Eco Local Guide

From India, with Love

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By Stacey Morris
Contributing Writer



GLENS FALLS - It's a Friday evening and Red Fox Bookstore is in the midst of hosting what is probably one of its more fragrant book signings.   Celebrated chef, cookbook author, and restaurateur Suvir Saran is on hand not only to sign copies of "Indian Home Cooking" and "American Masala," but to encourage customers to sample the fruits of his recipe collections.

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At one end of the store is a table laden with Indian and Indian-inspired dishes from his books: Tamarind-Glazed Meatloaf, Better-
Than-Ketchup Tomato Chutney, Raita (a yogurt-herb dip), Three-Cheese Spinach Dip, Shrimp Poha Paella, and Spiced Pear Chutney. The colorful spread was prepared by Glens Falls caterer Sally Longo, who is also the host of the television program "Dinner at 8" on North News 8.

As smitten customers fill their paper plates, Saran chats animatedly with them about the rudimentary principals of Indian cuisine, which he says should be very clean tasting and leave one feeling nourished both physically and mentally.
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"Suvir is an alchemist in the kitchen," said Longo with a smile. "His recipes make Indian influences relevant to the dishes I cook every day. I own thousands of cookbooks and when I buy a new one, I'll read the whole thing and try out three recipes. If none of them strikes me as a "keeper", that's as far as I go," she said. "So far, I have prepared seven recipes from "American Masala," and have truly loved them all. I would never have considered serving meat loaf to company, but Suvir's Tamarind-Glazed Meat Loaf changed that."

Longo's effusiveness is precisely the reason Saran opened Devi (pronounced day-vee), his pan-Indian restaurant in Manhattan. He describes authentic Indian cuisine as "an exploration in the art of eating in a manner that enriches mind, body and soul."

"Good Indian food does not give heartburn; instead, it leaves you sated and inspired," said Saran. "Indian restaurant fare in the U.S. has mostly been very mediocre and has done great disservice to the amazingly magical cuisine of India. It's sad that many people think that Chicken Tikka Masala, the cream-laden awful Kurmas, and the poorly prepared Vindaloos are the length and breadth of Indian cuisine. India is inhabited by over 1 billion people who speak over 18 languages, represent every religion known to man, and are of many different ethnic backgrounds. How then could the foods of these greatly diverse people be confined to any one stereotype?"

When he's not overseeing operations at Devi, Saran travels the country as a speaker and consultant, sharing his philosophies on nutrition, the importance of eating local, and the (often appalling) state of his adopted country's eating habits.

On weekends and during other stretches of downtime, Saran joins his partner, Charlie Burd, at their American Masala Farm in Washington County.

The 70-acre acre spread is home to a sizeable flock of Heritage chickens, as well as Guinea Hens and a few Alpacas. While Saran tends to out-of- town business, Burd manages the farm, which includes the meticulous feeding of the chickens (he routinely transports steaming bowls of homemade vegetable broth out to the coops).

Presently, Burd and Saran supply the Saratoga Springs restaurant Max London's with fresh eggs, as well as individuals who stop by their farm to purchase them.

Their other collaboration is the American Masala Collection, the line of cook and tableware he and Burd have designed which includes ceramic cutting knives, mortar and pestles, trivets and serving platters.

Burd said that the ceramic knives have extremely sharp edges, second only to a diamond, and come in five sizes, each with ergonomically designed rubber handles. "They're razor sharp and unlike metal, don't have to be sharpened," he said. "The knives excellent for vegetables, meats, and bread. And the rubber grip has a guard that curves down so your finger doesn't touch the blade."

Since many of Saran's recipes call for the blending whole seeds, herbs, and spices, he reinvented the pestle prototype by creating his to have a wide, circular base (as opposed to the traditional Billy club-shape) in order to trap the ingredients easily in the mortar.
 
Longo, for one, is sold.  "With an ordinary pestle, you have to chase the spices all around," she explained. "I didn't have to do that this time because of the heaviness and width of this one. It's intelligent design. That's what I like about Suvir's line; he doesn't just sell his name to something, he designs it."
American Masala Sets
Burd and Saran chose the Dorset, Vt.-based J.K. Adams Co. for exclusive U.S. distribution of the line, which also includes ceramic trivets and elegant serving platters.

"The trivets are inspired from the look of the Taj Mahal," said Burd. "The solid cream colors are reminiscent of its color. And we coated them with glaze so they look perpetually new."

The American Masala Collection is available at the J.K. Adams retail store, online at www.jkadams.com and also at Sterling & Company in Glens Falls.

But Saran and Burd also have other plans on the horizon.  In support of the local food movement, they hope to soon begin making artisan cheeses and other products.

"We have a barn and milking facility at the farm," said Burd. "And we're debating whether to do production on the farm or at an off-site location, which would expand our options."

Burd said that with an offsite production facility, other dairy farmers could participate and the product line could expand from cheeses to include jams, chutneys, and other condiments.

"Charlie and I would love whatever we end up creating as our production center to become an entity that not only is our passion, but is one for the community in general," said Saran. "It is our hope that we can employ locals, and make them partners in the business. We want the production to be connected to the farm, to be part of our local community, and to have the interest of the community at heart."

For information about Suvir Saran's cookbooks, the American Masala Collection, Devi, or Saran's upcoming appearances, visit www.suvir.com

Photo credits - Antonio Ruiz

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