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"Indian Essence"

Monica Bhide

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I think I am in love!

I have been immersed in a new book out by Chef Atul Kochhar -- He is one of the only two Indian chefs in the world to be awarded a Michelan star. He was the chef at Tamarind in London and now has his own place - Benaras.

The book is one of the best I have read - not for beginners though -- the recipes are for someone who knows his way around the kitchen --

1. Jhinga Til Tinka - Deep fried shrimp with vermicelli coating

2. Deccan fish curry from Andhra

3. Hyderabadi kali mirch ka murg - peppery chicken curry

4. Marathi Nalli Gosht - lamb shank

Fresh flavors - and delightful recipes... this one is five stars in my book


Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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yow! i just went out and got it.

the photography and food styling are incredible. absolutely lush colors and lovely :wub: compositions.

the coorgi vegetable puff!

the fava beans!

the chicken cooked in fenugreek leaves!

ex-citing! thanks for the tip.

can't wait to cook from it. the partridge recipe calls to me.

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Atul is a brilliant chef and I respect him for being different.

However, what is Marathi about the lamb shanks, I'd like to know? It doesnt even smack of Kala Masala which is signatory of Marathi cuisine. Tya cha madhi kahi nahi.

Boy, am I going to get into trouble if I write a cookbook. :unsure:

I fry by the heat of my pans. ~ Suresh Hinduja


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I was wondering that myself - I wonder if its Vineet Bhatia also in the UK -- let me google.

Yes, it is infact Vineet Bhatia. He received the highest accolade by Michelin, his first star in 2001. He is the first Indian chef to do in 102 years of Michelin's existence.

I visited Atul Kotchar's Benares last Christmas for dinner and I decided to dine on their Christmas pre-fix menu with wine pairing for 59 Pounds. It was a five course meal, two vegetables, bread and rice with four different wines, coffee and Petite four.

I arrived early to sit at bar and the pre setting in action.

The place is gorgeous and large dining room. The food was fabulous. The service started of gracefully and ended disappointing. The crew at Benares seemed like they were lost in Benares.

The highlight of the meal infact was Marathi Nalli Ghosht which was in pounded red chilies and coriander. It was toooo good and I am looking forward to going back there soon.

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Thinking of the bottle of sparkling shiraz that I recently speculated might pair nicely with an Indian lamb dish, I was intrigued by the marathi nalli gosht recipe that Monica linked to above. So on Saturday I picked up some lamb shanks and also, to my surprise, a copy of Indian Essence on sale at the neighbourhood French bookstore. (I agree with everyone's comments to date. The recipes look wonderful and doable, and the pictures are gorgeous. Why does every Indian cookbook have to have a recipe for tandoori chicken, however?) The only ingredient I don't have on hand is black cardamom; the roasted spice blend calls for two, along with eight green cardamom pods. The nearest store that sells them is about 20 minutes away. Do you think the final dish would suffer if I omitted the black cardamom? Are there any possible substitutes? Or am I best advised to spend the hour necessary to get a few of the big black pods? (Having just come down with a cold, I admit the spice's camphor-like aroma does not sound unappealing...)

Edited by carswell (log)
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So I made the lamb earlier this week. Followed the recipe closely (even schlepped over to the Victoria Market to pick up black cardamom) with two exceptions: as I've been suffering from a ferocious head cold, after working, schlepping and preparing the marinade, I didn't have it in me to make dinner, so the lamb marinated overnight instead of the 4–6 hours specified in the recipe. Also, I couldn't find "small dried red Kashmiri chili peppers," so I substituted an equivalent amount of dried chiles I could find (don't know the name but I suspect they're the kind that are coarsely ground into flakes for sprinkling on pizza and the like). And, in celebration of the season, I used fresh tomatoes instead of tomato paste.

The instructions in the book are much more detailed than those in the linked recipe. On the whole, they were clear though I found myself scratching my head on a few occasions. For example, why should one thinly slice two of the onions and finely chop the third when they're browned together? And there's no indication of what to do with the marinade when you remove the lamb from it. Should it be wiped off the meat or should the shanks be browned with some of the marinade clinging to them? Do you toss the marinade that's left in the dish? (I didn't wipe the shanks clean before browning and threw away the leftover marinade.) I also removed the onion-spice mixture from the pan before browning the shanks because I'm sure it would have burned if left in the pan as per the instructions. Another thing: 45 minutes' braising seems a bit short to me, and indeed the lamb was quite chewy, especially the tendony parts. Lastly, I degreased the cooking liquid before buzzing it in the blender, a departure from the instructions, but a necessary one, I think, in view of the copious amount of fat rendered from the shanks.

The dish smelled wonderful at every stage of the cooking. And it finished exactly as described. The sauce was exquisite: mellow, deep, savoury, sweet, tingly but not fiery — an excellent foil for the meat (or is it the other way around?). One mystery, though: in the photo in the book, the sauce is orchre whereas my sauce was a deep nut brown. That's one of the things that makes me wonder whether the tumeric-laced marinade wasn't supposed to be added to the pot along with the shanks.

I doubled the recipe, by the way, in order to have leftovers. The dish reheats well, though the puréed cooking liquid has a tendency to scorch. And the meat does become more tender with extended cooking even if the sauce loses a bit of zing in the process.

Looking forward to hearing how it turns out for you, Monica. Next up for me: signhora diye kolmi saag bhaji (sautéed watercress with water chestnuts), maybe with some fish kebabs.

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Am beginning to think that the book's photographs are less than completely accurate representations of the finished dishes. The pic of the signhora diye kolmi saag bhaji shows a pile of water chestnuts and barely wilted watercress leaves sitting in a puddle of ochre broth. My version of the dish, faithful to the letter of the recipe, was completely dry. It tasted great, though, and went nicely with kaffir lime marinated salmon brochettes.

Edited by carswell (log)
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  • 2 weeks later...
Am beginning to think that the book's photographs are less than completely accurate representations of the finished dishes. The pic of the signhora diye kolmi saag bhaji shows a pile of water chestnuts and barely wilted watercress leaves sitting in a puddle of ochre broth. My version of the dish, faithful to the letter of the recipe, was completely dry. It tasted great, though, and went nicely with kaffir lime marinated salmon brochettes.

i have made several things out of atul kochar's book and also cyrus todiwala's "cafe namaste spice" and had the same experience a couple of times. imo, there may be there several issues here:

* food styling

* difference in quality or quantity of ingredients in britain and the us (or where ever else you are cooking outside london i feel). when they say a large onion, i'm not quite sure how large as there are onions in the us that could weigh 1 lbs and they could mean a few ozs or half a pound!! or, 3 bunches of methi leaves...well that depends on the indian store's source if you know what i mean.

i find that the taste is excellent first time i try a recipe but the appearance doesn't always please me as it doesn't look like the pic. so then i pore over the pic several times and typically, i find the liquid amount or the oil etc. that needs to be adjusted. 2nd or 3rd time around, the recipe is perfect and looks like the pic in the book.

that is why i find madhur jaffrey's "ultimate curry bible" much more exact as she states every thing by weight. i find her recipes look like the pics the first time around. given the variance of in the size of shallots (organic), let alone other stuff, i find weighing much easier the first time around.

another problem that i face it that i use my pressure cooker for the daal and lamb recipes and find that i have to make things at least twice to adjust the proper amts of water so that i'm not left with a gallon of water and then a mush while i dry up the water at the end.

my husband enjoys every try of the recipe :-)


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  • 3 weeks later...

I made couple of dishes from the book and they came out perfectly: agree with Monica - the flavors are so fresh!

1. chicken braised in green mango chutney;

2. duck orange curry, this is a very unusual dish: for me it was difficult to come up with appropriate sides - ended up serving it with millet cake and roasted cauliflower.

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