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Savoring India

Savoring India by Julie Sahni
ISBN-13: 978-0848725907

By: Julie Sahni

This book is one of a several in the Williams-Sonoma ‘Savoring…’ series, all of which are beautiful to look at and pleasures to read. Like the others in the series, ‘Savoring India’ is not only part travelogue and part culinary atlas, but is also, with its beautiful photography, as much of a coffee-table book as it is a regular cookery publication…

Content and Organization

Table of Contents

The book is organized according to the function of a dish – snack, desert, main course, etc. – and there are 134 recipes, each with an accompanying illustration.  There is a general introduction to Indian cuisine at the beginning of the book and this is continued in more depth at the outset of each section, often featuring some personal recollections and observations by the author. There are also many ‘sidebars’ and additional pieces scattered throughout the text that introduce the reader to some interesting aspect of Indian food or culture, and all of this is richly and lavishly supplemented scores of photographs illustrating Indian life. Finally, in the end-pages, there is a glossary covering the spices and foodstuffs unique to the cuisines of the sub-continent.

Critique

It would be easy to dismiss this book as being a ‘fluff’ piece that is more about the photography than it is the food but, in fact, the recipes are very well chosen and consist of a lot more than just the standard Indian restaurant fare. I particularly like that the author has taken pains to select dishes from all around the continent and to indicate their origin as well as provide some interesting background information for each.

The photographs of each dish are all very beautiful but this is not merely a function of the photographer’s skill as it is clear that the author has taken great pains to produce food that ‘plates’ attractively. Even a well-prepared Indian feast, such as one might see laid out in a buffet, can often present as a bland range of ‘browns’ … red-browns, green-browns, and yellow-browns, to be sure … but a lot of Indian food can still be a bit visually uninteresting sometimes. In this book, however, every single dish is richly and vibrantly colored, all with beautiful contrasts and hues. It is this, perhaps more than anything else, speaks to the expertise of Ms. Sahni.

On a couple of occasions, I have had some less than perfect results following the recipes in this book (the ‘Nimboo Bhat’, comes to mind), but these were exceptions to the rule and it is quite possible that the fault lay with me rather than the recipe as she designed it. Ms. Sahni writes very clearly, and though she doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing technique, the recipes are all, for the most part, very easy to follow.

Overall

This is not the sort of book I would recommend as an introduction to Indian cooking. Rather, it is a celebration of Indian food rather than a manual of technique (although it does not, in fairness, pretend to be anything else). However, for those with a well-rounded library of Indian cuisine already this makes a fantastic addition. It is not impossible that one might learn a thing or two from Ms. Sahni, of course, but this is a book you can just sit down and enjoy.

For myself… this is the sort of thing I love to get as a gift 🙂

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Benjamin Bridge Riesling 2017

Benjamin Bridge Riesling 2017

The Benjamin Bridge Winery is situated on the Gaspereau River within the Annapolis Valley wine-growing sub-region of Nova Scotia. The estate produces eight wines currently, three of which are single varietals, these being a Chardonnay, a Vidal Blanc, and a Riesling. Today’s selection, the 2017 Riesling, is, I believe, the third vintage to be available on the public market.


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Grilled Soy Tempeh at Play,Food & Wine

Grilled Tempeh 1

This lunch dish I had at Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa marked another first for me… this time, it was the Indonesian fermented soy bean cake known as Tempeh. I have read about it many times, but this was the first time I had ever seen it in a restaurant, or anywhere else.

The menu described the tempeh as being served with pear kimchi, mushrooms, and almond oil. The mushrooms, which were the ‘oyster’ type, also came with green beans and pea shoots (not mentioned on the menu) and, together, these formed a bed for the tempeh. I am not sure where the almond oil came into the picture as I could neither see nor taste anything along those lines and I suppose it may not have been used on this occasion. The pear kimchi, of which more in a moment, was the little amber pools you see at the edges of the vegetables.

The pieces of tempeh, as you can see, rather have the appearance of granola bars and, indeed, this is very much what the cake was like. It was much softer in texture than granola, but with a similar contrast of consistencies, and the taste was a lot like light toast with hints of nuts. Many people are cautious around anything fermented as such things are often very strongly flavored but this was very mild and inoffensive, and I would say that very few will take a strong dislike to it.

The tempeh was dry to the point that it needed a little something and this was where the pear kimchi came in… I had to enquire as to what exactly it was, and I was told that it was a puree of spiced, fermented pear. It tasted, in my opinion, a bit like miso to which a little garlic and chili had been added. It was excellent and a really well-chosen accompaniment to the tempeh.

My only criticism of my experience with this dish was that it had lingered a little too long between the kitchen and my table and was almost cold. For the tempeh, the beans, and the pea shoots this did not matter too much but it rather spoiled my enjoyment of the mushrooms a little. Still, that was only a minor flaw and I was very pleased to give tempeh a try. I may also try turning my hand to fermenting pears myself …

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Lunch at Play, Food & Wine

E-PFW 0

Play, Food and Wine is one of my favorite restaurants in Ottawa and many dishes I have enjoyed there have been featured in posts here at one time or another. On my most recent visit, I went with a companion in the early afternoon and we sampled three of the dishes from the lunch menu. One was decent enough, one was outstanding, and the third… very surprisingly for this particular restaurant … was nothing short of awful. For a more particular description of all three, read on… Continue reading “Lunch at Play, Food & Wine”

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Grilled Sturgeon at Play, Food & Wine

PFW Grilled Sturgeon

One of my greatest pleasures is being able to try foods that I have never had before. Until a recent visit to Play, Food & Wine in Ottawa this spring, I have never encountered sturgeon in any shape or form before and even the ‘caviar’ I have had has been from some other sort of fish (and thus not proper ‘caviar’ in the eyes of many). Accordingly, I was quite excited to see the actual fish appearing as an item on the menu and I was unable to forego the opportunity to give it a try…

The fish itself was served atop a bed of lentil salad incorporating pickled yucca and teardrop peppers. It was topped with toasted, coarsely-chopped almonds and pea shoots, and olive tapenade was added to the plate in three little pools.

To be honest, I didn’t think the tapenade added anything, and I didn’t like the lentil salad bed either in taste or texture. I don’t care for lentils all that much to begin with, and there was nothing about this salad or its other ingredients that really changed my mind. That being said though, neither of the ‘enhancements’ here spoiled my enjoyment of the sturgeon at all, thankfully…

The flesh of the fish was very nicely grilled and succulent. The texture was quite firm, yet still ‘flake-able’, much like cod, and the flavor was slightly sweet, and even somewhat chicken-like. It did not have the pronounced ‘fishy’ taste that some people find a bit overpowering in seafood and, in all, I was reminded very much of Monkfish in taste, if not in texture. Anyway, I doubt I shall be eating sturgeon very frequently in the future, as it is a bit pricey, but I very much enjoyed my introductory experience…

Wine Pairing: 2017 Pearce & Predhomme Chenin Blanc [South Africa]

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Chorizo Scotch Eggs at The Clarendon Tavern

Chorizo Scotch Eggs

When I was a kid growing up in Britain, Scotch Eggs would often put in an appearance at picnics or on cold buffets, but, on this side of the pond, they seem less well known and are only infrequently encountered. Basically, the idea is that a boiled egg is wrapped in sausage meat, coated in breadcrumbs and then deep-fried or baked. In my house, when I was young, my mother deep-fried them, as best as I recall, and she always hard-boiled the eggs first.

A while back, I had an opportunity to visit ‘The Clarendon Tavern’ in Ottawa’s Byward Market for the first time. I was able to sample a number of beers I had not had before, and also tried their version of Scotch eggs, which has been given a spicy twist with chorizo and other seasonings in the sausage wrap.

The specialty was served with some very nice bread and butter pickles, grainy mustard, and a salad of greens in a lovely dressing containing just a little lemon zest. There were also some finely shredded pickles in the greens and, while I could not identify them, I thought them a very nice addition. As for the egg itself, the coarse breadcrumb produced a very nice crust that was still nicely crisp and the chorizo sausage made a great change from the usual. There was also a slight ‘curry’ taste to the meat coating, and I could definitely detect cumin and coriander in the blend. Whatever it was, the result was a nice play on an old favorite and I would really like to experiment with the idea myself … maybe Quail eggs instead?

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A Meal at Kochin Kitchen

Kochin Kitchen 1

Kochin Kitchen opened up on Dalhousie Street in Ottawa’s Byward Market a few years back, and, while I did try to pop-in for lunch on a past visit to the city it was packed full already and I didn’t get a table. Recently, I made another attempt and, though the place was very busy once again, the service was very friendly and efficient and I enjoyed my meal. The place specializes in the food of southern India and they have a nice range of dishes, especially appetizers. I plan to go again on an upcoming visit to the capital a few weeks hence actually, but I am posting to day to share the very nice dishes I enjoyed on my introductory excursion to the place… Continue reading “A Meal at Kochin Kitchen”