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.