Feastory4 min read . Updated: 09 Sep 2011, 10:12 PM IST
Perhaps it’s Noma, the Copenhagen restaurant which was crowned the best in the world by Michelin twice in a row for reinterpreting quintessentially Nordic/Scandinavian cuisine. Perhaps it’s the pictures of US First Lady Michelle Obama hoeing and raking lettuce beds in the White House kitchen garden. “Back to the roots" seems to have taken root in all matters culinary.
While Razdan relies solely on the lessons learnt in the kitchens of her mother and mother-in-law and perfected in her own, Swamy, whose mother is an “East Indian", backs up the recipes collated from family and friends with notes on the history of the dwindling community of Maharashtrian-Portuguese extraction. His short introductory history of this community of North Konkan Catholics, who were first baptized by the Portuguese, provides some insight into the strangely named community: The East Indians formally christened themselves after the British East India Company in 1887 in the hope of landing lucrative “company" jobs.
The mixed parentage of the cuisine is reflected in dishes such as the heavily spiced duck indad or beef with fenugreek, or the ghee (clarified butter) that features as the cooking medium in most recipes. Even the Bifes a Portugeuza, a kind of beef steak, can’t do without the iconic “bottle masala"—a mix of 21 spices. So called because of the large bottles they were stored in, it is the star of the East Indian kitchen—complete with its own secret formula that is passed on from mother to daughter and never revealed to strangers. The book lists three separate recipes.
For a Cordon Bleu chef brought up on his grandmother’s cooking, compiling a book of her traditional recipes should have been a piece of cake. Yet Swamy found ferreting out the recipes the trickiest part of his research. He wheedled cousins, cajoled aunts and sweet-talked strangers to get them to part with recipes from a cuisine that has hardly been documented.
The community’s reluctance to share its secrets with the world is threatening its culinary tradition. “You’ll not find East Indian cuisine on any restaurant menu. It is a cuisine which is dying out," says Swamy, who works as a consultant and food stylist. According to him, the book is the first effort at formally documenting the cuisine. His editor, Deepthi Talwar, however, says while one may not know it as East Indian, most foodies would have tasted East Indian staples such as vindaloo or sarapatel. “What we look for are books that describe how to cook typical dishes from the area, but also give the reader insight into the culture and people, and how it informs the cuisine," Talwar says of the Kitchen series.
Next up is food writer Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal’s book on the cuisine of Uttaranchal. Married into a Pahadi family, Gildiyal says there are rarely any books on the subject and it was one of the reasons she decided to document the simple, rustic, bursting-with-goodness food of the people of Kumaon and Garhwal. It’s a cereal-rich cuisine, deriving its protein mainly from dals. And there’s the famed Dehra Dun rice. “Dals are very essential to the cuisine, especially urad. There’s some 30-40 ways of cooking urad." Millets are another staple. “The cuisine is very basic, but because it relies on fresh produce, it’s very very tasty," she says. Much of the greens came from kitchen gardens and fruits from the orchards, and, in the days when hunting was allowed, meat was the game caught by the mensfolk. No part of the animal was allowed to go to waste—leftover meat was pickled for the harsh winters, trotters were made into a soup, and the intestines into a kind of blood sausage. “The most notable dish would be a kachmauli—a whole goat or lamb is smoked for hours over a fire of green leaves and tender twigs. The meat is taken off the bone while still slightly underdone, and tossed in mustard oil, salt, chilli and turmeric."
It’s such “back to the roots’ stories that have finally spiced up the prospects of earthy cuisines long overshadowed by their glamorous rivals.
1kg lamb, cut from breast and shoulder with bones
110ml mustard or refined oil
1 cinnamon stick
3 black cardamoms
4 green cardamoms
2 bay leaves
3 tsp fennel powder
2 tsp ginger powder
3 cups yogurt
1 tsp cornflour
1 tsp black cumin seeds
Salt to taste
Whisk the yogurt in a bowl. Add to the stock, stirring with a ladle and bring to a boil. Add the meat and cook till the gravy thickens. Whisk 1 tsp cornflour in 4 tsp water, add to the meat. Coarsely grind the remaining cardamoms, black and green, and add to the gravy. Sprinkle shah jeera.
Serve hot with steamed rice.
Recipe courtesy Kashmiri Cuisine through the Ages.
Sopa de Lentilha com Toucinho
250g husked, split Bengal gram (chana dal)
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic flakes, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 carrots, diced
500g tomato purée
1 litre any stock
1 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
200g bacon, diced
Wash the dal and drain. In a pan, boil the dal in six cups of water. Lower the heat and simmer till tender.
Serve hot soup, garnished with bacon.
Recipe courtesy The East Indian Kitchen.