Desi ingredients can cast magic; Rushina reveals why she loves them so much

The grass is always greener on the other side, is it really? While we rave about exotic ingredients and their flavour profiles that are globally more popular, we disregard the goodness of our own local ingredients. At Vikhroli Cucina Season 3 / IFBA Awards 2016, corporate food consultant and popular culinary blogger Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal threw light on how our desi ingredients can spell magic in the kitchen and how your sabziwala can guide your recipe better than your last Google search. Explore this mandi…

07 Feb 2017

Ingredients such as shitake mushrooms, asparagus and kale have captured our collective fancy in recent years. Words like radicchio and arugula no longer make one reach for the dictionary. Even supermarkets are chock-a-block with exotic items and foreign ingredients, thanks to social media and the growing popularity of international food shows.

Amidst all this mad rush for exotic produce, we often forget how delicious and healthful our very own local ingredients can be. Speaking on this topic at FBAI Dialogues 2016 was author, gastronomic consultant and founder of APB Cook Studio Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal. One of the responsible voices in India’s culinary world, Rushina has always made it a point to do her bit towards promoting the nation’s food diversity by championing the use of local ingredients in cooking. “I am completely besotted with local ingredients. I love cooking with them even if they are the simplest of ingredients,” she said.

Where it all began    

Rushina’s love affair with local ingredients began when she attended Slow Food, an international biannual conference where people from all over the world congregate to talk about traditional food and ways of cooking. It also has a side branch called Presidia, which works towards protecting indigenous ingredients. At the event, there was a buzz around an ingredient called blern lentils, a lighter version of the local masoor. While the world had just woken up to the wonders of the lentil, Rushina realised that India has long been home to a wide variety of lentils. That’s where her journey towards rediscovering Indian ingredients and local produce.

The humble curry leaf

Take the curry leaf. One of India’s widely used flavouring ingredients, the curry leaf is a power house of the fat-soluble micronutrient vitamin A. This is why the desi practice of using it in a tadka makes perfect sense. It has to be consumed with fat. “In India we often cook without knowing why we do it. Yet there is a scientific reason behind how we eat,” she said.

Fresh green garlic

Green garlic is a prominent ingredient used in preparing the Gujarati favourite undhiyu. Crush it up with some salt and voila, you have hara namak or green salt, an Uttaranchali speciality..

She also spoke about how seasonal fruits such as pomelo can be rustled up into a salad using basic ingredients.  Even the humble gavti chavli can be a star in a stir-fry?.  

Mango ginger

Rushina’s seasonal favourite is mango ginger, which can be used instead of store-bought turmeric to marinate fish this season. “Mango ginger has got these grassy notes that dry haldi (Dry Turmeric) does not have,” she said. “Chop it up and pickle it with chillies, lime and salt. You’ll have an instant pickle which is good for you in the winter.”

Rat-tail radish may not sound very appetising, but its pungent taste makes it the perfect go-to companion for seafood. “Lightly sautee it with seafood to cut the oiliness of fatty fish,” she added.

Exploring local markets

If you wish to connect with the local cuisine of any region, head out to its local markets. “Whenever I go abroad, I prefer to stay in a service apartment, go to the local market, pick up the ingredients and cook it,” said Rushina. Ditch the supermarket once in a while and explore the mandis and kirana stores for a change; these are highly untapped repositories of nutritious ingredients for gastronomes to explore. “The vegetable vendor can tell you ways in which you can use any ingredient. It is a great way to learn about local cuisines,” recommends Rushina.

Go ahead, explore

For the one who seeks, there is a lesson in everything.

“Amongst the 1.2 billion Indians, no two people cook exactly the same. As bloggers, there is lot to learn, many new stories to write and document” suggests Rushina.  Click-to-tweet 

So foodies, grab your grocery bags and head out to your local markets! You’ll never know what wonderful ingredient you could discover today.

If you do, tell us your story.

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