Culinary Waves: by Chef Mary Beth Lawton Johnson
London has long been filled with restaurants serving Indian cuisine, and today most other major cities have restaurants serving regional variations of the cuisine as well, whether Afghani, Pakistani or Mumbai Indian. What’s more, Indian food is slowly integrating into mainstream America, appearing even in small towns. I just ate at my favorite Indian restaurant, so I thought why not take it on board? I know my employers love it. It certainly would appease the vegetarians. A theme night on board featuring Indian cuisine might be a great idea.
When planning an Indian theme night, however, remember that it must be authentic Indian cuisine or there’s no point. Consider simple dishes such as Sag Aloo, which is spinach cooked with potatoes in a spicy curry sauce, or Panir Masala, which is homemade ricotta cheese cooked in a creamy masala sauce.
Maybe you might like to feature an Indian biryani. What is biryani? Biryani is similar to Chinese fried rice. It’s a set of basmati rice-based dishes made with fresh masala (spices) and meat, fish or vegetables. It is attributed to and well-known among the people of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. I was told by a local Indian restaurant that biryani was introduced to the Indian subcontinent by Muslim travelers and merchants. Local variations of this dish are not only popular in South Asia, but also in Arabia and within various South Asian communities of Western countries.
The spices and condiments typically used in a biryani include ghee (clarified butter), peas, cumin, coriander, cloves, bay leaves, cardamon, cinnamon, saffron, ginger and garlic.
Here are some biryani specialities:
Of course, curry is a well-known Indian dish, and it always appears on Indian menus. In this column, I wanted to feature less-known dishes that might lend themselves to easy onboard cooking for a more authentic meal.
Seafood is a staple of Indian cuisine, along with fresh vegetables and aromatic spices, so it makes perfect sense to feature this ethnic cuisine on board. Turn your shrimp into a Shrimp Curry or a Shrimp Vindaloo. Perhaps a Seafood Sabizi, which is seafood such as shrimp cooked with curry and vegetables such as spinach and peas or mushrooms. There is Seafood Tikka Masala, which is seafood of choice cooked in a delicate creamy masala sauce, or spicy Seafood Bengal, which features seafood of choice cooked with fresh green chilies and onions in a spicy sauce.
It has taken more than 8,000 years of influx to create modern Indian cuisine. It’s the result of religious preferences, as well as cultural invasions, colonialism and trading. The potato, a staple in India, was brought to them by the Portuguese. Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine have been integrated with Indian cuisine, infusing it with their own flavor profiles.
But much of the antiquities remain, and the modern menu is replete with traditional foods such as dal (a dish of pureed and spiced lentils), vegetables, legumes, dairy and grains such as whole wheat flour and millet. Beef remains taboo because cows are considered holy in the Hindu religion.
Be creative and authentic with your Indian theme night menu for the yacht, and remember – there is a tremendous opportunity to incorporate seafood with genuine recipes and spices of Indian cuisine.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments are welcome below.