• Thu. Jun 30th, 2022

Food chronicle: Some of its parts – SUPPLEMENTS News

ByRandall B. Phelps

Jan 28, 2022

The hero of my dish is always the ingredient. I try not to hide them; they are there for everyone to see, smell and taste. Traveling plays an important role in what I do, as it gives me the chance to understand the stories behind the food people eat, to taste different ingredients, to learn and to eat like the locals do. It allows me to discover a side of India that I don’t always see while living in a big city. These ingredients define their regions of origin; I try to interpret them in my own way, putting them in the foreground so that our guests can experience them like me. The idea is to summon India to your plate, with your palate as guide and traveler.

The hero of my dish is always the ingredient. I try not to hide them; they are there for everyone to see, smell and taste. Traveling plays an important role in what I do, as it gives me the chance to understand the stories behind the food people eat, to taste different ingredients, to learn and to eat like the locals do. It allows me to discover a side of India that I don’t always see while living in a big city. These ingredients define their regions of origin; I try to interpret them in my own way, putting them in the foreground so that our guests can experience them like me. The idea is to summon India to your plate, with your palate as guide and traveler.

sea ​​buckthorn

I call it a vitamin C tsunami. It’s an extremely versatile ingredient that I enjoy working with; it’s been five years since I first encountered it in India and we use it every year at Masque. I had heard of a supplier just before the restaurant opened; I booked the first flight and drove six hours from Leh to the Nubra Valley, where this thorn bush grows wild. It also grows in Lahaul and Spiti and is usually used as a natural fence because the bushes are so thorny. I had heard of a few people squeezing the berries and using them in cosmetics, but I couldn’t remember ever seeing it on a restaurant menu in India. We searched for the berries with the help of some locals and brought about 25 kilos back to Mumbai with us.

Sea buckthorn berries are very astringent, yet extremely versatile. We served it as juice, with squid and fish, but I also wanted to pair it with an indigenous Indian spice and pepper was my first choice. We made a sea buckthorn sorbet with a black pepper cream, a bit like the lollipops we ate as children with a little extra kick.

Juniper

When Masque turned five last year, we took the restaurant on a five-city tour. Our last stop was Ladakh. I remember walking through the market in Leh, where I saw a woman selling juniper by the side of the road. It’s a berry we usually associate with gin, but instead we used it under a rack of lamb and smoked it all to give it its flavor.

Lemon Verbena

This discovery was also made in Ladakh, where I saw a man carrying a big bag. I asked to take a look at the grassy thicket of his bag, I smelled it and realized it was lemon verbena, again an herb I had worked with a lot in the west but not often in India. It is a spectacular herb; the first note is citrus, and it’s both grassy and earthy. For this dinner in Ladakh, we smoked local fish on it.

Afeem Leaves

I like to talk about India through its ingredients. We recently cooked at Pravaas, a food and music festival in Gwalior held at Jai Vilas Palace. We had visited earlier to do research and development before the event, where we traveled around the area to meet, eat and cook with the locals. We have seen them use afeem, or poppy leaves. They are usually harvested in December, and locals then use the leaves in a stew-like vegetable preparation. We finally made a leaf chutney and served it with glazed quail kachori with black grapes.

Fresh peanuts

It was also in Gwalior that I first saw fresh groundnuts being harvested. We tried them straight from the plant – super tender and sweet. We used them to make peanut milk, which we served with sole fish ceviche and marinated karwanda.

Narthangai At first glance, it looks like a dried, blackened, almost rotten lemon, but it has the most beautiful citrus aroma, and is often salted and dried, especially in the South. I discovered it last August in Chennai, where one of our guests happened to be an avid cook and invited us to dinner at his house the next day. The pickle was a staple at their table; we got our hands on some and used it in a chocolate custard dessert; the combination of chocolate and citrus narthangai was wonderful.

Jalpai

Commonly known as the “Indian olive”, the jalpai is a fruit that only grows in the Sunderbans region. It has a fairly short shelf life and is only found in December and January. It is a fruit that is still very new and fascinating to me; if you miss it in those two months, that’s it for the year. We brought some back and are brining it first like you would an olive, after which we will make a chutney and serve it with sweet potato and pickled chili.

As said to Aditi Pai