Indian Australian chef Jessi Singh takes New York by Storm – Dani Valent

Indian Australian chef Jessi Singh takes New York by Storm

The Melbourne restaurant taking New York by storm

Babu ji

Australian restaurateurs Jessi and Jennifer Singh have turned their minor Melbourne hit into a smashing success in New York City.

Indian-born chef Jessi Singh, his Brooklyn-born wife Jennifer, and their two small daughters moved from Melbourne to New York in December 2014. They opened Babu Ji NYC in May, designing, painting and furnishing the small East Village shop themselves, cramming in 50 seats and a help-yourself beer fridge, hoping that the style of fresh, freewheeling Indian cuisine they developed in Melbourne would find an audience in New York.

“We had three quiet days,” says Jessi Singh. Then Adam Platt, the critic from New York magazine arrived. He enjoyed Singh’s goat curry with blackberries, the hung yoghurt kebab and the potato croquettes in pineapple sauce. “He tweeted about it and that was it,” says Singh. “We had a line down the street the next night and no quiet days since.”

Other write-ups followed: the New York Times and Wall Street Journal blessed the restaurant, taste-making website The Infatuationnamed the little eatery the city’s best new restaurant for 2015, the New Yorker enthused about the Indian-Chinese cauliflower and restaurant guide Zagat declared the gol gappa, a spherical one-bite street snack, one of the best things it had eaten in 2015. “We were stoked,” says Singh.

However, more than any of the accolades and attention, it was during the recent late January blizzard that Babu Ji NYC’s success really sunk in. “The whole city shut down,” says Singh. “Cars were off the road. There were no buses, no taxis, no trains. But we had a line in front of the restaurant and an hour wait for a table. In a blizzard. We couldn’t believe it.”

The Singhs owned two Indian restaurants in Melbourne – Horn Please in Fitzroy North and Babu Ji in St Kilda – which they sold to their staff when they left. These places (and their first one, Dhaba at the Mill, in Kyneton) were well-loved and earned solid reviews but no-one would suggest that they took the city by storm. “We were busy, we were happy, we were just doing our own thing but we wonder about the difference in how our food was received,” says Singh. “Indian food hasn’t made it that big in Australia – same with Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian and African. Maybe people take it for granted, they just think of it as a local curry house. In New York, they have big respect for all different cuisines.”

Respect doesn’t necessarily mean New York has great food. “There are so many bad restaurants here,” says Singh. “There are 15 million people on this tiny island every day. No matter how bad you are, you don’t need a repeat customer so everybody can still make money.” Singh thinks the runaway success of Babu Ji NYC is in large part thanks to the schooling Melbourne gave him. “Melbourne is a great foodie city with very high standards,” he says. “I always tell people that a hole in the wall in Melbourne can beat any restaurant in New York. We thought, if we can make it in Melbourne, we can make it anywhere.”

This story first appeared in The Age, February 8, 2016.

Read my 2013 profile of Jessi Singh.

Papdi Chaat

Papdi Chaat

Think of these Papdi like Indian nachos, except fresher, simpler and zestier! It’s important to assemble just before serving so the papdi stay nice and crisp.

Ingredients

  • 200 grams cooked chickpeas (1 x 400 gram tin)
  • 300 grams kipfler potatoes, peeled and cut in 1cm dice
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 Lebanese (small) cucumber, diced
  • ½ red onion, finely diced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • salt and pepper. to taste
  • 250 grams packet papdi wafers (see Tips)

Yoghurt Dressing:

  • 80 grams Greek yoghurt
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • ¼ tsp sugar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Tamarind Dressing

  • 200 grams tamarind paste
  • ½ cup boiling water
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp chilli powder, or to taste

Garnish

  • fresh coriander
  • pomegranate seeds
  • fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

Method

  1. In salted, boiling water, cook the potatoes until tender. In a Thermomix, place potatoes in steamer basket, 700 grams water in mixing bowl, and cook for 20 min/Varoma/speed 2, or until tender. Drain and set aside. When cool, toss with chickpeas, tomato, cucumber, onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Chill.
  2. For the yoghurt dressing, mix together the yoghurt, lemon juice and sugar and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. For the tamarind dressing, mix tamarind paste in hot water with honey and chilli powder. Rub the sauce through a sieve to remove any seeds and fibres. Let cool. Leftover dressing is a nice dipping sauce with fried food and can be added to salad dressings.
  4. Just before serving, line serving platter with papdi. Top with chickpea salad. Drizzle with yoghurt and tamarind dressings. Top with ginger, coriander and pomegranate seeds.

Tips

– papdi are crispy wafers found at Indian groceries. If you can’t find them, you could use small pappadams or even white corn chips.

Roasted Aloo Gobi

Roasted Aloo Gobi

I first encountered Indian-born chef Jessi Singh in Melbourne, where he started the popular Horn Please and Babu Ji restaurants, popularising light, fresh contemporary Indian food. In 2014, he moved to the US with his American wife Jennifer and their two daughters, taking the Babu Ji brand to New York and then San Francisco and Santa Monica. And then, in 2018, having conquered the US, he returned to Australia.

Ingredients

  • 1 large head cauliflower (approx. 1.5 kg), cut into medium florets
  • 650 grams kipfler potato, peeled and cubed same size as cauliflower florets
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 60 grams vegetable oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • thumb-sized piece ginger, peeled & finely chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, diced
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp cumin powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • fresh chilli or chilli powder to taste
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries or sultanas
  • salt, to taste

Garnish

  • yoghurt
  • coriander sprigs
  • figs, cut into wedges
  • ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • pine nuts, toasted

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC.
  2. In a large saucepan, bring salted water to a boil. Add cauliflower, potato and turmeric. Cook until just tender and drain.
  3. In a frying pan, heat oil over medium heat, add onion, garlic, ginger and salt. Saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add tomato, garam masala, cumin, coriander and chilli. Cook 3-5 more minutes. If needed, add a few teaspoons of water, bit by bit, to create a paste.
  4. Toast the pine nuts in a dry pan, stirring constantly over medium heat.
  5. In a large bowl, fold the paste through the potato and cauliflower until the vegetables are coated. Add salt, cranberries (or sultanas) and pine nuts. Coat a roasting pan with oil and add vegetables.
  6. Roast in oven until slightly charred, about 15 minutes
  7. Serve topped with a spoon of yoghurt, fig wedges, sprigs of coriander, toasted pine nuts and julienned ginger.

Coconut Fish Curry

Coconut Fish Curry

Ingredients

  • 80 grams vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 whole dried red chillies
  • 10 curry leaves, fresh or dried
  • salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 litre coconut milk
  • 4 rockling fillets (approx. 900g)
  • fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
  • fresh coriander, to serve

Method

Traditional Method

  1. In a frying pan, heat half the oil over a low flame, add the mustard and cumin seeds, and wait until they start to pop. Add the dried chillies, seeds removed to reduce heat if desired. Cook for about 2 minutes.
  2. Add curry leaves, salt, turmeric, garam masala and sugar. Stir and cook for 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk to this paste and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the sauce is hot. Pan fry the fish in a clean pan in the remaining oil before adding to the curry. Garnish with ginger and coriander.

Thermomix Method

  1. Place 4o grams oil in mixing bowl and heat 2 min/Varoma/speed 2.
  2. Add mustard and cumin seeds and cook 2 min/Varoma/speed 2.
  3. Add the dried chillies, seeds removed to reduce heat if desired. Cook for a further 2 min/Varoma/speed 2.
  4. Add curry leaves, salt, turmeric, garam masala and sugar. Cook for 2 min/Varoma/speed 2.
  5. Add coconut milk to mixing bowl. Place fish in Varoma tray add set in place. Cook for 10 min/Varoma/speed 2 or until fish is just cooked.
  6. Place fish in serving dish or on individual plates and cover with curry sauce. Garnish with ginger and coriander.

Cardamom Pistachio Kulfi

Cardamom Pistachio Kulfi

Ingredients

  • 1 litre milk
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • ½ tsp cardamom powder
  • 250 grams unsalted pistachio nuts
  • 250 grams thickened cream

Traditional Method

  1. In a saucepan, gently simmer the milk over a low heat until it has reduced by half. Stir frequently to prevent the milk sticking to the pan or forming a skin. This takes about 1 hour. Let cool, where it will continue to thicken. (As an alternative, use 500 ml tinned condensed milk and skip the simmering stage.)
  2. Blend all ingredients.
  3. Fill icypole moulds and freeze.

Thermomix Method

  1. Gently simmer milk for 45 min/98 deg/speed 2 or until reduced by half. Keep an eye on it to ensure it doesn’t spill over; if it looks like it will, remove MC and turn speed up to 4 until it settles. Let cool, where it will continue to thicken. (As an alternative, use 500ml of canned condensed milk and skip the simmering stage.)
  2. Add other ingredients and blend 30 sec/speed 9.
  3. Fill icypole moulds and freeze.

Check out Jessi Singh’s other dishes on the site! You really want to try his easy and adaptable Korma Curry Sauce for starters.

Want more tasty potato dishes that are surprisingly easy? Try these:

  • Aligot (say “uh-lee-go”) is a rustic French-style mash that doesn’t quite know if it’s cheesy mash or potatoey cheese.
  • Unlock the secrets to making perfect classic Italian Gnocchi.
  • US chef Grant Achatz shares his Pierogies recipe.

Did you know Dani Valent gift vouchers are available right here? They make the perfect present for the Thermo-lover in your life.

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What’s this site all about?

My business card says ‘Writer. Eater. Traveller. Cook.’ I do all these things with equal passion, which is why I’m sometimes sitting at my laptop with an apron on! This is where I share all my best bits of writing, recipes and videos. There are free areas of the site where you can stay up to date with my journalism and get a taste of my cooking adventures. Sign up as a member and you’ll get access to my awesome and ever-growing library of cooking videos and recipes, focusing on Thermomix.

This is a place for inspiration, chefs’ secrets, practical tuition and happy creativity. If you like cooking and eating delicious food and basking in the compliments of family and friends, this site is for you. You’ll be amazed what you can create with my recipes and videos as your guide.

See what recipes are available here.

What do members love about the site?

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I love my Elk top & Obus pants

What's this site all about?

My business card says ‘Writer. Eater. Traveller. Cook.’ I do all these things with equal passion, which is why I’m sometimes sitting at my laptop with an apron on! This is where I share all my best bits of writing, recipes and videos. There are free areas of the site where you can stay up to date with my journalism and get a taste of my cooking adventures. Sign up as a member and you’ll get access to my awesome and ever-growing library of cooking videos and recipes, focusing on Thermomix.

This is a place for inspiration, chefs’ secrets, practical tuition and happy creativity. If you like cooking and eating delicious food and basking in the compliments of family and friends, this site is for you. You’ll be amazed what you can create with my recipes and videos as your guide.

See what recipes are available here.

What do members love about the site?

Become A Member

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