The French Connection -Provence meets Pondicherry

Pondicherry (officially renamed as Puducherry) is located in the southern part of India, along the coastline of Bay of Bengal and often referred to as the “French Riviera of the East” about 160 km south of Chennai . The town served as the capital of French territories in India until 1954 when it was ceded to the Government of India. Dutch were the first to settle down before handing it over to the French. Pondicherry is synonymous with French Heritage in India and centuries of French rule has imparted this place a strong French feel in its architecture, monuments and food.

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The restaurants in Pondicherry are Indo-French. Indian restaurateurs offering authentic French food or Creole cuisine, it’s not just French cuisine that blends with a Tamilian style of cooking; there are also influences of the Portuguese, Malaysian and Mughals, among others. The food is surprisingly mild. Pondicherry cuisine is a unique and vibrant fusion of Tamil and French cuisine. French dishes in Pondicherry have been adapted to suit tastebuds used to spicier Indian food yet with minimal use of spices. The textures and flavours are far less robust. The thick gravies that we know so well are notably thinner, like the French sauces. Other highlights are the use of chicken or seafood stock in cooking and the appearance of baguettes amidst local desserts.Even the style of cooking,  is slow and elaborate. The spices are far more delicately used and do not overwhelm. The use of dried spices, fresh local catch from the sea and ample use of pungent vinegar much more than tomatoes or tamarind make this cuisine a delicious mix of flavours, and a melting pot of many cultures.

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To experience more I would suggest that you should pack your bags and visit this beautiful paradise. In the meanwhile please try my simple Seafood stew recipe thats an ode to the two great cuisines.

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Fruits de mer Pondichéry curry

 

Ingredients

1 kg Cod fillet

12 king prawns raw and headless

12 Fresh mussels scrubbed and beard removed

250 Gms squid

4 tbsp vegetable oil

8 – 10 shallots

8 garlic cloves

2 tbsp chopped ginger

1 tbsp. coriander seeds

1 tbsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tbsp Black Peppercorn

4 dried whole red chillies

1 tsp turmeric powder

½ tsp aniseed powder

Salt to taste

2 cups of coconut milk

½ cup of fresh grated coconut

12-15 curry leaves

1 tbsp vinegar

 

Method

  •     Cut the fillet of cod into 6 -8 pieces. De vien and remove the shell from the prawns keeping the tails on. Clean and wash the mussels in cold water, removing the beards and discarding any open ones. Clean the squids and cut them in rings. Set aside.
  • Finely slice the shallots and roughly chop the garlic.
  • In a cooking pot heat vegetable oil, once heated add cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black peppercorn and whole red chillies. As the seeds crackle add the chopped ginger and garlic, sauté on medium heat for 2-3 mins. Now add the sliced onions and cook unit soft and translucent. Add the grated coconut and cook for further 5 mins.
  • Add turmeric powder  and cook for another couple of minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let the mixture cool before transferring it to a blender. Blend the mixture to a thick smooth paste by adding ½ cup of water. Add more water if desired to reach the right consistency.
  • Transfer the paste back to a clean cooking pot and add 1 cup of warm water and bring to a boil. Cook for further 7 mins. Add salt and continue cooking for 2 more mins.
  • Now add the coconut milk and bring the sauce back to boil. Stir in the aniseed powder and curry leaves. Start by adding the cod first and cooking it for 5-7 mins on medium heat. Be careful while you stir from this stage onwards as you don’t want to break the fish. Now add the prawns, mussels and squids. Carefully fold the seafood in the sauce, cover the cooking pot with a lid and simmer on medium heat for another 5-7 mins. Be careful not to over cook the seafood.
  • Once cooked add vinegar and mix. Remove from heat garnish with some fried curry leaves. Accompanied perfectly with steam rice.

 

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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.

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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).

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 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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Dhabe Ka Gosht (Highway Lamb Curry)

Inspired by the “Dhabas” of India, this dish features not only on their menu but is now cooked around the globe. A simple rustic curry is slow cooked over charcoal heat traditionally. I was keen to share this recipe. It’s simple to cook and full of flavour.

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Preparation time – 15 mins
Cooking time – 20 mins
Serves 3-4 people

Ingredients

750 gms leg of lamb diced (on the bone)
3 medium size onions
2 medium size tomatoes
2 tbsp ginger and garlic paste (2 parts of garlic and 1 part of ginger)
5 fresh green chillies
1/2 bunch coriander
Ginger Julienne for garnish
1tsp turmeric
2tsp red chilli powder mild
1tsp coriander powder
2 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Garam masala
1/2 tsp kasoori methi (dried fenugreek)
Salt to taste
3 pods green cardamom
1 pod black cardamom
3 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon
6 tbsp mustard oil or vegetable oil
1 tbsp desi ghee
Juice of half a lemon.

Method

1. Wash the lamb in cold water and drain the water. Finely slice onions. Finely chop tomatoes and slit green chillies.

2. In a cooking pot heat mustard oil. Once heated add all the whole spices. Cook the spices for about a minute till all the flavour is released in the oil. Now add the sliced onions and cook until slightly golden in colour.

3. Add the lamb and sauté for further 10 mins. Add the salt. Now add ginger and garlic paste. Cook for further 10 mins.

4. Add the powdered spice except for Garam masala and kasoori methi. Cook for further 5 mins until the spices and incorporated evenly. Add 2 cups of hot water. Cover the pot with a lid and cook on low heat for 20 mins.

5. Remove the lid after 20 mins and add the chopped tomatoes and cook on high heat for 5-7 mins. Lower the heat add another cup of hot water and simmer for further 20 mins or until the meat is tender. I always add potatoes to my curry so if you prefer you can add two potatoes cut in quarters at this stage.

6. Remove the lid and mix well. Add Garam masala, kasoori methi, finely chopped coriander, lemon juice and desi ghee. Increase the heat and cook for 2-3 mins. Once done transfer into a serving bowl and garnish with ginger Julienne and chopped coriander . Serve with hot chapatis or steam rice and onion salad.

You have to cook this dish to believe how simple and easy it is to make a curry. I have attached a brief video about the recipe below. Do leave your feedback.
Happy cooking.

A Culinary Ode to Kashmir

“Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto hami asto hami ast” – If there is paradise on earth, its here, its here, its here.

A Persian couplet that describes the beauty of Kashmir valley. Its also been referred to as paradise on earth. But today through my blog I shall take you through an extraordinary culinary journey of this beautiful valley. Often underrated, Kashmir has some of the most delectable delicacies on offer. The most simplest of all cuisines, Kashmiri cuisine involves minimum use of spices and most of them are common in all dishes. The emphasis lies mainly on how every cut of meat is used and the techniques of cooking, the same would apply for the vegetarian fare.

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Let me start with a brief history of Kashmiri cuisine and the external influences that led to the evolvement of the cuisine as we see it today. Kashmir was originally known as Kashyap Mar or the holy land of the Great Rishi (Saint) Kashyap. Thats how Kashmir got its name. The valley was inhibited by Kashmiri Pundits also referred to as Saraswat Brahmins and were know to be the descendants of the saints. So the actual cuisine had been in existence over hundred years. However the change happened when the Uzbeks invaded Kashmir in the 15th century and bought the Muslim influence on the cuisine, giving it a more finesse touch by introducing meat and other ingredients. However there is a slight contradiction here as according to my research and speaking to a few culinary historians I learnt that the Kashmiri Pundits were heavy meat eaters themselves but its still not clear whether this change happened pre Uzbek invasion or post. Although the Kashmiri pundits avoid the use of onion and garlic in their food preparations even for the meat dishes. Saying that neither the Kashmiri Pundits nor the Muslims consume beef. Apart from the Uzbeks, Kashmiri Cuisine also had a notable influence from the Persians and the Afghans.

Kashmiri food until a few years ago was mainly confined to homes. One would rarely see a restaurant or an eatery of any other kind serving this cuisine in India or abroad. However there were a few places to savour these delicacies in Kashmir itself. But now there are quite a few good restaurants serving authentic Kashmiri cuisine in various parts of the Indian subcontinent. I wouldn’t be able to say the same for eateries outside of India.

Kashmiri cuisine can be divided into two categories broadly. The cuisine of the Kashmiri pundits and the cuisine of the Kashmiri Muslims. Though not much of a difference in names although there is a difference in the ingredients used. The Kashmiri Pundits typically avoid using onion, garlic and even tomatoes in their cooking. I believe that its quite subtle and light preparation with more emphasis on the actual flavours from the meat and vegetable and of course being complemented with freshly ground spices. The main spices used are Kashmiri chilli powder, ginger powder, saffron, hing (asafoetida), saunf (aniseed) and a unique garam masala called Var or Veri. This is a blend of spices and is compressed in a cake form. Its mixed with oil and then sun dried. Its supposed to be a great flavour enhancer. The medium of cooking is usually Desi ghee (clarified butter) or mustard oil and a lot of thick yoghurt is used to give body to the dishes.

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A few famous dishes are

Dum Oluv or Dum Aloo – these are potatoes that are simmered in spicy gravy flavoured with Hing.  The spice factor is due to addition of Kashmiri chillies and this dish is bright red in colour again due the chilli factor.

Gugji Rajma – This a red kidney bean stew cooked with turnips.

Monji Haak – Kohlrabi cooked in mustard oil and flavoured with veri (kashmiri spice cake) and hing.

Tschaman Kaliya – Its a paneer curry which is flavoured with saunf (aniseed), green cardamom, veri (spice cake) and surprisingly cooked with milk. a very subtle and light dish yet very delicious.

I shall cover the Non-Vegetarian fare in the Wazwan section of the blog but i need to mention a few unique chutneys that are made in Kashmir and often savoured during the Wazwan. “Muji Chatin” or Radish chutney with is made with radish and yoghurt and there is another version where its just grated and sauteed with mustard oil flavoured with red chilli powder, green chillies and walnuts. “Doon Chetin” or Walnut chutney is made with walnuts, yogurt, dried mint, green chillies, red chilli powder and fresh coriander. “Gand chetin” or Onion chutney is made with sliced onions which are soaked in vinegar and flavoured with dried mint leaves and red chilli powder.

Moving on to the epitome of the Kashmiri cuisine – Wazwan which is a spectacular banquet served and i can’t find any other cuisine I could compare it to. Lavish and ultimate is all could say . Wazwan was influenced mainly by the Kashmiri Muslims. As i said before the difference between the Pundits and Muslims cuisine was that the Pundits never used onions and garlic while the Muslims used garlic and only wild onions also known as “Pranth” in their cooking.

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Wazwan is a banquet that serves 36 courses. The dishes are cooked by “Vasta Waza” or the head chef and “wazas” or the assistant chefs. Wazwan has a very high significance culturally among the Kashmiri Muslims and is treated with a lot of respect. A typical Wazwan has people sitting in groups of 4 and the meals are served on a “Trami” which is a large engraved copper plate and the meals are shared. The meal traditionally starts with washing hands. This is done by passing jugs (tash-t-nari)  filled with water among the guests. The trami is then filled with a heap of rice and the rest of the courses follow. I wont be able to list all the 36 dishes but will try to cover most of them.

The meal usually start with kabab which is made from lamb or goat mince and and skewered over charcoal. I believe this the only form of starter that served through the entire meal apart from kaanti kebab.

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Kaanti Kabab – made with the fillet of goat or sheep marinated with yogurt, spices and garlic and is fried rather than being grilled.

Lahabi Kabab – these flattened kababs which are made from a blended mince of the kabab that are served as the first course and the mince of the rista and goshtaba- cooked in a yoghurt gravy.

Rista – these are meatballs cooked in a red gravy. The red colour in kashmiri cuisine is usually derived from either the Kashmiri chillies or “cockscomb flower” also known as “ratanjot”. The meat is derived from either sheep or goat and then pounded very carefully on a wooden block. The perfect meatballs are achieved through maintaining the right temperature throughout the pounding process and laced with kidney fat.

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Palak Rista or Waza Palak – This dish is same as the above with the addition of Spinach.

Goshtaba – the same meatballs as rista are used in this recipe however the gravy has a yoghurt base and its very mildly spiced as compared to rista. Even the dumplings are slightly flattened while making the rista as compared to goshtaba.

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Yahni – this dish is made with sheep or goat shanks and cooked in a yogurt based gravy.

Methi Maaz – this dish is cooked with the off cuts and trimmings of the animal and flavoured with methi or fenugreek leaves.

Tabak Maaz – this dish is prepared using sheep or goat ribs which is cooked in milk along with spices and aromatics and then covered in a yogurt based batter and cooked again on dum by sealing the pot with dough and placed on charcoal for about an hour. Another similar dish is called “Kabargah” wherein the entire process is the same but instead of cooking it on dum its flash fried before serving.

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Dhaniwal Korma – Goat or sheep curry thats cooked with loads of fresh coriander and yoghurt.

Marchwangan Korma – Goat or sheep korma cooked with fiery hot Kashmiri chillies and spices.

Aab Gosht – Sheep or Goat ribs cooked in a milk based gravy. This dish clearly brings out the Persian influence onthe cuisine.

Doudha ras – this is meat cooked in a sweet milk gravy.

Rogan Josh – A so called signature dish of the Kashmiri Cuisine, this dish has introduced people to Kashmir. Persian in influence this dish was introduced by the Mughals. Prepared in clarified butter, without the addition of onions, garlic or tomatoes by the Kashmiri Pundits while the Kashmiri Muslims add wild onions. One of the most popular dishes on every Indian restaurant menu all over the world. How authentic? is the question to ask .

Waza Kokur – Twice cooked whole chicken marinated and deep fried then cooked again in a spicy gravy that evenly coats the chicken.

Nadir Yahni – The vegetarian fare of the Wazwan. Lotus stem roots cooked in yoghurt gravy with spices. Another version of this is served in the Wazwan with the addition of spinach called Nadir palak.

Haak – Kashmiri greens simply cooked in mustard oil and kashmiri chillies.

I have not mentioned individual spices in the above dishes as Kashmiri cuisine uses very few spices and they are used across the board for all the above dishes with the addition and subtraction of a few.

Not to mention Kashmiris do consume seafood in their diet as well. Trout I believe is the only form of seafood consumed. Trout is farmed in Pahalgam and interestingly was introduced by Frank J Mitchel from Scotland in the early 1900.

Phirni – Kashmiris don’t boast of desserts in their cuisine however this humble dessert forms a part of the Wazwan, ground rice cooked in milk until thick custard consistency and garnished with edible silver leaf and assorted chopped nuts.

Tea is a very important beverage in the Kashmiri culture. Served during all important occasions and festivals.  Kawah is served during marriages, its a green tea made with saffron, spices and almonds. Noon chai is also another quite popular salted kashmiri tea. You can read more about Kashmiri teas on my previous blog on “Nashta” the great Indian Breakfast.

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I have always felt that Kashmiri cuisine is quite unique in its approach as compared to it counterpart cuisines. Subtle yet leaves a punch on your tongue. With the minimum use of ingredients I feel the emphasis is more on how every part of the animal is used to give different textures to the Wazwan.

I leave you with this “authentic” recipe of Rogan Josh. Do give it a try and you could compare it to restaurant version for yourselves.

Recipe Rogan Josh

1 kg Lamb or Goat (Use the leg meat, ask your butcher to cut it in dices with the bone.)

200 gms thick yoghurt.

150 ml Ghee or clarified butter

12-15 whole kashmiri red chillies

5 green cardamom

4 cloves

3 black cardamom

1 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp ginger powder

couple of pinch of hing (asafoetida)

salt to taste

Method

1. Boil the red chillies for 10-15 mins. Drain and make a smooth paste. Add a little water if required.

2. Wash the meat and drain the excess water.

3. Heat ghee in a pot, add the hing, and the whole spices. Stir for a few minutes and add the meat. Stir on a high heat till the meat pieces are brown. Add the powdered spices, along with salt, yoghurt and the chilli paste. Stir fry for another 15 mins and add 2 cups of hot water. cover with lid and cook on low heat for 45 mins -1hr or until the meat is completely tender.

4 . Serve hot with parathas or rice.

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Photo credits – maverickbird http://wp.me/p3hiyv-19G

 

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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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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