Next to any busy marketplace, roadside or a village carnival in Bangladesh, Pakistan or India and you’ll see people in little stalls making fresh hot Jilebi. They are a little like funnel cakes but more delicate and crispy. There’s nothing like eating hot Jilebis. It’s better than hot Krispy Kremes! They melt in your mouth in a little explosion of sweetness and crunchiness. Of course, you can also buy them at fancier establishments, restaurants or sweet shoppes, but the road side ones are the best. I miss that here. Sometimes when the nostalgia gets to be too much, I just make my own. We were invited to dinner at a friend’s house. I offered to bring dessert just so I could have an excuse to make Jilebis. The problem was that I ate quite a few of them even as I was making them. I finally had to stop so I’d have enough to take to the dinner.
It took me a while to get all the proportions right and to figure out what tool to use to actually expel my batter into the oil to make the jilebi shapes. It also took a lot of trial and error to make them taste like the roadside Jilebis. I think I finally got it. You try it out and let me know.
Here’s the recipe:
1/2 cup all purpose flour (maida)
1-2 tsp of chick pea flour (Besan)
1/2 tsp dry active yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp oil
1/2 cup of warm water
oil for frying
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 crushed cardamom pods
3-4 strands of saffron (optional)
1 tsp lemon juice (to keep it from crystallizing)
Assemble the Jilebi:
In a small bowl add the water, sugar and yeast and let it sit for about 3-5 minutes until it’s all foamy and bubbly. In a separate bowl, mix the two flours and the oil. Slowly add in the proofed yeast while stirring the flour mixture until it’s smooth. Consistency should be like a pancake batter. Make sure there are no lumps. Let it sit covered for about 1 hour.
Make the syrup:
Before getting the batter ready for frying, assemble all the ingredients for the syrup and bring to a boil. Turn it to the lowest setting and let it simmer for about 5-8 minutes. Turn off heat.
Making the Jilebi (this goes fast so have everything ready to go):
Preheat oil. Test readiness by putting a little of the jilebi mixture in the oil and if it floats to the top right away it’s ready. Make sure not to overheat the oil. Pour the jilebi mixture into a squeeze bottle or a ziplock bag with a tip cut out to make a small hole. The mixture will be slightly stringy and elastic. If using a squeeze bottle from a baking store, try the Wilton decorating tip number seven. It’s the perfect size hole plus the bottle and tip only cost about $2 and you can use the bottle for tons of different things. Using a circular motion and even pressure put batter into the hot oil. Fry until golden brown and set it over some paper towels to absorb excess oil. While jilebi is still hot put it in the warm syrup to coat both sides and take it out immediately. Best served hot. But if you must have some later (if there is any left), please heat in the oven and not the microwave so it retains the crispy texture.
You will not see a lot of baked foods coming out of a traditional South Asian kitchen. That’s because most things are cooked over an open fire or stove top. With the exception of the Tandoor Oven, which is used for some savory dishes and naans, an oven is not used for desserts. Bengalis are intrepid however, and we are known for our desserts. There are a lot of Bengali desserts made out of dairy products and some that are non-dairy, like Jilebi and a whole host of Pithas and Halwas. The traditional Gulab Jamun is made with a homemade ricotta cheese base which takes a bit of effort and time to make.
My mom, (like most Bengali, I call her Ma) is a champion dessert maker. In fact, if there is a special occasion or a wedding coming up, people like to call her up and ask her to make some of the more complicated desserts. She is a true professional. I like to take a few short cuts in the kitchen. Some of the traditional methods of making desserts take forever. My philosophy is that if the end product tastes just as good with a little shortcut, let’s take the short cut! I have to confess, I had a LOT of failures before I could make this properly. The first time I made this, I made the balls the size that I usually ate them as a finished product, I had no idea that they expanded about 1 1/2 times their size. I ended up with these HUGE tennis ball sized desserts that fell apart in the syrup. I tried various concoctions and methods with varying degrees of success and finally settled on this recipe. This Gulab Jamun passed the Ma test. She said that it tasted (almost) as good as hers. High praise indeed!
Here’s the recipe:
1 cup dry powdered non-fat milk
1/4 cup all purpose flour (Maida)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
3 tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
Oil for frying
2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water
3-4 cardamom pods crushed
saffron strands (optional, it adds great color and some flavor)
2 tsp lemon juice (to prevent crysallization)
In a large heavy bottom pan mix together all the ingredients for the syrup and bring to a boil. As soon as the mixture boils, turn down heat to low and simmer for about 8 minutes and turn off the heat.
In a bowl, mix together powdered milk, flour, baking soda until well incorporated. Add softened butter and mix with hands and slowly begin adding liquid milk until a soft and sticky dough forms. Pat it together and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes until all liquid absorbs and dough becomes easier to handle. Knead dough until smooth and form small balls about the size of a nickel. Recipe should yield about 30 balls. In medium/low heat slowly fry the balls until they are a golden brown. It’s important to go slowly so that the balls are not hard in the middle and cooked on the outside. This is the most important step. The balls will expand in size as they are being fried. Keep turning the balls in the oil so they get an even golden brown color. When they are a deep brown color, take them out with a slotted spatula and place them on a paper towel covered surface to absorb excess oil. While they are still warm, place the balls gently into the syrup. Dessert is ready after 1 hour of being in syrup. They taste even better the next day. The finished size is about the size of a golf ball.
There’s nothing like fresh hot naan. I love all kinds of naan. Peshwari Naan, Garlic Naan, Plain Naan, or in this case a stuffed Naan. You might be thinking to yourself (or not) why stuff potatoes inside a bread? Well, why not? Actually since this serves as the main carb for a meal, it’s perfect. It’s great served with daal, channa dishes or one of my go to dishes Sabzi Paneer Masala. Since I don’t own a Tandoor oven, the best way I know how to mimic one is by using a pizza stone. A Tandoor oven heats up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit. The highest my gas oven will go is 550 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to compensate for this temperature difference I usually place the pizza stone in a rack closest to the upper element. I usually preheat the oven to the highest it will go (500 for electric or 550 for gas) with the pizza stone in it. Then right before baking the naans, I turn the oven to the broil function. This helps even out the heat from the top and the bottom and usually the naans turn out fantastic. Try this one. You’ll be the talk of the town.
Here’s the recipe:
Makes 6 Naans
Plain Naan dough:
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
2 tbsp plain yogurt (I like Greek)
3/4 cup warm water
Aloo Filling (potato filling):
2 medium russet potatoes
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin seeds (Jeera)
1/2 tsp dry mango powder (Amchur)
1 Serrano chili, partially seeded and chopped
2 tbsp chopped Cilantro (coriander leaves or Dhania)
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp oil (to coat hands, for the dough etc)
2 tbsp ghee (clarified butter) – to brush the naans with
1/8 – 1/4 cup flour to dust rolling surface
Making the Naan:
I make the dough for this naan in the morning before going to work, it only takes a couple of minutes and it’s perfect for when I get home. The dough works really well 6-8 hours later. Needs at least a minimum of 4 hours, so plan accordingly.
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the warm water and let it proof for a few minutes until it bubbles up. In a larger bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda. Make a well in the center of the flour and add in the yogurt and oil. Mix together until you get a coarse crumbly texture. Slowly add in the proofed yeast mixture and knead the dough. Don’t worry if the dough is slightly sticky. Put a few drops of oil on the dough and smooth it all over the dough ball. Cover the bowl with the dough in it with some plastic wrap and let it sit for at least 4 hours. I prefer about 6-8. It doesn’t really over-rise so even if it is longer than 8 hours, it’s okay.
Wash the two potatoes and pierce the skin with a fork a few times. Microwave about 4-5 minutes (depending on microwave) until potatoes are tender. Don’t skin and boil these potatoes since we’re trying to reduce moisture content. Once cooked and slightly cooled, peel the potatoes and smash them with a fork or a potato masher. Add all the spices to the mashed potatoes and mix well. Divide and roll into six equal balls.
Putting it all together:
Preheat the oven to 500 or 550 (as high as it will go) with the pizza stone in it. Pre-heat for about 20 minutes because you want the stone nice and hot.
Coat hands with a little vegetable oil and knead the naan dough a few times and divide the dough into six equal parts. Sprinkle a little flour on the rolling surface and roll out dough into 3″ circles. Place a potato ball in the middle and wrap dough around it like a little dumpling. Make sure to pull the edges together well. Make all six balls the same way and let it rest for about 5 minutes (this rest period helps a lot when rolling it out). In the meantime, turn the oven on to broil and make sure the rack with the stone is closest to the top element (be sure to wear oven mitts or you’ll get a nasty burn like me).
Roll out naans into an oval shape. Before placing them on the stone, coat the palms of your hands with a little oil and flip each naan back and forth to lightly coat each side. Place 3 naans on the stone (or however many will fit on your stone). Cook for about 2 minutes, maybe 3 depending on your oven. It should get a nice golden brown color on top and will puff up. Take out the naan and brush with ghee (clarified butter) or regular butter.
Make sure to wait 2-3 minutes between baking batches of naan to give your oven time to get back to the maximum temperature. Serve Naan with Sabzi Paneer Masala.
I’ve had a lot of pale foods lately. You know what I mean. Things with creamy, white sauces, pastas, potatoes. I needed some COLOR and some SPICE! I can’t go very long without reverting back to my roots. There are lots of times we eat completely vegetarian meals, not really on purpose but because we never miss the meat. Especially food from my part of the world. The flavors, the spices and the textures are so great, you never even think to yourself…”where’s the beef?” This is one of those dishes. Paneer is a South Asian cheese. Paneers can be used to make desserts, to put into breads or made into savory dishes. It’s versatility can take on any flavors, kind of like tofu. Paneer can also easily be made at home. I didn’t have time today to make my paneer from scratch (I shall post a paneer making post really soon). I just bought some from the store. Nowadays you can pick up paneer even at the specialty section of regular grocery stores. This dish is pretty quick and it’s very, VERY tasty. I love to serve it with Aloo Naan (savory potato stuffed flat bread) and some Raita (a cucumber, tomato and yogurt side salad). It’s one of my favorite comfort foods.
Subzi Paneer MasalaHere’s the recipe:
12 ounces of Paneer, cut into strips or cubes
1/8 cup of oil
14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger
1 Serrano Chili
1/2 tsp Jeera (cumin seeds)
1/4 tsp Hing (Aseofatida powder, it stinks but it’s awesome to cook with)
1 tbsp Coriander powder (Dhania)
1/2 tsp Turmeric
1/2 tsp Red chili powder
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
1 tsp Garam Masala
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
1 red bell pepper, cut into little chunks
1 green bell pepper, cut into little chunks
1/2 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt (or adjust to your taste)
In a blender or food processor mix the tomatoes, garlic, ginger, onion and green chili into a puree. Set aside.
In a skillet or pan heat the oil and shallow fry the paneer pieces until they are golden brown. Take them out and put them in a paper towel lined pan. In the same oil add the green and red bell peppers and cook for about 3 minutes until tender but not over cooked. Take out and put in the same pan as the paneer and set aside.
Add to the pan the Cumin seeds and hing and stir fry until the seeds pop (should take only a few seconds). Add the tomato puree, coriander powder, salt, turmeric, chili and bay leaves. Cook over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes or until the oil separates a little from the tomato puree and the whole sauce reduces to almost half the quantity.
Mix yogurt and water together and add to the sauce. Stir and simmer for another 3 minutes or so. Add the Paneer, bell pepper and green peas to the sauce, cook for about a minute until the peas are tender. Add the garam masala, sugar and cilantro and stir well. Cook another minute or so and remove from heat. Fish out the two bay leaves. Serve hot with Aloo Naan or plain Naan.
I had forgotten that there were people coming over. That happens to us a lot. People come over and want to eat stuff and hang around. One time I invited 15 people for Thanksgiving dinner and 55 people showed up. How does that happen, you wonder? It’s because I am an asylee in this country and I work with refugees a lot. The rules of etiquette are slightly different for people from other parts of the world. If they feel comfortable with you, they will bring a bunch of extra friends without letting you know about it. I have learned to always have some kind of food handy and to OVER cook for every event at my house. Who knows how many will show up? So I thought I could throw together some “quick” bread, like banana bread, but they ate all the bananas as they were talking and hanging around…I decided to go to plan B. Plan B would be making bread out of stuff people usually don’t snack on, like poppy seeds (unless they want to test positive for opiates on a drug test at work the next day). This is a “dump” bread. You dump in all the ingredients and then stick it in the oven for about 50 minutes and you have a couple of loaves of delicious bread. While the bread is cooking though you gotta keep everyone distracted enough not to eat everything else that is not nailed down, like jars of Kumquat Marmalade cooling on the counter….
BTW, I made up this recipe about 16 years ago so I’d remember the numbers. You’ll see what I mean:
Here’s the recipe:
Almond poppy-seed Bread
3 Cups flour
1 cup oil
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp butter flavoring
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Dump everything, except the poppy seeds, into a large mixing bowl and mix at medium speed until well blended and smooth. It’s a slightly watery batter. Hand stir in the poppy seeds. Pour into two greased or sprayed loaf pans or 6 mini loaf pans. Bake for 50 minutes if using two loaf pans or for 40-45 minutes if using the mini loaf pans. (in the interest of time, I used mini loaf pans) Enjoy!
I’m usually so busy most of the time that I try to find my fun in whatever I’m doing. I went on a recent shopping trip with my friend Kristin to a store that most people avoid. It’s a local store that sells an unlikely variety of things. You can find Ann Taylor dresses right next to a box of Avocados. During our shopping spree, I bought Sterling Silver Celtic crosses, a Krups coffee grinder, a pair of cute summer wedge sandals and Kumquats. Yes, a bunch of Kumquats. If you’ve never tried Kumquats, they are like tiny oranges except you can eat the skin and everything. They pack in a lot of flavor and can be used in sauces, chutneys, cakes, compotes…..
I decided to make some marmalade. When you use oranges or other citrus to make jams or marmalade no additional pectin is needed. There is natural pectin in citrus that makes it set up. There are only four ingredients in this marmalade. I thought I’d add some zing to the kumquat and orange mixture by adding some candied ginger I’d made last month. It added a depth of flavor that was delicious! There is something about home canning that makes me feel like the brown version of Martha Stewart. It must be the mason jars!
Here’s the recipe:
Kumquat Orange Ginger Marmalade
30 or so Kumquats
2 large Oranges
1/4 cup candied ginger (or you can use a 2″ piece of fresh ginger chopped up)
9 cups of sugar
Wash all the fruit. Cut the Kumquats in half and take out the seeds. Cut up the oranges and take out the seeds. Rough chop the ginger. Place everything in the food processor (skin and all) and process for a few minutes until you see small chunks. I like to keep small enough pieces that it won’t annoy me later when I put it on my toast, some people like really big pieces. It’s up to you. Measure the fruit before you put it in a large pan. The rule of thumb is that you need approximately 1 1/2 times the amount of sugar to fruit ratio for everything to set up properly. I came up with 4 cups of fruit so I went with 9 cups of sugar. (a true 1 1/2 x would be 10 cups, but I held back a bit). Cook fruit and sugar until it comes to a boil and then turn the heat to low and let the fruit simmer, stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick and overflow. It should take about 20 minutes for the mixture to cook and become tender and for the liquid to coat the back of the spoon you’re using. Sterilize some mason jars. Pour hot mixture into each jar leaving a 1/4 inch clearance. Make sure the rim is clean before placing a sterilized lid and band on. Process in water bath for 10 minutes. Enjoy the marmalade. I think it will go wonderfully with any pork or chicken dish as a sauce. Yielded 12 pint jars.
The last several days were like a blur. I made too many cookies, ate things other people made that I didn’t like (green bean casserole with little hot dog chunks, bad jello salad with beet pieces and funeral potatoes – that’s a Utah thing ), skipped meals, ran around doing a million things. It was busy, it was hectic, it was crazy. But today, I wanted to come home and eat something I made because dang it, my worst effort had to be better than a casserole made of macerated hot dogs (I have HUGE issues with hot dogs, it’s a long story). I had leftover baked chicken from last night and a couple of Zucchinis in the fridge. I decided it would be great to take out my mandolin (the cooking kind, not the musical instrument) and use the zucchini as the noodle and make some kind of a filling with the chicken and other veggies. It turned out pretty great and it was fast too. Total time with prep and baking under 45 minutes. It sure beats the beet jello salad (pun intended).
Much like the movie “300”, I too had my EPIC cookie “eggstravaganza” (sorry, couldn’t pass that up). I think mentioned in yesterdays’ post that I thought it’d be great to make 300 sugar cookies and decorate them for Easter Sunday for everyone at church. Let me set this up by saying that I work outside the home, I am also in an Easter Passion Play so all my evenings are full of performances and there are a few other things going on in my life. Not a good time to be baking giant batches of anything. But…. I had visions of stunning cookies decorated with amazing and artistic designs. Oh, did I mention that I’ve not actually decorated sugar cookies before…you know the kind with royal icing that looks gorgeous. I’ve made plenty of sugar cookies and plenty of royal icing (usually when making gingerbread houses at Christmas time) but never put the two together! I thought I’d make some cute little chicks much like one of my favorite bloggers Pasta Princess who posted gorgeous decorated cookies recently (I bow to you Oh great one!). Reality, however can be cruel! My decorating efforts looked more like Angry birds than cute chicks. My Tulips looked like flowers after a hail storm. What was I thinking? I learned a lot though. When you make 300 cookies, by cookie number 200 you begin to figure a few things out, especially at 2 in the morning. Guess what? I also had to make a few extra because some got eaten along the way….
The Sugar cookie recipe is one of my old standbys. It’s delicious and works great. The Royal Icing is also an old recipe that’s been around for a long time and is very versatile. If it’s too stiff, add a little water, if it is too runny add a little more powdered sugar, darn near idiot proof. What I really had to learn was all about decorating. I’m a little embarrassed to post my efforts since they are so amateurish but at least they’re colorful! Happy Easter everyone!
1 cup sugar
1 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups flour
½ tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract
Pre-heat oven to 350o In a large mixing bowl cream butter, sugar and flavorings together. Add in eggs and mix well. In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder and salt. Slowly incorporate dry ingredients into the creamed butter mixture until everything is well incorporated. Divide dough into two balls, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before using. This makes the dough easier to roll out. When ready to roll out dough, dust the dough with powdered sugar so it won’t stick to the rolling-pin. This allows the dough to keep its integrity without adding any more flour. Cut out desired shapes and bake for about 9-12 minutes depending on oven. It should be light golden color, if you want it crisper, bake it the full 12 minutes.
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoon Meringue powder
5 tbsp water
Gel based food coloring (this is a must, it is true color and doesn’t alter taste)
If meringue powder is not available(you can buy them at any bakery or restaurant supply store) then 2 egg whites can be used in its place. To make sure that it is safe to eat it has to be tempered over a double boiler.
Mix meringue powder and sugar together and add the water. Use an electric mixer on low-speed and mix for 7-10 minutes until icing is nice and glossy and soft peaks form. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment and let it mix for about 7-10 minutes. Put it in an air tight container until ready to use.
I came home at 5 p.m. last night and decided to make 300 sugar cookies and decorate them for Easter Sunday because I thought everyone at church would be delighted by them. It was a brilliant idea that quickly lost it’s luster. First, I’ve not actually decorated sugar cookies before, well at home with the kids but not to pass out to people who are not family. Secondly, what was I thinking? I often have these crazy ideas and find myself knee-deep in projects of my own making. Which means, I completely forgot about dinner. I had a sea of cookies cooling on the kitchen counters and about a gallon of royal icing but NOTHING, absolutely nothing to eat for dinner…..Dang it! I opened my pantry and gazed at the contents in desperation and inspiration struck. Bengali people love to smash food. We call it “Vortha”. Sometimes, we like to smash stuff and then fry it up in oval shapes, we call those “Chops” (I have no idea why, it could have been another desperate cook at dinner time who came up with the name).
So, I found a can of chicken. I didn’t even know I had such a thing in the pantry. It wasn’t expired (yay). So I decided to make Chicken and whatever veggie was in the refrigerator chops. It was good. Really good. I think I’ll actually make them again…..on purpose.
Here’s the recipe.
1 12.5 ounce can of unexpired chicken breast
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 Serrano Chile, seeded and chopped
Cilantro – chopped, about a handful
1 tsp cumin powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 Zucchini, grated
1/4 cup bread crumbs (helps absorb moisture)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
little vegetable oil for shallow pan frying
Mix everything together and shape into little patties. Heat a skillet with about a 1/4 cup or less of oil. Add the patties in the oil and fry until golden brown. Serve with some rice or in some pita with lettuce, cabbage and fresh tomatoes. Makes 10 patties.