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.