Sunday, 16 April 2017

[] A veggie's guide to the world's desserts!


A veggie's guide to the world's desserts!
Nishek Jain

Do you know how macaroons travelled through World War II or what our jawans call an English Fool? Here's the history behind some treats.

As an engineering student in Germany, I lived in Konstanz, a small town on the border with Switzerland. I'd cycle to my university -it was an idyllic route; you could see the Alps around the corner, and there was this beautiful lake...that's when I realised my love for small towns. I wrote my thesis, sold it to a multinational firm and worked with the company for seven years, frequently travelling between their offices in Germany and Spain.I also visited Tuscany in Italy, and many beautiful towns in Europe.Those were memorable experiences, but, being a vegetarian, food sometimes posed a problem.

Enthusiastic about trying new cuisines and keen to move beyond German sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), I found that Europe had delicious surprises in store. Like, it's famous Black Forest Cake, named after the liquor that came from the region of the Black Forest mountain range -the liquor is a key ingredient of the dish. It's a recipe that Mumbai believes it's familiar with -you're thinking chocolate cake, layered with cream and cherries -but you don't have an inkling of what this is supposed to taste like until you've tried a recipe that uses the superior quality of maraschino cherries which are available there. Replacing those with a close cousin is akin to replacing the paneer of rosogulla with cheese.

For me, this was a revelation -how different the authentic recipe tasted from the Indian replications I had sampled. It piqued my curiosity and left me determined to learn about global cuisine. The desire to explore the landscape of world food, had me travel to countries like Turkey, UK, US, South Africa, France, Portugal, Thailand, Dubai, Egypt and Argentina, to name but a few. Along the way, I learnt of the fascinating genesis of many treats.

The migration of macaroons
Think of France, and you're reminded of the macaroon or rather `macaron' -it's as synonymous with the country as jalebis are with India. But, in fact, this sweet is really Italian. During World War II, a lot of people were driven out of Italy because of Benito Mussolini's atrocities. Among those displaced were women home bakers, some of whom started making a living in France by selling these biscuitscakes. Probably because of their colours, French children took to these quickly. Sink your teeth into the macarons now available in the city (filled with exotic flavours of ganache ranging from passion fruit to paan) and it's hard to imagine that these were originally biscuits that Italian monks used to enjoy.

Another simple item that has come to be associated with a true indulgence is South Africa's Tennis biscuit (comparable to our Marie).My menu will include a `Fresh Peppermint Tart', which is indigenous to the townships and suburbs of Johannesburg, South Africa -it's traditionally prepared using these biscuits. I first came across the recipe in a shanty town in 2011. My cousin and I were dining at one of the restaurants there and were going through the list to find a vegetarian dessert option, when we found this. Thanks to globalisation, it's never a problem to find vegetarian fare anywhere in the world these days, but finding vegetarian traditional cuisine is still tough. In South Africa, safety is another problem, especially if you're a foreigner, but my cousin and I were determined to explore the culinary landscape, and we were rewarded for it -this didn't even contain egg, and the chef involved me in the preparation (it has `Lindt Mint' Origin Chocolate cream filled into an orange shortcrust).

This is out of the world
Another dessert we'll be offering is one I came across while backpacking around Scotland in 2007. I was with three friends and we were leaving Glasgow early in the morning and going into the interiors. We stopped at a fish and chips shop for breakfast, and I got my first taste of Scottish Mars Bar -a Mars chocolate bar refried in batter and serve with whipped cream. I was stunned because the chocolate bar is rich enough to be a dessert on its own, but here it was a full meal, coated in a waffle kind of batter. So sinful is the recipe that the company behind the chocolate brand actually issued an advisory, an unusual step for a chocolate company to take. Mars said that it would not endorse the recipe as it went against its policy of promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The India connect
In subsequent trips through Europe, I also found a dessert with a connection to India. It's called `fool', and it's a 600-year-old English recipe that's a hit in the Indian officers' mess. The equivalent of a trifle, this comprises soft layered bread soaked in brandy and topped with a delicious layer of custard and fruit. The name is a corruption of the French `fouler', ie, `to press' -the dessert is prepared with pressed, or rather, pureed fruit. Another dish that reminded me of home was the `Haseera' aka Basbousa, a recipe I discovered in Egypt in 2012. It's a semolina cake which was once served as a halva, but, with westernisation, is now presented with all the finesse of a French pastry. That's the great thing about food -it reminds you how similar people everywhere are.

The writer owns two 100% veg restaurants at Kemp's Corner.


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