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Pop-up offers Chennai a taste of healthier north Indian food

Chef Paramjeet Singh from the popular Masala Klub restaurant in Bengaluru is in city presenting northern classics, sans heavy cream and butter

Pop-up offers Chennai a taste of healthier north Indian food
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Chennai

When one orders a portion of north Indian food epitome dal makhni at any restaurant in the country, it is served soaking in a bowl of ghee and heavy cream as a concoction of at least a dozen spice powders. Masala Klub, which was started by renowned chef Hemant Oberoi at Taj West End in Bengaluru, has been attempting to offer an alternative take on north Indian food by keeping it light. Through a pop-up in the city, the restaurant’s sous chef Paramjeet Singh demonstrates how a dal makhni and other northern classics can taste rich, without huge amounts of butter and cream. 

“We use a lot of different cooking techniques to cut down the rich cream and butter, that are traditionally used in north Indian foods. Instead, we use methods like dum, which allow a dish to cook for a longer period of time to give a similar richness as cream. Each of our dishes highlights only one or two spices and not too many to stay simple, yet flavourful,” Paramjeet tells us over the dinner table at Taj Connemara’s The Verandah restaurant, where the pop-up is being held. 

The chooze ka shorba (tender chicken soup) poured into a bowl by the maitre d’ proves the point. The hearty yellow broth is uncomplicated — with the only flavours of fresh black pepper and chicken broth standing out. There’s no unwanted garam masala and other spices distracting. Methi aur peeli mirch ka murgh (chicken with fenugreek and yellow chilli) is another example to the simplicity of food offered — with fresh fenugreek leaves and yellow chillies alone coating the chicken for a clean and refreshing taste.  

Delhi-born Paramjeet, who grew up watching the cooking of his father, who also works in the hospitality industry, says there is also a fair bit of research and development that goes on at Masala Klub at all times. “We have got chefs travelling to other parts of the country in search of ingredients and cooking techniques. For instance, the motiya chole (small chickpea) used in street snacks in Delhi, made way into the restaurant’s menu as motiya chole palak when one of our chefs discovered the ingredient. The last time I went to Kolkata, I found cherry tomatoes being used in chaats, so decided to use the small tomatoes with a lotus root chaat,” elaborates the chef, who started his culinary journey with Lebanese and Italian cuisines, and is now attempting to master various Indian cooking styles.

Meanwhile, the dahi kebab served on the table leaves us surprised as we cut into it to see water chestnuts packed in. The dish is a pure genius, combining the crunch from water chestnuts into a soft yogurt kebab — demonstrating a mix-and-match of cooking techniques and ingredients. The tamarind sorbet, a palate cleanser served next, is an ode to the 130-year-old tamarind tree located in the restaurant’s premises in Bengaluru, Paramjeet informs. It is an explosion of flavours — tanginess from tamarind, spice from black pepper and also has a slight sweetness for balance. 

It was then time to test whether the dal makhni could match up to the fat-laden ones. The dal was supposedly soaked for several hours and simmered overnight on a tandoor as a slow cooking technique. Even the small amount of butter that the dish was finished off with was just enough to give a richness to it when eaten with tandoori roti, without being too heavy or greasy. As we finished the meal with a green apple kheer, which was made out of grated green apples similar to a gajar halwa (carrot halwa), and a portion of baked anjeer halwa (baked mashed figs), we couldn’t help but be astounded at how a north Indian meal with two desserts could taste so heavenly, yet feel so light. 

The Masala Klub pop-up will be held at The Verandah till September 29 for lunch and dinner.

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