Articles in World w/recipe
If celebration food is the determining factor, Hanukkah has to be one of my all-time favorite holidays. I have yet to meet a fried food I didn’t love, and the ever-popular latke calls my name, especially on nippy days like these.
Offer me a holiday that offers a reason to indulge in crispy potato pancakes and doughnuts, and my food fantasy is complete.
Over the years, I have had a few latke recipes that I have created, like this loaded variety or another with a blend of harvest roots. Depending on the meal, I pair them with foods throughout the year.
Last year, however, I actually set out to explore Indian foods that might work on a Hanukkah table for a guest who was visiting. Hiam, a young Jewish man and an intern working with my husband, stayed with us for a couple of weeks at a time that happened to coincide with Hanukkah.
His father, he told me, was born of half-Indian descent in what is now Mumbai in India, and had later moved on to various places before finally setting here in the United States. He had told Hiam many stories of India, leaving his son with a romantic view of the country and a deep wish to visit it one day. On my table, Hiam was hoping to find foods that would take him a little closer to his goal.
He wanted to celebrate Hanukkah with some foods that would be symbolic of the holiday and Indian in character. He mentioned to me that his family often enjoyed Indian lentils, or dal, with pita bread, and his father had a recipe for curried cauliflower, so his request was to sample something beyond that.
A Jewish community in India?
India has a small but long-established Jewish community in parts of eastern, western and southern India, so finding Jewish cuisine in India is not such a foreign concept. Nahoum and Sons, located in the center of Kolkata’s historic New Market, is a well-established and third-generation bakery of Jewish heritage. It still carries confectionery that represents traditional family recipes and unique savories.
I scoured through some heritage cookbooks, to grant Hiam his wish. Certain recipes, such as a roasted chicken and a potato creation called Chicken Makallah, or the stuffed creations called dolmas, have likely found their way onto Indian tables by way of Jewish influence.
None of these seemed to fit the Hanukkah bill of celebrating fried foods.
Fashioning a latke out of tried-and-true Indian food
So I was back to creating a festive meal from my tested and tried staples. The Indians love their lentil fritters called vadas or chickpea batter coated fritters called pakoras. These provide loads of options for the seeker of fried indulgences. I scoped out my two favorite recipes that are perfect for any celebration and well-suited for those looking for easy and unusual festive recipes.
The first recipe is for a traditional crisp pancake called malpoa, which actually offers you something in between a doughnut and a crepe. I like to top the malpoa with seasonal fruit, and this variation has an apple and pistachio topping. It is important to serve these hot. The syrup can be made ahead if you wish and brought to room temperature.
The second recipe is a classic Bengali onion fritter that I make as onion rings, as this rendition works best with my children. The distinct element of this recipe is the addition of nigella seeds, which add a unique flavor and pretty speckled appearance to the rings. These onion fritters are a well-loved roadside food in Bengal — hot and crisply fried, wrapped lovingly in newspaper bags.
Apple Malpoa – Indian Pancakes with a Cardamom, Apple Pistachio Topping
(Recipe adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles,” Hippocrene, 2012)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 15 medium-sized (5-inch) pancakes
For the syrup:
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
For the apple pistachio topping:
2 honeycrisp apples, diced, skin on
1/2 cup crushed pistachios (pecans can be used, if desired)
1/2 teaspoon crushed cardamom
1/3 cup coconut milk
For the pancakes:
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 to 2 whole black peppercorns
2 cups commercial evaporated milk (about 2 large cans)
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons semolina
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (enough to bind the batter)
Oil for frying
1. To prepare the syrup, place the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and cook on medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until it reaches a consistency thick enough to lightly coat the pancake when soaked.
2. To prepare the apple-pistachio topping, preheat the oven to 375 F.
3. Lightly toss the apples, pistachios, cardamom and coconut milk.
4. Bake for about 15 minutes.
5. To prepare the pancakes, dry roast the fennel seeds, cardamom seeds and whole peppercorns for a few minutes.
6. Grind the roasted spices to a coarse powder.
7. Blend the evaporated milk, ricotta cheese, semolina, and flour until a smooth batter is formed. The batter should be slightly thicker than buttermilk.
8. Stir in the roasted spices.
9. Heat some oil in a skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of the batter for each pancake and spread slightly. When browned on one side, turn over and brown on the other side.
10. Remove from pan and place into the syrup and let soak for 5 minutes. Serve warm, topped with a small amount of the apple, allowing 2 pancakes per serving.
Onion Rings with Nigella Seeds – Gol Piyaji
(Recipe from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
4 medium onions, tops removed and peeled
3/4 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup water
3/4 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 teaspoon black salt
Oil for frying
Cilantro to garnish, optional
1. Cut the onions into 1/2-inch-thick rounds and separate into rings.
2. Mix the chickpea flour and 1/2 cup of water into a thick batter; the consistency should coat easily. Stir in the nigella seeds, cayenne pepper powder, and black salt; mix well.
3. Heat some oil in a wok or deep skillet until hot enough for frying.
4. Dip each onion ring in the batter and fry until crisp. You may fry 3 or 4 rings at a time, depending on the size of the wok or skillet. It is important not to have the rings touch each other while cooking. Remove rings from the oil and drain on paper towels before serving.
Main photo: These apple malpoas, crisp fried pancakes, offer an Indian twist to latkes served for Hanukkah. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya
In Italy, besides special holiday cookies and cakes like panettone, pasta is served for dessert, especially on Christmas Eve. Italy has a long tradition of serving sweetened pasta for dessert. Back in the Renaissance, pasta was a luxury food, reserved for special occasions, and paired with other luxury foods like sugar and cinnamon.
Each region of Italy, from north to south, has a different specialty recipe.
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Macaroni with walnuts, maccheroni con le noci, a mound of luscious pasta tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce topped with grated chocolate and walnuts, is served in central Italy, especially in Lazio and Umbria. For centuries, the nuns at the Monastery of Santo Spirito in Agrigento, Sicily, have been selling couscous desserts seasoned with pistachios, cuscus dolce siciliano al pistachio, dense like rice pudding, with deep pistachio flavor. It’s usually served topped with grated dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds, which makes for a pretty green and red Christmas color theme.
Macaroni With Chocolate Walnut Sauce (Maccheroni Con Le Noci)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
10 ounces pappardelle or other wide noodle
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped, plus more for garnish
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons rum
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Freshly ground nutmeg
1. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
2. Drain, return to the cooking pot, and, off the heat, immediately toss with sugar, chocolate, walnuts, rum, zest, and pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. Toss well, until the sugar and chocolate dissolves.
3. Serve topped with grated chocolate and a drizzle of honey.
Pistachio Couscous (Cuscus Dolce Siciliano al Pistachio)
From “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Francine Segan
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 cup couscous
1/2 cup shelled pistachios
1/4 cup blanched almonds
4 to 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 ounces dark chocolate
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds or other fresh fruit or dried fruit
1. Bring 1 1/4 cups water and a pinch of salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, then stir in the couscous and remove from the heat. Cover and let rest 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and let cool to room temperature.
2. Meanwhile, grind the pistachios and almonds in a small food processor until very fine and powder-like. Add the nuts and a pinch of cinnamon into the couscous and stir until well combined. Sweeten to taste with 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar.
3. Serve topped with grated dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds or other fruit.
Main photo: A mound of luscious pasta is tossed in a sweet dark chocolate sauce and topped with grated chocolate and walnuts. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company
For many families of Mexican descent, Christmas is the time to gather around the kitchen table to teach the next generation to spread masa dough onto corn husks. That’s the first step before filling, folding and steaming tamales.
For more than 90 years, this tradition has held strong in the family of my friends, sisters Victoria Delgado Woods and Rebecca Delgado.
I have known them for more than 30 years, having met while studying at the University of the Pacific. Victoria is also my daughter’s godmother, and every Christmas Eve we join her family making and eating tamales.
A conversation with the Delgado sisters
Curious about this tradition and how long their family had followed it, I asked them to answer a few questions about the Christmas Tamales:
Who taught you to make tamales?
Our mother, Virginia Delgado.
How long has this been a tradition in your family?
Rebecca: As far as I know, we have always had tamales for Christmas Eve. But I do know when we started making them at our family home. I was 10 when my Nana passed away, and the next Christmas Eve we started making them at our home. Before, we would all go to our Nana’s house in Exeter, Calif. When my Nana became ill, we went to my Tía Binnie’s house to celebrate because my Nana stayed with her. I was a kid, so I assume my Mom and her four sisters would make them. The kids did not help. But that all changed when we started making them at our home. The rule was, you eat tamales, you help make tamales. Which mostly included spreading the masa on the leaves. Even if you were a guest and came over Christmas Eve, you helped make tamales. It is a good rule and stands to this day.
The same rule applied to other generations of the family, according to Victoria’s maternal aunts, Tía Luisa and Tía Carmelita, who were visiting when I interviewed her.
Tamale-making involved the entire family for prior generations
Luisa, 74, and Carmelita, 70, said the tradition goes back at least 90 years in the family. They recalled that they and all of their siblings — a total of five girls and two boys — always were required to pitch in.
Their production goal: 100 tamales.
Their job: washing the corn husk in two big portable bathtubs, spreading the masa on the corn husk, and adding two olives per tamale.
Their parents did the rest. In true farm-to-table fashion, their father slaughtered the pig. (The parts of the pig that weren’t used for the tamale meat was saved to make menudo for the New Year’s feast.) Their mother prepared the masa and the chiles.
Then came the Christmas Eve feast. Their father was the oldest of seven brothers — and all of them would arrive. They were all musicians, making for quite the party.
The Delgado sisters carry on the tradition
What flavors are traditionally made in your household?
Rebecca: Pork tamales with black olives are the tradition, but we added veggie tamales when Victoria became a vegetarian. We continue to make both kinds, but the veggie tamales seem to go faster than the pork. Most families do not use black olives in their tamales, but our family does. I remember my Mom’s friend, Mrs. Rodrigues, would add three or four black olives in one tamale and say whoever got that tamale, she would kiss them. I do not recall anyone collecting on the kiss, but it was fun to hear her say it.
Are you teaching the next generation how to make tamales?
Rebecca: YES. I hope they continue making them. My son Vicente could use more experience on making the chile and flavoring the masa, but I think he could do it without me. He will have some hiccups, just like we did when my Mom passed away and we started making them without her. I recall a few earlier tamales that needed or had too much salt in the masa, but we still ate them! Making tamales is a family event. I have good memories of all of us around the table spreading masa, talking, laughing, joking and, of course, making fun of each other’s spreading technique. To this day, my brother Ken thinks he is the best, but, then again, he thinks he is the best in everything. Brothers!
Victoria: My daughter Callie learned from me. But my boys, Jermaine and Antonio, are only allowed to spread the masa, whereas Callie knows the whole process.
Now, my daughter Ruby and I have joined the mix. Learning from the sisters gave me enough confidence to attempt making tamales in my home. I did diverge from the traditional pork tamale and made sweet tamales with raspberries. I had to get the approval of the Delgado sisters before I could call them a success, though.
And I did.
Raspberry Dessert Tamales
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Yield: 14 to 17 tamales
3 to 4 pints fresh raspberries
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups instant masa harina
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons butter, softened
3/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup turbinado or raw cane sugar
Dried corn husks, soaked in hot water for one hour, drained and patted dry
1. Place the raspberries into a medium bowl.
2. Sprinkle the raspberries with the sugar. Stir to mix.
3. Place the raspberries into the refrigerator until ready to use.
4. In a mixer on medium speed, combine the masa harina and butter, until combined and crumbly.
5. Add the orange juice and vanilla, mix until combined.
6. Slowly pour in the turbinado sugar, mix for about one minute, until the masa dough is well combined.
7. Spread about 2 tablespoons of masa dough onto a corn husk, leaving about 1/2-inch border on the side.
8. Place about 4 or 5 raspberries into the center of the masa.
9. Fold the sides together, then tie with a strip of corn husk.
10. Place a steamer basket or overturned plate into a large stock pot, add a few inches of water, just to the bottom of the basket.
11. Place the tamales onto the basket, cover with a damp towel and a tight fitting lid.
12. Steam the tamales for 1 hour.
13. Remove the tamales from the steamer and let cool slightly before serving.
Main photo: The whole family can get in on the tamale-making traditions, with children spreading the masa dough onto the corn husks for these sweet raspberry tamales. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee
By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.
I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.
A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold
Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.
So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper – believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin – to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.
An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To
At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.
Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.
Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.
Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices
Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.
3/4 pound fresh turmeric
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric
Prepping the turmeric:
1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.
2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.
To candy the turmeric:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.
2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.
3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.
4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.
Yield: 1 cocktail
Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce orange juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Orange slice, for serving
Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.
Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman
Italians sure like to sugarcoat things. They’ve got a sugarcoated something or other for almost every occasion.
Almonds are covered in a different color of sugar depending on the occasion — white for weddings, green for engagements, silver for 25th anniversaries, blue or pink for christenings and red for graduations.
Pistachios and pine nuts are traditional favorites, too, added to party favors or flower and fruit baskets. Cacao and coffee beans have been sugarcoated since the time they were introduced into Italy in the 16th century.
Less well known, however, are Italy’s many sugarcoated spices and herbs.
In Italy, these tiny treats are served after dinner, as palate cleansers, and are also used to decorate certain desserts.
Called confetti in Italy (dragées in France, comfits in England), these sweets are made by sugar panning, a technique that adds a sugar coating, layer by layer. (Panning is also the same method used by the pharmaceutical industry to coat pills. With a slight change in manufacture and sugar composition, it is also the technique for making jellybeans.)
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Confetti are made in a panning machine, a device that looks like a cement mixer. A panning machine is a wide-mouthed copper or stainless steel vessel with a diameter that ranges from 3 to 5 feet. The panning machine is mounted at an angle on a shaft and rotates over a low open flame. Sugar syrup is then slowly added to whatever is to be coated, either with a funnel suspended over the pan, or by hand by ladlefuls. As the sweets bounce about in the pan, the sugar spreads and crystallizes in a thin, hard layer. Only a little sugar is added at a time, so the sugar clings closely to the original object’s shape and contours. Sugarcoated fennel and rosemary stay oblong and the coriander and juniper berries retain their round shape.
For a smooth candy coating, sugar syrup is added by hand in small ladlefuls every half-hour or so. When the sugar syrup is added drop by drop from a suspended funnel, a lovely jagged texture is created.
Romanengo, a Genoa confectionary icon since 1780, creates, among its many artisinal sweets, an impossibly delicate cinnamon confetti. Giovanni Battista Romanego, one of the current generation’s five Romanengo brothers, personally hand-snips Ceylon cinnamon bark into thin wisps, then slowly coats them in sugar syrup, drop by drop, over the course of two days. Unlike Romanengo’s sugarcoated fennel or anise seeds, which have a smooth, shiny coating, the cinnamon has a wonderfully magical appearance that looks like tiny storybook-perfect snowflakes.
Stratta, a Turin confectionery shop since 1836, sells traditional Italian sugarcoated fennel seeds, which are given as gifts to new mothers (thought to help with nursing) or at christenings. Stratta’s owner, Adriana Monzeglio, a spice aficionado, has added several exotic new entries, including cardamom, cumin, coriander and rye, to their list of more conventional confetti. One of Stratta’s best-selling innovations is rosemary confetti, with each tiny leaf encased in a delicate green-tinted sugar.
Confetti are used to top struffoli, a Christmas dessert.
Struffoli: Neapolitan Honey Treats (Struffoli in Cestino di Croccante)
Struffoli, traditional Italian Christmas treats, are marble-sized fried dough balls dipped in honey, piled into a mound and topped with colored sugar and candied fruit. They can be fried or baked and make a festive centerpiece just as they are, heaped onto a serving plate or, as ambitious home cooks in Naples do, served in an edible candy dish. Both the candy dish and the stuffoli are fun and easy to make.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
5 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons Cointreau or Limoncello
1 tablespoon vanilla
Zest of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 orange
Sunflower or other vegetable oil for frying
8 ounces honey, about 1 cup
For optional garnish: confetti — tiny, colored, sugarcoated spices — candied cherries, etc.
1. In a large bowl and using an electric mixer, combine the flour, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, baking soda, salt, 4 whole eggs, 2 yolks, butter, Cointreau, vanilla and the zests until a dough forms.
2. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
3. Take a small handful of the dough and roll it into a breadstick shape about 3/4 inches in diameter.
4. Cut the dough into hazelnut-sized sections about 1/2 inch thick and then either bake or fry them. (See below for baking instructions.) For frying, fill in a high-sided saucepan with 3 inches of oil and heat over medium-high flame. They will puff up and turn a lovely golden color within seconds. Remove them from the skillet and place them onto a paper towel-lined plate.
5. Repeat with the remaining dough.
6. In a small saucepan combine the honey and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and then heat until runny. Remove from the heat and stir in the fried balls, one small batch at a time, until they are well coated in the honey mixture. Using a slotted spoon remove the coated balls and arrange them in a circle in a shallow bowl. Repeat with the remaining dough balls, adding them to form a tall mound. Pour any remaining honey over the top and decorate with a scattering of colored sugar balls, confetti and candied fruit.
Best if served within 24 hours of making them. The dessert is placed in the center of the table and guests help themselves with their fingers.
Note: If you prefer, you can bake the dough balls. Place the hazelnut-sized dough segments about an inch apart on a well-greased baking sheet and bake at 400 F for about 7 minutes. Turn the balls and bake on the other side for another 6 to 7 minutes or until light golden. They will not be as round or as nicely golden as the fried version, but the taste will be just as stupendous. You may like to try baking half the dough and frying half, giving your struffoli color gradations.
Edible candy dish
Don’t panic, this isn’t hard to do. The candy dish is really just a big blob of almond brittle.
Vegetable or olive oil
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 cups, 7 ounces sliced almonds
1. Lightly oil a large nonstick cookie sheet. Lightly oil the inside of a large pie pan, shallow bowl or mold.
2. Heat the corn syrup in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium-high heat until warm, then stir in the sugar. At first the sugar just sort of sits there, but it will start to become translucent in about 3 or 4 minutes then turn ivory colored for another 3 minutes or so, and then finally darken and become liquidy.
3. Continue cooking the mixture, stirring occasionally with an oil-coated wooden spoon, until it becomes a rich golden color, about 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds.
4. Carefully, as the sugar is scorching hot, pour the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet. Using a rolling pin, gently flatten the mixture and roll it out into a large thin circle, at least 13 inches in diameter. Once it has cooled a little and seems firm, transfer it into the prepared mold.
5. Remove from the mold once it’s completely cool and hardened.
Main photo: Almonds, pine nuts, pistachios, fennel and other herb seeds are coated with sugar to make Italian confetti. Credit: Francine Segan
For nine nights leading to Christmas Eve, Mexico celebrates las posadas: singalong parties to reenact Joseph and Mary’s biblical pilgrimage to Bethlehem and their near-fruitless search for shelter before Jesus’ birth.
Then, success. After several stanzas of rejection, someone lets them in. With the joyous chorus of “Entren, santos peregrinos” — come in, holy pilgrims — it’s time to break a piñata and eat. And steaming bowls of pozole are often there to feed the crowd.
A three-part series on dishes of the season
Part 1: Pozole
Part 2: Buñuelos
Part 3: Tamales
I had my first taste of the pork-and-hominy-based soup in Mexico City. For most anyone, that first taste can never be the last, and it wasn’t mine. Aided by a stack of Mexican-government-published recipe books I’d bought at a market near my home in the Colonia Narvarte neighborhood, I’ve made the dish repeatedly, both in Mexico and after I’d returned to the States.
It’s the perfect party food. You can make it for yourself, but it’s a recipe that’s easy to make for a crowd. And, inevitably, it’s a hit.
The draw of pozole is not just in its rich, smoky broth laced with puréed guajillo chilies. It’s the buffet line of cold raw veggies that your guests add to it that make it uniquely special for them as well.
That crunch of sliced radishes, shredded lettuce and diced onions create a perfect complementary texture for the hot stew. Squeeze in some lime juice for an added zing of flavor, and there’s nothing like it.
I’ve adapted the pozole recipe over the years from the one that was published by the Mexican Government Workers’ Social Security and Services Institute in the 1980s.
The cookbook series “… y la Comida se Hizo” (… and the Meal was Made) is a wonderful Spanish-language collection that provides hundreds of traditional recipes celebrating Mexico’s widely varying cuisine. The recipe for pozole — which most often is brought out for parties such as posadas or the Independence Day festivities in mid-September — fittingly was found in the book entitled “… and the Meal was Made for Celebrating.”
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Written simply for an audience that varies as widely as its cuisine — including those who cook on stoves without temperature controls or timers — the recipes rarely provide temperature settings and sometimes omits suggested cooking times. Instead, it often relies on directions, such as “cook until the meat is tender.”
The recipe I’ve adapted below provides quite a few more guidelines, as well as adjustments on the ingredients. The one in the Mexican cookbook called for slices of “pig’s head, pig knuckles and pig’s feet.”
The adapted recipe suggests country spareribs instead — both for the ease of shredding the meat and to simplify the explanation of the dish to guests who may be wary of trying something new. Canned white hominy is also the way to go here.
For parties held on chilly winter nights like Mexico’s posadas — celebrated from Dec. 16 through Christmas Eve — it’s a colorful way to celebrate. The red, white and green garnishes will add festive color to the holiday table.
Mexican Red Pozole
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: About 2 hours
Total time: About 2 hours, 5 minutes
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
For the soup:
1 large head of garlic
16 cups water, plus extra for soaking chilies
1 white onion, peeled
4 pounds of country-style pork ribs
8 guajillo chilies
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
4 (15-ounce cans) of white hominy
Kosher salt to taste
For the garnish:
Shredded iceberg lettuce
12 radishes, sliced thinly
1 large white onion, diced
4 large limes, each cut into 8 wedges
1. Separate the head of garlic into cloves, peel and slice.
2. Add 16 cups of water, garlic, onion and pork ribs to a stockpot and bring to a boil.
3. Turn the heat down to allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, until the meat is tender — about 1 1/2 hours.
4. While the meat is simmering, place the guajillo chilies in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over them to allow them to be fully submerged (about 1 1/2 cups). Soak the chilies for a half-hour.
5. Using disposable kitchen gloves, remove the chilies from the water. (Reserve the water.) Remove the stems and slice open to devein the chilies. Place the chilies, the reserved water and some of the seeds in a food processor and blend until smooth. For a spicier soup, include more of the seeds.
6. When the pork is tender, remove it from the stockpot and shred the meat off the bone. Discard fat and bone.
7. Return shredded meat to the stockpot, and add the guajillo purée, bay leaves, oregano, hominy and salt to taste.
8. Cook for another 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
9. While the pozole is still cooking, prepare the garnish ingredients and place them in small serving bowls. Keep the raw vegetables refrigerated until time to serve to provide for maximum crunch.
10. Serve the soup hot, with plenty of room in the bowl to allow for the garnishes.
Main photo: Pozole, topped by garnishes. Credit: Karen Branch-Brioso
In India, December comes with the spirit of Christmas throughout the country, and, in Kolkata in eastern India, the city finds ways to regale in its deep-rooted colonial past.
Streets are decorated with rows of illuminated garlands and stars as the malls begin to make commercial hay. As a young girl — one raised Hindu while attending Catholic school — December festivals meant year-end concerts, carols and Christmas cards. And, my father’s own childhood tradition of a winter fruitcake.
I loved the simplicity of our small Christmas tree.While in most cases, the Christmas trees were faux, festivities were warm and very real.
There is something magical about walking through historic old churches, most notably the Basilica of the Holy Rosary in Bandel or St. Paul’s Cathedral to see worshipers — both Christian and otherwise — gathering to celebrate.
My first Christmas in the United States was two decades ago on a lonely college campus. When I declined my aunt’s generous invitation to join them for Christmas, I had no idea that the entire small college campus would be emptied out with little sign of life.
A query that made me question myself
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Finally, I did encounter someone, who asked me if I celebrated the holiday. This came to me as a very curious question. I nodded and then pondered my answer, unsure whether it was correct. Our household did not observe the holiday religiously, although my parochial schooling had made me quite familiar with the religious aspects of the festivities.
Christmas, to me, was about the spirit of giving and cheer. It was about cookies and tinsel. So, how could I not celebrate the holiday?
I had grown up in the colonially influenced, secular and fairly cosmopolitan city of Kolkata, where most holidays are celebrated. But, until asked, it had not occurred to me that there were strings attached to celebrating Christmas. A visit to Park Street in the heart of Kolkata would prove otherwise.
Last year, I visited the historical St Paul’s Cathedral and in the spirit of Christmases that I remembered, there were worshipers of all kinds offering homage to Baby Jesus. And there is always room for celebration in this food-obsessed city.
This is probably why it is easier for us to make our annual visit to India during Christmas. I find it so much easier to celebrate and be a part of a holiday where there are not religious obligations on our part. Mostly, it is about being a part of the festive atmosphere, which is still not completely commercialized, and where people still feel comfortable actually wishing each other Merry Christmas without anyone feeling offended.
Christmas also brings to mind the lines of a Bengali Christmas carol, something my grandmother taught me as a child, without any fuss or fanfare. In today’s politically correct world, I realize how simply my family had instilled the spirit of equality and religious acceptance in me.
Helping to carry on my father’s fruitcake tradition
We had our Christmas traditions. Nothing formal or locked in stone, except for our traditional family fruitcake that I first created for my father years ago, mostly because I wanted to ensure there was a homemade version of his family winter cake – a tradition for him.
All around the city, bakery shelves were filled with moist and dark brown fruitcakes, something my grandmother liked to call Plum Cake, possibly a throwback to the English plum puddings. These fruitcakes did not have any of the negative connotations commonly associated with fruitcakes in the United States. They were moist, soft and delightfully balanced – not even remotely related to their hardened cousins.
My father’s fruitcake tradition harked back to his childhood. As a boy growing up in a fairly conventional Brahman family, the other Christmas traditions eluded him. However, he remembered his father always coming home on Christmas Eve with a handful of goodies and three or four of those delight golden-brown plum cakes.
For my father, it was never Christmas without them.
Over the years, I finally settled for a fruitcake recipe that is featured in the Bengali Five Spice chronicles. It is a close cousin of the varieties that Dad spoke of, obtained from a friend’s Anglo-Indian family. The fruitcake has become my Christmas traditions.
A recipe that is now being savored by the second generation of fruitcake lovers might be just what your Christmas table desires. With notes of rum and dense molasses, it is rich and moist and perfect for any occasion. If you are persuaded to give this cake a try, start by soaking your fruit right now, so that you have them plump and flavorful in time for Christmas baking.
My personal tradition is to savor pieces of this fruitcake with tea, especially on the last remaining weeks of the year as I send out my holiday cards and pack for our annual visit to India.
(adapted from “The Bengali Five Spice Chronicles”)
Prep time: 20 minutes (plus a week to a month for soaking the fruit)
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: 10 servings
I shy away from calling this recipe “plum cake.” That dark moist fruit cake is a Christmas regular in the multiple cake shops that dot Kolkata. This recipe is close, but something about it falls just a little short of the taste I remember, possibly because nostalgia cannot be bottled and infused in a cake batter to complete the flavors as the mind recalls them.
1 cup of large mixed raisins
1/2 cup chopped, candied citrus peel
1/4 cup chopped cherries or cranberries
1/2 cups of rum
2 cups all-purpose white flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup loosely packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup robust molasses
4 eggs, well-beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1. Place all the fruits in a non-reactive bowl. Add the rum and cover and set aside for at least a week, or, for best flavor, for a month.
2. Grease an 8-inch to 10-inch loaf pan and pre-heat the oven to 350 F.
3. Drain the fruit when you are ready to use and reserve the soaking liquor, if any.
4. Sift together the flour and salt. Sprinkle about a ¼ cup of the flour mixture over the drained fruit and toss to coat.
5. Cream together the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Stir in the molasses. Add the beaten eggs to the mixture and beat to combine.
6. Add the baking powder to the remaining flour mixture and add to the batter in batches, alternating with the milk, and beat until well combined.
7. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Stir in the shredded coconut. Stir in the floured fruit. Pour batter into prepared pan.
8. Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool slightly.
9. Invert the cake onto a plate and pour the reserved soaking liquor over it. Allow it to sit to absorb the liquor. This cake can be served warm or alternately wrapped and stored and served when needed.
Main photo: In Kolkata, formerly known as Calcutta, families of all religious backgrounds embrace Christmas traditions, including a far more moist and softer version of fruitcake than the traditional kind found in the United States. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya
Savoiardi cookies — often called ladyfingers in the United States — were created in the Piedmont region of Italy in 1348 during the early Renaissance for the royal Savoia family, which gives the cookie its name. Savoiardi recipes are cited in several historic Italian cookbooks, including Bartolomeo Stefani’s 1662 book “The Art of Good Cooking.” This cookie is so important to Italians that the recipe is regulated and the name protected.
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For me — probably you, too, since you’re reading this — Italy’s food traditions are precious. Certain products and recipes are so definitively Italian that their origins and even names are worth protecting and preserving. When it comes to Italy’s sweets, there is a national organization, the Association of Italian Sweets and Pasta Manufacturers (Associazione delle Industrie del Dolce e della Pasta Italiane), whose job it is to do just that. The group, founded in 1967, set forth regulations that cover the processes and ingredients permitted for various types of sweets. Their standards, it turns out, are some of the world’s strictest.
For example, to qualify as authentic, savoiardi, the famous Italian cookie, must follow a definitive checklist in accordance with its DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta) status. Ingredients must be region-specific and only the best butter — and a guaranteed amount of it — may be used. There are required quantities of eggs and acceptable flours. The demands are almost painfully rigorous, but the results are exquisite!
Traditionally, savoiardi are dipped in hot chocolate or coffee. Because Italian-made savoiardi soak up liquid so nicely, they are a key ingredient in hundreds of desserts, including charlottes and puddings and, of course, tiramisu.
“Instant” Chocolate Cake
From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
A no-bake dessert that’s a snap to make and quite pretty. Store-bought savoiardi are dipped in liqueur, layered with chocolate sauce and then refrigerated until firm. It slices just like pound cake.
Prep time: 15 minutes
No cooking, but requires 1 hour to chill
Yield: 6 servings
3 1/2 ounces, 7 tablespoons, unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 egg yolk
3 1/2 ounces dark chocolate, 70% cocoa or higher
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons granulated sugar, plus more to taste
1/4 cup sweet liqueur, such as Alchermes or rum
12 savoiardi, Italian ladyfingers
2 tablespoons crushed pistachios or hazelnuts
1. In a bowl, using a whisk or electric hand mixer, beat the butter, confectioners’ sugar and egg yolk until very smooth and creamy.
2. In another bowl, melt the chocolate and cream, in the microwave or over a double boiler. Stir the chocolate and vanilla into the butter mixture. Reserve.
3. Combine 1/4 cup warm water and granulated sugar in a shallow bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the liqueur and add more sugar, if you like.
4. Dip four savoiardi, one at a time, into the liquid. Arrange the four liqueur-dipped savoiardi in a row, close together, on a serving plate. Spread with 1/3 of the chocolate mixture.
5. Repeat, dip four more savoiardi into the liquid, place them on top of the first row. Spread with 1/3 of the chocolate mixture. Repeat for the third and final layer, spreading the remaining chocolate on top and along the sides of the stacked savoiardi. Sprinkle the top layer with pistachios or hazelnuts. Refrigerate an hour or until firm. Serve cold.
Tiramisu is traditionally made with raw eggs. Not only is this tiramisu just as delicious as the traditional version, but here, because the eggs are whipped with hot sugar syrup, there’s no raw eggs to worry about. It also makes the custard stay light and fluffy for up to two days in the fridge.
A perfect make-ahead dessert that you can serve in mini portions in espresso cups, or as a normal-sized portion in a coffee cup.
Prep time: 25 minutes
No cooking time
Yield: 6 servings
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream
12 savoiardi, plus more for garnish
1 cup freshly brewed espresso or coffee, either decaf or regular
1. Put the yolks into the bowl of a standing mixer and whisk, using the highest setting, until light yellow and fluffy, at least 5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat the sugar and 2 ounces of water in a small saucepan until it bubbles and reaches 250 F on a candy thermometer.
3. While the standing mixer is still running on its highest setting, slowly pour the hot sugar syrup into the yolks, and continue whisking for 15 minutes. It’s important to whisk them for this long so that the mixture stays fluffy when you add the next ingredients.
4. Add the mascarpone and heavy cream and beat on a medium setting just until combined, about 20 seconds. You can reserve this custard, covered with plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
5. To assemble: Brew the espresso or coffee (you’ll need 1 cup if you’re making all at the same time, or just a shot each if making only a few). Break one savoiardo into each espresso cup, or two, into each coffee mug or dessert bowl. Pour the espresso over the savoiardi so they are fully moistened, and if you like, add a splash of rum. Top with a generous dollop or two of mascarpone cream. Dust with cocoa powder. Serve immediately.
Note: For a two-tone effect, dust half the surface of the tiramisu with cocoa powder and the other half with savoiardi crumbs.
Fruity Tiramisu (Zuppa Tartara)
Beautiful and takes just seconds to assemble using supermarket ingredients.
Savoiardi layered with your favorite flavor jam and sweetened ricotta. The whole thing firms up so nicely, you can slice it like pound cake, creating an effortless, virtually instant, no-bake cake.
This dessert is so light and easy to make that it might be surprising to learn that the recipe comes from an 1890s cookbook, the famed “Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well,” by Pellegrino Artusi.
Prep time: 10 minutes
No cooking, but requires 1 hour to chill
Yield: 4 servings
8 ounces ricotta cheese
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch ground cinnamon
1/3 cup your favorite jam, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons sweet liqueur or rum
1. Combine the ricotta, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl, and beat with a fork until smooth. Reserve.
2. In a shallow bowl combine the jam with 1/4 cup warm water and the liqueur or rum. Dip the savoiardi, a few at a time, into the mixture until they are nicely moistened. Place four onto a serving plate, side by side, and spoon 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over them. Top the ricotta with small dollops of extra preserves. Repeat. Finish with final layer of dipped savoiardi and a final drizzle of preserves, or any of the remaining preserves liquid and bits.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least hour, until set. Serve cold.
Main photo: Store-bought ladyfingers are dipped in liqueur, layered with chocolate sauce and then refrigerated until firm in this “instant” chocolate cake. Credit: From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)