Monday, March 20, 2017


I'm not into the whole idea that one simply eats to live, because I live to eat. That has made me an adventurous cook. While I love meatloaf and spaghetti and meatballs as much as the next person, I almost never cook them. (Besides, Neal does a much better job at both dishes than I do.) I prefer to make things that are a little more unusual than what one would expect a second generation Polish-American to make: octopus; egg foo yung; b'stilla; rasgulla.

Rasgulla is an Indian dessert, basically cheese balls cooked in a sweet syrup. I found the recipe in Chetna Makan's book The Cardamom Trail. Chetna was a contestant on the 2014 season of the Great British Bake-Off and an even more recent Christmas special. Trained as a fashion designer in Mumbai, she moved to the UK a decade or so ago where she honed her already keen talent for baking. She's known for incorporating exotic spices and international flavors into her bakes, and her creativity quickly made her my favorite contestant of the four seasons of the Bake-Off that I've seen so far. I purchased her book as a Christmas gift to myself but so far haven't made anything other than the rasgulla. Why? Because most of the recipes call for self-raising flour, and I've been too lazy to look up the conversion to regular AP flour. Plus, the house has been full of holiday baked goods and food show samples and there hasn't been room for one more pie or cake or cookie in our already oversized bellies. That said, I'm hoping to try something before it gets too warm to turn on the oven.

In the meantime, however, I did find time to make these cheese balls. No self-raising flour required, and they sounded pretty simple otherwise. They're rather unusual, in that the cheese becomes very firm and "squeaky" after cooking. I find them most pleasing when warm, but they can also be eaten at room temperature or chilled.

Rasgulla (adapted from The Cardamom Trail)

1-2 tablespoons lime juice
1 3/4 pints whole milk
Pinch saffron
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Mix 1 tablespoon of lime juice with 1 tablespoon of water in a bowl and set aside. Bring the milk to a boil in a large saucepan, then turn off the heat. Add the saffron. Pour in the lime juice and stir well. Let stand for 5 minutes - the milk should curdle. If it hasn't curdled enough, add the other tablespoon of lime juice and wait a few more minutes until there's a definite separation of the curds and whey.

Place a layer of cheesecloth in a fine gauge strainer and place over a bowl. Carefully pour the curdled milk into the strainer, catching the curds in the cheesecloth and allowing the whey to drain into the bowl. Gather the ends of the cloth together and wring out as much liquid from the curds as you can. Drain the whey from the bowl, set the strainer back on top, and place the bundle of squeezed curds back in. Place a small plate on top and weight it down with a can or two to help press out any excess liquid. Allow to drain for 15 minutes.

In a wide pan, heat the sugar with three cups of water until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the syrup from the heat.

Remove the curd from the cloth. Place it on a clean surface, sprinkle with the cornstarch, and knead with your palms for 10 minutes. It will go from crumbly to soft and smooth. Roll the dough into a fat log and cut into 20 pieces. Roll each piece into a smooth ball.

Once the balls are ready, bring the syrup to a boil and add the rosewater. Add the balls, then cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes. The rasgulla will double in size and become spongy. Turn off the heat and keep the balls in the syrup until ready to serve.

Serve warm with or chilled with some of the syrup. Leftovers can be stored in the syrup in an airtight container for up to three days.

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