Chef Naina Bhedwar
Naina Bhedwar is a self-taught Chef whose passion for food and cooking began when she was barely knee high, in the kitchens of her mother and grandmothers, two of the best cooks she knows to date!
Hailing from two distinct and vibrant Indian communities, the Parsis (originally of Persia) and the Punjabis of India’s North, Naina has had the further privilege of living in all four corners of India as well as abroad in Australia, the UK and now, Atlanta. Each home brought with it new and delicious culinary and cultural experiences, allowing a faceted and multilayered love of all things edible to emerge and take a steadfast hold.
Kesar Kitchen, LLC (Kesar is the Hindi term for Saffron ~ Naina’s favored spice) offers exciting and interesting ways to present the endlessly varied and incredibly interesting food of India. Naina is now diversifying her repertoire to include some Persian/Iranian dishes, as a salute to her ancestry, as well as other cuisines from the Near East.
Kesar is the Hindi term for the spice Saffron. Known as one of the world's most expensive spices, saffron is hand harvested harvested and dried from the 3 stigma of the crocus flower. The color and flavor are concentrated in beautiful vermillion stigmas; it takes hundreds of flowers to produce a commercially usable amount.
The culinary uses of saffron are many and varied. It's most often seen in the dishes of Persia and South Asia, especially rice based dishes like Persian Polo and many types of Indian Biryani preparations. The esoteric threads of this spice are also cooked with in Italy (Risotto a la Milanese & Golden Ham of San Gimignano), France (bouillabaise), Spain (Paella) and Greece (Kozani chicken).
Chef Naina's most useful discovery has been in the treatment or preparation of saffron for use in a dish, especially if it is rice based. A small (6 or 8-inch ideally) mortar and pestle, used to crush the saffron, allows both the color and flavor of this precious spice to truly be maximized. Given the price paid for it, this seems only right to use the spice cleverly and in a way that allows every bit of flavor to be extracted! Accompanying the threads in the mortar should be a very small amount (about 1/4 teaspoon) of something abrasive, such as sugar or salt, which helps to break the saffron down more easily. Sometimes, if the threads are fresher and still a little moist, very lighly drying them out in a hot, dry pan or in a microwave for 20-30 seconds can be a helpful additional step. Chef then adds a hot liquid, be it milk, broth or water, directly to the bowl of the mortar which the crushed saffron is in, allowing it to steep until those golden hues are released, ready to be used in the in the intended dish. Ground saffron can also be brewed with crushed ice.
As recounted by a Persian friend, most Persian households keep a well sealed bottle of infused saffron-water in their refrigerators, ready to use at a moment's notice. It can be delightful to spot individual threads of saffron in a dish too so if this effect is desired then a few whole threads can always be added during the cooking process.
Chef Naina's love of this incredible spice took hold in the early years of her cooking and grew exponentially during her time living in London. Her weekly Persian meal (huge shout out here to Colbeh Restaurant of London here!) allowed her to explore the subtleties of saffron through plate after plate of bejewelled rice polos and khoresh (stews). It awoke in her a curiosity that, to date, has only grown and deepened as the incredibly colorful and flavorful world of spices continues to reveal and teach her, day by day and dish by dish.