Indian Accent’s Manish Mehrotra Sexes Up Chaulai Ka Saag for ‘First Food’ Launch
THE expression ‘sexed up’ first gained currency when the MI6 did exactly that to its report on the so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Saddam Hussain’s Iraq to give Tony Blair an excuse to join George W. Bush’s unholy coalition against the dictator. But when Manish Mehrotra sexed up the humble chaulai ka saag with cheese to neutralise its grassy taste, he did not trigger a war or cause widespread anguish. He only had people eating out of his hands, which is something the Magician of Indian Accent must have gotten used to by now.
And he gave us an idea. If only all restaurateurs learnt to use our traditional foods in a more creative way, they would create a substantial market for our poorest farmers, encourage the cultivation of crops that guzzle a third of the water that the gifts of the ‘Green Revolution’ do, and bring down their own food costs (which they keep complaining about in these rough times). What Manish did at the India Habitat Centre release of First Food: A Taste of India’s Biodiversitywas recreate the recipes, adding his own creative lashings, in the Centre for Science and Environment’s cookbook with a difference. The Centre’s guardian angel, Sunita Narain, Zaike Ka Safar presenter Vinod Dua and food historian Pushpesh Pant released the book to an audience that spilled out of India Habitat Centre’s Silver Oak banquet hall.
The neatly produced book narrates the story of India’s lost foods, which are packed with nutrition and provide a livelihood to millions of marginalised farmers across the country. If these foods are sexed up by talented chefs such as Manish (and Old World Hospitality’s Executive Chef Rajeev Malhotra, who was busy elsewhere), our old food culture, which was based on centuries of earthy wisdom, can become fashionable yet again. Manish, for instance, showed us how roasted makhana (lotus seeds) dusted with a tangy masala can become a glorious accompaniment to cocktails. His sattu ke gol gappe had a firmer texture than the standard issues made with sooji and atta, and he took us by surprise with his bajra tartlets with a sweet and sour ker-sangri filling.
Manish demonstrated how bajre ki khichdi can taste anything but bland when you serve it like a chaat topped up with chutneys and saunth. His sattu is the Real McCoy supplied by a source from his native Bihar — it is made with a local variety of chana (chickpeas) and ground with its husk on along with others pulses and cereals — and he served it in the traditional style with a slightly runny baigan ka bharta. He made cheelas by substituting commonly used besan (chickpea flour) with a cousin of buckwheat flour. And his gahat ki dal (horse gram)struck a sentimental chord with the Kumaonis among those invited!
It was the most delicious way of understanding the age-old ties that bind our traditional crops with the lives and nutrition of India’s majority. The message came through without any pamphleteering. We have to preserve our rich gastronomic heritage for our own self-preservation and the good of the generations ahead of us. Get more bajra into your life.
If you wish to know more about the book, go to http://www.downtoearth.org.in/content/food-book