Friday, September 14, 2007

Nuts about nuts: Roasted cashews and roasted almonds

Nuts are the best to snack on as opposed to fried snacks, chips and crisps. Yes, they are not low fat but the health benefits of consuming them far outrun the fact that they are calorie laden. As opposed to fried pakodas and chewda, nuts have the good fats (mostly monounsaturated and poly unsaturated fats). Nuts are also one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium.

One of the most unexpected nutritional discoveries of the 1990s was that the frequent eating of nuts appears to dramatically improve health. In particular, nut eating greatly lowers the risk of heart disease. Read more here.
This past winter (in Africa: June and July), I kept a regular supply of roasted cashew nuts and almonds on the snack rack. Our favourite nuts to roast, salt and masalafy are cashews and almonds, although we occasionally roast walnuts and pecans too. These nuts can be plain roasted and kept for sweet dishes too. The savoury ones also act as ready made garnishes and additions to things like upma, kaju pulav, shahi paneer. With tea, a handful is enough, they are not to be munched on like popcorn! We get already roasted peanuts in the shops here and we rarely eat them as a snack.

Cashews, a native of eastern Brazil, was brought to the Indian coast of Goa and Kerala by the Portuguese and hence the name ‘Kaju’ for cashews in Hindi is derived from the Portuguese word for the fruit from the cashew nut tree.

Read the cute story about how cashewnut got is name, more like how Sarah was told so, from one of my favourite blogs.

Eating a daily handful of almonds a day may lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, see more of the benefits here
My dad swears by the benefits of having almonds every day. Amongst his daily routine, is to soak a handful of almonds before going to bed. In the morning, he drains them and pockets them before leaving for work, and peels and pop a couple in his mouth whilst he’s going about his business; they are his all-day any-time snack!!

During winter he diligently adds a tsp of ‘badam rogan’ (almond oil) in the cup of milk he has before going to bed. (Somehow I could never do this). He recommends this ‘medicine’ as a daily tonic especially in winter and to build strength, in people trying to recover their health (for example from major surgery or childbirth, etc).

To roast Cashews and Almonds

What you need:

Any amount of nuts you wish you roast. (Try other types other than cashews and almonds, and let me know how it came out).

- here I used 500g cashews and 500g almonds.
- 2 tbsp cooking oil (you may try roasting them absolutely dry too; the light oil coating allows the spices to stick to the nuts nicely; or you may add more to roast them better and drain them on a sieve or paper towel to remove the extra oil)
- You combination of favourite spices (salt and black pepper / salt and cayenne pepper / salt, chilli powder and dhania powder, etc)
(Ive used salt and black pepper in both instances)
What you need to do:

- In a large wok, heat the oil to smoking point (very hot).
- Add the nuts and keep tossing to coat the oil evenly on all the nuts.
- Add your preferred spices, and keep tossing and turning, until the nuts change colour to become golden. With almonds, the colour change is subtle to the eyes but evident to the olfactory nerves (smell).
- Cool and let them rest on a strainer, so that any of the extra oil drips away.
- Store in an airtight jar, and use as appropriate.

Some recent nutty recipes that I have drooled over and want to try out:

- Arun Shanbhag’s Almond Pista Milk
- Asha’s Microwave Badam Burfi
- Evolvingtastes’s Very Forgiving Nut Bread
- Sig’s Date and Pecan Pudding
- Kanchana's Badam Kheer

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sweet Pedas for Sweet Krishna

Shri Krishna Janamashtami also known as Krishna Jayanti, Shri Jayanti and Gokulashtami amongst many names. It is the most revered festival in our house.

Janmashtami, (as it is casually known) is one of the most popular festivals of Hindus which celebrates the birth of their beloved God, Sri Krishna. Detailed story of Janmashtami or Lord Krishna's birth has been narrated in Puranas. Please read here for details.

Sri Krishna was born in the month of Sravana more than 5000 years ago. According to some scholars, Krishna was born on Wednesday, the eighth day (Ashtami) of the second fortnight in Sravana month in the year of Visvavasu around 3227 BC, also known as Dwapur Yug. He lived for 125 years and his departure was the onset of the current corrupt age known as Kaliyug (that we are in right now). Source: here

Shri Krishna has uncountable names and forms that devotees pray to. In Kerala Krishna is prayed in the form of Guruwayurappan.

The word Guruvayurappan, meaning Lord of Guruvayur, comes from the words Guru referring to Brihaspati, the Guru of the Devas, Vayu, the God of Wind and Appan, meaning father or Lord in Malayalam. Since Guru (Brahaspati) and Vayu Deva is said to have installed Lord Krishna's statue, the name Guruvayurappan was given to the lord. Although many temples of Guruvayurappan exist, the oldest and most famous of them all is located in the town of Guruvayur, Kerala, India.

Guruwayoorappan pic source
Lord Krishna at Guruvayur, a city located in Trichur district in Kerala, India, is worshipped as Lord Guruvayurappan. It is believed that the idol of Lord Guruvayurappan was worshipped by Vasudeva, father of Lord Krishna and represents the full manifestation of Lord Maha Vishnu. The idol is made of a stone called "Patala Anjanam" or black bismuth and is in the standing pose with 4 arms carrying the shanku (conch), the chakra (discus), the gada (mace) and padma (lotus). Guruvayur is also hailed as "Bhooloka Sri Vaikuntham" where the Lord reveals himself to his devotees in the same majestic form in which he welcomes them in Vaikuntha, his celestial abode. Source: Wikipedia
See the beatiful oil lamps that are lit around the temple ay Guruwayoor here

Since Krishna loves sweets things made of milk and milk products, so a post on his favourite ‘pedas’ was inevitable on Soul Food. This is also a very easy recipe, as its made in the microwave. This Krishna prashad is a regular at Ramayan poojas and Janamashtami at our house.

What you need:

- 4 cups full cream milk powder
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cups milk (full cream)
- 2 tsp elaichi (cardamom) powder
- a few tsp ghee to combine the pedas

What you need to do:

1. Dissolve the sugar and elaichi powder in the milk to make a syrup. Microwave it until the sugar dissolves.

2. Use the syrup to combine the milk powder to make a very soft dough. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Use a knife and spoon to cut into the dough to see if it has changed colour. It should slightly darken( go from cream colour to light caramel). The mixture will also get drier as you go along.

3. Microwave for another 4 minutes and check again, if the dough has cooked or not. If it has not, microwave it further in 2 rounds of 2 minutes, checking to see if the peda mixture is cooked. At the end of these rounds, it would definitely have been cooked through.

4. Let it cool until it is warm enough to handle by hand. Grate it finely with a grater. Use ghee in your hands and shape into pedas and keep for bhog. If the mixture is too wet, dry dessicated coconut can be added to firm them up. If the mixture is too dry, you can add splashes of milk to soften the mixture.

The pedas can be decorated with silver vark. Put pedas for bhog on Krishna Janmashtami and then feast on them later! This makes about 25 – 30 pedas.

1. This is going to Latha of The 'yum' blog for her lovely festival series: Janamashtami.

2. This is also going to Srivalli of Cooking for all seasons: as a gracious late entry for her lovely microwave event.