Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peanut Sesame Vegetable Curry

Today's recipe has been on my meal rotation for a year or two and I'm finally getting around to posting it. It is certainly blog-worthy, taking only 10-15 minutes of hands on time, with rich and flavorful results.

The inspiration for this recipe comes from this stuffed eggplant recipe on Mahanandi. The original recipe is exquisite. Over time, I've used it as inspiration for a vegetable curry with many variations. From Indira's recipe, I gleaned two things: (a) the peanut sesame spice powder that becomes the base for a creamy curry and (b) the technique of releasing steam after turning off the pressure cooker to keep the vegetables from completely falling apart. Using this method, they get cooked to tender perfection in a matter of minutes without becoming a mushy mess. Of course, the recipe would also work on the stove top if you feel unsure of releasing steam from a pressure cooker in a safe way.

Peanut Sesame Vegetable Curry
(Adapted from this recipe from Mahanandi)

1. Dry roast the following until toasty and fragrant, then cool down and grind into a powder:
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 1/4 cup white sesame seeds
  • 1 tbsp. coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 small piece cinnamon 
  • 4 - 5 cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. fenugreek seeds
2. Prepare the vegetables and set aside. You need 5 cups or so or large vegetable chunks. I like using some combination of summer squash, zucchini, eggplant, carrots, potatoes. Baby vegetables like baby eggplants and tiny pattypan squash would also work well here.

3. Heat 2 tsp. oil in the body of a pressure cooker. Temper it with 1 tsp. mustard seeds and a sprig or two of curry leaves.

4. Add the following and stir for a few seconds:
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • Peanut sesame spice powder
  • 1 tsp. tamarind paste
  • 2 tsp. jaggery
5. Add the vegetables and 4 cups water (adjust the amount of water depending on what consistency you like) and pressure cook for 1 whistle. 

6. Gently release the steam right after turning off the pressure cooker. Be careful while doing this! 

7. Taste the curry and adjust as required- the magic is in finding the right balance between the rich nutty texture and the salty, tangy, spicy and sweet flavors. 

I enjoy this curry most with rice, yogurt, a cabbage stir-fry and some pickle on the side, accompanied by something crispy like papad or potato chips. It is nothing short of an everyday feast.

* * *
I'm hosting an ice cream social next weekend and short-listing some frozen treats that I want to serve at the party. I was reminded of an ice cream flavor that I used to love. It is a frozen dessert known as cassata in Bombay- a kind of terrine with three layers of different flavors of  ice cream and a topping of nuts (I'm quite sure toasted cashews), served in slices. I can't remember what the flavors are, and whether there is a layer of cake.

This was the dessert served at my younger aunt's wedding reception, more than 25 years ago. Her 4 small nieces were all dressed in coordinating pale pink frocks, frothy concoctions of satin and lace. We took advantage of the general chaos and the relative lack of adult supervision, and ate plate after plate of cassata ice cream, giddy with the joy of tasting three different flavors at one go. I don't think I have tasted it since. Food memories can be so powerful and long-lived.

Maybe cassata is still made and sold today, or maybe it enjoyed temporary fame and is not popular today. In any case, if you have tasted cassata and know what the layers and the flavors are, I'd sure appreciate if you left a comment- thank you! If I can, I'd love to recreate this nostalgic summer treat.


  1. I love cassata ice cream too - it has 3 flavors, and a small slice of cake in the bottom. And, as you said, a generous helping of cashews on top! The first layer is the tooty fruity flavor (it is available in Indian stores here in California), second vanilla and third chocolate - I think you could make it if you have 3 nested bowls. Put some cling wrap on the middle and largest size bowl and fill it with some melted chocolate ice cream in between. Freeze, remove the middle bowl and do the same thing to the smallest size bowl and fill the ring with vanilla and freeze - you get the picture. Sorry for the poor explanation.. but once all three layers are done you could just cut a circular piece of sheet cake and invert the whole thing. Then top it with some nuts! Am sure it would look spectacular :)

  2. Hi Nupur,
    I have tasted cassata, but only vaguely recall the flavours that constitute it. In order of certainty I think it had strawberry (though not overtly berry-tasting), vanilla, and maybe chocolate. The one I remember tasting didn't have nutes on top, but I think they ought to be there!

    Ice-cream social- how adorable does that sound! Hope you have a blast!

  3. I used to love the Vadilal cassata. The one I used to eat had a layer of yellow cake in the bottom and vanilla (white), pink (strawberry) and chocolate(brown). All the flavors were on the milder side. I cannot recall the nuts - pista maybe? There was also a more elaborate version called Raja-Rani or something similar and it had green and yellow icecreams with a tutti-fruti topping.

    P.S. Heh! My word verification is 'ingest'.


  4. This looks great; I love peanut-saucy meals! But please tell me that inept cooks can buy that peanut sesame spice powder online somewhere?

    Hope all is going well with you!

  5. Hi Nupur, thanks for sharing, it's a good recipe for quick weeknight dinner.
    I recall cassata having cake,vanilla ice cream and don't remember the third layer though, hmmm choclate or butterscotch with caramelized nuts.


  6. Nice curry and I should try it soon :)

    Cassatta is still very popular in India. There's cake for sure :)
    Strawberry, Butterscotch/Pista and Tutti-Fruity mostly make up the 3 flavours of ice cream.

  7. Hi Nupur,

    I've silently followed your blog for a while now and thoroughly enjoy it too! But when I saw cassatta I just had to say something :-) I love that dessert!

    There is definitely a sponge cake layer and lots of tutti frutti/ candied peel in one of the layers. The ice cream flavours I remember are vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. Looking forward to your experiments with cassatta :-)

    I just noticed that "Congratulations" are in order! Enjoy this special time. :-)

  8. Nupur, I think cassata is still available. I have had it many times. Last time I had one was ~5 years back in Pune. I totally LOVE it! There is a cake layer at the bottom (I believe mixed fruit cake with)and layers of three different ice creams -kesar pista with a lot of tutti fruttis, vanilla and chocolate. The top layer is then covered with a ton of cashews (coarsely chopped).

    The best Cassata I ever had was in your very own Kolhapur almost 20 years back. My uncle lived there for a while and took us kids to "Rankala". I absolutely don't remember the name of the ice cream parlor but still remember that cassata ice cream. You might know this place.

  9. One layer is a pale brown coffee-flavour.. second is green coloured, probably pista.. the third one is an orangish-peachish colour with tutty-fruity.. This is the cassatta of my faint memory..

  10. Cassata is very much available in India! All the popular ice-cream brands do sell slices in small cardboard boxes. It has 3 layers of ice-cream (one layer is strawberry, can't vouch for the others) and also a layer of sponge cake. The outer coating can be peanuts or almonds (not sure about cashews).

    Yummm - I love casatta!

  11. i am pretty sure the one i ate had a pink, green and chocolate icecream. dont think it had cake.
    btw, i too love the flavor combo of peanut-sesame, tamarind and jaggery. will try the curry soon.

  12. I think it was a standard at most wedding receptions at one point..It is still made, I recently saw one at a local ice-cream store here...From what I remember, there was a layer of sponge cake, vanilla ice-cream, chocolate and then pista ice-cream with cashewnuts...You may want to check this out, though she says its the Sicilian version

  13. My husband has been on a Cassata quest for quite some time now. He says with much authority that it does have a the base layer of cake with vanilla, chocolate and pista flaovors of ice cream and a topping of roasted kaju bits. If you do find a recipe, let me me know.

  14. Nupur,
    Long time reader,First time poster.. Congratulations on your baby girl!
    I grew up eating a ton of Cassata in Chennai- I think the flavors are strawberry, coffee/chocolate and vanilla--there might have been more but these are all I remember. There is definitely a sponge cake layer drenched in the ice cream..and some nuts as well. A quick wikipedia search tells me that Casatta started as a cheese course in Italy..interesting beginnings.
    Hope your ice cream social is a lot of fun.

  15. Oh Yes Cassata was such a craze then! My fave were from K. Rustom's, Parsi Dairy and then Freshna. Each brand has a different combo of flavors. I have tasted Kesar pista and vanilla, then strawberry, tuti fruity chocolate but always topped with cashew nuts. Yes with the cake layer at the bottom. I find it too waxy in other brands except K. Rustoms. It is always shaped as a log and on slicing gives half moon slices showing the fantastic layers. I think Amul also sells casata slices packed individually. Today kids love their sundaes more, I don't even think they know about casata.

  16. The cassata ice-cream served at Indian wedding receptions have the following flavors : strawberry (sometimes with tutti frutti), creamy yellowish vanilla and pista. Thats the basic version, a more expensive one would have a layer of mango or chocolate too. It always had a nutty outer layer but I dont remember having a layer of sponge cake in it. Maybe because cake might add the possiblity of it having eggs and traditionally weddings had vegetarian menus. Cassata icecream was the most expensive ice-cream in those days because it had multiple flavors and nuts. Usually a slab of vanilla ice-cream or pista kulfi were the most popular budget choices and most guests devoured a second or third helping of the dessert! :)

    - Priti

  17. Cassata is very much sold and is very popular...i think the flavours are usually pista, kesar and either strawberry or chocolate...also has a very thin layer of cake and the top is generously loaded with coarse's a picture of a latenight indulgence

  18. Peanuts and sesame seeds in one preparation - I can only imagine how creamy it must've been!

    Cassata - boy, that was a long time ago. Ice-cream looking like a slice of watermelon! I can't remember the flavors but I think one of the layers had kesar. Look forward to your recipe!

  19. I love peanuts in a curry. They give it such a lovely rich flavour. I don't have a pressure cooker but I'm sure it would work well just on the stovetop too

  20. Yes of course cassata is still served and sold today. I saw it just yesterday in my ice cream vendor's cart. :-)

  21. Cassata - one of the best childhood memories, we get cassata in the bay area at an Indian icecream store - Nirvanah! You should try if you visit bay area. I believe the flavours are strawberry, pista and tutti-fruity.

  22. The sauce sounds so tasty. I'll try this for dinner tonight, I just have a few vegetables requiring urgent attention in my fridge.

    Unfortunately I can't help you with the cassata - there is a dessert in Southern Italy with that name, but it is a completely different thing, albeit equally delicious (basically, a sweet ricotta filling, wrapped in thin sponge cake layers, topped with green marzipan and white royal icing, plus all sorts of candied fruits).

  23. Do you use all of the peanut-sesame powder for one curry, Nupur?

  24. Hey Nupur,

    This is Purva from Bengaluru , India.
    I regularly read ur posts & wanted to write to u long back but somehow didn't happen.

    Neways, congrats for the good news.

    Regarding your casatta mention, plz visit:

    Hope this helps & u r able to recreate ur most memoired flavour.

  25. Hi Nupur,
    Long time reader of ur blog... but never commented. Now the cassatta prompted me to! :)

    Yes, cassatta is still sold... I have always eaten it from Arun icecreams. It has three flavors - I think they vary, but the ones I have had almost always have strawberry. Others being pista, chocolate, vanilla... once I even had mango in between.

    Hope ur icecream social is a hit!

  26. Ah ha! I remember Cassata icecream - it would come packaged, made by some company (can't remember which one). I loved it too. Well, one of the flavours was definitely strawberry because I recall the pink colour and I think one was pistachio (seem to remember the green tinge too) and maybe the third was vanilla? Oh! and the ice cream sits on a skinny bed of sponge cake, I remember that as well.

    Have a good weekend Nupur. I'll write again if I can recollect anything more about cassata.

    Love, Shoots :)

  27. My memory of Cassata has layers of white green and orange - and if my memory serves me right, vanilla, pistachio and butterscotch flavours. I am not sure of cake, although there is probably a very thin and squished out cake base :) - the outside is prominently studded with cashewnuts, and there's tutti frutti in the orange or white layer. Some versions had flour layers - chocolate icecream was included, but that was a bit of an interference with the nice fruity-nutty flavours IMO. Hope this helps, and cannot wait to see your cassata when it happens :)

  28. Cassata used to be one of our restaurant favorite desserts. Like you I don't remember the flavors either. I will ask my sister and get back to you. In the mean time, KAF has this Italian chocolate cassata recipe posted: But this is not what I remember Indian cassata to be, it was more ice cream(ish) and less creamy. Good luck with your ice cream social next weekend.
    Peanut sesame sauce looks yummy. Peanuts are one of my favorite gravy ingredients -- creamy and mild tasting.
    Enjoy your weekend.

  29. this curry is bookmarked! I love peanut, sesame, jaggery combinations. What region would this be from?
    I agree, Cassata is pretty tasty alright. Here is what Wiki' says about it:

  30. Was waiting for this recipe Nupur. It tastes awesome. Going to tr it soon.

  31. Argh...I meant FOUR layers...fLour layers in icecream is NOT good eats :)

  32. Nupur,

    Next time you are at the store, buy some Neopolitain ice cream. It sounds like the same thing. Maybe you could put that on top of a layer of angel food cake?

    :) Holly

  33. Nupur
    We get Cassata here in Nj in the Desi stores. I was no doubt excited when I saw it this summer, the girls thought it was just okay though :(
    This recent one had a white vanilla, pale pink strawberry and a pale green pista with a little cake at the end.

  34. curry looks amazing, i think I am the odd one out, I really couldnt stand casata as a kid,never liked it. You mentioning makes me want to try it again

  35. I often make veggies in the pressure cooker - fastest route to the dining table! Instead of taking the steam out, a safer method is to hold the cooker under cold water. It has the same effect,stops the cooking and avoids mush!
    hope this helps

  36. Do you have a photos of you and your cousins at that wedding? It would be fun to see:-)

  37. Ice cream social sounds wonderful! Please do share the details with us , it may be something many of us would like to do as well but we are clueless!
    Cassata was a favorite when growing up
    The main flavors were / are
    Strawberry, butterscotch and pista.

  38. Reva- Very helpful comment- thanks! I love your idea of making it in the style of an ice cream bombe, it does look spectacular, but will take the easier route and layer it in a loaf pan instead this time.

    Shvetha- Thanks! I am excited to have a party revolving around ice cream, it only makes sense in this hot summer weather.

    Rainee- Ooh the raja rani is something new to me. LOL at your word verification- I totally set it up like that :D NOT!

    niranjana- Saucy peanut lovers will adore this curry, do give it a try. I don't think this spice powder is sold anywhere but honestly it takes no time to make at home. Any grinder will do to powder it- give it a shot. Make it your weekend project ;)
    I am doing great so far, thanks for asking :)

    Trupti- Thanks!

    Raaga- Good to know, thanks for the links.

    Suman- Thank you :) Ooh that tutti frutti stuff is pure nostalgia.

    Amruta- Oh I have to go find some on my next India trip. Rankala does have some fabulous ice cream! Kolhapur in general has the best ice cream ever!

    Shobana- You're right, those are the same colors I remember too.

    Archana- Thanks- glad to know it is still popular in India!

    Nikita- The curry is fabulous and totally worth a try.

    Arch- I know, the Indian cassata is inspired by Italian ice creams, they seem to go by different names.

    Desisoccermom- He's right! Although different manufacturers may use slightly different flavors. I'm going to make my own version for sure :)

    Arti- Thanks! Yes, cassata seems to be Italian in origin but has evolved into something quite different in India.

    Anjali- Don't get me started about the ice cream sandwiches at K. Rustom's! You are right about every brand using their signature flavor combo.

    Priti- So true :) I know my grandparents were proud of serving cassata for their darling youngest daughter's reception :)

  39. arundati- Oh my check out the colors on that ice cream! It is glowing :) next time eat an extra slice for me? :D

    Snehal- The curry is super creamy, tasty and brimming with good fats!

    Corina- Oh yes it would be fine on the stove top.

    Utopia- Good to know, will have to flag down your ice cream vendor some time!

    Anonymous- I'd love to visit the bay area, for cassata and all the other fabulous food!

    lacaffettierarosa- I know, our Indian cassata must have originated from that Italian dessert :) it definitely still contains the layers and the candied fruit.

    Shammi- Yes, the whole spice powder went into one batch of curry.

    Purva- Thanks!

    Priya- I definitely remember a pink layer. Thanks for your tips!

    Shoots- Oh yeah the lurid pinks and greens :D Good to know that you remember cassata too. Have a lovely weekend, hugs to you!

    Sacredfig- I agree, I'm thinking I will leave chocolate out because it is a whole 'nother flavor. Thanks for your tips.

    Pavani- I did see that Italian version- interesting that some Indian company must have taken inspiration from the Italian dessert and it became its own big thing. I hope you have a lovely weekend too!

    Adam and Theresa- The original curry that I adapted is a very traditional recipe from Andhra Pradesh in India, Southern India.

    Shilpa- It was lovely to be able to share this curry with you :)

    Holly- You are so right, this Indian cassata is very similar to American Neapolitan ice cream. I should e-mail you, maybe you can come to my ice cream social?

    BongMom- LOL your girls (like most kids today) are used to tons of fancy ice cream sundaes, I am sure. This cassata was the fanciest thing when we were kids!

    Sreelu- I am sure the original artificially flavored cassata would taste pretty odd to me today, but LOVED it as a kid :)

    Archana- Thanks for reminding me of that method! Yes, it works nicely but I don't like that you have to run so much water, seems wasteful. But folks should use whatever method works for them!

    Angela- We do have photos somewhere in the dozens of albums in my parents' home! Should dig them up sometime :)

    Manasi- It is my first time hosting an ice cream social and I'll definitely share what the experience was like.

  40. Hi Nupur,I have been reading and enjoying your posts for long now.Just wanted to share that my 74 year old mother is a big fan too:)She is a great cook and is always experimenting.OHS renews her energy..Thank you!
    Also,congrats and hope you are enjoying this time.

  41. Cassata is my fav too ...had it when i went to india this summer. I think vadilal has very good cassata. one of the layer was cake , one chocolate , one tutti frutti and one strawberry. This is what i found online
    I am going to try the peanut recipe this weekend ...gosh the number of recipies i use from your site i almost feel as if i owe u something :) please keep all these quick recipies coming.

  42. Hi, delurking here after a long time. I enjoy your posts and have tried a few of your recipes too.
    I have eaten Cassata at a local ice cream parlor ages ago, i can remember just 2 flavors out of three - vanilla, pista.I also remember these pistachios on top which tasted yummy. Not much help for you, I guess!
    Also read your previous post, congratulations and enjoy your time.

  43. I might be wrong but I associate cassata with Arun Icecream when they used to have ice cream parlors and in my mind I think they were the ones to introduce it. I remember the 3 flavors and the nuts but not the cake.

    Icecream social sounds like a lot of fun. Hope you are doing good and taking care of yourself Nupur.

  44. I remember reading about this peanut sesame spice powder over at Mahanandi nd have been meaning to try it ever since. Just never got around to doing that. Love the idea of using it as a base in curries!

    There are already more than enough answers t your cassatta query, i dont think i have any different to add to it :)

  45. Nupur - lovely lovely blog - I recently read about a Maharashtrian drink called "Piyush" - do you have the recipe for it?

  46. hi...first time have a huge collection of recipes and am happily following you now:) btw got to know that you are expecting...congratulations. I myself have a 5 month old and a 4 year old. enjoy your pregnancy and keep posting great recipes for us


  47. That's one beautiful vegetable curry- I cook the veggies the same way for avail and it makes it a whiz to prepare

  48. Jaya Arun- Oh how wonderful that your mother enjoys my blog- you made my day :) Say hello to her from me. Thanks for the wishes!

    Roshni- I am so glad you have been enjoying the recipes on OHS- that makes me so happy.

    Sam- Thank you!

    indosungod- What is Arun IceCream? Must be a regional brand/chain that I am not aware of. I am doing well- thanks so much for asking :)

    Manju- The peanut sesame spice powder is so rich and delicious, it would taste great in so many contexts.

    Anonymous- Thank you! No, sorry, I don't have a recipe for piyush and don't think I have ever tasted it either (although I have heard of it).

    Aarthi- Thanks!

    Miri- Ooh that's a great tip, to use the same technique for aviyal.

  49. Ganesh Chaturthi wishes to you and your family. May Ganapati Bappa shower you with good health, happiness and prosperity!

  50. Casata brings back memories of my days in India and how quickly 18 years pass when you see something that triggers memories of home :) looks fantastic! cheers, priya

  51. Prepared this yesterday. Loved it. Thank you Nupur.


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