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A work in progress

Preeti Verma Lal, Aug 19 2017, 0:55 IST
Sujan Sarkar

Sujan Sarkar

It is a tasting menu that you might not have laid your hands on before. Liquid egg bhurji with dehydrated garlic chutney, salicornia pakoda. Jhalmuri bar (ignore the granola, please); polenta upma; California halibut with gunpowder spice; seafood and millet khichdi; green pea kulcha with goat cheese and summer truffle. If that’s the tasting menu, you know the kitchen is “progressive Indian”and the man behind it is chef Sujan Sarkar.

In ROOH, San Francisco’s mint-fresh bistro and bar, my eyes gazed at the jhalmuri bar with avocado, tamarind gel, mint chutney, and spiced buttermilk sorbet. Progressive? That is 3017 progressive, I thought.

But I should have prepped myself for a ‘progressive Indian’ feast. As partner and chef of ROOH, Sarkar is re-cooking ‘Indian’ in San Francisco. This is not the first time, though. With a degree in hand and a stint in some of the most decorated restaurants in London, Sarkar opened The Tasting Lab in Olive Kitchen & Bar, and became chef and partner at Ek Bar, India’s first artisanal cocktail bar.

He started the Gastronomy Guys with the Temple & Shian Events at the Whistling Shop, London, where he carried out his nitro experiments, hosted dinners showcasing modernist Indian cuisine at Hyatt Andaz, London, and then at the prestigious Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity for Google, at Cannes, France.
Sarkar surely knows how to give the Indian a “progressive” twist.

You are known as a thinking chef who has perfected progressive Indian cuisine. How do you define ‘Indian progressive’?

For me, ‘progressive Indian’ means combining traditional Indian flavours with new ingredients available locally. I strongly believe that unless we explore new ingredients we cannot take our cuisine forward. At the same time, we should look for healthy options and presentation. When we combine all of these, we will get a cuisine, which is more refined and progressive but still Indian. This should not be confused with fusion Indian, though.

How does one cook ‘progressive Indian’ at home?


A few simple ideas can change regular home-cooked food into exciting dishes.

Carrot halwa cake — use leftover carrot halwa to make a carrot cake.

Rajma/edamame hummus — make hummus with 80% boiled rajma or edamame and 20% chickpea. And serve this with toasted makki ki roti (corn tortilla).

Squid and prawn poha is a great combination for seafood lovers.

Avocado and wasabi raita.

Roast chicken drumstick with olive and jalapeno pickle.

These days, there is so much buzz about super foods. Can you give us some tips on how to incorporate super foods into our everyday meals?

We do a dish called grain and vegetable pulao. For this, we use five different kinds of super grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet, black rice and farro) and dried black currents. This is served with walnut salan and avocado raita, which are also super foods.

At home, when you make salad, add micro greens and kale to other salad leaves. Instead of croutons, add walnut or puffed grains and seeds for crunch.

Add avocado to your mint and coriander chutney.

Instead of raisins, add dried cranberries to the kheer.

For khichdi, substitute white rice with amaranth.

What do you stock in the kitchen for monsoon? What do you avoid cooking during the monsoon?

In India, I would stock broccoli, pumpkin, kale, different types of beetroot, romaine lettuce, different types of cheese, chicken and duck from local farms and imported fish (salmon, sea bass). I avoid leafy vegetables, seafood and local mushrooms.

What are the 10 things you can make with beetroot?

Pickled beetroot or sweet and sour beetroot murabba

Beetroot and peanut chop

Beetroot and rajma hummus

Salt-baked beetroot salad with goat cheese and quinoa

Spicy beetroot and tamarind chutney

Beetroot and yogurt (or sour cream) soup

Chicken tikka, marinated with beetroot, yogurt and pomegranate molasses

Beetroot red velvet cake with candied beetroot and mascarpone mousse

There was time people only ate what was in season. Now, everything is available throughout the year. Do you believe in consuming seasonal produce?

When we got our first refrigerator, the concept of eating seasonal ingredients started dying down. I remember as a kid, I used to go to market with my granddad for grocery shopping and buy seasonal produce. At that time, cauliflowers, carrots, green peas and all other winter vegetables would be available only in the winter months. There was the joy in waiting for these to hit the markets. We cannot go against nature and produce everything all year around. Seasonal produce will be cheaper, nutritious, and flavourful and at the same time, you can support local farmers, cut down the carbon footprint and the use of pesticides in food.

Polenta upma with mushroom & Parmesan cheese

Ingredients

1 cup of instant polenta

1 tbsps of ghee or vegetable oil

1 tsp of black mustard seeds

1 large onion chopped (about cup)

1 green chill chopped

4 cloves of garlic finely chopped

1 tomato chopped

1 cup of diced button mushroom

5 curry leaves

1 tsp of red chilli powder

1 tbsp of fresh coriander chopped

1 lemon

1 tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese

Salt to taste

2 cups of water

1 cup of milk

Method:

Place a pan on medium heat, add ghee or oil. Add mustard seeds, stir until they splutter. Now add chopped onion and garlic. Fry for a minute. Add mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add chopped chillies, curry leaves, chilli powder and tomatoes and cook for another minute.

Now stir in the instant polenta until the mixture resembles wet sand. Add salt and gently pour in the hot water. The polenta will bubble and spurt as it absorbs the water. Reduce heat to low and add milk. Allow this mixture to cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.

Turn off the heat when the mixture is slightly runny. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese, freshly chopped coriander leaf and squeeze lemon juice. Serve immediately.



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