Monday, December 02, 2019

It’s a Wrap – Saying Good-bye to APB Cook Studio

This is a bittersweet post to write...

Bitter, because endings are always sad. Sweet, because endings make space for new beginnings…
I’ve been writing this post for a while… in fact, for more than a year now. Not knowing how to say 
things, sometimes because the words were just so hard to put out there! But a time comes when the inevitable will happen… and that time is here... 

Shekhar and I opened APB Cook Studio - a perfect love story of a kitchen in 2012. Now, 7 years down the line, it is time to close it. (I must share that it’s been incredibly hard to put these words out there without crying.)

And then, yesterday, my friend Kiran Manral tweeted, "It's the last month of this decade. What has been the best thing that happened to you in the past ten years?"

And the answer that popped into my head was… APB Cook Studio!  And just like that, so many things became easier... to say... to do... to move on...

Opening day for the family!
7 years ago we embarked on a journey that was APB Cook Studio – India’s first hands-on kitchen studio, a place where we could inspire to cook. It was a crazy idea we dreamt up, and went on to build, putting everything we had into it... literally one idea and one learning at a time. It was scary, it was beautiful, it was mad, and it was beyond my wildest dreams of what I thought I would do in life!

Like all babies, our APB Cook Studio grew, into everything we wanted, and things we never dreamt it would be... a place of learning, experimenting, inspiration, craziness, people, friendships and most importantly love.

And with it I grew as well. I left behind fear, grew in confidence, learned my weaknesses and how to work around them (that’s WIP), I stumbled, fell, got up, brushed off and moved on, I've cried bitter tears of loss, hurt, and insecurity, and I've laughed, loved and been loved. And I have evolved. But as I’ve grown, my life has come to feel like that proverbial skin, that begins to feel too tight... 
For a while now I've found myself drawn in other directions. As I discovered my strengths and abilities, I found I have bigger ideas, even some crazy ambitions that I wouldn’t even have aspired to think about at one point.... and I want to give them wings.

First official picture!
I have a bucket list of things I want to tick off before its time to move to the kitchen in the sky…. study, learn, create, write, continue to grow. I want to do more in the space of documenting food, especially Indian food... I have books waiting in my head to be written. There are places I want to explore, and people I want to meet. I’d also like to be a person that helps change happen, rather than be a bystander lamenting…

And NONE of this could have been without APB Cook Studio! The me I am, today, is because of this journey I have travelled. APB has been one of the most enriching experiences of my life. It has been my life!

Lines from a poem by my favourite poet Robert Frost, from the poem the Road Not Taken come to mind…

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference....

Life is about evolution and it is time for me to turn the page on a new chapter, to pass the baton on to other people who are doing be wonderful, wonderful work in the space of Kitchen studios so I can give flight to other ideas….
That said however, this is by no means the end. A Perfect Bite Consulting, the parent company that owns the studio and been responsible for some fantastic things in the last decade (the Godrej Food Trends Report, Flavour Conference, Culinary Chroniclers Conclave, Glenmark Pshtik Rasoi to name a few public projects, but there is also lots of path-breaking work we cannot talk about due to NDAs.) APB Cook Studio will now function as a Food lab, Test Kitchen and Food Content Studio, a place of food inspiration where I will take forward my ambitions to study, document and experiment with food. And I will also continue to do the things I love, consulting, content development, teaching, writing, cooking classes and curating food events. There is lots of exciting things cooking in 2020, expect to hear on all that….

The wind beneath my wings...
But, just now, its about a final good bye to our APB Cook Studio as we all know it, here at Srishti Plaza. Come December it will pass into the intangible space of memory, of all of us who have lived it, and loved it.... Thank you to every single person that has been part of the APB Cook Studio journey, for a moment, or longer, Shekhar and I would like to say thank you. And invite you to please join us at APB Cook Studio on 8 Dec 2019 for the APB WRAP-UP! 
Shekhar and I we will be cooking, baking and doing all the mad things we always did with all of you that want to join the fun! Our doors will be open from 12:00 – 7:00, do drop by any time for one last shout-out, to all the fantastic times, wonderful memories, amazing friendships and every beautiful story we have cooked up over the years!

I will leave you with these lines from another poem, by Robert Frost because he always has the words I need when I do not have them...

From Stopping by the woods on a snowy evening.

....The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Thank you, again, for everything. 


PS. To keep up with my activities, the best place will be here on my blog, also My Facebook page, Instagram or Twitter

Friday, November 15, 2019

November calendar - Chronicling Food through Books, a Salt Masterclass, APB Food Book club on Instagram & more!

Chronicling Food through Books and more at the ISUZU X Food Festival
There is theis fabulous food festival happening on the 16 and 17 of November. If you are a food lover, you NEED to be there! Amongst a stellar line up of offerings curated by Nicole Mody, Tara Deshpande, Kunal Vijaykar and Micheal Swamy and there are also a couple of intimate but informational sessions I am doing. Here is an update.

Session 1 - Chronicling Food through Books
Writing, publishing and then selling a food/cook book is one of the toughest spaces to be in. Writing two... well that takes a whole other kind of energy!

So it is my utmost pleasure & privilege to be moderating this discussion at the ISUZU XFood festival this weekend. Showcasing two amazing women (who I'm also fortunate call friends) from the food space. Both of whom have not just been doing fantastic things overall with their respective food niches over the last decade plus, but have also given the Mumbai and the Indian foodspace some phenomenal gifts - food events, vibrant food groups, conversations and inspiration... the list goes on! In the midst of all of that, they also found time to write 2 great books each! Neither need introductions but... 

First meet Nicole Mody who is the queen of food festivals (for me at least). She curates the annual Kala Ghoda festival and has curated the X food fest where this event is happening). She wrote Flavours of Kala Ghoda a couple of years ago documenting some much loved recipes and eateries of the Kala Ghoda area in Mumbai. More recently she wrote From The Table of Mary S Narielwala: A Perspective on Parsi Cooking, which is a memoir, that gives readers a glimpse into the world of Parsi homes and is peppered with interesting trivia

Next please meet Saee Koranne-Khandekar. A food writer & culinary consultant who writes extensively on regional cuisines in their historical and socio-cultural contexts, look for here work in various print and online journals. A few years ago she gave us the widely acclaimed Crumbs!: Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen. And ow she has given us Pangat: A Feast. Food and Lore from Marathi Kitchens. Both books are invaluable resources to anyone interested in food on the whole and Indian food specifically.
Please join us for an insightful panel discussion on the inspiration, the grit, the challenges, the joys of “Chronicling Food through Books”. You can also buy copies of the authors’s books and get them signed.

Reviving the APB Food Book Club on Instagram
Most people that know me, know I love cookbooks and food books. I collect and own thousands of them. Opening a new  cookbook, to me is a moment full of potential – to read, to discover, to connect with its author, to decide which recipes to cook…. And which recipes will weave their way into your lives… And then there are other genres of food books, food travel, food fiction and more…. Each offering a journey of discovery for the mind and the palate! And because it is food, it is a journey that is all the better when you have fellow food lovers to share it with.
With this in mind, a few years ago I had created the APB Food Book Club. I connected with publishers and we met every month authors to create opportunities and platforms for them to connect to the right audiences. All with great food and lots of fun stirred in. The objective was to create opportunities for lovers of books/ food/cooking to discover, meet, cook & eat with authors & fellow food/cook book lovers and aficionados.

A host of great cookbooks have been published through 2019 and are coming in 2020 that are waiting to be discovered! So I’m reviving the APB Food Book Club but this time round I am doing it as an Instagram club.

How will it work?
Step 1 – If you would like to be part of this club please email me at

Step 2 - Each month you’ll receive an email, with two book picks for the month that we’ll cook from/share about through a series of fun activities. (As we go forward we might also organise meet ups in real time again.)  I will share more details in the email.

December Picks – For now, since we are already mid-November here are our December 2019 APB Food Book Club picks (no surprises here since the panel discussion on 17th Nov, offers the opportunity to get your hands on signed copies….)
1. Pangat by Saee Koranne Khandekar
2. From The Table of Mary S Narielwala by Nicole Mody

And… don’t leave just yet!  
Session 2 - Salt to Taste
Right after the panel discussion is my session Salt to Taste: Exploring salts from around the world and India in which I will share a bit of history, some stories, a little trivia about this most unassuming, yet intrinsic condiment. There will be a salt tasting, to explore colour, texture, aroma and flavour of a variety of natural, infused and flavoured salts. Salts on the menu include; Natural salts such as Black Lava Sea Salt, Persian Blu Salt, Sel Gries (grey salt) and a range of natural white and pink salts from as near as Panvel to as far as Australia. Infused and flavoured salts such as truffle, smoked chipotle, Lavender-Rosemary and more. AND the cherry on top : Did you know there is a regional cuisine that’s been making flavoured or compound salts for generations? Find out about and taste traditional Garwali Pisyun Loon or Pahadi Namaks. Also a chance to buy some of my artisanal flavoured salts...
Garhwali Hare Lehsun ka Namak

Gyaan and Links
There is seriously fab stuff happening at the @XFoodFestival at the Turf Club, Mahalaxmi Racecourse, Mumbai on 16 and 17th Nov (get all the details here).

Some links for Nicole:
Follow Nicole’s work Find her on Instagram: @nicolemody. Also here is A lovely story on From The Table of Mary S Narielwala in Midday

Some links for Saee:

Friday, October 25, 2019

Amrita's Sharad Thaali and some #Foodle Inspiration

A Foodle after a long, long time!

Inspiration to create can come from anywhere…  and also catch one TOTALLY by surprise... A beautiful meal I recently ate, got me inspired to #Foodle again. And I thought that something this momentous deserved a blogpost too, so… here we are!

I have a lot happening in my life, and off late, I've made some big decisions, had some sad things bring me down. I took time out, used the pre-Diwali time to de-clutter; my home, my life, my emotional and creative mind-space and just rejuvenate. I'v actively sought out people, and things that make me feel happy. And it all seems to be bearing fruit already!

Last Sunday I finally made it (been wanting to go for ages) to my friend Amrita’s most recent pop-up. Themed on the Sharad Ritu or Indian Autumn this was a seven-course Ayurvedic lunch, using seasonal ingredients sourced from local markets and farmers and took place at the all new The Classroom by La Folie (which is pretty cool too BTW).

According to Amrita,"Everything can be Ayurveda if you apply the principles correctly, and make it something we can relate to." Ayurveda says that the Indian monsoons, leaves a lot of Pitta or heat in its wake. "The sun is directed on us and Pitta is high all around, in nature, and in us." To counter this, Ayurveda suggests Pitta balancing foods. "The premise is simple. All creations are made of 5 elements including humans. These elements vary in different people based on our own dosha and prakriti (nature). We can balance our doshas with diet. Sharad is when we need immunity building foods, it is the perfect time to incorporate and acclimatize to foods that will come into season in the winter."

In keeping with this philosophy, her Sharad menu she was  made up of grounding, cooling foods, using seasonal ingredients such as Kashmiri Apples, Sitaphal, Baalam (a large Indian Cucumber indigenous to parts of India), fresh Singhada (Water Chestnuts) supplemented by indigenous grains and wild greens and vegetables from the Sahyadris, supplied by Triple OOO, Vrindavan and Offerings Farms. The meal stared with a chatpatta Green Apple Panna. Then came six courses served up with stories by Amrita.

Vanvaas was the first course, and it was dessert! No I'm not kidding! "Ayurveda recommends dessert first, as it is the hardest to digest. This plate is inspired by Ramayana and the way Sita, Ram and Laxman ate during their legendary Vanvas (exile). Sita was sad and refused to eat but loved Sitafal which is also cooling so there is a Spiced Sitaphal Cake, and it is said that while she was captive, Indra sent her Payasam, so there is a Black Rice Payasam inspired by that and a smidgen of Chavanprash to represent the Sanjeevani Booti.” Whipped coconut cream, kand chips and crisp poha finished the plate. And I ate it all for once! Because it had all the good stuff. I was not terribly enamoured of the Chavanprash bit of it, but the rest of it, especially that Sitaphal cake was worth every footstep I counted later!

The next course was "Kand" inspired by root vegetables. "Earth colour foods and root vegetables make us feel grounded. Whole foods, especially roots and tubers offer maximum energy, in fact they have been survival foods in times of famine and drought throughout the world. Roots actually root us." I have to say that, that bowl of earthy, chewy Farra (a rice pasta from Chattisgarh) inspired gnocchi, made from Karanda (as the tribals of Sahyadris call air potatoes) topped with browned ghee and something tangy I couldn’t identify, was my absolute favourite course!

Then came Baalam a course meant to hydrate the system. "Baalam kakdi are giant cucumber that are in season now, there are two main types, one form Jhaaba and another from Sailana, they are soft and sweet (unlike regular cucumbers) and super hydrating. Ideal for people of pitta dosha but also fab for this season when pitta is high. With the diced cucumber there is beetroot and pumpkin and on the plate are also bitter Bhrahmi and sour Sorrel (Gongura) leaves with a dressing of coriander and buttermilk on the side." The light and refreshing salad was ideal as a precursor to our next course.

The Diwali Gujiya Course, in which Gujiya shells made of Khapli Gehu and jowar, were customised with fillings based on individual doshas of the diners and served with teekha and meetha chutneys. (We had each been asked to fill in a form that would determine our doshas earlier). Based on the same, those with a Vata dosha got a badam and paneer filling, those with a Pitta dosha, got a filling of pumpkin and greens. And those with Kapha dosha got a filling of greens and mushrooms! (Mine was the Pitta option, a crisp casing filled with a moist filling of pumpkin and greens that was so good that it did not need any of the accompanying chutney.)

Next came the Sharad Thaali. The main course made of seasonal produce, cooked into dishes Amrita remembered from her childhood. Fresh Singhada (water chestnuts) cooked into a dry subzi with bhuna masala, Pakoda Kadhi with wild Taakla bhaaji in the pakodas, Beet Raita, Charred Guava Cachumber, Chana Dal Pulao, Jowar Roti, Green Veggies Masala Puri and Sabudana Papad. I loved the beautiful colours and textures on my plate and the guava salad, kadhi and raita were so good I  asked for seconds of them all!

Rounding off the meal was Mukhwas, a signature offering from Amrita, a paan leaf topped with a delicate, subtle coconut water jelly, crunchy fennel seeds, dry rose petals and a drizzle of sweet Gulkand. Rolled up, it all came together into a perfect end to a beautiful meal.

And the meal was beautiful… nuanced, full of good ingredients, colours, textures and positive vibes. I could gush on about it but that would do it a disservice. The fact that I came away inspired enough to spend 4 days illustrating it, says it all! I’ve known Amrita for years, having followed her journey on, through all her experiments with food, including the OMG Bacon Jam years, going vegetarian years and exploring Ayurveda years. Today as a certified Ayurveda practitioner, she seems to be in her element showcasing Ayurvedic principles for everyday use and her passion shows in the detailing she puts into her cooking workshops, pop-up meals and more. I think she might have found her calling… and I look forward to lots more learning and beautiful experiences curated by her (that hopefully inspire some more foodling too…)

Gyaan and LINKS
Follow Amrita on Instagram

For local farmers follow Offerings Farms , Vrindavan Farm
Connect with Triple OOO farms, call/connect on whassap at 9116666066 of follow on their Website  Instagram 
The Classroom by Lafolie is a state-of-the-art studio for interactive cooking learning and will soon launch Mumbai’s first Bean-to-Bar experience.

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.