Saturday, August 3, 2013

Savour Mumbai By Chef Vikas Khanna ~ Book Launch

Greatest indian food hasn't traveled cause it's in the indian homes
~ Chef Vikas Khanna

Michelin star Chef Vikas Khanna launched  his book 'Savour Mumbai’ at Imperial hotel yesterday. An event organised by the Imperial’s Culinary Club and Westland. He's a man of precision over and above his unpretentious nature which makes him a darling with all ages in the audience. The first thing he did was meticulously check the mise en place at the venue. That done, he chatted with me for a bit among the audience. Upon striking an instant connection, mentioned my Le Cordon Bleu experience in London and his in Paris. His honesty was reflected in mentioning that other than Leela (his first job) at that time, there weren't other options. Thank God for that I say, see where that and hard work has landed him.
Food, he said is about Human Connection. The thought still lingers. Any country, any cuisine, any dish is incomplete without the human connection. Any meal can be evaluated by it's human connection. The afternoon was spent in this spirit.

We talked about Indian spices.... Spice is a memory of childhood, his grandmother's jeere wali poori served to all relatives who traveled from Amritsar to Vaishno Devi is a lingering memory for them, says he. Most average  people outside India don't even know so many spices exist. I saw a live example of that in my Technical class in school. We had people from very diverse nationalities in class. In a pop quiz, it was the Indian students who knew most of the spices while the rest, thought them to be exotic spices. For us, these are everyday cooking spices. Chef Khanna said he can recognize 64 different sorts of cinnamon with the smell and taste of it and tell the cinnamon's age{eyes rolling in wonder}. Further he adds that all spices at Junoon, his michelin star restaurant in New York are ground in-house except haldi n mirchi. The book has a thoughtful section explaining the Indian spices used in the recipes showcased in the book.

His anecdotes find true resonance with most Indian households in simple yet intrinsic truths. Elaichi(cardamom) is used only when damadji(son-in-law) visits, Kaju(cashews) must only be used whole and never broken or paste form as the expensive nuts should be visible to the guests.

His take that complicated dishes are easy to make but simple dishes are very difficult to make is echoed by many accomplished chefs. His humility is also reflected in 'More u travel in India, more uneducated you feel.' as well as the willingness to accept feedback from his audience and engage with them at an almost personal level.

Chicken Cafereal
1/2 kg Boneless Chicken chunks
4 cups Fresh Coriander, roughly chopped
5 Roughly chopped, Green Chillies
1 tbsp Roughly chopped Ginger
5 cloves Garlic
1 tsp Poppy seeds (khus khus), roasted and soaked in warm water
5 Black Peppercorns
1-inch cinnamon stick
1 tsp Cumin seeds
½  tsp Tamarind pulp
¼ tsp Turmuric powder
3 Cloves
Salt to taste
5 tbsp Oil

1. In a grinder, combine the coriander, chillies, ginger, garlic, poppy seeds, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, tamarind pulp, turmeric and cloves.
2. Add ¼ cup water and salt, and grind to a smooth paste
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the chicken with the ground paste. Mix well and leave to marinate overnight or for at least 6 hours
4. Heat oil in a frying pan; add chicken along with marinade and shallow-fry till chicken is tender and crispy around the edges. Serve hot with pao (bread)

Kaju Kothimbir Vadi
1 cup gram flour (besan)
30 cashew nuts
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tamarind pulp
2 tablespoons finely chopped
fresh coriander
Salt to taste
4 tablespoons oil, plus for shallow-frying

1. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except oil. Add 1 1/2 cups water and mix well to make a very thick batter.
2. Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a frying pan over low heat. Add the prepared batter and cook, stirring continuously, for 15 to 18 minutes till the mixture comes together to make a thick doughy batter. Remove from heat.
3. Grease a small tray and spread the mixture evenly 1-inch thick. Set aside to cool and set. Cut into 2-inch squares.
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan and shallow-fry the squares till golden and crisp.
5. Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
6. Serve hot with coriander and mint chutney or ketchup.

Kacche-Kele ki Asharfi Recipe
2 tbsp Oil
2 Large Onions finely sliced
6 Unripe green Bananas boiled in their skins
4 Potatoes, boiled
1 ½ tbsp Ginger-garlic paste
2 tbsp Fresh Coriander, finely chopped
2tsp Red Chilli powder
2 tbsp Gram flour (besan)
½ tsp Green Cardamom powder
Salt to taste
2 Medium Capsicums, tops cut off and cleared of seeds and white pith
1 ½ cups Clarified Butter (ghee)

1. Heat oil in a fry pan over medium heat
2. Add onions and fry golden. Remove and drain on absorbent paper. Finely chop the browned onions
3. Peel the bananas and potatoes and mash well
4. In a mixing bowl, combine the mashed bananas and potatoes with chopped browned onions, ginger-garlic paste, chopped coriander, chilli powder, gram flour, cardamom powder and salt, and mix thoroughly
5. Fill this mixture into the cleaned hollow capsicums and stuff well. Using a sharp knife cut the stuffed capsicum horizontally into 2-inch thick slices
6. Heat the clarified butter in a frying pan and shallow-fry the stuffed capsicum slices till the capsicum softens slightly and the filling is golden and crisp. Remove, drain on absorbent paper and serve hot with Coriander and Mint Chutney or Dahi ki Chutney.

Khubani ka Shahi Tukda
3 cups Whole Milk
½ cup Sugar
¼ tsp Green Cardamom powder

Shahi Tukda
1 cup Granulated Sugar
1 cup Whole Milk
¼ tsp Saffron strands
Clarified Butter (ghee) for deep frying
4 slices White Bread
100 gms Dried apricots, soaked overnight and drained
2 tbsp Pistachios, finely chopped
2 sheets Edible silver leaf

1. For the rabdi, heat milk in a kadhai (wok) over medium heat and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, stirring continuously, till it thickens to a consistency of a custard sauce.
2. Remove from heat, add sugar and cardamom powder and stir till sugar dissolves. The mixture will thicken on cooling.
3. For the shahi tukda, combine the sugar with 2 cups water in  a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring till sugar dissolves and the syrup thickens to one-string consistency.
4. In another saucepan, combine the milk with saffron and prepared sugar syrup and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.
5. Heat the clarified butter in a kadhai over medium heat, and deep fry the bread slices till golden and crisp.
Remove and drain on absorbent paper.
6. Soak the fried bread slices in the warm milk for 2 minutes.
7. Sandwich the cooked apricots between the softened bread. Add the drained apricots to the syrup and cook till tender. Remove apricots from syrup and set aside.
8. To serve, arrange the sweet apricot sandwiches on a plate and spoon rabdi over. Sprinkle over with pistachios and garnish with silver leaf. Serve warm

The book is a keeper for me as it has recipes of the signature dishes from some of the best known restaurants in Mumbai. My favorites are Bade Miya Seekh Kabas, Dakshin Culture Curry, Mahesh Lunch Home, Oh! Calcutta, Trishna and Vrindavan among others. The street food section is an absolute favorite with me as I love Indian street food and craved it in London, while I was away.
The title 'A culinary journey through India's melting Pot' is an apt one for the book as the restaurants selected cover diverse dished from across the nation. The dishes we had at the event were selected keeping this in mind. Chicken Cafreal from Goa, Kaju Kothambir Vada from Maharashtra, Kacche kele ki Ashraf from Hyderabad, Guava and Cottage Cheese Salad from Allahabad and Khubani Ka Shahi Tukda from Lucknow. Add to that list Konkani, Gujrati, Parsi and so on.
The restaurants are listed in alphabetical order making the list easy to comprehend, each restaurant has a photograph of the entrance which makes an instant connect, a short description and the writer's connect with it, followed by recipes. The recipes are well written and easy to understand. The only 1 thing which stood out for me was that the Indian names of ingredients are in brackets... almost as if the book wasn't targeted at Indians. The pictures lend color and are pleasing to the eye.

Go ahead buy it, it's a pleasure to read. Takes you down memory lane if you've been to Mumbai and if you haven't, it make you want to be there and experience this phenomenon first hand .

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