Tuesday, March 29, 2011


After a lot of requests for typical Maharashtrian Daals and Amtis, I thought I should start from the basics.
Moreover if I don't include "Varan" in the Soul Food tab, the whole concept of "Soul Food" gets challenged..:)

Varan is a real basic maharashtrian style daal. It is always a part of a traditional maharashtrian thali. Any offering given to God, has to have Varan in it's menu. It is also a regular in traditional maharashtrian style weddings. (Lagnachi pangat).

The most authentic way to eat this Varan is "Varan-Bhaat-Tuup-Limbu". Which translates to "Varan-rice-clarified butter(ghee)-lime".
So you take some hot fresh rice on your plate. Laddle in some Varan. Add about a teaspoon (or more if you dare) of ghee and squeeze a little lime. Mix it all together and gobble away.
The most important step to remember is to eat this while it is hot!

Level: Easy
Serves: 4 - 6 people

1 cup tur daal
3 pinch asafoetida (hing)
3/4 tsp turmeric powder
Salt to taste
1 large marble sized jaggery (or to taste)
Water as required

Step 1 - In a pressure cooker safe bowl, add the tur dal and wash well till the water runs clear.

Step 2 - Add 2 cups of water to the bowl, the asafoetida, turmeric powder and 3/4th tsp of salt. Pressure cook for 3 whistles or for as much time your pressure pan takes to cook lentils. You want to overcook the lentils here. They should all just mash and blend in together.

Step 3 - Once the pressure is all released, take out the bowl carefully from the pressure pan and mash the daal to a smooth puree like consistency. You could use a masher or a whisk here. The lentils being over cooked don't take long to break down.

Step 4 - Pour this puree into a larger pot and start heating it again. Add water till it reaches the consistency you desire. Generally Varan is supposed to have a thicker consistency. But you can add water based on your personal preferences. Add the jaggery and adjust salt. Boil for just 5 more mins.

Serve hot with some rice, tuup and limes.


Varan is supposed to have a thicker consistency than the other maharashtrian daals you will come across.

When you are pressure cooking the tur daal in the pressure cooker/pan, make sure you cover the bowl. You don't want the daal to boil over and mess up the entire pressure pan.

Some families like to have a bit of tur daal in the varan and do not enjoy it completely pureed. In this case do not overcook the lentils and just slightly mix them together once they cook.

Rack your brains:
In India split pigeon peas (tur daal/toor daal) is one of  the most popular pulses.
They are an important source of protein in a mostly vegetarian diet.

Along with high levels of proteins, they also contain the important amino acids methionine, lysine and tryptophan.

Monday, March 28, 2011


The March 2011 Daring Baker's Challenge was hosted by Ria of Ria's Collection and Jamie of Life's a Feast. Ria and Jamie challenged The Daring Bakers to bake a Yeasted Meringue Coffee Cake.

Our Verdict: Loved it....almost got over my fear of using yeast! Great when you dunk it in some hot fresh coffee or tea. Made my first Bread...YEY!
Mine did look pretty, but not as pretty as Ria's Cake...:)

My Take: I made Jamie's sweet chocolate nut version sans cinnamon (not a big fan). I halved the recipe. This being my first challenge and first time using yeast in a recipe, did not try any innovative ideas which were popping in my head. Only change I made was, instead of using  pecans I replaced them with sliced almonds, as I had them readily available.

Mandatory Items: Sweet Yeast Dough for the Coffee Cake and the meringue

Preparation time:
For the dough:
10 - 15 minutes preparation of the dough
8 – 10 minutes kneading
45 – 60 minutes first rise
10 – 15 minutes to prepare meringue, roll out, fill and shape dough
an additional 45 – 60 minutes for second rising.
Baking time: approximately 30 minutes
Equipment required:
Measuring cups for dry ingredients
Measuring cup for liquid
Measuring spoons
Cutting board and sharp knife for chopping nuts & chocolate if using
2 large mixing bowls
1 small mixing bowl
1 medium mixing bowl for beating egg whites, preferably plastic or metal
1 medium saucepan
Electric mixer or stand mixer
Wooden spoon
Rolling pin
Clean kitchen scissors or sharp knife
Plastic wrap & clean kitchen towel
Parchment paper
2 medium-sized baking trays (or 1 large if your oven is large enough)
Cooling racks
Serving platter
Vegetable oil to grease bowl

Makes 2 round coffee cakes, each approximately 10 inches in diameter
The recipe can easily be halved to make one round coffee cake
For the yeast coffee cake dough:
4 cups (600 g / 1.5 lbs.) flour
¼ cup (55 g / 2 oz.) sugar
¾ teaspoon (5 g / ¼ oz.) salt
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons / 7 g / less than an ounce) active dried yeast
¾ cup (180 ml / 6 fl. oz.) whole milk
¼ cup (60 ml / 2 fl. oz. water (doesn’t matter what temperature)
½ cup (135 g / 4.75 oz.) unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
For the meringue:
3 large egg whites at room temperature
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ cup (110 g / 4 oz.) sugar
For the filling:
Jamie’s version:
1 cup (110 g / 4 oz.) chopped pecans or walnuts
2 Tablespoons (30 g / 1 oz.) granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (170 g / 6 oz.) semisweet chocolate chips or coarsely chopped chocolate
Egg wash: 1 beaten egg
Cocoa powder (optional) and confectioner’s sugar (powdered/icing sugar) for dusting cakes.
Prepare the dough:
In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ cups (230 g) of the flour, the sugar, salt and yeast.
In a saucepan, combine the milk, water and butter and heat over medium heat until warm and the butter is just melted. 
With an electric mixer on low speed, gradually add the warm liquid to the flour/yeast mixture, beating until well blended. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes. Add the eggs and 1 cup (150 g) flour and beat for 2 more minutes.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in enough of the remaining flour to make a dough that holds together. Turn out onto a floured surface (use any of the 1 ½ cups of flour remaining) and knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, sexy and elastic, keeping the work surface floured and adding extra flour as needed.
Place the dough in a lightly greased (I use vegetable oil) bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise until double in bulk, 45 – 60 minutes. The rising time will depend on the type of yeast you use.
Prepare your filling:
In a small bowl, combine the cinnamon and sugar for the filling if using. You can add the chopped nuts to this if you like, but I find it easier to sprinkle on both the nuts and the chocolate separately.

Once the dough has doubled, make the meringue:
In a clean mixing bowl – ideally a plastic or metal bowl so the egg whites adhere to the side (they slip on glass) and you don’t end up with liquid remaining in the bottom – beat the egg whites with the salt, first on low speed for 30 seconds, then increase to high and continue beating until foamy and opaque. Add the vanilla then start adding the ½ cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time as you beat, until very stiff, glossy peaks form.
Assemble the Coffee Cakes:
Line 2 baking/cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, working one piece of the dough at a time (keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic), roll out the dough into a 20 x 10-inch (about 51 x 25 ½ cm) rectangle. Spread half of the meringue evenly over the rectangle up to about 1/2-inch (3/4 cm) from the edges. Sprinkle half of your filling of choice evenly over the meringue (ex: half of the cinnamon-sugar followed by half the chopped nuts and half of the chocolate chips/chopped chocolate).

Now, roll up the dough jellyroll style, from the long side. Pinch the seam closed to seal. Very carefully transfer the filled log to one of the lined cookie sheets, seam side down. Bring the ends of the log around and seal the ends together, forming a ring, tucking one end into the other and pinching to seal.

Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife (although scissors are easier), make cuts along the outside edge at 1-inch (2 ½ cm) intervals. Make them as shallow or as deep as desired but don’t be afraid to cut deep into the ring.
Repeat with the remaining dough, meringue and fillings.
Cover the 2 coffee cakes with plastic wrap and allow them to rise again for 45 to 60 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Brush the tops of the coffee cakes with the egg wash. 

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes until risen and golden brown. The dough should sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from the oven and slide the parchment paper off the cookie sheets onto the table. Very gently loosen the coffee cakes from the paper with a large spatula and carefully slide the cakes off onto cooling racks. Allow to cool.

Just before serving, dust the tops of the coffee cakes with confectioner’s sugar as well as cocoa powder if using chocolate in the filling. 

These are best eaten fresh, the same day or the next day.