Thursday, February 25, 2010

Claudia Roden's Pistachio Cake

This is a gorgeous recipe from Claudia Roden’s book Arabesque. I made it for the first time a few weeks ago for my Valentine’s Eve dinner and it turned out deliciously moist and luscious. When I took the first bite, I immediately thought of Mama who loves pistachios. I made it again tonight so she can have it with her tea tomorrow when she arrives in New York.  

For the syrup:  
1½ cups sugar  
¾ cup water  
1 tbsp lemon juice  
2 tbsp rose water  

For the cake:  
5 eggs, separated  
1 cup superfine sugar  
1½ cups pistachios, ground finely  
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped very coarsely  

To serve: 
¾ cup clotted or heavy cream (optional) 

Make the syrup first. Bring the sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, then stir in the rose water. Let the syrup cool, then chill it in the refrigerator. 

Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a pale cream, then add the ground pistachios and mix very well. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them in gently. Pour into a greased and floured non-stick cake tin 9-10” in diameter and sprinkle the coarsely chopped pistachios on top. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 350ºF for about 45 minutes. 

Turn the cake out into a deep serving dish. Make little holes over the top with a fork and pour over the syrup. The holes will let it soak in quickly. 

Serve, if you like, with clotted or heavy cream.

Recipe copyright © 2005 by Claudia Roden.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'Tea Tea'

I feel a tad cranky tonight, so all my American friends and family, please indulge my crotchetiness and let me set the record straight—there is nothing in this world called “Chai Tea!!!” No, it’s not me being picky, it’s a linguistic fact. 

Chai is the Hindi word for tea. So when you say Chai Tea, you are asking for Tea Tea! What you really should be saying is Masala Chai, i.e.: Spice Tea.

Masala Chai is made by boiling black tea in milk and water with a lot of sugar and a few whole spices. It’s very easy to make. You don’t need a powder mix from a box and you certainly don’t need to head to Starbucks.

Yield: 1 cup 
½ cup water
½ cup milk (whole, low fat, skim, any of it is fine but definitely milk and not soy milk!)
1 tsp black tea leaves (any full-bodied black like an Assam will do. Don’t use anything expensive.)
sugar (to taste)
3-4 cloves
3-4 cardamom pods
1-2 sticks cinnamon
  •  Mix the milk and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. 
  • Add the tea, sugar and spices and let simmer for 5 minutes. 
  • Turn off heat and let steep for another 5 minutes. 
  • Pour the liquid into a teacup using a strainer to remove the tealeaves and spices. 
You can use any combination of spices you like. I sometimes throw in a whole nutmeg, few black peppercorns, ginger or star anise. And when I’m feeling really indulgent, I garnish the teacup with a few strands of saffron.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Pantry Basics: Essential Indian Spices

There are as many spices in the Indian kitchen as there are recipes. Some are rarely used beyond a special recipe or two, while others appear time and again in dishes from all over the subcontinent. For the beginner who is just starting to explore the cuisine, the basics will be enough for a head-start. All these spices are used whole and/or ground, depending on what the recipe calls for, so it is good to keep both kinds on hand.

[click image to enlarge]

Garam Masala (When cardamom, cinnamon and clove are combined in equal parts and used together, they are referred to as Garam Masala, or as I call it, the ‘holy trifecta.)
Bay Leaves
Dry Red Chillis
Black Peppercorns
Black Mustard  

Paanch Phoron is a five-spice blend used extensively in Eastern India, especially in the cuisines of Bengal, Orissa and Assam. The five whole spices are blended in equal parts—Fenugreek seeds (methi), Nigella seeds (kalonji, or kaalo jirey), Fennel seeds (mouri), Carom (radhuni), Mustard seeds (shorshey). In my family, the fifth spice, mustard, is not used, but the blend is still referred to as “five spice.” I’m Bengali so paanch phoron is indispensible in my kitchen. But it’s not essential to most general Indian recipes.

Garam Masala (cardamom, cinnamon and clove mixed in equal parts and ground finely to a powder.)
Chilli Powder

[click image to enlarge]

Ginger, ground to a paste (I peel and grind large quantities at a time in a food processor, store a small amount in the fridge for current use, and freeze the rest in small containers for later use.) 
Garlic, ground to a paste (see note above)
Green Chillis

Vegetable Oil (I prefer Canola)
Ghee (clarified butter)
Mustard Oil
Coconut Oil

I’ll do a separate post on the secondary and tertiary spices that add complexity and depth to recipes, but that I don’t use as frequently.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fat Sister’s Pantry Basics

A lot of people ask me about the essential pantry items and cookware tools in my kitchen that I find indispensable, the things that I always have in stock and ready to use at any moment. So I’ve decided to start a series of posts called ‘Pantry Basics’ to address these questions and will break them up thematically, and by cuisine. Please look for the first Pantry Basics post tomorrow on Essential Indian Spices.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I thought I’d share my current favourite cookbooks with you. Some are new additions to my shelves (highlighted in pink), that I obsessively cook from and refer to because they are new. Then there are the tried and true comrades that are always by my side.


By David Chang and Peter Meehan
What can I say, it’s all my favourite dishes from Momofuku bound between two hardcovers. I get hungry every time I skim through it. . . .

Elizabeth Andoh
Earthy, homey comfort food from Japan. Some of the ingredients are hard to find in general supermarkets and are only available in Asian specialty stores.  


Cooking Along the Ganges 
By Malvi Doshi
Fabulously simple vegetarian recipes, mainly from western UP and Gujrat.

Curries & Bugles 
By Jennifer Brennan
Recipes from the British Raj—nostalgic and poignant.

Mangoes & Curry Leaves 
By Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
Lavishly illustrated encyclopaedic tome with recipes from all over the sub-continent. The size is a bit unwieldy and I invariably copy the recipe into a small notebook to refer back to in the kitchen.

Rakamari Niramish Ranna 
By Renuka Devi Chowdhurani
A classic Bengali cookbook devoted to the vast vegetarian repertoire in Bengali cuisine.

Savouring the Spice Coast of India 
By Maya Kaimal
A terrific introduction to the cuisine of Kerala.


Aromas of Aleppo 
By Poopa Dweck
Gloriously illustrated paen to the legendary cuisine of Syrian Jews. Most recipes are surprisingly quick and easy.

Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World 
By Lilia Zaouali
An academic account of Medieval Islamic cuisine with recipes adapted to the modern kitchen. It’s a fascinating read and immaculately researched. 

By Claudia Roden
My cousins and I are collectively obsessed with Ms. Roden. Every recipe is perfection. 

The New Book of Middle Eastern Food 
By Claudia Roden
See above.


How to Roast a Lamb
By Michael Psilakis
A warm and welcoming book with a modern spin on the traditions of Greek cooking. 

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
By Marcella Hazan
A bible for techique. Marcella is the best teacher around. 

Molto Italiano
By Mario Batali
Recipes with the big, bold flavours that Mario is famous for. 

French Provincial Cooking
By Elizabeth David
Ms. David is one of the best food writers I've read—meticulous, authoritative and a purist. 


A Platter of Figs and Other recipes
By David Tanis
If attempting to emulate Alice Waters' Chez Panisse aesthetic seems daunting, then start with the much more approachable David Tanis who trained under Waters and now runs the kitchen at CP.

Larousse Gastronomique
I always refer to Larousse for any technique- or ingredient-related questions. It's the cookery encyclopaedia to beat all cookery encyclopaedias.

Bread making:

The Breadbaker's Apprentice
By Peter Reinhart
As I've mentioned in an earlier post, this is my current bible. It's big and grand and intimidating, but worth every penny. 

Baking Artisan Bread
By Ciril Hitz
When Reinhart gets too overwhelming, I quickly turn to Ciril Hitz to reassure me that (relatively) quick and easy bread baking is indeed possible.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In My Sewing Box

As all my family and friends know, I’m very thorough and determined. Once I put my mind to it, I never stop until I finish something. Except when it comes to completing a sewing project for myself. I have sewn numerous things in record time to give people as gifts. But when it comes to making something for myself, I end up with a pile of half-finished projects, sitting for months and years in my craft drawer with no end in sight.

Exhibit 1: 

This one is embarrassing—the front of the bag has been complete for 5 years. I have just that little bird to embroider in the back panel, then sew the two panels together, and add the handle. It’s not as if the workmanship is bad. On the contrary, I’m very proud of all the textures I managed to create with the crewel wool. But just when I was so close to the end, I gave up. Why?!

Exhibit 2: 

I bought the antique silver mini purse closure in Savannah years ago. Then last March I decided to make a little evening bag in petit point to attach to it. It’s a tiny little thing, only about 4” wide, so it should have been done in a jiffy. Well, that was 11 months ago . . . . I got through the butterfly and then moved onto other more exciting projects destined for other people. Aaaaah.

So, dear friends, I beg you to write lots of comments, send admonishing emails, give me ultimatums and kick me in the rear. I need your help—convince me to finish these puppies (before the summer that is)!!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Outside my window. . . .

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tastey Boy’s Favourite Fiery 'Sukha' Chicken

Friday evening was freezing and a perfect night for staying in and puttering over the stove. Tastey Boy called me mid-day with a request for his favourite sukha chicken, so that’s what was on the menu along with some Chhola Daal with Daikon* left over from earlier in the week and a cucumber-tomato salad.

Sukha means dry in colloquial Hindi. An Indian curry is considered sukha when prepared without much water, and a thick, pliant gravy coats the meat or chicken. I generally make these drier, robust curries with a lot of extra heat in the cold winter months.

Johnny, Betts and Sunil decided to drop-in and we ended up having a lovely impromptu dinner party. I hadn’t planned for dessert so I whisked some yogurt with honey, rosewater, pistachios and pinenuts to end the meal.


6 tbsp Vegetable oil 
2 large Onions, chopped
1 tbsp whole Cumin 
2 tbsp whole Black Peppercorns 
3-4 Bay Leaves 
2 Tomatoes, chopped 
2 tsp ground Coriander 
4-6 tsp Chilli powder (adjust to your taste) 
2 tsp crushed Garlic 
1 tsp crushed Ginger 
4lbs bone-in Chicken pieces (combination of thigh, leg, and breast)
Salt (to taste)
½ cup plain Yogurt (whisked with ½ cup water)

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat until smoking. Add onions, cumin, peppercorns and bay leaves, and fry until the onions are golden brown and well caramelized. 
  2. Add chopped tomatoes and stir well for 5 mins until they disintegrate into the onions. 
  3. Mix coriander and chilli powder in a little water to make into a paste and add to the pot. Stir briskly for about 5 mins and add garlic and ginger. Continue stirring, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pot, until the oil starts to separate from the spice mixture, about 5-7 mins. 
  4. Add chicken and stir well to coat the chicken pieces thoroughly in the spices. Add salt and yogurt, stir and bring to a boil. Then lower heat and simmer uncovered for 30-40 mins. Check the pot occasionally and stir to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom. You know it is ready when most of the water has evaporated and the curry has reduced to a thick, glossy gravy coating the chicken pieces. Turn off heat and let sit for 10 mins before serving. 

* I'll include this Chhola Daal recipe when I publish a separate post of my favourite daal recipes soon.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bedside Reading

My current reading stack on my bedside table:

by Hilary Mantel

I'm a third of the way into this and find myself struggling to stay interested. The Cromwell-Henry VIII drama is compelling but the detailed description of court life is getting tedious. . . .

by Peter Reinhart

The bible that is fueling my bread-making obsession!
Tasty Boy is not complaining.

by Iliya Troyanov

I'm half-way through this and a bit disappointed. Richard Burton's personality hasn't jumped off the page as vividly as I expected it to. It will most likely make it to the 'unfinished novels shelf' on the book case.

by Leon Uris

By coincidence, I recently picked up an old edition of Leon Uris' novel from a street vendor the same weekend that I saw Alfred Hitchcock's Topaz after years. Ripping intrigue!

Lonely Planet Greece

Preparing for a family holiday in 8 weeks :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

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Haberdasher's Row

There is something about ribbons and threads that I find utterly irresistible. Peter complains that they bring out the textile whore in me! I confess that I have no restraint when confronted by them, and I succumb to buying yards and yards even when I don’t have a specific use for them. My addiction kick-started when I was little and was fueled by a row of jewel-box-like shops overflowing with ribbons and lace and buttons and floss, tucked away in a dark, far corner of New Market in Calcutta. 

Over the years, the merchandise in Haberdasher’s Row has evolved with the changing fashions, but the crotchety old men selling the wares have remained constant—frowning curmudgeonly from behind ancient registers that make startlingly loud clanging noises every time a key is pressed and the cash drawer is shut.

When I entered the Mullick Brothers establishment last week, the proprietor, as always, didn’t feign any interest in serving me, and barked at his pliant assistant to take out the boxes of Anchor floss that I asked to see. I instinctively gravitated towards the tray of oranges and corals and selected a few skeins to embellish a cushion that I’d sewn for Peter a few months ago.

Just when I thought I was displaying admirable restraint, I eyed a delicious stack of brocade ribbons by the door.

And that was my undoing. For the next 30 minutes, I played with the shiny, glittery rolls while poor Peter looked on the growing pile with increasing alarm. But there was no stopping my floss-fueled adrenalin rush—I emerged triumphantly with close to 50 metres of ribbon!

And when I inevitably feel the urge again in a few weeks, I’ll be far from New Market, but I can trot up to M&J Trimming or Toho Shoji in the NYC garment district to satiate my craving.

© Copyright 2012 Shubhani Sarkar