Two Cucumber and Salmon Recipes To Beat The Heat
The tranquil ambience of the Conrad Pune is exactly what one needs after a four-hour drive from Mumbai on an exhaustingly hot day. Standing tall on Mangaldas Road, the Hilton group’s new property is luxury exemplified. The hotel boasts Art Deco vibes with its fascinating array of paintings, sculptures, colour palettes, finishes and textures which are complemented by a copiousness of natural light. Pune Sugar Box welcomes me just as I enter the lobby, enticing me with one of the best chocolate cookies I’ve ever had. After taking a walk through the poolside lounge Kabana and peeking into Koji and Masu — the sleek Asian restaurant and bar — I’m guided down a winding staircase to the bright and cheerful Coriander Kitchen. Executive chef Mandar Madav greets me beside floor-to-ceiling windows (which is really saying something, given that the ceiling is two storeys high) that look out at a water cascade framed by lush greenery.
Armed with a decade of culinary experience at some of the most renowned hotels in the country, Chef Madav’s creative flair precedes him, making this cook-off a highly anticipated one. “I love using colours on my plate,” he tells me. “Also, exciting textures like puree, foam, micro-herbs and jellies just break the monotony.” We’re soon joined by Chef Hitesh Rai, Koji’s head chef, who adds that all the restaurants in the hotel incorporate vibrancy and colour in their dishes with ingredients like “beets for dark red, pumpkin for yellow, peas for green, artichoke or palm heart for white and so on”, while maintaining that it is also “very important to understand that the ingredients need to complement the dish as a whole”. A part of the original culinary team of the hotel, the Darjeeling-born Rai describes the highlight of his career to be the time he cooked for the Thai embassy in New Delhi along with Chef Nooror Somany Steppe from The Blue Elephant, Thailand.
The star ingredients for the day, salmon and cucumber, are exciting since their gentle flavour profiles and simplicity give both the artistic chefs enough freedom to let their imaginations run wild. And, oh, do they run beautifully wild. I do a small double take when Chef Hitesh’s dish is placed on the table — a striking salmon tataki with cucumber salad, plated on a contrasting textured black slab. Bold pops of yellow, red and green accompany mushrooms and the blushing pink of perfectly cooked miso-marinated salmon slices that are crusted with what the chef tells me is parsley. “My inspiration has always been the ingredients,” he says. “I wanted to keep the entire experience simple yet exclusive.” I also learn that the vibrant purees on the plate are pumpkin and beetroot, which are accompanied by a smooth wasabi mayonnaise. And on tasting it all with the modest-looking yet flavour-packed cucumber salad, I’m quickly transported to Japanese heaven.
Next up is Chef Mandar, who is working on something more local. Rai hovers around and it’s refreshing to see the two discuss elements and plating opinions, and bounce ideas off each other throughout the whole process. A similar black slab is placed in front of me, circular this time around, displaying an extremely arresting visual feast, called pili mirch ka salmon tikka with kachumber. Succulent salmon cubes frame the gorgeous kachumber preparation along with lemon wedges and tiny cucumber crystals. Coloured purees make an appearance again, this time featuring a brighter green and a deep orange that offer a wonderful hit of mint and chilli garlic. Chef Mandar speaks passionately about his love for food art while he tells me about the aesthetic draw of the Conrad Pune. “It is the presentation that clicks first here, and I literally mean ‘clicks’,” he explains. “With social media, everyone wants their experience to be a bit more enticing. A well-presented dish with the right flavours is definitely a winning combination.” I can’t agree more as the drive back had me reminiscing on the two painting-like platters that left me both visually and gastronomically inspired.
Salmon Tataki with Cucumber Salad
For the salmon: Atlantic salmon fillet, 180 gm; Miso paste, 1 tbsp; Parsley (chopped), 1 tbsp; Oil, 2 tsp; Salt, to taste; Black pepper, to taste.
For the cucumber salad: Cucumber, 1 no; Carrot, 1 no; Brown sugar, 2 tsp; Sesame oil, 1 tsp; Soy sauce, 2 tsp; Thai red chilli, 2 nos.
For the teriyaki mushroom: Shitake mushroom, 2 nos; Teriyaki sauce, 2 tbsp; Butter, 1 tsp.
For the pumpkin puree: Pumpkin, 150 gm; Sugar, 2 tsp; Milk, 200 ml.
For the wasabi mayonnaise: Wasabi paste, 1tsp; Mayonnaise, 5 tbsp; Sugar, 2 tsp.
For the beetroot puree: Beetroot, 2 nos; Milk, 250 ml.
For the garnish: Caper berries, 5 nos; Salmon roe, 1 tsp; Coriander sprigs, 4 nos.
For the salmon: Marinate the salmon steak with miso paste. Coat it with chopped parsley and lemon zest, and sear all sides only until the outer layer is firm. Refrigerate the steak for 20 minutes.
For the cucumber salad: Cut the cucumber and carrots into thin juliennes. Drizzle with a dressing made from soya sauce, salt, pepper, finely chopped Thai chillies and sesame oil.
For the teriyaki mushroom: Soak the shitake in warm water till it softens, and cook in butter and teriyaki sauce.
For the pumpkin puree: Peel and dice the pumpkin. Cook it in milk, sugar and cinnamon till it softens. Blend well to make a smooth puree.
For the wasabi mayonnaise: Mix mayonnaise, sugar and wasabi paste into a smooth consistency.
For the beetroot puree: Peel and dice the beetroots and roast them in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Cook in milk till they soften and blend until you get a smooth puree. (Make sure to achieve a pouring consistency that is not too watery.)
Slice the salmon steak and arrange it on top of the cucumber salad and shitake mushroom. Garnish with pumpkin puree, beetroot puree, wasabi mayo, caper berries, coriander sprigs and salmon roe.
Pili Mirch ka Salmon Tikka with Kachumber
For the salmon: Atlantic salmon fillet, 180 gm; Butter, 1 tbsp.
For the salad: Cucumber, 1 no; Roasted cumin powder, 1 tsp; Black salt, 1 tsp; Coriander leaves, 5 gm, Lemon, 1 no; Mint leaves, 5 gm.
For the marinade: Yellow chilli powder, 2 tsp; Hung curd, 4 tbsp; Fresh cream, 2 tbsp; Green cardamom powder, 1 tsp; Salt, to taste; White pepper powder, to taste.
For the mint mayonnaise: Mint leaves, 1 cup; Mayonnaise, 2 tbsp; Sugar, 1 tsp.
For the beetroot puree: Beetroot, 2 nos; Mayonnaise, 2 tbsp; Sugar, 1 tsp.
For the chilli garlic mayonnaise: Mathani mirch (dried), 2 nos; Mayonnaise, 5 tbsp; Garlic, 1 tsp; Caster sugar, 1 tsp.
For the salmon: Cut the salmon fillet into small cubes without the skin. Marinate it in the hung curd, yellow chilli powder, cream, cardamom powder and seasonings for 10 minutes. Cook the salmon in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for eight minutes, glazing it with melted butter.
For the cucumber salad: Cut the cucumber into small cubes and toss with lemon juice, chopped coriander leaves, mint leaves, roasted cumin powder and black salt.
For the mint mayonnaise: Blanch the mint leaves in boiling water for 10 seconds and then shake them in ice water to retain the colour. Puree with mayonnaise and sugar.
For the beetroot puree: Peel and dice the beetroots and roast them in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. Cook in milk till they soften and blend until you get a smooth puree.
For the chilli garlic mayonnaise: Blanch red chillies in boiling water and shake them in ice water to retain the colour. Puree with mayonnaise, fried garlic and sugar.
Arrange the salmon on a platter once cooked and plate it along with the cucumber salad, mint mayo, chilli mayo, lemon wedges and beetroot puree.
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