During these holidays, I was busy with my sisters who were visiting me after a very long time. It was amidst this hurly burly I got a call from Neela Kaushik, founder of GurgaonMoms telling me about Ritu Dalmia's Diva Green's book launch, an opportunity to meet her and watch her cook. The name Ritu Dalmia immediately took my mind to her show which I had been following for a long time and for few seconds I got lost in Italy, the aroma of herbs and vineyards. "Helloooo, are you there"?Neela was on the other side of the phone," I immediately brought my wandering mind back from a scene in which Ritu was playing skilfully with the wine glasses in an exotic Italian location to Neela's conversation. ''Yes of course I will be there.'' I replied in a jiffy. How could I miss a chance to meet the master chef herself and learn from her. I received the invite and I participated in the book launch the next day.
The "Diva Green" book launch was held at Fisher and Paykel Gurgaon. This company deals with entire kitchen solutions and was promoting Chef Dalmia’s new book "Diva Green". I must agree that I was a bit anxious so reached the venue early. The Fisher and Paykel staff were generous and hospitable. I could see the kitchen all set for the cooking, all the ingredients at place and stock simmering. I was fiddling with my phone when I saw the chef checking on the arrangements. On seeing me sitting there she came to greet me and we had a brief conversation about the weather, food, her show and her new house in Goa. The launch was about to start and people starting pouring in, it was around twenty people and mostly food bloggers, critics, chefs and photographers.
Chef Dalmia exchanged the pleasantries and when we were getting geared up to watch the chef in action she threw a bomb shell on us that it was not her but us who were going to cook and the recipes were going to be from her book" Diva Green" which has all vegetarian recipes. She quickly divided us in groups, shared the recipe with us, explained us the method and promised us that she would guide us through the entire process. The dishes which we were cooking were Warm caramelised potato and onion salad, carrot and orange arancine, saints day pasta, and sweet pumpkin fritters. I got to cook the arancine and I was really happy as I always wanted to know what is the right consistency of any risotto or how much should it be cooked. Soon everyone was in action and the cooking started, there was a huge excitement and fun around. The chef herself was moving around the kitchen and telling us what was going wrong or appreciating the right moves. The tips were pouring in and I was trying to grasp and remember all details.
The best part about chef Dalmia is that she has a wonderful sense of humor and you cannot stop yourself from laughing out loud. I could feel the immense flow of energy and learning in the kitchen. In order to make arancine we need to make the risotto first. Arancine are fried rice balls which are usually made by left over risotto and used as a snack next day [Pl find recipe below]. It is a very intelligent and clever way of using the left over risotto. I started by cooking the Arborio rice in olive oil, wine, vegetable stock, mixed with carrot pulp and orange juice. The risotto was cooked till it got the wonderful flavour of juice and wine. It is left to cool for sometime so that the rice balls can be made easily. She taught us to make the perfect round shape arancine with mozrella in between and coat it in the egg batter and bread crumbs. The arancine were perfect shape and fried till golden brown.
We had to wait till all the dishes were cooked and we could taste together. I could see from a distance the saints pasta being made, egg plant sautéed and cheese shredded. My mouth was watering to taste the divine dishes straight from the chefs kitchen. The dish which caught most of my attention was the pumpkin fritters. I was very keen to see how pumpkin can be combined with eggs, maple syrup, sugar and create a sweet dish. I personally found this dish very interesting. The salad which we usually prepare first was made at the end as it had to be served little warm. A wonderful combination of potatoes, onions, walnuts, raisins, parsley and seasoning. The zing thing in dish was the goat cheese, which I was waiting to taste.
Finally the table was set and wine was served. We all were waiting to taste our final dishes. As a cook myself I know what pleasure it is to serve your guests, and I was thrilled to see chef Ritu Dalmia serving us herself
I would like to describe each dish individually and would like to start from my own preparation which was arancine [1a], it was perfect round, golden brown,the first bite in it was like a tangy wave inside my mouth. It had a perfect cheesy, sweet sour, juicy taste with the mozzarella melting inside the mouth. The outside crust was crunchy and made a perfect combination
Then came the saints pasta [1b] which had a wonderful aroma and it did not have any oregano. The first bite into it felt like wow, the slightly fried egg plant with fresh tomatoes and parmesan cheese grilled together gives a wonderful taste. The best part about this pasta is that it is not that cheesy and would be really loved by vegetarians who avoid cheese. This pasta has a fresh green garden essence to it which I really loved.
|1a Deep Fried Arancine [Pl find recipe at the end of the article]
1b Saints Pasta with Fried Eggplant and Parmesan Cheese
|2a Onion and potato caramalised salad
||2b Pumpkin Fritters [Pl find recipe at the end of the article]
The salad was little warm and i would call this dish a very soothing one. plain simple and comforting. It is a great dish for potato lovers and the crushed walnuts adds to the essence. The highlight of this dish is also goat cheese which again melts in your mouth and leave a savoury taste. This dish is very quick to make and does not need much planning.
My favourite of all was the pumpkin fritters [2b]. Chef Dalmia told us that it was an African dish and she had learnt it when she had visited her friend there. The dish had already tingled and excited me when it was in the preparation stage but it would taste so good , this was unimaginable. This dish is very easy at the mixing stage but once it comes to frying it has to be done tactfully so that the fritters are evenly fried and they have to be small and thin. Chef taught me how to use two spoons to pick, roll and fry the fritters. The taste is like maple pan cakes,banana muffins,cinimun dates just rolled into one. It has for sure a unique flavour and would be loved by all who have a sweet tooth. It can also be served as a side dish if you minus the maple syrup.
The book"Diva Green" from which these dishes were made is any vegetarians delite but some of the recipes have eggs too. It is wonderful solution to people who want to make something special for vegetarians, as the choice is always limited whenever we think of vegetarian food. These recipes look exotic and different but are quite easy to make. They are completely no fuss recipes.The best part in the book is some meal plans set by chef Dalmia herself which can be used in menu setting for a small to a big cocktail party. I am personally going to try most of the recipes with my own touch and imagination to it. This book is a must buy for people who love to cook and experiment.
Over all it was a great interacting session with chef Ritu Dalmia. she is indeed a super chef with a simple heart.
Puree half the carrots in a food processor to a smooth paste. This will add colour and flavour to the risotto
Heat the olive oil and half of the butter in a heavy bottomed pan. Add the onion and saute until it turns pink. Add the Arborio rice. Stir well till the rice is coated with oil and is shiny.
Add the wine and cook over high heat till the liquid has been absorbed.
In a saucepan, mix the vegetable stock and half of the orange juice and let it simmer.
Slowly add the simmering stock o the rice, one ladle at the time, adding the next ladleful once the previous ladleful has been absorbed. Stir continuously.
After 10 minutes, add the carrot puree, and some more stock. Continue adding the stock and stirring for about 20 minutes, till the rice is cooked but still remains a 'bite'.
Season with salt and pepper. Add the orange zest, the remaining juice and carrots.
Stir in the Parmesan cheese.
Garnish with a splash of olive oil and grated Parmesan, and serve right away. As Particia says, 'Risotto non aspetta. Risotto does not wait for anyone.'
THE ARANCINE (THE FOLLOWING DAY) :
Boil the pumpkin for 25-30 minutes, drain it and process it in a blender till it is a smooth puree.
In a cleen bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and sugar.
In a seperate bowl, beat the eggs well and combine with the pumpkin puree. Add the dry ingridients to this and mix well.
Heat a non-stick pan with enough oil to shallow fry.
Once the oil is smoking, drop the spoon fulls of batter into the hot oil and fry in batches till brown on both sides.
Remove with slotted spoon and drain the excess oil on paper towels.
Serve with dusting of icing sugar and if you want, a drizzle of maple syrup.