For someone like me who has a lifelong love affair with food and an obsession with anything food-related, being born in India was fortuitous indeed. The cuisine of India is as diverse as it gets-not only do you find unique foods from state to state, the same dish can change in taste from one household to another.
I grew up in Ranchi, a small town in Eastern India. The most unique part of growing up in my colony was that there was such a rich diversity of people and cultures from all over the country residing in this tiny town. Being a gregarious child, I spent a lot of time going from one household to the next, checking out what was being made for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I would grace their table with my bratty presence, as well as spending a lot of time with the “aunty’s” in their kitchens, observing their food preparations and how their ingredients and methods of cooking were so different from the delicious traditional Punjabi household in which I was growing up. I received an amazing food education in these homes, learning to make dishes like moong daal dosa, khandavi, macher jhol, pau bhaji and dhansak. This is the foundation that molded me into the chef that I am today.
After living in the U.S. for about 12 years, every time I go back to India, I am struck with a sensory explosion. The sounds, colors, smells and tastes all are so amazing. There are of course a few Indian dishes that everyone knows outside of India, like the samosa, chicken tikka masala, saag paneer etc., but there are so many more beautiful dishes that a lot of us have grown up with, tasted and tried to re-create-dishes that are sold on road sides-the true street food of India.
The first ever Indiaspora forum (https://indiaspora.org/), founded by visionary MR Rangaswami was held at the beautiful Mohonk Mountain House in Upstate New York. This pristine and gorgeous location was the perfect environment for 100 influential Indian American’s to come together, with the unified goal of making the voice of the Indian American , living in America, stronger and more cohesive.
Food was of course an important part of this retreat. When discussing the menu for the first night of Indiaspora, MR and I decided to go in the direction that best represented India-by offering dishes that are quintessential Indian Street food, covering the four broad regions of the North, South, East and West. We wanted people to have a culinary journey through the entire sub-continent of India without leaving the beautiful banquet room at Mohonk. This was a successful evening, as people loved the variety, appreciated the diversity and thoroughly enjoyed the unique dishes offered. There was a live jhal muri (spicy puffed rice salad, spiced with mustard oil) station, at which the jhal muri was made fresh like it is on the streets and trains of India, and was served in these amazing bamboo cones which added such a wonderful dimension to the dish.
The idea was to offer Indian dishes that are delicious but not commonly served. This is the same route that we are taking while planning a mouthwatering menu for Indiaspora 2013 Inaugural Ball Honoring President Barack Obama at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, DC on January 19, 2013 (https://indiaspora.org/inauguration). The menu has dishes that define decadence. There will be dishes that represent the rich history of the Indian food scene. We will be serving dishes that range from the royal Nawabi offerings to the simple yet delicious street food of India. Dishes that are Indian Regional favorites but relatively undiscovered here in the States. It promises to be an invigorating meeting of the minds over some scrumptious food and drinks, an evening that one cannot afford to miss!
Following is the menu that we came up with for the first ever Indiaspora held at Mohonk. Additionally, I have added a recipe for Fish Pondicherry, which can be served as an appetizer as we did, or as a wonderful delicious fish curry alongside freshly steamed rice.
INDIASPORA MENU – MOHONK
North – Uttar –Himalayas
kashmiri kabargah (traditional kashmiri, lamb chops cooked tender in milk and traditional Kashmiri spices and then seared in ghee)
ram ladoo (delhi favorite moong daal -yellow lentil deep fried dumplings garnished with grated radish topped with a generous helping of amla mint chutney
shakarkandi karmal chaat (sweet potato starfruit chaat)
South – Dakshin – Indian Ocean
daal wada chettinad (peppered and coconut flavored )
fish pondicherry ( tamarind and curry leaf stewed fish)
East – Purab- Bay of Bengal
odisi kancha kadali bara (coconut, coriander spiced stuffed plantain croquettes)
bengali jhal muri (spicy puffed rice with mustard oil and fresh vegetables- we’ll serve this in traditional paper cones as in India)
West – Paschim – Arabian Sea
chicken koliwada (from maharashtra, spiced batter fried chicken)
parsi akoori (parsi spiced scrambled egg on buttered pau)
methi palak dhokla (guju favorite with coconut curry leaf tempering)
pumpkin halwa tarts (pistachio garnish)
bhapa doi (bengali favorite, steamed cardamom flavored yogurt)
mango rose cupcakes (indian twist on an all time classic)
mirchi clove truffles (chocolate truffles with Indian spices)
1 cup chopped Onion
4 tsp Cumin Seeds
2 tsp Mustard Seeds
4 tsp black Pepper
1 tsp Fenugreek Seeds
½ cup Coconut grated
½ cup Curry Leaves
5 tsp Coriander Powder
1 cup Tamarind Extract
2 cup Tomato, chopped
4 tsp Red Chilli Powder
5 tsp Turmeric Powder
5 Green Chillies
1 cup sesame oil
2 lb Swordfish cubes- sprinkled with salt and turmeric (skewered)
1. Heat 8 tsp of oil in a pan over moderate heat.
2. Add garlic, pepper, cumin, fenugreek and onions.
3. Fry for a minute.
4. Add curry leaves, coriander powder and coconut.
5. Fry for a few minutes and grind all together.
6. In another pan, heat 2 tsp oil, add tamarind extract and tomatoes.
8. Add the ground paste and mix well.
9. Add salt, turmeric powder and red chilli powder.
10. Let it boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
11. Meanwhile heat remaining oil in a pan.
12. Add mustard seeds, green chillies, curry leaves and fry for 15 seconds.
13. Fry for 30 seconds.
14. Add this to the gravy and boil for another 5 to 10 minutes.
15. Grill the skewered fish top with sauce while grilling and serve hot garnished with chopped cilantro