Onam on a leaf

Marina Balakrishnan   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Marina Balakrishnan is a plant-based chef, certified from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York. It makes sense then, that she’s hosting the traditionally all-vegetarian Onam Sadya in Delhi. Her link with food though, goes back to times in Thalassery, North Kerala, where she went on holiday each year. There, she imbibed both the methods of cooking and the tradition associated with it. The state, where food has high cultural significance, she says laid her base. At 50, she began to consider a career in cooking, and after her NY course, went on to work with wellness chefs there. She then interned at GAA in Bangkok, doing a few pop-ups in Europe. The 55-year-old Mumbaikar, on what to expect from her Sadya dinner.

What can we expect from your Onam Sadya, besides the 27 dishes?

The Sadya is an experience, limited not just to the food, but also to the process of eating the warm, homey flavours off a banana leaf. It transports one to the lush environs of Kerala, while also being a comfortable and warm indulgence.

Could you describe the concept of the meal?

Sadya means banquet in Malayalam. It is a vegetarian feast prepared in large quantities for festivals and occasions like weddings. An Onam sadya holds great grandeur in any Malayali household, and is unique because it also signifies family bonding and festivity. It is a time when families visit each other, there is an abundance of food, and people buy new clothes and jewellery.

Considering it's dinner and not lunch as per tradition, are there any tweaks?

Since it’s dinner, I have tweaked a bit on the techniques of cooking. For instance, I have avoided deep frying vegetables and have blanched and sautéed them instead, to keep a fair lightness to the meal.

Everyone has a different style of cooking; how do we decide what's authentic?

I have kept the authenticity of the meal by using ingredients sourced from local farmers in Kerala. For instance, there is a copious amount of jaggery used in dishes like Payasam (a dessert) and Inji Pulli (a tamarind-date sauce). I have been using Marayoor jaggery. Marayoor is in the Idukki district of Kerala and is best known for its sugarcane cultivation. My family has been sourcing jaggery from Marayoor for years. It is unrefined and needs a bit of extra attention to melt the jaggery and sieve its impurities. The sweetness and texture of this is incomparable. Using clay pots and urulis for cooking is also an authentic Malayali tradition, which I have retained. Caara has been very supportive with sourcing local ingredients and produce. Further, these recipes have been passed down to me from my grandmother and other aunts, who in turn, learned these recipes from their elders. This too ensures authenticity, to some degree.

At The Chef’s Kitchen at Caara, 630, Lane number 3, Westend Marg, Saidullajab, Saket; September 11, 8 p.m. onwards, ₹3,500; Contact: 8527294335

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 6:52:11 PM |

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