Masala Chai with Chili, Cumin and Basil Cookies

Dear Ramit

How have you been? I must tell you that your letter on Iftar was hugely enjoyed and enthused over…next time around you may find two extra gluttons on your hand! It reminded us both of the five hour food walk we took with you and Rinki, eating our way through the by-lanes of the historical Chandni Chowk, one winter evening some years back. This letter too may take you down another memory lane. Last Week a friend of Prasanta, from his Vadodara (or Baroda as it still remains in our minds) Art College days, came for a visit. This friend, a Gujarati, was visiting Bengal and wherever he went all he got was black Darjeeling tea, which wasn’t really his cup of tea…literally. So when he came here I made some flavored masala chai for him and a strong case of  nostalgia gripped us. Stories about the good old days flowed effortlessly into the night.( By that time obviously, it wasn’t chai that was keeping our spirits up!)   I recall almost a decade and a half ago, on a visit there, I found that Prasanta and his artist friends would spend hours drinking copious amounts of the thick milky sweet masala chai…what was it called…Ah yes, Golden Chai.  A half glass of the chai aptly named “cutting” was all that these perennially broke students could afford! Most of the “studying” was being accomplished at these road side tea stalls. Hot cups of spicy tea and heated discussions on art and aesthetics are synonymous with what Prasanta fondly terms his “Baroda Days”. You too spent a few years around the same time in Vadodara, and surprisingly our friend remembers you. It seems your enthusiasm for food is not easily forgotten.You would also remember the road opposite Kamati Baug in the evenings, lined by the “Lari” or food stalls on wheels that sold mouth watering snacks, pakoda or fritters and even fruit custard. It was the melting point of cheap gastronomic experience. How far back it seems…an era, before Facebook, when friendship still meant meeting up face to face and back slapping over greasy Chowmein or Pav Bhaji. When love affairs were conducted long distance, from vertical glass coffin like telephone booths and one didn’t break up with a line over Whatsapp and, ‘Moving On’ hadn’t become a youth anthem. Was life really less complicated or is this how every generation feels about their best years. And look at me talking like an old fogey….but I blame it on Food and its ability to turn even the best amongst us into sentimental mush. On an afterthought,the pace of the times change, but food, friends and fun remain same. So here is raising a toast of masala chai to carefree days and old friends!

Masala Chai with Chili,Cumin and Basil cookies

For The Chai Masala

25 gm Green Cardamom Pods

25gm Cinnamon

25gm Cloves

50gm Black Peppercorn

Dry Grind all the ingredients together to a fine powder. In this masala the spices are not dry roasted before grinding. Once ground this can be stored in an air tight container for up to six months. Use to flavor tea. A Tisane made by boiling a teaspoon of this spice mix in a large cup of plain water, piece of ginger and a few basil leaves and sweetened by adding a teaspoon of honey,is an excellent throat soother in case of cold and cough. There are numerous recipes of Chai Masala. In some dry ginger powder is added. You may also do so, but I feel that the fresh Ginger root adds a punch to the tea.

Making the Masala Chai

To Make the Chai (2 Cups)

2  tsp Assam Tea Leaves/1 tea bag (CTC/ground tea leaves NOT long leaf tea)

1 ½ Cups of full cream Milk

Sugar to taste

1 Inch Piece of fresh Ginger crushed

1/2 tsp Chai Masala

½ cup of water

Bring the milk and water to boil, add the crushed ginger piece, the tea leaves and the sugar and boil till the liquid turns a beautiful brown color. Add the chai masala and boil till aroma fills your senses. Tulsi or Indian Holy Basil may also be added for taste and its therapeutic qualities.

Enjoy a hot cuppa with my own recipe of savory cookies with an Indian twist.

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Chili, Cumin and Basil Savory Cookies (Makes about 25-30 bite sized cookies)

100gm plain Flour + little extra for rolling

100gm Butter/Margarine (at room temperature)

1-2 Dry Red Chili Deseeded and snipped into thin strips

Handful of Basil Leaves (oregano/Chives will also do)

1 tsp Cumin seeds

100gm Grated Cheese

3 tbsp Tomato Ketchup

Salt to taste

Mix the flour and the butter to a fine crumb. Add all other ingredients and knead softly. Everything will come together; there is no need to add any liquid like water/milk or egg. If using a food processor, just pulse the mixture. Wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Remove from fridge, lightly flour work surface and roll out to about 2 to 3mm thickness and cut into shapes. I use a peg measure to cut the rounds ! You can simply cut out squares in case you don’t have cutters. Prick each cookie with a fork to prevent puffing up. Lay them out on a greased baking tray about half an inch apart – it may take two lots of baking to use up the entire mixture. Bake in a pre heated oven at 200 degree centigrade for fifteen minutes or till a delicious aroma permeates your entire house. Remove and let cool on wire rack. Store in an air tight container. These cookies with their hot and tangy taste are a perfect foil to the sweet rich one of the masala chai.

Happy Tea Time

Didi

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Missing everyone….and making Quattro Formaggi Pizzas!

Dear Didi and Daibi,

Yesterday was Rakhi…was missing you all a lot..didn’t feel like doing any work either..its been soo many years that we three haven’t been together on Rakhi.  Didi, when you were in Delhi, you tied Rakhi to both of us….I guess I never told you this but I felt very proud for having this honor; and when I would go to school later, I flaunted it saying, ‘meri didi ney bandha hai Rakhi coz mai bhi didi ki raksha karungi (my sister tied me the rakhi coz I would also protect her like my brother would)’.  Those were such lovely days, Ma used to make Loochis (fried flat bread) and some lovely aloo sabji (potato curry) or choley (Chickpeas curry)..and ofcourse that heavenly paayesh (rice and thickened milk dessert) served with freshly made narkol nadu (coconut laddoo) or jethima’s famous malpuas (soft and flat flour sweets dipped in sugar syrup)!!!  And Daibi, do you remember, almost every time just before Rakhi we would end up having a deadly fight..and we both would bitterly say, ‘No Rakhi this time’…then on the Rakhi morning we would have peace talks mediated by Ma and Baba and then all would be fine (next time we meet, we should have one of those fights just for the kicks!!)……aaah those were the days….

Anyways, remembering that time, yesterday I made a four cheese pizza called “Quatro Formaggi” in Italian. I used your method of making a pizza-dough and topped it with mozzarella, parmesan, provolone and gorgonzola cheese.  I have read about many variations to this recipe where they have used ricotta and other types of Italian cheese.  But gorgonzola is very important for this pizza…which I doubt you would get in India..its a kind of blue cheese with a very heavy pungent smell and not everyone likes it.  So when you guys come here, I will make it for you 🙂

Quattro Formaggi Pizza

I also made calzones with the left-over dough and made a caramelised onion and lamb sausage stuffing for them.  Niloy got that for lunch today, so he is is happily benefiting from my ‘not-so-good’ days when I end up making something new and interesting!

Oh and I totally forgot to tell you guys…a few days back I made this upside down strawberry cake and choco-chip+candied orange peel muffins.  I lined up the baking tray with strawberry halves and poured the cake batter on it. Didi, I still follow your recipe of madly whipping up 1/2 cup oil+1/2 cup sugar+2 eggs together and adding 1 tsp baking powder+1 cup flour later.

Upside down Strawberry Cake and Chocochip & Candied Orange Peel Muffin

The cake turned out to be feather-soft and the juices from the strawberries made it melt in the mouth.  I have tried making a similar cake with apple quarters, peach halves, pineapple slices and grapes! Trust me they all turn out to be delicious!!! 😀 See talking about food already lifts my mood…now I will get back to work..

You both take care, sending loads of love and hoping that someday we three get together for Rakhi.

Write back soon,

Rinki

Super Quick Oats and Multigrain Cupcake Breakfast for Kids

Dear Rinki,

A rain drenched good morning to you. Rizi has just left for school…and I’m taking a breather, writing to you. Today like a good mother I hoodwinked my son into eating a super healthy breakfast and he never realized it. He hates eating porridge or oats, and you tell me who wants to make tiffin and then come up with brilliant breakfast ideas everyday….so on most school days it is a bowl of cereal drenched in threats for his breakfast. I know I know,certainly not the sign of a good mommy, so shoot me! But today when I heard him inquire in a tiny voice whether he had to eat porridge again, my heart melted. And as I had already taken out the oats,raisins and milk I suddenly had a brilliant inspiration. I took out some nuts and some multi grain flour and used it to make cup cakes…Turned out brilliantly and Riz polished them off with glee….He he he !…he never knew what he was eating. It is quite tasty for us adults as well.

So here is the recipe piping hot from the oven. .. An ODE TO OATS…have fun making it.

Super quick Oats and Multi grain Cupcakes

Super quick Oats and Multi grain Cupcakes

Preparation time : 5 minutes

Cooking time         : 10 minutes

Ingredients

Oats                                                        1/2 cup

Multi grain flour                                1/2 cup

Baking powder                                     1 level tsp

Dried figs                                                2-3 nos

Raisins                                                     handful

Nuts (whatever you have)               a few chopped up into small pieces

Butter                                                      2 tsp

Vanilla essence                                     1/2 tsp

Egg                                                           1 (  you can make it without egg)

Honey/ Apricot jam/Sugar               2 tsp

Milk to make a batter                          1/2 cup ( or thereabout)

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Method

First thing even before you get your ingredients together just switch on your oven to 250 degree C on bake and let it pre-heat while you groggily (presuming its a school morning) get around to getting the ingredients together.

Second Step slap some oil on to your muffin tray and sprinkle with flour, I couldn’t find any cake flour today so I sprinkled multi grain and it worked just fine.

Finally just slap everything into a bowl, stir it around sleepily, spoon into the muffin tray and stick in the oven.

(  Do not make the batter too watery or put too much mix in the muffin trays, two teaspoon in each is fine I think. The aim is to get it done in as little time as possible, trust me I kept an eye on the Clock the whole time ! )

Ten minutes on high heat and it is done.

Serve it hot and say in your head VIVA LA OATS.. while your clueless child is gobbling it up!

Gotta go now, love ya

Didi