xmlns:fb='http://www.facebook.com/2008/fbml' Cooking with Ria

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Trinidad Parsad

Summer has bid us farewell. School is back in session. I have no vivid recollection of activities that occurred between the start of summer and the beginning of the school session. I know I worked maybe just a little too much and I'm getting used to my new commute to Midtown. It's always been a dream of mine to hike the Great Wall of China. Two weeks commuting in the NYC subways, squeezing into sardine packed cars, waiting for delayed trains, climbing stairs and more stairs, I no longer desire to visit or view first hand that aforementioned Wall, stairs included. 

Fulton Street subway station is a wonder of the world in itself, no need to visit a very far land in search of physically challenging stairs to conquer. More challenging is sprinting up the many stairs to catch a train when one is late for work. It's not uncommon to see older folks huddled over the handrails trying to catch their breath. I shall not confess whether I'm included in that statistic.  I am in dire need of a vacation. Diwali is later this month and I may hop on a plane to experience again the wonders of the festival of lights, after two decades in exile, and violate every law of moderation and indulge in excess parsad consumption to soothe my troubled, weary soul. Amen.

Parsad, for those of you who are not familiar with the word, is a traditional sweet served at Hindu religious ceremonies in Trinidad and other countries in the Caribbean. Flour and/or cream of wheat are cooked in ghee until golden brown, after which raisins, ginger and ground cardamom(elaichi) are added. It’s all brought together with a syrup made with milk, sugar and water, which results in a fluffy, pillowy soft, indulgent dessert.

I grew up in a Hindu household and it was quite challenging waiting for the almost three hour long  prayer service (also referred to as prayers or pooja) to end to receive the little plastic or brown paper bags filled with parsad and other sweet delicacies, including kurma, ladoo, roat, barfi, pera, lapsi and suhari. It was (and still is) against all rules to eat or taste any of the food or delicacies until after the prayer service had ended. Torture for a young foodie. Torture.

Because of the length of these devotions, the young rebel in me opted to hang out and chat with the cooks who were busy preparing huge iron pots of vegetarian dishes and paratha roti, which were to be served at the end of the pooja to the prayer devotees and non devotees(those who came only for the food and sweets). This meant that I had to perform dish washing, bell girl and sous chef duties, but those responsibilities were so much more bearable and exciting than sitting still waiting for the prayers to end.

I believe that this is one of the reasons I could now easily prepare a feast for a hundred people. I gained priceless experience and knowledge observing the older generation of cooks. Nowadays, I am much better behaved, obedient and spiritual, and on an occasional Sunday, you will find me sitting for several hours in church, even though there are no sweet treats or food served at the end of service. I bring my own. 

There are several versions of parsad, one is made solely with flour and another made with just cream of wheat. Then there is this recipe which combines both. Some folks enjoy their parsad warm and soft, others like it cold and hard straight out of the refrigerator. I don’t discriminate. I eat it any which way I get it, well except if it’s too white which means that the flour was not parched sufficiently in the ghee, which results in a bland, raw flour taste. The color of the parsad varies with the length of time the flour is cooked, aka parched...

Around Diwali time, when all my family and friends in Trinidad are enjoying an abundance of parsad (and prayer’s food), because of the frequency of pooja’s everywhere, I usually prepare a small batch to satisfy my craving, console myself and reminisce about my childhood.  Actually, that is all I seem to do these days, cook, eat, reminisce. Repeat. Hopefully, this year will be different.

Cook's "managing my weight" Tip---If you plan to make parsad as often as I do for your own personal satisfaction, you may decrease the ghee and sugar to half cup each. Just a suggestion. Calm down. 

Use this recipe if you want consistent results EVERY TIME! No more calling Aunties, Tanties or grandmas to ask them how to make parsad ...I did all the work for you....Three years of investigating, interrogating and testing to bring you the authentic taste of parsad. I hope you enjoy..:-)

Ria's Trinidad Parsad
Serves 8-10

1 can “Carnation” evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 cup organic whole milk
1 cup water
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup ghee (clarified butter) ( I prefer Cow Brand Ghee)
cup all purpose flour
1 cup instant cream of wheat (farina)
½ cup golden raisins (Optional) 
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground elaichi (cardamom)

Peel and grate ginger (I always give this task to my husband) and measure ingredients.

Make Syrup:

In a small saucepan with a long handle, add evaporated milk, whole milk, one cup of water and sugar and place over a low flame. Stir until sugar has melted. Keep on low flame.  

[A few times I added the ginger to the milk and it curdled, so I no longer bother. You may continue to use the milk if it curdled, I didn't notice a difference to the final product]

To cook:

Meanwhile, in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, add ghee. 

When it melts, gradually sprinkle in flour and stir, using a wooden spoon in a rapid back and forth motion, scraping the flour from the bottom of the pot so it doesn't burn.

[If the flour is becoming brown too quickly, lower the heat.] 

Cook (parch), stirring continuously, scraping the bottom of the pot, until the flour is golden brown, like the color of tea with milk(or a little lighter if that's your preference), and light in weight, about 5-7 minutes. 

Add cream of wheat and continue to stir continuously, about 3 minutes. 

Add raisins, grated ginger and elaichi and cook 3 more minutes...

...until raisins are plump... 

Start pouring the hot milk mixture gradually (one cup or ladle at a time) into the pot, (and carefully since the syrup will splatter). 

[Feel free to ask your significant other or other trustworthy person to assist you in pouring the hot milk mixture into the pot. I pour one cup at a time--but quickly--because I find that it's easier to turn that way...]

Turn vigorously and rapidly in a back and forth motion, until the cream of wheat is cooked and all the liquid is absorbed, about 5-7 minutes--depending on your pot or the heat. It make look "pasty" for a little while, don't lose courage or confidence, success is just around the corner--just keep those arms moving....

The parsad is finished when it starts to clump together, your arms are dead tired and sweat is pouring from your forehead. No exaggeration.....and most importantly, the parsad is fluffy, pillowy soft, light...the aroma heavenly...

[It may seem a little greasy, but as it cools the grease will be absorbed to keep it at the right "parsad" texture.] 

With love,
prayerful wishes and
indulgent dishes,


(Using recipes already posted)

Appetizer: Pholourie or Aloo Pie and Mango Chutney
Dessert: Sweet Rice and Parsad



Sunday, August 3, 2014

Trinidad Aloo (Potato) Pie

Aloo pie is fried dough filled with savory mashed potatoes that’s seasoned simply with bandhania (culantro), cumin, onion and garlic.  This snack (or meal) is right up there in popularity with doubles, pholourie and bake and shark.  The doubles vendor almost always have aloo pies and I’ve been known to order one or two, along with four doubles, just to satisfy my “big eye” (as in “she eye big”), as we say in Trinidad. Just means I have a voracious appetite.

As I mentioned on my Facebook page, my hubbie (the Dah) encouraged me to share the recipe immediately on my blog because he claims that it tastes just like his mother’s! I have never seen this man devour so much aloo pies or food in such a short time. I was concerned because I made it Saturday and again on Sunday to take pics for the blog, and he ate about seven pies in two days! On Friday he was boasting about his two pack abdomen. By Sunday, it looked more like a barrel and there was no more mention of his sexy physique, but don’t tell him I said that. Yes, it’s that good, especially good hot, straight out of the pot.

At the Trinidadian restaurants and vendors, the aloo pies are filled with curried channa at your request, but they are amazing alone or with mango or tamarind chutney or hot sauce.  Personally, I prefer homemade aloo pies to the bought ones because:
1. it contains more potato mixture (aloo)
2. it’s not fried with re-used oil, so the taste is cleaner
3. it’s not as oily because they are not stacked on each other in layers upon layers!
4. my recipe is all round tastier ([singing] if i do say so myself). You be the judge and let me know.

Cook’s notes:
  • There are many recipes without onions, but I enjoy the little crunch they add. If you don’t like eating raw onions, don’t worry, they cook while they are being mashed with the hot potatoes.
  • The finely chopped peppers add tiny bursts of spiciness and flavor. For me, they always offer a nice surprise.
  • Many recipes call for a large amount of cumin, but I don’t like adding too much cumin as it overpowers the taste of everything else, considering some of the chutneys are also made with cumin.
  • This recipe makes 12 but can be made smaller to enjoy or serve as an appetizer.

Makes 12 large 

3 cups flour
6 teaspoons aluminum free baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons Himalayan salt
About 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

Potato Filling
2 pounds potato ( I used organic golden potatoes)
4-5 large bandhania (aka culantro, recao) leaves (plus 1 thinly sliced) (optional but recommended)
½ medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup) (I used Vidalia onion)
3 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon roasted ground cumin (geera)
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
Hot pepper (bird pepper, habanero or scotch bonnet pepper), to taste


1  . Knead flour:--In a bowl mix flour, salt and baking powder. Gradually add water and knead flour to form a soft, smooth dough. The key to a soft dough is not folding over the flour too often (once all the water has been added, just press gently with the knuckles to smoothen, turn over, repeat). Cover with a towel and let it rest until you are ready to use it.

2. Cook potatoes: Peel and wash potatoes. Place 8 cups of water in a saucepan over high heat. Add potatoes, bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook for 30-40 minutes or until fork tender but not overcooked. Drain, place in a large bowl and set aside.

3. While the potatoes are boiling, mince garlic, bandhania (if using) and hot pepper (if using) using a food processor or mortar and pestle. Peel and chop onions.

4. Add the minced ingredients, salt and cumin to the bowl with the potatoes. Mash with a fork, breaking up all chunks. (I like to add some more sliced bandhania and hot peppers).

Assemble Pies

1. Using your strong hand, squeeze off pieces of flour between thumb and forefinger to make 12 little balls. This way you don’t have to reshape after separating the dough.

2. Lightly flour surface. Using your fingers, flatten each ball into a 4 inch disc. Place a handful of potato (about 3 heaping tablespoons) mixture and bring the sides up over the filling. Pinch the edges together to seal all the way around. Then fold over the edges(see no 5 below).

3. Place upright and press the dough gently to flatten while pulling apart to lengthen. Place flat on the counter and then press gently with the palm of your hand to flatten. Place the completed filled dough on a floured surface and cover with towel.  

4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the remaining balls of dough.

   To fry:

1. Heat about 1 cup of oil (use more if your pot is wider) in a small dutch oven or heavy bottomed pot. Add a small pinch of dough. The oil is ready when it floats and darkens.
2. Gently place filled dough into the hot oil, two at a time if the pot is big enough. Using a spoon(for God's sake and yours), continuously pour hot oil over the dough. When the bottom is golden brown, flip and cook the other side until golden brown also. Drain on the side of the pot and place in a single layer, on a paper towel lined platter. Cover with a paper towel, then a kitchen towel.

3. Repeat with the remaining filled dough.

Upon completion, bask in the glory of your accomplishment. 
Eat to your heart's content while it's hot. 
Take a nap. 
Do not repeat for a while. 
Do share with loved ones........if there are any leftovers.

       With love....
         .......and best aloo pies,


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Trinidadian Stewed Red Beans

Change seems to be the only constant in my life. Recently, I learned that my 10 year tenure on Wall Street is ending and I am being re-located to Midtown, NYC. One extra hour of commute time daily. Some things you just can’t fight or complain about in life. 

In the whirlwind of life, one thing has remained unchanged, that’s dinner every evening at 6:30 pm (sometimes closer to 7) with my family. [This will most likely change when I move]. Thirty minutes prior to that the kitchen is overcome with the hustle and bustle of dinner preparations. Everyone gets involved, the Dah helps me locate ingredients in the pantry and refrigerator, Lani, the 10 yr old sets the table, fills the glasses with cold water and hovers around the pot curiously while sharing the events of her day.  Daria, the 11 yr old, who is always indisposed studying, reading, or face-timing, appears at the last minute to heat the rice or help dish out food. Then we sit, hold hands(most days—it’s complicated), pray, bless our food and enjoy our dinner. There is love and excitement, again most days. These are the moments I live for. These are the moments that make all the sacrifice worth it.

Father's Day Menu:  Jasmine Rice, Stewed Red Beans, Stewed Lamb, Boil and Fry Cassava, Trini Chow Mein, Sautéed Broccolini, Greek Salad

I never cook red beans during the week because everyone is always beyond starving when we walk through the door. I prepare the beans on a Saturday to be eaten on Sunday and the leftovers are eaten during the week, accompanied by different meat or fish dishes.

In my recipe, red beans are soaked overnight, then boiled. After boiling, the flavor of the beans is enhanced with the addition of aromatic vegetables, herbs and coconut milk. Stewed red beans are a mainstay in traditional Trinidadian cuisine. For a typical Sunday lunch, it is usually accompanied by stewed chicken or curried chicken, rice and a salad of lettuce or watercress, sliced tomatoes and cucumber and the occasional macaroni pie.

Mummy mentioned that her mother served it at Easter along with callaloo, [also stewed meats and boiled ground provisions], which I thought was rather odd; since my limited mentality has always been either one or the other at a meal, until I attempted that combination myself. After I came to terms with the guilt, I thought that the meal of both callaloo and stewed red beans, which I served with a stewed pork and beef one pot combo, was exceptional, fascinating, and almost luxurious.

Cousins "Lime" Menu : Jasmine Rice, Dhal, Curried Duck, 
Stewed Red Beans, Mango Takari, Salad

I’ve had some bad experiences with boiling beans.  You could say that I have met the red beans from hell. Once I boiled red beans for hours and it refused to boil. I was so traumatized by the experience that I stopped cooking beans for several months, until I decided it was time to feel the fear of disgrace and failure and do it anyway. A long story short, what I learned is that red kidney beans prefer to be unencumbered when they are boiling. Leave them alone. Do not touch them. Do not add any ingredients until they are ready, that is until they are tender. If it sounds like this bean has a serious case of PMS, it probably does. 

To soak or not to soak? Sigh. Some believe that soaking of the beans not only cleans them, it reduces the cooking time and also removes the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) which cause gas. 

More recently I tested both, I soaked overnight and also just for an hour or two, and found that there isn’t a big difference, and it really did not affect me from a “gaseous” standpoint, if you know what I mean. But that’s just my body, my personal experience. That’s all I can talk about. If it did affect anyone else in the household, I am not allowed to divulge that information either. Test it for yourself and I pray you don’t tell me the outcome.

Ria's Trinidadian Stewed Red Beans
Serves 6-8

To boil beans
1 cup dried red or pink kidney beans
6 cups water (to boil)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon brown sugar
½ cup cubed pumpkin (squash or caribbean calabaza) [optional]
1 medium carrot, sliced
 4 sprigs thyme
1 clove garlic, crushed
¼ block pure creamed coconut [optional]

To stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ketchup

2-3 tablespoons green seasoning
½ lb plum tomato (about 3 small)
1 celery stalk, chopped

½ small red or green sweet pepper
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 medium onion, chopped
About 2 teaspoons Himalayan salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 Prep and Boil Beans:
1. Soak the beans overnight. Wash. Drain. Wash, peel and chop veggies. 

2. In a medium saucepan over high heat, add 6 cups water, beans, oil, sugar. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes until cooked but still firm. 

3. Add pumpkin, carrots, 4 sprigs of thyme, garlic, and ¼ block of creamed coconut, if using. 

Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until beans are tender, but still whole, about 30-45 minutes. Set aside.

Stew beans:
1. In a heavy bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add brown sugar and allow it to bubble, froth and darken. 

2. Add ketchup, green seasoning, tomatoes, celery, sweet pepper, garlic and onion, stir well to combine. 
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, over low heat, stirring every 5 minutes. You may add 1/4 cup of water to help in the cooking process. 

3. Stir in beans with liquid. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add additional 1-2 cups of water if there isn’t enough liquid.  

Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to low, cover pot and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until sauce thickens. Taste for salt and black pepper. Add more if necessary. 

Be not afraid to attempt stewed read beans from scratch. If you don't you will be missing out on the most flavorful and delicious stewed red beans you ever ate....

Live your best life now,
With love,
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