Saying Thanks to the Santas on Saffron Trail

I have to write this note of thanks for the generosity of certain people, who have played Santa to me, in the last two months.

It started with Kulsum of Journey's Kitchen. One evening, i tweeted about a hummus-Baba gannoush-pita bread Lebanese dinner preparation at home, and she asked me where I get my Tahini. I admitted to her that i've always made my own and have never tasted the real stuff. She immediately told me that her sister was leaving for India in a couple of days and she'd love to send me some. Given my love for this cuisine, it didn't take much coaxing on her part to send her my address. In less than three days, I received a whole big bottle of Tahina (sesame juice, as they call it), Za'taar, Sumac and Dried Mint.

Another friend I found on Twitter -  Kishi Arora, the Foodaholics lady who bakes some of the best cakes in Delhi sent me a foodie package with parchment paper, cacao nibs, tea, nutmegs, Chinese 5 spice and 7 spice powder PLUS her delicious fudge. While the fudge was polished off in no time, and the parchment paper was put to good use while making Xmas fruitcakes, I'm still wondering what good stuff I can make using the cacao nibs.

A blog reader, Mani Mama as I call him, was the first to write to me a week before he was leaving US to come to India and ask if I would like some stuff from there. After writing back and forth half a dozen times, I finally sent him a list and when I collected my package from the person he had sent it to Hyderabad with, I couldn't stop smiling. You can see for yourself.

Another Twitter contact, Jigar Parmar showered some festive cheer on me by sending me two lovely books, one on Food in Italy and the other a coffee-table book on Mumbai.

I had tasted this peanut gajak for the first time at Preethi's house a couple of weeks ago and boy, it was addictive to say the least. When I tweeted about how I loved it and how I feel like having some more, my friend there said she will send me some. And just yesterday, three boxes of the sesame-jaggery goodness reached my doorstep. Yet to take a pic of that, as each time I go near the box, i end up eating some more of it, and forget to take a picture.

Thank you, my dear Santas. May be I have really been a good girl this year. You have really cheered me up with these lovely foodie-gifts.

The Shopping Guide to Cooking & Baking in Hyderabad

Updated: 3rd Jan 2010

This is a useful list for foodies who are new to Hyderabad, like I was a year ago. Whether you are relocating from abroad or from another city in India, you may want to know where certain ingredients, equipment will be available, so you feel at home immediately. Most of the stores I have listed are the ones close to where I live and hence visited frequently. If you have been living here for longer than I have, and have your own little secret places where you find lesser known ingredients or stuff that is not easily found elsewhere, please be kind enough to leave a comment, so it will benefit the others.

I will keep updating this list as and when I find something new to share, so please bookmark this if you are a foodie in Hyderabad.

Vegetables and Fruits 
Fennel, mushrooms, dried mushrooms, fresh herbs, red and yellow bell peppers, broccoli, zucchini etc.
SPAR- Begumpet
Hypercity - Inorbit Mall
Ratnadeep - Srinagar Colony / Madhapur (Somewhat expensive compared to others but good quality)
Tarkari for fresh exotic vegetable and fresh herbs

Athira reports that as of now QMart on Road 2, Banjara Hills is selling frozen blueberries and  raspberries.

Organic Groceries, spices, food products
24 Letter Mantra -  Reliance Manor, R.No. 12, Banjara Hills
Phone: 040 23300404
Fabindia Outlets

Seeds for Chillies and some other seasonal vegetables available at Spar, Begumpet

Homemade noodles and soy sauce
They make these fresh in their house and sell noodles by the kilo - minimum 1/2 kg
They supply to many local Chinese restaurants, the taste of freshly made noodles is something else. If you are in the vicinity, you must pick up a batch.
Moifa Chinese Ladies Parlour

8-2-326/a Road No. 3, Banjara Hills, Hyderabad

Phone: 040-23540583

Local Green Leafy Vegetables
They are freshest at your neighbourhood cart vendor

Fresh Herbs
Basil, Thyme and Rosemary, good quality almost always available at Spar, Begumpet
Those of you looking to grow Thai Basil / Basil at home, you can find saplings at Namdhari Fresh, Bangalore and they are quite light to lug along in your hand baggage.
Fresh Lemongrass - Spar or Ruci Idoni. If you happen to find some with root-hairs, pick those up and keep in a glass jar filled with water for a week or so, until the roots start growing, after which if you stick them in good soil, they will keep growing without much trouble. Perfect to cut small bits for your tea or Thai curries
Organic dried lemongrass (big pack) is available for Rs.50 at Namdhari Fresh, Bangalore and these stay for a long time. Next time you are in Bglr, get a pack and it will keep you company for a few months.
Dried Herbs - Fabindia outlets / Keya brand of spices available in most supermarkets

Almost every imported food item/ ingredient
Q Mart - Road no.2, Banjara Hills, near Thai Express - but be prepared to shell out the big bucks
Ruci & Idoni, Road no.10, Opposite Rainbow Children's Hospital, Banjara Hills

Special spices like Sweet Paprika, Fleur de sel and such - Waitrose shelf of Hypercity (Inorbit Mall, Cyberabad)

The softest and best looking ones with fruits / vegetables on them (Made in Italy, I think) are sometimes available at the Little League / Ole store on Road no.3, Banjara Hills for Rs.100 a piece. Perfect gift for a foodie-friend.

Baking Equipment, Cooking Chocolate, Chocolate Chips, Moulds, Pans, Parchment Paper, Muffin liners, Fancy paper, Paper bags etc.
Adilaxmi Enterprises, Road 12, Banjara Hills, Next to Familia Hospital, Phone- 040 66633608
Sri Venkateswara Agencies, Near Jagannath Swami Temple, General Bazaar, Secundrabad, Phone- 040 66483608/ 66573608
Both these stores are sister concerns and between them, cover almost everything you would need for baking, chocolate making and cake decoration in Hyderabad

Good looking food storage jars in glass and good quality plastic / Steel and also stainless steel pans for cooking
Home Store (Lifestyle group store)
Reliance Living (Road 12 Banjara Hills / Begumpet)
Marks and Spencer (M&S), Inorbit Mall, Cyberabad

If you are relocating to Hyderabad from abroad, you may want to get back select few things which may not be freely available here, or cost a bomb.
If you have kind readers / relatives or friends coming from US/UK/other 'foreign' countries, who want to get you some foodie stuff, here are some of the useful things you can ask for:

  • Pure Almond extract / Pure Vanilla Extract
  • Seeds of herbs like basil, spearmint, oregano etc. that you can grow at home
  • Wilton's baking tins (mention your oven size clearly when you ask for this)
  • Small sized cast iron pans, perfect for baking that cornbread or little cake apart from making eggs, roasting spices etc.
  • Dried berries such as cranberries, blueberries, cherries
  • Tins of Chipotle Chillies in Adobo Sauce (if you love Mexican food)
  • Sliced raw almonds
  • Cute muffin tin liners (though you get them at the above mentioned stores)
  • Pecans, Macademia and Brazil Nuts
  • Good quality instant yeast
  • Gelatin leaves
  • Spice mixes such as Ras el Hanout or Creole Seasoning
  • Cacao Nibs
  • Microplane (for grating zest from lemons, oranges) and Silpat recommended by Simran
  • Tahini, Zataar, Sumac from the Middle Eastern Countries
  • Nifty shredding peelers, dried mushrooms, Hot Basil sauce, other cooking sauces, Rice paper sheets for the Vietnamese rolls, Glass noodles etc. from SE Asian Countries

Christmas Cake Recipe (also includes an eggless cake recipe)

What's Christmas without Fruit Cake! (which is how Christmas Cake is also known) When I was a kid, my mom would buy the most delicious Plum Cakes from a cake-seller who would come to their bank quite regularly. These fruit cakes are no replacement for those childhood memories of rich-dark cake, but do come close nevertheless.

I have been making Christmas Cake since the last five years, but not putting down the recipes in one place always led me into a mad scramble for the recipe that worked for me. So, I'm adding these fruit cake recipes, as much for my reference as it is to share with you, something simple, without a laundry list of ingredients. The perfect recipe for me would be low on butter or oil and also an eggless recipe that tastes as good as the eggy one, if not better, so that the friends who don't eat eggs, don't have to miss out on cake. 

The eggless version, I got inspiration from Anushruti's Divine Taste. The idea of using smoothly mashed potatoes in place of eggs was a first for me. And since it worked beautifully for her, I had no doubt that it would for me too. I am glad to report that my eggless version is yummier and softer that the one with eggs.

The recipe with eggs is adapted from Raaga's blog. I used the same recipe last year too, with much success.

Both recipes have a common starting point which is soaking the fruit a few days ago and then making the caramel a few hours before starting the final cake making.
Although, fruitcake covered with white frosting is popular, i have never been a fan of any kind of icing or frosting, whose only purpose is to send us on a sugar overload. So here are the two recipes that I have used this year with much success.

Prepare in advance
3 cups of mixed dried fruits, citrus peels (raisins, apricot, fig, currants, tutti fruitti, glaced cherries soaked in 1 cup rum with 1 tsp cinnamon powder - for one week-1 month

[Chop the apricot, cherries and fig into small pieces before soaking] I use half this fruit (two cups) per recipe - so 4 cakes for this quantity of fruit.
One batch caramel - reqd per recipe that makes two 8” cakes.

Making caramel

Place ½ cup sugar in heavy bottomed pan. Keep ¾ cup water to boil on the side. On a low heat, let this melt. When it is melting, stir it until it is dark brown in colour. Once sugar has reached this stage, carefully add the boiling water little by little stirring well, until you get a smooth caramel syrup. You can make this ahead as it needs to be completely cool before using in recipe.

In search of a good vegetarian Stroganoff - Mushroom Stroganoff

I have been glued and addicted to watching Masterchef Australia on Star World. It is the classiest reality show to be aired on Indian television, in my humble opinion, of course. Trolls, please excuse. What's a vegetarian's interest in watching this predominantly meat based show, you may wonder. It is the passion for food, the techniques, the presentation, the tips given by the stalwarts in the field, that make this show very endearing to the foodie in me.
When a couple of weeks ago, they made the Beef Stroganoff in an elimination challenge, I liked the way the dish had layers of flavour to it. I just had to find the right substitute to the beef and serve it with some plain steamed rice or spaghetti.
Also, I had to look around for authentic paprika, which is essential to this Eastern Europen dish. Some of the Indian spice brands sell spice bottled as paprika, but it is essentially just chilli powder. Finally, I found this real paprika, in the Waitrose aisle of Hypercity. Pricey, but authentic and the husband egged me on to put it our trolley and take it home.
Here are some of the recipes that I found good to try out -
Vegetarian mushroom stroganoff from Mushrooms.Canada website - which is the one I adapted.

I had some fresh button mushrooms, dried oyster mushrooms and another variety of large sized dried mushrooms that our friend had gotten us from Bangkok. Combining the three, I had a good mix of flavours and textures to proceed with a recipe.
My Version of Mushroom Stroganoff
Adapted from Mushrooms.canada
Serves 3-4 people
1/2 cup of dried oyster mushrooms or any other dried mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves finely minced garlic
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp of fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp of dried thyme
1/2 tsp of fresh marjoram or 1 tsp dried marjoram (optional)
10-12 sliced button mushrooms (upto 200 grams)
1/3 cup tomato puree
1 vegetarian stock cube (I used Maggi seasoning cubes)
30-45 ml of brandy or sherry or red wine
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp paprika (substitute with Kashmiri Chilli powder if you cant find paprika)
1/2 cup sour cream 
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp salt or to taste

To serve
3-4 cups of steamed rice or Spaghetti cooked according to instructions and tossed in olive oil with some dried or fresh herbs

First, wash the dried mushrooms under running water and then soak in 1-2 cups of hot water, cover the vessel and keep aside for 10 minutes. You can either snip the soaked mushrooms under the water or drain them and chop into even sized pieces. Do NOT throw away the water in which they were soaked as it is full of flavour and we will be using it later to build the sauce of the stroganoff. 

  1. In a heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onions, garlic, fresh thyme and marjoram. Saute on medium heat, till they are soft.
  2. Add the chopped fresh and rehydrated mushrooms, stir well to mix with the aromatics. Let this cook on medium flame till nearly done, say 5-7 minutes. 
  3. Add the tomato puree and cook it off for 2-3 minutes on high flame.
  4. Add the stock cube, the water in which the mushrooms were soaked. Cover and let this simmer till the mushrooms are soft, for about 5 minutes.
  5. Next, add the brandy, mustard, paprika. Make a slurry of cornstarch in a little cold water and add it to the simmering stroganoff along with the sour cream. Add some water if you think the sauce is drying out. Add salt and let this simmer for 5 minutes until all the flavours infuse into the mushrooms. 
  6. The final dish should be a stew of very flavourful mushrooms in a good quantity of thickish sauce that you can eat the rice / spaghetti with.

I was tasting stroganoff for the first time and I quite loved it. I had prepared this in the afternoon and by dinner time, the flavours had intensified. It went perfectly well with the mild spaghetti. The husband relished it thoroughly too. Will I be making this again? You bet, I will.

Making sour cream at home
Collect the cream from the top of boiled and cooled milk for 3-4 days and storing it in freezer. Once you have half a cup of cream, remove this in a cup and add a tsp of yogurt to it and mix well. The cream will sour in 5-6 hours, depending on the weather. Keep it for longer if the weather is quite chilly. Refrigerate the sour cream in an airtight container for a day or so, until use or in freezer if you are not going to use it soon.

Shopping for ingredients in Hyderabad
  • Dried oyster mushrooms - available at Spar, Begumpet - for around Rs.20 a pack. Look in the Noodles / Chinese ingredients aisle
  • Real paprika - Waitrose shelf in Hypercity, Inorbit Mall or you can buy the Keya's Kashmiri Paprika
  • Fresh Thyme, Marjoram - Spar, Begumpet ; Dried herbs in any Fabindia or Keya's brand in most supermarkets

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