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Biscuits with a bite: savoury butter biscuits

2016 May 31
by Shalini

This scenario plays out all too often. Shuffling along in the lineup for a cup of coffee or tea, I can feel a steadily rising sense of panic as my turn at the counter approaches. I’d really like a little something to snack on, but I can’t decide what. The display case looms, and my mind skips long like Goldilocks, looking for that “just right” bite.

Attintion!

One of those giant muffins? No. A scone? Cake? Doughnut? No, no, no. Those cookies are all too big and sugary. The sandwiches look good. But I’ve eaten lunch so I don’t need one just now. Everyone else seems to know what they want. This is moving along too quickly. Fruit? Muesli bar ? My turn to order…Aaaargh!

One tea please. Yes, that”ll be all.

Pffft.

And that’s the moment when I know what I really want -  a biscuit with a bit of a bite. A khara* biscuit, actually.

When buying biscuits in bakeries in India, you usually have several savoury options to choose from.

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What sap? Palm sugar gets the maple treatment!

2016 April 30
by Shalini

Arguably one of Canada’s most famous exports, maple syrup is produced primarily in Eastern Canada from the sap of varieties of maple trees. The main harvest is in spring.

This year’s unusually warm weather has prompted an early harvesting of maple sap. The quote below is from an article titled  “Sugar sommeliers: How warming weather influences Ontario’s maple syrup production“, posted on rabble.ca, by blogger Jen Halsall:

‘Syrup is a bit like wine,’ says Ray Bonenberg, a maple sugar producer in Pembrooke and spokesperson for the Ontario Maple Syrup Producers’ Association. ‘You get different flavours from different soils. It’s not dramatic; it’s subtle. But there are different flavours, there’s no question about it.’

No question about it at all. And it’s a multi- million dollar industry that takes the business of grading and marketing maple sugar very seriously.

In India, which is perhaps better known as a leading grower of sugarcane, there is also a long history of sugar production from the sap of a variety of palm trees. These include the Indian date palm, the Asian Palmyra palm, and the Fishtail palm.

Collecting pot

Each of these palms produce sugars every bit as complex and varied as maple sugar, but they are nowhere close to being as widely appreciated (or promoted, for that matter).

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A rose cookie by any other name…

2016 March 31
by Shalini

What’s in a name? Rose cookie, rose de coque, Scandinavian rosette, beehive cookie, nan-e-panjereh, achappam…these are names from around the world for a light as air, barely there, confection of deep fried pastry. They all consist of a thin layer of batter formed on heated decorative moulds of brass, iron, aluminium or even copper. These cookies, with so much style and little real substance, are a true delight!

Festive

Often associated with festive occasions like Christmas in Scandinavia,  or Chinese new year celebrations in Malaysia, rose cookies were something my grandmother made on a regular basis as an any time treat. Her recipe consisted of a lightly sweetened milk, egg, and flour batter with vanilla flavouring.

It takes a little practice to get the basic procedure right. But it’s definitely worth the effort, and the little heaps of mangled, scorched, “tries”! A good place to start is with a well seasoned iron that will release the batter easily.

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Bollari: a cucumber so cool, it’s hot!

2016 February 29
by Shalini

Earlier this month, market stalls along the highway between Mysore and Coorg were laden with locally grown seasonal produce, including a variety of cucumbers.

There were dark green ones, pale green and white striped ones, and skinny, fuzzy ones an even lighter shade of green. All of these were arranged in neat pyramids, soothing to the eye and conjuring visions of cooling salads for the increasingly dry and warm weather ahead.

Warm glow

Between the harvest and replanting of a staple crop, it’s common practice to turn over part of fields to the cultivation of pumpkins , gourds, melons, and cucumbers. Quite a  Cucurbit family plot, so to speak!

One of my personal favourites in this extended family is  Bollari*, a pleasingly plump field marrow with flamboyant yellow, green and ochre striped skin and cool, crisp flesh. Unlike its more delicate cucumber cousins, it takes cooking to bring out the best in it. And it handles heat just fine,  holding its own and not falling to pieces even after a long simmering in a spice bath.

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Sweet and sour from Coorg: a pandi curry surprise!

2016 January 31
by Shalini

Sharp kachampuli, tart tamarind, and an array of citrus fruit are among the popular choices used to to add an acidic element to dishes in Kodava cuisine. They always serve as an accent, while preparations featuring ripe, sweet fruit are often served up in accompaniments to a meaty main dish.

Sweet and sour

Take mango and pineapple curries – both feature the familiar dark roasted spices commonly used in meat dishes, but with a sweet touch from the fruit, and a little added jaggery. We enjoy mutton pulao with  maange pajji – fresh ripe mangoes in a smooth yogurt base with green herbs and the sharp bite of chillis to counter the sweetness of the fruit. Again, meat, with a side of spicy sweetness.

Aside from traditional fare, there are also sweet pickles and chutneys, recipes borrowed from elsewhere, that routinely share the table with more traditional offerings. Spicy, sweet and tangy condiments like date pickle, lime chutney and  carrot pickle with raisins, to name a few, are among the popular ones.

So,  it’s not like we are completely averse to the idea of  pairing meat with something sweet and fruity – just not in the same dish! But, let’s not forget that favourite guilty pleasure – luridly coloured pineapple sweet and sour pork (or chicken) at the local Chinese restaurant!

Perhaps the combination of sweet fruit added to meat dishes has a somewhat limited appeal. Nevertheless, I’ve been experimenting with giving the popular pairing of pork and pineapple a distinctively Coorg flavour, by marrying elements of two classics – pandi (pork) curry, and pineapple curry. The recipe below is the result. I’ve increased the sweet, woody spices in the masala to give the dish a lighter tone. If I  say so myself, it is truly delicious! :)

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