Friday, September 25, 2009

Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking: Khatte Chole (Sour Chickpeas)

So I got side-tracked from dessert when I ran out of meals...some might say that dessert is a meal. Sometimes I may agree. But every now and then you really need some properly balanced carbs and protein...Although, that could be argued as sugar and eggs. Or flour and milk. Or Hazelnuts and...I digress.

En tout cas, anyway, sour chickpeas were made. I had the absolutely most amazing tomatoes I'd ever tasted in my life begging to be used. The farmer at the organic farmer's market forced me to eat it in front of him. They could be eaten like apples. I don't even really like tomatoes, hence the use of force. They must always be added to something to mask the acidity, but not these. These I was actually sad using in a cooked dish because I was scared it wouldn't let them live up to their potential. Then I slapped myself in the face for the motherly instincts I don't have and remembered that they were already picked and therefore already on the downswing and I'd be doing them a favour, not letting them become old and cynical. Work that one out, Freud.

The chickpeas were so nutty that I was actually excited about chickpeas. Normally one doesn't get excited about chickpeas but I'd made a butternut squash and chickpea soup from the same chickpeas that tasted like hummus (no, I didn't add any tahini) and was so blown away by the flavour. Who knows what the difference between these and any other dried chickpea is, but there you have it. All the perfect ingredients, including a homemade garam masala (Indian spice blend-there are so many different variations for different kinds of foods you're making but most Indian families would make their own from the 5 or 6 unground spices in their spice tiffin like cinnamon cloves, coriander seed, cumin seed, cardamom, maybe mustard seed. Handy little coffee grinder will save you a ton of energy with a rolling pin and plastic bag or a mortar and pestle).

First soak the chickpeas. The recipe in Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cooking" says to soak the chickpeas for 20 hours. I usually soak overnight but I figured I wasn't going to mess this up by NOT procrastinating. So 20 hours later I skimmed the soaking liquid and stuck the pot with the chickpeas and a lot of water (around 8 cups) to boil. Apparently, for digestion, the trick is to skim off the scum once it comes to a boil. Then simmer for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, I put some of the onions with the ginger, chili pepper, lemon juice and some of the salt in a little container to marinate (I think this makes the onion less harsh as it doesn't get cooked). Then saute the rest of the onions in more oil than I ever wanted to use at one time (I still used less than the called-for 6 tablespoons) until they get brown bits on them. Not from burning so much as quasi-deep-frying. Fried onions are a delicacy and often used as garnish (like in biryani). Take that, poutine. On a list of the things that sound like horrible food ideas but work out gluttonously well, fried onions comes in first, though cheese curds on fries with gravy comes in close behind. Only real difference is the onions by themselves wouldn't be what you'd crave after a night of drinking. How many places can you find biryani 24 hours anyway? Wait! I actually do know both a 24 hour poutine place and a 24 hour Indian place that I hope serves Biryani. Maybe not, because it's so time consuming to make it well, but who said anything about the necessity to "make it well" in the world of 24 hour food. D.A.D.'s Bagels in NDG (Notre-Dame-de-Grace, west of downtown Montreal) serves 24-hour Indian, and of course, La Banquise serves 24-hour poutine (Plateau-a closer walk from Montreal's St-Laurent club district).

Sorry, the onions. These ones are part of the dish, but still suck in that delicious oily taste. Then you add the tomatoes and smush them against the side of the pan. I nearly cried. Smushing those gorgeous tomatoes. If I had read the recipe more closely before starting to make it, I may have foregone the whole thing in favour or not smushing the tomatoes.

Then add the coriander, cumin and turmeric and 30 seconds later add the drained chickpeas, some of their water and the remaining spices. Okay, lets take a minute here, or perhaps 30 seconds, to think about why spices are added in 5 second, 30 second, or 1 minute intervals in this cookbook. I feel pressured to actually count to 30 every time I read one of those instructions. Should I set the kitchen timer? Do I start counting when I pour or when I stir? Should I subtract the number of seconds it takes to start the kitchen timer, or has Madhur Jaffrey taken that into account in her expert calculations? I'm far too much of a wuss to disobey her instructions. I would not potentially ruin an entire meal out of skepticism. It's published. It must be true. Again, I digress.

This whole thing then cooks for 20 minutes and during this time you DO NOTt:

1. Go watch television and forget to turn on the timer

2. Figure you know approximately how long 20 minutes is so it'll be okay

3. Figure it's just chickpeas and their already cooked anyway so a little extra cooking won't hurt...

...because even with a lid on enough liquid can escape that the chickpeas, and more importantly, the precious tomatoes could start sticking to the bottom of the pan and you've tossed the rest of the soaking liquid so your only option is to dilute the mixture with bland water. I'm so sorry, Madhur. You tried so hard to teach fools like me to make your wonderful cuisine, but think of it this way: If I had done it perfectly, I might start thinking I was capable, even proficient and I might even start taking your instructions loosely, and then where would I be? About 30 seconds late, that's where.

The key to SOUR chickpeas is to add the onions marinating in lemon juice with the chili pepper after all this cooking is done. So, finally, DO NOT:

4. Do like some foolish people and forget to add

5. Heat the lemon juice after you have added it. I didn't get the opportunity to make this mistake as I messed up at my fourth DO NOT. For now I will assume that, when completed properly, this recipe is delicious, as Madhur Jaffrey is brilliant and I but a lowly servant.
Oh yeah, serve on rice and supposedly with a bunch of other, much harder recipes from the same beautiful book.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Plans in the Works...

I'm out to conquer safe meringue. I had big plans to try a lemon mousse in "Chocolate and the Art of Low Fat Desserts" but it called for heavy cream that had to be whipped. As far as I know, there's no dairy-free substitute. So I guess I'm stuck with trying another chocolate meringue. Oh well?? There are worse things in life.

So now the new plans are to try the bittersweet chocolate mousse, which follows a similar recipe to the truffle chocolate mousse, but this may be put on hold in favour of chocolate soufflés first, just so I don't get bored with repetition.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich

After hours of searching for a real, but cream-free, chocolate mousse in vain (so many unwanted tofu and avocado options) I gave up. Some things are just not meant to be. Until my birthday. Then looking through my favourite cookbook, I decided on a Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Hazelnut Mousse Torte. Yes that's a lot of adverbs, adjectives and nouns slung together, but I got over it when I realized that the back of the cookbook featured three mousse recipes with no avocados, no tofu, no whipping cream and no soy. All I needed to replace to make my lactose-intolerant stomach happy was the milk. How I love Almond Breeze.

Toasted and blanched hazelnuts
Instant espresso or coffee powder
Brandy (or vanilla or other flavouring or liqueur)
Egg whites

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Mousse:
Milk (Almond Breeze)
Bittersweet or semisweet Chocolate
Cream of Tartar

Giving myself 5 hours for this undertaking, I started blanching the hazelnuts. The trick is boiling them for 2 minutes in water with two tablespoons of baking soda, then squeezing them out of their skins in cold water. Finally drying and toasting them in the oven at 350 for 15-20 minutes (until fragrant). This took a bit longer than planned, but there was no chopping, no mess, only slight dying of my fingers black, and a delicious snack of toasted hazelnuts which far surpassed the raw ones. I nver knew the skins were so bitter, but the sweet results were eye-opening.

The food processor is a wonderful thing when you know how it works. Double- and triple-checking that everything was secured before plugging it in and turning it on, I processed the hazelnuts with the sugar and cocoa. It was so fun pouring in just enough egg white to turn it into the consistency of fudge frosting, a delicious image. I had to remind myself to not eat it with the raw egg inside. Then another nit-picky detail: tracing three 8-inch circles on parchment paper on baking sheets (unfortunately I only had enough for two full circles and one circle made of two pieces of parchment. Not so good for spreading stiff layers of hazelnut. It turned out to be a very thin layer, more wafer-like than cake-like, but more than enough flavour from the hazelnuts would later result in a glad feeling for not consuming way too many nuts in a dessert that tastes rich but really isn't that bad. Don't get me wrong, two chocolate bars in a cake is easy math to figure that if you cut it into 8 pieces, you're eating a quarter of the chocolate bar per piece (more than enough fat per serving) but so much flavour and so much less fat than a traditional mousse. After baking and cooling the hazelnut layers, they peeled easily off the parchment, making me very happy I hadn't caved and baked them directly into cake pans, greased or not.

Then the mousse. I've always sucked at meringue, so making a "safe" meringue, where the egg whites are cooked to 160 degrees celcius before being beaten until stiff and cool, was a daunting challenge. The chocolate part was easy. Let the gelatin sit with water five minutes or until needed, combine ingredients up to milk in saucepan (the trick is stir only a little almond breeze or milk into cocoa/sugar mixture until smooth, then add the rest, to resist clumps of cocoa), heat without scalding and when taken off the heat stir in the chocolate. Cool in an ice bath to thicken.

Then the egg whites. Stainless steel bowl in skillet of bowling water to create a quasi-double-boiler. Instead of whipping the eggs directly in the bowl, however, you first stir with a wooden spoon while burner is on high heat to get the egg whites hot enough to not have to cook more, but to keep it from scrambling. Unfortunately, I THINK I didn't have the heat high enough on the skillet as it took way too long to get the egg whites to 160 (only supposed to take a minute) so when they finally got there and I hurriedly got the bowl to the stand-mixer and set it to high, the egg whites had mutinied and decided to rise. they did get stiff...and then limp...but I hoped they might change their mind, or think about something stiffening, but in the end, I was left unsatisfied and disappointed. I couldn't be angry at them. It was my fault. I didn't handle them properly. How could I expect them to perform with all the pressure I'd put on them and how nervous I had been. I certainly am no professional, but I will persevere and try again sometime.

Anyway, it really wasn't that bad. The mousse just wouldn't be as fluffy and light as it should have been. Even folding egg whites in to chocolate is a dangerous thing, but I figured not much more harm could be done and I diligently cut in, scooped under and let fall back into the mousse until fully combined. The mousse seemed a little runny so I stuck it in the fridge to encourage thickening, in a juvenile attempt to cheat death...or maybe that's a little too macabre? Maybe just to cheat sickness, like a cold, or a sniffle.

When I gave in to defeat-by-mousse and decided it was time to layer the mousse anyway in a springform pan, my genius idea to make the hazelnut rounds a little smaller than 8-inch no longer seemed like a brilliant idea. the mousse had thickened a little and didn't drip everywhere but it did extend past the borders of the layers. The cake should have been a lot taller in an epic ode to the triple-layer cake, but this squished version was going to be just as tasty, so I poured and topped with another hazelnut layer and poured and topped. Back in the fridge until dessert.

Finally the cake came out, the springform sides were removed from the pan and the mousse was cut. The hazelnut cracked, but by now it really didn't matter, and the delicious, chocolatey glop was spatula-d and knifed and scooped onto plates. Chocolate got everywhere as the mousse overflowed it bounds and the advantage was that the mousse needed to be wiped from the pan sides. Fortunately my non-discriminatory cake-eating friends ate happily, accompanied by prosecco (isn't everything better with prosecco?) and the chocolate was not too sweet, not too bitter, and I woke up the next day with not even a sugar headache, miracle of miracles.

My new goal, to make more of the chocolate desserts in the book involving mousse. I WILL get it right. This will culminate in the ultimate mousse adventure: Triple celebration cake, featuring three kinds of mousse. Not sure how I will substitute the cream cheese in the mocha mousse recipe, but I have brainstorming plans with raw fresh cheese, LEGAL in Quebec (take that Ontario!).

Also looking forward to trying the Buttermilk pound cake (have to find yogurt that I can eat...I think baking kills the probiotics that eat the lactose in my yogurt, so may have to resort to difficult to digest soy). It will be worth it, however, as it calls for a liqueur soak and glaze that I bought an amazing bottle of blueberry liqueur at an 18th Century Quebec marketplace in the Old Port. Another day will produce a sweet chestnut torte, my new favourite flour replacer.

Alas, mousse can be made better, but it still tastes absolutely and completely divine.