How do you get young chefs to cook an ancient cuisine?

March 7th, 2012

about ajoy

i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!

Put simply, I don’t know!

So, I ask my son, Aniruddh, and he says, “Dad, what made you cook Indian is what will…..” but I cut him short because I know he thinks that what made me cook Indian food is what will make a young chef do so.

So, I hang my head sadly and reply in all seriousness, so serious that I can tell my son thinks something is afoot, “I don’t think so, son. I have been looking around for a young chef who could (possibly) run nilgiri’s restaurant and maybe even take over the place. But what will make him cook Indian?”

“Well, dad,” he replies in the matter of fact ways only young kids can, “Indian food does not have the ‘glamour‘ that the other cuisines have. It’s seen as too ‘dull’ and too ‘boring’. Everything is seen as a ‘curry’, so how do you expect anyone to get into this when all you do is cook a ‘bit of this and a bit of that’ with curry powder? Young chefs want something exciting, something cool and something fancy! Indian food does not offer that.”

I’m not really surprised by his answer and I tell him so, “You are right right, son. But would you like to cook Indian food if you became a chef?” I ask.

After a long pause, he says, watching me carefully, “No dad, but I would like to cook Modern Australian food with an Indian touch,” and he leaves it there but then adds quietly, “if I ever become a chef.”

Now that is a very smart answer and I tell him so, because you can get away with anything and say this is ‘Mod Oz’ even if you don’t know the basics and certainly have no fre…ng  idea whatsoever about the use of spices and the philosophy of Indian food.

Cooking today is all about marketing and hype.

It has nothing to do with either knowledge or skill.

Look at all the so-called Indian cookery books and it is no surprise that the only thing they talk about is the ‘curries’ from different parts of India. Nothing is said about the different techniques used in Indian cooking, like dum or baghar. Similarly, there is no mention about the reason for the use of spices like achari masala for pickling, or the use of dry chillies and fresh chillies.

“Son,” I tell him, “every dish has a story to tell and that is what makes it so colourful and so full of flavour.” It might not have the ‘hype’ or ‘hipster’ trendiness to it but what’s amazing is that I see these kids wanting their vegan food and vegan cafes and chai lattes and I think, “Great! That’s the sort of food that is in my blood.”

And so I follow my son into the kitchen and while he makes a sandwich I continue. He listens because he knows it means we’ll watch the cricket later together!

“Take this dish that I am making today. It is called hare masale ka pulao, it’s nothing fancy, it’s just a green herb baked rice dish (pulao).” And I proceed to cook the dish.

When I go back to Hyderabad, my mother makes it with all the love and affection that it deserves, cause it is my favourite!!

As for the technique, the herbs must be finely puréed, with no water (as this will discolour them) when cooking. They need to be bhunaoed, or fried, with the vegetables to retain the colour. The rice needs to be soaked beforehand, as we have done in previous blogs such as What unites Runs, Coronet.. , and it must be cooked in 2½ parts of liquid (by the absorption) method.

I know what my son is saying. I know that the young kids, the young chefs, want the ‘wow’ factor and to mix cultures. I think that’s to be encouraged. I know we all like the hype and get moved by it. But like the bicycle movement, or the slow food movement, I also want to return to basics, to have real knowledge, real discussion and real passion in cooking. We all like froth but it’s important to have good substance beneath it!

So, please follow the method for this vegan dish. By the way, if you want to keep the accompaniments vegan, please simply omit the buttermilk, you’ll still have a delicious side dish. Please let me know what you think of it. Also, if you prefer a one-page listing of the ingredients for the pulao, please click green pulao recipe. For the coconut and spinach accompaniment, please click coconut spinach recipe.

The ingredients

ingredients: in the plate (centre): cauliflower florets, beans, lemons/limes, snow peas, diced carrots, broccoli florets in the bowl (centre): cassia bark, cardamom pods, cloves, black cardamom pods, nutmeg, mace blade, bay leaves, peppercorns, fennel seeds in the outer ring: coriander leaves, mint leaves, diced potatoes, polished grain rice, soaking, crushed green chillies, oil, kari leaves, chopped onions, salt, crushed ginger, crushed garlic”

Blending the coriander and mint

Step 1

place coriander and mint in a blender or food processor

Step 2

blend until smooth

Cooking the vegetable pulao

Crackle only half the spices, grind the rest and set aside, covered.

Step 1

heat oil in a saucepan, when oil smokes, add half the spices – fold and cook until cassia unfurls and the rest of the spices start to crackle

Step 2

add the chopped onion and fold, then add the salt

Step 3

fold onions until they look like this (as above!)

Step 4

add garlic and fold – then add the ginger – you can also add turmeric at this stage to enhance the colours of the dish

Step 5

add chopped fresh green chillies and fold

Step 6

add diced potato and fold

Step 7

add carrots and fold

Step 8

add beans and fold

Step 9

add snow peas and fold

Step 10

add cauliflower and broccoli florets and fold

Step 11

add blended coriander and mint and fold

Step 12

keep folding until the vegetables are coated, as above, and the colour is bright green!

Step 13

add vegetable stock, or water, and fold, then bring the stock/water to the boil

Step 14

bring stock/water to the boil, drain the rice and add to the boiling stock.

Step 15

check seasoning and add more salt, to taste

Step 16

add spices

Step 17

add lemon/lime, to taste

Step 18

when stock has been absorbed like this, it is time to cover the mixture with a cloth

Step 19

place wet tea towel like this, folding over the edges

Step 20

when the tea towel looks like this (above), place lid on saucepan

Step 21

place in medium oven and cook for 20-25 minutes

Step 22

after 20-25 minutes, check pulao has thoroughly cooked by flicking water onto side of saucepan – the water drops should sizzle and evaporate within secondsn

Step 23

remove cloth

Step 24

fold pulao and serve

Serving suggestion

Whilst the pulao is in the oven, there is plenty of time to make the garnishes and optional sauce (vegetarian, not vegan).

How to julienne ginger

Step 1

cut skin off ginger

Step 2

Step 3

slice ginger thinly

Step 4

stack the slices then slice them into slivers

Coconut spinach

Step 1

blanche spinach and place in mixing bowl

Step 2

add shredded coconut and fold

Step 3

fold thoroughly

Step 4

add salt, to taste

Step 5

add lemon/lime, to taste

Step 6

fold and set aside


Step 1

Step 2

place spinach on top as a garnish

Step 3

place julienned ginger on top of spinach

Step 4

add coriander and your pulao is ready to eat!

Optional sauce (vegetarian)

Step 1

pour 500mls of buttermilk into a mixing bowl

Step 2

add salt

Step 3

sdd lemon/lime, to taste

Step 4

make spinach and coconut mixture as described above, place in a mixing bowl and add buttermilk mixture

Step 5

add lemon/lime, to taste

Step 6

serve the palao on a plate with the spinach sauce alongside

So I dish out the hare masale ka pulao along with the saag ka raita and hand it over to my son. As he comes back for seconds, he says, “Dad, this is great but could you please call it ‘green herb and summer vegetable risotto with baby spinach, shredded coconut and buttermilk relish’!!

Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!!


  1. Archana Paladugu

    Please teach us more about techniques. Brilliantly written post.

  2. Ajoy Joshi

    after step 14 and before step 15!!

  3. Anonymous

    Oops… but when did you add rice? Did I miss it?

  4. Spandana

    This looks very good. I have a question. Why do we need to cover the dish with the rice mixture with cloth?? Is it for the dum?

  5. Laks

    Definitely going to try this technique..

  6. Anonymous

    Iam very happy with your vegan dishes as me and aaji can enjoy reading your vegan dishes together and we also discuss about it but i have never tried any one of them as iam still learning to cook.

  7. Divya Ramamoorthy

    Haha green herb risotto! Spinach raita… sounds interesting. Never tried it.

  8. whilehewasout

    Wish I could smell all this through the web 🙂

Comments are closed.


Garam Masalas