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November 2008
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December 2008

Cinnamon Biscuits and why the same food tastes different in every country

 Cinnamon-cookies 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.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2 eggs
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

Coating
 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.


Mutton Kofta Curry

Mutton-Kofta-done We had our family cooking meet again recently and cousin Mohini demonstrated her delicious mutton kofta curry. It is a delight to watch her cook. She is very unhurried and organised without being too fussy in her measurements of spices and other ingredients.
The best feature of this curry is that we didnt have to stand and watch over it. Once the koftas were formed it was left to simmer till cooked while we caught up on the news and gossip. Needless to say it was absolutely yummy with chapathis and rice at lunch.We really enjoyed the fruits of our own labour.

Ingredients:
2 1/2 tbs oil
2 medium onions, chopped fine
1/2 kg mutton mince/ kheema
12 cloves garlic / lasun
1" piece of ginger/ adrak
1 cup green coriander/ hara dhaniya, chopped
2 tbsp thick yogurt/ dahi ( Remove water by hanging the dahi for awhile in muslin)
1 tbsp water
1 " cinnamon/ dalchini
6 green cardamom/ elaichi
4 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsps salt
1/2 tsp turmeric/ haldi
3 tsp cumin/ jeera powder
1/2 tsp chilli /lal mirchi powder
1 tsp garam masala
3 cups water



Method:

Dry roast onions

Dry roast the onions for about 10 minutes till light golden.

Dhania-garlic-puree-3

Grind into a masala with the garlic, ginger and half the coriander. 

Squeeze-water-out-of-mince
Remove excess water from the mince by taking a handful at a time and squeezing it.

Add-dahi-to-mince

Mix the kheema and 1/2 a cup of the chopped coriander , 2 tsp cumin powder and 1 tsp salt.Add the dahi to the kheema.

Fry-masala

Fry the ground masala on a low flame. Add 1 tablespoon of water and fry well. Add the cinnamon and cardamom and continue to fry till the oil begins to seperate from the paste.

Add-Tomato-puree

Add the tomato puree and fry.

Add-dry-spices

Now add haldi, the rest of the jeera powder, chilli powder, salt and the garam masala. Fry some more and then add the water. Bring to a boil.Stir well. 

Add-kofta-to-curry
While the curry is coming to the boil make lemon sized balls from the kheema and drop gently into the boiling curry.Do not stir with a spoon after adding the balls. Add the rest of the green coriander reserving some for the garnish.

Boiling-kofta

Reduce the fire so that the curry simmers. Do not cover. Cook for another 1 1/4  hour till the curry reduces by at least half.

Serve hot with rice or chapathis.


Shepu Bhaji- Dill and lentil vegetable

Shepu-bhaji

This is for Kushal who requested some more recipes using some of the wide variety of greens available- "I can't have saag / palak paneer / sai bhaji ALL the time," he writes.

Heeeere's shepu!!

Ingredients

2 tsps vegetable oil
1 bunch of dill /shepu about 3-4 cups of chopped dill
 2 tablespoons of yellow split mung lentils / moong dal
 1/2 tsp jeera
 6 cloves of garlic chopped fine
1 green chilli chopped
 1/2 tsp salt

 Soak the moong dal for half an hour. Wash and chop the dill in the meanwhile. Heat two teaspoons of oil in a pan, add the garlic and saute for a minute then add the jeera and green chilli. When the jeera sizzles add the chopped dill and moong dal. Cover tight and cook on low heat for about 20 minutes till the moong is soft and the dill is cooked. (Do not add water unless you absolutely have to and if so just a tablespoon.) Add the salt and give it a good stir. Serve.


 Super simple!