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!
(From a recipe card subscription called ‘Authentic Indian Recipes’ that Miranda accidentally spent a small fortune on a few years back)
700g lamb (recipe says fillet or shoulder; we used neck and just cooked it a bit longer), cut into 5cm chunks
700g fresh spinach, stalks removed
2 onions, sliced finely
2 cloves garlic, sliced finely
1 small piece of fresh ginger, cut into thin strips
150ml Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp oil
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2 cardamom pods
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp mustard seeds
Salt and pepper
1. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan, then add the garlic, onions, mustard seeds, ginger, turmeric, garam masala, chilli and cardamom. Cook gently for a few minutes, stirring until fragrant. Remove from the pan.
2. Pour the remaining oil into the pan, then sear the lamb until it is well browned. Add the yoghurt and 100ml water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Wash the spinach thoroughly and drain. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and cook the spinach for about 1 minute before removing it and draining very carefully.
4. Add the spinach to the frying pan. Stir well and season, then simmer over a low heat for a further 10 minutes.
(From Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape, again)
For the caluflower:
2 cauliflowers, trimmed and cut into large florets
300ml Greek yoghurt
3cm ginger, peeled and finely grated
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chilli powder
1 1/2 garam masala
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp chaat masala (we didn’t have this, so just used extra garam masala)
For the fried onion ring topping:
2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and cut into rings
3 tbsp tomato puree
Salt and pepper
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp chaat masala (as above)
Coriander leaves to garnish
1. Blanch the cauliflowers in a pot of salted water for 2-3 minutes until barely tender. Drain and refresh in a bowl of iced water. Drain again.
2. Combine all remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add the cauliflower and toss well to coat. Chill for a few hours to let the flavours infuse.
3. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C. Put the cauliflower on a lightly oiled baking tray and place in the oven for 8-10 minutes (we thought it took longer) until golden brown.
4. While the cauliflower is in the over, fry the onion rings. Heat the oil in a pan until hot then add the onion, tomato puree and salt and pepper. When the onions are soft and golden brown, add the masalas. Stir well and fry for another minute.
5. Serve the cauliflower with onions spread over the top and garnished with coriander.
(Also from Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape)
400g yellow split peas, rinsed well
1 litre water
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp garam masala
4 curry leaves
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp chilli powder
4 medium tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
Salt and pepper
1. Put the split peas into a saucepan and cover with the water. Add the turmeric, coriander, garam masala and curry leaves. Stir well and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils are tender, adding a little more water if it gets too dry.
2. Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and fry until fragrant. Add the garlic and onion and fry until lightly golden brown. Stir in the chilli powder and, after a minute, add the tomatoes. Season, and simmer over a medium heat for 6-8 minutes.
3. Pour the contents of the pan over the cooked lentils and stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook for a further 10-15 minutes until the lentils are soft and thick.
(Another ‘Authentic Indian Recipe’ card. Recipe recorded here for posterity but we really wouldn’t recommend it; it was a disaster)
100g butter, melted
125g wholemeal flour
250g potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pinch chilli powder
1/4 tsp ground ginger
A few coriander leaves, chopped
1. Mix the flour and a pinch of salt in a large mixing bowl and form a well in the middle. Add 20g melted butter and 150ml water. Knead together for 10 minutes to form a smooth dough. (Or, stare bewilderedly at the incredibly sticky dough, add more flour and hope for the best.) Roll into a ball, cover with a cloth and leave to rest for an hour at room temperature.
2. Boil the potatoes until tender. When cool enough to handle, chop into small pieces.
3. Put some melted butter in a pan and add the onion, cooking gently until softened and transparent. Add the chilli, ginger, coriander and potato and mix thoroughly to combine, seasoning if desired. Cook for a further 2 minutes before removing the mixture from the heat and mashing roughly with a fork.
4. Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each piece into a thin round pancake on a floured surface. (If you can do this, you’re a better chef than we are.) Brush each paratha with butter, placing some of the stuffing in the centre. Fold over the edges and pinch to seal before gently rolling flat.
5. Heat a lightly greased frying pan and cook each paratha for 2-3 minutes on each side.
Alternatives to 4 & 5:
Try every possible method of rolling out the sticky dough and give up. Add more flour and try again, then give up again. Decide to pour all of the paratha mix into a frying pan that is clearly too small for it, add the filling and fold it over like a calzone. Try to flip the paratha-calzone hybrid and watch it fall apart in front of your eyes. Stubbornly persevere, then throw a strop and storm out of the kitchen. Salvage what you can for dinner, then rescue the rest of it the following day by chopping it up into little pieces and turning it into a hash with some corned beef and an egg.
Makes 6, apparently
(From Madhur Jaffrey Indian Cookery)
450g carrots, peeled and grated
8 cardamom pods
5 tbsp vegetable oil (unnecessary – we used a good bit less)
5 tbsp caster sugar (also unnecessary! We used 3 and it was plenty)
1-2 tbsp sultanas
1 tbsp shelled, unsalted pistachios
1. Put the grated carrots, milk and cardamom pods in a heavy-bottomed pan (if it’s non-stick, your life will be MUCH easier when it comes to dishes time!) and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium and cook, stirring now and then, until there is no liquid left. This will take some time, particularly if you use a pan that isn’t very wide.
2. Put the oil in a non-stick frying pan and set over medium-low heat. Add the carrot mixture. Stir and fry until the carrots no longer have a wet, milky look. This can take 10-15 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods.
3. Add the sugar, sultanas and pistachios. Stir and fry for another 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
As for the verdict…
Punjabi lamb: we actually thought this was a bit bland. It was nice enough, and certainly good for iron consumption, but we probably wouldn’t make it again.
Cauliflower tandoori: we would make this again, but on the BBQ or under the grill, as it lacked that tandoor smokiness. Ash tested a couple of pieces with a blowtorch after dinner and they were much nicer with a bit of charring.
Tadka dal: we have enough to feed an army so won’t be making it for a while! It was a good, easy dal recipe though, so a good one to have found.
Aloo paratha: if we get over the trauma of this time, we might make it again, but not until we find a tried and tested recipe!
Carrot halva: we already know we like this, and are already making it again. Next time, we will definitely remember a non-stick pan for boiling down the milk.
Ash’s comment after the meal was that we’ve made nicer curries in the past with much less effort – which is, sadly, true. But if nothing else, this gave us a chance to try out four new recipes from our vast collection of cookery books, and that is certainly no bad thing.
Nepal is next on our list. We now have a freezer full of lentils from this week’s tadka dal and last week’s sambar, so when we discovered earlier this evening that Nepal’s national dish is basically lentils and rice, our hearts sank. We never thought we’d say this, but we’re a bit curried out! So we’re going to spend the rest of the week looking for a Nepalese dish that we can bear the thought of eating. Stay tuned for the results!