I may be the only expat in Delhi who doesn’t miss supermarkets although I confess it took a little while to adjust. There was the initial shock of not being able to do all my food shopping in one place—how was I supposed to get dinner on the table without a Tesco Metro on the corner? But slowly I began to appreciate a return to a more traditional way of shopping for food.
Most British people can’t even remember a time when there was a greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and baker on every high street—all the interesting small shops have been wiped out by the rampaging supermarket chains. Street markets too are a thing of the past; it’s now virtually impossible to shop anywhere but supermarkets. By contrast, it was a joy to find that in India every neighbourhood still has daily fresh fruit and vegetable markets, dairies, bakeries, spice markets and fish stalls.
At home an obsession with “choice” means fruit and vegetables are flown thousands of miles so that we can have tomatoes in winter and parsnips in summer. We’ve forgotten that strawberries are best in June and that asparagus has a tantalisingly short season. We’ve lost the simple joy of eating a perfect pear picked at the right time.
In Delhi, my fruit and vegetables arrive by horse and cart, often picked on a local farm that morning; lauki telling me it’s monsoon time, spinach that it’s winter, mangoes that there is some compensation for the scorching May temperatures.
I had an opportunity to marvel again at India’s food diversity while sourcing ingredients for this week’s Mint recipe. In a moment of nostalgia, I wanted to try and recreate an old childhood favourite, the Fox’s Ginger Cream. It was (still is, perhaps) a biscuit that’s greater than the sum of its parts—two ginger nuts sandwiched together with a creamy filling—and there was an illicit pleasure involved in pulling apart the biscuits and licking out the creamy layer. I decided to experiment with khoya for the filling and, on a whim, to track down the khoya at its source because, well, because in India you still can.
I think I may have been a milk-maid in a previous life – a gopi maybe? I love all things dairy and believe ‘semi-skimmed’ to be one of the most depressing phrases in the English language. I grew up on Horlicks and macaroni cheese and it’s habit I’m in no hurry to shed.
In India my dairy repertoire expanded substantially with lassis, paneer, mishti doi, chhach (buttermilk) and a mind-boggling variety of sweet treats based on ‘khoya’.
Khoya is essentially milk which has been boiled to remove the liquid, leaving behind milk solids. There are three categories of khoya, graded according to how much liquid had been removed. The softest, dhapa, is used for making Gulab Jamuns; danedar is a little firmer and used for things like milk cake; the firmest, pindi is formed into cheese-like ‘bricks’ and used to make burfi sweets.
A dusty rickshaw ride from old Delhi railway station, the Khoya Mandir at Mori Gate is the wholesale auction site for the tons of milk solids which arrive every day from surrounding states. When I arrived mid-morning, trading was already in full swing and the air was thick with a milky, dairy-parlour sweetness. The khoya “cakes”, similar in shape and size to small Cheddar cheeses, arrive from the villages wrapped in beautiful saris and dupattas, carefully unveiled for prospective buyers to inspect.
I decided on the pindi (the trader asked if I was a Halwai!) and was presented with one kilo of beautifully-moulded khoya. I’d foraged and found – and not a scrap of shrink-wrap in sight.
It was a shame to cut up the beautiful little cake to make the filling but I think the khoya was just what these all grown-up- and-living-in-India biscuits were looking for.
Ginger Khoya Creams
This is a recipe for a traditional ginger-nut biscuit, the type that spreads flat during baking and emerges with a crackled top. They should be crisp, perhaps a little chewy in the middle, but during the current humid weather, they are prone to soften quite quickly.
150g plain flour (maida)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
3 tsp ground ginger powder
50g salted butter, softened
125g soft brown sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1 egg, beaten
200g crumbled pindikhoya
25g caster sugar (or to taste)
1 tsp ginger powder
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celsius. Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and ginger.
In another bowl, mix together the butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and egg. Beat well with a hand-held mixer until soft and light.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until you have a soft, fairly sticky dough.
Take small pieces of the dough and shape into small balls about the size of a jamun—no bigger, you want the finished biscuit to be about 2 inches in diameter. Place the balls on the baking tray, well spaced—the biscuits will spread more than you think.
Bake for about 20 minutes but check them after 15. If your oven is the kind that heats from underneath, be extra careful not to burn the bottom of the biscuits.
When ready, put the biscuits on to a wire rack where they will continue to cook and crisp up.
While the biscuits are cooling, beat together the khoya, sugar, cream and ginger powder until smooth and spreadable. Take a teaspoonful of cream to sandwich together two biscuits.
I dare you not to lick out the cream first.