Sunday, April 16, 2017

A Latin American Feast



Mumbai is the place to be when you want to try food from farflung corners of the world. If there aren't specialty restaurants catering to your tastebuds, there will be one of the countless popups serving your cuisine of choice. Except there are blatant misses. There is hardly anything from Africa. And while Mexico is well represented, there is almost nothing else from rest of South America. Rachana, over at second helping, is tackling this gap with the launch of her Latin American popup - Tan Bueno. It's a particularly brave venture given that her menu is completely and fully vegetarian. Rachana invited me over to taste her new menu and I can't help but tell you about this fabulous feast.

At Tan Bueno, Rachana welcomes you with that refreshing Mexican summer drink, an agua fresca. Her version has pineapple and mint in it and we sipped on this delicious drink all through our meal. A meal that starts off with three brilliant appetizers. There are empanadas filled with minced vegetables and carrying heat from ancho chillies. I particularly liked the pink guava and chipotle sauce that came with the empanadas.

Next we had corn arepas, crisp on the outside but pleasantly plump and full of beans. Rachana serves these Columbian street favourites with sour cream and a side of home made plantain chips. Rounding up the starter season were crisp tacos, left flat and stacked with beans, lettuce, cheese and dollops of guacamole and salsa. We were feeling pretty full by then so it helped to be in company of fellow food and travel enthusiasts so we could talk for a while before Rachana brought out her mains.



The mains have two very different and unique dishes. From Peru, Rachana brings in a potato bake in a cheese and walnut sauce that she serves with tortillas. And there is a spicier curry from Jamaica, of vegetables in peanut and chilli sauce, served with a Columbian coconut rice.

We skimped on the mains because we suspected the desserts will be worth looking forward to. And they surely were - a creamy Jamaican trifle served with fresh fruits and my personal favourite, the tres leches cake.

At Tan Bueno's popups, they play beautiful Latin American music to match the food. And they even sent us home with a bottle of salsa and a jar of home made dulce de leche to carry over the experience for the next few days. If you haven't experienced Latin American food beyond nachos and tacos, this is the perfect place to make acquaintance with some brilliant dishes. Or if you are looking to bring back memories of that last vacation you took there, as one of my fellow diners did, Rachana's food is sure to transport you.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

An Ode to Plain Rice



I grew up in Punjab. Which means only one thing rice-wise - we eat basmati. We don't eat a lot of it since Punjab is largely a wheat eating state but when we do - be it with curry or the lentil porridge (khichdi) or the rice pudding (kheer), the choice of rice is always the long grained, fragrant basmati. Now basmati is a great rice for things like biryani but it's not a cure all and over the years, I've found several new favourites to match the recipe I have in mind. After trying everything from black rice to the nutty wild rice, here is my pick of the top 5 varieties to always have in stock.

1. For Plain Rice: The kind of rice you eat with a curry. You need the grains to be soft and short, and it doesn't hurt for rice to be smushy. This is one category with multiple contenders but my favourite at the moment is the Bengali Govindobhog rice. I first discovered it at Lavaash in Delhi and it took a fair bit of hunting but Govindobhog is now available in my local hypercity as well as online. To cook govindobhog or pretty much any plain rice, you wash and soak it in plenty of water for an hour, then cook it in 2x the volume of water to rice until the water is all absorbed and the rice is cooked through. At this point, you add a tsp of ghee and that's when govindobhog goes from ordinary to brilliantly flavourful.

2. For Biryani: Nothing does the job better than the aforementioned basmati rice. Look for varieties that have been aged at least a year. Like fine wine, basmati gets better as it gets older.

3. For Khichdi: I've found that the frangrant indrayani rice, native to my adopted home state of Maharashtra, gives the most bang for the buck when making this lentil porridge. It also does a passable job in rice puddings but I've got you a better option for that.

4. For rice puddings: Yes, arborio rice is mainly meant for risottos and then frying those risottos as arancinis. But try cooking it in milk for a decadent rice pudding. Add some chopped chocolate at the end and you have a spectacular dessert at hand.

5. For fancy dinners: Nothing beats the short, sticky sushi rice. Roll yourself a sushi to impress your guests or if it's your lazy day, make yourself a grain bowl with sushi rice.

I just peeked into my fridge and apart from these five, I also seem to have stocky red rice and a purple variety. But wild colored rices are a story for another time.