Sunday, June 27, 2010

O'-I-Live to make it happen one day

There is an interesting observation at Italian Restaurants abroad, be it a small or an extravagant one, the moment you are seated the exhaustive wine list is brought out, the concierge helps you with the selection, with his/her mind reading prowess, he/she can guess your taste, liking, mood and the amount you are willing to spend, saving you the trouble of going cross eyed trying to determine the best choice off the menu as it involves rapid eye movement between the wines and the little amount column on the right (especially if you have "company").

Now comes the other interesting part, the wine once brought out, uncorked, poured and tasted, the practice, as is observed, involves a small shallow white plate to be placed in front of you. The assorted bread in its individual basket having a wide assortment of baked delights is unwrapped from its warm and snug white cocoon, and then in one swift movement your pristine white plate has a pool of rich olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. This is indulgence at its best, your pick of yeasty warm bread should be dipped into the olive oil balsamic vinegar mixture and savoured fresh off the basket.

I love this tradition, it's much like a bowl of peanuts or cashews with your beer, back in our Country. Unfortunately, in India, even though Italian Cuisine has fast caught on, the tradition of serving the welcome bread basket (except in a select few places, very few, in my case, probably only one of which I am aware) with the above oil-vinegar concoction is lost. Understandably, Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar is no easy on cost, but the fact that Italian Cuisine Restaurants are highly priced and in vogue with times, it should be made mandatory to serve up this divine delight. So what if its supposed to be complimentary!

Of course you can have this tradition replicated at home. The next time you serve up pasta or even garlic bread, have this on your table to delight your guests and make it your own little welcome:


From you nearest bakery, pick up dinner rolls, a French loaf, baby round breads and a few packs of your local pau (this particularly tastes amazing).

Mix Butter and a minced garlic clove and spread on the inside halve of Dinner Roll, fold close and pop in the oven to warm for three minutes on high.

Mix Butter, Paprika and your favorite herb and smother in the baby round breads, close and warm with the dinner rolls.

Slice French Loaf into thick slices, drizzle a mix of olive oil, Tabasco and parsley (coriander) onto the slices and grill for two minutes.

Your local pau can be heated, as is, with a little butter and served warm

Spread a pristine white napkin in a wicker or bamboo basket, mix and match random breads and place in the napkin, add a couple of bread sticks in the corners, fold napkin on three sides, leaving one side open as an outlet to release the hot steam. Serve immediately.

Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar Serving 

As pictured below, I had got this bottle form one of those wine festivals in Goa, it was gifted to me by an Aunt who found the bottle quite quaint and thought it would be an innovative addition to my innumerable kitchen items. It was originally meant to be for wine, where it was to be used for chilling the wine by pouring it in the inner compartment and adding chilled water in the outer. Of course, I was super excited to be the owner of a typical Italian Olive Oil - Balsamic Vinegar serviette. The inner chamber now holds the highest quality Balsamic Vinegar, and super rich, extra virgin Olive Oil in the outer compartment.

Keep this on the table for your guests to individually pour out the olive oil  and balsamic onto their plates when you serve the bread.


One thing I give most high-end Italian restaurants in India credit for, is their choice of butter's served with the  Bread Basket. Every place has a distinct recipe and most of them go quite well with the assorted Bread. You can whip up some of them in your own kitchens and serve with your bread basket.

Garlic Butter: One of my all time favourites, whip softened butter till well blended, add 1 or 2 cloves of crushed garlic, salt and a sprinkling of garlic powder. With a spatula, cream the butter till well mixed and spoon out in a small bowl. Serve cold or at room temperature

Spicy Butter: Another exotic spreadable delight, In a mixer, combine one fourth cup of butter with 2 tablsp of  olive oil and lemon juice, process until well creamed, add garlic salt and chilli flakes and blend again. If you want it to be slightly more pinkish in colour, add a pinch of red chilli powder before blending once again. Spoon out in a small bowl and serve immediately.

Peppered Green Butter: This is an innovative creation. In a mixer, combine one fourth cup of butter with 2 tablsp of olive oil and few leaves of parsley or coriander, process until well creamed, add one chopped green garlic and freshly crushed pepper. Mix well and serve.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fry Em Up

Its nature at its best! furious, careless, unpredictable and exciting. This is the time to be in tune with natures feelings. Monsoon in Mumbai is never complete without the "moment". The unleashing of your instantaneous feeling of breaking free of all things mundane and inviting some "me" time. I am referring to the inevitable "moment":

Balcony / Terrace / Open Space / French Window / Bedroom (any) Window 

Dark, Damp Area (all around you), Dry Area (exactly where you are standing/sitting/lying), Naturally Fragrant, Thunder, Pouring Rain and Shades of Green

Dimmed, Candled, Fuzzy

Grey, Cool, A Dash of Lightning 

Comfortable, Old, Grungy

Only You 

Hot Chai, Onion Bhajjias, Ketchup

The "moment" is complete when its served hot and savoured over hours, right until the ambiance fades.

I am going to share an age-old recipe of Bhajjias, ideally Onion Bhajjias, for which the recipe was dutifully relayed by our Man-Friday of 50 years (yes, even before I was born). This method of making Bhajjias is simple, yet effective in bringing out the flavours for a perfect fried snack. Follow this recipe and I promise, this will be on your menu every monsoon.

5 large Onions
(Cut into half and sliced thin)
1 Green Chilli (finely chopped)
A small bunch of Coriander Leaves (finely chopped)
1 tablsp Red Chilli Powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp Crushed Black Pepper
1 tsp Turmeric Powder (Haldi)
1 cup Gram Flour (Channe ka Atta)
Oil for frying

The secret is the use of absolutely NO water in preparing the mix for the fritter.

Prepare the Onions and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle Red Chilli Powder and Salt and leave aside for 15 minutes. As illustrated below, you will find that in the given time, the onions release water and soften.

Proceed by adding the rest of the ingredients except the flour and mix well. Slowly spoon in the flour and simultaneously squish and squeeze the onion mixture, thereby releasing more water and allowing the flavours to spread through the flour while mixing. Keep adding in the flour till you get a thick paste like consistency, but ensure it does not turn into dough. If you feel the flour is not enough, you may add more, or alternatively keep it less according to the water released through the onions. The water released by the onions is enough thereby eliminating the need of additional water.

Heat the oil in a deep bottomed vessel. Lift a small amount of mix and roll in between your fingers and palm to get a oval or round shaped mixture. Drop these one at a time in hot oil and deep fry till golden brown. You may use a small spoon to drop the mixture into the oil, depending on your comfort.

Serve hot with Coriander Mint Chutney  and Ketchup.  

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Caesar's Connect

It all started at a post-drama dinner few years back, wherein the family and me had just finished watching a political drama at N.C.P.A. and everyone was positively charged and hungry at the same time. Not a good combination, as every member of this drama party was much agitated - each wanted a different cuisine, place, ambiance and worse of all - indifference to the next persons salivating wish. The restaurant argument continued amidst the cacophony of hooting cars and whizzing bikes on Marine Drive till the driver (that's me) got the better of everyone and screeched to a halt outside a non-descriptive building with a sign portraying - Karma - Lounge & Bar.

Maybe this was my Karma or maybe it was luck, as on Saturday night, in town, miles away from home, we get a table immediately. They had a limited menu and everyone on the table had a limited vision on what they wanted and selected the commonest of all dishes on the menu. I'd skip the explanation as to the scene at that very moment, as it was no different from the cacophony and whizzing outside. I made a beeline for the soup of the day (minestrone) and a salad - The good ol' Caesars salad - common now, but quite a gourmet affair then.        
Ever since, Caesar's salad has been my staple, outside or at home. The moment I bit into the crispy chilled lettuce, lasciviously slathered with their in-house dressing and freshly shaved Parmesan dotted with olives and baby croutons - It was pure Nirvana. From then on, I decided that I had to master the art of making the very same dressing at home and hunt down iceberg as though vying for marijuana, as 12 years ago, if you got green salad leaves at your local bhajjiwalla, you were in luck. 

After much experimentation, countless tastings at various high-end restaurants and re-reruns at Karma Lounge (the help out there knew me by name and would hardly ever wait for my order - it was the same, every single time - Caesar's Salad) - the recipe was finally mastered. It's not difficult and you would probably scoff at the ingredients and wonder why it took so long to understand the mix - but mind you, this is perfection at its ultimate.

You may say, you could buy the dressing ready made from outside and splash it over iceberg, but its just not the same, in fact it's way out of line and tastes like synthetic paste. Try this much savored dish at your very own home and you will not go wrong at all.

6 Cloves garlic, peeled
¾ cup Mayonnaise
½ cup Black Olives (cut into thin rounds)
6 tablsp Grated Parmesan cheese (you may use the store bought variety by Kraft®)
1 tablsp Lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Freshly Prepared Mustard sauce (not the french kind)
¼ cup Olive oil
Salt to taste
Freshly Ground Black pepper to taste
1 head Romaine lettuce / Iceberg Lettuce – rinsed, chilled, towel dried and torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup Garlic Croutons (recipe follows)

Mince 3 cloves (you can add a couple more according to your taste) of the garlic, and combine in a small bowl with mayonnaise, olives, 2 tablsp of the Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and lemon juice. Whip it well, season to taste with salt and black pepper. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To serve: Place lettuce in a large bowl. Toss with dressing, remaining Parmesan cheese, and croutons. Toss well, Serve chilled with a dash of Tabasco sauce.

Note: You may serve it with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese as it is readily available in many gourmet stores around the city.

Garlic Croutons:
Dice into half inch cubes 'sliced bread', preferably a day old. deep fry in hot vegetable oil till golden brown, remove in another pan, add grated garlic (the remaining 3 cloves) and toss. Use cold.