Category Archives: Abu Dhabi Diary

100% Whole Wheat, Eggless, Spicy Masala Buns – with Flax Seed- Sesame Seed – Mint

Baking might be an addictive affair. It is discouraging to see a flopped recipe. But, I feel, the aroma that the kitchen brings out, with baked goods, is one of the main reasons that make Baking, as addictive as it is. Why would one want to bake again and again, to make unsuccessful baking, successful, as though that is the only way to attain salvation??!!

After a change in the yeast brand, my bread/bun baking, has become better than before. I am working on making them more moist – as they turned out dry a few times. But, I assure, they taste excellent. My recent raisin bread too, turned out a bit dry. But, tasted awesome.

To tackle dryness, I have started incorporating buttermilk to buns. As such, while baking eggless goodies, I try to substitute with yoghurt. I prefer Dinner Rolls/Buns to be baked with butter. Though, quite recently, while I baked a butterless buns, (recipe from a cook-book I had), they came out really well. Shall bake it again, and confirm the recipe.

This time, I wanted to bake buns, with the excess mint leaves (I had dried indoors) and chillies and pepper…. something salt and spicy. These whole wheat buns, came out good. That’s why I couldn’t resist sharing them immediately.

100% Whole Wheat Eggless Spicy Soft Masala Buns – with Flax Seed- Sesame Seed

Ingredients

  • whole wheat flour – 300 gms (2 heaped up cups)
  • unsalted butter – 100 gms (melted and warm)
  • cane sugar – 12 gms (2 tsp)
  • powdered sea salt – 7-8 gms (1 tsp)
  • active dry yeast – 7-8 gms (2 tsp)
  • warm buttermilk – 1 cup
  • warm water – as needed to make a fine dough
  • Milk – 2 tbsp- for milk wash

For the Masala

  • flax seeds – 4 tsp
  • sesame seeds – 4 tsp (2 tsp for the powder and 2 tsp to sprinkle on top)
  • dried mint leaves – 1 1/2 cups approximately
  • dry ginger powder – 2 tsp
  • pepper corns – 2 tsp
  • red chillies – 4 no.s
  • oregano (optional) – 1 tsp

Method of Preparation

Making Spice/Masala Powder

  1. Dry roast flax seeds and sesame seeds. Roast 2 tsp of the sesame seeds and reserve the rest 2 tsp for the milk wash.

2. Dry roast, dried mint leaves – a bit of roasting helps in blending well

3. Dry roast pepper corns and red chillies (as I had some home made chilli flakes, I used it too.) 4 chillies would be needed for the recipe. Since I also used the left over chilli flakes, I took 2 red chillies

4. Dry roast oregano for a very short time – oregano is optional. I added, to boost the flavour. But, the mint and others are sufficient to punch in the flavours. I roasted it a bit, again to blend well. If you don’t have oregano, use carom seeds

5. Blend all the roasted ingredients, with dry ginger powder to a fine dry mixture.

6. The blended powder weighed approximately 42-45 gms

Making the dough

  1. In a wide bowl, add whole wheat flour, yeast, masala powder, sugar and salt
  2. As I had no doubts with my yeast, I directly added to wheat flour. Otherwise, proof yeast with warm water, to check whether it is still alive
  3. Add melted butter, which is still warm
  4. Warm the buttermilk and add to the flour mixture
  5. No cold liquids, as the yeast would become inactive
  6. Start kneading the dough, by kitchen machine or by hand
  7. Add enough warm water, if needed. My dough needed more water
  8. Knead for 10 minutes, to a soft dough

kneaded dough

9. Place in a greased bowl and close it. I don’t use cling wrap at home. So, just close with any lid, but keep it in a moist place. I always place my yeasted dough in the oven, with the light on. I also place a bowl of hot water below or beside. This helps create a warm environment, if you live in a cold place or air-conditioned environment

10. Keep the dough for 1 hour to rise or until double

doubled

11. Once doubled, knock the dough and knead for a couple of minutes

12. Grease a baking dish or tray, or place parchment paper on the baking tray

13. Make 8 equal portions and roll into fine balls

14. Place on baking tray, spaced apart

15. Keep these buns, to rise again for 30 minutes

ready to be baked

16. Preheat oven to 220°C

17. After they rise, brush the top of the buns with milk and spread sesame seeds

milk wash

18. Bake the buns in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until hard crust is formed

Remove from the oven and let them cool

buns done

Serve with the spread of choice. Tasted good with cream cheese spread and also with tangy coriander chutney.

Simplifying Thai Cuisine at Royal Orchid, Abu Dhabi – Workshop on Thai Lod Chong – Green Mung Chendol (Video)

So, here we are, at the end of the workshops at Royal Orchid – Chinese and Thai Restaurant in Abu Dhabi. A salad, soup, curry, stir fry and dessert – a beautiful journey in an elaborate platter. These demonstrations have not only rekindled my interest in the cuisines of south east Asia, but also helped me re-visit my cooking experiences of authentic Cambodian curries, in Phnom Penh, several years ago.

Thank You Royal Orchid and Chef Vitug for the beautiful culinary experience.

What I have understood in the past decade of my life, is – my mind is not as simple to operate as my smart phone. But someone, who has studied the working of our brain, and the ways it synchronises our accumulated memories, with multiple other traversing thoughts, must have disigned the working of the Smart Phone. I’ll explain why.

The Phone has become the World in our Hands. The countless number of applications, we have installed, has made our lives easy as well as complicated. That you’d agree with me. Every time, we are upto some important job on the phone, there are various other things – be it mails, messages, app notifications, advertisements and what not, or even a virus- that pop up, every now and then. This disturbance isn’t very complicated, there is always the magical touch of our hands, that can slide away the pop up menace.

Now, my memory and my smart phone. Like those pop-up messages, I have these non-stop nostalgic memories, wobbling around me. Unlike the magic of the finger, that works for my phone, the mind doesn’t understand the nuance of swiping off those memories popping up. It looks like an eternal task.

Philosophies done- the success of nostalgia is this post.

The next workshop, and the last of Thai Cuisine was a Dessert. As mentioned previously, with the luxury of having my own choice to learn, I requested Chendol.

Why Chendol?

As I have mentioned in my earlier posts, the combination of jaggery and coconut milk in the desserts or payasams of Tamilnadu, is ‘Heavenly’ to me. I believe, there is no equivalent payasam to an Adai Pradhaman or Paasi Paruppu Payasam.

With this pre-conceived notion in mind, and God sent luxury of travelling to several countries in south east Asia, when I saw the concoction of cane sugar/palm sugar and coconut milk- with several indigenous ingredients in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia….. what else would I be left with – than drenching myself in the cuisinical connection of these countries and my roots in Tamilnadu!!

Chendol is basically made with green rice flour jelly, pandan leaves, palm sugar and coconut milk – served with shaved ice. Called Lot in Cambodia, Dawet in Indonesia and Lod Chong in Thailand, there are other refined versions of Chendol too. These versions are created with different ingredients – as in –

  • Naab Vaam in Cambodia (there are other similar desserts and names)
  • Bubur Kacang Hijau in Indonesia (served hot)

Chendol is a versatile creation – it comes across as a street food, cool summer drink as well as an elite dessert.

Cendol has been declared a Malaysian heritage food by the Malaysian Department of National Heritage. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cendol

Before moving on to the making of Lod Chong/ Thai version of Chendol, let me share what I tried and relished in Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia – the different versions of my Tamil Payasam – in their different Chendol Avatars.

I. Cambodia’s Naab Vaam

courtesy: Phnom Penh Post

While we were in Cambodia, we used to visit a Restaurant called, Tonle Bassac (from now on TB), at Preah Sihanouk Street. The place would be a buzzing station for tourist groups, hence making the place, quite uncontrollably crowded. Yet, the speciality of TB, was their Lunch Buffet, which was a culmination of cuisines of a few south east asian neighbours. Among the impressive live kitchen and a vast spread, my favourite was their dessert. Leaving aside the usual pastries and fruits in the dessert section, the Cambodian variation of Chendol was very impressive, on the first visit.

First, when I saw green mung, red mung, tapioca pearls, jellies in different colours, soaked basil seeds in several bowls – I was surprised. Then I watched people combine their favourites among the above, with palm sugar syrup, coconut cream and crushed ice.

What I tried first needs no guess. Green mung, palm sugar syrup, coconut cream and crushed ice. It tasted exactly like Paasi Paruppu Payasam. While Payasam is always a very hot affair, here the dessert was cold with crushed ice. Seemed quite interesting and refreshing.

Every weekend I would crave to try different variations of the same dessert. “Thanks ‘TONLE BASSAC’!”, for introducing me to the Khmer version of my favourite Payasam.

Since, I couldn’t find pictures of the dessert from restaurant TB, I searched the web. The combined dessert is called by several names- with different combinations. What seemed almost similar to what I had enjoyed in TB, was Naab Vaam.

a. Blogger Cindy Her’s post on Naab Vaam showed it all. Additionally, she had also published a separate post on making of green chendol.

the best step by step procedure to make Chendol- http://chawjcreations.com/2019/01/02/cendol-for-naab-vaam/

b. As a street food as well a comfort dessert, an article in Phnom Penh Post – showcased the delicacy in its elaborate best – from a son who learnt the art from his mother.

Read the article – https://www.phnompenhpost.com/post-weekend/just-desserts-catering-only-khmer-sweet-tooths

II. Durian Chendol in Malaysia

Durian Chendol

Next, when we travelled to Malaysia, we spent a day in Melaka/Malacca.

We started the day, by visiting the Dutch Square in Malacca, then, proceeded to one of the authentic Tamil restaurants in Little India for lunch. Post lunch, we had a relaxed stroll in Jonker Street.

After a long walk, when we were tired – we found San Shu Gong – a Chinese shop, well stocked with numerous Chinese products. What was the main cause of interest comes next-

This shop had a coffee/juice shop, which also served one of south east asia’s most sought after desserts – Chendol. This version of chendol was with a twist – it was the Durian Chendol. Durian, might be the most dreaded fruit worldwide, for its distinctive odour. I was courageous enough to try the Durian version. Sorry Durian Lovers!!! That was not meant for me – my tongue still doesn’t forget the strange strong flavour.

Thus, the Durian version of Chendol, has become a distinctive memory for my taste buds too.

III. Bubur Kacang Hijau of Indonesia

The flavour of Chendol, was going to travel with me. In our trip to Indonesia, we spent the first four days in Bali, before visiting the Historical Temples of Yogyakarta. The elaborate breakfast was scrumptious. There was this extremely delicious Sweet – steaming hot coconut milk-palm sugar-sweet potatoes-jack fruit-green mung – the ones that I remember right….with fragrant Pandan Leaves.

Again, my favourite Payasam in another version….this time, in another South East Asian country.

Now, tell me- why should Chendol and its versions come striking- at regular intervals – strong enough to push me down in the soft cushions of Nostalgia so often??

Further, such fond memories associated with Jaggery, Palm Sugar and Coconut Milk from childhood (with Payasams made by Amma), stretched towards the years in Cambodia- that I spent exploring South East Asian Cuisine and History – seemed popping back again, now in Abu Dhabi.

This time, I didn’t try to swipe off the striking Nostalgia.

In the workshop at the Royal Orchid’s, to end with a Dessert, I chose Chendol – but wanted to see how the green mung noodles went into the delicacy. The Thai version of Chendol is called Lod Chong.

Thai Lod Chong/ Green Mung Chendol

the dish’s name describes what happens when you push hot and gooey dough through small holes and how it leaks out as elongated worm-like noodles. “Lod Chong” in Thai means exactly that, “leaking and escaping through the opening“. https://thaifoodmaster.com/thai_traditional_dessert_recipes/

Chef Vitug, made the special Chendol recipe suitable for home cooks, without the Thai noodle press. The press is a simple steal press, available in Thai department stores.

Here, Chef made mung bean strips floured with rice flour, which would later be cooked in hot water.

green mung bean starch available in stores in thai section… and the strips

ingredients to make Chendol

  • mung bean strips made with pandan leaf extract
  • coconut milk – pandan scented and candle scented
  • glutenous rice flour
  • palm sugar syrup
  • pandan leaves

This could be the easiest way to make Chendol at home, with no compromise in flavour and taste.

So much so, I could make my own Chendol version at home, after the workshop.

My Chendol

Left – Chendol with Sago / right – Chendol with green mung and sago with coconut milk

Making Chendol ..

Method of Preparation

  1. Make Pandan extract –

Blend Pandanus leaves with water. Strain the pure green liquid.

2. Make Chendol strips

Take Green Mung starch; mix with a little salt and pandanus extract and enough water to make a stiff dough

Roll into a thin sheet. Cut strips

Coat the strips with rice flour

3. Palm Sugar Syrup

Melt palm sugar in water. Place a tied bunch of Pandan leaves in the liquid. Make a semi thick syrup. Keep aside.

4. Heat up Coconut milk .

5. In a bowl or tall glass as preferred, place bean strips

photo represents my version at home..

6. Add palm sugar syrup

7. Pour in coconut milk/cream

8. Add crushed ice or ice cubes

9. Enjoy the dessert.

10. Feel free to add sago, cooked green or red mung, jack fruit, banana, soaked basil seeds or cooked and sweetened red rice too.

Simplifying Thai Cuisine at Royal Orchid, Abu Dhabi – Workshop on Phat Kaphrao – Stir fried holy Basil Leaves (Video)

Phat Kaphrao or Pad Kaprao is also known as Phat Krapow or Pad Kra Pao. Holy Basil is called Kaphrao or Krapow in Thai Language. It is different from the normal Basil.

The differences lie in several areas with the key area being flavor. Thai basil is known primarily for being sweet. It has a strong licorice and anise note that allows it to stand out in Thai curries and soups. The anise note is so strong and so sweet that you can eat Thai basil raw.

Holy basil brings another flavor profile to the table in that it is intensely spicy, so much so that it is sometimes referred to as hot basil. When consumed raw, holy basil has a slight numbing effect on the tongue that is similar to the effect of Szechuan pepper. The flavor is more like a combination of black pepper and clove than like the sweeter notes of Thai basil. It tends to get even spicier as it is cooked.

https://www.spiceography.com/thai-basil-vs-holy-basil/

As a stir fried dish, Phat Kaphrao can be made primarily with chicken, prawns or meat of choice. It can be a vegetarian stir fry with vegetables, with the omission of both fish and oyster sauce. Just make it with light soya and dark soya sauce. The fresh combination of ingredients would make the vegetarian dish deliver its flavour.

Let’s plunge straight into making Phat Kaphrao.

Ingredients

  • cooking oil
  • spicy red chillies
  • garlic
  • long beans
  • holy basil leaves
  • vegetable stock
  • fish sauce
  • oyster sauce
  • light soya sauce
  • dark soya sauce
  • chicken powder (optional)
  • salt

Note: the spice level demonstrated here is on the higher side. Please adjust chillies as preferred.

Making of Stir-fried Holy Basil

Chef Vitug demonstrated the stir fry with prawns .

Next, the special dessert is on its way!!

Simplifying Thai Cuisine at Royal Orchid, Abu Dhabi – Workshop on Thai Green, Yellow and Red Curry (Video)

Having enjoyed the tangy Salad and the refreshing Soup, it was time to plunge into three of the most favoured curries of Thai Cuisine- Green, Yellow and Red Curry.

Chef showed the difference in the curry pastes, while making the three flavourful, yet distinct curries.

The basic herbs and spices that are blended to make the three curry pastes are – garlic, shallots, galangal, shrimp paste, kaffir lime rind, coriander root, cumin seeds, lemongrass, salt, white peppercorns. 

There is one specific ingredient that is added to the explicit curries, to make it the colour of choice.

Green curry – Pandan Leaf extract, which gives the green colour to the curry. Not red chillies, but green chillies are added.

Red Curry – Dried Long Red chillies give the red colour.

Yellow Curry – Red chillies are added for spice; freshly ground turmeric is the key ingredient for the yellow curry.

NOTE: Since most of the bottled curry pastes available in the market, would have shrimp paste added to it, please check the ingredients before purchasing. If one needs a vegetarian curry paste, ask for it. There are a few brands that make vegetarian Thai green/yellow and red curry pastes.

Flexibility to combine with vegetables, meat or sea food

Whether one desires a curry with vegetables, or has an appetite for non-vegetarian stuff – feel free to experiment. The aromatic blend of spices goes well with vegetables, meats, fish and prawns alike. The extravagant taste comes from the final amalgamation of rich and creamy coconut milk with the spice paste.

These are a few common combinations-

Green Curry with vegetables

Red Curry with Chicken and Eggplant

Yellow curry with chicken and potatoes

The video shot was that of Thai Green Curry. In order to show the colourful variation the paste makes, when mixed with coconut milk, I share these photos…

Red Curry

Yellow curry

Making of Thai Green Curry – VIDEO

That truly simplified cooking Thai curries. Didn’t that!!

Simplifying Thai Cuisine at Royal Orchid, Abu Dhabi – Workshop on Tom Yam Soup ! (Video)

The next on my learning list was a soup, after salad. Tom Yam is a much sort after Soup. Packed with citrusy punch and flavours of Thai herbs, it is a refreshing soup usually made with shrimps. But, Tom Yam can change roles and still be appealing to your palate-

a) Cook as a vegetable soup with shallots, tofu and mushrooms (avoiding fish sauce);

b) try other combinations like – chicken, lamb, or meat of your choice;

or c) make it a meal, with noodles in the soup.

These are the basic spices and other ingredients for preparing Tom Yam Soup- (except the pandan leaves in the end – reserved for our dessert later)

  • Lemongrass
  • kaffir lime leaves
  • galangal
  • red chillies
  • thai parsley
  • lemon

For the proteins-

  • prawns
  • mushrooms

and for garnish –

  • thai parsley
  • coriander

for the special Thai flavour

  • lemon juice
  • fish sauce
  • tom yam paste
  • coconut milk

and chicken powder, which is optional

Tom Yam Goong/Thai Tom Yam Soup with Prawns

Getting things ready for Tom Yam

Making the soup

Making Tom Yam

  1. Boil stock (of your choice)
  2. Add cut lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf, galangal and red chillies
  3. While the stock boils well, add prawns and straw mushrooms
  4. Season with lemon juice, fish sauce and tom yam paste and let the prawns and mushrooms cook well
  5. Once done, add coconut milk and chicken powder (if preferred)
  6. The soup is done. Add chopped parsley and switch off stove
  7. Serve hot garnished with chopped coriander leaves.

Royal Orchid – Striking Strong Flavours with Finesse! Workshop on Thai Green Papaya Salad – 3 ways (VIDEO)

Food Industry is huge, with a capital H. To sustain in a society of varied culinary interests, plus to sail across the ever rising wave of competition is a volcanic task. The hard work and struggle to bring up a restaurant and also, remain popular in the food industry, for several years is certainly a huge victory.

The Royal Orchid Group of Restaurants, is a Hugely successful Chain of Restaurants in Abu Dhabi. After coming to Abu Dhabi, I have seen the flavours of the restaurants under the group, spread aroma in several of the social occasions. 

We have been mesmerised by the enthusiasm and zeal of the Founder and Owner of the Royal Orchid Group, the Septogenarian Mr. Vinay Varma and his Dynamic Lady Mrs. Nira Varma.

So, when the Captain of the Chain Mr. Varma, accepted my request for a learning session of some of their speciality foods, I was elated. When he left it to me, to choose from any of their restaurants, my greed to make the best use of the opportunity knew no limits.

Below are the speciality restaurants under the big roof of Royal Orchid Group.

https://www.theroyalorchidgroup.com

I chose, one of my favourites- Thai. A very big Thanks to their open-mindedness..


Thai cuisine might be one amongst the most popular cuisines around the world, next only to anybody’s own native food. The freshness of ingredients and aromatic flavours of the spices, would rule your palate for several hours.

Having lived in Cambodia, we have been fortunate to have savoured several dishes of South East Asian cuisine. As a blogger, I have certainly been lucky to have learnt a few distinctive dishes and sweets of Cambodia.. like-

  1. Num Plae Ai – Sticky Rice Sweet Balls
  2. Num Ansom Chek – Banana filled Steamed Rice Cake
  3. Trey Chamhoi – Cambodian Steamed Fish
  4. Num Kom – Sticky Rice Cakes with coconut filling

Neighbourhood Thailand, it’s history and flavourful food are always a big thumps up for me. I wrote three travel posts on Bangkok- its historical places and food, way back in August 2013 (The Charming Capital of Thailand). When I read that post now, I see that I’ve written about tasting Brown Rice, Crispy Fried Mushroom and Spicy Vegetable Curry/ Yellow Rice, Chicken in Spicy Curry and not to miss the desserts – Sticky Rice and Mango and Coconut Ice cream.

So, here I am, in Abu Dhabi, ready to learn a few more Thai dishes. Life has been very kind to me…isn’t it?

Royal Orchid is a Chinese and Thai restaurant, which has the logo- Inspired by the Far East. That truly suits me too! With elegant interiors and comfortable seating arrangements, it boasts of authentic Chinese and Thai flavours – straight from wok to your plates.

I requested for a workshop/demonstration on a full course Thai Meal with- a salad, a soup, a curry, a stir fry and a dessert, which I chose from few of my favourite dishes.

Chef Vituk of Royal Orchid, who hails from Thailand, was a very patient, grounded personality. After meeting a few chefs recently, I think, patience is a virtue of Chefs. And, they are more than that. They are specialists in the art of combining traditional and contemporary flavours that surprises customers. They present the simplest of dishes in exceptional ways that enthrals food connnaisseurs. Above all, they are blessed with the culinary art that embraces our appetite.

Let me share the dishes I learnt one by one.


I. Thai Green Papaya Salad – three ways

  1. Som Tum Kai Kem – Green Papaya Salad with Salted Eggs
  2. Som Tum Sua – Green Papaya Salad with Rice Noodles
  3. Som Tum Phoo Plara – Green Papaya Salad with Salted Crab

I have also uploaded videos that show the making of Thai Green Papaya salad, demonstrated by Chef.

The Quintessentials

mortar and pestle

green papaya

and the grating technique

The basic ingredients for the different versions of papaya salad, remain pretty much the same. Slight differences in the choice of sauces and spice level make the variations taste better.

Ingredients

  • garlic pods
  • long red chillies
  • green papaya
  • carrots
  • corn
  • long bean
  • cherry tomatoes

seasoning

  • fish sauce
  • salad dressing
  • lemon juice
  • tamarind juice
  • palm sugar
  • coconut sugar

Note:

  1. Normally, fish sauce is added. But here, if one wishes to prepare a vegetarian papaya salad, omit the eggs and fish sauce. Instead use a salad dressing, which might be a combination of light soya sauce and palm sugar.
  2. The spice level of this salad is on the higher side. I would suggest reducing the garlic and chillies, if one prefers a medium spiced salad.

Getting ready

The art of grating papaya for the salad

Keep the grated papaya in ice cold water, for at least 10 minutes. This helps keeping the vegetable crunchy.

1. SOM TUM KAI KEM – GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH SALTED EGGS

making of the salad

2. SOM TUM SUA – GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH RICE NOODLES

making of the salad

3. SOM TUM PHOO PLARA – GREEN PAPAYA SALAD WITH SALTED CRAB

making of the salad

Thanks Chef. That was an amazing experience. But, plenty more to come. Come along with me..

Khazana – Grain of Salt – Fusion Dining at its Casual Best!

Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor, in Nation Towers is already one of the most sort after restaurants, for a fine dining experience with beautiful view, overlooking the Corniche, Abu Dhabi.

With New Year 2020, Abu Dhabi welcomed another elite restaurant, Khazana – Grain of Salt,that provides the ever popular Speciality Chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s exclusive signature dishes. Now, the aroma of flavours, from the culinary creations of Chef Sanjeev Kapoor can be enjoyed at WTC Mall.

The Non-alcoholic Bar Area and a comfortable mocktail/coffee corner

They say Food unites Boundaries. Looking at the menu at Khazana, one is bowled over by the representation of different regional and ethnical cuisines, across the world. This doesn’t stop with representation, but the food here actually symbolizes multi-cultural Fusion. Take for example – the Mushroom Bakhlava or Falafel Chaat.

Catchy combinations like Nalli Rogan Josh Tagine, Kappa Pot Roast, Uppukkari Pot Pie are distinct.

There is also Mishti Doi Brulee – that unites Bengal and France.

Fascinated by such mix and matches, I tried to explore some South Indian combinations that might work out- a Filter Kaapi Fondue or Chutney Cheese Cake? Why not!!

Here are a few of the delectable dishes, that we savoured at Khazana.

Few of the starters-

Strip Samosa

Khumb Palak and Corn ki Tikki

Quinoa Methi ke Tikki with Pumpkin Sauce

Beetroot Peanut ki Tikki

Malai Tikka

Chicken Tikka

Tandoori Pomfret

For the Mains-

Choice of Breads

Prawn Biriyani

Kadai Paneer

Chicken Lababdar

Somehow, missed to click the Nimbu Dhaniya Kukkad.

To end with sumptuous desserts-

Blueberry Ghevar

Chocolate Crush Pile

Chocolate Samosa

24K Dal

Slow cooked black gram, which is popularly called Dal Makhani or Maa Ki Dal is named 24K Dal. While I was amazed by the name, Chef tells me with a smile of pride- “Ma’m, Pure Gold is also known by 24K”.

Khazana, Grain of Salt has its recipes, moulded to perfection and hence, shines as Pure Gold, in the intention to provide age old recipes, with contemporary twist.

The Exclusive Bahraini Halwa – A Workshop at the Showaiter’s

Would my Bahrain trip be a satisfied and complete one, without visiting one of those very popular Halwa Shops of the country? Certainly not.

Bahraini Halwa, is one of the most sort after sweets, during festivals and social gatherings, not only in Bahrain, but around the whole of Gulf region.

The strong resemblance the Bahraini Halwa has with the Bombay Halwa, that we savour back home, is a matter of cullinary research. I remember, when sweet boxes were brought by friends and relatives, while visiting our home, the Bombay Halwa wrapped in a transparent wrapper, orange or yellow in colour, would be the most sort after. It was always reserved for relaxed chewing. The highly glutenous texture of the delicacy, was the most attractive feature, I think. Chewing it slowly, enjoying the flavour it spread inside the mouth, still lingers in my mind.

Bahraini halwa is a direct descendant of the Omani version, introduced to the local cuisine more than 90 years ago following visits by Bahraini pearl divers and fishermen to Muscat.

The family modified the recipe to create a delicious local variety and then went on to establish a halwa dynasty which earned recognition beyond the Gulf. https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/sweet-dynasty-plans-uae-invasion-1.546296

The Halwa Showaiter – the Pioneer Sweet Shop of Bahrain, has been in the business of making sweets since 1850. When you travel, in and around Manama, as we did, one would come across a number of Showaiter Halwa Shops, which belong to the several cousins of the Showaiter family.

The factory of the Hussain Mohammed Showaiter Sweets, is located in an area called Muharaq, about 5-6 kms (around 15 minutes drive time) from capital Bahrain. A visit there, was a -‘ must do’ one, since they offer a gastronomic tour to their factory. Yes, the Showaiters are kind enough to allow tourists and connoisseurs, visit their kitchen, view, click pictures and take videos of the making of their speciality Bahraini Halwa.

I certainly didn’t want to miss the chance. It was not a dream come true, but a treat come true.

So, this was going to be my Halwa Workshop – to know about the making of the very famous Halwa of Bahrain.

Come along….it’s going to be an interesting, sweet journey..

First, the ingredients..

The basic ingredients that go in the making of the basic Halwa are,

  • corn starch
  • sugar
  • cardamom powder
  • corn oil
  • rose water
  • nuts

And, depending upon the variety of Halwa, for example pomegranate halwa, apricot halwa, fig or milk halwa – the speciality ingredients are added.

The two most popular Halwas are the Saffron Halwa which has cashew nuts, which is orange/red in colour, and the King of Halwa – which is green in colour loaded with almonds.

The Halwa is made with two to three members, taking turns to stir the mixture in the huge copper vessel, filled with ingredients.

  1. First, water is poured into the vessel, and sugar is added.
  2. After a boil, the other ingredients – corn starch, oil, rose water, cardamom powder, food colour and nuts – are added, one after the other.
  3. The initial thin liquid, becomes thicker and stickier with time. This process requires non-stop stirring and hence, is a tedious one.
  4. Once, the required consistency of the halwa is achieved, the halwa is poured in large containers and taken for packaging.

The videos below, show the making of the Halwa – the stirring and the continuous process of making several batches.

This video below, shows the packaging of the two special types of Halwa – saffron and almond halwa.

the packed boxes, ready to be transported…

and the super delicious gooey halwa…

The packed halwa, sets well inside the box..

when cut…

On the way to the entrance of the office of the Showaiter’s in Muharraq, there is a shop which displays the century year old tradition of halwa making, that is exclusive to the family.

They have preserved the utensils used during the initial years, in the making of Bahraini Halwa.

Halwas to taste and the different types they make-

This Halwa workshop, indeed made my Bahrain trip a complete one- opening new windows to my primary interests -history, culture and cuisine.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

This year’s Pongal – the Harvest Festival of the Tamils, was a special one for me. After posting my experience of Pongal in Cambodia , way back in 2014, now, I am delighted to post my experience of Pongal in Abu Dhabi, in 2020. Pongal was celebrated on 15th January.

Abu Dhabi, as many of us know, is a place very close to a South Indian’s heart. I recall a few lines I already wrote in one my previous posts – Navaratri in Abu Dhabi

Living in Abu Dhabi, one doesn’t feel out of homeland, with millions of Indians, especially South Indians quite huge in number. But, it is certainly an amazing place where festivals are celebrated in their best traditional way, with undoubted authenticity.

The same feeling of being at home, was felt during Pongal too. Firstly, there was a Pongal celebration by local Tamil Community, at Khalifa Park, Abu Dhabi on the 10th of January, 2020. That gave a great start to the essence of our own Harvest Festival. There are a few more to join, in the coming days as well.

Apart from the events, that give a welcome feeling of being part of one’s own society, one of the most essential things to celebrate a traditional festival, is the availability of ingredients – exclusive to one’s native soil.

So, first step – I listed down the necessary things I needed to buy, for an authentic, traditional celebration – almost close to home, but away from home.

My list –

  1. Pongal Paanai – a new Mud Pot to make Pongal – The sweet rice pudding
  2. Manjal Kothu – Fresh Turmeric with the root and leaves, to tie around the pot
  3. Inji Kothu – Fresh Ginger with root and leaves
  4. Karumbu – Sugarcane
  5. Panakizhangu – Palmyra Sprout
  6. Maavilai – Fresh Mango leaves to make Thoranam or decoration in the house entrance
  7. Fresh traditional vegetables of Tamilnadu
  8. Banana Leaf
  9. Coconut
  10. Banana
  11. Rice
  12. Jaggery

Now, Rice, Jaggery, Banana, Coconut and vegetables are abundantly available in Abu Dhabi. Hence, the concern of getting those didn’t pop up at all.

My longing to make Pongal, in a new mud pot was fulfilled by Dar Al Meena Food Stuff Trading, located in Sharjah, which delivers organic produces from Tamilnadu, every week, on different days to different parts of the UAE. Click here to know more about the shop.

They deliver required native produces to Abu Dhabi every Sunday. So, my anxiety to get these trademark Pongal Agro products, was sorted out very quickly.

This post is not going to be one, with a recipe. But this one is, to share my happiness and fulfilment that resulted in this year’s Pongal celebration. Happiness, not because I could get those quintessential things – but specially and more specifically because, I could show my daughter, at least a glimpse of Pongal – the festival, so earthy, and so close to our roots.

Pongal is so special to the Tamils because, it is an ancient, non-religious, traditional festival, that is very strongly connected to the earthy aroma of our native soil. It is the Harvest Festival as well as a Thanksgiving Festival. Though, it is a festival in which the farmer is thanking his own eco system of nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, for providing the strength to achieve best yields. In turn, it is our duty to thank the Farmer, who produces the grains and vegetables we consume daily. Then, isn’t it very important to make our next generation value the sheer Hardwork of those humble souls, without whom, our filled plates with nutritious food and satisfied palates after each meal wouldn’t be achievable?

These are the things I procured from the shop, including my first priced possession of the new year – my Pongal Paanai/Mud Pot.

Pongal in Abu Dhabi

The quintessential things –

mud pot, coconut shell ladle, the pirumanai to place the pot, fresh turmeric with root and leaves, fresh ginger with root and leaves.

my priced possessions – mud pot and coconut shell ladle

Seasoning the Man Chatti/Mud Pot

After soaking the mud pot in water overnight, I washed it well with gram flour using coconut scrub. The next step, in the process of seasoning the mudpot, I fried grated coconut and nei/clarified butter. This aids in removing any mud, impurities and also makes the pot stronger. Coconut and nei/clarified butter, would provide a nice aroma to the mud pot, while making sweet dishes in future. This is because, the clay would absorb the flavour and aroma of the things fried or cooked first, for the rest of its life span. I discarded the fried coconut. Then, washed the pot with the coconut scrub and gram flour. Man chatti/mud pot is ready to make Sarkkarai Pongal, in fact every year.

Rest of the products – Karumbu/Sugarcane

Panang kizhangu/Palmyra Sprouts

Maavilai/Fresh mango leaves and Maavilai thoranam

the vegetables and different kinds of rice – mappillai samba, hand pound white, hand pound brown

Making Sarkkarai Pongal

I made Pongal, with 3 cups rice and approximately 4 to 4 1/2 cups jaggery. Too much for a nuclear family. But, the joy of sharing with friends during such festivals is the true spirit of celebration.

To start, I tied the fresh turmeric root with leaves to the neck of the manchatti. Placed the man chatti with water to boil, on the stove. A tip here – Add sufficient water for rice to cook… this is not pressure cooker cooking.. so no water measurements. Add water in between, if water is insufficient to cook rice.

Sufficient water and washed rice immersed in it.

Meantime, I kept the jaggery with water on stove. Once water boils and jaggery is completely dissolved, switch off stove. We shall strain later, directly into the pot.

Checked the rice off and on, until it had become soft

After a few minutes, the rice had become thicker, with most of the water absorbed while cooking;

At this stage, I strained the jaggery liquid into the pot

I added freshly ground cardamom into the rice and jaggery pongee

It was time to mix well and check whether everything was going right.

I used this beautiful coconut shell ladle, to mash the rice well. This dual purpose ladle, also serves as a masher.

I fried cashew nuts in clarified butter/nei and added to the almost done sarkkarai pongal

Sarkkarai Pongal was a thickened pudding now. I closed the lid and got ready to thank the farmers, cattle and nature – all at heart, in front of the worship area, with all family members present.

Symbolising the new Harvest – vegetables and rice

Thanksgiving Time! Pongalo Pongal!!!

After the humble celebration at home, traditional meal with rice, sambar, avial, pachadi, poriyal, vadai and pongal was the treat of the day. It was truly a festival, remembering and thanking the Farmers, and their eco system of Nature, including the Sun, Soil and Cattle, that provide them their basic means of livelihood, besides enabling us to reap the benefits of our primary food grains and vegetables.

Exploring Culture of Bahrain – Pottery Demonstration at Al Jasra Handicrafts Centre

After visiting places of historic interest in and around Manama, it was time to delve into some cultural aspects.

Bahrain’s rich cultural heritage can be seen through various lenses. Though history and cuisine too fall under Culture in a broader sense, I chose to visit the Al Jasra Handicraft Centre, which displays the country’s indigenous art forms and creations. It was established in 1990. The best artists of the country are brought under one institution, to display their skills and pass theirs to the next generation.

The centre’s website explains its focus and goals.

The center embraces many traditional handicrafts, in order to achieve the following objectives:

  1. Maintaining traditional crafts and industries from extinction, in light of the steady growth in the world of automated industries.
  2. Educating Bahraini youth, and giving them the opportunity to explore industries and crafts that were practiced by their ancestors.
  3. Highlighting the traditional industries and handicrafts as an interface of the country, where foreigners visitors can learn more about our great past.
  4. Encouraging the craftsman and artisans, urging them to continue working in this distinctive field which requires major effort, and precise skills, by providing  support  to ensure the development of this industry  while maintaining the original characteristics of the Bahraini products.

http://www.btea.bh/aljasra-handcrafts

To me, this is the need of the hour for any society, especially societies where modern life style has become synonymous to neglecting the traditional past.

Additionally, what I learn from their website is-

Each village or town in the island has become known for a particular crafts such as the textile industry in Bani Jamrah village, basket weaving in Karbabad village, pottery in Ali village and AlSaffah in  Jassrah village, while Manama and Muharraq cities are famous for vessel industry and related tools.  http://www.btea.bh/bah-handcrafts

Al Jasra Handicraft Centre has different rooms for different crafts. It is not only a display or an exhibition house, but also a place where workshops are conducted. Tourists and visitors are given patient explanations on the specific art work. When we went there, we could find young students learning the beautiful craft forms, from experts.

Here are a few hand made wonders by specialist artists of Bahrain…

Traditional Chests

The metal chests with intricate carvings were beautiful.

Basket weaving

Basket weaving is a traditional handcraft, with the abundantly available native palm leaves. Apart from baskets, there were more innovative pieces made too.

Ship Building

Ship building is like a life-line expertise, as far as Bahrain is concerned. Fishing and Pearl Fishery, being two of the foremost occupations, Ship building is an integral part of Bahrain’s traditional livelihood.

Textile Weaving

The textile village Bani-Jamrah in central Bahrain, is known for its traditional cloth weaving.

Gypsum Craft

This place was mesmerising. The artisan Mr. Ali Abdulhusain, a very patient personality, explained his art. Though, we didn’t follow each other’s language, art didn’t need communication through language. His craft revives Bahrain’s medieval heritage. Now, we know that, the patience that he exhibits, is transformed into such fascinating pieces.

Pieces of gypsum art pieces, ready to be given colour

the artist and his art

finished piece

transformation from paper to gypsum

tools …

and the piece of art

Pottery

The video below shows, how much hard work and muscle power goes into making the clay pliable for different articles.

Incredible Artistry in those hands – the making of a pot

Such delicate craftsmanship – Removing the pot from the place of making

The great respect and adoration that I always had, for those craftsmen and their craft, seems to have grown multi-fold in my heart. The ingenuity and expertise that dwell in their humble personalities, deserve a higher and bigger adulation in this world of worldly pleasures.