Today, food is not just about visually stunning dishes, contrasting textures and creative cuisines. Seasonal ingredients, with their subtle but fresh flavours play a vital role in cuisines too.
Green cashew tikka with tamarind pepper drizzle, Kadgi gujjo, a traditional Konkani style raw jackfruit masala dish and Dumroot Halwa, made from white pumpkin, may have an extraordinary presentation and look appealing. But what makes these dishes unique, is the fact that these are all made from seasonal ingredients and thus tastier, as freshness equals flavour.
Seasonal ingredients today dictate menus, as dishes are all about ingredients. Chefs design their menus to reflect what is available seasonally and also build in flexibility, so that they are able to celebrate seasonal specialities with special dishes.
Seasonal Is In
Raw mango in April-May, strawberries in June, carrots in December, and so on. Eating the right things at the right time makes a world of difference and chefs are increasingly realising this and thus opting for seasonal ingredients.
Every bite of a dish made using seasonal produce is obviously more flavourful and healthy. Chef Jaydeep Mukherjee, Executive Chef, Indigo Delis, acquiesces, “Memories of my favourite meals and dishes revolve around seasonal ingredients. Be it mangoes or winter carrots, to cook with them and eat them, when in prime, is a beautiful experience. The natural sweetness and readiness of any seasonal produce, in that short window that it is available in, is exceptional. It allows me the opportunity to pick my favourite recipes that showcase these ingredients the best.”
In Goa too, chefs believe that indigenous flavours are best experienced where they originate and thus make use of Goa’s beloved fruit, the cashew, both in the apple and nut form, in cooking during summer.
Executive Chef Vijay Malhotra, ITC Maratha Mumbai, explains, “In season, fruits and vegetables are always delicious and flavourful. The topography of a place determines the vegetation and the mere fact that something grows in those conditions, means that they are best suited to the inhabitants of that area. Seasonal produce is grown and sold locally, so it doesn’t go through the vagaries of temperatures whilst being transported. They are harvested just at the right time and not prematurely.”
Seasonality fuels Creativity
Seasonal produce gives chefs a chance to dabble in innovation, while gourmets get a respite from routine offerings. And the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables on offer each season, excite and challenge the chefs.
Chef Executive Rakesh Sethi, Radisson Blu Hotel New Delhi Dwarka, opines that changing the menu as per the availability of seasonal produce, not only accentuates the tastes and flavours of a dish, but also helps chefs break the monotony of cuisines in a menu thereby offering a range of variety to guests.
Chef Malhotra of ITC Maratha prefers using ingredients like kairi and kokum in summer, owing to their natural cooling properties. He adds, ”Raw mangoes can be used in varied forms like Aam panna, a summer cooler, Kairi chutney and Kairi Daal, a famous dish from central India. In South India, Chameen Manga Charu too uses raw mango. One ingredient can thus be used in different meal courses.”
There are a plethora of dishes chefs can create with the same ingredient. With their culinary prowess and creativity, chefs can create distinctive dishes using one seasonal ingredient, and also give a twist to their presentation.
Chef Jaydeep infuses variety in his seasonal summer menu and adds the wow factor with seared Andaman seabass, kairi curry, jamun pilaf, caramel tamarind pork belly, passion fruit chilli, all using seasonal produce. He is equally happy creating jackfruit fritters, jackfruit pie and jackfruit crème, ensuring variety.
Truly, there is a lot chefs do with seasonal produce, but Chef Sethi cautions, “At least in each course there should be a different item, with a different taste and colour.” Using the cashew apple, one can make a salad, by cutting it into small cubes, adding salt, sugar and chili powder. The same cashew can be used for a cashew crusted fish or cashew fruit crumble as dessert. As long as a chef is imaginative, boredom can never set in.”
Cost Effective & Sustainable
Chef Malhotra believes that seasonal produce is cost-effective as they are available in abundance during the season.
Chef Jaydeep sums up, “Local, seasonal and sustainable was not an attitude at the time of our grandmothers. It was a way of life. Thankfully, chefs today are heading back in this direction from an earlier path strewn with imported and cold processed produce.”
Written by Mini Ribeiro