This is an easy recipe that comes together in minutes. I was inspired by two beautiful mangos, sitting on a platter in my kitchen. I also drew inspiration from Josh Lewin's list of indispensible Indian ingredients. A nice prelude to his upcoming Bread & Salt dinner, you should go if you haven't dined with Josh and Katrian yet. Or even if you have. Thinking about the ingredients I love and the items on hand, I put this panna cotta together.
Roses and a Queen
Culinary rosebuds figure in the cuisines of ancients Romans, Persians, Indians all use them and rosewater is distilled essence of rose is a favorite ingredient in baking. Gulab jamun is an Indian sweet of fried balls of sweetened condense milk drizzled with rose scented syrup.
Cardamom, those little green pods in the photo, are a wonderful addition to both sweet and savory dishes. Known as the Queen of Spices you might be surprised at the diversity of ways you can employ cardamom. Along with rose, it's a component of ras al hanout the complex spice blend that gives tagines of North Africa their unique fragrance. It appears in rices, curries, puddings and cookies.
Cardamom is in the ginger family the aromatic pods have notes of camphor, eucalyptus and pine. Hand-harvested and air-dried, it's nearly as costly as saffron. It's native to India's Ghat Mountains and Sri Lanka. In India one of the first foods babies are fed is cardamom-scented rice. Try dropping a pod or two in the next pot of rice you make or substituting cardamom for cinnamon in cookies.
Coconut Chai Panna Cotta
Panna cotta literally means cooked cream. It's an easy dessert, especially well-suited to dinner guests and warm weather. Why? It needs to be made ahead of time! Panna cotta is a favorite of mine as it's easy to make dairy-free. In this version I use a combination of canned coconut milk as you find in Asian markets and coconut based milk alternatives you find in regular grocery stores.
Chai spices are warm and often contain cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg. Here's a lovely story and recipe from my friend Raghavan Iyer.
A note about vanilla sugar: Have you ever used whole vanilla bean? It's wonderful and the great thing about the fragrant pods is that you get dual use from them. Usually recipes will ask you to scrape the sticky middle out of the pod - but don't throw away the pod itself! Drop it into a jar of sugar and put in the cabinet. In a short time, you'll have vanilla sugar. Use one bean, whole or scraped to 2 cups of sugar.
- 1 14 oz can coconut milk, divided
- 1 packet gelatin (you could also use agar agar for a totally vegan version)
- ~ 1/2 C milk substitute (like So Delicious Coconut Milk)
- 1/4 C vanilla sugar (or regular sugar + 1/4 tsp vanilla)
- 6 dried rosebuds (culinary)
- 8 green cardamom pods
- 1-2 TBSP chai spice (here I used the last of my Arvinda's blend)
- Reserve about 1/2 C of cocunut milk in a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over it, whisk to dissolve.
- In a small saucepan, bring remaining coconut milk/milk subst (to fill 2 C measure) just to boil with with sugar, chai spice, rosebuds and cardamom pods. Do not scorch, reduce heat to medium.
- Stir until sugar has dissolved and milk has become infused with the spices, just a few minutes.
- Remove from heat, whisk in the dissolved gelatin (which will look like snow-white mashed potatoes at this point.)
- Strain into small cups. Decorate if you wish with rose petals, chill.
Serve with slices of fresh, ripe mango.