Restaurateur Abhishek Honawar has a mild intolerance to wheat. So, when he decided to get married last November, at the 175-year-old Samode Palace in Jaipur, he ensured there was a gluten-free menu option for others like him, among the 180 guests.
Shasvathi Siva with husband Kartik opted for a fully vegan wedding, from mains to desserts. Pic/Ramkumar Ramachandran from Frontal Knots
"Incidentally, some of my friends have celiac diseases. They cannot eat anything containing gluten," he tells us in an email interview from New York, where he runs a restaurant. The alternative spread was lavish with over 28 dishes in the gluten-free and vegan category. "I wanted the chefs from the palace to focus on fresh food, lightly cooked, and create gluten-free and vegan variations of the same dishes.
We had at least 40 per cent gluten-free dish options for them," he says. It turns out Honawar isn’t the odd man out. City chefs and caterers have been receiving requests for healthy wedding spreads. Chinu Shilarna of Gaia Gourmet says that more often than not it is the bride who is keen on a vegan or a farm-to-table spread. "Because, she doesn’t want to indulge in high-calorie foods. So, that’s where the brief comes from." The key challenge, Shilarna says, is to drum up a celebratory feel despite limited ingredients, fresh as they come.
We spoke to city chefs, and here are the top three options that emerged.
No meats, of course, but also no animal products, i.e. dairy, eggs, honey
In 2015, when Mumbai-based copywriter Shasvathi Siva got in touch with Weddings Inc., a Chembur-based wedding solutions firm, she had a one-line brief for them — no animal products and no plastic. "We educated the team on alternatives, and they were up-to-date and understanding," says the daughter of well-known animal activist Anand Siva. While the Siva family has been vegan for five years, it was time for the guests to get a taste of their way of life. The invitations that were sent out to the 300 guests arriving at a resort in Khalapur, Raigad, also carried a note on veganism. "From the moment my wedding talks began, it was clear that nothing we did would harm animals," she says, adding that her husband, Karthik and in-laws have been practising veganism for two years. While deciding the menu, Siva consciously picked a dairy-rich menu so that they could showcase alternatives. "We wanted to prove to people that it is possible to work with alternatives and arrive at the same taste," she says. All dairy products were swapped with alternatives using soy, almond and cashew. Silk sarees, including her bridal wear, were replaced by polycot and faux silk.
Vegetable oils were used in place of ghee for all rituals. Siva also opted for cruelty-free make up. The feast included morning coffee and tea, curd rice, dahi puri, jalebis, cheese dip and crackers, dal makhani, avial, curd served in matkas, pani puri, hakka noodles and ice cream, but all vegan. Guests left with a bag of dry fruits as return gifts.
Gluten free popcorn and dips
Quinoa, millet, buckwheat groats and wheat-substitutes
When Mustaq Hashmi, executive at Blue Sea Banquets and Outdoor Catering Service, was working in the South Pacific region a couple of years ago, he’d receive requests for gluten-free wedding menus twice a week. But, when he moved to Mumbai, he was pleasantly surprised to see guests approaching him for low-carb menus.
"In India, weddings are synonymous with indulgence. But, people seem to be gradually moving to healthy alternatives, especially those diagnosed with cereal intolerance," he says. Popular gluten-free dishes that make the cut include chhole with truffle kulcha, wild rice, sushi bar, quinoa pilaf and lettuce wraps.
Crispy honey chilli prawns
"While the method of preparing these spin-offs is the same as the original, extra care needs to be taken to substitute wheat-based products with gluten-free ingredients." Sometimes, the handling of ingredients can be tricky, though. "For instance, in case of a pizza, we can easily roll out a base with regular dough, but with gluten-free dough, the elasticity goes missing," he explains.
Hazelnut granola with macademia nuts
Low-fat and high-fibre peanuts, soyabeans and chickpeas
For Dhruv Jhaveri, partner, Shophop, an outfit that serves natural, artisinal and home-grown foods, the biggest compliment came at a recent cocktail function, when a guest told him to say he couldn’t tell the difference between the gluten-free waffle and the real one. "They liked that it was light, crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside, and tasty. Usually, healthy snacking is associated with unsalted nuts, dried fruit and sugar-free yoghurt. So, people are thrilled to see decadent chocolate cookies, gooey brownies and cheesy dips at weddings," he says.
Jhaveri has catered for four such ceremonies, including a sangeet and mehendi, where he has served low-fat-high-fibre cookies, spicy peanut dip with multigrain flat bread, chia seed pudding, olive oil hummus with chilli garlic pita bread. Since Indian weddings stretch over days, guests prefer to keep things light.
Neha Arora of Var Vadhu, who catered for Esha Deol’s wedding, says "heavy" menus are passé. "Shaadis involve activity and dance. Guests don’t wish to feel bloated. So stir-fried vegetables, grilled meat and low-calorie desserts help," she says. Two years ago, a pool brunch following a heavy-duty sangeet night with free flowing alcohol, was planned for 325 guests. "We had a spread of global street food with an Indian twist. Paneer and corn quesadillas, green pea hummus dip with whole wheat herbed breads and date walnut honey parathas helped achieve a mix of light and filling dishes," she says.