While most of us tend to pile ketchup or mayonnaise on stuff we eat, I have a strong aversion to these somewhat artificial condiments. The term ‘condiment’ was originally coined to designate anything that imparts a particular flavor to enhance or complement a dish but I unfortunately find that it detracts from the authentic flavors so much so that I usually go without them most of the time. Pesto alla genovese, however, steers clear from this group as it retains its fresh, bright green colour as long as you take the trouble to make it from scratch all by yourself.

Not well known by the average Mauritian, this Italian preparation is traditionally made by grinding basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil [ideally by hand in a stone mortar or on your faithful roche carri]. You can now find jars of the readymade sauce in large retail stores but they are only weak imitations of the real thing. It does take a bit of elbow grease to pound everything into a smooth paste, as per the recipe from David Lebovitz, before you can enjoy your homemade pesto in a grilled sandwich or spooned over fresh pasta but no doubt well worth the effort.

HOMEMADE PESTO

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped

3/4 teaspoon coarse kitchen salt

1 cup (20g) loosely-packed basil leaves

5 tablespoons (75ml) best-quality olive oil

2 ounces (60g) grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup (30g) pine nuts, lightly toasted

Method:

  • Smash the garlic and salt together in a mortar and pestle until smooth. Coarsely chop the basil leaves.

  • Then add the chopped basil leaves to the mortar and pounding them into the garlic as you add them.

  • Once it is well-mashed into a fairly smooth paste, pound in the olive oil, adding it a spoonful at a time.

  • The olive oil should be well-incorporated. Lastly, pound in the Parmesan cheese, then the pine nuts.

  • Continue mashing for a few minutes until pesto is as smooth as possible. Makes about 1 cup of pesto.

  • Fresh pesto should be served within a day or two after it is made or it can be frozen for a few months.

Homemade Basil Pesto

Oatmeal pancakes immediately conjures up the idea of something thick and heavy that does not sound like it might be remotely appealing on a breakfast table. This could not be further from the truth when you end up grinding your own oat flour for these super light, almost fluffy pancakes from Smitten Kitchen. It is also true that most people are too lazy to come up with a decent breakfast spread, though it is repeatedly claimed to be the single most important meal of the day. I tend to agree that early morning may not exactly be the best time to spend in the kitchen unless you happen to run a boulangerie or likewise. Pancake batter, however, has the advantage of being prepared in advance and stored in the fridge until ready for use, making it convenient for early and late risers to enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast.

OATMEAL PANCAKES

Ingredients:

3/4 cup (90 grams) oat flour

1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons (25 grams) sugar

2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon Kosher or coarse salt

1/2 cup cooked quick-cooking oatmeal

1 cup lukewarm water + 1 pinch salt

3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups (295 ml) whole milk

1 tablespoon (20 grams) molasses

2 large eggs, room temperature

Method:

  • To make oat flour, pulse rolled oats into a food processor or spice grinder until finely ground.

  • Whisk dry ingredients (oat flour, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) together in a large bowl.

  • In a small bowl, whisk butter, milk, cooked oatmeal, honey and eggs together until combined.

  • Gently fold wet ingredients into dry ones. Using a light hand is important for tender pancakes.

  • Although best if it’s used immediately, the batter can even be kept overnight in the refrigerator.

  • The batter should be slightly thick with a holey surface. Heat a 10-inch cast-iron pan or griddle.

  • Heat over medium heat until water sizzles when splashed onto the pan. Lower to medium-low.

  • Working quickly, dollop 1/4-cup mounds of batter onto pan, shaping 2 or 3 pancakes at a time.

  • Once bubbles have begun to form, flip pancake over and cook till bottom is dark golden-brown.

  • Serve hot, straight from the skillet or keep them warm in a low oven. Makes about 18 pancakes.

Oatmeal Pancakes

Envi ene bon ti salade melanz? While the average Mauritian is not a huge fruit eater, he/she will hardly ever say no to a freshly prepared fruit salad topped with tamarind sauce and disel pima/ chili salt. A colourful meli-melo of tropical fruits including mangoes and pineapple, our traditional fruit salad is not a homemade entity but derives its popularity from the road side sellers who usually extend their fares to markets and beaches on Sundays and holidays.

It will not be an uncommon sight if you come across one today on our crowded public beaches, which are always so on the eve and the day of a public holiday. And as we are celebrating our Independence Day today, there is, I’m sure, no better occasion to do a post on something we can proudly call as our ‘national’ salad. As the official celebrations unfold this afternoon in Champ de Mars in the attendance of eminent personalities, many will undoubtedly gather in more informal surroundings with the same feeling of being fier d’etre mauricien/ proud to be a Mauritian.

MAURITIAN FRUIT SALAD

Ingredients:

2 semi ripe mangoes

1 medium pineapple

1 small cucumber

10 jamalacs/ love apples

1 carambole/ star fruit

2-3 dried red chilies

1 teaspoon kitchen salt

3 tablespoons tamarind

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Method:

  • Peel mangoes, pineapple and cucumber. Cut each fruit into bite size pieces or chop into thick slices.

  • Cut the jamalacs into halves and slice the carambole thinly. Place all chopped fruit in a large bowl.

  • Crush the dried chilies and salt together in a grinder or in a mortar until it turns into a fine powder.

  • Remove any seeds from the tamarind and soak the pulp in 2 tablespoons warm water for 5 minutes.

  • Combine the tamarind pulp with 1 tablespoon of chili powder. Add more water and grind together.

  • It should form a sauce of slow dripping consistency. Toss this dressing over the bowl of fruit salad.

  • Mix till well combined and leave to stand at room temperature for at least one hour before serving.

  • Top with extra tamarind and serve in plastic cups along with extra salt and chili powder. Serves 4.

Mauritian Fruit Salad

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