Ayurveda – Cooking with Five Elements.

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Thousands of years before even contemporary medicine provided scientific corroboration for the mind-body inter-connection, the profoundly wise scholars of India gave birth to Ayurveda, which persists to be one of the world’s most advanced and ardent mind-body health technique. More than a mere system of treating disease and ailment, Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers the body of wisdom of traditional medicines designed to help people stay vibrant, energetic and healthy while realizing their full human potential and capabilities.

The main fundamental rules of Ayurveda are that the mind and the body are connected in a way that are impossible to seperate, and nothing has more strength to cure and transform the body than the mind. Immunity from illness depends upon augmenting our own understanding, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. This process isn’t as intricate as it may sound. For example, when you meditate you effortlessly enter a state of expanded awareness and inner peace that reinvigorates the mind and reinstates stability. Since the mind and body are inseparable, the body is naturally balanced through the implementation of meditation. In the state of relaxed consciousness created through meditation, your heart rate and breath slow, your body decreases the production of “stress” hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, and you increase the production of neurotransmitters that enhance wellbeing, including serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins.
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The age old practice of Ayurveda believes we’re made up of three different ‘body types’ that equates to our physical and personality attributes, known as doshas. These are: vata, pitta and kapha, each of which represents two of the five universal elements (a combination of either, air, fire, water, earth). Ayurvedic principles believe that each individual contains diverse proportions of each dosha, generally one or two in dominance. Our naturally predominant dosha does not denote imbalance, but rather how – or who – we are in our most healthy, balanced state. Mind-body health and harmony may be challenged when any of the doshas become aggravated or unstable. Understanding Identifying your predominant dosha and potential imbalances, which an Ayurvedic practitioner can assist with, is the secret to keeping your mind-body balance in check.

Ayurveda in its journey to transform dishes that create the perfect balance in the body has also invented cooking methods that are termed healthy today, like pan frying, roasting, steaming and blanching. The answer to why dishes in Indian cuisine are fried while others are steamed or roasted can be found in Ayurveda. This ancient science actually discovered how cooking and the time taken to cook can change the composition of a particular food and its effect on the body. Like the lycopene in tomatoes, which intensifies while cooking can be easily extracted. The same goes for onion. Tempering it with hing (asafoetida) balances the diuretic properties in onion that makes it good for cough and cold and helps in digestion. In fact, ayurvedic cooking prohibits from using fried brown onions that have lost all their nutrients and can cause acidity in a few cases. Blanching carrots robs them off their betacarotene, and so best eaten raw. In fact the all-popular steam cooking done by wrapping vegetable in a leaf is also quintessentially Ayurvedic practise.

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Kheer (Rice Pudding) , a dish that was first mentioned in the Ramayana was in fact an Ayurvedic invention. It combines the fat in milk with the starch in rice to boost energy.

The art of lactic fermentation and its use was yet another invention of Ayurveda to the culinary world. The proof of this is the high use of ghee and yogurt in Ayurveda to treat a huge array of diseases, from constipation to ulcers and even hangovers. An old scripture traced to the Gupta period states that Ghee was consumed by Khastriya soldiers before the war. It is said that after the Kalinga war, Emperor Ashoka gave up meat in favour of vegetarian food, five times a week, because it kept him agile and alert. Soups, yet another innovation from Ayurveda, too were hugely consumed back in time. In Chola dynasty back in the 3rd century BCE, it was used both as a morning beverage and for enhancing appetite. Soup was often the food given to new lactating mothers to regain strength.

Salads, mostly prepared raw with ginger julienne and lemon juice, were first consumed during the 200BCE was also credited to Ayurveda. The ‘raw food diet’ was adopted by the Buddhist from Kalinga (present day Odisha and West Bengal) who took it to other countries and continents while they travelled. Many food historians attribute the tradition of eating raw food or par boiled food in Chinese cuisine to Ayurveda and to the Chinese pilgrim Fa Hsien (c. 337–422 AD), who visited India to document the culinary and health system, notes that Indian cuisine then, especially the vegetarian side, used minimum spices and cooking time so as to impart that right flavour to the dish without compromising on the nutrients.

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According to Ayurveda, the best way to cook vegetables is to sauté them in ghee with spices. By first sautéing the spices in ghee, the volatile oils of the spices are drawn out into the ghee. These spices have therapeutic value. Turmeric, for example, has been found to be an antioxidant, and other spices such as cumin and coriander help with digestion and assimilation. The spices cook into the vegetables act as carriers, transporting nutrient from the vegetables into the bloodstream as we consume them. They also make the food taste aromatic and delicious.

Ghee is considered beneficial oil in Ayurveda. According to traditional ayurvedic texts, it is a rasayana – a Sanskrit word, with the literal meaning: Path (āyana) of essence (rasa). It is a term that in early ayurvedic medicine means the science of lengthening lifespan, good for overall well-being and longevity. Modern research shows that it is an antioxidant and contains beta- carotene. Since the milk solids have been removed, ghee does not spoil easily like vegetable oils do. If you are on a weight loss program, limit your intake of ghee or oil to judicious amounts. It is this philosophy of cooking that is still followed by those practicing Ayurveda, and makes it a healing and restorative cuisine. What also lends ayurvedic cooking its unique identity aside the cooking method used for each food and the good use of local ingredients, is the use of certain herbs and practices. Most recipes in Ayurveda call for kasturi (curcuma aromatic), a fragrant variety of turmeric root instead of ordinary turmeric (curcuma longa) because of its aroma and nutrients. It also uses a lot of flowers and berries in its dishes instead of spices like chillies to extract the required flavor without too much cooking. So assuming that Ayurvedic dishes are all bland is truly a misconception. A spice and meat jaded palate will find it high on subtlety, but that is because each dish is made to suit a person’s character, which is a mix of Vatta Pitta and Kapha.

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10 common herbs and spices used in Ayurveda.

HARIDRA:

Commonly known as turmeric, haridra has a bright yellow color and it tastes bitter and astringent. It has anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-oxidant, anti-viral and anti-fungal properties. Turmeric is used in the treatment of health problems like constipation, hemorrhoids, eye disorders, dysentery, parasites, hemorrhoids, high cholesterol, coughs, lupus, conjunctivitis, diabetes and many types of cancer like breast cancer, colon cancer and lung cancer.

Curcumin (Active Ingredient In Turmeric Spice) Very Effective At ...

Picture Credit: Fanatic Cook 

AMALAKI:

Also known as amla or Indian gooseberry, Amalaki is a small fruit, pale green or yellowish green in color. The taste of this fruit is very sour. It has antioxidant, diuretic, antiviral, antimicrobial, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory and anti-anemia properties. For centuries, people have amla to treat a wide range of illnesses like hyperacidity, constipation, ulcers, hepatitis, colitis, high cholesterol, diabetes and anemia. It can prevent cancer and protect the liver, heart, kidney and nerves.

Gooseberries

BRAHMI:

Also known by the name of Bacopa or Indian Gotu kola, Brahmi is a small, creeping herb with numerous branches. It is bitter in taste. Research has shown that Brahmi has Antioxidant, Cardio tonic and anticancer properties. Brahmi helps restore memory, higher cognitive and neurological functions. It is highly effective against diseases like bronchitis, asthma, epilepsy, insomnia, hoarseness, arthritis, rheumatism, backache, constipation, fever, digestive problems, depression, autism and all sorts of skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, abscess and ulcerations.

File:Bacopa monnieri W IMG 1612.jpg - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MANJISTHA:

Popularly known as Red Madder Root, Manjistha is a climber, usually growing over other bushes or trees. The roots as well as the stems are used for medicinal used. It has astringent, anti-bacterial and diuretic properties. This plant is used to treat dropsy, paralysis, jaundice, amenorrhea, menopause, visceral and hepatic obstructions, skin diseases, chronic diarrhea, intestinal debility, rheumatism, tuberculosis, intestinal ulcer gallstones and stones of the urinary tract, bleeding disorders, and much more. It also works as a blood purifier for skin diseases and to improve the complexion.

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 Picture credit: Felicity Ford 

NEEM:

Also popular by the names of Indian Lilac or margosa, Neem has been used for centuries by millions of people for its medicinal properties. It has antibacterial, antifungal, anti-ulcer, blood purifier, and antipyretic, anti parasitic, antiseptic, and antiemetic properties. Various parts of the tree are used in Ayurveda for treating a plethora of health problems. This herb is used to treat diabetes, leprosy, itching, blood disorders, intestinal worms, piles, dysentery, jaundice, vomiting, wounds, eye disease, paraplegia, female genital diseases and all kinds of fevers.

JEERA:

Jeera also known as cumin seed has been used in Indian cooking for centuries. The nutty peppery flavor of cumin seeds can make any food yummy. In Ayurveda this common spice is used to treat different health problems due to its antiseptic, carminative, diuretic, antispasmodic, anti inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-flatulent properties. It is used in the treatment of various health problems like indigestion, amnesia, diarrhea, morning sickness, nausea, acidity, flatulence, stomach pain, common cold, cough, and insomnia.

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 Picture Credit: Kris A

DHANYA:

Also known by the name of coriander, dhanya has been used as a flavoring agent and medicinal plant since ancient times. In Ayurveda both the seeds and the leaves of this plant are used for treating many health problems. It has anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-septic, antipyretic, anti-fungal, cooling and diuretic properties. It is used to treat health problems like arthritis, stomach gas, urinary tract infections, and nausea, mood swings associated with menstruation, menstrual cramping, bloating, anemia, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, diabetes, bladder infection, intense itching, conjunctivitis, and eczema.

Whole Coriander Seed
 Picture Credit: Emily Barney

DHRUT KUMARI:

Also known as Aloe vera, this herbal plant is often described as a “wonder plant”. It is a succulent and mucilaginous plant that can grow up to 40 inches in height. The thick and heavy green leaves contain the precious healing gel that provides many health benefits. Aloe vera gel has disinfectant, anti-biotic, anti-microbial, germicidal, anti-bacterial, anti-septic, anti-fungal and anti- viral properties. The gel is used in the treatment of cuts, minor burns, constipation, enlarged liver, hepatitis, bronchitis, asthma, tumors, Candida infections, diabetes, colon cancer, high blood pressure, arthritis and various types of skin infections. 

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TULSI:

Also known as Holy Basil this plant is actually considered sacred by many religious groups. It is a small plant with small leaves, and has hairy stems and very soothing fragrance. It has demulcent, expectorant, anti catarrhal, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, digestive stimulant, antimicrobial, antifungal, anti parasitic and antibacterial properties. Ayurvedic practitioners use holy basil to treat a myriad of ailments like arthritis pain, back pain, headache, influenza, common cold, asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, fever, viral hepatitis, diabetes, malaria, tuberculosis and ringworm.

Tulsi (Holy Basil)
 Picture Credit: Thangaraj Kumaravel

YASHTI MADHU:

Yasthi Madhu or licorice root has been used as a powerful medicine in both Ayurveda and various forms of modern medicine. Licorice root works as an expectorant, anti-spasmodic, anti- inflammatory, laxative, hypertensive, anti-ulcer, estrogenic, antibacterial, anti-fungal, and immune stimulant. The sweet and cooling taste of licorice root is used to treat peptic ulcers, canker sores, acid reflux, cough, asthma, eczema, osteoarthritis, liver disorders, malaria, tuberculosis, food poisoning, sore throat, common cold, ulcers, nervous exhaustion, cystitis and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

licorice root
 Picture Credit: denAsuncioner

Apart from the above mentioned spices and herbs, there are many more natural ingredients that are used in Ayurveda. When choosing an herb or spice to consume for whatever health problem that you have, make sure to do thorough research and always consult your doctor if it’s okay to take any of these natural ingredients.

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Awadhi Gosht (Lamb) Biryani

The name Biryani is derived from the Persian word beryā(n) (بریان)

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This royal dish is believed to find its roots in the rustic kitchens of the Mughal Emperors in 1800.

The traditional method to cook biryani was by a method called “Dum” it simply means to breathe in. A very heavy bottomed pot is used for cooking in which the food is tightly sealed with a “Purdah” also known as veil which is a simple dough made of water and flour used to seal the pot with the lid and the food is cooked on slow fire. This process of slow cooking releases maximum flavour and aroma.

The legend has it that the Biryani was brought to India from Persia through Afghanistan by the Arab traders, another source indicates that the biryani was brought by Emperor Taimur Lang from Persia to India as early as 1394.

Although there are many legends regarding discovery of biryani in India, the Islamic Persians have made the biryani popular in India. In 1856, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah introduced Biryani to Calcutta which became Calcutta Biryani. This Biryani was cooked with meat and whole boiled potatoes.

The Biryani from Lucknow is also know as the “pulao” and is supposed to be a more refined version. Its prepared in a different way as compared to the Biryanis prepared in the other states of India. A major difference is using “Yakhni” which is a rich mutton stock. Its also supposed to be quite delicate to the palate.

Below is the detailed recipe and a brief video to guide you through. I have slightly tweaked the recipe however the authenticity of the dish is maintained.

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Recipe

Serves 8-10 people

Cooking Time – 3 Hrs

 

Ingredients

2 kg Leg of Lamb diced on the bone

1kg Basmati Rice

8 medium size Onions

3 Large Potatoes (Optional)

1 cup Ginger and garlic paste

14 Cloves

4 Star Anise

12 Green Cardamom

4 Mace

2 stick of Cinnamon about one inch each

6 Bay Leaves

12 Whole Black Peppercorn

6 Whole Kashmiri Red Chillies

11/2 tbsp Cumin Powder

11/2 tbsp Red chilli Powder

11/2 tbsp Garam masala powder

1/2 tbsp Nutmeg Powder

1tsp of Saffron Strands

100 ml of Rose water

100 ml of Kewra(Screw pine) Water

1 Cup of Milk

1 cup of Ghee

1/2 cup of Vegetable Oil

1 Tbsp of Lemon Juice

Salt to taste

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Method

Preparing the Yahni (Stock):

1. Take a cooking pot and add about 5 Ltr of water. Add 21/2 tbsp of salt, 1 cup of Ghee, 1 cup of ginger-garlic paste and half a cup of oil. Add all the whole spices, leaving 6 cloves, 4 green cardamom and saffron aside. Add the powdered spices keeping aside half tbsp each of cumin powder, red chilli powder and the garam masala powder. Add 50 ml of rose water and 50 ml of kewra water. Bring it to a boil.

2. Ask your butcher to dice slightly large pieces of the leg of lamb on the bone. This is also termed as “biryani boti” as the biryani uses a larger cut of the leg, compared to curry pieces. Once the broth comes to a boil add the lamb pieces. Cover with a lig and cook for approximately 1.5 hrs on medium heat until the meat is tender.

3. While the yahni is cooking, finely slice the onions and deep fry until golden brown. Remove from the fryer and drain on kitchen towel. Peel the potatoes and dice into 4 large pieces each. Boil the potatoes with 1 tbsp of salt and 1 tsp of turmeric. Keep aside once cooked. Wash and soak 1 kg of good quality basmati rice for at least an hour. Take half a cup of cold milk add saffron, rose water and kewra water, mix well and refrigerate.

4. Once the lamb is cooked remove the pieces with a pair of tongs or slotted spoon. Strain the stock through a muslin cloth or fine sieve. Your stock should have been reduced by half now. Discard the spices.

Assembling the biryani:

5. In a heavy bottom cooking pot add 1 tbsp of ghee, once heated add the lamb pieces, sauté for a couple of minutes and add the fried onions, 3/4th of the yakhni or the strained stock, 1 cup of milk, 1/2 tbsp of cumin powder, 1/2 tbsp of chilli powder and half tbsp of the garam masala powder. Cook for further 10-15 mins stirring continuously on high heat until the liquid comes to a slight syrup consistency. check for seasoning. At this stage the salt should be on a slightly higher side Remove from heat, add the boiled potatoes and keep aside.

6. In another cooking pot bring water to boil and add 3 tablespoon of salt, 6 cloves, 4 green cardamom, 1 tbsp of lemon juice and add 1/4 of the yakhni or the strained stock. Once the water comes to a boil, drain the rice and add to the pot, cook until 3/4 done.

7. Drain the rice in a collander and layer it on the mutton broth. Once you have transferred all the rice to the pot, level it with a flat spoon. Sprinkle milk and saffron mixture on the rice and seal the pot with aluminium foil making sure the steam doesn’t escape the pot. Add a lid on top and cook on Dum (simply means to breathe in. A very heavy bottomed pot is used for cooking in which the food is tightly sealed with a “Purdah” also known as veil which is a simple dough made of water and flour used to seal the pot with the lid and the food is cooked on slow fire. This process of slow cooking releases maximum flavour and aroma.) for 45 mins. I have used aluminium foil to seal the pot as its an hassle free substitute compared to sealing it with a dough.

There are two ways to give “dum” you could place a flat heavy bottomed tawa on your gas burner on low heat and place the pot on it or place the pot in a convection oven at around 100 degree Celsius for 45 mins.

8. After the “dum” remove the lid and the foil. Once you remove the foil using a flat spoon very delicately mix the rice bringing the meat to the surface. Spoon onto a serving dish accompanied with a mint or a cucumber raita.

Tips:

Biryani or Pulao has always been a complicated dish to pull off. However a few tips will surely make it more easier.

1. While cooking the lamb and potatoes make sure not to over cook them as later when we layer the rice and the lamb broth it will cook further 45 mins on Dum. I always cook my lamb and potatoes 90 % and let them finish cooking on dum resulting in fork tender meat and soft and fluffy potatoes.

2. Make sure you check your seasoning at every stage of cooking.

3. As soon as the rice is cooked, drain and immediately layer it on the broth. If you leave the rice in the colander for long the steam in the rice will overcook the rice as a result your end product will be a lumpy overcooked Biryani. Timing and precision are very crucial while cooking the rice.

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Dahi aur Khade Masale ka Murgh (Chicken cooked with yoghurt and whole spices)

The Mughals and Persians from western Asia brought their rich artistic and gastronomic culture of eating meat to India. This influence lasted for more than 400 years and is now part of the fabric of Indian culinary culture.The splendor of the Mughal rule is reflected in the Mughlai Cuisine of India which is the richest and the most lavish in the country.

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Punjab has bequeathed the institution of Dhaba to the world. The Dhaba moves wherever a Punjabi goes would be the correct thing to state about its origin. Dhabas were food stalls which were often run by single families and mushroomed all along the trunk road serving fresh regional cuisine. The dhabas mainly gained popularity in the Northwestern part of the country from Peshawar to Punjab. The dhabas were characterised by open kitchens, clay ovens also know as tandoor and used brass and copper utensils. Dhabas today have become very popular all over the country and many modern versions have evolved.

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I have selected one of the most popular dishes from their menu a simple chicken curry cooked with yoghurt and whole spices.

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Serves 6-8 people

Cooking time 40 mins

 

Ingredients

2 Baby chicken whole (approx 900 gms each)

Whole Spices 

3 bay leaves

1 stick cinnamon 5 cm

6 green cardamom

4 cloves

1/2 tbsp Cumin seeds

7-8 whole kashmiri red chillies

 

4 tbsp vegetable oil

4 tbsp desi ghee

4 medium onions

250 gms ginger and garlic paste (100 gms ginger & 150 gms garlic)

500 gms yoghurt

125 ml double cream

25gms or around 1 heaped tbsp kashmiri chilli powder

1/2 tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp cumin powder

1 tbsp coriander powder

1 tsp garam masala powder

Salt to taste

3 tbsp chopped coriander

 

Method

1.Clean chicken and trim any excess fat. Cut each chicken into approximately 18 pieces or you can ask your local butcher to do that for you.

2. In a pan heat oil and ghee. Once heated add all the whole spices. The idea here is to make sure that the spices release their flavour into the oil. Make sure not to burn the spices.

3. Add 4 finely chopped onion and saute until slightly brown, we don’t want the onions to be golden brown. Just a slight colour on them will do.

4. Now add the ginger and garlic paste and saute for 7-10 mins until the ginger and garlic paste is cooked.

5. At this stage add all the dry spices except the garam masala powder. Before you add the spices I would recommend to add 2 tbsp of hot water to the cooking pan, give a quick stir and then add the spices. This will prevent the dry spices from burning and help impart the best flavour possible,.

6. Saute for further 2 mins and add the chicken pieces, at this stage add the salt. Saute the chicken for 7-10 mins until evenly coated with the masala.

7. Lower the heat to minimum and add the yoghurt . Mix well and increase the heat. Saute for further 5 mins. Lower the heat back to minimum and cover the pan with a lid and cook for further 15 mins.

8. Remove lid and increase the heat. Saute on high heat for further 5-7 mins or until the gravy has slightly thickened. At this stage add the cream, chopped coriander and garam masala powder. Cook for further 5 mins.

9. The Chicken curry is now ready. Serve hot with chapatis or rice and finely sliced onions with a dash of  lemon on the side.

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I can say this with full assurance and confidence that is will be the best form of Chicken curry you have ever tasted. Simple yet gratifying and scrumptious.

Looking forward for your feedback once you have made it.

 

I have put together a short video below which demonstrates the various stages of cooking the above recipe.

The Great Indian Breakfast – “Nashta is served”

“Nashta” simply translates to Breakfast in India. However quite surprisingly the concept of breakfast has never been existing in India since ancient times. Simply considered as the first meal of the day, the dishes have varied from region to region from super lavish spreads to simple and light meals. In recent times the nashta has been commercialised, losing its authenticity, simply because people are now more health conscious  and Indian breakfast at large was considered to be  notoriously a very heavy meal. Saying that, the real Indian breakfast still has hasn’t lost it identity thanks to the corner shops at the “chowks” still serving lip smacking dishes all over the Indian subcontinent  and surprisingly the meals are served throughout the day and not just in the mornings. For the love of good hearty desi nashta I have put together some famous dishes from different states of the subcontinent which I am sure will make your mouth water.

 

Kashmir

This beautiful valley is known for its “Chai” , the Kashmiris are considered to be heavy tea drinker and the most famous breakfast tea is the noon chai or sheer chai which is a salted pink tea made with green tea leaves, milk and  flavoured with cardamom, cinnamon, pistachios. This tea derives its pink colour due to the addition of  bicarbonate of soda. The noon chai is usually consumed with traditional Kashmiri bread known as the “Kulcha” and ” baqerkhani” without them the Kashmiri breakfast is incomplete. The baqerkhani is more like a puff pastry, which is round, crispy and layered made with flour, semolina, butter, milk, sugar, ghee and cardamom. Once baked its topped with sesame seeds. Some other varieties of breads are tsot and tsochvoru which are small and round breads, topped with poppy and sesame seeds.

 

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Another most famous Kashmiri breakfast which very few have heard of is the Kashmiri Hareesa also known as the mutton halwa. It’s a century old winter dish made early in the morning. This dish is prepared with boneless meat of goat or lamb which is mixed with wheat and spices and is stirred for hours on slow heat. Once cooked the texture resembles haleem and is topped with fried onions ideally served with traditional baqerkhani.

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Punjab

Punjabis are well-known all over the world for their great cuisine. The “Parantha” which is considered the king of all Indian breakfast and is still consumed all over the world with delight was born in Punjab. Parantha is derived from the words “parat” which means a large tray and “atta” which means dough. Parantha is unleavened flat bread which is stuffed with different vegetables, spices or meat and fried in desi ghee or oil, served with dollops of homemade white butter, yoghurt or home-made pickles. The paratha is usually washed down with a glass of lassi which is made of yoghurt and water either sweet or salty. The paranthe waali galli in old delhi is an institution in itself, serving over 100 varieties of paranpthas. A few examples of the famous paranthas are aloo(potato) parantha, gobi(cauliflower)  parantha, mooli(radish)  parantha , methi(fenugreek)  parantha, paneer(cottage cheese)  parantha, ajjwain (carom seeds)  parantha and the Keema (mince lamb)  parantha.

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Another famous  Punjabi breakfast fare is the Chole Bhature. Consumed again all over the globe this epic dish cannot be left out of the breakfast selection. Bhaturas are crispy fried puffed bread served with spiced chickpeas which are soaked overnight, cooked with spices on a slow heat and served with onion salad and green chillies.

Bihar and West Bengal

The “Sattu” or the powdered gram is consumed heavily in this state in various forms. Sattu is prepared by roasting bengal gram and grinding it into a fine powder like texture. Sattu is considered to be high in fibres and is a great source of energy. Usually consumed for breakfast – the sattu parantha which is a regular parantha made wheat flour  stuffed with sattu flour, onions, chillies, ginger,garlic, nigella seeds, lemon juice, mustard oil and coriander leaves, this is usually pan-fried in Ghee and served with yoghurt and pickle.

The famous radha ballavi from West Bengal is another breakfast classic. Its my personal favourite. Deep fried Bengali flat bread stuffed with urad daal is served with “niramish aloor dum ” aka simple potato curry or “aloo torkari” which is a spicy potato curry and bengali cholaar daal .  My suggestion – if you haven’t tried this dish you haven’t lived.

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Gujrat

The most famous Gujarati breakfast is the match made in culinary heaven also known as the Gathia and Jalebi, typically consumed every Sunday. the salty gathia and sweet jalebi form a perfect combination. The gathia often called Pata Gathia or fafda ganthia is made of a gram flour dough, flavored with salt, pepper and carom seeds and is deep-fried in thin strips until crispy. The Jalebi is made by frying all-purpose flour batter in circular shapes and then soaked in sugar syrup usually flavored with saffron.

Theplas are another classic Gujarati dish consumed widely for breakfast. The theplas are spiced parathas with the addition of yoghurt, fresh methi (fenugreek) leaves and spices. Theplas are usually served with “chunda” which is a sweet and sour mango chutney.

Andhra Pradesh

One of the most popular non vegetarian breakfast fare is the Nihari. Legend has it that this meat stew originated in Old Delhi some 100 years ago by a local doctor to cure cold and fever somewhere next to Jama Masjid where after offering morning prayers people use to consume this stew for breakfast. The stew is cooked overnight to release maximum flavours from the bone marrow and creating really tender meat. This dish was mastered on a different level by the Hyderabadi Chefs. The Chefs added goat tongue to enhance the flavour along with goat shanks, spices and vegetables, slow cooked for 4-6 hrs. Its best eaten during winters accompanied with naan or layered kulcha.

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Another popular Andhra breakfast is the Pesara Attu Upma – a crepe made with moong daal (green gram lentil) flavoured with chillies and ginger, stuffed with upma (savory semolina porridge) served with karam podi (a spicy powder made with lentils and whole spices) and coconut chutney

Maharashtra

Now this next dish is  arguably one of the most popular breakfast dishes eaten all over India with different variations and recipes. Yes I am talking about “kandha batata poha” made with flattened rice flakes, potatoes and onions. This dish originated in Maharashtra and is a staple dish of the state. It’s a very healthy breakfast. Rice flakes are passed through running cold water to moisten them. The rice flakes are  then tempered with oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, onions, green chillies, turmeric, sugar, salt and mixed together. Potatoes are diced and cooked separately and added to the poha. Poha is garnished with crushed peanuts, coriander, freshly dessicated coconut and a dash of fresh lime juice.

Goa

This famous tourist spot is well known for its fresh seafood and an amazing selection of meaty dishes with a rich portuguese influence. However it also offers a hearty breakfast dish on the menu. Known as the “Pao Tonak”  which is technically a stew made with dried assorted peas or legumes, potatoes, onions, tamarind, grated coconut and a special masala consisting of  coriander seeds, red chillies, fennel seeds, cloves, cinnamon and black pepper. The stew is served traditionally with local crusty bread also known as “pao”.

Tamil Nadu

The “Idli” is the most famous breakfast consumed not only in India but has made its presence felt around the globe and by far enjoys a cult status in the Indian culinary stage.  Tamil Nadu is said to be the birth place of “Idli”. Considered to be the  most humble breakfast dish – rice and fermented black lentils that are husked are formed into cakes by steaming. These cakes are then served with fresh coconut chutney and sambhar (spicy lentil soup) or milagai podi (coarse powder mixture of ground dry spices) adding sesame or coconut oil to it to form a paste. The recipe of Idli is supposed to be 1100 years old and in the 21st century this humble breakfast dish has had many variations to its name.

Kerala 

This beautiful state situated off the Malabar coast is also referred to as Gods own country, is not only rich in heritage and culture but also commands a great culinary history. Since I talk about Kerala I need to mention the ever glorious Idiyappam. A simple dish originating in Kerala and is a staple breakfast of the locals. Idiyappam also know as nool puttu is made with roasted rice flour which is formed into a dough by mixing warm water and then this dough is pressed through a Idiyappam press which releases this dough into noodle shape onto banana leaves  placed in a steamer. The recipes vary and some call for the addition of fresh grated coconut. The Iddiyappams are served with a number of side dishes. A few examples are – egg curry, vegetable stew, peas and egg kurma,  chicken mappas and chicken stew.

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Its been really difficult to choose a few selected dishes out of hundreds of dishes eaten every morning across the lengths and breadths of the Indian sub continent. However I shall continue this journey of spreading the love for Indian food in my upcoming blogs.

Happy Reading

The Great Indian Culinary Odyssey

Its always given me immense pleasure to write about good Indian food and spreading its glory across the globe. Indian Cuisine has spread its wings all over the world and people savour this delicious cuisine with great joy. But to actually sample the cuisine at its birth place is an experience in itself. I write about my culinary adventure to India where I had the privilege of tasting some of the most astounding delicacies from the entire sub continent.

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I started my journey from the financial hub of the country Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city attracting various cultures and traditions. Being on the coast of Arabian sea- Mumbai boasts of a vast produce of sea food. So i decided to sample the best coastal cuisine, and when it comes to coastal food you cannot beat Gajalee. Started as a stand alone restaurant in the humble suburb of Vile Parle, this restaurant now boasts of 7 restaurant all over the world. The word Gajalee means an informal gathering in Malvani or Konkani.

I started of with Bombil (Bombay Duck) fry which is a signature fish delicacy. The fish is coated with rice flour and semolina which imparts the crispy texture, its marinated with spices and ginger garlic paste and deep fried. I have to confess this was absolutely divine.  The next dish was another Gajalee classic called the Clam Koshimbir – fresh clams prepared in a coconut and green masala. The mains were equally tantalising with Mutton masala dry and Chicken liver masala accompanied by fresh soft chapatis. I ended my meal with a glass of Sol kadi made with coconut milk and kokum which is blackish red fruit thats sour in taste and acts as a great digestive.

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http://www.gajalee.com

My next stop in Mumbai was at Rajdhani’s Rasovara– a pure vegetarian restaurant serving royal Rajasthani and Gujrati cuisine. A must visit for all vegetarian lovers. This humble eatery is situated at the Palladium Mall in Lower Parel. Everything is served in a thali. Service is absolutely brilliant, its Indian hospitality at its best. They make you feel at home right from the word go. As soon as you are seated the waiters put a traditional copper thali with small copper cups in them. The meal starts of with a refreshing shikanjvi (sweetened fresh lime water ).  For starters I was presented with 2 different chaats and 2 farsaan (Gujrati snacks or appetisers). For the mains there were 5 different vegetarian selection and 2 varieties of daal and 1 kadi. Gatte ki subzi, papad ki subzi, paneer ki subzi, vaal papdi and daal baati churma were to die for. The veggies were accompanied by fresh chapattis drizzled with desi ghee, bajra (millet) roti and theplas. For the desserts I was presented with basundi (thickened sweetened milk with nuts) Jalebi with rabri and Gaajar halwa. I was stuffed at the end however its one of the best vegetarian meals I have had in a long time. The restaurant boasts of 70 different set menus and Chef Bhawar Parmar with 25 years of experience under his belt doesn’t fail to impress with his exceptional food.

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http://rajdhani.co.in/rasovara.html

My next stop was the Capital of India-New Delhi and I was amazed by the food culture here. Its difficult  to narrate my experience in just one blog but i must say if anyone travels to India, one must visit New Delhi as it has some amazing food on the offer.

My first stop was Eau de Monsoon a contemporary fine dining Indian Restaurant at the Le Meridian that delivers exceptionally great food. Chef Anil Jaiswal has engineered a stunning menu. For starters I strongly recommend mille feuille  of sole with tamarind glaze and mint chutney and Tandoori lamb burrah with pineapple carpaccio and crispy naan. For the mains –Chicken infused with with home ground spices, upma and chettinad curry  hit the taste buds just right and not to mention the Daal Makhni is definitely a must try. If you are a sea food lover then definitely go for the Sea Bass with Madras curry, artichoke, asparagus and steamed snow peas. The service also is brilliant, Ankit Joshi the Caption served us and i must say he did a pretty good job.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eau-De-Monsoon-Le-Meridian/116828015065985

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My second stop was at Chef Manish Mehrotra’s Indian Accent. Absolutely flawless is what i have got to say. For starters baked paneer pinwheel with Indian coriander pesto, foie gras stuffed galawat with strawberry and chilli chutney, ghee roast mutton boti with roomali roti pancake were an absolute delight. For the mains rice crusted john dory moilee and pine nut porial and slow cooked lamb shank, Kashmiri ab gosht are strongly recommended.  The food was beautifully presented and was a feast for the eyes. The flavours were perfectly balanced and wasn’t over spiced. For dessert fresh tandoori figs and daulat ki chaat was a perfect end to the meal. I have to say overall it was an unforgettable experience, exceptional food complimented with brilliant service and beautiful ambience. Please do try this place out if you are in Delhi.

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http://www.indianaccent.com

My third stop was an humble oriental restaurant called Chopsticks situated at the Asiad village in Delhi and a part of Kwality group. This restaurant has some brilliant Oriental food on the offer. General Manager Sugandh Khanna and Head Chef Amit Gurund have designed a brilliant menu. A 200 cover restaurant gives you an option of buffet for lunch and a la carte for dinner and lunch. Food is fresh and locally sourced and Sugandh makes sure that consistency and quality are maintained. My personal recommendations for starters are Sesame crusted Thai chicken, classic salt and pepper prawns, for vegetarians I would recommend cottage cheese stuffed jade balls and crispy okra tossed with five spice. For the mains one must try the smoky kung pao chicken and the sizzling Hunan lamb. Well this had been a good change for my palate after savouring Indian meal through out the week. Definitely try this place out and I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

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https://www.facebook.com/chopsticks.rest.5?fref=ts

My final leg of the journey in Delhi took me to this European inspired cafe in Gurgaon called Di Ghent Cafe. Di Ghent means from Ghent and Ghent is a city in Belgium. This cafe has become an inspiration for me. Serving up some hearty European breakfast, meals, breads, desserts and coffee. Every thing is made in-house. Freshly baked breads like French baguettes, Focaccia and Brioche are baked every morning. They boast of a good variety of desserts which are produced in house as well. To sum up i would say that the cafe brings an honest and heart plate of food to your table. Simple yet elegant and full of flavours.

https://www.facebook.com/DiGhent

My final stop stop in India was Kolkata– The City of Joy. The city has its own charm and beauty and my love for bengali food drew me back here. “oh Calcutta” the home of authentic Bengali Cuisine. We started our meal with Kakra Chingri Bhapa (steamed crabmeat and shrimps with mustard and chillies.) and fried Betki fish with traditional mustard dip – Kashundi. for the mains we feasted on Kosha Mangsho(pot roasted mutton), Kancha lanka murghi(dry cooked chicken with coriander and green chillies) and the famous bekti fish curry served with boiled rice. I must confess it was one my best meals in the entire trip. The flavours still linger in my mouth and bengali food doesn’t get better than this.

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http://www.speciality.co.in/oh_calcutta/index.html

Its been an amazing journey full of emotions and I have to thank everyone for their wonderful hospitality and special thanks to Sharun Khanna my companion, food guide and wife who accompanied me to all the above places.

India I will be back soon.

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Turban Street Cafe – Redefining Indian Street Food

I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.

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This blog is about  our journey that began with a small restaurant called The Red Turban, located in the suburbs of London. I still remember very distinctly,  I had just come out of  an interview with a top Michelin star restaurant and was overwhelmed to join such a prestigious organisation. That very afternoon when i reached home I received a call from Nishel asking me to see him at his restaurant. I wasn’t too sure but i knew he was planning to reopen his old restaurant and I was pretty much guessing that this meeting would revolve around this.  So here we are at the restaurant which was completely stripped down, apart from a sofa which was left behind where our conversation started building momentum. Nishel started explaining the whole concept to me, and he wanted me to be a part of it and build on it. The concept was simple, an Indian restaurant that would break all barriers, Nishel was clear about the fact that it had to be way beyond the chicken tikka masala and the kormas, It made sense to me and i thought that this would be once in a life time opportunity to create something unique and different. We both were on the same page and it instantly gave birth to The Red Turban. We were about to challenge the status quo, we were going to break all the rules and the risk factor was quiet high but i think somewhere down the line there was a belief that we would come out with flying colours.

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I started doing an extensive research on the dishes I wanted to put on the menu, the idea was to create a balanced menu which would show case unique recipes from every region of India. After a meticulous two month research the menus were finally devised . The menu featured exemplar chaats from the streets of Old Delhi, Chowpatty, Agra and Mathura. The Chowk ki tikki which is potato cakes stuffed with green peas served on a bed of spiced chickpeas, drizzled with tamarind chutney made with dates and elderflower and a fresh mint and watercress chutney became an instant favourite. Kebabs were the highlight of the menu – the Galawati kebab from Awadh, seekh kebab nizami, lazeez pasliyaan (lamb chops) , murgh pahadi tikka ( chicken tikka marinated with a fresh coriander, mint, basil and green chilli paste.) , paneer saunfiya tikka, tandoori bharwan mushrooms to name a few. For the main course we again had a challenge as we wanted to move away from the regular fare. Ambade ka gosht ( lamb cooked with sorrel leaves), Rajasthani Laal Maas , Patiala shahi murgh had become cult dishes on the menu. The vegetarian fare which included Dum aloo Benarasi, hare pyaaz aur soye ka paneer, malai kofta makhmali and daal Kandhari ( whole urad simmered over night on charcoal and finished off with fresh pomegranate juice. ) also made their presence felt. We were already on the map. I very strongly believed that the menu had to represent dishes that were authentic and served in a modern way. So the emphasis was more on the crockery and cutlery, rather than over done garnishes. I wanted my guests to feel India in every morsel they taste, it involved a lot of hard work. To achieve these standards, we were grinding spices in house on a regular basis. Practically nothing was outsourced, even the samosas and aloo tikki were made in house to specifications.

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Our final challenge was the desserts. Most of the Indian Restaurants in the UK have a box standard menu and it was boring. I wanted to create a balanced combination of flavours and technique that would create a wow factor. So after a month of research in my kitchen I decided to use the best ideas from the east and blend them with the techniques of the west. We had redefined Indian desserts – mango mousse and rasmalai trifle, Chocolate and gulab jamun terrine, masala chai tiramisu and the gaajar halwa panna cotta to name a few were creating ripples with our guests.
The Red Turban in the last 3 years had achieved immense success and accolades thanks to our loyal guests and staff who contributed a great deal towards it success and not to forget Nishel the driving force behind the Red Turban had an immeasurable contribution.

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It was time to move on to our next venture by creating the next Turban franchisee. After three months of research and brainstorming the Turban Street Cafe was devised. Bringing the the real Indian street food to the streets of London. Kati Rolls from the streets of Calcutta, Daulat ki chaat from Old Delhi, Tunday Kebab from Lucknow are just a few sneak peeks . We are going to give our guests the same taste and feel as they would get on the streets of India.

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In this day and age where Indian food has been reformed to the most sophisticated level, it has somehow lost its essence and authenticity. I am bringing a very simple and honest plate of food to my guests, inspired by age old traditions and simplicity, food that will touch your heart and soul and that I believe is limitless. At Turban street we are not just cooking, we are cooking with passion and emotions to create dishes that will bring smile on peoples faces. We are redefining Indian Street Food
Chef Ashish Bhatia

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