The Floating One

I have always been intrigued by dishes & cuisines that are less popular and haven’t really explored. So, when it comes to scouting these dishes I try to read into different cultures and their way of cooking. One such cuisine that is a lot interesting & unique is Kashmiri. Since its a cold place, mostly the dishes include lots of spices. The use of spices like cloves, ginger, cinnamon, is for health benefits & mainly to keep the body warm. But thats not it, to balance the heat and flavour, fennel is added in most of the recipes.

This is my version of a ‘Bom Chount Wangun’, traditonal made semi dry and collectively. I have deconstructed it for the purpose of playing with these textures & giving justice to each ingredient individually, yet everything has a cohesive mouth feel. The idea behind this particular plating is, visually offering you a feel of Kashmir’s serene Dal Lake with a little Shikara in it. The use of printed fabric under it because Kashmiri food is usually served on ‘Dastarkhan’ (table cloth).

The valley is world famous not only for its natural beauty but also for its cultural richness. Kashmir has been described as an ancient region possessing a distinct ethnicity, character, language, dress, customs, rituals, and a rich cultural heritage. And the diversity can be seen in Kashmiri cuisine as well. It has two important variations, one is the Kashmiri pandit & other the Muslim techniques. The beauty of the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine is the lack of using the “traditional” combo of Onions, Tomatoes and Garlic in dishes. This is special because most of Indian cuisine can hardly work on meat or vegetable dishes, without using this holy trinity. Spices such as Shnoth (dry ginger powder), Baadyan (fennel powder), Lyedar (turmeric powder), Yenga (Aesofotida powder) using these just eliminates the need of other “mandatory” ingredients & perfectly amps up the taste.

We are unaware of countless techniques & ingredients which sadly, are now fading away because of commercialisation and capitalism. And I feel we as food enthusiasts should be the one to revive it, use it & let the culinary heritage be known to masses.

Fact: Kashmiri Pandit (Brahmin) are one of few hindu communities that consume meat. They have their own meat version of the famous rogan josh, known as Naine Rogan Josh. Its slow cooked in hing, red chillies, ginger till the meat leaves the bones.

The Soulful One

BANARAS: That’s what I call this dish. I dedicate it to one of the oldest city in the world. It was year 2015 when I first visited Kashi, and I was mesmerised by the calmness the city had. The ghats, the people, the food, all of it has a charm like no other city. Pace of life so slow and at ease that it makes you wonder, what is the purpose of life?

This chaat plated here is my elevated take on very famous & unique to this iconic city. The “tamatar chaat” perfected over generations can be found in the lanes of Kashi. In my version the use of fermented tomatoes granita resembles the calmness of this city, the two mash, potato & peas relates to the ghats of Banaras, the two gels of chutney are for the people of the city & the papdi crumble is to the bustling lanes where people gather in the evening to have a piece of this soulful city.

The Old-Fashioned One

It’s something that you like it or you don’t, and for me to like, it has to be non slimy. I am talking about Okra, devoured by many, loved by few. If believed, the first reference to Bhindi dates back in 1126 to 1138 AD specifically in Bijapur. It was prepared till crisp and laid on curds with fresh Bijapuri fruits and seasoned with salt. The centuries old description just amazes me and I wonder, isn’t this more progressive than today? This is my representation of how it would have been, stuffed bhindi, pomegranate curd, onion rice & thecha thins.

Okra probably originated somewhere around Ethiopia, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. Grown first in Eritrea and the highlands of Sudan, bhindi is said to have travelled with the Bantu tribe who migrated from Egypt around 2000 BC. Soon it was growing along the great river valleys of India and China.

It was staple food of slaves; slaves who had been bought from various places in Africa. Many of them spoke different tongue & when they communicated with each other, it was through food, that reminded them of home, of a time when they were free. This carried the bhindi to America.

The Brits who ruled India, never liked the okra. Despite the close relations with their American colony, the British did not develop a taste for bhindi or, as they called them, lady’s fingers. The cooks serving these Brits were often forced to just use the slimy property of Bhindi as a glaze for their meat roasts.

Fact: The seeds were toasted and ground, used as a coffee substitute and still is.

The Devoured One

Cardamom Saffron Cake layered with Sweet split bengal gram on bed of dark chocolate with roasted sesame

Chana dal or Toor Dal, Flour, Jaggery, Clarified butter. This four ingredeits brings the whole of Western India to make the most iconic dish: Puran Poli.
If we look at history, this dish reflects the the lifestyle & economic scenes of Maratha, Gujarati, Parsi community living in Western India. As a dish it easily crosses all the barriers and is made with slightly changes in each community. Like in Gujarati community its made in a thick round shape filled with Toor dal, while in Marathi its made thin with Chana dal. Parsi community makes Dar-ni-pori something very different, a thick poli almost cake like filled with dried fruits & nuts.

Being from Mumbai in Maharashtra one cannot miss the most essential dish during any festival. PuranPoli, an indigenous Maharashtrian food, loved and devoured in almost every household in the state. I recall my childhood and how eagerly I waited to be made and served hot with a big dollop of clarified butter.

While today we celebrate every other fancy & random sweet, we most not forget our humble Puranpoli. Its here to stay deep-rooted in our tradition for years to come. And this here is my respect to the iconic sweet dish.

History fact: The first reference of PuranPoli can be found in The Manasollas, also known as Abhilashitarth Chintamani, an early 12th-century Sanskrit text composed by the South Indian king Someshvara III of the Kalyani Chalukya dynasty.

The Affectionate One

Another dish that has been inspired by my travel to Medikeri and Udupi in Mangalore. I was on road trip with my friends and as all trips, this too was no different in terms of exploring food in and around. We came across a small shop in Medikeri, it was early morning and the place had just started to be operational. The owner was a straight forward guy with a place where the customer is expected to have no nonsense attitude. The dish I had was Avalakki served with curd and sugar to mix.

A basic and no fuss dish to directly feed your soul. No kidding. I have never tasted such delicate and flavourful Avalakki aka Poha. Just basic spices with flatten rice mixed in it. This here is progressive representation of memory of the heavenly dish. It’s been 5 years now since I visited that place and ahead towards Udupi, to seek blessings of Lord Krishna.

Speaking of Lord Krishna, my favourite God, a timeless tale comes to my mind. Tale of friendship, tied by flatten rice. Sudama a friend of Krishna once came to meet Him & seeing his massive palace and wealth was ashamed and started to go back. Just then Krishna noticed that he was hiding a bag full of flatten rice. Krishna pounced onto it & started enjoying the rice with much gusto. Sudama thanked Krishna and left the palace. And it is said, when Sudama went back to his home, he found his whole house was transformed, and he had all the riches in his house. He said, “Sudama, the poorest gifts given to me with love is dearer to me than the richest of gifts given without love”.

Plated: Homemade peanut yogurt, Spiced caramel flatten rice, and raw curry leaves.

The Ceremonial One

Plated: Saffron glazed Marigold petals, Dark chocolate cottage cheese, with mint puree.

If you have ever visited Dadar flower market in Mumbai in early hours of the day you must have seen all these vendors with their vibrant flowers. Everyday fresh flowers are sold at this market and its a sight to watch, colours and fragrance all around. What catches my eye is this very simple and ordinary flower that we have been using for a long time now.

Marigold: A simple looking flower but auspicious in religions and cultures around the world. In Hinduism, marigold or as they call it Genda is used for almost every ceremonial occasion. It’s said that the word Genda possibly comes from the ‘Gonda’, the tribe in Chhatisgarh where the flower is cultivated in abundance.

Marigold is a very hardy flower & has a erect stalk (hence the scientific name of ‘erecta’) – in fact, the Sanskrit name for marigold is Sthulapushpa which signifies this. It symbolizes a trust in the divine and a will to overcome obstacles. Therefore its widely used during Dushherra- a day of victory over evil. In villages & in few city houses, shops one can see it at entry point used as Toran. In Sanskrit, Toran means gateway. The flower has piercing fragrance for insects and it keeps them away, one more reason to offer the flower to Gods.

The purpose behind curating this savoury dish is a reminder of the uses of marigolds, beyond just Dussehra and Diwali decoration.

History fact: Marigold are originally from Mexico and has been part of Indian cultures for just over 350 years now. We were introduced to the flower by Portuguese.

The Trip One

How often it happens that because of food we remember few trips or places we have visited. I believe food and taste have a lot of impact on our memory. Food is something that one never forgets, like how we still remember what a particular dish tasted like in our childhood and in return we are lost in cherishing those days.

This dish here is inspired by my trips to Mahabaleshwar in Maharashtra. The hilly region is famous for sweet corn, carrots and strawberries and I have been there quite a few times now, and these are unmissable. Boating at Veena lake and then taking a stroll in market for hot corn pattice with spicy chutney and ending your day with some amazing creamy strawberry shakes is mandatory. So, as I said the dish is my ode to the trips I have taken to this beautiful place. On plate here is Corn Pattice with Strawberry puree & Spiced coriander spheres.

If history is to be believed, Lord Brahma performed the act of repentance for the creation of humans and life itself, in these forests. The recorded history of Mahabaleshwar goes back to 1215 CE, when Yadava King Singham of Devagiri visited this place. It is from here that the mighty Krishna river travels towards Andhra Pradesh. The region was cradled by many hands, from Yadav Dynasty to Bahamanis to Nizams to Chhatrapati Shivaji to Peshwas to and so on. It is believed that first European who set his foot here was General P Lodwick, who explored this region for its boundless beauty and made it popular among British.

History Fact: Strawberry cultivation was introduced by convicts from China and Malay imprisoned by the British in Mahabaleshwar 1834 to 1864. They were encouraged to plant english vegetables including berries, and when they left it was handed over to locals.

The Self Sustaining One

I am amazed by how so many cuisines around the world are similar to our Indian cuisine. Be it ingredients, process, technique of cooking, something or the another does tie up.

Tacos: A humble street food from Mexico feels so similar to our dish of eating roti with some vegetable or meat. The origins of the taco are really unknown. If stories and first references are to be believed then the word Tacos is referred to a dynamite that were used in sliver mines in Mexico. These dynamites were pieces of paper that they would wrap around gunpowder and insert into the holes they carved in the rock face. So, it can be considered that Tacos aren’t age old traditions.

I like creating dishes that are from different part of world but are made with Indian ingredients. Speaking of gun powder, something that we have in our south Indian pantry and thats what made me create these Tacos. The taco shells are made of ragi flour, which is again very Indian and sadly which we don’t use often. The filling is roasted Paneer thats mixed with Gun powder, which gives a much needed spice and rawness and added are lightly seasoned bell peppers. To tie yet break everything apart there is a zesty yogurt-coconut-lime dressing.

Bottomline is, Tacos is to Mexico what Vada Pav is to Mumbai.

The Precursor One

Focaccia. Shot by:

What do you imagine when I say, a flat bread topped with veggies, meat, olive oil, spices? I know most of you must think of it to be Pizza. Well, its not, this here is the prototype of what we call Pizza today, this here is Focaccia.

Wells for toppings
Texture inside

A classic looking Focaccia after fermenting has wells created in it with finger tips. The wells or spots in the yeasted dough is then filled with toppings of ones choice; the most famous being of rosemary, tomatoes and olive oil. There are endless possibilities of flavours one can explore with Focaccia, it can be savoury, sweet, sour.

For my piece of bread, I decided to go classic from streets of Bombay, the taste everyone relates to, Pav Bhaji. The airiness of bread, spicy flavour of masalas, and olive oil with butter gives this piece of history its much needed Indian touch.

The name of the focaccia comes from the Latin “focus”, that is “cooked on fire”. It was staple food for by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks, around second century. Later, it was introduced to Italians and as we know today, it’s been part of their cuisine.

The Humble One

The most versatile root than the humble carrot? From juice, salads, soups and cakes, the carrot just keeps on giving. The earliest vegetable definitely known to be a carrot dates from the 10th century in Persia and Asia Minor and would have been quite unlike the orange rooted carrot of today.

In 2017 9th National Grassroots Innovation Award was given to Vallabhbhai Marvaniya is by Government for introducing carrots to Gujarat in 1943. While feeding the fodder to the cattle, once Vallabhbhai also tried some carrot and found it very tasty. He then suggested to his father that they should sell the surplus carrot in their farm. His father took it as a joke but Vallabhbhai was so sure about this that he himself dug out the carrots and took them to the market to sell. And the rest is history. At 95 now, Vallabhbhai still visits his farm twice a week, and his son Arvindbhai and his family work under his guidance with his own variety of carrots.

Well, as of now I can’t do something like Vallabhbhai but what I can do is honour this humble root vegetable. So, everything here on plate is carrots. A carrot puree with star anise, a carrot strip cooked in caramelised orange sugar, also created melt in mouth little carrot spheres which are pickled in mustard oil, and a carrot mint tuile for the crunch.

Carrots originated in the Himalayas and Hindu Kush centre of the continent and moved in both directions on the Silk Road. It is considered that Carrots were originally purple or white with a thin root, then a mutant occurred which removed the purple pigmentation resulting in a new race of yellow carrots, from which orange carrots were subsequently developed. Purple carrot, together with a yellow variant, spread to the Mediterranean region and to China, India and Japan in the 14–17th centuries.