I’m making cheese!

Today I am making paneer, fresh Indian cheese. I’ve never made it before and was following Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe but the stern, usually reliable mistress of Indian cookery has let me down a little. Let’s just say there’s been an aborted curdling attempt and some swearing.

But I didn’t give up and the second attempt (in which I actually used my brain instead of slavishly following a recipe) is going well so far.

Tune in tomorrow for the finished result and a successful recipe.

Pea & Potato Curry (Aloo Mattar)

pea and potato curry

This dish is everything I want in a home-made curry – full of taste, easy to make, and easy on the budget. It’s vegetarian (vegan, even), low-fat, takes half an hour in a single pan and uses only storecupboard ingredients. How much more perfect could it be?

My mother-in-law gave me this recipe and she knows what she’s on about.

Ingredients
Serves 4

4 large potatoes or the equivalent in new potatoes
1 onion
Some peas, fresh or frozen. However much you like.
1 tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp ground tumeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
As much chilli as you like, powdered, dried or fresh
1tsp garam masala
A knob of butter (or oil if you’re vegan)
A pinch of salt and pepper

The Cooking

Chop up the onion really finely, as finely as you can bear with tears streaming down your face. If possible, it should be almost chopped to a paste although don’t worry if it’s not. Melt the butter in a non-stick saucepan on a low-to-medium heat and when it starts to foam, add the onion. Stir it occasionally as you get on with the other stuff, but not too much, it’s nice when it catches a bit.

Now cut up the potatoes into roughly equal-sized chunks. If you’re using new potatoes just halve them.

Mix together the coriander, cumin, cayenne, sugar, chilli, salt and pepper (but not the garam masala). When the onions are golden brown, almost burnt, add the potatoes and the spice mix, give it a good stir so the onions and potato are coated and let it cook for a minute. Then pour in some cold water, enough to almost cover the potatoes.

Bring the whole thing up to the boil and let it bubble away for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally and tasting often – if you feel it needs more salt then add it. As the potato softens and the liquid reduces a bit, smoosh a couple of the potatoes into the liquid to thicken it.

If it gets a bit dry, add more water. If it’s too watery, smoosh some more of the potato into it and turn up the heat and reduce the liquid some more. Use the mighty power of your brain.

After 15 minutes, check if the potatoes are almost-but-not-completely cooked. If they are, add the peas (if they’re not, cook them some more until they are, obviously). Once the peas are cooked (about 5 minutes), sprinkle over the garam masala, stir it around for another minute and serve it up with basmati rice and dhal, if you like.

This, as they say on the packets, is a serving suggestion:

curry

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Lamb Dhansak

lamb dhansak

Lamb and lentils, lots of spices, this is a real midweek treat. That photo doesn’t do it justice, I promise it’s tastier than it looks. It takes less than an hour to make, and is a surprisingly low fat curry – always a bonus when you want Indian food but can’t be doing with the usual pints of cream and/or oil it often involves. You can make it with chicken or beef, but I like it with lamb because it’s a good way to use a tasty cheap cut like lamb neck.

Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients, I bet you have half the stuff in your cupboard anyway and if you don’t then buying them will be a good investment for future Indian-food-making. And the world won’t end if you miss out a few ingredients or have to improvise.

Ingredients
Serves 2

2 lamb neck fillets or about 275g lamb, any cut
175g mixed lentils. I used a mix of split red, green and yellow lentils. Just use whatever you have lying around.
5 black peppercorns
4 cloves
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1″ piece of mace
1 large bay leaf
1/2 star anise (if you have powdered, use about a teaspoon)
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp turmeric powder
A handful of fresh coriander leaves and fenugreek leaves
A small handful of mint leaves
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1″ piece of ginger, pealed and chopped finely
However much chilli or chilli powder you want to use.
1 pint chicken or beef stock

The Cooking

First, get all your dry spices together so you’re all prepared. Just put them all in a bowl and mix them up. Cut the lamb into large-ish chunks.

Rinse the lentils and put them in a pan with 2/3rds of the chicken stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes or so. If it gets a bit dry, add the rest of the chicken stock.

Meanwhile, heat up another pan (one that will be big enough to contain the whole dish). Don’t put any oil in it, just tip the spices straight into the hot pan and dry-fry them. Stir every now and again and after a couple of minutes the spices will smell roasty and go a darker brown. The corainder seeds might start popping. Tip the spices out back into the bowl they came from. If you have a pestle and mortar or a spice grinder, grind your spices in that. If not, put them in a plastic bag and bash with a heavy implement (a rolling pin or can or beans will do) until the spices are reasonably ground down. Have a smell, it’s lovely.

In the same pan as you did the spices, add some oil and get it nice and hot, then fry the lamb quickly on all sides to brown it. You don’t need to cook it through, you’re just giving it some colour and nice crunchy bits. Take the pan off the heat and tip in the ground spices, garlic, ginger, chillies, fresh coriander and mint.

Once the lentils are reasonably soft, whizz them with a blender or a food processor until soup-like. Not all the lentils will be as soft as each other – this doesn’t matter, the variation in texture is good. Pour the lentils into the pan with the meat and spices, give it a good stir, put it back on the heat and bring the whole lot up to a simmer. Have a taste – if you feel it needs salt, add it.

Simmer for about 20 minutes. While it’s simmering, get your rice ready if that’s what you’re serving it with. Plate it up and sprinkle some fresh coriander over the top. Eat it!

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Kheema Matar – Minced lamb curry with peas

Kheema matar

It can sometimes be a challenge to think of interesting things to do with minced meat – there’s only so many times you can make spag bol or chilli. Keema matar is a lovely, deeply flavoured North Indian dry curry dish that’s traditionally served with Indian breads – pooris and parathas – but goes just as nicely with a simple bit of rice.

It takes under an hour to make and uses just one pan – perfect for a midweek dinner. Don’t be put off by the list of ingredients – I bet you have half the stuff in your cupboard anyway and if you don’t then buying them will be a good investment for future Indian-food-making.

The Ingredients
Serves 3

1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4/5 cloves garlic, chopped
500g minced lamb (beef with do in a pinch)
A 1 inch cube of ginger, peeled and grated
As many or as few chillis as you like
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds (I put the seeds in a plastic bag and bash them with a rolling pin. The smell is strangely lemon-y. Very aromatic.)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
250ml water
175g peas (frozen are fine)
A generous handful of fresh coriander (cilantro, for my American friends), choppped
About 1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garem masala
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

The Cooking

First do your prep – chop all the things that need chopping, and bash up all the spices. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, put the spices in a plastic bag and bash it with a heavy implement. Most satisfactory.

Heat the oil in a wide frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, add the onions and cook for 5-7 minutes or so until they’re starting to turn brown. Don’t worry about under or over cooking them too much, this dish is quite forgiving. Add the garlic and fry for one more minute, giving it a bit of a shake and stir so it doesn’t burn.

Now add the minced meat, ginger, chillis, ground coriander seeds, cumin and cayenne. Give it a good stir – it is my (entirely unproved) belief that if you can get the spices in contact with the meat before it’s browned, they cook and meld together better. It’s like they stick together, becoming better friends for having gone through the frying process as one.

Fry for about 5 minutes or so on a fairly high heat, breaking up any lumps as you go. Don’t stir it too much, it’s nice when it catches on the pan a little and adds a bit of texture.

When it’s nice and brown, add 150ml water. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and leave it to simmer for 30 minutes. Check it every now and then and use the power of your brain to assess whether it’s too dry and needs more water or it’s fine. Taste often – chef’s perks!

Now add the peas, coriander, salt, garem masala, lemon juice and 75ml water. Mix it all in and bring it back to a simmer – cook until the peas are done (about 5 minutes). Taste it. Add more salt if you feel it needs it.

Serve with bread/rice/dhal. Congratulate yourself on how brilliant it tastes.

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Lamb Rogan Josh

Curry Paste

You see that picture? That paste took me an hour to make. AN HOUR. That’s about 3 tablespoons right there. Madhur Jaffrey made me fry, roast, crush, chop and grind many spices for this. I knew she was going to and because I am a glutton for punishment I let her and her An Invitation to Indian Cookery treat me like their curry bitch.

Look at this list of ingredients (serves 4):

2lbs boned meat from shoulder of lamb, cubed into 1-inch pieces (note: I boned and cubed a shoulder myself. Meat that you butcher yourself is eleventy billion times cheaper than pre-cubed and it’s not hard)
6tbs vegetable oil
10 whole cloves
1-2 whole dried hot red peppers (optional)
12 peppercorns
6 whole cardamom pods
1tbs ground cumin
2tbs ground coriander
1tbs dessicated unsweetened coconut
3tbs blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
a piece of fresh ginger, about 1-inch cube, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
2 medium onions, peeled and finely minced
3tbs plain yoghurt
3 medium tomatoes (tinned or fresh), peeled and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt

Now I ask you – who the hell looks at this and thinks “Oh yes, no problem. I’ll knock that up for tea, the kids’ll love it”? Well, North Indian women apparently. But apart from them. Who wouldn’t look at that enormous list of ingredients and think “Bugger it, we’ll have pasta”?

But hey, I like a challenge and Lamb Rogan Josh is one of the things Mr B often orders when we go out for a curry. Also, I need to cook this food before I have children and attempting anything of this sort would be madness.

Here are Madhur Jaffrey’s instructions, with my notes:

Wipe the meat well with paper towels .(What? What will that achieve? After hacking my shoulder of lamb into bits, I forgot this bit. It didn’t sem to make much difference.)

Heat the oil in a 10-12-inch frying pan (I have no idea how many inches wide my frying pan is). When the oil is hot, add the cloves, red peppers, peppercorns, and cardamom. Stir them for a few seconds until they puff up and darken (there was no puffing when I did it).

Now put in 7 or 8 pieces of meat at a time to brown. When each lot is brown on all sides, remove with a slotted spoon to a large flameproof covered casserole, taking care to leave the spices in the frying pan (Note: she never mentions the casserole dish again. But I will.). Continue to brown all the meat this way and set aside. Turn off the flame under the frying pan.

You have to roast some spices now, so take out your heaviest iron-type frying pan (I keep a small one just for this purpose) (Oh DO you, Ms Madhur Jaffrey? Well bully for you. I DON’T. I have one other frying pan and that’s it. You’re lucky I’ve got two.). Put the cumin, coriander, coconut and almonds in it. (Using what is, for me, remarkable foresight I had already measured out and prepared these ingredients and had them ready in a little bowl.). Turn heat on medium and roast, stirring for about 5 minutes or until spices turn a coffee colour. Turn off heat and pour roasted spices and nuts into container of electric blender. Add chopped garlic and ginger.(I admit, there was some last-minute chopping done here).

With a slotted spoon, lift out the fried spices in the oil and put them in the blender container too. Add the turmeric, nutmeg, mace and 8 tablespoons water. Blend at high speeds until you have a smooth, thick paste. You may need to stop the blender and push down with a rubber spatula.(I’m not sure why she specifies a *rubber* spatula. As it happens, my only spatula is rubber. Lucky for her. My blender, however, is too big and the blade didn’t mix the ingredients properly. After an abortive attempt with a hand-held blender I accepted that my paste would not be smooth, merely not-lumpy.)

In the same frying pan in which the lamb cooked, fry the onions over a high heat, stirring and scraping up the juices for about 5 minutes, or until they turn dark in spots. Then lower heat to medium and add paste from blender. Stir and fry or another 5 minutes, gradually adding the yogurt, a tablespoons at a time. Put in the chopped tomatoes. Stir and fry for another 2-3 minutes.

Now add 1/2 pint water. Bring the boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer gently for 15 minutes.(Hang on. Cover? I’m using a frying pan. Frying pans don’t have covers. I was foxed. But no! Earlier on there was mention of a casserole dish, in which I have put the meat. So now I had to take the meat out of the cassole dish, stip in the onion, paste, etc and cover and simmer. Most unelegant.)

Put the meat into this sauce. Add the salt and stir. Bring to the boil, cover, lower heat and simmer gently for 1 hour. Stir a few times as it cooks.

Here is how it turned out:

rogan josh

Not the greatest picture I’m afraid. Served with brown basmati rice (low-GI don’tcha know) and dhal (dhal recipe here). The rogan josh was spicey and slightly sweet and the lamb was tender and the whole thing was full of flavour. Mr B and I enjoyed it very much, especially since I had the satisfaction of knowing I created a proper curry from scratch.

Chicken Korma

chicken korma, dhal and rice

Recipe here. Of course I bought the almonds and coriander to garnish. I’m a sucker for unnecesary food purchases.

I succummbed to my perennial failing – timing. The chicken was done well before the dhal and rice. BUT. It was, in the words of Mr B, “very good”. And coming from him, this is high praise. The recipe worked well, and the dhal was better than normal. For next time, start the rice and dhal at the same time the chicken goes in the pan.

dhal

Look at that. Steaming, bubbling turmeric lentils. I used Maldon sea salt to season, which always adds an edge.

And the finished dish:

chicken korma with dhal and rice

It’s not a great picture because pretty food isn’t my speciality, especially when it comes to Indian food. The creme fraiche was almost lemony in its tang. I’ll certainly make this again.

Low-fat Chicken Korma and Dhal

I’m making a low-fat chicken korma for tea. It’s a recipe out of a magazine. I have trouble trusting recipes from magazines – how do I know the author knows or cares about food? And a low-fat korma? I suspish. But. You never know.

Note added post-cooking: Click here to see the rather smashing cooked dish.

Ingredients

1 small knob fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced (heh, “knob”)
1 garlic clove
1 onion, sliced
4 skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces. (I’m using chicken thighs, whole, because that’s what we have. And thigh meat is tastier than breast meat.)
1tsp garam masala (I have a special korma garam masala, because I am handy that way)
100ml/3 1/2fl oz chicken stock
2tbsp low-fat fromage frais
2tbsp ground almonds
Handful toasted, sliced almonds to serve (I may not bother with this bit. I’m not buying a whole packet of toasted almonds just to sprinkle a few on a korma)
Coriander leaves, plain rice, naan bread of chapatis to serve.

The Cooking
(Magazine reipe instructions in italics)

1. Cook the ginger, garlic and onion in a large pan with the oil until softened. Now this annoys me, because it took me a good while to figure out that it’s useless to put garlic in the pan at the same time as the onion because the garlic will inevitably burn and taste bitter. I will put the garlic in just as the onion’s turning translucent.Tip in chicken and cook until lightly browned, about 5 mins, then add in garam masala for one minute further. Okay, I’m with you there.

2. Pour over the stock and simmer for 10 mins until the chicken is cooked through. Look, I know these recipes need to specify times because otherwise people would complain. But if I was writing this recipe it would just say “simmer until cooked through”. Because 10 minutes is a random time. It could take 5 minutes. It could take 15. It all depends on your chicken. That’s why it’s important to engage in your cooking and pay attention to what it’s actually doing, rather than doing it by timing. Take the pan off the heat and and stir in the fromage frais and ground almonds. Sprinkle over sliced almost, garnish with coriander and served with boiled rice, chapatis or plain nann bread. Okay. Thanks for telling me curry goes with rice.

Actually, I’ll probably do it with rice and dhal. Plain rice is nice is if you cook a few cardomom pods in with it. Here is a recipe for a simple dhal:

Dhal

Bung some split red lentils in a pan, however much you think you’ll need. Pour over water to cover the lentils and more – use the power of your brain to guess how much water you’ll need for the lentils to absorb and don’t worry about it too much – if you put in too little you can always add more and if you put in too much you can drain it.

Now add some turmeric, cumin and salt. About a teaspoon of each. The turmeric gives a nice yellow colour. Simmer for about 15 minutes or so, until the lentils are as cooked as you want them. Mr B likes his lentils mushy. Add a few quartered tomatoes towards the end of cooking so that they don’t get completely cooked down to mush but add a nice flavour. Season to taste.

Serve with carbohydrate. Or don’t. Serve with spinach (saag) if you like, that would be nice too.