Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Zahav Hummus



Several times during the making of this hummus, you will doubt yourself. Am I adding too much lemon juice or way too much tahini, you will think. Why is there no olive oil going into the blender. And who puts iced water in a hummus.

But keep aside all your past hummus making experiences and believe in the genius that is Mike Solomonov, the chef who made Zahav the leading voice of Israeli cuisine in US. For only then you get rewarded with a hummus that is as silky smooth as a buttercream, with a texture that feels like you are eating clouds.

In the months following the publishing of Zahav cookbook, the hummus recipe took the world by storm. I noticed it a couple of weeks back on Food52 and was taken in by how counterintuitive everything in that recipe was. This might not be the first hummus recipe on this blog but I am fairly sure that this might be the final one.

Ingredients
1/2 cup chickpeas
1 tsp baking soda
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/6th cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup tahini
hearty pinch of ground cumin
olive oil, paprika and chopped parsley or cilantro, for serving

Put chickpeas in a large bowl with 1/2 tsp baking soda and cover with plenty of water. Soak overnight and the next morning, drain and rinse under cold water. Put chickpeas in a pressure cooker with 1/2 tsp baking soda and enough water to cover by at least 4 inches. Cook until the chickpeas are completely tender and maybe even a little mushy. Because of the baking soda, this will take less time than you think - took about 3 whistles in mine. You can obviously cook the chickpeas without the pressure cooker in a large pot but it will take around an hour to simmer and get mushy. Drain the chickpeas and keep aside.

Process garlic, lemon juice and salt in a food processor or blender until coarsely pureed. Let sit for 10-15 minutes for the lemon juice to absorb the garlic flavours. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve, pressing to get as much liquid as possible. Return the sieved liquid to the blender. Add tahini and pulse to combine. Add 2 tbsp iced water and blend until the mixture is very smooth, pale, and thick. Add chickpeas and cumin and puree for 1-2 minutes, until the hummus is smooth. Keep blending until the hummus appears very creamy. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt, lemon juice or cumin if required.

Serve in a shallow bowl, with a sprinkle of paprika and chopped parsley or cilantro leaves as well as a generous pour of olive oil. 


Friday, March 25, 2016

Olive Redux



I remember coming to Mumbai 10, maybe 12 years back and being taken to Olive for a fancy dinner. Even back then, the partially open air Mediterranean restaurant on Carter Road defined luxury dining. I remember eating a spinach ravioli on that first trip, drowned in a brown butter sage sauce, the taste lingering months later. I went back occasionally for a Sunday brunch or a drink but over time, the menu started to look ready for a redo.

That menu revamp has happened this month with the arrival of the super cute chef Rishim Sachdeva. Having worked with the likes of Marco Pierre White and even in the Fat Duck Kitchen, Rishim describes his food as modern. Not Italian although there are tons of pastas and pizzas there; not Mediterranean in particular, just modern food done well.

We start off with an excellent minestrone that comes blanketed with parmesan, both in melted and crispy wafer form. A kale and strawberry salad follows - the chef explains that the strawberry vinegar is homemade - but the salad is truly made by gnocchi like pillows of goat cheese. For the mains, the chef brings out polenta in a sauce bursting with fresh vegetable flavours.

In fact, I realise the whole menu seems to focus on fresh flavours as I try the sexiest version of cauliflower I have ever seen. Its barbecued, pureed and fresh cauliflower, interspersed with dates, burnt cream and cocoa nibs. It's a starter but it could be a pre-dessert, a prelude to what comes next. What comes next in our case is a glass of yogurt sorbet, topped with flavours of milk, reduced or transformed into crisp wafers. It's a modern dessert but I can see it's not a dessert to everyone's liking which is why there seem to be safe chocolate and strawberry options on the menu.

While all the change I have noticed is good, some Olive traditions remain. The chicken skewers could never be taken off the menu I think, and my friend pronounces them excellent. Also present is the signature plate of olive oil, vinegar and tiny bowl of olives that greets you when you first sit down in the candle lit place bursting with dating couples and ladies on their night out.



And among all this talk of food, let's not forget the special guests who have popped up at Olive for 3 weeks, all the way from Philadelphia. 1 Tippling Place proudly takes its place among the top 24 bars in US. Head bartender Myles, who is currently manning the bar at Olive, explained to me the difference between craft cocktails and the regular pub fare. It came down, I think, to creativity but also to the attention to detail they pay each drink with homemade syrups and bitters and large chunks of hand cut ice. Myles then wandered off to make me an indulgent drink full of gin, lime, lemon, champagne and just a hint of lavender. My friend got something pink, with berries mushed in. The drinks don't stinge on excellent quality gin so for our next rounds, we requested Myles to go alcohol free. He came back bearing house made ginger ale that sparkled with spicy ginger and had none of the syrupy feel your commercial ginger ales do.

The 1 Tippling Place popup is on for just another week so you really need to rush that trip to Olive. Thankfully, the fresh new menu and chef Rishim Sachdeva are here to stay.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

An Adieu to Strawberries



Bombay has a strange strawberry season that starts in winter and ends before summer sets in. We are now at the end of this season so you'd be lucky to find a box of strawberries with your fruit seller now. I found what I think would be my last box of the year yesterday and made this gorgeous cake to celebrate strawberries one last time this year.

BBC calls this a coconut cream cake. There is plenty of coconut yes, but with all the polenta the recipe calls for (which I substituted with cornmeal), the texture and flavour is more like a cornbread. Eat it plain, top it with icing sugar as BBC suggests or top it with strawberries my way, this is a great cake to have in the fridge for your weekend snacking needs.

Ingredients
For cake
140 grams butter, at room temperature
140 grams caster sugar
juice of 1 lime
50 grams desiccated coconut
200 ml coconut milk carton (I used Dabur Homemade)
85 grams fine polenta or cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
140 grams plain flour

For topping
2 tbsp toasted desiccated coconut
4 tbsp icing sugar
1 box (approx. 400 grams) strawberries
1/2 tsp vanilla essense
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp caster sugar

Line a 7 inch round baking tin with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180C. Cream butter with sugar until soft and fluffy. Add 150 ml coconut milk (reserve the remaining 50 ml for later) and whisk in to blend. Add all the remaining ingredients and beat until you have a well blended mixture. Pour into the cake tin and bake for about an hour, until the top is golden and a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the cake tin.

While the cake is baking, prep your strawberries. Wash and hull the berries and cut them in quarters. Put in a bowl and add vanilla essence, balsamic vinegar and sugar. Stir to mix and pop into the fridge for about an hour.

When the cake is cool, remove from the tin and put on a serving plate. Mix the reserved coconut milk with icing sugar to make a thin glaze. Brush the top and the sides of the cake with the glaze and put it in the fridge for 5-10 minutes to set. In the meantime, strain out the syrup from the strawberries. Put the syrup in a small pan and on a medium heat, boil until it reduces to 1/3rd the original quantity. Pile the strawberries in the centre of the cake (or make a pretty pattern if that's more your thing), sprinkle toasted coconut and then spoon over the reduced balsamic syrup.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Aloo Paranthas



In all these years of blogging, I've somehow never managed to talk about aloo paranthas, the potato stuffed flatbread that's a standard breakfast in North India. Possibly because they are such a staple in our home, I found there wouldn't be enough interest in the recipe. But I've also realised over time that my mom's recipe is unique, using a combination of flavours and spices that make these paranthas delicious.

But that's not the only reason for this post. I also wanted to tell you about a super cool party and some ways we found to make aloo paranthas even better and believe it or not, healthier. The party in question was hosted by Rushina at her cooking studio a few months back. For a while now, Rushina has been talking about the merits of cling film, parchment and something called cooking foil made by Asahi Kasei. Because we won't believe that you can really cook without oil but using science, she invited a bunch of us over for a potluck lunch.

I decided to make aloo paranthas and I did two things differently. One, I used the cling film to wrap potatoes in and microwaved them instead. It took about 6 minutes and the potatoes cooked so much better than the boiled version. They are also drier which makes for a better potato filling. Secondly, I used the cooking foil to line the pan which means that the paranthas won't stick and you can cook them without all the ghee that typically goes in one. Now mind you, I didn't really stick to the plan because I am a Punjabi and I can't not put ghee on parathas. But you can get away with very little and the healthier version tastes just about the same.

You can see the party in action in this video, where several other bloggers make loads of cool dishes. And then, if you are tempted enough, go make my mom's aloo paranthas. They are the best in the world.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8gyhXe47vA

Ingredients
(for four paranthas)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3-4 tbsp. ghee (less if you are using non-stick pan or cooking foil)

For stuffing
2 medium sized potatoes, boiled
1 small onion, chopped finely
handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp anardana (dried pomegranate seeds)
1 tsp dried coriander seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
salt to taste

Put the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and add 1/4 cup water. Slowly bring the flour in and mix. Knead until you have a smooth pliable dough, adding more water if needed. Cover and set aside for 15-20 minutes.

Mash the potatoes. Add all the other ingredients for stuffing and mix well. Take a golf ball size portion of dough. Dredge in dry flour and roll out into a thick circle. Add about 2 tbsp. of potato filling in the middle and gather up the dough around the filling, sealing to make a ball stuffed with potatoes. Roll the dough in some dry whole wheat flour and roll out into as thin a circle as possible.

Place on a heated pan, let cook for a minute. Flip, apply a little ghee on each side and cook until golden brown and crisp. The paranthas are served with mango pickle and plain yogurt in my home.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Magic of MTR



MTR is now a well known brand around the country, known for their ready to cook and ready to eat packaged food and spices. But before it became MTR the brand, it was Mavalli Tiffin Room in Bangalore's Lalbagh. The first time I entered the rather shabby looking place, I was directed to the 'family room' on the first floor. And that's where I head each time now.

You enter a waiting room on the first floor landing, obviously because the place draws hordes of people at dinner time. I beat the crowds by going there for tiffin or snacks between 3-5 pm. Even at that time, the place is busy but there is usually no waiting.

There are no menus at MTR. There is a white board at the entrance that shows all that's available. Then you go into the dining hall which has pretty basic plastic chairs. They are all tables for four, so if it's only one or two of you, you are expected to share tables once it gets busy.

My top thing to order at MTR is a dosa. You can order a masala dosa but I like the plain variety. The dosas here are crisp but thicker than what you get in Mumbai, with a generous dousing of ghee. They also coat the inside of the dosas with the green chutney. The same green chutney - coconut and surprisingly, mint - gets served with the dosa along with a small container of ghee.



Another bestseller is their rava idli. Its a gigantic idli and you only get one per serving, along with the ghee, chutney and curried potatoes. Unlike most other places, you do not get sambar with your idli and dosa. You can either order a sambar vada or plead with them to give you 'extra sambar' but remember they don't understand any Hindi and barely speak English so getting anything off menu can be quite an undertaking.

I did get an English speaking server once and he proudly told me the filter coffee was served in silver glasses that have been around for over a century. It's great coffee too and a fantastic end to your meal. This is one place I make sure to stop at every visit to Bangalore, and you should too.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Gluten Free Cookies



Gluten free eating first started as a solution for those suffering from intolerance and allergies to gluten. But the last few years, it's become more mainstream with the 'health brigade' adopting it as their latest trend. I've personally stayed away from any gluten free baking so far, largely because I've no health reason to and I love plain flour based dishes way too much. But when a blogger friend asked if I would like to try baking with a new raw banana flour, it seemed like an intriguing flavour to try.

Noticing how dark coloured the flour was, I knew anything vanilla based was out for this experiment. So I decided to bake my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe, substituting the entire plain flour with recommended quantity of raw banana flour. I also added some coconut to up the flavour quotient, and out came the cookie that looked just like the original.

And how was the flavour? Quite nice actually, although it does taste different from your regular cookie. The banana flavour is prominent which means that coconut was hardly noticeable. Kadhali folks tell me that if you mix the banana flour with another gluten free flour (like almond), you do not notice the banana flavour at all so I might try that next. In the meantime, make sure you make a small batch - my recipe makes a dozen - because these cookies stale faster than the regular version. You can keep them a couple of days in the fridge but make sure to heat them a bit in the oven if not eating the same day.

Ingredients
50 grams butter
50 grams dark brown sugar
80 grams kadhali raw banana flour (substitute with 120 grams plain flour if not baking gluten free)
2 tbsp coconut milk
1 tsp vanilla essense
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp toasted, desiccated coconut
2 tbsp dark chocolate chips

Take the butter out of the fridge and leaving it to soften. After an hour or so, cream this soft butter with 50 gms sugar. Now add coconut milk and vanilla essence. Beat everything until light and fluffy. Mix together raw banana flour and baking soda, then add to the bowl with butter/sugar and mix well. Finally, fold in toasted coconut and chocolate chips.

Set the oven to preheat to 180C and line a small baking sheet with parchment. Now wet your hands with cold water, and roll a walnut size piece of dough into a ball. Place on the baking tray and press with a fork to flatten. With my dough, I got 12 cookies. Bake the cookies for 15-20 minutes until they look crisp and cooked through. Leave to cook for 10 minutes or so on the baking sheet, then move to a wire rack to cooled them completely.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Cookbooks and Curries



A few months back, Rushina - who runs an awesome cooking studio and is a cookbook author herself - launched a cook book club. It's basically a book club for foodies. Every month, there is an event where Rushina invites a cookbook author, we chat and we cook some and then we eat all the awesome food from the author's book that Rushina's team made.

Because the authors are obviously super knowledgable about whatever cuisine they wrote their book on, I always come back with nuggets of information and new techniques. Last month, we had India's favourite foodie, Kunal Vijaykar, come and chat about his book 'Made in India'. As Kunal made a chicken curry and a delicious fish dish, we got talking about the coconut based curries, which Kunal claims are the only real curries, as opposed to the tomato based gravies of North India.

Now I am a huge fan of our traditional onion and tomato based dishes but Kunal's cooking had me intrigued. His chicken curry had garlic and coconut but no onion and yet it yielded a super flavourful, thickish gravy. Because I don't eat chicken, I've taken the same curry and made it with zucchini and baby corn. You can substitute any vegetable of your choice; I think this will also be great with beans, cauliflower and broccoli.



Ingredients
1 small zucchini
8-10 babycorns
60 grams fresh grated coconut (you can substitute with desiccated coconut)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
5-7 curry leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds
Hearty pinch of asafoetida
1 tbsp white vinegar
Salt (I used 1/2 tsp)

Cut the zucchini into cubes and baby corn into similarly sized pieces. Heat oil and add asafoetida and cumin seeds. Wait half a minute until the seeds start to splatter, then add the ginger and garlic. As the garlic and ginger start to brown, add the curry leaves and coconut. Saute for 2-3 minutes until the coconut starts smelling toasty, then add vinegar, turmeric, chilli powder, black pepper and salt.

Add the chopped vegetable and stir for a minute, then add 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, the reduce the heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are cooked through and the curry thickens. The curry goes well with rice but because Kunal calls it 'Bombay Curry', it's only appropriate that you serve it with pao or some crusty bread.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine's at Romano's



No matter whether you find themed menus cute or overly cheesy, you can't help but notice the creativity at Romano's. I first noticed the new Italian restaurant at JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar when social media posts appeared on their all black menu. A few weeks later, they came up with a new one called 'Paint me Love', just in time for Valentine's Day and which is how I found myself headed to try out this restaurant last evening.

Just for this week, Chef Roberto has put together an all red and pink menu. You kick off with rose centrepieces and sparkling pink wine. The appetiser, a watermelon and feta salad with baby spinach and sweet apple 'mustard' is a great start. It leads to a dish that speaks of the chef's Italian heritage - a roasted tomato soup that comes with an excellent toasted bread and homemade burrata. The white asparagus course is also well executed and the meal ends with a strawberry mousse sitting on top of crunchy oats. Chef Roberto mentions he adds rose syrup to the biscuit base to make the flavours more familiar to an Indian palette.

This is simple, honest, flavourful Italian cooking. But while there is little to fault in chef Roberto's food, the service alas lacks the polish befitting this kitchen. They're super nice and well intentioned at Romano's but that does not excuse the confusion on how long it should be between courses and when the drinks should show up. Plus I am pretty sure they entirely missed serving one of the courses on the tasting menu.

Full points though on sending the Valentine diners away with ring boxes full of plump, pink hued macarons. The Valentine special menu ends tonight but do go anyway to try the fantastic potato bread that chef bakes. Or wait a few weeks until he sets up his pizza oven. He took me to the main kitchen to show the oven that's just about ready to be set up so in addition to pastas and risottos that are already on the menu, some Roman style pizzas should be up there soon.
Romano's - JW Marriott Mumbai Sahar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, February 12, 2016

Beet, Many Ways



I find it really exciting to try and use different textures of one ingredient in a dish. Plus, we are just a day away from valentine's and everyone seems to looking for a bit of red in their life, so how about creating something fun and exciting out of beetroot. Let me talk you through the elements on this plate. I brushed beet hummus down the plate. On one side of the hummus border is a dab of yogurt with cooked beetroot slices. The other side has thin slivers of pickled beetroot interspersed with some more hung yogurt. And towards the edge you see beet leaves, filled with cottage cheese, rolled up and lightly sautéed in olive oil.

You could obviously do away with all the dramatics and put the two dips (hummus and yogurt) in bowl to serve with beet crudites. But have some fun instead, and plate this as first course of your valentine's meal. Follow it up with a simple pasta or risotto and end with something that's simply spectacularly red, like these strawberries in cream or this pomegranate panacotta and you have the makings of a beautiful evening.

Ingredients
For beet hummus
1 small beetroot
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 tbsp tahini
1 tbsp yogurt
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
juice of 1 lime
salt
2 tbsp olive oil

For pickled beetroot
1 beetroot
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 tbsp salt
1 tsp coriander seeds

For beet leaf rolls
2 beetroot leaves
3 tbsp crumbled cottage cheese
salt
black pepper

For yogurt dip
1 cup plain yogurt
5-7 pink peppercorns
salt

Make the pickled beetroot a day in advance. Peel and thinly slice the beetroot, preferably on a mandolin. In a glass or ceramic bowl, mix together water, vinegar and salt. Stir until salt is fully dissolved, then add the beetroot slices and coriander seeds. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

Also a day before, pour the yogurt into a tea strainer lined with cheesecloth. Pop the strainer on top of a bowl and leave in the fridge for the whey to drain out. The next day, remove the thick yogurt to a bowl and mix will peppercorns and salt.

Peel the beetroot and cook in plenty of water until soft. Blend half the cooked beet with all the other ingredients for hummus until you have a smooth paste. Reserve the other half to be used as beet slices while plating.

Wash the beetroot leaves and wipe dry with a towel. Mix the cottage cheese with seasoning. Put a tbsp of cottage cheese at one end of the leaf and roll tightly. Heat a pan and lightly brush with olive oil. Carefully saute the rolls on both sides until warmed through.

Now that you have all the components, dip a pastry brush in the bowl of hummus and draw a line down the middle of the plate. Spoon yogurt dip on one side of the hummus and arrange beet slices around it. Take 3 slices of pickled beet, dab a little yogurt on each and stack them on the other side of the hummus. Finally, place two beet leaf rolls at the edge of the plate to finish.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Wheat Berry Bhel



India has this whole culture of chaat that is hard to explain to anyone outside. After all, chaat's not a meal in itself. It's not even a tea time dish or an appetizer. It just is a category of food by itself - eaten by the roadside, or at local restaurants, eaten when mood or opportunity strikes rather than at lunch or dinner. Chaat varies considerably across the country. In most of North India, crispy fried stuff is laced with spicy tamarind chutney and loads of yogurt. Fried potatoes count as chaat in Delhi, doused with tangy spices. But in Bombay, it changes its form again. There are still fried flour puris and papdis, but everything gets a generous sprinkle of fried gramflour vermicelli called sev and yogurt only makes an appearance in some specific varieties, not everything.

One chaat that is native to Mumbai is the bhelpuri. It starts with puffed rice (the same as rice krispies) and then gets loaded with fried sev, potatoes, onions, tomatoes and all sorts of chutneys and masalas. One of the most delicious mish-mash dishes you can find anywhere I think. But bhelpuri disintegrates soon, the puffed rice getting soggy within minutes of making the dish so I have often wondered if you can make the bhel with a sturdier base. It turns out you can. My version, made with roasted wheatberries is more toothy than the regular bhel but no less delicious. It also packs in so much fibre and because I left out the fried sev, you can even count this one as health food.

A typical bhel recipe calls for two chutneys - the sweet tamarind chutney that you can buy in a bottle and a green chutney, typically made from cilantro, that I recommend you make fresh. Once you have the chutneys and some boiled potatoes, it's just a question of mixing everything up.

Ingredients
1 cup roasted, salted wheatberries
1 potato, boiled and chopped into small cubes
1 onion, chopped finely
2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, chopped
2 tbsp green chutney (see recipe here)
2 tbsp tamarind chutney (look for bottled date tamarind chutney)
1 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp roasted and ground cumin seeds
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
Salt, just in case

In a bowl, mix together wheatberries, potato, onion and half the coriander. Add chaat masala, cumin powder, chilli powder and 1 tbsp each of both chutneys. Taste and add more chutneys, spices or salt if you need it. Top with the reserved chopped coriander to serve.