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Susan Feniger - India
SUSAN FENIGER: Chef, restaurateur, cookbook author
Transformed by a trip to India 26 years ago, Susan Feniger – chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, travel addict and TV sensation – has had a long and illustrious career dishing out the tastes of India and the world.
Susan’s genuine love for the authentic flavours of street and home-cooked food drives her menus, travels and cookbooks. Over the course of her three-decade career Susan has launched numerous restaurants, starred in over 300 episodes of her show, “Too Hot Tamales,” on the Food Network – as well as numerous other TV appearances – and has co-authored five exquisite cookbooks and opened the Border Grill restaurants (Los Angeles and Las Vegas) with her business partner, Mary Sue Milliken.
Susan’s latest book, STREET: irresistibly crispy, creamy, crunchy, spicy, sticky, sweet recipes, is inspired by street food encountered on her travels, as well as recipes from her first solo-restaurant of the same name based in Hollywood, Los Angeles.
Many years ago, on my first trip to Mumbai, I was wandering around on the streets, wide-eyed and innocent, and came across this absolutely wonderful street stand serving bhel puri. What was so gorgeous were all the bins of ingredients of puffed rice, crispy fried tortilla pieces, crispy noodles, chickpeas, chillies, peppers, potatoes, and cilantro. It was so beautiful to the eye and unlike any Indian food I’d ever tasted.
Susan Feniger loves a chaat
Street food snacks - chaats - are made-to-order bites of food heaven. Susan Feniger applauds:
bhel puri – a colourful bowl filled with the likes of puffed rice, crispy noodles (sev), crispy wafers, chillies, tomatoes, potatoes, coriander (cilantro) and tamarind chutney. A to-die-for Mumbai creation.
dahi vaada – a deep-fried savoury doughnut served hot or cold and lathered with creamy yoghurt and tantalising spices.
pav bhaji – potato and vegetable curry served with buttered pav bread. A plate of satisfying goodness.
aloo tikki – crispy potato patties served with saunth (sweet chutney), tamarind and coriander-mint chutney. A definite tastebud tickler!
Q & A with Susan Feniger
All of my training had been in strict French kitchens in the US. Then I worked a year in a 3-star restaurant in the south of France. But that first trip to India, I spent much of my stay there in the kitchen on the Ashram. I met a chef who was living in India, he introduced me to the people working in the kitchen at the Ashram. It was all vegetarian, doing seemingly simple food, but I was blown away by the flavours, the spices, the use of ‘daals’ (inside of the beans), the way dishes were finished. Everything about the people, their appreciation of life transported me to another world. I fell in love with everything about India. The colours, the jewellery, the spirit, the clothing, the flavours, spices, life in general. When I returned to LA, we put a number of Indian dishes on our menu. Our vegetarian plate became the most labour intensive dish on our menu but truly, it made me see the food in front of my eyes, very differently. It made my senses much more focused on spices and flavours in a way I never found in the French kitchen. So I explored this more and more and hence eventually STREET (restaurant).
Bhel puri – savoury snack made of puffed rice, vegetables and a tamarind sauce
Parathas – an unleavened flatbread
Pani puri – small pastry stuffed with potato and spices
Saag paneer – spinach curry with paneer cheese
Sabudana khichdi – tapioca with curry neem leaves, mustard seeds and cumin served at breakfast – very unusual, but so incredible. The list could go on and on...
Any of the chaats like bhel puri, pani, etc. I think dosas are quite interesting also, vaada too.
Idlis are pretty wonderful also, as are chutneys and naans. Lime drinks – sweet and salty – traditional biriyani and raan (lamb roast) should all be tried.
You know, much Indian food is not that spicy. But the reason that an Indian kitchen serves many dishes with raita – a yoghurt sauce typically mixed with various things like cucumber, mint, tomatoes – is to balance and cool a dish that might be spicy. You can add as much or little as you want. Also, often a sweet chutney is used for that same purpose. It’s a very thought-out cuisine with balance and smart decisions.
Literally nothing that unusual. You could almost make a great meal at home if you have basic ingredients like: cumin, garlic, ginger, brown sugar, cilantro, mint, vinegar, cayenne, cinnamon, lentils and rice. But ideally you can buy and have in your cabinet a few other spices like turmeric and coriander, daals (various types) and basmati rice. No special equipment is necessary, just a good, simple cookbook to follow and you are there.
I think that walking the street of India, if you can or are willing, and eating on the street is such an incredible experience. Of course that has its challenges, and finding spots where people will feel safe to eat is challenging. But at least finding those great finds in tiny restaurants or stands are what make India ‘street’ food so special.
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