Recipe featured in this week’s blog
A step by step (with photos) ‘bhunaoed’ spinach recipe
“The restaurant trade is a tough trade. One has no personal life once one is in it, it is very demanding and it takes the hell out of you, and you can’t make any money, and blah, blah, blah. . !””
The only thing true about the above statement is the last part.
You cannot become a millionaire if you are a chef and run your own restaurant (you would have taken out enough mortgages on your house already, so there go the millions). There is not a chance either, unless of course you own the property, or have a freehold of the place.
Well, not many chefs can do it, and certainly not yours truly.
However, having said all the above, it is an extremely rewarding business. I mean, there must be other reasons why we keep on doing what we know best?!
Well, of course there are, but the rewards are not always in the form of awards like a ‘chef’s hat’ or a ‘restaurant and catering award’ (RCA) for the “best restaurant” but they come from two important people every night.
No, I don’t mean my wife or son, Meera or Aniruddh, though that’s another kind of reward!
No, the reward I’m talking about is, yes, you guessed it, the customer.
And the second?
Well, I bet you can’t guess the other one.
Okay, it is the staff!!
These two sets of people, who are at the opposite ends of the restaurant equilibrium, are what it takes to keep restaurants afloat and keep the rewards flowing in. The latter group (the staff) keeps the business alive whilst the former breathes life into the business which, in turn, keeps people like me in the restaurant trade.
It is the consistency of the staff that is paramount and you can’t put a price on it.
By this I mean it is those ‘intangibles’ that are so important, like receiving a guest with a smile, or doing something extra to make that guest feel special.
Or it is the ‘tangibles’, like the chef cooking a dish and the waiters serving that dish exactly the same way as it was done the last time, for example, Dr Mudbidri and his wife, Lucy, were here for dinner. And the chefs and waiters know exactly how this couple like their food. The waiter knows what the guest likes, and if he doesn’t, or if the guest is new, he is able to gauge what it might be.
So, it is this consistency of intelligent service, and nothing else but consistency, carried out consistently well that is paramount!!
And the guests? Well, that’s obvious. It’s coming back again and again, it’s treating the staff with the recognition they deserve, appreciating the food where it calls for it and letting us know, if heaven forbid, it doesn’t.
It’s so simple.
So, where am I going with all this?
Well, if you’ll follow me folks, let’s go straight to the kitchen – which is the heart of any restaurant.
It is the hot, frantic yet ordered room that keeps the business going by producing the food with, yes, that word again, ‘consistency’.
Take, for example, a dish made with spinach, whether it be palak paneer, or saag murgh, or saag gosht, or . . . well, I won’t go on, you know where I’m heading with my spinach dishes!
Most chefs can cook these dishes and make them taste good (well, a little practice helps but you know what I mean).
A few chefs can even cook these dishes and make them smell good, too (this comes with even more practice and some procedure).
However, it is only a fraction of chefs who are able to retain the color of the spinach (this comes with lots of practice, great process and deep knowledge about the ingredients which are being added)!!
So, even our simple spinach dish belies a lot of experience and knowledge to raise it from being an acceptable green side dish to something fresh tasting, vibrant and totally delicious!
In a good restaurant, great results are achieved by using a simple technique called bhunao which you do to the saag. [Bhunao means to cook, uncovered, over a constant heat to remove any excess moisture. Keeping it at the same temperature means the purée cooks without getting a ‘shock’, as it were, and thereby it cooks evenly and retains an ‘even’ colour.]
This is a simple, yet very effective process that keeps the colour of the puréed spinach so that it remains bright green for at least a week! (Yes, that’s right! It’ll keep its colour for that long, if it hasn’t already sold out because it’s so good and looks so fresh.)
Don’t worry about the bhunao, the taste and smell will always be good!!
So, let’s take a closer look at this simple yet flavoursome dish:
1. 2 bunches of English spinach, washed and stalks removed, approx. 400 gms
2. Plenty of water to cook the spinach (a.k.a blanching)
3. A pinch of Alleppey turmeric
4. Ice-cold water to cool the spinach (a.k.a arresting the cooking of the hot spinach)
clockwise from left to right: ice-cold water, turmeric & spinach
6. Place in a food processor and blend to a fine paste.
7. Refrigerate immediately.
1. 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2. 1 teaspoon brown cumin seeds
3. 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
4. Salt, to taste
5. 1/2 teaspoon Madras turmeric (you may use Alleppey if Madras turmeric is not handy)
6. 1 fresh green chilli, chopped (retain the seeds)
clockwise from left to right: vegetable oil, cumin seeds, crushed garlic, Madras turmeric, salt & fresh green chillies
To bhunao the pureed spinach:
1. In a pan, heat the oil until it is just about to smoke (this makes the oil light and helps it rise to the surface easily).
heat oil in a pan
2. Remove the pan from the heat and crackle the cumin seeds.
add cumin seeds and let crackle
4. Now add the chopped chillies and fold.
add fresh chillies
5. Return the pan to the heat and add the puréed spinach to this ‘infusion’.
add the puréed spinach
portioning the spinach for a “rainy day”
refrigerate or have it now, this is pure “green gold”!!
A great and simple way to use your ‘bhunaoed’ spinach is palak paneer . . .
And remember to do all the little things right. Yes, that’s right. Every single little detail, no matter how tedious it might seem. If you get the small things right the big ones look after themselves. So, whether it’s cooking spinach, or boiling rice, or even frying pappads, follow every little rule.
And it is this that I call ‘consistency’!!!
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava!!
(If you’re in Sydney, you can buy Alleppey and Madras turmeric from Herbie’s.)