Monday, May 18, 2015

Chole Bhature (Indian spicy chickpea stew and Indian puffed fried bread)

One of the many reasons why I enjoy being part of an international organization is because I have the opportunity to work with people who come from all over the world. Getting to know them and their culture is an incredible experience that helps me grow in more ways than one. It broadens my mind as well as my view of the world and its inhabitants.

We all have things in common no matter where we come from and of course, one of the things we all share is food. Having the opportunity to learn about the food culture of different countries through my colleagues is extraordinary. And sometimes those friends and colleagues also know how to cook. Some of them are very good at it.

Having the privilege to eat in their homes, see how they set the table, how they serve the food, their rituals of eating, isn’t only a culinary experience but also a cultural one. It is so exciting to be able to share it with them and I always enjoy inviting them to my own home as well and giving them a glimpse of the way Greeks eat.

Having long talks with some of them about food, recipes and ingredients from their home countries is such a valuable learning experience that I couldn’t get from cookbooks or blogs. Some of them are willing to share their recipes, others are tight-lipped and secretive about revealing anything but the names of dishes and a few are willing to share the secrets to a dish. A former colleague of mine from India did share with me the secrets to one of her beloved recipes, chole bhature, a chickpea stew served with puffed bread.

Chole refers to the chickpea stew (also referred to as chana masala) and bhature is the puffed fried bread. I helped her cook this dish at her home once and I learned first hand how to make the stew and the bread. I loved it! It was vibrant, sumptuous and astonishingly hot. I have never eaten anything hotter in my whole life and even though I enjoy spicy food, I had trouble eating that one. She was laughing the whole time I was fanning my mouth with a magazine with every bite I took and she kept insisting that it wasn’t too hot and that she usually adds more chillies. I was stunned!! More chillies than this??

She wrote down her recipe for me and of course I had to adapt it to my own palate, adding far less chillies and also substituting the Kashmiri chilli, a common type of chilli powder used in Indian cooking, for regular dried chilli powder because I couldn’t find any. I have to admit that the recipe yielded a very hot chole but one that I can tolerate.
I’ve been making this recipe ever since and it has become a staple in my home. My boyfriend loves it and I have cooked it for my family in Greece and they all love it too. It is a highly aromatic and flavorful dish, with the soft, plump chickpeas and a rich, dense sauce that is perfect to eat with the bhature, that wonderful puffed up bread which is, admittedly, a bit heavy since it is fried, but also crispy and soft and utterly addictive. My friend’s bhature was better than mine, hers had that perfect puffed up dome and was a bit crispier, but I think I’m getting better at it. Practice makes perfect, right?

Chole Bhature (Indian spicy chickpea stew and Indian puffed fried bread)

The spices are very important in this dish as in every Indian dish. Don’t use the spices that you have hidden in the back of your kitchen cabinets collecting dust for months or even years. They will be flavorless and with no aroma whatsoever. Use fresh spices and better yet whole spices that you grind yourself each time you need them.

Garam masala is a spice mix that can be found in any spice store. In the Netherlands you can find in super markets as well. You can also make it yourself following a recipe.

I always use dried chickpeas that I soak overnight and then boil before using in the chole, but you can use canned chickpeas instead if you prefer (you will need 1 kg of canned chickpeas in this case).

My Indian friend cooks this dish with ghee (Indian clarified butter) but as you will see in the ingredients list, I use olive oil. If you use ghee, the flavor will be more authentic but also heavier.

Yield: 6 servings


for the chole
500 g dried chickpeas
120 ml olive oil
4 large onions, grated or finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, grated or finely chopped
1 hot green fresh chilli, sliced thinly
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp ground ginger
6 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 heaped tsp tomato paste
450 g canned whole tomatoes
3 cups (750 ml) water

for the bhature
250 g all-purpose flour (or maida flour - a type of Indian flour)
50 g semolina flour (from durum wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp salt
350 g yoghurt (not Greek or thick yoghurt)
Sunflower oil, for frying

Fresh flat-leaf parsley or fresh coriander (in Indian cooking fresh coriander is always used but I can't stand its flavor), chopped, for sprinkling on top
Yoghurt (I prefer Greek yoghurt), to serve

Special equipment: colander, grater, fine sieve, plastic wrap, rolling pin


for the chole
See in this post how to prepare the dried chickpeas.

While the chickpeas are boiling, add the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and place over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 12 minutes or until soft and slightly browned, stirring continuously so they don't catch. Add the green chilli and sauté for 2 minutes. Add all the spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, ginger, garam masala and cardamom pods) at once and sauté for 2 minutes stirring continuously. Add ¼ cup (60 ml) of the water and “deglaze” the pan scraping any bits that have stuck to the pan. Add the tomato paste and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the tomatoes and crush them with the back of a spoon. Add salt and 1 cup (250 ml) of the water and stir well. Bring to the boil and simmer over medium-low heat with the lid open until you have a thick sauce that is not too dry. It will take around 10 minutes. Add the cooked chickpeas and the remaining 1½ cup (375 ml) water and stir well. Bring to the boil, put the lid on the pan and simmer over low heat for 15-20 minutes. A few minutes before it’s ready, taste and add more salt if needed.

Note: remove the cracked cardamom pods from the pan as they are unpleasant to eat. By now the seeds should have fallen off from inside the pods and the seeds have a pretty awesome flavor.

for the bhature
Sieve the all-purpose flour, the semolina flour and the baking powder into a large bowl, and add the salt and the yoghurt. Knead until you have a firm dough. It may be slightly sticky to the hands but that is fine.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Empty the dough on a clean surface and divide it into small balls (the size of a golf ball). You should end up with about 16. Oil each ball slightly with sunflower oil and roll it out with the rolling pin until very thin. Be careful not to tear the dough or make small folds or the bread will not puff up during frying.

Fill by ⅓ with sunflower oil a medium-sized, high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. The oil should be hot enough for the dough to puff up quickly but not too hot otherwise the dough will catch and it will take a very dark brown color. The first bread will be a test run. I always keep that first one for me to eat.
When the oil is hot enough, place the rolled out dough gently into the oil, and using a slotted spoon, gently and continuously press the top of the dough, aiding it to puff up. When the bread puffs up, the dough separates, it puffs up and a large air pocket is created inside. Once it puffs up, and it takes on a golden color on the bottom, using the slotted spoon, gently flip it over and fry until golden. It should not take more than 2-3 minutes in total. Remove with the slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
Continue frying the rest of the bhature.

Serving the dish
Serve the chole in big bowls, top them with yoghurt and a good sprinkling of chopped parsley or coriander and eat with the hot bhature. Cut pieces of the bhature and use the pocket to scoop up the chickpeas.

The chole will be even more flavorful the following day. The bhature are best eaten hot/warm.


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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Chicken and beetroot salad with orange, fennel and feta

From the layer cake of my last post to a salad. Huge difference, right? But there needs to be some kind a balance to what we eat. So, salad it is, and my favorite type of salad at that. One that is a full meal, with chicken, to fill you up and make you happy.

This is the type of meal I like on these early spring days, when it’s getting warm and I don’t want heavy dishes but rather light and bright ones. Salads are my go-to dishes during this time of year.

Colorful beetroots—golden, white, chioggia—that make the salad even more appetizing, greens, because I like my salads with a bit of green, feta, because I’m a feta fiend, and chicken, my favorite kind of meat.

With fresh, liquoricy fennel and a citrus dressing with orange zest, lemon juice, honey and olive oil to tie everything together. With crunchy walnuts, because when we eat something it’s not only the flavor that counts but also the texture, and some juicy orange segments, because, yes, we may all have fallen head first into the seasonal strawberries, but there are some luscious and tasty oranges left for us to savor too. So grab them while you still can.

The play of flavors is quite interesting in this salad—refreshing, sweet, sharp, earthy—making it a salad ideal for my palate. I hope it suits yours too.

Chicken and beetroot salad with orange, fennel and feta

Feel free to substitute the types of beetroot I used for regular red beetroot. Just be aware of the fact that red beets stain any other ingredient that has the audacity to share the same plate with them, so if your salad takes on a pink hue, don’t say that I didn’t warn you. Adding it at the last minute and tossing the salad ever so slightly, will save the situation though.

Use a mandoline, if you have it, to achieve those paper-thin slices. A mandoline would also be ideal to cut very thin slices of the onion and fennel.

If you don’t like feta—you don’t like feta????—use any other creamy white cheese you like that is sharp, not sweet.

I used two boneless and skinless chicken breasts that I seasoned with salt, pepper and cayenne, and cooked them in a frying pan with a little olive oil. You can use, however, any leftover chicken you may have, from roast chicken to grilled chicken, and it can be any part of the chicken as long as you cut it into bite-sized pieces.

This salad can be eaten either for lunch or dinner as it is quite filling yet light.

Yield: 2 main-course or 4 salad servings

2 large oranges
350 g raw beetroots (golden, white, chioggia), peeled and very thinly sliced
2 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbsp orange juice
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar
1 tsp runny honey
Zest of 1 orange, finely grated
Freshly ground white pepper
150 g mixed baby leaves
½ large fennel bulb, trimmed and very thinly sliced, fronds reserved
1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
300 g cooked chicken, chopped into bite sized pieces
80-90 g feta, cubed
50 g walnuts, roughly chopped

Special equipment: mandoline (optional yet preferable), rasp grater

Grate the zest of one of the oranges and place it in a small bowl.

The way to cut the 2 oranges is by using a sharp knife. First, cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, and finally, cut free the flesh of the fruit from the membranes that are in between the wedges. Squeeze the juice out of the membranes and into a large bowl. They should be about 2 Tbsp. Add the thinly sliced beetroot to the bowl along with 1 Tbsp lemon juice and ¼ tsp salt and mix well. Let stand for 15 minutes so the beetroot softens a bit.

Make the dressing. In the small bowl that you added the grated orange zest, add the olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, honey, the remaining 1 Tbsp lemon juice, a good pinch of salt and some white pepper, and using a wire whisk, blend well.

In a large bowl, mix gently with your hands the baby green leaves, fennel, red onion and the chicken. Add the oranges and the beetroot with its juices and mix gently with your hands. Scatter the feta and walnuts on top and finally pour over the dressing. Sprinkle with the reserved fennel fronds and again, using your hands, toss gently to combine all the ingredients.

Serve immediately with some fresh bread and a glass of dry white wine.

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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Vanilla layer cake with chocolate-mascarpone filling, mascarpone frosting and edible flowers

Last Saturday, I made a cake that felt like spring.

There was lots of vanilla, mascarpone, and a touch of chocolate, because where would I be without chocolate?

But mostly, there were flowers, edible ones.
Pansies, of the yellow and purple kind, that decorated the cake in the most beautiful way.

Two vanilla cakes, aromatic and sweet, dense but not stodgy, separated only by a thick layer of chocolate-mascarpone cream that was light, airy and filled with the deep flavor of good quality cocoa powder.

Covering the cake, a luscious, soft and pillowy mascarpone frosting, whiter than white, the perfect canvas for the yellow and purple flowers to show off their effortless beauty and gorgeous hues.

The cake was just the right amount of sweet, with the intense flavor and aroma of the vanilla being present with every forkful. Light, fluffy, bright, elegant, delicious cake, enjoyed to the fullest. Nothing more we could ask for.

Vanilla layer cake with chocolate-mascarpone filling, mascarpone frosting and edible flowers

I used edible pansies to decorate the cake but any edible flowers will do. Violets would be stunning if you could find some.

This is a fairly easy cake to make for any type of celebration. Everyone will be wowed and you won’t have made a huge mess in the kitchen or spend a huge amount of time preparing it. Win-win.

Yield: 1 layered cake / 12-14 slices


for the vanilla cake
200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pans
130 g caster sugar
3 medium-sized eggs
45 ml whole fresh milk
1½ tsp vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla extract)
225 g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt

for the chocolate-mascarpone filling
250 g mascarpone
55 g icing sugar
35 g Dutch-processed cocoa powder
240 ml cream, full-fat (35%)

for the mascarpone frosting
250 g mascarpone
55 g icing sugar
100 ml cream, full-fat (35%)
½ tsp pure vanilla extract (I didn’t add paste as I wanted the frosting white without the vanilla seeds showing, but you can add vanilla paste if you like)

Edible flowers, for decorating

Special equipment: two round 18cm springform baking pans, baking paper, stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer, fine sieve, large serrated knife, frosting spatulas (large straight and/or small offset)


for the vanilla cake
Butter the bottom and sides of two 18cm springform pans. Line the bottom with baking paper.

Preheat your oven to 175°C.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and sugar and beat, using the paddle attachment (or a hand-held mixer), on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for about 5 minutes.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until fully incorporated. Add the milk and the vanilla extract and beat until smooth.
Sieve the flour, baking powder and salt straight into the bowl and beat on medium speed until combined.

Divide the batter between the two baking pans. I weigh the mixture and divide it in half between the two pans, but if you don’t want to use a scale, eyeball it. Smooth the tops with the back of a spoon or a small offset spatula.

Place both pans on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until a cake tester or knife inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Be careful not to overbake otherwise the cakes will be dry.

Remove pans from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Then remove cakes from the pans and leave to cool on the wire rack completely.

Take a large serrated knife and cut the tops off the cakes to level them.

for the chocolate-mascarpone filling
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder and add the mascarpone. Beat with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium speed until creamy. Then add the cream and beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overwhip or the mixture will split.

Choose the plate, stand etc. where you’ll place your cake, cut four thick strips of baking paper and form a square outline on the plate. This will ensure that your plate or stand will not be covered with frosting when you apply it over your cake.

Place the first cake (cut side up) onto the pieces of baking paper and add the chocolate-mascarpone filling on top. Spread the filling over the top of the cake, smoothing it out with the help of a small offset spatula (or a regular spatula). Be careful not to spread too close to the edges, leave some space for the filling to spread out when you add each layer on top.
Carefully place the second cake on top (cut side down) and press down gently to secure.

Put the cake in the fridge in order for the filling and cake to firm up and be ready for the application of the frosting. Leave in the fridge for 10 minutes and make the mascarpone frosting.

for the mascarpone frosting
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), sieve the icing sugar and add the mascarpone, the cream and the vanilla. Beat with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overwhip or the mixture will split.

Remove the cake from the fridge and apply the frosting evenly over and around the cake using a small offset spatula or a larger regular one.

Remove the baking paper from around the bottom of the cake carefully and place the cake in the fridge for 40 minutes to set. Right before you serve it, decorate the top with the edible flowers.

Note: Keep the cake in the fridge until it’s time to cut it. Don’t leave it out of the fridge because the frosting will get too soft.

You can keep the cake in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. It’s best if you remove the flowers from the top. They should be super fresh when consumed.

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