A few weeks ago, the Kiwi and I decided to take advantage of a long weekend and head down to Cape Town and Franschhoek for five days. We had a wonderful holiday. I overcame for a short period of time my blindingly irrational fear that I will fall off the side of any mountain and climbed up Table Mountain via the Platteklip Trail—short but straight uphill. Of course, I did it clinging to the Kiwi’s arm once we were over 50 feet off the ground and with periodic episodes of me clutching the Kiwi’s arm fiercely while loudly announcing that I did not want to die. I tried to do the latter only when there weren’t other people around. And in my defense, it was a rainy and windy day and the nice park ranger at the bottom of the trail suggested that today was not the day to climb the mountain as I might never make it off the mountain. Um, thanks. Continue reading
When planning our weekly meals, I like choosing a theme for the week. It makes grocery shopping and cooking easier. We follow the theme about 3 days out of the week. Last week was Asian: stir fries and dumplings. The week before Mexican: chilaquiles, burritos, and nachos. This week we decided would be vegetarian burger week: falafels, my mother-in-law’s bean burgers and of course, pav bhaji. The Kiwi makes his mom’s burgers and of course, his almost-as-good-as-McDonald’s homemade fries. I make the other dishes.
When I spent a summer in Bombay working over 15 years ago, I would scarf down pav bhaji from a roadside stand every single day for lunch. It has to be the most delicious pav bhaji I have ever had. And despite subsisting on the roadside pav bhaji for three solid months, I came back home illness-free. Awesome.
I know. I know. Almond brittle is definitely not Indian food. I am not sure when my mom started making brittle, but we have had it around the house for as long as I can remember. When the Kiwi first came to visit my parents for the initial meet-the-parents, my mom made her usual peanut brittle. The Kiwi ate all of it, which meant that now whenever I go home, my mom sends me off with a packet of peanut brittle for the Kiwi. Of course, the Kiwi forgets we have it in the house and after a month I am left having to eat it. The problem with that is I actually don’t like peanut brittle.
So the last time I went home I was determined to put an end to this peanut brittle business, until my mom suggested that since I love almonds she could just make me almond brittle. It was delicious and I came home with some in my suitcase, just for me.
I thought about this this weekend as the Kiwi and I recently moved—hence the lack of regular posts. I like our new place. It is bigger and closer to work. But there is one problem: our new house has an electric stove. I have never—apart from for one year of my life—used an electric stove. I have to admit, I am a little intimidated about using it. So, I figured I would start small. Almond brittle is perfect for that. All you need to use your stove top for is roasting the almonds and melting the sugar. The whole use of the stove top is under 15 minutes. And most importantly, there is no need to regulate the heat.
My almond brittle didn’t come out like my mom’s. I could blame the new stove, but that would be churlish and untrue. Most of the problem was that the almonds weren’t all chopped to a similar size, since we don’t have a food processor and I was crushing them in my mortar and pestle. If you do want uniform pieces of brittle you need your almonds to be of relatively equal size. Mine came out more rough, as you can see from the photo below. But the brittle may not have looked as pretty as my mom’s but it was still as delicious.
The process is easy. You roast the almonds on medium heat either on the stovetop or the oven until they start browning and you can smell almonds if you stick your nose in the pan—not too close though. On a separate burner on low-medium heat you place your sugar and stir. The sugar will slowly start melting and begin turning a nice rich brown color. Once it does that take it off the burner, throw your almonds into the liquid sugar mixture and immediately spread it thinly on a sheet of aluminum foil. You have to move fast before the sugar starts to set.
Wait for it to partially dry before scoring it with a big chef’s knife. Once it is completely set you can use the scoring lines to cut evenly shaped pieces. That’s it. The whole process—apart from waiting for the mixture to dry—took 20 minutes. The only possible hiccup—apart from the evenly chopped almond—is over browning your sugar. If you keep the sugar on the stove too long your brittle will have a slightly bitter aftertaste. You want the sugar to be a rich light brown color when you mix in the almonds.
1 c chopped almonds
Slightly less than 1 c sugar
Roast almonds over medium heat and then chop in even sized pieces. On separate burner, place sugar over low to medium heat, stirring regularly. Once the sugar has become a rich brown, place chopped almonds into sugar and mix. Thinly spread the mixture onto aluminum foil and let it dry. Cut into even sized pieces.
My local grocery store has started selling non-traditional fresh produce. In the past few months this has included okra, karela, green bananas and haberanos chilies. To those who are used to an American supermarket where fresh produce from around the world abounds, this will appear to be not much of anything. But here where I primarily can only find carrots, broccoli, corn, potatoes, and squashes—butternut and gem–the introduction of these new types of produce is exciting.
Last week, while perusing this new section, I found a bottle gourd (also known as a calabash or in Gujarati a dudhi)! I haven’t seen these in South Africa, ever. So I was very excited about it. I got a 2 pound bottle gourd and took it home. My mom always uses the bottle gourd to make a veggie dish with chana dal. You can go into any Indian store and ask for chana dal. They should have it. Continue reading
A few weeks ago, I returned to an empty fridge after a wonderfully relaxing two-week trip to New Zealand (more on the trip and the food in a later post). I was jet-lagged and was reduced to rummaging through my pantry to find something satisfying and yet easy to make. I mulled over various combinations of beans and rice, but it sounded so dull. And after 24 hours of airplane and airport food, I wanted something with a bit more spice. Then I had a brain wave—I would make papdi no loat, which is basically steamed dough made from rice flour.
We always had papdi no loat on Sunday afternoons or as a snack. The best papdi no loat I have ever had has come from a Hare Krishna temple in Vidyanagar, a small town in Gujarat where my grandparents used to live. When I was young, my grandfather and I used to walk to the Hare Krishna temple every evening. He would go to meet all of his other grandfather friends and I would go to eat the temple’s papdi no loat. Continue reading
I am not the biggest fan of potatoes, unless of course they are deep fried and served with ketchup and a little mustard. In fact usually when I see potatoes I immediately get a deep yearning for French fries (or chips as they say here). But the Kiwi loves potatoes and having 3 medium-sized potatoes leftover in our pantry, I thought I would make this potato with tomato dish that was a weekly regular in our house when I was growing up.
This is a tasty and quick dish to make. You begin with chopping the potatoes into small squares. This dish uses very little to no water so you want the potatoes small enough that they will cook through in almost no water. The bigger you cut them the more stressful the cooking. Having said that, I once had this dish at someone’s house where the cook had cut the potatoes into teeny tiny squares. It wasn’t nice. So I cut mine a little bigger. Bring on the stress, I say. Continue reading
It is hot in Johannesburg. Not sticky, humid hot like India or New York in August. But still hot enough that you don’t feel like turning on the stove. Perfect weather for kulfi (or in Gujarati: gulfi).
My brother and I once spent a few weeks in dreaded August traveling through the deserts of Rajasthan in India. Given the heat, there were people selling matki kulfis—kulfis kept ice cold within these big handmade earthen pots called matkis (again in Gujarati called matlas). I think on that trip we stopped to get these matki kulfis every time we saw someone selling them, which was at least three times a day. You would get this burst of lovely cold air as the vendor opened the matki to grab the kulfi. It was like standing in front of the freezer with the door open on a hot humid day. We would walk around eating our kulfis off of the stick and for that brief period before they melted or were eaten, I felt cool.