A shining beacon of hospitality


  • Food
  • Sunday, 15 Oct 2017

A festive table of plenty, courtesy of Meeta. - YAP CHEE HONG/THE STAR

When you walk into The Ganga Cafe, you’re immediately among family.

Owners Meeta and Prabodh Sheth seem to have bottomless reserves of warmth – for first-time customers and (the many) regulars alike, for the workers from other restaurants along tree-lined Lorong Kurau, for those who toil under the hot sun every day to keep the streets clean.

It’s a well-known haven for vegetarians, but what’s a little lesser-known is the kindness that forms its backbone, along with the menu of North and South Indian cuisine.

“There’s been a tradition at The Ganga Cafe that labourers who come to eat here but maybe can’t afford to pay so much – we say, pay what you can,” said Prabodh. “It’s a privilege to be able to help feed them if we can.”

Meeta and Prabodh are a warm and welcoming force, and love feeding all. — Photos: YAP CHEE HONG/THE STAR

Any food left over at the end of the day is distributed to labourers and migrant workers by Meeta; the couple also founded Pusat Jagaan Sri Sai in Jalan Ipoh, a home for boys with underprivileged single parents.

It’s only natural then that the desire to feed, to extend a warm welcome to all, is also embodied in Meeta and Prabodh’s Deepavali celebrations.

“Before we took over The Ganga Cafe four years ago, we used to have a huge Deepavali open house on the day itself, upwards of 300 people every year,” said Prabodh, 54. But when they took over, the restaurant remained open throughout and their own celebrations became quieter.

“So our celebrations were smaller and more casual – but I think we may resume the big one next year!” said Meeta, 47. This will be the first year that she closes The Ganga Cafe, for two days during the Deepavali celebrations.

“The thing about Deepavali for us is that it’s a time for family – and that is not determined by blood ties,” said Prabodh. “So it is known that our open house is open to all, to friends and relatives, street sweepers, our dhobi, our helpers – all are welcome.”

Because Mumbai-born Meeta loves cooking and entertaining – she’s in The Ganga Cafe’s kitchen every day too – the living area of their home has a seamless open concept.

“That way, Meeta is always in the thick of the party, even though she spends the whole time cooking for people,” said Prabodh. “And everything, the whole party, is centred around the kitchen.”

Meeta is the consummate hostess, and loves cooking for all her guests - whether its at The Ganga Cafe, or at home.

A dedicated vegetarian from birth, Meeta serves only vegetarian food – and finds it easy to win over even meat-eaters.

“Whatever you make, if you make it well, people will happily receive it,” said Prabodh.

They’re a tag team when it comes to entertaining, with Meeta providing the kitchen wizardry and Prabodh planning the meal.

“A common mistake that people make is to cook seven of their favourite dishes,” he said. “You need to cook one favourite dish and six other players to accompany that dude!”

Meeta and Prabodh are both Gujarati, and Meeta delights in serving up Gujarati specialities uncommonly found outside the home. These include the soft, smooth rolls called khandvi; they’re bright yellow from the addition of turmeric and have a tangy taste because they’re made with yoghurt.

Meeta calls them “an Indian version of chee cheong fun,” and puts them on her Sunday buffet menus rather than the a la carte. The rolling of the khandvi is a tricky, delicate task.

“We usually have them for tea, or they could be an appetiser,” she said.

“When I was small, we used to unroll each one and then eat the long strip – the fun was in the unrolling,” said Prabodh.

Sukhdi, a crumbly sweet, is another speciality which will be found on the Deepavali table in their home – as it is at all auspicious times.

Unlike many other Indian sweets, which are elaborate and painstaking to prepare, sukhdi is whipped up comparatively quickly – which is handy for happy occasions that you might not have much time to prepare for. It’s also a lot less sweet.

Meeta adds crunchy crystals of gund, or gum arabic, which lend texture – but you can make it without.

“It’s something we always have for any auspicious occasion, big or small,” said Meeta. The sweet is then fed by hand to friends and loved ones, which is believed to bring luck.

“If there are lots of people who want to feed someone, but they don’t want to eat so many sweets, we all touch the arm of the one feeding – then it’s as if it’s from all of us,” said Meeta.

It’s an anecdote which encap-sulates the world of Meeta and Prabodh – spreading sweetness where they can, and feeding loved ones from the heart.

The silver leaf on this barfi? The wide definition of loved ones, and the open arms with which they’re received.

KHANDVI

Serves 3

1 cup besan (chickpea flour)

3 tbsp yoghurt

Salt, to taste

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp red chilli powder

A pinch of hing (asafoetida)

3 cups water

Garnishing

2 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsp sesame seeds

2 chopped green chillies

Coriander leaves

Red chilli powder

To make khandvi: Place all the ingredients in a blender and process to a batter.

Pour the batter into a wok over medium heat, stirring continuously. Once it thickens considerably, remove from heat.

Pour the batter out onto a flat, smooth surface, and allow it to spread out as thinly as possible. Allow it to cool and set for 5 minutes, then cut into strips with a knife. Roll each strip up carefully.

To prepare garnishing: In a small pan, heat the oil over medium heat, add mustard seeds, sesame seeds, and chillies. Stir to fry lightly.

To serve: Pour the fried garnish over the khandvi, then sprinkle with coriander leaves and chilli powder. Serve immediately.

HARA BHARA KEBAB

Makes 4-6

1 bunch spinach leaves, blanched

100g boiled potato, sliced

1 green chilli

1 capsicum

100g paneer, chopped

¼ cup green beans, boiled until tender

¼ cup green peas, blanched

½ tbsp chaat masala

Salt, to taste

2 tsp oil

Breadcrumbs, for dredging

Cashew nuts, for garnish

Green chutney, for serving

Chop the spinach, potato, chilli, capsicum and paneer finely. Mix the chopped ingredients with the green beans, peas, and chaat masala, and season with salt. Form the mixture into a dough.

Grease your hands with oil and form the dough into small round patties, then flatten slightly and press a whole cashew into the top of each. Dredge in the breadcrumbs.

Deep fry the patties in hot oil, and serve immediately, with green chutney.

VEGETABLE KOFTAS 

Serves 6

180g tomato and onion paste

¾ tbsp cumin seeds

Masala

1½ tbsp coriander powder

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp pepper

1 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp turmeric powder

150g potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces

150g paneer

90g green beans

90g carrot

90g green peas

60g spinach leaves

60g onion

1½ tbsp coriander powder

1½ tbsp garam masala

Salt, to taste

3 tbsp cream

Coriander leaves, for garnish

To make gravy: Heat a little cooking oil in a wok. Add tomato and onion paste, and cumin seeds. Saute until fragrant, then add in all the masala ingredients. Cook for 15 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

To make kofta: Boil potatoes, paneer, beans. carrot, green peas and spinach until just-cooked, then remove from heat and drain. Chop all ingredients and the onion finely, and mix with the coriander powder, garam masala, and salt to taste. Shape the mixture into individual koftas.

Add some oil into a wok and deep-fry the kofta briefly, then remove and drain excess oil on paper towels.

To finish: Place the kofta into a clean wok, add the gravy and cook till the gravy is thick. Dish out and garnish with cream and coriander leaves, and serve hot, with rice or roti.

PALAK PANEER

Serves 2

250g spinach, washed

A pinch baking soda

3 tbsp oil

¾ cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped tomatoes

2 green chillies, chopped

Salt, to taste

100g paneer cubes

1 tbsp light cream

Boil the spinach with a pinch of baking soda till lighly cooked. Once boiled, drain the water and allow to cool.

Blend into a paste and set aside.

Heat oil in a wok, and add in the chopped ingredients, stirring. Cook until slightly browned and season to taste. Stir in the spinach.

Remove from heat, and stir in the paneer cubes. Pour cream on top as a garnish.

Lastly, garnish with cream and paneer. Serve hot.

Sukhdi - YAP CHEE HONG/THE STAR

SUKHDI

Serves 4-6

½ cup ghee

1 cup plain flour

½ cup grated jaggery or palm sugar (or to taste)

¼ tsp green cardamom powder

1 tbsp ginger powder

1 cup acacia gum (gum arabic)

5 almonds, finely chopped

Place a pan over low heat and pour almost all the ghee into it. Use the rest to brush a baking tray.

Melt the ghee and fry the acacia gum crystals till they puff up, then scoop out and set aside.

Add the wheat flour into the pan and roast till golden brown, over low heat, until fragrant. When the ghee separates from the flour, remove from heat.

Mix the jaggery, cardamom and ginger powders, and acacia gum into the roasted flour. Press the mix into the tray brushed with ghee, spreading evenly.

Spread chopped almonds over it, and press down with a spoon.

Allow to cool, then cut into diamond shapes when firm.

Coconut ladoo - YAP CHEE HONG/THE STAR

COCONUT LADOO

Makes 8

4 cardamom pods

2 star anise

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tsp ghee

1 fresh coconut, grated

100g milk powder

100g natural brown sugar

Powdered desiccated coconut, for coating

In a wok, cook the spices with the ghee, stirring until fragrant. Add coconut, and cook until browned. Add milk powder and sugar, and cook to a sticky consistency. Remove from heat and allow to cool, then roll into small balls. Roll these in the desiccated coconut powder.


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