Friday, 22 June 2012

The Diary of an Oddroader in conversation with Surbhi Sahni

[Discover the India of your dreams @ - The Way I Like.]

Surbhi Sahni has a unique perspective to Food. The early influences in her life and the vast experience she has gathered while on the job with few of the best restaurants in the world gives her creations an inspirational touch. 

We know you started off in India, what was your turning point and why did you move to the US?

My father has been a big influence in my life, who wanted me to do my Masters and to flourish in life. I have always been keen on learning the workings of a kitchen. When I started working I realized there was more to Food than what was communicated to us in college. I completed my Anthropology in Food course in NYU .

        Was it easy to start afresh in the States? What has been your experience with Indian food in the States and how do people take it?

I was offered a job at an Indian restaurant ( Tamarind) even before I finished my course at NYU. Then, I started baking from home and there was a time when I was catering for 7 bakeries.

Surbhi Sahni
Indian food is not new to New Yorkers and they are really open and enjoy Indian food.

Please share some of your experiences in starting a restaurant abroad.

It is really important for a Chef to be an Entrepreneur in the current day and understand the nuisances of doing this business. Starting from ambience, to food and to people management. Understanding everything is important. Business is not only about the Product, it is about the People working with us, Customers, Suppliers and everyone involved with us. 

Your baking has an Indian twist to it. Please share some of the people's reactions to this?

 It has worked really well. NYC is great when it comes to opening their arms to new experiences. When you present classical with new creations they choose the latter.

         Who or what taught you to love food?

My father is an artist and I wanted to follow his footsteps. But, he pushed me join the kitchen, as he knew I loved Food and the creative aspect of the food industry.

I had tried my hand in all the aspects of the kitchen and finally settled with the cooking aspect of it. I started off at an all women’s kitchen at Maurya Sheraton, Delhi.

        What's your regular comfort meal?

 I love the classic Rajmah & Chawal.

         Tell me about one of your Kitchen disasters.

 Tulsi’s kitchen was a challenge for me as there was liitle to no time for me to test run my desserts. I felt they turned out   to be disastrous on the opening night, although most people appreciated it on the opening night as well. I had to rush   and make a lot of changes to them but eventually they turned out really good and garnered many accolades!

        While in India, you must have had your share of experiences with food from different parts. What was your most memorable food related experience.

I love Food in general. But, staying in India of course, I loved street food. I specially remember Chaats from Delhi , Dhoklas from Gujarat and almost everything from South India. I love anything that has been cooked at home.

Tell us about one of your most interesting experience while tasting new cuisines.

I remember visiting ISKON temple in Bangalore where we had eaten at the cafeteria. It was definitely an interesting experience. I also love the Gujarati thalis in Baroda and any home cooked meals.

Surbhi in action
Imagine you were on a trek high up in the mountains. There is no sign of civilization for miles on end. What five foods would you want with you? What would you make?

Potatoes, Boondi, Yogurt, Rice, Salt, Ginger and Red Chili powder, Sugar. I would cook spiced potatoes, Rice, Boondi raita  and Yogurt with sugar.

What are the two most essential items in your kitchen?
Ginger, it’s so versatile and flavourful and definitely whole garam masala.

What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?
Aloo parathans, Bhindi, Jeera Aloo.

BitterSweet NYC is also your blog. Tell us more about that. What do you want to tell people through your blog?

I would like to steer my blog away from recipes. I would eventually like to focus on the human aspect of the industry, maybe also steer it as a day in the life of a chef.
Visit my blog at:

Which is your favorite Indian dish? What's your favorite recipe?

Not sure about my favorite recipe, that’s a really hard one.  But I guess I am one who loves simple homemade food so I think I would love to share my cauliflower paranthas with cucumber yogurt.  My fondest memories are of hot paranthas for breakfast in India and so I absolutely love it.

Cauliflower Parantha with Cucumber Raita
Makes 10 paranthas

For the dough
4 cups chapati flour, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon clarified butter
1 1/3 cups lukewarm water, or as needed

For the filling
1 cauliflower, stemmed and cut into quarters
A 1 1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 green chilies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1/4 teaspoon carom seeds
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
Salt to taste

To make the paranthas:
Chapati flour for dusting
2/3 cup clarified butter or canola oil

Special Equipment
Rolling pin
Sheet pans
Parchment paper
Kitchen towels
Pastry brush

Combine the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle in 1/3 cup clarified butter, and using your fingertips, rub into the flour until the mixture has an oatmeal consistency. Pour in 2/3 cup of water to moisten the flour and mix until it adheres into a sticky mass; then slowly incorporate the rest of the water, a few drizzles at a time, until it forms a medium-soft dough.

Knead the dough until silky smooth (there should be no air pockets), about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball, rub all around with remaining clarified butter; wrap with plastic wrap and let it rest for 1/2 hour.

To make the filling, grate the cauliflower with large grating slots (should yield about 4 cups). Add the ginger, chilies, cilantro, carom seeds, red chili powder, garam masala and salt; and mix well. Set aside.

Knead the dough briefly. Divide equally into 10 pieces. Cut each of the 10 pieces into 2 and roll them into smooth balls; and then place on a sheet pan and cover with a damp cloth.

Preheat the griddle over moderate heat and brush a thin layer of clarified butter, or canola oil. Place some flour in a shallow dish for dusting.

To roll out the dough, flatten each dough ball into a 2-inch round. Use the rolling pin to form a 6-inch round. Lightly dip both sides of the dough in the dusting flour, just enough to avoid it from sticking. Roll evenly with gentle pressure, easing the dough into a round rather than stretching it. Set aside. Repeat the process with another ball of dough.

Dip a pastry brush in a small bowl of water and paint a border around the edges of one of the 6-inch rounds. Place about 1/3 cup of the cauliflower filling on the round and spread evenly, leaving a 1/4-inch border around the edges. Carefully place the other round on top. Gently press down from the center to the edges to get rid of any excess air; and then press around the edges to seal in the filling. Lightly dust with flour on both sides and gently roll out until it is a 1/4-inch bigger. Place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and lightly dusted with flour. Repeat the process with the remaining dough. Layer the breads with parchment paper to avoid sticking.

When the griddle is hot, carefully place the bread on the griddle and cook for 1 minute. Turn over and cook the other side for another minute. Meanwhile, drizzle a teaspoon of clarified butter, or canola oil, on the cooked side and spread evenly over the bread using the back of a large spoon. Flip the bread over and cook another a minute, while you drizzle with a teaspoon of butter, or oil, on the side that is up. Then turn over and cook for another minute. Continue to butter and flip, cooking for a minute on each side, until both sides are golden brown and evenly coated with the clarified butter, or canola oil (4 to 6 rotations). Serve immediately with cucumber raita.

Makes 3 cups

2 cups Greek-style yogurt
1 small cucumber, seeds removed and finely grated
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
3 fresh curry leaves, torn into pieces (optional)
1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced (optional)
2 fresh green chiles, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Place the yogurt and grated cucumber in a small bowl; mix well.

In a small sauté pan, heat the canola oil and add mustards seeds, cook until they crackle. Add curry leaves and garlic, if using, cook while stirring constantly until the garlic is golden brown. Add the green chilies, cook for another 30 seconds and then temper the yogurt mixture with the hot oil mixture. Mix well and season with salt to taste. Serve cold. 

[Discover the India of your dreams @ - The Way I Like.]