I still remember my horror when tasting my alu gobi at an
Indian dinner I had cooked in Holland for friends. While
everyone was oohing and ahhing over the meal, I took a bite of the gobi and- almost spat it out. It was
nothing like the real thing! It was positively ghastly!
However nobody seemed to notice or mind. To this day I can't figure out what went wrong with that alu gobi.
Now,years later, I know there are several reasons why the same recipe produces different results when cooked in different countries.
Generally speaking the main reason why food tastes so different is that the ingredients are not exactly the same as can be found in the country of origin. This is true for the "lamb" that goes for 'mutton" in the west. The "curry powder" or "garam masala " that is used instead of separate spices; even the vegetables and herbs themselves. For example, in India vegetables are smaller in size and have a stronger taste. Most Indians would find the vegetables available in the west beautiful, huge and in perfect condition but with a watered down taste or even sweet. Some seem to have no flavour at all. Our vegetables, in comparison, are packed with taste. If a recipe calls for one onion in India what would one use in the US- five? The same goes for the garlic and ginger- three cloves and a one inch piece would yield no taste at all in another country.
Finally it may be the fact that all these vegetables and herbs are of distinct groups and varieties and so the taste can never be replicated.
In spite of knowing this it came as a surprise to me that what we use as cinnamon in India today is actually the inner bark of the cassia tree. Scientifically known as Cinnamomum cassia (Blume ) it is thicker and somewhat bitter in taste as compared to Cinnamomum zeylanicum or “true cinnamon” which is the paper thin, fragrant and delicate flavoured cinnamon grown in Sri Lanka and South India. Cassia, different species of which also grow in Indonesia, Vietnam and China, has replaced cinnamon in popularity in the US and in fact the name is interchangeable in that country.However cinnamon and cassia are distinguishable in the UK where the original Cinnamomum verum i.e. zeylanicum is imported and highly prized for its flavouring, perfuming and medicinal qualities since ancient times.
Dalchini used in curries must have a strong taste and so the cassia type will suffice. When it comes to cinnamon cookies, biscuits, breads and toast the ‘real thing’ is imperative. Strangely enough “true cinnamon” is hard to lay your hands on even though it is grown in Kerala. Farmers there are now facing difficulties, as the Indian government imports and encourages the growth of more cassia varieties.
For the following cookies which are absolutely scrumptious, I used some of the lovely ‘true’ cinnamon quills brought for me from the Andamans by my nephew Vivek. They ground up into a fine powder very quickly unlike the usual dalchini which makes a god awful noise when milled and practically annihilates my grinder.
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/4 cup milk
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup walnuts, broken
5 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon , powdered.
Beat the softened butter lightly. Add the powdered sugar and whip with a electric whisk till light in colour and creamy. Beat the eggs seperately and then add to the butter and sugar mixture. Now add the milk and give it another stir.
Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together and add to the butter mixture. Mix well. Fold in the nuts.
Keep the mixture in the fridge to firm up. Mix the sugar and cinnamon and put into a small bowl or plate. Make small lemon sized balls of the dough and roll each one in the sugar/ cinnamon mix.
Place on a greased baking tray and cook at 200 degrees C for about 10-15 minutes. (This depends on how hot your oven actually gets and I find each one different. The thing is to check after 8 minutes or so to see that the base of the biscuit is not turning black. When the bottom is a nice deep golden brown the biscuits are ready.)
This is one of those recipes which turns out great whatever you do. However if you use dalchini powder sprinkle it with a light hand over the cookies once they are rolled in the sugar or you will get an awfully bitter biscuit.