Category Archives: Indian

Pork Roast with Bengali Five Spice Blend (Panch Phoron)

Most of you probably know garam masala, but have you ever heard of panch phoron? During my recent web browsing I stumbled more and more often at this mysterious Bengali blend of spices. The day I decided to taste it, I realised I had all the necessary ingredients, so it took me five minutes to make my own panch phoron and get ready to cook. I prepared one Bengali recipe, several days later another, then another… and now I’m so hooked on this mixture of aromatic seeds, I started my own experiments, such as this pork roast. Apart from my usual powdered roasting rub (powdered garlic, turmeric and chilli), I added a generous amount of panch phoron, mixed everything with oil and basted the meat, hoping it would create a spicy crust on top. The roast did end up with a nice crunchy texture and a wonderful array of addictive flavours. It was perfect in wraps with my homemade chapatti.

Phanch phoron (“five spices”) is a Bengali mixture of five seeds: fennel, nigella (black onion/kalonji), black mustard, cumin and fenugreek. All the seeds are whole and used usually at the beginning of a cooking process, stir-fried in oil until they start to pop (it’s called “tempering”), before other ingredients are added. I have also seen tempered panch phoron used as a “topping” (added just before serving). Some web sources use an equal amount of each and some advise adding an equal amount of everything apart from fenugreek. I have opted for the latter because I know that fenugreek can easily overwhelm any dish and any other spice. Therefore this is what my very first panch phoron looked like:
-2 teaspoons fennel seeds
-2 teaspoons cumin seeds
-2 teaspoons nigella seeds
-2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
-1 teaspoon fenugreek

Apparently some Bengali cooks using radhuni seeds instead of mustard seeds, but the huge majority of Indian blogs and websites call for mustard seeds, so I didn’t bother checking this other version (but maybe one day… if I find radhuni…).

All the spices are easily available in every Indian/Pakistani grocery shop and of course online (I bet one can buy all the seeds on Amazon too). All of them are regularly used, ground or not, in Indian dishes, they keep their freshness for quite a long time (unless ground), so if you cook or intend to cook Indian, it’s a wise investment.

TIPS: This lean pork loin roast is treated rather like a cold meat, so you will probably find it too dry if eaten hot as a part fo a Western-style meal. I advise using a fatter cut (such as shoulder) or tenderloin instead if you want a juicier result. Personally I don’t mind if pork roast is a bit dry (not too dry of course!), so I often bake loin anyway.

I have a very old oven, so you might want to adjust the roasting time according to yours. I start with high temperature and never reduce it because I like the results: I have noticed the crust forms quicker and the meat is less dry inside.

The pork should be at room temperature at the moment you put it into the oven, so make sure you take it out of the fridge early enough.

Preparation: about 50 minutes

Ingredients (serves four-five, if used in wraps or sandwiches):

600 g (bout 21 oz) pork roast (I have used the lean loin, but you can use any cut you like)

salt

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons chilli powder (or more, depending on the chilli powder and your heat resistance)

1 teaspoon powdered garlic (see the super easy home recipe here)

5-6 teaspoons of panch phoron (see the recipe above)

4 tablespoons oil (I have used coconut fat but any high heat resistant fat can be used)

Preheat the oven to 210°C (410°F).

Take out the pork out of the fridge, wash it, pat dry and season the with salt.

Make a mixture of oil and all the spices (turmeric, garlic, chilli powder and phaanch phoron).

Put the pork into a baking dish and rub with the spice and oil mixture (you can use a brush to do it).

Bake at 210°C for 40 minutes (make sure it’s no longer fridge-cold at the moment you put it into the oven).

Ten minutes before the end, take out the baking dish and baste the top of the roast with some of the spicy oil you will see at the bottom of the dish.

Put back to the oven for ten more minutes.

Serve sliced in wraps (it’s fabulous with Indian chapatti!) or in sandwiches.

Thick Andhra Chicken Curry with Green Asparagus

Some people say asparagus is extremely delicate, should be barely seasoned and treated with caution when it comes to spices. Don’t believe them! In this fiery, bold-flavoured curry the asparagus reigns over the remaining ingredients and neither the chilli, nor the other Indian spices have lessened its distinct flavours I’m so fond of. Everything worked so perfectly together, I’m sure it will not be my last Indian experiment with this delicious vegetable.

This dish is a thickened variation of the Chicken with Curry Leaves from Andhra Pradesh (Kodi Gasi), based on a recipe from The Essential Andhra Cookbook: with Hyderabadi and Telengana Specialities by Bilkees I. Latif. As usually I have modified the recipe and the ingredients’ amounts (e.g. making the “sauce” thicker and slimming it down), so make sure you check the original recipe and this fascinating collection of regional dishes.

If you look for other asparagus dishes, you might like some of these:

Asparagus with Chicken and Miso

Asparagus with Chicken and Miso

Asparagus Maki Sushi

Asparagus Maki Sushi

Bread Tartlet with Egg and Asparagus

Bread Tartlet with Egg and Asparagus

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Asparagus Teriyaki Pork Rolls

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Chawan Mushi (Egg Custard) with Asparagus

Asparagus Tempura

Asparagus Tempura

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Filo Rolls with Asparagus, Chorizo and Parmesan

Tama Konnyaku with Asparagus

Tama Konnyaku with Asparagus

Rice, Asparagus and Fried Egg

Rice, Asparagus and Fried Egg

Asparagus with Cashew Nuts and Chicken

Asparagus with Cashew Nuts and Chicken

asp_springrollsp

Spring Rolls with Asparagus and Chicken

Asparagus and Bacon Rolls

TIPS:

If you realise you like this curry a lot, I advise preparing a big batch of masala and either keeping it in the fridge (it will keep for five days) or even freezing it in small portions. Then you stir fry onions and curry leaves (if you have them), take a protein source (meat, seafood or paneer, and why not tofu?) or/and a vegetable to the masala, add some water and the quick delicious meal is ready in no time at all!

I always slim down coconut milk-based curries and I did this one too, so if you want to make it creamier, add coconut milk instead of the 100 ml water in the cooking process.

You can obviously adjust the heat level to your preferences and use half mild peppers and half hot peppers, or even use only mild peppers.

You can skip the curry leaves, but do try them if you can get them (I wrote a bit about them here). They will make this dish unforgettable. If you worry about buying a big bag of curry leaves (they are usually sold in big packages), divide them into small portions, wrap tightly in plastic film (or, if you have the vacuum packing machine, vacuum pack them) and freeze. Do not dry them. Dried curry leaves have lost almost all of their aroma, so it’s better to skip them than use dried. Fresh curry leaves can be bought by internet (look for them on Amazon or Ebay).

You can serve this dish topped with fried onion/shallot and curry leaves (the original chicken dish calls for those).

Obviously, you can make this dish vegetarian, skipping the chicken breast.

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves four):

2 medium chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

approx. 300g of green asparagus spurs, lower tough parts removed

2 tablespoons coconut fat (or any oil of your choice)

3 big European shallots, finely sliced

15 curry leaves (fresh or frozen)

salt, water

Masala:

150 ml coconut milk

4 long fresh red chilli peppers (choose the variety according to your heat resistance), sliced

1 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 3 medium garlic cloves)

4 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

First prepare the masala. Roast the whole spices in a pan (make sure they don’t burn and take the pan off the heat as soon as they start to yield a strong but pleasant smell).

Grind the spices in a coffee grinder, spice grinder or in a mortar.

Mix well with the remaining ingredients in a food processor until you obtain a thick sauce.

Cut up the asparagus spears into bite-sized pieces. Divide into two groups: thick pieces and thin pieces. You will add the latter at the end of the cooking process.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan and stir-fry approx. 2/3 of the shallots with half of the curry leaves.

When the shallots start becoming soft, add the chicken pieces, salt them and stir-fry until slightly browned.

Add the masala, the thicker pieces of asparagus spears, about 100 ml water and let the dish simmer until the chicken is cooked.

Five minutes before the end add the thinner parts of asparagus. Thus, the asparagus will remind crunchy.

(You can serve this curry with fried shallots and curry leaves on top.)

 

 

 

 

Chapatti, or Versatile Indian Flatbreads

Before embarking on this flatbread adventure I had never tasted chapatti or even seen them in “real” life. I had read about them, seen on blogs and in cookery books, but had no idea (and still don’t have!) what texture and taste I should obtain. These chapatti are soft, taste slightly nutty and are absolutely delicious, in spite of their weird forms and scary look (normally chapatti are of course perfectly round, but I have never managed to roll them out properly…). They are quick to prepare, easy to reheat or defrost and so surprisingly versatile, I now treat them as international wraps (these above were perfect with feta and bacon for my office lunch) and wonder how I could eat the store-bought tortillas all these years…

Chapatti/chapati are, after naans, the second Indian flatbread recipe I learnt. (Maybe one day I’ll show you my naans… but they look even worse than my chapatti). Indian cuisine has a big array of breads, but I chose chapatti because I read somewhere they were to Indians what tortillas were to Mexicans. I also liked the fact that they are made simply in a pan (not in a super hot tandoori!) and are relatively quick to prepare. As I browsed through recipes, I found they were all similar (i.e. called for water and flour), but I also realised that many Indian home cooks obtain dry tough chapatti and seek for advice. I stumbled upon a chapatti thread on Indus Ladies where some advised to add curd and oil. I added yogurt instead of the curd, played a bit with the amounts and the resulting flatbreads proved soft, easy to cook and addictive. I am too scared to try and compare the traditional flour and water recipe, so I’ll stick to this one. Following Meera Sodha’s advice in Made in India. Cooked in Britain, I used half wholemeal and half white flour, the mixture which is apparently closest to the Indian chapatti flour (I think this adds slightly nutty flavours, keeping the dough acceptable for those who hate wholemeal products).

TIPS:

Even if you don’t cook Indian, I strongly advise testing chapatti as an alternative to store-bought tortillas (I plan to make those too one day, inspired by MJ’s beautiful perfectly round corn tortillas). I use them to wrap everything I find in the fridge: raw cucumbers, peppers, chillies, fresh herbs, chicken, ham, feta, tofu… and add Greek yogurt, sriracha (it’s perfect!) and pickles. They are of course delicious with Indian curries…

It’s difficult to say exactly how thick chapatti should be. I roll out mine about 1 mm – 1.5 mm thick. (If they are very too thin, slightly transparent, they will become crisp, not soft!).

Once prepared, chapatti will keep for two-three days in the fridge, tightly wrapped in plastic. They can also be frozen, but make sure you divide them, otherwise you’ll have to defrost the whole batch. I heat the refrigerated chapatti for 10 seconds in the microwave and defrost those from the freezer for about 20 seconds.

When frying the second side of chapatti you should press it and the best tool I found for that is a potato press.

Many sources advise leaving dough for 30 minutes (or even more) before rolling out, so that it becomes softer. I try to do it, but when I am in a hurry, I start grilling chapatti straight away and they are soft anyway (maybe not as soft as with the 30 minutes waiting, but the difference is small).

Preparation: about 30 minutes (+30 min for the dough to become softer, but it’s not absolutely necessary)

Ingredients (makes about 10-12 chapatti):

125 g white flour

125 wholemeal flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 heaped tablespoons yogurt

3 tablespoons neutrally-tasting oil or coconut oil (I prefer coconut oil)

100 ml water (or a bit more, see below)

In a bowl combine all the ingredients and start kneading them.

If the mixture is too dry, add water by spoonfuls. If you add too much water chapatti will be drier, so don’t exaggerate.

Knead the mixture about 5-10 minutes until the dough is smooth and soft. Cover with plastic film and leave for 30 minutes (this is not necessary, but if you have time, do it because it makes the dough softer).

Divide the dough into big apricot-sized balls and cover them so that they don’t dry out.

In the meantime heat a big frying pan brushed with some oil (again, I use here coconut oil).

Roll out the dough into 1 mm thickness and grill at medium heat until bubbles show up (start rolling out another chapatti while the previous one fries).

At this point turn the chapatti over and fry for about 10 seconds, pressing it (a potato masher is perfect for that).

Place on a plate and proceed in the same way with other balls, brushing the pan with oil every second chapatti.

Cover the plate with plastic film and keep at room temperature until they cool down.

Then you can keep them for several days in the fridge or freeze them.

 

Kidney Bean Curry Stew

This recipe comes from Meera Sodha’s Made in India, a collection of highly inspiring and surprisingly feasible home Indian recipes. An occasional Ugandan touch (due to the author’s family history) means I’m not sure where exactly this curry – called Junjaro – comes from, but it does taste and smell like an Indian dish to me. And a particularly delicious one too, which came as a slight surprise since it calls for quite simple ingredients, readily available in standard western supermarkets (at least in Switzerland). Actually, it proved so delicious and versatile, I have served it at least in several different forms in the past three weeks (see the TIPs below), each of them proving highly palatable. The above “stewy”, i.e. more liquid, version is my favourite. I love serving it in a bowl topped with an egg, feta cheese (yes!), baked chicken, mushrooms…

As usually, I have slightly changed the recipe (making this dish more “soupy” than advised or adding chilli powder, more garlic…), so check Meera Sodha’s book for the original recipe.

TIPS: You can serve this curry as a side dish in an Indian meal (with meat dish and rice/flat bread ,for example), but I strongly advise it a bit more liquid (as above) served in a bowl, topped with warm…. feta cheese (yes, this spicy dish goes perfectly with the famous Greek cheese!), fried/poached egg, fried ground meat, grilled bacon, leftover grilled meat, mushrooms…. You can also add even more water or tomato juice and treat it as a thick stew.

If you want to keep a typical thick curry texture, simply add less water.

This curry keeps in the fridge for several days, but you can also freeze it.

I strongly advise using dried beans and soaking them overnight. It makes a huuuuge difference in both the texture and the flavours (for example freshly cooked beans tend to absorb more flavours than the canned ones).

Preparation: about 1 hour (if the beans are already cooked or if using canned)

Ingredients (serves four to six, depending if you treat it as the base of the main course or a side-dish):

200 g dried kidney beans (or 400 g canned, drained)

1 cinnamon stick

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

4 big shallots (or two small onions), chopped

3 cm finely chopped fresh ginger, finely chopped

4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 teaspoon turmeric

2-3 fresh green chillies (or more!), sliced

2 teaspoons garam masala

3 tablespoons tomato paste

(100 ml canned or freshly chopped tomatoes)

oil (I have used here coconut oil)

(chilli powder)

If using dry beans, soak them in water overnight.

Drain and cook until soft (depending on the beans it might take even several hours).

If you use canned beans, drain them and rinse.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a big pan.

On low heat stir-fry the whole cinnamon stick and the cumin seeds until aromatic. (Make sure you don’t burn them).

Add the chopped onion or shallots and stir-fry until golden and soft.

Add the garlic, the ginger and the fresh chilli. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the turmeric, the garam masala, chilli powder, if using, and the tomato paste. Stir-fry for 30 seconds.

Finally, add the beans, 1/2 later water, salt and canned or freshly chopped tomatoes, if using.

Give the curry a good stir, cover and let it simmer at low heat for about one hour (if you use canned beans, it might take less time because canned beans sometimes fall easily into pieces).

Check every 15 minutes adding more water if necessary.

Serve with fresh coriander leaves.

Chicken with Curry Leaves from Andhra Pradesh (Kodi Gasi)

When I ordered The Essential Andhra Cookbook: with Hyderabadi and Telengana Specialities by Bilkees I. Latif I didn’t know much about this part of India (I even had to check on the map…) apart from the extensive use of my beloved curry leaves by its inhabitants. Now, having tested only one recipe from Ms Latif’s humble looking book, I know I have found a precious addition to my cooking library. This chicken dish might seem similar to any another Indian curry, but it is really unique. Like many Indian dishes I know, it’s packed with spices and laced with creamy coconut flavours, but it has a unique, clean touch and a tantalising new aroma I got quickly addicted to.

If you have never tasted curry leaves, they are small, highly aromatic and grow on Murraya koenigii trees. They are particularly popular in southern parts of India and, contrary to bay leaves, they are cooked fresh and are actually eaten. They are usually fried at the beginning together with onions and sometimes also used as a topping (in the above dish they appear in both).  Thanks to their wonderful unique aroma, they change the flavours of the final dish and make it very special. After dozens of meals in Indian restaurants in several European countries I had never had the occasion to taste them (no comment, but you can imagine my angry face) until I started to cook from Rick Stein’s India. I fell in love as soon as I took the first bunch of leaves from the shop: their pungent smell was so amazing, so complex, I couldn’t stop myself from sniffing my shopping bag throughout the whole trip back home….

Since curry leaves are now very difficult to get in fresh form in Switzerland, whenever I have an opportunity to buy them, I vacuum pack small portions and freeze them because dried form loses much of its aroma (not to mention the texture which makes leaves too thick to eat). (If you don’t have a vacuum packing machine, before freezing, wrap the leaves in plastic film as tightly as you can). If you want to taste fresh curry leaves and don’t find them in your local Indian shop, you can easily order them on internet (they are not only grown in Asia, but also in the US!). Write to me if you need precise information about internet sources I’ve found. In short, do whatever you can to get fresh leaves. At worst you can use dried ones, but they are not even half as good…

I don’t have access to good quality fresh coconut or frozen fresh coconut, so, as I often do, I have used here coconut milk instead (my experiments with dried coconut in curries have always been a failure, so I stopped trying). I have cut down on frying oil and had to modify also the cooking process and adapt it to a lower amount of fat. Apart from that, I have slightly tweaked ingredients’ amounts, used chicken breast instead of whole chicken, shallots instead of onions, and so on… so check The Essential Andhra Cookbook for the original recipe.

TIPS:  If you like this curry as much as I do, I advise preparing a big batch of masala and either keeping it in the fridge (it will keep for five days) or even freezing it in small portions. Then you stir fry onions and curry leaves, take a protein source (meat, seafood or paneer, and why not tofu?) or a vegetable to the masala, add some water and the quick delicious meal is ready in no time at all!

Preparation: about 30 minutes

Ingredients (serves four):

3 medium chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons coconut fat (or any oil of your choice)

5 big European shallots, finely sliced

15 curry leaves (fresh or frozen)

salt, water

Masala:

150 ml coconut milk

4 long fresh red chilli peppers (choose the variety according to your heat resistance), sliced

1 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon crushed garlic (about 3 medium garlic cloves)

4 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons turmeric powder

4 shallots, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

First prepare the masala. Roast the whole spices in a pan (make sure they don’t burn and take the pan off the heat as soon as they start to yield a strong but pleasant smell).

Grind the spices in a coffee grinder, spice grinder or in a mortar.

Mix well with the remaining ingredients in a food processor until you obtain a thick sauce.

Heat the oil in a shallow pan and stir-fry approx. 2/3 of the shallots with half of the curry leaves.

When the shallots start becoming soft, add the chicken pieces, salt them and stir-fry until slightly browned.

Add the masala, about 200 ml water and let the dish simmer until the chicken is cooked.

In the meantime, heat 1 teaspoon coconut oil in a small pan.

Stir-fry the remaining shallots and curry leaves until the onions are slightly browned.

Serve this curry with fried shallots and curry leaves on top. It’s excellent with naan.