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.
I’m so excited about this recipe – it represents a major breakthrough in the brunch department. I love, love, love street dishes like Pav Bhaji and Vada Pav but the pav available in Delhi is so disappointing it’s almost not worth eating. Here, I’ve hit on a solution – authentic, homemade soft fluffy pav. Incredibly, it’s based on a very old recipe for Scottish morning rolls, and really easy to make. Give it a go – I know what I’ll be making for brunch tomorrow…
A Very Scottish ‘Pav’
(first appeared in Mint 12th May)
I live in two parallel culinary universes. In one, I spend abnormal amounts of time thinking about or making cake, biscuits and bread. The other is where I tramp around the back alleys eating street food, pestering vendors for recipes in a bid to replicate the dishes at home. Occasionally the two worlds collide and today’s recipe is a good example.Pav bhaji, beloved snack of millions of Mumbaikars, is one of my favourite street foods but I only like it with the pukka soft, pillowy pav available in Mumbai and Goa. The pre-packed pav available in shops in Delhi just won’t do.
I recently came by a great recipe for vegetable bhaji but have yet to find someone to share pav know-how, despite repeated stalking of bakers in Goa and on the Konkan coast. Then, on a recent trip back to Scotland, I had a thought. I realized that pav, despite its Portuguese heritage, is almost identical to what we call “morning rolls”, the vehicle for our so-good but definitely artery-clogging “bacon butties”. All I had to do was find a recipe for morning rolls and I could be serving up pav-bhaji brunches in no time.
I needed to look no further than one of Scotland’s oldest cookbooks, The Scots Kitchen, written by F. Marian McNeill in 1929 (I inherited my mother’s 1976 edition). It is, incidentally, a wonderful compendium of long-forgotten and evocatively named recipes, like Cabbie-Claw (salted and dried cod) and Parlies (a type of gingerbread made for members of Parliament). In fact, this gem of a book always reminds me that Scotland once had a cuisine as rich as any in Europe—in the early years of the 20th century, there was even a Scottish version of Ile Flottante made with quince, egg whites, cream and wine. Although now most Scots buy pre-sliced, factory-produced bread, we were once particularly well-endowed in the artisan bread department—the Aberdeen buttery could have given the croissant a run for its money.
Scottish Morning Rolls, the softest, fluffiest of breads, were once made in every home for breakfast and traditionally known as baps—possibly, the author suggests, “an analogy with pap, the mammary gland, on account of its shape and size”. I see no good reason to deviate too far from McNeill’s recipe, except to bring the measurements up to date and introduce fast-action yeast. And, of course, to point out that the bap does a great impersonation of pav.
Pav/Scottish Morning Rolls
450g all-purpose flour (maida)
2 tsp salt
1 sachet of fast-action yeast
150ml of cold whey—I always have whey in the kitchen from paneer-making but if you don’t, use water
150ml hot milk
A little extra cold milk for brushing
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar and yeast. Add the butter and use your fingertips to blend it into the flour mixture. Pour in the milk and whey/water mixture and mix to form a rough dough. Cover the bowl and leave for 10 minutes in a warm place (not too difficult to find at this time of year in India). After 10 minutes, you will see that the dough has already started to seem more elastic—the yeast has done its work without any arm-numbing kneading.
Scottish Morning Rolls are traditionally known as baps
Turn the dough on to a lightly floured board and knead gently for about 10 seconds until you have a smooth ball of dough. The dough should be very very soft but not too sticky. Put the dough into a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave for about 1 hour until it has doubled in size.
Take the dough out of the bowl and knock the air out, then cut into 12 pieces. Knead each piece into a smooth ball, then place in a lightly oiled tin. Cover again and leave until the pavhave doubled in size—this will vary according to how warm your kitchen is. Thepav would have stuck together as they expanded. Brush the tops of the pavwith a little milk.
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Bake the pav for about 15 minutes until the tops are brown. Let the pav cool slightly before tearing into them.
Baps/morning rolls/pav don’t keep well. They’re at their best soon after they emerge from the oven so make sure your bhaji or vada is ready and waiting
Happy New Year everyone – wishing you all great things in 2012! One of my wishes for the year ahead is to spend more time here on my poor neglected blog. Thank you to everyone who wrote to find out if I’d dropped off the face of the earth – I really appreciate all your messages.
The truth is, I wouldn’t let myself do any blogging until I’d made some serious headway with the book. I spent most of the autumn in Old Delhi, taking part in all the festivals, soaking everything up and filling dozens of notebooks but as soon as Diwali was over I knew I had to just sit down and try to make sense of it all. For a while I seriously doubted I could do it (I still have my doubts actually). How could I possibly do justice to my beloved Old Delhi? How would I ever get beyond my journalist’s comfort zone of 1500 words? Was my spine , and sanity, going to survive sitting at a desk for months on end?
Eventually I gave myself a good talking to, strapped myself to a chair, switched off the internet and vowed to do no blogging or excursions to Old Delhi until I’d made significant progress. It worked, sort of, and it was a massive relief when I sent off the first chapter a day before Charlie arrived back for the Christmas holidays. Baby steps, but still an achievement.
My back’s still killing me but at least I’d earned a trip to Old Delhi. So last Friday, Dean and I left the kids sprawling on the sofa and headed out into the chilly morning. When we arrived in Chawri Bazaar the streets were still thick with cold winter fog so we decided to warm up in Standard Sweets, a few steps from the Metro station. We ordered two plates of Chhole Puri, a soft and comforting chick pea dish served with piping hot deep fried breads. The Standard version of this ubiquitous Delhi dish is the addition of potato, paneer and an extremely tasty kofta (a creamy vegetable dumpling). We parked ourselves at a table to watch the shop and street get ready for the day. A huge platter of carrot halwa was set on a stove to keep warm while young men in mufflers trooped in bearing trays of freshly made samosas and balushahi. Our breakfast, washed down with sweet spicy chai was delicious – I particularly enjoyed the kofta. All round, a perfect winter warmer. From Standard Sweets we decided to wander through Gali Peepal Mahadev where several temples were doing a brisk trade in early morning pujas. Here, on the left, we spotted the young owner of Standard Sweets making his offerings
We came across an embroidery workshop and a dyeing shop
From Ballimaran we headed towards Kinari Bazaar and found a Daulat ki Chaat vendor.
I say ‘found’ but they’re not exactly difficult to come by these days. Has anyone else noticed the multiplying of Daulat ki Chaat wallahs in Old Delhi this year? A happy renaissance to be sure but I’ve noticed some of them, particularly those clustered round Chawri Bazaar metro station, taste a bit synthetic – cutting corners perhaps? The one we ate in Kinari Bazaar, however, was top notch. The vendor, a serious young man in a Nehru waistcoat, was almost hidden from view in a side lane. He took great pains to make sure each plate was just so, waited for us to finish then folded up his stand, put the platter on his head and disappeared into the main bazaar.
Dean stopped for a haircut, which as cruel friends have pointed out, never takes that long
From Kinari Bazaar we turned into Paranthe Wali Gali, not for paranthe but for sweets at Kanwarji which is at the end of the street on the corner with Chandni Chowk. Here I bought the beautiful rose chikki you can see at the top of this post. Chikki are like nut brittle – usually nuts, seeds or puffed rice set in sugar or jaggery. In the winter months, when the roses are at their best in India, the sweet shops sometimes add rose petals to their chikki. Delicately rose-flavoured and beautiful to look at, they made the prettiest of new year gifts.
We also popped into the historic Ghantewala sweet shop a few doors up on Chandni Chowk to try their Habshi Halwa, a dark sugary, nutty, spicy sweet which, it turns out, both looks and tastes like Christmas pudding.
Then, just as we were about to head home, we decided to take a peek in one of the lanes between Chandni Chowk and Kinari Bazaar. And in that little detour we found this lovely little place;
this young man with his thriving knife-sharpening business. Can you see the sparks flying from the scissors he’s sharpening on a stone that he’s turning by pedal power?
an old abandoned desk;
and a happy doggy soaking up the winter sun…
It’s not just the food of Old Delhi I’ve missed over the past few weeks, I’ve also missed these endless discoveries. It doesn’t matter how often I go to Old Delhi there’s always something I haven’t seen before; a doorway, a clock, a shaft of light, someone making something or fixing something, the boy with one blind eye watching the crazy foreigner have his hair clipped.
Here’s to a year of discovery!
Standard Sweets, Gali Hakim Baqa. From Chawri Bazaar metro station turn into Chawri Bazaar and take the first little turning on the left and you’ll see the shop on the left.
The next few days are probably the last of the mulberry season in India – if you haven’t tried baking with them yet, what are you waiting for? These fluffy buttermilk pancakes make a wonderful weekend breakfast. I’m sorry … Continue reading
Well, the warm weather is finally here in Delhi. As always, Sunday’s festival of Holi marked the start of the long summer slog. As the streets drowned in colour and revellers succumbed to the effects of Bhang Lassi, the mercury crept up. Westrayed into a Holi party in Lodhi Gardens while we were out walking the dogs and were cordially invited to eat our fill of samosas, patties and gujjia – all washed down with ‘special’ lassi. Just look what was in the bottom of my glass:
So we’ve put away our jumpers, heaters and hot water bottles until the end of October, and braced ourselves and our air-conditioning for the sweaty months ahead.
But with a longer than usual winter this year, I’ve had plenty of time to perfect my crumpets – those fiendishly moreish thick yeasty pancakes, specially designed to soak up obscene amounts of dripping butter.
Just what is so sexy about crumpets? Elizabeth David noted in 1977 that “crumpet” had long been a colloquialism used to describe “a piece of skirt, any likely young woman, a girl with whom someone is having a passing affair, and other less polite interpretations”. In the heyday of political incorrectness, a leading British broadcaster, Frank Muir, coined the phrase “thinking man’s crumpet” to describe Joan Bakewell, a woman audacious enough to be both attractive and intelligent. The term has also been applied over the years to Helen Mirren and Nigella Lawson.
At first sight, though, the crumpet, with its pudgy paleness, is the shrinking violet of the baking world. It only becomes irresistible when slathered in salty butter, becoming a great and illicit pleasure on a par with, to use the language of the 1970s Carry On films, a spot of slap and tickle.
More importantly, crumpets are a great example of the many unsung heroes of British baking, conjuring up visions of roaring fires and hissing kettles, steamy windows keeping out the worst of a northerly winter. They’re delicious, comforting and indulgent but rarely made these days—a great shame because they could definitely give their more glamorous and feted European counterparts a run for their money.
The key to a perfect crumpet is creating a mass of tiny holes for lots of butter to seep into. The yeast is partly responsible for this texture but while researching all things crumpet for this column, I discovered a 1937 recipe by Walter Banfield which incorporates a little bicarbonate of soda at the end of the first fermentation. This, Mr Banfield pronounces, will avoid “grotesque, unfair creations”, that is, crumpets without holes, sometimes described as “blind”.
I can’t decide whether crumpets are best straight from the pan or after cooling and re-toasting. I can also never decide what’s more delicious—crumpets bearing nothing but melting butter or with butter and jam for an exceptional salty sweet hit. One thing I do know is that the best time and place to experiment is Sunday morning—in bed.
Traditional British Crumpets
Makes approximately 18 crumpets
450g plain flour (maida)
1 tbsp salt (this seems like a lot but crumpets are meant to be quite salty)
1 tsp sugar
1 sachet (7g) of fast action, dried yeast
350ml cold milk
350ml boiling water
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml warm water
A little extra butter for greasing the pan and rings
For traditional-style crumpets, you will need some metal rings. If you don’t have rings, you can go free-form and make the flatter variety known as pikelets.
Sift flour into a large bowl, then stir in the salt, sugar and yeast. In a jug, mix the cold milk, boiling water and oil, then pour into the flour mixture. Stir with what Walter Banfield describes as “vivacious turbulence”, until the batter is well mixed.
Cover the bowl and leave the yeast to do its work. Depending on how hot your kitchen is, it could be anything between 45 minutes and 2 hours before the batter has doubled in size, with a surface bursting with tiny bubbles. Crumpets are one of the few baked treats which actually thrive in a hot, humid Indian kitchen.
When the batter has risen, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water, then stir well into the batter. Cover the bowl and leave until the surface is again covered with bubbles.
Heat a non-stick frying pan over low heat—I prefer to cook the crumpets slowly to prevent the bottoms browning too quickly. Grease the pan and rings (if using) thoroughly with butter. Pour a heaped tablespoon of batter into each ring and leave to cook until the surface is dry and covered with tiny holes—this should take 5-7 minutes. If the holes don’t appear, the batter may be too thick, so add a little more warm milk or water to the next batch—but don’t make it too thin or it will run out of the bottom of the rings.
Gently lift away the metal rings, then flip the crumpets over to lightly brown the holey side. Keep the crumpets covered with a clean tea towel to keep warm.
If you click here, there’s a step by step slideshow to making crumpets
Yesterday morning I was extremely weary and famished after a hectic few days of baking and not eating properly in the run up to Sunday’s Uparwali Chai pop-up tea party. I actually woke up longing for South Indian breakfast so as soon as our dogs had had their turn round Lodhi Gardens, I dragged Dean off to Sagar Ratna in Defence Colony.
I don’t seem to have mentioned it before but South Indian breakfast fare is one of the great treats of living here and if you get the urge for idlis, dosas and uttapams, which I frequently do, no-one does it better than Sagar Ratna.
The hardest thing is deciding which you want most. I made it easier on myself yesterday by opting for two breakfasts – idlis, (steamed rice cakes) followed by tomato and coconut uttapam (a cross between a pancake and a pizza made from soaked and ground urad dal and rice then fried with various toppings), both served with coconut chutney and a sinus-clearing sambar soup.
The breakfast-time atmosphere at Sagar is extremely mellow – we lingered over the papers and a couple of cups of South Indian Coffee and were just about ready to face the week.
Sagar Ratna, Defence Colony Market, Delhi