Honeydew melon & cucumber gazpacho

Who goes and puts honeydew melon in a soup, right? Sounds bizarre. If you feel the same way, I wouldn’t blame you. But..I like bizarre. And this gazpacho is kind of just that.

I’ve tried very hard to visually capture the exact texture of this soup, but I’m not sure if I’ve done a good enough job at it. Have you ever tried making honeydew melon, mango or even papaya juice? They blend well and get velvety and smooth, but it’s not the same consistency as you’d find in say, watermelon juice. It’s pulpier. That’s what the consistency of this gazpacho is like. It’s denser than any other soup I’ve made – even withstood the cucumber slices that I used as garnish!

Traditionally, gazpacho was made by hand pounding green peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, vinegar, olive oil and seasonings. Stale bread soaked in water is a popular addition, which purists claim to be the ‘superior’ version. This is the kind that you’d most likely encounter in Andalusia (south of Spain), which also happens to be where this dish originates from. But as is the case with the evolution of food habits, people living in other areas came up with their own intra-regional versions of the gazpacho with the ingredients that they had ready access to, and tweaking it to fit their palates. Some would make them without the bread, while white gazpachos have no tomatoes; they have pine nuts or almonds instead. There are now over hundreds, if not thousands of variations for it!

Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just a glorified smoothie. It does look like it, doesn’t it? Sautéed onions and garlic with a kick of chilli form its base, before the fresh melon and cucumbers are added in. I would strongly recommend a dash of fiery Tabasco over the top for that extra pizazz! Summery, velvety, bizarre..all pulverized together to give you this perfect chilled soup.

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Passion fruit cordial

My parents lived in the outskirts of the city in our farmhouse for a few years, while I was studying in boarding school. Even though I never got to be home for long periods of time at a stretch, I clearly remember really looking forward to going back there for the holidays.

Our house had a large plot of land at the back where we had teak plantations, and the front overlooked a lush rose garden, courtesy of my mom’s green thumb. It was everything you’d picture a farm-house to be – a kitchen garden, vast untouched spaces, huge shady trees that were planted during my grandfather’s times, the works. We had turkeys, guinea fowl, and my dad even bought these funny looking chickens from somewhere, that looked like they had furry socks on their feet!

But my favourite part of it all was an old elevated pond nestled under a huge mango tree, which was spruced up and made into a dip pool! Big enough for four people to wade around comfortably in (when my dog decided to give us the space that is!). I’d sit there every evening, until my feet and hands got wrinkly from being completely saturated with water.

Right. I’m going to start talking about what this story has to do with passion fruit cordial (!) in just a second after I slowly ease out of my reverie. Yes. So, we had a long barbed wire fence that ran along the side of the house with a tangled mess of passion fruit vines trailing over them. They were almost always laden with fruit and their beautiful flowers (picture above) that look like something straight out of Avatar! I remember every bit of that excitement as I waited for the fruits to go yellow from green, and it always tasted best when you got to pick them yourself. Sweet nostalgia.

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Lime & Basil Iced tea

I have an affinity for iced teas. Living in a city with soaring temperatures and oppressive humidity all year round, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. My favourite would have to be the plain lemon iced tea closely followed by this peach version, but of late I’ve been trying a few other variations as well.

This lime and basil tea might sound a bit ordinary, but the basil is steeped in the brewing tea which gives it a bit of a Moroccan – albeit with basil instead of mint – twist. Which contrarily makes me feel all tropical too, and I like that feeling. I’m sitting here right now by the bay window that overlooks our lawn, sipping on a glass of this as I type..it’s the closest I can get to lying in a hammock.

I bought some basil last week for this bruschetta, but ended up using only a few sprigs for it. Herbs never last when refrigerated, so I had to come up with a plan to use them up before they started to dry up and wilt. Seeing that I had had some good luck with propagating mint from cuttings (new post coming up on that soon – watch this space), I decided to give basil a shot as well.

A week in a glass jar with the only task of changing up the water on a daily basis and making sure they got ample sunlight (not direct), they have now started to develop roots! I almost yelped with joy! Superstitious or not, I’m going to take that as a good sign for our new home. In fact, the basil flowers that I’ve used here are from the mother plant, which is getting accustomed to its new environment quite nicely.

Even though this iced tea of basil and lime lacks in quintessential authenticity, it definitely makes up every bit of it in flavour. The essence of comfort and summer in every sip.

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Panna cotta at this time of the year? You want to be hearing about hearty, comforting desserts and warmth-inducing drink recipes. Unfortunately, Chennai as we know it has a completely different season shift – hot, hotter, hottest. We are at the moment slowly but steadily gliding from the ‘hot’ to the ‘hotter’ threshold, with the sun shining bright and the fans whirring out of control.

I can be very predictable when it comes to dessert choices. Fruity over chocolaty. Fruity over nutty..you get it. If you know me well, you’d know that I’d go with fruit or caramel desserts over chocolate any day of the week. My favourite ice-cream flavours are blackcurrant, strawberry and vanilla and I don’t think I’ve ever ordered chocolate ice-cream in my life! Although I claim not to be too much of a chocoholic, I do have a few favourites that I’d indulge in anytime though (read : molten lava cake – I have a great recipe too to share with you!)

This is a dessert you can whip up in under 30 minutes, and the fact that it has to chill in the refrigerator for more than 6 hours can only be a good thing – you get to make it well ahead of time and all that’s left to do is unmould and serve straight away! The addition of yogurt makes it incredibly luscious, and also very delicate. So, if you’re not sure about flipping it out onto a plate, set them in individual ramekins/glasses and scoop over some fruit on top. Small mason jars with a ribbon tied around the neck of the bottle look really pretty too.

The sourness of the passion fruit against the richness of the panna cotta is a perfect balance, and I’ve further upped the tartness quotient with a fresh spritz of lime. You could omit this step or add a generous splosh of Malibu instead. Follow your own adventure.

(After you strain out the panna cotta mixture, rinse the vanilla bean and dry it out in the sun or in a warm place for a few hours. Stick it in a bowl of castor sugar for an instant vanilla-sugar fix..perfect with a hot bowl of bread and milk). Continue reading