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Posted at: Apr 20, 2019, 12:35 AM; last updated: Apr 20, 2019, 12:35 AM (IST)

Recreating forgotten tastes

Lost recipes and heritage food are making a slow but sure comeback, courtesy food experts, authors and chefs who are making a conscious effort to revive foods of yore

Bindu Gopal Rao

April 18, World Heritage Day, passed by without making much noise. But, of late, a lot of noise has been made about lost recipes and heritage food. Thanks to food experts and authors, serious efforts are going into preserving it.

Caught in the tide of time

Many of our recipes have been lost for lack of documentation. Ummi Abdulla, an expert in Mappila cuisine, took up the challenge and came out with a book titled A Kitchen Full of Stories. Conceptualised by Nazaneen Jalaludheen, her granddaughter, it has been brought out as a limited edition coffee table book. “Not much is known about how kitchens operated in the earlier times. But when my grandmother started telling me stories around the kitchen, they brought to my mind vivid images about how a regular day in a household must have been like quite unlike what it is today. I thought stories were a great way to document heritage recipes and beliefs around food and food types,” says Nazaneen.

In the hope of creating a reference book for the future, Kasiviswanathan M, director, Food & Beverage, Radisson Blu Atria Bengaluru, is working on Chettinad cuisine. He says he wants to ensure that the next generation is aware of the food and equipment used by the community. “Many recipes differ from family to family and I am trying to document what I have learnt from my grandmother and mother.”

Back to roots

Food forms a big part of any culture and plays a major role in defining one. Sujit Chakraborty, executive chef at Novotel Guwahati, says, “In the modern age of fast food, one-pot and frozen meals, traditional cooking methods have lost their charm. All our focus is on presentation.”

There is special thrust on reviving cooking method because of the quality the process lends to the food. “One of the recipes that we have documented in detail is the panchara paata (sugared honeycomb). It requires a lot of time and technique and was usually prepared during weddings. Many, including my grandmother, believed that complete secrecy when preparing the dish was key to the success of the dish,” says Nazaneen.

Chef Regi Mathew, mentor/ partner Kappa Chakka Kandhari, a Chennai-based gourmet restaurant, says it is imperative to save the heritage because of the pace at which it is fading. “I have recreated the recipes which we used to have it in our childhood.” Among the recipes he has revived are pazham kanji (overnight soaked rice porridge, which is regarded as the healthiest meal), Asthram (tempered yogurt curry with arbi) and paani (a syrup made from toddy sap of palm trees).” 

Unheard of dishes are making their way to the Indian plate. Are you game to taste?

TV tales

Television shows like Lost Recipes on Epic are doing their bit. “We are doing two recipes from North Karnataka, one is an extremely ancient Indian sweet and I think people are going to find it very interesting. The one is a very old egg dish that we cooked with one of the leading families of that region. We have done a tribal recipe from Seemandhra and also a coastal Andhra recipe that is totally spectacular. We are going to show some unheard of recipes from the city of Puri,” says host Aditya Bal.

Anglo-Indian heritage

Cookery book author and food consultant Bridget Kumar has published six recipe books exclusively on Anglo-Indian cuisine. She says the cuisine was perhaps one of the first examples of fusion food in India. Well, certainly, with names like Railway Lamb or Mutton Curry, The Dak Bungalow Curry, Grandma’s Country Captain Chicken, Colonel Standhurst’s Beef Curry, Veal Country Captain, Bengal Lancer’s Shrimp Curry, Fish and Boiled Egg Kedgeree, Double Onions Meat Curry (Do Piaza), Meat Glazzie/Glassey (fruity meat curry), Mulligatawny Soup or Meat Jalfrezi... “Sadly, many of these old colonial dishes are not cooked in Anglo-Indian homes these days. However, I have been bringing out these old recipes in my books. I also conduct workshops and training sessions for anyone interested in the forgotten recipes,” says Kumar.

Lau Chingri Ghonto

Ingredients 

  • Lau or bottle gourd (whole, about 750 gm to 1 kg)
  • 1 cup Prawns (shelled and deveined)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp panch phoron
  • 1 tsp jeera powder
  • 1 tsp dhania powder
  • ½ tsp freshly crushed black peppercorn or kali mirch
  • ½ tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tbsp desi ghee
  • 1 tbsp cooking oil
Method

  • Scrap the skin and cut the lau into diamonds. Cut length wise six times and then slice horizontally. Wash and dry; sprinkle with a little turmeric and salt.
  • Heat oil in a pan. When the oil smokes, add the panch phoron and bay leaf, immediately add the lau, not allowing the panch phoron to get charred.
  • Fold well and cook the lau for 4-5 minutes, allow the water to be released.
  • Now make a paste of jeera, dhania, kali mirch, laal mirch and haldi powder by mixing them with a little water. Add this paste to the lau and fold well. Add sugar also. Now mix these well with the lau and sprinkle a little water, if required.
  • Cover and cook on medium heat till the lau is tender.
  • Now add the prawns and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle little water if required and fold well.
  • Add desi ghee and mix well. 
  • Serve hot with steamed rice.
Courtesy Sujit Chakraborty, executive chef, Novotel, Guwahati

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