Chutney Matters: Spicy Spirals

What do you do when one of your favorite serving plates falls off a stack of plates, smack into the middle of your head, bounces off the counter and shatters into a million pieces after barely missing your feet? Well, if you are me, you take it as a chastisement from above for procrastinating over posting your entry for Jihvā: Greens.

On May 1 2007, it will be a whole year of watching and drooling over Indira's Jihvā for Ingredients, one of the most successful online events that celebrates the various ingredients we use in our cooking. On the eve of the anniversary, I raise a toast to Indira and 11 other entreprising hostesses and several hundred creative participants! Thank you all very much!!

So with a huge bump on my head, a slowly progressing headache and eyes that are beginning to have a tough time focusing, I bring you what can only be called Green Chutney Redux!

Spicy Spirals

An hors d'oeuvre that rocks!

  • One sheet Pillsbury Pepperidge Farm's frozen puff pastry sheet
  • 2 containers frozen coriander chutney
  • 2 cubes, frozen chilli-cilantro paste**optional

  1. Thaw the frozen pastry sheet according to the instructions on the package
  2. Thaw the chutneys and the additional green chili-cilantro cubes and mix them well. Drain off as much excess liquid as possible. This is important otherwise your pastry sheet could quickly become soggy.
  3. Dust your work surface with some all-purpose flour and roll out the thawed puff pastry till it is about 1/8th inch thick. If this proves tricky, stop rolling before the pastry tears!
  4. Spread the thickened chutney mix liberally over the pastry.
  5. Start rolling from one side. Roll tightly until you have a firm log. Wipe off excess chutney that may ooze out from the edges.
  6. Wrap this in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for about 10 minutes. The log will become firmer, making it easier to cut into thin spiral slices. Set a timer so that you don't end up with a rock hard frozen log!
  7. Heat your oven to 400F
  8. Slice into 1/2 inch pieces along the cross-section.

    I end up with about 25 slices depending on the thickness. Don't make them too thin or too thick.

  9. Place them on a baking tray or cookie sheet about an inch apart and bake for 12-15 minutes till golden-brown. Some will balloon up in the center, looking very much like a Mexican hat!
  10. Resist the temptation to dig into them immediately as they are very hot and will burn your tongue. Experience speaks volumes here!
  11. Allow to cool and enjoy with your choice of a drink, hot or cold.

Needless to say, the star ingredient in this is cilantro.
The essential oils of the cilantro leaves contain antibacterial properties and can be used as a fungicide.

Coriander seeds are considered to have cholesterol lowering properties.

For a Thanksgiving party many years ago, I made two logs: one with cilantro chutney and the other with cranberry-jalapeno-orange chutney. It made for a very colorful hors d'oeuvre!

I am rushing this over to JFI-Greens: Jihva for Ingredients, hosted once again by Indira as a joint event with Nandita's WBB before the doors close on the month of April!

And now, I will go nurse that bump on my head...

IFR New Finds

New In The Freezer:
Not quite the homemade taste but much better than the bottled stuff that masquerades as chutney. I found Mint Chutney and Coriander Chutney from Deep in my Indian grocer's frozen section. There are four containers, each about half cup, in each carton adding to the convenience factor.

I preferred the mint chutney as it was tangier. The spice level is mild with the mint being slightly more spicy. I am not a fan of packaged ready-to-eat Indian food, frozen or otherwise, but this is something I plan to stock in my freezer. It won't stop me from making my own chutneys but these are a huge time saver!

Update May 31, 2007: I found coconut chutney and concentrate for pani puris. The coconut chutney is reasonably OK. I haven't tried the pani concentrate yet.

New On The Block: Yet another well-written Indian food blog, Evolving Tastes, with beautiful pictures. I've learned a lot from her in the past and I am looking forward to being regaled some more! Especially when it comes to Maharashtrian food. If her twist on the revered sabudana khichadi is anything to go by, I know I am only going to be enthralled!!

Arabian Nights: Before-I-Die Bedouin Mensaf Lebeneh and Sambusik Cookies

It's very rare for my husband to ask me to cook something and he's always very appreciative of whatever I put in front of him. And even more appreciative if he didn't have to do anything to bring it to fruition. If I ask him for a farmaaish, it's almost always khichadi, not to be confused with kichadi, and potatoes in a sweet and tangy tomato sauce. Needless to say, I've stopped asking him.

So when he came up with Bedouin Mensaf Lebeneh as one of the dishes he would like to eat in this lifetime, I was really taken aback. Not only had he asked for something other than khichadi, but this was a dish that had meat in it. Given a choice, he prefers to be a vegetarian but has learned to eat fish and meat because of me. He had first heard of Mensaf Lebeneh when I had read him excerpts from Diana Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava. The violent story of the botched-up killing of the lamb, followed by the recipe for a Peaceful Vegetarian Lentil Soup got him hooked. He read the book from cover to cover. He even approached my Bosnian neighbor who, from time to time, has goat carcasses hanging in his garage. According to Medha, the dead goats keep looking at them while they play.

Bedouin Mensaf Lebeneh is best when made with goat meat or mutton, as it is called in India. I made it with lamb, the more readily available meat in these parts of Colorado.

Bedouin Mensaf Lebeneh

From Diana Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava

  • 2 lbs boneless lamb
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked (I used just the egg-white. You'll realize why as you read through the rest of the ingredients!)
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 large onion, chopped (I forgot and sliced mine!)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 pound butter (!)
  • 3 pitas, torn into pieces
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or slivered almonds (I had neither so I used walnuts)
  1. In a large pot, place the lamb and add water until the lamb is covered. Bring to a boil.
  2. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so.
  3. Skim off any fat that drifts to the surface, leaving behind a lamb broth.
  4. In another large pot, stir the egg into the buttermilk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir constantly or else the buttermilk will curdle.
  5. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue stirring, for about 20 minutes.
  6. Add just the lamb pieces to the buttermilk mixture. Do not discard the broth.
  7. Add 1 cup of the lamb broth to the buttermilk mixture and stir thoroughly.
  8. Simmer this lamb mixture for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
  9. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  10. In the meantime, cook the rice in 2 cups of the lamb broth, adding salt to taste.

  11. In a saucepan, sauté the onions in 1 tbsp of butter until they are lightly browned.
  12. Add these onions to the buttermilk mixture toward the end of the cooking.

  13. Layer the pieces of pita on the bottom of each plate and pour enough of the buttermilk mixture to soak the bread.
  14. Spread the rice over the bread in a low dome.
  15. Place the lamb pieces over the rice and pour more buttermilk over the meat. Don't let it become soupy or runny.
  16. Keep the extra buttermilk sauce to serve on the side for those - like me - who would like more.
  17. In another (yes, 4th!) small pan, sauté the pine nuts or almonds in 2 tbsp butter until the nuts are lightly browned and sprinkle them over the meat.
  18. Dot the whole dish with slices of the remaining butter before serving.

Some notes:
  • Needless to say this is a very rich dish! I used as little butter as possible and also eliminated the egg yolk in an attempt to make this more appropriate for non-Bedouins like us, whose sedentary lives could do without so much fat and cholesterol!
  • This dish has a very gamey flavor. The next time I make this, I will cook the rice in water or vegetable stock instead of lamb broth.
  • Medha did not like this dish. She complained that it had no flavor. What she meant was that she could not taste any of the spices that she is used to in my cooking. No ginger or garlic either. How true! So the next day, I added some powdered cinnamon to the buttermilk sauce and she ate it with less reluctance.
  • My husband was surprised by the gaminess or heavy meaty flavor. But he enjoyed every bite of it!

To go with this one-dish Jordanian meal, I made some delectable melt-in-your-mouth cookies. Forget-me-not Sambusik Cookies are what Diana Abu-Jaber calls these Jordanian delights in an ode to her childhood friend Hisham, who she met during the short period that her family returned to live in Jordan.

I, too, have a forget-me-not experience associated with these cookies. Several, actually. It started with the preparation of these cookies. The ingredients call for 1 and half cups of ground walnuts. No brainer, right? Wrong. Think hours of grinding walnuts in the food processor. Walnuts release their oils when ground and so it had to be done in small batches and simply took forever! But I was so committed to these cookies that I didn't give up. Such is the power of The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber!

The camping trip I took them on was also another unforgettable and cold experience. Maybe it's got something to do with the cookies? Try it out, take them somewhere and let me know if you, too, had a forget-me-not experience!

Sambusik Cookies

From Diana Abu-Jaber's The Language of Baklava

  • For the covering:
  • 1 cup clarified butter or ghee
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup confectioner's sugar
  • For the filling:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups ground walnuts
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon rosewater

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Stir the sugar into the clarified butter.
  3. Stir in the milk.
  4. Add the flour in small batches and knead
    by hand until smooth. 4 cups of flour is a lot of flour! I had to enlist larger hands to assist with the kneading.
  5. Roll out the dough to a thickness of about 1/4 inch and cut with a 2inch round cookie cutter.
  6. Combine all the filling ingredients and place a good mounded teaspoon of the filling on each cut-out cookie, fold it over, and pinch the edges closed.
  7. Traditional sambusik cookies are then curved into a half-moon shape.
  8. Bake at 350F for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cookies are lightly browned.

  9. Remove the cookies from the oven and cool.
  10. Sprinkle liberally with confectioner's sugar.
  11. Dig your teeth into these and enjoy these walnut filled cookies with a hint of rose flavor!
Some tips:
  • Look at the ingredient list carefully. It is 1 and 1/2 cups of ground walnuts, not 1 and 1/2 cups walnuts, ground. It took about 4 cups of walnuts, possibly more, to yield 1 and 1/2 cups of ground walnuts. This was the part that took the longest. So if you decide to make these and you have a Middle-Eastern or Arab store nearby and they stock ground walnuts, jump at that chance. It will save you a lot of time!
  • It might be a good idea to halve this recipe. That way one is dealing with only 3/4 cup ground walnuts and only 2 cups of flour. You won't go nuts grinding the walnuts like I did! And 2 cups flour is manageable for medium to small size adult hands!
  • I wasn't really sure what Diana Abu-Jaber meant by curved into a half moon shape. To me, half a moon is a semi-circle. I thought perhaps she meant a crescent and so that is what I did. If you have had the real thing when it comes to Sambusik Cookies, do drop me a note to tell me where I could have done better. Ahem! Note the positive tone!

This makes about 35-36 cookies. It was just the right number for our neighborhood potluck when we camped at Moraine Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park. They were a huge hit. We didn't stay the second night but the cookies did!

I found Diana Abu-Jaber's Language of Baklava when Barbara mentioned that it was a memoir of an Arab-American girl who straddles two very different cultures while growing up, Jordanian on her father's side and American on her mother's. Diana Abu-Jaber relates her story with a lot of humor and punctuates them with well-written easy-to-follow recipes. I was hoping to learn something new from this book about raising an immigrant child in America, where values at home are sometimes radically different from that of the world I send her out into. I think I set my expectations too high in that respect because I couldn't find anything that I would do differently after reading this book. But the book itself makes for a wonderful and easy read! The recipes are an added bonus.

I am sending these Jordanian delicacies to Meeta's Arabian Nights - Monthly Mingle.

Icy Spring Calls for Bhadang

Spring! Clear blue skies. Crisp fresh air. Yes, spring was here for a couple of weeks and then Old Man Winter decided he hadn't spent enough time with us and came back with a bang.

There was ice everywhere yesterday and today, there's snow. My yard and my plants are adorned with nature's icy diamonds. It's cold, very cold.

Back in the upper teens and it's perfect weather for kanda bhajji, the disco version of which sounds even more attractive.

But I placed steel over my heart and made another favorite, a low-cal spicy crunchy treat made with kurmura or puffed rice, called bhadang. (Said: bhuh-dung).


A Maharashtrian crunchy snack

Bhadang brings back many memories of my Mom. This used to be one of my favorite snacks to munch on while I pretended to study for my exams. My hand would get slapped very often as I tried to sneak some peanuts. Or when she wasn't looking, I'd grab a fistful of kurmure and dart back to the dining table which I took over in the name of studying.

It's funny how I see history repeat itself. No, Medha was not studying for any exams (thank God!) but she sure was reducing the quantity of peanuts with each hug that she had to give me. When I put the peanuts out of reach, I started losing some of the kurmure with each loving visit!
  • 5-6 cups kurmure
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • A pinch hing or asafetida
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup roasted peanuts
  • 1/8 cup cashews
  • 2 Thai green chillies, chopped fine
  • 10-15 curry leaves or two small sprigs
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder (use more to up the heat, less for a mild flavor)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • 5 methi seeds (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • pinch citric acid crystals (optional)
  • salt to taste
  1. Heat oil in a large kadhai.
  2. Add the mustard seeds and when they pop, add hing.
  3. Reduce the heat and add cumin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts and cashews. Sesame seeds tend to jump right out of the hot oil into your eyes, so watch out!
  4. Add the chopped green chillies and curry leaves. They too will sizzle because of their water content so sometimes it helps to be ready with a splatter proof lid for the kadhai. Allow the green chillies to get nicely fried in the oil.
  5. Add the red chilli powder, turmeric powder, and methi seeds.

  6. Next add the kurmura and toss until it is nicely coated with all the yummies in the oil.
  7. Add sugar, salt and citric acid crystals and toss about a little more. Continue to heat on low, mixing and tossing constantly, until the kurmura are crisp and spicy.
  8. Your bhadang is ready! Serve immediately with a hot cup of tea or coffee. This can be stored for up to a week. Mine never lasts beyond a day!

When I didn't have easy access to an Indian grocery store, I used to make bhadang with Kellogg's Rice Crispies. It's not quite the same and I would use more green chillies to get the taste I craved.

Nupur has an interesting twist on bhadang with garlic and raisins. Or you could simply order some Spicy World Bhadang from Amazon.

It's been fun...

Yes, it has really been fun. But the time has come to say good-bye.

S'long folks. Have a great year doing what you do best. Think of me sometimes.

Now, I must take your leave.