Kitchen Experiments – Basbousa

Some extra time on this week day evening had me tinkering around the kitchen, looking for something to try out from what was available in the house. I remembered a recipe I had read some days ago, of the traditional Middle Eastern sweet cake known as Basbousa. The cake has various regional and dialect names – basbusah in Arabic, shamali in Armenian, revani in Turkish, gabelouze in French. Nammoura in Lebanon, hareesa in Jordan, pastusha in Kuwait. It is popular in the cuisines of the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Horn of Africa, and is primarily composed of semolina or milled wheat, soaked in sugar syrup. All the required ingredients readily available at home, I decided to have a go in trying it out.

I used semolina and desiccated coconut, to which yogurt and butter were added along with lemon juice, rose water, and baking powder. The entire mixture was filled into a baking tray, and baked for about twenty minutes at 160° Celsius. On cooling for a little while post baking, hot sugar syrup was poured on the warm cake. I cut the cake first, giving the syrup space to soak into each piece. Alternately, one can also poke holes with a knitting needle for the syrup to soak in completely. Garnishing is optional – I used an almond for each piece.

For those without a sweet tooth, this recipe is not very sweet and fun to try out. I used homemade yogurt which was unsweetened and made from low-fat milk. The desiccated coconut was also unsweetened. Remember, you can avoid the sugar syrup topping if you want – the cake is soft enough due to the yogurt. It makes for a healthy and filling snack.

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All ingredients mixed together, except for the sugar syrup.
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Out from the oven and left to cool.
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Pieces cut before pouring the syrup, ensuring it soaks in completely.
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Optional garnishing. You can also use chopped walnuts or pistachios or flaxseed powder.

If you like trying cuisines from around the world, have a go at this and let me know how it turns out.

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Weekend Kitchen Experiments – Handvo

Weekends are a time for trying out new recipes and experimenting in the kitchen. I love baking and usually tinker with sweet dishes, but had some extra time on hand yesterday and tried out this savory preparation for breakfast.

Handvo is a vegetable cake originating from Western India – a part of the cuisine specific to the state of Gujarat. It is often made with bottle gourd, though other vegetables can also be used as filling. The commonly used ingredients are wheat flour or rice, a mixture of lentils, bottle gourd and/or other vegetables and sesame seeds, making this a wholesome meal to enjoy by itself or with a side of pickle or chutney.

There are four parts to the ingredients – the dough, the vegetables, the tempering, and the garnishing. For the dough, rice and gram were soaked the previous day for a few hours, ground, and then left to ferment overnight with yogurt. Bottle gourd, carrots and ginger were peeled and grated, fenugreek leaves were finely chopped, and green chillies were crushed. A tempering was made by heating oil, adding mustard seeds and turning off the heat once they started spluttering. Sesame seeds and dried red chillies were added, followed by all the remaining ingredients assembled earlier. The medley of food components were mixed well.

With an oven pre-heated and a baking pan greased, baking soda needs to be added just before you are ready to pour the batter into the pan. Sesame seeds were sprinkled on top and the mixture was baked for about half an hour. (The top needs to turn crispy brown – baking could take anywhere between twenty-five to forty-five minutes.) It was left to cool for about twenty minutes before removing from the pan. I sprinkled chopped coriander leaves on top before serving. Additional sesame seeds or flaxseed powder can be added to the garnish, if desired.

Handvo is usually prepared and served as a cake. I baked the mixture in two sets, resulting in two “flattened cakes” instead of one thick one. It does not affect the taste – I just wanted to start eating while the second lot was still in the oven, and the flatter version baked faster. And this is a very nutritious meal – with it’s assortment of grains, seeds and vegetables, and the fact that it is baked. Minimal oil is used for the tempering.

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The “flat cake” since I divided the mixture into two sets for baking.
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Garnished with coriander leaves.
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All set for a healthy breakfast.

Considering the time required for soaking and fermenting the grains, and baking the entire mixture, this is a longish meal preparation. The ingredients, however, are mixed and set aside and the dish otherwise does not take up too much of time. Give this one a go if you like trying cuisines from around the world and are looking for healthy alternatives.