India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
Wine & Dine
November 22, 2012

The Magic of Black

Text by Sonal Ved.

From Densuke watermelons to black charcoal crackers, foods tinted with a touch of black are being sanctified by gastrocrats across the world. Verve shows you how to amp up the luxury quotient of your platter, by incorporating these on your haute menu

Tagliatelle, the ribbon-shaped cousin of spaghetti pasta, is a popular feature in many Italian restaurants around the city. The innocuous-looking, pale white pasta is usually served with an effortless butter sauce, topped with slivers of fresh parmesan cheese and a neat garnish of green sage sprig. The dish slips down easily when served in this familiar form. But what happens, when a few drops of squid ink are added to its flour? Suddenly, the pasta gains a beautiful jet black-blue hue, it develops a pleasant briny taste and its appeal transforms from being an everyday snack to a gourmet’s delight. This is the magic of black.

And it is not just squid ink that has the potential to transform everyday fare into a culinary masterpiece. From black truffle mushrooms, black rice to black garlic, “Foods tinted with this colour, can be trusted to glamorise your dining table in a jiffy. Just like a black gown can glam up an ordinary occasion,” says Neerja Mittersain, the owner of Gourmet Company, an online portal that specialises in delivering epicurean delights to your doorstep. According to the 28-year-old entrepreneur who stocks everything from black cheese to black pasta, coal-coloured foods add exclusivity to a dish. She says, “Since black is not a colour we associate with food, a dish made using such an ingredient stands out from the rest.”

Apart from adding opulence, there are certain flavours that are best infused by using black ingredients alone. Take for instance charcoal-spiked crackers. When had with cheese, the black biscuits deliver a mild, burnt flavour that is impossible to achieve without the usage of coal dust. Similarly, “To achieve bread with a briny aftertaste and a black shade, we add lots of squid ink to the basic bread dough,” says Jeetesh Kaprani, vice president of operations and spokesperson from Otto Infinito, BKC’s new Mediterranean restaurant.

The chefs at Otto Infinito not only add squid ink to paint breads, they use it to make a delicate risotto as well. For those of you who are not into sea, you too can get a taste of black by opting for the black truffle mushroom ravioli. The pasta dish comes stuffed with truffle mushroom paste and has a drizzle of black porcini mushroom sauce that adds a beautiful earthy note to the dish.

A black ingredient that is an epitome of luxury food is beluga caviar. While caviar is available in many colours, the black roe of sturgeon fish is one of the most expensive foods in the world. “For high-end dinners and wedding get-togethers, many hosts insist on serving only this variety of caviar,” says Chef Dinesh Lal from The Leela Kovalam. Since metal is known to damage the fine texture of delicate fish eggs, the beach hotel serves this delicacy on a piece of toasted brioche or cream-smeared cracker only. Chef Lal’s menus cleverly use a mix of black foods that are imported as well as those accessible locally. Since Southern India is extremely popular for its production of black jaggery and black vanilla pods, these ingredients are used generously around his kitchen.

Apart from adding a touch of class, black foods are also healthier alternatives to their colour counter-parts. One such ingredient is quinoa. The tiny black seed has a solid texture that turns dreamy, light and fluffy when cooked. It works wonderfully in salads along with vibrant veggies and a splatter of lime juice. “Of late, the black version has become hugely popular in India. It flies off the shelf within hours,” informs Mittersain, who delivers quinoa across the country.

Besides black quinoa, “Ingredients such as black rice, sesame seeds, black beans and lentils are nutritional powerhouses. They are black owing to a plant pigment called anthocyanins that helps with anti-ageing, immunity building and minimising lifestyle diseases,” says Shonali Sabherwal, macrobiotic food expert and author of The Beauty Diet.

Though these epicurean items are being savoured only at a few restaurants in the country, the good news is that they are slowly catching on. Until then, we are only too happy to make a midnight snack out of our charcoal crackers and beluga.

Cooking with black food
Black jaggery and green cardamom pannacotta
Ingredients: 120 gm black jiggery; 200 ml cream; 200 ml full fat milk; 1 gm green cardamom powder; 5 green cardamom pods; 18 gm gelatine (softened in warm water), 20 gm dark chocolate.

Method: In a pan, melt black jaggery and cook until it reduces into half. Heat milk in another pan and add cream to it. Add cardamom pods and simmer the mixture for 10 minutes. Remove the pods with the help of a spoon and allow the milk to come down to room temperature. Add molten black jaggery to it along with cardamom powder and gelatine. Mix well and pour it in a mould of your choice. Refrigerate in the fridge until set and serve chilled.

(Recipe by Chef Dinesh Lal , The Leela Kovalam)

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