Monthly Archives: February 2012

Unique flavoured multipurpose herb: lemon grass

My first memory of lemon grass is in Thai food in Calcutta, several years ago. It had a distinct lemony flavour and I was intrigued by this herb and the taste it bought to the food. Later, I also sampled tea with lemon grass, which my father-in-law so lovingly prepared. The tea tasted good, but not exactly my cup of tea!  I prefer my kadak chai sans anything.

Lemon grass is a unique herb and lends a great lemony flavour when added to dishes. It is primarily used in Thai and South East Asian cuisine. The pale yellow stalk is what needs to be used. Most chefs tend to use it fresh, but many of us at home also use the dried, powdered version to add a citrus flavour to dishes. It pairs well with ginger, chilli, garlic and coconut. A little is a lot, when it comes to lemon grass, so use it sparingly. I love it in soups. Tom Yum or hot, sour shrimp soup or a Chicken noodle soup. Have even tried it with baked fish and it tastes good. Sauteed Bass is a good bet too. Chicken dishes are where it is commonly used, but also prawns. Lemon grass is a great favourite with Chefs preparing Vietnamese food. Rich in Vitamin C, it has several other health benefits as well and many people use it for curing headaches, cold, flu, chest congestion and so on. Easily availabale nowadays, it helps to keep some at home. Comes handy.

My comfort food: Biryani

Biryani can never go out of fashion I know, but of late everyone is having Biryani festivals or at least serving special biryanis. But I am not complaining. I love biryanis. Can eat it daily. Chicken biryani made in the dum style is my favourite. Somehow this style of biryani popular inHyderabadcooked over slow fire in a sealed handi(vessel) is unparalleled. The aroma and flavour of the spices is retained, perhaps that’s why it tastes different. But the Bong style of Biryani with a piece of roast meat or chicken, along with an allo and a boiled egg in flavoured rice is also delicious. Hangla does a yummy one as does the newly opened Arsalan in Khar. Grew up on this type of biryani in Kolkata.

I make good biryani too. But somehow at home I prefer making fish or prawns biryani. The fish one is a bit tricky as the fish should not crumble, as it cooks very easily. It helps to fry the fish separately and add it later, once the rice is cooked. But fry it lightly, not deep fried. It is also interesting to substitute rice with poha in biryani. Have tried chicken biryani with poha and it turns out really well. But do not overcook the poha, else it will be soggy. The Resort is planning a BBQ and Biryani festival on weekends from this weekend till March 19. Must check it out. Recently sampled delicious biryani at Mirador Hotel in Andheri East as part of their Awadhi food festival. Chef Qureshi created magic. The mutton was so succulent and the spices in the biryani were simply unique. That man has the midas touch.

Even the biryani guys at Gulshan Nagar Jogeshwari West prepare lip smacking biryani. Star caterers with Maqsood bhai at the helm is my favourite. Check it out. I vouch for its quality and hygiene. Ofcourse it is home delivered. Relish it within the comforts of your home.

Aabar Khabo!

Bengali food….ah! the aroma of mustard oil is so familair and makes me nostalgic. You can’t blame me as I have grown up in Kolkata and am almost a Bong, so love Bengali food. The flavour of kalonji or paanch phoran(five spices) spluttering in sorshe tel is unique. Kosha Mangsho with luchi or even cholar dal, chorchori, sukhto, begun bhaja, alu dum, ghee bhat, maccher jhol and sada bhat, chitol muthia are my all time favourites. It is the oil and the spices used in Bengali cuisine that enhance the flavour of the food and make it so different.

Also the taste of the fresh water fish that one normally eats in Bengal, is different. The salt water fish Hilsa or Ilish which is such a delicacy in Bengali, is unfortunately not my favourite. I prefer Rohu or Rui as the Bongs lovingly call it. Each household in Kolkata has a different way of preparing fish. A lot also depends upon the texture, size, fat content and the bones in the fish. It could be fried, cooked in a simple spicy tomato or ginger based gravy (jhol), or mustard base with green chillies (shorshe batar jhaal), with posto, steamed inside of plantain leaves, cooked with doi (curd/yogurt). The steamed fish in plantain leaves is similar to Patranu Macchi of the Parsis. Even Goans make fish in this manner with green chutney inside the fillet. I can devour fish fry or maccher jhol with rice anytime. Have a soft corner for Doi Mach too, if prepared well.

Mumbai has always had a plethora of restaurants serving Bengali food, but they seem to be abounding now. Thank God. Bijoli Grill of Calcutta is now here in Powai and so is Bhojohari Manna near Heera Panna Mall in Oshiwara, Andheri west. Affordably priced, the latter’s food is great, but alas! the portions are highly inadequate. They need to look into that. Waiting to sample their Mahabhoj Thala ( a thali). Haven’t got down to doing so. Ofcourse Oh! Calcutta has been around for a while and continues to serve great Bengali food. Calcutta Club is fairly good too, but only for some dishes. Their ghee bhat is authentic. Bhima’s rolls near the Gurdwara in Four Bungalows Andheri west, I feel are hyped, as the food quality leaves a lot to be desired. Hangla is fast becoming a popular chain with outlets in several places, but only takeaways. Their food is good, specially the rolls and the chicken kosha and biryani.  They are the closest to the ones I am used to from Stop Over in Ballygunge Phari Kolkata. Arsalan from Calcutta is also there now in Khar in Mumbai on SV Road and is always packed. Can we blame people for thronging there? The food is delicious and well priced too. Hope they maintain this pricing and quality too.

Anek hoiche, about Bengali food. Will have to relook at my menu tonight and prepare a Bengali dish for sure. Tastebuds are longing for it. Not even discussing Bengali sweets today. That’s a full chapter by itself.

Chai nashta?

It’s Sunday today and am in the mood for some unusual breakfast. No, not at home for a change. My palate needs some tickling.  Now what are the exciting options in Mumbai?  Lots of restaurants an eateries where I stay (Oshiwara) but alas! none open early- not before 9.30 am or 10 am (and that too if you’re lucky!!) Dosas from a usual Shetty joint or Sreeji’s, Nah! Mc Donalds breakfast. Sampled it many times. Inadequate and snacky. Certainly not value-for-money. It is at times like this I miss the yummy paratha options you get in Delhi early morning. Ah! used to gorge on them during my IIMC days. Alu, gobi, mooli, lip- smacking, garam garam, served with dahi. Gole market, Bengali market. Ooh! makes me nostalgic. Or even good ol’ Kolkata. Dozens of small eateries serving radhaballabi( a dal stuffed puri) with alu sabzi. Ah! the aroma is unparalleled.

Vyanjan a small mithai cum snack shop near Oshiwara police station does dhoklas, upma, samosas, kachoris, but that’s not what I feel like eating first thing in the morning. They have even added some chinese sandwich, chinese samosas et al. Sweet Bengal opp Veera Desai Road, has peas stuffed, kadaishuti kachori with a delicious alu gravy( a bit watery though), but where does this Bong shop surface early? You can’t have breakfast at 11 am can you?   Makhan Bhog, the sweet shop, at Shastri Nagar or Seven Bungalows too has oily kachoris and jalebis. Yummy but not healthy. Vada Pav and samosa pav have never been my favourites, so that’s definitely out. Fat Cat Cafe on Veera Desai Road is an option. A place I like to visit definitely. Par kuch naya chaihye! Or Salt Water Cafe in Bandra?

Are you then saying that in order to have a good breakfast I will have to drive beyond the Western suburbs and go to SoBo? That is so sad. Café Madras at Kings Circle and it’s piping hot dosa, vada, idli, sambhar??   Leopold in Colaba, I know serves a great breakfast, eggs, toast, juices, waffles et al. And so does Tea Centre at Resham Bhavan, Churchgate. I am not in the mood for a lavish spread at five star hotels. Those are plenty, I know, but as I said, that’s not the kind of breakfast I want.

Looks like I will have to settle for my own home made breakfast – besan chilla (gramflour pancakes with lots of veggies, sprinkled with kotmir on top) or French Toast (I make it quite well) or a chilli cheese toast (a la Jai Hind college canteen) or good ol’ Poha/Upma, or a Spanish Omelette. Better I get started and bid adieu to the idea of breakfast outside.

Honestly am in the mood to indulge myself,  but no exciting options close by. It’s time someone explored this. Trust me there will be many takers. Count me in for sure. Mumbaikars generally leave home early on weekdays and even on a Holiday, everyone seeks something hatke from their usual fare! So Mumbai wake up!

The Ultimate Italian Dessert

Tiramisu with fruits

Can never resist a Tiramisu after dining out, more so if it is an Italian restaurant. Not surprising therefore, Tiramisu, the Italian dessert is gaining popularity in India. And not in five star hotels only. Stand alone restaurants too are contributing towards this. Can vouch for it.

Light, fluffy and delicious, this layered cake originated in Tuscany. Tiramisu is a favourite with Italian food connoisseurs and an Italian meal is not complete without this heavenly dessert! The key to preparing good tiramisu lies not in the technique, but in its composition. There are different types of tiramisu recipes besides the authentic tiramisu. The ingredients may also be varied, for example, liquor may be substituted with almond extracts, cream cheese may be used instead of mascarpone cheese and savoiardi may be replaced by regular cookies or sponge cake.

Consistency and texture are critical in a well made Tiramisu. While many may not like the usage of eggs in Tiramisu, Chef Rossano is emphatic. “Traditionally eggs are used in making tiramisu however in India, as per the clientele, some chefs do egg- less tiramisu, however I don’t recommend it.” Bill Marchetti goes a step further when he says, “Instead of lightening the texture of the mascarpone with an egg sabayon you can use whipped cream and make an eggless sponge.”  Chef Rossano Renzelli, Executive Sous Chef, Westin Mumbai Garden City says, “For the perfect Tiramisu the two most important things are mascarpone cheese and coffee (Tia maria or kalhua) or almond liquor. Mascarpone cheese in Tiramisu can never be substituted with something else.” Celebrity Chef, Bill Marchetti of Spaghetti Kitchen feels, “Tiramisu means, pick me up, so it needs to be a rich liqueur and coffee laden concoction. The dish is all about mascarpone. You can also use a sponge cake instead of Savoiardi cookies. It’s main purpose is to soak up the coffee and liqueur.”

My first tryst with Tiramisu was when I was in London. Although had tried it earlier in India, I got hooked onto it there, when my colleague, Richard Mosquera, an IT wizard used to make the most delicious tiramisu. It used to simply melt in the mouth and have us carving for more. The ingredients were in the right proportion. Back in Mumbai, I’ve been scouting for the perfect tiramisu and a few places have offered me that. Olive Bar & Kitchen does a great tiramisu, as does Stax at Hyatt Regency. Ofcourse some places pass off a cheesecake with some element of coffee in it as Tiramisu. But my all time favourite are the ones at Spaghetti Kitchen and Mezzo Mezzo, JW Marriott. Chef Salvatore at Mezzo Mezzo made one with mango as well, which was unique. I even tried an Amarula Tiramisu myself with the caramel liqueur, it was good but I still prefer the classic one. Am old fashioned, what to do??

Wine Festival at The Club

The air was redolent with high spirits.(No pun intended). It was the Winter Wine Festival at The Club, D N Nagar, Andheri West. Everyone was enjoying themselves and obviously out to have a good time. Why not? After all some of the finest wines from all over the world were on display. One could sample them, buy them at really affordable prices. Chateau De Ori, Fratelli, Vallonne, Pause Living Liquidz, Good Earth Wines, Chateau Indage were some of the participants. Full bodied wines, sparkling wines, dry wines, fruity flavours- there was something for everyone. Not to mention the vast array of good food one could choose from.

It always helps to create an awareness about wines, as although it is now a growing trend in India to drink wines, yet, many are still unfamiliar with wines. Moreoever newer ones keep entering the market. So, sampling wines at such festivals, asking questions, understanding how to enjoy the wines, really helps. The customer as well as the producer. It also helps to get tips on what foods those wines can be paired with. Sipping your wine with the right dish, enhances the experience.

I had an enjoyable evening. Having missed it last year, I was determined to be there this year, even though it clashed with the one at Nashik. Shall do that some day too.