Friday, 16 November 2012

Chikki- vegan sweet with nuts and/ or seeds

Fully caramelised chikki is toffee-like with a delicious roast nut flavour; these are cashews

This is what you get if you stop after mixing the nuts in; tastes more sugary and less nutty, without the toffee-like flavour

It seems every continent has its version of a sweet combining nuts or seeds and sugar or honey; they just seem to go together really well! In India and Pakistan, chikki is traditionally made from peanuts and jaggery (gour). In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar it's called layyiya patti, and there are different names according to what nuts, seeds or coconut are in it. In Brazil, peanut and rapadura (jaggery) candy is known as pe-de-moleque (meaning "cobblestones"). The French have praline, the Americans and British peanut brittle, and North African, Arabic and Mediterranean countries make their own versions with almonds or sesame seeds. Caramelised nuts are often found as street food the world over, and not without good reason: there is protein and energy in the nuts and if you use jaggery, gour or rapadura then there will be minerals as well as energy in the sugar too- all very sustaining, and a healthy fuel for a busy day. Chikki is good if you have to work on ekadasi days (when we fast from grains and beans) as it will keep you going for hours.
There are no end of variations on this sweet; almonds are great, even walnuts or mixed nuts- and don't forget seeds: pumpkin seeds especially make a good chikki besides the more common sesame seeds (til seeds). My husband is really good at making chikki (in fact he's made it a classic in our house), and he has taught me how it's done. Although it is a relatively simple and speedy process, there are a few things that can go wrong such as burning the gour, overcooking or undercooking the chikki, so you need to pay close attention when you make it!

This recipe makes a small batch, good for 3-4 people as a snack (or 2 seriously hungry people)
1 1/2 cups nuts and/ or seeds (I used cashews here)
1 cup (250ml) gour, rapadura or jaggery 
1 tab water
  • Lightly toast the nuts at 200C on a baking tray until just starting to brown.
  • Meanwhile, melt the gour in a sturdy pan deeper than it is wide (stainless steel is ideal, enamel is not). It should become a bubbling, thick liquid. Keep stirring it, and don't use too high a heat or it may burn. You can tell if it's starting to burn as dark flecks will appear in it and it will start to smell horrible:/
  • Stir your nuts/ seeds in next. If you stop here you get a paler, more sugary-tasting confection, but if you want the real deal, then carry on gently heating and stirring the mixture, and then...
  • ....something quite magical happens: the chikki will darken, and as the oil starts to come out from the nuts or seeds it will appear more liquid at first. Stir constantly to prevent sticking and burning for about 5 minutes.
  • Spread out on a sheet of foil to cool and set. Chikki sets very fast, so make sure it's in the shape you want as soon as possible. 
  • Break into pieces or cut into squares.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Concentrated Black Bean Sauce- vegan

Black bean sauce shown here served on grilled tofu with noodles and stir-fried mixed vegetables

This is a useful and quick sauce to make; it will liven up a pot of cooked vegetables or make a tasty stir fry. I served it with noodles, cubed grilled tofu and stir-fried veggies. Rather than black, it comes out a rather appetising deep brown colour. The black beans I used here are the preserved black beans- see here- rather than the canned ones, which I have never actually tried. My recipe serves 4 people; it doesn't look like much, but the flavour is very rich and you don't need loads. You could stretch it further and make it less rich by simply adding more water. In fact, add at least 250ml more water if you're going to throw it in the wok with veggies and noodles for 4.

100g preserved black beans (from a packet rather than canned)
2 tabs soy sauce
1 tab lemon juice
2 heaped tsps Chinese 5-spice seasoning (check on the container that it contains no onion or garlic; some brands do)
1 tsp ground ginger
250ml (1 cup) water

  • If making by hand, mash the beans than add the other ingredients including the water and mash again, then mix or whisk well. Heat gently in a saucepan and/ or add to a stir-fry; whatever you fancy.
  • If you have a blender or food processor then just put everything in and blitz it for a minute or so until you have a homogeneous sauce. You can now use it however you like. Adjust the water content to get your desired consistency and concentration of flavours; I used it as per this recipe and served  each person about 1-1 1/2 tabs. It was punchy and tangy, and really livened up an otherwise bland meal!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Easy-Peasy Pulao- vegan

Adapt the seasonings to suit your own taste, or follow my suggestion for a mild and family-friendly  side dish

I didn't go into my kitchen tonight with the intention of recording my efforts, but as soon as I had washed the rice and put it in the pan, I knew it was going to be a crowd-pleaser worth writing down... we often make this- or variations on this- as our kids don't really enjoy their rice plain. However they don't like pieces of chilli or whole spices either, so I have to be careful to make sure the pepper and cardamom are ground. (I left the cloves whole though, as they are so obvious.) What made tonight's effort different was the addition of some grated veggies- when feeding youngsters it's always a good idea to cram in as much "hidden" veg as possible! Anyway, the end result was so colourful that I'm sending this to Chandrani's "Festive Food" event at Cuisine Delights. Her event is open until Diwali and rapidly filling up with delicious contributions, so do stop by there for some inspiration. I am sure I will end up cooking this at Diwali, Christmas and family celebrations as it's so easy and looks so bright and festive.

This recipe serves 6+ as a side. 
1 1/2 cups (250ml) basmati rice
1 level tsp turmeric (haldi)
1-1/2 tsps seasalt
1/2 tsp compound hing
1 large pinch coarse black pepper
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp powdered green cardamom (elaichi)
10 whole cloves
olive or ricebran oil for sizzling the spices
150g veg (such as courgette, sweet potato and/ or white cabbage)
1/2 a yellow bell pepper
1 tab peas
1 tab sweetcorn kernels
  • First grate all the veggies apart from the peas and sweetcorn. (I used the fine attachment on my Magimix.)
  • Wash the rice and place in a pan with 3x 250ml cups of water, the salt and the turmeric.
  • Put the lid on, bring to the boil then turn down and simmer gently until the water has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through. Be careful not to overcook it or it will become sticky and stodgy and the grains will break up.
  • Meanwhile, heat some oil in a small pan and throw in the rest of the spices. When the aromas are released (don't overbrown) add the grated veggies, peas and sweetcorn.
  • After a couple of minutes stirring and heating the veg through add them to the rice (which by now should be virtually done). 
  • Your pulao is now ready!
PS: Next time I'm going to toast the spices and in the rice pan, then add the rice, turmeric salt and water- I think this will make it even more aromatic. To prevent sogginess though, I will still add the separately-cooked peas and sweetcorn at the end, once the rice is done. (I only did it separately this time because I'd already put the rice pan on to cook when I decided to make it a pulao!)