There’s almost nothing that a warm cup of cappuccino can’t fix — grogginess, hangover or a foul mood. It works even better when milk, caffeine and sugar in the cup are replaced with asparagus puree, garnished with tender asparagus and a generous drop of truffle. For one, this non-fussy cup — more of a soup in nature — set the mood for a gourmet afternoon at the Taj Mahal Palace’s Shamiana. Its gentle kick of flavours was also the perfect start to a culinary experience at the recently concluded Asparagus Festival .
This seasonal festival is nearly a decade old and its timing is well thought-out. According to Grand Executive Chef Hemant Oberoi, the prime season for asparagus is between April and June, and the flavour improves as the weather warms up. “Since the seasonal delicacy is at its best at this time of the year, we introduced this initiative at Shamiana, The Zodiac Grill and Wasabi, bringing forth menus with special recipes and preparations,” he said. The hotel imported the freshest asparagus from Holland and Peru for the festival.
What the chefs plated up next was Asparagus Pomelo, a tangerine salad with a honey yogurt drizzle. This was followed by a Baked Asparagus Hollandaise to complete the round of appetisers. While the former was fresh and light, the latter had a bundle of asparagus, the top ends baked with cheese and egg. In both the dishes, the vegetable was fresh and crunchy. “Considering that asparagus is a delicate ingredient, we had to ensure that its subtle flavour was maintained to its fullest,” said Oberoi.
Though asparagus can be paired with just about anything, the trick is to keep it simple and allow its flavours to bloom. Guided by this culinary philosophy, the main course, too, was designed with dishes retaining their crunchiness and texture in all the preparations — be it Asparagus Chicken a la Kiev; Paprika Rubbed Fish, which was a combination of seared scallop, asparagus and pesto orzo; or Asparagus Paella made with edamame, kalamata and bell peppers. The two dishes that emerged as personal favourites were Pizza Fritta that had a thin, baked crust with asparagus and Parmesan shavings as toppings, and Asparagus Pelmeni that combined the flavour of this vegetable with that of truffle. Other dishes on the menu were Prosciutto Wrapped, Asparagus Etuvee and White Asparagus Karin Tou, Purple Passion Cheesecake and Green Asparagus Ice Cream.
Each year, the hotel introduces a new specially crafted menu for the festival. What inspires Oberoi to get back to this ingredient every year? “Its gentle flavour and its inexplicable capability of adding its very own character to any dish is what I love about asparagus,” said Oberoi.