Since I had this lovely dinner at the OKO, Lalit Ashok, Bangalore, with their Stones and Malts festival, I was left intrigued by this wonderful style of cooking. I wanted to find out all that I could about the features of Himalayan Salt Block and the Ayurvedic Spice Rubs used.
I set my time up with Chef Mayank Istwal, the Executive Sous Chef at The Lalit Ashok, Bangalore. With over 8 years of experience as a Chef, he specializes in Italian, European, Mexican and Indian Cuisine. He took to cooking at an early age, and now it is a profession he loves. He credits his love for cooking to his Grandmother. His technique of cooking uses her cherished and unique recipes in his dishes. We spoke of the importance of cooking with Himalayan Salt Block. And how it’s used on a regular basis to cook back in his home town. He is proud of some of the in houses sauces and recipes he help prepare for OKO.
Chef Mayank, has trained over a dozen or more chefs within the hotel and across the hotel chain of the Lalit Group. He considers this an accomplishment, as he has now shared his best kept secrets of cooking on the Himalayan Salt Blocks as well as using hs special ayurvedic spice rubs. This style of cooking will be used in two of their top fine dining restaurants of Lalit Ashok in Bangalore – Baluchi and Oko. He has mastered this art and style of cooking. He gave me an introduction to the ayurvedic spices. Apart from the taste, these spices are healthy. As they are made of natural ingredients like dried flowers, berries and ayurvedic herbs.
Here is a little tete-a-tete, more so 60 minutes with Chef Mayank Istwal
SKD – How did the idea of using salt blocks at the OKO, Lalit come about and , and what exactly are you using it for?
Mayank – I grew up eating and cooking on these salt blocks. We cook different meats ,fish and vegetables. I had experimented this creative cooking whilst working in Australia. These salt blocks have health benefits. I wanted Bangalore to experience this first hand. These bricks come from my neighboring city and country. The Salt Range in Khewra in Pakistan that’s located about 190 miles (310 km) from the Himalayas, 160 miles (260 km) from Lahore, and 185 miles (298 km) from Amritsar, India.
SKD – Is there any particular kind of salt block that you prefer to use? If yes, why?
Mayank – Most of these crystals have an off-white/ transparent color, while some have a reddish tinge or pink color. All these are good to use but the best one is reddish tinge or pink for cooking as it contains more minerals.
SKD – How does one use the salt block for cooking. Can it get exposed to heat direct like on a stove top or does one have to be place it on another pan?
Mayank – These salt blocks can get placed on direct heat. It is better to place them in the stainless steel casing and then kept on the grill or stove. This helps to handle the blocks with ease, due to excessive heat it can break easy. The casings ensure the stones get used more than once.
SKD – Also, does the food have to get prepped a certain way?
Mayank – The process of cooking is simple. The bricks need moderate heat for at least 30-40 minutes. This heat can cook the meat, fish or vegetables quick,without adding any salt on it. The food will soak up the salt from the bricks.
SKD – How does it affect the food cooked on it? Is the end result different from grilling food on a BBQ or pan?
Mayank – The end result of cooking is healthier. As there is no oil or salt added. The quality of meat or fish is better than grilling from BBQ or pan. It remains more succulent and gains minerals. Stone block cooking doesn’t impart char on the food. You are consuming less of carbon compared to charcoal and other grills.
SKD – I believe there are health benefits associated with cooking with these salt slabs. Could you throw some light on this?
Mayank – There are many health benefits of these bricks as one gets 84 nutrients that our body has. Among these minerals are: calcium, sodium chloride, magnesium, potassium and sulfate. The benefits are as follows –
- Support respiratory function and healthy lungs
- Promote good sleeping patterns
- Blood circulation & Reduce blood pressure
- Improves vascular health
- Prevent muscle cramps & Improve bone strength
- Reduce signs of aging
SKD – Do’s and don’ts when it comes to cooking on salt blocks?
Do’s – A little bit of oil can be added during marination of the meat or fish, before cooking. Also the salt bricks should be in the SS(stainless steel) casing while heating them on the stove or grills.
Don’ts – never use excessive oil as it may lead to fire when the oil drips from the sides of the bricks on the stove or grill. Also never use salt on the food items as it may lead to double salting as food will get the salt from the Salt bricks
SKD – Apart from grilling food on it, how else can one use these salt blocks in the kitchen?
Mayank – It has different applications as it can be used for cold salads as well as serving the salads on the cold bricks. When you cool the bricks in the refrigerator, there is this moisture that mixes with the salt from the bricks and the salads gets a distinct flavor. My favorite is serving ice-cream, by dipping the salt bricks in liquid nitrogen. The guests love this one.
SKD – Where is the hotel sourcing these blocks from? Are they hard to find and how expensive is it?
Mayank – We are sourcing it from a supplier in Delhi. It is a bit hard to find as there are few suppliers in Delhi from where you get these bricks from. It is a bit expensive as one block will cost you Rs 5,500 approx. but at the same time you get lots of minerals that’s the advantage. So it worth the buy.
SKD – Could you enlighten us with the ayurvedic spice rubs you use?
Mayank – Ayurveda, is over 5,000 year old and has been used in India. It was the first introduced art of ‘personalized cooking’. In fact, it went a step further by demonstrating how not only what you eat makes a difference but how it is prepared. Based on the understanding of unique Vata (Ether), Pitta (Fire) and Kapha (Water) that form the elements in the human body. The Ayurvedic spice rubs encompass dishes made with such combination, and precision, thereby aid in imparting required minerals required by the human body.
SKD – What kind of feedback have you got from guests with regard to the food prepared on these blocks? Can they tell the difference?
Mayank – We have got amazing feedback from the guest , as they are loving this new stone grill technique and the kind of nutrients and minerals they get makes them demand for more of it. They always says that there is no char compared to charcoal or other BBQ stuff and it’s the healthy way of having a barbecue.
UNIQUE FEATURES OF THE STONE COOKING
The stones used are Himalayan pink salt bricks and lava stone. It is a Culinary Theater, you get to watch as the chef prepares the food in the spices as per choice. The heat from the stone and the salt ensure minimal time cooking, natural and rustic. Again, the highlight of flavors comes from the homemade ‘Ayurvedic spice rubs. I had all my senses awakened.
I leave you with a bit of history and how these stones came to existence.
Roughly 200 million years ago, there were several crystallize salt beds that were engulfed in lava. Since ͢͢they are covered in such a pristine environment that is surrounded by ice and snow, the salt beds weren’t exposed to modern day pollution making the Himalayan salt the purest form of salt known to man.
Hope you liked the write up, have you cooked on a Salt block before? Would love to hear via your comments.
About The Lalit Ashok, Bangalore – This is one of the finest luxury hotels in the city that is spread across 10 acres of sprawling landscaped. The hotel is known for its fine and contemporary dining. With a elegant interiors, and spruced with modern amenities, this hotel has redefined luxury. It is the first hotel in South India to be accredited with ISO 22000 standards. To know more “Click Here.”
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**Disclaimer: Even though the Chef had provided most of the details, some of the views expressed are my own.