Travel: Around the world in eight plates
Travelling for me is about investigating new flavours and delighting my taste buds. But I don’t let it stop there. If I like a dish (or love it), I sign up for cooking classes and bring home the best possible souvenir: the ability to dish up vacation memories at the shake of a salt cellar. Here’s what I’ve done so far, and what you may want to do.
Crocodile magar matar masala, anyone?
Ever had crocodile in your matar masala? Since alligator meat is illegal in India, neither had I – until Chef John Folse Culinary Institute encouraged some cooking experiments on the wild side at the kitchen in Thibodaux, USA. The husband and I had managed to bag a two-week scholarship to learn Creole and Cajun cuisine.
At the end of our sessions, we had to cook a 100-cover meal making Indian dishes with Louisiana produce like crayfish, okra, new potatoes, etc. Thus was created magar matar masala and other fusion cooking, including the BBQ sauce naan roll paired with bayou rum cutting chai.
Magar matar masala : Ingredients
Alligator: Mince 500gmcoarse, from tail
Oil: 1/3 cup sunflower
Cumin: 1 tsp
Cardamom: One (Black)
Cinnamon: One stick (2 inch)
Onions: 2, thinly sliced
Ginger Garlic paste: 2 tsp
Green chillies: 2 (slit)
Tomatoes: 2, chopped
Green Peas: ½ cup (fresh or frozen)
Red Chilli powder: 2 tsp (Kashmiri)
Salt to taste
Ginger: 1 piece (julienned)
Coriander leaves: ½ cup (coarsely chopped)
* Over medium heat in a heavy based pan, heat the oil, add the whole spices and let them cook gently till it gives out a wonderful aroma.
* Add the sliced onions and cook till they are light brown, add slit green chilli, and ginger garlic paste, cook gently till the raw flavour of ginger garlic vanishes.
* Add the chopped tomatoes and green peas and cook well over low-medium heat till the oil begins to separate.
* Add the mince and continue cooking on medium heat for 10 minutes, add the red chilli powder and continue cooking.
* Add salt along with 1 cup water and simmer gently covered for 20-25 minutes, remove lid and cook to the desired consistency, check seasoning, remove to a serving bowl, garnish with chopped coriander and ginger juliennes.
A truffle for your thoughts
The quest for the white truffle was of great significance on my excursion to Piedmont in Roddi, Italy. So I set off to Roddi near Alba, ready for a jungle trek.
My guide Giovanni and his cross-breed white dog, Leila, led me into the woods for over two hours; Leila snuffled around and when she found something, she got excited, wriggling and wagging her tail, burrowing into the earth. Giovanni rushed to her each time and handed me a pick to uncover the truffle. Back at Giovanni’s restaurant, we made a hearty lunch of fresh fried eggs with a garnish of shaved truffles and ‘tajarin’ (handmade noodles, rich with egg yolk) supplemented with fresh white truffles. Exquisite!
Tajarin al tartufo (Truffle pasta)
For the pasta dough
All-purpose flour: 1/2 kg
Whole eggs: 9
Extra virgin olive oil: As required
Salt as per taste
Cornmeal flour: As required
For the sauce
Butter: 4 tbsp.
Fresh white truffles
* Add flour and form a well, on a work surface. Add salt, eggs, and a few drops of oil to the middle of the well. Gently mix until a dense dough begins to form. Knead until smooth and elastic, break dough into small bread roll sized pieces. Cover and rest at room temperature for an hour.
* Using a rolling pin, roll out the pieces of dough into thin, flat rectangles. Leave to rest for a few minutes.
* Flour all and roll them up the long way into a loose cylinder shape. Cut cleanly through the rolled dough crosswise at 1/8 to ¼ -inch intervals. Jiggle and unfurl the cut pieces, opening them into tajarin ribbons, each about 7 inches long and ¼ inch wide. Dust generously with flour and set aside on a floured tray.
* In a large pot, bring water to a boil, and season it with salt. Place the tajarin in the boiling water and cook them until al dente.|
* Heat butter and ½ cup of pasta water in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Melt the butter and swirl the pan until the mixture looks creamy and becomes an emulsified sauce. Season with salt.
* Drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the butter sauce, tossing it to evenly coat it with the sauce.
* Serve hot with shaved fresh truffles
Let’s talk tagine
El Jadida, Morocco
I bartered cooking lessons with Mohammed, executive chef at the Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort, El Jadida in Morocco. I taught him how to make Indian-style kidney beans and he taught me how to make tagine and couscous.
We marinated the chicken, and then while it simmered, Mohammed made me a mint tea and told me that in Morocco, men make the tea and women make the bread. I also learnt that the use of salt is negligible and nothing is fried, but the vegetables are fresh and organic. Mohammed loved the rajma-chawal and gifted me a tagine pot.
Chicken Thighs: 4 with skin
Salt :to taste
Olive oil: 4 tbsp
Onions: 4 (medium, thinly sliced)
Coriander powder:1 tsp
Pepper powder: ½ tsp (white)
Black Pepper: ½ tsp freshly ground
Ginger powder: ¾ tsp
Saffron: ¼ tsp
Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
Preserved lemon: 1 (no rind)
Pitted Olives: 12-15 (black and green)
Parsley: 1 tsp (chopped)
Coriander: 1 tsp (chopped)
*Mix all ingredients well along with the oil and ½ cup water, arrange neatly in the tagine pot, put it on medium heat, and once it is bubbling reduce heat to simmer, cook covered for 40-45 minutes.
*Check seasoning. Serve in the tagine pot !
On a pad thai high
Although I’d never turn my nose up at pad thai from kiosks at major subway stations, I wanted to learn the basics of traditional Thai cooking in Bangkok, Thailand. I had one week, so I went to master chef Nooror and Sandra Steppe’s Blue Elephant Cooking School. My tailor-made course began with a market tour and familiarisation with ingredients. Back in class, the format was to observe the preparation of a dish and then head to the cooking station to do it ourselves. I started with the basics: the sauces and the pastes. Homework was to watch videos, practice the next day and rustle up what we learn for our own dinner!
DIY: In a pan, heat oil and cook chicken or shrimp. throw in garlic and bell peppers. Add a little more oil and scramble eggs with a spatula. Then add noodles, pad thai sauce, bean sprouts and peanuts to the pan and toss.
Foie gras for the soul
I tried the foie gras that Strasbourg in France is famous for. One evening, I spotted a kitchen accessory shop that also held cooking lessons.
The next day there was a workshop on foie gras and terrines, but there was one hitch: it was in French. Nonetheless, I enrolled and soon I was in the groove in the French kitchen, making foie gras in the place of its origin.
Pan seared fresh foie gras
To make apple puree:
Unsalted butter: 2 tbsp
Granny Smith apples: 2 (with skin and thinly sliced)
White Wine: 1/2 cup dry
Quince paste: 3 tbsp
* Over medium heat melt butter in a saute pan. Add the sliced apples, wine, and quince paste. Cook, stirring frequently, until apples are tender, will take around 5 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and purée until smooth. Keep aside at room temperature.
* Prepare Foie Gras and White Wine Sauce
* Foie gras : 4 slices (120gm)
* Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
* Passionfruit juice: 1/2 cup (fresh)
*Orange juice: 1/2 cup (fresh)
* White wine: 1/3 cup Chardonnay
Orange zest:1/2 orange
Unsalted butter:1 tsp
Apple puree: 4 tbsp
Brioche bread: 4 slices - 1/2 inch thick, toasted
Lettuce hearts: 1/2 cup
*Heat a saute pan on medium heat. Score the foie gras slices with a diamond pattern on one side. Season with salt and pepper. Place two slices in the pan and sear until golden brown for about two minutes. Reduce heat, turn the foie gras over, and cook for an additional two minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside to rest. Wipe the pan clean and repeat with the remaining two slices of foie gras.
*Pour the excess fat out of the pan, leaving just a thin layer in the pan and reserving two tbsp drippings to add to the reduction. Deglaze the pan with the passion fruit and orange juice over medium heat, scraping up any browned bits with a wooden spoon. Simmer for two minutes until the juice is reduced by half. Add the Chardonnay and orange zest, and the reserved pan drippings and simmer for 1 minute. Add the butter, remove from the heat, and whisk until well combined. Season the reduction to taste with salt and pepper.
* Place the toasts in the center of four serving plates. Put the foie gras slices on top of the brioche. Spoon the apple purée around, drizzle with the passionfruit and orange juice reduction, and, neatly arrange the salad leaves on top.
Art of egg tart
I made a trip to Lord Stow’s bakery in Coloane for an egg tart every evening. These sweet and savoury bites of heaven with decadent butter crusts are not easy to make! In Macau, I took a group tour that taught us the nuances of Macanese cuisine, and learned to make these tarts from scratch.
The most difficult bit was giving the dough that perfect shape in the mould. When the tarts came out of the oven, it was amazing to see how each of the group members’ tart tasted different from the others. I aim to be the perfect egg tart maker one day.
Macanese egg tarts
For the Puff Pastry
Flour: 2 ½ cup
Milk powder: 1 tsp
Shortening: 2 tsp
Salt: ¼ tsp
Ice water (approximately): 1/3 cup
Butter: ¾ cup
For the Custard
Sugar: 1/2 cup
Egg yolks: 8
Milk: 1/2 cup
Heavy cream: 1/2 cup
*Sift flour and milk powder in a mixing bowl, add shortening, salt, egg, water and mix until a smooth ball. Chill for half an hour.
*Roll dough out and arrange butter pieces on half of the dough, fold dough over, press and then roll out with rolling pin. Sprinkle top with flour, and let rest for half an hour.
*Turn dough a quarter turn, and roll out. Let rest for half an hour. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle and fold onto itself like a Swiss-roll. Let it rest for a bit.
*Meanwhile combine the cream and the milk and bring to a boil. Whisk the sugar with the egg yolks until the mixture is pale.
*Slowly pour the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture while whisking constantly. Strain and reserve.
*Preheat oven to 400F. Butter and flour a twelve-cup muffin pan.
*Cut twelve 1cm thick slices from the rolled up dough.
* Wet your fingers with cold water and shape each slice into a disc big enough to line a muffin cup. Line the muffin cups and fill with egg mixture about ¾ full (about 3 tbsp per muffin cup). Bake at 400F for 20 minutes, until brown spots appear on the surface of the filling. Cool slightly on rack.
Perfect the paella
Mi Paella en el Huerto, a beautifully- restored farmhouse outside the city of Valencia, Spain, is where I learnt paella-making. Rafael, the owner and chef, explained that usually just one person is responsible for ensuring the cooking is perfect. So what do the rest do? They drink sangria and enjoy tapas. Traditionally, a paella contains meat, vegetables, rice, garlic, saffron, salt and paprika, and the slow simmer makes it special.
Paella de la familia
Pork loin/fillet: 100g
Onion: 1 (medium)
Red pepper: ½
Green pepper: ½
Cloves of garlic: 2/3
Dry white wine: 1 glass
Avecrem or chicken Oxo: 2 cubes
Rice per person: 100g
Saffron colouring: Approx. 1 level tsp
Salt and pepper: to taste
*Into a 30 cm paella pan, put approx. 3 tbsp of olive oil. Over a medium heat, add diced pork and chicken and fry well stirring all the time until golden.
*Add diced onion and pepper and fry until soft, then add diced tomatoes and sliced chorizo.
*Add salt and pepper, wine, chopped garlic and avecrem/Oxo and cook until the wine has reduced.
* Add hot water to the pan until it reaches the level of the base of the handles and when it begins to boil, add the rice. Stir well.
*Add saffron/colouring and cook over a medium heat until the rice is cooked, adding more water if needed.
*Decorate with sliced tomatoes/roasted red peppers.
Slow food special
ToTT (Tools of the Trade) is a food-centric retail outlet with cooking studios, a bistro and a gourmet market all next to one another. Signing up for a cookery class could mean a celebrity chef coaching you.
I attended one on slow food with Jimmy Chok. He distributed notes on the menu of the day and kept the passion of cooking alive with his humour. The ingredients provided were of extraordinary quality.
Nasi lemak (Coconut milk rice)
Salt: to taste
Rice: 500 g
Pandan leaves: 2 nos (In India substitute with bay leaf or any leaf with a vanilla or nutty flavour). One can also flavour it with cinnamon sticks.
*Peel and grate coconut and extract milk.
*Wash, soak and drain rice.
*Put rice in a steamer; add salt, Pandan leaves and coconut milk and steam over boiling water for about half an hour or until cooked.
*Remove the leaves and loosen with the rice with a fork.
From HT Brunch, July 7, 2019
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