Fusion hits headlines as simple foods get a tricky twist
You’ve probably heard of the cronut by now. Part croissant, part donut, this hybrid pastry created by Dominique Ansel at his namesake bakery in Soho, New York, has been in the news all month. Reportedly a feat of culinary physics, it involves frying the notoriously flaky croissant in grapeseed oil at an ‘undisclosed temperature’ till it’s crisp, light and fluffy. Much ado about nothing? Tell that to the ‘cronutphiles’ who start lining up outside the bakery from 5 a.m., three hours before it opens. To the black market scalpers who wait in line everyday so they can sell the $5 desserts on eBay. To the people willing to pay $100 to eat one.
As delicious as it may be, a large part of the fascination for the cronut is simply because it’s so unexpected. What’s better than pop food? More pop food of course. That’s what inspired classics like bacon ice cream. Or drunken donuts filled with liquors. Or Momofuku’s cereal milk soft serve, combining the comforting flavour of breakfast cereal with the eternal allure of ice cream.
But why look towards New York for trends? We’ve got some unexpected combinations of our own right here. All with dedicated fan followings.
Move over Jane Austen. The British may have dibs on the sandwich when it comes to elegant tea parties. But once you have tasted an Indian street-style version, those delicate cucumber versions will pale in comparison. Slathered with fiery green chutney of fresh mint leaves spiked with chillies and lemons. Sometimes this will be topped with slices of boiled potato dusted with chaat masala, salt and red chilli powder. Finally, a generous pinch of crisp ‘sev,’ which adds a pleasing crunch to the intricate concoction.
I first ate these in London more than five years ago at Zaika, run by stylish Chef Sanjay Dwivedi who wanted to prove that Indian restaurants could move beyond the clichés. His gourmet tasting menu ended with a trio of tiny chocolate samosas drizzled with a raspberry sauce. The samosa, he said, were a challenge to create, since the chocolate filling had to be dunked into boiling oil along with the casing and emerge soft, but unscathed. Today they come in dizzying variations. Served with cherry chutney. Topped with sorbet. Stuffed with nuts, fruits, toffee. People have realised that the samosa crust can be a receptacle for anything. It’s usually made with a combination of flour and ghee. The less rigorous among us can cheat by just folding chocolate into Phyllo dough and baking it.
Vodka pani puri
Made a debut almost a decade ago, and now it’s so popular you see them everywhere from demure traditional weddings to raucous college parties. The enthusiasm for them is easy to explain. Vodka. Chillies. Chaat. It’s an irresistible triumvirate. Add to this the fact that it’s incredibly easy to make in India. All you need to do is to source a pani puri maker. And then spike his pot of chaat pani with a few healthy glugs of vodka. Or tequila. Or whiskey. The possibilities are endless.
Snicker bar shakes are a dime a dozen now. It was once innovative to blend a chocolate bar into a glass of milk. Now everyone has realised it’s the easiest decadent drink to make at home. For a desi version, try the peda lassi, which has far more intricate flavours, but is just as easy to make. Popular in Benares, where they are churned out regularly from pavement lassi bars, this is a rich concoction of curd, milk and pedas (a sweet made of a mix of khoa, sugar, cardamom and nuts), blended together with ice. Indulgent enough for you? There’s more. The final touch is a spoon of thick, fresh cream on top.
If you think the peda lassi is unusual, then you have got to try this. It’s traditionally made with Thums Up, India’s home grown cola. But, honestly, you can use any cola. Mix one bottle with about a glass of milk. Add powdered sugar and crushed ice. Then churn it all together. Once it gets less fizzy, the cold, cloudy concoction is poured into a glass so it’s frothy. In Calcutta where it originated, it’s served in dramatic mud pots.
Most dramatic way to beat the Indian summer? Well, for now. Because, I’m willing to bet that in yet another street corner there's yet another small entrepreneur dreaming up the Next Big Thing.