Ali loves chocolate. Even dark chocolate. It’s what he asks for when it comes to ordering ice cream or cupcakes. Then almost overnight he started picking Vanilla. Vanilla everything. One day when he wanted me to bake cake, I agreed knowing I had some Vanilla Swiss Meringue frosting in the freezer. But then he asked, …
I know we’re in the middle of summer in Dubai. Not exactly the time to be making a crumble. We were having cousins over for lunch about a month ago and I wanted to make dessert that wasn’t too elaborate. I was making Biriyani that afternoon and needed this dessert to be out and ready before the Biriyani was sent for Dum in the oven. I was tempted to make a Mango fool with the last fruit of this season but I kept scouring for something new. That’s when I found this recipe using Bananas. Of all the fruits, I had never read or made a Crumble with Bananas. The recipe seemed fairly simple and used just one skillet for the entire process. After a few tweaks and additions, I baked this Crumble. I can bank on an honest opinion when it comes to these folks. It received such praise that afternoon I knew this recipe needed to be shared. This Eid a plate of this dessert with citrusy caramel and a touch of chocolate is all you need, alongside a scoop of ice cream, when you settle into the couch for an afternoon of banter with Biriyani laden bellies.
The memory of eating this pudding came suddenly one afternoon when I was preparing lunch for Ali. For some reason the smell of carrots cooking down reminded me of this pudding. The memory that came rushing was sitting in the back of the car peeping out of the window on a Friday morning with my father driving the car to Abu Dhabi. My mothers’ eldest brother stayed and we would drive down to see them. I vividly remember how the highway was deserted and billboards would appear on the horizon about every five minutes and I would slowly grow in height as the car grew nearer. Some months, we would drive down every other weekend. The advertisements weren’t changed too often back then and I would make a mental note of what was the last hoarding that stood at the outskirts of Abu Dhabi which meant the city wasn’t too far away. This is a pudding my aunt used to make. I was never fond of Payasams. Ammayi was a pioneer when it came to making non-traditional desserts. Crème caramel, brightly colored Agar Jelly Pudding and cool glasses of Falooda were a few of the desserts she made 25 years ago. On that day in my kitchen, I wanted to try my hand at making this Pudding. I didn’t even know what was in it and I called my cousin inquiring about the sweet orange colored pulp with custard on top. She instantly knew I was talking about her Pumpkin and Carrot Pudding.
I’m on the fence when it comes to coffee in desserts. Tiramisu is probably the only dessert on this planet I would pass on. I wouldn’t mind a scoop of Coffee Gelato or a couple of squares of Mocha Fudge. Given how the world is right now, a lot of us will be observing Eid very differently. When Ramadan began, I was a bit hopeful about seeing family on Eid. I was thinking of having them over for a traditional breakfast that is made on my husband’s side of the family. I wanted to make something sweet that could accompany the spread. A cake would be too much, a Payasam would have to be made the night before and even though summer has arrived, it would be too early for a cold dessert. I started looking through a few of my recipe books and felt that Cake Bars was the answer. Since we would all be having caffeine in the morning after a whole month, I felt that Espresso would be just the right flavor to end a heavy meal. I love texture in desserts and rummaged in my quarantine dictated pantry to see what was easily replaceable. I had almonds in all forms: raw, powdered and even flakes. A little testing later, I was hopeful to bake these on Eid morning. I’ve come to terms that this Eid will pass by without meeting the extended family. Baking has helped me with the uncertainty of our times and I will still be baking these Espresso & Almond Bars to lift my spirits.
The twentieth day of Ramadan. Today marks three years since my paternal grandmother left us. In her loving memory, today I want to share her recipe for Pazham Pori. This is essentially a snack made right after a long siesta and is served alongside piping cups of tea. She was very fond of bananas and she always tried to convince me to have a couple of Cheru Pazham or baby bananas immediately after lunch when we visited her for the summer. Plantains were never out of stock in her kitchen. When visitors would come unannounced as was the norm in her time, in all probability she would have the help make a plate of these. Ripe plantains are slivered and dipped in a batter, which I later learnt, was her original recipe. I didn’t care too much for them till I started tasting versions made in other households. I still remember waiting for Umma to finish frying them so I could help myself to the bowl of leftover batter. It tasted blissfully similar to cake.
Nishana is one of the many wonderful people I have met after being married. Our husbands are technically uncle and nephew in relation but only a few years apart in age. We all spoke together on a conference call after our engagement when she was expecting their first child. I visited her home in Kerala after she had her baby and then they visited us in Abu Dhabi when they were flying back to United Kingdom. That was the beginning of innumerable number of hours spent on the telephone. A decade later, we have shared recipes, travel lists, pregnancy and labor stories’, and countless laughs. The number of times we have met in person can actually be counted on one hand. Ever since we’ve both had children, the number of chats have lessened too. Yet, our conversations, filled with warmth and quite laughter, flow effortlessly even when we haven’t spoken for months. When we do talk, it always ends with inviting each other to holiday at their part of the world. We did so late last year and that is when she made this incredible Chicken Fry.
When my son was born, one of the things that I waited till he was a bit older was to be in the kitchen together. I was not really allowed to help with cooking growing up. The occasional baking I was allowed were done completely independently and would almost come out of the oven completely burnt. When we first moved back to Dubai from Abu Dhabi, our home had an open kitchen plan. He would take onions and sit on the floor removing their skins. I would give him little cups of water and he could spend an hour pouring it back and forth. Around the time of weaning, he would bring his kitchen toys, set it on the floor and tell me what he was doing. I was thrilled when I felt he was ready to help me with a simple recipe. That day we made oatmeal cookies. I have a picture of helping himself to remnants of the batter on the spatula he was holding. That was the beginning of us cooking together and it has been wonderfully messy yet fulfilling. This year started with us making these mini Pizzas.
I fall into the category of Malayalees that would be thrilled at the sight of steaming hot Vellappam for breakfast. Or dinner. Mind you, they’re best eaten if they’re made by mom so they are magically replenished and you can tuck into them leisurely. With tiny variations in ingredients according to the region, the batter is essentially rice and coconut ground together and allowed to ferment overnight. Its lacy edges and pillowy soft centers are characteristic features of these hoppers that are popular in the south of India and Sri Lanka. It is made in an Appam Chatty which is pretty similar to a wok. Ladlefuls of batter are poured into the heated pan and then swirled by the handles to spread where it rests against the sides to crisp and brown. The residual batter trickles to the centre where it is would be cooked through from the steam of the covered pan. One of the food resolutions I made for the new year is to tackle my list of food fears. This list has recipes that I have tried myself and they have fallen flat in either flavor or because of my imperfect technique. I have re-read these recipes and the thought of failing again and discarding the failed product puts me off. And sitting right on top of this list was Vellappam.
The night before Ramadan began this year, I went out with my friends for dinner. We meet up once a month taking turns to pick our restaurants and this month it was Vietnamese fare. We tucked into roast Chicken with Bao buns, duck breast grilled and dunked in Hoisin sauce and shared an enormous bowl of Pho that my friend insisted we try and still couldn’t finish completely. I really wanted to go all out on dessert and the menu didn’t quite impress. We were in Downtown and decided to walk towards Dubai Mall just for dessert. We bounced ideas and settled on the seemingly popular Milk Cake. It was close to 11 pm and the cafe was almost full and we were lucky to snag a corner. Knowing long hours of fasting begin the next day and to satiate sugar cravings that seemed to have risen during the walk, ee ordered a classic Milk cake and a sizzling Brownie accompanied with of scoops Vanilla ice cream drowning in chocolate sauce. Milk cakes have been doing the rounds for quite some time in Dubai, and this was the second one I was trying. While we took turns with our spoons from different sides, I decided that this years’ Eid recipe on my blog has to be Milk Cake.