A cool breeze caresses your face as you make your way to Afghan's Grill, the poolside restaurant of The Residency. The moon shines bright; ghazals in the background is soothing and the dimly lit ambience makes it perfect for an evening out. The great Coimbatore weather and a barbecue makes an enticing combination and the Tawa and Grill festival couldn't have been better timed. Chef Gopal, who works with The Residency towers in Chennai, is here to lend his expertise to the time tested recipes.

A taste of tradition

“You need to try it, taste it and only then serve it,” smiles the chef. The tangy sweet red chutney, a combination of red chilli paste, tamarind, jaggery and cumin, is drawn from Rajasthani flavours. From Punjab comes the mint chutney and the chutney made with yoghurt, green chillies and garlic travels here from Hyderabad.

With growing awareness of the diners, health aspects have been taken into account too. Oil, cheese and fat are kept at minimal levels and no artificial colours are used. “To make rich kebabs, people generally cut down on oil and use butter as a substitute. We, instead use more of extra virgin olive oil.”

Marinade moves

Exotic ingredients such as sandalwood powder and aromatic herbs have been used in marination. The Sialkoti tikka has succulent paneer cubes, which are tawa fried. There is desi mirchi stuffed with moong dhal, aloe vera, and yellow chilli powder and nigella seeds. It is satisfyingly crunchy.

Tandoor de bharwan Lahori aloo has scooped potatoes stuffed with spices, raisins and almonds, and mava and shallow fried mashed potatoes. I sip my Blue Nile mocktail (a combination of lychee syrup and honey), bite into Lahori aloo and enjoy the mixed flavours, with the raisins lending a sweet touch.

Paneer tikka Amritsari is marinated in yoghurt, cheese and spices and grilled and goes perfectly with the mint chutney. Cheese is used in marination to bind the marination, prevent curdling and retain the moisture. It also serves as a wrap for the kebab. Some of the delicacies come straight off the tawa. “Cooking on a tawa is laborious,” says chef Gopal. “It's a hot plate with a charcoal base so the kebabs can easily burn and blacken. You cannot just sprinkle oil, so we apply oil uniformly and base the vegetables and meat.” My non-vegetarian partner relishes the melt-in-the mouth seekh kebab. Chef Gopal says, traditionally, minced meat is beaten with goat fat to make it soft. “Here, we add cheese, spices and a secret ingredient,” he smiles.

The heart of the matter

Chef Gopal has spent 18 years in the industry and has worked with hotels in the Middle East, Europe and Portugal. “We have the R&D wing in Chennai that keeps experimenting with new recipes. And, you get consistency in a recipe only when you have put your heart into it, tried, and tested it many times,” he insists. Mahi anarkali has fish chunks, marinated in yoghurt and pomegranate seed powder (for the pungent and citrus taste). There is a prawn specialty. As prawns tend to get rubbery when cooked on high flame (the moisture goes out), the prawn coated with yoghurt and gel base of mint oil is cooked with the shell intact.

Chef Gopal says cooking is not rocket science. “But, requires patience. And, a little bit of innovation with combinations of spices and other ingredients.” He introduced curry leaves paste as marination for chicken kebabs and it proved to be a hit.

The festival is on at Afghan's Grill restaurant till November 28 and open for dinner from 7 p.m. onwards. For reservations, call: 2241414/ 9843071777.