For the Punjabis, food is all about celebration - and few know
this better than celebrity chef Harpal Singh
Sokhi, who brings this philosophy into the kitchen with his
hugely popular television show, "Turban Tadka." Sokhi is a
household name across the Subcontinent for his energy in front of
the camera (his signature expression "namak shamak" - a reminder to
viewers to salt their dishes - is akin to a culinary national
anthem), his belief that cooking should be a pleasure, and his
expertise in a number of regional Indian cuisines, including the
food of Punjab.
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi is an
expert in Punjabi fare © Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi
Unbeknownst to many, most Western diners likely had their first
encounters with Punjabi cuisine at their local Indian restaurants -
staples like butter chicken, tandoori chicken and naan all have
Aloo Paratha is a classic
Punjabi dish © Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi
In restaurants, the dishes are typically prepared with a rich
cashew and tomato gravy and loaded with butter, while Punjabi home
cooking tends to be lighter and varies according to the season.
Home cooking staples include paneer methi bhurji
(scrambled cottage cheese and fenugreek), which is served with a
dollop of clarified butter but no cream. Gajar matar
vadiya (lentil dumplings with carrots and peas) is a
"beautiful, healthy dish that doesn't usually feature in
restaurants," but is more traditionally consumed at home.
This beetroot and amley ki
tikkiyaan is an example of Punjabi cooking's lighter side © Chef
Harpal Singh Sokhi
But whether you're dining out or eating in, it's important to
know that Punjabi food isn't usually "spicy hot" - instead, it's
richly flavoured thanks to its blend of aromatic spices. As part of
the cuisine's seasonality, ginger is consumed widely in the winter
in order to warm the body, while, in the summer, dishes are lighter
and designed to keep the body hydrated.
Though proper spicing is important in Punjabi cooking, textures
and flavours of ingredients should not be masked by the spices,
Sokhi insists. With baingan ka bharta (mashed aubergine),
the smoky flavour of the aubergine should be discernible, while in
sarson ka saag (stewed mustard greens), the clarified
butter used helps to heighten the flavour of the greens.
Gajar ka halwa: a carrot dessert
popular in the winter months © Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi
If you're on a quest to try authentic Punjabi cuisine during
your next trip to India, Amritsar is the place to begin. Chef
Harpal Singh Sokhi recommends both Kulcha Land (famed for its flatbreads) and Kesar Da Dhaba
(whose thalis offer the ability to sample a number of dishes).
Elsewhere, Lucky Dhaba in Jalandhar and Amrik Sukhdev
Dhaba and Kake Da Hotel in Delhi are also excellent stops
for Punjabi cuisine.
With all the cooking for his show and restaurants, does Sokhi
still cook at home? Chef Harpal's father cooked mutton curry every
Sunday and made pickle for the family, and now the chef's "creative
cooking" is in demand with his daughters.
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi has
inspired millions of people to cook © Chef Harpal Singh
This love for cooking and discovering new ingredients is his
legacy. "I want to bring more people into the kitchen and more
chefs to the profession. I want people to echo the national food
anthem 'namak shamak'", he concludes with a laugh.