Monday, October 26, 2015

Of festivities and flowers...

                Being Indian, it is inevitable for our festivals to be associated with flowers and mithais. As tradition and for the aesthetics, flowers are unmatchable; somewhere though there always have been floral aspescts in our food as well. The good news is that the floral connect to food is coming back.
                These days' flowers are used a lot in food for garnishing and flavours, becoming super trendy in the last five years or so. The most common flowers used for garnishes are nasturtium, marigold and clovers. My travels astonish me with the amazing ways that people find of adding flowers to their diet. Chef Andy Husbands of Boston once fed me a dandelion salad with Jicama, served with a glass of dandelion wine. The salad was just crisp, awesome dandelion leaves tossed with dried dandelion flower vinaigrette and the wine was made purely out of fermented dandelion flowers. 
                 Ayurveda has also endorsed dandelion (simha danti) as its leaves and root are essential part of all kidney and liver medicines. Hibiscus is another flower that won my heart in my travel to the west. In Hawaii, I tasted the most amazing jam made out of wild hibiscus flowers (Rosella). Hibiscus also goes well with light teas much like Chamomile, another flower that is amazingly flavoursome and addictive. Then there is our Rose, the King of flowers and the body balancer of Ayurveda. Recorded rose recipes date back to the 9th century. 
                 Rose flower jam in Persia (our Gulkand) is till day one of the most effective digestif. The cooling properties of rose and rose water are used to balance the pitta (high heat) dosh in ayurveda. Then there's violet, cockscomb, clove flowers... the list is endless... a little bit of googling and you will be on your way to make your Diwali floral in all aspects. As a thumb rule all edible flowers are rich in antioxidants and vitamins - good for hair, skin and eye sight. However, in today's world of chemicals, using organic flowers or terrace grown fare is a way better bet. To further inspire you to use flower in your food as much as your decor this Diwali, here is an interesting recipe I created for this festive season......   

Rose Kalakand Tart

Serves 6
Prep time 30 mins
Cooking and cooking time 60 mins

Sweet paste for tart : 562 gms Flour
187 gms icing sugar
375 gms butter
3 nos eggs

For Kalakand filling :
60 gms flour

150 gms kalakand
150 gms almond powder
150 gms caster sugar
250 gms butter
3 nos eggs
20 chopped organic rose petals
50 gms mixed chopped nuts

For rose cream and coconut snow :
15 ml rose syrup
10 gms crème fraiche
20 ml rose water
20 gms desiccated cocount
10-12 sliced sweet supari

Method :
1. For the sweet paste, cream butter and icing sugar together. Add eggs gradually to this. Lastly, fold in flour and make a flat dough. Keep in the fridge for two hours to rest.

2. For Kalakand filling, cream together butter, kalakand and caster sugar till light and fluffy. Sift flour and almond powder together. Add eggs gradually into the butter mixture. Fold flour and almond powder in. Add rose water and mix well.

3. For rose cream and coconut snow, lightly whip the cream, add rose water and 10 ml rose syrup. Rub the coconut with the remaining rose syrup for the snow. 

4. Roll the sweet paste dough into a thin sheet. Line the tart mould with it. Fill the lined tart mould with rose almond cream to more than half. Sprinkle sliced mix nuts and dried rose petals on top and bake at 170c for 25 to 30 minutes. Keep it aside to cool. 
Cut in to triangle wedges and serve with rose cream and pink coconut snow; garnish with sliced sweetened betel nut ...

Monday, October 19, 2015

King of Fall

                This is the time that I miss Boston winter the most, the time of thanks giving, the time of the beautiful winter fare. When the best local blue cheese floods the market along with the amazing winter squashes and lovely game. The time to see what other chefs have thought of as their winter style statement.
               The white winter would perfectly complement the musky woody feel outside and the hearty soul warming feel in the food. In India the beauty of winter transition has its own charm, starting from the seasonal fare like the black carrot kanji and the sarson ka saag in the north to the warm Gajar ka halwa that makes you wait every year for the supple and pink Delhi carrots, not to forget the shalgam gosht and Shab Deg of my city Lucknow. 

                  Lucknow is the city of Unani medicine, the city of taseer. Old Lucknow residents still swear by the seasonality of cuisine. There'd be a sudden change in the food atmosphere and the aromas in the Chowk area, also known as the 'lungs' of lucknow in the old literary circle of Awadh, where the food smells or rather the transition of these smells indicates the change of seasons. The fluffy and flavorsome Nimish or Makkhan Malaai becomes a popular breakfast along with the warming Nihari and Black carrot halwa. Not to forget the Kashmiri chai which is no way related to kahwa but it's essentially, milk cooked in copper and craftingly poured and re-poured from heights to get a light pink hue, a color which the commoner would relate to the Kashmiris traveling to Awadh. It is served with a crumbled filo-like kagazi samosa making it a soul warming experience of a lifetime. 
                  Coming back to the US I realized that the sense of seasonal diet, while diminishing in a globalized India is still held high in the west which might be out of the sheer necessity to stay warm in extreme winters. While I'm proud to be a part of the new breed of Indian chefs who believe that India does not need to look west for culinary inspiration, food and lifestyle integration is something that we can take from them this time of the year so wishing you a winter full of local and seasonal flavors and aromas....
Here's a winter recipe for you to try :- 

Olive Oil : 1 tsp
Chopped Garlic : 1 tsp
Chopped Ginger :1 tsp
Chopped Onion :1 tbsp
Red Chili Powder : 1 tsp
Turmeric Powder : 1 tsp
Coriander Powder : 1 tsp
Salt : to taste
Crushed Black Pepper : to taste
Chopped Apple : ½ cup
Chopped Pumpkin :1 cup
Oatmeal : 1-2 tbsp

For Garnish :

Chopped Celery :2 tbsp
Parmesan Cheese : as per taste
Crushed Black Pepper : to taste
Gorgonzola Cheese : to taste
Honey : few drops
Degi Mirch : a pinch
Garlic Bread : as per taste

Method :

1. In a pan heat olive oil, add chopped garlic, chopped ginger, chopped onion, red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, salt, crushed black pepper, chopped apple, chopped pumpkin, water and cover the pan and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Remove the pan lid and keep aside some mixture for the garnish.
3. Add water to the pan mixture and blend it. Then sieve it further.
4. Boil the sieved soup and add oatmeal to it and let it cook further.
5. Add chopped celery and parmesan cheese. Transfer the soup to a bowl.
6. Add gorgonzola cheese at the centre. Sprinkle degi mirch and drizzle few drops of honey on cheese. Serve the soup immediately with garlic bread.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Reminiscing the fall...

           I remember the first change of seasons in Boston. Suddenly the air was chillier, the greenery was missing, all the restaurant menus changed, and lo and behold, there was pumpkin everywhere, in all shapes and sizes, from the pumpkin-spiced lattes to the pumpkin pies to the Halloween decorations.
          It was October 2006, when I realised that pumpkin definitely is the king of fall.
The next September, I was at it myself, doing my own versions of pumpkin specials from Achaari Pumpkin Raviolis to Pumpkin Rasam, and the most selling, Pumpkin Halwa Bake with cardamom ice cream. In trying to marry these Indian flavour combinations with the American pumpkin, I realised that our kaddu, which undoubtedly ranks among the Indian child’s most hated dishes, has actually a lot to offer !!!

           When trying out various flavour combinations, two dishes struck me the most to further establish the Indian expertise to deftly combine complex flavours :
1. Pumpkin Elissery from Kerala that gels the sweetness of coconut and pumpkin and then spiked up with curry leaves and chilies.
2. Kumro Chingri Botti, a Bengali dish with prawns, potato and pumpkin, scented with the quintessential Bengali spice mix, panch-phoran.
Oh! of course.. now the medicinal properties to further have your buy in. Pumpkin seeds/pepitas have antioxidant and anti-diabetic qualities. These are roasted and eaten semi husked or de-husked. They are also crushed and rolled for pumpkin-seed oil, a personal favourite for fall salad dressings....Here’s a sweet recipe to close the pumpkin page..


2 cups grated white pumpkin
1 cup sugar

½ cup grated sugarless khova
2 tbsps ghee
A pinch of cardamom seeds powder

Dry fruits to garnish

1. Squeeze out the water from the grated pumpkin. Heat 1 tbsp ghee in a pan and fry pumpkin till moisture is absorbed. 

2. Add sugar and cook till it is ¾th cooked. 
3. Add sugarless khova and cook till halwa consistency is reached. 
4. Add 1 tbsp ghee when the halwa starts leaving the sides of the pan. Sprinkle cardamom powder, dry fruits and remove.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The fine art of sweetness

              Indian streets and cities have many a tale to tell and many unheard untold food stories and discovering them is what brings great joy and pride. It sometimes also brings a slight sadness, a sadness born out of realising our own ignorance.....ignorance of our strength and our history and of the culinary skills that we as a society and culture posess. One such skill that we possess is confection.
              In a world obsessed with the fine art of patisserie we sometimes forget that "khand" or rock sugar, is as old as 800 BC in India and sugarcane chewing and the use of sugarcane juice is mentioned in the Samhitas. Now let's take our sweet conversation to two cities - Lucknow and Hyderabad. While my serious Interest in pastry is a decade old, I have always been obsessed with marzipan and fondant work. As somebody who sculpts and moulds the ability of almonds and sugar to transform into works of art has always amazed me. 

               In my recent visit to Hyderabad looking for some old recipes I had the good fortune of dining at and cooking with some really awesome cooks. One such cook was a 80-something Badi Bi of the Nizami lineage who promised to show me something I had never seen and I jumped at the idea. What I saw was the most beautiful display of marzipan flowers and the best part was each marzipan was flavored with the same flower it was shaped Into. Rose, jasmine... she had it all. Badi bi doesn't know marzipan but she knows Badam Ki Asharfi and her grandmother had started this art of turning the asharfi mix into these flowers around 70 years ago, passed it down to her and here I had travelled the world, looking to learn from the best marzipan artists!!! I went numb and then I felt joy, pride and sadness for myself. The joy of discovery, proud of being Indian and sadness at being obsessed with 'phoren'. So much to see, so much to learn....
                I grew up in Lucknow and winter was my favourite season only because of the sudden Influx of "gajjak" and "rewri"( besides the fact that schools would close because of excessive fog!!). It was till much later that I went to the small by-lanes of Charbagh to see rewri making being done and found it very fascinating how sugar just transfomed in 15 minutes from crystals to rewris. 

The workers have been toiling in immense heat in these workshops that are close to a hundred years old pulling sugar at 150+ degrees and deftly working to create more than 300 kgs of magic a day. While most of these kaarigars have been friends with sugar for more than three decades we are busy glorifying sugar artists from the west. Next time in Meerut or Lucknow, do stop by a rewri maker and smile and who knows he might deftly sugarpull a "rewri rose" in a flash and give you a food memory for life :)...

Badam Ki Jali
375 gms almonds
250 gms Caster sugar
Silver paper as required
1/2 cup milk

1. Remove the skin of almonds, grind it to a powder. 

2. In one pan, add almond powder and caster sugar and cook on low flame, add drops of milk until it takes the shape of a dough. 
3. Now roll it out and cut out shapes using a cookie cutter.Decorate with silver paper, cover one cut piece with another to make a 'jali'. 
4. Roast on a frying pan on low flame. Badam ki jali is ready.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Indian food … the journeys so far...

              As I travel across the country yet again I am convinced that travel is the best way to understand the food and culture of any country. After all food is an evolving space and cross cultural travel shapes up the cuisine of any culture. Staying in India we always study how our cuisine has been affected by different people and subcultures, traveling into the country either for trade or war. 

               There is another story to be told, the story of Indian cuisine affecting the world through ages. For thousands of years, Indians travelled to various parts of the world as traders, Buddhist monks, Hindu priests, labourers and more recently, immigrants. There is archaeological proof of presence of Indus valley merchants in Mesopotamia. Trade was a big reason to travel in the  ancient and medivial periods. However from the 17th century onward, Indians travelled to South Africa, Britain and North America as slaves and later this became a massive emigration drive in 1830s with the Abolition of slavery and the introduction of the indentured labour system pushing Indian Labour out into the British, French, Portugese and Dutch colonies. 
             Looking back, the signs and impact of this mass movement are the most visible in the food of Africa, South east Asia and Caribbean/Fiji Islands.Lets look at Africa first. The trending dish from South Africa, "Bunny Chao" was a backdoor serving option to cater to the Black South Africans who couldn't enter the restaurants run by the "banias" due to Aparthied. The original nameof the dish being Bania Chow. The making of Kenya Uganda highway brought in 30,000 Indians Into East Africa and along with them came kebabs, samosas and bhajias.The use of coconut millk in Kenyan cooking is believed to be an Indian Influence with the signature dish being Kuku paka (Chicken in Coconut sauce). The Caribbean cuisine is plush with Indian influences from eastern UP and Bihar with dishes like Tomato Chokha, Dal puri, Guyanese Peras, Baras and Parathas found abundantly across all Islands.
                The plantation workers that settled in Malaysia and Singapore have influenced the street food irreversibly and for good with the Indian Equivalent of kheema roti, Murtabak (from the Arabic word, folded). The Indian Muslims in Malaysia have developed a distinct style of cooking called Mamak which includes specialties like Biryani and Roti Kanai and the tea version of filter coffee, Teh Tarik.With many more such examples of Indian cuisine making a permanent impact across the world, I think we, as Indians travelling abroad should also think about proudly discovering these subtle influences that represent the legacy left behind by our forefathers....