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.