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.

French Beef and Carrot Stew (Bœuf braisé aux carottes)

Beef and Carrot Stew is one of those pre-nouvelle cuisine era hearty dishes, difficult to find in restaurants and apparently also becoming rare home food. The banality of the name might induce you to think it’s just another boring beef stew, but I can guarantee unique “rustic” French flavours and, anyway, isn’t every stew different? Looking at the photograph above you might not believe me, but, although still filling and warming, this stew is actually not a high-fat dish (unless you use a fatty beef cut or add lots of bacon).

The recipe comes from Ripailles by Stéphane Reynaud (I have just learnt there is a translated English version!), a beautiful originally designed book packed with French traditional home dishes. I have slightly tweaked the stew throughout the years, the main change being the use of smoked streaky bacon instead of fresh pork belly because I always do it (undeniably due to my Polish food heritage). I love crunchy vegetables and the author’s suggested 45 minutes to cook carrot pieces are too much for me, so I made some modifications, inspired by another beef recipe presented by Thierry Marx, a famous French chef. I cook only a third of carrots from the beginning and mash them before adding the rest. Thus,I thicken my sauce and make sure it absorbed the carrots’ flavours from the beginning. I cook the remaining carrots for about 15 minutes, so that they stay crunchy and fresh (even reheated the are soft, but not mushy). Obviously, you don’t have to follow my instructions if you don’t mind mushy carrots.

TIPS: Some people think wine’s addition is just a fancy snobbish ingredient one can easily skip, but I don’t advise it. From my experience here (and it’s the case of many dishes, not only French), it greatly improves and changes flavours, giving a certain je-ne-sais-quoi you don’t want to miss. If you don’t have the habit of stocking cheap wine for cooking purposes, buy a bottle (not expensive, but it must be drinkable!) and freeze leftovers in two- or three-glass portions which will be easy to use in cooking afterwards. Do it whenever you have leftover wine or when you open a bottle that proves not as good as you expected… (but it cannot be spoilt either, of course!).

I always use dried rosemary and dried thyme, but if you have them fresh, use less.

Preparation: about 2-3 hours, depending on the beef cut

Ingredients (serves 2-3):

500 g (about 1 lb) beef (choose a cut which is adapted to long slow cooking; my favourite are beef cheeks, though they might be difficult to find, unless you order at your butcher’s)

2 tablespoons oil or duck fat or pork fat

3 big carrots

5 thin slices of streaky smoked bacon or about 50-70 g smoked streaky bacon cubes

300 ml red wine (or a half white half red, as the author suggests)

5 big shallots, sliced or 2 big white onions

4 garlic cloves, crushed

2 branches of celery, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 medium bay leaves

dried thyme (about two heaped teaspoons or more)

1/2 flat teaspoon dried rosemary

salt, pepper

1 tablespoon tomato paste

(chilli powder or dried chillies torn into pieces)

fresh parsley, chopped

Cut the beef into big cubes (about 4 cm).

Heat oil or fat in a big pan and stir fry the beef at medium-high heat until browned.

Add the streaky bacon cut into small pieces, sliced shallots and stir-fry for several minutes.

After five minutes add the wine and, stirring from time to time, wait until it almost evaporates and everything starts to stick.

Now add the garlic, the herbs, 1 teaspoon salt, celery, 1 carrot cut into three pieces, tomato paste and, if using, chilli.

Cover with water, give the whole stew a stir, put the lid on and let it simmer for at least two hours (it will depend on the meat).

Check if the meat is tender and if it’s the case, take out the carrot pieces, mash them (or mix in a mixer) and add it to the stew together with the remaining thickly sliced carrots.

Cover and cook until the carrots are still crunchy but not too soft (it takes from ten to fifteen minutes and much less if you have young carrots).

Taste, adjust the saltiness, add some ground pepper and serve with chopped parsley and lots of good quality crusty bread.

This dish can be stored several days in the fridge and it freezes very well too.

 

 

 

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).

The Best of 2016

Tomato, Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad with Pomegranate Molasses

I always enjoy and look forward to reading “the best of” posts written by my blogging friends, and yet I’ve never considered doing the same myself. This is probably due to my regular end-of-the-year blues and reluctance to analyse the past twelve months where I tend to see only the empty half of the glass… Anyway, this week I decided to break this bad habit (or rather lack of it) and share with you a small selection of the most thrilling culinary adventures and discoveries I have experienced this year. Happy New Year, my dear visitors!

Indian Coriander Chutney

Indian Coriander Chutney,
the most delicious thing I can imagine made with a bunch of coriander (and also the quickest weekday meal basis I know)

Eazy Lazy Eggless Chicken Katsu

Eazy Lazy Eggless Chicken Katsu
because I was so happy to discover an easier and lighter version of this fantastic Japanese dish

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit

Light Yogurt Mousse with Passion Fruit,
one of the easiest & quickest & lightest desserts I can imagine

Aubergine with Nigella Seeds

Aubergine with Nigella Seeds ,
the only two-ingredient Indian dish I know (and it’s a delicious one of course!)

Egg Molee

Egg Molee ,
because I cherish every single new egg recipe, especially if it’s Indian

Tomato, Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad with Pomegranate Molasses

Tomato, Pomegranate and Cucumber Salad with Pomegranate Molasses
which triggered my numerous adventures with the amazing pomegranate

Grilled Razor Clams

Grilled Razor Clams
because I finally dared buying them and they proved so easy and delicious!