The Weekend Chef: Ishaan Nair On Gender And The Kitchen
He’s eaten at interesting places around the world, and can whip up a global selection of dishes too
My earliest food memories are my mother’s butter chicken with ghee roti, and vanilla-frosted cupcakes made by my grandmother.
I started cooking at the age of 12 as a gesture on my parents’ wedding anniversary. My family realised I was pretty good at it, and that was that.
I grew up in a gender neutral home, where men and women were expected to share the same responsibilities. I saw my parents take turns cooking, or cooking together, and imbibed similar values.
There are a few things you will always find in my fridge. These include Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt, almond milk, lemons, smoked cheese or goat’s cheese and ingredients to make a good chicken salad.
I love Asian food – Japanese, Thai or Chinese. I’m really fond of dim sum, and if I had to pick an ingredient I love, it would be fresh basil leaves.
My mother, father and grandmother’s home cooking makes for most of the best meals I’ve had. In terms of restaurants, a memorable experience for me was at Botin — one of the oldest restaurants in Madrid.
In Mumbai, Royal China and Lokhandwala’s Indigo Deli are my favourite restaurants. Coast Café (New Delhi), Grand Sichuan (New York) and Gratitude Café (Los Angeles) are also on my list.
As far as food destinations go, I have a whole bunch of favourites, from India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Egypt to cities like New York and Tokyo.
Cooking needs to stop being seen as a man/woman thing and treated as an everyday thing, irrespective of gender. It’s not just a woman’s job to be in the kitchen. Some of the best chefs in the world are men. Besides, it’s a fun process – knowing what you are putting into your body and how it was made.
Anyone who enjoys food and sees its transportive and endorphin-inducing quality makes for a good dining companion. For me, this list includes my family (we really love our food), Malika Singh, Sonam Nair and Shahana Goswami.
THREE COURSE THAI MEAL
Thai Chicken Green Curry
- 1/2 kg boneless chicken
- 3 cans of coconut milk or equal measure fresh coconut milk
- 7 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 stalk lemongrass
- 1 root galangal
- 1 cup basil leaves
- Fish sauce
- Brown sugar
Thai green curry paste
- Finely chop the lemongrass, galangal and basil leaves. Cut the chicken into cubes or strips, as per your preference.
- Pour coconut milk in a medium saucepan. Add galangal, basil and lemongrass till it comes to a boil, and the aroma of the spices mixes with the milk.
- Add two tbsp Thai green curry paste and 4 teaspoons of brown sugar. Once the milk gets a very slight green colour, add 2-4 tbsp fish sauce (based on how much salt you like). When it reaches a boil, reduce the flame and add chicken. Let it simmer slowly for 10 minutes.
- It is best to cook this dish a few hours before serving, as the chicken absorbs more flavour by staying at room temperature for a few hours.
Meatballs in Peanut Sauce
- 1/2 kg mutton mince
- 1 bag of unsalted peanuts
- Coriander leaves and roots
- 3 cans coconut cream
- 2 tbsp Thai red curry paste
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 cup basil
- 6 kaffir lime leaves
- 3 Thai red chillies
- Rice flour
- Green curry paste
- 3 cloves of garlic
For the meatballs
Add coriander leaves, roots, 1 tbsp green curry paste, a small piece of galangal and garlic in the mixer to make a paste. After washing the mutton mince, put it in a strainer to drain excess water. Add the paste into the mince and mix well. Take the mixture and roll it into small bite-sized balls. Roll them lightly in rice flour. Pour regular cooking oil in a kadhai till it starts boiling. Throw in the meatballs only once it is hot and deep fry till golden brown.
For the peanut sauce
Roast peanuts on a tavaa. Once cool, grind them into a fine powder in a mixer. In a regular sauce pan, add coconut milk with kaffir lime leaves and red curry paste. Once it gets a nice colour and aroma, add peanuts, fish sauce and sugar till it becomes a semi-thick peanut gravy. Add basil leaves and toss in the meatballs. Cook for 5-7 minutes.
Stir-fried Pakchoy and Black Mushrooms
- 500 gms pakchoy
- 1 packet mushrooms, dried
- 8 Thai red chillies
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- Olive oil
- Oyster sauce
Heat oil in a medium skillet. Once hot, throw in the chopped garlic till it turns golden brown. Add the mushrooms, red chillies and 2 tbsp oyster sauce. Once the mushrooms have a nice colour, throw in the pakchoy. Avoid overcooking, as pakchoy is best served crunchy. It’s best to cook and serve the dish immediately, to avoid sogginess.