Friday, 1 March 2013

Ingredient of the Month 18: Hing

This is compound hing: the pure resin is somewhat darker reddish/orangey- brown

"Vandevi", a popular brand of compound hing, available in the UK. It contains both rice and wheat flours.

Those of you who know this blog will probably remember that in our house we offer all our food to Lord Krishna as naivedyam, and since onions and garlic are not offerable, we don't cook with them. (Go to this page and this post for more information about this and other bhakti yoga practices.) You will have noticed by now that in recipes such as pizza and hummus, an ingredient called hing takes their place. Hing is a great spice in its own right, but also its pungency does somewhat make up the flavour in dishes that traditionally contain a lot of onion and/ or garlic. We thought this post might be useful for those of you who are unfamiliar with hing.
Hing, also known as asafoetida, asant, giant fennel, jowani badian, stinking gum or even "Devil's dung", comes from root of the ferula plant, a perennial member of the carrot family. The living rhizome of this plant exudes a highly pungent resin- hence all the names. When cooked, however, it becomes much more pleasant; a lot like leeks. The plant is native to the mountains of Afghanistan, but is grown mainly in India. It found its way round the ancient world (the Romans knew it well as a medicine) but by Medieval times had been all but forgotten in Europe.
The pure dried resin is dark amber colour, and really hard to grate- you may end up smashing it with a hammer to get suitably small pieces. I knew a wholefood shop where you could buy the pure resin already powdered; the smell was so strong they had to double-wrap the bags of powder and put them in a sealed glass jar! Compound hing, pictured above, is usually about 30% asafoetida resin mixed with gum arabic plus wheat and/ or rice flour. Compound hing is what's used in all of the recipes we've posted here to date. If you have pure hing, then you will need to reduce the amounts accordingly. I do use compound hing raw, but in very small amounts; it's great in things like hummus, which would normally contain garlic.
Medicinal Value: 
According to Ayurveda, hing balances the vata and kapha (air and water-earth) doshas. The effect is to relieve flaulence and colic, and aid digestion (as hing aggravates the pitta- fire- dosha).
In Western medicine, hing has been found to have antiviral properties; as long ago as 1918, it was used to fight the Spanish 'flu pandemic. More recently, research from Taiwan has found that antiviral compounds in hing root can kill the swine flu (H1N1) virus.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Curry Puffs

These puffs are great with salad and chutney.

The filling is sweet. aromatic, pungent, hot and sour.
I've long been intrigued by my Anglo-Indian heritage on the maternal side of the family; I grew up with dishes like curry puffs, peas pulau, green curries with vinegar sprinkled on top, mulligatawny soup and wicked hot Major Grey's- style chutneys going hand in hand with the comparatively plain English fare. This post is dedicated to my late grandmother: for it was at Granny's house where I would be given curry puffs from time to time, along with hot pickles and chutneys. She would make curry puffs from leftover curries, but I think they are good enough to warrant their own recipe- vegan-ised, of course. I don't know if the addition of apples and raisins to curry is typically Anglo-Indian, or just an idiosyncracy of Granny's, based on what was available in 30s and 40s rural England, which is when she would have been catering for her large family, having had to learn the art of cookery pretty quickly after the 1935 earthquake in Sind forced them to build a new life in the UK without any of the luxuries they had previously enjoyed.
I need to point out here that this was my first attempt at home made vegan puff pastry, and although the result was certainly edible, it wasn't quite as light and puffy as I had hoped. If you want really puffy pastry, then get ready-made- Jus Rol is vegan, although the quality of the fat used is most probably not great. The filling, however, came out tasting just right- so you might want to stick with the filling recipe and use bought pastry. This recipe makes about 8 (roughly the size of a samosa), with some filling left over.
50g (dry weight) soya chunks, soaked until soft and cut into smaller pieces
300g vegetables, shredded or diced (I used cabbage, potato and peas)
2 tabs raisins
1/2 a dessert apple, diced
2 tabs cold pressed rapeseed (canola) oil
2 1/2 tabs Madras curry powder
1/2 tsp compound hing
1 1/2 -2 tsps seasalt
2 level tsps turmeric (haldi)
100ml water
1-2 tabs lemon juice

  • Saute the vegetables in the canola oil until starting to soften.
  • Add the soya chunks, curry powder, hing and turmeric.
  • Add the apple, raisins and water (if needed).
  • Simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables are soft.
  • Stir in the lemon juice and set aside to cool.
Dough-       200g medium atta (chapatti flour, a fine brown, strong flour with the wheatgerm and some of the 
                   bran removed)                       
                   425g white bread flour
                   100g vegan unhydrogenated margarine
                   250ml cold water
Shortening-  50g coconut oil, broken into small pieces
                   50g vegan margarine 
                   2/4 of a cup (1 cup = 250ml) white bread flour
  • Make up the dough ingredients as you would for making shortcrust pastry and leave to stand.
  • Make the shortening in your food processor: blend the coconut oil and margarine together, then add the flour. It will be hard to handle (I need to up the proportion of coconut oil next time I think).
  • Roll out the dough into a square, 1cm thick or less. Roll it out between sheets of greaseproof paper.
  • Here's where it begins to get messy: Pat the shortening into a square on top of the dough, so that the corners of the shortening are lined up with the sides of the dough rather than as 1 square exactly on top of another. 
  • Fold the corners of the dough into the centre and roll again to flatten further.
  • Now roll the whole thing up and flatten it, rolling out into a thin rectangle about 1/2 cm thick. (Some shortening may squidge out at the sides- don't panic, just leave it there!)
  • Use a round cutter/ lid to make circles of pastry. Put a blob of filling on one, then cover with another, sealing the edges tightly together with water. You may find that it is easier to do this last bit with the base circle already on the baking sheet.  Finally, make two slits in the centre of each puff, to release the steam and keep them crisp. Note: Those puffs you make from re-rolling the pastry will be technically rough puff pastry, as the layers will have been disturbed.
  • Place the puffs on an oiled baking sheet and cook in an oven preheated to 200C for about 25 minutes, until crisp and starting to brown.
  • The unique flavour of the filling is best enjoyed with a tamarind (imli)- based dipping sauce/ chutney. They make a great lunch served with a green salad.      

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Blender Birthday Cake- vegan

This was the only bit left by the time I came to take the pictures!

You can see the lovely open texture and softness of this cake.
Last Wednesday (20th) was my birthday, and my husband took the opportunity to rekindle his love of baking- he made this cake to celebrate. I have to concede it's the lightest cake I've ever eaten! Not only that, but the presentation was excellent too- the cake was a good size and depth, and the top perfectly flat to take the frosting. The cake itself is sweet, plain and airy, the filling is strawberry jam and the frosting is a delicious sweetened chocolate cashew cream. Fill and frost this cake any way you like, but take it from me, the jam/ cashew cream combo is a winner! Although he didn't write the recipe down as he worked, my husband later told me the amounts and methods he'd used. This cake looks like it might just oust my standard any-occasion recipe and become our new family favourite. (The next step will be how to make it gluten free...)
A blender, food processor, hand blender or balloon whisk is needed for this recipe. These amounts make a sizeable 2-layer 10-12" cake- not that it will last long ; )
500g white self-raising flour
250g golden caster sugar
350ml soya milk
150ml cold pressed rapeseed (canola) oil
50ml coconut oil (no need to melt if you're using a food processor)
40ml water
6-8 level tsps (yes, really!) baking powder

Filling and frosting:
strawberry jam
50ml date syrup
50g golden caster/ icing sugar
100g cashews -if you are making this cake by hand, they will need to be ready ground.
about 100ml water
6 tsps (approx) cocoa powder

  • Blitz the oils, the 40ml of water and 1/2 a tab of the flour (taken from the 500g) in your food processor.
  • Add the sugar and continue blending until you get a paste.
  • In a large bowl, mix the flour and the baking powder together.
  • Cream in the oil/ sugar mixture.
  • Beat in the soya milk.
  • Put the mixture into 2 dampened silicone cake moulds/ oiled and floured cake tins and bake for 20-25 mins in an oven preheated to 170C.
  • When the cakes are cooled, sandwich them together with a generous slathering of strawberry jam.
  • To make the frosting, you'll need you food processor/ grinder again: grind the cashews to a fine powder, and gradually drizzle in the water to achieve a creamy consistency. Continue to blend, adding the sugar and date syrup. Finally, mix with enough cocoa powder (about 6tsps) to make a thick, spreadable paste.
Please note: This recipe has only been made this one time- it has not been re-tested yet, so please excuse any mistakes in my write-up and let is know via the comments. Thanks :)