Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Humble Snack Gets to Shine - Almond Tikki

Ziya’s almond tikki.

MUMBAI — When Vineet Bhatia was a hotel management student in New Delhi in the 1980s, he would regularly snack on aloo tikki at local street stalls.

“It was the cheapest thing you could eat: chickpeas and potatoes,” says the Mumbai-born chef, “and it was absolutely divine.”

Mr. Bhatia elevates this north Indian roadside staple at Ziya, a restaurant in Mumbai’s Oberoi Hotel that he has managed since 2010. The result is the almond tikki, a dish that combines hot and cold, sweet and spicy, crisp and soft. “It’s something that tickles your palate,” says the 45-year-old chef.

His blend of traditional Indian flavors and contemporary Western technique has made him the first Indian chef to earn a Michelin star, first at Zaika in 2001, then at Rasoi in 2006, the London restaurant he still helms.

Here is how Mr. Bhatia’s almond tikki comes together:

The patties: In keeping with the original recipe, humble mashed potatoes are the central ingredient. In Mr. Bhatia’s version, however, the potatoes are boiled in water flavored with turmeric, cumin and salt. He adds green peas to the mash, along with more cumin, garlic, ginger and fresh coriander, before making them into burger-sized patties.

Almond flakes: The patties are coated with almonds, not an ingredient you’d find in the classic street-side aloo tikki. Inspired by almond crusts on Western-style chicken and fish dishes, Mr. Bhatia says he wanted to make the patties crispy. “All these textures are very important for the palate,” he says.

Street food essentials: Spicy chickpeas and yogurt are the staple accompaniments to roadside snacks in north India, and they’re part of Mr. Bhatia’s dish too. The chickpeas are cooked with tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Before serving, he adds onions, chopped coriander and a squeeze of lemon. The yogurt, which coats the patties, is sweetened with sugar and, in Mr. Bhatia’s twist, a dash of ground cardamom.

Chutney sorbet: Rather than serve a typical thick, tamarind chutney, Mr. Bhatia lightens things up with a sorbet. He cooks tamarind with jaggery, an unrefined palm sugar, as well as masala spices for over an hour. The solution is strained, reduced over heat into a thick custard, then churned in an ice-cream maker.

Final touches: The almond-crusted patty, covered with sweetened yogurt, is placed in the middle of the plate and garnished with chickpeas around it. The dish is then topped by a scoop of the sweet and tangy sorbet. The question Mr. Bhatia wants guests to ask is: “How is the sorbet on top of the hot cake but still not melting?” The answer lies in the papdi, a thin fried chip, which separates the two.

Already a more complex mix of flavors, textures and temperatures than the street version, the towering presentation is also prettier than classic aloo tikki, which is traditionally served in disposable plates made of dry leaves. “This is all designed to please the senses,” says Mr. Bhatia.
Ziya, The Oberoi, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road, Nariman Point


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