The Culinary Gene : Stay cool this summer
Hot summers call for cool colourful food -vibrant salads, light and spicy chat, cold refreshing drinks and light summer dinners- eating as the season’s produce dictates. The seasons form a natural guideline for eating by giving us produce that is suitable for the weather; we are thinking gourds, pumpkin, mango, grapes, melons… and so on.
“Cooling of body according to science is the products with high water content, light to digest. Legumes, wheat, barley, etc. are summer foods and should be included in daily diet. Among fruits almost all citrus foods are cooling, lemon and honey combination has the power of instantly replenishing your body’s lost water and also work as energizers,” says Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti, Corporate Chef, Ambuja Hospitality, Kolkata.
Food available locally is fresh, healthy, and if grown in your own kitchen garden, chemical free. In addition to this, it is a good way to preserve the local culinary culture as the folks at Banjaar Tola, Taj Safari, are doing.
“The dishes on the menus are made of local produce and of local origin, something that most people are not aware about it so that also has been highlighted in the menu for e.g. baiga chicken, kaddu badi ki subzi, aloo raseela, MP style kadhi, chicken kadaknag etc. which are only found in this area,” says Chef Ashish Ugal, Executive Chef—Taj Jungle Lodges.
You don’t need to go into the wilderness to make the most of the summer bounty. Using produce local to your area can throw up interesting possibilities and the following paragraphs aim to inspire you.
Cool is hot this summer
A great way to beat the summer heat is feasting on ice-creams and ice lollies. And if you are worried about piling up the kgs, there are always gelatos and sorbets to bring respite from the summer heat without disturbing the calorie count much. Gelato, though an Italian ice-cream is lower in butter fat and healthier than a traditional ice-cream. A sorbet on the other hand is made from sweetened water flavoured with fruit juice or puree or even wine, and/or liqueur. They are lighter than ice-creams and just right for the season, whether or not you are worried about your weight.
But we can’t survive the season on ice-cream alone. Fret not— there are many seasonal treats made out of local produce that can be fashioned into exciting meals.
When preparing a meal time menu, tread the path less travelled. When you crave a light lunch and want soup, instead of a hot broth why not have a gazpacho? Of Spanish origin, traditionally the gazpacho is a tomato based, raw vegetable soup. It is a summer staple in Spain and Portugal for its refreshing and cooling qualities.
The typical Andalucian gazpacho recipe includes stale bread, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic, olive oil, wine vinegar, and salt. However, with time and travel many new combinations developed with ingredients such as avocados, cucumbers, parsley, grapes, meat stock and seafood.
Another cold soup that you could attempt is a vichyssoise. While a gazapcho is tomato based, this American or French (depending on who you speak to) has pureed potatoes as the base. Made along with leeks, cream and chicken stock the vichyssoise can be had cold or hot.
Colour me greens
Next up are salads. Unlike the popular notion of salad, they need not be an accompaniment to an elaborate meal. With some clever additions, they can serve as a whole balanced meal in themselves. And we are not talking about eating a bland fare.
Dressing the salad matters, however steer clear of heavy creamy dressings. Try lighter ingredients such as vinegar, olive oil, mustard or even honey based vinaigrettes.
Adding a handful of leaves of coriander, parsley, dill and mint for generous salads not only are you adding flavour but also healthy nutrients. Green leafy vegetables are bitter and astringent with a high chlorophyll content, they are said to be good for detoxing, cooling, cleansing of the blood, the liver, and the skin. Try adding squash blossoms, rose petals, violets, borage flowers and nasturtiums to your salads to jazz up the greens and add much-needed trace elements in your diet.
If you are feeling inspired, try whipping up a unique salad and dressing from ingredients available locally in your area just as Chef Sumanta did who is plating up some unique dishes using Bengali ingredients such as Kodbel, kamranga, gandharj (lemon etc). His mantra for preparing summer menus is quite simple.
“I believe that local & seasonal ingredients should be part of each person’s diet. We decide which ingredients will work together, followed by permutation combination of the said ingredients by repeated trials before we can finalise a dish or recipe.”
There will be times when you want to savour something spicier than a salad, do not discount the merits of the good old chaat. However, we suggest you make up a healthy batch at home such as Paranda’s Chaktora ki chaat by Chef Uddipan Chakravarty—Executive Chef, Vivanta by Taj Yeshwantpur . Made with the citrusy pomelo, it is inspired from the tangy treat made by women in villages of Punjab who nibble on it while enjoying a summer lunch together.
There may be some among you who think all this talk of salads and soups is well and good but we are Indians and we need our curry. We say, fair enough. No reason why you can’t do something out of the ordinary for this necessity. Take for example the innovators at Svasara resort. They make a mean Watermelon curry at their jungle abode. The mildly sweet curry is refreshing and but if you think it is a challenge to your senses which can’t see watermelon as anything but a fruit sample a watermelon gazpacho before you graduate to the curry. Had any which way watermelon is a must-have the summer season as eating it is a good way to pack in those vitamins A and C.
But no summer is complete without the mention and ingesting of mangoes; whether you eat the king of fruits raw or ripe, juice it, make sweet delights out of it. Within this area too there is room for experimentation as Chef Sumanta did with Burnt mango shots.
“The inspiration comes from a very famous Bengali recipe called aam porar shorbot…Which is nothing but pureed burnt raw mango. Tried to keep the flavour & gave a twist to the authentic recipe,” explains Chef Sumanta.
Depending on where you live the foods available to you throughout the seasons may differ but all of them offer you an opportunity to create something fun and tasty. Also, eating the produce of the season would ensure you don’t miss out on any of the benefits Mother Nature offers us such as nutritional value and flavour.
Text by Prerna Uppal
Photography by Sanjay Ramchandran