Aditya Bal has had an unconventional culinary journey of sorts. Food was in his blood as his family ran a hotel in Kashmir and he grew up watching his grandmother stir up delectable meals. His love affair with cooking remained in the backburner for years as he focused on his modelling and acting career.
But after a few years he headed to Goa to hone his culinary skills, and went on to host a culinary show, which led him from North to South India sampling the local cuisines. The Chakhle India Cookbook is the outcome of his travels and chronicles his memories of Kashmiri wazwans (wedding feasts), his stint at boarding school, and his belief that the “best education for a cook is to travel, eat, and experience different cuisines and cultures”.
Apart from a range of vegetarian and non-vegetarian recipes the book also lists the essentials of the Indian pantry including ingredients, oils and spices, essential cooking gear and cooking techniques such as braising, double boiling and basic recipes, which can be of great help to newcomers.
Excerpts from a quick five questions with the travel-happy chef:
What is your quick-fix ingredient when things go awry while cooking?
I don’t really have any one quick fix ingredient, but a combination of flavour balancing ingredients including salt, sugar and lime juice can be used to correct dishes that have gone off course, at times.
According to you, what is the most underrated vegetable?
I think aubergines are fairly underrated.
What was the most challenging recipe that you cooked on the road?
I recall having baked a large red snapper wrapped in banana leaves in coastal Karnataka. We cooked it on smouldering coconut leaves and husk, and it started to rain as well. It was very challenging but good fun, in the end.
Can you share a few funny anecdotes/incidents that occurred during your cooking road trips?
From being physically assaulted to driving for hours only to find that we have been going in the wrong direction, we been through everything. Once, we had a driver who had a habit of falling asleep at the wheel, so some of us had to drive the unit long distance even though we were tired as well.
What would be three cool tips for budding chefs?
Focus on the fundamentals of cookery. Understand flavours well before experimenting with classics. Keep it casual and friendly when cooking live demos. Focus on quality rather than quantity.
Aditya Bal’s favourites from the kitchen
Malabari Prawn Curry >>>
Ingredients: 750 gms large prawns
The Marinade: 1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp refined oil
The Curry Base:
3 tsp refined or coconut oil
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
2-3 green chillies, slit
A few curry leaves
4-5 shallots, julienned
Ginger, sliced thin
4-5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp turmeric, coriander powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/5 cup fresh coconut
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup thick coconut
Juice of 1/2 a lime
2 tsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
> Peel the prawns and take off the heads. Leave the tails intact. Make a shallow cut down the spine of the prawns and remove the veins and discard them. Wash the prawns under cold running water and drain thoroughly.
> The Marinade: Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add the prawns, rub the marinade into them, making sure that all of them are evenly coated in the simple marinade. Cover and put into the refrigerator.
> The Curry: To make the base, heat a medium-sized pan and add the oil. Once the oil is hot and nutty in its aroma, add the mustard seeds and saute them on medium heat, till they crackle. Add the green chillies, curry leaves, shallots, ginger and garlic. Saute them on medium heat for a few minutes, till they are soft, fragrant and slightly coloured. Sprinkle in the spice powders and salt and saute the spices or a few minutes, till well toasted and intensely aromatic. Add a few drops of water and bhuno the spices and aromatics a few times on high heat, till the masala is homogenous and the oil has risen to the surface.
Once the masala is a rich yellow-green in colour and fully cooked, turn the heat down to low and add the coconut milk to the pan. Stir the coconut milk and spice base and bring to a gentle boil to amalgamate the flavours. Turn the heat down further and simmer the delicate, golden-coloured curry, till it is reduced by a quarter, is semi-thick in consistency and a little oil has risen to the surface. Now add the cherry tomatoes and simmer them in the coconut milk gravy for 6-8 minutes or till they have softened a little and released some of their sweetness into the gravy.
Stir everything together a few times and then add the prawns and coconut cream to the simmering gravy. Gently stir the prawns around and poach them in the delicate curry, till they are perfectly cooked through and succulent. The prawns are ready to eat when they curl up fully and are firm to the touch. Now, add the lime juice to the pan and stir through, then sprinkle the coriander leaves and turn off the heat.
Check for a balance of flavours: the prawns should be thoroughly cooked, moist from within, tender and beautifully flavoured with the delicate coconut and spice-based gravy. The lovely, bright yellow curry should be creamy, with the rich coconut sweetness and the delicate spices coming through perfectly on the finish. The cherry tomatoes and coriander leaves should provide a distinct flourish and an amazing contrast of colours as well. Serve with steamed or lemon rice.
Aamras Ki Kadhi >>>
Ingredients: 1 large cup aamras or Pulpy, ripe mango puree
1 cup raw, green
1.5 cup curd whisked
With 1.5 cup water
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp mild red chilli powder
1 tsp salt
The Kadhi Base:
2 tsp refined oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
A pinch of asafoetida powder
3 green chillies, split
3 tbsp boondi or
Gram fl our drops
1 tsp refined oil
1/4 Ginger, julienned
2 dried red Kashmiri chillies
Broken or cut fine
2 tsp fresh coriander leaves
1 tbsp boondi
Put the ripe and green mango purees in a large bowl, along with the diluted curd and spice powders. Mix them together really well, till fully blended. Set aside. Heat the oil for the kadhi in a wok or kadhai and add the whole spices, curry leaves, asafoetida powder and green chillies. Saute on medium heat, till they crackle and are intensely aromatic. Turn the heat down and then add the mango and curd mixture to the pan, stirring continuously to prevent the curd from splitting. Sprinkle in the salt.
Cook the kadhi on low heat for about 15 minutes, adding a little more diluted curd if the mixture becomes too thick, owing to the raw mango puree. Add the boondi and mix them in well. The boondi will absorb the kadhi and become soft, while the starch in the boondi will thicken the kadhi slightly. Simmer the kadhi, stirring it gently, till it’s thin and perfectly cooked. Once the kadhi is cooked, the oil rises to the surface and the aroma of raw spices disappears, turn off the heat and put the kadhi into a serving bowl.
Heat the oil for the tempering in a small frying pan and add the tempering ingredients. Fry them in the hot oil, till crisped and fragrant. Pour the tempering over the kadhi. Check for a balance of flavours: the kadhi should be creamy and mango-flavoured, with the slight sourness of the curd and raw mango coming through and just a delicate hint of the whole spices. The first tempering should give it a lift of flavour and provide a great textural and visual contrast to the lemony yellow of the aamras kadhi. Serve with
Extracted with permission from The Chakhle India Cookbook