About the Book
Spices have not only reshaped the destiny of Indian history
through the trade routes, inviting many a curious sea-farer with their
irresistible flavours, but also recreated the gourmet magic in every Indian
kitchen with their distinctive aromas. That the science of Ayurveda heavily
relies upon the rules of combination of spices in diet proves beyond doubt that
spices are not mere flavouring agents, but they are vectors of healing and
Bliss of Spices brings to you this veritable
essence of Indian cuisine. Drawing inspiration from his grandmother's traditional
cooking in India to his time spent as a top chef in New York, the book draws
from Vikas Khanna's distinct repertoire. He suffuses
a whiff of tradition with recipes like the Rajasthani
Okra with Tomatoes and Sesame Seeds and South Indian Tamarind Pulao and goes on to impart a scent of innovation with his
contemporary spins on tradition, such as Chai infused
Grilled Lobster with Coconut Curry and Cumin-spiced Stewed Zucchini. Topped
with sections devoted to every constituent of an Indian meal, including
Chutneys and Beverages, and a glossary of ingredients and spices that includes
tips on handling and storage, Bliss of Spices proves to be a treasure in
Indian home cooking.
The book serves as a subtle reminder of the timeless
relationship between spices and food in India, the celebration of which is
shaped into the Bliss of Spices; whose fragrance and flavours can only be
Born in India, Vikas Khanna learned to cook from his
grandmother and opened his own catering company at the age of seventeen. After
apprenticing under the most renowned chefs of India, he moved to the United
States in 2000 and has worked his way up to be one of New York City's top-rated
chefs. He was named one of Star Chef's "Rising Stars" in 2010 and is
currently the Executive Chef of the Michelin- starred restaurant Junoon. Known to many as the host of Master
Chef India and
FOX Traveller's Twist of Taste, he is also recognized for his humanitarian work with
SAKIY, New York Chefs Cooking for Life, and his documentary film series about
food and religion, Holy Kitchens. Vikas resides in New York City.
He who controls the spice,
controls the Universe.
It was this simple line that led to some of the
greatest quests and conquests of mankind. It created new routes and also helped
in discovering new worlds. Being born and brought up in India, we generally
take the use of use spices for granted. As we cook food and gently add the
spices the masala dabba (spice box), it's very hard
to even conceive that these seemingly harmless spices had once led to fierce
I gently add the cumin seeds to hot ghee(clarified butter) and forget everything else. The
earthy-woody-smoky- sensuous aroma of the frying cumin fills the air .... A little addition of mustard seeds to hot oil makes
them sizzle; I fondly call it 'the dance of the black mustard'
As my grandmother dipped her index finger in a small
silver bowl which contained a mixture of milk and saffron and applied it to my
forehead, the scent reminded me of the beginning of a family ritual
.... The paste of turmeric being gently applied on a bride before
marriage, to purify her body and soul .... The
instances are endless, the relationship between us and
the spices almost seems timeless.
All these spices-the cumin,
mustard, turmeric, tamarind, and hundreds more-add a character to our cuisine,
to our culture and to our lives.
I take a few moments to just savour the aroma and
then continue with my cooking.
Growing up in India is like being surrounded by the
exotic smells and flavours of the kitchens, streetcarts,
restaurants and hotels. 'Atithi Devo Bhavah' the idea that the guest is like God, is the epitome
of Indian hospitality. His service is a form of worship. Thus, serving a guest
means serving Him. We ensure that the guest enjoys our offerings with all his
heart as, for us, it is like a prasad being offered
to the Giver of Food Himself.
As a child, I always loved to sneak into the kitchen
to observe carefully what goes on in making this experience so divine. My
grandmother, whom we lovingly called Biji, was the
person I always looked up to when it came to cooking. She cooked every meal
with the most important ingredients of any well cooked food in any cuisine of
the world-love and passion. I was fascinated with her cooking, though I was too
small to even reach the kitchen counters, where she cooked the meals that would
fill the air with the exotic fragrances of the tadkas-the
infusion of oil
with spices. My interest grew with every day and every season. I would always
ask her questions about the magic that was simmering on the stove. Her food was
simple and fresh, and it comforted our souls. She was always more than
generous, sharing with me the secrets of her simple techniques which had been
passed on through generations. Somehow, subconsciously, my food became the
reflection of her teachings. Her endless passion for serving the family and
friends with her homemade pickles, spice blends, marinated grilled meats, fresh
vegetables, fresh breads and everything she could do to make every meal a
celebration, has had a lasting impression on my mind. The pleasure of the whole
family being there, enjoying not just the food but the experience of eating
together, was her only reward. She always said that food is an 'expression of
love and care which binds families'. So it is and so it will always be.
At the age of seventeen, I wanted to convert a part
of my father's land into a banquet hall. A place where people could celebrate
any occasion, large or small and, of course, food would be the focal point. We
called it Lawrence Gardens. When it came to food, I followed my Biji's footsteps and kept the cooking simple and fresh.
My mother, Bindu Khanna, became very actively
involved in the operations at Lawrence Gardens and led it from the front.
Although it did pretty well, I was not satisfied. My
hunger for more knowledge was insatiable, I decided I
wanted to be professionally trained. To my surprise, I was accepted as a
student at the Welcom group Graduate School of Hotel
Administration, one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. It was the
first time I was leaving home and my parents. It was strange-on the one hand, I
was so excited to discover the world and on the other, so scared to leave home.
College was the realisation of the fact that there were many possibilities in
cooking food, I would travel anywhere in the country to learn more about
regional cuisines, whenever I got a chance. Every time I learnt a new dish, I
would go back to Amritsar and introduce it at Lawrence Gardens in an attempt to
proffer a new flavour to our guests who were used to the cooking from just one
Slowly and steadily, Lawrence Gardens became a
popular catering establishment in Amritsar. It gave me the opportunity to
develop some of my original and signature dishes, which also made the place
unique. The flourishing banquets held there became the training ground for my
Even with all the success that the city gave me, I
felt a need for more knowledge and to apply it on a bigger platform to
represent not just my city, but my country at large. It was the summer of 2000
when I decided to go to the United States and give destiny a chance, to create
the stage I longed for. This time, I had no fear of leaving home; in fact, I
felt closer to my family even as I was leaving.
I still remember the moment that changed me forever.
Walking up the subway of 34th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan was like
suddenly finding a part of me that will make me complete-the last piece of my
puzzle was finally in place. The city that reflects the most powerful
expression of freedom felt like home and the destination. To discover the way
cultures and food could be defined in infinite ways was fascinating.
I was once doing a cooking demo at the Culinary
Institute of America. As our discussion progressed, we touched upon the subject
of spices and their significance. I remember telling the students, 'What a
journey of flavours, what a shift in the world we owe to these little spices.
They not only impart taste to the food, but also are a reference to our
history'. Indeed, our past-and consequently our present-would have been so
different if it had not been for these spices. So, find new ways to incorporate
them in your flavours, in your expressions, in your identity.
This was more than a decade ago.
The world is a changed place now, the new mantra
being 'One who controls the Internet, controls the world', but the significance
of spices and their uses stands unchanged.
Ayurveda, the ancient science of food and life, was
the foundation of Indian cuisine. Many of the spices were used in cooking for
the holistic and healing powers they impart to food. Many a time as kids, we
would be fed a heavy dose of a spice mixture as a healing medicine. Our ancient
scriptures, like the Vedas, specify the uses and benefits of spices, as also
their importance in rituals. The history and culture of Indian spices is
probably as old as civilisation itself. The Vedas, the Bible and the Quran are
all replete with references-direct or indirect-to spices. The earliest literary
record in India on spices is in the Rig Veda (around 6000 BC) and the other
three Vedas-Yajur, Sama and
All my life, I had one question-'Why are these
spices so prized?' This simple question led me to a journey that was nothing
like that of Vasco da Gama or Christopher Columbus,
yet it was just as rewarding. From Amritsar to the USA and all the way back-it
took me quite some time to realise that the answer to my question was back home
in India. Memories and experiences came together seamlessly, as I tried to
understand why spices are so precious; not only do they magically transform the
food we eat, in our minds, they create a web of relationships which accompany
us throughout our lives.
As I walked through the golden mustard fields of
Punjab, on one of my trips to India, I gently opened the mustard seed pod to
find the most well aligned symmetry in nature. The tiny, round, golden-brown seeds
are the foundation of many regional cuisines and the essence of mustard oil;
they sizzle and crackle when added to a hot wok, releasing their characteristic
pungent taste and aroma.
Roasting and Storing Spices
Rice and Breads
Chutneys, Pickles and Raitas
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