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.

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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.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Chocolate Idiot Cake - A Really Easy Flourless Chocolate Cake!

Admit it, you are amused and intrigued - Chocolate Idiot  Cake ! DavidLebovitz obliterates any notions you may have about a consultant's job being a glamorous one. He says it mostly involves being called in at the last moment to restaurants to fix food issues when they go out of hand. Even more annoying, at times like this, people who work there don't exactly fall all over themselves to change anything. You now won't envy consultants, will you? 

So, when David worked as a consultant, he had to come up with a menu of fool proof cakes and desserts which were easy to make and impossible to muck up. Not just that, when you are not sure how long the desserts will need to be stored, the kinds that will keep well are a Godsend.

Chocolate Idiot Cake - Chocolate Idiot Cake  is one such easy cake which in David’s words 'tastes like the most delicious, silkiest, most supremely-chocolate ganache you've ever had'. Who in their right mind wouldn't be tempted to try this! In most flour less chocolate cakes the eggs are whipped to a volume before the chocolate mixture is folded in. But David's cake needs all the effort and expertise one would need to melt butter and chocolate, simply whisk in eggs and sugar. Baking in a water bath and then not over-baking the cake are the other necessary skills needed.

A cakewalk considering you will have in your refrigerator an undeniably rich, intensely chocolaty cake which is still good 2 -3 days after it is baked. Dinner party hostess or a busy dessert chef, you will find it handy to have this recipe in your repertoire. But be warned - this is not a cake for the faint hearted! 

Chocolate Idiot Cake / Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe minimally adapted from here
(Serves 10-12 chocoholics or 4 chocoholics over 3 days)

 Ingredients: So simple, you will soon know it by heart!

Bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarsely: 290 grams / 10 oz (I have used Morde, please read note)
Unsalted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces and softened - 200 grams / 7 oz
Instant coffee – 1 ¼ teaspoon (optional)
Eggs, at room temperature - 5 large / 240 grams
Sugar - 200 grams / 1 cup, weighed and powdered. (Please read note)
Vanilla - 1 teaspoon

Getting ready :
  1. Grease a 9'' round tin (spring form if you have. I have used a regular tin) Dust the sides with cocoa, tap off the excess. I have just used baking spray as I do not like the taste of cocoa here. Line the bottom with baking parchment. If using spring form, safer to wrap the outside too with two layers of heavy duty aluminum foil, such that the foil goes all the way to the rim. 
  2. You will need to bake the cake in a water bath, so you will need another larger tin big enough to place the 9'' tin inside. I have used the large 12'' round tray which came with my microwave. 
  3. Have some hot (not boiling) water on sim on your stove; there must be enough to come half way up the sides of the 9'' tin. Use a kettle if you have one. I have poured the hot water into the largest jar of my blender, lid tightly clamped and the funnel open to pour the water out. Worked!
  4. Be sure the butter is cubed and is very soft before you begin. Mix in the coffee if using.
  5. Have on hand a whisk, a spatula, a large bowl to whisk the eggs in. Also helps to have a steel fine meshed strainer over a heat proof bowl. You can push the melted chocolate and butter through this if you think its not smooth enough.
  6. Take a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil to cover the top of the 9'' tin snugly, roll the edges to keep it in place and make lifting easier. Two such pieces will be good to cover up in case you tear one when you lift to check.
  7. Have all ingredients measured and ready. If using a microwave to bake, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave before you pre-heat it. 

 Procedure :
  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees C / 350 F. 
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan set directly in a pan of simmering water. Right! Watch video at the end of the post for the easiest way to do this! Or melt in a microwave if you find that convenient. 
  3. The mixture being smooth is very important to get the best texture, so careful here. Remove from heat. Push through the strainer if needed and cool.
  4. In a large bowl whisk the eggs, vanilla and sugar. No need to whip up a volume, just till homogeneous.
  5. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until smooth. Again no need to work up a volume.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and the cover the top with the aluminum foil. 
  7. Place the 9’’ tin the larger tin and then put this in the oven. Carefully, pour the hot water  into the larger tin.
  8. Bake till the cake is just set, the center still jiggly like jelly. The cake just sets, doesn't rise. If you gently touch the center, your finger should come away clean. With the tin still in the oven, just lift a corner of the foil up to check. I baked for 1 hour 5 minutes. The recipe says 1.15 minutes. Check after an hour, take the indicator as your guide. Err on the side of under baking as the cake will set further when you refrigerate. 
  9. When done, lift the tin out the water bath, remove the foil on top and let cool to room temperature.
  10. Mine was still gooey when I tried to slice, so I refrigerated it overnight. 
  11. Slice into thin wedges when still cold with a knife dipped in hot water (and wiped). Place the wedges directly on the serving platter. Leave out of the fridge for about 45 minutes to an hour, not longer as it will soften further in this heat. Serve with a scoop of (coffee/vanilla) ice-cream or whipped cream or Creme Anglaise
  12. Store the cake for 3-4 days wrapped well in the refrigerator.
While at this, check this fab glass bottomed springform tin David uses. Envy!

Please note: Since chocolate is the star here, use good quality chocolate if you can. If you use good quality bittersweet/ semisweet chocolate, the cake may taste just right. Since I have used a local brand Morde and did not want to reduce the sugar, I have added coffee to temper the sweetness. It would surely taste better with better quality chocolate.

If bittersweet is your love, this cake is surely worth a try. We enjoyed this creamy, very indulgent dessert. Which chocolate adoring idiot wouldn't?

Watch video - The easiest way to melt chocolate!