A basketful of Easter delights

Recently I was at the Abu Dhabi airport waiting for the announcement of my flight to Mumbai and across from where I was sitting, I saw a bakery and patisserie shop showcasing what looked like colourful Easter eggs. And the sight of these delights took me down memory lane to those days when I was working with the Centaur hotel in Mumbai. Come Easter and we would all gear up to create a variety of Easter eggs – a simple yet delicious concoction of dark and white chocolates, cocoa butter and toffees.

Last year during Easter, I was invited to visit the kitchens of the White House in the US by its Executive Chef Bill Yosses. I was accompanied by Pastry Chef Anil Rohira and Chef Vinod and we had the opportunity to see the making of a mammoth Easter Egg by Chef Yosses and his team. What an experience that was! Simply awesome!

At white house during Easter last year

At white house during Easter last year

Back in India, this year we are gearing up to celebrate Easter with Alyona’s family at Pune on 31st March which has been marked as Easter Sunday. Alyona’s sister Vandana, who is married into a Catholic family and residing in Australia, will also be joining us for this grand Easter celebration.

No Easter celebration is complete without the popular Easter Egg hunts. I remember the Easter egg hunt that Vandana had organized in her home in Australia, a few years back. It was so much fun, not only for the children, but for us elders too. Beautifully decorated Easter eggs, sold in stores were gifted to children by their parents. According to the tradition, parents hide these Easter eggs along with sweets and the children have to find them. My kids are also eagerly waiting for us to organize this. Alyona is thinking hard to find interesting and not-so-easy-to-search places for hiding these eggs.

And of course, you can imagine what this means for me! I have been commanded by my children to create a basketful of Easter Eggs, which are not only visually impressive but innovative in its taste as well. Plus my famous buttered hot cross buns and their favourite Blueberry buttermilk cup cakes is also on the to-do-list. Apart from these, I am also going to order some cakes and other Easter goodies from Bunty Mahajan’s Deliciae Patisserie and Hearsch Bakery, both located in Bandra. They make some of the yummiest Easter cakes that I have ever eaten. Though I have made hundreds of cakes, I am a bit partial to their cakes, especially around Easter.

Most Catholics have their own secret Easter recipes, which they share willingly if someone is interested. In Bandra, which is a hub of the Christian community, one can also buy from one of the innumerable small Christian bakeries hidden in the by-lanes of Pali Hill, which serve the most incredible baked treats. So you can easily fill your Easter basket with rich Simnel cakes, delicately crafted chocolate eggs, yummy Easter bunnies, scrumptious hot cross buns and mouth-watering carrot cookies. Some places also serve a grand Easter feast consisting of chicken and lamb specialties as well.

But if you want to get a bit adventurous and surprise your family, you are most welcome to try out these Easter specialties on my website as well at www.sanjeevkapoor.com.

                          

Happy Easter!!!

Till the next time,
With love
Sanjeev Kapoor

Cooking shouldn’t kill!

Combodia Visit

I love travelling and I am so glad that my profession grants me an opportunity to do so. I am currently in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, staying at the gorgeous Hotel Phnom Penh. It is one of the most beautiful properties I have had the chance to visit. Cambodia is a glorious Country, with a dark past. It is still recovering from the consequences of the Khmer Rouge regime when millions of people lost their lives due to hunger, forced labor and the political atrocities by a series of dictators belonging to the Khmer Rouge Communist Party. Now however, Cambodia is on its way to development, social and political. However, my visit to this beautiful city is not for recreational purposes. I am here to be a part of a social initiative called The Alliance Chef Corps.

Most of you must be wondering what this is. Well, this is a part of a larger initiative called “The global alliance for clean cook stoves”. The Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves is a public-private partnership led by the United Nations Foundation to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and protect the environment by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions. The alliances’ main goal calls for 100 million households to adopt clean and efficient cook stoves and fuels by 2020. To ensure this, it is working on all aspects to ensure that cooking is done in safe and sanitary conditions all around the world. Better understanding of the cooking methods worldwide, conducting market research, recognizing barriers that come in the way of healthy and safe cooking, convening national organizations in workshops, understanding the government’s role, and more.

The overall objective of the Alliance Chef Corps is to position the issue of clean cook stoves and fuels with global and country-specific audiences. My association with The Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves started off when I got a tweet from my friend, Chef Andre Jose a few months back. Eventually he told me more about it. The facts and statistics about people losing their lives and being subjected to deadly diseases because of the harmful methods of cooking, took me aback. I had to be a part of this! As a chef, I love cooking. So it is extremely disturbing for me to learn that in my country itself lacs of people die every year because of something as basic as cooking. Primitive methods of cooking like the choolha and using firewood to cook food result in health and environmental hazards. In most cases it is the women who do all the cooking, completely unaware that a simple act of preparing a meal could poison or even kill them or their loved ones.

Chef Jose Andres, took his passion for increased food security, improved global health and greater access to clean cooking solutions and convened Chefs Susan Kamau of Kenya, Luu Meng of Cambodia and Myself from India to announce the creation of the Alliance Chef Corps. It is amazing for a chef to be associated with a cause like this. Cooking food brings me immense joy and I hate to think that something so joyous can also be so harmful to such a large population. We hope to gather in more chefs to be a part of this initiative. The key is to bring about awareness and this is only possible if we reach out to people in different parts of the world. For more details visit the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

Nelson Mandela once said “to deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” I think, cooking food in safe and non-hazardous conditions is one of the most basic needs that we can provide to people who are less fortunate than us. Looking forward to the next two days so I can learn more about safety cooking and do my bit to ensure that cooking shouldn’t kill!

Till I write again.
Sanjeev Kapoor

Bura na mano Holi hai!

What’s unique about Holi is the riot of rich colours which when combined with high spirits rejuvenates life on earth. Holi Festival is a celebration of life, love, happiness and good spirits!

Holi, the most colourful of Hindu festivals, falls on the full moon day in the Hindu month of phagun, which is the month of March as per the Gregorian calendar. LathmaarHoli, DulandiHoli, Rangpanchami, HolaMohalla and Shimgo are some of the names Holi is known as. The customs and traditions are more or less the same with miniscule changes in different regions. It is one of the most famous and widely celebrated festivals in India. As it is with every Hindu festival, Holi is associated with a lot of traditional sweets and savories.

Not to forget, some of my most fond childhood memories are associated with Holi. As the cold winter months would fade, marking the arrival of spring, me and my friends would eagerly wait to start our Holi celebrations! We would go to the market in large groups where there would be an entire stream of shops displaying all the things we need to celebrate a grand Holi! Mounds of powdered colours, pichkaris of every imaginable shape and size, gulal, water balloons, food items – you name it! Getting drenched in water and colour and going back home exhausted only to be welcomed home with the smell of hot crisp gujiyas and other treats my mother would prepare for Holi. Sigh! Those were the good old days.

Holi is a time to forgive and forget all woes of the past and begin new friendships. People throw water balloons and gulal on passersby’s and follow it up by saying “bura na mano holi hai!” It works as a way to get away with almost anything on this day. People indulge in singing and dancing on special Holi songs, spraying coloured water with pichkaris, enacting plays based on Holi legends, etc. Large common Holi celebrations are organized, where rain dance is a common attraction. Holi is one of the most interactive and social festival I know of. People get together and celebrate in union, irrespective of the caste, creed, age, gender or status. Eco friendly Holi is a concept which we must welcome. Use of limited amounts of water and herbal colours to play is good not only for the environment, but also for our personal health. We could also celebrate Holi with tomatoes, like they do at the Tomatina Festival in Spain!

Holi calls for a lot of activity and activity activates hunger pangs! If one travels across India, one could probably have a taste of various regional sweets. The one binding factor across the states is the beverage called thandai that is specially prepared on the occasion of Holi. Thandai can be in two versions: one that has bhaang (cannabis) and the other tamer version for kids and for those who do not want to get inebriated!

The buds and leaves of cannabis are squashed and ground into a green paste in a mortar with a pestle. Milk, nuts and spices are then added. Some prefer to add the leaves to fried savoury dumplings called pakoras and as the unsuspecting guests consume them the intoxicating effect of the bhaang becomes evident. While bhaang has never been a part of my personal Holi celebrations, there is another drink known as – kanji! My mother used to make the traditional gajar ki kanji, by soaking pieces of carrots (preferably black carrots) in a mixture of water and spices for a couple of days. Back then I used to avoid drinking this as much as possible but now I absolutely love it! I will surely be making it this time and so should you as it is a healthy and nutritious addition to any Holi menu!

At the more organized Holi parties, food orders are outsourced to catering companies. However, the real deal lies in making the treats yourself!

Traditional Holi eats:

 

While it is very important for us to celebrate our rich heritage, it is also extremely essential to conserve and not pollute existing resources around us. Keeping this in mind we can easily cut back on some of the more extravagant ways of celebrating this festival by using eco friendly herbal colours, ensuring minimal water wastage, avoiding dangerous rubber balloons, maintaining hygiene and ensuring that everyone around us is having a safe Holi. Remember, Holi is a festival of colours, joy and celebration! The real way to celebrate is to spread the universal message of love to one and all. Let the spirit and colours of Holi make a big splash in your life in the most positive way ever.

Here’s wishing one and all a very happy and a colourful Holi!

What’s your colour?

Have you ever wondered as to what each shade of colour in your most favourite vegetable indicate? You might not give it a thought while cooking and gorging them up, but colour or pigments in vegetables do have importance which signifies its health importance. Let’s see what these beautiful colours have got to tell us about them.

To begin with, there are three principle pigment categories and every pigment category has subgroups within it.

Chlorophyll is the main pigment in green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, fenugreek, green capsicum, mustard greens, lettuce, etc.

Carotenoids are the pigments which provide colour to the orange, red and yellow vegetables like tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, etc.

Flavonoids is the third group of pigments that give colour to the white, blue, purple and purplish-red vegetables like brinjals, radish, purple cabbage, etc. Within this only, there are two sub-groups: one that provides especially the white pigment as seen in cauliflower and this one is known as anthoxanthins and the other, anthocyanins which provides the rather deep reds, purples and blues like in beetroot, red bell peppers, etc.

These pigments not just provide colour to the vegetables, but also behave differently when cooked, and thus, this is the reason the results can be anything between pleasing to distinctly unpalatable. Because of this potential for negative changes, pigments require special consideration when planning cooking methods.

Keeping in mind these facts, boiling is one cooking process that comes first to the mind when the colour change in vegetables is thought about. The initial change in the original colour of vegetables, when plunged into boiling water is the result of the drastic change in temperature of water that apparently causes expulsion of the small amount of air between the cells, making pigments (particularly chlorophyll) appears even brighter than before heating. This abrupt start to heating vegetables has the added advantage of keeping cooking times as short as possible, which helps to avoid converting chlorophyll to pheophytin (a chemical electron carrier that helps in photosynthesis) and also aids in retaining nutrients. Further, the acidity or alkalinity of the water in which vegetables are being boiled modifies the colours of all pigments except the carotenoids.

If the water is acidic, the vegetables containing chlorophyll take on an olive-drab colour gradually while they are cooking or if the cooking period exceeds about 5-7 minutes. However, a slightly alkaline medium of the water promotes retention of chlorophyll. The flavonoids, both the anthoxanthins and the anthocyanins, retain a desirable colour in a slightly acidic medium, while alkali will cause poor colour.

Also, vegetable cells naturally contain some mild organic acids, but these acids may be released into the cooking medium, causing pigment changes to begin to develop. In the case of chlorophyll, the change will be towards an olive-green hue, a transition that should be avoided if possible. If green vegetables are boiled in an uncovered pan, the unstable organic acids will escape from the cooking medium, thus maintaining the water close to neutral. The desired chlorophyll pigment will be maintained by keeping the lid on pan, only until the water returns to boiling after the vegetable have been added and keeping the cooking time short.

The technique for boiling the flavonoids containing vegetables is the reverse of that for chlorophyll. Both the anthocyanins and anthoxanthins pigments are considered to be more desirable in an acidic than in an alkaline medium. Thus, using a lid on the pan retains the unstable organic acids and protects the pigments. Carotenoids can be viewed as pigments that are comparable in boiling water regardless of the fact acidity and alkalinity. There is no compelling reason either for using or not using a lid on carotenoids containing vegetables from the perspective of colour.

So, next time you want to cook a particular coloured vegetable and want to retain the colour as it is, remember these points for sure and you will surely end up with desired results!

Try out some of these colourful recipes:

Beet and Carrot SaladVegetable Wrapped Eggplant and Paneer Kabab

Beet and Carrot Salad      Vegetables Wrapped  Eggplants and Paneer Kebabs