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For the love of chocolate!

When we have something delicious, we often wonder who might have discovered this and how did they know what to do with this? This week, with all the Valentine’s Day fervor, we thought about chocolate, and wondered about the same thing.Like most great discoveries, chocolate too is a result of accidents, trials and errors. Grown only along the equator, the use of cocoa was known to Central American Indians since about 1400 BC, when they used cocoa pods to make beer. Cocoa pods, which are roughly the size of a papaya, were wholly fermented and the resulting pulp was used to make beer while the fermented seeds were discarded. It took a while for them to realize that the fermented seeds too could be used to make a non-alcoholic drink!Cocoa drink was highly valued, despite its bitter taste. Usually, it was mixed with other things like wine, spices, vanilla, etc. It was had during festivities like marriages and childbirth and was believed be an aphrodisiac and also give strength. When it was discovered by Columbus, cocoa got introduced to Europe, who knew about sugar.

However, it was only during the 19th century that chocolate became commercialized thanks to the work of a Dutch chemist, Coenraad van Houten. Later in the same century, others like Daniel Peter, Henri Nestlé, Rodolphe Lindt and Milton Hershey got into chocolate making and commercialized it.

Today, majority of cocoa is sourced from West African countries like Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria. There is much wrong about cocoa sourcing today, with slave and child labour being rampant. So when you buy chocolates, please look for the Fairtrade logo at the back of the packet and do your bit to encourage ethical sourcing!

 

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Don’t you just heart this chocolate?

 


 

Chocolates make the best gift, always. No wonder, with Valentine’s Day coming up, you must be out there hunting for the best ones in town. This time, how about we tell you how to make some at home? We bet it will melt your partner’s heart faster than chocolate 🙂

Here’s a simple recipe to help you with it:

Ingredients:
Cocoa butter or coconut oil ½ cup
Cocoa powder ½ cup
Honey ¼ cup
Vanilla or other essence 1 tsp
Roasted almonds, raisins, etc. As preferred

Method:

  • Heat water in a small pan. Place the cocoa butter in a bowl over the pan until it melts. (Step not needed if using coconut oil in liquid form)
  • Take the bowl off the heat. Add cocoa powder, honey, essence and other ingredients. Mix well until uniformly consistent
  • Pour into molds or over baking paper or other non-stick surface. Allow it to cool. If using coconut oil, refrigerate to cooll

Have a very special Valentine’s Day!

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India’s Wine High

unnamed (3)In our last post, we told you about tables grapes in India and how they came into our lives. But today wine is gaining equal, if not more importance in our food habits. And so, during this grape season, we also tell you a wee bit about wine grapes and how wine is winning hearts all over the country.Wine is not new to India. In fact, it is believed to be a few millennia old – around the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. Surprisingly after that, the earliest evidence found is from the time of the Persian invasion, when some rulers were believed to consume wine. Of course, the French, the Portuguese and the British had their influence and even planted some vineyards for wine making in India.In 1883-84, in the Great Calcutta International Exhibition, Indian wine was showcased for the first time ever, and it received great response! Sadly, however, few years later a disease found its way into the vineyards and the epidemic destroyed them all. In the early 20th century, the British tried to replant the vineyards, but refrained from doing so due to social opposition.

Even after independence, many states had prohibited alcohol but gradually loosened up. While some brandy units were set up in the 70’s, real wine production in India in modern times was pioneered by Shyam Choughule of Indage, who introduced Marquise de Pompadour, a sparkling wine in the 80’s with French collaboration. Kanwal Grover took the cue and started Grover Vineyards, which emerged a leader in premium wines.

It was only after the entry of Rajeev Samant of Sula, that the wine industry really took off. Today, Sula is the biggest producer of wine in India. Smaller wineries followed, like York, Chateau D’Ori, Fratelli and many more. Today, Indian wineries produce some very fine wines, and are being exported and appreciated world over. With rising global exposure and falling social taboos, wine is getting to its rightful place of a food accompaniment, and away from being just an ‘alcoholic drink’. Food and wine pairing is generating a lot of interest as it enhances the entire dining experience.


 

The wine world is complex, and to make good wine is no mean feat. There are more than 10,000 varieties of wine grapes, so good luck selecting the right ones to start with!

Fortunately, ancient wisdom, studies and experiments have proven some varieties to be more suitable than others, so it narrows the list down considerably. Below, we tell you about some major wine varieties that are grown in India and their flavours in brief, along with their pronunciation, so you come out shining from any discussion about wine with friends!

Whites:

Chenin Blanc (shen in blahnk)
Fruity with honey, usually sweet and easy to drink

Sauvignon Blanc (saw vee nyon blahnk)
Crisp, grassy and aromatic, generally goes well with a variety of vegetarian, poultry and sea food dishes

Chardonnay (shar doh nay)
Wide range of fruity flavours, butter and versatile to pair

Reds:

Cabernet Sauvignon (cab er nay saw vee nyon):
Spicy, rich in black fruits and tannins, more complex than other red wines
(Tip: Call is Cab Sauv in casual conversations and people will not turn to anyone else for wine advice)

Merlot (mer loh)
Red fruits, easy to drink and has lesser tannins than a Cab Sauv

Shiraz (she raaz)
Spicy, jammy flavours with black fruit. Quite possible to confuse with Cabernet Sauvignon, but is typically less spicier

Have a happy wine time!

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Grapes Are Not Sour – Table Grapes

Main photoCome January and your fruit basket starts looking incomplete without the fruit of the season. We bet you love grapes too and that you would be out there buying it already!One of the oldest fruits known to mankind, grape has been the favorite of many rulers, and hence found its way across the world during their invasions. The earliest known cultivation of grape dates back to about 8000 years ago, in the Near East, now known as the Middle East.

Grape arrived in India with the Persian invasion, around 1300 AD. The rulers then cultivated grape around Aurangabad and south India. Christian missionaries too, cultivated grape in Madurai and Salem districts of Tamil Nadu. By the early 20th century, the Nizam of Hyderabad started cultivation in Hyderabad.

In 1925, Shree Ramrao Jairamji Gaikwad brought grapevine from Hyderabad to Ojhar, a town near Nashik, which started what is known now as the Table Grape Revolution. Today, Nashik is the largest producer of table grapes in the country.

With numerous health benefits, grapes are getting a lot of attention in dietary literature. While there is no doubt that eating grapes is a healthy thing to do, not many of us know the different varieties of table grapes.

Below is a short guide on the most popular varieties of table grapes that are available in the Indian market right now. So next time you buy grapes, you know exactly what you are buying!

thompson-seedlessThompson Seedless:
The most common variety of white grape across the world, Thompson Seedless or Sultana, is oval in shape and light green in colour. It is also widely used for making raisins. The popularity of this grape is due to its thin skin and crunchy texture.

 

 

sonakaSonaka Seedless:
This variety of white grape was developed by Solapur che Nanasaheb Kale. Get the name now? Sonaka is a variant of Thompson seedless, but instead of the oval shape, they are quite elongated while they do retain the thin skin. After Thompson Seedless, Sonaka Seedless is the second most exported variety from India.

 

Sharad

Sharad Seedless:
This is a locally developed black grape variety, named after none other than Mr. Sharad Pawar (we are not kidding). This variety is quite sweet and the texture is crisp. The berries are oval in shape and big.

 

 

FlameFlame Seedless:
Who doesn’t like a good-looking bunch of grapes? The round shape and flaming red colour is helping this variety soar on the popularity charts. Flame seedless is very crunchy and juicy.

 

 

Red globeRed Globe:
These are the grapes you would find wrapped in a fancy plastic bag, with an abnormally large and round berry. This variety is seeded and quite juicy. Currently, a large quantity of Red Globe is being imported in to India.

 

 

Other varieties like Fantasy Seedless, Perlette and Muscat are also grown in India. Bangalore Blue is an indigenous variety of grape which is used for making juice.

So, enjoy your grapes, and have fun identifying different grapes as you eat them!

Stay tuned for our next post about wine grapes!

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Happy New Year

At the midnight stroke tonight, the entire nation will go into frenzy, wishing each other Happy New Year and looking to start an amazing 2016 ahead. That happens not just in India, but around the world. While traditionally, different parts of India celebrate New Year during different times, some other countries celebrating today stand out with their own traditions. We bring you a glimpse of a few food traditions, which help start the New Year with great luck!unnamed (2)

Austria: Marzipan pigs

Marzipan is made from sugar or honey and almond. Little pink pigs made from Marzipan are eaten to start a new year, as pigs are a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

Spain: Grapes
To be specific, 12 grapes in 12 seconds – one for each month. And while you’re at it, make a wish with each one. Doesn’t seem easy, does it?

Scotland: Shortbread, black bun and whisky (duh)
After midnight, if a dark-haired male (the better looking, the better) is the first one to enter your house with shortbread, black bun and whisky, rest assured that you are going to have a good year. This tradition is called ‘first footing’.

Netherlands: Oliebollen
No, it does not contain what you are probably thinking. Oliebollen (oily spheres) are made by frying dough containing diced apples and raisins and then sprinkling sugar on them.

Japan: Toshikoshi Soba
Toshikoshi Soba (meaning ‘year-passing’ noodles) are buckwheat noodles which are eaten just before midnight. This not only brings you good luck, but also helps you get a long life.

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Where’s the Plum in Plum Cake?

Merry Christmas

Every Christmas, the one thing that all of us look forward to, other than the cold nights and pretty lights, is plum cake! The rich, spongy fruit cake soaked in rum is an absolute delight to eat, leading to sometimes an unhealthy obsession for many. While Christmas spreads cheer and happiness, it may not be the best season for the diet conscious.

Fun fact – the Christmas plum cake was not meant for Christmas and has no plum. Well, not any more. It was originally a pudding which was a British party dish, and then transformed into a tradition of Christmas pudding, to be eaten on Christmas eve after fasting. This pudding included meat, wine and prunes (or plums) mainly and was prepared by steaming. Gradually, meat found its way out, raisins and dry fruits replaced the plum and those who could afford, started baking instead of steaming.

Though the ingredients changed, the name did not, and hence we still call it plum cake. One thing that stayed, thankfully, is the use of spirits. The once traditional pudding was served with some rum or brandy on top and lit with fire, making it a spectacular display. Today, either the ingredients or the cake is soaked in rum.

Wish you a very Merry Christmas!

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Bolo Chai Garam Chai

Happy International Tea Day

Little would you have realized holding your morning cup of tea today, that the beverage in your hand is being celebrated all of over the world as you sip it. This is the day you can thank Mother Nature and tea producers for refreshing you with every cup. Happy International Tea Day!

The first rightful person deserving thanks existed several millennia ago. Shennong, the legendary Chinese Emperor first discovered tea as a medicinal herb some time around 2737 BC. Soon, it’s pleasant fragrance and taste caught on and it came into the daily lives of the Chinese. It was only in the 16th century that the Portuguese and British were introduced to the beverage, after which tea became a global favorite.

India became a tea loving nation thanks to the British, who started tea plantation here during the 19th century in order to break the Chinese monopoly in tea production. The success of experiments in Assam and then Darjeeling encouraged development of the crop in other regions of India too, and gave rise to additional tea regions in South India and consequently, a thriving tea industry with three Geographical Indication (GI) tags: Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri. Today, India is one of the largest producers and also the largest consumer of tea in the world!

Tea is an integral part of our lives now, and it’s hard to imagine life without it. One may not be wrong in saying that we are a tea-addicted nation. But well, better be addicted to something good!

For all the times that tea has made us happy, we owe it a small celebration. Meet an old friend over tea today. Or make tea for someone you care about. Let happiness spread! And if you don’t drink tea, try making today an exception.

Cheers!

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Secrets of Dum Pukht

How Dum Pukht Came To Be

No true Indian would ever have deprived himself or herself of a Dum cooked dish. It has always been on the menus of Indian restaurants and even a mention of this legendary cooking style is enough to get everybody salivating. But what actually goes into it?

Well, some meat or vegetables, not too much water, liberal amounts of ghee, and little spice. Yes, little spice. ‘Dum Pukht’, which literally translates to ‘heat choking’ in English, is a cooking method which relies mainly on the flavor of the ingredients alone, which are cooked in their own juices. Though the cooking method is considered a royal one, it has a humble beginning.

The Awadhi Nawab Asaf-ud-daulah, during the famine in 1780s, initiated the construction of the Bara Imambara in Lucknow, to provide employment and food to his subjects. Legend has it that to make food available through day and night, they cooked food very slowly, using low heat and by trapping the steam inside a handi. They used flour dough to seal the lid, which was broken only to serve food.

Since spices at the time could not be easily afforded, their use for the common man was limited, and hence Dum Pukht started with a low amount of spice. But when the lids were opened, the wafting aroma of the tenderly cooked meat and light spices caught the attention of the Nawab, and he ordered the same to be cooked in the Royal kitchen. The rest is history.

There have been modifications in the procedure since, and original Dum Pukht is hard to find these days. Recipes are available in abundance, but we’ve tried to gather and present some nuances of the authentic process. Why don’t you try and let us know how it worked for you?

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Indian Breads

Misal Pav
From Pav to Slice Bread and Back

To those who grew up in Western India, Pav was always a part of the ‘growing up’. From eating on the streets to special dinners at home, Pav was always there. So integral was Pav to food, that when you first traveled elsewhere in India, the absence of Pav was a big, big surprise. Vice versa, those who came here from other parts of India had something new to try.

What makes this bread special to Western India? The Portuguese influence. History tells us that when the Portuguese first came to Goa, they sorely missed their bread. While yeast was not easily available, they started making bread or pao, using the local toddy for fermentation. Gradually, yeast became available, and the pav traveled to Mumbai.

There, it became a staple among mill workers as a part of street food. Pav bhaji, vada pav, omlette pav and kheema pav became street food heroes and consequently gained entry in to homes and restaurants. However, the pav never really became a national phenomenon.

May be since the pav was considered down-market as compared to slice breads, it did not quite find acceptability among the upper classes. While Western India had had a close relationship with pav, the other part of the country probably never warmed up to it, since every part had their own version of bread dishes like parathas and appams.

Now, however, pav is gaining acceptance in upmarket restaurants as an alternative to the now common and boring slice breads. Misal pav, which again started off as the poor mill worker’s food, recently won the World’s Tastiest Vegetarian Dish title.  Amazing how times change, isn’t it?

For you to try this now world famous dish, check out the recipe from the Wandering Foodie archive.

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Indian Coffee And How To Make A Good One

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

On 1st October 2015, the world celebrated its first official International Coffee Day. But little did anyone know that two days before, on 29th September 2015, India silently celebrated its National Coffee Day.

Coffee forms an important beverage in homes in southern India. Each household has its own preferred blend of coffee variety and chicory, so even the taste of coffee would vary every few meters. Don’t you just love how diverse this country is?

Indian coffee has always been known to be of great quality, with most of it being exported to European countries, mainly Italy. It is the only country which grows coffee under shade, rather than direct sunlight like in other parts of the world. The leguminous shade trees recycle nutrients and at the same time, check soil erosion. Many spices too grow along side the coffee plantations in India, which provide the coffee a distinct aroma and make it special.

Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu are the traditional producers of coffee in the country. But recently, good quality coffee is also coming from regions like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Northeast India too. As a result, coffee production is on the rise in India, and so is the consumption.

If you want to try good specialty Indian varieties, go for the traditional Arabica and Robusta ones like the S.795, Sln.9, Cauvery, Monsooned Malabar, Mysore Nuggets Extra Bold or the Robusta Kaapi Royale. Ask for them at your nearest Kerala store!

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Amchi Mumbai’s Native Food

The Mumbai Local

Much is being said about the new restaurants as well as home-chefs in Mumbai, who have brought a plethora of cuisines and their fusions to the city. If you love food, Mumbai is THE place to be right now! The variety that the city offers in terms of food right now is insane. In this frenzy though, let’s not forget the native cuisine of Mumbai.

Mumbai was originally inhabited by communities like the Kolis, East Indians, Pathare Prabhus, Agris and Bhandaris. Each of these communities have a cuisine of their own, and the range of food in each one is astounding. Non-vegetarian food dominates these cuisines. Not just fish, as one would expect, but if one were to go exploring the native cuisine of Mumbai, it would take months to taste every dish!

The blends of spices from native Mumbai are heavy on red chili powder, and provide a distinct zing to the food, especially the Koli and Agri masalas, which add heat to the otherwise simple fish and vegetable dishes. Use of coconut, though less in Koli & Agri food, is quite prevalent in Pathare Prabhu food, while East Indian food is a wonderful result of Portuguese influence on the native cuisine.

If you get your hands on dishes like Bombil (Bombay duck) fry or curry, pork vindaloo, mutton masala or prawns curry, trust us, you don’t want to pass!

Here’s a recipe of our Koli favorite. Simple and easy to make; but we promise that it’ll be one of the tastiest dishes you eat this week.

Bombil (Bombay Duck) Fry