Chennai’s Amethyst comes up with contemporary menu with indigenous rice

Rakesh Raghunathan demonstrates how flexible heritage rice can be, conjuring it into inventive dishes and contemporary desserts at Amethyst’s Wild Garden Cafe

May 12, 2022 11:39 am | Updated 02:47 pm IST

French Onion risotto

French Onion risotto | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Let me tell you about dessert first: I cannot wait till the last paragraph. The mango phirni tart arrived like a slice of sunshine, featuring a resplendent yellow filling topped by slivers of Alphonso mangoes. As I scoop it out, I realise the mango has been blended into a phirni with thooyamalli, an indigenous fine grained, fragrant rice from the Kanchipuram region in South India.

Next came the Riz au Lait, a French dessert made using navara rice and milk pudding with a hint of espresso caramel, which adds a fragrant, smoky note. Navara is unique to Kerala and is known for its immunity building medicinal properties.

Thooyamalli mango phirni tart

Thooyamalli mango phirni tart | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The desserts are part of a menu put together by Chennai-based food historian Rakesh Raghunathan for a festival organised in collaboration with Sempulam (CIKS) and Amethyst’s Wild Garden Cafe. Sempulam, a Centre for Indian Knowledge Systems, has been helping communities create an all-natural food produce ecosystem by working with farmers and buyers for the past 27 years.

“The highlight here is the use of various varieties of indigenous or heritage rice. I have exclusively developed Indian recipes for this festival with a twist, and have also innovated certain dishes from other cultures,” says Rakesh, adding, “This provides a platform to present our unique rice varieties and showcase their distinctive flavours and textures.”

He worked with the restaurant’s kitchen for over a month to put together the menu, which includes kaivari samba ven pongal arancini, which are Italian-inspired rice spheres filled with cheese, then coated with bread crumbs and deep fried.   Kaivari samba is an exquisite tasting, calcium, magnesium and folic acid rich rice from the dry region of Thiruvannamalai.

There is also a kalanamak Bannur mutton pulao. The stone flower compliments the aroma of Kalanamak rice so well in this preparation. Kalanamak also known as Buddha rice, has a low glycaemic index, and contains more than 40 minerals. “When the tsunami struck in 2004, the farmers in the Nagapattinam district were hit as sea water had entered the farm lands making paddy cultivation impossible, We intervened and helped by way of identifying saline resistant indigenous rice, Kalarpalai variety to be precise. Then during the subsequent years, the farmers benefited by adapting to this variety. We also found out that kalanamak, grown in UP, was also saline resistant and got those seeds also for our farmers and that is how we brought this rice variety into Tamil Nadu.,” says Vijayalakshmi, director, Sempulam Sustainable Solutions. “Even when disaster struck indigenous rice varieties are immensely helpful as we have saline resistant, pest resistant and even drought resistant varieties in this, she adds.

And the national dish of the Egyptians, the Koshari, is recreated using the kuzhiyadichan variety of rice, which blends well with mildly spiced lentils, tomato puree, chickpeas and pasta. Kuzhiadichan is from the water starved Ramnad belt in Tamil Nadu known for high nutritive value and flavour.

Kalvari samba ven pongal arancini with cheese stuffing

Kalvari samba ven pongal arancini with cheese stuffing | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

K Vijayalakshmi, says there is an increased awareness about the high nutritional value of indigenous rice. She adds that they are hoping that this festival would enable the urban population to gain first-hand experience of how versatile indigenous rice can be and and thereby widen the market for it.

Among the mains, I choose Anandanoor sanna thenga pal sadam (coconut milk pulav), which is rich with coconut milk and an abundance of ghee. Cultivated in Andhra region, this unpolished rice has delicious flavour. For the non-vegetarians, there is mullan kaima Kongu Nadu mutton biriyan. This variety of rice is grown by the tribals in the Wayanad belt of Kerala, is loaded with minerals and vitamins. Rakesh cleverly uses Karunkuruvai rice, which has a pleasing nutty flavour (instead of the usual arborio) to make a creamy French onion risotto. Karunuruvai by the way, is diabetic friendly, stamina providing, and iron rich.

Anandanoor Sanna Thengai pal sadham

Anandanoor Sanna Thengai pal sadham | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

The Indigenous Rice Food Festival is on at the Wild Garden Cafe, Amethyst from May 13 to 24; 10am to 11pm. For further information, call 45991633.

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