rose and strawberry almond milk falooda

rose and strawberry almond milk falooda | A Brown Table

You'll notice a new tab up on the blog, it's a link to my photography portfolio. Some photographs will be familiar and others new to you but in general, it's a collection of projects I've worked on or currently working on. When people ask me what I like more being in the kitchen or working with the camera, I find it hard to choose and honestly, I don't think there should be a choice. In that very sense, maintaining a food blog is the nexus of these two elements and I think it also answers that question. Probably, one of the most exciting things is having the choice to do things the way you want to and breaking and bending the rules, be it food or the camera. 

"Falooda" is probably one of the most popular dessert type drinks you can find in India. When I visited India, last year I got one and made sure it was topped with ice cream. An ice cold glass of sweet rose flavored milk served with ice cream, thin vermicelli noodles and basil seeds. But before I talk about my version, I have to give a shout out to a Persian dessert that is the origin of this delicious drink.

Persians have a dessert with a similar name called "Faloodeh" which is pretty spectacular, the ones I've generally eaten at Persian restaurants, is a rose and lemon flavored frozen dessert with thin vermicelli noodles and I like to top it off with some sour cherry sauce. But there are variations, on this theme that I know I have to taste soon. If you visit a Persian restaurant get it, you will love it. 

In this updated version of the Indian drink, I've skipped the dairy in favor of almond milk from Califia. Falooda is all about the layers so I stuck with the theme because that's what makes it rather exciting, besides all the lovely flavors. I kept the vermicelli and the rose, well sort of. Ideally you would use rose syrup but rose water is much gentler and you can control the sweetness, the syrup on the other hand can be super sweet in this drink. Basil seeds can be tricky to find but chia seeds are easily found at most stores and give a similar gelatinous texture after being soaked. I added a layer of strawberry purée to give a pop of color to the drink (usually the rose syrup does that job) , the purée is also sweetened with sugar which is why I avoided sweetening the almond milk but if you want you can sweeten the milk or use Califia's sweetened almond milk. The garnishes I suggest are all optional, some of you might like edible rose petals while others might not but the ice cream is always a nice touch (you know how much I love ice cream, I'm rather surprised that for once I didn't have any at home to add to this falooda).

rose and strawberry almond milk falooda | A Brown Table
rose and strawberry almond milk falooda | A Brown Table
rose and strawberry almond milk falooda | A Brown Table
rose and strawberry almond milk falooda | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this drink,

  • You'll notice I don't call for adding any extra sugar or sweetener to the almond milk. The strawberry purée is pretty sweet to begin with so I didn't find the need to add any more. However, if you want it sweeter, feel free to add more sugar. You can also use Califia's Almond Coconut milk blend or their pre-sweetened almond milk. They will all work very well in this drink.
  • Chia seeds absorb a lot of liquid, you might find the need to shake or stir things up in the jar when you soak them overnight. You might also need to add a little more milk to the seeds if you find them in a big chunky clump. 
  • The strawberry purée is rather thick but if you want you can thin it out a little if you prefer with water or simple syrup. Just remember that as it thins out the vermicelli will sink through and sit on top of the chia seed layer. 
  • This drink is pretty heavy and I find it best served after a really light lunch or dinner. 
  • Since this drink is all about layers when presenting, it's important not to mix them up when preparing the glasses. Carefully prepare the layers but be extra careful when pouring the almond milk over the vermicelli layer. Another trick that works well here, carefully pour the milk over a spoon so it doesn't disturb the layers.
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rose and strawberry almond milk falooda

yields: 2 servings

ingredients 

4 cups unsweetened Califia almond milk, chilled

3 tablespoons chia seeds

1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries, hulled

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups water 

1/4 cup vermicelli noodles (broken into 2 to 3 inch long fragments)

1 tablespoon rose water 

1 tablespoon dried rose petals (optional)

ice cubes/crushed ice for serving (optional)

vanilla or strawberry or rose ice cream for serving (optional)

1. Take 1/2 cup of the almond milk in a medium-sized clean glass jar, sprinkle the chia seeds over the milk. Close the surface of the jar with a tight lid or cling film and shake. Leave the chia seeds to expand and absorb liquid for a minimum of 4 to 6 hours but preferably overnight in a refrigerator.

2. To prepare the strawberry purée, place the strawberries in a medium-sized thick-bottomed saucepan on medium heat along with the sugar and half cup water. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Reduce heat to medium-low then cover with a lid and cook the contents of the saucepan for another 5 minutes. Remove from stove, allow to cool and then purée in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Strain the purée through a fine mesh strainer and discard the seeds. Reserve the strawberry purée and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to chill before use. 

3. To prepare the vermicelli noodles. Bring the remaining two cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add the vermicelli and cook until soft and tender (they do not need to be al dente but should be cooked completely). Remove from stove, drain the hot water carefully and add cold tap water to cool the noodles. 

4. To prepare the falooda, take 2 tall glasses. Layer each with half of the chia seeds. Then layer about 1/2 cup of strawberry purée (you can use less if desired) over the chia seeds carefully with a spoon. Drain the water from the cooked vermicelli and divide the mixture equally between the two jars over the strawberry pureé layer. To the remaining almond milk, add the rose water. (You can also sweeten the milk with a little sugar or sweetener of your choice. See Note in Tip section above). Pour the almond milk over the layered noodles in each glass carefully to avoid the layers from mixing. Garnish with rose petals or ice cubes/crushed ice and/or ice cream if desired (you can do all three if you want in any combination). Serve chilled with a long spoon. Before drinking, stir the contents of the glass.

Note: This post was sponsored by Califia farms and all thoughts expressed here are solely my own. 

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table

One of the things I love exploring on this blog is using grains and flours of all sorts of kinds in my recipes. The options are endless, from wheat to kamut and from savory to sweet!  Maria Speck does just the same with her food with passion and her love for whole grains shows. 

Maria's latest book Simply Ancient Grains focuses on cooking whole grain is a spectacular treat> Not only does she include a variety of grains in her book but she eloquently includes them in a refreshing collection of unique dishes that are flavorful and as delicious as they sound. There are rye waffles with parmesan and rosemary, red rice shakshuka and feta, a teff polenta verde, a freekeh soup with spicy harissa, shrimp and dates, jugu cakes (an African-Indian peanut biscotti) and many more such delicious treats to cook at home and enjoy! Maria also shares several helpful tips and ideas on how to plan meals for days ahead for busy weeks that I found really useful.

If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, Maria will also be signing copies of her new book in the last week of May but she's also going to visit several other cities around the country and you can find her entire book tour schedule here. The best part, she's even cooking and serving up treats from her book at some of these spots! 

I selected this sweet honey flavored polenta tart to share with you from her book. It's a unique way to look at tart crusts! I find the soft texture of corn in polenta to be very comforting and how it would taste in a tart had me rather curious. So I had to try this recipe out. The flavors in this dessert are simple yet stand out elegantly. There's honey and butter glazed layer of sweet almonds that give a toffee like flavor along with with a delicious cinnamon and thyme flavored fresh plum compote that's served over the polenta tart. A little whipped cream or creme fraîche on the side and it's perfect with a glass of white wine or champagne (which is my drink of choice). 

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing this dish,

  • I don't have a ceramic tart pan but my metal one worked fine. Just grease the pan well before baking.
  • I used slivered almonds instead of the original sliced almonds as listed in the recipe, mostly because I ran out of them. They work great but note that the texture of the tart will be different.
  • I used lemon thyme over regular thyme in the recipe because I grow some in a container on my terrace. It gives a little hint of citrus to the plums.
  • I like creme fraîche over whipped cream to serve with most desserts but you can go with either. 
  • To prepare the tart before baking, I've listed two ways to do it. One involves spreading the polenta with a wet spoon while the other involves pressing it down with the flat side of a measuring cup and clingfilm (which I used). Both are easy to do. 
almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote | A Brown Table

almond polenta tart with sherried plum compote 

(from Simply Ancient Grains by Maria Speck)

yields: 8 servings

ingredients

for the polenta 

2 cups water

1 1/2 cups whole or low-fat milk

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 cup (150g) polenta, preferably medium grind

for the compote and to finish

2 pounds fresh plums, pits removed and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces (if plums are small cut into wedges)

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons honey, or more as needed

1/4 cup dry sherry or apple juice

1 tablespoon brandy (optional)

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (I used lemon thyme)

4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, preferably the European-style

1 cup sliced almonds ( I used slivered)

softly whipped lightly sweetened heavy cream for serving for serving (optional) /creme fraîche can also be substituted

1. To prepare the polenta, add the water, milk, honey and salt to a large heavy saucepan, heat on medium-high and bring to a bare simmer, stirring occasionally. Using a large whisk, add the polenta in a slow and steady thin stream and continue t whisk for 1 minute. Reduce the heat if the mixture starts to bubble profusely. Reduce the heat further, cover the saucepan with a lid and cook for 10 minutes. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon every few minutes to prevent the polenta from sticking to the bottom. Remove the saucepan from the stove and let it sit, covered for 10 minutes, stirring well once or twice. 

2. Butter a 10 inch tart pan and place it on a wire rack. Transfer the polenta to the pan and spread evenly to form a smooth layer. You can dip a wooden spoon in cold water and then spread the mixture. The other way to do this, is to place a large sheet of clingfilm over the polenta in the pan and using the flat base of a measuring cup spread the mixture out evenly in a layer. Set the prepared tart pan aside to firm for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Prick the surface of the polenta with the round end of a spoon about 12 times by inserting the spoon at a 45 degree angle into the tart. Dip the spoon in cold water between each insertion to prevent sticking. This will allow even baking of the tart and prevent heaving during baking.  

3. To bake the tart, place a wire rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400F.

4. While the oven preheats, prepare the plum compote. Add the plums to a large mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon, 2 tablespoons of honey, sherry, brandy and 1 tablespoon of thyme.  Toss gently to combine, taste and add more honey if desired. Cover and chill to macerate, stirring gently once or twice. (I left it to chill for about two hours)

5. Add the butter and the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey to a medium skillet. Heat on medium and stir occasionally with a spoon until blended. Fold in the almonds and stir until the almonds are coated and the mixture starts to foam, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat and immediately spread the almonds on the surface of the polenta, using the back of the spoon. 

6. Bake the prepared tart for about 20 minutes until the small bubbles appear around the edges and the almonds turn a glistening golden brown. Transfer the tart pan to a wire rack and cool for 20 minutes to allow to set before cutting. 

7. To serve the tart, cut it into 8 wedges with a sharp serrated knife. Place each wedges on a dessert plate and spoon a generous amount of the prepared chilled compote with a little bit of the juices on top. Garnish each serving with a little fresh thyme leaves and if desired a little bit of a dollop of the whipped cream. 

seared paneer with tea and pineapple dressing

seared paneer with tea and honey vinaigrette| A Brown Table

I've fallen in love with Netflix's new documentary called The Chef's Table. It's one of the most inspiring cooking documentaries, I've seen in a long time. I don't really care for the food competitions shows and rarely watch them but this is one show that has had me glued to the TV. It's easy to get repetitive when it comes to creating food (I find myself falling into this trap often) but after watching this series and listening to the stories and how these world renowned chefs overcame their personal struggles was uplifting, encouraging and exciting. My only complaint, too few episodes but I do hope it comes back for another season. I've been eyeing Marcus Nilsson's Fäviken cookbook for a while now and to see him in the series was exciting. I'm also hoping I get to visit LA to try out Niki Nakayama and her Kaiseki techniques that make her food so beautiful. If you get a chance, do check the documentary out, you won't be disappointed! 

Dairy is pretty popular in India, the fact that I grew up eating plain yogurt at any time of the day, is probably a good testament to this fact. Cheese however as we think of it here in the West, is made in a very different manner in India. Rennet and fermentative bacteria are not the tools of choice when it comes to preparing Indian cheeses but rather acid and heat coagulate the proteins in milk. You still get western style cheeses in India and they are popular but panner is by far the most prominent cheese used in Indian cuisine. 

Paneer is a type of cheese, that doesn't melt when heated and in many ways, it reminds me of tofu. It takes on the flavor of anything it's mixed with and you'll find it used in curries and other savory dishes. If you look into my freezer, you will often see a small pack of paneer stored because the possibilities with this cheese are endless when used correctly. You can find paneer at Indian and South East Asian and/or International food markets and I've also come across low-fat versions of this cheese too. The good thing about this cheese is that it holds it's texture very well when heated as it doesn't melt. However, this also makes it, in my opinion, unsuitable for a grilled cheese sandwich. 

This paneer recipe is very simple to make and is an easy appetizer or side to serve. It's definitely not a traditional way of serving it in India but as I always say, why not!  Just doll the warm slabs of paneer up with a few fresh daikon radish shoots and the tea and pineapple dressing before serving it. 

seared paneer with tea and honey vinaigrette| A Brown Table
seared paneer with tea and honey vinaigrette| A Brown Table
seared paneer with tea and honey vinaigrette| A Brown Table
seared paneer with tea and pineapple dressing | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips when preparing this paneer dish;

  • Use low-fat or full-fat milk derived paneer. Honestly, the fat-free kind tastes terrible.
  • I was tempted to call the tea and pineapple dressing a vinaigrette but the ratios of the components are a little off from the classical definition so I've labeled it a dressing. 
  • The tea is lightly sweetened with fresh pineapple juice which gives the dressing a little sweetness and tanginess. If you want it a little sweeter add a little more juice after tasting the dressing. 
  • The extra garnish of sea salt flakes at the end when serving is optional but I personally like the touch of saltiness because paneer by itself is generally not salty when made from milk.  
seared paneer with tea and honey vinaigrette| A Brown Table

seared paneer with tea and pineapple dressing 

yields: 4 servings

ingredients

400 grams (14 ounces) low-fat/full-fat paneer, chilled

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + a little extra for searing 

1/2 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1/2 teaspoon white pepper powder

1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika powder

a few fresh daikon radish shoots to garnish

a little Maldon sea salt flakes (optional)

tea and pineapple dressing

1 black tea bag (I used Darjeeling tea)

100mL boiling water

50mL white wine vinegar

3 tablespoons pineapple juice, fresh

100 mL extra virgin olive oil

1/4 teaspoon kosher sea salt

1. Slice the paneer into 9 cm X 3 cm long slabs that are 1.5 cm thick.

2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, place the olive oil and the rest of the ingredients from the salt to the paprika and mix with a spoon. Brush each of the paneer slabs with this mixture and allow them to sit for 10 minutes at room temperature to absorb the flavors.

3. Heat a little extra oil in a medium-sized skillet on medium - high heat. When the oil just starts to smoke, place two to three slabs of the seasoned paneer. Cook on each side until seared and lightly browned. This should take about 60-90 seconds on each side. Place the seared paneer on a dry paper towel to absorb any excess oil. Cook the rest of the paneer in the same manner and keep aside until ready to use.

4. To prepare the dressing, place the tea bag in a small heat proof bowl. Pour the boiling water over it and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Drain the tea bag to remove any excess liquid (avoid squeezing the bag or the tea liquid will turn murky). Pour the tea into a medium bowl along with the remaining ingredients. Whisk until combined. 

5. To serve place the hot/warm seared paneer slabs in a serving dish. Drizzle the paneer with as much as tea dressing as desired. Garnish with a few fresh daikon shoots and sprinkle with extra sea salt flakes if desired. Serve immediately with extra dressing and daikon radish shoots on the side.