Following my North Leeds pop ups earlier this year I decided that carting all my supperclub kit off to an alien venue wasn’t a big enough challenge. No, an even better challenge would be to try and do it all on my own – cooking, plating and serving over 100 plates of food with no help whatsoever. The only concession being that I could do it back at the Manor in my comfort zone! For this meal I used recipes from Chetna Makan’s latest book, Chai, Chaat and Chutney – which pays homage to the diverse streetfood of India’s various regions.
I picked a menu that would hopefully turn my house into a Bundobust franchise, full of delicious food that I’d want to eat myself. I started proceedings with an Indian rose scented lemonade. This was an unexpectedly challenging drink. The lemonade is salted, giving it a margarita type effect, but also includes black salt, giving it an, erm delicious, sulphurous edge! I have to say that I toned down the black salt, but still felt that I had to pre warn guests as there was an unmistakable eggy whiff with every sip! It makes it sound awful, which it wasn’t. But next time I think I’ll include the sea salt, but not the black salt! This drink was good with a dry gin, garnished with rose petals and lemon zest.
I started the food offerings with a selection of snacks. First up was a little pot of Bhel – lots of crunchy morsels, such as puffed rice, sev, potato, onion and poppadum all bound together in a sweet, spicy and tangy tamarind chutney. This had to be mixed at the last minute to ensure everything was coated with flavour but could retain its crunch.
Next up was uttapam – a think pancake made from fermented rice, lentils and fenugreek. I served this with sambhar – which has to be the most comforting daal I’ve ever made, and a delicate fresh coconut chutney. This would be a good breakfast dish, and was indeed what I had for brunch the next day. Fermenting your own dosa batter is fairly straight forward, just time consuming. Do give it a go, although you’ll need a warm space in your house – I resorted to the warming drawer as it’s been so cold of late!
This was swiftly followed by the whole reason I chose this book – vada pav sliders! Homemade little milk buns came smeared with coriander and mint chutney and chilli and garlic chutney and then filled with spiced potato patties that had been deep fried in a gram flour batter until crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. I could eat these all day everyday.
We moved swiftly on to a lesser known side to Indian streetfood. Being a cultural melting pot there are quite a lot of Chinese influences that I was surprised to discover. This included vegetable manchurian. These little dumplings looked a bit like falafel but were actually pureed cabbage, green beans, carrot and chilli, mixed with flour and deep fried. It seems like they won’t hold, but they do. I served these with a ginger infused soy broth.
Again, Bombay chicken seemed more Chinese than Indian. Chicken thighs and drumsticks were marinated overnight in soy, garlic, ginger, chilli, five spice and brown sugar and then roasted on high. This produced a flavourful and very moist mouthful.
The final curries included chole and a paneer tawa. The chole is essentially a very fragrant chickpea curry spiked with black cardamom and cinnamon. The paneer curry was quite complex – paneer was marinated in yoghurt and then baked until crispy. The sauce was full of spice and then given a final layer of flavour with fenugreek leaves stirred through just before serving. I personally find fenugreek a bit overpowering but it did work against the rich and creamy cheese. The curries came with a buttery, spiced pea stuffed paratha.
After all that spice and stodge I thought the best antidote was to serve two puddings. First up was a pistachio kulfi, which was one of the hits of the night. Whole milk had to be lovingly reduced by two thirds over a low heat – this seriously took about 4 hours to do! You can just use evaporated milk but I’m told this compromises on flavour. I flavoured mine with chopped pistachio and vanilla and froze them in little ice pop moulds. The result was surprisingly refreshing.
The main dessert was not from the book but inspired by the flavours. I opted for a creamy rice pudding cooked with coconut, saffron and cardamom. I have to say that, whilst I love saffron, it completely overpowered everything else. The rice pudding was cooked with coconut milk, coconut cream and had toasted coconut stirred through and I still don’t think you could notice it! I served it cold with fresh pineapple and a scoop of pineapple sorbet, which sounds odd but helped cut through the creamy richness. The sorbet was a real hit – the secret is to ensure there is enough sugar (almost to the point of it being too sweet) and to include a dash of booze, as these elements help keep the ice crystals small, so you get a super smooth sorbet. The freezing process dulls anything that is too sweet, so don’t worry about being overly generous with the sugar.
And so that was it for my Indian adventure, I don’t think I’ll be opening up a streetfood stall just yet, but if I do, perhaps it will be serving vada pav sliders and pistachio kulfi! Our next event is down at Leeds Cookery School as part of Leeds Indie Food, and after that we’ll be taking a little break over summer with some potential new events in early Autumn to welcome back Susie from maternity leave!