There is a belief in Hinduism that says food is most delicious when cooked with a smile on the face. That is why priests at temples chant while cooking, it is believed. The food is not tasted until offered to god and somehow, it is just perfect and balanced.
Could it be because priests/devotees cook with a happy soul, sans negativity? I have never tasted unpalatable temple food or when offered to god at home. There is definitely no Umami or flavor explosion but I think it is just the play of flavors, the layering and the balance. What makes it great is also the mood the cook is in. There is something very satisfying in holding a beetle leaf cup filled to the rim with hot rice/ lentils or a sweet rice pudding coated with a big dollop of hot ghee. That could be a second factor.
I carried out an experiment at home (I didn’t know it at the time) to find the co-relation between mood and food. And the food I cooked tasted a whole lot better when it was a stress-busting activity, well planned and detailed exercise rather something I threw in last minute because I had to.
While this theory works almost every time, my question is.. What is up with Hell’s Kitchen? (or other kitchens that resemble the same)
I know for a fact that there are chefs, especially today, who have started to encourage creativity, innovation and experimentation. And of course, the kitchen is not as “unfriendly” as it was before, probably because cooking is seen more as an art today than it ever was. But still, how is it possible for something so beautiful to come from such a chaotic environment. I mean, just thinking of the possibilities of what could be if the whole logic of mood-food was applied, gets me excited.
If defined on a plate.. does this qualify? Its a beautiful, delicious mess.
What this is a good looking piece of chicken leg, with cherry tomatoes, green syzygium, cucumber, scallions scattered around the plate. The marinade for the chicken a sauce made with grilled green onions, garlic, lemons and chillies.
For the sauce/marinade:
- The white part of 4-5 scallion, cut in half
- 5-6 cloves of garlic
- 2-3 green chillies
- 1 lemon
- Any neutral oil
- Cilantro – 1 bunch
Grill the scallions, garlic, green chillies, lemons (cut in half or four) till charred. Let it cool, remove any stringy fibers visible. Transfer all the grilled ingredients, lemon juice from the grilled lemons to a blender and add fresh cilantro. Blitz till it comes together and slowly drizzle in the oil. It will emulsify to create a thick, velvety paste. Season with salt. Pass through a tamis (optional) for a smoother sauce.
Marinate the chicken leg (or thighs) for at least 5 hours (marinating overnight is always better). Grill on low for a few minutes (depends on the cut you are using) and increase the heat for a couple of minutes to get the delicious charred bits. If using a more traditional charcoal grill, normal cooking time should do. and yes, the flavors are much better!
The sauce and chicken are spicy as it is, so I layered it with more subtle accompaniments. Here is have syzygium, which is almost flavorless but adds great freshness and texture. And of course cucumbers and cherry tomatoes to even out the spiciness.