Friday, September 26, 2014

Red Harissa - Fiery Versatile Goodness In A Jar!

Red Harissa fiery versatile goodness in a jar

I am one of those people who hit the supermarket or vegetable market when I can think of nothing else to do. Gives me a chance to pick up some staples while I browse through the shelves for anything new. And when I find these 'finds' once in a while it pleases me no end! Spotted these red chilies at Namdharis a few days ago . Vibrant, gorgeous stuff that makes spice accustomed, heat craving palates dream of all the things you can dish up with these. Pickles, sauces and dips on my mind as the salivary glands work overtime! 

And then it was time for some Red Harissa! This popular hot pepper paste is known for its versatile use in North African cuisine. Most often made of a variety of red chilies, garlic, spices and oil, this paste is used for marinating meat and vegetables, in soups and even as a spread on pizza or sandwiches for the more adventurous. Want some extra zing in your savory dishes? Stir in a big dollop or a tiny spoonful or harissa!  

Harissa is really simple to make and can be easily tweaked to suit your heat and taste preference. Recipes suggest using different varieties of dried red chilies, red jalapenos and roasted red peppers. You could alter the amount of dried and fresh chilies or simply use roasted bell peppers for a milder harissa. Fresh or dried herbs like mint and coriander, spices such as cumin, coriander, paprika, lime or lemon juice or sun dried tomatoes can be added. The paste can be refrigerated for a couple of weeks with a layer of oil on top. 

red chilies for my harissa

Here is how I made it. Please feel free to alter the recipe to suit your taste. 

Recipe based on this recipe from The Kitchen

Ingredients: To make about 3/4 cup / 180 ml paste

Fresh red chilies / red jalapenos  - 50 grams
Dried red chilies, stemmed - 25 grams
Roasted red bell pepper, optional - 1/2 (about 50 grams)
Peeled garlic - 10 grams (about 20 small pods)
Roasted cumin powder - 1 1/4 teaspoon
Roasted coriander powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Salt - 1 1/4 teaspoon
Fresh coriander leaves - 1/4 cup, loosely packed
Extra virgin olive oil - 3 tablespoons

Method : Soak the dried chilies in hot water for about half an hour. Roast the red bell pepper in a 200 C oven for about 20-25 minutes or till blistered and slightly charred. Once roasted peel the skin and chop roughly.

Drain the soaked chilies, cut them into two. As you cut, be sure to drain any water which may have seeped in.

Chop the fresh chilies into rough pieces. Take all ingredients except the oil in  your blender . Process till smooth. Add the oil and process again. Carefully check the seasoning. 

Transfer to a clean dry jar, top with more oil and refrigerate till needed.

red harissa

  • Please note : Though the paste is quite hot especially when freshly ground, you can expect your grilled vegetables to taste less fiery. So maybe I will add a dash of red chili powder while grinding the paste if I will be using the paste in a marinade. 
  • Unless you want to eat it off the jar or on your toast or pizza , it may be a good idea to make it more intense as the flavors will be less assertive once the paste goes into a marinade or tossed into some noodles. The flavors though mature overnight.
  • Be sure to wear gloves if you use contact lenses or have a little one around.
  • De-seed the chilies and pepper for less heat. I have retained all the seeds.
  • You can also add some tomato paste for tang and less heat.
  • I added roasted bell pepper for the first jar. I forgot the it the next time, but liked the paste better without it.

I made some Paneer Tikka using harissa in the marinade and it was delicious!  I see myself making this paste often with varying flavors perhaps. With fresh red chilies available this time of the year, won't you make yourself some?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Orange Poppy Seed Financiers


For once, financiers I would like to talk about! Trust me, I wouldn't even mention yawn-inspiring folks in dreary grey business suits, but I must when the financiers here are delicious little French cookie-cakes. Apparently these were created by a pastry chef in France whose shop was near the Paris stock exchange. Rich, elegant cookie cakes made with ground almonds, egg whites and browned butter - just right for his wealthy discerning customers. Cakes made in small rectangular molds resembling bars of gold probably gave them the name financiers. These are similar to Australian friands which are normally baked in muffin tins or friand pans (they make pretty cakes!). These are made with melted butter and are often topped with fresh fruit. 

With some almond meal in the freezer threatening to go rancid, financiers had to happen! Decided on this recipe from David Lebovitz as it is less richer than most recipes I came across. A touch of baking powder here makes for lighter cakes. So with black poppy seeds and a generous amount of orange zest thrown in, Orange Poppy Seed Financiers were out of the oven in no time at all. I love recipes like this! Top them with fresh fruit or chocolate chips or drizzle some citrus glaze on the warm cakes, you will like them all! Crusty edges, moist nutty interiors, these tender cakes are delightful freshly baked. 

The batter is ridiculously easy to put together - a matter of whisking in melted butter and egg whites into flour, sugar and almonds. Conveniently, the batter  can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days. 

Recipe from hereIngredients : To make about 12-15 mini cakes. Double the recipe if using a larger muffin tray. 

Ground almonds - 28 grams
Sugar - 50 grams ( I used powdered sugar, sifted)
All-purpose flour - 22 grams
Baking powder - 1/8 tsp
Black poppy seeds - 2 teaspoons
Orange zest - Freshly grated from one large orange, Microplane Zester* is the best tool for this.
Pure vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon
Egg whites -  62 grams
Unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly (please read note) - 42 grams

1.  Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).  I used a black mini muffin tray, so baked at 180 C / 350 F.  Spray the tin with with baking spray or grease and flour lightly but thoroughly.  
2.   Sift together the sugar, ground almonds, baking powder, salt and flour into a medium sized bowl.  Whisk in the poppy seeds. 
3.  Using a small whisk, whisk together the egg whites,  vanilla , zest and melted butter to incorporate well.  Whisk the whites mixture into the almond mixture in 2-3 additions.  Whisk gently but thoroughly.  This step is important as otherwise the butter may not get mixed properly making the cakes greasy.  The batter will be thinnish and of pouring consistency.  If not using the batter immediately, you can store it in the fridge for 3 days.
4.  Fill each cavity of the muffin tray 3/4 full.  Rap the muffin tin  on the counter once or twice to release any air pockets and level the batter.  
5.  Bake for 10-12 minutes  or until the financiers  feel firm when gently pressed with a finger (I did a tooth pick test too)  
6. Cool completely, then remove from the tin.  Please do eat some as soon as they cool.  Can be stored airtight for a couple of days, but the crusts will soften.

Please note :  I made 3 batches of these.  I used melted and cooled butter for one batch and melted and butter cooled slightly (about 125 F) for another batch wondering if that would make a difference.  I could not see a great deal of difference between the two . Either ways, the cakes taste great when really fresh. Only when they are kept for more than an hour or more, they taste a tiny bit too rich. Better to play safe, use butter cooled slightly,  serve the cakes fresh off the rack.
If you do have left over cakes, it may be a good idea to warm them for a 2-3 minutes at 180 C before serving. 
Variations : Omit the poppy seeds.  Use mini chocolate chips.  Do not stir the chips into the batter as they will sink and stick to the pan.  Top the batter with a few chips after you rap and bake.
Fresh fruit : If you like fresh fruit in your bakes, do absolutely use some. Most berries (not strawberries though), plums and cherries seem to work. 
Glaze : Make these plain with either orange or lime zest.  Drizzle some glaze over the cakes when they are still warm.
Am happy about this recipe as a start for me to get know these much loved cakes.  Looking forward to try more recipes and variations, fresh fruit, browned butter and more.  The things you need to do as a baker-blogger! 

Microplane Zester
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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Whole Wheat Almond Biscotti

whole wheat biscotti

Its been whole grains on my mind of late and I seem to be actually hoarding them! Amaranth flour thanks to Deeba, then some buckwheat flour, barley flour, sprouted finger millet flour, cornmeal and of course good old wheat flour. I made a stash of ragi malt with plenty more whole grains and nuts thrown in. Sweetened with jaggery or sugar, flavored with cardamom, I love sipping on some any time of the day! It goes to hubby's office in a flask for the late evening hunger pangs, the ever hungry pre-teen son manages to gulp down a glass now and then. The fussy daughter however still wrinkles her little nose, sigh! 

Whole wheat crepes, granola, granola bars, whole wheat almond biscotti and more have been appearing more often! I hope this isn't a passing phase and I stay inspired to include more of these grains in our meals. Its an acquired taste alright, but we should get there. Lots to experiment with, you will hopefully see more healthier baking here. Oh no, I never said I will forget all the sinful desserts and bakes, did I? 

Stumbled upon this recipe for biscotti made with whole wheat, almond meal and less sugar than usual. Without added fat, these are crunchy but not very hard. The log slices really well, making for thin biscotti. Slightly coarse textured, just about sweet (think Marie biscuits), these will be good cookies for the health conscious. If making these for kids, you may need to step up on the sugar by a tablespoon or more, add the mandatory chocolate chips or whatever catches their fancy. I have flavored the biscotti with Chai masala and orange zest, which is just a suggestion, cinnamon, cardamom or plain vanilla will be great too! 

whole wheat biscotti

Whole Wheat Almond Biscotti - Recipe from New York Times

Ingredients: To make about 15-18 thin biscotti .
Whole wheat flour - 125 grams
Almond meal - 30 grams
Baking powder - 1/2 teaspoon
Chai masala - 1 1/4 teaspoon
Brown sugar - 62 grams / 1/3 cup packed
Vanilla extract - 1/2 teaspoon
Eggs - 72 grams / 1 1/2 eggs
Orange zest, fresh from one orange. 
Almonds - 50 grams toasted and chopped ( I have used almond flakes)
  • Method : Pre-heat oven to 150 degrees C / 300 F. Line a baking tray ( I used a 10x12) with parchment. 
  • Sift together the flours, baking powder, salt and chai masala. Zest the orange. I love my Microplane Zester* for this!Take the eggs, sugar, orange zest and vanilla in a medium sized bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat for the mixture for about 2 minutes on speed 3. The mixture will be thick. 
  • Fold in the flour mixture, stir in the almonds. The dough will be sticky, may be a little less sticky and a little more firmer than the normal biscotti dough. 
  • Scrape the mixture in the middle of the lined pan. With wet hands shape the dough into a log. I made mine about 9'' x 2'', about an inch high. If doubling the recipe, make two logs side by side, with at least 2 inches space between them and two inches around the logs. 
  • Bake for about 35-40 minutes or till firm to the touch. The logs will spread but not a lot. Cool for 20 minutes or more if it suits your convenience.
  • Place the log on the kitchen counter or dry cutting board. Slice on the diagonal into thin slices. 
  • Arrange them on the baking sheet cut side down. (These are too thin to stand them up). Bake 10-12 minutes on each side. Bake longer for extra crunchy biscotti.
  • Cool and store in an airtight container. 
  • Please note : Use unrefined sugar or organic brown sugar in you wish, I have not tried these yet. Omit the chopped almonds in the dough if you want to cut down the calories further. 


If you like having these twice baked cookies around, you may want to play around with this recipe! 

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