Of late, various international chefs have been taking over city restaurants or coming down to host fancy pop-up dinners. Food events too boast of the biggest global names in the field.
It comes as a surprise then that a five-star hotel has invited a Punjabi housewife with no professional experience to host a food fest that offers the best from her state.
Jyoti Arora, a homemaker from Amritsar, has been a contestant on MasterChef India, but she isn’t employed at any restaurant. All her experience comes from the years she’s spent in her own kitchen. At the on-going city festival, she has created healthy versions of a cuisine that is commonly considered heavy and greasy.
In this interview a few days before Baisakhi, she opens up about her cuisine and more: How did this association happen?
(The hotel) wanted authentic Punjabi food and I am from Amritsar, which is where it originates. My speciality is home-cooked food. So, I was an obvious choice.
And you have no professional experience?
No, I don’t. I’m a housewife. The only cooking career I’ve had has been on MasterChef India.
What are your earliest memories of cooking?
I started cooking when I was 10. Twenty-five years ago, cooking was not a career for women. I belong to an orthodox family. After my graduation, I got married.
Initially, I was interested in making desserts, but it was a simple Baingan Ka Bharta that triggered off everything for me. One day, my mother was supposed to make it for my father, but I rebelled and decided to make it myself. He couldn’t stop praising the dish. That really boosted my morale.
What are your specialities?
I love cooking healthy food that helps heal the body and can cure diseases. And this only comes with experience. For example, in case of acidity, you should take five or six black raisins and soak them for a night. Have them in the morning and drink the water they were soaked in.
But Punjabi food is rich, with butter and ghee used in abundance. How do you manage healthy variations?
I create recipes where I can alter the quantity of oil and cream used, yet I ensure that the taste isn’t disturbed. I believe in healing with food, so being cautious when it comes to fats and cholesterol is very important.
Butter Chicken without butter
1 kg chicken
150 gm curd
30 gm ginger paste
30 gm garlic paste
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp red chilli powder
150 gm tomato puree
100 ml milk
15 gm coriander powder
10 gm cumin powder
5 gm dried fenugreek leaves
5 gm garam masala
Mix the chicken, curd, ginger paste, garlic paste, salt and chilli powder. Cook the mix in a pan until the chicken is half cooked, for five to six minutes. Add tomato puree, cumin powder, coriander powder and cook on high heat until it achieves desired consistency. Add milk. Stir continuously so the milk doesn’t curdle. Cook the dish for another 12 to 15 minutes. Add fenugreek leaves and garam masala. Serve hot with rotis or naans.
Another food event celebrates baisakhi
The Renaissance Mumbai Convention Centre Hotel in Powai is offering a special Punjabi menu for Baisakhi till April 30. Executive Chef Surjan Singh Jolly has created dishes that have been inspired by traditional Punjabi fare found commonly in Amritsar. Call 6692 7558 for details.
Visit the Best Of Punjab festival at Saffron, JW Marriott, Juhu, from 7 pm every night till April 18. Call 6693 3344 for reservations.