Monday, February 27, 2012

The Indian Lassi Wallah

Buttermilk or yogurt drinks helps counter hot and spicy dishes. Dairy products neutralize the capsaicin compounds that make chiles hot, one reason frothed yogurt accompanies many Indian meals. When made with buttermilk they are called chaas. If made with yogurt, lassi. Both are similar to aryan, a thin yogurt drink that spread from Persia throughout the Middle East. In ancient India diluted, salted yogurt called ghola was taken as a medicinal drink. In Jaipur yogurt drinks do more than aid digestion. There is stretch of Mirza Ismail Road in the New City lined with gem stores, bookshops and lassi wallah stalls. Deals on diamond, rubies and sapphires are sweetened with as many complementary lassis as it takes, delivered in clay tumblers from the nearby stalls. The lassi wallahs blend yogurt made from water buffalo milk with sugar and crushed ice, topping the beverage with a dollop of the thick top layer of cream from the bowls of set yogurt. They also make namkeen lassi with salt and roasted cumin. In the Punjab both butter and the by-product of churning it, buttermilk are served with most meals. Butter is slathered on hot bread while frothed salted and spiced buttermilk is sipped with the meal and as a refreshing digestive. Real buttermilk is thin watery whey and only available if you churn your own butter. Commercial buttermilk is quite different and much thicker with a decided tang people either love or detest. If buttermilk is too tangy for your taste, use plain yogurt. If making lassi with yogurt, I use natural whole milk yogurt as I like the creaminess but, if you prefer, use low fat yogurt. The contrast of creamy cold buttermilk spiked with the subtle fruity heat of black pepper and warm earthy cumin is very satisfying. Black salt adds an alluring tang, but is not necessary to make the drink. You may wish to add a little more salt if not using black salt. The curry leaves add a subtle truffle-citrus perfume but are not crucial. Feel free to add chopped coriander (cilantro), mint and a seeded green chile for a spicier version. Whirl and serve poured from the blender while still foamy.


2 1/2 cups buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
4 large ice cubes
1/4 teaspoonsea salt crystals or to taste
3-4 whole black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
6 fresh curry leaves, stripped from the stem, optional

MIXING THE BUTTERMILK. Pour the buttermilk into the jar of a blender. Add the ice and salt. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Drop in the peppercorns, cumin and curry leaves (if using). Roast until the cumin darkens a shade, about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the roasted spices to the buttermilk and whirl on high until the ice is crushed and the drink is slightly frothed, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes (use the frappe setting if your blender has one). Pour in tall glasses and serve, dusted with a little ground cumin.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Handcrafted Welsh Sea Salt: Seasoned with Indian Spices

I recently met with Justin Jones and his wife Taima Hervas who import handcrafted Halen Mon sea salts through their company Ready4 Best of Britain based on Key Biscayne. They met the Lea-Wilson family who makes the salts at a fancy food show in San Francisco last year and agreed to distrubute the salts in the U.S. Halen Mon means "salt of Anglesey" in Welsh and was first made when Alson Lea-Wilson boiled a pan of seawater in her farmhouse kitchen and discovered the delicate salt crystals as the water boiled down. Today the salt is made from the pure charcoal filtered water of the Menai Strait off the Isle of Anglesey pumped to sheds by pipe where the salts water is heated in a vacuum so it boils at a low temperature and turns into salty brine that is crystallized in  shallow tanks.  The flakes are harvested by gently scooping them up by hand and rinsing them in the brine until they shine. Besides the fine and coarse pure sea salt, there are seasoned salts, best used as finishing salts sprinkled over dishes. There's salt with celery seeds that was served at last years royal wedding lunch with hard cooked quail eggs and is brilliant in soups and a salad of chopped apple, celery and seedless grapes in a sour cream, yogurt and Dijon mustard dressing (see picture above). Salt is slowly smoked over Welsh oak and is good with scrambled eggs, raw oysters and in caramel desserts and salt mixed with ground Tahitian vanilla bean, great with pan seared scallops and other seafood and in anything chocolate. My favorite flavor is the salt mixed with organic Fair Trade spices including peppercorns, coriander, turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne and cloves. Sprinkle over curries, rice, roasted meats or potatoes (or both!), soups, stews and salads. I add the spiced salt to my flourless chocolate cake and sea salt toffee dipped in bittersweet chocolate and sprinkled with more spiced sea salt.  To find out more about these salts go to:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Grapefruit Salad with Mango, Coconut and Whole Spices

I've been eating a lot of grapefruit lately because the pink variety is in season. I love the acidic bitter sweetness and the fact that every so often you bite into a really sweet segment, perhaps why the botanical name is Citrus paradisi and in the 17th century it was known as "the forbidden fruit". The grapefruit is an accidental cross pollination between the pomelo, a large very sour green fruit from Southeast Asia was brought to the Caribbean by Captain Shaddock and an orange. The name has nothing to do with grapes. The large yellow fruits grow in clusters on tress. It was introduced to Florida in 1823 by a French count and Florida was the first place where it was cultivated.

I mostly eat grapefruits cut in half and cut out the segments with a serrated knife but sometimes I like to make fruit salad served in grapefruit shells (pictured above). There really isn't a recipe as it depends on how many people you are serving and what fruit is in season. I made my salad using two pink grapefruit, peeled whole, white pith removed and the thin transparent skin of each segment peeled off. I cut the segments in half and tossed them one Alphonso mango from a friends garden (the mango is native to India and this variety is by far the Queen of all mangoes with sweet, golden, apricot-peach flavored flesh) cut into slices, a sliced banana and fresh coconut strips. To make the strips I cracked open a whole coconut and peeled away the brown skin and then cut the strips. If not in the mood to wrangle a coconut open, just use dried, unsweetened coconut chips. I made a simple sugar syrup and when it was simmering I added whole cinnamon sticks and star anise pods to infuse it with a hint of spice. When the syrup cooled I mixed the fruit with it and spooned it into the grapefruit shells.  Voila!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why I keep Candy in my Crisper

I keep black licorice drops in the fridge in that drawer meant for butter and cheese so I can whip up some lovely salty-sweet licorice ice cream (see above). I'm not saying ice cream is a health food but in India the dried roots and underground stems of the licorice plant are used as a medicine so technically you could justify licorice ice cream as a sweeter way to make the medicine go down.  Licorice is called honey stick in India and it is sold in solid sticks of concentrated essence which are black and glossy with a bittersweet taste. Licorice has cooling energy and helps relieve coughs, colds, sore throats and stomach aches. Licorice is believed to calm the mind and nurture the spirit, promoting concentration and harmony. I'm sure a bowl of licorice ice cream will nurture your soul and promote a feeling of blissful harmony.  Rather than roots or sticks I created this recipe using Nordic black licorice drops melted in the custard mixture until dissolved. The color will look grayish but once churned it is a soft pale brown color. You will need an ice cream maker and I suggest using one made by Cuisinart called the Supreme.

Linda's Licorice Ice Cream

2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups whole milk
4 ounces black licorice drops
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Splash of vanilla extract

Place cream, milk and licorice drops in a heavy 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time to help the licorice melt.

Place egg yolks and sugar in a medium bowl. Using a hand mixer, beat on highest speed until thick and pale, and mixture forms a ribbon when beaters are lifted, about  minutes. With the mixer on low spead, slowly add 1 cup of the hot cream mixture to the yolk mixture. Stir the yolk/cream mixture back into the simmering pot of cream (adding the cup of warm cream to the yolk mixture prevents the yolks from curdling). Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, just until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F on a candy or instant read thermometer--do not boil! Strain the custard through a sieve into a medium bowl. Stir in salt and vanilla. Chill in the refrigerator, covered, at least 8 hours (custard can be prepared a day ahead).  Churn according to the instructions that came with your ice cream maker. In the Cuisinart Supreme, it takes about 35 to 45 minutes for soft ice cream and 45 to 60 minutes for hard ice cream. Serve right away and store any left over ice cream in resealable container.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Valentine Spice and Yours Truly on Deco Drive TV

It is countdown day to Valentine's Day. If you want to spend the most romantic day of the year with a special someone book a special package being offered all of February by Playa Property Management at The Alexander Hotel on Miami Beach. You will be met with champagne and sweets and stay in a beautiful suite overlooking the ocean, dine at Shula's Steakhouse the first night, sip cocktails by the pool and get a 1 hour massage. The second night  you will get me as your personal chef in your suite. You can watch me cook and ask questions or sit on the balcony enjoying ocean breezes with a glass of wine while I prepare your meal. Choose from citrus and spice glazed lamb chops with mint chutney and rice pilaf, spice rubbed salmon fillets using my homemade blend of toasted and crushed Indian spices served with sour cream sauce with fresh dill and capers or vegetarian Moroccan tangine with spicy harissa paste, carrot and lemon salad and couscous or a baguette. The meal will be followed by desserts that I make--a light meringue pavlova laced with Amaretto liqueur and cacao nibs topped with whipped cream and raspberries or mini tarts filled with lime curd or mocha cream. The package is for anyone from married couples to a group of friends or family (there are 1, 2 and 3 bedroom suites).

To get the full scoop and see me making the salmon dish tune into Deco Drive on channel 7, Feb. 2nd at 7:30 p.m. or 11:30 p.m.  The package was put together by Playa Property Management. For more info or to book a romantic Valentine gift that says "I love you more" than a box of chocolates (although chocolate is always welcome) contact Silvia Ortiz at or call 786-229-7615 or Nat Leon at or call 786-537-0751

I hope I will be cooking for you in the near future! By the way the art work is a collage I made celebrating my love of mermaids and the siren call of the sea. Also the seduction of love, food, chocolate and wine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Cochin Sabbath Chicken and Rice Pulao with Spiced Salt

Today we are making chicken and rice pulao slow simmered together in a pot and I've added the
wonderful Halen Mon sea salt from Wales mixed with ground spices: peppercorns, coriander seeds,
cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, paprika, cayenne, turmeric and cloves. It is like having a salt shaker
filled with a spice cabinet.  These beautiful sea salt crystals are mainly used as a finishing salt
sprinkled over finished dishes but I experimented and used it in the recipe along with other spices. Of

course I'll sprinkle some over the chicken and rice when its done. See picture above.

Not many people know the legacy of the Indian Jews who have long been one of the diverse threads woven into the tapestry of India. One-pot chicken and rice is a type of pulao served for the afternoon Sabbath meal in the Cochin (Kochi) Jewish community of Kerala in South India. It is called hamin (the Arabic word for “hot”) and is the Indian equivalent of cassoulet cooked over very slow heat. The pot of rice and chicken seasoned with lots of turmeric and cloves, cardamom and cinnamon is placed in the oven or on the stove top at very low temperature just before Shabbat begins at sundown and is served lunch the next day after prayers. The idea is to avoid violating the Shabbat laws that prohibit lighting flames, a form of work (no work is allowed on the Sabbath). 

A large group of Jews is believed to have sought refuge in Kerala around 500 B.C. after the destruction of King Solomon’s Temple. Many Jews were involved in the spice trade and familiar with the Malabar Coast and the tolerant Hindu kings. Jews possibly had sailed to Kerala much earlier, sent by King Solomon to study how Hindu temples were built and to buy timber, sandalwood, ivory and other materials for the construction of his temple. Some no doubt stayed and married local women. The Cochin Jews became well integrated into Kerala society while retaining their distinctive identity and religion. They became Indian as much as they remained Jewish. Their food is a culinary mosaic. This pulao recipe is based on one from Queenie Hallegua who taught it to Nathan Katz and his wife Ellen Goldberg when they lived with a family for a year  in Cochin recording the culture of a dwindling community (since 1948 most have emigrated to Israel). No beef or lamb can be eaten as the last ritual slaughterer left 30 years ago. Chicken and fish are staples. Most Sabbath meals start with fish balls in curry gravy or fried fish smeared in spices and koobe ( rice flour dumplings) followed by hamin.  This version is an Indian-spiced memory of the Sephardic original, with tender chicken melting from the bones and moist rice infused with the rich patina of browned onions and garlic and the sweet hotness of the spices with a gentle tomato tang. Some cooks add a few eggs in the shell that hard cook nestled among the rice and chicken. For special occasions dried fruit and nuts are usually sprinkled over the finished dish.
One 4  pound chicken cut into pieces, skin removed
2 cups basmati rice
3 tablespoons olive oil
One 2 inch cinnamon stick
4 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised with a pestle or other heavy object (such as a tin can)
4 whole cloves
5 medium yellow onions (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, quartered and thinly sliced
6 large or 12 small garlic cloves, smashed, skins removed and minced
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
 1 generous tablespoon peeled and grated gingerroot
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt crystals, preferably spiced Halen Mon
1 teaspoon cayenne powder or to taste

PREPARING THE CHICKEN. Cut the breasts into 3 pieces, using a large sharp knife. Hack the thighs in half, through the joint. Cut the wings into 3 pieces at the joints. Place in a bowl and set aside.

PREPARING THE RICE.  Place the rice in a medium size bowl and rinse under running cold water, swishing gently with your fingers to loosen the starch until the water runs clear (keep pouring off the water). Cover with fresh water and soak 30 minutes (the rice can soak while the onions brown). Pour into a mesh sieve and leave to drain until ready to cook the rice.

FRYING THE BROWN ONION AND GARLIC PASTE. Heat the oil in a large wide skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom and fry until the cardamom swells, about 2 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring fairly frequently with a slotted spoon as the mixture changes from soft and translucent to pale yellow and then light caramel, about 20 minutes. Watch carefully and stir almost constantly for another 5 minutes as the bottom layer starts to darken—scrape up and keep churning the limp mass of onions as they deepen to a rich caramel brown color.  Add the crushed tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, salt and cayenne, and cook, stirring frequently and scraping up from the bottom of the pan until starting to thicken, about 3 minutes.

ADDING THE CHICKEN. Add the chicken pieces to the pan, stirring well to coat in the sauce. Cook, stirring from time to time and turning each piece at least once until the flesh changes from glossy pink to milky white tinted golden, about 6 to 7 minutes. Taste and adjust for salt and turn off the heat.

COOKING THE CHICKEN AND RICE. Oil the inside of a large heavy pot, such as a 5-quart saucepan or Dutch oven and add the chicken with all the sauce. Add the rice and 2 1/4 cups of water. Give the mixture a quick stir using a slotted spoon to distribute the rice evenly over the chicken. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil a few minutes and reduce the heat to very low. Place a piece of foil over the pan, press the lid on and crumple the overhanging foil around the rim to create a seal (if you have a heat diffuser place it over the burner with the pot on top of it). Simmer about 1 1/2 hours. The rice will be moist and soft and the chicken falling off the bones.  Alternatively, preheat the oven to 300 degrees and bake in a tightly covered, foil-sealed pot about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the chicken and rice to a serving dish and serve garnished with cilantro and/or sea salt crystals. Makes 4-6 servings.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Sweet, Salty and Spicy for Jess

Since discovering Welsh natural Halon Mon sea salt crystals from the Isle of Anglesey I've been experimenting. The flakes shine and add a crisp element to whatever they are sprinkled over and they add depth in a recipe especially the salt mixed with crushed Tahitian vanilla beans used in sweets. I came up with the pictured mini flourless chocolate cupcake topped with mocha cream. I used my cake recipe for the cupcake (see my earlier post on spiced flourless chocolate cake) and piped a big swirl of mocha cream on top and sprinkled the vanilla Halen Mon salt crystals over the mocha cream. The mix of Indian spices (cardamon, cinnamon and garam masala) in the cake plus the salt and Bailey's coffee liqueur-infused mocha cream make for a sweet delight melding chocolate, coffee, spices and salt. If you don't have a pastry bag, no big deal. Take a plastic sandwich baggie, fill with the mocha cream and cut off one of the corners and squeeze in a circular motion to create a swirl. The final touch is a dusting of the vanilla salt.

Salted Mocha Cream for Jess

1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup powdered cocoa
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
2 generous tablespoons coffee liqueur such as Bailey's
1/2 teaspoon Halen Mon sea salt with Tahitian vanilla, plus more for garnishing

In a large bowl, with mixer at medium-high speed, beat all ingredients until stiff peaks form. Mixture with be dark brown and delicious. Just try to not dip in a finger and lick.

Pipe the mocha cream on cakes, cupcakes or fill a pie shell or layer between layers of angel food cake or any other cake. Garnish your creation with Halen Mon sea salt flakes with vanilla. You might want to invest in ear plugs so the applause wont deafen you ( just a suggestion).