These fusion desserts with a difference are sure to add extra sparkle to your Diwali celebrations, says Rahul Verma
Old man Kipling got it wrong. That the East and the West can meet very happily became apparent to me some months ago when I went to Manish Mehrotra’s iconic restaurant, Indian Accent, at The Manor in Delhi. And while every dish was memorable, on my mind right now, on this festival of lights where sweets play a major role, are his desserts.
Now Diwali, as we all know, tends to revolve around sweets such as laddoos and barfis. And while I am passionate about Indian sweets, I do agree that they can also become a bit boring. The palate demands something new, and that’s exactly what some chefs are now working on.
The focus is on fusion — but not in a clumsy, over-the-top way. The idea is to celebrate Indian flavours, but present them as world cuisine. Take something like kheer payesh sushi. The mind boggles, right? But not if you hear chef Sambit Banick, who runs Spice Kraft in Calcutta, explain it.
He takes Bengal’s much loved Gobindo Bhog rice and makes a thick payesh. When it is nicely sticky, he spreads it on a nori sheet dipped in sugar syrup. On this he puts a filling of khoya, and then pipes in mango crush, orange crush and kiwi crush. He then rolls the sheet up, and cuts them into sushi-like shapes.
“My focus is on the young. Many are tired of the old Indian sweets. I thought: Let’s give this generation something that it enjoys.
So these are Indian sweets prepared in different ways,” chef Banick states.
In many restaurants these days, you will find youngsters digging into a dessert called Tres Leches. Chef Banick gives it a twist by preparing a similar dish with khoya, chhena and rabri, which he calls Chhena Poda Tres Leches. He also prepares a Boondi Rabri Tart.
I find that experimenting with tart shells and an Indian sweet filling is something that our creative chefs enjoy. Chef Mehrotra, for instance, is known for his besan laddoo tart.
For this, he takes a besan laddoo, crumbles it so that it gets a soft, dough-like texture, and lines a tart mould with it. He fills this with a mix of cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, beaten eggs, saffron and cardamom powder. And he bakes it in a preheated oven at 180°C for 12 minutes. Once done, he refrigerates it for three hours.
In this Oriental-Occidental fusion, there is a lot you can do with the Sicilian cannoli, too. Chef Mehrotra prepares cannoli with wheat flour, and then stuffs them with mishti doi.
Consultant chef Ranveer Brar tells you how to make anjeer kaju cannoli. Make the cannoli with cashew paste and castor sugar. Fill this with a mix of kalakand and anjeer, or dried figs.
“This is representative of how food travels,” he writes in his book, Come Into My Kitchen. “Cannoli is a sumptuous pastry dessert that was introduced to Italy by the Arabs.” Kaju katli, he adds, is one of India’s best known sweets. “Before the Portuguese brought kaju to Goa in the 1500s, we did not know that kaju existed. So why not bring it together into a beautiful marriage of festive flavours?” he asks.
Another transatlantic marriage is chef Banick’s Diplomat Shahi Tukda. Diplomat pudding is believed to have originated in Hungary. Instead of the bread that traditionally lines the pudding, the chef uses shahi tukda — fried bread soaked in sugar syrup.
Whoever it was who said marriages were made in heaven got it wrong, too. When it comes to food unions, they are made in a restaurant near you.
Photographs by Subhendu Chaki;
Location courtesy: Spice Kraft, Calcutta