Posted in Daily, Food

Hummus: From “Then” to “Now”

From parties to the routine meals or for the dieters as well as snack food for the cravings time after work or before the ” big meal”, this dip has been popular across the world. Little wonder then that with International Hummus Day ( May 13th) gone by, one mayn’t know enough about this dip.

Known as “Hummus” or “hummus bi tahini”, this Levantine dip or spread, is made from cooked or mashed chickpeas or other beans, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The word “Hummus” comes from the Arabic word meaning “chickpeas”. However likely from the Greek origins, hummus a part of the local cuisine in both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities, it is known as “humoi” . While originally placed in the Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine, today it has been featured in many local cuisine and recipes around the globe.

While there are a number of different theories and claims of origins in various parts of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, there is insufficient evidence to determine the exact or precise details. The basic ingredients of chickpeas, sesame, lemon, and garlic have been combined and eaten in their local cuisine over centuries. While some food historians believe that variations of this recipe were there during the ancient Egyptian civilizations where then chickpeas were widely eaten as cooked in stews and other hot dishes; they had also been a part of the Greek cuisine and cooking. However records of pureed chickpeas eaten cold with tahini do not appear before the Abbasid period in Egypt and the Levant.

Cookbooks of 13th century Cairo record recipes for dish resembling hummus bi tahina; like the recipe of a cold puree of chickpeas with vinegar and pickled lemons with herbs, spices, and oil, but no tahini or garlic.  Over the years variations exists in the amount of ingredients of the beans, chickpeas pureed as well as mixing of vinegar or olive oil, tahini as well as different spices, herbs or nuts, with or without garlic; made or served by rolling it out and letting it sit overnight. With trade playing a significant role in the spread and share of cuisines, hummus may be one among the numerous foods that had crossed over during the historical periods across the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Being used as an appetizer or dip, or served with meals; hummus can be had in an numerous ways. It can be scooped with flatbread, such as pita or served as part of a meze (selection of appetizers) or as an accompaniment to falafel, grilled chicken, fish or eggplant as well as with tortilla chips or crackers. Hummus can be garnished with numerous available ingredients like chopped tomato, cucumber, coriander, parsley, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms, whole chickpeas, olive oil, hard-boiled eggs, paprika, sumac, olives, pickles and pine nuts. It can also be topped by a mixture of fava beans or can be made with yogurt, butter and topped with pieces of toasted bread ( Jordan and Palestine areas).

There are many variations to the preparation of “hummus” with the various changes of civilizations, culture mixing as well as immigration. Variations like hummus with fried eggplant and boiled eggs, as a chickpea soup or hummus with traditional skhug hot sauce to name a few, are popular in their locale areas. Of recent, African cuisine have brought specialties such as Sudanese Hummus Darfur with eggs, tomatoes, and grated cheese. Many restaurants offer varieties of warm hummus which may be served as chick peas softened with baking soda along with garlic, olive oil, cumin and tahini or as “msabbaha” made of whole chick peas garnishing the tahini (lemon spiked) with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of paprika.

With hummus being gluten free, nut-free, dairy free as well as a perfect spread or dip for snacks, fresh fruits, bread, meat, pita chips and the like; it has gained widespread acceptance across many cultures and cuisines as well for the weight watchers, medical reasons or just for its’ own unique taste and blend. Making hummus isn’t just a work of ingredients but also of art and creativity. With its’ quick and easy preparation with locally available ingredients; “hummus” is something that everyone should try at least once in a lifetime.

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Posted in Daily, Family and Society, Food

“Food Fun”: Mix , Match and Experiment

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  Virginia Woolf

Imagine a menu planned by kids. This was one of the tasks allotted to my child in his kindergarten class. On first hearing this; for all parents, this plan may set off alarm bells of the aftermath of a mass gastric upsets, whereas secretly many among us crave these foods on certain or many occasions. 

 

Imagine a list that ranges from Cheetos to ice cream, pancakes, sandwiches and all the sweet as well as the “street food” in the world. While this may sound too good to be true, some of these combinations though weird actually taste good.

Oreos and Orange Juice
Frosted Flakes and Cheese
Soya Sauce on Ice Cream
Apples with Salt, Pepper and Chilli Flakes
Cake of “Banana Pancakes with Nutella, Cream and Honey”
Avocados and Chocolate
Peanut Butter and Pickle Sandwiches
Bananas on Cheese Toastie
Butter and Sugar Sandwiches
Peanut Butter in Burgers
Rice and Ketchup
Grape Jelly on Scrambled Eggs or Omelettes ..and the list goes on, up to one’s choice of taste, artistic eye and palatable combinations.

 

Though everyday food involves eating healthy as well enjoying food that we love guilt free, the daily meals get a bit of livening up when we get free with the mix and match, go creative as well as enjoy surprising the taste senses.
With “Eat What You Want Day” (May 11th) is being celebrated today, which was initially started to enjoy a guilt free “indulge in your favourite food” day; this is one of the best days to try weird combinations or have breakfast for dinner, break the routine and let the young ones plan one meal for the day (few of us can tolerate Doritos, pizza and ice cream only to an extent).

Whether one wants to have sweet or sour, or indulge in the “mood for something different to taste” for the day; having fun while eating is the first along with being healthy, wise, happy and creative too.

 

Posted in Daily, Food

Of Pretzels, Origin and Evolution

When facing an unexpected situation, the first emotion that one comes across is the “feeling of something happening, of being twisted and knotted” or the most popular feeling of “butterflies in the stomach”. With the month of April drawing to a close, it would be remiss if one would miss this month of “poetry, jazz, soft pretzels and humour” without experiencing the feeling of being in “pretzels”.

Originating in Europe, possible among the monks of the Middle Ages, “pretzel” were baked bread products made from dough, commonly shaped twisted into a knot. With the traditional pretzel in distinctive non-symmetrical loops; the modern pretzels comes in a varied range of shapes with exotic and common seasonings like chocolate, glazed, with nuts, seeds or with the flavours of several varieties of cheese. Today pretzels can be had “soft”, eaten shortly after preparation or “hard-baked” with a long shelf life.

“My mother always said, ‘When you’re eating pretzels, chew before you swallow’. Always listen to your mother.” George W. Bush

The true origin of pretzels have been traced to numerous accounts, though not verified. From the very early Italian monks making pretzels as rewards to children who learn their prayers or as a derivation of communion bread. In Germany, legends state that pretzels were the invention of desperate bakers held hostage by local dignitaries whereas, other legends elsewhere believe that pretzels were substitute for the heathen baking traditions of “sun cross” and the like.

Either way, the popularity of pretzels in the early years where evidenced as their use as an emblem by the various baker guilds. With the “knot of the pretzel” believed to be hands folded in prayer, pretzels had a religious significance in the Church based on their ingredients and shape. Additionally the three holes of the pretzels signified the Holy Trinity. As pretzels could be made by simply using flour and water (no eggs or lard were permitted during Lent); they provided a proper substitute during the Lent. Over the years, no Lent or Easter would be complete without pretzels, with them being sometimes substituted as Easter eggs. (https://tasty.co/recipe/homemade-soft-pretzels)

“Between evening and bedtime, Night is on the prowl for pretzels….” Rajat Kanti Chakrabarty

Despite the insignificant size and knotted shape, pretzels have an extensive influence on landscape architecture and sculpture (Pretzel Park, Philadelphia), in culture (pretzel dance move in swing dancing), furniture design inspired pretzel chairs and adoption of “pretzel logo” by Municipal government of City of Freeport, Illinois. Fashion, photography and the entertainment industry too have adapted the “pretzel” in a variety of styles, ranging from clothing to ecosystem techniques as well being a part of the literature, poetry and music. Although pretzels are no longer in fashion like the initial days, looks like they will still be around.

Posted in Daily, Food

Learning the “Animal Cracker’s” Way

Eyes closed with eagerness, a tiny little hand dives into a box. Grabbing one bit and clenching the fist so as not to lose that precious little thing, the little hand comes out and palm up, its’ a bear. With a gleeful shout, that little bear is raised up and chomped down. And the hunt for the next “animal cracker” begins.

Almost every childhood has been marked by animal crackers or cookies and milk. These particular type of small cookies have been baked in the shape of animals ( zoo or circus), slightly sweet, made by a single layered dough like crackers.

Although the initial varieties were light coloured and slightly sweet; today darker chocolate flavoured or coloured frosted variants have made their way into the supermarket shelves. From the initial “Stauffer’s Biscuit Company produced animal crackers and Nabisco’s “Barnum’s Animals”, today other animal shaped crackers or cookies have gained popularity like Teddy Grahams, Goldfish, Hello Panda and Koala’s March. These differ from traditional animal crackers in flavor and assortment.

“Animal crackers, and cocoa to drink
That is the finest of suppers, I think
When I’m grown up and can have what I please,
I think I shall always insist upon these.”
-Christopher Morley (Founder of ‘Saturday Review’, 1924-1941)

Around 6th to 7th century, the custom of shaping cookies to resemble animals began from the Yule Tribe. During their times, it was common to sacrifice animals to the gods during the Julfest ceremonies, in hope that such offerings would bring a mild winter and an early spring. As the poor people couldn’t afford to kill any of their animals, they gave token sacrifices in the form of animal-shaped breads and cookies. Over the years, animal crackers became household or local bakery goods.

Yet the crisp animal crackers came from the 19th century Victorian England as attractive cookies or biscuits. The “crisp biscuits” (sweet and cookie-like biscuit) were very popular and the English called the ones that shaped like animals “Animals”. During the late 19th century, these “Animals” were imported from England to the United States. Due to their local popularity and high demand, local manufacture also began their own “Animals” making business. American businesses like Stauffer’s Biscuit Company, which still exists today, made their first animal crackers in 1871 York, Pennsylvania.

Around 1889 in England, animal crackers were manufactured as marketing promotions for popular entertainment, P.T. Barnum’s Circus. In 1902 animal cracker boxes designed for “Barnum’s Animals” (became “Barnum’s Animal Crackers” in 1948) were also designed for the Christmas season. The initial cracker boxes had a piece of string to hang them from the Christmas Trees as ornaments.

Almost 54 different animals crackers’ have been created in total, with 37 different animals have been featured into Animal Crackers ( Nabisco’s Barnum’s). The only ones survived the entire lifetime of the product are bears, elephants, lions and tigers. Interestingly among all their “cracker animals”, it’s only the monkey that wears pants. Also rabbits have never been a part of them even today (unlike portrayed in the Shirley Temple Song of 1935). Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Animal Crackers, the “name-our-next animal” contest in 2002 saw the koala bear became the latest addition by beating out the penguin, walrus and cobra in the customer survey.

Thus on National Animal Cracker Day (April 18th) it would remiss not to include the animal crackers on the menu. The range is varied from mini-sized treats to additions into soups, crunchy salads or even with ice-cream, fruit salads, custards or just with tea, having them the old, simple way. For a break from the “adult-life” going back into the childhood treats can be good physical and mental “calorie” breaks.

“Animal crackers in my soup Monkeys and rabbits loop the loop Gosh oh gee but I have fun Swallowing animals one by one In every bowl of soup I see Lions and Tigers watching me I make ’em jump right through a hoop Those animal crackers in my soup When I get hold of the big bad wolf I just push him under to drown Then I bite him in a million bits And I gobble him right down When their inside me where it’s dark I walk around like Noah’s ark I stuff my tummy like a goop With animal crackers in my soup.” Shirley Temple

Posted in Daily, Food

“Cobble” it Together

“Cherry cobbler is shortcake with a soul.” Edna Ferber

With summer round the corner and plenty of fruits to go around, desserts are always the reason why the meal gets completed in the twinkling of an eye, especially for the children. Even with the lack of time or frozen products over, dessert can be done soon, especially when bits of fruit over biscuit dough, batter or dumpling are baked to give the warm “cobbler” feel of the spring and summer skies.

Believed to have originated from the archaic word “cobeler” (recorded from 1859) meaning wooden bowl, cobblers were essentially a byproduct of the early years of European settlement in the Americas, especially by the English and the Dutch. They had initially emerged as a makeshift version of the popular pie recipes as a trail-modified desert.

“My earliest memory is making peach cobbler with my grandmother. A wonderful memory. I grew up in a restaurant family – B.B.Q. restaurant.” Rick Bayless

Unable to make the traditional puddings or pies, due to lack of ingredients or equipment as the settlers moves westward, modifications were made to the original methods. Consequently various ingredients were “cobbled together” with the available fruit, more common as peaches, plum or cherries, which were dried, preserved or canned, leavened dough (using baking powder) and an open fire. The initial cobbler were being made with a covered stewed filling with a layer of uncooked plain biscuits or dumplings, fitted together.

“Chocolate’s okay, but I prefer a really intense fruit taste. You know when a peach is absolutely perfect… it’s sublime. I’d like to capture that and then use it in a dessert.” Kathy Mattea

Cobblers were meant to be more palatable and sweet than pretty. Fruit, however it came, was dumped into a Dutch oven, topped with globs of biscuit dough and baked over an open fire until golden brown. Soon cobblers were quickly integrated into the settler diet, with the sweet dish being eaten for breakfast, as first course or as a main dish. Towards the late 19th century, the cobbler was officially labeled as a dessert.

“My earliest memory is making peach cobbler with my grandmother. A wonderful memory. I grew up in a restaurant family – B.B.Q. restaurant.” Rick Bayless

With modern technology of preservation, trade and transport; cobblers today have been vastly modified to include many fruit varieties including raspberries, blackberries as well being topped with cinnamon or vanilla essence, adding colours and flavours to the original version. Variants like grunts, pandowdy and slumps are Canadian Maritimes and New England varieties of cobbler are labelled when they are typically cooked on the stove-top or in an iron skillet or pan, with the dough on top in the shape of dumplings. The name originates from the grunting sound they make while cooking. Other popular variants include the apple pan dowdy (an apple cobbler whose crust has been broken and perhaps stirred back into the filling), the Betty or Brown Betty ( made with breadcrumbs or bread pieces or graham cracker crumbs and fruit, usually diced apples, in alternating layers, baked covered with a consistency of bread pudding) and the buckle (made with yellow batter like cake batter with the filling mixed in with the batter) among many others.

On the other hand, the scone-topped cobbler predominates in the UK where they are made both as sweet or savoury. While the common sweet fillings include apple, blackberry or peach; the savoury ones consists of beef, lamb or mutton as a casserole filling, sometimes with a simple ring of cobbles around the edge, rather than a complete layer, to aid cooking of the meat. The savoury versions may be topped with cheese or herb scones.

Over the years, cobblers have remained popular especially as they were quick to make for the luncheons and brunches. Little wonder then that the Georgia Peach Council declared April 13th National Peach Cobbler Day. Taking a bite of the rosy fruit cradled in warm pillows of cinnamon-scented dough and blanketed with the melted vanilla ice cream brings rich splendor to the senses, giving warmth and happiness all the way. For all the foodists at heart, have a little bite of cobbler to revel in the taste of sunny skies and warm sunshine.

“There are a couple of different types of food I eat a lot. I was raised in the South, in Tennessee, so I’m going to go with comfort food, soul food. I would probably start with collard greens and candied baby carrots and then have some biscuits and white gravy – and for dessert, probably blackberry cobbler.” Megan Fox

Posted in Daily, Food

The “PB&J” Way

“Man cannot live by bread alone; he must have peanut butter.” James A. Garfield

One of the iconic American sandwich is the “PB&J sandwich”, which includes one or more layers of peanut butter and one or more layers of jelly ( jam in British English) on bread. Eaten open faced or with one slice of bread folded over ( a “half sandwich”); this sandwich is quite common and popular among Americans especially the children. The history of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich is the story of three essential ingredients; all of which have been around for a long time, when combined together gives us the American favorite and enduring PB&J sandwich; which slowly soared in popularity across the world.

Layer each bread slice with two tablespoons of Peanut butter. The forerunner of the peanut butter of today was when a St. Louis physician, Dr. Ambrose Straub had made a peanut paste for geriatric patients who had trouble swallowing or had bad teeth (1880s). Around the same time, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg ( of the cereal fame) was the first to patent a process for manufacturing peanut butter. Post the Chicago World Fair (1983), where the peanut butter was first introduced and the St. Louis World Fair (1904) when Dr Straub had got a food company to develop the peanut spread further; their popularity rose high with grocery stores stocking up on peanut butter. Upscale tea rooms of New York City, peanut butter appeared as delicacies with watercress, sandwiches, on toasted triangles with soda crackers as well.

Then add two tablespoons of the iconic “strawberry Jelly” to the peanut butter layered bread slices, merge them and enjoy. The development of the jelly (although it has been around for a long time), in the case of this quintessential American PB&J sandwich can be credited to Paul Welch. He had secured a patent (1917) for pureeing grapes and turning them into jelly which he had developed and advertised as Grapelade. This was popular with America’s troops in WWI, who had brought the trend of Grapelade spread on bread, back to their homes after the war.

The first peanut butter and jelly sandwich recipe appeared in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics (1901) written by Julia Davis Chandler. The recipe had advised to use currant or crab-apple jelly with the combination being delicious and as far as known then, original.

With creamier peanut butter (doesn’t stick to the palate) being made, Grapelade and pre-sliced bread becoming popular, the PB&J slowly gained popularity. During the Great Depression of 1930s, families discovered that peanut butter had provided a less expensive but satisfying high protein substitute. Yet the major breakthrough came when this was included in the US Military ration menus of World War II. With peanut butter being high-protein, shelf-stable and easily portable; grape-lade on its’ second trip with the soldiers and pre-sliced bread readily available; the combination of the three became a part of the American soldier’s life.

When the soldiers came home from the war, the PB&J sandwich scored with the families. With the great taste and easy to make, both the young and the old loved it, especially when budgets were tight and the times were difficult.

“Everyone has the talent to some degree: even making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you know whether it tastes better to you with raspberry jam or grape jelly; on chewy pumpernickel or white toast.” Anna D. Shapiro

Today a wide variety of mix ups and combinations have been seen across globally, with honey or sliced fruit substituted for the jelly component or the transition to “almond butter and jelly” (AB&J) sandwiches. With marshmallow fluff being substituted for the jelly, or added for extra flavor; the “fluffernutter” sandwich is created. Cream cheese substituted for the peanut butter ( a cream cheese and jelly sandwich) or Nutella (possible substitute for one of the spreads) with PB or Jelly are other common variants.

Slight changes can be made to the original recipe by using an artisan bread and heating it in butter, which melts the peanut butter and jelly; creating a crispy, buttery crust on the bread similar to when cooking grilled cheese. White or brown bread alternatives include rye, whole grain or sourdough bread. One other popular variant of “PB&J” sandwich is “the peanut butter and Lucy banana sandwich” or peanut butter, banana and bacon sandwich,known as an Elvis sandwich or simply the Elvis, consists of toasted bread slices with peanut butter, sliced or mashed banana, and sometimes bacon. Honey is seen in some variations of the sandwich as well alternative fillings of sweet potato, carrots, pumpkin, and apples. The sandwich is frequently cooked in a pan or on a griddle, served hot. Additionally the PB&J can be added to pancakes, crepes and even french toast.

Like these combinations, many more are being made with creative cooking on the rise. Just like variety adds the spice to life, jelly up with peanut butter on this day as foodimentarians celebrate “Peanut butter and Jelly” Day today (April 2nd). Mix, match ad spice it up for a quick break from the routine cooking with both kids and family enjoying the break from the routines or predictability the day.

Posted in Daily, Food

Of Rice, Steam and Cake

Add four parts uncooked rice (or parboiled rice) to one part whole white lentil (urad dal) are soaked separately overnight (at least four hours to six hours). Optionally spices like fenugreek seeds can be added at the time of soaking for additional flavour. After being soaked, the lentils are ground to a fine paste and the rice is separately coarsely ground and then combined. The mixture is left to ferment overnight during which its volume will more than double. The finished batter is put into trays of greased perforated moulds for steaming. The trays are held above the level of boiling water in a pot, and the pot is covered until done (about 10–25 minutes, depending on size).

Idli or idly are a type of savoury rice cake, originating from the Indian subcontinent, popular as breakfast foods. Made primarily from steaming a batter of fermented black lentils (de-husked) and rice, idlis are can be had at any time, most popularly with condiments like chutney and sambhar. Other variations include rava (semolina) idli, ragi idli, “tatte” idli varying to the local ingredients and flavour.

Several ancient Indian works mention the precursor of modern idli. Initial records mention soaking black gram in buttermilk, ground to a fine paste and mixed with the clear water of curd and spices. The three key aspects of the modern idli recipe; the use of rice (not just urad dal), the long fermentation of the mix and the steaming for fluffiness are left out. Popular belief is that the Indonesian influence on the cooks of those times may have let to the development of the modern idli. As of 2015, March 30 is celebrated as World Idli Day.

Besides known for its’ versatility of flavours and on the streets, idlis are nutritionally smart. In a single idli, one consumes 2 grams of protein, 2 grams of dietary fiber and 8 grams of carbohydrates, approximately 39 calories. In addition, it contains iron with trace amounts of calcium, folate, potassium and vitamin A. Spices like fenugreek, mustard seeds, chili peppers, cumin, coriander, ginger or sugar may be added to make them sweet instead of savory. Stuffed idli with filling of potato, beans, carrot and masala are popular. Leftover idlis can be cut-up or crushed and sauteed for a dish called idli upma. Creative fusion recipes like idly chicken, idly manchurian, idly fry, chilly idly and a lot of different ideas have been successfully experimented and recreated.

From the huge plate sized “thatte idlis” to the “Mangalorean Muday Idli” in steamed leaves or Goan Sannas and mini Sambhar idli, these dishes are travelling miles from the subcontinent and gaining popularity globally.