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Gourmet Secrets: History, geography, and quinoa

Trendy Jaipur’s home chefs have invented the most delightful way to use this healthy, but tasteless pseudo cereal

brunch Updated: Feb 17, 2018 22:27 IST
Karen Anand
Karen Anand
Hindustan Times
Jaipur,Trendy Jaipur,cereal
Karen Anand at 28 Kothi in Jaipur

There is nothing quite as special as Jaipur in winter. Crisp, sun filled days and cool evenings; the chance to enjoy complex Rajasthani dishes and the best mutton in the country which are too rich and heavy to digest at any other time of the year; tender green peas, steamed with gentle spices glistening like little emeralds on a wrought iron garden table. All of a sudden, the produce of an otherwise dry, arid desert shines in winter.

Home chic home

Jaipur has now become quite the tourist “hot spot” as I discovered on a recent trip – full of foreign designers in the fields of garments and jewellery, wedding tourists and people like me taking time off for a quick break. It adds a different layer to the already existing cosmopolitan vibe. A traditional restaurant like Spice Court, which serves lal maas, rubs shoulders with a trendy café, and the Narain Niwas complex, home to some of the most exclusive boutiques in the country, also houses the glamorous blue baroque bar, Palladio.

I stayed at a chic little guest house called 28 Kothi located within Civil Lines, a quiet and centrally located neighbourhood. It has an intimate garden, terraces, reading corners and a library… a real escape from all the hustle and bustle of the city, and a safe and comfortable haven for the many international designers and artists who come through its doors. When in Jaipur, I feel you should only go really high end (Rambagh, Raj Vilas, Raj Mahal and so on) or comfortable guest houses in Civil Lines. 28 Kothi is just two years old. Other guest houses in Civil Lines where I have previously stayed offer a comfortable stay with average homestyle Indian food at reasonable prices. 28 Kothi goes the extra mile with tasteful interiors, eclectic furniture, upmarket room amenities and a great little café with a globally inspired, quality driven menu, which is open all day long. Whether it’s a traditional moong dal chilla or English scrambled eggs for breakfast, everything is perfect for the international traveller who is mindful about sourcing of ingredients and attention to detail. So you have a mezze platter with winter pea, beetroot and sesame humous, delicious house style makhana or lotus seeds, sandwiches, falafel and pasta. Bread is wholewheat and the chutneys are made in house. An amazing dish I discovered here was the quinoa biryani.

Small big ideas

I must say I was never a fan of quinoa till I tasted this dish. I feel that too much fuss is made of this 7,000-year-old Peruvian “pseudo cereal”. Yes, I know it is a complete protein, it is gluten-free, has a low glycemic index and is one of the few plant foods that contain nine essential amino acids…. Yes, yes all very healthy and soul saving. However I found that the dishes that I had tasted using quinoa earlier were both uninspired and frankly a bit tasteless. This wonderful twist on the traditional biryani, spices and flavour intact but low on oil, is served with a traditional onion and tomato kachumbar, a crispy okra raita and fryums (yes we all love them). It unites the health and taste elements perfectly. I commend a little establishment like 28 Kothi for coming up with this creative and delicious recipe which many chefs with big reputations and budgets, simply haven’t been able to do.

Quinoa biryani bowl

Quinoa biryani is served with a traditional onion and tomato kachumbar, a crispy okra raita and fryums

Ingredients:

Quinoa ingredients

¼ tsp good quality saffron threads

1 ½ cups quinoa

3 cups +1 tbsp of water

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

Onion topping ingredients

2 tbsp veg oil

1 large red onion or 2 medium red onions, thinly sliced

Vegetable mixture ingredients:

1 tbsp veg oil

1 tbsp ghee

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp whole black peppercorns

4 green cardamom pods, bruised

1 tbsp ginger paste

1 tbsp garlic paste

2 medium yellow or white potato, peeled and diced (bite sized)

2 whole green chillies split in half

2 cups of small cauliflower florets

½ tsp red chilli or cayenne powder

¼ tsp turmeric powder

2 tbsp garam masala

¾ cup of frozen green peas, defrosted

½ cup of white or yellow frozen corn, defrosted

1 ½ cups of plain low fat yogurt at room temperature

Salt to taste

2 tbsp mint, chopped and divided

1 tbsp cilantro, chopped

Accompaniments

Fried onions

Mint leaves

Yogurt

Lemon wedge

Tomato wedges

Method:

1. Cook the quinoa: Set aside the saffron threads in a small bowl. In a medium saucepan, place the quinoa, water, salt, bay leaves, cinnamon stick and cumin seeds and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, remove one tablespoon of water, add it to the saffron, and set that aside. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. Quinoa appears soft and translucent, and a germ ring is visible along the outside edges of the grain when it is fully cooked. Fluff the quinoa with a fork. Remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves and stir in the water and saffron mixture.

2. Prepare the browned onion topping: While the quinoa is cooking, heat the oil on medium high in a non-stick skillet. Once the oil is heated, sauté the onions stirring occasionally (to ensure they do not burn) until they are golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove onions from the heat and spread out on a plate lined with a kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil. Set aside.

3. Make the vegetable mixture: In a large heavy non-stick pot heat the oil and ghee on medium heat. Now add the cumin seeds, peppercorns and cardamoms and wait till the cumin seeds start sputtering. When they start sputtering add the ginger and garlic paste and cook stirring for one to two minutes until the raw garlic smell dissipates.

4. Now add the potatoes and green chilies and cook for a minute. Add the cauliflower and cook until the potatoes and cauliflower are fork tender. Add the cayenne, turmeric and garam masala and cook everything together for a minute.

5. Turn off the heat and stir in the peas and corn. Let it get warmed up for one to two minutes. When the temperature of the dish has come down a bit, stir in the yogurt and set aside for five minutes. Add salt per taste.

6. Assemble the biryani just before serving: Stir one tablespoon of mint and half of the fried onions into the vegetable mixture. Layer the quinoa on top of the vegetables and top with the remaining onions and one tablespoon of water. Cover and cook everything together on low heat for five minutes or till everything is warmed up. Garnish with the remaining mint and cilantro and serve immediately.

Author Bio: 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 March 4.

From HT Brunch, February 18, 2018

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First Published: Feb 17, 2018 22:27 IST