Tagged: vegan

Strawberry-Ollalieberry Jam

Having acquired the berries, there were still lingering questions in my mind. How does the complete novice start with making jam? It is a bit scary to think that tasks that women of the past easily performed now have to be assiduously read about on the Internet by the 21st century person. Accompanying all instructions to jam-making are dire warnings about canning and storage, hot water and cold plates. It is enough to scare off the most easy-going person. Well, I’m here to tell you that the whole process is absolutely as easy as reaching out and picking the berry off the tree. Put all those people screaming about contamination on mute. Also ignore anyone who tells you that you need tons of specialised equipment. All that you really need is a large stockpot, some very clean Bell jars, a pair of very clean and hefty tongs and a clean ladle. Make sure your hands are clean and that you don’t touch the clean stuff with messy hands, and you’re in business.

Since ollalies are not the most well-known of berries, it is hard to find a recipe with them. I read in several places that they can be used wherever blackberries are specified. However, it is even harder when you are looking for something coupling strawberries with them. So I decided to loosely follow this recipe for easy jam off the Food Network, from Ina Garten. This would be a bit of a trial and error since there is some science to the proportions of fruit, sugar and acid used to make jam. At worst I figured I’d end up with lots of fruit syrup. Not what I was looking for but given how good the berries tasted it would still taste good. When life gives you fruit, messing with its natural perfect state without knowing exactly what you’re doing must come with some punishment. So I steeled myself to possible failure and decided to forge ahead.

Amey found me some wide mouth Bell jars at the local Safeway. It really is a pity how in the city of San Francisco, they do not sell these individually. The size of the apartments here is hardly going to encourage bulk canning and storage. Yet the smallest amount of jars available are fifteen. But I had committed to serious jam making and if my math and understanding of the process was correct, at least three to four jars were required. Having gotten the jars home without mishap, we proceeded to wash them clean in soapy water. Then I boiled some water in my largest pot and placed the jars, lids and all in the boiling water for ten minutes. Taking them out, careful not to touch the mouth or inside of the jar, I placed them on a tray and put them in the oven to dry out.

That truly is the only possible aggravating portion of jam making. From there on, it’s all downhill. You cut wash the fruit and clean it. Hull the strawberries and clean out any leftover stems from the ollalieberries. Mix them altogether and then measure them out to see exactly how much fruit you have. Ina’s recipe had about 3 1/4 pints of fruit to 3 cups of sugar. I had about that much fruit, plus a few more cups. But three cups of sugar had already made me nervous. Chalk it up to the ingrained mass of worries we all become around sugar. So I didn’t increase the quantity of sugar. I put ollalieberries in whole, halved the strawberries, tossed in a cup of sugar and set the bowl aside so that all three could get to know each other a bit better.

This recipe instructs you to use half a green apple. This provides the pectin for the party, the natural sugar found in apples that allows for the jammifying of things. It’s one of the reasons I like the recipe. No futzing around with pectin powders in sachets allowing it to stay as basic as possible. So half an apple, duly peeled and sliced, joined the rest of the fruit. I squashed the fruit a bit with my hands (let me tell you it is strangely therapeutic squishing berries under your fingers, an instant calmer), but not too thoroughly, then poured the entire thing into a deep pan to boil away and become this magic deep red nectar of the gods.

Strawberry-Ollalieberry Jam
Adapted from an Ina Garten recipe off Food Network

Strawberries – 2 pints
Ollalieberries – 2 pints
Apple – 3/4, peeled and sliced (I used a Granny Smith)
Sugar – 3 cups
Orange Liqueur – 3 tsp
Lemon juice – 1/2 lemon

– Wash the fruit. Hull and cut the strawberries in half. Toss the ollalies in whole.
– Add one cups of sugar to the mixed berries in a large bowl. Set aside for ten minutes.
– Peel and finely slice the apple.
– Gently squeeze the berries to release the juices then place into a deep bottom pan at medium high. Add the rest of the sugar and orange liqueur
– When the mixture comes to a boil, add the apple and lemon juice. Stir the mixture often and keep it at a rolling boil.
– Skim and remove the foam that forms on the top as much as you can. Keep boiling the mixture until it thickens. This can take anywhere from 25 to 40 minutes.
– Once the mixture has thickened considerably, give it the frozen plate test. Place a few drops on a plate and place in the freezer for a minute. If the syrup on the frozen plate doesn’t run when you tilt the plate, you have the desired consistency.
– Move off the heat and allow to cool to room temperature before storing. This jam can then be canned per your jar manufacturers’ instructions or, it can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Cook’s notes:
My first jam-making experiment was a resounding success according to my very happy husband, who was thrilled to eat several crackers with the freshly made jam, making a crumby mess. It is almost as if the essential fruitiness of the berries multiplies exponentially as it conentrates and you reap this glorious nectar. The jam hits you with a sweetness immediately followed by tartness that lingers in your mouth and you immediately reach for another bite. There is a goodness in it that cannot be denied.

This quantity of fruit yielded two and half jars of jam. I proceeded with canning the almost full jars. You leave some room on top to allow for the expansion and cooling of air. Using a very clean ladle to dollop out quantities of jam into the prepped jars, I was careful to clean the few spill ups with fresh paper towels, never using the same one twice. Then placing the lids and tightly screwing on the rings, I used the tongs to place the full jars for a bath in a pot of boiling water for a scant five minutes. Fishing them out of the water (narrowly avoiding an accident that might have turned my kitchen into ending scenes from The Amityville Horror), I placed them on clean paper towels to cool. Everything was as sterilised as is possible in a kitchen environment.  As the jars cooled there were two faint pops. I have to say there is nothing as satisfying hearing that lid pop. It means all your mucking about with the jars was accurately done. I’m reasonably sure that these jars would have lasted to winter but had no opportunity of testing it with this batch. Between my co-workers and Amey, we have gone through two jars of jam. I wish I’d made more. I love to cook for people but there is nothing as gratifying as watching someone whose eyes light up when they taste jam that you made. That childhood bliss is written all over their face. I was struck by how many people told me only their grandparents actually made jam. Not only is it unbelievably easy to make, it is extremely economical when made in large quantities. Also, no store bought jam in the world tastes like the one you make at home. The aromatherapy of cooking jam is an unbeatable added benefit. At least two neighbours stopped by to ask what was cooking and I didn’t even know them (city dweller, so that’s no surprise), but I do now. I wish I’d made more to share but that is a mistake that can easily be remedied. I will certainly make more jam before the summer fruit season is over. If you are wondering about jam, I encourage you to try it. This is so easy that the idiom ‘easy as pie’ should really read ‘ easy as jam’.

Sev Puri

Crossing continents has meant adapting to new ways. And for the most part this has been fairly painless. But sometimes I do miss the most ridiculous things. Like tea-time. Not because tea-time is ridiculous, oh no, far from it. It’s ridiculous because I wasn’t much of a tea-drinker back home and yet, I feel a twinge of nostalgia thinking of it. Or maybe that’s just that horrible cup of yoghurt that I ate for lunch today. (Raspberry yoghurt can’t be blue, I tell you!)

Food-minded as I am, I liked how the day was clearly marked into meals, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner. Without tea-time there just seems to be too long a time between lunch and dinner. You see all kinds of food products and fast food vying to be your ‘in-between go-to food’. But then of course, they are promoting the wrong fourth meal. Tea-time is where it’s at. And the reason I was so fond of it was while everyone else savoured their tea, I loved the snacks that went along with it.

If you are thinking along the lines of delicate madeleines and cucumber sandwiches, let me stop you right there. That’s not what tea-time is about where I’m from. Bring out the Nan khatai (yummy shortbread)  and the khari biscuits (a rough kind of puff pastry biscuit that’s heaven dipped in a cup of tea) and Parle-G. Sometimes it was stuff you got in stores. Sometimes it was home-made, like this recipe I’ve mentioned before. But that’s the stuff you had on an ordinary day. When it was a special tea-time, (which in case you’re interested could be anytime between 3 and 5 in the afternoon), the day we had guests, especially a collection of her friends, tea was an absolutely special meal. Such times were also known as the days my mom lost her sense of humour.

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Pav Bhaji

There are probably very few cities in this country where I could live without pining for Bombay very often. In San Francisco, I know I have found one of them. The easy access to many things Indian is icing on top of the fabulous cake that life in these wonderful climes is. But then suddenly, a random fragrance or vivid colour will send my mind spiralling back to India. Especially where I grew up. Bombay. There is quite literally no other place like it. Hustle and bustle take on an entirely different meaning in this city that truly never sleeps. It was a big city even back then, the Bombay I knew, loved and grew up in. Though it was immense and teeming with life of all kinds, not for a second did I ever feel unsafe in it. It’s true we don’t have largely famous forts or gorgeous old temples, but we have our very own rich history, written and perpetuated by the people who lived there and carry a piece of it wherever they go, as I do. The attitude of Bombayites (or Mumbaikars as they are now known since the city was renamed Mumbai) is unique in India. There is at once a sense of openness with a strong background of tradition behind us. And it is the eternal dream city. So many people from all over the country aspire to live there. The city is always assimilating yet keeping true to itself. And the cultural influence has helped Bombay develop a cuisine in which you will recognise many things from many places It is a veritable melting pot.

It is ridiculous but also very cool, how food minded this city is. Throw a stone around from anywhere in it and you are liable to hit at least three food establishments. Granted, one of those ‘establishments’ may very well be a guy with a tokri (large woven basket) selling peanuts or raw mango laced with salt and chilli (slurp!!). But you will never, ever want for variety in food in this city. When I lived in it, there were enough food joints that you couldn’t try each and every one in your life time. Today, you could probably make that a few life times. Globalisation has brought with it all kinds of food and India as a whole is happily enjoying the boost to the palette. Thai, Japanese, Mexican, you name it, and you will find it there. You may not recognise it, because of course just as there is the adaptive General Tso’s chicken here, there is the Maharaja Mac and McAloo Tikki there. We’ve always been great at taking things and adapting them to make them our own. India’s history is filled with foreign elements vying for dominion. They didn’t last but the things they brought with them stayed with us, several of them in our food. It is hard to imagine that some four hundred years ago, the Indian foodscape would have looked very different in the absence of, among other things, the potato, the tomato and what so many people automatically associate Indian food with, the chilli peppers.

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Aloo and Onion Bhajjis

I woke up with a start today, completely disoriented, something that hasn’t happened in a long time. Today was like coming out of a mental fog. There was no clarity of day or time. Was I late for work? Had I missed a test? (Yes, it must be only me who deliberately picks eight o’clock for all her exams when she could pick absolutely any time. This way it gets over and done with faster, you see.) But then, just as suddenly, the eerie-ness of it all faded. It was my Friday off. My next test is at the end of a month. There was a moment of quiet calm. And then it was effectively shattered by a sharp and precise thwack-thwack-thwack of a hammer. Construction workers don’t have Fridays off.

The renovation of my apartment building continues merrily on. It inevitably figures in my conversation because these days it is over on my side of the building. And at times, it is cacophonic. There is a strange desperation that claims your life when your home is no longer your refuge, when the simple act of reading a book or listening to music could be summarily interrupted at any time by loud noises and vibrations that has utensils bouncing off the dish rack. The situation also has the odd air about it of bringing my work home with me. The noise doesn’t consciously bother me unless it’s very close, but every time there is a new, different noise, part of my brain automatically engages in trying to figure out what machine it is, what phase of work is going on. Probably normal given my profession, but certainly not something I want to do on an off-day. Fortunately this is San Francisco. There is no dearth of places to be. So we packed some snacks and decided we’d be somewhere else.

There is an amazing array of food that could pass as snacks in Indian cuisine. Some of them just as easily become a side dish in a meal. Bhajjis (or bhajiyas or pakoras) are one such snack. They are the Indian version of fritters. They just use a different flour for batter and are principally made of vegetables. The flour here is chickpea flour, way tastier than most flours are. There is a basic and very simple ‘no yoghurt or buttermilk’ batter with a one time dipping given to the veggies. The veggies can be practically anything large enough to hold, dip and fry.

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Mom’s Sol Kadhi

I love food, certainly. But sometimes I think what attracts me to cooking that it feels so much like a scientific experiment. Next to languages, science was easily my one of my favourite subject, especially chemistry. (Actually I liked everything but civics, I’m such a nerd that way!) I still vividly remember the countless times I stood at the door of the lab at school, my nose stuck to the glass as I gazed forlornly at the shiny lab tables and rows of coloured bottles on them that were, sadly, off-limits for me in primary and lower secondary school. In India, almost always (unless you move around a lot) you got to the same school from kindergarten through 10th standard (that would be 10th grade here I think). So you can imagine how many years were spent yearning after this lab.

Once I found myself in it, I had a ball. All intrinsic excitement though. I never once mixed the wrong compounds or turned my hair pink; though this older me thinks that pink hair would have been hilarious, the younger me would have been horrified to not get that experiment right the first time. We both agree that it was fun for us anyway. My idea of fun may have developed in strange directions over the years but the essence of it never changes. I’m never happy when an experiment is a disaster.Even at the risk of sounding just like Alton Brown, cooking has chemistry at its basis. Different ingredients come together and can either work in harmony or can result in metaphoric chemical disaster. And while I’ve had my low moments, for the most part no one has fainted from my cooking. Not like that time I excitedly stuck a test-tube containing the product of an experiment under my lab partner’s nose. I had to go over the lab safety lecture twice before they let me in the lab again.


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