Thursday, November 29, 2007


My Aai made nankatai quite often (it definitely is nankatai and not nankhatai at least for us). Technically she didn't bake them, rather they were baked for us by a local bakery. We provided the raw material in the correct amounts (sometime even the prepared dough) and they did the rest. This happy errand was always mine. After handing over the ingredients/ dough, the clever thing to do was to arrive at the bakery a few minutes ahead of the pickup time. As more often than not, the baker would offer something right out of the oven. It could be a waati-cake (literally cake baked in a katori), a plain bun, or a khari biscuit. Bliss!

Since Aai's nankatai was made with Dalda (as was the nankatai made by my mother-in-law), I never thought of making nankatai any other way.
Recently I tasted nankatai made using butter. What a difference! It was so decadent.
The difference was not only in the taste, but in the texture as well. The vegetable shortening nankatai seemed much lighter and finer in texture than it's makhan counterpart.

Shortening is not the healthiest thing to use, but I don't worry about that too much as I make nankatai just a couple of times a year. Also, this is the only thing I prepare using vegetable shortening.

I especially like the texture of the vegetable shortening nankatai because of the associated childhood food memories and so continue to make it that way.
Though the the shortening contributes to the texture and general appearance, it does very little in the flavour department. Nothing a pinch of keshar and elaichi cannot fix. For even more flavour, I add some powdered almonds.

My kids just absolutely love this nankatai. Even more than chocolate-chip cookies, so that is saying something. It makes me happy to share my childhood foods and the memories that go with them. To see them enjoy such foods while (hopefully) forming memories of their own makes me uncharacteristically sappy!

1 cup sugar
1 stick (1 cup) vegetable shortening (I usually use Crisco)
a pinch of saffron, soaked in a little water
elaichi powder, to taste
3-4 tbsp ground almonds (optional)
1 ½-2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F.
Grease a cookie sheet and set aside.
Cream together the shortening and sugar till the mixture is light and fluffy. A hand mixer works best for this task.
Add the saffron, elaichi, and almonds if using.
Add &frac12 cup all purpose flour. Using your hands knead this dough slightly.
Add more flour as you go along. You want a dough that is soft, moist, and smooth. Do not add more than 2½ times the quantity of the shortening used.
Use your finger tips to pull off a piece of the dough, or you could use a melon-baller. Roll in between your palms to form a ball.
Place the cookies on the sheet, about 2 inches apart. Sometimes I press each cookie with the tines of a fork.
Bake for about 15 minutes (oven times may vary).
After 10 minutes, keep a close eye on the cookie.
Take them out of the oven at the first sign of any browning around the edges.
Let them cool slightly before using letting anyone steal them for taste-testing purposes.

A generous batch of the nankatai goes to Suganya's Vegan Ventures .

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mirchi Achaar (Pickle): Bihari Style

This is the first time I made this pickle. And it tasted just like the pickle my sister-in-law sends us all the way from Jharkhand. So I guess it did turn out ok.

The pickle masala on its own tastes great; stuffed into mirchis it is divine.
Try some of the leftover masala (and there will be some leftover after stuffing the mirchis) with some cooked mung daal and steamed rice.

3 tbsp amchur (dry mango powder)
2 tsp kalonji (nigella seeds)
2 tsp ajwain (bishop's weed)
1 tsp kala namak (black salt)
2 tbsp saunf (fennel seeds)
1 tbsp hing (asafoetida)
1 tbsp methi seeds, lightly roasted
½ cup black mustard seeds
10-12 mirchis (chillies), wash and de-seed. Save the seeds.
(ideally this pickle is made with red chillies, but I used regular jalapenos)
8-10 tsp mustard oil for the masala + 1/4 cup to pour over the pickle.

In a spice grinder, coarsely grind the methi and mustard seeds.
Mix all the spices together. You could also mix in the saved mirchi seeds at this point.
Add the mustard oil.
Stuff the mirchis with the masala.
Store them upright in a glass jar.
Heat 1/4 cup mustard oil till it smokes, pour the oil over the stuffed mirchis.
Seal the jar and let it cook in the sun for at least 4-5 days. The more it stays in the sun the better it tastes.

This pickle goes to Sangeeta of Ghar Ka Khana, who is hosting Regional Cuisines of India: Bihar. The RCI food blog event is a brainchild of Lakshmi of Veggie Cuisine.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Let the Baking Begin: Chocolate Cake

Lately the kids have started rubbing their hands, exclaiming 'Let the feast begin!' before digging into their meal. This is followed by chuckling at their own silliness. It doesn't matter what they are digging into, it is always a feast.
The first time I stood in front of my new oven, I couldn't help thinking aloud 'Let the baking begin!'.
How I missed baking!
First up is a chocolate cake. A simple, moist chocolate cake. One that is not too chocolatey but still quite satisfying.

1 ½ all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup brewed coffee, or water (I used 1 tbsp of instant coffee mixed in a cup of water)
½ cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup cocoa powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp coffee liqueur (optional)
2 tbsp white vinegar

Preheat oven to 375F.
Grease an 8x8 square pan.
Sift together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt).
Mix all the wet ingredients except the vinegar till well combined.
Mix the wet and dry ingredients.
Add the vinegar. Using swift strokes mix it in.
Immediately pour the batter in the cake pan.
Bake it for about 30 minutes, or till a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
This is my first entry to Suganya's Vegan Ventures event.
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