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Flavours and fragrances from Mediterranean shores

Tahini and hummus, paella and pita bread, olives, cheese and wines - all these and more gourmet delights from the Mediterranean coast are on offer at Blooms. SUMITRA SENAPATY recommends some delectable combinations... .



Colourful ingredients of Mediterranean food.

HAVING BECOME accustomed to the variety of food on offer at New Delhi's Park Royal Intercontinental, there is no doubt that Blooms offering Casablanca cocktails and Italian pastas would also serve a proper rendering of hummus. More so, when a Mediterranean Food Festival takes off and is there to stay as long as April does. Looking at the buffet table laden with an array of Mediterranean offerings, you look forward to the fruity taste of olive oil, juicy shawarma and satisfying pita bread, a few of which have little local competition.

The kabobs, like soft sausages without casings, are alive with the sharpness of barely-cooked garlic and parsley. A shawarma sandwich comes with both hummus and something like a tart yogurt spread. Babaghanoush, a puree of charred eggplant and tahini, seems unusually light - almost a mousse - the smoky char not overwhelming the eggplant's subtle fruitiness. And crisp-skinned falafel and beans mashed into a batter and deep-fried, are garlicky and coarsely textured, like premium whole-grain bread; as an appetizer, they too come smothered in tahini sauce.

If you just love pita bread, you really have to try the shawarma chicken. Marinated chicken in pita bread served with a green salad makes for a real healthy meal. Triangles of pita bread along with garlic-scented chickpea spread, topped with a sheen of olive oil and a pair of green olives. Sometimes garlic overwhelms hummus, so the flavours of olive oil, lemon and garlic need to be nicely balanced. Olives have to be a cut above the bland sort to have the desired effect of tart and sweet. The ubiquitous tahini sauce calms the scream of raw garlic and revives the sluggishness of charred meat. The lamb appetizer drives home the sauce's strengths, marrying tender, cinnamon-scented lamb, warm and tangy with the hollow crunch of pine nuts. The hummus and tahini seems rich in flavour and authentic - its centre a pool of olive oil. You can even have a bit of Mousaka, the Greek aubergine preparation or attack a Greek salad. Tossed in light oil and vinegar dressing, the salad is full of fresh tomatoes and feta cheese.

Casablanca is a trendy mix of cranberry juice, orange juice, vodka and sambuka and goes rather well with the falafel wrap and pita bread. A similar concept as tortilla wraps, the falafel wrap is how it should be - moist, not dry, filled with romaine lettuce and onions, tender grilled chicken. Portions are huge, so keep reserving space for favourites! Another must-try is a refreshing salad of cucumber, onions and tomatoes, with lemon and olive oil dressing, topped with toasted pita bread.

Paella, the hearty, rice-based Spanish dish, is also a part of the Mediterranean fare on display. Apparently there is no standard recipe for paella and it is open to different interpretations. It is often said that there are as many paellas as there are chefs in Spain! While Paella Valencia, the renowned classic version is made with chicken and snails, in Blooms it is made with chicken, fish and prawns. Short-grained rice is recommended, else the paella will turn sticky. Sometimes a touch of saffron indicates a Moorish influence.

What else does the Mediterranean offer? Several types of wine, olives, cheese, whole grain bread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bright red, yellow and green capsicums - enough and more reasons to make you linger. Blooms with its unhurried, low-buzz atmosphere lends a relaxing, sitting-in-your-living room feel to the festival.

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