Category Archives: Indian

Red Lentil Curry/Dal, South Indian Style

This is my absolute number one red lentil dal and I’m particularly proud to share my enthusiasm with you because it’s my own improvisation, based on typical ingredients of certain South Indian dishes I have recently learnt to cook (you’ll see big similarities with this Egg Curry). I have no idea if red lentil curry is popular in the South and, if yes, if it’s even seasoned this way, but I fell in love in this version with lighter, sharper flavours, so different from all the red lentil dals I know.

I love red lentils for their taste but also because they are quick to prepare (they don’t require soaking, in case you have never cooked them). Therefore, in my short Indian cooking experience I have tested several red lentil dal recipes from cookery books I otherwise appreciate a lot, but always with the feeling something was wrong with the seasoning. A couple of weeks ago I decided to do it my way, first with a small batch. I used very few ingredients, but only those I’m nowadays crazy for. The result was so good, I did the same with the remaining lentils and froze in several single portions (this is how i discovered red lentil curry is fantastic defrosted too!).

If you feel lazy (I often do) and don’t feel like preparing a second protein dish, you can add some pieces of chicken breast (or tofu, paneer, boiled eggs…) together with lentils and thus obtain a very filling one-pot meal. (You might notice the lentils above were cooked with chicken). I’d freeze the dal without additional proteins and then add them while it’s being reheated.

TIPS: You can cook the lentils in water well in advance (even several days before) and then taking the part you need, prepare the final dish.

Both unseasoned cooked lentils and the final dish freeze very well. If you are in a hurry, defrost them in a microwave up to the moment when it’s possible to transfer them to a pan and then reheat, covered (his is what I do most of the time). I usually add chicken or eggs when the dish is already boiling.

Curry leaves are best when fresh or frozen (dried ones are practically without scent and are very unpleasant to eat, while the fresh ones are edible, contrary to bay leaves). They can be bough in Indian or Sri Lankan shops but also online (I know certain people grow them commercially in the US). If you don’t find them, skip them because there is no substitute. The curry will be very good without them too.

Preparation: about 1 hour

Ingredients (serves two as a main dish, especially if served with a vegetable side-dish, pickles and a carb source, such as rice, chapatti or simply bread):

200 g dry red lentils

400 ml (about ) water or stock

2 tablespoons oil (I’ve used coconut oil)

3-4 small Western shallots or 1 big onion, finely sliced

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

10-15 fresh curry leaves

2 medium-hot fresh green chillies (or more, if you want it hotter), sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cm (about 3/4 in) fresh ginger, grated or finely chopped

2 medium tomatoes or 100 ml canned tomatoes, chopped (you may skin the fresh ones, but it’s not necessary)

1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric

1 teaspoon medium-hot chilli powder (I have used Kashmiri chilli)

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon garam masala

coriander leaves

First cook the red lentils until soft, adding water if necessary (check often the water level).

It should take about 20-30 minutes.

You should obtain a mushy, not very appetising-looking thick gruel-like stuff.

If it’s too soupy, increase the heat and the excess water will evaporate.

In the meantime start preparing the final dish in a frying pan.

Warm some oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and when they start popping, quickly add the shallots (or onions), green chilli and curry leaves.

Stir-fry at medium heat until the onions become golden and softened.

Add the garlic and the ginger and stir-fry for one minute.

Off the hob add the chilli powder and the turmeric and stir well.

Place back on the hob and add the tomatoes.

Stir-fry until the tomatoes thicken (about 1 minute).

Now finally add the cooked lentils, the garam masala, give the whole dish a good stir add salt and pepper to taste. (If you have made lentils beforehand, cover the pan and wait until they are well heated).

Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander leaves.

South Indian Egg and Onion Curry

Are you an egg lover? Do you tend to add twice – or thrice – as much onions as written in recipes? If you have answered “yes” to both questions, then you’ve come to the right place! In this Indian curry onions are not just a typical seasoning but, once softened, they act like a thick sauce or maybe even as a second main ingredient… If you are used to what I’d call a “mainstream abroad version of Indian cuisine”, you will also be surprised by the sharpness and freshness of the flavours I have found in other South Indian dishes.

This recipe is based on a video published by Mina Street Food channel (on Youtube it’s called Grandma’s Village Style Egg Curry) Videos are not my favourite source of new recipes, but I loved this one and quickly got addicted to the whole series of an older lady’s cooking sessions, which feature an ancient outdoor cooking method and a cutting tool I was mesmerised by (or rather by the dexterity with which the lady uses it).

The video didn’t list the ingredients, not to mention the amounts, but for me it has made the whole dish even more attractive! Once I started to cook what I hope is at least similar, it was one of those rare moments in my Indian cooking experience where I had a total freedom! I don’t know how close my result was to the genuine south Indian dish (especially since I’ve also also slightly modified what I saw, for example adding coconut milk…), so if you want to see the genuine recipe, check the video to see Grandma cooking sensational “village-style” Indian food!

TIP: Curry leaves make this dish very special, since they are a typical ingredient of South Indian cuisine. There is unfortunately no substitute for them. If you don’t have fresh curry leaves (sold in Indian or Sri Lankan grocery shops), skip them. My experience with dried ones is very bad (practically tasteless), so I cannot advise them. If one day you stumble upon fresh curry leaves, freeze them. They are totally acceptable preserved this way.

If you don’t have curry leaves, you might be interested by this Egg Molee which doesn’t require any and which is even easier than this curry:

Egg Molee

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two as a main dish served with some pickles/vegetables and rice or Indian bread):

4 hard-boiled eggs

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds

2 big onions or 8 big shallots, finely sliced

4-6 medium-hot fresh green chillies (sliced horizontally or lengthwise, if they are short)

2 big garlic cloves, crushed

about 2 cm fresh ginger, grated

about 20 curry leaves

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1-2 teaspoons powdered medium hot chilli (I have used Kashmiri chilli)

1/2 teaspoon garam masala 

fresh coriander leaves

(50 ml coconut milk+50 ml water)

Heat the oil in a big pan.

Add the mustard seeds and when they start to pop (it takes 30 seconds to 1 minute), add the onions, the chillies and the curry leaves. Stir-fry for ten minutes at medium heat.

Add the garlic and the ginger and stir-fry for two more minutes.

Now add the turmeric and the powdered chilli and stir-fry for several more minutes.

If you wish, you can now add 50 ml of coconut milk+50 ml water to make the dish creamier, but it’s not necessary.

Now add the shelled eggs and continue frying, delicately turning them until the onions soften completely.

Finally sprinkle with some garam masala, give the dish a final stir and serve with fresh coriander leaves on top.

 

Baked Lamb and Potato Croquettes, Indian/Sri Lankan Style, or the Best Korokke Ever

I still hesitate if I should start my post with the Japanese croquettes (korokke), Sri Lankan “lamb rolls” or South-Indian seasoning… To make the explanations as simple as possible, the lamb rolls I saw in  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook looked to me like European croquettes, which in turn made me think of Japanese korokke and when I finally decided to make my own modified and simplified version of these Sri Lankan snacks, I realised my  improvised seasoning was inspired by certain “village-style” South-Indian recipes… All this sounds like a crazy triple fusion, but the first bite of these croquettes was so obvious, so good, so comforting…. I couldn’t believe my tastebuds! I don’t know if it was the presence of lamb, the refreshingly hot fresh green chilli, the mixture of spices… or the combination of all, but these were by far the best croquettes of my life! In short, if you like lamb, potatoes and green chilli, these soft spicy balls with crisp crust will become your favourite comfort food.

As I have mentioned above, the Lamb Rolls recipe that inspired me comes from the recently bought  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook by Prakash N Sivanathan &  Niranja M Ellawa, a beautifully illustrated collection of fantastic recipes from this barely known fascinating culinary heritage (I’ve already tested four or five and all proved exceptionally good). As I have mentioned above, I didn’t stick to the recipe at all, changed and reduced the number of spices, skipped the croquette “skins” and, as always, simplified the procedure as much as I could, so check  Sri Lanka. The Cookbook if you want to make genuine Lamb Rolls (these cannot even bear this name in my opinion… and the seasoning brings them probably closer to South Indian dishes than Sri Lankan cuisine).

If you want to make first the famous Japanese korokke, here’s my favourite recipe:

Japanese croquettes (korokke コロッケ)

TIPS: This recipe is not the quickest one, but potato boiling, meat frying and bread crumb browning processes can be made well in advance. You can cook the potatoes in advance and then reheat in a microwave just before forming balls. You can prepare the meat mixture, fry it and then refrigerate for several days or even freeze. The breadcrumbs can be toasted even a week before!

These croquettes can be reheated in a microwave and even though they are best freshly made, I think the microwaved version is still delicious.

I have baked these croquettes because I try to slim down dishes as long as they stay delicious, but you can of course deep-fry them.

PANKO is the Japanese version of breadcrumbs, but it looks like crisp flakes, absorbs less oil when deep-fried and stays crunchier than any Western form of breadcrumbs. For me it’s simply the best! Luckily you can buy panko on internet (Amazon sells it) and in many Asian, not only Japanese grocery shops. If you cannot get Japanese panko, use normal dry breadcrumbs, but when toasting them, heat some oil first in the pan.

I have used a mixture of ground lamb and beef, but you can use lamb only (or beef or pork or half beef half pork, if you don’t like lamb; for me the lamb’s presence is crucial though).

As much as I love fresh coriander, I must say apart from looking nice, it didn’t change the taste so much, so skip it if you don’t have it or don’t like it particularly.

These croquettes taste great with one or several of those: mayonnaise (yes!!! but good quality one), chilli oil, chilli oil+mayonnaise (why not?), tzatziki or any yogurt-based sauce, sriracha…

Preparation: about 2 hours

Ingredients (makes about 12-13 croquettes; serves three-four people if served with a salad or a vegetable side-dish):

1/2 kg (about 1,1 lb) ground lamb and beef mixture or lamb only

750 g (about 1.6 lb) potatoes (I prefer here waxy, not floury potatoes)

1 big onion, roughly cut into several pieces

4-5 fresh medium hot green chillies (I loved jalapeños here)

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon medium-hot powdered chilli (optional)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

3 big garlic cloves

3 cm grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon mustard seeds (I used black, but white is ok too)

salt, pepper

1 big egg or 2 small

about 300 ml container filled with panko or dry breadcrumbs

10 tablespoons wheat flour

(chopped fresh coriander leaves-optional, combined with the toasted breadcrumbs)

First toast the panko/breadcrumbs.

Heat an empty big pan at medium heat and spread a layer of panko (if you use breadcrumbs, heat one tablespoon oil first; panko already contains some fat so it’s not necessary).

Watch it closely without stirring and when it starts changing colour, stir it, so that it becomes a more or less uniform golden (I’ve never managed a uniform colour) and so that it doesn’t burn.

Depending on the size of your pan you might need two batches. (The layer of panko should be very thin, maximum 1/2 cm).

Place the onion, the garlic, the ginger and the ground spices (not the mustard seeds!) in a food processor and mix them (a small baby food processor is perfect here).

Put the meat into a big bowl and mix well with spices (the best is using your hand).

Put into the fridge.

In the meantime cook the potatoes until soft (without peeling them).

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and wait until they are cool enough to be handled.

Take the meat out of the fridge.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a big pan.

Throw the mustard seeds into the pan and fry at low heat until they start popping.

Now add the meat and, stirring, fry it until it’s well cooked, separating well the lumps with a fork.

Put the meat into a big bowl.

Peel the potatoes and mash them roughly with a fork or with a potato masher (I think they taste better when not too smooth), season with salt.

Combine the potatoes and the meat.

Preheat the oven to 190°C.

Prepare three plates: one with beaten egg, one with flour and one with panko (or breadcrumbs).

Shape flattish round patties (mine had a 6 cm diameter), coat them first in flour, then in the egg and then in panko.

Place the balls on a baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes until they start changing colour and are well heated inside.

Omelette Curry, or Indian Omelette in Sauce/Gravy with Green Peas and Bok Choy

Does an omelette soaked in spicy tomato sauce speak to you? It certainly did to me! When I found it while looking for Indian egg recipes, I couldn’t believe my eyes! What a genius idea! Apart from the eggs, many recipes called for potatoes, but I wanted to eat the dish – and clean the plate ! – with my homemade chapatti, so I thought the meal would be too heavy with both. I opted for green peas and… bok choy, a typical Indian vegetable (just joking!). To make the matters worse, instead of following one source, I took inspiration from different recipes, making the seasoning and sauce as easy and quick as possible. I hope this dish can still be labelled as Indian because for me it tasted Indian and it smelled definitely Indian. The first bite felt like the quintessence of home comfort food (which was surprising, given my origins). I know it will be perfect for any time of the day (imagine such a luxurious late breakfast!) and I already see its endless versions, changing according to seasonal vegetables… (I did prepare it afterwards with potatoes too and it was sensational).

TIPS: Before you start panicking about the number of “exotic” ingredients, let me assure you that if you cook Indian from time to time, you probably already have most of them and if you intend to cook at least three Indian dishes in your life, you’ll need all those spices anyway and they’ll keep for quite a long time. (Moreover, you can use them in non-Indian dishes too!).

The great news for this dish is that you can make the omelette the day before and then finish the whole dish the following day. You can obviously change the vegetables according to seasons and to your fridge content.

If you decide to prepare this dish with potatoes, slice them and then cut into bite-sized pieces. The cooking time will be much longer though.

If you have homemade chicken or vegetable stock, add it to the omelette. If you have it only powdered or in cubes, just skip it and add more milk or cream.

Don’t be tempted to heat the omelette and peas for more than 5 minutes. The peas will become mushy!

Preparation: about 40 minutes

Ingredients (serves two):

Omelette:

4 medium or big eggs

3 tablespoons milk or cream 

3 tablespoons homemade stock (if you don’t have it, add more milk/cream)

1-2 fresh green chillies, finely sliced or chopped

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

salt, freshly ground pepper

(2 tablespoons of green onion stalks or chives (chopped) )

Remaining ingredients:

1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds

1 big onion or four big shallots, cut in two and then finely sliced

2-3 fresh green chillies, sliced (if you use small ones, you can cut them in four lengthwise)

1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated (you can use ginger ad garlic paste instead of grating/chopping)

1 teaspoon chilli powder, I’ve used here Kashmiri chilli powder (or less/more, depending on its heat level and you preferences)

1/3 teaspoon turmeric powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

2 medium tomatoes, diced or about 100 ml canned tomatoes or tomato salsa

2 small bokchoys/pakchoys (remove the leafy part, unless you really like it), cut into bite-sized pieces

6 tablespoons fresh or frozen green peas (if using frozen, don’t thaw them before using)

salt to taste

First break the eggs and mix them with the omelette ingredients.

Heat some oil in a pan (I have used a 28 cm pan) and fry the omelette at low heat, covered, until the top part is almost set. Flip it over and fry for 10 more seconds.

Fold the omelette in two and put aside.

(You can make this step many hours before making the whole dish and even the day before).

Heat some oil in a pan, stir-fry the onion/shallots and the chillies, stirring, until the onion is golden brown.

Add the ginger and the garlic and stir-fry for one minute.

Put the pan off the heat and add the powdered spices (chilli, turmeric and cumin). Stir well.

Now add the tomato, let it simmer until the tomato breaks into a thick sauce or, if using tomato sauce, just warm it up for 5-10 minutes. Season with salt to taste.

Add the the bok choy and let the whole dish simmer for about 5 more minutes.

Cut the omelette in four equal parts and delicately put on top of the sauce with bok choy.

Add the peas, cover and let the dish simmer for about 5 minutes (until the omelette is well reheated).

You can serve this dish sprinkled with fresh coriander, fresh green chilli or chives/green onions (and also with fresh dill).

Indian Short-Term Fridge Chilli Pickles

If you think these pickles look and sound familiar, you are right: this is exactly the same recipe I posted seven months ago. I didn’t include it in my previous preserving post (My Favourite Summer Savoury Pickles) because it is unique. When I first made it – and shared with you my enthusiasm – it was the middle of winter, the chillies were imported from a warmer continent and not half as good as local seasonal produce, nonetheless these Indian pickles were so extraordinary I promised myself I would write about them once more when chilli season arrives.

Now that I have tested several chilli varieties, I find these pickles the best with jalapeños because they stay relatively crunchy throughout weeks and of course because jalapeños are highly aromatic and delicious!, so if you have a chance to test this recipe with jalapeños, I urge you to do so.

Although I have already grown chillies on my balcony, I was particularly thrilled this year to pick my own balcony-grown jalapeños. They aren’t sold fresh anywhere in my city, so the only way to get them was to sow them and grow on my own. Maybe they don’t look as perfect and as plump as those grown outdoors, but they are absolutely delicious. The photo of this very first harvest was taken a month ago and I’m so happy to have been able to pick a similar amount every single week since then! Obviously every week a new small batch of Indian pickles is started!

This recipe was inspired by two sources: a recipe found in  Meera Sodha’s (Fresh India) and another one, from the newly discovered Healthy Veg Recipes website (in English and Hindi).

Even though both sources are Indian, these pickles taste fantastic in sandwiches, on toasts, in salads and they give a nice fiery kick to every dish from all around the world. One of my favourite ways to have them is with crisp Finnish bread, on top of a thick layer of fresh goat cheese…

TIPS:

If, once your jar is empty, you are left with some thick spicy brine, don’t throw it away! It’s fantastic mixed with mayonnaise or as a salad sauce or as an addition to a vinaigrette sauce. (I have tested only these three options but I’m sure it can be used in other ways too). I don’t advise reusing it for a new batch of fresh chillies.

Chillies have different heat levels and some are ridiculously mild (at least for me), so even if you cannot handle fiery food (and for example jalapeños are out of question), you can still prepare these pickles with mild chillies because the spices here don’t contain chilli powder. You can also look for thin-skinned sweet peppers and cut them into bite-sized pieces. What makes these pickles fantastic is the aromatic, spice-loaded brine, the heat comes after (of course for us, chilli lovers, both are important!).

You can also use raw red chilli, but Indian sources suggest green chilli is the best for pickling. (And I second it, green jalapeños being the best!). Apart from the different, fresher taste, I wonder if green chillies don’t stay firmer when pickled.

I have noticed that Indian dried spices are available practically all around the world (at least online), so try not to skip any of the below ingredients (such as asafoetida, which cannot be substituted and which adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to these pickles making them really special).

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 here… but you can use also for example peanut oil.

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).

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.

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 (or simply a plastic bag), so that no unwanted bacteria or insect gets inside.

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. (At this point you can transfer them into a smaller container or jar).

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).

I eat them quite quickly, but sometimes I have two batches at the same time, so I have noticed they stay delicious and unspoilt in the fridge for several weeks.