Tag Archives: saffron

Kesari Baath – Easy Cream of Wheat Dessert with Parsnip and Dates

Kesari Baath - cream of wheat with almonds, dates and parsnip

It’s Day 2 of our Diwali Dessert week. Didn’t catch the golden beets with roasted cashews yesterday? Tut-tut, but I’m sure this will corrected very soon! Today, we’ll be making Kesari Baath (saffron semolina pudding) but again with a twist. It’s also called Sooji Halwa in North India.

Indian sweets use a lot of sugar. I can’t eat much sugar so doing a week of desserts is a challenge! I mentioned yesterday that low glycemic sugar alternatives like coconut crystals are a great sugar substitute. Today’s dessert uses parsnips as a natural sweetener. Cool, huh?!

Another trick while making desserts less sweet is to heighten the experience by adding different layers of texture. The dates in the recipe do this but also add some sweetness as well. The nuts add great crunch. When I make this again, I think I’ll chop the parsnips instead of grating to add another layer of texture.

The traditional Kesari Bath uses cashew nuts but since I used them yesterday, I went with almonds. I’m sure pecans or hazelnuts would work well too.

Almonds and dates

Parsnip as a sweetener

Grated parsnip

Recipe

  • 1/2 cup of almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 dates, pitted and chopped (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons ghee (or unsalted butter)
  • 1 cup cream of wheat or semolina
  • 1.5 cups milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1 cup grated parsnip (optional, helps sweeten and thus reduce amount of sugar needed)

Heat the ghee on medium heat in skillet till it melts. Roast the nuts and dates for 3 minutes while stirring frequently. Remove the nuts and dates and leave out to cook. Roast the cream of wheat in the same skillet for 3 minutes or till it turns slightly brown.

Heat the water and milk in a pot over medium heat. Add the grated parsnips, sugar and saffron. When the milk just starts to simmer, slowly add the roasted cream of wheat while stirring. Once all the cream of wheat has been added, remove the pot from heat and stir till cooked.

You can either mix in all the nuts and dates or use them as garnish.

Enjoy this easy, yummy dessert!

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Golden Beets with Roasted Cashews

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights is on October 26th this year. This is one of the most popular festivals in India! Most people celebrate with fireworks, new clothes and families and friends exchange sweets. I’ll confess that I don’t often eat sweets. For one, they go directly to my waistline and for another, they usually have some ingredient that I can’t eat. Plus when I crave food, its usually something savory. I really dislike how sickly sweet most Indian sweets are. BUT, when you make it yourself, you’re in control. And with healthy ingredients like beets, I don’t feel guilty at all.

I love the natural sweetness of the beets and didn’t feel the need to add much sugar at all. There are layers of texture in this simple dessert. The cooked grated beets still retain some of their crunch. The roasted cashews are crisp. The raisins plump up when cooked with the beets and milk and are almost juicy when you bite into them.

Golden Bulk beets for beet halwa

Cashews roasted in ghee

Beets are in peak season right now and there are so many ways of preparing them apart from slicing them up for a salad. I love beets but hate the mess of cleaning up after them! Golden beets though come with all the crunch of beets, a mild sweet flavor and none of the mess. So here goes, the first recipe for this week of daily Diwali dessert inspiration!

This recipe is a take on carrot halwa.

Serves 4-6

Recipe

  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons ghee (or unsalted butter)
  • 1/2 cup whole cashews
  • 1 big or 2 small golden beets, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 1.5 cups milk, divided (A non dairy milk will work too)
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron
  • 1.5 tablespoons sugar (for a low glycemic alternative, use coconut crystals!)
  • 1/4 cup raisins

Heat 2 teaspoons ghee  over medium heat till it melts and starts to froth. Roast the cashews for 3-5 minutes or till slightly brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool and crisp up.

Microwave 1/2 cup milk for 30 seconds. Gently crush saffron in your palms and add it to the milk. Stir and let sit for a few minutes.

Heat 2 tablespoons ghee in a pot over medium heat till it starts to froth. Saute the grated beets for 3 minutes. Add the milk with saffron, the rest of the milk, raisins and sugar. Stir. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. The beets should be cooked but still have some bite to them. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, garnish with the roasted nuts before serving.

For a nice presentation, you can dust with powdered sugar.

Golden Beet 'Halwa' for Diwali

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Tricolor Pulao

They woke us up early so we could be ready before sunrise. The neighborhood was quiet, a welcome break from the noisy hustle and bustle of modern India. Even the street dogs weren’t barking, perhaps out of respect because it was Independence Day.

For my grandparents, who had lived through the struggle for independence from British rule, life with a ration card for food staples was normal. They knew what it meant to do without and did not take freedom for granted.

My grandmother would bring the tricolor flag out, which had been carefully stored away, the night before. My grandfather would have a pole ready to go. We’d walk up the concrete stairs to the open terrace with my grandparents, my brother, my cousin and I. One of us would unfurl the flag and carefully insert the pole through its loops. My grandfather would then affix the pole to the balcony wall close to where the Purple Camel Foot tree had grown taller than the balcony depositing its bright pink flowers on the terrace.

Indian flag

We’d step back and on my grandfather’s count, would sing the Jana Gana Mana, India’s national anthem, just as the sun rose.

It was a short but solemn ceremony that taught us early on to value all the opportunities we were given. Now that I live in the US and my grandparents still live in India, there is no family flag ceremony anymore. But today, in honor of India’s 64th anniversary of Independence, I’ve made my own special tricolor flag. And as I take a bite of this fragrant and vibrant dish, I close my eyes and savor freedom.

Happy Birthday India.

Tricolor Pulao

Tricolor Pulao

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 4.5 tablespoons Ghee (or vegetable oil), divided
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 5 pods green cardamom, slightly crushed
  • 3 cloves
  • 2 inch cinnamon stick (Ceylon cinnamon if you can get it)
  • ½ teaspoon saffron
  • 2 cups white basmati rice
  • 1 green chili, sliced lengthwise into quarters
  • ½ cup yellow onion –finely diced (a small onion or ½ a large one)
  • ½ cup red bell pepper –finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • ½ cup cilantro – coarsely chopped
  • 10 cashew nuts, whole
  • 10 almonds, whole
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon or to taste

Roasted almonds and cashews

Vibrant vegetables for pulao

Recipe

Rice

This can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.

  1. Rinse the rice three times in warm water. Lay out the rice in a shallow dish and allow to dry.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons ghee over medium heat in a thick bottomed pot for 2-3 minutes till a cumin seed thrown in starts to sizzle.
  3. Roast the whole spices for 10 seconds or till you smell their aroma.
  4. Gently crush the saffron and add it along with rice and a ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir gently till the rice starts clumping up, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a gentle boil before turning the heat to low and covering the pot.
  6. Remove from heat after 7 minutes or when the rice is just cooked, think al dente. Keep covered and allow the rice to cool down to room temperature.

Vegetables

  1. Roughly chop the nuts so they are all of a similar size.
  2. Heat 1/2 tablespoon ghee in a skillet over medium heat.
  3. Once the ghee starts to bubble, roast the nuts for 5 minutes or till you can smell the aroma of the cashews. They should be lightly browned. Remove from heat and leave uncovered.
  4. Wipe the skillet if necessary, and heat another 2 tablespoons of ghee for 2-3 minutes or till a cumin seed thrown in starts to sizzle.
  5. Roast the cumin for 10 seconds and then add the onion and chili. Stir occasionally or till the onion is evenly light brown. This should take 5-8 minutes.
  6. Fold in the vegetables and half the cilantro with the onions. Sauté till the bell pepper is cooked but still has a bit of crunch. Salt to taste.
  7. Remove from heat and mix in with the rice. Transfer to a serving bowl. Garnish with the nuts and the remaining cilantro.
  8. Serve with plain yogurt and pickle or raita.

Tricolor Pulao for India's Independence Day

Independence Day pulao with tricolor ingredients

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Ode to a Coconut

The poor coconut has been much maligned as being unhealthy and laden with cholesterol. That view may be changing now as I found out on a recent tour of a grocery co-op lead by a nutritionist. Though high in cholesterol, coconuts contain medium chain triglycerides, or MCT’s. MCTs are easily digested and are converted into energy right away as opposed to other fats that are stored. Some research suggests that consuming more coconuts can help you lose weight!

I’ve always loved coconut is all its forms! Tender sweet coconut water is the best thing on a hot summer day. The next best thing is scooping out the still tender white flesh that later thickens into meat. Grated fresh coconut adds instant deliciousness and texture to ‘curried’ vegetables – see my earlier post. And of course Thai curries and soups made with coconut milk (made by squeezing grated coconut meat) are so flavorful.

Writing about coconuts reminds me of my grandmother’s lovely garden where she has five or six coconut trees. One of my ambitions as a child was to climb one of these trees and harvest my own coconut. I’d seen men shinny up coconut palms using a technique where they alternated hands and feet. This was one ambition that was soon dropped as I could never replicate the frog-like technique. Fast forwarding to the present, I’m just happy that we can buy coconuts and coconut milk in the market!

I’ve noticed recently that many of my friends also love coconut and so I do end up using it quite regularly. For a recent dinner party, I’d offered to bring a dessert. I didn’t have any fresh coconut left but did have some Baker’s sweetened coconut flakes. Coconut “burfi” (a general word for many sweets in India that can be cut into squares) came to mind and I made it, though in a non-traditional way. It was moist and crunchy at the same time and everyone liked it. Best of all, it is super easy to make though after my introduction on how healthy coconuts are, I should probably stick to fresh instead of processed coconut flakes! Here’s the recipe. It serves 8.

You’ll need:

  • Baker’s coconut (sweetened) – 7 oz pack
  • whole milk (I substituted soy milk creamer) – 1.5 to 2 cups
  • sugar (or an alternate sweetener. I used jaggery, a raw form of cane sugar) – 1 tbsp
  • green cardamom – 10, seeded and roughly ground using a mortar and pestle
  • saffron (optional) – 7-8 threads, crumbled

Simmer the milk on medium-low till it comes to a rolling boil. Add the remaining ingredients and stir well. Simmer for 30 minutes or till the mixture has thickened and there is almost no liquid left. Stir occasionally to avoid burning. Let it cool a bit and spread the coconut mixture in a thick layer in a buttered pan. Refrigerate (or even freeze) for a few hours to get it to set. Don’t worry too much if it won’t harden. It will still taste fine.

Enjoy this yummy dessert and the lovely floral saffron with the woody notes of cardamom perfectly matched with sweet and crunchy coconut!

And a quick tip if you’re shopping for this amazing nut. Choose one where you can hear the liquid sloshing around inside when you shake it.

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