Oberoi's Kitchen: The Art Of Indian Haute Cuisine

Chef Hemant Oberoi creates Indian dishes for maximum INDIA, a three-week festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. "Cooking is like love," Oberoi writes in his cookbook, The Masala Art. "Once you are in a relationship with food, you either put your heart and soul into it, or leave it altogether." i i

hide captionChef Hemant Oberoi creates Indian dishes for maximum INDIA, a three-week festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. "Cooking is like love," Oberoi writes in his cookbook, The Masala Art. "Once you are in a relationship with food, you either put your heart and soul into it, or leave it altogether."

Claire O'Neill/NPR
Chef Hemant Oberoi creates Indian dishes for maximum INDIA, a three-week festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. "Cooking is like love," Oberoi writes in his cookbook, The Masala Art. "Once you are in a relationship with food, you either put your heart and soul into it, or leave it altogether."

Chef Hemant Oberoi creates Indian dishes for maximum INDIA, a three-week festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. "Cooking is like love," Oberoi writes in his cookbook, The Masala Art. "Once you are in a relationship with food, you either put your heart and soul into it, or leave it altogether."

Claire O'Neill/NPR

Washington, D.C., is in the midst of a celebration of all things Indian: A three-week festival at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts called maximum INDIA, has imported a slice of the country's rich sights, sounds, dances and dishes. For a taste of India, the festival turned to the country's top chef, Hemant Oberoi.

Oberoi is the executive grand chef of the luxury hotel group The Taj, which operates more than 100 restaurants. He normally works out of the legendary Taj Mahal Palace and Towers in Mumbai. "India is a vast country of 25,000 dishes ... and I want everybody to enjoy the best," Oberoi tells Morning Edition's Renee Montagne

Oberoi (center) has worked for nearly 30 years at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, a luxury hotel in Mumbai. He was working at the hotel on Nov. 26, 2008 — the day terrorists attacked The Taj and several other sites in Mumbai. Gunmen roamed the halls of the hotel for hours, shooting anyone in sight. i i

hide captionOberoi (center) has worked for nearly 30 years at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, a luxury hotel in Mumbai. He was working at the hotel on Nov. 26, 2008 — the day terrorists attacked The Taj and several other sites in Mumbai. Gunmen roamed the halls of the hotel for hours, shooting anyone in sight.

The Kennedy Center
Oberoi (center) has worked for nearly 30 years at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, a luxury hotel in Mumbai. He was working at the hotel on Nov. 26, 2008 — the day terrorists attacked The Taj and several other sites in Mumbai. Gunmen roamed the halls of the hotel for hours, shooting anyone in sight.

Oberoi (center) has worked for nearly 30 years at the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers, a luxury hotel in Mumbai. He was working at the hotel on Nov. 26, 2008 — the day terrorists attacked The Taj and several other sites in Mumbai. Gunmen roamed the halls of the hotel for hours, shooting anyone in sight.

The Kennedy Center

He demonstrates how to make some of these savory dishes, which he's offering during the festival, like the chicken and peppercorn dish, Kali Mirch Ka Murga. To begin, Oberoi instructs, "You heat up the oil, you add a little bit of the cumin seeds, you add the chopped onions, you add the chopped ginger, and half a teaspoon of the garlic piece." (If you'd like to try it for yourself, you can find Oberoi's recipe below.)

"If you don't get the sound of [the] crackling of the cumin seeds, you can never make a good food," he advises. After the chicken has been marinated with yogurt, all the dish needs is crushed peppercorns and a finishing touch of cream to absorb the onions and spices.

Nothing could be simpler, Oberoi says. "Cooking is the easiest thing in life, I enjoy what I do." But cooking isn't what he always wanted to do. Oberoi hoped to be a doctor, and then an army officer, before he settled on becoming a chef, he says.

Oberoi says his family was shocked when, 40 years ago, he announced that he wanted to become a chef. (There's a joke in India that doctors and engineers make the most desirable husbands, he explains.) There were no models for such a career, but Oberoi carved out a path of his own. He became known for bringing international cuisine to India in a series of elegant restaurants.

Oberoi then turned his attention to the diversity of his own country's culinary traditions. Before opening his first Indian restaurant in 2002, he spent a year traveling around his country in search of authentic dishes that would never be offered in a five-star hotel.

"I wanted to bring back the forgotten recipes. And I wanted to make sure that we don't open another Indian restaurant where it is only tandoori chicken, and biryani and kabobs," he says. "That you can get in all the restaurants."

One dish, in particular, that Oberoi rediscovered made a new hit out of a traditional workers' lunch. The dish, Atta Chicken, which roughly translates to "dough" chicken, dates back to a time in Punjab Province when every little house had a brick oven, known as a tandoor.

"In the olden days, the lady of the house would marinate the chicken in the night, wrap it with the leftover dough of the bread and she would leave it in the tandoori oven over a slow fire," Oberoi explains. "In the morning, when the man of the house was ready to go for work, he would carry the chicken, which was fully baked."

Flavorful spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. "Garam masala is a magical powder," Oberoi says. i i

hide captionFlavorful spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. "Garam masala is a magical powder," Oberoi says.

Claire O'Neill/NPR
Flavorful spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. "Garam masala is a magical powder," Oberoi says.

Flavorful spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. "Garam masala is a magical powder," Oberoi says.

Claire O'Neill/NPR

Although this meal hadn't been seen much since the 1930s and 1940s, within six or eight months of introducing the dish into his restaurants, Oberoi says, you could find it everywhere. "All over Punjab, the 'Original Atta Chicken,' all the outlets came up ... hundreds of them now."

Whether the dish is a lost favorite or a tried-and-true recipe, the key ingredient is a classic mix of spices. Essential to most every Indian recipe is a blend of cumin, cardamom, coriander, cloves and more, called garam masala.

"Garam masala is a magical powder. It varies from person to person, grandmother's secret recipe to mother's secret recipe and so on," Oberoi says.

But for Oberoi, nothing about his cooking is secretive. "I'm very open about these things," he says. "No two people can make the same food the same way."

His recipe — secret or not — is certainly one for success. Oberoi operates seven restaurants just within the Taj Mahal Palace. But his tenure there has not been without setbacks — he was there for its most tragic moment: the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. In a series of shooting and bombing attacks across the city on Nov. 26, 2008, the Taj Mahal Palace and Towers were attacked by gunmen who roamed its halls for hours, shooting anyone in sight.

Murg Khatta Pyaz, or chicken morsels in onion-tomato gravy, is one of Oberoi's creations. "I have tried to incorporate timeless classics with modern cuisines," Oberoi writes. i i

hide captionMurg Khatta Pyaz, or chicken morsels in onion-tomato gravy, is one of Oberoi's creations. "I have tried to incorporate timeless classics with modern cuisines," Oberoi writes.

Claire O'Neill/NPR
Murg Khatta Pyaz, or chicken morsels in onion-tomato gravy, is one of Oberoi's creations. "I have tried to incorporate timeless classics with modern cuisines," Oberoi writes.

Murg Khatta Pyaz, or chicken morsels in onion-tomato gravy, is one of Oberoi's creations. "I have tried to incorporate timeless classics with modern cuisines," Oberoi writes.

Claire O'Neill/NPR

"I got a call from one of my chefs," who warned of the attack, Oberoi recalls. "In a minute, I said, 'Close the doors, switch off the lights.' That's how 120 people's lives were saved, because the lights were switched off and the doors were closed, and they walked past those restaurants."

But Oberoi had even more guests to protect in the vast building. "There was a banquet going on, where we had a wedding of 200 people," he says. "We immediately closed the doors and brought everybody from the back areas into a safe area behind my office and we made sure they were looked after."

As the guests and restaurant workers waited for hours, Oberoi and his team kept on working, even as parts of the building were engulfed in flames.

"People were hungry also, although they were scared. So in fact, my team was making sandwiches, my team was looking after the fresh tea and coffee being served, in spite of everything going on," he says.

Of the nearly 170 people who died that day in Mumbai, 31 were in the Taj — including seven of Oberoi's chefs. But the tragedy did not stop them from a quick reopening.

"We reopened in 21 days, with new cutlery, new crockery, new glassware ... and people came. On the opening night, when we opened, there were 1,000 people in the lobby to show solidarity to us."


Recipe: 'Kali Mirch Ka Murga: Pepper Chicken In White Gravy'

By Hemant Oberoi

Chicken i i
Claire O'Neill/NPR
Chicken
Claire O'Neill/NPR

For white gravy:

2 tbsp/ 30 ml/ 1 fl oz vegetable oil
1/4 cup/ 50 gm/ 2 3/4 oz boiled onion paste
1 tbsp/ 15 gm ginger-garlic (adrak-lasan) paste
1 cup/ 200 gm/ 7 oz cashew nut (kaju) paste
1/2 cup/ 100 gm/ 3 1/2 oz yoghurt (dahi)
Salt to taste

For the chicken:

32 chicken, boneless cubes (tikka)
Salt to taste
1 tbsp/ 15 gm ginger-garlic paste
1/2 cup/ 100 gm/ 3 1/2 oz yoghurt, thick
1 tbsp/ 15 ml vegetable oil
1/2 tsp/ 2 1/2 gm garam masala powder

For tossing:

1 tbsp/ 15 ml vegetable oil
1 small piece ginger, juliennes
2 green chillies, slit
2 tbsp/ 30 gm/ 1 oz onions, chopped
20 mint (pudina) leaves, broken
20 black peppercorns (sabut kali mirch) crushed
1 cup/ 200 ml/ 7 fl oz stock
1/2 cup/ 100 ml/ 3 1/2 oz Cream, fresh
1/2 tsp/ 2 1/2 gm cumin (jeera) powder
1/2 tsp/ 2 1/2 gm garam masala powder
1 cup/ 200 gm/ 7 oz mango (aam) relish

Method:

1. For the white gravy, heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion paste. Add ginger-garlic paste and cook till light brown.

2. Add cashew nut paste, yoghurt and salt. Simmer the gravy till it leaves fat.

3. For the chicken, marinate the chicken in salt, ginger-garlic paste, yoghurt, oil, and garam masala. Keep aside for 2 hours.

4. Chargrill the chicken cubes.

5. For tossing, heat the oil and fry ginger, green chillies and onions. Toss in the chargrilled chicken followed by the white gravy.

6. Add mint leaves, crushed black peppercorns, and stock.

7. Finish with cream, cumin powder, and garam masala. Serve hot with mango relish.


Recipe: 'Varqui Crab And Scallops'

By Hemant Oberoi

Crab i i
Claire O'Neill/NPR
Crab
Claire O'Neill/NPR

For the peppered crab:

250 gm / 8oz crab meat
1tbsp / 15 ml vegetable oil
1 tsp / 5 gm garlic (lasan), chopped
1tsp / 5 gm ginger (adrak), chopped
2 tbsp / 30 gm / 1 oz onions, chopped
1 green chili, chopped
8 curry leaves (kadhi patta), shredded
10 black peppercorns (sabut kali mirch), crushed
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp / 2 1/2 gm fennel (saunf) seed, powder
A pinch turmeric (haldi) powder
1 tsp / 5 gm madras curry powder
2 tbsp / 30 ml / 1 fl oz coconut (nariyal) milk powder
A pinch garam masala powder

For the scallops:

4 scallops
Salt to taste
1 lemon (nimbu)
1/2 tsp / 2 1/2 gm red chili powder
1 tbsp / 15 ml red chili paste
2 tbsp / 30 gm / 1 oz yoghurt (dahi), hung
1 tsp / 5 ml mustard (sarson) oil
A pinch garam masala powder
1 tsp / 5 gm ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp / 15 ml vegetable oil

For the presentation:

4 red chili flowers, fresh
8 chives
15 baked filo pastry sheets

Method:

1. For the peppered crab, heat the oil; add garlic, ginger, onions, green chili, curry leaves, black pepper powder, fennel powder, turmeric powder, and madras curry powder; saute for a while. Add crab meat and cook.

2. Add coconut milk powder and garam masala powder; mix well.

3. For the scallops, apply salt and lemon juice to the scallops.

4. Marinate the scallops in a mixture of red chili powder, red chili paste, salt, yoghurt, mustard oil, garam masala powder, and ginger-garlic paste.

5. Cook the scallops.

6. Interlayer the filo sheets with crab meat and finish with scallops on the top layer. Serve garnished with red chili flowers and chives.


Recipe: 'Mahi Tukra (Spiced Fish Cubes) In Potato Baskets'

By Hemant Oberoi

Fish i i
Claire O'Neill/NPR
Fish
Claire O'Neill/NPR

40 fish cubes (1.5"), washed
Salt to taste
2 juice lemons (nimbu)
1 cup / 200gm / 7oz gram flour (besan)
1tbsp / 15gm refined flour (maida)
1tsp / 5gm red chili powder
1 egg
1 tbsp / 15 gm red chili paste
1 tsp / 5 gm ginger-garlic (adrak-lasan) paste
1/2 tsp / 2 1/2 gm Bishop's weed (ajwain)
Vegetable oil for frying

For the tempering

1 tbsp / 15 ml vegetable oil
2 pods garlic (lasan), chopped
1 tbsp / 15 gm ginger, chopped
1 green pepper (shimla mirch), diced into 1.5" pieces
1 red pepper, diced into 1.5" pieces
1 tomato, diced into 1.5" pieces
1 onion, diced into 1.5" pieces
1/2 tsp / 5 gm chaat masala
1 juice of lemon (nimbu)
1/2 cup / 100 gm / 3 1/2 oz green coriander (hara dhaniya), chopped
4 potato baskets for presentation (see note)

Method:

1. For the marinade, marinate the fish cubes with salt, lemon juice, gram flour, refined flour, red chili powder, egg, chili paste, ginger-garlic paste, and Bishop's weed.

2. Lightly fry the fish cubes in hot oil till golden brown.

3. For the tempering, heat the oil in a pan; add garlic and fry. Add green chilies, ginger, bell peppers, tomato, and onion.

4. Now add the pre-fried fish cubes. Season with red chili powder, cumin powder, and chaat masala.

5. Toss everything together. Sprinkle lemon juice and garnish with green coriander.

6. Serve in potato baskets.

Note: For the potato baskets, peel and grate 500 gm / 1.1 lb potatoes with a Madeline grater and soak in salted water. Drain the water and put the potatoes in a double tea strainer and fry in hot oil 'till crisp. Use as required.

Adapted from The Masala Art: Indian Haute Cuisine by Hemant Oberoi. Copyright 2011 by Hemant Oberoi. Reprinted by arrangement with Roli Books.

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