Monday, June 23, 2014

Ginger Lemon Squash (Syrup)

When we left for my cousin Mithu’s wedding, hostas were just starting to wrangle their way out of the ground in Chicago. I was relieved to see their twirly tips after slogging through a record-breaking winter.  Two thousand  miles away, we found bay leaves bordering my uncle’s front door and ruddy roses sunbathing in the garden. A large lemon tree stood in the backyard. My aunt suggested that we harvest some of the fruit. So I slipped my hand into the packed brush and pulled out several lemons. They were so voluptuous that I held them with a half open grip. 

A bay of California bay leaves

My aunt mentioned making ginger lemon squash, which seemed like an odd combination to me. I envisioned a toothsome curry with a spicy-citrus kick, and wanted to suggest whipping up a batch of piquant lemon pickle or a dense, rich pound cake.

The bride's feet decorated with henna

As we moved from house to house to visit family, I saw more lemon trees and heard more talk of ginger lemon squash. But before I could ask for a recipe, the conversation invariably switched to another topic. The recounting of a bad date by one cousin morphed into the story of a recent trip to Kerala by an uncle or an auntie’s detailed description of an earlier family wedding.  

Mithu holding lemons from my aunt's tree

Before leaving California, I packed my suitcase with a bag of bay leaves (pictured up above) and a pound or so of  organic lemons. I was determined to solve the ginger lemon squash mystery when I got home and to make a batch of it, one way or another. 

A basket full of lemons

A week later, I learned, with the help of my Aunt Regina, that I had been foiled by the British and their crazy use of English once again! (Much more on that later).  It turns out that squash is simply the British word for a concentrated syrup flavored with fruit – in this case lemon (and ginger because Indians are so ga-ga for the spice).

Straining ginger from simple syrup
Adding lemon juice to the simple syrup
Ginger lemon drink


Like many other cordials, this recipe is very easy to make. The ginger loses its zing once boiled and, offers a surprisingly subtle citrus flavor. The final drink, which calls for combining the syrup with water, is much less cloyingly sweet than the lemonade I grew up on. (My mom prefers a much higher sugar to water ratio!) Add more lemon juice if you want a stronger lemon flavor. 

Two tips before you get started:
- To get the most juice out of lemons, roll the fruit against the counter before you cut and squeeze them.
- If you end up with more lemon juice than you need, freeze it in an ice cube tray (like pesto). When another recipe calls for lemon juice, simply melt a cube or two. 

Makes 1 1/2 cups


1/4 cup chopped ginger
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice


Place the ginger, water, and sugar in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. 

Cool completely. 

Stir in lemon juice. Strain out ginger.  

To make a cup of lemon juice, mix together 8 ounces of water and 1 1/2 tablespoons of cordial. Add ice. 
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Beef Cutlets

2014 May 26_0370_edited-1
2014 May 26_0394_edited-1

Over Memorial Day, my partner Chris and I traveled west to attend my cousin Mithu’s wedding. The ceremony took place at the Fort Mason Center, which overlooks the San Francisco Bay. After the couple said their “I dos,” we stood in the sun, sipping Cochin Gin and Tonics flavored with a pinch of cardamom. Waiters wooed us with pan-fried plantains and melt-in-your-mouth ceviche. The hors d'oeuvres were followed by platters of perfectly seasoned tacos. Drunk with happiness (and booze), we embraced day five of our royal treatment.

Raw beef with cardamom cloves cinnamon

As guests, we had been treated like royalty the moment we landed in California. My Uncle Mathew and Aunt Anu insisted on providing us with curb side pickup at the airport. They fed us scratch cooked meals three times a day (which included dosa and sambar, appam with egg roast, and barbequed tandoori chicken with potatoes). In between, we snacked on homemade beef cutlets and samosas from Trader Joe’s. In the evenings, my Uncle cracked open several bottles of wine to wash it all down.

Shaping and coating beef cutlets

Over the course of our stay, neither of us lifted a finger or spent a dime. It reminded me of trips to India where hospitality means everything.

Beef Cutlets_edited-1


Thanks to its Christian population, Kerala is one of two states in India that allows for the consumption of beef. In our family, Beef Cutlets are a staple at family reunions and large celebrations. Preparing them is a multi-stepped process. But don’t worry. I’m sure you (and your guests) will find that it’s worth every bite.

Makes 30


2 medium Idaho or Russet potatoes
2 pounds 90% lean angus beef
2 (2-inch) cinnamon sticks
16 cardamom pods
16 cloves
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
20 black peppercorns
3 tablespoons olive or canola oil plus 2 cups for frying
2 cups finely chopped onions
1 small serrano pepper, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups bread crumbs


Boil the potatoes until fork tender. Cool. Peel and mash.

Place the beef, cinnamon sticks, 12 cardamom pods, 12 cloves, and water in a medium sized saute pan. Cook on medium low heat for about 20 minutes or until the beef is thoroughly cooked. Transfer the beef to a colander to drain the fat. (This helps to ensure that the beef patties will hold together.)

Blend the remaining cardamom pods, cloves, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and black peppercorns in a spice grinder until they form a fine powder.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saute pan on medium low heat. Add the ground spices and cook for 1 minute. Add the onions, serrano pepper, ginger, and salt. Cook until the onions turn translucent, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Add the cooked beef to the onion mixture and stir to combine. Add the potatoes and mash all of the ingredients together to fully incorporate the potatoes.

Shaped the mixture into 30 2-inch patties and place them on cookie sheets.

Place the eggs in a small bowl and beat together. Place the bread crumbs in a small bowl.

One by one, coat each patty with eggs and then bread crumbs. Before transferring a patty to the bread crumbs, hold it above the bowl of beaten eggs to allow any excess to drain off. When the bread crumbs become clumpy (which will happen after you’ve dipped enough patties), add a few more tablespoons of bread crumbs to refresh bowl. Also, your fingers will become breaded at some point. Rub off the coating over the garbage or sink periodically.
Layer two cookie sheets with paper towels.

Heat 2 cups of oil in a fry pan over medium high heat. Place a pinch of the bread crumb egg batter in the pan. When it rises to the top and bubbles, the oil is ready to use.

Carefully lower 4 patties into the oil. Flip immediately with a slotted spoon (otherwise the breading will crack). Cook until teddy bear brown.

Place on the cookie sheets to cool.

To reheat cutlets: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Do not microwave cutlets as the breading becomes soggy.

Advance purchase required!
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