A chocolate dessert with eggplants? Cauliflower panna cotta? “Ugh”? Unpalatable they may sound, but chefs are serious about marrying vegetables and desserts. So set aside what you know about eating the veggies first, and get ready to enjoy them last, too.
Chefs across the globe are happily taking the bold step of twisting the dessert platter with a vegetable ingredient. They are using eggplants in place of apples and pears in pies and cobblers, avocado to add richness to ice creams and mousse, and even eggplant and chocolate combinations to delight their guests with unique, fresh and trendy desserts.
They feel there’s a market for savoury dessert experiences. Says Chef Sujan of Olive Bar & Kitchen, Delhi, “There are foodies who are exploring this kind of dessert and also there is another category of diners who stumble upon it and are greatly surprised. For them, it’s an accident waiting to happen.”
Are diners responding? “Yes,” says Chef Vincent Marques of Jehan Numa Palace, Bhopal. Vincent delights traditionalists and risk-takers alike with a Butternut Pumpkin, Basil and Chocolate Chip Muffin. He says, “A balance of more innovative desserts with traditional favourites like brownie is a smart way to let first-timers take a bite.” He admits there are secrets to ease more cautious customers into the trend.
“Sometimes it is better to introduce the vegetable as part of a garnish instead of the main component. This way, guests who might not be very adventurous will still consider trying it,” adds Vincent.
In Goa, at The Lalit Golf & Spa Resort, Chef Subhamoy Chatterjee serves a Smoked Chilly Cucumber and Avocado Mousse. “Whenever we strike this dessert off the menu, we get disappointed looks from diners,” says the chef who has pepped up his dish with interesting elements. There is sugar, cheese, chilli flakes and tequila. He mixes avocado puree, cucumber puree and smoked chilli with mascarpone cheese and then folds with the sabayon (cooked egg yolk). He adds tequila to the mixture later with whipped cream. The mixture is served chilled in a short glass.
Traditional to seasonal
Traditionally, vegetables have appeared regularly as desserts in Indian cuisine. Remember lauki kheer, beetroot halwa, jimikand (yam) halwa, even mirchi ka halwa, but yes it is only recently that the trend of amalgamating vegetables to make new age desserts has developed.
Chefs take their cues from fresh, seasonal produce and simply pick a flavour or ingredient and run with it.
Rajiv Sinha, Executive Sous Chef at The Claridges wanted to do something with carrots, along the lines of carrot halwa. To prepare his Carrot and Ricotta with Chocolate Gateaux, he cooks carrots with ricotta, layers it in a baking tray and top it up with a chocolate cake batter. Then serve it with clotted cream.
Also at Claridges they have introduced tomato marmalade served with the right cheeses and beetroot ice creams which are a hit.
Combine traditional techniques with seasonal bounty, and the result is a fantastic blend of new and old. “I think it’s just a desire to incorporate something you love into a dish,” says Chef Aldo Zilli. “For example, beetroot is my favourite vegetable. It is a great source of Vitamin C, has a beautiful earthy flavour and pairs beautifully with panna cotta. So I take great pride in offering my Beetroot and Orange Pannacotta,” he smiles.
Likewise, Chef Sujan is always excited about his popular Caramelized Turnip Tarte Tatin. He explains, “Tarte Tatin is an upside down French tart traditionally made of apple. Instead of apple, I have used turnip which is cooked in orange juice and cinnamon and then cooked same as tarte tatin and served with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream. Turnip absorbs the orange flavour while retaining its crunchy texture after cooking.”
Will the trend be hot?
Yes, of course, scream the chefs in unison. They are already seeing a preference for desserts that are out of the ordinary and healthy to boot. But more awareness is definitely needed.
As Chef Vincent says, “Sometimes, the only challenge is getting the guest, especially kids, to forget that the dessert includes a vegetable. Once they get past that, and actually try the dish, their minds do get changed – and often they ask for more.”
As vegetables are versatile in appearance and add a whole new dimension to the flavour, they appeal to those not afraid to try new textural and flavour combinations, pushing the boundaries of traditional dessert flavours.
If you think vegetable-based desserts are the flights of fancy of daydreaming chefs, think again. They are actually rock-solid, traditional combinations which are making a comeback.