Saturday, July 27, 2019

A Jugalbandi of Chefs - Bomra's at O'Pedro Off season popup

Chef Bawmra Jap of Bomra's Goa
and Chef Hussain Shahzad of O'Pedro, Mumbai
On Thursday I attended a media preview of the 'Bomra's at O Pedro' pop-up. I am told this is the first of many (I hope) delicious ‘Off Season’ collaborations O’Pedro is looking at hosting. (Goan eateries typically shut down in the monsoons and O Pedro plans to take advantage by having them pop up in Mumbai). In this first one, Chef Bawmra Jap brings the magic of popular Bomra’s to Mumbai. When I first heard of it, I was excited to go try Bomra's food. They were on my list after winning in the CNT awards last year. On arriving and settling down however, I discovered, that the menu on offer was not classic Bomra’s but more a jugalbandi between Chef Bawmra and Chef Hussain. Bawmra’s strength is his fundamental grip on Burmese/Asian flavours and Hussain’s his knowledge of Goan/Portuguese cuisine. I love discovering classic cuisines and flavours, but I also find menus like this, where talented food minds get creative, extremely exciting!

Against a background of O Pedro’s happy vibe and the company of some of Mumbai's most interesting food writers, Primrose Monteiro D’souza, Pallavi Mehra and Nivedita Jayaram Pawar along with Chef Hussain and Bawmra made for a memorable meal full of great food and riveting conversation at our table!

Here is what I ate (mostly) and drank (sparingly from others since I don’t have sugar) from a menu of small and large plates.

Rahul, the mixologist kindly made me a no-sugar version of Bomra’s Gin Fizz (gin, triple sec, kaffir lime and Ginger Tincture, egg white and tonic water). I also tasted the other cocktails thanks to my generous dining companions. There was also a lovely Candolim Punch (rum, sesame milk, jaggery, cinnamon and lime) that came with a bowl of fruit. The idea being to eat little mango and coconut then chase it with the punch. The cocktails were nuanced and thankfully not overly sweet. There’s also a Kokum Gose beer on offer for the beer lovers.

Scampi Ceviche by the
 "Ceviche Chef" Hussain
The meal started with a selection of small plates. Happily, for me, the first one was a Scampi Ceviche. I love any of the dishes that belong to the raw cured meat /seafood dishes family, ceviche, tartare, poke, crudo, carpaccio. And (as I told him) I crowned of Chef Hussain, with the ‘khitab’ of Ceviche Chef long ago because he’s showcased so many stellar versions of ceviche throughout various menu changes at O Pedro. The Scampi ‘Ceviche’ had fresh scampi against a backdrop of yuzu ponzu sauce, topped with Burmese coriander, kaffir lime, and mango ginger. The zingy yuzu and highly aromatic, spicy herb combination added just the right liveliness to the dish without overwhelming the sweet soft textures of the scampi. One more leaf in the Hussain’s ‘Ceviche Chef’ in my opinion.

As the next dish came to the table, the conversation between the chefs veered towards eating exotic meats in Vietnam. Snake and crocodile are overrated, we were told, and turtle (although controversial) is delicious but both balked at the thought of consuming snake blood. I’ve eaten a lot of these exotic meats in my time, and I agree, but at that moment, I was to focus on the beautiful and far more plebeian rice paper rolls before me. Shiso, avocado and raw mango wrapped in rice paper, offered bright lively contrast to monsoon heavy skies outside. So subtly delicious on their own with the shiso adding a burst of flavour, they did not really need the killer Passion fruit hot sauce they came with. But the sauce was so good, we unanimously elected to hold on to it to keep dipping into throughout the meal.

Then subsequent dish almost dethroned Hussain as Ceviche king (the technicality that it was a tartare and the fact that he put it together on Bawmra’s direction made the difference.) To paint a picture with broad strokes Tartare are the meat versions of seafood-based Ceviche. Usually containing raw meat finely minced or ground served with assorted seasonings depending on the flavour profile of the meal. The Tartare we were served was literally put together on a whim that morning, so it is not on the menu. B*** was minced with Burmese herbs and plated with smoked marrow on top. It was served with little crackers (of Sago I think) on the side. It will tell you how good it was that while everyone tasted and talked around me, I proceeded to polish off every bite of this dish at our table with quiet concentration. Some things, you might never get again in life, after all!

Bawmras Jugalbandi Tartare
as executed by Hussain. 
"I just talk, and he puts it together," laughed Bawmra as he spooned some onto my plate. Hussain agrees. "It's like he is here on holiday, having fun randomly throwing ideas at me and leaving me to figure it out!" But beyond the happy banter, are threads of strong mutual respect and intrinsic understanding of the other’s ideas.
Like the Tartare, many dishes on the menu are a result of the unique synergy of food language between these two chefs. Add the catalyst of trips to Vietnam, much hanging out in Goa over drinks, games of SallyBally (water volleyball), impromptu midnight beef stew, liberally seasoned with herbs and flavourings Hussain has flagrantly stolen from Bawmra’s kitchen garden in Goa and we have an indescribable, irresistible mix of food and fun! As we continued to find out.

Smoked Corn Gnocchi
Next came a Smoked Corn Gnocchi on a bed of banana flower ragu and black sesame puree. The ‘Gnocchi’ is inspired by a Burmese dish called Mont Let Po, or ‘snack balls’ found all over the country. The Banana flower ragu and Black sesame puree are Hussain’s addition. The combination was quite lovely, the gnocchi chewy, the ragu rich in texture and subtle sweetness, the sesame puree lending earthy nuttiness. But this and a tofu curry that came later, were the quietest (though no less flavourful) dishes on a menu that in my opinion, was full of far more flamboyantly flavoured dishes.

Char Grilled Quail in Cherry Teriyaki
Char-Grilled Quail Skewers followed. Small barbeque ‘grills’ assembled out of terracotta flower-pots topped with wire frames bearing what looked like doll sized chicken legs (quail look like miniature chicken legs). Quail is ridiculously easy to overcook to dry nothingness, so I was happy to see these had been handled deftly. Brushed with a cherry teriyaki sauce and cooked to smokey perfection they are quickly wiped out by us. (I shamelessly used my high protein diet to snag a couple of extra pieces here!)

Tofu Curry with Pelata (in the background)
The large plates began with Tofu Curry with roasted pumpkin and lotus root chips and Burmese Palatha (Kerala Parotta’s Burmese doppelganger). 

Spicy Rice Noodles
with Shan Tofu Sauce 
Then came delicious Spicy Rice Noodles with Shan tofu Sauce. The noodles tossed with crisp sautéed snow peas, broccoli and crushed peanuts were fantastic, spicy and perfectly balances. That said I found the Shan tofu sauce was redundant. In Burmese cuisine Shan tofu is chickpea flour tofu. And Shan Tofu sauce is chickpea flour sauce. But for a palate that has tasted the more complex flavours of Gatta and Kadhi, the first is a bland version of Gatta, and the second looks and tastes like a bland Kadhi.

The two large plates that blew me away were the Steamed Fish and B*** Curry

I have fond memories from the first time I ate steamed fish years ago, so this option of Steamed Fish in banana leaves with a mixture of Asian herbs with Burmese Junglee Sauce had me excited. I LOVED every bite, the fish was juicy and flaky topped with a combination of herbs, Burmese coriander (that has a flavour of betel leaves) shiso, green chillies, coriander and more was fantastic. But be warned, this one is spicy, even without the fiery jungle sauce and even for a chilli head like me! I had to quench the fire with generous sips of Tom Yum Iced tea (house made Thai spice infused vodka, rum, gin, triple sec, jaggery, lime).

Candolim Midnight B*** stew
Thankfully the Candolim Midnight B**f Stew, also helped settle the burn. It came accompanied with the rider, “availability determines ingredients, number of cocktails consumed determines the flavour...” and it is over bowlfuls of this same stew that much of this menu was cooked up between Bawmra and Hussain. We got a version that included a large marrow bone requiring the rich marrow be scooped out into the curry. Falling-off-the-bone tender meat, tender chunks of melt-in-mouth marrow and a beautiful silky gravy accompanied by a subtly flavoured Coconut & Edamame rice made a supremely satisfying end to the meal for me! 
While I did take a bite of the Lemongrass Crème Brulee, with spiced biscotti and candied ginger that was dessert, it did not ring any high notes for me after that meal.

Coconut Edamame rice with Candolim B*** Stew
Like any great musical jugalbandi, this meal was a fantastic melding of two great chef's cooking philosophies (and quirks!) that came together in a gloriously flamboyant whole of flavours and textures. One of those experiences that one is fortunate to get a taste of but cannot be replicated again. So go get your fix before the festival ends! 

The Bomra’s at O’Pedro menu is available 27 July - 14 Augus 2019. Most of the above dishes will be available on 27/28 July, and a selection will be available post that until 14 Aug. All on a-la-carte basis (starters from Rs 425, mains from Rs 550, cocktails from Rs 550). At O’Pedro, BKC, Mumbai.

With Chef Hussain and Chef Bawmra outside O'Pedro

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Seasonal Eating – Monsoon’s foraged vegetables of Maharashtra

Thanks to the charmed food geek life I lead, I’m surrounded by friends and colleagues who are happy to fuel my curiosities. Recently I was fortunate enough to get my hands on some indigenous pre-monsoon wild vegetables from the Sahyadris, thanks to the folks at Triple OOO farms. It led to a wonderful day of documenting the ingredients and cooking with them.

According to traditional Indian dietetics, we eat what is in season. The cereal-pulse aspect of the Indian diet stays fairly uniform around the country. Year-round, we eat a diet in which lentils and cereals provide the bulk of meals, their repetitive monotony is made exciting by with vegetables that provide taste, texture and flavour variants to daily meals, varying according to season. With the advent of the Monsoons our diet changes.

Circumvent the carrot, cauliflower, beans offerings of the supermarket and forage through your local subzi markets. You will discover an amazing variety of seasonal vegetables. Methi is one green that is available year-round. Gourds, cucumbers, squashes also abound. As do (thanks to their hardiness) tubers like yam or suran, tapioca and bulbs like onions and garlic. And then there are the greens that come into season during the monsoons. Some for just a few days, others for the entire season. These are eaten to keep digestion sound and health optimal. As I write, the last of the Phodsi, Takla, Shevlya, are being consumed and the first of the Moras Bhaji, spiky Teasel Gourd and Colocassia are coming in.

But for some of us who can go beyond the city, there is an even larger monsoon bounty waiting to be discovered. Right here in Maharashtra, just a little over 2 hours from Mumbai, lie the Sahyadris, where the local tribals subsist on a diet rich in foraged wild foods that come into season in the monsoons. Some of these such as the Takla, Phodshi and Shevlya even make it to Mumbai Markets from Arey and surrounding forest areas. In fact if you follow some of our local food experts like Saee and Soumitra, and chefs like Zach you might have seen a lot of conversations around these lately.   

Foraging is a hot trend these days, thanks to Chefs like Rene Redzepi at Noma. Closer home, Chef Prateek Sadhu is doing some very interesting work in this space at Masque. But foraged foods have always been an integral part of global traditional food systems. I first clued into the huge repertoire of foraged foods in Maharashtra when Dr. Kurush Dalal wrote about Raanachya Bhajya (Forrest Greens or vegetables) them on his blog. And then I explored some more, realising that in India many regional cuisines supplement their diets with foraged foods. I know Garhwali cuisine uses many foraged foods such as wild figs, a fruit called Kaphal, stinging nettle, and fiddle head ferns. Similarly I know that the Assamese food Gitika Saikia cooks uses a lot of foraged foods like fiddlehead ferns, wild cardamom, ant eggs and silkworm larvae. Things not seen in the mainstream. And then, thanks to the passionate folks at Triple OOO I got a chance to actually learn about the wild foods of the Sahyadris.
Wild versions of  familiar veggies, 
Green Pumkin, Drumsticks, White gourd (Doodhi),
Cucumber, Onion,  Sweet Potato, Eggplants, Okra, Bitter Gourd
An organisation set up by Karan and Pranav Khandelwal, Shailesh Awate and Abhay Bhatia Triple OOO Farms work with the Adivasis of the Sahyadris to conserve the ecosystem of their area by encouraging local farmers to cultivate indigenous seeds and propagate holistic traditional farming practices. Working here over the last few years, they discovered the Adivasis have a traditional diet that is extremely high in nutrition from eating a lot of foraged wild foods. Unfortunately as a result of commerce, unscrupulous traders and aspirations they were losing this traditional food knowledge.

Pranav Khandelwal, Shailesh Awate and Abhay Bhatia
 of Triple OOO farms
In a move to bring pride in their own foods back to them the folks at Triple OOO have been educating and propagating use of these wild foods in their home region as well as making food aficionados in Mumbai more aware of them. They first brought them to Mumbai at a Wild Foods festival last year, which is when I met them. We stayed in touch ever since and they have continued to fuel my explorations in local ingredients, bringing me all sorts of indigenous grains, fruit, herbs, vegetables and all manner of things to discover.

Here are some of the plants I got a chance to play with:

Phodshi and Takla (Dont have a picture) – are available in Mumbai markets June - end September. Both are powerhouses of minerals, vitamins and natural anti-oxidants. They are valued for their medicinal qualities and the ability to keep monsoon-related illnesses at bay. In fact according to Shailesh of Triple OOO, “The Adivasis believe that these greens must be consumed when they appear after the first rains. They are considered cleansers, that acclimatize the body to the coming monsoon diet, and must be eaten as a precursor to all the other monsoon produce that will come as the season intensifies. Phodshi (safed musli, mulshi, or Karli), in particular has moist vegetal undertones, and a slight bitterness that lightens on cooking. I first discovered it when Saee used it to make Pakodas for #ChaiPakodaDay a couple of years ago. To prep the white bottom and central vein needs to be removed prior to cooking. The Aadivasis sauté it with wild garlic and onions into a subzi. It can also be eaten raw in salads or fried into pakodas. It’s also cooked with Karandi, (tiny fresh shrimp) and Sukhat (dried shrimp) or chana dal. 

Shevlya and Kakad, grow together
 and are cooked together.
(Pic courtesy the Velkars)
Shevlya/Shevul/ Dragon stalk yam - is a wild uncultivated vegetable that shoots out of the soil in the hills and forests of Maharashtra after the first rains and is available for a very short time. Many Maharashtrian communities really value it. It’s a delicacy that one looks forward to. According the Soumitra and Manju Velkar, who first introduced me to this vegetable, "in Pathare Prabhu Cuisine it is cooked with tamarind, pureed and made into a prawn curry, in Saraswat cuisine it is cooked with Kadve Vaal and in CKP cuisine it is cooked with fresh or dried prawns (called Soday) or kheema. It is eaten with rice or bhakri or just by itself.” Shevlya are valued for their functional properties, namely restoring gut bacteria that pollution destroys and boosting immunity and micro-nutrient B12, D and more.

Fatangdi / Phangota/ Phatangdi/ Ambat tingra is a shrub and eaten as a vegetable. Fatangdi also known as Ambat tingra is a leafy green, slightly sourish green eaten as a vegetable. The leaves and tender stems of the plant are used (Larger, less tender stems can cause itching in the mouth and throat).

Gharbhandi – is a creeper that is found in the forests at this time of the year. It grows in symbiotic conditions with the karvanda. It is cooked into a vegetable. 

Pendhra - Another fruit that comes into season from Jun to September is Pendhra. It is almost extinct in the world today, and one of the last bastions of this plant are in India. The fruit is eaten in all its stages from unripe to ripe. Small tender fruit are cooked whole, Large ones are boiled, sliced, de-seeded and cooked into subzis. They may also be stuffed and cooked.

Fiddle head ferns - are a rainy season staple in many hill areas of India. It was pleasantly surprising to learn that they are also found in the Sahyadris. The Adivasis there cook them into simple subzis.

Mahua Flowers - Fresh and dried
Unripe Mahua Fruit
Mahua - The Mahua tree (called the Butter Tree) is an important food source across the tribal cultures of India. The Adivasis of the Sahyadris value the Mahua tree greatly. Legend has it that they survived famines on Mahua alone and call it the Kalpa Vriksh. Mahua flowers and fruit are consumed through the different stages of their cycle. Mahua flowers are made into the famous fermented "Mahua" or Mhaudi a local alcohol that was drunk for its medicinal functions. The flowers are also dried. Currently the unripe fruit is in season. Consumed as a vegetable in the months of May to June only the fruit that fall to the ground are foraged and cooked. Fruit left on the tree ripens with the advent of the monsoons and will be foraged as it falls and pressed for Mahua oil.

Phodshi or Kauli Bhaji / Fatangadi Bhaji
Serves 2 | Time: 15 minutes

Phodshi bhaji, 2 bunches, white base and central vein removed and finely chopped OR Fatangadi bhaji 2 bunches
Onions, 2, sliced thin lengthwise
Garlic, 4 cloves, sliced
Oil, 2 tsp
Niger seeds, ¼ tsp (Or use Cumin)
Salt to taste

Heat the oil in a pan and add the niger/cumin seeds. Once it splutters add the garlic. When it begins to get golden around the edges, add the onions. Saute till they begin to turn golden around the edges. Add the chopped Phodshi/Fatangdi and sauté till wilted and bright green. Serve hot with dal and rice or bhakris.

Gyaan and LINKS
Dr. Kurush Dalal's post on Raanachya Bhajya on his blog Eats, Feeds and Digs. 

My story on Monsoons Bounty for Mumbai Mirror (featuring Jackfruit Seeds And Papaya Curry By Gitika Saikia, CKP Style Shevlya Kheema Bhaaji By Manju Velkar 

Also find the recipe for Shevlya Che Sambhare by Soumitra Velkar in this Curries for Comfort article in Mumbai mirror.

Dried Mahua is available from Triple OOO for purchase along with a bunch of indigenous dry ingredients  (no vegetables though). Call/connect on whassap at 9116666066 to get on their updates list)  Website | Instagram  | Facebook

Get a Taste of The Wild in Mumbai!
PP Prawn Curry made with Shevlya from Mumbai Curry 
This weekend (13th & 14th June) Mumbai Curry, a new urban Maharashtrian food delivery and catering service, based out of Mahim is celebrating a Maharashtrian Monsoon Special with a menu showcasing 'Shevlya.' The menu features a CKP style Mutton Kheema and a Pathare Prabhu style Prawn Curry paired with the exotic Shevlya blossoms to tickle the taste buds. Prices range from Rs. 300 to Rs. 450 plus GST & Del as applicable. To pre-order contact: 9920093266

Also ‘A Taste of the Wild’, is an exciting new menu celebrating seasonal wild vegetables from Maharashtra ongoing till 31st August at The Bombay Canteen to help create greater awareness of the rich and diverse culinary heritage of our forests (seasonal availability of produce means changes to the menu every 2-3 weeks but look forward to tasting sweet Mahua Flower, salty Moras Bhaji, meaty Shevlya and more along with cocktails like Karvanda Bramble and Wild Mahua Sour)

I will leave you all with this recipe. Would you like to experience a tribal foods meal ? I am planning  a pop-up this monsoon. Leave a comment if you are interested.

Monday, January 14, 2019

{Longread} Celebrating Sesame!

In Maharashtra, sesame is best known for its use in Til laddus  proffered as ambassadors of goodwill at Sankrant with the words ‘til gud ghya, god god bola” (eat sweet and speak sweet) and in the west sesame is best recognised as a garnish on buns. But go past Sesame’s most obvious uses and the culinary versatility of these seeds will inspire an “open sesame” moment bursting with possibility for you! Clichéd as that may sound, this phrase synonymous with Sesame, (deriving from the sound - like a lock spring opening – that ripe sesame seeds make when they burst out of their pods) seems appropriate to open a post on Sesame with! 

Sesame Indicum, originated in India and has been used in the Indian kitchen for millennia. Domesticated more than 3000 years ago it is one of the oldest oil-seeds known to humans and continues to be an ingredient of significance today. It is recommended and eaten in the winter because it is considered warming. No wonder then that our grandmothers fed us oodles of Til laddus, chikkis, gajak and revdi in the winters! But that is not the only reason we should be eating a lot more of this super food, not just saving it for festive occasions. Yes, you read right! Sesame is a Super food. It carries a mega punch in its little seeds! It has thrice the calcium, of milk (1 tbsp of Sesame contains 52 calories, 88 mg Calcium, 1.3 mg Iron, 32 mg Magnesium). It is also rich in vitamin A, some B vitamins, is a source of healthy fat, Methionine and Tryptophan and a significant source of other amino acids that make it an exceptional stabilizer of amino acids in vegetarian diets when combined with grains and legumes. 

Sesame has been used in kitchens worldwide for millennia and continues to be an ingredient of significance today. The little oval seeds of Sesame come in three main colours; an un-husked version in shades varying from off white to beige dark brown and black and a husked uniformly creamy white sesame. A wonderful ingredient in itself, it is extremely versatile, and lends itself to sweet and savoury dishes. Tap into their goodness to fortify the flavour and health of everyday meals. Add them raw to smoothies, toast and sprinkle whole into salads, swap butter for sesame butter or Tahina, powder and knead into dough or use to thicken soups, gravies and curries. Here are some ways I use sesame in my kitchen…

Being an oilseed, Sesame is prone to turning rancid quickly, so I recommend you roast them and store in air tight containers as soon as you can. (You can use sesame raw but a little heat therapy enhances its inherent nutty flavours a thousand fold and increases its shelf life). Plus, having ready roasted seeds on hand has interesting benefits. The toasted seeds can go into ANYTHING - porridge, atta, salad, chaat... you name it, to add tasty, healthy crunch. Plus they make an attractive garnish for anything from appetizers to desserts. Sprinkle them onto anything to add health and flavour to everyday meals. 

Nutty Sesame typically goes beautifully with many ingredients, it will work well with most spices, but works well with cumin and chilli in particular. It pairs well with most herbs, particularly Parsley, Oregano and Tarragon. It is also fabulous with many sour flavours like lemons, tomatoes, yogurt. It also works beautifully with lentils of all kinds, rice and almost all the other grains, it works well with almost all vegetables, raw and cooked, although I am partial to it with leafy greens like spinach and kale. In fact I would say there is little you cannot do with Sesame!

In Idian cuisine, especially in Gujarati food, Sesame is often added whole to tadkas along with cumin and curry leaves for farsans and snacks, adding healthy crunch to many dishes like Dhoklas, Khandvi, Patra and more. (I suspect to assist the body in assimilating the nutrition of these dishes). 

Whole Sesame is also great addition to spice and herb mixes. Some favourites include Japanese Gomasio, Middle Eastern cuisine, the many versions of Maharashtrian Tilkut...  Gomasio, is a condiment ubiquitous at the Japanese table. Consisting of toasted sesame ground coarsely with salt it is great with anything from a simple bowl of brown rice to salads, noodles, steamed vegetables, even khichdi. I make mine using granular sea salt and toasted white and black sesame. (Just fill in pepper mill and keep handy). Zahtar, is an everyday spice mix popularly mixed with olive oil and used as a dip or spread for pita bread. It's also used to flavour meat and vegetables dishes, sprinkled on Labneh (a thick hung yogurt dip) or on fried eggs as a garnish. But, it is fab on naan and kulcha, in raitas and even sprinkled on chunks of grilled paneer or chicken. But why stop there, you could also get creative by combining sesame with other ingredients to make interesting spice mixes and seasonings that enhance the nutrition of any dish they are added to. 

Something I discovered a few years ago was sprouted Sesame. An interesting way to eat whole sesame is as sprouts. Not being as robust as other sprouting friendly seeds, sesame need a little careful handling but yields delicious results. To sprout, soak a cup of un-husked sesame in water until swollen (a few hours). Drain, dry thoroughly, by rubbing gently with kitchen paper and spread thinly in a casserole or airtight flat container with a sheet of kitchen paper underneath. Leave at room temperature for a few hours and refrigerate overnight. You will see tiny little sprouts sticking out of the pointy end of the sesame seeds in the morning.  I typically add to salads, clear soups or stirred into hot rice with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil and salt.

Grinding toasted sesame opens up a whole new range of flavours. Although South India is best known for its use of sesame, I have discovered that the cuisine of Uttarakhand uses a lot of ground sesame in its winter dishes. Crushed Sesame adds a nutty accent when stirred into Lobia and Udad Khichdi (Udad Khichdi is eaten on Sankrant). It also adds its nuttiness tothe piquant Khatte Aloo a dish in which boiled potatoes are cooked in a mixture of yogurt, toasted sesame powder, lime and chillies. But two of my absolute favourite sesame dishes of this region are Garhwali Til ki Chutney and Pinni ka Saag. In the chutney toasted ground sesame is ground with toasted cumin, ginger, green chillies, and ground into a beautifully textured chutney with the juice of the Bada Nimbu (large wild lemons that come into season in the winter), and Pinni ka saag is a “Saag” or gravy my grandmother - in - law legendarily made from Pinni or compressed seed cakes left over from the oil extraction process of Sesame. With the oil removed, these become extremely high in protein and dietary fibre and were cooked into a delicious gravy preparation eaten with rice. I don't have access to Pinni, so I crush Sesame in a mortar and leave it in the sun in a strainer for the oil to drain out. Then I use the dry leftover meal to make the Pinni ka Saag.

When you grind Sesame until it gives forth its oil you also get Tahini or Sesame butter, a staple condiment in the Middle East and very versatile to have on hand. Sesame makes a great butter because it is extremely high in its oil content. It also offers a omega 3, protein and fiber rich alternative to regular butter. Stir it into hummus the traditional way or swirl into yogurt for an instant dip, add honey to that combination and you have a quick dessert dip for fruit. Substitute it for peanut butter to make sesame satay or use it to add body to fortify soups and even Indian gravies.  

Sesame is typically pressed for its oil. In fact it is one of the oldest oil-seeds in the world. Cold pressed ‘Gingelly’ oil is the oldest recorded oil used in Indian cuisine but considering how long we have been pressing sesame for oil, it is confounding that nobody thought to toast the seed prior to extracting its oil... Something that the rest of Asia has been using for millennia to produce the most magical ingredient, Toasted Sesame oil! This fabulous ingredient is available at fine food stores in small 250 ml bottles and it is vastly different from its local cold pressed cousin. The roasting process intensifies the nutty sesame flavour so Toasted Sesame oil is used more as a condiment or flavouring oil and a little goes a long way. Drizzle over poached or fried eggs, replace it for other oils in dressings and dips, swirl a few drops into soups, marinate tofu or chicken in it with a little garlic, honey and lemon juice and panfry for a quick and interesting dish. In fact it even goes well drizzled over ice creams! You will be amazed at how important it becomes in your kitchen!

Sesame’s nutty flavours work beautifully in both savoury and sweet dishes, the plethora of laddus and chikkis in Indian cuisine are testament to this fact. That said, Sesame is also used in sweet preparations around the world. All over the Middle East you will find Sesame Halva. Nothing like our Indian halvas this is made of sesame paste and sugar, and is available in large blocks, from which it is sliced off and sold by weight. It is just delicious, almost toffee like it just melts in the mouth and glides down the throat! Like all things Sesame it is hard to stop eating it! Many Asian cuisines do versions of Black Sesame Soup a subtly sweet, nutty custard like dessert soup often served with ice cream. Of course we in India also have some lovely Sesame desserts like the Assamese Til Pitha, Sindhi Sesame fudge and more. In fact in India Sesame is often also part of many after meal palatte cleansing mixtures as well. 

Why only savour Sesame on festive occaissions, lets tap into its goodness in our everyday meals!

Recipe - 
Sesame and Yogurt Gratinated Potatoes 
Garhwali urad Dal Khichdi with Sesame (Link goes to Mumbai Mirror Article on some fab Khichdis)

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Lets Celebrate the 1st ever #IndianBreadsDay on Sun, 9 Dec!

In the Indian context, the word bread is used to loosely classify a food category whose diversity is virtually impossible to encompass. From the ubiquitous eaten as phulka, rotli, poli and more all around the country to the many Indian breads, the parathas, kulchas and sheermals, of the North, to the dosas, obattus, and appams of the South; from theplas, sannas and puran polis of the West, to luchis, kachuris and pithas of the East, our breads are intrinsic to our existence and nearly every region and community in India has evolved a repertoire of traditional breads. On #IndianBreadsDay let us come together to celebrate the rich diversity of our Indian breads. Make, eat and celebrate traditional and regional bread recipes.

You can make Indian bread - Explore the sheer variety of breads we have in India, make family and community favourites or try your hand at more uncommon ones. Explore breads of other communities and regions. Share your memories of bread, with pictures, recipes, and even videos!

You can buy Indian bread
– While many Indian breads are made at home, many are only available at local bakeries. Visit vendors that make and sell typical regional Indian breads, visit the legendary bakers of Srinagar selling piles of Sheermal and Bakarkhani, or stop by Mumbai’s legendary Irani bakeries for a hot Brun Maska, or pop into one of Bangalore’s Iyengar bakeries for their Masala buns or Sweet Milk Bread in Bangalore. And share the photographs and videos of breads and the stories behind breads and their bakers using #IndianBreadsDay.

You can break bread with friends – get together and have a #IndianBreadsDay potluck

Schedule of Live recipe Demos
For those of you who are interested in learning how to make bread, we have some fantastic bread-makers coming together to do live videos of a variety of Indian Breads from APB Cook Studio handle on Instagram and Facebook Live. (This schedule might change a little )

11:00 - Chat on Indian Breads  
Saee Koranne Khandekar author of Crumbs with Rushina
11:45 - Bengali Koraishuti'r Kochuri by Rhea Mitra Dalal 
(luchis stuffed winter peas)
12:30 - Goan Poee by Saee 
1:15 - Maharashtrian Chonge by Chef Varun Inamdar 
2:00 - Sheermal by Shekhar Ghildiyal
2:45 - Pani Pitha and Tekeli (Kettle) Pitha by Gitika Saikia 
3:30 - Idli in Jackfruit leaf by Shivani Unakar 
5:30 – Live from the #IndianBreadsDay potluck at APB Cook Studio

#IndianBreadsDay Potluck at APB Cook Studio

Join the #IndianBreadsDay potluck at APB Cook Studio on Sunday, 09th December from 4:00-6:00. 

Dig deep into your family or community’s repertoire, find some interesting, lesser known Indian bread recipes, make a batch and bring it over along with any special accompaniment typically eaten with it. 

Call 42152799 or email to find out how you can join in!

About Indian Food Observance Days 
I love the idea of coming together around food. I got the food community at large to come together and celebrate a calendar of Indian food Days a couple of years ago. Around the globe, there are special observance days celebrated, dedicated to food. These ‘food days’ pay tribute to foods and dishes and ingredients. And yet, India, despite being home to a rich culinary tradition, has not made its mark on this front. Indian traditional culinary practices evolved and transformed over time as our cuisine evolved. Ingredients, their uses, cooking methods, food combinations, a seasonal food calendar, Indian dietetics, and dining etiquette have all been built into a system of traditional practices with a sound reason behind them. But we are losing touch with them. Indian Food Observance Days follow the Indian seasonal food calendar. Pickles would have been put down in April, masalas would be ground in May, mutton would be eaten in the winter. A day dedicated to any of these means, we stop and make that pickle or grind that masala like our predecessors would have and follow a cycle that’s existed for centuries! IFOD are an attempt to promote & support traditional Indian ingredients, dishes, food-ways, and recipes with the goal of these foods gaining international recognition in years to come. The idea of these days is to make us stop to think about something we love to eat or someone that cooks for us, something we can savour...and something that makes us smile. And to celebrate them online as well as encourage offline, ground events for people to come together and celebrate.

To connect with fellow IFOD enthusiasts, join the Indian Food Observance Days group on Facebook
Or just keep track and learn about Indian Food Days and Festivals by following the Annual Indian Food Calendar Page onFacebook  

Friday, September 07, 2018

#UnDiscoverAustralia – Food off the beaten track, Down Under!

Australia for me has always been one of the world’s finest culinary destinations. And thanks to Masterchef Australia the world has also discovered this fact. But I often feel, that while the mainstream dining, wine and cheese experiences all over this beautiful country are world renowned, but go beyond them, and you will find there is so much waiting to be discovered! Here are some of my favourite things to do...

Getting up close and personal with the spectacular variety of local produce and fine ingredients in Australia

Here are my recommendations for four absolute must-do food experiences that food lovers travelling to Australia must add to their itineraries.

Native Australian Cuisine and Indigenous Ingredients

Native Australian or Indigenous ingredients are plants, meats and seafood found only in Australia, that the original inhabitants of Australia, the Aboriginal people grew, foraged, hunted, fished and ate.  They became a worldwide phenomenon with René Redzepi’s Noma popup in Australia, that I was fortunate enough to experience, a couple of years back . And I can tell you that pigface, gubinge, salt bush, lemon myrtle, bush tomato, finger limes, wattle seed and many other fantastical sounding ingredients native to Australia look and taste just as unusual as they sound!

With René Redzepi and the fabulous team at Noma, Australia

Native Australian ingredients have come into their own in what could be described as the first truly contemporary native Australian cuisine. In fact, this is the best time to experience them with Chefs all over Australia incorporating the wonders of Australia’s native ingredients into traditional and contemporary menus. I’m really looking forward to eating at Shaun Quade’s Lume on my next trip. I had a chance to meet him on his recent visit to Mumbai over a fantastic session of cooking and talking. But what really endeared him to me was his confession that he carried the seaweed for his signature Lume dish, ‘Pearl On The Ocean Floor.’ all the way from Melbourne, having foraged for it just before he flew out to India! The passion for his craft was obvious.

Lume is the latest of this kind of restaurants, unique to Australia, that take you on a journey of discovery. In Adelaide, I had the good fortune to dine at Chef Jock Zonfrillo's Orana a restaurant that has been a pioneer in showcasing ingredients such as Lemon Myrtle, Bush Tomato and Quandongs in its small, unpretentious fine-dine space. At Melbourne’s Charcoal Lane, a social enterprise restaurant that provides guidance and opportunities to indigenous young people, I sampled an eclectic menu showcasing native Australian food is on offer! There are more, Sydney has some of Australia’s finest chefs; Ben Shewry at Attica, Peter Gilmore at Quay, Kylie Kwong at Billy Kwong, all incorporating indigenous ingredients into their food.

A Farm Visit 

It is not just native ingredients that are worth a try in Australia. There is a world of glorious food opportunities for you to savour. Farms all over Australia grow and sell fantastic produce for everyday cooking as well. And a trip to a beautiful orchard, vineyard or field run by a knowledgeable food producer offers a delightful experience. I found this out during my visit to the Beerenberg Strawberry Farm. Wandering around the neatly ordered rows, it was impossible to resist the child in me! I gorged on bright, smiling strawberries fresh off the plants and carried home just as many in my basket. No matter how old or young a person is, there is an elemental joy in running loose on a farm with abundantly rich produce. Whether it's strawberries in Adelaide, cherries in the Yarra Valley or the Mornington Peninsula, boysenberries or Lavender along the Great Ocean Road, you will find fruity, fresh and fun adventures awaiting you at local farms across the country.

Having a friend to pick strawberries with means double the fun!

I loved visiting Green Olive at Red Hill that has established itself as one of the premier ‘agri-tourism’ properties in Australia. It's a true food lover’s paradise! Featuring a unique concept that merges tourism with agriculture, all the food and wine served is based around what is grown on the property, and you can sign up for a variety of classes, tours and meal experience. I loved making sausages from scratch with the resident chef, which were added to our lunch menu. We also learnt about the biological approach to farming olives, grapes, sheep, chooks (chickens), herbs and vegetables before sitting down to lunch, admiring the view of the beautiful vineyard. As I talked with the owner Greg O’Donoghue and learned about his zero carbon miles philosophy in running the award-winning property, it dawned on me that there is a reason why Australian cuisine can never be cooked anywhere else in the world. Everything that makes it so amazing, is centered around its fantastic produce. And the best place to experience this unique produce is at its home in Australia.

Food Markets

Ah! The smell of fresh Aussie produce
And because Australia’s fantastic produce is only available on its shores, add some of the many food markets, central to Australia’s cities and towns, and bursting with fabulous produce and handmade, artisanal foods, to your itinerary. Visiting such markets is one of my favourite ways to get to know the cities I visit. The produce is fresh; the sellers are proud of their offerings, they love to have a chat, offer tastings and samples and one always discovers something new! I loved discovering African ingredients and yellow watermelons in Melbourne’s Queen Vic market, amazing seafood varieties in Sydney fish market, and tasting some of the finest cheeses with Mark Gleeson at the Central Market in Adelaide.

The largest and busiest markets are usually open daily, or five days a week, but in smaller towns, markets are held weekly or monthly. Most bigger markets offer tours one can sign up for, to discover the unique offerings they have, so look out for those! In sparsely populated, rural areas, the farmer’s markets might tour a region.  So, if you’re travelling around the country, do check ahead with tourist offices in the destinations to find out what’s on, and when. In Adelaide, the Adelaide Central Market is home to everything from Russian and Latvian to Italian and Greek foods. And I highly recommend you do a market tour and cooking experience with Mark Gleeson of Food Tours Australia, he is one of the most knowledgeable people on local produce and producers! I have spent hours and hours, wandering around Melbourne's Queen Victoria Market and Prahran Markets, buying crazy things like Budhas Hand Limes, Yellow Cucumbers, Purple Potatoes, black garlic and carrying it all home to my sisters houses to cook up a storm. I also had a fab time at Sydney's Carriage Works market on my last trip! Sydney also has a Grower’s Market, The Rocks Farmers Markets, Paddy’s Market that offer great food shopping, but my favourite is Sydney Fish Market.

Cook with Local Produce 

I can't think of a better kitchen to cook in!
I love shopping and cooking in Australia. I am lucky that both my sisters, Himanshi and Neha live there and are happy to open their kitchens up to me (they get to eat all my cooking so its a win-win). Because once you are on a produce high in his counry, post discovering native ingredients, touring farms, shopping at farmer’s markets, wanting to cook with all that fantastic stuff is ty is a no-brainer! If you are anything like me, you'll wish for a kitchen to start cooking all that superb fresh seafood from the Sydney Fish Market, or tossing up a lovely pasta with handmade pastas picked from Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market, or a stir-fry of fabulous fragrant Asian greens from Chinatown Sydney’s Paddy’s Markets. Yep! You know how it feels.

For your next visit to Australia, I highly recommend you plan at least one accommodation with access to a kitchen during the trip for a complete culinary experience of Australia. You'll have access to the gorgeous produce in specialty shops, Markets, along with excellent wine, cheese, artisan breads and cured meats at cellar doors, gourmet stores like Victor Churchill, Hudson Meats, Fratelli Fresh, fantastic ingredients from around australia and he world at stores like the Essential Ingredient, and Simon Johnson, I highly reccomend you go shopping at Melbourne's Gewurzhaus Herb and Spice Merchants in Melbourne or Herbies Spices in Sydney, to cook up an ‘Australian’ storm in the kitchen of your service apartment, or holiday house!

Alternatively, look out for cooking schools and classes all over the country. In Adelaide, you can sign-up for a session at the Central Market Kitchen, while in Sydney, there is the stunning Sydney Seafood School at the Seafood Market. Melbourne offers cooking classes at the Neff Market Cooking school in South Melbourne market. Also, look out for a great line up of classes at the Essential Ingredient stores all over Australia.

Finally, I must share, besides the things I have already shared, I also discovered the world in Australia! I urge you to also look out for the amazing variety of international cuisines available here.  All of Australia's big cities have little precincts populated by communities from other countries that  that have made Australia their home. In these precincts you will find restaurants that serve authentic fare of their home countries and also shops with amazingly value for money offerings of ingredients from these cuisiens. Explore Indian, Sri Lankan, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican cuisines and more! In case you need local guidance look out for companies like Foodie Trails in Melbourne, run by my amazing sister Himanshi or Taste Tours in Sydney!

Having traveled to the country dozens of times, first as a tourist, than as part local thanks to my sisters, Australia to me, is a destination that offers fantastically varied and vibrant culinary offerings; from fresh local produce at beautiful markets to fine ingredients at gourmet stores, from talented chefs to fantastic food producers, from authentic ethnic eateries to innovative world class restaurants, and so, so much more! Go #UnDiscoverAustralia and thank me later!