Rasika's cookbook reveals the restaurant's house secrets

If you are craving Rasika’s black cod marinated in yogurt, honey and dill or its fried spinach drizzled with yogurt and tamarind sauces or the piquant chutneys such as the tomato-golden raisin or eggplant-ginger or the goat cheese kulcha (soft bread made with naan dough and rife with goat and paneer cheeses), you no longer have to make that four-hour drive to Washington, D.C.

You could have them right here in Pittsburgh by making them yourself. The four-star restaurant, which Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema has called “one of the best Indian restaurants in the country,” has come out with its debut eponymous cookbook.

“Rasika: Flavors of India,” by restaurateur Ashok Bajaj, James Beard Award-winning executive chef Vikram Sunderam and David Hagedorn, walks the reader through how the restaurant that opened in December 2005 came to be —  from building its team to opening a second location, Rasika West End, six years later.

The authors worked on the book for two years and feature recipes of Rasika’s most popular dishes over the past 11 years. “It is the first time we are revealing the recipes for palak [spinach] chaat and black cod with honey and dill,” says the 51-year-old chef over the phone. He was born and raised in Mumbai and worked with the Taj Group for 20 years that included more than a decade in London.

Their goal was to cover foods from the different regions of India and to educate readers that cuisine from the Asian subcontinent does not translate to just chili hot. Murgh Mussallam (chicken stuffed with saffron rice and hard boiled egg and served with an almond sauce) has it origins in the northern city of Lucknow; peanut quinoa is a nouveau take on the Maharashtrian sabudana khichdi (tapioca pearls with peanuts); Mirch Ka Salan, aka chili pepper in sauce, is a spin-off of the classic dish from Hyderabad; uttapam (made with rice and lentil), the popular savory pancake from the southern state of Tamil Nadu, gets topped with asparagus; panch phoron, a five-spice blend common in West Bengal, is used in the Bengali Shrimp Curry.

In the book, Mr. Sunderam explains the origin of his recipes, which are both rooted in tradition and branch out in innovative ways, along with tips on how to maintain optimal flavor, avoid overcooking and shortcuts for home cooks. In almost every recipe, he gives pointers as to what part of the dish can be done ahead of time.

Inspiration for Black Pepper Crab Napoleon with curry oil, Mr. Sunderam writes, comes from a dish called butter pepper garlic crab at a restaurant called Mahesh Lunch Home in Mumbai. But he adopts a less messy method by layering lump Chesapeake blue crabmeat between crisp phyllo squares.

Instead of a typical braised meat or mixed vegetables with korma (a mild sauce made with yogurt and nuts), he shares recipes for cremini mushroom and artichoke korma; chicken pista korma and lamb and pineapple korma. Then there is the avocado chaat topped with a slice of banana that is a riff on the street snack food.

In place of the tried-and-true pyramid-shaped samosas filled with potato and peas, “Rasika” features Sweet Potato Samosa Purses that are made with spring roll pastry and tied with green onion “strings.” The dumplings are served with cranberry chutney, made with white grape juice, jaggery (an unrefined brown sugar) and spices, and not the typical mint-cilantro chutney or tamarind chutney. There also is a dessert rendition — chocolate samosas made with bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips.

For the uninitiated of Indian cuisine or those who find it daunting, the book offers a detailed glossary of spices and spells out the types of chili peppers and cooking oils used.

In the ancient language Sanskrit, Rasika loosely translates to flavor. And the book is filled with it — from the description of the ingredients and recipes to the clever riffs that work to the appetizing photographs.

To mark Diwali, which is being celebrated Wednesday and Thursday, I am turning to “Rasika” for some of its creative inspirations. The Hindu festival of lights marks the triumph of good over evil and also is observed as the start of the new year by some. Lakshmi the goddess of wealth is welcomed into homes and it is considered to be an auspicious time, and so revelers typically abstain from meat, fish and egg dishes.

To keep in sync with fall, I will be preparing the sweet potato samosas flavored with ginger, cumin seeds and chaat masala. Also, I will be skipping the annual tradition set by my late grandmother of making badam kheer (milk pureed with almonds and flavored with saffron threads). Instead, I will be preparing “Rasika’s” white chocolate rice pudding scented with cardamom and garnished with saffron, golden raisins and nuts. 

When it comes to the cardamom, I will be adhering to a tip that I was taught by my mother that also is in the book: Grind the green cardamom pods with granulated sugar as “the friction of the crystals makes the cardamom finer.”

Arthi Subramaniam: asubramaniam@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1494 or on Twitter @arthisub.


Sweet Potato Samosa Purses

PG tested

The spring roll pastry sheets make the samosa lighter and crisper than the usual heavy dough that is used for the dumpling. The authors say: “Do not confuse them with egg roll wrappers, which are thicker than spring roll sheets and made with eggs, or with rice paper, which is used for Vietnamese spring rolls.”

1 green onion, dark green tops only, cut lengthwise into 8 strips ½-inch wide

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

1/4 cup canola oil, plus 6 cups for deep-frying, divided

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1-inch piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Thai green chili, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon chaat masala

1/4 teaspoon deggi mirch or Kashmiri chili powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

8 (6-by-6-inch) spring roll pastry sheets, such as Spring Home Brand

Set up a small bowl of ice and water.

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Dip the green onion strips into the boiling water, then transfer them to the ice water. Drain them and blot them dry on paper towels. They are the “strings” to tie the purses.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with foil or parchment.

Coat sweet potatoes with 2 tablespoons of the oil and spread them on the baking sheet. Bake until soft, about 20 minutes.

Remove pan from oven and mash potatoes with a masher. (You can do this right on the pan.)

In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add cumin seeds and let them crackle. Add ginger, green chili, chaat masala, deggi mirch and salt, stirring to combine.

Saute for 1 minute. Mix in mashed sweet potatoes and lemon juice. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let the filling cool.

Lay spring roll wrappers on the counter. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in the center of each. Join two opposite corners, then bring up the other two to create a purse and hold it together by tying a green onion string around it with a double knot.

Line a plate with paper towels. Pour 6 cups of oil into a wok or kadai and heat to 350 degrees. Fry samosas until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them constantly with a spider strainer or skimmer so they brown evenly. Transfer to paper towels to blot them.

Serve with cranberry chutney.

Makes 8 samosas.

— “Rasika: Flavors of India” by Ashok Bajaj, Vikram Sunderam and David Hagedorn (Ecco; Oct. 10, 2017; $34.99)

Cranberry Chutney

1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen

1½ cups white grape juice

4 ounces jaggery (unrefined sugar)

1 medium Thai green chili, stemmed and halved lengthwise

1 dried bay leaf, torn into pieces

5 green cardamom pods

3-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

5 whole cloves

Strips of zest from 1/2 orange

1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, combine cranberries, grape juice and jaggery.

On a 6-inch square of cheesecloth, place green chili halves, bay leaf, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, cloves and orange zest. Fold the cheesecloth’s corners up to form a sachet and tie it with a kitchen twine. Place sachet inside the pan.

Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 40 minutes.

Discard sachet. Stir in salt. Cool completely.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.


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