Friday, March 15, 2013

Visheti (Pumpkin flavored) and Kenyan Masala Chai (Spiced, sweetened, milk tea)

They say that diamonds are a girl's best friend. As much as I'm not too certain about that, what I am certain of is that these diamonds I'm about to present to you are sure to please any girl, any day. I'd like to introduce you to "visheti". These diamond-shaped Swahili cookies might not have the four C's that are required to rate them as the perfect diamond (cut, clarity, color & carat weight), but they make up for it in taste. These treats are crunchy and crumble in your mouth and are not cloyingly sweet. They are a cross between a doughnut and a cookie as far as the consistency goes. I dare you to stop at one (>insert maniacal laugh here<). They're so good in fact, that in order to keep from overindulging, I share half the batch with friends and neighbors whenever I make them. They're easy to make, a convenient snack to have at hand and they can keep for a week if properly stored.

As a child growing up in Kenya, my Mom always had a jar of these hidden somewhere in the house. She would whip out the jar for a quick accompaniment to tea whenever we had unexpected guests, or she would just give them to us as treats if we had been really good :). These snacks are quite popular along the Kenyan coast, among the Swahili people. My Mom learnt the recipe from our long time family friend, Mama Asha. I added a twist to the original recipe by adding some pumpkin to the dough just for extra flavor and visual interest. I will also share with you our family recipe for Masala Chai, which is basically tea cooked with milk and spices, and sweetened with some sugar. Here's what you'll need:

SERVING SIZE FOR THE VISHETI: This recipe will make enough visheti to fill a 4 quart Pyrex bowl (3.8 L bowl). See pic below.


-"Wok" or any other deep frying pan.
-Rolling pin.
-Pizza cutter or sharp knife.
-Strainer (to help remove the visheti from the frying pan).
-Bowl lined with paper towels (to drain the cooked visheti).
-Large mixing bowl.
-Baking sheet.
-Cling/Plastic foil.
-Large pot with lid (for sugar syrup/shira).

-6 cups all-purpose flour, sifted.
-1 teaspoon baking powder (not baking soda!)
-1/4 teaspoon cardamom (this can be found online or at any Indian grocery store).
-1/4 teaspoon salt.
-1/2 teaspoon ginger powder.
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon.
-1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (optional).
-1/4 teaspoon allspice.
-4 tablespoons pure pumpkin puree (not the pumpkin pie filling).
-3 sticks of unsalted, melted butter (still warm).
-1 1/3 cups water.
-3 cups vegetable oil for frying the visheti (I used Canola oil).

-2 cups of granulated sugar.
-1 cup of water.
-1 teaspoon rose water (can be purchased online or at any Arabic or Indian grocery store).

-In the large pot, pour in the sugar, water and rosewater. Let it come to a boil. DO NOT STIR or the syrup will crystallize. Lift the pot by the handles and twirl around to combine the sugar and water. The syrup is ready when it feels sticky when you put a drop of it between your thumb and finger. Turn the heat down to warm and cover the pot.

-In the mixing bowl, combine the sifted flour and all the dry ingredients (salt, baking powder, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice).
-Add the warm oil to the flour mixture and use your hand to knead the butter into the flour.
-Add the pumpkin puree to the other ingredients in the bowl and mix well by kneading.
-Slowly add the water into the bowl and knead well until the dough us soft, but not sticky. You should continue kneading the dough for at least 15 minutes. Once there is no flour at the bottom and sides of the dough and the dough is soft but not sticky, form the dough into a ball. Place the ball of dough in the center of some plastic foil and wrap it well. Sit the wrapped dough in a container and let it rest for 25-30mins (this step is essential to attaining perfect visheti, do not skip it!)                                               

-After the resting period, divide your ball of dough into two equal parts, re-wrap one part in the cling foil and set aside.
-Lightly flour your clean work surface and your rolling pin. Roll out one ball of dough into a circle of about 15 inches across and 1/4 inch thickness.

-Use your pizza cutter to cut the dough circle into strips as shown in the picture (the picture also shows you how thick the circle should be).


-Use the pizza cutter and make further cuts on the strips diagonally. The result should be small pieces of dough shaped like diamonds. these are the uncooked vishetis.

-Place the uncooked visheti on a baking sheet and continue cutting up the dough until there is no more dough left.

**To test your oil to see if it is perfect for frying, drop a small  piece of dough into the oil. If the dough sits at the bottom of the frying pan for at least 10 seconds before rising up, then the oil is perfect. If the dough rises up from the bottom immediately you put it into the oil, it means your oil is too hot. That will make the outside of your visheti cook, but the inside will still be doughy :-/. If your piece of dough just sits at the bottom of the pan for more than 10 seconds before rising, then the oil is not hot enough. In which case your visheti will just be absorbing oil and will end up being extremely greasy...eew!***
-Now that you know your oil is ready, carefully drop three handfuls of visheti into the oil (be careful not to crowd the frying pan).Use your strainer to separate the visheti in the pan, and to stir them around so that they cook evenly. 

-Once your visheti have attained the light golden brown color showed in the picture below, use your strainer to transfer them to the waiting bowl that's covered in paper towel. This will help absorb any excess oil from the visheti.


-Once you're done cooking all your visheti, carefully place them in the pot containing the shira (syrup). Using a wooden spoon, toss them around in the syrup to make sure that they are all well coated. Cover the pot and hold the lid down on the pot using your thumbs and shake the pot well to further toss the visheti. Turn the heat up to medium for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat.
-Transfer the coated visheti to a baking sheet, try and spread them on the baking sheet to form one layer. Let them cool down.

As they cool down, the sugar syrup should crystallize on the visheti, turning white. This will take a few hours. You can eat the visheti the same day, but they taste even better after the sugar has crystallized. 


SERVING SIZE FOR THE MASALA CHAI : This recipe yields 4 medium size cups of tea.

-1 teaspoon ginger powder.
-5 whole cloves.
-5 green cardamom pods.
-4 whole peppercorns.
-1/4 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg.
-1 stick of cinnamon, broken into pieces.
-In a small frying pan, on medium heat, dry roast the whole spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, peppercorns). Once you start smelling the aroma of the spices, remove from the stove and set aside. Let the spices cool down.
-Once the spices are cool, you can use a coffee/ spice grinder to turn the whole spices into a fine powder. If you do not have a spice grinder, use a mortar and pestle to grind the spices into a fine powder.
-Transfer the freshly ground spices into a bowl. Grate the nutmeg into the fresh spices. Add the ginger powder and mix the spices well. Transfer to a container with a lid and cover tightly. This can keep for years. Use as needed.

-In a medium-sized pot, bring 2 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of water to a boil (alternatively, you can use 3 cups of 2% milk and 1 cup of water).
-Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the chai masala spice to the pot. Let it come to a boil and turn off the heat.
-Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the tea leaves to the pot, cover the pot and let the tea steep for at least 15 minutes. I do not like my tea too strong, that is why I do not add too much tea leaves. If you like your tea stronger, let the tea steep for longer. If you  cannot find loose black tea leaves, use 3 teabags containing black tea.
-Using a strainer that is set over a big bowl or kettle, pour the tea through the strainer into the waiting bowl. This will ensure that your final product does not have loose tea leaves.

-Pour into the serving cups and let each individual add as much sugar to the tea as they please. I do not add the sugar directly into the brewing tea as everyone uses different amounts of sugar in their tea. Enjoy while still hot. I served mine up with the visheti. This goes well with any of the Kenyan doughnuts whose recipes I have previously posted (mahamri, maandazi etc.).