Last month I developed an obsession with blended, iced coffees. You know the ones that I mean — “frappucinos,” “arctic mochas,” frozen mochas.” I just couldn’t get enough of these cold, chocolaty, caffeine-laced treats. From Starbucks to small, independent coffee shops I tried every variation. Endless consumption resulted not only in a bulging waistline but also in some interesting discoveries. Beyond coming to grips with the fact that these drinks are chocked full of calories (depending on the size ordered, between 300 and 700 calories per drink) and fat (between 10 and 21 grams per drink) I learned that every barista makes his drink differently and not every drink thrills me equally.
Truth be told, I fell head over heels for the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf’s mocha-licious version yet threw out the slushy, overly sweet offering from Dunkin Donuts after just one sip. As usual, Starbucks served up a tasty but bold brew while Panera Bread delivered something more akin in flavor to a mild chocolate milk shake. Some smaller shops doled out iced mocha lattes without much emphasis on the frozen aspect of a “frozen mocha” while others poured pure perfection into a plastic cup.
After talking to several baristas and leafing through Mathew Tekulsky’s “Making Your Own Gourment Coffee Drinks” I devised my own recipe for a blended iced mocha. While I opted for double-brewed coffee as my base, I could have instead used multiple shots of espresso; with espresso I would have needed about four shots per glass. For an extra creamy and decadent drink I could have also included a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Note that without the ice cream this coffee contains roughly 40 calories per eight ounce glass.
Makes 5 glasses
3 cups cold water
6 tablespoons ground Italian or French roast coffee
1/4 cup skim milk
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup (I prefer U-Bet)
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups crushed ice
Brew the coffee. Pour into a shallow pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Add the milk, chocolate syrup and 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar to the coffee and stir together. Pour the mixture into a blender, add the crushed ice and pulse several times until the drink is frothy. Serve immediately in tall glasses.
As a fan of Indian food, I was bowled over by the delectability of Northern Indian cooking. Fresh, flavorful produce, heady spices and sweet, locally grown rice all played starring roles in this region’s cuisine. Likewise chicken, lamb, and fish made frequent appearances in non-vegetarian dishes while legumes and nuts dominated the vegetarian fare. Almost every street cart and restaurant menu featured flat breads such as unleavened chapathi and leavened naan and filled pastries such as the crisp, conical samosa.
Foods that I consistently encountered at home turned out to be staples of Northern Indian diets, too. Pureed mint-coriander, chopped mango and piquant sweet pickle chutneys appeared at the start of every meal. Coupled with the chutneys were crunchy, wafer-like papadums, another regular from my U.S. Indian dining experiences. Even the national dish of Britain, chicken tikka masala, occasionally popped up on menus. Originating in the UK, this imported entree emphasized such traditional ingredients as garam masala, turmeric, yogurt, ginger, coriander, tomatoes and, of course, chicken.
Along with the usual items were the slightly unusual. One such curious dish was tandoori aloo. This vegetarian delight consisted of skinned and hollowed out potatoes stuffed with a combination of mashed potatoes, raisins, cashews, coriander and green chilies. Once filled, the potatoes were sealed, skewered and roasted in a tandoori oven. A bar snack that particularly piqued my interest was the puffed lotus seed or makhana. Puffed just like popcorn, these substantial, salty nubs proved the perfect partners for a cold Kingfisher lager or chilled glass of chardonnay from the India’s own Sula vineyards.
My favorite dish inevitably had “dal” somewhere in its name. From the famed Bukhara restaurant in New Delhi came the eponymous “Dal Bukhara.” Consisting of a rich blend of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, this fragrant dish was simmered over a charcoal fire and then dressed with a dollop of cream and unsalted butter. At Niros in Jaipur Dal Peshawari contained whole yellow lentils, chopped onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander. Served with a side of fluffy basmati rice, Dal Peshawari made my night. In Agra at the Bellevue and its sister restaurant Esphahan I had the best dal dinner of the trip, Dal Tadka. Similar to the dal at Niros, Dal Tadka included yellow lentils, tomatoes, onions and fresh coriander. Chopped ginger, green and red chilies, cumin, tumeric, lemon juice and chili powder gave this dal a dash of excitement and complexity not found in the other dishes.
Back at home I struggle to find food as enticing as what I ate in Northern India. Here the dals seem watery, the naan leathery and the chutneys stale. With little hope of recapturing that culinary magic in an American-based restaurant, I’ll steer clear of those disappointing experiences for a little while. Instead I’ll try to master my all time favorite meal, dal tadka.
DAL TADKA – Courtesy of Narayan Rao, executive chef at The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, India
1/2 cup yellow lentils
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds (my addition)
3 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon green chili pepper, chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
handful fresh coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 whole red chili, optional
In a sauce pan bring the yellow lentils, turmeric, salt and 3 cups of water to a boil. Skim the foam off the top, cover the pan with a lid and simmer over medium-low for roughly 1 hour. When finished, the lentils will be soft and broken down. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
In a medium sauté pan heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, chopped onion, ginger, and green chilies. Saute until the onion browns and then add the tomato and sauté it for 1 minute. Add the red chili powder and boiled lentils to the cooked onion-tomato (masala) mixture. Check and adjust the seasonings as needed. Finish the dish with chopped coriander, fresh lemon juice and optional whole red chili. Serve with a side of basmati rice.