Category Archives: Indian

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.

Chicken in Tomato Sauce and Indian Spices

indian_chicken_toThe first weeks of this year look like one incessant Indian cooking session: I have made several batches of the fantastic chilli pickles (from the previous post), I have finally learnt how to prepare easy naans and, last but not least, I have made about a dozen different old and new Indian dishes, among which this chicken in sauce. I relied here on my own mixture of spices, which, given the complex and intimidating Indian culinary heritage, was a high-risk decision. This time I was lucky to obtain a palatable aromatic meal, no matter how far it was from the genuine Indian harmony of flavours.

The recipe is based on this Indian-Style Chutney (my very first attempt to experiment alone with Indian spices), much loved and preserved in big amounts for the past five years. Since I am crazy for its spice combination, I thought I might work on it a bit and adapt to a chicken and tomato dish. I kept the seasoning almost unaltered, making some small modifications, such as skipping the vinegar or adding garlic and ginger, extremely frequent in Indian sauce dishes.

TIPS: Try your best to find nigella seeds (they are available in Indian shops and on internet). For me they are a very important ingredient here. (And if you worry what to do with the remains, they can be used in many European dishes too, for example sprinkled on buns, bread, baked snacks, etc..).

Preparation: about 2 hours

Ingredients (serves two, if served with a light vegetable side-dish)

2 small chicken legs or two big chicken thighs, skinned; if you intend to eat the dish Indian way, i.e. with your hands, cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces

1x 400 g can of tomatoes (or, of course, fresh tomatoes, if you read this recipes while they are in season)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 medium onion, very finely sliced (or 2 big Western shallots)

2 big garlic cloves, crushed

2 cm grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 teaspoons nigella (onion seeds)

2 or more dried chili peppers whole (without stalks) or torn into pieces

1 teaspoon powdered chili

1/3 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

fresh coriander leaves

Heat the oil in a shallow pan.

Stir-fry the whole dry spices (apart from chilli and turmeric powders) and whole chillies at medium heat for about 30 seconds (or more, until they start yielding a wonderful aroma). Make sure you don’t burn them.

Add the sliced onion and stir-fry until golden brown.

Lower the heat, add the garlic and the ginger, stir-fry for about 30 seconds.

Finally add the chopped tomatoes and when they start to boil, add the chicken, the salt, the sugar and the chilli powder.

(If using chopped fresh tomatoes, let them simmer until they disintegrate and create a thick chunky sauce; then only add the chicken, the salt, the sugar and the chilli powder.)

Covert the pot and let it simmer for at least one hour (until the chicken meat falls off the bone).  I prefer to simmer at very low heat for at least 2 hours.

Add water during the cooking process if necessary.

Serve with chopped coriander leaves.

 

Indian Chilli Pickles

indian_pickledchillipI you didn’t expect to see a pickling post in January, believe me, I’m as surprised as you are, but sometimes cravings make one forget about the seasonality of fresh produce. After my French cuisine-inspired Christmas and New Year’s Eve I’ve been craving fiery, spicy, rich Indian food more than ever, hence probably this pickling idea. As a chilli addict and a serial pickler I have my pantry, fridge and kitchen filled with different spicy jars. I’ve been pickling for years, constantly searching for new ideas from all around the world…. so finally I thought it was time to turn to Indian cuisine I love more and more every year. My first experiment was so successful, I can only regret I haven’t tried making any Indian preserves before and I strongly recommend trying these not only to Indian food lovers but all my fellow chilli addicts.

I have combined two sources, one from the fantastic book by Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi), the latter recipe being much richer in spices and closer to what I had in mind thinking of Indian pickled chilli. If you know Patak’s, the famous British brand of Indian pickles, and if you love their products as much as I do (my favourite are chilli and mango pickles), you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover my very first homemamde Indian pickles had this distinctive Patak’s aroma I’m totally addicted to! Moreover, they seemed crunchier and less oily than the famous jars’ content. Needless to say, I feel it’s only the beginning of my long adventure with Indian pickling…

These chillies are perfect on sandwiches, in tortilla rolls, in scrambled eggs (!!!) and simply served with any dish, not necessarily Indian. My favourite light breakfast (I’m rarely hungry in them morning) is now a slice of crisp thin bread (Finncrisp is the best!) with a thick layer of goat cheese or quark/curd cheese and two or three slices of these pickles. I have no words to describe how fantastic it is!

TIPS: In theory fresh chilli is not now in season in this part of the world, but the one sold by my supermarket comes from Moroccan greenhouses, smells great and apparently is perfect for pickles even in the middle of winter.

I’ve checked on many online sources and I saw that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world, so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and it adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles and make them really special). Mustard oil is also very good here.

The below spice amounts can be changed to your taste, but be careful with fenugreek. It’s easy to overdose and thus make the whole jar of pickles bitter (I’ve had this awful experience once with a curry dish).  Asafoetida is quite strong, but it’s not as dangerous as fenugreek (in my opinion).

You will find all the spices and the mustard oil in Indian/Sri Lankan grocery shops. Mustard oil does make a huge difference in taste…

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green raw chilli is the best for pickling. Obviously adapt the heat level to your taste and capacity to eat fiery food. In general, I’d recommend medium hot chillies (but this is a rather personal concept).

The chilli pieces must be submerged in the pickling liquid, so once you mix everything, you must put something heavy on top. A Japanese pickling jar with a weight will be perfect, but you can also use a bigger jar for pickling and a small clean jar filled with water as a weight. Afterwards you should put a lid on the jar or cover with plastic film, so that no unwanted bacteria gets inside.

Special equipment: disposable gloves

Preparation: 15 minutes + minimum 3 days

Ingredients:

250 g (about 1/2 lb) fresh green chillies without stalks

50 ml mustard oil

6 teaspoons salt

juice from 1 lime (or 1/2 lemon)

3 heaped teaspoons sugar

3 tablespoons vinegar (I’ve used cider vinegar)

2 tablespoons white/yellow mustard seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

1/3 teaspoon asafoetida powder

Grind all the spices in a spice grinder or in a cheap coffee grinder (I have one I bought only for spices, see TIPS above).

Put on disposable gloves. Slice the chillies or cut them into bite-sized pieces. (Remove the seeds and white parts if you want less heat).

Place the chilli pieces tightly in a glass jar or any other container (a Japanese pickling jar, such as this one is a fantastic gadget here).

Add the spices.

Heat the oil (but don’t boil it) and pour it over the chillies.

Add the lime juice, the vinegar, the salt and give it a good stir.

Put something heavy weight on top (if you have a Japanese pickling jar you have a special heavy “cover”), made of ceramic or glass (a small jar filled with water will be ok), so that the chillies are all submerged in the oily mixture.

Cover well with plastic wrap or a cover, so that no bacteria gets inside, and leave at room temperature for two-three days. Stir the content once a day with a clean fork or spoon.

The chillies will soften, their volume will be reduced and their colour will change to an olive hue; then they will be ready to eat.

Store the pickles tightly closed in the fridge and whenever you fish some pieces out, make sure you use a clean fork or spoon (i.e. not used on any other food product).

Indian Aubergine with Sesame, Tamarind and an Egg

indian_sesame_aubIn which part of the world do you look for inspiration when looking for new aubergine recipes? For me India is a definite number one (Japanese cuisine comes in second position), so whenever in search for new aubergine ideas, I usually start with this part of my culinary library, especially if I have a new cookery book to play with! The recipe I chose contains a generous amount of sesame seeds, not what I’d expect in an Indian dish. Moreover, the presence of tamarind announced a slightly tangy dish… The result is fantastic, but the sesame seeds transform the other – less surprising – ingredients to the point where, I must admit, I’d never guess the origins of this dish. As a lazy cook, I simply topped it with a poached egg and had it with bread, transforming it into a delicious, creamy full one-bowl meal. The dish was memorable because it was the first time – I think – I had an excuse to sprinkle an Indian dish with my beloved roasted sesame seeds!

The new book I’ve mentioned above is Fresh India, a second recipes collection by Meera Sodha. I love her Made in India, but I hesitated a lot before buying this one because it is vegetarian. I am an avowed pisci- and carnivore, so I was worried it might even be vegan… but when I saw eggs are also featured here (luckily there’s Amazon’s “look inside” option), I was relieved. The pages are of course filled with meatless dishes (but I already visualise those topped with an egg, enriched with sliced chicken breast or shrimp…) and, most of all there are some mushroom and egg-including recipes that don’t need any other proteins, even for me.

This aubergine dish comes from Anhdra Pradesh, apparently known for a combination of tangy and fiery flavours. As usually, apart from the addition of an egg, I have transformed the recipe, for example replacing half of the sesame seeds with white sesame paste (I was afraid my blender wouldn’t transform the sesame into a smooth paste and I was right : the result was creamy with some tiny bits of sesame seeds). In short, whether you are a vegetarian or just an Indian cuisine fan, I encourage you to buy the wonderful Fresh India and check the original recipe for this delicious aubergine dish.

TIPS: Don’t skin your tomatoes. It’s absolutely unnecessary and mixed skins add more flavours anyway.

If you find poaching difficult, you can fry the egg too.

If you don’t own a “magical” Indian blender and aren’t sure if yours will crush sesame seeds to fine powder, add half sesame seeds and half sesame seed paste or grind the seeds in a spice/coffee grinder. By the way, if you cook Indian from time to time, I strongly recommend buying a cheap coffee grinder you shouldn’t use for coffee (cheap ones have blades and not burrs and cuts coffee instead of properly grinding it). It’s perfect for freshly ground spices and the difference is huuuge!

The recipe suggests serving this dish with cracked wheat and yogurt. I haven’t tested either, but,  maybe because of the poached egg, the dish was great simply served with bread.

I suggest warming up your individual bowls in the oven (at the lowest temperature; don’t go above 50°C if they aren’t heatproof) before serving this dish. It might take some time before fried/poached eggs are ready and this way your aubergine dish will keep warm for longer.

Preparation: 1h – 1h30

Ingredients (serves 3 as a side dish or 2 as a main course  with a poached egg):

2 medium aubergines/eggplants, cut into 3 cm thick sticks

1 medium onion (I have used two big shallots)

fresh mint or coriander leaves (or chives/green onion)

1 tablespoon oil (I have used coconut fat)

(toasted white sesame seeds)

(yogurt)

Sauce:

2 medium tomatoes (or 1/3 small can of tomatoes)

2 heaped teaspoons white sesame seeds or 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame seeds + 1 heaped teaspoon white sesame paste (see the TIPS)

2 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or 2 tablespoons tamarind “juice” made from a block of tamarind and hot water)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

3 teaspoons medium hot chilli powder (I have used here Kashmiri chilli)

Place the sauce ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Heat the oil in a pan, add the sliced shallots and stir-fry until light brown.

Add the sauce and, when it’s warmed, the aubergine pieces and about 1/2 glass of water (they will absorb water, so the sauce must be more liquid).

Simmer, covered until the aubergine pieces are soft.

Add water if necessary.

Heat the water for poached eggs.

Divide the aubergine dish into individual bowls.

Poach 3 eggs, one by one, and place on top.

Sprinkle with chopped mint and, if you like, toasted sesame seeds.