My in-laws hark from Delhi, and my mother-in-law is a wonderful, intuitive cook. I have always been interested in Indian food, but cooking it makes me more nervous than I usually am in the kitchen. I am anxious to get the spicing right and to avoid everything tasting the same. To that end, I make sure that I have a recipe to hand which, even if I don't follow it to the letter, is there to make sure that I get the proportions and combinations right.
The other day I cooked Indian food for ten friends. The meal was, dare I say it, a success, so it seemed only right that I pass on the recipes that I used and some of the things that I learnt whilst preparing it.
First of all, I would say that it is important to get the balance of the menu right. I generally cook one pulse dish, one creamy vegetable dish and one dry vegetable dish. This ensures that the meal isn't too dairy heavy and rich. Secondly, I think it's nice to have a selection of chutneys, a raita and some fresh rotis to serve with the curries, especially if you are preparing a meal for friends or a special occasion. I'm not sure I have the patience to make fresh naan yet (although I think that the pizza stone that Mr. F bought me for Christmas could be good for the job), but making fresh rotis really could not be easier: water and chapati flour, plus a little salt, are combined and kneaded to make a soft pliable dough which can be put in the fridge wrapped in clinger until you’re ready to get going. All you do then is tear off small pieces, about half the size of an egg, roll them out really thinly and then slap them on a hot frying pan or skillet. Keep turning them over until they are puffed up and beginning to turn golden brown. If you have a gas hob you can then hold the roti over the flame (using flame resistant tongs of course) until it puffs up even more and begins to char a little around the edges. I then spread a tiny piece of butter over the hot bread, and put it on a plate in a warm oven until I am ready to serve the meal.
I cooked channa masala (chickpeas with spicy tomato gravy), saag paneer (spinach with cheese) and bhindi (okra) for my friends. The recipes below are for four.
I recommend Atul Kocchar’s recipe from Simple Indian to you. It’s one that requires a certain amount of forethought as the chickpeas need to be soaked overnight. It really is worth using dried rather than tinned chickpeas for this dish: they have a far better texture, and taste nuttier. I love the fact that the chickpeas are cooked in tea, although I am not exactly sure what it contributes to the flavour.
250g chickpeas, soaked in cold water overnight
1 teabag (not Earl Grey)
Salt to taste
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
4 medium onions, chopped
2 teaspoons of finely minced garlic
1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, chopped
3 green chillies, sliced
5 tomatoes chopped, or one tin of chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
½ teaspoon of ground turmeric
1 teaspoon red chilli powder
2 tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves
¼ garam masala
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely sliced root ginger
Drain the chickpeas, put into a saucepan and cover with 1 litre fresh water. Add the tea bag and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the chickpeas are cooked - this should take a couple of hours. Season with salt towards the end of cooking. Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid.
Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onions until softened and pale golden brown in colour. Add the garlic, ginger and chillies, and sauté for another two minutes, without burning the garlic.
Stir in the chopped tomatoes and cook for 40 minutes. Stir in the coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder, lower the heat and cook for two minutes or until the fat separates from the onion mixture.
Add the chickpeas, a little more salt if required and half of the empty tomato can (about one cup) of the reserved liquid. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Stir in 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves.
Add garam masala, crushed toasted cumin and coriander seeds. Sprinkle with the lemon juice, ginger julienne and remaining chopped coriander leaves to serve.
This dish is fairly fiery and is therefore good served with yoghurt or raita.
500g of frozen spinach
1 block of paneer (about 225 g, generally), cut into cubes
Ghee and vegetable oil for frying
Three cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of crushed chilli
1 teaspoon of ground coriander
An inch-long piece of ginger
100ml of double cream
Melt ghee in a wok and add the garlic. Cook until it begins to brown very slightly and then add the cumin and chilli, and cook them until the cumin seeds begin to pop. Add the frozen spinach and cover with a little water (adding the frozen spinach will make the ghee coagulate around the blocks, but don’t worry). Cook spinach until it has defrosted.
In a frying pan heat vegetable oil in a layer about half a centimetre thick. When hot, add the paneer cubes and cook until golden brown on all sides. Drain on kitchen towel.
Add the ginger and coriander to the spinach and cook for a further ten minutes. Check the seasoning and add the paneer and cream. Let it bubble vigorously for a further two or three minutes and then serve. This dish reheats well.
Sel Bhindi (Okra with onions)
After my previous run in with Madhur Jaffrey (ref. my post on 16 October 2009) I was circumspect about consulting her misleadingly titled Ultimate Curry Bible again. However, the following recipe produced something really special.
2 teaspoons of whole coriander seeds
1 whole crumbled dried red chilli, seeds removed
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
340g of okra
1 small onion, sliced into half rings
¼ teaspoon of turmeric
2 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
Toast the cumin seeds in a dry pan. Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind to a coarse powder with the chilli.
Pour the oil into a non-stick pan (I used a paella pan) and heat it over a medium heat. When the oil is hot put in the okra in a single layer. Fry the okra for about ten minutes, until it is golden all over, then add the onions. Cook for a further five minutes, or until the onions begin to brown. Add the spices and salt, reduce the heat and cook for five minutes. Garnish with fresh coriander before serving.
Asha’s green chutney
This is my mother-in-law’s wonderful green chutney which is pretty much perfect with anything (including eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, tortilla chips...you get the idea...).
Large bunch of coriander
Small handful of mint
Dried green mango powder or lime juice
One small hot green chilli, stalk removed
Dash of vegetable oil
Put everything in a blender and blend. Adjust seasoning and sourness to taste. A few drops of water can be added to loosen the chutney if it’s too thick. The chutney keeps well in a jar in the fridge for a few days, although it will lose some its vibrant emerald colour.
My mother-in-law also bought me this spice tin which is incredibly useful and looks, I think, beautiful. It’s much easier than having lots of little open packets knocking around. I keep whole spices and curry leaves in it because I worry that I wouldn’t be able to identify different ground spices.