Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Bacon Jam with Bhut Jolokia

I'd been meaning to make bacon jam for months but just didn't get around to it. Then a bunch of friends from all over the world made a plan to meet and I thought, why not make bacon jam as a gift for them. As usual, I wanted to play around with the recipe and try something new. The basic recipe is awesome and is a superb canvas for adding new flavours - just like basic mayonnaise.

I looked through the pantry cupboard and chanced upon my stock of Bhut Jolokia chillies that I'd bought on my trip to Assam earlier this year. Bacon jam with a spicy kick sounded like a good idea to me and so that's what I made. The basic recipe remains the same and I replaced the regular green chillies with  a dried bhut jolokia chilli. This chilli is seriously potent so be careful how much you use. I'd say be conservative the first time and work your way up in subsequent trials.

I didn't use whiskey in this batch. Instead I used port wine. Well that was also lying around neglected and this was a nice opportunity to use it up. The flavours worked very well indeed! The whiskey didn't get me very excited (hardly surprising because I don't really like the stuff!) and replacing it with some other flavour was at the top of my priorities. Red wine and port seemed to be good choices and they were.

This is my basic bacon jam recipe. The element I consider integral to it, apart from the bacon and the onions, is the freshly brewed coffee. Don't skip the coffee. And don't ever use instant. I can't resist playing with recipes once I have mastered the basic version and this jam recipe is like a doorway to a land of wonder - the possibilities are just endless. Yet, some basic principles must be kept in mind so that there is a high chance of success once you've finished tweaking.

  • It doesn't matter if the onions are not perfectly chopped, or that they're not very finely chopped. But cook them slowly and thoroughly.
  • Don't brown the onions
  • Don't let the bacon crisp
  • Use only as much of the bacon fat as required. Too much fat will mask the flavours of the other ingredients and you will get a stodgy jam.
  • Use a mix of back and streaky bacon for a good balance of fat and meat in the jam
  • Use the best quality bacon you can afford. 
  • Use freshly brewed coffee, even if it's not a premium or fancy one. NO INSTANT.

The experiment with the Bhut Jolokias was not limited to a change of chillies. I also did away with vinegar entirely, and added port and pomegranate molasses to the mix. Both liquids gave the jam a deeper, more rounded sweet and sour element compared to vinegar which has a sharp sourness. I'm tempted to slosh in a good slug of Balsamic in a batch...I'm sure it will work fabulously well.

It's all very well concocting bacon jam recipes in the head but the toughest part, trust me, is when you're in the middle making a batch and you have a pile of perfect 'soft fried' bacon in front of you, and you have to do your best not to eat the lot! Look at this and you will understand... Sigh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Kolmi na Kari Chawal - Parsi Prawn Curry with Rice

The brightly coloured, coconut based curries are common to almost all the cuisines along the western coast of India. There are subtle and not so subtle differences in each version but the foundation of most is a paste of dried red chillies and coconut, along with other spices.

Many of us label any Indian preparation that has a gravy as a curry but after I got married I discovered that curry is a very specific preparation among the Parsis, and also in the coastal cuisines - this bright orange or red gravy full of spice and punch which ideally had sea food in it but was also great with chicken, mutton or even boiled eggs in it. The sauce is so good that even a vegetable curry is delicious!

The Parsis don't have multiple courses at their meals like us Bengalis - there will be one dish that's the centre of attraction, and at the most there will be a side dish to go along with. This is served with either rice, bread, or rotlis. A simple salad may or may not be there. So once every few days curry would be on the menu. A huge pot of curry made with pomfrets, surmai, prawns, or chicken - accompanied by fluffy white rice, a pile of deep fried papads, and a kachuber made of sliced onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander, and plenty of lime wedges, would grace the table.The Parsi curry is undoubtedly one of my favourite dishes today.

I always felt intimidated at the thought of making a Parsi curry myself, especially at the thought of having to grind a masala. Bengali cuisine rarely involves elaborate masala pastes - mustard, posto, etc., are simple one or two ingredient pastes - and to me a curry paste with its myriad ingredients in specific proportions seemed scary, to say the least. In fact my mother never owned a 'mixie', something that is so basic in many kitchens. We never had use for one.

There's always a first time for everything and eventually I took the curry plunge myself. We have an excellent fishmonger here in Kharghar and I often get plump fresh prawns from him. There's nothing like a hot and spicy prawn curry to perk up a cold and wet day and so today I had prawn curry on the menu. Since the hubby is allergic to shellfish I remove the heads and tails of the prawns completely. Feel free to leave them on if you prefer - most of the flavour is in there.

This is my mother in law Katy Dalal's recipe for curry with a couple of minor adjustments. Use the same recipe for any sea food.

Parsi Prawn Curry

2 cups large prawns, deveined
1 coconut, milk extracted.
2 tbsp dried kokum
6 fresh green chillies, slit

Curry masala paste -
1 coconut, grated
15 Kashmiri chillies
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tbsp poppy seeds
1 tbsp sesame or til seeds
1 piece turmeric root (use 1 heaped tsp of powder if not available)
2 large onions, chopped
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup chana
1/2 cup cashew
1 large pod garlic

Broil the dry spices on a tawa and then grind all the ingredients into a smooth paste, adding water as required.

2 -3 sprigs curry leaves
potatoes (optional)
5 or 6 drumsticks (optional)

Marinate the prawns with salt and a dash of turmeric.

In a large vessel heat a generous bit of oil. Add the curry leaves to the hot oil, stir for a minute and then add the masala paste and the fresh green chillies carefully. Stir well and cook the masala paste till it is cooked through and has turned red. Rinse out the grinder jar and add the water to the pot along with the coconut milk. Use store bought coconut milk if you like, but fresh coconut milk does taste far, far better. Bring it all to a boil, adding as much water as needed to make the required quantity of curry. Add washed kokum and salt and let it cook.

While this is boiling prepare the drumsticks. Peel off the hard outer bark and then chop each drumstick into longish pieces. Cook them in salted water separately till just tender. Drain and add them to the curry.

If you're adding potatoes, cut them into medium sized pieces, fry lightly, and then add to the curry as early as you can.

Prawns can get overcooked quite fast so put them in last, judging cooking time according to the size. The curry is ready as soon as the prawns are cooked. If the curry looks watery fish out the prawns on to a clean plate or bowl and let the curry reduce to the consistency you like. Pop the prawns back in for a minute at the end.

Serve the curry with lots of rice, papads and kachuber.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The IFB Neptune VX Dishwasher - A Review

Finding domestic help in Kharghar has been an endless nightmare and I finally decided to end the trauma and get myself a dishwasher. It's another matter that I ended up rebuilding the kitchen to accommodate it but at the end of the day, I'm glad I did.

The Buying Experience
Choosing a dishwasher should be simple. You walk into a shop, ask to see the dishwashers they have available, get a thorough walk through of the functions and options on a couple of short listed models, and finally pick one to be delivered home. The reality is nothing remotely close.

We went to Croma, Aarcee, and a couple of other shops only to find that they rarely even have a dishwasher on display. And if they do, don't expect them to have a clue about how it works. Granted dishwashers aren't selling like air conditioners and washing machines for laundry but if these shops made a better effort I'm sure they would.

The problem with buying online was two-fold. I didn't feel confident that I would have someone to turn to for any after sales issues, and secondly, how would I know which machine is out of date and what's the new one in the market.

Eventually, I asked on Facebook and I got a lot of genuine advice and useful information. I discovered that IFB has its own stores called IFB Point and there was one nearby, in Nerul. We went there to see if we could get a dishwasher that suited our needs and budget. What I liked best was how well informed the sales lady was. She knew the machine inside out, was able to answer every question that we had, and gave us a lot of sensible and practical information instead of a scripted sales pitch. This is where we discovered that a model we shortlisted earlier (having seen it online) had been discontinued by the company.

We finalised the IFB Neptune VX and placed our order. We paid INR 34,200 for it.

Delivery and Installation
Delivery was as prompt as promised and the machine arrived within 48 hours after payment. Installation took a little longer, to an extent delayed by the incessant rains in Mumbai at the start of the monsoons. Once the technician arrived and opened the packing we discovered that the machine was damaged, there was a big, deep crack on the top. The technician pointed it out to me, apologised for the damaged piece and said it would be replaced immediately.

I waited for a couple of days but there was no sign of the replacement. Finally the hubby called the showroom to enquire. Much to our surprise the showroom had no idea about the damaged machine or the replacement! However they assured us that the replacement would arrive within 24 hours, and it did. I expected that it would get installed within a day or so but that was not to be. Another few days passed and finally I went back to the showroom and asked what was going on. Frustrated with the lack of coordination between the showroom staff and their technical crew I said if it was not installed and functioning by the end of the next day I would personally bring the machine and leave it at their premises and they could refund my money.

Anyway, a technician arrived the following day and we finally had the machine installed. I had to call a plumber to install a different tap of a certain specification so that the dishwasher could be installed. It would have been a far easier experience if the company made sure that the technician had the requisite skills to change basic plumbing fittings OR if the company informed customers in advance that specific plumbing is required.

After installation the technician gave me a demo. He wasn't prepared to answer any questions and only wanted to recite his scripted run through of the functions and how tos.

The User Experience

It's about a month since the dishwasher is here and I can only say I am very happy to have it.

Like most people my first concern was with the oily vessels or those which had burned bits of food stuck in them. As with hand washing, I let the vessels soak for a while and then put them in the dishwasher. The results were quite impressive and in the case of one of my heavy bottomed frying pans I could see the original colour of the pan again!

Glassware comes out sparkling and if you have stubborn gummy patches on bottles from labels, the hot water and steam in the dishwasher takes care of it all.

Ceramics and china also get squeaky clean. I've seen an occasional food particle still on a plate or bowl but all it took was a rinse under the tap and it was gone. Not a big deal at all.

The machine cleans stainless steel very well, the hot water certainly seems to help the vessels come out really clean. There's no white film like you see from washing powders and cakes.

Though I have washed many of my wooden spoons and spatulas in the machine I won't do it frequently. I don't think the hot water and intensive cleaning is good for the wood.

Heavy vessels like pressure cookers, woks, frying pans etc fare very well in the dishwasher - no grease, no patches of food particles stuck to the sides, and of course, everything is cleaned inside and outside. No more reminding the maid to wash under plates, outside the pans, clean the handles, etc.

Do I recommend that you buy a dishwasher? Yes I do.

Do I recommend the IFB Neptune VX? I certainly do. In spite of the hiccups while installing, the machine has turned out to be a blessing and I am cooking more because I don't have to worry about piles of dirty dishes in the sink.

Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Murg Musallam - A Blast from the Past

Being on food groups on Facebook has one advantage - you never know when you might chance upon a recipe that you simply can't wait to try, or one that brings a flood of long forgotten memories with it. Yesterday I saw a post about Murg Musallam and the first thing I thought was 'this is something the brother loved when we were kids'. I don't have any specific memories of the dish itself but I remember hearing about it from him and I remember his excitement over a chicken cooked whole, his eyes big and round and filled with wonder. It wasn't something that was ever cooked in our house but since we had many Muslim neighbours we were not deprived :)

I waited patiently for the recipe to be shared once I had read it I knew I had to try it out. It sounded pretty straightforward and, with a couple of my own variations, I knew I would enjoy making it and eating it too. This is Imbesat's recipe for Murg Musallam that I used as my guide. I have made very minor changes to her recipe based on my personal taste and preference but on the whole the recipe is quite the same.

Murg Musallam

1 chicken, whole, without skin

garlic paste

fried onions
lemon juice
3 boiled eggs

3 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1/2 cup fried onions
2 handfuls garlic, peeled
2" piece fresh ginger
3-4 strands mace
2" cassia bark
5 cardamom pods
5 cloves
2 tbsp poppy seeds

For the gravy
Kashmiri chilli powder
freshly powdered pepper
3 Indian bay leaves

Rinse the chicken inside and out and then marinate with salt, curd and garlic paste for a couple of hours, or overnight if you have planned ahead.

In the mean time get the stuffing and the curry paste organised.

For the stuffing heat ghee in a small pan and fry the cashews and the raisins lightly. Boil two or three eggs, depending on how large the cavity in the chicken is. Peel and lightly fry the eggs. Slice a large onion finely and deep fry till it is a deep golden brown. Drain well. In a bowl mix the fried onions, cashews and raisins with a little salt, sugar and a generous slug of lemon juice.

To make the curry paste gather all the ingredients and grind them to a paste. I did it in two batches in the chutney grinder attachment of my food processor.

It takes around an hour to cook the chicken so depending on when you want to serve give yourself a little more than an hour before serving time. It's easier if you have someone to help you while stuffing and then trussing the chicken. The marinade makes it slippery and messy and therefore a little hard to handle!

I found that I couldn't stuff even two eggs into the chicken without them popping out at every chance making it impossible to truss. I was alone while cooking this. I took a chance and chopped one egg into large chunks and mixed it with the remaining stuffing. Then I pushed in as much of the stuffing, barring the other boiled eggs, into the cavity of the bird. Ideally I should have been able to plug the hole with a full egg but the hole was too big. I trussed the chicken as tightly as I could and pushed in a boiled egg later. Try to close the cavity as best as you can so the stuffing doesn't fall out while frying the chicken.

Heat a generous amount of ghee in a thick bottomed vessel. Place the trussed chicken in the hot ghee gently and let it brown on all sides. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the chicken to a plate. In the same ghee that's in the pot put in the curry paste. Add some more ghee if required. Fry the paste well for a few minutes. At this stage add the chilli powder, bay leaves, pepper and salt. Stir around and cook the paste well. Add a cup or so of fresh curd and mix it in well. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Put the chicken back in the pot and pour in a cup of water. Blend the paste into the water. Add more water if you need to. Bring to a gentle boil, spoon some of the spice paste over the chicken, and then cover and let it cook on a low flame till done.

Succulent chicken blanketed in a thick luscious gravy, serve your Murg Musallam with hot parathas.

This is a relatively easy dish that would be a hit at parties and potlucks. Make extra stuffing and serve it on the side with extra boiled eggs too.

Marathon Bloggers 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cherry Chocolate Cake

My pantry was suddenly full of cherries. No, not fresh ones though it's the season for them now, but bottled cherries. I'd bought a couple of kinds from my favourite shop in Crawford Market where I shop for goodies occasionally, and then Saee gave me some more. While I'm not a fan of fruit the hubby loves them and always waits eagerly for me to make something exciting with fruit in it. With such a flood of cherries it went without saying that I'd be making something with them soon.

I browsed around on Pinterest, my favourite source of ideas and inspiration, and came across this exceptionally simple yet delicious sounding recipe for Cherry Chocolate Cake on this lovely blog called Tutti Dolci. I ran it by the hubby and once I had his approval I set about making it. It goes without saying that I have made my own adjustments and changes to the recipe and here is what I did, though I followed the method exactly.

Cherry Chocolate Cake

3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/4 cup butter
2 tbsp preserving syrup from cherries
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk with a tsp of lemon juice stirred in
enough cherries preserved in syrup to decorate

Preheat the oven at 180C.

In a clean mixing bowl combine all the dry ingredients.

In another bowl whisk the sugar and butter till light and creamy. I did this in my stand mixer. You can do it in a bowl with a hand held electric mixer or even by hand with a whisk. Use small grain sugar. I added a couple of tablespoons of the cherry syrup at this stage.

Once the sugar and butter are creamed well add the egg and the vanilla and beat well. Slow down the speed of the mixer and pour in a bit of the flour mixture and mix. Add some of the lemon and milk mix. Beat to mix. Add the dry mix and the liquid in alternates and blend it all in well to make a smooth satiny batter.

Smear the insides of an 8 inch round cake tin thinly with butter. Pour in the batter. Dot the top with as many cherries as you can but don't squash them too tight. The cherries will sink into the cake and, since they're preserved and not fresh ones, might even disintegrate into the cake. Don't worry, the cake will be delish anyway. Bake for around 25 minutes. Check with a thin skewer to see if it's done -the skewer should come out clean.

Cool the cake in the tin before removing. Ideally, use a loose bottomed tin so you can unmould it more easily. If, like me, you're using a regular tin wait patiently till the cake is cooled before you try to remove it or the cake might break.

Dust the top lightly with powdered sugar if you like and serve. A scoop of vanilla ice cream alongside a warmed slice of this cake would also be magical!

Marathon Bloggers

Thursday, June 18, 2015

During Ramzaan it had to be Bohri Mohalla!

Mutton roll at India Hotel

I've looked forward to the holy month of Ramzaan every year with great eagerness - my devout Muslim friends would be ashamed of me as my motivation has been the fabulous food that's served in the evenings in the Muslim localities in the city, especially at Bohri Mohalla. I will defend myself saying my devotion is to the food, regardless of the occasion.

The month of Ramzaan, for Muslims, is not just about fasting - it's about reflection, about understanding deprivation and gaining an understanding of the lives of those less fortunate, and is about learning discipline and self control. Growing up, I saw many of my Muslim neighbours and friends observe the rozas - and looked forward to being invited for Iftar in the evenings. It was beautiful! The family would gather, prayers would be said, and then the table would groan with varieties of delicious food so different from what we ate in our house. I was lucky to be included.

After I got married and moved to VT, I discovered Mohammad Ali road, and the lanes and by lanes of the various mohallas in the area thanks to the hubby. One day a close friend, Imtiaz, introduced us to Valibhai Payawala in Bohri Mohalla. It was love at first bite for me, rats and other creatures not withstanding.

I also discovered the wonders of the huge tava at India Hotel in the parallel lane. How often the hubby would pick up some rolls and a couple of portions of bhuna on the way back from work, for me to feast on at home!

 Plates of beef bhuna at India Hotel. They also serve chicken and mutton here. 

Aloo Bhuna. Unbelievably delicious! Also at India Hotel. 

Rolls, Baida Roti and other delights at India Hotel

Then there was Tawakkal sweets just next door where, during Ramzaan, you got the most heavenly malpuas.

That malpua is mine! All mine! 
At Tawakkal Sweets where you will also get top notch malai khajas, phirnee, and other sweet goodies like fruit infused barfis. 

It became a yearly thing to do - we would go as often as we could in the evenings through the month of Ramzaan, though we did go the rest of the year too. Then we moved to Kharghar. We didn't go as often and soon it became a Ramzaan ritual. I guess the bright lights, the carnival atmosphere, the aura of something out of the ordinary, and the fact that stalls remained open till late in the night all added to the magic and we were unable to resist.

We went as often as we could, and we took along anyone who was interested, undaunted by the sometimes less than hygienic conditions, the crowds, and the fact that there was a lot of beef on the menus. If visiting friends asked for an out of the ordinary experience in Mumbai Bohri Mohalla is where we took them. We've never had anyone come back disappointed.

The hubby with Kalyan, Shanky and Soumik - The Food Commandos
 Photo credit - Kalyan Karmakar

At Barbecue tucking in!
Photo Credit - Kalyan Karmakar

Barbecue on the opposite side of the road served what we call 'spare parts' - gurda, kapura, tilli, kaleji. Most of the stuff ran out pretty soon so the earlier you got there the better were your chances. This shop also does a variety of seekh kebabs, coal grilled chicken legs and all sorts of other delightful finger foods. You just stand around the shop and gobble down the goodies hot off the grill. 

Varieties of kebabs grilling at Barbecue

Cross the road and you're at Taj Ice creams. This shop has been making hand churned ice creams for the last 129 years. And is still going strong with a fanatically devoted clientele. Fresh fruit ice creams, hand made using seasonal fruits, milk and cream, served in little glass ice cream cups. 

Ice cream at Taj

The lanes have many treasures and if you walk further into the Mohalla you will discover Noor Sweets. Ask for their hot jalebis, straight out of the kadai, dipped for a moment in sugar syrup and then served hot. I promise you you won't be able to eat just one or two! Noor Sweets has a fabulous menu packed with all manner of sweet goodies including malpuas and khajas. They have a chocolate malpua too so if you're feeling adventurous, try it out!

Jalebis in the making. This gent churned out hot jalebis and malpuas tirelessly. 

Jalebis at Noor Sweets

You will find fruit sellers, shops selling masalas and spice mixes, farsaans, groceries, sharbat, and other assorted foods scattered around the mohalla. 

The hubby and Valibhai's son 
Photo credit- Kalyan Karmakar

While we lived at VT, and later when we moved to Kharghar we used to go to Vallibhai's shop so often that if the hubby went without me, the owner, Vallibhai's son, would ask after me - Baby nahi ayi? I think he was saying bhabi, but the hubby insists he said 'baby'! Good honest food builds relationships and we had built one with this place. The staff would greet us eagerly every time we went. The owner would always come by to our table, chat with us, ask what we particularly liked on that day, discussed the food business, market trends, etc., with the hubby, and he always slipped me an extra loaded helping of nalli.

There's a story behind that extra nalli. The first time we went I particularly looked forward to the nalli nihari, among the other goodies. I love bone marrow and had never tasted this dish that showcased marrow, before. I actually expected a dish with just marrow in it, not pieces of meat garnished with a splash of marrow. So when the proprietor came by to see if we liked what we'd eaten I said I felt that there wasn't enough nalli. He took that as an affront and ordered a minion to get me a plate of just nalli in its gravy. I was in heaven, blissfully unaware that this was a sort of challenge. I dug in gamely and polished off the entire portion. Respect dawned in the gentleman's eyes and he smiled and said - you are a true fan of nalli! I will make sure you never feel there isn't enough of it when you visit my shop. And he kept his word. :)

Topa, Pichhota, and Nalli Nihari at Valibhai's. Different cuts of meat served in a combination of gravies, tarri, and nalli. 

This, in the photo above, is what is well known as baara handi (12 pots) where cuts of meat and different gravies and stocks are slow cooked in a total of 12 different pots. Dishes are mainly identified by the cut of meat and have a combination or all of the gravies and stocks. Each dish is finished with a splash of tarri, fat skimmed off the pots  and collected in a separate vessel. 

Last year we did five trips to this wonderland of food. I think deep down I knew things were going to end. And I was right. Beef was banned in Maharashtra. And ValliBhai Payawala shut shop. I don't know which is worse. Bohri Mohalla and its delights are still there but now it's a severely edited version. Without beef and without the baara handi at Valibhai's, for me it's going to be quite lacking in flavour.

My friend Kalyan writes his farewell to Valibhai's here and I am with him when he says " A delicious bit of Mumbai history came to an end".

Marathon Bloggers

Monday, June 1, 2015

Masala Table, Sanpada - Spicing up Navi Mumbai

A little more than a week ago I joined the NaviMumbaiFoodies for dinner at Masala Table. This relatively new restaurant is part of the very exciting quartet of restaurants located just off Palm Beach road, under the Global Culture umbrella. As is quite obvious from the name, Masala Table serves food with Indian flavours - mainly north Indian and Tandoori. The restaurant is perched on the first floor and has a huge plate glass wall that looks onto Palm Beach road and the mangroves beyond.

As I joined the others at our table I glanced around taking in the large and spacious restaurant that had a buffet laid out on one side and plenty of tables set around the rest of the room. Luckily, we had a table by the glass wall and could enjoy the lovely view as we dined.

We started off with a mint shikanji, a cooling mint drink that was ideal for the awful hot weather that prevails these days. We liked it so much we asked for a second round!

The Masala Table has quite an extensive menu that includes plenty of vegetarian options along with the non vegetarian ones. It's quite balanced so both affiliations get plenty of attention. The buffet spread was eye catching and went beyond the mundane 'daal tadka' 'vegetable jalfrezi' 'murgh makhani' etc., though they might need to rethink a vegetarian dish named 'Veg Keema Kaleji'. I'd find that quite disconcerting if I was vegetarian!

Our dinner began with soup and a steady stream of starters. I chose the simple chicken shorba - a clear flavourful broth with little bits of chicken at the bottom. It was simple and comforting and really delicious. The vegetarians had a singhade aur pudine ka shorba - water chestnut and mint broth - which was quite a failure. No one at the table had anything good to say about it.

The starters included a variety of tandoori items along with a plethora of deep or shallow fried goodies. Among the vegetarian starters were paneer zaituni - soft paneer cubes stuffed with olives and cooked in the tandoor - these were superb; dahi ke kebab - hung curd and very soft paneer with raisins, crisp fried with a crunchy exterior - I first ate these at Sigree and I love their version, but this was good too though I didn't like the raisins being there; shakarkand kebab - simple sweet potato croquettes that were perfect with a dash of mint chutney; hariyali kebab - green veg croquettes which were bland and characterless; chatpate aloo - baby potatoes boiled and then tossed in a light spicy wet masala - these were my favourite starter of the evening. The chukandar ke shami was a surprise hit - grated beetroot combined with cheese and lightly spiced, shaped into little tikkis and deep fried - these were little morsels of heaven.

Dahi ke Kebab

Paneer Zaituni

Chatpate Aloo

The non vegetarian starters were well received too. The Jhinga kalimiri -pepper prawns had simple clean flavours of a little cream with fresh black pepper, the prawns were perfectly cooked and succulent; murgh zaffrani tikka - saffron chicken tikkas - these were also light and fragrant, the chicken cooked to melt in the mouth consistency; murgh angara kebab- chicken tikkas in a more robust flavour, these were a good contrast to the earlier zaffrani tikkas; Awadhi mutton boti kebab - little boneless morsels of lamb that disappeared as fast as they appeared; and last but not the least, murgoli - little spicy balls of chicken mince - the kind you want to settle down with as you chill with a good book and a mug of beer.


Murgh Zaffrani Tikka

Jhinga Kalimirch

We asked to take a break. We'd eaten so much I couldn't imagine eating any more! But there was a lot more waiting for us and after chatting (and digesting) for 15 minutes we decided to hit the buffet. I had originally planned to try out the vegetarian dishes too but I was just too stuffed to eat much and I stuck to the non vegetarian stuff on offer. The mutton do piaza caught my eye - for a change there was a thin gravy instead of the usual thick heavy gravies ones sees on buffets - I wasn't going to miss it. I also helped myself to some of the chicken saagwala, and then, because I couldn't resist, just a smidgen of the paneer kalimirch. We had a basket of assorted flat breads served at our table.

I'm mad about biryani and asked if they had mutton biryani on their a la carte menu. They did and I promptly asked to be served some. In the years we have lived in Navi Mumbai I have been searching for good biryani and I was quite thrilled to find that Masala Table does a very good mutton one with lots of fried onions, mint and coriander, tender pieces of mutton, and fragrant rice. The main courses on the buffet were quite good too.

Mutton Biryani

I skipped dessert - not only was I stuffed to the gills, I'm also diabetic and I didn't want to push my luck after having gorged on the biryani!

Would I recommend Masala Table? Yes, wholeheartedly! The food is good, the ambience lovely, service is attentive without being intrusive. There's a lift to take you up to the first floor if you're not in the mood to take the stairs. And they have a very clean washroom too.

You can enjoy the buffets at lunch and at dinner. They have special buffets on weekends too. The prices rage from INR 575 to 699 all inclusive for vegetarians, and from INR 625 to 749 all inclusive for the on vegetarian spreads.

Disclaimer - This was a hosted dinner for the Navi Mumbai Foodies by the Masala Table.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Jamie Oliver's Roast Chicken in Milk with Orange Zest

You know how it is sometimes - you see that much recommended recipe, it's hailed by everyone who's ever tried it, it looks simple, the photos look smashing, the ingredients are easily procured, all seems perfect and there's no reason not to just plunge in and do it. And you do.

With me the problem is I don't. I prevaricate, I hesitate, I make excuses, I avoid it for reasons even I don't understand. All this is mainly because deep inside somewhere I just don't believe. Now I can't really decide if it's the recipe I lack confidence in or in me and my abilities in the kitchen. It's silly after all these years of turning out a pretty successful string of meals, some quite ordinary and everyday, some special, and some actually spectacular. And yet there is that kernel of doubt that stays stubbornly lodged right there and I give in, and procrastinate again.

This time it was Jamie Oliver's recipe for Chicken in Milk. A recipe so simple even someone not very experienced in the kitchen can execute it with success. But I hesitated. It has milk. The milk WILL curdle. There's only sage to flavour it. Oh and a stick of cinnamon. How can it possibly be good? As you can see, the excuses piled up as usual.

I think it is my love for roast chicken that finally made me take this particular plunge. Roasting chicken has to be one of the easiest ways to put together a fabulous meal with minimal effort. And this recipe was even easier than my usual minimalist recipes that involve seasoning the bird, stuffing butter under the skin, stuffing the cavity with garlic and fresh herbs, putting the bird on a bed of chopped veggies and potatoes, and letting the magic happen in the oven thereafter. There were no veggies to chop. No need to peel the garlic even. This was hard to resist!

So here's chicken in milk with some adjustments as usual.

Roast Chicken in Milk with Orange Zest

1 whole chicken with the skin
a handful of fresh sage leaves
a handful of garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 tsp orange zest
1 cup milk
1 stick cinnamon
olive oil or butter

Season the chicken inside and out with salt and fresh ground pepper.
In a pan heat the olive oil or butter. Sear the chicken nicely till it's a lovely dark gold all over. Do this a little patiently.
Now transfer the chicken to a deep baking dish. Pour in the milk. Scatter the sage leaves, drop in the cinnamon stick, and then sprinkle the orange zest all over the chicken and around it.
Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in a hot 180C oven for around 40 minutes.
Remove the foil carefully. There will be some steam inside so be really careful. Steam burns hurt like hell and are deep burns. Cut the foil open if you prefer to let the steam escape first.
Cook the chicken for another 30 minutes in the oven. Reduce the heat to 150C. Slide in a sharp knife near the thigh joint to see if the bird is cooked through. If the juices run clear it's done.

We had this with toasted sliced bread. We needed nothing else!

Jamie's original recipe asks for lemon zest. I realised I didn't have any lemons at home but we did have oranges so I used the zest of one full orange. I also used cinnamon and not cassia bark. I don't think they are interchangeable and I wouldn't substitute one for the other.

Judging from the hubby's response to this version of roast chicken I can safely say this one's going to feature on my dinner menu quite often!

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Moqueca - A Brazilian Fish Stew with Coconut Milk and Peppers

The challenge for May at Chefs Across Boundaries is Brazilian food and it had me quite excited. I have never cooked anything Brazilian and I doubt I've ever eaten any Brazilian dish (at least nothing comes to mind as I write this). I don't have any books on Brazilian cuisine and so I turned to the Internet.

After Googling around and not finding anything that I liked or felt was suitable I turned to Pinterest. And that's where I found this lovely fish stew - Moqueca. A light coconut gravy, no spices - just salt and pepper, fish and a few flavourful ingredients; it seemed perfect for the awfully hot weather we're having these days. I read quite a few recipes and what I liked is how flexible you can be with the sea food. Prawns, assorted white fish, squid- I could use whatever was at hand. Another thing that made me pick this dish is that it had no hard to acquire exotic ingredients and what I didn't have I could easily substitute without going too far from the original.

Moqueca is an old traditional Brazilian preparation that is ideally cooked in a clay vessel. This recipe, which uses coconut milk, is from the Bahia region of Brazil and is also known as Moqueca Baiana. You will need to to cook it in palm oil for complete authenticity.

The stew is really easy to make. Essentially you just layer up the ingredients step by step as you go, pour in the liquids, and then just cover and let it simmer till it's done. With hardly any stirring or supervising the moqueca practically cooks itself! This one is a keeper, trust me.

Here's my tweaked desi version of the beautiful Brazilian fish stew - Moqueca.

6 - 8 boneless pieces Bhetki
8 -10 fresh prawns, cleaned and deveined
1 red pepper, thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tomato, chopped
4 -6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 fresh green chillies, roughly chopped. Use jalapeno if you have it
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder. Use Paprika if you have it, and a some cayenne if you have that too.
1 cup coconut milk. I used Maggi coconut powder
1 cup water or stock
1 lime, zested
1 spring onion, chopped fine
olive oil

Marinate the fish and prawns in salt and set aside.

In a wok heat the olive oil, a couple of tablespoons at least. Once the oil is hot chuck in the peppers, chillies, onions, tomato, and the garlic and let it all fry for a couple of minutes. Reduce the heat so the garlic doesn't burn. Once the onions have softened and turned translucent add the chillli powder and stir.

Place the fish pieces and the prawns on top. Cook covered for a couple of minutes. Then pour the stock/water and the coconut milk into the wok. Add the lime zest and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook till the fish and prawns are done.

Remove to a serving bowl. Garnish with chopped fresh spring onion greens and serve on a bed of hot rice with a couple of lemon wedges.

Happy Birthday Dadi Dadu - On Tagore's Birthday

Today, 9th May, we celebrate Rabindranath Tagore's birthday. There will be programmes in schools, colleges and even neighbourhoods across Bengal. Probashi Bangalis or Bengalis who live away from Bengal - in India and abroad, will celebrate with equal if not greater fervour.

I started learning Rabindra Sangeet when I was around three years old. We lived in Khar in an apartment building on S V Road, one of the arterial roads of Bombay. It so happened that there used to music classes conducted in a flat on the ground floor in the very same building. I was attracted to the music and used to often go sit and listen. I had to be lifted onto the chair and then I would sit content, swinging my fat legs to the rhythm. I heard this little story from one of my teachers many years later.

I was a student at Sahana for around 11 years and that is where my love for Rabindra Sangeet started and eventually Tagore's music became a part of who I am. We did an annual programme every year either with a themed based evening of song, or we did one of Tagore's dance dramas. The photo is of one of them. I was a terrible dancer (and still am) but what I lacked in skill I made up for with enthusiasm, and almost always had some part or the other as 'one of the boys' till I grew older.

My father was my biggest fan. I sang reasonably well and even won a prize or two here and there. He was always there to grin widely, full of pride, to see me receive my prize. No one was prouder when I was given the opportunity to sing on a programme for radio. He took leave from office and took me to the AIR recording studio. We must have spent a few hours there, I wasn't the only kid singing. And once it was all done I was given a cheque for Rs 21. The first money I ever earned! On the way home we stopped at Venus Bakery near the St. Aloysius school in Bandra and I blew up my earnings on cakes and savouries to be gorged on at home. I must have been around 10 years old. Such a fun day it was... and I remember it so well.

Every trip to Kolkata meant singing for relatives, especially my mom's family. In my teens I grew very close to my cousin Bipasha and we spent many afternoons singing together, flipping through the volumes of the Gitobitan and asking each other "do you know this one?" "have you learned this one?" "don't you just love this one?!"

Baba died many years ago and Bipu has moved to another continent. Life has moved on for me too. But Rabindra Sangeet binds me to those simple days of childhood, being the apple of my dad's eye, being his pride as I sang, and then the lazy afternoons in Bipu's room in Kolkata, days singing together later as grown women, the sheer enjoyment of the poetry, the music, and having someone to share it with.

Happy birthday Dadi dadu.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sun Dried Tomatoes - Make them at Home!

Considering how addicted I am to sun dried tomatoes and how often I make them, I'm surprised I haven't written about them on my blog. Well, it's never too late, is it?

I first tasted sun dried tomatoes from a bottle that Saee sent over. She'd made them at home and had sent some over for the hubby. Neither of them expected me to like them, let alone even try them. But I did. And I fell in love.

Sun dried cherry tomatoes preserved in olive oil with a few cloves of garlic is something you will always find in my pantry cupboard now. And I dry my own tomatoes, at home. They say a convert is always a greater believer and oh my God, I am!

While the scorching heat has been getting all of us down, there are some benefits to having hours of blazing sunlight. A chance to dry tomatoes and stock up! It's a very simple process and if you carefully follow some basic guidelines and are patient you will soon have your own stock of home made sun dried tomatoes. Here's what you need to do.

Sun Dried Cherry Tomatoes

500 gms cherry tomatoes
olive oil

a sharp knife
flat metal tray
muslin or any really thin fabric
clean jars with tight lids

Buy firm cherry tomatoes. If they're squishy and over ripe they tend to get fungus while drying and your batch will be ruined.

Wash and drain the tomatoes. Pat dry with a soft towel or tea cloth. Spread out to dry for half an hour or so. You want no extra moisture on the tomatoes.

Halve the tomatoes into two hemispheres and then lay them cut side up on the tray. It's okay if they're a tight fit as long as they're not on top of each other. If space is short just use another tray or plate. Sprinkle the tomatoes with salt making sure you get salt on all the tomatoes.

Put the tomatoes in the sun to dry. Leave them in the sun for two to three days till they completely shrivel up.

Make sure none of them have developed fungus. Discard the ones that happen to get fungus if there are just a few.

Cover the tray with a thin cloth at night to keep out insects. Don't use a thick cloth or paper - you want air to circulate through the fabric or the tomatoes might spoil.

Once the tomatoes are dried completely put them into a jar along with a few cloves of garlic. You don't need to peel the garlic, just pop them in with the tomatoes. Pour good quality extra virgin olive oil onto the tomatoes till they are submerged. Do NOT use pomace oil. Tap gently to release any trapped air bubbles. Shut the jar tight and leave to mature for a couple of weeks.

Sun dried tomatoes are a fabulous ingredient to have at hand. Use them in salads, add them to your bread dough, top on pizza, add them to a pasta sauce, make pesto with them... just go mad!

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Fish in Coconut and Coriander Curry

I first encountered coconut milk in the little house I shared with Kurush in Pune. That was where I first started exploring food and cooking and thanks to him I discovered and learned about a whole world of cuisines, ingredients, preparations and flavours. Coconut milk was among them and is probably one of my favourite new flavours and ingredients. I used it in every possible dish from beef curries to paneer, vegetables to chicken gravies. I loved it and went a little crazy with it. One of the most memorable concoctions from those days is this light and flavourful fish curry that is loaded with fresh coriander along with the coconut milk.

Fish in Coconut and Coriander Curry

6 to 8 pieces bhetki, I used boneless fillets
1 small onion, sliced fine
1 small tomato, diced
20 stalks of fresh coriander
3 -4 fresh green chillies
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
1 star anise
2 or 3 cloves
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
3 heaped tbsp coconut powder dissolved in a cup of water
mustard oil

Wash the fish pieces well and rub with turmeric and salt. Heat oil in a wok and fry the fish lightly for a minute or so. Remove to a plate and keep aside.

In the same wok add a little more oil and fry the whole garam masalas for a minute. Add the green chillies and curry leaves, followed by the finely sliced onions. Add the ginger and garlic pastes and the dry powdered spices along with some turmeric at this stage. Stir continuously and fry for a couple of minutes till the onions turn colour slightly. Add the diced tomatoes.

Wash the fresh coriander stalks and chop up the stems and leaves, reserving a few leaves for sprinkling on top after cooking. Add the chopped coriander to the wok and stir to mix well. Mash up the tomatoes as much as you can. Add salt. Cover the wok and let the masala cook for few minutes so the tomatoes get soft.

Now pour in the coconut milk and bring it all to a boil. Add more water if you feel you won't have enough gravy. Slide in the fish pieces and let it all cook for a couple of minutes. Remove to a flat serving dish and garnish with the reserved coriander leaves. Serve hot with rice.

You can make this curry with any fish you like.

This is a light fish curry that I make often in the hot summer months. The thin coconut milk keeps it light as compared with the heavier curries that use ground coconut, and the coriander leaves and stems impart a lovely freshness to the dish. It's not heavy on the spices and neither does one need any accompaniments with it. Just a mound of hot rice and this flavourful broth-like curry is enough.

Marathon Bloggers

Friday, May 1, 2015

Kosha Mangsho, Onek Aloo Diye - Braised Goat with plenty of Potatoes

Kosha mangsho is an institution in Bengali cuisine, much relished and the star of many a party in Bengali households. I discovered the joys of kosha mangsho relatively late in life since at home my mom always made mangsho'r jhol - a stew that's also hugely popular with us Bengalis. Kosha basically means braised and mangsho of course is meat, mostly goat meat. A dry-ish preparation kosha mangsho doesn't have much of a gravy but has a thick and flavourful reduction of spices and onions and the stock released from the meat. Ideally kosha mangsho is enjoyed with porota or luchi - triangular white flour parathas or white flour puris, both typically Bengali.

The hubby is returning today after a nearly a month out in the field for his archaeological excavation project. Needless to say he called in advance to tell me what he wanted to eat once he got home. He didn't go as far as specifying the preparations but was kind enough to give me a broad idea of what he would enjoy - mutton (with potatoes), fish, prawns, plain 'mohri' daal (boiled tuvar daal with turmeric and salt, pureed till smooth, served hot with ghee), and rice. No vegetables and no chicken for sure!

I set out to automatically make mangsho'r jhol but as it often happens with me, I changed tracks midway. And Kosha Mangsho is what resulted. Here's what I did.

Kosha Mangsho

1/2 kilo goat meat on the bone, cut into chunks
3 large potatoes, cut into large pieces
2 or 3 onions, sliced fine


3 tbsp fresh curd
jeera or cumin powder
dhania or coriander powder
Kashmiri chilli powder
a scant tsp garam masala powder
a good slug of mustard oil
1 tbsp garlic paste
3/4 tbsp ginger paste

2 Indian bay leaves/ tej patta
3 inch piece cassia bark
4 or 5 cardamom pods, cracked open
1 star anise
1/2 tsp sugar
Mustard oil

Lightly wash the meat pieces (if you must wash) and marinate in the marinade ingredients. Refrigerate covered at least overnight or for a full day.

In a thick bottomed vessel heat mustard oil till it smokes. I used my cast iron pot. Reduce heat and fry the potatoes till they turn red. Don't burn them, just brown them really well. Remove to a plate.

In the same hot oil pop in the whole garam masalas and fry for a minute. Then add the sliced onions and let them brown slowly. You can add a good pinch of sugar to help them brown nicely and develop a good flavour. Once the onions have developed a nice colour add the marinated meat reserving the marinade.

Ramp up the heat and fry the mutton well for five minutes stirring often. Reduce the heat a little and let the meat cook further, stirring regularly. Braise for a good 15 to 20 minutes on medium heat.

Pour in the reserved marinade and stir to mix well. Let it cook for another few minutes. Add enough water to cook the meat but not enough to submerge it. Bring to a boil and the reduce the heat completely to a simmer. Add the fried potatoes. Cover with a heavy lid and let it cook. Check every five minutes and add a little water only if required.

Once the mutton is cooked and the potatoes are done the kosha mangsho is ready. Serve it with hot rotis, parathas or luchis. Not with rice.

The potatoes are not mandatory to kosha mangsho but are mandatory in every mutton preparation in my house. Hubby's orders.

Marathon Bloggers

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Roast Chicken with Za'atar, Ghee and Pomegranate Molasses with Lebanese Stir fried Potatoes

I signed up with a bunch of enthusiastic young bloggers who are exploring a new cuisine every month, called Chefs Across Boundaries. Here one of us selects a cuisine of the month and members pick a recipe that fits the theme and present it once they have cooked it in their own kitchens. Sometimes the dishes stick to the original and sometimes there are interpretations and tweaks; either way, it's an adventure with something unknown or deeply familiar.

For a variety of reasons I haven't been able to participate in the last few months but I was determined to complete the challenge this month no matter what cuisine was chosen. Luckily Lebanese was the flavour of the month chosen by Garima of Cafe Garima and I was quite confident that I would be able to come up with something.

As I browsed through the Internet looking at various cookery websites and blogs I was finding it difficult to settle on a recipe that was doable yet interesting, and involved at least one or two ingredients I'd never used before. I had sumac and pomegranate molasses in stock and had eagerly ordered a pack of za'atar. Most other ingredients like garlic, onions, and the commonly used whole spices are available in Indian pantries anyway - like cinnamon, black pepper, Indian bay leaves, lemons, etc.

After a few days of Googling and wandering around on Pinterest I settled on two dishes that I thought would go well together. The first involved chicken and had pomegranate molasses and za'atar among its main ingredients. The second was a simple stir fried potato with plenty of fresh coriander and lemon, not too far off from the quick aloo subzis made in households across India.

I loosely followed the chicken recipe from here and the potato stir fry recipe from this site.

It was the inclusion of ghee among the main flavours that attracted me to the Roast Chicken with Za'atar, Ghee and Pomegranate Molasses recipe. Though I didn't follow the recipe to the T I did use it as my main guideline with a couple of variations. This recipe is a keeper and I know I will make this again for sure.

Roast Chicken with Za'atar, Ghee and Pomegranate Molasses

4 full chicken legs or a whole chicken, jointed
4 Indian bay leaves (tej patta)
2 allspice leaves
5 cardamom pods
1/2 tbsp freshly crushed pepper
salt to taste
pomegranate molasses
za'atar powder

Marinate the chicken pieces in salt for 10 to 15 minutes.

In a large vessel bring the water to a boil with the spices and the chicken pieces added. Remove any scum that rises while boiling the chicken pieces. Once the chicken is cooked, in around 20 minutes, remove the chicken pieces to a baking dish draining out all the water and leaving out the whole spices too. Reserve the stock for soup or other gravies.

Lay out the chicken pieces in a single layer in your baking dish. Pour the pomegranate molasses over the chicken and mix well, but gently. Coat all sides of the pieces and then let the molasses get into the pieces leaving it to rest for around 10 minutes. Cover the dish so the chicken doesn't dry out.

Set your oven to preheat.

Baste the chicken pieces in a reasonable amount of ghee. You don't have to go overboard but be generous. The ghee lends a superb flavour to the final product. Sprinkle za'atar powder generously onto the chicken pieces and arrange again so they are all in a single layer.

Cover the dish with foil and seal. Now bake the chicken for around 15 minutes at 180C. Remove the dish carefully and take off the foil. Bake for another five to seven minutes after having turned the pieces once. Sprinkle more za'atar before you pop it in to bake again.

If you can get chicken with the skin on you will get a fabulous crackly skin and super moist flesh inside. However, covering the baking dish for the initial bake also gives great results.

I served the chicken with these very simple

Lebanese Spiced Potatoes

3 to 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 large onion, minced
10 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 tsp coriander powder
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
olive oil

Heat olive oil in a skillet and fry the potatoes till they are nearly cooked and have turned a beautiful golden brown. Remove to a plate. Add more olive oil to the skillet if required and heat it up. Fry the mined onion and garlic for a minute or two. Add salt, chilli powder, coriander powder and half the fresh coriander that you have chopped. Give it all a good stir and then add the potatoes. Mix well. Crack in fresh pepper generously. Let it all cook for a couple of minutes. Add a good splash of lemon juice but don't let the lemon overpower the dish. Toss well and remove to a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining fresh coriander and serve hot with the roast chicken

The next time I make these potatoes I'm going to sprinkle a hefty pinch of sumac instead of using lemon juice. I think I will prefer that.

Chefs Across Boundaries

Marathon Bloggers

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Italian Food Festival at Asian Kitchen, at Four Points, Vashi

I went out for another Navi Mumbai Foodies meal, this time to the Asian Kitchen at the Four Points by Sheraton hotel at Vashi. Located right next to the well known Inorbit mall this business hotel is one of the premium properties in Navi Mumbai. The Asian Kitchen is one of four restaurants in the hotel and has a primarily Asian a la carte menu. This restaurant is headed by Chef Mukul Jha and hosts special food festivals that celebrate a variety of cuisines, both Indian and European, quite frequently. Currently they're having an Italian Food Festival that's on till the 23rd of April.

I browsed through the menu and was pleased to see a good mix of seafood, poultry, lamb and pork, plus a decent selection of vegetarian options too. Though not quite a 50-50 distribution of veg and non veg options, it was still a reasonably balanced menu. From soups and salads, through antipasti, mains, pastas, pizzas and risottos, ending with desserts, the menu was varied and interesting.

We started with the soups. Anticipating that the portions would be large we requested that we be served tasting portions of the four soups that were on the menu.

This is the Seafood Soup with Plum Tomatoes. If you like seafood, especially shellfish, then don't miss out on this one!

The Chicken and Shitake Mushroom Soup with Garlic Oil didn't quite do it for me but I loved the Oven Roasted Fennel and Asparagus Soup with Creme Fraiche.

I tried two salads.The Prawn, Endive and Asparagus with an Orange and Mint Reduction was fresh and flavourful. What I really appreciated was the perfectly cooked prawn. Most restaurants tend to murder prawns by over cooking them and I have developed a wariness about eating prawns outside. It was a joy munching on the succulent prawn with the fresh and crisp curly endive leaves and that zesty simple dressing.

The second salad was something really unusual. In fact, when it arrived at the table most of us thought it was hummus and wondered what it was doing in an Italian Food Festival! However it turned out to be one of the best things I've ever eaten though I don't know if it fits in with most people's concept of a salad :)

Called Pollo al Tonno, this was a simple combination of roasted chicken slices topped with a creamy tuna mayo. I'd never have imagined that the two would go so well together but they did. And how! 

The vegetarians tried the Insalata Caprese, a classic salad that's as Italian as it can get. I've always seen this one with slices of tomatoes, cheese and basil. At the Asian Kitchen it looked like this -

and the vegetarians at the table approved. That's a ball of bocconcini in the middle, instead of the usual mozarella. 

Chef Mukul came over to the table and we had a long chat with him in the course of which we also decided to just let him send us what he felt we would like best. It took the choosing what to eat part of dinner out of our hands and I really feel the chef is best equipped to suggest the best stuff on his menu. And that worked out really well.

From the anti pasti Chef sent us the Lemon Gazed Sea Bass topped with a Salmon Rosette and splashed with Dill Cream. To say the least, it was delicious. Simple clean flavours, fresh produce, and well executed, I would have happily eaten a full portion of this.

The show stopper of the evening was what came next. The Goat Cheese and Red Onion Marmalade Tart. I could go back and eat just three of these and die happy! 

I had noticed pork among the main course offerings so it will be no surprise to anyone that I opted for it. The Pork Fillet wrapped in Parma Ham served with a Sweet Potato Roesti sounded delicious and I waited eagerly for it.

This turned out to be quite disappointing, unfortunately. The roesti was lovely but the pork was seriously overcooked and dry. Being a diehard porkaholic I felt the disappointment keenly, but everything else was so good I forgave this one blip in an otherwise perfect evening.

This is the Olive and Rosemary crusted Chicken served with a Garlic Spinach Risotto and Pickled Beetroot and Red Pimento Cream. While the meat eaters at the table quite enjoyed the dish what stood out for most of us was the pickled beetroots. Tangy and flavourful, and absolutely yum!

If you like pesto this Ravioli in Pesto Cream Sauce will make your evening. The ravioli has a spinach stuffing. We also asked for some Almond White Wine Sauce as an extra, just to try out. It was superb.

The menu has pastas, pizzas and risottos with sauces, toppings and flavouring options listed. You can choose a pasta and combine it with a sauce of your preference. Or if you feel like munching on a pizza just choose what you want on it and they'll make it for you. You can also build your risotto to your preference. 

This risotto in a beetroot red wine sauce was spectacular. 

We also tried out the Pan Seared Yellow Fin Tuna with Crisp Potato and an Olive, Tomato and Grape Salsa. I'm not a fan of fruits so I passed on the salsa but I enjoyed that tuna thoroughly. The crisp discs of potato were great and I wished there was more of those. 

Finally it was time for dessert and I asked for something that Chef Mukul had mentioned from his regular a la carte menu at the Asian Kitchen - a concoction of chocolate and habanero chillies. I was intrigued and wanted to try out this much touted pairing of chocolate with a spicy chilli. The others at the table were happy to try out the desserts from the Italian menu and soon there was a steady stream of sweet goodies arriving at the table.

Tiramisu, panna cottas, gelato, everything you'd expect on a menu celebrating Italian food was there! And they were lovely. The panna cotta came in three fruit flavours - kiwi, berry, and coconut, and it was the simplest, yet prettiest dessert I'd seen in a long time. The pale pastel shades were such a welcome change from the usual lurid loud colours of most commercial desserts that are often overloaded with artificial colours. 

This is the chocolate and habanero chilli dessert. I was too stuffed to remember to ask what this was called. A thick set disc of chocolate with what I felt was a faint hint of chilli far in the background. It was really nice though I would have liked the chilli to be a little more evident. However, the others at the table found it to be perfect. Quite a winner! There's a little dollop of berry sauce at the top which I discovered half way through - that sauce takes this dessert to a new level entirely and I felt a drizzle of this sauce on the plate so there's more of it would be far better than the chocolate sauce that was there, because there's already plenty of rich luscious chocolate in the middle. 

If you like good honest food that's presented and executed well then this Italian Food Festival is a must visit. I liked the fact that Chef Mukul hasn't experimented or fooled around or given a mandatory twist to everything in sight - he's stuck to letting good ingredients tell their story without interfering and that was what won me over this evening. 

The Italian Food Festival is on till Thursday, 23rd April. 

Disclaimer - This was a hosted dinner for the Navi Mumbai Foodies by the Asian Kitchen at the Four Points by Sheraton, at Vashi.