Flavors: Saffron Table: Bold Flavors in Bozeman

Apr 30, 2018

Saffron Table is located in a small pine forest just off of Main Street in Bozeman.
Credit Lynn Donaldson

    

Andleeb Dawood shares the bold flavors of her childhood in Pakistan at her restaurant Saffron Table in Bozeman, Montana, in hopes of making her diners happy. Named after the most revered spice in the world, Dawood's restaurant highlights food honoring India and South Asia. With Chef Daniel Parris in the kitchen, the two have teamed up to broaden local palates by honoring traditional cuisine with some modern interpretations.

Parris, originating from Choteau, has returned to his home state after time on cruise ships in Alaska and Hawaii. Dawood has settled in the home of her husband Nicholas Harris’ family. The old Kirk homestead site is a culinary enclave, right off West Main Street, housing the iconic red barn, now the location of The Feed Cafe, and across the parking lot from Saffron Table, and The Roost Fried Chicken. Surrounded by strip malls, pine trees stand in this spot as sentinels above the urban sprawl.
 

Andleeb Dawood and Chef Daniel Parris of Saffron Table standing outside with the Red Barn in the background.
Credit Stella Fong

Parris and Dawood form the balancing ying and yang at Saffron Table. He is tall, over 6 feet while she is slender and petite. She pays tremendous attention to detail with meticulous planning while he works in the moment embracing potential opportunities. Her palate began with a rainbow of flavors while he started with two basic seasonings – salt and pepper.
 
Dawood’s parents, originally from India, relocated to England where she was born. After her birth, she said of her mother and father, “They wanted me to grow up with a sense of culture and a sense of belonging and they didn’t want me to grow up in England because they felt that I would have a very confused sense of identity if that happened.” Returning to Karachi in Pakistan brought them to her mother’s family of eleven siblings.
 
The home Dawood grew up in called a haveli provided a rural upbringing in the middle of the third largest city in the world. The compound housed gardens, a barnyard and barn. A water buffalo, chickens and goats along with crops of chilies and herbs nurtured an intimate self-sustaining manner of living.
 
Dawood recalled receiving treats in a kitchen where she watched her grandmother, mother and aunts cook meals. She remembered food images of vats of rice, curry, kebabs and food pickling in the kitchen. At large family gatherings, “We would lay out a cloth on the floor of the biggest hallway in the house and we would sit on the floor and we would all eat.”
 

As a student at William Smith College in Geneva, just north of New York city, Dawood’s homesickness led her to learn how to cook. She said, “Dining hall food is a different standard than the food cooked by your mom or aunt and grandmother, and I was longing for that feeling of belonging.” She found that though grocery stores had an ethnic section, the selections were limited to Mexican and Asian. “I just sort of hacked it,” she shared. Her mother gave her the pieces to resurrect the recipes.  Dawood said, “I called my mom. What’s the big deal? You just take a little of this and a little bit of that and it’s done.”
 
She learned to love cooking. Her love of eating and the passion for sharing her heritage through her food led her to throw dinner parties. At age 35, Dawood who had pursued entrepreneurial and financial endeavors admitted, “the different things, not any of them added up to owning a restaurant.” What she wanted to do was something that mattered and made a difference. Through the food she had grown up with she admitted to feeding people and making them happy, “That was one way I knew I could put a smile on their faces if I served them really good food.”
 
Saffron, the crimson stigmas and styles of a crocus flower was once a valued commodity used as currency.  The precious spice is found in not only Indian and South Asian cuisine but also used in Spanish, French, Iranian, and Greek cuisines. Dawood shared, “I wanted a name that would allow me to experiment with the fundamentals of Indian cuisine and to broaden it a little bit and make it accessible to Montana. I am mentoring a market where people have not had much Indian cuisine and I wanted to feel that it was approachable.”

Naan or Indian flatbread made in a cylindrical tandoor oven.
Credit Lynn Donaldson

Chef Daniel Parris just recently joined Saffron Kitchen. He passed the tandoor oven test and carries scars on his arms as a reminder to take care when cooking in the traditional cylindrical oven. Flatbreads, known as naan, are literally stuck on the sidewall of the oven to cook while skewers of meat and vegetables are inserted into the center.
 
Parris, who grew up in Choteau, discovered his love of cooking as a child. He admitted to being precocious when he was younger, sneaking into the kitchen to bake pies when his parents left the house. His grandmother, who lived with them, introduced him to the food she grew up with in Alabama. After finishing the culinary arts program at Missoula College, and then working at different restaurants in Missoula, he returned home.
 
One night as he was walking home from work, he decided to stop in the American Legion bar, a place he had never stopped. There he met three women who had just returned from a cruise. They told him of their good time with the incredible food and service they experienced. Since he cooked at one of the two restaurants in Choteau, they knew of his culinary skills and believed cooking on the high seas would be a good experience for him.
 
He took a job with Cruise West as sous chef, and When the summer season ended in Alaska, Parris took a job on another cruise line sailing in Hawaiian waters. He came home to Montana after his second season to work at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky cooking at 9000 feet at the Timberline Cafe. Needless to say, he had to acclimate to function at that elevation.

Wood and metal honor Montana rustic roots and modern urban.
Credit Lynn Donaldson

    

When he returned to the cruise line, he took on a pastry chef position with enthusiasm. He said of the job, “I will give it a shot. We studied pastries and breads for a whole semester. Let’s try it. I killed it. I loved it.” Parris believed diversity was going to give him broader skills so he would be more versatile and saleable.
 
Upon return to Bozeman and after working several jobs, Parris wanted to be learn new skills and have the ability to teach. An ad for the chef position at Saffron Table revived Parris, who was feeling as though he was losing his desire for cooking. A year and a half ago, he teamed up with Dawood, welcoming the opportunity to try something new. Though Parris had never cooked Indian and South Asian food, he was more than willing to learn.
 
Parris described Indian cooking as “bold flavors.” The boldness is not in heat but in punch on the palate.  He has learned that manipulating spices in various ways from toasting to grinding influence the way they present themselves. Also, combining spices can highlight the spice in a new way.
 
For those not familiar Indian or South Asian food, Parris shared that servers ask, “What is your tolerance of heat, spice?” The menu offers a variety of dishes that accentuate heat on different levels. For those who want flavor but not hotness, the “Goan Seafood Stew” is recommended.
 

Seafood Goan Stew is the recommended dish to order for the first time diner. It is full of flavor with just the right balance of heat.
Credit Stella Fong

The menu is inviting and diverse. The conventional courses are broken down into playful categories. “CRISPY BITES FOR THE TABLE” are the snacks that Dawood recalls receiving when visiting friends and family while “STREETFOOD FAVORITES TO SHARE” are reminiscent of the food that can be found on the streets. “VEGETARIAN FLAIR” gives those who do not eat meat a variety of choices. “CURRY IN A HURRY” reflect the stews with multidimensional flavors and textures and “MAINS TO DIVE INTO” more substantial dishes.
 
In all categories, Dawood and Parris play with more recognizable dishes to lure diners into trying new flavors. “Tandoori Prawns with Fenugeek Grits” paid homage to Parris’ southern influences from his grandmother whereas “Yellowstone Grassfed Beef Biryani” a nod to Montana.
 
In the dessert category, Parris recommended trying samosas filled with chocolate and apricot chutney. With a touch of garam masala, a spice that combines coriander, cumin, cardamom, fennel, and mustard seeds with peppercorns, cloves and red chile peppers, Parris said, “Chocolate really brings warming spices into play as well as the sweetness of the apricot chutney.”
 

Samosa filled with chocolate and apricot chutney.
Credit Lynn Donaldson

Everything at Saffron Table is made in house except for two items. According to Dawood, the mango pickle and the puffed rice are sourced internationally. She believed optimal fermentation requires humidity, which Montana’s dry environment does not provide and the rice preparation demands more oven space than they can afford. Otherwise, she said, “Everything is made from scratch following the ancient processes” and explained why it required all day to prepare for dinner service.
 
When such care is put into creating flavorful food with the orchestration of owner Andleeb Dawood and Chef Daniel Parris, a diner cannot go away without being inspired and happy.
 
Goan Seafood Stew
Serves 6

This is the recommended dish to order at Saffron Table under “MAINS TO DIVE INTO” on the menu for those who do not want a lot of heat. The dish explodes with balanced spices amplified with just enough punch from ginger and chiles. Be sure to order naan to soak up every last bite.
 
1 pound yellow onion, julienned
1/3 cup oil
2 tablespoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoon cumin powder
2 teaspoon red chili powder or cayenne powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 tablespoons ginger, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1/4 cup tamarind pulp
2 (13.5 ounce) cans coconut milk
2 cups tomato puree
1 cup homemade shrimp (or seafood) stock
3  serrano peppers, seeded and julienned
1 pound cauliflower florets
1 pound shrimp
1/4 pound calamari
 
1.     Sauté onions in oil until light golden brown.
2.     While onions are cooking, blend spices, ginger, and garlic in a blender with 1 cup of water until completely smooth.
3.     When onions are ready, add blended spices and salt and fry for 1 minute (spices should be fragrant). Add tamarind pulp, coconut mink, tomato puree, and shrimp stock. Continue cooking on low heat until sauce begins to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes
4.     When the sauce has reached a thick gravy like consistency, it is ready.
5.     In a separate pan, sauté red peppers, cauliflower, shrimp, and calamari with a pinch of salt until almost cooked through. Add to sauce and on a low simmer or a few minutes to finish the seafood and to let the flavors of the sauce seep into the seafood. Don’t overcook the shrimp.
6.     Best served with cinnamon and cumin scented basmati rice and naan.