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{Eating Out ~ Food Festival Review} Flavours of Indonesia (Selamat Datang) at Seasonal Tastes, The Westin

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A few days ago I was at Seasonal Tastes, the popular coffee shop of The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace to sample the food at their “Flavours of Indonesia” a food festival. I was seated at a table in the busy coffee shop buzzing at lunch time. Seasonal Tastes is very popular for their extensive lunch spread and an assortment of the Indonesian dishes are part of their regular buffet. The coffee shop takes advantage of the lobby’s sky-high ceilings and offers both tables and couches for seating. It is always buzzing at meal times, so choosing a quiet corner may need a reservation. The food is spread out extensively and access to the counters is easy.

Chef Muhsoni ~ Image courtesy The Westin

Chef Muhsoni ~ Image courtesy The Westin

I was introduced to the shy Chef Mohammed Muhsoni who is helming the food festival. The Chef is with Le Meridian in Indonesia and has come to this hotel via a collaborative association. The chef traveled with a lot of the ‘difficult to find in India’ ingredients. He also brought with him curry pastes, etc which would be used in the preparation of the food. Executive Sous Chef Rakesh Anand Singh played interpreter and buffet guide and indulged in my questions and finally a request for some galangal to grow in my kitchen garden too! A lot of Indonesian cuisine shows the influence of their trade with India, Arab countries and the rest of Asia and this is visible in the familiar ingredients and flavours that are presented. The food tends to be spicy and fiery for the most part, to pique the taste buds, but is well-balanced and uses a lot of steaming and flash stir frying as their cooking methods to keep the flavour and colour of the ingredients fresh and retain the nutritional value of the food.

One part of the extensive buffet spread

One part of the extensive buffet spread

I went around the elegantly set and busy buffet to do a survey. The Indonesian offerings sat choc a bloc (distinguished by their promotional pictures and labelled neatly) with the dishes on their regular menu which is a melange of global dishes along with local Hyderabadi, Telangana and Andhra offerings. Seasonal Tastes has a really extensive buffet and it is not possible to do justice to the food unless one plans to vegetate for the next couple of hours. I requested for only the Indonesian fare to be served to me to be able to stay sane amidst all that food and focus on reviewing it.

Udan Goreng (prawns) & Sayung Goreng Chumpur (crispy fried vegetables)

Udan Goreng (prawns) & Sayung Goreng Chumpur (crispy fried vegetables)

I started with the Udang Goreng (batter coated deep-fried prawns tossed in green onions, peppers and paprika) the batter coated prawns were done just right, crisp exterior and succulent prawns and I am beginning to marvel at the technique of managing this. The kick of this dish is the paprika that the prawns are tossed with. Fiery is an understatement and I was quick to realize this would set the pace for the rest of the meal. The flavours are fresh and yet hit you with spice. Its going to be interesting for me I keep thinking because I have a high threshold for heat in my food although most of the food I make otherwise is not spicy (only because I cater to another living being at home).

Next up was the Sayur Goreng Chumpur (Crispy fried vegetables sauté in sweet chili sauce) I loved the thin discs of vegetables, my favourite being zucchini and the sweet sticky sauce. Quite a contrast from the heat of the prawns I tasted earlier. This will hopefully be offered on the buffet much after the festival ends.

The Salads ~ fresh, crisp and flavourful

The Salads ~ fresh, crisp and flavourful

For the salads, there was a nice selection of three varieties. First up, I loved the presentation of the vegetarian salads in champagne flutes. Makes for a pretty picture and prompts those passive to salads to try them out. I tasted all three salads. The Bakwan Udans (Tamarind marinated shrimps with vegetables) was fresh tasting and I loved the woody earthy balance that tamarind gives this otherwise crisp salad.

The Ayam Pelallah (Kafir lime turmeric and galangal roasted chicken and glass noodles with vegetables & sprouts) served with a peanut and tamarind dip which had the consistency of a proper chutney. While the salad was good, because I am partial to glass noodles, I loved the familiar flavours of the peanut and tamarind dip. The same ingredients (used extensively in south indian cooking) were given a completely different dressing in this Indonesian dip.

The vegetarian Tofu salad with sprouts was delightful and I loved the creamy texture of the tofu and the contrast it created with the fried tofu pieces and the sprouts. This had a mildly sweet and spicy dressing.

The live stir fry station and the main course dishes

The live stir fry station and the main course dishes

For the main course, there was a Fish and beef dish. The Ikam Stim Lada Hitam (Lemon grass steamed fish in black pepper sauce) was so different from anything else I had tasted. Readers of this blog will know that I am partial to citrus flavours and I think lemongrass and fish are a match made in heaven. Served on a bed of steamed spinach, I loved the combination of the mild lemon grass and the heat from the coarsely ground black pepper in the sauce.

The Daging Tumis Paprika dan Cabe Merah (Sauté beef with capsicum sauce) small slices of beef sauteed with capsicum was a tad chewy and I would happily give it a pass.

Live Stations offering custom made stir fries

Live Stations offering custom made stir fries

They have a live stir fry counter that makes the well known favourites from Indonesian cuisine, Mie Goreng (noodles with vegetables, meat and herbs) and Nasi Goreng (Indonesian style fried rice). I loved the Mie Goreng, taking several helpings of the vegetarian version until I just had to stop.

From the main course, the one dish that stood out for me was the Gulai tahu dan buncis (tofu and beans in a coconut and chilli curry paste) the flavours subtle and layered and so delicate it was a welcome difference from the fiery dishes I’d eaten till then. I was stuffed to the gills, but couldn’t resist taking another helping of this aromatic curry with sticky rice.

The dessert spread

The dessert spread

They had three signature desserts of which the Pulut Hitam (a coconut rice pudding) flavoured with coconut milk and garnished with ripe banana, lychees and rose water soaked raisins) reminded me of the Thai dessert Tub Tim Grob. The flavours are well-balanced and the sweet comes both from the coconut milk and sugar and is subtle, creamy and rich.

The Kue Mangkok (Cup cakes made from tapioca flour) I found them very dry, would give this a miss

The Dadar Gulung (Pancake rolls stuffed with jaggery and coconut) again, I love the combination of jaggery and coconut and this dessert tho a little sweeter than what I prefer is reminiscent of eating another version of a poli due to the stuffing.

This buffet especially with the Indonesian dishes is highly recommended and will be worth all the calories that I ingested. I loved the fiery spice balanced with sugar and the flavours of the fresh herbs of lemongrass & galangal. There is just enough to keep the palate delighted and yet not overwhelm the senses. The dishes change everyday, but some favourites may be repeated based on the requests from guests or the popularity of the dish. At 1327 (All Inclusive) it is total VFM.

Selamat Datang Indonesian Food Festival (part of the lunch and dinner buffet at Seasonal Tastes ~ The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace

Recommendations: Sayur Goreng Chumpur (Crispy fried vegetables sauté in sweet chili sauce),  Ikam Stim Lada Hitam (Lemon grass steamed fish in black pepper sauce),  Mie Goreng (noodles with vegetables, meat and herbs), Gulai tahu dan buncis (tofu and beans in a coconut and chilli curry paste), Pulut Hitam (a coconut rice pudding)

Price: Rs. 1327 for one (All Inclusive)

Hours: Lunch: 12:00 PM To 03:00 PM
Dinner: 07:00 PM To 11:00 PM

Location: Mindspace IT Park, Hitech City, Hyderabad

Credit Card Accepted: Yes
Valet Parking: Available
Telephone: 040 33165071 (Reservations are recommended)

PS: The meal was complimentary as I was invited by the hotel to the restaurant, however the views are my own.

Watermelon Feta Salad ~ My version

I buy feta cheese at ridiculous prices here in Hyderabad and have it spoil while I make grand plans to use it inventively. A few days ago, I discovered a still fresh stash of feta in my fridge and cringed at how much I paid for it and how carelessly I kept it. That discovery hardly prompted me to do anything about it. I have been in a food funk lately and I won’t lie.

The only food I am interested in cooking these days is to pack into K’s lunch. One day its a glass noodle salad (which he won’t eat, its for his colleagues), one day plain dal, rotis and sabzi. That apart, I’m eating leftovers.

I have rocket lettuce growing out of control on my rooftop, I’ve neglected it beyond belief. I’m too lazy to go up and have left my plants un-watered for days on end. It is some wonder that they continue to grow. The watermelon lay in my fruit bowl alongside the apples, threatening to topple the bowl in which it sat since sunday and I wondered if I should just slice it up for Sage. I have an assortment of paper tea cups on my kitchen window. I have some lettuce, some garlic chives and radishes growing in them. The radishes I grow only for the leaves and it makes for an excellent rocket leaves substitute.

radish leaves in a salad

radish leaves in a salad

Yesterday, I was online after ages and was trawling my favourite food sites. Suddenly overcome with a fresh dose of guilt, I bolted to the kitchen to make lunch for myself. I gathered the watermelon with Sage underfoot, fished out the feta salad that lay languishing in the fridge and plucked out the lettuce from the paper cups (still too lazy to walk upstairs).

Watermelon and Feta Cheese Salad

Watermelon and Feta Cheese Salad

Watermelon Feta is one of the easiest salads to make. It is also the most forgiving. Usually onions and mint leaves are added. I don’t like either in salad so I skipped the onion and swapped out the scanty lettuce leaves for the mint.

I’ve found fresh paneer to be quite a good substitute for feta. Add salt to the milk and make it freshly at home using this recipe for an easy replacement if you cannot source feta cheese where you live.

Watermelon Feta Salad (Serves 2)

2 cups Cubed and de seeded watermelon (preferably chilled)

1/2 cup of cubed feta cheese

handful of lettuce (or mint leaves if you prefer)

8-10 pitted green Olives, brine rinsed off

For the dressing

2 tablespoons Extra virgin Olive oil

1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

salt and pepper to taste

In  a small bowl, add the ingredients for the dressing and whisk well with a fork.

Add the watermelon chunks, lettuce and olives and toss a bit. Pour half of the dressing over this and toss it. Add the cubed feta chunks and pour the remaining dressing over the feta cubes. Serve immediately. Make sure the watermelon chunks are chilled.

Oreo Brownies

I’ve been meaning to break the silence here. Its been far too long and I have typed out posts atleast half a dozen times. Each time to hit the discard button because the posts were either too boring or angsty or some other form of irrelevance. Anyway I will come back and write when I really feel like doing it and in the meanwhile here is a recipe that gathered quite some interest when I posted the picture to my instagram feed.

oreo brownie bites

oreo brownie bites

Use cookies, chocolate chips or even sliced and slivered nuts to your convenience. I am not one of those baker / cooks that goes psycho if an ingredient is missing. I check if the recipe can be adapted and go ahead. However if there are 3 ingredients of a recipe missing, then I simply postpone making that recipe or select another one that works with the ingredients I have. It is quite painful to attempt a recipe when 3 or more ingredients are missing because the end will be nothing like what was promised and one discounts all the changes one made, and yet feels frustrated. Have you ever had that happen?

This is a recipe that I eyeballed based on a basic recipe I have in my head. I have made versions of it and it always turns out good. Personally I am a fudgy brownie fiend. But I find that it is too rich most of the time and that a cakey brownie sometimes makes the cut much more easily. So here it is my recipe for cakey oreo brownies. In the picture below, I’ve used the same recipe and swapped out the Oreos for slivered almonds.

Almond Brownies

Almond Brownies

Cakey Oreo Brownies

(Makes one 9×9 pan or 12 cupcake sized brownie bites)

1 cup Dark chocolate (chopped from a slab of cooking chocolate, I use a brand called Morde)

1/2 cup Butter (unsalted)

3/4 cup Sugar (powdered for easier mixing)

3/4 cup Maida

2 eggs at room temperature

1 teaspoon instant coffee powder (I used bru)

1 tablespoon vanilla extract (home made vanilla extract) or 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

10 Oreo cookies, sliced into halves (or 1/4 cup slivered almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts)

Sift the maida and set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave by zapping it for 60 seconds over moderate heat, in two rounds. Stir in between melting this so that the chocolate doesn’t burn. Heat it for another 30-45 seconds to melt everything evenly. If there are lumps, stir it with a spatula or a whisk till smooth.

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and prepare the baking pan with parchment paper or line a muffin pan with paper liners

When the chocolate and butter mix has slightly cooled (about 4-5 minutes), stir in the sugar and whisk well till melted.

Crack the eggs one at a time into the melted chocolate mixture and beat them well with a whisk, adding half the vanilla after each egg.

Stir in the coffee powder and add the maida in two batches, stirring gently till it is all mixed. Once the flour is added, do not over mix the batter or mix too vigorously. This activates the gluten in the flour and makes the brownie (or cake/ cookie) very tough.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin or into the muffin pan. Arrange the halved Oreo cookies on the top of the batter. If using nuts, sprinkle them evenly on top of the batter. Bake for 24-26 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius or till a toothpick comes out clean. Each oven is different, so do the toothpick test.

If baking in muffin cups, the  baking time will be 15-16 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack for 15-20 minutes or completely before slicing into squares. Dust with powdered sugar if desired or just dig in.

These brownies are a great make ahead potluck, party or tiffin box treat and will stay fresh at room temperature for a few days or for a week when refrigerated.

{Eating Out ~ Review} Regions of Italy, at Tuscany, Trident Hyderabad

Trident Hyderabad is celebrating turning “1” with panache. They have been doing a lot of activities all through the month to mark this occasion and the food journey is being marked by the presence of Michelin starred Chef Adriano Baldassarre. They have an ongoing “Regions of Italy” at Tuscany their Italian specialty restaurant which I have earlier reviewed here. I was invited to sample the fare over dinner.

We started with the customary freshly baked Focaccia that you dip into olive oil. The texture so light and flavoured with mild herbs, this is something that you can fill your tummy with if you don’t watch out.

Over excited conversations over how Adriano Baldassarre came to India (he is stationed at the Oberoi in Mumbai and takes care of their Italian restaurant Vetro) and the concept of bringing him to Hyderabad, we were served two appetizers from the pre planned menu.

rucola salad

rucola salad

The Rucola Salad with Goat Cheese and Shallot dressing – I love salads and rucola and am excited to see it used as I now grow it in my container garden. The zesty leaves with the slight bitter aftertaste is something that I enjoy. The dressing was generous, and the salad came topped with slivers of green pear, sundried tomatoes and goat cheese. The salad could have had some more goat cheese, I was digging under the leaves to get some, but overall a refreshing salad. If you are trying this, please ask for the goat cheese to be upped a bit.

Fish Emnise

Fish Emnise

The Fish Emnise is Chef Adriano’s creation. The person who served it described it to me as a slow cooked carpaccio of fish. Now carpaccio as per my knowledge (and the world wide web) is a raw meat dish. However this one was more like a cold cut (it was cooked) or a cured meat. A thin pink sliver of fish, dressed minimally with olive oil, micro greens and tiny cubes of tomato. Accompanied by an olive granita, this is a cold dish. It is subtle in its flavour, but for the excellent sweet flavour of the olive granita which one spreads over the fish before eating. To a lay person like me, I would describe it as a cold cut of fish, almost like fish ham, but very subtle in its flavour. The olive granita is what enhances the flavour and experience. It was good to taste a dish so different from what one usually expects as Italian fare.

Pumpkin Soup with Poached Egg and Truffle oil

Pumpkin Soup with Poached Egg and Truffle oil

This was followed by a Pumpkin Soup. The soup had a poached egg, which almost felt like fresh mozzarella, dressed with truffle oil and garlic bread crumbs. The soup is thick and full of flavour and the egg just adds another dimension to its taste and texture. It is silky, until you encounter the poached egg. The yolk of the egg is runny tho, this may not be a pleasant surprise for those who have aversions to eggy encounters! I couldn’t finish the soup because the portion was quite large and I was looking forward to saving space to sample the rest of the meal. For the vegetarians, the soup is served with a knob of parmesan instead of the egg. Read my friend Preethi’s review of her vegetarian experience at Tuscany here.

Chef Adriano Baldassarre

Chef Adriano Baldassarre

Chef Adriano began to cook at the age of 14-15 and he learnt at home before joining a commercial kitchen. He loves to design the menu of the day based on the ingredients that are sourced freshly. He goes with his instinct and has been training the staff here at Tuscany. When asked about his recipes, unlike chefs who have trade secrets, Chef Adriano  believes every hand brings a special and unique touch to the dish. He loves the chaos and energy of the kitchen and confesses that his family suffers the most with his erratic hours.

Duck Ravioli

Duck Ravioli

For the pasta course, two dishes were selected. One was the Duck Ravioli with mushroom and thyme. Now duck is a meat that is not easily available in Hyderabad, so any opportunity to sample it must be snapped up. The pastas at Tuscany are all freshly hand made and the flavour is so fresh that they need only a minimal sauce or dressing to bring the dish together. The tiny little circles of pasta were stuffed with seasoned and shredded duck meat and a cheese that tasted like ricotta. Cooked to perfection, the ravioli is delightful. The sauce of mushroom and thyme compliments the ravioli and this is a lot of praise from me because I am not at all fond of thyme as a herb. This is a dish that I hope they continue to offer on their regular menu once the festival is over. Rajveer Kaur, the communications manager informed me that some of the dishes will continue to make an appearance at the restaurant. Based on the popularity during the festival and otherwise, their menus are constantly changing.

The Angel hair pasta with mushroom was the vegetarian option and is a very homely pasta preparation with no frills. This is something perhaps an Italian mother would put together on a day that the family craves comfort food. Honestly, while it was a well made pasta, the contrast with the ravioli was such that I accept I was biased.

Bhetki with Chilli Crust and Pecorino

Bhetki with Chilli Crust and Pecorino

For the main course, we were served the Bekti with chilli crust and pecorino. Pecorino is a salty hard cheese that is made using sheep’s milk. It is usually used to finish off pasta or salad dishes or served with fruit like pear at the end of a meal. In this case, the cheese was used with chilli, to form the crust for the fish. Pairing an Italian cheese with a locally available Indian Betki was excellent. The flavour of the betki melded well with the salty crusty covering. Served on a bed of beetroot puree with micro greens, this makes for a pretty main course and a filling one too.

Asparagus Tart

Asparagus Tart

For vegetarians, the Asparagus Tart with Fonduta, olive and caper dressing is an indulgence. The crust of the tart is crisp. The cheese fonduta (fondue) is a mix of two or three cheeses which compliment each other in texture and flavour.  It is dense, intense and very rich. The chopped asparagus retains its crunch and the whole tart is baked, which gives it spots of golden brown molten cheese. It everything that makes you forget your diet. Served garnished with parmesan chips and fried basil, this is a tart made with love. I love savoury tarts, but they are usually filled with a sort of custard. This is pure cheese. And was my pick of the evening.

Classic Tiramisu

Classic Tiramisu

We rounded up the meal with the classic Italian dessert, Tiramisu and a Chilli flavoured raspberry sorbet. I am quite critical of Tiramisu, having made it from scratch and therefore I retain a snob value. This one comes out with ace points. The Savoiardi biscuit crisp and light, the mascarpone cream light and yet sweetened just adequately. The layers and flavours melding so beautifully. There was silence at the table as I polished this off.

Chilli flavoured Raspberry sorbet (of which I do not have a clear photograph) however was my delightful discovery of the day. Tangy tart raspberry with just the right amount of sweet and an extremely subtle aftertaste of chilli coming through. If you want to try a light dessert, this is a must have.

Service was uncharacteristically slow on the day I dined (sunday) and I put it down to the weekend, because the staff and service at Tuscany on the other occasions that I have dined there have always been crisp.

“Regions of Festivals” at Tuscany, the Italian speciality restaurant at Trident Hyderabad

Recommendations: Pumpkin Soup, Duck Ravioli, Asparagus Tart with Fonduta, Raspberry Sorbet (the Tiramisu is fabulous, but give the raspberry sorbet a chance)

Price: Approximately Rs. 3000 for a meal for two (The price approximation is for one each of appetizer, pasta, main course and dessert shared by two, excluding alcohol)

Hours: 7.30 pm to midnight.

Location: Hitech City, Hyderabad

Credit Card Accepted: Yes

Valet Parking: Available

Telephone: 91 40 6623 2323

Disclaimer: I was invited by the hotel to dine at the restaurant and the food was complimentary. However the opinions on the food and service are my own.

 

 

{Eating Out ~ Review} Bengali Food Festival, Kanak, Trident Hyderabad

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Yet again I found myself seated at a dinner table with a few others at Trident, Hyderabad. Recently I got asked if I was associated with the hotel. My answer was no and yes. No, I am not employed by them or receive any payment in return for my review. Yes, I get invited to sample their food too.

When someone is invited to eat – to a home, a hotel or anything else, they know the guest is expected. During a review, I make it very clear that what I write is my own experience and the words and language is non negotiable, since you expect the guest, please do all that you can to ensure the food and the experience is what you would like it to be.

With that out of the way, let me tell you about the food I had. Bengali food and I don’t really have much of a history. I have heard of the food and its glorious description and tales of its origin much more than I have eaten it. The few times I have eaten Bengali food is at a restaurant in Hyderabad (I loved the food and the ambiance), at a home (disliked most of it and put it down to being badly made) and in Calcutta where I fell in love with the street food and was on a rinse and repeat mode for the duration of my stay, developing sincere feelings of love for the katti roll-wala and the phuchka-wala I frequented on Park Street.

We start with an array of appetizers. Fish Kabiraji ~ river salmon flakes, seasoned and breaded and then dipped in beaten egg to give it a lacy egg net. The flavour of the fish is full and unhampered by the spices or the breading. This one is worth a repeat and I loved each bite of this cutlet.

The little orange tail of the Chingri Macher Chop was a giveaway that it was a prawn dish. What I didn’t expect was the potato masala that it was wrapped in before being batter fried. This was the first time I tasted a prawn item made this way and while there are prawn pakodas and appetizers galore, who would have thought that potato masala would lend itself so beautifully to a prawn. The surprise element does not take away from the succulent prawn.

The Chicken Cutlet was disappointing. Dense and a little tough, I didn’t get through more than a few customary bites of it, served with kasundi (mustard paste) and a home made tomato sauce.

Vegetarians appetizers were served next, and the humble beetroot really surprised me. Beet and Gajur Chop was a croquette (cutlet if you insist) and the flavour of beets was fresh. Beetroots are not easy to work with. They can either be overpowering or completely tasteless depending on how they are cooked. I loved this preparation, seasoned just enough to allow the flavour of the beets to shine through.

The Mochar Chop which was the banana flower cutlet was good too. Banana flower is a much loved delicacy among Bengalis and this use in a cutlet is apt for a special occasion considering that cleaning of a banana flower is quite tiresome.

I lingered over the Fish Kabiraji and the Beet and Gajur Chop and considered seconds, then decided to leave some space for the main course that was to follow.

The names from the main course were familiar, one has heard unendingly of dishes that now have cult status. I was excited to taste a good Kosha Mangsho ~ Bengali home style mutton curry. The gravy was densely brown, the aroma very characteristic of golden browned onions. The first taste of it was of deep flavours and the traces of it being slow cooked. However the meat was dense, tough and inedible. I tried the couple of pieces on my plate I realised I was terribly disappointed with its texture. I expected the meat to be succulent and falling off the bone. The gravy still remains delicious. Possibly an off day for the meat, I would definitely try this dish again to decide if the meat is supposed to taste like that or it was just an off occurrence.

The Doi Murgi, made in the same style as the Doi Maach is a curry cooked in a gravy of onion paste, garam masala and yogurt. Chicken was chosen over the usual fish because it is a more neutral meat and appeals to a larger audience. This is going to be a crowd favourite and is very reminiscent of the kormas that are prepared in Indian cuisine. Each bite flavoured well and at several layers. This goes well with steamed rice.

Bhetki Macher Paturi ~ Fish marinated with poppy seeds and masala paste, steamed in a banana leaf. The flavours of the masala well incorporated into the fish fillet and steamed just right, this dish delivered on its promise and it is easy to see why it is so well loved. The novelty of presentation, unwrapping the banana leaf parcels at the table and the faint flavour the leaf renders the fish is all a nice bonus.

For the vegetarian selection, there was the Dhokar Dalna ~ channa dal koftas, soaked in a gravy. The onion and tomato gravy was nice, but the koftas themselves were chewy. I am not a big fan of channa dal anyway. So I would not miss this if it was not served.

Panch Mishali Shukto ~ a mixed vegetable curry cooked in a mustard paste dominated gravy is surprisingly good. The use of sweet potatoes, raw banana and bitter gourd is a surprising choice for mixed vegetables (one is used to potato, carrot and beans!), despite the use of the strong flavoured mustard paste, the gravy is very subtle and delicate.

My pick from the vegetarian main course has to be the Aloo Jhinge Posto ~ ridge gourd and potatoes cooked in a poppy seeds paste with nigella seeds. The sweetness of the ridgegourd (really did not see this coming!) and velvetty texture of the poppy seeds paste was terrific. This is a home style preparation and the subtle texture and flavours are soothing and comforting. I tend to be partial to dishes which present more than one texture and flavour. The multiple layers as you eat the dish always delight me as I keep guessing the ingredients or the way they were cooked and how that particular ingredient or cooking process rendered itself to the final dish. I find uni-dimensional dishes boring. And really, who expects ridge gourd to surprise you? Not me atleast!

Cholar Dal Narkel Diye ~ Channa dal cooked with fresh coconut and sugar and asafetida. Like I previously mentioned, I am not a fan of channa dal, having said that, the flavour and sweetness of the fresh coconut is really the star of this dish. I know my dinner partner enjoyed this. The tempering made from ghee brought in specially from Kolkotta adds a nice angle to this dish.

Of the breads that were served, something I cannot wrap my head around is the hype over the Luchi, for a poori made out of maida, it sure gets a lot of mileage. The Radhaballavi on the other hand, like a soft kachori, is a luchi stuffed with urad dal, fennel (saunf) and asafetida is a superior option for a bread. The flavours and the stuffing so subtle, it again surprised me when I was least expecting it.

What can one say of a Biryani that delighted me despite my loyalties lying with the land of my birth? The rage over the right / correct/ original biryani rages on and while my sibling believes that there is only one true biryani, the one he makes, following the recipe of a Master chef from an illustrious Hyderabadi family, I am of the opinion that there is no holy grail and as long as a dish is true to its ingredients and brings out the flavours, I am agnostic to its name. Needless to say he scoffs at me and I don’t take him too seriously! I must say when I did eat in Kolkotta, at a place highly recommended by the locals, I gagged and found the biryani oily and unpalatable. Forget flavours or seasoning, I felt like an oil slick was in my mouth. I just put it down to an overhyped eatery and left it at that.

Kolkotta Lamb Biryani ~ made in the Lucknow style, was a flavour bomb in my mouth. The kewra hits a sweet spot, the spice so subtle that what you actually taste are the flavours and not the heat and the meat so succulent, you wonder why you ate anything else at the meal! I loved this biryani and I must compliment the Chef who oversaw its preparation. Chef Sandip Bhattacharjee who traces his lineage from Bangladesh and learnt the nuances of Bengali cooking from his grandmother and mother, is the name behind this well put together menu. Cooking for more than 13 years in commercial kitchens, he finds the process therapeutic. The food for the festival is drawn from three broad categories ~ Mushalmanderi Aahar (Food with Islamic influences), Jamindar Khabar (recipes from the zamindari households of Bengal) and Grameen Aahar (peasant food). His culinary journey includes conducting several Bengali food festivals and the attention to detail is evident. He stopped by for a chat, but unfortunately, I was so busy eating, I didn’t take his picture!

The love of their sweets is legendary about Bengalis and while I don’t care much for the celebrated Sandesh, I love their jaggery flavoured offerings. As a child, I would have to be peeled off the glass panes of sweet shops by my mother because I would want one of each of the attractively coloured bengali sweets which were versions of the cham cham, stuffed with coloured cream and nuts and raisins.

I tasted a trio of desserts. Mishti Doi ~ sweetened yogurt which is dense and almost like eating dulce de leche. The milk is cooked down till the colour is deep. Served chilled, this is as classic a bengali dessert as one can get.

The Komola Bhog ~ Orange flavoured rosogulla was nothing novel but for the flavouring and while I don’t care much for the rosogulla, I love its cousin the cham cham.

Nolen Gurer Ice cream ~ jaggery flavoured icecream to me was the show stopper. Rich and creamy and the deep flavour that only jaggery can give a dish, this one was to die for. The freshness of the home made ice-cream is evident. I had an emergency call back from home and had to leave before I finished my dessert.

Overall, a delightful meal. The Bengali Food Festival at Kanak, the main restaurant at Trident Hyderabad ends today. If you want to savour Benagli food that is lovingly made, do not miss this one. Various personal upheavals which most personal contacts already know have prevented me from posting this review even though I should have done it a few days ago.

{Eating Out ~ Review} Parsi Food Festival at Firdaus, Taj Krishna

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After browsing through numerous photographs of Parsi food across the interwebs, reading the elaborate descriptions of their slow cooking process, the blend of spices and the traditions and food stories, I was very excited to be invited to try the food at the Parsi Food Festival at Firdaus, the Indian restaurant at one of Hyderabad’s most beautiful hotels, Taj Krishna.

A weekday is always made better with the prospect of good food and company and despite declining many previous invites from the good folks at the hotel, I made the trek half around the city to sample what I expected to be a gastronomic treat. I’ve only eaten Parsi food made home style and have sampled a few of their most famous dishes. I’ve always loved their Brown rice and have made versions of it in my own home several times. Their desserts are legendary and there was nothing to stop me from plunging headlong into many thousands of calorie laden decadent sweets :D

Firdaus is a fine dining elegant restaurant that is cocooned by huge gardens. The setting makes for a very pleasant dining experience.

Chef Manoj Vyas of Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai

Chef Manoj Vyas of Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai

Chef Manoj Vyas, from Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai is helming the kitchens for the festival and comes with the experience of dishing up exotic Parsi dishes which still retain the flavours of the West coast and blend with it the original influences of ancient Persian cuisine. The specially designed menu showcases some of the most well recognised favourites.

We begin with the starters. Parsi cuisine loves its cutlets and kebabs. This was on full display with the assorted appetizers that were served.

Appetizers ~ Cutlet

Appetizers ~ Cutlet

The Chicken Farcha a cutlet made of minced and mildly spiced chicken, coated with beaten egg and shallow fried to give it a  crisp and delicate papery exterior. Served with the khatta meetha sauce, this was the first item served. I found the sauce overwhelmingly sweet and completely overpowered the delicacy of the cutlet. Had on its own, the cutlet is a nice contrast of textures from the batter coating

Lacy Cutlets made with ground mutton was similar to the chicken version, the spices again mild and subtle.

Kolmi nu Kebab this was minced prawn meat, spiced and batter coated before being shallow fried. The flavour of the prawns lends itself very well to this dish and I would recommend this if you like sea food. As a blanket rule, skip the sweet and sour sauce, unless you like dousing your food with jam.

Khatta Meetha Paneer Kebab

Khatta Meetha Paneer Kebab

For the vegetarians, the Khatta Meetha Paneer Kebab which is batter coated tangy paneer bites shallow fried was pleasant. The Vegetable cutlet, though it had a nice crunch with small chunks of vegetables as against the homogenous mash one usually encounters in cutlets, was very densely coated and needed a little more seasoning.

Over a few glasses of red and white wine and conversations on how the Parsis in India are famed for their interest and possession of the best antiques, rubies and automobiles, we moved on to the main course.

We were served an assortment of side dishes, with rotli (roti) and brown rice. A crescent shaped plate with bowls of Saas ni macchi, Mutton dhansak, Salli marghi and Zardaloo gosht arrived. Next came the Patra ni Macchli and Papeta par Edu.

The Main Course Platter

The Main Course Platter

The names are exotic and exciting, but the dishes didn’t exactly live up to my expectation. First up the pale yellow sauced Saas ni Macchi ~ Parsi style fish fillets in a gravy made out of eggs and flour (similar to a roux) the tang comes from vinegar and it has the by now expected balance of sweet and salt. I felt like I was eating lemon custard with pieces of fish. Tis dish has a very continental vibe to it.

The Mutton Dhansak is tur dal cooked with spices and simmered till it is almost mashed, mutton is added and this is slow cooked till all the flavours blend well. I loved the flavours, deep and rich and very comforting. I could draw parallels between this dish and Hyderabadi Daalcha which is a lentil and meat dish, cooked with spices. The vegetarian version of Dhansak also did not disappoint.

The pick of the lot was the Zardaloo Gosht ~ succulent pieces of lamb meat, slow cooked to perfection in a mild gravy, sweetened with apricots. I spooned out almost all of my portion.

Salli Margi

Salli Margi

The Salli Marghi ~ spiced chicken curry with fine fried matchstick potatoes was similar in taste and flavour to the zardaloo gosht, the matchstick potatoes adding the crunch and texture to the dish. This too paired well with the Brown Rice ~ Rice flavoured with deep fried onions, goes well with any of the side dishes, and flavourful enough to be eaten on its own

The Papeta par Edu is another classic potato and egg preparation which I instantly liked because the eggs baked sunny side up on a bed of curried potatoes, looked so good! This is definitely a dish I would want to recommend and also try making in my own kitchen.

The dish I was most disappointed with was the famed Patra ni Macchli ~ supposed to be fillets of fish marinated with a green herb and coconut chutney, wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. This is a classic Parsi preparation and has a legion of fans. It is a dish that is a must have for all festive occasions. I found the dish too sweet even tho the palette was now expected a hint of sweet in all savoury preparations. I assumed this was how it was meant to taste, but when my lunch mates some of  who were not new to the cuisine pointed this out to the chef, we got a rather blase comment about how native Andhra / Telangana palettes, accustomed to loads of spice would not like this delicate dish. I protested, because I found the explanation ill informed and in very poor taste. Also one has travelled enough, eaten at many places, not to mention countries and tried enough variety in food to know the difference between a dish that has subtle undertones of sweet and one that is overpowered by jaggery. To me this dish tasted like a coconut jaggery sweet made with a tasteless fillet of fish. I would like to taste this again at an authentic Parsi joint to check if my expectation was incorrect or my taste buds un-evolved.

the yummy pickles

the yummy pickles

A special mention to the delectable range of pickles, both vegetarian and non vegetarian, piquant, tangy and very fresh tasting!

For the vegetarians, Parsi cuisine is a tricky place. The cuisine is meat heavy and it was interesting to see what was in store. We were promised that the vegetarians would not be disappointed. For the main course, we were served a sampling of the Lagan nu Stew which was a mixed vegetable sweet and sour stew. The base seemed to be made of tomatoes and that comes through quite strongly.

Vegetarian Main Course

Vegetarian Main Course

The Khara Papeta looked and tasted like a home style potato curry and I was beginning to tire of the meal by now.

The Dhansak dal which was made minus the meat was just as flavoursome as the non vegetarian version and was the stand out dish in the vegetarian platter. Like its fish friend, Ravaiya whole brinjals stuffed with the herb and coconut chutney and cooked was disappointing, no flavour, not fully cooked and full of seeds.

Just as I was mentally checking off this meal, a major change of pace happened when the desserts appeared. I imagined I wouldn’t be able to eat another mouthful of anything sweet considering how much of it was had during the main course. But how wrong I was. We were served a trio of much loved Parsi desserts – Lagan nu custard, Parsi Sev and Parsi Kulfi.

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The Parsi sev was a subtle sweet dish of fine vermicelli, roasted golden in ghee and garnished with finely sliced pistachios and almonds. This reminded me very much of one of the sweets made in Hyderabad during Ramzaan. I enjoyed the simplicity of this dish.

Lagan nu Custard is everything it ought to be, rich, creamy, decadent and so indulgent that one needs to crawl onto a couch after eating this dish. It is thick and creamy and full of richness and yet that doesn’t stop you from gulping it down. Sort of a cheesecake made with condensed milk and eggs, which give it a pale yellow colour.

Parsi Kulfi, again sweet, rich and made with condensed milk is a treat for sweet lovers, the basil seeds and vermicelli used to garnish it adding texture to this dessert.

By this time I was fairly happy with the end to the meal. The desserts really were the stars of the meal experience.

Read what my friend Siri has to say about her experience here.

PS: All photos in this post are courtesy of Siri. As is characteristic of my forgetful self these days, I landed up for lunch minus the battery for my camera.

Nutella and Fresh Fruit Dessert Pizza

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Nutella and Fruit Pizza

Nutella and Fruit Pizza

For some reason, I am terribly preoccupied these days. I lose track of what I was doing and the only way to stay sane is my multiple to-do lists. I am spending a lot less time at the laptop, but my phone bills are testimony to the amount of time I am connected online, monitoring the FB page and emails and other stuff.

Such is my preoccupation, that on the last trip to the bank, I wasted not one, but three cheque leaves because I either entered wrong numbers or signed where I wasn’t supposed to! I spend over 45 minutes gazing at the stuff on the shelves in the supermarket and will forget to bring home something basic like sugar. Not that I am overworked, I am just forgetting stuff.

I’ve been posting recipes here with a lot more frequency than this blog is used to, and yet forgot to tell you something important that I am part of. Sometime in March, when I went to Goa on vacation and met up with two of my favourite bloggers Aparna and Revati, we decided to finally make a blogger’s meet happen. We had been talking about it for a couple of years, but this time we decided to stop talking and start doing. If you are connected with me via FB you will know, that the first ever Indian Food Blogger Meet is happening in Bangalore. It will be held in August on 1-2 and promises to be a two day celebration of blogging and bloggers. We have a lot of interesting and useful session lined up and I cannot even tell you how excited I am that an idea that I had in my head is actually taking shape in front of my eyes. If you want to know more about this, connect with us on FB or follow us on twitter. We even have a blog which will have all the updates.

For each one of us involved, with a different sensibility, skill set, located in a different city, with multiple things happening in our offline lives, yet we have managed to do all the main things and invite people who will add value by sharing their blogging journey. There is a lot more to do in terms of typing up loose ends, but the agenda has been put together after much thought and aimed to be of value to the participants. I am delighted that speakers, some of them very respected bloggers are travelling from across the country to be at this meet. If you are a blogger and would like to be a part of this, here is the information on how you can participate.

Thank you for the overwhelming response to the post about Amma’s operation. I am happy to update that she is recovering well and is active. Each comment both here and on FB was read to her and she has expressed her thanks. I had friends and family calling me all through the day of the operation. My classmate from college when to a temple and dedicated 1008 chants to her, Amma’s best friend was at the Kanakadurga temple at Vijayawada when I texted to tell her that everything went well and offered special prayers in thanksgiving. Some friends and family woke up at 4 AM and prayed through the time of her procedure. Aunty E was praying and waiting by the telephone for an update. My MIL stayed by my side, carrying water and sandwiches that FIL had made so that I would have moral support.  I am overwhelmed with the goodwill that Amma enjoys. Whatever be your faith, the circle of love, prayers, healing energies and spirit enveloped us as a family and Amma especially is something I am extremely grateful for it.

After all that heavy duty information sharing, here is a fun recipe that will be a hit for a child’s birthday party or as an adult dessert option/ after school snack or a treat for good behaviour :D

Nutella and Fruit Pizza

Nutella and Fruit Pizza

Fruit and Nutella Whole-wheat Pizza (Makes 2 personal pizzas)

Whole-wheat flour     11/2 cups

Instant yeast     1 teaspoon

Sugar     1 teaspoon

Milk     ½ cup

Water     ½ cup

Butter     1 tablespoon

Nutella     4 tablespoons

Fresh fruit     11/2 cup (use mango, banana, strawberries, apples or any other firm seasonal fruit)

Dried nuts     a sprinkling

Warm the water and the milk to the same temperature used to set yogurt. Add the sugar and yeast, stir and set aside till the mixture is frothy and doubles up. This should take about 10-15 minutes

The yeast must activate for this recipe. If the yeast does not froth, the pizza won’t be puffy and soft.

Mix the flour with the salt. Add the milk and yeast mixture to the flour and knead into a dough. It should be softer than chapati dough, but not soggy.

Put the dough onto a surface with some dry flour and knead it gently for 3-4 minutes till it becomes soft and spongy. Add the butter and knead it completely.

Put it in a clean bowl, cover with foil or a damp clean towel and let it rise to double, for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200 C. Prepare a baking sheet by brushing it with vegetable oil.

Divide the doubled up dough into two or three parts. Make it into a round ball and flatten gently. Sprinkle with some dry flour and roll into a round, like a roti. The thickness of this should be about ⅓ inch. Prick it with a fork and place it on the baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining dough and place on the baking sheet so that the pizzas don’t touch each other.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 6-7 minutes.

Spread nutella on the top of the cooked pizza, arrange fresh cut fruit on top, sprinkle the nuts. Cut into triangles and serve immediately.

 

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