Thursday, 30 July 2009

'Garam Masala' de -mystified!

The novice cook often gets stumbled there - the rows and rows of ingredients, all to be roasted and powdered to make one curry - who wouldn't feel like tipping those perfectly cut onion and ginger and garlic in the bin and order a take away curry? Honestly, is it worth all the trouble?

While, no denying the fact that a perfectly balanced spice mix or 'garam masala' powder can make or break a curry, there is no need to panic. You can master the art of spice grinding - its as easy as counting one, two, three..

Before going to 'what constitutes 'garam masala', lets talk about whats 'garam masala'? 'Garam' in Hindi is hot and 'masala' is a term generally used to refer to spice mix. So its hot spice mix! How simple!

Well, as to what goes into the 'masala' is not that easy. Each home has got its own closely guarded recipes for 'garam masalas'. While claiming that battles have been fought between the 'Patel's and 'Shah's for that elusive garam masala recipe will be an over statement, it is true that 'the perfect blend' is every Indian housewive's pride and joy.

For those of us, who have left homes and mothers to foreign countries, 'home-made-garam-masala' is a nostalgia. But, we still make do, life has to 'curry own' after all. So, how do we, (read full time working, mother to a toddler or two Indians) make garam masala? Well, I don't know about others, but here is my method and it works pretty well.

I take equal quantities of Cloves, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Fennel, Poppy seeds and a leaf or two of bay leaves. Heat a non stick pan very gently and dry roast the spices. After a minute or two, you will start to have a gentle aroma of the spices rising on the air. That is when the spices start to release their oil. At this stage, switch off and blitz the roasted spices in your coffee grinder. Fresh, aromatic and potent garam masala is ready! You wont have to use more than 1 teaspoon of this powder for a kilo of meat, so there will be plenty left around, which you can keep for three months or so in an airtight container.

Apart from sprinkling it in curries towards the end of cooking for that 'tonguelicious' flavour, try sprinkling a bit on your stir-Fry's or home made burgers, even on omelette's and taste the difference!

Well, what ever you do, use it sparingly as the home made 'garam masala' is much more strong and superior in quality than the store bought ones!

Now, tell me, how difficult that can be??

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

How 'NOT' to do a Curry

Well, I am a bit bitchy today. Who wouldn't, when people who cant make a cup of decent coffee turns a 'curry wizard' overnight? A friend of mine, who had spent the last 30 years of her exciting life evading the big 'K' word, mailed today saying that she cooked up chicken curry for her new TDH boyfriend!

I am pissed off at that. I swear that its not because she got a new TDH fellow. No. Positive. Its because she took the 'curry' so lightly.
Madam threw in 'lots' of ginger, 'lots' of garlic, 'lots' of onions, 'lots' of tomatoes, chicken, around a table spoon of turmeric powder, a jar of curry paste and another jar of yogurt and let the pot boil away merrily for an hour or so. No, she didn't have the magic wand the last time when we spoke, so I have a fairly good idea how that 'so called' curry would have turned out.

No, thats not the way a curry is made. (unless you are Harry Potter, that is) The curry have some ground rules. Here are a few:

1. Though all Indian chefs and housewives vouch that its always a 'pinch' of this and a 'pinch' of that, try to balance all spices and condiments - don't go over board with enthusiasm. Meaning, if its a pinch of 'this', it cant be a 'cup' of that - as far as spices go!
2. Never replace spices. For example, don't even think that you can throw in a tablespoon of cloves instead of cumin, as you don't have cumin in your kitchen cupboard. When in doubt, go without it!
3. Say no to cornflour as a thickening agent. Use onions, tomatoes, yogurt, coconut milk or cream as gravy. For kormas, use cashew nut or almond paste.
4. Olive oil does not go with Indian spices - healthy or not healthy.
5. Take the skin off the chicken, its difficult for spices to permeate otherwise.
6. Always keep the hot water handy as adding cold water during cooking will destroy flavours.
7. Let the oil heat up before adding spices. Also, its always better to add lemon juice after all cooking is finished, the lemon turns bitter if added during cooking.
8. No, no to chilly paste and Tabasco in curry. Ditto with chutneys, jams and condensed milk. Ask for Kashmiri chilly powder in the Indian grocery stores which gives all the colour but not the heat.
9. Curries are strong enough to face the world, they don't need alcohol in them. Stay off!
10. Finally, don't blame the curry if it stops trying when you keep on adding 'stuff' to it- there is a limit to Curry also, as to what it can comfortably carry off. You just cant endlessly 'extend' a curry by tipping in the entire contents of the vegetable tray.
So, now you have got the 10 commandments. But remember, curry is not a burger - its not that fast! It requires time and effort and yes, attention. Now, don't shoot the messenger.....

By the way, if you are wondering, the boyfriend is still with her, breathing and all.

The Credit Crunch Menu

Its credit crunch time and the Menon household are trying to save up pennies to make it a mighty pound. The ‘cutting down’ officially started this weekend, though they opted to call the process ‘lifestyle remodeling’ instead, just so that their inflated egos don’t get hurt. And for anybody who cared to ask, they announced that they were following the Jamie Oliver at Saintsbury’s example.

So the Friday evening take away is out, the healthy home cooked meal is in. But What Lady. M did not realize was that cooking was going to be a one (wo)man operation, a tired and irritated full time working woman operation, that is. ‘I am hungry’ announced Lord M upon reaching home and headed direct to the laptop, and the unwilling chef was stuck with Junior M screaming for dinner, who was yet to be bathed, lotioned and be coxed to bed . After a meal of fried chicken and chips, and 10 renderings of ‘Lavender’s blue dilly-dilly’ off he closes his eyes and bang! It stuck 8.

Lady M’s resolutions for healthy home-made were going astray, though she managed to push in two-three baking potatoes into the oven with a sprinkle of rock salt. Tuna and sweet corn came out of the can. Lady M chopped some onions and green chillies to mix with mayonnaise, all the while pretending that she was chopping the one at the laptop! The onions came out pretty small, by the way.

The Lord and the Lady managed to wolf down the jacket potatoes with tuna and corn topping and fresh fruits (plus some forbidden ‘units’ – at a quarter of what they would have spent at the restaurant) and were off to bed by 10, though the satisfaction normally associated with putting the feet up on the Friday night and eating all the calorie laden cheesy pizzas and fries was evading the Lady. It certainly did not feel like a Friday!

The ‘healthy-living’ theme continued to Saturday and they managed to hit the farmers market and came out with lots of oranges, sweet grapes, crispy green leaves, freshly-dug potatoes, perfect strawberries and juicy carrots- all under a 10! Lady M was having goose-bumps with pride and then realized that she still had to clean the dirt off the stuff and actually cook them! OMG, what will happen to the French manicure?

The lunch was plain rice and vegetable curry with coconut milk. And poppudums dry roasted for a minute in the Microwave. That tasted good and yes, its under a fiver!

Great, its left over rice for dinner disguised as one pot Fried Rice meal, decided the Lady. Stir fried some frozen veggies, some chicken strips, eggs and a handful of soybeans and some garlic in olive oil and added them to rice along with a bit of soya sauce.

Then the phone rang, announcing the arrival of friends in 30 minutes- so the menu had to be expanded now, much to the Lord’s delight. The tofu was browned gently with onions, tomoto puree, ginger and garlic paste, to be added with a bit of cream, yoghurt, curry powder, chillies and coriander leaves to form the low fat version of the eternal favorite - Paneer Tikka Masala. Out to impress, she threw in and sautéed some onions, lamb mince and green peas and coriander leaves along with the leftover baked potato from yesterday’s dinner, broken an egg over it and scrumptious mince patties ready to grill happened like Magic.

Some garlic-tomato ketchup jumped out of the jar and got mixed with mayo for that sophisticated dip. The very generous Lord M did a salad of lettuce leaves, cucumber, coriander leaves and cherry tomatoes and emptied a can of cooked drained chick peas on top with a generous helping of lemon juice and the dinner was bursting with texture, colour and nutrition - all with 30 minutes of toiling. And the fun they had at the back yard – No pub smoke to harm the lungs and a gently breeze lifting the spirits under the shiny stars, that was a night out to remember!

Sunday came in with lots of sunshine. So its Italian theme today, pasta! Off pasta goes to boiling water. With Onions and tomatoes and spinach and a bit of bacon and mushrooms all sautéed to perfection and added in, the homemade pasta was a thing of beauty. The strawberries and melons and pineapple met the 5-a-day requirement without adding any extra sugar. The neighbors, Lady and Lord J brought in a carrot cake and some lemonade and hours were spent basking in sun and generally having fun!

By evening, Lady M was so tired that she started longing for a take away and the associated guilty pleasures and above all, rest. Lord M rose to the challenge and came up with spiced meat balls (onions, tomatoes and a bit of curry powder sautéed and mixed with the canned meat balls) and herby noodles (the cheap Asda variety with chopped herbs and a sprinkling of cheese on top) and the plates were licked clean. The Junior was served some grilled cheese too.

Sunday night was the audit night and the Menons realized how much good money they saved without loosing any of the fun! Its friendship and love that matters and what’s more convenient and easy than knocking down two or three dishes and having a good time at your garden with the loved ones?

But the glitter, glamour and adrenalin-rush associated with evening-out still lures, and let’s wait and see if Menons will stick to their resolutions.

(This first came here:

Monday, 27 July 2009

A taste of India

Ever since coming to UK, I have been bombarded with questions on how to cook a particular curry or how to grill the perfect Kebab! Every British man (and women) I have met have some opinion about Indian food. It seems that the British know more about Indian curries than Indians themselves!

However, for an average British, the essential Indian food is the greasy disposable containers of red or yellow nutty sauce with a few pieces of meat or vegetables and lots of coriander leaves thrown in. Though it makes a pretty picture, my very unsophisticated palette finds all take-away Kurumas, Masalas and Jal Frezies taste like coming out of the same ‘Tesco readymade Sauce’ jar! This is indeed a sad picture, and I muse how we need ambassadors of Good Indian Food here! (No offence to the up market chefs in UK, we are talking about the lowly working class people like me who can’t afford to pay £8 for a good curry every Friday).

Years ago, when we first came to London as tourists (with tons of enthusiasm to make up for the infinitesimal wallet), we found our food haven in a tiny dhaba-style steel structure in the heart of Southhall, which used to dole out (rock-hard) idlies, (1 pound coin size) vadas and (runny) sambar for under a fiver! That tasted heavenly, after a week of munching on bland sandwiches and pies in a row. However, the first thought was, is this the standard of Indian Food available in UK?

Later on, having had chances to dine in good Indian Restaurants, I changed my opinion, though our current take out budget is still within 10 pounds and as a result we end up with the above mentioned pots of yellow Kurumas that taste sweeter than kheer or greasy masalas, out of which (if you manage to extract the oil), a family of 4 can cook their entire 3 day’s meal!

Make no mistakes, friends, this is not the finest of Indian food. Indian food offers something for every palette: tasty, tangy, sweet, salty, spicy, crunchy, soft and you name it, Indians have it! It has the right balance of tastes and textures and is one of the most sophisticated in the world, having taken shape in the palaces of Kings and having integrated the finest of techniques from the world cuisine! Above all, Indian food is healthy too!

How come we get passable Pizzas and juicy burgers for under 5, but when it comes to curries, it is either pay a ransom or be happy with something substandard?

Well, to keep up the trend of ‘curry-craze’, We need cheap and tasty take-aways , which
1. Offer us authentic Indian food
2. Not rob us of more than £10 for a meal
2. Not making us eat all that oil which will eventually block our arteries (or valves or veins? –
Excuse the ignorance, medical folks!).

Believe me, entrepreneurs, offer us proper Indian food, and there are millions to be made!

(This came here first: