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May 25. 2013 1:53AM

Sweet Neem offers a social gathering for foodies


Mohini Durgampudi shows some of the exotic foods she uses during her brunch tastings at Sweet Neem Tasting Table. (ADAM SWIFT/Union Leader Correspondent)

DERRY - Mohini Durgampudi has never been to culinary school and has no formal cooking training, but she has a love for food that she wants to share with other like-minded foodies in the area.

With a focus on fresh and out-of-the-ordinary foods, Durgampudi has opened Sweet Neem Tasting Table, located at the Creative Chef Kitchens space at Hannaford Plaza.

Durgampudi describes Sweet Neem as a cross between a pop-up restaurant and a chef's tasting table.

"It's part social gathering, part armchair travel and part cooking school, without the cooking," she said.

Sweet Neem offers a new and different tasting brunch menu every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Durgampudi said she has always been interested in food and cooking and decided to make the jump from being an information technology cubicle drone to opening Sweet Neem Tasting Table.

Many of the dishes she offers are gluten-free and vegan, and Durgampudi visits many small local grocery stores from Boston to Manchester to find new and exciting ingredients.

Pointing to a plate of fresh green plums, Durgampudi said she is willing to pick up and share items she has never tried before.

"I go to a lot of ethnic markets and find things that I've only heard about a lot of the time," she said.

Although Durgampudi said she will use ingredients from across the globe, she said her Indian background means that much of what she offers has a decidedly Asian influence.

Each of the brunch tastings consists of a six-course meal focusing on one ingredient.

For example, she said an upcoming Sunday will focus on lentils with plates including lentil soup and green lentil pancakes.

Anyone who wants to take part in a Sunday tasting has to reserve a spot at least 24 hours in advance by email to sweetneemtastingtable@gmail.com or calling 1-877-947-9338. Each tasting table is $45 unless otherwise noted.

Durgampudi posts the pre-set menu for the next four tasting tables on her website at sweetneemtastingtable.com. Sometimes, Durgampudi floats possible menu ideas on her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SweetNeemTastingTable.

"I'm big on healthy eating without compromising the taste," Durgampudi said. "There is no deep frying and no heavy sauces. We have fresh, light, flavorful food."

Durgampudi said she hopes to grow Sweet Neem Tasting Table so that she can one day open her own storefront restaurant.


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