Surrey's Vaisakhi parade is coming up this weekend, and one thing that's sure to be at the centre of everyone's attention is the food.
One of the most prominent - and loved - aspects of the Vaisakhi parade is the tradition of celebrating the harvest through the giving away of food to attendees.
Participants are treated to a wide range of free food items, prepared by hundreds of local citizens and distributed without charge to those along the parade route.
To learn about the flavours of Vaisakhi, I enlisted the expertise of master chef Rick Takhar, who taught me how to make two well-known Indian goodies: samosas and jalebi. (See end of story for recipes.)
Takhar has owned the award-winning Ashiana Tandoori in Vancouver for 30 years.
In 2011, the restaurant won silver in the reader's choice category of the Georgia Straight Golden Plate Awards.
Takhar has recently made the move to Surrey - mainly, he said, because he's heard a demand from his customers in Surrey.
Ashiana Restaurant & Sweets in Surrey has a sweets bar, as well as a sit-down dining room for Takhar's finer cuisine.
While he's been cooking in his own kitchen for three decades, Takhar's background in cuisine began when he worked in his uncle's restaurant in England when he was 16 years old.
In 1980, he opened the first Ashiana in Vancouver, a 40-seat restaurant at the time, which expanded in 1992 to a larger, more upscale restaurant.
Along the way, Takhar said, he has never compromised the restaurant's original roots, providing traditional, authentic and healthy Indian cuisine.
Takhar doesn't cook with clarified butter, which is commonly found in Indian food.
Instead, he cooks with vegetable oil, he said, which makes his food much cleaner and healthier.
He also said the fresh herbs and spices prevalent in Indian food are full of medicinal properties.
He pointed to turmeric, which acts as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and many studies say the spice helps fight Alzheimer's disease.
Cardamom helps fight infections, he said, and ginger is good for treating indigestion, colds and flus. And chilies are a powerful heart stimulant and are rich in vitamin C.
After a lesson in the health aspects of Indian food, Takhar invited me into his kitchen to teach me how to make two well-known foods often found at Vaisakhi celebrations: samosas and jalebi.
First, he showed me how to make samosas, which are stuffed, deep-fried snacks filled with potatoes, spices and whatever else one desires.
Takhar's samosa filling was a mixture of potatoes, peas and spices, such as cumin seeds, ginger and green coriander leaves.
He had the dough ready to go, which had been rolled into small balls.
We rolled out a piece of dough into a circle, and cut it in half, then wet the edges with water. Next, we pressed the left and right edges together to form a cone shape. He warned me to press firmly to seal the edges, or the filling could escape in the frying process.
Once that was done, we spooned filling into the coneshaped dough just over half way, leaving space at the top to seal the edges. Then we pressed the top edges together firmly, again ensuring there were no openings for filling to escape from during frying.
Then, it was simply a matter of frying the samosas in oil, at 300F, until brown.
Sadly, for me, I don't have a deep fryer at home, but Takhar said the samosas turn out great if you use Filo pastry at home - which allows for the treats to be baked in an oven.
Then it was time to taste - nothing like a fresh samosa!
Later, Takhar showed me how to make jalebi, a sweet Indian treat orange in colour, which resembles a honeycomb. No Indian festival is complete without jalebi, he said, adding that it's not the healthiest of treats, but said that once in a while, it's OK to indulge.
The batter, made of flour, baking powder, yogurt and sugar, is put into a cloth bag with a hole in the bottom. The hole is used to squeeze the batter into oil, in a continuous figure-eight motion.
Trust me -it's quite the art. One of the sweets chefs demonstrated the motion for me, but mine turned out to be a sad comparison to his. Practise makes perfect, I guess.
The batter then stays in the oil, which is at about 300F, until it has browned.
The candy is then picked up and transferred into a syrup, which is made by combining one kilo of sugar with two litres of water, cooked until sticky.
After frying in the oil, the jalebi is dipped in the sugar for a few minutes, and then broken into smaller pieces if it hasn't already broken apart in the cooking process.
I have to admit, I am not usually a fan of Indian sweets, but these were delicious! Maybe it's because Takhar makes them quite a bit thinner than I've tried in the past, or maybe it's because they were so fresh. Whatever the reason, the jalebi made me question by preference for Indian desserts.
Ashiana Restaurant and Sweet Shop is located at #2008072 120th St., Surrey.
300 grams of white flour
3 tsp. vegetable oil
Additional oil for deep frying
5 cups potatoes
1 2/3 cup green peas
3tbsp. vegetable oil
1 3/4 tsp. cumin seeds
2 tbsp. chopped ginger
1/4 cup green coriander leaves
1 tsp. red chili powder (or to taste) (may also use green chili)
3 tbsp. pomegranate seed powder (optional)
2 tbsp. garam masala (optional)
Salt to taste
The Dough: Mix flour, salt and oil well. Add water, little by little, so it stays semi hard. Cover and set aside. Roll into 8" balls and cut in half. NOTE: As an alternative to this dough - and deep frying - you can use Filo pastry and simply stuff and bake the samosas.
The Filling: Boil potatoes. Heat the pan, then add oil and cumin seeds. When seeds crackle, add ginger. After 30 seconds add peas. Cook on low heat and add potatoes. Sprinkle chili powder, coriander, pomegranate seed powder and mix well. When the filling is ready, roll the dough out into a circle, and cut in half. Wet the edges with water and make a cone by pressing the left and right edges together. Press edges firmly to seal. Add the filling, leaving 1/2 inch from the top of the cone. Seal the top of the cone, pressing firmly to ensure none of the filling is able to escape. Let the samosas dry a little and then fry in hot oil. (Or bake if you've chosen Filo pastry!)
2 cups white flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup yogurt
1 cup sugar
2 drops orange food color
Vegetable oil for deep frying
Water for mixing
Mix the flour, baking powder and yogurt into a pancake-like batter and put aside for four to 12 hours to ferment.
Pour batter into a bottle, pastry tube or a cloth with a little hole.
To make the syrup: Melt the sugar in water and boil to get a one-thread consistency. To check for one-thread consistency, carefully dip the tip of your index finger into the syrup, touch your finger and thumb together and gently tease apart. If one thread is formed between your finger and thumb the syrup is done.
To prepare the oil: Heat the oil in deep pan. Drop a small amount of batter into the oil. If it sizzles and rises to the top of the oil, the oil is hot enough. Keep medium heat.
To make the jalebi: Hold the batter dispenser over the hot oil and squeeze the batter into the oil into wiggly, randomly coiled circles, several at a time.
Fry until light golden and then remove and put into the sugar syrup.
Allow to soak for two to three minutes, then remove and enjoy!