A mid-winter’s day and a warming curry meal are synonymous! Family and friends gathered around our table to enjoy and North Indian meal. Today I will bring you a bit of a travelogue blended with some inspiration for a meal.
It all started in the ’70’s…
My first introduction to Indian foods was eating at the North Indian restaurants in the Cape in the early 70’s. Soon after that I visited my cousin in London. It was just below their flat in Pimlico where I enjoyed several authentic Indian flavours for the first time and I was hooked!
India an experience of mixed emotions
A few years ago Mark and I visited India where we tasted our way around Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle in the North and Goa and Kerala in the South.
I am often asked if I enjoyed India and many images make urge me to immediately say “NO”, but then I first take a deep breath and recall:
- the of contrast of the vibrant colour of saris in some rather dusty and dull areas
- exotic palaces
- our tuk-tuk driver, who oppointed himself to be our guide and companion in Agra
- the Taj Mahal
- a retro 60’s hippie night market in Goa
- the tranquil back waters of Kerala in our private boat
- a resort on a spice island in Kerala
And then of course there are the fascinating markets and the delicious food!
An authentic Indian feast
We were in Jodhpur for New Year and one condition of booking at our hotel (the converted horse stables of the Maharaja and still owned by the family) was to attend their New Year’s celebration. What a memorable experience. Rajasthani musicians, dancers and of course the food! We went to bed at about 01h00 but the fireworks continued until sunrise!
It is here where we ate Mutton (probably goat) marinated in Yoghurt and Spices. I had eaten this dish before, but not with this delicate depth of spices. In my recipe I replace the yoghurt with buttermilk simply because the yoghurts we buy are thicker and creamier, and usually laced with a stabilizer. I find that the cultured buttermilk is thinner and slightly more acidic making it a better marinade. You can use either leg or shoulder of lamb for this dish. I have roasted it to be pink but I must admit long slow cooking until it falls from the bone is my favourite. I used the left over ‘pulled meat’ in a spiced lamb pie….. even more delicious! This is not a curry, but rather a lightly spiced dish so it is ideal for the chilli averse!
WINTER LUNCH THE MENU
Beef Samosa (store bought & fried) served with Chutney with pre-lunch with drinks
Slow cooked Lamb marinated in Buttermilk and Spices
Chicken Saag (Spinach)
Long Grain Basmati Rice
Red onion and tomato
Avocado, mint and green chilli
Selection of Store bought Chutneys
Store bought Pappadums and Naan Bread
Golden Turmeric Yoghurt Mousse (see future blog!)
How do you plan the menu?
Indian meals do not generally have ‘starters’ as you know them, but they start with lighter snacks such as samoosas, onion or lentil ‘fitters’ also known as bhaji, or small kebabs often cooked in the tandoori oven. I find that if you have a selection of curries for the main course, you can omit starters or start with something light. This is where I also make use of my local Indian deli or supermarket and buy in a few snacks. This time it was a freshly fried few store bought samoosas while the guests lingered over pre-lunch drinks!
Select 2 0r 3 curries. I try to use different ‘meats’ and include one or two vegetarian curries. Have a selection of mild, medium and spicy, depending on your guest’s tolerance levels! I concentrate on depth of flavour rather than heat and serve a hot chilli chutney or chilli relish on the side for those who prefer something spicier!
I never buy pre-made curry sauces and pastes for special occasions. (Yes, I have known to buy a good quality Tikka or other paste for a quick curry, but recently rather make my own!)
I always have a stock of chillies and curry leaves, which I buy when I see fresh ones, in my freezer. We also always have a selection of onions and a large chunk of ginger at hand. If there is no fresh coriander in the veggie patch, there will be a pack in the fridge!
Traditionally all Indian spices, tomatoes and onions are chopped or grated by hand. This is where the food processor or powerful blender comes in handy.
Indians refer to a sauce as gravy, so don’t get confused when reading recipes or menus.
Chicken with Spinach (Saag)
is has a rich red tomato sauce (gravy) and with blanched green spinach adds colour to the menu. I like using skinless, deboned chicken breasts here, but you can use bone-in or shin on cuts if you prefer. They take minutes to cook and the lack of chicken skin makes this a lean dish, counteracting some of the other richer curries. You can make the base curry well in advance and simply add the chicken and spinach minutes before serving.
The two vegetable curries could easily convert me to vegetarianism.
Korma is a pale green sauce laced with ground almonds. It goes well with lamb, poultry or fish, but my favourite is with cauliflower. Again you can make the basic Korma in advance and cook the cauliflower in the sauce just before serving. I microwave it in minutes , ensuring that the crispness is maintained.
Dahl the name for a cooked lentil dish, Indian in origin. Any colour lentils can be used but I find the red/orange lentil dish has the best colour. My basic lentil dish has a mild curry flavour, but it can be amped up by adding more spices and tomatoes. Those who follow a vegetarian diet consider Dahl as one of their main sources of protein. Lentils are an excellent source of good quality protein, are virtually fat free and have slow release carbs. Dahl is often the main course or served as an accompaniment to other curries.
When I am in an Indian or Asian supermarket I always stock up with long grain Basmati Rice. The grains are about 10mm long and never seem to clump (as I am not known to be a good rice cook, this appeals to me!)
Sambals, pappadums and breads
When serving an Indian meal sambals are part of the menu. They either add freshness or heat contrast to a curry.
One of the most traditional samabals is simply finely chopped red onion, chopped fresh tomato, fresh chilli, chopped fresh coriander leaves and a splash of red grape vinegar.
To accompany the lamb I mashed a couple of ripe avocados, added a handful of finely chopped mint, ¼ chopped onion or a small shallot, zest and juice of one lemon. Mint is traditionally served with roast lamb in England. I am sure that the mint was introduced by Colonials visiting the Middle East and Asia where mint is commonly used.
Chutney is a mixture of either raw or cooked ingredients that compliment a curry. I buy a selection of unusual fruit chutneys when we visit markets and deli’s. This is the ideal opportunity to open one or two of these. They spice up a mild curry, add fruity sweetness or sweeten a hot curry, so choose the accompanying chutney with care.
Pappadums are best bought! I also buy my flatbreads either from a reliable local Indian restaurant or a supermarket. I do think that when making a multi-course meal you need to decide what you do well and what you can outsource! There is no harm in that.
I will be writing about the dessert in my next blog….. my Golden Turmeric Mousse deserves a dedicated page!
Most Indian meals are finished with tiny, colourful, sweet or herbal digestive or mouth freshener snacks. These are known as ‘Mukhwas’. They are often sugar coated sesame, anise or fennel seeds. We buy them when we visit Indian spice shops and store them for our next Indian meal.
RECIPES: SIMPLY CLICK BELOW!