APRIL is a bustling time in Punjab. As an agricultural region, it marks the start of the rabi harvest where winter crops are reaped and the sound of combine harvesters fills the air, which becomes thick with the scent of cut crops and hazy with dust kicked up by the frenetic activity. A successful growing season determines the whole year for many Punjabis and a bountiful harvest is cause for region-wide celebrations.
Fresh from its one-star Michelin debut, New Punjab Club unveils a new collection of vibrant and colorful dishes for the warmer months. Guests are invited to escape the sticky heat with an array of fresh and cooling sharing plates, utilizing the best of the new season’s ingredients.
Punjab is known as the region’s "breadbasket." Fertile soils and mineral-rich waters from the Himalayan mountains provide the ideal conditions for growing rice and wheat. During the warm, wet monsoon season, fruits and berries grow wildly on the bountiful bushes and trees, the rivers fill with plump fish and large game animals run wild over the hills.
The new dishes celebrate this seasonal abundance while remaining true to the traditional Punjabi flavors that have garnered a fervently loyal following for the tandoor grill house, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Hong Kong.
Executive Chef Palash Mitra is particularly excited about Tandoori Venison (HK$468), tandoor-roasted Australian venison, from Mandagery Creek, New South Wales. Marinated in fennel seeds and chartreuse liqueur to help it stand the intense temperatures of the tandoor, it is then roasted until charred on the outside and juicy and pink on the inside.
With the season just about to begin, the tender meat is at its best. In the Punjab region, game-hunting has remained a regal activity and this savory dish is served with Channa Salad and green chili chutney, made with ingredients like Kabuli chickpeas and sprouted mung beans that hunters would have carried with them.
Inspired by the simple bank-side cooking of the fishermen who cast their nets each day within the five great rivers of Punjab, Kadai Machli (HK$268) highlights grouper, which is ideal in holding up to the intense heat of the smoky tandoor ovens and robust spices of this light summery curry. Heat takes a back seat to fragrant spring herbs and acidity from lemon juice.
A heralding of the new season sees street vendors in Lahore swapping out their ubiquitous ember-grilled corn from winter in favor of light, bright fruit chaat. The roadside carts found outside every school, every theatre and mosque become a riot of color from the seasonal fruits displayed and for Punjabis, this small street-side transformation truly marks that spring has sprung. A vibrant representation of the season, New Punjab Club’s version of Fruit Chaat (HK$128) is a refreshing fruit salad, lightly spiced with cumin and pepper and dressed with tamarind yoghurt, lemon and salt.
The best of the day’s market fruit is combined with immaculate Japanese strawberries, honeydew melon, and Indian custard apples. Pakistani mulberries are also in season, and the striking black morsels are the star of the show, providing a sweet-sour pop of juicy flavor to complete the dish.
New to the Salaad section is Mooli Salaad (HK$68), made with crunchy radishes, turnips and hot-sour mango pickle, and Tamatar Aur Kheera Salaad (HK$78), highlighting juicy beef tomatoes and greenhouse-grown local cucumbers.
Showcasing the best vegetables of the season is Baingan Bhartha (HK$148), tandoor-roasted aubergine with ginger, Bhindi Masala (HK$148) -- slow-cooked okra flavored with fresh turmeric and cumin -- and Saag Paneer (HK$208), a dish of wilted spinach cooked with soft cheese and garlic. Dal Makhani (HK$148) is a moreish bowl of smoked lentils spiced with fenugreek, ideal for dipping into with a buttery, tandoor-roasted naan.
South Asian cuisine expert, Palash Mitra reveals the inspiration behind the new menu, “We want to showcase the best of what is coming out of the ground and off the bushes right now. Like any agricultural region, Punjabis eat in harmony with the seasons. But don’t worry, the lamb chops aren’t going anywhere.”
Punjab is at 34 Wyndham Street Central, Hong Kong. Email email@example.com for restaurant reservations.
Follow me on Twitter @missheiding, Instagram @missheiding, website at www.sunstar.com.ph.