Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Fake it, but cake it!

Not-So-Rich Christmas Cake

Photos by Apurva Nargundkar 

Festive times can be very vexing when for a variety of reasons we are trying to overthrow the (white) supremacy of the flour, butter, eggs and sugar quartet. 

Every time I almost succumb to the dictates of the big four, I think of my doctor (who incidentally reads my posts). How can I convince her that I may be cooking all these dishes, but I don’t necessarily eat too much or beyond reason, that it’s mostly low calorie stuff I cook on a daily basis, that I do keep away from the white venoms … sigh, leave it.

My first born, my Sancho Panza in my culinary quests, is away on holidays in India, leaving me alley less in this season when everywhere out there is in festal food frenzy. I tried consoling myself by going through the photos of last year’s cake, kulkul and roce cookies and reposting some of the old posts, but that only deepened the longing for cake. Being at home on holidays didn’t help as well. TV shows on every channel – yes even in Amharic and Samoan ones - feature Christmas food. 

I realised how right old Billy Boy Shakespeare in saying, “It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend”, when even my alter ego Facebook betrayed me by graffiting its walls with Christmas goodies. 

Subjected to this tyranny of festive times, how on earth is one supposed to quash yearnings for Christmas cake? How can I bear to break the more than two-decade-old annual ritual of fruitcake and tea breakfasts in December? Who said all self-respecting food bloggers must bake a Christmas cake? 

Oh dear, am I a candidate for “Festivus for the rest of us”?

No, no no – but then, the prospect of baking a cake was not only lonely, but also posed logistical problems. 

I hadn’t shopped for the ingredients, hadn’t soaked the fruit, didn’t have a recipe zeroed in on. Then again, my daughters who have always taken an ethical stand against factory farming and animal cruelty have recently started to make a serious attempt at veganism. That eliminated the dairy and eggs. Husband is allergic to alcohol and this year he’s around for Christmas, so there goes the soaking in the brandy. The youngest is an archenemy of raisins, orange peel, and cardamom, nutmeg and anything that makes a cake a fruitcake, so there was no point in trying to enlist her support. Under the magic spell of whole meal spelt flour, I was loath to use plain flour. 

However, in true spirit of Christmas, overcoming all obstacles was born this cake. 

Almost a fake cake - it seems to me - for it has been substituted beyond belief - no alcohol, white or brown sugar, eggs, plain flour, butter, yoghurt or milk. 

What is for real though, is that it is a delicious cake - not better than the original - I’ll be lying if I say that - but it is good enough to have it and eat it too! 

And I don’t have to worry about my doc reading this post.

Not-So-Rich Fruit Cake


½ kg mixed fruit (I use dates, candied papaya, prunes, sultanas, raisins, dried apples and cranberries)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup coconut sugar (this has a low GI of 35 only)
Pinch of salt
½ cup water
½ cup fresh orange juice
Zest of 2 oranges
2 tbsp organic molasses
2 cups spelt flour
1 tsp soda bicarbonate
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp flaxseed powder mixed with 6 tbsps water 
¾ cup chopped mixed nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pepitas) 
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp grated nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground allspice


In a pan, add mixed chopped fruit, oil, coconut sugar, molasses, salt, water and orange juice. Bring the mixture to the boil and set aside to cool completely.  

Preheat oven to 140 degrees. 

Grease and line the base and side of a 22cm spring form cake tin with baking paper, making sure the lining is a few inches taller than the pan.

In a large bowl, sift spelt flour with soda bicarb and baking powder. Add the cooled fruit mixture to the flour, followed by the nuts, zest and spices. Mix well with a long handled spoon. If the mixture is too thick, add some orange juice.

Spoon into prepared tin and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon. 

Cut a thick brown paper bag to size and pop the cake tin inside. If required, tie the paper bag around the outside of the tin.  Fold a sheet of baking parchment into a double square and cut a small hole in the centre.  Cover the top of the cake with this paper, with a hole in the centre. 

Bake the cake on the lower shelf of the oven, look at the table above for baking times, and don’t open the door to peek at it until at least 3 hours have passed. Check for doneness with a skewer and bake a little longer if required.

When done, remove from oven and leave cake pan to cool completely, then turn out and peel off baking paper. 

When the cake is cold, wrap it well in double greaseproof paper and store in an airtight tin.

This will keep fresh for a few days in the fridge. 

I am going to try and freeze it till my fruitcake-loving daughter comes back from overseas.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

"Free Foods - Festive Foods" -2

Mint, cucumber and avocado soup

I am re-posting this soup as part of my "Free Foods - Festive Foods" series for Sugarfree Sensations

Do visit their site for sugarfree and allergy friendly products this season.

Sunny day splash!

This cool soup is great for the Aussie scorchers. The combination is a natural – the water based, slightly astringent sensation of cucumber is effectively emulsified by the creamy smoothness of the avocado, and just as you are about to be lulled by an emollient spoonful, the mint unexpectedly spikes you. The cumin and tiny piece of green chilly provide the piquant quotient.


Try this soup with a brown rice salad. You can serve it in paper cups and even take it on a picnic!


4 Lebanese cucumbers, sliced into roundels
1 ripe avocado – pitted and flesh scooped out 
 ½ cup fresh mint leaves
Lemon juice to taste
A pinch of Splenda to round off the taste (optional)
½ tsp Roasted cumin powder
Salt pepper to taste
1 inch piece of green chilly (optional)
Cold water as required
Cherry tomatoes and mint leaves to garnish


Process the cucumber, avocado, mint, chilly in a food processor until smooth. Add as much water as you like, starting with a little and then gradually adding more. Give it one last zap and then remove into a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, lemon juice and roasted cumin powder to taste.
Chill before serving with a garnish of mint and cherry tomatoes.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Free Foods- Festive Foods - Red Quinoa Salad

Dear Readers

I am very happy to post this series "Free Foods - Festive Foods" to support my dear brother Satyajit Rajurkar's online store Sugarfree Sensations 

Sugarfree Sensations is a great venture that brings together the best of sugar free and allergy friendly products from all over the world for the convenience of the discerning customer.

I hope you enjoy some of these ideas that I endeavour to bring to you from Sugarfree Sensations!  Do visit to discover more about the world of allergy friendly and sugar free products.

Red Quinoa Salad

Christmas and other festive times are always on those with various allergies or dietary restrictions. Here’s a light beauty for the scorching season ahead. You can even serve it for your Christmas lunch. 

This salad is quick to make – it’s gluten –free, low-cal, vegan, dairy free and with no added sugar. You can make it fat free too, if you omit the olive oil!

What more, you can chop and change all the ingredients – quinoa is a very generous host and will accommodate most salad vegetables and a range of seasoning.


½ cup red quinoa, washed and soaked in cold water for 30 minutes
½ cup boiled and cubed beetroot
½ cup cubed Lebanese cucumber
½ cup freshly shelled peas
8 cherry tomatoes cut into halves
1 carrot, lightly peeled and cubed
2 tbsp pomegranate seeds
2-3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp chopped mint
1 tiny garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Juice of half lemon
A pinch of Splenda for sweetness
Salt and pepper to taste


Wash and cook the quinoa in lightly salted water in a pan. Fluff up the grains with a fork and let cool completely. (The soaking makes it easier to rinse off the bitter saponins that coat the seeds)

Prepare the rest of the ingredients and chill for a while.

Transfer the quinoa into a salad bowl and stir in the chilled chopped vegetables and herbs.

Season with the olive oil, lemon juice, crushed garlic and salt and pepper.

Toss well and serve.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Chivalrous Chivda – the unsung hero

Patal Pohyacha Chivda (Thin Poha Chivda)

Photos by Amruta Nargundkar 

Diwali is done and dusted and all the industrious food bloggers have progressed to preparing Christmas goodies, but I can’t seem to relocate my food focus without apposite valediction to one unassuming, unsung hero.

There may be scores of stars like laadus, burfi, gulab jamun, karanjis or gujiyas, shankarpale and anarase that emblazon Diwali. Crisp and savoury snacks like shev, chakali, kadboli add sizzle to balance the taste buds.  But there is only one dependable knight “in a rather drab” armour among the Diwali dramatis personae – the gallant chivda!

It doesn't take much effort or cost to make a big bin full of chivda. Not much can go wrong with the chivda, unless you are determined to ruin it by charring the peanuts, starving the chivda of essential emollients by scrounging on the oil, or leaving the poha limp and listless and not being vigilant in ensuring the copra isn’t rancid.

It’s got staying power; in that the chivda can be used to bolster the plates or packets that you send to neighbours. When you receive plated bits and bobs in reciprocation, you can in turn pick out eminent stuff and chuck the uninspiring neighbourhood chivdas all together. The versatile and democratic constitution of the chivda allows a seamless amalgamation that comes in handy when all your homemade goodies are on the brink of exhaustion and you need to entertain unannounced guests.  

Though it is not something your guests reach out for at the first go during a Diwali party, the gallant chivda rushes to your rescue when some holier-than-thou guest spurns your rich offerings and heads for some low calorie stuff. And don’t forget, as a gifted taste-bud whisperer, the chivda joins forces with chaha or chai to soothe high-strung, cloyed and feast-worn palates.

While the stars take centre stage during the four-day long festivities, the self-effacing, courteous chivda stays in the wings, stepping in with unswerving loyalty when the festivities finish and all else is spent. Quite like the amigo who brings you a cup of tea when you capsize into a chair after the “barat” has left the mandap.

The true vindication of the chivda comes only in the end, when as a true benefactor it braves decimation each passing day getting shorn of cashewnuts, peanuts and copra slices by inconsiderate, fussy pickers. The chivda is a self-sacrificing, yet happy donor that will put any knacker to shame. It is willing to repose its remains in a missal with hot and spicy sprout usal, chopped tomatoes and onions. Even the sweet and salty spluttered mustard seed dregs find their way into a dal, chutney or subji in my kitchen, while the fried red chillies come in handy as garnish.

All that remains is the comforting memory, till the next time I make another bin-full of the chivalrous chivda.

Patal Pohyacha Chivda (Thin Poha Chivda)


4 cups thin poha, sieved and picked clean
1cup small raw peanuts
½ cup cashew nuts
1 cup roasted chana 
½ cup thick grated dry coconut or thin slices of copra
3-4 dried red chilies, broken
 2-3 green chillies, chopped
A handful of curry leaves
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp white poppy seeds
A little turmeric powder
½ tsp hing
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp caster sugar or powdered sugar
Oil - 1/4 cup
Salt to taste.


Heat oil in a large kadai. Add mustard seeds to splutter and then the peanuts. Lightly roast the peanuts and then add green chillies, curry leaves. Let the chillies and curry leaves start to get crisp, and then add red chillies, cashew nuts, roasted chana dal, grated coconut, sesame seeds, poppy seeds. Make sure not to burn any of these nuts and seeds.  Then add the cumin and coriander powders, hing and turmeric. Remove from heat.

Quickly introduce the poha, add salt to taste and the sugar and mix well. Put the kadhai back on very low heat, stirring the chivda continuously until the entire lot suddenly starts to become lighter. Immediately remove from heat.  Allow the chivda to cool down and get crisp. 

Store in an airtight container so the chivda stays crisp for a long time.