It is miles away from oil-rich, desi khana but steamed delicacies like Bhapa Chingri (prawns) and Bhapa Doi (curd) top the craving list of Bengalis. The cuisine’s most coveted dish, Bhapa Illish, hilsa steamed in mustard sauce.
Sushmita Sen of Bengali Mashi’s Kitchen in Nerul points out that steaming is an integral part of eastern cooking. “For health reasons as also its distinctive flavour, most Bengalis can’t get enough of steamed fish,” Sen asserts.
The technique is making a big comeback. With the movement towards healthy eating and living, many are opting for steaming over frying, boiling or roasting as it keeps the nutrients intact. It also helps retain the original colours, textures, flavours and mineral content of the ingredients.
For nutritionist Naini Setalvad steaming is a way of life. “It’s quick, easy and I end up with tomatoes which are a bright red,” she laughs. “The anti-oxidant properties of veggies and meats are not lost due to overcooking.”
Setalvad also likes steaming spinach in a stainless steamer and then adds spices which includes garam masala to her palak curry. “Those who can’t do without oil can add a few drops extracted from seeds and nuts,” she points out.
Setalvad steams just about anything, from vegetables and lentils to dhoklas.. also poultry, fish, crabs and lobsters.
Chetan Sethi, chef and owner of Zaffran, emphasises the fact that steaming helps retains the natural taste and shape of the ingredients. “The flavour is not lost in pungent spices,” says Sethi.
Sethi suggests wrapping meat before steaming to retain its juices. “This way, you can replicate the taste of chicken in any other form,” he explains. “Banana leaves, wax paper, foil, even a plain A4 sheet will do as the wrapping.”
He however admits that for the Indian palate which is used to over-cooked food, steaming may not be very appeasing.
The hassle-free process, saves on time and energy as well. It takes just 16 minutes to whip up a non-vegetarian dish and a veggie delight not more than 10. But it has to be eaten immediately or the dish could turn soggy and smell.
Those who cringe at the sight can perk up their meal with light spices. Enjoy carrots, tomatoes, momos and chicken mince tossed in garlic and vinegar, sprinkled with herbs like rosemary, chives, chilli flakes, marjoram, garnished with lemon grass and slathered in different sauces.
Chinese dim sums are a good breakfast snack. High on health, meats and vegetables are wrapped in wanton sheets and steamed in dim sum baskets.
There are all kinds of steamers available in the market. Yesterday’s bamboo baskets, pressure cooker attachments and stainless steel steamers (invented before the pressure cooker) have now made way for microwave steamers and are reasonably priced too. . You can even steam your meals in the good old idli steamer.