Take A Dip

MARGHI NA KHEEMA NA PATTICE

 

Spicy, tangy, sweet, hot, cold or creamy. Indeed, a zesty and appetizing dip, served with pita bread, lavash, crackers, nachos, or any finger food at a party, can enhance the flavour and make a mundane dish come to life. Guacamole, Aioli, Chipotle, Hummus, are some popular entrants.

Dips spell the essence of a cuisine. At the beginning of a meal, dips are normally presented with a bread, cracker or crudities as an ‘amuse bouche’ with the primary aim to titillate the palate.

Dips, today, have assumed exotic proportions with a variety of ingredients like blue cheese, avocado, edamame, Greek yogurt, making their way into these and chefs unleashing their imagination.

Any finger food or any nibble stuff is incomplete without a dip or the sauce accompanying it. It adds flavour, texture and even moisture to the dish.

Dips must be delicious, yet, easy to prepare, as these are only an accompaniment and not too much time and effort need go in these. Just a bit of chopping, mixing, roasting and tempering is all that one must have to do for a dip.

Cheese, sour cream, yogurt, tomatoes, vegetables, beans and chickpeas, are typical base ingredients for delectable dips.  These are selected to give a moist and creamy texture, characteristic of a dip. Of course herbs, caramelized onions, garlic, lemon juice, nuts and olive oil, are added to enhance the flavour quotient.

Feta cheese, goat cheese, parmesan and cream cheese are preferred owing to their versatile textures. Today, however, instead of regular yogurt, Greek yogurt is used because of its healthy nature and creamy texture.

Vegetables like tomatoes, jalapenos, eggplant, spinach, pumpkin, beetroot, lend themselves perfectly for dips. These are sometimes pureed after being boiled, or even added raw for that extra crunch. However, to get a unique flavour, try roasting the vegetables, before combining them with other ingredients in a dip.

Harissa, the spicy and aromatic chili dip with smoked peppers, olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and other spices, staple in North African and Middle Eastern cooking, is gaining popularity in India too. Similarly, the avocado based guacamole, is now being given exotic flavour twists by chefs by adding fruits like pineapple, pomegranate and mango, or even edamame, kale and broccoli.

With its psychedelic colour, a beet dip is fun to serve with white and pale green vegetables like cauliflower and fennel. A little bit of honey and vinegar amps up the beet flavour.

A spinach and white bean dip can prove to be equally exciting for the palate, owing to its unique texture. Spinach combines well with cheese too, to make a luscious dip. Creamy beans and sweet sun-dried tomatoes offer the perfect texture and flavour combo in a dip.

The base gives moistness to the dip which can be yoghurt, cream, mayonnaise, soft cheese. However, one can even do without these, if the main ingredient has good moisture content.

Indeed, the list of ingredients that can be added to dips is endless. Fruits like pineapple, strawberries, mangoes, avocado, apples, plums, are the perfect choice for dips. A strawberry rhubarb dip is innovative, as is a zesty orange cream dip.

Whoever thought that dips are only vegetarian? Tuna with capers, olives and lemon; smoked salmon dip; Blue cheese, bacon and spinach dip, are some of the exciting non-vegetarian dips. Sea food like prawns and crabs, meats like bacon, chicken, are ingredients that can be paired with others to make a smooth, creamy dip.

Of course, today with people becoming health and fitness conscious, several ingredients are being replaced in dips to give them a healthy twist. Replacing sour cream with the Lebanese cheese lebneh, creates a dip that’s fairly low in fat; substituting non-fat fromage blanc or drained Greek yogurt makes the dip even healthier. Avocado is often the choice for healthy dips, as it is rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.

A dip made with fennel bulb slices, blanched broccoli florets, steamed new potatoes, and carrots is perfect to pair with crudites. Grilled red onions combined with light sour cream and non-fat Greek yogurt make a balanced and delicious dip for sweet potato chips.

Sweet dips can come handy for cookies and pretzels and are always popular. Fruits, chocolate, mascarpone cheese, peanut butter, are the typical ingredients used. Cream cheese, vanilla extract, orange zest, powdered sugar, orange juice and cream, combine to make a tasty sweet dip. Greek yogurt, peanut butter, honey and cinnamon powder, makes a creamy appetizing dip, children love. Of course chocolate, is a popular addition to most dips for children.  Adults too love dips with chocolate, but don’t want to give up on healthy eating and thus opt for a dip made with cocoa powder, honey, vanilla extract and Greek yogurt.

With a minor twist and a skilful combination of ingredients, one can easily rustle up dips in a jiffy and have these become the talk of the party.

 

From Fat to Fit

 

Moroccan Spinach and Burghul Salad at Alfredo's Juhu

 

Eating fat does not make you fat. Confused? Indeed, fats have been demonised since times immemorial but truth be told, some fats are essential and indeed ‘good’ for u

One is constantly warned about staying away from fats. In fact, all of us feel guilty about eating fats, but in reality, all fats are not bad. Or at least not so, when eaten in moderation. While most fats wreak havoc with one’s health, some good fats help in cardio vascular health and at times weight loss too, by accelerating metabolism. Others when combined with protein-rich foods yield benefits. Healthy or ‘good’ fats are thus essential to help us manage our moods, stay alert and bright, fight fatigue and even control our weight.

A small amount of fat is invariably an integral part of our daily diets in some form or the other and ought to be. Fat is after all a source of essential fatty acids such as omega-3 – ‘essential’ because the body cannot generate these.

Good fats include sources that are not heavily processed or hydrogenated. They include cold pressed oils, single filtered oils, homemade ghee, fresh milk cream, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados and egg yolks. Yes, egg yolks are good for brain health. 3-4 servings of these can be included per day in one’s diet.

While including fats in our daily meals is important, as part of a healthy diet, we should try to cut down on foods and drinks high in saturated fats and trans fats and replace them with unsaturated fats, wherever possible. One must choose one’s fats carefully.

Several foods are replete with saturated fats. Both sweet and savoury foods contain these. Generally, saturated fats come from animal sources, including meat and dairy products, as well as some plant foods such as palm oil.

Unsaturated fats on the contrary, emanating from plant sources, can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. Monounsaturated fats help protect our hearts by maintaining levels of HDL cholesterol while reducing levels of LDL cholesterol. These are  found in olive oil, avocados and some nuts, such as almonds and peanuts, as well as some seeds.

Polyunsaturated fats can help lower the level of LDL cholesterol. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats may also help reduce triglyceride levels. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 and omega-6. Some types of omega-3 and omega-6 fats cannot be made by the body and are therefore essential in small amounts in the diet.

Creamy avocados are major players when it comes to providing healthy, good-for-you fats. Diverse enough to be used in appetizers, main dishes and desserts, there’s nothing you can’t improve by throwing in this superfood, the avocado. This is also the predominant fatty acid in olive oil, associated with various health benefits. This fruit is also a great source of potassium in the diet.  Being rich in fibre, this helps in lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (the good) cholesterol.

A high HDL count equals a happy heart. Monounsaturated fats like olive oil, are high in HDL. It is thus preferable to use olive oil for cooking wherever possible. Drizzle salads with olive oil, use it for frying and even cook in olive oil. But ensure the olive oil is pure and not mixed with hydrogenated oils.

Omega-6 fats are found in vegetable oils such as rapeseed, corn, sunflower and some nuts. Omega-3 fats are found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, trout, sardines, salmon and fresh tuna.

Walnuts, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin seeds and flaxseed are a veritable store house of polyunsaturated fats, good for health. So sprinkle these on salads, munch on them when hungry or use them in cookies and breads. Brussel sprouts and kale are yet another good source of omega 3 fats and that too vegetarian. Soy milk and tofu too can be rich sources of polyunsaturated fats and can be consumed safely even by vegetarians.

It’s not just what we eat but how we eat it, which also matters. Roast, grill, or slow cook meat and poultry instead of frying, else all the benefits they offer are destroyed. Fish maybe rich in omega 3, but if fried, one is devoid of those health benefits. Again, one can enjoy full-fat dairy products like milk, cheese, paneer, yogurt, in moderation and opt for organic or raw milk, cheese, butter and yoghurt wherever possible.

So the good news is that all fats are not bad. A healthy diet must in fact include at least 20% of good fats. One merely needs to replace the unhealthy ones with good fats.

 

Spice is nice

 

Gonguura Special Thali

Spices are an essential ingredient in all Indian cuisines and it is famous for the wide variety of spices it uses. India is considered to be the heartland of spices. South India has a mixed variety of spices ranging from mild, strong, pungent and rustic. These spices are used in various forms – blended, whole, sauteed, ground, roasted or fried.

Picture this: A bowl of aromatic Fish pulusu and the air is redolent with the fragrant spices. Cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, bay leaf and cloves, lend a distinct flavour and aroma to this popular dish. Spices play an important role in Indian cuisine and the food of Southern India is no exception.

Cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, Black pepper, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, cardamom, may be spices common to kitchens across India, but undoubtedly some spices are made use of extensively in Southern cuisines, albeit in varying proportions.

Most spices release an aroma and flavour when added to oil or even dry roasted. Spices must be used sparingly, as excess can overpower and drown other flavours in a dish.

While several spices are used in a ground form, in non-vegetarian dishes, spices like mustard, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, are often used for tempering apart from the basic masala, in which these are included. Again, in vegetables like pulusu or poriyal and sambhar or pachadi, spices are used for tempering the dish to enhance flavours.

Ghee or sesame oil are commonly used for tempering in the South. Maratti moggu, is usually fried in oil before use, to release its full flavour, which is similar to that of a combination of mustard and black pepper.

Dry roasting spices and grinding them on a sli batta with a bit of water to make a paste is common. From Kerala beef pepper fry to Coorgi pandi curry and from Mangalore gassi to Mamsam korma and even Jackfruit halwa, spices are used in southern cooking.

South Indian spices are generally much stronger than those used in other parts of the country. Even the chilies here are comparatively hotter than the ones found in rest of India. The people here consume spicier food, as compared to other parts of India. For example, Black pepper, Green cardamom, Kodampuli are native to Kerala; Marrati maggu, kalpasi, round chilies from Tamil Nadu; and the Byadgi chilies from Karnataka.

Although spices are common to Southern India, some spices find favour in a certain Southern State more than the other, owing to the nature of the cuisine

Cardamom, Madras chilies and coriander seeds, are a few spices used in vegetarian dishes whereas bay leaf, kapok buds, Guntur chilies are for fiery non vegetarian dishes.

Chettinad cuisine in Tamil Nadu is perhaps the most popular one this State is known for and makes use of a variety of spices. Dominated by non-vegetarian dishes, especially chicken, lamb and prawns, these are marinated using spices which are ground by hand.

 

The Tambrahm cuisine on the other hand makes use of fenugreek seeds or vendhaiyam. In the Nanji Nadu cuisine, on the other hand which resembles the food of Kerala, dhaniya, pepper and chillies are predominant. Ulunthanchoru, a rice and urad dal preparation is replete with spices like mustard seeds, curry leaves, dry ginger. The Nanji fish curry is made using cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, coriander and other dry spices. The refreshing Panakam here uses cardamom and dry ginger in abundance.

The cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is mostly vegetarian but the coastal areas have a vast repertoire of seafood preparations. Known for its fiery Guntur chilies, this cuisine also uses a melange of other spices – Curry leaves, mustard seeds, pepper and chillies, in curries, chutneys and pickles alike. Spices are used in dishes ranging from a koora to avakya or urgai mamsam to pulihora, to embellish the taste. Equally popular and laced with spices is the cuisine of Hyderabad. Dalcha, pathar ka gosht and biryani, legendary dishes of this region get their flavour from the local spices

Northern Karnataka tends to make use of more spices than the rest of Karnataka. Nutmeg, asafoetida, curry leaves and turmeric, are used abundantly in gojju, thovve, huli, bisi bele. Traditionally, a spice mixture called trijataka which comprised powders of saffron, bark and leaves of cloves, and cardamom was used in certain preparations. The sea food dishes in Malnad and Mangalore are replete with flavourful spices. The meat-intensive Kodagu cuisine is even spicier.

Each Indian spice boasts of a unique flavour profile and completes a dish. Naturally then these aromatic spices, when added in the right quantity, enhance the taste of the diverse cuisine of Southern India.

 

When sour is tasty

Sol Kadi_revised

 

 

The tangy flavours of tamarind in a Bisi Bele bhaat are unmistakable, while a Goan fish curry is lip-smacking owing to the addition of kokum. Souring agents are what impart these unique, sometimes tangy and tart flavours to a dish and consequentially, awaken the palate.   

Kokum, bimli, curd, raw mango, tamarind, vinegar, have something in common.  All of these are souring agents used across different parts of India, but the dishes in which these are used and the manner in which these are incorporated, is distinct to the cuisine of that region. These are used alone or in combination with other ingredients, depending on the dish and the cooking method. Sour taste in food is appreciated by the palate, owing to the complexity of flavour it adds.

 

Pulped, cubed or grated, raw mango adds an interesting flavour dimension to dishes and is used abundantly in summer for its cooling effect too. Dals, curries, rice, chutneys are dishes in which it lends itself easily, apart from the usual refreshing drinks like aam panna.

A sweet and sour raw mango rice, is tart and flavourful to the core. Similarly, a fish curry with a coconut base and a dash of raw mango to add a hint of sourness, is comforting and something everyone relishes in summer.

In North East India, raw mango is even added to pork dishes to enhance flavours while in Gujarat, it is added to kadhi and dals. Bengalis relish their kasundi with raw mango, apart from their aam pora shorbot.

Interestingly, when the season is over, dried mango powder or amchur replaces raw mango in vegetables like chole, dals, chats and chutneys.

Ambeacnche Sola or Dry Mango Pieces, is one of the ingredients used by me while serving Chaats to my guests, as this adds flavour and zest.

In Kerala and Goa, in fact in most of the Konkan region, kokum is a typical addition to curries and even dry preparations. Apart from imparting a reddish purple tinge to the dish, it adds zest by way of its tart and tangy flavours. Dried kokum is the form in which it is commonly used. From sol kadi to fish curries and even in a chilli fry, kokum is a must addition to perk up the taste buds

Kokum‘s tart, citrusy bite is perfect to bring out the flavours of fish and vegetables, alike. Sola Bangade, in which mackerel is cooked with kokum, garlic, chilli, turmeric and coriander powder, is a popular dish, where kokum is a must-add. The brilliant pink concentrate yielded by soaking the dry berry in water can be boiled with simple syrup and diluted with water to make a clear, pink drink.

 

The sweet-sour pulp extracted from the long, brown tamarind pods, after soaking those in water, is a common souring agent in Indian cuisine. Tamarind is in fact one of the significant ingredients used in South Indian cooking and known for its unique, edgy flavours. From sambhar to puli kozambhu to bisi bele bhaat and Vendakkai pulikulambu to paruppu urundai kulambu, it is made use of extensively.  However, tamarind is used in dishes in other parts of India too including North India where it is used in chutneys served with Dahi bhalle or even papdi chaat.

No dish in Goa is complete without the quintessential vinegar, be it fish recheado or pork sorpotel. One of the most famous souring agents used in the kitchens of Goa is the Coconut Toddy Vinegar. This ingredient is used by me to make authentic Goan preparations like Vindhalo, made from pork which is cooked without water, to add the sour flavour, which the dish is known for.

 

If toddy vinegar rules kitchens in Goa, malt vinegar is the preferred choice, up North.  Malt Vinegar helps to deepen the colour of the tikka and enhances the flavours. It also acts as a tenderizer and binds all the flavours, advancing the taste.

Down South, Kachampuli vinegar is used for the pandi curry in Coorg and is a regional improvisation brought about by the need to preserve the fruit.

This unique souring agent lends itself well to a prawn curry and is used in Goa. It generally replaces tamarind and kokum and imparts a unique flavour to the dish.

An integral part of the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh is the gongura. Gongura is used to make chutneys and is also added to dal and used for classic dishes like gongura pappu and gonguramutton.

The tangy flavours of a kadhi are hard to miss. This sourness comes from yogurt. Again yogurt is used in kababs and meat dishes as a marinade to cut and balance the richness of the meat. Curd or yogurt inadvertently, also adds body to a dish and is used lavishly in Northern India.

Given the gastronomic diversity of India, there are souring agents in each region, which through their acidity, impart a sour taste and thus enhance the flavours of a dish.

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Flavoursome Fruity Delights

 

  Jackfruit and Green Olive pickle

 

Summer is here and turning to fresh fruits in various forms, seems the most logical and healthy thing to do.  Go for it, but add a twist. Instead of the usual milk shakes, lassi, smoothies, try fruits in a new avatar. Yes, experiment with fruits in savoury dishes and there’s a lot you can do.

Of course fruits naturally lend themselves to desserts, but one can be imaginative and use fruits to boost savoury dishes, soups, main course and accompaniments, across various cuisines.

Fruits are a flavour booster, yet, to achieve the right balance, is the key. Tropical fruits have always been used liberally in South Asian cuisines and fruits such as apricots, figs, dates, have been an integral part of Middle Eastern and African cuisine.

Our very own Indian cuisine can be enhanced with the use of fruits. Mango, the king of summer fruits, can add zest and flavour to dishes. Mango sasav or Ambyache sasav, a sweet-sour dish, prepared with ripe mangoes, is a favourite among the Maharashtrians and the Konkan belt. Sasav or mustard seeds, curry leaves, coconut, jaggery, are added as tempering to the ripe mango pulp, which is cooked. This is generally enjoyed with steamed rice.

Understanding the texture a fruit imparts, is important, as it can then be used accordingly. Apples, pineapple, pears, for instance, owing to their firmness, are ideal for stuffings in koftas, or in stuffed tomatoes and capsicums. Gravies and curries are yet, another form in which fruits are incorporated to give body to the preparation. For these, Pineapple and jackfruit are preferred.

Amrud ki sabzi or a dry preparation with guavas, is a North Indian delicacy and can be eaten with puris, instead of the usual potatoes. An interesting use of guavas is their addition to a mutton curry, in the form of a smooth paste.

In Kerala, Papaya appams called pappali appams made with rice flour, wheat flour, coconut paste, jaggery, are paired with spicy mutton or chicken curry.

Salads, soups and dips make use of a variety of summer fruits in global cuisines. Grilled watermelon n feta cheese makes for a refreshing salad in summer. A cold soup can be made using pineapple and orange juice, squeezed freshly from fruits. Cucumber, a dash of lime and a pinch of sugar complete this unique delicacy. A curried squash and pear soup is also a good option to cool oneself.

Regular dips and sauces are often pepped up with the addition of a fruit. Fresh mango salsa is a popular accompaniment. Plum sauce, again is a common favourite in meat dishes.

Interestingly, citrus fruits like lemon, lime, orange, are sought after, for flavouring seafood items. Used carefully, these can enhance the appeal of fish, prawn, crabs, squids, mussels and scallops, whereas the whole fruit is often added to a duck salad.

In mains too, a fruit like pomegranate can be cleverly combined with a roast chicken, as the fruit adds its typical juicy flavour and crunchy texture to the dish.

Chargrilled tofu with fresh fruits or Rojak( a fruit salad), with pieces of fried, sweet pineapple, green mango and papaya, rose apples and guava, tossed in a dark sauce.  Sounds exotic? Pan Asian cuisine today stands for fusion and fruits are cleverly combined to balance the sweet, tangy and savoury flavours in dishes.

Pears, pineapples, pair well in pork dishes, complimenting the texture and flavour of the meat, while peaches are the perfect complement for chicken. Melon, citrus fruits (orange, grape fruit, sweet lime) and grapes are other commonly used fruits.

So, irrespective of the cuisine, one can give a dish, a ‘fruity’ twist, by making use of the right fruit, in the right form. Innovation is all that it takes.

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Healthy Alternatives

Butternut Squash Bajra Paratha 2

With lifestyle changes, people getting more health-conscious. Whoever said millets were a poor man’s grains, needs to think again. The good ol’ coarse grains or millets are now back in kitchens in most homes.

Millets include jowar (great millet), ragi (finger millet), korra (foxtail millet), arke (kodo millet) and sama (little millet) are available in the form of  grains and flour forms in supermarkets. Millets may look coarse and unappealing, but are packed with nutrients and health benefits and are versatile too. Apart from nutritional benefits, now technology has made it possible to process these millets which was not possible earlier.

People are thus celebrating local produce and turning to their backyards to see what is available or even forgotten. They have taken it upon themselves to revive traditional ingredients like ancient grains and millets and reacquaint guests with these.

The changing lifestyle patterns of consumers, who are keen on staying fit is the key reason for these grains to have made a comeback. Almost all of these “pack a punch” when it comes to a nutritive chart, as these are much superior to wheat or rice, which has been the staple.

The choices today are infinite – buckwheat, quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, nachni or ragi, rajgira, bajra.  These can be incorporated in a myriad exciting ways, along with other ingredients, into one’s diet, to inculcate variety.

Nachni or Ragi has always been around for the longest time, but, this millet has suddenly acquired a new status in health-conscious India. A great source of calcium, magnesium, iron, protein and fibre, this finger millet is now in demand. Ragi, which is usually difficult to digest, should be soaked, sprouted and dried, prior to milling into atta, to improve its nutrient absorption.

From ragi upma to ragi rotis and even cookies and halwa, this multipurpose millet is being used in varied dishes, both sweet and savoury. Ragi dosa, dumplings, pancakes and porridge are other dishes, one can prepare with ragi.

One of the oldest millets and perhaps the cheapest, bajra  or pearl millet, is completely gluten free and thus beneficial to those suffering from celiac disease. Thalipeeth, bhakri and theplas are not all that you can make with this millet. Dhoklas, chaklis, upma, khichu and even ladoos are what this millet can be used for. Traditionally, Kambu Sadam or bajra cooked like rice, was consumed with raw onions and green chillies in every home in Tamil Nadu. Thus, people have also taken to bajra once again, but in several new avatars.

Buckwheat or kuttu too is preferred by many, owing to the health benefits it endows. A pseudo grain, known for its nutty flavour, it lends itself to several dishes across cuisines. Buckwheat flour is mixed with wheat flour to make Japanese soba noodles. Being gluten free, it is used for pancakes, crepes, rotis, cookies and even mixed with other flours and millets to alter the texture.

Millets can be used on their own in dishes as well as added to other ingredients. Add a small amount of millets to idli or dosa batter or a roti dough.  One can also use millets along with oats, whole wheat and jaggery to make cookies and ladoos, as well as add sprouted millets in salads.

And it is not only in the grain form that millets are being used. Flours of these millets too are being incorporated into the daily diets. Beige coloured Sorghum flour, for example, considered to be “sweet,” softly textured and mildly flavoured, low in glycaemic index, high in fibre, gluten free is now a popular ingredient easily available.

Ironically, once upon a time, an Indian kitchen included a single canister of flour. Today, supermarkets stock myriad options, reflecting increased consumer demand for diversity and thus various flours make way into the kitchens. Each kind of flour has a different nutrition profile and cooking or baking qualities and thus, blending these grains and flours is important as it tones down flavour profiles, yet providing the nutritional benefits.

With evolved palates and matured taste buds, guests in Hotels maybe seeking the exotic, but are also ready to allow chefs to let loose their creative side and churn out dishes that they term unusual or exciting.

There is no smoke without fire

Signature Smokey Cauliflower Hummus - Maffy's

Smoking food can unlock a world of new flavours. Not surprising therefore, many  are turning to this technique to impart a smoldering flavour to their dishes

The process of smoking imparts a distinct flavour to the dish. It elevates and enhances both the aroma, as well as the flavour.

Smoking is being incorporated to impart aromatic flavours to traditionally prepared dishes. After all, there’s something universally appealing about a whiff of fire in our food. And so, today smoking is not restricted to meats only- but cheese, vegetables, fruits, yogurt, butter and even desserts, are being smoked.

Gone are the days when smoking was perceived and used as a method of preservation only. After having made its way into bars for smoking cocktails to create heady flavours and aromas, it is now a must-have technique in kitchens for chefs.

Indian dishes are often cooked in the tandoor and hence already have a smoky flavour.  However, chefs can still enhance other dishes, using the smoking technique. This can be done with Indian curries and gravies, with a combination of utilizing ingredients like clarified butter, desired aromatic spices and a hot piece of charcoal in a small bowl. The same is then placed inside the cooking vessel and covered to incorporate the desired smoky flavour.

Maas Ke Sooley, prepared in a Rajasthani style, with cinnamon stick, being used to impart flavour to the Kababs and Dum ka Murgh -Mughlai Style Chicken Gravy, where mace is skilfully made use of to give an aromatic smoke to the finished product, are some typical examples.

Meat, dairy and eggs are naturally suited for smoking, but interestingly, vegetables too can be smoked. Broccoli, cauliflower, bell pepper, eggplant, zucchini, are some of the vegetables which can be smoked to perfection. Some chefs are even adding fruits to their repertoire.

It’s not as if smoking is used to enhance the flavours of Indian food alone. Some exciting flavours can be added to international foods too, with smoking. Smoked Chicken Pizzas, Fresh vegetables and smoked sea bass, Honey glazed lamb with smoked yogurt and vegetables, Wood-smoked cauliflower and carrots with pistachio crunch, are some inimitable dishes.

When the surface of the meat is softer, smoke is able to penetrate the meat more deeply and effect a stronger smoky flavour. Thus, sometimes the marinade becomes crucial, even before the meat is smoked.

Flavourful woods like apple wood chips, cedar wood chips, which are the latest cooking trends, lend their taste, aroma, body and texture to the food that are cooked together.

It is recommended that the wood chips being used for smoking food, should be soaked for about 30-40 minutes and drip-dried before being added to the fire.

The smoke generated by hot smoking has a different flavour than the one generated by cold smoking, even though both are used by chefs.  Cold smoking, flavours the food without actually cooking it. Smoked Salmon and Bacon are typical meats that are cold smoked.

Smoke adds a dimension of flavour all its own, something sweet and rich, but also pungent, which is being maximized in innovative desserts.

Some prefer using an open flame to smoke while others rely on the blowtorch or charcoal.  Instead of smoking the whole dessert, one can try smoking one component of the dessert. Smoked vanilla ice cream made with muscavado sugar is a unique dessert, where, smoke acts as an incredible flavour enhancer. Smoked coconut cheesecake, is another example, where the coconut is first smoked. Fruits are a hugely popular choice when it comes to smoking.

Smoking is clearly witnessing a resurgence in kitchens. The textured feel of smoke works on all senses of the diners. It is beautiful to see, vivacious to taste, raw and rustic in smell and the texture feels incredible in the mouth.

Breakfast with Whole Grains

 

Bajra Riso at Sante Spa cuisine

 

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so make it count with nutritious whole grain dishes, both sweet and savoury

Breakfast is absolutely necessary to replenish one’s supply of energy and other nutrients to jump start metabolism. It is thus important to pick healthy foods that keep one energized throughout the day and whole grains, are definitely the best choice. Thus, it’s good to get a few servings of these daily at breakfast.

Whether one craves pancakes, oatmeal, bread, dosas or upma, for breakfast, one can have delicious and healthy options brimming with whole grains like quinoa, barley, millet, buckwheat, in some form or the other.

Owing to the array of nutritional benefits that wholegrains impart, coupled with the lifestyle changes people are undergoing, whole grains are back in several household and hotel kitchens. A tasteless bowl of steaming mush made with oatmeal or Muesli with nuts and fruits, are not the only porridge or cereal options. The choices today are infinite – buckwheat, quinoa, bulgur wheat, barley, nachni or ragi, rajgira, bajra.  These can be incorporated in a myriad exciting ways, along with other ingredients, into one’s breakfast to inculcate variety.

Whole grains retain the bran and hence are rich in protein and fibers. Because they digest slowly, one ends up feeling fuller longer and retain their energy levels. Also, if you’ve started the day on a healthy note you end up feeling upbeat and fitter. Whole grains are very easy to work with.

 

One merely needs to use one’s imagination when combining whole-grains with other flavourful ingredients to rustle up an interesting breakfast item. These need not be consumed in the grain form alone, flours made from whole grains are a simple way to make use of these. Wholegrains can add interesting textures to dishes.

Combining these with milk, yoghurt or water, either by boiling, roasting, poaching, stewing whole grains, makes them easily digestible.

Even if one is keen on a western breakfast with toast, eggs, pancakes, cereal et al, healthy whole grains lend themselves to these. Multigrain bread, quinoa in omelettes, barley cereal with low fat milk or yogurt, buckwheat crepes, cooked millet porridge, ground millet muffins. There is something for every palate.

Balance of ingredients is critical when using whole grains with other ingredients. Also, a little bit of planning ahead is important, as some whole wheat grains are coarse and need a fair bit of soaking in water to help them fluff up.

So versatile are these wholegrains that one need not merely have them in cereals or in pancakes and crepes. Closer home, as Indians prefer Dosas, upma, idlis, theplas and parathas, for breakfast, whole grains like ragi, bajra, kuttu, barley, can be added to these too.

Again, couscous, barley, buckwheat, quinoa, can be incorporated interestingly into Indian breakfast items too.

Similarly, buckwheat (not from wheat) is a pseudo grain that is hugely popular, as it is gluten free and is being used to make parathas for breakfast, apart from the usual crepes. Oats too make for a delicious savoury upma with vegetables, apart from being cooked with milk as porridge. Oats can also be mixed with besan (gramflour) to make a healthy chilla with vegetables, or even used to roll a ragi patty or tikki for breakfast, before being shallow fried.

But wholegrains need not always be exotic. Eating local wholegrains is equally beneficial. A great source of calcium, magnesium, iron, protein and fibre, the finger millet,  or ragi is now in  great demand. Keppa or ragi roti, has made a comeback in South Indian homes and is being combined with methi or fenugreek for additional benefits. Koozh, a ragi-based porridge with a buttermilk base in Chennai is also preferred. Many opt for a ragi idli, where ragi is combined with rawa and urad dal

 

Bajra or jowar Khichu, is another breakfast staple of Gujarat, where bajra or jowar flour is combined with other whole grain flours, yogurt and spices to make an upma-like dish. Thalipeeth, the savoury multi grain pancake of Maharashtra too uses bajra and is perfect to kick-start one’s day. Bajra roti and lahsun or garlic chutney is a breakfast enjoyed by our ancestors, which is making a comeback again.

 

 

Crepes, Muffins and granola bars are not the only options to pander one’s sweet cravings at breakfast. Ragi halwa, Nachni satva or a popular porridge in Maharashtra, sweet pancakes made with multigrain flours like ragi and jowar, are equally great options. To enhance the sweetness quotient, one may even drizzle these with maple syrup or even jaggery or honey.

So be it scrambled eggs with whole wheat grains paired with an oatmeal toast or a ragi upma, almost any dish can be made healthier by substituting regular flour for a whole-grain variety. With a little effort, this can set the tone for the day.

 

Tea for two?

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Afternoon Tea is all about indulgence. Sipping fine tea from a bone china cup with delectable treats served on a tiered stand, simply adds to the charm.

It’s not as if, one cannot drink the same cup of tea at home, with some ordinary biscuits or a slice of cake. But there is something glitzy about sipping it in elegant surroundings replete with a piano playing in the background, divinely decadent tea selection and salmon or crust less cucumber finger sandwiches, lemon cake, scones with jam and clotted cream, laid out on a table covered with a crisp white table cloth.

While this may seem straight out of an Enid Blyton storybook, hotels and tea rooms across India, are making Afternoon Tea fashionable all over again, albeit sometimes with a twist, to suit the Indian palate

Tea has always had a lasting place in the British culture. But it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford, who created the tradition of afternoon tea in England, as she would get hungry in the long hours between breakfast and dinner. She began asking her servants to sneak in a pot of tea with some bread stuff, to ward away her hunger. Eventually, this became a daily ritual and she shared this custom with her friends. Afternoon tea soon became popular among the aristocratic class.

In India, while this custom of Afternoon Tea was somewhat retained and followed only in Eastern India, it is now being revived in other cities too. Although people are busy, Hotels and Tea rooms, are encouraging tea lovers to fuss around their evening cup and step out and take a tea break.

Afternoon tea offers guests an opportunity to reconnect over light-hearted conversations and brings respite from an otherwise hectic day at work.

Pure Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri, may be the teas of aficionados, but there are Infused Teas, Earl Gray, English Breakfast, Lemon, Indian Masala, Herbal Teas, Chamomile et al, catering to all palates.

Cutting chai, meri apni cutting and kadak masala chai, are offerings that provide the quintessential Indian Chai experience. Right from Sulaimani chai to Mumbai Masala Chai and the classic Portuguese Cha to the Parsi Choi, infused with mint leaves and lemongrass, with fresh ginger and cardamom, everything is served.

Teas maybe the mainstay at an Afternoon Tea, but Hotels encourage guests to embark upon a culinary journey with delicacies, which are served alongside the selection of fine teas. That enhances the tea drinking experience, apart from satiating hunger during early evening.

While some hotels prefer to stick to the quintessential English teatime pastries and savouries, others want to do away with predictable fare and offer creative interpretations. Scones, pastries, Lemon meringue, blueberry cupcakes, sandwiches, apart from local classics like Vad pav, Chaan Jor garam and kanda bhajiya are on offer.

Five star hotels are not the only place, one can relish an elaborate afternoon tea. Tea rooms, both swanky and modest, have sprung up in several cities and are hosting popular Afternoon Teas.

With Afternoon Tea enjoying a resurgence in India, one no longer needs to wait for a visit to the Ritz or Savoy, to recreate the nostalgia of childhood story books.

Cross Country Ingredients

 

 

GOJI BERRY CHICKEN CURRY with black rice pilaf and broccoli-sweet potato sabzi 0

 

Ingredients may be abundant in a region, but are often used in cuisines across several countries

Lemon grass chicken, Steamed fish with tamarind sauce and Thai basil eggplant, are the quintessential Thai dishes we are familiar with. Thai cuisine is synonymous with strong spicy and aromatic components. Yet, while one may associate basil, tamarind, lemon grass and coconut only with this cuisine, interestingly, these versatile ingredients lend themselves effortlessly to several other cuisines across the globe.

The French call it, basil herbe royal. Basil, a fragrant herb finds itself in every chef’s kitchen as it enhances a multitude of cuisines. The flavours range from mild and floral to spicy and complex from different varieties and are used across cuisines.

The aromatic Thai Basil, part of the mint family with the distinguishing flavours of licorice, anise and clove, is fairly commonplace. The herb is popular in South East Asian cuisines and is generally incorporated fresh, in dishes. Thai basil is equally flavourful when eaten raw and added to salads.

Vegetarian pot stickers are dumplings with tofu and shiitake mushrooms, tossed with galangal, coriander root, green curry, coconut milk, then steamed and pan-seared, boast of the subtle flavours of Thai basil.

But there is more to basil. The slightly sweetish basil is a part of Italian cuisine. Whether it is pesto from the Ligurian region or a Pizza from Naples, or a Tomato and basil soup, the addition of the basil leaf is a must.

Again, the bold and balanced flavours of Mediterranean cuisines are characterised by herbs such as basil. The understated, fresh aroma of basil with its intense, but light taste, is the perfect ingredient for a Tomato Dandelion Salad.

Tamarind is a popular fruit which is used in cuisines all over the world. The fruit pulp is used in drinks, snacks, sorbets and most notably, Worcestershire sauce. In Thai cooking, tamarind is used in a variety of dishes including Pad Thai.

No Indian snacks are complete without the sweet and tangy tamarind or imli chutney. Used a souring agent in Indian cuisine, tamarind is extensively a part of dals, sambhar, curries too. Some chefs even use tamarind as a marinade, as besides adding flavour, tamarind helps to tenderize the meat.

And of course tamarind is a popular choice, as a base for many a tangy-sweet refreshing drink, apart from the Thai Nam Makham.

Globally, tamarind is often made use of as an ingredient in a salad dressing. With a dash of lemon juice, brown sugar and olive oil, this can prove to be a great dressing for strongly flavoured greens with apples and cashews. Chicken wings with tamarind mango glaze is another favourite.  And of course no one goes through summer in Mexico, without sipping the refreshing Aguas Frescas.

The coastal cities in India may be using coconut in various forms daily in their cooking in curries, chutney and desserts, but certain global cuisines make use of it also.

Thai food, Sri Lankan and Caribbean cuisine, are replete with coconut. Scraped coconut makes its way into several Sri Lankan curries amidst an array of flavours that the cuisine boasts of. Mallum is made from shredded leaves (kale, mustard greens, cabbage, or others) with scraped coconut, lime juice, onion, chili, and fish. Apart from that, a coconut roti with sauce is a popular dish in Sri Lanka. And of course several Sri Lankan sweets are made with desiccated coconut.

Coconut milk is widely used in Caribbean cuisine to add volume, creamy texture and flavour to a dish. Coconut is often married with curry and such a coconut curry, served with lobster, fish or chicken are spicy and sweet is common.  From rice or Johnny cakes subtly laced with coconut milk to super sweet coco brut candy, Belizean, Creole and Garifuna cuisine often incorporates this tropical mainstay. Muffin sized coconut tarts, empanada style ‘crusts’ stuffed with shredded coconut and creamy pies, are other typical desserts made with coconut.

Coconut milk is used as a base for many Thai curries as the rich flavour cuts through the spices.  No Thai meal is complete without the classic Thai soup with coconut milk, galangal and kaffir lime. Equally important in this cuisine is the Green, red or yellow curry, abounding in coconut milk and served with steamed rice.

Bird’s eye chilli and ginger are other such ingredients which foray into kitchens across the world, to enhance the flavours of food.