Mantra Indian Restaurant Mantra Indian Restaurant Mantra Indian Restaurant Mantra Indian Restaurant Mantra Indian Restaurant Mantra Indian Restaurant Mantra Indian Restaurant

Mantra Indian Restaurant

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Mantra Indian Restaurant

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Mantra Indian Restaurant

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Mantra Indian Restaurant

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

When talking about vegetarianism in India, a recurrent question often asked is how vegetarians get their daily dose of protein. The answer lies in pulses. Indian dals are famous and various dishes made from pulse flour are equally popular throughout the country and abroad. The dhokla of Gujarat, in western India, is one such food which is enjoyed for its nutritional benefits in addition to its mouthwatering taste.

The main ingredient of dhokla is gram flour which is rich in protein and several other vitamins and minerals. A mixture of gram flour, rice, baking soda, lemon juice and seasonings is fermented to attain a frothy texture. The mixture is then spooned into a greased pan and steamed. Once the requisite steaming time is over, curry leaves, mustard seeds, sesame seeds and green chilies are crackled in hot oil and poured over the dish for additional flavor. The cooked batter is then cut into pieces and served with hot green chili chutney and sweet and sour tamarind chutney.

Dhokla has a piquant sweet and salty taste with just a hint of heat. It has a spongy texture, similar to cake, but softer. Since it is steamed, the calorie count is very low. The fermentation process increases the protein and fiber count of the dish while keeping its GI index low, making this an excellent food for diabetics.

There are other variations of dhokla made with different kinds of flour, flavors and ingredients.  . 

Dhokla is had as a breakfast item as well as a snack in Western and Central India, though it is quite easily available in every other city as well. Dhokla is light on the stomach and keeps checks on your calorie intake while keeping you satiated.

While dhokla may be a bit of an acquired taste, if you do get hooked to it, dhoklas will soon be your go-to snack on every occasion.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

While Indian masala chai has rightfully made its fragrant mark on homes and cafes all over the world, there’s another type of Indian chai which is woefully underrated and yet just as interesting. We are talking of the Ladakhi butter tea or Po cha as it is locally known.

The origin of Po cha lies in Tibet. The extremely low temperature of the region, thin air and the primarily nomadic lifestyle means the people need as much calorific fortification against the elements as possible. Ladakh, which borders Tibet, obviously shares the same climate and consequently a lot of their culture and food too.

Butter tea is made from churning tea with salt and yak butter. The tea used in making this drink is a smoky brick tea, a portion of which is crumbled into water and boiled for hours to make a bitter brew called chaku. This brew is stored to make the Po cha.

To prepare Po cha, a serving of chaku is poured in to a churn with a chunk of yak butter and some salt. The ingredients are churned together for a couple of minutes and served. Traditional cooking methods use a cylindrical churn called chandong but these days blenders and tea bags have replaced the old cooking styles. Unlike masala chai or other more common varieties of tea, Po cha is not served piping hot, nor is it sweet to taste.

In the arid cold desert of Ladakh, drinking Po cha has several benefits. Its high calorie count not only keeps the body warm, but also provides plenty of energy. The butter from the drink prevents lip from chapping, a persistent problem in the windy region. Apart from this it is believed that butter tea aids digestion, keeps the mind focused and also improves the cardiovascular system.

This potent brew is not for the faint-hearted and is definitely an acquired taste.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Rice, India’s staple food is exceptional in its versatility.  Of course there’re the token biryani, pulao and fried rice variants. But, the true diversity of rice shines through in the cuisine of Southern India. Rice is blended with aromatic spices and herbs, along with a variety of other ingredients to make a whole smorgasbord of dishes that cover the whole flavor range from sweet, to salty and sour to hot.

One such specialty rice is puliohara from Andhra Pradesh.  Puliohara, or tamarind rice is a hot and sour rice dish made with tamarind pulp and tomatoes mixed with rice and tempered with mustard seeds, curry leaves and chilies. The taste of puliohara combines the tang of tamarind with fiery chilies, fragrant aroma of curry leaves and topped off with crunchy peanuts.

Another version of puliohara uses lemon juice instead of tamarind to flavor the rice. The lemon version is often referred to as chitrannam in many regions. It has a milder flavor than tamarind rice but is just as delicious. Chitrannam is more salty and less fiery than puliohara. It is served as offerings in temples and is a better option for acquainting the palate with the rich flavors in case you are apprehensive about trying out tamarind rice.

Other variations of the dish include tomato rice or raw mango rice, though they are less common. However, each variant is mouthwateringly tasty and has its own fan following.

Puliohara is also eaten as a part of daily meals, especially at breakfast. It is deceptively easy to make and often homemakers cook puliohara as a means to use up any leftover rice. This simple yet delicious delicacy which is a common feature during festivals and special occasions. Served with a side of buttermilk or yogurt, puliohara is a piquant dish to be relished!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Exotic hardly begins to describe some of the unusual foods that are prevalent in some parts of India. We have already covered black rice and fire ant chutney, and this week we introduce yet another rare and extraordinary food item; silkworm larva.

Silkworm larva is a specialty of Assam and originates from the tribal folk of that region. The dish consists of silkworm left after extracting the silk out of the cocoon. Since the cocoon is boiled in hot water to extract the silk, the leftover pupa is already softened. This soft pupa is flavored with herbs and spices and smoked in bamboo shoots. The end result is Eri Polu, a magical dish with a unique aroma and unbelievable tender meat. The cooked silkworm has a crunchy taste on the outside and a dense jelly like consistency on the inside.

The bamboo shoot used to cook the silkworm has its own place in exotic dishes as well. The shoot is prepared with great care and needs some finesse to get it right. Tender grated bamboo shoots and fermented and then mixed with mustard oil, salt, onions and chili. The additives added to the bamboo shoots are either tangy or spicy. The completed mixture is a slightly sour and spicy enough to set your tongue on fire. The spicy nature of the bamboo shoot mixture complements the mellow flavor of the silkworms and gives a dish that has a perfect heat balance.

While it may sound gross to most people, for the tribals of assam it is a delicacy and a good source of nutrition. It also is a sustainable way of utilizing silkworms fully.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Few things can beat the feeling of biting into a piping hot idli, soft as cloud and with the characteristic sharp after-taste that this amazing dish leaves on one’s palate.

Idli, the south Indian version of rice cake, is made from a fermented batter of ground rice, lentils, fenugreek seeds and salt. For most South Indians it is the top most comfort food and is very commonly eaten at breakfast.  The perfect idli is soft, fluffy and pillowy to touch. They are usually two to three inches in diameter and are cooked in a steamer.

 Idli by itself is mostly bland with a slightly sour aftertaste that comes from the fermentation process. The traditional way of eating idli is to have it with accompaniments such as a coconut/peanut chutney and sambar. Sambar is a lentil preparation with loads of onion, garlic, spices and often vegetables added to it. The idlis are usually dipped in chutney or soaked in sambar before eating. The bland taste of idli readily soaks up the flavors of the accompaniments for a tastier meal.

There is an unfermented variety of idli too, called rava idli. Rava is semolina and idlis made with rava, instead of rice, do not need fermentation. The rava idli batter is often flavored with chopped ginger, chilies, curry leaves and onion as well.

The texture of idli varies from region to region. While some regions prefer a grainy idli, others like their idlis to be smooth and buttery. Even the size of idli differs. But, one thing remains constant, which is that all varieties of idli are very healthy and low in calories. Weight watchers often add idli to their diet as it provides significant amounts of nutrition at a very low calorie intake.

With health, nutrition and taste combined into one fluffy cake, idlis are one of India’s best foods for sure!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

While most Indian restaurants have popularized northern Indian cuisine and Southern Indian cuisine heavily, there are certain regional cuisines which even most Indians have little knowledge of. We already covered gems like black rice and red ant chutney. This week we have akhuni.

Akhuni comes from the North Eastern state of Nagaland. Also known as Dzacie aakhone or axone, akhuni is a common fermented food product of the state. It is a paste made of fermented soyabeans and used as a flavorant. Akhuni is relished by people of all tribes, but most notably by the Sema tribe of southern Nagaland.

To prepare akhuni, soyabeans are harvested and cleaned well in fresh water. They are then boiled till they turn soft, but retain their shape. The water is then drained out and the beans are placed in a pot and put out in the sun, or stored next to a fire in order to ferment. The fermentation process takes three to four days in summer and about a week in winter. There is no fixed time for soyabean to reach the right level of fermentation. The locals depend on the smell to judge when the beans are ready.

The fermented beans are coarsely smashed using a mortar and pestle to make a lumpy paste. The akhuni is packed in banana leaf parcels and sold. This paste can be used immediately or stored for a few weeks if placed next to a fire.

The fermentation process gives the soyabeans a strong smell and a distinctive umami flavor. This paste is used to cook a variety of dishes, most notably pork and snails. Akhuni is also used to make a pungent chutney by mixing it with roasted and ground ghost peppers, garlic, ginger and other spices.

While akhuni by itself can be overpowering for most people, once cooked, it gives the dish a very tangy and unique taste. The trick lies in knowing how much of akhuni to use and exactly when to add it to the dish.

Friday, January 13, 2017

In a land known for its exotic ways of life, there is something to surprise you at every turn. A lot of such exotic elements come from the food of India. Apart from the well known vindaloos, naans and various curries, Indian food also has some relatively unknown foods like black rice, fermented soya bean, bamboo shoot delicacies and red ant chutney!

Yes, you read it right. We said red ant chutney. This exotic condiment, known as chaprah, is a spicy, pungent chutney, sour in taste. This is made from the eggs of red ants combined with the ants. It is a tribal dish from the state of Chattisgarh in India and is a favorite among the Dhuruva tribe.

The ants are packed with formic acid which is said to have medicinal properties which are effective against stomach ailments. The ants are also believed to raise libido which is another reason for chaprah being so popular.

Red ants and their eggs are collected by sticking a thick stick on an ant hill for the ants to crawl over. Once the stick gets covered with ants and eggs, they are shaken into a container. Tribal cooks believe that queen ants are best as they are fat and juicy. The collected raw ingredients are sun-dried and then ground into a paste with spices such as chili, ginger, salt and tamarind. The result is a fiery, decadant dish that makes an excellent garnish as well as a condiment on its own.