An recent, unexpected, quiet weekend at home was a perfect opportunity to take some time to experiment with North India’s leafy green winter vegetables. Recipe: Mustard Leaf (sarson) Pancakes Continue reading
This is my version of the much-loved Mumbai Mawa Cakes, first appeared in Mint Lounge on Saturday 22nd November…
I haven’t spent nearly enough time in Mumbai, a fact that was brought home to me yet again this week when I visited the kitschy-cute “Bombay food” restaurant SodaBottleOpener-Wala in Khan Market in New Delhi and cursed the fact that I have never visited a real Irani café. I probably need to get my skates on—Mumbai’s Irani cafés, complete with Victorian tiled flooring, eccentric signage and evocatively named dishes are fast disappearing. The most recent, much lamented closure was of B Merwan and Co., the 100-year-old bakery that claims to have invented the mawa cake back in the early 20th century. Mawa cake: two words which, I gather, can reduce a homesick Mumbaikar to tears, and I’m not surprised, if the SodaBottleOpenerWala’s version is anything to go by. I’ve heard that B Merwan’s mawa cakes were so popular that the shop in Mumbai regularly sold out before 7.30am every day. It looks like the plainest of sponge cakes but looks, as we know, can be deceiving. Beyond that unprepossessing exterior, thanks to the addition of mawa, or khoya, lies a rich, milky, buttery heart as well as a hint of cardamom. Extraordinary how the smallest changes to a basic recipe (in this case a classic sponge cake, presumably brought to India by the British) can transform it into something completely different. Mawa is one of those Indian ingredients that is a complete mystery to most foreigners, and I was relieved I only had to pop round to the local dairy to buy some. Or so I thought. The dairy had run out so I was obliged to make my own and stand over a simmering pan of milk for about 2 hours. I’ve tinkered slightly with the look of the cakes by baking them in a madeleine mould (although the sponge is very different from that of a madeleine). I make no claims to authenticity here, I’ve just retraced what I assume was the mawa cake’s own journey—an Indianized British sponge cake. With or without the madeleine makeover, though, memories of every milky treat you’ve ever loved will come flooding back with every bite—burfi, Milkybar, Old Delhi’s extraordinary winter treat, daulat ki chaat, or a puddle of evaporated milk on childhood fruit salad.
For the ‘mawa’:
1 litre full-cream milk
For the madeleines:
150g all-purpose flour (maida)
1 tsp baking powder
Seeds of 4 green cardamoms, finely ground
100g caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Grease a madeleine mould with melted butter or line a muffin tray with small cake cases. If you need to make the mawa, you will need to think ahead as the process takes up to 2 hours. Put the milk into a large, heavy bottomed pan and slowly bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and let the milk simmer gently. Stir regularly to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan and burn. Eventually the milk will darken slightly in colour and thicken. Once it resembles the thickness of porridge, don’t take your eye off it—stir continuously until all the liquid has evaporated and you’re left with about 150g mawa. This can then be stored for a few days in the fridge or months in the freezer. Bring it to room temperature before you use it to make mawa cakes.
When you are ready to make the cakes, preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Sift together the flour, baking powder and ground cardamom in a large bowl. Put the mawa, butter and caster sugar in another bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, beating well to incorporate them into the mixture. Mix in the flour mixture and enough milk to make a mixture that drops off a spoon banged on the side of the bowl. Divide the mixture into madeleine moulds or cake cases. Bake the cakes for about 10-15 minutes, until they are lightly browned on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. They are perfect fresh and warm from the oven with, what else—a glass of milk.
You’re probably all desperately scratching your heads for Diwali presents. Look no further….here are all the many ways you can buy Korma, Kheer and Kismet – no matter where you are!
The physical book is not yet available in bookshops outside India but you can order it online and have it delivered by Abe Books either here or here. And because hardbacks are comparatively cheap in India, even with the postage costs, the book will still be cheaper than a hardback you buy in bookshops in, for instance, the UK
Outside India, it is also available on Amazon Kindle
So finally Korma, Kheer and Kismet – the product of years of joy (in Old Delhi) and heartbreak (at my desk) – is here. Although I still can’t quite believe it and do a double take every time I see it in a shop – my little book out there trying to make its way in the world.
The response to the book so far has been incredibly cheering, particularly in Old Delhi itself. As soon as I got back from my holiday in Scotland I went straight there to give copies to the vendors who feature in it.
First stop was Bade Mian’s shop in Lal Kuan.
The Siddique family’s kheer shop is a stone’s throw from the Chawri Bazaar metro and I always start any Old Delhi jaunt there – sitting at one of the tables at the back with a cup of chai and a tiny square metal plate of kheer. Jamaluddin is a wonderful character who is always ready with a colourful story – many of which I can’t understand because he seems to speak in Urdu rhyming couplets.
Old Delhi in July is not everyone’s idea of fun. In fact, most people would probably say that Old Delhi in the middle of a north Indian summer is the last place they’d want to be. When the temperatures are pushing 50ºC and monsoon humidity is looming,there is a huge temptation to simply find the coolest spot possible and not move if you can avoid it. But sometimes I feel the need to shake my fist at the iphone weather app and head into Old Delhi. Not least because I know there will be something great to eat and that always improves the mood – whatever the weather. A couple of weeks ago, I did just that and stumbled on a wonderful egg parantha stall on the corner of Naya Bans and Katra Bariyan. I must have walked past it a thousand times because Khan Omlet Corner is no newcomer. The Khans’ stall is hugely popular little eatery at breakfast time when the Naya Bans morning market is full swing. The breads are crisp, the spiced egg filling has just the right amount of green chilli and coriander to kickstart the day and the mango pickle on the side sets the whole thing alight. There’s even a little shady ledge to sit on to get out of the sun and watch the market commotion. I returned exhausted and sweaty but well fed, triumphant at having conquered the weather and ready to take on the world again. Get your weekend off to a great start with the Khans’ wonderful egg paranthe. You won’t regret it. Having said all that I’m off to cooler climes for a couple of weeks to see family in London and Edinburgh. We’ll also have some time in Corfu so brace yourselves for Instagrams of blue seas and cold beer. By the time I get back at the beginning of August, the monsoon will be in full swing and I’ll be itching to get back into Old Delhi for all the food that tastes so good in the rainy weather – jalebis, pakore, samose and ghewar – and a visit to Ram Swarup which for some reason I always associated with puddles.
For the past few weeks, it has been blistering hot here in New Delhi. Step outside and you feel as if your eyeballs are melting, retreat inside and the air conditioning is wilting and the water from the cold tap is hot enough to scald you. To make matters worse, someone has devised a smartphone app which tells you not just that you are suffering in 43-degree heat, but that it actually feels like 50 degrees. Although, on the plus side, there is lots of fun to be had frying eggs on the bonnet of your car. Anyone who can has bolted to the hills or Europe to cool down. We had a big birthday to celebrate in our family last week—one with “0” in it—so we decided to scoop up our nearest and dearest and spend a long weekend at the wonderful Sitla Estate in Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand. We sat under the apricot trees and watched the sun go down over the slopes. We drank to longevity, devoured mulberry crumble and slept like babies in the cool mountain air. Too soon, though, we were on our way home—and there’s nothing more dispiriting than a 10-hour, bum-numbing drive with the prospect of only searing heat and dodgy air conditioners at the end of it. But for me the journey home was made bearable by the hundreds of roadside stalls selling freshly picked soft fruit, and I drifted off into a reverie of recipes involving peaches, plums and apricots. We stopped at a long row of stalls to try the fruit, first choosing a particularly voluptuous display of peaches. The vendor cut off a slice and handed it over. I put it in my mouth, expecting an explosion of soft, sweet flesh, but the vendor had sprinkled the perfectly ripe fruit with a liberal amount of salt and with a single bite my reverie was over. I’ve often said that a certain amount of sharpness in fruit is best for baking but salty fruit? I don’t think it will catch on. Once I had recovered from the salt attack, I bought vast amounts of peaches, apricots and plums, and their beautiful aroma sustained me for most of the journey home. The peaches were the most ripe and delicate so they were eaten quickly raw and in a cobbler, but the apricots and plums have kept very well in the fridge so I have been able to savour them in a variety of dishes. I made compotes and fools with the apricots and the plums have nearly disappeared in various attempts to make a good dessert with them. I wanted to turn them into a dessert similar to clafoutis called flaugnarde from the Auvergne, Limousin and Périgord regions of France (strictly speaking, and the French are always quite strict about these things, this dessert can only be called a clafoutis if it is made with cherries, with all other fruits it’s called a flaugnarde). But the first couple of attempts weren’t sweet enough—baking the plums seemed to enhance their sharpness. So I have upped the sugar quantities and rounded out the sharpness with some ground almonds and orange flower water, just enough to showcase the beautiful plums. The result is a perfect, quick, summer dessert. Plums on toast, the recipe for which comes from a 1950s Elizabeth David book, French Country Cooking, is more of a snack than a dessert. But what a snack—simple and quick, and so much more than the sum of its parts. It makes the perfect solitary elevenses, I discovered, along with some beautiful mint tea made from hand-stitched tea bags I had also brought back from Sitla. For a moment, the roar of the ACs subsided and I was almost back in the hills.
Plum, Almond and Orange Flower Flaugnarde
400g plums, halved, stones removed and each half cut into three 4 eggs 125g sugar 450ml milk 50g flour 25g ground almonds 2 tsp orange flower water A handful of flaked almonds Method Butter a 10-inch baking dish. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Put the eggs, sugar, milk, flour, ground almonds and orange flower water in a bowl and whisk until completely smooth. Put half of the plum slices at the bottom of the baking dish and pour over the batter. Bake for 20 minutes until the flaugnarde is puffed up and golden. Take the flaugnarde out of the oven and arrange the remaining plum slices over the top, sprinkle on the flaked almonds. Bake for 5-10 minutes—the plums on top should be soft and the flaked almonds lightly toasted. I prefer this warm or at room temperature but it’s also good cold from the fridge.
Plums on Toast
Serves 1 (I can’t urge you strongly enough to try this. You could serve it as a rustic dessert but I prefer it as a solitary treat.)
2 slices of good-quality fresh white bread, crusts on—for a more indulgent version, use fresh brioche Soft butter (unsalted tastes best here),50-75g 4 plums, halved and stones removed Brown sugar, 50-75g Method Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Butter an ovenproof baking dish large enough to hold the slices of bread. Butter the slices of bread thickly on one side. Arrange four halves of plum on each slice, cut side up. Put a little butter and sugar into each half plum and put the slices into the baking dish. Cover the slices with butter paper and put the dish into the oven near the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, by which time the bread will be golden and crisp and flavoured with delicious buttery, sugary, plummy juices.
The world’s biggest ever democratic election got underway here this week and, as always in India, the numbers are staggering. Over 800 million people are eligible to vote in 9 phases between now and 12th May (there will be 6 days of voting in UP and Bihar alone); 543 seats will be contested; there are 930,000 polling stations equipped with 1.4 million electronic voting machines and 11 million personnel have been deployed to keep the whole show on the road. The Indian media and Twitter, needless to say, are in a frenzy trying to predict the outcome. Will Congress and the Gandhi dynasty cling onto power or will the right wing BJP sweep in? In most Delhi neighbourhoods the last few weeks of campaigning ahead of voting on Thursday have been, to put it mildly, boisterous. We happen to live right next to one of the Aam Admi (‘common man’) Party’s offices and getting any peace and quiet to work has been virtually impossible.
In comparison, Old Delhi at dawn today was blissfully quiet. I arrived with a friend just as it was getting light and the city was starting to come to life. I think this might be my favourite time, in my favourite place, when the craziness of the day is still to come and people are taking a little time for themselves. We wandered mainly around the Jama Masjid area where many were waking up on the pavement, the seat of a rickshaw or at one of the many open air charpoy (rope bed) ‘guest houses.’ The chai and omelette sandwich-wallahs were doing a roaring trade. Some early birds were already out selling fruit, vegetables and buckets of meat.
We probably saw more men in their baggy underwear than was strictly necessary but watching a young barber set up his stall in the shadow of the Jama Masjid was sight for sore eyes. We climbed onto the roof of the Haji Hotel and marvelled at the (rare) blue sky behind the mosque. We had a quiet cuppa in Haveli Azam Khan, stocked up on rusks and biscuits at the Diamond Bakery and were back home in time for breakfast and a full day of campaigning.
Anyway here are a few non-election snaps…
So it’s Mother’s Day tomorrow—well, it is in Britain and much of Europe. To be more accurate, though, tomorrow is Mothering Sunday—a Christian celebration that is always on the fourth Sunday of Lent; the date changes every year according to when Easter falls. Churches hold special services on the theme of maternal love and the reading for the day is often from Galatians: “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the Mother of us all.” The name dates back to times when people, often domestic servants, were given a day off to return to their “Mother”, or home church. As the workers walked along the country lanes from the big house to their village, they would pick flowers for their mothers—hence the later custom of giving presents.
I confess that I always assumed American Mother’s Day, which is celebrated in May, was devised purely as a way of boosting the profits of gift galleries Hallmark and Archies. How wrong I was. It actually appeared in the early 1900s when a woman named Anna Jarvis set up the day in memory of her own mother, Ann Jarvis, the founder of the “Mother’s Friendship Day” which aimed to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.
Anna Jarvis, though, deplored what Mother’s Day became even during her lifetime and in 1948 was arrested for disturbing the peace while protesting its commercialization. “A printed card means nothing,” she once said, “except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world.” Before she died she said she wished she “had never started the day because it became so out of control”. She must be turning in her grave at the 21st century Mother’s Day. In the US alone, around $2.6 billion (around Rs.15,860 crore) is usually spent on flowers, $1.5 billion on gifts, $68 million on greeting cards.
Mother’s Day was also once known as Refreshment Sunday because Christians were allowed a break from the 40-day Lenten fast and baking has always been part of that tradition. Young servant girls often made a simnel cake to take home to their mothers and some English bakeries still sell mothering buns—a sweet yeasted cake covered in icing and coloured sprinkles. Whenever you celebrate Mother’s Day or Mothering Sunday, you can’t go wrong with the gift of a home-made cake, surely one of the greatest expressions of love and appreciation.
My recipes today honour the two best mothers who ever lived, my husband’s and mine. My mother and mother-in-law never met. Oddly, the two recipes I often associate with them involve more or less the same ingredients but produce very different cakes. My mother Margaret’s is a simple traybake which we loved as children, an intense hit of chocolate and coconut. Brenda’s is a much-loved family cake that she always made for birthdays, and my husband thinks it was probably the first cake she ever learnt to make. I hadn’t made either for years and I have tweaked them slightly to take out some of the worst of the 1970s (margarine!).
For the cake I used fresh coconut instead of dried, but I think Brenda would have approved. The cakes brought back many fond memories for us all. As my son said, “that cake is fantastic. Just one mouthful is instant nostalgia.” I think Margaret, Brenda and Anna would all have been happy with that.
Margaret’s Chocolate Coconut Squares
Makes 12 squares
100g plain chocolate
50g soft butter
100g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
113g desiccated coconut
Line a tin—about 17cm square—with foil. Bring a pan quarter-full of water to a gentle simmer. Break the chocolate into a glass bowl and sit this over the pan (but not touching the water) until it melts. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the foil-lined tin and place in the fridge to set.
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Beat together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy, then beat in the egg. Stir in the coconut and spread this mixture over the set chocolate. Bake for about 15 minutes until the surface is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before slicing into squares.
Brenda’s Chocolate Coconut Cake
175g caster sugar
175g soft unsalted butter (Brenda, and most bakers of the day, of course, used margarine)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
175g plain flour, sieved with
1 tsp baking powder
100g fresh, grated coconut (Brenda used desiccated but the fresh does make the cake more moist)
2 tbsp coconut milk (my addition, again in the interests of moistness)
150-200g milk chocolate (depending on how chocolatey you want the cake)
2 tbsp of coconut, lightly toasted
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Grease a ring tin (Brenda used a loaf tin, but the ring version gives you a bit more chocolate per mouthful).
In a large bowl beat together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually beat in the eggs. Gently fold in the flour, add the coconut milk and fresh coconut and mix well. Spoon the mixture into the tin and even out the surface a little. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cake is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave the cake to cool slightly, then turn out on to a rack to cool completely.
Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of water as above, then spread evenly over the surface of the cake. Sprinkle with a little toasted coconut.
One of the never-ending delights of walking in Old Delhi is coming across the tiny markets within markets, the little lanes devoted to one commodity. This winter I discovered a market tucked away in Kothi Shri Mandir near the Khari Baoli spice market and devoted almost entirely to Chikki – a type of nut brittle made from jaggery in the winter months.
Kothi Shri Mandir is so narrow there is hardly any daylight and it almost feels like walking through a secret underground passageway where your path is lit on either side by piles of magical sugar.
There’s chikki everywhere you look made from sesame (also called gajak), peanuts, cashews even dried rose petals which come in all shapes and sizes – bars, rolls, discs, slabs, golf balls, tiny coin-sized pieces and hearts.
This is my favourite shop, Lal Chand Rewri Wale – beautiful fresh chikki and I love the way the owner is practically wearing his merchandise.
There are also some namkeen shops in the street like Pappu Caterers who sell everything you could possibly wish for to put a bit of crunch into your chaat – the spinach matri was particularly good.
You can see the chikki being made in some of the shops – these guys are pounding slabs of sesame and jaggery
The gali is also home to some excellent snacks. The Bombay Sandwich wallah often makes a stop here and there is a chana puri stall doing a roaring trade on the corner of Kothi Shri Mandir. But my new favourite chaat is made by the Guptas who told me they had been in the gali for 45 years – verified by a happy customer who said he’d been visiting their stall for over 40. They run a hugely popular, very spic and span cart from which father and son dish up all kinds of fresh and flavoursome chaat.
Finally, on the corner of Gali Batashan and Khari Baoli there is a seasonal vegetable stall – look at all these gorgeous black carrots, fresh green chick peas, star fruit, sweetcorn, lotus roots and fresh turmeric…
Gali Batashan runs between Khari Baoli and Naya Bans. If you’re coming from Khari Baoli, Kothi Shri Mandir, where you’ll find all the chikki wallahs, is the last turning on the left before reaching Naya Bans. Gupta Chaat wallah is on the left of Gali Batashan before you turn into Kothi Shri Mandir. Here’s a map of the exact locations. Go soon, though, the hot weather is on its way!