Karanjis

Karanji final

MERRY CHRISTMAS, readers! I am sure many Indian homes have Karanjis during this time of the year. They are a popular Maharashtrian sweet, but other regions in India also make them. Most often, the filling is made from dry coconut (copra), and the pastry shell is made from all purpose flour, ghee (clarified butter), and salt. You can buy ghee at any Indian grocery store. Many families have their own variation of this Christmas treat.

But, in my view, nothing came close to the karanjis made by my little sister, Sonia Poddar. They were the best I had ever tasted! They melted in my mouth. The shell was flaky, crisp, and crunchy, and the freshly grated coconut filling had just the right amount of sweetness. I asked her if I could share her recipe with you, and she graciously agreed. Thank you, Sonia.

Since these karanjis are made with fresh coconut, they are meant to be eaten soon after you make them. The recipe below will make about 20 small karanjis. If you want the karanjis to last longer, then dry roast the freshly grated coconut over medium heat until the water in the flakes of coconut evaporate, and they turn light brown, and smell fragrant.

Karanjis

For the pastry shell
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons ghee
¼ teaspoon salt
Warm water
Oil for deep frying

Rub ghee into the flour until the mixture is crumbly. Add warm water to make a smooth dough; approximately 1/3 cup of water. Cover the dough with a damp towel, and let it rest for 20-30 minutes.

For the filling
1 cup freshly grated coconut
1 cup sugar
1 cup finely chopped nuts (cashew and almond)
¼ cup golden raisins
¼ teaspoon cardamom powder
1 teaspoon poppy seeds (khus khus)

Roast poppy seeds in a small pan over low heat for one minute. Put all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and set aside.

Divide the dough into 20 equal sized portions and roll them into balls. Keep them covered with a wet towel so they do not dry out. Roll them into thin circles. Wet the edge of the circle with water. Put one teaspoon of the filling in the center. Gently fold over the filling to make a semi circle. Press the edge well, with your finger tips to seal. Trim the edge with a pastry cutter or karanji cutter. This will also help seal the edge of the karanji. Keep the karanjis in a tray, and cover them with a damp paper towel to keep them moist until you are ready to fry them.

Place a heavy bottomed wok (kadai) over medium-high heat, and pour oil to a depth of about five inches. Fry a few karanjis at a time until they turn light brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

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Almond Brittle

Almond Brittle2

Happy Holidays to all my readers! Christmas is seven days away, and I’ve been busy in the kitchen making doughnuts, namkeen (Indian salty crackers), coconut ice candy, and my all-time favorite – almond brittle.

I’ve been making almond brittle for my friends during Christmas for years, so I thought I would share the recipe with you. But, before I do, let me tell you about the person who first taught me how to make almond brittle.

Sarojini Raj is her name, but to me she will always be “akka”, which in Tamil means respected and cherished older sister. I learnt so much from her. I learnt about unconditional love, and giving without expecting anything in return. I watched her manage her time efficiently. She kept an impeccable home while working full time, cooking three meals a day, and the list goes on and on. Thank you, akka, for your love, and for being such an amazing role model to me.

Almond Brittle (slightly revised)

½ stick butter (4 tablespoons), room temperature
¾ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup slivered almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.

Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add butter (make sure it is at room temperature), sugar and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon until the butter, sugar and salt are well incorporated, and then add almonds and sesame seeds. Turn heat up to medium-high.

This is the point where you have to pay close attention, and keep stirring constantly. When the almonds and sugar begin to brown, and turn to a light caramel color, and you see the melted butter separate from the rest of the mixture, turn off the heat. Very carefully, pour the mixture onto the foil lined baking sheet. Spread to a thin, even layer with the back of the wooden spoon. Let the almond brittle cool completely before you snap them into pieces.

Store in an airtight container. Or, put them in little bags or boxes, as shown in the picture, and share them with your friends. They make delectable little gifts for Christmas.

Medu Vada

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Medu vadais are one of my favorite tea-time snacks, but I cannot say that I am an expert at making them. However, I don’t give up easily and I think I’ve finally found the secret of making crisp on the outside, and light, and fluffy on the inside, medu vadais. As I’ve mentioned in the recipe, you have to beat the batter until it is the right consistency. You can test if the batter is ready by dropping a small dollop into a bowl of water.  If it floats, then the batter is ready.  If not, beat the batter a little more and test again.

In the picture the medu vadais I’ve made are smaller in size because I wanted to use them as a tea-time snack. If you would like to use them for breakfast or as a side dish then you may wish to make them larger in size. This recipe is not for the faint of heart. But try it out, and I am sure you will succeed. The end result are crisp, light, flavorful medu vadais so don’t give up.

Medu Vada

1 cup whole black lentils (urad dal)
1 teaspoon crushed black pepper
½ cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons finely chopped curry leaves
2 teaspoons finely chopped green chillies
2 teaspoons finely chopped cilantro
A pinch of asafoetida
Salt to taste
Oil for deep frying

Roast and powder
1 tablespoon black lentils (urad dal)
1 teaspoon uncooked rice

Soak the 1 cup black lentils in water, overnight. Roast one tablespoon of black lentils and one teaspoon of uncooked rice until fragrant and lightly colored. Cool completely and powder in a coffee grinder.

Drain the lentils that were soaked in water, and grind in a bender adding about two tablespoons of water. Do this in two batches scrapping down to make sure all the lentils become a smooth thick batter. Put the batter into a large bowl and fold in the roasted lentil and rice power. Beat the batter well with a spatula until light. To test if the batter us ready, drop a tiny amount into a small bowl of water if it floats the batter is ready. However, if the batter sinks you will need to beat the batter a little more.

Heat a wok over medium-high heat and add oil for deep frying. Dip your fingers in a small bowl of water. Take a heaping tablespoon of the batter and roll it into a ball. Make a hole in the center with your thumb. It should look like a small doughnut. Gently slide it into the oil.

Turn the medu vadais when the edges turn golden. Fry both sides. Drain on paper towels. Serve vadais with your favorite chutney.

Meen Pattichathu (Kerala Style Tilapia with Coconut)

MeenThis is a typical Kerala delicacy, but done my way. Meen Pattichathu is a coconut based, tangy, fish dish that is cooked in a clay pot. It does not have gravy and the pieces of fish are wrapped with crushed grated coconut, chillies, ginger, garlic, curry leaves, and cilantro. If I was back home in India, I would use a grinding stone to crush all the ingredients, but I am using a food processor to do the same. Crushing the ingredients in the food processor infuses the flavor of the chillies, and ginger into the grated coconut. So about five or six short pulses in the food processor will do the job.

I know a lot of readers will want to know about the Malabar tamarind (puli). The botanical name for this ingredient is Garcinia Cambogia. If I am wrong, I will definitely hear from my brother, the botany expert in the family! If you cannot find this ingredient, you can substitute it by using tamarind. It will, however, compromise the flavor of the dish. Malabar tamarind is used to add sourness to the Meen Pattichathu, and then it is discarded before serving the dish. In the picture, you will see Malabar tamarind.

Once in two years, I visit my family in India. My sister-in-law, Lissie Ammama, faithfully gives me a stash of puli to bring back with me to the U.S. Thanks, Lissie Ammama, for all the years you’ve shared puli with me. Needless to say, I think of you when I make Meen Pattichathu.

I hope you will try this dish, and send me your comments.

Meen Pattichathu

2 lbs Tilapia, cut into one inch pieces
3 cups grated coconut, fresh or frozen (12 oz)
5 dry red chillies, broken in halves
2 tablespoons finely diced ginger
10 green chillies, slit in halves (adjust the # of chillies to your taste)
2 tablespoons finely diced garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 sprigs of curry leaves
3 pieces Malabar tamarind (kudum puli in Malayalam), washed and soaked in warm water
¼ cup finely chopped shallots
Salt to taste
¼ cup coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ cup finely chopped coriander

Add fresh coconut, dry chillies, ginger and green chillies into a blender or food processor and crush. Five or six pulses in a food processor will crush the ingredients. Mix the crushed ingredients, garlic, turmeric, one sprig of curry leaves, Malabar tamarind, which is torn into small segments, half the shallots, fish, two tablespoons oil and salt. Add water so it comes up to the level of the mixture in the pan. Cook on medium-high heat for ten minutes and then turn the heat to low. Cook until the water in the pan evaporates, tilting the pan once in a while to make sure that the fish and coconut are not sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Heat two tablespoons of coconut oil in a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Add mustard seeds and when they sputter add the remaining shallots. When the shallots turn light brown add the sprig of curry leaves, and cilantro. Remove from heat and pour over the Meen Pattichathu. Cover and let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. This dish tastes best the next day when the tartness from the kudum puli permeates the fish.