No holy cows here

A prawn fisherman tests the water

Being vegetarians doesn't make us sissies

Most Sri Lankans love pork

My cock is now bigger than yours, Dad!

Punjabi Egg Masala: the not-quite vegetarian curry

"Unlike some of the joyless vegetarian restaurants in my sad experience, vegetables here (in the Punjab) are actually spicy, all taste different, different textures, and served with extraordinarily good bread ... It's a whole different experience." – Anthony Bourdain.

 

India is both vast and populous. Superimposed on Europe, its surface area would cover all of Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Demark, Ukraine, Romania, Italy, Norway, and Lithuania. And despite only covering about half of Europe, India has a population much bigger than the entire Europe: Europe has a population of 743 million, while India has a population of population of over 1.2 billion). It is truly a subcontinent, in which one in six earthlings live.

This giant of a country is far from homogenous. Its people adhere to numerous religions, and speak 22 recognised languages and hundreds of dialects. The land itself is diverse, with pretty much all the world’s climatic zones except permafrost found there. When it comes to food, there is no singular “Indian cuisine”; rather a wide variety of regional cuisines. Given the diversity of the land and its people, these styles of cooking vary significantly from each other and use locally available ingredients. They have one common denominator: Indians like their food spicy, regardless of whether they are carnivores or vegetarians.

“Spicy” means different things to different people, but should not be confused with “hot”. As far as heat is concerned, it is safe to say that – like the climate – the curries get hotter the further south you go. Conversely, less and less meat and bread gets eaten per capita, and more and more vegetables and rice. Much of what we eat in Indian restaurants in the West – naan, samosas, rotis, tandoori chicken and lamb flavoured with garam masala and yoghurt - is North Indian. While people are more likely to be carnivores in the North, there is a sizeable vegetarian minority and some of the jewels of Indian vegetarian cooking hail from there. Punjabi Egg Masala is a case in point. It is not only delicious, but easy to make as well. It requires few ingredients and is ready in a flash. This dish is very popular all over North India and is usually served in roadside dhabas with rice or chapatis.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Pinotage or Cinsaut

 

6 Hard-boiled eggs, halved lengthways

4 Garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 Large waxy potatoes, peeled and diced

1 Large onion, peeled and chopped

1 Small cauliflower, broken into florets

1 Large red chilli, finely chopped

1 Thumb-sized piece of root ginger, peeled and finely grated

400ml Coconut milk

3 Tbsp. sunflower oil

2 Tbsp. medium-hot curry paste

2 Tbsp. toasted almonds, flaked

2 Tbsp. fresh coriander, chopped

 

  • Heat the oil in a large, deep wok or saucepan over low heat.
  • Stir in the onion and fry over a medium heat for 8 - 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened and starting to turn golden.
  • Stir the chilli, garlic and ginger into the onion mixture and fry for 2 minutes.
  • Increase the heat a little, add the potatoes and cook for 3 - 4 minutes, stirring frequently, until the outsides are just softening.
  • Stir in the curry paste, cook for 1 minute, then toss in the cauliflower and stir-fry for another minute to coat.
  • Add the coconut milk and stir thoroughly.
  • Season with some salt, increase the heat and bring to the boil, stirring frequently.
  • Half cover the pan and reduce the heat to a slow simmer.
  • Cook the curry for 25 minutes, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened slightly and the vegetables are tender.
  • Half-bury the eggs, yolk sides up, in the sauce, then cover and continue to simmer gently for a further 2 minutes to heat through.
  • Serve with a sprinkling of toasted almonds and coriander.

 

“Even just a few spices or ethnic condiments that you can keep in your pantry can turn your mundane dishes into a culinary masterpiece.” - Marcus Samuelsson.

 

Sri Lankan Black Pork Curry: my cup of tea

“A peasant becomes fond of his pig and is glad to salt away its pork. What is significant, and is so difficult for the urban stranger to understand, is that the two statements are connected by an ‘and’ -   not by a ‘but’.” – John Berger.

 

A good curry is to boiled rice, what a lead guitar is to a rock band. One cannot exist without the other. And without a good curry, boiled rice is just that. Bland and boring. Which is why a good meat curry is always a good thing to have in your arsenal. Let me tell you about one of the Indian Subcontinent’s largely undiscovered culinary gems: Sri Lankan Black Pork Curry. The name “black pork” comes from the colour of the final product, not from the animal whose meat is used in it. And that colour comes from dark roasted curry powder, mixed with tamarind paste and black pepper.

The island nation of Sri Lanka (previously Ceylon) is probably best known for its highly prized tea and its swashbuckling cricketers. Because of a long and bitter civil war, tourism suffered and consequently not much is known about the island and its people outside the Subcontinent. This is also true of its cuisine. Because of its proximity to India and some ethnic ties it is widely assumed that people in Sri Lanka eat “Indian food." There are some common elements, to be sure. But the "rice and curry" spreads that make up most Sri Lankan meals differ largely from the Northern biryani or Goan vindaloo. Geography and history explain these differences.

Sri Lanka’s location and natural harbours made it a highly desirable trade depot, and the Portuguese, Dutch and British have all held sway there at some point. Their legacies live on in some lovely old forts and churches, the surnames of many Lankans and of course their cuisine. Local curries tend to be more heavily spiced than many Indian versions, and the cuisine is more inclusive of non-native ingredients, introduced by international traders calling at the island. Traders brought spices like the now ubiquitous red pepper, dishes (a "Chinese roll" looks suspiciously like what Westerners would call an egg roll), and whole categories of food (such as Dutch sweets).

Sri Lankan food is not for the timid eater: the fiery curries, sweet caramelized onion in onion relish, and sour lime pickle are all packed with powerful flavours that startle awake the senses. Rice is an ever-present antidote to these big flavours. A meal in Sri Lanka is called "rice and curry" and typically consists of rice, a curry with a thin broth and chunks of the featured protein, and an assortment of side dishes—anywhere from four to nine or ten, depending on the time and place. The building blocks of Sri Lankan cuisine are rice, coconut, and native tropical fruits and vegetables. Every Sri Lankan cookbook has multiple pages on the preparation of rice, not surprising as the island grows some 15 varieties of rice (down from 280 just 50 years ago, and 400 in times before that).

The following recipe is quintessentially Sri Lankan, with big, bold flavours. It is a real classic, and unlike most of the “mainland” dishes you may have tasted.

 

Preparation time: 8 hours

Cooking time:  90 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by an ice cold lager beer

 

For the meat:

1kg Pork loin or shoulder, a cut with some fat is preferable

6 Cardamom pods, husked and the seeds crushed

4 Tbsp. coriander

3 Tbsp. cumin

2 Tbsp. black peppercorns

1 Tbsp. black mustard seeds

1 Tbsp. sunflower oil

3 Tsp. cloves

3 Tsp. tamarind paste

1 Tsp. fennel seeds

½ Tsp. salt

½ Tsp. ground cinnamon

For the curry:

2 Jalapeno peppers, sliced (or 2 Serrano peppers if you prefer more heat)

3 Garlic cloves, minced

3 Bay leaves

1 Stick peeled ginger, about 3cm long, finely chopped

1 Medium onion, chopped finely

2 Tbsp. sunflower oil

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tsp. lemon juice

More salt for seasoning

 

  • Cut the pork into 3cm³ cubes. If the meat contains bones, add those to the curry as they add more flavour.
  • Mix the cardamom seeds, coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, cloves, fennel, black pepper, salt and cinnamon.
  • Combine 2 Tbsp. of this spice mix with the tamarind paste and the oil.
  • Rub it into the cut pork and ensure it is coated all over.
  • Leave to marinate in the refrigerator for 8 hours.
  • Before cooking the meat, allow it to return to room temperature.
  • Heat 2 Tbsp. of oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • When the oil is hot, add the bay leaves, ginger and onion and sauté until the onions become translucent.
  • Add the garlic and sliced Jalapeno and sauté for another 30 seconds.
  • Add the marinated pork and sugar, and stir to mix well.
  • Add about ½ cup of water and bring everything to the boil.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low and let the curry simmer for 1 hour. Check on the curry to add extra water if it dries out.
  • Check the seasoning.
  • Serve hot, with white rice and sambals.

 

“No animal is more used for nourishment and none more indispensable in the kitchen than the pig; employed either fresh or salt, all is useful, even to its bristles and its blood.” – Alexis Soyer.

 

Vegetable Biryani: more Persian pilaf than Punjabi pulao

“When I stopped eating meat, I fell in love with Indian food - there's so much selection, and they use the most beautiful spices.” - Laura Mennell.

 

Biryani, also known as biriyani or biriani, is an Indian rice dish with Muslim origins. The name is derived from "birinj", the Persian word for rice. It was originally only eaten in the North, but eventually spread south to wherever large Muslim communities were present. The concept underpinning biryani is ancient. According to historians Central Asians started combining the meat of cows, buffaloes and goats with rice about 2,000 BCE. This resulted in the dish that later began to be called pulao, a precursor to the modern-day biryani. The biryani we know today evolved in the kitchens of North India’s Mughal rulers, where the native spicy rice dishes of India met the Persian concept of rice pilaf.

Pilaf (known as pulao in the Indian Subcontinent) is another popular rice dish which resembles biryani in some respects. Pulao tends to be comparatively plainer than biryani, and consists of either vegetables or meat cooked with rice. Biryani contains more gravy, and is often cooked for longer (hence yielding more tender meat or vegetables) and with more spicy condiments. The most obvious distinction is that a biryani comprises two layers of rice with a layer of meat (or vegetables) in the middle; the pulao is not layered. Biryani also has a stronger taste of curried rice due to it containing a greater amount of spices.

Depending on the region and the condiments available and popular in that region, there are different varieties of biryani. The variety often takes the name of the region (for example, Sindhi biryani developed in the Sindh region of what is now Pakistan, Hyderabadi biryani developed in the city of Hyderabad in South India, etc.). India’s large vegetarian population exerted its influence over time, and meat was replaced by vegetables in many recipes – this one included. Carnivores won’t even miss the meat; it is fragrant, tasty and filling. Like all authentic vegetable biryanis, it should always slow-cooked under a tight cover, which makes it an ideal candidate for a slow cooker or tagine.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 50 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Pinotage or Cinsaut

 

2 Large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 Large onion, sliced

1 Small cauliflower, broken into small florets

1 Large red chilli, seeded and finely chopped

500g Basmati rice

140g Green beans, trimmed and halved

50g Cashew nuts, roasted and salted

1L Vegetable stock

½ Cup lemon juice

3 Tbsp. hot curry paste

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

2 Tsp. white mustard seeds

1 Tsp. saffron strands

Fresh, chopped coriander leaves for garnishing

 

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200°C.
  • Pour the oil into a large roasting tin or ovenproof dish and put it in the oven for a couple of minutes to heat through.
  • Place all the vegetables except the beans in the tin, stirring to coat them in the hot oil.
  • Season with salt and pepper and return to the oven for 15 minutes.
  • While the vegetables are roasting, stir together the stock, curry paste, chilli, saffron and mustard seeds.
  • Mix the rice and green beans with the vegetables in the tin, then pour over the stock mixture.
  • Lower the oven heat to 190°C.
  • Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed.
  • Stir in the lemon juice and check the seasoning, then scatter over the coriander and cashew nuts.
  • Serve with a pile of poppadums and a bowl of raita (tangy yogurt).

 

“Ounce for ounce, herbs and spices have more antioxidants than any other food group.” - Michael Greger.

 

Pondicherry Seafood Curry: Vive la Difference!

“Wholesome food is wholesome food anywhere. I may not like something but, generally speaking, if it's a busy street food stall serving mystery seafood curry in India, they're in the business of serving their neighbours. They're not targeting a busload of tourists that won't be around tomorrow. They're not in the business of poisoning their neighbours.” – Anthony Bourdain.

 

The South-Western part of India has the most “cosmopolitan” cuisine on the Subcontinent because of its past. Not only are Goa and Kerala located on the routes the ancient spice merchants followed, but the region was colonised for several centuries by the Portuguese, French and British. Unsurprisingly, the Brits had very little to contribute to local cooking – they did take a lot of it back to Britain though – but their adversaries left indelible legacies.

Seafood and pork are inherent parts of Goan cuisine, influenced heavily by the Portuguese, who arrived in the 1500 bringing with them chillies from Brazil, a love of garlic and a taste for wine and vinegar. While the Portuguese legacy is still clearly visible thanks to the region’s many Catholic church buildings, the French settlement there is all but forgotten. Not many Westerners know that a French enclave was established in Pondicherry (now Puducherry) as early as 1670, and remained under French rule until 1954. This gave rise to a Creole community of Franco-Indian people, which still resides in this area today and continues to contribute to its cuisine.

The amalgamation of these two strong culinary traditions has resulted in a wonderful cuisine which is unique to Pondicherry and this is one of its very special dishes.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Viognier or Gewürztraminer

 

For the spice paste:

6 Black peppercorns

4 Dried red chillies

1 Stick cassia bark, about 5cm

1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar.

2 Tsp. coriander seeds

1 Tsp. cumin seeds

1 Tsp. turmeric

For the curry:

12 King-sized prawns, peeled (tails left on) and deveined

12 Sea scallops, halved

12 Small squid heads, cleaned

10 Fresh curry leaves

1 Medium onion, halved and sliced

1 Piece of ginger root, about 3cm, peeled and chopped

250g Asparagus, cut into 5cm-long pieces

250ml Coconut milk

½ Cup fresh cilantro, chopped

3 Tbsp. lime or lemon juice

2 Tbsp. sunflower oil

1 Tbsp. garlic, minced

1 Tbsp. brown sugar

2 Tsp. salt

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper for seasoning

 

  • Mix the curry paste ingredients in a bowl.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot.
  • Fry the squid heads in the oil for 3 minutes, turning once.
  • Add the onion, ginger, and garlic and sauté until the onion starts to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Stir the coconut milk, lime juice, curry paste and brown sugar into the onion mixture, bring to a simmer and cook until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes.
  • Lower the cooking temperature to medium-low.
  • Stir the prawns, scallops, asparagus, cilantro, and salt into the onion mixture.
  • Cook until the prawns and scallops all turn from translucent to white, about 5 minutes.
  • Season to taste with the salt and pepper, and serve on Basmati rice.

 

“Which passages of scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or we could go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is OK and that eating shellfish is an abomination? – Barack Obama.

 

Paneer Masala: sounds better than "curried cottage cheese"!

“The secret of happiness is variety, but the secret of variety, like the secret of all spices, is knowing when to use it.” - Daniel Gilbert.

 

Paneer is a fresh cheese common in South Asia, especially in India, Pakistan and Nepal. It is versatile, and is used in a wide range of vegetarian recipes, especially in North India. Paneer is an un-aged, acid-set, non-melting curd cheese made by curdling heated milk with food acid like lemon juice or vinegar. In India, where there are more vegetarians than carnivores, it is a staple for hundreds of millions. It is especially prominent in Punjabi cuisine. The majority of people in the Punjab, regardless of religion or culture, eat it in numerous regional dishes.

One of the reasons for its popularity is that paneer is cheap, quick and easy to make, and because it can be made without any machinery most rural Indians make their own. To learn how to make your own paneer at home, go to the "Learn from experts" section and in there to the "Useful techniques" page.

The following recipe is a real winner; chunks of paneer are cooked in a rich creamy onion and tomato masala with added butter, and finished off with a dollop of fresh cream. It is truly fool-proof, and tastes great with a roti, naan bread or white rice. If you like Indian vegetarian food this one will tick all the boxes for you.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot

 

500g Paneer, cut into small triangles

6 Medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 Dried red chillies, crushed

2 Bay leaves

2 Cloves

2 Cinnamon sticks, about 2cm each

1 Medium onion, sliced

5 Tbsp. butter

2 Tbsp. coriander seeds, crushed

2 Tsp. ginger paste

2 Tsp. garlic, ground

1 Tsp. ground coriander

1 Tsp. red chilli powder

1 Tsp. sunflower oil

½ Tsp. methi (fenugreek) seeds, crushed

Salt to taste

2 Tbsp. fresh cream for garnishing

 

  • Heat 3 Tbsp. butter and the oil in a kadai or large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Add the bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon, red chillies and half of the crushed coriander seeds. Sauté for half a minute.
  • Add the onion and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the ginger and garlic. Cook for another 30 seconds.
  • Add the ground coriander, chilli powder and tomatoes and stir in.
  • Cook on high heat until the oil starts separating from the masala. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender.
  • Cook the pureed masala for a further 2 minutes.
  • Melt the remaining butter in a small pan and add it to the masala.
  • Add the paneer pieces and season the masala to taste with the salt.
  • Add half a cup of water, and cook, covered, on low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Sprinkle the methi over the masala and mix it in lightly.
  • Remove the saucepan from the heat and mix in the cream.
  • Serve hot, garnished with remaining crushed coriander seeds.

 

"Indians have sort of reverse-colonised it to the point that today the national dish of Great Britain is Chicken Tikka Masala.” – Aasif Mandvi.

 

The end of the road for Kochi's Jews

Kashmir: scene of the real Cold War

It doesn't taste like mud - no word of lie!

Travelling cattle class

In Iran this food would be haram & you'd be veiled!

Mutton Dhansak: comfort food of the Persian Diaspora

“For a true-blue Parsi non-vegetarianism is a virtue that cannot be eschewed, and, indeed, must be diligently chewed (bones and all) meal upon meal. Not surprisingly, then, in most ‘baugs’ {Parsi neighbourhoods} the smells that assail you upon arrival will be overpoweringly fishy and fleshy, especially in the forenoon, as kitchens emanate the odours of fish, fowl or four-legged beast being basted and broiled.” – Firdosh Tolat.

 

Despite a common nationality and its people’s fierce patriotism, India is in many ways a vast collection of distinct ethnic, linguistic and religious groups. Among India’s most interesting minority communities are the Parsis of Mumbai and its hinterland. Parsis (literally “Persians”) are adherents to the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian faith of Persia (nowadays Iran). They moved to North-West India between the 8th and 10th century CE to avoid persecution following the Arab/Muslim conquest of Persia. A quick morsel of trivia: one of the modern world’s best-known Parsis was a flamboyant singer born Farrokh Bulsara, but better known as Freddie Mercury.

Dhansak is a good example of modern Parsi cuisine, as it is based on the tenets of ancient Persian cooking but infused with Indian (mainly Gujarati) ingredients. The technique of extending a relatively expensive ingredient (meat) by combining it with lentils and/or vegetables is widely employed in Persian cooking. The name is derived from this:  dhan is Persian/Urdu for "seed" - referring to grains or pulses; sak means vegetables. The Gujarati element of the recipe is the liberal use of a variety of Indian spices and condiments, in contrast to the more mellow Iranian recipes.

In Parsi homes, dhansak is traditionally made on Sundays, due to the long preparation time required to cook the lentils and vegetables into a mush. It is also an integral part of mourning the death of a loved one. Dhansak is also always served on the fourth day to break the family’s abstinence from meat. Because of this association with death, it is never served on joyous occasions like festivals and weddings.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Shiraz (which is, after all, named after a Persian city)

 

500g Mutton, cubed

3 Medium-sized aubergines, diced

2 Medium-sized onions, chopped

2 Medium-sized tomato, chopped

1 Large potato, cubed

10 Whole peppercorns, bruised

6 Large cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 Hot green chillies, de-seeded and chopped

A 2 cm-long piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

100 gm Pumpkin, cubed

4 Tbsp. red lentils

4 Tbsp. split peas

3 Tbsp. mint leaves, chopped

3 Tbsp. dried fenugreek leaves, chopped

2 Tbsp. tamarind paste

2 Tbsp. garam masala

1 Tbsp. coriander leaves, chopped

1 Tsp. red chilli powder

½ Tsp. turmeric

¼ Cup ghee (clarified butter)

2 Pinches salt

 

  • Clean and wash the lentils and split peas, then soak for half an hour in two cups of water.
  • Melt the ghee over medium heat in a saucepan.
  • Add the onions and sauté until golden.
  • Add the ginger and garlic and cook for another three minutes.
  • Add the mutton and fry until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the peppercorns, green chilies, turmeric and red chilli powder and mix well.
  • Bring the mixture to the boiling point.
  • Add the lentils and peas and stir through.
  • When at the boiling point again, add the pumpkin, aubergine, potato, a pinch of salt and three cups of water.
  • Bring the mixture to the boil and cook for ten minutes.
  • Add the fenugreek leaves, mint leaves and tomatoes.
  • Cover and cook until the mutton is done. This may take up to 45 five minutes.
  • Switch off the heat. Remove the mutton pieces and set aside.
  • Add the garam masala and tamarind pulp. Pulp the mixture in a blender.
  • Transfer to a deep saucepan and add the mutton pieces.
  • Check the seasoning, and add a little water if the mixture is too dry.
  • Sprinkle with the coriander leaves and cook for a further five minutes.
  • Serve on steamed brown rice.

 

“Parsi culture is also an alien culture, but alien in name only, for, tolerant from the first, it has got blended with Indian culture almost beyond recognition.” – Harsh Narain.

 

Spicy Beef Curry: no holy cows here!

“In Hollywood, food is always cooked by a Hispanic and delivered by an African-American. In Bollywood, food is never delivered; it’s cooked by your mom.” – Russell Peters.

 

For a country with millions of cattle, India consumes relatively little beef. There are many reasons for this: religion (cattle are sacred), technology (they are useful draught animals on peasant farms), culture (many Indians – irrespective of religion - are vegetarians) and economics (millions are simply too poor to own cattle). As a rule, with the usual myriad exceptions, beef is more commonly eaten in the North than the South.

In South Africa, beef is far more common in the cooking of the Indian community than in their mother country. Durban curry, our flagship “indigenous” Indian dish, is usually made with beef. The dish described below is not a Durban curry, but shares some elements. Its big advantage is that it is quick and easy to make, without being bland. Enjoy!

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a cold lager beer

 

For the beef:

2kg A-grade beef topside roast, cut into cubes

800g Tinned chopped tomatoes

800ml Beef stock

15 Curry leaves

8 Cardamom pods

6 Long chillies (Cayenne or Thai), finely chopped

4 Large onions, peeled and finely chopped

4 Large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

A 5 cm length of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

½ Cup natural yoghurt

4 Tbsp. tomato puree

2 Tbsp. castor sugar

4 Tsp. garam masala

5 Tbsp. sunflower oil

A handful of fresh coriander, leaves separated and stalks finely chopped

½ Cup of natural yogurt for serving

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

For the spice mix:

4 Tsp. cumin seeds

4 Tsp. coriander seeds

4 Tsp. mild curry powder

1 Tsp. fennel seeds

1 Tsp. fenugreek seeds

½ Tsp. ground nutmeg

¼ Tsp. ground cloves  

 

  • Place the beef in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
  • Sprinkle with the garam masala, add the yoghurt and a good dash of olive oil, season and toss to coat.
  • Cover with cling film and marinate for as long as possible while you prepare the rest of the curry.
  • For the spice mix, toast the cumin, coriander, fennel and fenugreek seeds in a dry pan, tossing over high heat for a few minutes until fragrant.
  • Tip into a mortar, add a pinch of salt and grind to a fine powder.
  • Stir in the curry powder, nutmeg and cloves, and mix well.
  • Heat a thin film of oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan.
  • Add the onions, garlic, chilli, ginger and a little seasoning.
  • When the onions and garlic start giving off their fragrance, add the sugar to help caramelise the onions, followed by the coriander stalks, cardamom pods and ground spice mix.
  • Stir everything together, then cover and cook until the onions are soft, lifting the lid to give the mixture a stir a few times.
  • Sear the beef in a separate hot pan, then add it to the onions along with the chopped tomatoes and tomato puree.
  • Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat for a few minutes, then add the beef stock and curry leaves.
  • Cover the pan with a lid and simmer very gently, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 40 minutes or until the beef is tender.
  • To serve, ladle the curry into warm bowls and scatter over the coriander leaves and a dollop of natural yogurt.
  • Accompany with a steaming bowl of Basmati rice.

 

"My mind says one thing, but my body says another. Thanks a lot, Indian food and beer." – Demetri Martin.

 

Doi Maach: as Bengali as the KKR

“To Bengalis fish is not merely a food item, but the symbol of the intellectual and cultural Bengali. The fish delicacies of Bengal are just as famous around the globe as the Parisian platter. The very inclusion of the word ‘mach’ (fish) makes the food item a necessity to us Bengalis.” – Suhasini Mitra.

 

The term “Bengal” transcends modern national frontiers and refers to both the upper East Coast of India (West Bengal) and Bangladesh (East Bengal). The food referred to here is that of largely Hindu West Bengal, the area centred on Kolkata. West Bengal is famously known as the land of maach (fish) and bhaat (rice) and Bengalis are deeply attached to these two foods, which are staples in most households. Since countless rivers flow through the state, freshwater fish are a valuable source of protein; especially rohu (Labeo rohu, what South Africans would call a mudfish), pabda (Callichrus pabda, a catfish) and koi (not the decorative carp, but Anabas testudineus, a perch). In fact, more than 40 species of freshwater fish are commonly eaten in Bengal.

A prized delicacy in Bengal is a succulent, slightly oily fish known as hilsa or ilish (Tenualosa ilisha). Hilsa is a relative of the European shad and the North American whitefish, and frequents the brackish water of river deltas and estuaries. The tenderness of the flesh, unique taste and silvery sheen make it the “queen of fish” to Bengalis. In fact, hilsa holds such cultural importance in Bengal that a brace of them fish is given as gifts on auspicious occasions.

Bengali cuisine is a blend of sweet and spicy flavours. The delicate balance between the main ingredients and the seasoning is at the heart of the region’s cooking. Even the simplest of meals are enlivened by the addition of phoron, a combination of five spices - cumin, nigella, fenugreek, aniseed and mustard seed. What sets Bengali curries apart are the distinctive flavours of mustard, poppy seeds, mace and turmeric - with sweet undertones – coupled to the more common “warm” spices. Yogurt is also widely used to round out the flavour.

Doi Maach is arguably West Bengal’s flagship dish. And consists of marinated pieces of freshwater fish cooked in a yogurt-based gravy. The curry is robust, slightly spicy and delicately sour. If you are going to make the dish using freshwater fish, any of the Labeo (mudfish) or Barbus (yellowfish) species would be suitable, as would Tilapia (bream) or catfish. Suitable marine species are mullet, mackerel and horse mackerel. I prefer using freshwater fish, as this exquisite dish is a great way of overcoming the common aversion to eating inland fish.

 

Preparation time: 30 Minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Colombard or Chenin Blanc

 

For the fish:

1 kg Fish (any of those named above), divided into cutlets

2 Tsp. mustard or sesame oil

1 Tsp. red chilli powder

1 Tsp. salt

½ Tsp. turmeric

For the curry:

250ml Natural yogurt

1 Onion, ground to a paste

2 cm Whole cassia

4 Whole green chillies, halved lengthwise

4 Cloves

4 Green cardamom pods

4 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 Bay leaves

2 Tbsp. mustard or sesame oil

1 Tsp. fresh ginger, minced

½ Tsp. red chilli powder

½ Tsp. turmeric

½ Tsp. cumin seeds

½ Tsp. poppy seeds

½ Tsp. mace, ground

½ Fresh lime

Salt to taste

 

  • Place the pieces of fish into a bowl and add the turmeric, chilli powder, salt and 2 Tsp. mustard oil to help the spices adhere to the fish.
  • Gently massage the spices into the fish.
  • Cover and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.
  • Whisk the yogurt together with the turmeric, 1 Tsp. red chilli powder, poppy seeds and mace. Set aside.
  • When the fish has marinated for 15 minutes, heat 2 Tbsp. of mustard oil in a medium-sized frying pan. Heat until the oil is nearly smoking to burn off most of its pungency.
  • Once the oil is hot, add the marinated fish pieces and fry them for a couple of minutes on each side till they are a golden brown around the edges.
  • Once the fish is golden and almost cooked through, transfer them to a plate and set aside.
  • Heat the pan with the fishy mustard oil again.
  • When the oil is hot, add the bay leaf, whole chillies, cumin seeds and whole spices.
  • Sauté over medium heat until the spices are fragrant.
  • Add the onion paste and cook until it takes on a light golden brown colour.
  • Add the ginger and garlic paste and cook the aromatic spice base with a little water until the oil has risen to the top.
  • Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the yogurt and spice mixture to the pan.
  • Stir gently and simmer until the oil surfaces again and the gravy is golden-yellow in colour.
  • Check the seasoning and add the pieces of fried fish - along with all their resting juices - to the gravy and simmer it for another 10 minutes until the fish is fully cooked.
  • When the oil has risen to the top again, turn off the heat.
  • Squeeze over some lime juice to lift the flavours.
  • Serve with plain steamed Basmati rice.

 

“If Bengali cuisine were Wimbledon, the Hilsa would always play on Centre Court.” – Samanth Subramian.

 

Mutton Rogan Josh: nobody will bleat about the heat!

“I’m an old all-rounder who can't bat and is too unfit to bowl - I'll play IPL just for a lamb Rogan Josh and a pint.” - Andrew Flintoff tweeting to Kevin Pietersen.

 

Andrew Flintoff is but one of countless millions who love a plate of Rogan Josh. Although the dish is originally from the hotly disputed Indo-Pakistani region of Jammu and Kashmir, it is a staple in British curry houses – another example of a dish from the Subcontinent that got "co-opted" by Britons. Thanks to the Indian diaspora, South Africans are also familiar with it.  

Rogan Josh is arguably the signature dish of Kashmiri cuisine. It was originally brought to Kashmir by the Mughals, the long-time Muslim rulers of Northern India, whose cuisine was in turn based on that of the Persians. The scorching summer heat of the Indian plains made the Mughals seek respite in summer homes in Kashmir, which is much cooler because of its elevation and latitude.

The recipe's emphasis is on aroma rather than heat, and the traditional dish is mild enough to be appreciated by palates that struggle to tolerate the heat of chillies. As with many North Indian classics, yogurt is used for its “cooling” effect. Although it is sometimes made with goat, beef or even chicken, there is no doubt in my mind that the meat best suited to Rogan Josh is mutton. No wonder that it is the version served during special occasions and festivals.

 

Preparation time: 20 Minutes

Cooking time: 90 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Rhine Riesling or Sèmillon

 

1kg Deboned mutton shoulder

4 Medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

A 5 cm piece of ginger root, peeled and coarsely chopped

A 5 cm piece of cinnamon stick

8 Cloves garlic, peeled

10 Green cardamom pods

10 Whole black peppercorns

6 Cloves, whole

2 Kashmiri or Serrano chillies, finely chopped

2 Bay leaves

5 Tsp. turmeric powder

2 Tsp. paprika

2 Tsp. ground cumin

1 Tsp. ground coriander

1 Tsp. Cayenne pepper

½ Tsp. Garam masala

1 Cup ghee (clarified butter)

1 ½ Cups natural yogurt

275ml Water plus 4 Tbsp. extra

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Chopped dhania (coriander) leaves for garnishing

 

  • Place the ginger, garlic, and 4 Tbsp. water in a blender. Blend well until you have a smooth paste.
  • Heat the ghee in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a medium heat.
  • Brown the meat cubes in the ghee - in several batches - and set aside.
  • Put the cardamom, bay leaves, cloves, peppercons and cinnamon into the same hot oil.
  • Stir once and wait until the cloves swell and the bay leaves begin to take on colour.
  • Add the onions. Stir and fry for 5 minutes until they turn a golden brown colour.
  • Add the ginger-garlic paste, coriander, cumin, chillies, Cayenne pepper, turmeric and 1 Tsp. salt and cook, stirring, for another minute.
  • Add the fried meat cubes and juices.
  • Stir for 30 seconds, then add a quarter of the yoghurt and stir until well blended .
  • Add the remaining yoghurt, a tablespoon at a time in the same way. Stir and cook for another 3 minutes.
  • Add 275ml of water bit by bit, stirring continually.
  • Bring to the boil, scraping all the browned spices off the sides and bottom of the pot.
  • Cover and cook over low heat for an hour. Give the mixture a good stir every 10 minutes.
  • When the meat is tender take off the lid, turn the heat up to medium, and boil away some of the liquid. Spoon off any fat that rises to the top.
  • Sprinkle the Garam masala and some black pepper over the meat before you serve.
  • Serve on steamed Basmati rice, and sprinkle with some chopped Dhania leaf.

 

“A sauce so tasty and authentic you’ll think you’ve died and gone to India.” - Ad for Green Saffron Rogan Josh sauce.

 

Kozi Kari: legacy of Cochin's forgotten Jews

"I'm going to scream this from the mountain top, there's no such thing as 'a curry.' There are six kazillion different kinds of curry. When someone asks me how to make chicken curry, I have to ask 'Which one?'" - Aarti Sequeira.

 

I swear I did not write this piece drunk and/or on the 1st of April. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and how much more bizzare can it get than a curry dish invented by Jews living under Hindu rule in a part of India colonised by the Portuguese, and that the dish is now popular amongst Christian Indians? This is how it happened. Really!

Jewish merchants known as Radanites began traveling by sea and land between the Mediterranean and China in the Ninth Century, stopping at ports along the Malabar Coast (today’s Goa and Kerala). Many settled in modern-day Kerala, and the community numbered nearly 3,000 souls by the Sixteenth Century. With the founding of Israel in 1948, most of them left and today the Jews of Cochin number less than 100.

The oldest documentary evidence of a Jewish community in Kerala dates from 1000 CE, when a Jewish leader named Joseph Rabban received a set of engraved copper plates from the Hindu ruler of Cranganore. These plates, which are still preserved in the Cochin synagogue, list economic and ceremonial privileges granted to the Jewish community. It is clear that by this time the Jews were firmly established in the area.

They fused their own cuisine with that of Southern India, incorporated the spices they traded in (pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and coriander). Jewish Kashrut laws prohibited mixing milk with meats, so they used coconut milk instead. They adopted the use of local Tamarind as a souring agent. When the Portuguese brought the chili pepper from the New World, Jewish cooks were “early adopters”. A characteristic feature of Kerala Jewish cooking was the combination of fresh green chilies and dried ground red chilies. The recipe below has remained popular in its native Cochin long after the Jewish exodus.

 

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Rhine Riesling or Viognier

 

1kg Chicken breast fillets, skinless and cubed

15 Curry leaves

6 Serrano peppers, finely chopped

4 Garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 Green bell peppers, cored, white membrane removed and diced

2 Cups finely chopped onion

1 Cup finely chopped Roma (plum) tomatoes

½ Cup coconut milk

¼ Cup fresh cilantro (coriander leaves), chopped plus a bit extra for garnish
¼ Cup sesame oil

1 Tbsp. chopped fresh ginger

1 Tbsp. Cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. tamarind concentrate

1 Tsp. salt

½ Tsp. turmeric

 

  • Heat the sesame oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the chicken and fry lightly until golden.
  • Remove the chicken and set aside.
  • Season the onions with the salt and fry them until translucent.
  • Add the curry Leaves, cilantro, Serrano pepper, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, Cayenne pepper and turmeric.
  • Simmer until most of the moisture is gone and you are left with a golden Masala Paste. This should take about 10 minutes.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and chicken and bring to the boil.
  • Cook, covered, for 15 minutes by when the chicken should be tender.
  • Serve on steamed Basmati rice, garnished with chopped cilantro.

 

"Indians are the Italians of Asia and vice versa. Every man in both countries is a singer when he is happy, and every woman is a dancer when she walks to the shop at the corner. For them, food is the music inside the body and music is the food inside the heart." - Gregory Roberts.

 

The curry is hot in the city tonight...

I've got two big ones!

Celebrating Diwali in style

Penang's street food market. Here be "Pienangvleis"...

I think I'm going to have the Nasi Goreng again...

Nasi Goreng: the taste of Indonesia

“Indonesian cuisine is special. The food is chili hot and complexly seasoned with aromatic herbs and spices. ‘Bland’ is not in an Indonesian chef's vocabulary. Freshness and taste are.” – Howard Hillman.

 

Indonesian cuisine is diverse, encompassing influences from more than 6,000 islands in this archipelago. It includes curried meat, barbequed skewers, deep-fried fish, succulent Bakso meatballs, hearty soup and even spring rolls with an Indonesian twist. Traditional Sumatran cuisine is a mixed pot of cultures; Balinese food is influenced by Hinduism, while authentic Javanese remains an indigenous take on Halaal. Steamed rice is the common staple, traditionally accompanied by vegetables, soup and meat to provide flavour and nutrition. As exotic and intricate as Indonesian food sounds, it is quite easy to make once you’ve got the hang of it.

Nasi Goreng is arguably the flagship dish of Indonesian cuisine. Cynics claim that it is just an exotic name for Fried Rice, but that’s a bit harsh. Its flavour is completely different to other fried rice dishes, and because it is assembled bit by bit it can be made in myriad different ways; both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Nasi Goreng can be served as a main dish, as a component of a Dutch/Indonesian 'rijstafel' or as a side dish. It is commonly eaten by Indonesians for breakfast, which you can do in the unlikely event that there is any left from the previous day.

It is more of a technique than a recipe: there is a wide range of ingredients traditionally associated with it, and the cook selects the ones he/she likes. There are probably as many “traditional” recipes as cooks! More unusual ingredients, such as shrimp paste, Sambal Oelek and Ketjap Manis are increasingly common sights in Western grocery stores and delis. Caveat emptor: dried shrimp paste smells rather awful, but the taste in the finished dish is wonderfully aromatic, and essential to the authenticity of Indonesian cuisine. Even though it is not strictly speaking a curry, I have included it in this section because it is both spicy and Asian.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes (Does not include time needed for cooking and cooling the rice)

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Gewürztraminer or Rhine Riesling

 

For the fried rice:

2 Cups uncooked long-grained white rice

250g Deboned chicken thighs, cubed

200g Raw prawns, headless and peeled

2 Eggs, beaten

1 Large onion, chopped finely

2 Tbsp. canola or sunflower oil

1 Tbsp. chopped garlic

1 Tbsp. dried shrimp or shrimp paste

1 Tbsp. oyster sauce

1 Tbsp. Ketjap Manis or dark soya sauce

2 Tsp. chopped fresh ginger

2 Tsp. Sambal Oelek

2 Tsp. sesame oil

1 Tsp.salt

½ Tsp. freshly-ground black pepper

For the Garnish:

3 Tbsp. finely chopped scallions (spring onions)

3 Tbsp. chopped coriander leaves

2 Ripe tomatoes, sliced into roundels

1 Lemon, quartered lengthwise

 

  • Boil rice in plenty of salted water until cooked.
  • Rinse, drain and spread the rice to cool.
  • Do this at least two hours beforehand, or preferably the night before.
  • Combine the eggs with the sesame oil and salt, and set aside.
  • Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat.
  • Add the oil, and wait until it is very hot and slightly smoking.
  • Add the onions, ginger, shrimp paste, garlic, and pepper, and stir-fry for 2 minutes, squashing the shrimp paste as you go.
  • Add chicken and prawns and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes.
  • Add the rice and continue to stir-fry for 3 minutes more.
  • Add the Sambal Oelek, oyster sauce and Ketjap Manis/dark soy sauce and continue to stir-fry for another 2 minutes.
  • Finally, add the egg mixture and continue to stir-fry for another minute.
  • Transfer onto large serving platter and garnish with the spring onion, fresh coriander, lemon and tomato, and serve hot.

 

“Indonesia has one of the world’s great cuisines, and it is about much more than fried rice.” – Mark Wiens.

 

Panang Beef Curry: Malay Magic

“Going to Southeast Asia for the first time and tasting that spectrum of flavours - that certainly changed my whole palate, the kind of foods I crave. A lot of the dishes I used to love became boring to me.” -  Anthony Bourdain.

 

South Africa’s first real foodie, Dr CF (Louis) Leipoldt kindled my interest in Panang curry in his delightful collection of essays Polfyntjies vir die Proe. He started off the essay entitled “Pienangvleis” as follows: “The old aia (Malay woman) who taught me my first lessons in the art of cooking as a youngster (and I must confess that the old soul tought me more than Maître Escoffier in whose kitchen I once worked), used to say: ‘Master, raisin rice and pienangvleis is something you will never get the hang of. It’s only us swartgoed (darkies) who can make it properly; no Duismens (Dutchman) can.” For nearly half a century I have been on a quest to prove the old aia wrong, but I am not quite there yet…

Panang curry takes its name from the city island of Penang (Pulau Pinang in Malay) off the West coast of Malaysia. It is richer, sweeter, and creamier than the more herbal Thai Red or Green Curry, making it very popular with westerners. Its unique flavour comes from peanuts, which features in only one other Thai curry, Masamam. Beef is the most famous type of Panang curry – and the one Leipoldt describes - but chicken, pork or fish can also be delicious (with some adjustments to the curry paste). Vegetables are not usually added to it. This is a drier type of curry, more like its Indian cousins, with just enough sauce to cover the meat.

Here is my answer to the dish that so impressed Leipoldt. If you’re not a fan of begrafnisrys (yellow rice with raisins) Roti or Naan bread will make excellent substitutes.

 

300g Beef fillet or sirloin, thinly sliced

4 Tbsp. roasted peanuts, ground

4 Tbsp. Panang curry paste

2 Tbsp. palm sugar

1 Tbsp. chopped Thai or Serrano chillies

450ml Coconut cream

45ml Thai fish sauce

7 Kaffir lime leaves, 3 torn into pieces - discarding the stem - and 4 finely shredded

½ Cup sweet basil leaves, torn up

50ml Coconut cream for garnishing

 

  • Pour half the coconut cream into a wok or pot and fry for 3 - 5 minutes, stirring continuously, until the coconut oil begins to separate out.
  • Add the Panang curry paste and fry for another 2 minutes.
  • Once the paste is cooked, add the meat and cook until the outside of the meat is cooked.
  • Add the rest of the coconut cream and bring to the boil.
  • Simmer and add the palm sugar by slowly pouring it in along the side of the wok until it melts.
  • Add the fish sauce and kaffir lime leaf pieces.
  • Stir to combine and then add half the basil leaves.
  • Turn off the heat and serve garnished with the shredded kaffir lime leaves, red chillies, remaining basil leaves and the extra 50ml coconut cream.

 

“A good curry should be like a spot-on Caesar salad: one flavour or ingredient shouldn’t dominate the others.” – David Lebovitz.

 

Rajma Masala: Bean there, dunnit, got the T-shirt

“Nothing will benefit health and increase the chances for the survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” – Albert Einstein.

 

 

Rajma (also spelt Rajmah or Rāzmā) Masala is a popular South Asian vegetarian dish. It consists of red kidney beans in a thick, spicy gravy and is normally served on rice. It evolved fairly recently compared to some of the ancient dishes in Indian and Nepali cuisine. It developed after the red kidney bean was brought to the Subcontinent from Mexico in the 18th Century. Being a popular dish, it is prepared on important occasions, and it is a regular feature of meals eaten during the Diwali Festival.

Rajma (the red kidney bean) flourishes in the cooler climate of North India (most notably Jammy and Kashmir, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh) and in the hills of Nepal. It is a key component of the rural diet in an area where meat is scarce and expensive, as it is high in protein and other nutrients. The appeal of Rajma Masala has spread far beyond its heartland, and it is now a very popular vegetarian dish worldwide.

It is cheap, nutritious, and comforting. What’s not to like?

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled lager beer

 

2 Cups dry red kidney beans

2 Ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

1 Large onion, chopped

2 Dried red chilli peppers, broken into pieces

4 Cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 Piece of fresh ginger root (about 3cm long), chopped

6 Whole cloves

2 Tsp. Garam masala powder

1 Tsp. cumin seeds

1 Tsp. ground turmeric

1 Tsp. ground cumin

1 Tsp. ground coriander

1 Tsp. white sugar

2 Tbsp. sunflower oil

2 Tsp. ghee (clarified butter)

2 Cups water

Salt to taste

1 teaspoon ground red pepper

¼ Cup Dhania (coriander) leaves, chopped

 

  • Place the kidney beans in a large container and cover with several inches of cool water.
  • Let them stand overnight. Drain and rinse.
  • Grind the onion, ginger, and garlic into a paste using a pestle and mortar.
  • Heat the oil and ghee together in a pressure cooker over medium heat.
  • Fry the chillies, cumin seeds, and whole cloves in the hot oil until the cumin seeds begin to splutter.
  • Stir the onion paste into the mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until golden brown.
  • Season with the turmeric, cumin, and ground coriander; continue cooking for a few more seconds before adding the tomatoes.
  • Cook until the tomatoes are completely tender.
  • Add the drained kidney beans to the pressure cooker with enough water to cover; pour the 2 cups of water on top.
  • Add the sugar and salt.
  • Close the pressure cooker and bring to 15 pounds of pressure; cook for about 40 minutes.
  • Lower the heat to low and cook another 10 - 15 minutes.
  • Release the pressure and open the cooker.
  • Stir the Garam masala and ground red pepper into the bean mixture.
  • Garnish with the chopped Dhania and serve with steamed Basmati rice.

 

“I’m not a vegetarian, but I do eat animals who are.” – Groucho Marx.

 

Crayfish Curry: West Coast meets East Coast

“When life gives you lemons, order the crayfish tail.” – Michael Richards.

 

Despite an allergy that requires me to always have anti-histamine tablets nearby when I eat it, I am a crayfish fanatic. This passion goes back to my previous life, when as a student at the Military Academy in Saldanha I had the privilege of diving for crayfish and perlemoen in some of the best spots in the country. Thanks to always having fresh or frozen kreef available, I could experiment with them to my heart’s content.  

What we call “crayfish” in South Africa should not be confused with the freshwater crayfish (the ecrevisse of France, crawdaddy of the USA and yabbie of Australia.) Also known variously as rock lobsters or spiny lobsters in some parts of the world), they are among the most highly prized – and priced – crustaceans around. Salt water crayfish resembleoutsized prawns, as they lack the prominent pincers of lobsters, langoustines and crawfish. Three species occur in Southern Africa: the Cape “Rock Lobster”, the smallish and the huge Indo-Pacific “Blue Crayfish” often found on fish markets in Mozambique.

The firm, sweet flesh of the Kreef (crayfish) is one of South Africa’s true culinary treasures, yet until fairly recently it was not held in particularly high esteem by the burgers of the Cape. As Dr CF (Louis) Leipoldt remarked in one of his “Polfyntjies vir die Proe” essays, “… the taste of crayfish was not popular in days gone by – certainly not among the White population. “Boere people” never really liked it, and in my grandmother’s recipe book (which contained numerous sea food recipes) not a word is said about crayfish.”

Since those days, crayfish has come to be regarded as the delicacy it is, and modern freezing and transportation techniques have made it far more widely available. Even mediocre restaurants now offer at least Avocado Ritz with crayfish as a matter of course, while the premier ones offer a variety of dishes featuring this erstwhile “ugly duckling” of our sea food. In summer, South Africans go gaga for crayfish simply barbecued, basted with lemon and garlic butter, but in winter the traditional “Crayfish Thermidor” comes into its own, along with one of my firm favourites, Crayfish Curry. Here is how I make it:

 

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Colombard or Riesling

 

4 Medium-sized Crayfish (carapace of 9 – 10 cm long)

6 Ripe tomatoes, peeled, blanched and pureed

2 Red bell peppers, seeded and diced

2 Large onions, peeled and sliced

2 Medium-sized green chillies – pitted and halved lengthwise

4 Cloves fresh garlic, crushed

¼ Cup fresh coriander leaves, chopped

4 Curry leaves

6 Cardamom pods, opened. Discard the pods and retain the seeds

3 Pieces stick cinnamon, about 15 cm total length

1 Tsp. ground cumin

1 Tsp. ground coriander seeds

1 Tsp. fennel seeds

1 Tsp. turmeric powder

1 Tsp. white mustard seeds

¼ Cup tamarind paste or juice of half a lemon

2 Cups water

¼ Cup ghee (clarified butter) or sunflower oil

1 Tsp. sugar

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

 

  • Split each crayfish in half lengthwise and clean out all the innards from the carapace. Pull the tails out of the carapaces. Keep the crayfish cool.
  • Heat the ghee/oil in a large saucepan and braise the onions and garlic until translucent and golden brown.
  • Add the salt, pepper, sugar, chilli, curry leaves, cumin, fennel, coriander, turmeric, cardamom seeds and cinnamon.
  • Fry the spices with the onions for about 1 minute, then add the tomato puree, diced bell pepper, tamarind and water to the mixture and stir in.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes or until thick.
  • Add all the crayfish pieces, including the legs and antennae.
  • Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add the mustard seeds and simmer for a further 3 minutes. The crayfish shells should have turned completely red by now.
  • Remove the empty red carapaces and discard.
  • Serve the crayfish with basmati rice, garnished with the chopped coriander leaves.

 

“ ‘How fishy on the fishiness scale? Ten is a stickleback and one is a whale shark.’ ‘A whale isn’t a fish, Thursday.’ ‘A whale shark is – sort of’ ‘All right, it’s as fishy as a crayfish.’ ‘A crayfish isn’t a fish.’ ‘A starfish then!’ ‘Still not a fish.’ ‘This is a very odd conversation, Thursday…’ “ – Jasper Fforde.

 

Don't be chicken: try Thai Green Curry!

“Some of the worst food I’ve ever had in the world is bad fusion cuisine. I call it “con-fusion cuisine.” Fusion is about East – West; one thing we should never do is East-East. I never combine Japanese with Korean, or Thai with Chinese. It’s too strong a flavour!” – Ming Tsai.

 

Green curry is a traditional dish in Central Thailand. It is based on coconut milk and fresh green chillies, and the cooked dish is a creamy mild green or. The ingredients are not exactly fixed. Apart from a main protein - traditionally chicken or fish – the other basic ingredients are coconut milk, green curry paste, palm sugar and fish sauce. Other popular ingredients include aubergine, green or white seasonal vegetables and various fruits. Green curry tends to be more pungent than the milder red ones.

The consistency of its sauce varies with the amount of coconut milk used. Green curry paste is traditionally made by pounding green chillies, shallots, garlic, lemon grass, kaffir lime peel, coriander seeds, cumin, white peppercorns, shrimp paste and salt in a mortar. To make the curry, the paste is fried in split coconut cream until the oil is expressed to release the aromas in the paste.

The key to good green curry is in not only using the right ingredients, but knowing when to add them. Because this curry is made on your stovetop, I recommend using only smaller or cuts of chicken, allowing for faster cooking and the freshest possible taste.

 

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 2 – 3

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Rhine Riesling

 

Green Curry Paste:

1 Large green chili, sliced

1 Thumb-sized piece of ginger root, grated

1 Stalk fresh lemon grass, minced

3-4 Cloves garlic, chopped

1 Cup fresh coriander leaves and stems, chopped

¼ Cup shallot or purple onion, chopped

100 ml Coconut milk

2.5 Tbsp. fish sauce

1 Tbsp. lime juice

1 Tsp. shrimp or crab paste

1 Tsp. brown sugar

½ Tsp. ground coriander

½ Tsp. ground cumin

½ Tsp. ground white pepper

Other Ingredients:

750 g Boneless chicken thigh, cut into chunks

300 ml Coconut milk

4 Kaffir lime leaves or 1 Tsp. grated lime zest

1 Red pepper, seeded and cut into chunks

½ Cup zucchini, sliced into thin roundels

2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped

2 Tbsp. peanut oil

 

  • Place all the curry paste ingredients together in a food blender, and process to a paste. Set aside.
  • Prepare the lime leaves by tearing the leaf away from either side of the stem. Discard the central stems.
  • Cut the leaves into thin strips. Set aside.
  • Warm a wok or large frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add the oil and swirl around, then add the green curry paste.
  • Stir-fry briefly to release the fragrance (30 seconds to 1 minute), then add most of the remaining coconut milk, reserving 1 Tbsp. per serving portion for later.
  • Add the chicken, stirring to incorporate.
  • When the sauce comes to the boil, reduce the heat to medium or medium-low.
  • Simmer 5 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Stir occasionally.
  • Add vegetables, plus strips of lime leaf (or lime zest), stirring well to incorporate. Simmer until vegetables are cooked to your liking.
  • Check the seasoning, adding fish sauce to taste if needed. Note that this curry should be a balance of salty, spicy, sweet and sour.
  • Serve with steamed jasmine rice. Garnish each portion with fresh basil and sliced red chillies.

 

“Thai food in Southern California is like Chinese food in New York -- everybody gets it take-out.” – Russ Parsons. 

 

Harvesting okra in India

Pakistani food vendor, Peshawar

Al fresco seafood banquet, Singapore

Lentil rainbow, Bengaluru

Kashmiri lamb

Roast Lamb Raan: Mughal Magic

“God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.” – Laurence Sterne.

 

Lamb raan has a very long history in India. Legend has It that the dish dates back to when Alexander the Great dethroned King Paurava. It is said that the Macedonian prodigy became friends with the former king, and was served this dish at a banquet. In a later epoch, the ancestors of the Mughal emperors used to cook a rustic version of it while on the campaign trail. It has since become one of the most prized dishes of North India, with two distinct traditions: the Kashmiri one, made with lamb, and the Punjabi one with kid goat. Raan is Punjabi for "leg" and the hind legs were usually used - this treatment making the usually tough meat tender.

I know the distinct flavour or lamb is at best a love-or-hate thing, and most bourgeois Westerners consider goat beyond the pale. Don’t be afraid: even if you don’t care for the flavour of lamb, the heady combination of spices in this dish lifts it beautifully, and there is not a hint of that pervading Karoo shrub aroma that lamb sometimes has.

Because of the time needed to do it the authentic way, raan is a dish best suited to special occasions. Your planning and logistics have to be tip-top; it requires 48 hours of marinating and at least 6 hours of slow long cooking.  The end result is worth the time and effort, though. The tender meat simply melts in your mouth, and the authentic Indian flavours and aroma will blow your mind. The prerequisites for success are to start with a good quality leg of lamb with excess fat trimmed off, and the right masala herbs and spices.

 

Preparation time: 48 hours

Cooking time: 6 hours

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a Tinta Barroca or Malbec 

 

The meat:

1.Whole leg of lamb (ca. 2 kg) with all external fat removed. Score in a few places so the marinade can penetrate

1 Large oven cooking bag

The marinade:

1 Medium onion, finely chopped

10 Fresh curry leaves

5 whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 Kashmiri chillies, chopped

6 Tbsp. Greek yogurt

3 Tbsp. Garam masala

3 Tbsp. coriander leaf, chopped

2 Tsp. Demerara sugar

1 Tbsp.ground cashew nuts

1 Tbsp. ground almonds

2 Tsp. Caraway seeds

1 Tsp. sea salt

1 Tsp. white pepper

1 Tsp. sunflower oil

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

The garnish:

3 Red chillies, halved lengthwise and de-seeded

15 Ginger match sticks (fresh ginger cut into fine sticks - keep in water until required)

1 Tbsp. fresh coriander leaf - coarsely chopped

2 Lemons, cut into 8 wedges each

 

  • Mix all the marinade ingredients together and rub the mixture into the meat. Place the leg of lamb in the oven bag.
  • Marinate for 48hrs in the fridge. Turn a few times to ensure the meat is evenly marinated.
  • On the big day, pre-heat your oven to 140°C.
  • Cook the lamb in the oven bag for 6 hours. Should the moisture in the bag evaporate too much, add 3 - 4 Tbsp. of water.  
  • Allow the meat to rest for 20 minutes.
  • Serve the leg of lamb whole, on a bed of colourful salad leaves.
  • Garnish with the chopped green chillies, coriander, ginger sticks and wedges of lemon.
  • Serve accompanied by cumin-scented basmati rice (cooked with a knob of butter and 2 Tsp. whole cumin seeds).  

 

“How many legs does a lamb have if you call its tail a leg? Four. Saying that a tail is a leg doesn't make it a leg.” - Abraham Lincoln.

 

Red Lentil Curry: Vegetarian Superfood

“The philosopher Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for supper. He was seen by fellow philosopher Aristippus, who lived comfortably by flattering the king. Said Aristippus, ‘If you would learn to be subservient to the king you would not have to live on lentils.’ Said Diogenes, ‘Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to be subservient to the king.’” – Anthony de Mello.

 

Lentils have been part of our diet since antiquity; being one of the first crops domesticated in the Near East. Archeological evidence shows they were already being eaten more than 10,000 years ago. Christians and Jews grow up with the story in Genesis 25 of how Jacob usurped Esau’s birthright in return for a tasty pot of red lentil soup.

Lentils are members of the legume (pulse) family, and have the second-highest ratio of protein per calorie of any legume, after soy beans. The low levels of readily digestible starch (5%), and high levels of slowly digested starch (30%), make lentils of potential value to diabetes sufferers. Their

colours range from yellow to red-orange to green, brown and black. They also vary in size, and are sold in many forms, with or without the skins, whole or split.

Lentils are relatively tolerant to drought and are grown throughout the world, with India, Canada and Australia being the largest producers. About 25% of the worldwide production of lentils is from India, most of which is consumed in the domestic market. Much of the Canadian and Australian crops is exported to the Middle East and South Asia. Although the tasty green variety of Le Puy enjoys cult status in France, Westerners do not generally eat a lot of lentils. They are mostly used to prepare inexpensive and nutritious soups, usually combined with either chicken or pork.

In the Arab world and among the vegetarians of the Indian Subcontinent, however, lentils are highly prized for their distinctive, earthy flavour. They are frequently combined with rice, which has a similar cooking time. Lentil and rice dishes are called mujaddara in Arab countries. Rice and lentils are also cooked together in the biryanis and khichdis of the Indian subcontinent (India and Pakistan) and a similar Egyptian dish, kushari, is considered one of that country’s two national dishes.

In India dhal (lentil) dishes are popular accompaniments to meat or vegetable main courses. The recipe below is for a rich and hearty lentil curry, great as a main meal rather than as a mere side dish. It is a really easy dish to make, and tastes great served with basmati rice.

 

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 8

 

2 Cups red lentils

250 g Tomato puree

100 g Mango chutney

2 Medium onions, diced

2 Tbsp. curry paste

1 Tsp. garlic, minced

1 Tsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 Tbsp. curry powder

1 Tsp. ground turmeric

1 Tsp. ground cumin

1 Tsp. chilli powder

1 Tsp. white sugar

1 Tbsp. sunflower oil

2 Tsp. salt

½ Cup natural yogurt

3 Tbsp. chopped coriander leaves for garnish

 

  • Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear.
  • Put the lentils in a pot with enough water to cover.
  • Bring to the boil, cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium – low.
  • Simmer, adding water during cooking as needed to keep the lentils covered, until tender. This should take 15 - 20 minutes.
  • Drain the lentils and keep them warm in the dish or bowl they are to be served in.
  • Mix the curry paste, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger together in a large bowl.
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Cook the onions in the hot oil until caramelised.
  • Pour the curry sauce over the onions and stir in.
  • Increase the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the tomato puree, remove from the heat and stir the mixture into the lentils.
  • Serve on steamed basmati rice, garnished with the yogurt and coriander leaves.

 

“Lentils are friendly - the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.” – Laurie Colwin. 

 

Chilli Crab: hot, messy & delicious

“Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It's one of the first things you find out there. What you do in Singapore is eat. It's a really food-crazy culture, where all of this great food is available in a kind of hawker-stand environment.” - Anthony Bourdain.

 

Singapore is one of the true marvels of the modern world. A tiny, mosquito-infested island off the southern tip of the Malaysian peninsula was turned into one of the world’s great manufacturing and trading centres in less than two generations by the benevolent autocracy of Lee Kwan Yu. Along with the rapid rise in incomes of its people came a surge in demand for tasty and varied food. The three main ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay and Indian) contributed diverse cuisines to the food culture of modern-day Singapore, and it is widely regarded as one of the three food capitals of the Orient – along with Hong Kong and Tokyo. What makes Singapore unique is the fact that – as a result of its long history as a major port, and its large immigrant population - it is so cosmopolitan, with three major cuisines being endemic.

In Singapore, food is viewed as crucial to national identity, and a unifying cultural thread. Its citizens are quick to concede that eating is a national pastime and food a national obsession. Religious dietary strictures do exist; Muslims do not eat pork and Hindus do not eat beef, and there is also a significant group of vegetarians. People from different communities often eat together, while being mindful of each other's culture and choosing food that is acceptable for all. When dining out, Singaporeans often eat at open-air food markets rather than restaurants, due to their convenience, wide range of options and affordability. These hawker centres are widespread, cheap and may feature hundreds of stalls in a single complex, with each stall offering its own specialty dishes. Open air food courts, have come to define Singaporean food culture. They offer the best of Malaysian, Chinese and Indian cooking, wrapped into foods that are uniquely Singaporean,

Singapore is justifiably renowned for its seafood. Its people enjoy a wide variety of seafood including fish, squid, stingray, crab, lobster, clams, and oysters. Popular seafood dishes include stingray smothered in sambals and served on banana leaf, oyster omelette with coriander leaf and the two show stoppers: black pepper crab and chilli crab. The latter two are quintessential dishes that are almost invariably recommended to tourists. Both are extremely tasty, but I love the yin/yang contrast between the sweet crab meat and the bite of hot chillies. It’s like a honeymoon in the tropics: hot & messy!

 

Preparation time: 7 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Riesling or Sylvaner or an ice cold lager beer

 

4 Large crabs (Dungeness, mangrove or orange rock crabs), cooked whole

8 Scallions, sliced thin

A 5 cm-long  piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

4 Cloves of garlic, chopped

3 Large Serrano or Thai chillies, chopped

3 Tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro leaves, plus more for garnish

3 Tbsp. hot chilli paste

3 Tbsp. oyster sauce

3 Tbsp. dark soy sauce

3 Tbsp. tomato ketchup

2 Tbsp. tamarind paste

4 tablespoons peanut oil

 

  • Pull the main shell off the crab and discard it. Remove the grey gills and the soft insides.
  • Cut the body in half and then cut between each leg. Crack the legs and claws with the back of a heavy knife or a mallet and set aside.
  • Mix the ketchup, chili paste, oyster sauce, soy sauce, and tamarind paste in a bowl, then dilute it with ½ cup of water and set aside.
  • Pour the oil into a wok or large skillet over high heat.
  • Add the scallion, ginger, garlic, ½ of the chopped chillies and the coriander leaf and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the crab and stir-fry for another minute.
  • Pour in the sauce and continue cooking, stirring often, until the crab has absorbed the sauce and the sauce has thickened. This shouldn’t take more than about 5 minutes.
  • Place the crabs on a platter, and pour the remaining sauce over them.
  • Garnish with the rest of the chillies and cilantro.
  • Serve with man tou buns (or miniature bread rolls) and plenty of napkins!

 

“Have you ever watched a crab on the shore crawling backward in search of the Atlantic Ocean, and missing? That's the way the mind of man operates.” - H.L. Mencken.

 

Aloo Gosht: Pakistani Meat & Potatoes

“During one of my treks through Afghanistan, we lost our corkscrew. We were compelled to live on food and water for several days”. – WC Fields.

 

The Indian Subcontinent is not just big; it is incredibly diverse in most respects – geography, climate, economy, culture, religion and cuisine. The only common denominator seems to be a passionate love of cricket! One of the key differences between south and north is the extent to which red meat is eaten. In Pakistan, Northern India and Afghanistan, meat plays a much more dominant role than other South Asian cuisines. According to a 2003 report, the average Pakistani consumed three times more meat than the average Indian.

In Pakistan, main courses are usually served with wheat bread (either roti or naan) or rice. Curries, consisting of meat combined with local vegetables like eggplant, okra, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and chilli peppers, are common everyday meals. Examples include Biryani (rice with spicy meat), Lahori Karahi (Lahore Curry), Aloo Keema (mince curry) and Murg Makhana (Moghul Butter Chicken). Another mainstay of Pakistani cuisine is Aloo Gosht (literally "potatoes and meat"), a home-style recipe consisting of a spiced meat and potato stew, and is prepared in millions of households every day. It’s dead simple to make, and perfect winter comfort food.

 

Preparation time:

Cooking time:

Serves 8

Tastes best accompanied by a Tinta Barroca or Shiraz

 

1 Kg mutton, cubed

½ Kg Potato, peeled and cut into pieces of ca. 3 x 5 cm

3 Medium onions, chopped

3 Fresh green chilies, chopped

8 Black peppercorns

6 Cloves

3 Cardamom pods

3 Tbsp. ground coriander seeds

1 Tbsp. fresh ginger, minced

1 Tbsp. chilli powder

½ Tbsp. garlic, crushed

1 ½ Tsp. salt 

1 Tsp. Garam Masala

½ Tsp. turmeric

½ Cup sunflower oil

2 Lemons, cut into wedges for garnishing

1 Cup chopped fresh coriander leaves for garnishing

 

  • Fry the onion in the oil until golden brown.
  • Remove the onion and set aside.
  • Add all the spices except the chillies, garlic and salt to the oil.
  • Add ½ cup of water and cook, stirring, until the water has evaporated.
  • Add the mutton and onion, as well as 500 ml of boiling water.
  • Cover and cook for 45 minutes over medium-low heat. 
  • Add the potatoes and cook over low heat till the potatoes are done and the gravy has thickened.
  • Serve garnished with the coriander leaves, chopped green chilies and lemon and accompanied by butter naan bread.

 

“Eating is a necessity, but cooking is an art.” – Pakistani proverb.

 

Okra Curry - a spicy vegetarian winner

"When I was growing up in Mississippi - in a Greek family - while other kids were eating fried okra, we were eating steamed artichokes. I think this played a big part in my healthy cooking." – Cat Cora.

 

Okra is one of the ugly ducklings of the vegetable world, with three notable exceptions: West Africa, the southern United States and among vegetarians the world over. Okra thrives in the scorching heat of humid summers, and soars skyward in at a rapid rate. Originally from Africa, it is today as typically Southern as iced tea and fried catfish. No other people have embraced okra (which many also call “gumbo” after the African “Ngombo”) the way Southerners have done. 

Whether fried, pickled, or grilled, no other vegetable tastes quite like okra. The edible pods are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic "goo" or slime when the seed pods are cooked. Some people prefer to minimize the sliminess by keeping the pods intact and brief cooking – e.g. stir-frying). Cooking with acidic ingredients such as a few drops of lemon juice, tomatoes, or vinegar serves the same purpose. Alternatively, the pods can be sliced thinly and cooked for a long time so the mucilage dissolves, as in gumbo. The following vegetarian recipe follows the latter approach. I have served it to vegetarian friends and colleagues, and they loved it.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a Rhine Riesling or Colombard

 

500 g Okra, trimmed, washed, dried and sliced into 2cm-long pieces

400 g Red onions, sliced

2 Ripe tomatoes, diced

1 Cayenne (or other hot) chilli, finely chopped, or ½ Tsp. powdered chilli

2 Tsp. ground coriander

5 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish

Salt and pepper for seasoning

 

  • Heat a large wok or frying pan over medium heat.
  • Add the oil, then the onions, and cook them until soft.
  • Stir in the okra.
  • Add the tomatoes and chilli, then season.
  • Mix well and keep stirring gently, taking care not to break up the okra. (Okra releases a sticky substance when cooked, but keep cooking, stirring gently – this will disappear eventually).
  • When the tomatoes become pulpy, lower the heat, add ground coriander and cook for another 5 - 10 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp. water, cover and let the dish simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Sprinkle with the chopped coriander and serve with basmati rice.

 

“So few people eat okra - even more radishes are grown in this country – that it never even makes it into the Top 10 Most Hated Food list.” – Julia Reed.

 

The cycle of life...

The King of the Kings and the Little Drummer Boy

Magical Rajasthan

Britannia Hotel: home of Durban Curry since 1879

Kerala's "Statue of Liberty"

Curry from Heaven

“To visit Kerala is to visit God’s own country. To visit it is to visit Heaven and experience the ecstasy of being There.” – Biju Mathew.

Kerala, the state at the South-Western tip of India, is a region of great beauty, rich history and exquisite cuisine. It is also home to some of the most impressive Hindu temples in India. Kerala is a famous spice emporium; it has traded spices since ancient times - the oldest historical records mention the Sumerians (modern-day Iraq) around 3000 BCE. 

Kerala cuisine includes a multitude of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes incorporating fish, poultry and – to a lesser extent – red meat, with rice the traditional accompaniment. These foods are flavoured with chillies, curry leaves, methie (mustard) seeds and tamarind paste. Food is traditionally served on a banana leaf and almost every dish has coconut and spices added for flavour, giving its cuisine a sharp pungency that is heightened with the use of tamarind. Seafood is the main diet in coastal Kerala, whereas vegetables dominate on the inland plains. Meat is served as the main course in Malabar (northern Kerala).

The dish I describe below is classical coastal Kerala, and highlights the key elements of its cooking. Dare to be different this Festive Season, and treat your loved ones to glorious combination of juicy fish and Malabari spices. If you are lucky enough to find yourself on our East Coast or in Mozambique, try it using fresh game fish – King Mackerel (“Couta”), Queen Mackerel (“Natal Snoek”) or Dorado make superb fish curry.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Rhine-style Riesling

 

450 g Fresh, juicy white fish, cut into cubes 
1 Medium onion 
1 Medium plum tomato 
8 Medium garlic cloves 
2 Fresh hot green chillies, de-seeded and sliced 
2 Dried red chillies, whole 
10 Curry leaves 
3 Tbsp. fresh coconut paste 
3 Tbsp. tamarind paste 
1 Tsp. ground coriander 
½ Tsp. turmeric 
½ Tsp. peri-peri spice 
½ Tsp. mustard seeds 
1 Tsp. salt 
1 ½ Cups sunflower or canola oil. If using an oily fish, reduce this to 1 cup.
1 Cup water

 

  • Make a paste of the onion, tomatoes, garlic and green chillies using a blender. Set aside.
  • Heat half the oil in a large saucepan.
  • Add the coconut paste and cook it until golden brown.
  • Add the dry spices and cook for about 3 minutes, stirring continually.
  • Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • Heat the remaining oil in another saucepan.
  • Add the whole red chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds.
  • Fry until the seeds start spluttering.
  • Add the onion paste and fry until brown.
  • Add the cooked coconut paste, tamarind and the cup of water.
  • Stir well and bring to the boil.
  • Add the fish pieces and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the fish can be flaked with ease.
  • Serve hot with steamed Basmati rice. I am probably a Philistine, but I like fruit chutney and pineapple or mango sambals with it.

"Some of the more remarkable vegetable and animal productions of the Malabar Coast have been known to western nations from times antecedent to the Christian era, and have been the objects of maritime enterprise and commerce through all the succeeding centuries." – William Logan.

Durban Curry and All

“Here’s a message to all you non-Indians. We Indians are fully aware of what our accent sounds like. You don’t need to remind us.” – Russell Peters.

Curry was introduced to the Colony of Natal over 150 years ago by indentured labourers who came from India, to work in the sugar cane fields. Their fragrant cuisine was soon embraced by both White settlers and the Zulus. It has evolved over time to such an extent that it is now distinct from any of the traditional regional cuisines of the Subcontinent. “Durban Curry” is justifiably famous around the world today, yet there isn’t consensus as to a single, standard recipe. There is a wide range of tasty Durban curries, which encompasses a myriad dishes made from chicken, prawns, fish, beef and vegetables, with the most popular being lamb or mutton curry.

Pundits agree that Durban curries are usually hotter than most Indian ones except Vindaloo, and are coloured red with tomatoes, chilies and cayenne pepper. Expert curry makers from Durban boast that a typical Durban Masala curry powder has about 12 different ingredients in the blend. These include ground coriander, cinnamon, cumin, curry leaves, fennel seed, dried chilies and cayenne pepper, as well as ginger and garlic. A typical Durban curry is made in a heavy-bottomed pan. Onions are browned in oil, and then curry powder is added, followed by the garlic and ginger. This mixture is simmered before the lamb, chicken, beef or fish is folded in and then all the remaining ingredients are added. The pan is covered and the dish is left to simmer, bringing all the flavours together. Coriander is added just before serving. Durban curry is usually served over rice, with condiments such as chutney, sambals and papadums. The following recipe is my interpretation of the signature dish at a well-known KwaZulu-Natal eatery.

 

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1 ½ hours

Serves 4 people

Tastes best accompanied by an ice-cold beer.

 

1 kg Leg of lamb, deboned and cubed

2 Large onions, chopped

2 Large potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 Medium tomato, skinned and diced

2 Tbsp. dried mango, finely chopped

A 5 cm-long piece of fresh ginger, finely chopped

½ Tbsp. crushed garlic

2 Cloves

2 Cinnamon sticks, each about 10 cm long

6 curry leaves

5 ml whole fennel seeds

1 Tbsp. Hot curry powder

1 Tsp. salt

2 Tsp. Tamarind extract

250 ml Water

75 ml Sunflower oil

½ Tbsp. chopped coriander leaves for garnishing

 

  • Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat,
  • Add the onion, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
  • Add the curry powder, stir and let the mixture cook for about 2 minutes.
  • Add the meat to the pot and stir until the meat is coated in the spice mixture.
  • Add the salt, garlic, ginger, mango, tamarind, curry leaves and fennel seeds. Stir thoroughly.
  • Cook on high heat for 5 minutes, stirring continually.
  • Add the potato, reduce the heat to medium and put the lid on the pot.
  • Cook, covered, for an hour.
  • As some of the excess water and juices evaporate, add the additional cup of water, followed by the tomato.
  • Check whether the potato is cooked. Once it is, removed the lid and cook on high heat for 5 minutes to thicken the sauce. Stir continuously during this time.
  • Remove from the heat, and cover until it is time to serve the curry.

Garnish with the coriander and serve with rice, sambals, papadums and raita (yoghurt and grated cucumber).

Indian customer to salesman in a paint store: “Can I have 5 litres Plascon Wall, please?” Salesman: “Don’t you mean Plascon Wall and All?” Customer: “Don’t you racially stereotype me, Bru!”

Murgh Masala

“You have to taste a culture to understand it.” – Deborah Carter.

As my knowledge of food from the Indian subcontinent has increased, I have come to realise that it is futile to compare and rate dishes from different regions. One is not better or worse than the other; they are simply different. The regional cuisines have individual characteristics which are derived from the produce available, the belief systems of the local people and the degree to which invaders, settlers and trade have influenced original recipes and techniques. A prime example is the North-West of India, where the Muslim Moghuls and Parsis from Iran introduced milder flavours, the frequent use of yoghurt and cooking in tandoori ovens. Murgh Masala is a quintessential North Indian dish, which will appeal to people who don’t like the fiery curries of the South and East.

 

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Rhine Riesling or Viognier

 

1.5 kg Chicken thighs

2 Ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped

2 Large onions, finely chopped

4 Garlic cloves, finely chopped

150ml Natural yoghurt, plus another 50ml for garnish

A 5 cm-long piece of fresh ginger, chopped

A 5 cm-long piece of stick cinnamon

8 Cardamom pods

5 Cloves

10 Curry leaves

2 Tsp. coriander, roasted and ground

2 Tsp. cumin, ground

1 ½ Tsp. Garam masala

½ Tsp. Turmeric, ground

3 Tbsp. ghee (clarified butter) or sunflower oil

Salt for seasoning

Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

 

  • Mix the cumin, coriander, Garam masala and turmeric, and rub it into the chicken.
  • Put 1 onion, the garlic, ginger and tomato in a food processor, and grind until the ingredients form a smooth paste.
  • Heat the oil or ghee in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  • Add the remaining onion, the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and curry leaves and fry until the onion starts to brown.
  • Add the paste from the food processor, and simmer, stirring, for 5 minutes.
  • Season the contents of the pot with salt to taste.
  • Add the chicken, and bring to the simmering point again.
  • Stir in the yoghurt, and reduce the heat so that the dish will only just simmer.
  • Cook until the oil in the sauce starts to separate; this should take 45 – 50 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • Check the seasoning and serve on steamed Basmati rice, garnished with a drizzle of yoghurt and a sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves..

“The food you eat can either be the most powerful medicine, or the slowest poison.” – Archie Panjabi.

Madras Lamb Curry

“Dyspepsia is the remorse of a guilty stomach.” – A Kerr.

In days gone by I used to travel to Durban (“the most African city in India”) on business quite frequently, and I loved staying in a very tall hotel on South Beach. From the smoker’s rooms on the higher floors one had a superb panoramic view, especially around sunrise. Another perk of staying there was that the hotel was home to a famous Indian restaurant that served the best Madras (Chennai to the post-Raj generation) Lamb Curry I have ever tasted. It is one of the crown jewels of South Indian cuisine, and is often made with goat, instead of mutton. This is slow food at its best – the longer it simmers, the more of the curry sauce it absorbs; imparting both flavour and moisture to the meat. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it is actually a splendid summer dish – see Chapter 2 of “Memories on a Plate.”

 

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 3 hours

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by an ice-cold lager beer.

 

1 kg Boneless lamb or mutton, cut into 2 cm³ cubes.

6 Dried hot chillies, chopped

3 Large onions, coarsely chopped

12 Garlic cloves, crushed

A 5 cm-long piece of ginger root, chopped

A 10 cm-long piece of stick cinnamon

1 Tbsp. tamarind purée

600ml Coconut milk

2 Tbsp. coriander seeds

6 Cardamom pods

2 Tsp. cumin seeds

1 ½ Tsp. ground turmeric

1 Tsp. fennel seeds

12 Curry leaves

4 Tbsp, ghee (clarified butter) or sunflower oil

Salt for seasoning

Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

 

  • Dry-roast the coriander in a small pan until aromatic. Be careful not to burn it.
  • Remove and set aside. Repeat the process with the chillies, then the cumin.
  • Grind the roasted spices in a pestle and mortar.
  • Add half the curry leaves, the ginger and the garlic, and grind the mixture into a paste.
  • Meanwhile roast the fennel seeds in the pan until they start to pop. Set aside.
  • Dissolve the tamarind in 100ml hot water.
  • Heat the ghee over moderate heat in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
  • Fry the onion in the ghee for 10 minutes, or until completely soft.
  • Add the chilli paste and cook, stirring, over low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Increase the heat to moderate, and add the meat.
  • Stir continually to ensure that it is evenly coated with the paste.
  • When the meat starts to brown, add 500ml of the coconut milk and ½ cup of water.
  • When the liquid reaches boiling point, reduce the heat to low again. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  •  Add the remaining coconut milk, the cinnamon stick, cardamom and fennel seeds.
  • Cook, partially covered, for 2 hours. Make sure the curry never boils – it must only simmer.
  • Add the tamarind and the remaining 6 curry leaves, and check the seasoning.
  • Scoop of any excess fat floating on top.

 

Serve with sambals and steamed basmati rice, naan bread or poppadums, and garnish with the coriander leaves.

 

“I wish I could discover a curry that gives me heartburn immediately, instead of at three o’clock in the morning.” – John Barrymore.

Butter Chicken: it will melt in your mouth!

“Being one in a million in India means there are 1,240 Indians just like you.” – Russell Peters. 

Chicken is probably the meat eaten by most people on earth, and curry the most popular style of cooking. Indian kari, which sis derived from the Tamil word meaning “sauce”, is known to have originated sometime during the ancient Indus civilization. Since then it has travelled beyond the borders of the Subcontinent, and gained hundreds of millions of fans around the world. No wonder chicken curry is so popular: just thinking about succulent chunks of chicken simmering leisurely in a spicy gravy which sends off an inviting aroma makes my mouth water! A chicken curry is the ultimate crowd pleaser and an absolute must-have on an Indian dinner party menu.

Indian cuisine is a kaleidoscope of regional styles. In Northern and Eastern India you will be served with a hearty curry bursting with garam masala and hot spices, along with crisp naan bread. As you move towards the west, warm notes of yoghurt, cardamom and khada masala dominate. From down south comes the soothing comfort of coconut milk. The cooking medium also differs according to local tastes. For instance, ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil is used predominantly in North India, and coconut oil lends it unique flavour to Southern curries. Mustard oil brightens up the curries from the East, and the West is known for the heavy use of sesame and groundnut oil.

This recipe crossed the Indian Ocean with the indentured labourers that came to work in the sugar plantations of Natal, and is an absolute winner. Marinated overnight, the chicken is roasted and cooked in tomato puree, cream and masala. Your guests will love it.

 

Preparation time: 8 hrs

Cooking time: 1 ½ hours

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Rhine Riesling

 

1 kg Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cubed

500 g Tinned tomatoes, chopped

300ml Natural yoghurt

6 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 Tbsp. fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 Green Thai chilli peppers, chopped

1 Tbsp. fenugreek leaves, chopped

300ml Double thick cream

3 Tsp. honey

1 Tbsp. Cayenne pepper

1 Tbsp. Garam masala, plus another tablespoon for the sauce

1 Tbsp. tomato paste

1 Tbsp. garlic paste

1 Tbsp. ginger paste

3 Tbsp. butter (melted)

1 Tbsp. whole butter

2 Tbsp. lemon juice

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt for seasoning

Chopped coriander leaves for garnish

 

  • Place the cubed chicken in a bowl with the yoghurt, lemon juice, Cayenne pepper and 2 Tsp.salt. Refrigerate for an hour.
  • Mix in the garlic, Garam masala, melted butter, 1 chopped chilli, ginger and oil.
  • Cover and leave to marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Preheat your oven to 200°C.
  • Place chicken in a shallow oven-proof dish and bake for 20 minutes.
  • Melt the whole butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Stir in 1 Tbsp. Garam masala. When masala begins to bubble, mix in the ginger paste, garlic paste and the other chilli pepper.
  • Sauté for 5 minutes, then stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste and 2 Tsp.salt,
  • Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer.
  • Stir in the honey, fenugreek and cream.
  • Place the chicken and its pan drippings in the sauce mixture.
  • Simmer on medium-low heat until the liquid has reduced by 1/3.
  • Salt to taste and serve on steamed Basmati rice, garnished with fresh chopped coriander.

“India is a country divided by many local languages and united by a single foreign one.” – Russell Peters. 

Hot Stuff in Hyderabad

The amazing floating market on Dal Lake, Srinagar

Holy Cow! What's going on in Goa?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...

A devout Sikh takes the water in Amritsar

Tandoori Chicken: it doesn't make you Sikh...

“The food in India is terrible, and the portions are too small.” – Woody Allen.

The term “Indian food” is grossly misleading. Not only is the country a vast subcontinent – New Delhi is closer to Dubai than to Chennai - but almost 200 million Indians eat the same food as Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. India is home to 1.25 billion people; this means that the average population of its 29 states is the same as South Africa’s! It is therefore more accurate to refer specifically to “Goan”, “Gujarati” or “Punjabi” than simply “Indian” cuisine. The following recipe originated in the Punjab Region that straddles the border between modern-day India and Pakistan. Its North Indian roots are evidenced by the sparing use of hot spices and the addition of yoghurt. It is traditionally made in a wood-fired Tandoor clay oven, but with proper attention to detail it works just as well in an electric one.

Preparation time: 45 minutes (+ 12 hours to marinate)

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Riesling or Sylvaner

 

12 Free range chicken thighs and drumsticks

200 g Low fat natural yoghurt

4 Garlic cloves, crushed

2 Fresh Cayenne or Kashmiri chillies, chopped and deseeded

2 Tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

150ml Lemon juice

1 Tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tsp ground cumin

1 Tsp ground coriander

1 Tsp paprika

250ml Peanut oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Cup of chopped dhania (fresh coriander leaves) for garnishing

  • Bash the ginger and chillies to a rough paste with a good pinch of salt, then transfer to a large bowl.
  • Add the lemon juice, yoghurt, ½ teaspoon black pepper, the cinnamon, cumin, coriander and paprika.
  • Note: If you want the finished product to have a fiery glow, add 1 tsp red food colouring. A teaspoonful of turmeric will in turn produce a golden colour.
  • Mix well to combine.
  • Add the chicken and stir to coat it completely with the marinade.
  • Note 2: If you want the marinade to really permeate the chicken, slice notches in the chicken portions before placing them in the marinade..
  • Cover the bowl with cling wrap and place it in the fridge to marinate for 12 hours.
  • When you're ready to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge and allow to reach room temperature.
  • Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
  • Divide the chicken between two large pieces of tin foil, drizzle with oil, then wrap it up.
  • Place each parcel into a large roasting tray and place in the oven for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the foil and place the chicken directly on the trays, then return to the oven.
  • Roast for a further 30 minutes, or until golden and cooked through.

Serve on steamed Basmati rice, with the dhania scattered on top, crispy fried onions and raita. Raita is a side dish eaten to cool the palate, and typically consists of yoghurt, chopped cucumber, scallions and dhania, seasoned with cumin. 

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not smashing it.” – Arnold H Glasow.

Kerrie-Skaapafval (Curried Mutton Tripe)

“Most people won’t order tripe in a restaurant, but it can be fantastic.” – Simon McBurney.

The fact that the word “tripe” is often used as a synonym for “rubbish” or “nonsense” gives us a sense of just how maligned offal is in some circles. The Afrikaans term afval similarly denotes “refuse” or “scraps”. The term is a generic one, and covers all the parts of the animal not generally eaten: the head, stomach, organs, intestines and trotters. In the Afrikaans parlance, it traditionally refers to the head (including the tongue, but not the brain), stomach and trotters, and specifically those of a sheep. Skaapafval is a divisive matter in my extended family: roughly two thirds don’t touch it, while the rest love it. But even among the true believers there is a difference of opinion – a few don’t want trotters in theirs, because they don’t like the gelatinous quality they give the dish. I am fortunately an unqualified fan, and eat all of it! This is how I make it:    

Preparation time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 4 ½ hours

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by a full-bodied Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz blend

1 ½ kg Mutton offal (head, stomach and trotters),scrupulously cleaned. This is the key to a tasty dish.

24 Small baby potatoes, or 12 halved slightly bigger ones, parboiled for 10 minutes

3 Medium onions, sliced

2 Garlic cloves, crushed

4 Bay leaves

4 Cloves

3 Tbsp dried mango, chopped 

1 Tbsp coriander seeds

3 Serrano (or any other medium-sized hot variety) chillies, chopped

1 Tbsp ginger root, finely chopped

1 Tsp cumin, ground

½ Tsp cardamom seeds

1 ½ Tsp tamarind paste

2 Tsp Garam masala

2 Tsp turmeric

30ml Tomato paste

100ml Coconut milk

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar for soaking, plus another 2 tbsp for cooking

2 Tbsp coarse salt for cooking

Salt and ground black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves

30ml Ghee (clarified butter)

30ml Canola oil for frying

  • Soak the offal in clean, lightly salted water and 2 tbsp red wine vinegar for 2 hours.
  • Using two pots, place the head and trotters in a large pot, and the stomach in a smaller one.
  • Cover with cold water, and add 2 bay leaves, 2 cloves, 1 tbsp vinegar and 1 tbsp coarse salt to each pot.
  • Bring the pots to the boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low and cook the contents for 3 hours.
  • Remove the offal, and let it cool down.
  • Discard the water in which the stomach was cooked, but retain 250ml of the cooking liquid in the large pot.
  • In a small frying pan, toast the coriander seeds over gentle heat.
  • Transfer it to a pestle and mortar (or pepper grinder) and pound/grind into powder.
  • Mix the coriander, chillies, garlic, ginger, mango, cumin, cardamom, tamarind, Garam masala and turmeric thoroughly in a bowl.
  • Remove all the meaty bits from the sheep’s head and trotters and roughly chop any large pieces. Cut the stomach into 7.5 cm² squares.
  • Sauté the onion and flavourant mixture in the ghee and oil until fragrant.
  • Add the meat and bring the pot to a slow boil, stirring thoroughly.
  • Add the parboiled baby potatoes.
  • Stir in the tomato paste and coconut milk.
  • Simmer the dish gently for another 45 minutes.
  • Check the seasoning.

Serve the curry on fluffy Basmati rice, garnished with the chopped coriander, with chutney and powdered coconut on the side.

“Don’t let the word ‘tripe’ deter you. Let its soothing charms win you over, and enjoy it as do those who always have.” – Fergus Henderson.

Pork Vindaloo: dab, don't wipe!

“Hospitality is not just a word here in Goa – it is a tradition.” – Anibal da Costa.

Not many people seem to know that Goa was a Portuguese possession until as recently as 1975; 480 years after Vasco da Gama planted the flag of St John there. After the Christian faith, Vindaloo is probably the most lasting colonial legacy in the region. The dish was intoduced to Goa by the Portuguese and soon became a local institution; often served on special occasions. Historically this Pork dish is cooked with plenty of wine vinegar and garlic, hence the name – vinho plus alho. The Portuguese basis was soon expanded when it received the Goanese treatment through the addition of copious amounts of spice and fiery chilli. Made the authentic way, it is certainly not for sissies!

Preparation time:  25 minutes

Cooking time: 90 minutes

Serves 6

Tastes best accompanied by an ice cold lager beer

1 kg Pork, cut into 3 cm³ cubes

2 Medium onions, cut into rings

8 Garlic cloves, peeled

2 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger

2 Dried chilli pods

1 Cinnamon stick (6 – 8 cm long)

1 Tbsp coriander seed

2 Tsp whole cumin seeds

1 Tsp brown sugar

1 Tsp black peppercorns

1 Tsp cardamom seeds

1 ½ Tsp black mustard seeds

1 Tsp fenugreek seeds

½ Tsp teaspoon turmeric

1 ½ Tsp salt

5 Tbsp white wine vinegar

5 Tbsp sunflower or canola oil

150ml Water

  • Grind the coriander, cumin seeds, red chillies, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon, black mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds in a mortar & pestle or spice grinder.
  • Place the ground spices in a bowl and mix in the vinegar, salt and sugar, then set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat.
  • Add the onions and fry, stirring frequently, until the onions turn brown and crisp.
  • Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and place them into an electric blender or food processor.
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of water and puree the onions.
  • Add this puree to the ground spices in the bowl.
  • Put the ginger and garlic in a blender or food processor.
  • Add 2-3 tbsp of water and blend until you have a smooth paste.
  • Re-heat the oil remaining in the pot over medium heat.
  • When hot, add the pork cubes, a few at a time, and brown them lightly on all sides.
  • Remove each batch with a slotted spoon and reserve in a bowl. Continue this procedure until all of the pork has been browned.
  • Return the ginger/garlic paste to the pot.
  • Turn down the heat to medium/low and stir the paste for a few seconds.
  • Add the coriander and turmeric; stir for a few seconds more.
  • Add the meat, any juices that may have accumulated as well as the Vindaloo paste and the water, and bring to the boil.
  • Cover and simmer gently for an hour; stirring occasionally during the cooking period.

 Serve with Basmati rice and enjoy!

“It seems to be a Goan feature to have 10 Goans, 12 opinions and 16 enemies.” – Patrice Riemens.

Vegetarian Curry: not bland at all!

“If you believe it’s ‘natural’ to eat meat, put a baby in a crib with an apple and a rabbit. If he eats the rabbit and plays with the apple, I’ll buy you a new car.” – Harvey Diamond.

It’s easy for “mainstream” gourmands to poke fun at vegetarians. Comedians have grown rich on quips like “Vegetarian is Indian for ‘lousy hunter’”, “Vegetarians look like their food” and “If vegetarians love animals so much, why do they eat their food?”. What the wisecrackers don’t realise is that vegetarians are not just an eccentric fringe of post-modern Western society, but more than a billion perfectly sensible people who don’t have to worry about heart disease or obesity. It is a particularly common diet in the Indian Subcontinent, and this recipe is a fine example of how satisfying a vegetarian dish can be:

Preparation time: 1 hour

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 4

Tastes best accompanied by a chilled Viognier or Colombard

1 Small cauliflower, broken into florets

500 g Sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

2 Medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

2 Large carrots, peeled and cut into 1 cm-thick roundels

400 g Chickpeas, drained

150 g Baby spinach

1 Large onion, finely chopped

½ Cup green lentils, soaked in tepid water for an hour

1 Tbsp tomato paste

250ml Coconut milk

500ml Vegetable stock

4 Medium cloves of garlic, crushed

1 Tbsp grated fresh garlic

3 Small fresh hot chillies, finely chopped. I prefer Rajah or Bird’s Eye.

1 Cinnamon stick

1 Tbsp ground coriander

2 Tsp ground cumin

1 Tsp ground turmeric

½ Tsp Cayenne pepper

2 Tbsp fresh lime juice

1 Tsp finely grated lime zest

2 Tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaf

2 Tbsp canola oil

Salt and ground black pepper

  • In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  • Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown.
  • Reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 more minutes.
  • Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  • Add the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, and cayenne. Leave alone for 30 seconds to toast the spices.
  • Turn up the heat to medium.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir until well blended with the flavourants.
  • Add the lentils, stock, coconut milk, cinnamon stick, 1 tsp salt, and ½ tsp pepper and bring to a boil.  
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Add the cauliflower, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and carrots.
  • Raise the heat to medium high and return to the boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes.
  • Remove and discard the cinnamon stick.
  • Stir in the chickpeas, spinach, lime juice, and zest.
  • Cook until the spinach has wilted.
  • Season to taste with salt.
  • Serve garnished with the chopped coriander leaves.

This curry only needs a bed of brown or Basmati rice to be a complete meal.

“By eating meat we share the responsibility for climate change, the destruction of our forests and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference to the health of our planet.” – Thích Nhât Hanh.

Louis' Beef Mince Curry

“Laws are like minced meat or sausages. It’s best not to see how they are made.” – Count Otto von Bismarck.

I recently spent three days in bed due to a viral infection which resulted in alternate spells of hot and cold fever. After two days my appetite started returning, but when I am feverish I need strongly-flavoured hot food because my taste buds are numb. I also didn’t have the energy for hard work; the meal had to be quick and easy to make. This meant that I had to turn to one of Chez Louis’ long-standing once-a-week dishes: mince curry on rice. While it does resemble Beef Kheema in some respects, this is not something you’re likely to find in any classical Indian cook book; more like the love child of beef curry and spaghetti Bolognese! Nevertheless, it is a quick and no-fuss way of producing true comfort food, and ideal for working wives (or cooking husbands). By the way: it makes an excellent Bunny Chow filling!

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves 2 hungry persons

Tastes best accompanied by a cold beer or a Rhine Riesling or Sylvaner

500 g Beef mince, not too lean

1 Large onion or two medium-sized ones, roughly chopped

1 Large potato or two medium-sized ones, diced and parboiled for 10 minutes

½ Tbsp crushed garlic

½ Tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger

2 Dried hot chillies, finely chopped

2 Tbsp sultanas (optional)

2 Tbsp green peas

1 Tbsp tomato paste

3 Tbsp coconut cream

2 Tsp coriander seeds

1 Tsp ground nutmeg

1 Tsp ground allspice

1 Tsp ground cinnamon

1 Tsp dried fennel (or dill) seeds

1 Tsp dried cumin seeds

½ Tbsp turmeric

4 Cloves

4 Curry leaves

½ Tbsp tamarind paste (alternative: 1 tsp red wine vinegar)

½ Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

300ml Beef stock

1 Tbsp sunflower oil

Salt for seasoning

2 Tbsp chopped coriander leaves

  • Dry-roast the coriander in a small pan until they darken and their smell becomes pronounced.
  • Crush the coriander, cloves, fennel/dill and cumin using a pestle and mortar (or pepper grinder).
  • Heat the oil in a large saucepan or pot.
  • Add the chillies and dry spices.
  • Once the spices start giving off flavour, add the onion and fry until translucent.
  • Add the garlic and ginger. Stir in and allow to cook for 3 minutes.
  • Add the mince and stir vigorously. Fry until the meat takes on colour.
  • Season to taste.
  • Add the Worcestershire sauce and stock. Bring the mixture to a slow boil, stirring regularly.
  • Add the potatoes, stir in the tomato paste, sultanas and tamarind, and bring to the boil.
  • Allow to simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  • Stir in the coconut cream, curry leaves and peas.
  • Simmer for another 10 minutes. Check that the potatoes are cooked soft; if not – simmer a few minutes more.
  • Check seasoning.

Serve on Basmati rice, sprinkled with coriander leaves and with sambals and mango chutney on the side.

“Some people see bones in the meat, while others see meat on the bone.” – Thukani Sithole.

 

 

Madanjit Ranchod, aka "Mr Kapitan" in his heyday

Rick Stein indulges in his second love

I hope their beer is cold...

Madhur Jaffrey, the Nigella of the Subcontinent

Gary Rhodes battling the Kerala heat

Chicken Korma

“Keep Korma and carry on normally.” – Bumper sticker.

Korma is another style of cooking from the Indian Subcontinent that is not, strictly speaking, a curry. The word "korma" is derived from the Urdu word ḳormā or ḳormah, meaning “to braise”. Korma has its roots in the Mughlai cuisine, and dates back to the 16th century and the Mughal incursions into present-day Northern India and Pakistan. Classically, a korma is defined as a dish where meat or vegetables are braised with water, stock, and yogurt or cream added. The basis of a traditional korma’s flavour and taste is a mixture of spices, including coriander and cumin, which combines with yogurt or cream and the meat juices. Traditionally, this would have been carried out in a pot set over a very low fire, with charcoal on the lid to provide all-round heat. Kormas range from mildly spiced to fiery hot, and may contain lamb, chicken, beef or venison. If I had to pick one Indian chicken dish, this would be the one:

Preparation time: 12 hours

Cooking time: 1 ½ hours

Serves 8

Tastes best with a wooded Riesling, cold lager beer or dry cider

1 kg Chicken breast fillets

2 Large onions, chopped

1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

3 Cloves of garlic, minced

150g Plain yogurt

1 Dried red chilli, chopped

1 tbsp Ghee or sunflower oil

1 tbsp Ground coriander seeds

A pinch of ground black pepper

1 tsp Turmeric

1 tsp Garam masala

75g Coconut cream

Salt to taste

2 Tbsp toasted almonds, crushed

Chopped coriander leaves for garnishing

The juice of ½ lemon

  • Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized chunks.
  • Mix the chicken with the ginger, garlic and yogurt. Cover and marinade for 12 hours or in the fridge overnight.
  • Liquidise the chopped onion and red chillies, adding a little water. Blend till smooth.
  • Heat the ghee/oil in a large saucepan.
  • Add the coriander, black pepper, turmeric and masala.
  • Stir fry for 2 minutes over a low heat.
  • Turn up the heat, add the onion and chilli paste and stir fry for 10 minutes.
  • Add the chicken and the marinade and continue to stir fry for 10 more minutes.
  • Add the coconut cream and just enough water to cover the chicken.
  • Bring to the boil, stirring until the coconut is dissolved.
  • Stir in the ground almonds.
  • Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the chicken is tender (30-40 minutes).
  • Remove from heat, add lemon juice and salt to taste. Mix well.

Serve on steamed Basmati rice, flavoured with a stick of cinnamon, and sambals. Sprinkle with the coriander leaves.

“Keep calm and curry on normally.” – Bumper sticker.

 

Biryani: the Curry that isn't

“’I’m going to shout this from the mountain tops: there is no such thing as a ‘curry’. There’s six kazillion kinds of curry. When someone asks me to make a chicken curry, I have to ask ‘which one’?” – Aarti Sequeira.

Durban is allegedly the city with the biggest Indian population outside of the Subcontinent. It was also the city where our family invariably went for our winter holidays, and where I first encountered this fabulous dish – erroneously called “briyani” by most South Africans. It is nowadays made all over the world, and the protein element can be red meat, chicken, soya, fish or seafood. The origin of the name is uncertain: one theory is that it originates from "birinj", the Persian word for rice. Another is that it was derived from "biryan" or "beriyan" (to fry or roast). Either way, it is commonly associated with North Indian cuisine. Another point of interest is that it is not, strictly speaking, a curry but rather a spicy dish containing rice.

Biryani is probably a derivative of the pilafs (known as pulao in the Subcontinent) which were brought to India by Arab traders. The pulao was an army dish in medieval India: the armies, unable to cook elaborate meals, would prepare a one-pot dish where they cooked rice with whichever meat was available. Over time, the dish became biryani due to different methods of cooking, with the distinction between "pulao" and "biryani" being arbitrary. Modern biryani is a confluence of the Middle Eastern pilaf and the spicy rice dishes of India. It was brought to South Africa by Indian immigrants from Gujarat. The South African version of the dish features fried potatoes and black lentils. The following recipe is a nod to the Mughal cuisine of North India:

Preparation time: 3 ½ hours.

Cooking time: 2 ½ hours.

Serves 6.

Tastes best accompanied by a Merlot or Cinsaut, a wooded Riesling or a cold beer.

For the rice:

500 gm Basmati rice

1 Dried star anise

2 Bay leaves

6 Cardamom pods

2 Tbsp cumin seeds

6 Black peppercorns

2 Cinnamon sticks

6 Cloves

1 Tbsp fennel

3 Tbsp salt

Marinade:

1 kg Mutton, cubed; preferably lean meat

1 Tbsp garam masala

1 Tbsp garlic paste

1 Tbsp ginger paste

3 Tbsp raw papaya, mashed

4 Tbsp Bulgarian yoghurt

The juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp red chilli powder

1 tsp salt

Other ingredients:

4 Onions, thinly sliced

2 Tomatoes, chopped

¼ Cup warm milk

4 Tbsp ghee, melted

3 Cups of water

The juice of ½ lemon

A pinch of saffron or ½ tbsp turmeric

Sunflower oil for frying

4 Green chillies, chopped

Marinating the mutton:

  • Combine the mutton, yoghurt, ginger and garlic paste, papaya paste, chilli powder, salt, lemon juice and garam masala.
  • Allow the mutton to marinate for 3 hours.

Making the fried onions or Barista:

  • After slicing the onions, divide the slices in half.
  • In a heavy-bottomed pan, fry one half in small batches over medium-high heat until golden brown. Do not burn them.
  • Make sure all the onion slices frying are coated in oil. Keep stirring continuously but gently for an even brown colour.
  • Remove the fried onions from the pan with a slotted spoon or ladle.
  • Place the onions on a plate covered with paper towel.

Cooking the mutton:

  • Heat the ghee in a thick-bottomed pan.
  • Fry the remaining sliced onions and green chillies. Stir continuously till onions are golden brown.
  • Add the marinated mutton and cook on high heat for seven to eight minutes.
  • Add the coriander powder, cumin powder and red chilli powder. Mix thoroughly.
  • Stir in the three cups of water and bring the dish to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and cook, covered, over medium heat until the mutton is almost cooked.
  • Add the tomatoes, salt, garam masala and coriander leaves.
  • Cook for a further 15 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally.

Preparing the rice:

  • Soak the rice for 20 minutes in water, wash well and drain.
  • Place the cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black peppercorns, cumin, star anise on a piece of cloth and tie a knot to make a bag (potli).
  • Bring 750 ml water to boil, add the rice, bay leaf, salt and potli. Cover and cook for 7 minutes.
  • Drain the water and remove the potli.

Preparing the saffron milk:

  • Dissolve the saffron or turmeric in the warm milk.
  • Cover and leave for 20 minutes.

Layering the biryani:

  • Take a large casserole dish with a tight fitting lid, and coat the bottom and sides with some of the ghee.
  • Add alternate layers of rice and meat pieces. Sprinkle each layer with saffron milk, fried onion slices and ghee.
  • Manage this process so that the top and bottom layers consist of rice.
  • Cover with chopped coriander, fried onion slit green chillies and the juice of a lemon.
  • Seal the casserole and lid by lining the rim with flour dough and then putting the lid on.
  • Ensure the oven heat is at its lowest.
  • Cook the biryani in this “Dum” process for 40 minutes.
  • After 40 minutes have elapsed, switch off the heat and leave the biryani in the oven for another 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl and tuck in.

“The height of disappointment: when you realise that aroma of Mutton Biryani isn’t coming from your home.” – Dushen Prag. 

Thai Red Duck Curry (Kaeng ped pett yang)

“The perils of duck hunting are considerable; especially for the duck.” – Walter Cronkite.

The Rossouw clan recently had a family gathering at a trout lodge in Mpumalanga, and – ops normal – ate like royalty. I contributed a few dishes to our meals, and the one that received the most compliments was my Thai Red Duck Curry (Kaeng ped pett yang). Despite the concept sounding rather outlandish to older diners, everyone who tried it was unanimous that it “hit the spot”. It is not just different and very, very tasty, but quick and easy to make. Do yourself a favour and try this very simple but tasty dish:

Prepation time: 30 minutes.

Cooking time: 20 minutes.

Serves 6 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by either a spicy red wine like Shiraz, or a flavourful off-dry white like Viognier or Rhine Riesling.

450g Duck breast (2 plump fillets should be enough).

400ml Coconut Milk.

200ml Thai Red Curry Paste.

50ml Fish Sauce.

150g Pineapple, cut into dice-sized cubes.

6 Cherry tomatoes, halved.

6 Thai Kaffir Lime leaves.

1 Long Thai Chilli, chopped.

½ Tablespoon vegetable oil.

Salt & ground black pepper for seasoning.

  • Fry the duck breasts in a hot griddle pan until just medium – first on the meaty size for about 3 minutes, then on the fat side until half the fat has rendered.
  • Allow to rest for 15 minutes, then slice diagonally into 1cm wide strips.
  • Pour the oil into a heavy bottomed pot on medium heat.
  • Add the coconut milk and chilli paste.
  • Slowly bring to a simmer, stirring continually.
  • When the flavour has developed and the liquid is simmering gently, add the duck slices.
  • Bring to the boil and then add all the remaining ingredients except the salt and pepper.
  • Simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • Check the sweet/sour and salt/hot balances occasionally. Use sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and chilli sauce judiciously for this purpose if required. Remember that the flavour evolves, so don’t add elements prematurely.
  • Check the seasoning one last time before dishing up. The curry should not be to hot or sour.
  • Serve on Basmati or Jasmine rice. Chopped Cilantro (coriander leaf) makes a fine garnish.  

“A man who waits for roast duck to fly into his mouth must wait for a very, very long time.” – Jules Renard. 

Pickled fish: making a comeback?

“A fish that opens its mouth may get caught. But if it never opened its mouth, it would starve.” – Jewish proverb.

Modern conveniences like electrical appliances have not only made us lazy, but caused some of our ancestors' best-loved foods to be forgotten. They had to preserve food in season to last them during the lean months. Perhaps Eskom will force us to start doing this again...

One of my all-time favourite preserves is pickled fish; and particularly Yellowtail with its firm white flesh. Here is my take on Pickled Yellowtail:

1.8 Kg skinless Yellowtail fillets, cut into 2 cm x 2 cm cubes
1/2 Cup Sunflower oil
6 Bay leaves
6 Large onions, sliced into rings
3 Cups brown vinegar
1 Cup water
3/4 Cup sugar
1 Tblsp turmeric
3 Tblsp medium curry powder
2 Tblsp flour
1 1/2 Tsp salt
1 Tblsp black peppercorns
1 Tsp ground black pepper
1/2 Cup sultanas

- Roll fish cubes lightly in flour & fry for 2 minutes on each side over medium hot oil.
- Season with salt & pepper & set aside.
- Simmer onions in the vinegar, water, bay leaves, sugar, turmeric, curry powder, salt &         peppercorns until just cooked, but still al dente.
- Turn of the heat under the sauce.
- Mix 1/2 Tblsp flour with enough of the hot sauce to make a smooth paste.
- Stir the paste into the sauce bit by bit. The paste will thicken somewhat.
- Arrange the fish, onions and sultanas in layers in airtight container(s).
- Pour the sauce over, making sure it covers the solids completely.
- Fill the containers 100%, screw on the tops & allow to cool.
- Refrigerate for at least 3 days.
- Unopened & refrigerated, the fish will keep for up to six months.

“Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.” – Stephen Wright.

The Captain's Curry

Madanjit Ranchod ("Mr Kap"), 1926 - 2007. RIP

"Playwrights are like men who have been dining in an Indian restaurant for a month. After eating curry night after night, they start denying the existence of asparagus." - Peter Ustinov.

Back in the day, two young attorneys made history by opening a Black-owned and -run law firm in an office building called Chancellor House in the Johannesburg CBD. Both Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo would spend the rest of their lives fighting for a non-racial, democratic South Africa. Madiba had by then developed a taste for spicy Indian food, and most weekdays he would have lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant called Kapitan's. The owner, Madanjit Ranchod, was one of the few restauranteurs in "Jo'burg" prepared to serve Black customers.

The restaurant got its name - and Ranchod his nickname - from great-grandfather Ranchod, who had been the commander of a German-owned sloop in the Pacific. The patriarch established the first Kapitan's in Durban in 1887, and his son the one in Johannesburg. The last Mr Ranchod (affectionately known as "Mr Kap" to patrons) and his mulatta wife Margareta ("Marge" or "Mrs Kap" to all and sundry) served the best prawn curry I have ever eaten. We used to have it accompanied by generous helpings of Mrs Kap's heavenly Butter Naan. 

Sadly, they have both passed on, and the restaurant is no more. The memories of these two wonderful people and their food live on, though. Here is my tribute to Mr Kap’s peerless crab curry:  

Prepation time: 30 minutes.

Cooking time: 1 hour.

Serves 4 adults.

Tastes best accompanied by a well-chilled Chenin Blanc, Viognier or Colombard.

 

2 Large (500 g +) mangrove crabs, or 4 smaller ones of at least 300 g each. If they are still alive, put them in a freezer for an hour or so to immobilise them.

2 Large onions, chopped.

2 Large plum tomatoes, skinned and chopped with seeds removed.

4 Bananas, peeled and chopped in disks.

3 Cloves of garlic, crushed.

2 Red Thai or Tabasco chillies, finely chopped. (Alternatively use ½ teaspoon of chilli powder).

2 Cups of milk.

3 Tablespoons butter.

2 Tablespoons of chopped coriander leaves.

1 Tablespoon tamarind puree.

1 Tablespoon sugar.

1 Tablespoon dried, ground coconut. 

2 Teaspoons of lemon juice.

2 Teaspoons of turmeric (or ½ teaspoon of saffron).

2 Teaspoons of ground ginger.

1 Teaspoon cumin.

1 Teaspoon ground coriander seeds.

1 Teaspoon ground nutmeg.

1 Teaspoon salt.

A small bowl of fruit chutney.

  • Fry the onions and garlic gently in the butter in a large saucepan or pot.   
  • Add all the ingredients except the crabs, bananas, coriander leaves, coconut and chutney.
  • Cook over medium heat until the sauce has reduced by 1/3 and thickened – this could take up to 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile chop the large front claws from the crabs using a cleaver, and twist off all the other legs.
  • Cut each crab in quarters with the cleaver.
  • Remove the gills and other spongy bits and discard.
  • Crack the large claws with a mallet or rolling pin.
  • Rinse off all chips of shell under running water, and allow the pieces to drip dry.
  • When the curry sauce is ready, reduce the heat to a simmer and add the crab portions.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Serve on jasmine or basmati rice, sprinkled with the chopped coriander leaves. Dish up the chopped bananas (dredged in the coconut) and chutney on the side. 

“Where life is colourful and varied, religion can be austere or unimportant. Where life is appallingly monotonous, religion has to be emotional, dramatic and intense. Without the curry, boiled rice can be very dull.” – C. Northcote Parkinson.

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