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Hearty and Healthy Soups

 

soup-on-white-ceramic-soup-bowl-209540

A steaming bowl of soup bursting with flavours, made with varied ingredients, is the ultimate comfort food during monsoons, be it a desi paya shorba, a flavourful Mulligatawny soup or even a Pepper rasam

The options are varied, based on individual preferences and palates. What’s more, soups can be from various cuisines, ranging from Western classics to Pan Asian favourites or even our very own desi shorbas and yes, healthy versions too.A Mexican red lentil soup with lime and pepper or a Spicy Miso soup can be the answer for those seeking a spicy soup.  Of course if soups are to be a substitute for a meal, these must be wholesome and filling as well. For those wanting to tantalize their taste buds, a piquant tamatar ka shorba, can be a great option.

Taste apart, warmth and immunity are key in this season to boost one’s immunity and thus, the right use of ingredients plays an important role. A careful selection of ingredients can up the health quotient of these comforting soups.

Greens, roots, herbs, spices and meat when added, can make a world of difference to the soup in terms of imparting it a healthy twist, which can safeguard one against winter ailments. Dark green leafy vegetables and seasonal vegetables, are a must addition and should be included wherever possible. Ginger and peppercorns as spices, with medicinal properties, too can do wonders. Adding a spoonful of ginger powder or some grated fresh ginger root, to the soup is an ideal way to boost your immunity and reduce inflammation, along with improving circulation and digestion.

Root vegetables, mushrooms and barley with an addition of meat stock makes for a robust and filling soup infused with health benefits. A lemon chickpea and greens soup, too is a good choice for non-vegetarians as it is rich in protein.

Soups help one soothe and relax in an inexplicable way when one is down with cold, cough and fever. The spice quotient should be perfect to give heat, as well as soothe to the throat. It’s about using the right spices like cinnamon sticks, cinnamon (dalchini) powder, nutmeg (jaiphal) powder, ginger, fresh turmeric, white pepper powder and pepper.

Pan Asian soups offer a myriad flavours which are universally appealing. Some soups can be clear, others with noodles, meats and vegetables. Clear chicken soup with light, fluffy dumplings and a deeply savoury, salubrious broth could be the answer, if one is seeking a light but comforting Oriental soup. A Japanese miso soup with udon noodles again is delicious and proves to be a one bowl meal. An egg drop noodle soup immediately gives a burst of flavours and is replete with the requisite proteins too.

Whoever said soups that satisfy you must be western classics or global concoctions only? Pepper Rasam owing to its spice content, is soothing and therefore is a perfect soup for winter. Various mildly-flavoured shorbas from traditional Indian cuisine,  made with vegetables, lentils and beans, are apt for winter. Chef Sinha recommends, Murgh Makkai Shorba, Carrot and Beetroot Shorba, Tamatar ka Shorba, Dal shorba.

Soups may be a meal in themselves, yet, many enjoy eating it with some accompaniments. Garlic bread, soup sticks, crostini are typical choices.

So, seasonal vegetables, meaty mushrooms, tender chicken or lentils. Add what you like to your fragrant soups this season, but make sure it is satisfying and provides you with the requisite nutrients.

 

 

 

Savoury Monsoon Treats in Southern India

Podi Idli at Shangri-La Hotel, Bengaluru

Fried and piping hot street food can be extremely comforting during monsoons. Naturally then, an assortment of such snacks tops the list in Southern India, as in rest of India, albeit with minor variations in terms of spices and ingredients

Eating spicy food to perk up your taste buds, is universally the best way to uplift your mood during monsoons when the skies turn grey.  Food lovers in the Southern States of India are no exception. Of course, most of the snacks are Vegetarian made with rice, semolina and lentils, with oodles of green chillies, spices, curry leaves and other vegetables. However, in some places like Kerala, Hyderabad and parts of Chennai, a few non-vegetarian delicacies too are enjoyed during the rainy season.

Who can resist a crisp, bhajji during the rains? Slices of onions, potatoes, or other veggies, finely chopped green chillies, combined and dipped in chickpea batter or besan and deep-fried. These are undoubtedly the numero uno rain food across India and in this part of the country too bhajjis are popular.

Known as pakoras in most parts of India, here these are referred to as bhajjis. The crunch of the veggies, along with the spices and piping hot temperature, is what appeals to the taste buds during a downpour. These are often eaten with sauce or chutneys for that extra zing to the palate.

In Chennai, bhajjis are extremely popular.  Typically, a plate of piping hot bhajjis includes an assortment of molaga (green chilli), raw banana, potato, capsicum, onion and cauliflower bhajjis. Wash these down with filter kaapi and you have a winning combination.

No rainy day in Kerala is complete without the Milagai bhajji. The besan batter includes red chilly powder, turmeric powder, ginger-garlic paste, kasoori methi, asafoetida, baking soda, and salt. The long green chilly peppers are slit and dipped into this batter. Hot bhajjis are served with coconut chutney.

Raw banana being a popular vegetable down South, bhajjis are prepared using this too. In Kerala, the banana fritters take on a new avatar. Here, bananas are sliced and dipped into a batter made of flour, egg, water, a dash of sugar, salt, and then deep fried to make crisp pazhampuris.

The crispy and fluffy goli bajji or Mangalore bhajji is a popular tea time snack in Mangalore. Made with a batter comprising maida, rice flour and sour buttermilk, curry leaves, ginger and green chillies, these are unique as no vegetable is used but the batter is fried in dollops resulting in a soft and pillowy bhajji. It is the sour fermented flavour that lends it a unique taste. In Hyderabad, similar to this is the Punugulu. Chopped onions, coriander and yogurt are mixed into the dosa batter and deep-fried into soft and spongy pakoras or bhajjis.

Close to the bhajji is another deep-fried snack in the South, known as bonda. In this season, mashed potato is covered with gram flour or besan and fried in hot oil to make crisp bondas. These are usually relished with coconut chutney on Marina beach in Chennai and at several hole-in-the-wall eateries off the roads, as evening ‘tiffin’. In some places the potatoes are replaced by yam and raw banana too.

The Mysore version of this bonda is equally a hit. Made of flour, spices and yogurt, this bonda does not contain potatoes.

The aloo bonda in Kerala gets spicier owing to the use of green chillies and pepper. People in Kerala also enjoy the Undan pori or a sweet bonda as a tea time snack. Made with rice flour, wheat flour, ripe bananas, jaggery and cardamom, these are irresistible once you get started.

Medu vada is by far the most popular vada for breakfast or evening snack, in South India, but an assortment of other vadas too are eaten. Made of rice, lentils and or rava, other ingredients are added to the vada batter for variations. Chana dal is added to the batter in Chennai along with onions and it is referred to as dal vadas. In Kerala the vadas are spicier and are made with tur dal and termed as masala vadas.

In Bengaluru, one can enjoy the Maddur vada made from a batter of rice flour, rava and maida. Finely chopped onion, curry leaves and grated coconut are added for flavour and crunch.

Kara Kondakadalai Sundal which means spicy hot chickpeas, is the ubiquitous mouth-watering snack eaten commonly in Tamil Nadu during monsoons. This quick-fix snack is easy to prepare, and fun to eat, as the spices make the taste buds tingle.  Tempered with spices, mustard seeds, raw mangoes and curry leaves, this one is difficult to stop at after a few handfuls. Easily available at road side vendors as well as on beaches, sundal can be made of other lentils like black-eyed beans too other than the popular chickpeas version.

So sip on your filter coffee or a cup of sweet tea, as you bite into the plethora of savoury snacks this monsoons.

Flavour packed small treats

Kozhi Aaru-anju

 

Having borrowed from Mediterranean mezze, Japanese Zensai and Italian cicchetti, the Spanish tapas has metamorphosed from these century-old beginnings and expanded into creative dishes which are all starter-sized small plates. What’s more these have suddenly caught the fancy of the Indian gourmand and chefs alike.

Small plates are not just a tiny cube of protein, a dribble of sauce, a teaspoonful of starch, but instead flavour-charged. No longer mere starters or appetizers, small plates are now the new entrees. From Zucchini and kale croquettes to naga chilli wings and saucy salami pizza to fried bocconcini with basil aioli and Steak tartare, the variety in small plates at restaurants is immense.

For a restaurant, it is the perfect way to showcase a dish and ensure that you are packing the whole punch of flavour into those few bites.

With flavours galore in each plate, small wonder then that small plates are becoming a rage, across India. Most diners do not want to commit to a large plate and prefer to mix and match these small ones to create their perfect meal. With ample opportunity to savour a dozen different flavour sensations at one go, naturally small plates are preferred.

Flavour profile apart, those wanting to eat healthily and sparingly, are able to strike the perfect balance with these and prevent themselves from over-indulging.

The small plates concept, dictates that dishes be shared. With a meal comprising a wide array of small plates, diners are able to order much more and share amongst themselves.

Small plates have become a fashionable and social media driven phenomenon – not only do they make for pretty pictures, but also make for a great communal experience.

Small plates may appeal to the adventurous palate of diners, but equally excite chefs as they get a chance to unleash their creativity and experiment with one or two top-notch ingredients. These, according to chefs, can be a complete surfeit of deliciousness and gives them a chance to generate incredible innovation. A small plate should be high on taste, by pairing ingredients and flavours in an innovative manner and chefs agree unanimously on this.

Small plates may seem minimalistic, yet, are impeccably composed. Small plates should be rustic, over-styling is not needed, as one should be more focused on the ingredients and flavours of the dish.

It may have been Spanish tapas originally, but now most cuisines are tapas-izing it. Indeed, small plates come in all cuisines – French, Italian, Peruvian, Japanese and even Indian.

While the popularity of small plates outweighs its detractors, many diners dislike the clutter these cause on the table as dishes are sent out from the kitchen as they’re ready instead of being coursed out. Also, sometimes pork ribs may precede a gazpacho, in the wrong sequence. Diners also opine that small plates are great for adventurous palates, but large plates must not be done away with.

Small plates are a great way for a restaurant to showcase the diversity of their flavours and food to the guests at the beginning, to hopefully get them excited about the rest that the restaurant has to offer.

With no appetizer-main course barriers, kitsch crockery and innovative creations, restaurants seem to have hit the right spot with small plates.

 

Monsoon Mania

 

 

Tom yum Prawn Soupy Dumpling at KoKo

 

Food during the Monsoon season is more about comfort, as one needs to dispel the gloomy and overcast skies and uplift one’s mood. The heavy downpours are the perfect setting for good food, especially, hot and spicy dishes. Hot soups and cups of tea, of course are favoured by all. Known for its heavy rains in the monsoons, Mumbai is just perfect.

 

Fried food is something most of us normally stay away from, but it is irresistible during this season. How can one not munch on bhajiyas or pakoras, along with endless cups of tea when it is pouring?  Or even sabuana vadas or prawns rissois?

 

Bhutta with lots of lime squeezed on it and rock salt, is another monsoon favourite. People are in the mood to indulge, during the rains, as there is nothing better to do. Today, options galore are available for monsoon snacks to accompany varieties of tea, in restaurants as well. In fact, monsoons are being celebrated by foodies. Fries, nachos, sliders, the options are endless.

 

It is not as if pakoras and bhajiyas are the only options. The repertoire has expanded as taste buds have evolved. From arancini to chicken wings and dim sums to baos, one can relish various kinds of hot food.

While most of us enjoy the strong, spicy, masala chai, the health-conscious can opt for a nice cup of ginger, lemon-infused or minty green tea instead. There is so much to choose from nowadays, floral infused teas, included.

Soups are naturally preferred by many when it is raining, sometimes even as a complete meal. A broccoli almond soup, is creamy, but not heavy and the broccoli florets and almond flakes, add an interesting bite, while the sour cream provides a unique flavour dimension. A good choice for vegetarians and unusual too. The Lhaksa, a traditional coconut flavoured broth, with a dash of lemon, is tantalising for the palate and the spices appease the taste buds. Tom Yum is equally irresistible.

 

Nothing can be more comforting than a bowl of soupy noodles in this weather. An array of ramen bowls are on offer nowadays, across restaurants. And if seafood is your calling, relish the hearty, seafood stock, poached oyster meat and somen noodles from Korea, which are a delectable treat and filling too. The simple, Northern Thai khao soi noodles, are equally comforting.

 

A plate of dim sums can be comforting in any season and more so in the monsoons. Steamed sticky rice with water chestnuts, steamed sticky rice with chicken in lotus leaf, are my weakness.

 

We Indians, love our khichdi, anytime and more so, when the rains are lashing the window panes. The masala fada khichdi with kadhi is the ultimate meal this season. Spicy and deeply satisfying, the well-balanced flavours, set it apart. The variety of textures and flavours ensures a roller-coaster ride for the palate. Add an array of vegetables to your khichdi to make it more  healthy or eat a simple one with masoor or moong dal paired with some pickle and papad.

 

Another irresistible treat in this weather is the paella de marisco, a Spanish dish which is fast gaining popularity across India. Cooked in a sea food broth, it comes with some more sea food alongside and is not-to-be-missed.

 

So, in order to feel better, when the sky is overcast over the next few days, sip cups of tea, gorge on hot pakoras and dim sums if you like. Indulge and give in to your monsoon cravings, guilt-free.

 

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.