Yellow Curry Paste

Curry paste is ridiculously easy to make, yet is unimaginably better than anything you can buy from a supermarket. It freezes well and will last for months, so you can make a batch as in the recipe below, divide it into portions of 2 tablespoons each, put into a freezer bag and you’ll always have the makings of a fast and delicious mild Thai curry.

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RECIPE – Makes approximately 5 servings

1 tsp white peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp curry powder

1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, chopped

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a 3cm knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp groundnut oil


METHOD

Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat (NOT a non-stick pan), add the peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds and dry-toast for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them, turn them out onto a plate to cool before grinding to a powder in a coffee grinder reserved for that purpose, or in a mortar and pestle.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a thick, bright yellow paste. Easy!

Rainbow Bhajis

Oh my goodness.

I love onion bhajis, especially home-made, so when I spotted these variations in an old BBC Good Food magazine I just had to try them. I say again: Oh my goodness.

Subtly spiced, gorgeously colourful, easy to make and great as a starter or party snack, these little beauties have become a must-make alongside any and every curry I ever make.

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RECIPE – feeds 6 as a starter/side dish

For the batter:

4 tbsp curry powder

250g gram flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

¼ tsp hot chilli powder

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

For the bhajis:

140g carrot, grated

2 tsp nigella seeds

100g parsnip, grated

2 tbsp desiccated coconut

small pack coriander, stalks only, finely chopped (use the leaves to garnish)

140g beetroot, grated

2 tsp fresh ginger, grated

1l sunflower oil, for frying

lemon wedges, to serve

lime wedges, to serve


METHOD

First make the batter, stir the curry powder into a little cold water to make a paste, then top up to a total of 250ml of cold water. Mix the flour, baking powder and spices in a mixing bowl, make a well in the centre, then pour in the curry water and gradually stir together to a smooth batter. Stir in the onions, then divide the batter evenly between three bowls. Leave the batter to relax for 30 minutes or so.

Stir the carrot and nigella seeds into one batch of batter, the parsnip, coconut and chopped coriander stalks into another, and the beetroot and ginger into the third.

Heat the oil in a fryer, a deep pan or a non-stick wok to 180C, or until a piece of bread browns in 20 secs. Starting with the parsnip and ending with the beetroot, add spoonfuls of the mixture to the oil, a few at a time, and cook for a few mins, turning occasionally until evenly browned and crispy. This will take about 4 mins. Lift out onto kitchen paper with a slotted spoon, sprinkle with a little salt and keep warm in a low oven while you cook the rest.

Serve the hot bhajis scattered with coriander leaves alongside lemon and lime wedges for squeezing over.

Red Lentil Tikka Masala

Having provided you with a recipe for masala paste it would be remiss of me not to give you a quick and easy recipe that – I guarantee – once you have made it once you will return to again and again.

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RECIPE – feeds 3 easily

2 tsp groundnut oil

1 red onion, finely diced

2 tbsp masala paste

1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed

1 tin chopped tomatoes

250ml passata, or vegetable stock

200g red lentils, rinsed

200g spinach leaves

to serve: natural yogurt, if desired


METHOD

Heat the oil over a medium heat and gently saute the onion for five minutes until softened. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute before adding the masala paste. Cook on for a minute or two, stirring constantly, to release the aromas of the garlic and masala paste, then add the tomatoes and passata or stock.

Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add the lentils. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes until the lentils are tender but still holding their shape. Remove from the heat and add the spinach leaves, stirring them well into the sauce so that they wilt.

If this is a little too hot for anyone, a little natural yogurt stirred in will temper the heat.

This is great served with chapatis or wholemeal rotis.

Masala Paste

If you look through this blog you will notice that I make quite a lot of spicy food, I can’t help myself, I love it. Some find working with spice quite scary, as if it is a dark art, or they look at the ingredients list for an authentic curry and move on because it is so long. Actually, if you follow a trusted recipe exactly then spice is extremely easy to cook with, and of course the more you cook with it the more you will understand it.

To cut out some of the preparation I always have a stock of pre-made pastes in the freezer. They freeze extremely well and the flavours intensify the longer you leave them. This is one of my favourites, a flavour-packed, vibrant paste that isn’t too hot. It is great used anywhere a recipe specifies a store-bought masala or balti paste.

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RECIPE – Makes 8 tbsp

1 tsp cumin seeds, dry-fried and ground

1 tsp coriander seeds, dry-fried and ground

2 tsp garam masala

2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 tsp sweet smoked paprika

a big thumb of fresh ginger, finely chopped, or 2 tbsp minced ginger

1 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp tomato puree

a handful of fresh coriander, leaves and stalks

sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper


METHOD

First, dry-fry the cumin and coriander seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth puree. The coriander won’t chop up finely enough to disappear but that’s no problem.

Chaat Masala

The one ingredient that most Indian snacks, street foods, roasted and fried food and salads rely on for their instant zing and spicy sparkle is Chaat Masala. This spice mix is a blend of spicy, salty and tart flavours and is usually added to the food after cooking and right before serving. It is one of the secret weapons of your local Indian restaurant.

Usually a good sprinkling of a tablespoonful (or more, experiment with it) over the prepared dish and a good stir through to combine is all that is needed. Chaat Masala adds an unbelievable edge to the flavour. Some of the ingredients are a little esoteric, like the ground black salt, but are well worth tracking down online if you cannot find them in your nearest international food store.

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RECIPE – makes a small jarful

3 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground

1 teaspoon toasted coriander seed, ground

1⁄2 teaspoon toasted fennel seeds, ground

4 teaspoons amchoor powder (powdered dried mango)

3 teaspoons ground black salt (or ordinary salt if you really can’t get it)

1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch asafoetida powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger

1⁄2 teaspoon Carom seeds

1⁄4 teaspoon ground dried mint

1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1⁄4 teaspoon paprika


METHOD

First, dry-toast the cumin, coriander, fennel and carom seeds in a heavy bottomed pan for a minute or so until they give off a delicious aroma, allow to cool then grind well using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder reserved just for grinding spices.

Combine all ingredients, and store in an airtight container in a cool dark place.

Simple as that!

Chana Masala

Indian restaurant food has the undeserved reputation of being unhealthy. I struggle to understand how this has come about, when you examine the ingredients used in freshly-made Indian food and compare it to the ingredients list of any ready-meal or processed foodstuff it is immediately plain which option is the healthier.

Admittedly, I have had (poor) Indian meals in the past that have been swimming in ghee, but that’s bad cooking, not bad cuisine.

Chana Masala is one of my favourite healthy foods; the chick peas are stuffed full of fibre, protein, trace minerals and vitamins, while the spices are a smorgasbord of antioxidants. It’s very filling, so you don’t have to eat much to feel satisfied, and because it is a ‘dry’ dish if you ever see any oil then you know it has been poorly prepared.

I worked my way through a great many recipes for this, tweaking and testing along the way, until I finally came up with this perfect copy of the unbeatable chana masala that my local Indian restaurant serves up.

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RECIPE – serves 4

250g dried chickpeas, soaked overnight

1 tbsp flour

1 tbsp fine sea salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 bay leaf

2 cinnamon sticks

2 tbsp ghee (or vegetable oil if making vegan)

2 large onions, halved and finely sliced

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

a large thumb of fresh ginger, cut into matchsticks

1 long green chilli, finely chopped (remove the seeds if you don’t want the extra heat)

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp turmeric

1 1/2 tsp garam masala

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

a pinch of sea salt

250ml cold water

1 lemon, zest and juice

2 tsp golden caster sugar

a big handful of fresh coriander, chopped


METHOD

The evening before, soak the dried chick peas in plenty of water (they will absorb a lot) with 1 tbsp flour, 1 tbsp fine sea salt and 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda, stir well and set aside.

The next day, rinse the chick peas well, there should be no salt left on them. Put into plenty of water with the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks and bring to the boil, then simmer for 60-90 minutes until they are soft and tender, skimming off any scum if necessary. You may need to add more water as it evaporates. If you have a pressure cooker it will save you a lot of time, cook as per the instructions for your device (mine takes around 25 minutes).

Drain and set aside, removing the bay leaf and cinnamon sticks.

If you are using tinned chickpeas, use two tins; you won’t need the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda, bay leaf or cinnamon sticks.

Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large pan, when hot cook the onion over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until softened but not coloured, then turn the heat up and cook for another couple of minutes until they are lightly browned. Make a paste out of the ground coriander, ground cumin, paprika, turmeric, garam masala and cayenne pepper by putting them into a small bowl and adding a little water. Set aside for now.

Add the garlic, ginger, chilli and cumin seeds, turn the heat off for a moment and stir thoroughly in the hot pan for a couple of minutes. Turn the heat back on and add the spice paste. Cook on for a minute, stirring so everything is thoroughly coated, then add the tinned tomatoes and a pinch of sea salt. Stir thoroughly again, add the water, bring to the boil then add the drained chickpeas. Simmer gently for as long as it takes to reduce the sauce to a thick and sticky consistency.

At this point you can leave the chana masala to sit for a few hours until you are ready to eat. Giving it time will intensify and soften the flavours.

When ready to eat, warm the chana masala gently and add the sugar. Just before serving stir through the lemon zest and juice, top with a little garam masala and fresh coriander. Garnish with onion salad and a birds-eye chilli lightly fried in a little ghee.

This is great served alongside Basmati rice, naan bread and carrot and ginger salad or carrot salad with cardamom, ginger and lemon.

Chicken Madras

It’s not often that I cook a meat dish, my wife is vegetarian so if I am going to indulge myself then I need to ensure that I cook something alongside it that she will enjoy as well. Last night I really fancied a Chicken Madras, not just because I had a yearning for curry, but also because I really enjoy making curries – it’s the alchemy of all the spices coming together, get it right and a curry really comes alive on your tastebuds.

Of course, making one curry dish meant that I had to make at least one other curry dish, and I ended up cooking a veritable feast. Channa Masala (chick pea curry, the recipe for which I will post in a day or two), Bombay Potatoes, carrot and ginger salad and naan bread. I spent a very enjoyable afternoon in the kitchen, a treat as it isn’t often I get the chance to devote so much time to cooking.

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RECIPE – serves 2

4 long red chillies

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

4 tbsp ghee

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 heaped tsp ground cumin

2 heaped tsp Kashmiri chilli powder (or 2 tsp paprika and 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder)

1 heaped tbsp garam masala

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 tsp flaked sea salt

fresh coriander leaves to garnish


METHOD 

Finely chop two of the chillies, and cut a long slit from stalk to tip on each of the others. Leave all the seeds in, this is a curry that needs a good amount of chilli heat. Chop each of the chicken thighs into eight bite-sized pieces. Put all the spices, salt and sugar into a small bowl and add a little water, mix to a paste and set aside – doing this prevents the powdered spices from burning when added to the hot pan.

Melt the ghee in a large pan or wok, over a medium-high heat. Gently saute the onion with a pinch of salt for ten minutes or so until soft and translucent – the salt helps to liberate the water in the onion and prevents it colouring too quickly. When the onion is soft, add the garlic, chopped chillies and spice paste, turn the heat up and stir-fry for a minute or so until aromatic. Add the chicken thighs and whole, slit chillies and cook on for a couple of minutes, keeping the pan moving so the spices do not burn and the chicken is coloured all over.

Now add the tinned tomatoes, bring to the boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 7-10 minutes until the chicken is just cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

Serve immediately alongside Basmati rice and garnished with coriander leaves.

Thanks are due to the Hairy Bikers for this one – two men who love a good curry and know how to cook it!

Southern Indian Rice and Seafood Soup

This dish started life as a Jamie Oliver recipe – always a good starting point – and with only a few slight alterations it has become an eternal favourite in our house.

It’s perfect for autumnal evenings: thick, filling, warming, comforting. I make it quite spicy, but if you’re not a fan of chilli heat just reduce the amount of chilli powder accordingly and use milder fresh chillies.

The ingredients list may look a little daunting, but this is actually a quick and easy dish to make and most of it you probably already have in your cupboards.

Once again, using a home-made vegetable stock makes an incredible difference to the depth of flavour. I have made two versions of this side-by-side, one using a good bouillon powder and the other using my own stock – the difference was like night and day. Using ghee (clarified butter) rather than oil also makes an enormous difference. Much of the shelf space in my fridge is taken up with home-made concoctions such as these – it’s a sacrifice worth making for the results you get.

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RECIPE – serves 4

3 tbsp ghee

2 medium onions, finely chopped

3 tbsp brown mustard seeds

a handful of fresh curry leaves (I freeze mine fresh and use them as needed)

2 tsp cumin seeds

5 birds-eye chillies, finely sliced, seeds left in

4 cm fresh ginger, finely chopped

6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 tsp garam masala

1 1/2 tsp hot chilli powder

2 tsp turmeric

2 handfuls of Basmati rice

600 ml vegetable stock

2 400 ml tins of coconut milk

600g fish (a mix of cod, hake, haddock, salmon and prawns) cut into large chunks

a small bunch of fresh coriander stalks, chopped

the zest and juice of 2 limes

2 tsp garam masala to garnish

mild red chillies to garnish (optional)

a small bunch of fresh coriander leaves, chopped, to garnish


METHOD 

Put the garam masala, hot chilli powder and turmeric in a small bowl with a little water and make into a smooth paste. Set aside for now. Doing this prevents the spices burning when added to the pan.

Melt the ghee in a very large pan, then fry the onions gently for around ten minutes until softened but not coloured. Adding a little salt to the onions encourages their moisture to leach out and prevents browning. Toward the end of the softening time, add the brown mustard seeds, curry leaves, cumin seeds, birds-eye chillies, ginger and garlic. Stir thoroughly and cook on gently for a few minutes until deeply aromatic. Add the spice paste, stir thoroughly and cook for a minute before adding the Basmati rice. Stir again, thoroughly coating the rice with the spices.

Add the stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for ten minutes. Add the coconut milk with a good pinch of salt and bring back to a simmer – do not let it boil.

At this point you can turn the heat off and let the broth steep for a few hours. This deepens and softens the flavours of the spice, but you can of course carry straight on…

At this point you will of course have been tasting the broth regularly, and you may be puzzled that it tastes a little flat and unexciting. Fear not, the magic happens now.

If you are using them for the garnish, slit each mild red chilli several times and add to the broth.

Add the fish (not the prawns if you are using them, not yet) together with the chopped coriander stalks, put a lid over the pan and simmer gently for around ten minutes, until the fish starts to flake. Three or four minutes before the fish is cooked, add the prawns and re-cover the pan.

When the fish is cooked, remove the mild red chillies and set aside for use as a garnish, check the seasoning and adjust as necessary, stir to break up the fish, then add the lime zest and juice, stir, and scatter 2 teaspoons of garam masala over the top.  Taste it now… your toes will probably curl in pleasure!

Serve in bowls garnished with chopped coriander leaves and a mild red chilli each if you like.

This requires nothing else alongside it except, perhaps, some chapattis; it is a complete meal in itself.

Red Tomato Dhal

Take a few simple ingredients, add a little heat and a little time and a whole evening of satisfied fullness will follow. Dhal is rapidly becoming one of my go-to meals when it’s cold outside and I’m lacking inspiration – after eating it I wonder why the hell we don’t have it every night. I have over twenty different dhal recipes in my notebook, they are all amazing but this is one I made the other night and it’s my current favourite – until I make the next one…

By the way, this is a very low-calorie meal – around 200 calories or so per serving. You’ll be amazed at how full you feel.

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RECIPE – serves 2

1/2 tsp rapeseed oil

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

75g red lentils

600ml vegetable stock or water

a few good handfuls of baby leaf spinach

fresh coriander, leaves and stalks chopped separately


METHOD 

in a small bowl, add a little water to the ground turmeric and cumin to make a paste, set aside for now.

Put a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat and brown the onion for 5-10 minutes until well coloured, then add the chilli flakes and black mustard seeds and fry for a further 15 seconds before adding the turmeric and cumin paste with the garlic. Cook on for a further 30 seconds or so then add the lentils and tinned tomatoes. Stir in the vegetable stock (or water) and the chopped coriander stalks. Bring to the boil before reducing to a gentle simmer for 30 minutes to an hour until the lentils are soft (depending on the age of your lentils). Add more water if necessary to prevent sticking.

Season, then add the spinach and allow it to wilt into the sauce. Scatter over the chopped coriander leaves and serve alongside Basmati rice and an onion salad.

Spiced Sweet Potato Soup

There is always a vat of soup in our kitchen; it does for lunches, snacks and sometimes even dinner, on those days when exhaustion rules out anything more arduous than lighting the gas under a pot and putting some crusty bread on a board.

Having soup always available is a useful habit to get into; it means you will never, ever have an excuse for not eating when you’re hungry, and if you have unexpected visitors nothing can be more welcoming on a cold and blustery day than a cup of thick, warming soup. If you are new to cooking, making soups is arguably the best way to fast-track your understanding of how flavours combine to become more than the sum of their parts.

This is one of those soups that started with far fewer ingredients and grew over the years as I learned which flavours would accentuate and contrast the flavours already here. Try it for yourself; use this as a starting point and experiment a bit to make this your ideal soup – that’s the way to treat all recipes.

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RECIPE – serves 6-8

olive oil

3 large sweet potatoes (900g or so in total)

2 onions, chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed

5cm knob of ginger, finely chopped

4 green birds-eye chillies, roughly chopped

1 tbsp garam masala

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 litre of vegetable stock

a handful of fresh coriander, stalks and leaves chopped separately

a 400 ml tin of coconut milk

the zest of a lime

1 tbsp fresh lime juice


METHOD 

Heat the oven to 200C/ gas 6.

Peel the sweet potatoes and chop into approximate 2cm cubes. Put into a large saucepan and drizzle 2 tbsp of olive oil over the potato cubes, then swirl and mix everything in the pan until all the cubes are lightly coated in oil. Tip onto one or two roasting trays; be careful not to crowd the cubes, you want them to roast and caramelise and they need a bit of space around them to do so. To ensure good roasting, spread the cubed potato into a single layer on each tray and ensure that they don’t touch eat other. Roast for 40-60 minutes until soft and they are just starting to caramelise and turn dark brown.

Meanwhile, using the same large saucepan you used to oil the cubed potato, heat 1 tbsp oil over a medium heat and add the onions. Gently saute them for around 10 minutes until they are soft and translucent, but not coloured. A little salt in the pan will assist the softening and delay any caramelisation.

Combine the garam masala, ground cumin, ground coriander and turmeric in a small bowl, add a little water, mix to a paste and put to one side for now.

When the onions are soft, add the garlic, ginger, and chillies. Cook for a minute or so, stirring regularly, then add the spice paste and stir thoroughly over the heat for a couple of minutes, ensuring that everything is completely coated in spice. Now add the stock and bring to a simmer; keep simmering until the sweet potatoes are ready, at which point scrape them off their roasting trays and into the simmering stock. Add the chopped coriander stalks, simmer for a further five minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.

Using either a stick blender (my preferred option, just for the convenience) or a free-standing blender, blitz the soup to a smooth and even consistency – you will very likely need to add more water to loosen it. When it is completely smooth, put the soup back onto a moderate heat and add the coconut milk. Stir thoroughly and bring back to a gentle simmer, do not boil. Check and adjust the seasoning.

At this point you can either continue to finish the soup and serve it, or switch the heat off and leave it to stand for a few hours while the flavours develop even further.

When ready to serve, bring back to a simmer, add the lime zest and juice, stir well and serve scattered with chopped coriander leaves. You can make it even more impressive by adding a swirl of single cream and a scattering of cayenne pepper. Add a hunk of crusty farmhouse bread and it’s a filling, warming, feel-good soup for a winter morning, midday or evening.