Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Dining Review: Sukh Sagar at the JBR Walk

Delightful Indian vegetarian fare in the JBR Walk, that will leave even meat-eaters wanting more...

Subzi humjoli (r) & dhal makni (l) with naan

It’s been a while since I’ve eaten out for Indian, and being invited by Brand Terminus to try out Sukh Sagar my expectations are high. As much as I enjoy a good chicken curry, I am secretly looking forward to trying out dishes from their vegetarian only menu - I love paneer, I love thick lentil curries, and to be honest I just love anything veg. The husband on the other hand would only choose to dine out at a vegetarian establishment if it was the last choice on a list. Saying that, as we set off for Sukh Sagar we conclude that if he was to choose any type of vegetarian cuisine then Indian would most probably be it!

Sukh Sagar has a number of branches in Dubai, and we visit the JBR one. Located right opposite the Hilton and with The Beach across the road for ease of parking, we eventually get there after a multitude of wrong turns due to Marina area road works. With both upstairs and downstairs seating to choose from, we are seated near the entrance with prime view of the teppanyaki dosa station (yes you heard right, more on that later on!)

Paani Puri

The origins of Sukh Sagar start in India itself, when the first branch opened back in 1962.  Since then they have grown to more than 20 branches across the country, becoming one of India’s best known and loved vegetarian restaurant chain. There are four branches in Dubai, including one in Karama and a central kitchen. The JBR branch is decidedly more quiet, although enjoyably so. Throughout the evening we see mostly Indian families and groups arriving, which is always a good sign. For first impressions I am slightly surprised by how simple the interior is, as design and aesthetics have not been made much of a focus here. Still, I encouragingly hope that what the atmosphere lacks in, will be made up for by the food, and let’s just say it definitely doesn’t disappoint…

Dahi Batata Puri

Before even choosing our starters, we are presented with a plate of paani puri – puffed flour semolina discs filled with spiced moong, potatoes and chilled lemon minted water. Indian street snacks like these are an absolute favourite of mine, and as we eat and leaf through the mammoth menu, my eyes light up at the variety and choice.  We decide to order a kebab sharing platter (veg of course) for starters. With paneer tikka, tandoori mushrooms, marinated cauliflower and potatoes, and hara bhara kebabs all served with a mint dipping sauce, it’s a feast for the eyes. Everything is cooked delightfully, and I find there is nothing I can fault. The husband absolutely loves how the mushrooms cleverly remind him of barbecued fatty beef! We also order another favourite street snack, the dahi batata puri - semolina discs this time filled with potatoes, topped with yoghurt, drizzled sweet chutney and lots of crispy fried flour noodles. By this time I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve already shot wide-eyed gestures of appreciation to the husband! However I do order the chilli cheese toast based on an online recommendation, expecting something original, and sadly getting something more closer to what is essentially just spicy pizza slices. Saying that I probably would have overlooked this dish, if I hadn’t been eager to order based on the suggestion.
As we chat to the head chef we learn how the restaurant prides itself on keeping every recipe intact in all its branches, whilst also accommodating to the needs of religious and health requirements, for example by ensuring a meal ordered by a Jain customer doesn’t have potatoes or onion, or offering more health friendly options.

Kebab sharing platter

Up next is an opportunity to sample the teppenyaki dosa station. As we settle over at the bar-top like counter, the dosa chef proceeds to pour small rounds of batter over a hot teppenyaki style stove. The idea is to be served a variety of mini dosa’s (a traditional South Indian style crepe made with rice and lentils) and uttapam’s (a thicker version of the dosa) with your choice of fillings and toppings as they are cooked live – just as you would encounter at a Japanese teppenyaki. Not only can you can repeat a dosa but you can also have as many as you like. This is an innovation of Sukh Sagar, only seen at the JBR branch and certainly an experience you are unlikely to encounter at any other Indian restauarant. We tried the sada, masala, mysore masala, pav bhaji, Manchurian, rava sada, and spinach and cheese dosa’s before declaring our fills worth, but there were upto eighteen varieties including a chocolate version to end with. A highlight was the ragi dosa, made with millet – a delightfully nutty grain which aids weight-loss.

Teppanyaki Dosa

Back to our seated tables, we decide we have to order a dish or two to sample the more heavier mains. We went with a classic dal makhni which is popular all over India. The black lentils had been cooked overnight on a clay oven, and then combined with Indian herbs and clarified butter to make a creamy and filling dish - one of the best versions I’ve had. We also tried the subzi humjoli, a combination of both a creamy tomato and spinach gravy served with two vegetable koftas. This was equally good, and I loved the play of both flavours together with the veggie but meaty kofta balls. We mopped both these curries up with warm buttered naan bread – always good! Last of all we made sure to try the pav bhaji, a speciality of Bombay street food, known for its warming and comforting connotations. The thick chunky bhaji is made up of a variety of finely chopped or pureed vegetables cooked with spices including masala, cumin and turmeric, and is served alongside pav, small bread buns. I have to admit it was the first time I had knowingly eaten phav bhaji and I could see why this has become a much loved meal for those on the go. What I also liked is how we could choose to eat the bhaji with either white or wholemeal pav buns. The buns were soft, and made the perfect tool for mopping up the warm vegetable curry.
We washed our meals down with fresh mixed juices – ginger lime watermelon for my husband, and carrot beetroot for myself. We only just about managed a bite or two of some traditional gulab jamun and ras malai desserts to end our meal, but I think if I were to visit in the future I would skip the desserts altogether as the mains were just so filling and satisfying by themselves.

Pav Bhaji

Sukh Sagar takes inspiration from both North and South classic Indian food, and here is absolutely everything you can imagine from Indian vegetarian fare on the menu. From crispy dosas, to lentil curries, street food to Chinese inspired dishes, and vegetarian barbecue there is literally something to everyone’s taste and palette. We did actively steer away from the International style dishes. However bar the chilli cheese toast, I enjoyed every meal whether recommended to us or individually chosen.

None of the meals were overly spicy, whilst the majority only had a slight hint, and we were asked on our preference accordingly. Everything was flavourful, and the quality was definitely more than notable. You won’t find curries doused in lots of unnecessary oil here. The value for money too is highly reasonable. Every dish we ordered was priced at between 20 to 40 AED, with the most expensive being the teppanyaki dosa station. Still for 50 AED, you can eat as much as you want, even if we did only manage eight mini dosas on top of everything else! Waiters were very helpful and our food arrived quickly too. It’s safe to say I now have a bigger appreciation for vegetarian Indian cuisine, and my meat-loving husband definitely has much bigger appetite for it too!

Watermelon Ginger Honey Lime juice

Visit http://sukhsagar.com/ for more information or follow their Facebook page

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Pastel White Chocolate Mousse Pots

These pastel white chocolate mousse pots were made to serve as a treat for Iftar during the last few days of Ramadan. I am so glad I made them, because they went down so well and were loved by everyone. 

I had initially planned on making chocolate mousse pots and set about making sure I had all the ingredients. But once the time came to make them I realised I had missing the one main ingredient I needed - chocolate! I nearly always have some form of cooking chocolate in my pantry and didn't think to check. All I had on hand was white chocolate but I really wanted to make the mousse so white chocolate it would have to be! I actually wasn't sure if the mousse would turn out the same way as if I were to used plain or milk chocolate, because of the butter to cocoa difference in ratio between the two. Still I didn't let this deter me. I also discovered I had little jars of pastel coloured chocolate curls, and so of course, a little light bulb went flashing on in my head telling me to make pastel coloured mousse!

The result? This mousse came out perfect. It was creamy, smooth, with little air bubbles and so delectable even the non-sweet toothed members of my family enjoyed it. Its fairly easy and simple to make, and if you want to make it less complicated or just want plain white chocolate mousse, you can definitely leave out the food colouring.

The pots I used were petite, and the right size for serving something sweet after a day of fasting without any food. It is a very sweet mousse, as white chocolate is definitely the sweetest of chocolates, though this did not make the mousse sickeningly sweet in any way at all. 

And wouldn't these be really pretty to serve at a dinner or birthday party (just as I like to think a lot of my desserts on Beela Bakes are!). I already know this is another dessert I'm going to be making time and time again, and looking at these photos I'm already drooling and dreaming up the next excuse I have to make them!

Pastel White Chocolate Mousse Pots
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker

Makes 8 small portions, or 4 normal

228g white chocolate, chopped
5 tblsp water
2 eggs, separated
1 tblsp caster sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup, plus 2 tblsp heavy/double cream
Pink and green food gels, for tinting
White or coloured chocolate curls to decorate

1. Combine the white chocolate and water in a medium bowl. Place the bowl over a small saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water, and simmer over low heat.
2. Stir the mixture continuously until it is melted and smooth, and remove the bowl off the heat.
3. In a large bowl whisk together the egg yolks, salt, and one and a half teaspoon of the sugar until it is smooth. Now pour the white chocolate mixture into the eggs and whisk well to combine. Let the mixture cool slightly for about five minutes. 
4. Using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites until foamy for about one minute. Add the remaining sugar into the egg whites and now whisk for about two minutes until soft peaks have formed.
5. With a spatula gently fold a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold in until the white streaks have disappeared. 
6. In the same mixing bowl used for the egg whites, add the heavy cream and whisk until it begins to thicken for about a minute. Fold the cream into the mousse mixture, until no white streaks remain. 
7. Separate two-thirds of the mixture equally into two smaller bowls, so that a third of the mixture still remains in the large bowl. Using a tooth-pick tint a very small amount of green gel food colouring, about two drops worth, into one of the bowls, and mix until a pale green colour is formed. Repeat with the pink food gel in another other bowl. You will now have three mousse mixtures - white, green and pink. 
8. Spoon the mixtures into individual serving cups and cover with plastic wrap/clingfilm. Leave to set in the fridge for at least two hours and upto twenty-four hours. 

N.B. Look for pasteurized eggs at your supermarket if you are concerned about using raw eggs here.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Ramadan Special Guest Post: Exotic Fruit Cheesecake Pots (No-Bake)

I am so excited to share this amazing recipe for no-bake exotic fruit cheesecake pots over at Lubna's blog Kitchen Flavours. Every year Lubna posts a series for Ramadan called Joy From Fasting To Feasting, where for each day of Ramadan she shares a recipe from a guest blogger. I am grateful to have been asked to participate this year, not only because its for Ramadan, but also as it is my first time as a guest blogger anywhere! 

Lubna asked me to share a recipe that is made for Iftar in my house, and since I love coming up with sweet treats to enjoy during Ramadan, I decided to share these cheesecake pots. You might recognise that they are a twist on the cheesecake recipes I have posted before, but this time I added a sublime layer of pineapple, mango and kiwi fruit for an exotic touch. Not only is it great to make in Ramadan, but also for parties, summer BBQ's, and any get-together. 

To see my post with the recipe, head on over at Kitchen Flavours, and be sure to have a look at the other participating bloggers with their recipes! 

Joy From Fasting To Feasting - VII

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Dining Review: Café Blanc Lebanese restaurant at The Dubai mall

Growing up in London as a young girl, my dad was always keen on exposing my mum, older sister, younger brother and I to all types of different cuisines and foods. He would regularly make it a point to take us out for lunch or dinner on the weekend, especially during the warmer months. From when I turned about ten years old, my dad had an Egyptian friend who introduced us to Lebanese food for the first time. I remember feeling very tentative with every bite I took for that first Lebanese meal, not enjoying the new sensations and tastes, and neither did my siblings.  Still, my parents seemed to relish it, and it soon became a regular occurrence for us to visit the famed Edgware Road for its plethora of Arabic and Lebanese restaurants. Needless to say, I eventually grew to fall in love with Lebanese food…

I happily feel at home now in any Lebanese restaurant, and can easily order my favourites off a menu. What I have always loved about this cuisine is its freshness, simplicity and consistency. Piping hot falafels, smooth and creamy hummus, juicy and tender grilled meats - I know what I am going to get, and I know I am going to enjoy it.

That’s why I was delighted recently when Brand Terminus, a branding agency in Dubai invited me to dine along with my husband at Café Blanc, a Lebanese restaurant they look after. Situated on the lower ground of Dubai Mall, with an outdoor seating area facing the Dubai Fountain, Café Blanc is a restaurant which prides itself on combining traditional Lebanese food with a modern approach. The interior is sleek and contemporary, with pops of lively colour and geometry inspired décor - an aesthetic which is carried through into its food too.

We were talked through the ethos and history of the restaurant, before deciding to seat ourselves in the entrance dining area of the restaurant. Rather than ordering off the menu, we were presented with a variety of dishes to sample. For starters many of the well known appetizers were offered, including fattoush, hommos, tabbouleh, moutabel. stuffed vine leaves, cheese stuffed rolls, and fresh Arabic bread. In addition were a few hot dishes, most of which I admittedly have never sampled before – small chunks of beef seasoned in soya sauce and lemon juice, diced spicy fried red pepper potatoes, and delicious pan-fried mini spicy beef sausages.  All three were tantalising highlights. Something else I had never tried was the arayess halloum, a combination of halloumi cheese, parsley and onion, stuffed into flat Arabic bread and toasted – exactly the type of bread which the term ‘good comfort food’ takes after. With so many dishes to sample from there were those which I didn’t care much for, found satisfying in the familiar sense, or enjoyed enough to help myself with seconds. The moutabal was some of the best I’ve ever had. Smokey and smooth, it was delicately peppered with pomegranate arils, parsley and onion, and much creamier than most aubergine dips I have tried before.

Any true Lebanese meal is not complete without grilled meat. Our mixed platter came with one skewer each of chicken taouk, cubed beef and a minced lamb kafta. I was neither pleased nor disappointed as I found the meat to be nothing out of the ordinary and thought it could have done with being a little more juicy and tender. Once again, it was the smaller unattested dishes which stole the show. A creamy tomato dish with halloumi and chicken cubes was lip-smackingly good, as was the ras asfour – diced marinated beef with sautéed onions.  The syadiet samak, showcased a more traditional dish consisting of grilled fish with rice and fried onions, accompanied with a fish sauce.

All of the food was beautifully presented, in the same way that all regular diners would also receive their meals. Even though traditional style pots were used, touches of individual details and twists to the dishes are what made them stand out in a playful yet modern way – I carefully noted the freshness of lettuce leaves and accompanying sides such as olives. The custom-made tableware and cutlery added to the contemporary take on otherwise traditional fare.

To finish our meal, we were given a small glass of warm orange blossom water,  important to note as this what the restaurant takes its name after – Café Blanc, the drink beloved by generations of Lebanese as the perfect ending to a meal. Of course dessert came too, and again we were spoilt for choice. The familiar knefe and mouhallabieh were presented alongside aysh el saraya (soft juicy bread topped with kashta and nuts, and served with syrup) and byzance (a cheesecake topped with a layer of rose loukoum). As a huge fan of perfumed desserts (one only has to look at the recipes on my blog!) all four treats were sampled with delight, albeit on full bellies.

As this was a little different from the typical review style whereupon my dining partner and I would have ordered off the menu by ourselves, I felt that some of my usual reviewing crietira had to go out of the window. Instead I took the opportunity for what it was, graciously accepting the experience offered by my hosts. Infact it almost felt like having been invited around a friends house for weekend lunch, where traditional Lebanese fare had been laid out for all to enjoy, and with that touch of originality that comes with eating home-cooked food. By the end of our meal, the restaurant was packed to the brim, by many of whom were Middle Eastern customers.

It’s often lovely to stop by a dining venue where you are confidently secure the cuisine is one you are accustomed with. With so many restaurants to choose from in the Dubai Mall it is unlikely to be the type of place one would actively choose to dine at. However if it is Lebanese you are after and you do chance upon it, Café Blanc is a welcome retreat to stop by. Having also eaten at a couple of Lebanese restaurants within the mall, this was definitely my favourite thus far. There is something for all taste buds, and so much more variety to choose from than I have seen at most Lebanese eateries.

I have always felt that Lebanese cuisine is amongst the most ‘homeliest’ one can experience, and as a Lebanese establishment Café Blanc does this very well.

Photo credits – Brand Terminus