Cold Day Hot dal

Simple Dal Amritsari

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Punjabi dal 550

Not to give away away my heritage or anything, but I’m rubbish with cold weather. This winter has been as much fun as any. I’ve spent the long, cold, dark days freezing my buttocks off, staring into a tissue, while cradling a bottle of vitamin C with zinc. Bar a brief respite at my sister’s wedding.

If it’s not me, it’s the offspring. There is no better place for breeding germs than the classroom. And no better place for sending them packing than a parent’s arms, preferably in the middle of the night.

In these difficult times, medication is best served warm with pickle. There are three things I swear by for instant warmth following by near miraculous mood lifts. The first is Chicken Curry, our very own comfort food and spice-infused version of the Chicken soup. The second is Rasam, with enough chillies to send your sinus on a one way trip to Mars. And the third, is nothing more complicated than a simple Dal recipe.

Dal, for those of you not in the know, is stewed lentils. But if this makes you think about the tasteless stuff you were forced to eat at school, think again. Dal (sometimes spelt daal or dhal) is lentils lovingly mixed with a tempering of whole and ground spices, herbs, and wet masalas like ginger, garlic, tomato and onion. Add a dash of ghee and it’s just the ticket spooned over steaming hot rice or scooped into pieces of warm bread. Pickle not optional.

There are three ways to make dal. The dal in tadka method involves mixing the cooked lentils into the tempered spices. The tadka in dal method is about pouring the sizzling tadka into the lentils. And of course, you could just do away with the tadka altogether and simply cook the lentils with flavoursome ingredients. Job done.

This recipe is a thick, wholesome and simple Dal Amritsari for when you crave healthy dinner ideas. I took the recipe off the lovely chef at Kolkata Hyatt in December, and have made it several times since. The hing and ghee give it a velvety smooth taste that tickles the taste buds when you need it the most. There are another 28 recipes here.

I’ll take a hot dal any cold day.
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    Breaking bad… habits

    Easy Badam Doodh

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    Doodh badam 550

    January marks a most important day for me. And each year it arrives with the same dramatic series of events.

    First, I sulk at the prospect of ageing. Woe is me. There’s another wrinkle. Bother. Bother. Bother.

    Then, as if by magic, I realise that this is yet another excellent excuse for a big celebration. After all, this only keep getting better, right? I hand my man an impossible wishlist of presents right before d-day and table my highest expectations for the soiree.

    This year, the man was genuinely baffled. And kids tried their best to help. Miss Basu asked if I wanted a Frozen party. And Micro Mini Basu wondered if I’d be happy with a new toy car.

    The soiree did eventually materialise, along with the far more exciting new kitchen gadget: The Vitamix. I’ve been on healthy green smoothies ever since, some soup dinners and have started attempting various Indian recipes.

    The very first is an easy Badam Doodh, almond milk laced with gorgeous aromatic spices and sweetened with scrapings of gur, or jaggery. I remember this drink well from our winter holidays in mother’s family home in Delhi. Our uncles would drink a pint of it at a time, gently warmed to provide comfort on chilly days. I also remember the grainy texture as I drank it. Grains didn’t stand a chance in my Vitamix. And you can use any good blender, as you’ll see in the recipe.

    I tossed in a centimetre piece of raw turmeric into this easy Badam Doodh too for good measure. Recently given some quality airtime, my earliest memories of this powerhouse root was mother making me swallow a raw piece dunked in honey every morning. Good for collagen supplies in old age, she used to say.

    The perfect drink when age is on the mind. Here’s to breaking bad habits for good.
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      Curry favour with Meat on the bone

      Kashmiri Gosht

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      Kashmiri gosht 550

      I am back from my little sister’s big fat Indian wedding. What a way to start the year: 10 whole days of lunch and dinner events. The trip, for a glutton like me, was like Christmas, Diwali, Eid and a lottery win arriving all at once for a tramp.

      Every morning started with a regal buffet at the Hyatt Regency in Kolkata. Then onto a vegetarian lunch function of samosas, chaat, pakoras and mithai cooked by the family Halwai. Fittingly ending with a vast catered banquet of meat curries, fried fish, creamy coconut prawns, rich pulao and paneer and vegetable sabzis. All waiting to be mopped up with freshly roasted tandoori and roomali rotis from the “live counter”. Oh, and copious amounts of booze, sometimes bootlegged inauspiciously in mini mineral water bottles.

      I was busy constantly. It takes effort to be glamorous at all times. Then there were the kids, who had to be dressed and fed and pandered to in the way they had quickly become accustomed. I had my new brother-in-law’s leg to pull and my sister to torment. And, of course, weaving through the food service teams making friends with the chefs and taking furious notes. Much to their amusement.

      The one thing I gorged on was meat-on-the-bone curries. From goat stewed in a fresh green chilli and coriander marinade, to giant whole prawns in their shells steeped in a sweet coconut base. These curries are hard to come by, unless I cook them myself here. And that’s such a shame. Bones add not only nutrition, but also real depth of flavour to curries. Yes it slows down the cooking time, but this is a sacrifice worth making in my books. Unless the recipe calls for boneless meat, of course, or you’re in a massive hurry.

      Here is a recipe for Kashmiri Gosht, a rich, dark stew of lamb shoulder with bones, in ginger and whole spices from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Nation cookbook (which I featured in). The recipe in the book uses a fantastic Kashmiri spice paste Basaar in it by Yasmien Bagh Ali, also featured here. But I was lucky enough to have the prerequisite ginger, fenugreek and Kashmiri chilli powder from mother’s last visit.

      Now for more of the same this year. Hope your year has started as eventful. Wishing you the best of food, fun and frolics in 2015.
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        Happy endings

        Best Saffron Roast Potatoes

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        Saffron roast potatoes 550

        What a way to end the year! Barely eight days to go before we hit Kolkata. The littlest sister, aka pint-sized princess is getting married. Cue a small Indian wedding for 400 of her closest friends and family.

        Truth be told, she really is my first child. I have enjoyed honing my fine parenting skills on her. Perfecting the naughty corner method. Doling much unwanted advice. Oh, and mercilessly insisting she learn to cook Indian food in expletive-ridden sessions.

        It didn’t take long for her to wreak havoc in my life. For as long as I can remember, she called me mini mummy. Not great in the playground. And she ruined my 14th Birthday by hogging the attention of ALL teenage boys, travelling from knee to knee as a five year old.

        This four-day extravaganza is going to be like nothing else.

        But in the meantime, its two days to Christmas. I have my body weight in Brussels Sprouts, four birds in one and best of all, the man to cook it all. Food coma here we come. The kids have dressed the tree entirely on the bottom rungs, and if Santa doesn’t deliver a pirate ship and a Barbie castle, he is a dead man.

        I have been relegated to cooking deserts and potatoes mostly. And the one thing I have perfected after several goes this season are the best saffron roast potatoes. If you fancy a twist on your Christmas roast potatoes, this recipe is the one to try. My tip is to soak the saffron in warm milk first so you get a really delicate, rounded flavour rather than some pitatoes spiked with strands and not others. And sunflower or vegetable oil is a must for crispy edges.

        Have a happy, happy end to the year, a great start to the next and see you on the other side!
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          Festivity bites

          Quick fish kebabs

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          Mahi Tikka 550

          Why settle on managing a PR job, two children and food passion? The School Parent Teacher Association needed a new Chair. And Yours Truly stepped in valiantly.

          How difficult could it be, I thought? All this needs is a bit of Corporate know how. Strong leadership at the helm, followed by excellent delegation and efficient delivery. If there was ever a community-led use of the years of Corporate slavery, then this was it.

          It wasn’t. Cue: a shock initiation to the Voluntary Sector. The Cinema Social, Coffee Mornings and Playground sales paled in signifance compared to the Winter Fair. An after school extravaganza for the children and their families run with virtually no budget, and children hanging off each trouser leg in the playground.

          The only answer was to dazzle the children with a panto Frozen skit by two actor mums, and a guest appearance by Olaf: a hapless male teacher no less. A quick warm cup of mulled wine in the biting cold, and I was practically ready for Christmas.

          And Christmas it is soon. If you’re looking for easy party food nibbles that don’t  pile on the pressure, then these divine Mahi Kebabs, quick fish kebabs, could be just the answer. I found this recipe in Reza Mahammad’s Rice, Spice and All things Nice and made a few small tweaks to it, like using dill as it goes so well with salmon. And minced more of the fish than directed to help the kebabs bind.

          Of course, I also grilled instead of shallow frying. My solution to cooking any food in batches is to shove it under a hot grill and flip half way through cooking. That’s serious time saved watching hot oil in a frying pan.

          Must make a note to not go filling the free time with another project!
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            jokes aside

            Proper Chicken Jhalfrezi

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            It would be rude not to put up another video for the kind folks commenting on my Jamie Oliver FoodTube debut. This one was filmed after a long day’s hard work, and the jokes deteriorated with every sip of wine!

            This proper Chicken Jhalfrezi is basically the perfect after work curry. Our answer to wok-style cooking, it combines easy to find fresh ingredients with cupboard ready spices for a end result that  never fails to hit the spot – spooned over toasted pitta, tucked into rotis or served with a dal and rice if energy levels allow.

            Just don’t say limp, will you?