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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…

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 bec…

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 p…

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 Irfa…

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 sauce
4 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 …

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 ar…

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 beauti…

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,…

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 e…

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 …

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

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 c…

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 ta…

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 …

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 th…

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 cu…

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 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 …

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 …

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 …

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 decid…

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 …

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…

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…

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 mentio…

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 crea…

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 a…

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 th…

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 …