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Friday, September 24, 2010

Jalebis and Garam Chai inspired by Climbing the Mango Trees for Cook the Books Club

I was as I often find myself completely enamored by our most recent Cook the Books selection...which was Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey.  It was a memoir...a lively, tempting, honest journey of a girl growing up in India...a girl who grew up in a different time...a different a completely different culture...and yet, I found myself connecting with her on a deeper level.  The vivid descriptions of a young girl and her family...making her way through life, recalling events through the food that was associated with them...on a mission to find the place in the world which she belonged, because she knew there was more out there than she presently knew!  "The life I was living was not my real life.  I was convinced that I belonged in another world.  I had no idea what that world might be, I just knew that I had not found it yet.  One day it would happen.  I would step out of one life and into another one-the one I was meant to be in.  I was oddly calm and optimistic about it."  Some people are just meant for more.

Jaffrey's descriptions of the traditional foods of Indian....and all of the cultures and influences that made their way into it had my mouth watering and my hands bookmarking the whole way through.  One of the memories that touched my soul was of school lunch.  She and her friends, a mini melting pot of Muslim, Hindu and Punjabi girls who couldn't guess that fate...and a division in their own country...would divide them one day not too far in the future.  When lunch period arrived, they would all grab their tiffin carriers and run to a remote section of grass, taking refuge from the heat under rows of tall shady trees.  They would excitedly share their amazing, handmade lunches... tier by tier...unstacking the wonders that were nestled inside.  "It was not so much the ingredients- the ingredients we used at home were not all that different, though we did use less chili powder- as the hand that put these ingredients together, and the order and timing it chose to use.  That hand had a different rhythm, a different energy from my mother's, and from our own Hindu cooks from Himalayan villages.  It produced a Muslim result."  I instantly drifted to memories of Mexi telling me how it just tastes different when I make a sandwich than when he makes a sandwich.  It tastes better coming from my hands....and I know that it actually IS about the energy of the hands that make that food.

So, I could go on and on about the parts of Jaffrey's book that spoke to me in whispers...or SCREAMED through my being, but instead, I'll just recommend that you read it for yourself.  You may hear something similar...or something all together different.  While I was tempted to make numerous things throughout the book, there was a memory that wouldn't leave me was as if it were my own.  I'm positive it's the comfort I feel when the sky opens up and soaks the world around me...the love of a magnificent thunderstorm...the way the earth feels cleansed.  Combined with with the marvel that is wind...I love to stand in it, close my eyes, and lift me chin...sniffing like an indoor cat at an open window...feeling my hair whip across my face.  Although I've never experienced a monsoon, I want to that sounds horrible, but I can't help myself  I somehow knew just how she must have felt when in the midst of the oppressive summer heat... " was a faraway smell, almost as if we were imagining it.  Soon the entire sky was dark with black clouds. thunder boomed from all sides, accompanied by zigzags of lightning.  The earth seemed hotter than ever.  First one or two fat drops of rain fell, then more and more, until there was a deluge.  Suddenly the heat broke, as if some shell encasing us had been cracked open.  We all....held our faces up to the sky, and allowed ourselves to get thoroughly soaked.  The monsoon season had finally arrived.  We could now feast on monsoon sweets, the squiggly pretzel-shaped jalebis, dunking them in glasses of cold milk as we gazed dreamily at the downpour."  At the same time I longed to step back in time and share a slice of Jaffrey's India, I also ached to get into the kitchen! 

I can imagine how perfectly a cold glass of milk tasted alongside the jalebis in the heat, but I was craving another treat mentioned in the that I've only ever ordered from coffee houses...or tasted from a weak, boxed blend.  I definitely wanted a cup of homemade chai alongside my jalebis...

Garam Chai
adapted from IndiaCurry
yield: ~5 c.

3 c.  water
3 c.  milk
¼ c. honey
1" cinnamon stick, broken
6 whole cloves, slightly bruised
6 whole green cardamom pods, cracked
6 whole black peppercorns, slightly bruised
½ tsp. powdered ginger
1 tsp. fennel seeds, slightly bruised
4 Black Tea tea bags
good grating off of a whole nutmeg

half 'n half (optional)

Place everything except the half 'n half in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer slowly for ~30 minutes.  Strain mixture.  Keep refrigerated.  When ready to serve, heat ¾ c. mixture w/ ¼ c. half 'n half in a small pot or in the microwave...or just drink it straight w/out adding the half 'n's good both ways!  I also like it served cold.
I made the chai a day in advance, and then re-heated a cup to eat with my jalebis once they were hot and ready.  I also tried it with a cold cup of chai, which was equally good...but a whole 'nother taste sensation.

recipe adapted slightly from IndiaCurry

1½ c. ap flour (maida)
¼ c. yogurt (dahi)
¼ tsp. baking soda

oil for frying

1½ c. sugar
1½ c. water

Mix the flour and yogurt together.  It will look a bit clumpy and stringy.  Cover and let sit at room temperature overnight to ferment.  Just before you're ready to use, sprinkle the baking soda over the mixture, then whisk in a little bit of tepid water at a time.  It should be slightly thicker than pancake batter.  Heat the oil to ~375° F.  Put the batter into a bastry bag or a zippered baggy and cut the tip off.  When the oil is hot, pipe the batter in squiggly lines or spirals into it.  Fry until golden on both sides, just a few minutes total.

Just before you're getting ready to mix the water into your batter, put the sugar and the water into a pot and bring to a boil.  Continue to let it boil for ~15 minutes, or until it is a thick syrup.  Set it to the side.

As you lift the fried dough from the hot oil, dip it into the sugar syrup and transfer to a rack or serving plate.  Eat immediately!

*all of the quotes listed were taken from Climbing the Mango Trees by Madhur Jaffrey ...they were some of my favorite moments of her memoir...


Would you like to comment?

  1. Jaffrey is a great writer, don't you think? Such evocative prose. Now you've got me craving chai!

  2. Absolutely beautiful post. The book sounds like a 'must read', and your dishes to compliment look delicious!

    P.S. Monsoons are magical. I was one of the few standing outside in one for as long as I could without being blown away, when I lived in Arizona briefly.

  3. Ever since we moved I haven't read much. I used to read on the subway but now I work too close to home, mostly drive now anyway.

    I've read some of Patricia Cornwell's mysteries - the main character (Scarpetta) usually cooks one or two fancy dishes in the book.

    Cornwell eventually published a cookbook of Scarpetta's recipes.

  4. What a great meal. I miss India! Thanks for the book recommendation - maybe that's the next book club book!

  5. a good read and a lovely snack and tea

  6. These look fantastic, wonderful post

  7. Wow. Delicious. Putting items on my shopping list to make this. YUM!

  8. very nice writeup... having spent my childhood in India I could almost feel the experiences as I was reading through... having actually done many of the things you mentioned myself... especially when we visited grandpa's farms... jalebi and chai is a good choice... very nicely done.

  9. This is a must make recipe and a lovely book to ready while sipping on the chai and eating these delightful jalebis...yum! I adore how food connects us to our past and fills us with such sweet remembrances! xoxo

  10. I'm not sure which I loved more...reading the book or reading your description of it. Both were just lovely! Damn do those jalebis sound good. And chai is always a favorite of mine.

  11. Heather! you are so speaking my language on the energy of food! I have not a clue where you find time to cook, mother and read! ;) What a lovely review and these nibbles look so good I want some! Hugs! Alex

  12. Great post! I love cooking from her books and I love her writing as well.

    I was just thinking the other day how happy the smells from the combo of these spices makes me feel. It is intoxicating.

  13. I'm a big Madhur fan. Have a couple of her cookbooks and everything I've made from them is wonderful. Great post Heather. You're a great writer.

  14. Sitting here with a cup of coffee and wishing for a plate of those...I just checked out this book from the library, but I'm saving it to read on my trip.

  15. Gorgeous post Heather! I am so glad you loved the book. Your jalebis look delicious and I think few things are better than a cup of homemade Chai--hot or cold. I was just thinking I needed to make some soon to welcome fall (not that we really get "fall" here but to welcome it in spirit!) ;-) Great entry!

  16. I like everything about this post; book, tea and jalebis.

  17. I need to read that book. You convinced me. I also need to work at Barnes and Noble to feed my book-reading habit! Lovely post, Heather (and my husband says the same thing about the sandwiches I make - I always chalked it up to him sweet-talking me into doing it for him!). And the food and spices just make my heart sing.

  18. Love your book review...makes me want to read it for myself! I really love chai too- I'll definitely try your recipe. Thanks!

  19. You have such a beautiful way with words, I am always drawn in. I can imagine how this book drew you in - my husband always says a sandwich made by me tastes better too - he says it is the love.

  20. I think I need to read this book...great review. And your dish looks fantatic as well!

  21. seems i have to put this on my reading list...and then make a large plate of jalebis and a cup of chai and dig in.
    congratulations on making to the next round of the blog challenge. i will be rooting for you (and voting too!)
    i think you have what it takes to go the distance!

  22. Wow both chai & jelabis tempts me a lot..

  23. I love her and her Indian recipes are fabulous! I must read her memoirs. I can imagine reading her book while nibbling on these wonderful Jalebis!

  24. Jaffrey is "the" expert on Indian food. Her books are fabulous.

    Congratulations on advancing to the next round in the Foodbuzz challenge. Your friends are with you all the way. Wishing you the very best of luck.

  25. Mmm, I love Chai. I had one last night. Jelabis sound great. Why is it anything deep fried is so good?

  26. I can't believe you made jalebis! I've never had them fresh and I always sort of assumed they were something you had to learn at your grandmother's knee. Right - off to make some chai!

  27. These are spectacular little things, I've never heard of them before. The chai is rocking the spice train, isn't it?

  28. Heather - I'm loving the way you shared this book with us. It's definitely one that I want to read. I'm not much on coffee, but I do love chai and have to think that your version was amazing! Love the Jalebis, they look like the perfect snack.

    P.S. I love to feel the wind and stand in the rain too. I always laugh when I see people running in the rain. I don't think they know what they're missing out on.

  29. You made jalebis!! I'm in complete awe.

    Isn't this the most wonderful book? I too was entranced by the school girls sharing their lunches. How I wanted to be in that group! (Especially when thinking about the really rather dull lunches that I took to school)

  30. Great review of a really good read and, I'm glad you brought sweets. They go nicely at our Indian potluck. I've got to try making chai with jalebis.

  31. An interesting pairing of flavors and textures. I enjoyed reading your post, as always.

  32. Nice writing. I enjoyed reading your post. And I will try that chai as soon as I locate some green cardamom pods.

  33. What a beautiful recap of the book! Your words are melodious, i think i prefer your write-up to the actual book!
    I have never attempted to make jelebis at home, it seemed all too complicated and those perfect concentric circles they come in seemed like an artform that needed to be mastered before it could be attempted! Kudos to you for translating them over to your own kitchen =)