Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Top Flavours of 2016

With only a few hours to go before the new year rings in, all my feeds are full of reminiscences of the year past. And what a crazy, crazy year 2016 has been. But no matter what ups and downs the world and the life throws your way, there's always food.

From myriad variety of new dishes I tried this year, I have culled for you the top 9 flavours I discovered this year. Some you may know, and others are for you to add to your wishlist for 2017.



1. Desi Chai: In my mind, chai has always been something you drink at home. When outside, it was almost coffee for me since restaurants and cafes usually get the tea flavour wrong. Then Chaayos happened. Their desi chai is good a tea as I make at home. Plus you can customise it any way you want - add more milk or less, make it light or strong and choose from a wide range of spices. If you must know, my standard order is a full milk kadak (strong) chai with tulsi and ginger. With a bun maska, I now prefer it to starbucks.

2. Butter Pecan Ice Cream: This one has been on the Indigo deli menu forever but I only discovered it earlier this year. It's saltier and nuttier than you expect, and a better icecream is hard to find in Mumbai.

3. Baked Brie: A classic this one, yet 212 All Good in Lower Parel, Mumbai managed to reinvent it with a dash of honey and some amazing crackers to dip into the melty cheese.

4. Jhama's Gulab Jamuns: I've had many a gulab jamun in my life - most bad or average, some good. And what a delightful surprise it was to discover this sweet shop in Chembur's Sindhi Camp rightfully claiming its place as the best gulab jamun in Mumbai. For fans of this deep fried happiness, Jhama has versions ranging from tiny bite sized pieces to some unique variants like the ones soaked in rabdi.

5. Gobindobhog Rice: In Punjab, I grew up eating only the basmati rice. Over the years, I've tried and liked a few other varieties. But when the folks at Lavaash by Saby in Delhi brought out this ghee laden Bengali rice, it even outshone the excellent Armenian curries it was meant to accompany. Fragrant and flavourful, this has potential to become my favourite rice variety.

6. Savoury Panchamrit: Earlier this year, I made a trip to Konkan coast with the folks at JW Marriott. At one of the homestays, we tried this super flavourful coconut soup that derives its name from the five flavours (savoury, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter) that go into its making. Think of this one as khowsuey on steroids.

7. Almond Croissant: Blue Tokai entered Mumbai this year and this Delhi roastery proudly takes its place as the best cafe in town. And the croissants that accompany this coffee are buttery, flaky and simply perfect. They sell three variants of croissants of which my favourite is the almond crusted, lightly sweet version.

8. Pithla Hummus: 2016 was the year of modern Indian and fusion food. Most of it failed but where it worked, it worked brilliantly. The newly opened Kala Ghoda restaurant, Hitchki, came up with an Indian mezze platter that blew me away. The pithla hummus is surely an improvement on the original by a big margin.

9. Polenta: Yes, polenta gets a bad rap but that's because it's so difficult to cook well. When Mumbai's favourite fine dine restaurant Olive got a new chef earlier this year, he added a polenta dish to the menu that is full of Mediterranean flavours and vegetables that make the dish sparkle.

That's it for 2016 folks. Hope your new year is sweet, salty, nutty and chock-full of love.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Cake




Decked out streets, lit up trees and loads of delicious food - there are plenty of reasons Christmas is my favourite time of the year. We don't really celebrate Christmas at our place but I've made it a tradition to bake a fruit cake every year. Some years, I soak my dried fruits in advance and there is a traditional cake. This year, though, I only got my act together yesterday and with just a day to go for Christmas, I went for the most logical fallback of Christmas cake procrastinators, the mincemeat cake.

Mincemeat, for the uninitiated, is a British concoction of raisins, apples and other dried fruits cooked down with sugar, butter and rum (or sherry or brandy - some booze basically). It's used to fill mince pies that most Londoners loathe but I love. And I love mincemeat so much I use it to make cookies and this year, cake. This is how I make mincemeat. The fruits I use vary each year and this year's batch was a mix of golden and black raisins, prunes and just because I had a bottle open, sweet white wine instead of rum.

Once you have a jar of mincemeat, the cake is simple. I picked a recipe by Delia Smith and this has to be the best cake I've ever baked, even if I say so myself. I know I'm posting this at the end of Christmas day but it's winter still and this will make an excellent snacking cake to have around the house. At the very least, bookmark this for the next Christmas.

Ingredients
(adapted to my 7 inch tin; Delia's original recipe is for an 8 inch deep tin)

For the day before
250 grams mincemeat
100 ml sweet white wine
150 grams raisins or mixed dried fruits
75 grams chopped dried figs

For the cake
100 grams butter
90 grams dark brown sugar
2 tbsp date syrup or molasses
2 eggs
150 grams plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
zest of 2 limes
50 grams almonds, chopped

The day before you are to make the cake, put all the presoaking ingredients in a bowl, stir to mix, cover and leave in the fridge.

The next day, make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature. Set the oven to preheat at 170C and line the base of a 7 inch springform tin with parchment paper. Whisk butter, brown sugar and date syrup until they are mixed through. Add the eggs and whisk to combine. Mix the flour with baking powder and lime zest in a separate bowl, then add to the mixture alongwith pre-soaked mince and dried fruits. With a wooden or silicon spatula, mix everything together and pour into the prepared tin. Smooth the mixture as much as you can with the back of a spoon and sprinkle chopped almonds all over the top of the cake mixture.

Bake for 1 1/2 - 2 hours until the cake is cooked through and the centre springs back when lightly touched. Let cool in the tin for half an hour, then unmould and cool complete on a wire rack. Delia says the cake will keep 3-4 weeks in an airtight tin but with new year's eve around the corner, I won't blame you for polishing this off in the next week or so.

Monday, November 28, 2016

An Equal World for Diabetics

Diabetes is a disease that afflicts millions of Indians. It doesn't kill, but it asks for lifestyle changes that usually take away most of the fun from your life. I come from a family of diabetics and things that normal people do - eating out, going to pubs - become a challenge when every food and drink option you have out there is laden with sugar.

Seema Pinto is a diabetic who had the same problem and instead of sitting around eating a green salad at parties, she decided to do something about it. Last year, Seema started Diabetic Food Trail. In its second avatar, the month long festival is bigger and better. What Diabetic Food Trail does is encourage regular restaurants to come up with diabetes friendly menus. This year, the menus run from 12-30 November at 61 restaurants in Mumbai and many more in Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai and Pune. There are also fitness bootcamps, cooking masterclasses and dessert trails.

When Seema invited me to try out the diabetic food menu, I wanted to pick a restaurant that typically serves heavy, calorie and carb laden food. Which is why I went to sample the special menu at Made in Punjab. I was curious to see how these purveyors of butter-laden curries and dal makhani will cope. As it turns out, they cope really well, serving a menu that retains the fine dining Indian food persona but is easy on calories, carbs and glycemic index.



We started with a buttermilk that came swathed in smoke from the dry ice it was sitting on. The soup was a spinach consomme - light yet flavourful with mint. For starters, a green salad and a veggie kebab full of green vegetables. The mains let go of the signature dal makhani in favour of a lighter mixed dal. My friend tried out both the chicken and mutton curries and pronounced them as good as the ones they cook at home. I love theatrics in my food and there was drama aplenty in the strawberry sphere that came as palate cleanser and the phirni that was shockingly cold and smoky from, you guessed it right, dry ice.

I added up the calories and even with a rich multi-course menu, we came in at 900 calories. This has to less than half of what a regular lunch at Made in Punjab sets you back. Plus the chef told us there wasn't a drop of cream or butter in everything we were served. Despite these omissions, I felt the food was higher on the taste quotient than anything I've had at Made in Punjab before so I only hope Seema can convince these restaurants to run such menus all year round and not just for three weeks.

Now, I couldn't go round tasting food at all the other 60 restaurants but I got quite a taste of what they had in store when Seema took us around on a dessert trail. An apt thing to do, since desserts are the bane of a diabetics' life - you end up sitting around when everyone is eating something tempting at the end of the meal. We headed downtown one Sunday afternoon and covered five of the participating restaurants in Nariman Point, Cuffe Parade and Kala Ghoda.



During the course of the afternoon, we sampled everything from light panacottas to flavour laden matcha crepes. Then there were cheesecakes, so many cheesecakes. The desserts ranged from average to simply sublime but none were bad and all are a progress in making diabetics happier at the end of their meals.

If I have one complaint, it is that way too many restaurants took the easy route of replacing sugar with Splenda or Stevia. Which is why the one dessert that stood out to me was the sweet potato and chocolate cake at the Sassy Spoon. It builds on the natural sweetness of the ingredients, eschewing artificial sweeteners and making for a delicious, hearty dessert.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Sassy Chef



First, there was the Sassy Spoon, a rare fine dining cocoon in the bustling business district that is Nariman Point. Then came another one in Bandra's Hill Road and a few months back, a cute Juhu bakery called The Sassy Teaspoon. Even if you didn't make it to the restaurant, you couldn't help notice their charming Tata Nano zipping around the neighbourhood, apparently to pick up and drop off customers. I've had many a lunch at the Nariman Point Sassy Spoon but hadn't managed to make it to the Bandra outlet. So when they went through a recent menu change, this was my opportunity to sit down with the very talented yet super modest chef behind the brand - Irfan Pabaney.

The Starter

The Sassy Spoon in Bandra has that mix of quirkiness and old world charm. When I walk in for lunch, the outdoor seating space is bright and cheery with the sunshine. Service, always a high point in the Nariman Point branch, is equally warm and welcoming here as I sit down to talk about Irfan's life story. But first, the food. Irfan's first pick of starters from the new menu at Bandra is a bright and vibrant raw papaya and mango salad. There is crunch from peppers, freshness from the greens and richness from fried onions and a gorgeous dressing. Every element perfectly balanced.



As I munch on my starter salad, I discover Irfan is a quintessential Bombay boy. He spent his early years in Philippines, and the Asian influences still show in his food. But he finished high school in Mumbai, at which point he wanted to go into hotel management. He somehow got late sending in his application and ended up doing a regular graduation. He still wanted into hotel management though, and went for a post graduate course over at Sophia's. That's when he finally figured he wanted to be a chef, not just a hotel manager. A 20 year restaurant stint followed, starting with a 5 star hotel but a lot of it working with the legendary Rahul Akerkar, someone Irfan counts as a friend and a mentor.

We reminiscence about Irfan's move away from Rahul's continental food at 'Under the Over' and into Asian cooking at that now-shut Bandra hotspot, Seijo and the Soul Dish. From Seijo, Irfan moved back to do continental cooking with Rahul at Indigo and then more Asian with the Hakassan group. By this time, it was 2012 and Irfan was itching to break out on his own.

The Mains

A chef's journey is a lonely one, and your choice of partners often determines that thin line between success and failure. For his maiden venture, Irfan teamed up with investor and baker Rachel Goenka. The first Sassy opened in February 2013 with an eclectic menu that's basically all of Irfan's cooking philosophy on a plate. There is no one cuisine - the flavours a mix of pan-Asian, European and Indian - but every plate is perfectly balanced and flavourful. This is no molecular gastronomy and no fussy, foamy stuff; just simple yet modern cooking that makes sense. As an example, Irfan brings out a sweet corn soup that they set, then batter and deep fry so it's like eating fresh sweetcorn. Both the texture and the sauce work perfectly.



My mains of mushroom tortellini come in one of the most flavorful porcini broths you can imagine. Fresh, honest and balanced seems to define not just the food at Sassy but the chef as well. Even as we talk, Irfan is busy phoning the Sassy staff in Nariman Point, organising events they are looking to host over the next few days and getting logistics in place. He is clearly a chef who knows not just the kitchen but also the business of food very well.

The Dessert



Rachel Goenka's desserts perfectly complement Irfan's food at the Sassy Spoon. I often find red velvet cake too sweet but here it comes paired with a capuccino cream that breaks the sweetness. I also sample an excellent basil and pinenut ice cream, and make a mental note to come back for their famous scones and afternoon tea.

As we wind down our meal, we finally get talking about Irfan the person. Naturally, the talk quickly veers to what he himself likes to eat when not at Sassy. He doesn't cook very often at home, he says. And eating out is often a social occasion that gets controlled by what the family wants. But even there, he likes simple Indian flavours best. His favourite is the thali at Shree Thaker Bhojanalay. And anything mutton - he reminds me of the childhood in Philippines where seafood and chicken were the most obvious choices. He still enjoys fish, but will eat a good mutton curry every chance he gets.

There is already a fantastic Goan bread on the Nariman Point menu and more Indian influences in the Bandra menu, so I really hope there is an Indian restaurant in Irfan's and Sassy's future. I sure will be the first one to queue up to eat at the Sassy Indian.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gnocchi



They say you have to be an Italian grandmother to make light, pillowy gnocchi. Now that's the kind of statement that keeps you from trying out making your own potato gnocchi. But I happened to have some boiled potatoes at hand and an extra hour to kill so I finally gave the recipe a shot. And won't I surprised at how easy it turned out to be. Plus for a first attempt, not bad at all.

So go ahead, boil a potato or two and give Italian grannies some competition in the gnocchi department. You can also make your own tomato sauce (and the recipe for that follows) but this gnocchi will be equally good tossed in some butter and herbs or mixed with some creamy alfredo if that's more your thing.

Ingredients
For gnocchi
2 potatoes, boiled
3 tbsp plain flour
salt and pepper to taste
For tomato sauce4 tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato puree
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 tbsp oregano
1 tsp red chilli flakes
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
10-12 basil leaves

The sauce takes longer to cook so lets start with that. Peel the tomatoes - you do that by blanching them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then putting them in cold water so the peel just slides off. Quarter the peeled tomatoes, take out the seeds and puree the deseeded slices in a blender. Put the puree in a saucepan alongwith canned tomato paste/puree, vinegar, oregano, chilli flakes and garlic powder. Add 1 cup water and bring the whole mix to a boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and let the sauce cook on its own for 45 minutes to an hour until it is reduced to a consistency you like. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mince half the basil leaves and mix into the sauce, reserving the rest for garnish.

Time for gnocchi now. Peel the potatoes and grate/mash them. Add salt and fresh ground pepper. Add 2 tbsp flour and knead lightly until you have a dough. You might need to add some more flour, depending on your potatoes. Just mix until the potatoes and dough are combined, taking care not to handle the dough too much. Divide the dough into two halves and roll each half into a rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut off 1 inch pieces of the rope and press each against a fork to create indentations on your gnocchi.

Boil water in a saucepan and add 1 tsp salt to it. Drop gnocchi into boiling water 5-6 at a time. They will rise to the top in 2-3 minutes; keep cooking for around a minute after that. Remove with a slotted spoon and pop straight into the simmering sauce. Mix lightly until the gnocchi are coated with the sauce. Serve garnished with basil leaves and if you like, parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Whiskey Affair


The very first thing I loved about international travelling were the glitzy shopping malls that seem to be a part of every airport. My first trip out of India, I was amazed at how Heathrow mimicked an expensive London high street, with everything from Hermes to Harrods. Many travels and airports later, I still wonder about duty free shopping. Is it really that cheap? Do people really have time to spend wandering the halls full of stuff when there is a flight to catch? And why do we have such huge duty free shops in Indian airports when everyone always talks about bringing cheap alcohol back in, not take it out.

Luckily, all of these questions are about to be answered. Duty Free Shopping (or DFS, as it is called in Mumbai) invited a group of bloggers over to their Mumbai international airport stores last week. We talked a bit about duty free and then, we talked a lot about whiskey. Why whiskey, you ask! Well, they had a whiskey festival on and the Johnny Walker brand ambassador was around to give us a run of the shop.

So yes, duty free shopping is cheap. Alcohol, tobacco and beauty products are the best sellers in duty free shops around the world and our host Nidhi told us that prices in Mumbai are some of the lowest. That still doesn't explain who buys this stuff - surely European travelers are taking back souvenirs from the Culture Shop but I don't see them carrying back bottles of wine. Turns out it's the Indian folks who reserve their shopping on the way out and pick it up when they land back. 

And this being India, most of them pick up bottles of whiskey. Which is why DFS has a whiskey festival on, offering not just discounted whiskeys but also special glasses to drink them in. So let's talk whiskey. Or rather, as someone who doesn't drink it but found the tour by the super cute Diageo brand ambassador Nick fascinating, let't talk Johnny Walker.



One of the most iconic brands in the world, you unconsciously think of Johnny Walker as synonymous with whisky, even if you don't drink it much. But as Nick walked us through the store and spent an hour talking about the brand and the history of the drink, I discovered several nuggets of information I found fascinating. Here are my favourite takeaways:

1. All JW whiskeys are blended. Johnny Walker took inspiration from tea blending to create a new category of product, separate from single origin whiskeys which were the norm way back in the 15th century.

2. Mr. JW was one heck of a traveller. In the time before airplanes, he took ships all over the world, getting inspiration for his blends. JW has these really cool bottles that illustrate his travels. The one for Mumbai is super cool, even though it costs a pretty penny.

3.  It was Mr. Walker's sons who were next in line to be master blenders and they took the brand global. A series of master blenders ensues, all of whom go round buying casks of whiskeys and selecting the ones that go into the blends.

4. Believe it or not, the current master blender is called Mr. Beverage.

5. These things are expensive. You can google all the science and lingo behind single malts and blends and what not. But Nick insists that oldest in not always the best. It's expensive because as the whiskey sits in casks, it loses about 5% volume each year, so you have precious little left at the end of 20 years. But it is on the master blender to find the best tasting 20 years olds of the many he tastes, which is why something like a founder's blend they have gets quoted for around 5000 dollars.

Truly fascinating, ain't it!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Palaces and Pop: A Mysore Dasara Weekend


For the last 400 years, Mysore has celebrated the victory of good over evil with a 10-day festival. Indian festivals are complicated - the same day that Durga Puga is celebrated in West Bengal and North India celebrates the victory of Lord Rama over the evil Ravana, Karnataka celebrates the killing of an entirely different demon - Mahishasura - by the goddess Chamundadevi. But whatever demon you think was killed this time of the year, most of India has 10 days of festivities a month before Diwali. In the 15th century, Mysore's kings decided to make it into a state festival and the tradition continues till date.

This year, I found myself in Bangalore on a Friday for a work trip. And because this is a short 3 hour drive to Mysore, it seemed like the perfect timing to check out the Dasara festivities. From that festive weekend, here are my top picks and tips on making the best of Mysore:

Take in the lighting: The whole city lights up for the festival and the Mysore Palace is a beautiful sight. This is peak tourist season which means there are queues to get into the palace at night and it takes a while to get in, but make it inside and it's really quite something to see the magnificent palace all lit up. The Palace grounds are host to a cultural festival and we caught an excellent dance performance the night we were there. But this is not the only performance location. The Maharaja College caters to a younger crowd with 'Yuva Dasara' and a host of pop/rock performances. They even had a coke studio concert this year.

The 10th day of the festival is when the big parade happens through the city. The royal family brings out the icon of Goddess Chamundadevi that sits atop a decked up elephant. There are hundreds of thousands of people who line the streets to watch the procession so it can get a little intense. We didn't stay in town long enough for the parade but even a couple of days early, you will see the elephants out for practice runs.

Walk, cycle, fly or drive: I make it a point to look up walking tours when I get to a new city and Mysore has a great option in Royal Mysore Walks. They offer walking tours of the illuminated city as well as cycling tours. What we opted for, though, was a drive in their vintage jeep.



Not only did Faizan show us the city, tell us about the evolution of Dasara but he also pointed out two unique traditions. One is wrestling - during the festival, wrestlers from all over the country come to Mysore for a championship. The other one is a doll display that houses put up. We visited a doll shop that had ceramic and clay dolls will themes ranging from dasara festival to weddings to Disney cartoon characters. Most households who follow the tradition pick a theme, then add figurines each year to match.

If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you also have the option of a helicopter ride over the city.

Stay in a heritage property (not!): When picking hotels for stay, I am partial towards newer properties. Which is why I immediately zeroed in on Grand Mercure, a 5 month old property in Central Mysore. It's beautifully built and staff is super eager to help. Our room came with free breakfast and a choice of either free lunch or dinner, and the buffet meals didn't disappoint. And this is where we stop and talk about food in Mysore.

Eat a dosa, or few: You can't really go wrong ordering a dosa in Mysore and the ones in our hotel breakfast were nice enough. But to grab one of the best dosas in town, you need to make way to Vinayaka Mylari in Doora. They make only one kind of dosa, filled with some hard to describe masala. But these dosas are the softest I have eaten and quite unique.



Outside of dosas, mysore has plenty of dining options in Doora and JLB Road. But remember that Mysore is a sleepy town and everything closes early. By the time our coke studio concert ended at 10.30, pretty much everything in town was shut. So eat early or eat at your hotel.

I can't complete a Mysore chronicle without talking about the iconic Mysore Pak. I personally find it way too sweet but if it's your thing, or you want to at least try it once, make your way to Guru Sweets, just outside the bustling Devaraja Market. And if you are exhausted with all the crowds by then, you still ought to grab a cup of filter coffee at Indra Cafe before you head back out to Bangalore.

Vinayaka Mylari Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Chestnut Story



I first discovered chestnuts as they were roasting in a British christmas market on a cold, snowy day. The warm bag of chestnuts went all over with me over the next hour; a comforting feeling as we walked across aisles of Christmas trinkets, games arena and a meeting with Santa. It occurred to me then how strange it was that we never ate chestnuts back in India. Didn't we have all the chestnuts trees up in the Himalayas.

Back home, when Big Basket put chestnuts on their menu a couple of years back, I naturally assumed these were an imported variety. Turns out I was wrong. Chestnuts arrived early on Big Basket this year and they have clarified that these are the homegrown Himalayan chestnuts. The first time I bought them, I spent hours figuring out the right way to oven roast my stash. For this season's purchase though, I reckoned I will try a completely Indian manner of cooking and put them in a pressure cooker. Turns out it makes the chestnuts a pleasure to cook.

First off, wash your chestnuts and score each with an X on the flat side. Make sure you pierce the outer skin or you will have these bursting in the cook. Put the chestnuts in a pressure cooker and add enough water to cover. Bring the water up to boil (that's one whistle on the pressure cooker), then reduce the heat and cook for 7-8 minutes. Once the chestnuts cool down enough to handle but are still warmish, peel them. This is the hardest part of cooking with and eating chestnuts - you have a hard outer layer and an inner skin. If you scored them right and they are cooked through, putting some pressure on the X will make the skin pop and you can peel it off. Not all of them worked well for me though and depending on how each one behaved, I got a few intact and several that broke into tiny pieces as I peeled them. A couple still had the inner skin attached and rather than try to win them all, I gave these up as lost causes. Overall, out of my 250 grams of chestnuts, I ended up with about a cup of peeled, edible fruit.



You can now just eat them while warm, which is what I did with about half my batch. But the remaining half cup I then turned into this sublime chestnut butter. This is a shortcut and not much of a recipe but it was so good I figured I may as well tell you about it. So in went the 1/2 cup chestnuts into a blender. I had a jar of salted caramel sauce lying around and I put 2 tbsp of that in the blender, then whizzed the two together until the consistency was that of chunky peanut butter. That's it folks - a non recipe really but it's so good you may as well make it today.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Smoky Almonds



Every time I fly Indigo Airlines, I make it a point to buy a tin of their smoked almonds. Salted, roasted and with an intense smoky flavour, these are some of the best almonds I've tasted. Now, it does seem kinda silly to pick which flight to book based on what snacks they sell onboard, so I felt this was high time I made my own smoked almonds.

Smoking, if you haven't looked at it before, is a cool way to add charred flavour to everything from tea to meats. You do it by exposing food to smoke from burning wood, a technique favoured in most of US, Europe and Australia. India has its own smoking tradition - the whole school of dum cooking based on exposing food to smoke from red hot pieces of charcoal.

If getting access to wood and charcoal and burning stuff in a typical Bombay flat sounds complicated, fear not. This smoked almonds recipe is based not on any of the traditional smoking techniques but on smoke you can buy in a bottle. I use liquid smoke to give smoky flavour to everything from grilled mushrooms to kebabs so that's what makes for these smoky almonds. Armed with a spray can, this recipe is a breeze.

Heat your oven to 180C. Put 1 cup almonds in a bowl. Add 1 tsp salt and to up the ante on smokiness, 1/2 tsp chipotle powder. Add a tbsp of liquid smoke or if you have a spray can, enough to coat the almonds. Toss to mix; because of the liquid, the salt and chilli powders will stick to the almonds. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a nonstick baking tray and pop into the oven.

After 10 minutes, take out the tray and give the almonds a stir. Add another spray of smoke for good measure and pop the tray back into the oven until the nuts are roasted, another 10-15 minutes. Let cool, then store in an airtight jar.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Family Secrets



Garam Masala is the cornerstone of Punjabi cooking. It's a mixed spice that gets tossed into every curry, every lentil dish, pretty much every thing we cook at home. My family even tosses some on top of a toast. Not surprising then, that every Punjabi household has their own garam masala recipe. I still use my mum's - not her recipe but the actual spice mix. I bring a batch back with me every time I go home to use until the next trip.

Part of the reason I don't venture into making my own garam masala is because it was so hard to get my mum's recipe. But finally, after much guesswork and prodding to measure things just one time, we have the official Sareen family garam masala recipe.

Ingredients
100 grams cumin seeds (jeera)
50 grams coriander seeds (dhania)
20-25 nos. black peppercorns
8-10 nos. cloves
5 nos. black cardamom

Heat a pan. Switch the heat to medium, pop in the cumin seeds and roast, stirring continuously, until toasty and fragrant. You are only looking to lightly heat the seeds so take them off before they change color. Remove the cumin seeds from the pan and repeat the process with coriander seeds and then with the remaining three ingredients.

Wait 15-20 minutes for the spices to cool. Grind cloves and cardamom to a powder; then grind cumin, coriander and peppercorns separately. We aren't doing it at the same time because cloves and cardamom take longer to get to a fine powder and you don't want to grind the other three for that long.

Mix up both set of spices and that's it folks, the garam masala for every curry you ever need to make. A final word on how to use this. Never, ever add garam masala when you are cooking a dish. It's always sprinkled at the end, just before serving, to maximise the flavour impact.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Study in Mango



Inspired by a dessert that's currently being served in Indian Accent in New York, and featuring my three favourite mango varieties, here comes a study in mango:

- Aamras (made with Dashehri mangoes)
- Mango slices (langda and chausa)
- Aam papad; sweet and sour
- Basil shrikhand
- Basil meringue
- Basil leaves to garnish

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Thai Brown Curry



For the longest time, I debated on whether to share this recipe. After all, this is not your good looking Thai Red Curry or Green Curry. It's in fact, a very boring shade of brown. But then, this is brown for a reason. The red color in the traditional curry comes from a mix of dried red and fresh bird eye chillis. If you are a chilli wimp like me, the brown curry is the one for you. It's got all the flavour of the red curry but much, much less heat. This version's also adapted for my vegetarian tastes, and has no fish sauce or shrimp paste. So go ahead, make this piping hot bowl of comfort for a rainy day lunch.

Ingredients
For spice paste
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted on a dry pan
1lemongrass stalk, without the woody end - finely chopped
1/2 tsp whole peppercorns
1 inch piece of galangal, peeled and roughly chopped
2 shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled
2 kaffir lime leaves
2-3 cilantro stems, roughly chopped (don't use the leaves)
2 bird eye chillis
1 tsp non-spicy chilli powder (called kashmiri lal mirch in India) - can substitute with chipotle
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
For the curry
1 tbsp sesame oil
100 ml coconut milk
1/2 cup vegetables of your choice, chopped into bite sized pieces. I used a mix of zucchini, babycorn, thai brinjal and mushroom



Now the list above looks daunting but once you have prepped everything as mentioned, this is super easy. Pop everything for the spice paste in a grinder and blend to as fine a paste as you can get. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan and fry the spice paste until completely dry. Add the chopped vegetables and stir for 2-3 minutes until the spice paste coats the veggies well. Add the coconut milk and 1/2 cup water. Mix, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook until the curry is of a consistency you like. I keep it quite soupy but really, make it as thick as you want. At this point, check for seasoning - we haven't added any salt so far because there is usually enough in soy sauce but add more if you need it.

Serve the curry with steamed rice. To add an extra texture, you can top your curry with something crispy. I used fried shallots but crushed peanuts work equally well. A dash of lime is also a very good idea to balance out the flavours.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

One Potato, Two Potato



I've often wondered about the benefits of peeling teeny tiny potatoes to make dum aloo. Apart from the cuteness factor, there didn't seem to be much taste uptick versus a regular potato curry. Or so I thought. But then, a couple of weeks back, I went to this cooking competition where I was to cook a Bengali menu and got handed the recipe for aloor dum. Punchy and totally full of flavour, it's a dish I've been thinking of ever since. But I didn't bring back the recipe and I sort of forgot what all went in there so this is my own version. Think of it as the Punjabi curry counterpart of the aloor dum I made the other day. It's delicious nevertheless.

Ingredients
15-20 baby potatoes
3 tbsp ghee
1 bay leaf
2 whole red chillies
2 tbsp ginger paste
1/2 tsp hing powder
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 small onion, pureed
2 small tomatoes, chopped finely
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp yogurt
salt to taste

Boil the baby potatoes until almost cooked but with a bit of a bite left to them. At this time, take the yogurt out of the fridge and give it a stir. Peel the potatoes and prick all over with a fork. Heat 2 tbsp ghee in a nonstick pan and pop the potatoes in. Cook until the potatoes are lightly browned. Remove to a bowl and mix with 1 tbsp ginger paste, salt and 1/2 tsp chilli powder.

Add the remaining 1 tbsp ghee to the same pan and add the bay leaf and the whole red chillies. Also add in hing, cumin seeds, mustard seeds and coriander seeds. Stir until the spices start to pop, then add the onion and ginger pastes. Saute, stirring often, until the onion paste is completely dry and you see ghee oozing out at the sides. Add the turmeric powder, mix and saute for another 30 seconds. Now add the tomatoes and the tomato puree and saute until the tomatoes are all mushy. Add the reserved potatoes and stir well to mix the spices in.

Now add 1 cup water and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 5-7 minutes. Stir in the yogurt. Mix well, then let the pan simmer until most of the water has dried up and you have a nice spice coating on the potatoes. Check for seasoning, add more salt if required and remove to a serving dish. At this point, tradition dictates that you sprinkle the whole thing with chopped coriander leaves and garam masala. I went rogue though and used a sprinkle of dried mint, a punchy flavour addition to the mix.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Peachy Salsa



May is my favourite month of the year for fresh produce. That's when all my favourite fruits - cherries, lychees, peaches, apricots and green almonds - come into season at the same time. Which means that every time I make a trip out to the fruit store, I come back with way too much. I love eating these fruits as is, often times instead of meals. But today we are going to do something different and make a salsa out of peaches. It's pretty much like a tomato salsa except it's sweeter, which makes it a great combination for salted nacho chips. Plus, it's a breeze to put together, something I really appreciate in dinner ideas in summer.

Ingredients
1 large peach
1 small tomato
1 small onion
handful of cilantro leaves
1 lime
salt
smoked chipotle powder (or a fresh jalepeno)

Halve the peach and remove the pit. Peel each halve - if your peach is ripe enough, you can just pull the peel from one corner and it will come right out. You can also leave it unpeeled if it feels like too much trouble. Chop into small cubes. Also cut the tomato into similar sized cubes. Peel and chop the onion finely. Wash and finely chop the cilantro leaves as well. If you are using a fresh jalepeno, now would also be a good time to deseed and finely chop it.

Pop everything into a bowl. Add salt, chipotle powder and juice of a lime. Taste and adjust the seasoning and then, if you have any self control at all, put the whole thing in the fridge for a couple of hours for the flavours to mingle. Serve with nacho chips.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Misal on the Way



I discovered the joys of misal pao way too late in life. Maybe I didn't move in the right circles when I first came to Bombay, or I didn't have the right friends but it took me several years to find this little snack food delight that's native to Maharashtra. So what's misal, you ask? It's a curry made with sprouted lentils, which is then topped with fried savoury snacks called farsan and garnished with raw onions and cilantro. Pretty much always served with a dash of lemon juice and a side of soft buns native to Mumbai - the pao. It's a race against time eating your misal once it is assembled because you want to gobble it all down before the crispy farsan melts into the gravy and gets all soggy.

On a recent trip down the Konkan coast, I ordered misal at every stop on the way and discovered a range of flavours. Some misal paos were spicy, the others delightfully sour. I would caution though against ordering misal if you are headed to Kohlapur - I'm told they make it incredibly spicy out there. If you want to adjust the flavours just as you want it though, do what I did on my return and make the misal yourself. It's a really easy one to make too.

Ingredients
1 cup mixed lentil sprouts
2 tbsp peanut oil (can replace with olive oil)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp hing powder (asafoetida)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp fresh grated coconut
1 tsp tamarind paste
salt to taste
1/2 cup fried savouries (farsan or bombay namkeen)
1 small onion, chopped finely
handful of cilantro leaves
1 lime

Steam the lentils until cooked (you can also boil them in plenty of water but I find they retain their flavour better when steamed). In a pan, heat the oil and add cumin and mustard seeds. Wait a minute until they start to splutter than add the hing and turmeric powder. Stir to mix and wait another 30 seconds, then add the steamed lentils, salt and the red chilli powder. Stir to combine everything for about 2-3 minutes, then add the coconut. Cook on a medium heat, stirring all the while, for another minute.

Mix the tamarind paste with 1 cup water and add to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and let cook for 5 minutes for the flavours to mingle. Taste, then add more salt/chilli/tamarind according to your taste. Pour into two bowls, top with farsan, chopped onion and cilantro and serve immediately with a slice of lime and pao (or toasted bread/burger buns if you can't find pao)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Jackfruit Sheera



A few years back, I went on a Matunga food trail organised by the now shut MumbaiBoss. Among the flurry of dosas and filter coffee we had that day, the standout dish for me was Jackfruit Sheera at Ramashraya. Sheera, for the uninitiated, is a thick porridge like dessert made with semolina. It's one of the easiest Indian desserts to make, and a classic comfort food. At Ramashraya, they excel in making different variations each day. Their most popular variety seems to be pineapple sheera but on the day we visited, they had a jackfruit sheera on offer.

Now jackfruit, specially the sweet, ripe, variety used in the sheera, can be quite an acquired taste. I only tasted it for the first time a few years back and it took me a while getting used to its rather overwhelming smell. I enjoy it now and with jackfruit now in season, I decided to try making the sheera at home.

The first step in making the sheera is, of course, getting jackfruit pieces. It's a difficult fruit to handle and cut through but thankfully, Mumbai vendors sell it to you nicely cut and cleaned. If you can't find jackfruit, just go without or replace with pineapple. The recipe still works.

Ingredients
1/2 cup semolina
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup jackfruit, finely chopped
2 cups water
4 tbsp ghee
5-6 saffron strands or 2-3 drops yellow food coloring
almonds or cashews to garnish, optional

Heat the water in a saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves. Boil for another 2-3 minutes to get your mixture all syrupy. At this point, add the saffron strands, turn off the heat and leave to infuse.

Pour the semolina in a dry nonstick pan and cook, stirring constantly, until it is lightly browned and toasty. Remove to a plate. Put the pan back on the heat and add ghee. Now the thing about ghee in sheera is, you can use a lot more than the 4 tbsp. Some people would even use the same quantity as the semolina, so a 1/2 cup in this case. I personally find the 4 tbsp quantity to be optimum.

Okay, back to heating the ghee now. Once it melts, add jackfruit pieces and stir on a medium heat for a couple of minutes until they are coated with ghee and heated through. Add the semolina, give a stir to mix and immediately pour in the sugar syrup. Make sure to add the syrup slowly, stirring as you go, to avoid lumps. Keep the heat low, and keep stirring until the sheera is thick like a porridge and you can't see individual grains of semolina. Garnish with almond or cashew slivers, if you like.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

A Konkan Trail



A few weeks back, I got a call from JW Marriott in Mumbai Sahar. Their chefs were planning to go on an exploratory trip to the Konkan coast to discover the Konkanastha Brahmin cuisine, they said, and they wanted to take a few bloggers along. Was I interested? That is hardly a question, is it! I'd enjoyed my trip to Dapoli a few years back and the Marriott crew was now headed to nearby beach towns of Diveagar and Guhagar. Plus the Konkan Brahmin cuisine, with its completely vegetarian teetotaller bent so close to the coast, has always intrigued me.

The thing about driving down the Konkan coast is - you spend an awful amount of time on the road. Which is why it is important to have likeminded companions. We were all foodies on this trip so the food talk never really stopped. Once we got off the road, we spent a night at Guhagar and another at Diveagar, both times at homestays and within walking distance of some gorgeous beaches. And all three days, womenfolk who run dining halls in the town taught us how to cook traditional Konkanastha Brahmin dishes. There were some dishes I'd heard of and eaten before and others that were a revelation. There were modaks made with a skill that takes years to build and a vermicelli dish that an old lady came out specially to teach us (since she's the only one who knew how!). Overall, between sol kadhi and misal at rest stops and home cooked meals, we ate really, really well.

Of all the dishes we ate and cooked during the trip, I'm sharing with you my top 5. Keep an eye out for these if you make the trip or ask me nicely and I will share recipes.

1. Panchamrut: Hands down the best dish of our trip. This super flavourful coconut soup derives its name from the five flavours (savoury, spicy, sweet, sour, bitter) that go into its making. Think of this one as khowsuey on steroids.



2. Raw Jackfruit Stir Fry: Jackfruit, specially the fragrant ripe version, is an acquired taste. But cooking this raw stir fry in Mr. Bapat's kitchen was a revelation. Made with only 3-4 dry spices, coconut and tons of peanut oil, the jackfruit was subtly flavoursome without any of the ginger, garlic et al that goes in our curries.



3. Rice Flour Vermicelli: The special part of the vermicelli was the 'milk' they were served in. A combination of coconut milk, jaggery and cardamom, I can see this as a drink on its own.



4. Kaju Usal: With fresh green cashews in season, our Guhagar hosts made us a cashew usal (with usal being a generic name for lentil curries). The Konkan food is sweet and I would have liked it with a bit less jaggery but the curry was super nice and versatile enough to adapt for any legumes you want.



5. Misal Pao: My standard order every time we stopped for tea or lunch on the way. Misal is basically your mixed sprout usal, but it comes topped with fried savouries called farsan. Every misal I had was different, some spicy, some sour, but topped with crunchy onions and accompanied with the local bread (pao), it hit the right note every single time.



Tempting, isn't it! If you don't have a trip to Konkan coast planned yourself, you might get a chance to taste most of these dishes at JW Marriott Sahar itself. The chefs have taken the learnings from the trip and are putting up a Konkan Food Festival from 6-15 May. I'm surely going to head out there to check out how the village food fares in a 5-star hotel.

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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Pancakes, S'mores, Birthdays



Eight years ago on this day, I baked my first cookie, a chocolate spiral shortbread. I placed the plate of cookies on my sofa, clicked a shaky picture with my point and shoot Nikon and wrote about it on this newfangled thing called blogspot. Bombay Foodie was born.

To celebrate eight years of this delicious journey, I wanted to create a dish that I could not have made this time in 2008. Not only was this dish beyond my technical capabilities at the time, it was something I could not even have imagined. Naturally, I made s'mores pancakes.

The pancake recipe comes from the 'Genius Recipes' section of Food52. The genius part of the recipe is that egg whites are stirred in at the end, making a batter that gives the fluffiest pancakes. On top of my tiny pancake, I added a touch of molecular gastronomy with chocolate soil. As the chocolate started to melt on the warm pancake, I added the final flourish - a coconut marshmallow. At this point, you bring out the torch and toast the marshmallow. Not too much though, because you don't want to burn the coconut. The whole thing is small enough to be picked up and eaten in two bites.

If you are still reading this, dear reader, thank you for being a part of this journey! And Happy Birthday, Bombay Foodie! Here's to many more years.

Ingredients
For Pancakes
1 1/4 cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 egg, separated
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup milk
40 grams salted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp vanilla essence

For marshmallows
1/2 cup sugar
3 sheets gelatin
1 tbsp glucose
1/4 cup + 1 tbsp water
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

For chocolate soil
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup caster sugar
80 grams dark chocolate (I used Callebaut 72%)
1 tbsp cocoa nibs (optional)

You can make the marshmallows and the chocolate soil upto a week in advance.

For marshmallows, pour coconut in a non stick pan and cook on a low heat, stirring constantly, until toasted. Line a small baking sheet with parchment and spread coconut all over. Mix sugar, 1/4 cup water and glucose in a saucepan and put on a medium heat. Stir until the sugar is melted, then put a thermometer in and leave the pan alone until it hits 240C.

While the sugar is boiling, soak gelatin sheets in plenty of cold water. Wring out 5 minutes later, put in a small pan with 1 tbsp water and heat until melted. Put into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the sugar once it reaches 240C and start the mixer on a low speed. Increase the speed gradually and whip until the mixture is fluffy and about three times the original volume. Add vanilla and give it a few seconds to get mixed in. Take two lightly oiled spoons and drop spoonfuls of marshmallows over the coconut. The mixture will be very sticky so be patient. Once all the marshmallows are spread on the sheet, leave it aside for 4-6 hours to dry. Once dry, flip the marshmallows to coat the top with more coconut and store in a airtight jar (not in the fridge).

For chocolate soil, chop the chocolate into tiny pieces. Combine water and sugar in a non stick frying pan. Put on a medium heat. Stir for the first minute until the sugar dissolves, then leave the boiling syrup on its own until you start to see the start of the caramel color on the edges of the pan. This can take a few minutes so be patient and stay close to the pan. As soon as the sugar starts to color, turn off the heat and add all the chocolate. Keep stirring - at first the chocolate will melt and it will all be one pool of liquid chocolate. But as the mixture cools, it will turn into soil-like crystallised chocolate. Let cool completely and then, if you can find them, add cocoa nibs for some extra crunch. Again, store in an airtight container but preferably not in the fridge.

When you are ready to eat pancakes, make the batter. In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda. In a second bowl, whisk together buttermilk, milk, egg yolk and vanilla essence. Add melted butter and mix. Pour over the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. Finally, add the egg white and stir until it mixes in with the batter. Set aside for 5 minutes.

Heat a non stick pan and brush with melted butter. Drop spoonfuls of batter. Wait a couple of minutes for the pancakes to brown, then flip and cook the other side. Top each pancake with a layer of chocolate soil and a marshmallow. Toast marshmallows lightly with a kitchen torch just before serving.

Monday, February 1, 2016

A Bowl of Kulith



Every January, Mumbai hosts an exhibition called 'Mahalaxmi Saras' that brings together aritsans from around the country. The biggest draw at this exhibition are the farmers, producers and women from self help groups from remote parts of Mahrashtra. They come bearing homegrown cashews and kokum and lovingly made papads, chunteys and syrups. There is also a food court where stalls sell curries rarely seen outside rural homes, accompanied by wafer thin rice crepes or bhakris (the traditional millet flatbreads) made fresh over clay griddles. Between the packaged food sellers and the food court, Mahalaxmi Saras is a journey through rural Maharashtra. Every year, I come back surprised with how varied the local cuisine is and how much I am still to learn.

I made three trips this year and came back with bags full of purchases each time. The sellers are all super enthusiastic which means that when I stopped to pick up cashews being sold directly by this farm owner from Ratnagiri, he convinced me to buy something called 'kulith peeth'. I had no idea what they muddy brown flour was supposed to do but a grinning lady handed me a card and told me to call her if I needed the recipe. Now who can resist that offer!

Back home, my research promptly told me that kulith is a lesser known lentil - the horsegram and the flour that I was now holding is used in Maharashtrian cuisine to make pithla, a savoury porridge like sludge that is eaten with millet flatbreads. Because pithla is traditionally made with gramflour, I decided to substitute gramflour with kulith flour in my beloved dish - kadhi.

The resultant yogurt and lentil soup had the same consistency as the regular kadhi but kulith gives it a more hearty, earthier flavour. I served my kulith kadhi like a soup, topped with fried onions and a spray of dried mint but it will be equally good served over plain steamed rice. Here goes the recipe:

Ingredients
2 tbsp. kulith flour
3 tbsp. yogurt
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
5-6 curry leaves
1 tbsp. ginger garlic paste
1 small onion, chopped finely
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp amchur
1/2 tsp garam masala
To garnish
2 tbsp. fried onions
1 tsp dried mint (or a handful of fresh mint leaves)
1 lime

Whisk together the kulith flour and the yogurt. Add 4 cups of water to make a thin blend, whisking to make sure the flour and yogurt are well blended and there are no lumps. In a pan large enough to hold the mixture, heat olive oil. Add cumin seeds, mustard seeds and curry leaves. Wait until the seeds start to splutter, then add the chopped onions and the ginger garlic paste. Stir on a low heat until the onions are a golden brown. Add the kulith-yogurt mixture and all the remaining spices. Stir well to mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the soup is well blended and thickened to the consistency of, say, a cheese sauce.

Serve hot with rice, garnished with fried onions, mint and a dash of lime juice.