Tried and tested tastes of India

By Nerissa Card

I love cooking and I love recipe books, so having received another one for Christmas, I thought it might be nice to start a regular column featuring recipes I have tried and tested – for me there is nothing more irritating than following a recipe to the letter and having a failure. This has happened to me on a few occasions with those of so-called celebrity chefs.

For this, the first of my endeavours at a foodie column, I decided to focus on the book Recipes from an India Kitchen (Paragon Books Ltd, ISBN 978-1-4723-2695-9), which I bought while travelling in that country a few years ago. I love it almost as much as I love India. I can’t get enough of the sights, smells, people and general mayhem of the place.

Some new titles for you to peruse

On one of our trips we booked in to a homestay in Fort Cochin, Kerala, called Sea Hut Homestay, pictured above and below right. It was right on the beach, sand between our toes and hammocks strung from palm trees outside our room.

One night the owner, Mrs Anthony, cooked us the most amazing fish dish with basmati rice and raita. It was so delicious I wanted to recreate it, but had no idea how, not being au fait with real-deal Indian spicing. Then I found Recipes from an Indian Kitchen in a bookstore in Mumbai. Book shops are big in India, as a street stalls selling anything and everything literary.

It had the following two dishes, which seemed to be a pretty close match. I came home and tried them, and they were. It’s not necessary to have the raita as a side dish, but it certainly adds to the flavours.

For more on the Kerala region, click here

And here

I have used the descriptions from the book to give an idea of what to expect. None of the recipes are of the fiery local variety. They are just subtle and delicious. Well, we think so anyway.

I have also included a potato dish, because, like India, I can’t get enough of them, and a delicious vegetable noodle broth, which is fantastic if you are feeling poorly, for whatever reason. It’s packed with flavour and the body always seems to respond to its subtle, soothing heat.

Just a quickie, you will see that I have said “optional” next to some ingredients. This is because they are often difficult to find and not using them certainly does not take away from the dishes. The “notes” are also my notes, as is anything in brackets.

The pictures I have taken from the book don’t do the recipes any justice, but I hope you enjoy this soupcon of India, and please email me any thoughts or suggestions. My address is nerissacard1@gmail.com.

 

SOUTH INDIAN COCONUT FISH CURRY

This lightly spiced fish and coconut dish from the coastal region of Kerala combines fresh ingredients in a simple but effective way. It is a prime example of India’s minimalist cooking with maximum flavour. The fish fillets can be replaced with 600g prawns that have been shelled and deveined, but have the tails left on.

NOTE: I have also used skinless chicken breasts instead of fish, a much more financially viable option, but for the real McCoy, use a swimmer. And if you are a vegetarian, I see no reason not to use something like butternut or pumpkin, or mangetout, beans and baby corn. I will give that a whirl some time and let you know the results. Or try it and let me know how it goes.

Serves 4
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 to 35 minutes

2t salt
2t ground turmeric
4 firm fish fillets or steaks, about 200g each (the recipe calls for halibut, but I use whatever fresh fish I can get hold of, as long as it is firm)
2T vegetable or groundnut oil
2 onions, finely sliced
4 fresh green chillies, slit lengthways
3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
12 fresh curry leaves
400ml coconut milk
4T fresh coriander

NOTE: I never stick to quantities when it comes to coriander or curry leaves. I love both, so always throw in heaps.

Mix a teaspoon of salt with a teaspoon of turmeric. Gently rub into the fish fillets and set aside for 10 to 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onions, chillies and garlic and stirfry for a few minutes. Add the curry leaves and continue to cook over a low-medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes or until the onion is translucent.

Add the remaining turmeric and salt to the pan. Pour in the coconut milk and bring to a simmer.

Add the fish, in a single layer, and simmer very gently for five to six minutes or until just cooked through.

Remove from the heat and scatter over the chopped coriander. Serve immediately.

MANGO AND PINEAPPLE RAITA

Yoghurt or “curd”, as it is known in India, is a staple throughout the regions. It is eaten plain or in raitas with vegetables and fruit added.

Serves 4
Prep: 10 to 15 minutes
Cook: One to two minutes

250g set natural yoghurt (I use double-cream Greek yoghurt because I assume, and I seem to have done so correctly, that “set” means pretty solid)
1 onion, finely sliced
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped
100g pineapple flesh, finely diced
100g ripe mango flesh, finely diced
1/4t salt
2T vegetable or groundnut oil
1t black mustard seeds
4 fresh curry leaves

Place yoghurt in a bowl and whisk until smooth.

Add the onion, tomato, chilli, pineapple, mango and salt and mix well.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan, then add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Cook, stirring constantly, for a few seconds or until the mustard seeds start to pop. Remove pan from the heat and pour the contents over the yoghurt mixture.

Stir gently to mix and serve or chill until required.

The raita can be stored covered in the fridge. Use within two days.

BOMBAY POTATOES

This simple potato dish is easy to make and goes with almost anything. Any leftovers can be wrapped up in a chapatti or roti for a quick snack.

Serves 6
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 30 minutes

500g new potatoes, halved
1t ground turmeric
Pinch of salt
55g ghee or 4T vegetable or groundnut oil
6 fresh curry leaves
1 dried red chilli
2 fresh green chillies
1/2t nigella seeds (optional)
1t black mustard seeds
1/2t cumin seeds (I use powder if I don’t have the seeds)
1/2t fennel seeds
1/4t asafoetida (optional)
2 onions, chopped
5T chopped fresh coriander
Juice of half a lime (or lemon)

Place potatoes in a large, heavy-based saucepan and pour over just enough cold water to cover. Add 1/2t turmeric and the salt and bring to the boil. Simmer until tender, drain and set aside.

Heat the ghee or oil in a large, heavy-based frying pan. Add the curry leaves and dried red chilli and cook, stirring frequently, for a few minutes or until the chilli is blackened.

Add the remaining turmeric, the green chillies, nigella seeds (if using), mustard seeds, cumin seeds or powder, fennel seeds, asafoetida (if using), onions and chopped coriander. Cook, stirring constantly, for five minutes, or until the onions have softened.

Stir in the potatoes and cook over a low heat, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, or until heated through. Squeeze over the lime juice and serve immediately.

VEGETABLE NOODLE BROTH

This hearty vegetarian dish is an example of the influence of Tibetan cuisine in the Bengal region.

NOTE: We make it often, but it is truly great when you are not feeling 100 percent, whether from illness or the excesses of Christmas and New year. There are a lot of ingredients, but it is worth the effort. When it comes to the mangetout and red pepper, we just leave them out if we don’t have them and replace with something else. Green beans, baby corn or mushrooms work just as well. For me, this dish is all about the taste of the broth rather than the veggies that are in it. We have also often omitted the sesame oil.

Serves 4
Prep: 20 to 25 minutes
Cook: 25 to 30 minutes

400g dried thick egg noodles
2T vegetable or groundnut oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1t ground cumin
1/2t ground turmeric
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2t grated fresh ginger
1t salt
2 fresh green chillies, finely chopped
100g mangetout, thinly sliced lengthways
2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks
1 red pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
2T dark soy sauce
1 litre vegetable stock
1t pepper
200g baby spinach leaves
6T finely chopped coriander
1t toasted sesame oil

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. Drain, rinse with cold water and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and stirfry for eight to 10 minutes, until lightly browned.

Add the cumin, turmeric, garlic, ginger, salt and chillies to the pan and stirfry for one to two minutes.

Add the mangetout, carrots and red pepper and stirfry for a further one to two minutes.

Add the tomatoes, soy sauce, stock and pepper. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

Add the reserved noodles and the spinach and bring back to the boil. Stir until the spinach wilts, then remove from the heat and stir in the coriander and sesame oil.

Serve immediately.

And now for a local restaurant review

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