Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Launch of book The Food Trail of Punjab by Yashbir Sharma (a food travelogue).

The Cookshelf from A Perfect Bite was proud to host the launch of Yashbir Sharma’s new book The Food trails of Punjab on the 27th of September over a fabulous dinner of Punjabi food generously catered by the Legacy of Punjab restaurant. We were also honored to have some of the foodiest of foodies of Mumbai join us for the happy occasion.
I started Cookshelf  because, thanks to my friend foodwriter Vikram Doctor I have acquired an addiction to books on food and I wanted to create a repository of information of foodwriting and food books from around the world but most specifically from Indian. It is a work in progress, that I am adding to slowly. An objective of this blog is also to help good food books get attention. Having tried, rather unsuccessfully to sell my book on Uttaranchali cuisine to publishers for the last five years, I know how frustrating it is to have a good book and not find a publisher. And there are many brave foodwriters out there who believe in their books enough to put their money behind their passion and self publish books. One such man is Yashbir Sharma.
Yashbir Sharma
I first heard about Yashbir uncle and his first book The Dhabas of Amritsar through one of Vikram’s columns on restaurant cookbooks in ET, but never actually found a copy to look at. And then as serendipity would have it, I happened to meet his nephew, Manish. After that it was just a matter of me nagging Manish until he introduced me! When I finally met Yashbir Sharma, at his home in Delhi a few months ago  I was disappointed to hear that he did not have any copies of his book left BUT was quickly heartened to hear that he was soon to release a new book! I even got to see the dummy version of the book that he was self publishing; The Food Trail of Punjab. 
The Book - The food trail of Punjab
I decided right there that I would do whatever I could to help spread the word on the book. And when Yashbir Uuncle called last week to say he was bringing me some of the first copies of the book, I was thrilled. I worked against time, (even emailing from my phone of the deck of a houseboat on Kerela’s backwaters) to pull together the launch. Before I go on about the evening and the book, I would like to thank Varun Dhingra of the Legacy of Punjab restaurant, without which this evening could not have been as delicious. To launch a food book you need good food at the event and my big concern was what to serve for dinner. I am a good cook but for a book on Punjab I needed good Punjabi food, an area in which my repertoire is small. But luck favoured me again and as I was discussing things with my friend Pooja of Le 15 Patisserie, she told me that her brother Varun ran a Punjabi restaurant that had Amritsari cooks in the kitchen and would be happy to help with this. And so the table was set for The food Trail of Punjab to take off.
Varun Dhingra of the Legacy of Punjab restaurant
Amritsari Tikkis from Legacy of Punjab
As we dug into Amritsari Tikkis slathered in lashings of chutneys and Mooli salad, Yashbir Uncle told us about this book that was two years and several trips to Punjab in the making. 

"It all started when I was in Amritsar, I had an upset stomach  and decided to have some Trotters soup in Amritsar. Before you know it I was fine. The water of Amritsar is very good for the digestion. It allows one to eat the local food without getting sick." he said and the thought struck him to document the food of Punjab. And so he embarked on a happy trip through the state, pen and camera at the ready. 

“I have travelled the length and breadth of Punjab and found its people amazingly simple in their eating habits. Yet, they don’t compromise on their food. It is nutritious and delicious, with no frills attached to it. The recipes are simple, the Masallas do not number more than 7-8” 

The fertile state of Punjab in North India has always been considered the “bread basket” of the country. Famous for its vast rolling plains, endless fields of wheat, corn, millet and rice and the food! For the hardworking people of Punjab, every meal is little celebration and wherever you eat in this part of India, be it at restaurant, a roadside dhabba (as local street-side food vending stalls are referred to) or in a Punjabi home, quantity is definitely a measure of quality partly because Punjabis like to eat well but also because they love to lay a laden table.

And it is this legacy that the Food trail of Punjab brings us through recipes and the unforgettable stories behind them, culled from the owners of iconic eateries across Punjab. Featured in it’s pages are such hearty iconic delights as Kara Prasad, Dal Makhani, Amritsar Da Mutton, Gajjar da Murraba Meen Punjabi-Chinni Ishtyle Chicken and winding its way between these recipes, in the best tradition of the food travelogue are stories, vignettes of history, stories of iconic establishments and the people that run them. Full of candid photographs, charming commentary impassioned memories of the people and food of Punjab. The Food Trail of Punjab is a delicious romp of a book guaranteed to get you craving for a Punjabi meal.

It is a book that any food lover - but especially those who are afficionados of indian food and Indian culinary history - should aspire to own, because it celebrates an era of food - the kind that loved simple flavours, oodles of ghee and lots of deep frying - that is an iconic part of Indian cuisine and needs to preserved. 

Fabulous stuffed Kulchas!

Tandoori Rotis
Shanky and Lotsoffood!

Feast of Food and friends

The French connection? Food writer Mangal Dalal and Pooja Dhingra of Le 15
Mini Rasmalai
The book and the food!  

The Food Trail of Punjab is widely available at bookstores all over India. For more information you can get in touch with Mr. Sharma at mryashbirsharma(at)gmail(dot)com. 

‘Legacy of Punjab’ Asli Punjab Da Tashan as a grade 1 restaurant on the Mumbai – Nashik / Shirdi highway, 3km from Shangrila Waterpark. A spacious restaurant, that recreates the ambiance of a Punjabi farm house, Legacy of Punjab, uses solar energy fas its primary power source and growis most of ithe produce it uses on the 10,000 sq feet farm attached to the restaurant where vegetables like cauliflower, okra, brinjals, sugar cane, corn, papayas, radish flourish. For further enquiries please call +91 93231 07555 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              +91 93231 07555      end_of_the_skype_highlighting or email, or look for them Facebook under Legacy of Punjab.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Book review - Modern Spice

I have known Monica Bhide, almost as long as I have been a food writer. In fact she was kind enough to guide me on many early queries on aspects of food writing. I was always curious to get a look at her cookbooks (she has two previous cookbooks to her name; The Spice is Right and The Everything Indian Cookbook) but I never got my hands on one because they did not make it to India. So I was determined to change that when I heard that about her latest offering 'Modern Spice' and had asked someone in the US to pick up one. But it turned out I did not need to however, because Random House released an Indian edition and were kind enough to send me a copy. A lot of cookbooks wash up on my doorstep, but very few pass the test that gets them through to this blog. Modern Spice did.

Indian cooking is a classic example of fusion going right. And anyone that scoffs about that or about fusion is too full of themselves and needs to get a good dose of Chopsuey Dosa in Mumbai! That is a story for another post however. The point I am trying to make is that Indian cuisine is a classic example of fusion. The roots of Indian cuisine were put down millennia ago when the geographical borders of the sub continent of India were drawn. Indigenous ingredients were harvested by ancient civilizations of India and the resultant cuisine formed the base of Indian Cuisine as we know it. However, the sub continent of India spans many climates zones and is home to a variety of flora and fauna. So as civilizations spread out over the subcontinent with time, they took with them the food ways they practiced but adapted them to suit locally available ingredients.

And today the world is a much smaller place. Indians have moved all over the world taking their cuisine with them and adapting it to what is locally available. In a modern day evolution, Monica has adapted the culinary knowledge she inherited, to the foods she has found in America. The difference is that where expat accounts of food cooked abroad once read as an account of traditional curries and Indian food cooked painstakingly from scratch by mothers and grandmothers to recreate the flavours of home and carried melancholy undertones, Monica’s book reflects a more refreshing positive evolution, a reflection of the lives of Indians living abroad today, easy, fun, intensely flavourful and inclusive! This is food to welcome, become a PART of a world that is coming closer, evolving together not exclude, by saying – you would not understand Indian spices.....

In the forward, Monica says “Just because we have always done something in one way, it does not make it the only way to do it” and that to this cook who like to experiment with ingredients and push them to their limits is what appeals. Monica Bhide’s book Modern spice gives the world a small taste of what you can do with a little Indian spice and exotica such as Brussels Sprouts and Broccoli we have only just begun to experiment with in dishes other than salads and Chinese food!

I look at a cookbook for inspiration and Modern Spice offered lots of new ideas I especially loved the drinks section that sexed up homely classics such as ROOH AFZA (of all things) into a sultry Rum and roses and spiked a plain old Pineapple juice with chillies to make Hot Passion. But that said my biggest grouse is that there are no pictures. A lot of pain has been taken to lay out pages and add breaks in text with innovative touches of colour and graphics but it would have been nice to actually see what some of the more unusual recipes looked like when I was trying to decide what to make!

All eaten and tasted however, I think this is a great book to invest in, as a gift for non Indians wanting to try their hand at Indian influenced cooking; it keeps a western audience in mind, using ingredients found in most western supermarkets. But (and this is even while I am aware that some of the ingredients used are not available in India) it is also a great book for the modern Indian cook who likes a little adventure. The recipes are designed with the modern sensibilities of health in mind: lighter than most traditional Indian recipes and easy to cook in spite of frantic schedules we have these days.

Shrimp in Green Mango Butter Sauce
Serves: 4
Prep/Cook Time: 20 mintues
Green mangoes cooked in a sweet butter sauce add a delightfully different tart, tangy, and sweet touch to this shrimp curry. Serve this with steamed basmati rice.
3½ tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
10 fresh curry leaves
2 large or 4 to 6 small shallots, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon table salt to start
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
¼ cup chicken stock
1½ pounds or about 650 grams jumbo
shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup diced, peeled green (unripe) mango
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup water
Half a fresh lemon
1. Heat two and a half tablespoons of the butter and the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until the foam subsides. Add the mustard seeds and curry leaves and sauté just until the mustard seeds pop.
2. Add the shallots and garlic and sauté for two to three minutes until aromatic and golden.
3. Add the turmeric, salt, pepper, broth, and shrimp and simmer for a few minutes until the shrimp is almost cooked through. Remove from the heat.
4. In a medium pan, melt the remaining one tablespoon of butter on medium heat. Add the mango and sugar and sauté for a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook for five to seven minutes until the mango starts to soften.
5. Transfer the mango mixture to the saucepan containing the shrimp. Mix well, then reheat gently. Serve hot with a squeeze of lemon juice.

GYAAN and legend
Priced at Rs. 499, Modern Spice is published by Random House India. Monica Bhide is a cookery writer and blogger whose articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economic Times, Femina, Bon Appetit and eGullet. In addition to her writing, Monica owns and operates her own cooking school which has been featured in Bon Appetit.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Perfect Bite...: VIRTUAL BIRTHDAY POTLUCK WEEK. - What will you cook for me on my birthday?

A Perfect Bite...: VIRTUAL BIRTHDAY POTLUCK WEEK. - What will you cook for me on my birthday?