GRANDMA'S RECIPE BOX
In a conversation with Uma Nair, Chef Veena Arora talks about childhood memories, her learning process and grandma’s recipe box.
The Spice Route is at The Imperial has quietly been building a reputation for itself as the go-to place for authentic Asian and South Indian fare since it opened in Delhi. It has one of the most exclusive menus in town and the kitchen sources the most original ingredients with the help of its Chef de Cuisine the venerated Chef Veena Arora who runs away for short lightning trips to keep abreast of the best culinary trends in the city of Bangkok and other Thai destinations.
I recall her telling me that there were some places you got four kinds of noodles – spicy prawn, curry laksa, Hokkien-style creamy soup, and pork and chicken soup – and some vegetable options. With Mother's Day around the corner, Chef Veena shares a recipe with Millennium Post readers and talks about childhood memories.
"I used to cook at home but if one has to think seriously, I began at the age of 21. I remember we used to go to Malaysia often, and I learnt a lot of recipes on my trips. It was always about doing something different, something unique with the basic traditional recipes.I have always believed that it is travelling that gave me my repertoire, it opens up our senses to the richness of recipes and the smallest details that go into creating a dish. And the greatest experience is when we watch something from scratch. Everything I gained is from the whole process - no shortcuts. One person who was very dear to me was my grandma."
"My grandma's recipe box was full of creativity with freshly cooked homemade food, extremely healthy using very little oil and presented with just the right flavours of chillies and select spices. I have always seen her making green curry on her own and not using paste available in markets. Even the yummy soup she used to make us gorge on was made on the charcoal stove for 7-8 hours and carried the earthy and fresh feel in each sip."
Chef Veena's unmatched recipes from South of Thailand include nostalgic culinary gems like Phad phak bung ( stir-fried morning glory), Kai phad khing ( stir-fried chicken with ginger and black fungus in Thai soybean paste), Yum Tauhu Woonsen which is spicy, sweet and tangy bean curd with crispy vermicelli, morning glory and bean sprout salad." This is a unique recipe which my grandma created and passed on generations. Another one called Kaeng Som Pla is a sour and hot fish curry with slices of raw papaya or pineapple from South Of Thailand. The best part of this recipe was that my grandma used to create the Thai saag curry at home as everything was readily available," explains Chef Veena. "I recreate this sumptuous dish in the same manner by making the curry in-house and combining it with different fresh vegetables each day like my grandma used to, keeping it quite as close and authentic as possible."
"Kai Phad Khing is another favourite dish, in which I stir fry slices of chicken with ginger and black fungus in oyster sauce. The speciality of this recipe is that it is made with soybean paste which one will not find even in Thailand but I try to capture its aromatic intensity in my courses at The Spice Route."
While reminiscing childhood days, she says "These traditional Grandma recipes made with utmost creativity have inspired me till date and I feel that they are definitely beyond any global trend because they have an authenticity and a historic signature that will always keep them alive."
Her advice to young gourmands-passion is the staple of a Chef's life; sincerity and commitment are the backbones of the success of culinary sojourns."