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Lakshman Sagar, Rajasthan 2‘Welcome to Lakshman Sagar greeted the well mannered, soft spoken and affable manager of the resort, Tejinder {aka Teji} as we alight from the car that drives us into the resort. Welcome to Lakshman Sagar where all you have to do is nothing. The words stayed in my head through our stay. They rang so true and make you want to celebrate all that they could possibly mean, and more!Lakshman Sagar, RajasthanNothing quite prepares you for the luxury and peace of Lakshman Sagar. Nothing at all. It caught me by surprise, a place I have been putting off visiting for over a year. Now I can’t wait to get back there again!! That’s just how good the resort is, the team that delivers their concept of “slow Living” like it should be. And the concept comes with oodles of down to earth luxury. Not rose tinted, not high heeled in any way. It’s down to earth good, and just the way I like love it. {Warning: Long post with loads of images}

Cookout Indian Railways It begins with the ease of getting to the resort. A 15 minute drive to Gurgaon station got us to the Ajmer Shatabdi which came on the dot on time. I wish Indian Railways was cleaner and the food was leaps better, but well that’s another story. Off at Ajmer, into the waiting car, it was a smooth, pleasant and quick hour and a half drive to the resort. The highway is amazing, possibly the best stretch of highways in India that I have driven along.Lakshman Sagar Getting there was a breeze, and to welcome us was the most refreshing nimbu paani presented most beautifully in true Sewara style. That hospitality stayed through the visit, never wavering, never faltering, truly endearing.

Golden Hour, Cottage, Lakshman SagarAt the fringe of the Badlands of India, Lakshman Sagar was built in the late 19th century as a hunting lodge by the then Thakur of Raipur, Lakshman Singh Ji to host other noble families and British emissaries. As a continuation of the hospitality and traditions of the House of Raipur; Sewara has envisioned a getaway much like Thakur Lakshman Singh Ji, though with a conservationist view of the heritage and surroundings.Lakshman Sagar The first thing that catch your attention are two heritage buildings standing tall to welcome you. The Zanana (women) quarters and Mardana (men) quarters, designed historically for the ladies and men respectively, offer hints to Rajput culture and traditional customs like pardah or reflecting the grandeur of mehfils & baithak. Seeped in history, every corner of Lakshman Sagar depicts the nuances of hunting holidays during the days of the Raj. From the machans used for tiger spotting to the man-made lake to attract game, great care has been taken to restore the priceless heritage.Lakshman Sagar, RaipurThe re-conceptualization of Lakshman Sagar is manifested through the endless detailing in the architecture & design, the cuisine, and the well-thought of activities & non-activities tailored personally for the guests in a captivating natural topography, ideal for mindless relaxation. Things that impressed – bespoke services, local and sustainable processes, loads of thought in everything on site, a team effort, very knowledgeable staff. Also that the furniture, coasters, ash trays etc are all made in house.Lakshman Sagar, RaipurAs Teji walked us around the beautifully maintained 32 acre property, I could not help but marvel at the attention to detail . Keeping local traditions in mind, 12 mud cottages dot the property, each delightfully designed and each offering the privacy you would never expect. One step into our cottage and I knew instantly what makes Lakshman Sagar so special. That the interiors use only locally sourced products, be it the stone walls or the rock cut basin in the washrooms, the rock cut pool individual pool outside each room, to bottles for water, copper glasses for water, oil cans, native linen, bric a brac from Rajasthan, the list is endless.

Lakshman Sagar, RaipurThe 12 cottages have been meticulously planned and conceptualized with assistance from the vanguards of sustainable design – architects, Vasant & Revathi Kamat and designer  duo Sahil & Sarthak. Merging Rajasthani design with eco sensibility,the twelve 900 sq ft mud and stone cottages, supplement the Mardana and Zanana and invoke an experience both private and symbiotic with nature. Such a phenomenal job, one that you have to see to believe.

Sunset, Lakshman Sagar, RajasthanJust being there for 2 days was a life changing experience. Being in touch with nature, doing nothing that requires you to hurry, a complete bespoke experience. The high point of out first evening, the sun downer that is best seen for the rooftop of the Zanana. Where else can you get such a beautiful birds eye view of peacocks readying to fly back ‘home’ to a 300 year old banyan tree. It was fascinating to see them line up in their tens to literally go to a take off point, and fly the distance just before sun set. All this while enjoying the most delicious coffee, namakpaaraas and shakarpaaras that hit a nostalgic childhood note. The connect of the good old days is very alive.

Sunset, Lakshman Sagar Evening are lazily spent around a well lit bonfire just as it begins to get dark. The first night by the catchment was spent pretty much brushing up our star gazing skills with Teji sharing his infinite knowledge and we following one constellation to another. They do have a telescope up at the Zanana too, but it was unserviceable at the time. That didn’t matter as the night was clear and the stars shone bright! The other thing that shone bright was the food. Never ending goodness of local cuisine appeared at every course. Around the bonfire we enjoyed makki ke pappad, chicken and spinach pakoras with finger liking good chutneys, hari and imli ki chutney.

Lakshman Sagar Just as we thought we couldn’t eat more, it was time for dinner. At Lakshman Sagar, the chefs take great pride in doing salads too, with everything locally sourced and beautifully plated.The vegetables are all sourced from their organic farm around the corner. Chutneys and achaars are a quintessential part of local Rajasthani cuisine, and there are more combinations than you can imagine. We had a different selection at every meal.  Sunrise, Lakshman Sagar, RaipurCrisp fresh linen and possibly the biggest bed I have ever seen, ensured a sound restful sleep, only to be woken up by the calls of peacocks the next morning.

Sunrise & Peacocks, Lakshman SagarNot sure whether it is more fascination to see peacocks at sundown or at dusk and sunrise, yet we had all times of day leisurely covered. Just as first light hit the horizon, the peacocks flew back one by one from the tree to the hillside across the catchment, each calling the next. It was like the march of peacocks, and then they settled over this side for the day.

Lakshman Sagar

Peacock feathers, Lakshman SagarAnd if there are so many peacocks, can feathers be far behind? The daughter collected hundreds of feathers from across the property much to her glee. Nothing to do suited her just fine! She had a go at the potters wheel, also at fishing though she didn’t catch a single fish! We were told that you either need a ton of patience OR luck to catch one.

Lakshman SagarBefore fathers and fishing, there was breakfast. It was delightful to put it mildly. I love the luxury of bespoke vacations. Eat when you like and what you like; also if need be, where you like! Everything is delivered with ease, efficiency and huge smiles. No one’s in a hurry, the pace is leisurely, which also means that you end up eating a lot. The good thing about slow living is that you walk a lot too, to burn it off.Breakfast at Lakshman SagarBreakfast day 1 was something like this – Fresh orange juice, maize dalia, googri {overnight soaked and cooked wheat kernels and horsegram}, sapota/cheeku jam, gum berry jam, fresh fruit, gur/jaggery, boora, honey, achaar, masala omelet, fire roasted tomato. Nothing refined or processed. Pertinently, every member of staff knows every ingredient, every dish, the origins as well as the recipe. That was quite intriguing!

Potters Wheel, Lakshman SagarPost the potters wheel and idling away angling, we languished by our pool back in the room for a bit.

Angling, Lakshman SagarIt was difficult to put the camera down. I wish I had a lens for wildlife photography. My kit lens wasn’t the best for this, but we caught a few antelopes / neelgai by the waterhole, tried to catch the turtles in the catchment pool, and a few ducks too.

Neelgai, Lakshman Sagar

Birds, Lakshman sagarWhat the camera couldn’t capture, the mind certainly did. Birds we saw included the lapwing, spotted owl, kingfisher, egret, dove, green pigeon, comorant, wagtail, parrot, tern, swallow, heron, sunbird, babbler, robin, bulbul, wagtail, waterhen, starling, bee eater, koel and ducks of every kind. You can go bird watching and spot up to 150 different species. Dyal Singh, Teji’s deputy, is like a bird encyclopedia!

Lunch, Lakshman SagarAmazingly it was time to eat again! Lunch was simple yet lavish – moongori sabzi, spring onion, methi aloo, a feta beet salad {the basil flavoured feta was locally made & divine}, sesame/til chutney, garlic chutney, mixed veg pickle,  pomegranate raita, masoor dal, jowar roti, coriander pulao. Everything was freshly prepared and bursting with flavour.  Ended with a chefs special sweet, ghewar, again a quintessential part of local cuisine.Definitely no entry. Door, Raipur villageIt’s always fun to drop by the local marketplace/business district to get a feel of any city, to discover it’s essence. Dyal Singh, was sweet enough to drive us there, stopping first at the local spice market. Since chilies were the only spice in season and being voraciously traded, that’s all the eye could see. Local spice market, RaipurWhat a splendid sight, made even better by a flock of sheep that came along. More entertainment. I’d never have thought that sheep eat chilies. They do, by the mouthfuls!! Sheep tales, Spice Market, Lakshman Sagar, RaipurAnd they appeared to enjoy the mouthfuls they grabbed, until they were herded away.

Sheep tales, Spice Market, Lakshman Sagar, RaipurWe took a quick trip down to the local village in Raipur. It had the quintessential closeness of a small town feel as we walked through the narrow single lane market, much like a high street. The colours, the sights, the sounds, local language all fascinate.Raipur village The shops were an eclectic mix of odds and ends. Who would expect a cold pressed sesame oil being milled freshly, a gun maker, a show maker and such shops rubbing shoulders along the street. Not much to shop here rather to my disappointment, actually nothing at all! Yet the walk through was quite an experience, a market held within two old city gates.Raipur villageAlso within the gates was the privately owned Raipur Fort, one of the few such heritage sites that has royalty in residence. It’s a beautiful property but clearly in need of restoration as the unoccupied parts have fallen to ruins.Raipur Fort, Raipur, RajasthanBuilt in true traditional Rajasthani architecture, you can see remnants of royal days gone by, replete with jharokas, a sheesh mahal, domes, arches, stained glass and a beautiful stone courtyard. I believe they are looking to restore this portion to offer it as a heritage hotel in the region.

Raipur Fort, Raipur, RajasthanAlso at the property was the sweet black royal filly Raj Rani who was quite pleased to have company. She was the sweetest little horse ever, nibbling away at my wrists and nuzzling my hands. Cacophony added to the otherwise peaceful surroundings with two geese cackling away quite loudly, clearly alarmed by our sudden appearance! I jumped off Dyal Singhs jeep to shoot a gypsy camp enroute too.Gypsy camp enroute to Lakshman SagarWe were soon on our away back to Lakshman Sagar to be greeted by a fragrant refreshing saffron basil cooler, AND fresh fish that had just been caught {much to the daughters horror who swore never to angle again!}. The fish was part of dinner served that night, but that wasn’t all.Lakshman Sagar That evening saw more of what this beautiful resort offers. A qawwali by local musicians resonated through the night, touching our souls and offering the best of Rajasthani soul music. Rustic, deep throated and vibrant music echoed across the  resort, as we headed for a live cooking class led by Teji and his master chef! It’s a great way to get close to local cuisine and see first hand what Indian cooking offers. There were guests from the UK as well, and they were clearly enjoyed the mogri beans, and rabdi pasta being stirred up. These dishes would soon be served up for dinner!Lakshman SagarWhile the remaining of dinner was being cooked in the kitchen, we sat around the well lit beautiful bonfire, enjoying starters. On the menu was a bbq chicken and tandoori cauliflower {gobhi} served with delicious chutneys again. Also rice papad. Dinner a short while later included haldi matar sabzi, dal, mogri, fish curry, rabdi pasta, and a pulao.  Dessert was an earthy rustic atta jaggery halwa which was delicious to say the least!

Field breakfast, Lakshman SagarBeen a busy time since we got here to do nothing. This nothing got better and better. The next morning was to offer yet another highlight of our stay, a field breakfast.

Fresh buttermilk, Field Breakfast, Lakshman Sagar Nothing prepares you for a peep into the local culture and lifestyle, and it was well managed by the team. It’s worth the 2 km walk across the rugged rocky terrain which lies just outside the property. What a pleasant morning it was!

Field Breakfast, Lakshman SagarThe neatly laid tables and machans that greet you, the residents of the rural farm making fresh flatbread and buttermilk, tamatar ki chutney that’s just come off the fire, all make for quite a memorable experience.Field Breakfast, Lakshman Sagar 3For me, also fascinating are home fires, traditional cooking methods, rural lifestyle that is hard to experience first hand and the ambiance of a local farm. To experience their lifestyle at such close quarters was another high-point of our visit. Sheep, goats, cows, puppies, birds, a 60ft well, fields of wheat and barley …Field Breakfast, Lakshman Sagar Makai and aata flatbeads/roti, fresh homemade sweet butter, freshly churned buttermilk, choorma, masala chai and orange juice made for the most delicious breakfast at the farm. A relaxed walk back, an early lunch {yes food again}, and it was time to leave. We were warmly bid adieu by Teji, Dyal Singh and the team with a traditional serving of gur and dahi for a safe journey.Lakshman SagarWith so much goodness packed into a rather productive weekend dong practically nothing, I know I’ll be back sooner or later. This is one glimpse of India that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime with Sewara. Down to earth, rustic yet luxurious goodness that was amazing!

Lakshman Sagar

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SPRING @ Radisson Blu Dwarka “Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.”
Ruth Reichl

Recently I spent a day at the Radisson Blu Dwarka to shoot a little for their all day dining restaurant ‘Spring‘. At Spring, lazy Sundays are made special with a lavish ‘Champagne Brunch’ carefully crafted by celebrity chef Rakesh Sethi and his team. Diners can experience a sumptuous spread complimented with an unlimited service of Champagne or soft beverage of choice. It was my first visit to the 217 room property and I was in for a pleasant surprise.

SPRING @ Radisson Blu Dwarka The Radisson Blu Dwarka, a bustling property in the heart of Dwarka, is situated in the capitals largest green residential area, strategically located a 15 minutes’ drive from Indira Gandhi international and domestic airport. All ten floors offer a panoramic view of the city on one side and a beautifully done atrium lobby on the other. For food connoisseurs, the hotel offers a range of dining and entertainment experience at the restaurants including: Spring – an all-day-dining restaurant; Rice – the Oriental restaurant ; Dvar – the gateway to India which offers contemporary interpretations of traditional Indian cuisines by Celebrity Chef Rakesh Sethi; Zeppelin the contemporary lounge bar and Atrium the pastry & confectionary store.

SPRING @ Radisson Blu Dwarka Sundays are made special at Spring, where they promise something for every taste from Pan-Asian to Indian Classics and Western cuisine. They assure that you’ll never have to settle down for anything less than a freshly made meal served from the live buffet counters or from the lavish menu of sorts available at the reataurant. ‘Tis the moment for Champagne indulgence!

SPRING @ Radisson Blu Dwarka

SPRING @ Radisson Blu Dwarka Located on the lobby level, Spring has a contemporary look and feel where dining is more of an experience rather than just a sumptuous indulgence. The pristine white interior of the place is flushed with natural light filtering through stylish floor to ceiling glass windows. Offering fresh and innovative food concepts, with dishes cooked à la minute by chefs in each of the five interactive kitchens, the restaurant promises to deliver food straight from the pan to the plate.SPRING @ Radisson Blu Dwarka Lazy Sunday afternoons might never be the same again!
For reservations, please call + 88608 09900

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Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti “Make half your grains whole grains.”

Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti … a nice way to feed the blog in the new year, a tad late perhaps. Life has been a bit of a whiz, things that happen often least expected, yet as they say, life goes on. Every time I thought I’d post on the blog, something new happened. Then I suddenly discovered a shop in the neighbourhood selling locally sourced buckwheat groats. Pretty mundane and boring for most of the world, yet almost a mini celebration for me.Buckwheat groats Buckwheat groats are gluten free seeds from a plant related to rhubarb. The outer husk is pulled away and the grain-like fruit is harvested and eaten. Buckwheat is very nutritious, making it popular in many nations across the globe. Buckwheat provides complete protein, including all the essential amino acids. These soft white seeds have a mild flavor, but when toasted or roasted, they have a delightfully intense flavor. Groats can be steam-cooked like rice for salads and side dishes or ground in your own mill into fresh flour. The robust flavor of this quick-cooking gluten free grain is perfect for salads, soups and cereal. Use buckwheat groats in any recipe that calls for whole grains.

buckwheat groatsFood connects are strange! These heart shaped seeds had me mesmerized. I still remember my fascination with this pseudo cereal when our Ukrainian friend fed them to our 6 month old daughter every morning in Moscow way back in 1996. She always talked about how good they were as cereal, how they had been brought up on them etc.  I’d heard a load about them, read a bit about them, often wondered if I should order them online, yet laziness got the better of me. Then the day I saw them on the shelf, they were mine in a heartbeat. I was so excited, so raced home to first get a close look at them babies! Chocolate buckwheat groats biscottiRather lost at sea with my new ingredient,  it was back to the google gods for help. I soaked some overnight and thought I’d do a salad with them. Left them to drain the next morning, and was making a batch of biscotti, and then thought why not? Why ever not can I steal some groats into my biscotti, and that’s just how this Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti came to be. The biscotti turned out to be quite good if I may say so myself. Attracted a lot of interest from a very curious dog too!

Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti A few days earlier, in the first week of January, I was contacted by the the local TEDx team here inviting me to host a TED talk. Did catch me by surprise, and it took me a bit to figure out if I was good enough for TED. Well eventually after much nervous mulling over I said yes  and got together  a small talk. Deeba Rajpal TEDxFor the uninitiated, the TEDx Program is designed to help communities, organizations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences. TEDx was created in the spirit of TED’s mission, “ideas worth spreading.”

Be local, stay seasonalMy talk was in a light vein touching upon my graduation from refined foods to whole foods, briefly touching upon my journey from college to food blogging, recipe development and food styling. The mainstay of the conversation was of course to rethink what’s on our plate, and try and look beyond foods with no nutrition and empty calories. Not the words of a food researcher or historian, just ideas from someone who enjoys getting good healthy fresh food on the table.

Just desserts, wholefoodsThe audience was great, so enthusiastic and appreciative, that I think most of the nervousness melted away! I think they did hear me out to the very end, as my last slide mentioned this biscotti, and that I was carrying some in my bag just in case someone wanted a nibble. Sure enough, once I left the auditorium, there was a line of kids from the audience outside. One sweet lad hesitatingly asked, “Ma’am, you said you had biscotti in your bag. Do you?”

Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti The rest, as they say, was history! The same evening I received a mail from a smart  bespectacled young lady from the audience, praising the biscotti, discussing recipes, and asking for advise! My closing line at the talk was meant to be “If you can inspire even one, you have left a mark in this world.”. I think I missed the line out there as the talk was extempore, but here it is anyway! I guess I left a mark!

Recipe: Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti your picture

Summary: Crisp, chocolaty, satisfying and wholegrain, this Chocolate buckwheat groats biscotti is healthy delicious. Keep it on hand for a quick nibble! Makes approximately 30 cookies.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour plus resting time
Ingredients:

  • 150g wholewheat flour
  • 50g oats
  • 60g buckwheat groats, soaked overnight, drained
  • 75g dark chocolate, melted
  • 50g unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 75g brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 15g yogurt
  • 50g butterscotch chips or chocolate chips
  • 15g brown sugar for topping

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Lightly grease a heavy duty cookie sheet, or line with parchment.
  2. Stir together the wholewheat flour, oats and groats in a bowl. Reserve.
  3. Place the melted chocolate, butter, sugar, egg, vanilla extract, baking powder and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk until mixed. Add the dry mix and mix on low speed until it all comes together. Add the yogurt if required. {The biscotti dough is meant to be quite firm}
  4. Stir in the butterscotch/chocolate chips, or walnuts if you like.
  5. Bring the dough together with your hands, divide into 2 and shape into logs.
  6. Transfer to prepared tray, spritz gently with water, and sprinkle over with brown sugar.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes until the logs are firm to touch.
  8. Take out from oven, and reduce the temperature to 160C.
  9. Slice the logs thinly, about 1/2″ slices, and lay flat on the cookie tray.
  10. Return to the oven and bake for another 25-30 minutes until firm. {return to the oven if they feel a little soft. Biscotti should be firm and dry}
  11. Cool completely on cookie rack, then store in an airtight box.

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