For the longest time, most of us had forgotten all about native Indian ingredients with our focus on international superfoods such as kale, quinoa and of course avocado, despite their high carbon footprint as opposed to local ingredients. However, in the midst of the pandemic, people have begun turning to their own kitchen cabinets for ingredients that are beneficial to their health.
Talking about the revival of indigenous ingredients in India, LuxeBook spoke to Independent Chef Consultant and food writer Ruchira Hoon, Megha Kohli, Executive Chef Café Mez, Chef Prateek, Chef and Co-Founder of Masque Restaurant, Chef Karan Upmanyu, Chef De Partie, Toast & Tonic Bengaluru and Chef Hussain Shahzad, Executive Chef of The Bombay Canteen and O Pedro.
While most of the world has heard of the term ‘indigenous ingredients’, not everyone is familiar with what exactly it constitutes. According to Chef Karan Upmanyu, “Indigenous ingredients are basically those ingredients which are native to the Indian subcontinent, as opposed to those that have been brought to India from different regions of the world.”
In the past few years, the world has been shifting between food trends, adapting from the west, while sidelining the more important ingredients found in our own kitchens. This in turn led to what was believed as the death of indigenous ingredients, simply because people stopped talking about it.
“There are so many ingredients that people hadn’t spoken about it in the last 20-25 years,” says Ruchira Hoon, “we’ve lost so many ingredients like kantola, shevla and mora, simply because we’re so used to eating things like potato, capsicum and cauliflower.”
Remembering lost elements
One of the reasons some of the forgotten Indian ingredients have become popular again is because people began to talk about them again.
“In India, indigenous ingredients are used quite comfortably in everyday cooking. The reason we feel it’s not given as much importance is because people weren’t talking about it enough. But now they are coming out and talking about these ingredients. And that is why they are becoming mainstream again,” says Ruchira Hoon.
Chef Megha Kohli added that with the dawning trend of international superfoods, people ignored the powerful Ayurvedic ingredients in the kitchen. “People became obsessed with international superfoods like avocado, quinoa, etc. And they forgot about the variety and diversity of superfoods that is present in our own country.”
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in indigenous ingredients by both chefs and restaurants. Chef Prateek Sadhu believes it’s a chef’s responsibility to resurrect forgotten ingredients. “The responsibility to bring back forgotten ingredients lies on chefs as well as those running home kitchens. Apart from having these ingredients, we have to also have a proper conversation about them and champion them through our food, which will teach people about the ingredients, how to use them in new innovative ways,” he says.
Indian flavours with international techniques
While many Indian restaurants have begun using indigenous ingredients in their recipes, some have done so in the most innovative ways, one of which includes blending them with international techniques.
Talking about this Chef Karan adds, “In an attempt to showcase these ingredients and to break the monotony, chefs today have started incorporating it into western cuisine and experimenting with different textures, especially how it works in dishes other than Indian cuisine.”
But it’s not all about international techniques and flavours. Some restaurants believe in serving ingredients by incorporating them in contemporary dishes that would be enjoyed by people today. “I feel using indigenous ingredients in contemporary dishes is the best way to serve them. It is serving them in a more familiar and comfortable format,” says Chef Hussain.
Over the past few years, trends like ‘vocal for local’ and ‘return to roots’ have played an important role shining a light on important Indian ingredients that have been sidelined or forgotten about completely. Chef Hussain Shahzad says, “The vocal for local trend is bringing people back to their roots. For instance, millets are making a mark in urban India which was never the case until a few years ago.”
Among most ingredients, millets have definitely become more mainstream in Indian cooking.
Millets have been an integral part of regional Indian food in regions like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. Apart from its abundant nutritional value, it is also an extremely versatile ingredient.
Apart from being used in salads and other dishes as a grain alternative, millet flour is also made and used for various ingredients that call for flour. Chef Megha herself claims to use millet flour in her special Orange Pound Cake recipe.
Chef Megha addresses another popular ingredient — hemp seeds — which comes from Uttarakhand used in chutneys, pakoras and muffins.
Chef Prateek on the other hand, advocates sea buckthorn as one of the popular ingredients from Ladakh becoming popular throughout the country. “Earlier we were the only restaurant that used sea buckthorn in our recipes, but now other restaurants have also started using it. And it can be found much more easily,” he says.
“Stinging nettle which is very common in the mountain regions, is often used to make soups, saag or even a vegetable dish,” says Ruchira.
For the dressing: Shallot 1 medium Garlic 2 cloves Blue Cheese 10gm Bacon Fat 20ml Salt To Taste Pepper To Taste Red Wine Vinegar 15ml Dijon Mustard 1tsp Mustard Oil 40ml
Method: Salad Prep: Start by cutting the bacon into small lardons and sauté them in a pan on low heat without any fat. Drain off the excess fat and reserve and continue till the bacon is golden and crispy. Strain remaining fat and keep the bacon aside. Clean the Bathua and Arugula leaves under cold running water and spin in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. Keep aside.
For the Dressing: Mince the garlic and finely chop the shallot. In a pan add the bacon fat and sauté the garlic and shallot slowly, till translucent. Strain and keep aside. In a big mixing bowl, add blue cheese. Cream it with a whisk, add the shallots, mix garlic, red wine vinegar and the Dijon mustard. Slowly drizzle the bacon fat followed by the mustard oil till the mixture is emulsified. Season it with salt and pepper. Store in a heatproof container.
To Assemble: Gently warm the dressing. In a cast iron skillet, fry an egg and keep warm. In a mixing bowl, add the cleaned bathua and arugula leaves and the lardons followed by the croutons. Slowly add the dressing and mix gently, slightly wilting and cooking the Bathua. Serve immediately topped with Fried egg and some chilli oil.
2. Smoked Pumpkin Launji by Chef Hussain Shahzad
Ingredients for Pumpkin Launji 1 Kg Peeled Pumpkin, Cubed 3 cloves Garlic Peeled ¼ tsp Turmeric powder 150 ml Mustard Oil 2 tbsp sugar (depends largely on the sweetness of the pumpkin) Juice of 1 lime Salt To Taste Small piece of coal 1 tbsp of oil to smoke
Method Marinate the cubed pumpkin with salt, garlic, turmeric and mustard oil. Spread the marinated pumpkin on an oven tray in one layer. Cook at 160 c set the timer for 30 min. Blend with a few crushed ice cubes till super smooth & creamy like a hummus Chill and season with salt, sugar & lime juice. Heat the coals till the burn red, heat one tbsp of oil. Now place the coal over the pureed pumpkin in a katori/ foil entrapment. Pour the hot oil and cover with a lid smoke for 2-2.5 mins by the clock. Too much smoke ruins the flavour of the pumpkin. Transfer to a serving dish and reserve.
Ingredients for Charred Ponkh 200 g Ponkh Oil Salt
Method Pressure cook the ponkh till soft in some water. Strain and reserve. We char the ponkh over embers at the restaurant, but at home you can char it in a pan over high flame stirring continuously. Season with salt and reserve.
To Assemble Smoked pumpkin hummus Charred ponkh Chilli oil / chilli crisp Pickled onions Lime juice
Scoop a generous dollop of the creamy pumpkin hummus in a bowl. Swirl the spoon in the center to create a well. Toss the charred ponkh in the chilli oil, use as much or as little as you desire. Hit it with a squeeze of lime. Now rest the mixed ponkh in the well created for it. Pour on the excess oil it’s always added flavor. Top it with pickled onions to give it that crunch and acidity Serve with khakra or lavash or just plain potato chips.
3. Buransh Kheer by Chef Megha Kohli
Recipe Barnyard millet (jhangora) : 80 gm. (You can use any other millet at home too). Milk 1l Sugar / Gur / honey: 150gm Buransh (rhododendron) extract: 50gm Cardamom powder: 1 pinch Chopped nuts: 1 tbsp
Method Heat the milk till it comes to a boil. Add the millets & cardamom powder and cook them, stirring constantly till they are fully cooked and turn the flame off. Add the buransh, sugar/jaggery / honey and stir in the nuts. Serve hot or cold!
4. Sea Buckthorn Granita with Black Pepper Mousse by Chef Prateek Sadhu
Sea buckthorn juice 150g
Carrot juice 150g
Caster sugar 142g
Boil the water and sugar together in a saucepan. Once cool, add both the juices. Freeze in a wide container. Scrape as needed.
Ingredients for Black Pepper Mousse Black Pepper Cream 800g Caster sugar 80g Vanilla essence 2g Agar agar 5g Black pepper powder 8g
Recipe Heat cream, sugar, vanilla and agar agar. Boil for 30 seconds. Take it off the heat and keep whisking. Add black pepper powder and leave in a container to set.
Spoon the black pepper mousse into a bowl, then top with the sea buckthorn granita. Serve immediately.