Prasadam - Raisins, Part 3
BY: SUN STAFF
May 17, 2010 CANADA (SUN) A journey through India: border to border, bhoga to prasadam.
We've briefly mentioned the health benefits of raisins, which are many. The Ashtanga Hridaya Samhita, an early treatise on Ayurveda, says that "Grapes are the best among fruits..." The sages and rishis of ancient India promoted the eating of raisins along with the everyday diet. In Ayurveda, raisins are said to contribute a madhura or sweet taste to food, and have a cooling effect on the body. Being high in glycemics, they're heavy to digest, and should be taken in moderation, but if combined with cinnamon and cardamom, they become much more digestible and can be eaten in greater quantities.
Generally, raisins are said to be very healthful for the lungs and respiratory system, the brain, the bowel, and the womb. They're recommended for pregnant women, and those wishing to conceive. They cleanse the blood, and are excellent for the teeth and gums. Raisins are cholesterol and fat-free, low in sodium, and a rich source of antioxidants.
An excellent tonic can be made by taking 7 raisins, 4 almonds and 2 walnuts, soaking them in water overnight, and the next morning, taking them with a little warm milk. Honey can also be added for sweetness. Raisin juice is a good sugar substitute, and is often used by bakers to extend the shelf life of breads. In other foods, including chutneys, raisins act as a natural preservative.
Considering the method by which raisins are produced, it's no surprise that they're such a healthful foodstuff: fresh grapes that have soaked up sun and rain for several months are plucked from the vine and hung or laid out to slowly dry in the sun. Four pounds of fresh grapes produce one pound of raisins, and most of the nutrients are not lost with the evaporating water in the grapes, leaving you with an excellent dried fruit.
While grapes are produced many places in the world, India is well known for its abundant raisin production. Maharashtra state has long been one of the biggest raisin producers in India. The harvesting of grapes begins in January and ends by May each year. Areas of with high heat and low humidity like much of Maharashtra are perfect for drying grapes.
Kishmish Khana (drying shed)
Throughout India and Afghanistan, raisins are dried in adobe structures called Kishmish Khana. These mud block buildings have perforated walls that allow ample breeze to carry off the moisture, but they are actually shaded, so it's not direct sun that dries the grapes. Rather it's the heat and a drawing off of moisture.
When drying grapes for raisins at home you can duplicate the Kishmish Khana method, just laying or hanging the grape bunches in a hot, dry, shaded area until all the moisture evaporates. Or, it can be as simple as allowing the grapes to naturally dry on the vine in bright sunshine. In fact, this is becoming the preferred method for some gourmet raisin producers. Tests have shown that there is a significant improvement in the fruitiness, chewiness and color of raisins left to vine dry. They also tend to be softer and plumper, with more complex flavor.
Cooking with Raisin Pastes
As mentioned earlier, one of our favorite methods for cooking with raisins is to make them into a paste, which can be used in so many different ways. Depending on how its used, the paste will add not only sweetness and flavor, but also texture, color, and bulk.
Just as plumped whole raisins can be soaked in another paste or sauce to enhance their flavor, raisin paste can have a host of different ingredients added to it. After mashing the plumped raisins to a paste, try mixing in one or a combination of powdered spices like coriander, cayenne, turmeric, cinnamon, or cardamom. Or, you can add minced fresh spices like ginger, lemongrass, red chilis, tamarind, tarragon, or basil.
Raisin pastes can be spread onto baked goods and jelly-rolled, swirled into batters, or stuffed into confections. Depending on how you'll use them, the pastes can be thinned with milk, ghee or water.
Try making a savory paste that's a fairly thin consistency, and smear it onto vegetables before batter-dipping them for pakoras. Even raisin paste with nothing added is wonderful on cauliflower pakoras. Another favorite paste for pakoras is a combination of raisins, ginger, red pepper, turmeric and lemon juice. Put a light coating onto the vegetable then batter it, and fry in ghee.
You can also take advantage of the texture by coating a piece of vegetable or fruit with raisin paste, then rolling the piece in another type of coating, like a breading, that wouldn't otherwise stick to the vegetable. The raisin paste acts like a glue for the coating, so the item can be ghee fried. In fact, just as we previously mentioned ghee frying whole raisins like little boondis, flavored raisin pastes can be battered and fried, or pushed through a colander directly into the ghee and fried. These sweet nuggets are wonderful in dal, rice, or sweet rice.
Raisin paste also makes a great stuffing, especially with other pungent, spicy, or aromatic flavors mixed in. One nice preparation is to hollow out a zucchini or young bitter melon by using an apple corer or a rod to push out the center, leaving the vegetable whole, but hollow. Stuff the vege with a flavored raisin paste, plug the two ends with small pieces of the vegetable, and bake or deep fry for a very nice offering. You can also stuff apples with raisin paste for a nice baked sweet.
Whether whole, diced or mashed, plain or spiced, raisins are a wonderful addition to rice, salad and sabjis. A few tasty recipes follow:
Basmati Rice, 2 cups
Water, 3-3/4 cups
Raisins, ½ cup
Ghee, 2 Tblsp.
Cinammon, 1 stick
Curry Leaves, small sprig
Cardamom pods, 2, bruised
Turmeric, ½ tsp
Juice of 1 Lemon
Fry the raisins in ghee until plumped and crisp, then remove and set aside. In the remaining ghee, lightly toast the uncooked rice to darken it a few shades. Throw the curry leaves in at the last, and fry till a little crisped. Add water to the rice and curry leaves and bring to a boil. When most of the water has evaporated, add all the remaining ingredients expect the lemon, and cook until done. When the rice is done, mix in the lemon juice, blend well, and offer.
Gajar aur Kishmish-ka Salad
Carrots, 4-5 large
Raisins, 1/2 cup
Walnuts 6 to 8, broken small
Lemon juice, 2 tablespoons
Black salt (kala namak), 1/4 teaspoon
Salt to to taste
Green chili, minced, 1
Black pepper to taste
Honey, 1 Tblsp.
Fresh Mint leaves, a handful
Thickly grate the raw carrots. Soak and plump the raisins, then squeeze all excess water, and add to the carrots. Add walnuts and mix. In a separate bowl, combine the lemon juice, black salt, salt, green chilli, black pepper, and honey. Add a few torn mint leaves and mix well. Just before offer, add the dressing to the grated carrots and raisin mixture and toss.
Kaju Kismis Cake
Kaju Kismis Cake
Flour – 1 cup
Condensed Milk – 1 cup
Butter, melted – ? cup
Milk – ½ cup
Cashews – 2 Tblsp.
Raisins, chopped – 2 Tblsp.
Vanilla, 1 tsp.
Baking Powder – 1 tsp.
Baking Soda – ½ tsp.
Mix together the milk, condensed milk, melted butter, and half the cashews and raisins. Sieve the flour, baking powder and baking soda. Mix the wet and dry ingredients together and get the batter to a medium-thin consistency, like idli batter.
Flour and butter a round glass baking dish and pour in the batter. Sprinkle the remaining raisins and cashews on top, and bake at 375 degrees F until golden brown on top, and a toothpick comes out clean. Sprinkle with a little powdered sugar, and offer.
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