Author Archives: juderus

A nursery Rhyme Meal

Slugs and snails

And puppy-dogs tails

That’s what little boys are made of.

I gleefully chanted these lines from a traditional English nursery rhyme as a child but they obtained a more visceral reality for me at dinner last evening, and a paraphrased version has been running through my mind ever since: slugs and snails and puppy dogs that’s what Naga cuisine is made of.

Nagas are renowned for having very broad palates indeed—fluffy white rats, frogs, worms, grasshoppers and hornets larvae were for sale at the market in Kohima as ediibles on the morning I visited and last night I was treated to dinner in a Naga home of several of their favourite delicacies : dog meat, silk worm and snails ( you can understand from this menu why that particular rhyme suddenly resonated). And it was a meal which now holds prime place in my culinary memory as the most confronting I have eaten in India.

While I observed the preparation of the dog meat dish with interest, when it came to the tasting I could not bring myself to eat it: memories of various beloved pet canines stimulated biliousness rather than appetite.

I normally pass on animal protein of squidgy or slimy texture—crunchy grasshoppers, scorpions or firm snake meat are fine— but on this occasion I did sup on silkworm and snails. I appreciate that both these food items were of wild and unadulterated provenance —the gastropods had been collected from a neighbouring paddy field —and therefore nutrient rich yet I do not imagine that I will replicate either of these dishes in my own kitchen but you might like to. I expect that obtaining a quantity of silkworms outside of Nagaland might prove challenging so I will give you the recipe for the snails as these are somewhat more widely available. You will likely need to do a do a bit of substitution to create this dish. If I was making it at home I would use golden miso as a substitute for the Naga fermented soya bean paste and canned bamboo shoots — the Nagas collect these fresh from the forest— soaked in a little white vinegar as a substitute for the fermented bamboo shoots, which have a sour/tangy flavour.

Recipe 

Noyla ga (snail curry)

Ingredients

2 tsp fermented soya bean paste

1 tsp red chilli powder or to taste

1 tbsp lard

50gm piece of smoked pork

1 cup fermented bamboo shoots sliced into thin batons

1 kg snails

2 tsp roasted sesame seeds

salt to taste

Method

Put the fermented soya beans, chilli powder, smoked pork, pork lard, fermented bamboo shoot and salt in a pot large enough to hold the snails along with 3 cups of water. Bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes. Add the snails and sesame and enough hot water to cover the snails. Bring it back to the boil and cook for another 5 minutes stirring the snails to ensure they are coated with the sauce. Serve hot with plain rice. 

First Bite of India

I felt somewhat unfaithful as I took my first bite of India. I was in Delhi and if I was being true to the culinary heritage of this city I should have disembarked the plane and headed to the nearest tandoori joint and tucked into robust paneer tikkarotichanna masala or kali dal. Instead I made a beeline to Sagar restaurant for a taste of the south.

The weather can take the blame for my cultural/culinary misdemeanor. For most of the year Delhi is a dry place but I have arrived with the receding monsoon. The air is still sticky with humidity, more like the atmospheric conditions encountered (with seasonal variation) year round in the tropical south – hence my appetite for southern Indian khanna (food).

Excuses made: let the eating begin. Glasses of chilled buttermilk flavoured with fresh coriander started us off.  Next were lentil dumplings in yoghurt sauce (dahi bhalla):lentils (urad dal) are soaked over night and ground to the paste which is salted and beaten until it is fluffy; spoonfuls of the batter are cooked in hot oil, soaked in water and gently wrung out. Finely shaved fresh coconut and slithers of tomato are mixed into yoghurt seasoned with salt and sugar (Sagar’s version is quite sweet) and tempered with dry roasted cumin seeds to make the sauce. Both the bhalla (dumplings) and the dahi (yoghurt) are chilled – the two only put together upon serving (otherwise the dumplings will disintegrate in the sauce). A sprinkle of crispy tidbits (think rice bubbles for a visual and textural reference) made from besan (chickpea flour) finished the dish.

Whilst we devoured the dahi bhalla the table was loaded up with small bowls bearing various sauces and condiments to accompany the dosa – savoury crepes most commonly made from ground lentils and rice cooked on a flat iron grill plate the batter spread out in a circular fashion to create thin crisp edges and a thicker soft middle. We had chosen two exotic versions: rava dosa made from semolina; its lacy edges perfect for excavating the silky mound of potato cooked with onion and tomato buried in its center and neer dosa; delicate sticky steamed rice crepes. Accompanying these were green and red chutney; the former a zingy paste of fresh green chillies, coconut and ginger; the latter tomatoes, red chilli and spices cooked to an unctuous mass; fresh coconut chutney; the spiced chilli infused sauce called sambar and a thick stew of vegetables and coconut.

South Indian ‘café au lait’ and a rich almond fudge (badam halwa) did what ‘dessert’ is meant to do – that is to ‘close off’ your appetite.

Tea and Trains

Of all the things India needs to change for the better – women’s rights; civic cleanliness; sanitation; roads, road rules, driving skills – it had to choose chai – a beverage that was in perfectly good working order as it was.

When I first came to India more than a decade ago when you traveled on a train chai was served to you in small clay cups. These added a particular earthy flavour to the tea and when you were finished you threw the cup onto the railtracks if at a station, or out of the train window if you were en-route. The cup would break and time would recycle it back to it’s original organic form.: dust, earth. The chai itself would be a preparation of tea leaves brewed in milk — some chai wallahs (tea sellers) might add a few spices— liberally sweetened and always hot*. Whilst it wasn’t a brew your tooth enamel appreciated it was an essential accompaniment to any train journey.

I recently arrived at New Delhi railway station to catch the train to Kolkata with plenty of time to spare catch so I naturally thought I would have a cup of tea whilst I waited. I parted with 5 rupees and was presented with a plastic cup  in which a teabag was stewing in watery milk (or was it milky water?). Although it was sweet and hot, this could not redeem it from being truly awful. How sad that the ancient voluptuous clay vessel – each one unique —has been replaced with the uniform anorexic brittleness of plastic.

It didn’t get much better on the train— a Rajdhani Express with meals and drinks included in the fare. The chai was do-it-yourself —a thermos of hot water, two tea bags, a sachet of dairy whitener and two bulging sachets of sugar. The resulting brew might have been ok it I was camping but in these circumstances my expectations had been much higher and I was not satisfied.

At 6.30 am we pulled into a station somewhere in rural  West Bengal— and I spotted a chaiwallah. I indicated to him that I would like some chai. He automatically reached for a plastic cup: ‘Ji nahin’ (no!) … I wish I could say I launched into perfect Hindi about how I preferred the clay cups he also had but I just pointed. Oh it was good — and when I it was finished I dropped the cup onto the tracks – ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

There is no difficulty getting a truly hot drink in India. I ordered a hot chocolate in Flury’s in Kolkata and it was actually ‘hot’ – without me having to plead with the barista to make it ‘really, really, really hot’ only to still end up with a warm drink. Why is it that in this unbearably hot and sticky climate people get hot drinks right? 

Tea and Trains II

At 12pm on Saturday I boarded a train in the middle of India (Shahdol in MP); nearly 48 hours later I got off in the south (Kerala). In all that time I did not see one clay tea-cup (nor did I have a good cup of tea – though I had many very sweet ones). I got off at each station -major junctions and small towns all – and scanned for an old style chaiwallah: alas I did not see one. Perhaps they don’t come to the 2nd class A/C end of the train (which admittedly is a very long walk given the snaking length of most Indian trains).

I can report though that the clay tea cup is alive and well in Calcutta. Streetside chai stalls are legion in this city and most of them  offer a choice of cups – clay, glass and ceramic  -from which to take your tea. Disposable clay cups are preferred by those who have issue with drinking from a cup that another ‘s mouth has touched. For a devout Brahmin drinking from a cup that had been used by someone else would be anathema and require them to undergo a convoluted cleansing  ritual to restore their caste purity. Others may simply prefer them over the ceramic and glass cups that will in all probability have been washed in water of questionable hygiene.

Sadly I did not enjoy any clay cup chai while in Calcutta. My stopping anywhere for more than a few seconds results in an instantaneous crowd of beggars, peddlers of various items and slimy men surrounding me. On one occasion I stopped  to look at my map and a nearby policeman said ‘madam can I help you with anything’ …all the time playing with his crotch and smirking towards a group of fellow officers (what a hero!). As streetside teastalls are patronised almost exclusively by men I could not be bothered subjecting myself to the staring, giggling and jostling of each other (while fiddling with their googly bits) that would ensue because a white women was in close -stationary- proximity taking a cup of tea.

Instead I took myself to the Oberoi Grand hotel to take respite from the hasslers and where I had expected I would get a decent cup of tea (in the ‘british style’). After placing my order it took 20 minutes for the tea to arrive. When it did the waitress poured me a small cup of some luke warm tasteless brew (it was meant to be Earl Grey) from a large pot (with no hint of a refill). This non-descript brew cost me 155 rupees: that is 31 times the going rate of 5 rupees for street or train chai. I figure  the 145 rupee difference was the price of having it in peace.

Sweet Salve

One of my favourite Indian sweets – mishti doi, or sweentened yogurt, is also an auspicious food in Bengal; no celebratory spread of comestibles offered to any deity (to then be consumed by earthly beings) would be complete without it in this eastern state. It is made by boiling milk until it reduces and thickens. To this is added a syrup of caramelised sugar or more traditionally date molasses (khajuri gum) and the mixture poured into earthernware (clay) cups and left to sit overnight. The porous clay  allows water to evaporate contributing to the thickening of the milk. This process works  in Bengal where the climate is perfect for natural fermentation  – i.e., it is hot and sticky most of the year – but attempts to reproduce mishti doi in other climes will most likely require the addition of a small amount of yogurt to assist the mix to thicken.The best mishti doi has a thin layer of solidified cream on the top.

Describing the taste of  mishti doi  is like trying to describe the taste of vanilla – very difficult. You will have to trust me when I say that at its best it is ambrosial – and it is not as cloyingly saccharine as Indian sweets often are.

I have been on a misthi doi spree in Calcutta and when I work out the categories thing for this blog I will post my picks. I will also add a recipe once I have had the chance to develop and test one.

As sweet salve to your appetite in the meantime here is a recipe for Shrikand, another delicious yogurt based dessert that is popular all over India. This is my version which is pretty damm good. I like the yogurt to be quite thick but if you were short on time it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you didn’t hang  (see recipe) it at all (although it won’t be as nice). Yes you can use thick Greek style yogurt but it is still not as good as hung yogurt, also the Greek variety is usually part cream (yes that is why is tastes so good) and it is too rich for this dessert. If you have fresh mango at hand add some mango pieces. Enjoy.

Shrikand

Serves 6

Ingredients

a pinch of saffron threads

½ tablespoon hot milk

4 cups of whole milk yogurt

½ cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon rosewater

2 tablespoons roasted almonds, sliced

1 tablespoon shelled pistachio nuts, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons dried apricots, finely sliced

Method

1. Take a clean tea-towel and wet it. Lay the tea towel over a colander and sit the colander in the sink. Spoon the yogurt into the colander. Gather up the edges of the tea-towel and ‘hang’ it over a tap somewhere where it can drip into a sink. Leave it hanging for at least two hours. The longer you hang it the thicker the yogurt will become.

2. Heat a heavy based pan over a medium heat. Add the saffron threads and roast until brittle. Powder these in a mortar and pestle, stir into the hot milk. Blend the milk into the yogurt.

3. Blend the sugar and rosewater into the yogurt. Reserve a few of the nuts for garnish and mix the remaining nuts and apricots into yogurt. Serve chilled or at room temperature and garnish with the reserved nuts.

Please to be Compensated

One of the unfortunate truths about India is that the weather is unbearable for the a large part of the year but mother nature does offer some compenstations for the beastly climate.

As the heat of summer starts to stifle the subcontinent succulent mangoes come into season. These are not the uniform – relatively tasteless varieties – that we get in Australia. The mangoes of India are diverse; official accounts put them at around 500 different kinds – although not all these are commercial varieties, the majority would be limited to  small local culitivation, perhaps to a single orchard.

Indian mangoes come into season at different times during the summer and each is distinct in its size, shape, perfume and juiciness. Every Indian will have their favorite mango: so much so that while India is the world’s biggest producer of mangoes it exports relatively few of them such is the demand in the local market.

At the height of summer – and it is a height, the average temperature in the north hovers above 40c – the gods smile on their parched underlings and send forth the lychee. Within the rough rose pink shell of this most beautiful fruit – crisp, juicy, delicately perfumed- lies pleasure so great that it takes your mind of the hades like atmosphere around you.

Then as suddenly as they appeared the lychees are gone: it’s a sign that the monsoon season in nearing. I have lived through an entire Indian summer and I can cope with the dry heat but I cannot bear the monsoon months; 35- 39c and 98% humidity – truly hideous.

Whilst I disparage the monsoon for the intolerable living conditions it creates (great for the skin though – it is like a having a deep cleansing facial each day) the monsoon is vital for it is the time when India gets most of her rainfall and if the monsoon fails the result is disastrous.

The late monsoon is when hilsa come down from Bangladesh to breed in the waterways of Bengal. The flesh of this fish is like no other: slightly sweet and rich in flavour; a not too firm not too soft texture; it is also full of tiny bones. Bengali’s absolutely worship hilsa: they don’t even mind all the bones; so adapt are they in dealing with these that they are able to maneuver them in their mouths into a small ball which they spit out (figuratively, sometimes literally) when finished. Having recently been in Calcutta on the tale end of the monsoon I don’t think the hilsa, as toothsome as it is, is compensation enough for the horrors of the weather there. Then again I don’t have to live there, perhaps if i did I would be equally as keen to focus my attention on a fish to take my mind off the weather.’s

Bengali’s commonly cook fish with mustard oil and/or mustard seeds. The recipe below is inspired by my visit to Calcutta – which is a great food city but my advice is don’t even think about going there in the summer /monsoon months. This is a very easy dish to prepare and cook, great for a tasty work day evening meal paired with the accompanying salad.  I have not suggested you hilsa as it is not easily available outside India. You can use any firm flesh fish but it works best with salmon as its firm oily flesh stands up well to the mustard and green chili in the crust.

Salmon with a mustard and green chili crust

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 tbsp black mustard seeds

2 tbsp yellow mustard seeds

2 green chilies

½ tsp salt

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tsp turmeric

1-2 tbsp mustard oil

4 salmon steaks

Method

Grind the mustard seeds and green chilies to a paste and then blend in all the remaining ingredients with the exception of the fish pieces.

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºc. Heat an oven tray or dish.

Rub the fish steaks with oil and then coat one side with the paste.

Place the coated fish steaks onto the hot tray with the coated side up and bake in the oven until the fish is just cooked through, approximately 15 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).

Pear and sesame salad

mixed salad leaves of your liking

1/2 red onion sliced as thin as possible

1 crisp  pear sliced into matchsticks or thin slices

a generous handful of fresh coriander leaves

1 lebanese cucumber, sliced or diced

2 tbsp roasted sesame seeds

2 tbsp mustard oil

1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar (or use the darker stuff if that is what you have)

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

½ tsp Brown sugar

1 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

Mix all the salad ingredients together in a bowl.

Blend the dressing ingredients together and dress the salad with it.

One Big Pakora

This morning I was  vigourously rubbed with besan (chickpea flour) for an hour; later on the day I had oil gently brushed across my forehead for another 45 minutes: I felt like a human pakora.

I also felt very relaxed and well after receiving the treatments described above as they have been carried out on me in an idyllic ‘auyvedic palace’ in Kerala called Kalari Kovilakom. I will write more about this in future blogs as I have eaten some great food here but in the meantime take a look at the website www.cghearth.com.

The pakora analogy really took shape for me when I stepped in the shower to wash off the oil and discovered that the potion I was given to scrub myself was made from green split peas. I often make fish pakoras and serve them with a green pea dip/relish… I can feel a recipe coming on….

To make good pakoras don’t be stingy with the oil when cooking them. These are deep fried so if you are going to make them just accept it. Actually if you deep fry properly the food doesn’t absorb very much oil and the fish is steamed within its casing.

To give these pakoras a fighting chance:

1. have enough oil to cover the food you are frying

2. have the oil at the right temperature – test by dropping a small amount of batter into the oil, if it sizzles and browns and crisps up quickly then it is ready to go. Unless you have a deep fryer with a thermometer you will to adjust the heat if the oil gets too hot or looses heat.

3. Don’t put too many pieces into the oil at once. This will lower the temperature of the oil.

Fish pakoras with green pea dip 

500g flathead fillets or other firm fish

Batter

2 tbsp besan (chickpea flour)

1 tbsp cornflour

½ tsp salt

1 tsp red chili powder or to taste

½ tsp ajwain seeds*

juice of one lemon

½ cup water

Oil for deep frying

Method

Mix all the ingredients for the batter together until smooth and thick. Leave the batter to sit for 30 minutes (in the meantime make the green pea dip – see recipe below).

Cut the fish into 10 cm pieces. Pat dry with paper towel.

Heat some oil in a deep fryer, wok or large, deep saucepan.

Dip the fish into the batter and fry for about 4-5 minutes until golden and crisp. Drain on paper towel. Serve hot with the green pea dip.

Green pea dip 

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 tsp coriander seeds

2 tsp mustard oil or other vegetable oil such as sunflower or peanut  (preferably not olive oil)

1 -2 tsp freshly grated ginger

1 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1/4 tsp brown sugar

salt

1/2 tsp paprika

250 gms peas (fresh or frozen)

squeeze of lemon or lime juice

Method 

Dry roast the cumin and coriander seeds and grind in a mortar & pestle or spice grinder.

Heat the oil in a karhai, work or saucepan over a medium high heat. When the oil is hot add the ginger and stir for 3o seconds. Pour in a little of the stock (this will spit a little) and cook the ginger for another 30 seconds. Add salt to taste, sugar, the paprika and stir. Add a little more stock and allow to cook out until you have a loose paste. Stir in the ground spices and the paprika and then the peas. Mix the peas in and make sure they are well coated with the spices mix and then pour in the stock.

Allow the peas to cook in the stock at a reasonably rapid simmer until they are tender. Don’t cover the pot as you want to stock to reduce somewhat but not to dry out.

When the peas are cooked remove the pot from the stove, decant the mix into a bowl and allow to cool slightly. Blend the spiced peas to a rough paste with a bamix or in food processor or blender. Adjust the flavour with the lemon/lime juice and serve with the pakoras.

Choti Memsahib Muffet

The warm oil I have been having gently swished across my forehead each afternoon (as part of an auyvedic treatment program) has now been changed to cold buttermilk. When told I would be having this treatment I was less than enthusiastic about the concept but it is actually very relaxing.

Remember Little (choti)  Miss (memsahib) Muffet^ on her tuffet (whatever that is) eating her curds and whey? Well buttermilk is whey or what is left after the solids have been removed from milk to make butter. Buttermilk has a pleasant slightly sour taste, similar to that that of yogurt, and it is commonly used in Indian cookery; for example it might be used as the liquid in a wet dish much as western cooking uses stock. It is also popular as a chilled drink, either plain or infused with cumin seeds or black mustard seeds, curry leaves and a little salt: in this incarnation it is called chaas in northern India.

Buttermilk is not used all that often in western cookery; when it is it is usually added to pancake batters or other baked items such as muffins to which it imparts a lighter texture than if regular milk was used (try it sometime). As it has had all the solids removed it is low in kilojoules/calories (but please its taste recommends it more than this quality, I just mentioned it – the ‘energy count’ – as a matter of interest).

You can buy buttermilk in the supermarket – look for it on the higher shelves of the dairy case as it is not amongst the items that enjoy the glory of eye level shelving.  I hope this recipe for a lovely buttermilk soup might inspire you to give it a try. When I serve this I inevitably see wariness in people’s eyes, which quickly changes to surprise and delight when it hits their taste buds. You can serve it as hot/warm soup but I think it is much better as a summer soup that is served chilled.

Buttermilk soup

Serves 4 -6

Ingredients

1 tsp rice

1 tsp fried mong dal*

t tsp ginger paste

4 green chilies

750 ml buttermilk

salt

1 tbsp oil

½ tsp black mustard seeds

1 tsp skinned urad dal *

1 dried red chili (optional if you prefer)

¼ cup finely chopped fresh coriander

Method

Soak the rice and fried mong dal for one hour.

Drain and grind to a paste, with the ginger and green chilies, in a mortar or pestle; electric spice grinder (that does a wet grind) or a blender (you may need to add a little water to achieve this).

Blend this paste with a little of the buttermilk to make a smooth paste. Mix this into the remaining  buttermilk along with 250 ml of water and salt to taste.

Heat the buttermilk over a medium high heat, stirring until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat.

In a heavy based fry-pan heat the oil over a high heat. When hot drop in the mustard seeds and urad dal. When the mustard seeds ‘pop ‘drop the dried red chili (if using) into the pan. Stir until the chili changes colour. Empty the contents of the pan into buttermilk blending well along with the chopped coriander.

This can be served hot or cold. If serving hot gently reheat; do not boil it as it may curdle. If serving the soup cold place in the refrigerator and chill until ready to use.

^ It is possible that I have used the male gendered Hindi word for ‘little’ (choti). If you know better please excuse me if I have created Master Muffet!.

* These are both varieties of lentils/legumes that you will be able to procure from an Indian/Asian grocery store.

Celebrating the Bovine

This morning a cow with one horn festooned with bright tinsel wandered dazedly by. It reminded me of someone waking up with a hangover on a strange couch after a New Years Eve party still sporting a party hat and a garland of paper streamers. Actually this is not a bad analogy for today is the day that cows are worshipped as part of the Diwali festival. As the day wore on I saw more cows decorated in various ways: their hides patterned with coloured hand prints, circles or more elaborate patterns; bright ribbons swathed between horns; pretty garlands slung across their chests.

Diwali is India’s biggest festival – it is like Christmas and New year rolled into one – and it is celebrated across the country in varying degrees (most other festivals are regional and/or religious and are celebrated in some states/areas and not in others). It is traditional to give sweets on Diwali so as my festive offering I am giving you one of my original recipes for a lovely sweet treat.

I have called this a chocolate ‘samosa’ and while technically it shares some larger similarities with a true samosa, i.e., it is pastry stuffed with a filling, my use of  samosa as a descriptor for this dish is fairly liberal. I use filo pastry in this recipe whereas the real mccoy has a more substantial pastry and the filling is savoury not sweet. Now that I have confessed the differences (and hopefully pacified purists)  let me point out the Indian qualifications of this recipe.

  1. use of coconut – this is used extensively in the south of India and in coastal areas ( where I am currently located).
  1. use of ghee – the purifier of all food in Hindu culture making it fit for the gods.
  1. caramel sauce – ‘caramel custard’ (essentially crème caramel) was a very popular raj/colonial era dessert still commonly served in homes and restaurants, particularly if western style dishes are being served.

I chose to use ‘samosa’ as I wanted to create a dessert that was  Indian in spirit but more appealing to the western palate than most Indian sweets are (the erudite, intrepid and very funny American food writer Jeffery Steingarten includes Indian sweets on the very short list of things that he tried to eat but just cannot bear). It is a mix of my European knowledge/skills and Indian food knowledge/skill; I call it modern Indian but perhaps it should be Ausdian or Euridan!

Happy Diwali.

Chocolate Samosa with caramel sauce

4 tbsp ghee

1 cup dessicated coconut

1 small tin condensed milk

3 – 4 tbsp brown sugar

200gm dark chocolate

1 pkt filo pastry

¾ cup melted ghee

Melt the ghee in a heavy based saucepan. Add the coconut and stir until golden. Mix in the condensed milk and sugar and when well melded add the chocolate.

Stir until the chocolate had melted and the mixture comes away from the side of the pan (the mixture needs to be the consistency of soft putty). Remove from the heat and set aside.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°c.

Place a sheet of filo pastry on a board and brush with melted ghee. Repeat the process with another two sheets of filo (so that you have a stack of three sheets).

Cut the layered filo sheets into three or four strips lengthwise (depending on how large you want the samosa; if you want ‘cocktail’ size ones then do four strips).

Place a generous dessertspoon (less if making smaller samosa) of the mixture on the end corner of the one of the strips and old it into a triangle and repeat (this is a ‘side to side process: one fold will bring a the triangle to one side the next fold to the other) until you get to the end of the strip.

Place the samosa on a tray and bake until golden approximately 8-10 minutes.

Caramel Cream

250 ml plain cream

1 cup white sugar

Slightly warm the cream (don’t overheat it just needs to have the cold taken off it to help it assimilate with the very hot sugar).

Put the sugar in a heavy based pan (essential – a lightweight vessel will cause the sugar to burn) over a medium high heat and leave it until it melts and turns a caramel colour (if you are not used to doing this you might like to add a little water to dissolve the sugar before you start to heat it). Do not stir the melting sugar as this can cause it to crystallize: rather agitate the pan to move the sugar around to assist it to melt.

Take the caramel off the heat and blend in the cream . Be very careful this will spit and splutter quite lot. Stir to blend well.

You can serve the sauce hot or chill it and serve cold.

Hare Semolina

If you are in heaven – and I am (check it out www.swasara.com) – it seems only right that you put in a little time praising the gods for the benefice they have shown you. So it was that I found myself in the weekly ‘community yoga’ session held here rocking along to the praises being sung to Ganesha, Paravati, Lakshmi, Shiva (major gods in the Hindu pantheon). Then came Krishna’s turn – Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare. My mind immediately turned to Europeans dressed up in (shabby) Indian gear, foreheads decorated with coloured powder, shaking tambourines and chanting this same mantra on the streets of Melbourne. They slightly scared me as a child; as an adult they looked lost and now that I know that you cannot ‘convert’ to Hinduism (you have to be born into it) I wonder what they are trying to escape from.

Krishna’s not a bad choice for worship though. He was a fetching shade of blue (which works well with lotus pink and touch of leopard print), cohabited with his aunt (in the biblical sense); frolicked on the side with over 1000 milk maids (the aunt didn’t seem to mind this so no harm done) and generally had a jolly time.

Despite my aversion to Krishna’s chanting and swaying sidewalk disciples I have to admit that I have on occasion eaten at their restaurant in Melbourne (on Swanston Street) and I have to thank them for introducing me to sooji ka halwa (semolina sweet).

There are many variations of sooji ka halwa. A version that uses wheat flour, instead of the coarser semolina, does service as prasad (consecrated food/offering to the gods) at Sikh temples When you depart the Gurdwara on Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi you are always given a portion of it.

Sooji ka halwa is a very easy to make but make sure you have everything ready to go as it all happens pretty quickly. You can adjust the amount of syrup that you use to create different consistencies. If you add more syrup you can make it more like a porridge: wonderful for winter breakfast with a little milk drizzled over the top. I sometimes cook it out for little longer so that it is a little drier in consistency. I then press it into a rectangular tin to about 1 cm thickness; when it is cool I cut it into diamonds or use aspic/biscuit cutters to cut it into shapes. This recipe should result in the finished product having a consistency somewhere in between these two: serve it in this form as a dessert with custard or ice cream.  The figs and walnuts are my addition but you can leave these out if you prefer or add other types of dried fruit or nuts (slithers of roasted almonds are good) …no one will mind!

Sooji ka halva

Serves 8

Ingredients

6 green cardamoms

1 litre water

2½ cups sugar

1¼ cups ghee

1½ cups semolina

2 tbsp chopped dried figs

2 tbsp chopped walnuts

Method

Put the cardamoms, water and sugar into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Strain and keep aside

Heat the ghee in a cast-iron wok or heavy based pan over a medium high heat. When the ghee has melted add the semolina; cook and stir over moderate heat until the semolina is a pale gold colour. Stir in the figs and walnuts and cook for 1 minute.

Start to pour the sugar syrup onto the semolina (be careful as it may spit a little). Stir and cook until all the liquid is absorbed and the mixture starts to come away from the side of the pan.

Serve hot.

It is most delicious in its hot state but if you want to serve it cold make it a bit ‘wetter’ as it will firm up and get a bit ‘crumbly’ as it cools.