Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Soan Papdi (Version One)

I am currently staying with friends in San Jose where I was recently introduced to a heavenly Indian confection called soan papdi. There's no way I can accurately describe it. It's sweet, buttery, and very strongly flavored with ground cardamom. The texture is spectacular: light, flaky, and quick to dissolve on the tongue. What we tried was a packaged sweet but of course I wanted to know if mere mortals might be capable of making this delight in a home kitchen.

There appears to be one recipe on the internet, endlessly copied and pasted into numerous blogs and Indian cooking websites with little information beyond ingredients and basic cooking instructions. After a trip to the Indian market for exotic ingredients like besan and charmagaz, we were ready to give it a go.

Wheat and chickpea flours are mixed together and cooked in copious amounts of ghee. Meanwhile a sugar syrup comes to a boil and is eventually mixed into the ghee dough until "thread like flakes" appear, obviously key to that heavenly texture. Unsurprisingly this was the part that completely eluded us. We beat and beat but there was nary a flake to be found. Defeated, we spread the dough into a pan to cool, and topped it with freshly ground cardamom and melon seeds. The resulting sweet was tasty but nothing like what we'd hoped. I was surprised at how little information I was able to find. I would love to know more about the process by which threadlike flakes come to be. I definitely want to take another stab at this.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Central Asian Carrot Salad

It's funny how a carrot dish could start with turnips, but sometimes things work out strangely.
Late winter is hardly the high season for farmers markets but when The Spouse and I found ourselves unexpectedly free on a recent sunny afternoon we decided to include the lone east side winter market in our walk. As expected, greens featured heavily along with some lovely baked goods and some downright weird sauerkraut crackers.
Off to the side of the main action was the Hayat Farm stand whose offerings consisted of one lone table heavily laden with nothing but turnips. Normally I'm not a turnip fan but I really wanted to support this particular farmer whose family is one of the Meskhetian Turk refugee families who have recently moved to Portland and whose teens have studied in my classroom.

If you've read my not-food blog you'll have come across stories of these kids, some of whom have been among my most memorable students. They've not had had easy lives and I'm happy to support their communiy by buying their produce, even if that happens to be turnips.

Hayat Farm hands out recipes for much of their produce, but we couldn't get any suggestions about how to use the turnips as Farmer Idrisov's English is pretty minimal and my Russian isn't much better. But I did end up using their recipe for a carrot salad that was just delicious.

I don't think a person can have too many carrot salad recipes. Carrots are super nutritious, always tasty, and they keep well so they're always on hand at my house. This dish is flavored with deeply browned onions and their oil along with a liberal amount of ground coriander which give the dish an exotic twist. The recipe can be found here, at the end of a great article about Mr Idrisov and his family.

As for those turnips? They became a lovely curry courtesy of Mahanandi and they were pretty darned good. For turnips.