Happy Registered Dietitian day!
It’s wonderful, albeit a bit surprising, that this healthcare profession gets a day of celebration. But rightfully so. Our contributions to the healthcare field have taken us into research, medicine, education, public health, leadership, politics, counseling, and beyond. We have the potential to reach and impact every single human being on this planet because food is at the base of existence and integral to the physical, mental, emotional, economic, and social wellbeing of life.
And because, well…. everyone has to eat.
But, being chronically amidst the pandemonium of food politics and the ever-changing information in nutrition and healthcare, I sometimes want to take a step back and just remember the first reason I even wanted to pursue this field.
So in this post, I’m celebrating food.
Food is absolutely something to be celebrated. Eating is essential to life, we all know this. But I think the celebratory nature of food has been convoluted to fit into the notions of beauty, health, capitalism, contrition/guilt, etc, etc…
Quite simply, eating nurtures the body and the soul. We eat because we enjoy the tastes and textures of food on our tongues. We eat for the comfortable satisfaction that a delicious meal brings. We are reminded of happy memories and eat for the rose-tinted nostalgia. Food is a representation of languages, cultures, and regions. Food is symbolic in religion. Food is a solace through hardships in life.
It’s as simple and as complicated as that.
Today, I’m celebrating food through my culture.
As a Pakistani American who loves bringing these two cultures together, I bring to the table a very Euro-American dessert, carrot cake, with South Asian nuances.
This carrot cake has been desified* by adding some brewed masala (spiced) chai to the cake batter. The word “chai” means tea in Hindi/Urdu. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, it is a strong brew of tea with spices, milk, and sweetener. You’ll find that these households often drink it several times a day.
I also made a lovely date syrup to add the rich flavor of dates to this cake. Dates are one of the primary crops in many South Asian countries and an integral culinary component by default.
The pièce de résistance in this recipe is the garnish of pistachios, instead of almonds, walnuts, and/or pecans, which are more standard additions to carrot cake. Pistachios are also cultivated in and exported from South Asia.
So yes. These three ingredients are very desi indeed: Chai. Khajoor. Pista.
*Desified- to develop characteristics of South Asian communities like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh
I used black tea leaves, of course. And for the spices, I added whole cardamom pods and a few cinnamon sticks (but this is optional since I also add cardamom and cinnamon powders to my cake batter as well). Other spices normally added to chai include star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns, etc but I only had cardamom and cinnamon at the time.
I recommend brewing the tea for strength. Mine was super strong and yet, the taste was subtle and very much complementary to the rest of the flavors of standard carrot cake.
For my date syrup, I boiled 2/3 cup of pitted dates over medium heat with just enough water to cover the dates (like 1/4 to 1/2 cup water). I recommend cooling the syrup off and then blending it in a food processor or blender until smooth. Otherwise, the fibrous parts of the dates add a grainy texture to what otherwise should be a moist and soft cake. Boiling the dates and then blending them results in a gorgeous, caramel-like syrup that cannot be attained by simply blending alone (it’s all in the caramelization process between heat and sugar).
DO NOT abstain from adding the coconut to the cake batter. Be generous with it! Unless, of course, you despise coconut.
Okay, okay. Enough talk. Here’s the recipe!
Chai-Spiced Carrot Cake with Dates and Pistachios
(First, brew the tea and allow it to steep so that it can become stronger. Then proceed with the rest of the cake.)
1/2 cup of water
2 tbsp black tea (or two black tea bags)
A few whole green cardamom pods (optional)
2 large cinnamon sticks (optional)
(Other spices such as star anise, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, black peppercorns are also optional)
Bring water to a boil, add black tea, cardamom pods, and cinnamon, reduce heat to medium/low and allow to steep for a few minutes for the flavors to infuse. Strain the mixture and put the mixture aside to cool and to be used later in the cake.
Carrot Cake Batter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup vegetable/canola oil
2 cups carrots, grated
2 cups shredded coconut, sweetened
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup pitted dates
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 cup pistachios, chopped
Boil 2/3 cup pitted dates over medium heat with just enough water to cover the dates. Cool the syrup off and then blend in a food processor or blender until smooth. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350F. Place the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom powder, cinnamon powder, salt) in a bowl and mix together.
In a separate bowl, place the eggs, granulated sugar, oil, (cooled) date syrup, and the (cooled) brewed tea and mix together until emulsified.
Pour this mixture over a large bowl of grated carrots and shredded coconut. Fold in the flour, a little at a time.
Transfer the cake batter to a greased, baking pan. Place in the over and bake for 40 minutes. Allow cake to completely cool before adding cream cheese frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
Blend ingredients together until smooth, fluff-like texture attained. Apply to cake when completely cooled.
Garnish cake with pistachios (lots of ’em).