Why take the well-trodden route when it comes to a festive spread? This year, innovate with indigenous ingredients to create some new combinations altogether or add a quirky touch to classic dishes. Let the seasonal and the regional shine on your table with root veggies, spicy podis, gooey nolen gur and artisanal cheeses taking on myriad forms.
To help you put together the perfect spread, Lounge reached out to chefs, researchers and entrepreneurs for refreshing pairings that can not only be whipped up at home but will also make you the talk of the season. The fun part: You can mix and match from the various sections—taking a tomato choka from the diaspora tray, the green chicken curry from the brunch spread, the bibikhane pithe from the winter produce section, and pairing these with a kokum (from the mangosteen family) cocktail—to create a completely new combination. The possibilities, this season, are endless.
THE DIASPORA TRAY
Bring in flavours from Trinidad, Maldives, Guyana and South Africa to create a storyboard of how people from various parts of India crossed the seas decades ago to settle on foreign shores.
In this ode to the Indian diaspora, Ragini Kashyap, founder of Third Culture Cooks, which has been exploring the relationship between food and history since 2016, suggests using the Trinidadian tomato choka and Maldivian mashuni as chutney, Guyanese salara as bread and the South African dahi wari as sweet crackers with the cheese. “The four dishes that I have suggested make for an excellent board with some cheese, while creating a narrative of people who found new homes, and some old traditions that travelled from India to the Caribbean and parts of Africa,” she says.
Also read: A love letter to Bengal's peeyaj koli
The Trinidadian choka is an obvious successor to the one from eastern India. But it has seen a couple of adaptations in its long journey to the Caribbean. Mustard oil has been replaced by vegetable oil, which indicates not just what the migrants had access to at the time but also how contemporary the cuisine is.
“Hydrogenated vegetable oil became as cheap and popular as it is now in the early 1900s. Another change in this choka is the omission of the South Asian holy trinity of ginger, garlic and onion. I can only assume this was because it was either expensive or difficult to get (or both) on the plantations and other remote, rural areas where the majority of Indians were settled,” says Kashyap.
While the choka has sweet notes from the tomato, the mashuni is coconutty and spicy, a delicious contrast to the bread. The pièce de résistance of this diaspora tray is the South African dahi wari, which is very different from the dahi-vada, a savoury lentil-based fritter dunked in yogurt and garnished with chutneys that we are all familiar with. This one is an adaptation of the South Asian Bohri mittha dahi vada. In the absence of semolina and saffron, Indians in South Africa used all-purpose flour and cardamom. Similar to a shakarpara, this quick dessert is a flaky short pastry doused in sweet syrup.
Like many immigrants, the Indians in Guyana prefer the flavours of their homeland: the heavy spices of southern India such as fenugreek, coriander, cumin, fennel, cinnamon, cloves and hot peppers—in this case, the seven-pod pepper or Congo pepper, which is hotter than the Habanero and more ribbed. “One thing they absolutely love—which would have been new to many of them at that time, since they were mostly from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh—is the heavy use of coconut. And this can be seen in the salara, a staple of Guyana. Salara is also known as red cake because the coconut filling is dyed a bright red colour,” says Kashyap. Visit www.thirdculturecooks.com
South African dahi wari
2 cups flour
Half tsp baking powder
2 tbsp sugar
Half cup desiccated coconut
2 tsp ghee
4 tbsp fresh cream
Half cup yogurt
Oil for frying
For the syrup: One-and-a-half cups sugar, 1 cup water, 1 tbsp rosewater
In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and desiccated coconut. In a separate bowl, whisk together the ghee, fresh cream and yogurt. Mix the wet and dry ingredients, kneading to create a soft, non-sticky dough. Once the dough comes together, make a ball, set it in a bowl, cover and leave it to rest for 10 minutes.
While the dough is resting, make your sugar syrup. Set the sugar and water in a saucepan on medium-high heat and let it come to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and let the solution reduce slightly. Turn off the heat and add rosewater.
Heat the oil, roll out the dough to 1cm thickness and use a pastry cutter or a knife to cut it into 2x2cm squares. Once the oil is hot, fry the squares in batches, without overcrowding the pan. Fry until the dahi waris are golden brown on both sides. Remove them with a slotted spoon and dunk them straight into the rose syrup for two-three seconds. Set them on a plate and let the waris cool till they are no longer sticky or wet to the touch. Serve with a cup of tea.
Also read: How puri chole and pickle shape food memory
WARM UP WITH WINTER PRODUCE
How about regional sweets instead of the regular cheesecakes and pastries? These warm, hearty dishes—deeply rooted in the earth—pay tribute to the countless farmers and producers who have sustained us over the years. One recipe is for bibikhane pithe, a dish believed to have originated in Bangladesh’s Bikrampur region. Preetam Bhadra, in-charge of culinary innovation at Amar Khamar—a young startup from West Bengal that specialises in local pulses, spices, honey and indigenous rice varieties—says bibikhane pithe celebrates the new rice harvest of the season and winter produce such as the prized nolen gur, or date palm jaggery.
“In our version, we have kept the basic ingredients intact but have interpreted the recipe in our unique way,” says Bhadra. “We have kept a gooey centre, like a Basque cheesecake. There could also be an option of adding some zing to it with rum to make a drunken pithe.”
This could be the perfect ending to a festive feast, paired with some dark single-origin coffee. Given that it’s a rich dessert, avoid foamy, creamy lattes and cappuccinos. Rather, have it with a shot of slightly bitter-acidic espresso made with roasts from Araku or the Vienna roast from Blue Tokai to enjoy the contrast in flavours. Keep the main course light and fresh to keep your palate clean for the pithe. Try a medley of tossed seasonal veggies or a simple chicken roast as a precursor and you have a warm winter feast ready. Visit www.amar-khamar.com
Nolen gur 350 gms
Rice flour 50 gms
Grated coconut 80 gms
3 whole eggs
Fresh cream 100 gms
¼ tsp salt
2 pinches of grated nutmeg
2 tbsp ghee
1 tbsp rice koji (optional)
For serving (optional): Baileys Irish Cream, candied roselle
Pre-heat your oven to 200°C. While the oven is heating up, mix the rice flour, salt, nutmeg and koji (if using) thoroughly. In another bowl, add the three eggs, ghee and fresh cream and beat gently. Add the nolen gur to the egg-cream mixture. Tip in the dry mix to the wet one and gently fold. Add the grated coconut and set aside Prepare a 10-inch spring form tin, lightly brushed with oil and lined with parchment paper. Pour in the prepared mixture and bake for 25-30 minutes at 200°C or until the sides are well set and brown with a slightly wobbly middle. Take the pithe out from the tin and let it stand to cool. Serve it slightly warm or at room temperature.
TABLE FOR ONE
Too tired to take the trouble of cooking up a feast for just one person? What if one dish could pack in all the festive warmth? Mansi Jasani of The Cheese Collective and Bowled Over by Kari, helmed by chef Karishma Mehta, have conceptualised a recipe that combines the gooey goodness of brie with the Yuletide staple of cranberry. It is easy to whip up, cheerful, a combination you simply can’t go wrong with. While The Cheese Collective offers a curated selection of Indian handmade and artisanal cheeses, Bowled Over by Kari documents easy vegetarian recipes with simple ingredients.
For another winter classic, pair some blue cheese with sweet Goan port wine, suggests Jasani. If you are in a more indulgent mood, throw in a 75% bittersweet dark chocolate from Mason & Co. to the mix as well. Visit @thecheesecollective on Instagram
Brie and Cranberry
1 cup cranberries
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 cup pomegranate arils
1 block of The Cheese Collective brie
Quarter cup pecan nuts or walnuts
2 tbsp diced pistachios
Rosemary for garnish (optional)
Combine the cranberries, sugar and maple syrup in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for about five minutes. Stir in the pomegranate arils and let it cool. Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Place the brie on parchment paper and bake for about 7-10 minutes or until the cheese starts to soften. Add nuts or pistachios. It’s ready to eat now.
FOR A COSY SOIRÉE
Given the threat of covid-19, it’s better to opt for small gatherings high on great conversation and good food. Don’t restrict your menu to genres or sub-cuisines, go all out with bold flavours and quirky combinations. Ruchira Sonalkar, founder of Thane, Maharashtra-based Native Tongue, which focuses on lesser-known indigenous ingredients, suggests Peanut Butter with Byadgi chillies from Karnataka tossed with dan dan noodles or drizzled on top of mini idlis. The chillies, low on heat, lend a bright colour to the dish and offer a smoky aftertaste.
“A cheese platter would be a nice addition. You could pair our Mulberry Preserve, made from ingredients sourced from producers in Mahabaleshwar, with the award-winning Brunost of Eleftheria (an artisanal cheese label based in Mumbai),” she says. Preserves make for great dessert toppings as well or to be used in parfaits. The mulberry one, for instance, is quite a classic topping on ice creams.
You can add a savoury note to the spread with easy devilled eggs with a dollop of Honey Mustard. Or opt for burger sliders featuring the Caramelized Onion and Fig Relish. “We source our figs from Purandar and these add texture to the relish, which is flavoured with Kachampuli vinegar from Coorg. It goes beautifully with a chicken supreme, a rack of lamb, cheese balls or even a cheese sandwich,” she says. For a rich touch to the menu, splash Rum Caramel on top of puddings and cakes and flambé. Pair these dishes with a guava nectar cocktail, made with any white alcohol and a dash of tabasco and salt, and served in a chilli-rimmed glass. Visit www.nativetongue.in
Easy devilled eggs
De-shell the hard-boiled eggs and halve them lengthwise. Spoon over a dollop of Honey Mustard and garnish with microgreens or tender coriander leaves. You are set for the starters.
Put together an assorted platter of crackers, toasties and puffs and ladle them with the Onion and Fig Relish. Crumble some fresh feta or goat’s cheese on top and garnish with a tender mint leaf. Makes for a great accompaniment on charcuterie boards.
Guava fruit punch
Mix one-third of the glass with Pink Guava Nectar and the rest with chilled water, juice of half a lime and 30ml white rum. Pour the mixture into a glass filled with chopped tropical fruits and berries. Garnish with mint leaves and serve chilled.
Also read: How tomatoes conquered Indian cooking
BOLD BRUNCH FLAVOURS
Serve flavour bombs, with thokku, thecha, podi and kashundi taking centre stage, livening up everything from a curry to a bake. Chef Velton Saldanha, who launched his range of chutneys and podis as part of the artisanal e-commerce brand Chutney Collective last year, says the tomato thokku with black garlic is one of the most versatile condiments. He made a root vegetable mosaic pathrode with it—a colocasia leaf wrap with besan (gram flour)—for a sandwich pop-up recently. On a cheeseboard, he suggests, you could replace foreign mustard and relishes with ananas aam kashundi and the thokku. You could pair the mustard honey from Svaguna Foods—specialising in natural, non-intervention led farming—with the Chutney Collective’s pineapple kashundi.
“A lot of Goan families do a vegetable bake during the festive season and the thokku would make a great alternative to canned tomato sauce,” he says. If you are doing a festive brunch, then start the meal with a tomato thokku bruschetta, topped with pine nuts and cheese. Go vocal for local with charcuterie boards and combine indigenous cheeses like bandel and chhurpi with Indian farsan instead of lavash and crackers for charcuterie boards. Or, for that local touch to European cheeses, roll a cream cheese in pork or any non-veg podi. “At my home, we always do a pork dish and a green chicken curry for the festive season. To concentrate the flavour and make it more intense, I added the fried chicken thecha while blending the green paste for the curry. The thecha could also act as a stuffing for a chicken roast. Seafood pulao is also a thing at Goan homes. Just take a few spoons of the Bombay Duck chutney or the prawn podi while cooking it,” says Saldanha. Make sure you know which fish is sustainable in this season—follow the calendar on Know your Fish. Visit @chutney_collective on Instagram
Green chicken curry
1kg chicken, curry cut
250g/4 onions, chopped
300g/5 tomatoes chopped
3g/1 piece cinnamon stick
5g/1 tsp cumin seeds
1g/5 pieces cloves
40g/3 tbsp coriander seeds
40g/3 tbsp garlic
13g/1 tbsp turmeric powder
5/1 tsp green chillies
For the green paste
220g/1 bunch coriander sprigs
100g/half bunch spinach
80g/quarter cup fried chicken thecha
10g/ 2 tsp garam masala
8g/ 1 tbsp red chilli powder
Generously season the chicken with salt and a pinch of turmeric. Preferably leave it overnight or for a minimum or/of four hours. In a pot, boil water and blanch the spinach and coriander for 10 minutes. Transfer into a bowl with ice water. Squeeze the water out.
Make a paste with all the ingredients mentioned in the paste section. Heat oil in a pan and bloom whole spices. Once fragrant, add the garlic and fry until brown.
Add in the onions and cook till translucent. Now tip in the tomatoes and green chillies, keep stirring to avoid it from scorching. Add in the paste and cook on low heat for 10 minutes. Then add in the chicken, mix well till it is coated with the masala. Add in three cups of hot water, bring the curry to a boil, and turn down to a simmer till the chicken is cooked. Season the curry with salt and a little bit of sugar if needed.