamed ones are way friendlier during hot Indian summers. Light on your stomach and no sweating over deep-frying them.

You will hardly need more than 20 minutes to put these on the table if you remember to soak the lentils ahead. The important thing is not to grind the lentils too much or add water as that will make them hard.


Ingredients: To make about 12 dumplings. If doubling the recipe, grind in two batches.

Bengal Gram Dal - Chana Dal - 1/2 cup.
Fresh grated coconut - 1/2 cup
Green chillies - 8-10 (less will make them bland and tasteless)
Fresh coriander, chopped - 1/4 cup
Hing - A generous pinch
Fresh ginger, grated - 1 teaspoon
Turmeric powder - 1/4 teaspoon
Salt to taste
  • Wash and soak the lentils for 3-4 hours or even better overnight. Drain and rinse well. Drain out all water again, making sure there is absolutely no water left.
  • Put all the ingredients (no water) in the medium sized jar of your blender and grind at speed 1 for just 10 seconds. Open the lid, mix with a spoon. The mixture should be coarse, a few whole grains of dal or bits of chillies is just fine. If absolutely needed, process again 5-10 seconds. If you make a paste of it, you may not love the dumplings.
  • Taste to check if you need more seasoning like salt or ginger. If necessary, just add more of these to the ground mixture, do not grind the mixture again. If you need more chillies, either chop fine and add or grind separately and mix. 
  • Lightly grease idli plates. Make about 12 small portions of the mixture and place in the plate, flatten slightly. Steam on high heat for about 12-14 minutes and check to make sure the dumplings are not doughy. Do not steam much longer as they may feel very dry.
          Serve warm or at room temperature with coconut chutney. Or simmer in Majjige Huli for 5 minutes.

 Tell me your favorite summer savory dishes?

Friday, April 18, 2014

How To Whip Cream

Finding whipping cream, getting my hand mixer and finally whipping cream at home. What a triumph it was all those years ago! I must admit, I have never really whipped or even tasted 'real' cream for some strange reason. May be some day when I taste the real thing I may insist you try it. Till now, it has always been the consistent, affordable, non-dairy cream which is commonly available. It may not be the most enchanting, billowy whipped cream purists talk about, but good enough. Non-dairy cream keeps well in the freezer, whips quite well even in summer, almost never fails you, making it a very safe bet.

Here is how we go about whipping cream. Use any kind of cream you like as the procedure remains the same.

Cream: The percentage of fat matters. You could use non-dairy whipping cream such as Rich's, Tropolite, MerryWhip or GoldTop commonly found in most baking supplies stores. Amul (25% fat), locally available cream like Nilgiris (more than 30% fat I think) has also worked well for others. If using Amul, do refrigerate well ahead, drain the thin liquid and use only the chilled thick cream. You could also try imported heavy cream available at Spar and Godrej Natures Basket, but be warned, it doesn't come cheap.

You could buy non-dairy cream which comes in 1 kg packs. If its just for occasional home use, divide and transfer the contents to smaller freezer safe containers, label the amount of cream ( 1 cup, 1/2 cup) and date. This should store well for about 2 months. Just transfer the box you need to the refrigerator and thaw for a few hours or overnight before using. 

What you will need: Plenty of ice! A hand mixer (not an immersion blender), a large bowl, one smaller steel bowl depending on the quantity of cream you want to whip. I have used a 4 cup capacity bowl to whip a cup (240 ml) of cream. Do not use a very small bowl as there wont be enough space to accommodate the volume.

Chill the smaller steel bowl and the beaters (not the dough hooks) of your hand mixer for at least 20-30 minutes. Make sure the cream is liquid and really cold. All of the above will help get a good volume of cream. 1 cup of cream gave me about 3 1/2 cups of whipped cream.

To Whip: First take plenty of ice in the larger bowl. Over the ice, place the smaller chilled bowl with the cold cream in it. The bowl needs to be surrounded with ice and sit snugly in it. Fit the chilled beaters to the hand mixer and whip the cream on speed 3 for about 3-4 minutes. You can see beater marks on the surface and when you lift the beaters, you will see soft peaks as in the picture below. The cream will mound softly when dropped from a spoon. This is good for serving alongside your dessert. You can make this ahead and refrigerate.

If you need cream for piping and frosting a cake, you will need to whip for 3-4 minutes more (at the same speed 3) till it forms stiff peaks (below). DO NOT OVER WHIP. Fill immediately into a pastry bag and use. The time given for whipping is approximate, you may need more or less depending on the brand of cream, the atmospheric temperature etc. Practice will help figure out your texture preference and how much to whip.

Please note: Cream beaten to stiff peaks and piped holds well only when refrigerated. You will need stabilizers if keeping the cake out at room temperature for long.

If your cream seems stiffer than you need, try gently stirring in a little cream, a teaspoon at a time.

Flavoring : You could add vanilla, rum or instant coffee dissolved in a teaspoon or so of hot water. But cool and chill the coffee before adding to the cream. You could also heat 2-3 tablespoons of cream, take off the heat and infuse the flavor of citrus zest or any spice and strain. Add to the rest of the cream and chill before beating. Be cautious and test first as once the cream had split when I tried heating it. It could have been the brand or just an one off case, but play safe.

Stabilizing :Cobasan a liquid product from Germany is supposedly tasteless, easy to use and helps stabilizing whipped cream and buttercream so that it holds well for about 6 hours even at room temperature. This doesn't work with ultra pasteurized cream. If the cream is ultra pasteurized it will be mentioned on the pack. You need to use 1/4 teaspoon for a cup of cream. Just mix the cream, sugar and cobasan, chill and whip till stiff peaks form. Information as given in The Cake Bible.

Cornstarch : 1 teaspoon starch is added to 1/4 cup of the cream and heated till thickened, then cooled to room temperature. The remaining 3/4 cup cream is whipped till beater marks show distinctly. The cornstarch mixture is added to it as you beat again. Beat till stiff peaks form.

Gelatin / agar-agar - Adding these to the cream changes the texture and gives a mousse like texture. I have used agar agar here.

So, finally demonstrating my very mediocre piping skills, here is some cream beaten to stiff peaks and piped. No stabilizer added. Experiment with different brands, different kinds of creams to know what you like best.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Kiwi, Lime Syrup Sponge And Cream Trifle

Talk about saving things for a rainy day! I like having things in the freezer for really lazy days or days when I want to rustle up food with little or no effort or effort spread over.  Cookie dough, sponge cake, muffins, crepes, puff pastry, ladyfingers, custard sauce, ganache and the kind.  Fresh warm cookies in a flash,  muffins to throw in the kids’ snack box on that mad morning or just that little bit of custard sauce for that dessert as a finishing touch.  Or some sponge cake to make a no effort trifle when you need dessert but all the work you want to do is whip some cream.

You would probably imagine I have a huge freezer stacked with labeled boxes.  Yes! It’s just that way – featuring prominently in my culinary fantasies! ( Hubby has no doubts whatsoever that I will feed the family solely out of the freezer if I had one big enough) But wait, I make an effort and space in my smallish freezer so that I have at least one or two of these.  The poor things need to jostle for space amongst the ice trays, packets of yeast, boxes of whipping cream, mint chutney, pizza sauce, nuts, cardamom and precious almond meal you see. The sponge barely in one piece struggling to get out of the freezer is perfect for a trifle. Put together with whatever else is available.

Kiwi and fresh cream, with bits of a broken sponge came in handy on this rainy…oops sunny day!

Kiwi & Cream Lime Syrup Sponge Trifle

The sponge of course was a plain fatless vanilla sponge again (please don’t roll your eyes, you will break my heart). Since I wanted it lemony, I have soaked it in a mildly tangy syrup. You can make the sponge with lime zest of course. The cream could be simple vanilla whipped cream or one with lime zest, or cream and mascarpone. Why just kiwi, make it macerated strawberries or fresh mango. 

You can make about 6-10 servings depending on how much cake you like in the trifle.  As you can see there is more cream here but I added cake again later as more of cake and less of cream tastes way better. You are better off having a little extra syrup or cream on hand  rather than fall short while assembling. 


Fatless sponge: recipe here . Add a generous 2-3 teaspoons zest to the sponge batter in place of the coffee. Or use your favorite sponge or savoirdi, just be sure it holds syrup well without going pasty.

Whipping  Cream : 2 cups / 480 ml, chilled ( I use sweetened non-dairy cream, read note)
Lime zest  – 1 teaspoon Vanilla extract : 1 teaspoon

For the syrup
 Water – 240 ml / 1 cup
 Sugar – ¼ cup
 Lime juice – 2 teaspoons ( for mildly tangy syrup, do add to taste)
 Vanilla extract – 1 teaspoon
 Fresh ripe kiwi fruit, please read note (or mangoes) – 2-3, peeled and sliced

        To proceed:
  • Chill the beaters and the bowl in which you will whip the cream for atleast ½ an hour. Take a large bowl filled with ice. Place the chilled cream in the cold bowl and sit this bowl in the larger bowl of ice. Whip the cream till medium peaks form. Fold in the zest and vanilla. You can make this ahead of time and refrigerate.

  • Syrup : Heat the water and sugar till the sugar dissolves. Take off the heat, add the juice and vanilla. Cool. Taste as you go.
  •  Assemble : Fill the cream in a pastry bag. Tear the sponge into one inch bits.  Place in a wide bowl and spoon the syrup over the cake to moisten thoroughly. Drain any extra syrup.
  • Layer as you wish in glasses or in a large glass bowl.  Use cream judiciously, just enough for contrast . Cake first, cream and fruit. Repeat with more cake. If you put the cream in first, it looks pretty, but you may end up using more of it.
  • Pipe with a decorative tip or spoon more cream on top.
  • Cover with cling wrap, refrigerate at least overnight. Longer is even better. Serve garnished with kiwi slices and a sprig of mint. 

 Please note : Kiwi fruit is sweet when soft and ripe, mine could have been more ripe. Check this.

Try heating a couple of tablespoons of cream, take off the heat, stir in the zest. Cover and let infuse for a few minutes. Strain and add to the remaining cream, chill and whip. Will do this next time.