(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) In a spacious dining hall overlooking the deep blue of the Arabian Sea, an unusual three-course meal is being laid out.
Its creator, Mumtaz Mahal Restaurant's executive chef Pardeep Singh, appears pleased with the variety he has on his menu and succinctly describes the dishes as Ayurvedic, based on the holistic Indian science of living the natural way.
One can't miss the deliberate effort at naming the dishes after the herbs, vegetables and spices gone into preparing them. When asked why he calls them Ayurvedic,' Singh flashes a book on naturopathy titled Foods that Heal.
''It has some of your answers,'' he says. But that is only to substantiate his argument - he doesn't expect you to read it. ''Ayurvedic food has been part of Indian cuisine since forever,'' he says, claiming that there was a time when the medicinal and healing properties of every single ingredient took precedence while preparing a meal.
''There was a reason behind why our ancestors ate what they ate. They believed that 'we are what we eat'. Ayurveda is not restricted just to greens. It goes beyond.''
He breaks it down further. ''Ayurvedic food is categorised into sattavic, rajasic and tamasic, which is basically organic, vegetarian food, and white and red meat. All of them together help maintain a balance in human behaviour. I wanted to work on this concept and re-invent dishes to make them palatable yet healthy.''
That also explains why the 14-day event that began at the restaurant on December 2 has been named Soul Food Festival.
Of the 30-odd dishes on the menu, only one - Fresh palak (spinach), methi (fenugreek), adraki (ginger) he says is deep-fried; the others are mostly grilled on a tandoor using charcoal. ''We wanted to get the smoked flavour in our food, common to centuries-old dishes that unlike today, were not cooked or heated artificially,'' he says.
The inspiration for the new menu, he says, came from the foods he did not like as a child. ''I remember being force-fed bitter gourd and neem leaves. I did not like them, but was forced to eat by my mother.
She knew the health benefits of every unsavoury vegetable or meal. It was after I became a chef, I learnt about the healing effects of food. And so, I wanted to work on making the same meals tastier.''
A case in point being bharvan karela (stuffed bitter gourd), a dish on the festival main course. ''We peeled the bitter gourds and dried them in the sun for a day to reduce their bitterness before stuffing them,'' says Singh.
The amount of ingredients used in preparing an Ayurvedic meal is equally important, he says.
''Though spices and herbs have healing properties, they can be very harmful if used in excess.'' He stresses the point further by explaining why he used only two to three holy basil leaves in the tomato and holy basil soup that he created for the festival.
''While basil helps prevent cancer, it also contains mercury, which is extremely harmful for the body. One should not consume it in bunches,'' he warns, placing one more tip on the table before he ends, ''Even good food can go wrong, if not eaten in right quantities.''
Recipes from the chef's menu
Fresh palak (spinach), methi (fenugreek), adraki (ginger)
140gm potatoes 40gm cottage cheese 20gm fresh spinach 10gm fresh fenugreek leaves 5gm ginger 1 tbsp cumin seed powder A pinch of chaat masala Salt to taste
1. Boil and peel the potatoes.
2. In a bowl, mash potatoes along with cottage cheese, finely chopped fresh spinach, fenugreek leaves and ginger.
3. Add cumin seed powder, chaat masala, salt and mix further.
4. Once the mixture is ready, take small portions and make balls out of it. Gently flatten into round shapes.
5. Deep fry them in oil and serve hot.
Honey cinnamon butter milk
2 tsp cinnamon powder 5 tsp honey
1. Add water to curd and beat it (or blend in a mixture) till it reaches the consistency of butter milk.
2. Add more water if you want it to be thinner.
3. Add cinnamon powder and honey (depending on how sweet you want it) while you are blending it.
4. Blend it well. Pour into a glass