White girl makes mithai
One of the things I love most about New York is the diversity. You can take a train down to Brighton Beach and be surrounded by Slavic signage and if you get into kiting troubles on the beach your savior, tugging hard on the boardwalk’s electric cabling might explain “Russian no afraid electricity”. In the midst of Chinatown’s frenzy of cheap knockoff handbags marketed to tourists you can find plenty of local oddities that you might be daring enough to taste – in a (never to be repeated) fit of adventurousness I once tried jellyfish salad. Looking in the windows of the jewelery stores and sari shops of Jackson Heights you can hear the Bollywood music so clearly in your mind that it’s a suprise to discover that the men walking down the sidewalk are neither shirtless nor surrounded by singing girls and brightly colored flowers.
So I soak up all this foreign life and food and feel like I’m pretty cosmopolitan. And sometimes I try to recreate ethnic eats in my own kitchen: when it comes to Indian food I’ve made pretty good saag panner and have a few great recipes from my dad for curries. Recently I decided to try my hand at making Indian sweets (or mithai) since the syrupy, sweet dough balls and creamy rich white nibbles are really my favorite part of any Southeast Asian meal. To be honest I was a little intimidated by the thought of trying these at home. Fortunately when I want to cook Indian food I know where to get authentic help: Manjula’s kitchen is full of recipes and also videos showing Manjula’s techniques for all your favorite dishes. She’s the one who taught me my saag panneer. Its kind of like having your own Indian grandma in the kitchen with you – or at least as close as the internet can get to it.
In a fit of ambition I made four kinds of sweets: Bengali Rasgulla, Ras Malai, Sandesh and Gulab Jamuns. The first three all use homemade panneer as a base (the same indian cheese used in savory dishes, here just sweetened and/or smothered in sugary syrups. Paneer is easy to make you just add lemon water to warm milk and cook until the curds and whey separate and then strain the water out of the curds to make a nice solid block of cheese). The Gulab Jamoons are a different typology, more an indian version of donuts, deepfried and then drowned in sweet syrup. The syrups are awesome too: laced with lots of cardamom – which has become my new favorite spice. When I finished up and started tasting I was moderately pleased: these were certainly not perfect, but the flavors where there. Even Noerah had to admit that my Indian sweets were “not bad for a white girl”.