I once read that the essence of a culture is in the words that cannot be translated. Explained yes, but not directly translated. The example given by the author was of Urdu word “takalluf”. “Takalluf” is that polite first and often second time refusal of an offer that stems from good manners. Someone asks for tea and you politely refuse the first time, perhaps even the second even as your eyes are practically glued shut from exhaustion.”Khasta” is another such word for me – the perfect “Meethi Tikiyaan” (sweet fritters) should be “khasta”. The way to best explain it seems to be that the exterior of the tiki should have the sturdy flakiness of a sweet pie dough while it’s centre should have the lavish butteriness of a rich cake.
I often think about what it means to blog about food, about Pakistani food specifically. A part of me feels that I should keep recipes alive, carrying them forth in their unaltered state, preserving them for generations to come. The reality is that I cannot do that even if I wanted to. My culinary journey is very much shaped by my mother who if you ever meet her you would know is an immensely practical person. I cannot recall her ever saying she would spend hours slaving over a stove to get the onions browned just the way her grandmother did or that any recipe was sacrosanct because of who gave it to her. Adapt, make it easy, and make it work. That seems to be her approach to cooking and it is that philosophy that makes up my culinary DNA.
I like a fancy cake. You know, the pretty decorated swirls and swooshes kind, they have a soft spot in my heart. But when it comes to what a chocoholic like me really craves it is this Chocolate Meringue Cake. It is deeply chocolatey, fudgy, but not too sweet with a thin crackly layer of cocoa dusted meringue that adds so much in terms of both flavor and texture. My favourite part about this cake is that since it is neither too sweet nor too rich I can truly enjoy an entire slice without feeling like it is too much. As you can imagine that makes this Chocolate Meringue Cake a little dangerous too!
It is definitely a cake for dark chocolate lovers, I used Lindt dark chocolate bars for mine, but generally you can use any brand that you like to eat. It also keeps well at room temperature. In fact it seems to improve for the first few days which makes it a fantastic do ahead dessert for when you’re hosting a big dinner or lunch. You could serve it with some berries and lightly sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche.
You know how you feel when you keep meaning to call someone back, someone you really want to see/speak to, but somehow it doesn’t happen and then you run into them somewhere and are awkward and embarrassed? Well that’s how I feel right about now! I have been around though – there is this fun craft the girls I did this winter and my equally fun chat with Devina of My Little Pudding. At least I come bearing gifts – there is this delicious quick Chicken Karahi Qeema, and for those of you who don’t know her, an introduction to the talented Pakistani blogger Fatima from Fatima Cooks. I have been an admirer of hers for quite some time and was browsing her blog for dinner inspiration when I saw her Chicken Karahi Qeema recipe and I was sold. Frankly she had me at the no chopping onions bit. FYI when in my forgetful state I have thrown in a little onion it hasn’t been as good. Just sayin’
My mother always makes Vanilla Custard in the same bowl. It is speckled brown and deep, enough so that most of my vanilla scented memories are of me standing on my tippy toes peering over the rim to check if it is cool enough to eat even when the pillowy steam suggests otherwise. I remember my finger skimming the surface tugging along with it the ‘skin’ that formed on top, a testimony to the impatience of a child waiting for a treat. Not wanting to leave this proof of my transgression behind I would shake the bowl a little hoping the skin would settle into forgiving smoothness.
Not too long ago my little(r) girl stuck a spoonful of warm custard in her mouth all of 30 seconds after being admonished not to. When I looked up in response to her pained gasp she defensively said “But mama hot things are tasty!” It was all I could do to not laugh out loud.
I didn’t think I would ever post a vanilla cake recipe largely because they are usually eminently forgettable. However, when after years of too sweet, too eggy, too boring, I finally found The Vanilla Cake, then I had to share it here. Does it hurt that it comes together in one bowl without a mixer? Of course not. Could you potentially improve the crumb by whipping the butter/oil with sugar and incorporating eggs one by one? Possibly, and if I ever do then rest assured I will add notes here. For now I am thrilled with this cake as is – moist, pleasingly dense, clearly vanilla, far from boring and ten minutes away from being in the oven at any given time.
There are these moments you have when you move to a new country; the little slips that embarrass you, that shatter your sense of confident cool. It is hunting for Coriander leaves only to be pointed to the powder or looking for Capsicum only to finally locate them next to the “Green Peppers” sign. Over time you retrain yourself to look for Cilantro and to put Green Peppers on your shopping list. In my head though I still call them Capsicum or think of them as ‘Shimla Mirch’. The word Mirch means chilli or in this case pepper, and the Shimla is a reference to where this imported vegetable first began to grow in India under the British. Since then Capsicum or Shimla Mirch or Green Peppers grow all over Pakistan and India, but the name has stuck.
There is a kind of dessert that everyone needs in their arsenal. The kind that requires minimal muss and fuss and that you put together in advance of a dinner party. The kind that you can tailor according to circumstance and guests without undergoing any of that awful “will they or won’t they like it” anxiety. If you have ever had people over you know exactly what I am talking about. This Chocolate Mousse Tart hits all those boxes. The ‘Mousse’ is simply chocolate, coffee, and cream. The crust is Oreos and butter. What is there not to love?
Kaali or Sabut Masoor ki Daal is made from brown lentils and is one of my favourites despite its misnomer of a name. You see kaali means black, but this daal is decidedly brown. Black or brown I love it’s bold heartiness, it’s comforting warmth and it certainly does not hurt that it is so nutritious.
The flavour of kaali daal alone isn’t what makes it one of my favourites. It is also the associated memories. It is that first meal back from a year away at college and the simple meal that I associate with the breaking of the fast on the tenth of Muharram. We are Shia Muslims and for us the Battle of Karbala is a defining moment in the history of Islam. I have made several attempts to write about what that means to us, but find that words fail me. Tamania of Super Urdu Mom and one of my favourite bloggers does a far better job and you can read her piece over here.
It is always biryani o’ clock somewhere. I wish that was my line, but alas it is not although it did ring true when I found myself sitting on my front steps at 10 am a bowl of biryani in my hand. Biryani for breakfast? Why not. I have a go to biryani, one that is my aunts recipe and it is pretty damn delicious so I will be honest and say that I never anticipated posting another. When I saw this recipe on Ainy Cooks, a website that has an impressive collection of Pakistani recipes, I decided it was a must try since it was pretty simple and seemed like a richer flavoured version of my own. I was not disappointed and have made it at least three times since then.
I made some changes to suit our palate and my convenience (lol), but my favourite addition is the “koylay ka dum” or charcoal smoke. It is a game changer and simple enough to do. In fact my FIL was the one who taught me how.