Lockdown forced restaurants to find new ways to stay in people’s lives. Anna King Shahab speaks to Sid and Chandni Sahrawat about their new range of sauces and spice blends for home cooks, and shares some recipes.
Running three of Auckland’s top restaurants through a pandemic has been a rollercoaster for Sid and Chandni Sahrawat, who own Sidart, Cassia, and Sid at The French Cafe. They’ve shut down, launched takeaways and home cooking kits, opened again. Rinse and repeat.
The outstanding success of the takeaway offering from their sophomore restaurant Cassia led them to the idea of using its kitchen on days the restaurant is closed to produce the same sauces and spice blends that are used in the restaurant, but packaged up for home cooks to enjoy. Launched today, the Cassia at Home range of spice kits and sauces is both a backstop to help keep their key staff employed should Covid-19 force New Zealand to move back up the alert levels, and a response to demand for their delicious Indian flavours from home cooks.
“We never thought we could sell just a sauce on its own,” says Chandni (also known as Chand), who is busy in her home kitchen labelling the very first batch of sauces when I call. “But when we were doing takeaway meals during lockdown, people would say things like ‘I’d love to have that same sauce, but with fish’, or ‘I’d like a vegetarian option’.”
The Sahrawats realised there was a market for those who love the flexibility of having a sauce or spice blend as the basis for a meal of their choosing. But developing their restaurant recipes into something with the necessary shelf life for retail sale was an intricate process for which the couple enlisted help.
“We applied for government funding via the Regional Business Partner Network and partnered with Nick Brown of Cook & Nelson, who has so much experience in getting great products onto shelves.”
The Cassia at Home range is certified gluten-free, preservative-free, and vegan. Veering away from dairy products is something Sid has done from day one in the Cassia kitchen.
“We didn’t want the food to be super-rich,” says Sid. “So many Indian restaurants load dishes with cream and sugar, to dilute them and make them taste mild. I think people want the real thing, and you don’t need to lean on cream for flavour – for example the korma recipe uses almonds to get that creamy consistency, and the makhani (butter chicken) has cashew nuts rather than the butter and cream you find in a typical version.”
Perhaps more than most cuisines, Indian cooking has a certain mystique – it can be bloody impossible to nail the complex balance of flavour that makes a dish sing. “More so than European classics like coq au vin, or stroganoff, say, which don’t really vary too much between recipes, if you Google an Indian classic you’ll get a million recipes, all with subtle variations,” says Sid.
A lot of it has to do with the spices themselves, according to Chand. “From one batch to the next, spices can really differ in strength – for example a chilli might be mild one time, then really hot the next, so you can’t just rely on standard measurements. My mum, when she’s cooking, just dips her spoon into spice jars over and over and it all balances out somehow.”
Without having that inherent skill of Chandni’s mum, the Cassia at Home spice blends and sauces mean it’s easy to put an outstanding Indian meal on the table, because the balancing has all been done for you.
I’ve created a couple of recipes using products from the range: the korma sauce, and the chaat masala spice blend. And I had better add a warning that the chaat masala will undoubtedly be habit-forming: this zesty powder, with it’s slightly perplexing, distant whiff of Rotorua, is addictive. “It has that umami thing going on, and tartness and zing”, says Sid. “Sprinkle it on anything fried or barbecued and it just lifts it. In India, they’ll char sweetcorn on the grill on high heat, dredge a lemon wedge in chaat masala then rub it all over the cooked corn.”
“It’s also really good on fruit – slice watermelon or apple and put it on,” Chand says. “It’s the black salt in it that gives it the weird sulphuric note – and makes you sneeze!”
The Cassia at Home range is available from November 9 directly from the restaurant and online from the Cassia website, with the sauces also available at all Farro stores.
Serves 2 / Ready in 30 minutes
The word chaat covers a wonderful world of street snacks, ubiquitous throughout much of India. Chaat dishes are sweet, salty, tangy, crunchy, refreshing and ultimately, finger-lickingly umami… and a key factor in their deliciousness is the spice blend that graces them with the final touch: chaat masala.
Here we’ve used Cassia at Home chaat masala blend to enliven lovely fresh Freedom Farms free range eggs. This recipe makes a fantastic breakfast or brunch, but is equally at home on a dinner table. It’s a great way to make delicious use of leftover potatoes or other root vegetables, and odds and ends of greens and herbs. We’ve given instructions for cooking from scratch here, but just skip the first step and reach for those leftover spuds if you have them.
Put the potato in a pot and cover with cold water. Put the lid on, bring the water to a boil and cook at a rolling boil for 10 minutes or so until potatoes are tender. Drain.
Heat a large cast iron pan over medium heat and add a generous glug of vegetable oil. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and saute for 4-5 minutes until the onion is translucent. Add the capsicum and stir in, then stir in 1 teaspoon of the Cassia chaat masala blend, and continue to cook for 2 minutes until fragrant.
Add the potatoes, stir to coat in spice, and saute for 2-3 minutes, flipping the potatoes just once so they get some good contact with the pan. Add the greens, stock and vinegar, and saute for 2 minutes or so, to wilt the greens.
Make four hollows evenly spaced out in the potato mix. Drizzle a little oil into the hollows, then crack an egg into each one. Cook for 5 minutes on medium-low heat and then either turn the heat down to low, put a lid on and cook for another couple of minutes until the egg whites are set or, if your pan is oven-proof, you can transfer it to a preheated oven at 180℃ to cook for a few minutes until the whites are set.
If you’re using curry leaves, heat a little oil in a pan and toast, flipping, until crisp and semi-translucent, then cool on a paper towel.
Sprinkle the remaining chaat masala over the finished dish and top with crisp curry leaves and pomegranate arils. Dish up with a fish slice onto serving plates.
Serves 4 / Ready in 20 minutes
Cassia at Home’s korma sauce is silky thanks to blended almonds, and fragrant with cardamom. It’s a gentle touch spicy, and a little bit sweet, meaning it pairs beautifully with tender pork – here we’ve used Freedom Farms pork scotch, which cooks in a flash, and remains succulent.
Heat a large, heavy frying pan (cast iron is best) and add a good drizzle of vegetable oil. Pan-fry the pork pieces, turning with tongs, for just 2-3 minutes in total to lightly brown. Remove the pork from the pan and set aside.
Heat another drizzle of oil and add the vegetables and saute for 2 minutes, stirring. Add stock or water, place a lid on the pan, and cook for around 3 minutes till the veges are tender.
Add the korma sauce and bring to a fast simmer. Add the pork pieces along with any juices, and cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring now and then. Check a piece of pork; cut into it and if the juices are running clear then remove the pan from heat, if not, cook for another 2 minutes or so.
To serve, scatter over coriander leaves and toasted chopped almonds, and serve on top of steamed basmati rice or with roti.
Cassia at Home sauces
$14.99 each for 500ml jar of Korma, Makhani or Karahi sauce
Available from Farro Fresh, Cassia restaurant and Cassia online (nationwide delivery)
Cassia at Home Essential Spice Kit
$99.95 – 16 x 100g sized jars
WHOLE SPICES: Bay leaves, cassia bark, whole cardamom (green), whole cardamom (black), whole cloves, whole cumin, whole coriander seeds, whole mustard seeds
GROUND SPICES: Dried fenugreek leaves, ground coriander, ground cumin, ground Kashmiri chilli, ground turmeric
SPICE BLENDS: Cassia chaat masala, Cassia garam masala, Cassia tandoori spice
Available from Cassia Restaurant and Cassia online (nationwide delivery)
Cassia at Home Trio of Spice Blends
$45 for 3 x 200g jars of Cassia garam masala, Cassia chaat masala and Cassia tandoori masala
Available from Cassia restaurant and Cassia online (nationwide delivery)
This content was created in paid partnership with Freedom Farms. Learn more about our partnerships here.
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