High on Himachal
Hi, People! Sorry about the long hiatus between the last post and this one. Truth is, I had gone off on a holiday – to this magical place called Mashobra, about 40 minutes drive from Shimla.
What made it particularly magical was the place where I stayed -- a resort called Wildflower Hall, once the residence of Lord Kitchener, which the Oberoi group has turned into a fine hotel. It’s truly one of those places where, to quote W.B. Yeats, “peace comes dropping slow”. Where the tall pines and the craggy ranges of the Pir Panjal mountains wrap you up in solitude -– the perfect spot for some introspection and quiet contemplation.
However, like any good resort hotel, there’s also a lot of dolce vita to be had at Wildflower Hall. And I had made up my mind to do myself well on that front too. While at it, I intended to get a taste of traditional Himachali cuisine as I always make it a point to try and bone up on local dishes wherever I go.
Things didn’t look too promising initially, though. Tell you why. On our way up to Mashobra, we stopped for lunch at a place called Timber Trail Resort in Parwanoo, a little ahead of Kalka. Picturesque place. Nice looking restaurant. The menu, alas, was emphatically standard issue north Indian fare – tandoori chicken, chicken butter masala, lasooni dal, alu matar – well, you get the idea. I asked the steward if I could have something that was typically Himachali. He smiled pityingly at me through his ample moustache and said “O ji, there is nothing called Himachali coozine. Yahan pe aisi north Indian food-hi chalta hai.”
I was seriously crestfallen. No matter how scenic the spot, an endless vista of butter chicken and dal makhni did not seem like the perfect holiday accompaniment.
Anyway, at dinner in Wildflower Hall later that day (which, incidentally, was an excellent paupiettes of Kullu Valley trout with sun dried tomato pesto), I asked Executive Chef Mohan Gyani if Himachal Pradesh was indeed devoid of any form of regional delicacies. Not so, said the Chef. There were several esoteric Himachali dishes and the hotel made it a point to serve them regularly. So if I wanted a taste of local food, they would organise a Himachali buffet at dinner the next evening.
|Himachali thali at Wildflower Hall|
True to his promise, Chef Gyani laid out a Himachali spread for the guests the next evening. There were such dishes as Chhaa Gosht (lamb cooked in yogurt), Murg Dholadhari (from the Dholadhar mountains of Himachal Pradesh), Trout Masala (Beas river trout cooked in an onion, tomato and mustard gravy) Sepuwadi ka Madra (steamed and fried nuggets of white urad dal cooked in a spinach and yogurt mixture) Gobhi Channe ka Palda and Bhindi Dahiwali (both yogurt-based dishes), Dal Teliyamah (whole urad dal with cashews and almonds) and Himachali parboiled red rice, among others.
|Executive Chef Mohan Gyani|
I realised that the people of Himachal have a remarkable fondness for yogurt, as nearly all the dishes were built up around it. Among them, my vote went to the Chhaa Gosht and the Sepuwadi ka Madra. The former, though not strikingly different from the more commonly available Dahi meat, still had a nice kick. And the latter was pretty superb in its felicitous mix of textures and tastes – the crunch of the urad dal sepuwadi a perfect contrast to the mellow spinach and yogurt base.
Chef Gyani told me that all these dishes were part of the Himachali Dhaam – or festive fare that you might come across at weddings and celebrations. And, oh, did I mention the dessert? There were some run of the mill stuff like malpua and so on, but what impressed me was the apple jalebi. In a word -- outstanding.
I have to say that Wildflower Hall does its other food quite brilliantly as well. The few things I tried a la carte, including a pine needle risotto with mushrooms and morels (a house speciality), were pretty fantastic. Well, I didn’t snag the recipe of that one from the Chef (where would I get pine needles in the hot plains of Bengal, anyway?). But here’s the one I did: Sepuwadi ka Madra, a la Chef Mohan Gyani of Wildflower Hall.
Sepuwadi ka Madra
For the Sepuwadi
500g white urad dal
5g red chilli powder
6g black pepper powder
For the Madra
4g black cardamom
3g green cardamom
2g cinnamon stick
6g red chillies
5g coriander powder
10g cumin powder
5g green cardamom powder
4g black cardamom powder
2g clove powder
2g mace powder
400g shredded spinach
For the Sepuwadi
Soak and grind urad dal. Add all the wadi ingredients. Place the batter in an oiled tray and steam. When the dal is cooked and forms a sheet, remove. Cool the dal and cut it in cubes. Then fry till golden brown. Keep aside.
For the Madra
Heat the ghee. Add the whole spices. Add the spinach and cook for sometime. Then mix the powdered spices to the curd and add the mixture to the spinach puree. Stir continuously. When it starts to boil, add the sepuwadi, cook for some time and serve hot.