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Winning recipes

The Confit Duck Samosa is a canapé with a twist. It is stuffed with an exotic combination of duck legs accompanied by a raft of ingredients including thyme, peppercorns and bay leaves. Yes, it’s certainly in a different league from your average Joe samosa stuffed with potato and lentils.

The exotic samosa is just part of the feast of offerings served up on the pages of Cinnamon Club — Indian Cuisine Reinvented, a cookbook by a trio of Indian chefs. The London-based chefs Vivek Singh, Abdul Yaseen and Hari Nagaraj turn up the heat with their traditional-with-a-twist Indian dishes that aim to ‘shock and awe’ diners and readers.

Turn the page and move to the first ever cookbook by famous chef Hemant Oberoi with a similar innovative, and almost light-hearted approach, to Indian cuisine. The Masala Craft: Indian Haute Cuisine, claims its author, does not include a single kabab or curry that might look familiar.

If you are an avid reader of cookbooks there’s plenty piling up on the plate: a kitchen-shelf full of volumes by the country’s top chefs. And don’t think for a moment that the high-profile kitchen-meisters are peddling standard curry-house fare. It’s one exotic dish after another — but they can all be whipped up in your own kitchen. “Television has changed the way we look at food. Everyone wants a table such as one laid out by a chef,” says V.K. Kartika, chief editor, Harper Collins.

So what’s on the menu when master chefs turn their hand to bringing out cookbooks? Some like Vivek Singh and Hemant Oberoi play around with traditional cuisines, making them more contemporary. Then, there’s food consultant Karen Anand who has paired food and travel to create a book that you can curl up in an armchair with.

At another level, there is cookbook veteran Sanjeev Kap-oor who presents a collection of classic, old world recipes from his mother’s kitchen — yep, you can’t go wrong with those.

More ambitiously, there’s the Leela Palace’s new cookbook, put together by 16 of its chefs. It offers an eclectic mix of recipes for dishes from around the world that are served at its various restaurants including the famous eatery Le Cirque, which recently opened at The Leela Palace in Delhi.

What’s the recipe?

Take a look at the positively voluptuous 140-page Masala Art which is a large-format coffee-table book brought out on high-quality paper (Oberoi, the top chef at the Taj Group of hotels, likes to call it a collector’s volume). Oberoi starts with dishes of the likes of Bhatti Ka Prawns and builds it to a crescendo with desserts that are consciously out-of-the-box. He doles out unusual takes on the shahi tukra with his Strawberry Ke Shahi Tukre and meringues that he teams with traditional kulfi in the Kulfi Meringue.

True to its name, the essence of Masala Art lies in its attempt to make the reader aware of the art of using spices differently. “Most importantly it shows you how to use spices. No two cooks can come up with the same garam masala (a traditional blend of spices such as clove, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, dry red chillies, star anise and coriander) for instance,” says Oberoi.

What you won’t find in Masala Art —and what chef Oberoi has given a wide berth to — are run-of-the-mill dishes like tandoori chicken and butter chicken.

“I went back to our roots for the book. I’ve brought you Bhatti Ka Chicken and Bhatti Ka Prawns, typical to the tradition of cooking in Amritsar. Meanwhile I’ve put my twist on the chicken tikka with the Murg Khatta Piyaz which uses pickled onions for effect,” he says.

Meanwhile Cinnamon Club, the book named after the restaurant that’s famously popular with British MPs, in Westminster, London, is co-authored by its owner Vivek Singh along with two of his head chefs with whom he’s been working closely for 12 to 13 years.

“It reflects the kind of food we serve at Cinnamon Club and the way we push boundaries when it comes to traditional Indian cuisine. We cannot rest on past laurels and be happy with the kind of food that came aeons back such as the soft kababs that evolved for the needs of a certain toothless nawab. We have to innovate,” says Singh.

The trio of chefs has put together a meticulously organised volume that starts out by giving readers a crash course in the basics of spices and cooking techniques. Then, as a main course, they introduce you to dishes that are pretty much unique to the restaurant.

“The Chicken Kor-ma is not the usual korma dish, but a chicken breast rolled into a roulade stuffed with a spiced up mix of spinach and apricots. Then there’s the Rajasthani Roast Saddle of Red Deer with Pickling Spices and the Monkfish in a Kerala Red Curry Sauce among others,” says Singh.

If you’re in the mood for food from different corners of the world, perhaps you should reach out for The Fine Art of Food, a book by a team of 16 ethnically diverse chefs (read: Thai, Malay Chinese, American, Italian and Indian) who practice their arts at The Leela Palace in Delhi. “It was a chaotic affair shooting together but what resulted from it was worth it,” says Glenn Eastman, executive chef at The Leela Palace.

The Fine Art of Food has a flavour-filled headstart in the recipe business. It even has a section filled with recipes from its Le Cirque restaurant, reckoned by some gourmets to be one of the best in the world. So, you can work out the precise ways of making dishes like Scallops in Pancetta (cooked on salt bricks with pork belly and sherry mustard dressing) and Paupiette of Black Cod, Leeks, Crispy Potato and Barolo Sauce.

Or, if your culinary tastes are more eastward-looking you might want to keep an eye out for Japanese dishes such as Broiled King Crabs with Spicy Mayonnaise from The Leela’s Japanese restaurant Megu that are among the 70-odd recipes in the book.

A different kind of a cookbook is offered by food consultant Karen Anand in Good Food Good Living. This book is essentially a compilation of essays on food and travel written by Anand in the early ’90s for the now defunct newspaper The Independent.

And Anand engages in a friendly chat with the reader about the food and drinking customs in various places from Australia and Paris to Switzerland and Moscow. Each essay ends with a recipe. The book has a collection of 40 recipes. “It’s a nostalgic trip since it is about the time I was travelling. So I haven’t edited them. It’s a fresh approach to travelling and writing,” says Anand.

Most of her recipes are calorie-counting lean ones. Look out for her seafood recipes such as Clams in Coconut and Stuffed Crabs or even easy-to-do recipes such as Spicy Grilled Pumpkin. “Health is not just about losing weight. It is about well being. I always keep it mind while doing my cookbooks,” she says.

Meanwhile, don’t miss out on Kapoor who’s authored over 140 cookbooks. He’s served up two books in quick succession in recent months. One is called Eat Lite and is a series of five small handbooks that concentrate on low calorie appetisers, main courses, desserts and beverages, soups and salads. His other, weighty offering is Cooking With Love, inspired by the dishes his mother and mother-in-law rustle up in their kitchens.

“They are such hits with my crew, for whom my mother and mother-in-law both cooked, that I’ll be serving some of the recipes at my new signature restaurant in Dubai,” says Kapoor.

Cooking With Love has 55 recipes including some seemingly basic ones like Quick Pressure-cooked Vegetables and Jeera Aloo. Says Kapoor: “The pressure-cooked veggies are a hit every time my mother cooks them. I have memories of Sunday breakfasts while growing up when we would dip breads into the bowl of veggies and my friends could never get enough of it.”

Presenting the feast

Roping in talented shutterbugs is the name of the cookbook game. “Painting a beautiful picture is what matters. At the end of the day, the visual element is key to a cookbook,” says Singh. To that end, he roped in award-winning food and travel photographer Jason Lowe to shoot for the book.

“We spent 18 months working on the book with Lowe who is a passionate Indophile. We whittled down about 300 recipes to about 100 for the cookbook. You need to try out the recipes, some of which might not photograph well,” points out Singh.

The book, which has mouth- watering pictures, glossy paper and carefully organised recipes, looks every inch a winner. It has been described as the ‘Vogue of Indian food’ by Milee Ashwarya, editorial director at Random House, the book’s publisher.

The Leela Palace’s cookbook is shot by ace photographer Rohit Chawla who has broken away from conventional food photography. Instead he has created an artistic look by shooting dishes against a pristine white background, presenting them in a minimalist manner as lines, colours, shapes and forms that may remind you of Piet Mondrian’s abstract paintings. Says Chawla: “The rest are cookbooks. This is art”.

At the other end of the spectrum Kapoor’s inexpensive volume has a back-to-school look, with the recipes written down on ruled pages almost like a school notebook. By contrast, Oberoi’s Masala Craft took the chef five years to put together. Oberoi criss-crossed the country several times seeking out forgotten recipes.

“There’s so much to our traditional ways of cooking. For instance, I chanced upon atta chicken in Punjab. According to custom, after the day’s meals were done with, women would wrap the leftover chicken in dough and leave it in the tandoor overnight. Next morning, they would take out the baked dough along with cooked chicken and the men would take them for a meal while working in the fields,” he says. So he has put in peasant recipes such as fish fillets wrapped in parchment paper and cooked on smouldering charcoal that he calls Paperwali Machchi and the Kerala dish, Alleppey Meen Curry.

But, thank your foodie stars, these cookbooks all keep an eye on the calorie count even as they present recipes overturning that old French axiom that offers: “Measure the girth of the chef and you can rate his restaurant.”

Parsi Spiced Stir Fried Squids (serves 4)

‘What we have done with this dish is to take the traditional flavours of Parsi cooking — sweet and hot — and instead make a traditional thin sauce or gravy, reducing it to a glaze, more in a French style which seals onto the shrimps just before serving. You can also use shrimps instead of squids if you like.’

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Ingredients 500 gm fresh shrimps, peeled and de-veined

For the spice mix: • 10 cloves • ˝ tsp black peppercorns • ˝ tsp coriander seeds • 2 tbs vegetable oil • 1 tsp red chilli powder ˝ tsp cumin, roasted and ground • 1-inch cinnamon stick ˝ medium-sized onion, finely chopped • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped • 1 tbs tomato paste • 1 tbs apricot puree • 1 tsp salt ˝ tsp sugar • 50gm coriander leaves, chopped ljuice of a lemon

Method

1. Mix the cloves, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks together. Dry it under the grill for a few minutes to remove any moisture and then powder it.

2. Heat one tablespoon of oil and add the chopped onions. Sauté until they turn golden brown, then add the chopped garlic and sauté for a couple of more minutes until it starts changing colour.

3. Now add the dry spice mix and the red chilli powder. Just stir briskly for a few seconds and add the tomato paste, apricot puree, salt and sugar, and cook until the mix takes on a jammy consistency. It should taste sweet and spicy.

4. Heat one tablespoon of oil until it starts to smoke, add the shrimps and stir quickly. As soon as it starts to sear and changes colour in parts, add the spice mix and stir fry for a few seconds until the spice mix is evenly distributed and coats the shrimps.

5. Sprinkle the fresh coriander and squeeze in the lemon juice. Check the salt for seasoning and serve immediately, preferably with rice.

From Cinnamon Club

Broiled King Crab With Spicy Mayonnaise (serves 4)

Ingredients

• 320gm King Crab legs • 80gm cucumber • 10gm Wakame (green seaweed) • 10gm Japanese mayonnaise • 10gm chilli paste

Method

1. Broil the crab legs and cool them down. Cut the shell from one side and let the meat rest on half of the shell. Make spicy mayonnaise by mixing chilli paste with mayonnaise and straining it through a fine sieve.

2. Slit the cucumber finely by turning it from all the sides and pull it to form a chain. Soak the seaweed in cold water for two minutes and strain.

3. Arrange the cucumber and crab on a plate with a splash of spicy mayonnaise and soaked seaweed. Serve chilled.

From The Fine Art of Food

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