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The Curry Diaries – Chicken Coconut Masala

In The Curry Diaries on October 20, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Back to Anjum Anand for tonight’s curry and actually yesterday’s curry too. Yesterday I managed to tip the sauce all over the floor and myself. Oh dear, Mrs Wife was very, very cross!

Dean had his dinner while I was at book club. I was getting mine ready with two portions to freeze, I served the chicken and then kersplat! I was using the large wok with the dodgy handle so the inevitability of the situation struck with some force as I was standing there with an empty wok in my hand and sauce down my white trousers and all over the floor. I dealt with the immediate problem quite calmly but later had a bit of a wobbly; I was so cross with myself; I should have replace the thing months ago; also, I shouldn’t have crap kit in my kitchen but I have.  Unreasonably, I blamed Dean: I was emotional and a bit drunk and Dean is remarkably resilient at taking an ear-bashing for things that don’t even relate to him.

Before hitting the floor the sauce tasted great, so paddywack over, I decided to have another go tonight. I really wanted to eat the curry and I also wanted enough sauce to put on the chicken from yesterday so I could freeze it. Cooking extra portions is all part of the game-plan to fill Dean’s very demanding deluxe tiffin. The idea is that everyday for lunch Dean has a meat dish cooked by me and one dish each of vegetable, daal and rice to fill the other 3 tiffin pots, cooked by my housekeeper.  Much as I love Dean, I’m not going to cook his lunch everyday and I personally don’t want curry for lunch at all or to eat it every night so, I cook extra so I can stock the freezer with individual portions. Happily with tonight’s curry I’ve finally managed to set up a system so I can cook curry once a week and Dean will have a different curry for lunch every day. Everyone’s happy and domestic bliss reigns supreme. From now on The Curry Diaries will be a weekly posting.

So back to the curry: You will find this recipe on page 104 of Anjum Anand’s I Love Curry. For someone who cuts corners wherever possible I am surprised to find how enjoyable dry roasting and grinding spices is. I have an Indian mixer with a spice grinding attachment so that makes life easier. The process was somehow comforting and the smell simply divine; I thoroughly recommend it. The rest of the recipe follows a familiar format; brown the onions, add ginger, add garlic, cook, add spices, add tomatoes, cook etc. I must query “2½ tomatoes”: Come off it Anjum (and Anjum’s editor) what world are you living in? Not a very practical one if you think anyone’s going to use 2½ tomatoes in a recipe!  I’m using coconut milk instead of fresh coconut / coconut cream because  don’t have them in my cupboard.

Yummy! Really really yummy; maybe the best one yet.

The Curry Diaries – (Mock) Paneer Curry

In The Curry Diaries on October 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm

I’ve had a “Bad India Day” (BID). It’s not the worst BID I’ve had but all BID’s are exhausting. Nothing particular has gone wrong just lots of little things. Including having no paneer for the curry! Oh crap!

I have a paneer substitute which may sound like good news but that’s actually the problem. I’m not going to be able to explain this without sounding like an expat princess so here goes: I have my shopping done for me by my driver. Once a week I write a shopping list. He drops Dean off at work, goes shopping and comes back in the afternoon with the bounty.

Shopping in India is hard work so I appreciate that this is a boon and that I have a driver with the skills to do it. However he does two things that really, really annoy me 1) he buys too much of everything and 2) he makes substitutes.

Generally if I don’t specify a quantity I get too much of it. Ah, ha I hear you cry – why don’t I just write down the quantities. Well of course you are right but I’m not always aware that I need to. For example, last week I asked for mozzarella, he bought a 1kg pack. I didn’t even know mozzarella came in that size. Now I know that it is very unlikely that 2 people will eat that much cheese in a week. I can either conclude that he doesn’t, so the mistake is justified, or he just didn’t think it through, in which case it’s not. Where does the line fall? It’s a difficult one and it’s complicated by cultural factors which I am aware of but I don’t fully understand. The only option is for me to keep drawing the line so it is clear; if he is the wrong side of it I can do something about it but hopefully in time he won’t be.

Even if I do write the quantity down get more than I asked for; 1/4kg beans is always 1/3kg beans and it’s the same for carrots and cauliflower. Last week I asked for 3kg tomatoes and I got 4! That happened with potatoes a few weeks ago.  An extra kilo of tomatoes or potatoes is a lot. I have fed this back; making that line clear. So unfortunately there may well come a time when I pass the cost back to him.

The thing that really gets my goat is substitutions. Last week I asked for Kingfisher beer and he bought Fosters. I was livid. I managed to explain calmly that neither Dean or I drink Fosters and that when I specifically ask for something that’s what I want. I have explained this before however Dean decided to let this one go as we have a friend arriving on Saturday and Fosters is his favourite.

I take all of this very personally; I think, who the hell does he think he is that he can decide what I eat and drink. But it’s not. It’s about communication itself and communication across a cultural divide.  That’s all very well but it’s still exhausting.

So here I am with paneer substitute – it’s low fat cottage cheese and it doesn’t taste that great. I’m loosely following the recipe below but without the butter and with yogurt instead:
http://www.sailusfood.com/2006/05/05/butter-paneer-masala/
Hopefully the taste will be masked by the spices! I’ll be back to master Paneer Curry soon.

Happy cooking!

The Curry Diaries – Chicken Biryani

In The Curry Diaries on September 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Hmmm … it could all go horribly wrong as I don’t actually have a recipe for tonight’s curry delight and I’ve already started drinking!

The good news is that I have (re) discovered another cook book in my collection, “Rice”, by Clare Ferguson. It’s one of those lovely looking book that may not actually be practical to use. However it does have an ‘Indian, Pakistan and Sri Lanka”, section which could be good. I used her Lamb Biryani as a starting point for tonight’s concoction. I have to say that I don’t know a huge amount about Indian continental cuisine but I think that some  people might suggest that the cooking from those three countries is too varied to be grouped together in this way. It may be like having a section on English and French cooking. Can you imagine the reaction to that; the French would choke on their steak frites!

The Biryana idea came about because I asked my housekeeper, Sunita, not to cook extra food at lunchtime so there was no rice in the fridge this evening. It’s quite  jump from having no rice to cooking a biryani but that’s just me. I used my cook book and 4 recipes on the Internet to cobble a recipe together and this is it:

Helen’s Chicken Biryani

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups basmati rice rinsed and soaked in cold water for about 1 hour
2 tbsp. oil
10 black peppercorns
4 green cardamom pods
2 cloves
2 cm cinnamon stick
One small onion chopped
One medium onion sliced
2tbsp. tomato puree
1 tbsp. garlic paste
1 tbsp. ginger paste
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt
8 chicken thighs and drumsticks
2 cups of boiling water

Method

  1. Rinse and soak the rice in cold water (if you have not done so before).
  2. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan with a lid. Add the peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon stick, let them sizzle for about 10 seconds. Add the onion and fry until golden brown.
  3. Make a paste from the tomato purée, garlic and ginger paste, ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and salt. Add to the pan and cook for 6-8 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken to the pan and cook in the masala paste for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add one cup of boiling water, stir, bring back to the boil and simmer covered for 15 minutes. If the water does not cover the chicken turn once during cooking.
  6. While the chicken is cooking fry the sliced onions on a high heat, stirring constantly until they are brown and crispy.
  7. Add the rice with the other cup of boiling water and stir. Cover the pan and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the rice is cooked and all the water is absorbed.
  8. Stir the fried onions into the rice and serve.

It was delicious. However I will make an effort to learn a real biryani recipe for next time.

The Curry Diaries – Chicken Saag

In The Curry Diaries on September 29, 2011 at 11:29 am

Another day another curry! Oh and a quick Hindi lesson; saag means spinach.

The other Indian cook book that I have to help me on my journey to being a masala maestro is, “Healthy Indian Cooking”, by Shehzad Husain and Manisha Kanani. The book gives very little help in achieving the authentic Indian taste that I want but it’s all I’ve got so I’m using it as a starting point. The Chicken Saag recipe is on page 98.

I cooked this curry last night. I altered the recipe to accommodate some things that I have learned from Anjum Anand. Because it’s such a deviation I’ve typed my new recipe out fresh. It is reproduced below:

Chicken Saag

Serves 4

Ingredients

300g fresh spinach leaves
1 tbsp. garlic paste
1 tbsp. ginger paste
1 tbsp. oil
1 bay leaf
10 black pepper corns
2 cardamom pods
1 onion
4 tomatoes, skins removed and puréed
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. chilli powder
½ tsp. salt
4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
400ml boiling water (approximately)

Method

  1. Wash the spinach leaves. Without drying, transfer them to a saucepan with a lid and cook covered for 5 minutes.
  2. Transfer the cooked spinach to a blender and blend together with the garlic and ginger pastes until smooth. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan with a lid. Add the bay leaf, pepper corns and cardamom pods, let them sizzle for about 10 seconds. Add the onion and fry until golden brown.
  4. Add the puréed tomatoes, dry spices and salt. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes to make a masala paste.
  5. Add the chicken to the masala and cook for about 2 minutes on each side.
  6. Add the spinach mixture to the pan and stir in.
  7. Cover the chicken in boiling water and simmer covered for 20 minutes until the chicken is nearly cooked. Uncover the pan to finish cooking and reduce the sauce.

Chicken Saag is a delicious dish; spinach goes so well in a curry. I will no doubt be cooking this again in a few weeks so will amend the recipe again. Some of the things that I will be thinking about are:

  • Adding the garlic and ginger to the spinach doesn’t work because they don’t have a chance to cook. Next time I will add them after point 3.
  • Mixing the spinach in after the chicken is pretty tricky so I may change this.
  • The original recipe adds yogurt which I might try next time.
  • I really enjoyed this curry but it was too hot for me even with only ½ tsp. chilli powder (honestly I’m such a wimp). The dry spice mix that I used is standard but I may play around with it to reduce the spiciness. Obviously adding yoghurt would also help.

The Curry Diaries are a chance for me to record my culinary adventure in India. I also hope that they will be a catalyst for blog writing which has been pretty hit-and-miss to date.

The Curry Diaries – Cardamom-Sented Chicken Curry

In The Curry Diaries on September 28, 2011 at 3:11 pm

This curry is brought to you courtesy of Anjum Anand (“I Love Curry” page 102)

I am learning how to cook Indian food. It is one of the things that I want to achieve while I am India. It’s going OK.

I have two cookbooks to help me on my quest. One of them is by Anjum Anand who is (ironically) a British Indian. There is one vital thing that you should know when you are using a British cookbook to cook curry in India – everything is much hotter here. As one of my friends said, “even the garlic and ginger are spicy.” I cooked Chilli Chicken Balti also by Anjum Anand (page 99) and nearly killed my husband AND I only used half the chillies stated!

There are a number of reasons for learning to cook curry. One is that I am thinking of have a curry night at ours; I’m thinking a range of dishes, different meats, some hot stuff, some not so hot, rice, bread, sides and dips. Now, while that’s a nice idea it’s not that easy so I’m practising. Also curry is a good dinner party food in any country because you can cook large quantities of it and cook it the day before, so it’s a skill that I am happy to have. As you may remember, I have also committed to filling my husbands four-tier deluxe tiffin box every day. This may seem foolhardy (it often does to me) but I do actually derive a considerable satisfaction from feeding my man. My final aim is all about pleasure: It’s taken me a while to get this but cooking is my hobby and in my crazy world of shifting identity I am over the moon to have rediscovered something that is all about me.

Anyway, here’s the deal: You need to refer to the book to understand the detail:

It’s cool to adapt curry recipes so I have.  I buy the ready ground garlic and ginger because you can use a whole bulb of garlic in one curry recipe and life’s too short. I used a tub of puréed tomato (about 4) because that’s what I had available. I cut out the chilli altogether because 1) I’m worried it’ll be too hot even without the chilli considering my past experience and 2) my palate is sensitive to the heat and I want to really taste the flavours while I learn to cook and 3) we are eating other dishes prepared by my housekeeper which will be quite hot. I didn’t use cornflour.

The ingredients used in most curries seem quite similar to me. I think it’s the way that you put them together that gives you the taste. However, I haven’t encountered cardamom seeds before. I cracked open about 15 green cardamom pods to get them. This seems unnecessary so I may consider just bunging in the pods next time. You can probably just buy them in Tescos in the UK. I think I’ve smelt cardamom in Iranian cooking but I’m not sure – I’ll check this. This also gave me the confidence to leave out the chillies because Iranian cooking is rich but not spicy.

I had to joint the chicken legs that I bought because you can rarely buy what you actually want in India. Getting the rest of the ingredients together was fine. You would hope so in India but actually if you live here you learn to expect nothing.

Generally, what’s really missing from my Indian cooking is a depth of flavour. I have picked up two tips on how to achieve this, 1) you need to let the onions go deep brown and 2) you need to let the spices cook before you add the meat. This definitely makes a difference.

Cooking chicken without skin and not browning the meat are both alien to me in my cooking but when in Rome! I also cook my chicken so it is falling off the bone. I don’t think that this is very Indian but I can’t get out of the habit. I added more water than the recipe said by mistake but it all boiled away so it wasn’t a problem.

It took me about an hour to cook it. When it was done we ate it with boiled rice, a daal and a pumpkin side dish. The pumpkin came from our garden which I think is quite impressive. It was a really nice supper. I would recommend it.