At home in Boothbay Maine she shares with her husband Guy and their 7-year-old daughter Sophia, Cherie Scott is a long, long way from her native Mumbai, India. But it doesn’t seem so in her kitchen.
That kitchen — built with Guy’s impressive cabinetmaker skills and decked out with professional-grade appliances — is where Cherie preserves the food and drink traditions of her childhood: spending days turning a whole leg of lamb and layers of spices into a deeply flavorful biryani, or hours stirring milk, saffron and cardamom into custard to make kulfi — Indian ice cream.
The biryani and kulfi were two of the dishes on the menu for an Indian feast Cherie, who works as the member services and event manager for the Boothbay Harbor Region Chamber of Commerce, prepared for us on a recent snowy evening. We began with prosecco and Indian street food and finished with fragrant chai — which I now know how to make properly although I’m sure mine will never taste quite as good as the steaming cups prepared by Cherie’s well-practiced hands.
As we ate and drank around their kitchen’s large farm table, Cherie regaled us with stories of her journey from Mumbai to Vancouver to New York to New Jersey to Boothbay, where she, Guy and then 10-month-old Sophia moved on somewhat of a whim in 2008.
Cherie’s heritage is Indian and Portuguese. Her parents, now Canadian citizens, raised their children in Mumbai until Cherie was 16, when they moved the family to Vancouver. Both her mother and father trace their roots to Goa, on the West coast of India, colonized by the Portuguese beginning in the late 15th century. To this day, Goan food is a fusion of Indian and Portuguese cuisine. We experienced it in a heady dish of Goan chorizo with potatoes and onions, which, like everything Cherie prepared for us, had plenty of heat but also a deep, well-balanced complexity of flavor.
Cherie ordered the chorizo online, but recalls her mother making the sausages and curing them outdoors in the heat of a Mumbai summer.
When I was about 7, I always knew school was coming to an end when my mother would start talking about making chorizo over the summer. Just the thought of it made my heart skip a beat and my mouth water. There was nothing better than taking all my stuff up three flights to our apartment building terrace and camping out in the shade of a make-shift tent with my mom, sister and scores of black crows quietly perched in the branches of an old tamarind tree. My primary job was to shoo those black monsters away from that prized pickled meat.
We were honored to share both food and memories with Cherie, Guy and Sophia – and to share two of her recipes with you.
Saffron-Pistachio-Cardamom Indian Ice Cream (Kulfi)
8 cups (half gallon) whole milk
1 large pinch saffron
3 tablespoons crushed salted pistachios ( the salt adds a nice balance to the sweetness in the ice cream )
2 heaping tablespoons almond meal (this adds another level of nutty flavor and acts as a thickening agent)
5 tablespoons sugar
8 cardamom pods – slightly crushed
Place the 8 cups of milk in a heavy-bottomed pot.
Add the cardamom pods, saffron and sugar to the milk.
Bring to a slight boil, turn down heat and simmer.
Keep scraping down the sides of the pot and stirring the cream that assembles on top of the milk back into the milk. You must keep stirring and never allow it to burn at the bottom or sides of the pot.
After you have reduced the milk to 1/3 of its original amount — approx 2 1/2 cups — remove and discard the cardamom pods.
Stir in the almond meal with the crushed pistachios. Allow to simmer for another 5 minutes and thicken.
Turn off the heat. Take the pot off the stove top; pour the mixture into a glass bowl and allow it to cool down completely.
Based on your accessibility to an ice-cream machine and time on your hands, you have two options now:
1. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the freezer. Every twenty minutes stir up the ice-cream with a fork and break up the ice crystals that will form inevitably. As soon as the mixture begins to freeze up, scoop and place it into moulds and freeze tightly. Before serving, place into a hot water bath and slip out of moulds onto a pretty plate and garnish with chopped pistachios and couple of saffron strands.
2. Place the room-temperature mixture into an ice cream machine (I borrowed a friend’s Breville ice cream machine) and allow it to churn for an hour. It will stay cool in the machine for 3 hours after its done. After dinner, pull out some chilled martini glasses, and scoop the ice-cream into the glasses; garnish with a couple of saffron threads and crushed pistachios.
Notes: I started this recipe at 10 p.m. and didn’t realize that it would take an hour and half for the milk to reduce to 1/3 of the original amount. After I was done reducing the milk and took it off the stove and put it into the freezer at 11:30 p.m. I decided to take a short nap that transitioned into a deep slumber until I got woken up by a phone call at 8 a.m.
I ran downstairs to my freezer and much to my dismay the entire mixture was frozen and full of ice crystals. I panicked and called a friend who told me to keep stirring it vigorously with a fork. To my surprise I was able to bring it back to the consistency and room temperature it should have been before I put it into the freezer the night before. I then drove over to her house and borrowed her miraculous Breville ice cream machine. I poured it into the machine and turned it on. Voila! I had Kulfi! There were a few ice crystals but minimal. it tasted delicious though!
Three lessons learned:
Don’t take cat naps when making kulfi.
Don’t start kulfi ice-cream at 10 p.m.
Buy an ice-cream machine. It’s not necessary but worth it. It saved my dessert.
Adapted from Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey, Barron’s Educational Series 2003
Chai for two
16 ounces (2 cups) whole milk or water
6 black tea bags or 12-13 grams of tea leaves (see note)
4 whole cloves
1 long stick cinnamon
2 thick slices fresh ginger
2 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed
4 black peppercorns
4 teaspoons of raw sugar
Light grating of nutmeg
¼ tsp fennel seeds
1 piece star anise
On a low flame, heat the milk or water until it’s almost to a boiling point, throw in the tea bags (or leaves) and all the spices (whole or use a spice ball) and bring down to a stern simmer for 5 minutes.
Keep the flame low at all times until the end. Slowly bring to a boil again, when the milk rises to the top, turn it off. Strain in a colander or pull out spice ball.
If you chose water as your base either drink it straight up with sugar, or add in a generous splash of half and half or light cream at the end to cut the strong chai.
NOTE: Assam, Kenyan, Nilgiri, Ceylon black tea eaves provide the strongest black tea blend. Try to avoid a Darjeeling blend – totally different flavor, English Breakfast (too acidic) Earl Grey (too weak).
You can use agave nectar as a substitute for the sugar. Agave is 1 /2 times sweeter than sugar, so I use only 1 1/2 teaspoons of agave per 8 ounces of milk.