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.