When modern meets classics
From Kerala mushroom puff tarts to chicken tikka parmigiana, comfort food with tasty twist - which we think is perfect for lockdown - from chef Amit Puri
Chef Amit Puri,40, has been meaning to write a cookbook for 20 years. After graduating from culinary school in 2000, he collaborated with a colleague, curated the recipes and was ready with a skeletal draft. "But it never materialised," he remembers. In retrospect, he is grateful. The intervening years have led to a wealth of experiences, including exposure to new cuisines and improved writing skills.
His debut cookbook, Redefining Comfort Food with Amit Puri, published by WritePlace, is a tribute to the journey. With over 100 recipes, it's a relatively thick book, where a sumptuous koyla paneer makhani rubs shoulders with flavourful Iranian chelo kebab. The dishes are his take on culinary classics discovered when he was a restaurant consultant and menu developer. "My work has taken me around the world, so I have tried to incorporate recipes from different cultures and cuisines that have inspired me," he says. The Indian recipes outnumber the European ones. A purist may not easily take to a misal pav fattoush, or a piquant pepper rasam with Chinese-style lamb momos, but for Puri it's all about great combinations. The agenda, he says, is simple: introduce flavours that will excite the Indian palate.
Vegetables on uttapam pancakes
"A regular hummus does not have spice, but I have whipped up a curried version with cinnamon, cumin and paprika. It's something our desi tastebuds would relish," he says. His reason for labelling the innovations comfort food is because these recipes are his way of summoning his past. "When I go for a restaurant opening outside of Mumbai, I make it a point to sample the local cuisine. Last year, in Kolkata, I tried the jhal muri, a popular street snack. I must have tried at least 20 different versions in the week I was there, and no two were alike. Some added groundnut chikki, while others peppered it with pomegranate and oranges. Jhal muri instantly hit home because it was like our local bhel, and yet not."
Despite his devotion to cookbooks, he admits to not always following the recipes to the tee. The 70 cookbooks in his Goregaon home are filled with footnotes and scribbles in the margins. Although recipe demos have now moved online, Puri thinks there will always be an audience for cookbooks. "I'm old-school in that sense. I'd say cookbooks are a nod to simpler times and poignant moments."
Sukha chicken bread pakoda
For the chicken filling
3 to 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 sprigs of curry leaf
2 tablespoons ginger garlic paste
2 green chillies, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
¼ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon red chilli powder
2 teaspoons cumin powder
3 teaspoons coriander powder
1 tablespoon garam masala powder
½ kg chicken breast boneless, cut into chunks
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
Handful of chopped fresh coriander for garnish
1 cup gram flour
¼ cup rice flour
A pinch of asafoetida
½ teaspoon red chilli powder
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
½ teaspoon carom seeds
½ teaspoon salt
Water to make the batter
4 slices of cheese
8 bread slices
Oil to fry
To make the chicken filling, heat oil in pan, add mustard seeds and cook until they splutter. Add curry leaves and give it a stir. Add ginger-garlic paste and chillies, sauté. Add the onions and cook until brown. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook until the tomatoes get mushy. Now add the dry masalas and mix well. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken and sauté for a few minutes. Add a little water and cook covered on a medium heat until the chicken is tender. Once the chicken is cooked, shred it using two forks and put it back in the masala. Take the lid off and allow the filling to dry on a high flame, stir continuously. Once done, spread the filling out on a large plate and allow to cool. To make the batter, whisk all the dry ingredients in a bowl and gradually add water. The batter should be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. To assemble, take four bread slices and spread mint chutney. Place 3-4 tablespoons of the chicken mixture and a slice of cheese on each. Cover it with the other bread slice and press the sandwich. Dip the sandwich in the batter and fry the bread pakodas in hot oil until crisp and evenly brown. Get them out onto a plate lined with oil absorbent paper and cut the bread into two. Serve them hot with green chutney and ketchup.
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