Showing posts with label india. Show all posts
Showing posts with label india. Show all posts

Feb 25, 2018

Soachal (Kashmiri Mallow)

Kashmir, Kashmiri, mallow, recipe, sochal, soachal, vegetable, traditional, easy, india, pakistan, weed, malva, forage, edible,

Mallow or soachal is a much-loved vegetable in Kashmir. Simply sauteeing with a bit of garlic and red chili is the Kashmiri way of rendering this common weed into a delicious dish.

Kashmir, Kashmiri, mallow, recipe, sochal, soachal, vegetable, traditional, easy, india, pakistan, weed, malva, forage, edible,
Common mallow (Malva neglecta)
What a  surprise it was when I saw my Kashmiri sister-in-law washing and prepping a pile of leaves from this weed on our last trip to Srinagar. This plant is called cheeseweed or common mallow in my native California. You'll often see this pretty little weed growing wild along roadsides or in newly disturbed soil around the world. I had no idea it was completely edible nor that it tasted so good! Most wild greens I've tried have been bitter, sour, fibrous, metallic, or earthy to the point that they required a lot of cooking and seasoning. Mallow leaves or soachal (pronounced tsot-zall) in Kashmiri are tender with a delicately green flavor thus requiring minimal cooking and seasoning.

Kashmir, Kashmiri, mallow, recipe, sochal, soachal, vegetable, traditional, easy, india, pakistan, weed, malva, forage, edible,
Common mallow (Malva neglecta) in my garden
 So now I have soachal (mallow) growing alongside Kashmiri haak (collards) and gogji (turnips) in my winter garden here in Nepal.  The plant freely reseeds and suffers minimal pests. About once a week I pluck leaves from the little plot of soachal (mallow) in the morning to prepare for lunch or dinner. If you are interested in learning more about mallow I've written a post about it here.

Kashmir, Kashmiri, mallow, recipe, sochal, soachal, vegetable, traditional, easy, india, pakistan, weed, malva, forage, edible,
Common mallow (Malva neglecta)
This recipe is for the simple yet delicious saute my sister-in-law prepared that day. Garlic and Kashmiri mirch add just enough umami boost and spicy heat to perfectly compliment the mild flavor of the mallow leaves. Mallow is in the same family as okra and has a similar mucilaginous sap. Allowing the mallow leaves to completely dry before sauteing prevents them from getting gooey. Leaving the pan uncovered while sauteeing keeps steam from causing slime too. The leaves turn slightly crisp when cooked in this manner giving the dish a unique and interesting texture. The Kashmiris also do another tasty dish that combines soachal or mallow leaves with nadroo (lotus root). If I can find some fresh lotus root/nadroo here in Nepal I'll put that recipe up too! Until then, off to the recipe:

4-5 C mallow/soachal leaves,
2-3 TBS cooking oil, or just enough to cover the bottom of your pan
2-3 garlic/lahsun cloves, minced finely
1-2 tsps Kashmiri mirch (or red chili powder of choice)
1/4 tsp turmeric/haldi
salt to taste

Here's what to do:
1) Rinse fresh mallow leaves with cold water and allow to dry for three to four hours. Pick out any damaged or diseased leaves or woody stems.

Kashmir, Kashmiri, mallow, recipe, sochal, soachal, vegetable, traditional, easy, india, pakistan, weed, malva, forage, edible,

2) Heat cooking oil in kadhai or shallow skillet over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes. (Oil should be hot but not smoking). Place clean mallow leaves and minced garlic in hot oil in pan. Stir so that leaves and garlic are coated with hot oil. Some liquid will come out of the leaves. (Do not cover the pan or the leaves go a bit slimy- I learned that the hard way.)

3) Allow mixture to fry for about 3-4 minutes then add salt, Kashmiri mirch/red chili powder, and turmeric. (I usually add about a scant teaspoon of salt) Stir well. Continue frying for about 4 minutes more or until garlic is cooked through. Salt to taste and serve hot or warm with rice.

Kashmir, Kashmiri, mallow, recipe, sochal, soachal, vegetable, traditional, easy, india, pakistan, weed, malva, forage, edible,

Helpful Hints:
When asked the Sheikh (my husband) how long to cook the soachal he said, "Until it is done." Duh.  So basically I figured out that when the garlic is limp and cooked through the soachal is probably "done" too.

Oct 23, 2017

Over hill, Over Dale, As we hit the dusty trail...

Yes, we hit the post-Monsoon dusty trail to visit the in-laws in Kashmir for a VERY special occasion. Right at the start of the tourist season and during the Hindu high holidays - the absolute WORST time of year to travel in South Asia! Above you see the miserable traffic, dust, and non existent road entering Kathmandu.

Well, it started out all sunny and beautiful anyway. Here's the new bridge they're building at the tiny riverbank town of Mugling. No hard hats or safety harnesses for these guys!

Then the road sort of turned into a partially drained riverbed replete with boulders and bathtub sized potholes. After the Monsoon the roads are always partially or completely destroyed. The Sheikh calls these stretches of road "camel rides" as we get tossed about so much. Traffic was horrendous due to most Nepalis returning home to their villages from big cities to celebrate the festivals. If you are a tourist planning to visit Nepal please be aware that although October is lovely for mild weather and enjoying the local festivals most banks and markets will be closed. You'll be most likely stuck eating at your hotel as restaurants are closed too. (Yes, this is the start of the prime tourist season - but holidays must be properly observed lest divine favor be denied!)

And then we flew to Delhi into even more traffic and airfares jacked up to exorbitant holiday prices. Yes, in the above photo that's Delhi traffic trying to go three ways at once with no stoplight or police officer guiding it. If you're wondering how we get around in Delhi we have a favorite native Delhi taxi driver with an unglamorous but comfy, reliable, and air conditioned CNG powered cab that costs about $30-$40 daily. It's important to get a native Delhi driver because they know their way around the city well. If you get a newbie taxi driver that just emigrated to Delhi you will end up lost or going the long way round and paying for it through the nose.

And then we flew to Srinagar to the Sheikh's ancestral home. Which was rather subdued despite the attack near the airport the day before our arrival. 

Here's why we went to Srinagar during this horrid time to travel: my niece's Nishaani or engagement party. Getting married is the biggest, most important event in your life in South Asia. The engagement and all things leading up to the big day must be celebrated auspiciously and with great pomp and circumstance and so on... (I'll fill you in with more photos and great detail on the Nishaani later).

Remember these two little guys? These are the little kittens whose mother died and left them orphaned living under the stairs at our family home in Srinagar. I posted several photos of them on our visit to Kashmir last year.

That's who these handsome brutes are now! Wow, what a pair of bruisers they've grown into! They're living a lavish lifestyle now feasting upon chicken scraps from the neighborhood butcher and sharing the TV room inside the house with my brother-in-law.

When we returned from Srinagar we spent 2 days shopping in Delhi. We usually go shopping twice yearly in Delhi but have avoided going there due to the hassle of the demonetisation scheme and now the new Goods and Services Tax. Prices have gone up considerably in India. Cosmetics are now taxed at a whopping 30% so I won't be buying makeup in India anymore. I did find a new (to me anyway) shop featuring the Korean beauty line called Innisfree. Innisfree is the #1 selling beauty brand in Korea and is owned by the famed and very $$$s luxury skin care company Amore Pacific.  Innisfree favors a 'value' pricing system with lots of buy 5 get 2 free sort of deals like you see in the US frequently. I don't think Indians like the buy more and save 'value' deal model of retailing as much as us Americans do. I picked some masks and some products from their Green Tea line, Perfect 9 line, and Golden Olive line for my spa days. I really love Asian beauty products as they are usually better quality, produce actual results, and are more elegant to use than Western skin care and makeup.

I did my twice yearly clothing shopping in Delhi too. Despite the new GST on clothing I purchased 10 pairs of pants (churidars, patialas, and palazzos) and 20 tops (kurtis, kaftans, tunics, and thobes) for about $900. That's about $30 an item (including GST) which is still dirt cheap considering the luxury fabrics and lavish embellishment on each piece. There's everything from satin-lined velvet to hand loomed silk! Even some modern fibers like tencel and modal. The detail on the tops is amazing. I love my Indian clothes. There's a style to suit every figure in Indian traditional clothing. So elegant and comfortable.

So we headed home from Delhi. The Delhi airport was cheerfully decorated for the grandest of the Hindu holidays- Diwali! The festival of lights. After a short flight to Kathmandu we had another miserable road trip on the Highway from Hell home. We'll be buying a new set of tires and shocks accordingly.

Diwali or Deepawali as they say here in Nepal was in full swing. This year our little neighborhood had a venue of outdoor concerts and dance from 9 am to 9 pm during the festival. The stage is just a red carpet thrown down on the intersection and the sound system is powered by a kerosene generator. We've been treated to everything from blaring rock, rap, and rave to acoustic traditional performances and even a drum circle. I'm still in 'grumpy old git' phase after galavanting across the country so I've not attended very many of the shows but it's surprising how much local talent we have here! I'm a big fan of music no matter how loud over those @#$%! crackers blowing up randomly all over.

Ms Dawg went over to the neighbors to be properly propitiated on Kukhur Tihar. She ate her holiday meal, got her festive garland and left with out a tilakh on her forehead. Not the most ladylike gal but we love her.

I also heard about the California wildfires while on my trip. A number of friends in California emailed to tell me that my former home in California burnt down. (Actually the entire subdivision it was in burnt to the ground.) In an odd quirk of fate I sold that house in 2006 to a family from Gujarat. I have emailed the family from Gujarat and they are all okay but had only hours to evacuate and lost everything. That was a beautiful home that I designed myself on a hilltop overlooking the valley. I lived there for 10 years. Before I sold it I spent the majority of my time planning and planting a Mediterranean-style garden on that river rock terraced quarter of an acre. Gravel paths twisted among the native oaks with patches of lavender, rosemary, Matilija poppies, sage, Italian cypress, catmint, and my English rose collection. Now it's all goners. Ah well. Attachment is suffering and truthfully- that big house, garden, and pool was a major pain in the butt to take care of.

So, that's all that's been going on with me. My phone camera is broken and I'm unable to focus it. But all the repair shops are closed for the holidays! I have sooo many photos from the Nishaani to process anyway that I'll be busy for awhile anyway.
How's your Fall going where you're at?
Are you ready for the holidays?
Calmly currying on,

Feb 27, 2017

Ingredients: Cumin, Jeera, Zeera, Zira, Jira ko Geda, Zyur, Safed Jeera, Jeeragam, Jikaka

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

Cumin is one of those spices that is absolutely essential in stocking any spice cupboard. It's warm, earthy, and smoky flavor works especially well in combination with chilis, cinnamon, and coriander. Cumin is native to southwest Asia and has made its way into cuisines around the world through the spice trade. It's a hallmark flavor in North African, Indian, Latin American, Spanish, Portuguese, and Middle Eastern cuisines.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) was originally cultivated in the Mediterranean region and is a member of the parsley family. It is an annual herbaceous plant with slender, branched stems that grows to 8–12 inches tall. It's tiny white or pink flowers are borne in small compound umbels. The seeds come in paired or separate carpels and are 1/8-1/4 inches long bearing a striped pattern of nine ridges. The seeds do greatly resemble caraway seeds, but are lighter in color and have minute bristles barely visible to the naked eye.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

Cumin is a drought-tolerant, tropical, or subtropical crop with a growth season of 100 to 120 days. The main producer and consumer of cumin is India. Cumin is sown in India from October until the beginning of December, and harvesting by hand starts in February. Sandy, loamy soils with good aeration, proper drainage, slightly alkaline pH, and high oxygen availability are necessary for the optimal growth of cumin. The plant tends to droop under its own weight and so is planted closely together for support.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Field of cumin in the Indian state of Gujarat
The main producer and consumer of cumin is India. Cumin is sown in India from October until the beginning of December and harvesting by hand starts in February. India produces 70% of the world supply of cumin and consumes 90% of that. That means that India consumes 63% of the world's cumin! In total, around 300,000 tons of cumin per year are produced worldwide.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Workers bagging cumin at the wholesale spice market in Delhi
Cumin is used predominantly in cuisines where highly spiced foods are preferred. In the Middle East it is a familiar spice used in fish dishes, grilled meats, stews, falafel, couscous, and the spice mix baharat. In Europe, cumin flavors Portuguese and Spanish sausages as well as Dutch Leyden cheese. Cumin is an essential spice in just about every savory Mexican dish from chile con carne to enchiladas

Leyden cheese from the Netherlands flavored with cumin seeds
Indian cooking utilizes many spice mixtures which contain cumin. North Indian cooking features a spice mixture called garam masala meaning "hot spices." Garam masalas vary in composition by regional preferences but most often combine earthy spices like cumin and fenugreek with aromatic spices like green cardamom and cloves. In southern India there is sambar podi, a mix of mostly cumin, coriander, roasted lentils, and aromatics used to flavor vegetarian dishes. In Southern Nepal, Bengal, Bangladesh and parts of North East India, there is a spice mix called panch phoron meaning "five spices" which consists of cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, and nigella seeds. Panch phoron is never ground and is used to flavor vegetable, fish, and meat dishes of those regions. 

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Spice shop in Varanasi
Dry roasted cumin seeds are also used in refreshing drinks and cooling condiments in India. Jaljeera is a popular summer drink in India usually made with a blend of cumin, lime juice, mint, ginger, black pepper, and black salt. Jaljeera is purported to stimulate appetite and aid digestion and commercial mixes are widely available. A salted lassi is a traditional savory drink of chilled water blended with yogurt and oftentimes flavored with toasted cumin seeds. A raita is a dip made of yogurt with toasted cumin seeds and raw or cooked vegetables often served with spicy foods for it's cooling effect on the palate.

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,

The earthy, warm, and smoky flavor of cumin is best showcased when used with restraint and cooked or dry roasted. Cumin is one of those spices that can quickly overpower an entire dish. Some hearty meat dishes can accommodate a full tablespoon but usually no more than a teaspoon is required for legumes and vegetables. Frying or dry roasting cumin mellows it's harsh raw flavor to a pleasant nutty earthiness. Ground cumin can­ not be toasted as it would char quickly. However, dry roasted cumin can be ground and used as a sea­soning and added just before serving. Almost every North Indian curry starts with spices being fried in ghee or oil. Ground cumin can be used but it must be added after the onions have been fried to prevent burning. Burnt cumin in ground or seed form has an unpleasant bitter flavor. There really isn't anything you can do to rescue a dish tainted with the bitterness of burnt cumin but to toss it and start over. 

cumin, india, Indian, ingredients, jeera, jirako geda, safed jeera, spice, zeera, zira,
Cumin or Safed Jeera seeds
Caraway seeds
An interesting aside:
I think I've found out why cumin, caraway, and black cumin are so often confused for each other.  The root of the English word cumin is from the Latin cuminum which is ultimately derived from Semitic origins. But many other European languages do not distinguish clearly between the cumin and caraway. In German the word for caraway is Kümmel while the name for cumin is Kreuzkümmel (literally "cross-caraway). This indicates that European cooks saw cumin as an exotic spice comparable to the native caraway. (Caraway's carrot-y dill flavor tastes nothing like cumin's earthy warmth to me but the plant and seeds do look similar.) Similarly in Swedish and Danish, caraway is kummin, while cumin is spiskummin. In Romanian cumin is called chimion turcesc or "Turkish caraway." In Hungarian cumin is egyiptomi kömény or "Egyptian caraway." Like most Mediterranean spices cumin seems to have been introduced to northern and eastern Europe around the 9th century by Charlemagne's Capitulare. The Capitulare de villis vel curtis imperii Caroli Magni was a complete list of administrative, legal, and agricultural rules for the new Frankish empire. Towards the end of the document is a complete list of culinary and medicinal herbs to be grown in imperial gardens. Apparently northern and eastern Europe never developed much of a taste for cumin yet it retained it's identity as an exotic variant of caraway. This probably explains why shahi jeera/black cumin is often confused with caraway also.

Black Cumin or Shahi Jeera seeds
Jeera is the Hindi word for cumin and is derived from the Sanskrit root jri meaning to digest. Related words for cumin are today found from the Caucasus to central and southeast Asia: Urdu = zeera, Farsi = zirah, Georgian = dzira, and Burmese = ziyah. In Hindi cumin is sometimes called safed jeera (literally white cumin)  in order to differentiate it from black cumin or shahi jeera.

Feb 20, 2017

Parsi Garam Masala

Parsi Garam Masala, parsi, garam, masala, recipe, authentic, star anise, parsee, persia, iran, india, spice mix, spices, chakra phool,

Parsis are an ethnic and religious group that emigrated from ancient Persia to India in the 10th century. Parsi cuisine has evolved into a delicious fusion of Persian and Indian influences. This recipe for Parsi style garam masala perfectly reflects this unique blend of cultures. The earthy warmth of green cardamom, cumin, and black pepper are perfectly balanced by the sweet heat of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise in this flavorsome mix.

"Parsis of Bombay" engraving, ca. 1878

Parsis practice a unique religion called Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism encourages wealth creation as well as charity.
 For centuries, prominent Parsis have shared their success through philanthropy. The names of top Parsi traders and industrialists are a common sight on hospitals, schools, and libraries in India.

Parsis celebrating Navroze Mubarak

No Parsi function is complete without good food that has been laboriously and lovingly prepared. The Zoroastrian community gathers for six annual feasts called gahambars and a new year's celebration called Navroze. Weddings too require a lavish multi-course feast called a lagan no bhonu. Parsi dishes reveal traces of their Persian past in a fondness for nuts, dry fruits, and sweetness. The Indian influence on Parsi cuisine is the addition of garlic, ginger, and subcontinental spices.

I've adapted this recipe from Neela Batra's cookbook, 1,000 Indian Recipes. Unfortunately Ms Batra's book has rather incongruent instructions for those 1,000 recipes. The recipes also often result in unsuitably large quantities for the home cook. So I reduced the amounts by half to yield a half cup. The quantities in the original recipe were for ground spices so I've left them that way. I used whole spices and ground them in the same amounts with excellent results. It's the ratio that's most important in spice mixes. Ms Batra's recipe calls for dry roasting the ground spices too. DO NOT DRY ROAST GROUND SPICES OR YOU'LL END UP WITH A SCORCHED MESS.  I don't dry roast my spices for reasons listed here. I'll include instructions for roasting whole spices if you are one of those sorts who simply must dry roast though.

Parsi Garam Masala, parsi, garam, masala, recipe, authentic, star anise, parsee, persia, iran, india, spice mix, spices, chakra phool,

2&1/2 TBS ground green cardamom/elaichi
2 TBS ground cinnamon or cassia/dalchini (or four 2 inch pieces of cassia bark/cinnamon sticks)
2 TBS ground black peppercorns/kali mirch
2 TBS ground cumin/jeera
1&1/2 TBS star anise/chakra phool
1 TBS ground cloves/laung

Here's what to do:

For raw/unroasted garam masala- 
Coarsely grind all spices until roughly the texture of coffee grounds. Traditionally a mortar and pestle or "sil batta" was used to get this texture. Garam masala is not supposed to be like that finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional texture we're looking for use the pulse button on your mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder until you get the desired results. If you are using a coffee grinder or small mixie jar you might want to grind each spice separately in batches to get a consistent texture. Breaking the cassia bark (or cinnamon sticks) into smaller pieces before grinding helps also. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Parsi Garam Masala, parsi, garam, masala, recipe, authentic, star anise, parsee, persia, iran, india, spice mix, spices, chakra phool,

Two methods to dry roast garam masala-

1) Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan or tawa for 7-10 minutes.
2) Dry roast spices one at a time in batches, or toss all spices in and stir frequently until spices give off a fragrant aroma.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight or in freezer for up to 3 months.
(The problem with this traditional method is that the temperature isn't really even over a tawa on a gas flame &and some spices may scorch while others remain unroasted. Cumin usually roasts faster than the other spices and when burned has an unpleasant bitter flavor.  Roasting spices separately reduces the risk of scorching but is tedious. Why do South Asians still do use traditional tawa method? Because most South Asians do not have any sort of oven in their homes.)

Fast & easy oven method-
1) Preheat oven to 220F/100C.
2) Spread all spices over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight  or in freezer for up to 3 months.

Dec 19, 2016

Ingredients: Persimmons, Kaki, Shizi, Haluuabed

One of the most beautiful fruits of Autumn is the brilliant orange-red persimmon. Persimmons are quite a versatile Fall fruit and work well in both sweet and savory applications. There are over two hundred documented cultivars of persimmons, although it is estimated that there are over a thousand actual varieties. Persimmons begin appearing in markets in late September and are often available through December. 

 The lotus persimmon or date-plum (Diospyros lotus) is native to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe.
 The ancient Greeks referred to it as "the fruit of the gods." 

The English word persimmon is derived from the Native American words pasiminan or pessamin from an Algonquian language of the eastern United States meaning, "dry fruit." 
Modern Greek name for the fruit is λωτός (lotos), which has led modern Greeks to the assumption that this is the lotus referred to in Homer's Odyssey. The botanical name of the persimmon family is Diospyros which is said to mean, "divine fruit." In Nepali persimmons are called haluaabed. In Chinese persimmons are called shizi and in Japanese they are called kaki.

A persimmon tree laden with ornament-like fruits after a frost has killed it's leaves in Fall.

The persimmon is multi-trunked or single-stemmed deciduous tree up to twenty-five feet high and at least as wide.
It is a handsome ornamental with drooping leaves and branches that give it a rather tropical and graceful appearance. Persimmon leaves are alternate, simple, ovate and up to seven inches long and four inches wide. They are often a pale, yellowish green in youth, turning to a dark, glossy green as they age. Under mild autumnal conditions persimmon leaves turn vividly dramatic shades of yellow, orange, and red. Tea can also be made from fresh or dried leaves.

A female persimmon flower.

The persimmon's inconspicuous flowers appear in very early Spring are surrounded by a green calyx tube borne on leaf axils of one-year old wood. Female flowers are single and cream-colored while the pink-tinged male flowers are typically occur in threes. Persimmon trees are usually either male or female, but some trees have both male and female flowers. A tree's gender expression can vary from one year to the other. Many cultivars are parthenocarpic and set seedless fruit without pollination. Some varieties require pollination for adequate production. When persimmon plants that do not require pollination are pollinated, they will produce unique fruits with seeds that may be larger and have a different flavor and texture than their seedless counterparts. Persimmons prefer a deep, loamy soil and require a chill time of at least 100 hours to blossom and set fruit annually. The fruits are technically a berry.

The tiny American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

There are many different species of persimmons worldwide. The American persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is quite small and native to the eastern United States. The black persimmon or black sapote (Diospyros digyna) is native to Mexico. The mabolo or velvet-apple (Diospyros discolor) is native to the Philippines. The lotus persimmon or date-plum (Diospyros lotus) is native to southwest Asia and southeastern Europe and was known to the ancient Greeks as "the fruit of the gods." The large and fleshy Asian or Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is native to Japan, China, Korea, Burma, and Nepal and is the most widely cultivated species. There are several cultivars of Asian or Japanese persimmons each with unique flavors and qualities of fruit.

A hachiya persimmon that must ripen to a jelly-like pulp before it can be eaten.

The two most common types of persimmon found in modern markets are the Asian varietals Hachiya and Fuyu. Fuyus are squat and round, and Hachiyas are long, heart-shaped, and pointed. Hachiyas are tart and bitterly astringent due to their high tannic acid content until they are extremely ripe. Fuyus can be eaten while still firm with a texture much like a peach. Choose Fuyus when their flesh is firm but gently yielding like a ripe tomato. Fuyus are mildly sweet and excellent eaten out of hand or sliced into fresh salads. Unripened Hachiyas are too tannic to eat, but once ripe the fruit becomes jelly-like and pulpy and is wonderful pureed for use in baked goods. Look for Hachiyas with taut and glossy skin, but avoid fruit with bruises as they may rot before ripening. To ripen persimmons simply leave them out at room temperature in a sunny spot until they soften or freeze them overnight and allow to thaw the next day. Store soft, ripened persimmons in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

A firm fleshed and non-astringent Fuyu persimmon.

Persimmons are enjoyed in many different ways around the world. The Japanese enjoy them pickled in lime water or massaged and air dried as hoshigaki. The Chinese love them salted and dried. They can be can be made into purees, fruit leather, candies, sherbets, ice creams, jams, compotes, puddings, breads, cookies, muffins, cobblers, clafoutis, cakes, pies, and tarts. Complimentary pairings include pomegranates, pears, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mace, vanilla, cream, maple syrup, honey, prunes, dates, citrus zest, almonds, pistachios, vinaigrettes, basil, Thai and Serrano chilis, and hard cheeses such as cheddar-y Manchego and salty Parmesan.

The Japanese specialty hoshigaki, an air dried and gently massaged Hachiya persimmon.

The easiest way to store persimmons is to freeze them. As you can see by the photos of fruiting trees above persimmons are quite prolific. They also tend to all ripen at once. While they are delicious to eat fresh there's usually more than enough from one tree for the entire neighborhood and then some. What to do with all this persimmon largesse? Freeze 'em! You can either freeze the entire fruit for later use by just putting it in an airtight plastic bag or container. (This works really well for fruit that isn't ripe yet. When the frozen persimmon thaws et voila! It's ripe and ready to be eaten.) You can also puree them and put the pulp in an airtight plastic bag or container. Your persimmons must be perfectly ripe if you wish to puree them before freezing though.

Here's Bibi pureeing ripe Fuyu persimmons in her mixie. I just give them a good wash, remove the stems, and put them in the mixie skin and all. You might want give the persimmon flesh a bit of a going through before pureeing as there might be seeds. The seeds can be rounded like plum stones or oblong like date pits. Your mixie, food processor, or blender will NOT puree these rock-like seeds. You will hear them quite loudly bouncing off the blades and mixing container of your appliance. 

See? Beautiful orange persimmon pulp ready to be eaten as is, enjoyed as frozen sorbet, or stored for your next baking project. I usually measure the pulp out by cupful and store them in Ziploc bags in the freezer. Persimmons will keep frozen for up to 8 months. You might see some separation or darkening of the persimmon pulp but the flavor will be the same as fresh.

My favorite treat! Spicy persimmon cookies with walnut and raisins. Mmmmm!
When you're ready to make a delicious treat like these cookies or just enjoy a healthy frozen snack just grab a bag out of the freezer. Hope you enjoyed my little overview of persimmons and stick around for lots of persimmon recipes too!

Dec 14, 2016

Nimbu-Mirchi Totka

If you come to India or Nepal you will see nimbu-mirchi totkas consisting of chilis and limes hanging on a string over doorways everywhere. Nimbu means lime, mirchi means chilis, and a totka is a sort of charm to ward off evils. Displaying the nimbu-mirchi is an ancient Hindu practice that you'll see not only over doorways, but also adorning vehicles and dangling from portraits of beloved ancestors and politicians.

Unknown Bollywood starlet chatting with nimbu-mirchi sellers.
The custom of tying limes and chilis on a thread and hung outside the door or on a vehicle is intended to distract the inauspicious Hindu goddess called Alakshmi or Jayestha. Alakshmi is the older sister of the very auspicious goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Alakshmi is said to bring poverty, strife, mayhem, discord, misfortune, barrenness, strife, jealousy, malice, hardship and ruination where ever she goes. She plants distrust and misunderstanding among family members, friends, and relatives. She is often depicted as a withered hag or a dark skinned woman with pendulous belly and breasts enthroned or astride a donkey and accompanied by crows or an owl. Alakshmi also loves to eat hot, sour, and pungent things. The hope is that the nimbu-mirchi will avert Alakshmi's inauspicious attentions and she'll continue on her devastating way.

Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth with an owl.
Interestingly, you will often the goddess of wealth Lakshmi pictured with an owl. Owls represent arrogance and willful ignorance in Hindu culture. The owl in Lakshmi's beneficent presence represents a warning that wherever she goes so does Alakshmi and her misfortune. The message is to beware of the potential for calamity that may accompany Lakshmi's blessings if both goddesses are not propitiated properly. It's sort of the Hindu version of the Western proverb, "Pride goeth before a fall." Meaning that if you're too boastful and self-important, something bad will inevitably happen.

You can easily make your own nimbu-mirchi totka! All you need is black thread, a needle, seven green chillies and one ripe yellow lime. Take a needle and the thread and tie a thick knot, a black stone, or piece of charcoal at the end. Pierce the threaded needle through the lime first and then through the seven green chillies. Depending on region the chilis and lemon can be strung in different order but there are usually seven chilis and one lemon per nimbu-mirchi wherever you go.

Preferably on a Saturday morning tie your nimbu-mirchi in center of the main door of your house or establishment. Take care that it does not interfere with the opening or closing of the door and movements of people. On vehicles you may attach the nimbu-mirchi to the front bumper, top center of the windshield, or near the wheel well on motorcycles or bicycles. The following Monday morning take the nimbu-mirchi down and throw it away from your house, establishment, or vehicle near to the roadside. Generally in busy marketplace areas the spent nimbu-mirchi is thrown on the road. This is not a good practice as whomever steps upon the discarded nimbu-mirchi imbibes all the bad effects accrued by it during the week. So when you visit crowded marketplaces beware of stepping on a discarded nimbu-mirchi!
Don't step on that!!!
If perchance you do happen to step upon a discarded nimbu-mirchi there is a special procedure to undo any ill effects. First, pick up the nimbu-mirchi with a piece of cloth or handkerchief. Then take it to a place of your choice and burn it while reciting this mantra to the goddess Lakshmi nine times. You must only touch the totka with the cloth and burn the cloth with the totka. Fire is believed to cleanse the negative energies accumulated in the nimbu-mirchi. The mantra is an appeal to the goddess Lakshmi to counter any adverse effects as well.
Should you feel you need a less perishable totka for your inauspicious problems nimbu-mirchis are available in more permanent forms also. The enameled metal nimbu-mirchi pictured above is featured in an online home furnishing company in India. Plastic, resin, and silicone nimbu-mirchis are  also available as key fobs, luggage tags, earrings, and necklaces. As if that weren't enough you can buy smartphone cases, t-shirts, tea sets, and umbrellas emblazoned with nimbu-mirchis too!

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