Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Indian Wednesday #10: Tamil Nadhu Fried Chicken

Chicken 65

This recipe is accompanied by a legend as to how the dish got its name. According to Monica Bhide, there are one of five different explanations for the unusual name of this dish, ranging from the age of the inventor to the number of spices involved. Certainly, this version doesn't involve sixty-five spices, but rather a smooth marinade of yoghurt, ginger, garlic and chile, with an oil and curry leaf dressing added at the end.

In the recipe, Bhide says 'Don't worry if the marinade looks pink!' due to the addition of red food coloring. Apparently, after cooking the chicken by deep frying it in oil it l turns red. I've included a before and after picture for you to demonstrate that one.

One of the most interesting things about this recipe is that even though the chicken is deep fried, it doesn't taste like it. In fact, it tastes to me as if it was cooked in an oven. Maybe its the marinade, but the chicken was succulent, tasty and not at all greasy, which is what I expected. All round, an amazing dish.

Wikipedia has some fun variations on the legend here.

'Don't worry if the marinade looks pink!'
It will turn red after frying. Ladies and gentlemen, Chicken 65

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Indian Wednesday #9: Basil

Tomato-Basil Pilaf

There hasn't been an Indian Wednesday for a few weeks since I have been travelling, first to Switzerland and then to Italy and it just wasn't practical. I have missed them so much that I was raring to go this week.

Ironically, I picked a dish that has very Italian flavors—tomato and basil—but is cooked in a very Indian way, as a pilaf. A pilaf can be defined as a rice dish slowly cooked in a flavored broth. Rather like an Italian risotto you say? Well not really, since the type of rice used, long grain basmati, is very different to the absorbent short grain arborio used in Italy, and so the texture and nutty flavor are very different. Also, there is no stirring, one of the real pains about risotto. In fact Monica Bhide is quite adamant about it: 'Do not lift the cover while the rice is cooking.' When after the twenty minutes or so that it is cooking you do lift the cover, you are greeted with perfect, fluffy rice speckled and seasoned with the basil and colored a sunny yellow with the tomato juice. A real surprise.

An even bigger surprise, however, was the taste. The weightless rice tasted buttery, as if I had added a tablespoon of unsalted as we are won't to do here in France. However, not even so much as a morceau of butter was added. I will definitely be eating this again.  Monica Bhide advises removing the large chunks of crushed garlic from the dish before serving. I didn't and I will say, if you like garlic, finding one of them in a mouthful of rice was a real treat.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Indian Wednesday #8: Easter Egg Plant

Eggplant and tomatoes with cilantro
Sesame fried beef steak

Eggplant, with it's mouth-puckering cheesiness is my favorite vegetable and I am always looking for ways to eat more of it. So I was delighted to find that there were at least three eggplant recipes in Modern Spice. This week I tried eggplant with tomatoes and cilantro, which Monica Bhide describes as her 'favorite comfort food'. It involves slowly cooking eggplant with tomatoes, potatoes, and a variety of spices which evolve into a dreamy piquancy. I was worried that with the very long cooking time suggested, the vegetables would just mush, but the potatoes were cooked from raw and so were nice and firm.
I paired this dish with a fresh steak lightly pan fried in sesame oil and pepper which was an excellent combination.
Well, I hope you enjoy your Indian Wednesday this week.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Indian Wednesday #7: Beef and bread.

Beef stewed with coconut
Steamed rice

This recipe caught my eye because its basic ingredients, beef, potato, and coconut milk, reminded me of one of my favorite Thai dishes, massaman curry. This is logical, since massaman is said to be influenced by the food of the Indian subcontinent. Also, Monica Bhide's recipe comes with some options, and since I feel I am starting to really learn something about Indian cooking from this experience, the opportunity to freelance a little appealed.

The recipe called for 'chuck'. I must admit I don't really know what that is, and it's certainly not available by that name in France, so I substituted bourginon the cut of meat prepared for Julia Child's now legendary signature dish. Also, because Monica Bhide said that you could add vegetables such as winter squash or turnips to the dish, I reached for my old favorite, the parsnip. Finally, there was a suggestion to use bread to eat the sauce, the perfect opportunity to try out something that's been on my culinary wish list for ages: laccha paratha.

I will always remember the first time I tried paratha, ordered by a knowledgable friend in an Indian restaurant in London. Until that point I had thought that the naan was the be all and end all of Indian breads. But then a round, buttery flake bread arrived which stole my heart and relegated the hitherto delicious naans to the second division. I was in love with paratha.

Until now, I had always assumed that paratha was going to be difficult to make and require special equipment, so imagine my joy when, scouring YouTube, I discovered a host of videos showing young Indian ladies whipping up a batch in a frying pan. A quick trip to the Rue de la Faubourg St Denis and I was possession of a bag of atta, a gluten-rich durum wheat flour which blended with all purpose flour, milk, and a little salt and sugar forms the paratha dough.

The YouTube ladies make rolling and folding the dough into mini Belgian buns look easy. This is essential for producing the paratha's characteristic flaky spiral and in fact was as easy as the ladies made it look. These spirals are then flattened into thin disks, facilitated by the high gluten content of the atta which are then fried in a pan, painted with ghee, and ready before you can say 'hey paratha!' I was extremely impressed with the results, and I encourage you all to go on your own YouTube odyssey to find the recipe.

Back to the stew. Again, like most of the recipes in Modern Spice, the flavors were derived from a few well-combined ingredients, effectively de-mystifying Indian cuisine, and oh what a combination. The coconut milk gently infused all of the ingredients with creamy nuttiness, unifying them, but then retired into the background and let the real stars, chillis, ground coriander, and the extraordinary curry leaves, shine. I am planning a curry leaf special entry to this blog, so I won't dwell on them now, and anyway, I've kept you long enough. Get out there and cook curry; after all, it's Indian Wednesday.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Indian Wednesday #6: Favorite fish

Monica's Tomato and Coconut Fish Curry
Steamed Basmati Rice

According to Modern Spice, this is Monica Bhide's signature dish. The book recounts an anecdote in which her father tells her it is his favorite dish too, going on to explain how he makes it in his own way, leaving out or substituting the majority of ingredients for some reason. I must confess, that like Monica's father, I too left out one ingredient and substituted another: I didn't have any black mustard seeds and I couldn't find catfish here in France so I used fillet of whiting instead. But apart from that, I followed the instructions in the recipe to the letter from the measurements to the timings. The result? This is now my favorite dish too.

Before you get too excited, I must confess that I noticed a few weeks ago that I have a problem with favorites. Since I moved to France, I am also working my way through the wonderful world of French cheese (I should start a blog) and realized that every time I try a new cheese that I like, it becomes my favorite—until I try a new one. Last week, the Coriander-and-fennel crusted lamb chops from Modern Spice were my favorite and these have now been supplanted by the Tomato and coconut fish curry. What will it be next week? I guess what I am saying is take my superlative with a pinch of cumin seeds but as a sign that this dish, like the rest of the recipes I have tried from Modern Spice so far, is truly very, very good. No, not good: exceptional. 

Cooking my way through Modern Spice was always supposed to be an education in Indian cuisine as much as an enjoyable culinary journey, and indeed, I have learned something new every week. One of things this dish taught me most about is the taste of turmeric. Until now, I had thought that it was really a colorant, a cheaper version of saffron, turning every thing it touches bright yellow whether you want it to or not. However, in this dish, the turmeric not only lends an exquisite end-of-the-day color as you can see from the pictures, but also combined with the coconut milk, a sort of egg-custard like flavor that pairs exceptionally with the fish. It is that, combined with the heat of bi-color chiles and intensely aromatic curry leaves that makes this dish exceptional.

On the subject of curry leaves, I have discovered that it is they that give all the Indian food stores that I have ever been in the same distinctive smell. It's a smell I was very familiar with in my youth, living as a student in Rusholme, Manchester, one of the largest Indian quarters in the UK. It's a smell I immediately recognized as I entered the first grocery store on the Rue de la Faubourg St. Denis here in Paris, an equally large and exciting Indian quarter. And it's a smell that I recognized when I opened the plastic bag of fresh curry leaves I brought home a couple of weeks ago, finally discovering this extraordinary plant. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Indian Wednesday #5: Spring lamb

Coriander-and-fennel crusted lamb chops
Bombay potatoes
Indian salad

One of the things I love about many of the recipes in Modern Spice by Monica Bhide, is that they are so darn easy. This week's dish, coriander-and-fennel crusted lamb chops is no exception; but what a lesson in how simple can be effective.

Essentially a marinade for lamb chops, Monica's experience and encyclopedic knowledge of spice combine to perfectly accentuate the natural ovine flavours with a hint of heat in the background to remind you of its Indian origins. And the cooking instructions are spot on for baby pink meat, loaded with juice like a plump grapefruit.

I used two different types of chop: one on the bone and the other with the bone removed, rolled and tied into the form of a steak. Both worked equally well and formed a classy contrast with each other when served together.

As side dishes, I prepared classic Bombay potatoes cut through with smooth cilantro leaves, and a salad of tomato, onion, and cucumber dressed with buttery sesame oil and tangy lime. All the flavours of spring on a plate.

If I didn't have so many more recipes to try, I'd be cooking this again next week, and the week after, and the week after that. Well, lamb isn't in season for that long.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Indian Wednesday #4: Frying tonight

Fish Fry

In her introduction to this recipe, Monica Bhide talks about the English penchant for fried fish and so I instantly had visions of the fish and chips, served in newspaper, of my childhood. However, the spice mix used to fry this fish sounded interesting and I decided to give it a go. My last minute decision to serve it with a cucumber and tomato salad, rather than sweet potato fries proved a good one, because rather than the heavy meal I was expecting, this dish had a refreshingly light, delicately spiced flavor that I would be happy to serve at any dinner party. And it's super easy to make, to boot.

You can use any white fish with the recipe. Monica recommends tilapia but I used, what I believe is called rose fish in English, dorade sebaste in French. The marinade provided a sunny color, which I hope will usher in spring, backed by a spicy citrus flavour with a hint of heat promising summer. And the sun did come out while I was cooking, so one can hope.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Indian Wednesday #3: Last of the winter stews

Butternut squash stew with jaggery

I wanted to try this recipe while it was still winter since it sounded amazing and I didn't fancy waiting until next year. It was the first time I've really cooked with butternut squash—yes, I know—and realized I had no idea how to butcher it, and so butcher it I did. Any information on how to do it correctly can be sent on a postcard to ...

Jaggery, an essential ingredient in this recipe is a kind of unrefined sugar, and it adds a distinctive rich caramel flavor reminiscent of molasses. Having said that, it's not over present in this dish, so if you're not into sweet and savory, don't be put off. 

The stew itself, wonderful for vegetarians and confirmed meat eaters—like me—alike, is like last week's dish: wonderfully misleading. Once all the ingredients are in the pot, you ask yourself what's Indian about this? It seems just like any old butternut squash stew. But then, when you taste it, you discover the Indian flavors that jump out, and throw a garland around your neck and shout 'namaste'!

The comfortable butteriness of the squash, enhanced by the sugar, was cut but by the fruitiness of red and green peppers with a spicy descant from the chilli played over the top, as if on high-pitched Bollywood strings. My mouth was savoring the flavors as my forehead became a little spice moist, for me the perfect combination. 

This will easily become one of my go to winter dishes both for its ease and wintry flavors and could be served on its own, or as a vegetable accompaniment to meat. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Indian Wednesday #2: A 'souper' supper

Curried carrot and ginger soup with pan-fried paneer
Curry leaf bread
Pistachio and cardamom ice cream

This was my first week cooking properly from Modern Spice and I wanted to try something using unfamiliar ingredients in an unfamiliar format. So much of what we think if as Indian food in the UK is curry and rice that I wanted to avoid both of those. So, I plumped for a soup and this rather fascinating sounding bread, which I thought would go together well. It's still winter here in Europe and so the idea of soup and bread for dinner sounded a good one.

I'm quite familiar with making home made bread and so the recipe was straight forward enough. However, I think even if you weren't that familiar, the recipe is so well-written and you'd find it quite easy. The main ingredient is the 'curry leaf' which I had never heard of and I had despaired of finding, until I discovered the wonderful Indian quarter on the Rue de la Faubourg St. Denis, here in Paris. There the myriad Indian grocery stores are plush with the fresh fragrance of exotic spice, which I discovered, on arriving home curry leaves in hand, came from that plant.

I shaped my loaf like a traditional french brioche, and when I cut into the turmeric yellow interior, all the fragrances of the Rue de la Faubourg St Denis came pouring out, the perfect marriage of East and West. It's a densely moist  loaf, almost cake like in texture and sweetness, and hard not to eat on its own.

The loaf ended up being the perfect accompaniment to the soup, its earthy wholesomeness backed by a slight heat. The crispy cheese provided an original and appropriate alternative to croutons cut through with the cilantro leaves. Cilantro, or coriander as we call it in the UK has been one of my favorite herbs for many years, yet I am always surprised at its fresh, almost citric taste, every time I eat it. So much for taste memory.

No meal is complete without a dessert, but for this one I developed my own recipe based on the traditional Indian dessert, kulfi.  If you've never had cardamom in a dessert before, it's almost impossible to imagine, but it gives a delicately aromatic perfume, to desserts rather like incense. As it's mine, I'll share the recipe with you. It's down below under the pictures.

Monica Bhide's curry leaf bread

Bread and soup: a marriage made in heaven

Pistachio and cardamom ice cream

Pistachio and cardamom ice cream

Active time: 20 minutes
Total time: 3 hours

½ cup shelled pistachios
2 cups milk
8 cardamom pods, crushed
¾ cup sugar
3 eggs
¾ cup cream

1. Mix together the pistachios and milk using a hand blender, until the pistachios are chopped into small pieces; add the crushed cardamom pods.
2. Bring the mixture to the boil in a saucepan; remove it from the heat and allow it to infuse for about twenty minutes and then remove the cardamom pods.
3. Whisk the sugar and eggs together until smooth; add to the milk mixture over a gentle heat, little by little, stirring all the time until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil.
4. Allow the mixture to cool, then add the cream and combine using a hand blender.
5. Freeze the mixture in an ice-cream maker, according to the manufacturer’s instructions; transfer to a sealed plastic container and put in the freezer for at least two hours.
6. Place in the fridge one hour before serving time; serve covered with chopped pistachios. 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Indian Wednesday #1: Red pepper and pistachio curried prawns

For the inaugural Indian Wednesday, I decided to cook red pepper and pistachio curried prawns, which featured on Monica Bhide's blog last month. The recipe can be found here.

I made a couple of small changes to the recipe. Firstly, I added some small prawns as well as the large ones in order to add some interest to the plating. I live in Paris and so am very influenced by current French trends in plating and wanted to try something that looked French but tasted Indian. Also, I served it with some saffron jewelled basmati rice. Apart from that, the recipe was exactly as per the original.

I loved this dish. The sauce, had a solid base of pistachio with a freshness added by the pepper and onion and cut through with the spiky spicy chile. After some sneaky seconds there are no leftovers, which I think says it all. Super easy to make, this will definitely enter my regular repetoire.

I'd be very interested to hear your experiences with this recipe, so feel free to add comments below. So, until next Indian Wednesday, au revoir!

Ingredients ready to go

... et voilĂ ! Bon appetit!


Unlike most British people, I came late in life to Indian food. Growing up in an Italian immigrant family it sometimes felt like you needed a passport to come through my front door, and la cucina was strictly Italian apart from the rare occasions when, in the absence of my father, my English mother would serve us baked beans on toast, fish fingers, or any of those other 1970s British favorites. Christmas was an exception, when British turkey and all the trimmings graced our table, but for most of the rest of the year, we could have been back in magnificent Venice, rather than sunny Bournemouth, when it came to food.

And so it was that at approximately 11.45pm, one Friday evening in 1990, some University friends of mine dragged me into the Shere Khan restaurant in Rusholme, Manchester and my education in 'Indian' food began. The experience was unlike anything I had before. There was succulent meat, clothed in simmering sauces, so full of flavour, that you rushed to savor before the heavy spices made your taste buds numb. Soon names like korma, bhuna, rogan josh started to take residence in my vocabulary. I learnt that keema meant beef mince, aloo, potato and that paneer was a kind of cheese. I started to shop in the groceries in the Indian quarter of the city that were pervaded by the lemon fresh scent of cumin and the names of the spices, which until then could have been Martian, became things I recognized and understood.

I was of course aware that British Indian food, which is in the first place a general term referring to the food served in Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi restaurants without differentiation, had been heavily adapted towards western taste. However, this was the only version of Indian food available to us, and to be honest, it suited my western taste so well that I didn't feel the need to explore further. And short of marrying into an Indian family, there really wasn't the opportunity to learn about real Indian food in the UK at that time.

My love affair with Indian food, in which I ate at least one curry a week, continued until I left the UK several years ago to settle first in Italy, then in Switzerland, and finally in France. In those countries, Indian restaurants are virtually unknown outside the big cities, and then the taste is so different from, so bland compared with what I had grown used to in the UK, that our relationship broke down. And ever since, I have only had Indian food cooked at home, from my copy of Kris Dhillon's The Curry Secret or on one of my regular business trips to Hong Kong, where the British Indian food is more British than in Britain.

But this has all changed.

I have recently been lucky enough to have met and become friends with the incomparable Monica Bhide, food writer, teacher, and all round domestic goddess, and to have discovered her amazing book Modern Spice, which has finally opened my eyes to real Indian cooking, with flavors even more balanced, complex, and sublime than I could have imagined. And so, Indian Wednesdays were born: every week I will cook a meal from Monica or Modern Spice and post photos and experiences here. If you'd like to join in, I urge you to buy a copy of this wonderful book now.