Indian Shortbread Three Ways and Grapefruit Soda

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

Makes 18-24

Ingredients

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

Toppings

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

Method

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.

Grapefruit Soda

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

Juice of 1 grapefruit

Juice of one lemon

Soda water, as required

Method

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.

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Diwali in Old Delhi

As I sit down to write this, on Diwali night, the  lights are twinkling all over our neighbourhood,   Delhi’s streets and skies  are erupting with fireworks that will build to an all-nighter of explosions. The  local children are shrieking, stray dogs are howling  and our own pups Spike and Mishti will be gibbering wrecks till morning. It’s going to be a long and noisy night but we’ll sit on the terrace and marvel nonetheless.

I think Diwali maybe one of my favourite celebrations. Continue reading

Eid Mubarak!

Close Up Sweet

Ramadan came to an end yesterday and I didn’t have to move an inch to be swept up in the celebrations.  At about 9 last night, one of our landlord’s emissaries arrived bearing gifts from Old Delhi:  namkeen and sweets from the wonderful Chaina Ram. Mr Zahoor is definitely my kind of landlord:  whenever there’s a Muslim festival,  we pay the rent, or have guests to stay, he sends over an enormous tiffin tin full of Biryiani, Korma and Shahi Tukda, enough to keep  us going for about 3 days.
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Jama Masjid, Fast-Breaking and a Strange Fruit

Iftar at Jama Masjid

This is the Jama Masjid in all its Ramadan glory, lit up and dominating the Old Delhi skyline, thronged with devotees waiting to break their fast.  A group of us, including Hemanshu of Eating out in Delhi and Sangeeta of Banaras ka Khana went to soak up the atmosphere on Sunday night . The walk from   Chawri Bazaar Metro was more hazardous than usual as we dodged rickshaws racing to spirit their famished passengers to the mosque or home in time for Iftar, the moment the sun goes down and the faithful can eat again.

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How to Eat Out in Old Delhi in August

Gola Kebabs in Chitli Qabar Old Delhi

Gola Kebabs in Chitli Qabar Old Delhi

Eating street food in Old Delhi in the middle of the monsoon isn’t everyone’s idea of a great night out.  But Monday evening,  when temperatures were still up in the mid thirties and humidity was around 70% , the caveman and I had a date with Rahul Verma, the man with the best job in Indian journalism – Street Food Correspondent for The Hindu newspaper – and nothing was going to stop us.

Rahul’s knowledge of  Delhi’s street food is encyclopaedic – he’s been pounding the city’s pavements for more than twenty years to bring his readers news of everything from  Kharorey in Jheel to Nahari in Bara Hindu Rao. His great passion is the food of Old Delhi although even he doesn’t usually venture there in August.  He agreed to come as a special favour but issued a few Monsoon-condition health warnings:  don’t touch the fresh chutneys or the raw onions – by evening they’ve probably been lying around too long in the humid heat; liberal use of hand sanitiser – a surprise here, I thought it was only for sissy expats; keep moving, it’s too hot to linger; and most important of all, make sure you’re back at the Press Club in time to cool off with some ice-cold Kingfisher before last orders at 10.30. Continue reading

Kuremal Kulfi – a Masterclass and Recipes

the best ice cream in delhi?

kuremal kulfi

The best ices in Delhi?  It’s a big claim, but these are kulfis with a pedigree.

The Kuremal family have been making kulfi in the old city since 1908 when Pandit Kuremal  left his ancestral village in Haryana at the age of 8 to seek fame and fortune in the big city. He learned the kulfi business with an Old Delhi Halwai (sweet -maker ) and by the time he was 14  had his own pushcart selling two flavours, plain rabri and mango.  Word spread and over the next 40 years Kuremal built the business to a multi-cart affair.

When Pandit’s  son Mahavir Prasad took over in 1975, he moved the business off the street and into its present shop, tucked in amongst the old havelis of Kucha Pati Ram, off Sitaram Bazaar.

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Faqiri Muamalaat – making rice pudding pay!

inflation hits old delhi kebabs

inflation hits old delhi kebabs

Eating Out in Delhi trips are always an adventure, but the vegetarian excursions are a particular delight. Not because we’re all militant meat-haters. Quite the reverse in fact. However, despite the fact that most of us believe a meal without meat is no meal at all, our leader, Hemanshu, is committed to providing an equal opportunities dining experience.

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