Fish is the dish

Crowd pleasing kedgeree

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Kedgeree 550

The new portfolio career, means new cookery projects. Where there is a chef, a gorgeous professional cook, there is clearly a spot for yours truly flying the diversity flag for the ordinary person. One Indian dish at a time.

The first was the Fish of the Dish campaign for Seafish UK, the seafood authority. The task: to popularise the use of fish and seafood in every day cooking. A worthy initiative, with a number of amazing health benefits. So I rolled up my sleeves and dived right in.

Walking into Hearst Magazine HQ with a celebrated chef, his man Friday/ Sous Chef and a trunk load of ingredients was bad enough. Entering Good Housekeeping Institute’s kitchen next sent my head reeling back to mother’s collection of treasured 70s & 80s editions on our Kolkata bookshelf. No pressure. No none at all.

While man Friday got to work under the sharp eye of the esteemed chef, I reapplied war paint. Who needs sharp knives when you have lipstick?

I got started with prep, leaving the PR lady in charge of eggs. In a cupboard the size of an airplane hanger, induction pans were nowhere to be found. One gas hob was already doing its thing. It soon transpired, said PR lady couldn’t even boil an egg. Literally. As chunks of boiled egg peeled off with the shell, the client stepped in to help and the lovely chef took mercy on the housewives in the corner and sent man Friday in to rescue us.

Meanwhile, the odd raised eyebrow at the kitchen entrance had been replaced by a steady stream of more inquisitive punters from Hearst UK. It was edging close to mid day and the sizzled cinnamon, roasted cumin and smoked fish had done their magic. Before I could say “eat more fish”, there were 22 journalists in front of me waiting for their lunch to be delivered.

Lunch was served. Kerala-style Monkfish Curry, with tamarind and coconut, and Kedgeree. Kedgeree is my go to crowd pleaser: a cousin of the khichdi, with an Anglo Indian twist from way back when. My favourite way to serve this is for a giant brunch that the whole family, and visiting relatives, can tuck into. Where this one’s concerned, fish really is the dish. Now to increase my repertoire!
Read on for recipe »


    Slim Pickings

    Chicken Cafreal

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    Chicken Cafreal 550

    Oh if I had a penny for everyone who asks me whether Indian food can be healthy and easy to cook. I’d be pretty rich by now.

    The answer is YES. But it’s easy to see why anyone would think differently. Take the humble Onion Bhaji/Onion Pakora. Delicious? Yes. Deep fried? Oh yes. Not quite the poster child for Generation Type 2 Diabetes.

    And then there’s the healthier evils. Like chappatis. Wholewheat flour, roasted and puffed nicely enough with a nutty aroma and soft texture, with not a smidgen of oil in sight. Your inner self is likely to feel better than your aching arms and doughy fingernails though. Unless you are lucky enough to have a dough hook and someone to do your washing up.

    It is easy to see why anyone would think differently. Here are some common mistakes I’ve found people make with Indian cooking at home:

    • Blending your own spice powders: There is no need. Unless you really fancy a bit of a kitchen experiment. In which case invest in a good mini coffee grinder, with a removeable bowl in it. It is perfectly acceptable to use ready ground spices. I prefer to add them in individually rather than use the all encompassing (and slightly one-dimensional) curry powder
    • Making your own Indian breads: Again, why? Most Indian kitchens are a hotbed of activity with several dishes being prepared by several people. This a lovely thing to do if you have the time and the assistance in the kitchen. Or, if you are a seasoned cook with lots of time on your hands. (In which case, what on Earth are you doing reading this?). Store bought packs of chapattis, parathas as just fine.
    • Laying on a three-course meal: I mean, seriously. You don’t have to get the deep fat fryer out to make your own Onion Bhajis for starter. Dal, roti, sabzi form the basis of every day meals. And then you can add raita, a meat/fish dish, and rice (plain or pulao). What you usually see offered as starters in restaurants are snacks. These are often just bought in from the shops. Or else, cooked at snack time. Desert, too, is usually a little (store bought) something sweet. The more lavish sweet treats are reserved for important occasions.
    • Cooking, and then cooking again: I have watched many home cooks fry a vegetable, remove, make a masala, then add said vegetable back. That’s a very dead vegetable. Cooked in twice the amount of oil, with twice the effort. Why? Think about how your main ingredient can be cooked in one go. Unless you’re making paneer, which usually tastes much better in dishes once sealed first.

    Any others you can add?

    My mantra is everything in moderation. And I refuse to spend more than an hour dishing up everyday family meals. These days, the kids get stuck in too. Chopping herbs with butter knives, peeling ginger and garlic, mixing and rolling said rotis. Apart from the ever popular 30 minute meals, my favourite killer dishes are the ones where I slather meat in marinade and cook in the oven while the chaos of bathtime, bedtime ensues.

    Like this oven-baked Goan Chicken Cafreal in a Coconut Vinegar marinade. A shallow-fried spicy sour chicken that is usually marinated for a few hours, I find cooking it in its own juices in a tightly sealed foil parcel gives it a lovely depth without the need for efficiency or planning.

    Mopped up Maunika’s sweet and sour dal, and steaming hot basmati rice, it’s an easy and healthy way to get a masala kick.
    Read on for recipe »


      Home made garam masala

      How to make garam masala

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      Ready powdered spices reign supreme in my kitchen. But for that extra special moment, a cheap coffee grinder doubles up as the spice grinder of my dreams.

      Cheap equals value here, as grinder blades eventually dull. The best of the best are the ones with removeable bowls, for easy clean up. I confess now that I hate pestle and mortars: hard work and not worth the rough specks of spices that fly everywhere.

      Garam masala is one of the most special spice mixes to make at home. Blindingly fragrant made fresh, it lifts the simplest of dishes with a sprinkle towards the end of cooking. In fact, adding it too early can turn the dish a tad bitter.

      The actual spices that go in vary from household to household. I keep mine simple with 4 cardamoms, 8 black peppers, 8 cloves, 2 small bay leaves, 1 inch cinnamon and 1 tsp cumin. All whole, of course. You can add coriander seeds, dry dinger and even nutmeg to make yours as you like it.

      How do you like yours?


        Changing times

        One-pot Mangshor Ghugni

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        Mangshor ghugni

        This July marks a step change in my existence. I, people, am no longer a corporate superbitch. I am now a three-days a week corporate superbitch.

        In what has been an exciting moment in my world of work and career, I have spent four days of every week this month relishing that rarest of rare commodities: spare time.

        I didn’t hold out for too long. By the end of week one, yours truly was the newly christened Head of Corporate Marketing for mini Basu’s School Parent Teacher Association. Since then, I have:

        • Baked cupcakes x 56
        • Nearly strangled my children x 20
        • Spent life savings in summer sales x 1
        • Cranked up the “dominate the world one curry at a time” plan up a notch x 3

        The plan, of course, is to focus on being the best mother and wife, ever, while making money doing all the things I love with passion. Cooking and Corporate PR take centre stage here.

        What better place to start on the cookery plan, that a long overdue attempt at mastering rotis? So, an eager friend/guinea pig agreed to a quiet, girly evening, and we drank wine while I stewed tender chunks of lamb with chickpeas – Mangshor Ghugni – and rolled out the rotis.

        The rotis are improving every time age. And the one-pot Mangshor Ghugni is a winner’s dinner. Can women have it all? I’m not sure, but I will happily die trying!

        Read on for recipe »


          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 »