Dinner

Spilling the Beans

My love affair with cookbooks started about thirty-three odd years ago when cooking became a part of my life. It was only once married did I even venture into the kitchen to cook. Prior to that I was my mother's chief taster and each weekend on my return from university I would devour the feast that she had so lovingly prepared for me. Despite my cooking skills being honed out of necessity, cooking developed into a passion and I now stand before you, a die-hard foodie. 

There is always a teetering stack of cookbooks by my bedside; food porn dare I say! Thus, I must confess that I am a cookbook addict. There, my 'secret' is out in the open! I love to pore over those antiquarian treasures, gifted to me so long ago, just as much as the clean glossy coffee table variety. There is however a place to go to; not quite rehab, but a trove in fact, which literally feeds my addiction. Books for Cooks in Notting Hill in London, is a quirky bookshop crammed with thousands of cookbook titles, where they actually 'cook the books' by testing out the recipes and selling the prepared dishes in their cafe.

One such coffee table tome, entitled My Last Supper was bought for me several years ago by one of my sons. Fifty of the world's most famous chefs share their last supper fantasies, disclosing the chef preparing it, the location, the invitees and of course the meal itself. This book by Melanie Dunea, is a culinary revelation of the world's leading authorities on food. Despite enjoying the finest, most expensive, exquisite ingredients on the planet, most of these chefs wish for simple more rustic foods as their last supper. The book is actually food for thought and I've posed this question to others numerous times. The overwhelming result is that we are inclined to turn to comfort foods. For me personally, I'm once again in the halcyon days of my childhood, at my mother's kitchen table yearning for a hot bowl of rajma chawal, which translated, is a red kidney bean stew with basmati rice. Rajma is a popular North Indian, Punjabi vegetarian dish of red kidney beans cooked in a thick, spiced gravy. For me this is basically a big hug in a bowl. It is comfort food laced in nostalgia. I hope you too will add this to your vegetarian repertoire and savour this big bowl of happiness. 

Rajma

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

  • 680g Dried Kidney Beans

  • 2 Large Onions, finely chopped

  • 4 tbsp Sunflower Oil

  • 6 Cloves of Garlic

  • 4 inch piece of Ginger

  • 1 Green Chilli

  • 400g Tin Chopped Tomatoes

  • 2 dessertspoons Tomato Puree

  • 3.5 tsp Salt

  • 3 tsp Garam Masala

  • 2.5 tsp Ground Coriander Powder

  • 50g Fresh Coriander (Cilantro), finely chopped

  • 100ml Double Cream (optional)

Method

  • Soak the dried kidney beans overnight, in a large pan in 2 litres of water and cover.

  • The following day, drain in a colander and rinse the kidney beans thoroughly under cold water for several minutes.

  • The kidney beans can either be cooked in a pressure cooker, as per the manufacturers instructions, or boiled in a pan.

  • I put the beans into my pressure cooker with double the quantity of water and place the lid on. Once the pressure is reached, I reduce the heat to a moderate setting and cook for 20 minutes. After this time I remove from the heat and once the pressure is released remove the pan lid. The kidney beans are now tender and have split slightly.

  • If you don't have a pressure cooker, the kidney beans must be boiled in plenty of water for around 60-90 minutes, until the beans are soft, tender and slightly split. (You may need to top up the water regularly whilst boiling the beans).

  • Grind the garlic, ginger and chilli together to a paste.

  • Fry the chopped onions in the sunflower oil and add the garlic, ginger, chilli paste.

  • Cook this onion mixture on a moderate heat until the onions are golden brown.

  • Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato puree into the onion mixture and cook slowly for about 40 minutes until the tomato mixture has turned a dark red and the oil starts to emerge around the edge of the pan.

  • Add the salt, garam masala and ground coriander powder.

  • Add the tomato mixture to the cooked kidney beans and add about half a litre of boiled water to loosen the curry.

  • Cook on a low heat for about 1 hour, or until the gravy has thickened. You may need to add more boiled water if needed.

  • You will end up with a thick stew and mix in the chopped coriander and double cream before serving.

  • Serve the rajma with basmati rice or hot roti.

Tips

  • If you are using a pressure cooker, it is imperative to follow manufacturers instructions.

  • If you are considering investing in a pressure cooker, I recommend buying a stainless steel one, as opposed to an aluminium one.

  • The rajma recipe can be halved if you do not want to make a large pot of it, or alternatively it is suitable to freeze in freezer friendly containers.

 

 

 

New Year, Same Me!

Brace yourselves for the new year mantra of detox, diets and exercise! 'New year, new you,' is all we hear, but really, is such a radical cleanse of the seasonal excesses totally necessary? After all, we are marooned in the middle of this grey, wet winter and surely some heartwarming comfort food and a little tipple wouldn't go amiss.

So here is my proposal, let's compromise and save the green juice cleanse, the multitude of orthodox salads and the fat-free diet meal plan for a later date and enjoy a little bit of what we fancy. I'm not refuting the wise words of our health gurus and I'm not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination, that we tuck indiscriminately into greasy fried food, but practise some semblance of moderation. 

We spent December looking forward to Christmas parties, luxurious foods and feasting. Rather than being a month of totally abstaining from life's enjoyable perks, January should have some sort of balance and why not embrace the healthy stuff? Let's make it simple, light and fresh. Courgette spaghetti or 'Courgetti,' as it is known by trendy food fashionistas, has revolutionised my life. You are hoodwinked into believing that you are devouring a bowlful of comforting pasta, but without all the starchy carb heaviness. The courgette spaghetti is prepared using a spiralizer, a julienne peeler, or even the humble kitchen knife. I kid you not, once you start making vegetable pasta, your imagination will start to run riot. I've teamed up my gluten free courgetti with an avocado pesto which adds a silky creaminess. It's fast, tasty, nutritious, satisfying, uber guilt-free and you can eat it by the bucket load. With the momentum of the New Year and all this feel-good food, I'm going to resolve to start my January fitness regime! Happy 2016!

Courgetti with Avocado Pesto

Serves 2

  • 250g Courgette

Pesto

  • 1 ripe Avocado
  • 1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 Spring Onion, finely chopped
  • Juice of half small Lime
  • Half Green Chilli, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp plus extra for the topping, Parmesan Cheese, finely grated
  • 15g fresh Coriander
  • 1 tbsp Pine Nuts
  • 0.5 tsp Salt or to taste

Method

  • The courgette needs to be spiralized to make it into spaghetti. You can use a julienne peeler, or a knife if you don't have a spiralizer. Set aside once done.
  • Place one tablespoon of olive oil into a small frypan and heat up on a medium setting. Place the chopped garlic into the olive oil and fry for around 30 seconds. Do not allow it to brown and take it off the heat and set aside.
  • Peel and chop the avocado into a bowl and mix in the lime juice and add the salt. Using a fork, just mash the avocado until it is smooth.
  • Into a herb mill, or small food processor, add the chilli, coriander, pine nuts and spring onion and blitz.
  • Add this mixture from the herb mill into the avocado, along with the garlic and the Parmesan cheese and mix it all together.
  • In a large fry pan or wok, add a tablespoon of olive oil and on a medium to high setting heat up the oil. Add the courgetti and cook for 1-2 minutes and then add the pesto. Take the pan off the heat and the pesto will stay warm in the residual heat.
  • Serve the Courgetti immediately and sprinkle over some more Parmesan cheese on top.
  • Serve the Courgetti as a light meal, or as an accompaniment to any meat, chicken, fish or vegetable dish of your choice.

Tips

  • When using Parmesan cheese, always use Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • I always make double the amount of avocado pesto and use half of it in the Courgetti and keep half in my fridge to serve with any main dish, or as a dip with crudités, or even as a spread in sandwiches or on toast.



Mad about Curry

There's something that's been agitating me for a while. Why is all Indian food referred to as 'curry?' The original Tamil word is kari, meaning spiced sauce. This generic reference doesn't actually mean anything. Indian flavours are complex and intricate, and to refer to everything as 'curry' simply devalues a cuisine that is inextricably linked with such a rich and vast culture.

'I'm going out for a curry' is a phrase unheard of in the Indian subcontinent. This was a phrase conceived by the British colonialists to refer to a generic sauce-based, homogenised, spicy Indian dish. The swathe of blanket kormas, baltis and tikka masalas with a choice of any meat, chicken or vegetable, swimming in oil, is irritatingly inauthentic. Indian cooking should manifest its regional diversity. Recipes are often not documented and handed down from generation to generation just by word of mouth, for fear of plagiarism. This is one of the reasons that Indian food, despite its culinary refinements, is not as well chronicled as French food for example.

The Mughals from Afghanistan settled in Northern India bringing an array of spices, fruits and nuts and combined these with yoghurt and cream, thus concocting 'Mughlai' cuisine. Punjab with its fertile land, ideal for the production of wheat, is known as the 'Granary of India.' Punjabis are well known for their love of food and the Punjab is acclaimed for its tandoori cooking. The Persians came and settled in the southern half of India and these 'Parsees' as they are known, introduced their 'Dhansak' style, which integrated lentils and spices into their mutton or chicken dishes. The Western part of India, mainly Mumbai and Goa with its Portuguese influence due to four hundred years of Portuguese colonialism, has outstanding seafood dishes using coconut milk and tamarind. Gujarat in the west is predominantly vegetarian. Many Gujarati dishes are often simultaneously salty, spicy and sweet. Rice and lentils are the staples of South India, as well as fiery vegetable dishes using coconut, mustard and curry leaves to embellish their food. Bengal in the East is where fish is abundant and therefore widely eaten alongside rice. Bengalis are renowned for their 'Mishti,' or sweetmeats. These various regional distinctions are only the tip of the iceberg of our profound culinary heritage.   

The popularity of Indian food is undeniable. The 'national dish' in the UK is curry and the Indian restaurant industry in Britain is worth almost £4 billion. The food of India recreated abroad has become a melting pot of Indian culture. Furthermore, it's impossible to represent intricate regional nuances. So the umbrella term 'curry' has actually done wonders for the profile of Indian cuisine and curry is now ubiquitous having become a worldwide phenomenon. 

On a more personal note, all celebratory, significant moments in my life, whether they be birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, have always been accompanied by exquisite food and feasting. We are a family who eat together everyday; the sights, sounds and aromas are all a requisite and integral part of my family's ethos. From my Punjabi kitchen I would like to share with you a real crowd pleaser. Dare I call it a 'curry'? I have to relinquish my own aversion and start embracing the word, so I'm going to take the plunge and invite you to experience my Prawn Curry. With its North Indian influences, the spicing is subtle, but as always, every recipe is open to personal interpretation. The sizeable, juicy prawns are cooked in a rich, creamy, tomato based sauce with a final flurry of some added citrus notes. All that remains for me to say is Curry on Eating!

Perfect Prawn Curry

Serves 6

  • 1 kg King Prawns, raw, peeled & deveined
  • 2 large Onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 5 cm piece Ginger, peeled
  • 6 large cloves Garlic, peeled
  • 1 green Chilli
  • 1 tin chopped Tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Tomato Puree
  • 3 Plum Tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander powder
  • 200 ml Double Cream 
  • 3 Spring Onions, finely chopped
  • 1 Lime

Method

  • In a herb mill, grind the ginger, garlic and chilli to form a paste.
  • Take the prawns out of the fridge and set aside.
  • In a large pan heat the sunflower oil and add the onions, the bay leaves and the ginger, garlic and chilli paste.
  • Fry this on a moderate heat until the onions are a toasted brown colour, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, the tomato puree and the fresh tomatoes and stir in. 
  • Lower the heat slightly and cook until the tomato sauce becomes a darker red and the oil starts to emerge from the edge of the pan. Make sure you regularly stir this to prevent it from sticking.
  • Stir in the salt, garam masala and coriander powder.
  • In a small bowl place the chopped spring onions with the juice of the lime and set aside.
  • Add the prawns into the tomato sauce. They should cook quite quickly and will change from grey to pink in about 5-10 minutes.
  • Keep stirring and once all the prawns are pink, add the double cream and stir in.
  • Stir in the lime infused spring onions and serve.
  • Serve with hot basmati rice, or roti or parantha.

Tips

  • I use raw, peeled and deveined king prawns. Use fresh or frozen raw king prawns.
  • If you use frozen prawns, make sure that they are defrosted and drain out any excess water in the bag. You can slowly defrost them overnight in the fridge.
  • If you use cooked prawns, they will be tough and chewy in the curry, so use raw prawns.


The Boys are back in Town

Last week was crazy busy. The three boys were all home and I was happy to indulge them in all their foodie desires. There is one meal that will always grace our table when the boys are back. From their childhood, it has been a firm favourite and whenever placed in front of them, they develop voracious appetites and elicit mmmmm's of contentment whilst devouring.  

I've always been one of those democratic mothers, encouraging foodie requests, but the one dish that they unanimously request time and time again, is the versatile, flavourful and tasty Keema, served with roti. This renowned Indian mince dish originates from the Persian meat stew 'Qeymeh.' In India, it is typically made with goat meat, but lamb or chicken mince work particularly well. The Keema, cooked with onion, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices is enhanced with the addition of peas or potatoes. In our house it has got to be, without a shadow of a doubt, delicate new potatoes that give the keema another dimension, with their soft and fluffy texture, packed with flavour. 

If you are a lover of good Indian food, you will receive kudos for this homely, feel good and comforting recipe. Serve with the sumac onions, which provide a great umami fix. This simple Keema recipe will be one you come back to again and again.

Keema with New Potatoes and Sumac Onions

Serves 4-6

  • 1 kg Lamb or Chicken Thigh Mince
  • 2 Large Onions, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 6 Large Cloves Garlic
  • 7 cm Piece of Ginger, peeled
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 1 400g Can Chopped Tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Tomato Puree
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 300g New Potatoes, peeled, washed and cut into half
  • Handful of Coriander, finely chopped

Method

  • In a heavy-based pan, heat the sunflower oil on a moderate heat and start frying the onions.

  • Place the 'Holy Trinity' of garlic, ginger and chilli into a herb mill and blitz into a paste. Add this to the frying onions.

  • Once the onions are quite brown, lower the heat slightly and add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato puree and cook with the browned onions for approximately 20 minutes or until the tomato masala sauce is a rich, deep red, thick sauce. At this point you will see the oil emerging from around the rim of the pan. 

  • Add the mince and stir into the onion and tomato masala sauce. 

  • Add the salt, garam masala and coriander powder.

  • Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring regularly, until the Keema is like a thick stew, with none or very little liquid left. The Keema will start to fry in the masala sauce.

  • At this point add the potatoes and stir in. Lower the heat and cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked. During this time, do stir regularly. You may need to add a little water to help cook the potatoes. 

  • Add the coriander leaves and serve with hot roti and sumac onions marinated in salt, lemon juice and sumac. 

Tips

  • If you use chicken mince, do not use breast meat, as this is too dry, instead use skinless, boneless chicken thighs minced up. (My butcher usually does this for me).

  • If you prefer to add peas instead of potatoes, add the peas after the Keema starts to fry and cook for about 5-10 minutes before serving.

Sumac Onions

Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice which has a slightly tart, tangy, lemony flavour. 

  • 1 Red Onion, finely sliced
  • 0.5 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Sumac
  • 2 tbsp Lemon Juice

Method

  • Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, leave to marinate for 30 minutes and serve.

Tips

  • These sumac onions are a great accompaniment to any meat, chicken, fish or vegetable dish and provide a great umami fix.


Queen of Dals

My memories of homemade hot buttery black lentils cooked in a delicious, mildly spicy sauce tantalises my tastebuds to this day. There was nothing more comforting than to come home from school to the warmth of my mother and the aroma of dal and roti. My favourite of all the dals was by far and still is the Punjabi iconic 'Maa ki Dal,' or now more commonly known as 'Dal Makhani.' The whole black urad lentils are cooked with rajma (red kidney beans) and spices for hours over a low fire and just before serving, the dal is tempered with some butter and spice, and a splash of cream is the finale. Once the cream is added, this lentil has its status elevated from humble to regal and now has the grand title of 'Dal Maharani,' the Queen of Dals. This was a staple in our Punjabi home and is ubiquitous at any lavish dinner party or wedding. It's a luxurious, rich, robust meat substitute for all the vegetarians. 

Dal Makhani as we know it today was put onto a pedestal by the famous Delhi restaurant Moti Mahal. They were looking for a vegetarian equivalent to their famous creation, 'Chicken Makhani.' They added their eminent makhani sauce, which included tomatoes and cream, to the lentils and there the modern day 'Dal Makhani' was born. The most celebrated place to eat this, is at Bukhara in New Delhi. 'Dal Bukhara' is cooked from the finest urad lentils, sourced from only the best; mineral water is used to cook the dal and the chefs cook it on a low flame overnight, with the cooking continuing for a further 18 hours. Rest assured it isn't necessary to cook it for that long in order to create the creamy, silky, moreish dal. I urge you to cook and savour this quintessential lentil recipe. You'll be back for seconds!

Dal Makhani

Serves 6

  • 225g Whole Black Urad Dal
  • 115g Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)
  • 1 Large Onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 7 cm Piece of Ginger Root, peeled
  • 3 Large cloves Garlic
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 1 dessertspoon Tomato Puree
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 100 ml Double Cream
  • 1 tbsp Coriander, finely chopped (optional)

Method

  • Soak the dal and rajma together in a large pan overnight, making sure that water is filled to the top of the pan.
  • The following day drain the lentils and rajma in a colander and wash well under cold running water.
  • Put the lentils and rajma into a pressure cooker and add a full kettle of boiled water. The heat on your hob should be maximum at this point. Put the lid onto the pressure cooker and after the build up of the pressure, reduce the heat to a moderate level and cook for a further 20 minutes. (Each pressure cooker is different and it is important to follow manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a pressure cooker, boil the dal and rajma in a pan until it is soft when you squeeze a kidney bean between your thumb and forefinger. Just ensure that the water remains topped up whilst boiling).
  • Take off the heat and allow the pressure to dissipate.
  • Take the lid off the pressure cooker and add enough boiled water to cover the dal. Stir in the salt, garam masala, coriander powder. At this point it should resemble a thick stew. Add a little more boiled water if necessary and cook on a very low heat.
  • In a separate frying pan add the sunflower oil, heat on a moderate flame and add the onions.
  • In a herb mill grind the ginger, garlic and chilli together and add to the frying onions.
  • Once the onion mixture is golden brown, add the tomato puree and stir in. Cook for a further 3-4 minutes and then add into the simmering pot of dal.
  • Cook the dal for approximately an hour, stirring regularly. 
  • Add some boiled water if the dal is looking too thick and gloopy. Whilst cooking slowly the water does continue to evaporate slowly, so its fine to add a little water to loosen it.
  • It should resemble a thick stew once cooked.
  • Before serving add the cream and stir in, saving a little to embellish the dal in the serving bowl.
  • Sprinkle chopped coriander on top if you wish, but this is optional.
  • Serve with hot rotis, naans or basmati rice.

Tips

  • I often cook double the quantity and freeze half of it into tupperware containers. When I want to use it, I just defrost, warm it up in the pan and loosen with some boiled water, as the dal becomes quite thick when it cools down. Fry an onion in a little butter and add to the dal as it is warming up.
  • I only add the cream if I'm serving it to guests, or its a special occasion.
  • To make coriander powder, I just buy the coriander seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder. The flavour is far more intense than the shop bought version.
  • I suggest that the dal simmers for about an hour. This is an approximation. You can do it for 30 minutes if you don't have the time or 2 hours if you do. The longer it cooks, the better it tastes!

A Right Royal Dish

Whenever my children return home for the weekend, they want nothing more than the fridge stuffed to the brim, chilled wine and food on tap to satisfy their discerning palates. There's a host of their favourites on their 'comfort food list,' so it's all about how much I want to indulge them. My chicken shahi korma certainly hits the spot. With its roots in Mughal royalty, the mild korma is cooked using yoghurt, almonds, cream and aromatic spices to create a delicate but rich tasting dish. 'Welcome home guys.'

Chicken Shahi Korma

Serves 4

  • 1 kg chicken thighs, skinless and boneless with all fat removed, each thigh chopped into 4 pieces
  • 5 Large Cloves of Garlic
  • 5 cm Piece of Ginger, peeled
  • 1 Green Chilli
  • 4 tbsp Sunflower Oil
  • 2 Large Onions, finely chopped
  • 250g Natural Greek Full Fat Yoghurt
  • 2 tsp Salt
  • 2 tsp Garam Masala 
  • 1 tsp Coriander Powder
  • 2 tbsp Ground Almonds
  • 1 tbsp Flaked Almonds
  • 150ml Double Cream
  • 30g Coriander, finely chopped

Method

  • Grind the garlic, ginger and chilli in a herb mill to form a paste.
  • Heat the oil in a pan adding the onions and the garlic, ginger, chilli paste.
  • Fry on a moderate heat until the onions are golden brown and add the yoghurt and ground almonds, stirring for a couple of minutes.
  • Add the chicken, salt, garam masala, coriander powder, flaked almonds and mix well.
  • On a low to medium heat, cook for about 40-45 minutes until the chicken is well cooked and the gravy is a darker shade of brown and has thickened.
  • Add the cream and stir in. 
  • Heat through, stir in the coriander and serve with hot Basmati rice or Indian bread, such as Chapatti or Naan.

Tips

  • If you make your own homemade garam masala you will find that the shahi korma is far more aromatic and the spices have more depth to them. I will post my garam masala recipe for you very shortly.