Episode 5 Food Network Star
The crunch heard around the table!
We are officially at the halfway mark on the show. I can hardly believe it as I’m typing this blog. Last week’s mentor challenge was one of the first times in the competition where I truly drew a blank when the mentors challenged us to get creative from the new movie Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. They asked us to create a unique summer dish inspired by one of the characters in the movie. I’ve never heard of the movie, let alone identify with one of the characters. Crickets! Then, I recall seeing Blobby (aka Steve) he's a blob of green, Jell-O like monster. His body is made up of gelatinous rings. This was a summer challenge and Blobby wants to watch his figure, so in a moment of desperation, I quickly ran to grab him. Little did I know that Jess was gunning for Blobby too!
I decided to make curry infused shrimp, tossed with a green blobby sauce topped with charred corn and mango salsa. Like I said, I was lacking inspiration at this point. I considered so many other summer dishes, but I couldn’t think of any personal connection to anything. It’s important to point out that my approach on Food Network Star is all about my personal stories that are tied to my culinary point of view, not just coming up with dishes that I just want to cook. My intent was to show how personal experiences had shaped my cooking. The green sauce is a staple on my summer menu. It’s a bright, flavorful and simple concoction made with scallions, mint, cilantro, ginger, chilies, and lime. I hesitated from using my signature bold flavors as I've been told they were a bit overpowering. What’s also not shown in this episode is the amount of time it took me to peel and de-vein the shrimp! Almost 15 minutes out of the 30 allotted for the challenge. We had to demo to a camera and do another minute-long presentation. In my head, I kept thinking, "whatever you do, don’t make this a PowerPoint presentation!"
Now for judging! I was surprised and delighted to see Fran Drescher, who played the voice of one of the characters in Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation, with Bobby and Giada to evaluate our dishes and videos. And of course, she brought her charm with her signature laugh (yes, it’s real). When I moved from India, I watched The Nanny with my sister, so this was very nostalgic. Unfortunately, the judges, including Fran, were not impressed with my presentation and dish. I’m not surprised, in fact, I agreed with some of their comments. Frankly, I had very little connection to that dish or character, and it showed.
Bobby introduced us to the star challenge – shoot a proof of concept video for a would-be cooking show in another head-to-head showdown against one of the others. The choices were: Ooey Gooey, Stacked Snacks, and Cheat Day Eats. We each had to cook a dish that fit our respective show title, then do a 3-minute proof of concept video, demoing a cooking tip. Thanks to her earlier win, Amy got to assign the groups and the category. She picked Cheat Eats and went up against Manny. Amy assigned Christian and I Stacked Snacks, making this the fourth time (if you’re counting) that we’ve cooked together or against each other. Jess and Katie got Ooey Gooey; secretly I was wishing to get this category. I’ve been dying to play with chocolate this entire competition.
Now for Stacked Snacks, I immediately thought of making samosas that are stacked together. Samosas are an Indian version of empanadas with a crunchy outer shell, stuffed with seasoned potatoes and I served it with lip-smacking apple butter, tamarind chutney (think: Indian BBQ sauce). It’s my mom’s recipe and I swear they are the BEST version I’ve ever had.
At home, it takes us almost a day to make these little treats but, with only 30 minutes, I made some modifications like using wonton wrappers. I admit I struggled to get food on the plate this challenge. It was a nightmare to handle and peel hot potatoes, not to mention the time it takes to individually stuff and fry each one to perfection. It’s important to season the potatoes while they are hot so the salt absorbs into the flesh. And finally, my tip on achieving the famous crunch heard around the table? Double Fry! At the end of the cook, somehow I managed to pull through.
This presentation was fun for me, but admittedly I wanted to do better than Christian. I just couldn’t land in the bottom going against him again. I managed to be relaxed and in my element the entire time! I told stories about how making samosas is a huge family tradition. I grew up in a traditional Indian family but desperately wanted to be anything but Indian. When I was a high school, I shied away from sharing my family's traditional meals, including samosas that are a staple in our household. Our tradition is to create an assembly line amongst the six of us to churn out dozens of samosas. This was the perfect dish for my proof of concept. It’s a very personal and relatable story. I won the judges over even before tasting with the crunch of my golden fried samosas. Loni Love said, “I was a natural”. Giada finally said “the potatoes are seasoned well” and my idol Alex Guarnaschelli called me a “stackable snack” on national TV. I was jumping for joy and replayed that clip at least a dozen times. I kept thinking to myself why couldn’t I do that earlier in the competition?
Side note: I’ve cooked for not one, but two Iron Chefs (Bobby and Alex) multiple times in my life. It’s definitely a moment I’ll treasure for years to come.
Amy, Jess, and Christian landed at the bottom and Jess was sent home. She’s incredibly polished and elegant with describing food. It’s always tough to see the people you spend almost 14-16 hours a day go home. Never easy!
Shrimp & Lettuce Cups
1 bunch scallion
1 bunch cilantro
1 small clove garlic
2 limes, juiced
½ inch ginger
1 serano chili
2 tablespoon water
2 tablespoon oil
Kosher salt to taste
Process all ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth. Add additional salt or lemon juice, if desired. Cover and chill until ready to use.
For the lettuce wraps:
1 bunch curry leaves
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 lb medium shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 tablespoons lime juice
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup medium red onion, small dice
1 head butter lettuce, leaves washed and dried
4 ears corn, roasted & kernels removed
1 serano pepper, finely chopped
1 mango, diced
Kosher salt to taste
- In a bowl, add ½ tablespoon lime juice, 1 tablespoon cilantro, cumin, garlic powder and salt and oil over shrimp. Toss to coat. Marinate for 10 minutes.
- In a medium skillet, heat 2 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add curry leaves and shrimp, cook until golden and opaque, about 2 – 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Add remaining oil, add sliced onions and cook for a minute, until fragrant. Return cooked shrimp back to the pan and add remaining lime juice and chopped cilantro.
- Toss shrimp with green blobby sauce and mix well.
- In a small bowl, add corn, mango, serrano pepper, lime juice and cilantro with salt. Mix well.
- Assemble lettuce wraps by placing a spoonful of shrimp into the center of each leaf. Top with avocado or your favorite toppings.
For samosa dough
2 cups AP plain flour (preferably organic)
¼ canola or grapeseed oil
¼ cup water (+ 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon salt
Note: use wonton wrappers for a quicker version.
Potato filling for samosa
4 large potatoes or 8 small potatoes (yields approximately 5 cups)
½ cup green peas
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garma masala
2 green chilies, chopped
2 tablespoon amchur powder or dry mango powder (or 1 lemon juiced)
½ cup cilantro chopped
Kosher salt to taste
For samosa dough
- Mix together flour, oil, and cumin and salt together. Rub the flour well in between the palms to incorporate the oil well.
- Add water little by little and mix the flour to dough kneading lightly. Cover and set aside until the filling is ready.
- Boil potatoes just until done. Mash lightly; do not break them up completely. Season with salt and set aside.
- In a bowl, add potatoes, oil, green chilies, cayenne pepper, garam masala, amchur, and salt.
- Add cilantro and peas leaves and mix well. Set this aside to cool.
How to make samosa
- Lightly knead the dough to smoothen a bit. Make 4 to 5 portions of the dough and roll toballs. Cover the dough.
- Grease the rolling area and then flatten a ball.
- Begin to roll into an oval shape.
- Cut down the center to form two half moons. If the edges are too thick, gently roll it to thin down.
- Smear water over the straight edge. Join the edges to make a cone. Press gently to seal the cone.
- Add filling, careful not to overstuff. Seal the top edge tightly.
- Fry at 350 degrees until golden brown.
2 cups water
2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
1/2 cup apple butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 lemon juiced
Kosher salt to taste
Heat water over medium-high heat until just boiling. Add in tamarind concentrate and stir until completely incorporated. Add apple butter, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and cayenne. Stir until sugar and salt are completely dissolved.