Gourmet stores are my Disneyland. Studded with valuable blueberry and cranberry, Mascaporne cheese or fancy appliances, Gourmet food shops are no less than jewellery stores when it comes to making a woman feel dreamy. With skyrocketing prices it is no surprise that imported kitchenware is effectively competing with diamonds. A pink, red or blue kitchen-aid is an asset every woman wants to flaunt, irrespective of the number of times that she is likely to use it.
Some might call this trend of buying and cooking with imported ingredients peer pressure but I like to look at it as a by-product of globalization. It is a smaller world, we know more, we see more so we want more, and it is only fair.
The word “Gourmet” itself implies a status symbol. Do we choose Gourmet ingredients to convey our social standing? Is it cool to cook with parsley and thyme instead of dhaniya and ajwain? These are questions best answered by Society Gurus! As a consumer I think it is variety that attracts me the most. I can experiment with flavours I had never known before.
I visit Foodhall or a Godrej Nature’s Basket in search of rare, often imported and more expensive ingredients that are not available at the local kirana shop. These brightly lit temples of food worship have the appeal of that tempting Masterchef Australia pantry. They stock everything from Gourmet Teas, Herbs, variety of cheeses to exotic spices, health food and the king of them all Kitchen Aid! It is the extravagance of the place that seduces me and I usually end up buying more stuff than I need. (Insiders’ Tip: Carrying limited amount of cash and no card will help in avoiding that big jolt to the bank balance in an impulse buy.)
All through my training in the Hotel kitchens and all of my academic research drilled one thing in my head – Buy Local, Buy Seasonal. This is the Rule of Thumb in any restaurant kitchen. Smart buying – it simply cut costs, ensures freshness and guarantees health.
Before we evolved to all-year-round supplies and transporting food across continents we ate local and we ate seasonal. Nourishment and recipes were adapted to what grows locally in the area you live in. Our ancestors believed, what grows naturally in a particular area is the best form of nourishment suited for the people living there. For instance, chillies eaten in Rajasthan are believed to be purifying the bacteria laden water that the population had to drink. Drumsticks that grow in South and West India are loaded with proteins, carbs, vitamins and minerals, hold the promise to improve nutrition of impoverished communities.
Even today Masterchefs around the world recommend the use of local grown, seasonal ingredients. In fact there are world-class restaurants that alter their menu by the season and take pride in serving the best of locally grown produce.
There is lot of substance in this theory, although what we buy at local vegetable markets isn’t exactly world-class produce it is certainly a choice worth considering instead of over spending for a special weekend meal. We all go for exotic veggies and imported sauces but here are few tips that will keep a good balance so that your Gourmet Meals don’t pinch your pocket or your health.
- Grow Your Own Herbs – I know that fresh basil, oregano and parsley can be tempting as heaven, plus it makes the kitchen smell so good. Pick two or three herbs that you often use and grow them on your window. It cuts the hassle of storage and wastage. You have fresh herbs all the time!
- Try the Local Indian brands for Cheeses and Sauces – It is not always easy to rely on local brands when it comes to that perfect flavour of cheese or rice vinegar. It is easier to pick well-known International brands but do yourself a favour and try out the sauces and cheese from Indian brands. Some of that Parmesan from Pondicherry or cacao nibs from Karnataka are surprisingly delicious. Many restaurant Chefs use these cost cutting secrets, use it right and your dish will still taste fabulous. Similarly you can now buy Indian manufactured Olive oil as well, which is much cheaper than its imported counterpart.
- Buy Seasonal – Indian produce or International, buy it when it is in season in the country it grows. For instance, blueberry in harvested in August, red currants around June-July and plums from August to October. All these fruits are fresh and the cheapest in August.
- Your Sabziwala Offers Locally grown exotic fruits and vegetables – Many vegetable market vendors and local sabziwalas in metros order exotic vegetables and herbs on a regular basis. These exotic vegetables fruits are locally grown and cheaper choices than gourmet stores for such produce. They may not keep exotic ingredients in store but if you plan ahead and place an order you will get your ingredients for a lower price. Knowing local names also helps. Don’t buy lemongrass from stores when the local vendor will sell it dirt cheap if you call it “gautie chai”.
- Make Your Own – Do you really need to buy that garlic salt or Thai Curry Paste. Making your own pastes and spice blends on weekends ensures that it suits your taste and is a cheaper option. These pastes can be frozen in ice cube trays or batches. Besides how long does it take to microwave garlic and make garlic salt? (Just peel, dehydrate in the microwave and crush, mix with salt)
- Opt for Imported products with Longer Shelf Life – There are those sauces that you love, flavours that you use frequently. Then look for bigger bottles with recent packaging. Always check the expiry date on canned and bottled products. This will give you enough time to experiment with and use up the ingredient, and avoids wastage. Also go for more ingredients that keep for longer instead of too many perishable items at once.
- Pick ONLY frequently used Sauces & flavourings – It is easy to get carried away and assume that you will be using all those sauces lined up in the racks. You don’t necessarily need Dark Soy and Light Soy in your kitchen, along with chilli garlic, siracha and hot garlic sauce. However tempting it might be choose wisely and pick only what you will use frequently. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is used in salads, in dressing, pasta sauces, pickles and simply spread on bread, but will you really use it in your kitchen? That’s the real question.
- Buy Small Quantities – We have all learnt this from our mistakes. When you are buying a new ingredient or new brand for the first time buy the smallest quantity possible. That ridiculously expensive bottle of Habanero Sauce that tasted like acid is still lying in my kitchen shelf and it mocks me each time I see it.
- Try First – Most Gourmet stores have tasting counters for cheeses, dips and cold cuts. They are not just there for impulse buys and hunger pangs but avoid buying before trying. It may look awesome on television and I’m sure Nigella loves it but she doesn’t have your taste buds so think again.
- Go For Quality, Don’t Compromise on Taste – When you must go for that spectacularly fresh box of assorted mushrooms there is no way out. You may not have the recipe yet but with that freshness you know just some butter will do the trick. Then just go for it! But never fall into the trap of stale or poor quality ingredients with slashed prices, or those bottles that are just going to cross the expiry threshold.
According to consultancy technopak, the Indian Gourmet food industry is worth 1.3bn USD and is growing 20 percent annually and it could double by 2015. E-Gourmet Stores like Gourmet It Up, Gourmet Box, Gourmet Co. and as such, offer fine teas, sauces, cheeses and cold cuts along with egg separators and zesters. So we will be able to venture into more fine food even in Tier II cities. While the sale of more imported ingredients in such stores jolts the Indian economy, these products sold by Indian companies like Tea Trunk, Kodai Cheese and ABC Farms with competitive prices are a breath of fresh air.
Be smart about your cooking. Pick only what you must from Gourmet stores, buy the rest locally and see what you can substitute with local ingredients without altering the character of the dish. Who knows, you might like your experimental version of Global recipes better. Here’s a little local Gourmet recipe to get you started.
Baked Macaroni n Cheese with Cauliflower & Peas
Elbow Macaroni (Pick up pasta made with Durum Wheat not Flour)
- Go for Barilla or Del Monte instead of Blue Bird Pasta; 1 ½ cup
Salt; a pinch
Butter; 2 tablespoons
Garlic, peeled and grated; 1 teaspoon
Cauliflower, florets (You can use Brocolli if you like); 1 cup
Green Peas, shelled; ½ cup
Cream Cheese (Go for Philadelphia)
- In this recipe you can substitute cream cheese for Cream
Or mix half cream and half cream cheese; 1 cup
Breadcrumbs (Planko); ½ cup
Paprika (use crushed red chilli) ; 1 teaspoon
Parmesan Cheese, grated
- Use Kodai Cheese or ABC Farms; ½ cup
- In a deep pan, bring water with a pinch of salt to a boil add in the macaroni. Cook for 10 minutes until the pasta is firm to bite. Strain the pasta and toss with some butter. Save the water.
- Boil the pasta water and blanch the cauliflower and peas in it for 2 minutes. Then wash them under cold water.
- In a bowl, mix breadcrumbs, paprika and grated parmesan cheese.
- Grease a baking dish with butter. Freeze the dish.
- In a bowl, whip the cream cheese, garlic and add cauliflower, peas to it.
- Add in the macaroni and fold the mixture lightly into the cream.
- Put this mixture into a baking dish and dust the breadcrumbs mixture on top.
- Bake at 180 degree celcius for 20 minutes. Serve Hot.