Keralan Seafood Biryani

The list of ingredients for this delicious seafood biryani, from ‘Rick Stein’s India’, looks terrifying. Don’t be intimidated, everything required is easily available – if it isn’t already in your pantry – or is easily substituted. Also, there are only four basic processes to consider: make a spice paste; marinade some seafood; boil some rice and, finally, assemble and bake.

It’s the kind of dish you can bring out at a dinner party, or plonk on the table for a family meal, and everyone will think you’re a culinary genius.

It does take a little time, but if you have an hour free it’s no problem at all, and you’ll love it.

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RECIPE serves 4

For the spice paste:

3 dried Kashmiri chillies, whole with seeds (or ordinary dried chillies)

1 star anise

2 tsp fennel seeds

2 tsp poppy seeds

1/2 tsp whole black peppercorns

5cm piece of cinnamon stick

10 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

5cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp creamed coconut , grated from a block

4 tbsp ghee, or coconut oil, or vegetable oil

3 medium onions, finely sliced

a small handful of fresh or frozen curry leaves

1 tsp garam masala

1 tsp fine sea salt

3 tomatoes, roughly chopped

For the seafood:

400g large, raw, tail-on king prawns

150g firm white fish (cod, haddock, sea bass, tilapia etc)

75g squid, cut into rings

the zest and juice of a lime

1/2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder, or 1/2 tsp regular hot chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/2 tsp salt

For the rice:

350g basmati rice, soaked in cold water for an hour

6 green cardamom pods

2 bay leaves

To assemble and serve:

the juice of a lime

25g butter

a small bunch of mint leaves, chopped

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped

2 tbsp cashew nuts, dry-toasted


METHOD

First make the spice paste. You can do this well ahead of time if you wish, it makes the rest of the recipe much easier.

Heat a large, NOT non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add the dried chillies, star anise, fennel seeds, poppy seeds, peppercorns and cinnamon stick. Dry toast for a minute or two until aromatic, then tip onto a plate and allow to cool for a minute or so before grinding to a powder. I use an electric coffee grinder to do this, but you can use a mortar and pestle.

Put the garlic, ginger and coconut into a food processor with the ground spice powder and 100ml of water. Process to a smooth paste.

Heat the ghee or oil in a large ovenproof casserole over a medium heat. Add the onions and fry gently for around 15 minutes until well-coloured, golden and just starting to catch here and there. Stir in the curry leaves, garam masala, salt and tomatoes. Cook for a further five minutes or so until the tomatoes have softened then add the spice paste. Fry for around 5 minutes until the sauce has darkened noticeably and the oil beings to separate, at this point the spices have ‘cooked out’ and are at their best. Add another 100ml of water and stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to reintegrate any bits that are stuck.

At this point you can leave it for a few hours, or overnight – re-heating it with a splash of water – or you can carry straight on…

Heat the oven to 160C/ 140C fan/ gas 3.

Cut the fish into rough squares and put into a large dish with the prawns and squid. Zest the lime over everything, then drizzle over the lime juice, than evenly scatter the chilli powder, turmeric and salt. The lime juice will start to ‘cook’ the fish, so don’t do this in advance.

Bring a large pan of lightly-salted water to the boil. Rinse the soaked basmati rice and add to the boiling water with the cardamom and bay. Cook at a stern simmer for between 2 and 6 minutes – the soaking will have softened the rice so it cooks very quickly. The rice should be soft at the edges, with the middle still being firm. Drain the rice – you can leave the cardamom and bay in it – and now start to assemble the dish.

Spoon the hot spice paste out of the casserole and into a bowl and, without cleaning the casserole, spoon half the rice into it. Put the spice paste back in on top of the rice, then put the seafood with all of the juice on top of the spice paste. Do not mix it through, this is a layered dish. Spoon the remainder of the rice over the top of the fish, squeeze over the lime juice, dot with the butter and cover the casserole with foil, followed by the lid.

Bake for 20 minutes, by which time the rice will have completed cooking and the seafood will be perfectly cooked. While it is cooking, put the cashews into a pan and dry-toast over a medium-high heat for a couple of minutes until they are golden.

Scatter over the chopped leaves and cooked cashews, and serve at the table in the casserole. Dig a big serving spoon in to get at all the layers, and serve alongside carrot salad.

Vindaloo Sauce

As an unashamed curry addict, I have spent a lot of time over the years tweaking and refining the standard curry sauces and pastes. My benchmark for vindaloo is the amazing sauce used by the head chef in my local Indian restaurant; it is only in the last six months that I have managed to refine my own version into a reasonable approximation of his.

Contrary to what you may believe, a good vindaloo isn’t defined by its heat, it is defined by being spicy while allowing the base flavours to shine through. The essential flavour element in a vindaloo sauce is vinegar, not the brash smack-in-the-face of raw malt vinegar, rather the smooth sourness of properly cooked-out white wine vinegar. This sauce delivers in spades.

As with all spiced dishes, allowing this sauce time to develop just makes it better, so make it the night before you intend to use it, make a reasonable batch, freeze some for later and just add chicken, lamb, beef, prawns… whatever you feel like eating on the day.

Don’t be daunted by the length of the ingredients list, this is quick to make and most of the ingredients will be in any well-stocked pantry. Jaggery is hard cane sugar, widely available in larger supermarkets and international food stores.

I haven’t specified potatoes in the recipe, but the ‘aloo’ part of vindaloo implies that a vindaloo curry will have potatoes in it. Truth is, it’s entirely optional and might be a bit odd if, for example, you made a prawn vindaloo.

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RECIPE makes enough for 6-8 portions

For the paste:

1 heaped tsp ground cumin

1 heaped tsp ground turmeric

2 heaped tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tsp English mustard powder

1 heaped tsp ground coriander

1 tsp cayenne pepper

a big fat thumb of fresh ginger, grated

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 tsp grated jaggery (or light brown muscovado sugar)

For the base:

150ml rapeseed or sunflower oil

8 fat garlic cloves, crushed

3 large red onions, chopped

For the body:

6 red chillies, seeds in, finely chopped

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato puree

1-4 tsp hot chilli powder, depending on your tolerance and taste

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper


METHOD

Mix the paste ingredients together in a small bowl. If it is a little stiff and dry just add a little water. Set aside.

Prepare the base ingredients then, in a blender or food processor, process to a smooth consistency. In a large pan, cook the base over a gentle heat for ten minutes until aromatic but not coloured – the sauce will start out pink from the red onions, and should stay that way.

Add the paste that you made earlier, and cook it out for about five minutes before adding the red chillies, tomatoes, tomato puree and chilli powder. Bring to the gentlest simmer that you can – a plop every now and again – and leave it on the heat, uncovered, for an hour then check and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

If you find that it is not quite spicy enough for you, don’t add more chilli powder once you have cooked it, the rawness of the powder will spoil it. Instead, heat a couple of tablespoons of oil and add a tsp (or more) of dried chilli flakes to it. Let it spit for a minute or so then leave the oil to infuse for ten minutes, before stirring the oil and chilli into the sauce.

When adding meat to the sauce, it always pays to brown the meat separately first before adding it to the sauce.

Sweet Potato Saag Aloo

Saag aloo is usually made with regular potatoes but this sweet potato version from The Hairy Bikers is particularly luscious. The great thing about sweet potatoes is that they are richer in nutrients – particularly vitamin C – than white potatoes and lower in starch. They count towards your five a day too, while regular potatoes don’t.

This is a great meal if you are dieting, coming in at only 200 calories per serving and making you feel comfortably full. That means you can have a serving of rice and a couple of rotis with it, without bursting your waistband.

The secret to great flavour here is to use your own fresh curry powder mix. It’s not hard to make and my recipe is here.

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RECIPE serves 4 

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

20g fresh root ginger, grated

2 tbsp curry powder

2 medium sweet potatoes, diced

1 large ripe tomato, diced

300ml vegetable stock

a small bunch of coriander, stalks only, chopped

200g bag of baby spinach, picked over and thoroughly washed

To serve:

the zest and juice of a lemon

a few green chillies, sliced

a small bunch of coriander leaves, chopped


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large flameproof casserole dish or a deep frying pan. Add the onion and cook it quite briskly until it’s softened and very lightly browned. Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and stir until combined.

Add the sweet potatoes to the pan and stir to coat them with the garlic, ginger and spices, then add the tomato and the vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the stock to the boil, then turn down the heat, cover the pan and simmer very gently until the sweet potato is just cooked. This should take no longer than 10 minutes, but check regularly from 5 minutes as you don’t want the sweet potato to go mushy – it should still have a little bite to it. Loosen the sauce with a little more stock or water if necessary.

Add the spinach and chopped coriander stalks to the pan and cover the pan again until the spinach has wilted down. Stir very carefully to combine without breaking up the sweet potatoes.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garnish with the lemon zest and juice and a sprinkling of finely sliced green chillies and chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

Sri Lankan Coconut Dhal

We are a diverse family, encompassing unrepentant meat-eaters, pescatarians, vegetarians and vegans. When any combination of us gets together it can be tricky to come up with meals that will satisfy everyone’s needs while also being satisfying.

What that really means is that I need a good stock of vegan recipes, a thought that would drive my grandfather into a rant about lentils. Well, this is a vegan dish, and its made from lentils, and even my grandfather would approve. He always appreciates luscious food, and this has lusciousness in spades. It’s quick too, so if you walk in the door after a long hard day and don’t fancy a big work-up in the kitchen, this will feed everybody and anybody.

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RECIPE serves 4 

2 tsp sunflower oil

250g red split lentils, rinsed thoroughly

1 banana shallot, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a small handful of dried curry leaves

a small cinnamon stick

1 green chilli, finely chopped

4 tsp curry powder

1 400ml tin of coconut milk

a small bunch of coriander, leaves and stalks

the zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Gently fry the shallots, garlic, curry leaves, cinnamon stick and chilli in the oil, for around 5 minutes until softened and aromatic.

Mix a little water into the curry powder – please use either my own recipe for curry powder, or (if you really must) a top quality, fresh off the shelf supermarket version – to make a paste, and add it to the pan. Cook the spices out for a few minutes, then add 400ml of water, the coconut milk and the lentils.

Simmer for around 20 minutes until the lentils are soft and plump. Finely chop the coriander stalks and add them to the dhal, stir them in thoroughly.

At this point you can turn the heat off and leave it for for a few hours or overnight, the flavours will only get better. If you are going to eat it immediately, garlish with the lemon zest and juice and sprinkling of chopped coriander leaves.

Serve with basmati rice and roti.

Mauritian Butter Bean Curry

I’ve been away for a while, enjoying the summer, but I haven’t been idle. I’ve been living in a camper van for most of the last two months so I have been experimenting with cooking with limited resources, as well as over coals (when the weather permitted). The break from the norm has led to some new ideas, some new discoveries, and has definitely made me a better cook.

My big discovery of the summer has been Mauritian cooking, courtesy of Shelina Permalloo (shelinacooks.com), winner of UK Masterchef in 2012, and her wonderful book ‘Sunshine on a Plate’. As she puts it: “Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures and [the] food reflects that, encompassing Creole, French, Indian, African, British and Chinese influences.” It’s also delicious!

I first made this curry eight weeks ago, and since then I have made it at least another dozen times. Everybody who tastes it, swoons. The difference is in the spicing, rather than use an Indian curry powder blend, the Mauritian version of curry powder is subtly but discernibly different. I have included a recipe for it, just click here.

It’s quick to make (though it does benefit from being left all afternoon to steep, or overnight if you can manage it), low calorie and filling. Did I mention that it’s delicious? It’s delicious!

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RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp ghee (or rapeseed oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a fat, 3cm thumb of fresh ginger, grated

5-10 curry leaves

3 tbsp Mauritian curry powder

2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds in, chopped

2 medium, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 tbsp tomato puree

400ml chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1 tin of butter beans, including the water from the tin, OR 200ml dried butter beans

flaky sea salt

the stalks from a bunch of coriander, finely chopped

the leaves from a bunch of coriander, to garnish


METHOD

If you are using dried butter beans, soak them overnight then cook them before doing anything else, they take a lot of time. To cook: place the beans in a large pan covered with 2cm of water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender and creamy, checking after 1 hour and adding more water as necessary to keep beans submerged. They should be cooked within 1.5 hours.

Personally, I use a pressure cooker, which cooks them perfectly in around 20 minutes. However you do it, retain the cooking water to use in the dish itself.

To make the curry: melt the ghee in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat then gently fry the onion until it is translucent.

Meanwhile, add some water to the Mauritian curry powder to make a loose paste. This will stop the powder from burning when it is added to the pan.

When the onions are ready, add the garlic, ginger and curry leaves and saute for a further 3 minutes.

*Tip: It seems that every time I read a recipe that calls for finely chopped or grated ginger it tells you to peel the ginger first. That is a huge waste of flavour. All I do is cut off any rough and dry bits on the outside and make sure that it is clean, then chop or grate it finely, skin ‘n’all.

Now add the curry paste, chillies, tomatoes and tomato puree, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock, and the butter beans together with their water. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Now begin to season the curry with flaky sea salt. Do this properly and it will be transformed from excellent to mind-blowing. Add a small pinch of salt at a time, stir thoroughly and cook in for a minute or so. Taste, and repeat, until the flavours are jumping in your mouth. Turn off the heat and add the finely chopped coriander stalks.

If you can now leave it to steep for a few hours, or overnight, it will be even better. You can serve it immediately though, if you wish.

Garnish with the coriander leaves, alongside Basmati rice and a few simple roti.

To make this suitable for a vegetarian or vegan, use rapeseed oil instead of ghee, and vegan vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

Mauritian Curry Powder

The Mauritian version of curry powder is subtly but discernibly different from an Indian curry powder blend. Freshly made is always best, but this will keep in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for a month without losing its vitality.

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RECIPE – Makes 10 tablespoons

40g coriander seeds

40g cumin seeds

20g fennel seeds

10g fenugreek seeds

1/2 small cinnamon stick

15 dried curry leaves

3 tsp dried chilli flakes

20g powdered turmeric


METHOD

Add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds to a very large, unheated frying pan (NOT non-stick). Over a medium-high heat, dry toast the seeds until they are aromatic. Keep a close eye on them, the line between toasted and burned is a fine one.

Tip the seeds onto a broad plate and allow to cool.

Using a coffee grinder (one set aside exclusively for grinding spices) grind the toasted seeds with the cinnamon stick, curry leaves and chilli flakes; you will probably have to do this in batches. Add the turmeric to the ground spices and mix thoroughly.

Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

 

Simple Roti

These simple, unleavened flat breads have no business being as delicious as they are. They are extraordinarily filling as well.

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RECIPE – Makes 10

300g plain flour

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp fine sea salt

150ml water


METHOD

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl to form a soft dough. You may need to add a little more water, or a little more flour; the dough should be pillowy and slightly (but not excessively) sticky.

Leave it to rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into ten equal balls, and on a lightly-floured surface press the balls into rounds as thin as you can make them.

Cook them, one at a time, on an extremely hot skillet very lightly brushed with oil, for 1 minute each side.

Keep warm, wrapped in a tea towel, in a very low oven until they are all cooked and you are ready to serve.

Chunky Butternut Mulligatawny

It may seem odd to make a hearty winter soup in the middle of summer, but the truth is that some things taste great all year round. This hearty one-pot supper is something I often make when I yearn for some spice but I’m short on time. It’s also an easy go-to when I am on a 5:2 diet day and need something filling and delicious in the evening; on those days when I limit my calorie intake, food like this makes them something to look forward to rather than a trial.

The nigella seeds are the ingredient that really elevates this dish, they are readily available in larger supermarkets or Asian shops so please don’t be tempted to leave them out. Also, please, please please make up your own curry powder, it makes an unbelievable difference. My recipe for curry powder is linked from the ingredients list below.

This recipe is suitable for vegans, in fact it makes a persuasive argument for embracing veganism.

Ostensibly, this recipe will feed four people, but very often I will make it for my wife and myself and we will polish off the lost between us. At only 212 calories per serving it is guilt-free gluttony!

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Picture Credit: BBC Good Food

RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 apples, peeled and finely chopped

3 celery sticks, finely chopped

a small butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped into small pieces

3 heaped tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp nigella seeds

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

1½ litres vegetable stock

150g basmati rice

small pack of coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the onions, apples and celery with a pinch of salt and cook gently for 10 mins or so under a lid, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Add the butternut squash, curry powder, cinnamon, nigella seeds and a grind of black pepper. Cook for 2 mins more, then stir in the tomatoes and stock. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 mins.

By now the vegetables should be tender but not mushy. Stir in the rice, add the chopped coriander stalks, pop the lid back on and simmer for another 12 mins until the rice is cooked through. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Finely grate the lemon zest over the top, then squeeze the lemon juice over that, scatter the chopped coriander leaves over everything (don’t stir it!) and bring to the table to serve in bowls.

Roasted Red Pepper Chana Masala

I seem to have had no time at all to enjoy cooking for the past few weeks, it has been a steady diet of ‘what can I make quickly?’ without the pleasure of actually enjoying the process. Yesterday was no less busy but, starved of inspiration and looking for something satisfying for a 5:2 diet day, I stumbled across this forgotten gem in one of my notebooks.

Please forgive me, but it was stunning. It had all the freshness and vibrancy of the best restaurant dishes, and I put that entirely down to fresh ingredients and the use of appropriate garnishes. I made up a fresh batch of Masala paste for this, and I also used a generous amount of chaat masala sprinkled over the top at the end. Links to my recipes for both are in the ingredients list, please try them, they turn a great dish into a magnificent one, and all for around 400 calories per serving (using rice as an accompaniment adds more)

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RECIPE – Serves 3 

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

3 tbsp masala paste

2 tsp nigella seeds

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 400g tin of chick peas

2 roasted red peppers (good quality from a jar is fine), in bite-size pieces

200g piquante peppers (from a jar)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves picked

the zest and juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chaat masala


METHOD

Place the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic has been gently fried to a light golden brown.

Add the masala paste and nigella seeds and cook out for a minute or two until deeply aromatic, then add the tomatoes, chick peas (including the water from the tin, it acts as a great thickener) and both kinds of peppers. Simmer for twenty minutes until the nigella seeds are soft. Add the chopped coriander stalks.

If you have the time, leave this to sit for a few hours while the flavours get to know each other. Otherwise, just before serving, finely grate the zest of half an lemon over the top, then drizzle the juice over the top. Evenly scatter the chaat masala over everything, then dress with the coriander leaves.

DO NOT STIR! Bring it to the table and lift up each spoonful from underneath to serve, by doing so you will preserve the intensity and integrity of each flavour. It makes a real difference.

Serve alongside plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice, an onion salad and a carrot and ginger salad.

Lighter Butter Chicken

I picked out Bill Granger’s book ‘Easy’ a few weeks ago, intending to cook just one dish, but I ended up making twenty and I could have cooked the entire book. The first and most important consideration whenever I cook is flavour, and Bill’s recipes deliver flavour in spades.

This dish is one that I have cooked a couple of times for lunch, though it is hearty enough to make an excellent dinner, and is definitely elegant enough to serve to guests. It’s quick and simple to make as well.

Traditional butter chicken is made with lashings of butter and cream, all that fat is what delivers the sumptuous flavour. Here, Bill has used cashew nuts and Greek yogurt to deliver the unctuousness. The man is a genius.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

2 tbsp ghee (or groundnut oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp masala paste

750g boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized chunks

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

125ml chicken stock

100g cashew nuts, ground into a fine powder

125g Greek yogurt

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp caster sugar

To serve:

Basmati rice

naan bread

To garnish:

coriander leaves, chopped

Finely chopped onion

Lime wedges


METHOD

Heat the ghee in a large pan, then saute the onion over a medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes until soft and just starting to colour.

Add the masala paste. While stirring constantly, cook it out for a couple of minutes until aromatic, then add the chicken pieces and stir thoroughly so each piece is well-coated in the masala paste, then cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often.

Add the tinned tomatoes and chicken stock, stir to combine and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for around  10-15 minutes until the chicken pieces are just cooked.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, blitz the cashews in a food processor (or bash down in a mortar and pestle) until they are a fine powder. Add to the simmering sauce and cook for at least 5 minutes; the sauce will thicken.

When you are ready to serve, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, yogurt and sugar.

Garnish with finely chopped onion, chopped coriander leaves and lime wedges, and serve alongside Basmati rice and naan bread.