The first taste is always with the eyes, thus the art of creating a visually appealing “picture” on a plate has always appealed to the diner in me. My mom was a master at food presentation, reintroducing flavors that worked well together, and presenting them in her unique style. She had just the right servers for whatever she cooked, be it watermelon studded bowls for her iced watermelon to custom indented plates to serve her famous vada pav sliders with fried mirchies.
However, when I was growing up in the ’80s, restaurant food in Mumbai, though very tasty, did not put much stock on innovative plating. All that changed a few years ago when “cool” new restaurants opened in the then industrial Lower Parel area of Mumbai. We all enthusiastically made the trek to SpiceKlub Mumbai, one of the first to experiment with molecular gastronomy– using food science to bring flavor, texture, taste, and aroma to recipes.
So, when they opened SpiceKlub USA in the Bay Area (where I live), my son and I were ecstatic! It bought back fond memories of our food forages with my late mom and we were enthusiastic to try it. Needless to say, they did not disappoint. I met with the owners, civil engineers Ruta Jariwala and Nayan Amin, and we hit it off instantly. This is their second business, a tangent for sure, and Ruta’s passion project. What impressed me is that, like me, she too ate at SpickeKlub Mumbai and loved the inventiveness of their head chef.
If you have eaten there or seen pictures on social media, you know that their food and drinks have the “wow” factor. Go-to junk and street foods, mocktails, and Indian paans/mithais are served and plated as performance art. Dishes arrive in miniature table-top coal tandoors, glass bowls with hollow chambers that hold liquid nitrogen, test tubes, syringes, and all sorts of cool servers.
Their recipes, Ruta said, are proprietary, and she was reluctant to share them. But after a lot of nudging, I convinced her to have their head chef share a couple of recipes for home chefs to re-create in their kitchen. With the upcoming holidays, what better time than to impress friends and family using culinary foams, cocktail smokers, and dry ice for drama, without losing any of the flavors.
HAZARI PANEER TIKKA
Paneer marinated with green chutney and wrapped in hazari masala
½ cup Greek yogurt or thick yogurt
1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste
2 tablespoons mustard oil
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon chat masala
3/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon green chilli paste
1 teaspoon thick spinach puree
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1 lemon juice of
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped mint
150 grams paneer cut into big cubes, around 2 heaping cups of cubed paneer
1 large onion finely chopped
1 large bell pepper cut into 1-inch cubes, I used a mix of red and green peppers
Whisk the yogurt in a large bowl until smooth. used Greek yogurt here, you can use regular yogurt just make sure to strain it for several hours until you have thick yogurt left and then use in the recipe.
Add all the ingredients for the marinade to the yogurt- ginger garlic paste, mustard oil, coriander powder, chat masala, garam masala, spinach puree, green chili paste, and salt.
Whisk to combine everything together. Add in juice of 1 lemon along with chopped cilantro and mint. Mix well.
Stir in the paneer cubes and bell peppers.
Mix until all the paneer pieces and veggies are well coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for minimum for 1 hour or up to 4 hours. Overnight also works!
After 1-2 hours, take the marinated paneer and veggies out of the refrigerator. Take a skewer and arrange paneer, onion and peppers on a skewer, alternating with each other.
Make all skewers similarly. Coat paneer with chopped onion Meanwhile heat clay oven or (regular oven) to 896F (480C) degrees.
Arrange all the prepared skewers on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the tikka with a oil spray. This is important so that the veggies don’t dry out.
Cook at 896 F degrees for 10 minutes and Broil for 2 to 3 minutes until paneer pieces look little charred.
Remove from clay oven, sprinkle chat masala and serve.
PAV BHAJI FONDUE
You can make your own Pav, or use store-bought French bread or Sourdough.
Pav Bhaji Ingredients:
2/3 cup Onions, finely chopped + more for garnish
2 tsp Ginger-Garlic Paste
2 Green Chilli, finely chopped (optional)
1/3 cup Green Bell Pepper, finely chopped
3 medium Tomatoes
2 medium Potatoes, boiled & mashed
1 cup Assorted Vegetables, chopped, boiled and slightly mashed (peas, carrots, cauliflower )
3/4 tsp Kashmiri red chilli
1/4 tsp Turmeric Powder
2 Tbs Pav Bhaji Masala or to taste (use Everest Pav Bhaji Masala)
1- 1.5 cups Water or as required
Salt to taste
1.5- 2 Tbs Butter
1 cup Dairy fresh cream
Any aerator or cream whipper
To Garnish – Chopped onions, Cilantro leaves (chopped)
For Proofing Yeast:
3/4 Cup milk
1 tbsp Sugar
1.5 tsp Active Dry Yeast
2 Cups All Purpose flour
3/4 tsp Salt
1 tbsp Milk Powder
Proofed Yeast Liquid
2 tbsp Butter or Oil
Extra flour for kneading the dough
Extra Butter and flour for greasing and dusting the pan
Milk and butter for brushing pavs
Instructions for pav bhaji fondue
In a pan/skillet, melt/heat 1.5 – 2 tbs of butter and add chopped onion. Fry the onions until translucent and add ginger garlic paste. Cook the paste until the raw smell disappears. Keep stirring to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn. Add a tablespoon of water if required.
Add chopped green chillies and sauté for 15-20 seconds. Add chopped green bell pepper and fry for a minute or two. Add the spice powders turmeric, Kashmiri red chili powder, and Pav bhaji masala. Mix the spice powders well and roast for about 30 seconds.
Add tomato purée and cook until tomatoes are fully cooked. To this add boiled and mashed potatoes and veggies. Season with salt and mix well to form a homogenous mixture.
Add water to the above mixture and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 mins. Gently mash the veggies in the pan itself and add more water, if required, to achieve the desired consistency.
Add dollops of butter, to make it sinful and turn off the heat. Mix well!
Allow mixture to cool, and Blend in mixer to paste.
Transfer the mixture into pan, add fresh cream mix well, let simmer for 1 minute
Pour the mixture into a cream whipper. Do not fill above the maximum fill line
Charge the cream whipper with 1 charger. Shake vertically 16 to 20 times .dispense into fondue pot and gratinate with cheese and garnish with chopped onion & cilantro
Instructions for pav
Warm milk in a bowl, add sugar and then yeast. Mix well and keep in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes till it becomes frothy.
Preparing the dough:
In a bowl add flour and salt. Mix and make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture. Knead to a soft pliable dough adding the butter. Knead for at least 10 to 15 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a big bowl, cover, and keep aside in a warm place for about one hour.
The dough will rise and double in volume.
Knead for another 2-3 minutes adding a little flour, if it’s too sticky.
Divide dough to equal portions and make a round shape.
Grease a cake tin and place the dough balls close to each other.
Now cover the tin and keep aside for half an hour till they rise.
Brush pavs with milk.
Preheat your oven to 200°C and bake for 16 to 20 minutes or till done to get a brown color.
Remove and brush top of pav with butter.
Heat a tava on medium heat and toast pavs until crisp. Pavs are now ready to be served!
Khiciya papad with Cilantro Foam
How to create foam
Foam or espuma (the Spanish word for foam/froth) adds a wonderful textural nuance to your dish. Creating culinary foam is easier than it looks, and the appropriate equipment won’t require you to break the bank. There are two main implements used to make foam. One of them you may already have in the kitchen: the handheld immersion blender. It is perfect to whip up lighter foams. For denser foams invest in an espuma gun, a gas canister of N2O (Nitrous Oxide).
Add high drama to your drinks with a. cocktail smoker, a device for injecting smoke into drinks. Specifically, this device burns wood chips, which pipes smoke through to a glass box. This gives the drink inside a strong smoky flavor. The first iterations of this product were designed for pro mixologists. But a variety of no-frills cocktail smokers have recently launched on Amazon.