How the gulab jamun travelled from Iran to India and other stories

How the gulab jamun travelled from Iran to India and other stories

Reading Yasmin Khan’s The Saffron Tales is like tucking into an expansive meal. As you turn the pages with luscious photographs and read the lovingly documented recipes and stories, you are enveloped in a sensual world of delicate aromas, myriad textures, and subtle flavours.

Khan’s book is a celebration of harvests, traditions, and stories. She writes about the delicacy of the saffron harvest, traces the history of some of the celebrated Iranian produce such as pomegranate, and delves into their contemporary use, while taking the reader through the many different sofrehs (the patterned tablecloth on which dishes are served) of Iran. The Saffron Tales coaxes you to step into the kitchen and try many of the recipes out. And it’s not difficult, and that’s mainly because when you rummage through Khan’s extensive ingredients list, you realise that most of these are easily available in our kitchens.

Iran was at the heart of the old Silk Route, and its location enriched its cuisine, making it, Khan says, “a poetic balance of subtle flavours such as dried limes, saffron and orange blossom”. In India Food & Cooking: The Ultimate Book on Indian Cuisine, Pat Chapman talks about how Iran’s monarchs Cyrus, who invaded northwest India in 532 BC, and Darius, his successor, introduced the region to Iran’s “indigenous ingredients such as spinach, pistachio, almond, pomegranate, saffron, and rose water”. Chapman further writes, “Rice was not indigenous and probably arrived there by trade after the Aryans first encountered Dravidian cultivation terraces. But it soon became the Iranian staple”.

Later, the Mughals and the Parsis enriched and cemented the culinary synthesis. In her book, The Penguin Food Guide to India, Charmaine O’ Brien talks about the influence of Persian cuisine during the Delhi Sultanate rule. “The hallmarks of medieval Persian cuisine were dishes of meat cooked with rice; meat cooked with fruit; and a generous use of nuts, dried fruit and distilled flower essences such as rose water to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes.” From the biryani to naans and kebabs, so many of our foods trace their origin to Persia. For instance, Michael Krondl writes in The Donut: History, Recipes, and Lore from Boston to Berlin about how Persian invaders brought with them a “round fritter that eventually became gulab jamun. (gulab comes from the Persian word for rose water, while jamun refers to a local fruit of roughly this size.)” He adds, “The [Indian] recipe is more complex than in the Middle East, requiring a mixture of dried and fresh milk thickened with flour. But as in Iran, the mixture is fried and soaked in rosewater syrup”. Most commercial gulab jamuns now come without the rose water, but it still conjures up the beauty of rose petals being distilled into a fragrant essence.

It’s not just a spice whammy

At the beginning of her book, Khan writes, “Those unfamiliar with the food often come to the sofreh… expecting spicy, fiery flavours, perhaps more befitting the country’s climate and politics, and are often surprised to find that the cuisine is gentle and soothing…” Not unlike our country, where different regions have a different staple, produce, and recipes.

Khan explains “slow-cooked stews known as khoresht and elaborate rice dishes layered with herbs, vegetables, legumes, meat, nuts and fruit are the bedrocks of Persian cuisine, creating a dazzling mosaic of scents, textures and colours…” The khoresht is cooked depending on the region and the seasonal produce, but each has a distinct sour and sweet taste balance. In India too, spice doesn’t dominate the palate, rather it’s about striking that perfect balance.

Persian cooking, of course, uses more herbs, than spices. Flavours stand out like in the Chelow, a classic Persian dish, which is perfectly cooked rice with a “buttery saffron crust”. Or, the Bagalee ghatogh, where fresh beans are cooked with turmeric, garlic, and dill. Even the gheimeh, slow-cooked lamb shoulder with dried lime split peas, doesn’t have a lengthy list of ingredients, but promises a unique citrusy flavour with the addition of dried limes.

Familiar ingredients and recipes, with a twist 

Seasonal produce and ingredients sparkle in The Saffron Tales. For instance, Khan writes about Rasht, the capital of the Gilan province in northern Iran, where fresh young garlic is often eaten raw at the dinner table. Similar to what Gujaratis do in the winter months, the only difference being they sauté it in ghee before serving.

Many of the recipes are familiar – burnt aubergine dips (think baingan bharta), yoghurts flavoured with vegetables and herbs (raitas), and naan (well, naan). Like many Indian recipes, Iranian cooking constitutes of approximate measurements of ingredients, easily substituted with another based on availability, and mostly by following the smell and taste of food as it gets prepared.

Fresh fruit, salads, and yoghurt are ubiquitous. Like most of our meals, Persian meals are not complete without the salad, “adding a welcome crunch and freshness to complement the hearty stews and gentle rice dishes”. Salad Shirazi, for instance, is a simple mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, and radishes tossed together with dried mint, olive oil, lemon juice, sea salt, and black pepper. Quite like the Maharashtrian kachumber of onion, tomatoes, green chillies, and coriander tossed with nimbu, salt, and pepper. But the dried mint is a fabulous addition.

One big Hum Saath Saath Hai meal 

Khan points out that sharing food is central to the Iranian approach to eating. “An Iranian would never simply reach into the fruit bowl and take a bite of an apple; instead they would cut the apple into slices and offer it around the whole group, even if that meant there was only one slice left for them at the end”. In her introduction, she writes about how usual it is for food to be offered to strangers in bus or plane journeys. And that reminds me of the great Indian train journeys, where dabbas of food are generously shared with co-passengers.

Traditionally, writes Khan, “Persian food doesn’t separate starters from main courses. Instead, the table or sofreh is dotted with small plates of vegetables, yoghurt, olives, pickles and salads that are eaten alongside the rice dishes, stews and kebabs”. Much like our thalis and thaals, where everything is served together.

The sweetness doesn’t always come from fruits 

In the way that Indians coax the natural sweetness out of vegetables, Khan’s recipes do the same. One such recipe is the morab-ye kadoo halvaa-ee, a spiced butternut squash preserve. Unlike our mango morabba which is more gelatinous in texture, this one is a sweetened pumpkin puree which works beautifully with morning granola and cheese cake toppings. Her carrot, cardamom and rosewater jam with a dash of orange zest will most probably elevate the humble bread and butter as a breakfast option.

Fruits, conversely, are used to flavour savoury dishes. There’s a river fish that is stuffed with walnuts, basil, and pomegranate molasses and baked. Plums and apricots are salted and dried added to stews and soups.

Bake this soft focaccia bread this weekend

What’s a brunch without good bread? For this one, a fine olive oil makes all the difference.

Growing up, convenience foods were an alien concept for my family. My mother loves to cook; and fresh, home cooked food was something we took for granted. For instance, breakfast would be fresh coriander-flecked poha, steaming hot upma, or aloo paratha topped with homemade butter. Little surprise then that bread was not a usual occurrence in our house, especially as a breakfast item. At the most, it made an appearance as a crouton in tomato soup.

I can still remember the first time I ate toast. I must have been something like five or six years old, and on a play date at a friend’s house (We didn’t call it a play date then, it was just playing). As an evening snack, my friend’s mother gave us slices of hot toast, generously buttered with Amul butter. I took a crunchy bite, relishing the crumbly texture, the oozy butter, and I couldn’t help but wonder why had this wondrous thing been missing from my life all this while. I went home and badgered my mum to make us toast. I am pretty sure she rolled her eyes – here she was making us fresh food, and there I was, demanding processed white bread.

We moved from Delhi to Mumbai in the early Nineties, and I was amazed to see the range of bread being delivered to your doorstep. Our feisty neighbour, Mrs. Batliwala, would give the bread wallah’s basket a once over for fresh paav, local bread, and buns, apart from kharis and nankhatais. It was at her house that I first came across Wibs with its iconic blue, white, and red waxed paper packaging. And then later, the fabulous street side sandwiches of the city.

Years later, we found out that this white-maida bread was as evil as Voldermort’s horcruxes. So we turned to whole wheat versions and discovered the joys of artisanal bread. Then we found out that processed brown bread often is just maida with caramelized sugar giving it the brown colour. And now all that news about processed bread possibly containing carcinogens.

Bit of a problem, given that bread makes for a cheap, convenient food. On week days, breakfast is a choice between homemade granola and dahi, or toast and chai. On days I don’t feel like cooking, it’s easy to fix a quick sandwich. More and more, I find myself baking whole wheat bread at home. My friend Deborah gave me a quick bread making class – she makes the lightest ragi bread I have ever eaten. My friend’s father, Sujit Sumitran, showed me how to make a wonderful sourdough bread. Bread, I am discovering, isn’t that difficult.

Of course, I don’t always make heathy breads. On days that I am feeling more indulgent or have friends coming over, I make this focaccia. One tip: use good olive oil for it – I used Cannan, an organic, cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil from Palestine. Amazon stocks it, and as the label says, it helps “farmers stay on their land. It is produced by farmer cooperatives”. If you’re spending good money on an olive oil, try and find one where the money goes back to the farmers.

The focaccia has been baked using extra virgin olive oil. Use premium olive oil for best results. (Photo: Bijal Vachharajani) The focaccia has been baked using extra virgin olive oil. Use premium olive oil for best results. (Photo: Bijal Vachharajani)

Ingredients (Adapted from Jamie Oliver’s recipe)

For the toppings
2 onions
Sea salt
½ tsp- Ground black pepper
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Few sprigs of rosemary
3 tbsp- Balsamic vinegar

For the dough
400g- Maida, organic and unbleached
100g- Whole wheat flour
7g- Dried yeast
½ tbsp- Fairtrade castor sugar
325ml- Lukewarm water
2 tbsp- Semolina
Sea salt to taste
Extra virgin olive oil to taste

* Put the tepid water in a glass and mix yeast and sugar into it with a fork. Leave aside for a few minutes. You know the yeast is active when it starts to foam, and if you “listen” to the mixture, there’s a distinct hum.

* Mix the atta and maida with ½ tbsp. of sea salt and make a well in the middle. Pour in the yeast mixture and stir with a fork.

* Put the dough on a clean, flour-dusted surface and knead for five to seven minutes. To knead, push the dough away from you, and bring it back towards you.

* Put in a greased bowl, pour some olive oil and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Leave to prove for half an hour.

* To prepare the topping, slice the onions. Sauté them with rosemary in olive oil until the onions are translucent. Add balsamic vinegar and fry for another couple of minutes. Keep aside. You can make your own topics – cheese, basil, and tomato; cheese and rosemary; sundried tomatoes and olives – it’s up to you.

* Preheat the oven to 220C/ 425F. Line your baking try with some semolina.

* When the dough has doubled in size, pound it and place it on the tray, so that it covers the bottom.

* Pour some olive oil on the bread, and push it down with your fingers so that it becomes like small hills and valleys.

* Press the onion toppings on the focaccia. Top with sea salt, pepper and a good drizzle of olive oil. Leave to rise, covered with a wet kitchen towel, for around 30 minutes.

* Bake for 20 minutes. When it comes out of the oven, top the bread with some more olive oil to keep it moist.

Bake a jamun clafoutis this weekend

Celebrate the season of jamuns with this uniquely boozy version of the French dessert.

Jamuns, bers, and star fruits are the stuff childhood memories are made of. Newspaper cones filled with squishy crimson bers, ensconced in salt and chilli powder, taking a walk in Sanjay Gandhi National Park and cooling down with fat slices of shiny green star fruits, and sticking purple-stained tongues out after eating too many sweet-sour-astringent-tasting jamuns.

Jamuns are entrenched in our myths and legends. For instance, the jambudvipa – jamun island – according to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism cosmologies – is where humans lived at the beginning of time.

Today, all sorts of jamun delicacies are available in the market – from strips of diabetes-friendly jamun chips to jamun juice and kala khatta golas and jamun vinegar. I was gob smacked to learn from a story by food writer Vikram Doctor that jamuns are the basis of kala khatta, along with sugar, rock salt, and nimbu. Apparently, everyone knows about it. But then kala khatta gola has a ring to it, unlike a jamun gola. Well, I’m definitely plotting a jamun sorbet soon.

My friend Deborah had a jamun tree outside her house in Cooke Town in Bengaluru and promptly tucked ripe jamuns under a bed of oats, butter and sugar, to make one of the most interesting fruit crumbles I have had. Given its unique flavour, it’s a bit of a surprise that we don’t have a bevy of jamun desserts. Instead, we haul blueberries and blackberries from halfway across the world, rather than celebrating our mulberries and jamuns.

Which is why I decided to bake it into a clafoutis, a classic French dessert which is usually made with cherries. A clafoutis has a delightful custard consistency which does wonders to the astringent jamun taste. For the recipe, cherries are usually marinated in kirsch or brandy. I marinated the jamuns in a Sula Riesling white wine, on a friend’s suggestion. But it works fine without that as well.

Jamun Clafoutis

Adapted from a recipe by Nigel Slater
500g- Jamun
2 tbsp- Sugar
2 tbsp- White wine (optional)
80g- Sugar
2- Free range eggs
90g- Flour
150ml- Milk
½ tsp- Vanilla extract
30g- Butter, melted
2 tbsp- Demerara sugar
Some icing sugar for dustingIMG_9943

*Stone the jamuns and cut them in half.

* Toss them with 2 tbsp of sugar and wine. Leave to macerate for a couple of hours.

* Butter a baking dish and dust it with the demerara sugar.

* Put the jamuns at the bottom of the pan.

* Preheat oven to 180C/ 350F.

* Beat the sugar and eggs together.

* Add sieved flour, milk and vanilla extract, and mix well. Stir in the melted butter.

* Pour the batter over the jamuns. Bake for 35 minutes until golden brown.

* Dust with icing sugar.

* Serve warm with custard or ice cream. Though a cold jamun clafoutis is quite delicious as well.

How to bake with dark, guilt-free, sustainable chocolate

Locally sourced chocolate is great for your desserts and the environment — Mason’s & Co and Earth Loaf are two brands that make artisanal chocolate in India.

Good quality dark chocolate is a thing of beauty: It smells luscious, tastes of the earth, and is the perfect way to recover from dementor-like moments. So when my friend Maegan Dobson Sippy rang me to share this happy news: “I have got a bar of Whittaker’s Chocolate. Let’s bake with it!”, I agreed in a blink. Given that this was the 72% Ghanaian dark chocolate sourced from Kuapo Kokoo, the first Fairtrade-certified smallholder farmer organisation in West Africa, we knew that we wanted to bake something where the chocolate would be the star. Sippy called up her father in the UK, and being the terrific baker that he is, he recommended a Claudia Roden recipe from her book The Food of Spain.

While we were baking the cake, Maegan’s kitchen smelt like we had been dunked into a cup of the darkest, richest hot chocolate. Without getting scalded that is. In her book, Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love, Simran Sethi writes, that “In the United States, a bar has to contain at least 10 per cent cocoa mass to be called chocolate”. The author explains that a “standard chocolate bar is typically made up of cocoa mass, sweetener and an emulsifier to improve its texture and consistency. The cocoa percentage listed on a bar indicates the portion of ingredients that come from the bean: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.”

Read the label of your favourite chocolate, look at its composition – is cocoa mass the main ingredient or is it jostling for space with emulsifiers, sugars, milk fats, and artificial flavours? Little wonder that good chocolate elevates your cakes and cookies, and your mood, to the next level.

For most of my chocolate recipes, I am happy to use the cooking chocolate that’s locally available. But I have also used Mason & Co.’s artisanal chocolates from Pondicherry in baking and am quite happy with the result. Likewise, I find that Earth Loaf’s cocao nibs add a pleasing crunch to cookies and granola. And they’re both locally sourced, artisanal chocolate companies.

Chocolate is becoming more precious. According to the Earth Security Group, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire provide 60% of the world’s cocoa. As temperatures soar because of climate change, farmers are finding it harder to grow cacao in conditions that are too hot and arid. The Guardian reported that with little livelihood security, cacao farmers in Africa, for instance, are switching to other crops. And while we continue to love our chocolate bars, at the same time it is projected that the demand will soon be more than supply. We will reach peak chocolate in just four years.

The author visited Joy VT's cocoa farm near Kelakam in Kannur as part of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala. Pictured is a cocoa pod. You know a cocoa pod is mature when it turns yellow. The pods are harvested and split open and this is where your chocolate comes from. (Photo: Bijal Vachharajani)

The author visited Joy VT’s cocoa farm near Kelakam in Kannur as part of Fair Trade Alliance Kerala. Pictured is a cocoa pod. You know a cocoa pod is mature when it turns yellow. The pods are harvested and split open and this is where your chocolate comes from.

Some of the cacao producers of Kuapo Kokoo have adopted agroforestry systems to preserve soil fertility, instead of practising monoculture, the way most cacao beans are grown in Ghana. Of course, this is one climate adaptation method. But there’s so much more to do.

As Sethi writes, “I don’t eat expensive chocolate to be fancy or waste money; I eat it because I want to support the chocolate makers and farmers dedicated to sustaining diverse and delicious chocolate. I eat it because the best versions of this are like nothing else. And I eat it because I don’t want my joy to come at the expense of someone else’s misery.”

As a consumer, if you’re buying chocolate, try and buy one that is special, made with fairly sourced ingredients that are grown in a way that’s ecologically and economically viable, and with a sustainable story behind it. And then savour it.

(Adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Spain)

150g- Dark, good quality chocolate, we used Whittaker’s Ghana Fairtrade chocolate
2 tbsp- Water
150g- Unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4- Large eggs, separated
100g- Caster sugar
100g- Ground almonds
1 tsp- Baking powder
4 tbsp- Rum, we used Old Monk

*Preheat the oven to 160 C/ 320F.

*Heat water in a pot and place another pan on top of it, without the bottom touching the water. Melt the chocolate with the water. Add butter.

*Once the butter melts and you have a lovely shiny mixture, remove from heat. You can also do this in a microwave.

*In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with sugar. Add ground almonds, baking powder, and rum and whisk until well-mixed. Add the chocolate mixture and beat until it becomes a smooth batter.

*Using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff and fold gently into the chocolate batter. Bake for 35 minutes.


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Bake this fragrant rose apple frangipane tart this weekend

Panneerale folded in almond cream makes for a delicate dessert that’s nothing like you’ve ever tasted.

“Panneer,” the fruit vendor said, pointing to a mound of pale green spheres on his cart.
“Guava?” I asked.
“Na, Na, panneer.”


My curiosity got the better of me and I ended up buying a quarter kilo of panneer. Shake the fruit and it sounds hollow, the seed rattling within its core. They were still unripe, so I circulated a photo on Twitter, and suggestions poured in – raw kokum, guava, yellow mangosteen.

It was writer Mahesh Rao who identified the fruit correctly as Syzygium jambosor rose apple. He also told me that in Kannada, the fruit is called “panneer” or “pannerale”. Just then writer Srinath Perur tweeted to say that the fruit is a “delight” and it gets “sweeter and rosier as it ripens”. Clearly, Karnataka-based writers know their fruits.

So I waited for a few days for the jambos to ripen. I sliced open a ripe panneer, and the alluring, delicate fragrance of roses enveloped me. I could only think of folding it with some frangipane or almond cream and baking it as a tart. And that’s exactly what I did. I used a Mary Berry recipe for this. The result was a spongy, crumbly tart, redolent of roses and almonds. (Adapted from


250g- Rose apples

For the base
175g- Digestive biscuits
75g- Butter

For the filling
75g- Butter at room temperature
75g- Fairtrade caster sugar
2- Free range eggs
75g- Ground almonds
1 tsp- Almond extract

For the base
* Melt butter and keep aside.

* Crumble the digestive biscuits in a mixer until they become fine crumbs.

* Add the melted butter and mix well.

* Put the mix into your tart/ pie tin and spread evenly on to the base and the sides.

* Use a steel katori to even out the mixture.

* Place it in the fridge to chill.

For the filling
* Beat the cream, butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

* Add the eggs and beat for a minute.

* Add the ground almonds and almond extract and mix well.

* You can replace the extract with vanilla, but the flavour will be less intense.

Putting together the tart
* Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F.

* Cut off the ends of the rose apples.

* You can cut thin slices or thin rings.

* Arrange these over the biscuit base.

* Now spoon the almond cream/ frangipane filling on top evenly.

* If you like, you can top it with almond flakes or shredded almonds.

* Bake for 20 minutes or until the frangipane is nutty brown and set.

* Serve warm with ice cream.

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Stop the ‘Kissa Quinoa, Couscous aur Kale ka’, and switch to rajgira or millet instead

The growing demand for quinoa in India and across the world is gravely affecting communities in South America and Mexico. But there are some signs of hope yet.
The first time I came across quinoa was five years ago, when a Bolivian friend cooked it for us in Costa Rica. Until then, I had only read about quinoa on international food websites. As I inspected the traditional Andes super crop, I noticed how the quinoa looked like translucent flat beads, each grain fluffy and distinct. It reminded me of the broken wheat khichdi we eat at home, and my friend Stephanie Weiss and I began exchanging notes on prep methods. I ended the conversation by saying that I couldn’t wait to tell my friends back home that I had tried this heritage grain.

Little did I know that by the time I returned from studying climate change, like the rest of the world, quinoa would have caught the fancy of hipsters in India. Quinoa burgers, quinoa salads, quinoa what have yous’ were everywhere. People were spending as much as a week’s fruits and vegetables budget in buying quinoa. Not only that, we were scattering Mexican chia seeds over our morning oatmeal and buying tossed kale concoctions from salad bars. All food flown from different parts of the world, piling precious carbon miles onto our plates. In fact, reading restaurant menus was like watching a star-studded film – Kissa Kinoa, Kous Kous aur Kale ka.

According to Stephanie, now an environmental researcher and consultant in Bolivia, as the demand for quinoa spiralled across the world, it led to a change in consumption habits in the places of production, mainly Bolivia and Peru. “It became more profitable to sell quinoa, rather than eat it,” she said. “This has an adverse impact on nutrition and tradition. According to the Bolivian government, only 15 per cent of the quinoa produced in Bolivia is consumed within its borders currently.”

Our eating habits and culinary fads are having a colossal impact on communities in South America. “The craze for quinoa has had a direct impact on the price increase for local markets in recent years. It’s also led to degradation of the fields with declining fertility, increased pests and diseases, lack of respect for natural cycles soil,” says Arafat Espinoza Ortiz, an agronomist in Peru.

Food miles and sustainability aside, our “let’s eat what’s trending” consumption phase has even led to quinoa and chia seeds being grown in India. Often, these are market-driven decisions, sometimes pragmatic or ecological ones. An organic farmer from Amravati, in Maharashtra, shared that they are all disillusioned with cotton and are looking at growing foods that the market wants. “We don’t want to grow cotton,” Rahul Bole said. “Tell us what to grow next, something like baby corn, something that the market likes. The Mumbai market, especially.” Bole’s community is contemplating growing kale or marketing their free-range eggs.

Look at grocery stores and hypermarkets a little carefully the next time: All of them have begun stocking alternatives including bajra idlis mixes, ragi biscuits, and packets of little fox millet. The quinoa trend has fuelled a resurgence in India’s ancient cereal crops – millets. A more sustainable option, millets aren’t thirsty crops like paddy. Rather they are hardy, healthy and versatile when it comes to cooking them.

Also look at menus with a more discerning eye. Restaurants are making local, seasonal, and indigenous fare an integral part of their menu. Gondhoraj lemon, Gobindobhog rice, and moringa leaves prominently feature in the Bangalore-based Toast and Tonic’s menu. Millets of Mewar, in Udaipur, makes Nutella-drenched millet pancakes, aloo tikki and kebabs, while Smoke House Deli has a fabulous health menu with millet risotto and spinach and millet soup. Food companies are also bringing their organic A game to shelves. Bengaluru-based brand Vaathsalya sells ragi popcorn and chocolate ragi malt, while OrgTree makes millet cookies with foxtail and kodo.

Accept food logic. As Somji, an organic and Fairtrade cotton farmer with Chetna Organic in Telangana, put it, “All you city people love to eat rice. We don’t eat that. For us, it’s jowar and makki. We eat the food of our ancestors – millets.” Once you start looking up ingenious foods, you realise how much a part of our diets they are, hipster trends not withstanding. Until now they weren’t cool enough, rather they were something just made in our home kitchens. Gujaratis, for instance, make crisp, delicious puris out of rajgira atta, which is made from the seeds of amaranth. Moringa leaves may have now caught the fancy of international chefs, but we have been cooking them with dal in the south for ages. And then there’s ragi and jowar rotis, hearty and healthy rotis that deserve to be eaten more.

It’s a paradox in many ways – at one end there are concerns about sustainability, food miles and the impact on smallholder farmers; but at the other end of the spectrum, it has created a market for traditional produce. Producers are expanding to newer international markets, compelling them to adopt more ecological, fair trade practices. And chefs and cooks are experimenting with traditional produce, tossing in diversity into our diets. Stephanie dug up a quote from Delgado F and Delgado M, Vivir y comer bien en los Andes Bolivianos: “The importance of quinoa in strengthening food security and sovereignty lies in the traditional uses and customs, recipes and culinary techniques adapted to this grain and inherited by generations”. Which is pretty much what we could do with indigenous foods in India as well – celebrate them by cooking with them – for the farmers, the climate, and for us.


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This weekend, make cold mango dessert in a jar

This recipe is a piece of cake: No baking, just throw in mango, Mascarpone cheese, ginger biscuit and stick it into the fridge.

While I was studying climate change, one of our professors would come to class with his laptop and a mason jar of water. It wasn’t to stick flowers in, as I discovered. It was his water bottle. As we pored over climate governance case studies, I couldn’t help but wonder about the idea of drinking from a mason jar. Of course now these jars are everywhere – hipsters are chugging cocktails from it, the health conscious are putting salad layers in them, designers are turning them into mini lanterns, and some people still use them to store jam in. There are reasons behind the “rise of the jars”, as this ThinkProgress article explains – from being more economical, ecological conscious, and because it evokes a sense of nostalgia.

Bakers, of course, love these jars, pressing all sorts of desserts into them. From tiramisus to creamy concoctions, everything’s now available in a glass jar. And given that Bengaluru’s going through, what can only be described as extreme weather conditions, I decided it’s time to make desserts in a jar and tuck them into the fridge for SOS it-is-too-hot moments. Because honestly, it is too hot to get close to an oven. Which is why I am thinking sorbets, ice creams, and cold desserts.

I have been trying all sorts of combinations – Greek yoghurt, seeds, and mangoes; Mascarpone cheese, ginger biscuits, and mangoes; ice cream, mangoes, and leftover cake. I am guessing you can see a pattern there – mangoes. Maybe I should say fruit, but really it’s been mangoes that have been going into the jars, but you can use whatever fruit is in season. And the best thing is it really doesn’t need exact measurements – you can add more fruit, more yoghurt, more cheese, depending on what you feel like. Or what the weather allows.

For the filling
70g- Mascarpone cheese
70g- Cream cheese (Britannia has an Indian one now)
20g- Fairtrade castor sugar
1/8tsp- Vanilla extract
1 to 2- Mangoes
1- Jar (let us not forget the jar)

For the biscuit layer
½ packet- Ginger biscuits
2 tbsp- Melted butter

* Blitz the biscuits in a blender until fine.

* Mix the crumbs with melted butter until it can come together to form a ball when you squeeze it.

* Layer the bottom of the jar with the biscuit-butter dough. It can be about a centimeter thick.

* The ginger, you will find, goes very well with the mango. Don’t pack it down, else it will stick to the bottom and freeze. Stick the jar into the fridge.

* Using a hand-held mixer, whisk the Mascarpone and cream cheeses along with the sugar.

* Make sure there are no lumps in the batter. Now add vanilla extract and give it one more whizz. You could add a smidgen of ginger powder or cinnamon instead.

* Add a spoonful of the cheese mix to the jar.

* Next add chopped mangoes. Drizzle in some more of the biscuit mix.

* Add another layer of the cheeses, and top with more mangoes.

* Let it chill for at least a couple of hours. Dig in straight from the jar.


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Bake an aamras cheesecake this weekend

“It’s never been this hot at this time of the year,” said Settu, one of the farmers who is part of the Samalpatti Mango Growers Association. We were walking around a mango orchard in Samalpatti in Krishnagiri, in the heart of totapuri mango growing landscape. Raw mangoes hung temptingly from trees across the countryside. We snacked on slices of raw mangoes daubed generously with paprika, salt, and lashings of jaggery and talked about the future of this precious fruit. The relentless heat is of concern to the smallholder mango farmers when it comes to yields, but they are also hopeful. Mainly because they are no longer isolated smallholder farmers tackling problems of climate change, pest proliferation, and market fluctuations. Rather, they operate as a unit.


In 2009, 91 farmers from the region came together to form the SMGA co-operative and got themselves Fairtrade certified. Which means they get a minimum price for their mangoes, despite market fluctuations and an additional premium on what has been sold on Fairtrade terms. Their mango pulp is now being exported to European market, and it’s a source of pride for the community.

So far, the farmers have invested the premium money in fish water ponds as an additional source of income – mangos are biennial yielding crops – and a primary school in their village. It’s a story of promise, of climate adaptation, and the power of the collective.

I came back home and decided I needed to bake with mango. And not just mango, it had to be aamras, because you know, there’s nothing like pure mango pureé. So I baked a cheesecake, stirred some aamras into it, and even topped it with that. There’s also nothing like too much mango. I used The Kitchn’s recipe on my friend Aditya Raghavan’s recommendation, and adapted it slightly. I would recommend reading through their recipe because it goes into a lot of details, which comes in handy when baking a cheesecake. It’s not difficult, but it’s got short, fiddly steps.

Adapted from The Kitchn.

For the crust
170g- Ginger biscuits
5tbsp- Butter

For the cheesecake
900g- Cream cheese (room temperature)
1 cup- Sugar
1 tbsp- Corn flour (optional)
A pinch salt
½ cup- Greek yogurt or hung curd
1 tsp- Vanilla extract
3- Large free range eggs
1- Large free range egg yolk
Pulp of 2 mangoes

For the topping
3 to 4- Mangoes

For the crust
*Grease a springform pan (10”). Now put the pan on two diagonally placed strips of aluminum foil and cover it on all sides. This is to stop water from entering the pan while baking it.

*Preheat the oven to 350F/ 180C.

*Blitz the ginger biscuits in a mixer.

*Mix in melted butter until it clumps together.

*Spread the mixture on the bottom of the pan, use the bottom of a steel bowl to even it out.

*Bake for eight minutes until the crust starts to brown.

*Let it cool.

For the cheesecake filling
*Using a hand-held mixer, whisk the cream cheese, sugar, corn flour and salt until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Make sure all the cream cheese lumps have evened out.

*Add the yoghurt and vanilla and beat again.

*Beat in the eggs one at a time.

*Give a last stir with a spatula.

*Mix in the mango pulp.

*Pour it on top of the biscuit layer.

Baking the cheesecake
*Cheesecakes have to be baked in a water bath.

*So place your pan into a larger baking dish.

*Boil water and pour into the baking dish, making sure no water falls into the cheesecake.

*Fill an inch of the pan with the water.

*Bake at 350F/180C for an hour.

*You know the cheesecake is done when it’s slightly puffed and set and a little bit wobbly in the centre.

*If you see cracks forming, then stop immediately.

*Switch off the oven and leave the door open a crack.

*Cool for about an hour.

*Now bring the cheesecake out and remove the foil.

*Run a knife around the cake’s edge to make sure it doesn’t stick to the sides of the pan.

*Cool completely and then freeze for at least five hours.

Cheesecake topping
*Peel the mangoes and blitz them to a fine pureé. Top the cheesecake with the aamras and serve immediately.

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Make pizza from scratch, in an air fryer if you please

Years ago, when we took our American cousins for pizza in Mumbai, they were quite stumped by the Udupi pizza, a plump circle of dough, tomato sauce, capsicum-onions-tomatoes, and oodles of Amul cheese grated on top. The younger cousin politely asked the server for his cheese to be melted. The bemused server insisted that this was melted. We finally moved dinner to Pizzeria in Churchgate, where they happily noted the stringy, gooey cheese and nodded their satisfaction.

I was listening to the BBC Food podcast recently where I discovered the difference between Neapolitan pizza and the Sicilian one. The first one has few ingredients, thin crust that almost folds over while eating, while the Sicilian one is thicker with lots of toppings. Of course, they didn’t include our homegrown Udupi pizza in it.

But, there’s something about handmade dough, fresh tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese baked in a wood-fired oven. Once you’ve tried that pizza, it’s impossible to eat those hyper-processed pizzas that are over salted with cardboard-like dough and cheese that tastes of nothing. Homemade pizza, for most of us, is buying readymade bases from the shop and baking it with tomato puree and cheese.

Almost a year ago, my British friend Deborah taught me how to make pizza from scratch. The dough recipe comes from one of my favourite chefs ever – Jamie Oliver. And then we tinkered around with different toppings. This pizza is so easy that it’s become a weekend staple at my home. I usually substitute most of the maida for whole wheat flour, and so far, no one has been the wiser.

Also, my oven conked in the middle (THE HORRORS) of all this baking and as a 13-year-old told me, this pizza bakes perfectly well in the air fryer. And it does.

Pizza (Adapted from Jamie Oliver)

For the dough
400g- Maida (I use half maida and half whole wheat flour)
A fistful of semolina/ rava
½ tbsp- Sea salt
7g- Ddried yeast
½ tbsp- Caster sugar (normal granulated sugar works fine)
325ml- Lukewarm water

For the sauce
If you’re using tomato sauce
1 tsp- Olive oil
¼ tsp- Ajwain
2 cloves- Crushed garlic
4 to 5- Basil leaves
½ tsp- Chilli flakes
2- Chopped tomatoes
Salt to taste

If you’re using pesto sauce
1 bundle- Basil leaves
A handful- Walnuts
2 cloves- Garlic
1/8 cup- Grated parmesan cheese
1 glug- Olive oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

For the toppings
Mozzarella cheese- get one that you can tear into hunks
A drizzle of olive oil
Sea salt to taste
A few basil leaves

* You can warm the water in the microwave or stove for 10 seconds. It needs to be lukewarm, not hot.

* Add yeast and sugar and mix vigorously with a fork. Leave it aside for a few minutes. Listen to the yeast – if it makes a humming sound, you know it’s active.

* Most active dry yeasts in India that you find in retail stores aren’t that effective. Look for the ones with small granules or get fresh yeast, which you can then store in the freezer.

* Mix flour and salt and make a well in the centre. Add the yeast water mixture and use a fork to mix it into the flour.

* Once it starts to come together, tip the batter onto a floured surface and start kneading the dough.

* There’s a trick to pizza dough – you need to push the dough away from you with one one hand, and at the same time, stretch it towards you with the other hand. Keep doing this for 10 minutes – I set a timer – until you get a smooth dough. It looks messy but don’t be tempted to add too much flour to the dough.

* Grease a bowl with olive oil and put the dough inside it. Drizzle some olive oil on top as well. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 45 minutes. The dough should double in size.

To make the pizza pies
* What I usually do is follow Jamie Oliver’s instructions. So I cut the dough in half and wrap half of it in cling wrap and stick it in the freezer to use for another day.

* The other half, I divide into four balls, dust them and cover them in plastic and let them sit for 15 minutes.

* Roll out some of the dough until it’s 0.5cm thick. You can do it on your kitchen platform, or if you’re making mini pizzas then on your rolling board.

* Dust parchment paper with rava, and put the rolled pizza dough on it. Brush it with olive oil.

* When it comes to toppings, I like to stay Neapolitan – the lesser the better.

For tomato sauce
* Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a pan, add ajwain, crushed garlic, basil leaves, chilli flakes, salt and chopped tomatoes and sauté.

* I use the paav bhaji crushing tool to mash this into a sauce. I am not a big fan of dried oregano, so I add caraway seeds or ajwain instead – they taste quite similar.

For Pesto sauce
* In a blender, blitz basil leaves, walnuts, salt, pepper, and garlic cloves.

* Add parmesan and olive oil and mix.

Putting the pizza pie together
* Once your dough is rolled out and ready, spread the tomato sauce on top or pesto, right until the edges. If you’re using pesto, then sauté some 3-4 cloves of garlic in oil, cut them into small pieces and stud the pizza base with the garlic pieces.

* If you’re using tomato sauce, add slices of mozzarella cheese and basil leaves.

* Drizzle with some olive oil and salt.

* Place in the oven to bake.

* These pizzas cook in a hot oven – 250 degrees C/ 500 degrees F in seven to 10 minutes.

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Bake a mountain of chocolate fudge this weekend

Throw in nuts, grate some orange zest into it or just add some Cadbury’s Gems to it – it’ll be gone before you know it anyway.

In August 2014, a chapter from Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which had been edited out of the first edition, was published for the world to read. In what was meant to be the fifth chapter, Willy Wonka leads the children into the Vanilla Fudge Room. Here’s what it said – “In the centre of the room there was an actual mountain, a colossal jagged mountain as high as a five-storey building, and the whole thing was made of pale-brown, creamy, vanilla fudge.”

All I could think of was breaking off chunks of this towering vanilla fudge mountain, dunking them into the chocolate river and gobbling it up quickly. Of course, it would have meant severe punishment at the hands of the Oompa Loompas, like becoming a Fudge Sludge or something equally terrifying like Cornelius Fudge (for the uninitiated, that’s the former Minister of Magic in the Harry Potter series)

And so, it’s simpler to make your own creamy chocolate fudge, and especially with a no-fuss recipe like this one. I got my fudge recipe from a friend ages ago, which I have tweaked and changed around since. Use good quality dark chocolate when making fudge because it really is the star here. When I travel, I end up buying organic and fair trade chocolate as well, mainly for fudge and cookies. As the chocolate melts with the condensed milk and butter, it becomes a thick river of molten chocolate that would make Willy Wonka very proud. And the smell will drive everyone into the kitchen – be warned, it’s really hard to keep the fudge safe from greedy, prying fingers.

It’s such a versatile recipe that you can throw in nuts or keep them out, or add orange zest or swap the vanilla for a drop of orange blossom water. My nephew tops each square with a Cadbury’s Gems roundel because he claims it’s prettier that way. Whatever you try, the result is still a glistening slab of fudge, dense and gooey at the same time.

Once the fudge is ready, you can cut it into squares and put them into little reusable mason jars to gift to friends as well. I have even chopped it up coarsely and served it as Cockroach Cluster at a Harry Potter themed party. Most of my friends prefer this fudge to a bottle of wine. Or actually, with the bottle.

60 to 70- Gramunsalted butter (this recipe works fine with salted butter, but then omit the pinch of salt)
¼ cup- Brown sugar
½ tin or 200g- Condensed milk
½ tsp- Vanilla extract
½ cup- Dark chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup- Toasted, chopped walnuts or almonds or raisins
A pinch salt

*Grease a shallow rectangle-shaped pan and keep aside.

*Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium heat. Add brown sugar.

*Once the sugar dissolves, it forms a sort of crystalline broth at the bottom of the pan.

*Add the condensed milk and stir constantly till it becomes a smooth paste.

*Now add the chopped chocolate and continue to stir.

*Once the chocolate melts, keep stirring until the mixture reduces by a quarter.

*Add salt and the chopped nuts and continue to stir another three minutes.

*Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.

*Pour the mixture into the greased pan and let it cool.

*Leave it overnight to set or at least for six hours.

*Don’t refrigerate the fudge.

*Cut into pieces and well, let the Oompa Loompas stew as you eat the fudge.

*Best served with a cup of piping hot coffee or cold milk.

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