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Wine & Dine
April 19, 2013

Spring’s Smorgasbord

Text by Sonal Ved.

Give winter’s produce the boot and make room for fresh spring staples to fill up your larder. Sonal Ved indulges in some spring-time cooking

That it is spring is evident everywhere. It’s showing on the trees that have begun to blossom again. It’s on the catalogues of Moschino, Valentino, Gucci, Pucci and others. It’s out on the blogs that are gloating gluttonous images of spring-cooked meals. And it’s obvious from the tender young things that have filled up the green markets across the world.

But it only got official when I saw glimpses of lush spring fare dotting menus across restaurants in the city. My first rendezvous with classic spring fare was at the Sunday brunch spread at Fenix. The sunlit restaurant at the Oberoi Mumbai was gleaming with food that oozed freshness, flashing ingredients that spelled spring in every sense. There were baby tarts filled with sour goat cheese and sweet figs, salads tossed with fresh fruits such as green apple and pink grapefruit and a whole lot of asparagus spears and artichokes – two ingredients that are classic harbingers of spring.

“For me, this is what a spring feast translates into – anything that is fresh and simple, yet glamorous,” says Chef Satbir Singh Bakshi from the restaurant. The season of spring essentially marks the end of winter and the onset of summer. So in the kitchen, it is the time to get away from winter’s potatoes, carrots and other comfortable ingredients into something more rustic yet stunning. According to Bakshi, “During spring, good-looking veggies such as pea shoots, watercress, plums, spring onions, mesclun greens, beans, Brussels sprouts and pears are available aplenty and therefore they must be used to the fullest.”

“Apart from looking gorgeous on the platter, using seasonal fruits and vegetables is an eco-friendly choice,” says culinary consultant Nidhi Behl from Tout de Suite. The caterer from Cuffe Parade specialises in rustic European cooking and has a special spring menu that features dishes such as whole bean salads, deconstructed tarts, spring terrines, whole fruit cakes and fresh flower infused coolers among other dishes. Nidhi not only designs spring menus for chic tea parties and brunches, but uses similar ingredients and principles to lay out bridal menus for spring weddings that fall in the months of March, April and May.

Another important facet of spring cooking is the culinary techniques used during this time of year. Chef Rachel Goenka from Nariman Point-based Sassy Spoon says, “Since spring falls in-between winter and summer, the cooking techniques too are a mix of these two periods.” This means, out goes heavy baking and the warming foods of winter or quick-tossed summer fare and in come techniques such as deconstructing, blanching, poaching, steaming, quick baking and glazing.

These methods especially work with spring produce since these are naturally young and vibrant. “Using medium-intensity cooking techniques let the ingredients shine through the dish and this is the essence of seasonal spring cooking,” quips Goenka. Rachel’s quaint one-month-old restaurant uses these methods to prepare dishes such as char-grilled tenderloin served with porcini crème brule and glazed carrots, oven-roasted ravas served with tamarind preserve, open or deconstructed lasagne of asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes and quick-baked oyster served with garlic and orange gremolata.

SPRING VEGETABLE TERRINE
Ingredients for the roasted vegetable: Beetroots, 3; Eggplant (thinly sliced), ½; red bell pepper (cubed), 1; Pumpkin or squash (peeled and cubed), 250gms; Olive oil, 1tbsp; Fresh oregano (minced), 1tbsp; Cloves garlic (peeled), 6; Salt and pepper to taste; Green stalks of spring onions (chopped), 3; Tomatoes (thinly sliced), 4; Glass jar, 1.

Ingredients for the cheese mixture: Cream cheese, 1 cup; Sour cream, 1/2 cup; Mascarpone cheese, 1/2 cup; Mixed fresh herbs (minced), 2tbsp; Mint, 1tbsp; Garlic paste, 1/8tsp; Finely grated lemon zest, 1tsp; White portion of spring onions (minced), 3; Balsamic vinegar, dash; Cayenne pepper, 3tbsp; salt and pepper to taste.

Method: Pre-heat the oven to 25 degrees Celsius. Baste beets in olive oil and place on a sheet of aluminium foil. Cover the beets with another foil paper and keep aside. In a large bowl, combine garlic cloves, pumpkin, bell peppers and eggplant. In another bowl, mix olive oil with oregano, salt and pepper. Toss the vegetables in this mixture until evenly coated with oil. Spread on a large roasting pan and place the foiled beets on one side of the pan. Roast the vegetables for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Once they look well-browned, remove from the oven and take the beet out from the foil. Cut into bite-sized pieces and keep aside. Similarly, separate the garlic cloves and keep aside. In a large bowl, transfer all the ingredients under ‘cream cheese mixture’ and beat using a hand beater until light and fluffy. This should take about two minutes. To assemble the terrine, put a fat spoonful of cheese cream mixture in the bottom of a glass jar. Top it with roasted vegetables. Press firmly to ensure that the juices ooze out and blend with the cheeses. Top with spring onion greens and sliced tomatoes. Repeat the layers until all the ingredients have been exhausted. Serve immediately.

(Recipe by Chef Nidhi Behl from Tout De Suite)

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