Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thought of Food 7; Malpua as dessert- Italian Upvas

This blog was to coincide with the Diwali festival when making very sweet dishes is a national obsession. Despite Cadbury company's efforts to target the IT (Information technology) leisure class, the average purely mixed blood pure Indian loves his traditional sweets simply because of the possible romance associated with the thoughts about them....

I could not finish the blog because I found that I could not get my scientific papers published in the journals I had targeted. That is another story, but I missed my Diwali blog...

Then came my seventieth birthday and the impact of no impact on society at large ,,, Never matter ....

At the age of seventy, when you are toothless (literally) but otherwise healthy for most things -- except being regally young -- one of the easily accessible sensual pleasures must remain those involving the taste buds --- especially those associated with loved events involving loved ones.

One of these must be that involving food cooked on festive occasions. My mother with five children, and a budget just sufficient for one, spent all her useful time doing things for her children that would make up for the finances she lacked. We did not ever feel the lack of anything as children simply because there were five of us and the only catching-up-with-Jones's that we had to do as children was with each other. Usually, this was about how much we could indulge ourselves in straight from the pot when mother was cooking.

Among the sweets she love to make was malpua. The time I remeber best was in 1970-1971s when I had finished typing up my Ph. D. thesis. I was at a loose end without a job, I had decided to be in love and marry the girl I married eventually, and I was singing at that time (I think) "Tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree" ( ... the only one on Youtube and which had a comment "It's good when you're a teenager and still love classic rock. I wish more were like me" ... I guess I remained a teenager). I remember popping in fresh malpuas in my mouth, singing yellow ribbon, and being very much in love with the world.

Since that time I have been trying to eat or make malpua the way my mother made them. I have not had the luck so far. I guess the circumstances of her presence and, therefore, the flavour of her cooking cannot be repeated.

So ... we have to go the written word, a poor compensation for the living word?

Among the books on bengali cooking that I have on my booshelf and that was bought after the first flush of my marriage, is "Delicious Bengali Dishes" by one Aroona Reejhsighani (now quite an achiever if one reads We find the following on the internet:-
Aroona Reejhsinghani started writing when she was still a child. At the age of ten, she won the first prize in an All India writing competition, organized by the leading American magazine Spectator. She has now to her credit 150 titles and has achieved the rare distinction of writing 125 books on a single subject - cookery. In 1998 she won the 2000 millennium award for being the most memorable personality of the century by the American Geographical Institute. Femina has called her The Culinary Goddess of India. Eve's Weekly has called her "The real cookery queen of India". Above all she is one of those authors who has been featured in the Limca Book of Records.

I had picked up this book in the late 70s just after my marriage for Rs 6.00 (Jaico Books) The book on Bengali cooking could have destroyed my marriage like a Bengali mother-in-law could have destroyed a Tamila wife. My Bengali mother and my Tam btahm wife were different personalities altogether, however. Besides, we rarely used the boodk. Reejsighani describes malp[ua as malpura. In this recipe for malpura she mixes maida with milk, fries it and then dips into sugar syrup. Most others (including sanjeev kapoor) use thickened milk with maida. They all call the sweet malpua. When I searched the internet for malpura I found a recipe which uses rice flower which is mixed with jaggery and fried. It is not dipped into a sugar syrup after frying. In its basis essence the malpura seems to be closer to the adhirasam that Tamil ladies like to make (including my mother-in-law) for Diwali. The punjabi equivalent of this dish is perhaps the Poora/Pooda/Puda in which maida is mixed along with saunf (fennel seeds) with sugar and fried just as adhirasam or malpura. Another recipe on the internet is the Shahenshahi Malpura which (in keeping with its Persian king connotation) is malpura soaked in thickened sweet milk with saffron, and coarsely ground almonds, walnuts and cashewnuts.

The way my mother made the malpua was more in line, I think, with the maida-condensed-milk-fry-dip-in-sugar-syrup kind. Now that we are aware of the energy crisis and the probems with maida (made from the white of the grain and whitened by bleaching agents that are banned in sensible countries including China --- and which introduce alloxan that destroys beta cells of the pancreas thereby producing diabetes mellitus --- which I have --- one could not write a blog on making malpua without getting conscience pangs --- especially if you want to live long enough to see your children married or, at least, to see your grand children.

I am therefore writing a blog on a slightly more virtuous version of the malpua. This recipe should gladden the heart of fasting Maharashtrians --- because it has delicacies that one is allowed to eat when one is fasting. It is also a little a la mode --- because it has fresh cheese in it --- perhaps for the uppity IT-like crowd.

The idea of using the cheese is because I am a little bit enamoured by the possibilities one could find with our (subcontinent) own paneer phool. "Paneer phool" has been used from unrecorded time for making cottage cheese from milk, except that we called it paneer. The paneer that "... is used all over India to make delicious dishes ranging from curries to desserts" usually uses lemon juice or vinegar. The modern chefs co not seem to know that their forefathers used "paneer phool" that is available in the wild in India!

What one really uses (bottom left inset, picture below) is the dried seed of the size of coffee beans of the plant which has vegetable rennet.

It is interesting that in a report by Sheridan Lea of the Trinity College, Cambridge from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of 1884 entitled A "Rennet" Ferment Contained in the Seeds of Withania Coagulans the first paragraph has the following to say:-
The Report of the Royal Gardens at Kew for 1881 contains abstracts of correspondence in which it was pointed out that, in order to introduce a cheese-making industry in India, some vegetable substitute must be found for the ordinary animal rennet, since cheese made with the latter is unsaleable among the natives. In response to the above "Surgeon-Major Aitchison brought to the notice of the authorities at Kew that the fruit of Puneeria coagulans (The genus Puneeria is now reduced by botanists to Withania.), a shrub common in Afghanistan and Northern India, possesses the properties of coagulating milk;" and experiments showed that an aqueous extract of the seed-capsules of the above plant does somewhat rapidly coagulate milk..

The milk coagulating property is due to an enzyme withanin The interesting part of this paneer phool is that it has antidiabetic effcts besides other miraculous properties. The seeds of fruits are crushed and extracted with water for two days. I usually soak the seeds overnight and drink the extract first thing in the morning. Once I forgot and left the seed in the water for about three-four days when a mold-like fungus was found emanating from the seeds which might have made a pretty (if not appetizing) picture(see main image above) if one is not scared of molds.

Why an Indian cheese industry based on "paneer phhol" did not develop may have been due to the same reason that Indian (sub-continental) processes --- such as the indigo industry or the dhakai xaree weaves --- were killed for the benefit of the Imperial fatherland. This is no great surprise? Our own fatherland is doing it to us now? Maybe we require a motherland!

The "paneer phool" knoweledge requires being propagated in some way?!

It must come as a surprise (even to me) that one must introduce so much food for thought when all one wants is a plain and simple recipe when one thinks of food.

So here goes...

One starts with milk, of course. We cannot get fresh milk now. We don't even know whether there are enough number of cows for the amount of milk we consume. That's not unusual in India. After all there is the holy cow, Annapurna, which gave all the milk required. And we are not talking of synthetic melamine plus chalk plus what not (see the blog of Sunday, October 19, 2008; Milk sans Human Kindness; or why is the Iyer yogurt so gooey?) we could get in packaged milks. The packaged milk is also pasteurised which is not the best thing for getting good fresh cheese. Besides we dont know the origin --- buffalo, or cow or whatever. If you want to be alarmist about it, there is a Food and health Safety report which says that if you are not in Goa or Pondicherry, "... the first cup of morning milk, one is having a lot of things with milk, like starch, detergent, salt, glucose, urea and water, which also contains pesticides and other heavy metals". Moreover, the nouveau-riche youngsters from IT industries3and thereabouts, prefer to have the western equivalents of milk labels such Standardized milk (buffalo milk plus skimmed milk, 4.5% fat), Whole milk (3.5% fat), Reduced-fat milk (2%), Low-fat milk (1%), Skimmed milk/non-fat milk (as much fat removed as possible; good for humans but tasteless; that is why sensible Indians such as Gujaratis use butter milk). Because of this we do not really know whether we are really getting pure cow's milk in milk packets. So given all this, as well as the fact that milks is sometimes a pooled resource from different farmers with different cows or other milk-producing devices, we do not know have a standard milk. The failure of a milk recipe can always be attributed therefore to the quality of the milk. So different packaged milks from different sources can give different results.

I soaked 10- 12 paneer phool buds overnight in about half a cup of boiled water (tap water has its chlorine and bacteria)and soakedit overnight. I then crushed the seeds and strained out the mother liqueur into the milk. I took one litre of a popular packaged milk. I kept the milk with the paneer phool overnight and then filtered it through a muslin-like cloth (Figure below, left). I waited for the whey to drain to give a very smooth cheese (Fig below centre). I mixed the paneer with two heaped tablespoons each of shingara (water chestnut) powder and kuttu (buckwheat). I added one tablespoon of the whey and beat up the mixture to a fine paste (picture below right). It helps if the mixture is allowed to stand for an hour or so and then whisked again.

My first efforts to make the malpua was some sort of a disaster. When I put a slightly heaped teaspoon of the dough into heated oil it just burst into balls of a few milimeter sizes. Thee was nothing I could do wtih those sputtered balls. I thickened the dough a little bit more and lowered the temperature of the oil y putting off the gas. I slowly increased the temperature by putting on the gas. It did not help too much (Figure below left). With little more perseverance, things became better (figure below middle). The fried stuff tasted quite okay even without adding salt or using any sauce. Maybe the fried pieces could have gone well with something like Worcester sauce if you would prefer a Western taste or simply leave out the anchovies and garlic and onion and have the fries with good old imli chutney (tamnrind in jaggaery and the five spices). I dont know what to call the fries I made, so I wont try. My grandchildren, if they come at all, may call it later as "Dadu's folly".

I changed the frying pan to a flat one. I poured about 8-10 mm thick oil. Heated it on a low flame and then slowly poured in a level tablespoon of the dough and waited (Fig below, left). I waited for a few minutes for it to turn golden at the bottom after which I flipped it over (figure below, middle). After it had turned golden on both sides, I picked out the fried pieces and soaked them in a sugar syrup I had made. The syrup was made with with sugar and water in 60:40 proportion, boiled with a few cardamoms and cloves. After soaking for a little time (few minutes) I took them out (Fig below right).

I must say, that when Itook them out they looke dlike rather authentic malpua. The Shingara (water chestnut) and kuttu (buckwhea) added an extra dimension to the malpuas I have had in recent times. Shingara and kuttu are ingredients that are allowed when making foods for fasting. So it could be a fasting food for the gourmet of certain kinds.

The Italians (and others perhaps, though I suspect the French would not have) would have loved the cheesy aspects. The malpuas were not soggy and broke well. They also looked alright (Figure below left) and tasted good enough. They did not stay long on the plate and was finished quickly, depite my diabetes status.

I would call it a success as a "Happy Diwali+" sweet.

So "Happy Diwali" (Figure above right) even if it may be a little late.