Showing posts with label saffron. Show all posts
Showing posts with label saffron. Show all posts

Oct 18, 2016

Perfume Review: Ajmal's Ragheeb


Perfume Review Ajmal's Ragheeb attar perfume oil fragrance ajmal

With a slight nip in the air and the steamy rains of the Monsoon finally gone, Autumn has finally arrived. Now's the season to break out those warm, woodsy orientals and delectable gourmands from your fragrance wardrobe. Ajmal's 'Ragheeb' is one of my favorite oriental floral fragrances for the Fall.

The late Mr Ajmal Ali, founder of Ajmal perfumes. 
For those of you unfamiliar with Ajmal it is a luxury perfume house started in the 1950's in India by Mr Ajmal Ali. Mr Ali was a native of Assam where some of the best agarwood or oudh is sourced. Moving to Bombay (now known as Mumbai) he began by selling Assamese oudh to Arab countries. Eventually he began mixing perfume oils into brilliant compositions and became a premier supplier of perfumes to the Middle East. In 1976 the House of Ajmal moved it's headquarters to Dubai. In 1987 Ajmal was the first company to introduce the classic Dahn-Al-Oudh (literally fat of the wood) in an eau de parfum form bringing to a to wider, global audience. (Yes, Ajmal's Dahn-Al-Oudh eau de parfum started the Western world's craze for oudh that's still raging on presently.) The fine tradition Mr Ajmal Ali started in India in the 1950's has been carried on now for 3 generations of his family. Today Ajmal is represented by over 100 boutiques and showrooms across the Gulf countries and is quite popular in Russia too.


So, in and amongst the myriad traditional Arabic oudh and rose attars on offer at a posh boutique in the Bahrain airport in 2006 I found 'Ragheeb.' Instantly, this scent brought memories I couldn't quite place. Late Summer and early Fall mornings in northern California in a traditional Arab attar? That's what it reminded me of. The 'Ragheeb' means willing or desirous in Arabic. Ajmal's description of the fragrance and notes:
"This exotic bouquet opens with the floral essence of bergamot and rose creatively infused with spicy hints of saffron, nutmeg and clove, interspersed with geranium. The fragrance highlights aromatic, warm and contemporary base woody yet sweet notes, for that long lasting trail.
Fragrance Description
Top: Floral Citrus
Heart: Spicy
Base: Woody Ambery"



Ragheeb opens with a bittersweet blast of saffron after which the nutmeg, bergamot, rose, geranium, and cloves seamlessly appear. You might look at the note pyramid and wonder where the woods and amber are. Saffron this intense takes on a woodsy, ambery effect with an almost masculine tobacco-like tone. The spiciness of the cloves bolsters the warmth of the saffron. Bergamot and nutmeg brighten the composition with their citrusy notes and keep the saffron from going completely leathery, metallic, or dark. The rose is the classic deep and intense Taif rose so prized in Arab culture. Real Taif rose oil isn't very long-lasting on the skin so typically geranium is added to prolong it's presence. The famed Taif rose has tea-like notes but can have peppery or even sharply tannic edges. To Western noses the Taif rose can often be perceived as harsh and soapy. You might think the intensity of the saffron and the harshness of the rose would make the composition come off as acrid or astringent. It doesn't. Ragheeb perfectly emulates the uniquely warm, spicy, myrrh-like fragrance of certain old rose varieties. The bergamot, nutmeg, and rose are unfortunately first to go in this scent after about two hours. The drydown is gorgeously Autumnal as the saffron mellows to an almost honeyed amber and rich aromatic cloves remain for hours.

Photo from the Taif Rose festival in Saudi Arabia
That was it! When I lived in California in the 90's I began collecting David Austin's English roses in my garden. Not only for their gorgeous forms and color but I particularly loved the strength and complexity of their warm old rose fragrance with varying touches of myrrh, clove, musk, fruit, and tea. Somehow the saffron, bergamot, cloves, rose, geranium, and nutmeg in this attar captured that old rose scent perfectly. Mr Austin's pink and apricot colored rose cultivars were particularly known for their spicy, myrrh-like notes similar to the fragrance of Ragheeb.

'Constance Spry'
This was the grande dame that started it all. David Austin's first commercially available rose, 'Constance Spry.' Mr Austin's emphasis is on breeding roses with the character and fragrance of old roses such as gallicas, damasks and alba roses but with the repeat-flowering ability, disease resistance, and wide color range of modern roses such as hybrid teas. 'Constance Spry' was the incredible twelve foot climbing rose that graced the arched trellis over my front door in California. Richly myrrh scented she was supposed to only bloom once in Spring. I found that through rigorous deadheading she would keep blooming for about 3 months. Her spicy, warm, almost resinous old rose scent would grace my doorway along with her heavily cupped blooms. I had a collection of about 20 different David Austin roses interspersed with various lavenders, lavandins, yarrow, and a few Italian cypresses in that garden.


As you can see in the above photos Ragheeb comes in an opulent glass bottle with gold ornamentation and a scattering of sparkling white stones. (This is rather modest as Ajmal bottles go, some are like miniature fairy palaces or daring pieces of modern sculpture.) The bottle has some considerable heft as well as a delicate glass applicator. To use attars or fragrance oils like this you simply dab a few drops to the inside of each wrist. Then dab a little behind each ear with the inside of your wrists before it absorbs. You may also apply to the back of the knees so the fragrance envelops you. Attars and fragrance oils take a bit longer to develop on the skin than alcohol based perfumes. Wait at least an hour for the fragrance to develop before reapplying if necessary. I find Ragheeb lasts about six to eight hours with moderate sillage. Although I bought this bottle about ten years ago I believe this fragrance is still available for purchase as I've seen it on Russian websites. These Arab attars last for years and are not nearly as prone to degradation due to heat or light as alcohol based perfumes. As you can see in the above photo I probably have another ten years of use out of this bottle even though I wear it at least once weekly in the Fall and Winter. A little dab will definitely do with this type of fragrance.

I think I need a pink burqa like that.
And a hammam. Definitely a hammam.

Ragheeb makes me desirous of the late Summer days in northern California. The leaves were starting to fall, the grapes in the vineyards being harvested, the roses and other scented plants in my garden were at their most fragrant. I don't really miss California except for the gorgeous weather. The foggy days of Autumn would soon start and the holiday season would begin with all the festivals, food, and fun. Ragheeb is the last bloom of my old rose collection in the Fall before being tidied up and tucked in with a blanket of mulch for the coming Winter.

Do you have any favorite fragrances that remind you of certain times of the year?

Jun 21, 2016

Chicken Rezala


rezala chicken recipe simple indian historicl

Although quite decadent and delicious, this is one of the easiest recipes you could make for a posh event. Famous within the Muslim community of Kolkata, Rezala is a creamy chicken dish made with aromatic cardamom, saffron, and kewra essence in a velvety sauce. A truly regal Mughal dish from a bygone era.


When the Nawabs of Awadh and descendants of Tipu Sultan were exiled in Bengal they took their royal chefs with them. Thus Mughlai cuisine was formally established in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) and mingled with Bengali tastes and flavors. Bengalis like their dishes a little on the sweet side so traditionally this recipe is enriched with a pinch of sugar as well as a slurry of coconut milk and ground cashews. Cashews are a bit too sweet for my Kashmiri family's tastes so I've replaced them with poppy seeds and coconut cream. I've also replaced the sugar with a little flour to reduce the sweetness and keep the yogurt from splitting. (In case you like a little sweet in your savory dishes I've given the measurements for the sugar and cashews though.) As with most Bengali dishes, Rezala has a thin gravy and is best enjoyed with rice. Do try this dish to experience the influence of nawabi (princely) finesse on rustic Bengali cuisine.

Ingredients:
1kg or 2lbs chicken, skinless and cut into 8 pieces
1 TBS cooking oil
2 TBS ghee
2 cassia leaves/tej patta
5 dried red chilis/lal mirch
7 cloves/laung
1 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
8 green cardamoms/elaichi, bruised in mortar and pestle
4 black cardamoms/kali elaichi
10 black peppercorns/kali mirch, whole
pinch of saffron strands (optional)
2 tsp kewra water (optional)
10-12 dry roasted almonds (optional for garnish)
Grind to smooth paste for gravy:
3/4 C yogurt/dahi
1/2 C onions, chopped roughly
1/2 teaspoon flour/maida or sugar/chinni (this will keep the yogurt from splitting)
1 tsp salt
1/2 C coconut cream
Grind to smooth paste for marinade:
1/2 C yogurt/dahi
1/2 C onions, roughly chopped
2 TBS ginger/adrak paste
2 TBS garlic/lahsun paste
2-3 green chilis/hari mirch
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper, ground
1 tsp cumin/jeera, ground
2 tsp ground coriander/dhania
1/2 tsp mace/javitri
1/2 tsp nutmeg/jaiphal
1 TBS white poppy seeds/khus khus (or ground cashews/kaju)
3-4 green chilis/hari mirch, chopped roughly (omit for less heat)

Here's what to do:
1) Grind all ingredients listed under marinade to a smooth paste. Coat all chicken pieces in marinade mix and place in sealable airtight container. Allow chicken to marinate for 30 minutes up to overnight in the refrigerator.

2) When ready to cook grind all ingredients listed under gravy to smooth paste and set aside. Heat oil and ghee in deep heavy bottomed skillet or kadhai and fry cassia leaves/tej patta, dried red chilis/lal mirch, cloves/laung, cumin seeds/jeera, green cardamoms/elaichi, black cardamoms/kali elaichi, and black peppercorns/kali mirch.


3) Remove pan from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes add the smooth paste for gravy from step 2 to pan with fried spices and stir well. Return pan to heat and bring mixture to simeer. Allow gravy mixture to simmer for 5 minutes.


4) Add chicken pieces with marinade to simmering gravy mixture. Allow chicken mixture to simmer covered over low heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until chicken pieces are cooked completely. You shouldn't have to add any liquid to this dish, the chicken should cook covered in it's own juices to intensify the flavors.

5) Turn off heat and stir in saffron strands if using. Allow saffron to steep in dish for 10 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with kewra water and dry roasted almonds if using just before serving with rice, naan, or rotis.

Helpful Hints:
Never cook chicken in a pressure cooker as the extreme heat will make the texture rubbery.

Wajid Ali Shah, 10th and last Nawab of Awadh
"Cast by providence for the role of an accomplished dilettante, he found himself a misfit for the high office to which he was elevated by chance. Wajid Ali Shah's character was complex. Though he was a man of pleasure, he was neither an unscrupulous knave nor a brainless libertine. He was a lovable and generous gentleman. He was a voluptuary, still he never touched wine, and though sunk in pleasure, he never missed his five daily prayers. It was the literary and artistic attainments of Wajid Ali Shah which distinguished him from his contemporaries."

Dr. G.D. Bhatnagar, Awadh Under Wajid Ali Shah

Feb 28, 2016

Shortcut Gulab Jamun


Who doesn't love a gulab jamun?
Making this traditional sweet treat is a snap with this shortcut recipe. This simple recipe using bread and milk to make gulab jamuns was all over the internet a few years back, so I am not sure where it originated. I've embellished it a bit by infusing the milk used for the gulab jamuns with Kashmiri saffron. The saffron not only imbues the gulab jamuns with it's rich flavor and color, but also lends it's golden hue to the syrup as the gulab jamuns steep. 


bread sweet Indian cardamom saffron.

Ingredients:
2 C water
2 C sugar
7 green cardamoms, bruised in mortar and pestle
1 loaf sliced white bread
1/4 to 1/3 C milk
20 strands of saffron (optional)
4 C cooking oil
4-5 drop kewra or rose water (optional)

Here's what to do:
1) If using saffron, heat milk in a saucepan until almost boiling. Remove from heat. Place saffron strands in milk and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes. (Try to use as little milk as possible, I used 1/4 C on a small 12 slice loaf of bread.) If not using saffron skip to step 4 and use plain milk,

Come on little strands of sunshine, do your thang!
2) To make the syrup heat water, sugar, and green cardamoms in a medium saucepan until boiling.  Reduce heat and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.


3) Chop crusts off of bread slices.


4) Place a small bowl of water nearby. Drizzle each slice of bread with the saffron infused milk and squidge into a ball. Try to use as little milk as possible. Squeeze out as much milk as you can to form a dense ball. Get the outside of the ball of dough as smooth as you can by dipping your hands into the bowl of water as you roll them. If you have any cracks in the surface your gulab jamuns will be pockmarked and bumpy.


5) Heat cooking oil in a deep saucepan or kadhai over medium high heat until 300F/150C. Test the heat of the oil by frying a cube of bread, if the bread bubbles and turns brown in 30 seconds the oil is ready.
That  looks more like a fried caterpillar than a bread crust.
6) Place 4 balls in hot oil at a time, they will sink to the bottom at first but slowly rise to the surface. Allow them to fry for about 4 minutes, gently turning them until they are deep brown on all sides. Remove the fried balls with a slotted spoon or tongs and transfer to a napkin or paper towel on a plate to drain off excess oil.


7) When all the balls have been fried place them into the prepared syrup. Warm the syrup for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Remove pan from heat. Add kewra or rose water if using. Allow your gulab jamuns to soak for at least 2 hours. Serve warmed or at room temperature. These can be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to one week, allow them to come to room temperature before serving.

Helpful Hints:
Day old or stale white bread works well in this recipe too. You could probably think of this as the Indian version of "pan perdue."
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