Sawadee Ka Nara Thai Mumbai

If you’re a lover of Thai cuisine, you don’t have to wait to visit Thailand anymore. The folks behind all-time-favorites Yauatcha and Hakkasan are all set to launch Nara Thai – one of the finest Thai eateries in Asia. So next time you’re craving Thai curry or tom yum soup, you know where to head to!

Spearheaded by Karyna Bajaj, Executive Director, KA Hospitality, Nara Thai meaning “Thai woman” in Sanskrit, was originally founded by a group of women in 2003 as a passion project which in no time achieved a cult following – now, a well established brand globally with outposts in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Hong Kong. Here, one can taste the exquisiteness of age-old Thai cuisine in a modern, casual setting. Like most other restaurants these days, it’s neither dramatic in its presentation nor fusion in taste, it is what it is. If home-style Thai food is what you’re looking for, this place will surely win your heart as every dish strikes a chord with its flavours.

Dotted with Thai orchids, large windows, larger-than-life lamps and ceramic cutlery, the space is elegantly designed with a private dining room in addition to the main dining area and an al-fresco section which will be ready soon. Keeping the interiors in line with its name, designer Nitipattara Yensup ensured the decor is dainty, classy and yet so comforting. Hues of purple, gold and beige are unmissable throughout the space and in some of their signature dishes too.

Every dish served from their elaborate menu is simple yet packed with sharp flavors. Think sour, bitter, sweet, salty, spicy – yes, every flavor is beautifully enhanced with their aromatic soups and curries. If you’re vegetarian, about 50% of the menu is filled with options that you can pick from. So there’s something for everyone!

What I had & loved:
– Thai ice tea: Perfectly sweet and milky with sharp hints of cardamom and star anise.
– Tom Yum Hed – Tom yum soup: Loved the distinct hot and sour flavors of this aromatic mushroom and shrimp soup with fragrant spices and herbs.
– Yum Tua Plu – Spicy wing bean salad: An explosion of flavors with every bite.
– Yum Phak Boong – Crispy fried morning glory: Batterfried leaves served with a chilli lemon chutney, a perfect blend of crunchy, hot and spicy.
– Khao Phad Samunprai – Butterfly pea rice with Thai herbs: Vibrantly hued blue pea flower rice that changes color upon squeezing lime.
– Kan Kiew – Thai curry: Creamy, fragrant curry with jasmine rice.
– Gai Kraprao – Chicken with chilli and basil: A signature Thai dish you can’t go wrong with.
– Nara ice cream with condiments: Sweet with a dash of savoury

All in all, the food is comforting with relatable flavors and textures. I’m surely going back soon again to try their other signature dishes. What I loved most about the food is that it hasn’t really been tweaked around with. I guess that’s something the city has been longing for – a fuss free restaurant with authentic flavors!

Launching on 11th September, 2017 at Raheja Towers, Bandra Kurla Complex.

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Awadhi Menu at Novotel Juhu

Awadhi cuisine, prepared with exotic spices, herbs and dry fruits is an integral part of Lucknow – the city of Nawabs. With cooking styles inspired by the Mughal era, this cuisine is bursting with flavors and aromas making it completely hard to resist. The chefs and cooks of the region invented the dum style of cooking which means cooking over low heat, which has gained popularity all over today. The cooking patterns are similar to Central Asia, Middle East and Northern Awadh region whereas the cuisine bears similarities to Kashmir, Punjab and Hyderbad. Popularly known as Nawabi cuisine, one can expect a variety of tempting kebabs, kormas, shorbas, zardi, biryanis and many more items.

Being a huge fan of the famed Galawati Kebab, when I received an invitation from Novotel Juhu, I instantly said yes.

The Juhu property has been a favorite for quite some time now. Be it a chilled out Sunday afternoon at Gadda Da Vida, a celebratory dinner at Sam Pan or some late night chit chat and coffee at Square, Novotel has always been special to me in some way or the other. Their 24-hour diner offers a delightful buffet spread with lip-smacking dishes and desserts. Now, for the next one week, the chefs have prepared a special Awadhi menu and are all set to give patrons a true taste of Nawaabi food.

What I tried & liked:
– My experience began with a chilled glass of perfectly sweet and refreshing Gulab ka Sarbat and some crunchy, spicy and masaledar chaat.

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– Soon after, came the shorbas. Since I am a non-vegetarian, I opted for the Paya ka shorba. The vegetarians were served a bowl of Gucchi dal ka shorba. My soup was flavorful and aromatic with succulent pieces of lamb that literally melted in the mouth in one shot. On asking the chef, he said the lamb had been slow cooked for 12 hours with delicious aromatics in order to ensure that all the flavors get infused in the broth.

– Next came the starters. First one was the dish I had been waiting for – the Galawati Kebabs. The word ‘Galawati’ means ‘melt in the mouth’ and that’s exactly how the kebabs were. History has it, that this kebab was specially created for the aging Asaf-ud-daulah, who had weak teeth but was a meat lover. The traditional recipe is made up of minced mutton meat and hence does not require chewing.
The Murgh Hasuni Tikka served on a steaming hot griddle had been marinated for several hours before being served but was just like any other murgh tikka.
Mahi Taj – cheese infused delicious fish cutlets were packed with aromatic Indian spices and herbs.
Aloo gul gulstan – dum cooked aloo with poppy seeds and almond flakes was intriguing at first but was a real treat.

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– After so many starters, I was unfortunately quite stuffed already. But from whatever I tried in the mains, I loved the Sikandari Raan and the Murgh Awadhi Korma the most. The former was so visually appealing that I couldn’t resist trying it and trust me, I’m so glad I did. Also the korma, packed with tantalizing flavors and spices along with the Bakerkhani Shermal – something I have been wanting to try for a really long time was just perfect. Bakerkhani is a luxuriously rich 14-layered bread garnished with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. In olden days, it was a star attraction at Hyderabadi feasts and was served during every celebratory occasion. It was rich, sinful but so delicious. Totally worth the calories! Apart from these dishes, I was also really excited to see my own personal pot of dum biryani. If you’re at an Awadhi food festival, you know the biryani will almost always be pleasing.

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– We literally had no space left for dessert but no meal is complete without some sweet right? Each person was served an individual dessert tray that consisted of Shahi Tukda, Khumani ka methi, Zarda and Jalebi with hot milk. The Shahi Tukda i.e. saffron infused fried bread served with rabdi was absolutely divine. I also thoroughly relished the saffron flavored hot milk with dry fruits.

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All in all, it was a wonderful meal. I would sincerely urge you to not miss out on the opportunity of savoring this scrumptious cuisine made using age-old traditional recipes.

Where: Square, Novotel Juhu
When: On till 23rd July
Time: 7pm to 11pm (Dinner buffet only)

 

The Square - Novotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

From the farm to your cup – only at Blue Tokai

Blue Tokai, started by Matt Chitharanjan and his wife Namrata is a cozy little space with simple, cheerful interiors, known for its freshly brewed coffee from freshly roasted beans sourced from various farms across different regions in India.

For the longest time, India was predominantly a tea-drinking country. However, over the recent past, we have seen a rise in the number of coffee drinkers. Let’s admit it! Coffee is surely cooler, sexier and a great conversation starter than tea. You will always hear people say ‘let’s catch up over a cuppa coffee’ than ‘let’s catch up over a cuppa tea’. So if you’re a coffee lover or a caffeine junkie, there’s a roastery at the rear end of a mill compound in Mahalaxmi that’s waiting to welcome you.

Blue Tokai, started by Matt Chitharanjan and his wife Namrata is a cozy little space with simple, cheerful interiors, minimalistic furniture and large glass panes bifurcating the roastery and café space located in Laxmi Mills compound. After making waves in Delhi about four and a half years ago, this roastery-cum-café opened doors to aamchi Mumbai with their second outlet, last year. Think freshly brewed coffee from freshly roasted beans – Yep! That’s exactly what this tiny space is known for.

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Initially, Matt and his wife lived in Chennai where they came across coffee houses offering freshly ground coffee. But ever since they moved to Delhi, they were disappointed with the quality of coffee available – either it was stale or imported from various other places like Japan, Australia and UK that made it overly expensive due to import duty. Every place they visited up North, they found several national and international chains dominating the market by focusing on providing a nice café experience rather than serving good coffee. Being a coffee enthusiast himself, Matt travelled down south, interacted with various farmers and decided to take it upon himself to bring about a change in the country’s coffee culture. He decided to connect Indians to their farmers by making superior quality coffee himself. After several trips and convincing sessions, he successfully purchased green beans from local farmers and started roasting them at home with the help of a roaster. Soon, he started selling them online and received a great response for the same. In no time, they opened a café in Delhi and people knew where they could find real coffee.

We all love a good cup of coffee, once in a while, if not everyday. But most of the time, the coffee we start our day with, isn’t even fresh. Every coffee has a shelf life and should be consumed within that time period. Also, it’s not only about mixing the powder with milk and sugar or water, there’s a lot more to it than that. The quality and taste differs from place to place, depending upon how and where it is grown. So different terrains give you different varietals. For e.g. one farm can give you notes of cherry while another can give you notes of chocolate. At Blue Tokai, unlike commercial coffee where all estates get mixed together, they do single estate coffees, which means each of their coffees is sourced from a particular farm. After tasting a range of coffees from various farms across different regions in India, they source from Attikan, Baarbara, Bynemara Estates, Bibi Plantation, Biccode, Kalledeverapura, Karadykan, Nachammai, M.S and Yellikodige Estates. When you step in, you’ll see a board that states which coffee is available for the day.

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Once they receive the coffee, they roast the beans at their café (which btw can be seen by anyone who walks in) and develop different profiles for each one. Each profile has a different characteristic that brings out a unique flavor to the coffee. It is very important to stay focused while developing a profile as a minute more or a color darker can make a world of a difference to the flavor. It should be a perfect balance of flavors and acidity. This cozy café currently whips up several different brews with the help of continuous sample roasts. Once they find the desired profile, they keep roasting to that profile only in order to maintain consistency in quality. In order to provide the freshest possible coffee, they roast every Wednesday & Sunday and dispatch orders the following day.

In the recent past, we have seen so many entrepreneurial ventures in the coffee industry where companies are directly sourcing coffee beans from the farms, roasting them and selling them online or on the shelves of retail stores. Their aim is to make the customer buy a bag of coffee and switch from instant to a more brooding variety. India has predominantly been a tea-drinking country, with coffee restricted to filter coffee, atleast down south. So the idea of brewing a cup seems rather tedious and overwhelming. Most people are not even aware about the different brewing methods. Each method gives out different flavors. For e.g. French-press coffee has a medium body with intense aroma and flavor whereas a Moka Pot is bold, almost similar to an espresso. Pour-over coffee, on the other hand, has a lighter body as the paper filter removes all coffee particles and oils, thus giving it a cleaner flavor. And if you’re a filter coffee loyalist, then Aeropress is your best bet.

At Blue Tokai, a customer can watch the entire process of roasting, sample various coffees and then select something that suits their palate. The day I visited, the café was serving coffees from Nachammai Estate, Bibi Plantation and Attikan Estate. I opted for the lightly roasted Nachammai coffee that was freshly brewed using the pour-over method. I was also intrigued to try their Nitro coffee (iced coffee infused with Nitrogen) that is currently available on tap only at this café. Cold-brewed for 20 hours, it was fruity and chocolaty with a creamy mouth feel and an after taste that lasted long after it was over. Since they don’t have an in-house kitchen, they have a limited food menu consisting of croissants, pain au chocolats, sandwiches and custard cruffins from The Magazine Street Kitchen, from the folks behind The Table.

Apart from sampling different types of coffees, I got to learn so much from the experts at Blue Tokai. It indeed was an enriching experience as I got a different insight into the world of coffee. For me, a good cuppa coffee has always been the one that evokes all the five senses. And for Matt, a good coffee is the one that his customer likes!

Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bombay Brasserie – reopens after 15 years

If you were born and raised in Worli, you have surely heard of the iconic restaurant – Bombay Brasserie. It ruled the city with its authentic Indian fare for quite a few years until it shut down in 2002. Now, after 15 long years, it has comeback with a bang.

The first ever outlet was launched in 1989, after which they launched multiple branches in Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata. Located at Worli, Bombay Brasserie is an all-day diner that can house about 130-150 people at its four different dining zones. The decor is quirky and cheerful, with an indoor and al fresco section. White background with color blocked furniture, wooden chairs, swing seats and a cozy vintage vibe – what’s not to love? The staff is courteous and well-informed and the service is great too.

Think experimental and fusion Indian speciality dishes from different states in the country…Yup! That’s their USP. Whether you’re looking for Naga Ghost Pepper Wings, Andhra-style Chicken or Kashmiri Kebab, rest assured you’ll find it here. Their eclectic menu promises to bring out the best Indian flavors by literally serving you the country on a platter. Pair this and more with their super selection of mocktails, desi cocktails, beers or a variety of Indian teas and you’re sure to have a memorable night.

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Bombay Brasserie Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Royal Indian Experience at JW Marriott Pune’s Shakahari

If you follow me on Instagram, you already know that I love to travel…even if it means going to Lonavla for a nice Sunday brunch and back. So when I received an invite from JW Marriott Pune for lunch on Saturday, I instantly said yes! Because for me, an ideal weekend is one where I can getaway from the chaos of the city. Since I knew I had something fun to do over the weekend, I couldn’t wait for the week to quickly pass by. Luckily it did. Before I knew it, it was D-day.

I woke up at 8am as our scheduled time of departure from Mumbai was 9am. Since my pick-up point was Worli, I quickly got ready and left. Nikhil, our kind and polite driver had reached Worli Seaface in his white Innova way before time and was patiently waiting for us to come. We (that includes three of us), started for Pune at about 9.15am and were all set to see what the rest of the day had in store for us. Our car had been stocked with cold bottles of aam panna, lassi and several juices for the journey. Thankfully, due to a slight drizzle in the city, it wasn’t very hot or sunny and as we got onto the expressway, it began to rain and started getting a wee bit breezy. Needless to say, our comfortable drive became even more enjoyable.

We reached Pune at about 12pm and were at the property 40 minutes later (thanks to Pune traffic). As we entered, we were warmly greeted by General Manager Vineet Mishra and his kind and loving team. There was something about the place – it felt like home in an instant. I guess that’s why its so popular and buzzing at all times. We looked around for a while and visited its various outlets, starting with the ones on ground level – Pune Baking Co. (the renowned bakery and patisserie), Lobby lounge (which had a special wine promotion for the weekend), Spice Kitchen (their all-day multi cuisine restaurant that was prepping for the on-going Goan festival) and the JW Marriott Food Truck (which unfortunately wasn’t operational that day). Soon after, we proceeded to the next level to see Alto Vino (the Italian restaurant, serving lip-smacking wood-fired pizzas among other things and a variety of wines), Bar 101 (the elite whiskey and cigar bar that houses over 100 different types of whiskey) and Shakahari (their vegetarian restaurant serving authentic Indian specials). Next, we proceeded to Mi-a-mi (the hotel’s rocking night club that was getting ready for Bollywood night) and Paasha (their fine-dining restaurant and bar with an indoor and al-fresco section from where you can enjoy panoramic views of the city). After the property tour, we headed to Shakahari as we had been invited to sample its lip-smacking menu based on authentic Indian cuisines inspired by some of India’s royal, princely states.

A warm welcome with flowers and rose water, an extravagant table set-up and a tikka clad Maharaj Jai Kishen greeted each one of us with his pleasing smile and folded hands. Looking at the hospitality, we knew we were in for a grand feast. The menu, featuring a variety of traditional Rajasthani and North Indian preparations, had been crafted to provide a #RoyalIndianExperience to each one of us.

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‘We want to revive the culture of food in its most authentic Indian form. That is the philosophy at Shakahari – a royal dining experience. Keeping this focus, Maharaj Jai Kishen seamlessly blends tradition and flavor for each dish that is specially curated by him,’ said Mr. Vineet Mishra, the friendly and ever-smiling general manager of the hotel.

Bright and shiny silver Thalis with napkins perfectly folded and knotted gave us a true royal feel. As we took our seats, a server came to each one for a handwash. (In India, a traditional Thali is best enjoyed when eaten with the hands, without any cutlery).

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We were all set for our grand feast which began with some Fratelli wine, a variety of starters served with a bowl full of papad, various chutneys and pickles like plum, peanut, mint and mango as accompaniments. The starters consisted of:

– Dahi Wada
– Palak Patta Chaat
– Rajma Lasooni Salad
– Palak Chawli Tikki
– Beetroot Tikki
– Amritsari Paneer
– Besan Chilla

Out of all the above, the rajma lasooni salad with fragments of burnt garlic and beetroot tikki were my most favorite.

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After a break of about 15 minutes, we were then served our Rajasthani mains. I’m sure you already know that a traditional meal in Rajasthan is incomplete without its speciality dishes like

– Dal Batti Churma: lentil preparation made with wheat flour dough, served with dal, grounded flour dessert and dollops of ghee
– Ker Sanger ke Kofte: ker, bamnera bean dumping cooked in fresh tomato gravy
– Jodhpuri Gatta Curry: steamed gram flour dumpling, cooked in spicy, tangy, hung curd gravy
– Gatta ka Pulao: spiced gram flour dumpling, dum cooked with basmati rice
– Subz Panchmel: a melange of five vegetables, tossed in dry spices and flavored with asafoetida
– Phulka, Palak Poori & Ajwaini Poori

To be honest, I find Rajasthani food too heavy so I avoid eating too much. But here, it was served with so much love that I just couldn’t say no. I thoroughly enjoyed most of it, especially the gatta curry and ker sanger koftas but I wanted to leave space for the rest.

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Right after the Rajasthani meal, we were served some speciality North Indian preparations like

– Dum Paneer Kasoori: homemade cottage cheese, simmered in rich tomato gravy, flavored with fenugreek seeds
– Subz Makhmali Kofta: vegetable koftas filled with dried plums and almonds, simmered in a cardamom cashew gravy
– Pindi Choley: chickpeas, slow cooked and flavored with whole Indian spices, tempered with dried pomegranate seeds and smoked with desi ghee
– Dal Shakahari: black lentils, soaked overnight and rajma, tempered with cumin, fresh garlic and white butter
– Gucchi Pulao: long grain rice flavored with whole spices
– Stuffed kulcha, Roti, Naan, Laccha Paratha

The dum paneer kasoori and dal shakahari were amazing. So flavorful and delicious. The pindi choley reminded me of my recent trip to Amritsar. I wanted to go for a second helping but I had to leave some room for dessert. Considering the lavish variety our meal had to offer, I was eagerly waiting to see what the desserts would have in store.

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Once everyone was done with their meal, the friendly and hospitable staff of Shakahari, escorted us to the ‘Mishtan Bhandar’ – a room filled with sweet treats. Yes, you read that right. A ROOM full of sweet treats! Everything was so tempting that for a minute I almost forgot I had to take pictures and started helping myself. We could choose from a selection of freshly cut fruits like guava, apple, pineapple, dragon fruit among others or desserts like

– Mango Rabadi
– Malai Kulfi
– Vanilla Ice Cream
– Kesar Pista Kulfi
– Moong Dal Halwa
– Gulab Jamun
– Lychee Gulla
– Kaju Pista Roll
– Moti Chor Ladoos
– Kadambari
– Badambhog
– Ghewar

I literally wanted to try everything but unfortunately was already pretty full. So I tried a small piece of the ghewar and some mango rabadi – both, absolutely awesome. And finally finished off with some paan.

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While chatting with Mr. Mishra, I was intrigued to know how long it took to formulate such a royal meal. ‘About 4 months and 60 tastings later we finalized on the menu,’ he said. Unlike most Thali places where you’re served in a rush, the meal at Shakahari is timed (approximately 60 minutes per sitting) so every guest can absorb the food and enjoy every bit of the experience. The menu keeps changing every now and then so there’s always something new to look forward to.

An hour-long chatting session and a few cups of green tea later, it was time to bid adieu. So we thanked the wonderful team for their impeccable service and hospitality and proceeded towards the car, which once again had been stacked with still, sparkling water and other beverages. Our drive back was just as enjoyable as before as we didn’t get any traffic and were home in less than 3 hours.

All-in-all, it was truly a fun getaway from the city – even though it was just for a few hours. Will most certainly be going back soon again…this time for more than just a meal!

Shakahari - JW Marriott Pune Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Celebrating the Harvest season at Tiqri, Taj Santacruz

In a country like India, festivals are synonymous to food. If a family is celebrating a big day, a grand feast is sure to follow. So if your loved ones are Bengali or Punjabi, you’re most certainly in for a treat this weekend. And if not, don’t worry! You can still enjoy their traditional fare – courtesy Taj Hotels.

Offering an amalgam of flavorsome recipes, Taj city hotels are hosting a special food festival with lip-smacking delicacies from West Bengal and Punjab on the occasion of Poila Baisakh and Baisakhi. So when I was invited to Tiqri, Taj Santacruz‘ all-day dining restaurant, I was delighted beyond words. Thanks to Chef Dinesh and his hospitable team, we thoroughly enjoyed our experience.

A special a-la-carte menu offering a variety of Bengali and Punjabi dishes has been created for this week. Since we were there for a tasting, we got to sample a little bit of all the dishes.

We began the revelries of Nobo Borsho with:
– A chilled and soothing glass of Bengali style Aamrus that was similar to Aam panna
– Kasha Posto Bora served with Chole Dhonepatar Bhate – Poppy seed cakes with chickpea and cilantro mash went perfectly well with each other
– Egg roll – One can never really go wrong with Kolkata’s famous street food speciality
– Chicken Rezale – chunks of chicken were dunked in a rich, aromatic white gravy made with subtle spices
– Potol Posto – pointed gourd in poppy seed based gravy was a different take to the usual gourd masala made at home. Also, this dish is best enjoyed in the months of summer, as pointed gourd is a summer vegetable in India
– Doi Fulkopi – Bengali style cauliflower made with spicy yogurt curry was a simple, classic dish, full of flavor and less spicy
– Bhaja Muger Dal – Lost my heart to the special aroma of dry roasted moong dal and dollops of ghee, making this sumptuous Bengali specialty dal my favorite for the night
– Luchi – Deep-fried puffed bread, best enjoyed with various gravies
– Nolen Gurer Mousse – Date palm jaggery mousse garnished with strawberries was smooth, light and well-balanced.

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Aamrus

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Poppy seed cakes & egg wrap

While our Bengali fare consisted of all the above, our Baisakhi feast was also an extravagant one:
– Dry fruit lassi – Sweetened lassi enhanced with dry fruits and saffron was indulgently rich, creamy and delicious
– Sarso Murgh Tikka – We all know how famous the North is for all its delectable mustard infused preparations. This tandoor grilled chicken was no different
– Tandoori Haryali Aloo – Marinated with fresh garden leaves, these baby potatoes were flavorful and pleasing
– Mutton Saagwala – A typical North Indian version of lamb and spinach based curry, this dish was rich and bursting with flavors
– Pindi Chana – If you’re enjoying a North Indian meal, you know that Rawalpindi inspired chana will always be a winner
– Dum wale Rajma Chawal – Rajma Chawal, dum cooked for several hours and then served like a biryani made this aromatic dish oh-so-comforting!
– Mutton Biryani – This amazingly tasty preparation consisting of mutton chunks and rice was dum cooked with spices making it irresistible
– Laccha Paratha – flaky Indian flat bread served with the gravies
– Makhana Kheer – Lotus seed in sweetened and reduced flavoured milk. Small pieces of makhanas just added a twist to the humble rabdi.

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Dry fruit lassi

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Dum Rajma Chawal

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Top (l-r): Mutton Saagwalla, Pindi Channa… Bottom (l-r): Cauliflower, Chicken Stew & Dal

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Nulen Gurer Mouuse & Makhana Kheer

After eating so much, we were obviously stuffed but more than the food, we were brimming with all the love and care that was showered upon us by the kind and hospitable team at Tiqri.

FYI:

While West Bengal and Punjab are all set to celebrate today, Mumbai is geared up to usher in the harvest season with great pomp at Masala KraftThe Taj Mahal Palace, Tiqri – Taj Santacruz and Masala BayTaj Lands End from 14th to 23rd April, 2017. While the latter will only be serving traditional Punjabi delicacies, one can make the most of Bengali and Punjabi specialties at the other two city hotels. If you want to get a true feel of the festivities in West Bengal & Punjab, don’t miss out on this food fest.

Tiqri - Taj Santacruz Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Just Say Cheese

As a kid, I remember fussing over methi and palak rotis. Like come on! You’re meant to enjoy candies, chocolates, cheese and other fun stuff while growing up. Why methi and palak? But, my mother clearly thought differently. She had decided – no matter what happens, this fussing needed to stop. Cheese was probably one of the few things I would readily eat without any drama. The word itself would bring a smile to my face. So, she very smartly started grating blobs of it on my rotis and parathas and that’s how I learnt to eat them!

By now, I’m sure you’ve figured that I love cheese. To me, it is not just another dairy product, it is everything! You pair absolutely anything with the right kind of cheese and you’re good to go. It’s versatile and oh-so-yummy! But still many people find it intimidating. I wonder why? Maybe because of its countless types, hard to pronounce names, complex textures or due to lack of knowledge. Whatever the reason, I hope this and the coming posts will be helpful as I’m all set to share some easy-wheezy recipes and fun facts about my all-time favorite cheeses. Are you ready?

#FYI – Most cheeses are made from cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk and fall into one of the below mentioned categories:
– Fresh & creamy: Mild in taste, moist and soft with a creamy texture, great choice for salads
– Soft & semi-soft: Range from mild to pungent, can melt well, best choice for grilled sandwiches and fondues
– Hard & semi-hard: Salty, nutty flavors, can be aged for several months or even several years, texture can be semi-firm or firm
– Bloomy rind: These cheeses have a white rind on the outside but are super soft, creamy and yummy on the inside
– Blue cheese: Contains penicillium so the cheese will always be spotted or veined, has a distinct smell, strong, sharp and salty in flavour.

In this post, I’ll tell you about my favorite cheeses in the first category.

1) Feta:
A famous Greek cheese, traditionally made with sheep’s milk or a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk.
Flavour: salty, slightly sour
Texture & Color: crumbly and slightly grainy, white in color
Pairings: best enjoyed when crumbled upon salads or pies

2) Ricotta:
An Italian cheese made from sheep, cow, goat or Italian water buffalo milk.
Flavour: slightly sweet
Texture & Color: similar to cottage cheese but softer, smoother and lighter, white in color
Pairings: combines beautifully with sugar, cinnamon and chocolate so is mostly used in desserts. One can also make lovely, creamy dips with Ricotta or sprinkle some over pasta. In India, it is often used as a substitute for paneer (though both are not the same) while making ras malai.

3) Cream cheese:
Originated in Europe and is made from milk and cream, available in low fat or non-fat varieties
Flavour: mild, slightly tangy and sweet
Texture & Color: smooth, creamy, rich and indulgent, white in color
Pairings: easily spreadable when at room temperature and pairs well with crackers, bagels and sandwiches. Can also be mixed with other ingredients for dips and spreads.

4) Fresh Mozzarella:
An authentic Italian cheese that’s packed in water solutions to help last longer.
Flavour: mild and milky
Texture & Color: creamy and soft, pearl white in color
Pairings: This cheese is delicious just as is or with a pinch of salt, pepper, herbs and olive oil. You can also make yourself a version of Italy’s famous Insalata Caprese that includes fresh mozzarella, sliced tomato and basil.

Recipes:
1) Watermelon & Feta Salad:

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Ingredients:
1 packet roquette (to be cleaned and soaked in cold water)
1/2 iceberg lettuce (to be cleaned and soaked in cold water)
1/2 water melon (remove seeds and cut into chunks)
1/2 cup feta cheese
3 slices bread
5-8 toasted pine nuts
5-8 caramelized almonds/walnuts

Dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp rock salt
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp honey
1 tsp pepper

Method:
– Remove the water from salad leaves and keep aside
– Cut the bread slices into croutons, toast in the oven and keep aside
– To caramelize almonds/walnuts, heat 3 tbsp sugar in a flat pan and add a spoonful of water. Once sugar changes to a light brown color, add the almonds and mix until the sugar darkens a bit. Switch off the gas and drop them quickly on a foil paper
– To make the dressing, mix all the ingredients, shake well and keep aside
– In a bowl, mix together salad leaves and water melon chunks, then pour the dressing and crumble feta cheese. Serve.

2) Herbed Ricotta Dip:

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Image sourced from Pinterest

Ingredients:
1 cup fresh, creamy ricotta
3 cloves garlic (peeled & crushed)
1 tbsp snipped chives
1 tbsp mint powder
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste, preferably freshly ground black pepper)
Oregano (to taste)

Method:
– Mix all the ingredients together.
– Adjust seasonings as per taste
– Refrigerate for 2-3 hours
– Serve with sliced ciabatta or lavash.

3) Garlic & Herbed Cream Cheese Bagel:

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic (peeled & crushed)
1/2 packet Philadelphia cream cheese
1 tbsp snipped chives
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Thyme (to taste)
Oregano (to taste)

Method:
– Mix all the above ingredients in the bowl
– Adjust seasoning as per taste. Can also add some lime juice, if required
– Spread on bagel and enjoy.

4) Insalata Caprese:

Ingredients:
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 packet fresh mozzarella
1 cup fresh basil (washed well & dried)
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Seasalt (fine, to taste)
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Method:
– Thinly slice tomatoes & mozzarella, same size
– Place on a flat plate with fresh and dry basil leaves
– Sprinkle with oregano, sea salt and pepper
– Drizzle olive oil and serve.

*All the above mentioned cheeses are available at Godrej Nature’s Basket & Foodhall in Mumbai.
*Part 2 coming soon.