When it comes to Thai cuisine, two otherwise pleasant words trouble me — red and green. I think most of us started our experimentation with Thai cuisine with the two dishes called red curry and green curry. And what’s really sad is that many of us are still stuck there.
And that is such a pity because there is so much more to Thai cuisine. In fact, I rate it as among the best cuisines. It is simple, uses the basic herbs, but is delicious. And when it is given a nouvelle tweak, it is simply divine.
They have been doing that at a restaurant called Ziu in Sangam Courtyard in Delhi’s RK Puram. I remember being floored by the food when I first went there some years ago. I went back recently — and was gobsmacked once again — this time by a superb banana flower salad.
Ziu is run by a very talented young man called Gurmehar Sethi, who set this up after working in Nobu in Dubai, Mayfair in London and Banyan Tree in Thailand. The name means “cultivated”, he tells me, and the focus is on presenting food that is different from the usual. So you have Thai dishes here, but cooked innovatively and plated picturesquely. For instance, I recall the roasted chicken I once ate there had a nice flavour of nutmeg in it. And kanom krok, a Thai pancake, had been served with a chicken filled crème brûlée. The chicken had the flavours of galangal and kaffir lime leaves and came with a chilli jam dressing.
Thai food is largely flavoured with galangal, kaffir lime, basil, lemon grass and coriander. The flavours are few, but they all have their characteristic essences. Food is often tempered with the hot bird’s eye chilli, and sauces — among them a fish sauce — add to the taste. But everything is simply cooked, and the ingredients are so fresh that the taste lingers.
A lot of the dishes are prepared with local vegetables. I developed a strong liking for morning glory greens while on a holiday in Thailand. That was when I discovered that the ingredients much used there are also loved in many parts of eastern India. Morning glory greens, for instance, figure in many eastern dishes.
The banana flower, too, is much loved in Thailand and the east, and is, of course, quite a delicacy in the south, too. I had the most delicious banana flower salad prepared with coconut and flavoured with tamarind and fish sauce (see recipe) at Ziu. It was beautiful to look at — layered as it was with banana flower, coconut and spring onions — and had a delicious crunchy taste, with palm sugar and lime juice doing a neat tango with dried shrimp and the fish sauce.
The food, truly, is cultivated. And yet so simple.
Recipe: Banana blossom salad
Ingredients: 2 banana blossoms, 1 lemon, juiced, 1 piece of ginger, diced, 3 spring onions (white parts only), thinly sliced, 60g (½ cup) fresh coconut, shredded, lightly toasted, 1tbsp roasted peanuts
Dressing: 1½tbsp dried shrimp, 2tbsp tamarind concentrate, 1tbsp lime juice, 2tbsp grated palm sugar, 2tbsp fish sauce, 1tbsp nahm prik pao (Thai chilli paste), 60ml (¼ cup) settled coconut cream
Method: For the dressing, process dried shrimp in a small food processor until finely chopped. Combine with the remaining dressing ingredients. Remove the purplish-red outer bracts from banana blossoms. Discard flower-like clusters and thinly slice inner bracts width-wise on the diagonal. Place in a bowl filled with 2 litres of water, lemon juice and 1tbsp salt, to prevent browning. Halve banana blossom cores, slice on the diagonal and add to acidulated water. Drain the banana blossoms and place in a bowl. Add spring onions, coconut, coriander and dressing, and toss gently with peanuts to combine. Serve.