Food News and Recipes

Think recipes from an Indian restaurant’s cookbook will be too hard? ‘Rasika’ proves otherwise

In maintaining the integrity of its dishes, a restaurant cookbook can thumb its nose at the audience most eager to receive it. Put in terms a fan of Rasika will understand: Chef Vikram Sunderam has at long last published his recipe for palak chaat! It’s the saucy, complex heap of crispy fried spinach that has dazzled Washington diners since the elegant Indian restaurant opened in 2005.

But how many of us will opt for obtaining deggi mirch, an Indian chile powder blend; toasting the cumin seeds; making a base chutney and two sauces; and then maintaining a pot of 400-degree oil for batch after batch?

Washington chef-turned-writer David Hagedorn kept that in mind when he signed on to co-author the new “Rasika: Flavors of India” (Ecco, Oct. 10) with restaurateur Ashok Bajaj and Sunderam. The Bombay (now Mumbai)-born executive chef has earned accolades and a coveted four stars for interpreting his cuisine with modern flair. The cookbook project took three years.

“Restaurant cookbooks can be intimidating,” said Hagedorn, who writes occasionally for The Washington Post. “What I discovered was that these recipes are not all difficult. Their techniques are not difficult. Sure, you have to prep, as you would for Chinese cooking. ... It’s a lot of cutting and dicing. A different way of cooking than most American cooks know.”

And, of course, he said, the co-creators were aware they were sharing a style of cooking that goes against current enthusiasm for five ingredients or fewer.

Yet, plenty of “easy” – a pixie-dust descriptor among viral recipes – exists in this 120-recipe collection. Take the Korma Sauce: The restaurant relies on its gluten-free rendition as the base for several braises. It calls for six commonplace ingredients, including a versatile and quick ginger-garlic paste. Add chicken or mushrooms and artichokes, and the sauce morphs. Hagedorn had to prepare loads of the paste, and it has changed the way he cooks non-Indian food every day, he said. The ice cube trays filled with it in his freezer prove the point.

The same goes for fresh tamarind, an ingredient he did not use at home before working on the book. It can provide the right sour note to balance a vinaigrette, a stew or a soup - instead of the usual acidic components. So it, too, earned a place in his cold storage, as it has in an increasing number of grocery produce departments.

“Rasika’s” Rice Vermicelli With Dill and Green Chiles won’t send you to a special market. The recipe takes about 10 minutes to throw together and has become Hagedorn’s favorite new side dish. “Every time I tested it, I’d eat it for the next three days,” he said – sometimes with sizzled curry leaves. “It has become an epiphany food for me.” And the restaurant’s signature Date and Toffee Puddings are baked in a regular muffin pan and freezeable – accessible for even a beginner home cook.

The more comfortable one becomes with such gateway recipes, the more appealing some of Rasika’s dishes with more demanding ingredients and exacting directions might turn out to be. Hagedorn found a certain logic to them.

“As much as I tried to steer Vikram into letting me add everything at once, the answer was usually no,” he said. When spices and sauces are allowed to develop their individual flavors in a time-release fashion, the benefits of a layered approach become apparent. Rasika’s palak chaat is a perfect example, and it’s now within a home cook’s reach.

Korma Sauce

Servings: 4.5 cups

This yogurt and cashew-paste sauce is the versatile base of several dishes that come from the Rasika restaurant kitchens in Washington. 

MAKE AHEAD: The sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 1 month.

2 medium yellow onions, diced (2 cups)

3 cups water

1 cup unsalted, chopped cashews

1 cup whole-milk plain yogurt

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons homemade or store-bought ginger-garlic paste (see NOTE)

Combine the onions and water in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onions have softened.

Transfer the onions and their cooking water to a blender. Remove the center knob of the lid so steam can escape. Add the cashews and purée until smooth for at least 1 minute, starting on a low speed and gradually increasing to high. Pour into a bowl, then stir in the yogurt.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the ginger-garlic paste and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly, then stir in the yogurt mixture. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring often; about halfway through, the mixture will begin to sputter so keep an eye on it, and keep stirring to avoid scorching, to form a thickened sauce.

NOTE: To make about 2 cups of ginger-garlic paste, combine 1/2 cup chopped (unpeeled) fresh ginger root, 8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) garlic cloves and 3/4 cup water in a blender; purée on high until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container; seal and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition per 1/2-cup serving: 150 calories, 5 g protein, 10 g carbohydrates, 11 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 30 mg sodium, 1 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar

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Honey-Chili Tuna With Mango Salsa

4 servings 

This main dish, which appeared on the original menu at Rasika West End and still is featured there occasionally, is light and colorful. Make sure to get the oil very hot so just the outside of the fish sears quickly, keeping its interior a lovely medium-rare.

MAKE AHEAD: The tuna slices need to marinate in the sauce for 30 minutes before serving.

Canned mango pulp in syrup, rather than fresh or frozen mango, is best for this recipe. Deep brand is available online through Amazon.com and other food purveyors.

For the tuna

1 ½ pounds good-quality raw tuna (in one or two pieces)

1/4 cup honey

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon homemade or store-bought ginger-garlic paste (see NOTE)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup canola oil

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

For the salsa

3/4 cup canned Alphonso mango pulp, such as Deep brand (see headnote)

1/4 cup minced red onion

1 tablespoon minced red bell pepper (seeded)

1 tablespoon minced cilantro

1/2 teaspoon minced Thai green chile pepper (seeded)

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

For the tuna: Cut the fillet(s) into 12 equal pieces that are about 1/2-inch thick (about 2 ounces each). 

Whisk together the honey, crushed red pepper flakes, ginger-garlic paste, lemon juice and salt in a glass bowl, then add the tuna and toss to coat evenly. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the salsa: Stir together the mango pulp, red onion, bell pepper, cilantro, Thai chile pepper, lemon juice and salt in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate.

When ready to assemble, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, lay the tuna slices in the pan, discarding their marinade. Cook just long enough for a thin layer of the bottom sides of the tuna slices to turn white, then transfer to a platter.

To serve, stack 3 tuna slices on each plate so they alternate short and long. Spoon about 1/4 cup of the salsa over each portion, then top with the chopped cilantro. Serve right away.

NOTE: To make about 2 cups of ginger-garlic paste, combine 1/2 cup chopped (unpeeled) fresh ginger root, 8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) garlic cloves and 3/4 cup water in a blender; puree on HIGH until smooth. Transfer to an airtight container; seal and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition per serving (with all of the salsa): 400 calories, 42 g protein, 24 g carbohydrates, 15 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 500 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 22 g sugar

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Rice Vermicelli With Dill and Green Chiles

8 servings 

Turmeric and fresh dill add vibrancy to this light accompaniment for a signature Rasika cod dish. You’ll find it goes well with other main courses, as well.

MAKE AHEAD: The vermicelli can be refrigerated a day in advance; cover and reheat in the microwave.

Adapted from “Rasika: Flavors of India,” by Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam, with David Hagedorn (Ecco, October 2017).

8 ounces dried rice vermicelli noodles

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 teaspoon minced green Thai chile pepper (seeded)

1 teaspoon peeled minced fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Remove from the heat, then stir in the rice vermicelli, making sure it’s all submerged. Let sit for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Then drain, return them to the pan and cover.

Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter sizzles, reduce the heat to medium-low; add the green Thai chile pepper, ginger, turmeric and salt, stirring to incorporate. Cook for 30 seconds, then stir in the cooked vermicelli. Turn off the heat, then fold in dill. 

Serve warm.

Nutrition per serving: 160 calories, 2 g protein, 22 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 140 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 0 g sugar

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Date and Toffee Puddings

12 servings 

These moist, individual cakes are a signature dish at Rasika, Washington’s famed Indian restaurants. Yet they are easy to make, and baked in a standard muffin pan.Serve with fresh berries.

MAKE AHEAD: The unadorned puddings can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 1 month. The toffee syrup can be refrigerated for up to 1 month. To reheat the dessert, warm the puddings in the microwave before dipping them into the reheated syrup.

Deglet noor dates are available at Indian markets.

Adapted from “Rasika: Flavors of India,” by Ashok Bajaj and Vikram Sunderam, with David Hagedorn (Ecco, October 2017).

For the puddings

8 ounces pitted deglet noor dates (see headnote)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup hot water

1 1/3 cups flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

6 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

For the toffee syrup

1 cup heavy cream

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For the puddings: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Use cooking oil spray to grease the wells of a standard-size 12-well muffin pan.

Place the dates in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer to a mixing bowl, then add the baking soda and hot water, stirring to incorporate. Let sit for 10 minutes.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.

Combine the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, beating (medium speed) to incorporate after each addition. Stop to scrape down the bowl.

Add the flour mixture in two additions, beating on low speed to incorporate. Add the date mixture (including the liquid) in three additions, to form a thick batter.

Divide evenly among the wells of the muffin pan. Bake (middle rack) for about 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the centers comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes, then run a table knife around the inside edges to help dislodge each pudding, placing them on the rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make the toffee syrup: Combine the heavy cream, butter and light brown sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved to form a creamy syrup. Remove from the heat.

Trim the mounded pudding tops; reserve the trimmings for a snack. Invert the puddings, then use a skewer to poke several holes in each one. Dip each pudding into the toffee syrup, turning them over and over, to make sure they are well coated. Transfer to a large, microwave-safe plate.

Just before serving, heat the toffee-coated puddings in the microwave for 20 seconds on LOW. Serve warm.

Nutrition per pudding: 390 calories, 4 g protein, 43 g carbohydrates, 24 g fat, 15 g saturated fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 170 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 31 g sugar

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