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Friday, June 26, 2015

Hyderabadi Tootak Tales...what flavors it hides inside

Tootaks from Hyderabadi cuisine, a tale in crispy semolina pastry n herbal spicy vegetable filling

I first thought of making ‘Tootaks’  when I stumbled upon  them inside a book n they were all over the place. They had this unusual shape which reminded me of ‘Modaks’ which comes from the neighboring state of ‘Maharashtra’ which are sweet, still they were a bit different. The top part of them were rounded, unlike modak not pointed, the lower half were oval that made them look like a traditional water pot ‘Ghati’.  Their color was subdued with a slight touch of yellow ochre n it reminded me of the color of the beach. This is how I was seduced.

The name is quite interesting ‘Tootak’ , saying their name twice gets me to the famous Indian song ‘Tootak tootak tootiyan’ but they are far from the song.  Their name derives from the Indian Hindi phrase ‘Tu Takta Reh Jaye Ga’ which will mean ‘you will be left astounding or gaping’- look at the first two words of the Hindi phrase ‘Tu Tak-ta’, so casually we can imagine tu-tak or tootak will suggest ‘you astound’- cool  eh! So they belong to Hyderabadi cuisine/ Deccani cuisine in its origin, a signature dish of the local Hindu Kayastha community people.

By structure a tootak has two parts, the outside shell, crispy, still little soft inside-that is semolina pastry treated with ghee, milk n spices and the inside filling which is traditionally made from mutton mince flavored with onions, garlic, ginger, coriander, green chilies, lemon juice . In my version I create a spicy amazing vegetable filing with carrots, coriander, barbatti, onion, garlic, ginger, shahi jeera, black sesame seed, green capsicum, jalapenos, tomato, yogurt, coconut pieces, lime juice n mint leaves.

What I really like the most is how the semolina which is sooji or rawa in Indian terms is treated to make the dough which runs almost in similar lines of creating a short crust pastry but still uniquely different. The semolina is rubbed with chilled ghee n a spice mixture until it feels like wet sand and just hold together, this mixture is put to rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator, then it is kneaded with milk until it becomes a medium soft dough, which further rests for 15 minutes and then they are shaped with the filling inside.

I love the flavor of the  black sesame seeds, so in my version of tootaks I included them in the game both to give a depth of flavor and to create an interesting playful look for them and they looked so cool at the end of baking. Oh yes! These beauties are baked in the oven –not deep fried- so now there is one more reason for you to make them. So let’s get the hands dirty, shall we?

So now I will straightway take you to the recipe, let’s have a roll.

For The Recipe:  You will need

Makes 12-14 Tootaks

For the Semolina Shell:
Semolina/Sooji/Rawa- 2 cups
Ghee (clarified butter) - 4 tbsp, chilled
Salt- ¾ tsp
Sugar- 1 tsp, powdered
Milk- ½ cup approximately
Black pepper- 1 tsp, crushed n powdered
Black cumin seeds (Shahi Jeera) - ½ tsp- slightly roasted n powdered
Green cardamom- 2, lightly roasted n powdered
Clove- 1, slightly roasted n powdered

For the Filling:
Carrot- 1 medium, shredded
Barbatti/Yard long Bean- 2, finely sliced
Onion- 1 medium, finely chopped
Green chilies-3/4 – finely chopped
Green capsicum- 2 tbsp, finely chopped
Coriander leaves n stalks- 2-3tbsp, finely chopped
Jalapenos- 2 tbsp, chopped
Ginger- ½ inch, minced
Garlic- 2 medium cloves, minced
Mint leaves, fresh or dry-1 tbsp
Shahi jeera- ½ tsp
Black sesame seed- 1 tbsp
Fresh coconut- 2 tbsp, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
Yogurt- 1 tbsp, whisked
Tomato-1/2 of a medium tomato, chopped
Black pepper- ½ tsp, freshly crushed
Pink rock salt- a pinch
Sugar- 2 pinches
Red chili powder-1/4 tsp
Turmeric- 1 pinch
Vegetable oil- 2 tbsp

Pre-heat oven to 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit.

1. Let’s start by making the dough, for that put the ghee in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to chill it, then mix the semolina with salt, sugar, ground black pepper, the crushed spices n then add the chilled ghee n rub it in with soft hands using your fingertips, this will take about 5- 7minutes, and the mixture will resemble wet sand and the mixture will hold together when you press it lightly between your palms. If this doesn’t not happen nothing to worry, add a little more chilled ghee like ½ tsp and 1 tsp of water, rub it in with soft hands n you will see the mixture will just hold together when you press it lightly. At this point cover it with Clingfilm, rest it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Now for the filling, put a frying pan on medium heat and heat the oil moderately, add the shahi jeera and black sesame seeds, when they sputter, add the shredded carrot, chopped barbatti beans, green chilies, coriander stalks, toss them, give them 1 minute on medium high heat, then add the ginger n garlic mince, mix, give them 30 seconds, then add onion, green capsicum, tomato, coconut pieces, coriander leaves n mix it all in. Now on medium high flame stir-fry them, we want them to caramelize a bit, so keeping the flame on medium high is important and stir them every 30 seconds so they don’t burn, give them 5 minutes like this, stir often. After that reduce the heat to low, add a pinch of sugar, pink rock salt,  then add salt, red chili powder , turmeric, add a touch of water so that the spices don’t burn, mix it all in, on the lowest flame give them 5-6 minutes. Then take the pan away from the heat for a moment, add the whisked yogurt n mix well, put the pan back on low heat and add the jalapenos, mint leaves, give them about 3-5 minutes until the whole mixture dries up. There will a lot of brown bits in the bottom, they will add amazing flavor, so dash a little water on the bottom and scratch with the spatula to mix them all in, let the whole mixture dry again and we are almost done, lastly add the lime juice, adjust the seasoning n add the black pepper powder. Take the mixture off the pan on a plate, let it cool.

3. After 30 minutes take the semolina mixture out and add a little milk n knead to mix in it, then add some more n knead, then add the rest and start kneading the dough until you get a dough which leaves sides of the vessel n comes together, knead for about 5-7 minutes and you will have a medium soft dough. Test the dough by making a small ball and shaping it like tootak without any crack, if you can do that you are done. Cover n rest for 15 minutes.

4. Now take a big lime size ball of dough in your hands n roll it between your palms with a soft hand to make a smooth ball, then flatten the ball by pressing it between your palm, now put your thumb in the middle n make a depression, lightly make that depression into a round shape, then with soft hands press all around that as you give it the shape of a small bowl, pressing down to give an uniform thickness as you go around. Then fill the bowl with 1 tsp of filling, press it lightly, then fold the sides and the top to seal the filling n bring the both the sides to the top with light hand, give that part a conical shape, then with one finger press on it to give it rounded shape. Hold the tootak, roll it by keeping it on your palm to give a flat bottom, the middle will be oval rounded and at the top it will be conical rounded. That’s all. Prepare all the tootaks like this.

5. Pre-heat the oven to 160 Celsius/325 Fahrenheit,  brush all the tootaks lightly with vegetable oil with your fingers or a brush, now scatter black sesame seeds on a flat surface. Take one tootak and make it sit on the seeds pressing it lightly, the seeds will stick to the base, then tilt the tootak and roll it lightly on the seeds on its sides, now hold the tootak upside down and press the top lightly again on the seeds, then make it straight and place them on a baking sheet. So at the end the tootak will have a sesame seed base, a rim of black sesame seeds n the top with some seeds, prepare all like this.

6. Place them in the oven, bake them for 15-25 minutes until they looks dry and when you tap them with your nail it feels hard, not soft like before, now put the top grill on in your oven and give them around 5 minutes until they just start to get color. I increased the temperature to 180 Celsius/350 F while doing this. In this point you have to careful, watch them, as they get slightly brown they are ready. Take them out n give them 10 minutes to cool, then put them on a wire rack to cool further. Eat them while they are warm n even cold.

So now munch on and share it with everybody, spread the tootaks everywhere. Bon Appétit!

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Adventures on Floating Island Dessert- French-Indian touch

œufs à la neige or Floating Island Dessert with flavors from Fennel, Rosewater, lime n how to make islands floating light…

I love beating egg-whites until they fluff up and try to become one with air. As I beat in I trap billions of air bubbles into the whites. It is hard work n I love doing this hard work n I don’t even use an electric beater; my friend is a good old big hand whisk. Sometimes I feel there is a big traditionalist living within me with experimental hands.  There is a sense of magic in cooking where one thing transforms right into something else before your eyes, there is such a joy in observing that. Every time I beat the egg whites to quadruple in volume, becoming white as snow I sense that joy again n again. And that is at the heart of the floating island dessert.

The floating island dessert has another name- Snow Cream or œufs à la neige, French in origin. Egg whites are beaten with sugar as they fluff up, then they are quickly poached in vanilla milk, then placed in a vanilla custard known as crème anglaise which is made from the same vanilla milk. Some people treat the beaten egg whites with sugar or the meringue in a different way; they bake them in the oven. The poached egg white portions are so light that they float on this vanilla crème, n that’s how they become the floating islands.

They are so light to bite into, in fact there is almost nothing to bite into…almost air with touch of vanilla, sweetness, and the crème anglaise gives a smooth body that dissolves into my mouth. You have to close your eyes when you experience this sensation.

I interpreted the floating island dessert with touches of fennel seed known as ‘Saunf/ Mouri’, the citrus touch n fragrance from lime, the subtle touch of rosewater. And three of them lift the islands to a new height only to be enjoyed with your loved ones. After all it is a work of love. I dry roasted the fennel seeds ever so slightly to boost their flavor and then pound them to a fine powder, n I incorporated the powder at the final stages of beating the egg whites. As I made the crème anglaise or vanilla crème I flavor it with some whole fennel seeds just to give them a touch of that flavor, as it was cooling down I introduced the hint of rosewater n lime into it.

Caramel was coming into life in a pan, so when it the sugar transformed into dark caramel pour that over the chilled poached meringue floating in the crème anglaise.  Some of the caramel drops into the vanilla crème and it further gives it a depth of flavor.

 I completely transformed into a vanilla fennel guy as I went on with the islands, all over I smelled of vanilla n fennel, as if I live in those islands! Well I did live there for a while, you know.

Well now you must visit there, so here is the recipe. Bon voyage.

For The Recipe: You will need
Eggs-5 (4 whites n 5 yolks separated)
Caster sugar – around 80gms
Full fat milk- 800ml
Salt a pinch
Fennel seed- 1 tsp, roast slightly half of the seeds n pound into a fine powder
Lime- 1 medium
Rosewater- a few drops
Sugar-3 tbsp to make caramel
Vanilla flavor- 1-1 ½ tbsp

1. Begin by separating the egg-whites carefully , make sure no drops of egg yolks comes into the egg whites, yolks are fat , so their presence in the whites will reduce the rise of the whites by a quarter of a volume. So add about 7-10 drops of lime juice into the egg whites and then start beating them, the lime juice won’t let the egg whites go grainy.  Always beat them in a big bowl so there is enough space for air to circulate. Use either a hand whisk which will take about 20 minutes to make them reach stiff peaks or a electric hand beater which will take about 5-7 minutes. Start beating the egg whites, as the egg whites goes to soft peak stage start adding 1 tbsp of caster sugar as you whisk, the sugar will sweeten n stabilize the meringue. Add another tablespoon of caster sugar; in total add about 4 tbsp of caster sugar as you beat in. When the whites begin to hold peak i.e. when you lift some of the white with whisk it holds its shape with a stiff peak, sprinkle the powdered fennel powder over them n beat  them in for a final time.

2. Take the milk in pan with sides, add the vanilla extract, the rest of the fennel seeds and let the milk come to almost a simmering point, then with a tablespoon or ladle lift 1 tbsp or 1 ladle of meringue n place them over the milk lightly, they will float, don’t worry. In one go put about 5-6 portions, the milk should barely be simmering n not boiling. Now put a high lid on the pan and give them 2-3 minutes, then turn them over and give them the same amount of time. If you have dropped 1 tbsp of meringue, they will take about 2 minutes on each side and the ladle scoop portions will take about 4 minutes on each side. After that with a slotted spoon pick n drain them, put them a dish.

3. In a different bowl take 5 yolks and 60 gm caster sugar and beat them with whisk until well combined n smooth. Then take the hot milk in which the egg whites were poaching n pour a little milk into the yolk mixture whisking, then gradually add the milk while whisking all the time. After that place the mixture back into the pan and on a very low heat keep whisking the milk. Add a pinch of salt. Don’t increase the heat, the milk should not come to a boil or simmer. After about 5-7 minutes the milk will start to thicken and it will comfortably coat the back of a spoon. When the milk thickens slightly take them out of the heat and let it cool. Add 3-4 drops of rosewater and mix.  I just want a hint of rosewater, so add drop by drop n mix n taste, if added too much the rosewater flavor will prevail. When the mix is almost cooled add 1tbsp of lime juice, mix well. Taste, add more if you want.

4. Place the cooled vanilla crème n the meringue in the freeze for a couple of hours to chill. When you are about to serve make the caramel. In a pan take the sugar and add touch of water so that the sugar is just wet, then on a high heat let it go to light brown stage, the reduce heat and watch it as it reaches the dark brown stage,add a slight pinch of salt n a dash of lime juice, remove from heat. Pour the caramel over the floating meringue on the vanilla crème. Pour some caramel over the vanilla crème. And now either you can dig in or freeze it a little more. Scatter some lime zest over the islands as you serve them n it is a beautiful sight to watch.

So now you are on the island, venture and enjoy. Bon appétit.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Chicken Manchow Soup-The Hot N Bold Soup

Chicken Manchow- Indo-Chinese soup that knows how to scream

If there is a soup which makes its presence felt on our toungue the first moment we sip in, this is it.  Bursting with flavors this soup is such a favorite with kids, adults- everyone loves it when they go out for Indo-Chinese food, be it the street-food stalls or the high end restaurants. Interestingly everyone complains they can’t make it at home like they do in the eating houses. I say to them you know what! You can do better! N btw in the eating houses they use taste-enhancers like Azinamoto which is monosodium glutamate or similar things based on the similar composition, so that’s their secret which gives a savory flavor to the soups. Using MSG once in a while is okay, repeated consumption is to be avoided.

The soup is of Indo-Chinese origin, the cuisine that took shape in Kolkata over the years when the Chinese came n settled in the eastern part of India. The cuisine is a delicious burst of flavors, be it Manchurian balls in the dark brown gravy, chili chicken, hot garlic noodles, burnt garlic prawns, sweet n sour chicken. The same essence is captured in the chicken manchow soup. Deep brown in color, filled with flavors from the vegetables, the chicken, the stock, the soy sauce, chili sauce, tomato puree- the soup brings a smile to the soul, if you are having a bowl of the hot soup in the winter with a blocked nose you are gonna make a faithful friend with him once you finish the bowl .

Even though chicken Manchow soup is a dish that is made really fast, it has its beginnings in slow cooing. One of the main ingredients of the soup is the chicken/vegetable stock , a well made stock will lift up the final soup in multiple levels, so it is wise to make a good chicken/vegetable stock which takes an hour of slow cooking. We can also use stock cubes when we can’t wait that long.

A good chili sauce n a good tomato sauce or tomato concentrate are something this soup needs,  so we can use a good readymade chili sauce or we can soak some dry red chilies in hot water for 10 minutes to soften, then make a paste of them, we can use this fresh chili paste for the soup. For the tomato sauce either we will make a fresh tomato sauce by first making the tomato puree, then reducing it or simply use a good readymade tomato sauce.

Interestingly what kids love the most when this soup comes are the crispy noodles…they crackle as they munch n gulp, such a simple pleasure.  Noodles are deep fried until brown n crispy, then scattered over the soup, their crispy texture gives away joy as you gulp down the bold soup munching them.

Let's start making the soup then…let the fire lit up.

For The Soup: You will need
Chicken Breast or thigh (boneless)-100 gm, chopped into  ½ inch cubes
Spring onions- 2 tbsp, finely chopped
Onion- 1 tbsp. finely chopped
Carrot-2 tbsp, finely chopped
Capsicum- 2tbsp, finely chopped
Cabbage- 2 tbsp, finely shredded
Ginger- 1 tbsp, finely chopped
Garlic-1 tbsp, finely chopped
Green chili- 2 tbsp, finely sliced
Coriander leaves – 2 tbsp, finely chopped
Black pepper powder- 1 tbsp
Red chili paste-1 tbsp/ Red chili sauce-2 tbsp
Soy sauce – 1 ½- 2 tbsp
Rice vinegar – 1 ½-2 tbsp
Sugar- 1 tbsp
Tomato sauce- 2 tbsp/ tomato concentrate-1 tbsp
Corn flour – 2-3 tbsp, mixed with equal amount of water
Chicken stock-3 cups
Water- 1 cup
Sesame oil- 2-3 drops
Vegetable oil- 2 tbsp

For The Chicken Stock
Chicken bones or thin chicken pieces with bones – 200 gm
Onion- 1 medium, quartered
Carrot-1 medium, chopped into 2 inch slices
Celery-1 stick, chopped into inch pieces/Radhuni seeds- 1 tsp
Capsicum- ½ of medium one, chopped into big pieces
Tomato-1 medium, quartered
Spring onion- 1 sprig, chopped into 2 inch cylinders
Coriander leaves- 2 tbsp
Ginger- 1inch , sliced
Garlic- 2 cloves, roughly sliced
Water- 5/6 cups
Black peppercorn- 6-8
Pink rock salt- a pinch
Vegetable oil- 1 tbsp

For the Crispy noodles
Chowmein/ egg noodles – 1 packet, boiled n drained
Rice flour- ½ cup
Water- about ¾ cup
Freshly ground black pepper
Oil for deep frying

For the tomato Concentrate
Tomatoes-3 large, chopped
Garlic- 1 clove, minced
Freshly ground black pepper- ½ tsp
Pink rock salt – a pinch
Red chili powder-1/2 tsp
Sugar- some pinches
Coriander leaves- 1 tbsp
Vegetable oil-1 tsp

For the crispsy chicken
Chicken Breast- chopped into ½ inch cubes. 2 tbsp
Rice flour- 2 tbsp
Water to make batter

1. Let’s start with the chicken stock, if you are using stock cubes then you don’t need. So first in a deep vessel heat the vegetable oil on a medium heat, then add the chicken on bones, toss them, now give them about 2 minutes on each side and they will start to get brown. After that add everything except the salt n the soy sauce and pour the water over them, let the flame be on medium now, give it 2 minutes, then reduce the heat and leave the whole thing for an hour, the soup should barely be simmering, don’t let it come a boil n then leave it for an hour, keep it in the lowest heat. After an hour,  add salt and the soy sauce and increase the heat to medium now n give it 15 minutes, then take it off the flame, this is a great chicken stock.

2. For the tomato concentrate put the chopped tomatoes in a pan over low heat, let the tomatoes get warm for1 min, then puree them with some water in a blender. In the same pan heat the oil, add the minced garlic, give it 1 minute, then add the puree, half of the coriander leaves, red chili powder, pinch of sugar, salt, pink rock salt, black pepper, ½ cup water on a low heat give this about 15 minutes, keep stirring in between, when all the water dries up n it is thick it is ready, take it off the pan, add the rest of the coriander leaves.

3. Now it is time for the soup, in a bowl mix the red chili paste/ red chili sauce, tomato sauce/concentrate, rice vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, 2 tbsp of water, mix it well until the sugar dissolves, keep it aside. Mix the corn flour in water. In a deep wok or kadai heat the oil on a high flame, when the oil is really hot add the chopped garlic n ginger, stir continuously, make sure the garlic doesn’t go brown, stir them for about 15 seconds, then add the chopped carrot, chicken pieces, chopped green chilies, stir or shake the pan, give them 30 seconds, then add the chopped onion, capsicum, cabbage, stir n give them30 seconds, add spring onions, coriander leaves, stir fry for about 1 minute. After that add the warm strained chicken stock to the pan and the water, let it come to a boil, add black pepper powder, then add the prepared mixture of sauce to the pan, taste it, adjust the salt. Let it keep boiling for a minute, then add the corn flour mixture 1 tbsp at a time, the soup will begin to thicken, as the soup reaches a certain thickness that you want stop adding more corn flour, for me it was around 2 tbsp. Finish off with a drop of sesame oil, be careful here don’t add a lot, it will overpower everything, one drop is good, sprinkle some black pepper powder. Take the soup off the pan.

4. For the crispy noodles, prepare the noodles by boiling them, then drain them, while they are draining let the oil be hot in a deep pan, then take the rice flour , add salt n water, black pepper, mix until smooth. The batter should be light, not thick, the batter should be little runny so that it gives a light coating on then noodles, then add some noodles in the batter, with a fork make some of the noodles come together as you roll the fork. Now if the oil is moderately hot take some noodles in the fork and drop them carefully in the hot oil, they should begin to sizzle, drop some more. Keep the heat medium, as they start to get brown on one side, turn them over and wait for them to go crispy n brown, once that is achieved take them out with a slotted spoon. Fry all the noodles like this.

5. Make a thicker batter with the rice flour n water, coat the chopped chicken cubes in them, then deep fry in the same oil, give them about 2 minutes on a medium flame, as they just begin to change color they are ready, take them off.

Now it is time to serve the hot soup, pour the soup in deep bowls, add some freshly chopped spring onions n coriander leaves, scatter some crispy noodles on the soup n some crispy chicken cubes. Now dig in because by now you are salivating! Bon appétit.