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Spinning an Arabic tale...

Kushal Arora, Executive Chef at New Delhi's Crowne Plaza Surya takes SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY in search of ingredients for Arabic dishes.

Photo: V.Sudershan.

Hunting for the right catch... Kushal Arora, Executive Chef of Crowne Plaza Surya at INA market.

CUISINE OBVIOUSLY mirrors a culture. Something which a community has been sticking to for centuries. And that is why we think of a certain dish when it comes to a particular community or country. A Bengali who doesn't chomp on to macher jhol, an Assamese who abhors khaar, a South Indian repulsed by dahi sadam and a sardarji not keen on butter chicken is seriously an odd ball. Similarly, Italian food is pizza and pasta first, Chinese means noodles, Indonesian has to be Nasi Goreng and Thai means an option of green and red curries.

And Arabic cuisine? If you suitably put this question to the Executive Chef at Crowne Plaza Surya in New Delhi, Kushal Arora, he presents his specialisation in a word, "Hommus." A puree of chick peas, Tahini sauce with a dash of lemon juice, he serves it to his guests at the hotel's restaurant-cum-discotheque Royal Mirage and to the banquet diners with Pita, an Arabic bread which can be used as a spoon to scoop Hommus.

"I have spent a good part of my career in the Middle East like Egypt, Bahrain and Baghdad, etc which sparked my fascination for Arabic food. After joining Crowne Plaza three years back, I had to add a chunk of Arabic dishes into the menu," the Executive Chef says. Introducing the dishes, he insists, is not a hard task as all ingredients required in Arabic cuisine are easily available in Delhi's markets.

Local purchases

"We don't import anything. All is locally procured specially from INA market," he informs. Taking a monthly round of it last Tuesday, he hops around the vegetable and fruit vends and other shops there selling imported sauces, Arabic salad dressings, vinegars, pastes, canned olives, syrups, olive oils etc.

"I also go to Azadpur mandi once a month. But you get the usual desi vegetables there. INA market, though expensive than Azadpur, gives me all the vegetables and fruits used in Arabic cuisine. Also, the quality of things at INA is any day better than that of Azadpur," he talks from experience. Artichokes, red radish, leeks, egg plants, broad beans, zucchinni, celery, dandalion, baby carrots, iceberg lettuce, okra besides other vegetables, the chef says, are mostly used in Arabic dishes which the hotel suppliers procure from INA market.

"I come here to check the prices and also the quality of it. Every morning, when the supplier comes with the items to the hotel, I check each box before allowing it to the store. So, a bit of background information helps," he gives you an idea about behind-the-curtain scene of a big hotel's inventory.

The herbs mostly used, he says, are coriander, mint, dill and parsley though bay leaf, basil, chives, cress, thyme and sage are not out of bounds to bring that Arabic flavour.

"The primary ingredients of Arabic cuisine are olive oil and garlic. INA market has a good variety of imported olive oils," he comments. Also, whole olives are used in Arabic food in green, black and cracked variety.

One stop market

And, when it comes to lentils, he names chick peas, red kidney beans, black-eyed beans and Haricut beans as frequently brought into play in an Arabian kitchen. All easily available, again at INA market. "Unlike at Azadpur, INA shops also have good quality apricots, figs, cherries, dates, tangerines, quinces etc which are often used for Arabic desserts," he says. The nuts widely used are chestnuts, hazelnuts, pistachio, walnuts, pine nuts and even coconut.

The chef offers dishes like Baklava, Fattoush, Tabbouleh, Pita, Baba Ghanoush and Kabsa.

"For Tabbouleh salad, we need big parsleys to give that distinct flavour along with mint. Or Baba Ghanoush, we need good-sized eggplants to char-grill. To make Tahini paste, the quality of garlic and olive oil has to be good. The one-stop market for all these is INA market," the chef repeats the importance of the marketplace for his dishes. Meat cuts, he says, come from Old Delhi and fish, are sourced from the Orissa coast.

With all the ingredients internally available and Chef Kushal to make them Arabic, all is expected of you, he adds, is a good appetite.

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