Mediterranean magic

Spice it up

Mediterranean cuisine – the food coming from Southern Europe, Northern Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region (all bound by the Mediterranean sea) – is famed for being exceptionally healthy.

It is characterised by the use of olive oil, moderate cooking techniques and lots of fresh spices and herbs.

Many of us, with concerns about a widening waistline and high blood pressure, prefer Mediterranean food, but can’t have it on a daily basis having little knowledge of its preparation. But fret not! Gastronomic experts say that you can create the same Mediterranean magic at your home with a little sprinkling of those fresh Mediterranean herbs and spices.

Dheeraj Mangothra, executive chef, Reeve restaurant, says that Mediterranean condiments are becoming very popular in Indian homes and fine dining restaurants. “It all started with Indian chefs – mainly Sanjeev Kapoor – travelling to Africa in the early 2000s and coming back with a host of Mediterranean spices and ideas on how to use them in Indian foods. Since then, with the growth of fusion food, the usage of Mediterranean spices has only gone up.”

He adds, “The best thing about Mediterranean spices is their health benefit. Almost all of them have some medicinal quality which is further enhanced when used fresh and unroasted. In India, we have a habit of roasting every spice before use. In Mediterranean cuisine, spices are added unroasted which does not mask the taste of the main ingredients but enhances them.”

Foremost of them, Dheeraj lists Cajun spice which is a mix of at least three to four spices namely oregano, paprika powder, cumin, pepper, sugar, salt etc. He says, “Cajun spice is being increasingly used to grill all kinds of meat besides our French fries which are being tossed in Cajun spice now.”  Jerk spice – a mix of three spices coming straight from Jamaica – is another condiment in this category which has now become a staple in Goulash – mutton stew.

Sweet Paprika powder – a mainstay in Mediterranean food – has assumed a new avatar in Indian cuisine by lending its bright red colour to our meat curries, paneer curries and dal makhni sans the hotness of the traditionally used red chilli powder. Marjoram – a dry herb from the family of oregano is also a favourite now to add in all sorts of pastas, pizzas and red sauce.

“Another Mediterranean herb which has caught fancy in India is Basil. Basil belongs to the family of Tulsi and when added finely chopped, enhances the taste of any chutney, soup and even masala chai. It is also being used to grill various meats,” says Dheeraj.

“Besides, Thyme has emerged as a much loved herb in non-milk teas. You will find jasmine and orange tea with thyme on the menu card of almost every other good hotel and restaurant,” he adds.

However, Mediterranean condiments have not restricted their reach to Indian grills and gravies alone but are now being employed in desserts too. Dheeraj says, “Many people these days are making vanilla ice cream, kheer, phirni and ras malai not with artificial flavour but real vanilla sticks. These are extremely expensive - $ 200/stick – but add a really authentic essence. Clearly, Mediterranean condiments are adapting to Indian foods very well thanks to their versatility.”  

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get the top news in your inbox
Comments (+)