Waffles meet vadais, thattai biscotti and avial ratatouille. Welcome to a more relaxed, intimate style of fusion cooking

Sure, you like waffles. Who doesn't? I'm willing to bet you like medhu vadais too. Ever thought of making yourself a waffle medhu vadai for breakfast? Nivedita Subramanian did.

“Instead of deep frying the vadais I pour the batter onto a waffle iron,” she says, adding “The final dish retains the familiar crunch of the vadai's exterior and the chewy sponginess of the interior. And, no oil at all! It pairs very well with the traditional accompaniments — sambhar, rasam (the wells hold on to the liquid beautifully for a satisfying snack — although they have to be served on the side instead of soaking the waffle in them for an extended period as with the traditional version).”

Over the past decade, food trends veered towards molecular gastronomy, experimental cooking and finally adventurous ‘interpretations' of local foods. In the process fusion, once the battle cry of proudly rebellious chefs, became an embarrassing word. Thanks to years of desperately ridiculous pairing, it smacked more of desperation and disasters than freshness and fun.

Now, food bloggers are reclaiming the trend, reinterpreting it in a relaxed, more intimate style. Nivedita's intuitive, inventive recipes are steadily gaining a loyal following. Her ‘panfusine' concentrates on Indian vegetarian food, with carefully-designed twists. Or as her five-year-old puts it “Panfusine food is when Mommy makes yummy new food that no one's ever heard of.”

She takes traditional techniques and applies them to foreign ingredients. “Kumquat pickle, for example, is a traditional Kerala-style relish made with kumquats. Since they tend to have a sweet peel and tart pulp, they have a sweetish tangerine note, unusual in a traditional Indian citrus relish.” Others in this category include a Brussels Sprouts' stir-fry and a Cranberry-Kumquat rasam.

Of course, there's deconstruction, the word du jour. “Ricotta stuffed Gnocchi with a green pea puree a.k.a, the good old ragda patty!” For dessert, try a Bengali inspired Channar payesh pannacotta using agar instead of gelatine or Carrot halwa bars. Too tame for you? How about Lavender badam cake, Okkarai health bars, Lehiyam truffles and Thattai biscotti?

Nivedita says her passion for food comes from her father. “He was a total foodie in the days when it was near-blasphemous for conservative, vegetarian Tamilians to eat out. He succeeded in converting my uber-traditional Tirunelveli-born-and-raised mom as well!” she says, adding that she learnt cooking from her mother from the age of eight.

Her father worked for Air India, and they lived in Kenya and South Africa. “My mother was always on the lookout for adequate substitutes for comfort foods such as Idli and Dosa (Solution: Use maize meal). And, she experimented extensively using new vegetables that were not found in traditional Indian cuisine, such as patty pan squash and asparagus.”

En route to becoming a neuroscientist, Nivedita studied in three different continents. “IIT-Mumbai with it's terrible hostel grub, South Africa, where I picked up on a completely new perspective of Indian food as recreated by a different Indian diaspora (Bunny chow is something I crave often), and New York City, the ultimate melting pot of culinary traditions.”

She adds, “You can't experiment without being rooted in tradition. Its similar to scientific research, you work on a new area starting from your previous research. Take the warm creamy texture of carrot halwa, its nuances of cardamom and chewy raisins, and Bam! you've got a Gajar halwa blondie bar!”

Not everything works, she admits. “There are plenty of dishes that never made it past version 1.0. You simply cannot add garlic and ricotta cheese to a traditional dish such as avial, but you can recreate it as a baked casserole keeping the flavours and nuances intact.” Like her ratatouille-inspired Avialtouille.

Her advice to home cooks who want to go down this road is to “let your mind take you where it pleases”. Stating that food is one of the most subjective elements of life, she says we don't appreciate the depth of the culinary traditions we've inherited as Indians. “Home food is a critical element in memories and emotions. Every one of us has that ‘aha' moment when reminiscing about a special dish... Chances are it almost never involves fast food chain fare!”

(Follow Nivedita on http:// iyer-n-chef.blogspot.com/)

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