Storing spices

Art and science of spice storage

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It’s not an art, nor a science. Everyone has a method to the madness of a cupboard bursting with Indian spices. Here is mine.

I binned the metal container years ago in favour of dishwasher-friendly jars that hold more substantial quantities.

But beware of sacks of ultra large spice bags. Unless you are inviting my extending family around for lunch regularly, they will quickly lose punch. Not too mention hog precious cabinet space.

How do you keep yours?


    Home comforts

    Fridge Freezer Ready Prawn Bhuna

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    Prawn bhuna 550

    I hardly get to Indian restaurants. The Peruvian man is unconvinced about paying for Indian food outside, when he gets quite enough of it at home already. And when I am out with friends, they lead the way.

    This year I am on a mission. Every time it’s my turn to choose for a special occasion dinner, guess where we end up?

    It’s been interesting.

    The neighbourhood favourite on New Year’s Day kept our table of 8 waiting for well over an hour. One hour of false promises and no food later, I had a rant in Bengali at the owner. Mid way through the impassioned outburst, he stopped me to say he wasn’t Bengali and didn’t understand a word of what I was saying. This was followed quickly by a shaky phone call asking if I would like to return for a complimentary meal.

    Then there was my Birthday at a veritable institution. Take a large group of hungry punters in a grand setting, and all we could decide on from the wide ranging menu was kebab platter and mixed breads. The only sparks that flew that night were from the dodgy fizzing candle in my celebratory cake.

    And finally, the review lunch for my industry rag at London’s latest upmarket Indian restaurant. A homage to the Colonial times, with whirring fans and specialty game dishes spiced with a kick. Desperate to impress, I invited my peer, the MD of the Consumer Division, who declared, “I eat to live” in the cab on the way there, and “I don’t like game, and I can’t handle spicy food” to the bemused manager.

    Until I get better at this, I am the mercy of cupboard handy and fridge freezer ready ingredients to create that rich, restaurant-style curry on busy week days. This one’s a pure classic: Prawn Bhuna. I usually have a bag of frozen prawns and frozen peas tucked away in the freezer, along with ginger cubes, and the rest of the ingredients are easy enough to find. Better still, with a dollop of Greek Yoghurt or generous pour of single cream, and ripped up fresh coriander on top, this could quite easily be the  centre piece of a more fancy dinner.

    I am eternally grateful to anyone who will bring a hot roti to my table. But sometimes there is nothing better than the comfort of home.

    Read on for recipe »


      Curry for recovery

      Soothing Sheddo Bhaat

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      Sheddo Bhaat 550

      No trip to Kolkata for me is complete without the dreaded stomach infection. This has little to do with the environment there. More a result of the abject torture I put my system through cramming the food in before the inevitable return to Blighty. (I am a camel, I will fill my hump, etc etc etc.)

      The first week flew by. By the middle of the second week, the familiar tummy cramps set in. The fever was yet to descend so off we went to India’s premier North Indian restaurant. With a cup of chamomile tea, and a stern warning from the manager, I deep dived into Maa Ki Dal, a ghee laced bread basket and soft, spicy kebabs. The stuff of heaven.

      Hell was soon to follow. Bundled into the car afterwards, I told driverji to find me the nearest pharmacy. It was late at night, the options were limited. I soon found myself ducking stray dogs in a local fruit and vegetable mart, which handily housed a shiny pharmacy.

      I flung myself inside. Hello, I have come from London. And then launched into a sordid recount of the painful symptoms.

      The object of my self diagnosis was directed at a smiling man, sat presidentially behind a desk. He waited patiently for my tirade to end, and then said in Bengali: “Acha, tell me something.”

      I was all ears.

      “Who told you to eat food outside your mother’s house?”

      Was this man telling me off?

      “Can your mother not cook? Ok, never mind. Filter water.”

      Was this a question?

      “Why did you drink filter water? What is wrong with mineral water? Available everywhere, tsk tsk.”

      Now, I know Bengalis have a particular affinity with medicine. But it was late, and I was being given a dressing down by the owner of the only open pharmacy in the locality. I started blubbering a response. Translating feebly to my man. Who by this time had started taking portraits of the quasi medicine man.

      Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, he declared his remedy: “Quickly, go quickly, to the shop next door and buy some chire [flattened rice]. Cook it gently and eat it with yoghurt tomorrow morning.”

      This was quite enough. Are you a doctor?

      I am a homeopath,” he proudly declared, breaking into the widest grin. His assistant finally handed over the stash of the OTC drugs I was really after.

      There are a few things Bengalis eat to settle the stomach. But Sheddo Bhaat has to top the list. This is basically rice, lentils, vegetables and eggs, boiled, subtly flavoured, and then eaten with bits of broken green chillies. You can cook it all together, or at least cook the rice together with the veg and eggs, and the lentils separately. Vegetables that can be used here include pumpkin, potol (pointed gourd) and karela (bitter melon).

      So this is what I ate on my return. And sooth it did. My bruised pride and burning insides. Until next time, my dear friends…
      Read on for recipe »


        Paleo-friendly curry

        Andhra-style Methi chicken

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        Methi chicken 2 550

        Forget New Year’s day, my resolutions usually follow my birthday. Take all that unconditional love, unfettered attention, add increasing age, propensity for senility and voila, you get a stupid New Year’s resolution that will last a day. If lucky.

        This year was all about the possibility of middle age spread. No matter that I am nowhere near middle age yet. Prevention is better than cure. So when a local mother declared she was doing the Autoimmune Paleo, I immediately paid attention.

        If you haven’t heard about the Paleo, you must be living in the dark ages or something. This, people, is the diet du jour. Basically, you eat what your cavemen ancestors did, pre-agriculture. (Paleo is short for Paleolithic – geddit?) If it wasn’t available through hunting, fishing and gathering back in the old days, it’s not worth eating.

        So far, so fascinating.

        Except, I should have known this would never work for me. For a start, hunting, fishing and gathering already sounds like more hard work than I have done in my entire life. Then there is the brain power needed to work out what entered our diets through agriculture. So sweet potato okay, not white potato? Hello migraine.

        And finally, I am Indian. I live on rice and lentils. It is the stuff my dreams are made of. Life without both? You cavemen have no idea what you were missing.

        Nonetheless, I embarked on the ancestral dietary pattern. Kale Omelette for breakfast. No drama. Mackerel and Avocado salad for office lunch. No big deal. Chocolates winking at me at tea time. Tempting. Then I came home to find a tall stack of warm Methi Theplas, freshly made by nanny K, on the kitchen worktop. End of.

        I have on good record that no one trusts a skinny cook. If evolution has taught me one thing, it’s to be sensible with portions. Dinner time meals, in particular, tend to be a one pot dish with protein and vegetables, served with a reasonable portion of carbs. Usually a fistful of steaming hot Basmati rice. Chicken curry, tends to feature a lot.

        This Andhra-style Methi Chicken curry, combines sweet tangy tomatoes with the bitterness of healthy fenugreek, a match made in heaven. Fenugreek is available in abundance in Indian winters, and a staple ingredient when the temperatures dip. Imagine my delight when I found a frozen bag of chopped fenugreek in my local supermarket?

        That’ll be a last time I’m a Dodo about a diet.
        Read on for recipe »


          Winter warmer

          Spicy Punjabi Dal

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          Maa Chole ki Daal 550

          Happy New Year to you all!

          Festive fever has well and truly ended. Not before we had 9 adults, 2 toddlers, 1 baby and 2 dogs for Christmas. And a dog splattered bodily fluids on mini Basu’s glitter party shoes.

          Fittingly, this turn of the year’s celebrations have been low key. Where else to end the shenanigans of the year but a cottage on a sheep farm in the middle of nowhere? The kids were not convinced. I want to go in an earoplane, was followed quickly by, I want to go in a swimming pool.

          The promise of a tractor did the trick. We hardened city dwellers would now embrace mud, yuck and woodlands with zeal. We bundled the kids, a nifty selection of toys, a bottle of Rose Taittinger, and my best country wear into the boot. If we were going to enjoy the delights of the country, we would do it well. A staycation in style.

          Style is not what came to mind as we drove towards our destination. Tucked away at the top of a winding mud path was our cottage on a farm featuring not just sheep, but horses, chickens and trout. Through gritted teeth I agreed on  a walk through the woods. Who cares that the path was knee deep in mud, and a biting wind was about to deep freeze my bones.

          At least we were dressed for the occasion. Or so I thought. The farmer came running towards us as I prepared to leap over a fence. I like your wellies, she said, pointing squarely at their wedge heels. [You think Wedge Wellies would be commonplace in these parts.] Before I could jump to my defence, she added, you won’t need your handbag in the woods dear.

          A little more sheepish than we had started, we braved the fine outdoors getting cosy later with a warming, thick and vegan Spicy Punjabi Dal that caught my eye from Monica’s Spice Diary. This is the perfect dal for the Arctic blast, and ideal used as a dunking base for chunks of bread, ripped up pitta or warm rotis of course. And what better way to start a year of eating than a clear head and a warm heart?

          Here’s to a fantastic year ahead.
          Read on for recipe »


            Out of comfort zone

            Aloo Tikki Chole for festive fun

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            Aloo Tikki Chole 550

            As far as I am concerned, Durga Puja kicks off the festive season. The first big celebration before Diwali, Kali Puja and then the grand finale of Christmas.

            As a self-respecting NRI mother, I dust the cobwebs off my sarees, kit the kids out and make way to the nearest pujo pandal. But not before I have seized the moment to teach my errant toddlers the story of Ma Durga.

            I sit them down in their fake Shah Rukh Khan / Karisma Kapoor outfits and start the search. Thank mercy for YouTube, I smile. If there is one place for a suitable animation of the story of Goddess Durga and all her incarnations, this is it.

            YouTube, as it turns out, is not the go to place for suitable. I watched as the Goddess of Strength in my animation of choice partook in a blood bath, where splodges of tomato ketchup landed here, there and everywhere. With every raised spear and splodge of colour on the screen, I watched the bundles turn a paler shade of brown.

            When the asuras heads ended up in her grips along with the blood stained weaponry, I spotted that ominous “see you at night time look”. I finally dived forward and switched to a furry oversize puppet singing the ABC song. Next time I’ll just tell the story without the quasi horror visual gags.

            There is no better excuse to try something a little out of the comfort zone than during the festive season. For Durga Puja, I didn’t venture much further than the special Bhoger Khichuri of course. But for Diwali, I turned my attention to a slightly more tricky Aloo Tikki Chole, a spicy, tangy snack of potato cakes on a bed of chickpea curry doused with sweet and sour chutneys, topped with crunchy onions and crunchy gram flour noodles.

            I say tricky, because it involves the preparation of four different things, not forgetting the need for a number of specialist ingredients that require a focused trolley dash. This, in my life, is the almighty faff that only festivity can justify. Only just.

            The key here, as with most Indian cooking, is in timing. Cook the aloo tikkis under a hot grill, so that you can be getting on with preparing the other bits and bobs. And make the chutneys the day before, so that’s one less thing to think about.
            Read on for recipe »