By Nadeem Badshah
SOUTH Asian restaurants have unveiled healthier Christmas menus as more diners are choosing to eat out over the festive period.
Eateries are aiming to give people a “curry Christmas” with their own twist on traditional dishes – including turkey black garlic tikka, gol gappa shots, tamarind glazed Brussels sprouts and festive salads. Top restaurants are opting for less oil, butter and ghee and using more organic ingredients to ensure diners can have all the trimmings – while staying trim.
December is the busiest month for many eateries due to the school holidays, Christmas parties, more social gatherings and people turning to spicy food to stave off the cold.
Kahani in west London, led by Michelin-starred chef Peter Joseph, has a festive menu for this month and a special one for December 25. Offerings include a grilled Chilean seabass with Indian mustard, dill leaves and parsnips, organic turkey tikka grilled in a tandoor and a Christmas pudding.
Joseph said his priorities for the season are healthy ingredients and countering the freezing cold weather. He told Eastern Eye: “In winter, people like the spicy kick. Tandoori paneer is a healthier option, with red and green, the Christmas colours.
“We don’t use much oil. People like the heat in the spice and peppercorn because of the cold (weather); when you eat the dishes you feel warm.
“You can still enjoy turkey; it is a lighter version, it has less salt, butter, ghee. For the turkey black garlic tikka, the garlic is smoked for up to six months, it becomes dark and more sweeter and softer.”
Another chef joining in the festive spirit is Cyrus Todiwala, who runs three restaurants in London.
Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen in the Lincoln Plaza Hotel in east London has beetroot and coconut samosas, beef xacuti and Goan prawn curry as some of its Christmas offerings.
The chef told Eastern Eye: “Game is in season right now and very sustainable and nutritious and healthy, therefore we always have some game during this period. I was very lucky that I had the privilege of growing up eating game as a child and much later – so I enjoy working with different game.”
Todiwala added: “The recent massive global news on increasing greenhouse gases and the devastation caused by animal grazing has directed many towards more vegan and vegetarian choices, so we must be welcoming that change and that plays a vital role in the vegetarian selection in season.
“If people are eating out more, I am hopeful that with all that is going on now people will demand more local, ethical, sustainable produce, as well as to prove that whatever meat we buy and use are ticking all the welfare and sustainable boxes.”
Indian Accent has its own spin with Christmas party menus available for groups of 10 or more diners.
Its dishes include sweet potato chaat with parsnips, pani puri with smoky pineapple and garlic buttermilk, along with partridge musullam.
The restaurant’s executive chef, Manish Mehrotra, said there are lighter and more indulgent options on its menu which are inspired by different parts of India. “We’re never restricted to one region as we like to showcase the best of what Indian can offer. Our Christmas menus are an amalgamation of India as a whole, rather than any one region.
“The sweet potato chaat with quinoa puffs has been inspired from Delhi winters whilst partridge musallam, almond korma draws upon flavours used in Awadh region, Lucknow.”
On the most creative dish, Mehrotra added: “Making a festive vegetarian menu was a creative task, as we wanted to ensure the food was delicious and true to Indian Accent, yet captured the essence of Christmas.
“One of my favourite dishes on the vegetarian menu is the wild mushroom kabab with roast pumpkin and curry leaf moilee – they’re great, winter flavours and it’s a really vibrant, celebratory dish.”
Pasha Khandaker, senior member of the Bangladesh Caterers Association, believes more restaurants in the £4 billion industry are listening to diners and offering healthier choices.
“This is the demand for the time – people want tasty and healthy, he said. “Some of our food wasn’t that healthy five to 10 years ago. During Christmas, restaurants do well as they do what people demand. People drink a lot, so they keep an eye on their dishes.
“People spend money in this festive time, dining out is the most important time of this year. Christmas means eating and socialising. “Many remain open on Christmas Day to treat their regular customers and some workers do not celebrate Christmas.”
Manju Malhi, a celebrity chef and cookbook author, believes south Asian cuisine has developed an unfair reputation for being loaded with high sugar, fats and processed ingredients but many eateries are tweaking their menus. “There’s an increase in consumer demand for a meat-free alternative or plant-based foods. The rise in flexitarianism [an occasional meatless diet] has led to more people opting for healthier choices,” she said.
“Try and plate up initially with green salads, vegetables and lean meats. Then, after waiting for at least 10 minutes, return to just get a taste or a small sample of the indulgent foods on offer. Eat mindfully by being aware of what you’re eating and savour each morsel instead of wolfing down the food. Above all, what really matters in the festive period, is friends, family and fun.”
India Accent, Mayfair, central London: The four Christmas menus for groups are packed with gifts.
Five golgappa shots of mint and coriander, tamarind, smoky pineapple, garlic buttermilk and pomegranate, a colourful mix which is fluffy and light.
The pick of the dishes are the karai chicken stuffed in a sweet pepper, wild mushroom kebab and coconut curry with fresh truffles and melt-in-themouth scallops with prawns and turnips, washed down with mudra punch, mocktail of rose sherbet and almond milk.
For dessert, the restaurant will offer a foamy and flavoursome makhan malai rice pudding and an indulgent carrot halwa tart with ginger candy ice-cream.
Kahani, Sloane Square, west London: There are festive dishes which will not leave you with a Santa Clauslike belly, including a lean but chunky prawns dakshin with paprikam coconut and curry leaves and a kale salad with oranges, pomegranate, grapefruit and sweet potato.
Other dishes that promise to be light on your stomach are the smoky and flavoursome Chilean seabass starter and tender lamb chops with rogan josh sauce. The halibut curry with naan has a soft texture, while the rice pudding with rose caviar and chocolate mousse on a bed of almonds gives you the feel of having two desserts.
Mr Todiwala’s Kitchen. South Quay, east London: The signature beetroot and coconut samosa is a must-try dish for festive diners, along with the soft and smooth chargrilled salmon tikka, coated in green chutney, and a chewier and flavoursome duck tikka.
And the beef Xacuti is ideal for the cold and goes nicely with garlic naan or chilli naan, while a nice accompaniment for rice is the Malabar chicken curry and Goan prawn curry.
The tadka daal is spicy with a nice kick to it, which you can have as a soup with apricot and hazelnut kulfi, to cap it off as you listen to songs in the dining room, including “Here Comes Santa Claus”.