Banana Coconut Saffron Muffins

banana saffron cardamom muffins

I started baking for the very first time around the same time I began to blog. As I didn’t see myself using eggs in baking, bananas were the default substitute in my egg-less baking adventures and experiments. Since then, I must have baked banana based cakes and loaves god-knows-how-many times. I feel forever thankful to the humble banana for ushering me into the wonderland of baking.

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Blood Orange Jal Jeera

Cumin spiced Blood Orange and Citrus cooler

Blood Orange Jaljeera

I happened to compose this post in early March, delighted that I had something timely and seasonal to share. But, before I got to finish it and hit the publish button, I was consumed by other non-food related projects that demanded priority. When realization struck, March had whizzed past by me and April to me, seems to be in a hurry to leave too.

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Cranberry Thokku

Savory Cranberry relish, South Indian style

cranberry thokku

Its been three years now and I can say that Thanksgiving has become a part and parcel of our holiday tradition. The spirit of the holiday season is so strong, it simply seems worthless to resist.

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Meyer Lemon Pickle

Meyer Lemon Pickle with ground Fenugreek and Red chilli powder

Ok. I know. My obsession with Meyer Lemons is serious. What can one do when you only get a few months in a year to enjoy those beauties?

Remember sometime back how crazy I was about Meyer lemons, that I made Raspberry Tukmaria Meyer Lemonade? If any of you made it at home, I hope you preserved those pretty squeezed lemon leftovers. Because, I’m back with something hot and spicy this time.

And guess what? Lemon pickle is just going to get better!

Because lemons are pretty much available all through the year, lemon pickle almost had the status of being a staple at home. At least one giant glass or porcelain jar or “Jaadi” (that’s how it is called) full of it would always adorn the concrete kitchen shelf, no matter which season it was.

With Meyer Lemons, that is not the case. When they are in season, one has got to wear their hoarder hats and preserve as many as possible, as they are in short supply.

I can’t be sure if they are still available in stores. But, I can guarantee that I saw pretty little “Improved Meyer Lemon” trees, all locally grown in Texas, in Whole Foods market just a couple of days back. If you are a Meyer Lemon lover, you still have a good chance to enjoy them next year, if not this.

So, mom makes the best pickles in our family circle. In fact, whenever she visits kith and kin, she loves to bring them a bottle of their favorite pickle as a customary homecoming gift or simply an expression of her love.

Back home, it is believed that when it comes to the art of pickling, “you either get it or you don’t”. Hence, pickling is set on an almost sacred pedestal. Since I like to analyze, I figure, may be it is also in part due to the prerequisites of a high degree of cleanliness and hygiene.

I had always dreamt of growing up to be a great pickler just like my mom is. This year, I have been especially enthusiastic about pickling and preserving. And this pickle happens to be my first ever try at lemon pickle. Mom’s recipe has been scaled down for the two of us and, the results have honestly been very encouraging.

If you’ve never tried your hand at pickling for the fear of ruining it or whatever, just give it a shot. It may seem a little laborious and stringent, but the whole process of pickling in itself is gratifying and calming to say the least, in an almost character building way..

Trust me. Take my word for it.

Once you are done with patiently waiting for it to marinate, when you open the lid and the first spicy aromatic whiff hits your senses, transporting you instantly to cloud nine, that is when you’ll believe it was all worth it.

Down south, pickles are broadly classified either as fenugreek based or mustard based. As per Ayurveda, fenugreek is considered to have cooling properties and mustard, the opposite. Hence, fenugreek based pickles are usually milder than their pungent pickling counterpart and so, easily suit most people’s tastes.

If you already know the taste of Lemon pickle, just imagine how it would be with the magnificent aroma of the Meyer Lemons… I’d say, go on and imagine a bowl of cooling yogurt rice with a side of this lovely pickle.

slurp. drool. drool.

The humble lemon pickle with a Meyer Lemon twist – in one word, irresistible!

What’s your favorite Meyer Lemon recipe?

Meyer Lemon Pickle Recipe

Printable Recipe

Things you’ll need:

8 squeezed meyer lemon leftovers or 8 whole meyer / regular lemons unwaxed or organic
4-5 tbsp sea salt (suit your taste)
juice of 2 lemons (if using squeezed lemons only)
4-5 tbsp red chilli powder (suit your taste)
2 tbsp methi / fenugreek seeds (or 1 scant tsp roasted and ground fenugreek)

for the seasoning

2 tbsp peanut oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
a tad more than 1/8 tsp hing / asafoetida

other:

1 lb or 500 gms capacity wide mouth glass/porcelain jar with a tight fitting lid
parchment paper
Glass / porcelain or stainless steel mixing bowl
long spoon

How it’s done:

Part I – Preserving

Wash the glass or porcelain jar well with hot water and soap and let air dry completely in a sunny spot. Before using, optionally microwave it for 30 secs to ensure dryness.

Make sure that all the working surfaces and utensils are completely dry and clean. It is also recommended to use a fresh kitchen towel.

Wash the lemons and pat them dry with a clean kitchen towel. Quarter the lemons. Same if you are using squeezed meyer lemon leftovers as well, like I did.

It is very important that there is NO MOISTURE in the jar or the lemons.

To start with, add 1/2 tsp of salt to the bottom of the glass / porcelain jar. Now go on adding lemon pieces and salt in alternating layers until all the pieces are well covered in salt including the topmost layer. Squeeze in the juice of 2 lemons, if you’re using squeezed lemons.

Cut out parchment paper slightly bigger than the lid, line it onto the lid and secure tightly. Let it sit for a week to ten days in a cool dry spot.

Shake the jar well or stir the preserved lemons with a long dry spoon once daily to let the salt dissolve.

After a week to ten days, these salted lemon pieces will leave juices, slowly sink to the bottom and will reduce in volume too.

Part II – Adding the spices

In a small pan, dry roast the fenugreek seeds on low heat until golden brown and fragrant. Let cool, before grinding in a small spice grinder to a fine powder.

In a small, clean, dry bowl, thoroughly mix red chilli powder and 1 tsp roasted and ground fenugreek. Be careful to not overly roast them or they turn bitter.

Empty the jar of preserved lemons into a clean, completely dry, non-reacting mixing bowl. Stir in the chilli-methi powder and mix well using a dry spoon.

Heat oil in a small pan or kadai for the seasoning. When the oil is hot or shimmering, add mustard seeds and let splutter. When the spluttering almost comes to a stop, take off stove and add hing. Once cooled completely, add it to the  mixing bowl and give a good stir. DO NOT add the seasoning when hot or the pickle will develop an odd smell.

With the spoon, scrape clean and transfer the mixed pickle contents back to the jar without wasting a tiny bit. Secure the parchment paper lined lid tightly. Let the pickle soak all the spices for at least a couple of days before using.

Do not handle or mix with your hand at any given point, unless you want a spoiled pickle.

Notes:

Use organic or unwaxed lemons as whole lemons go into the recipe.

No need to refrigerate. When stored well, this pickle keeps for a long time.

Always use a large enough jar with a wide mouth for pickling, so that there is some room for stirring.

I have used squeezed meyer lemon leftovers for pickling. You can start afresh with whole meyer lemons with their juices intact. Omit the juice of 2 lemons in that case.

Don’t add more salt to begin with, as it can always be adjusted later. Salty cannot be fixed though.

All of the fenugreek seeds mentioned, are not needed for the recipe. However, any less would be difficult to grind well in a spice grinder.

Do not discard the leftover ground fenugreek. Store in a small airtight container in the refrigerator for later use. A generous pinch added to the seasoning in your everyday curries gives them a flavor boost.

Preferably, use red chilli powder from byadagi variety chilli or any red chilli that is high on color and medium on heat.

Parchment paper acts as an additional barrier between the corrosive salt and the metal lid, thus ensuring food safety. If not, a piece of clean cotton or muslin cloth can be used in its place.

I find that sea salt is not as salty as regular salt. Please reduce quantity if using table salt.

Rock salt is the salt of choice for pickling at home. Adjust quantity is using.

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Raspberry Meyer Lemonade with Basil seeds

Raspberry Meyer Lemonade with Sweet Basil seeds and Brown Sugar

Ever since I discovered them early last year, I’ve fallen head over heels in love with them. They are without a doubt, a thing of beauty in themselves, in their vibrant color, dainty ambrosial aroma and a sweeter, quaint citrus taste.

An infinitesimal inhalation of their fragrance is enough to freshen one up. I am confessing my love (yet again) for none other than the golden offspring of lemon and (presumably) mandarin orange, the exotic sunshine fruit of california, Meyer Lemons.

If you give them a tiny chance in your kitchen, surely, you will too!

Be forewarned though, once you are hooked on to their ethereal perfume and resplendent looks, don’t blame me, if you start looking down upon the regular “run off the mill” lemons for which I will only respond with “I told you so..

I’d say, when life hands you Meyer Lemons, life is beautiful..

Though these lemony beauties peak in winter, sometimes if you are lucky, you might find them in Whole Foods up until end of April or early May, like I did last year.

So, lose no time to revel in their goodness now.. So, if you have a backyard, a tiny garden, or even a balcony, just spare the much ignored corner for a meyer lemon tree for a long lasting gratification..

With spring gone in the first couple of weeks of its arrival, April afternoons already feel more like a trailer of blazing summer from June, where I live in Texas. Don’t even get me thinking on what August might have in store!

While making lemonade out of Meyer Lemons was the most fool proof idea to cool off, like I made Meyer Lemon Paanaka in Indian style last summer, this time, it seemed fascinating to combine it with the natural pink of raspberries and some fun textured Tukmaria for an almost dreamy, amber colored cooling drink I could ever imagine.

Forget herbs or spices to flavor, if you allow the perfumania of meyer lemons to steal the show!

My discovery of Tukmaria (pronounced “Took-maria”) was through my mom-in-law when she came to visit us last year. While we walked the aisles of the Indian grocery store in exploration of new spices, I was intrigued by its strange sounding name. And it was from her, I learnt that it is used most commonly in Falooda (a persian dessert, introduced to India by the Mughals) and that it is a natural coolant as well.After some time consuming research (aka googling), I also learnt that, Tukmaria (in Hindi) is the seed of the Sweet Basil plant also known as St. John’s wort in European countries. It is not the same as Holy basil or Tulsi, though it looks similar.

And, through a friend, I realized that sweet basil is the same as “Kaama Kasturi” (kannada) – the sweet clove scented fragrant sprig many-a-times inter sewn in jasmine (mallige) or jaaji floral strings and garlands. Those of you from Karnataka might recognize instantly. I don’t recollect any culinary use for it though, I’ve heard it to be a medicinal herb.

And, they are sold under many a names like sabja, subja, tukmaria, takmaria and falooda seeds

This site has some detailed information about the plant.

Sweet basil seeds resemble black sesame seeds in color and tear drop shape, but are clearly distinguishable as they are a wee bit smaller and plumper too. When soaked in water, they swell up and appear to be frog spawn look-a-likes. Pardon my choice for analogy, being a vegetarian! They can be compared to tiny tapioca pearls, if it gives you a better idea.

They do not have any distinct taste of their own, but their slimy jelly exterior and the nutty bite of the interior make them quite fun in a mouthful!

If you can’t find Tukamaria/Sweet basil seeds, Chia seeds make a great substitute. Why, they swell in water very much like basil seeds and they are an antioxidant powerhouse as we know it, which makes me wonder if Sweet basil seeds must be equally potent too?

Have you heard of Tukmaria before? How do you like to use Tukmaria in your recipes?

Raspberry Tukmaria Meyer Lemonade Recipe

makes 4 small glasses of lemonade
Printable Recipe

Things you’ll need:

4 meyer lemons
12 raspberries
1 tbsp tukmaria/ sweet basil seeds
6-7 tbsp brown sugar
3 cups water
a pinch of salt

How it’s done:

Soak the takmaria seeds in 1/2 cup water for about 30 mins.

In the meanwhile, wash, cut and squeeze the meyer lemons. Gently rolling the lemons wrapped in a tissue under the feet puts the right amount of pressure and makes most of the juice available for squeezing. If you aren’t comfortable, do so with your palm. Wash the lemons well before using.

It will be nothing short of a blunder if you discard the meyer lemon peels. If you’ll take my words, find a clean, dry jar (glass or porcelain, canning, anything), quarter the used peels and toss them in. layer them with sea salt and preserve to be used as is or pickled later.

Strain the seeds. Transfer the juice to a sauce pan or microwave safe bowl and add brown sugar to the juice. Add a pinch of salt. Either microwave for 30 secs or heat on stove top on sim for a few minutes until sugar dissolves. This will be quick. Stir well with a spoon to dissolve any remaining sugar.

Add 2-1/2 cups of water to the sugar syrup and stir to mix well. Taste the juice to adjust the sugar. I listed 6-7 tbsp sugar, so you can suit to your taste. 6 tbsp leaves a quaint tartness, while 7 tbsp makes it sweeter.

Wash the raspberries and pat dry. In a small bowl, crush them with the back of a spoon or with your fingers. Add some juice to this and wash off the crushed raspberries into the juice bowl. Add some juice to the soaked tukmaria and wash it off into the juice bowl. Stir to mix well.

Refrigrate and serve chilled.

Note: 

Tukmaria is available in most Indian grocery stores, persian food stores and world food markets.

The amber color of the lemonade is mainly due to the use of brown sugar. White sugar might result in a faint pink lemonade.

For those of you who can’t access tukmaria locally, it is available at myspicesage.com

Don’t see why strawberries can’t be substituted for raspberries. Puree strawberries before mixing.

If you decide to preserve the meyer lemon peels, it is preferable to sit the jars in boiling water for sterilization and let them dry completely before use.

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