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December 2005

A Winter of Colour-Gajar Halwa

 

Winter really occurs in the North of India, and in hill stations, where the temperature sometimes dips below 0 .Usually winter here is the best time of year, like a toasty Mediterranean summer. At least 28  degrees centigrade in the day, outdoors.Temperatures drop at night,when most people are tucked in bed and nobody really notices.

But we have our cooler days here in Pune too.Enough to warrant a change of wardrobe. Out come the shawls and cardigans. In fact, with the cold wave in the North a couple of days ago ,we reached a low of 3 degrees centigrade . 

Now unless you are partying and moving around on a two wheeler. you do not need more protection from the cold than a sweatshirt.

Sonyas_wedding_shopping_027_1

But when it gets to the zeroes the 'Terrorist Look', sported by many pretty young things, ostensibly to hide their faces from the harsh environment, but really to protect themselves on a date, from family spies and prying eyes, is not enough to protect you against the cold.

You need a windcheater, an anorak or a wool sweater, with, perhaps, a balaclava, the last 'de rigeur' amongst old gentlemen, from Deccan Gymkhana, out on their early morning walks.

We look forward to our change of season too, a season which is pleasant,  rather than a misery of cold, grey and damp. In fact it is the wedding season now. Luckily, auspicious and cool days seem to coincide.
No wedding feast ends without gajar halwa , preferably with a dollop of icecream on the side and a sliver of beaten silver on top. 

Some years ago vegetables like carrots,cauliflower and beans  were  'winter vegetables ' available only during the cold season and something to look forward to. Now , because of genetic modification we see them all year round.
But carrots, GM or not, are something that really flood the market now. They are a real treat. Different from 'English' carrots with their orange colour and rounded shape, these carrots are very long,quite thin, very red, sweet, juicy and perfect for making 'gajar ka halwa'.

Last year for the first time I did not make the mounds of halwa I used to. There was a rumour going around the market that the carrots stocked by some of the vendors were artificially coloured. Thinking this a funny way of dealing with the competition, I did not make much of it ,but thought  twice about making that halwa.

Now the rumour is confirmed! The Food and Drug Administration, doing the rounds of Gultekdi, the local wholesale market, said  there were Jodhpuri carrots which were being artificially coloured in Bombay. Jodhpuri carrots are large in size but are not always red. They are usually pretty inexpensive in winter , now going for around Rs 7 a kg. The coloured ones were being priced at Rs 14, double, because they look far more attractive.What is more, the colours used were probably not edible, as food colouring is much too expensive for such use.!!

Darn it . Am I going to have to use English carrots to make gajar halwa...No and no again.

I shall buy the carrots at the door from the trustworthy baskets of the two bai's (women) who take them around every morning. Mother and daughter, they haul them up and down stairs, and the sheer physical effort involved makes the vegetables cost twice as much as at Shivaji market. So one pays the price and gets those old carrots, sweet and long and tasty and uncoloured.

Try this for  a winter treat:

Gajar Halwa / Carrot and Milk Dessert

Ingredients:

2 litres milk
1 kg carrots, grated
2 heaped tablespoons sugar
5 green cardomoms

Bring milk to the boil, add the grated carrot and bring to the boil again.Add cardomoms. Reduce heat and cook on a slow fire till half the milk has boiled down. Add sugar and continue to simmer till the carrots are slightly red in colour and  very little of the milk remains.Remove the whole cardomom.
Serve.
(You can also fry the halwa in 2 tablespoon of ghee (clarified butter) which makes it more authentic but terribly rich.Sprinkle some slivered pistachio on top and serve.)

This is the taste of winter in most of India.Except where it is summer in December.


Just Jowar Bread

 

Jowar Bread
Baking has always been in my blood.What is it about that loaf pulled out of a hot oven that gives me a sense of achievement like no other food creation does. Is it the smell of warm bread? How could it be ? If it's in the veins, then hot chapathis should give me the same pleasure. I think it must be some kind of collective memory, a pleasant one thankfully. Anyway, not being much into analysis of any kind these days , let it go.

However I have always wanted to try grinding my own flours, made of different grains. I envied a Swiss friend who had the most amazing flour grinder. A huge thing, she had brought it with her to India. Well I just buy different kinds of flour ready ground.

Breadmaking is still a hit and miss affair with my temperamental and uncontrollable oven.
BUT recently a friend I met on a food discussion forum gave me a great gift.....an oven thermometer. How many times have I promised myself one and forgotten to ask for it ...from abroad, as it is not available here. When people visiting India ask me what I'd like from "foreign" I can never think of anything. Well Uma brought it , along with a pan of slowly rising focaccia which needed to be baked as she didnt have an oven as yet.

So now I am equipped to take on a few more experiments.

Here is a Jowar / Sorghum Bread I made recently. Sorghum grows under all sorts of adverse conditions and is a very hardy plant. You can get sorghum wheat in many speciality grocery stores in other parts of the world.

Ingredients:

2 cups of jowar atta / jowar flour
2 cups of white flour
1 tsp caster sugar
1 teaspoon shahzeera / caraway seeds

3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup water
11/2 tbsp butter
3 tbsps jaggery/ gur or treacle
2 tbsps active dry yeast or  14 gms of fresh yeast

Sieve the white flour and jowar flour into a bowl. Add the caster sugar and caraway seeds.

Heat the milk water,butter, sugar and jaggery together. When the jaggery and butter has melted take of heat. While still warm sprinkle the dry yeast over the top of the liquid. Let it stand for 5 minutes till the yeast bubbles.

Make a well in the centre of the flours and pour the liquid in.Mix till it forms a ball. Turn out on to a floured board and knead for 10 minutes till the surface of the dough is smooth. Remember, do not break the skin of the dough whilst kneading.

Oil a container and let the dough stand covered for 1 1/2 hours to rise till it is almost twice its size .. Punch down, form a ring, cover and put it on an oiled baking sheet to rise for another hour.

Bake at 400 Degrees for 45 minutes  - 1 hour till light brown on top.

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The bread turned out very dense and heavy but with a lovely flavour. I cut it into very thin slices and toasted them in the oven till brown and crisp. Out of this world with a slice of Baramati cheese or a bowl of hot soup.


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