|Muhammara Stuffed Potol with Crispy Kalonji Chips
The other day, while popping a piece of roti, wrapped around a potato-cauliflower sabzi, into my mouth, I was struck by the changes that have come about in our eating habits over the years. There was a time when people laughed at you if you ever asked for gobhi in the middle of summer. But today, when vegetables are available around the year, eating karela in winter is no more surprising than having gobhi in the summer.
Yet, I tend to think that vegetables taste best in the season that they are supposed to represent. The methi saag in a methi paratha, for instance, thaws the body as much as it warms the soul when eaten in winter. And bottle gourd cools the system better than any air conditioner on a hot summer’s day.
There is, however, a catch. Winter plants have their place under the sun but the problem with summer vegetables is that they are not terribly exciting. Bottle gourds, snake gourds and all their relatives somehow don’t make you race to the dining table, do they? So, what to eat when the temperature rises?
Despair not, says chef Sharad Dewan of The Park Hotel, Calcutta — there’s a lot you can choose from. The chef has not just been experimenting with summer vegetables that have long been banished from our kitchen but has been studying ways of making the old veggie taste different.
His interest in summer veggies was triggered when he encountered a dumur, which is a fruit from the fig family but is eaten like a vegetable. “It was a fantastic vegetable,” the chef says. “This urged me to go out further to discover more such hidden treasures.”
|Chapa Notey Saag Risotto with Raw Mango Chilli Ice Cream
I must say he has discovered quite a few treasures, including the brambhi saag, which he stuffs in raw banana with a sauce made from cheddar cheese, Philadelphia cheese and cooking cream. Or take notey saag (a kind of green leafy vegetable that grows in abundance in the East), which he cooks with Arborio rice to make a most innovative risotto, served with a raw mango and chilli ice cream.
I know the chef enjoys turning local saag into creative dishes — he cooked a most impressive multi-course dinner for me once, which consisted of dishes cooked with various kinds of saag. But what’s caught my fancy is what he’s doing with vegetables that are available through the summer — and which generally send a chill down my spine.
Take, for instance, potol. It’s a vegetable that I am still to embrace with open arms. But the chef handles the gourd differently — he scoops it out, and then stuffs it with muhammara — which is a Syrian dip prepared with nuts and red pepper.
Even the karela — which I am rather fond of — gets a new makeover. In our house, it’s cooked in two ways — it’s either fried, or stuffed (with pickle masala, grated karela skin and some other spices) and then sautéed. But the chef’s idea of flavouring it with wasabi is interesting. And I like what he’s doing with the kakrol.
This is a vegetable that I encountered only very recently. I have no recollection of it ever being cooked at home. Called teasel gourd — or kantola in Hindi — it tastes a bit like the bitter gourd but scores in the looks department with its bright green colour and spikes. Like the potol, the chef stuffs the kakrol with cottage cheese sautéed with the scraped insides of the gourd, and then mixes it with ricotta cheese, chopped raisins and salt. This is then cut into roundels, and finally cooked in a gravy
Chef Dewan, who has spent four summers in Calcutta, believes the fifth is going to open up doors to many such vegetable dishes that can liven up our spirits when the world around us droops in the heat. “As is my nature, I have added my signature twist to these dishes,” he says.
Indeed, the prospect of encountering interesting dishes cooked with boring vegetables is enticing. The old order changeth, and I, for one, am not complaining.
Wasabi crisp karela with grilled tomato chutney
l2 medium-sized karelas l2 tbs wasabi powder l3 tomatoes l50g onions l2 cloves garlic l1-inch celery stick l20g jalapeno l50g mayonnaise lsalt and white pepper to taste lrefined oil for frying
For the grilled tomato chutney, roughly dice the tomatoes and other vegetables (onions, garlic, celery, jalapeno). Place on a roasting tray and roast for 30 minutes at 165°C. When cooked, cool and puree the veggies. Add the mayonnaise and half of wasabi powder to the mix and stir well. Refrigerate. Now wash the karela well and thinly slice them into roundels or finger strips. Marinate with salt, turmeric and air dry for a day. Fry the karela as crisp as can be. Sprinkle the remaining wasabi powder over the crisp karela. Serve with the chilled grilled tomato chutney.