Chef Vikram Brings his A Game to a New Cookbook and a Family Meal

 Recipes from Rasika: Flavors of India Make for A Spiced-Up Cookout

The Sunderam family gathers over a Indian-style casual meal. In the background, a 1964 Airstream named Lucy.

The Sunderam family gathers over a Indian-style casual meal. In the background, a 1964 Airstream named Lucy.

By Susan Able, Photography by Tom McCorkle, Styling by Limonata Creative

Published Oct. 10 by Ecco, 336 pages. There are two book signings this weekend. Ashok Bajaj of Knightsbridge Restaurant Group has invited people to join in the celebration of this highly anticipated cookbook. The first signing is Saturday, October 14, 2017 from 1 PM to 3 PM at RASIKA WEST END. The second book signing is Sunday, October 15, 2017 from 4 PM to 6 PM at RASIKA. RSVP to: rsvprasika@heatherfreeman.com by October 12th.

Published Oct. 10 by Ecco, 336 pages. There are two book signings this weekend. Ashok Bajaj of Knightsbridge Restaurant Group has invited people to join in the celebration of this highly anticipated cookbook.

The first signing is Saturday, October 14, 2017 from 1 PM to 3 PM at RASIKA WEST END. The second book signing is Sunday, October 15, 2017 from 4 PM to 6 PM at RASIKA. RSVP to: rsvprasika@heatherfreeman.com by October 12th.

Chef Vikram Sunderam is a busy guy. Not only does this executive chef oversee the kitchens at Rasika and Rasika West End, (arguably two of the best Indian restaurants in the U.S.), but he also worked with owner Ashok Bajaj to develop the concept of the Knightsbridge group’s new gem and runaway success, Bindaas.

Menu items for Bindaas’ Cleveland Park diners are Indian street foods, authentic food truck cuisine that is served to the lunchtime throngs in Sunderam’s native city of Mumbai. Bindaas, which means “cool” in Hindi, offers a flavor-packed lineup of small plates served in a casual, buzzy setting. Just like in Mumbai, it’s food meant for the moment or to take with you, and the minute it’s finished you’ll start craving it all over again.

A new Bindaas is slated to open in Foggy Bottom this fall, so there’s no rest in the foreseeable future for Sunderam. But he’s thrilled to see the Bindaas concept take hold and that the cookbook he co-authored with Bajaj and food writer and chef David Hagedorn, Rasika: Flavors of India, will be released in October. Over two years in the making, the book has 120 recipes and beautiful photos that capture the colorful cuisine. “It was a very unique and novel experience,” he tells me. “The foundation for it is based on Ashok’s years of being a restaurateur. His anecdotes are engaging and really tell a great story. I think people are going to find it very special.”

Chef Vikram Sunderam relaxes in front of a vintage Airstream at a family cookout.

Chef Vikram Sunderam relaxes in front of a vintage Airstream at a family cookout.

Sunderam takes time for himself with morning exercise and a daily reading or mediation before the dinner service. He lives in McLean, and cherishes his time with his family. Sunderam’s wife, Anjali, is an artist; his son, Viraj will start Georgetown this fall; daughter, Nidhi, graduated from Virginia Tech this year and has recently started her career in Chicago. So the summer included two sets of grandparents who made the long journey from India to see their grandchildren graduate from high school and college, and a road trip to help settle Nidhi in Chicago.

When they can, the Sunderams love to gather, and connecting over meals is one way to share time during the busy weeks. Anjali is usually in charge of the meals, and Sunderam explains that while the family eats and enjoys all cuisines—Italian, Chinese, Mexican—Indian food is chosen for family celebrations.

Anjali Sunderam handpaints glassware seen in this photo. @sovereigntreasures on Facebook for more information.

Anjali Sunderam handpaints glassware seen in this photo. @sovereigntreasures on Facebook for more information.

Sunderam was happy to share some of these family-favorite recipes that capture the flavors of Bindaas, Rasika and his native home, pulled from the new cookbook. I asked if home cooks ever get overwhelmed when trying to make Indian food at home, with the many and varied ingredients, spice mixtures and multiple steps somewhat unfamiliar to the average person here.

Sunderam flashed his easy smile and said, “First of all, that is what we did with this cookbook—we tried to simplify the language and methods so its easier to try the recipes. And hey, I believe in the possible. I think people will love taking this on as a project. ‘Come over tonight, I made food from Rasika.’ Don’t you think that sounds like fun?”

I do.

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Chicken Kathi Roll

This a personal favorite of the Edible DC team. It is a spicy, addictive addition to a casual dinner, cookout or picnic. These rolls taste great hot or cold, and their egg-battered tortilla wrap is sturdy enough to pack, doesn’t become mushy and, trust me, tastes just as good the next day (yes, and it was breakfast). Worth the effort? Totally. - From Rasika: Flavors of India.

Makes 6 rolls

Filling:

¼ cup canola oil

½ teaspoon cumin seeds     

2 cups finely chopped red onion

¼ cup ginger garlic paste

2 cups finely chopped tomato

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon deggi mirch    

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 pound boneless chicken meat, all fat removed, diced into ¼-inch cubes

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh Thai green chili

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon garam masala

1 teaspoon chaat masala     

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

For the rolls:

6 (8-inch) whole-wheat flour tortillas

6 large eggs, beaten

¼ teaspoon salt

1½ tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Canola oil, for brushing

In a heavy-bottomed casserole over high heat, heat ¼ cup oil until it shimmers. Add the cumin seeds and let them crackle. Add the red onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the ginger garlic paste. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, until the odor of raw garlic dissipates, about 3 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and return the heat to high. Stir in the turmeric and cook until the water has evaporated from the tomatoes and the mixture looks mushy, about 5 minutes. Add the deggi mirch and coriander and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot and cook until the chicken is tender and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Add the Thai chili, 1 teaspoon salt, garam masala, chaat masala, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons cilantro. Set aside.

To start the rolls, beat together the eggs, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1½ tablespoons cilantro in a medium bowl. Keep by the side of the stove.

Preheat oven to 180°F.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Working 1 at a time, warm 1 tortilla on each side for about 30 seconds. Brush each side with oil and brown on each side for 30 seconds. Spread 2 tablespoons of egg mixture on the entire surface of the tortilla. Flip it over (some egg will come off) and spread 2 tablespoons of egg on the other side. Flip it over and let the egg cook for several seconds. Hold on an ovenproof plate in the oven while you repeat with the other 5 tortillas or chapatis.

To assemble the rolls, warm the filling and keep it warm over very low heat. Take a tortilla from the oven and place it on a cutting board. Spread ½ cup of the chicken filling on the bottom half. Starting with the edge closest to you, roll the tortilla into a log. Halve it diagonally and transfer to the oven while you roll the other. (Doing 2 or 3 at a time gets the job done faster.) Serve warm with Mint Cilantro Chutney. You can also substitute the chicken with lamb meat from the leg.

Mint Cilantro Chutney

This is an easy winner not only for your Chicken Kathi Rolls but for all sorts of things coming off the grill—chicken, salmon, lamb, burgers. Very easy for a big reward.

1¼ cups roughly chopped fresh cilantro, including stems and leaves

½ cup packed mint leaves

¼ cup water

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh Thai chiles

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon sugar

Put all ingredients in a mini blender, NutriBullet or food processor and blend until smooth. If you are using a full-size blender, double the recipe so the blades can reach all the ingredients. Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3 days; you can freeze the extra for use within the next month. Note that for a creamier chutney, you can add 3 tablespoons of whole fat yogurt, but it can’t be frozen.

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Pao Bhaji

Madly popular in Mumbai, Pao Bhaji is what Chef Sunderamhas called our version of a “vegetarian Sloppy Joe.” It’s on the weekend menu at Bindaas, and served aboard an Indian yeast roll, the Ladi Pao (the next recipe).

Serves 4

1 cup coarsely chopped carrots

1 cup cauliflower florets

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

4 Ladi Pao (see headnote)

Masala

3 tablespoons canola oil

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 cups finely chopped yellow onion

2 cups finely chopped tomato

¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

4 tablespoons pav bhaji masala, such as MDH brand

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh Thai green chili

¼ medium green bell pepper, finely chopped

¼ medium red bell pepper, finely chopped

½ cup English peas (fresh or frozen)

2 medium Idaho potatoes, boiled, peeled, cooled and coarsely grated

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 teaspoons salt

1 cup water

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Add the carrots, cauliflower, ¼ teaspoon turmeric and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for 3 minutes. Drain the vegetables and let them cool. Chop them finely by pulsing them in a food processor. 

Make the masala. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat the canola oil until it shimmers. Add the cumin seeds and let them crackle. Add the onions and cook, stirring often, for 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook the onions for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and soft.

Stir in the tomatoes. Return the heat to high and cook for 5 minutes, stirring, until the tomatoes have turned into a mashed consistency and most of the water has evaporated.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the ¼ teaspoon turmeric, pav bhaji masala, chopped ginger, Thai green chili, red and green peppers, peas, potatoes and chopped cauliflower and carrots. Stir to combine well. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the butter, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 cup water and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cilantro.

Serve hot in bowls with Ladi Pao and Kachumber on the side.

Ladi Pao

Ladi means “sheet” in Hindi and Pao means “bread.” Indian bakeries churn out dozens of sheets of these soft, fluffy yeast rolls daily, many destined for food trucks or restaurants to be served with Pao Bhaji. Some food historians believe the Portuguese introduced these soft buns to India, but wherever their origin, they are very popular for casual Indian dining.

Makes 20 rolls

4½ teaspoons (2 packets) rapid-rise yeast

3 tablespoons sugar 

1¼ cups warm (110°F) water

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting 

⅓ cup instant milk powder, such as Carnation brand

2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter 

1 large egg, plus 1 large beaten egg, for egg washing

Cooking spray

1 tablespoon milk

Put the yeast, 1 tablespoon sugar and ½ cup warm water in a medium bowl. Give it a stir and let it activate for 10 minutes, until it foams vigorously. 

Then, put the flour, milk powder, salt and remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer outfitted with dough hook attachment. Run on low speed for 30 seconds to mix the dry ingredients. Turn the machine off.

Add the activated yeast mixture, 1 egg, softened butter and remaining ¾ cup water to the dry ingredients. Run the machine on medium-low until the dough comes together around the hook. Remove the hook, scraping any dough off of it and adding it to the bowl. Cover with film wrap and let it rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes. 

Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Dust the counter with flour. Dust your hand generously with flour to turn the dough out onto the counter. (It will be a little bit sticky.) With floured hands, knead it a few times until it is only a bit tacky.

Weigh the dough and divide the weight by 20. Then weigh out portions of that weight (about 2 ounces) and roll them into balls using the palms of your hands. Fit dough balls into the baking dish in 4 rows of 5. They will be touching each other. Cover loosely with film wrap and let the rolls double in size, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F while the rolls are rising. 

In a small bowl, beat the remaining egg with the milk. With a pastry brush, brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden, turning the pan around halfway through so they brown evenly. Remove the rolls from the oven and brush with 1 tablespoon melted butter and let them rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve in a breadbasket lined with napkins, folding their edges over the rolls to keep them warm. 

Mango lassi is a must have with spicy food. To make a serving for eight, blend 64 ounces of full-fat, plain yogurt, 2 cups of mango pulp, 1/2 teaspoon green cardamom powder, honey or sugar to taste and a couple of ice cubes. Voila!

Mango lassi is a must have with spicy food. To make a serving for eight, blend 64 ounces of full-fat, plain yogurt, 2 cups of mango pulp, 1/2 teaspoon green cardamom powder, honey or sugar to taste and a couple of ice cubes. Voila!