Sunday, March 26, 2017

Annamaya, finally a Foodhall to get local produce and eat it too

It is always good to come across events and discussions where farmers and chefs come together discussing food and ingredients, farming and consumer demand along with the concerns of local procurement of fresh produce, grains etc.

We witnessed a wonderful Tasting India Symposium last month where the farmers and chefs came together at a Chaupal (al fresco meeting usually held by village panchayats) and discussed the issues and challenges of local produce, its procurement and usage and the ground issues faced by the farmers as well as the hospitality industry.

Tasting India Symposium is a thoughtful initiative by Sanjoo Malhotra and Sourish Bhattacharya that brings the issues of sustainable food and tourism to the discussion tables openly. I got the opportunity to speak at this symposium about sustainable food in a panel discussion and about Banaras ka Khana in the knowledge session.

At the Chaupal of Tasting India Symposium I witnessed a genuine discussion between chefs like Ravitej Nath, Alex Moser and farmers from Tijara Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in conversation with Ishira Mehta who works with farmers all across the country. It was encouraging to hear that Chef Alex Moser has gone out and found great regional produce from Uttarakhand and Rajasthan and is exploring more to make local foods a part of his menu at Andaz, Aerocity.

Later we decided to go to the hotel and witness it all ourselves. Andaz is a luxury hotel that has brought a fresh approach to its lobby and decor, we could see how casual chic clothing of the hotel staff looks so cool as compared to the stiff formals everywhere else, just a sign of how a property takes simpler things to new heights.

The various design elements of the hotel are something to explore and absorb leisurely, so today I will talk about Annamaya, the European style Foodhall that is nestled within the hotel premises.

The best thing about Annamaya being it brings regional Indian fresh produce and artisan products for the guests and local customers. There is a food court with Indian and European design elements blended seamlessly, so is the food philosophy that uses local produce to create a world class menu.  

Annamaya, finally a Foodhall to get local produce and eat it too

One can buy fresh produce and all sorts of millets, pulses, single origin Indian chocolates, pickles, preserves, tea, coffee and almost everything one needs under one roof, all procured from Indian organic farmers from all across the country.

The most interesting part is that all the ceramic pottery comes from khurja, the copper hammered finish utensils are also made locally, supporting local artisans. I was so thrilled to see that one could buy even the utensils if one likes, I actually bought a plate and there is more on my agenda already.

And yes we tasted food too. This is one place where you will get aloe vera sandwich made with freshly plucked leaf growing right at the counter, they have a special shelf to grow their own micro greens too. There are many more greens sourced from local farmers that are included in salads like the kale and feta salad we loved.

All the meat, poultry and seafood is procured from organic sources I was told. The Duck confit we tasted was phenomenal, glutinous and soft flesh that was pleasantly charred too, a result of sous vide cooking and then a flash of tandoor grilling before serving. The salads and the morel and asparagus orzo pasta were all so beautifully made we polished off all of it quickly between three people.

Annamaya, finally a Foodhall to get local produce and eat it too

The food shows how fresh local and seasonal produce translates into great taste, the hard work of the chefs also evident in the eclectic dishes served in a casual yet classy ambience. I met the pastry chef Gordon Galea whose favourite Indian sweet is Sonpapdi and who loves serving chocolate chili brownie made with single origin Indian chocolate with his signature hazelnut gelato.

Annamaya is finally the Foodhall that I would like to visit regularly and buy produce from. The good food and casual approach to dining is a great approach in my opinion, more people will be able to go and enjoy local and artisan products.

Oh and the bakery section is brimming with organic goodies that cost just as much as any neighborhood bakery, I am so glad to know some good options for the conscious eater too.  

Friday, March 24, 2017

cappucchino of mushrooms, a soup for the mushroom lover in you

You would love the mushroom cappuccino if you like the deep earthy-umami flavours of mushrooms. I often mix two or three varieties of mushrooms to make this cappuccino style soup but it tastes as good with just the button mushrooms too that are easily available everywhere.

Remember this mushroom cappuccino is a quick meal that gets ready in 15 minutes including chopping, cooking and blending.

mushroom cappuccino soup

This is a quick post so I will come straight to the recipe but I will request you to cook this soup following the recipe to the T when you make it for the first time. I have been making this soup for about 4 years now and have perfected the recipe to my liking and to make a filling balanced meal for two.

Yes this mushroom cappuccino is a well balanced meal with good fats, enough proteins and most other micro nutrients so you don't even need a bread with this.

Feel free to include a toasted garlic bread if you like but  the soup is filling enough to make a meal. I would recommend nice hand cut potato fries made in oven or pan grilled with the soup instead of bread. Try that.

(2 meal servings or 4-6 small soup servings)

200 gm button mushrooms
one large onion about 120 gm
40-50 gm walnuts (try not to replace with other nuts but cashew works too)
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp dry thyme or few springs of fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
500 ml whole milk (full fat)
1 tbsp butter or good quality olive oil or a mix of both


Slice the onions, chop the garlic cloves roughly and chop the mushrooms roughly.

Heat the butter, tip in the garlic and onions and cook to make the onions slightly caramelized, lightly browned. Toss in the mushrooms and let it all cook and get wilted for about 3-4 minutes.

Add the walnuts, thyme, salt and pepper and toss to mix.

mushroom cappuccino soup prep

Transfer this cooked mix to blender and make a smooth paste, adding some cold milk.

Transfer the blended soup back to the pan, add the remaining milk and some water to adjust consistency, check seasoning and let it come to a soft simmer. Do not let this soup boil.

The soup is lightly frothy after the blending and retains the froth after simmering too. You can make it froth a bit more by blending it in the pan using a stick blender before serving, so it looks more like a cappuccino.

mushroom cappuccino soup

This mushroom cappuccino reheats well and can be refrigerated for 2 days easily.

Make a large batch and refrigerate for convenience. This mushroom cappuccino is a great for a party too and can be served in small cups, topped with some unsweetened cocoa powder if you like.

The chef's table at Bella Cucina, Le Meridien Gurgaon, Italian food to go back to

Good food comes in all shapes and colours. The 'real' good food comes from fresh flavourful ingredients that have been treated well during cooking. Some extremely driven modern Chefs are doing a lot of artistry with food changing its appearance on the plate, taking the art of plating to new artistic heights. Some of these plated dishes are such a riot of colours and forms that one doesn't feel like disturbing the art piece by digging a spoon in it.

I am not too fond of syringes poking my food or the food served on weird looking contraptions, but I am fairly experimental with the play of textures and colours on my plate. The real taste of the fine ingredients shining through a dish is a treat and if it comes with some such playfulness I am all game for it.

Bella Cucina, Le Meridien Gurgaon

One such meal was at Bella Cucina, the Italian fine dining restaurant at Le Meridien Gurgaon that we recently experienced. Chef Amit Kumar, the soft spoken Chef de cuisine at Bella Cucina, treated us to his special Chef's table and I can say the essence of real food shines through his food with stark honesty.

The amuse-bouche came with a fresh Nasturtium bloom, a strawberry coulis with feta ice was a riot of flavours. The Mushroom Cappuccino was so good, creamy flavour of mushrooms with a hint of saltiness from olive dust, I requested for a second serving and thoroughly enjoyed it. Served in a small cup and saucer this mushroom cappuccino comes with a Porcini brioche that accentuates the mushroom flavours.

The next course came with a jar that was opened at the table, smoke billowing out of the jar summoning our curiosity. Fleshy slivers of Tuna smoked inside the jar to be topped over a beautifully laid salad on the plate that had poached egg with spinach hollandaise, an interesting take on the classic salad Nicoise, the flavours coming together like a song. Both of us polished off the salad to the last bit of even the microgreens.

The spinach and nut ravioli was a delight to dig into. Stuffed to the gills with creamy spinach and nut (cashew and pine nuts) paste, the ravioli was topped with morel sauce with chunks of morels that made it a delectable play of flavours. Microgreens were unnecessary over this I felt, but thankfully they didn't hamper the flavours.

Next came the Pumpkin and saffron risotto which was made well but I felt it should have had more flavours of pumpkin in it. With potent undertones of saffron, lime and burnt garlic blended really well in the risotto and the husband loved it for a change. He is not much of a risotto fan.

The meat course was Australian lamb with chorizo coating and pork jus, grilled baby carrot, golden beet and scallion on the side. Great play of flavours again but I was too full by this time to enjoy meat which was rarer than I prefer and it was too big a portion, I finished the vegetables on the side though.

I decided to skip desserts but Arvind enjoyed the classic Tiramisu and a dark chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis plated creatively.

Bella Cucina, the newly opened restaurant is a good choice for Italian food in NCR as I felt the regular menu is also quite extensive yet very straightforward, classic Italian with some fun tweaks bringing the oomph factor. One can try the pizzas and several types of pastas, risottos, salads, meats and seafood, prices are lower than most five star fine dining restaurants for a change.

The cappuccino of mushroom reminded me of my own simpler version that I haven't shared here as yet. Find the mushroom cappuccino in the next blogpost and try at home if you love mushrooms. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

sesame seeds and orange dip | making healthy eating easier everyday

Sesame seeds come handy when I have to make quick nourishing foods many a times. The chutneys and dips have been my savior when I have to whip up quick meals and snacks. This sesame seeds and orange dip has been a regular in many variations as I keep adding different flavours to it, the motive is to eat more sesame seeds regularly.

sesame seeds and orange dip

This sesame and calamondin salad dressing is more complex in flavours, we love it to make our vegetables flavourful.

The simpler dip recipe I am sharing today pairs really well with carrot sticks, apple slices, fritters, crackers and even parathas. Try this and you would know what I am talking about. I love recipes that can be used differently and don't perish somewhere in the fridge, pushed back in a corner.

(makes to fill a 350 ml jar, 5-6 or more servings approx)

one orange peeled, sliced and seeds removed
150 gm sesame seeds lightly roasted
1 tsp orange zest (optional, use only if the oranges are organic or home grown)
1 tbsp crushed jaggery
1/4 tsp pink salt (or table salt)
1/2 inch piece of ginger grated
1/2 tsp paprika powder
1-2 tsp balsamic vinegar


Mix everything in a blender jar and make a paste. Do not add any more liquid to it. 

Let it rest for an hour in the fridge before serving. This sesame orange dip keeps well for 2 weeks in the fridge.

We ate so much more raw carrots this season thanks to this dip, knowing that all the nutrients in this food combination are absorbed well is a great relief in the times when we have been planning our meals carefully. 

sesame seeds and orange dip

I have not been updating the blog lately because of so many distractions and family emergencies. Hoping to be regular now and continue the lunch box series again. The giveaways are still up so keep commenting to be eligible.

In the meanwhile I will tell you that I brought some water apples from Calcutta in December, yes it has been that long. I was there developing a Banaras chaat menu for The Grand Oberoi and training the chefs the nitty gritties of making traditional chaats, some of them are even steamed but all of them healthy even though the calorific value may be high in some cases. Real food is always better I keep saying.

Coming back to the water apples, these are so delicious with a mild flavour and crisp texture. The fruit oaks salad dressings like a sponge and responded really well with a diluted dressing made of this sesame seed dip.

water apples

I just diluted the dip with some lime juice and salt and pepper to adjust seasoning.

Just some thinly sliced carrots, thinly sliced water apples, some greens and flowers from the garden and lot of well soaked smoked Bandel cheese that I brought from Calcutta.

water apple salad with sesame seeds and orange dip

This salad was such a delight to eat. So many flavours and textures in every bite, the bandel cheese is salted and crumbly and it provided a great contrast to the crunchiness of carrot and water apple, few shreds of pea shoots and kale from the garden kept the promise with bites of greens.

Some radish flowers lending a hint of pungency here and there, you can use any leafy greens or herbs you like but don't let it overpower the fruity notes of this salad.

water apple salad with sesame seeds and orange dip

Will tell you more about the Bandel cheese soon, the lunch box series will be resumed within a week and we will celebrate a new season with mangoes and then cherries, plums, peaches, apricots and what not.

Stay tuned and join the fun.