Monday, November 25, 2013

The Host: Fine Indian Cuisine on Prince Arthur

The stars were aligned. An evening that promised to be rich in both Indian culture and cuisine: dinner at The Host followed by a concert at Koerner Hall with acclaimed classical sitarist and composer, Anoushka Shankar, one of the leading figures on the world's stage today. Deeply rooted in Indian classical music, Anoushka studied from the age of nine under her father and guru, the legendary Ravi Shankar, mastering the hauntingly beautiful, ethereal and transcendental sounds of the sitar. Just like Anoushka's classical Hindustani and progressive sitar repertoire, Indian cuisine has a rich and complicated history — a culmination of traditional recipes prepared with new techniques and given a fresh innovative presentation. 

'The Host' executive chef Sanjeev Sethi

The secret to creating memorable indian music and cuisine, according to Sanjeev Sahti, chef and co-owner of The Host, together with his brother Jay, is very simple. It's a secret they learned from their mother, the greatest chef they knew and the inspiration for everything Sanjeeev does today: in her kitchen, he learned that the best food is always created with love. And love demands that you make no compromises and take no shortcuts. His mother was fond of saying that "patience makes the food", and the menu at The Host is a poignant example of such a dedicated culinary culture — the common denominator of two creative artists, Anoushka and Sanjeev — led by parents with the greatest inspiration of all, love.

The interior vestibule of The Host, a welcome respite after a wintery trek from the great outdoors, on the first snowy day of the year

For years, this solitary wooden sculpture has sounded the horn on the culinary treats to come

Rolled spiced Pappadam flecked with cumin seeds and served with mint chutney

Kingfisher, India's favourite beer, and the perfect accompaniment to an Indian meal
— it's brand promise, 'The King of Good Times' and 'Most Thrilling Chilled!'

The Host menu

The menu features tandoori dishes from their clay oven, a 'host' of traditional curries, 
Indian street appetizers, naan bread and lost more

Bhalla Chaat Papri, an Indian 'street food' with crispy wafers garnished with a combination of potatoes, chickpeas, yogurt and tamarind chutney, sprinkled with a zesty spice powder

Samosas - the all time favourite - crispy triangular pastries stuffed with spiced potatoes,
and accompanied with both mint and tomato chutneys

Paneer Tikka, one of my favourite dishes at The Host

Rajasthani Goat Curry on the bone, cooked in red curry of chili, cumin and roasted spices

Dal Makhni, slow cooked black lentils simmered overnight, 
finished with home churned butter and cream - a specialty of the Northwest frontier 

Nawabi Seekh Kebab smoked ground lamb meat with herbs and spices

Garlic Naan

After a frosty post-dinner dash from The Host to claim our fabulous forth-row-centre tickets to Anoushka Shankar's single night performance at The Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall, we found ourselves well fed and eagerly awaiting the main event — Anoushka live in full sitar splendour! Her most recent album, 'Traces of You', upon which the concert was based, was inspired by the idea that everything in the universe leaves an indelible mark or a subtle 'trace', on everything else it comes into contact with. 

Having lost her father Ravi during the process of recording her album, she was occupied with the eternal interplay of loss and hope, of transience and new beginnings; of joy, pain and sadness intermingled, which became her catharsis through a difficult period, leading ultimately to the greater emotion behind all the others: love. Three forms of love, love for her father, her husband Joe Wright, and her son Zubin.

Anoushka Shankar performed at Koerner Hall on Saturday, November 23, 2013

Like her father, Anoushka Shankar displays an enormous talent for effortlessly integrating even the most contrasting of musical components into her sound universe — a universe I had the great pleasure to be part of this past Saturday night. As another great bard once said, "If music be the food of love, play on — give me excess of it! Yes...most emphatically — yes!

Bharvan Palak Kebab - 'Stuffed spinach and cheese patties'
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
Recipe courtesy of Chef Sanjeev Sethi, 'The Host'

1/2 bunch fresh spinach, boiled and finely chopped 
1/2 cup paneer cheese
2 large boiled potatoes, mashed
1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 tbsp cornstarch
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 tsp roasted cumin seeds
2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 cup cashew nuts
1 tbsp raisins
1/2 cup ricotta
Chili paste to taste
Salt to taste

In a bowl, mix spinach, paneer, mashed potatoes, garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, chili paste and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for binding. Knead the mixture so that all ingredients mix uniformly. Divide into 10 portions and shape them into balls.

Mix nuts, raisins and dry milk and divide into 10 small portions for stuffing. Stuff each spinach and cheese ball with dry milk stuffing and reshape into a ball. Press between your palms to flatten. Add water to remaining cornstarch to make a thin paste. Dip flattened patty in it and coat the kebab with a mix of chickpea flour and bread crumbs for a crispy crust.

Deep-fry in vegetable oil and place on a paper towel to absorb the extra oil. Serve with spicy mint chutney or ketchup.

Butter Chicken
Serves 4-6
Recipe courtesy of Chef Sanjeev Sethi, 'The Host'

2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into cubes 
1 pound fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup 35% cream
1/2 cup hot water
2 oz butter
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tbsp lemon juice
2 whole green chilies
2 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp dried fenugreek
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp garam masala
2 tsp paprika
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
2 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp dry coriander
Salt to taste

In a large bowl, mix the chicken with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, 1 tablespoon of grated ginger, 1 tablespoon of grated garlic and paprika, and set aside for one hour. Then add the yogurt and leave standing for an additional 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F. In a skillet, heat the remaining oil and add cumin, cloves, bay leaves and cinnamon until the spices begin to sputter and crackle. Add the remaining ginger and garlic and sauté lightly. Add the chopped tomatoes and green chilies, bring to a simmer then reduce heat to medium. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. 

Let the sauce cool slightly, then pass through a sieve to remove the seeds then purée until smooth. To the purée, add tomato paste, dry coriander, honey and 1/2 cup of hot water, and boil.

Meanwhile spread out the marinated chicken cubes onto a baking sheet and bake until they’re about 80% cooked, then transfer into the sauce and add the cream. Continue cooking until the chicken is fully cooked, adding some salt to taste. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle with dried fenugreek leaves and garam masala, and cover. Let warm another 5-10 minutes then serve with naan.