Sunday, July 03, 2011

Red Zen review and the Thai Bhel it inspired

Please be informed I was bribed with copious amounts of Red Zen’s version of Prik Nam Pla redolent with coriander root, garlic and fish sauce to write this review! I still have some in my fridge!

My first visit to Red Zen was because it was close to where I live and because I their PR representative was a long time friend. I went in to check out the Zen Power Lunch at her invitation. That said I went in with reservations. You see I consider South East Asian food a forte as far as my personal cooking skills are concerned and consequently set very high standards for oriental food at restaurants. We were met and soon settled down to our meal.

A basket of prawn crackers accompanied by a selection of – House made ‘Yum’, Tamarind and hot garlic sauces and the signature Red Zen version of Nam Prik Pla were set before us to tide us through the hungry wait for our food. This is where most other oriental restaurants would serve you bad tomato sauce doused ‘Kimchi’ so I happily dipped through them. And then I tasted the Prik Nam Pla. Once I tasted it, the others became invisible! Prik Nam Pla is a traditional condiment of thinly chopped Thai bird (prik) chillies in fish sauce that is present at every Thai table to spice up rice-based dishes such as fried rice or white rice with sides.

At Red Zen, Chef Praiwan the resident Thai Chef does a more elaborate combination using coriander root, garlic and sugar in which the hot, salty, sweet balance is achieved perfectly. Of course it is very hot, a fact my mouth discovered after the sheer satisfaction and endorphin high of the chilli wore off and burning of the tongue ensued! Thankfully a lovely gingery drink (whose name I have lamentably forgotten) came just in time to assuage the flames. The savoury Egg Drop soup that arrived soon after also hit the spot, hot, salty and comforting as only a well made stock based soup can be. My bento style set lunch was set before me. Egg fried rice accompanied by black pepper chicken, sweet chilli fish and stir fried vegetables. All perfectly executed and served.

Truth be told I was sold on the Prik Nam Pla and prawn  crackers itself. My only complaint was that dessert was a disappointment! After the well made and matched food, serving three tiny scoops of commercially made ice-cream was a letdown. Of course, in true Rushina fashion I expresses my views and let them know. What I did not expect was that they would bring out some of their more innovative desserts in response! Soon, a bowl of an oriental Coconut milk dessert and decadant chocolate Springrolls (with a piquant pineapple salsa to cut through the chocolatyness and chocolate sauce in case you wanted to pile it on!) sat before me.  

I came away pleased enough to organise a bloggers meet there down the line. But just to be sure that I was not over reacting to the food, I recently went back for a taste of their Thai Street food festival. Again the food was very satisfying. Chef Praiwan their adorable Thai chef got our palates excited with a chicken and coconut milk soup which he quickly followed up with a steaming hot dish of fiery Basil Chicken stirfry with rice and a fried egg on top. Thankfully our sizzling mouths were cooled down with the chilled Thai dessert followed sweet coconut milk with water chestnuts and Jackfruit!  And just to be sure, I also sent my husband in to try it out anonymously (he is very much a food lover himself) and his verdict “I liked the food, particularly the Thai curry although the service was a little slow.” It takes a lot for him to like a Thai Curry so now I have to go back to see what its like!

But here is my verdict? If you are looking for flourishes of gourmet extravagance, go somewhere else. At Red Zen you will find well presented, tasty, Oriental food done well,with flashes of pure brilliance. They might have chosen to take a well trodden path in serving Oriental cuisine but they do it well. Every element is given attention. From the decor and tableware to interesting drinks and well made food. And it is this attention to detail that shines through. If you have not been to this lovely restaurant at the slightly more than 1 year old Courtyard by Marriott (not to be confused with the JW Marriott) I highly recommend you go.  Soon. Because their Thai street food festival will be over before you know it!

And now for the Thai Bhel
I have a secret. I have a collection of Template recipes. Template Recipe is a term I coined for recipes that I can do various avatars of. You see one of my favourite things to do is cook meals around a theme – Chinese, Italian, Thai, Mediteranean to name some successfully executed dinners. And over time I have evolved template recipes, that I tweak for use depending on the cuisine I am serving. For example I always have potatoes on my menu. Usually these are baby potatoes, parboiled in their skins, pierced all over and stir fried slowly in a little oil. I will finish them with a herb or spice combination to match the meal – parsley and lemon for a Mediterranean meal, chillies, garlic and schezwan sauce for a Chinese meal or thai chillies, basil, palm sugar and fish sauce for a thai meal.

This summer I rediscovered Chivda in Dehra Dun and as made it, I remember thinking of the many ways I could innovate with it. With its base of puffed rice it would go so well with so many cuisines.... Toasted Sesame oil, Toasted Sesame, Chillies, garlic and a flower of Star Anise for a Chinese version, perhaps? Or Basil, pine nuts and sundried tomato for an Italian theme with a dusting of parmiggiano just before I served it? And how delicious would a Thai version be with basil, lemongrass, thai chillies, garlic and shallots, peanuts and dried shrimp? The possibilities were endless....  
So after I cam home with some of the Prik nam PlaI I was inspired to make a Thai version of Chivda, that I tossed with it into a piquant spicy bhel. Try it out, and see how you go!

For the Thai Chivda
250g beaten rice, puffed rice or a combination of both (you can even use other puffed grains such as corn, millets)
1 cup of raw peanuts, skinned
½ cup toasted sesame
1 cup of dried papaya (this is optional, I had some to hand) or raisins or both
1 cup of coconut flakes (optional)
5-6 finely chopped thai chilies (adjust according to your preference of heat)
4-5 sprigs Makrut / kafir line leaves
1-2 tbsp Toasted Sesame oil
½ tsp sugar
Salt to taste

Heat a large wok (here in India we use a Kadai which is shaped like a wok but much heavier) that can hold all of the ingredients on a medium flame. Add the oil and allow to heat up. Add the chilies and Makrut / kafir line leaves and saute until the chillies and leaves are crisp. Be careful, this stage is crucial, if the spices scorch you will have to start over. Once done fish out the Kafir lime leaves and reserve. Add the chickpeas and the raisins and fry lightly for about a minute. Add in the nuts and combine well. Lower flame and add the ground turmeric, chillies, sugar and salt, and give everything a quick stir. Quickly add the beaten/puffed rice – you do not want the spice powders burning. Sprinkle salt and sugar and mix well until all the ingredients are combined well. Leave heat all the way down to low and let the mixture heat through, for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time so nothing overcooks. Take off heat and allow to cool completely before transferring to air tight container to store.

Red Zen Sinature Prik Nam Pla
This is also great with khichdi and papad! NO I am not kidding, I SWEAR!

100 ml Light soya sauce
100 ml Fish sauce
100 g Lime juice
100 g Coriander with roots
100 g Fresh thai red chillies
30 g Garlic (little)
100 g Sugar (little) -
Pound the chillies, garlic and coriander and combine with all the other ingredient. Mix well and store in an airtight bottle in your refrigerator.

For Thai Bhel
1.5 cups Thai Bhel mix
2-3 tbsp Red Zen Sinature Prik Nam Pla
2-3 tbsp tamarind chutney
½ cup onion chopped fine
½ cup tomato chopped fine
½ cup green papaya, grated
1/3 c green mango grated
1 cup boiled potato diced fine
1/3 cup coriander chopped fine
2-3 handfulls of sprouts
Combine everything except the Thai bhel mix in a bwl and toss well. Add the bhel toss again and serve immediately.

GYAN and information.
Red Zen is Located on Level M at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. Zen Power lunch available between  12.30– 3.00pm priced at Rs. 399 + taxes.

The Prawn crackers and THE sauce!
The Drink!
Egg drop soup!
Our lunches arrive giving new meaning to the term 'boxed lunch'

And viola!
Sweet Chilli fish
Egg Fried Rice
Stir fried vegetables
Black pepper Chicken and yum sauce
The chocolate springroles with Chocolate sauce and pineapple salsa
DROOLWORTHY stuff this!


Meenakshi said...

I absoultely love Red Zen and their pretty red crockery:) Your photos are making my mouth water... Must visit again soon and try some of those chocolate spring rolls!

alpoo said...

Hii Rushina, your review of Red Zen sounds so good. I m going to make it a point to visit it soon.Is it possible for me to accompany u when u do your reviews sometimes.... i m based in Juhu ... do let me know....alpana saraf

Arpana said...

this looks so yum..specially the chocolate spring rolls.. I used to make fruit wantons..will send some when i make it next..