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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!

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