Thanksgiving is an American tradition. Celebrated on the last Thursday of November every year, it is a family holiday that brings people together. Recently, the California Walnuts Commission hosted a luncheon to commemorate Thanksgiving in New Delhi and chef Ruchira Hoon, who is emerging as one of the finest chefs in the city, curated a meal that was all about walnuts at Piano Man, a trendy jazz establishment that has its dedicated band of followers.
Hoon, a former journalist who decided to part with her career and pair with her passion, has slowly but steadily made her space in the crowded Delhi food scene. She serves haute cuisine with a decidedly homely twist. It’s a style that can only be perfected by someone who is not schooled in the dos and donts of the culinary arts, which, though instructive, can be limiting and even self-conscious. That flair was visible in the lunch. As someone who has been part of Thanksgiving lunches in the past—albeit a more traditional version full with corn bread, turkey, cranberry sauce and stuffing (admittedly, sticking to the stuffing and not turkey)—I found it to be an afternoon tinged with nostalgia. That nostalgia came from the food, as is what happens with good food. Sure, the corn bread came with a twist of jalapeno, but there was still corn bread, a Thanksgiving lunch-table essential.
With walnut being the centre of the meal and not the turkey, even the vegetarians had enough options to enjoy.
The “walnutty” mood was set right at the beginning, with the pass-arounds being walnuts, of course! But the menu wasn’t quite as obvious. The vegan soup—a curried walnut and pumpkin one—had just the right amount of Indianess to ease one into the menu. It was luxuriant and thickened with walnut milk, leaving one feeling light and not heavy. The salad—a walnut brittle, roasted beetroot salad with fried brie—could be a meal of its own. Refreshing with a light vinaigrette dressing, it introduced multiple textures and colours on one plate.
The entrée (I chose the vegetarian option) of Sweet Potato and Walnut Pesto gallette, a flaky puff pastry, was a slightly large serving, but tasty nonetheless—its flavours intimately familiar to the Indian palate (a bit of a patty vibe to break down the gallete in familiar terms) and yet keeping with the sweet potato tradition of Thanksgiving.
The main course, a twice-cooked sous vide turkey, and my vegetarian option of the tagliatelli with lemon cream became the centrepiece of the menu. Sous vide is a method of cooking, where the food item is placed in a sealed plastic bag or in a glass jar and cooked in water or a steam bath. It’s a slower method of cooking, but is considered a healthier option, as it helps retain original flavours and qualities.
The tagliatelle, of course, was a feel-good pasta dish tossed in a delightful lemon cream sauce—pasta in a cream sauce sounds awfully heavy, but it was far from it, leaving one satiated and yet not stuffed.
Hoon is committed to being as zero-waste as possible. Hence, she integrated every part of the walnut into the recipes. For example, walnut milk was used to thicken the soup and sorbet, and the hull was used to make the savoury and sweet cookies for the crumble over the soup and dessert.
The meal ended with a trio of desserts, which were, thankfully, bite-sized: a small piece of flourless walnut chocolate cake, a mini walnut cranberry curd tart, and a spiced pumpkin mousse shot with walnut crumble. This carefully-curated menu brought in every Thanksgiving ingredient/dish (pumpkin, corn bread, turkey, sweet potatoes, cranberry etc) to the table with masterful subtlety. There was even iced tea. And a chef who has the ability to create a home out of the food she serves. What more can one ask for?
-Advaita Kala is a writer, most recently of the film Kahaani. She is also a former hotelier having worked in restaurants in India and abroad