P and I may disagree on many counts but when it comes to what we want ten years from now, the vision is the same for both of us! A backyard garden where I would reach out for fresh herbs and infuse those flavours in vegetables cooked from our garden. A small table set out for an alfresco lunch and maybe a bottle of wine! A couple of days ago, I took a peek into a life that strengthened the determination to get there more than ever before.
Looking at the small pond of lotuses and that greeted us, trees weighing down with fresh fruits, the thyme shrub that filled the air with a strong scent that sent me sniffing and swooning, the orchids that shamed the flowers that used to sit in my vase at home, the tools that wanted me to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty and…. Samar! Seeing Samar Gupta, looking snug as a bug in a rug in that rocking chair, I could not help feeling a slight tinge of envy! Maybe I should clarify! This man is no couch potato, but this was someone contentedly sitting back and enjoying the fruits of his labour – literally! I could not help but feel tons of respect for the kind of passion he exudes for his business, for the quality control that ensures healthy produce and for the amount of thought that went into fulfilling the needs of home chefs like me who have access to gourmet ingredients, thanks to him.
Trikaya Agriculture Pvt. Ltd., headed by Samar Gupta is Mumbai’s conduit for exotic herbs, vegetables and fruits for Continental, Chinese and Thai Cuisine. Trikaya’s vast farm located at Talegaon is a paradise that food lovers dream of the world over. Dragon fruits – yellow and pink, guavas – red, green and seedless, mulberries – small ones and the long plump ones that we get up North, lettuce – red and green, tomatoes – cherry, black and spoon tomatoes, mints of various varieties, and lesser known edibles such as akai berries, palm hearts and kumquats!
It would be unfair not to mention the green hands that make all this possible along with Mr. Samar. Pawar, Ravi and Ramesh are his three trusted men in the farm who along with Samar gave us foodies a guided tour of each and every plant that grew in the farm. From the way they handled the fruits, and their knowledge of each plant ranging from which cultiva was used and how much time had passed since its plantation, it was clear that these three had a relationship with the vegetation that is akin to a parent and a child!
To boot the experience, we were given fruits plucked straight from the trees and cut open just for us. Unlike the fruits I purchase from my local shops, I actually had juice running down my hands and chin as I bit into the plump fruits, and I unashamedly did justice by licking it right off! If this was my orchard, I know I would be a happy fruitarian for the rest of my life!
I could go on but I am sure my words could not speak as well as the photographs do. There were times when the group went ahead and I got rooted to spots. The beauty of Nature can be magical and enchanting. Beautiful and dangerous at the same time. The section that grew the yellow dragon fruits seemed to be straight from a setting of ‘Star Trek‘. I could well imagine a landing by Capt. James Kirk during one of the voyages of the Starship Enterprise and Mr.Spock beaming himself down to taste the yellow fruits growing at the end of the giant cacti plants! Yes, I am pretty imaginative. Look at this picture – do they not look alien?
I had many more rapturous moments, like when I saw the pretty, rusted gates asking for couples or a naughty child to be photographed against it. The gate that had broken down but had a lock hanging on one side. These were moments that made me miss my children. I know they would have loved this place!
I expected that the fresh fruits would have satiated my appetite but instead found myself ravenous for the delicious, and tasty spread laid out for us. Steamed edamame beans, lima beans cooked into a dry spicy curry, rice and dal, farm fresh salad tossed up by Nikhil, leafy stir-fries made by Rushina, very tasty, slow roasted tomatoes made by Saee and the zaatar focaccia I had hurriedly baked that morning alongwith cashew-basil-parsley dip. I loved the sweet potato leaves that had been simply allowed to wilt and exude its juices. Gourmet experience!
Steamed edamame beans
The experience also made me look into the scenes-behind the produce. It is not a matter of leisure. There is a lot of activity that goes on in the farm. The fruits need to be plucked within hours of ripening, care has to be taken to ensure that they are neither blemished nor eaten away before ripening. After this comes the process of cooling the herbs to the right temperature and maintaining that till they are transported. There was also a provision for controlling the quality of herbs that are packed. A transparent table lit from under is used to ensure that any caterpillars that might be lurking in between are separated before packing. I like that!! Well, who said farming is idyllic? It isn’t! It is a source of joy, but taking it up as a profession is a different ball game altogether. It gets as competitive as any other field and Samar ensures that he is updated with the methods as well as the cultivas that are being used in other parts of the world to bring us the very best. He kindly gifted us the choicest herbs from his farm. Right then, I felt blessed. Blessed that Rushina kindly invited me to accompany her. Blessed that I had friends who made my life enjoyable (that’s why I baked them the bread 🙂 ). Blessed that I was getting spoilt for choice. Blessed to see what life might be like fifteen years from now. Blessed because I dare to dream.
Some tasty hi-lights of the day that I have never tasted before – dehydrated banana fruits, carambola / star fruits. Trikaya also gave us ‘chatpata tomato’. These are the products that are in the pipeline and haven’t hit the market yet, but do watch out for them. The dehydrated fruits cannot be described and have to be tasted and savoured. The chatpata tomato is a combination of many Indian tastes that will be a sure hit!
If the post has stirred up your appetite, well here’s a recipe that I hope will make you drool for the zaatar focaccia – A combination of quick Italian focaccia bread with strong flavours of zaatar from the Middle East! I am partial to both the cuisines and it seemed natural to combine the two. The recipe is not of an authentic focaccia that is made with a poolish or overnight starter. But this recipe works well for quick delivery. If I had the time and I was serving it at home, I would have topped with a drizzle of garlic flavoured olive oil, but I could not do that on that day. I was already late and actually carried the bread straight out of the oven in its tray!
If you would like to try the poolish version which is definitely stronger in flavour and tastier, please check my recipe feature for Dawn.
Dish: Zaatar Focaccia (Quick version)
Adapted from King Arthur Flour recipe
Serves – 8-10 pizza slices (I used a circular tart pan that measures 11 inches in diameter)
The amount of water depends on type of flour used but should not vary much. Adjust flour if needed.
Warm water – 350g
Olive oil – 50g + more for drizzling on baked bread
Pink salt – 1.25 tsp.
Strong bread flour – 450g
Active dry yeast – 1 tbsp.
Sugar – 1/8 tsp.
Zaatar seasoning – As per taste or 7-8 tbsps.
Thyme, leaves picked and crushed with a tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil – 10 stalks
Oven temperature: 200 deg. C.
Grease tray or pan in which you will be baking the bread with olive oil.
Add yeast and sugar to 1/4 th cup of warm water and set aside to froth.
Combine the flour, salt and thyme in a large ‘paraat’ or mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre and add the yeast mixture and rest of the warm water. Gently stir the flour from the corners little by little into the liquid till it forms a rough mixture. The batter should be sticky at this point. Rest the dough in a greased vessel for an hour till or till it almost doubles.
Oil your palms liberally. Drop the dough onto a large greased tray. Fold the batter onto itself, rotate by 180 deg. and fold once more. Now rotate 90 degrees and fold again. Repeat at 180 deg. You should now have a square dough pocket. Rest it again for 30 minutes. Repeat the same procedure again, beginning to fold perpendicular to your last seam. Rest again for 30 minutes. Remember not to press out or punch the dough. The batter should now be puffy and not longer sticky.
Gently lay the dough in the centre of the greased baking tray. With oiled fingers press lightly , poking the dough with the finger tips and spread it over the tray. The dough will be smooth and spread very easily. Take care not to press out the yeast bubbles in the process.
Spread the zaatar seasoning all over so that the top surface is covered. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle more seasoning if you like. Do not even out the depressions.
Bake in a pre-heated oven till its golden brown along the edges, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Remove, cool for about five minutes in the tray and turn out on a rack. Cool till it becomes warm or comes to room temperature and serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a side of cashew-parsley dip.
Recipe: cashew-parsley dip
To view the entire album please visit my facebook page. I took more than a hundred pictures of some exotic produce, but space constraint forces me to end my post here with only a few of them!