Gourmet Secrets: Scent of a lemon
Gondhoraj is a fantastic green lemon, which fills the air with a heady lemony fragrance has it’s the home in Rangpur, BangladeshUpdated: Jan 19, 2019 22:14 IST
As I wax lyrical every week about gourmet food and fancy dishes, I realise how blind I have been to some extraordinary dishes in India itself. I have recently been travelling to Kolkata on work and have rediscovered Bengali food. Bengali cuisine is considered elaborate and refined and is the only cuisine in India where food is served in courses, the chronology based on ancient beliefs relating to the digestive process.
Bitter leaves and gourd are always served first, followed by bhaja (deep fried vegetables) and bhaate (steamed vegetables cooked in mustard oil), rice, dal, chutneys, dahi and papad, fish then mutton and of course dessert at the end is a must. Bengali food is one of the few Indian cuisines I can eat any time anywhere, even in restaurants.
This simply isn’t so of other Indian cuisines, where the restaurant versions tend to be over spiced, laced with unnecessary amounts of oil and generally over cooked. There are also ingredients particular to this region, which are very special. The fish Hilsa, a member of the herring family and has numerous small bones. De-boned and smoked, it is superior to even the best Smoked salmon. Smothered in a paste of mustard and green chilli and steamed, it is ecstasy. Kolkata bhetki is a much underrated white fish, which can be used in many preparations, paturi (steamed in a banana leaf), or in a simple home-style curry or jhol.
Nolen gud, palm jaggery syrup, which is used in sondesh and rasgullas in winter and stored for the Bengali kitchen for the rest of the year, is better than any maple syrup. For taste, panch phoran, their aromatic spice blend and mustard, black and pungent yellow, ground into a paste. And then there’s the gondhoraj lemon. This is a fantastic green lemon (as opposed to lime, nimboo or lemon or citron), which fills the air with a heady lemony fragrance. The nearest to it would be Thai makrut from which we use the kaffir lime leaf. Unlike kaffir, which is used mainly for its heavily -scented leaves, gondhoraj has a little precious juice that is enough to transform any dish and wonderfully-scented rind, which I use to perk up marmalades and to add magic to a Gin &Tonic. The leaves are never used.
Anjan Chatterjee, founder of the hugely successful restaurant chains Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta, searched for the origin of elusive gondhoraj lebu , which took him across the country and even beyond, till he found the home of this fragrant lime in Rangpur, Bangladesh. In an article in the The Telegraph many years ago, he wrote...
“I would never have given much thought to the fruit till life handed me an uncommon lemon one day. The gondhoraj. As the huge specimen still attached to a fresh green twig gave off a most sublime fragrance in my hand, the old mali of our garden solemnly told me that its name meant the king of fragrance. The straggly shrub growing by itself in a sunny corner had borne its first season of fruits. And what a fruit. Since that season, we had slices of gondhoraj lemon on our table almost around the year. To add some zest to an insipid dal or enhance an already inviting bhetki fry, all we had to do was ignore the thorns on a branch and pluck a gondhoraj. The pale segments inside never yielded much juice but with such overpowering scent that travels even to other rooms and invites you to the table, you need not ask for more than a few drops of this ambrosia. But the fragrance of gondhoraj evaporated from my life, taking every drop of its delicious juice with it, the moment I stepped outside Bengal. gondhoraj lebu, it seems, doesn’t take to the soil of any other part of India except our very own backyards in Bengal.”
On a recent trip to Kolkata, I ventured into a new Bengali restaurant at City Centre Salt Lake called Sonar Tori. The first Sonar Tori was opened many years ago at Ganga Kutir, a stunning resort on the banks of the Ganges at Raichak about a two- hour drive from the city. The owners have now brought a branch into a busy city mall which is convenient to say the least. The menu here, according to Sumanta Chakrabarti, corporate chef, Ambuja Neotia Hospitality, is a more compact version of the spread at Raichak.
“We have picked favourites from that menu in Raichak and made the thalis more compact here. The items show the various influences there are on Bengali food, starting from the zamindars to the krishis, Mussalman & “Phiringee”. Every dish smacks of authenticity from the begun bhaja, the mustardy betki paturi, a deliciously light maacher jhol and a sublimely subtle yam bhaate…but what stole my heart that afternoon amongst the saris draped on the wall and the exquisite bell metal thalis, was the chilled gondhoraj lassi of sorts. I know when I’m back in the city when the aroma of this citrus fruit wafts through the air and here it was in all its glory to begin a very special Bengali meal..
Gondhoraj Lebur Ghol
2g black salt
2 pcs gondhoraj lime leaf
10 ml gondhoraj lemon juice
¼ pc gondhoraj lemon slice
3 ice cubes
Pour curd in the blender, add gondhoraj lemon, juice, sugar and gondhoraj lemon leaf. Blend and make sure sugar is completely dissolved. Add black salt and ice cube, shake the mixture, stir it properly, check the seasoning,
Pour it in champagne saucer garnish with slice lemon and lemon leaf.
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.
From HT Brunch, January 20, 2019
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First Published: Jan 19, 2019 20:10 IST