CHEF JP CELEBRATES DIWALI
With a vast variety of friends, fellow chefs and colleagues, we certainly have plenty of opportunities to celebrate life.
I try to do that every day but, hey, we all know the value of special occasions. We also know what works best. Whether you are celebrating religious events, birthdays or national holidays, the gathering of friends over a wonderful meal is what makes the world go round.
Poor dietary habits, lifestyle changes and bad eating habits are the things that we need to address in our crazy world. Fasting, too, is not such a bad ideology as it gives our bodies a break from all the mundane eating processes. But, letting one’s hair down for a feast is just as important – as long as you don’t destroy the novelty by making it an everyday occurrence.
For those of you who are not in the know, Diwali or Deepavali, will be celebrated next week from Monday, October 24. The celebration follows the entire Hindu lunar solar month but actually begins on Saturday 22nd and continues until Wednesday the 26th.
Also known as the Festival of Lights, it is a major celebration in the Hindu faith with the name coming from the row of clay lamps that are traditionally lit outside homes at this special time.
Whether we are part of this faith or not, Diwali is certainly a special time to celebrate the symbolic victory of good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. In effect, the victory of Krishna over Narakasura is the ultimate symbol of hope and is so well encapsulated in the contrast between fast food and slow food, between the stresses of everyday life and taking time out to spend with special friends and family.
That’s why this blog is dedicated to my Hindu friends so that we can feast and celebrate the light, not found in fast food meals, tinned food and unhealthy modern snacks with enough sodium and MSG to embalm a pharaoh!
During the traditional four days of fasting, prior to the festivities, having water, apple cider, and some good nuts, you will be craving the feast that I have prepared – five dishes for five days.
As a health-conscious chef, I support the few days of abstinence, but now is the time unleash that wonderful, slow food…
VANESSA’S RED LENTIL DAHL
This dish has been inspired by my dear friend Vanessa.
It is a classic traditional dish and a true celebration to showcase the richness in Indian cuisine. By that, I mean not just the lingering taste bud sensation, but the colourful spices that make this simplistic dish one of my favourites. It is a one pot dish and it takes just 15 minutes until it is plated and ready to enjoy with your family and friends.
Cook your 250 grams of red lentils for 10- 12 minutes, until they go fluffy and change colour to yellow. This is because of the high potency, natural turmeric content.
In a medium saucepan, heat a dollop of grapeseed oil and add 1 Tablespoon of crushed garlic and some root ginger (that we are going to remove later). Tempering your dry spice box makes the aromatics burst out. So, set this aside and repeat this method with your cumin and a cinnamon stick and two strains of saffron. Sweat your diced onion and add you fresh chopped tomatoes into the mix. Combine everything from all pans and stir together. Take out your root ginger and cinnamon stick.
Heat your stained lentils and fold in the mixture. Add a splash of lemon juice and plate up with some garlic naan and fresh cilantro for an easy, healthy and colourful dish.
Because it is summer and we have the luxury of experiencing the great outdoors at this time of the year, we are making another other classic Indian dish al fresco.
Cooking over an open fire puts a whole new spin on Diwali as a festival of lights. This time round, we are celebrating the victory of light over Eskom rolling blackouts and showing that, even during the darkest of times. cooking outdoors can be a shining light – not to mention a way of adding an additional smoky flavour to any dish.
There are many variants when it comes to making a good marinade. I, for one, love a wet marinade that has been soaked through the poultry overnight. But, today, we doing a dry rub.
I still marinade my chicken with a bit of brine and buttermilk – can’t get rid of this one – but for my weekly twist, I’ve also used Tamarind chutney.
With the trusty Jeeves as my Indian mascot by my side, I got my fire ready and prepared to give my chicken its long awaited dry rub.
Chef’s note: you can use any moist part of the chicken – breast, thigh but not the wings in this case – to create your ‘mini espetadas’. This is not Portuguese chicken but, if you thread your chicken pieces on to a wooden skewer, they are easier to turn.
Using a dry masala spice, some coriander and ginger, rub the spices into the chicken.
Place the marinated chicken on to your fire. Turn the chicken every few minutes. After about 10minutes, you can add the corn cobs on to the fire as well. Keep buttering these up to avoid burning them.
When the chicken is ready – after about 15 minutes – serve it with your corn and ginger and plum marmalade. What a feast for the family …
For those of you that haven’t been to the town of Goa in India, it’s a shame. This state in western India with coastlines stretching for miles along the Arabian Sea is dotted with ancient fishing villages and 17th-century architecture. The most intrinsically interesting thing about it is the proverbial fairyland on the beach. Apart from the esoteric magic mushrooms, this beach resort on the west coast buzzes with flair and funky street food.
Although the falafel is a traditional Middle Eastern food that is not strictly Indian, they serve the falafel balls here on a deep mushroom broth.
The dish is made using a good veg stock with mushrooms, peas and baby carrots. When you cut open the chickpea crusty ball, the flavours just flow from it.
My story is that this is a really good soup with huge crotons…
Braise some sliced onion and some small carrots and let them simmer in a pan with some veg stock until they are soft. Add some salt and pepper, crushed garlic and your sliced mushrooms. You can also add a dash of flour to thicken the broth to your liking. After 10 minutes, you should have a golden brown, dripping broth.
TO MAKE THE FALAFELS, YOU NEED:
Not a tin, but the real deal, – dry chickpeas that you can soak in water.
Your herbs – I call it the 3 Cs – cumin, cardamom and Cajun pepper. Also add some salt and pepper.
Strain your real deal chickpeas and, in a mixing bowl, add an egg, some panko bread crumbs and a handful of cornflakes. Mix this together and then roll into ball shapes with your hand. Place them on some non-stick paper and let them rest in the fridge. Don’t forget to cover them with some cling wrap.
Heat up your pan to 170°C and then fry them until golden brown. They will pop to the surface. Strain the excess oil and plate them on your mushroom broth. You can cut them open to soak in the broth or just dip them. Trust me, this is an awesome street food dish.
SIDE DISHES – PANI PURI AND DEEP FRIED TEMPURA VEG
For me, there always has to be something on the side. My two favourites are deep fried tempura veg and some pani puri. Light in texture, they don’t require too much oil. Coat a shallow pan with a thin layer of canola oil. This oil has a high smoke ratio, so it cooks quicker.
You can purchase your pani puri petals at your local Indian delicatessen and just layer them in a thin layer of oil. They will pop up like popcorn – it’s such an interesting sight to see.
I steam my veggies for just two minutes so that they don’t go soggy. Then I dip them in a mixture of half soda water and half self-raising flour before delicately frying in the oil. This is not only healthy but a crunchy side.
KHEER INDIAN RICE PUDDING
Simplicity has always humbled me as a chef. Less is always more …but, if you add some love and passion into your cooking, even rice pudding could be the hero of the day.
FROM YOUR HINDU PANTRY:
250 ml short grain Indian rice
half a cup of rose water
2 cups milk
half a cup of white sugar
1 Tbsp of ground cinnamon
Heat your water with all the ingredients and then pour in the rice. Let this slowly simmer for 15 minutes, stirring every three minutes. Add more water if needed, but, ultimately, you want to end up with a creamy consistency.
You can serve this dish warm or at room temp. To garnish, you can add some raisins and any nuts of your choice.
To end off our festivities, I can only add one thing. I have always found that traditional Indian cuisine is always consistently surprising and flavourful. I believe this is food that reflects the wonderful people that originated and still enjoy it to this day. It reflects the lights and the love we share. So, let’s embrace this day and share our inner light with everyone around us.
Happy Diwali, my Hindu friends!