Ancient ingredients are the new gourmet stars. Have you spotted these yet in your nouvelle menus?
Sitting at Azimuth, the chef’s studio at Blue Frog Delhi, I recently realised that some of the big trends that we have been talking about globally are making their way quietly into Indian restaurant kitchens as well. One of the highlights of the contemporary menu at the studio is bael (woodapple) soup that comes up as a cold appetiser to be spooned up in some very chic crockery. Bael was once the staple of Indian homes and streets during summer, as season specials.
The resurgence of traditional ingredients is a noteworthy trend in all the dining capitals of the world, what with greater emphasis now being paid to artisanal, slow foods and health diktats prompting consumers away from assembly-line, “fast” or obviously restaurantised stuff. Grass-fed meat, for instance, reared by small farmers is prized in the snobbiest of restaurants above mass-produced ingredients seen (sometimes rightly) as more unhealthy. Salt, too, is the “it” ingredient currently but not factory-made; strictly natural and gourmet—aka the Himalayan rock salt that we in India used to have in our kitchens till the generic stuff took over, or Black Hawaiian sea salt and so on. And ancient grains that had lost their supremacy to refined flour and polished white rice are all making a comeback as gourmet ingredients used by the best chefs—even in India. Look at your menus carefully the next time you eat out at a fancy restaurant and you may just find some of these ancient ingredients contemporarised.
Woodapple Or bael: It is one of the most ancient of fruits native to India. In Hindu mythology, it is a favourite of Shiva; in Ayurveda, a cure for snakebite amongst other things and generally supposed to be great for digestion, curing ulcers and deemed “good for the stomach” during summer. Restaurants have been aggressively rediscovering it this season in their homemade sherbets and soups, even if homes have forgotten to stock up on this!
Licorice: I don’t know of anyone who really likes the taste of licorice—except perhaps in Finland where it is one of the most adored national ingredients and chefs are concocting strange recipes, such as licorice-flavoured salmon from two of their most traditional ingredients! But even without such experimentation, mulethi, as we know it in India (in Ayurveda, it has a host of medicinal properties too),