I never thought I would say this but my phone is having a mid-life crisis at the age of two! No, seriously! All was well till I finished watching the latest episode of Masterchef Australia Season 10 early on Thursday (say 1 am-ish). All continued to be well on Thursday morning as I shuffled into the kitchen, placed the phone…
There’s so much to be done in December! It’s the month of birthdays and anniversaries (parties), marriages (more parties), the joy of Christmas (some more parties), the end of a year and the beginning of a new one (the ultimate party!) And then there is pondering on the resolutions – the ones taken at the beginning of the current year…
Whew… It’s still five days to Diwali but in our house on the fifth floor of an apartment, we are already feeling the effects. Doors and windows have to be kept closed after 8 pm to keep out pollution created by the insane amount of firecracker bursting. Wonder what will happen by the time Diwali comes in on Wednesday?
Diwali celebrations at the Bhaumick household have taken a comparatively sedate turn in the past few years. The firecracker buying-bursting process has taken a backseat to spending time with family, friends and food. But much more exciting and fun than this hustle-bustle of meet-greet-eat, is the prepping process.
The atmosphere is filled with electric energy as people scurry to wrap up chores before diving into celebrations with full abandon. Buying earthen diyas (clay lamps), getting the right amount of colour for rangoli (I always mess this up and have to rush halfway to buy colours) or planning the mithai (sweets), there’s a lot to be done. Airing the lace covers for the sofa set and obsessing over the cleanliness of the living room to ensure a warm welcome to guests while making sure the kitchen is well stocked with mithai, thanda and namkeen (sweet meats, cold drinks and savoury snacks) is something we look forward to.
This year, I’ve convinced Maa to step away from the tried and tested gulab jamun, jalebi, kaju katli, barfi, peda. “Let’s make something exotic and different,” I declared with a flourish, having pulled out a recipe from my stash and handing it to Maa.
Spectacles perched on the nose Maa perused the recipe and smiled. “This is like the flour halva your grandmother made when we were kids. Only, she never put these flavours and syrup,” she said as I pulled out the necessary ingredients. Fascinated by yet another example of cultural exchange through trade and travel in ancient times, I (and Maa too!) was convinced that my version of the ter khalvasy would be perfect as a Diwali mithai.
The ter khalvasy is a sweet snack that features prominently in Azerbaijan’s cuisine. With a base of wheat flour, this fudgy confection that oozes with butter and flavour, can be eaten warm or cooled down, cut into small pieces and served with some Azeri chai.
The key points of the adapted ‘Rose and Cinnamon Halva’ are cooking the wheat-butter mixture properly and getting the perfect sugar syrup. Traditionally, the Azeri ter khalvasy uses either rose water or ginger powder or cinnamon powder for flavour. But after some trial and error I realised that a combination makes for richer and tastier halva. At least to my taste buds.
Do make sure that you use bigger vessels to cook the two elements of this sweet dish. And don’t worry if the amount of sugar syrup seems too much. Leftovers can be saved in a bottle and as Kamini Patel of Kitchen Therapy suggested, can be used over pancakes and toasts or to sweeten drinks.
To learn more about Azerbaijan’s cuisine, read Chai, Halva & Azeri Hospitality and A Newbie’s Guide to Azeri Cuisine #Chapter 1 / #Chapter 2. For updates on recipes follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. You could also subscribe and be a part of the mailing list.
- 250 grams Unsalted butter (softened)
- 250 grams Wheat flour
- 800 millilitre Water
- 500 grams Sugar
- 3 tablespoons Rose water
- 1½ teaspoon Cinnamon powder
- 2-3 threads Saffron (optional)
- 2 tbsp Dried rose petals (optional)
Soak the saffron threads in a tablespoon of boiling water and set aside.
Sieve the flour and set aside.
Line a 9-10 inch plate or tray with baking sheet. Try to keep the sheet bigger than the plate’s diameter so that you can lift out the halva from the plate by pulling out the sheet.
In a large pan, mix the water, sugar, rose water and 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder. Place the pan on medium flame till it comes to boil, then simmer till the syrup reduces to 600 ml or more. The syrup needs to be thick and sticky.
As the syrup simmers, melt the butter in a thick-bottom pan.
Add the sieved flour into the melted butter and mix well. Cook the butter and flour mixture till you get a nutty aroma.
Once the flour mix is ready, gradually pour in 1½ cup of the boiling sugar syrup and stir for a smooth mixture. Add more (or less) sugar syrup if needed to adjust the halva as per your taste. The texture of the halva should be sludgy and fudgy.
Now pour the halva mixture into the prepped plate and spread into a layer of not more than 1 centimetre thickness.
Level with the back of a ladle or a small bowl. Pour the saffron syrup over the halva, garnish with dried rose petals, sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon powder over the halva and set aside to cool. You can even add some chopped dried fruits like almonds, pistachios and walnuts.
Eat the halva warm or cut the cooled halva into small squares and serve with tea sans milk.
- Use unsalted butter to avoid the added taste of salt in halva. You can replace butter with ghee.
- To avoid lumps in your halva, start cooking the flour and butter mixture once the syrup has started boiling.
- The halva will have a fudgy in texture and easily breaks. So be careful when removing it from the plate.
- Make your own dried rose petals: Remove the petals of organic roses and wash in warm water. Place on a baking sheet and microwave on high for 3 minutes. If the petals still retain moisture, heat them in the microwave as needed or place the baking sheet under the sun to air dry.
One of the most beautiful memories that I have brought back from Azerbaijan has been the Azeri passion for food and the warmth they extend to those who appreciate this passion. The warmth that envelopes you as the food bearers — be it the lady of the house or the restaurant server — place the food on the table and serve it makes you feel like a king about to feast!
I promise to make your mouths salivate and ensure that you dream about the wealth that is the Azerbaijani cuisine soon but before that, I do need to touch upon and introduce you to a fascinating experience that is part of the Azeri social fabric. This is the drinking of chai or tea, served with some local or homemade fruit preserve that they call ‘jam’.
The mention of tea and jam in the same breadth will probably remind you of the famous Do-Re-Mi song from the classic movie The Sound of Music. Which might make you feel I’ve forgotten to write ‘bread’. But rest assured I have not!
The first time I was served tea and jam was on day one, after a gut bursting lunch. As the little crystal glass filled with the dark golden liquid floated towards me, I couldn’t help but think that the Gods and Goddesses of tea are working overtime to woo me over to their side. How else do you explain a coffee lover stumbling upon tea recipes (and trying them as you’ll read in Tale of Three Teas), venturing to the southern part of India to walk through the tea estates in Munnar (read Tales from Munnar) and then have a heart-to-heart with tea sommelier and artisan Snigdha (read Tea Time tête-à-tête)!
It’s that time of the year! I’ve been waiting for Poila Boishakh, the first day of the Bengali calendar, for some time now. Celebrations aside, the best part of this day is the aroma of traditional food that wafts out of the kitchen. This year, Poila Boishakh is on Sunday, April 15.
The food and rituals, I feel, are a testimony to the synergy that Bengalis have towards their traditions. Not just Bengalis. Peep into the homes in your neighbourhood (not literally!) and you will see the Assamese, Malayali, Sikh, Tamil households busy cleaning house, prepping to greet guests and cooking up a storm. A sign of the earnest desire to cherish traditions. These are among the several communities in India that will be celebrating the beginning of their New Year on April 14-15.
Over the years, celebration patterns at the Bhaumick household have changed – new and old friends, thought processes, cultural programmes, the manner of rejoicing.
Never the food though. There is comfortable excitement in the known – starting the day with a breakfast of luchi, aloo’r dum and begun bhaaja (fried bread, Bengali style potato curry with fried brinjal), followed by a lavish lunch of two appetisers, a dal, vegetable curries, fish curry, mutton or chicken curry, a few sweets and a must on New Year day, the payesh. Our New Year days don’t involve so much food anymore but we don’t miss out on the maangsho jhol (recipe for Bengali style mutton curry) and the payesh.
I am not a payesh fan, being lactose intolerant. But I do make an exception for Khejur Gur Payesh. Made with date palm jaggery that is available in the winter months only, it is a Bengali speciality. So this year, I decided to learn how to make my favourite. And because New Years are about going overboard, I also learned to make Chhana Payesh – a milk pudding made with chhana or paneer. Chhana is a type of cheese curd; process it further and you get paneer. No Indian store nearby? Make chhana at home, the process is pretty simple as is evident in ‘Churning out homemade chhana/paneer’.
As the loved up ones make plans for Valentine’s Day, several households in India will be preparing for celebrations of a different kind. On February 13/14, devotees of Lord Shiva across the world will be observing Maha Shivaratri (the Great Night of Shiva). For ardent devotees, this means staying awake through the night chanting prayers, meditating and fasting. If there…
So after I shared the recipe for patishapta last week (read An Everlasting Love for Patishapta), I got several enquiries about khoya which made me realise the error of my ways. While some were unaware of khoya, those who live outside India faced availability issues. Indian stores in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, etc. will definitely sell khoya. But…