• Mona Shah

Bay Area Indian Chef Shares His Signature Recipes

For centuries Indian cuisine was synonymous internationally with spices and hot curries, but now we have several Michelin rated South Asian chefs that are changing the way Indian cuisine is perceived, elevating traditional flavor profiles with their signature twists.


The San Francisco Bay Area culinary scene is known for being as diverse as the city itself, with a sudden profusion of high end Indian restaurants and celebrity chefs that want to show diners that beyond Butter Chicken and Paneer Makhani, there is a whole universe of Indian food that is seasonal, plant-based, light in flavor.


With Aurum Chef Manish Tyagi
With Aurum Chef Manish Tyagi

On a recent lunch with Chef Manish Tyagi, owner/chef of Aurum in Los Altos, we got to talking about his journey as a chef and his signature dish-- Spinach and Paneer Lasagna, the famous dish that beat Bobby Flay. He’s been executive chef at some very high end Indian restaurant’s--Rasika West End, the Obama’s loved dining here; Amber Dhara and August (1) Five in San Francisco that essentially broke many culinary shackles and modernized Indian food with a focus on home-cooked food rather than “Indian restaurant food.” August (1) Five was designed not to use traditional Indian recipes, but Aurum is more bistro style, the food a bit more robust.



I playfully asked him if he would share some of his recipes with our readers and he immediately agreed. A lot of what he creates surprises the palette and that is key. He has some basic advice, don’t overcook your food and don’t douse the dish with sauce. The components should come together, but still be separate, so that the person eating it can experience and relish the dish as they see fit. So, meat covered with cream and butter and over spiced is a big no-no!


Whether you are a novice cook or looking to level up behind the stove, indulge in some feel-good home cooking with Chef Tyagi’s signature dishes.


PULLED PORK THEPLA TACO

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos, CA)


Pulled pork thepla taco is a California name for an Indian-style cooked pork and thepla. Flatbreads are an integral part of the Indian dining scene, so I took an opportunity to take bread from one region and the protein preparation from another region of India and added my own style and experience to make it appealing here in California. It's a flavor bomb and full of umami. It gets pungency from fenugreek leaves, sourness from malt vinegar and pickled onion, sweetness from jaggery, creaminess from sour cream and soft pork butt, and savoriness from degi chili, cumin powder, and coriander powder.



INGREDIENTS


Pork ingredients:

● One 5- to 6-pound bone-in pork butt (sometimes called Boston butt)

● 4 teaspoons salt

● 1 tablespoon degi chili

● 1 tablespoon ground cumin

● 4 tablespoon ginger and garlic paste

● 1 tablespoon dry mustard

● 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, packed

● 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


Barbeque sauce ingredients:

● 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup

● 3/4 cup cider vinegar

● 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

● 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard

● 2 garlic cloves, minced

● 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

● 3/4 cup water, for deglazing the roasting pan


Thepla ingredients:

● 1 cup fenugreek leaves (methi), tightly packed

● 1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour

● ¼ cup (40 grams) gram flour (besan)

● ¼ cup (40 grams) pearl millet flour (bajra flour)

● ¼ cup (40 grams) sorghum flour (jowar flour)

● 1 inch ginger, crushed to a paste

● ½ to 1 teaspoon chopped green chillies or serrano pepper, crushed to a paste

● ½ teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne pepper

● ½ teaspoon turmeric powder

● ½ teaspoon cumin powder

● ½ teaspoon coriander powder

● ¾ teaspoon salt or add as required

● 1 tablespoon oil

● 4 to 5 tablespoons yogurt, curd or water for kneading or add as required

● Oil as required for roasting thepla


Serving ingredients:

● 1 cup cotija or queso fresco

● 1 cup sour cream (optional)


INSTRUCTIONS


For the pork

  1. Preheat the oven to 300°F and set an oven rack in the lower-middle position.

  2. Pat the pork dry with paper towels.

  3. Mix the salt, paprika, cumin, ginger and garlic paste, dry mustard, brown sugar, and pepper in a small bowl. Place the pork in a roasting pan. Rub the spice blend all over the pork, turning to coat evenly (don't leave any of the spice blend in the bottom of the pan; keep turning the meat until it all adheres).

  4. Roast, uncovered, for 6 to 6-1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the pork registers 195°F.

  5. While the pork roasts, make the barbecue sauce. Combine the ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, garlic, and cayenne pepper in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer gently, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about ten minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit until the pork is done.

  6. When the pork is done, take it out of the oven and set it on a cutting board or platter; tent with aluminum foil and let rest for about 10 minutes.

  7. Pour off and discard the fat from the roasting pan (remember the handles are hot). Add 3/4 cup water to the roasting pan and set it over a single burner on medium heat; scrape with a wooden spoon to release all the brown bits. Cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the liquid is reduced by about half. (The liquid will be very dark; that's okay.) Pour into the saucepan with the barbecue sauce and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.

  8. While the pork is still warm, use two forks to pull the meat away from the bone into large shreds. Remove and discard any large pieces of fat or sinew. Put the shredded pork in a large bowl or dish and pour about two-thirds of the barbecue sauce over it. Toss so that the pork is evenly coated with the sauce. Taste and add more sauce, little by little, if desired.


For the thepla

  1. Rinse methi leaves very well in water. Then drain them and chop finely.

  2. Add the flours to a mixing bowl. I use millet flours, but if they’re not available, use 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour and ½ cup besan.

  3. Add all the spices and herbs.

  4. Add the chopped methi leaves. Mix everything well.

  5. Add yogurt or curd (for a vegan option, add very little water instead).

  6. Mix again and knead into a dough. Don't add water while kneading as methi leaves release water.

  7. Knead to a soft and smooth dough. If needed, add more curd while kneading.

  8. Make medium sized balls from the dough. Sprinkle some flour on it.

  9. With a rolling pin, roll the thepla to rounds of 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

Cooking thepla

  1. Place the thepla on a hot tawa or skillet. Flip when one side is partly cooked (about one-fourth or half cooked). You will see some faint air pockets on the top, and this is the time when you need to flip it.

  2. Spread oil on this side. Flip the thepla again when the second side is half-cooked.

  3. Now spread the oil on this side. Flip a couple of times till you get golden spots and the methi thepla is cooked evenly. You can also press the thepla with a spatula while cooking.

  4. Remove and keep in a roti basket.


ASSEMBLY

When ready to serve, apply a spoonful of sour cream (if using) to the thepla, then add pulled pork and top it with cheese. Serve immediately.



CAULIFLOWER BEZULE

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos, CA)

Cauliflower Bezule is my adaptation of the South Indian-style Kori Kempu.


Cauliflower Bezule
Cauliflower Bezule

Serves 2


INGREDIENTS


For batter:

  • 10-12 cauliflower florets

  • 4 tbsp rice flour

  • 2 tbsp gram flour

  • 2 tbsp cornstarch

  • 1 tsp turmeric

  • 8-10 leaves fresh curry leaves, chopped

  • 1 tsp degi chili powder

  • Salt to taste


For tamarind chutney:

  • 1 cup Tamarind pulp

  • 4 tbsp Jaggery / sugar

  • 1 tsp Coriander powder

  • 1 tsp dry ginger powder

  • 1/2 tsp black salt / regular salt

  • 1/2 tsp fennel powder (optional)

  • 1 tsp Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder

  • 1 cup water


For tempering:

  • 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil

  • 1 pinch nigella seeds

  • 1 pinch fennel seeds

  • 1 pinch mustard seeds

  • 1 pinch cumin seeds

  • 1 thai chili, slit

  • 3-4 curry leaves

INSTRUCTIONS

For tamarind chutney:

Heat a heavy bottom pan, add tamarind pulp and wait for boil. Once boiling, add sugar and other ingredients and mix them well, lower the heat and allow it to cook until thick chutney or coating consistency. Once cooked, set aside to cool.


For batter:

Make a pouring consistency batter with water (not too thick) and mix well with cauliflower. Fry battered cauliflower until half done. Fry again when ready to serve.


For tempering:

Heat oil in a frying pan. When oil is hot, add all the spice seeds and allow them to splatter. Add green chili and curry leaves and sauté for a bit. Add crispy cauliflower and add 1-2 tbsp of tamarind gel and sauté nicely so that tamarind gel get coated evenly on cauliflower. Serve with tomato ketchup or ranch.


SOY, TOFU AND MOZZARELLA KOFTA

Courtesy of Manish Tyagi, Executive Chef, Aurum (Los Altos, CA)

This kofta is imitation of a Scotch egg.

INGREDIENTS

Kofta ingredients:


Part 1

  • 1 cup soy nuggets

  • 1 large boiled russet potato

  • 1 tbsp oil

  • ½ tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp chopped ginger

  • ½ tsp chopped serrano chili

  • Salt to taste

Part 2

  • 1 cup extra firm tofu

  • ¼ tsp garlic powder

  • ¼ tsp onion powder

  • 1 tsp cornstarch

  • Salt to taste

Part 3

  • 4 tbsp shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1 -2 drop yellow food coloring

2 tbsp cornstarch to coat the koftas


For sauce (gravy)

  • 2 tbsp ghee or oil

  • 1 tbsp cashews

  • ½ tsp cumin

  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste

  • ½ tsp degi chili powder

  • ½ teaspoon cumin powder

  • ½ tsp fenugreek powder

  • ½ tsp garam masala powder

  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder

  • Salt to taste

  • 3 medium sized tomato

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 tbsp butter

  • 2 tbsp cream

For garnish

  • 3-4 each soy nuggets

  • 1 tbsp sugar

  • 1 tbsp vinegar

  • 1 tsp salt

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 small red beet

  • 2 each green cardamom


INSTRUCTIONS

Making Kofta – Part 1:

  • Soak soy nuggets in water for a good 1-2 hours to make them soft and spongy. Meanwhile boil the potato, or, if you have boiled potatoes, then grate them and set aside.

  • When soy are soft, tightly squeeze out all the water and grind them to make a fine and soft crumble. Add potato to the crumble.

  • Heat a frying pan over add oil and when it’s hot add cumin and allow them to crackle. Add ginger and green chili and saute them for a minute and add them to soy potato mix. Season with salt and set aside.


Making Kofta – Part 2

  • Mix the tofu, garlic powder, onion powder, cornstarch and salt. Make into stiff dough consistency.


Making Kofta – Part 3

  • Add yellow food coloring to the cheese to make it look like yolk and make four equal size balls.

ASSEMBLY

ASSEMBLING OF KOFTA

Coat tofu mix over cheese balls to give it a shape like egg and put in a chiller to make them firm. Then cover with soy-potato mixture to give it a feel of ground meat and coat it evenly with cornstarch. Fry on medium heat till the upper crust becomes crisp.


FOR SAUCE

  • Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pan, add cashew and saute. Now add cumins and allow them to crackle.

  • Add ginger garlic paste and saute for a minute. Add all the powdered spices and cook for another minute. Add tomato and salt and cook till nicely cooked.

  • Let it cool and make fine puree by adding water. Now pour it in a pot and cook it again, set seasoning.

  • Finish the sauce with butter and cream.


FOR GARNISH

  • Heat water in a pan with cardamom until it boils. Add sugar and remove from the flame. Add roughly chopped beet, vinegar and soy nuggets and leave it for some time so soy nuggets take the pickle flavor and color from beet.

  • When soy nuggets are ready, cut them into half or in desired shape.

ASSEMBLY

Pour the sauce in a pasta bowl and place one whole kofta and break another one into half with a knife so that mozzarella cheese oozes out. Arrange pickled soy pieces decoratively on the plate.

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