An Irani café for dessert?

One of the things I lament the most when I visit coffee shops both in Singapore and back in Mumbai is the disappearance of good old fashioned tea cakes. Much as I like a brownie or a cheesecake every now and then, nothing quite complements a cup of tea or coffee like a simple tea cake. Even a plain old sponge or ribbon cake will do, I seek nothing fancier.

One of my favourite tea cakes is the Mawa cake. And nothing compares to the Mawa cake that was sold at B.Merwan’s outside Grant Road (E) station. When I worked in Advertising, our office used to be at Kemps Corner and very often my colleague, Firoz, would stop at Merwan’s to pick up some fresh Mawa cakes and the crusty Brun maska and bring it to the office. I would postpone my breakfast as much as possible on the off chance that Firoz had managed to secure either the cake or the brun, as both would run out very fast. And on the lucky days when he did manage to get them, I would be over the moon. Ah, the joy of biting into the soft yet decadent Mawa cake or dunking the Brun muska into a cup of tea to soften it just a wee bit before taking a bite. I have heard that B.Merwan’s closed down and then heard another rumour saying they were open again – not sure which is true, but it would be an absolute shame if they had really closed their doors forever.

Of course nothing compares to the experience of having the Mawa cake in an Irani establishment because then you have the joy of eating it with hot Parsi or Irani mint tea, complete with the ambience of an Irani cafe. Parsi Choi is like masala chai, sweet but a little less heavy on the spices and with the addition of fresh mint leaves. The mint leaves make all the difference and the tea is the perfect pairing to any freshly baked item.

Recently I was looking through the album of our trip back to Mumbai last year and came across photos at Kyani & Co. Aniruddha and I had gone to indulge in a cup of Parsi Choi (called Irani mint tea at Kyani) with Bun maska (a soft bun with butter vs. the crusty Brun). And seeing those photos got me thinking about how I could bring this amazing combination on to our menu. It had to be dessert, since I wanted to serve Mawa cake and then it struck me…why not convert the Parsi Choi into ice-cream! When in doubt, everything can be turned into an ice-cream 🙂

I have posted about Mawa cakes earlier on the blog, but now am sharing the recipe I use. I had to search for a Parsi Choi recipe and came across one on Peri’s Spice Ladle (http://www.perisspiceladle.com/2014/01/03/mint-and-cardamon-parsi-choi-or-chai-an-indian-tea). I first made a regular cup of Parsi Choi, which turned out amazing – a little more spicy and less milky & sweet than the ones I have had in Irani restaurants. I then took the recipe and married it with my basic ice-cream recipe to create the Parsi Choi ice-cream! Warm Mawa cake with Parsi Choi ice-cream – takes you back to an Irani cafe!

Priya

Mawa cake adapted from Tartelette Blog

  • ½ cup + 2 tbsp mawa
  • 1 ¼th cup flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • 6-7 strands of saffron
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 9 tbsp melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • Chopped pistachios for decoration (optional)

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven at 180C, gas mark 3
  • Warm milk and soak the saffron strands. After a couple of minutes, grind gently to release the colour
  • Sift the flour, cardamom powder and baking powder together
  • Beat the sugar, mawa and butter till soft and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat till incorporated. If the mixture starts to look curdled, add a tbsp. of flour
  • Alternately add the flour and milk and beat well till mixed.
  • Pour into greased and floured cupcake holders or in a baking tin and bake for 20-25 minutes. Keep a close eye toward the 20 min mark, as if the oven gets too hot, the top of the cakes can start to burn
  • Insert a toothpick to check if the cake is baked. Remove the tin/cupcakes and let them come down to room temperature. Remove the cakes from the cupcake holders or from the baking tin and leave on a rack.

Parsi Choi ice-cream

  • 300ml milk
  • 125ml cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 70-75g sugar
  • 4-5 tsp loose black tea (add more if you want it stronger)
  • 12-15 mint leaves, shredded by hand
  • 8-9 cardamom pods, crushed to open
  • ½ inch piece of ginger, sliced

Method

  • Make cooked tea by boiling milk, mint, ginger, loose tea and cardamom. Bring to the boil and let it simmer for around 5 mins. Turn off the heat. Strain the tea and keep aside in a saucepan.
  • Whisk the sugar and egg yolks till pale and frothy. Add a little of the strained, milk tea while still hot. Whisk together and then add the egg and sugar mixture to the saucepan containing the remaining milk, whisking as you add it. Cook the custard on a low heat, whisking to avoid the egg from scrambling. When the custard coats the back of a spoon, turn off the heat and let the custard cool down
  • Whip the cream till slightly thick and add to the custard. Chill the mixture in the fridge till it is completely chilled.
  • Pour the mixture into your ice-cream maker and churn for 25 minutes till it forms into a smooth ice-cream. Take out into a container and freeze.

To serve, warm the mawa cake, serve a scoop of the Choi ice-cream over it and top it with fresh mint leaves and slivered pistachios.

A fresh look at Aamras Puri

IMG_5217

My heart leapt with joy last week when I had my first sighting of the Alphonso mango at Mustafa’s. Not the best quality yet, but there was no mistaking that distinctive fragrance that only the Alphonso carries. And so with a steady supply of my favourite mango now just around the corner, it was time to start working on our summer menu for the supper club, currently cheesily named ‘The Indian summer’. I know, I know – needs improvement. This is just a placeholder…

For the last few days Aniruddha and I have been discussing what dishes to cook. Of course my mango shrikhand tart will make an appearance with some very special tart tins I managed to get designed in Mumbai recently – more on that soon. I am experimenting with a kairiche saar (raw mango soup) and kairi panna (raw mango and jaggery drink) to replace the tomato saar (tomato and coconut milk soup)! I successfully paired a tamarind prawn dish that I usually make with fresh mango – really surprising pairing but it really works. And Aniruddha has been going through his Bengali recipes, many of which will be new for me!

But of course, no summer menu is complete without offering the most popular mango dish in Mumbai – aamras puri. Fresh Alphonso mango pulp or juice flavoured with cardamom, saffron and a little sugar and served with deep fried bread. Utterly calorie dense but sooooo good!

Although it is a simple dish to make at home, for some reason most of my memories of aamras puri are at a restaurant. My grandmother was particularly fond of the dish and during mango season she would always make it a point to go for an aamras puri treat. I remember having it at Samrat in Churchgate, as part of their thali. And sometimes Thackers who used to cater the vegetarian food at the Cricket Club, where my grandparents were members, would also serve it.

As I began to think of bringing it on the menu, the first question that struck me is how do I serve it? Just serving aamras with puri on the side would be fine, since there are few places that serve it in Singapore and many non-Indians have never had this dish. But I wanted to add some surprise by recreating it, as we’ve managed successfully with some of our other dishes. I knew that whatever I came up with, had to have a fried dough element to it, because that taste was integral to the joy of eating aamras puri.

The answer came quite fast – doughnuts! Not the ones with a hole, like Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme, but the jam-filled variety. The idea was to replace the traditional filling with an aamras-inspired one. May not be the most elegant idea for a dish but who can argue with the taste of a good doughnut? Having never made one before, I started searching for recipes and almost immediately came across something called malasadas. These are Portuguese doughnuts and the word ‘mal – assadas’ means under-cooked. The search also kept pointing to a bakery in Hawaii called Leonard’s which is famous for their malasadas. Why argue with Google search?

The dough for malasadas is created with bread flour, yeast, butter, sugar, eggs, milk and half & half. I found a recipe for the ones created by Leonard’s but reduced the quantity by 1/3rd and adjusted the half and half with a combination of milk and cream. The dough is proofed first for 1.5 hours, then cut into small golf-sized balls and proofed again for another hour and then fried. The malasadas were an absolute joy to cook. I wasn’t sure if the dough was proofed enough, although it had doubled. But the moment I popped my first doughnut into the oil and it puffed up, I knew I was on the right track. After the first one cooled down I rolled it in sugar and then cut it open. It was a lovely brown on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside.

Link to the original recipe: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Hawaii-Malasadas

For the aamras filling, I took mango pulp and mixed it with cardamom powder, saffron and a little cream to give it more structure when I piped it into the doughnuts. So I piped the aamras into it, took a giant bite and aloha!! My little experiment with aamras puri seemed to have worked quite well. Improvements for the next time – oil to be a little less hot, so I achieve a more golden brown colour. A thicker aamras filling and more filling per donut. My sister also suggested churros with aamras…something I will try very soon!

Priya

Three generations in the railways….

My mum sometimes jokes that my generation – my sister and me – sadly broke the three generation run my family has had serving the Indian railways. First, my great grandfather who served in the then, British-run railway as a station master in present-day Bangladesh, my grandfather who worked across both the British India and Indian railways, and my mother who also worked her entire career in the Indian railway medical services.

My dad spent pretty much sixty years living in Railway houses (or quarters as they were called), moving across various parts of West Bengal and Bihar with my grand father and then we all lived in one of the famous Railway ‘colonies’.

Think my Dadu (grandpa) would have been amused if I told him we can’t seem to string two sentences together in a business meeting without using the word ‘platform’…because when he said ‘building a platform’, he meant it in simpler and more literal terms! (He was a key member of the team that built the Kharagpur train station platform – still one of the longest in the world).

IMG_4574

Model of the first locomotive that ran in India – nicknamed a ‘Bloomer’

Our holidays were always punctuated with a train journey at either end. I can still feel the excitement over ordering the egg curry on the 1-up and 2-down train we would take to and from Calcutta, and the excitement as the train pulled into Howrah station, as I was about to be spoilt rotten by my grandma, grandpa and Mama (uncle) over the holidays. But it was always the train journey and the pulling into Howrah that marked the start of that yearly gastronomic adventure. The tiffin carriers with mutton curry, puris, and snacks we carried onto the train (in case, heaven forbid we ran out of food!), and then all the snacks and meals on the train and even more importantly, all the wonderful food from the platforms! The puri bhajis, the omlette sandwiches, the cutlets, the bhajiyyas….

Maybe three generations of being in and around trains and railway platforms will do that to you, but even now, I get these Pavlovian hunger pangs every time I  get on a train for a halfway long journey. Maybe I should see someone about that!

Monsoon treats

bhutta

Bhutta, roasted corn, with lime juice, salt, pepper and chilli powder

Monsoon season in Mumbai has its own menu mostly comprising of hot tea and a variety of fried snacks, consumed ideally in a balcony or near a window where a light spray from the rain would be a welcome companion.

But for me, the lasting memory of the Mumbai monsoon is the joy of eating freshly roasted corn on the cob, called bhutta, liberally coated with salt, chilli powder and lime juice. My mouth is watering just by writing this!

There would always be a man with a cart selling this delicious treat at Bandstand, in Bandra. Back then the corn was the smaller, paler yellow variety and not the bright American corn now available everywhere. He would roast it on charcoal in a small sigri (stove) and then dip half a lime into a bowl containing mostly salt and chilli powder and massage it into the roasted corn, till it was glistening from the lime juice and speckled with the spices! Then while still warm, he would serve it to you on a plate fashioned from the outer, pale green leaves of the corn.

And there you would stand, watching the high tide lash onto the rocks and dig into the corn till your teeth went right down to the very core. That explosion of the freshly roasted corn combined with the lime juice and spices was the best snack I have ever had on a rainy day.

Now when I want this treat, I need to roast it over a gas flame which doesn’t give quite the same taste as roasting over charcoal. But once the lime and spices go in, it still tastes damn good!

bhutta roasting

Corn roasting on a gas flame

Nothing compares to pav

If there’s one thing I miss dearly about being in Mumbai, it is easy access to freshly baked pav – a soft, beautifully leavened bread that pairs many popular snacks and meals in Mumbai. Vada pav, dabeli pav, misal pav, usal pav, pav bhaji, kheema pav, bhurji pav…etc etc.

And nothing can replace pav. It may look like just another bread or dinner roll, but only only after you’ve eaten it in one of the many food pairings listed above, will you truly appreciate its worth.

Early in the morning you will see men on cycles with a large canvas bag hanging near the back wheel, delivering orders of pav to homes and bakeries. My grandfather used to have a standard order of 6 pavs that would be delivered home every morning. 2 of them would be reserved for our dog (these were the days when dog food was not available) and the remaining 4 to be had for breakfast, morning tea and then in the evening.

Here’s an interesting article that talks about its history: http://www.deccanherald.com/content/32025/taking-pride-our-very-own.html

Living in Singapore meant I had no access to this bread.Friends told me of pav available at Mustafa – but I only found dinner rolls. Bread available at the local bakeries was good, but nothing like pav. And since I had always thought making pav at home would be impossible I continued to have to live without it. (There was an assumption that only the talent and effort in the many small bakeries across Mumbai could produce this wonderful bread)

Till one day I decided it was time to at least explore the possibility of making it. I came across countless recipes and videos on how to make pav which resulted in countless failed attempts to make it. The yeast was not frothy enough, the flour didn’t seem to be right, I didn’t get that miraculous first or second rise after proofing, it was raining, the oven was not hot enough….the mistakes and excuses I made were endless.

Till one fine day after patiently noting down and correcting everything that had gone wrong in earlier attempts, I finally produced a batch of almost perfect pav. Pav bhaji, here I come!

pav 1

Pav after the second proofing

pav 3

Soft pav

pav 2

Ladi pav

 

A case for the vindaloo

pork vindaloo

This piece is as much a plea to discover and love the Goan pork vindaloo for what it is – a beautifully balanced, hot and sour curry. Not an absurdly hot chili dump with no other dimension to the taste, you may find in a tray labelled vindaloo at the extreme end of a curry joint in England, Sydney etc. That dish may be many things, a vindaloo it is not!

The etymology is apparently the combination of the Portugese terms for wine (vinho) and garlic (alho) and the dish was developed by the Portuguese settlers in Goa substituting palm vinegar for the red wine they used back home with the addition of Kashmiri red chiles and Indian spices. For those who eat pork, it really is the best medium for the vindaloo flavours. I used a nice, fatty cut of pork and let it steep in the vinegar, red chili and spice marinade overnight and cooked it the next day.

Time is your friend with this dish – give the marinade time and then cook it, and the cooked pork tastes even better a day or two later with all the flavors seeping through the meat. A little fresh slaw to cut the heavy flavours and a piece of bread to soak up the gravy, and you’ve suddenly fallen in love with the vindaloo and wondered why you ate those four tablespoon red chili powder monstrosities before!

Aniruddha

Patra ni machhi

patra ni macchi 1My favourite wedding receptions are Parsi receptions. They’re light hearted, everyone has fun, alcohol is always available yet no one goes silly over it, the band plays classic hits, old aunties and uncles shake a leg. And all of this is a side show to the main attraction – the food. Glorious, glorious Parsi food.

Having grown up with Parsi neighbours in Bandra and gone to a Parsi school, I am very familiar with their cuisine and absolutely love it. I always look forward to a Parsi wedding invitation because not only do you get served a feast featuring some of their best dishes, when you opt for a non vegetarian meal that is pretty much all you get on your plate 😀

The meal is almost always a sit down affair and there’s always a beeline for the first sitting. The caterers do grudgingly accommodate vegetarians, but relegate them to a corner of the seating area as a silent protest. My poor dad who is a vegetarian would eat his meal with other vegetarian guests, while my mother, sister and I would join the throngs for the non vegetarian meal.

A particular favourite of mine from this wedding feast is Patra ni Machhi or fish in banana leaves. This is made with Pomfret fillets which are coated with a green chutney and then wrapped with banana leaves. These parcels are then placed in a pan and steamed with some vinegar and water. The preparation is quite simple and its the chutney that gives the dish all its flavour – a soft mixture of fresh coconut, coriander leaves, ginger, garlic, green chilli, cumin seeds, pepper and lemon juice.

Priya

patra ni macchi 2

Sanju’s chicken pot pie

Who is Sanju? And why does his name appear on this blog??

Sanjay Kadam or Sanju as he is better known was part of the family that worked with Aniruddha’s parents when his mother was with the Indian Railways. He is a wonderful cook and his speciality is this amazing spice paste that is used to make a chicken curry.

The spice paste is primarily made of fried onions, fresh and dry coconut and spices like cardamom, cumin and coriander seeds. You can imagine that this would be a particularly fragrant spice paste! Although Sanju has been kind enough to take me through the recipe, he still insists on cooking and giving us a fresh batch of the paste everytime we’re in Mumbai or when Aniruddha’s parents visit us in Singapore.

Serving just a chicken curry can be predictable, and so to mimic the experience of eating this curry with chappatis, we decided to create a chicken pot pie! This is quite an indulgent dish and best if it’s the only thing you eat at one meal 😀

Priya

pot pie

A little Goan influence

The Goan recheado masala influenced this great pan fried fish with a spicy and tangy sauce. The recheado masala is a fiery, red paste that the Goans use mainly to cook seafood (especially mackerel), and like the more popularly known vindaloo, uses dried Kashmiri chili for the colour and heat, with coconut vinegar (rice or white wine vinegar works well as a substitute) and in a shining example of successful European-Indian fusion, is combined with Indian spices like cumin, cinamon, fenugreek, mustard seeds and turmeric. I toned down the red chili and loosened the sauce with some coconut milk for a little more calmness and a little less rocket fuel. Lightly seasoned, pan fried barramundi fillets,  and a generous dollop of the sauce and you’re off to the races. A dash of coconut feni (a very potent and rustic coconut toddy) is supposed to add a lot more depth to it and I can see why. Feni has that effect on all foods and people…..I used white rum this time, maybe it will be feni next time!

Aniruddha
fish