Locavores and a Recipe for Carrot Halwa Muffins

 

One of my resolutions for 2011 is to join the “locavores”, an international foodie movement urging people to eat food produced “within a leisurely day’s drive of home”. The unpredictable nature of road travel in India notwithstanding, I’m willing to do my bit to reduce the environmental impact of our increasingly globalized food industry; pledging to eat more seasonally and locally and cut out obscenely priced imports.

In the US and Europe, locavorism has led to an upsurge in farmers’ markets, and even supermarket giants urging customers to “buy local”. Here, in India, most people have never been anything but locavores, relying on the local sabziwallah to bring whatever is picked on the farm that morning, but I have noticed a creeping trend towards winter mangoes and year-round salad.

For a slide show on how to make muffins Click here

The science and politics of it all are endlessly debatable but eating local food feels right to me. Beans and peas that arrive on the ghoda gaadi (horse cart) in my neighbourhood every day look and taste far better than those which have been on a dusty truck from Bangalore or a fuel-guzzling plane from Kenya.

I’m kicking off today by turning the beautiful red desi carrots which are in season right now, into these magnificent muffins, using everyone’s winter favourite, gajar ka halwa (carrot halwa).

The process for making muffins differs from other sponge cakes in the mixing of ingredients. Whereas a cupcake is generally made by first creaming the sugar and butter, muffins require the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients to be mixed separately before gently folding the two mixtures together. The most important thing to remember when making muffins is not to over-mix, stir only until you can’t see the flour. The batter should look fairly lumpy when it goes into the oven—this is what keeps the muffins light. If you want to skip the egg, just add a little more milk.

The result here is a rich, spicy, creamy marvel; locavore-ish without an ounce of holier-than-thou preachiness. The muffins hint at carrot cake but the halwa gives them a tantalizing and mysterious depth. The carrots are local; I’ve used oil and milk rather than my usual imported unsalted butter and the kwark (Dutch curd cheese) in the icing which is from the innovative Flanders Dairy outside Delhi. Baby steps, I admit—I’m not milling my own flour just yet and this week’s adventure in butter churning was a fiasco—but a start.

Muffins need to be eaten on the day you make them, ideally still a little warm. I can’t think of a good reason not to eat a whole batch of these muffins at one sitting but if you do, freeze them, un-iced, until you need them.

At the risk of teaching grannies to suck eggs, I’m also including my recipe for carrot halwa, although you could, if pressed, use shop-bought. I’ve added walnuts because that’s the nut usually found in carrot cake but you could also use pistachios or almonds.

Carrot Halwa (Gajar ka Halwa)

Ingredients

1/2 kg red, desi carrots

1 litre full-cream milk

6 dessertspoons caster sugar (or to taste)

4 dessertspoons ghee

Seeds of 4 green cardamom (elaichi) pods, ground

A handful of sultanas

A handful of chopped walnuts

100g khoya (milk solids), finely grated

Method

Finely grate the carrots and place in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the milk and bring to a boil over medium heat until the milk has evaporated and the carrots are soft and dry. Stir regularly so the carrots don’t stick to the pan. This can take an hour or so.

Add the sugar and ghee and cook again until the sugar has dissolved and the carrots are bright reddish orange.

Stir in the cardamom, sultanas and walnuts and leave to cool slightly before stirring in the khoya.

Carrot Halwa Muffins

Makes about 12 large muffins

Ingredients

250g plain flour (maida)

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

100ml milk

100ml sunflower oil

100g vanilla or caster sugar

400g carrot halwa

For cream cheese frosting

50g cream cheese or kwark

100g sifted icing sugar

A squeeze of lemon juice

Method

Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius. Line a large muffin tin with paper muffin cases.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, lightly beat the egg with the vanilla, milk and sunflower oil. Stir in the sugar.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and stir gently until there is no visible flour. For the last few strokes, lightly stir in the carrot halwa until the mixture is just combined. Gently spoon the mixture into the paper cases.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the surface of the muffins springs back when pressed.

For the cream cheese icing, beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice until soft but not runny. When the muffins are cool, spread a generous teaspoonful of icing on top.

Read  previous Lounge columns at www.livemint.com/pieceofcake

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18 thoughts on “Locavores and a Recipe for Carrot Halwa Muffins

  1. Pingback: Locavores and a Recipe for Carrot Halwa Muffins

  2. Locavores is promoted for number of reasons, environment being one of them. The locavore site does not discuss the environment issue in much detail unfortunately. Eating food produced locally is more environmentally friendly as a general rule, but there are exceptions that should be mentioned. According to research, it is 4 times more environmentally friendly to import lamb from NZ to UK compared with lamb raised in UK (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/25/080225fa_fact_specter). I live in Sweden and it makes sense to import tomatoes and other fruits/vegetables. Surely transportation causes pollution but the whole chain must be looked at, starting from production through to consumption. Much more energy is used to grow fruits and vegetables in green houses compared to natural growth in warmer climates.

    The mode of transportation also needs to be considered. Transporting by cargo ships is probably 50-70 times more efficient compared with trucks. In some cases it is more environmentally friendly to bring items by ship from far away compared with transporting inland by truck. It does not apply to ghoda gaadi!

    I agree with the locavore concept though it may not always produce the desired outcome.

  3. Hi Three Cookies – I agree, it’s a complicated issue. I suppose I’m happy to be a Locavore right now in Delhi because there’s so much fabulous produce available – talk to me again in May, it’ll be a different story!

  4. Love gajar ka halwa Pamela. Fantastic twist on the regular halwa & perfect in this weather too. I made halwa a few weeks back for an event. But sometimes I even use the leftovers in my cake batter.

  5. Thanks Pamela. Very complicated issue with no right answer! I grew up eating what is in season and its nice. You look forward to certain times of the year when certain produce is available. It makes it more special. Now I live in Sweden and the same stuff is available year round…sometimes takes the fun out of eating!

    Enjoy your stay till May! BTW never tried carrot halwa but it sounds absolutely delicious. I will try sometime soon.

  6. great idea pamela! was thinking of making muffins before my 2 yr old grandson arrived here — and the gajar ka halwa muffins sound perfect. thanks!

  7. Hi Sangeeta – I know, this time of year is so great – all the fruit and veg look so beautiful – not enough meals in the day to try everything! Hope all’s well with you. Px

  8. Hi Shayma – not sure what happened to the picture but if you click on the slideshow you can see them. Also on the Mint Lounge website. Px

  9. Pingback: Locavores and a Recipe for Carrot Halwa Muffins

  10. Carrot Halwa! – such treasured memories of my time as a guest at Boisahabi in Assam. The most delicate flavours at every meal. Even though I watched it being made and was given the recipe – could never replicate the taste back home in England.

  11. Sharon – yes, there’s definitely something about eating food in its natural habitat isn’t there?

  12. Pingback: A Healthier Carrot Cake | thegreatbrownbird

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