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Mysore Chilli Chicken ….

This chilli chicken dish is simple yet skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced. So much intricacy in this dish!

Mysore chilli chicken dish

So, let’s get started and first make the masala:

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off, here are a few tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

Anna’s Mysore Chilli Chicken

Well, the name says it all.

But it might not be the name you expect.

Anyway, this is a chicken dish with, yes, you guessed it, chilli and it comes from the “royal” (well, I added the regal bit to it!!) kitchens of Mysore.

Anna’s Mysore chilli chicken

But what is not evident from the name, ‘Mysore chilli chicken’, is the process of creating this dish.

It is simple yet very skilled; it is hot but doesn’t burn, and it is tasty but not overly spiced.

This dish is ‘Carnatic’ music at its best, that is, to the taste buds!!

The dish is a creation of Vardarajan, who out of respect (or fear!!) was called “Anna” which means “big brother”. See, some of you won’t have expected that name to belong to a bloke!

Anna was a chef at the Chola Hotel in Madras, way back in the 70s and 80s, and what a chef he was.

But don’t let me do all the talking, folks.

I have pulled out a page from the ‘diary’ of Raman Natrajan who was a trainee in that hotel around the same time as Anna and he describes brilliantly what it was like working in the kitchens of the Chola Hotel and then he describes the dish itself!!

So, without further ado, let’s see what he wrote:

My first job in a professional kitchen was at The Chola Sheraton in Madras. I took a part-time job to work on the weekends. On my first day Chef Ramesh Babu walked me over to the Main Kitchen. I was to work in the prep kitchen next to the Indian kitchen. This was where you served your indenture in order to become an apprentice worthy of working in the main kitchen.

There was a never-ending procession of goods requisitioned out on numerous trolleys from the main storeroom that came into the prep kitchen first, for initial processing. For 12 hours a day, I stood there with my hands red and sore, peeling onions by the bagful and slicing them. My feet and back ached constantly and I was unable to answer back to any one who wanted to test my patience during those first few days. After two weeks I was moved to the Indian Kitchen.

In this small world of the Indian section, there was a smaller god, Chef Varadarajan, who by now must be in the great white kitchen in the sky. Everyone called him Anna (brother). Anna was a ‘Tamizhkaaran’ from Mysore (which means a Tamil from Mysore). He had about ten cooks and five apprentices and yes, I was again at the mercy of the whole team. It was here that I watched in wonder as Anna prepared a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, all day long, for the restaurant and banquets.

No one told you, showed you, or gave you handouts; you learnt by sight, taste, and smell to become proficient by doing a task over and over again and getting better and faster every time. We had thousands of marinated tandoori chicken pieces to put on seekhs (skewers). After this we stood in front of four hot tandoori ovens, soaked in sweat and we handed over these seekhs to the tandoori cooks who were experts on the tandoor. This was my first experience of real heat. I was aware that in 99 percent of the iterations of tandoori chickens out there, the light or dark red color was supplied by food dye. I was curious and asked Anna if he used food color in all the food that has some color added to it. Anna told me that he was going to show me something later.

In the Indian kitchen they made different gravies in large pots big enough to have a bath in!  Still, as far as I was concerned, I was now being treated like a human being, at last, largely thanks to Anna who took me under his wing. When you work in the hotel you go to the staff kitchen for a meal, for you would not dare eat in the kitchen, at least not while the chef or sous-chefs were around. But most afternoons, after the meal service was done at around 2 p.m., the executive chef and his sous-chef would take a break. This is when the senior cooks make a special lunch for themselves. These were gems that one cannot find on any menu. The dishes were made with pure love and every day each chef outdid the other with his special dish.

One day Anna made a dish for the afternoon meal from his native Mysore. This was the day that Anna had said he’d show me something. And he did as promised; he showed me how to make a spectacular dish which he called “Mysore chilli chicken”. And what was even more amazing is that he was going to make it without adding any food color. Till today, I have searched online for this recipe and I have never found one that looked anything like his. It was bright orange/red and tasted divine. It came served with steamed rice. It was spicy, it was hot and it was pure Carnatic music on a plate!!

I will never forget Anna who showed me his mastery of cooking.

Food is like music. It should be relaxing, refreshing, and nourishing. Just like the music you love, it should inspire and move, exhilarate and excite. Flavors, colors, and smells should intermingle on your palate and raise the senses. For Anna the master, everything was easy, he was a smooth conductor and I learnt from him that cooking is like playing an instrument. It requires practice and respect; patience and a willingness to learn. You make mistakes, you try again, and you master your performance.

Thank you Anna for being one of my early Aachiriyars!!
VANAIKKAM ANNA!!!

Well folks, there you have it. Men after my own heart. Food cooked with skill, endless practise and passion.

So, what do we know about our friend Raman Natrajan?

 Raman Natrajan

Well, he started his career in Madras in the early 80s at the Chola Sheraton. I guess I was somewhere there around that time and that is how we met.

Time went by, as it tends to do . . . Raman joined the ITDC, I joined the Taj group of hotels.

Raman went to America to further his career in the hotel industry and I moved ‘Down Under’ to become a DESI cook. . .!

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Raman went on to work for the Sheraton Hotel as their Executive Chef in New Orleans, followed by a stint at the Renaissance Stanford in San Francisco, until 2004.

Today he heads the hotel operations of the Marriott Hotels in the US. This is no mean feat for someone who was groomed in the ‘hot’ kitchens of Madras under the tutelage of the great Anna!!

And without further ado, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, mouth-watering recipe itself.

Mysore Chilli Chicken

Masala (marinade):

9 long dried red chilies (you can use either the Bedgi chilli from Mangalore or its similar Kashmiri chilli. If you use Kashmir add 1.5 tsp hot chilli powder)

8- 10 Tellicherry peppercorns

1 1/2 tbsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp turmeric powder

6 cloves

I medium-sized cassia bark

2 1/2-inch pieces of ginger

ingredients for the marinade (clockwise from left to right):
top row, from left to right: whole black peppercorns, turmeric & cloves
middle row, from left to right: red chilli powder, water, salt & whole dried red chillies
bottom row, from left to right: cassia, coriander seeds & fresh ginger

1 kg chicken on the bone

chicken on the bone & half of the ground marinade

For the sauce aka ‘kari’

2 1/2 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil

2 1/2 large onions, finely chopped

10 fresh curry leaves

Salt, to taste

2 medium-size tomatoes, chopped

2 tsp of lemon juice, to serve

‘kari’ ingredients, clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, fresh curry leaves, chopped onions, remaining ground marinade & chopped tomatoes

Method:

1. Wash and cut the chicken into small pieces, drain till dry.

2. Grind all the masala ingredients to a fine paste, adding a little warm water.

all the marinade ingredients before being ground

ground marinade

3. Keep half the marinade (masala) aside for the sauce.

4. Marinate the chicken pieces in the remaining masala and set aside for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

marinating the chicken

marinated chicken

5. In a large frying pan, heat the ghee/oil and fry the onions with the curry leaves and salt. Cook until the onions are light golden brown. Add the masala to the onions and cook until the oil leaves the sides of the pan.

heat oil in a pan

add onions and fresh curry leaves, followed by salt

cook till it starts to turn light golden brown

add the remaining marinade

fold & cook till the oil leaves the sides of the pan

6. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, or till the tomatoes are cooked.

add the tomatoes & cook

7. Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge, place in a saucepan, cover and cook in its own juices until cooked (this is similar to ‘braising’) Set aside to rest.

place the marinated chicken in a saucepan

cover & cook over low heat

different stages of chicken cooking – just starting to change colour

stir occasionally for even cooking & cook till the chicken is fully cooked

8. Drain the chicken juices (‘liquor’) into the sauce and add a cup of water, if required. Cook till oil leaves the pan. Sprinkle with lemon juice.

drain the pot liquor into the sauce/’kari’

add some lemon juice

sauce/’kari’, ready to go!!

9. In another frying pan, heat enough oil to fry the cooked chicken pieces till caramelised and ‘bright red’! Drain and set aside.

heat oil in a separate pan

fry the chicken in hot oil, a few pieces at a time

fry the chicken till carmelised & ‘bright red’

drain on a paper towel

top with crisp-fried curry leaves

Serve the Mysore chilli chicken along with the kari on top of steamed Basmati rice, with some crisp fried curry leaves (you’ll see “how to temper kari leaves” on the link!).  (To make great steamed rice, click the link.)

serve on top of hot basmati rice, with ‘kari’ on top & a few drops of lemon juice

voilà, Mysore chilli chicken, ready to go!!

And before I sign off folks, here are a few of Anna’s tips to remember when cooking this dish:

1. To get a bright color from the chillies (if Bediga or Kashmiri chillies are not available), soak them in warm water, do not split them. This allows the chilli to soak in the moisture and concentrates the colors. Discard the water and grind.

2. Tellicherry pepper is the best in the world and has a very strong aroma!

3. Braising the chicken and letting it rest in the juices lets the meat to tenderise , then when you fry it, the outside is crisp and the inside is still moist. The Chinese call it ‘twice cooked’.

4. Once the chicken is fried it may be added to the sauce, or alternately served separately (as I did) on top of the rice along with the kari.

Well, as for me, I would like to have the lot with no rice and no kari, just a glass (or two) of my favourite Mornington Peninsula Nazaaray Shiraz!!! You can have the rice and. . .

Anah Daata Suki Bhava!!

This dish is the crowning accomplishment in any Indian chef’s career!!

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about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

biryani garam masala: includes cassia, cardamom, clove, black cardamom, nutmeg, mace, bayleaf, peppercorn, fennel

On a recent visit to my ‘spiritual hometown’, Hyderabad, I was shocked to hear that there were only six gharana chefs (called khansamas) still alive who could cook the classic dish kachche gosht ki biryani!

This dish was considered to be the ultimate measure of a chef’s skill that would guarantee him the title of “Masterchef”, if he could create it.

These artistes were a breed apart, and in the 60s and 70s they were the only people invited to cook for the Nawab and the Nizam families.

So what became of these ustaads?

Speaking to some of the local residents of the old city, I was told that the fine art of making kachche gosht ki biryani was all but lost as it was becoming surpassed by poorer versions.

A classic kachche gosht ki biryani requires genuine patience and untold love, what we call fursat and mohabbat, and there were plenty of those virtues and emotions, alive and kicking, in the land of the Biryanis!! This Biryani is made with partially cooked rice being layered on top of marinated meat which is ‘raw’ and is then ‘dum cooked’ till the meat and rice come out perfectly cooked!!

However, as the years have passed, people seem to have lost their love for really good, slow food, that is cooked with genuine expertise, and with that they have also, sadly, lost the creators of the dishes along the way.

Most of these chefs ended up dying penniless. What a shame for us all, because not only did we lose the art of cooking this dish properly, we also lost a genuine knowledge base and mentoring.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as I was extremely lucky to meet one of the ‘survivors’ of this fine art a long time ago.

It was the way he cooked, and the narrative he gave whilst cooking this classic dish, when I had the privilege of working with him, that I’d like to share with you this week.

The ustaad starts by describing the dish as khuda ki daen, meaning G-d’s gift’, and says that it is all about technique and constant, constant practise. Furthermore, he adds, chewing his paan with great relish, the more you try the better you become and, of course, the closer you get to All-h!!

Friends, on the 15th anniversary of nilgiri’s, we salaam these ustaads for helping us preserve this ancient art!!

So, here is my version of the classic kachche gosht ki biryani. It is cooked with deep respect, with patience, with love, and home-made garam masala. What more could one want?!

The dish revolves around six basic techniques:

1. The caramelisation of the onions.
2. The making of garam masala (click here for its recipe).
3. The marination of the meat.
4. The cooking of the rice until it is ek kan or al dente.
5. The layering of the rice over the marinated meat.
6. The dum (baking) of the dish.

Ingredients

Ingredients for biryani, clockwise: caramelised onions, crushed ginger, crushed garlic, garam masala, ground chilli, turmeric, crushed chillies, salt, chopped coriander leaves, chopped mint leaves, yoghurt, saffron threads [soaked in milk]

saffron-infused milk

caramelised onions

To make caramelised onions, watch my caramelised onions video

1 kg goat meat [on the bone], soaked in water to remove any blood

Marinating the goat
Step 1

add half caramelised onions and fold

Step 2

add garlic and fold, then add ginger and fold

Step 3

next add garam masala and fold

For the garam masala recipe, click biryani garam masala recipe.

Step 4

add crushed chillies and fold

Step 5

add 1/2 of the chilli powder and fold

Step 6

add turmeric and fold

Step 7

add 1/2 each of the coriander and mint, and fold

Step 8

add yoghurt and fold

Step 9

add 2 tablespoons oil and fold

Step 10

add 1/2 saffron-infused milk and fold

Step 11

set aside marinated goat for about 1 1/2 hours

Preparing the pot

Step 1

place goat in a large pot so it occupies 1/3 of the pot and add the remaining chilli powder. Do not clean the mixing bowl previously used to marinade the meat

Step 2

add remaining chopped coriander and mint to create a layer

Step 3

add remaining caramelised onions to create a layer

Step 4

set pot aside

Preparing the rice

Step 1

place rice in mixing bowl then add enough water so rice is covered by 2cm of water

Step 2

the rice will absorb the water – when it touches the top of the water the rice is ready to go into boiling water

Step 3

place water in the empty bowl in which you marinated the goat, swill it around, and then pour it into a large saucepan an bring to a boil

Step 4

drain rice and add to boiling water

Step 5

stir rice, but gradually, so the grains don’t break

Step 6

cook rice until it rises to the surface and the water has returned to the boil

Step 7

Cooking the biryani

add drained rice to saucepan containing marinated goat

Step 2

add remaining saffron milk on top of the rice

Step 3

place damp tea-towel on top of the rice

Step 4

Make a soft dough with wholemeal flour, pinch of salt and water (you’ll find full quantities for this in the one-page recipe below).

place dough collar around rim of pot

Step 5

place a lid on top of the pot and seal the gap with the dough

Step 6

half fill saucepan with water and heat pot on moderate  heat

Step 7

when steam escapes from the dough collar the biryani is starting to cook

Step 8

reduce heat and place pot in pre-heated fan forced oven [160C]. When the dough is cooked the biryani is cooked as well after about 1hr !!

Step 9

remove pot and saucepan and break off dough

Step 10

remove tea-towel

Step 11

mix rice and goat together

Step 12

serve KGKB with a mirch ka saalan!

If the Biryani is called the king of Indian Food, then KGKB is called the king of Biryanis!!

Click biryani for a one-page recipe and also, click mirchi ka salaan for a one-page recipe of this delicious, tangy side dish.

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

You’ve got the spices – now let’s meet the Spice Merchant of Australia. . .

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Who is this Spice Merchant?

Well, he was born and raised on a farm in Dural which is about 50 kilometres from Sydney.

He grew up in a family where the topic of conversation at the dining table was, no, not cricket, or rugby, or soccer, but yes, you’ve guessed it, herbs and spices!! His parents were one of the first families in Australia to start a herb nursery.

The world knows him as ‘Herbie’.

I know him as Ian Hemphill, the ‘spice man’!!

I met Ian and Liz (his wife and business partner) by chance when. . .

Liz and Herbie Hemphill

Well, here goes. . .

In August 1997, Meera and I cut short our trip around the globe when our doctor, Dr Lele,  advised us to return to Sydney, ASAP, as Meera was showing signs of discomfort. She was pregnant with our son, Aniruddh, and the doctor felt it was important to return back to base in case there was any. . .! Well, you know what could happen!

So we left the USA and came straight back to Sydney  just as the doctor had ordered!!

On our return we found that Meera was doing just fine, and so was the unborn baby, so there was no cause for any concern. Phew!!

So, with Meera and the, as yet, unborn baby sorted (for the moment!) it was time to look for opportunities in Sydney.

As you might guess, this ‘something’ had to be food related and definitely had to be Indian.

Prior to going overseas we had sold our share of the business that we had run for nearly six years and it was now time to look for new range of mountains to climb!!

We thought of starting a small-scale catering business, or a cooking school, or even a small Indian cafe. As our discussions grew, we also thought of starting a small spice shop selling our own range of spice mixes along with our own pickles and marinades.

Meera had read in the papers about a new spice shop, called ‘Herbie’s’, that had recently opened in a suburb called Rozelle.

Herbie’s shop in Rozelle, NSW

Ah, we thought, it’ll be another kirana shop [you know these, the local owner-operated, small-scale store, the ‘corner shop’] and so we decided to pay a visit to see what was so special about it and why it had been written up in the newspaper.

Well, when we entered the shop we were absolutely blown away by what was on offer.

This was not just another kirana store! This was a spice temple.

It was unlike any other spice shop we had seen before anywhere in the world.

The man behind the counter greeted us with a smile; he knew what spice went well with meat or fish; he knew what the constituents of garam masala were and he spoke with knowledge and authority.

Well, this blew me away. Never, in my 16 or so years (well, it’d be more years now!) of cooking Indian food had I come across someone who knew so much about so many spices, without once referring to a book!!

And to top it all, this man was white.

“Surely, I said to Meera quietly, “this man must be Anglo-Indian, or he’s probably a white migrant from India, just like the family in Bondi who run a spice shop.”

Meera gestured for me to keep my thoughts to myself as we were led to a small, but compact, nursery adjacent to the shop.

And there it was. A healthy, green curry leaf tree. For Meera this was the true measure of someone who knew his herbs.

Indians believe that anyone who can grow a curry leaf tree, and then sell it, knows a thing or two about herbs!!

My knowledge of spices was pretty good, or so I thought, until I did a spice appreciation class with Ian a few weeks later.

And this is where Ian’s knowledge really came to the fore. This man is one of the world’s foremost authorities on herbs and spices. He’s written countless books on spices, cookery books and runs Spice Appreciation classes which are extremely informative.

During his class I realised there was a lot more I had to learn about spices.

The knowledge this man possesses is unbelievable! He is a walking encyclopaedia on herbs and spices. He even gives Spice Tours to India about discovering 12 spices . These tours are  so good,  India Tourism awarded Herbie’s Spice Discovery Tour an Award of Excellence (But hurry, as he and LIz won’t be going to India after January 2013!)

Well, we veered away from our idea of a small spice shop, I mean, how does one compete with Herbie’s, and we decided to start nilgiri’s, a dream that we had been ruminating over for a long while. Ian sent us a bouquet of cinnamon quills on our opening night and I still have it!!

Well, since starting nilgiri’s our appreciation and respect for Ian has grown stronger with each passing year. And I’m saying this 15 years down the track!

a treasure trove of spices

One year we decided to give all our staff a copy of Ian’s book, Spice Travels, and another year we gave our ‘Employee of the Year’ a copy of Ian’s masterpiece, Spice Notes. This is a book all aspiring Indian chefs must possess if they want to have a better understanding of their cuisine! And yes, it’s written, not by an Anglo-Indian but by a real ‘fair dinkum’ Aussie!

On the 15th anniversary of nilgiri’s we thought we should salaam this spice man who, I think, has single-handedly tried to tell the whole world the importance and fun of using different spices and herbs in their cooking.

I tell all the students who do my classes that Indian food is all about understanding the ‘nuts and bolts’, or to keep it in context!, the ‘herbs and spices’ and that there is no better place to source these, and no better person to tell you about them, than Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill.

Here is an excerpt of a conversation I had recently with Ian and Liz which, to me, sums them up so well.

“Ian,” I asked, “How, when and why did you get the name Herbie, because I think of you more as a ‘spice man’, than a ‘herb man’?”

With his customary warm smile he told me, “When I was a boy at school, my classmates thought it very funny that my parents had a herb nursery and wrote books on herbs and spices. ‘Herbie’ was a nice alliteration with the surname Hemphill, and the school nickname followed me as I went into adulthood, and has been used by both close friends and business associates ever since.”

Well, you can’t argue with that! But I had so many more questions and here are some more that always intrigued me.

“What,” I asked, “according to you, is the difference between a herb and a spice?”

Without so much as a pause, Ian said that he defined a herb as the leaf of a plant e.g. bay leaves, coriander leaves, and etc., and that a spice uses any other part of the plant such as the roots, buds, bark, berries, and even stigma in the case of saffron. He continued to say that we get both a herb and a spice from plants, such as fennel or coriander, because we use both the leaves and the seeds.

Herbie amongst the cardamom plants in India

“If you were to pick an all-time favourite herb or spice, which one would it be and why?”

Liz chose black pepper, mainly, she added, because people tend to forget it’s a spice, and it’s necessary for so many foods, even a simple tomato sandwich. (And I couldn’t agree more, see last week’s blog about the versatility of this seemingly straightforward spice.)

Ian said that he would choose green cardamom, because it adds light and life to both sweet and savoury dishes. For example, he said that a curry without cardamom would be flat and dull, and who could imagine something sweet without the fragrance of cardamom? A man after my own heart!

“What’s your favourite spice story from your travels to India?”

Ian starts, “We were visiting the spice markets in Chandani Chowk, Old Delhi, when a shop owner sprang out and said: ‘You’re Herbie – I was on your website last night!” And Herbie described how he was embraced by this spice owner in a bear hug of spicy-brotherhood affection! He continued, “We thought it was amazing, in a city of so many millions, to be recognised as we walked down the street.”

And my final question had to be about recipes. Well, of course!


Herbie in a spice store to die for!

“Would you and Liz be kind enough to share your favourite recipe?” And I suggested we could cook it together!!

Well, they chose delhi dahl as they said it was a dish they always encountered in Delhi during the winter, and that it was so easy to make at home.

So, here is Ian and Liz’s delhi dahl recipe.

[Serves 4-6]

2 x 420g cans red kidney beans, undrained

1½ teaspoons Madras turmeric

½ teaspoon each of asafoetida, chilli powder, chilli flakes

1 medium onion, puréed or grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and finely grated

1 tablespoon ghee or butter

1½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 x 420 g can chopped tomatoes

2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon garam masala

2 tablespoons plain yoghurt

Salt

Fresh coriander leaves, to serve

Combine undrained beans, turmeric, chilli and asafoedita in a saucepan and heat to simmering point. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 30 minutes to let flavours combine.

Mix onion, garlic and ginger in a bowl. Drain the beans, reserving 250 ml of the liquid.

Heat the butter, or ghee, add cumin and mustard seeds and let crackle.  Then add, in the following order: onion, garlic, tomatoes, ground coriander, cumin and garam masala, yoghurt, beans and reserved liquid, stirring well after each addition. Add salt, to taste, and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Garnish with a generous amount of fresh coriander leaves and serve with rice or Indian bread.

And I had to ask, last but not least, “And your best ‘spice pick-up’ line is?”

“May your life be peppered with many enjoyable spice experiences!”

Well, I can’t beat that but to conclude, Ian’s book, Spice Travels, is full of such amazing experiences. I particularly enjoyed one where he meets the ‘Cardamom King of the World’, AKA, Mr Jose, in a place called Periyar. . . but that’s another story which I don’t have the time for. So, go and read his book!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

Three different classes over three days, but one common question. . .

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about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

Last week was a bit hectic and challenging as I had to change my ‘gears’ quickly to go from a fast paced class for about 60 students at the Sydney Seafood School [SSS] on Thursday, to an easy paced corporate team building cooking class for about 12 participants at the restaurant the next day.

nilgiri’s corporate team building cooking class

Those two classes were followed by our highly rated regular class on Saturday for 12 students, as per usual.

The difference between the three classes is great fun for me because all of them are about cooking Indian food. Furthermore, all of them let me showcase my cuisine through my words and my actions!! I just love it like that!!!

But the one question that all the students had in common was this: “If you were to use only one spice and no more in your cooking, which one would it be, and why?”

My answer is very simple and has not changed over all the years I’ve been cooking.

“Give me the king of spices and I can cook you a dish, or a meal, without you ever knowing what the added spice was.”

Well almost. You might just guess.

However, it is not about my cooking that makes it hard to guess what the spice is as much as it is about the versatility of this spice.

Can you guess what it is?

And no, it’s not the ones you’re thinking of, I guarantee.

What did you guess?

Coriander seeds?

Cumin seeds?

(And no, please, not the dreaded ‘curry powder’ that someone suggested. I don’t think they’ll make that suggestion again!)

You still don’t know?

Okay.

It’s black peppercorns or kali mirch!!

There is plenty of information that one can get on what pepper is, and how to get it, and what the botanical name is and blah, blah, blah. . . but I am not going there. You’re welcome to go there in your own time, please be my guest!

But what I am going to do is tell you about the food we cooked in the three classes.

Each class was so different but in each one the common spice used was pepper.

So, adding pepper at different stages during cooking gets completely different results, and all of them are b….y good!! [Now, before I go any further, I must confess to the excessive use of the word ‘bl…y’ in my blogs. I have been asked by my best well-wisher, Aai, my mother, to tone it down. So, as of now the word is to be read ‘b….y’ for BEAUTY!!]  Happy Aai?

So, let’s start at the fish markets where I was invited to give a class.

Basically, the cooking class at the SSS is a 2 hour hands-on class which means the students get to cook two dishes from start to finish.

The first is an entrée and the second a main course served with steamed Basmati rice.

I love doing classes at the SSS because it’s such fun but also because it’s like performing on stage.

You get 1 hour to perform and show how the dishes are cooked and then the students move to a state-of-the-art kitchen to recreate the dishes.

So, I showed them how to make crab chettinad using blue swimmer crabs and karwari prawns, using fresh prawns.

The recipe for crab chettinad uses cinnamon, cardamom and cloves as part of a ‘whole garam masala’ followed by the ubiquitous ginger and garlic and peppercorns.

The crushed peppercorns are added right at the end of cooking the dish so that the pepper flavour is fresh and pungent.

At the team building class the next day we made, besides a few other dishes, yerra varuval (pan-fried marinated prawns). Here, the prawns were marinated right at the beginning with crushed peppercorns and other spices. This method creates a superb pepper crust on the prawns when they are tossed in a wok.

We also made a rasam using lentils and tomatoes which was then tempered with black mustard seeds, cumin and whole peppercorns.

The following day, in our scheduled class on Kerala cuisine, we made a moplah style biryani using chicken, rather than goat, and added ground garam masala, which includes pepper, after the chicken was seared and before the partially cooked rice was added to the chicken.

So, to summarise the versatility of this wonderful spice here is my altered recipe for crab chettinad that uses only black peppercorns as a spice throughout the recipe. Yes, that’s right!

There are no whole spices and no ground chillies. Just pepper all the way!!

At the first stage, whole peppercorns are added to the hot oil to create an infusion. Adding the peppercorns to the hot oil ensures that the peppercorn flavour will permeate through the onions and the rest of the ingredients, including the crab.

At the second stage, crushed peppercorns are added to give the dish some ‘bite’.

And finally, as I mentioned before, at the third stage, the freshly ground pepper is added right at the end to add that extra ‘oomph’ to the dish; just like we add ground pepper to our soups!!

STEP 1

Here is my recipe for Crab Chettinad using only pepper!:

apply 1/2 tsp turmeric to cleaned and cut crab. This recipe uses about 2 kgs mud crabs. [Turmeric is an excellent antioxidant and reduces any bacteria that might be in the crabs.]

Put cleaned crabs in the fridge whilst preparing the sauce.

STEP 2

To make the sauce:

heat oil until it just starts smoking, then add 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns; let peppercorns crackle [heating peppercorns this way creates an infusion].

STEP 3

add 3 chopped onions and salt to pepper-infused oil [salt prevents the onions from sticking to the bottom of the pan]. Reduce heat to medium and let onions caramelise.

STEP 4

when onions are almost golden, add 2 sprigs fresh kari leaves and let crackle.

STEP 5

add 1 tbsp crushed garlic to onions, fold until garlic is caramelised.

STEP 6

then add 1 tbsp crushed ginger and fold until mixture is golden.

STEP 7

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns, to give the sauce ‘bite’, and fold.

STEP 8

add 3 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped and cook well.

STEP 9

cook till tomatoes are soft and oil leaves the side of the pan.

STEP 10

It’s now time to remove the crab pieces from the fridge.

add crabs and fold gently.

STEP 11

cover pan and cook until crabs become red [approx. 15-20 minutes].

STEP 12

the crabs are now cooking, yum!!

STEP 13

remove crabs from pot and then finish preparing the sauce.

STEP 14

set crabs aside whilst preparing sauce.

STEP 15

add 1 tbsp crushed peppercorns and kari leaves to sauce for that extra ‘oomph’!

STEP 16

add juice of 1/4 lemon and season to taste.

STEP 17

add crabs to finished sauce, replace lid and cook for a few minutes.

STEP 18

to plate, remove crabs and arrange on serving dish.

STEP 19

pour sauce on top of crabs.

STEP 20

add a few fresh coriander leaves, to serve.

STEP 21

ready, set, go, attack!

STEP 22

voilà! the easiest and best crab chettinad!!

So, all we need to go along with this dish is some soft steamed Basmati rice. (Click Basmati rice to see how to prepare this delicious accompaniment.)

And there you have it. A most versatile spice used in three different ways in the same recipe.

If you’d like to try another classic version of this dish, please click crab chettinand recipe.

Anah daata sukhi bhaava!!

Two books that inspired me then . . . and still do to this day!!!

Posted on

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

books for cooks

For a chef anywhere in the world, two books that would fall under the umbrella term of inspiration would be Larousse Gastronomique and Herring’s Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery. These two books are the ‘supreme’ commandments when it comes to French Cooking.

But for me, as an Indian cook looking for inspiration, the two books I would choose would have to be Spices and Condiments [1] and the second Indian Food – A Historical Companion [2]. These two books are my supreme authorities.

One book covers the use of spices and herbs and the other gives a historical background on the evolution of Indian food over the centuries.

These are not cookbooks, there are no recipes and no, they are not written by chefs. The authors are scientists who have dedicated their entire life in trying to make the cook in me (and in all of us) gain an understanding of the role of spices and herbs in Indian food, the how and why and when of spices. The other book (Indian Food – A Historical Companion) makes me realise that Indian food is more about the process, the step-by-step method, of cooking rather than the quantities. How I wish I had read them when I was in catering school I would have. . .well, you know, the sky’s the limit!

So who are these authors?

The first book I mentioned, Spices and Condiments was written by Dr J.S. Pruthi and first published in 1976. And here is the man himself!

Dr J.S. Pruthi

I am very fortunate to have met this gentleman, more out of force of circumstance than from a burning desire to meet him.

It was in 1989 and I was asked to work on recipes from the Malabar coast when we were setting up the Karavalli Restaurant at the Gateway Hotel in Bangalore. My instructions were to get as much information about the ingredients as possible as the recipes had to be authentic!

So I had to find out what, for example, badige chilli was and where it grows. I had to find out why we use pepper from Kerala and what garbled black pepper is, and so on.

A true dish belongs to the people and the people belong to a place. Yes, we know all this, but what’s important about it is that for a recipe to be authentic the produce used in a particular recipe has to be from that local region and nowhere else!

So, I meet Dr J.S. Pruthi in Mysore on my way to Ooty and I start my question thus, “Dr Pruthi, pleased to meet you. Sir, I am here to learn about the use of chilli in the coastal food of Western India. . .” and I ask my question about what chillies should be used.

No sooner has the question been asked, Dr Pruthi tells me, without stalling, that in Coondapur cooking one must use only badige chillies as they impart a unique colour besides their unique taste. And he continues in this vein about coconuts and about black pepper and how it is graded based on its size and he mentions garbling and he carries on and on with supreme knowledge about all these spices!!

All of this wealth of information and knowledge, and so much more besides, comes pouring forth from a man who is not even a cook!!

This man turbocharged my understanding of Indian cuisine. He showed me that Indian food is about spices and that the sooner I gain real knowledge about such spices the better it will be for me (and those of you who eat my food!).

When I met Dr Pruthi I had been cooking for nearly 10 years and all I had learnt was ‘when’ to add the spices but never ‘how’ and certainly never ‘why’!!

This gentleman got me started on my quest for learning about spices and I am here, to this day, still learning!! Thanks Dr Pruthi.

So let’s return to his book. And here it is, in case you’re lucky enough to stumble across a copy as it’s now, unfortunately, out of print. Let me know if you find one!

The other ‘Bible’ by Dr J.S. Pruthi

Basically, his book describes nearly 90 different spices in detail, from, for example, the Botanical NameCoriandrum sativum Linn., followed by the Family Name: Umbelliferae, followed by the local Indian names in our different languages such as Bengali: Dhane, Gujarati: Kothmiri, Punjabi: Dhania, and so on. He then describes this spice (called coriander if you haven’t already guessed!), and informs us where it is produced (which tells me why it is used more in one particular region rather than another), followed by its uses in food and in medicine (especially Ayurvedic medicine). Did you also know that coriander is native to, well, yes, of course India but Hungary, Poland, Guatemala and etc.?! This book abounds in interesting facts.

The second book Indian Food, is authored by Dr K.T. Achaya. He is also a scientist and I had the privilege of meeting him in Hyderabad in 1990. And here he is, too!

Dr K.T. Achaya

After my marriage in Bangalore we headed off to Hyderabad. Mum and Dad lived there and it is customary for newly weds to visit the bridegroom’s parents soon after the wedding. We spent five days in Hyderabad jam-packed with activities, another reception followed by visits to close family and friends.

Anyway, in one of the visits to Meera’s maternal grand-uncle’s house in Hyderabad I was introduced to a gentleman who was due to release a book on Indian food and its history over the past 1000 years. That’s no mean feat!

The oldest book I knew of back then on the history of Indian food was written by Abul Fazal (the book is called A’in-I Akbari) who was one of the nine ministers (9 jewels) in the emperor Akbar’s court. He was a historian and had documented recipes for the royal highness!! A royal dish had been created in their honour called navrattan khorma. Now, how do I know all this?

It was Dr Achaya who passed it on. Dr Achaya was a deep mine of information about the history of Indian food, its origins from the early days in Harappa to the arrival of the foreigners (the Arabs, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Moguls and the British).

Dr Achaya’s book was still a few years away from being published but he was kind enough to tell me something about the dosai (tosai) which, according to Dr Achaya, was made with only rice and makes its appearance as early as the 6th Century A.D. He also spoke about the word ‘curry’, saying that it was a corruption of the Tamil word kari, meaning a pepper flavoured sauce!!

Again, I am pretty shocked that all this information is given by a man who has nothing to do with cooking food! He is not a chef, he is not even a cook but it is his love for this cuisine that made him get involved with a project on the history of science in India. The book deals with the history and culture of food practices of our Indian sub-continent.

One of the ‘Bibles’ – Indian food by K.T. Achaya

He describes so beautifully the process of making a kheer (rice pudding). He starts off by talking about kaccha and pucca foods. Literally, kaccha foods mean food that has been imperfectly cooked and pucca (pukka) means the opposite (for those Jamie Oliver fans out there you’ll notice that he uses this word to express something that he’s cooked that has come out well or tastes great!), but according to Dr Achaya the ritual usage goes beyond this. Both are, of course, fully cooked in the modern sense of cooking. Please join me in reading an excerpt from his book and relish the slow style, the detail and knowledge:

Kaccha foods are basically foods cooked in water, like rice, khichdī and dhãl. These items of food are considered both exclusive and pure, and the rules governing their preparation are designed to ensure this. Boiling with water tends to render any anna or its flour pure, and when this is done within the restricted cooking area and in a ritual cooking pot, the sthãli, a kaccha product results. Once the cooking of a kaccha food starts, usually by setting the rice or dhal to boil, the cook cannot leave the food area till the meal has been prepared, served and eaten following ritual rules. Should he do so, he will have lost his own purity, and another bath, fresh clothes and fresh cooking will be called for. A kaccha food item can be cheap or expensive, plain or festive, of average or superior nutritive quality. Even a marriage feast could consist entirely of kaccha foods like sweet rice, pallão, chana dhãl, urad dhãl and dahi-vadã. Wheat breads like roti and chapati were not in vogue in Vedic times, and therefore escaped ritual classifications; since they do not involve boiling, such items would not therefore strictly qualify as kaccha foods, even though eaten now at every meal. Kaccha food had to be cooked afresh for every meal; left-over or stale food, termed basi or jutha, was likely to have become polluted.

Pucca foods are essentially those cooked with fat, meaning of course ghee. They are destined, primarily, for use outside the domestic food area. A pucca food is one in which the first contact is with ghee. Thus in preparing halwa, the ghee must first be added to the pan and only then should the anna or the phala follow. Sometimes use of the same ingredients in a different sequence will determine the ritual classification. Thus to make kshīrikã (kheer), a pucca food, the rice must first come into contact with ghee, before milk, fire and sugar enter the picture. If this sequence is not followed, and the rice is added say to boiling milk, with ghee and sugar added later, the dish will be called doodhbãth, and is a restrictive kaccha food. Common daily dishes are most affected by such sequences. Pucca foods suffer less restrictions, are less liable to pollution, and can be shared outside the family by those of either lower or higher levels of purity.

Wow! Doesn’t that just blow your mind away? Savour that knowledge!

Dr K.T. Achaya’s book was first published in 1994.

So, just as Larousse and Herrings will always remain the ‘Bibles’ of French Food, I have no doubt that the book on spices and condiments and the history of Indian food will some day gain their rightful place and become the Bhagavad Gita of Indian food and be an essential part of the curriculum in catering schools all over India!!

I promise you I will be around to see that happen. Until then . . . Shubh Chintan, but of course: Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!

REFERENCES:

The two books mentioned here are [1]: J.S. Pruthi, Spices and Condiments from the series India – The Land and the People, National Book Trust, India, 1976.

[2] K.T. Achaya, Indian Food – A Historical Companion, Oxford University Press, 1994 (Oxford India Paperbacks, 1998).

The Story of Our Food

Other fascinating books by K.T. Achaya you might want to look at are: The Story of Our Food, Universities Press (India) Limited, 2000 which is here:

and a fascinating, useful resource is his: A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, Oxford University Press, 1998.

A charity appropriately named “From Darkness to Light”

The year 2004 was a challenging one for nilgiri’s, especially after we had decided to ‘fight on’.

The rebuilding process had started and all we had to do was to follow the recovery path, which was not exactly a straight one.

This involved speaking to a lot of people. Our aim was to be straight and honest with all the suppliers who are the backbone of any business, and particularly one serving food!

Most of the suppliers had been with me from the start and we had built up a good working relationship over the years.

It was now the time to ask for ‘favours’ and all of them obliged.

The vegetable supplier, the butcher, the poultry supplier, the grocer, the container man, the accountant, the solicitor and even the ‘milkman’, who was by far the smallest of the lot, gave us a full year to pay off our outstanding amounts, with no interest incurred, as long as we made a contribution every week.

The landlord, through his real estate agent, also gave us grace time!

Now that the suppliers had put all the faith in us as ‘good operators’ it was up to us to do what we were good at, offer good food and back it up with good service. We also decided to clean up the ‘back of house’ by sorting out documents into different categories such as: suppliers, kitchen equipment, maintenance, daily purchases, etc. and staff training.

Staff training was very important as it helped us in marketing ourseleves to our customers. Staff had to be trained in this aspect as well. We also believed (and still do!) in ‘in-house’ marketing/promotion as this helps improve staff morale, a key ingredient, as I have always believed, and still do, that a restaurant is as good as its employees are. It is the staff who can make or break it!!

We split our roles and focused on the positives like the cooking classes, chef’s tables, my cookbooks (and at that time I had started writing my second cookery book) and also on the function rooms, take-home food called nilgiri’s @ home and so on . . . We had no choice but to succeed!

In any case, we had to do it for all the suppliers we owed money to and then we had to do it for ourselves and last, but not the least, we had to do it for my little boy, Aniruddh, who had just turned 6.

There was another twist to this story. Just as the business started to improve , there was an emotional and a very personal setback to me. My best ‘well wisher’ and also my biggest hero, my Dad, who I called “Papa”, decided to take a trip to the heavenly abode on the 4th of November.

Nearly everyday during this ‘downturn’ I would speak with him.

He was a scientist and a self-made man. Having lost his parents when he was only 5, and having no money left to him, he managed to teach himself and with pure determination and guts he obtained a Ph.D in Chemistry!!

This was no mean feat for someone who had no support, financially or otherwise! Speaking to him gave me a lot of confidence that I could also overcome these hard times!

He always said, “Son, think like a batsman who has to win the game for his team. After all, life and business are like a game of cricket. You will only get bowled out unless you cover your wicket. There is always light at the end of the tunnel if you try!!”

So, I remembered this advice and knew that we had to go out onto the field and bat and cover our wicket! We had to move on and I am sure that that is what he would have expected. Nothing less.

So, with Christmas around the corner, we started promoting our function room, akash, for private parties, both corporate and individual.

nilgiri's Akash room

But we also needed to provide catering outside the restaurant; catering is the cream that is essential for restaurants.

It is amazing how positive thinking brings about positive changes even when you are down and almost out.

I think it was probably a Friday night at nilgiri’s, the restaurant was almost full, when three people turned up for dinner.

Two of them had already been to my restaurant.

As luck would have it, we had just recruited a new chef hoping to do some external catering, as the existing team was flat out.

Anyway, one of the trio seated at the table is a doctor called Alok Sharma, an ophthalmologist. He had migrated from India after qualifying as a doctor of Medicine, but due to some bureaucratic reason beyond my understanding he had to redo the exam to get an entry into ophthalmology in this country. It took him a few years to get there , during which he also worked as an assistant to some doctors for a minimum wage. Incredible man!

Dr Alok Sharma

Dr Alok Sharma operating

However, Alok passes the exam with flying colors and is sent to Wagga Wagga where he quickly establishes himself as a leading and well respected eye surgeon.

Soon he is invited to join the Rotary club of Wagga Wagga and it is here that Dr Alok and the Rotarians launch a project called “Darkness to Light”, a charity that will help the blind, and partially impaired, people of Yamuna Nagar in Northern India, to get medical eye treatment.

Doctors undertaking cataract operations

In my career as a cook/chef I have come across a lot of doctors; there aren’t too many like Alok I can tell you, he is totally selfless and extremely giving just like my old man was.

He is a gem of a man and I am blo..y fortunate that he gave nilgiri’s an opportunity to cater for his charity back in April 2005, particularly given there were others who could have done as good a job. But we were lucky!! Meera and I were delighted!

But we had one condition before doing the catering. We said that if all those who were involved in this project at Wagga were to give their time and services free, including all the doctors who were to go to India using their own money, we would also give our food and services at no cost either, not a cent!!

Dr Alok is a philanthropist. He’s not a millionaire, he just has a big heart which is worth far more than any amount of money.

So, the deal was done.

April 2005 came around quickly and Meera, myself and Narender Reddy, the chef we had recruited for external catering, left for Wagga Wagga.

After six hours of driving we immediately got started preparing for the dinner function that was to take place the following day.I think there must have been around 250 guests we were catering for, but believe me it felt like a thousand!!We had never seen anything like it before, it seemed as if the entire population of Wagga had turned up for this event. It was absolutely brilliant!!Since that time in 2005 nilgiri’s has been associated with the “Darkness to Light” project and catered for two more of their projects in 2007 and 2011. [Interestingly, the project was called off in 2009 due to the GFC only to be brought back, alive and kicking, in 2011 to an even bigger audience!”]Dr Alok and his team of dedicated doctors and rotarians have treated more than 5000 patients in that part of northern India and though it is not a big number in the grand scheme of things it is a start and a great example of how one can give without being a millionaire.
And as for us?

Morning after checkup by Dr Rajim Mohan

Well, we have now established ourselves as a good “events caterer” thanks to the kick-start process the “Darkness to Light” project gave us!  To see some of our recent community activities, click nilgiri’s community.

And as for positive thinking. Well, of course it does turn things around but there is also the less elegiac financial side that turns things around as well!

Believe you me, it took us five long years to pay off all our suppliers (the longest five years of my life) until we were back to square one where we could make a fresh start in this Land of Opportunities. Back to the point where we had started here in 1990!

The process of rebuilding is ongoing. It’s like maintaining the Sydney Harbour Bridge, whatever the weather but without clear vision things can look daunting.

The Harbour bridge on a not so good day

Sydney Harbour Bride on a good day

I‘ll write about how we’re achieving our goals in some forthcoming blogs. In the meantime, the “Darkness to Light” programme was selected as the best International Rotary project for 2010–11. And if that isn’t good news, I don’t know what is!

Anah daata sukhi bhava!!

Two of Alok’s favourite dishes are murgh hara masala (chicken with mint and coriander) and dalcha gosht (lamb and split chickpeas). Please try these for yourself!

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