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Category: Food

PASS THE PARMESAN PLEASE

MATURE OR BLUE, SOFT OR HARD, CREAMY OR FANCY, CHEESE IS ONE OF THE MOST BELOVED AND CONSUMED FOODS AROUND THE WORLD. BY NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR Everyone loves a good…

MATURE OR BLUE, SOFT OR HARD, CREAMY OR FANCY, CHEESE IS ONE OF THE MOST BELOVED AND CONSUMED FOODS AROUND THE WORLD. BY NIVEDITA JAYARAM PAWAR

Everyone loves a good cheese. Humans have been obsessed with it ever since we discovered curdled milk was both good to eat and could be made to last. Now there are around 2,000 different varieties of cheese — from the aged gouda to stringy mozzarella. But there’s so much more you can do with cheese than just chop it up on a board and pair with crackers. You can sprinkle it on top of your steamed veggies, grate some on your pasta or stuff it in ravioli. Whatever you choose to do, cheese is simply delish in all forms.

It is also nutritious and can be incorporated into almost every meal. So it is no surprise that cheese is one of the most popular foods in the world. But although most of us eat cheese frequently, there’s probably a lot about the smelly stuff you didn’t know.

NOT ALL CHEESES ARE CREATED EQUAL

Good cheeses comes from good milk and this can vary from cow, buffalo, goat, yak… and so on. The major difference between natural and processed cheese, according to Tina Chinoy, owner of ABC Farms, one of India’s leading cheese producers, are whey and emulsifiers. “Natural cheeses have the whey pressed out of them while processed cheese do not. The processed variety also contain emulsifiers which help them be more shelf-stable and extend the cheese life,” she explains. Then there is the artisanal variety made with good quality milk and in small batches. This results in a much tastier, healthier product.

Talking of health, cheese has a bad reputation for being fattening. But it’s not all bad news. As a dairy product, cheese is a good source of calcium and Vitamin D which are essential for healthy bones. It’s also rich in other nutrients such as zinc, phosphorus, Vitamin A, Vitamin B2 and Vitamin B12. If you’re worried about the fat, varieties like parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta, cottage cheese and feta are the leanest cheese varieties. “It’s great for building and maintaining lean muscle. Many athletes love cheese for this very reason,” says Rounak Shah, a fitness trainer.

THE TASTE TEST

(Left) Bocconcinni with olives,basil, olive oil and herbs; (right) Buffalo Milk Mozzarella used in Caprese Salad by ABC Farms

There is an overwhelming variety of cheese on the supermarket shelves — some dirt-cheap and others rather pricy, some branded, others not. Though the general rule with regards to cheese (as with most things in life) is the fact that you get what you pay for. But thankfully there are a few helpful pointers.

“Before you actually taste the cheese, squeeze a small piece under your nose and then slowly take in the aroma. Since cheese is a dairy product, one sign of bad cheese is an `off’ smell. Depending on the type of cheese, this scent can be of spoiled milk, ammonia, or even of a refrigerator or freezer. Also check the rind and appearance of cheese. The small crystals in cheese suggest that the cheese is matured and aged. Soft cheeses are as spongy outside as inside. Semi-soft cheeses have a certain suppleness, but are not as supple as soft cheeses. Finally taste it to determine if it’s sweet, sour, bitter, savory or salty,” suggests chef and author Reetu Uday Kugaji.

THE RIGHT PAIRING

Taking great tasting cheese and whirring it into a dish with competing flavours may be the ultimate gourmet blasphemy. The right cheese can play a leading role in adding richness and texture to dishes. “Pick hard and aged cheese for au gratin. For stuffing go for brie, camembert or blue cheese as they have a tendency to melt quickly and blend perfectly. Strong flavored cheeses are the best for fondues. For toppings the best cheese are the ones that can crumble quickly and can be shaved easily like ricotta, feta and parmesan,” suggests Kugaji.

According to cheese consultant Aditya Raghavan cheddar is a great cheese to go in sandwiches. “Feta’s strong, briny flavour is excellent to complement sweet fruits. Watermelon-Feta Salad is slowly becoming a favourite salad the world over. Soft goat cheese has a strawlike flavour which makes it ideal with tart fruits like berries. Goat cheese dipping sauces pair great with seekh kebabs while a mild ricotta is great to be dolloped on top of a hot bowl of pasta to add creaminess,” explains Raghavan.

COOKING WITH CHEESE

Be sure to treat the cheese kindly during cooking. “Be gentle with heat. Too high a temperature or too much heating time can make its proteins tighten up, squeezing out both water and fat,” says Kugaji. If you’re shredding your cheese before cooking with it, be sure to do so while it’s cold, lest it turn to mush. This goes for hard cheeses, as well. Fresh and soft cheeses may not need to be shredded at all. You can just crumble them with your fingers, she adds.

WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW OUT

Knowing when your cheese has reached the end of its life is sometimes trickier than it seems. Each cheese ages differently and therefore spoils differently. But mold on cheese isn’t always something to worry about. According to Raghavan hard cheeses like Gouda and Cheddar aren’t easily penetrated by mold and can be used after cutting away the moldy part. With fresh cheeses like ricotta any mold is a sign of spoilage and should be discarded. But if you’re not sure what type of cheese you have or what to do if it grows mold, the safe course is to discard it.

STORING CHEESE

The shelf lives of cheeses vary from cheese to cheese. Once opened, hard cheeses like cheddar and Swiss will stay fresh for up to six months in the fridge, while softer varieties like ricotta and Brie will hold up for about a week.

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ROSEMARY: THE CULINARY ESSENTIAL

FROM BEING THE “ESSENTIAL” IN ROMAN HOMES AND KITCHEN TO THE “SECRET INGREDIENT” IN CLEOPATRA AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S BEAUTY REGIMEN AND THE MAGICAL HERB THAT MADE TURDOR’S CHRISTMAS FEAST, ROSEMARY’S…

FROM BEING THE “ESSENTIAL” IN ROMAN HOMES AND KITCHEN TO THE “SECRET INGREDIENT” IN CLEOPATRA AND QUEEN VICTORIA’S BEAUTY REGIMEN AND THE MAGICAL HERB THAT MADE TURDOR’S CHRISTMAS FEAST, ROSEMARY’S JOURNEY FROM A MEDICINAL HERB TO A CULINARY ESSENTIAL HAS BEEN PHENOMENAL. BY MADHULIKA DASH

Beer Glazed Prawns

FOR A LARGE NUMBER OF CULTURES AROUND THE WORLD, rosemary is a synonym to celebrations. It takes a smidgen of this perennial herb to perk up any dish – be it lamb, seafood, vegetable or simple potatoes. In fact, it is the interesting flavour profile, which ranges from mint-sweet-to earthy-astringent and then bitter, that makes rosemary such an exciting herb to work with for the chef. Or as Chef Paul Kinny (Director- Culinary, The Phoenix Mills Limited) describes, “A flavour palate that can be re-tuned for an exciting taste profile.”

Agrees Chef Abhishek Gupta (Executive Sous Chef, The Leela Ambience), who uses rosemary infused oil, butters and salt to give his dish that interesting, noticeable twist, without overpowering them. “The thing about rosemary,” says Chef Kinny, “is its flavour strength – it can easily overpower any other herb, including mint, its distant cousin. And like all powerful spices, rosemary too does a great solo performance than in pairs. But that doesn’t mean it cannot pair with any other spice. What it needs is a little mollycoddling. That is where a chef’s ingenuity comes through.”

An excellent example of this is Chef Gupta’s Rosemary and Maraschino Cherries Pound Cake. What makes it interesting isn’t just the slight unconventional pairing of fresh cherries, rosemary and buckwheat, but the subtle sweet, woody flavours of the herb, which makes every bite a delight. The trick to achieve this, says Chef Gupta, “was the rosemary infused oil. This enables you to use very little of rosemary to give the desired effect.”

Infusions, adds Chef Sabysachi Gorai (Owner, Mineroity By Saby), “is a very clever way of using any powerful herb given that it is a slow process of gradually extracting all the interesting aromas from a herb, especially with rosemary that can go from woody to bitter within minutes.” Chef Gorai has been using rosemary to give that interesting twist to his meats, and as a basting in some of his a la plancha dishes. “It works amazing with tubers and root vegetables as it beautifully accentuates that different woody aroma and can just enhance the dish with a light drizzle or basting.” However, the one usage of the herb the culinary wizard is very fond of is in casseroles. “Just a pinch of rosemary (fresh preferably) and you can be assured it tastes brilliant.” For Chef Navin Kumar (Executive Chef, Radisson Blu Paschim Vihar), rosemary is an elevating herb. “Rosemary is a herb that needs to be worked on, but once you know how it plays out, it can be your wondrous spice, especially when it comes to giving certain subtle dishes that extra memory palate.”

Rosemary infused meat loaf

The Roman’s favourite herb works even for Rajasthani cuisine expert Chef Aksharaj Jodha (Executive Chef, WelcomHotel Heritage, Jodhpur) when it comes to retweaking a dish for a certain kind of audience. “Unlike its usual perception of being a difficult herb to work with because of its strong notes, rosemary in fact works with many rustic dishes, relevant to different platters. Take the case of the Junglee Maas – a dish made of mutton, chillies, salt, turmeric and ghee/oil. Add rosemary to it, just a few leaves, and it just turns the dish into a palate fest while effectively masking the slight meat aftertaste. ”

Concurs Chef Deepankar Khosla (Co-owner, Karma Kismet), who even though feels that rosemary isn’t the match for Indian cuisine – “not in the conventional sense at least, can be an interesting herb for interesting interpretation.” For Chef Khosla, rosemary has worked well to up the quotient of Tangdi Kebab. And the reason for this, says the talented chef, “is marination, which is usually spice-heavy and earthy. Here the addition of rosemary – as a fresh herb or in oil – can create a contrast. The festive aroma of course comes as an added bonus.”

dim sum with rosemary

The dual act of elevating a dish and masking the negatives, while creating a new taste profile in a dish, says ChefVikas Seth (Culinary Director, Sriracha), “ is one of the many reasons make rosemary – a herb which till date was known as the European Tastemaker – one of the sought-after spices today for most chefs, who use it in a variety of ways ranging from flavouring a mild sauce to perk up the earthy dishes and even to add that element of surprise in dessert for their cuisine.”

For Chef Seth, rosemary has been a great winter addition to their Mexican roast and for the dumplings, where he pairs it with an interesting assortment of sweet seafood and lamb. In fact, adds Chef Seth, “rosemary goes really well with the starch used in dumplings. It is a matchmaker between meat, tuners and citrusy fruits, especially sweet lime. And thus opens the platform for creating sweet-savoury dishes.”

The lime and rosemary pairing also finds room in Chef Amninder Sandhu’s (Executive Chef, Arth) purely Indian menu as well, but, cautions the award winning chef, “only in the form of experimental dishes.” Case in point: the Beer Glazed Prawns with Rosemary.

“The role of rosemary here is more as a balancer of taste, given that the dish is heavy on the earthy-woody flavour. Of course, what it lends to the dish is bit more than just the aromatic, taste profile – it also ensures that the notes are intact for a long time so the dish is enjoyed from the first bite to the last.” Interestingly, it is the astringent nature of rosemary that not only makes it a darling of the culinary world, but of the bar too. Especially, says head bartender Aman Dua, “when it comes to food inspired cocktail. Like the rosemary-sweet potato whiskey cocktail we serve at Philtre. “Called the Krater, it is an ode to the basic elements that make the earth. It replicates the taste profile of the iconic rosemary sweet potato mash with the smoothness of whiskey.” Adds Dua, “I use dry rosemary to create an exotic flavour foreplay between the sweet-earthiness of sweet potato, and the nutty- floral notes of the whiskey.” No wonder, Sir Thomas More called rosemary the sacred herb of remembrance.

 

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THESE ARE A FEW OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS

SOME RENOWNED CHEFS – INDIAN AND EXPATS – REVEAL WHAT GETS THEIR GASTRIC JUICES FLOWING DURING THE FESTIVE SEASON. BY NEETA LAL Scrumptious food is the pivot around which festivities…

SOME RENOWNED CHEFS – INDIAN AND EXPATS – REVEAL WHAT GETS THEIR GASTRIC JUICES FLOWING DURING THE FESTIVE SEASON. BY NEETA LAL

Scrumptious food is the pivot around which festivities seem to flow. It is also the warp and weft of the Indian cultural fabric. Diwali, Dussehra, Onam, Christmas… India is a land of many colourful festivals celebrated by a diverse mix of people. Families bond over food, guests eat off tables groaning under the weight of countless goodies and talented home cooks and chefs bask in the glory of their beautiful creations.

But even as the chefs lay out these tantalising treats, what is it that tickles their own taste buds? Do they have any festive favourites? If yes, what are they? Some renowned chefs — Indian and expats — tell us what gets their gastric juices flowing, what flavours they’ve grown up with and what good food means to them.

MANISHA BHASIN, EXECUTIVE CHEF, MAURYA SHERATON, NEW DELHI

MANISHA BHASIN

I was pottering around in the kitchen from the age of 12 and have not looked back since then. For me, my biggest inspiration (and the world’s greatest chef) is my mother. Before her, my maternal grandmother impressed me by running an immaculate kitchen that fed a gargantuan joint family. Those were the good old days when meals meant entire families congregating around the dinner table, laughing and joking.

My mother and grandmother’s typical Punjabi recipes had a great impact on me in my formative years. Diwali meant sweets and then some. The aroma of besan (gram flour) getting slow roasted for our family’s Signature Burfi (a must for Diwali) and the pounding of elaichi (cardamom) seeds filled the air. Those delicious smells bring back fond memories for me. Gajar Halwa was another family favourite. In a true division of labour, all kids were allotted the task of grating mounds of carrots. These were then slow-cooked in milk for hours to get that perfect creamy taste and balance of flavours, and then finished with slivered almonds.

Diwali vacations in grandma’s house were bliss. We would be pampered endlessly that would result in a few added pounds. But we didn’t care. Those days people hardly went out to eat. Spending time with friends or relatives and celebrating together at home wasthe done thing. Be it numerous cups of tea or sherbet (sweet drink) or an elaborate multi-course meal. For most womenfolk, the conversation during festivities centred around food and expansive menus. I was a keen observer of all these discussions. And I can say that while I’ve learnt enormously from books and conferences, it was my mom’s kitchen that gave me my first informal induction into the larger world of pots and pans.

In retrospect, I’d say my grandfather too played a sizeable role in developing my culinary interest. I was often an apprentice to him. He taught me how to choose the best recipes and ingredients for each occasion while from my mother I learnt the virtues of patience. And from both of them I learnt that no matter how few ingredients you may have, if you put love, passion and hard work into your creations, you can never go wrong. I call this “Soul Cooking” and my guests appreciate this approach a lot.

IVAN CHIEREGATTI, EXECTUIVE CHEF, HYATT REGENCY, NEW DELHI

IVAN CHIEREGATTI

Festival time back home in Italy was a time when flavours from my mother’s kitchen would come alive and fill the house. Christmas, especially, was a family favourite and most of my nostalgic smells and flavours are rooted in that holiday. My all-time favourite Christmas recipe is Panettone, a type of Italian sweet bread loaf. The dish is extremely close to my heart as it ties together my entire childhood and life back in Italy in a fond remembrance. The dish, much like myself, hails from Milan. I’ve spent most of my youth in Milan and it is also the city where I mastered the art of cooking and hospitality. As a young boy, I remember my house smelling of orange candies around Christmas — a smell that is characteristic of Panettone.

My mother would bake fresh Panettone every few days to entertain guests who visited our home during the holidays. As soon as the baking process started, all of us in the house would gather around the kitchen, waiting eagerly for the bread to rise and land on the table. We had an unlimited supply of the sweet bread— it was a house speciality and a staple in our home. The sugary smell of candied oranges would fill me with happiness for it marked the onset of Christmas time and more importantly of celebrations.

The conversations, laughter and sense of bonding that came with good food are forever embedded in my heart. I try to recreate the same warmth in my own kitchen time and again. I still share a very special bond with my mother, who played a pivotal role in inculcating in me a love for Panettone. A seasoned baker herself, she was my first guru.

RAYMOND SIM, MASTERCHEF, R.E.D, RADISSON BLU MBD, NOIDA

Raymond Sim

As a Singaporean, my favorite Christmas and Chinese New Year dishes revolve around seafood and different meats. Mayonnaise Prawns is a dish very close to my heart. When mom would make it, the house would be redolent with its richaroma. Apart from this, Mala Fish — finger cut fish cooked till it is golden brown in colour — is another family favourite. I also love Crispy Honey Noodles in dessert which is a delectable amalgamation of ice cream and crunchy noodles. This dish sparked off my interest in experimenting with different ingredients and textures which has really helped me develop new dishes.

However, my all-time favourite dish for Christmas is duck stew. It was prepared by my father with his own secret recipe. The ingredients — apart from that one secret ingredient which I’m afraid I can’t disclose — include water, soya sauce and Chinese herbs. The dish was labourintensive and involved simmering all the ingredients with duck for hours. But it tasted heavenly and to this day I still miss that excitement when dad would cook the dish with so much love for us during Christmas. Ours was a big family and I had seven siblings. My father was a street hawker in Singapore and despite being the youngest, I would tag along with my father to his roadside stall and help him out. I was really impressed by my father’s meticulousness while cooking and the satisfaction on his face after preparing a good dish. This inspired me to take up cooking and become a good chef myself. From the family stall, I slowly graduated to working in restaurants and hotels in Singapore and now I’ve been at Radisson Blu for 14 years. When I am at home with my family in Singapore, usually during Christmas and New Year, my wife does all the cooking and indulges me with all my family favourites.

VELUMURUGAN, MASTERCHEF, DAKSHIN, SHERATON, NEW DELHI

VELUMURUGAN

Kerala Style Raw Mango Fish Curry, or Meen Manga Curry cooked with raw mangoes, spices and green chillies is my favourite festive dish. It is a must in my house in a Kerala village during Onam. My love for the dish is rooted in my childhood when I would eat raw mangoes with salt. My grandma would often make Meen Manga during the harvest season. And I would eagerly wait for her to finish making the dish, so we could all dig in.

Meen Manga is an authentic South Indian dish with robust flavours and its heady aroma brings back fond childhood memories. In South India, fish curry is a festival staple, especially during Onam. It has a distinct and lingering flavour and tastes delicious. The tang in the curry is usually from tamarind paste or juice. However, the best taste comes from combining the seer fish with raw mangoes especially when the fruit is in season. My mom used to try making different types of fish curry with tamarind, coconut milk, curry or spices. But my favourite was the one she made with raw mango. The piquancy of mangoes combined with fish pieces, coconut paste and spices, makes this dish so special. Any type of fish can be used to make this curry, but it should be fresh. One can also use Kora (Indian Salmon/ threadfin) or sardines (mathi) and barracuda (sheela). But for me seer works best for Meen Manga.

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KNOW YOUR SAMOSAS

UNKNOWN TO MANY, THE HUMBLE SAMOSA COMES WITH A RICH HISTORY, HAS NUMEROUS VARIATIONS AND IS ALSO POPULAR IN MANY COUNTRIES ABROAD. BY AARTI KAPUR SINGH Lets get this straight…

UNKNOWN TO MANY, THE HUMBLE SAMOSA COMES WITH A RICH HISTORY, HAS NUMEROUS VARIATIONS AND IS ALSO POPULAR IN MANY COUNTRIES ABROAD. BY AARTI KAPUR SINGH

Lets get this straight at the very outset. The ubiquitous samosa – our very own popular snack at every railway station, every city bazaar and every canteen – was never ours. Yes, it is true.

Be it an evening chat with friends at the street corner khoka, or a sophisticated business meeting in an air-conditioned room, the call for a samosa remains a constant. But the neatly folded, tightly packed savoury goodness that we thought belonged to India actually travelled here all the way from Central Asia centuries ago. But thanks to its amazing appeal, it cleverly adapted to the local’s tastes and happily settled among the foodies of South Asia (yes, it is even popular in China and Korea) and became a staple offering.

From Egypt to Libya and from Central Asia to India, the stuffed triangle with different names has garnered immense popularity. Originally named samsa, after the pyramids in Central Asia, historical accounts also refer to it as sanbusak, sanbusaq or even sanbusaj, all deriving from the Persian word, sanbosag. The samosa is claimed to have originated in the Middle East (where it is known as sambosa ). Abolfazl Beyhaqi (995-1077), an Iranian historian, mentioned it in his tome Tarikh-e Beyhaghi.

Aloo Samosa

Samosas were introduced to the Indian subcontinent in the 13th or 14th century by traders from Central Asia. Amir Khusro (1253–1325), a scholar and the royal poet of the Delhi Sultanate, wrote in around c. 1300 CE that the princes and nobles enjoyed the “samosa prepared from meat, ghee, onion and so on”. Ibn Battuta, a 14th-century traveller and explorer, describes a meal at the court of Muhammad bin Tughluq, where the samushak or sambusak, a small pie stuffed with minced meat, almonds, pistachios, walnuts and spices, was served before the third course of pulao. The Ain-i-Akbari, a 16th-century Mughal document, mentions the recipe for qutab, which it says, “the people of Hindustan call sanbúsah”. Samosas were brought to India by various Muslim merchants, and patronized under various Islamic dynasties in the region. In South Asia, it was introduced by the Middle Eastern chefs during the Delhi Sultanate rule, although some accounts credit traders for bringing the fare to this part of the world. Nevertheless, from its humble beginnings — in older days, people would cook the mince-filled triangles over campfire and eat them as snacks during travel — the samosa has come a long way. And after having earned the blessings of Indian royalty, the snack soon became food fit for the king.

Punjabi Samosa

Commonly, samosa is the gorgeous, deep-fried, twisted pack of spicy goodness that oozes with chicken, meat or potato. Few family gatherings or iftar parties are complete without this signature snack. There are few snacks that couple as perfectly with tea as samosa, and the chai-samosa team is probably the reason behind thousands of brainstorming sessions and heated discussions.

The samosa offers you the ultimate tongue seduction. The tantalising taste emanates from the triangular tetrahedral golden-fried pastry, filled with spiced mashed potato and vegetables, or ground minced meats. The varieties available in samosa know no limits. From the regular, meat/potato stuffing to spinach, corn and peas, to sweet halwa or coconut filling, the list is endless. The adventurous few may even want to foray into seafood samosas. Just dip them into chutney of your choice (those who even imagine samosas with ketchup, please reassess your priorities), and savour the taste that has weaved its magic forever.

After its arrival in India, the samosa was adapted as a vegetarian dish in Uttar Pradesh. Centuries later, it is one of the most popular vegetarian snacks in India. In North India, the pastry is prepared from maida flour and houses fillings such as a mixture of mashed boiled potato, green peas, onion, green chilli and spices.

Samosas with red chutney

Meat samosas are also common in North India and Pakistan, with lamb and chicken being the most popular fillings. Paneer is another popular filling in northern India.

Samosas are served hot, and usually eaten with a fresh chutney such as mint, carrot, or tamarind. In Punjabi households, dhabas and street stalls, samosa is served with a chickpea curry called channa.

Another popular variation in Indian street food is the Samosa Chaat. The samosa is topped with yoghurt, tamarind chutney, finely chopped onions, and masala. The contrasting flavours, textures and temperatures are sensational. Street food gastronomes, particularly in Mumbai and Maharashtra, are familiar with the Samosa Paav. This is a samosa served in a fresh bun and it is like an Indian samosa burger. This is also how it is served in Kasauli and Shimla – and the bun samosa available in these hills is a major tourist attraction.

The sweet samosa, known as a Mawa or Gujiya Samosa is also eaten in some parts of India, particularly to celebrate Diwali. In some parts of northern India, varieties of sweet samosas include dried fruit. In south India, samosas are influenced by the local cuisine and they are made with south Indian spices. They are also folded differently and usually eaten without chutney. As well as the familiar ingredients, South Indian samosas may also include carrots, cabbage and curry leaves. In Hyderabad, the samosa is known as lukhmi and has a thicker pastry crust and is usually filled with minced meat. The Goan samosa is known as a chamuça and is made with minced pork or chicken.

Fried samosa with chocolate sauce

In the globalised world of today, the growing popularity of fusion food has witnessed the advent of the pizza samosa, the macaroni samosa and even Maggi samosa. Dessert varieties inspired by Western cuisine include the apple pie samosa, chocolate samosa and even an ice cream samosa. Another innovation is to make the samosa healthier by baking it instead of frying it, and packing it full of fresh vegetables.

The samosa has become so mainstream that it is now sold in big chain supermarkets. It is available as ready meal, as a ready-to-eat snack in the deli section, and as a frozen food item. Frozen samosas are increasingly available at grocery stores in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom.

Samosas are a truly international food enjoyed by millions in various countries (see boxitem). Whether you are travelling to one of the countries, or just sitting in your living room at home, wow your taste buds with the taste of the humble yet fiery samosa.

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FLAVOURS OF PUNJAB

THERE’S MORE TO PUNJABI CUISINE THAN THE OVER-HYPED BUTTER CHICKEN AND THE PANEER DISHES. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO Even 22 years after seeing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I can vividly…

THERE’S MORE TO PUNJABI CUISINE THAN THE OVER-HYPED BUTTER CHICKEN AND THE PANEER DISHES. BY BINDU GOPAL RAO

Even 22 years after seeing Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I can vividly recall the song Tujhe dekha to and the beautiful mustard farm it was picturised in. The sight of the yellow flowers amidst verdant greenery has always been stuck in my mind. Imagine then, my joy when I recently went to Punjab to explore the state’s culture and cuisine – and landed there in the midst of the mustard harvesting season. I was treated to rows and rows of unending yellow and green fields that instantly uplifted my spirits on my maiden visit to the Land of Five Rivers.

Say Punjab and the immediate association is of food. As much as it is a cliché, I always think of Punjabis as people who love food. While I found this to be true, I also discovered that there is so much more to the cuisine beyond the done-to-death butter chicken and paneer dishes. It is no coincidence that Punjab has always had a rich food culture. It is said that the Maharaja of Patiala was a food connoisseur who ensured his cooks write out their recipes in detailed manuscripts.

I started my food trail in Amritsar at Pul Kanjari close to the India-Pakistan border and followed it up with a pind or farm visit. The first thing that caught my attention was the amazing array of pickles from carrot and turnip to cauliflower and even quail meat. There were also items like Shikar da Achar and Dehu da Achar as well as amla and apple murabbas – they make for a compelling sight and taste awesome too. While the ubiquitous lassi is always a big favourite, I suggest you try the Kaali Gajar Ki Kanji made with seasonal black carrot, mustard seeds and asafoetida allowed to dry under the sun in a container and fermented for a few days. The tangy drink has a sweet sour taste and is brilliant pink in colour.

The best part is that the inherent nature of the cuisine is simple and focuses on using traditional methods of preparation that retain the taste, flavour and nutrients. The spices are robust and coarsely grounded. They are never pureed in a mixie and it is always about cooking the food slowly and allowing it to cook overnight on a low flame. Gurpreet Singh, Corporate Chef, Punjab Grill, explains, “Most often Punjabi cuisine is synonymous with North Indian cuisine and it is limited to butter chicken, dal makhani and butter naan. However these are not Punjabi dishes at all. There are many dishes that are unexplored. In Punjab it is all about farming and the focus is on seasonal food. So while in Italy you have olive oil, you have mustard oil here. In winters, you have the divine sarson da saag and the ghobi shalgam achaar and makki (corn flour) and bajra (a millet) that make the food special.”

Lal Lobiya

So you have mouth-watering nonvegetarian delicacies like Tawa Tikka (a cutlet cooked on slow heat), Mutton Chaamp (spicy mutton mince cutlets), Amritsari Machchi (a river fish called Singhada cooked in traditional spices), Bhunna Ghosht (a mutton dish) and Charga Kukkad (a pan fried chicken dish). The vegetarian fare is equally extensive. The Methi Paneer (a fenugreek based dish), Gajar aur Gobhi di sabzi (a curry with carrot and cauliflower), Lal Lobiya (a kidney bean preparation) and Harra Cholliya Pulao (a rice dish with fresh green channa) figure high on the list of must-eats. Also, the wadi is a key feature of the food. These are lentils that are soaked, pureed and sun dried and can be used to enhance the flavour of the food – in the curries and even in rice. The variety of desserts is also amazing and the Malpua is made without dipping it in chashni (sugar syrup). Likewise Amritsar has its unique fruit cream and also Ganne Wale Chawal (rice cooked in sugar cane juice). The Khoye De Barfi, Gajjar Halwa and Makhane Di Kheer are also great options to try while you are in Punjab.

Chargha Chicken

The key feature in the cuisine is to keep the food fresh and literally have a farm-to-fork experience. Delving deep into the cuisine, I chat with Rama Ranjit Mehra who is a Medical Practitioner and founder of Ranjit’s SVAASA, a heritage boutique spa haveli in Amritsar. She explains, “Cooking in a handi put on a fire overnight especially the sarson ka saag and maa ki dal is the traditional way of cooking.

Methi Aloo is also famous here and the interesting part is that the potato is cooked with the skin as it is rich in nutrients and is specifically cooked in mustard oil. The old Punjabi folks like food that is served just off the flame. Also, the atta (wholewheat flour) is never put in the fridge. It is always kneaded fresh, first half done and then rested and again kneaded so that the rotis are fresh.”

In fact the aroma of the food cooked in this manner is captivating and the use of pure ghee is extensive. Also, a variety of digestives or churans are mandatory after the meal. So you have the pomegranate or Anardhana Churan that is a must after a heavy meal.

In fact the Yajur Veda (an ancient Hindu scripture devoted to the worship of the gods) has a verse that beautifully encapsulates Punjabi food: “May I prosper through the sacrifice and have plenty milk, ghee, honey and enjoy food with my kith and kin. May I have freedom from hunger and have my bins full of wheat, lentils and all other grains.”

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THE BALANCING ACT

Fish Curry with mixed spices including gamboge. IT’S WHAT KOKUM is to Konkani cuisine, aamchur to north India and tamarind to the rest; and yet, the role of gambooge or…

Fish Curry with mixed spices including gamboge.

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IT’S WHAT KOKUM is to Konkani cuisine, aamchur to north India and tamarind to the rest; and yet, the role of gambooge or kodampulli, which is perhaps one of the oldest known spices of the culinary world, both as a herb and a spice, is much complicated than its peers. Part of its exception comes from its own properties – rich in hydroxycitric acid and garcinia, it can treat a slew of conditions that range from obesity to oedema. Much like its medicinal peers, triphila or even kokum (with which it is often confused because of the similar taste profile), gambooge cannot be consumed in its fruit avatar, which looks like a beautiful pumpkin but is far sour than any human palate can tolerate and needs to be manipulated by first sun drying and then smoking. This, says Chef SabyasachiGorai (FabricaBySaby), gives the spice not only its unique taste character and complication, but also that bitterness with an extra hint of tanginess, which makes it an amazing choice to balance out dishes. Concurs Chef SandeepSreedharan, who uses gambooge in a variety of ways but is rather fond of the cocktail he prepares as a palate cleanser for his special sit-down menus. “The beauty of this rather not-sopretty ingredient,” he says “is its complicated flavour profile. You have to really work more with this spice to understand how beautifully it can lend itself to the dish — be it fish or otherwise — along with the back of the palate smokiness.” An excellent example of how differently it can influence a dish taste, while balancing all its flavours is the Pandi Curry and the famous Kerala Red Fish Curry, even sambar and rasam. No surprise then that kodumpulli is one of the essentials in any Kerala home, especially, says Deccan cuisine specialist Chef Arun Kumar TR (Zeaside), “in Syrian Christian cooking, where it is used to make all kinds of fish and pork dishes, and even sweet coconut milk-based beverages too. The Hindu community of Kerala also is fond of this smoky spice, and pairs it with tomatoes or tamarind to maximize the taste.” Tamarind in fact, add experts, was once a substitute for thisspice, which is considered a close cousin of kokum and can be as versatile. In fact, according to old trade ledgers and Ayurvedic cooking practices, kodampulli was used across meals and sweet beverages served in the port stations to traders arriving and departing to their country. It was then, say historians, “considered to be the magical pill that could cure everything and work the body’s immunity system to take on the vagaries of the sea.” Of course, its popularity back then was not always for its healing properties, but also the smokiness that made every dish breathtaking. Folklore has it that dishes and beverages made of kodampulli were so appealing to the visiting traders that many merchants staying back decided to take it up as one of the main ingredients in their cooking, the Syrian Christian community being chief among them. Kodumpulli’s versatility, adds Chef Gorai, “especially when it was paired with tamarind, kokum, coconut milk or even fragrant herbs and later chillies too, was one of the main reasons that it was so widely used across coastal plains. And good kodampulli, like any other herb, was considered a prize possession.” After all, it could treat any form of intestinal infections and even help lose weight. The recent rediscovery and realization of its properties has also made it a darling of the medicine world, where it is now widely used. Even today, the making of a good kodampulli, adds Chef Kumar, “depends on how well you have smoked the berry fragments. Done well, one can actually bite into a sliver of the spice-herb without cringing and can taste the bitterness and the smokiness quite well.” Interestingly, smoking herbs was a technique used in Ayurveda and Rasayana (the art of cooking) developed on the lines of creating dishes that work to heal and rejuvenate the body. However, kodampulli was an exception since its addition, when and how, made a lot of difference. If you leave it longer for instance, says Chef Kumar, “or in a larger quantity than required, there is a good chance that the food can turn bitter, even unpalatable. And what’s interesting is that the dish is not really repairable, unlike tamarind, which is a malleable flavourant.” This could explain why most dishes that are cooked with gambooge follow a strict guideline and it is advised, says Chef Kumar, “to start by using the juice instead of the cured fruit directly to get a good understanding of how the flavours work.”

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MEEN CURRY
Recipe and image courtesy Curry Tales/SandeepShreedharan

INGREDIENTS

  • Surmai/Rawas 400 gm
  • Coconut oil 4 tbsp
  • Onion, chopped 2 tbsp
  • Ginger, chopped 2 tsp
  • Garlic, chopped 2 tsp
  • Green chillies, slit in half 4 nos
  • Tomatoes 2 nos
  • Red chilli powder 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder 1 tsp
  • Kodumpulli 4 nos
  • Curry leaf 1 sprig
  • Salt To taste

FOR THE PASTE:

  • Coconut, grated 1 cup
  • Whole cumin 1 tsp

METHOD

  • Saute onion, ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Once the ingredients start sweating, add red chilli powder, turmeric powder, the coconut paste and tomatoes.
  • Cook for a minute or two, and then add two cups of water and add salt.
  • Once the ingredients are well incorporated, add the kodumpuli. and let it simmer for five minutes.
  • Add the fish pieces and slow cook for another five minutes.
  • Before turning off the heat, drizzle the coconut oil and a few curry leaves. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving it with rice.
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AT THE HEART OF INDIAN CUISINES

THERE IS AN AMAZING VARIETY OF RED CHILLIES AVAILABLE LOCALLY AND THEIR TASTE AND SPICE LEVEL VARY, MAKING THIS EASILY ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING SPICES TO WORK WITH IN…

THERE IS AN AMAZING VARIETY OF RED CHILLIES AVAILABLE LOCALLY AND THEIR TASTE AND SPICE LEVEL VARY, MAKING THIS EASILY ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING SPICES TO WORK WITH IN THE INDIAN KITCHEN.
WHAT IS COMMON TO BHUT JOLOKIA, Byadagi, Bird Eye, Jwala, Guntur and Kanthari? All of them are varieties of red chilli – the spice you may love or hate but can never ignore. “Chillies are integral to Indian cooking and most of us Indians have developed stomachs of steel having grown up eating chillies. Used in almost every dish, it’s a major commercial cash crop in our nation and though the chilli arrived in India only in the 16th century, it has now become synonymous with our cuisines,” says Swadeep Popli, Owner, The Chatter House, New Delhi.
Red Chilli is mostly used in three forms: fresh red, dried red and powdered red. Kashmiri chillies are mild and therefore one of the most popularly used variants across the country. “Guntur chillies from Andhra Pradesh add heat due to their high spice quotient. Dhani or Bird Eye chillies from North India are commonly used for cooking, pickling and in the preparation of chutneys. Naga chillies are one of the hottest in the world. Mundu chillies from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh enhance flavour. Jwala chillies from Gujarat are a very popular variant and are used extensively in home-style cooking. The unique and flavoursome Kanthari chillies from Kerala are pale when ripe and mature. Karnataka’s Byadagi dry chillies are long and thin, and are very similar to paprika,” says Chef Subrata Debnath, Executive Chef, Vivanta by Taj – Gurgaon. Sunil Agarwal, Director, Kraft Appliances, adds, “Punjabi and Rajasthani cuisines are well-known for their spicy food and using red chillies in abundance. Red chillies are dried or pickled in order to store them for a longer period of time. They are also used extensively for making sauces which are used to add spice to other dishes.”

India is the largest producer of red chillies in the world besides being the largest exporter and consumer of the same. “Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of chillies in India with more than five of the 18 to 20 chilli types in India as identified by The Spices Board of India. Our country boasts of multiple regional cuisines and the food taste varies literally from one state to the other. So, depending on the state cuisine, the chillies are used accordingly,” says Chef Ravi Saxena, Corporate Chef, Dhaba By Claridges, which operates restaurants in Bengaluru, Gurgaon and Hyderabad.
Apart from being used as a tempering, there are several dishes that use red chillies as the main ingredient like Rajasthani Lal Maas, Awadhi Mirchi Korma and Goan Pork Vindaloo. Satyajit Kotwal, GM, The Resort Hotel, Mumbai, explains, “Chillies are used widely for pickling purpose. Whole/chopped red as well as green chillies are used along with other spices to make them into delicious pickles. Also, dishes are made using whole chillies – it could be Mirch ka Salan or Mirch ka Pakoda.”
India cooks with chillies that have always been known as ingredients that add spice to Indian food. “In ready-to-eat salads, chaats or chutneys, fresh red chillies give a great aroma and taste. However if my recipe calls for cooking chillies then I prefer using powdered option when I need velvety texture in my curries and crushed dry chillies when using for tempering or making a dry preparation,” says Chef Akshay Nayyar, Co-owner, Kopper Kadai, Bengaluru.

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Most of them are fiery in nature but chillies score high on their health benefits. This is primarily due to a chemical called capsaicin. This chemical is well-known for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and heart-healthy benefits. “Also, chillies are rich in antioxidant carotenes and flavonoids – they have about twice the amount of vitamin C found in most citrus fruits. The heating nature of chillies is associated with their ability to stoke the digestive fire so chilli powder is often added to buttermilk and consumed to boost appetite and strengthen digestion. They are great for speeding up the metabolism and thus, would be really helpful to those trying to lose weight,” says Shivangi Chatterji, an Ayurvedic Expert at AllAyurveda.com.
If you have a headache due to cold, mix a little chilli paste with sandalwood paste to make a fast-acting, pain relieving poultice. Diabetics can benefit from this spice by mixing a few drops of chilli oil with isabgol (psyllium husk) and consuming it twice a day. This also helps those with bacterial infections such as UTIs. Navin Kacherla, owner of The Charcoal Kitchen, Mumbai, avers, “A good quantity of red chillies added to food can be a good source of Vitamin C. However, an excess of it can cause acidity and heart burn. Indian food without red chilli often misses the essence of flavours required.” Tanu Arora, Head of Department, Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Aakash Healthcare, adds, “Red chillies have rich contents like Vitamin C and Provitamin A. It also helps in clearing the congestion of stuffed noses and congested lungs.”
Chillies are the heart and soul of different cuisines across India – they are cultivated in different parts of the country, and are one of the most important ingredients in Indian recipes. “Fresh green or red chillies are used in salads and pickles and are also ground to a paste, for various marinades. Dried and roasted red chillies are commonly used for tempering curries while the ground red chili powder is used to enhance flavours of curries,” says Chef Saurabh Udinia, Chef de Cuisine – Modern Indian, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd.
Chillies are known as the queen of spices and have a lot more to offer apart from just adding spices. Executive Chef Anil Dahiya, The Bristol Hotel, Gurgaon, advises, “Each palate has a distinct level of tolerance for spice; use your judgment to increase or reduce the quantity of chilli pepper in your food as suited to you and your family. Children don’t have a well-developed spice palate; like all other foods, it helps to introduce spices in small amounts from a young age to build their liking for flavours.”
Excessive usage of red chillies can not only make a dish unfit but can also become bitter and excessively spicy if overused. Chef Paul Kinny, Shizusan Shophouse & Bar, Mumbai, advises, “While making red chilli paste, add vinegar instead of water as this will increase the shelf life and add a tangy taste to the paste. While tempering the chilli be careful not to burn it as it could ruin the entire dish.”
Vikas Kumar, Executive chef, Flurys, Park Street, Kolkata, adds, “One of the most important things to understand about red chilli is the fact that it can vary a lot in its hotness/ spiciness and must be used with extreme care and restraint. There really is no way to balance a dish that has turned to be too spicy due to the use of the chilli and there is also no way to add extra chilli once a dish is ready, since it requires a certain cooking technique.”
Chef Milan Gupta, Cafe Haqq Se, Mumbai, has the final word when he says, “Never add too much chilli in the beginning in the recipe as the oil released from it will take some time before it permeates evenly through the dish.”

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