Slim Pickings

Chicken Cafreal

7 Comments. Leave a comment

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

    2 Comments. Leave a comment

    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

      8 Comments. Leave a comment

      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

        9 Comments. Leave a comment

        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

          7 Comments. Leave a comment

          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

            10 Comments. Leave a comment

            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 »