Lord Vishnu is undoubtedly one of the bravest god who has fought all these battles to destroy the Asuras, one of the many reasons that we celebrate a festival called as the Sankrant, but I do wonder if a simple solution other than the battles could have helped; Just feed each of those Asuras a bottle-full of Tahini, I am sure they would have dropped dead!
Tahini- the name itself sounds very rude. When I first ordered a dish that had a tahini sauce I had already made up my mind not to like it; to me it has always sounded like the name of some bitter-looking, rough, cruel, personality that loves to dominate and overpower anything that comes in his wake, more than a subtle ingredient it sounds like a weapon of mass destruction, no kidding.
And I was right.
The dish was mainly of lightly seared bay scallops, spiked parsnip sauce, a Paros Moraitis 2004 reduction and on top was a small quenelle of black sesame Tahini. Had it not been for my friend, who was a big fan of this sesame paste, I would have silently put it off on the side and enjoyed the remainder of the plate, but just to impress her I took the bite and set off the flavor destroying atom bomb in action. The tannic bitter flavor bombarded my taste-buds killing many, soon seizing control over my mouth building a thick fatty fortress throughout the tongue blocking the entry of those subtle sweet flavors of the scallops, parsnips and the wine. Aah well, so much for a fine dine dinner I thought, making a mental note of never to order a Tahini based dish on a date again!
Sesame seeds and jaggery haunted my gourmet thoughts today for an obvious reason, it was Sankrant, a festival to celebrate the winter solstice in India when preparations using those two ingredients dominate the food scene, the most common one being laddus (golf-ball sized rounds using sesame seeds and melted jaggery). Although the New York sky was clear of any kites, no children running around distributing the sesame sweets my mind had a painted picture of all this plus that of my mother making some sweet laddus at home. With this, the chef in me roared to use the ingredient couple and whip up some recipe for today and I soon found myself walking down to the local grocery store. Laddus and chikkis were out of question, some dishes are not only home-made but they are mom-made too ( and I may be a skilled aspiring chef but I do lack skills and mainly patience to make those tiny rounds from the hot melted jaggery), so I hunted around the different aisles not just looking for ingredients but also inspiration for a recipe with a contemporary twist.
And there, as I turned into another aisle I saw the small orange colored tin of Tahini. It seemed today even the bitter paste of middle-east was smiling at me politely, urging me to experiment with it’s flavors. Like the saying commonly goes during Sankrant – tilgul ghya goad goad bola (literally translated as – eat sesame and jaggery, speak of nothing but flattery), I did think the Tahini was speaking sweetly to me inspiring me to buy the tin and bring it home to try out this recipe…..
- Tahini (making it at home)
- 1 cup Sesame seeds
- 1/3rd cup olive oil or regular vegetable oil
- METHOD – 1. Toast the sesame seeds on a low flame on a flat pan for 8 to 10 minutes. Do not brown them. 2. Cool them and grind them in a blender slowly adding the oil from top. The result should be a very smooth off-white paste as seen in the picture.
- Gul – Tahini Dip – ( I made this and served it in two ways, with rice crepes and eggplant fritters. Recipes for both follow)
- 1/4th cup Tahini
- 1/4th cup Jaggery
- 1/4th cup Coconut milk
- 1.5 tsp chilli flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- METHOD – 1. In a small sauce pot, take a little water enough to cover the bottom and over a low flame melt the jaggery in it until it is completely melted. Make sure you keep stirring and avoid burning the surface. 2. Turn off the flame. With a whisk, rapidly mix in the tahini and keep whipping until the tahini and the jaggery form a smooth think paste. 3. Let the mixture slowly cool down for three minutes, keep whisking from time to time. Then pour in the coconut milk, very slowly, yet steadily while whisking the paste rapidly until all the three ingredients get mixed smoothly. Stir in the salt and chilli flakes. Your dip is ready! (easy eh?)
- Rice Crepes –
- 2 cups rice flour
- 1 1⁄2 tbsp. cornstarch
- 1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1⁄3 cup coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp green chillies minced
- METHOD – 1. Make the batter: In a large bowl, whisk together the rice flour, corn starch, chilli and salt. Make a well in the center, pour in the coconut milk and 2 cups water, and whisk until the batter is smooth. 2. Working in batches, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a 12″ nonstick pan over high heat. Using a liquid measuring cup, pour 1⁄2 cup batter into the skillet, swirling to cover the bottom. Cook until set and edges start peeling of. Fold the crepe into a fourth of a triangle. Repeat the same with the remaining batter. 3. Layer two crepes over each other, pour the gul-tahini sauce on top and serve warm!
- Eggplant Fritters –
- 1 each large eggplant ( regular )
- 1/4 cup garlic chopped
- 2 tbsps. chopped cilantro (coriander leaves)
- 2 tsps black pepper
- 1/2 tsp minced green chillies
- 1 to 1.5 cups ghee (or unsalted clarified butter)
- 1tbsp salt
- METHOD – 1. Cut the eggplant into quarters. Using a slicer slice the eggplant lengthwise into a thin strips of about 1mm in width. You can also slice them into thin rounds of same width. If you are using a knife make sure you cut them evenly. 2. Warm up the butter slightly, to it add all the garlic and chilli and let it sizzle for a minute. Turn of the flame. Add the salt, cilantro and black pepper and mix well. Pour it over the sliced eggplants. The trick is to get the eggplant covered in the ghee/butter. Check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Let it stand for atleast half -hour. 3. Heat a non-stick pan on a medium flame. Remove each slice of eggplant from it’s marinade, do not wipe out the fat that sticks to them and put it on the pan. Fry each side for three to four minutes or until the eggplants get extremely dark in color, almost near to black but surely not burnt. A quick touch would tell you they are crisp. Remove them on a drip pad ( tissue paper on a plate to absorb oil). Serve them warm with the dip on the side.
So here’s wishing each and everyone a Happy Makar Sankrant!
(* pictures used are solely for presentational purpose. Actual results vary
** the mythological example or any other expressions used in the article are solely for creative purposes and bears no offense or any feelings towards cultures, beliefs and food habits)