A handful of raisins added to hot ghee and fried on a low flame until plump and a few shades darker, transferred over payasam, make for the most delicious garnish, along with cashew nuts, of course. Over a few hours, the raisins soak up the sweet milk and each bite gives a juicy burst of raisin-flavoured payasam. For me, this is one definite reason to stock up on raisins.
During the lockdown of 2020, when farmers were selling their produce directly to large complexes to minimise losses, I bought a 10kg box of grapes. After eating as much as we could, I wanted to try my hand at making raisins from these grapes. It helped that it was the height of summer.
The experiment was a success. In a week, the grapes had shrivelled and turned a dark shade of golden brown—then the ants discovered these delicious sweet morsels. Recently, I came across the steam and dry method, which is faster than just sun-drying.
Wash the grapes well and steam for five minutes. Pat them dry and spread them out on a tray or a cloth and keep them for sun-drying for one-two days to get raisins. Once the raisins are completely dry and non-sticky, they can be stored in an airtight container. While sun-drying the grapes, take care to cover them with a muslin cloth or a mesh to avoid contamination with dust or insects.
In India, the Hindi term for raisins, sultanas and currants is kismis or kishmish. There are, however, differences between the three. Raisins are obtained from grape varieties with green skins and white flesh grapes and they are darker in colour. Sultanas are lighter in colour than raisins. The true currants are not from grapes but from tart berrylike fruits growing on bushes, not vines. Zante currants are obtained from tiny grapes. This trio of dried fruit is used extensively in British baking, in cakes, puddings and mince pies, for instance. Raisins are a popular addition to granola recipes for their natural sweetness, texture, juiciness, concentrated source of energy and long shelf life.
One thing to remember about all dried fruits is that dehydrating the fruit concentrates sugars. Even though grapes and raisins are low-medium in the glycemic index, they are not suitable as a snack for diabetics. Combining them with some nuts reduces the spike in blood sugar. Adding a few raisins to a salad is also a good idea, for the fibre and healthy fats in the salad balance out the spike from the raisins.
If you want to try your hand at fermentation, raisins, with the coat of microbes on the surface, are an easy place to start. In ancient Rome, fermented grape must, which is the grape pulp with seeds and skin left over from the grape juice while making wine, was used as a leavener to bake bread. Raisins can be used to prepare yeast water for use in baking or any other ferments.
Take organic and untreated raisins in a jar. Cover with water and keep it loosely covered with a lid. Give it a stir or a shake every day. In four-five days, depending on the weather, the mixture will turn frothy and yeasty and this liquid can be used to bake bread. Drain the grapes and use them in any other dish, such as the chutney recipe below. The remaining liquid can be saved in a bottle in the fridge and used as a starter.
All dog parents out there, please note that both raisins and grapes are toxic to dogs, with the possibility of acute kidney failure within 48 hours of ingestion. Be careful to store these away from the reach of your pet.
TOMATO RAISIN CHUTNEY
500g ripe tomatoes, diced
1 tbsp mustard oil
1 bay leaf
1 dried red chilli
Half tsp panch phoron
Quarter cup raisins
1 tsp salt
Half tsp turmeric
1 tsp vinegar
2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
Quarter cup sugar
A handful of cashew nut halves
Heat the mustard oil in a pan. Sauté bay leaf and red chilli. Add the panch phoron and fry for a few seconds. To this, add diced tomatoes, salt, turmeric and vinegar. Cover and cook for five-seven minutes, until the tomatoes are pulpy.
Now stir in the raisins, chilli powder, sugar and cashews. Allow the sugar to melt and let the mixture simmer for two minutes. The chutney will thicken as it cools. Use up in one-two days or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator to make it last for a month or so.
OATMEAL RAISIN BREAKFAST COOKIES
Half cup wheat flour
Half cup oats (large flakes)
Half tsp baking soda
Half tsp baking powder
Half tsp cinnamon powder
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Half tsp salt
4 tbsp soft butter
4 tbsp white sugar
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
2 tbsp yogurt
1 tbsp honey
Half cup raisins
4 tbsp chopped almonds
Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt in a bowl.
In another bowl, beat the butter, sugars and yogurt until well combined and fluffy. Mix in the honey. Add the dry ingredients to this bowl. Add the raisins and almonds and mix gently. Cover and keep in the fridge for 30 minutes (or overnight).
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Scoop out 1-1.5 tbsp of dough per cookie and place on a lined baking tray 2 cm apart. Bake on the centre rack for around 10 minutes or until the cookies look golden. The cookies will crisp up on cooling. Store in an airtight jar once fully cooled.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.