Archives for posts with tag: Cardamom

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I realized I don’t bake very much anymore.  I don’t know how this happened.  Several nights a week after dinner I scour through my cookbooks and online to find something to bake.  I always feel like eating something sweet after dinner and trying to satisfy my sweet tooth with fruit is essentially fruitless (hehe).  But after dinner I want quick satisfaction, so I head over to the cupboard and snack on a few chocolate chips.

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I want to bake marvelous cakes and pastries.  I could look at baking recipes for hours, but when it comes down to the actual execution I’m always hesitant.  I think it has something to do with me the fact that me baking always yields a tornado-like scene in my kitchen.  I have enough counter space and yet without fail I manage to make a huge mess to cleanup and that leaves me feeling bitter.  But of course if my baking project comes out as planned, I guess the tornado-scene is just the collateral damage to an otherwise successful (and delicious!) feat.

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Back to my laziness, these vermicelli squares are a godsend for the ultimate lazy sweet satisfaction seeker like myself.  It’s an easy recipe with just a handful of ingredients and not too many bowls and most importantly — no flour dust storms in the kitchen.  It also looks like you spent hours making it, when in actuality these squares require no effort at all.  My sister-in-law makes these and I never saw them before she made them one day.  At first I thought they were some sort of baklava, but they’re just Pakistani vermicelli with sweetened condensed milk, cardamom, butter, and nuts.  When she told me the recipe, I was shocked that it wasn’t something more complicated.  Either way, it’s a win-win situation and those post-dinner sweet cravings will be thoroughly satisfied with these sticky and sweet squares.

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Sweet and Sticky Vermicelli Squares (or Diamonds!)

Makes an 8″x 8″ pan

Ingredients

4 tablespoons butter (unsalted or salted, doesn’t matter)

1 packet (about 200 grams) of Pakistani or Indian Vermicelli (found in Pakistani or Indian grocery stores)

1 (scant 2 cups) can of sweetened condensed milk

1 cup milk

2 cardamom pods, seeds removed and crushed slightly in a mortar and pestle

pinch of salt

1/2 cup crushed almonds and pistachios, you can add more or less

Method

Grease an 8″ x 8″ baking dish and line it with parchment paper.

Heat a large pot on medium heat and add the butter and allow it to almost get to the brown stage (about 2-3 minutes).  Watch the butter closely because you don’t want it to burn.  Add in the cardamom seeds.  Next, tear the vermicelli into the butter and cardamom and allow the vermicelli to toast a little.  Keep stirring until the vermicelli begins to soften.  Add in a 1 cup of milk and let the milk evaporate, stirring constantly.  Pour in the sweetened condensed milk and lower the heat to medium low.  Mix in the sweetened condensed mik, until combined and keep stirring occasionally until the vermicelli is soft, but still has a little bit of a bite to it, about 20-30 minutes.  Allow the vermicelli to cool for 5 minutes.

Next, transfer the vermicelli to the 8″ x 8″ baking dish and press it down with a spoon, so that it is evenly pressed into the baking dish.  Press in the nuts over the vermicelli and leave it at room temperature for an hour or two.  Put out the parchment paper and cut the vermicelli into squares or diamonds.  Serve at room temperature.

I would like to wish everyone a very blessed Eid.  Eid is a time for family, friends, and celebrations and I hope all of you are fortunate enough to be close to your loved ones.  Usually, we eat meat that has been slaughtered in a ritual sacrifice.  We prepare dishes like yakhni pulao (meat stock based rice pilaf), kharay masalay ka gosht (meat cooked with whole garam masala pieces), karahi gosht (a tomato/chili based meat dish), and many more.  Unfortunately, this is not a vegetarian friendly holiday, I suppose it could be though.

However, meat is not the only focus.  Desserts are prepared in copious amounts.  Kheer (rice pudding), sewayyan (sweetened vermicelli), zarda sweetened rice) are part of the dessert spread.  Yes, we are very serious about food and prepare a feast even if it’s just for your immediate family.

One of my favorite Pakistani desserts is Shahi Tukray.  Let me tell you, it is literally heaven.  Fried bread slices soaked in a sugar syrup infused with saffron and cardamom and then dunked into a rich and creamy milk pudding, so good.  So, so good.  Usually, I don’t swoon like this for other Pakistani desserts, sure I like them, but for me, Shahi Tukray are on a completely other level.  It’s almost like you take a bite and you are so consumed in the utter deliciousness that you can’t think for a minute.  Or maybe I’m just an odd one and this is only the case for me.  Regardless, this dessert is befitting to its name, which means royal pieces or morsels.

I added a twist to the recipe here, being Autumn I thought pumpkin might work in this dish.  I added pumpkin purée to the rabri (reduced milk pudding) and the combination of pumpkin with cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves (the last two another nontraditional addition of mine) was divine.  Of course, if you want to stay true to the original leave the pumpkin out, but I really enjoyed this new combination.

Eid Mubarak and even if you don’t celebrate, find some Muslim friends and I’m sure they would be more than happy to include you in their celebrations and share the yummy food with you.

Shahi Tukray with Pumpkin

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 cups whole milk

1 cup half and half

1 cup canned pure pumpkin purée

2/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar

3-4 whole cloves

1 teaspoon cardamom powder

5 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

a nice pinch of saffron threads

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup canola oil or clarified butter, for frying (you might need slightly more oil/clarified butter, but I try to use as little as possible)

1 loaf (8-10 slices) day-old country-style white bread, crusts removed (optional) and cut into 2 pieces on the diagonal

edible silver leaf, for garnish (optional)

1/2 cup toasted and chopped mixed nuts-pistachios and almonds with skin, for garnish

fresh whipped cream, for garnish

cinnamon powder, for garnish

softened butter, for greasing the baking dish

Method

In a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat, bring the milk, half and half, cardamom powder, 2 cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and pumpkin to a simmer. Mix the ingredients every minute or so.

Once the milk/cream mixture comes to a simmer turn the heat to low and let the mixture thicken to the consistency of a loose pudding/custard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the cream does not burn. This should take 35-45 minutes. Once the milk/cream mixture is done, remove the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pods.

While the milk/cream mixture is simmering, make the sugar syrup by combining the remaining sugar, water, saffron threads, and 3 cardamom pods in a small saucepan on medium-low heat. The syrup will be done once the sugar and water have dissolved into a uniform liquid after about 10 minutes. Leave the sugar syrup on low heat until the milk/cream mixture is done.

At this point preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter an 8″x8″ inch baking dish.

Once the cream mixture and sugar syrup are done, start frying the bread triangles in a fry pan on medium heat with the oil or clarified butter until all the pieces are golden brown on both sides. Lay the bread on paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Once all the bread pieces are fried, dip each bread piece into the sugar syrup then into the milk/cream mixture so that the bread is coated well and then arrange the bread into the baking dish. I like to arrange the bread on the diagonal. Repeat this until you have used up all the fried bread.

Next, take any remaining milk/cream mixture and pour it over the bread slices in the pan and use a rubber spatula to make the top smooth.

Bake the bread slices in the oven for 15 minutes or until the top just starts to slightly turn golden.

Remove from the oven and garnish with the chopped nuts and silver leaf, if you are using it.

Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of cinnamon, if you like. I like to eat it right from the oven but it can also be eaten at room temperature or even chilled.

*This can be made a day in advance and baked the day of serving.

I also posted this recipe on food52 here.

IMG_8111When I moved to Montreal for my Master’s degree I was introduced to Persian and Afghani restaurants.  The flavors were familiar yet different.  They were not spicy like traditional Pakistani fare but indeed quite flavorful and had many layers of subtle spice.

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Coming back to my Persian Chicken Kebab story, I needed to make some to go alongside it and I was reminded of the Afghani rice I used to eat quite often in Montreal.  Recalling its flavors I pondered on how to go about making it.  A challenge if you will.  I could have easily gone on to Google typed “Afghani Pulao” and instantly a recipe would appear.  But, I wanted to use my palette, my sense of taste to decipher the ingredients of this dish.

We often take our sense of taste for granted.  What would we be without it?  It’s like being blind or deaf, it is the lack of a vital sense.  Loving all things food related, I could not even begin to imagine what it would be like not to taste.  This brings me to to Grant Achatz, the chef at Alinea in Chicago.  He was diagnosed with Stage IV tongue cancer yet persevered through this “death sentence.”  He survived but lost his sense of taste, to him dying might have been a better option.  Nevertheless, his fearless spirit brought him back into the kitchen and he used his non-existent palette to continue his culinary pursuits and now slowly his sense of taste is returning to him.  But imagine, food brings us joy, unites us all and without this vital sense human bonding would not be the same.

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Okay, had enough deep conversation yet?  *Snicker*   Where was I?  Oh yes, my self-inflicted challenge!  I know how to make a traditional Yakhni Pulao, so I used this as my starting point.  From my the remaining bones that I had butchered off of my chicken breasts I made a stock.  A simple stock comprised of onion, garlic, carrots, parsley, black peppercorns, cloves, salt, basically whatever you feel like adding to it.  The base was going to be simple, onions and garlic but what else could I add for the aroma and flavor present in Afghani pulao?  Another pantry raid!  Cinnamon, cardamom, bay leaves, saffron, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns, dried red chilies, dried cranberries, pine nuts, almonds–all at my disposal!  Overflowing with excitement, I was ready to tackle this dish.

Afghani Pulao

Serves 3

Ingredients

1 cup basmati rice, soaked and washed

2 1/2 cups chicken stock (low sodium, free-range, homemade is best, but a good quality boxed one is fine)

1 medium red onion, sliced

3 garlic cloves, minced

3-4 tablespoons oil (I used a combination of Canola and Olive Oil)

1 cinnamon stickIMG_8104

1 bay leaf

2-3 cardamom pods

4 cloves

5-6 black peppercorns

pinch of nutmeg, ground

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies

1/2 teapsoon saffron threads

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon orange zest

2-3 carrots, grated

1 tablespoon each, blanched slivered almonds and pine nuts (add extra for garnish, if desired)

1/4 cup dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, golden raisins, apricots, currants–I had dried cranberries on hand)

cilantro leaves, for garnish, optional

1-2 tablespoons butter, optional

Method:

Add the oil to a pot.  Let it warm on medium heat add the onions allow to sweat.  When the onions are almost golden, add the garlic.  Next add all the whole spices including the crushed red chilies, salt, and nutmeg but not the saffron.  Toss in the dried fruit and nuts.  Let the nuts toast and the dried fried reconstitute.  After a minute or so add the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  When the stock is boiling add the saffron.  Let the saffron steep for 30 seconds.  Next, pour in the rice.  Allow to cook in the stock for about 15 minutes or until just undercooked.  At this point add the carrots and orange rind on top.  Turn the heat to low.  Use a kitchen towel and cover it over the pot tightly.  Then put the lid top and let the carrots sweat and the orange rind lets its oils perfume the rice.  Let it sit on very low heat for 10 minutes.  Uncover and fluff with a fork.  You may add butter for some extra richness at this point.  Place in serving dish garnish with extra nuts and cilantro leaves.

*I always serve Kachumbar or chopped salad with Pakistani rice dishes.  It is simply chopped onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, green chilies, cilantro leaves,  a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, salt, a pinch of red chili powder, and a pinch of cumin.

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