• Chefs & Recipes

    Indian progressive cuisine – A tale of two worlds

  • – Bikram Bindra

    Chef Manish Mehrotra takes on a culinary journey of evolution of Indian cuisine.

    In conversation with Chef Manish Mehrotra

    Manish Mehrotra is a man who needs no introduction. A multi-awarded and much acclaimed chef who has been in the public eye for more than a decade now, he is often credited with ushering in a new, bold and exciting phase in Indian food the world over, and being the original creator of what we now refer to as Progressive or Modern Indian food.

    Chef Mehrotra has been referred to as the ‘most exciting modern Indian chef in the world today’. His illustrious career has had several high points, and one defining moment has been the launch of Indian Accent. The result of an intensive nine year culinary journey, Indian Accent has defined how modern diners see progressive Indian food, and set the wheels moving for this inventive and rather ingenious way of savouring classic Indian food with just that little bit of twist.

    We caught up with the man himself and had a warmtête-à-têteon the evolution of progressive Indian food, and what keeps Indian Accent still so buzzing and loved even after 8 years.

    Progressive Indian, modern Indian or inventive Indian, call it whatever you please, but the fact is that this new way of savouring traditional favourites has arrived with a bang, and what was earlier thought to be just a passing fad, has withstood the test of time.

    As per Chef Malhotra, the roots of the movement started with small steps, with chefs around the world focusing a bit on plating and presentation, and slowly adding exotic ingredients to their dishes. Indian Accent though, when it arrived on the scene announced this trend unapologetically. An ‘Indian’ restaurant that was free from the clichés of dal makhani and butter chicken, it served unusual flavours and varied textures.

    Here, the focus was on either showcasing Indian dishes, but with an international twist, or global picks with a very ingenious Indian play. However, a key principle that Chef Mehrotra strongly believed in, and still abides by is the belief that authenticity of recipes is supreme and comes first. So, no toning down of recipes, tweaking them beyond recognition and making fundamental changes to their construct. The idea is to take little leaps, playful moves that are subtle and smooth and slowly discovered, like a well-written book.

    The sources of influence and the evolution or progression of this cuisine have been many. Chef Mehrotra gets energized by the rich diversity of the regional food of India, and the painstaking rigour that is apparent in many of these time tested recipes. He also goes back in time to build on home cooked classics and childhood favourites, food and drink that one has grown up with and that brings the added garnish of nostalgia. Finally, he enjoys exploring the highly nuanced tradition of our street food, and uses modern Indian as an opportunity to also redefine this, upgraded and done in a more refined manner.

    Of course, his travels, and journeys provide ample fodder for new experiments in the kitchen and he admits that the more he travels, the more inspired he gets.

    Interestingly, the evolution of this cuisine has served the interests of two audiences- the international audience that has always been tempted by the lure of Indian flavours but probably a bit wary of savouring in it is absolute form, and the global Indian, well-travelled and exposed, wanting to relish his home food, but with an unusual upgrade that pays homage to their roots.

    At the heart of it of course, the food is Indian, and builds its strength on the base of comfort. What it has additionally layered on the familiar is the stripping down of excessive spice and flavour, a break from classic curry centric offerings. This has also enabled this food to talk to newer audiences in erstwhile unchartered territories.

    While this evolution has taken several positive strides and continues to conquer new ground through innovation,Chef Mehrotra also highlights a direction that has unfortunately not been as celebratory. Several newer establishments have diluted the originality of classic recipes, tinkering them beyond recognition. This unchecked experimentation has gone a bit astray, showing up in bars and pubs, becoming the de facto theme across drinking holes across the country. Unbalanced combinations, a mix of different regional Indian cuisines, and too much happening in one single dish are how this battle is being fought, and food lovers seem to be at the losing end. Molecular gastronomy has started being used very liberally, often for a dramatic show and tell, and to add to an element of surprise that almost always supersedes the quality of the dish.

    For Chef Mehrotra, the rules of the game are simple and Indian Accent is fine testimony to that. He strongly believes that the combinations he works on should have some reason, some rationale to justice it. There should be some history, or a story to help bridge the divide between the seemingly two ends. Authenticity should reign supreme. The craft behind original recipes should be maintained, with a twist focussing on the dish, and not so much on the presentation or the unexpectedness of the combination.  Also, the proof of the pudding lies in the eating, so the taste should conquer all, and the real playground should be the palate.

    Finally, his word of advice on how to do this right is to keep dishes inherently simple, not overly engineered. There should be layers of flavours that gradually get discovered, the food taking diners onto a fascinating journey. There should be just that right balance between tradition and modernity, and purity should override inventiveness. Lovers of modern or progressive Indian food, both creators, and diners should be cognizant of the subtle twist and be able to understand the reason behind that improvisation in that dish. He promises us that Indian Accent continues to withhold the fine tradition that he abides by even as he prepares for international journeys to be a proud ambassador of Indian food, and also gear up for the launch of Indian Accent in London in December. As we look back on how simple, subtle moves heralded perhaps rather bold flourishes in our culinary history, it is evident that the work of Chef Mehrotra (and a few before him, and certainly many after him) was landmark in its own way. Modern Indian food continues to serve two integral purposes. It has allowed Indian food to find fresh favour around the world and be loved and relished by food aficionados everywhere, and more importantly it is also increasingly getting desi audiences to wake up to the rich and flavourful variety within the subcontinent, and look beyond the contentment of their staple ‘Indian’ meals. This opening up of our minds, even more than that of our palate is what shall perhaps remain its lasting legacy.

    Baby idli, golden cashew nut, madras gun powder

    YOU WILL NEED :

     

    For baby idli:

    • 100 ml Idli mix
    • 5 gms chopped spring onion green
    • 2 gms chopped coriander
    • 5 gms butter yellow salted
    • 5 gms fried cashew nuts
    • 2 gms chopped ginger
    • 2 gms chopped garlic
    • 1 gm chopped green chilli

     

    For madras gun powder:

    • 15 gms sesame seeds
    • 10 gms channa dal
    • 15 gms urad dal wash
    • 2 gms rice
    • 1 no red chilli whole deseeded
    • 1 no peeled garlic pod
    • 2 gms mustard seeds
    • 1 gms curry leaves
    • 5 gms vegetable broth powder
    • 5 gms chaat masala
    • A pinch of fine sugar
    • 5 ml oil

     

    For roasted cashew nut and coconut sauce:

    • 1 gms mustard seeds
    • 2-3 nos curry leaves
    • 2 gms dal urad
    • 50 ml coconut milk
    • 5 gms roasted cashew nuts
    • 5 ml oil

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    For sauce:

    • Heat oil in pan and crackle mustard seeds, urad dal and curry leaves
    • Add coconut milk and roast cashew nut
    • Bring to a boil
    • Blend it and chill it thoroughly

    For idli:

    • Pour the mixture in the baby idli mould and steam it.
    • Sauté chop ginger, garlic and green chili
    • Add steamed baby idli
    • Add madras gun powder
    • Finish with chop spring onion and coriander

     For madras gun powder:

    • Heat oil in pan and crackle mustard seeds and all lentil
    • Add garlic pod and red chilli
    • Add curry leaves
    • Sauté for 1-2 min
    • Add sesame seeds and sauté
    • Blend the mixture
    • Add veg broth powder , fine sugar and chaat masala

    For plating:

    • In serving plate, place banana leaf and place the sautéed baby idli on it
    • Garnish the idli with it to garnish
    • Serve with the roast cashew nut and coconut dip.

    Meetha Aachar Spare Ribs, Sun Dried Mango, Toasted Onion Seeds

    YOU WILL NEED:

    For spare ribs:

    • 200 gms Pork spare ribs
    • 3 tbsp CornfloUR
    • 500 ml Coconut milk

    For mango pickle sauce:

    • 2 tsp Ginger, chopped
    • 2 tsp Garlic, chopped
    • 1 tsp Toasted Onion seeds
    • ½ tsp Fennel seeds
    • ½ tsp Crushed black pepper
    • 1½ tbsp Sweet mango pickle, chopped
    • ½ tsp Red chilli flakes
    • Salt to taste
    • 1 tbsp Oil

    To serve:

    • 1 tsp Lime juice
    • 1 tbsp Coriander, chopped
    • 1 tbsp Aam papad, chopped (as garnish)

    METHOD

    Prepare spare ribs:

    • Boil the whole rack of ribs in very thin coconut milk. This not only adds a rich, sweet taste to the meat, it also helps reduce the fatty smell, which the Indian palette is not very comfortable with. If you prefer, you can boil the rack in water. I prefer not to cut the rack into individual ribs before boiling, as then the meat has a tendency to disintegrate off the bone.
    • When boiled, remove and place the rack in a refrigerator to chill. This will make it easier to cut the ribs, which otherwise may have a tendency to break if cut when hot.
    • When cooled, carve out individual rib pieces.
    • Dust with cornflour and fry till golden brown.

    Prepare mango pickle sauce:

    • Heat oil in a heavy bottom pan.
    • Sauté chopped ginger and garlic, onion seeds, fennel seeds, crushed black pepper and the mango pickle.
    • Add a spoon of water to make it a syrupy, textured thick sauce.
    • Add red chilli flakes and adjust seasoning.

    Serve:

    • Toss the fried ribs in the sauce till all the pieces are well coated. Take off the flame.
    • Add chopped coriander leaves, and a dash of lime juice.
    • Arrange on a platter.
    • Serve garnished with chopped sweet or sour aam papad.

    Peanut Butter And Beetroot Tikki, Wasabi Caper Chutney

    Ingredients:

    For the Beetroot Tikki:

    • 100 gmsBoiled beetroot
    • 30 gmsPeanut butter
    • 20 gmsBoiled potato
    • 2 gmsCumin seeds
    • 5 gmsGinger chopped
    • 5 gmsGarlic chopped
    • 2 gmsGreen chili chopped
    • 2 gmsCoriander chopped
    • 2 gmsGaram masala
    • 2 gmsChaat masala
    • Salt to taste
    • 20 mlRefined oil
    • 30 mlTempura batter
    • 60 gmsPanko bread crumbs
    • Refined oil for grilling

    For the Wasabi caper chutney:

    • 50 mlMayonnaise
    • 5 mlWasabi paste
    • Salt to taste
    • 3-4 nosCaper

    Method:

    For the Beetroot Tikki:

    • In a heavy bottom pan, heat oil and crackle cumin seeds
    • Sauté chopped garlic, ginger and green chili.
    • Add grated boiled beetroot to it and sauté it for 2 min
    • Add grated boiled potato, garam masala and chaat masala and thoroughly mix it.
    • Take off the fire, adjust the seasoning and add chopped coriander
    • Cool the mixture and divide in 30 gms
    • Stuff with peanut butter and give it a patty shape
    • Lightly coat with tempura batter and crumb it with panko bread crumbs
    • Grill it till golden brown colour

    Wasabi caper chutney

    • For wasabi dressing, mix mayonnaise with wasabi paste and adjust the seasoning.

    For plating

    • Arrange grilled tikki on serving plate
    • Drizzle with wasabi chutney and garnish with capers
    • Serve hot

    Tamarind GlazedPork Ribs, Steamed Potato Chilli Salad

    {The meethaachaar spare ribs were inspired from South East Asian cuisine and the flavours were sweet, not smoky. This dish is inspired from western, smoky BBQ ribs with a sticky glaze. What better than a whole rack of ribs with a hint of tamarind accompanied with spicy potatoes? This is a soul-satisfying dish.}

    YOU WILL NEED:

    • A rack of5-6 Pork spare ribs

    For marinade:

    • 2 tspGinger-garlic paste
    • ½ tspGaram masala powder
    • 1 tspOyster sauce
    • 200 mlCoconut milk
    • 500 mlWater

    For tamarind sauce glaze:

    • 1 tspOil
    • 2 tspOnions, chopped
    • ½ tspGarlic, chopped
    • 1 tspGinger, chopped
    • 5 tbspTamarindchutney
    • 2 tspTamarind paste
    • ½ tspGreen chilies, chopped
    • ½ tspGarammasala powder
    • 1 tspOyster sauce
    • ¼ tspCrushed black pepper

    For chilli potato salad:

    • 1 tspSalted butter
    • ½ tspCumin seeds
    • ½ tspGarlic, chopped
    • 3 tbspBoiled potatoes, diced
    • ½ tspKashmiri red chili powder
    • Salt to taste
    • ½ tspChaatmasala
    • ½ tspLime juice
    • ½ tspCoriander, chopped

    INSTRCUTIONS:

    Cook ribs:

    • Mix ginger-garlic paste, garam masala powder and oyster sauce.
    • Apply the mixture on the whole rack of ribs.
    • Place in a heavy bottom pot.
    • Add coconut milk and water.
    • Boil the full rack.
    • Remove when cooked.

    Prepare tamarind sauce and glaze ribs:

    • Heat oil in a pan. Sauté chopped onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies.
    • Add tamarind chutney and tamarind paste. Add water, if required.
    • Addgaram masala powder, oyster sauce and crushed black pepper. Allow the sauce to simmerfor 2-3 minutes on a low flame.
    • Place the rack of ribs in the sauce, while the pan is still on the flame.
    • Ensure the sauce coats the ribs well. There is no need to add salt, as the oyster sauce has sufficient salt.
    • Remove the coated ribs and keep aside to allow the glaze to soak in.

    Prepare chilli potato salad:

    • Heat butter in a pan. Add cumin seeds and allow to crackle.
    • Sauté chopped garlic till golden.
    • Add boiled, diced potatoes along with red chilli powder, salt and chaat masala. Mix well.
    • Finish with lime juice and coriander. Keep warm.

    Grill ribs:

    • Remove the ribs from the sauce and place on a hot BBQ grill.
    • When the sauce falls on the hot grill, it will give the ribs a smoky flavour.
    • When you remove the rack, it should have some nice grill marks.

    Serve:

    • Place the grilled rack of ribs on a plate.
    • Spoon any remaining sauce on the ribs.
    • Serve with potato salad on the side.

    Pulled kathalphulka taco, roasted almonds

    YOU WILL NEED:

    Forkathal mixture:

    300 gmsCleaned jackfruit

    20 gmsRoasted Almonds

    Saltto taste

    Redchili powder to taste

    1 tspTurmeric powder

    1tspGaram masala

    1tspCrushed black pepper

    75 mlOlive oil

    10 – 15 nosCurry leaves

    10 gmsChopped ginger

    5 gmsChopped green chilies

    10 gmsChopped garlic

    50 gmsChopped onions

    50 gmsChopped tomatoes

    10 gmsTamarind paste

    10 gmsChopped coriander

    2 gmsMustard seeds

    5 gmsJeera powder

    1tspHoney

    6 nosAtta Phulka

    1 noLemon

    2tbsp Grated parmesan

    Method

    • Sear in olive oil with salt, red chili powder and turmeric till cooked and soft.
    • Drain, cool and cut into small shreds. Keepit aside.
    • For masala, heat olive oil in a pan and crackle mustard seeds and curry leaves.
    • Add chopped onion, ginger, garlic, green chilies and saute till golden in colour.
    • Now mix in red chili, turmeric, jeera powder, coriander powder and salt with little water.
    • Stir in chopped tomatoes and cook.
    • Simmer for 10 minutes with regular stirring.
    • Mix in honey, tamarind paste. Add cooked kathal and cook for 5 min.
    • Adjust the seasoning and finish with crushed almonds, crushed black pepper, lemon juice and chopped coriander.
    • Place a spoonful of mixture on each Phulka and fold like a taco and serve sprinkled with grated parmesan.

    A food enthusiastic and new flavour explorer, Bikram enjoys exploring culinary landscapes around the world and unearthing hidden play in food and drink, He is currently conquering the city of Delhi, one restaurant at a time, and is partial to tea, aquatic life, tubers and gin, not necessarily in that order.