Naralachi Wadi – Coconut Barfi

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On Janmashtmi a few weeks back I followed tradition and prepared olya naralachi wadi – Maharashtrian style fresh coconut barfi. Its super-sweet North Indian version made with desiccated coconut and sugar was a childhood favourite. I gaze at the delicate pink coloured confections in a mithai shop display with much nostalgia but rarely proceed to buy.

In the Delhi of the previous century, fresh coconut was a little treat – a few wedges bought off the street vendor during your brief impatient wait at a traffic light. A whole coconut was bought only when (ragi) idlies were on the menu, to make the indispensable coconut chutney. Such occasions were few and far between. With marriage came a whole different way of cooking and an entirely new pantry in which fresh coconut, shaved on a traditional scraper like this, was always in stock.

Coconut, in both dry and fresh forms, is a bit of a staple in a Maharashtrian kitchen. Often sprinkled over vegetables towards the end of cooking, it may also be roasted or ground, or roasted and ground, or fire-roasted and smashed, or pan roasted and pounded, before adding to a dish. This amazing little fruit, maligned for a long time by the reductivist modern nutritional science for being mostly saturated fat, has climbed back up the popularity charts to reign supreme as something of a superfood. In India the coconut tree has always been revered as a Kalpavriksha, the divine, wish-fulfilling tree. Some of you may remember a little story (in the NCERT class IV textbook from the 70s) about a boy in Kerala and his coconut tree that provided him with everything from food and shelter to material for his boat.

Well, the fruit is as versatile as the tree it comes from. It can be used in myriad ways at all the different stages of its ripeness. The inherent sweetness in fresh coconut combined with its unique texture makes it an outstanding ingredient in desserts. Ice cream made with tender coconut flesh and sweet coconut milk is my current favourite. Fresh coconut sweetened with jaggery is at the heart of hundreds of sweets all over coastal and peninsular India – rolled into laddus, steamed into modaks, pitha, and kozhukattai, you will be hard pressed to pick a favourite.

This festive season try my new recipe for

Olya Naralachiwadi Wadi

Fresh Coconut Barfi

1 whole fresh coconut, scraped (or grated), about 2 cups loosely packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup grated khoya, loosely packed
3 green cardamoms, powdered
fresh or dried rose petals, to garnish

10" diameter thali or 9" square pan, greased with a few drops of ghee

Combine the fresh coconut shavings, sugar, and milk in a heavy bottom pan and cook on medium heat till the sugar dissolves. Continue to cook at medium heat till the mixture begins to thicken and the mixture starts to come together, about 15 minutes.

Add the grated khoya to the pan and continue to stir and cook till the mixture leaves the sides and starts moving as a cohesive mass, about 10-12 minutes.

Remove the pan from heat and mix in the cardamom powder.

Pour the hot mixture into a greased thali and spread it evenly with a spatula. Sprinkle with rose petals and leave to cool completely.

Cut with a sharp knife into squares or diamonds, transfer to a lidded container, and store in the refrigerator.

A Simple Marinara Sauce

Homegrown tomatoes

After a long gap I am harvesting tomatoes in sizable quantities this summer that require processing. Yes, the monkeys have been kind enough to share with us. I have been harvesting around 3/4 of a kilo every two days. The strategy is to harvest them the moment they start to show the slightest bit of colour. Sorry, no vine-ripened tomatoes for us, lest the monkeys get more than they leave for us. Left in the basket they ripen in a couple of days.

I have made two batches of marinara, and who knows, I just might succumb and make ketchup too. It’s just a tad too much work for the likes of me. But miracles do happen.

Marinara can be a hit and miss for many as the quality of tomatoes is inconsistent and most of the time we wing it rather than follow a recipe. Many of you messaged me on Instagram asking for my recipe. When I made the second batch I took care to measure the ingredients which there are few of. Go ahead and make it with the bounty of tomatoes currently in season. Don’t tell me you don’t have the time. 🙂 Make the most of the lock-down; it will be behind us soon and we be back to our sordid ways again.

I don’t fuss with peeling the tomato skins by blanching or processing the tomatoes through a food-mill. Lock-down or not, I have better things to do with my time. I didn’t plant any Italian basil this past winter so I had none for the sauce. Do add a few leaves if you can get some or use whatever fresh herbs you have available. Use dried herbs if you don’t have fresh ones. Make it your own. I used rosemary and marjoram from my garden and didn’t miss the basil at all. You can always add other herbs to your dish later.

Marinara Sauce

Continue reading “A Simple Marinara Sauce”

How to make a Sourdough Starter

There was never a better time to get started on your sourdough adventures. As we are forced into taking it slow by a tiny micro-organism, we can cultivate our own community of beneficial micro-organisms to bake delicious breads and ponder upon what might have been in a world more mindful of how we ate and lived.

Most of you have probably been following my sourdough journey for the last couple of years. But this is the second round. I made my first sourdough starter in 2010. I was way ahead of the trend and it was a lonely journey that ended as might be expected. After a year of maintaining it, it was laid to rest in a final batch of pancakes. That’s what happens when you forget to name your starter and think of it as a pet. Do give this a thought and think of an appropriate name for this new pet that you are going to soon have.

Sourdough is dough that has been allowed to ferment or go sour. Wild yeast are floating all around us. They are on everything, fruits, grains, and vegetables, on every surface except highly processed foods. Given suitable conditions they start growing and dividing, a process we know as fermentation. To make your own starter from scratch all you need to do is harness this process in a medium of your choice – a mix of flour and water.

A good starter is the foundation of good bread. Other than to bake bread it can replace commercial yeast in any recipe. My starter Frothy is almost 4 years old. Over this time she has developed into a lively dependable starter that gives me consistently great bread.

Here is my method updated to include all that I have learned through maintaining it for over three years. You do not need a kitchen scale to get your starter going but invest in one if you want to replace yeast in your other bakes with sourdough.

Making your own sourdough starter from scratch

You will need the following:

500-750ml capacity wide mouth glass jar with lid
whole wheat flour (atta)
filtered water
a tsp of gud (jaggery), preferably organic (optional)
a cup, to measure flour
a spoon to mix Continue reading “How to make a Sourdough Starter”

Vadu Manga – pickled baby mangoes in brine

Last year, after years and years of procrastinating, I finally prepared my first batch of maavadu or vadu manga, one of Southern India’s most loved pickle. The pickle is made with immature green mangoes about half an inch to maximum two inches in size. The intent obviously was to not waste anything, not even fallen fruit. There are thousands of fragrant flowers in each inflorescence of the mango tree. Scores of them get fertilized into fruit but only a few will mature and ripen. The rest just fall to the ground. The mango is called Kalpavriksha or the wish-fulfilling divine tree for a reason. The immature fruits as well as the more mature but still tart green mangoes are used to make our most favourite pickles. Once the fruit matures, it takes on the status of the King of fruits.

This pickle relies on the salting of mangoes to release enough of the juices to create a brine in which the mangoes eventually cure and drown. While the basic process and ingredients were similar in all the recipes I searched a few did casually mention that a little water may be added in the beginning. Whether I was impatient or my arid-Delhi mangoes are drier than their humid-Southern counterparts, the lack of enough liquid to submerge the fruit caused me to add water.  As is now the habit, I shared a few pictures of my process on Instagram. Not a single person there (among those who follow me) had ever heard of such a thing and I was certain my maiden attempt would soon be enveloped in mold.

I stirred the jars a couple of times a day and sent a prayer out with every turn of the hand. Much like spinning the Buddhist prayer wheel. The Universe was listening! At least Annapurna Devi, the benevolent Goddess of food and the patron of all cooks, the one my mother-in-law had called me an incarnation of on many an occasion, was and helped the pickle along. The slight effervescence subsided in just a day of stirring and the pickle lasted the entire year. As I prepare the next batch this year, an ambitious 5 kilos of it, I still have two shriveled pieces of tender baby mangoes, covered in salty, spicy delicious brine – just the dressing a bowl of thayir sadam begs. Continue reading “Vadu Manga – pickled baby mangoes in brine”