Friday, 24 February 2017

Almond Baklava. Grocery shopping in New Delhi: a real adventure.

Almond Baklava: grocery shopping in India is a real adventure. Or a Mission, I dare to say.

New Delhi, Febraury 2017

India: it's not a bed of roses, but what a bouquet of experiences... (read a sigh here)

New Delhi is not an easy place to be. 
It's a tentacular, complicated city. Dirty and polluted. Poor to make you cry.
I have not the same romantic idea of India as my niece and husband. I just can't.
According to them, India is amazing, colorful, beautiful, magic, meaningful, incredible, peaceful and safe. That is, the perfect place to be.
Yes, if you are a cow.

I'm not saying that I'm unhappy here, on the contrary. It's just that I can't see only all the good as they do. This city can be a nightmare, just only for that simple thing as grocery shopping is.

The thing I like the most here is spending time with mi niece. Only the both of us. I'm eager to make up for lost time, trying to spend as hours as possible with her, cooking, chatting, going out or simply in silence, looking into each other eyes, trying to find things in common. We already found a lot, beyond DNA matters and physical features.
One is that we both are passionate about markets. Food markets, firstly.
The first two times I've been here, she was severely ill, so she couldn't show me the city as she would want to do. Now she's recovering, always like a roller coaster, but there are days when she feels fully in shape and loaded with powerful, infecting energy. It's when I understand why my husband can't live without her and is totally fine only when she's around, since the day he met her.

-Let's go to INA Market- she suggested, one of those good days. -But you have to get yourself psychologically ready-she added.
I admit that I was afraid and worried in front of her proposition and the snigger in her face.

Before I continue my story, you have to know that there is not a supermarket in Delhi. Not even one. Every neighborhood has its own market and there are several specialized markets in the city. One for clothes, one for jewels, one for organic vegetables, and so on. If you need something specific, you have to move from one to another, otherwise you can find basic products just nearby. Things like season vegetables and fruits, milk and some other staples.
When I say market, don't immagine the European open air kind. Those markets are squares with little, dark shops all around. You can find jewelers, fashion boutiques, hairdressers, coffee bars and little basic groceries full of Indian stuff with unpronounceable names.
If you need to buy fish, meat or simple European food, like pasta for example, you have to take your car and have a nice time in Delhi's traffic jams.
It takes more than half an hour to cover 5 kilometers and reach this INA Market, but it seems to be worth it, judging by Michael and Ele's tales. I have to admit that I thought it was a bad jape, knowing them.

I was wrong. Kind of.
INA Market is a real Ali Baba's cave for foodies. You can find whatever you want from almost any country and if don't see it in your sight, they will find it for you. However, if you are a prissy person, this may not be the right place for you. It's always Delhi, it's always India: dirt, hawkers, homeless people and beggars jump immediately to the eye while you are concentrated doing the giant slalom through the stray dogs in the aisles.
A truly Indian experience.
This colorful, crowded indoor market is really exciting, with small shops full of packaged imported foods and local dry goods merchants. When you arrive at the parking, an army of coolies (porters) move close to you with a big smile, ready to carry your choices in a basket while you shop for few rupees. You have to choose among about fifteen guys: I chose the less intimidating one.

In a huge and multi-colored fruits and veg stall I saw some packages of Indian Buffalo Mozzarella in a fogged fridge and I asked for it.
-Don't- Ele said- Don't buy cheese here because you can't know how long it has been under the sun, before reaching that fridge.
-Right. So where do you buy cheese?
-In Meher Chand Market, just 4 kilometers from here
Great, another mission only to buy cheese. Ok, I can live with it.

After we got our fill of fruits and vegetables, always with the guy following us with his plastic basket, we had a random walk until reach the fishmongers side. Amazing. Less choice compared to the Tel Aviv fish markets, but much better and fresher compared to Strasbourg. Plus, fish are sold whole, so you can recognize what is kosher and what is not before they ask you if you want it in fillets. Since I have a retired surgeon at home, who wants fillets? He will make a better job than nobody else.

In a muddy lane in the back, you have the butchers. Mutton, goat, chicken and pork meats are available here. All the meat are halal and sellers are muslims, except for the pork, of course. The floor is wet, the odor is disgusting and a huge community of flies lives there, despite the fans and the electric fly zappers. Hygiene? Not available. 
At least, you know that meat is fresh. You have the option of choosing your live animal and they are so kind to kill and cut it just in front your eyes.

Now I understand why the majority of Indians are vegetarian.

-Tell me you never buy meat here.
She laughed.
-No. I buy kosher chicken from the Chabad Community and other Halal meats from a Japanese store which are...
-Let me guess...far and away?
Her laugh answered my question.
I can make it, I feel it. I will need to join her daily yoga class, but I will make it. Breath long and deep...

That day I bought a lot of almonds from Kashmir. They have a very pleasing aroma and a great texture. 
Yesterday, we all had a very bad day. Especially Ele. Then I wanted to try to cuddle her in some way.
I know for sure that her favorite sweet treat is Baklava.
The only problem is that I didn't know if phyllo pastry is available here. The homemade one is good, but sincerely, not the same.
I was afraid to ask

-Where can I find phyllo pastry?
-In the Modern Bazaar. 
Modern. Sounds so comfortable.
-And...where is it? 
-Just a few minutes from home


Long post, I hope you enjoyed my distress. But you maybe came here for the recipe...
Here it goes:

My Almond Baklava

There is not only one baklava recipe, there are thousands. The only thing they have in common is the dry fruits filling in a crunchy phyllo pastry shell, with a sticky flavorful syrup. This is my favorite one, with almonds only, orange blossom flavored.

for a 27x35 cm pan:

500 g almonds
4 tablespoons sugar
150 g butter
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
500 grams phyllo pastry

for the syrup:

500 g sugar
250 ml water
juice of 1 big lemon
about 2 tablespoons orange blossom water

If using frozen pastry, let it thaw completely before.
Preheat the oven at 180°.
In the meanwhile, chop the almonds. You can do it carefully in a food processor, but I like do it by hand, with a large knife, especially when I'm upset or angry, like I was. Those thinks work better than yoga for me.
Transfer the chopped almond in a bowl and mix with 4 tablespoons sugar.
Melt the butter along with the oil. Pour about 4 tablespoons of this mix on the almonds and mix well. Grease a the pan with oil or butter. Carefully, open and unfold the pastry sheets, place a dump cloth on them to prevent it from drying out.
Gently handle the phyllo dough sheets one by one, taking care to not to tear or damage it.
Place a sheet in the pan and brush it with the butter and oil mix. Place another sheet on the top of the first one and brush it, too. Do the same with the half of the package. You must to have a bottom of at least 10 phyllo sheets. Be careful to press the pastry on the edges and corners of the pan to make it adhering. Cut the pastry that pass over the edges of the pan. Scissors are the best tool for this task.
When you finish placing the half of the dough, place the almonds on it in an even layer. Make sure the almonds cover the entire pan.
Cover with the others phyllo sheets, greasing again one by one with the greasy mix. Brush the last one, too. Don't forget.
Normally and traditionally, at this point you have to cut the baklava in diamonds shapes. With a sharp knife, cut 6 rows across the long side. Then cut diagonal rows, first from a corner to the opposite one, then parallel to that row across the rest of the baclava.
Or you can do like me, I just cut in squares.
Bake for 1 hour or until golden and crisp. If after one hour it's not golden rise the temperature to 200° for some minutes, it will take the right tan.
During the baking time, make the syrup. Mix water, sugar and lemon juice and bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the orange blossom water. Let cool.
Take the baklava off the oven and let cool. When syrup and baklava are both cooled, drizzle the syrup all over the baklava. 
Refrigerate at least for 1 hour before serving.

Notes: I use to make baklava only with almonds because I like it more than other variations. You can also mix pistachio, walnuts and almonds or make it only with pistachio. Rose water water can be used instead of orange blossom one. Pistachio baklava with rose water is very common in Iran.
You can replace the sugar syrup with an honey or silan syrup and add spices like cinnamon or cardamom. For a Parve baklava, just substitute butter with more extra virgin olive oil. 


  1. Reading your posts is really amazing.
    I see you all in what you describe in such a funny way.
    Ele and Mich are really lucky to have you there with your positive soul. Your're a reachness for each others.
    I’ll follow your adventures “An Alsatian in Dehli”.

  2. You made the right thing starting this blog: it's such a pleasure to read you!

  3. I really love your stories! I'll wait for the next one! Cuddle those two! Ciao!!!


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