There is no doubt that when it comes to authentic Indian cuisine, Sanji Thankappan knows his stuff. As owner and chef of Ghazal Restaurant located at the corner of Ana Street and Ariapita Avenue in Woodbrook, he manages to serve up dishes brimming with flavour that always seem to have his customers coming back for more.
With Indian Arrival Day on Wednesday many people would be expecting friends and relatives over for the holiday. Food, which usually is the main component that draws everyone around the dining table, also seems to have the power to strengthen for many of us our fondest memories.
When one thinks of Indian food, one of the first things that may come to mind is curry. What is curry without light and fluffy paratha or rice, chicken, mango anchar and a dash of "mother-in-law" on the side not an incomplete dish?
If you are a novice cook when it comes to making Indian food, now is a good time as any to get started, said chef Thankappan. If you are a more seasoned cook in the kitchen and you think you know your way when it comes to authentic Indian cuisine, you may be in for a few surprises.
Contrary to popular belief, Indian food is not just about curry, pepper and oil.
According to chef Thankappan, it is diverse, delicious and also offers much to vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.
Thankappan loves infusing spices from his homeland India with diverse local flavours of Trinidad and Tobago to create meals for his customers that encompass his love for food and his country.
He and his family moved from India eight years ago and now permanently reside in Trinidad. The chef recently prepared a special menu for the holiday to showcase some of his favourite dishes.
"What locals here called Indian food and authentic Indian food is completely different (to what is served in India).
"In India we cook a lot with cashew, almond, milk and a completely different array of spices while in Trinidad with your curry for example you use curry massala, geera and chadon beni, we do not. Both are good and though the colour and texture may be a little different, the flavour is virtually the same," he said.
"I am glad that I can mix both flavours. However, my food is mostly authentic Indian cuisine. Indian Arrival Day has special meaning to me since I look at it is a time to celebrate and have pride in one's heritage," he said.
Is authentic Indian cuisine easy to make?
Chef Thankappan smiled and said, "Some dishes are harder than others but as you get more familiar with the spices and their flavours it becomes easier."
Thankful to have the opportunity to share with others his passion for food, Thankappan was happy to reveal some of the secrets of authentic Indian cuisine.
Paratha or "buss-up-shut" as it is commonly referred to in Trinidad is a delightful fluffy accompaniment to any curry dish. Sharing with us his version of Aloo paratha, Allappey vegetable curry and some other delicious dishes that would practically make your taste buds sing, Thankappan also included a few dessert recipes to satisfy those of you who may have a sweet tooth.
"With Indian cuisine it is very important to stick with the recipe and try to use the freshest ingredients where possible. And of course if all does not go well in the kitchen you can always come down with your family at Ghazal Restaurant and have a tasty meal," he said.
2 lbs of any white fish fillets (cut into 2-3-inch pieces)
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup vinegar
Salt to Taste
1 tbsp ground coriander seeds
1 tbsp ground cumin seeds
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Blend together ginger, garlic, vinegar, salt, coriander, cumin, cayenne and oil in the blender to form a fine paste.
Marinate the fish pieces into the paste for about 4 hours in the refrigerator.
Pre-heat the oven on maximum heat at broil.
Cover the oven tray with foil to avoid mess.
Place the marinated fish pieces on the tray and broil for about 8-10 minutes.
Turn over and broil for about 8 minutes again.
Keep a constant check. Broiling time may vary depending on the thickness of fish pieces.
Serve the tandoori fish hot with your favourite chutney.