Cape gooseberries, ground cherries, husk tomatoes–whatever you call them, were always a childhood favorite. They’re one of those delightful garden secrets, tart-sweet juicy bits of happiness to be discovered inside paper lanterns hanging about on garden bushes which one could eat without the need to wait and wash. Imagine! If the garden was an unending treasure hunt, these were golden clues lighting the way.
Physalis philadelphica, they’re called botanically. Physalis is a genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, related to the tomatillo–which explains the husk. read more…
It’s Jackfruit season, again.
Now that we’re experts at dissecting and dismembering the great beast that is the jackfruit…
Now that it takes us just a few days to consume all the jackfruit’s flesh…
It’s time to figure out what to do with the seeds. One batch just wanted to grow, so we let them be…
Usually, we keep seeds out in a bowl as we consume the jackfruit pods. This gives them a chance to dry out a little. The white seed coat loosens a bit as it dries, making the seeds a lot easier to peel–something you’re better off doing before you cook them. (Peeling wet or just-cooked jackfruit seeds is a touch painful, trust me, and the seed coat is inedible so it does need to come off).
I’ll spare you a lesson on the nutritional value of jackfruit seeds, though it may help to know they’re high in protein, vitamin A, and iron. What I will do, however, is to tell you how wonderful it is to sit quietly one morning to relieve the seeds of their now-papery seed coat, to admire the woody grain of the seed’s inner skin and its modest mimicry of jack-wood grain itself. There are no coincidences in nature. Only unexpected harmonies.
Once the jack seeds are peeled, they boil easily. We submerge them in salted water and pressure-cook for a few whistles–though roasting or simply boiling them until they’re soft on the stove-top works, too…
Then they get blended with home-made tahini, lemon juice, garlic, fresh coriander, paprika or red chilli powder, salt, and olive oil — et voila, jackfruit seeds hummus. A perfect accompaniment to chermoula chicken roasts…
Or pita, toast, the flatbread of your choice…
- 1 cup of jackfruit seeds, peeled and boiled until tender
- 2 teaspoons tahini (see the recipe below, or substitute with store-bought)
- juice of 1 whole medium-sized lemon
- small bunch of fresh coriander (leaves and stems), roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika or red chilli powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 -1 1/2 cups of water, or more (jack seeds are thirsty beings)
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (plus a few tablespoons more, as needed)
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- less than 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Carefully toast the tahini until well-browned -- never for a moment taking your eye off the pan, and stirring constantly
- Transfer to a food processor. Pulse a few times to powder
- With the motor still running, drizzle in the olive oil until you have a thick-but-pourable paste
- Store in a glass jar, refrigerated
- Assemble all hummus ingredients in the jar of a food processor, and blend to a smooth paste, adding more water if necessary
- Jack seeds are crumbly, thirsty little beings, so don't hesitate to add water bit-by-bit until you have the smoothness you desire.
- We sometimes add a little extra olive oil, too (up to a few tablespoons extra)
My Manila friends will know and readily attest to my obsession with ubé–the purple yam that is used to flavor ice creams that top that most iconic of Filipino desserts, halo halo. Knowing Manila traffic makes it hard to get about anywhere, let alone to a wet market in search of these somewhat unfriendly-looking masses of yams, I’ve twice had very kind participants in courses I was teaching hand me purple yams as take-home souvenirs to feed my soul. “Half to cook with, half to plant,” I was told.
So, dutifully, I did both.
First, a confession and a disclaimer: I know nothing about growing yams. All the gardening I have done has been learned on the go, by trial and error, in between parenting and professional deadlines. Throw some seeds, stick what’s spoiling or sprouting into the ground, and above all hope–without expecting much. I knew only that the purple yam was, like so much else in life, forbidding and scary on the outside but stunning and other-worldy on the inside:
Yams are not sweet potatoes; botanically they’re related to lilies rather than potatoes and go by the name Dioscorea alata (kaand or ratalu in Western Indian states, where the yam is widely used in savory cooking, too. More on that in a future post). Ideally, to grow purple yams you need bulbils (aerial tubers) and not just the from-the-ground yam itself:
But having only two grumpy looking walrus-like tubers in my company…
I had no choice but to work with them. I cut them into chunks…
Note: if roots are obvious, as with my yams, then they constitute a separate chunk. Though I suspect the one that grew in my garden in the end was one of the other chunks.
I smeared them with ash to ensure that they had a chance to grow before the rodents and other garden creatures got to them…
And I set them in some well-draining soil. And I watered, and I waited.
In our case it took 5 long months (from October, when it starts to cool to April, when it warms here like a furnace), before my younger son and all-round garden forager spotted a strange new vine growing just where our tuber chunks had been:
It was unmistakably the ube; its purple tinges and heart-shaped leaves were a dead give-away. We couldn’t stop gawking, especially at it’s delicately frilly purple-edged helix-like curving stems…
In the meantime, I found myself in Manila again, and again with a monster of a yam gifted to me to carry home [and thankfully not gifted in exchange for me–inside anthropology joke for those who’ve ever read about gender and gift-exchange..]. It was a sign from the universe itself that I had this new yam right when we spotted mine growing at last, so I lost no time in figuring out how to pay homage to Filipino traditions and bake a most excellent purple yam cake:
Except it wasn’t purple any more. It was distinctly blue. So we called it the blubé roll-up cake.
This cake is essentially a chiffon baked in a jelly roll pan, a ricotta icing slathered on, and rolled.
But, back to the purple yam’s stunning-yet-elusive purple: although it stayed stable when the yam was ground to a paste…
… the color was already turning blueish during the final mixing, and was undeniably blue when the batter came to the jelly roll pan…
By the time the cake is baked and rolled, it’s blue that is dominant, the purple long-gone, lost to kitchen chemistry.
Note: Most Filipino recipes will call for 1/2 teaspoon or such of ube flavor and violet coloring. Now ube flavor already comes colored, so why add even more?
With color or without, the mystery of disappearing purple remains yet to be solved… The addition of baking soda quite quickly turns the purple into blue, which tells me that ube color is PH-sensitive. Ube makes the chiffon dense, so it seems hard to eliminate the small quantity of baking soda this recipe uses, but I’ll try soon and report back. For now, however, the cake stays blue:
Quite resembling a nautilus-like strange sea-creature…
.. with a pure white creamy heart, of course.
If you’re wondering what the green flecks are, they’re the zest of another Filipino treasure, the common green orange called dalandan (Citrus aurantium):
Although really, the zest of any good green lime will do just fine to give that little citrusy punch to the ricotta frosting. Ready to blubé yourself? Read on, for the full recipe.
- 1 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 egg whites (you'll use the yolks in batch 2 below)
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon uncolored ube flavoring (can substitute with pandan or vanilla)
- 2 cups grated ube, blended without water into a thick puree
- scant 1/4 cup of milk (if needed)
- 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
- 4 tablespoons butter, softened but cool
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- zest of 1 whole dalandan orange or of 2 green limes
- Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius.
- Line a 11"x16"x1" (or rough equivalent) jelly roll pan with parchment paper. Grease and flour the parchment. You can use breadcrumbs in place of flour dusting, if you prefer.
- Sift together all your dry ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
- In a clean bowl, whip your egg whites on high speed until frothy
- Add cream of tartar and continue beating until soft peaks form
- Then slowly add in the sugar and continue whipping until stiff and glossy. Set aside.
- Whip together your egg yolks with sugar until pale and thick (about 5 minutes).
- With the mixer running on low, slowly pour in the oil, ube flavoring (if using), and the pureed ube. Mix just until the mixture is a consistent color.
- Add the dry ingredient mixture in and mix just barely until the flour has been incorporated.
- Now gently fold in the egg whites from the previous step.
- Pour the batter onto your prepped jellyroll pan, smoothening the top and tapping the pan a few times to release any bubbles
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean
- As soon as the pan is out of the oven, use a knife to release the cake sides from the parchment so that they don't pull and crack as it cools.
- Cover the tray with another sheet of lightly greased and floured parchment, and invert onto a cooling rack. Peel away the base parchment immediately.
- Leave the cake to cool, but be prepared to apply frosting as soon as it is just cooled--otherwise the cake may crack when it gets rolled.
- Hand whip the ricotta with the butter until light
- Add in the sugar and about half of the zest (saving the rest for a garnish)
- As soon as the cake is cool to the touch, smear 3/4 of the ricotta frosting on top.
- Now using the parchment as a support and guide, start rolling the cake from one of its narrow ends. Don't worry if the initial roll cracks the cake a bit, just keep moving the cake into a nice round.
- Leave the parchment on, and refrigerate for about 1/2 hour, giving the cake a chance to set.
- Now remove the cake from the fridge, and set onto a serving platter. Remove the parchment, and using all the remaining frosting to cover the tops and sides of the roll.
- Grate the remaining lime zest over the top of the cake.
- Refrigerate again for 15 minutes before cutting into slices and serving.
- This cake keeps well, refrigerated, for about a week.
This post is a photographic update to my post on salt production in Marakkanam some years ago. That time, there had been only a small number of chatty women collecting dry salt from the sides of salt pans and depositing them onto a slowly growing salt mountain. This time, on yet another ride back from Chennai, I stopped to witness a different phase of salt production: the bagging.
The already-built salt mountain needed now to be broken down. read more…
Absolutely essential to any even half-hearted cook’s repertoire is the versatile flatbread. It’s a great way to use up a few stray vegetables left after all our salading and galetting–we had only a few ripe tomatoes and a lone ear of corn to use up–and a straight ticket to the heart of any pizza-loving picky eaters you may have lurking around. With less than half the cheese.
You get badges for thriftiness, efficiency, low-fat cookery, hostess elegance, and doting mommy-ness. Can it get any better really?
We started with a few tomatoes harvested from the garden:
That was the hard part. Phew. Then we just prepped the dough — half-baked it — threw our toppings on — and baked it until the tomatoes were nicely roasted. The whole process took about an hour or a bit more. Done. (Granted, it’s the hot season here, so yeast works fast..)
I made mine on a Lodge Cast Iron skillet I’d recently lugged back with me from Manila, which turned out to be as effective as a pizza stone, and easy to serve from, too. But really any baking tray will do just fine.
None of it lasted long at all.
- 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Either -- 1 teaspoon yeast, proofed in 1/2 cup lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar
- Or -- 3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast and 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1 red onion or 2 shallots
- 2-3 medium sized tomatoes
- 1 ear of corn, with the kernels sliced off, or the equivalent
- 1/2 cup or less of crumbled goat cheese
- You could also use: some zucchini slices, chopped leeks, and a few sliced mushrooms in place of some of the above ingredients. Feel free to be creative with what you have on hand. Just don't overload your flatbread, or it'll get hard to lift and soggy.
- If you're using regular yeast, proof it first: dissolve a teaspoon of sugar into a 1/2 cup water, add your yeast and allow to sit until it's nice and foamy.
- If you're using active dry yeast, then no proofing is needed.
- Stir together all dry ingredients (including active dry yeast, if that's what you're using) in a large bowl.
- Add water, olive oil, and proofed yeast (if you're using that instead of active dry) and mix into a ball, adding a touch more flour or water if you need to, to bring it together.
- Knead this for a couple of minutes, brush a film of oil over it, and leave it to rise undisturbed -- covered, in a warm spot.
- When the dough has about doubled (I never measure too precisely), punch it gently, reform it into a ball, and let it sit again for about 20 minutes.
- Slice tomatoes and onions thinly
- Cook the corn in boiling water, and drain.
- Crumble your goat cheese.
- Clean your basil and keep a few leaves ready.
- Pre-heat your oven to 450F/220C
- Very lightly grease a baking sheet or a cast iron griddle, and sprinkle with cornmeal.
- Roll out your dough until it's a size that comfortably sits on your sheet or griddle--and slap it on there.
- Bake it blind for barely 10 minutes. Then pull it out of your oven and add all your toppings: sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, cooked corn, goat cheese crumbles, salt and a generous sprinkling of herbes de provence.
- If you're using basil in this step, tuck the leaves under the tomatoes to keep them from burning. Otherwise, save these to throw on top later as a fresh green garnish.
- Bake again for another 10 minutes or until the veggies are lightly roasted and the edges are browning and the whole pan is calling out to be eaten (with those remaining torn basil leaves thrown on top). Now.
The way I see it, salads have for much too long been too-much lettuce-centric, leaving those of us who live in hot places with cultures of growing mostly cookable greens wanting. No doubt, Aurovillians have figured out lots of ways to grow good salad greens here, and while I admire always their ingenuity, there are plenty other, locally familiar ways to think of fresh salads in the absence of greens–or, indeed, elaborate dressings. Here is one to make with a freely mixed combination of common ingredients, at a moment’s notice. We call it the Mixta Majicama because that’s what it is: a mix-mix salad that’s plain magic, and because we’ve thoroughly enjoyed the addition of jicama–when we’ve been lucky enough to have some around (see below).
I got the idea for this salad from a very beloved aunt who replaced the lettuce with shredded cabbage in her version. But even that, I find, isn’t critical. Our first versions showcased the yellow pear tomatoes emerging abundantly from the garden [which we used as abundantly also in this rustic galette]:
Last year’s garden tomatoes were our humble local country varieties which yielded in such profuse abundance, we had no choice but to chutney them over and over again. This year started us on other adventures, which demanded more showcasing and celebration of the aesthetics and taste of the tomato itself. We started with the grand galette:
When you have a craving for salmon, you must first travel to some far-off land where you have very dear friends. Write to them. Tell them of your craving. They’ll understand.
They’ll go to the market for you, your offers to find ingredients notwithstanding. read more…
One thing you must know about me before you read any further is that I have no longer any sort of commitment to speed.
If there’s a short cut in the form of a sauce that is pre-made and bottled just waiting on the shelf, promising to cut my cooking time half, it’s not for me. But if there’s a path that cuts through the deep dark woods, with obscure herbs to gather in the strange light of the half moon then that’s the one I’ll choose.
Outside the temple ruins of Ayutthaya historical park, which is otherwise known for its one remaining Buddha head captured with terrific symbolism in the roots of a Bodhi tree, are these women who move at the speed of light making a locally distinctive roti called Roti Sai Mai.
“Sai Mai” refers to the “silky threads” of colored candy floss around which each roti is wrapped, creating a soft-crunch of a little on-the-go snack.
Although the “roti” of roti sai mai is usually clubbed with other rotis of Muslim-Indian origin, this one is colored green with pandan, and made quite differently — by spreading a gooey dough directly by hand onto a well-seasoned, heated surface with apparently no grease at all. read more…