Tasty experiments with Sanjeev Kapoor
What could a celebrity chef with more than 500 million viewers and his own 24-hour TV channel possibly ask other chefs?
Sanjeev Kapoor says the most challenging question of all for chefs is “How to marry menus to people’s expectations?”
“A menu is just a guideline,” declares the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. As a chef, when you write a menu, you create dishes with a taste that is in your mind, explains Kapoor. But really, it’s all about how well you can match that taste to the tastes of different people, each with their own set of expectations.
“Menus create boundaries which can be restrictive and boring,” he adds.
“While we do have to create some boundaries, chefs can break those limits. Understanding tastes is crucial.”
So how does the restaurant owner get it right, especially in a melting pot like Dubai?
“I give our chefs the liberty to innovate,” says Kapoor.
“I tell staff to ask as many questions as possible. I encourage our chefs to go out into the restaurant and speak to the guests and ask them what they expect. Ask them what their taste is.
“Ask what they feel like then create.”
However, cooking for people is still much easier than teaching them, shares the celebrity chef.
“The difference between being a restaurant chef and a TV chef is ensuring that people don’t fail,” explains Kapoor.
“The idea is to create things that are meant for people to learn so that they can use that knowledge to create themselves.”
Still, we think, a master chef who’s on speed-dial with top film stars, sports personalities and politicians worldwide must have difficult customers.
No, he insists. “Being famous doesn’t mean they make things difficult for you. They just want good food like everyone else.
“My most difficult customer is actually my youngest daughter. She’s very hard to please.
“You cook something for her and think it’s what she would like, especially because she did the last time, and then she says, ‘but that was last time!’.”
Unlike Kapoor’s daughter, who has the luxury of innovative cuisine on a daily basis, celebrities keep coming back wanting repeat dishes, even months later.
“I remember once,” shares Kapoor, “when our Indian cricket team were playing
in Dhaka and I got a call from Harbhajah Singh saying ‘Sirji, daal khani hai’ (I really want to eat daal). I said ‘OK, we have a restaurant in Dhaka’. So even though it was late, I called to get it opened and have them cook for the team.
“Two months later, however, in a city where we didn’t have a restaurant, I get the same call from Singh saying he wants to eat the same daal.
“Of course, then I told him he’s just being difficult,” Kapoor adds laughing.
“But then I called another restaurant in the city and spoke to the chefs and made sure they delivered his request.”
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Short on ingredients? You can cook almost any Indian dish with these key ingredients says Sanjeev Kapoor...
The must have spice: Turmeric
Easy spices blend: Garam masala powder
Cooking base: Onion, ginger, garlic, tomatoes
Then simply add coconut milk, tamarind, cumin and coriander.
RECIPES FROM SANJEEV KAPOOR
3-4 green chillies
3 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
Salt to taste
Oil - to deep fry
125gms cottage cheese (paneer)
For Tomato Gravy
1tablespoon whole garam masala
1tablespoon ginger paste
1tablespoon garlic paste
2cups tomato puree
1tablespoon red chilli powder
1/2tablespoon garam masala powder
3tablespoons sugar or honey
Dried fenugreek leaves (Kasoori methi), crushed
1cup fresh cream
2tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
Salt to taste
Wash spinach under plenty of running water to get rid of any dirt. Blanch in boiling hot water and refresh in cold water. Squeeze out water and finely chop the spinach and also green chillies. Add half of the chopped green chillies, salt, chopped garlic and cornflour to chopped spinach. Mix well and divide into twelve equal balls. Take spinach portions, flatten them on your palm and stuff paneer balls in them. Shape into balls. Deep fry in moderately hot oil for five minutes. Drain and keep aside.
Heat butter in pan, add whole gram masala. When they crackle, add ginger-garlic paste and remaining chopped green chillies. Cook for two minutes. Add tomato puree, red chill powder, gram masala powder, salt and one cup of water. Bring it to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes. Add sugar or honey and kasoori methi. Stir in fresh cream. Serve koftas cut into halves on top of tomato gravy. Do not boil koftas in the gravy as they may break.
Kozhi Vartha Kari
1kilogram chicken, cut into 16 pieces
2whole dried red chillies
2inch piece of ginger
6-8 garlic cloves
1teaspoon red chilli powder
1tablespoon lemon juice
1teaspoon turmeric powder
Salt to taste
5tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
12-15 curry leaves
3 medium tomatoes, chopped
2teaspoons coriander powder
1tablespoon tamarind pulp
1teaspoon garam masala powder
16-18 black peppercorns, coarsely crushed
2tablespoons chopped fresh coriander leaves
Make a paste of dried red chills, ginger and garlic. Marinate the chicken pieces in chilli-ginger-garlic paste, red chill powder, lemon juice, turmeric powder and salt for three hours preferably in the refrigerator. Heat three tablespoons of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan and sauté the marinated chicken on high heat for four to five minutes or till chicken pieces are dry and a little browned. Take out chicken pieces and set aside.
Add the remaining oil in the pan and fry onions till brown. Add curry leaves and stir well. Add tomatoes, salt and coriander powder and cook till oil separates from the masala. Add the chicken and a little water. Cover and cook on medium heat for five minutes or till the chicken is done and the masala coats the pieces. Add tamarind pulp dissolved in half cup of water. Add gram masala powder. Simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust the seasoning and add crushed black peppercorns. Garnish with coriander leaves and serve hot.