Lauki-Pistachio Caramel Barfi- Grain free, refined sugar free Diwali sweets/In conversation with Sanjeev Kapoor/ A few bits about health and vertical kebab iskanders

Lauki Pistachio Caramel Barfi

Lauki Pistachio Caramel Barfi

Ask for a name of a  chef in India,  I would be surprised if there are many answers other than the name of Sanjeev Kapoor, the face that a lot of us in India grew up watching on mom’s pet TV channel stirring-up yet another recipe. I had a chance to meet this timeless Indian chef just last week in Dubai. He was here to launch the new menu of his restaurant called Signature by Sanjeev Kapoor. My reasons for meeting him were actually led by a perception.

IMG_5757 IMG_5756

While growing up, when  I saw him on his TV show called Khana Khazana, he always seemed to have a few extra pounds on him however lately my perception of him was of that of a leaner and relatively fitter person.

vs. Sanjeev Kapoor

Sanjeev Kapoor

and so I thought it would be a good idea to meet him and find out what was his mantra to keep his energy levels and improve fitness levels  despite ageing and all the delicacies that he cooked. Was he also counting calories or did he have a secret card up his sleeve?

So I gushed at my chance- “We have seen you change, you have lost a lot of weight and you did stuff that was outside your comfort zone, I remember this dance show that you participated in on TV (yes, he did one). I personally believe that not just physical health but the will and the courage to try new things is somewhere related to how and what you eat. How do you translate your healthy eating habits in your recipes and what are your top tips to those food lovers who would like to stay lean and strong?” ( I have even written about this connection of food with improved will to move before).

My enthusiasm tanked when he said that he had not lost any weight! But what he said later was interesting… he said that your body is yours so the important thing is to know your body and listen to it. What suits you and what doesn’t, you need to know it, remember it and heed to it.

I agree with him wholeheartedly on this one. I think, all of us can name that one person, who seems to be able to eat anything that can be referred to as food, without gaining as much as an inch, while the others claim to count their breaths as they put anything in their mouths and still have bursting waistlines.

Why some people have a tendency to gain more weight, even if they eat the same food?

The difference in individual response to food stems from the difference in people’s Insulin resistance, a condition when our body becomes less responsive to the effects of insulin and starts to ask for more insulin to get the same job done (I.e. utilization of same amount of blood glucose). More insulin leads to increased hunger pangs and it also favors conversion of any excess sugar to body fat. Read more about this here.

However, I quickly steered the discussion away from health to ask him three culinary questions- two that I wanted to ask and the third that my sister wanted to ask.

My first question was – how to consistently get soft and juicy kebabs every single time even when cooked in an oven rather than on a charcoal grill or a tandoor? Those that are not hard and bland but always soft and juicy- what were his top tips?

My sister’s question was – How to turn egg recipes into vegetarian by substituting eggs?

My third question was about ideas for making some super healthy Diwali treats.

Some tenacious readers will find the answers quite helpful so here they go –

On how to convert egg recipes into veg-  let me first tell you what he said- he asked me to forget about it…if you want the taste like egg then put egg-  I haven’t got much ideas here either although I am sure a lot of bakers like this friend of mine who is training to be a professional baker does use coca cola and veg shortening instead of eggs in her cakes!  I personally do not like adding these ingredients so this is not my recommendation, eggs are one of the healthiest sources of nutrition on this planet and we should have them whole with the yolk.

For getting the kebabs right, his answer was a simple “Do More” according to him the only way to get  soft and juicy kebabs time after time is to do more cooking, more experimentation and more mistakes till you will start to get them right every single time. The restaurant chefs get it right because of their skill and their consistency.
Well, I agree but a tip of two can always help us so all I want to add from my experiments with kebabs is to grill them while covered airtight on low heat and leave the skin on wherever possible to keep the juices locked in.

The other amazing way to keep the kebabs soft and juicy is something I found out on my visit to this new Turkish place called Sultan Baba Iskander, a nice little restaurant in Dubai Festival city food court run by a passionately foodie Turkish couple,  after being invited to try their soft and juicy Iskander kebabs- as per them the softness lies in the technique of cooking that evolved in Turkey back in the days. The technique was to marinate in cream and butter with tomato sauce and then grill vertically next to red hot charcoal, vertical grilling ensures that the fat drips through the meat rather than dripping out on the oven preventing the kebabs from drying out.

At the behest of my husband, who accompanied me to Sultan Baba Iskander,  I am motivated to try getting a custom made vertical charcoal tandoor at home this winter. Hopefully there will be more on that later. For now Please feel free to add on if you have any more tips/recipes to get soft and juicy kebabs every single time.

Vertical grilling

Iskander kebabs at Sultan Baba Iskander

Finally coming to super healthy Diwali treats. While masterchef’s suggestion is to enjoy mithai the way it is supposed to be i.e. with the normal white sugar in it as sugar substitutes can just not taste the same… his advice to you is to watch portions when you eat your mithai this Diwali…and keeping your best interests at heart (pun intended)..I would agree with him whole heartedly about portion control when it comes to mithai sweetened with processed and refined sugar.
However if you find it tough to watch your portions then try this sweet   made by replacing the refined white sugar with  natural coconut palm sugar. Coconut palm sugar is low in glycemic index despite having equal sweetness and being rich in minerals like potassium, Iron, Magnesium and zinc and B vitamins. I found it in our Indonesian corner store which stocks foodstuffs from the South east Asia.

Palm Sugar

Coconut Palm Sugar

My Sweet for this Diwali- Lauki Caramel Barfi. The  palm sugar, gives the barfi a light caramel color.

Lauki Pistachio Caramel Barfi


Whole Milk 2 litres

Alum 1/3 tsp

4- 1/2  tablespoons crushed Palm/Coconut sugar

Ghee 3 tbs

1 cup grated and drained lauki or bottle gourd

15-20 slivered Pistachios

Boil whole milk in a large, thick-bottomed pan till it reduces to half its volume. Add the crushed alum (also called फिटकरीi) to the thickened milk and stir continuously.  The alum works to bring together the thickened milk and increase its viscosity.  Meanwhile in another small pan heat the ghee and add to it the grated lauki and the coconut sugar, roast the grated lauki as the sugar caramelizes and the water dries up. Mix the caramelised lauki into the milk  and continue to stir scraping the bottom of the pan as the mixture thickens up and is homogenious. Add the slivers of pistachios reserving some for garnish. Grease a tray with ghee and pour the barfi mixture into the tray and even the surface. Leave to set for a few hours to cool and set. When relatively set, decorate with slivers of pistachios and scoop out pieces to serve.
To see some of the things we did and ate at Signature By Sanjeev Kapoor and at Sultan Baba Iskander do see these posts by Rubin Rashik on his blog Living to Eat here and here.

4 thoughts on “Lauki-Pistachio Caramel Barfi- Grain free, refined sugar free Diwali sweets/In conversation with Sanjeev Kapoor/ A few bits about health and vertical kebab iskanders

    • Hi Mitzie
      My mum always made ghee at home and occassionally butter as well. The starting point for both was the same- the thick layer of milk cream and fat that we call malaai in hindi. To make butter the malai is churned by hand or hand blender till the soft white fluffy butter separates, the remaining liquid is called mattha and is a delicious drink when chilled and salted. To make ghee the malai is heated on low while its stirred till the liquid ghee separates from the milk solids. My mum uses these drained brown solids as well to make a mithai by mixing in sugar, grated coconut, nuts and cutting into squares. Its awesome.

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