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)
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
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
250g plain flour (maida)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
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
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.
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