Not just for colds: Nepalese thukpa (chicken noodle soup)

Last Thursday was Chinese New Year, which is the sort of occasion we generally get excited about because it gives us an excuse to cook something appropriate. However, we still have a freezer full of lentils thanks to our South Indian sambar and North Indian tadka dal, so on Thursday night we dined on leftover sambar. Again.

After so much curry recently, our hearts sank when we found that Nepal’s national dish was a rice and lentil combination. We were therefore thankful to also find thukpa, a Nepalese noodle soup which we made on Wednesday night. We actually missed Pancake Day on Tuesday as well, because we were feasting on six different cuts of steak (with salad and three types of chips) at Rotunda, a wonderful new discovery at King’s Cross: a restaurant with its own farm and on-site butcher. After all that cow, a lighter dinner on Wednesday night was exactly what we needed. Continue reading

North Indian feast: Punjabi lamb, cauliflower tandoori, tadka dal, aloo paratha and carrot halva

Spending all day cooking a curry is not a new experience for us. Generally speaking, our default position for a celebration is ‘Let’s have a feast.’ Not always a curry, but plenty of food of some kind is our favourite way of commemorating a special event, and lately we seem to cook that food ourselves more than go out. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we’re already thinking about what next weekend’s festive feast will be.

The last time we did a curry ‘feast’ was the day our house purchase completed. We had an unusual situation in that we bought the house we were already renting, so rather than a ceremonious handing over of the keys, we simply had a phone call to say, ‘Congratulations, the house is yours.’ That call came when Miranda was cooking an experimental carrot halva, a dessert which, we discovered that day, is very uniquely enjoyable. We were happy to have an excuse to make it again this week for our North Indian banquet.

We began the meal by munching on some chaat (savoury snacks) in the form of spicy peas and Balti Mix (both store-bought), accompanied by a Cobra (Ash) and an Indian Sauvignon Blanc (Miranda). For our main course, we chose Punjabi lamb, tadka dal (mostly because of all the yellow split peas we had left over from last week) and tandoori cauliflower, because tandoori is a very typical Punjabi style of preparation. Our other accompaniment was aloo paratha, because one of Miranda’s Indian students had recommended it, but unfortunately it was similarly disastrous to last week’s dosa. Then there was the carrot halva to finish it all off. So, yes- with all of that (plus a couple of chutneys and pickles that we also made for the fun of it), it did take the best part of a day to put it all together. It’s a good thing we like cooking!

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Killer curry: South Indian sambar, cooked rice dosa and spiced tomato and coconut soup

Before Saturday, if you had asked me (Miranda) to describe the most painful experience of my life, I’m actually not sure what I would have said. I’ve been pretty lucky, injury-wise: I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never been kicked in the testicles (for obvious reasons) and I’ve never experienced the legendary agony of childbirth. The best I could offer would have been a sprained ankle or a headache or a papercut or something.

Then sambar happened.

Anyone who’s eaten sambar before is probably wondering what I’m on about. After all, it’s a fairly mild vegetable curry, and shouldn’t cause pain of any kind. The killer element, though, is the collection of whole dried red chillies that flavour the curry as it cooks. Now, most normal people probably do the sensible thing with these chillies and discard them before serving. And I did actually do that, for the most part, although I did accidentally put one on Ash’s plate. He tasted a bit of it (with the rest of his meal) and said it wasn’t that pleasant, ‘a bit leathery’ being the phrase with which he described the experience. So when I was portioning out the leftovers and found a behemoth of a chilli, I thought I might as well taste it. It wasn’t that hot, so I ate all of it.

Then the capsaicin kicked in, and I finally understood what ‘my mouth was on fire’ actually means. That metaphor has not been cultivated just for the fun of it. I honestly cannot remember experiencing such pain in my whole life. Temporary sweet relief was brought about with each mouthful of milk I swilled around, but that still wasn’t enough to relieve it all together. I did fleetingly think that I might die, whilst also considering the fact that if anyone ever wanted to torture me for information, this would be the way to do it (with sleep deprivation definitely following close behind). Fortunately, the pain eventually subsided, but not before I swore to never do anything so recklessly ridiculous again.

Chilli trauma aside, we did have fun dedicating nearly a whole day to our South Indian extravaganza (which it nearly was by the time we’d chosen recipes, bought ingredients – including three different types of dal – and spent a few hours putting all the dishes together… then washing up).

A mere fraction of the dishes and utensils we actually got through...

A mere fraction of the dishes and utensils we actually got through…

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