Gourmet Secrets by Karen Anand: For the love of Asian food
They might be experimenting with flavours and textures, but the “chicken soup for the soul” at a five-star restaurant in Pune is traditional to a TUpdated: Jul 09, 2019 13:10 IST
In my capacity as a food consultant, I am often asked by hotels to come up with interesting restaurant concepts. This can become a Herculean task. It requires a great deal of travel and exposure, a certain amount of risk and a great deal of marketing to launch a new concept. In the end, and after many presentations and a huge amount of effort, the hotel usually ends up repeating exactly what they have done before in a slightly different avatar. So the old coffee shop becomes ‘the all-day dining’, Chinese adds on a couple of Thai dishes and becomes ‘Asian’, the same with Italian which then morphs into Mediterranean.
A flavour fest
I was pleasantly surprised when I had a meal at the new restaurant Zeta at the Hyatt Regency in Pune. It replaces the old Italian La Terrazza. It is now an all-day dining serving world cuisine with seamless boundaries, fun and flavours. A bold move! They also serve wines at almost MRP. Now that is a big step for a five-star restaurant. The concept and the dishes have been readily embraced by both the in-house guests and local Pune-ites.
I think this has more to do with the excellent quality of food and the reasonable pricing than the new slightly confused concept. Dishes are a mix of both traditional and fusion, for example – the salmon sashimi is served with a dressing of aam panna and kaffir lime and the Hamshouka is a cross between the Middle Eastern breakfast dish Shakshouka (eggs on a base of stir-fried tomatoes and peppers) and the Bengali breakfast dish ghooghni served on a base of chholey. And then you have the most traditional chicken soup for the soul, Asian style – a perfectly flavourful broth with chicken dumplings and pak choi – a dish which is straight from any Asian family table. I’m so glad they have kept this one traditional from a completely personal point of view. There is nothing quite like a bowl of hot, flavourful, clear liquid during the rains. Add some spice and a few aromatics, some sliced chicken, tofu and vegetables, and it is transformed from a teaser to a full meal.
I remember arriving at the Shangri-La in Kuala Lumpur after an early morning flight, which left me with both an allergy and a terrible cold from just washed wet hair. After seeing my runny nose for 10 minutes, my lunch companion ordered me a black chicken soup, which an hour later, had cured me. I wasn’t sure whether the soup referred to the colour of the chicken or the colour of the stock. I made her take me to the market the next day and discovered there is indeed a variety of chicken called “black chicken” where the skin is actually grey and the stock is enriched with herbs. This medicinal soup is traditionally Chinese and is slow-cooked in a clay pot or a ceramic double boiler for three to four hours. There are no short cuts. The herbs that you add can either revitalise, rejuvenate or strengthen the body’s organs, act as a sedative etc. etc. The one served at Zeta is not medicinal but it is a real chicken soup for the soul with beautifully made dumplings, tofu and pak choi. A must have if you love Asian food.
The Hamshouka is a fusion that works. What’s not to love about a chatpat- style chholey topped with coriander, onion, tomato, a perfectly soft poached egg and crispy potato straws. It’s a go to snack that’s good any time and as a breakfast can be eaten all-day long here.
What unites the whole menu at Zeta is the quality, the detail and the execution….and finally the great taste. Hats off to chef Anirban Dasgupta to go where many chefs would dare not tread! He is really trying something different for a five-star hotel and seems to be succeeding. Here are two of his star recipes to try:
Chicken Soup for the Soul
500g chicken bones
2 stalks lemon grass
1 kaffir lime leaf
1 Thai red chilli
1 full pak choi
For the dumpling (stuffing)
100g chicken mince
10g oyster sauce
2ml Kikkoman soy
10g corn flour
50g pak choi
50g Asian greens
5g kaffir lime rind
5g lemon grass chopped
5g galangal, chopped
For the dim sum wrapper
50g refined flour
50g lotus flour
Roast the chicken bones on a low heat and make sure they are browned evenly. Immerse the bones in water to cover and let them simmer away gently on a low heat. Skim the chicken stock to achieve a pale amber colour. Take it off the flame and while it is still warm, add in the lemon grass and kaffir lime to the stock. Let them infuse for a few hours and strain the stock.
For the dumplings
Knead together the refined flour and lotus flour to form a smooth dough adding water occasionally. Keep aside. Mix together the oyster sauce, salt, pepper, soy, ginger, Kikkoman soya, chopped lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime rind and corn flour with the chicken mince. Massage the mixture so that it is devoid of any moisture and is dry and pliable.
Portion out the dough into 5g portions. Roll the dough into thin sheets with the help of a dim sum rolling pin. Stuff the dough with the chicken mince mixture and seal. Poach them in the chicken stock made earlier. Add salt, pepper to taste. Add pak choi leaves, tofu and some Asian greens.
Ghoogni Hamshouka Bowl
80g matar dal (dried whole yellow peas)
10g mustard oil
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2g dried red chillies
10g cumin seeds
50g potatoes, cut into 1.5 cm cubes
10g thinly sliced coconut
25g tomatoes, diced
50g thinly sliced onions
40g ginger paste
7g green chillies
4g turmeric powder
3g Kashmiri red chilli powder
3g cumin powder
3g coriander powder
1 potato - for salli (chips)
Rinse and soak the dal in water overnight (at least 12 hours). Drain and transfer it to a saucepan. Add 800g water, 10g salt, and 20g onions to the saucepan. Cover and boil the dal on low heat. Reserve the remaining water from the dal.
Cut the potatoes into cubes and the remaining onion and coconut into thin slices and roughly chop the tomato. Make a paste of the garlic and green chillies
Set a pan on medium heat and add 15g mustard oil with 5g ghee. Once hot, add the coconut slices and fry them until they are golden-brown. Remove from the oil and set aside. Temper the oil with dried red chillies, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and cumin seeds. Add the remaining salt and sugar and turn up the heat. Bubble on high flame for about 6 minutes until the curry loses its watery consistency.
Stir in two slit green chillies and the fried coconut. Cover and rest for two minutes. Add the garlic-and-green-chilli paste, and ginger paste. Fry these for about three minutes. During this time, make a paste of turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, Kashmiri red chilli powder, and 100g water. Add it to the pan. Fry until the smell of raw spices is gone. This should take about eight to 10 minutes. If the spices dry out, add a splash of the dal water that was reserved earlier and continue frying. Once the spices have started releasing their oils, add the boiled matar dal to the pan. Fold it with the spices and cook for two minutes before adding the reserved water.
Poach the eggs and place in the depression of the ghooghni. Finely shred the potatoes and deep fry to form salli. Add chopped tomatoes and chopped onion along with chopped coriander and lemon wedge and garnish on top of the Humshouka bowl.
Grill a Slice of Bread and serve alongside.
Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
This is a fortnightly column. The next edition will appear on July 7 .
From HT Brunch, June 23, 2019
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