July 16, 2024


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Destination flavour: Cookbook author Roopali Mohanti decodes Gorkha cuisine- The New Indian Express

6 min read

Express News Service

Sometime in mid-2020, home chef Roopali Mohanti took to WhatsApp to share with close friends a recipe a day, comprising dishes from across the country—phoolkopir malai curry (cauliflower curry in coconut cream) from Kolkata, Purani Dilli yakhni pulao (a rice dish) from Delhi, potato saagu (a non-spicy potato curry) from the Konkan, and more. Three years down the line, the informally exchanged notes have evolved into an illustrated cookbook, Servings: Simple Yet Exotic.

Besides focusing on the usuals like murgh korma from Hyderabad and the Parsi salli boti, and international classics like the Moroccan shakshouka and the signature Italian pasta, tagiatelle aglio olio, the almost 500-page volume celebrates little-known cuisines from different corners of the country—from Chettinad to Odisha and Darjeeling. One such revelation is the Gorkha cuisine of Nepal, more popular in hilly pockets of West Bengal and Uttarakhand. The dishes are rustic, wholesome and fiery in parts.

“Growing up, a lot of activity in our household revolved around the kitchen. We moved to various towns and cities in India as my father was in the Indian Navy. My mother tried her hand at different cuisines, constantly learning from neighbours, cooks and house help. I learnt how simple cooking imparts a world of flavour to dishes like the spicy choila pork (grilled pork) or the very basic bhindi ko bhutuwa (stir-fried okra),” says the Delhi-based Mohanti, who trained in hotel management and worked with various hotel chains initially.

The Gorkha cuisine—originating in Nepal—has influences from neighbouring countries, largely China and Tibet. Little wonder then, the use of soy sauce is abundant, as is the practice of using fermented soy beans or kinema. From Tibet, the region borrowed the now-omnipresent momo and thukpa. In fact, most Gorkha thalis available in Indian restaurants come accompanied by tingmo—the Tibetan steamed bun. Quiz Mohanti about the lack of authenticity, and the self-confessed ramen-lover says no recipe is truly authentic, as “each person modifies it to make it their own”.

The technique of Gorkha cooking is quite basic—frying, steaming and grilling. Most vegetables are sautéed with a generous dose of Dalle Khursani chillies and Timur peppers that blaze the tongue. “An important part of the course is achaar—something very different from the Indian counterpart. For the Gorkhas, any dry preparation of vegetables is achaar; like the common golbedha ko achaar (tomato chutney),” says the 47-year-old author. 

Though the cuisine is largely non-vegetarian, some vegetarian preparations are also a mainstay at the table. You have the sadeko, or salad. There is also the isskuss, a kind of squash not commonly seen otherwise except in South India, and gundruk, a popular fermented and dehydrated leafy vegetable. “The scant availability of greens during the monsoon months has led to the use of the fermented version. Harsh winters in certain parts have also contributed to the use of meat in its dehydrated form,” says Mohanti, who believes the real master chefs are the everyday cooks, “moms and aunts who pour so much love into every meal”. Her book is one such offering of love.

SIKARNI (Gorkha dessert)

● Greek yoghurt: 350 ml
● Cream: 100 ml
●  Honey: 1 tbsp
●  Icing/castor sugar: 3-3½ tbsp
● Cinnamon powder: ½ tsp
●  Black pepper powder: ¼ tsp
● Nutmeg powder: ¼ tsp
●  Green cardamom powder: ½ tsp
●  Pistachios: ¼ cup, shelled and sliced thick
●  Raspberries: 6
●  Strawberries: 2-3, sliced
●  Saffron: 6-8 strands soaked in warm milk
● Rose petals: a few

●  Mix yoghurt and cream 
●  Place a strainer over a bowl and layer it with a muslin cloth
● Transfer the mix into it. Keep in a cool place for 3 hours and then refrigerate for 9 hours.
●  Whisk the mixture with honey and sugar
●  Add the spices and saffron
● Add three-fourths of the pistachios. Chill for 6-8 hours.
● Scoop dollops onto a plate, top with remaining pistachios, rose petals and berries

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