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                                                                                                                                                           This time for our book club get together we read “People of the Book” by Geraldine Brooks. It is a thrilling history mystery, where the author follows clues [an insect wing, a wine stain, a residue of salt crystals among others] to decipher the provenance and chain of ownership of the ‘Sarajevo Haggadah’, a 14th century Jewish manuscript. Such a manuscript does exist and is on display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo. The author weaves fact, fiction, imagination, suspense, book conservation and repair techniques and a slice of European history, in telling the story of the survival of the Haggadah. It is also the story of ordinary people, Muslims and Christians, who sometimes at great peril to themselves went to extraordinary lengths to save the tiny illuminated Jewish book from repeated threats of destruction.
We all loved the book and it was a great evening spent with friends talking about books and family and trading stories from our different cultural experiences.                                                                                                                                     

                                                                                                                                                               It was a fall like evening, so I greeted my friends with hot creamy Tomato Soup. I served Pickled Cucumber and Green Tomato Sandwiches along with Cheese and Corn Puffs. For dessert, I had made Salty Caramel Lava Cakes.

The recipe for the Tomato soup comes from one of the parent volunteers at my children’s school. It was left taped on the crock pot without a name so I am unable to give due credit. You will be amazed at how rich and satisfying this soup is, considering it is so easy to prepare. I don’t know what the baking soda does to the soup as I have made it with and without and couldn’t tell the differance. This soup is also a good template to get creative with and make it your own. The only thing to remember is to use equal amounts of tomato juice and canned tomatoes and add sugar, this is very important to balance the acidity and then add cream or half and half per your taste. You can skip the butter altogether if you wish. Add any spice or herbs you want. I have even grated onions into the soup. I skip the Worcestershire sauce as it has anchovies in it.                                                                                                                           

                                                                                                                                                                 I adapted an  Eggless Cheese Puffs recipe, that I found here to make a very easy snack that even a child can make it. In fact my children did make it and served it to us and waited on us while we chatted!                                                                                       

Eggless Cheese and Corn Puffs

1/2 cup milk [I used 1%]

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup grated cheese [I used Pepper Jack]

1/2 tsp Old Bay seasoning

1/3 cup of frozen corn kernels

2 spring onions, chopped fine

S & P to taste

Mix all the above preferably in the order the ingredients are listed. Spray and flour a mini 12 cup muffin pan. Divide the batter equally and bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12-14 minutes. Insert a skewer and if it comes out clean your cheese and corn muffins are done.

I’ll post the Salty Caramel Lava Cake recipe in my next post.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

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Now to a pickle of a different kind, the one pickled in vinegar brine. Not that this is a neat segue from my previous post. It just so happened in real life I pickled the two back to back.                                                                           

                                                                                              

I planted “Armenian Cucumber” this year which I bought on a whim, thinking I’d plant an unusual variety since I’m all cool like that. What it grew into were these monstrous cukes. After getting over the shock I had to find ways to use up these cucumbers that were popping up quicker than I could keep up with. I could give them away to neighbors but I didn’t want to freak them out and hide their children from the crazy vegetable lady! So I decided to pickle them and give it away.                                                                      

What started out innocuously like this                                                                                  

                                                                                                                                                                                           ended up like this, 8 lbs [about 3.5 kgs] later.

                                                                                                  

                                            

                                                                                                                                                            I also added thinly sliced green cherry tomatoes to the cucumbers, just to pretty it up, yes I’m vain like that. I was on my way to clip the standard garden variety herbs like thyme and oregano to throw in with the cukes, when I almost fell on my Thai basil and Kaffir lime plants. Yes, I group my plant according to cuisine. Just kidding. Thai accented cucumber pickles? It was definitely worth a try. For some heat, I crushed a few tiny red hot peppers and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.                                                        

                                                                                                                                      

 Cucumber and Green Tomato Pickle With Thai Herbs

1/4 cup vinegar

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

2 kaffir lime leaves

3 Thai basil leaves

A few chilies, per your taste

About  1 1/2 cups of sliced cucumbers

A few cherry tomatoes sliced thin, for vanity’s sake.

In a small saucepan add the vinegar, water, sugar and salt and let it come to a boil. Then turn the heat off. Tear the Kaffir leaves to release their aroma, chiffonade the basil leaves and add to the vinegar brine. Crush the peppers and add it as well. Once the vinegar solution cools to room temperature add the cukes and tomatoes and mix well. Then bottle it and store in the fridge. Just make sure that there is a sufficient head of brine over the pickles. It has stored well in my fridge for at least two weeks now. The pickles are tangy and sweet with an unmistakable floral aroma from the herbs and so delicious.

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S. 

Update on Oct, 17, 2012. My pickled cucumbers are still in good condition more than a year later. I had pickled several jar and this remaining one was lost in the recesses of the refrigerator, hence unopened and undisturbed and still tasting great.

   

Before it is too late for the chili peppers to not be in their summer prime I’d like to share a quick and easy version of the North Indian Chili Pepper Pickle recipe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

In my native India “pickles” are a staple in nearly every household.  Batches of mangos, limes, chilies, ginger, vegetables, lotus stems, sarsaparilla, berries and sundry are pickled yearly in every household. Jars of preserved pickles line every kitchen shelf and are brought out without fail at every meal.

The process begins with the women in the family readying their sparkly clean utensils, spices, salt, oil and the items to be pickled. Rainy days are avoided because of greater concentration of mold in the air. The area is cleared of errant children and men. A prayer is said for the longevity of the pickles to last until the next harvest. Then the person with the best hand [it is believed a few unlucky people turn the pickle rancid when they prepare it] ceremonially starts to layer the pickle with salt and spices following the family’s  recipe. It is then gently and expertly stirred so every morsel is coated with the pickling spices. Any spot left exposed invites decomposition. Then the spice dusted pickle is anointed with lots of oil and stirred again till a thin layer of oil pools on the surface forming a protective barrier from outside pollutants.

The pickle is then sealed and set aside with reverence, not to be touched or moved till it gets its next stirring, usually the next day. This goes on for a few days till the pickle is ready. The beauty of this pickling process is that the spices, salt and oil that are responsible for the taste also help preserve it. No cooking or refrigeration is required. In most cases it lasts for a year or more. Some pickles are left out in the sun for a few days for a sun kissed taste.

I love to pickle, but here in the US we don’t get baby mangoes or thin skinned lemons or any of my other favorite pickling ingredients. So I just stick to pickling chili peppers and mixed vegetables. Traditionally the Indian Chili Pickle is stuffed with a mixture of many different spices and served whole. I have taken liberties and kept it simple by chopping up the chilies and using the more common household spices instead of the full cast of characters and extras!  This quick and easy pickle is ready to play side kick to any meal in just one day.                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                             

North Indian Chili Pepper Pickle

23-25 Serrano peppers                                                                                                             

[ You may substitute with Jalapenos or Red Hot Chilli peppers ]

2 tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds [methi]

1 tsp fennel  seeds [saunf]

1 ½ tbsp kosher salt

1 tsp asafoetida [hing]

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp turmeric powder

juice of one lemon

5 tbsp of any neutral oil like Canola or light olive oil                                                   

                                                                                                                                                              

Please see ‘Food Notes’ for important steps to take before and after the pickling process.

Prepare the pickling spices

Dry roast on a medium hot pan the mustard, fennel and fenugreek individually. Stir continuously while dry roasting so spices dont burn. Mustard, one minute; Fenugreek, 40 seconds; Fennel, 25 seconds. Mix together and spread on a plate to cool. Powder the spices coarse and add the rest of the ingredients through to the turmeric powder. This is the pickling spice mixture.

Prepare the oil

Pour the oil in a pan over medium heat and gently warm the oil. Watch closely till you see ripples in the surface. Turn the heat off soon as you see the surface shimmering and let the oil cool down to room temperature. I think the reason for heating the oil is to kill off  any harmful bacteria that might be present.

Putting it all together

Wash and air dry the peppers or wipe them dry with a clean paper towel. Remove stem and chop into 2 mm rings. You can remove the seeds if you wish to make it less hot. Put in a sterilized glass bowl. Add the pickling spices and stir to coat every exposed surface. Then add the lemon juice and stir. Then add the oil and stir several times again till all the oil is absorbed. Now put the pickle in a narrow mouthed sterilized glass jar and pack the pickle in and press the surface till a film of oil rises up and forms a protective barrier. This is very important in preserving your pickle from outside pollutants and fungal growth. Lid the jar and set it on a sunny ledge.                                                 

                                                                                                                                                               The heat quickens the pickling process. Stir every 24 hours for at least three to four days, remove from ledge and store. This pickle is actually ready in a day, though for best texture wait the few days.

Food Notes

  • Sterilize all equipment. I wash everything in hot water and leave it in a slightly warm oven till they dry out.
  • Toast the spices lightly. This is done so that any moisture in the spice is dried out. However you don’t want to roast the spices to a nutty brown color, this will change the taste.                                                                                                         
  • Stir the pickle almost every day, so bacteria does not get a foot hold. After every use, press the pickle down gently so the protective layer of oil covers the pickle, preventing mold growth. This way most pickles can stay unrefrigerated indefinitely. If this is not something you will do on a regular basis, allow the pickle to cure for the  first three to four days outside and then refrigerate.                           
  • The original stuffed version of this pickle is served with Indian flat breads and rice. The sliced version also makes a great sandwich condiment.                                                                              

Thanks for dropping by,

Best, S.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                      

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