Friday, September 9, 2016

Self actualising… through food

A theory of dish hierarchy (A six part series )
          Creativity, art and food go hand in hand. Crazy, borderless thinking and stretching the limits of the known is the key to all things creative. And yet it is when there is a method to this madness that the whole comes together. The science of design stresses that art pleases our eyes for a reason — it might be harmony, contrast, balance, perspective or all of these. But even before you seek to create anything, you need to understand your medium. For me this is food.
            I have always been fascinated by the Maslow Theory. And over the years I have built what I call Ranveer’s hierarchy of dish structure inspired by it. A detailed glimpse of the same can be found in my new book as well. I strongly believe that all great artists, regardless of their medium, including chefs (make no mistake the best chefs of the world are artists — their medium is food) arrive at a basic set of practices over their career that they apply in creating their masterpieces: The canvas, the medium, the framework, the subject, the colour combinations... 
            And then there are the less tangible things: An overall sense of balance and harmony and most importantly the soul of the artist himself, a piece of which gets left behind in every creation by him. To get creative with food, we first need to understand what happens when we eat. All reactions to food are based on the human senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. The saying “when we eat, we eat with our eyes first…” is true. How food looks determines the first reaction to it. Then as one gets closer to it, the aromas come into play. 
            When food comes in contact with mouth, the palate comes into action bringing along with it the brain and a gamut of intangible reactions like perception and taste memory. So, on hierarchy of dish structure, with any recipe or a dish — and this is on the assumption that the elements that make up the dish are technically cooked perfectly, the basic structure would be dependent on the levels of taste, flavour, texture, appearance, aroma (stimulating taste, touch, sound (on the bite), sight and smell respectively).
             When I create a dish, I look at it from the POV of the person who will eat it. I approach it holistically and take that into account, as a chef, when I create a dish, I construct it foundation outwards (taste is the first accomplishment and presentation the last), but the eating experience of the diner is visually inwards (he encounters presentation first). This is important because I have to keep this in mind right through the creation process to achieve the right balance in my dish. The diagram explains it better.  
You can read more about it in my book available here.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The sweet culinary heroes of Old Delhi

          In the streets of a city lives its soul. Whenever I am travelling, I try to imbibe the culture of the city through its streets. Some Indian cities are treasure troves of secrets and stories that are hidden in its streets. Old Delhi is one of them. Ghanteywaala halwai and Ashok Chaat shutting shop was a shocker to all foodies. It’s sad that 200 years of history just got washed away in the tide of modernisation. That’s why it’s important for all of us to know these stories and pass them down to keep interest and conversations alive about these spaces. Let me walk you through some of these lanes and tell you some such stories. 

           Opposite Badal Begh Masjid, below the erstwhile residence of the famous Indian actress Meena Kumari in a small shop sits Jamaluddin a 60 something gentleman, who has only one thing on his mind and menu, Kheer. This 150 plus year-old kheer shop has been frequented by commoners and bureaucrats alike after an evening of spicy food in Old Delhi. Jamaluddin is happy selling what he has and going home and has no interest in opening another shop, his next generation has no interest in kheer or the legacy, so visit Bade Mian kheer in the next couple of years before it gets lost in the annals of history. 
           All is not that gloomy though, take the example of the Dareeba Jalebi shop in Chandni Chowk. Abhishek Jain is a 30 something enthusiastic entrepreneur, whose family has a jalebi shop started by his grandfather in 1940s. Abhishek takes great pride in the family legacy and is seen every day at the shop in the evenings. He talks about his grandfather with great passion and pride and puts as much passion in talking about how he has not changed the recipe of the sugar syrup by even an ounce. 
           Then there’s the iconic Chaina Ram Halwai, Sindhi confectioners, who migrated to India and continued to do what they did best in their shop in Karachi, make the world sweeter. The long lines for poori-sabzi in the morning are a testament to the finesse of the kaarigars and their recipes that have come from Sindh and are still held as close to the heart as they were in the yesteryears, Chaina Ram is not going anywhere for sure. Then there are the old corner chaatwallas who will make you Kulla chaat — an Old Delhi legacy on request, the fruit sandwich wale Jain sahib, the fruit cream-waale sardarji and the many more milk and lassi shops that tell a story of yesteryear glory. All waiting to be discovered. 
Next time in Delhi enjoy a metro ride to Old Delhi and make these food heroes feel important, you will help ensure that they are interested and proud owners of a food legacy unparalleled.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Malpua through a magnifying glass...

         I went for an Iftar trail through Mohammad Ali Road, a tradition ingrained in me from my origins in Lucknow. Ramzan is the time when the real food and foodies come out in the evenings for a true feast of all senses. A time when there is colour, aroma, flavour and love in the air.
            There’s a plethora of dishes that are only Ramzan specific. Every shop owner will bring out a signature dish that you get only in the holy month, which is usually a dessert. Sandal is such a dessert which shows up only during this time, it’s a steamed fermented rice cake (very close to the Goan sanna in flavour, although lighter in texture),which is topped with malai and nuts; if overtly sweet is not your thing, this is just the right dessert for you. Malai Khaja is another such dish which although available all year round, gains importance in the holy month. The sweet to really look out for and acknowledge though, is the Malpua
           The beaten egg condensed milk flour emulsion gets all the attention as it is being dropped into flat kadhais with ghee to form big, full moon like pancakes that are topped up with rabri or eaten with Phirni. Most shops go through anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 eggs in one night. The double egg version is more fluffy and crispy for obvious reasons. While I was sampling the Malpua it struck me as an amazing story of taste crossing borders and religions. 
           It is a sweet that stands for festivities and celebrations across the country and beyond. I have grown up eating Malpuas in winter spiced with fennel and black pepper. It has been the food of the gods, having been a part of the Chhappan Bhog at Puri during the evening prayers for centuries. Bengali, Maithili and Oriya malpua is traditionally made only with thickened milk and a little flour (sometimes rice flour instead of wheat flour). In Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh there are several variations, using some or all of the following ingredients: maida (refined flour), semolina, milk, and yogurt. The batter is left to stand for a few hours before being spooned into a tawa or a kadhai of hot oil to form a bubbling pancake, which should be crisp around the edges. The pancakes are then immersed in a thick sugar syrup and are a must-have on Holi. 
            Malpua also known as Marpa in Nepal is specially made in the Kathmandu Valley, which uses maida, mashed up ripe bananas, fennel seeds, pepper corns, milk and sugar into a batter and prepared in a similar way as in India. So if you haven’t already been to Mohammad Ali Road, do go and dig in to get a first hand experience of food beyond borders.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Humble Banana

             Some aspects of our diet are sometimes just taken for granted. Take breakfast for example, the most important meal of the day that gets least attention. Similarly bananas are another aspect of our diet that's "there" and needs no speaking about in the age of strawberries and fruit exotica. Well for starters, banana is a berry and of the 107 countries that banana is grown in, India certainly is a prominent contributor to its consumption. Well let's keep this crisp and glorify this humble fruit with a five points covering why we recommend you fall in love with this fruit.
1 Bananas help overcome depression due to high levels of tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin -- the happy-mood brain neurotransmitter.

2 Bananas balance your blood composition and relieve anemia with the added iron .
3 High in potassium and low in salt, bananas are able to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
4 Bananas are a superb detox as they are rich in pectin, thus helping aid digestion and gently remove toxins and heavy metals from the body.
5 Bananas are a natural antacid, providing relief from acid reflux and heartburn.

Steamed Banana and Walnut Loaf

150 gms ground oats
150 gms almond flour
400 gms whole wheat flour
400 gms brown sugar
300 gms honey
12 golden bananas
180 gms walnuts
17 gms baking soda
17 gms baking powder
500 ml olive oil

1. Combine all the dry ingredients together along with the ripe mash banana, sugar and honey and let it mix with the paddle attachment.
2. Add olive oil to the mixture and mix it thoroughly.
3. Divide the batter into the prepared tins.
4. Bake them on a double boil at 175 C for 20 – 25 minutes. Serve warm with low fat whipped cream.

Raw Banana Croquettes

Ingredients for raw banana croquettes
4 boiled raw banana
Salt to taste
2 tbsp grated cheese : 2 tbsp
1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp chopped garlic
1tsp garam masala powder
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp chopped coriander
2-3 tbsp red kidney beans
All purpose flour to coat
1 1/2 tbsp oil to roast

Ingredients for the salad
1 tomato
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp feta cheese
1 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt to taste
Crushed black pepper as required
1 tbsp chopped coriander

For garnish
Banana chips as required
Sour cream as required
1 pinch red chili powder
1 coriander leaf

1. Take the boiled raw banana and peel it and take it out in a bowl.
2. Now add salt, grated cheese, lemon juice chopped garlic, garam masala powder and cumin powder.
3. Also add red chili powder, chopped coriander and red kidney beans, in this mixture and prepare the tikki.
4. Heat oil in a pan and cook the tikki from both the sides. For the salad cut long wedges of the tomato and them.
5. Keep the salad on a plate and keep the tiiki on it. Decorate it with banana chips. Put the sour cream on a plate, sprinkle red chili powder and garnish with coriander leaves.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Decoding Umami

          Umami, is a much-talked about taste these days. Thanks to the Japanese, we’d say, let’s wait and talk about Umami for a moment; because while it was the last taste perception to be discovered, it actually plays a key role in a dish. Umami is present in some form in all foods. Umami is Japanese for ‘pleasant savoury taste’. 

         Described as a pleasant ‘brothy’ or ‘meaty’ taste that has a long-lasting effect of, causing the mouth to water and the tongue to feel coated in a pleasant manner. Umami balances taste and rounds out the overall flavour of a dish. Foods rich in umami have existed since ancient times. Garum, fermented fish sauces from ancient Rome, Murri, fermented barley sauces from medieval Byzantine, the fermented fish and soy sauces of South-East Asia, bonito flakes, kombu seaweed and shiitake mushrooms of Japan are all examples. Naturally occurring glutamates are found in many foods although food additive mono sodium glutamate (MSG) is best associated with umami. 
         Now, umami never features on our taste checklist in India, subconsciously it has always existed. We have been sending umami signals to our brain forever. Traditionally, Indian food gets its umami in two ways. The first is from ingredients such as green peas, raw jack fruit, gucchi or dried morels, sweet potatoes, walnuts, lotus root, poppy seeds, sesame oil, ginger and coriander seeds together are big sources of umami as well. The other source of umami in Indian food comes from two processes we use regularly, like fermentation (of Kanji, breads like hoppers and Goan sannas) The cuisines of the North East are full of umami rich foods). 
          The process of ‘Bhunao’ is another one that triggers umami. The typical Indian process of caramelising our onions and garlic lends umami to our food. The North East is umami galore with brilliant fermented dishes coming out of the kitchens. While umami is definitely addictive and novel, it is not alien at all. It’s a taste that has always existed and is being defined now.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Stay Cultured!

Revival of fermentation and how India is catching up.....
              World over, the phenomenon of fermentation and preserving food by bacterial action is both an ancient art and a hot new trend. Indian chefs are delving deep into the science of bacterial action on food and discovering the beauty of the concept.What we are also discovering is that inducing culture into food and then controlling it is not inherently built in our culture. 
              Fermentation for leavening without addition of any culture is often used in the south for idlis, dosas and vadas, but fermentation has never been seen in our culture as a method of preservation, one definite reason being the hot and humid climate which makes it difficult to manage and control bacterial action. Even in the west, this whole cultured culture (before getting revived as probiotics) was pretty much a thing of the past, modern methods of food manufacture do not accommodate fermentation as fermentation was never a large scale thing and it is difficult to control, making it impossible for two batches to taste the same. So standardisation methods such as pickling with vinegar instead of salt were introduced.   
             Canning and pasteurisation became the new science and hygiene became prima facie. Food became transportable and with amazingly long shelf life, but these modern versions of pickles, sauerkraut and such lacked the vitamins and enzymes that natural fermentation gives food , in a way modernisation undid thousands of years of tradition in a few decades. Sad as the story is, the happy part is that traditional fermentation is enjoying a revival across the world and India is catching up. Fermented black garlic is now a common sight in fine dine spaces in Mumbai. Probiotics have established themselves as a need and Indian cheese making industry is now dishing out some memorable cheese. 
              Dahi our very own cultured probiotic is being recognised by the world along with other cultured products (with a cult following if I must say ) Kefir, Ayran and Doogh, our acceptance of more cultured products was definitely started by cheese and now the three cornerstones of fermentation (cheese, wine and bread) have become a combination of common gastronomic parlance. Most bacterial cultures and starter kits are now available online, do order them see the instructions (even if you don’t follow them ) and make your food alive in the literal sense. Stay Cultured!

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Paan trail

           In my travels for food, Benares holds a very special place for its 24 hour "naashta" culture and for the reverence for Paan. The paan is a matter of great study and every aspect related to it is either a custom or a ceremony. I have to say after the cooks (Or In Benares even before the cooks) it's the 'Paanwalas' that command the most respect and admiration. Like no two cooks can cook the same dish exactly the same way no two Panwaaris will make the exact same paan and people travel miles for their Panwaari, believing that he has the "Taste" in his hands. Distinctive varieties of betel leaf now grow, notably Bangla, Meetha, Sanchi, Kapoori, Devasri and Ambari.
             So lets look at the Paan through the lens of Indian History. The leaf of the Betel vine (Piper Betle) is usually chewed with the Areca nut (also mistaken to be the fruit of the same betel Vine and hence called Betel Nut sometimes). It's recognised in Sanskrit as being a south Indian Practice (then called Malaya). Its earliest North Indian references are in the Buddhist Jataka Tales. 
           However the world History is much older, proving again that Paan and paan-chewing, is a migrated influence from Vietnamese Subcontinent. An old Vietnamese book - "The Life story of Tan and Lang", is dated 2000BC and mentions the Custom; proving the practice to be common and extremely ancient in South east Asia. 
           The term "Betel" for leaf is said to have been coined by the Portugese and originates from the term "Vetthile" in Malayalam. However the astringent "Katha" usage in Paan, is believed to be of Indigenous origin mentioned by Charaka and Sushruta for its medicinal properties...

Monday, May 2, 2016

Unsung summer heroes...

            Growing up in a joint family in a small town has its benefits. Learning the grandmothers' ways of dealing with the ecosystem is one of them, especially when it comes to the change of seasons. Today we talk about eating local and seasonal. Any punjabi kid who has grown up in a small town with his "biji" (grandma) will tell you that it was a concept drilled in his/her system by the elders of the house. 
            Another aspect of growing up in a punjabi small town family is the ability to have conversations, especially with street vendors and the uncle at the corner grocery store. Being the designated errand boy of the family you start enjoying these trips to the vendors and they become extended family courtesy the conversations. These usually revolve around their merchandise and the uses of it and most of the knowledge of produce that I have stems from these memories.
           Summer vacations used to be intense because the number of errands increased manifold and so did the conversations around summer produce. Mangoes are undoubtedly the mainstay of all summer conversation but then there are these unsung heroes that bring a lot to your summer table. Let's talk about three of these today. 

Jackfruit - If there's something a kitchen novice is scared of its jackfruit. Indeed a messy proposition to manage while cutting, Jackfruit is immensely beneficial in summers due to high water and minerals (especially calcium and potassium) content. Eating jackfruit during summer prevents skin damage and also betters our vision.
Bel (wood apple) - Another love or hate me kind of fruit that is usually used raw by us "small town" boys for repairing kites with the natural gum in it!! Bel is a boon for hot summers, it is a coolant and an amazing source of minerals. The ripe bel is the best cure for summer dysentery and heat strokes.
Singhada (waterchestnut) - Amazing served raw or roasted, water chestnut is any woman's summer delight. Proved to be extremely beneficial for skin and hair, they provide natural detox and are extremely beneficial in jaundice-like conditions and are a high source of much needed minerals.
             In an age where local and seasonal is the "in" concept in eating, let's go back to how our grandmothers dealt with the changing seasons and let's start conversations with vendors on the sources and benefits of what they sell. It's nature's intention to help us deal with the change of seasons and all we need to do is look around and use what's provided to us. This summer, make these unsung heroes a part of your lifestyle....
Jackfruit Biryani

Ingredients :
400 gms long grain rice
50 gms baby jackfruit, skinned and cut into about 50 gms pieces with hard inner core removed
Mari nation for jackfruit
1 tsp ginger paste
1 tsp garlic paste
1 medium onion ground
8 to 10 green chilly paste
1 tsp cumin powder
½ tsp garam masala powder
1 tsp black pepper crushed
½ tsp red chili powder
¼ tsp turmeric
2 green cardamoms
6 cloves
3 medium onion, finely sliced
¾ cup yoghurt
½ tsp saffron, soaked in 1/3 cup warm milk
2 tbsp rose water
2 tbsp kewra water
2 inch sliced ginger
1 green chili, slit
1 tsp ghee

1. Cook rice till ¾ done and set aside.
2. Add all the ingredients to marinate the jackfruit and keep it for 15 minutes. Heat oil and deep fry the jackfruit lightly. Set aside.
3. Take around 4 tbsps oil from the same oil in which the jackfruit was fried and heat it. Add cardamom, cloves and fry for a few seconds. Now add sliced onions and fry till golden brown. Add yoghurt and stir constantly till it comes to a boil.
4. Add the fried jackfruit, mix and sprinkle a little water. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes till the jackfruit becomes tender.
5. Grease a large & heavy bottomed pan with ghee. Place the jackfruit mixture at the bottom and top up with rice. Sprinkle ginger, green chillies, saffron-milk, rose water and kewra water. Cover tightly with the lid and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes.
Serve hot.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Life Lessons from the learned…

     There's this comfort cocoon , a shell that all of us (or lets just say me) love going back to, to feel good about ourselves, our achievements and our contribution to society. This greatness is measured on our own scale and parameters that are a result of our experiences, perceptions and transactions in this world . Needless to say its hence coloured with our world view . And then (for all of us without doubt ) there are these eureka moments , these wake up calls that drag us out of this comfort zone with a feeling that there is a way of seeing life and achievements beyond how we see them.
I believe these eureka moments don’t show up to prove us wrong, there can be no wrong way of looking at life ,can it ?  they show up to create a moment for us, the moment of realization.

A question that I come across often (& often i am the one posing that question to myself ) is about finding happiness. Am sure that's a common dialogue between us and the voice in our heads. finding happiness can be quite a task, keeping it once found, well that’s another story.

        There have been two moments in my recent past when both me and the voice in my head have agreed to just be quiet and let the moment of realisation seep in , both these have been interactions with children , children whose parents earn (or used to earn when they were alive) way below the national average income .
MOMENT 1 : Every Diwali there's an influx of children who come with their  families selling flowers and diyas .Their presence was unnoticed by me till three years ago when a dear friend, Ruchi Srivastava took the initiative of distributing food boxes to these kids who live on the sidewalk for the duration of this festive migration and help their parents earn. 

Last Diwali I went out distributing these food boxes with hotel management students and saw the two powers at work, the power of giving and the power of children.  Like I had gone in the first year ,the students also went with an expectation of seeing scarcity and hunger , instead we saw happiness and gratitude. The only imperfection was in the way we were looking at them; for them, life was perfect. They were busy with life, studying or taking care of younger kin or tying together garlands for sale. 
There was not one child who did not thank us for the food or who wasn’t curious why we were doing this. 
We in fact were doing this for ourselves and that what all the students eventually realised, while we started out to fill in for a need on the streets we eventually filled up our souls with gratitude; the happiness that the students got was really moving. 
My eureka moment that made me realise that our need to give is born out of our need to get(actually borrow, a little bit of happiness from these children )

MOMENT 2 : I was at another friend, Rushina's cook Studio with young children from teach for India Foundation. It was supposed to be a quick visit to taste some egg dishes that they had made and it ended up being the most memorable 2 hours that will stay with me for this lifetime. these children (who were from extremely economically challenged families ) in Addition to happiness also showed another virtue , responsibility. Every dish tasted divine and the first guess for anybody would have been that these were seasoned hands at work. In a way they were because they were cooking ever since they were six or so due to challenging situations back home . This happy shock wasn’t enough to make my day , the best was yet to come.

There was apparently a test with 12 questions to check on how they had fared in their food classes, which various chefs had taken n the last 8 weeks . To me the questions seemed largely unfair to be asked to a bunch of 10-12 year olds and the silence that ensued post question paper distribution confirmed it for me , i stayed back just out of curiosity with no expectations. To make it easier on the kids i didn’t check the papers and started a discussion hoping to make them feel better for not knowing . what happened next moved me to tears ,suddenly everyone was excited to answer and everyone had the right answers . the reason for silence that i mistook for not knowing was for responsibly relaying what they had learnt and the quiet focus was on winning this challenge that had been posed . I had never heard a better explanation of how chocolate was made that i heard from a 9 year olds mouth . the process of fermentation was explained to me in a way that i had no more to ask . then i saw all answer sheets they had all questions answered in all papers . here i was trying to make them feel comfortable for not knowing where the only person to not know was me myself. lesson learnt - knowledge is not a function of resources available , its a function of commitment to learning which occurs in the human mind , the space where theres no rich or poor - only purity , love and happiness .

Life is about learning from the learned and i feel both silly and wiser now having learnt from more learned children around me (All thanks to people who take a stand for me and to Ruchi and Rushina who catalysed this learning for me)


Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The 'King' is back

              Spring time is the time of festivities and the start of the harvest. To a farmer it signifies abundance and food for the next year, hope and belief - in Mother earth and in the merit of hard work. To any Indian it signifies the arrival of the king – Alfonso. The mango that the world waits for.
              The Portuguese, ever since they landed in Calicut have given us many things and got back many things in return starting late 1400s, whether it's the art of plantation or the science of Nautical Navigation, there's a lot that we have got; but the most significant gift has been the grafting of many a Brazilian Mango strains with ours (In fact the first people to use the word "manga" were the Portuguese). 
              Any Keralite would swear by the Mulgoba and any Indian will have Haapus or Alphonso sunk deep in their mango memories. The most common story is that It is named after Afonso de Albuquerque, the Portuguese administrator of Goa and Malabar, and Admiral. In one of the famous journeys undertaken, the Brazilian graft found its way during Afonso de Albuquerque's voyage when he brought his famous namesake fruit to India. So, the Alphonso mango found home along the verdant shores of the Konkan in Maharashtra India. The locals took to calling it Aphoos in Konkani and in Maharashtra the pronunciation got further transformed to Hapoos. This variety was then taken to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and other parts of India. 
              Another folklore credits a Spanish Monk St. Alphonso Rodriguez. Since most varieties were named after grafters, the two things that are true are, one that it's a grafted variety and two that it's named after a Mr Alphonso - the person we thank every time there's spring and the smell of Haapus comes to live in our kitchens.
Mango Flavored Brown Rice Phirni
1/2 cup soaked brown rice
4 cups milk
1/2 cup cream
6 tbsps sugar
1/2 cup alfonso mango puree
2 tbsps almond, peeled and sliced
Few strands of saffron
5 to six dry cranberries
Mint leaves for garnish
Method :
1. Soak the rice in water for an hour. Drain, wash and drain again. Pat dry on an absorbent kitchen towel and blend in a mixer. 

2. Add ½ cup of cold milk and mix well to make a paste. Keep aside. Boil the rest of the milk and gently stir in the rice paste. Cook for about 15 minutes on a slow flame, while stirring continuously.
3. Add the sugar and simmer for a few minutes. Now add the mango puree and stir well.
4. Pour into serving containers and keep aside to cool. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Serve chilled garnished with almonds, saffron strands, mint leaves and dry cranberries.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Health and Diet

             All around us we see a spurt of health food and health food concepts. Physical Health has always been an important part of our well-being. It's important to understand that food unfortunately bears the most brunt for our health issues and our lifestyle, of which our diet is only a small part. It's time that we spoke about well-being and its relationship to lifestyle as a whole, rather than blaming a diet while just looking at our physical health. Here's a couple of healthy recipes that can help you get there. 
Anjeeer Kebab Samosa
5 to 6 Anjeer (dried figs) (soaked, drained and chopped)
I cum yam, boiled and mashed
1/2 tsp green chilies, chopped
1/4 inch ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
A few coriander leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp chaat masala powder
1 tbsp paneer, grated

1 tbsp hung curd
1 tbsp cashew nut paste
4 tbsp besan flour
1 tsp yellow chili powder
1/2 tsp garam masala

1 tbsp oil
Salt to taste
8 Samosa patti/ spring roll patti
1. Mix the curd, yam, cashew nut paste, besan, salt, yellow chili powder, garam masala and coriander leaves in a bowl. Add little water if required and mix to make a thick batter. 

2. Mix the figs, green chillies, onions, ginger, chaat masala powder and salt. Take a portion of the yam mixture and stuff 1 to 2 tsp of the fig mixture in the middle. Shape into a round patty. 
3. Heat oil in a nonstick pan and gently slide the kebabs and fry until golden brown. Remove and transfer to a serving plate. 
4. Stuff the kebabs in samosa patty/spring roll patty and fold into triangle shape. Seal the edges. Dust a baking tray and arrange the samosas. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degree C until cooked from both the sides.  
Baked Oondhiyo

For The Green Chutney
3/4 cup chopped coriander (dhania)
4 green chillies
1 tsp lemon juice
For The Garlic Chutney
10 garlic cloves
2 tsp chilli powder
For The Sweet and Sour Sauce

3/4 cup jaggery (gur)
1/2 cup tamarind (imli)
1/2 tsp chilli
salt to taste
Other Ingredients
750 gms surti papdi (fresh vaal)
500 gms purple yam (kand)
250 gms potatoes
250 gms sweet potato
2 to 3 brinjal
1 tsp carom seeds (ajwain)
1 tsp ginger - green chilli paste
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 to 2 tbsp oil
lettuce leaves
salt to taste
Green chutney, garlic chutney, sweet and sour sauce, sev and oil (optional) to serve
1. For the green chutney, blend all the ingredients in a liquidiser. Keep aside.
2. For the garlic chutney, blend all the ingredients in a liquidizer. Keep aside.
3. For the sweet and sour sauce, blend all the ingredients except coriander in a liquidizer. If too thick, add enough water to get the right consistency. Keep aside.
4. String the papadi. Do not separate into two. Peel the kand and cut into big pieces.
Cut the potatoes and sweet potatoes without peeling. Make slits on the brinjals.
5. Mix all the vegetables. Apply the ajwain, chilli-ginger paste, soda bi-carb and salt. Mix thoroughly and apply the oil all over. 

6. In a small earthen pot (matka), put a few leaves of lettuce at the bottom. Fill with all the vegetables and cover with the remaining lettuce leaves. Cover the matka with an earthen lid and bake in a hot oven at 200 degree c (400 degree F) for 1 hour. 
Alternatively, instead of cooking in a matka, wrap the vegetable mixture (without lettuce leaves) in aluminium foil and bake in a hot oven at 200 degree c (400 degree f) for 1 hour. 
Serve with green and garlic chutneys and sweet and sour sauce, oil and sev.

Monday, February 22, 2016

The Chili history

            One of the many stories that Indians refuse to believe is the one of the chili and its origins. Its unfathomable as a layman to believe that Chilies are not Indian and are less than 300 years old! Well, true story and here it goes... India being their trading partner, the Europeans had used black pepper as a medicinal aid and to spice up their cooking since Greek and Roman times. 

              By the Middle Ages, black pepper had become a luxury item, sold by the corn and used to pay taxes. Traders looked for new ways to India and the lands beyond — not just for pepper but for other lucrative spices, and for silks and opium. Columbus did not find India and black pepper, but he found a fiery pod that would, within years, not only infuse Southern European cooking with bold new flavors but also revolutionize cooking in India. 
            The remarkable spread of the chili is a glorious chapter in the story of globalization. Few other foods have been taken up by so many people in so many places so quickly. Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum, family that includes tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants. Only five of Capsicum's 25 species have been cultivated, and in South America, where most of the world's wild chilies are still found. The Europeans didn't immediately fall for the chili, they did become its greatest propagator. Portuguese traders carried it to settlements and nascent colonies in West Africa, in India and around East Asia. 
             Within 30 years of Columbus' first journey, at least three different types of chili plants were growing in the Portuguese enclave of Goa, on India's west coast. The chilies, which probably came from Brazil via Lisbon, quickly spread through the subcontinent, where they were used instead of black pepper. Yet its amazing how India took to Chilies and used them for all possible aspects, colour, texture flavor and spice. Today if there is one common thread other than cricket and Bollywood that binds the country together it's the "Mirch". The often taken for granted chilly is here and here to stay, a perfect example of globalization even before the word made it to the modern day lingo....

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Khichdi and other stories…

                 When one thinks of khichdi, grains and millets invariably come to mind. India has always had an amazing array of grains; thanks to the varied climatic conditions and soil types. The variety of millets available in the interiors of the country is enough data for a book. 
                 The unfortunate part however is that millet is an unstated grain grown by people who cannot market and sale. The green revolution undoubtedly did a lot of good for the Indian farmer, however the millets lost their charm in this era. I remember eating a porridge made from jhangoora, a millet amazingly sweet and creamy, so much so that a drizzle of honey is enough. 
                    Madhya Pradesh alone has more than 50 strains of millets and other strains of grains outside of rice and wheat. For me the foxtail millet stand out as the grain of MP. Collecting my thoughts back towards khichdi and the raj contribution towards Indian food, the British did a lot towards influencing Indian cuisine knowingly and unknowingly. The term curry word given by British as early as their arrival in Madras after having the local kari at fort George William. In fact the British sahabs and memsahabs who stayed in India were well-adapted to the romances of Indian cooking. 
                   Grain, porridge was made all across India from the Vedic times. Khichdi was known as kshirika and was consumed across the country. There are mentions of Khichdi in the Mughal literature especially during Akbar's times. Hence the common misconception that this term comes from kedgeree is not true. In fact it is the other way around. The British sahab and memsahab culture had its effect on exchange of home food. Similarly, in a recent conversation with Pushpesh Pant, a friend and food historian, he established that the ishtoo of Delhi, Lucknow and Benaras is indeed a mildly spiced do pyaaza called by a name the British understood better. More so, the British can also be credited with the revival of Delhi khandani food of Delhi as most old families dug out and cooked recipes from their kitchen repertoire to please the Sahabs for grant and titles. 
                  Hence the British era saw a fair exchange of cooking styles and dish nomenclature. If we give khichdi to them we got the ishtoo back. Now let’s get some Indian millet back in our life to give the well marketed ‘imported super grains’ a run for their money.

Bajra Khichdi

Ingredients :
1/2 cup bajra , soaked or 8 hours and drained
1 tbsp ghee
1 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/4 tsp turmeric powder (haldi)
A few sprigs of coriander leaves
2 tbsps green peas, cooked
2 tbsp carrot, small diced, cooked
1/2 tsp asafoetida (hing)
Salt to taste

Method :
1. Combine the bajra, salt and 2 cups of water in a pressure cooker, mix well and pressure cook for for whistles. Allow the steam to escape before opening the lid. Keep aside. 

2. Heat the ghee in a deep pan and add the cumin seeds. When the seeds crackle, add the asafoetida, turmeric powder and sauté for a few seconds. 
3. Add the cooked bajra, boiled green peas, cooked carrots and salt mix well and cook on a medium flame for two to three minutes, while stirring occasionally. 
Garnish with coriander leaves. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Spice blends - Part 2


                Let's bring our spice conversation home to Mumbai. Talking about spice mixes, it's imperative that Mumbai and its cultural diversity would give birth to a lot of spice mixes...
East Indian Bottle Masala - Bottle masala making is an annual event amongst the East Indian community of Mumbai that takes place prior to the monsoon, when hot sunny days are guaranteed. Masalas are mixed according to the house recipe. The masala consists of 20 spices or more in varying proportions with the main ingredients being - dry red chilies and coriander seeds. The spices have to be dried in the hot sun, prior to each condiment being roasted on a slow fire and then pounded in a wooden mortar with a wooden pestle. The bottle is then sealed and if sun dried and hand ground (well traditionally) then filled up traditionally in beer bottles (so the name). It is then used round the year to flavour their rich cuisine. The East Indians use it for everything. As with all good things, there are women in the community who specialise and could make it for entire villages of East Indians in suburban Mumbai! Bottle masala differs in pungency, flavour and even colour depending on the ingredients used. If properly stored, it can last a long time. 

Parsi Dhansak Masala - This is a traditional Parsi spice mix used to make Dhansak, a dish which was born out of the amalgamation of Persian and Gujarati cuisines. Dhansak became very popular in the late 19th century, with the rapid growth of Mumbai and Karachi. The working men were provided with tea and snacks by Parsi immigrants from Iran, who had set up small tea stores on street corners selling soda water, biscuits, tea, omelets, and also dhansak. Hence Karachi and Mumbai, the coastal cities of the sub continent, became the two favourite cities of Parsis to settle in. Dhansak is a hearty lentil and vegetable-based mutton or lamb curry. It is made by combining bay leaves, mustard, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, mace, chilli and pepper. Although a Sunday staple it's traditionally a mourning dish and never served on weddings.
Maharashtrian Goda Masala - This is a typically a Maharashtrian spice mix, predominantly used to flavour vegetable and lentil preparations. It's traditionally made in a large mortar pestle or Khalbatta. It is prepared by combining roasted and powdered red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, poppy seeds, turmeric, asafoetida, dagad phool (stone lichen), naag keshar and badal phool. Because the spices are roasted the masala is dark, almost black in colour. Also called Sundåy masala as it's sold in Sunday haats in the Konkan region. 
                 Yet there is no masala conversation complete without the mention of Awadh. Like the legendary Lazzat-e-Taam, a spice mix with a minimum of 32 spices, but more about Awadh in the next column. Happy eating!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Spice blends - Part 1

             In most cuisines around the world, the all-important "secret ingredient" is often a blend of spices. Just a small amount stirred into a dish can add a world of flavour or connect us to home! Somewhere in their culinary evolution, humans began using herbs and spices to flavour their food. And as cuisines and classic recipes evolved, so did the use of combinations of spices and spice blends that were used to cook and flavour foods with.

             India being the home to spices is of course home to numerous spice blends. And the making of spice mixes is still an activity that is sacred and in many places secret. They can also be defining of a cuisine. To begin at the milder end of the spectrum, the USA is home to Cajun Blackening Spice, which is a combination of salt, garlic, onion powder, thyme, oregano, hot and sweet paprika, white and black pepper, used to season roasts, stews, grills Cajun-style pan blackened dishes. With the phrase "as American as apple pie' so popular, it isn't surprising that American spice blends also include a couple of charming blends on the sweeter end of the spectrum. 
              While the Apple Pie spice blend is a perfect flavouring combination made of cinnamon, Cardamom, nutmeg and clove, it is the Pumpkin pie spice blend of "warming" spices, that is the general purpose spice blend made of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, allspice and mace, that is used to uplift a bland pie to rich dessert standards; and is also stirred into sweet potato pies, cakes, cookies and custards. 
               Jamaica is home to the Jerk style of cooking in which meats (pork, chicken, fish, beef, sausage and now even tofu) are dry-rubbed with a fiery spice mixture called Jamaican jerk spice; made of allspice and fiery Scotch Bonnet chilies, combined with clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, thyme and garlic. The marinated meat is then barbecued over aromatic wood charcoal. In Europe and the Mediterranean, Quatre épices is a blend mainly used in France but also popular in the Middle Eastern kitchen. Literally meaning "four spices", this blend combines pepper (white, black, or both), clove, nutmeg and ginger and is typically used in soups, stews, vegetable preparations and also in sausages and salamis. 
                 Ironically Britain's claim to Spice blend fame is Curry powder - a blend of spices created by any companies after the days of the Raj, to recreate the the flavors of India, for Englishmen homesick for India. Almost always made of coriander, cumin, turmeric, and fenugreek, recipes vary in their addition of ginger, garlic, red pepper, mustard seeds, cloves, black pepper, and other spices...but the most hilarious aspect of the Curry powder is the total absence of curry leaves!! 
                 Options get more exciting as one comes to the Middle East, Iran, Lebanon and Eqypt; there are a variety of spice blends that aromatize the food. Literally meaning "top of the shop," Ras el hanout is perhaps the most renowned Moroccan spice blend that can contain more than 30 ingredients. For Moroccan spice merchants it is a point of honour to have the most sought after version of this blend in the entire souk or market. Legendary spice blends that spice merchants have created for clientele might include ingredients as bizarre as hashish or even the notorious Spanish fly!