The plate gets colourful

Anukriti Sharma
Thursday, 13 July 2017

Chefs talk about natural colouring agents that make the food appealing and also can be easily found at home

Do you like your food black or red? Will you prefer a pink chapati over a regular one? Recent trends show that coloured foods are gaining popularity. So be it a black ice-cream, or a pink taco or a rainbow pasta — everyone is excited to try them out. Although, there has been a lot of hullabaloo behind the authenticity or the health benefits of food colouring, but chefs argue that if natural colours are added to food, then there’s no harm in making the plate more colourful.

Sunil Joshi, chef de cuisine, Hyatt Pune, Kalyani Nagar, says, “Beetroot, carrot, spinach, tomato, blueberry are the most interesting natural colour enhancers.”

Juices and purées extracted from fruits and vegetables are the most common natural food colourings. Manu Nair, corporate executive chef, Billionsmiles Hospitality Pvt Ltd, Southindies, UpSouth and Bon South, says, “For green, we use spinach and parsley juice, for orange, pumpkin or carrot juice are used, for yellow, turmeric powder and saffron flowers are ideal, raspberries, beetroot and pomegranate lend a pink colour to food and so on. Some vegetables and fruits are boiled, some are roasted, some are used raw, and the juice or purée is mixed with food to give the desired colour.”

A popular dish whose appeal has been further enhanced with the use of natural colourings are Dimsums. “The traditional wheat wrap now comes in green, orange and bright pink, thanks to spinach, carrot and beetroot juice,” adds Nair. Once the juice is extracted, it is mixed with the Dimsum dough for the colour. These vegetables are also used in pastas, to make dishes like beetroot pasta, spinach pasta and carrot tortellini pasta. Beetroot and spinach are also used to make pink and green tacos. The vegetables are roasted or blanched and added to the tortilla dough for colour, and also to mildly change the taste profile.

Food colouring is not limited to Pan-Asian or Continental food. Indian food too uses natural colours. Blast blanching vegetables and chillies is an effective way to colour food. Green vegetables like spinach are dipped in hot water and then immediately put in cold water, allowing it to retain its natural green. Nair explains, “Kashmiri, deghi or byadgi chillies are blast blanched and then turned into a paste, which we use in marinades for dishes such as Chicken Tikka, Chicken 65 or Kodi Kaal Roast. It gives a lovely rich colour.”

Yellow colour is obtained from fresh turmeric, which is soaked in water, and then made into a paste, and used in dishes like Navratan Korma or Telangana Chicken Kebab. However, this has to be used in minimal quantities, otherwise it can alter the flavour profile of the dish.

How far can we experiment with these natural colour enhancers? Joshi shares, “Extracting the right amount of colour by implementing the right method such as puree, infusion, soaking helps in imparting the correct texture and colour to the food.”

As tastes get more experimental, it is but natural for chefs to get adventurous in the way they colour food. Colours such as black, purple and blue — usually not the first hues you’d think of when it comes to food — are now being used often, with the help of natural agents. The colour for black noodles comes from eggplant charcoal. Nair adds, “Eggplant is slow-roasted in a charcoal oven for about 8-10 hours. The outer skin gives us an edible black colour that we use to make noodles and in tempura batter. A popular dessert, Halo Halo, is coloured purple with the help of ube, or purple yam, which originates in the Philippines, and is used in a powdered form. Blue corn, which originates in Mexico, is used to make blue corn tacos. Puréed red cabbage (also known as purple cabbage) is used to make purple dumplings.”

Explaining the dos and don’ts that people should follow while experimenting with these natural colours, Joshi says, “One needs to make sure that we extract the colours using the right method, for example, spinach gives a better green colour if blanched and given a cold water bath and then puréed and squeezed right. Raw spinach purée will not  impart an appealing colour.”


Asian Green Dumplings

Preparation time: 20 min
Assembling time: 15 min
Serves: 2

For the dough  
n    Potato starch     2 tbsp
n    Wheat starch     6 tbsp  
n    Dimsum flour    4 tbsp     
n    Oil/ white butter    2 1/2 tsp  
n    Hot boiling water    80 ml   
n    Spinach puree strained (blanch the spinach and put in ice cold water, drain off the excess water and make a puree, strain with a muslin cloth)    2 tbsp
n    Heat water in a sauce pan.
n    In a mixing bowl, add potato starch, wheat starch, and spinach puree.
n    Pour boiling water to the above mixture churning vigorously.
n    Knead the dough well and keep aside rubbing with oil or white butter.

For the filling
n    Spinach    30 gm
n    Green beans     30 gm
n    Bok choy     30 gm
n    Asparagus     30 gm
n    Broccoli    30 gm
n    Salt and pepper to taste
n    Sesame oil     2 1/2 tsp
n    Burnt garlic    10 gm  
n    Finely chop all the vegetables and blanch; drain off the excess water with a muslin cloth.
n    Mix well with garlic oil, burnt garlic, seasoning and sesame oil.
n    Season the mixture and keep in a refrigerator to cool.
Assembling the dumpling
n    Divide the dough into 15 gm roundels and flatten with a rolling pin.
n    Stuff the dough with the above mixture and fold the edges giving them desired shapes.

(Recipe by Sunil Joshi, chef de cuisine, Hyatt Pune, Kalyani Nagar)

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