A Himalayan Repast
Yogender Pal, the very genial and warm executive chef at Marriott Hyderabad, subscribes to the theory of slow and steady cooking to retain the flavour of whatever’s cooking, and that is not to doubt his efficiency level, as he runs the bustling kitchens of the hugely popular in-house all-day dining restaurant Okra as well as the Indian (earlier exclusively Hyderabadi) speciality restaurant Bidri at the hotel.
Yogender hails from the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh and so if you are invited to a Himalayan Popup food promotion which he is curating, along with creative hobby chef Sherry Malhotra, who also happens to be Miss Simla (2005) , you would obviously expect something completely out of the ordinary!
And so when a couple of us reached Bidri in the afternoon, we were handed out the chef caps and aprons and soon got down to re-creating a recipe Chana Madra, a Himachali recipe which was chickpeas cooked in a light yoghurt gravy, along with lotus seeds (makhana) and coconut slices. The recipe uses whisked yoghurt, whole garam masala (green cardamom or choti elaichi, cinnamon and cloves) as well as ground elaichi powder, red chilli powder, a pinch of turmeric, jeera powder, salt to taste and a bit of sugar too.
Mentored by the lovely Ms Sherry, we learnt that she was a Miss Simla (2005) who is fond of cooking Himachali cuisine even though she is a Punjabi living in Mumbai, and now runs a catering business.
Himachali cuisine is light, healthy and flavorful and “makes wide use of yoghurt, saunf, garam masala, hing, mustard oil, ghee, black lentils, besan, fenugreek and tomatoes, which are grown locally,” shares Chef Pal. Mutton is more common than chicken and since fish is not available in abundance, its expensive and made only on special occasions.”
We then sat down to a typical lunch representing different regions of Himachal Pradesh, such as “Kasauli, Shimla, Kangra, Mandi from which the dish Channa Madra comes from,” according to chef.
Our lunch menu included the following:
- Dahi Ki Chaap (lamb chops braised in buttermilk with fennel seed)
- Macchi Fry
- Methi aur Saunf ki Murgh Chaap
- Chaa Gosht (lamb braised in a yoghurt besan gravy)
- Methi Macchi (fish cooked with fresh fenugreek and tomatoes)
- Channa Madra
- Nashpati ki Subzi
- Sepu Wadi
- Maash Daal
- Kaale Channe ki Maani
- Tudkiya Bhaath
- Babru (puris made of fermented wholewheat atta and filled with urad dal masala
- Meetha Bhaath (sweetened basmati rice with saffron)
- Khus Khus aur Makhaane ki Kheer
The spread looked roughly like this:
The notable standouts, besides the earlier-mentioned Channa Madra, were the delightfully crunchy and fresh Nashpati (pears) Ki Subzi, Methi Macchi, Sepu Wadi (urad dal fritters cooked in a spinach base), Kaale Channe ki Maani (blackpeas cooked with tamarind gravy and with onion spinach fritters). Tudkiya (tadka in Pahari) Bhaat was also spectacularly soft vegetable pulao rendered that smoothness thanks to yoghurt simmered with the ‘tadka’ and veggies.
In fact, the vegetarian dishes were more evolved on the taste quotient than the notable non vegetarian dishes like Chaa Gosht, which reminded me a lot of the Kashmiri Tabak Maaz. Methi Macchi, seer fish cooked with fenugreek and tomato.
For desserts, the Khus Khus (poppy seed) aur Makhaane ki kheer was just the perfect ending to a hugely memorable meal.
This was surely an extraordinary meal, because most of the dishes were not just new for us, but also represented a completely unique regional cuisine, not lost in the usual clutter (read dal makhni, butter chicken, “Kashmiri” dum aloo, which is anything but Kashmiri, actually and the like!) of which passes off as Indian cuisine these days!
(Himalayan Pop Up is running at Bidri, Marriott Hyderabad for dinner until 27th of February)..