I wrote recently about the delights of “locavorism” (http://www.livemint.com/locavore.htm), and the benefits, both health- and planet-wise, of eating locally sourced ingredients as opposed to those flown halfway round the world.
What I failed to mention is that while it’s no hardship to go local with Indian mangoes instead of Scottish raspberries and coconuts over parsnips, there are other items which require a little more fortitude. I haven’t, for example, managed to make the switch from olive to mustard oil and the chocolate in my baking is stubbornly Belgian. I have also failed completely to find a local butter which is good to bake with—Amul is too salty and white butter too watery—and have been a slave to the expensive French unsalted variety. Until now.
I recently went to stay at a friend’s family home in Madhya Pradesh and spent four days watching a traditional Hindu vegetarian kitchen at work, returning to Delhi with a notebook crammed with new recipes and techniques. My friend’s family still keeps a small organic dairy herd and it was wonderful to watch all the daily rituals that revolve around milk and the forgotten (in the West) skills of yogurt, butter and cheese-making.
When it was time to leave reluctantly, my friend’s mother gave me a large tub of home-made ghee to bring back and I knew my precious golden gift had to be put to some divine purpose, that is, baking.
I decided to make nan khatai biscuits, one of my favourite Old Delhi treats. Because they taste so like our own shortbread, I had always assumed Scottish roots for nan khatai, but they are, in fact, thought to be a legacy of Dutch colonizers in Surat who left behind their ovens when they shipped out.
I made two batches, one with fancy French butter and one with my Sagar ghee, giving them three chic modern toppings: pistachio and lemon, fennel sugar and grapefruit. I think it might be the start of something big in my kitchen. I can’t stress enough how much better the ghee version was—lighter, richer, crumblier—than the one made with imported unsalted butter. It may even be the best biscuit I’ve ever made or eaten.
I recommend eating these nan khatai warm, immediately after a sneaky siesta, with a glass of iced grapefruit soda—guaranteed to nudge you zestily back towards productivity.
Nan Khatai 3 Ways
100g of your finest ghee— preferably from cows you can see from your kitchen window
30g icing sugar
60g plain flour (maida)
50g chickpea flour (besan)
25g semolina (sooji)
1 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
Seeds from 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
Grapefruit: grated zest of 1 grapefruit, blitzed in a grinder with 2 tbsp of granulated (not fine, caster) sugar until a sandy texture
Pistachio and lemon: grated zest of 2 lemons (nimbu) blitzed briefly with 2 tbsp sugar—try to keep some of the bigger pieces of pistachio
Fennel sugar: 1 tsp of fennel seeds blitzed with 2 tbsp sugar, ground to a powder
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius. Grease or line a baking sheet.
First make your toppings and set aside.
Tip the ghee into a large mixing bowl with the icing sugar and whisk until light and creamy. Sift in the flour, besan, semolina, baking powder, salt and fold into theghee/sugar until you have a soft mixture.
Take teaspoonfuls (small enough so there’s no guilt at eating one of each flavour) of the mixture and roll them between your palms into a ball, using icing sugar on your hands to stop them sticking. Place them, well spaced, on the baking sheet and sprinkle on generous amounts of the toppings. For the fennel variety, decorate the top with whole fennel seeds after sprinkling with the fennel powder.
Bake for about 15-20 minutes until baked but not brown. Eat while still warm (although they keep well in a jar for a few days), with tea or grapefruit soda made from the fruit you have zested.
1 cup sugar
Juice of 1 grapefruit
Juice of one lemon
Soda water, as required
Put sugar and juices in a pan with one cup of sugar and bring to boil. Let it bubble for a minute or two until syrupy, then leave to cool. Strain into a jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks. To serve, add ice cubes and top up with soda water.