Two Fresh Recipes For Lovers of Asian Food
First impressions certainly do matter; and the understatedly elegant Yuuka at The St Regis Mumbai makes a wonderful one. I find myself spending a quiet afternoon at the esteemed restaurant conceptualised by the internationally renowned Chef Ting Yen. But he isn’t who I’m meeting. I am excited and eager to witness a Japanese-versus-Thai cook-off — two of my favourite cuisines. I’ve always been fascinated by the versatility, creativity and simplicity of Oriental cooking, which is known for consistently reiterating that food can be art. Add to that the passionate focus on an intricate balance of flavours, aromas and textures, and you’ve got a winning meal.
My opinion is reinforced when I see our two contenders at work — Chef Swapnil Doiphode from Yuuka in the Japanese corner and Chef Sorada Intaprom from By the Mekong, who is pulling no punches in her presentation of Thai food. The two core ingredients that both chefs have to use and uniquely represent are seaweed and dragon fruit. Both ingredients are very typically Asian, although seaweed is much more a friend of Japanese than Thai cooking. Intaprom, however, doesn’t seem fazed in the least. “Sweet, salty and sour…that’s the foundation of this cuisine,” she confidently tells me. “It’s all you need.” With over 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry, the soft-spoken lady is on the ball in a rapidly evolving culinary field, playing an instrumental role in developing authentic Thai cuisine at the hotel. She received her culinary training from the Center of Non-Formal Education J. Chiang Mai in Thailand and, prior to joining the Mumbai hotel, has popularised the cuisine across the globe by developing speciality Thai restaurants for many brands. While she expertly cooks some succulent-looking prawns, her colleague seems to be working on a vegetarian dish with fantastic artistic flamboyance. “My main inspiration for this is Chef Ting. Creative plating and a use of flavours and textures to balance all elements on the plate are what I want to incorporate,” Doiphode beams.
And incorporate them he did. Appreciative looks and head nods go around the room when the dish is plated; it reminds me of underwater corals that one may marvel at, on a snorkelling adventure. Even though I’m a massive sushi enthusiast, it’s refreshing to see that Doiphode didn’t take the predictable route. His love for Japanese food shines through in every aspect of the seaweed salad, which is much more complex than the name suggests. It is a love that was nurtured when he was working with a Japanese firm that supplied food to restaurants in India. The chef, who has been instrumental in laying the foundation of Yuuka, has over five years of experience in the Far East.
His sociable nature, can-do attitude and flair for improvisation have made him and his creations a favourite with the guests.
While we’re still reeling from the visual representation of the sea that has just been devoured, out comes another more literal, but equally appetising option. My thirst for seafood is being quenched and how, as Intaprom presents tempura prawns with a vibrantly presented mixed-fruit salad. It’s nice to see fresh and light dishes being served up on such a hot Mumbai afternoon. “The dish that I have prepared reminds me of my home and the food I ate as a child,” she explains. The flavours of Thailand come through beautifully both in the prawns and in the fruit salad that has been served in a hollowed-out dragon-fruit shell.
From the ingenious presentation and tartness of Chef Swapnil Doiphode’s dish to the perfectly-cooked crustaceans and colourful sumptuousness of Chef Sorada Intaprom’s offering, this Asian food face-off has been so uniquely delightful that I think it’s safe to say that the only winner here is me.
Tempura Prawns with a Mixed-fruit Salad
For the prawns: Prawns (shelled and deveined without removing the tail), 150 gm; Tempura flour, 50 gm; Seaweed, 10 gm; Oil, 300 ml.
For the salad: Dragon fruit, 100 gm; Strawberry, 50 gm; Green apple, 100 gm; Red chilli, 10 gm; Lime juice, 20 gm; Salt, 5 gm; Sugar, 10 gm.
In a wok, heat oil for frying. In a bowl, mix tempura flour with cold water till it reaches a smooth yet slightly runny consistency. Dip the prawns in the tempura batter and fry till golden brown. Cut half-an-inch-thick strips of seaweed and wrap them around each prawn. In a separate bowl, dice the dragon fruit, strawberries and green apple. Finely chop the red chillies and add them to the diced fruit. Add lime juice, salt and sugar. Mix well. Using the dragon-fruit shell as a bowl, put the fruit salad in it and place it to one side of the plate. Heap the golden fried prawns on the other side.
Dragon-Fruit And Seaweed Salad
Dragon fruit, 85 gm; Seaweed, 15 gm.
For the sauce: Mayonnaise, 25 ml; Lime, 15 ml; Sugar, 20 gm; Dragon-fruit peel, 5 gm.
To garnish: Microgreens; Purple shiso; Tempura flakes; Pepper.
Cut the dragon fruit in half, peel it and set the peel aside. With the help of a round cutter, cut even circles of the dragon fruit. Roughly chop the peel. Blend it with the mayonnaise, lime and sugar until it forms a smooth paste. Using a ring with a six-inch diameter, spread the paste on the plate. Carefully take the ring off and place the dragon-fruit roundels over the paste. Deep-fry some of the seaweed and then place both the fried and fresh seaweed over the dragon fruit. Garnish with micro herbs and purple shiso. Sprinkle the ground pepper and tempura flakes over the paste.