Simran Dhanju, a self-taught Indian home chef in Muscat, has excelled in varied cuisines by trial and error simply because she has her heart and soul in good food. She has now embarked on sharing her unique culinary skills for foodies in Oman via varied social media channels.
“Food, for me, is amn expression of love and care to reach the hearts of people when you cook and create something to feed them. I believe, food is an international language which has the incredible ability to bring people together. With us Indians and Arabs, food is ingrained in our cultures and the best way we express our love and affection for our loved ones is through food,” said Simran when we visited her home at the PDO residential complex for a first hand experience of her culinary prowess. “It’s all about sitting around the table and sharing the meal with your family and friends and connecting with them over a delightful dish.”
Simran, who believes that cooking is a valuable life skill that teaches one many facets about nutrition, honed the art of cooking and baking over the years by trying out various recipes and experimenting with ingredients and modern culinary techniques in her own kitchen.
“My kitchen is my studio where I experiment and test new ideas, and I love to translate that vision through my recipes. My mum has been my biggest inspiration which helped me shape my perspective on food immensely,” she said.
Traveling has always been part of Simran’s food journey and it helped her groom her love for food. “As a child, I travelled all over India because of my Dad’s job, and was exposed to diverse food cultures where I would adapt those new recipes from neighbours and recreate the flavours at home. Cooking turned from a hobby to a passion when I moved to Australia. I couldn’t get enough of all the new ingredients and cultures I was introduced to.”
Oman, however, is where Simran’s culinary journey took a professional turn as she won numerous awards, including the StarChef award from celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
Having started out as a food blogger, Simran has subsequently written food
columns and developed numerous recipes for her website (ww.simranskitchen.com). She is now also into food styling and photography with various brands and clients professionally.
“Last year during the lockdown, it was an interesting time for me to explore further and tap into the intrinsic value of creatively representing my love for food through the professional lens; and presenting it to the world through my Instagram page @simranskitchenoman. I wanted those who would never taste my food to be able to enjoy it through their eyes,” she asserted. Through her YouTube videos, she has also been attemptng to showase the rich culture of Oman by highlighting markets and local produce as a source for creating scrumptious dishes with ingredients available locally. (See:
About fusion cuisine, which is one of her key interests, Simran said, “My recipes are not confined to one region, they are an interpretation of modern and traditional recipes that are influenced and enriched by different cultures. At it’s core, my focus has always been to cook nutritional food, and infuse modernity into traditional dishes.”
Asparagus Chicken Roulades with Cremini Mushroom Sauce
For the roulades
3 small chicken breast fillets
24 asparagus stems (thin and small size)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp oil
For the filling:
100g ricotta cheese
1tbsp spreadable cream cheese
2tbsp, finely grated Parmesan cheese
5-6 dried juniper berries – pounded
1/2tbsp fresh oregano – chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the mushroom sauce:
150g cremini mushrooms – sliced
2tbsp cooking oil
2 cloves garlic – chopped
2 sprigs fresh oregano
1 cup cooking cream
½ cup chicken stock
¼ cup milk
½ cup Parmesan cheese – grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Wash the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper towel. Slice it in half from the fat end to make two thin breasts. Pound the breasts with a mallet until thin and wide but not bruised.
In a small bowl, mix all the filling ingredients. Divide and spread evenly on the chicken breasts. Then, place 3-4 asparagus stems across the width of each pounded breast and roll it down to make roulades. Season them with salt and pepper. Then, in a wide pan, heat 2tbsp oil and placeroulades, open side down. Pan sear and cook on all sides. Remove and set aside.
To make the sauce, in the same pan, add butter and oil, add oregano sprigs and garlic. Once butter is melted, add mushrooms, and sauté on high heat until roasted and slightly golden in colour. Add cream, chicken stock, milk and cheese. Stir to mix and just heat through. If sauce is bit thick add little more milk or stock to adjust the consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
To serve, place the mushroom sauce in a platter, place the roulades on top and enjoy with salad or rice.
For the crust
6-8 small sheets of filo dough
115g butter – melted
1 cups pistachios
1 cup walnuts
Pinch of salt
1tsp cinnamon powder
1tsp rose water
For the cheesecake
2 cups cream cheese – at room temperature
1/3 cup honey
2 large eggs
1 ¼tsp vanilla essence
¾ tsp lemon juice
1/3tsp lemon zest
For the topping
½ cup honey
¼ cup water
1tsp rose water
¼ tsp cinnamon powder
¼ cup pistachios – chopped
¼ cup walnuts – chopped
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 tbsp fresh pomegranate seeds
Prepare a 7 inch x 2.5 inch springform pan. Line with parchment between the base plate and the form. Grease with baking spray or butter and set aside. Brush a filo dough sheet with melted butter and fold in half lengthwise. Carefully place into the lined springform with an inch of pastry sticking out from the edges of pan. Brush the second sheet, fold in half and place on the sheet in pan, overlapping halfway. Repeat with other sheets until the pan is completely covered with filo dough. Set in fridge while you make the crust.
In a food processor, roughly grind pistachios and walnuts to a coarse texture (like sand). Pour in remaining melted butter (3tbsp) cinnamon powder, rose water, salt and mix to combine. Drop this mixture into the bottom of the filo lined pan and press firmly. Set aside in the refrigerator.
Now, preheat the oven to 170° C fan forced. Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Add honey and mix for a minute. Add in eggs (one at a time) and beat until combined. Add vanilla, lemon juice and zest. Do not over mix the batter. Pour over prepared crust and level it. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes until cheesecake is set and slightly wobbly in the centre. Remove from oven and let it cool for an hour. Set in fridge for 4 hours or overnight to chill completely.
For the topping, in a small saucepan, combine honey, water, lemon zest and ½tsp lemon juice. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 5-7 minutes until slightly thick. Add cinnamon, walnuts, pistachios and rose water. Heat for another two minutes on medium high and leave to cool at room temperature.
Once cheesecake has set and cooled, remove springform pan and place it on the cake stand. Top with pistachio walnut topping, pomegranate, rosemary sprigs and serve. Cake will keep upto 5 days in refrigerator.