India, and its art of spices

June 20th, 2011 - 11:51 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, June 20 (IANS) India is a mouth-watering gold mine of indigenous food with over 20,000 documented traditional recipes that have at least 200 varieties of dosas, the signature pancake from south India that has taken the world by storm, says celebrity chef Hemant Oberoi who recently came out with his first book “Masala Art”.

“Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra… the regional cuisine of India is so rich. I am doing research and development to promote original recipes from India on a different platform,” chef Hemant Oberoi told IANS in a telephonic interview from Mumbai.

The chef, who is steering an Indian spice awareness campaign in gourmet capitals around the globe, has set up a new restaurant chain, Bombay Brasserie, in London and Cape Town.

His book, “Masala Art”, published by Roli Books, is a trove of some of his signature spice-toned dishes.

“The use of spice is an art, but very few people treat it as such. In India, we have never taken food seriously. My book, named after one of my eateries, is about the art of spices; how to use spices differently,” says Oberoi, whose name is synonymous with eateries like the Zodiac Grill and Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Hotel.

Spice is best savoured when eaten as a single flavour in curries and roasts, the chef suggests.

“We have show kitchens in our restaurants where we prepare spices on the pounding mortar and stone pestle (the traditional grinding method) in front of the diners. The best way to bring out the flavour of spices is to pound them and use one spice independently.

“If a dish is cumin-flavoured, then nothing else but cumin must spice the dish. Each Indian spice has a different aroma and a master chef knows how to take the best out of it,” Oberoi said.

The preparation of spices vary from home to home, region to region.

For instance, ‘garam masala’ is a traditional Indian blend of essential spices like clove, cardamon, dry red chillies, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise, cumin and coriander. The ingredients are often roasted in dry wok before being pounded into a powdery mix, he says.

“No two people can make the same garam masala,” says Oberoi.

The chief’s favourite spice is cumin — a humble little seed available in shades of inky brown and black — which can be pounded into a fine powder or paste or used as whole seasoning. Cumin stands out for its refreshing aroma.

“Cumin is a way of life in India, no cuisine can make do without it. It is also popular in the West. Travelling has brought people closer to Asian and Indian spices. Asia has the largest spread of flavoured ingredients than the rest of the world.”

Chef Oberoi uses cumin in different ways in two of his signature dishes — “Hare Pyaz Ka Jheenga (Prawns cooked with spring onions)” and “Karwari prawns (deep fried prawns with coconut chutney)”.

While the former uses cumin seeds as seasoning, the latter uses its powder as a marinate to flavour the prawns in combination with chilli paste, semolina, tamarind extract and ginger-garlic paste.

The chef, who fed nearly 30,000 Americans the best of Indian street food and haute cuisines at the Kennedy Centre in the US at the festival of India in March, hosted an Indian food festival featuring 29 chillies at the Bombay Brasserie this year to promote Indian spices.

“The chilli festival was a hit. Indian food is not ‘chicken tikka masala’ or balti cuisine — they have no Indian relevance as is the perception in the West,” he says.

The fact that Indian food is spicy is a myth. “The threshold food from China is 10 times more spicy - as also Thai, Mexican and Sri Lankan cuisines,” the chef says.

A recipe from Hemant Oberoi’s “Masala Art”.

Achari (pickled) Broccoli

Ingredients
600 gm of broccoli
1/2 cup / 100 gm of yoghurt
2 tbsp / 30 gm of pickle paste
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp / 15 ml of vegetable oil
1/2 tsp / 21/2 gm of onion seeds
1 tsp / 5 gm of chaat masala
Juice of one lemon

For presentation
1/2 cup / 100 gm of onion rings
1/2 cup / 100 gm of carrot curls
1/2 cup / 100 gm of beetroot curls

Method
1. Marinate the broccoli florets in yoghurt, pickle paste, turmeric powder, and oil. Rest
for 20 minutes.

2. Cook the broccoli in a tandoor and serve hot sprinkled with onion seeds, chaat
masala, and lemon juice. Garnished with onion, carrot and beetroot curls.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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