HAMPI, HOLI & GULAAB JAMUN

A blister of colour in the distance, a puff of pink, explosions of ochre and a wave of vermillion. Clusters of people emerge from the cloud, invigorated by this heady concoction. The beat of the drum, a tribal vocal crescendo en mass. In this Holiest of cities, urban rhythms reverberate against the chipped structures of ancient India.

Throughout the madding crowd, young boys climb atop the shoulders of their future selves, feet clenched as they release liquid cannons of vivid pigment in tangible excitement. The beat of the drum intensifies. Louder still. More drums! The streets are sullied by the carnival and a trail of destruction traces its steps. What was, is now gone. The mantra of the drum has cleansed the air. The dusty paths are the tilled soil. Only after destruction can there be creation. Spring has arrived – now we rejoice.

Hampi is a place that grows on you, inevitably filling your heart. Quickly passing through, it would seem like yet another travellers’ haunt with the usual hippy-rag hawkers and cheeky tuk-tuk drivers on every corner, jacking up the prices just because they know they can. But Hampi is there to be explored and once you get under the skin of the land, it becomes far more than just any tourism enterprise.

A ritual climb of 600 steep steps carved into the side of a mountain is utterly worth the aching thighs and wobbly knees for the view of a sunset from the birthplace of Hanuman with company from his monkey troop. Beyond every temple is another less visited. Clamber through giant, extraordinarily placed granite boulders to find monuments from a lost empire. If you listen carefully you can almost hear the songs of old, in the wind between the palm leaves, in the babbling of a stream, in the stillness of the midday sun.

Nobody tells you just how difficult it is to scrub Holi paint from the skin and so after the frenzy of the morning, we need a place to wash off. A friend who heard from a fellow traveller who got told by their neighbour who was shown by their cousin leads us to a secret oasis named King’s beach. Someone has to negotiate with the anxious gate keeper who looks after this territory for the lineage to the Hampi dynasty. Once we assure him that this portal will be revealed to no one else, we enter another world. Squelching down lush rice paddies and scorching the soles of our feet on burning rock, it is a welcome relief to splash into the gushing stream.

We strip off our clothes only to discover that the paint has soaked through, illuminating our physical frame. There could be eight or nine of us relative strangers. We look alien, super-human, surreal and just plain dirty but none of that really matters. There is no talk of who does what job in the outside world, no care for age, no identity. We are just people, half-naked in the searing heat, quenching our bodies with this magical landscape.

A RECIPE FOR GULAAB JAMUN

Gulaab Jamun is probably the most indulgent of all traditional Indian sweets. Milky balls of deep-fried pancake batter act as a sponge, sucking up an abundance of cardamom infused syrop. One is enough, but it is never easy to stop at just that so make sure there is plenty for everybody to have seconds.

Makes roughly 12 balls

SUGAR SYRUP
  • 250g sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 drops rose water
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder

 

Dissolve the sugar in the water and warm on a medium flame. It should be ready within 15 minutes, add the cardamom powder and the rosewater and take off the heat.

THE DOUGH
  • 250g milk powder
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp semolina
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • Sunflower oil for deep frying
  • 1/2 cup fresh cream
  • 1 tbsp ghee

Heat up the sunflower oil on the lowest setting while you make your syrup.

Mix the flour, semolina and milk powder together. Add the ghee and blend in, then gradually add the cream. Roll into little balls about 3cm in diameter and gently deep fry. They need to cook very slowly so that the inside cooks. Turn off the heat if you need to. They will begin to float in the oil and when they are golden brown on all sides, that’s when they are ready.

Place the balls in the warm syrup, turn the heat off and let sit for half an hour.

Thanks to Tim Kidd who was brave enough to take his iPhone into the chaos with us for that first Holi shot.

Griddled Blue Cheese Mussels

Well hey there. I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, wow, it’s been a really long time since this guy posted on his blog. Or you’re crazy surprised, because I have said I’d post about something on Twitter a bunch of times in the last few months and then flaked out. Or you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, because this is your first time here and all you want is your mussel recipe (scroll down to the Ingredients if you don’t want to read my spiel).

Well, let me first say, it’s true I’m back — and for real this time. And secondly, I’m terribly sorry for letting any of you down. And third, I promise I will not disappoint you again. And when I say I promise – I PROMISE!

But enough about my lack of follow-through-ness and accountability. Let’s leave that to the … Instead let’s focus on this delicious Mussels recipe! Only thing is that this is a recipe that violates not one, but two Kosher rules. Oy vey is right. (If you’re concerned about my salvation, I’m reform and don’t keep kosher, so it’s cool). Plus I don’t even like mussels all that much – these were for my wife who is Catholic. But the broth is pretty amazing – bacon, wine, blue cheese & all. Just add crusty bread and yum.

As you can see from the picture above, this recipe involves mussels. And not just any mussels, the same scrumptious blue cheese & bacon ones made famous on . Yes, those same ones by Teddy Folkman from the DC Mussels & Fries Institution, Granville Moore’s. And yes, the same ones that beat out Bobby Flay’s mussel recipe on that same show. However, since I now live , rather than drive in and wait over an hour for the real thing, I figured I’d try and take a stab at making them myself. But with my own little twist.. On a griddle!

I want to thank my good friend over at griddlechef for this amazing recipe. I’ve always struggled to cook mussels and have tried so many different techniques. It wasn’t until I got good with a griddle that things all started to fall into line and the mussel mastery began. Before the griddle I would simply steam the mussels and it had an okay flavor but now the flavor is far better than I ever could have hoped for.

If you’re wondering how I got the recipe or want a step-by-step video of the original in a skillet (griddle is cooler, just sayin), Washingtonian magazine . This is just my attempt at them on the BBQ, since I’ve become obsessed with griddle /smoking/burning food on my griddle this past summer and I figured the smokiness would add a bit more depth of flavor (which I think it did).

Ingredients:
2 pounds rope-grown P.E.I. mussels (cleaned & debearded)
3 tablespoons blended oil (50 percent extra-virgin olive oil, 50 percent canola oil)
3/4 cup diced applewood-smoked bacon
3/4 cup thinly sliced shallots
1 cup of a creamy blue cheese (Folkman recommends Hook’s but I couldn’t find it)
3/4 cup white wine, preferably a dry Chardonnay
Juice of 1 lemon
3/4 cup baby spinach, cleaned and destemmed
Sea salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed

Directions:

Start your griddle! If using an outdoor griddle, you want your coals covered in white ash and burning red. Stick a medium or large cast iron griddle on the griddle over direct heat. Add the bacon and cook for a couple minutes. Add the oil and cook the bacon until the fat is rendered and becomes slightly browned. Add the shallots. Cook for a few more minutes. Add the mussels and toss together. Quickly add the white wine and lemon juice and toss together.

When the mussels start to open, add half of blue cheese, melting it into the broth. Toss and cover for a few minutes. As soon as all mussels are open, toss in the spinach. Cook until spinach wilts some. Toss a few more times. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.

Remove from the griddle with heat proof gloves and top mussels with the remainder of the blue cheese. Serve with a French baguette to sop up all that delicious broth and enjoy!

 

CAPER PESTO

I can still smell the warm night air, pregnant with the nectar of caper flowers and wild fennel. The land on Salina is so fertile from fresh water springs and volcanic soil that lush vegetation bursts out of the hills and seems to spill onto the windy roads before you. The island is Sicilian in character but arid is not a way to describe it, this place is injected with vibrant emerald green life.

I love the main port, Santa Maria di Salina with the clamour of its noisy fish monger, a modest amount of tourist tat strewn on the pavement dotted with the occasional set of rough pearls and the twinkling lights from Lipari island, flickering like candles in the haze across the archipelago. Next to it sits Lingua, a small village with a big reputation for the best granita in the country. A busy panneria named Da Alfredo sells them in a rainbow of flavours from refreshing watermelon to cool fichi d’india, so good that Sean Connery sends his skivvys off the yacht to fetch them in the baking afternoon sun. But the best part of this island lies over the double peaks and nestles within the crater of an extinct volcano.

Pollara looks as if she has been ripped in half by Aeolus, the tempestuous god of wind. She is a gigantic semi-circular amphitheatre with stonewashed houses as her players and behind her abrupt curved cliff, rests a perfectly round, shallow cove that gently laps against the shore. This is a haven for fish and so a heaven for snorkelers, but if I take you back up the 300 carved, steep stone steps, we end up in a farm called Al Capero.

Al Cappero is an Agroturismo that cooks and sells the food it produces. Capers are the island’s main produce, along with light Malvasia wine and fish from the abundant deep blue surrounding it. Pollara faces the West and so as you polish off your last mouthful of freshly stuffed squid with lemon drenched breadcrumbs and sip on a silky mouthful of sweet Malvasia, you and the dappled sea become bathed in soft pinky-orange light.

Anna, the grandmother and family cook, told me the ingredients for her famous caper pesto. I even took away a couple of jars and have been trying to determine the measurements ever since. We often see capers as a finishing touch or foil to something else and never a main ingredient but this dish, in all its beautiful simplicity, shows them off in their finest light. It is true memory-food and even though I haven’t been to Salina in 3 years, a forkful of this instantly transports me back to that honeyed evening with the scent of caper flowers on the breeze.

INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A handful of fresh finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 red chili
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 2/3 cup (roughly 100g jar) salted capers
  • Pepper
  • Parmezan for grating
METHOD

Finely chop your garlic and chili. You can either add all of the ingredients to a food processor or chop the capers and grind it all up with a pestle and mortar. Be sure to warm the pesto up on a very low heat, otherwise it sticks to the bottom of the pan and you wouldn’t want to waste a morsel of this beautiful food.

The man picking capers is taken from the brilliant Jamie Oliver Magazine and the photo of Pollara is my desktop background of the month. Click on it for the full sized image and download.

CHATTI PATHIRI

On the morning of my departure, the signs did not look promising. As I flicked through the delicate black paper of a 1970s photo album from my dad’s overland trip to India, I came across pictures of an emaciated 18-year-old’s frame, tales of suspected malaria and dodgy roadside eats. When you tell someone you are travelling to this exotic subcontinent, a common warning is drummed into you, “Watch out for Delhi belly!” But I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve been here a month and I’m pretty confident that I will be returning home at least 5 kilos heavier because ladies and gentlemen, I have a new found love: Malabar cuisine.

This story begins in a kitchen so hot and humid that you can’t quite tell whether your chin is damp from sweat or saliva. In that kind of muggy people oven, all you want to do is strip your clothes off but that would be a huge mistake – The mosquitos that bite every inch of your feet and toes until they become a scabby mess would inevitably spread to the rest of your bare skin and we are here to eat, not be eaten.

So why would we happily risk denghi fever and torturous itching just for a mouthful of this beautiful food?

If you can’t find fresh coconut, soak the same amount of dessicated coconut overnight.

The Malabar coast hugs the west side of India from Mumbai to the tip of Kerala. Sea-farers have been visiting these shores from afar for thousands of years and it is reflected in the food. Think raisins, an abundance of coconut, chilli so hot it makes your eyes water, sweet meets sour, Arabic meets Indian.

This particular dish is so unusual, my host Sumi assures me with the exciting phrase, “You will find this recipe nowhere else.” It is a pie and a pudding all at once, the Indian answer to lasagne or tortilla, layered and eggy but steamed. Strips of chicken rest between crepe-like pasta sheets alternately spread with thick, sweet coconut paste. Every single tastebud is satisfied from this balanced yet crazy melange. I can’t decide if it’s a spicy curry or a dessert but I’m so wrapped up in elated love for it that I simply don’t care.

Warm, comforting rice pudding. Another example of sweet yet spiced.

I must admit, I have occasionally missed the comforts of European cuisine but when it comes to food, monogamy has never been a strong point… and what’s a holiday without a little romantic fling?

THE PASTA/CREPE SHEETS
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • Salt to taste

Mix everything together and gradually add water until it forms a smooth batter. These have the taste and texture of pasta but you fry them like crepes.

FOR THE SWEET FILLING
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut (or desiccated coconut soaked overnight)
  • 1/2 tbsp cardomom powder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp raisins
  • 1 tbsp ghee

Melt the ghee in a frying pan and cook everything in it for 5 minutes as if you are making coconut scrambled eggs.

CHICKEN FILLING
  • 4 medium onions
  • 2 cups shredded chicken (cooked)
  • 1tsp garlic paste
  • 1tsp ginger paste
  • 2tbsp coriander leaves
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1/4 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/4 tsp gharam masala

Heat the onions in some coconut oil until they become soft. Add the spices and then stir in the chicken until it becomes well mixed.

THE ASSEMBLY

In a large pan (about the same diameter as your crepes) place a pasta sheet, then the chicken mix, another pasta sheet and then the coconut paste. Continue to alternately layer until you run out. Whisk up an egg and use it to seal the sides and coat the top. Cover with a lid and steam gently for 20 minutes.

THE DELECTABLE GUIDE TO AVOIDING DELHI BELLY

  1. Worrying only compromises your immune system, enjoy your food.
  2. Use your intuition to scope out the best food choices. Don’t eat it if your gut is saying “no”.
  3. Don’t drink the tap water, even if you’re thirsty.
  4. Always sanitise your hands before eating. No soapy goodness available? Use vodka.
  5. Take a strong daily probiotic, it’s just good sense. I chose OptiBac Probiotics because they have a species developed specifically for travellers’ tummies.

I diligently follow these steps and take probiotics religiously. Usually, I am the first to get ill but when we all ate something a bit funky, the rest of my party came down with an awful sickness and somehow, I managed to survive almost completely unscathed. Optibac are a lifesaver, fingers crossed I won’t run out before the 5 months is up!

KERALA PAROTTA

The path to the Haji Ali mosque lies upon the surface of the sea and at high tide, it becomes submerged, leaving a stranded islet in the middle of the bay. Towards the entrance of this path, noisy merchants and street-food vendors brave the aggressive waves to hawk paste jewels and quick lunches – smoky tandoori chicken, boiling oily pakora and a giant slab piled high with Kerala parotta.

Who knew that a flatbread could be special? Similar to normal paratha, the Kerala parotta does not have a single, dry, texture like its sister bread. Instead, the outside is crisp and as you tear into the elastic middle, it reveals moist, buttery ribbons similar to the inside of a croissant. While it is just as good as any old chapatti for soaking up a curry, I could eat about 10 of these alone in one sitting, they are so delicious. I wasn’t expecting to find this Southern delicacy in the middle of bustling Mumbai.

The tide is steadily rising and I am now walking ahead on wet stone, sea spray occasionally dampening my face. Boisterous ribby young boys splash around either side in the murky water, forgetting all about the gnawing hunger at the pits of their bellies. I pass a desolate sobbing woman dressed in a tarnished green sari, crouching to the ground. She has probably suffered one too many blows from an abusive husband and like so many in this city, has nowhere else to go. Then, in front of me, balanced on uncomfortable crutches, is a one legged beggar who gives me a smile that treads on my heart like the palm of a hand, kneading a ball of dough.

THAI PORK SALAD RECIPE

Late afternoon is never a good time for the nose to venture into the markets of Bangkok. Odours accost you from every table, leaping catfish, skinned goose heads, giant frogs ribbiting for their freedom. Buy a turtle so that someone else doesn’t eat it, then release it to generate good karma. Carefully navigate over the silvery slippery liquid fishy run-off, flip-flops are not a sufficient barrier. Yet the more you are repulsed, the deeper you delve into the alleyways and polychrome packed stalls of this fascinating place. Bangkok’s markets are much like the fruit durian, they smell foul but taste amazing.

At first glance, mangosteen could be Frankenstein fruit but open up the spongy aubergine hued casing and allow the flesh within to burst over your tongue with a tangy and sweet juice like no other. The hairy lychee, rambutan is a similar affair, looks like it could be an alien’s offspring but tastes like nectar. Longan ain’t pretty either with it’s bruised potato shaded skin but inside is a small fruit so luscious that in this heat, is soul-quenching when served cool, straight from the fridge.

A mountain of watermelons, a molehill of sculpted shrimp paste, the biggest pork scratchings I’ve ever laid eyes on. Silks, leathers, flying squirrels cooped up in a cage. Candy coloured coconut desserts, wafer-thin pancakes stuffed with a tangerine tinted egg mixture that could be grated carrots it’s so bright. Salty and crisp dried squid, sweet and spicy crab cakes, noodles galore. Horsehair candyfloss wrapped up in a jade green pancake known as “roti saimai” and the juicy giant prawns of Thailand’s old capital, Ayutthaya. Then there’s durian, the king of fruits, exquisite to taste but cat litter to smell. It is dense with nutrition, handled only with thick gloves and illegal on public transport – passengers stared and shifted away from us one by one in disgust… but how else were we supposed to get it home?

HOW TO MAKE LAAB MOO, THAI PORK SALAD

Laab moo is a traditional dish from Northern Thailand eaten almost every lunch by those who love it. It is satsifying served with crunchy cabbage, lettuce and cool cucumber, sometimes with an egg on top. The combination of sweet, spicy and sour is so addictive that you can’t help but keep coming back for more.

Serves 4

  • 500g minced pork
  • 2 tbsp uncooked rice (for roasting)
  • 1 green chilli, halved
  • 1 tsp dried red chilli flakes
  • 5 chopped Spring Onions
  • 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 2 tsp grated ginger
  • 1 tbsp palm sugar
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • The juice of 2 limes
  • A handful of fresh thai basil
  • A handful of fresh mint
  • 1 tbsp peanut oil

Dry roast the rice on a frying pan until golden and then grind it up into a fine powder.

Fry the garlic, green chilli and spring onions in peanut oil for 2 minutes and then add the pork.

Once the pork has browned, add the fish sauce, chilli flakes, ginger and palm sugar and stir for 3 minutes.

Take off the heat, pour in your lime juice and scatter over the fresh herbs.

Thank you to Charlie and Bee for being the most hospitable hosts, Waew for teaching us genuine Thai cooking, Dwight AKA Bangkok Fatty for showing us around and to Alex from Vietnamese and More for his genius home-cooked food and medicinal “Butterfly pea” blue tea.

PEPPER CHICKEN CURRY

In the dustless hush of 5AM, we cross over stoney grey train tracks and on towards the lush backwaters of Kerala. Passing between high walls of coppery earth woven with ancient tree roots, we peer curiously up the occasional steep stone staircase that leads towards a tiny garden and the scratch-scratch of morning hens.

At this time of day, the only call to permeate the peace comes from a strange dawn chorus: whooping bids up high, cheerful frogs in the undergrowth and if you’re lucky, a flock of bickering eagles.

The jungled suburbia clears and my two friends and I tiptoe across swampy mud to dip our feet in the water. We sit. We chat gaily like children. We watch as the sun rises through the haze. Eventually, the time comes when we must return for breakfast and each of us quietly hopes that the other has remembered the route back and can navigate this maze of pathways.

Traffic awakens somewhere close by and the toxic stench of every household’s personal burning garbage pile spreads but as we pass the Krishna temple the song of his devotees drifts through, somehow purifying the air.

God, and what it means, is on the tips of our tongues but we aren’t quite there yet. Whilst collecting seeds from odd-looking medicinal plants, we discuss love and life and how to do both fully. I have only lived here for one month but these are friendships that could have been woven over hundreds of years, like the roots of the trees that bind the earthen alleyways we walk through together.

INGREDIENTS
  • 1kg diced chicken
  • 1tsp black pepper powder
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt

Marinate the chicken in the above ingredients for 30 minutes to 4 hours.

  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 1tsp garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp ginger paste
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp fennel seed powder
  • 2 green chillies, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp soya sauce
  • 2 1.2 tbsp coconut oil or sunflower oil
  • Salt
  • A handful of chopped fresh coriander
METHOD

Sautée the onion, garlic, ginger and chilli until they soften. Scatter in the rest of the spices and fry for two minutes. Add the chicken and mix well with the sauce. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes and cook uncovered for the last 5 minutes. Serve with ghee rice.