Food

It's Not All About the Takeaway

A flavour course in Indian cookery
By Sandeep Arora
Spices, herbs and fresh ingredients, have been an integral part of India, for a few centuries. Whilst the rest of the world was still being discovered, food in the Indian sub-continent was already being appreciated. Indians love their food and food forms a part of the local folklore in India.

Legacy of the rich Indian culinary culture, are an integral part of the world food history. Recipes are passed down through generations. Mothers and grandmothers guard family recipes in lockers, to be handed over to the next generation. It is not unusual to dine on dishes in traditional Indian homes, which have been prepared with recipes handed down through many generations. In fact, a few weeks back, I was in Chennai, in the southern part of the country and had the privilege of dining on a few vegetarian dishes, made with banana flowers, bamboos shoots and coconut milk, where the recipes go back as early as the 18th Century.

Focus has also been on using herbs for wellbeing. Indian food uses generous amounts of herbs and condiments for cooking. Each of these adds flavour and aroma. Garlic, turmeric, fenugreek, cardamom, etc., each have a role to play in the cuisine and our health. In fact, Indian cuisine is also quite varied and in different parts of the country there are regional variants, based on local produce and spices. Weather, language and soil play a key role in defining the local produce. Indian food also changes with the season and the weather.

Over the last few years, Indian cuisine has spread globally and is being offered at some of the best tables across the world. Indian food seems to be moving to the next level, though basics remain the same. Indian restaurants in Europe, UK and USA are offering light versions of popular Indian dishes with local ingredients. People across the world are enjoying Indian cuisine, though with varying degrees of authenticity.

Interestingly on the one hand, whilst Indian food gains a global footprint, a new revolution is taking place back at home, where chefs are reinventing Indian food and bringing out, what we will call 'The Modern Indian Cuisine.' In India, chefs are experimenting with ingredients, flavours and above all presentation, to lend a fresh new look to the food.

Initially some Europeans used to avoid Indian food, except classical food, due to spices and its bold flavours. Now these are being made milder, to suit the international palate.

According to Chef Amit Chowdhury, Executive Chef, The Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, "Traditional Indian food will always remain the first choice and preferred the world over. Even across India, traditional Indian dishes will stay as the first choice. Things like gravies of Masalas, dry fruit based sauces, creamy textures, etc. will dominate the palate. Though now, people are moving away from oily gravies to enjoy light sauces and fresh produce. They are evolving to enjoy and appreciate the lightness in the food, softer ingredients and whilst herbs and spices are still being used, focus is more on lightness and extracting flavours."

I still remember when I had introduced India to the art of whisky pairing with food, way back in 2007, things did not quite happen. Initially the pairing didn't work, since traditional Indian food had oil, spices coating the tongue, textures numbing our palate. It just didn't seem to work with whisky. Though, over the years, I felt that different malts with their distinctive flavours, were a good pairing with whiskies. We worked with various styles of whiskies and felt that most whiskies were quite complimenting.

Basic Indian flavours - smoky kebab, tandoor, sweet and tangy, spicy and chilly - prominent flavours were at the forefront, base and body of the food was lined with starch. With sauce and gravy, we used heavier whiskies.

Some Chefs also feel that Vegetarian Indian food does not go well with whiskies. In fact, lighter dishes do not go well. It is a challenge since each dish has multiple flavours, mélange of vegetables and soft light flavours.

Some Chefs also felt that fusion brings confusion. Availability of new ingredients, global produce and a younger mindset has created an opportunity.

In South India, chefs are passionate about spice and herbs and want them in the forefront, they are not sure if they want to pair the same. In North India, pairing is widely accepted, so much so that whisky is being paired with food. The Modern Indian Cuisine highlights the traditional Indian dishes. It captures the primary flavours, accentuates certain ingredients and presents the dishes in a more contemporary manner. To create a distinction, the presentation is more distinctive and appealing. Sensibilities of the European palate are also kept in mind, thus ensuring that spices are placed in moderation. Modern Indian Cuisine is the skill of cooking techniques from India and combining them with ingredients from around the world to craft innovative food. It won't simply be beautifully plated food, it is also one of the most flavoursome and weaves a story around the chefs and their style of cooking. It also involves using traditional locally sourced ingredients.

Besides appreciating and drawing inspiration from traditional Indian dishes, regional cuisine and Indian ingredients, Modern Indian Cuisine also ensures that the base taste remains the same. Whilst, traditionally, we enjoy shared portions, Modern Indian Cuisine offers smaller and individual portions, thus appealing to an international audience, besides ensuring that each guest, can enjoy multiple dishes. Dishes from different parts of the country are on offer, most of them being light and flavourful and being presented in an appealing manner.

We created a whisky and Indian cuisine showcase, with one example each and discovered that they have a remarkable relationship with whisky, India's national beverage. A good looking bar or restaurant, crispness of the service, adds to the overall dining experience. Serve in small measures and enjoy responsible drinking.

According to Amit Sood, Executive Chef at JW Marriott Hotel, Bengaluru, "Indian cuisine comprises of a wide variety of regional cuisine from across this diverse country. Depending upon the soil, climatic conditions and religious influences, the cuisine has varied and adopted various forms. The original Indian cuisine was developed by erstwhile royal kingdoms and was extremely rich in flavour and texture involving long, slow cooking and usage of traditional spices. I believe that original Indian cuisine will be the foundation of cooking techniques employed across all modern Indian restaurants. Chefs are constantly seeking to revive age old traditions, replicating it for customers who are looking for something unique and innovative."


Malai Chicken Tikka recipe


Serves four

METHOD

  • Cut 1 kg boneless pieces of chicken into two inch cubes.

  • Sprinkle lemon juice and rock salt over the chicken pieces, cover and set aside.

  • Prepare a marinade with salt, ginger, garlic, green chillies, cardamoms, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, chillies, one spoon of oil and cream cheese and blend as a thick paste. Mix this with thick unsweetened yogurt, butter, fresh cream.

  • Mix the chicken pieces in the marinade and leave for four hours. Prick with a fork and leave in the refrigerator.

  • Light the barbeque or cook under the grill.

  • Coat the skewers with oil and moisten them.

  • Skewer the chicken pieces and place them on the open fire.

  • Cook for 20 minutes, as the meat turns brown and crispy and the fat drops on the fire.

  • Halfway through cooking, baste with the remaining butter.

  • Just before the final lift off, coat with cheese once again.

  • Skewer straight on to the plate.

  • Sprinkle with Garam masala (mixed spice) and toss with fresh lemon juice.

  • Serve hot with mint chutney ( sauce) and over roasted baby bread.




Pairing at Varq, The Taj Mahal, New Delhi - signature modern Indian cuisine



Varqui Crab

Auchentoshan 12 Years Old
This delicate malt with a great nose is a fine way to begin the Gourmet experience. Light and accessible, the malt brings out the subtle flavours in the lightly done crab. Soft malt with a hint of oak, it allows the smooth texture of the crab to be fully explored, adds a gentle sweetness and a medium finish.
A gentle fragrance provides a neutral and gentle touch to the crispiness of the varq and lays the base for the ‘silk’ of crab meat.

Bhatti Prawn

Talisker 10 Years Old
Prawn is rich in its natural taste and a great complement, to the malt. Rich and velvety prawn rules the taste buds, in the initial stages. Small portions, well done, enjoyed best by adding few drops of water to Talisker, enabling the peppery aromas to gently mingle. Appreciate it with a generous sip of the fine Talisker. Interestingly, the spice in the prawn takes a bow to the pepper in the malt. Talisker is a splendid malt and is able to bring out the best in the food in this case, robust tastes, slightly high pitched…Appreciate in solitude!

Ganderi Kebab

The Macallan 12 Years Old
Soft with floral accents, the malt is elegant in its presentation. The soft sherry notes and maple taste settle well with the soft meat and hints of spice. Tamarind sauce provides a contrast, which is quite welcoming and innovative. A must try at Varq.

Khurmani Ke Kebabs

Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old
Warm and welcoming, the gentle taste of Islay. A most welcoming fragrant nose releases honeyed nuts and a slightly sea-induced salty tang. Rich toffee and leathery oak aromas can be sensed upon further inspection. Beautifully balanced, the palate is influenced by mellow sherried nuts and shavings of the finest natural oak wood. A finish of dry notes with mixed spices fading into a light salt and sherry finale. The gentle spice of the kebab, with tamarind sauce beckons a warm embrace. Both open to the rich taste and enjoy a companionship that provides a robust experience.

Atta Raan

Ardbeg Uigedail
Strong taste of the malt, salty flavours open up to the red meat and compliment the taste and spices, with the flour casing softening the tongue. Soft and well cooked meat is able to retain its presence and provide the taste, in front of formidable malt. Malt opens up with drops of chilled water and time, almost reluctantly. Lamb can withstand the strong flavour of this malt... well almost! An olive naan served on the side, adds its own flavour, does not interfere with the malt, but provides a soft sweetness to the great malt.

Gucci aur Khumb

Aberfeldy 21 Year Old
Honour and the Heart of Scotland promise a passion, with quite elegantly presented. Deep gold with amber highlights. Richly textured, honeyed nose with sweet creamy intensity and aromas of dried fruits, floral heather and hints of toasted coconut. Both sweet and full on the palate with lashings of Scottish honey and an abundance of orange peel, immediately relaxing with notes of cream, vanilla and oak with a long, spicy and dry finish. A quiet and gentle romance lingers, with gentle touching fingers and subdued passion.

Masala Tea Crème Brûlée

Dalwhinnie 14 Years Old
Served post dinner, sweet aromatic fragrance is very pleasant. Enhances gently sweet desserts and enjoy chilled, that’s correct, chilled. Interestingly chocolate feels subdued, crunchy nuts and bites add to the soft aromas, with gentle ‘trickling honey’. Good malt enjoyed after a great meal but give a short gap. The malt seems to possess the ability to refresh the taste buds and settles in smoothly with the rich sweetness of the chocolates.

Indian Baked Alaska

Glenfiddich 30 Years Old (and Strathisla 25 Years Old)
A luxurious expression of the world’s favourite single malt, Glenfiddich 30 Years Old is an apt post prandial pleasure. The malt offers a ‘drawing room seating’, with a favourite book or company of select friends by the bonfire. The ambience at Varq offers a great setting for the long after taste of a great meal with gorgeous malts. Truly defined by luxury, the malt ushers in a relaxed mood, ensuring that the Indian Baked Alaska is savoured and the moment long remembered for its elegance and gentleness.


According to Amit Sood, Executive Chef at JW Marriott Hotel, Bengaluru, “Indian cuisine comprises of a wide variety of regional cuisine from across this diverse country. Depending upon the soil, climatic conditions and religious influences, the cuisine has varied and adopted various forms. The original Indian cuisine was developed by erstwhile royal kingdoms and was extremely rich in flavour and texture involving long, slow cooking and usage of traditional spices. I believe that original Indian cuisine will be the foundation of cooking techniques employed across all modern Indian restaurants. Chefs are constantly seeking to revive age old traditions, replicating it for customers who are looking for something unique and innovative.”


Menu



Turmeric Tandoori Prawns

Micro cilantro, lemon, orange segments, Goan curry sauce
Aberfeldy 12 Years Old

Grilled Cottage Cheese

Vegetable jalfrezi, cherry tomato, arugula, lemon
Black Bottle

Malai Chicken Tikka

Yogurt marinade, cilantro chutney, onion tomato salsa
Glenfiddich 12 Years Old

Lamb shank korma

Cumin, coriander, red chilli, yogurt, garlic, basmati rice, saffron
Cragganmore 12 Years Old