Sunday, April 29, 2007

no wait dosa

well, i must say this recipe [post] certainly makes up in spades for the disappointment of my wasabi peas experiment. while some things, as i said in my aforementioned posting, are better left to the experts, others are more a function of practice or modification — or simply finding a better recipe or method to suit one's purpose.

for a long time, i've wanted to make the south indian "pancakes" or crepes called dosa and have them end up tasting as good as they look and look as good as they taste. my previous several attempts ended either in disaster or were just mediocre and not worth repeating. that being said, i guess i can't feel too badly since i know indians who say they aren't the easiest thing to make. merely following cookbook instructions and having them turn out as described isn't always that simple either. perfection in this arena amounts to the proper ingredients, cooking method and implements. in other words, a properly fermented batter, a hot griddle (pan) and a fast hand that can move in concentric circles.

dosa can be made in various ways and can use different ingredients (flours, grains, lentils). not only is there is a wide variety of kinds, they also range in size from small to large, with the larger 2 to 3 feet long ones obviously being made in restaurants and not in the everyday home. another aspect is texture which ranges from spongy and somewhat thick to very thin and crispy while still being malleable.

the following recipe differs from the standard fermented one in that it is ready to cook immediately after the mixing of the batter and uses rice flour and all purpose instead of the classic lentil and ground rice mixture. its "fermented" or sourdough taste instead comes from using yogurt, the more sour the better, in this case. it is also cooked on both sides instead of just the one.

for those purists who say no to this, i say give it a try! it is quick, no fuss, always successful and delicious either on its own or filled with your favourite stuffing.

no-fuss "instant" dosa
south indian crepes

makes approx. 8 dosa


1 c all purpose flour
1 c rice flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp red chilli powder

1/2 med onion, chopped
1/4 c ground coconut (fresh or dried)
1 c yogurt
3/4 c water

2 tbsp oil
1 tsp brown mustard seeds

1 tsp peppercorns, coarsely cracked

1/4 c oil in a small dish


in a blender, place the flours, onion, coconut, salt and chilli powder.

add the yogurt and the water and blend for 2 minutes on puree or until it is finely blended. there should be no chunks of onion.

place the mixture in a bowl and set aside.

in a small pot [with a lid], heat the oil on medium high heat and then add the brown mustard seeds. let them cook until they no longer pop and splutter. you may want to almost completely cover the pot when they start to pop to prevent them from flying everywhere! remove from heat and let cool for a minute.

add them to the dosa mixture and stir well to incorporate.

crack the peppercorns until they are coarsely ground. you do not want to add finely ground pepper as it changes the taste and is not the same. don't worry, it's not overpoweringly strong once cooked!

heat a non stick fry pan or cast iron pan over medium heat. you want something which can be covered with a lid of some sort. let it get hot.

meanwhile, place a 1/4 c of oil in a small bowl and have a teaspoon ready and a spatula. take a paper towel and crumple it up at one end. use this to dip into the oil and smear the pan well with the oil.

take a 1/3 c or so of dosa batter and place it in the well heated pan in its center. from the center of the batter, quickly swirl a spoon around in a one-way concentric (circle) fashion to spread the batter.

this may take practice; the idea is to extend the batter and thin it out. it should be about 1/8" thick or so.

put about a 1/2 tsp of oil over the dosa crepe and then another tsp around the circumference of the crepe.

cover the pan and cook it for about 4 to 5 minutes or so until the underside is browned and the edges are golden.

place the cover aside and then flip the dosa over and let it cook another 4 minutes until the other side is browned. make sure the pan is not covered at this point.

now you can fold the crepe over in half and stack them or they can be filled with a filling of your choice, such as the typical potato one, rolled up and served with a chutney. they can also be eaten as is. cover them with tin foil to keep the dosa warm.

the batter can be put in the fridge for a few days and crepes can be made as you want them.


for another quick version using semolina [rawa], check out as dear as salt which includes a potato filling and chutney recipe as well. thanks, richa!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

full steam ahead!

growing up, i had a direct source for chinese food.

it came via my friend's mother and grandmother who cooked all sorts of things and whose family owned a restaurant. though completely not kosher, i remember being fascinated by the different things they ate and how different their kitchen, or rather pantry, was compared to mine and my other friends' .... it was a world away from anything i knew.

one thing i particularly remember well were spongy cakes and other sorts of breads that were texturally very different from what i recognized as cakes and bread. they were very sweet and called things i could not pronounce. the funny part is that my, at that time, six year old friend would always try to snatch the stuff given me by the grandmother as soon as she left the room and throw it in the garbage! she told me not to eat it because she thought it was gross and then went to the pantry to grab cookies bought at the grocery store. little did she know, i actually liked the things i had tried.

i always end up thinking of this when i make mantou or chinese steamed buns. these breads can be made plain or stuffed with a filling, where they are called baozi. mantou can be a bit tricky in that if not made properly, they can turn out very dense after being steamed or shrivel up and become hard. there are many different recipes for mantou and baozi and, depending upon from which country the recipe comes, various versions ask for different types of flours and leavening agents.

the recipe i use here is pretty straightforward: bread flour, yeast, water and sugar. nothing fancy or strange for bread. what is different is the way they are cooked. they are put in a steamer and cooked by the vaporized water whereupon they swell up to round spongy masses which can be used to mop up the sauces from a dinner dish or just eaten plain as a snack. they can also be kept in the fridge for a few days and reheated by steaming them again.

what i do find important in making these successfully is that the dough be somewhat sticky and that it be fully proved. if it has not risen long enough, they usually turn out dense. they can be steamed in the traditional bamboo steamers or in a stainless one which fits on top of another pot.

most importantly, to get big spongy mantou buns, we have to look at the world of physics. the secret in not getting shriveled up (and often hard) buns is to keep the lid on! do not peek until after they have fully cooked and rested. if the lid is taken off the steamer before the buns have had time to rest, the exchange of temperature (pressure) cause them to lose their shape. so, now you know ...... go steam those buns! :)

plain chinese steamed buns

this recipe only makes 6 fist sized (ok, a little smaller) buns. double it if you want more.


1/2 tsp regular dry yeast
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tbsp warm water

1 1/2 c bread flour (or all purpose)
2 tbsp sugar

1/2 c + 1 tbsp warm water


prove the yeast first with the water and sugar.

in another bowl, mix the 2 tbsp of sugar with the flour.

make a well in the center of the bowl.

add the yeast mixture to the well.

add the warm water to the yeast in the well.

with chopsticks or a wooden spoon, mix the dough into the liquids.

stir until you have a shaggy dough.

make a ball and knead the dough for a good 10 minutes. it may be a bit sticky. don't add more flour until it is absolutely necessary. the more you knead it, the less sticky it will become.

place the dough in a bowl and cover. let rise for 2 hours in a warmish place like in an oven with the pilot light on or in your microwave.

once it has risen, punch it down.

make a log which is about 6 inches long.

cut 6 one inch pieces.

make a ball from each of them.

place the balls on a floured place and roll them in the flour.

cover the plate and let it rise again for about an hour. make sure the balls have some flour on the tops of them so they do not stick to the plastic wrap. this is important.

set up your wok and bamboo steamer(s). i do it in 2 batches as i only have one steamer.

i use my le creuset and make foil balls to rest the steamer on top of.

fill the pot or wok with enough water to steam the buns. do not place too much so that it touches the bottom of the steamer.

place the buns on the steamer which you have lined with a cloth. i use a damp j-cloth i have for cooking.

steam them on high heat, for 15 minutes only, watching that the water does not boil away. add more if needed.

turn off the heat and let the buns steam further untouched for another 10 minutes.

remove the steamer and the buns. repeat with the last 3 buns.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

get out the tape!

there are a few things that make me want to tape my mouth shut. one of them is fudge. i can't seem to stop eating it if i have it near me even though i know it will send my blood glucose levels flying off into orbit and make my dentist very happy.

over the years i've tried [and collected] several different recipes — some good, some fantastic and some just okay. often, many of the recipes involve adding marshmallows which i find bizarre and in a way, cheating. fudge is basically crystallized sugar which can be flavoured and fortified with chopped nuts, if wanted.

making fudge can be a tricky thing, especially if one is using a recipe which involves making a sugar syrup. many a time, using recipes which call for sugar syrups can result in disaster and be intimidating. i remember a few times where i either ended up with cement or the whole mixture seized up before it even got it to the pan to harden.

the following recipe was sort of an experiment (on my part as i had never tried it before) for a friend who wanted a kid friendly recipe for fudge. this certainly is a "no-brainer" and easy to make. it doesn't involve boiling sugar or having to beat it with a hand mixer, guessing if it's thick enough or not. rather it involves melting butter and cream cheese and mixing in icing sugar and cocoa. simple and uncomplicated. okay, foolproof.

after refrigeration, the end result was a very nicely thickened dense piece of chocolate fudge. the only thing i found a bit strange was that there was a little layer of butter which coated the top of the mixture. this did not affect the taste whatsoever and i wrote it off, so to speak, for the ease of whipping up a quick batch of something so good. i think this could be corrected or hidden with a layer of nuts pressed into it before refrigeration or chocolate jimmie candies. note that i added a 1/3 cup of flour as i wasn't sure what the end result was going to be; the mixture seemed oily due to the melted butter. in the end, it turned out fine and something worth repeating. my friend and her kid were very happy with the results. :)

no-cook chocolate fudge


1/2 c unsalted butter
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract

8 tbsp cocoa

2.5 c confectioners [powdered] sugar
1/3 c flour [optional]*


melt the butter and add it directly to the softened cream cheese. mix it well with whisk or hand beater until it is incorporated. it may not completely bind together.

using either a mixer or a wooden spoon (don't use a whisk, it didn't work well when i tried), mix in the cocoa and the vanilla.

fold in the powdered sugar and the flour, if using. at this point you can add about a 1/2 to 2/3 c of chopped nuts, if you like it that way.

press into a small dish (i used a 6" x 6" pan) and refrigerate.

cut in small pieces.


Monday, April 23, 2007

leave it to the experts — results and a review

i have long liked making things "from scratch". this can be both a good thing and a bad one.

my successes have often afforded me a sense of accomplishment and pride and the ability to see just what is possible from my own two hands. often, the more complicated and challenging a project is, the more i am attracted to it and want to do it.

oddly enough, i also fully embrace the mishaps disasters, looking at them as learning experiences rather than failures. somehow the things that go wrong seem to make me want to redo them to "get it right" — i am tenacious and don't give up easily. sometimes, however, some things are better left alone. i must admit: some things just aren't worth making yourself.

many months ago, when i started my blog, i added a recipe for something i found in a newspaper. i thought, "wow, brilliant .... can't wait to make these! i can't believe i found a recipe for how to make something i really love eating". i figured i would just post it without having tried it first .... (something i wouldn't normally do).

i finally found myself in the mood to try this recipe out a little while ago and the votes are in. all i can say is, well, folks, this definitely counts as a major failure. it was so bad i ended up throwing it out. i even "threw out", i.e. deleted, the pictures of it.

after experimenting with this recipe, two things occurred: the first was that i was really disappointed it didn't taste good (ok, it was vile) and annoyed that i wasted ingredients on making it. the second thing was that i couldn't understand how the person who came up with the recipe could even think it was anywhere equivalent to the original intended product.

so i guess, by now, you are wondering what i'm talking about ?? (lol)

wasabi peas. yuck. oh, yuck. double, triple yuck.

my mini review is that:

first of all, tahina mixed with wasabi [powder] paste is vile. none of the extra supporting ingredients came close to correcting the bitter edge these two very strong tasting main ingredients formed together.

the resulting mixture was uber thick and bizarre. (read: glop). i sort of figured it would go weird since adding liquid to tahina paste makes it almost semi solid.

finding the proper peas is not an easy feat. they seem to be an obscure grocery item and are not the same kind as ordinary garden ones. in interest of experimentation, i dry roasted chickpeas as a substitute. my aim wasn't so much in the pea, at that point, but rather the coating.

once baked, the coating was still thick and, well, weird. it was also grayish and nowhere near an analog. taste wise, it was acrid and unpalatable.

i guess the lesson to take from this is that some things sound better than they are in reality. i think i'll leave the making of wasabi peas to the experts in the factories.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

caramel, pepper, jerusalem and a few eggs

..... oh yeah, and don't forget the noodles!

kugels can be made from a variety of noodles and/or vegetables and are simple and filling side dishes. this particular one is actually a specialty of the city of jerusalem and is easily whipped up in no time at all. it is somewhat different in that it requires making a caramel first from oil and sugar and then adding it to cooked fine noodles to provide both colour and flavour. the standard noodle kugels use wide (broad) type egg noodles and do not involve this kind of preparation.

while it does have sugar in it, this version is not particularly sweet. jerusalem kugels are always made with the addition of ground black pepper. that can be adjusted to suit one's taste but usually, they are quite peppery. once baked, they are a nice dark golden brown, crispy on the outsides and dense but soft on the inside.

and you thought noodles were only for italian pasta dishes ;p

jerusalem kugel


1/2 lb fine egg noodles (250 gr)

3 eggs

1/4 c vegetable oil
1/2 c white granulated sugar, divided*

1/4 - 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger, heaped
1/2 - 1 tsp ground black pepper


boil a pot of salted water and cook the noodles until al dente. it should take less than 10 minutes as they are quite thin and small. do not overcook them.

drain well and set in a bowl.

preheat the oven to 350 F. grease a 6 - 7 inch cake pan, either round or square with margarine or oil. i like using margarine as it coats the sides better.

while they are cooling, heat 1/4 c of oil in a small pot or non stick fry pan. add *1/4 c + 1 tbsp of the sugar. reserve the rest for later.

stir the sugar in the pot or fry pan and let it melt.

it will slowly start to caramelize. do not leave it unattended.

once it is dark brown, very carefully add this to the noodles.

try to get all of the oil and sugar out of the pan. the mixture will sizzle a bit on top of the noodles; that is fine. mix well.

add the eggs, reserved sugar and seasonings to the noodle mixture. mix this well again.

add the mixture to the greased pan and bake for 1 hour or until well browned.

remove from oven. place a plate on top and then flip it over. you may want to check that it has not stuck to the pan first with a spatula before doing this. cut in serving pieces.