Jam thumbprint cookies

One evening, K and I got talking about jim-jam cookies – the cream sandwiched biscuits with the most alluring jujube on top? And then we had a hankering for jam cookies. That is it – that is the story behind how these happened in my kitchen. Jam thumbprint cookies that have the crumbliness of a nankhatai (or beNNe (butter) biscuit as we call them in Kannada), rolled in walnutty goodness and a good dollop of strawberry jam.
As we waited quite impatiently for the cookies to cool a bit, I remember how it started getting dark outside and then we took the tray up to the living room and enjoyed them in that fading daylight with all the silence in the world. I remember our hurried steps and followed by that complete silence as these cookies melted in our mouth. It may seem like such a random and eventless recollection but this scene and how it made us feel is etched in my happy memories so much like the thumb print cookies themselves.

You need:

  • 180g butter, softened at room temperature
  • 80-90g caster sugar – go up to 110 g if you like them sweeter.
  • 1 large egg/ 2 small eggs with yolks and white separated.
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • 220g plain flour
  • Jam of any flavour of your choice.
  •  (Optional) Crushed nuts of your choice to roll your cookie in – I used walnuts

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. 
  2. In a bowl,  beat the 180 g butter (high speed if you have speed settings)  until creamy – I used a hand held mixer with a paddle attachment but you can do this in a stand mixer too. 
  3. Now add sugar (80-90 g), egg yolk(1 large/ 2 small) and vanilla extract (1 tsp) and beat together until it has all combined well.
  4. Now add the flour (220 g), a little at a time and mix in. You can used a hand mixer/ stand mixer (use a really slow speed setting if you do)  but I just used a spatula and gently combined it together – do not overwork the dough. If you overwork the dough by mixing it too much or kneading it a lot, the biscuits become hard. So really, just bringing it all together into one mass should be good.
  5. At this stage, if your dough is slightly on the wetter side, then do refrigerate it for 30 mins to 1 hour. Mine was alright but I chose to refrigerate it for 30 minutes. I like to refrigerate my cookie dough – they reduce the spread of the cookie. You don’t need to do it for all cookies and you can omit it for this cookie as well. It is just a comforting step for me, I guess. 
  6. Line a baking sheet/tray with parchment paper and slightly grease it with any neutral oil. 
  7. Make small lemon sized balls of the cookie dough with your hand (gently rolling).
  8. If you are using the nuts, beat the egg white until foamy. Slightly dip these cookie dough balls in the egg white and roll them in the crushed nuts and place them at least 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. The egg white acts as a binding agent to keep the nuts on. So if you skip the nuts, then just make lemon-sized balls fo the cookie dough and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
  9. Now for the fun part – gently press the cookie so that you have a dent in the centre – make it as big or as small as you’d like depending on how much jam you would like in it. 
  10. Fill the dent with a jam of your choice and voila! They are ready to go into your pre-heated oven.
  11. Bake for 8-11 minutes or until the nuts start browning slightly. 

Notes for notes:

  • You could probably substitute with other flours/ almond meal, I haven’t tried that yet. 
  • I have tried these with another filling that I will share soon as well – but really just go wild with what you would like.
  • Please watch the oven as these bake – they do turn around in a very short time so unless you are really sure of your oven and how it works, I’d recommend watching over them. 
  • I always like to use the middle rack as that works best for me – but I understand that may not always be the case with different ovens. Just a tip.
  • You can drizzle sugar/ glaze these as well – we love them as is 🙂

A chilly evening with chilli-chauLi

One of the evenings not too long ago, I made a chilli with chauLi (black eyes peas). I have made chilli with different beans before and I feel like this is one of the most versatile dishes that cannot go wrong for that very reason because all you need to do is add everything you like and enjoy, in desired amounts. And it comes together in one pot if you have boiled/prepped your beans/lentil before. I used black eyed peas, onions, red bell pepper, peeled plum tomatoes from a can, soya chunks, green beans, spring onion and garlic. I used some Italian herb seasoning but you can play with veggies, lentils and seasoning of your choice. A quick simple that is healthy and very easy to put together.

Before I go on to share how I made it, can I just tell you how it blows me away when the ingredients, everyday, common, unassuming ingredients, come together to form a magical dish? Sometimes, I have no memory associated with it, it is not anything I have eaten before and yet it feels so comfortingly familiar. I love that about food, its ability to take you to a warm comforting spot.
While I really want to share the method, I must warn you. My cooking is largely (largely but not completely) driven by mood, instinct and sensorial experience that the moment offers as I temper, sauté, fry, roast, grill, bake.. While I do follow some techniques and measurements while needed, curry is probably the last place where I am exact. So, please treat this as an idea and make it yours.

I used:
Soya chunks (soaked in hot water and softened)
Vegetables: Spring onion (separate the white bulb from the green part), minced garlic, chopped – onions, green chillies, tomatoes (I used canned but feel free to replace with free ones), fresh corriander
Spices: Turmeric and chilli powder
Herbs: Dried parsley, dried basil and dried oregano
Any neutral oil for tempering
Salt to taste

Here is how I made it:
In a deep bottomed pan, I heated a couple tsp of oil. Once the oil was hot, I sautéed white tips of spring onion and chopped onions until translucent and garlic until the raw smell was gone. I added chopped green beans and red bell peppers and sautéed for a couple of minutes. I then added peeled plum tomatoes from a can (I like canned tomatoes and that soupy goodness in this though I have used fresh tomatoes too). I also added a pinch of turmeric, chilli powder and let it simmer for 10 mins in its own sauce. After this, I added a tsp of dried oregano, dried basil, parsley, salt and some soya chunks and some water let it simmer for a further 15-20 minutes finishing off with chopped corriander, the green bits of the spring onion and a squeeze of lemon.

We enjoyed it with toasted slices of baguette, but this would taste on its own too or possibly as a pasta sauce. The possibilities can be endless and as your heart fancies!

Eating through this winter

I love how seasons speak to my soul through my taste buds and of course gut. I never knew growing up, that I would remember food and associate it with a lot of happy memories years on. But turns out, I very very happily do. For someone coming from a place that boasted of moderate weather through the year (well, the summers have gotten hotter now) seasons trigger a lot of special and specific memories. And of course, the availability of seasonal produce had a big role to play and I fondly remember how seasons primed cravings and continue to do so, as I write this.

Having moved to UK, I have fallen in love with autumn and winter. It is every bit as beautiful and picturesque as I had imagined. What compounds this love is my love for the food that winters are made of – warm, comforting to the point that a dish regarded as an indulgence or sometimes even not the healthiest for your diet, becomes comfort food. I am talking about the pakodas, samosas and their clan, ofcourse. The last couple of months have seen a fair share of snacks and chaats and we had the perfect excuse for it – the weather. Growing up, we did not eat a lot of fried food at home. The amboDes, bajjis and pakoDas were occasional and immensely appreciated when they did happen. But we always had easy access to fresh puffs and aloo buns from the local bakery and our evergreen and ever favourite Ragavendra bakery in the city that makes puffs and rusks like no other.

But I always remember tamaashi bajji. Literally translates to “fun bajji” but when pa says it, he probably means “special bajji”. I have never asked. When ma made onion and potato bajjis (fritters for lack of a better word), some bajjis would have potato slice and some onions in them instead of being exclusively either. So we’d happily start eating one of them thinking it is an onion bajji but a potato would surprise us! And these were far and few but they were there surely in each of our bowls and would have us squeal in excitement when we found one. I make these tamaashi bajjis for K and myself sometimes. I realize now that they are as tamaashi making and sneaking into a loved one’s bowl as much as finding in mine. Pa has nailed it as usual, of course. Crispy along the edges and soft inside, these disappear by bowl-fuls. The perfect accompaniment to all this has to be the ginger-cardamom chai that K makes so so well. We make a big pot of tea and help ourselves every now and then. The bajjis moved us to a state of calm and snuggly and only whetted our appetite and souls for more.

I must admit that the vaDa pav is not a winter comfort alone, at ours. We eat them almost every fortnight. We have a favourite little restaurant in Hounslow called Shree Krishna VaDa Pav that makes them so well that we drive all the way there because it is just so incredibly worth it. With storm Dennis and incessant rains, our plans to head out for vaDa pav went kaput. So I decided to make them from scratch at home, the vaDas and the chutneys I mean. The pavs came from Morrisons. The chutneys are the heart of the vaDa pav, to me. I need all of them to have a full-fledged experience. Haha I am serious. The sweet and tangy imli (tamarind) chutney, the green corriander chutney, the chilli- garlic powder that is bomb-diggidy and of course the butter. As I blend the coriander chutney in the blender, with the tamarind chutney simmering away on the stove-top and the potatoes cooling down in the pressure cooker, K makes a vaDa pav playlist (extremely soulful Bengali music) as his tea masala in the mortar and pestle makes the environment heady. This is how I remember the makings of vaDa pav from that day. Ofcourse, it helps that K called them “so fantastic” in between a big bite because who doesn’t enjoy making loved ones happy?

Vada Pav

When you have pavs at home, the only logical next step after you have had your share of vaDa pav is pav bhaji. This is so simple and versatile to make with vegetables at hand though potato is a must. So ofcourse, it happened. I started making pav bhaji a few years ago but I can see I have come quite far with this one which is funny because like I said, it is not that hard to make. I admit I make small changes that my heart fancies but I wonder if those little changes have helped or if I have grown to like what I make. All questions don’t need to be answered so I shall let it be.

Somewhere along an extremely easy peasy chole chaat with onion-corriander leaves- cumin seeds-tamarind paste masala topped with Greek yoghurt, chopped onion, tomatoes and nylon sev happened. This is sort of my go-to for a chaat craving. It comes together in a jiffy and the minute I garnish it with finely chopped onions, fresh corriander and yoghurt, I know I want it.

You have to forgive me for grainy, badly lit pictures as I click hurriedly under the exhaust light trying to stand as far as I can to avoid a shadow. I do have a quiver of excuses about short daylight, extreme hunger, impatience, a phone that had absolutely zero storage (a dropbox activity that I have procrastinated for long and hence this day has creeped up on me again) that makes me take shots on instagram and do poorly edits before posting and yada yada but underneath them all has been my laziness to change some of that. So even though the picture of the ghughni (dried peas cooked in a gravy) is grainy, the experience is crystal clear in my mind – piping hot spicy ghughni with buttered and toasted sourdough (feel free to butter them again) in a dimly lit conservatory as we ate in silence with little nods and sighs of satisfaction – bliss.

It was on one of the drizzly evenings we decided to bring a dhaba home. We often think of these roadside restaurants often along highways in India serving some fantastic local fare both meals and snacks that sometimes make journeys that much more enjoyable. Even now, every time we go on long drives, I look forward to the pit stops. So I made these pakoras with marinated baby corn and fried some poblano peppers and they were so perfect for the time and place we were in.

The comfort and joy of making dishes from scratch is unparalleled especially when you are in the mood for it. These samosas stand testimony to that. These take a bit of time but it is quite something when you make samosas and chai in your kitchen. Now that we have reminders to stay safe, slow down, rethink our actions and use the opportunity to bring the best out in ourselves, what better way than to create some of those moments in the kitchen? If you are someone after my heart, you will know what I mean.

To create is to find a voice and communicate – ideas and emotions. This winter, I did a lot of it. And, I cannot be more grateful.

Gobi Manchurian a.k.a Gopi Manjoori

There was a gobi stall right across my university campus that sold gobi with fried rice. I tasted it after 3 years at Uni and maybe once after that. That is how sad I was with street food. I had an incredibly poor immunity especially to unfiltered water matched by an equally poor zest for street food. I started enjoying street food with my cousins in Blore eventually and then the joy of international street food with K happened. Anyway back to this gobi stall across campus – it was so splendid and I sometimes think of it and wish I had access to something like that here in Surrey. A couple of days back, we decided to quit wishing and decided to act on it. K was my sous chef. We did a mish mash of recipes and followed our heart. It was incredible fun cooking and listening to endless Coke Studio as we excitedly churned up some gobi Manchurian for lunch as Mili wondered what possessed us. Some times, I remember how it felt making the dish more than how I felt eating it. One of the several joys of cooking, I suppose.


If you’d like to know, here is how we made it. 
1. Make small cauliflower florets from 1 medium cauliflower. We want a size that allows for it to be coated well in all that saucey goodness and have a bit of crunch around without being raw inside, without using copious amounts of oil.
2. Create a thin batter of cornflour (2 tbsp), plain flour (1 heaped tbsp), chilli powder (1-2 tsp), turmeric (1 tsp), salt, ginger garlic paste (1 tsp) and vinegar (1 tsp).
3. Add the cauliflower florets to this and set aside for 30 mins.
4. Meanwhile, dice 1 onion and 1 bell pepper. Also, chop garlic (we did about 8 cloves) and ginger (1/2 inch) and green chillies and spring onions. 
5. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok, add some of chopped garlic and ginger from step 4 and saute for 30 seconds. Add the cauliflower to the wok, taking care they are spread out and not a heap. This ensures uniform cooking – if your wok is small, do it in 2 batches. The cauliflower will turn turn golden and crispy in some parts and the batter becomes crunchy like the outside of fritters. Set all this fried goodness aside. 
6. Now heat a couple tbsp of oil in the same wok, add the remaining ginger garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add bell pepper, onions, chillies and sauté for 2 mins so the veggies retain some crunch. 
7. Add 2 tbsp sriracha sauce/chilli sauce, 3-4 tbsp soy sauce, a pinch of sugar and mix. Add 1 cup water and bring to boil.
8. Mix 2 tsp cornstarch and 2 tbsp water and make a thin paste. Add this to boiling sauce and let it thicken. Mix the cauli and garnish with spring onions.


That’s it really. The gobi had a slight crunch and the sauce was perfect. I loved that there were crispy bits to it and some chunks of cooked crispy cornflour with garlicky goodness. It feels like a lot of steps but I think when you make something for the first time, chances are it may feel that way. Also, this does have a few steps. But it is so worth it. I would still go back and eat gobi from that stall across campus anyway but I know that there is something that gives me as much joy, although a different kind, when I make it in my kitchen with my K as Mili hopefully waits for a piece to land in her bowl.

Ragi huri hittu unDe as I remember it

Instead of making sweet pongal for Sankranthi today, I decided to make Ragi huri hittu unDe/ pori maav unDe or ragi laddoo though we never really called them laddoos growing up. Also, I have a bit of a mental block against laddoos. Making them, I mean. I am more than comfortable with eating one or half a dozen. Therefore, very conveniently I decided to make my entry into the world of laddoo (that I have come to realise is endless) – making with ragi huri hittu/pori maav unDe with a fair bit of confidence but also a bit of nervousness because am still learning to not see every attempt as an achievement because I tend to do that a lot.

Anyway back to these unDes. It was one of my favourite evening snacks and ma would roast ragi and get it ground at the local mill (Gosh, those were the days). The roasting was key – it imparted a beautiful smell and also made it easy for digestion. She’d roast the ground flour again, carefully but generously adding ghee, shaving a ball of jaggery with a knife right over the pan as some powdered bits and little pieces fell into that aromatic bliss while my brother and I waited rather impatiently with a hope that we’d get a bulk of those jaggery pieces to bite into. She’d wrap this all up by adding some warm milk, quickly rolling them within her palm alternating between the ghee in the little cup and the ragi mixture. She’s make them a really good size and yet we wanted more. Always. I never liked the nosy nuts in them much so sometimes she’d roast and grind some nuts into this mixture as well.

Today I did all of what she does with the ragi huri hiTTu I got from home. I also went a bit wild and added some slivered almonds tossed in with the huri hittu when toasting it. It felt wonderful making this but it also made me really emotional to know I’d be eating them without my brother. I’ll get all the jaggery pieces for myself and that is no fun at all. Ah, I guess I’ll send a picture to him and make him jealous. Sisters will be sisters