Monday, December 29, 2008

Pazham Pori – Fried Ripe Plantains

The very mention of this snack brings the waterworks out of a Malayalee mouth, yet this is a universal snack enjoyed by people in the African and Asian continents and may be other places I am not aware of. The Keralite will content that this snack epitomizes the taste only when made with home grown Plantains aka, 'etha pazham' or 'nenthrakkaya'. I'd have to agree and yes of course my judgment is clouded:-)

My maternal Grandfather and then my Mom are the green thumbs in the family. I think the only one in my generation with such a thumb is my oldest brother. My Mom always had an enterprise of hers going on in parallel with our normal farm activities. First she eyes unused patches of land and decides which crop will grow there the best. Then she gathers moral, financial and labor support from my Grandfather, Dad and our Laborers in that order. It was always a pleasure to see the results of her enterprises. At times this could be a small but lushly grown peppercorn orchard, a fruitful garden of cocoa trees, a field of all varieties of plantain/banana plants etc. The best part always was taking a walk with her in the evenings for a visual enjoyment of the fruits of her labor both literally and figuratively! The way she talked of bringing it about always made for a sensible tale. She enjoyed talking about it and I loved hearing it. The most visually pleasing of course were the pepper vines as they grew entwined onto the Murikku trees which made for a very lush green background that one cannot resist but give in and drink up on. But most pleasing to the tummy was the bananas/plantains. I refer here to the small varieties of bananas as bananas and the large ones used for frying/steaming as plantains.

In her garden she had almost all varieties available commonly in Kerala. There were the 'njalipoovans', 'palayamkodans', 'kadalis', 'robustas' and many more. Don't know them by any other name. Robusta is the least favorite and palayamkodan used to be the most favorite to eat with 'puttu'. Now I seem to prefer 'njalipoovan' as that has a neutral pleasant flavor that appeals to all palates. When I visited the grocery stores here for the first time I gaped at the bountiful array of richly colored fruits and vegetables with awe. The amazement slowly gave way to disbelief when I found out that there is only “one” type of banana -yellow chiquitas- among all that variety. I even resigned myself to this sad fact. The odd plantains that sometimes showed up in grocery stores including Indian stores never were good enough to steam or fry. In recent years things have changed for the better. The local Indian store has chiquita – yes chiquita - plantains that come very close to the real thing and even the regular grocery stores sport them these days making it more convenient. Much to my delight the Indian store also has at least two varieties of the small bananas that tastes almost like the 'njalipoovan' of yore. Guess who makes a quick run to the Indian store to collect these bananas and gobble them up in no time? Isn't it great that yours truly is the only one with such a fancy for these small delights in the house and therefore the sole executor of the satisfying mission?

Once we discovered the large plantains I set about making the 'pazham pori'. We used to refer to it also as 'boli' back home which confused my husband to no end and which I changed as soon as I saw the 'real boli' from Trivandrum at a friend's place. I hope to get a recipe for that some day.

My Mom used to make 'pazham pori' often and she used to even have them prepared from a whole ripe bunch from her garden during the mid-summer vacations. They were cut into two lengthwise and kept in a bamboo basket after frying. The taste goes up exponentially the next day and didn't last much more than that. My HMom figured out this craving of mine and always take care to make this when we visit. My husband adores these too and when I make it here we have no difficulty polishing off platefuls between us. The kids blessedly are no big fans. While I sincerely regret that they find this not as delightful as I do, it also means Mom & Dad can enjoy all of it guilt free:-)

Now that you know I am crazy about bananas big or small, let us get back to business.

Here I make it a little different from how Mom used to make it.

In The Mix

large ripe plantains - 6

all purpose flour – 1 cup

milk – 1 cup

water – 1 cup

vanilla essence – 2-3 drops or 1/8 tsp

salt to taste

sugar – 4 tsp

oil – enough so the banana pieces are half submerged in it when frying

How To Do

Peel and cut the plantains in half and then each half into three pieces.

Mix all of the above except the oil together with a whisk. The amount of vanilla essence, salt and sugar can be modified according to your taste as the main intention is just to have all these flavors in there. Amount of flour can be added or removed depending on how much of it you want around the bananas. My husband prefers it covered in flour like in the 'chayakkada'/tea stall style and I prefer them leaner. This is the leaner version but if you add ½ cup more flour and keep the water and milk content the same then you get the other version.

Dip the cut plantains into the prepared mix.

Heat oil in a pan and when hot enough, add the dipped plantains one by one. Fry on each side for 1 min or so and drain on paper towels. Enjoy with a cup of coffee or tea and you are all set!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's That Time of The Year Again! Fruitcake ( from Spicyana)

I had never liked fruitcakes much and this didn't change when I tasted the fruit loaded brick of a fruitcake here too. But you can never underestimate the power of memories. The tangy taste of the fruitcakes I had with the little goblet of wine at wedding receptions apparently stayed with me. The whole memory was reawakened and became a forceful nostalgic quest for more when one of my friend's Mom made it here on a US visit and gave me a quite generous portion to take home. By the time the quest became insufferable – my logical mind could not believe that I actually wanted to make and eat this cake – her Mom had already gone back. So in a moment of courage – I am a follow the instructions on the cake mix box and make a pound cake once in a while girl - I set out on my always fruitful food blog searches for a recipe. After going through many excellent recipes, decided to try spicyana's fruitcake. I had always been fascinated by all those baked cakes.
I stayed true to the recipe with due exceptions made for what I could find and what I assumed. The Indian store I went to for shajeera said it is the same as kala jeera and so that is what I used. I made the caramel a little early in the day and it kinda hardened by the time it was to be added and I heated it up in the microwave to liquefy again. This did not seem to have affected the taste much. It was quite a success and by the time a week came around the cake was barely there! Every time I took the cake out for basting with Rum it went back in a little less:-)
The recipe is pretty much the same as at spicyana's. For some reason, I am not able to link to the single recipe but to a whole page which contains it and you will need to scroll down a bit to Dec 13 to find the recipe. I am reproducing it here with how I went about it so it is easier for me the next time. This is the second year I made it and intend to make it a regular feature of our X-mas activities. Family and friends who have tasted it love it and I myself have heavily fallen for it. Must be all that rum:-)
Dry Fruits
golden raisins - ¾ cup
black raisins - ¾ cup
dried apricots – 12 chopped
dried tart cherries - ¼ cup
orange juice (no pulp) – 1 cup
nutmeg powder – ¼ tsp
cloves – 3
honey – 2 tsp
rum – 4 tbsp (I used Bacardi Select original premium crafted rum. I am sure any rum is fine but being completely lost in that aisle, wanted to note what I finally picked)
grated orange rind – 2 tsp
Warm the orange juice, add all the dried fruits and the other ingredients together and keep for 2-3 days in an air tight container.
sugar – 1 cup
water – 5 tbsp
butter - ½ tsp
Take 1 cup sugar in a pan and add 1 tbsp water to it. Heat till you see a color change and stir continuously from this point. Keep on stirring till all the sugar melts into a nice golden brown. Add butter and stir. Add the remaining water. Take care to add the water very slowly so it won't splash up onto you. The solution will bubble up and all that but don't worry and keep on stirring and remove from heat to cool. Try to make the cake before the caramel hardens, but if it does, then carefully microwave it or melt again.
In The Cake Mix
all purpose flour – 2 ¾ cup
baking powder – 2 tsp
confectioner's sugar – 1 cup
butter – 1 cup
eggs – 5
cinnamon – a pinch
ground kala jeera (shajeera?) - ¾ tsp
vanilla essence – 1 tsp
soaked fruits and caramel from above
Did not use 1/4 cup chopped flour coated cashew nuts as we don't prefer it in the cakes but add if you do.
How To Do
Preheat oven to 300F.
This will make two round shallow pans of cake.
Grease the cake pans with butter or shortening. I do this by keeping the pan with the butter in the oven while heating up, then taking it out and spreading the melted butter around. Did not use parchment paper and did not flour the pans. Just lazy!
Sift the flour with baking powder and all the spice powders.
Melt the butter and add sugar. Beat with an electric hand mixer for a minute.
Beat the eggs and add to the butter-sugar mix. Add vanilla essence and caramel. Beat for 4 minutes.
Add the prepared flour now little by little and mix well with a whisk.
Add soaked fruits and whisk it in or stir in with a spoon.
Pour into pans and place it in the preheated oven for 60 minutes.
Since these pans are shallow, they don't need more than 60 minutes, but a deeper pan needed about 1 hr and 15 minutes.
Cake is done when a fork inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool for 15 minutes and unmold.
Bast with rum all around and cover in foil.
Repeat rum basting once a day for as many days as you are patient up to a week.
Not sure how long it will keep as every time it gets over within a week. I have mailed them across the US and reports indicate they were in perfect shape to be enjoyed on reception.
I can't believe I am making these cakes with gusto and would like to thank spicyana's winner of a recipe for making it possible.