It all started with a stain. I was flashing just-boiled beets with ice cold water in a colander and recoiled when I tried to pry the skin off using the tips of my fingers. The hot juice stained my fingers a colour between ruby red and deep pink, and I thought, “hmm, this looks so pretty”. The stain faded with a few washes, but the memory of it remained.
A week later, my online ingredient shuffle yielded a ear of corn that was purple. Now I had heard of Peruvian purple corn, but the label distinctly said that this was Thai. I bought it anyway, and while shucking, I was pleasantly surprised by the gorgeous lime green to purple stained husks I was pulling back. This yielded rows and rows of deep indigo-coloured corn. I bit into one almost immediately and there was a sweet, almost-berry like flavour to it that I couldn’t put my finger on, but I liked it. I wanted to use it in some traditional way to better understand the flavour. A Chicha Morada is a Peruvian drink made with the boiled corn, spices and pineapple rind. The ingredient list read like a mulled wine, which I thought was quite fascinating, and so I spent an entire day with the corn – shucking, boiling, straining it. Two pineapples, a very sharp knife and a few tablespoons of cornflour later, I finally had a recipe I liked, but this was no drink, it was a pud.
Grape season is upon us, and only the most plump, juicy ones, seedless of course, will find their way home. Not so secretly, I love my angoor more than I love my persimmons, and will gladly roast or bake them, but there are never any left because someone or the other is always plucking them from their stems and popping them like candy, and don’t judge me for saying so, but they’re so much more gratifying than any packeted confection I know. Last week when I had some alone time in the house, instead of making a beeline for Netflix, I grabbed a bunch of the purple grapes from the fruit basket, brought out the whisks, scales and flour and set to bake.
In this recipe feature, I’ve used beets, purple corn and purple grapes in three recipes. All of them desserts, and all of them super simple to make, these recipes are also very impressive if you’re entertaining. With beets, I’ve made chocolate and coffee cupcakes, with the grapes, I’ve made an upside-down cake and with the purple corn, I’ve made a Mazamora morada, a thick, but not too thick purple corn pudding with dried fruits.
Purple Corn Pudding or Mazamora Morada
To make this pudding, you must start on a batch of chicha morada, or a corn and pineapple drink with spices, similar to mulled wine. This is then cooked simply with cornflour to thicken slightly. It should be like a thick compote but not quite stand firm like a traditional pudding. Serve this as a light dessert after dinner.
The Chicha Morada
Purple corn ears 2, kernels separated and the cobs set aside (I bought mine from The Farmhouse Company via Scootsy)
Pineapple 1 whole, peeled and the flesh divided into two
Green apple 2 small to medium-sized ones, cut into quarters and separated, half for the drink and the other half reserved for the pudding
Cinnamon stick 1 quill, plus more for sprinkling over later
Black peppercorns 1/2 tsp
Sugar 1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp
Star Anise 1 1/2
Lime juice 1/4 cup, plus more to adjust as per your taste
For The Pudding
Cornflour 2 tbsp + 2 tsp
A mix of sultanas, raisins and dried apricots 3/4 cup
In a large stockpot, bring the purple corn ears, half the flesh of the pineapple, along with any bits of its rind that you may have leftover from slicing it, plus the apple, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and star anise and 2 to 2 and a half litres of water together. Bring all the ingredients up to a boil and cook for an hour to an hour and a half until the water has reduced by at least a whole inch.
Meanwhile, pour just-boiling water over the dried fruits and let it soak and soften for a minimum of half hour, or you can let it sit for as much time as it takes for the chicha morada to get ready.
Now stir in the sugar and let it continue to cook over a medium heat for another half hour to forty minutes. Strain all the solids out and add the lime juice, tasting as you go till it reaches desired balance between sweet and tangy.
You will need 3 cups worth of this liquid, so if you have more, enjoy it as a drink over ice at this stage, or simply adjust the cornflour and the amount of dried fruits.
Whisk together 1/4 cup of the Chicha morada together with the cornflour until it is well incorporated. Bring the rest of the chicha morada up to a boil in the same stockpot and reduce the mixture to a simmer. Now add in the cornflour mixture back to the pot and whisk constantly for a whole minute. Then, stir in the dried fruits, the leftover apple, pineapple and continue to cook till it has thickened a bit. Once it’s off the flame and cooling, it will continue to thicken further.
Take it off the heat and add some more lime juice and taste. It will be intensely fruity. Let it rest for some time, for five minutes at least before doling it out into bowls and serving.
Purple Grape Upside-Down Cake
Definitely one of the most adaptable upside-down recipes, you can swap the grapes for any fruit of your choice. I would suggest oranges, since they’re so sweet right now. The whisked yoghurt can be swapped for Kefir, a hot probiotic beverage that’s really catching on in the city. Mo’s Kefir does a plain one that works really well in this recipe.
Caster Sugar 300g, divided. 150g for the grape topping and the rest for the cake
Purple Grapes 225g, or really however many fit into your cake pan snugly
All-purpose flour 200g
Baking powder 1 tsp
Salt 1/2 tsp
Baking soda 1/4 tsp
Whisked Yoghurt 200ml or one plain 200ml bottle of Mo’s Kefir (you can order a bottle of Plain Mo’s Kefir from Scootsy)
Flavourless/ Vegetable Oil 75ml
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius.
Melt the 50g butter in a small sauce pan, and to this, add 150g of the sugar and cook this over very low heat for two whole minutes. Quickly transfer the mixture to the cake tin in which you’ll be making it and cover it with the grapes. Let the pan sit while you get on with the rest of the batter.
In a large bowl, run a whisk through the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, the whisked yoghurt or the kefir along with the remaining sugar. Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and whisk briefly to form the batter.
Pour the batter over the cake tin with the grapes in it and transfer to the oven. Let the cake cook for 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted halfway in the centre comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for five minutes in the tin, then run a knife around the cake’s edges to loosen it. Next, keeping a plate over the tin, quickly flip the tin over. Any leftover juices will flow out. If any bits of fruit are stuck to the pan, remove them and place over the cake again. It’s not going to look the prettiest, but trust me, it tastes amazing. Serve warm.
Beet, Chocolate and Coffee Cupcakes
Makes about 18 good-sized cupcakes
These moist cupcakes are great with a cup of coffee on the side, and they have some coffee inside too- Kind of like having a double shot. You could easily swap the cream cheese topping with some buttercream, or a mix of cream cheese and greek yoghurt like I have.
Beets 250g, boiled for 30-40 minutes till it yields easily
Dark chocolate 200g, not chocolate compound, I beg of you, chopped
Store-bought espresso shot 1/4 cup or 1/4 cup very strong coffee
Butter 200g, chopped into squares
All-purpose flour 1 cup
Baking powder 1 tsp
Cocoa powder 3 tbsp
Caster sugar 1 cup
Cream Cheese 200g
Greek Yoghurt 75g
Icing Sugar 155g
Sesame Seeds to sprinkle over
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celsius, preferably fan-setting and line a 12-cupcake tray, along with another 6-cupcake tray with liners.
Trim the stem and base of the hot beets and blitz it to a puree.
Make a double boiler setting, that is a small bowl, sitting over a heatproof bowl that is set over a flame. Heat a bit of water in the lower bowl, enough to only create steam. Lower the heat to its lowest setting and let the chocolate melt without stirring. Once the chocolate looks like it has melted completely, splash in the espresso and stir once. Next, add in the chopped pieces of butter and let it melt gradually over the heat.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and cocoa well to aerate it.
Take the pan off the heat and whisk everything together to combine and set it aside for a minute. Now separate the eggs. Whisk together the yolks and add this to the melted butter and chocolate mixture and combine very well. Next, add to this the beets and fold using a spatula.
Using a hand-blender, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Add in the sugar and fold into the egg whites. Using a metal spoon add a bit of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and stir thoroughly. Now add the rest of the egg whites too and using the same metal spoon begin folding the egg whites into the beet and chocolate mixture.
Finish by folding in the sifted flour and cocoa powder mix and give it a few more stirs to check that no streaks of flour remain. If there are still streaks, continue to fold well in an 8-motion till no streaks remain, but take care to not overmix as well.
Divide the batter evenly in the cupcake trays and place them in the oven to bake, decreasing the heat to 160 degrees celsius. Cook this for about 15-20 minutes, switching the trays halfway. You want the centre to be slightly underdone and the sides to be cooked, so keep a close eye on the cupcakes. Let it cool completely before you unwrap one.
Beat the cream cheese to smoothen. Then add the greek yoghurt and icing sugar and blend just a few more times till done. Serve this on the side with the cupcakes and some sesame seeds on top.