The spiced milky tea called chai is truly the lifeblood of India. Served in small glasses called tapri, this beverage is everywhere you look – outside schools and universities, at every station, in makeshift cafés near construction sites, on every street corner, in every home. There is simply no escaping it!
Authentic chai is made with thick buffalo milk, black tea leaves, cardamom pods and loads of sugar. Other spices, such as cinnamon, cloves and fennel seeds, are sometimes added too.
Many of my late-night revision sessions were fuelled by chai, and a cup of it at the end of a long, gruelling shift in the kitchen always brings me back to life. To accompany the welcome brew, I’ve created some muffins that are flecked throughout with fine tea leaves, and taste a bit like milky tea. Feathery light and fragrant, they are a perfect teatime treat, and in fact a great snack whenever you’re feeling peckish.
Varaul, our elder son, loves all vegetables except courgettes, so this recipe started out as something to convert him. Given that he’s been a fan of ice cream since the age of three months, using it as a base would be winning half the battle. Knowing that cookie dough flavour was his favourite, I substituted leftover naan for the dough and voilà!
An Indian version was created. For the record, Varaul enjoyed this dessert and the inclusion of courgettes wasn’t revealed until every last bit had vanished. This tart is served time and again at Rasoi London as part of petit fours, along with tea and coffee.
Here is a simple dessert you can make when guests turn up unannounced at your door. Bhapa dahi (steamed yoghurt) allows you to get really creative with flavours and combinations: Serve it in individual ramekins with chopped fruit, homemade ice cream, jelly, fruit cream or even chocolate shavings. Bhapa dahi is traditionally part of Durga Puja, a religious festival when prayers and offerings are made to Durga, a Hindu deity who symbolises female power. For me, however, eating desserts is the perfect time to let go of worries, sink into blissful indulgence and thank God for all the sweet things happening in life!
For some unknown reason, beetroot is one of the least used vegetables in Indian cuisine, but I love its vivid colour and sweet, earthy flavour. I tend to use it a lot in my chutneys, soups and sauces, but here I have used it to make kulfi, the classic Indian egg-free ice cream. Initially, its colour can trick diners into thinking it is the popular rose kulfi, so the first taste often makes for interesting conversation at the dinner table. Sago, commonly sold in the form of pellets called ‘pearls’, is perhaps best known as the basis of a milk pudding. Here I have used it to create a pretty garnish that looks like red caviar. Kaju katli can best be described as cashew fudge, and is a children’s favourite. Ours just love it and bring loads back home from their trips to India.
Saffron is my favourite spice – I love the colour and ‘majesty’ it imparts to a dish. Here it is used in the poaching liquid for the pears, turning them a beautiful golden colour and bringing out their inherent caramel notes. For colour contrast I chose black sesame because it has a nuttiness that works well with dark chocolate and makes an unusual combination with the pear. (I must admit that my family and I were smitten by the black sesame ice cream we had during a trip to Japan, so I was determined to incorporate the flavour into one of my recipes.) Further texture variety is provided by the refreshing pear sorbet – like biting into a juicy, ripe pear – which is topped with a crisp fennel biscuit, another family favourite.