Friday, October 24, 2008

Tree Sap Fudge (Goondh Paak)

Before you dismiss this recipe, remember that maple sugar is also tree sap.

This recipe uses one of the most unusual ingredients that I’ve featured on this blog – gum arabic. Also known as gum acacia or meska, this is the hardened tree sap from two species of the Acacia tree. Although cultivated in Arabia and West Asia since antiquity, European colonialism saw a strong rise in gum arabic production in West Africa. It is been highly prized for its properties as a binding agent and emulsifier, and one that is not toxic to humans. After African independence, it also became cultivated in East Africa - between the 1950s and 1990s Sudan accounted for 80% of world production. Today Chad, Nigeria and Sudan produce over 95% of worldwide exports.

Gum arabic has been used for many industrial applications including photographic gum printing; watercolour paint production; and production of pyrotechnics, shoe polish, and lickable adhesives. It is also a common ingredient in processed food – just check the ingredient lists on marshmallows, gum drops, chewing gum, soft drinks, M&Ms, confections, syrups and ice cream. Some readers may remember the contention that Osama bin Laden controlled significant gum arabic production in Sudan, and that the West should boycott the item. This claim was later refuted by the U.S. State Department.

Gund paak is a rich, though not cloyingly sweet, dessert. Although it uses whole wheat flour, it also contains a generous amount of butter and is thus best consumed in moderation.

Makes 64 pieces

10 ounces almonds, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 pounds (8 sticks) unsalted butter
4 ounces of gum arabic (also known as gum acacia) or gum substitute in small pieces
5 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon powdered orange food color (optional), available in South Asian food stores
1 pound jaggery, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup evaporated milk
2 ounces pistachios, coarsely chopped

1. In a small bowl mix 8 ounces of almonds, cardamom and nutmeg. Set aside.
2. In a large cooking pot, melt butter on medium. Test temperature by placing one piece of gum arabic into the butter. It should bubble and float to the surface as a white popped form. If it doesn’t pop, then the butter is not hot enough; if it becomes browns, then the butter is too hot.
3. Once the temperature is correct, fry the gum arabic in 6-10 small batches . Remove with a slotted spoon and dry and cool on paper towels. When cool, mix with the almond mixture. Set aside. [See above photo of friend gum arabic]
4. Add flour to the same butter. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring continuously, until the mixture becomes golden brown in color. If you stop stirring, it will splatter as hot air bursts through the flour mixture. You may also burn it.
5. Add food color and jaggery, and keep cooking until the jaggery melts.
6. Add the evaporated milk and the almond/gum mixture and continue to cook for 5-7 more minutes.
7. Transfer to a deep, large baking sheet (11x16) and spread evenly using the back of a metal spoon. Sprinkle with pistachios and remaining almonds, and use the spoon to embed the nuts into the mixture.
8. Cool to room temperature and then cut into 64pieces using a pizza cutter. Store in fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer for several months.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Three Vegetable and Potato Curry

Although I’ve featured over one hundred recipes on this blog, this is one of the few that resembles what I grew up eating for dinner on a regular basis. In Gujarati Ismaili cuisine, there are two basic types of curry – a brown curry made with onions and tomatoes that features meat and a red curry made with tomatoes only that features vegetables. Of course, there are many dishes that don’t fit into this nomenclature including the coconut chicken curry and others that are actually inspired by the Swahili people of the East African coast, and not an adaptation of Gujarati food from India.

One of the key features of Indian cooking is what I grew up calling vagaar (but is more commonly known as chhaunk or tadka in the rest of South Asia) which refers to the ‘tempering’ of spices. This involves frying whole spices in oil or ghee to release essential oils that result in a more flavourful dish. The process is also said to aid in digestion and release the healing powers of spices such as carotene found in curry leaves. In this recipe, the vagaar is made at the beginning and tomatoes and other spices are added to the vagaar to form a paste. In other recipes, a vagaar is added at the end to a cooked dish such as a lentil or stew.

This technique is common in other types of cooking as well. To cook vegetables or meat, we often temper garlic and/or onions in oil or butter before adding the main ingredient. Does anyone know if the vagaar technique diffused to Europe and North America or if it developed independently in the West?

Serves 4-6

3/4 lb red potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (preferably canola)
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
pinch cumin seeds
5 curry leaves (optional)
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon garlic, paste or finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon hot chilli powder (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2/3 lb French beans or string beans, ends removed, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 lb small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup peas (frozen is acceptable)
1/2 cup water
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed and finely chopped
Serve with flatbread (rice, chapatis, parathas, puris, tortillas, wraps or whole wheat Pita)
Serve with lime pickle (optional)

1. Boil potatoes until almost cooked. Cool to room temperature. Can be done a day in advance but make sure potatoes are at room temperature for this recipe.
2. In a large pot, heat oil on medium. Add mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves. When mustard seeds pop, add the next nine ingredients (tomatoes and spices). Cook for 3-4 minutes – until you have a rich red puree [see above photo].
3. Add in the beans and cook for 2-3 minutes. Then add eggplant and 1/2 cilantro and continue to cook until all vegetables are just tender.
4. Add cooked potatoes, peas and water (to provide the consistency you prefer). Cook for 1-2 minutes until warm. Garnish with remaining cilantro and serve.
5. This curry is best eaten with flatbread. Click here to find out the technique. Also, serve with some type of spicy pickle. I recommend Patak’s lime pickle, which is divine. The curry can be eaten for up to 5 days, and often tastes better on the second or third day.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated the one year anniversary of my friends Josh and Claire. A group of us had been at their wedding last summer in Italy, and we decided to gather in Chicago to mark the occasion. We were hosted by our Italian friends Francesca and Giorgio who made a delicious Kosher and celiac-friendly meal (in respect of Josh’s dietary restrictions) which included grilled eggplant and beef-wrapped cheese as appetizers, pesto and béchamel sauce lasagna (and a gluten free pesto lasagna), pomegranate and orange salad and poached pears. I made a modest contribution of orange chocolate mousse and flourless peanut butter cookies.

You might wonder what inspired this unusual constellation of desserts. Well, while I was in Chicago I received an unexpected gift from my friend Lisa. Last March she read my post about the messiness of using natural peanut butter in making peanut butter cookies. Ever thoughtful, she found and purchased a no-mess natural peanut butter stirrer for me (image below). This act of kindness and Josh’s allergy inspired this recipe, which I hope will thrill celiacs and non-celiacs alike.
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a medium bowl, mix peanut butter, sugar and vanilla. Add egg and mix well.
3. Drop by heaping teaspoons on an ungreased cookie sheet. Use the back of a fork to flatten the ball and create a pattern of fork tines. Press the fork again, this time creating a perpendicular pattern.
4. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes – until the tops of the cookies are just dry. Watch closely as cookies will burn if baked too long. Remove to a cooking rack as soon as possible.
5. These cookies are delicate so refrigerate overnight and serve cold.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Honey Cake

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, took place on Monday and Tuesday of this week. It commemorates the creation of man as described in the Old Testament, and marks the beginning of ten days of repentance that concludes with Yom Kippur. These days are known as the High Holidays or Yamim Noraim (translated as the Days of Awe). Most Jewish communities observe Rosh Hashanah on two consecutive days due to the difficulty of determining the date of the new moon, and some say this is supposed to constitute one long day. The traditional Hebrew greeting is leshana tova, meaning “have a good new year”.

Rosh Hashanah service includes a number of special prayers and religious poems. In addition, the shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown during the holiday to awake people from their “slumber” and alert them to the coming judgement. During the afternoon of the first day, prayers are recited near naturally flowing water to cast off one's sins. This practice is called tashlikh and may be accompanied by throwing bread or pebbles into the water as a physical manifestation of those sins.

The Rosh Hashanah meal include apples and honey to symbolize a sweet New Year. This is a late medieval Ashkenazi tradition though it is now almost universally accepted. A round challah bread (as opposed to the traditional braided style) is served to symbolize the cycle of the New Year. Other traditional foods include dates, spinach, leeks, gourds, black-eyed beans, and pomegranates – all of which are mentioned in the Talmud. In addition, meat from the head of an animal (such as tongue or cheek) may be served to symbolize the “head” of the New Year.

When I lived in Boston, my friends Karen and Matt would have me over for dinner on Rosh Hashanah. This Monday, my boyfriend and I went to a service at a reconstructionist congregation, followed the next day with dinner at his aunt and uncle's house. For my contribution to the meal, I made this incredibly moist honey cake, adapted from a recipe by Marcy Goldman. It was a hit! The cake only dirties one bowl and it’s dairy free for those of you who have dietary restrictions.

Leshana tova!

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 eggs , lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
3/4 cup warm coffee or strong black tea
1/2 cup orange juice

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease and flour a 10-inch Bundt pan.
3. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and salt. Mix well.
4. Make a well in the center and add remaining ingredients. Use an electric mixer to completely blend the batter, making sure no ingredients are stuck to the bottom or sides.
5. Pour batter into baking pan, and place pan on a cookie sheet. Bake for 60-75 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean. This is a very moist batter so it may take even longer to fully bake.
6. Let cool for 20 minutes before removing cake. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving.